All posts by thefantasynovelist

I am a writer of YA fantasy novels living in London, England, with my debut novel being published early 2013. Stay tuned for updates!

‘Show, Don’t Tell’ … or is That the Other Way Round?

Or maybe that rule should be amended to ‘show and tell’?

Lesson number one in this series of occasional posts written about the art and craft of writing: forget what dusty old writing tutors tell you! A writers group composed of the blind leading the blind may not be your best way to go, either. Why not? Because sitting round reeling off inaccurate aphorisms doesn’t necessarily help much in the writing stakes.

With that in mind, the first aphorism to be overhauled is the old ‘show, don’t tell’ adage.

Certainly, there is truth to the adage; I’m not in general terms arguing against it being the much-touted ‘first rule of writing’. Granted, then.

But when asked to define the adage ‘show, don’t tell’, I find most writers can’t – at least not in concrete terms.

And because of this reason, this adage isn’t always useful – and is guilty of endless interminable pages of excruciatingly boring and redundant writing – when employed to a fault.

Without going into detail here, the theory’s pretty evident, if you think about it. Ask yourself at the outset: do you want to ‘see’ something that isn’t very interesting or important anyway? No? Then why would we, your readers, want to see it?

The solution: if it’s necessary to advance the plot but not that fascinating then don’t show it, tell it – get it out of the way – and do your readers a favour by advancing the story without endless meandering verbiage.

If you feel compelled to ‘show’ absolutely everything then even your hero preparing a ham and cheese sandwich will read like War and Peace. Yawn. Okay. It won’t exactly be Le Carre.

It won’t even be the Bible. ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth’ is pure ‘tell’. (God, or whoever wrote his stuff, was a notorious plagiarist but he did have a knack for eloquent prose.)

The techniques to do this should be known by all writers; if not, you risk making the activity harder on yourself than need be whilst simultaneously boring your reader, alienating editors and potentially losing that big publishing deal.

And I ought to know. I am learning – and continue to learn – the hard way as well.

In short, there’s a reason it’s referred to as ‘telling a story’  and not ‘showing a story’. Long live the non-rhetorical expository passage!

 

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Branding in Books: King of Denial

Sincere apologies for not having posted in a while.

The delay has been down to me being rather busy in the background with revisions of my novel manuscript and other works, as well as the various business aspects related to these.

Not least of these related aspects has been the ongoing (and hopefully soon-to-be-finalised) negotiations for publication.

As you’ll have read in my other posts, this aspect has taken a little longer than anticipated because the actual digital publication of my work across various mobile platforms/devices et al is proving to be so innovative and unique as to be unheard of.

And new ideas, of course, tend to take more time and nurturing; ones that don’t yet exist and are without any real precedent, well, they take a little longer still.

Another related aspect I am of course pursuing is the branding-in-books idea that I’ve written about ad nauseam (pun intended) in other posts in the side bar.

There still seems to be resistance to the idea in certain quarters. The frankly odd reaction I’ve been getting along the lines of, ‘branding in TV and films (and increasingly games) = good … branding in books = evil’ still continues to baffle me. But there you are.

I am not quite certain why my marketing ideas seem to represent the nadir of literature – nay western civilisation by some hysterical and rather disproportionate accounts – in the vain and mercenary pursuit of profit, but I’ll take it as a compliment.

I’ve also used it as the inspiration for the branded poem included below. (Kind of ironic, if you think about it – and I do like irony.) I hope it entertains as you await from my end more news and stuff to read.

The below poem, “O! My Kingdom for a Branded Nike Ad”, is a branded allegorical piece (a new genre if ever there was one) and follows on from my article Branding in books: click here for a practical example. It is meant to be funny and make a point.

Those astute readers amongst you with a taste for high fantasy adventure, Edward Lear’s nonsense poetry and, er, Nike sportswear will note that the ‘king’ in this particular poem represents branding ‘experts’ and the marketing industry in general (vis-à-vis branding in books). The king in the poem, having grown fat and rich from his allegiance with evil branding merchants throughout his heavily branded kingdom prefers to sit loftily upon his commercially adorned throne and deny the fact to all and sundry lest he be accused of ‘selling out’.

Disclaimer: Any similarities in the below work of fiction to any branding expert, living or dead, who denies branding in books is commercially or creatively viable is, of course, purely unintentional.

“O! My Kingdom for a Branded Nike Ad”

 

In a mythical land far, far away,

A brand-obsessed king

let his kingdom fall

for a pair of Nike Free Run Shoes,

a Nike Legacy Swoosh Cap,

and a Nike logo football.

 

He was dressed head to toe

in Nike printed sweats

and a Nike 6.0 Dri-FIT tee,

“Its product placement!”

cried the townsfolk with ire,

“That’s what it be!”

 

To which the king coolly waved

a Nike Dri-FIT-gloved hand and tersely replied,

“Just listen to you jealous commoners cry:

“‘Branding! O! You’ve sold out!’ Me?

“Pah! Who said anything about Nike?

“Innovative marketing you falsely decry!”

 

The trendily dressed king merely tut-tutted,

Adjusting his sleek Nike Veer Shades,

“Adidas or Quicksilver,” he chided,

“Reebok, Puma or Converse,”

“Well, yes, those superior brands

“my court may have humbly abided.”

 

“But Nike? O!” he roared. “Never, I say!

“Nike! Ha! That brand? Not blimmin’ likely”

He tugged at his Nike 6.0 Logo Fitted Hat,

“O no! I’d never ever—EVER—sell out,

“Not even … not even …

“Well! Not even for the engineered Dri-FIT fabric and ultra-tight compression fit of the new Nike Hyperwarm Pro Combat.

The Top 3 Least Likely (and Likeable) Movie Aliens

A poll conducted by NASA and the Science and Entertainment Exchange compiled a list of the ‘least plausible’ science fiction movies of all time‘.

Unsurprisingly, 2012 got the gong for the worst offender, whilst Gattaca according to Space Agency boffins (although a snooze-inducing film) ticked the most boxes as regards science textbook accuracy.

As a screenwriter and author of YA fantasy novels requiring the creation of plausible fictional monsters, it got me thinking: what about the plausibility of the weird and wonderful aliens that inhabit moviedom? How do they fare against a quick science reality check? What are the chances of some of the more, er, shall we say, ‘exotic’ movie ET’s actually evolving on some distant planet in the first place?

And how likely is it they would go on to traverse the impossible distances between stars in an improbable array of spacecraft only to hover over remote deserts and cornfields in front of less-than-credible witnesses no one is going to believe anyway? (And that’s a ‘best-case’ movie alien scenario: see War of the Worlds below.)

The big, unanswered (at least not satisfyingly, anyway) question in most alien movie scenarios is: why would aliens bother coming all this way in the first place? After all, surely there’s a few hundred million other planets they might have more reasonably contacted/invaded/destroyed/fleeced of water along the way.

In moviedom the reasons put forward are as varied, manic and mad-capped as a filmmaker’s imagination; none of them especially plausible. They range from colonising Earth to nick our natural resources (Skyline), to imparting wisdom and knowledge (Contact), to taking over our minds and bodies in order to ensure the survival of their species (Midwich Cuckoos), usually to nefarious ends.

But mostly aliens turn up in moviedom in a desperate attempt to enhance an otherwise lacklustre script. Desperate directors panic, “My movie is already stuffed full of implausable chase scenes and unlikely gun fights, with cardboard characters dropping clanging cliches in scene after anachronistic scene.” (Cowboys & Aliens, anyone? Me neither, but check out the trailer‬‏.) No problem! There’s always room for an improbable alien abduction or two to keep things moving at a clip.

So, bearing in mind the popularity of movie aliens is largely due to the fact they represent to the movie going public aspects of ourselves, and thus give an insight into how we see others, including our own governments and those of foreign powers, let’s assess the plausibility of some of the weird other-worldly beings committed to celluloid.

Oh, and for the purposes of this list, I’m not concerned with obviously fake, aluminium-foil-suited-with-TV-aerials-on-their-heads aliens a-la 1950’s B-movies when both science and movie making were not as advanced as today.

With that caveat in mind, my top three movie aliens in descending order of implausibility are:

3) The alien in Alien. For some sci-fi fans, I admit, this will be an unpopular choice on a list like this. But hear me out: I admit this screen alien is a very, very nasty species indeed. As a depiction of sheer other-worldly alien-ness it has never been bettered on celluloid.

Unlike your typical Star Trek school of prosthetic-heavy aliens – all of which merely represent different evolutionary strands of actual Earth-based species (that handily speak fluent RP English), Ridley Scott’s creature, influenced by the work of Swiss surrealist, HR Giger is the real deal.

The Alien creature is an essay in nightmarish terror (as well as technical and artistic brilliance), however without actually ever having observed this creature on its home world (Update: September 2012 – Ridley Scott, take note: that is the Alien prequel we all wanted to see – not some nonsense about genetic engineering and DNA) it’s hard to comment on just how likely its famously weird gestation cycle is.

Presumably whatever environment allowed it to evolve into an unfeeling, emotionless and largely unintelligent predator would not be a nice place, implying all sorts of potential biological horrors and mutations. (Read:  face-huggers and chest-bursters.) Moreover, there are actually varieties of parasitic insects, such as the Scabies mite, that implant eggs in humans – so not that far-fetched then.

However it’s debatable whether in a hostile environment a large scale creature that required its young to gestate in a living host would climb to the top of the evolutionary ladder. Why not? Think about it: its gruesome reproductive cycle would make it exclusively reliant on other species for survival – species it’s hell bent on wiping out!

Oh, and acid for blood? Nice touch, but it was implied in the films that this was a defence mechanism. Hmm. A defence mechanism that requires the opening of the defender’s veins is not that likely due to the (ahem) minor evolutionary drawback that the ‘success’ of the defence mechanism kills the organism deploying it.

2) Predator. Scary in a (sort of) human-like way, the towering alien predator with the Milli Vanilli dreadlocks hunting Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘Dutch’ in the 1980 blockbuster represents a particularly nasty aspect of human nature; namely, our predilection to destroy species we deem inferior, including other human beings we deem inferior, for little more than ‘sport’.

Having somehow simultaneously evolved to be both viciously unpleasant and technologically advanced these aliens decided intergalactic space travel was the perfect opportunity to boldly go where no alien had gone before, hunting down other alien species they come into contact with along the way in brutal and bloody planetary safaris. (‘Why’ was never explained – presumably to make them feel a little bit better about themselves.)

Oh, and based on their track record in two sequels of varying quality these chain-mail-vested aliens have a penchant to pick on species that are physically and technologically inferior; so they’re bad sports then, but even worse losers. They tend to blow themselves and their quarry up – like a petulant child overturning a chess board – by way of exploding suicide bomber-like, er, bracelets when cornered.

You’ve been warned: it’s lose-lose with these spider-mouthed alien sporting cheats.

1) The Martians from War of the Worlds. Ugly. Inhuman. Driven to maniacal interplanetary missions with no other agenda than death and destruction in the name of colonisation on their tentacled minds.

Oh, and they’re prone to lethal bouts of, er, flu. (Ok, ‘terrestrial microbes’ – same difference: ‘flu’ to you and me.)

Yeah. You read that right. The combined global military couldn’t dent their plans for planetary domination – no way! However sneeze in their direction and … gazuntight! They never stood a chance.

Hey, it’s plausible: an alien civilisation packing off to destroy Earth in a bout of interplanetary homicidal mania with giant, spider-like ground craft and destructive death rays could be forgiven for forgetting to pack the Kleenexes and Tamiflu!