Monthly Archives: June 2013

What Do Your Characters Mean – Is It Ever Possible To Remain Aloof?

When writing, I’ve seen a general trend when it comes to characters and how their authors are meant to engage with them. Keeping it general, the attitudes seem to follow two distinct trends. On one hand writers are encouraged to care about their characters – to have some sort of bond with them, or that the characters are meant to be based in part upon their creator. On the other, the writer is meant to remain distant and impersonal towards his or her characters, and to sacrifice them to plot progression rather than shield them due to sentimentality. From this perspective, to do anything else would seem to suggest a dreaded Mary-Sue!

Yet as the title says, my question is can an author ever remain aloof about their characters? Is that a reasonable demand?

I have mixed feelings over this – I seem to be stuck as some sort of hybrid between the two. On the one hand, my first and foremost intention is to write a good story, and that inevitably means sacrificing characters so that the plot remains gripping, and thus not watered-down. Yet, as I write, as the words go down on paper, I find it hard to stick to that goal. Sometimes I end up rooting for certain characters as I write. It can be for a number of reasons. I might enjoy writing from their perspective. I might want them to succeed in their goals. I might even feel a bit sad when I do the deed – and set their fate.

It’s hard to ignore that as you write, you get attached to your characters. Perhaps for varying reasons, but in the end you have some sort of subtle bond with each character you create. You wouldn’t end up writing about that character at any length if you didn’t. I think this is due to two reasons.

First, that writers are limited in how much they can distance themselves from a character. It might be possible to consciously differentiate the author from the character when writing, but subconsciously? In the end, the character’s perspective is in fact the author’s perspective that has gone through various forms of moderation. If the author were to write a character that was a reader, the reader would not be a distinct “reader” character that is independent of the author. Instead, the “reader” is the author’s idea of reading – the character is the author’s reader, not just a reader. As such, each character is more the author’s interpretation of that character type than an actual distinct individual.

Secondly, as you write you get attached to characters. Let’s admit it. We’ve all had characters that we’ve enjoyed writing about – they’re those special few that transgress across being simply fictional characters. They in fact become more than characters; in some way we start to think of them as real people. It’s the same effect we have when reading – we treat the characters we read about as real. In the same way, we treat the characters we write about as real too. It comes from having to write about them. We have to think as them. We have to write as they would speak – we end up going through their adventures as they are created. Just by virtue of writing, we get attached to them.

The question I want to ask you all is do you remain aloof about your characters? Do you think you must remain impassive about them, or that it’s healthy to have some sort of attachment to them? Finally, is it acceptable for an author to have characters that are in part based upon themselves? Let’s hear your thoughts!

Escapism, Reality and Writing – Why Do We Create To Escape?

At the face of it, writing creatively is a purely self-destructive activity. Of all the things to spend your time, you choose to write on fictitious events, worry over imaginary characters and work to create the unreal. All when today, we retain the idea that we should do things of relevance, and that concept of what makes something worthwhile is intrinsically tied to a grounding in reality. In short, it is seen as productive to have a hobby that has some benefit to you in reality.

Here’s a hobby of mine. Rock Climbing. A good way to exercise; so it would seem. The practice of heaving yourself up vertical surfaces. Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? Yet even now when we’ve long passed over the hunter-gatherer stage of human development when this kind of skill would have been relevant, we still view it with an air of justification. Instead of using it to heave yourself up or down steep terrain to get to food others might not be able to access, it’s good exercise. It has a benefit to the body. Exercise releases endorphins, which make you happy. A happy citizen, a happy worker, a more productive worker. So, that’s fine, go climb those walls.

Yet writing? Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear. It’s just daydreaming. It’s just imaginary nonsense. Haven’t we grown up and learnt to focus on what’s real, instead of inventing things? Yes, oh dear. It’s a tenuous position, sitting and dealing with imaginary people, treating them as if they were real. We’re adults now, not children, we must focus our minds in the real world, upon all that is real and nothing else. Why is that? Because we’re meant to ‘grow up’, a concept that involves expunging childish practices from us in order to become a rational adult. With that in mind, the following paragraph will sound mad.

I spent several hours today inside my head, thinking about a world I created. I wasn’t just thinking about characters, I was imagining myself as them. I thought as them, felt as them.

Sounds like a mental problem, doesn’t it? Especially if you know the characters I write about.

It’s worrying when you break out of the daydream, blink, and realise for a split second, you were thinking and feeling like that character.

Really, writing in first person present screws with my mind at least. Not that I was complaining. Oh, take that society!

In short, this is why I opened by saying writing is self-destructive. Perhaps we spend our time inside our heads too much, imagining an escapist world like a child does, instead of being a good little worker and getting on with our lot in this world. Or rather, instead of learning to cope with the world itself, coping by proxy.

But hey, I don’t actually believe that at all. I wouldn’t say writing is self-destructive. But why did I just lead you on that tangent? I had to explain that in order for you to understand the next idea. Well, there’s a refuge in the word ‘writer’. The practice of writing is a refuge for imaginative process that would have been culled around the time you go to secondary school. That begins when you’re 13 if I remember correctly. Think back in your education. When did the emphasis on creativity and imaginative practice go? When instead of writing a story in English you had to start writing essays? When did they focus shift onto getting good grades for oh, that seemingly distant job? See, it’s an implicit part in the practice of ‘growing up’. The imaginative gets sidelined for the practical. Creativity is preserved only if it can serve an economic purpose. Learning suffers the same as well. Cram your head with the facts to pass the exams. Who cares if it’s something you want to learn about.

Creative problem solving. That’s useful, it means you’ll be a good worker that can better deal with unforeseen problems. What about being a writer? You’re using the imagination to write stories that sell. That’s the refuge. So all day, I’m not potentially wasting time indulging a denial of reality. No, I’m working to create a product. The thing is, unless writing can justify itself by selling, creativity for creativity’s sake alone is cast of as void. It becomes a nice thing for children to do. Paint a picture, write a story. How many artists and writers have we lost because they never thought to keep their creativity into adulthood? I look around at the people I know here at university. Of the English students, how many that say they are writers are? Few. Precious few. They’re here for inspiration. They’re here to learn how to write. Perhaps. But how many go of and write? Of them, who writes regularly? Who is really working on that book, and not just stuck in some limbo falsely labelled as work in progress?

Let’s say I haven’t found one yet. None isn’t a word I want to hear, but that’s another topic.

The continued existence of the refuge of writing presents a strange idea though, and why do I label it’s existence down to consumerism?

Well, it exists because it’s a balm, a slave for all the dreary existence we find ourselves trudging through. Working 9am to 5pm, seeing the same sights, living a life of routine without any change. It creates a craving for adventure. In all ways, all stories tell one. Whether it is as literal as that doesn’t matter. There are changes. There is excitement. It is novel. Buy a book, or better yet, write one and you can create your own adventure, with all the security of the current existence intact. I don’t doubt that anyone will ever be truly content with their lives. We can always find something more we want. Perhaps loosing yourself in a wood full of elves helps. Perhaps not. But the need for this alternate reality still exists, and it is a healthy one.

The question is, why do you start writing (if you are a writer) and if not, what do you think about creative endeavours? Do you indulge in escapism?

It Belongs In A Museum, Not A Bin – The Problem With Literary Canon

It’s no lie. I would without hesitation throw away many literary classics for being dull, contrived and boring. I can imagine that will upset some people reading this, but I have reasoning.

For instance, let’s ask why some books are ‘classics’ in the first place, and not others. With all artistic endeavour, it is impossible to give a concise measurement of a book, and thus you cannot say what criteria makes something a classic. Like all works of art, they only gain status when people are willing to go out and say why they think such a piece is a classic.

But there’s a problem I think we as readers, and certainly as writers, have a duty to address. As far as I’m concerned, ‘literature’ is a stagnant entity. Stuck in a time-warp more likely. Our definition of literature that belongs in the cannon seems to be stuck around the necessity that it must either be old, or deal with deep spiritual and philosophical points. Of course, any selective criteria creates a picture that does not represent the whole. As such, the canon does not represent the entire summary of writing out there. I wouldn’t even say it’s the best. I think we can all list a few literary classics that we’d never want to touch again.

Literature has lost something in becoming so conceited. It has lost its primary function, the thing that made all writers start in the first place. That is telling a good story. Sadly, along the way, storytelling became sidelined, cast into the realm of sensationalist fiction, and therefore not literary. Hence, anything that is popular cannot be literary. Why do we not see science fiction or fantasy included in the canon? We know the answer.

This is what I think must change in order for literature to maintain its credibility. It must not linger in the past alone, but actively engage with present works, rather than exclude them because the author isn’t dead, or because it’s set in a fantasy world.

In light of this, what would you put in your own literary canon? What would you champion, and what would you leave out? Would you put Shakespeare in the bin, or would you keep things as they are?

Writing Off Your Own Worst Enemy – How Do You Stay Postive?

There’s a lot of truth in the phrase that someone can be their own worst enemy. It might be one of those stock phrases that sound awfully cliché when you use them, but it’s one of the few in that category that are cliché because they’re just so apt, and therefore overused. I mean, how else could you say it?

When it comes to writing, I’ve been accused of being my own worst enemy. It comes with a great list of things. Stubbornness. Inability to accept praise. Constantly believing that your writing isn’t good enough, or neither will it ever be. Out of those few, the one that stood out most for me was being unable to accept praise. As soon as someone gave me a positive comment, I’d immediately look for ways to disprove it. It sounds bizarre, but I’d write off people’s comments for the reason that I couldn’t accept the good things they said.

Considering receiving a positive comment is the thing writers crave; this all sounds crazy. I’m pretty sure I caused a few writing friends to bang their heads in frustration with me. In fact, in one case I know it. I was explicitly told.

Why would I choose to reject any positive comments? I think it was because I was never ready to believe in my writing; the idea that if I always thought it was rubbish, I’d never get my feelings hurt. I’d never get caught up in a few well-intentioned comments by friends, glossing over glaring errors because they wanted to be encouraging. Well, once you start going down that road, you start thinking everyone is sugar-coating, unless they’re being critical. Welcome to the world where nothing can possibly be good.

The question is, did any of you as writers slip into this mode of thought at some point? How did you get out of it? Or even if you didn’t, how do you keep yourself from becoming your own worst enemy? How do you keep that little voice in your head quiet?

Flash Fiction: Memory

I’m certain I’ll be dead by the time anyone else reads this. So dear reader, you’re talking to a ghost and I might just be haunting you. What words do the dead have for the living? Ha! What is there to say? I cannot offer you any comfort.

In life I had a name. Many people once had the same name before me. Many since have borne it too. It was just a sign, a way to differentiate one from another, never to describe who I was. I had two lives see. One was before the fall, the other was after. What I would have given to be one of the lucky ones, to have lived on the other side. I played well, but the end is as certain as the beginning.

My bones shine ivory white, picked clean. I am no use; no longer carrion. My memorial is nothing to time immemorial.

I have no tongue with which to speak; the worms took that from me ages ago. Life is not comforting; we learnt that in the fall. In truth, the only thing that changed was a rent in the veil. A rip cut a swathe through it, and the comfortable lie broke.

I remember once that our rational minds were the prize of our evolution; but hollow crowns for a world that never knelt.

I look back on moments of fondness. I feel a mix of laughter and disdain. I only care for a drink.

Might I be stronger, or could hunt better, or survive longer? I ask the birds, but they laugh. They won’t tell where the water is. Why would I need to question the world? My knowledge won’t feed me. I have no clever tools. Mechanics has broken and deserted.

Faced with my death. I write these few lines. Musing about existence. Trying to convince my parched lips that my reason is a gift. In these moments, I lament. For what use is this?

I let life slip between my fingers like grains of sand. My hourglass has run short. I cannot turn it over. What speaks more of my wretched futility, than spending these last moments scrawling in the sand.

Continue reading Flash Fiction: Memory

Moving Forwards With Your Writing

Writing is a unique experience. Unlike other pursuits, you are the only person solely responsible for everything. You must be the one to write in the first place, but you must also have the willpower and discipline to continue to do so. Even when you’re fed up with edits. Even when you feel like you can’t be a writer anymore. The only way you can be a writer is by pushing yourself, and managing your progress towards every single goal you set up for yourself.

No one else can interfere.

The questions I’ve been hearing from good friends is how you stay focused as a writer when you try and get your career in the field going. There are plenty of ways to make a start. You can publish traditionally or by yourself. You can submit short stories to a variety of publications, enter competitions and such. The problems with those common ideas are that they are too closely tied to success. They garner themselves to the expectation of instant success and when the inevitable rejections come, you’re left wondering what else you can do to get started. It would seem your aspirations have been nipped in the bud before they got to flower.

Firstly, forgive yourself for hoping to have success at the first try, regardless of the level.

So your short story got rejected. Your self-published book didn’t sell anything like you hoped. That’s fine. Don’t lie to  yourself about wanting to succeed at the first, second, third, fourth or even firth (or more) try, because if you didn’t you wouldn’t have ever bothered in the first place. Recognise you want to succeed quickly, but don’t allow yourself to repress that feeling because your head might tell you that’s such a vain hope.

It’s not, and you’re only human.

But if submitting work to various outlets sets you up for a blow to your hopes, what else is there to do? The problem is not finding some other outlet, but simply valuing the activities you do before you think about publishing. You’ve got to sort yourself out mentally, so you can condition yourself to react to rejection in a positive way. This means evaluating your approach to both your writing and goals for it on a regular basis that is constructive and enables you to better appreciate what you do.

When we talk about publishing, particularly publishing failure, we often try to find external sources to blame. The editor was picky. The reader didn’t understand the point you were making. Whatever the excuse, we scrutinise ourselves last when things don’t go our way. Of course, we don’t want to for a number of reasons. The primary ones are that it’s easier to blame someone else, and that we’ve invested a whole load of time and emotion in our work. As such we’re extremely unwilling to find fault in ourselves as it negates all the work previously put in. It is painful to realise that you need to rewrite an entire story because you wrote it in the wrong way. Again, take a step back and don’t hate yourself for being only human. No matter what you do, there’s no way to get rid of that horrible, sinking feeling in your stomach when you realise you made a mistake. You’re justified in feeling that way; a mistake is not something to celebrate.

A mistake in writing is never a total disaster as long as you respond to your emotions correctly.

Don’t jump in the deep end; don’t delete all your work because it “isn’t good enough” because there is very much the chance that it might well have been a case that the editor just didn’t like what you did. Writing is subjective, and you can edit your work as much as you like but it might still get you nowhere. In all cases, I would say that you must never delete anything as a rule of thumb. Once it’s deleted, it’s gone. Instead, keep everything you do and edit. Edits are how your improve your writing, not deleting and starting from scratch. You must also learn to be confident in your own skills as a writer. Evaluating yourself requires that you have a good gauge of your abilities as they truly are and you must appreciate them. To do so otherwise is purely destructive, as you’ll never know where to focus your efforts, but more importantly, you’ll probably end up destroying something that you actually do well – you just didn’t have the confidence in your ability to see that. There are plenty of writers who will tell you everyone gets rejected so many times, and even the ones held up as literary greats got rejected many times as well. So, go build up your self-belief and remember that you will get there as long as you keep on trying.

A true rejection is if you give up without getting published.

What you must also reconsider is how you gauge your progress. Don’t measure yourself by letters, but instead do so in how much you write. Perhaps the greatest thing we forget when trying to gauge progress in our respective writing careers is how much we write in itself. I feel we really undervalue it if we measure progress only by how much you’ve published. Writing is the prelude to publishing, it is the very first step on that road and it is crucial to it. Nothing else can come if you don’t write first.

So if you find yourself thinking that you’re going nowhere in writing, stop and look at how much you’ve done. The reality is that you’re always going somewhere and all of it is progress.

I keep myself writing with one thought in mind. I enjoy writing in the first place. Such enjoyment will always keep you going as long as you focus on it, and not things later down the road. Keep such reasons in your mind first, and all other worries second otherwise you just burn yourself out.

If you want to succeed, keep writing and remember it’s just as much about writing well as it is being able to continue going forward in spite of all hardship.


The Point of Words

I’m quite a cynic when it comes to popular ideas about literature and being a writer. Such ideas are mainly ones that tend to write an unrealistic cheque about the importance of writing and other such topics. In essence, if it paints a picture of writing that casts it as some important activity, I’ll question that.

Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world – Percy Bysshe Shelley.

For me, this exemplifies the over-zealous and grandiose claims writers can make about their own importance. I don’t think it requires much explanation.

However there is an importance to writing that should be acknowledged and it’s not so straightforward. It has nothing to do with writers having some vital importance in society or the stories they tell, but simply their ability to be perceptive to the intricacies of words and how they interact with each other. In short, the main skill of the ‘writer’ is being able to select, arrange and order words in order to as accurately as possible to convey a message or rouse a desired response. It sounds rather banal, but it’s actually more important than you might think. Recently I’ve been involved with working on a film project at university with bioscience students, and it’s been my job to use my skills with language to convey what they want to say as accurately as possible. Sometimes it was small things like cutting down words and refining scripts, to more subtle things like choosing the correct verbs, arranging the syntax and grammar in the way that will best emphasise what they want to convey. In essence, it is editing – but it takes language and brings it into a state that is smooth but concise enough to emphasise a message.

This is a skill that I think is under-acknowledged. Having a good command of language is one thing, but an understanding of how to manipulate it to accomplish varying goals is quite another. Communicating well is not using a lot of long words and using lots of commas, but having short, sweet sentences that can be the equivalent of large swathes of text.

Therefore as writers, we should not just limit the well known ‘show not tell’ mantra to writing stories, but apply its essence to less creative pursuits. When should we try to show in language and when should we tell? When you are told to use ‘strong writing’ this doesn’t just apply to your novel. It also comes into all other applications of language. What we learn at first for creative endeavours are then skills we can then apply to other situations that demand language use.


Making ‘Fiction’ Fiction.

When you stop and think about it, writing is actually quite a silly thing to pursue. It’s down to logic. Why write about something that isn’t real? Or even better, why continue to agonise over something imaginary? If we measure our behaviour towards productivity, then writing is something that doesn’t fit. To be purely logical, why should anyone spend time that could otherwise be spent on facilitating some sort of material gain? Is there any value we can actually place on stories apart from emotional ones? It’s hard to find an answer. Financial inventive might work, but its rare to find any author who began writing for financial gain. It further collapses when you realise stories only sell because people invest emotionally in them. Quite simply, people buy stories because they like them.

As we grow up, we’re increasingly exposed to pressure that determines what we should and shouldn’t do. As such, the focus on imagination and unrealities dies off in favour of logic and reality. It’s why English classes go from having exercises in creative writing to writing analytical essays about works of literature. ‘Literature’ itself rarely includes any works of fantasy or science fiction. Those are populist, low-brow, sensationalist and therefore not high-brow. The irony is that many ‘classic’ works of ‘literature’ actually were criticised in their times for those same perceived faults. We only have to look back so far as to Modernism to understand that novels in themselves were criticised for lacking intellectual weight. The result is that even within the literary world, writing both struggles to and rigorously attempts to justify itself. There still is no answer.

Why is it then some of us continue to imagine the unreal, and therefore write?

This isn’t a post about defending writing, or trying to legitimate the process. Quite the opposite, I believe writing actually suffers from trying to legitimate itself and justify its place in society. The question shouldn’t be why you are you dreaming, but in fact asking those who asks such questions why they don’t dream. Imagination is key to being a good writer, so you shouldn’t try and legitimate your writing by neglecting it. Quite simply, this means where you should write where your imagination first takes you, and not where your head takes you to. As such, perhaps writers should not focus on writing fiction about our current reality, but instead write fiction that is truly fictitious. That is, it is not set in our reality, in our time. Instead, it dares to be imaginative, to deal in created worlds, rather than based on the one we’re already writing in.  In this way, you make ‘fiction’ fiction.

Bioshock Infinite Review (Without Spoilers)

You’re Booker DeWitt, off to the floating city of Colombia to retrieve a mysterious girl kept locked away in a tower. It sounds like a potential steampunk version of a questing knight. Save the damsel in distress. Simple? Well, after being announced in 2008 and now finally released in 2013, this game isn’t as straightforward as a what you’ve just read. We’re no longer in the depths of the sea, but high up in the clouds. Quite a change of setting, and a risky one at that. Bioshock and Rapture go hand in hand, and I remember that when the details of Infinite were announced it was hard to perhaps see why they’d take such a move after the success of Bioshock in 2007. The formula we’re used to now is that if a franchise is successful, you just keep on publishing new editions of that original formula that struck gold – and reel in the cash. The best example of that is the Call of Duty franchise; since Modern Warfare in 2007, it’s kept coming back with a new number the only change to the title. So why not do the same? Well, one of the reasons I think well of Infinite is because it’s a recognition that an idea can only last for so long while still being good. Rather than try to make a Bioshock III, it was time to move to pastures new.

Ah, you say that like a sequel to Bioshock was never made! You’re ignoring Bioshock II.

That’s true, they did make a sequel to Bioshock, but things become problematic when you look at things closer. Instead of being developed by Irrational Games (who were once 2K Boston) like Bioshock and Infinite, it was developed by 2K Marvin. So it sounds like a change in development teams? Well, that seems to go fine until you find out 2K Marvin were involved in development of all three Bioshock games. Besides, in terms of reviews it did well. IGN gave it 9.1/10. Eurogamer gave it 8/10 and Game Informer gave it 8.25/10. Then when we start thinking about development times in relation to when Infinite and Bioshock II were announced, it becomes hard to pin down a date when it was decided that Infinite would be in a floating cloud city. But even as we look at developing studios, it seems the only answer I can pin down is that Ken Levine was the lead writer and creative director for Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite, but had no involvement in Bioshock II. Either way, what’s important to note that the change of tack has happened in accordance to what material there was available for the third game. After the idea of playing as a big daddy in Bioshock II, it became hard to see where next Rapture could go. Still, onto reviewing Infinite.

One of the obvious points I’ve heard grumbled about infinite is the simple interchanging between Vigours and Salts, with Plasmids and Eve. They’re there, and they both function in exactly the same way as they did in Rapture. But a Bioshock game without plasmids/vigours wouldn’t be Bioshock, and once you come up with a system of genetic improvement that gives the wielder superhuman powers it’s hard to say it’ll ever be different to what it was in the previous games. The question really is, if you’re grumbling about that, then you try to come up with a new system that is different to the plasmid one but still delivers the core Bioshock experience. I just see this as a frankly irrelevant point, because an Infinite without vigours/plasmids would be just a dull shooter.

Sometimes, there just isn’t a big enough gun for the job. That doesn’t matter when you can throw fireballs from your hands, or better yet, catch their bullets and shoot them back!

The next point to move onto is then the actual vigours themselves. They all pretty much do exactly the same thing, to a greater of lesser degree when compared to the plasmids in Bioshock. It’s a fair observation, but one that is more of a nitpick than anything else. Some truly new vigours would have been welcome, but this is more an observation make in hindsight, rather than as you play the game. It’s no pressing concern.

Perhaps the only other point to make about gameplay is either the uselessness of being able to aim down sights. It’s a good feature, but more one suited to Call of Duty. The problem is that on the PC with the original controls, using the sights is awkward and annoying at best. The default bind is “Z”, which in combination with using WASD for movement controls is just awkward. This however, is a nitpick. For one, it can be solved by setting a new control for it. On the other, I never actually used the sights and I never once felt that it was impeding my ability to play.

The other big, looming half of these games is the storyline, and for those unfamiliar with the Bioshock franchise must note it’s something to set it apart from other games out there. In this case, the game wraps its plot around the story, rather than having the story as nice window-dressing for the actual gameplay itself.

Infinite is a shooter where the combat serves the plot, rather than the plot being a limp excuse for violence.

Why does Bioshock Infinite hold such high esteem for me? Quite simply, it shows maturity. The franchise has grown, it has matured. Bioshock was a great game in itself, but it leapt in at the deep end with a dystopian society where horror and revulsion where its main playing cards. You arrive in Rapture to where the signal is so very clear that it is a dystopia, and a place that has already plunged into chaos before your arrival. But with Infinite, it’s not so straight forward. When you first arrive in Colombia, you slowly get drip-fed clues that something isn’t quite right about the seeming floating marvel. It’s a great example of pacing, and the sum doesn’t arrive when you number 77 wins the raffle. With the Vox Populi set up as seemingly as the good guys, you could be forgiven for thinking that’s where the story would lead itself, where the player is the champion of that faction. But no. Even as you have Vox Populi allies fighting with you, the under-trodden and the oppressed who would have the player’s sympathies then show a very dark streak – and this is where Infinite proves its maturity over Bioshock. No longer does the series view morality in fixed terms. It all reveals itself to be ambiguous where there are no easy ways out. This is what makes Infinite feel more mature as a game compared to previous titles. While Bioshock might allow the player an influence in moral choices, and thus have the ability to be good and have a good ending, Infinite allows no such choice. You just watch the world burn and you’re hopelessly caught in the crossfire. Infinite can be criticised for having not choices in gameplay that affect the outcome, but the whole point of that becomes clear in the ending – where there is no choice.

What’s also worth commenting on is the depth of supporting characters – the Lutece “Twins”. These two draw upon Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a play which deals with the inevitability of fate. The Twins behave in the spirit of the characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the above mentioned play, and bring a fresh diversity to characters. Their comic relief is generated by their absurd manner and dry humour, which gives Infinite greater depth. At times, the characters pay direct homage to the play by using dialogue and scenes taken from the play, in this case the heads or tails scene.While it might seem bizarre, this scene is used to set up the ending and the two sides of the coin comes to fulfil the two sides of DeWitt.

However, the greatest of the supporting characters is Elizabeth, and it seems unfair to even label her as such. Though the cover of the game might bear the image of DeWitt, Elizabeth really deserves the title of being the main character rather than a support, because in all respects the story belongs to her. However, to explain in greater details would spoil things. But, what’s noteworthy is that she is extremely well characterised. As a AI character who follows you around, her contribution to gameplay is another breath of fresh air. Instead of having a dimwitted NPC that manages to get itself into trouble, Elizabeth is a great addition to gameplay. In combat, she will randomly throw you ammunition, salts and health kits during fire-fights which is useful on paper, but during gameplay adds a much more organic feel. There have been times when I’ve been running low on ammo, or just about to die until I get a health kit tossed at me, and my life is saved. This mechanic is great because it makes Elizabeth function more like a human player than a computer controlled one.

Elizabeth. Not just a pretty face.

To summarise, Infinite is definitely a great game. Is it going to be the best game of 2013? I wouldn’t be surprised. Will it live up to claims of being the game of its generation? Only hindsight will tell. My verdict however is that Bioshock Infinite rescues a franchise that seemed in danger from sub-standard sequels like Bioshock 2, and at the same time breathes into it a new life.  It is certainly a game that you must play. It will drop a bomb on you in the end. However, what makes this game stand out is the seamless blend between storytelling and gameplay. It suffers in neither department, and neither antagonises the other. As a game, that’s no easy feat. When the balance is wrong, everyone notices. When it’s right, no one realises it.

Writing 101

Approaching Writing – A short guide to constructing ideas and dealing with writer’s block.

A tutorial on how to write – we’ve seen it all before. Why then, should you even bother to read any further into this one? I’m not just going to tell you how to write, but what I’ve learnt through experience. I’m also going to break a few moulds, and show you how some of the well known advice doesn’t exactly work in the simple way others make you believe. As a side note, this is a repost of I guide I previously wrote which got quite a bit of interest from people, and more importantly it seemed to help them. If you read this and find nothing here helps you, that would make me happy actually, as it means you’re beyond whatever help I can offer. Also, if there’s something you’d like to add, please share your tips!

1.The Idea

So, how shall we start? Let’s begin by examining what gets you writing in the first place. That of course is the idea.

It’s obvious, but often neglected when trying to provide advice on how to write better.  Your ideas are the single most important thing that will make your writing great. Being able to write grammatically perfect English doesn’t guarantee a good, thrilling read. Strong, technically flawless writing can’t make that promise either. People read because they love stories, not brilliant writing. I will admit though, the two go hand in hand. A good story is better when written well, and visa versa. However, my personal belief is that ideas have to come first over writing, simply because your writing can be improved by instruction and practice. Ideas however, don’t work in such a logical way. No one can teach you how to come up with a great idea.

Understanding this concept is all well and good, but it doesn’t help you actually come up with that story. Coming up with ideas is an illogical, haphazard process. A story rarely leaps into your head fully formed, and anyone claiming that they have is lying.  Unfortunately, you have to spend time thinking out your story. I’m one of those people who get ideas as they write, but every so often I get stuck too, and I end up needing to plan as well. This means I need to sit and brainstorm ideas down on paper. You can never rely on inspiration striking, because it’s a random and fickle thing. As tempting as it is, waiting until you feel inspired is a sure way to make yourself frustrated about your writing. Why? Because you’ll be staring at a blank document, wanting to write, but unable to because you have no idea where you’re going. It is a horrible cycle that is hard to break out of. The more frustrated you feel, the less you feel like writing. I’ll talk about this later.

Planning will give you the ideas and structure you need to continue writing. To plan out your story, I find it helpful to write down a few short statements that outline what you want to achieve in your book. It is best to have a number of these that differ from each other. Try to write down themes you want to tackle within your book, and any messages you want to convey. To give you some ideas, here are some potential statements.

1. I want to write a fantasy book.
2. I want to create my own fantasy races, not the usual elves, dwarves and orc races.
3. I want to write battle scenes as well as adventure ones.
4. The natural world is important to me, so I will write scenes that deal with nature vs. industry, or machines.

So, those seem to be fairly obvious, formulaic statements. The point of these it to serve as starting points for you to branch out from with increasingly complex ideas and statements. It’s obvious, but you must always deal with what seems glaringly simple, even if it feels stupid. It works as a focal point from which you can better elaborate and expand upon. This means that when it comes to writing you have an idea of what you want to write, and therefore will spend less time agonising over what to write in the first place. Hopefully then, the words will come much easier.

A crucial thing to understand about the planning stage is that it takes a while for ideas to come. Just keep brainstorming, keep writing notes. If you want to be more detailed, write notes for specific chapters, scenes and characters to help you get a better idea of your story. You must be patient and disciplined. Ideas develop over time, and you must be willing to invest time before you get them.

2.When to Write

I briefly touched on this in the previous section, but there is in fact a time to write. For a lot of writers I’ve come across, most say they only write when they feel inspired. This is what I feel distinguishes serious writers from casual ones, but crucially writers who’ll never finish that book and those who will.

I used to subscribe to this style of doing things, but now I don’t. Unfortunately, writing when you feel inspired is a bit of a self-destructive cycle. I’m not being dramatic either. Most of the time, you won’t feel inspired to write. Let’s be honest, we’ve all told ourselves we’ll do it some other time. This means you will struggle to make any meaningful progress on your stories. This in turn, will make you frustrated, which will increasingly leave you feeling even less inspired than before. It’s an unpleasant cycle that doesn’t leave you with good feelings about your writing ability.

In my case, I spent two years writing when I felt like it, and I only came up with 40,000 words on my book. At first, that feels like a sizable amount, but when you break the years down, you realise how little that actually is. With some simple maths, it means that in 730 days, I would have written on average 55 words. Of course, you can’t write every day, but I did waste a lot of time doing nothing simply because I didn’t feel like writing, and then telling myself that any lack of progress was fine because I didn’t feel inspired or even in the mood.

The hard truth is, if I hadn’t gotten my act together, I doubt I would have finished it at all. I certainly didn’t feel good about it either. To me, the amount of time you spend working on a story is only justified when you finish it. If you quit before you do, then you’ve just wasted all the time you spent on it. Besides, if you want to be a published author, you can’t write 55 words a day.

The key to feeling motivated when it comes to writing is all about setting goals for yourself. You’ve got to be disciplined in order for this to work. Motivation is key. I work by writing a thousand words a day, for five days a week. This means I can have the weekend off as a break so I don’t get fed up with writing the same story all the time. It allows me some time where I won’t feel guilty about not writing. Furthermore, it will take on average around forty-five to an hour and fifteen minutes to write a thousand words. What this system means is that in two weeks, I can have ten thousand words written down. What would have taken me two years, takes only two months. So I neither get fed up with writing, nor frustrated with a lack of progress.

However, such a system should be tailored to what works for you. Find a balance between words written and time. For me, I put aside an hour in my day so I can write my thousand words, without having to worry about other obligations. It will probably be a different story for you. Just remember to make a target system that you are happy with, and most importantly, provides progress without making you feel like a slave to your keyboard.

In this part, I’ll also deal with writer’s block. I’m sorry to say, but it’s a case of tough love right now. Firstly, there is no such things as writer’s block. If you are disciplined and prepared, you will have no problems writing. In such, writer’s block really speaks of laziness on the part of the writer, because it is used as a way of justifying a lack of progress to themselves.

Yes, I realise I’m challenging the orthodoxy.

Why do I say this? Because I speak from experience. If I couldn’t be bothered to get writing, I’d just cite writer’s block to myself and hop off to play a computer game. It was an easy excuse, and one that I could use to not make me feel bad about writing. What made it worse was that I felt that I could only write when I felt inspired, because I thought that forcing myself to write would mean I would write badly.

I pretty much impaled myself on a double-edged sword.

Fortunately, I was wrong. As I said, with planning and self-discipline, I could write just as well as when I felt inspired. Sure, there were days when it felt like I was wading through waist high mud, but when I stopped, looked at my notes, I could get going a lot faster. Even if I wasn’t happy with it, I just kept going until the work I had to do was done. When I came back to read it, I realised that it was just me. There was no marked difference between pieces when I felt inspired and when I didn’t. Besides, you’ll always go back and make edits later, so you don’t need to worry about writing brilliantly first time.

That’s the hard truth of it, and it’s something not many people say. I only snapped out of such methods recently. I’d just watched an entire summer holiday slide by with no progress whatsoever. The truth was, I was disgusted with myself. I spent an entire summer doing nothing but lying around, being lazy and playing computer games but I still would call myself a writer. At the end of it, I had nothing to show for it, and that’s what made me feel bad. That in turn, provided me with the kick to actually get something meaningful done. Finding the time to write just becomes harder as you grow up, and life in general will test your commitment to writing. Sometimes, you’ll have to write while half asleep on the train back from work, or just before you go to bed. You might even have to understand that writing will have to fit around other more important duties, and this will test your motivation to do so in the first place.