Friday, 30 October 2009

Weekly Interivew (19)

This weeks interview is a radio podcast with three great novelists. Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, 'Beowulf'), Christopher Paolini (Eragon) and Tamora Pierce (Trickster's Queen) talk about why the fantasy genre appeals to such a wide audience and what it takes to create a memorable fantasy story.

Follow this link , then click "listen" to load the audio player. Enjoy...

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Vampire Mythology

Vampires are popular. Breaking news to some of the cave-dwellers out there but common knowledge to everyone else. From Bram Stoker, Anne Rice and Joss Whedon, to 'Twilight' and 'True Blood'. It seems everyone is jumping on the vampire band-wagon. For example, the very fact that this post is entitled "Vampire Mythology" means it will attract more readers.

But how should you go about tackling the vampire story?

This is an interesting post from Alex Epstein about genre mythology and how to get it right. He talks about vampire lore. This is something that has gone through various transitions and therefore it's very hard to get right. Here's an example of vampire mythology that doesn't work:
TWILIGHT had a consistent, coherent mythology that did not ring true for me. If all vamps do in sunlight is sparkle, then Edward is not a scary predator, he's just Bella's big sparkly pony. It's fine for teenage girl wish fulfillment; girls need stories about big, powerful ponies that will obey them. But he's not a vampire. Because to me, the vampire mythos is about the power of death, and the seductiveness of evil, and if he can go out in the sun and doesn't have to kill people, then his undeadness lacks all thematic punch. He's not a vampire, he's a "vampire."
I agree. I made my feelings known in this little rant about 'Twilight'. What's scary about a guy who sparkles in the sun? Absolutely nothing! Similarly, take a look at this trailer for 'Twilight: New Moon'. In a rather tense moment, some dude changes into a wolf to save the girl *insert feminism rant here*

But wait! What does he change into? Yes, a wolf. But not a strong, warrior wolf. A.....erm....fluffy, friendly dog! How can you take this guy seriously when he turns into something like that? There's absolutely nothing scary about him in that form - he should have stayed as a half-naked guy!

Epstein also talks about how you can successfully change the vampire mythology canon:
I love when a genre story adds to or convincingly change canon. Canonical vampires are undead, drink human blood, and can't go out in the sun. Optionally, they fear crosses, holy water burns them, and they dislike garlic. In Stoker, as in the Buffyverse, every vamp victim becomes a vamp, but simple math shows that's implausible: there would quickly be a vamp population explosion. So, in Rice, vamps only make vamps by draining their victim and then getting the victim to drink vamp blood. That was a logical improvement to the canon; it made it easier for me to believe that vamps secretly exist in my universe. [UPDATE: I stand corrected about the Buffyverse -- it follows Rice Rules.]
It always gets my back up when no-one seems to know about the shit going on in the world. In the Buffyverse, the government knew. Even the school principal knew! Problem solved. Who knows in 'Twilight'? Erm.......does that come up? Probably not.

Epstein has a final note on what to do if you're writing a genre piece:
If you're working in genre, first, please, make sure you're thinking it through. What would real people do in this situation. Be brave. Pursue the ramifications as far as you can. For vamps to exist in our world without our knowing it, what would the rules of their existence have to be? How are they suppressing our knowledge of their existence? Are they showing up for the first time, as Dracula did in DRACULA -- so, in that case, no one knew about vamps because there hadn't been any in Britain. Do they cut a deal with human society -- do the rich and powerful know that they exist but they're hiding it from us? And so forth.
Interesting post. I'm taking Epstein's advice to my own vampire script.* There's just something about a dark brooding man who sucks people's blood that is irresistible to the ladies! I've been working on my brooding persona ever since 'Buffy' season 1 and I'm yet to be convinced it works in the real world!

* My vamp script is in no way for teenagers! (Just to avoid any "you're a hypocrite" comments)

Sunday, 25 October 2009

'Oliver Twist' (book review)

I recently read Oliver Twist as part of my Victorian Literature module at uni and found it.....interesting......


"Everyone knows the story of 'Oliver Twist', but very few have actually read the book. You get a whole new look at the story this way. And I'm sad to say it isn't a good one (at first glance).

My main issue with Dickens is his description - he often spends pages and pages describing in great detail the settings and characters. The reason for this is that 'Oliver Twist' is a Realist Novel. During the Victorian period, the aim of the Novel was to show the world as faithfully as possible. This meant detailed descriptions to show the reader exactly where this story took place. In this, Dickens succeeds. But as a modern reader, do we particularly care for a chapter that does nothing but describes fog ('Bleak House')?

Because of this intense attention to detail, what you get is a vivid image of Dickens' real world. But at the same time, you can't help wondering why a lamp is being described to you in such detail! The story could easily be told in half the time. Speaking of.....

'Oliver Twist' was published in Periodicals; you would read a number of chapters each week in a magazine. This meant that (not unlike television in today's terms) Dickens was forced to position 'act-outs' or cliffhangers to keep the reader hooked.

It's highly likely that Dickens himself was unaware of what was going to happen week-by-week. It's almost certain that he had no clue how the book would end. These two problems combined result is a poorly paced novel with seemingly pointless anti-climaxes and unlikely plot-points.

The hero of the piece is - as most will agree - little Oliver twist, the poor orphan boy never given a chance to achieve his full potential. But look closer and you'll see a clear problem with Dickens' protagonist. He is no hero. Heroes act - they take matters into their own hands and actually do something. Oliver is merely acted on . He is carried through the story by far more powerful and interesting characters. Dickens was aware of this; on many occasions, Dickens drops Oliver in order to pay attention to the other characters. He is constantly forced to revisit his 'protagonist' and the novel consequently suffers.

On the positive side, if you're looking to find out about Victorian London, look no further. Dickens accurately portrays 19th Century society, giving an insight into the most intimate of affairs (ever wondered how he knew so much about pick-pocketing and prostitution at the age of 24?)

It's important to note, however, that 'Oliver Twist' also acts as a social commentary of the time. London is always portrayed in a bad light and the countryside is idealised beyond words (literally). The only reason the plot develops in this way is to enable Dickens to comment about contemporary issues - the workhouse, The Fallen Woman, the class system/Poor Law, anti-Semitism, identity, imprisonment & power et al.

In summary, 'Oliver Twist' is a classic novel. Unfortunately, it's a book known for its story of a young orphan looking for a family. However, it is much better looked at as a Realist novel of the Victorian period, acting as a social commentary on many important issues."

Friday, 23 October 2009

Weekly Interview (18)

This weeks interview is from Creative Screenwriting and their podcast with 'Zombieland' writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. There are some great insights into horror/comedy, specifically the zombie genre. It's also very interesting to see how Reese and Wernick work together as writing partners.

Link to the podast here.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


I was introduced to Goodreads by Michelle. It's a great community of book-readers where you can review, rate and discuss your latest reads. In the future, I'll post my reviews here as we can learn a lot about storytelling from books as well as films!

I read a lot of books (always read the fine print when you sign up for an English degree) so there'll undoubtedly be a lot of reviews popping up. But worry not - they won't always be classic, high literature - I like an action-filled fantasy as much as everyone else!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Poll: What is your favourite fantasy book/series?

I've set up a poll to the right asking what your favourite fantasy book/series is. I've had a few ideas for a similar series for a while now - there are plenty of possible routes floating around, but I'm yet to decide on anything concrete.

Please feel free to say what you've chosen and why in the comments section - I'm very interested in what you believe makes a great fantasy story.


Saturday, 17 October 2009

Weekly Interivew (17)

This weeks interview is with Michael Halperin ('Star Trek: TNG'). He talks intensively about the importance of Act II - essential for every writer. Enjoy....

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The Trilogy

What is the ultimate trilogy? The Godfather? Star Wars? Back to the Future? The Matrix? Indiana Jones? Die Hard?

Kevin Smith talks about one trilogy in particular, pretty much nailing what was wrong with it. But I'm not quite sure about his proposed alternate ending...... What do you think?

Monday, 12 October 2009

Lovable characters

There are very few fictional characters I love. Films rarely have enough maneuverability to make you really love them but TV shows have no excuse. That's not to say you should love every character, but more that you should have an emotional connection to at least one of them.

This being me (dedicated Whedonite), I do love characters. And they're created by Mr Joss Whedon.

Needless to say....SPOILER ALERT for 'Buffy', 'Angel' and 'Firefly'.

Here's a list of the characters I love and why:

MALCOLM REYNOLDS - 'Firefly', 'Serenity'
What I love about Mal is his role on Serenity. He's the father figure. He looks out for everyone, always protecting and saving them. As a child, you see your father as almost god-like. Your dad can do anything because...he's your dad! Mal is in some way like that but at the same time, I also see him as the father you come to know as you grow older. Fathers are not god-like, they're not indestructible. That's what Mal is.

I do see Mal as a father. He always does whatever it takes to protect his family, even if that means handing himself in to the Alliance like in Safe. In the same episode, Mal rescues Simon and River. Simon asks why he did it - why put himself and the rest of the crew at risk to save them? The answer - "You're on my crew."

We join Serenity as Simon does. So we almost feel the same as him. In Mal's acceptance and welcoming of Simon, we are welcomed into the warm, loving home of 'Firefly'.

RIVER - 'Firefly', 'Serenity'
I love River as a sister. Through Simon's love for her and his unconditional protection, we can see a truly powerful sibling bond. He does whatever it takes to keep her safe, having given up his entire life to find her. As River says: "You gave up everything you had to find me. You found me broken. It's hard for you."

It is hard for Simon but it doesn't matter. He's willing to do anything in the world for his sister. I'd do the same for mine.

I originally fell in love with Buffy because she was cool, funny, ass-kicking and (most importantly at the time) hot! She was my first TV crush. The series developed, as did her character. Buffy grew from a witty teen to an equally witty woman. What I began to notice about Buffy is that she's truly incredible. This really hit me at the end of season 5, when she died saving the world. Of course, she wasn't just dying for the world, she was dying for her sister.

For me the ultimate strength of Buffy comes in the season 6 episode Dead Things. Here, Buffy has been expelled from heaven, ripped out by her friends. She has no money. She's working at a shitty job for pittance. She's desperately trying to take care of her younger sister who is struggling at school. She's having a very violent relationship with a vampire she hates. On top of all that, she's saving the world on a weekly basis. In this episode, she believes she has killed a girl. One young woman who got caught in the crossfire.

As Spike says, "And how many people are alive because of you? How many have you saved? One dead girl doesn't tip the scale!"

99% of people would agree. But not Buffy. Even with all this pressure and the excuses, Buffy is still determined to turn herself into the cops and face the consequences of her action. Now that's a powerful woman!

How I truly feel about Buffy can be summed up by Spike in season 7's Touched:
I love what you are, what you do, how you try... I've seen your kindness, and your strength, I've seen the best and the worst of you and I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You're a hell of a woman. You're the one, Buffy.

SPIKE - 'BtVS', 'Angel'
I've already talked about Spike and anyone who knows me knows I think he's awesome! Spike is the sort of guy I could spend hours drinking with in a bar (in a purely friendship way, I might add). He first came into 'Buffy' as a recurring villain. He soon became a morally ambiguous good guy. Then he earned his soul.

Spike lives for the fight. Whenever there's a huge battle brewing, he'll always be there. And more importantly, he always gets back up. That's why I'd always back Spike in a fight - no matter how many times you knock him down, he just gets right back up and throws another punch.

ANGEL - 'BtVS', 'Angel'
Angel didn't really come out of his shell until he moved to LA. Here he was forced to work out his purpose in the world. At a glance, one might assume his mission or purpose was to save it. Wrong!

Angel's mission was never to save the world - that's just something that happened in the process of his true mission - fight the good fight.

Angel is champion and no matter what, he'll always be there to save you. That doesn't mean he'll succeed, but he'll try. He went to some very dark places - letting a bunch of humans be massacred by vampires wasn't the height of his heroism.

It's hard to explain why I love Angel. The best way would be to draw on a few quotes and you can see for yourself.

Here, Knox is responsible for the death of Fred. I wouldn't just let him die, I'd kill him myself (something that Wesley agrees with). But Angel has this to say to Illyria:
You're about as low as it gets, Knox. But you're a part of humanity. That isn't always pretty, but it's a hell of a lot better than what came before. And if it comes down to a choice between you and him... then, yes. I would fight for his life just like any other human's, because that's what people do.
Here, Angel is addressing his team. Do they dare fight one last battle and risk everything?
This isn't a "keep fighting the good fight" kind of deal. Let's be clear. I'm talking about killing every... single... member... of the Black Thorn. We don't walk away from that.
We do this, the senior partners will rain their full wrath. They'll make an example of us. I'm talking full-on hell, not the basic fire-and-brimstone kind that we're used to.
Ten to one, we're gone when the smoke clears. They will do everything in their power to destroy us. So... I need you to be sure. Power endures. We can't bring down the Senior Partners, but for one bright shiny moment we can show them that they don't own us. You need to decide for yourselves if that's worth dying for. I can't order you to do this. Can't do it without you. So we'll vote... as a team. Think about what I'm asking you to do. Think about what I'm asking you to give.
Angel's dedication to the good fight always comes to the surface. He rallies the entire team. They know they're going to die. The fight they're about to start won't make much difference. It won't save lives. It won't save the world. But it will make a point and maybe rally other champions to the fight.

Angel and the team go out on a battle-cry with one very simple message - keep fighting.

Tell me you don't love someone like that!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Weekly Interview (16)

This weeks interview is with Ed Burns ('The Wire', 'Generation Kill'). here he talks about his experience of making 'Generation Kill' and how more characters can sometimes benefit. It's a long one, packed with useful information. It also provides an interesting insight into conflict, for anyone wanting to write war films.

Check out the audio interview here.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

'Generation Kill'

For those who don't know, 'Generation Kill' is a TV show from Ed Burns, based on Evan Wright's documentary book. It tells the story of a journalist who accompanies a squad of Marines into Iraq.

Ed Burns also created 'The Wire'. I watched the first three episodes of 'The Wire' when it aired on BBC 2. People said it was the greatest TV show ever made. I didn't think so. One of the biggest complaints about it was that it was impossible to understand. The lingo etc made it very hard to follow for some people. That wasn't really the case for me - I understood most of the talk, but the characters never really engaged me.

I've seen a few clips from 'Generation Kill' and it looks a lot better. I've been anxious to see if for months now and the day is finally here. Tonight, 'Generation Kill' airs on C4 straight after 'True Blood'.

I'm shocked and pissed off that I've not seen a single advert for it. had I not noticed it in the TV guide, I'd have missed what could be a very powerful show! Why would C4 spend so much money buying a HBO series, only to do it injustice?

Here is an interview with novelist Evan Wright about his experience in Iraq.

Anyway, it airs tonight at 23:20, channel 4.

Friday's interview is with creator Ed Burns and is very insightful. Watch this space and let me know what you think of 'Generation Kill'.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Quiet times

It's going to be a wee bit quiet on this here blog for a bit now. I've just started my 3rd year at uni and the work is already mounting up. I've worked out I can spend one day each week doing the work needed. But that doesn't take into account assignments, dissertation et al. I've also got to make time for writing. Then there's the part-time job as well. So needless to say, the blog comes last on the very long list of responsibilities.

I'll definitely keep a weekly interview slot but please excuse me while things are quiet. I'll inevitably blog when I have a few minutes to spare, but it'll be slow.

Writing is going well. Recent developments have meant I'm going to get my arse in gear and register with the Writer's Guild and buy Final Draft - if anyone knows where I can get FD cheaply (and legally, I might add!) please do let me know. please bear with me as I get into a routine again. In the meantime, amuse yourself with these cute animals:

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Weekly Interivew (15)

This weeks interview is with Shauna Cross ('Whip It'). She talks about her new film 'Whip It' (starring Ellen Page) and how she got to this point. She also dusucces the balance of action and emotion as well as the business itself and the importance of knowing the industry. Enjoy...

Friday, 2 October 2009

Swearing: round 2

I read this in the Daily Express today, from Ann Widdecombe:
[...] it is almost impossible to get through an evening's television viewing without hearing "strong" language on the screen. Strong, of course, is a euphemism for disgusting.
To that, I respond - fuck off!!!

Who's to say swearing is 'bad'? Why? 'Shit' is just a word like any other. Why is 'fuck' worse than 'fork'? They sound almost the same, so what's the problem?

I've made my standpoint on swearing on TV known before. If the occasion calls for it, I'm in favour. It can add realism to the situation. Widdecombe then went on to directly attack scriptwriters for the 'bad' language:
Perhaps the BBC should issue a swear box to all script writers so that they can ask them to put in 10% of their salery for each bad word used.
Again, I say FUCK OFF!!!

What responsibility do writers have to avoid such language? It is the responsibility of whoever decides the show be aired and at whatever time. If a show airing at 10pm features the word 'shit' then it is not the writer's fault if a child hears it.

Now if the word 'shit' appeared in a kids show airing at 3pm, then there is cause for alarm. But is it then the writer's fault? Any good production company would not take a script (for children) which featured that word. So would it be the writer's fault if it slipped through the net?

The truth is that no-one writing for 5-year-olds is going to put the word 'shit' in their dialogue. That would get them rejected. So what exists is a form of self-censorship on the part of writers. You choose language appropriate for the occasion.

'Fuck' would not be appropriate for a kids show, but would be perfectly justified in a show airing at 9pm when the characters are about to get hit by a car!

Someone I've admired for a long time has his own strong opinion on swearing. We all know him; we all love him!

What Fry says is true. I've come across tutors at school and university who swear their asses off. And they're extremely intelligent. I heard swearing at school, from my sister (she went to 'big school' and taught me all the words) and from my parents.

I watched 'The Terminator' at the age of 7 and sniggered at the use of the word 'fuck'. I thought it was a bad word. Why? Because I was told it was. Is it?

Fuck no!

But people will always complain. They always have and they always will:

And in regards to Ann Widdecombe, does she not strongly resemble Hugh Laurie's character above? A pathetic, old-fashioned woman with nothing better to do than complain about things. She often speaks about things she knows nothing about.

Not long ago she attacked teachers, claiming that their road to qualified teacher status was too easy. As the brother of a dedicated, hard working teacher, I know she's wrong. Not only do teachers work their asses off to become qualified, but they then go into a very competative occupation with very high demands. Getting to school for 7.45 and not leaving until after 6pm isn't what I would call an easy day.

Clearly Ann Widdecombe didn't have a clue what she was on about. It's the same here. Yes, everyone has the right to an opinion. But if you want to air it, get a blog to rant on! I just wish the Express would cease paying this creature to air her ignorant, pointless and all-round idiotic opinions.

As one of my facebook friends said:
For every breath that Ms Widdecombe draws in should be taxed as breath taken from us!

And to play us out, we have Metallica's cover of an Anti-Nowhere League song. Please do take offence :)