Tag Archives: Inspiration

Developing ideas

One of the things I think, and this is purely the opinion of a nobody so who really cares, is that when writing a story of any kind, an effort must be made to dodge all the incoming cliché’s. Hear the tell tale whistle of a tired old axiom and hit the metaphorical dirt. This is where I am with both ‘A Falling of Angels’ and ‘Darkness’.

Sometimes, like with Heathrow Airport, these hackneyed old saws can’t be avoided, and for a short while story lines can become predictable and even a little tired. Which can turn original story telling from a journey into a commute, having to use the same old piece of highway or train track, seeing the same old sights with the same old companions. Knowing you’re going to end up in the same old places. Day on day. Year after year. Recycling the same old same old without a new angle rapidly gets dull and repetitious. Which is rather like where Hollywood went with their usual crop of Blockbusters Summer 2013. No wonder audience figures are reported as down.

When I write I’m always looking for a new angle, a quirk or random element. Something unusual, tragi-comic maybe, but always human, always drawn from my or other people’s experiences. It’s my belief that a story path should jump the tracks occasionally to give any reader a fresh perspective. Flesh out a critical character. Surprise, astound, engage a readers thinking muscles by adding a new depth or level of perspective. All that shizzle. Excuse the neologism, but with two stepdaughters in their 20’s, these things tend to creep in. As has been observed, children can do awful things to a vocabulary. Which can be fun until everyone starts doing it, which is where I came in, I think.

Jean-Luc Godard observed that any given story should have a ‘beginning, a muddle, and an end‘, with the codicil “But not necessarily in that order”. By way of comparison, I often see posts about the ‘rules of writing’ on LinkedIn forums, only to observe that there seem to be as many rules as there are writers. I suppose, having thought about it, the key is applying your own singular world view. If other people like it, great, wonderful, fine, but as many a marketing manager stuck on a failing campaign has noted; what should doesn’t always. So it is with developing an idea into a narrative. Which is where I keep on getting stuck. Between what might be original, and what I think constitutes good.

As soon as I’ve worked out a relatively cliché free story direction, I’ll be able to move on. Today that involves stepping away from the keyboard for an hour or three. Making myself useful on the domestic front before evening shift.

Research and random directions

While researching the ‘Freemen on the land’ movement for ‘A Falling of Angels’, I’m beginning to see where they derive their philosophy. This is an incredibly complex world, both politically and financially, and I don’t really think that anyone outside of a few obsessive actuaries and lawyers really understand how and why it works, and exactly how fragile our western socio-economic structure actually is. And how dependent we are on it from a global perspective.

I also appreciate that there are people who can ‘game’ the system to increase their wealth, and use their subsequent economic leverage to obtain even greater power. It has always been thus. This competitive urge is part of human nature, hard wired, so to speak. Likewise, there will always be those who resent domination. This too is part of the human condition.

Therefore todays random story direction came from noting that arch economic manipulator George Soros is getting married, and how the guest list was going to be packed with the ‘great and good’. This kicked the ‘What-if?’ generator in my head into gear, and out popped a story idea. What if ultra high definition ‘Keyhole’ satellite coverage was available like in the movies, and ‘what if’ there was a weapons package that could be dropped from Low Earth Orbit into a guided trajectory which could hit and destroy a target within a centimetre? A system specifically created to eliminate specific ‘Terrorist’ threats without the bad publicity created by massive collateral damage. Too small and fast to be detected or intercepted. A literal ‘Sword of Damocles‘ to be used to eliminate threats to the greater public. Now let’s extend this conceit. What if said technology was hijacked? What if an event like a high society wedding, packed to the rafters with high level politicians and the ultra rich, was targeted? What if, despite multiple layers of protection, the great and powerful became as vulnerable as the rest of humanity? Their own weapon systems turned against them?

Oh, I’m going to have a lot of fun with this one. Amazing what random story ideas a little research kicks off.

Just as an aside, I first used a variant of this concept in ‘Falling Through the Stars‘ where a President who tries to tries to buck the ‘system’ is targeted by an anti aircraft missile meant to protect Washington DC from an airborne attack. This concept has a similar flavour. In ‘Falling’ this protagonist isn’t a rather mindless Terminator like ‘Skynet’, set to destroy all of humanity, but a non-human intelligence which is simply selectively protecting itself and the philosophy it is programmed with.

Shaking off the negativity

Lot of negative waves at home and day job at present. Angie’s under pressure with a total change of work system and practices, which has a knock on. I’ve been acting as her ‘receptionist’ and fending off some of the time hogs to let her get back in control of her workload. This has eaten into creative writing time.

Walked into evening shift yesterday afternoon to be told we had to be nursemaided off the premises by ‘Security’ from now on because some whack job has been threatening other staff. No idea why, we’re one of the least offensive and most people friendly organisations I’ve ever come across. The problem is; Whack job, obviously what is called a ‘borderline personality’ has extended his threat to everyone else who works in our little office. Our Executive Director is very upset, and I can’t recall the first time I ever heard her swear, but I heard her curse last night. As for the rest of the staff, they’re rattled, which has a bit of a knock-on effect all round.

For myself, I don’t react well to being threatened, even by proxy. Never have. Not unnaturally the hackles go up and get in the way of everything else. I’m usually pretty well controlled, but where petty bullies are concerned I have a tendency to go straight into combat mode. Which rather impacts on the rest of life. Left alone, the stress and anger stains and corrodes the creative impulse. Gets in the way.

As part of a coping strategy, my own anger at being under unjustified threat has been faced down and held up to richly deserved ridicule. This morning I took a time out to corner my own red beast, give him a richly deserved spanking and tell him to play nice. To mind his own business until he’s really needed. Writing about it helps. As for whack job, there’s a handy little article on borderline personalities in the October 2013 issue of Psychology Today, which is getting yet another read through.

Thinking about the threat situation dispassionately, there’s some extra material here. A rich seam of narrative to be mined and refined. In ‘Falling’ my hero has to break up with a slightly goofy and predatory girlfriend, and I think I’ve just found the key to unlock that story element. Where their relationship starts out as a ‘no strings’ kind of deal, it morphs, as these situations are wont to do, into a morass of suspicion and jealousy, which will no doubt end with my hero getting slung out of a very cosy gaff. Well, who’d have thunk it? An extra story layer. Well I never. Inspiration comes from the strangest quarters. My irony meter just went into overload.

Today I am also looking at the ‘Freemen on the Land’ movement, watching videos, examining their philosophy. listening to what they say. Looking at what their opponents say. The reason for this interest, an iteration of their philosophy is putting in an appearance in ‘A Falling of Angels’ where the ‘Freemen’ find themselves as an organising factor in a massive refugee camp. Literally creating their own parallel society, and at the same time both helping and hindering my mind reading detective in his hunt for the killers. However, that’s enough of a giveaway for the moment.

Breaking the impasse

After this mornings little bout of head meets wall, I’ve picked up the baton with ‘A falling of Angels’ with my lead character getting into hot water over his unorthodox methods. It’s filling in the gaps in the main storyline nicely, while rounding out some of the backstory and one of the secondary characters. My lead villain is about to get involved, pulling strings in the background to make my heroes life a little more complicated and full of incident.

It might all be a red herring plotwise, but on the other hand, if you let the cat out of the bag too early, where’s the suspense?

A paucity of inspiration

I can’t do it. I’m stuck. I’ve edited and re edited. Proofed and corrected, but as for new output, I’m grinding around in a circle like a tank with one track. Endlessly covering the same small circle. Under inspired.

Everything has ground to a halt. Short stories, screenplays, novels, everything. Nothing is working: the ‘what if’ game, the get on with other things gambit, nothing. Fortunately I’ve been here before, and know that if I kind of take a sneaky sidestep, and quit battering my head against a metaphorical brick wall, I’ll see a way around or through. Sooner or later. Just take a time out, use my eyes, peoplewatch, walk, talk, do the Zen thing and the answers should present themselves. I hope.

I don’t normally do Fantasy, but

Last night I dreamed a complete fantasy world. Social structures, storyline, the works. No context at all. No apparently external inspiration. Although I have been watching Discovery Channel features on Ancient Rome and Persia of late.

I fell asleep on the sofa studying for my VHF ROC(M) certification last night after evening shift at day job. Coming to this morning with a crick in my neck and a world in my head.

It’s got slaves, Sorcerer Kings, Frost Giants, Five Empires, and rare sacred trees which are the source of all magic in the world. Since I don’t read Fantasy outside of Larry Niven, Jim Butcher and Terry Pratchett, don’t think I’ve read anything remotely like it. I’ve been watching ‘Game of Thrones’ of course, but who hasn’t? My fantasy realms are nothing like those of George Martin. My world is actually modelled upon an Earth where the Ice caps reach down to Southern Britain and a great shallow inland sea covers most of the continental USA. Where there is a magical trading empire that rules the seas to the fire mountains of the East, through the midland channels across the Vastian Ocean to the Silk Empire and all her vassal states. Where the great Valley state runs along the inland sea to the great sacred waterfall of the Lantan Emipire.

That’s all I’m saying until I do a little more research and begin to write properly.

Two pages of notes inside an hour and accelerating. Evening shift tonight, then six clear days to work on my other projects.

All this out of one uncomfortable night. Wierd or what?

Jet lag and the creative muse

I don’t know about anyone else, but at the moment my time sense is off by what feels like eighteen hours.  Had a long last 48 hours in airports and am began beginning this post in the deserted bar of an English hotel with my senses scrambled.  According to the local time it’s past two in the morning. According to what’s left of my sleep deprived brain I’ve lost all frame of reference.

The flight over wasn’t great, as two excited Dutch seniors gabbled on all night in loud voices, despite being asked to keep it quiet.  Maybe they didn’t understand, but I’ve found that’s unusual for the Dutch.  Most are such good English second language speakers.  Perhaps it was their first time coming back from BC.  I don’t know.  Angie was her usual restive self, so I watched the in flight movies with my neurons quietly dissolving  into temporal shifted chaos.  Tried to cat nap in the airport, which took the edge off it, but that was all.  At the moment, Mr Wonderful I’m not.  As I get older I get less tolerant of these things.  Next time we will plan at least a 24 hour layover between long distance flights.

Writing as I do about interstellar travel and its various challenges, this raised the point of ‘Star lag’.  A disconnect between Earth time zones and human diurnal synchronisation.  Say you have a star traveller who has been living on time zone in one world who makes repeated trips to Earth and a specific time zone there, what does this do to their body functions?  I’ve heard some issues referred to as ‘Biorhythm upset’ (Larry Niven) and a few other references, which not unnaturally escape me right at this moment.  In the Stars series, various characters report feeling less than in tune with themselves after forty or fifty light year trips.  Coupled with the time disruption caused by a disconnect between normal space / time function and what I refer to as ‘subspace’.

Working from personal experience of long distance travel, I’ve jotted a few notes on what it might be like for people who have to live and work on Star ships, and all the mental and physical challenges raised.  If there is a secret to faster than light interstellar travel, and if humankind is not dumb enough to self destruct in the meantime, what does this do to the people who will regularly traffic between worlds?  How will they cope?  What will their needs be?

Personal space will be an issue for star ship designers, and cabins will need to be roomy, with facility for low gravity sleeping arrangements.  Digging around for anecdotal reports and more scholarly data from Astronauts on the ISS, and from the old Russian Mir programme and Skylab leaves us with plenty of clues.  Regular reports on the condition of Astronauts like Chris Hadfield, for example, the Canadian Astronaut whose YouTube videos went viral on the web also provide material.  There’s a hell of a lot of good basic primary source material available, and research is half of what writing is all about.

In ‘Darkness’ all these themes have to be addressed, and with all the necessary astronomical data to plough through, there’s a rich seam to be mined.  Especially for the critical ‘Asteroid miner’ story thread.

Amazing what inspiration can come, even from jet lag.

Truro UK today and tomorrow.  Visiting Bath and seeing Jo and Laura the day after.  Then family in Stratford.

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? #WritersLife

Picked up poet Mary Oliver‘s question via LinkedIn this morning, and it very much resonates with what’s going on in my life at the moment. Well, not just mine but Angie’s as well. We’ve been pottering around looking at lots to build a house on, and finding that everything eventually devolves to suburbia. The whole work-eat-sleep-mortgage thing, which we’ve already done. So why on earth are we planning to anchor ourselves down to a plot of land for the rest of our useful lives? Nail ourselves to one location? Chain our souls to real estate? Go down the suburban road once more? Do the networking thing? Cultivate contacts to further our ‘careers’? Sell our souls to the machine again? We’re both over fifty and pretty active, I don’t see the point.

Would we do it for Laura and Jo? Not really, they’re all grown up and making their own lives half way around the world. As for me, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, if there were a club especially for people like me, I wouldn’t let me in. I’m not a social animal. The Bear is my totem.

So after drifting around plots and lots with various enchanting views, we ended up in the Genoa Bay Marina Espresso Bar down past Duncan. Down at the end of one floating jetty was a 60′ Gin Palace, registered in Edmonton, Alberta of all places. A gleaming monstrosity of fibreglass and stainless steel. Very palatial. A million bucks worth straight out of the yards. Beautiful lines. It looked fast and graceful, even just moored at the floating dock gathering algae next to all the houseboats.

All of a sudden, Angie gets all upset, which bothered me as it was a gorgeous day and we hadn’t a care, apart from looking at various interminable building sites. She confessed to me that this whole looking for houses process was making her unhappy, and she didn’t want to do it any more. She expressed a wish to live on a boat and cruise the coast and gulf islands for the next ten or twenty years. So as we wound through endless Canadian suburbia, we talked it over. I expressed surprise as Angie tends to suffer from motion sickness, and her on a boat? To be honest I never even thought about it as a life option. She said no, she was willing to give it a try. Life on the water. We joked about her having a ‘mid-life crisis’, well why not? Without crisis and adventure, life is dull, dull, mind strangling routine. The morass of souls, the slough of despond, a round of endless quiet desperation.

I reflected that some of my early years were spent playing around on British canals on cabin cruisers. This brought up memories like being at the wheel of a fishing boat following a gyrocompass bearing back into Looe after a days deep sea fishing out near Eddystone. Force four south westerly freshening to six. Dirty green sea under grey skies, bucking the restless horse of a Lochin 38 Hulled fishing boat at fourteen knots. Five foot swells slamming at the bows. Slewed at twenty degrees from the line of travel in the cross wind.

I have my BC pleasure craft license, know the basics about R/T drills and have a modest understanding of basic seamanship. Angie is a quick learner, and both sides of the family have more than a little salt water in their veins, so why not? We don’t really ‘belong’ anywhere, and would only be stifled by life in one place, regardless of how nice the views or people are.

The sheer chutzpah appeals. The thought of Island hopping, following the weather around the world while working online has a certain appeal. Phoning the kids from Southampton or some other locale. “Hi love, fancy a weekend off?” Hire cars when need arises, not buy them. Move our money around the globe, spread the risk, take a chance. I have more than a couple of ideas about that. Yes, so we’re having a radical rethink about how we live our lives, and today we are going to talk to boat brokers.

Inspiration comes from odd times and places #WritersBlock

What do you call it when you know where a story has to go, but aren’t quite sure how to get there? My Timelines are great at framing the content of a narrative, but quite often I get stuck on the details.

For example; in ‘A falling of Angels’ my lead character gets tied up rescuing a couple of half wild children while trying to solve a gangland crime no one else seems bothered about. Evidence is in short supply, and even his special abilities are no help. To simply dismiss it and move on leaves a stray storyline. I hate unresolved plot details, and couldn’t leave the loose end hanging. Loose ends annoy me.

Unfortunately at these times, inspiration is so often in short supply, and I end up mooning about trying to prise the narrative loose by force, which rarely works. Nothing shifts the logjam. Weeks go by without significant progress. I find myself rewriting whole sections prior to the story blockage, tidying up sentences, chopping paragraphs and doing general housekeeping on the narrative. It’s like a wall you can peer over and see the end of your tale, but can’t see the vital literary devices in between. The angles are all wrong. Like a map of your destination which doesn’t include directions from the town you’re starting at, it frustrates.

Books on writing style don’t help; they’re too general. Research and experience can only take you so far. The song has stopped, the choir has faltered to an embarrassed silence, and no-one seems sure where to pick up the chorus.

At times like these I usually dig out the cook books, do the chores, walk the dog, stare at the horizon, bake bread (Always a good one), but this time round the break came on Monday when Angie was reading me a piece on story telling and the importance of narrative from one of Daniel H Pinks self help series “Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future”. I don’t generally read self help books myself, they’re too full of stuff I already seem to know. However, Angie likes them. So for the sake of a quiet life I do the old nod and smile. She even let me stop her and illustrate the technique she was telling me about, and how widespread its use is in advertising and marketing. While I was doing this, a stray thought kicked off about how to bodge two plot lines into a seamless whole. Completely out of context, off the wall, but I suddenly had a vision of how difficult it would be to beat up someone who knows exactly where the punch is coming from, and is quick enough to dodge. From there the idea branched back to a couple of other odd story items, and all of a sudden the choir has found the page, and there’s the door in the wall I was looking for. Wide open. Bing! Just like magic.

Now the way is clear, all I have to do is write it.