Friday, January 15, 2016

It's Now Or Never

In less than a month, Alan Rickman, David Bowie and Lemmy have all died of cancer. Seriously, fuck cancer.

Celebrity death is a weird thing. So many people mourning for somebody they don't know. I've never been much impacted by celebrity death with the exception of David Bowie. I know that the deaths of Lemmy and Alan Rickman will have impacted others in a similar way, though. The death of Robin Williams had a similar impact at the time and from time to time I still hear people speak of it. The fans will speak of it and mourn for the rest of their lives. Mourn a man they never knew.

Strange, but it does make sense. While a celebrity's fans can't generally say they know the celebrity personally, celebrities put themselves out there and create these strange one way relationships with their audience. Their fans know about them, sometimes in frightening detail, and feel connected to them while acknowledging that it will not be reciprocated with the same devotion. Thus when one dies, it's like millions of people have lost a close friend that never knew they existed.

There's another reason, I think, that certain celebrity deaths hit so hard. Sometimes a person appears to be or gives the impression of being larger than life and more than human. Somebody so popular, so talented, so loved simply can not die because dying is so mundane. Or perhaps their presence in the world, in our minds and hearts, is so constant and so irreplaceable that imagining a world without them is an insane notion. They are so close to the centre of our world that they must be near the centre of the world and without them, the world would not turn.

But it's not true. Death is the great equalizer, it comes at any time, any place and doesn't care about wealth and fame and fans and love.

And yet...

And yet it's so easy to fall for the illusion of immortality. All it takes is to not think about death for us to begin to think we never will die. It's understandable. Imagining a world without us is like imagining a new colour. The act of imagining that world is the act of perceiving something that we cannot perceive. We will not see a world without us and to try and see that world, even in our mind, is a contradiction. Trying to comprehend our death and trying to comprehend death's apathy to us is, needless to say, uncomfortable. So we brush it aside and go on with the notion that we are eternal for as long as we can.

But the older one gets, the harder it is to maintain ignorance. Everytime somebody around us dies, it's a shock to the system. It thrusts a very personal death into our faces and makes us acknowledge our own mortality. Surely if a cultural giant and living legend like David Bowie can die, then little old me must die too, in my time.

And I will.

And you will.

Be certain now that your time is running out. You may live another hundred years from this day, but the clock is ticking and you will die.

And perhaps while death is so much on our minds, we should really try to remember that our death is coming. Let's not slip back into that illusion of immortality. Let's not pretend we are going to be the exception to the rule.

Writing takes a long time. It takes a long time to learn, it takes a long time to get good at it and it takes a long time to produce a work. Personally, I take far too long to write a book. It can also take a long time for your work to find an audience, for it to make you any money, for it to earn out its advance or turn a profit over its expenses. It takes a long time to build a career. The sooner you start work on any of these things, the sooner you will complete them and the sooner you can achieve your goals.

Do not wait. Do not procrastinate. Decide what you want to do in life, decide what you want to achieve and then do it. Make it happen. Strive for it and do not stop until you're there. Do not watch one more video on YouTube, refresh your Twitter feed one more time, or play one more match of League of Legends.

Stop making excuses and make time. Stop thinking about it and do it. Stop imagining you're there and get moving.

Take this time now, when confronted with the cold truth of mortality, and be motivated by it. Everything you want to do with your life is limited by time and none of us know when time will be up.

And then watch another YouTube video, check your Twitter feed and play a game of League of Legends. You should enjoy your life, you should have fun and be distracted by simple amusements. You don't want to burn out. If you've only got one life, you should enjoy it. It's okay to do something just for the joy of it and not to accomplish more.

And then get back to work. Time is short, after all.

What I'm saying is take control of your life. Do the things you want to do, but whatever you do, don't be idle and don't let your dreams slip away. When you look back at your life from your death bed, will you be satisfied to say "I binge watched six seasons of Supernatural every month," or do you want to say "I had a book to write and I wrote it."

Decide now.

When I woke up this morning, death was in the news again. As I do every morning, I put on some music to listen to as I began my day. Today the most appropriate song came courtesy of Bon Jovi. I'd like to leave you with a few lines from that song. Take them, think them, decide and act.

"It's my life, it's now or never. I ain't gonna live forever. I just want to live while I'm alive."

Monday, January 11, 2016

Ashes to Ashes, Funk to Funky

I promise to go back to talking about writing soon. Next blog, for sure. But for now I just want to think out loud again. Forgive me for my self-indulgence and if you're not interested, no worries, see you in a few days.

I just began doing some editing today when I heard.

David Bowie died.

At first I was certain it was a hoax. I went straight to the Googles and looked it up and, yep, a couple of pages confirmed it was a hoax. I felt relieved and a little miffed that the official David Bowie accounts on Twitter and Facebook were spreading rumours and not checking their facts. They should be more like me! They should consult random tabloid websites that confirm their desperate wishful thinking! Haha, QED, he boasted.

About half an hour later, my sister called me. She'd just heard the news and thought of me, wanted to make sure I'd heard. I voiced my discovery that it was a hoax but since she clearly was getting news from more legitimate sources, I did a second Googling of the matter. What a difference 30 minutes makes.

No denying it this time. No amount of stubborn wishful thinking could alter the facts.

David Bowie died.

Okay, so why all the melodrama? A celebrity died, clearly I was a fan, so were lots of other people. People die all the time. Is it really worth blogging about? Is it really worth the dramatic retelling?

I'm only a young man, but I've been listening to David Bowie for almost 20 years. I've been listening to David Bowie almost as long as I can make complete sentences. David Bowie has been at the core of the soundtrack to my life for as long as I can remember.

So, yeah, this has hit me hard. I am absolutely gutted by the news of his passing. And I wanted to express that. Hence, a blog, dedicated to David Bowie and how much he has impacted my life.

Because I've listened to David Bowie when I've been happy. I've listened to David Bowie when I was sad. I've listened to David Bowie as I fell in love and I've listened to David Bowie while my heart ached. A love of David Bowie has been the basis of some friendships. I've listened to David Bowie while writing. He's inspired my writing. I've listened to David Bowie when I've had trouble sleeping. I have childhood memories that can not be separated from particular David Bowie songs. I've made many friends suffer through my karaoke renditions of all David Bowie's hits.

I can listen to David Bowie at any time. He has created such a vast library of music in so many styles and forms that I can always find something from David Bowie to listen to no matter what mood I'm in, where I am or what I'm doing.

Only a few days ago, David Bowie released a new album. I, of course, listened to it and I loved every moment of it. There's not a single track on Blackstar that I don't enjoy and there are many albums like that. Ziggy Stardust, Low, Hunky Dory, Heathen, Outside, Hours, all of them albums that I can happily listen to again and again, from beginning to end. I'm not going to pretend that I love every song David Bowie has ever written or performed. But there are few albums that I can say I love every song on and no other artist is responsible for as many of those albums as David Bowie.

It is helpful, I think, that David Bowie almost became a genre unto himself. Perhaps only Pink Floyd has been so wildly popular with the mainstream while being so experimental, so versatile and always changing, and so committed to the art of music and willing to cross genres just to try something different. And David Bowie's passion for art extended into the music videos he did, which are as weird and wonderful as the music.

But I'm going to stop now. If you've bothered to read all this, then well done and thanks, I guess, for sticking with me as I ranted incoherently about how much I like David Bowie.

I finish by saying: Thank you, David Bowie. Thank you for all that your music has meant to me over the years and for all that it will continue to mean to me in the years to come. May you rest in peace, knowing that you have touched the lives of millions like me.

You were a hero, every day.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Star Wars

So I have this rule which is to never start or enter a conversation about George Lucas films. I always get in trouble in those conversations. I'm about to break the rule by talking about Star Wars and I'm going to put it here for all the world to see. With the release of Force Awakens, Star Wars has been much on my mind recently and I need to get it out of my system. There's no great insights here, no big controversy, no advice to take away and store in your mind banks. This is me just talking about a thing I like.

Some context.

By my late teens, I had seen some of Star Wars but not all of it. What I'd seen I did like but Science Fiction has never been my thing and mostly I liked that it had sword and sorcery. They were good fun but not something I gave a lot of attention to.

That is until I picked up the video game Knights of The Old Republic and, shortly after, it's sequel. Both games had been out a few years at that time. Those games changed everything. The second one, particularly, I rank as a particularly well made, well written and memorable game. After that I stumbled across the Knights of The Old Republic comic series and started reading that. It didn't take long for me to decide, Damn, I should really go and watch all those movies again.

So I did. And I loved them. All of them.

ALL of them.

This is where it always gets awkward. Wait, what? All of them? Even... those ones?

Especially those ones.

Let me make myself crystal clear and give you a ranking of how I feel about Star Wars and the seven films in the main series. From most favourite to least favourite...

1. Force Awakens
2. Empire Strikes Back
3. Phantom Menace
4. Revenge of The Sith
5. New Hope
6. Return of The Jedi
7. Attack of The Clones

Did you feel that? It's like a million Star Wars fans all cried out, wanting to tell me why I'm wrong.

But I'm not wrong because it's all subjective. It's a matter of taste.

But I've always said, there's subjective opinion but there's also an objective measure of quality that we can apply to art. It's not perfect, it's not without some subjectivity, but art criticism can't exist without a widely agreed upon objective measure of how well a piece of art is crafted. So we can look at Star Wars both subjectively as a thing we enjoy or we don't but we can also look at how each film measures up in terms of (largely) objective merit.

But it's generally unwise to do so because, actually, guys, these movies all kinda suck.

Okay, maybe that's putting it harshly but, really, have you watched those them recently? I mean actually sat and watched them? Turned off the nostalgia goggles and suppressed your inner fanboy and really watched them? These are B movies at best.

Here's just a few common major problems in them.

1. Comic relief characters that aren't funny, just annoying.
2. Racist. Just... Wow... So racist.
3. Just the worst dialogue ever.
4. Flimsy plot.
5. Flimsy characters.
6. Pointless and filler scenes. Lots of them.
7. Most of the fight choreography.

Usually I hear these as criticism aimed at the three prequel films and in some ways, like the racism, the prequels are worse. But in many ways the prequels also were an improvement. For starters, the prequel trilogy is a hugely ambitious effort in movie making. The first three had a relatively simple plot with hints at something grander but the prequels are epic in design, both the story being told and how it is told. It was clearly more than Lucas could manage, but damn if he didn't give it his all. The other big one is in characters, and this is easier to highlight. With only a couple of exceptions, the characters in Star Wars 4, 5 and 6 are bland, under developped and offer little in the way of humanity. Possibly the biggest offender is Luke Skywalker himself who, right up until Return of The Jedi, has one defining characteristic and that is he's kind of a whiny prat.

Qui-Gon Jin, on the other hand, is seen in one film and in that film he becomes one of the most well defined characters in the series. And he's just one example. Obi-Wan, now a main character, becomes a more interesting and well rounded character. All the main characters and much of the supporting cast, such as Mace Windu, all have more personality than most of the original trilogy characters. Anakin even gets an arc. It's a poorly written, poorly executed arc, but still an actual visible arc!

With the exception of Empire Strikes Back and now Force Awakens, all the Star Wars films we've seen are some B grade films. It's amazing you can throw that much money at a project and have it come out with so many flaws.

It's important to remember, however, that there can be a difference between what is "good" and what you like or enjoy.

And you know what Star Wars is really good at? You know what it does so well? You know what just about makes up for all that? Star Wars is fun! Star Wars has all the science fiction and fantasy and adventure and excitement you could want. Star Wars is enjoyable!

And in a way, that makes the film a great success because they weren't made to be great cinema, they were made to sell toys be enjoyed! And they succeed at their goal! I, for one, love every mind numbing, poorly written, poorly directed utterly stupid moment of it! And now we have a new one! After ten years, a new Star Wars film has hit our screens and it's not just a good Star Wars film, it's an actual good film! It's not perfect. It has flaws. But it's a well made piece of art! Now we have the best of both worlds! Scream and shout in jubilation with me! Yippee!!



But I can hear you. Some of you are already pointing out all the reasons I'm wrong. I'm not going to argue with you, because, like I said, even when you try to take an objective eye to art, it's not perfect. There's still a big element of subjectivity in it. We can all look at the same piece of acting and rank it differently, based on our expectations and how many errors we're willing to accept before it's considered "bad."

By now, if you've seen Star Wars, you've probably made up your mind about which ones you like and which ones you don't. I'm not going to change your mind. I don't want to. I'm just expressing an opinion.


Because I wanted to. It's my blog and sometimes I like to write something totes pointless and full of incoherent ramblings about things I like.


That's it.


Friday, January 1, 2016

You're Wrong About Planning and Structure

So I've gotten kind of tired of my Facebook addiction and I'm trying to get addicted to Twitter, now.

(Follow me! @CarlWrites)

While I was experimenting with this new thing called Twitter that I understand is all the rage with the young folk, I stumbled upon this image.
(Visit for details about and further work from the illustrator of this image. No, seriously, do it. His stuff is super cool.)

Now this comic is kind of funny and it highlights a very common criticism of certain writing theory and technique. It's an argument against formula, against rigid structure like the three act structure and it's the sort of arguments I hear from people who are explaining why they never plot or plan a story before writing it.

I used to be one of those people. I used to wing it every step of the way for maximum creativity. I wrote Sorceress' Blood that way.

And if you happen to be one of those people, good for you. If it works for you and you write productively and write well and you're happy, good for you.

But allow me to express a counter point.

Go to your book shelf, down to the book store, to the library, to your e-book store of choice and have a look around. Dig out a stack of your favourite books from the last two thousand years and I guarantee you that some of those were written specifically to the three act structure. I guarantee you that some of those books were intricately planned before a single word was put down on the page. 
And I'll go a step further. I'll say that some more of those books were written without a plan and then heavily revised to have a better structure, to suit a more rigid plan. The same can be said for your favourite movies, your favourite stage shows, our favourite comics, your favourite Pokemon/Sonic The Hedgehog cross-over erotic epic poetic saga fan fiction.

Did you notice it when you read those books? Did it ruin the experience for you?

I asked you to get your favourite books, so I'm going to go ahead and say that you weren't too bothered by the fact that somebody planned it before it was written.

That's because it works. It has always worked. It will always work. Those beginning and end points, those turning points, the inciting incident, the rising tension, the climax all make for a good story. You could argue that this kind of story telling isn't an invention but a discovery, that we naturally tell stories this way. It's an idea with some solid ground, considering how many stories follow the formula and that it can even be applied to the way we tell anecdotes from our life and how we tell jokes.

And when you deviate in a big way, when you have your inciting incident too late, when your tension scale is flat, when there's no climax, when your conflict arises too fast or too slow, people notice it and they don't like it. Go ahead and break from the formula. Write your story with no climax. Trust me when I tell you nobody wants an anti-climactic story or one that just stops without resolution.

And for all the complains about rigidity, about restriction and how it kills your creativity, at its most basic level, a structure isn't that rigid. A structure is a guide, a framework for telling a story in a way that is logical, natural and satisfying. Whether it's three acts, four acts, seven acts or nine acts, they're essentially the same idea expressed in a different way.

Used correctly, a story structure is invisible. It's a subtle formula that bends to your needs as you shape your story to fit it. The only people who see it are those who are looking for it or already know it's there, and even then the lines can be blur together easily.

Look, as I said, if you don't plan your story in advance and ignore all the theories about structure and it's working out for you then that's great. I'm happy for you. But if you think that planning ahead or applying a structure to your story makes for a worse story or weakens creativity in some way, or that it makes all stories the same, then you're just plain wrong. You, sir or madam, are factually incorrect! And the chances are, if you finish your work and go back and have a look, you'll be able to see a way your story already fits a basic structure. They're that flexible that you can usually apply them after the fact without much difficulty.

Whether or not you personally consider narrative structures and formula, whether or not you personally plan ahead according to these theories, they work, have always worked and will always make for good stories.

At the end of the day, everybody writes differently and we all find our own balance of planning, moment-to-moment creativity, and we all decide which tools we're going to master and bring to our blank page to craft our story. There's no one correct way of doing things. Just don't trash other people's methods.