Big Budget Does Not Mean Good Story

With working some long hours, and over-taxing my body, I’ve spent more hours than normal in front of the TV in the last week. In hindsight, I realise it was time not well spent. Even though it was shows and movies I wanted to watch, I found most of them bland and uninspiring. Even high-cost productions lacked a good story line, leaving my overall impression at “bleh”. I moved from anticipating the new series through to just feeling obligated to finish it.

The one exception to this cacophony of lacklustre entertainment was the Marvel movie Doctor Strange. Spoiler alert: read no further. From a cinematic point of view it was too heavy on CGI for my liking, but in contrast to everything else it had a good story line, even if it was cliché.

Good: Doctor Strange played by Benedict Cumberbatch is a deeply-flawed egomaniac who wants to win at everything. He ends up defeating the bad guy by being willing to fail endlessly.

Bad: I’d have to say I didn’t believe the transformation. I didn’t see him changing over time, it was like someone flicked a switch and all of a sudden he’d changed. Not so much a character arc than a plot-required u-turn.

Good: Being willing to fail is something that most people can relate to, and for the perfectionist it is a hard thing to accept.

Bad: In hindsight, it was kind of a weak ‘fail’. I mean he was willing to loose in another galaxy, population 1.. There were no witnesses. It’s not like he was willing to admit his mistakes on international TV.

Good: There was some good humour to break up the action. (Marvel are good at this). Take for example this where his cloak has ideas of its own.

Bad: And then the super-cheesy, I-so-didn’t-see-that-coming from the monk who never laughs. (Guess what he does?)

There were other problems with it too, which I guess just shows how bad the others were. From now on, I’m reading, not watching TV when it’s the approach of bed time.

Micro Story: John Roskan

I’ve had a crazy-busy weekend thus far and pushed my body too hard. My back and legs are sore and I’m quite tired. For this post I’ve just written a micro-story, a small piece of fiction inspired by several real events.


John Roskan

The first thing that I noticed, that anybody notices, about John Roskan was his involuntarily shoulder twitch. It was off-putting, especially when you first met him. You were simultaneously curious and worried about being rude. Once you could pry your eyes and attention off his shoulder he quickly impressed you with his brilliance as an engineer.

John really knew his trade, and he spoke maths more fluently than any other language. If there was ever a problem in your calculations, John would be the one to ask. I’d be lying if I said we were friends, we didn’t talk about anything other than work, but I respected him as a colleague. To be honest, even though his office was just down the hall, I’d never really thought about him much.

Until he disappeared.

What do you do when a colleague inexplicably vanishes? One day he’s in the office, working away; taking client calls and berating the interns lacklustre grasp of math. The next day, he just doesn’t come in. Or the following. Or the one after that, or any day since.

He didn’t have recreational leave planned, there’s no “get well soon” card circulated or farewell drinks. There’s no announcement from management about the Senior Project Engineer’s absence. He’s just gone and other are assigned his work and clients without an explanation.

I innocently asked around if colleagues know the story and no one knows anything. Anything. There isn’t even rumours circulating. Then I asked management.

My manager, who I’ve known for years, hardens like concrete at the question. “It isn’t my business.” I’m told in no uncertain terms. And the manager hasn’t softened in the week since. I’m pretty sure he’s told other managers, because all of a sudden every manager in the firm seems to know my name.

I keep my head down and just do my work. I’m not sure what John did, but I know now I should never have asked about him.

One day soon, I may be the one not turning up to work.

Today is the Day

I barely slept a wink all night.

The countdown is close to reaching zero on two separate events. One event is that today I mail off my submission packet for Vengeance Will Come to a publisher.

My very first submission. It feels like I’m breaking new ground. Or better yet, stepping out on the ice, hoping that it’s frozen enough to bear my weight.

To be honest, I’m fully expecting a template rejection letter. Thanks, but no thanks. It’s my first novel and I’m sure I have much to learn about writing. I could have moved on without attempting to publish this first book – but the project would never have felt complete otherwise. (I still have a few wrinkles to smooth out in the manuscript, but they are minor and I hope to be actually complete in two weeks).

And without attempting submission I would never have learned about writing a synopsis, which was both a pleasure and a pain.

Writing a synopsis is an art all of its own and different to a query (or “pitch”). It forces you to distil your entire manuscript down to the core ingredients. (Vengeance Will Come is 300 A4 pages and my synopsis was 7 pages). In complete contradiction to an author’s normal impulses you must outline all major plot points, plot twists and character arcs. You must lay bare your secrets in a summarised recounting, without making it sterile.

I found creating the synopsis helpful in how it articulated the character arcs. In future projects I’m going to write the synopsis in parallel to the manuscript.

The Sacred Flame

This came to me the other morning. I haven’t spent long on it, so it could probably use some polish… but I have a synopsis to do.

I guess it’s a poem… of sorts? (My apologies to the real poets).

 

As Initiates we watched in wonder the Sacred Flame

Intrigued by its subtle dance, its warmth and its glow

We longed and hoped one day to receive

Our own flame springing forth

 

My wife and I are Keepers of the Sacred Flame

Priest and Priestess, dedicated to its care

Sanctified to keep it burning at all times

It’s a job for two; one cannot do it alone

 

Studying it, we learn to read its mood

To sense its movement, anticipate its need

Oak to burn long, spruce to burn fast, hickory for heat and aroma

There is a time for each, to keep it burning bright

 

We must learn to love the flame

To tend it always, through the long watches of the night

Protecting it from breeze and strong gale

Guarding always its purity and beauty

 

We have become accustomed to its presence

It is for us, a cherished Friend

That warms the body, and makes glad the heart

A flame reaching upwards, toward its Creator.

Today Should Count

I’m counting down towards something I’m not particularly looking forward to (and it’s not related to writing). For the last few days I’ve been saying, “x days”, not counting the current day.

I picture optimism and pessimism as a spectrum, let’s call it emotional outlook. For the sake of a good analogy it’s a vertical line. Buried in the dark depths, is pessimism. Towards the top of the line, way up in the lofty sun-drenched heights, sits optimism. At the very top of the line is idealism. Depending your own emotional outlook is where you place realism.

In my detailed bio: the early years I recount how I was originally optimistic, but became pessimistic. Then, my patient and persistent wife, encouraged and cajoled my temperament back toward the optimistic end of the scale.

(Sidebar: As I write that sentence I consider the writing guideline of not adding too many adjectives. I’ve said my wife is (1) patient and (2) persistent. Both adjectives are relevant to the subject matter and therefore appropriate. But to not mention her beauty is to almost to deceive through omission, dear reader).

My point is this: today should count (especially if it’s less than 75% done). Make the most of every opportunity. Start that diet immediately, ring that friend, cross off that item on your list (after doing it).

 

Cutting Words Without Value

I have to admit that self-restraint around food isn’t one of my strengths. I like food a little too much. I’m working on down-sizing my appetite… and then hopefully my wardrobe.

One of the things I use to say when younger was about “unwanted calories”. If you aren’t going to enjoy eating something (e.g. the flavourless crusts on a pizza) then its “unwanted calories”. Why consume calories when it’s surplus to need and not going to be enjoyable either? It’s smarter on so many levels just to bin it.

There are certain words that have no value, just like unwanted calories. They add nothing to the story and so should be deleted.

One of the tasks I’ve done recently is to review every use of the word ‘that’. It is most often a filler word whose presence can be removed without altering the meaning of the sentence at all. I know I use it unconsciously. When I did my word frequency analysis I had a massive 735 ‘that’ uses.

that
A particularly bad example of THAT shame

My ‘that’ hunt eradicated it down to just 149 instances. A good hunt, indeed.

Movie Review: Dunkirk

Contains Spoliers. dunkirkHaving received high praise from critics and reviews, I went in expecting a lot. From a story telling angle, I was curious how they were going to make what is essentially a (necessary) retreat into a compelling story.

The first seconds of the film are great scene setting: a squad of soldiers is walking through empty streets. All of a sudden they come under fire and flee. One by one the men are shot as they run; a single soldier manages to escape. Within seconds the audience is imbued with a sense of loss, loneliness and the nearness of danger.

The cinematography was good, and I agree the story line showed the spectrum of human responses of justifiable fear and bravery. The use of sound – and absence of – was great. (I must be getting old, because the volume it was played at in the cinemas was actually a detraction from my enjoyment. I think this is a trend in all the movies I have seen lately. Logan was so loud the sound was actually distorted).

It was only later that night I worked out the time scales in the movie. Early on it shows “Land: 1 week”, “Sea: 1 day” and “Air: 1 hour”. I take it to the mean that the story is a blending of those three timescales, given that the airforce pilots were ordered to fly low “to allow 40 minutes ‘fighting time’ over the beaches”. This is not made particularly clear to the audience, probably to not hamper their experience.

It also had no blood (or very little), which was interesting. I can only assume that was a conscious decision to avoid so-called “war porn”, and focus on the story instead of the brutality.

I’d summarise it as a worthwhile representation of Dunkirk. As a movie though, I didn’t find it particularly engaging. I wasn’t emotionally invested in any of the characters or their plight. It’s certainly not a movie I would re-watch any time soon (in contrast to Hacksaw Ridge or Enemy at the Gates). I’ve give it a 7 out of 10.