Today’s Art ( 30th April 2019)

Today’s digitally-edited painting is based on this photo I took of the church in Privett last May. Although the painting was a little bit rushed, it turned out better than I’d expected 🙂

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

“Privett – Church Corner” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – April 2019

Well, it’s the end of the month, so it’s time for my usual list of links to the ten best articles about writing, making art etc… that I posted here over the past month. As usual, I’ll also include a couple of honourable mentions.

All in all, this month was a reasonably good one in terms of articles (not to mention that this blog also celebrated it’s sixth anniversary too 🙂). But, like with the past few months, there were fewer articles due to the usual book reviews.

In terms of book reviews, this month was a bit of an interesting one. Although there was something of a temporary drop in the quality/sophistication of the books I reviewed near the end of the month (mostly for time, weather etc.. related reasons), I ended up reviewing thirteen books this month 🙂 The highlights were probably “The Scarlet Gospels” & “Weaveworld” by Clive Barker, “Autonomous” by Annalee Newitz, “A Trail Through Time” by Jodi Taylor, “Dominion” by C. J. Sansom and “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” by S. D. Perry.

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – April 2019:

– “Six Things I’ve Learnt From Running A Blog For Six Years
– “Three Tips For Writing Reassuring Horror Fiction
– “Three Thoughts About Novelisations And Spin-Off Novels
– “Three Tips For Finding Your Own “Style” Of Horror Fiction
– “How To Know Which Details To Include In Photo-Based Paintings/Drawings
– “Using Banality In Dystopian Fiction
– “Three Sneaky Ways To Reduce Reader Frustration
– “Two Reasons Why Writers Include Metafiction In Their Stories
– “Three Reasons Why ‘Low Fantasy’ Is Better Than ‘High Fantasy’
– “How To Find “New” Art Techniques – A Ramble

Honourable mentions:

– “Three Achingly Hip (And On-Trend) Tips For Writing A Modern Novel[APRIL FOOL]
– “Three Reasons Why Writers Should Watch Game Design Videos

Three Reasons Why Writers Should Watch Game Design Videos

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this topic before, but I thought that I’d talk about why online videos about game design can useful for writers. Although prose fiction and videogames might seem like very different mediums (and they are), videos about game design can still be extremely useful to writers for a number of reasons.

So, I thought that I’d list a few of them.

1) Some lessons translate directly: A few days before I wrote this article, I happened to watch this fascinating (if lengthy) video about combat systems in action/thriller videogames. Whilst this might not seem directly relevant to writing, one part of the video stuck in my mind.

In one part of the video, there’s a description of how “dramatic” attack animations in videogames often focus more on the build-up and aftermath of an action than the action itself. It was then that I realised that dramatic fight scenes in many thriller novels often do something similar – devoting more words to both suspenseful descriptions before a fight scene and the consequences of each action after it happens.

So, yes, even though videogames may be a very different medium to prose fiction, some lessons can translate directly. This is probably because some dramatic techniques are fairly universal (after all, this advice about dramatic fight scenes would probably also apply to film and comics as well).

2) They teach you the value of design: One of the interesting things about game design videos is that they’ll often focus on how designers deliberately set up parts of their game in order to achieve a particular mood or effect. For example, a game might subtly encourage the player to explore by hiding useful items around the game’s world.

But, what does any of this have to do with writing? Simply put, it reminds you that every creative decision matters more than you think. After all, each structural or linguistic choice that you make will affect how the reader thinks and feels when they’re reading your story.

For example, Dan Brown’s 2003 thriller novel “The Da Vinci Code” has very short chapters. This design choice allows for frequent mini-cliffhangers at the end of each chapter, it gives the reader a sense of jumping from scene to scene quickly and – because each chapter is quick to read – it makes the reader feel like reading “just one more chapter…“.

This subtle design choice helps to keep a story fast-paced and gripping. So, it’s perfect for thriller novels. Yet, if you tried using it in a romance or a historical epic, then it would probably seem slightly out of place.

So, learning to look for design and appreciating how it can subtly shape the way your audience experiences your story can be really useful.

3) It makes you think about medium-specific stuff: Games are different to books. Books are different to games. Films are different to both, so are comics and music too. Every medium has things that it can do that all of the other mediums can’t.

Game design videos will often focus on the stuff games can do that nothing else can. And, although this isn’t directly relevant to writing, it helps you to think about all of the stuff that books can do that nothing else can.

For example, books can spend tens of pages focusing on the events of a single minute. Books can show what happens inside characters’ minds. Every reader will imagine the characters in a book slightly differently. I could go on for a while, but there’s loads of stuff that books can do that nothing else can. And seeing videos about the unique elements of other mediums can make you think “Well, they’re doing all of this stuff that I can’t do… what can I do that they can’t?”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (28th April 2019)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting is based on this photo I took of the church in Privett last May. This is a giant semi-disused church in the middle of a fairly remote area, which was apparently built by a Victorian gin distiller. The whole place has this wonderfully old and gothic atmosphere which is both eerily ominous and yet beautifully relaxing.

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

“Privett – Church Tower” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Stargate SG-1” By Ashley McConnell (Novel)

Well, thanks to the hot weather at the time of preparing this review and being slightly busy, I’m still in the mood for some relaxing easy reading. So, I thought that I’d take the opportunity to check out Ashley McConnell’s 1998 novelisation of the pilot episode of “Stargate SG-1”.

This was a second-hand novel that I bought, along with a couple of other old “Stargate SG-1” novels, a month or two earlier – mostly since I was feeling nostalgic about binge-watching this show on DVD a few years earlier.

However, I only got round to reading one of these novels at the time and, since that novel didn’t impress me much, I ended up abandoning the other two. Still, since I needed some easy reading, I thought that I’d give another one a try.

So, let’s take a look at “Stargate SG-1”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 1999 Channel 4 Books (UK) paperback edition of “Stargate SG-1” that I read.

The story begins with a few American troops who are on guard duty in a military bunker. They’re guarding a room that contains nothing but a mysterious object covered in a tarpaulin. Due to the sheer boredom of the job, they’re passing the time by playing poker. However, in the middle of their game, the ground begins to rumble and the tarpaulin falls off of the object – revealing a giant, rippling portal.

Mysterious metallic serpent-headed figures emerge from the portal and begin to fire energy weapons at the troops. Although the troops prevent the intruders from advancing further into the base, one of them is kidnapped before the attackers retreat back into the portal.

A short time later, a US Air Force officer visits the house of a retired colonel called Jack O’Neill with orders to bring him to the base. Before his retirement, O’Neill had led a mission through the portal (or “Stargate”) in order to protect Earth from an alien invasion. So, it looks like his expertise will be needed once again…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really good memory jog if it’s been a while since you last watched the pilot episode of “Stargate SG-1”, since it is a fairly accurate adaptation of the episode. However, when seen on it’s own merits as a sci-fi novel (rather than a TV show adaptation), it’s a somewhat pulpy old-school sci-fi adventure/thriller novel.

However, if you’re expecting loads of extra stuff that wasn’t in the episode, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Still, given the time that it was written, this is fairly understandable. After all, the series was still fairly new when the novel was published. Although, if you’re a fan of the show, then all of the recaps (about the original “Stargate” film) and the story’s “mysterious” moments may seem mildly redundant. However, it’s still a fascinating glimpse into the days when this show was new.

One interesting aspect of this is that the novel’s initial description of O’Neill seems to possibly be based on Kurt Russell’s character (who has blond hair, if I remember rightly) in the original “Stargate” film, rather than Richard Dean Anderson’s interpretation of the character in “SG-1” (even so, the novel contains a reference to “MacGyver” – so, maybe not). Plus, the novel includes some earlier elements of the show that seemed to disappear in later episodes, such the temperature of anything or anyone travelling through a stargate being reduced due to molecular compression.

Even so, you probably won’t get too much more out of this novel than you would get from watching the episode it is based on. There are a few small extra background details and stuff like that but, for the most part, this is just a pretty standard/ordinary adaptation of the source material.

However, whilst the episode itself is fairly dramatic, the story can sometimes come across as cheesy or pulpy when converted to the written word (the novelisation’s brief reference to more sophisticated works of science fiction by Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov etc.. doesn’t exactly help the comparison either).

In terms of the writing, it’s reasonably ok. This novel’s third-person narration is written in a reasonably fast-paced, but descriptive, way that is fairly reminiscent of older thriller novels from the 1970s-80s. The narration is informal enough to be quickly-readable, whilst still being slightly more formal than the average modern action-thriller novel. Still, some elements of the writing do seem a little bit clunky, such as the fact that Teal’c is described almost every time that he appears or the fact that “Jaffa” is misspelled as “Jaafa” during an early part of the novel.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is excellent 🙂 Not only is it an efficient 202 pages in length but, thanks to the reasonably fast pacing, it probably won’t take you too much longer to read than it takes to watch the pilot episode of the show.

As for how this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Thanks to the writing style, it can come across as being a little bit like an old pulp sci-fi novel (but, saying this, the nude scenes in the original version of the episode seem more understated in the novel – although this somehow makes the story seem even pulpier) or possibly a thriller novel from the 1970s-80s at times.

Plus, since the novel is fairly close to the source material, it mostly just comes across as being as old as the episode in question. Even so, it’s still reasonably gripping and is a good nostalgia piece for fans of the show.

All in all, this is a competent adaptation of the first episode of “Stargate SG-1”. It’s a great reminder of the episode and it doesn’t take too much longer to read than it takes to watch the episode. Yes, when transferred to a novel format, the story seems a bit more pulpy than it does on TV – but this is still a competent adaptation. However, if you’re looking for extra depth (like in the best film/TV/game novelisations) or stuff that you wouldn’t find in the episode, then you’re probably going to be slightly disappointed.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and three-quarters.

Today’s Art (27th April 2019)

Well, today’s artwork is a quick digitally-edited drawing that is based on this photo I took of Massey’s Folly. Originally, this picture was just meant to be greyscale – but this version didn’t look great. So, I added colour digitally – although this gave the picture more of a stylised look, I quite like how it turned out 🙂

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

“Massey’s Folly – Overgrown” By C. A. Brown

Three Thoughts About Novelisations And Spin-Off Novels

One of the things that I’ve noticed recently is that, due to things like hot weather, time stress and stuff like that, I’ve found myself reading a lot more books based on videogames, films, TV shows etc.. over the past few days. Although this is mostly because they’re easy and quick to read, it has also made me think a bit more about this somewhat overlooked genre of fiction too.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few thoughts about novelisations and TV show/movie/videogame spin-off novels.

1) They’re more about the journey than the destination:
Simply put, if someone is reading a novel that is either directly based on or a spin-off from a familiar TV show, film, game etc.. then they’re probably going to know what to expect. This familiarity is one of the things that makes novelisations/spin-off novels so relaxing and reassuring to read. However, it can make things like suspense and drama a little bit more difficult to achieve.

Good spin-off/novelisation writers will usually get around this problem by focusing more on the journey than the destination. For example, this “Aliens” spin-off novel I read a few days ago really doesn’t contain much in the way of new stuff when it comes to the plot. The basic premise is similar to another “Aliens” spin-off novel and the basic “dystopian villain vs. plucky rebels” storyline is a classic sci-fi/fantasy staple. Yet, this novel was extremely enjoyable to read. But, why?

Simply put, the novel is written in a rather thrilling and atmospheric way. There are lots of mini-cliffhangers, enough characterisation to make you care about the characters, some dramatic locations etc… In other words, although the story itself is reasonably familiar, everything along the way is still dramatic and interesting enough to be worth reading.

A better example is probably S.D. Perry’s “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy“. Even though I’ve read this novel before and played the videogame it was based on, it was still gripping enough for me to re-read it in a single day. This was all because of the writing, characters and structure. In other words, this novel is written in a reasonably atmospheric way, it is structured like a good thriller novel and there’s lots of extra characterisation when compared to the source material.

So, yes, these types of novels are more about the journey than the destination.

2) They age far better: Another awesome thing about novelisations and spin-offs are how timeless they are. After all, film and television have only been around for approximately a century or so and computer/video games have only been around for a few decades. The written word, on the other hand, has been around for millennia.

What this means is that novelisations of slightly older things can still seem fresh, new and interesting when compared to their original forms. After all, the written word has had much longer to refine and develop itself – so an old novel can easily be more spectacular than an old film or videogame. After all, it doesn’t have to worry about things like special effects, the state of computer graphics at the time etc…

3) Spin-off novels are like new episodes: This one is more about spin-off novels than traditional novelisations, but it’s really interesting nonetheless. Back in 2011-13, I went through a phase of reading “Star Trek: The Next Generation / Deep Space Nine/ Voyager” spin-off novels.

One of the cool things about these novels is that very few of them were directly based on episodes of these TV shows, with most of them telling new and original stories featuring familiar characters. And, since I’d already watched most episodes of these shows, the idea that there was a giant wealth of hundreds of extra “episodes” out there was really cool.

So, finding spin-off novels based on TV shows can almost be like finding entire new seasons of a TV show, new feature-length episodes and all sorts of cool things like that. Plus, since spin-off novels usually tend to be written in a slightly more informal and “readable” way, they’re often as relaxing as watching a TV show but with all of the added depth and sophistication that can only come from the written word 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Review: “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” By S. D. Perry (Novel)

Well, a while after I finished the previous novel I’d reviewed, I was still in the mood for some relaxing literary comfort food. Naturally, my thoughts turned back to an old favourite of mine that I’ve been meaning to re-read for ages. I am, of course, talking about S.D.Perry’s 1998 novel “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy”.

This is a novel that I first discovered when I was about thirteen or fourteen and, along with classic 1980s splatterpunk horror novels like Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus“, it showed me how utterly awesome novels can be 🙂 Yes, I’d read other novels before then, but these old 1980s/90s horror novels were the things that really got me interested in reading (and writing too).

Not only that, S.D.Perry’s “The Umbrella Conspiracy” (and it’s sequels) were based on the classic “Resident Evil” games – which were one of my favourite computer/video game series at the time. Perry’s novels were everything that my younger self had really wanted these slow-paced, atmospheric survival horror games to be – fast-paced, ultra-gruesome, pulse-pounding thrillers.

So, yes, this novel made quite an impression on me when I was younger 🙂 But, I was curious to see how I’d react to it now that I actually am one of the “mature readers” which the patronising content warning on the back cover recommends the book for.

So, let’s take a look at “The Umbrella Conspiracy”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 1998 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” that I re-read 🙂

The novel begins in the near-future year of 1998 (the original videogame came out in 1996), with a series of newspaper reports describing a series of mysterious grisly deaths in the forests surrounding the American city of Racoon City. The reports speculate that cannibals or wild animals are behind the horrific killings.

With mounting concern about the deaths, the local police chief authorises the force’s elite special tactics units (“S.T.A.R.S”) to go in and investigate. But, when Bravo team loses radio contact with HQ, S.T.A.R.S leader Albert Wesker decides to send Alpha team into the forest. As their helicopter gets closer to the forest, they notice a pall of smoke from a crashed helicopter. Bravo team’s helicopter!

After landing near the crashed chopper, Alpha team notices that it is completely abandoned. During a search of the surrounding woodland, Alpha team soon find the dismembered remains of one member of Bravo team. But, seconds later, they are menaced by ferocious mutant dogs. Fleeing for their lives, Alpha team find a disused mansion and take shelter inside. But, far from being a sanctuary, they have unknowingly entered the world of survival horror…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, even though I’ve read it before and even though I’m very familiar with the game it’s based on, it was still just about gripping enough for me to read all of it within a single day. Yes, this novel will be more suspenseful and dramatic if you haven’t played the game. But, even if you know everything about the story, then it’s still a fairly atmospheric and gripping novel.

And, although this novel isn’t that scary, it’s still a brilliant horror novel. Not only do the earlier parts of the novel build up ominous suspense quite well, but the novel’s creepy mansion setting also has the kind of gloomy, claustrophobic atmosphere that you would expect too. Plus, as mentioned earlier, this novel turns the gruesome elements of the source material up to eleven – giving this novel the macabre, vicious and grisly atmosphere that the original game lacked somewhat.

Likewise, this novel works really well as a thriller novel too. Since the main characters quickly find themselves separated when they enter the mansion, this allows the novel to jump between different areas and include lots of mini-cliffhangers. In addition to this, the main characters are frequently menaced by an assortment of zombies and mutant monsters, which gives the story much more of an action-packed feel. This fast-paced combat is also expertly contrasted with slower moments of puzzle-solving, suspense and characterisation too. Seriously, this is a thriller novel 🙂

As for how good an adaptation it is, it’s a really great one. Since “Resident Evil” is more of a story/puzzle/exploration-based game than an action game, it translates really well to a novel format – with Perry also being able to expand on all of the characters’ backstories in a way that really makes you care about them.

In addition to this, the novel also cleverly interweaves the game’s two campaigns (Jill’s campaign and Chris’ campaign), allowing the story to include many of the best moments from both of them. Plus, a few of the game’s signature lines of dialogue/text (eg: “You were almost a Jill Sandwich”, “…pecked to death by crows”, “Itchy. Tasty” etc…) also make an appearance too 🙂

The novel also takes a few interesting creative liberties which really help to keep the reader on their toes too. Not only does a mysterious new character called Trent (who is expanded upon more in Perry’s “Resident Evil: Underworld”, if I remember rightly) make a couple of cryptic appearances, but there are also a few amusing moments – such as Jill taking a much more common sense attitude towards a few of the game’s contrived puzzles (eg: just shattering the glass in the statue room, just climbing down the outdoor lift shaft etc..) too.

As for the writing, it’s really good. Perry’s third-person narration strikes just the right balance between being atmospherically descriptive and grippingly fast-paced. It’s written in a fast-paced, informal “matter of fact” way that allows you to blaze through the whole thing in a single day – but there’s enough description and formality to really give the story a sense of depth (compared to the game). In classic splatterpunk fashion, many of the novel’s most elaborate descriptions are also often reserved for moments of grisly, grotesque horror too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really great 🙂 Not only is it an efficient 262 pages in length, but the novel’s pacing is utterly brilliant too – with a really good contrast between fast-paced action scenes and slower moments of suspense and characterisation. Seriously, even if you know the story by heart, then this novel is still fairly gripping.

As for how this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it’s aged really well. Yes, there are a few obviously “90s” elements (such as a “futuristic” PDA that is more primitive than a modern smartphone) but, for the most part, this novel has lost none of it’s atmosphere, intensity and drama. Plus, of course, if you’ve played the original “Resident Evil” game, then this novel is a wonderful nostalgia-fest too 🙂

All in all, this novel is an absolutely brilliant adaptation of “Resident Evil” 🙂 If you’ve never played the game, then the story will be a lot more suspenseful. If you have played the game, then this novel is a deeper, more expanded and more intense version of a familiar story 🙂 Regardless, it’s a wonderfully gripping horror thriller novel. Yes, whilst it didn’t quite evoke the feeling of wide-eyed awe that I felt when I read this novel for the very first time, it’s still a very gripping and well-written novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.