New material

Hi all,

Just to let you know I’ve posted a new piece.  This one’s called ‘Cupid’s Brother’.  It was for this month’s writers’ group and the theme was Love Struck.  So my inspiration for this was a different take on Cupid.  What would it be like to be someone close to him?

I came up with the idea of using a family member in order so that the two characters could share a common bond.  This meant that the experience of loss was personal to both and not just the narrator.

Originally, I had not intended for there to be a happy ending.  On coming back to the story after a week, I realised what I had written wasn’t working so I tried again.  I am far happier with this second attempt.  Especially as the brother doesn’t twig what is going on until it has already happened!

 

 

Character Portraits: The Angry Teenager

I think James Dean’s performance in Rebel Without A Cause sums up this type perfectly when he responded to the line ‘What are you rebelling against?’ with ‘What have you got?’

This type is culture specific.  It seems to only be present in Great Britain and the United States.  Yet when the place of origin is other than those two a miraculous change occurs.  Suddenly they are no longer the fearsome, sullen nether creatures but angels, almost.

Teenagers can only be traced back to the twentieth century.  Before then people of this age group went straight from school (sometimes at 12, other times even younger) into work.  They did not have disposable income nor time to spare.  Due to changes in circumstances and especially societal attitudes, we get a new ‘breed’.

Misunderstood because of the perfectly normal transition they are going through, they are tarred with the same brush.  Rebellious, angry, sullen, hate-filled, irresponsible, impulsive.  All the traits we associate with evil influences.

Anybody from Great Britain and the U.S. can see the correlation between the supposed reality and the character type.  We believe that one is a representation of the other which drives how we feel and act around them in real life.

Do we need this type?

No. This stereotype is harmful and perpetuates the myth that all people from this group are evil.  Society alienates teenagers so it is us who must change.  Until we as adults change then this stereotype will continue to exist.

Character Portraits: The Hero

This is the first in a series where I take a look at different character types investigating where they come from and why we have them.  I thought I would start off with the most obvious; the hero.  I’d like to take a moment to say that I don’t differentiate between the masculine and feminine here, a hero and a heroine are just the same.  I will be using hero simply because I’m lazy, having less letters than the latter.

Why do we have one?

Well that can be boiled down to one word; injustice.  The hero needs something to fight for whether that be against crime, environmental concerns, defending the weak, etc.  There has to be a driving force for a hero to take that step into danger.  We see injustice every day and we think that it would be great if someone could right that wrong.  Secretly, we may even revel in the thought that the wrongdoer will get hurt in the process.

This character is easy to conjure up, so much so that we even have different categories; the superhero, the anti-hero and even the reluctant hero.

Where do they come from?

Going as far back as Ancient Greece there were stories of people, gods almost (sons of deities at least), like Heracles (now Hercules), Achilles, Hector et al.  Classical heroes were considered as warriors who live and die in the pursuit of honour.  Now though we like them a little more complex, more human.  Heroes are no longer perfect, they must have a flaw.

Anger management pops up frequently as does alcoholism, drug addiction and anything else that could potentially disrupt the course of events.  If our hero had an addiction to knitting we would hardly consider that a flaw.  Unless, during the final battle our protagonist proceeded to pull out a ball of yarn and start knitting, but that isn’t really going to happen.  It would certainly break by suspense of disbelief that’s for sure!

We need those flaws to show that these people are just like us, an altered version sure, but us nonetheless.  I believe the hero was created to help us fantasise about what we would do in a given situation.  We don’t want to be like them, we want to be them.  We see a part of ourselves in them.  We are however afraid of repercussions.  We are afraid of being weak at the wrong moment and being unable to vanquish the foe.  Instead, we let our heroes do that for us.

Is it wrong to have them, then?

No.  If anything they are needed to show us the way, to do what is right.  Injustice has to be stopped and if it means stepping up to be counted, then so be it.

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

Okay let’s get this out of the way right now shall we?  I love Jeremy Brett’s version of the famous detective and have steered clear of Benedict’s rendition for a few reasons which I shall name later.

When I saw the trailer for this one-off special, I was delighted to see it was to be set in the Victorian era (despite the Suffragette movement being founded in 1903), oh joy.

Imagine my surprise therefore when I found it wasn’t.  But was it?  No, it wasn’t.  But maybe…Okay guys, I think you over did the flash-back/mind palace plot device here, I got it quite quickly as I’m sure most of us did.  It’s a shame as I was getting into the story and the idea of linking it with the Suffragettes was an interesting one.  The concept of using Mary to basically drag our intrepid duo onto the right track felt poorly thought out though.

It left me thinking that Sherlock was a blusterer prone to jumping at the wrong conclusion just to show how good he is.  And now I come to the reason why I don’t watch most versions of Sherlock Holmes.  Those who adapt Conan Doyle’s stories centre on Holme’s abruptness.

When you read the stories however, you come to understand that he is a more rounded character than his acidic side seems to suggest.  He is quite capable of compassion, calming overwrought witnesses and winning over people to get the next piece of data.

To me, Holmes is prone to moments of theatre, incredibly vain (which certainly goes against his purely logical, non-emotional brain we are led to believe), sometimes vulnerable, observant like no other man before or since, harsh of himself and others and briefly joyous.

Jeremy Brett’s version shows Holmes’ patient side, his brotherly love with Watson as well as his confidence that goes beyond arrogance.  This is more to do with the writers than the actors.

Getting back to the show, Benedict’s performance is exceedingly good and I can see why people watch him.  He is ably assisted by Martin Freeman but I’m not going to watch a show entirely based on the actor’s performances.  The writing on the other hand, while full of brilliant touches, left me feeling confused.

Overall then, I liked the Victorian setting and the suffragette movement plot twist.  The ‘mind palace’ and the addition of Moriarty were unnecessary.  Looking back at this review, it feels like it is vitriolic in nature.  It’s not like I hated the special, I just think they could have done a better job.

Additional:  Avid followers of the series, please can you answer this question for me; is Holmes solely based on his sharp manner or is there more to him than what appeared last night?

Star Wars, Episode VII; The Force Awakens

From the beginning this film wants to be like it’s earliest ancestors.  I can say now that it does a very good job of it.  Many elements feel like they have been ripped from ‘A New Hope’ but there is just enough to make the movie different.

For me, the two stars of the film are Rey and BB-8.  Daisy Ridley (Rey) acts like she belongs in the world.  We discover her, scavenging for parts on the desert world of Jakku.  She is, by any measure, independent and very feisty.  Later on, with Finn by her side, it is her who leads the way.  When they part company at  Maz Kanata’s castle, it is interesting to see that she is looking down on Finn.  It is at this point that Finn reveals his secret, but I feel more is going on here.

BB-8 on the other hand is easily the most loveable of the new characters.  His little bleeps, chirps and the way he moves his head will win anybody over.  Other than following the humans about, however, I wish he had actively taken part.

Even if Finn had not bumped into Rey, I would quite happily have followed the feisty woman and her dutiful droid on their adventures.  This is good as the dialogue isn’t always up to par.  Then again, it is never so bad as to distract from the story.  Talking of which, there are some lighter moments sprinkled throughout.  Doing this made the characters feel human, even the stormtroopers.

Watching Adam Driver playing Kylo Ren, I got the impression that he is struggling with who he is and who he wants to be.  Is he, as Rey says, afraid he will not be as strong as his grandfather?  Quite possibly.  Living up to his image would be a tough act for anyone to follow.

Episode VII does a grand job of mixing together  the personal stories with the big.  Yet again I have heard people saying that it was overhyped, but in my opinion it is a damn good film.  Certainly I didn’t feel as let down as I did with the last three movies.

If you plan to go but have not seen it yet, you will not be wasting your money.  It gnaws at you, drawing you in and when it’s done, it makes you want more.

And Then There Were None, Part 3; The End

Well, what can I say except that my prediction was correct.  This was a truly absorbing drama.  Just when you think you have a character down a new piece of information is revealed which sheds a whole new light.  They are not the picture of innocence but are just as guilty as the rest of them.  I can see why people consider this to be Agatha’s best work. I can tell you now, if you’ve not read the book, you are unlikely to guess the killer.

Throughout the last episode the same mental torture chases after it’s victims.  This series, my friends, is not for the fainthearted.  It is gruesome, bloody and will make you think twice about going to an island with nine strangers.

Both Agatha Christie and indeed the writer who adapted it for the screen, Sarah Phelps, should be commended.  It isn’t just excellent, it is downright fabulous.

So, to finally put you out of your misery, I will reveal who the true killer is.  The one person who has been methodically slaughtering the others, sometimes in a bloodless way, other times not so much.  Our friend, the killer is

“Hey, how did you get in here?  You can’t possibly exist, you’re not real.  What do you think you’re doing?”

I back away from the computer slowly.

“Look, it’s not what you think, I wasn’t really going to tell them, it’s just a big joke.  End on a cliffhanger, that sort of thing.”

I laugh nervously.  The look in their eye is menacing.  They’ve done it before, they would have no trouble bumping me off too.  I look around hoping to catch sight of a weapon, even something to defend myself.  The first thing that comes in sight is a pillow.

‘A pillow?  What am I going to do with that, batter him to death?’ I think.

Then it hits me, the pen.  That which I had used to create my own stories has been used to end mine.  Turning, I look down and see the silvery glint as the shaft catches the light.  I can feel the other end stuck in my throat.  Air tries to push it’s way past, but it isn’t happening.

The last thing I see is the killer writing on the page I had been working on.  One word, designed to obfuscate, to confuse unless you knew what it meant.

Justitia.

 

And Then There Were None, Part 2; The horror continues

It seems to me that this mini series is erring on the side of mental torture and horror (quite the obvious statement if you’ve seen it, I know).  Each character despite their surface appearances (and isn’t this a classic portrayal of the stiff upper lip from that period?) are haunted by their past deeds.  We are treated, if that is the correct word, to the Doctor’s particular horror in the first episode where we see a hospital trolley, a body covered with a sheet & liberally splashed with blood.  Clearly such a scene will haunt even the hardiest of souls.  Which is exactly what we have seen in this episode.

Interestingly, two of the characters have come to accept their fate.  Perhaps they are tired of living out their pasts and want to let it go.  They know that their time is up and will not resist.  For those who are left, fear grips time and again bringing finger pointing to a new level.

A weapon has gone missing and the remaining characters resort to searching all the rooms together.  Trust has been shattered as each person strives for survival.  Only Charles Dance’s character seems unperturbed by what is happening.  Perhaps because he has already lived his life.

Of the remaining cast, three could be classed as respectable members of society; a judge, a doctor and a policeman.  Dare we dismiss them from our list of potential candidates for killer?  I think not.

Who do I think is the killer?  I think I’ll keep my guess close to my chest for now.  If it’s one thing I’ve learned from Agatha Christie, it’s never who you think it is.

And Then There Were None: A Review of the BBC Drama Mini Series

Last night saw the premiere of the first episode of the mini series based on Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name.  I need to point out right now that I have not read the book so this review will not be a comparison between the two.

The story is this-Ten strangers are invited to an island under false pretenses on the eve of world war two, what for? Nobody knows.  They all have one thing in common, each has a secret that has been discovered by their mysterious host, Ulfric Norman Owen.  Within the space of an evening they find they have a killer in their midst.  They must find the killer before it is too late.

First and foremost I’d like to say this, if the other two episodes are as good as the first, then the BBC is onto a winner.  Last night’s episode wasn’t just engaging, it was absorbing.  While they started from a strong position by picking this story, it could easily have been let down by bad acting.  With the likes of Sam Neill, Charles Dance and Miranda Richardson though, you know you are going to be watching something wonderful.  For me though, it was Anna Maxwell Martin’s performance of Mrs. Rogers that stole every scene she was in.

Her relationship with Mr. Rogers, the butler, had driven her close to edge, even before they arrive on the island.  As such she displayed heartbreaking obsequiousness that was tough to watch.  I didn’t just feel sorry for her, I wanted to remove her from the band of vultures to a place where she could get better.  As for the others, Agatha Christie has imbued almost all of them with such loathsome characteristics, that I for one would feel afraid to be in a room with them.

Only Miss Vera Claythorne and Philip Lombard are worthy of anything other than contempt.  For one thing, we focus on Miss Claythorne (ably played by Maeve Dermody) before we get to the island.  Therefore we get to empathise with her.  A scene set on the coast gives us a hint that an incident had occurred, affecting her deeply.  Her interactions with Philip Lombard showed that she could look after herself, however.

By the end of the hour, the guests’ secrets had been revealed and two had been murdered.  All that matters now, is to watch and wait.

 

The Ultimate Observer

More than once I have wondered what it would feel like to be unable to communicate via speech.  Speaking and by extension, listening, is an inherent part of me.  Yet it is said that ninety five per cent of communication is non-verbal.  So why does speaking mean so much to us?

It is one of the foremost ways of giving information to others.  We use speech to bond, to inform, to educate, to entertain.  Without speech, would life be bleak?

My answer is no and here’s why.  Recently I have experienced and seen what it is like to be unable to talk.  On a visit to my sister recently, we decided to take a tour of the town.  While doing so, we passed two women communicating through sign language.  In that brief moment, I knew they were having fun through taking photos and playing about.

The other example happened a few weeks earlier when I had been skyping with a friend.  Due to an error, I could not hear what she said.  Therefore we resorted to the traditional back-up, the written word.  During the conversation, it seemed to me that we were conversing on a deeper level.  Having to rely on body language meant I became more adept at reading her thoughts and emotions.

This lead me to wonder, could deaf people be the ultimate observers?

Why does this have to do with writing? Easy.  By putting myself in their position, I can see what life would be like.  This is the same process you need to perform for your characters.  Give them life by understanding that everyone views life their way.

 

The first post!

And so here it is, the first post to my brand new website.  What could I possibly say in this post which could help others the most?

Characters.

One of the fundamental pillars of writing, is characters.

Before you even start your story, you need to consider each and every character you wish to have, even if your story is one page long.  As a writer, you need to understand what the character looks like, what they like, what they hate, what their family is, what their political affiliations are, what religion they are, what is their job; basically, how do they fit in the world?

You need to know each character like you know your best friends.  That way, you can write about them with an authenticity that you would not normally be able to achieve.  You know these people so well, that they rarely surprise you.  Of course, it is up to you to decide whether you want them to do something out of the ordinary.  But, without knowing what that ‘ordinary’ is, how can they be different?

Your characters need to feel and sound real.  They also need to be different from each other, as well as you.  At some point, you will notice that they begin to sound like mildly alternate versions of yourself.  Sure, one or two could have some of your traits in them, but not all.  If they all sound the same and act the same, it is time to take a step back and look at things again.

Observation of the people around you (not necessarily your family, friends and work colleagues), will help you to understand the multitude of characteristics that are out there.  Don’t be afraid to watch others, just don’t make it too obvious!  For some reason, many people do not like to be stared at.