Category Archives: Writing

H.P Lovecraft. Not a great writer, but a great story teller.

H.P Lovecraft. Not a great writer, but a great story teller.

This blog post is, for the most part, my opinion.  I don’t claim to hold any level of genuine qualification as a literary critic.  However I’m pig-headed enough that that doesn’t bother me too much. lovecraft-game

Back in the nineties, during my regrettably well-spent youth, I stumbled upon a couple of very interesting computer games for my old 486DX: Shadow of the Comet and Prisoner of Ice.  Both games were flawed in many ways; however, I loved the story and mythos behind them.  It was deep, chilling and somehow felt fundamentally wrong.  Both games had the same three words printed on the box artwork: Call of Cthulhu.

Now back in mid nineteen-nineties Britain, most of us didn’t have access to the internet, and our house was certainly no exception to that rule.  As a result, I couldn’t just open internet explorer and lookup what the hell Call of Cthulhu was.  So I played the games, had fun doing it and went about my business. One day I found myself in a used book shop. God knows, why because I was hardly a great reader in those days. But that aside, I saw a book on a rotary shelf titled Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft, read the blurb and was very excited.  I bought it and that evening relaxed in bed and began reading. Bloody hell, it was hard work! I tried to persevere but gave up. A short while later, I tried the Mountains of Madness. The same result. I concluded that I simply lacked the reading skill or artistic temperament to appreciate, or indeed access, that text.

Years have passed and I’ve thought about Lovecraft many times over the two decades. I’ve seen other Lovecraft-inspired works, read books by many other authors and written a book myself.  A couple of weeks back, I decided to give old Howard Phillips Lovecraft another shot.  I can see why I had so much bloody trouble as a teen; his prose is not easy to read to say the least.  I started with his novella, A Shadow Over Innsmouth. At the start it reads like a report in the first person, very fact orientated, very clinical. Next came what I fully expected to be dialogue; however this soon revealed itself to be extended monologue with only the implication of a two-way conversation. At this point I couldn’t honestly say I was enjoying the book but it was only the first few pages.  I persevered and trudged on.

Consider the following. Try reading it out loud:

“It took no excessive sensitiveness to beauty to make me literally gasp at the strange, unearthly splendour of the alien, opulent phantasy that rested there on a purple velvet cushion.”

Hard work in my opinion (I believe the term is purple prose).  His writing is clunky, lacks flow and creates a barrier between the reader and the narrative.

H._P._Lovecraft,_June_1934I continued on as the rather drawn-out writing described the protagonist’s approach to town. I was feeling a little more engaged now, I could feel a little menace coming from the page. I still had little idea who the protagonist was, but I did know that he liked architecture. I knew precious little else about him.  A few pages later, we were back into monologue, paragraph after paragraph of the stuff.  This time written in accent:

“’Twas then Obed got the ol’ branch railrud put through. Some Kingsport fishermen heerd abaout the ketch an’ come up in sloops, but they was all lost. Nobody never see ’em agin.”

I understand the need for accent writing and have used it myself.  However, what the reader is looking at are not real words, and the brain is not used to interpreting them. Reading accented text is perfectly palatable in small portions, but when one is reading extended monologue it can be a little overwhelming. The character of Joseph in Wuthering Heights is a classic example – the lexical equivalent of trudging through a deep peat bog on a Yorkshire moor.

In fairness I’d lay good money that on a personal level, my dyslexia doesn’t help in this.

I called it a night at this point and tried again with a fresher mind the following night.

The story moved away from monologue and gcthulhuFB1athered pace. The writing was still clunky as the protagonist described what he saw around town, but the feeling of menace grew a little stronger. This is when my reading experience changed; I was finally enjoying it, I felt the menace of the town, I felt the tension in the air. Story-wise I was ‘in’.  Stephen King’s writing for example, tends to draw you in.  In fact, not just draw you in but draw you in, drag you into the cellar and then lock all the doors with you inside. Lovecraft’s writing draws the curtains then locks, bolts and chains the door to keep you out.  Even once you’re in, you sometimes feel like an unwelcome guest.  But inside is good.

Once you’re past the clunky writing, purple prose and extended monologue you experience the true genius of Lovecraft’s writing.  He created a world and mythos like no other – truly horrendous creatures, a constant feeling of oppression and a menagerie of monsters.  Somehow, through all the undeveloped characters, long monologues and adjective-heavy prose he plants a seed in your mind.  One that quickly grows, showing you ancient creatures’ dark intent and pure evil. He may not have been a great writer but he was a great story teller.

 

 

Should all characters’ ideals reflect those of the writer?

After looking at the news this evening I’m inclined to put pen to paper, well finger to keyboard.  Joss Whedon has left twitter amid a tirade of unpleasant tweets that contain abuse, up to and including death threats.  Granted Joss isn’t the first celebrity to be treated ijoss-whedon-empire-podcastn this manner and unfortunately he won’t be the last butt he reasons are frankly moronic.  Apparently Joss Whedon, the writer responsible for some of the strongest female characters is pop culture is now branded anti-feminist.

The two major points that seem to have sparked this are from the new Avengers film and are as follows:

  • The character Tony Stark makes a joke saying that as ruler of Asgard, he intends to re-institute Prima Nocta.
  • The character Black Widow explains to the Hulk (a monster) that she what sterilised as a part of her training and as such considers herself to be a monster.

Notice that both of those sentences start with the words “The character” These aren’t Whedon’s personal opinions.   Let’s look at each in turn.  Is the Prima Nocta joke sexist?  Probably.  Was it made by a sexist character? Definitely.  Tony Stark is already established as a heavy drinking sexist millionaire playboy.  To read or watch a work of fiction and expect sexist characters to not behave in a sexist way is naive to say the least.

Now to look at the monster comment.  Let’s examine the undertones of the dialogue that Joss Whedon wrote.  Firstly, both men and women can be sterile, it is not a solely female issue. Secondly Black Widow is a former assassin, it would be unrealistic for her to not have issues.  As a character she considers herself to be a monster, she has a degree of self-loathing for want of a better phrase.  Is Joss suggesting that sterile people should conside
r themselves monsters? No is he suggesting that a reformed assassin may have issues beyond that fact that she used to kill people for money. Probably.  The characters thoughts are not even a commentary on how she sees sterile people in general but an internalised feeling of inadequacy.  For her, other people don’t factor into it.

Writers write, to expect all of their charters’ ideas and ideas to reflect that of the writer is ludicrous.  If this were actually the case it would lead to some very dull stories.  If as a viewer or reader you take such offence at a line of dialogue that you feel the need to send personal abuse to someone on twitter.  I not only suggest that you stay off twitter, I also suggest that you stay inside under a duvet because fiction, let alone the real world is too much for your feeble mind to handle.

Morgan

Website: www.thehalcyonorder.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/halcyonorder

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/halcyonrebirth

I’d love to hear any communication via twitter.  Comments here tend to get lost in my inbox.

Should computer and video game writing be taken seriously?

Should computer and video game writing be taken seriously?

After my previous babbling about Sci-Fi I thought I’d keep my nerd gene rolling and delve into the world of computer gaming. More specifically writing in computer gaming. As the title suggests I’m asking if it should be taken seriously. And as I’m the one writing this thing, I’ll also answer the question. Yes it absolutely should be taken seriously. The issue in
our society is that gaming in its entirety is not looked upon as equal to other hobbies, or indeed other forms of media. It’s considered “sad” by many, or a pursuit the should be left behind when we leave adolescence. In Germany, Nazi imagery is not permitted in games because the law considers a video game to be a toy, not a form of media alongside books and films.   People will often ask if a game can be considered art. Of course it can, if beauty truly is the eye of the beholder then certainly art resided in the same place. The reality is that the kids who were gaming back in the 80s grew up with their hobby and are now the adult gamers of the present. Gaming has grown up with them as much as they grew up with gaming. In contrast the Germany situation, during Obama’s state visit to Poland in 2011 the Polish government presented him with a copy of The Witcher 2. It’s all about perception and the illusion of reality.

As with all art, not all games are equal. Neither in intent or in execution. The developers of many games never expect the writing to be taken seriously, that’s not the experience they’re intending to deliver. However some games are there to deliver a story and some games succeed.

 

In 1999 Planescape Torment hit the shelves, it did not sell well, largely due to its dreadful box art. It received lukewarm reviews, however over years it became one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time. It stood head and shoulder above its contemporaries in one very important area. That area was story. The game drew on some heavyweight vocal talent, from Sheena Easton to The Simpson’s Dan Castellaneta, but that was just the icing on the cake. The guts of the game were its deep story and expansive and descriptive text. Every character had a back story, every location a history and every plot line a twist or at least the odd turn. The protagonist was a hulking grey skinned mammoth of a man with a past even he had forgotten. In your journey across the game you forged the next chapter of his life, from his moral choices to his personality. At one point I recall him holding a large yellow sphere, I know how that thing looked, felt and smelled. I also know how it made the protagonist feel. I know because the writers took the time to craft it.

The 1998 adventure game Grim Fandango chronicled the story of Manny Calavera and his 600full-grim-fandango-coverjourney across the Land of the Dead. The game was set in Mexican folklore’s Land of the Dead with a distinctly film noir spin. The final scene sees Manny forced to say a final goodbye to his closet friend. The writing along with the excellent animation and vocal performances conjures an emotional scene rivalling that of any Hollywood movie. I still remember being moved in a way that few films or even books have managed.

To give a more recent example, the 2007 game Mass Effect is a Sci-Fi Role Playing Game that puts the player in the shoes of Commander Shepard in his (or her depending on plyer choice) quest to save the universe from an ancient and mysterious alien race. Two things always struck me about the writing in this game. Firstly the sheer complexity. Due to the interactive nature of a game, characters can die, and the story can take multiple paths depending on player choice. By the start of the games second sequel, just envisioning the number of different story permutations is difficult, let alone writing a cohesive story that takes all these into account. Secondly the level to which the player identifies with the protagonist. The game by its nature allows the player to make countless choices, from more simple conversation options to quite lefty moral decisions. This game threw something at me which no non-interactive medium ever could. Towards the story’s climax you are forced to make a command decision. Either decision will result in the almost certain death of one of two crew members. These crew members are established characters, fully realised with backstories that had been revealed through my interactions with them in the game. From a story point of view I had an emotional investment in both of them, yet I was being forced to essentially sacrifice one to save the other. It was a genuinely difficult decision. This is something that cannot be rivalled in a non-interactive medium.

All in all, games are a largely misunderstood medium in UK society at least, the patronising nature of any gaming related BBC news story brings this home on a semi regular basis. Does this mean that game writing has less value than any other type? I say no and I believe that the most well know games writer Drew Karpyshyn would agree. As I said earlier. It’s all about perception and the illusion of reality. Writing is writing and always takes skill and imagination.

Morgan

Website: www.thehalcyonorder.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/halcyonorder

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/halcyonrebirth

I’d love to hear any communication via twitter.  Comments here tend to get lost in my inbox.

Why is sci-fi frowned upon?

Why is sci-fi frowned upon?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how Sci-fi and fantasy works of fiction are viewed by UK and US society. The genre is often dismissed as geeky, nerdy, for anoraks, or more politely as: “Not for me.” Halcyon Rebirth took me a long time to write, during that time I’d often be asked “What’s it about then?” I’d give a brief synopsis of the plot and the stock reply was “Oh, that sounds a bit Sci-fi for me.” The bloody thing isn’t even Sci-Fi. If I had to pigeon hole it I’d probably go with Supernatural Contemporary Fantasy. It sure as hell ain’t Science Fiction. Similarly I was reading a mini-review of Battlestar Galactic in the Radio Times. I forget the exact wording but the argument made, and tone portrayed was basically “I know it’s nerdy sci-fi but it actually good in spite of that.”b51

So my question is simple. Why is sci-fi frowned upon? I’m going to focus on TV programs here. Look at US TV, with the exception of the newer Star Treks, most Sci-Fi lives on the brink of cancelation due to poor ratings. The program Firefly only lasted fourteen Episodes despite critical acclaim. Whereas NCIS is up to eleven seasons despite the fact that almost every episode has the same basic story construction, copy and pasted week in week out.. Sci-Fi simply does not get the ratings.

Is it reasonably and logical to discount a work of fiction based solely on its genre? I think it depends on the genre. With a romantic comedy, horror or murder mystery the genre is informed at least in part by the plot. So it’s reasonable to draw at least some conclusions based on your individual taste. However if the genre is Sci-Fi, Fantasy, period or western, etc. then only the setting is defined with no hard and fast rules as to the characters or story. A lot of fuss has been made over the years about how the newer Battlestar Galactic was ground-breaking because it focused on people with relatable problems. One article even claimed that “Sci-Fi had grown up.” The thing is that BSG didn’t really do anything special. Personally I didn’t like that show because I felt the characters simply had no depth or individuality. BSG did nothing that Babylon 5 didn’t do far better back in the mid 90s, it just made things a lot more depressing and got noticed as something different to the perceived paradigm.

Why is sci-fi frowned upon? Personally I think there’s no good reason. I think it’s an inverted version of the Emperor’s new clothes. The herd say it’s not the sort of thing “normal” people like so “normal” people don’t like it. My challenge to any of the Sci-Fi sceptics is to get hold of a copy of Firefly and give it a go, then branch out form there. Avoid Farscape though, at least at first, that is nerdy.

Morgan

Website: www.thehalcyonorder.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/halcyonorder

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/halcyonrebirth

I’d love to hear any communication via twitter.  Comments here tend to get lost in my inbox.

How I Started Writing

So, this is my first blog post. I suppose I should tell you about how I started writing.   I had a character, the character Gabriel and the start of a book in my head since I was seventeen. Over the years, ideas would pop in and out of my head. Even to the point where I had an end to the story and a couple of plot points.  However I had nowhere near enough for a short story let along a novel.

One fine summer’s day, a friend and I were sat in the beer garden of my local pub, slowly approaching drunkenness.  My friend, name of Stafford, was telling me about a book he had started writing. (check out @StaffordADavid on twitter for his latest project, I’ve read a bit of an early draft and it’s damn good)  We talked about his work for a while then I mentioned that I’d always fancied it but only had bits of a book.  His advice was “Just stagarden.jpg-largert writing and see where it takes you.”   So that’s what I did.  The next day I dragged my laptop out to a shady corner of the garden and gave it a go.  I got quit far before hitting my first brick wall. Took a break from writing for a few weeks while I thought about it and wrote some more, hit another brick wall, did the same thing.  Then work got quite stressful and I couldn’t concentrate enough to write properly for a two years.  The book was never out of my head completely though.

To be honest I never expected to get it finished, let alone published, even as an ebook.   I wrote for fun and I wrote as an artistic outlet. I’d recommend anyone who gets the urge gives it a go. To be honest I don’t know if the book’s any good. I like it, and my proofreaders like it.  I guess I’ll find out after it hits Amazon and I dare to look at the customer reviews.

Morgan

Website: www.thehalcyonorder.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/halcyonorder

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/halcyonrebirth

I’d love to hear any communication via twitter.  Comments here tend to get lost in my inbox.