Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Extreme Villains


So, I've just finished reading City of Lost Souls, book five of the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare (better than four, not as good as the first three) and it got me thinking about villains.

Sebastian is, to my mind, quite an extreme villain. By that, I mean, that he just wants something without any particular reason behind it. It is suggested in this book that he just wants to watch the world burn. Why? Because that's what he wants. It's not some sense of injustice, or revenge, or even that he's been brainwashed. I'm sure some people would argue that he wants the world to burn because his father did, but those people are wrong. Valentine had similar plans, yes, but his goals were different.

Sebastian doesn't really seem to have a goal, and there doesn't appear to be anything that drives him. And it doesn't work. Those facts keep him from being menacing. It's like he might try to destroy the world today, but tomorrow he might decide to try his hand at breakdancing. The only creepy thing about him was that he wanted to have sex with his sister, and I kind of saw that one coming (though for the sake of my sanity, we will not be poking at that bear).

It got me thinking about other extreme villains. I came up with two types - the type who want to take over the world, and the type who want to destroy it.

Lord Voldemort wanted to take over the world (I assume this is the case, though the fact that he concentrated all his efforts on the UK is a little strange) but he had his reasons. He hated muggle-borns and half-bloods because he hated his muggle father, and really, I think that's where it all started with him. Sure, he has countless other aims and hatreds and what have you, but his self-loathing is a huge part of his personality and subsequently, his villainy.

Then consider the Joker from the Batman franchise. (I'm sorry, I was thinking about/writing this at 3am and couldn't think of a suitable villain from a book.) In Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, Alfred said of the Joker, "Some men just want to watch the world burn." We had no idea why the Joker wanted to see the world burn, any explanation of his scars and his past were unreliable at best, and yet, that worked. That's what made him menacing. He simply didn't care about anything. He would do anything, he was completely unpredictable. And that's scary.

I think the difference is that the Joker is a character from a comic book, a place where we expect extremes of character. The perfect hero, the truly evil villain. It is a world painted as being different from our own, even set in the fictional city of Gotham, and so the realities, the restraints of our world are not forced upon it. In another world, a villain doesn't have to have a purpose or a motive. He can simply exist. The same applies to the world of Harry Potter. The characters occupy the same physical space as we do, but it is another world all the same. The muggles and the wizards are kept separate.

In the Mortal Instruments, however, the two worlds are in constant interaction. The mundane world may not know about the Shadowhunters, but they are a constant presence. They save their lives, they protect them from the forces of evil. And I think maybe that's why Sebastian doesn't work as a villain here, because he doesn't fit the world. The Mortal Instruments takes place, really, in our world. In our world, villains need certain things that Sebastian doesn't have, and so he appears hollow. Two dimensional, at best.



Tuesday, 25 September 2012

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Karou is a seventeen-year-old with aquarmarine hair who attends art school in Prague. She also runs errands for the demonic creature called Brimstone, who collects teeth in exchange for wishes. She has no idea who she is or where she came from, all she has ever known is Brimstone's shop, but when the black handprints start appearing on the doors, Karou realises that her whole world is about to change.

I really wanted to like this book. It started off so well, I absolutely loved it. I meant to read one chapter before going to bed, but ended up reading about ten. It was amazing, I haven't read anything so magically-written since The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (this wasn't that good, but it was close). But then...ugh. It starts off being all about Karou, at least the first-third is all about Karou, but then it switches and starts to fill us in on Akiva's background. And that's when my interest started to wane. I didn't like Akiva, I didn't care about his past and I certainly wasn't interested in reading about his view of the world. When we were finally finished with that stuff, I thought we were going to get back to the story, except we didn't. We started to find out about Karou's past as well. And that, while a little more interesting than Akiva's past, had a very strange effect on the book for me. I stopped liking Karou. Knowing her past spoilt the character for me, I've never had anything like that happen before. And it's a shame, because the start of the book was so good.

There's a second book (actually, it's a trilogy, but I don't think the third one's out yet) and I'm in two minds about whether or not I should get it. On the one hand, the book was great when it was about a story and not just backstory, I can't help thinking that the second book should be all story now that we know the backstory. On the other hand, I don't like Karou anymore. I don't really want to read any more about her, I've stopped caring. So I don't really know what to do, or whether I would recommend this book. I think the writing is stunning, it just wasn't a good fit for me. I've never seen a review by someone else who said they didn't like it, so I guess it's just me.



SAVAGES

So, last night I went to see Savages, the new Oliver Stone movie (apparently that's a big deal, although I've got to admit I'd never heard of him before a couple of weeks ago). And it was weird. Really weird, but not in a bad way.

Basically, two pot-dealers get caught up with a big Mexican drug cartel who want to buy their business. When things don't go exactly as planned, the cartel kidnap their shared girlfriend to force the guys to do as they want. Chaos ensues. They want their girlfriend back, she definitely wants out of the whole hostage situation thing, and it becomes a really interesting story. I can't say much more than that without giving stuff away (I do think you should go and see it knowing as little as possible) but it's not as predictable as I thought it would be by the time we got halfway through.

I wasn't really sure what to expect of this film, drug dealing and killing tend to paint a certain picture but this film didn't meet that picture. I was expecting dark and gritty, when in fact it's sun-drenched and surprisingly light. There's a lot of humour mixed in there, which was a surprise to me. And no, I wasn't the only one in the cinema laughing at it. At the same time, there are some really quite dark subjects in there too, and the mix just works really well. Benicio Del Toro is absolutely terrifying, it's quite something to watch. I don't think I've ever seen him in anything else, so I've never really thought about him as an actor (just the guy who knocked up Rod Stewart's daughter) but he was the stand-out of the film.

There's a lot of talk about the ending of the film, too - seriously, stay away from the IMDB boards and ninety per cent of reviews of the films if you don't want it ruined - and I have to say that I wasn't a huge fan of it. I think there were two other places where it could have ended and been better, but the ending didn't spoil my overall enjoyment of the film, so I guess it's not that big an issue.



Monday, 24 September 2012

30 Days of Books Meme (Part 7)


Day 19 – Favourite book turned into a movie
Okay, so I know I talked about Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk last week too, but I can't help it if some book apply to more than one category. Seriously, this could all have been about Harry Potter if I'd let it. So think about that before you roll your eyes.

I actually saw the film version of Fight Club before I read the book, which is the order that I generally prefer. If I read the book first, I just feel that the film is a poorer version of it and sit there thinking about everything that's been done wrong or omitted. If I see the film first, I can enjoy both because the book is an improvement of the film. And, if I do it that way round, I actually don't mind if the two are totally different, like Neil Gaiman's Stardust, which shares an idea and a couple of characters with the film and not a lot else.

I think Fight Club is actually quite a difficult film to talk about, whether you've seen the film or not. It was like nothing I'd seen before, it was a complete shock to me really, and I loved it. Not only is it a good story, it's so cleverly made, so that you don't realise that you're missing certain bits of information until the characters realise it. You're so drawn in, you're such a part of what's happening, that you can forget you're watching a film and just let it unfold around you.

Day 20 – Favourite romance book
I've never, to my knowledge, actually read a romance novel. Mainly because my understanding of the term "romance novel" is that it basically means "pornography in book form," and I have to have a story. Boy meets and girl and they have a lot of sex, is not a story. I much prefer a romantic element worked into a story, rather than as the whole focus of the book.

That being said, I do enjoy the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton. It started off as a brutally violent vampire series, but everything changed when two of the characters first slept together in - I believe - book six. After that point, there are numerous, very graphic sexual encounters, and often the story takes a backseat. And yet, I still buy them. The story's started to rear its head again recently, with the main character going off on adventure with a group of guys where she's not actually sleeping with any of them, (she's got a dozen different guys on the go at last count, so it's rare for her to be in a room where she hasn't slept with anyone else). I keep reading in the hope that one day, the story will come back for real. But, in the mean time, they're not exactly a dull read.

Day 21 – Favourite book from your childhood
It feels kind of wrong to have these two categories come in succession, but let's just gloss over that and move on.

The Elmer books are the first books I actually remember from my childhood, we even had our own patchwork elephant toy like the one in the photo (that's not actually ours, I haven't seen ours in years). I don't actually really remember the books now, but I loved them. We've always had books around the house, both of my parents are readers, as was my older sister. My younger brother isn't so much (he's going through a graphic novel stage at the moment, but I'm not sure that actually counts as reading) but we've always had books. There are more books in our house than anything else, though most of our children's books are gone now. Which, actually, is a little depressing. I'm one of those people who can't bear to get rid of books, whether by donating, selling or just giving them away. I admit it, I'm a hoarder, but there are worse addictions to have, I suppose.



Saturday, 22 September 2012

ANNA KARENINA

Full disclosure - I've never read the book of Anna Karenina. I've owned a copy for at least a couple of years, and I've never once in that time actually been tempted to pick it up and start reading. Possibly because of the boring cover, but more likely because it's one of those books that you're supposed to read before you die. You know, like War and Peace and 1984 and something by Charles Dickens. I don't like reading books that I'm supposed to like, classics or even more modern stuff because I'm bound to hate it just because I'm supposed to love it.

But I digress. Earlier in the week, I saw the new film adaptation of Anna Karenina, starring Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and a whole host of other British actors that will have you (if you're anything like me) going "Oh, I didn't know so-and-so was in it" all the way through. Seriously, creepy Alice from Luther, Lady Mary from Downton Abbey, Bill Weasley from Harry Potter...the list goes on and on. It might seem weird to you that all these Russian characters are being played by Brits, and during the film it bothered me a little that they were all so very clearly English with the crisp accents to match. However, I've decided that it would have been more distracting if they were all putting on bad Russian accents.

Speaking of distracting, the whole thing is like a stage production. Sets change in the backgrounds, office workers become restaurant waiters by removing their smart jackets to reveal aprons, doors lead from inside a private house to a public ballroom. It's very strange, and at first I found it really distracting, but actually it worked really well. It gave the film a very unique feel, it was like nothing I'd seen before, which was unusual considering it's a classic story full of characters that we're familiar with even if we don't realise it. Of course, the staging of it all and the theatre aspect is a metaphor for how these people live, but even without that layer, it's very nice to look at.

It's also quite comedic in places, which I really didn't expect. I was expecting the usual grim period drama with pretty dresses, (not criticising - I love that stuff) but it was so much more than that. It's a lot faster paced than you might expect from a period piece, there's quite a lot of humour and it's really very engaging. I've been watching the BBC adaptation of Parade's End recently, and at times I've struggled to follow what's actually happening, but had no such trouble with Anna Karenina.

If you don't like period films or dramas, it's probably safe to say that this film isn't for you. If you do, however, I think you should definitely try to see it. It's a stunning film, and even if you're so familiar with the story that you don't think you could bear to sit through another adaptation, go anyway. The whole way of presenting it is so unlike anything I've seen before that I think it's definitely worth a look. I do stand by my assertion that it should have come out at Christmas, though.



Friday, 21 September 2012

Flashfiction Friday #06: Raw Edges

"People talk about tying up loose ends. You can get people to do that for you. You can get people to deal with all the loose ends in the world, to tie them up nice and neat or cut 'em off at the point they start to fray. It's not hard. Anyone can do it as long as you don't mind getting your hands a little dirty. Dealing with the raw edges on the other hand...well, that's a little harder. That requires a little skill. A little tact. And, of course, getting your hands a little dirtier. Most people won't do that. Even the ones who'll tie up their loose ends, even the ones who'll tie other people's loose ends up, most of them don't want to be getting involved with the raw edges. And that's where I come in.

"I handle raw edges. Families, friends, lovers, co-workers. Usually, when someone gets taken out of their surroundings, when a loose end is tied up, there's collateral damage. Usually, not always, it's always a good day for my bosses when there's no collateral damage, but it's a better day for me when there is. You have to smooth the transition, you see. You have to ease people in. Snap your fingers and someone's gone, but people notice. People always notice. You don't want them running to the police. You don't want them tracking you down. And, honestly, you don't want to hurt them. What's the point? I've never hurt anyone. I've never killed anyone. I help. I'm paid to help. I'm like the grief counsellor these people don't know they're seeing. And if that's a crime...well, then, lock me up."

"Yes, that's all very interesting, but it doesn't answer the question."

"What was the question again?"

"Where were you on the night of August fifth?"



Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Importance of Friendships

Earlier in the week I read this article by Justine Larbalestier, where she talks about the importance of giving protagonists in YA novels proper relationships beyond a love interest - parents, siblings, friends, etc. Not only is it an interesting topic, but she praises the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, so she clearly knows what she's talking about. Nip over and read it, I'll wait.

I have a tendency to limit the number of relationships my main character has. I haven't written a lot of YA (though it's where I'm venturing now) but looking back at everything I've written of a substantial length (I'm talking at least 50,000 words), the parents are either dead or otherwise absent. There are a couple of exceptions, but they're missing more often than not. As for siblings, I have a tendency to bump them off as well. My protagonists are short on friends - sometimes by choice, sometimes by necessity, sometimes because they're just so damn unlikeable.

The thing is, I agree with Justine. These relationships are important, especially in YA, which features teenagers. They're getting to know themselves, and they discover that through their interactions and relationships with other people. With this in mind, I'm re-thinking the novel that I'm about to start writing. It's a YA novel, it features a teenage girl whose parents are alive but mostly absent. The story dictates that she be a bit of a loner, though, and I'm worrying about that. I'm thinking about creating a friend for her, probably a female friend, as all but one of the other characters are male.

Except, I'm concerned. These characters need to be in the story, the protagonist needs them, but you can't just throw together a character to fulfil a job. They need to be a character in their own right, and I don't want to make a hash of it. By keeping the number of characters down, you stand a better chance of making them all unique and interesting and engaging to a reader. I read a quote recently about how your reader should also want to read the stories of the minor characters (if someone knows the full quote and who I can attribute it to, let me know). Boosting the number of characters may help your main character, but it might also result in a bunch of cardboard cut-out characters who make your novel as dull as the back of a cereal box. It's a fine line to walk, but maybe a friend would help my main character. It's just hard to know what she's like when I've decided to create her rather than have her appear naturally.



Monday, 17 September 2012

30 Days of Books Meme (Part 6)


Day 16 – Favourite female character
I love the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld (I even quite like the weird fourth part of the trilogy) and I read a lot about the characters. Westerfeld often talks about how, after writing the books, he realised that the heroine, Tally Youngblood, isn't in fact the hero of the story - it's her best friend, Shay. And a lot of people, it would seem, agree with him.

I'll admit, Shay is more of a natural leader than Tally is. Tally has a tendency to become a bit of a sheep, she's totally in awe of her friend and often follows her rather than deciding what to do for herself. She also gets dragged into a lot of the situations she finds herself in rather than entering them by choice or some kind of action on her part. And yet, Tally's my favourite. I don't really like Shay, I don't know why but I just don't. Maybe it's because the story is told from Tally's POV, but I also felt like I understood her better, like she was more like me. In a way, the fact that she's dumped in difficult situations and forced to figure out a way out of them is something I like. How often in your life do you create a crazy situation and then have to navigate it? Rarely, if ever. How often does shit happen to you and you're forced to deal with it as best you can? Tally is every person on the planet, in that respect, (albeit living in a crazy world) and you know what else? Sometimes she screws up. In fact, most of the time she screws up. Shay, on the other hand? I haven't read the books in a while now, but I can't remember a time when Shay makes a mistake (other than trusting trouble-magnet Tally).

This was a really hard one for me to pick, I spent a lot of time debating whether I liked Hermione Granger or Tally Youngblood more, but I think Tally just has the edge. Who knows, maybe if it had been Hermione Granger and the Philosopher's Stone, she would have won out in this instance, but Tally is a character who I've always felt a strange sort of connection with, and I love her.


Day 17 – Favourite quote(s) from your favourite book(s) 
It's come to my attention that what I believed to be my favourite quote from one of my favourite books, is actually not in the book. Just the film. Well, it might be in the book, but I can't find it and so I'm guessing it isn't.

I'm pretty sure I quote Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk more than any other book. Seriously, I quote it at least a couple of times a month, but I'm starting to doubt whether I'm quoting the book or the movie. I frequently tell people why they drop oxygen masks on planes in the event of an emergency, and why the brace position is putting your head between your legs and your hands over your head. I don't know why my friends are friends with me. Anyway, my favourite quote from this book/movie has got to be in reference to the soap that they're making:

Tyler sold his soap to department stores at $20 a bar. Lord knows what they charged. It was beautiful. We were selling rich women their own fat asses back to them.


Day 18 – A book that disappointed you
I really wanted to like The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt. I really, really did. It was, I now realise, my first step into reading Steampunk, and it's completely put me off the genre. Because it's so, so bad.

Seriously. The first three hundred pages are bad, then it gets brilliant for a hundred pages, and then the last hundred are even worse than the first three. I think the reason I like those hundred pages in the middle so much is because I invented a romantic relationship where there was none between a captor and a prisoner (seriously, it was so dull that I started to invent my own story). The worst part is, because I liked that hundred pages so much, I bought the second book. I really did, and I slogged through it. None of it was as bad as the worst part of Court of the Air, but none of it was as good as the good part either. And you know what? I bought the third one. Which was complete drivel. To this day, I have genuinely no idea what actually happened in those five hundred pages. I only managed to finish it because I was stranded overnight in a Minnesota airport and had literally nothing else to read.

But I have to say, the trilogy looks ever so pretty on my bookshelf, so maybe it's not all bad.



Friday, 14 September 2012

Flashfiction Friday #05: Doll's House

The doll's house in the nursery was an exact replica of the house. The children had never been allowed to play with it, not for generations. It was not a toy. What it was, exactly, nobody had ever been successfully able to explain to a child, but it was certainly not a toy.

It was a classic Victorian house, with pink siding and a white trim. The grey slates were stuck to the roof individually, and each of the balustrades of the fence surrounding the porch were hand-carved. Inside, the furniture was carefully painted and placed to be an exact replica of the house.

When the fire in the study escaped the grate, the carpet of the doll's house was blackened, the ceiling yellowed by the smoke.

When a tree crashed into the roof during a storm, several slates shattered in the doll's tiny bathroom.

When the brutal events of the library occurred, a stain that could never be scrubbed away marred the miniature wooden floor.

Over the years, dolls disappeared, furniture and smaller items broke, and walls changed colours. Perhaps, had the children been allowed to play with the doll's house, they would have noticed something strange. Perhaps they would have discovered the truth in time. Perhaps the tragic events of that night would never have occurred at all.



Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Editing. Redrafting. Editing. Blah.

So yesterday, I started editing my most recent novel. I was supposed to start on Monday, but there was a big bag of Minstrels that kept staring at me and I couldn't concentrate. To my credit, I did not open the big bag of Minstrels. They're still staring at me.

I'm one of those people that hates editing. Rewriting a draft from scratch I actually don't mind so much. After the initial fury when I realise that I'm going to have to start the damn thing all over again, I actually quite enjoy doing it. Editing on the other hand...blah. Can't stand it.

This novel is a special case, though. Normally, I leave the editing for a long time after finishing the first draft. It's really important for me to distance myself from the work so that I can look at it with fresh eyes. Usually, I'll write another novel in between, so it's hard to say how long I usually leave the first novel to cool, as it varies depending on what I'm writing next and how well I've planned it. This time around, however, I'm working on a novel that I stupidly decided to write for a competition. To enter, all you needed was the first 4000 words. When I entered the competition, all I had was those 4000 words.

A mad dash to write the rest and leave enough time to do a half-decent edit ensued.

Now the time to edit has rolled around, and I'm struggling. I only finished the first draft four weeks and two/three days ago. For me, that's nowhere near enough time to let the book sit. I'm not in the right frame of mind for editing, but I'm persevering. Or pretending to. Starting to think that keeping the big bag of Minstrels in the room is going to severely hinder the process. Still, if they weren't staring at me, something else would be distracting me. Like writing blog posts.



Monday, 10 September 2012

LAWLESS

So, last week I saw an advanced screening of Lawless. Yes, I am bragging, but only because I was very excited to see this film. And for the first time in ages, I wasn't disappointed.

For those of you who don't know, Lawless is the film version of The Wettest County in the World, which tells the real story of brothers Howard, Forrest and Jack Bondurant who run a successful bootlegging business in Virginia during prohibition (which may need to be capitalised, I have no idea.) It boasts an impressive cast - Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, and Gary Oldman - as well as Shia LaBeouf, who didn't totally ruin this movie.

In fact, it's a brilliant film. Seriously, it's so good that even Shia LaBeouf couldn't spoil it for me. Shia LaBeouf. I haven't enjoyed a film this much since I saw The Help, even though it has to be said that is completely different. I've been looking forward to it for a while, and I was impressed. I was also surprised by how funny it is, which I didn't expect at all. It's also a lot less violent than I was led to believe, and there's almost no sexual content in it (not a problem, but it was something that was mentioned in reviews I'd seen).

The cast are all very good, there isn't really a weak link. Okay, Shia's the weak link, but even he was pretty good. Tom Hardy is magnificent, as always. It's a special kind of man who can appear menacing even while wearing a cardigan.

So go and see it. Really. You owe it to yourself to see this film.



Friday, 7 September 2012

Flashfiction #04: Fallout

Day 73
Things have taken a turn for the worse. The water supply has been cut off. Phil and Mike went up to the surface to see what was wrong, to try and fix it. Only Phil came back down. He hasn't been able to say what happened to Mike. We held a small service for him at sundown, before we sealed the hatches.

Day 74
Mike was bitten. Phil killed him. It's a kindness, really.

Day 75
Three more people are sick. Mama makes us wear rags tied around our faces so that we don't catch it. Still no water. Mama's getting weaker. She talked about Emily today. She could hardly breathe by the end, even though she couldn't cry. There's not enough moisture left in her for tears.



Saturday, 1 September 2012

Spoilers

I know I've talked about this subject before, using the same show as an example in fact, but I feel the need to mention it again.

At the time of writing, it is 11.55am. This means that the new series of Doctor Who doesn't start for 7 hours and 25 minutes. And I've already had to "unfollow" Steven Moffatt on Twitter because he's gone and spoilt the very first episode for me.

I won't repeat his tweet, out of respect for those of you who haven't seen it and don't want to have the episode ruined, though here is a link for those of you would like to see it. (I knew about the first two things he mentioned, but I didn't know about the third, and frankly didn't need to know it prior to seeing the episode).

For a more publicised example of people involved in a television show damaging it for viewers, take the fact that a new companion to the Doctor has been announced. This suggested that Amy and Rory would be leaving, which was then confirmed and widely publicised. They even announced which episode would be their last one. Why? We're all going to watch the show anyway, why take away that tension? I don't agree with them announcing their departure, but I understand the actors need other people within the industry to know they are available for work and that therefore this is a necessary evil, but why on earth would you tell people exactly which episode will be the characters' last? I don't understand why it was announced, but more than that, I don't understand why any fan would want to know? This is akin to people who buy those magazines that detail exactly what is going to happen in the soaps that week (with a day-by-day guide, no less) and then watch the show anyway. Why watch something if you know exactly what is going to happen and when? Can you actually enjoy it? I know I can't.

It seems to me that a lot of television industry types are confusing the act of drawing viewers with tantalising hints and the act of providing us with a list that makes watching the programme unnecessary. E4 are particularly bad at this, but it's not exclusive to television. How many films have you watched recently where everything was spelt out in the trailer and you felt like you'd been cheated out of the money you paid to see the rest?

Maybe it's just me, but I don't think it can be. How can you possibly enjoy something if you know exactly what's going to happen on your first viewing? There's no tension, you can't become truly engaged, because you're just waiting for the next plot point. I just don't get it.

It's now 12.06pm and several other people I follow on Twitter have retweeted Steven Moffatt's original tweet. Looks like Twitter and I might be parting ways for a few weeks.