Today’s Art (27th September 2017)

Well, although today’s digitally-edited painting ended up being less cyberpunk than I had expected, it did end up looking wonderfully ’90s 🙂

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

"Corridor Lobby" By C. A. Brown

“Corridor Lobby” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Mr. Holmes” (Film)

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Although I’d heard of “Mr. Holmes” before, I didn’t get round to seeing it until shortly before writing this review. Since I was fairly tired at the time of writing this review, it may be shorter or more abrupt than my usual reviews are.

Likewise, this review may contain some minor SPOILERS

As you may have guessed from the title, “Mr. Holmes” is a film (from 2015) about Sherlock Holmes. Set in 1947, this film focuses on Holmes as an old man who lives near the Sussex coast with a housekeeper and her son. Like in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, Holmes has dedicated himself to beekeeping in his old age.

However, thanks to both his failing memory and the curiosity of the housekeeper’s son, Holmes realises that he cannot recall the exact reason why he retired from detective work. He has vague memories of a case, but he suspects that Watson’s account of it was inaccurate. So, he must try to find out what actually happened during his final case….

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it both was and wasn’t what I expected it to be. Although Holmes’ final case is an important part of the story, it isn’t really the main focus of the film in the way I had expected it to be. This is more of a poignant, tragic drama featuring Sherlock Holmes than a Sherlock Holmes film. It is also a film that will probably make you cry at least once.

Yet, despite the morose and sombre tone of the film, there are still hints of classic Sherlock Holmes within it. For example, he points out that 221b Baker Street was a false address created by Watson in order to prevent tourists bothering them. Likewise, there’s even a short Basil Rathbone-style segment too.

However, although Holmes does make a few clever deductions, they often tend to be fairly understated instead of celebrated. In other words, Holmes is presented as an intelligent, but ordinary, person – rather than the subtly superhuman character found in the stories.

Likewise, Holmes’ final case isn’t exactly the kind of story that Conan Doyle would have written. Then again, this is the whole point of the film’s story. It’s a story about Holmes’ weaknesses rather than his strengths. But, if you are expecting a “traditional”-style Sherlock Holmes mystery, then you’re probably going to be slightly disappointed.

In terms of the set design and filming, I cannot fault “Mr. Holmes”. Although most of the film is set within Holmes’ house by the coast, this is broken up by numerous flashbacks to both Holmes’ final case in London and a trip to Japan that he took in 1945/6, in search of a medicinal plant. All of the locations look suitably realistic, whilst also looking stunningly dramatic at the same time.

The acting in this film is, quite simply, superb. Although I disliked the tragic tone of the film, it was only able to carry as much emotional weight as it did because of strong performances from all of the central cast. Ian McKellen in particular gives an absolutely stellar performance as the elderly Holmes, although the decision that he should also play the “younger” version of Holmes was slightly ill-judged in my opinion. Whilst there is some contrast between the two versions of Holmes, it doesn’t really seem as great as the 25-30 year time difference that the film suggests.

Surprisingly though, Watson is never directly shown in this film. He is talked about, he appears in the distant background once, and we see a few close-ups of his hands but, we never really see him. Although I can understand the dramatic reasons for this – since it is very much a film about Holmes rather than Watson – it would have been nice to see more of Watson in this film.

All in all, as a drama film, this film is excellent and it carries a lot of emotional weight. However, it doesn’t really fit into my personal idea of what a Sherlock Holmes film should be. But, it’s a creative experiment that tries to explore and present the character in a complex, nuanced and unconventional way, and I have to respect it for that. But, if you’re expecting a “traditional”-style Sherlock Holmes adaptation, then you’re better off watching the sublimely brilliant ITV adaptation from the 1980s/90s.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, I’d probably give it about a four due to it’s creativity and the high quality of the acting, filming, writing etc… even if it wasn’t really my kind of Sherlock Holmes film.

Three Quick Tips For Writing Historical Short Stories

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At the time of writing, I was busy making a series of historical short stories that will probably have been posted here much earlier this year. If you’re interested in reading any of them, then you can either click here or look for the link titled “Back To The 1990s” in the ‘2017’ section of this page.

So, for today, I thought that I’d talk very briefly about how to write short stories that are set in the past.

1) Make it ordinary: If you’re writing really short stories (eg: 500-1200 words), then you don’t have time for long historical essays. Plus, if you have a writing schedule of any kind, then the amount of research time available to you might be slightly low too.

So, one way to get around this problem is to make most of the story fairly “timeless”/ “ordinary”, but to include a few small historical details in order to give the audience a sense of the time and place. If you don’t know how to make a story timeless, then just focus on things like dialogue between characters and use locations that have been relatively similar throughout history (eg: marketplaces, offices, churches etc..)

For example, the first of my “1990s” stories is set in the offices of a games magazine in early 1997. Although there are a few historical references (eg: to the Nintendo 64) and other subtle clues as to the location (eg: it’s probably London, since the characters are British and most of our press seems to be located in that one city), it probably wouldn’t be too hard to update the story to the present day or to change the location if I wanted to, since most of the story revolves around two people standing in an office and talking to each other.

2) Humour and irony: One way to have a bit of fun with historical fiction is to include ironic humour based on the fact that your characters don’t know what will happen in the future (but both you and your audience do). Lots of great examples of this sort of thing can be found in a brilliant time travel-based TV series called “Ashes To Ashes” (or, the prequel, “Life On Mars).

One easy way to include this kind of ironic humour is to show one of your historical characters either predicting the future incorrectly, or being strongly optimistic or pessimistic about something which you know will turn out differently.

Going back to the story I mentioned earlier, one ironic joke is that the narrator isn’t keen about the idea of reviewing a movie-based videogame. As any gamer will tell you, games based on movies are regarded as one of the most low-quality genres of games (due to their rushed production schedules). However, there is literally one famous exception to this long-standing rule. And, well, you can probably guess which game the narrator is reluctant to review…..

3) Vagueness: Although I’ve probably mentioned this technique in one of my articles about making comics set in the past, it applies to fiction too. Generally, it is easier to come up with a story that is set in a vague and unspecified time in history than it is to write a story that is set on a specific day in the past.

This also helps you to dodge some possible criticisms about historical accuracy too. For example, if you set your story in – say – “the mid-late 1980s” – then this gives you more creative freedom than if you set your story on, say, the 26th September 1987.

If you want to narrow down the time period of your story, then you can include a few references to major or minor historical events in order to give knowledgeable readers a few clues about when the story is set, whilst still leaving the exact date somewhat vague.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (25th September 2017)

Yes! After the quick and/or slightly uninspired paintings I’d been posting for the past few days, I finally had both the time and the inspiration to make a proper retro cyberpunk painting 🙂

Yes, it required slightly more digital editing than usual, but I really like how it turned out. Especially since it had more of a ’90s kind of look to it than some of my recent paintings.

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

"Connection" By C. A. Brown

“Connection” By C. A. Brown

Three Random Tips For Writing A Short Story Collection

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As regular readers of this site know, I tend to write these articles quite far in advance. At the time of writing, I was vaguely planning a series of 1990s-themed stories (that might have already been posted here earlier this year, if I end up writing them), in a similar style to the short story collections that I wrote for Halloween and Christmas last year.

So, I thought that I’d look at the topic of writing short story collections today. Here are a few tips for writing a short story collection:

1) Themes: Generally speaking, I’ve found it easier to write multiple short stories if I have a single theme that I can use in each story. By having one theme, you’ve always got a source of inspiration to fall back on when you are working out ideas for several different stories.

For example, the stories that I wrote for Christmas last year were all Christmas-themed stories in the cyberpunk genre. Since this was a genre of science fiction that revolves around virtual reality, I settled on the idea of setting my stories in a future where most people spent Christmas in a virtual reality world. This one idea provided the inspiration for fourteen different stories.

Why? Because I could look at this one idea from lots of different perspectives. I could write stories about people who didn’t spend Christmas in virtual reality (like this one or this one), I could write stories about people who did spend Christmas inside virtual reality, I could write stories about computer hackers meddling with the virtual reality world etc….

So, if you find one theme that can be approached from lots of different directions, then coming up with ideas for all of the stories in your collection will be a lot easier.

2) Connections: Ideally, the short stories in a short story collection should all be stand-alone stories. After all, if you’re posting your short stories online, then it’s likely that people may only read a couple of them or they might read them in a random order. Even in a traditional print short story collection, one of the joys of the format is dipping in at random and reading the most interesting-sounding stories first.

Still, if you want to reward readers who read all of the stories and/or read them in order, then connecting your short stories can be a good idea. Although I didn’t do this with my Halloween 2016 stories, it was a technique that I used quite a bit during my Christmas stories last year.

The trick here is, of course, to make the connections fairly subtle. Since all of my stories revolved around the theme of a virtual reality world, I just had to include references to this virtual world in most of the stories (with a brief explanation too). In addition to this, I also used the old trick of referring briefly to the events of previous stories in some of my stories.

These are two of the most basic ways to connect a group of short stories, although you can also do things like including recurring characters too. However, be sure that each story is still able to be enjoyed and understood by someone who hasn’t read any of the previous stories.

3) Failure: Like with mediocre tracks on an album or lacklustre episodes in a TV show, some of your short stories are probably going to fall flat. When this happens, you have two choices.

The first one, which is essential if you’re publishing your stories commercially, is to remove or rewrite the terrible stories before you release any of your short stories. The downside of this approach is that your collection will either be shorter than usual or it will take longer to write, even if the quality level will have improved. But, if you are charging money for copies of your short stories, then you have an obligation to make the collection as good as possible -so, remove or improve the crappy stories!

The second approach, which is useful when publishing freely-viewable stories online, is just to include the stories anyway. If you have a regular release schedule then, if a terrible story appears, the audience don’t have to wait too much longer for another story (which could be better) to appear. After all, rewriting or deleting stories might cause you to fall behind schedule.

Plus, as I’ve learnt from my daily art posts on this site, it’s impossible to second-guess your audience. In other words, some people might actually like a story that you consider to be “terrible”. It’s unlikely, but it happens sometimes.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (24th September 2017)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting ended up being another “low-effort”/”low-inspiration” cyberpunk cityscape (mostly because my original idea for the painting, which would have shown a detective vaulting over a wall, failed miserably- so, I had to make something quick and easy instead). Still, at least I had time to add rain effects (albeit with a bit of copying and pasting) to it this time.

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

"Scribble City" By C. A. Brown

“Scribble City” By C. A. Brown