Friday, August 13, 2010

I didn’t really know Virtue Evelyn Donahue at all until...

... the night she slipped out of the first floor window of a house party on Shiplake Avenue and fell into my arms. Literally.

Anyone who's been paying attention over the past 7 years will recognise the name. Don't worry if you don't. It's obscure and one of the leads in a novel I'd plotted and toyed with the opening off back in 06/07.

Add to Your Faith Virtue; and to Virtue Knowledge by Walter Rane

Back then my biggest problem was style and voice. Who were my chosen authorly compadres with whom my book would nestle up to on a library shelf? Who's work did I love to read and I felt mirrored the way I wanted to write? It was a deep dark problem, compounded by the fact I don't write the same as I talk and that I do literally mix up profound words of great weight with minced colloquialisms. Many are the friends and family who advise me that I talk too much, and that, more importantly, they don't have the foggiest what I'm chuntering on about.

It was actually the bathroom window that she’d swung wide. Trying, I thought, to find safe haven from the midnight music that thudded and tinkled from the strains of some club anthem. Then she was struggling out the window the wrong way like some crazed cat burglar before she fell, bringing with her the sweet aroma of someone masking a smoking habit.

‘You wanted some air?’ I asked.

After that it became an issue of learning how to write proper and battling against my desperation to produce something fittingly pithy, amazingly descriptive, and focused, writing and re-writing my coursework for the NAW until I could barely make sense of it and didn't know good writing from bad.

While she sat in my arms, grinning broadly, her hair all plastered to her glowing face, somebody broke down the bathroom door with a bellow and the shatter of what had to be a mirror. It was the kind of sound you cringed at and hoped no one had hurt themselves or that the damage wasn’t so bad, but Virtue, she just kept on grinning. At me. Right up until the door breaker lurched to the window and shouted down.

What next? I struggled with the hope that I could write a fast flowing YA caper that would bring me the quick buck and allow me to focus on writing full time, and not when my lethargy abated to give me 5 minutes of writing time. It didn't help that I was still framed in the persistent rewrite mode. Thinking to myself, got to get it right first time, must add this extra nugget in here, must cut back there, must make it golden prose, but that makes perfect sense. The outcome was two half-started YA novels that went nowhere but which are fully plotted. Does my writing fit the YA market? At this point I guess not.
Her angular cheekbones had that classic, Hepburn look and her eyes were filled with late night dreaminess. They, or me, seemed fit to burst. Until the interruption she was happy to let her feet lightly swim in the air but she kicked then to be let down and she took her arms from around my neck and shook one and pointed up at him.
And in moving onto a pet project-cum-fairytale, that's kind of The Princess Bride meets Twilight, I realised - and this is largely Katie's thoughts that made me realise this - I have a serious problem with associating my reader with my main characters, and making them care. Think of Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies and how the vapidness of the main characters really doesn't endear them to the audience at all. Think of, for some, Inception, where many feel that Cobb really is the engineer of his own downfall and should hardly be cheered on when he's got his associates into so much danger. How does a writer make a character relatable when they both need to be generally interesting and likeable but have a character flaw that needs to seriously be turned about in order for the character to become fully rounded and for the story to have it's emotional heart?
‘Virtue, what the fuck?’ he shouted, ‘I thought you were dying in here. Did you jump?’ There was a moment when he searched the window frame, the sill and the scrabble point on the front wall where Virtue had lost her footing, as if trying to find a quick way down but threw up his arms. ‘Fuck.’

And none of my characters have been overwhelmingly relatable... not in a good way. One's a sexual snob who secretly harbors desires, one's from a gang, but refused to stand up for others, one's just a bit of a nobody kid who can't stand up for himself, one's a moany, self-infatuated psychic who keeps trying to commit suicide, one's a moany, self-infatuated spinster who has committed suicide. And of course, what you're reading now which has one possible rape victim / possible liar being used by a writer who wants to use her as his muse.


‘Shit,’ I said instead, ‘rape?’

‘New guy: Brett. Brett: new guy. Brett was my boyfriend.’


‘Didn’t you get the memo about the attempted rape, or were you too busy staring at my tits?’

You see, the problem is two fold.
  1. The characters I wanted to portray, and their character arcs were at odds with the larger story I wanted to tell. I couldn't service both as they exist.
  2. I really needed to find other ways to introduce the characters to the reader, making sure to: start late, finish early; show not tell; stay focused to the story; create tension; keep the narrative moving; make them likeable

‘So… where are we going?’ I asked.And that’s where this whole thing started. For me. Because she said, ‘Your place.’
As I return to Spoiling Virtue and take a new approach to the opening, I'm beginning to feel that the route to successful leads and therefore successful fiction maybe in both charisma and mystique. Keep them proactive, thinking, acting, emoting. It's worth a shot.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bracknell Libraries - Top 25 Fiction

1.8th confession
by James Patterson [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
2.Twenties girl
by Sophie Kinsella [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
3.Dead tomorrow
by Peter James [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
4.The stepmother's diary
by Fay Weldon [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
5.The associate
by John Grisham [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
by Jonathan Kellerman [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
7.The truth about Melody Browne
by Lisa Jewell [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
8.Remember me?
by Sophie Kinsella [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
9.The scarecrow
by Michael Connelly [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
10.The other half lives
by Sophie Hannah [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
11.Found wanting
by Robert Goddard [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
12.Tea time for the traditionally built
by Alexander McCall Smith [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
13.Gone tomorrow
by Lee Child [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
14.Love letters
by Katie Fforde [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
15.Long lost
by Harlan Coben [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
16.Born bad
by Josephine Cox [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
17.Without mercy
by Jack Higgins [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
18.The ghost
by Robert Harris [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
19.A prisoner of birth
by Jeffrey Archer [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
20.Deadly intent
by Lynda La Plante [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
by James Patterson [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
22.Handle with care
by Jodi Picoult [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
23.Rumour has it
by Jill Mansell [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
24.Are you afraid of the dark?
by Sidney Sheldon [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]
25.The overlook
by Michael Connelly [Search Catalogue]
Buy from: [Amazon], [Book Depository], [Waterstones]

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bickering Gods - Reviewing the story choices of The Clash of the Titans


Love is a far more potent emotion; more virtuous, more universal, more identifiable, particularly for a hero us audience members wish to be, than revenge.

So it is not with the remake of Clash of the Titans. In which Perseus, Demi-God and son of Zeus, raised as a fisherman, finds himself in Argos to buy a new deckchair and sunshade set- no wait... finds himself in Argos and suddenly orphaned when Hades kills his family as collateral damage during the cull of some of Argos' soldiers.

The main story is elaborated with the overt tell: "Andromeda is more beautiful than Aphrodie and actually, you know what? We are the Gods" by Andromeda's mother, Cassiopeia, so that Hades appears again to wreak revenge against Cassiopeia and set the main story in motion - sacrifice Andromeda to save Argos. We've already had the Gods discussion on this issue. The duplication is a waste of screen time.

In the original it was enough for Cassiopeia to declare Andromeda as more beautiful than Andromeda. The petty jealousy of the Gods was enough to establish their want for revenge on Argos for the slight, but here in the new one the layering of reasons to exact destruction and damnation on the Argives.

That's issue 1. And it leads right on into Issue 2. The Gods are as human as humans in their bickering, scheming, bitterness, bitchiness and ego. But where is it? The only scheming going on is by Hades. The other Gods don't even get a look in. And Poseidon, who, being God of the sea, logically owns the Kraken, says but one line and is gone.

It's all arse about face with its Greek mythology. And that raises the question of why? Artistic license is a must in all forms of entertainment, but what is the point of changing a well established story, character or plot?

Take the remake for what it is, and you may be happy with the choices of plot. But then you may wish to learn the greek myth it is based on and having read that, wonder why the film makers would deviate from the Mythological Cannon. You could argue that it doesn't matter since it's just a story. But that's just it. I watched Clash of the Titans last night, the story of Perseus and Andromeda... except it wasn't the story of Perseus and Andromeda.

Which lands us on issue 3. The love story. What love story? Perseus falls for Andromeda and is driven to save her from the Kraken because of the purity of their love and in doing so he will prove himself a hero.

Not here. I should have guessed what was going on by way of the tiny screen time given to Annie. We learn enough to know she has better character than her mother, gives selflessly and is easy on the eyes. And that's it. Perseus doesn't love her in any way and isn't planning on getting with her come story end - oops, sorry, did I not say SPOILER WARNING?

Remember, this is not a love story but a revenge story. Everything about Andromeda is a side thought. Since Perseus has no love for her, since he doesn't fancy her at all, and is only on his quest to get back at Hades while throwing his toys out of the pram about wanting to do everything as a man not a Demi-God, Andromeda's fate is irrelevant.

Why should the audience really care that a beautiful woman is to be sacrificed to the Kraken? The hero doesn't and beautiful women in films die all the time, just watch the Kraken's tentacles lay waste to Argos. Lots of dead people there.

Hint to film makers everywhere: If your hero and damsel in distress share no chemistry (be it from the screen presence or dictated by the plot) then the audience doesn't care. They need to converse with each other, banter, get to know one another's character, otherwise their fates are irrelevant to each other and us.

Imagine Speed, and Keanu Reeves's Jack has absolutely nothing to say to Sandra Bullock's Annie. They spend the whole film with no banter, no flirting and only straight dialogue of go here, turn there, speed up, slow down. We get off the bus after he's rescued her... no kiss. No romance at the airport. Then, Dennis Hopper's Howard kidnaps Annie along with his money. Jack gives chase finds Annie a prisoner and thinks "Oh no, poor her". And that's it. Sure, we're all sad for Annie, being mixed up in all this and possibly about to blow up, but so what? Jack's got no relationship with her. The old woman who tried to jump off the bus and got blown up in the stairwell and went under the wheels was an awful shock but we didn't get to know her either. Collateral Damage and even Jack won't lose sleep over her, so why should he and we care any more about Annie.

Same thing with Argos and Andromeda. The plot is weakened by the choice of revenge movie over love.

Issue 4... this could go on all day. Grab yourself a sofa and a coffee. Issue 4. Adding lots of special effects, better fight scenes, and great cgi monsters does not a great movie make. Medusa, while more life like, had no attached-fear or tension. She dispatched her prey way too fast. Yes, she's a snake, and yes, perhaps in the original she is too slow, but even that wonderful movie Anaconda didn't have the giant snake whip itself all round the boat at one point and kill everyone at once. Where's the tension in that?

And what the hell is she doing being beautiful?

And, of course, Mr Tree-bark Djinn man with his blue eyes and blue heart. What the hell was that? He's not from greek myth. He doesn't even fit. It's like taking Indiana Jones and introducing aliens... no wait!

And the fact his only purpose was to go and blow up Medusa, sacrificing himself for little use, was just mind numbing. He could have saved everybody by letting them know he was going to do that in the first place. And since Medusa's lair is the place where all the soldiers get it, the scene feels like a moment to clean up the character list rather than progress the plot.

We can get rid of him, and him, and him, and him, and... then IO.

In place of the love story between P and A, we have the irrelevant IO. She's there in place of the three gifts from the Gods (sword, shield and hair-do), to help progress the plot, and let all us dullards know what Perseus is meant to do.

Perseus doesn't really fall for her either and yet at the end when she is resurrected they embrace, but why should we care?

There are so many reasons to be frustrated by this film's lack of attention to the realities of the human condition, but also to its logic. Take Pegasus for example.

Pegasus, winged horse, never ridden by a man. We meet it earlier in the story but it is scared off by the arrival of Calibos. Again Perseus hasn't trapped it, seduced it with his manly prowess or got to know it. So, why, at the 11th hour, with the moon about to eclipse the sun, and Argos about to be laid to waste by the Kraken, does Pegasus simply arrive at the right time and place, and Perseus jump aboard without needing to calm the beast?

Away they go, as if Pegasus has always been Perseus' steed. Add to that the two hunters who refused to go into the underworld, riding a scorpion across many days of trekking (and I mean, many), and getting back before Perseus (whose winged horse is meant to take but an hour or so).

Add to that the crapness of the 3D...

Clash of the Titans was not filmed in 3D. Read James Cameron's general warning. In Clash, it gives the viewer the 2D reel at the back and then all the closer objects and people as cut outs stuck on so that often you can see the flat reel behind the projected 3D object. Which, frankly, looks shit.

I've exhausted myself. :)