(Briefly About) Dynamics, Clarity and Tension

Recently I came across some Youtube videos about action films which prompted me to think about certain scenes that appeared in my own work, such as the is the dynamics between characters, their interactions and the meanings that are generated. A key scene I had written was really quite flat until I introduced another character and highlighted the urgency of the task set for my protagonist, and as I proceed through the redrafting, I come across pieces of narrative that need attention. For example, the reluctant kidnapper scene near the beginning of Part 2 was really nothing special, but with a little adjustment and some exploration of how he lost his job, the scene becomes  tense (I hope).

I don’t want to spend too much time talking about this, but I think that the videos are in themselves quite interesting. I was particularly struck by how even the simplest cinematography can work so well to make the story clearer, more dynamic and give it more feeling.

By a strange co-incidence I had just been asked about the links between myth and cinema and having watched the video about the Terminator I was struck by what a great example it was of the principles that make up so many of the narrative structures of modern action movies. Having dug out the scraps of work about this that have accumulated I think that it might be possible for me to put a little book together about it. Terminator will certainly be a case study. To summarise it I would say that the core idea is that the central ideas revolve around Time, Marriage, Heroes (as saviours of fertile marriage and thus society) and something that seeks to destroy fertility and society (be it a robot, a shark or an alien). There is a lot more, but that’s for later.

Anyhew, these videos are worth checking out:

So there you have it. There’s plenty to think about in terms of narratives and especially the way that we convey tension, dynamics and meaning. To do it successfully, to do it with clarity, that’s one of the real arts of writing.

#3 Summer Solstice & The Climb

We’d been hitting the bottle hard. Bruce had crashed out in the humidity. I soldiered on, cracking open another cider and working on getting sunburned, but something told me that I must have Mediterranean genes in me somewhere. I wondered if they were selfish, but that didn’t make any sense because a gene is a theoretical construct that cannot have a personality attribute. On the other hand I fantasized about turning into a frog and diving in the canal to escape the heat.

In the tent Bruce smiled in his sleep as if he were dreaming the same thing.

I tipped back some more cider and played guitar to the Sun. It was getting close to the Solstice, and I was camping. Procrastinating over this blog would have to wait…….

Under the hot sun the week passes in an atmosphere of pseudo tribal living: an hundred people sharing fresh air and sunshine, the freedom of the countryside and the feel of dirt under their fingernails. It becomes its own little microcosm of allegiances and affiliations, personal power struggles in a cocktail of griping and bitching mixed in with caring and sharing. It’s a social network that binds disparate circles of people together under the one purpose of coming together on the Solstice to do a performance at Avebury stone circle.

During my stay I talk to Lionel, one of my old lecturers who got us all thinking about  myths and folk tales. He tells me that he has been writing a paper about the juxtaposition of Apollo and Dionysus in relation to the turning of the constellation Draconis in conjunction with the Solstices. Heavy stuff. It’s taken six months but he’s nearly finished it. At some point we discuss my ideas for relating myth to modern media and he mentions Game of Thrones. Lionel doesn’t know much about fantasy as a genre so I dive into how fantasy is consistently using and recycling mythic content, from the shadow that chases Ged in A Wizard of Earthsea to the crucifixion of Paul Twiceborn for three nights on the Summer Tree in the book of the same name. I mention Tolkien and the foundations of Dungeons and Dragons and how it spilled over into computer games. Then there is Beauty by Sheri S Tepper, and the Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers, all fairy tales and old legends reshaped, reimagined. The list goes on.

Later my posse hits Marlborough and we scare the middle class, Daily Mail reading retirees in Polly’s Tea Room. The cooked breakfast is a necessary ritual:

tea room breakfast

Returning to camp we swelter for a while until the gong from the communal kitchen signals lunch:

lunch at camp

Most importantly though, we attempt to live off of as many of these as possible:

Obligatory cream tea
obligatory cream tea

And so slowly we wend our way to the culmination of our trip, but along the way there are camp fire singalongs, communal washing up duties, walks by the canal, a camp quiz and a presentation about the complex issues of warfare based cannibalism in South America. I talk with friends about hiphop, about Kanye and Ice Cube, but also about those songs that contained social and political reflections. I recall something I saw recently coming out of the UK grime scene that fired me up.

Then the night of the performance comes and we make our way to Avebury, bringing drums and fire.


With it all done and dusted there is no choice but to pack up and leave the countryside behind.  The good news is that the holiday isn’t quite over as we head down to the coast to disseminate all the gossip over a breakfast debriefing with friends. The heat hasn’t let up, but the breeze coming off the ocean is pleasant as we walk up the sea front, talking. Later I take a stroll up into town and get a couple of records. On the way back I get hailed by a destitute man called Francis and we talk a while about the records I bought, how everything is done on a card and that if he’d known I had a family to support he wouldn’t have pestered me.

“I wouldn’t take the piss,” he says earnestly. We shake hands and I wish him well.

He hopes I enjoy my records.

Later we all go to the pub and discuss writing, publication and amid all the salient points that were made Mikey makes a very salient one for those

The Climb – Looking Up

I’m sweating as I climb. Ahead of me I see those who have been on the same path. Some of them have published, some of them are selling dozens of books an hour…….

It seems to be typical that we compare ourselves to those who we consider to be the best, to those whose name is an industry standard or has achieved a pinnacle of publicity and success. So, we as writers will often compare ourselves either in terms of creativity to those who we think are simply genius at coming up with great ideas, those who are fantastic at prose and dialogue, whose writing flows, or even to those who have achieved a great level of financial success, and although these ideas may overlap, they might not be linked. Heaven knows, I find JK Rowling’s writing to be truly awful, but I marvel at the success of writing and marketing something that gets a huge influx of readers. To be mean-spirited about it I would say that we should all bear in mind that quality is not necessary to be successful, and certainly it makes me feel like administering a mighty slap to my own face when I worry about not be good enough to put into print.

In doing so we undermine ourselves, fostering self-doubt and lack of self-esteem. It is important to remember that these people are in the light because they are the peak of their ascent. We see them because they have, through whatever means, climbed higher than us and as we pursue on our own paths there they are, ahead of us all the time.

Taking A Breath – Looking Down

I stop and take a deep breath, stretch and look at how far I’ve come. Below me are untold numbers of people who haven’t even begun to make the climb. They mill around at the bottom of the slope and call out how they wish they we capable of making the climb.

And you realize, they envy you…..

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was working as a temp in an office and given an hour for lunch I would sit in the break out area and write. This prompted many to talk about my writing, and often in discussions you would hear how they would love to have a gift like that. Is it a gift? I certainly don’t think of it so much as a gift but more of something that I have practiced for a long time. Certainly I have my doubts when asked what I do for a living, and my friends often pull their hair in frustration because I quibble over it and don’t just say that I am a writer. This lack of confidence is in many ways an impediment to publishing, but you just have to remember that you are far ahead of the majority who don’t do anything with their lives, those who will do nothing but say how much they would like to be able to do it.

So, take a breather for a moment and try to get some perspective. I don’t know how far you’ve come, but stick with it and keep working on whatever creative endeavors you are engaged with. Chances are that there will always be someone better than you, but they are certainly few in number compared to those who aren’t even trying at all.

#2 Complaining and Overthinking

One week on and valuable insights gained, the quintessential one being the difference between prevarication and procrastination, I believe I made one mistake that I can’t go back and edit. What I should have done was to bash out another entry as soon as the inspiration came upon me. Instead I spent a lot of time pondering on how to proceed, on what to make of having a readership, and on just how many entries can be made in a similar vein. Still, the seed was planted in spontaneity so I think I’ll let it grow awhile and see what fruit comes of it.

Anyhew, having been let go from my contract at work I had the past week to get a little writing done. More time = more writing, right? Strangely, it doesn’t feel that way. When I was at work and only had an hour at lunch, I got something done. When I’m at home and have an hour here and then an hour there I don’t seem to get anything done. Unfortunately its all the little things that create a minefield in my head that I can’t cross to get to  my characters and narrative. The battlefield is a concept of time; I have in my head that I have the whole day, so I’ll sit down for an extended stretch. It doesn’t happen. I have to wash up, I have to go get a roof rack, I have to see the optician because my glasses are decrepit.

And then I have to return a roof rack because the damn computer that said it was the right one for the car was wrong. Damn machines……

It all becomes like snowfall. Lots and lots of little thing, but it piles up against the door and when it finally comes to opening the door you can’t escape the confines you’ve been sitting in. This leads to……

Procrastination #5

I am terrible for this one. Also known as “complaining about how you’re never going to get anything done”. I wonder if this would come under depression, but I resist the medical notion as something invented in order to sell antidepressants. That is to say that we all get down, that’s part of life, just as there are always times that shit piles up and we feel frustrated and thwarted. It happens. It doesn’t mean that we’re sick, but what it does do is become its own justification for not doing anything. In this instance it is not so much the not doing, but rather the bitching about it that becomes the procrastination. And when you do realize that all you’re doing is expending effort on complaining you can suddenly see how you could have actually been working instead of sitting like a grumpy sack of spuds in your chair.

It’s a rut, a certain kind of self pity and like any mood you got to find a way to kick yourself out of it. Find a way, anything that works for you, because at the end of the day its all down to how much effort we put in. It might not happen immediately, but even if it’s just an hour a day, it can be done.

Of course, if you do start to do some work then you can always fall victim like I do to this………

Procrastination #6

Overthinking. I don’t know how many writers do this, how many artists suffer from this. It’s the kind of thing that cripples creative endeavours and often bleeds into #1 Perfectionism. You can decide to write something and spend ages trying to work out plot and settings and characters. You make copious notes. You go deep into sculpting the characters and coming up with histories for them.  The more you do the more you can’t decide on this or that and then you wonder if may you did this but then that would effect that bit and…….

Deep in the rabbit hole you find that you’ve actually achieved very little, leading you back to #5.

I myself have spent a great deal of effort at times plotting and writing out plans, but it was only when I just sat down and wrote it that it really came together. Most of the time you find that all the clever things that you spent so long thinking up didn’t really have anywhere to go in the story anyhow. It is simply a case of diminishing returns, and that goes for this blog. I made a whole load of notes about what to write, all the ideas I could do and all the video’s I’d put in. In this respect I was stumped over just how I could find a connection for adding in the awesome video for Fertile Green by High On Fire that I came across on Youtube. Of course there was none until I wrote that sentence, a kind of deus ex machina for my desire to torture your ears and offend your good sensibilities.

And besides, it was all getting a little too serious.

What? You didn’t enjoy that little tune? There really is no pleasing some people……

Still, plenty of mythic content in there for you fantasists out there. Answers on a postcard please.

Anyway, with all the self pity done with and some both necessary and unnecessary thinking about my work, I got down to it and bashed out a wonderful introduction to one of my characters. Now, I often think about how cliche a character might be, or how cliche a plot elements is. It’s a weird paradox; too much cliche and it’s trite, hackneyed, but too little and it might not resonated with people because there are conventions that make people feel comfortable. No doubt I’d be opening up a can of worms even attempting to discuss this in detail, so instead lets do a little exercise. You have a character who is the equivalent of a police chief. How do you see him (or her)? What are the constants across narratives that make this person seem authentic?

Without thinking about it too much and just consulting my list of cheeses, I quickly picked the name Canestrato which to me fitted him quite well, as did a moustache that he would occasionally twirl and dyspepsia that made him grumble, all while staring moodily out of a window. It was only a bit part, designed more to introduce the privateer to the story, but it felt comfortable. So often it seems that there is a pressure to create something that goes beyond convention, seemingly for the sake of it in many cases, but in a way that is forced and unrewarding. Conventions are a structure, and it’s perhaps how you hang the story on that structure that makes what it is. With that in mind I’m going to broach a subject that I’d like to return to more fully in the future, namely mythic structures and how the conventions within mythic narratives appeals to us. Contrary to the notion that myths are in the past and that they don’t change, they are in fact alive now and with us wearing different disguises.

Think of the movie jaws. It has a police chief in it. He’s got a job to do, underlings to help him and a power structure that he’s in conflict with. He’s also a dragon slayer, and just as in the cliched story of the knight saving the villagers from the socially destructive monster, he travels to the domain of the beast and gives combat to it. Jaws is a famous film, based on a book. The ideas are nothing new, but it worked, and it was a success in part because its such a familiar story deep down in our consciousness. On this I will post more later with some reference to people like Bruce Lincoln, Wendy Doniger and Calvert Watkins who are amongst the people bringing new insight into myth and folklore.

Not that Dawkins believes that we should seriously be indulging in all that make believe stuff.

I have only one thing to say in reply to that: