The Undying

Just a short one, but here’s something to think about – isn’t it amazing how your perceptions of things can change?

If my last post was anything to go by, I was experiencing too many doubts at once about my writing, and wondering whether it was even worth producing a single novel if I couldn’t do it in a professional, grown-up way. Now, those thoughts are definitely still there, but yesterday, I felt a random stroke of inspiration about a nice addition that could be made. Sure, it bumps up the word count quite a bit, but, pfft, thinking how it looked before, it was practically naked without that!

I guess it’s something that just happens the more you go through your prose – you discover more about your characters, connect the dots that you probably laid out but didn’t notice, until eventually you’ve got a clearer picture. Here you have a character that’s somehow transcended their creator, and as evolved quite considerably from where they originally were. The character you originally conceived way back then isn’t quite the same as before, but somehow it feels absolutely right.

Or maybe you’re actually being subject to a hostile takeover of fictional characters, I don’t know. However, if the world does come to a premature end, a fictional character apocalypse would definitely be the best way to go. It’s a question of who’d be the most likely to bring down the final blow…

Thus, a general update about my writing has turned into me speculating in the world as we know it coming to an end thanks to fictional characters, which is always nice…

Speculations (though perhaps not those ones…) are great though, because they are providing plenty more inspiration for me, not just with this novel, but ones hopefully to come.

So, that’s about it for now. Any insights into drafting, editing, publishing and marketing that anyone else would be greatly appreciated at this stage.

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The Unravelling

You know, this editing process is not all it’s cracked up to be.

I mean, sure, it’s pretty vital when you’re working on a novel, but if the mindset is right (or wrong, as the case may be) it does suck a good chunk of joy out of the crafting process.

So, updating from my last post, I have indeed being giving my first draft a read-through and making notes of what I think needs changing about it. Depending on the chapter, those lists have been quite short and vague, or long and self-deprecating. Any writer will be familiar with the process. When you’re actually doing the writing, the sparks are flying, the scenes are playing through your head in delicious detail and you’re convinced that the masterpiece is on its way. Then you read through it and you decide you were lying to yourself and you’re just the worst. THE WORST, I TELL YA.

For me, as noted, it does sort of depend on the chapter itself, and the mind-frame I’m in at the time. Right now, I’m very curious to see what it is about some chapters that I wrote in a way that I consider more bearable, and what it is about others than I’m convinced are the biggest problems ever encountered by anyone EVER. There doesn’t seem to be any consistent pattern.

One thing I have noticed is the nature of the issues I find myself agonizing over – the story itself and its main themes I still have a lot of faith in. It’s the way I tell it that’s the problem. Every writer has the bring their own tools and experience to a story, and when there’s just one person’s direct experience telling the experiences of a diverse range of people, and, indeed, the universe in general, you definitely get some translation errors. Here are just some of the thoughts that have been harrowing me as I’ve gone through this process.

“The way you portray your protagonist is racist, sexist and biphobic and you know it.”
“Nobody talks like that! Well, except you, of course. You have to use these words to make up for the fact that you can’t write.”
“Now it looks like you’re subtly pushing an agenda. Maybe you are.”
“You can’t rectify this! Now everyone’s going to think your heroes are total shits, and you are too, by extension.”
“Get out more. You don’t know what it’s like to be a normal person with an actual life.”
“Raisins are nice.”

Yeah, they’re not bad, actually. But back to the point.

I’m well aware that these concerns are normal, and, to a degree, they’re healthy. If I’m aware of the problems that might arise, I’m in a better position to avoid them as best I can, and I’m also willing to take points where I feel they’re relevant. Maybe all of this is just paranoia, maybe it isn’t. Either way, I’m confident that any mistakes I’ve made, I can rectify. So far, I’ve already dealt with a glaring continuity error, so hopefully that’s a sign of things to come. I’m still enormously looking forward to hearing other people give their thoughts on this work, regardless of what they are. It’ll to be great to hear an outsider’s take on what I can produce. As someone who feels I can rarely express myself in real life, this’ll be an unveiling. I hope I have an audience for it.

I guess my final point is – even if you have a firm and important story to tell, don’t be afraid to make a few changes. They may even tell your story better than you thought possible. There’s a fine line being making a few improvements, and compromising your story. The difference will become clearer the more you go on.

Anyway, should probably get back to it.

The Awakening

I might have chosen to pick a less ominous title, but to be honest, I think any more words than necessary in it would cause a lot of problems. Overly wordy titles can often seem quite corny and irritating the more they’re said, which can be an even bigger problem if the substance is anything but corny and irritating. As an example, my favourite anime series of all time, that is honestly so damn beautiful and well-crafted, with animation, storylines, music and characters that might possibly be greater than any other work of fiction I’ve ever seen, has an incredibly stupid title, which I probably don’t even pronounce properly.

But I digress. The point is, I’m here to announce something big, impressive and slightly important that will probably dominate the rest of the blog posts I make for a little while. The vast majority of the things I’ve posted on here relate to me as a writer, and so I feel it was necessary to make a post to announce…

…that after many months of blood, sweat, toil, tears and eating too much chocolate, I have finally completed the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on.

WHOO, YAY, AWESOME ETC.

Yeah, it took, it’s time, but now it’s done, I honestly feel like the most enjoyable stage has passed. Clocking in at around 110,000 words, I now need to go through that and decide if any changes should be made. And looking back over what you’ve written isn’t usually fun, as any writer will know. Even if you’ve polished off the first draft that, in your head at least, gleams like the all the great works of art that will go down in history, and there can’t possibly be that many changes to make. Then you look back through it a little later and discover that actually, you could have done a hell of a lot better there. And there. And actually, when it comes down to it, why did you even write this in the first place?

Then there comes the doubt, the attempt to fend off plotholes and problems, only to create more of them, then the overwhelming feeling of despair of disappointment, you go and cry in the corner of your room playing an unnecessarily aggressive rendition of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata before thinking you may as well give up and go and live in an orange tent in Bulgaria selling fidget spinners and second-hand novelty condoms.

OK, well, maybe don’t go that far. Nobody buys fidget spinners anymore.

Have gone through the process of re-reading, I definitely know how it feels, but I’m determined that the general crux of my story this time round is worth maintaining, even if some details need to be changed.

Of course, once you’ve developed a final draft you’re happy with, however long that might take, then there comes to process of getting it published and sold. Yes, I’m going there. And I’m kind of bricking it.

I mean, what do I know about marketing? I have the charisma of a road accident, and a sex appeal to match. Obviously, I’ll have to rely on making sure the story can be explained in a succinct and an interesting way, which is proving difficult every time I try, but maybe I can improve on it later, I don’t know. Of course, publishing is even more difficult. How do you ensure a manuscript gets accepted? Pfft, I don’t know, it just seems to be one of those mysteries that only publishers know.

Of course, I could always go the self-publishing route, although that would require I have some editing and graphic designing skills I currently lack. Well, I guess this decision can wait for now, probably…

OK, so even though I feel the author within me has been properly awakened, there’s still a lot of work to do. Fortunately, I’ve managed to surround myself with people who know about these things and can help. And maybe that will include you, dear reader, giving advice on how to make this dream a reality. And, in case this is the sort of novel you’d be interested in, I’m going to try and summarize it as best as I can now.

The working title is ‘Private Tuition,’ but may be subject to change later, depending how I feel. We follow Sasha Knight, a Religious Studies/Philosophy and Ethics teacher in her late twenties, starting a new job at a seemingly inoffensive school whilst trying to put some trickier areas of her past behind her, where she was, largely by choice, under the thumbs of other people. Many students in her A level tutor group, however, pique her interest in elements of their intrigue and cryptic behaviours, shielding a great deal of personal problems they have. Determined to help them anyway she can, she finds that the easiest way she can get them to open up to her is if she opens up to them first – sexually. Eventually, she finds herself have intimate encounters with many of her students as part of her duty of care.

OK, so for those among you are teachers or know teachers, clearly this is a massive professional faux pas, and I’m not trying to glorify adults in positions of trust having inappropriate encounters with children. But the situation being painted here is more nuanced than that. Everyone’s of age, these encounters are all mutual, and they’re something that I, as the author, am not trying to make too many heavy judgement calls either way, because certain meta-ethical matters are worth discussing, and that’s what I want this novel to do.

Sasha’s academic subject is chosen very deliberately. The meta-ethical considerations of deontology, consequentialism, virtue, cognitive vs non-cognitive and so on tend to be left to the navel-gazing philosophers, even though we draw from their ideas when it comes to important matters everyday. Studying philosophy and ethics at A level is one of the things from my time at school that I’m probably going to remember most vividly, and I guess I wanted to recreate that experience in perhaps a less conventional setting. Very good teachers, which are mostly woefully underpaid, can make a difference in such a pivotal period in one’s life, and I think a school-based setting when considered in that regard isn’t always appreciated.

In merely presenting the reader with a situation of someone who chooses to bend the rules in order to do what she thinks help, I’m leaving them to immerse themselves in the characters and plot and make decisions about who and what they really are.

Oh, and I promise it’s not all entirely navel-gazing – I’m rather pleased with the characters I’ve crafted and I know other people are too. I’ve tried to include a diverse cast, plenty of scenes of just people being people and I hope those parts of the plot are enjoyable too.

So, if you’re interested, feel free to follow my process of crafting this story, which I should hopefully be posting about regularly, and I’ll be sure to let everyone know if and when it’s finally found its way to book form.

I sincerely hope that day will come.

 

Undue Fear

Imagine you’ve found yourself in a Dark Room. Whilst you recognise it as a somewhere you’ve been before, the sheer size of it and the lack of light means you only have a passing acquaintance with its dimensions. You don’t know just how big it is, or whether a single step beyond what you’re used to will send you plummeting to your death, or whether something in the corner is lying in wait for you. You have every reason to suspect that there might be. After all, there are other people in this Dark Room, people whose faces are obscured, people who make unfriendly noises and whisper threats every single time you make a step. It’s not often they carry out their threats, but sometimes if you take a step too far, they’ll push you, shove you, hit you, just enough to give you an impression of their strength, not something you want to push to the limits judging by how it feels.

And each time they’ll sneer and mutter derisively about how you brought this upon yourself.

They could well be right – after all, you never planned to be here. But every so often you find yourself back here, through no planning and no foresight, with no expectation to arrive. You don’t even know you got back here, but back here you are, and it’s your fault. Surely, you have to find a way out?

Well, you are aware of a way out, and it’s the way you’ve used when you’ve been here before. A panelled door, with the slightest of lights from the outside world finding its way in. The door is not often in the same place, and often you’ll have to take drastic steps to find it, but it’s there. And you can see much friendlier faces on the other side, assuring you that stepping through the door is all you need to do.

It should be so inviting, so pleasant. But you fear the door almost as much as you fear the Dark Room.

Because the door is unpredictable, not only in its location, but also in its mechanism. Sometimes it will be harder to open than others, sometimes the process of allowing you through it will be marked with booby traps and hidden dangers that only allow you to leave once you are bleeding and shell-shocked. Sometimes it will be easy to open and you leave feeling rather foolish by how much it concerned you. But one day, you’re sure, based on what you’ve heard, that the door will just refuse to open, and the message will be clear: you have to stay in this Dark Room forever. Never again will you be on the other side in the light and with those you care about. In that situation, why not take many drastic steps you’re not used to, and allow the Dark Room to take you to your death?

For whatever reason, the people on the other side of the door don’t understand why you can’t just open it and join them, and still others scoff at the way you fear the Dark Room, thinking you’re just a coward. Generally speaking, this is from those who’ve never been in the Dark Room themselves. So far, you have left the Dark Room consistently, and among the pleasant warmth of the light and the friendlier faces, you have often begun to feel ashamed with the way you felt before. But of course, you’re fully aware you’ll be back in the Dark Room one day, possibly when you least expect it, and then you have to go through it all over again.

*

That passage above is my current best attempt at illustrating what it’s like to live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD. I’m fully aware that my experience might not be exactly the same as everyone else’s, and yes, there were a few mixed metaphors in the description above, what with actual worry being used to illustrate worry, but you know, I’m still hoping that one day my writing will actually be better.

In light of Mental Health Awareness Week 2018, I think it’s important that I share my experiences, just in case there are other people who need this kind of thing to help them through whatever they are currently experiencing. Whilst this is a fairly recent diagnosis, it doesn’t seem to be a recent incursion. These symptoms have been familiar to me for years.

So, what is GAD? Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s characterised primarily by worry – and I know that everyone worries to some degree, but what makes GAD distinct is the nature of excessive worry, worry that comes to you virtually all the time, so much that you often can’t think of a single action taken even in the ordinariness of everyday life without worrying about something, even something tiny. Furthermore, there’s the nature of uncontrollable worry, that you often can’t dismiss the concerns outright without extensive research, or even just taking the plunge and doing the damn thing. Even worse is when you find yourself worrying about that which you have no control over, like the possibility of catching something contagious, or the ramifications of hawkish geopolitics on the other side of the world (thanks Trump, you fucking half-witted tool). And you’ll always get those people who’ll say, ‘Well, you can’t do anything about it, so you don’t need to worry.’

Ha.

Ha ha!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

OK, come on, guys. I know you mean well, but this as about as helpful as saying to someone who has injured themselves rather badly, ‘you don’t need to bleed.’ Not needing to worry doesn’t stop us from doing it. Telling us to stop worrying is also about as helpful as telling an injured person to stop bleeding. If we had any control over it, we would have stopped by now.

Another notable point about GAD is the notion of irrational worry. We are fully aware that many of the things we worry about are so unlikely to happen that it would be reasonable to call them impossible, but we have those uncertain voices in our ears, the proverbial unfriendly people in the Dark Room whispering to us, ‘but what if…?’ ‘But you never know…’ ‘There’s always a first time…’ And this is often enough to stop me, at least, in my tracks.

So, if GAD causes, essentially, worrying all the time, then what’s the deal with this Dark Room? Surely a fitting analogy would be someone stuck in that room all the time? Well, not quite. Again, just talking about my own experiences here, but whilst I do worry all the time, there are often cases where I can sedate it with a ‘well, I’ll be able to sort it by doing this,’ in that the worry seems so distant, or hypothetical enough at the given time, that I can put it to the back of my mind in some situations, so it’s not directly affecting everything I do. However, this is equivalent, I would say, to constantly being in trepidation of being back in the Dark Room, because I always know it’s there, waiting, often catching me unawares, usually as the result of something unexpected happening to complicate my concerns. And that’s when everything begins, because when I lose all sense of rational thought. This unexpected something is insurmountable. It’s the my worst fears confirmed all in one event, because it can or will lead to this, and then this, and then this, and I can’t do anything about it, because this, and this, and no, I do need to worry about it, because this, and this, and no there’s no point in carrying because this, and this, and oh my fucking god, it’s over, what the fuck am I going to do?

This is when I become insufferable. My nearest and dearest are probably very familiar with that particular mindset, when I act as though the world is ending because of something that you’d probably dismiss as trivial, or problematic, but not hugely. Or at least, you wonder why I don’t just do the thing you suggest about it. Well, I’d love to. But then this might happen, and then this. Or my fears will go from hypothetical to absolutely certain, and I’ll be well and truly fucked. In the bizarre, masochistic tango I have with GAD, sometimes the uncertainty is helpful, because if I haven’t examined that glimmer of hope to discover it’s just an illusion, and maybe, just for a moment, I can entertain the possibility that everything still might be OK.

For those who have to deal with me in those cases, I want to apologise and thank those who are patient with me and recognise that these are things beyond my control.

So, what do I worry about? Well, as I said before, everything. But I’d say the two biggest things to steer me to the edge are the worries about my academic work (concerns I’m sure everyone gets), and probably the most severe, worries that the friends I care about and depend on are going to leave me.

Ridiculous, you might say. And yeah – I’m sure you’re right. My very closest friends would never do that, surely? They care about me too much. But still the doubts whisper, still any signs of no-contact for a certain number of days make me speculate on what could have happened, and I end up disgusted with myself for even daring to think like this. How can I doubt people who have been nothing but kind and loving to me? What have they done to deserve this treacherous mindset? Of course, it might not be their fault. Maybe they’ve died. Or maybe my messages to them haven’t got through. But if that’s the case, how will I stop them from thinking I’ve abandoned them? How else will I contact them? And what if my computer crashes and contact becomes impossible, even when I need them for next time I have a little breakdown?

And so it goes on. Sometimes, it’s even smaller things than that. The amount of times I’ve lost sleep over a noise in the house which means there’s an intruder, or that strange smell I came across before I went to bed means that there’s a noxious gas leak, or that the unfamiliar aches I’m feeling means my heart has failed. Or what about the time I was convinced that an incorrectly ordered reference in a bibliography essay meant I was going to fail my course? Or the many, many times when a strange blip happened on my PC meant that I could never do XYZ with it again? If I haven’t showed up to something I was invited to, chances are it’s not a reflection on you, it’s because I’ve been too worried about what might happen if I do. (Or I generally am just busy…)

If anyone’s reading this who hasn’t been diagnosed with GAD but recognises the major symptoms within themselves, I’d advise going making a doctor’s appointment, or potentially an appointment with a therapist who specialises in mental health. Knowing what it is that’s causing you so many problems is the first step on the road to making things better.

How has it worked with me? To be honest – not all that well. First, I went to a private therapist who most of the time ended up making me feel worse, not least because of the hefty prices I had to dish out following each session. Secondly, I went to an NHS service dealing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which managed to provide me with my diagnosis, and give me a few pointers on how to dissect the kind of worries I had, but otherwise didn’t seem to alleviate my particular concerns completely. With them of course I still had lingering worries, such as the concern that if I were late to a session for whatever reason, often by no fault of my own, they’d discontinue the sessions, and because I couldn’t contact them properly to let them know if I’d be late, I do remember one occasion being gripped by an anxiety attack, thanks to those who were supposed to be helping me relieve my anxiety.

Following that, my doctor prescribed me SSRIs, which, due to, yet again, worries I had (this time about the potential for long-lasting side-effects of the medication) prevented me from taking them for a while. Once I did, I didn’t experience any side-effects, but didn’t really experience much of anything. They certainly didn’t suppress my worries, just maybe occasionally dulled my reactions to them, which, whilst definitely helpful, didn’t leave me feeling much achieved.

The current situation is this – my doctor prescribed me some different SSRIs, which I’m currently too worried about the consequences of side effects to take, and I’ve been suggested looking for a slightly different CBT session to help me, but I’m too concerned about not finding that and not being able to do the dates they suggest to even take that step. And so, as is often the case, I’m avoiding the door to the Dark Room for fear of being let down by it, whilst simultaneously cursing myself for my cowardice.

You may be detecting a lot of resentment here, and it’s true. I hate the fact that I have to worry all the time, that there’s not a day that I can just take off from my worries. I hate the fact that all my attempts to keep them at bay have not worked, and in some cases have led to more worries. I hate the fact that I often can’t express why I feel so worried to people that might otherwise be able to help. I hate the fact that my family don’t always seem to recognise it as an illness and just dismiss it as something stupid I occasionally do. I hate the fact that I can’t always have the people who care about me and understand me the most by my side whenever I break down and need them the most. And, as pathetic as it sounds, I hate the fact that I don’t have a partner, i.e., someone whom I won’t feel guilty or invasive about sharing my innermost and deepest concerns with constantly, someone who can ensure me that even with my anxiety I’m still worth loving. And I seem to be incapable of getting one. What does that tell you?

Just so we’re clear, this isn’t to downplay the role my friends have played in making me feel important and consoling me when I need it, because you are so important in that and I love you more than can be accurately said. This is, I guess, one of the reasons I feel so guilty about off-loading everything onto you.
Virtually everyone, from my therapist, to my doctor, to many friends I’ve shared this with have told me that they’re sure I’ll defeat this some day. As grateful as I am for the optimism, I’m not sure I agree. Maybe it’s just that I can’t remember a time where I haven’t been a worrier, and so I can’t conceive of a time where that won’t be the case. So far, nothing seems to have helped, and my worries have just continued getting stronger. It may very well being the case that I’ll be like this for the rest of my life, going through a constant cycle or worry, panic, relief, then back to worry again. It’s a pretty bleak image, and yet the fact that it isn’t exclusively so does make me wonder. If amidst all this pain there are still times that I can feel calm, cared for, happy, even, then I don’t think it’s worth giving up. Not yet, anyway.

For all those who are struggling with mental health issues, please know that you’re not alone. I don’t want to make any promises I can’t keep about it necessarily getting better in the way you want, but I can tell you, without hesitation, that you’re not alone, and there are people out there who care for you, and will try and help you in every way you can.

That thought alone should be enough to make the Dark Room seem a little bit brighter.

Conclusions and Associated Writing Woes

OK, so the last time I made a post here was like…Christmas, or something. I guess things really have gotten in the way. But hey, according to recent emails I’ve got, more people have started following this blog, and even fellow writers have started following me on Twitter. What are the odds? So, now I’ve got to appease them give those nice enough to take an interest in my poorly constructed blog a bit of context and a bit of news.

I’m in the final throes of the first draft of my novel, which, even though it means a lot of work in working out what I want to keep and what I want to change, is still a bit a milestone, and one I’m no doubt going to feel accomplished about when it comes. As for actually publishing the damn thing, that’s a whole different ball game, but one I’ll get to when it comes.

It’s convenient too that over the last few days I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my major script project for my university course. A feature-length (or slightly less) screenplay, the writing journey of which I do actually have to write an essay for as well. Do the examiners really want to know how near the end I actively started resenting the whole bloody story I’d been crafting for so long? Perhaps it would give me a higher mark, in which case, I’m all for it, because my script probably isn’t going to do very well…but how did it happen? How did such an idealized story of star-crossed love, existentialism and utilitarian ethics become a plotline that I just groan at and want to see out of my direct line of concern? I get the feeling it might have to do with how you get a conclusion to a story. And, given that I’m approaching the end to my novel, I think it’s an appropriate time to talk about how to conclude a story.

As if I know! Anyone who’s read or heard me read one of my short stories can attest that I actually need to mention when the conclusion has taken place because the sentences I choose that best rounds the story out aren’t always that obvious, and others think I could have ended it earlier. In all honesty, I doubt I’m the only person who has this problem, and actually, choosing a conclusion for a story is much easier than deciding exactly what you’re going to end on, which scene, which line, maybe even which characters. A weak or uncertain ending can leave an audience, who were otherwise very much invested in the characters and story arcs, feeling unfulfilled, and may retroactively put them off the entire thing. I may have spoken on this blog before about particularly endings that have felt weak in comparison to the rest of the product, but I can’t remember exactly. Feel free to search through for them yourselves – I’m not your slave, I’m not getting paid for this!

Which, given the sporadic nature of my posts, is hardly surprising.

And actually, if I were your slave, I wouldn’t be getting paid for it, so…

I find that the endings that satisfy me the most are the ones that draw reference to whatever theme the story was trying to get across, either through narration, or something the characters are doing or saying. This can often be done helpfully through an epilogue, like the one from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which talks about how, even though humanity’s future of being divided between the hopelessly naive Eloi and the cannibalistic but ultimately more intelligent Morlocks seems pretty grim, the essence of humanity, and the appreciation for things we hold dear are still there. Now, a lot of people might find such ending choices a little cheesy, and whilst I can definitely see that argument, it’s a far cry better, in my opinion, than ending a story that you’ve long been invested in abruptly stopping on a sentence that could easily be in the middle of a scene.

She let’s her head down and kisses the sand.

Those are the last words of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora. For context, I’ll hopefully review that at some point in the future, but I remember feeling disappointed in the time, especially given what took place before this line. There are plenty of earlier places this book could have stopped, but instead we get this rather sporadic end-point, which in no way feels particularly narratologically significant. Apparently, ‘narratologically’ isn’t a word, but it should be, so there.

H.G. Wells? Kim Stanley Robinson? Am I becoming a science fiction buff? Well, I’ll have you know I’ve always been a science fiction buff, but for a while I was never able to find science fiction that accurately reflected my tastes. Science fiction, being as it is a genre of the future, or challenging established norms, should be postmodern by design. Instead, particularly in the field of space opera and military science fiction, we just get very modern settings and attitudes that happen to be in a setting that looks kind of different. The fact that Robinson in particular is very eager to show the social and personal affects of technological progress is what makes his science fiction a particular eye-opener for me. Again, more on that another time. I seem to be going off on a tangent here…

One way of avoiding the difficultly of ending a story is to leave a hook, a cliffhanger for a future installment, therefore avoiding the need to conclude everything in this one. Cliffhangers can be terribly effective, and, given the appropriate amount of build-up and investment, can drag you into the next installment like the gravity well of a neutron star, which works terribly well for TV writing if nothing else. Unfortunately, on the other end of the cliffhanger, you do have to resolve it in a fulfilling way, otherwise the unpleasable masses will get annoyed again. Apparently unpleasable isn’t a word either. This is getting quite upsetting.

As is perhaps appropriate for a post about the difficulty of conclusions, I’m going to conclude this post in a unsatisfying way. Basically, there’s no easy answer to endings, so just write what you want.

Oh, and I’m hoping to post more regularly from now on, but I absolutely cannot guarantee that will be the case, so…yeah.

Yuletide Musings

Oh, look. I’m still alive.

So, it’s very nearly Christmas, and as most people will assert, it means that you’ve got to talk about it, because evidently you haven’t had enough. But it’s OK, because nobody actually reads this blog…

Of course, I am actually very fond of Christmas. It gives my rather hectic life some structure, and that’s always nice, and also gives you the opportunity to shop excessively, eat, drink and be merry but this time with an excuse. How exciting!

However, this isn’t to say you don’t run into a few problems when Christmas rolls around. Anyone who owns a cat knows what I’m talking about. Whether your tree is a genuine botanical feature or a purely synthetic imitation of coniferous perennial plants, cats will see fit to have a climb, because they see everything around them as belonging to them. And you know, strange branches, whether natural or artificial are so much fun to sit in and gaze bemusedly and the irritated humans trying to remove you and failing dismally. And then when they’re not wrecking Christmas trees, they’ll curl around your legs and you’ll forgive them anything because you’re a massive pushover when it comes to cats purring at you. And by the way, by you, I mean me. I am definitely a huge pushover. My cat has come into my room unannounced, ran away from me when I’ve tried to pet her and once ran over my laptop keyboard, sending a weird message to someone. And yet I can’t stay angry at her. Those eyes. 😮

Anyway, another issue is presents. Last year I think I covered all the problems one might experience when buying presents, and yes, they certainly haven’t gone away. I do remember one distinctive occasion going to shop for presents this year, and only coming back with stuff for myself, because evidently I don’t trust anyone to buy for me, or else don’t think I have enough books on my overstacked shelf. Had I the time, I imagine I’d move into Waterstones. I could always get a job there, but I doubt I’d actually work. I’d just read all the books.

But the real problem I discovered came after all my presents had been bought. I had to wrap them. I’m dyspraxic, and that means that any task that requires a basic level of dexterous motor skills, I have to approach with the mindset of a military raid, knowing that it needs my full attention, and that I’m likely to die in the attempt. Normally my sister wraps my presents for me (barring those for her, obviously…) because she knows I’m completely useless that I struggle with such things, but this year it occurred to me that I actually need to be proactive, and so, after learning the craft from my sister, I prepared to wrap!

Some went OK, others…not so much…

Honestly, I think for any decent wrapping job, you need at least four hands. Because you’ve got to fold and hold onto corners and tear off tape and stick it somewhere where it actually sticks, not on a loose bit of paper, or, more commonly, yourself. It was going bad enough in some cases, but then my brother tried to help me and neither of us helped each other very much. I’ll see if I get any better at that next year…

But all that aside, I should probably take a little while to talk about how this year has gone. Has it been as bad as last year? Absolutely not, although there have a still been moments where I’ve been wondering whether or not it’s all going to go smoothly, and very often, we have the orange president person to thank for that. But hey, I’m going through my final year of uni education (unless I cheat and do a master’s or something…) and I need to be prepared for the horrifying thought of REAL LIFE. Am I ready? Well, no. But I’ve still got time. I don’t really have any resolutions for the New Year, but I think about that…maybe my productivity will finally reach it’s decent point. Already it’s pretty good (although apparently not enough to use a new picture…), which I’m quite pleased about. Maybe next year I’ll blog more. Maybe I won’t. It’s all up in the air. But already, I’m writing more and reading more. With any luck, that’ll pay off…somehow.

For whoever’s reading this, I hope you enjoy your holidays and have a Happy New Year. Know that you can make something of yourself, and…umm…brush your teeth twice a day. Seriously. Especially at Christmas that’s important, because of all the chocolate…

Reading & Reviewing: Looking for Alaska

I’ve always found one of the most prominent challenges when it comes to finding entertainment for a young man like myself who’s so in touch with his feminine side that it’s practically the only one there, is that romance doesn’t seem to often be marketed with a male demographic in mind. When it comes to interactions with the opposite sex from the male perspective, sex seems to be the most heavy theme, with emotions coming second, and I think this is a shame. People often underestimate how emotional and sentimental guys can be too, and this goes without mentioning the under-representation of same-sex romances.

As it was, I had to contend myself with your standard female-oriented romances, which I find has less of an effect when I can’t find the object of affection remotely attractive. Perhaps this was why I didn’t take to Levi when I read Fangirl. Or maybe he was just a poorly-written archetype. Perhaps both. The point is, you can probably imagine my intrigue when I happened to stumble across John Green’s debut novel on TV Tropes when looking him up. Avoiding as many spoilers as I could, the summary sounded like something I’d be waiting for for a long time – a YA romantic storyline from the perspective of a guy pursuing a girl…? I suppose it’s a sign of not much else going on that I became pretty hyped before I even got my hands on this book.

Of course it turned out that this was an oversimplification. I knew there would be more to this book, but this was the primary motivator, because I felt that I could connect with the protagonist far more than I was used to. Ironically, the main motivator and storyline wasn’t even there, at least not in it’s expected format, but that isn’t to say I didn’t end up impressed by it or that there wasn’t anything I found both relevant and relatable. A good, important chunk of the plot is kind of crossing into spoiler territory given an event that takes place about halfway through. People who’ve read the book will know what I’m talking about. Otherwise, I’ll try and explain the impact this had without actually giving it away, but I can’t be sure I won’t be too obvious, so proceed at your own risk.

The story concerns a young man named Miles (I say young man, he’s 16, and sometimes I still feel that age) who has the habit of memorizing famous figures’ last words. Inspired by the last words of Francois Rabelais, he decides to attend a boarding school called Culver Creek to seek his own Great Perhaps – essentially opening up himself to potential life experiences. He’s given the nickname Pudge (because he’s really skinny, get it?) by his roommate who goes by the name of The Colonel, and he meets a whole host of interesting characters including the eponymous Alaska. Alaska is a stunning, erratic and extroverted girl whom Pudge falls for pretty much instantly. The many activities the students get up to at Culver Creek include a potentially dangerous prank war, occasionally skipping class, a lot of smoking, and much of this is spearheaded by Alaska, who drinks hard, plays hard and certainly gives reason for Pudge to consider her the key to his Great Perhaps. Does this description of her seem uncomfortably familiar? Well, it should, because this time it’s deliberate.

John Green has gone on record to say that virtually all of his books attempt to deconstruct the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype to some degree, including a gender-flipped example in The Fault in Our Stars. He’s the first to admit he’s not always successful, and in fact one of the reasons he wrote Paper Towns is because he didn’t feel he did a good enough job in this one of taking the archetype down. Given that this is his debut novel, I think it’s quite interesting to see the beginning of his own take on it. Because one of the things I think Green does best is capture the joys, crossroads and particularly in this case, the sheer naivety of youth.

Pudge himself is not the strongest protagonist I’ve seen, but I feel that part of that may well be just how much of an avatar for the reader I find him. He’s not physically adept or overly confident, and he rightly feels awkward due to the socially awkward habits he has. Now, I never used to memorize people’s last words, but believe me I memorized some other weird things. And just like Pudge, the geeky side I had which led some people to believing I was wise beyond my years didn’t stop me from being a slave to my emotions and naively hold people in the highest regard, and this is exactly what Pudge does to Alaska. And this is where the deconstruction comes into play. Pudge begins to view her almost as this angel sent from heaven who’s only role is to guide him to his Great Perhaps, and whilst Alaska is a perfectly friendly and playful individual, being a real person, she of course has her own agenda too, her own history and priorities that don’t seem to register with Pudge straight away. This is so similar to the kind of crushes I’ve had in my past that it’s almost laughable. I too have idealized those who have seemed to have the perfect combination of personality and physical traits, practically creating my own Manic Pixie Dream Girls as I did so. I don’t know whether my inability to see things from their perspectives contributed to how this didn’t always end well for me, but I can see how it would be a factor.

Because despite her being a drinking, smoking, loud-mouthed party girl who decides to steal porn just because and waltz around the campus and play matchmaker and tell a teacher they’re full of shit to their face, Alaska shows plenty of signs that she’s not quite as clear-cut as this. And for the most part, Pudge and the others pretty much ignore these things.

For one thing, she has a boyfriend. Obviously false romantic leads are a huge trope in this kind of genre, but I feel it shows already that there are different priorities to be had here. She’s also quite open about the sex she has, which for female supporting characters, particularly stock ones, is usually considered taboo by people who have this weird idea that women should be prudes or something. In fact, this book was quite often challenged due to the level of sexual references, swearing and drinking that came from it’s teenage characters. This is quite funny to me, because firstly, apparently these moral guardians don’t know anything about teenagers, and secondly, the book I read after this one made Looking for Alaska seem about as profane and sexually explicit as the Mr Men.

But more than this, Alaska’s moods swing quite dramatically. Sometimes she’s her usual MPDG self, other times she’s crying her eyes out over something far beyond Pudge’s control. These are further advanced by rather morbid comments she makes or references to certain things about herself that I won’t go into too much detail about here, which again, is mostly just brushed off by the main cast. They have no reason to concern themselves with the mental well-being of her too much, they seem to decide, because she’s the life and soul of the party. As it happens, Takumi, a friend of Pudge, Alaska and the Colonel’s, is revealed at the end to have a similar kind of crush to the one Pudge nurtures throughout this story, so it’s understandable that he’d have a similar reaction. Now I’m sure those who haven’t read the book among you have probably worked out by now that this neglect is going to come back to bite them later. And…yeah…

Perhaps more curious than that though is that (slight spoiler incoming) Pudge and Alaska don’t actually get together. They closest they get is constant flirting and a make-out session when they were drunk. And, given that Alaska is still with her boyfriend at this point, this raises a few questions…but more on that later. The point is, this again showcases another reality of teen life. If you got together with the very first person you were attracted to and are still happy with them now then…you’re one of a very rare minority and I’m trying my best not to resent you.

Alaska does in fact hook Pudge up with a girl named Lara and there’s a scene where they try oral sex…and haven’t got a clue what to do, which Alaska finds absolutely hilarious, of course. I don’t know, it’s little touches like that which I really appreciate.

I guess I should talk about the other characters too. The Colonel, Pudge’s roommate is good, because it again showcases an understanding of inter-personal relationships. Him and Pudge naturally become very close friends. There’s not really much to elaborate on there, it just feels very real. He’s given a background and a family, and perhaps most importantly serves as something of a voice of reason later on, given that he shares a close, entirely platonic relationship with Alaska and is therefore is the character that sees her as most like a human being. He even has a go at Pudge later for not treating her like a human being. It’s played a little obviously, but I’d argue it’s cause is just.

There are plenty of other more minor characters in the students and staff and Culver Creek, and they’re all pretty distinctive so I don’t really have any complaints there.

Were there issues? Well, yes…perhaps.

See, after finishing this, I found myself thinking that this felt a bit like half a story. But then again, I’m not sure whether or not that was the point. By the end, a great deal doesn’t feel resolved. Whatever Pudge and Alaska had going on certainly wasn’t, and nor was a great deal of Alaska’s character arc. But these all had very good reasons, and like I say, it’s arguable that was all very deliberate. Real life, again, isn’t all about resolution or answers, or even getting to know people you don’t know all that well, because it’s complicated and uncertain and sometimes you’ve just got to work it out as best you can. Maybe what threw me off-guard the most is how a little essay by Pudge at the end tries to resolve certain themes that the novel had, and honestly, sometimes it does feel a little half-arsed. Looking back, I do get what it was going for, talking about people being greater than the sum of their parts, but I dunno, maybe it just didn’t fit the tone as well as it could have done, because it doesn’t resolve as much as maybe you’d want it to. It’s not a very long essay, and I don’t he said as much as he could have. Again, the line between intentional and not is a little blurry. Perhaps it could have benefited from one more rewrite? It’s all a little unclear, because if Green’s intention was to tell half a story based on the limited perspective our inward-focused protagonist had, or if it was to tell a complete story, I’m not sure he did either one perfectly.

All the same, the ideas behind it is all still there, and they are good ideas. But perhaps we should look at this as Green finding his writing style, in terms of structure, character and theme. Given what he has written since, I think he has certainly honed his style, or at least exploited it’s many uses. As debut novels go, it certainly could have been a lot worse. I personally enjoyed it, and may well reread it at some point if I’ve got nothing better to do. At some points it feels like half a story, but given all that he could have written, maybe we could look at that and everything he planned on writing afterwards as another Great Perhaps…?

GOD, I’m so witty. Look at me lazily trying to make a connection to the topic. Yeah, I’ll shut up now…feel free to like and comment and I’ll post…something at some point. Yes, it’s vague, but that’s how my schedule operates…

Stunted Creativity

What is it about the intense need to do things that makes you not want to do them…?

Procrastination is a topic that, fittingly enough, I don’t think I’ve gotten round to talking about yet. On the one hand it should be easy to talk about – most people do it after all, but let’s face it – I could be doing a whole host of exciting and useful things. Preparing myself for university, filling out what I’m supposed to be filling out for university, writing a profoundly good short story or contributing to that novel thing. I could even be writing a better blog post, a review of a book or show, or something. But no, mindless ramblings are better.

And the worst thing is is that you know there are no benefits to procrastination, and yet you do it anyway. What’s the purpose behind all this? The only answer I can come up with is simply that my creativity has been stunted.

The more I try and engage my brain with the dealings of demographic-approved film narratives and the workings of a novel about a teacher engaging in intercourse and intercourse-inspired fun with her students to get to the roots of their personal issues, the more my brain sneers down it’s nose at me (because my brain has a nose, apparently), and laughs in my face about how I can’t possibly do anything right, not least come up with something people want to read!

“You stop it!” I sob pathetically, as my brain laughs again. Then I stop, because this analogy is getting really silly.

The point is, I do find myself thinking about these things a lot. It’s advisable for script-writing students to absorb as much visual media as they can, so of course that’s what I’ve been doing, like the faithful dog I am. The things I have seen have retrained me to think about plot, narrative, character, representation and all the rest of it, but instead of writing out my own, getting to the hearts of my own characters, and wondering how decent my representation is, I’d rather listen to repetitive music while prancing around in my room, occasionally doing a pseudo-pirouette when I feel the soundtrack calls for it.

Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

So, if you came here because you wanted advise on how to reduce procrastination increase productivity, my answer to you is, ‘hell if I know.’ I’m even struggling to write this…

Perhaps I just need to calm down. Bursts of creativity do seize me randomly from behind, a bit like someone at school once who, to this day, I still haven’t identified…

But, I digress. Really, I’m sure if I set tasks for myself, at very the least, things to focus on at specific times, I can work through whatever issues I’m currently having with writing anything. So, what should I write first? God knows, but I think I’m going to stop writing this, because there’s nothing left to say…

OK, except this – perhaps I should make myself write something every day. Doesn’t necessarily have to be something big, just something. Will that work? I don’t know…I may decide to forgo this idea. Right now, the idea of writing, my primary form of escapism, is looking like a leering bastardly monster of some kind. This isn’t a good place to be in, but maybe monstrous looks can be deceiving.

Ugh, I’m out.

Reading & Reviewing: Fangirl

So, I haven’t posted one of these in ages, largely out of what could be a sheer sense of apathy, but also because I’ve been trying to sort poorly defined things…

But whatever, if I get some of my old audience (that may have existed?) looking at this again, on top of maybe some new people who’s interest may have been peaked by the new subject matter, that’ll be something. So, this is a start of (hopefully) a series of opinion pieces pertaining to books I’ve read recently.

As a young, feeble, insufferable know-it-all, I used to devour books. Harry Potter is a prominent example – I’ve lost count of all the times I’ve reread (or re-listened to, thanks to my old friend Stephen Fry, who doesn’t know me at all) that particular series. However, as I entered my adolescence, for some reason, I found that my ability to devour books was waning, maybe because people expected me to read more adult books, or, God forbid, more masculine books. Whatever the reason, I found my interest in books wasn’t what it once was, which, for an aspiring writer, is not a great sign. But since I’ve tried to take a more serious approach to getting on with, what I hope are decent literature ideas, it’s probably best I see what other authors have to offer. In no particular pattern, I decided on some books to read, and here I shall be reviewing the first of these, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

I acknowledge first and foremost that as a heterosexual male I’m not the intended primary audience for this book, and also that, being it a little while since I’ve finished this book (hooray for procrastination), my memory on some of the scenes might be a little fuzzy…
That said, the subject matter of this book is what endeared me to it in the first place, so I can’t be that far removed from the audience. Given what I did end up enjoying in this book, I don’t think my issues with it should just be dismissed outright. What did I enjoy? What did I find issue with? I suppose I’d better let you know.

First, a brief summary. The protagonist of this book is a girl named Cath, approaching 18, and starting college (or university, as we say in the UK) with her twin sister Wren. Despite the fact that the two of them have been inseparable since their childhood, they acknowledge the inherent differences between, notably that Cath is more withdrawn, and Wren has the slightly more outgoing, sociable resolve. These differences deepen as they arrive at college, and are separated for the first time, Wren opting for separate rooms to allow herself to develop more, and Cath withdraws even more, mostly sticking to herself and writing the fanfiction that she and Wren had done during their teen years.

Oh yeah, should probably mention that…
Both of them are huge fans of a fictional series called Simon Snow, which, whilst sounding like a rather generic fantasy series, is presented as being a phenomenon that’s an obvious expy of the Harry Potter franchise, quite amusingly so. At the moment at which the story starts, the eighth and final installment of Simon Snow is in the making, and Cath is getting on with her lengthy fanfiction which a lot of her readership consider to be the true eighth installment, or at least should be what the eighth installment should be like, and includes a common selling-point of having the main character (Simon, duh) engaging in a romantic story arc with Baz, the character who’s portrayed within the context of the canon series as a bitter rival. Clearly, Gemma T. Leslie (the author of Simon Snow) hasn’t done her research when it comes to the way fan communities treat rivalries, particularly male ones. Whether it be Harry and Draco, Naruto and Sasuke, or Light and L, there’s going to be love-making in the fanfiction…

The point is, Cath’s so content to retreat into that particular world, that the effect it has on her interactions within her college life is obvious – she takes an instant dislike to Wren’s roommate and the two of them begin to drift apart, and she struggles with general socialization and her classes. She is willing to give up on the higher education several times throughout the book, but the people who stick by her, notably her father, her cynical roommate and her cynical roommate’s slightly overly-saccharine ex (watch out for him, more on him later) soon help her to get on with it…I’ll try not to go into too much detail of the plot here, but I will say that there’s not much to spoil. Pretty much what you expect will happen happens.

So, the strengths of this book lie in how well it’s able to capture the image of a dedicated fan. As a fan, and an author of fanfiction, as it happens, a good chunk of Cath’s internal monologuing about her fan community resonates heavily with me. Several times I found myself going ‘oh yeah, that’s totally like that…’ and was furthermore amused by how the author managed to avoid dreaded copyright issues by the age-old but lovely trick of making terribly similar things to known brands to cover her tracks. For example, instead of Fanfiction.net, we have FanFixx.net, and instead of Wikipedia, we have Encyclowiki. The book opens with an Encyclowiki article on Simon Snow. For some reason, the whole de-fictionalization process she attempted to go through I found really enjoyable. I can’t help it – it’s a way of seeing the world in which the story’s set seem a lot more real. Complete with extracts from the books and Cath’s own fanfiction!

Ah, yes…let’s talk about those, shall we?
As much as I appreciated the attempt to flesh out fictional worlds within fictional worlds, they did start become a bit tedious as time wore on, partially because they really did serve no purpose to the continuation of the plot, but also because…well, Gemma T. Leslie’s writing isn’t very good. Whether that was intentional on the actual author’s part or not isn’t entirely clear, but in between chapters there are extracts, sometimes from Simon Snow books, and I always found myself rolling my eyes at the terrible narm spoused from the character’s mouths and the way they’re described with their bishounen hair and all the rest of it…again, it may have been intentional, but I’m not sure what purpose it served. I also had a few minor nitpicks with Rowell’s writing style, often because she randomly describes a character’s appearance in the middle of conversation. If you don’t mind that kind of thing, that’s fine, but I happened to find it quite jarring.

What about the characters? Ever my favourite thing of nearly any story, this book had to carry itself with mostly character design and development and…eh, it does OK. Cath and Wren’s relationship is the highlight of it. You do begin to get a sense of the history they’ve shared as it moves on and the ache that Cath feels during the times in which they’re not speaking to much. Wren herself is a breath of fresh air compared to a lot of books (or indeed WattPad stories) I’ve seen in this kind of environment, because she’s never shamed for extroversion and her rather hedonistic attitude, and her character is further deepened by the understanding that she is nearly as geeky as Cath still, and, as revealed later on in the book, is still loyally reading her fanfiction, to which Cath is moved.

Cath is OK as a character too – not the strongest protagonist I’ve ever seen, but perfectly serviceable. Her character arc is pretty clear, but it works fine – learning to embrace things out of her comfort zone and acknowledging that there’s no shame in changing herself somewhat, if it’s for a benefit. There’s this pretty poignant scene early on where Cath hands in an assignment of creative writing. Sticking to what she knows, she writes a short story about Simon and Baz, and her teacher/lecturer/whatever, who goes by the fantastic name of Professor Piper fails her for it, pointing out that what she did was essentially tantamount to plagiarism. This shakes Cath quite a bit, and confesses that she’s not all that good at coming up with original stories, but Piper, bless her, believes in her and continues to encourage her. What Cath eventually turns in is a nice conclusion, which I’m not going to give away, but essentially it does reflect a truth that any writer will find – better writing comes with experience.

Cath’s roommate Reagan is an interesting beast, but I have to say, I really like her, or at least, I like the role she plays. From the beginning she is cynical, fairly loud and unapologetic in her dealings and about as different from the introverted Cath as you can imagine. And yet…well, you can probably see where this is going. They do get on. I’m not going to go into details about it, it’s a nice touch, just read it for yourself.

And then there are the guys. *Sigh*

OK, my biggest issue with this book, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the romance. The guy Cath ends up being involved with is called Levi, and once upon a time, he was with Reagan. The fact that he spends a lot of time with Reagan is a pretty nice set-up, because they play a role almost like parental substitutes to Cath in the beginnings of the book, Levi’s cheeriness being a foil to Reagan’s cynicism, and that really works. And this is where the problem comes in – with such a dynamic, I always found Cath and Levi’s interactions to be sibling-like, with Levi acting as an older brother to her. And so, the later romantic interactions they had were…revolting.

OK, that’s an exaggeration, but I remember reading them and pulling faces the entire way through, although part of that could be also to do with the awkward way they way written. In some cases, that was probably intentional, but not in all. Maybe my own cynicism is showing, but the subjective incest aside, Levi’s character commits a much graver sin.

Let me try and set it out for you – this is a guy who spends most of his time in an unbridled, extroverted cheeriness. He gets on with anyone, but for reasons that aren’t properly explained, he has an instant (yes, that is confirmed by him later) romantic attraction to Cath the second he claps his eyes on her, and would like nothing better that to have her read him the fanfiction she wrote all day. Without much of his own backstory or life fleshed out, his role in this story is to get Cath out of her shell, boost her confidence and allow her to do new things. Is this description beginning to sound uncomfortably familiar?

Through what I have observed, Levi is essentially a textbook version (albeit a gender-flipped example) of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

A point could be made in that he is given something of a backstory and character traits beyond how Cath defines his role – he is revealed to, because possibly dyslexia, attention deficit disorder or maybe something else, struggle with reading and therefore come close to failing some assignments, but really that serves the purpose as to have him invite Cath to read things to him. He also had an apparently rocky history with Reagan, given that they broke up because she couldn’t stay monogamous. But he doesn’t seem particularly upset about that, and it just gives all the more reason for him and Cath to be together, Cath’s introversion being very important to the focus she gives on him. Although props to the story for not slut-shaming Reagan for her insatiability. Although infidelity is another matter…actually, the narrative weirdly breezes over the whole thing. Hm.

It feels a shame to have to bring this up, because Levi is a merciful break for all the love interests that have to be total dicks in order to be love interests. He’s a genuinely nice person, and not someone I’d mind meeting. It’s just a shame how obviously flat he is. The reason this matters is because Rowell spent so much time crafting a real world seperate from the fictional one that Cath enjoys staying in, and part of coming-of-age is acknowledging the flaws and and issues that the real world has. And neither Cath or Wren are idealised heroines, mercifully. The differences in personality they have are accepted as just differences, and things that they can work through. The transition Cath makes from a shielded fictional world to a flawed, but ultimately more rewarding real one would be so much more poignant if there was a more difficult, more realistically portrayed romance. And I’m not saying that Cath and Levi’s relationship is entirely without minor dramas or disagreements, but these are resolved remarkably fast, or else based on complete misunderstandings, because Levi REALLY needs Cath for…I have no clue. Cath’s development makes her a much more interesting character than she is without her cardboard cut-out.

Perhaps realising this, the story does actually intend to fake us out in terms of romance, but unfortunately not well enough. It’s never in any doubt who Cath’s going to end up with (particularly as Levi’s on the cover with her), but it’s not as though I didn’t vainly hope…

First there’s Cath’s actual boyfriend at the beginning of the story. He’s called Abel, for which he has my greatest sympathies, and apparently is…well, we know very little about him actually, other than that he may be more introverted and awkward than Cath herself, and he breaks up with her pretty fast. The sheer boringness of how he’s displayed do unfortunately create an all too obvious and appealing contrast to someone like Levi.

Oh, and then there’s Nick…
Nick seems a strange choice for my preferred love interest, because, if you cast your minds back to That Life, he carries a great deal of the traits that annoy me. He’s muscular (something that Levi isn’t, interestingly), something that Cath notes, apparently attractive enough to gain the attention of other girls, and possesses a rather smooth flirtacious banter that I distinctly lack. So, yeah – he has every reason to bring back my own personal insecurities, but the role he plays in this story is actually fairly interesting.

A fellow of Cath’s Fiction Writing class, he pairs up with her in various assignments so they can assist each other in their own writing drawbacks, although Cath does end up helping him a lot more, because he has the tendency to create one-note protagonists that Cath notes are very similar to him. There’s a bit of conflict near the end where he attempts to pass of an assignment that she helped him edit simply with his own name, which everyone finds a pretty douchey thing to do. And…yeah, it is, but the fact that his politeness to Cath never wavers makes me think that he might not even realise what the problem is. Narcissistic and self-obsessed? Or just ignorant? Maybe both? At any rate, this is the set-up for a much more interesting and controversial romance.

But wait! I hear you cry. Didn’t you just say you hated it when love interests were total wankers? Why yes, I do, but there are many ways you can make someone’s flaws be genuine issues without them being completely horrible. And Nick didn’t seem to be completely horrible, just a bit misguided and clearly in need of decent emotional intelligence. Wouldn’t it have been so much more interesting if both Cath and Nick worked through their own personal flaws together whilst helping each other with their writing? Nick helping Cath with original characters, and Cath helping Nick with decent characters? That would be a romance I could get behind. I might even forgive Nick for being more attractive than me. Personally, I think it was a tragically missed opportunity. TEAM NICK!

So, overall, what do I think of this book? It’s pretty good. Definitely better than you might expect, but at the same time suffers from some rather glaring problems and…is probably too long. Still, I’d recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in some of the themes I’ve laid out here, and even for those who are annoyed by the same things that annoy me, you may interpret it differently. Who knows?

I’ll post again soon, likely reviewing the book I read after this, or an another anime series. Until then, feel free to comment and share with your friends…y’know, all that good stuff…

 

Touching Base and Story Structure

So…

It’s actually been like…two months since I posted something? Yeah, apparently life happens sometimes and when it does, it does it in a very rude and uncompromising way, and I’m not just talking about accidental pregnancies…which isn’t something I’ve had to worry about too much, incidentally…

For the benefit of those who actually like to read this blog, I’ll be getting back to posting at a more regular rate once I have more time on my hands, so this is just to let you know that I still feel like doing something with my blog, including editing it, because it’s format is terrible…

Life is uncompromising – that’s something that’s been proved to me for a long time, but never mind that now. If anything gets better, then I might post a joyful post for once about how great life is. But in the meantime, I want to briefly talk about story structure.

Yeah, because I’m still a writer, and in the process of writing a first draft of my novel.

*Cue canned applause*

Mm, yeah. And whilst the process of writing can sometimes feel like running your supple cheek against a diamond-edged cheese grater, I do really enjoy coming up with these characters and putting them in situations.

I just sometimes wish story structure would accommodate them.

If you’re going to write something, it’s vitally important you work out how your story pans out. You get your traditional narrative structure, with an introduction, exposition, conflict, rising action, climax and denounement (fuck spelling), but other than that it’s quite open to a lot of leeway. After all, your story could be unconventional, and even when it isn’t, like most of mine are because I’m not clever enough to write something purely symbolic (AND THEN I WOULDN’T HAVE CHARACTERS 😥 ), and even if I knew the concept of structure back in the days of writing That Life, I’m still not the best at it…

One of the main reasons for this I think is that my writing’s always been very character-driven. I mean, if we go back to That Life, it was almost nothing but the characters, because the plot was completely nonsensical. And whilst I enjoy creating complex characters that steer the plot, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I think that it’s one of my strengths (I’ve vastly improved since I was 13), it does mean structure’s less easy. Why? Well, because most of the time the plot comes to me in incomplete chunks, like a DIY coffee table that you got from cheap suppliers who only sent you half of it. That analogy didn’t work quite as well as I thought, I’ll have to work on that.

I’ve got these scenes in mind, including pivotal moments for certain characters and sometimes a climax, and because I’m so desperate to include these scenes, I have to make these scenes fit together somehow. Sometimes that’s fairly easy, but other times it feels far-fetched, I have scenes that drag on for too long, and I end up with a rather forced climax. There’s a joke to be made there…

So, how do you avoid this? Well, actually I have no idea, but maybe I’ll learn more as I go through this writing process. One thing I will say for character-driven plots is that, if you’ve created quite a lot of characters for this particular story, which, again, I tend to do, make sure you know which ones are going to be vital for the climax. The protagonist, the antagonist and their nearest and dearest, right? Well, maybe, but it really depends. For example, if you have several character arcs running through a narrative, you’re going to want them all to culminate somehow, and in some cases, a decent climax (that is, the high point of the action in the story) for that to happen. But the climax you’ve got in mind might not be entirely relevant to other characters, or else having characters unrelated to it would be superfluous or unrealistic to have them there. Their own character arc may have another resolution, which may be related to this climax, but not directly involved, and furthermore, different scenes could resolve different parts of a character.

In the current book I’m writing, for example, the more I’ve thought about it, the less likely it seems that the deuteragonist (second-most important character) will be directly involved in what can be considered the climax. She is indirectly involved, and her own personal character arc will come to a conclusion with the protagonist right at the end. The reason for this seems to be my reliance on structuring the story so that the most dramatic and action-packed character arc takes place near the end, including an antagonist that isn’t the direct instigator of conflict in the plot, just a catalyst. This kind of antagonist will also appear in the next book I have planned after this. Yes, I can plan ahead. What of it?

So, in conclusion, structuring a story and getting people in the right place is very important, so make sure you know what you’re doing or else your poor characters will go unresolved. Looking at you, cast of That Life.

So, um, thanks for reading, give me your thoughts and I may post again at some point…