Literary Fiction, Genre Fiction and Why the Difference Matters.

As an English teacher, I have experienced the groans and complaints of students when you announce with enthusiasm that the novel they will study for term will be one of the classics such as Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby, Frankenstein, or, even better, the great William Shakespeare himself. Not fair! they cry. They want Rowling over Orwell, Riordan over Melville, Taylor Swift over Keats or Byron. One of the first questions out of their collective mouths when you announce the title of the text is, “Have they made a movie of it?”

I’ve heard all the comments. “It’s boring.” “I don’t understand it.” “Nothing happens for page after page.” “Why doesn’t she just tell the story instead of all this description?” There are many other similar observations. Students today find it hard to see the relevance of these works. They live in a world of immediate satisfaction, of CGI movies, of plot over characterisation, of story over theme or form.

Schools have students study the classics–also termed literary fiction or literature–for a very good reason. They’re hard. Teachers want their students to use their minds, to analyse, to question, to be exposed to great writing, to begin to question the world and seek truth. You have to work at literary fiction. You have to think about it. Your mind must be engaged and functioning on all cylinders in order to appreciate it fully. That’s why it’s taught.

There are basically two types of fiction (a term which includes drama, film, art and music as well, but I’ll stick to novels for the purposes of this essay to make it easier). Literary fiction is more than simple narrative or polemic. It presents complex ideas about life, the universe and everything (thanks Doug!). Its form and content influence each other. It explores critical perspectives, the individual’s relationship to society and emotional manipulation. Most importantly, it is not reducible to any one correct interpretation. Genre fiction is more popular, does not normally explore theme or allow for deep critical analysis. It declares that form and content are separate entities which do not influence each other. It is usually only capable of one interpretation and does not invite resistant readings.

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“texture” by honeycut07 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The terms form and content, so important to both of these, require further explanation. Form is exactly that: the form of the work, the structure and style. Genre fiction follows a particular form. The standard romantic comedy has boy meet girl, they hit it off initially, have a falling out, re-unite at the 5/6 point and, after the clearing up of misunderstandings, live happily ever after. A romance author who deviates from this tried and true formula risks readers’ disapproval. Science fiction creates expectations of science-based ideas, aliens and spaceships. Horror is usually expected to explore supernatural themes, and so forth . I know I’m generalising here but it’s to make a point.

The generally accepted structure of genre fiction follows that tried-and-true formula of exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, denoument and resolution. This structure is taught in creative writing classes. It’s spouted as the way to write a story, and woe betide the author who strays from it. The style must follow the style of books of a similar genre.

Literary fiction does not necessarily do any of this. In it, form and content influence each other. Rules are broken for structure and style because the depth of theme, the examination of character, the complication of the story demand that they be free to follow whatever course they need to in order to put across the message. In Moby-Dick  Herman Melville stops the plot and lectures on such esoteric topics as chowder, harpoons, try-pots and the taste of whale meat because that information helps the reader to fully appreciate the word of whaling, so that the last hundred pages, in which the pursuit of the white whale becomes some of the greatest hunting-themed prose ever written, can be appreciated on a deeper, more visceral level, than might otherwise have been possible if the reader plunged in without all this “knowledge of the trade”. Melville even has an entire chapter is which is “proves” that the whale is not a mammal but a fish, simply because this misinformation better serves the story.

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“Yup, whale.” by ScottDonald is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Literary fiction is given to students to study because they have to work at it. The themes–for there can be more than one–must be hunted for. The reader can draw from it their own individual reaction and understanding. Genre fiction is produced for the mass market. It nestles in the safe world of the tried and true. The author is confident that readers will want to read it because they, too, like the comfort of a known structure and style. While the content of genre fiction is infinitely variable, its predictable form carries reassurance.

I’m not saying that genre fiction is less worthwhile than literary fiction. I love genre fiction. I write genre fiction. It’s great to read a book in which I can turn off the brain and the critical analysis and happily plunge into the world of the story. Nothing wrong with that at all. But there is equally a place for literary fiction, and a need for it to be taught in schools.

If you want to write literary fiction, go for it. Experiment. Do your own thing. But be careful: what the reader takes from it might not be what you intended. Your baby is open to multiple interpretations. Critics will see things you never anticipated. You might even be told you’re wrong!

There is a place for both types of fiction. Make sure you know which type you’re reading or writing. And enjoy both. That’s what good writing  and reading is all about.

(Featured image “Book Store Heaven” by C_Greengrass is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0 )

http://www.russellproctor.com

 

 

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Tomorrow’s Authors: Lucy Summers

This continues my occasional series about new, unpublished writers, the ones we’ll be seeing more of in the future.

Today’s guest blog is by Lucy Summers. She sounds interesting to say the least–when someone tells you they are into “horseback riding, archery….and oh, I have a small obsession with daggers” you know there’s something fun happening.

Lucy is writing a book called Storm of Thieves and here’s the pitch:

A thief must pull off a dangerous heist that entangles her with a deadly assassin and a former slave. The fate of their world now rests with her. Pursued by the guild of a criminal empire, success – and their lives – are far from promised.

Sounds like it’s worth a read. So let Lucy tell you about herself and Storm of Thieves, and her thoughts about the future of fantasy. You can visit her Facebook page here: Lucy Summers.

1. Who is Lucy Summers?
I am a girl who is full of passion. I believe that if you love something, don’t hold back and show the world what it is you care about. For me, there are several things that strike my passion. Horseback riding is one of them. Archery is another. I might also have a small obsession with daggers. The entire fantasy/medieval setting is something that I really enjoy. It started when I was a teenager watching The Lord of the Rings. I’d always enjoyed fantasy stories, but something about those movies turned kindling into fire. I picked up archery because of it. Now that passion has grown, I’ve taken it a step further.

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In my work-in-progress, one of my characters, Ryale, is an archer and in some scenes she shoots her bow from her horse. I think I might be slightly crazy, because I wanted to know what that felt like. So I trained my horse for it and shoot arrows off her just so I can write it more accurately. I also cosplay my characters and have a friend photograph us. I find it helps to have a visual for specific scenes. Next thing I know, I just kept taking more and more of them based off scenes from the story. It’s something I really enjoy doing. There are more photos and snippets of the story on my Instagram account, as well as updates on my Facebook page.

2. Tell us about your work-in-progress Storm of Thieves.
My story is about a thief (Ryale), a seven foot tall human giant (Thane) and an assassin (Daemon) all wrapped up in a heist together. There is only a little bit of magic within their world, none of which they can control. The unusual threesome end up having to work together in order to avoid capture by the antagonist, all while navigating a land run by a criminal empire where death is more common than life. It has darker undertones to it, and can get gritty at times. But everyone in it is human. There are no mythical races or creatures.

I enjoyed creating the dynamic between them. Thane is a formal slave with newfound freedom and kind and humble, pitted with Ryale, who is a wild a reckless thief. She is high-energy and clever, but untrusting of Daemon. Daemon is a skilled killer, with unmatched skills with his blades. His arrogance knows no bounds.

I’m writing it from three first-person points of view, broken into sections, with the first part being Thane, the middle part Ryale and the last part Daemon. I try to make each voice unique, even in the writing itself, to bring each character to life. I chose to do it this way because as the story unfolds and moves the reader gets more out of it depending on who they are with. It’s not simply retelling the same set of scenes per character. The story moves on without such repetition. With a few small twists along the way, the unravelling of the world and heist is best told this way.

I began this story about two years ago when a photo online inspired the creation of Thane. In all honesty, I didn’t actually intend to write a book. I’d dabbled in writing throughout my childhood, the typical young girl adventure novels, and I took a few writing classes in college, but I never sat down with the full intent of writing a novel. It just sort of…happened. I began writing a few scenes with Thane, and then Ryale came into the picture, and then Daemon forced his presence in the story as well and next thing I know the story just unfolded. There was no outline or template or even overall plot. The story just became what it is on its own. That, I think, is part of the magic of writing. Especially fantasy.

 
3. Why do you like fantasy as a genre?
Fantasy is different from any other story. People tend to think it’s easier to write because you can make up rules to allow things to happen that can’t in real life. I find this to be the opposite. It’s not easier. It’s harder. And that’s why it’s my favourite. Anything can happen. The world most fantasy stories take place in, including mine, is completely made from scratch, different rules, values, traditions, even people and races. Nothing is off limits. That’s the beauty of it.

 

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4. Who do you see as your writing influences?
I am such a huge fan of Patrick Rothfuss. His world and characters are compelling enough, but the language itself is so poetically beautiful. I wish I could write even half as well as he does. The man is truly a master of words. I also love the sheer creativity of Ransom Riggs. He weaves a story so well and with such a large cast, too.

 
5. What is the future of fantasy? Do readers still want the same old thing or are they looking for something fresh and “different”?
I think it’s a bit of both. I think the same story can be told by 100 people and it would still come out fresh and unique as each person puts their own spin on it. It’s really just a matter of opinion on what is well liked by readers. Tropes and cliches will always have a love/hate relationship with readers; there will be those who love them and those that hate them. I don’t think its exclusive to only fantasy. But I think a good spin on something old or a new approach to a story can easily be well loved and accepted.

 
6. Are there things about the genre you find worn-out or over-done? Is there a particular direction you’d like to see fantasy take as a genre?
I’m not really the type to pick apart a story to the point I’m bored with it. I won’t set a book down because the main plot line has a dragon guarding a princess, or a knight falling in love with royalty. I tend to fall in love with characters more than plot. If I can get behind a character, the overdone or worn out story matters less. I love character-driven books, and that’s something I’m trying to recreate in my own. While the plot is obviously important, having characters that readers like and/or relate to is far more critical. If they are dull or two-dimensional, it lacks a focus and I find myself getting bored. I’d like to avoid that.

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7. What have been your struggles as a writer? What have been your personal triumphs?
Turning my mind to focus on the writing part can be hard. It gets frustrating, writing and rewriting and editing and making more changes, and still not being quite happy with the work. It is hard to know when its “done” because the more you write, the more the skills develop. It doesn’t help that I honestly have no idea what I’m doing. Everyone has a different process. For me, I have to explore a scene with my characters to understand. Sometimes, that ends up being something pivotal to the plot. Other times, it’s four or five pages of poking around only to realize that it just didn’t work the way it needed to. But then those little moments come when everything just clicks into place. Those are the moments I live for, finding small keys that unlock a greater picture and fit everything together.

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8. Why is fantasy an important genre?
It’s freedom. It’s taking what is impossible and finding a way to bring it to life and make it real, even if it’s only in the reader’s mind. Words have magic. They bring to life something that can’t be created elsewhere, a unique experience for each individual reader. There are always going to be slight differences in speech, tone, and even visualizing the world and characters. Everything in a fantasy setting is unique. The writers of these worlds expanded their minds into other places, found them, and brought them back with them to share with others.

So that’s Lucy Summers. You can find here Facebook page here: Lucy Summers. Or check out her Instagram site: @storm_of_thieves.

(Featured image: https://pixabay.com/en/background-fantasy-landscape-tree-3607469. Other images (c) Lucy Summers.)

Russell Proctor www.russellproctor.com

Tomorrow’s Authors: John Stum.

Today, the fourth in my series on the fantasy authors of tomorrow. Our guest blogger is John Stum, who will be telling you his views on fantasy, why he writes and also about his current work-in-progress.

  • Russell Proctor

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My name is John Stum and I am currently working on a new novel called Prince Phillip. It is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale with a focus on the young Prince who was destined to break the spell. The book will follow his life, struggles, and lessons as he becomes a man worthy of breaking the curse. I thought it would be fun to look at a character that did not have a whole lot of time dedicated to him but was important to a classic story.

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I grew up on the classic Disney movies as well as the stories of knights and epic battles. It helped frame a lot of my views on what a man was as well as provided me with childhood heroes. Those characters, however, were always presented as fully formed and complete. As an adult, I understand that there is a lot more nuance and grey areas to life, a lot of things that have to happen to shape and form a person. Prince Phillip is my way of examining those factors. It is not necessarily a children’s story I am telling. It’s going to get a little dark and adult. But those stories are always some of my favourites.

 
It ties in with my favourite authors. After I started to crave deeper stories than Disney, I read authors like Anne MacCaffrey and her Dragonriders of Pern, Raymond Feist and his stories in Midkemia, and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. I still enjoy light-hearted series. The Chronicle of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander is one of my favorites and I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to enjoy Harry Potter or The Hobbit. Those books all influenced me and my decision to get into fantasy writing.

 
Tales of heroes on noble quests with magic and adventure are important for the soul. They inspire thought and creativity. Many genres look at the way the world is, and a lot of them examine it the way the author thinks it should be. These genres are still bound by rules and logical thought. Fantasy throws that all out and looks at the impossible. By stepping out of the realm of reality, fantasy allows us to really see our world and ourselves. It opens us up to impossible things allowing is to truly push the bounds of reality. Fantasy is beautiful like that and one of the reasons why I love it.

 
Of course fantasy does have some baggage to it. It can feel like an old and outdated genre. We live in crazy times, though, full of rapid change. I think audiences want something familiar to cling on to. We are seeing it in Hollywood with how many movies rely on nostalgia to produce feeling and connection. This is where fantasy has an advantage. It is a nostalgic genre, but one capable of producing something new and unique.

 
Already, the trend in fantasy seems to be the number of sub-genres that are coming out. Grimdark, urban fantasy, supernatural, etc. The fantasy umbrella is splintering out to smaller and smaller niches with the rise of self-publishing and the relative ease of indie authors to find their market, at least compared to ten years ago.

 
This does lead to some annoying things about fantasy. The order surrounding fantasy creatures is getting eroded. Vampires and zombies, which may fall more under horror but still share a fantasy link, are no longer morally or existentially terrifying. Anne Rice made her vampires beautiful and desired, but Interview With a Vampire still showed the tragedy and horror of that existence. When lore is not being eroded, it is being clung to with dogmatic obsession. There is the perfect elf that seems to exist only as a Mary Sue or Gary Stu. Fantasy does lend itself more to that problem than other genres.
This is not an indictment of stories like that. I have enjoyed several when they are done right. If the author has found a voice and an audience, then great. I wish them nothing but the best and continued success. I just personally find stories like that sacrifice a lot of potential themes and messages at the expense of these issues.

 
Overall, fantasy is a fun and exciting genre. It offers a lot for potential readers and has many bright horizons ahead of it.

 
You can follow me through most of the normal social media outlets. I am on Twitter @steelstashwrit1, Facebook at www.facebook.com/steelstashwrit1, or my blog at www.steelstashwriting.com. Be sure to like and follow for more information and progress on Prince Phillip or sign up for my quarterly newsletter at http://eepurl.com/diOmdH.

John Stum

 

Tomorrow’s Authors: Debdip Chakraborty

 

Today’s post continues the series of interviews with unpublished writers of fantasy. While they are still struggling to finish their works or await publication, they represent the fantasy we’ll be reading in years to come. The interview on this post is with Debdip Chakraborty.

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I was born into a world of books and writing, so I guess I was fortunate enough to be born in a family which had tremendous love and nurture of literature and art. My granddad was an avid reader, which he passed on to her daughter, my mom, and she is the woman who has given me every thoughts and ideas and made my life much more interesting with books.

As I kid, I liked isolation, and my ideas were always too weird or laughable to share, so I used to enjoy more of the characters that I read than the company of people. The interactions with characters in my head made me to pick up writing my own fan-fiction, which later changed into my writing.
Years turned, and after drifting through books, of all genres, shapes and sizes, I felt fantasy is the genre which speaks the most to me, and resonates with me.

 
1. Tell us about your work-in-progress.
Being an unpublished author is hard. You’re stuck in a boat, sailing in a vast sea, your destination is nowhere in sight. And you don’t want to go back to the land you just left. I guess that’s what I feel right now. More so, because I’ve miles to go before I finish my first draft. The dreaded first draft.
Currently, my main project, a planned fantasy trilogy named Ode to the Fallen, is stuck in the first draft.
It is about an Imperial Prince, who never dreams of power for himself but only kills and conquers in the name of his father, the Emperor, even if it means killing his kin. There is also a sorceress, who is seeking to revive a High God, fallen and broken; however, she knows that time is running out. A cannibal and barbarian veteran soldier seeks to wreck vengeance for cleansing the sins of the past. All their paths will cross once the world will be opposed by a far greater and ancient threat that’s beyond their comprehension or power. Hopefully, by 2018, I can end up finishing with the draft of the first novel of the trilogy.
Apart from that, I do have a sci-fi in work, still at the nascent stages, a few ideas of comic books, and a host of poetry.

 
2. Why do you love fantasy as a genre?
The boundaries of this genre are limitless. While most of the other genres do get tamed by having a “realistic boundary”, fantasy (sci-fi is considered as a sub genre within fantasy) provides an author with the concept of endless loops and probabilities.

 
3. Who do you see as your writing influences?
I was a four year old when my granddad introduced me to the world of literature and arts. It all started with the Hindu and Greek epics. Around the age of twelve I discovered my passion of writing and “Papa” Tolkien’s books. Those shaped my genre of writing: fantasy. Over the years, two other primary influences came into my life: Steven Erikson and R. Scott Bakker. Both of them are towering geniuses when it comes to the genre of fantasy and literature. They’ve pushed the aspects of fantasy and set a new bar where I feel few can reach.

 
4. What is the future of fantasy? Do readers still want the same old thing or are they looking for something fresh and “different”? Are there things about the genre you find worn-out or over-done? Is there a particular direction you’d like to see fantasy take as a genre?
The future of fantasy as a genre really does seem bright. With the old guards of the genre going strong with their new series, fantasy as a genre since the post 2000s has seen a host of new and emerging authors who’re fit to carry on the battalion. Fantasy as a genre has much gained the hype and deservingly so, with the adaptation of the A Song of Ice and Fire series by the HBO popular show A Game of Thrones. George R. R. Martin does deserve every ounce of credit for popularizing the genre.
There are readers on both ends of the spectrum. There are some who want the fantasy with tropes, the known tropes, just to get a familiar setting. There are also readers, who want fantasy to be with new ideas/ thoughts. Both does have its pros and cons.
While having the known fantasy tropes does possess the readers with familiar grounds, and not to scramble too much and being clueless, the author does have a fear of being a “Tolkien” or any other author imitator.
However, present things too fresh and new, and the readers may feel clueless as well. Having everything original doesn’t mean that it is going to work as well, and that itself is also a trope.
I feel a proper mixture of good old fantasy tropes, and originality always does the trick. While the fantasy trope will give the reader a familiar ground to focus, the author can show his/her versatility/creativity by planting the original thoughts along the way.
The worn-out processes of fantasy are the same Tolkien rip offs of the genre. For me, as much as I’m a huge fan of Tolkien, I do think the author prevented (for sometime at least) the genre growing. A farmer boy goes out to defeat the dark lord, whose sole person is to conquer the world, guided by a mentor (who dies halfway through the book). Those need to stop. The same old repetitive formula of light versus dark doesn’t really work out these days. Characters should be gray, no shades, multi-layered; not all characters have to be likable.
Also, as much as I love this new wave of grimdark fantasy that’s up and coming, I don’t understand grimdark, gore, and violence, just there for pleasing the masses.
There is a host of fantasy series that I’d love to see come up as shows or movies. So that definitely is a direction where fantasy should head.

 
5. What have been your struggles as a writer? What have been your personal triumphs?
Struggles to cope up with my depression, loneliness and suicidal thoughts have been my real obstacles towards getting my goals done. Although it does help me to project my thoughts on the characters, the plots, and the settings across the writing, it can at times come out as nihilistic, grim, and give a reader an overall sense of bleakness.
The triumphs do include when I try to get my thoughts on the page. The scenes or the characters which were so fleshed out in my mind when they take life in the page in front of me do seem a major satisfaction.
The idea is to keep pushing till you’re exhausted. A blank page sits in front of you, and even if you’ve to write a scene spanning only ten minutes of the story time, you can take at least a lot of time, to think, process and write down in real-life time.

 
6. What fantasy books or films have you enjoyed and why?
Favourite Fantasy Books (In no particular order):
Deadhouse Gates, Midnight Tides, Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson: This is a series which influenced me to take the risks, to go beyond the genre classics that are out there, and makes me want to take risks.
The Darkness that Comes Before and Warrior Prophet by R. Scott Bakker: Such an exquisite piece of literary fiction. A work of such original nature has never been seen in the genre of fantasy.
A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin: The depth of character arc and treatment, has been seldom seen in this scale.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy has to be one of my favourite fantasy film series. The visual aspects of the film, and the grandeur make me become a twelve year boy again, sniffing through the pages of the Tolkien’s epic series.

 
7. What fantasy books and films have you not liked and why?
The Twilight series were pretty dull, and it seemed like a romantic thread, with nothing in it.
The Mythica series didn’t also do much justice with the genre. It took the same old tropes, and there was no purpose in the overall story.
Neither did I like the later Harry Potter films. They scrapped and changed a lot from the books for my liking.

 
8. Why is fantasy an important genre?
The feel of fantasy is that, it speaks to everyone, regardless of caste, creed, sex, orientation. It binds all the readers, under one umbrella. The feeling of awe, and the creation of something original can only be derived by this genre.

 

 

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I wish Debdip all the best for his future writing. His work-in-progress certainly sounds interesting, a combination of different and unusual characters. His insights into the future of fantasy also show someone committed to keeping the genre alive and well. Keep an eye out for his Ode to the Fallen series!

Russell Proctor   www.russellproctor.com

(Featured picture courtesy of Dreamstime and Creative Commons.)

 

 

The Yes and No of “Wonder Woman”

WARNING: THIS BLOG CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS REGARDING THE FILM “WONDER WOMAN” (2017). 

I’m not a fan of superheroes. After all, I’m 60 years old and what is a 60 year old doing in a fan-world made up (on the whole) of people much younger? I don’t deny they can be a lot of fun, and it’s not the genre itself, it’s the idea of the superhero I just don’t “get”.

But that has nothing to do with this blog. I’m not here to trash the superhero genre of fiction. I can see why many people love the concept, and that’s great.

So ordinarily, I wouldn’t watch a film like “Wonder Woman”. Just not my thing. But I did decide to watch it because I’d heard a lot of people saying great things about Gal Gadot’s performance in the title role and I also wanted to see what DC would make of a female superhero. (Or is that superheroine?)* I watched it on DVD, which I actually purchased over the counter, so I invested not only time but also money. I also knew the film was set during World War One and since I am fascinated by that historical event I also wanted to see how “real” the war would be slotted into a fantasy film.

Let me say I really enjoyed the film, probably more than I thought I would.

I thought Ms Gadot did a wonderful job. Her Diana was suitably regal, tough, naïve and just plain likable. She could do humour well and the character served as a great role-model for women. Her reaction to the historical era, which clashed so much with her own upbringing and world outlook, worked really well. I also found the supporting actors did a great job. I have no beef with the special effects, the production itself or the performances.

That’s not why I’m here now.

All that I just said above was the “yes.” The “no” comes at the end of the film, the last half hour or so. Actually it may be longer or shorter than that, I was so absorbed in the film I lost track of time.

Halfway through the movie there is a brilliant sequence where Wonder Woman steps out of the trench alone and walks into No-Man’s Land carrying nothing but a sword and shield and proceeds to remove the heavily-armed Germans occupying the village of Veld. I loved this sequence. It had excitement, action and danger. The moment when Diana is cowering (yes, cowering) behind her shield as it takes the full force of a machine gun aimed directly at it is superb. The look on her face shows the doubt that has started to creep in that she might not make it out alive. She is rescued by her merely mortal friends–this, too, is superb and shows even superheroes need help occasionally. It was a wonderfully “real” moment in the sequence. The silly gymnastics and slow-motion FX didn’t jar at all (as they usually would with me). The idea of a woman (almost) single-handedly taking on hundreds of enemy with nothing more than her own battle skills and lightning-fast reflexes was the highlight of the movie for me.

Another very effective moment came after the battle when Diana and the others were having their photograph taken by a villager. The exhausted look on Diana’s face shows the liberation of the village had a personal emotional cost for her. The overcoat thrown over her superhero outfit is a magnificent touch that demonstrates deep-down she is just another person, scarred by war and thankful she is still alive at the end.

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And then there’s the battle at the end, when she’s fighting Ares. This is the “no”. This battle between a god and the daughter of a god (a demi-goddess) is far removed from the “real” and frightening combat we witnessed earlier. Here, the SFX take over, the immortality of the characters intrudes itself and I lost interest in the plot.

Until then, it all worked. Diana was fun, kick-ass and had a touch of humanity about her. Of course, the Amazons weren’t exactly human, they were specially created by the gods as superior warriors. They could, however, be killed by ordinary bullets, something I’ll get back to. In this last sequence between Diana and Ares, we sit back for a long info-dump by the bad guy who gives us some background as to his motivations and explains Diana’s origins. (Meanwhile all hell is breaking loose with the ordinary soldiers trying to destroy a gas laboratory before the rest of humanity is destroyed, but never mind that–this is important stuff and the gods are going to force us to listen.) And here’s the important thing: at this point in the movie Diana casts off her last traces of humanity and becomes a goddess in her own right.

And I lost interest.

Gods are hard to write. They are just so damn powerful. They start throwing tanks around, creating explosions, defying the laws of physics and proving even more than your usual superhero that we humans are utterly weak, worthless crap. Sure, Diana’s friends do succeed in destroying the gas laboratory and Steve Trevor (played admirably by Chris Pine) sacrifices himself for the cause, but that’s stuff any suitably brave and committed mortals could have handled. The battle between Diana and Ares is what disappointed me.

It’s those damn bullets, you see. Diana proves herself almost invulnerable in this sequence. So why was she worried about bullets earlier? Ares kicks her butt several times and she just stands up again and keeps fighting. Not a scratch. A goddess. Her fellow Amazons aren’t immune to bullets, and for the bulk of the film Diana spends a lot of time knocking them aside with her arm braces (and hiding behind her shield from a machine gun). So why now does she seem utterly impervious to any form of mistreatment?

In my opinion, the final battle between deities became “unrealistic”. I use that term not because I thought the rest of the film realistic, but in the sense that I lost my concern for Wonder Woman. I no longer feared she could be killed or even hurt. She absorbs the power of a god and redirects it back at him. At least, her arm braces do, which isn’t quite the same thing. We know, and she knows, they can do that sort of thing from a sequence early on in the film, but the realisation still doesn’t quite ring true.

Gods are hard to write. Gods fighting each other even harder. Had Diana remained “mortal” and still kicked Ares’ butt I would have stood up and cheered. But making her a goddess just levelled the playing field and suddenly I didn’t care anymore.

Still a great film. I’ll watch it again, but maybe skip over that last fight scene. The earlier one recapturing the village of Veld knocks the later one out of the ring. The Veld sequence belongs at the end of the film as the climactic battle, not half way through.

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  • A lot of occupations these days are gender-neutral. “Actress”, for instance, is not a word often used these days. Actors are “actors”, whatever sex. “Poetess,”, “Aviatrix” etc are out the door. They are poets and pilots. So I’m not sure if superheroines are legitimate anymore, or if they are all just superheroes.

Russell Proctor  –  www.russellproctor.com

 

 

 

Avoiding Cliches Like the Plague

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, a cliché is (a) a hackneyed phrase or opinion or (b) a very predictable or unoriginal thing or person. I used to have a dictionary of clichés, I think also published by Oxford. The precise purpose of such a reference source eluded me. Perhaps it was so people could check they were not using clichés in their writing or speech.

Because, of course, we must avoid using clichés. In this post I’m not so much concerned with the first definition above. We all recognise these things for what they are pretty quickly:

Not in a million years…

For all intents and purposes…

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks…

As heavy as lead…

Millions of these things are espoused daily and eliminating them isn’t too hard with a careful edit. But today I want to discuss the other definition, which is far more insidious in writing and film. The situational cliché. The story that goes along predictable lines and ends the same way lots of other stories have in the past.

There are lots of these too. I mentioned one years ago when I reviewed a film, Hansel and Gretel. There it was what I called the “too cool to look” hero walk. You know the one. The hero has just beaten the bad guy and lit the fuse for an explosion. As the bomb detonates in the background the hero is seen walking towards the camera, dead-pan expression on his face or maybe lighting a cigarette, not bothering to glance over his shoulder as the explosion blows the final shreds of the villain away. It’s meant to show that the hero is ultra-cool, so cool in fact he can ignore an event that would have everyone else ducking for cover or at least turning around to look at*. So cool he doesn’t need to run.

It’s been done a lot. It’s a cliché. It’s the sort of thing writers need to avoid.

I myself had a recent problem with a cliché ending to a series I’m writing at the moment. My cliché was “the hero sacrifices herself to save the world but isn’t really dead and comes back when everyone least expects it and manages to destroy the bad guy…” I wanted to avoid it and it took a while to do so.

The Star Trek film franchise did this a lot. In The Wrath of Khan Spock is killedHe’s back in the next movie, not really being dead at all of course…well, sort of but not really. Even the Enterprise has been destroyed a number of times but there is always a new one just being completed the crew can transfer to. Handy, that.

There are book series out there that have cliché endings. Lots of them. The Harry Potter series for instance. Harry gets killed and brought back to life because he’s not really dead…well, he is, but not really. In his book Destiny Unfulfilled: A Critique of the Harry Potter Series, Jim Adam states that J. K. Rowling uses the cliché of the Christ-like sacrifice to save mankind (or in her case Wizard-kind). The hero needs to die, to sacrifice his or her own life, in order to save the lives of others.

That’s been done too.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the Christ-like sacrifice, except that it’s been done. A lot.

And this was the problem I had. It took a while to solve it, required me to consult with my editor, and is going to necessitate a heavy re-write of the last part of my final book in the series, but at least I am happier with the ending.

Cliché is an easy trap to fall into. Movies, especially the plethora of prequels and sequels they engender, are full of them. Books, too. A good writer should be careful to spot them as they arise and deal with them before it’s too late.

Damn! Before it’s too late… A cliché!

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* It always strikes me as a bit weird: surely the only person not looking at the explosion is the one who set it off. Think about it. The villain blows something up and the police don’t know who to arrest. Try arresting the only person in the street NOT looking at the explosion!

Russell Proctor  http://www.russellproctor.com

A Different Way to Write Realistic Characters – Part 3: Affective Memory

In the last two parts of this short series (don’t worry, this is the last) I proposed a method of character creation for the writer which is based on the method actors use to create a persona for stage or screen. It’s called the Method, and was developed through rehearsal by Russian director Konstantin Stanislavsky.

In this last part I’ll discuss two other means that can be used to flesh out story characters, and to help when the writer is a bit uncertain how a character might act in a given situation.

The first is called The Magic “If”.

You’re writing a story. It’s going well, and suddenly you place your character into a situation and wonder how they might behave or react to what is going on.

“Well, let me see…” you think, staring out of the window at the passing parade of human beings, and suddenly realise you have no idea what they should be doing in terms of the story. “I’m not him!” you wail. “I created this person but I’m not him! How would he react?”

And you suddenly realise that you’ve created a monster, someone who doesn’t behave like you at all and so you have no idea what to do. “He’s a serial killer. I’m not a serial killer…how do I know what to do in this situation?”

You just solved your own problem. The Magic If means asking yourself “What would I do if I were in this situation?”

If I were a serial killer…

If I were a King…

If I were in love with a handsome man…

If I were a fifteen year old boy who just got kicked out of school…

There are millions of situations we never encounter. But that doesn’t stop you writing about them. Just mentally put yourself in the same situation as your character and write about what you would do.

And that’s what your character would do.

The other technique for creating realistic characters, linked to the Magic “If”, is called  Affective Memory.

You may have heard the phrase “Write what you know”. It is often regarded as a misunderstood phrase, and it is, since it tends to limit fledgling writers to writing only what they have personally experienced. New writers run the risk of limiting themselves to certain places and character-types, since they think they can’t write about something about which they have no experience.

But, as a number of other writing tips sites have suggested, “write what you know” is about emotions and sensations rather than actual experiences. A writer should write about being scared, sorry, angry etc rather than try to re-create a place or time or situation they have never actually encountered.

The thing, is, I don’t think those sites go far enough. This is where affective memory comes in.

A person who has never lost a family member might find it hard to write about a family member dying in a story. How do they know the sense of loss and gut-wrenching sadness that such an event entails? How do they take their character through that experience if they’ve never done it themselves?

Here’s the problem: you have a great character on the boil, she’s rolling the story along at a fantastic pace, she’s funny and engaging, emotional and thrilling all at once. The readers are going to love her. You love her. “Why can’t I always write characters like this?” you think to yourself, as you slurp coffee and go along for the ride.

And then, in the course of the story, something happens that you have no experience about. And you – and the character – come up against a wall. How will she react in this situation? What would she do? You’ve never experienced this situation in real life, so you have no idea how anyone would behave. How do you “write what you know” now?

Affective memory is applying personal experiences to fictional situations. You, the writer, recall experiences that produced an emotional response at some time in your life and write about how you felt. If you have never experienced the death of a family member, you write your emotional responses to something that you have experienced. Maybe the loss of a pet, or how you felt when you broke up with a friend. Something – anything – that could produce a similar emotion. And write how that made you feel.

Actors and writers are different species. As I pointed out earlier, an actor on the screen usually has to worry about just one character. A writer has to worry about all the characters she creates, and make them real so the audience cares about them. So a writer has a harder job than the actor, in one sense. Using Objective/Obstacle, the Magic “If” and Affective Memory will aid the writer to make characters that are alive on the page.

Russell Proctor   www.russellproctor.com