Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Shallow Depth

Y'know, I say that I don't like talking about stories I haven't written, but I have to bring this up, because it's relevant. This week I was doing a lot of work on some Duke Forever "Two-Thirds" story stuff. I won't say what, it's spoilery, but that's kind of the point. It's stuff for Volume Two, the next one, and it's ages away, but I'm working on it now because there's a lot of research and world building that I have to do in order for the story to be what I want it to be, so that it's an in-depth, interesting world for my characters to play around in.
So, lately, I have been getting really fucking annoyed with a few stories which seem really deep, but in actual fact aren't. The Word of the Day is: 'FAÇADE'

Façade /fə'sahd/ n. 1. Architecture A face or front, or the main face, of a building. 2. An appearance, especially a misleading one: Behind his façade of generosity he hides a cruel nature. Also, facade.

Of late, my girlfriend's been fascinated with a game series known as "Five Nights at Freddy's". There are two games so far, there will almost certainly be a third, but she found it really scary and has had this morbid fascination with it for a while now; trying to understand it and make sense of it.
This is just because she's not written or experienced much in the ways of the horror genre before and she wants to explore that more, so I also had a little look into it, to see what all the fuss is about (and hopefully, quiet some of her fears). When I looked into the two games, I thought the gameplay was lame and the scares were cheap. But when I looked at the story, I was quite fascinated. There seemed to be this whole, in-depth tale of past tragedy, corruption, curses, death & secrets. So, I looked into it as well as some of the fan theories. I was trying to figure out what the story was, and hopefully make sense of it all in my mind - I had to make sense of it.
But after doing a lot of research, do you know what I found? Nothing.

It was all too vague, and deliberately so. Everything was calculated solely to give vague implications towards a coherent story with just enough disjointed threads to make it impossible to put together, to keep people guessing while never giving a firm grasp of the answer. That's when I realized, it was all fake.
I do think that the game creator wants a creepy story, and that he's trying hard to gel it all in his head. But there isn't one - not at time of writing anyway - he's making it all up as he goes along, and only giving vague hints because if he did have a story, then it would be a thing that exists, stagnant and unchanging, and it wouldn't be as scary. That isn't a bad thing necessarily, it's ingenious to manage something like that; but it's not what I wanted. It's not a story.
Just like the gameplay and the scares, in 5N@F the story, too, is just a cheap ploy.

Of course, maybe there is a story and I'm just not trying hard enough to see it - but even if that's the case, this isn't the first story to do this!

LOST, famously, has one of the most convoluted plots in existence. Because of all the twists and turns, it was hard to figure out where, what and why the island is. Now, I've not seen the show and this is just a guess, but it's a guess as to the ending and it's pretty accurate, so if you're watching it currently, skip to the next paragraph - SPOILERS ahoy - as I know, even despite my lack of watching the show, that this is another case of "everyone died, they're in purgatory". I haven't seen the show, but I know that's the case. Do you know why? Because everything that happened is just too weird. You can't have the twists, the turns, the monsters, the secrets and the gambits in the real world, the dreamlike aspects and the miracles leaves only one logical conclusion - they're in an illogical place.

Just like with Five Nights, they were just using cheap tricks, throwing in more mysteries and obscure clues and weirdness until it was impossible for it to be anything but what it was. It wasn't a 'deep' story, it was just using tricks to pretend there was more to it when there wasn't. They made it up as they went along, and ended up with a convoluted mess that even fans of the show say lead to a lot of unanswered questions.

Or, the absolute worst of the worst Adventure Time. I really don't like this stupid show. Everything is random, it's trying to be surreal and it's trying to be funny. And sure, I get that; it's not my thing, but I get that and in a perfect world it would exist over in some other place away from me where fans could enjoy it and I'm not bothered by it.
But see, I was suckered in. I wanted to watch the show because I heard about this whole secret "behind the Land of Ooo" mystery. It's not even a spoiler to say that the Land of Ooo is supposed to be some kind of Earth-like analogue, which changed after an apocalypse. That sounded really cool and I wanted to know more about that, so I watched quite a bit of the show, to see it and enjoy this cool, deeper story about the apocalypse.
However, like with the other two examples, it was all just lies. The apocalypse thing is nothing more or less than "war, death, everyone dies." There's no mystery behind it, and worst of all, the show isn't about it at all. The show would rather make fart jokes. There are one or two episodes that deal with the apocalypse, but they don't make the story any better. because it's still just surface details. Nothing deeper, nothing solid that I can really enjoy because it doesn't explain why or how they created the world, or what it means.

The part that frustrates me the most is that, in all of these examples, they put in effort. These creators care a lot about their works, and they made the show they wanted to make and everyone involved put in effort to craft these shallow examples of depth. But, still, all that effort was wasted, because you can't fake depth; not really. The reason I like layered, multi-faceted stories with history and background details and a functional world is because I want to explore them, I want to know more. So if the depth is faked then, well, like Wile E. Coyote running at the painted tunnel, I run smack-bang, face-first into the lie when I try to dig deeper.

So, in the end, I guess what I want to say with this blog post is, if you're trying to create your own story and your own world, you really have to put in the proper, hard yards to make a multi-faceted, in-depth, intriguing world and story.
Of course, some of this does work. I mean, LOST, despite it's flaws, does have a lot of depth of character and Adventure Time serves the needs of its audience; and there's a good chance these people weren't trying to make something meaningful, maybe they weren't trying to create meticulously constructed worlds and stories. But I don't appreciate their efforts towards implying depth, when there is none. It just feels like a smack in the face. So if your story is shallow, don't pretend it isn't. A shallow story isn't a bad story. But a story that lies to its audience is much harder to redeem.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time, think deep, readers; and think big.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Facts in Fiction

I'm usually not a fan of talking about stories before I've written them. Not only does this provide spoilers, but it's very silly to talk about something I haven't written yet, as though that matters in the slightest. There are billions of stories I haven't written, if I could speak about them as though I'd written them, then why even bother writing them at all?
But I make an exception in this case. Firstly, because I'm not entirely sure if I will write this story, it's just an idea. But secondly, because the very things I find myself dealing with in the conception of this story are what I want to talk about today, regarding the way we show facts in fiction. Because fiction is, in simplest terms, a lie. It's not real, and it didn't happen. But nonetheless fiction can be based on reality, inspired by reality & most importantly, it can influence the real world by teaching people with its words. The Word of the Day is: 'REALISM'

Realism /reeəlizəm/ n. 1. The tendency to face facts and deal with things as they really are, rather than as they exist in some ideal world. 2. The taking of a practical view in human problems rather than one based on principles of right and wrong. 3. The treatment of subjects in literature or art with faithfulness to the nature or to real life (opposed to idealism): Hogarth is a master of realism.

I am working on the next chapter of Duke Forever. This one was inspired by something my beautiful muse, dear Beloved, suggested to me. But in the previous (official) chapter, I made a little reference to a story I might want to write later - that's something I like to do with this blogserial, layers upon layers of references so that readers can have fun unravelling them.
See, in the beginning, the Duke asks Edison where, in history or destiny, he would want to travel to, and Edison says he wants to find the answer to "The most famous, unsolved mysteries in the history of the English police force.”
This, you see, is a little, fun reference to Jack the Ripper, and Edison, as a curious, do-gooder policeman, wants to know the answer. I thought that was a fun reference to lead into that story. But see, after I started to think about it, I started to overthink about it and realized that it could be a fun chapter, Edison vs. The Ripper; and since this is when Edison really would want to go in time (it makes the most sense for his character), the next time the Duke asks Edison to choose, he will have that same answer, leading into this Ripper story.

So, midway through writing Chapter 9, I started working on this other story idea, and I did some research. Now, the obvious problem was that I didn't actually know who Jack the Ripper was. I could write around that issue, but I figured I ought to look it up, so that I could at least have some suspects, or someone that made the most sense in canon. So, I looked up all the suspects and I tried to see if one of them was more or less viable an answer. I didn't find one, but I made a little short-list [For the record, this is a very complicated case; and if you look it up, there are some grisly images on Wikipedia].
But then, I thought, since Doctor Who has been around for ages, surely by now, they've had the Doctor meet the Ripper. I didn't think they'd do such a morbid story; but I didn't want to risk annulling my story by referencing inaccurate canon anyway. So, to be sure, I looked it up. Thankfully, there's been no Jack the Ripper TV story. Granted, there's some Doctor Who novels about it, but in regards to Duke Forever, I consider those "Shrödinger's Canon", they both do and don't exist unless and until the story acknowledges or debunks them.
However, there is one very important mention of Jack the Ripper in the TV show, and that's in the Episode "A Good Man Goes to War". In the beginning, Madame Vastra declares that she has killed Jack the Ripper. That's cool, and I like the idea of bringing my stories closer to the canon of the show, it's a fun challenge.
However, in the beginning of that episode - in the clip when we first meet Madame Vastra, there's a subtitle on the screen which reads:
LONDON, 1888 A.D.
This is troublesome . . . see, in the clip, Vastra says she killed Ripper, which means these two facts together make a claim about Jack the Ripper, which is:
  "The Man who would be 'Jack' died in 1888."
This is kind of cool for me, because it heavily narrows down my list of suspects. However, at the same time, it creates a terrible problem. See, it narrows down the list too much, because there's only one Jack the Ripper suspect who died in 1888, and that is Montague John Druitt. However, most damningly, that poor, unfortunate sod is, by all accounts, completely innocent. The only reason he was even a suspect was because he was once in an asylum for mental issues (hallucinations and self-harm) and because he committed suicide after the last "official" Jack the Ripper murder, supposedly explaining why victims stopped dying.

This gave me something of a dilemma. See, Mr Druitt was a real guy, Jack the Ripper is a real case with several killed and mutilated victims and not only that, but this man is undoubtedly innocent. His connection to the murders is tenuous at best, and I have every reason to believe that he was a troubled soul with no access to proper mental health facilities who simple killed himself to escape the madness. It's most unjust for me, even two centuries later, to further slander his name by pinning these ghastly murders on him.
Of course, I'm not the only one. The TV series Sanctuary includes a Jack the Ripper character by the name of "John Druitt", and the film From Hell is basically a Masonic/royal conspiracy theory blaming the queen's doctor, "William Withey Gull", even though he was in his 70s at the time and there's no evidence to link him to it. These people were innocent, yet blamed for the murders.
However, to measure yourself by the standards of others is to use a faulty measuring stick, and just because other people feel free to blame others out of ignorance, that doesn't mean that I will allow myself to. But, at the same time, I have that Golden Rule: Canon is King.
According to Dr Who canon and history, I am supposed to blame John Druitt, but do I have to repeat the mistakes of my predecessor for the sake of canon?
This is my dilemma.

See, I believe that fiction is supposed to teach, and even if something is entirely false, you should still try to write it in such a way that people learn something. Like, sure, talking wolves don't exist; but in its own way, Little Red Riding Hood teaches readers that they shouldn't talk to strangers. Even if it's fictional, the ways in which the fiction reflects on the real world aspects allows readers to learn something.
There are many things which I've learned, not only regarding talking to strangers, but also about culture, history, literature, morality, ethics & philosophy because of what I've read in fiction. Sometimes this is knowledge that I've inferred, but oftentimes, it's something I've come to understand through the demonstration which the story provides.

So, if people were to read this Jack the Ripper story of mine, they may choose to believe that I'm a better armchair detective than those other people which have tackled the case and therefore choose to believe this utter falsehood which I would be forced to write. Now, yes, of course I've given my disclaimer now, haven't I? So, if I do write this story, hopefully people will know "No, it wasn't really Montgomery J. Druitt", so there's not much worry of that. For the record, a much more likely candidate is Aaron Kosminski, since he's been linked to murders with DNA evidence discovered of late (but even that's unsure, since some people find the evidence doubtful; so feel free to dive in and look for the answer yourself, if you want).
But that's just this story, what about the rest? What about the other stories I write, many of which will deal with realworld places, people & objects.

For instance, when writing the previous Duke story, Bloodbath, I had some trouble with Elizabeth Báthory. I tried to make her as accurate as possible - even using her real name Erzsébet, rather than the Anglicized name, but for starters, I made the assumption that she would be a sociopath - that's not proven at all, it's just what I believed made sense for her character.
In stories like "Furby, Herbie & Kirby in the Starlight Derby", even though I tried my best to stay true to the canon of those characters and even to the geology of Area 51, California & the area around the Golden Gate Bridge, it's not all perfect. I portrayed the government agents as antagonistic, and made up all kinds of crap to make them more suitable in that manner; including shooting a harmless Furby.

On the one hand, most people can tell what's been embellished for the sake of fiction and information on Báthory, the N.S.A. & even Jack the Ripper are freely available, if they want to look it up the actual facts. But, at the same time, some people can't tell what's been embellished for fiction; and will choose to believe your fiction rather than reality, especially if it's easier to understand what you've seen/read with your own eyes than to look for the truth yourself.
Just because the blame is shared doesn't mean I can take a step back and ignore my responsibilities, as a writer, to keeping stories as close to real as possible, for the sake of my reader's experience. So, where do you draw the line? Of course fiction is fictitious, but where are the truths which should not be ignored?

To be honest, I think some of this comes down to writing. In the case of historical characters, I think that there are ways of making the line between fact and fiction more obvious, by going to the extreme and giving a fictional reason for their unrealistic actions or characteristics. Also, if your story is inspired by reality, but requires more than a few adjustments to history for it to work, perhaps create a character that is them, but by some other name. If you're really not sure, perhaps just have the characters discuss the truth amongst themselves.

But I think after all this talk, I might have to suggest a new rule. When it comes to writing, and creating fiction, to ensure the greatest story you can: Don't Lie to Me.
A simple but effective rule. If you know something is untrue or impossible, don't write it into your story. If you have to, then that's simple enough, make sure you justify it in your story, explain why it's different from reality.
Of course, not every story is realistic, some go for a more allegorical/idealistic style, and that's fine; and if you genuinely don't know, of course that's fine too. I'm just saying that, if you know the truth - or can easily discover the truth - about an element of your story, make sure that you're not accidentally miseducating people. After all, Wikipedia is right there if you don't know the truth, and if you have to lie to people, there's always some way of justifying it.

In the case of my Ripper story, if I write it at all, I think I'll find an alien excuse to justify my historical inaccuracies while also maintaining canon. But for the rest of you, just rattle your brain for a while. You've got quite the imagination, don't be afraid to use it, you'll come up with something.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time, consider this: If Art Imitates Life and Life Imitates Art, then how could Truth ever be stranger than Fiction?

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Nah, No WriMo

Hello again, dear readers. It's been a little while, hasn't it?
After my Halloween Countdown, I found myself a bit worn out. I call it being 'word-weary'; and if you're not sure what I'm talking about, I wrote a post about it over a year ago. The point is that I was a bit tired, so I took a break from it all. But, I wasn't inactive. In fact, I was working harder than ever.
As you may recall in my Update Update, I started this course for Hospitality Cert' 3. Well, I started that over a month ago, and at the time I began writing the Halloween Countdown, I'd finished the classroom portion of the course and moved on to work experience. Then all during the Countdown I was going to work at a local restaurant. then coming home and writing when I came home from my shift.
Y'know, it's only now looking back on it that I realize how amazing that is. Of course, that's not the most impressive feat, but that's exactly what I want to do with my life (work, then come home and write in my free time [spending time with my girlfriend as well]); that was proof-of-concept that I really can do this whole writing/working thing.
Anyway, I did work experience for two and a half weeks, which oddly enough coincides with the two-week Halloween Countdown writing, then the one week of recuperation. Now, having returned, I've finished the work experience and I'm going to start looking for a job.

So, that's what I've done. Now, what am I doing? Well, going back to blogging as usual, I guess. I'll post when I can, I'll try to get some kind of schedule going and - yes - I'll be writing more Duke Forever.
But there's something I'm forgetting, what is it? Remember, remember . . .
Oh, right, it's November! and that means, once again, we find ourselves in NaNoWriMo. For those of you that don't know what that means, allow me to enlighten you. the Word of the Day is: 'NANOWRIMO'

NaNoWriMo /nanōree'mō/ abbrev. National Novel Writing Month. A yearly event taking place in November, to encourage aspiring novelists to finish a rough draft, the word derives from the initials "National Novel Writing Month".

NaNoWriMo is the month when budding writers are invited to stop procrastinating and instead to buck down and write a 50,000-word rough draft in the 30 days of November. It's throughout the month because if you were to write between 1,000 and 2,000 words a day, you'd have 30,000 to 60,000 words written by the end of the month, it makes it easier, since people would be taking it one step at a time.
I really like this for a few reasons. I like that people are getting together in a communal effort towards writing, which is useful as it's good to have people to bounce ideas off of. I like that this is an informal thing, so that even if you're not a writer, you can jump right in; and since it's unofficial, if you don't want to make a big deal of it, you can work on your own. And I really like that this brings awareness to the young, amateur novelists and gives people the opportunity to get creative together. It's a cool idea.

But . . . I'm not really a fan. It's an interesting idea and I certainly think people that like it can have fun with it. However, I think that for most writers I know, it does seem to have a bit too much pressure. See, you can't force fiction; forced writing is stilted writing, and every time I've forced myself to write, I've looked at that work later and had to throw all of it out - it's worthless and stale. So, the idea of this deadline, November 30, is a bit too daunting. And there are some that will attempt and fail, because they're not ready. Sure, they've gotten a head start, but I don't think it's worth the anxiety and stress of missing a deadline.
Also, it's not like December is "National Novel Reading Month". What is the point of all this writing if nobody reads it? It's not like every person on nanowrimo.org gets published, so some of the effort is wasted.
Of course, getting any kind of writing done is good for practice, but I'm just talking about the possible stress this could create - and also, admittedly, I wish that this was more like a book club, where we write work and shared it with the group, but most of this work is just rough drafts that we'll never see.
Hell, even if they were all published online to read, surely Sturgeon's Revelation is in effect here. I'm sure that nine-tenths of the novels written during November aren't worth reading. Don't get me wrong! I appreciate that younger writers get the chance to practice and some people probably will get something really good written, but those are too few and far between, and this is asking young writers to spend 30 days writing which they could have better spent reading, advancing their vocabulary and doing smaller kinds of writing practice, playing with scenes and characters.
Granted, these supposed "young writers" I speak of which would be overwhelmed by A Novel-Writing Month are probably the extreme minority; perhaps they're self-aware enough to do what's "write" for their literary development without me having to worry about them. But the point is, NaNoWriMo is definitely not for everyone.

Now, I'm not here poo-pooing the whole idea. I'm not a fan, but as I said, it's interesting and if people like it they can have fun with it. I'm just saying that there are pros and cons. For me, the major con is that November comes after my Halloween Countdown, so I use the first week to rest, which means I'm not writing then. And also, I would never write one of my planned novels - like Dead Graham or Thaumaturgus - during November. That would be too much stress and strain and it would cheapen the effort I've put into carefully constructing it.
But, it's not like I'll never do NaNoWriMo, in fact, I wouldn't mind doing that one of these years, writing a novel then publishing it on the blog. In fact, I think that would be a lot of fun. I'd write the Halloween Countdown in advance, maybe get some suggestions from readers and use them to write a novel specifically for the blog, while keeping you updated along the way.
Depending on the story, maybe I'd write it all, letting people know how it's going along the way; then post in bulk on November 30th. Or maybe I'd write a story with 30 chapters and post them daily. Or maybe I'd just post the story every seven days, so that you'd get one quarter of the story weekly, with updates.
I dunno, there are a lot of options. The point is, it would be a fun event, and lots of free fiction for everyone involved, and it's something I will do one day.

For now, though? Nah . . . no Writing Month for me.

Not after a fortnight of writing and certainly not without an idea worth turning into a novel. If you're interested in this idea, let me know, maybe leave some concepts in the comment section, and if there's a good one we can start brain storming for NaNoWriMo 2015. It's an exciting prospect, so I'd love to work on it with all of you. But for now, I'm just settling back into the writer's seat and into the flow of posting regularly. And you know what? It's a comfy fit.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and best of luck to the aspiring novelists that are currently writing their stories; just keep calm and carry on writing. Until next time, I'm going to write some of my own stories, because even if it wasn't November, I'd be writing anyway.