Making Sacrifices

I’ve been quiet again. Sorry. Not really, though. Those of you in the know will be aware of how hard early October is for me. That’s not the reason though. Well, not entirely.

The last five weeks or so, I’ve been working on redrafting my novel. It’s been difficult, especially to get into the swing of things. Now that I have, work is progressing at a decent pace but the problem is, it’s taken a lot (read: most) of my time. That, and work – and travelling to work – is a bit of a killer. It means I’ve had to make some tough choices.

Beyond the birthday plans, it means cutting back on social events, gaming and even swimming (I’m annoyed about this one the most!). As such, I’ve missed Halloween and all the fun parties and gatherings.

It’ll be worth it.

Editing is not easy. At all

To edit effectively, all distractions need to vanish. I’ve got the TV on but on shows and movies that I’ve seen many times before. It’s the noise I want. Working in silence doesn’t appeal to me.

I need to be objective and, at times, brutal. Some pages are covered in red ink while others have only a few corrections. It’s weird, going through three pages you think actually work well and don’t need many amends (this time around) but then you read eight pages that have so many changes it might have been easier to just rewrite them from scratch.

I exaggerate but hopefully you get the point.

Thankfully, I’ve been editing projects, both creative writing and marketing focused, for the last ten years or so. If all goes to plan, I’ll be working on the digital file by the 12th November.

The sacrifices

As mentioned, gaming has gone out of the window (despite having plenty of games to play!). I’ve turned down a lot of plans with people. Partly due to money but also because they’re a distraction and if I break the run I’m on, it could take even longer to get it done.

Swimming has gone as well. There was an injury followed by illness and now this. It’s been about six weeks since my last swim and I’m suffering withdrawal! I know that I’ll lose some of the fitness and progress made over the last five months but I’ll get it back. By then, I might be able to step it up and do something else. Maybe I can start running a little.

Forgive me

If I’m quiet, or distant, or constantly saying no to your plans to do something, give me a little time. It might seem like I don’t care but I do – possibly too much – just about my writing right now. It does take priority. If I did this full-time, it would be different.

We’ll get through it. Maybe I’ll appreciate these activities more once I can do them again. If it helps me publish this book, it’ll definitely be worth it.

Tackling Lethargy

Lethargy. It’s something that I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in suffering from from time to time. Yes, that is why I’ve been silent recently. I have the ideas but not the energy or motivation to work on them. Sorry about that.

I’m aiming to change that. I still have the lethargy but the only way to beat it is by getting organised and doing things (I say this while not swimming, which I should be doing right now. One thing at a time.) that I do want to do anyway.

Master of Procrastination

Yes, yes I am. It’s very easy to waste time. Facebook and social media in general is good for this. Fear of missing out (or FOMO) means we’re glued to the news feed whether at home or on the go. We don’t want to miss out on anything that MAY happen. Before you know it, three hours have passed and it’s almost time for bed.

Binge watching TV with the likes of Netflix is another way of losing time. Pottering around the house/flat/home. Basically, anything you do when you know you have other things to do wastes that time. I’m especially bad when I have to do the cleaning. Sigh.

Becoming more organised

As it stands now, I don’t have much in the way of free time during the week. An 8 hour day at work as well as three hours – minimum – travel time means I have about four hours after work to do things. There are the daily chores and tasks that must be done, eating, showering etc.

I swim twice a week, which takes up a good amount of time on those nights too. I like to read and play games too so finding the balance that allows me to do these things, as well as write and/or edit for a while every day.

That means a schedule.

It’s not fun to stick to a routine but it does seem a part of normal life these days. It lets me manage my time and hopefully get the best out of myself. I can appreciate the limited time I have and make sure every day has work, writing and some sort of enjoyable activity.

It does mean some sort of sacrifice. Something is going to have to give. Social media is the first thing to go. It’s still there – you might have found this on Facebook or Twitter and such – and I’ll check back every now and then, but until I can make some sort of progress, it needs to stop distracting me.

The proverbial kick up the backside

Sometimes, we need something else to get back into the swing of things. Whenever I submit any kind of writing to something/somewhere/someone, I always ask for feedback. In most cases, it doesn’t happen but occasionally it does, and it can sometimes be that kick needed.

I was told this particular story had basically no chance of going anywhere without serious work – a complete overhaul of the story. I’m not sure what exactly that overhaul needs yet, maybe I never will, but that’s okay.

There was something positive to come from it. I was told my writing is good. The form, the technical ability, the style etc – overall, I’m a good writer. I know that, or I wouldn’t have made it this far but it’s good to hear, and from a stranger. Every so often, we need that compliment and I know there are better stories in me, already in the works. If I get them done, I may just have a chance to make a real career out of this!

How No Man’s Sky Helps Me as a Writer

No Man's Sky

No Man’s Sky

Another tangent this time but this one, arguably, has more of a relevance to my writing than the Pokémon Go post two weeks ago. This time, I want to discuss No Man’s Sky, a game I have been looking forward to for many years.

I generally avoid reviews and critics on most things. If I come across something, I won’t run away screaming but I will treat it objectively – I’d rather make my own mind up, even if it’s not ‘popular’ opinion. It goes for games, films, TV shows, books, music – everything. That’s why, even though a lot of people seem to be complaining about No Man’s Sky, it doesn’t bother me. There are specific reasons I want the game beyond just enjoying it for what it is. I want to go into these shortly.

First though, I’ll address some of the elephants in the blog post.

It’s not perfect, by any means

Let’s get this straight right now. This is not the best game in the world, probably not even close. The crafting system is limited, the interface clunky (at least on the PS4) and the lack of direction can be off-putting for some people. There’s also very little in the way of tutorial, you’ve got to try things for yourself and learn as you go.

Look too closely at the graphics and they’re not as impressive as you first thought. The game is very grind-heavy and repetitive, you’ll be doing similar things on each world you come across as you follow the very loose objectives you do actually have.

But, for me, a game doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s about overcoming the problems and still succeeding, finding solutions that give the best returns and being inspired. The planets I’ve come across have been awe-inspiring. Standing at the top of a cliff and looking out over the plains with water in the distance. Others are harsh and barren but make me work faster to survive and move on.

As a writer, it has already been a big help

One of the nicer planet's I've found on No Man's Sky

One of the nicer planet’s I’ve found on No Man’s Sky

Now, I’m not just a sci-fi writer, and most of my stories don’t resolve around a being alone and fighting for survival on empty worlds but that doesn’t matter.

The scenery, as I’ve mentioned before, can be great at helping me find the perfect setting for a scene or story. It might only be a small part of it, a section or one particular thing that stands out – maybe on something I’ve been working on before and felt was lacking something.

The emotions I feel as the protagonist can also be applied to stories. As a writer, I draw upon my own experiences and imagination, so anything that can help broaden that is welcome. By immersing myself in these kinds of games, by giving the character a life through role play techniques, I can then use some of what I experience in stories, regardless of genre. It takes practise but over the years it’s become a handy skill.

You need an imagination

One of the harsher planet's I've found on No Man's Sky - with a weird, flying beast

One of the harsher planet’s I’ve found on No Man’s Sky – with a weird, flying beast

Well, you don’t NEED one, but if you want to use the game as I do, then you kind of do, yeah. My character has a background, a story, a purpose (that sometimes goes against the point of the game but it is so free and vast it doesn’t matter) and I use that. It can change each week.

Sometimes I create one specifically for a project I have in mind, while others are existing characters I transfer to this. It’s a big change for them and that’s a good process to explore. It lets me dive a little deeper into their mind and that, in turn – I hope – makes writing that character a better experience for my readers.

I’m actually doing it with a character right now, but it’s all hush hush. Sorry!

So, despite its shortcomings, I still think No Man’s Sky is a decent game for what it is – and for what I expected it to be…like I said above, not one to follow the crowd for the sake of it. The extra value I get from it won’t work for all writers but maybe for some. Hell, any creative may find it of use in the same way I do.

Then again, there are plenty of ways to find inspiration, if we only remember to open our eyes, ears and other senses to what’s going on around us.

Or, you can read this post and get some other ideas from me!

Reliving a Childhood Dream with Pokémon Go

I’m going off on a tangent tonight – this post isn’t strictly about writing but there is still a link. We’ll get to that later.

Like many others, I’ve been playing this mobile game since release. It’s a fairly simple game. It uses a map and GPS to spawn Pokémon near you. You then throw Pokéballs to catch it. There are different versions of the catching devices that improve the capture rate and various levels of monsters that appear. Travel to different locations and you’ll find different monsters. The game encourages you to go and explore the area – although in some cases, it’s best to do this with others, unfortunately.

I’m not here to review the game, however. There’s plenty of posts for that, and I’m not saying it’s the best game ever – there are faults and great features. This is a little more personal than that.

The nostalgia

Favourite Pokémon so far in Pokémon Go

Favourite Pokémon so far in Pokémon Go

I grew up with Pokémon. I was a part of the generation that fell in love with the games, the trading cards and even the TV show. I’m not ashamed of that. Hell, I still have some of the cards somewhere – they took a while to collect.

As a kid, I was full of dreams. That’s not uncommon. Talk to any child and their imaginations are off in another world. Stories run amok. Rules and conventions go out the window. Its surreal watching and listening to them go – yet I can’t recall exactly what my thought process was like back then. It’s a shame, as I’m sure my already active imagination would be a never ending source of inspiration.

Other than wanting to be a Jedi, having my own Iron Man suit and many others, I wanted to go out and catch Pokémon. The card and GameBoy games were the closest I could get. It was fine but growing up, I realised how silly it was.

It still is.

Yet here I am, 20 years later, actually doing it. Granted, it’s on my phone but I’m going out, meeting people, discovering places I had no idea even existed after seven years in Manchester.

This whole thing has sparked something in me. I’m doing more exercise, reliving a dream and finding motivation for other endeavours I’m working on (the books I’ve been putting off editing). If that’s only thing it does, I’ll still count the whole experience as a win for me.

In the end, it might wear off, but hey, why not enjoy it while it lasts?

The opposing view

An example of the map in Pokémon Go

An example of the map in Pokémon Go

I’ve seen a lot of people bashing Pokémon Go and for the life of me, I don’t understand why. Apparently it’s sad that people walk around staring at their phones – yet we do that anyway with Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram etc. We LIVE on phones nowadays, for better or worse.

I’m firmly on the side of Pokémon Go, whether people like or not. It’s done good for plenty of people – why not focus on that?

So here are just a few points I raise to people:

People are now playing games and getting exercise – it beats sitting on your backside playing Candy Crush or that ilk (note: I have nothing against those kinds of games, but I’m not bashing them either.

How many kids have the phones and/or data allowance to play this game properly? Granted, this is becoming an obsolete point but parents also won’t them wander the streets alone at all hours with expensive devices. I hope.

Twenty years ago, most of these kids weren’t even born! If this is aimed at younger generations, why not choose a later generation of Pokémon that they’re more familiar with? The first generation brought the kids in as it’s a brand they know but also mine, as we remember them!

Another note – I realised I could still name most, if not all, of the original 151.

Instead of going out of your way to bash it, decide it’s not for you and move on. Unless people are trespassing on your property or interrupting your life, they aren’t hurting you. Get over it.

Why it even matters

The Gyarados took a long time to evolve...the second one won't take as long!

The Gyarados took a long time to evolve…the second one won’t take as long!

In the end, none of this does. I’ve rekindled something that I hope will help me in the future. It’s spawning new ideas already – although I need to get the books I’ve got in good order before writing more.

More importantly, I feel better. The extra exercise is doing me good (remember that swimming thing I started a while back? It’s still going on) and my jeans are very loose on me now. Woo!

Sure, the game is a bit of a grind but there’s a nice feeling of accomplishment when you get things done – that Gyarados took FOREVER.

I suppose, we just need to focus on the good more than the bad. There’s plenty of both around and it colours how we see the world and the people in it. My writing may be dark at times, but it’s not always negative.

Next time, I’ll be back to writing related posts. Ciao!

Death in Storytelling

I, like many people, love stories. I read books, watch films and television shows, play games, listen to music – all sorts. There are stories everywhere. Growing up, they obviously had a big effect because now I’m an aspiring writer.

One thing I’ve never really considered until recently was death in the stories we read, watch, play, listen etc. It’s always there, sometimes in a small way and others a lot more significantly – even when I was younger. I never had a reason to question it before but now I’m beginning to wonder; are we numb to death in our stories?

Oh, there will be some spoilers coming up but nothing too recent.

Death isn’t unusual

I spent some time reliving a few childhood memories. Purely academic of course, but I found that death is all around us. Despite this, no one raises an eye. Remember, I’m particularly fond of the sci-fi and fantasy genres but death isn’t limited to these subjects. Maybe I expect it more in adult stories than I do children or young adult fiction but nevertheless, it’s there.

Should this be allowed?

Well, it already is, although there are rules to follow, it seems. In adult fiction, there are fewer to follow – and less consequences if the rules are broken. For younger audiences, there are two main rules I’ve identified. Not everything follows this and there probably more but these are two I’ve noticed the most.

Firstly, the death has to mean something. It can’t be an afterthought; it is used to teach a character something – even if it takes a while to do so. It acts as motivation, a turning point, a way to break and rebuild. Ultimately, this is a popular or well-loved character; a mentor, guardian or parent, for example, but not limited to them. It allows characters to reach their ‘coming of age’ stage and then go on to surpass them.

Alternatively, deaths are used to indicate scale. They are minor characters; soldiers in a war, brief acquaintances, villains or monsters that heroes must defeat to complete a quest. They can be likened to an obstacle, wall or challenge that has to be overcome. As we never invest in them, or are made to think of them as evil, their deaths are seen as insignificant. It’s only looking back that I realised just how many there have been.

Beloved franchises

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This happens a lot, so I’m going to list some examples. Again, if you haven’t read/seen/played any of these, spoilers are coming. However, I’ve chosen older titles so don’t blame me.

Harry Potter. I grew up with these books. My feelings are mixed but that’s another story. Harry’s parents are dead before the books begin but throughout the series, key characters die. Sirius, Dumbledore, Snape and Lupin are core characters to Harry and help develop his character. Voldemort is the villain to overcome but wizards, witches, Death Eaters and muggles all die throughout the later books. Pretty grim, really.

Even the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t escaped. Avengers Assemble killed off a very important character, popular with other characters and audiences alike. This was

Chaos Walking Trilogy

Chaos Walking Trilogy

rectified later, to mixed reactions from what I gathered, but it was a shocking moment. Again, it followed the first rule. Plenty of deaths, both innocent, ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’

Star Wars. Almost every film has an example of this. A New Hope saw Obi Wan die, while in the most recent film, The Force Awakens, Han Solo bites the bucket. The first example is a turning point for Luke Skywalker while Han’s demise will have repercussions we’re yet to fully experience. With war being a common theme, you can see death in all seven films.

I could list some hugely shocking moments here, and I may well do in the future but not tonight. I’d like to point you to Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking Trilogy as a great example, though. Gamers will probably know the Final Fantasy VII example, which is still a powerful moment almost two decades later. The list is endless. Maybe I will sort something later.

And then there’s A Song of Ice and Fire

ASOIAF - A Game of Thrones

ASOIAF – A Game of Thrones

I left this until the end because it’s one of the most recent, mainstream and popular series around. Unfortunately, that applies more to the TV show Game of Thrones rather than the books. While I could happily and easily dive into THAT debate, we’ll leave it to one side for now.

Death is probably the only thing you can expect in both the show and the books. No one seems to be safe, from minor characters to major, popular to unpopular. George R. R Martin has done well in making readers invest in the characters, even the ones you don’t like, before pulling the rug from under you and killing them.

The series hasn’t finished so we don’t know how it will end but it’s one of the most popular franchises at the moment where death is so prevalent. The deaths are also epic in a lot of cases, which makes them stand out. When I say epic, I mean brutal. Shock tactics galore.

Does this numb us further? That’s something to think on but some people don’t mind it, while others hate it and then the third group love it. It’s always going to divide opinion but that’s just one of the great things about stories.