Friday, 20 November 2009

The Ancestry of an Idea

Character test render from the film Static © 2001 G.Boulton & S.Cornish

It is good to understand how ideas develop, evolve and combine.

I believe that no ideas are wasted even if they get nowhere in their original form. The novel I'm writing didn't just spring fully formed like Athena from the forehead of Zeus; it has a history. It has parents that lead to a sort of conceptual conception, and a long long gestation during which it began to develop features such as characters, and a storyline. It's some way from it's debut yet, but it's been kicking for a while and it's definitely turned and engaged with the birth canal.

So let us begin with the parents. Back in 2000 I was a partner in an animation studio called Artgeek. Things were going well; we had landed a rather good deal to make a short film, with a working title of Static, funded by an insurance company. It was a good idea and my co-director Greg Boulton and I ran with it. We could afford to; the budget was colossal. It was an adaptation of a short story about disability, originally written by Stephen Duckworth, illustrating what it might be like to be the only hearing person in a world where ears hadn't been invented (as an artistic decision we also chose to design every living thing with wheels, resulting in a world that was subtly geared around wheeled access).  To cut to the chase, it got canned at the end of pre-production. After the whole 9/11 thing, insurance companies globally had to tighten their belts. It was gutting.

The other parent is an idea that struck me as I was sitting outside a coffee shop on a sunny Brighton afternoon (don't ask me why there and then, but it was shortly after being knocked back on an alternative funding bid for Static, over to legal concerns). I had an idea for a black comedic live-action short film, in which a child was so ugly that his parents actually stuck a paper bag over his head.
I discussed the idea with a friend and filmmaker at yet another coffee emporium and from that realised I had an idea that was big enough to develop into a feature script. In my usual style I wrote up a few scenes (which were very good scenes), but the resolution and character needs didn't quite work on the rough treatment and I shelved it. It was In some ways too comic for the direction it was headed.

Over the following years I would visit those scenes in my mind more than once. But it wasn't until I began serious writing on my MA course that I realized that the essences of the two projects might be combined. Taking away the physical reason for the protagonist's stigma in Ugly, whilst giving the readers the lack of comprehension that the other citizens had felt for the character in Static, would leave the pure prejudice and preconceptions of both the other characters and the audience. This immediately enabled the message from the earlier projects to gain a redoubled power and meaning, and I knew that I had a strong story to work with for my Novel.

If you are interested in more blogs about how writers develop their ideas Back Story is definitely worth following.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

The Muse is messing with my head again

I have two problems with my writing: over-confidence and lack of it.

It works with my underlying mood. There are times I'm on top of it all, cock o' the heap; I'm focused, I see clearly what needs to be done, I write as the words come to me. I play with the text, I experiment, it feels like I'm painting emotions and experiences with words. Sometimes when I read back through what I've done, I can't believe it was me that set it down. Really, I have no idea how I could have conceived it that way. Then there are the other times I question everything; I make false starts and lose confidence in what I am trying to say and how. Over and over again, different failed ideas die as I try to put them down, like lifeless insects spread across the page. I can't sleep properly, worrying that I'm going round in pointless circles. Any excuse interrupts the work; children, traffic, the weather all are blamed for my inability to concentrate. Criticism is doom; I'm self-conscious about everything, and nothing is worthy.

This isn't writer's block; the one comfort I can take when my mind turns listless, is that my muse is busier than ever. All those false starts are simply the seeds of new ideas. Embryonic creations to be mulled over by my subconscious for a few weeks or months, before they can be brought to term, to be born from my eager fingers in one of my cyclic periods of productivity.

I have learn to accept that this is the way I work, but I love hating it and hate myself for loving it. The sickening tedium of sustained dissatisfaction in exquisitely hideous contrast to the intensity of my over-stimulated brain, tearing me apart, leaving me hurt, exhausted, and craving more.

My muse may be good but she is not kind.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Tweets or Twits?

I learnt today that I am expected to start a twitter account to help promote my blogs. For some reason there has always been some instinct that kept me from going anywhere near twitter. To be honest I can't even be bothered to text on my mobile; it's quicker to make a call.

Don't get me wrong –I'm no technophobe, I've bought into technology; I had a mobile before any of my peers, I took office space in a media centre that gave me broadband back in 96, and I've been designing interactive content for CDs and Websites before most people had the kit to access CDs and websites. Perhaps it might be more accurate to call me a technocynic.

None the less I found myself approaching the whole twitter thing with a little reservation. I began by watching a youtube video by a woman extolling the virtues of twitter to promote her own blogs. Before the video was halfway through I found myself crying. These were not tears of joy, some rapture of realisation, no, these were tears wrenched from the core of my being, tears shed for the human race. What had we become? Beings capable profound understanding of the nature of the universe, philosophy, music, art, who can express the deepest emotion through prose and attain the highest states of self awareness through long meditation, reduced to twitter.

– Pellets of fecal minutiae passing mindlessly from one computer screen to another, pointlessly creating thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide, hastening our own demise.

So of course I had to sign up...

Friday, 2 October 2009

Knowing the Demon

There have been times when my lack of confidence, coupled with doubts over the uncertain future of a career in writing, have caused me to question whether I'm doing the right thing; spending huge amounts of my savings on my continued education. Am I being silly, entertaining the pipe dream that I will ever succeed at this game? Worse am I being foolish investing in myself; It's not like my track record, littered with so many almost achievements, hollow awards, and abandoned projects demonstrates a strong future. Heck, why am I investing in this MA at all, when I could resurrect one of half a dozen worthy projects with the fees, let alone the money I am not earning for want of full time commitment to my job.

I'll tell you why; it has nothing to do with money, or career, and it is not because I want fame. Love it or hate it, deep down in some primal part of me, my soul, if you will, it is what I'm driven to do. I didn't make me this way, I think it made itself, or was there to begin with. I simply picked up the skills to be able to feed it's hunger as I went through life. Prior to starting the course, I didn't truly comprehend this essential part of my nature, because over the years I had created many mechanisms to contain it, without knowing what it was.

It wasn't until I began to write properly; freely, for the need of it, for myself; that I started to truly know and understand. And now, the demon is free; there is no going back. I fear for my future and look forward with excitement. Poor Pandora, I know how she must have felt.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Self Observations

It's been an odd week; I began it feeling daunted by the amount of work I had to undertake. The early success of last weekend seemed to get bogged down with detail on how to string it all together and I was beginning to worry that I was drifting into my earlier, boring way of telling the story to the reader rather than painting with words.

I think I simply forgot how I write; I need to throw down the story as roughly as possible, come back to it and start seeing how it needs to work, then come back to that again. Somewhere in all that the magic seems to happen, and I end up with a finished piece of writing.

An interesting observation is that I find myself writing in discretely connected sections of around 800 to 1000 words. I don't know if that is because of the way I've been trained, or if that is my natural style, for this book anyway. I will just have to see how it works out.

Sunday, 20 September 2009


At some point today I started. It wasn't the easiest place to start but I wanted to get it done. I was given a piece of work to edit by one of my fellow MA students, and it just so happened that it was the opening chapter of his own novel. All told it was a good piece of writing and an interesting approach. This, of course, got me thinking about me own opening chapter. I've always had very definite ideas about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it, but it just seemed like I wasn't obeying the 'standard' format. In other words I'd got myself a case of the doubts.

Reading my peer's opening chapter made me realise I could, and should, write what I damn well wanted to; it's not like the rest of the book is going to be exactly standard anyhow.

So at around 10.00 am I looked at my notes and began re-drafting what I had already written whilst bringing in new strands of thought. By 1.00 pm I had mapped out most of the first two sections of that chapter. After lunch, I did some house things and began to think about the third, and largest, section where the character Melanie is introduced, as she will appear in much of the rest of the book. at 3.00 I went for a long, long walk, returning at 5.30 with a lot of that section in place, at least in my head.

Tonight I'm off out, and later I'll sleep on the ideas. I know I need a way to zip it all together, but I'm not particularly concerned about that at the moment, I've done well today; even if I don't come up with a clever ending for the chapter, I can move onto other sections and come back to it whenever I need.

I'm just very pleased to feel like I'm adding to the body of work I have already.

Monday, 14 September 2009

A Rant Free Blog

I always said I spread myself too thinly, and here I go again with the creation of a new blog.

I've held off writing a diary style blog, simply because I know it is likely to end up as a rant; I hate rant blogs, they are not meant to be read (they are merely for the therapy of the ranter).
So I'm going to attempt to be disciplined about what I post (well within reason). I will avoid talking about the guy who scratched up my bike last week (If I ever catch him I'll use his face to polish my paintwork to a mirror shine) and keep the posts about my experiences and frustrations (frustration is fair territory) as a scriptwriter, animator, etc. and the new directions I'm taking in writing my first novel.

Yes, I know, I did just mention: writing a novel, it sounds very cheesy when it is put like that.
I should explain: for the past nine months I've been part of a daring experiment; undertaking a remotely operated, part-time, MA in Professional Writing, based at Falmouth University.
My original intention was to gain the confidence and skills I needed to be able to finish some of the feature scripts I had conceived over the years. As the course progressed and I needed to choose a specialism for my MA submission, I realise that I could go further; I already had the confidence and understanding to write feature scripts (I'm not boasting it's more holistic than that), and have found myself writing a book. If it turns out to be a good book remains to be seen, if it gets me my MA would be good, if it gets me an agent would be very good, published might be considered really excellent, and anything beyond that and I might actually crack a smile.