Aids to characterisation


Whenever I’m writing a major character, I generally use a well known actor as my initial template. The question I keep in the forefront of my mind is; what would that person sound like speaking the words and performing the actions of that character? How would they play that role? What gestures would they use to interpret my character?

Today I’m working on ‘A Falling of Angels’ where Charles Hertford, spymaster and master manipulator is creating a situation where my hero can expose the bad guys and yet not bring down the government in the process. The physical template I’m using for Hertford is the current James Bond, actor Daniel Craig. In my head, I hear Craig speak Hertfords lines, see him make the gestures and generally perform the part. Likewise, my hero, mind reading detective Paul Calvin, loosely uses the voice and interpretation style of film actor Clive Owen. Which for me helps keep my characters consistent, and hopefully a little more credible. Chief Inspector Veeta Parnay for example, is based around the style of another Bond movie star, Naomie Harris.

It’s a bit of a cheat I know, but when you’re trying to avoid stereotypes it works for me. Having spent some time at drama classes I’m always reminded that a little spontaneity keeps a character fresh and hopefully interesting to a reader and I try to bear this in mind. Sometimes it all falls over and a character can feel a bit flat because this internal shorthand doesn’t translate very well to the page. Which is always the risk you take. Sometimes I’ll even try combining two actor styles and imagine a cross between say, Anthony Hopkins and Morgan Freeman (Hertfords Boss) in a role. If I want someone mature and smoothly sinister, I’ll begin with a composite of say, Ian Richardson and Ian McKellan. In the theatre of my head, it’s always a great help to close my eyes and see the character I’ve created make the gesture and speak the words I’ve written. As they’re such familiar screen icons it makes it easier for me to wring the words out of my keyboard.

There is a school of thought that states one should always base characters on real live people, but that can and does backfire. Particularly in libel suits. For myself I’ll continue steering to the windy side of the law and imagine how a specific actor would play my character.

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Editing day


In an effort to be disciplined and productive, I’ve decided that every Thursday is going to be an editing and rewriting day. What I’m trying to do is keep a story still fresh in my mind, reading and re-reading the previous few days output until I’m happy with it, at the same time keeping a lid on the typos and filling in details I missed on the first and second read throughs.

I’ve tried editing MSS all the way through from end to end and the results, to be quite candid, have been a bit patchy. Far better to run through the last six or seven thousand words and get what you want to say as close to right as humanly possible. Keeping the sentences rhythmic and fluid without getting too ‘flowery’. And try to keep the characters, dialogue and situations reasonably credible. Keep the ‘passive voice’ to a minimum without messing up the cadence.

Readers need to suspend a certain amount of disbelief, but not so much as to sprain a neuron every time they trip over an impossible plot device. Even if you’re writing fantasy, a certain amount of logical consistency has to be applied. These are the rules I write by. Even if I don’t always manage to live up to them. We’re all human.

So, today is the naming of parts. My editing day. Back to the keyboard, and maybe a walk later.

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Progressing a storyline


Sometimes you have to sacrifice wordage on the altar of a story. That is today’s lesson. ‘A falling of Angels’ first draft will be complete within the next three weeks at around 80,000 words. Current word count is 76,000 plus, but I’m going to have to excise 18,500 words of that for the greater story to make sense. On the upside, it will mean I no longer have a glaringly orphaned storyline. The material will be transferred to the MSS of ‘On a bridge, burning’ where it fits in better with the narrative of Paul Calvins latest fall from grace.

As a means of improving my proof reading I’ve taken to reading passages of my latest output aloud. With my office door closed of course. If the language sounds right when I say it, it stays in. If I stumble on a first and second read through, then I have to take a big virtual hammer on a passage to simplify until it reads properly.

The good news is that after all the upsets and disruptions of the past few months, I’m actually settling down to some steady writing. The weekends fishing expedition, which ended as honours even between myself and brother in law Ian, helped unravel some mental kinks that were getting in the way. I think we’ll be repeating the experience next month.

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Fishing day


For the first time in ages I’m going fishing.   Rods and lines are ready. Licences purchased. My Brother in law is coming down for the weekend, and we’re going to do the guy thing down at Ogden Point breakwater if there’s room at the end.  The intention is to cast our lures into the water, talk, drink coffee, set the world to rights. Pick our wives up later for supper at Bubby’s on Cook Street this evening. Nothing heavy duty. There’s a nice little cafe at the landward end of the breakwater, should we tire of casting.

From the sound of it we both need a time out. Ian has had his head down in his educational software project, me in writing. Our respective spouses need quality sister time. Work and family duty has been pretty relentless of late. Too much really. Too much sadness. Time for a little Zen fishing.

I’m quite looking forward to the ritual of wind, line and water. Because sometimes an hour or two casting your cares into the sea is all you need to recharge the creative batteries. It clears the mind, helps tie up loose ends and unravels the kinks in the soul whether the fish bite or not.

As for catching anything worth taking home or losing bait, c’est la vie.

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How civilisations fail.


One of the themes I’ve been exploring in the ‘Stars’ series of novels is the nature of civilisation. What makes some thrive and others quickly crumble into the dust. Essentially what changes cause catastrophic failure in any given society.

On a little ramble around the Internet, I came across a number of sources which might help me finish the third volume in the series and tie up all the loose story threads. Having given the matter some thought, I compiled a timeline of six stages. I think they make sense;

  1. Prolonged warfare, dramatic over expansion of administrative function, catastrophic environmental change, destructive social movements, or failure to adapt to any given changes which destabilise the supply chain of resources.
  2. When the supply chain of general resources grows too destabilised, the overall living standard of those who depend upon it declines. Critical infrastructure maintenance also declines while resources are diverted by an administration for non productive purposes.
  3. Resource flow declines further as available resources shrink. More resources are diverted into administration than the general supply chain.
  4. Administration leaders and their contacts unsustainably divert resources for their own benefit.
  5. Increasing authoritarian control and surveillance is required by administration to ensure that the population continues to comply with increased resource reduction / diversion and other constraints.
  6. In the final phase, administration turns against its own people, treating the previously compliant like enemies (Failure of criminal law). A general failure of socio-economic agreements (Failure of civil law) is followed by economic and social collapse, often marked by excessive unrest and riots, capital flight, excessive inflation, and the permanent departure of the most productive.

Note:
By ‘supply chain’ I mean the flow of resources that a civilisation depends upon to flourish; be it the flow of commerce and trade, harvest, processing and use of raw material, or development of the intellectual capital of appropriately skilled people. It may help to think of these items not as things, but as processes. Like a flowing river, not a pond.

In ‘Darkness’ the collapse of Earth rule gives rise to ‘Khan’s rules’ as Suresh Khan and the other newly independent Association world leaders try to hammer out a workable constitution. One of the key items below.

Except in time of declared war, administrative function shall not form a total greater than one quarter of any planetary economy.

By the way, I’ve had to disable comments on most of this sites web pages because of the spam issue. IP blacklisting is also now in place for all comment spam trolling advertisers. Apologies to anyone who has anything to say. Use the ‘contact’ form if you get stuck and I’ll try to respond.

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Comments and spam


Came back to the site having had the weekend off only to find the spam bin contained seventy one spam comments. Holy smoke, Batman. That’s more spam than proper visitors. Fortunately the spurious stuff was caught by the very useful Askimet feature of WordPress. So they’ve been binned.

To reiterate this blogs policy on comments. Semi nonsensical guff with headers containing links advertising Lois Vuitton Handbags, Russian or Chinese ladies of easy virtue, computer games, search engine optimization, chemical aids etcetera go straight to electronic oblivion. Too much writing time is being wasted trawling through the spam bin for legitimate comments so I’ve stopped. Apologies if your genuine comment doesn’t appear, only it’s probably been sucked into E-hell by a deluge of spam. Which is not a happy mental image. Especially if you’re trying to leave off processed foods.

If you’ve something to say, try again either using your WordPress login or OpenID. Failing that, leave off the link to your profile or web site and comment anonymously. More than one HTML link in a comment will automatically send it straight to the spam bin. Any personal messages can be sent using the ‘About‘ email page. I will get an email for every message.

Had a minor rethink on the introduction of “The Great Book of Everything” and have added a few scene setting paragraphs about infinity, real scientists, conspiracy theorists and why Trombones will not form part of the narrative. As always, legitimate comments are welcomed and engaged with. Just keep it on topic.

Progress on other major projects is painfully slow at present. Must stop reading the news, it’s far too depressing.

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Research oddities


Researching information on golf clubs and woodland in the Sutton & Cheam area, I was busy googling for information on the Banstead Downs Gold Course near where I once lived. As well as the usual web pages on golf clubs in the area, I came across the ‘Sutton & Cheam WWII bomb map‘, which added an extra paragraph or two of local colour.

Certainly would make me think twice about using a Sand wedge to get out of the rough on the 18th fairway at Cuddington. If I played golf, which I don’t.

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