Today’s Art (19th January 2018)

To my delight, I was feeling inspired again when I made this digitally-edited painting, which ended up going in a slightly random late 1990s/early 2000s cyberpunk kind of direction. Then again, I’d have probably been more surprised if it didn’t.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Cyberpunk Metro” By C. A. Brown

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Three Ultra-Basic Ways To Come Up With Story Ideas In Genres You Don’t Normally Write In

During a random conversation a while before I originally wrote this article, I was asked by someone to come up with random ideas for romance novels.

Although I thought that this would be an extremely challenging thing (since romance usually tends to be a background element, if anything, in stories that I write), I was actually able to come up with two vaguely ok story ideas within the following hour. They didn’t turn into actual stories, but I’m still surprised that I was actually able to think of the ideas in the first place.

So, for today, I thought that I’d talk about how to come up with story ideas for genres that you don’t normally write in.

1) Work out which part of the genre you like (and which part you don’t): If you have to plan a story in a genre that you don’t normally write in, start by asking yourself what you do and don’t like about the genre in question. When you’ve found the things that you like, then focus on them.

Although this won’t give you an instant story idea, knowing what you do and don’t like about the genre in question will point you in the direction of the basic story types that you’ll be best at planning. So, it will give you part of a story idea, although you’ll obviously have to think of the rest.

For example, in romantic fiction, I prefer stories where the romance is either a pre-existing thing at the start of the story or an inevitable thing. I’m not really a fan of stories that involve love triangles, affairs etc.. since this adds a lot of unnecessary tension and emotional awkwardness to a genre that is supposed to be uplifting and reassuring (albeit with some light dramatic conflict). So, knowing this, I was able to know a little bit more about the basic types of stories that I’d be best at planning.

2) You know more than you think you do: If you’ve ever seen a sci-fi film called “Limitless“, then you’re probably going to guess what I’m talking about here. In this film, the main character ends up in a situation that allows him to access literally all of his memories. This means that, thanks to lots of things he’s seen or read about briefly in the past, he instantly becomes a genius. The basic point of this film is that we absorb a lot more information than we actually remember.

The same is true for genres that you don’t normally write. Chances are, you’ve seen or read more things in this genre than you think – even if it’s just mixed with other genres. For example, if you’ve never read or written a horror story before and haven’t seen any horror movies, then you’ve probably still seen films, TV shows etc.. that include elements from the horror genre.

So, think carefully about all of the things that you have seen or read that include elements from the genre that you’re going to use in your story plan and see if those elements can teach you anything about how to tell stories in this genre.

3) Your own version: One of the best ways to plan a story in a genre you don’t know much about is simply to think of your own version of it. In other words, if you read a story or saw a film in that genre which you actually liked – what would it look like? Once you’ve worked this out, then coming up with a story plan becomes somewhat easier.

Yes, it might involve adding elements from other genres to your plan or it might involve using literary techniques from other genres, but it will help you to think of a story idea that is actually enjoyable to write about.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (18th January 2018)

Well, I’d originally planned to make some kind of 1990s videogame-themed painting but, fairly soon after I started sketching, this digitally-edited painting quickly went in a much more gothic direction (which was probably vaguely inspired by “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines“).

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence

“In Chantry Corners” By C. A. Brown

Three Reasons Why Combining Two Awesome Things Can Sometimes Be Less Awesome

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before (I had a sudden moment of deja vu halfway through writing the article), but I thought that I’d look at one of the more paradoxical things that can happen with creative works.

This is when something either directly combines two incredibly cool things or takes inspiration from two incredibly cool things, but somehow ends up being mildly less awe-inspiringly magnificent than it should logically be.

For example, I’m a massive fan of both Iron Maiden and “Blade Runner“. So, you would think that “Somewhere In Time” would be my favourite Iron Maiden album.

After all, Derek Riggs’ ultra-detailed cover art for the album is inspired by “Blade Runner”, there are a couple of sci-fi themed songs on the album (with the opening track being one of Iron Maiden’s best songs) and, when the band originally toured the album during the mid-late 1980s, they apparently played the “Blade Runner” theme on the PA before each concert.

Yet, it isn’t quite my favourite Iron Maiden album (that title probably goes to either the criminally under-appreciated “Virtual XI” or possibly to “The Book Of Souls). Sure, “Somewhere In Time” would probably appear in my top five or top ten Iron Maiden albums, but it isn’t my absolute favourite.

So, why can combinations of awesome things somehow end up being slightly less awesome than they “should” be?

1) Creativity isn’t maths: This one is fairly self-explanatory really. With something as subjective as both the creator’s imagination and the unique tastes of each audience member, creativity doesn’t exactly follow logical mathematical rules.

Merely adding two cool things together won’t always produce something better than either thing for the simple reason that it depends a lot on how those two things are combined and how the audience expects them to be combined. In other words, everyone has a slightly different idea of what makes something awesome – and they will focus on these elements when either creating things or being a member of the audience.

For example, one of the reasons why I don’t consider “Somewhere in Time” to be my favourite Iron Maiden album is because it really doesn’t focus that much on the philosophical themes or the cyberpunk atmosphere in “Blade Runner”. Then again, the album is Iron Maiden’s interpretation of the science fiction genre, rather than my own interpretation of it. So, it’s going to be different.

Once again, creativity isn’t maths. Merely adding two things together won’t automatically produce something even greater because creative works are made and consumed by humans rather than machines.

2) High expectations: This is also another self-explanatory reason. When you hear that something has combined or taken influence from two of your favourite things, then it’s only natural to expect it to be the best thing in the world. And, even if it’s just as good as one of the two influences, then it’s still going to fall short of the impossibly high expectations that you have about it.

Going back to “Somewhere In Time”, it’s a very good album. In fact, it’s one of those great albums that doesn’t contain a single “bad” song. But, because it presents itself as being Iron Maiden’s version of “Blade Runner”, I kind of expect it to be twice as good as I would ordinarily expect an Iron Maiden album to be. And, given that I already consider this band to be perhaps the best in the world, not even they could surpass themselves to that extent.

So, yes, hearing that something combines two of your favourite things can sometimes create unrealistically high expectations that can lead you to look down on things that, on their own merits, would otherwise be considered great.

3) Crossovers and Canonicity: Although this isn’t a problem with original works that take inspiration from two great things, it can be a problem with “crossovers” between your favourite things. Basically, as cool as crossovers are, they often carry less dramatic weight than each of their component parts do.

The reason for this is simply to do with canonicity. Basically, because a crossover consists of characters from two completely different fictional “universes” meeting each other, there usually has to be some kind of convoluted explanation for it. Likewise, it’s not usually considered to be an “official” part of either story. As such, there can’t really be any significant character or plot developments in many major crossovers.

So, if the characters from two great stories happen to meet during a crossover film, comic, novel, TV episode etc.. then it will often be more like “Hey! These characters have met each other and gone on a fun self-contained adventure!” rather than a more complex story like the one you would find in either individual thing.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

How To Have More Than One Main Inspiration

Although it’s great to find something that constantly serves as a major inspiration for your creative works, it’s usually a good idea to have more than one main inspiration. This is mostly because, as I’ve mentioned many times before, having multiple inspirations is the key to creating original things.

If you only have one inspiration, then anything you create will be a second-rate imitation of that one thing. However, if you have multiple inspirations, then anything you create will be a unique mixture of elements from these things. In other words, it will be noticeably different to any one thing.

So, how do you make sure that you have more than one main inspiration?

Simply put, you do research. And you have fun whilst you do it. A good way to start is to look at your main inspiration and search the internet for information about anything that is similar to it. Once you’ve found lots of things, try to buy as many of them as you can afford to do so and study them carefully.

Seeing how other people have used similar influences will not only help you to find your own approach to the genre in question, but it will also widen your understanding and give you a slightly larger mix of inspirations to draw from.

For example, the largest influence on a lot of my art is the movie “Blade Runner“. Within the past 2-3 years, I’ve been on the lookout for things that are similar – but different- to this film. This has had a large influence on my art. For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a cyberpunk painting that I’ll be posting here next month:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 17th February.

Although the decision to use a gloomy cyberpunk-style lighting scheme came straight from “Blade Runner”, my approach to the location design was probably more influenced by the futuristic Japanese locations in the “Ghost In The Shell” anime franchise. Likewise, my approach to handling colour in this painting (and most of my more recent paintings) was inspired by the colour schemes in this set of science fiction-themed “Doom II” levels. Yet, the final painting doesn’t look exactly like any one of these three things since I used a mixture of inspirations, albeit relatively similar ones.

But, of course, the best types of creativity come from having lots of radically different main inspirations. So, how do you do this? Here are the two most basic ways.

The first is simply to just stay on the lookout for cool stuff. If you read, watch, see or play something that really makes an impression on you, then ask yourself why? Take a close look at the thing in question and try to work out what general elements (eg: qualities that can be described in no more than 2-3 words) appeal to you. Once you’ve found these qualities, then try to find a way to incorporate them into your own art.

The second is to realise that you probably already have more than one main inspiration, even if you don’t realise it. After all, you’ve probably been a fan of more than literally just one thing at various stages in your life. You’re probably a fan of more than one thing right now. However, if you focus on one thing by considering it to be your “main inspiration”, you don’t tend to think about the other things so much -even if they might have an influence on what you create.

So, look carefully at the things that you really like (but don’t consider to be “main influences) and you might start to notice the effect that they’ve had on your creative works. These effects may be more subtle than the things that you consider to be your “main influence” (since you’ve probably taken inspiration unconsciously, rather than consciously), but they will probably exist in some way or another.

Once you’ve found them, then try taking inspiration from these things more consciously (eg: in the same way you do with your “main influence”).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (16th January 2018)

Woo hoo! Inspired again! This digitally-edited painting was kind of a strange one since, before I made it, I was procrastinating slightly by watching art videos on Youtube. Anyway, virtually all of the artists in the videos were trying to go for the whole ‘bohemian/hipster’ kind of look. So, I thought that I’d try to make a painting in this style but, as soon as I started sketching, the picture ended up turning into a picture of someone sitting on a sofa in a realistically “messy” room (well, more like borderline tidy). So, then I thought “this looks dull, I should add some cyberpunk stuff”. And, in the end, the painting turned into this random 1970s-90s style cyberpunk painting, which was really cool 🙂

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Slow Night” By C. A. Brown