No new snow today, at least in my part of the country, just enduring frost.
Since this is the last week of school before the Christmas holidays, I’m watching English language films with the kids. Most of the time, I take TV episodes, as many feature films are longer than 90 minutes. I gave the kids a few choices of what to watch and they picked Doctor Who. Nigh unanimous, too – there was only one dissenter.
So we watched Rose and The End of the World, episodes 1 and 2 respectively of the 2005 revival. I haven’t seen either episode in a couple of years and I have fallen out of love with Doctor Who in the meantime, so I was surprised how effective those two episodes still were, both as an introduction to new viewers (the kids) and as a reintroduction for long term fans (me, at least at the time of first broadcast).
Early on in Rose, there is a scene where Rose ventures into the basement of the department store where she works and encounters Autons and the Doctor. When the first store mannequin comes into view, one girl flinches and exclaims, “Woo, I just thought there was a man standing there, but it’s just a dummy.” I just thought, “Well, won’t she be shocked at what happens next.”
I quite like rewatching films and TV shows that disappointed me with people who have never seen the programme in question, because the shared experience reminds me of why I liked the show in the first place. And however wrong Doctor Who went later on, those first episodes were damn compelling television.
And now for some writing links:
Diana Gabaldon on high stakes and the rule of three. Includes some spoilers for Outlander, particularly the ending.
In a similar vein, Janice Hardy also has a post on different levels of fictional stakes. The point she makes is actually very similar to Diana Gabaldon’s. Scale does not equal stakes and high stakes does not necessarily mean the impending end of the world.
This is a point that particularly writers of speculative fiction often forget. They make the scale of the threat as large as possible – if this cosmic event/villain with bizarre doohikey/ancient god bent on revenge is not stopped now, the whole world, no the whole universe, forget that, the whole multiverse is doomed – and yet the whole story falls flat, because even though the scale is large, the stakes are not.
Getting back to Doctor Who, one of the many things that eventually turned me off the new series was that the writers, particularly Russell T. Davies, consistently confused stakes with scale. So we got cosmic wars and invasions on an ever escalating scale, millions and billions of Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, not to mention the Master waiting to take a bite out of the Earth and the known and unknown universe. The series finales were particularly bad about this, always attempting to outdo last year’s. It’s perhaps telling that I can’t even remember the episode titles and had to look them up, though I must confess that I liked Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways, which has both a large scale and high stakes). Meanwhile, the most memorable episodes often had a much smaller scale. The single Dalek locked in a paramilitary base in Dalek is a lot scarier than the millions and billions of them dished up in later episodes. The much maligned Torchwood episode Cyberwoman brings some perspective on the second season Doctor Who finale Army of Ghosts/Doomsday by focusing on one of the more than 800 people whose deaths are ignored and handwaved away by everyone in Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, including the Doctor. Father’s Day does feature the end of the world, sort of, but it’s mainly about a few people in a church and the fate of one man. Love and Monsters, which no one except me seems to like, is a story about a somewhat comical monster threatening a few social misfits. The events in Blink do not threaten the world and only affect a handful of people, yet it’s one of the scariest things ever filmed.
While on the matter of scale, here is Janice Hardy on slice of life stories and why they work or don’t work.
I’ve always enjoyed slice of life pieces – I’m the sort of person who preferred the X-Men playing basketball, training in the Danger Room and just interacting with each other to the big fights. What is more, my first published story, Heartache, was actually a slice of life story, at least as far as the reader was concerned. From the POV of the protagonist, it was a life-shattering event. I still like the idea, too, though the prose would probably make me cringe these days.
Some more on writing, here is Paul Jessup on structure.
And here is Adrian Faulkner on recharging the creative batteries. This is also the reason why I could never give up watching TV. I’m a very visual writer and watching TV recharges my creative batteries.
Regarding worldbuilding, Juliette Wade has a post on cultural differences. Like all worldbuilding topics, this one doesn’t just apply to speculative fiction either.
Nicola Morgan on the difference between the voice of a book and the voice of a writer. I very much agree with this. I do have a distinctive voice, but it does change subtly from text to text, depending on the work in question. The most important factor in this regard seems to be POV. My first person voice is different from my third person voice, a lot snarkier and less formal, unless I have a third person POV character with a voice similar to my first person voice that is. One of the two POV characters in “the novel” is like that. When I writer omniscient – which I don’t do very often, though it was my default POV when I started – the result is closer to my first person than my third person voice.