Today’s Art (3rd September 2019)

Well, I was still feeling a bit uninspired. So, today’s digitally-edited painting is a slightly random gothic/cyberpunk/1990s painting.

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

“CRT” By C. A. Brown

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Today’s Art (24th August 2019)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting was a bit of an interesting one. Although I’d originally planned to make a “film noir”-style tribute to the art of Edward Hopper, the painting ended up going in a very different and much more stylised 1990s-themed direction instead.

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

“1992” By C. A. Brown

Three Benefits Of Setting Your Story In The 1980s And/Or 1990s

Well, since I’m reading a horror/comedy novel set in the early 1990s (“Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero) and because I was also experimenting with a writing project set in the 1980s, I thought that I’d talk about a few of the benefits of setting your story in the 1980s-90s.

1) Phones and the internet: This is a fairly obvious one, but it is worth mentioning nonetheless. Although basic mobile phones were starting to become more common during the mid-late 1990s, one of the defining features of these two decades is the fact that the world didn’t revolve around mobile phones, social media etc… This has all sorts of benefits when it comes to storytelling.

The fact that your characters can’t just phone anyone anywhere means that suspenseful scenes become more suspenseful. After all, if your characters are in danger, then they either have to find a phone (of the landline or payphone variety) or come up with some kind of plan. Likewise, it also makes mysteries more mysterious too, since your characters can’t just whip out a smartphone and look online for information. In other words, they actually have to do proper old-fashioned research and investigation.

Plus, although the web was a thing during the 1990s, it was a lot less common and/or developed (it was also a lot slower too, and made this noise when you connected to it). As such, there wasn’t really the kind of mainstream online/social media culture that there is these days.

I could go on for quite a while, but the lack of things like social media, smartphones etc… means that stories set in the 1980s/90s can often have a lot more suspense, personality, nuance etc… than stories set in the modern world.

2) It isn’t that difficult to write: Although you’ll probably have the annoying experience of thinking of an awesome 80s/90s pop culture reference to add to your historical story, only to look online and realise that it refers to something that existed a year or two after when the story takes place, it is easier to write historical stories set in these decades than in other decades.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, even if you don’t actually have any memories of the year that your story is set in, there’s a very good chance that you’ve encountered a lot of things from this time period without even realising it. After all, if you grew up in the 1990s or the 2000s, then films/books/TV shows/music etc… from the 1980s/90s were still fairly recent back then. So, you probably already know more about these decades than you think.

Secondly, these decades are recent enough to still be vaguely similar to our current world. So, if you write a fairly “timeless” story with a few subtle nostalgic details and a little bit of historical awareness (eg: about things like mobile phones, historical events etc..), then it will probably seem reasonably convincing. After all, most novels that are actually from the 1980s and 1990s usually keep their “80s/90s” elements relatively understated, since these things were just ordinary life back then.

Thirdly, there’s no shortage of research material out there. Nostalgia about these decades is fairly popular at the moment, so there’s loads of information about them on the internet. Likewise, things like films from these decades can usually be found fairly easily on DVD too.

3) Comments: Simply put, one of the best ways to comment about the benefits and flaws of the modern world is to tell a story set in the past. Since your readers will be reading it in the present day (and know that you were writing it in the present day), then they are going to compare the historical “world” of your story to the world around them.

And, you can use this to comment about the modern world. For example, showing some of the problems of the 1980s/90s that are less of an issue these days can be a way of making the reader feel better about the modern world. On the other hand, showing some of the awesome parts of the 1980s/90s that we’re in danger of losing these days can be a way of criticising the modern world. Likewise, showing things that haven’t changed at all can also be a way of commenting about the present day too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Random (But Realistic) Tips For Writing 1990s-Style Fiction

Before I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, I wrote a few articles about films, videogames and TV shows from the 1990s and what made them so distinctive when compared to their more modern counterparts. Well, for today, I thought that I’d do the same for books.

But, before I start this list, I should point out that I’ve decided to take a bit more of a “realistic” approach to this topic. In other words, rather than looking at stylised nostalgia, I’ll be looking at what actual books from the 1990s were like. And, if your impressions of what the 1990s were like mostly come from film and TV, then this list might surprise you.

1) Aim for the 2000s/2010s: One of the cool things about prose fiction is that it can often be surprisingly ahead of it’s time. This is especially true in more fantastical genres of fiction (eg: sci-fi, fantasy, horror etc..), where novels in these genres can often be years ahead of what film, games and TV will be doing.

For example, the general atmosphere and style of many parts of Neal Stephenson’s 1992 cyberpunk novel “Snow Crash” wouldn’t be out of place in something from the late 1990s/early 2000s, like “The Matrix” or “Deus Ex“.

Likewise, aside from a few things like the brief mention of a pager and the use of the phrase “peachy keen”, the horror/thriller/detective novel I’m reading at the moment (Laurell K. Hamilton’s 1993 novel “Guilty Pleasures”) could easily have come from the mid-late 2000s in terms of the general atmosphere and style. Seriously, at some points, it was really easy to forget that this book is actually from 1993.

Then there’s S.D. Perry’s 1996 sci-fi/horror novel “Aliens: The Labyrinth“. This novel, inspired by the “Aliens” films, is set in the distant future and it still seems like a modern sci-fi novel when read these days. Whilst it probably isn’t timeless, if it had been published for the first time this year, it would still seem modern. By contrast, try to think of a sci-fi film from 1996 that still seems modern these days.

But, of course, the most famous example of this is probably George R. R. Martin’s 1996 fantasy novel “A Game Of Thrones”. Yes, the first season of one of the most popular “modern” TV series is actually based on a book from 23 years ago. Let that sink in for a second….

So, if you’re writing horror, sci-fi, fantasy etc.. fiction and want to give it a 1990s-style atmosphere, then try to take inspiration from TV shows, films and games from the 2000s/10s. Or, just write a more general story in these genres that doesn’t include anything that is obviously from the 2010s.

2) Flowing writing: One cool thing that I’ve noticed in some American novels (particularly from the southern US) from the early-mid 1990s is a very specific type of writing style. It’s a little bit difficult to describe, but it is lush, vivid, flowing and descriptive.

It is a style that I’ve encountered in books like “Lost Souls” by Poppy Z. Brite (1992) and “Turtle Moon” by Alice Hoffman (1992) and it is absolutely amazing to read. It’s a style of narration that is very distinctively “90s” in the best way possible.

To give you an example of it, here’s a brief passage from the first page of Brite’s “Lost Souls”: ‘In the French Quarter the liquor flows like milk. Strings of bright cheap beads hang from wrought-iron balconies and adorn sweaty necks. After parades the beads lie scattered in the streets, the royalty of gutter trash, gaudy among the cigarette butts and cans and plastic Hurricane glasses.

The best way to learn how to write in this style is simply to read plenty of examples of it. Although, ironically, the novel that probably influenced this style the most actually comes from 1962 (again, books are often ahead of their time). I am, of course, talking about Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes“.

Yes, this 1990s writing style probably has other influences too (eg: noir fiction from the 1930s-50s, beat literature etc..) but “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is probably one of the more important texts in the history of this writing style.

3) Brevity: One of the cool things about the 1990s was that it was one of the last decades where books could be short if they needed to be.

Yes, there are plenty of tome-size novels from the 1990s but they were still just about the exception rather than the norm. It’s kind of like, with cinema, how the 1990s was one of the last decades where 90-100 minutes (rather than two hours or more) was the “standard” length for a film.

In other words, if you’re writing a 1990s-style story, then try to aim for 200-300 pages if possible. Edit a little bit more ruthlessly. Try not to let your story become too bloated. And, if you do need to write something long, then make sure that the length is justified.

I mean, if there’s one thing to be said for longer novels from the 1990s, it is that they will often, say, cram 600+ pages of storytelling (by modern standards) into 400-500 pages. For example, Neal Stephenson’s 1995 novel “The Diamond Age” is about 500 pages long (in the edition I read). Yet, if it was written by a modern writer, it would probably take 700+ pages to tell the same story.

Or to give a more “low brow” example, Raymond Benson’s 1997 novelisation of the James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies” is an efficient 213 pages long. 213 pages! Seriously, even by the 2000s, film novelisations were often 300 pages long or more.

So, yes, brevity is important when writing 1990s-style fiction. In fact, it’s important for writing any kind of fiction.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Random Tips For Writing Stories Set In 1990s America

One of the interesting things I noticed when I was writing daily short stories last spring was the fact that I started writing a few stories set in 1990s America, like this horror story, this comedy story and the sequel to it.

This was something that I’d wanted to do back in February 2017, but just didn’t know how to – so, back then, I took the easy option and wrote five stories set in late 1990s Britain instead (even though I’d previously made a comic set in 1990s America, I just couldn’t work out how to write stories about it back then).

So, since I seemed to have gained a bit more wisdom and/or confidence about writing stories set in a decade I can only vaguely remember and a country I’ve never been to, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to write stories set in 1990s America. Needless to say, these tips shouldn’t be considered expert advice or anything, but they might be a useful starting point if you’ve never tried to write anything in this genre before.

1) Do your research (and think like a critic): One of the things that helped me to write stories set in 1990s America last spring was the fact that, several months earlier, I went through a phase of watching Hollywood movies from the 1990s and watching/rewatching various TV shows from 1990s America. A while later, I also went through a phase of listening to more punk music from 1990s America than usual too. But, unlike previous times where I’ve done this, I also did something a bit different.

Unlike just watching and listening for entertainment like I might have done a few years ago, I needed to find some way of justifying all of the time I’d sunk into them. So, I started looking at them in a more critical way – so that I could write reviews and/or analysis articles for this site. What this meant is that I had to look for things that they all had in common with each other, I needed to find ways to describe what set them apart from more modern stuff etc…

And, all of this meant that I got a bit of an education about what makes 1990s America so distinctive. So, my advice would be to think like a critic whilst researching 1990s America. Look for what different things from the decade have in common (eg: visually, tonally, thematically etc..) and it will give you a lot of pointers for writing stories in this genre.

2) Optimism and cynicism: I’ve mentioned this many times before, but one of the things that sets the 1990s – especially in America- apart from other decades is the feeling of optimism. This is because it was the decade after the end of the Cold War and before 9/11. It was a decade where there seemed to be no major threats and that things could only get better.

If you don’t believe me, watch some Hollywood action/thriller movies from the time – the storylines are often hilariously silly or innocently generic, because the writers couldn’t just look to the headlines for inspiration. They actually had to use their imaginations to come up with fictional threats and horrors because things were relatively peaceful at the time. So, 1990s America had a bit more of an innocent and optimistic attitude. If you need further confirmation of this, watch the first season of “The West Wing” and ask yourself if anyone in America would make an uplifting political drama like that these days.

All of this cheerful optimism was, of course, counterpointed by the famous cynicism of the 1990s. Seriously, it’s one of the defining traits of 1990s America. Whether it is punk songs with depressing lyrics, a gloomier focus on more mundane problems (eg: crime, the environment, poverty etc..), sarcastic dialogue in movies, “gritty” comic books, “edgy” videogames or other such things, 1990s America is this wonderfully paradoxical balance between optimism and a more innocent form of cynicism.

3) Traditions: Although the world wide web was certainly around in 1990s America, it was still a “new” thing and not the ubiquitous thing it is these days. As such, there seems to be a slightly more “traditional” atmosphere to 1990s America. At least according to my research anyway.

For example, shopping centres (or “malls”) were apparently still popular meeting places and/or places to spend a few hours. Likewise, although VHS tapes (and, later, DVDs) existed in 1990s America, cinemas seemed to be a bit more popular back then. Popular culture was more heavily controlled by a few film studios and TV stations. Plus, of course, social media wasn’t really a “thing” back then, so groups of friends etc.. tended to be a little bit more varied in terms of opinions and personalities (which allows for all sorts of amusing “odd couple” style stories).

Likewise, just like twenty/thirtysomethings these days get nostalgic about the 1990s (like in this article), the older creative people who were making a lot of the popular films, TV shows etc.. in 1990s America were of course nostalgic about the 1950s-70s.

As such, things set in 1990s America will often have a slightly interesting contrast between modernity and a more rose-tinted “old” version of America. Look at the 1950s-influenced costume designs in seasons 1&2 of “Twin Peaks”, the vaguely 1970s-style newspaper office in all four seasons of “Lois & Clark” etc.. for examples of this.

4) It’s not that long ago:
Simply put, although there are differences between the 1990s and the present day, it’s still only 20-30 years difference. So, for the most part, your “1990s America” stories don’t have to be that different to more modern stories that are set in America.

Just remember that mobile phones were less popular in the 1990s, remember that the internet was less of a “thing”, remember to add a few 1990s pop culture references etc… and then just tell a slightly more “timeless” story that could theoretically happen at any point in the mid-late 20th or early 21st century.

After all, a lot of 1990s movies, a lot of 1990s novels etc.. are still very watchable and/or readable these days because they’re still relatively recent. For example, “The Matrix” was released in 1999 and it still looks relatively futuristic. Or, G.R.R Martin’s “A Game Of Thrones” was first published in 1996 and it was still easily adapted into a TV show in the early 2010s.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂