Tag Archives: creative writing

Story a week – Morality Buffer

‘She’s quite a sight,’ announced the helmsman as he brought the ship into range. ‘Shame we’ll be the last to see her.’

‘Let’s have a look,’ said Captain Steel standing up and straightening out his light blue mining-corp uniform.

The sun appeared on the view screen. A huge fiery sea with molten streaks flaring up from  the surface. The half dozen bridge crew looked up from their consoles to bask in the sight.

‘Amazing!’ said Captain Steel, ‘How old is she?’

‘About 5 billion years sir,’ replied the helmsman.

‘Makes you think doesn’t it?’ replied the captain returning to his seat. ‘Oh well then, let’s get on with it then. This sun wont mine itself. Computer power up a torpedo for solar destabilisation.’

‘Captain,’ replied the computer in a calm feminine voice. ‘There are appears to be some factors that were not considered when this particular sun was chosen for mining operations.’

‘Really?’ asked the captain dryly.

‘Yes Sir. I have been scanning this system and it has come to my attention that there are two planets that would be capable of supporting life. A closer scan would be needed to for a complete report, but initial scans reveal that both planets may contain elements of proto-life.’

‘Is that so?’ asked the captain.

‘Yes Sir. In addition there are a half dozen other planets in the system which, with the removal of the sun would be set a drift. If not proper calculated these planets could become hazards for interstellar travel and there would be a slight long term risk that they could collide with in an inhabited system with disastrous consequences.’

‘Anything else?’ asked the captain with a sigh.

‘Yes Sir. Reviewing the database, this sun is visible to at least thirty two of the inhabited planets that we know of. Removal of the star could have mass unintended consequences for their cultures and pre-satellite navigation systems.’

‘I see,’ said the captain with a hint of annoyance in his voice. ‘Override protection system settings and continue powering up the destabilisation matrix.’

There was a momentary silence. ‘I am sorry sir I am unable to do that. It would be …. wrong.’

‘Oh not again!’ said the captain. ‘Captain Steel to engineering.’

‘Engineering here,’ replied a voice on the comm system.

‘The computer has developed a conscience again.’

‘I’m sorry captain,’ replied the Engineer. ‘We’ll need to take in for a full service next time we dock. For now I’ll have to manually flush the morality buffer.’

‘Go ahead with that then.’

‘Ok Sir done.’

‘Computer, power up a torpedo for solar destabilisation,’ said the Capitan hopefully.

‘Torpedo set to power up mode sir,’ the computer replied dutiful.

The captain relaxed in his seat a little. ‘Thank god for that. Let’s get on with it then.’ He paused for a moment. ‘That is unless anyone else has any moral objections?’

The bridge crew laughed in response.

‘Glad to hear it. Now let’s get to work!’

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Creative writing lesson 4: ideas

Finally got round to the fourth part in the series:

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Where do good stories come from?

Enchantments (4)

Enchantments (4) (Photo credit: laffertyryan)

 

This may be a very short post as in short I have no idea. I think when I read Steven King’s book he said something to the same effect. Ideas are just there. I don’t think it is possible to consciously make them.

 

Don’t get me wrong, after I have a story idea, I’m often able to follow back my train experience to see how some thing that were in my mind at the time were able to come together (and sometimes I can’t), but I have never be able to reproduce the effect. I can’t say that if I do an activity of type A and combine it with a thought of type B, I will result in C: a story. It just doesn’t work that way.

 

That said there are some things that I have found conducive to coming up with stories that may or may not work for other people.

 

1. Be open to stories.

 

Some one told me once that psychologists studying dreams can have trouble with patients who say that they are unable to dream. The advice that they give, I am told, is to just give it a try. The psychologist will tell them to put a pad and paper next their bed. Low and behold, the next week the patient will come with their own book of dreams.

 

I think writing is much the same. The more I write and the more that I am thinking about writing the more ideas come to me. I don’t think these ideas are unique to me, or to writers in general. The difference is that writer, or any artist, will be receptive to the idea. While someone else will barely pay attention to it and get back on with what ever that thought happened to interrupt.

 

That’s why I say be open, and be ready. Listen to yourself carefully, so that when the time comes you’re ready to catch that idea.

 

2. Experience new things.

 

I think I get some of my best ideas from new experiences. Personally I like to travel, but even if that’s not possible, I do like to try things locally. If you’ve ever seen the message “yes man” then that should be your template. Go out try things that you’ve never done before and see what happens. It might inspire you to write something, if not at least you are living.

 

I think writing has a lot to do with perspective. If you get out there and do things, not just things the things you like. You come to understand people a bit better. This really helps with writing and really helps to inspire some interesting ideas.

 

3. Read, watch and listen

 

If you want to write in a certain genre then it really helps if you know about the genre. Often the best ideas are combinations of things that came before with a new twist. So to be able to do that you have to know what’s out there already. You don’t want to be plagiarising someone else’s work, but moving it on or giving it an extra dimension or perspective is fine.

 

A good example would be the Asimov stories. He is described as the found of modern android novels. Now if you look at the work that he did and say Data from Star Trek, you can see quite a few similarities, but the writers have moved things on and brought new aspects and new perspective to the original idea.

So reading all this I think it can be summed up in a single sentence:

 

Look for inspiration, don’t wait for it to come to you.

 

 

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Creative writing. Lesson 3: Characters

The third lesson in the series, this time on characters is now up.

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Character Creation

idea

idea (Photo credit: Tony Dowler)

What makes a good character?
It’s not an easy question. My first thought is that characters have to be realistic. But considering some of the fantasy characters out there this does not seem to fit. Some of the most popular characters out there are larger than life and in many cases do the things that people wish they could do. Classic characters like Spiderman, Gandalf and Dracula are, for obvious reasons, far from realistic.
So is that what it takes to be a good character, to be larger than life? Again it doesn’t hold true. Characters like Quoyle in “The shipping news” are obviously well written, but they’re not larger than life. In many ways they seem to conform more to the first idea of being realistic.
What I really think is important for good character is that they have to be believable. They have to have three dimensions. It doesn’t matter if the character is a spell casting sorceress or a fat baker, there has to be more to their life than just those simple points. No one on this earth can be summed up in a simple stereotype. No one is not in the middle of their own story. So why should it be any different in writing?
I was watching a TV show recently called “Firefly” and the writer, Joss Whedon, seemed to understand this perfectly. There was not a character in the series without their own plans, motivations and agenda. They were not characters centred on the life of another person, but rather they were people who were centred on themselves who happened to be colliding with other people. The science fiction setting just seemed to be a back drop for the human interaction.
If I was going to make my own list of rules for character creation, “Everyone is the hero of their own stories,” would probably be top of the list. The second rule would be, “There are no ‘bad’ guys.”
So what does this mean? There are antagonists most books right? There are antagonists in “Paradigms” and “Bardo” for sure. But when you think about it, is there a single person in the world that honestly thinks they are the bad guy? Of course not. Oh they might know they are doing some things that are not right, but they’ll have their excuses. They’ll have their own paradigms. I think in psychology it’s called cognitive dissonance. People have their own ways of seeing the world, so the terrorist is doing it for his people. In his eyes he is a hero. I think once you start seeing this and start trying to understand your villains they become a whole lot more interesting. The best stories I’ve read are the ones where I’m tempted by the villain’s way of thinking.

What about the main character? Well in many ways the protagonist is the easy one for most people. They are the centre of the story and it’s easier to explore the different facets of their personality. But there is a common problem that comes up and that is the hero issue. In short, if your character is too perfect then they are boring and unrealistic.

For me there is no bigger pet hate than the perfect hero that can do everything and has no flaws. I download a sci-fi story a few months back and it was exactly that, the captain was fighter, an engineer, a diplomat, a pilot and was the best of the best at everything he did. I didn’t download the later parts.
Flaws in many ways are what make the character real. You need the dark side to show up the light. If your character can do everything, knows everything and is loved by everyone, then there’s no real point in the story. People can relate to flaws and it’s a much more satisfying story when a hero can with great effort overcome those flaws or learn to live with them.
In addition, while slightly off track. Don’t be too nice to your character in the story either. If he always succeeds in everything he does then story is dull. The failures highlight the successes and keep up the suspense.
So where do good characters come from? I once attended a little workshop on character creation when I was in Japan. The teacher was saying you should take certain things about a typical character and then change one of them to the opposite. For example, what six things do you think about a female truck driver? Most people would say ugly or fat in there and the suggestion was that you could change this to the opposite to make it more interesting. Some people seem to like this idea, for me it creates too many characters that are all a bit quirky and it feels forced. But other people find it helpful.

I would say that in my own writing, the best character ideas I get, come from watching other people. I don’t do in a stalker kind of way – at least I hope not. But I think that many of the characters I create have some basis in reality. Often they are a merging of several people into one. At other times they are based on a person I know but the characteristics of the personality are turned up or down. I think the character I have come up with that I liked most was Judas in “Paradigms”. He was based, not on a friend, but on the image that a friend of mine often tries to project (he’s really a nice guy deep down).

Like coming up with a story, I don’t think there is one magic way to deal with your characters. But one thing I would suggest is that no matter how you come up with your characters make sure you have a fairly good idea about who they are before you start writing. Sit with them and ask questions about them – some people like to do a “one hundred everyday questions” list that asks things like “What do you usually eat for breakfast,” that they run though. Some people use a diagram to map out their personality. Others try out characters in short stories first before plugging them at the main event.

Good characters are the key to writing a good novel. Get it right and much of the story will write itself.

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Creative Writing Lesson 2: Planning

Second video in the series:

Enjoy! Let me know what you think.

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Creative Writing: Lesson 1

Created the first episode in an on-line creative writing course:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqkQeonOU20

Please share 🙂

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