Monthly Archives: April 2011

New Tattoos and a dope Beastie Tee

So here’s the final design for my STORMDANCER tattoo, from uber awesome calligraphy master Eri Takase (this image is copyright btw, intended for a single use only, so please don’t snaffle it)

Gonna get it down the forearm of my right arm. Not sure when. The superstitious part of me tells me to wait until I’m holding the book in my hand. I’ll probably get it a little sooner than that though.

For those interested, the characters, top to bottom are Arashi (“Storm”), No (a katakana possessive), Odori and Ko (which together spell “Dancer” {female emphasis}).

The red seal at the bottom is for good luck.


Two Minutes Hate: Whitewashing

Akira is widely lauded as one of, if not THE greatest manga of all time. It’s a work of sweeping scope, beautiful artistry and frightening vision. It’s no great shock that Warner Bros have bought the rights to it. What is shocking is that all eight male actors who have been solicited to play the lead roles are FUCKING WHITE.

The notion that white audiences will not go to see a blockbuster movie with asian leads is condescending, narrow-minded and goddamn insulting.

The author of this story was Japanese. The setting is neo TOKYO. The lead characters are named “Kaneda” and “Tetsuo“. This is bigotry at it’s worst, akin to casting a whitey to play the lead in Othello. I thought we lived in the 21st century.

Click this link and STOP IT.

A wee bit of biffo

When I was a kid, I consumed action movies like a certain Brazilian Soccer team crashed in the Andes consumed the…. no, wait, shit, even I can’t go there…

OK, I watched a lot of action movies. If someone was getting beaten, shotgunned through a strategically-placed plate glass window or blowing something up, I was there. My favourite action film star of all time was Bruce Lee, and my enthusiasm for his stuff skyrocketed when I read that he choreographed all his own fight scenes (and that his kicks tracked so fast they had to shoot in high speed then slow down the film so the audience could see the blows). So today I’m going to talk about how I write a fight scene.

I love writing fight scenes. Perhaps it’s because I’m a boy. Perhaps it’s because a fight scene is a realm of pure physicality – you’re really working with visuals. There’s not much dialogue, there’s not much internal monologue or thought processes, there’s simply fist meeting face. That’s the good stuff.

So, top 5 tips for writing a fight scene:

  1. Begin at the ending, young grasshopper. The most important part of the fight is the finale – the moment where Ali knocks out Foreman is the moment that brings the audience to their feet, not the great uppercuts or body blows that preceded the final punch.  It’s the image of the KO that stays in people’s minds, long after the rest of the punches have faded. I’ve found the easiest way to choreograph the scene is to know exactly how it’s going to end. “Hans Gruber falling out the window” or “Mr Han impaled on a spear in his own room of mirrors”. Then look at starting positions and start bridging the gap. Doesn’t have to be some overly-dramatic Karate-Kid style Crane Kick (making the fight appear ugly and childish and completely without finesse might very well be the point of it), but you need to have a picture-perfect idea of where this biffo ends up.
  2. Dance like there’s ass in your pants. Choreography is all important in a fight scene, particularly if you have multiple combatants and a lot of moving parts. Planning a punch-up is a lot like planning a novel – there will be several pivotal points around which the fight moves, several “swings” where momentum shifts or the downward spiral begins. Once you have an idea of how it will finish, try to map out these “pivot points” of your fight. These are like key plot points in your novel plan (if you use a plan), the skeletal structure of the conflict. Once you have the skeleton, start putting meat on the bones. If it helps, you can even storyboard these moments (draw stick-figures if you’re not good at illustration). Go to a comic book store and check out how an illustrator short hands them – every panel in a comic book fight scene will probably be one of these pivotal moments, simply because they don’t have the space to show all the details. An absolutely superb fight scene choreographer is Katsuhiro Otomo – his stuff in Akira is brilliant.
  3. The Intimacy of Violence. A fight scene will feel more personal, more real to your reader, if told from one person’s PoV (doesn’t have to be 1st person). This might not be possible in a huge Pelennor Fields style epic battle, particularly if there are multiple key moments happening in different parts of the battlefield that one person simply can’t participate in. But try to stay in one person’s head in each scene. 3rd person omni is a really impersonal mistress when it comes to a fight scene. It makes the conflict (and the risk associated with it) seem distant somehow, like you’re watching it on a television rather than actually living in the moment. In a life-threatening situation, with horses screaming and the stink of blood and shit hanging in the air and sharpened chunks of metal flying about, your reader should feel the same sense of threat that the participants feel. One good trick (and this isn’t always possible, depending on the structure of the narrative) – write the fight scene from the PoV of the person losing it.
  4. Understand physicality. The best way to see how fights work is to actually watch them. It may not be your cup of tea, but it’s worth the experience. And I’m not talking about watching Hollywood blockbuster fights where people take 30-40 punches before they fall over. Watch UFC and other kinds of sport-fighting – boxing, muay-thai, and so on. Watch a lot of it. You’ll begin to understand the way the human body moves and reacts under duress. The way even professional fighters can seem clumsy and unco-ordinated. The way a beaten fighter seems to shrink down on himself, change from a towering giant to a frightened little boy lost in the ring. The way sweat sprays off skin when it gets hit, the way muscles look when they move. The way it really only takes one good punch/kick to end things. The human body is a lethal weapon – it only takes around three pounds of pressure to break an open jaw. It only takes one punch and a fall onto concrete to kill someone. Once you’ve got a basic understanding of that, you can decide how much you want to ramp up the “hollywood’ aspect of your brawls. If you want your fight scenes to turn stomachs, keep them brutal and short, as most real-life fights tend to be.
  5. Talk a good game. The language of your fight scene should reflect the mood. Short sentences. Quick cuts. Spit and blood and snot. If people are trying to kill each other, long flowery sentences won’t cut it. There is an urgency to most conflicts. It’s primal and it’s involuntary. When someone is trying to cave your face in, your pulse beats faster, your breath comes quicker.
    Consider the following words: Fist. Punch. Kick. Hook. Knee. Stab. Shoot. Cut. Gut. Spit. Blood. Teeth. Slap. Crunch. Break. Rip. Tear. Hurt. They’re all one syllable. Imagine trying to speak while you’re out of breath. Imagine trying to type when your knuckles are swollen and bleeding from the other guy’s teeth. That’s where you want to be.


Tentacle beasts and Alan Moore’s beard

Exposition [ek-spuh-zish-uh n]

1. a large-scale public exhibition or show, as of art or manufactured products: an exposition of 19th-century paintings; an automobile exposition.
2. the act of expounding, setting forth, or explaining: the exposition of a point of view.
3. the bane of my existence for the past month

So I made this world up inside my head. It’s this kind of high-speed collision between a combustion-based industrial revolution and Japanese feudal society, set against a backdrop of diminishing resources and exponentially aggregating pollutants. And I wrote a book about it. And some nice folks liked it, and agreed to print it, because they thought other people would like it too. But after the hangover wore off, I was sent these long and wonderfully detailed letters, that, in addition to a couple of other things said this:

“You know how this world works. And you are assuming your reader does too. But we don’t. Explain yourself, bastard.

Your Editors.”

So that’s what I’ve been doing on STORMDANCER recently. Lots and lots of explaining myself. Problem is, unless you’re smart enough to write your protag as an audience surrogate (I am not), you’re going to have to find lots of different ways to explain yourself over the course of your book. Because the last thing on earth you want in your novel are constant breaks in the narrative to make room for huge chunks of exposition. There’s a reason why they’re called info dumps after all. (You know. Because they’re crap… oh, you got it. Very good. Carry on, then.)

So here’s a few of the ways I’ve (hopefully) managed to explain myself without being crap. Maybe you can use them and we can alllll drink lemonaaaaaaade. THE END.

  1. Arguments. There’s little worse than reading two characters talk about a topic they already know inside out in order to let me in on the idea. Can you imagine two men talking to each other about how beer works? No. Because men already know how beer works, and men aren’t considerate enough to take the garbage out, let alone realize there might be some pan-dimensional being listening in on the conversation wondering what the fizzy urine-like substance they’re drinking is.
    But men will argue at the drop of a hat. Particularly men drinking beer. And they will even argue about stuff they already know everything about, because, you know, they know everything.
    So, have some characters get into an argument about the way something in your work works. A disagreement about the mechanics or the philosophy or the motivations behind this Thing Your Editors Told You To Explain. We all know somebody who argues for the sake of it. (Note: To people with Irish or Dutch friends, this scenario will ring particularly true.)
  2. Children. Kids don’t know jack. Ask your five year old if he understands why the sky is blue. Or when the Mongols ruled China. He’s got no idea, does he? No. Because he’s a kid. And kids don’t know jack.
    Kids are also precocious little bastards quite inquisitive as a general rule. If they see something they don’t understand, their instinctive reaction is to ask you about it. Right now. Despite the fact that you’ve been trying to kill the end boss in Prototype for 40 minutes straight, and all the joy has gone out of the deed, but by God, you’re going to kill it anyway.
    “How do the people fit inside the television set?”
    “What does “little whoreson” mean?”
    “Why are you choking me?”
    Kids are the ultimate audience surrogate. They know nothing. So when one asks how something works, it will ring true to your reader.
  3. The Red Shirt. Also known as the “The Pippin”. This guy is particularly useful in life-threatening/deadly situations.  You need to establish that the huge pointy spiky thing plugged into the glowing battery scrawled with glowing sigils and shrieking like the souls of the thrice-damned is bad? Have someone in the group touch it. Press the big red button and get eviscerated. Better yet, get someone else eviscerated. Then Sir Ian McKellen can be all like “Confound it all Billy Boyd, you’ve beheaded Sean Astin, who the bloody blue blazes is going to hold Elijah Wood’s hand in Mordor now?”
    I love Sir Ian McKellen. He is so awesome.
  4. Naturally Occurring Exposition. This was a technique Alan Moore used in Watchmen before he went completely bananas and started living like a hermit in the woods of Shropshire. Moore bookended chapters with excerpts from a minor character’s autobiography, newspaper clippings and media interviews with other characters, as well as reference materials (encyclopaedias, magazine articles). It gave his world a greater feeling of completeness to know that these objects existed within it, and simultaneously allowed us to learn more about the world by reading them.
    Douglas Adams named his first book after his exposition device. A book named after an info dumper. And the info dumps were hilarious. Genius, I tell you.
    Garth Nix bookended a few chapters in Shade’s Children with audio-taped dialogue recorded by characters within the story, explaining aspects of the dystopian world for the benefit of “future generations”. While they were essentially info dumps, I found them to be the most artfully written and enjoyable parts of the book, because the characters were talking to me.
    But yeah, overuse of this technique might see you ending your days living like a hermit in the woods of Shropshire. Or at the very least, growing an enormous crazy homeless person beard.
  5. Acknowledging the reader. Really only works  in first person PoV. The protag assumes you (the reader) don’t know anything, and his explanations seems less forced within that context, because he/she is already essentially “speaking to you” by telling the story in the first place. (note – I didn’t use this technique in STORMDANCER , it’s not a 1st person PoV narrative)
  6. Poetry. You can only pull this off in a fantasy. And it can’t be contemporary fantasy either. And anything over six lines, you’re coming off as a) A novelist who wishes they were really a poet, b) A complete tosser, c) Both.
    But hell, if Rothfuss can get away with it, you can too. #1 NYT bestseller, folks. He ain’t playin’.

Oh, additions I forgot I used. Thanks to Kate!

    1. Reminiscence. People get together and talk about the good/bad old days all the time. The older I get, the more I find myself having to resist the urge to yell about how music was better when I was a kid wtf is up with tv shows these days christ that kid looks ridiculous in the those drop-crotch jeans damn punks get off my lawn. In my experience, talking about how things “used to be better” is natural human instinct, so running your exposition through this device will ring true.
    2. Flashbacks.  Essentially, FBs are live action reminiscences. I’m a big fan of FBs. It’s a great way to quickly revisit pivotal moments in your character’s lives and give some quick insight into why these people are the way they are. Quick structural note – Jumping into an FB without introduction (as I often do) can be disorienting to your reader unless you give them a hint they’re no longer living in the main narrative. Italics are your friend.


Hmm. That’s all I’ve got. Of course, there are going to be points in your book where you simply have to spill. During some big crisis point, you can’t have Billy the precocious six year old urchin pipe up and ask why the Tentacle Beast seems in any way attracted to the Japanese Schoolgirl , given they are different fucking species and all. At which point you just have to write your ass off and try your best to make it interesting and brief.

PS: Any explanation about tentacle beasts and Japanese schoolgirls can never be the former, and should always be the latter.

So very angreeeeee

The delectible A-Bomb and myself saw “Never Let Me Go” on the weekend, and I hated it. I think it was as fundamentally loathsome a piece of cinema as I’ve ever encountered. And the more I think about it, the more I hate it. Be warned – there are mild spoilers in this rant, so if you’re planning on seeing it (I’d advise you not to) you may want to stop reading and go sky-diving or something instead. I hear sky-diving is pretty awesome.

Since I walked out of the cinema, I’ve been trying to figure out what about the film made it so singularly fucking detestable to me. It was nicely shot, pretty well acted for the most part. It was depressing, but I usually love depressing stories. Stuff like Requiem for a Dream or The Proposition or Nineteen Eighty-Four totally float my boat. So why, on a scale of one to ten, (ten being this website, one being  locked up with The Tossed Salad Man) would I give this film less than zero?

Two reasons:

1)      I didn’t get the point of it. I understand it’s about mortality and the inevitability of death and how fate, by its very nature is inescapable. I get that. But fuck me. I need to pay for the privilege of being told this? I know I’m going to die. I firmly believe this is the only chance at life I get. I AM AWARE. Why would you make a film that essentially says “LALALA, you are fucked, accept your fate, lol”? Why do I need a pack of miserable British people with bad teeth to tell me this? And if this is the subtext of the film, then…

2)      WHY DIDN’T THEY RESIST? There is no fate but what we make. None of us are limited to lives of drudgery or acceptance or meek and blind obedience. Even if the odds are a million to one (like, say a complete nobody getting plucked out of the slush-pile and landing an ‘I’m getting the next round’ three-book deal with a huge publisher) , there is still a chance.  Take it. Better to die on your feet than live on your knees. Better to exit with a roar than a whimper.

The characters in this film were so goddamn weak. Kathy and Tommy had what many would argue is the greatest reason in the world to stay alive – LOVE. Do they run? Do they fight to keep it? Heavens forbid, how uncouth. We’re British dontchewnoe. We’ll just march meekly as lambs to the slaughter, shall we?

Which may have been the point of the film. These kids had been conditioned since birth to accept what they were and what their fate would be. In which case, I ask again, WHAT WAS THE POINT OF THIS FILM?

Fuck this film. Fuck this message. You find real love, you fight until your dying breath to hold onto it. And anyone who tells you different needs a punch in the throat.

I’m off to listen to some Pantera.  >_<