Apr 25, 2016

100 Years

This weekend marked the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, the failed insurgency which left the Dublin City Centre in ruins, nearly five hundred dead, and over two and a half thousand wounded.

The Rising has been touted by politicians as something heroic. Something glorious. But let's be completely clear. It was a blood sacrifice. That was its purpose. To subject the Irish people to such degrees of bloodshed and violent reprisal that public opinion would sway towards the goal of Irish independence.

And it worked, in the end.

Is it something to be proud of? More than half of those killed were civilians. Innocent people who were shot in crossfires, mistaken for rebels, or caught in explosions from artillery.

But that was the plan. A romantic notion of glorious defeat. Of course, no-one told the young men and women putting their lives on the line. No-one told the thousands of civilians who would be injured and killed.

I look at were we are today; a nation whose non-existent government is utterly out of touch with the needs of the people, and lacking in common humanity. Politicians who make and break promises, who dither along while their inaction leaves people to die, who bend to prejudice and bigotry in the name of "fairness." People who have the luxury of regarding every social issue in purely academic terms. Who tell us that we'll all pull through if we live a little leaner, and all pitch in to do our part.

A romantic notion.

Makes me wonder what their plan is. The one they're not telling us about.

Just some thoughts on the 100th anniversary of a blood sacrifice.


Mar 9, 2016

Watch & Learn - 6 Writing Mistakes to Avoid in Revenge of the Sith

We reach the end of my Watch & Learn series focusing on the Star Wars prequels. I do plan to write a post on The Force Awakens (for which I'll return to the positive lesson format), but I want to see it again first, so it might have to wait until it's out on Blu-Ray.

It all came to this...

This is not the good movie you're looking for


Class is in session.

Jan 28, 2016

Watch & Learn - 6 Writing Mistakes to Avoid in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

Last time we looked at the first of the Star Wars prequels, The Phantom Menace, and the mistakes it can help us avoid. Today we move on to the second installment, Episode II - Attack of the Clones. And believe me, we've only scratched the surface of how mistakes such as these can damage your work.

That's a lot of lens flare, considering Abrams wasn't involved.
Class is in session

Jan 21, 2016

Is it Censorship, or is it Creative Choice?

News that Star Wars Episode VII has had its release date pushed back seven months has sparked a number of rumours. Chief among these is that the reason for the delay is to allow for script re-writes that will grant more development and screen time to fan-favourite characters Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron. Apparently the big cheeses over at Lucasfilm and Disney weren't expecting these to be the characters audiences connected with. Sources suggest that executives were sure it would be Kylo Ren who was the favourite, and this fed into the prominence of his merchandise, while toymakers were specifically instructed to leave Rey out, because of the belief that 'boy's toys' shouldn't feature female characters.

And this got me thinking a lot about the way we construct a story, as writers. Especially when writing a series, reader reaction is going to have some influence on your creative choices. Readers might love a character you thought was going to be forgotten. They may have zero interest in your favourite character, the one you've got so many plans for. What do you do?

Do you dig your heels in and write as you'd originally planned? You're taking a risk here. What if readers continue to show no interest in the characters and plotlines you wanted to focus on?

Do you change what you had planned, turning the focus to the fan-favourites? This might be a hard thing to do. Does this count as selling out? Have you compromised your artistic integrity?

There is no one universal answer to this, but it's naive to think that a writer can shield themselves from the influence of reader opinion. Something will change. Once you let your story out into the world, it's no longer really yours. Not completely. Part of it will always belong to the reader, and as you receive more feedback, you will have more factors to consider in all your decisions.

Is it wrong to stick to your guns and keep things the way you wanted them, regardless of what your readers want? No, I don't believe so. However, it's foolish to do this without accepting the risk that you will lose readers, and arrogant to assume that what readers want doesn't matter. No book or movie is perfect, and we shouldn't pretend our own work is any different. If someone later points out something they regard as a flaw, we must accept that our work is flawed, and decide if we're content with that, or if we want to do things differently in the future.

And neither is it wrong to change what you were planning. The term 'self-censorship' gets bandied about an awful lot. Any time I talk about the Bechdel-Wallace Test it is almost a guarantee that someone will make a comment about self-censorship, and ask why a writer should have to change their work just to satisfy what they see as an arbitrary condition. What's arbitrary or unimportant to one person, however, is an essential issue to another. We have to decide whether our own biases should determine what we write, or whether we're open to seeing things from another perspective.

Deciding to change something in response to feedback is not self-censorship. Nor is it self-censorship to make a decision in order to promote a particular idea. These are creative choices, made by artists who value not only their own ideas, but the feedback of their audience.

I believe completely in an author's responsibility to be honest about their work. So whether you're certain your work will be the best it can be by sticking to your original plans, or you want to do whatever it takes to make your readers happy, or you fall anywhere between those two extremes, write the best books you can. Accept both praise and criticism, because no matter what choice you make, you'll never receive all the praise you want, and you'll always receive more criticism than you'd like. ;-)

Jan 8, 2016

Watch & Learn - 6 Writing Mistakes to Avoid in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

It's a new year, and a new set of Watch & Learn posts are coming! Having already looked at the lessons writers can take from the original Star Wars trilogy, I'm going to delve further into the Star Wars saga, and look at the prequels. As I've previously mentioned, I have no love for the prequels, and they are widely regarded as bad movies that miss the point of what Star Wars is all about. But just because something is bad, doesn't mean we can't learn from it. So for the prequels, we're going to look at the mistakes made, and why it's important for writers to avoid these in their own work.

We start with the beginning.

Remember when we thought this movie was going to be good?
Disclaimer: I'm aware that some of the issues I'll be raising in these posts are addressed in comics, books, tv shows, or video games. However it's important as a writer to never assume that a reader has any information other than what you present them with. That assumption can lead to lazy writing, and leaving readers confused and unsatisfied. So we will be examining these movies without the context of additional media, judging them on their own merits. That being said, as these are prequels released out of chronological order with the original trilogy, we will also assume that the intended audience will have seen the original trilogy.

Time for some hard lessons. Class is in session.

Dec 16, 2015

Watch & Learn - 6 Writing Lessons From Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

It's finally here. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has premiered. It is a new world, a new story. I won't get to see it until the 23rd, so you can rest easy and read this article without fear of spoilers.

We started this special Watch & Learn series with A New Hope, learning about making your world feel real, keeping the reader focused on character emotions, and an introduction to themes and symbols.

Next we looked at The Empire Strikes Back, and saw how to address character development, letting the reader see the villain's strength, and the continuing development of themes.

Today we reach the final chapter of the original trilogy.

The Force is strong in my family...

Class is in session, let's see what we can learn.

Dec 9, 2015

Watch & Learn - 6 Writing Lessons From Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits cinemas next week. I can't remember the last time I was so excited for a movie.

Continuing on from last week's post, today we'll look at The Empire Strikes Back.


Class is in session.


Dec 4, 2015

Watch & Learn - 6 Writing Lessons From Star Wars: A New Hope

We're on to the final countdown now. It's December. In just a couple of weeks, we will finally get to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Ba da-da daa, daa. Ba da da daa-daa. Ba da da daa- daa...
I cannot hope to contain my excitement. We have a diverse cast of new characters. We have the return of on-location shooting and practical effects. We have Han and Chewie, the Millenium Falcon blasting across the screen, Leia as the leader of the Resistance, and everything looks amazing.

So I want to indulge my reborn passion for Star Wars here, and devote the last of this year's Watch & Learn posts entirely to Star Wars. Since I have little to no love for the prequels, we'll be focusing on the original trilogy. And more to the point, I will not be including reference to any of the changes Lucas has made over the years. No young Anakin at the end of Jedi, no extra Jabba scene, no freaking Big No from Vader when he turns on the Emperor. Han didn't just shoot first in this classroom: Han shot, and then Greedo died. End of story.

With that out of the way, let's get stuck into Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.


There is NO WAY Lucas always planned for Leia to be Luke's sister...

Lock your s-foils in attack position, class is in session.


Nov 19, 2015

Watch & Learn: Ghostbusters

Our last lesson contained a lot of information, but not every movie has such a wide range of advice to give, or even needs to spread its advice out over so many topics. Sometimes the better lesson is to nail down a small number of story elements really well, and let them carry the story. When you have a strong core story and characters, the rest will become much easier.

For today's lesson, I'm taking you back to my childhood, and one of the classic movies of all time.

Who ya gonna call?

It's a simple movie, nothing too complex in terms of themes or issues. And it shies away from the grander existential moral quandary of imprisoning departed souls. But people love Ghostbusters. Most fans have a special place in their heart for this movie, and you want your own readers to regard your books in a similar way.

So strap on your proton pack. Class is in session.

Nov 12, 2015

Watch & Learn: Fame (2009)

It's November! That means all across the world there are countless authors hard at work on their NaNoWriMo projects.

To help get everyone into the writing groove, I wanted to post another Watch & Learn. I kicked this series off with the lessons we can take from the latest Star Wars trailer, but this time we're going somewhere a little different.

I'm gonna live forever...

Now, I'm going to come right out and say this. I am not a fan of the original 1980 Fame directed by Alan Parker. I've always felt it was never really able to make up its mind if it was meant to be a musical, a comedy, or a serious drama. It tries to be all three and while the few emotional gut-punching scenes are powerful, I feel the rest of the movie flounders.

While the 2009 remake is a lot less gritty and dark, and still has its flaws, I feel it has a much stronger sense of what it's trying to be, and is far superior in terms of storycraft and character development. We'll be looking at both the movie's strong and weak points today.

So take your places, class is in session. And spoilers ahoy.