Monday, September 10, 2012

Characters. Roaming.

A favourite quote of mine came from an american author; "for me, really, the written word is always stronger than film", and though I'm useless against the wash of a great cinematic score, I must say I agree.

One of the most fascinating things about writing is that, with these little characters you see before you now, images, thoughts and emotions can be evoked so strongly that perhaps one could actually be moved to tears by the death of a character, or laugh aloud at an amusing utterance from another. It's somewhat bizarre that we create such a natural link to these tiny dots and lines, so much so that often, it's as if we're hearing a voice narrate them in our heads. Yet perhaps this link between text and thought is natural after all. People have used sketches and symbols to communicate as long as we've been around. It's as if writing is the third part, the missing link, or the yong that the ying and yang of speech and gesture simply can't live without.

I used to scoff quietly at authors who explained how characters 'live inside their heads', but like a convert to vegemite (yes, they're rare), I now understand what they were saying. All this information needs to exist somewhere first before hitting the stone, or paper, or stylus, and in the mind of the creator is the most pure form it can take.

In the story I'm working on, Merius, the main character, took a while to develop. I would have one idea for him, then another. His appearance changed a little, his mannerisms changed a lot. This is simply the process you go through when writing. Then like reverse-footage of a chocolate statue coming out of a cooking pot - they solidified, and Merius seemingly became someone I actually know in my head.

Perhaps this weird sensation is because as a writer, you spend so much darned time with the character that eventually your mind is tricked into thinking they exist. Perhaps it's aliens. But regardless, it is great fun writing him.

There are some moments which, in many stories I read have been left out, the appreciation of something simple, or that night alone reading a book in your duvet, and I feel these are important. They're realistic - and though sometimes admittedly a little dry for the reader - they give Merius a texture which I think secretly we all appreciate.

As well as this, there are interesting traits that I've never given a character before, but that I think have been really challenging to deal with. His experiences outside his tightly-controlled home for example, are an oddity. For us things like a cobblestone street may be mildly interesting, but certainly not awe-worthy. But for Merius every little thing that lies outside the Castellum is totally new, and it's been tough to understate his wonderment and make his discoveries bearable for the reader, who is already more than familiar with these things, while still conveying his excitement and interest.

His feelings for Allion, Derek and Arliane (in Part 2 particularly) would be still another. Merius has never had true friends aside from his fellow Adherent, Trevars. The concept of a relationship is completely foreign to the Castellum inhabitants, so for these people to fall into Merius' life is a foreign concept for him.

Because of all this, I find it fascinating to develop these moments. For some reason I find it really endearing to watch this character learn about his own interests from a distance - despite my supposedly dictating his every move. Instead, this is where the character for me is very much alive and doing his own thing in my head. I'm simply picking and choosing the parts I want to share.

Fascinating, maybe, but admittedly it's also quite hard to manage. I am acutely aware that I'm not just overloading the character, but the reader also, and I'm always aware that readers may get switched off by the amount of information I'm trying to pass over. So, I have to be a little careful. My goal is obviously to keep it interesting and balance these moments out. I think then the payoff for the reader will be worth it, especially once some of the puzzles begin to get resolved. In short, I know it's important to have a good balance of intrigue and explanation, and hopefully readers will find this when they dive in.

I'm so excited to be working on this book. Once you make a decision to commit to something like this, failure or success, it's a great experience - and merely going through the motions and finding my style as a writer has been fun, no matter the outcome.


Monday, January 16, 2012

A Deep Breath

It was quiet in the office last week. Not horrifically so, we hadn't resorted to braiding each other's hair and singing German folk songs, but quiet enough.

In the absence of work and after taking stock and sorting everything on the desk alphabetically however, I decided to follow a winding road and explore Norway ... digitally of course. You can cover a great deal of the country on google maps, moreso than I actually imagined - I don't think there was a fjord missed or a hytta unseen - and it made for quite the questy afternoon.

Unfortunately this virtual escape did the opposite of making time pass by. Instead it instilled in me a longing to sit once more, cramped and stifled in the coach of Air China (or whatever similar airline my meagre savings could afford) and sharing my personal space with a rotund version of Gilbert Gottfried for barely an hour short of my breaking point, thence at last to be released into the wild, fresh air of the North once again. Freedom! Beautiful freedom!

I have this crazy idea of exploring the Scandinavian tip of the world by motorbike, and possibly not returning for a while, instead content to live in various seaside cottages of small towns, where I would pass my hours chatting to locals by evening at the pub, learning about their fishing exploits, and the days wandering the coastline and tundra with some awesome camera in tow to catch that perfect shot of ... whatever it is the North felt like providing. This in itself shows the thoroughness of my thought processes, and perhaps the fallibility of my plans. One can dream.

In any case, for now I'm just glad to have conjured up the money for a trip to Turkey and Berlin in the coming months. This particular e-ticket will land me first in Istanbul, capital of that mysterious, humid bastion of east & west which I'm eagerly awaiting to explore again, map in pocket, phrasebook in hand and with a small group of friends.

I will be posting some photos (taken with my less than awesome camera) on this blog, and hopefully some new articles will be inspired. Huzzah!
</excited rant>


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Das Buch

Leaping again into the murky and ridiculously vacuous time vortex that is creative writing, I struggled for the longest time to get a chokehold on an idea I liked enough to expand on. I've never had a problem with writer's block (perhaps but hopefully not because my writing isn't intellectual or thought-provoking enough) but not having writer's block can also be a problem.

I had a pile of papers, each one littered with notes and concepts for stories, some with accompanying drafts of the first chapter or two, some with a big question mark dotted over the title or main character's name. None of them really leapt out at me. I had a string of narratives and a chorus line of characters rampaging through the 'random' folder on my hard-drive in various text files, annoying me with their dramatic introductions and semi-formed personas, but I didn't really click with any of them.

Of course, as often happens, it was when I was not trying that the eventual 'worthwhile' idea presented itself, and now a year and a half later I have a draft of the first part of The Binding of Ciltari, a fantasy/drama set in another place, another time, and I'm really happy with how it's emerging.

I just had a number of copies printed and flung them into the postage system to test on some poor, unwitting subjects and so far the response has been interesting. Thankfully - and perhaps due to my friends and family being too nice to knock me down a few pegs - it's been mostly positive. The feedback has been astute and invaluable in helping me make a couple of decisions and pointing out what needs to be fixed up before the next draft is ready - in other words there are definite changes to make, but that's writing.

You can see what's happening at, though updates aren't going to be too frequent for a while. Hopefully I can also post a few tidbits here too.