“You Regret Being Human When…” – A Sort-Of Fictional Rant

Coffee

Basically, I came up with the idea to write something to comment on various things I witness in my day-to-day life. I’d just finished reading a really excellent comic called Some People by Luke Pearson. I came away sorely wishing I could draw—sadly, I can’t. However, I can write and this is what I ended up writing. It’s not really a story and it’s not really a real-life account. It is what it is and I hope you enjoy.

* * * * *

You regret being human when…

People drink coffee as if it makes them better than you.

A businessman in his late twenties sits at his desk in an open-collar shirt and a Starbucks cup in one hand. He’s the kind of person who thinks an Americano is the only thing you should be ordering, because a Latte is just too fussy and holds up the queue. Never mind, then, the almond pastry he’s asked to be warmed up or the cup holder he fills one-by-one as he “gets in the coffee” for the “guys at the office”.

You regret being human when…

Work is all there is.

‘Of course, I’ll have the presentation ready by eleven. Sure, I can’t wait for the conference on Saturday about transferable skills. What? No, it’s not a problem at all. There are plenty more weekends and I’d only sit and twiddle my thumbs anyway. Alright, catch up with you at the team lunch tomorrow. Ciao.’

He hangs up the phone and heads off through the office. As he approaches, you smile and wish him a good morning. The businessman ignores you and strides straight past. You might as well be a speck of dirt on the man’s pristine shoes.

You regret being human when…

Someone overtakes you when you’re doing the speed limit.

The overtaking car’s engine roars as it tears past you, having spent the last few minutes attached to your rear bumper. Nobody needs to go that fast, do they? You look across and see the driver’s irritated expression as he passes. God, it must be such a stressful way to lead your life. At least he shaved a few seconds off his journey, though, right?

You regret being human when…

Someone famous dies and suddenly everyone’s a fan.

‘Oh, god, did you hear about Heath Ledger?’ the Americano-drinking, work-loving, speeding, office idiot will announce. ‘It’s funny, I was just saying the other day how I found his early performances so moving. You probably won’t have heard of him before he broke into Hollywood, but he had a real cult following.’

All at once, you feel inadequate, awkward and pissed off. This guy probably hasn’t seen a Heath Ledger movie in his life but thought he’d read up on his career on Wikipedia so he could join in the chat at work the next day. Doesn’t it just make you want to scream?

You know what’s worse, though?

You regret being human when…

You realise that you can’t even regret being human. You didn’t choose it. You always were one. Damn…

You wish you weren’t human when…

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Video Games, Violence & Addiction

Today I’m going to blog about something non-writing related in a sense and something that’s very topical at the moment. I was reading about the ongoing trial of Anders Breivik and the revelation that he took a year off work and played World of Warcraft and Call of Duty 16 hours a day in isolation. Now, I consider myself a ‘gamer’ (whatever qualifies me for that title) and I have loved playing video games since the days of Sonic the Hedgehog. I even played WoW for almost 6 years and enjoyed my stints in Battlefield, the CoD series and other shooter titles. Never once did I feel a need to hurt anyone in real life.

The reason I felt like blogging on this subject is because certain people have now come out with the usual cries to ban violent video games. No doubt some parents will be wrenching away the Xbox 360 from their children in disgust or threatening to throw it out the window because they think their child might become a murderer. This, of course, is an extreme view. A lot of parents simply just don’t want their children to become addicted to games and have no life outside of them. I understand this standpoint – I was probably addicted to WoW for a good few years until a year or so ago. Those sorts of games are addictive and they can eventually take over reality. But can they really prepare you for the reality of killing someone in real life? I don’t think so. It takes a certain type of personality and the desire to kill in the first place to drive someone to such an act. It’s interesting – if an avid reader committed murder, would people start blaming his love of crime fiction for preparing him for these crimes? Millions of people watch detective dramas on TV every day, yet the vast majority of viewers don’t feel compelled to copy what they watch. In no way am I defending the acts of such people, I just thought I would offer a viewpoint from within the gaming world on the subject.

I guess I lied when I said this post wasn’t about writing. Well, it’s not really, but there is a valuable point here. Writers can learn from and become inspired by every type of person out there and by every piece of news that makes the headlines. People are complex and so are their motives. Think about that when you next look for inspiration for your work in progress.

Making Connections: Memories & Emotions

Today, on the way into work, I got thinking about how I memorize the route and can drive it without so much as thinking about it. I thought about what would happen if one day I lost my knowledge of the route—how would I get to work? Well, I then deduced that whenever I remember things there is usually an emotion/experience attached to that memory. For instance, I once saw a really beautiful sunrise over one part of my journey (when I used to work early shifts) and I now always think back to that sunrise when I approach it. A little further along on my trip, I once had a car accident on a stretch of road and I’m now always much more cautious when I approach it.

I suppose we all associate emotions with memories, but certain memories we seem to just “throw away” without a second thought. I wonder if our brains would do that if, for example, we spilled coffee down ourselves that day—we’d remember it then. It’s an interesting facet of the human mind and something useful when writing and making characters believable.

I should have Part Two of my fantasy map tutorial up sometime over the weekend.

~ James

Motivation

Today, I wanted to share some thoughts on motivation. Not motivation in the sense of you as a writer, but in the sense of your characters. If you think about it, motivation falls under two categories: Good and Bad. If, for example, I’m working really hard to become a nuclear physicist because I want to build a weapon to kill millions, that is bad motivation. If, however, I’m robbing a bank because I can’t afford to pay for my dying son’s life-saving surgery, that is good motivation.

As well as this, there are many sub-categories:

Money, power, love, revenge, hatred, loyalty etc.

It’s pretty fun to take one of these themes and then think about how a character uses that as their motivation. An interesting and deep antagonist might be someone who’s motivated out of loyalty to the protagonist but ends up causing more harm than good. The possibilities are pretty much endless.

Anyway, must dash for now. I’ll put up another bite-sized post later on this evening.

~ James

10 Fantasy Books I’d Like To Read

Books

As it’s the weekend, I thought I’d post a simple list of the top ten fantasy books I’m really looking forward to reading. Enjoy!

  1. The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett
  2. Magician by Raymond E. Feist
  3. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
  4. The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
  5. Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
  6. Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan
  7. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
  8. The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake
  9. The Emperor’s Knife by Mazarkis Williams
  10. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (On its way!)

The First Milestone

So, having just broken through the first 10,000 words of my novel, I’m feeling very confident about the remaining 90k or so. The writing seems to pour out a lot easier once you’ve made some headway with your characters. Its been a lot of years since I wrote anything of substantial length, so I’d forgotten how much better it does get. I might actually be a strange sort of writer who looks forward to the ‘middle’ of the story and hates the beginning. I mean, it’s true that I’ve written about 50 beginnings/prologues in the past with no progress made beyond that, but when I latch onto a story idea that has actual potential to go the distance, it seems I look forward to the plot threads intertwining as I plunge further into the story. I’ve set myself a target of 25,000 words, to be completed by the end of March. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to reach it. I have 2 weeks booked off work during March, so this should give me some writing time too.

I wonder, has anyone out there recently reached a goal or milestone? Feels good, doesn’t it?

No Laughing Matter

It’s interesting to read a range of writing and taking advantage of the ‘look inside’ feature on Amazon to research published authors’ habits and styles. One thing that I have noticed is the use of comedy in serious/epic fantasy works.

In my opinion, a fantasy novel should be an exploration of an invented world and the best of them should include every element of human life: humour, joy, sadness, loyalty, betrayal etc. So, when I see writers weaving humour into their writing, I get the feeling of reading a real, down to Earth story.

I will post more on this tomorrow as I can’t get to the PC right now, so keep an eye out!

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Writing the Dream: 9th February 2012

It’s that time again.

Currently, I am part of the Spring WIPers thread on the SFF World forums. This thread involves deciding on a target amount of words to write for the Feb/March period and then plotting your progress on a graph. My target is a huge 25,000 words. I arrived at this number by seeing that I could write 500 words each evening after work (sometimes more) and I multiplied this by the number of days left over the 2 months. I’m currently sitting at roughly 5500 words, which is quite something considering that for the past few years, I have flitted between projects madly, unable to get past the first chapter of anything I tried writing. I think the main problem was that I couldn’t get a decent story into my head. Not an idea, a story. I touched on this a few posts back (linked below) but it’s a good thing to understand.

These are examples of my previous ideas:

  • I know what would be really cool! Medieval-style fantasy superheros!
  • Hmm… what if I wrote about a vigilante crime fighting fantasy assassin with a stick like Gambit?
  • Yes, that’s it! James Bond crossed with Sherlock Holmes. No, that wouldn’t work, he’s got no weaknesses. I know, the guy has depression but is still amazing and brilliant in every way.

Now, this is an example of one of my previous stories:

  • There’s this kingdom that gets attacked by a dragon that is sent by an evil lich. There’s also a race of elf-eagle hybrids that work for the lich and they are breeding an army in the abandoned lands of the elves. A hero has to rally the forces of good and reawaken the elven homeland’s defences to defeat the eagle-men. First in a trilogy. (This was the first thing I ever tried to write. I reached 60,000 words.)

See the difference? I won’t bore you with more, especially since I had to re-write this after the window crashed on me!

Tune in again tomorrow for something different 🙂

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Writing the Dream: 2nd February 2012

Look at the title of this post and remember it. Remember it really well, because every time you see it you will be about to be allowed a peek into my ‘writing head’. What’s a writing head, you ask? Never mind that now, there’s stuff to write!

Do you remember at school ever being told not to use the word ‘stuff’? I do. I love this word, because it’s so unspecific. It allows you to refer to everything and nothing at all in one fell swoop. When I think about my writing, I must keep track of the following:

  • Characters (names, appearance, personalities, motivations, dialogue etc.)
  • Plot (foreshadowing, twists, intertwining, main plot, sub-plot etc.)
  • Worldbuilding (places, species, history, names etc.)
  • Themes (revenge, loyalty, honour, family etc.)
  • Readability (hooks, structure, language etc.)
  • On top of the above, I am also listening out for interesting things that people say, looking out for their behavior and mannerisms and seeing if any news articles provide interesting ideas to play around with.

So when I think about all of the above, I broadly label it as ‘stuff’ and tidy it away in my writing head, which is quite separate to my work head, home head and gaming head. Luckily, I find it easy to switch between these different ways of thinking, so I don’t zone out in a meeting thinking about my novel, or panicking at home about stuff that happened at work. Usually, anyway. If I had to label the ‘heads’ I would do it thusly:

  • Writing head – creative, imaginative, hard-working & sometimes dark.
  • Work head – helpful, knowledgeable, quick & sometimes stressed.
  • Home head – lazy, happy, creative & sometimes slow.
  • Gaming head – compulsive, indecisive, competitive & sometimes grouchy.

As you can see, there are several overlaps and there are others, like my driving head, that are more sub-head or transitional heads. I do not have a favourite head or a least favourite head. They all serve a purpose and they’re all useful or useless depending on the situation. In case any of you are wondering, when I write these blog posts I use a combination of my writing and home heads (mostly writing).

As for my actual writing, it is progressing very well at the moment. I told my fiancée to force me to sit down and devote an hour each night to writing, instead of slacking off on the Xbox or wasting time on Facebook. This approach has been working very nicely for me. I’m the sort of person that needs structure and set times for things to happen. If I deviate from this, I find myself wasting time. I would have been well suited to the army, I reckon, if it weren’t for the mortal peril and all that.

Anyway, ramble over. When I feel a need to share more about how I write, I will create a similarly titled post. Until tomorrow, then…

Referencing the Past

I got thinking about the difference between an antagonist and a protagonist this morning. The real difference might be in how they ‘reference’ (remember/learn from) the past

Imagine this scenario:

Two children have an almost identical upbringing. They have happy childhoods and loving parents. When they reach adulthood, one of them still remembers their childhood and sometimes think back to the days when the world was innocent in their eyes. The other, however, has left their childhood far behind and detached themselves from the past. They rarely think back and they feel that they have to move on now that they are an adult.

I’ll leave it to you to imagine which child becomes ‘good’ and not. In truth, it’s never quite as black and white as this example. Think of the Taliban in the Middle East, the capitalist western world or a mugger who steals to feed his family. In my opinion, sometimes an antagonist is someone who has left the happiness and mystery of childhood behind.

Our greatest lessons and values are learned in our early lives. What happens if we try to shut away our memories of that early period? Do we perhaps start to lose our sense of right and wrong? Can you imagine that Hitler ever took a moment to remember himself as a child while committing terrible crimes against humanity? Children are born innocent and without prejudice, until the world around them affects them in some way. If a person embraces that early child within themselves regularly, perhaps they will be a better person. Perhaps not. Perhaps I’m wrong. But it’s my opinion in any case.

I wonder if you agree or disagree? Care to share your views on this?

Watch and Learn

I noticed today that the way living creatures learn something is by watching another make a mistake/succeed first. Otherwise, it’s trial and error. In a way, this is like writing. You read something, you think you might want to have a go. So you come up with an idea and try to write it. Sometimes it goes OK, but usually it doesn’t. So you go back to reading for a while and a few novels later, you try your hand at writing again. It goes better this time, but still nothing fantastic. After some years of studying your favourite authors and picking up helpful tips from various places along the way, you finally end up with the skills needed to write something resembling readable fiction. The learning process never ends, but you get better each time you practice. Interesting to think about, I think.