Monday, 20 August 2012

Never meet your heroes.

As you may have realised if you occasionally read this blog, I like to write. I wouldn't go so far as to call myself a writer at the moment, because as much as I like to write, I don't do it professionally. Like a lot of other folks waiting for their (hopefully) big break I work a day job.

And like many other writers, I have other writers who inspired me. Being a fantasy writer, I have all the traditionals like Tolkien, but I also grew up reading novels by a man called David Eddings. Recently, I torrented a copy of all of his works - don't judge me, I own most of them in actual book form, but its rather difficult trying to put books onto the the kindle app on my tablet; there isn't a big enough port to squeeze a 300 page book into.

One of the books was Eddings book of source materials and essays for his first two book series, the Belgariad and the Mallorean. I made the mistake of trying to read this.

Christ, I wish I hadn't. A more sneery, unpleasant opening to a book I have never read. I knew that Eddings made the decision to go into fantasy as a commercial one, but the fact that he tries to dicourage other writers from getting into writing fantasy smacked of a certain amount of trying to prevent competition in the market. On top of that, a whole load of the book comes across as pure intellectual snobbery. I was so irritated by his constant sneering references to "Papa Tolkien" that I eventually gave up and deleted it off my kindle. Hell I'm not the biggest Tolkien fan in the world, but I wouldn't disregard the fact that he was pretty much the founding father of modern fantasy.

On top of all this was the out and out patronisation of the early introductions. The attitude of "I'm a professional. The rest of you who want to write are just amateurs and will never match up to my accomplishments unless you follow the specific route I set out."

Now, I had a pretty damn good teacher when it came to learning how to build a fantasy world and he never felt the need to be this goddamn patronising and obnoxious about the whole process. (By the way, 2007? Has it really been that long? Christ.)

I never even got to the world building stuff, or the background texts that Eddings wrote for his stories. I gave up.

Never meet your heroes. Or read their non-fiction writings. Trust me on this one.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Why I liked the Mass Effect3 Ending (And why I can understand that some people didn't.)

See, the problem is all about individuality. That's the issue right there. The Mass Effect series built itself up as a series that thrived on the players individual choices, and then gave us three seemingly unconnected choices to the rest of the series when it came to the very end.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Sorry, I do that sometimes. SPOILERS FOLLOW.

The Vitriol that spawned in the depths of the interwebs after Mass Effect 3 came out was staggering in its intensity. People were complaining to EA and Bioware, ranting on Youtube and coming up with theories as to how it couldn't possibly be the real ending and they were all hiding it from us to make money of DLC. Since Bioware are now releasing a free DLC pack that expands on the endings, that holds a certain amount of water, but I don't think the "indoctrination theory" does. It's just a little too convoluted for my tastes, and a little over-reaching. I could be wrong, but hey.

I honestly think a lot of the reaction has been very overblown - some people are taking this game far too seriously; at the end of the day its still a game. I got called a "game hater" on twitter a while back fro daring to defend EA over some peoples reaction - a nifty trick for someone who started gaming on a tape drive Amstrad. People threatening to hit EA with lawsuits for false advertising and voting them the "Most evil company in the world" went somewhere beyond fanboyism into the downright asinine, but I can still understand where a lot of people were coming from. Yes, the Ending featured a pure and simple Deus Ex Machina (Something I'm not really opposed to) and yes, it didn't really feature a 'happy' ending (Which I suspect will be expanded upon in the free DLC) but I don't think that was really the issue.

I think, as much as anything else, the problem descends from the fact the choices aren't clear cut. If you click on that link to the indoctrination theory, it goes on about how Anderson is shown as the Renegade choice and the Illusive man is shown as the Paragon choice. What that says to me, rather than a convoluted theory, is that the game is illustrating that not everything is as cut and dry as we may like. Lets not forget, destroying the reapers would also destroy the Geth - who can be allies by that point - and of course, EDI. It's Genocide of a species. The second option is controlling the Reapers, but sacrificing Shepard's life to do so, again, not a clear cut choice. I'm enough of a completist that I also got the third option, to create the new form a life that was a synthetic-organic hybrid, therefore rendering the reapers obsolete.

Some people have pointed out that this is giving into the Reapers but I disagree: the Reapers seek to exterminate or dominate organic life. What the third option represents is peace between the two, but again, its not a clear cut choice.

It's a difficult decision, I sat there for a good few minutes before I made my choice. I won't tell you which one, but I was lucky in the fact that it actually fit into my style of playing. I can understand that for a lot of people that wouldn't have happened. My ending was bittersweet, certainly: I would have liked the happy ending with Liara and the "little blue children", but hey thems the kicks, and we can hope we get that closure in the expansion.

And that brings me back to my opening gambit: it's all about individuality. Those three endings weren't as bad as everyone thought, but they in no way matched up to the three games that came before them. Those game were based around long-standing choices that shook the universe; the final endings weren't. I still think the reaction was disproportional to the supposed offence, but I can understand where people are coming from. 

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Defending Marriage? Like hell you are.

So, I'm checking facebook on work today, and suddenly I see that one of my colleagues has answered a poll question. Nothing unusual in that, I hear you say, people answer poll questions on facebook approximately 17 million times per second.

The reason this one caught my eye was because it was on a page labelled "Protect Marriage: One Man, One Woman."

The question asked "which side are you on?"

The answers were

"Marriage = One man, One Woman"
"I support marriage equality."

So I sat there, looking at that question, and started to think to myself 'exactly what do I think of this issue?' To be honest, its not one I've paid an overly large amount of attention to. As I'm sure you can see from previous entries, fitting anything in amongst motorsport, writing and videogames is a bit of trial for me, so sitting there, trying to think of my point of view took a little while.

Now, I am a Christian - bear with me - but I try not to make too big an issue of it. I don't adhere to all church doctrine, and I sure as hell don't agree with every word the big papa in Rome hands down. But the whole principal behind a lot people citing that they're "Defending the Sanctity of Marriage" is that somehow gay marriage erodes the preciousness of the marriage between a man and a woman.

With all due respect, horseshit. I'm pretty sure Britney Spears and Kim Kardashian have done a hell of a lot more to erode the sanctity of marriage than any loving gay couple.

On the other hand, the recent debate laws that would force churches who disagree with gay marriage to allow same-sex weddings in their churches also smacks of a certain amount of political manoeuvring and has led to a lot of christians feeling like their hand is being forced.

So I sit there, as the rather limited minutes of my lunchbreak tick by, contemplating those two little options, and then I remembered something my wife mentioned in passing; The actual wedding between two people is conducted by the registrar, not the priest. It's when your name is entered in that record book that you're officially entered into the ranks of married. Sure, the church ceremony beforehand is nice and all, but the important bit is that ten or so minutes where the registrar takes your details.

And then I got onto thinking about Marriage itself. I've always held to the core belief that at the end of the day, the wedding itself isn't that important. Before my wife wallops me one, let me say that I loved our wedding, and it was the happiest day of my life thus far, but the important bit has come in the three years since, where we've been through trials, tragedies and many, many tribulations. And that's marriage.

SO I decided, yes, I am a defender of Marriage. But I'm not a defender of Religious Nutbars who want to maintain their exclusivity of the term, and I'm not a defender of the other side trying to score political points over the Religious Nutbars by trying to force them to do something they fundamentally disagree with.

I am, however, quite happy to defend marriage. Be that straight marriage, gay marriage, civil marriage, religious marriage or any other kind. Because you know what, a proper marriage doesn't start at the altar and end at the reception. Marriage is about two people - be that a man and a man, a woman and a woman or a man and a woman - who love each other enough to say "I want nothing more than to share the rest of my life with this person. I want to wake up in the morning and see there face, and I want to go to sleep at night seeing the exact same thing."

Marriage is about those people in love. It isn't about what God says - although I'm sure that if anyone actually bothered to ask God rather than deciding on his behalf, he'd be pretty cool with it - and it isn't about demanding others adhere to your view for the sake of it.

So I clicked the second option. I clicked "I support marriage equality." Because I do. People can do what they want for their wedding at the end of the day. Their wedding is not their marriage. But everyone, be they gay, straight or somewhere in between deserves the right to Marriage.

Friday, 28 October 2011

The art of the Short Story.

I've been trying to figure short stories out for a long time. I've got a few volumes of short fantasy and horror stories knocking around my flat, and I've spent enough time reading them to have tried my hand at writing them.

But I also have my fair share of issues with short stories. The problem I've always had with a lot of short stories I've read is that they seem to forget they're actually a story. My issues with Booker Prize winners nonewithstanding, that style of writing doesn't fit the short story for. At the end of the day, a booker prize winner has a whole novel to tell their touching tale of a young Asian man scarping a living working as a prostitute on the back streets of Tamworth whilst simultaneously trying to act as the surrogate mother to a Panda cub they stole from the zoo.

Feel free to steal that one, by the way. It's as good as most of the pompous crap that booker prize winners come up with.

But when people try to fit those Oh-So-Clever ideas into a short story, then they end up being dull and disinteresting. Maybe thats the goal. Maybe they like subverting the genre. Maybe they lie pissing me, personally, off. A lot of short stories are like that, 'touching' tales of hardship, usually about people who have been touched. Either way, I read enough of that in University to know I don't like it.

So, horror and fantasy. They're the two Genres I primarily read short stories in, but the problem is that a lot of the time, especially in the horror genre, you seem to get writers who are more interested in showing how cleverly they can write than in telling their - usually quite interesting - tale.

So I've been thinking of some of the key points that I feel are useful in the construction of a short story. To come up with these, I revisited some old friends in the form of The Two Steves: Stephen King and Stephen Donaldson. This is just personal opinion, but I believe these two writers to be masters of the short story form in Horror and Fantasy respectively. I'll be making some references to their work in this little rant, and if you're interested, I suggest you seek them out, they're all good stories.

So, without further ado, here's Bendanarama's guide to the short story:

1) Length.

This may seem like a blindingly obvious point to make, but short stories need to be, well, short. AS far as I'm concerned (and this is something I disagree with Donaldson on) 50,000 words is way too much for a short story. 50,000 is well into Novella territory and, given the existence of "Tuesdays with Morrie" a borderline novel in itself. In my opinion, a short story is potentially anywhere from 1000 words to 25-30,000. That looks like a lot, but is actually quite a small amount of space, which leads me onto:

2) The Premise.

Again, it seems obvious, but it's very difficult to tell an epic tale of the wars of men in a short story. Pick a relatively simple premise, something that allows you to tell a story, but forces you to wrap it up in a short timeframe. In Stephen King's "Nightmares and Dreamscapes" collection, almost all the premises are simple: A couple comes to stay in an out of the way town, a finger begins to poke out of a drain, a vampire with a pilots license. All simple premises that give room to stretch the imagination.

3) The Characters.

You're characters will need to be clearly defined from the start. You don't have a hell of a lot of space to play with their backgrounds and motivations, so give us someone we can associate and recognise clearly. Don't be afraid to use the odd cliche here and there. Cliche's are what they are for a reason, and can be used just as effectively to your advantage as to your detriment: think cowboy movie: The Town Sheriff, The Unnamed Drifter, The Local Businessman. All recognisable archetypes of the Genre, all of which allow you to stretch them as characters in a short amount of space. Give your reader something to latch onto, and they'll repay you by paying attention to what you're writing. In Donaldson's story "Penance" the Main character is a remorseful vampire. You're damn right it's a cliche, but it's one played to brilliant effect in a fantasy environment.

4) Keep it Simple, Stupid.

Stop trying to impress people with your flowerly language. Seriously, this is one of my big bugbears - you've got a limited amount of space - use it to tell your story in a  manner that won't have your reader going "eh?" rather than trying to make the English language perform somersaults for your own self-gratification.

So yeah, I hope this little rant helps some poor person who chooses to stumble upon this blog after a random google search. It happens. In the meantime, I'll be writing my "Cowboys vs Werewolves" short story. Lets see how that works out.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Falling out of the story.

So. Writing. That thing I'm meant to be doing. Yeah.

I'm not going to deny it, I'm fairly inconsistent when it comes to writing to targets. I've struggled with Time and Tide over the last few months, and now that the autumn months are coming round, I'm finding it a real struggle to focus on the story I'm trying to tell.

Primarily, this is because I have a fairly serious aversion to planning my story out. I tend to stick with a looser guideline - I know whats going to happen in the beginning, I know what the characters are going to be like, and I have a pretty solid idea of how they're all going to end up. My problem is whats colloquially known as the "bit in the middle." You know. The stuff that fills up all the pages.

I love writing. I really do. It's one of my favourite things to do. But I've written six chapters of Time and Tide now and I've hit on the problem that hits me with all my writing at some point: It's started becoming a chore. I sit down, look at it, and go "I can't be arsed right now." I love the story and I love the characters, but at the end of theday, I'm not in the mood.

So, what to do instead? I could pull my usual nonsense by slacking off and playing video games. I could do what I'm currently doing and carry on trolling people on Omegle's spy mode.

Or I coulc get off my ass and write something. Last year for NaNoWriMo, I wrote a motorsport story. I've been meaning to do something more with those characters. What better time than now?

Incidentally, the whole Omegle thing? This is the best response so far:


You're now watching two strangers discuss your question!
Question to discuss:
Last night, I creapt into your house and spat, gently, in your ear. How do you feel about this?

Stranger 1: I actually enjoyed that. I thought it was the loveliest of dreams.

Stranger 1: Now I know it was real.

Stranger 2: o.o

Stranger 1: Woah! wait, who are you?

Stranger 1: I thought it was this other man who had come to me, now there is this stranger talking to me?

Stranger 1: What is this?

Stranger 1: How could you do this to me??

Stranger 2: Imma woman ...

Stranger 1: Are you the one who spit in my ear?

Stranger 2: no

Stranger 1: Did this being who is watching us come to you as well?

Stranger 1: He must have, if he sent us both here...

Stranger 2: nope

Stranger 1: We were chosen for something.

Stranger 1: no?

Stranger 1: hmmm...

Stranger 1: interesting.

Stranger 2: well i dunno i was asleep

Stranger 1: Did you wake up here?

Stranger 2: ive been out all day ? its like 7:25pm were i am


Stranger 1 has disconnected

Monday, 22 August 2011

Monday Mumblings: God is in the Mask.

So, here I sit, cup of tea in hand, trying to work on my Novel, and failing dismally. I don't know why, because I have a lot of enthusiasm for this project, but I seem to have reached, at this point of the sixth chapter, what can be referred to as "The fiddly bit."

See, the problem is, my characters aren't omniscient. Well, most of them aren't. There's one exception, but I wouldn't want to spoil it for you. But the point is that most of my characters aren't all knowing, so at some point, they have to figure out how to get to each other. This is difficult. Bex describes the story as being a bit of a King Arthur fanfiction, and theres a certain element of truth to that, but there are a lot of places I have to take the characters before I pack them in the back of their Skoda and trot them off down to King Arthur country.

So instead, I'm having to rely on my witty dialogue and the sneaky use of Deus Ex Machina. I've always been kind of fascinated by the Sutton Hoo Mask, so given that I'm having my villain and his anti-heroish compadre are currently breaking into the British museum, I couldn't think of a better historical artifact to send them on their merry little treasure hunt. I'm also sort of playing assassins creed Brotherhood multiplayer, but I'm not really paying attention so it isn't going well.

Blogging, writing a novel, and playing video games all at the same time. Who says blokes can't multitask?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

This isn't the game I remember.

I came to a horrifying conclusion recently. It hit me quite hard, and made me just a little depressed. I came to the devastating realisation that my beloved Gillingham Football Club will never play in the Premier League.

Now, I'm pretty sure that will come as a shock to precisely no-one, but what got me the most is that even if we had the players, ground, infrastructure, sponsors, training, management and chairman to get to the premiership, theres no way in hell that Gillingham FC can afford to compete in the premier league.

What brought it home was a line in Shortlist Magazine from Robbie Savage. He was talking about Fernando Torres' move to Chelsea and said "He looks more like a Fifteen Million pound player than a Fifty-Million pound player."

And I thought to myself "Holy hell, what has the world come to when being said you're worth fifteen million quid is meant to be a derogatory statement."

I'm pretty sure the Gills entire squad isn't valued at fifty million pounds. Hell, I'm not even sure they're valued at fifteen million pounds. Fifteen million quid goes a very long way in the third division.

And I'm still not entirely sure when football started becoming more about the money than it was about the game. Manchester City is currently having it's sponsors investigated by UEFA - the European Regulators - to see if theres any financial misconduct. In 1999, Gillingham lost to Manchester City in the division 2 playoff finals. I still find that slightly surreal given that they're now the richest club in the league.

It's like the premier league exists in another plane of existence. One where theres infinite money, and no-one bats an eyelid at players earning £200,000 a week. And everyone is asking the question "When will this bubble pop?"

A lot of the people I work with tell me that this money needs to be paid to keep the league competitive and attract talent. But I say that the world of football needs a wage cap - Let the talent come for the game, rather than the money. Let players play for the love of their club, not the size of their wallet.

Cesc Fabregas left Arsenal this week to play for Barcelona. When you read what he was saying, it was clear that he went to Barca for love of his hometown club. Back in the premier league, Wayne Rooney walked out on Everton, his hometown club, to take the big paycheck at Manchester United. Sadly, there are more players acting like Rooney than acting like Fabregas, and whilst the clubs bank balances swell and the players get bigger cars and bigger paychecks, I sit there watching the results on Saturday, knowing that my club will never be top of the top.

Because we can't afford it.