Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Easily Complicated

Why do I do It?

Ok, this is a short one, but basically, I’ve learnt something else about the way I write - I overcomplicate my first draft. I don’t know why I do it or why I think it’s so awesome and exciting to have a million plot points to being with, but I do.

My stories are so chock full of twists and turns that by the time Im about half way through, I’m completely lost. I can’t keep track of people’s secrets and as a result, the characters become inconsistent because they’re randomly forgetting then remembering things (and by “them” I mean “me”, of course).

This brings on a bout of depression when I realise, in order to fix it, I have to go back and scrap a lot of chapters. But once I get started, it’s a real weight off my shoulders. Not having to keep track of the plot allows me to tell the story. A complicated plot can take over like nobodies business, leaving little down time for the characters, and when that happens, you just have them jumping from one plot point to the next. Everything is chaotic, things are forever tense and it’s more about the action than the reaction.

Suddenly my characters don’t even seem like real people anymore, just catalysts, and I hate that most of all; losing my connections with them, and lord knows if I lose it, the readers will too.
And so, for my next WIP, before jumbling up my story like an unsolvable mystery, Ill bare in mind that it’s not just the plot that carries the story, it’s the characters too!


Wednesday, 23 April 2014

April Fools Series

The Amazing Adventures of Demlot

2

Mount Pullay

As with all great adventures, a quest was due, and of course, a group of heroes to go with it.

‘You can’t take on such a Jhob by yourself, Owen,’ said King Manijur. ‘You need people. You need help. You must create a team and be their gallant leader.’

‘I don’t know if I have it in me to be a team leader,’ said Owen, buckling a saddle onto his flea bitten horse - the only great horse the Kingdom of Now Here had to offer. It even smelt a bit. ‘And where am I finding a team of people willing to take on a Jhob of nine to five?’

‘Don’t worry, O, I’ve personally put together a list of people and given you items that will sway them into joining you. Take this.’

Owen took the small leather bound handbook from Manijur, opening it to cast his eyes over a map, some names and way too many instructions. ‘These are all the places I have to go to?’

Manijur nodded. ‘Yes, but don’t worry,’ he patted Owen’s horse, ‘you have Triton Ferado Lester with you.’

‘That’s its name?’

‘It’s a mouthful, I know, so we call him TFL for short. He has a thing for eating oysters and he’s a little unreliable but better than nothing, right?’

Owen frowned. ‘Oooookay…’

‘Now, I’m giving you a bag of gold to go with your items,’ said Manijur.

‘So who am I meeting up with first?’

‘Ah…’ Manijur poked the map. ‘The first member is the champion of Mount Pullay.’

‘But Mount Pullay is deserted,’ said Owen, ‘there’s nothing up there.’

‘Nothing but the games master Christophski Christopherson; an entertainer of the Mount Pullay coliseum. His brilliance was so great that nothing could challenge him, except boredom. Watching someone win all the time gets boring, and soon the coliseum became an attraction no one was interested in.’

‘Like here?’ asked Owen.

‘Yeah all right, don’t rub it in... But yes, like here. Mount Pullay’s fate may be ours if we’re not quick to make a legend out of you, and these heroes are not easy to catch. So you must leave now.’

Owen hopped onto his horse.

‘Owen, I want you to be the very best,’ said Manijur, ‘like no one ever was, to catch them is your real test, and to train them is your cause.’

‘Fine, I’ll travel across the lands, searching far and wide….’

And yet, despite the encouragement the Pokémon theme tune imbued them with, Owen knew difficult times lay ahead, so difficult that you could say it was almost probably definitely impossible. Still, he bid Manijur farewell and headed out into the mostly unexplored lands of a world I clearly forgot to name.

***

At first, the journey was not at all treacherous. The only problem Sir Owen Demlot had was with TFL; the horse would either move too quick, refuse to move on time, or worse, throw him off if not fed expensive oysters at every stop. Owen was sure Manijur could’ve given him something better, but it was too late for requests. Mount Pullay was in his sights.

Travellers pointed Owen in the right direction, but on reaching the ghost town on the mountain, he was unprepared for its eerie silence and decaying buildings.TFL’s hooves clopped along the cobbled roads, seeming to echo, and wind whistled through abandoned houses that were now homes to the beasts of the wood. Shining eyes watched Owen from the shadows and he hoped they weren’t the eyes of bandits, for Manijur hadn’t given man a shank, still.

On reaching a desolate farm, TFL rose up, shifted about and then stopped. Owen pulled on the reigns, thinking nothing of it, but then the horse rose for a second time and backed off from the rustling hay. Owen squinted at the pointed hood of a cloak moving through the yellow stalks. ‘Oi!’ he yelled. ‘Who’s that?’

‘Oi yourself,’ a gruff voice replied, belonging to the hobbling frame of an old man and his cane.

‘Do you live here?’ asked Owen.

‘Me and the shadows of old times past,’ said the man, removing his hood to reveal a withered face and eyes clouded by cataracts. ‘Why are you passing through here?’

‘I’m looking for the coliseum of Mount Pullay,’ said Owen.

‘What for?’

‘To recruit a Christophski Chri - ’

The old man interrupted with hacking coughs of laughter. ‘What do you want with him?!’

Owen’s grip tightened on the reigns. ‘None of your business, you old raison.’

‘Well, you won’t find him in the coliseum, that thing has almost crumbled to dust. Christophski lives in the barracks where all the other soldiers once lived; the station just before the peak.’

‘And how do I find it?’ asked Owen. ‘Head straight up?’

The old man nodded. ‘Keep going until you pass the Pullay Inn, then you’ll see the old Pullay cathedral. Past that you’ll come across the cracked road leading to the coliseum, but ignore it and go left to the barracks, and there you’ll find the Pullay station.’

‘And he lives in the Pullay station?’

‘All day erry day!’ said the old man in a dialect completely out of place for a fantasy story set in a world where the stereotypical speech of a black man from an American ghetto is highly unlikely to exist. ‘Christophski never leaves the Pullay station. It’s his life.’

‘What does he do there?’ asked Owen.

‘He plays games, my friend…plays games…’ said the old man, disappearing back into the dry grass after having served his purpose as an information pot.

And so, Sir Owen Demlot continued through the mountain town, making his way to the Pullay station.



A Pre-apocalyptic Dystopian Part 4&5

(I’m going to talk about this 1988 cartoon about a bunch of kids that have to overcome abandonment, death, poverty, racism, flesh-eaters and quite literally the end of the world. If that sounds like the kind of cartoon you’d like to watch, please do because I’m about to reveal some major spoilers. And by reveal/spoilers, I mean break down the whole movie.)

The Land Before Time 
Part IV: Faith is Fallible


Here is where The Land Before Time stays true to dystopians. The characters. I last talked about Cera, and look, I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: she's a bitch.
Although, as bad as she was, she sure as hell didn’t fall into any of those typical female tropes. Borderline fearless, she did a lot by herself. The part where she treks off into the darkness to find the Great Valley alone is equal parts brave and stupid. But is it? I want to say Cera is ignorant and naive, but hey, she knows her world far better than I do. 

And that’s the difference between her and Littlefoot. He’s overly optimistic and sometimes too full of faith while Cera is a pessimist and often a selfish hard-head.

Cera and Littlefoot are warring wannabe leaders. Things are painted pretty clearly here in terms of who’s “good” and who’s “bad”, but what’s not so clear is who’s right and who’s wrong. The good guys in a dystopian are often grey or ruthlessly protective. Littlefoot is good through and through, but that goodness means little when his overwhelming faith causes him to deny any negative possibilities, and you can’t defend against something you refuse to acknowledge.

So what do we learn from this? You can’t always trust the “good” guy because their faith might just get you killed.

Littlefoot is certain Sharptooth is dead and his failure to accept the off-chance that he’s wrong results in the group almost getting eaten in their sleep. He also underestimates just how far the Great Valley is, leading the group up a cliff to “sanctuary” only to be met by more barren wastelands. On top of that, under the weight of his diminishing hope and Cera’s unfair jibe about his mother, he loses his cool and strikes her. 

video

Unwilling to compromise or have someone challenge his rule, he pushes onward and expects the others to follow, but too many hiccups and the group have lost faith in him. It’s a poignant moment. We know Littlefoot is going in the right direction because his mother gave him instructions and so far those “sign posts” have popped up, but his friends don’t know for sure and even he’s not sure. Good guys might mean well though that doesn’t mean they always know what they’re doing, nor do they always know how to rally people’s hope in them.

And the only reason the pack return to Littlefoot is because Cera leads them into the deadly tar pits and can't keep an eye on her team. So really, it’s a case of picking the best of two evils. Littlefoot could still be leading them nowhere, but at least they’d live longer with him...just about.



The Land Before Time 
Part V: Endings can Suck


Before Don Bluth disappeared somewhat, he had a thing for making movies that dealt with hopelessness. The Land Before Time, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West and even Titan A.E which again follows the theme of extinction. Watership Down and Plague Dogs both have a similar feel although those are undoubtedly more adult movies. By the end of these films you’re happy for their temporary happiness (if there is any) but at the same time you’re secretly wondering if all is going to pan out well.

What other trials and tribulations are waiting for Littlefoot and co.? Well, thirteen other questionable movies and then a bigger f**king comet, that’s what, but for now…it’s all good.

The ending kept the dystopian themes of defeat, death and depression. It has its Deux Ex Machina copout moment, but not before letting you know that, in actual fact, Littlefoot did indeed give up. It just so happened he did so around the corner from his desired destination, and even then there’s no saying that had his ghostly mother not intervened, he may have died just outside of it. (Doubt it though.)

video

But as bleak as this movie was, a defeatist attitude isn’t something it’s trying to promote. It’s actually into all the hope and love and unity that most Disney films are into, I suppose it just has a different approach. I like that it really shows Littlefoot’s depression and inability to accept his mother’s death. Again, that’s his flaw, remember? Too much faith. Had he accepted it sooner he might have caught up to the herd ahead, but he was really busy with that depression; the Great Valley and its luscious promise of green food meant nothing to him now.

And although he and his friends persevere, the ending isn’t perfect. Cera finally meets up with her father, but her mum is nowhere to be seen. Spike’s parents aren’t there either, but to be fair they never were. Littlefoot finds his grandparents, but of course his mother is dead and he never knew his father in the first place. As far as I know, Petrie and Ducky are the only two who complete their family.

Now, there’s lots left to ponder about, like, was Littlefoot delusional or did he really hear his mum’s voice? But instead I’ll cease to wonder and just end things here.


*****

Judith Barsi








Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A Pre-apocalyptic Dystopian Part 2&3

(I’m going to talk about this 1988 cartoon about a bunch of kids that have to overcome abandonment, death, poverty, racism, flesh-eaters and quite literally the end of the world. If that sounds like the kind of cartoon you’d like to watch, please do because I’m about to reveal some major spoilers. And by reveal/spoilers, I mean break down the whole movie.)

The Land Before Time
Part II: Diversity isn’t Hate


Another common trope in so many dystopians is to have difference clans, classes or species that are separated by their “worth”.

On Littlefoot’s first mini adventure, he meets another dinosaur. A triceratops. It’s here he learns about “racism”, if you like. Though not a racism born out of hatred, but more, it seems, out of some unspoken convenience. There’s no class or race system going on, other dinosaurs simply stay out of one another’s way, and again, it’s just the way things are. The flyers fly, the swimmers swim, the rest walk; there’s room for interrelation though through lack of it, they remain segregated. 

video

There’s some unique bigotry from Cera and her father, but nothing that says: they are different so let’s hate them/enslave them/keep them down - something that most dystopians are saturated with, including my own. The Land Before Time shows that in order to be a dystopian, the characters need not be heavily impacted by different classes, races or ethnic groups all the time.



The Land Before Time
Part III: Kids arent Weak


On another one of Littlefoot’s walks away from home, he meets Sharptooth (T-Rex), and immediately after that, there’s a great Earthshake (Earthquake). Tectonic plates are crashing together, volcanoes are erupting and dinosaurs across the land are falling to their deaths. 

The first few times I watched this I already knew what was coming, but after a while, I started to notice things I hadn’t noticed before. Things that weren’t explicitly mentioned but definitely shown if you paid attention. For Littlefoot, things get really bad when, after the earthquake, his mother succumbs to the wounds she gained fighting T-Rex.

We know about death. Littlefoot doesn’t. We learn this after he mistakes his own shadow for his mother. Again, the narrator speaks, explaining how Littlefoot spends an unspecified amount of time being depressed. The only thing he has to sooth him are the words of a roaming old-timer called Rooter (also the voice of the narrator and a possible polacanthus), who educates Littlefoot on the circle of life.

video

And despite Rooter being placed in this film to help soften the blow of death, I also saw a coldness in it, because straight after, as you can see, old Rooter leaves Littlefoot in the wastelands. And this isn’t the only example of abandonment. When Littlefoot goes on to meet his future long term buddies, we learn their parents abandoned them too.

After the earthquake, we see Cera again - the triceratops Littlefoot was caught playing with earlier. She and her father have found themselves on opposite sides of a canyon and they’re both calling to one another. By the time Littlefoot meets her, Cera is wondering the arid wastelands alone...

The same must have happened for Petrie, a pterodactyl who hasn’t yet learnt to fly. During the earthquake, it looks as though Petrie’s whole family took to the skies and continued their migration without him. Ducky, a saurolophus, says she lost her family and has no idea what happened to them, and then Spike, a stegosaurus who can’t speak, is still found in his egg; his parents most likely dead as you never see them throughout the entire film.

Usually, in worlds where things have gone to shit, children are depicted as being pure or innocent. The Road (one of my fave books) likens this "purity" to something God-like. Here, these kids were born walking, and it’s that defining moment where Cera shuns the chance of company to wander into the shadows alone that you realise, yeah…these kids are pretty tough.

video

Monday, 21 April 2014

A Pre-apocalyptic Dystopian Part 1

The Land Before Time
Part I: Nature is Danger

(I’m going to talk about this 1988 cartoon about a bunch of kids that have to overcome abandonment, death, poverty, racism, flesh-eaters and quite literally the end of the world. If that sounds like the kind of cartoon you’d like to watch, please do because I’m about to reveal some major spoilers. And by reveal/spoilers, I mean break down the whole movie.)


That’s right, today I’m going to talk about this 1988 cartoon about a bunch of kids that have to overcome abandonment, death, poverty, racism, flesh-eaters and quite literally the end of the world. If that sounds like the kind of cartoon you’d like to watch, please do because I’m about to reveal some major spoilers. And by reveal/spoilers, I mean break down the whole movie.

I’ll start by saying the reason I’m so enamoured with this cartoon, despite having seen it many times as a child, has to do with two things I’ve gained as an adult: A deep love for how people handle adversity and the fact that I’m a parent.
Watching this as a child, adventure often sprung to mind. Things were thrown at these kids but only to bring on adventure, surely. Now I see all the bleakness, flawed protagonists and downright unforgiving setting. I’ll explain.

The story starts with the narrator setting the scene, and the scene as we know it is really the early extinction of dinosaurs. The narrator isn’t specific about this but he talks of dinosaurs (all kinds) being ruled by “the leaf”, which is dying out. He doesn’t say why this is happening though we could assume it’s the result of a deep impact. The theory is that this meteor killed off a lot of vegetation with its collision alone, on top of that, it might have sent so much dust into the atmosphere that it blocked out the sun, further reducing the growth of greenery.

Actual meteor impact crater (presumably the same one that helped wipe out the dinosaurs).
So, after this depressing intro, we are introduced to herds of migrating herbivores searching for a pocket of unaffected land known as the Great Valley. These herds stop periodically to hatch their young, and it’s here we meet our main character; Littlefoot. I always thought Littlefoot was a diplodocus, turns out he’s an apatosaurus/brontosaurus, so yeah, I learnt something today.

The narrator goes on to explain that even birth is dangerous - and he’s not joking. For a short moment (which isn’t shown again) we see Littlefoot’s egg surrounded by what would have been his brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, despite his career’s keen eyes, they have failed to protect their young from the fatal dangers the planet has on offer. In short, all their eggs bar one have been destroyed, so already, the odds are stacked against our Littlefoot.

Now, in most of the dystopians I’ve read or watched, the setting is harsh and disagreeable, but this is often due to some distasteful society. When it’s not that, it’s something post-apocalyptic and you tend to find the characters reminiscing about times long past while desperately trying to maintain their humanity and regain that once “safe” society.

The Land Before Time, however, is pre-apocalyptic. There was no calm before the storm. Most of the hardships they face have been the same for years. Their dictator and tyrannical ruler is nature, something they are incapable of changing. This is prevalent throughout in that they are not going up against this unbeatable antagonist, but merely trying to find a safe haven within it. This in itself is sad as we know that a majority of these dinosaur species will lose out to their inevitable extinction.

As my brother pointed out, dystopians often rely heavily on comparisons. The characters usually strive for something better because they know of something better, be it dreams of the past, the lives of the rich or an underground vigilante group aware of some unspoken truth. The only negative and positive in this movie is starvation verse a place with food. Every other threat is standard and a way of life. The carnivore is as much of an “antagonist” to Littlefoot as Littlefoot is an “antagonist” to plants.

Littlefoot’s world has nothing to do with the government, monarchy or any form of hierarchy. Things just have a tendency to sway in any direction at any time. Initially, there’s nothing to defeat and therefore nothing to change, life merely goes on and this candid realisation of their existence is shown repeatedly in the way Littlefoot’s mother handles his upbringing.

video


But the dangers of her world are so strikingly different from ours that you question how she could ever let him out of her sight in the first place. But again, this is just “the way”. It’s just life. Yes, it’s dangerous, but Littlefoot knows that, everyone knows that, so don’t you wander too far now…


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

April Fools

Two years ago a mate of mine set up a group on whatsapp. This group contains my most treasured peeps. So this April Fools I decided to dedicate a story to them. I don't know how long it will go on for (of if it will go on at all!) as there's no real plan to this but here goes Chapter One. I haven't edited it to the max, so you have been warned...

I Give You!!! 

The Amazing Adventures of Demlot

1

The Kingdom of Now Here

There once was a time - not early, not late, not yesterday or anytime up to date - where the Kingdom of Now Here was as present in everyone’s minds as these here words. It was the place to be; a land full of joy and excitement, colour and wonder. It was the place the people travelled far and wide to reach. It was the place people looked upon with awe and said things like, ‘Isn’t it great that we’re now here, Bob?’

To which Bob would surely reply. ‘Yes, unspecified, unnamed guy. It is.’

But after a century of all that lark, monotony began to set in. The colours of the Kingdom started to look washed-out, and all the things that used to be exciting had been seen before. The fantastic markets were no longer full of wonder. The fairs and sights were tacky and the Knights and the acts in the Coliseum were boring.

The Kingdom had turned into a one hit wonder overnight and proved to all that Now Here wasn’t great with spontaneity or innovation.

As more time went on (time being a relevant and ongoing theme due to lack of world building) people often mused about the Kingdom and said things like, ‘What do you think of this place, Bob?’

To which Bob would most definitely say, ‘What? The Kingdom of Nowhere?!’

And then they would laugh all jolly-like, much to the residents disappointment, and soon enough, the Kingdom of Now Here turned into a septic place of blame and debauchery - as do all things when they are hated and made fun of. And it’s after this much needed exposition, that Sir Owen Demlot steps in.

It is here that the story begins.

***

From a young age, Owen Demlot always had adventure in his heart. Why, maybe even amazing adventures. But the Kingdom of Now Here offered very little opportunity for such events. Still, this didn’t stop him searching, and search he did. Over time - key word here - Owen gradually began to make a name for himself, helping all those in need. He was especially known for beheading the Wolf of the Grey Wood, the same wolf that decimated one farmer’s flock of sheep in a killing spree. But this hardly pleased Owen.

This was no adventure.

So when he was called to King Manijur’s Court, he prayed his prayers had been answered, even if that actually made no sense. He strode across the black stone floor of the castle, his soft shoes barely making a sound against the granite... Granite. Stone. Same thing.

The beady eyes of the Kings advisors watched and judged him. The men would turn to one another, whispering their doubt, their voices adding to the cold breeze that whistled through the cracks of the castle.

Finally, Owen’s feet touched the red carpet that ran up to the King’s throne and each of the advisors fell silent, shrinking back behind their pillars. Owen kneeled.

The King nodded. ‘Rise,’ he said, then waved a hand at his advisors. ‘I need you not! Be gone!’

At his demand, the men scuffled away, dragging their heavy red robes behind them.

The moment the door to the throne room closed, Owen’s shoulders fell and he relaxed with a sigh.

As did King Manijur. ‘Oh man.’ He removed his crown and ruffled his brown hair. ‘How you doing, O? Sorry about all that. Gotta keep up appearances.’

‘Yeah, it’s cool,’ said Owen. ‘So what’s up?’

‘Ah, a few things.’ Manijur stood and left his throne, passing Owen with a friendly fist bump. The two had known one another for years. Played in the mud as kids. Dreamed of a future in their adolescence. Succumbed to their fate as adults. One a King. One a commoner.

Owen took up Manijur’s place and sat in his throne, stroking the red velvet arm rests. ‘You are proper kitted out, Manny. Why do you look so bored?’

‘It’s hard running this place. It’s like building a castle with dry sand.’

‘Yup.’ Owen laughed. ‘The place is dry…’

Manijur ambled over to the balcony. ‘Come, lemme show you something.’

Owen hopped off the throne and followed his friend. From the balcony, the Kingdom of Now Here displayed its dullness. Beggars played off-key music for change, drunkards yelled at passers-by and there was a familiar yet rancid smell to tobacco smoke and piss.

King Manijur lifted a scroll from between two plant pots in the corner of the balcony. ‘Check this…’

‘What is it?’ asked Owen.

‘An old map, apparently. Found in the gold mines to the east.’

‘How’d you get your hands on it?’

Manijur unrolled the brown paper. ‘It was given to my great, great grandfather and has been passed down for generations. Look, it has every Kingdom on it, including ours…and this darkish area here.’

‘Whoa.’ Owen jerked back in surprise. ‘Looks like a main plot to the story.’

‘I agree,’ said Manijur. ‘And we’re right, too. I’ve done my research and it turns out to be the resting place of a beast.’

They glanced at one another.

‘What kind of beast?’ asked Owen.

‘A powerful one.’

‘How powerful?’

‘Well, as you know,’ said Manijur, as if Owen didn’t know and that there was, in fact, some other kind of unseen audience that needed to know, ‘all beasts in our world are rated in power on a scale of one to ten, ten being the lowest. But with this beast, no one has seen it and come back alive. I dunno if it kills with brute force or wit, but people have guesstimated its power could range from anywhere as high as five, but no lower than nine.’

‘Wow. What’s the beast called?’ asked Owen.

‘It’s called…’ Manijur looked up slowly. ‘The Jhob. And it lives in the dark lands of Wo’ark.’

‘A Jhob with the power of nine to five?’ said Owen. ‘This shit be serious. So why did you call me here? You didn’t call me to…’

‘Yes, O.’ Manijur nodded. ‘I need you to go to Wo’ark.’

‘I can’t. I can’t go to Wo’ark.’

‘You can, O. I believe in you. You can do this.’

Owen shook his head. ‘No way. Wo’ark? Nine to five?’

‘I’ll pay you,’ said Manijur. ‘I’ll pay you much higher than the minimum.’

‘No. I can’t do it.’ Owen coughed into his fist. ‘I’m feeling sick today, anyway.’

‘There’s no time for sick days, Owen.’ Manijur rolled up the scroll and looked to the sky. ‘If we want to put this Kingdom back on the map, if we want this place bristling with business once again, you need to go.’

‘For real?’

‘Yes.’ He clamped a hand on Owen’s shoulder. ‘I need you to do what everyone else in this Kingdom has been too afraid to do. I need you to get the Jhob and go to Wo’ark.’

‘Wait. Don’t you mean go to Wo’ark and the Jhob?’

‘Yeah, sorry. I meant that.’

Owen dropped to his knees in an over exaggerated dramatic fashion and finished the chapter with a traditional: ‘Noooooooooooo!’


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