Tag: Influences

The Strange Thing About Stranger Things

stranger-things-bannerIf you’ve been anywhere near Facebook the last month or so you have probably heard about one of the greatest things to come to TV in a long time. Subscribers of Netflix have had the pleasure of watching a short 8 episode trip through the rabbit hole called Stranger Things. I’ll say now it is as good as you have heard. Just go watch it.

The strange thing my title is referring to is why aren’t there more shows like this? Not necessarily Sci-Fi, but shows that do everything right, story setting, acting and pace. In 8 episodes the writers and actors of Stranger Things managed to do what some shows couldn’t do in 24. And yet, this isn’t coming from a major network, but a video streaming service. Let that sink in. Would the brain trusts that run ABC, NBC, Fox or CBS have guts to give something like this a shot. Oh I’m sure now you’ll see an armful of shows in the not too distant future that will ape Stranger Things because that is what the heads of programing at these networks think people want.

Still, the point I am trying to make is, whether it is TV, Music, or Books, the next big sensation always seems to come from out of nowhere from the least likely place. This gives me hope, not just for my writing finding a home, but for the content that I love to consume. I don’t want the same reheated signed off on by focus groups stuff. I want epic earth moving content that is on the edge, makes me think, and even more makes me want to write. So thank you Netflix, you made my summer, as many I’m sure, will be remembering this as the summer of Stranger Things.

Advice From a Master

H.P. LovecraftThis post came across my Facebook Newsfeed from the Lovecraft eZine.

H.P. Lovecraft’s Advice to Aspiring Wirter’s, 1920

Lovecraft’s first point is the recognition of what judicious reading can do for the aspiring author. I would go so far to say that if you consider yourself a writer but right now are not in the middle of a book or just starting one you obviously do not care very much about your style. There is no magic potion, no book, conference or class that gives you all the skills you need to write a great piece. You must assimilate all that you can. That does not mean just literary works or even works of impeccable style. You need to learn what not to do as well. Just shut up and read.

Another important tip is the one about finding your muse in nature. To make your writing really stand out it needs to come alive. You need to infuse it with all manner of description, sights, sounds, smells, that will draw the reader in. No matter where you are you should tune yourself to the surroundings, make a mental note of what you see and smell and anything that stands out as you can and will find a place for it in your work. The same goes for people watching. I love going to Las Vegas. I don’t drink, party in clubs, gamble (maybe a little), but I love sitting in the casinos and malls watching the people who go by. Who are they? Where did they come from? What do they like, dislike? How do they live? These people are all potential characters if you pay attention.

At the end Lovecraft gives us a list of the 20 most common errors he comes across from aspiring writers. So here the guides and attention to grammar do come in. The rules exist not to thwart creativity but to allow it to spread and reach others. You cannot make a reader love your story but you can make them hate it if your style fails to convey to the reader, in the most efficient way possible, the story you are telling. We all learn a little from those we look up to, even when we are not expecting it.

 

Essential Listening for Writers

imagesNormally you see essential listening lists for music lovers but I wanted to call out some songs that I have found very conducive to good writing. Growing up, music was a big part of who I was and continue to be. Even before I started playing the guitar I had a love of music. I always found in music a means of escape from what was going on around me. Music sparked my imagination and brought me to unique places. It was those thoughts that led me to think about some of the songs that had inspired and nudged my imagination the most. So in no particular order here is my list of songs all writers should give a listen to.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Harts Club Band (Album) by the Beatles

We should get this one out of the way right now. If you want music to take you someplace you’ve never been this is one album to do it. Listen to it in order and see how the story unfolds. The beauty of it is it is not necessarily the story anyone else may hear.

Aerial Boundaries by Michael Hedges

This acoustic stunner is the first track of his second release. It is all instrumental but the dynamics between loud and soft high pitched and deep bass create a great sense of movement and flow. The track balances the two perfectly and I know I often strive to balance the opposing elements in my works with the same care.

Meeting Across the River by Bruce Springsteen

This may be one of the lesser listened to tracks on Born to Run but after just one listen I was hooked. I could instantly picture this person. Think about that the next time you struggle with a character that doesn’t seem to come alive.

It’s Because of Me by Robert Cray

Blues is music that tells a story. The greatest blues songs took that to heart. This song tells the story of love gone bad and what it is like being the awkward third leg of a love triangle that has flown apart. Love and anxiety collide in this one.

Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf

My favorite tune off Meatloaf’s breakout album. This is a story of breaking out and breaking through. Just when the hero seems broken and down for the count he climbs back up and makes that one last drive for freedom, redemption, rebirth, all of the above.

Harvest (Album) by Neil Young

What I love about this album is the way it tells the story of a man coming to acceptance of his age. Time can be a lot of things but one thing it rarely is is kind. Harvest puts to music the realization that one must age and accept what comes of it.

Jungleland by Bruce Springsteen

Okay so we have another track off Born to Run. For me this song symbolizes the change in Rock music’s audience. Where Rock-n-Roll was once the music of teenagers, whose biggest worry was the school prom, as the decades slipped by that audience grew older with the music. In the sixties the audience was in college expanding their minds and fighting for new territory. Now the year is 1975, the rock and roller is out in the world trying to get by with a job, responsibilities but still longing for the fun of a Saturday night.

Tommy (Album) by The Who

Without a doubt Pete Townsend was a huge influence on me as a guitar player and a writer. His first full length rock opera has it all, character, conflict, resolution and revolution. How could you go wrong with characters like Uncle Ernie, The Acid Queen, Pinball wizard and cousin Kevin? Topping it all is Tommy, the deaf, dumb and blind boy who experiences mental, physical and sexual abuse and comes to a spiritual awakening only to face the ultimate rejection.

So there you have it. I am sure I am missing a few songs. As I said these aren’t just a list of favorites of mine but songs that I think could serve as a springboard for thoughts and ideas. I know my writing has been infused by them and will continue to be. Give them a listen and listen to some of your favorite songs and see what elements you can pull from them to improve your writing.

My Thoughts on Atlas Shrugged

atlasI finally finished reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. As I said in my Goodreads review it was a very long read, but I could not bring myself to abandoning it. For me when a book is too long I find myself losing interest in the characters first. That did not happen here. While many of the characters were idealizations of people within the world of the book they made sense to me. I have to wonder if in toady’s publishing environment would a work with such characters find success.

The other reason for reading Atlas is of course the philosophy behind it. I decided to take the plunge after playing the video game Bioshock. The undersea world of rapture is full of references to the work. Also, despite it’s age, Atlas Shrugged is very relevant in our current political environment. It was very interesting to see people with the best of intentions come to defeat simply by relying solely on those intentions to provide for them. We have no analog in the world for Hank Rearden and his miraculous metal. Well, maybe Apple would have us believe their iPhone is one such product. But what if we did? Could the government allow such a monopoly to exist? Never mind the question of should. This would be the ultimate test of our resolve to the ideals of Capitalism.

Many people are angry with our current government. Flashing back to my seventh grade social studies class I remember that we are the government, so is this anger just misplaced? Going just one step further, how should the government appease that anger? In the book the government took the steps of equalizing production and even taking over Rearen’s metal. Yet that did not solve anything. Is the lesson that we cannot rely on the government to solve our problems? What does it say about us as individuals should we want to let government solve all our problems? I cannot help but think about the current debate on gun control. Now I have heard everything from rational arguments to, “I really think they are looking for you back at the home,” arguments and still do not think that progress is being or can be made.  There again when we rely on the solution to come from outside of the individual we court disaster or at the very least failure. If the wrong solution is enacted would it take, “stopping the engine of the the world,” as John Galt did?

I really would have hated having to have to read this book. It is the kind of thing that for me was best approached or rather discovered on my own. The writing has inspired me and given me all sorts of ideas. The philosophy has even given me something more to think about. I suppose you can’t expect much more than that. If you have the stamina I would recommend you find a copy.

Superheroes Rule

Marvel's Avengers courtesy of forevergeek.comI caught the matinee showing of The Avengers this weekend. I was glad to see the hype is well deserved and then some. Then again as a fan of Joss Whedon I had high hopes and figured I wouldn’t be let down. I don’t want to send this post going on about the movie. Instead I wanted to talk about superheroes and what we can learn about our own characters.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and we see them regularly in our day to day lives one some level or another. Is it any wonder that the superhero resonates so strongly? People have an innate sense of justice and a need to see wrongs righted. It’s just that suoerheroes do it with such flair. Whether you hang your tights in the DC or Marvel closets you can be sure your hero is always ready to dispense some justice. But there is another reason these characters entertain so much.

I often struggle with finding ways to make my characters more memorable. I do everything I can to make them appear real and human but at the same time I would like them to have that something different.  It doesn’t have to be super powers, though those can be fun. What makes for a memorable character is what also makes a great superhero; flaws. Drama is what makes characters memorable and where there is drama there are flawed characters. As you learn to use those flaws, not for the story’s sake but for your readers’, you create memorable characters. Sure most people do not become hulking green monstrosities but everyone does know what it is like to have to keep one’s temper in check.  No matter what your characters do in your story they will resonate the most with readers by their struggle to overcome their flaws. That is the lesson I have learned from superheroes.

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The Tangled Web of Copyright

I came across this article from the Smashwords Blog in my Twitter feed. I think it opens up an interesting discussion on the role and intent of copyright versus the reality of it. More than that I think it shows how influences can reveal themselves in unexpected ways.

One of my favorite bands is the English group The Cure. The song of thier’s that really hooked me was Charlotte Sometimes. Here is a clip of them performing it. What I didn’t know was that it is based on an English Children’s novel of the same name written by Penelope Farmer. I never knew about the book but you can bet I am seeking a copy out. You can read the blog post here and I recommend you read the two included posts from Penelope Farmer.

I have been asked and I have read questions from writers asking about filing a copyright. All work is automatically under coyright and only becomes an issue when theft occurs. So, after reading the above articles I really have to wonder how best to define theft. To my knowledge nothing I have every written has been turned into a song. I would be thrilled if that was the case. The same goes for a movie or play. The real question I have is, would I recognize such a work as being influenced by my writing or stolen from my writing? I would like to think it would be the former and not the latter. Then again I may be funny like that.

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