How Much Do You Have To Explain About Your Fictional “World” If You Want A Re-Readable Story?

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about worldbuilding and re-readability. But, although this is an article about writing, I’m going to have to spend most of the article looking at stories told through the mediums of film and computer games – mostly because there are two brilliantly contrasting examples that I really want to talk about.

The first is a classic computer game from 2004 called “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines“, which I seem to be re-playing at the moment. Despite the fact that I’d started playing another game called “Under A Killing Moon”, I got distracted by re-playing this game:

This is a screenshot from “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” (2004). It’s a bit like that “Hotel California” song – you can check out, but you can’t leave…

In addition to being a really interesting mixture of several types of game, one of the most fascinating parts of “Bloodlines” is the incredibly detailed fictional “world” that it takes place in.

Not only does the game have you navigate a secret society of vampires in mid-2000s California, but the game also gives you lots of detailed background information about different types of vampires, different political factions of vampires and many of the game’s characters.

This is another screenshot from “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” (2004), showing one of the characters explaining a tiny part of the game’s backstory.

Even the game’s loading screens take the time to explain even more about the fictional “world” of the game. And, I found myself so fascinated that I not only began to replay the game, but I also even ended up spending quite a while looking at fan sites online in order to learn even more about this fascinating fictional world.

In short, this game explains a lot about it’s highly-detailed fictional “world” and it is fascinating enough to make you want to return to it again and again.

By contrast, my favourite film is a sci-fi film from 1982 called “Blade Runner“, which I must have re-watched at least five times. Although there was a sequel last year that expands more on the futuristic “world” of the film, the original film explains relatively little about the world it takes place in.

Yes, we get to hear a bit of basic backstory and we meet a few characters but, for the most part, the film only shows us a relatively small (but visually-dense) part of an absolutely fascinating futuristic world. It’s kind of like the old writing adage of “show, don’t tell“:

This is a screenshot from “Blade Runner” (1982), showing a tiny part of the film’s fascinating setting.

And, yet, this lack of obvious background information is one of the things that makes this film so fascinating. It makes you search for and extrapolate from the film’s many small visual background details, like you are some kind of detective who is looking for clues. This, of course, makes you want to return to the film again and again.

This lack of explanation also means that you have to use your imagination if you want to “see” more of the film’s fictional world. Needless to say, this also makes it an absolutely great source of creative inspiration too.

So, “Blade Runner” and “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” take completely opposite approaches to worldbuilding, and yet they are both the type of thing that just begs to be revisited again and again.

Whilst both approaches to worldbuilding have their merits, one interesting thing to note is that both creative works not only have a detailed (and atmospheric) fictional world but also one that is populated by fascinating and unique characters. So, characterisation is an important part of making your audience want to return to your story.

But, more importantly, both things rely heavily on curiosity. “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” gives the appearance of satisfying the audience’s curiosity, whilst also hinting that there’s a lot more to learn (through brief descriptions of complex things etc..).

On the other hand, “Blade Runner” presents a tantalising glimpse at a fully-formed fictional world and then just says “you’ll have to work it out for yourself“. Both things rely heavily on curiosity in order to make the audience return again and again.

But, I guess that the best lesson to take from all of this is that detailed, complex, unique and imaginative fictional worlds are inherently fascinating things. It doesn’t matter if you explain a lot about them, or explain next to nothing about them. They are fascinating things that will make your audience want to come back again and again.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Great Stories Don’t Always Need Complex Plots – A Ramble

Although I’m busy making this month’s webcomic mini series at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk very briefly about writing and storytelling today. In particular, I thought that I’d talk about how great stories don’t always have to have complex plots.

The idea that great stories have to have ultra-complex, intricate plots can be something that can be off-putting to new writers. But, this is something of a misconception. In fact, great stories can have incredibly simple plots…. and still be great. But, how?

Simply put, it is more about the journey than the destination. Many great stories (in a range of mediums) are more about the characters, the atmosphere, the emotional tone, the style etc.. of the story rather than because of how detailed or complex the plot happens to be.

To use a cinematic example, take a look at the classic 1982 sci-fi masterpiece “Blade Runner“. On the most simple level, it is a film about a detective who is ordered to find and kill several human-like robots who have travelled to Earth illegally. There’s also a romantic sub-plot too.

But, of course, the film is much more than just this. Despite the relatively simple premise, this film is revered as a masterpiece for so many reasons.

First of all, this basic premise is used to explore a host of complex themes (eg: the meaning of life, corrupt authority, morality, capitalism, discrimination etc..). Likewise, the film’s characters are often intriguingly ambiguous and fairly distinctive. Finally, the general “look”, atmosphere and style of the film is a brilliant blend of science fiction and film noir that has been hugely influential on many things made afterwards.

So, a “simple” plot can be used as a skeleton to build a much greater story around. Because, as I mentioned earlier, great stories can often be more about the journey than the destination.

So, if you want to tell a really brilliant story, then it’s ok to use a fairly simple or obvious premise. The trick is to focus on everything else, like the characters, the dialogue, the style of the story, the atmosphere of the story etc…..

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Apologies for the ridiculously short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Today’s Art ( 30th August 2018)

Well, today’s art is a monochrome piece of “Blade Runner” fan art. If you’re interested in the reasons why I made this piece of fan art (and the creative decisions I took whilst making it), then check out this article of mine.

Since this is fan art, this drawing is NOT released under any kind of Creative Commons licence.

“Fan Art – Blade Runner – But, Then Again, Who Does?” By C. A. Brown

Here’s Yet Another Thing Computer And Video Games Can Teach Artists And Writers

Well, I thought that I’d look at the topic of gaming and creativity yet again, mostly because of a mundane experience I had when looking online for a desk chair for the backup computer I recently installed.

I was comparing all of the chairs on a website and sorting them by price, when I suddenly thought “This reminds me a little of an upgrade screen in an early-mid 2000s action game.

If you’ve never played these games before, then they often tend to feature bonuses etc.. that can be collected in-game and then used to “buy” upgrades and items for your character. There’s a degree of skill in choosing what to buy with the resources you have. The upgrade screens look a bit like this:

This is a screenshot from “Alien Shooter” (2003), showing the game’s upgrade screen.

This is a screenshot from “X-COM: Enforcer” (2001), showing the game’s upgrade screen.

So, what does any of this have to do with creativity? Well, it’s all to do with how creative works can make mundane experiences (eg: shopping etc..) seem much cooler and more dramatic.

This provides lasting value to the audience, by both making everyday moments seem cooler and by immersing them in the game/story/comic/painting etc.. more by linking it to common, everday things.

Because games are interactive, they often tend to contain the best examples of this sort of thing. For example, if you’ve ever had to find a way to re-arrange your stuff in order to make more space, then “Tetris” can spring to mind.

This is a screenshot from “Techlogica TechTris” (2006) – a “Tetris”-style game.

This is a game that revolves around quickly fitting tessellating shapes into a limited space. And, thinking about re-arranging things as “a live-action version of Tetris” can be a way to inject some fun and/or humour into what is basically an arduous and tedious task.

But, other things than games can also evoke this feeling too. For example, if you’re looking at or editing a picture on your computer and you zoom in on it, then you might possibly think about the ESPER machine from a classic 1980s sci-fi film called “Blade Runner”.

If you’ve never seen this film before, the ESPER machine is a photo-enhancement machine that plays a brief, but important, role in the film. It’s this hulking, whirring analogue thing that still somehow looks really futuristic. And, yet it does the same thing as a basic photo viewer or image editing program does these days.

This is a screenshot of the ESPER machine from “Blade Runner” (1982). In the 1980s, this was a cool piece of sci-fi tech. These days, even the most basic computer programs will do more than it can.

In conclusion, finding ways to make mundane tasks seem cool, interesting or exciting can be one of the easiest ways to ensure that your creative work lingers in your audience’s imaginations – since experiencing everyday things can remind your audience of the things that you’ve made.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Fan Art And Self-Expression – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d talk about how fan art can be a valid form of self-experession today. This was because of an experience I had with making fan art shortly before I originally prepared the first draft of this article (several months ago). But, I should also point out that this article contains some SPOILERS for “Blade Runner” and the original “Ghost In The Shell” film too.

Although it is all resolved now, I’d been having something of a stressful evening on the day that I originally prepared this article. In short, what I’d thought was an annoying long-running problem with my computer (which kept slowly getting worse) turned out, upon closer inspection, to be a much more serious problem. The capacitors on the motherboard had begun to degrade.

Even though I’d been preparing a backup computer, the idea of my main computer slowly dying was deeply disturbing. This was a computer that has been by my side for over a decade. It was the best birthday present I’ve ever had. Even after all this time, using it still felt futuristic when compared to the Windows 98 machine I’d previously used. It had been there during some of the best and some of the worst times of my life. It was what this blog was started on and what my art was scanned and edited on too. It has, to me at least, become more than just a mere machine. It was more like a cherished treasure or a beloved pet.

Still, the computer worked intermittently. So, I wasn’t going to desert it. Even though I was setting up a second backup system (eg: another classic mid-2000s computer 🙂), I thought that I would stick with my main computer for as long as I could. Or at least until I could find a way to put the hard drive into another computer or something [EDIT: This is exactly what happened the next day. It’s now inside a computer from 2004 with a faster processor, but less RAM and VRAM, than my old machine from 2006]

Although the original “Ghost In The Shell” movie would probably be a better parallel, a scene from “Blade Runner” slipped into my mind during all of this. It was the scene near the end of the film where, with Gaff’s words about limited lifespans echoing in the background, Deckard and Rachel get into a lift and decide to spend the rest of their days together. The scene suddenly took on a new poignance to me.

So, that evening, I decided to draw it. Here’s a preview of the finished drawing:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size picture will be posted here on the 30th August.

Although it was intially just a quick and easy way to distract myself from all of the stress about the computer, the drawing ended up being a lot more expressive and creative than I had expected.

Firstly, this was because I decided to make a monochrome drawing rather than an “accurate” full-colour painting. Initially, this was both for time reasons and to minimise the amount of editing time after I scanned the painting (in case my computer failed whilst editing). But, it lent the picture a hauntingly stark quality that seemed to reflect the mood I was in very well. Not only that, not having to worry about colours meant that I could focus more on detail and shading, which seriously improved the picture.

Secondly, the scene in the picture doesn’t technically appear in the film (or at least the DVD of the 1992 Director’s Cut that I used as a reference). Yes, Deckard and Rachel get into the lift – but, despite what I had thought, there isn’t actually a shot of them standing next to each other.

So, of course, I had to pause the DVD at various different moments during the scene and come up with a composite picture that isn’t actually in the film. Originally, this was just out of necessity (since I had a clear idea of what my drawing would look like). But, it’s also an example of how fan art can actually include creativity.

So, in conclusion, fan art can also include self-expression and creativty too. Yes, original art gives you more creative freedom – but you can still be fairly creative with fan art too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Some Quick Thoughts About “Realistic” Muses – A Ramble

Normally, I’m quite sceptical about the whole concept of a “muse”. This is mostly because the absence of said muse is often used by artists as an excuse not to make art (and, no, being suddenly and mysteriously inspired doesn’t happen to artists often. It’s cool when it does, but don’t rely on it if you actually want to make art regularly.). Likewise, there’s also something vaguely creepy about the idea of a real person being a “muse” too.

But, saying that, many artists will have something that fills the role of the muses of antiquity. But, it usually won’t be some kind of unseen mythical creature or a beautiful lover. No, real-life muses are often a lot more random than that.

I was reminded of this topic recently when I suddenly found myself preparing what is turning out to be an art series of some kind. This will be a series of gothic paintings that revolve around one of my muses – the town of Aberystwyth or, more accurately, my memories of it. Here’s a preview of a couple of the stylised gothic paintings:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 5th June.

This a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 7th June.

Yes, muses can be places. In fact, a place is often the perfect thing to use as a muse for a number of reasons.

The first is that it is something of a “blank canvas” that can be host to literally any type of painting. You can focus on one part of a large place in each of your paintings (allowing you to come up with lots of different ideas quickly). You can change the lighting to make a familiar place look different. You can interpret a place in all sorts of ways. I could go on, but places are an awesome type of “muse”.

But, real life muses can also be other creative works too (eg: films, comics, games, novels, songs etc..). Yes, you’ll need to know the difference between taking inspiration and plagiarism, but other creative works can often be excellent “muses”. This is especially true with creative works that leave a lot to the imagination or which hint at a much larger fictional “world”. But, it can happen with literally anything. In fact, it often seems like these highly-inspirational creative works choose you, rather than the other way round.

For example, one of my other long-standing “muses” is the film “Blade Runner“. Although it wasn’t the only thing that introduced me to the idea of high-contrast lighting, the lighting in this film had a huge impact on my imagination. For starters, the film’s complex, but mysterious, locations are the kind of thing that will linger in your imagination for the rest of your life. It’s also the kind of film where you’ll notice something new every time you watch it. Needless to say, it is one of my largest influences.

“Backstreets” By C. A. Brown

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

But, muses can be much more than this. They can be a particular season (eg: autumn/winter), they can be a particular type of weather (eg: gloomy and rainy), they can be a particular part of history (eg: the 1990s) etc… they can be a lot of things, but “muses” aren’t mystical creatures or real people.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

What “Blade Runner” Can Teach Us About Fictional Violence

Well, although I’m still busy preparing next month’s webcomic mini series, I thought that I’d take a break from talking about webcomics and talk about what Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece “Blade Runner” can teach us about how to make fictional violence more dramatic and/or complex.

Since I’ll be talking in depth about my favourite movie of all time, expect lots of geekiness and lots of SPOILERS too.

This is mostly because, although “Blade Runner” is a violent film, it handles these parts of the film in a very different way to the average Hollywood movie. This film does all sorts of clever, and very subtle, things with it’s violent moments that really help to shape the emotional tone of the film and to make it considerably more suspenseful, impactful and dramatic than the average Hollywood movie.

The first thing that Ridley Scott does is to ensure that most of the violence within the film isn’t “fair”.

For example, in all scenes involving gun violence, only one character has a gun at any one time (with the other character or characters being unarmed). This has the effect of making guns seem like much more powerful weapons than they usually appear to be in films. It also instantly adds an element of chilling suspense to every scene that includes a gun – since one character instantly has a huge advantage over the other character or characters.

By ensuring that only one character is armed with an instantly-lethal weapon at any one time, the film changes the dynamics of it’s combat scenes from thrilling duels between evenly-matched adversaries to something more like a hunter/prey dynamic (which is more similar to something from the horror genre). This allows Ridley Scott to add an element of unpredictability, shock value and fear to the film that is often missing in more conventional thriller movies.

For example, an unevenly-matched fist fight between two characters is suddenly ended in a shockingly abrupt fashion when another character turns up and uses a gun that was knocked out of someone’s hand earlier in the fight.

Another intelligent thing that Ridley Scott does with the fictional violence in “Blade Runner” is to present it as an ugly thing. Instead of the more sanitised, fast-paced and spectacularly choreographed violence found in many Hollywood films, the violence in “Blade Runner” tends to be a bit more realistic. Violent events in “Blade Runner” are often chillingly abrupt and/or they are drawn-out things that are filled with pain and suffering.

This has the effect of making the violence in the film a lot less abstract than in many Hollywood films. Instead of, say, “a detective fighting a criminal” – a scene in Blade Runner will be more like “one person harming another”. By focusing more on the consequences of violence and refusing to present violence in a typically “thrilling” way, Scott is able to criticise the more blase way that most Hollywood movies depict violence. “Blade Runner” is that rare thing, a violent film that is genuinely anti-violence.

This also extends to the characters’ motivations for acting in a violent manner. In this film, violence isn’t a way for heroic characters to appear “tough” or to save the world or anything like that. In this film, there are no clear heroes or villains (although it could be argued that Deckard is the villain, but that is an entirely different essay).

So, the motivations behind the violence in the film often tend to be chillingly “realistic” ones. Whether it is a frightened person making a last-ditch attempt to protect themselves, someone overcome with fury exacting brutal revenge or even a “just following orders” police officer shooting an unarmed character in the back (because she is considered to be “non-human” by the authorities), Ridley Scott makes sure that the motivations behind most of the violent events in the film aren’t things that the audience can cheer for.

In addition to all of this, yet another clever thing that Ridley Scott does with the violence in “Blade Runner” is to contrast ‘ugly’ violence with beautiful set design. Seriously, the locations in “Blade Runner” are the kind of fascinating, mysterious, imaginative, visually-detailed places that will linger in your imagination for the rest of your life.

Such as this awesome-looking cityscape.

Not only does this contrast make the violence seem even uglier by comparison, but it also taps into a much more fundamental instinct in the audience.

We have a natural instinct to protect and preserve beauty. Beauty being destroyed or marred in some way elicits an instinctive feeling of digust or horror. So, by showing ugly violence within beautiful locations or showing beautiful locations being damaged by violent actions, the film is able to tap into this instinct in order to make the fictional violence seem even more shocking.

For example, this awesome-looking neon corridor is the site of a brutal shooting. Several cutaway scenes in this segment of the film contrast this beautiful location with the disturbing image of a dead body. By juxtaposing beauty and horror, Ridley Scott is able to lend the film’s violence more of an emotional impact.

I’m sure that I probably haven’t covered everything in this article (eg: how the film’s ending is about the value of life etc..), but hopefully these examples from “Blade Runner” will show you that fictional violence can be handled in a much more complex and intelligent way than you might think.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂