The Promised Land

I talk to the books I’m reading, or more specifically the characters in them.

If you put ten writers in a room and asked them what the key was to any story, you would probably get ten different answers.  I personally think there is no definitive answer to this question, there a great number of things that make a good story.  Whether it be a coherent narrative, likeable characters or any other of the dozens of things that make great stories when put together.

Any good story must be able to catch the writer’s imagination however, it must be able to make them laugh, cry or cringe.  We’ve all read books that have had this effect on us, we’ve cringed at a gory scene or laughed when our favourite character has done something only to then be driven to tears when they’re killed off in the next chapter.  We then sit there cursing the writer because they have cruelly murdered our favourite character, despite knowing that in a narrative sense it was the correct thing to do.

It never ceases to amaze me how the written word can fire our imagination in a way that no other medium can.  I personally think it’s because we feel a sense of ownership, we imprint our own idea of how things look onto these imaginary worlds and people.  How many of us have sat there decrying casting director’s choices of people to play certain roles in screen adaptations of stories; this guy right here for one.

This is not a bad thing.

Being passionate about fiction is a good thing, no, a great thing.  I talk to the characters like they’re real and that’s when I know a story has really got me.  If you need to remind yourself that it’s a work of fiction, well, you’ve reached the promised land of reading in my opinion.

A Good End?

This blog has gotten a little of track of late, I think I’ve been letting my sentimental side run away with itself; time to correct that.

So, a post about writing, yay!

I was thinking recently about endings, specifically endings to stories.  In short, they’re hard to do.  I think the hardest thing any writer has to do is bring the curtain down on a story, especially if that story is part of a long running series that they have invested no small an amount of time into.  I’m only just embarking upon writing my own writing adventure with the Brogan books and so I don’t need to think about ending it any time soon, but the thought of doing it fills me with a deep feeling of dread whenever it enters my mind.

I think a writer has two main problems when coming to ending a story, ending at the right time and ending in the right way.

I’ll start with ending at the right time.  One of the worst things a writer can do in my opinion is to draw out a story, all stories and characters for that matter have a shelf life.  The time comes when consideration must be given to whether the best thing for them is to end it, there a few things worse than seeing a much-loved character being flogged like a dead horse to put off their eventual execution.  I get why they do it, we love them, they’re like part of the family and ending their story is akin to taking a family pet to the vet knowing it’ll be last time you do.

Overstating the issue?  Maybe, but I love my characters, even the bastards; I put too much into creating them not to get attached to them.

Whilst timing is important, equally as important is execution.  How many times have we been following a story in whatever medium we’re experiencing it, only to get to the end and be left feeling distinctly underwhelmed.  Take for example the ending to the first trilogy in the Mass Effect series of games.  Now sure it’s purely a matter of opinion on whether the ending to Mass Effect 3 was any good, indeed it is a very polarizing topic.  Much like Marmite, you either love it or you hate it.  But it doesn’t alter the fact that it left many people feeling like they had been sold a lemon.

For those of who haven’t played the games, the series was sold on the basis that the choices you made through the series would affect the ending.  I can only speak for my own experience, but I was personally feeling good running into the last half an hour of gameplay.  The story had been good, the musical score was outstanding and the characters were all behaving in characteristic fashion.  Sadly, everything north of this point was, in my opinion at least, complete and utter bollocks.

Half an hour later and the game was over.  I won’t tell you how it went, I will however say three words that should explain the situation clearly; deus ex machina.  The writers threw a curveball, and not in a good way.  It was a disappointing end to what had otherwise been an outstanding series of games, the response of the writers to criticism didn’t help matters any either, but that’s a topic for another time.  The moral of the story is this; timing and execution are key.  If you want your stories to be remembered for the right reasons you need make sure you end them at the right time and in the right way, of course having a good story also helps.

For my part, I hope that when the time comes for me to end the Brogan series, I do it right.  It may not have many fans now, but those it does have deserve the best I can do.

Peace out folks, and have a lovely day.

The Arts: All Things To All People

The arts.

I think their importance to people’s lives is often underestimated.  They have the power to inspire, to give people the opportunity to escape or appreciate something beautiful.  For people such as myself who aren’t blessed with an overabundance of money, the arts provide an opportunity to see things and places that we may not otherwise see.  To bear witness to events that have long since passed from living memory, to see great and wondrous things that have long since crumbled to dust.

They allow us to order our thoughts and document our own lives, as well as the lives of others.  They allow us to see into the minds of great figures from history, to see how they viewed themselves compared to how their contemporaries viewed them.  They allow us to delve into the collective psyche of nations, to see how they developed and to follow their eventual decline.  They allow us to see the better side of humanity, whether it be music, literature, or any of the other methods of human expression, the importance of the arts cannot be overstated.

Having said all of that, it also allows us to see the ugly side of humanity.  For as long as the arts have existed, they have been used to inspire people to some of the most heinous acts imaginable.  People have used them to espouse hateful political ideologies, leading to some of the worst atrocities in human history.  They have been used to craft policies leading to the oppression and suffering of entire groups of people, for no greater reason than the colour of their skin, their religious and/or political beliefs, their gender or any number of arbitrary reasons of little, to no relevance in judging the worth of a person.

We can be unbelievable shits to each other sometimes, when inspired by a picture, a film, or a piece of music we can react in some of the worst ways imaginable to one another.  But we can also be beautiful, I have been privileged in my life to have witnessed some of the most touching acts of kindness from people in situations little better than the person they are helping.

People have tremendous capacity.  Whatever we choose to create and whatever effect it has, I’d rather have a world of boundless creative possibilities than the alternative.

My mind has been racing with thoughts such as these lately, so expect more such musings.  In the meantime, stay classy world!