Creativity DOES Matter – A Ramble

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If you make art, write fiction etc.. it can sometimes be easy to think that it “doesn’t matter”. That what you’re doing is ultimately insignificant in the grand scheme of things and is little more than a glorified hobby. It can be easy to think of regular art or writing practice as being some kind of meaningless chore. It can also, on a larger scale be easy to think that “the arts” or “the humanities” don’t matter to the world as much as many other things do.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Creativity does matter. However, it often matters even more to your audience. To give you an example, I’ll spend the next three paragraphs talking about an experience with being part of the audience for a creative work that I had shortly before writing this article.

The night before I wrote this article, I finally discovered a computer game that I should have discovered a long time ago. Although it might be quite a while until I review it properly, it’s a game from 2004 called “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines”.

When I loaded this game for the first time, just to test if it had installed properly and whether it would run on my old computer, I suddenly ended up playing it for three hours straight. I hadn’t planned to, but it almost seemed like it was a game that was made specifically for me…

Because it had been a while since I last had an experience like this, it really caught me by surprise. But, it’s a testament to the power of creativity. After all, thanks to a combination of words, images, music and programming code, I literally spent three hours glued to my computer screen in a genuine sense of hyper-enthusiastic amazement.

I suddenly had vivid nostalgic memories of the year of my life when I discovered one of my favourite novels (“Lost Souls“) and the gothic rock genre. My imagination was suddenly firing on all cylinders and I felt more creatively inspired than I had done recently. All because of some computer code that a few people had written over a decade ago.

Chances are, you’ve had an experience like this at some point in your life. Whether it was a novel that you ended up reading cover-to-cover in a single night, whether it was a song or a comic that literally brought you to tears (of joy or emotional catharsis) because it seemed to have been written about you, whether it was something that amazed you so much that it’s influenced everything you’ve created (or, even better, motivated you to start creating things), whether it was a story that totally changed your opinions about something etc… You’ve probably experienced something like this.

Yes, different things will evoke this kind of overwhelming emotional reaction in different people (so, it’s not something that artists, writers etc… can plan to do). But, the fact that it happens to anyone at all is proof of both the power and the importance of creative works.

Yes, creative works might just look like words on a page, drawings, paintings, programs, recorded sounds etc.. but they’re much more than that. They have the power to make us laugh, cry, cheer, scream, gasp, jump with joy, understand ourselves better, think about the world differently, feel like we’re somewhere else etc…

They can teach us things that formal education cannot, they can shape our imaginations in ways that life experience cannot, they can make us think, they can transport us to other places, they can teach us more about ourselves, they can even shape the direction that our lives take (I mean, you’d be hard-pressed to find a writer or an artist who didn’t become a writer or an artist because they’d seen something amazing and thought “I want to make things like that!”) etc..

So, yes, creative works matter. Yes, they might often be seen as “frivolous” by hardened cynics, but they can sometimes have just as much of an effect on all of our lives as politics, science, technology etc… can have. If they didn’t, why would they still exist? Why would they have existed for pretty much as long as humanity itself has?

Why would despots and dictators be so afraid of books, films etc.. that they feel the need to ban them? Why have phrases from 16th Century Shakespeare plays entered everyday language? Why were a lot of advancements in computer technology driven by people wanting games with better graphics? Why do a lot of modern technologies (eg: automatic doors, tablet computers, 3D printers etc..) bear a suspicious resemblance to imagined ‘futuristic’ technologies from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”?

I could go on for a long time, but creativity matters.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Two More Things That Artists Can Learn From Playing Computer And Video Games

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Although I’ve talked before about the benefits of playing computer and/or video games if you are an artist, I thought that I’d look at two of the other benefits that regular or semi-regular gaming can have if you are an artist.

1) Unrealism: If there’s one problem with modern large-budget games, it is that too many of them try to be visually “realistic”.

Whilst this works for some types of games, it also means that many games look a bit too similar. However, both classic retro games and modern indie games often tend to use more unrealistic visual styles. Here are a few screenshots to show you what I mean:

This is a screenshot from "The Blackwell Epiphany" (2015). This is an example of a modern game with unrealistic 2D pixel art. As you can see, it looks a lot more unique and distinctive than "realistic" 3D graphics do.

This is a screenshot from “The Blackwell Epiphany” (2015). This is an example of a modern game with unrealistic 2D pixel art. As you can see, it looks a lot more unique and distinctive than “realistic” 3D graphics do.

This is a screenshot from "Doom" (1993) [Played using a modern source port]. This classic game uses one-point perspective in order to create the illusion of a first-person perspective.

This is a screenshot from “Doom” (1993) [Played using a modern source port]. This classic game uses one-point perspective in order to create the illusion of a first-person perspective.

This is a screenshot from "The Last Express" (1997). This game is unusual since the "cartoonish" art nouveau graphics were created through both 3D modelling and by rotoscoping (tracing) live-action footage. Even so, an artist still had to decide which details were important enough to trace and which ones weren't.

This is a screenshot from “The Last Express” (1997). This game is unusual since the “cartoonish” art nouveau graphics were created through both 3D modelling and by rotoscoping (tracing) live-action footage. Even so, an artist still had to decide which details were important enough to trace and which ones weren’t.

So, what does any of this have to do with making art? As well as showing you how using an ‘unrealistic’ art style can add distinctiveness and a unique atmosphere to your artwork, they also help you to make this kind of art too. Although unrealistic art styles can often be seen in comics and animated videos, there’s nothing quite like seeing something in one of these art styles that you can actually interact with.

This can help to give you subtle practical lessons in things like perspective, composition etc… It also helps you to see how someone re-created a 3D environment using “unrealistic” 2D graphics or created a natural-looking environment and distinctive characters with primitive minimalist 3D graphics.

A good example of this would probably be old survival horror games from the 1990s – since these games tried to create visually detailed locations with relatively little processing power, they would often include pre-rendered 2D backgrounds, which the interactive 3D characters could then be superimposed onto. A similar thing can be seen in old “point and click” adventure games, albeit with 2D characters.

One side effect of this was that the “camera angle” in each area of the game had to be fixed, because the backgrounds couldn’t move. This meant that the game designers had to pay particular attention to things like perspective and composition whilst painting the backgrounds. They had to come up with interesting-looking “camera angles” that also showed all or most of the area that the player was free to explore.

Not only will looking at some of these games show you what you can do with perspective if you study it carefully, they’ll also allow you to see the merits of different perspectives by actually interacting with them.

This is a screenshot from "Resident Evil: Director's Cut" (1997) which shows an overhead perspective. This game (and Resident Evil 1-3 too) is filled with lots of different perspectives.

This is a screenshot from “Resident Evil: Director’s Cut” (1997) which shows an overhead perspective. This game (and Resident Evil 1-3 too) is filled with lots of different perspectives.

2) Trickery: Even the makers of more realistic modern games have to rely on visual trickery of all kinds to make their games look more detailed than they actually are. Although these techniques are aimed at reducing the amount of processing that a computer or console has to do, they can still teach artists a couple of things.

The first thing is that most of these tricks are directly based on things that you need to learn if you are making art. These tricks often work by exploiting the way that we “see” the world, which is something that every artist needs to do too.

For example, most games will save processing power by using undetailed low-resolution graphics for objects further away from the player (which are swapped with more detailed graphics when the player gets closer). This also mimics how distant objects tend to look less distinctive than close-up objects in real life.

Likewise, many game designers know that the player’s attention will be firmly focused on both their character and whatever they have to interact with. This means that the player is less likely to pay attention to any subtle “flaws” with things that aren’t immediately important. It’s a brilliant example of misdirection in action. So, if something dramatic or interesting is happening in one of your paintings or comics, then the audience are less likely to notice more rushed parts of the backgrounds etc…

The second thing that game design trickery can teach artists is that it’s ok to use trickery! Seriously, it is. All art is, essentially, trickery. Even a “realistic” natural landscape copied expertly from life is still trying to create the illusion of a three-dimensional scene within a two-dimensional painting or drawing. All art relies on optical illusions and other forms of trickery to “work” properly.

So, seeing these kinds of tricks in action, learning about them and interacting with them whilst playing games can help you become more knowledgeable and comfortable with using trickery in your own art. Whether this is to try to make your art look better, or simply to save time if you have a deadline, having a good repertoire of artistic tricks is essential.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Why The Cyberpunk Genre Is A Genre About Creativity Itself (And Why It’s Good For The World)- A Ramble

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Even though this is a long rambling article about why the cyberpunk genre is a metaphor for creativity and imagination itself and why the world needs the cyberpunk genre, I’m going to have to start by talking about about the experience of reading and playing various things. There’s a reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later in the article.

Although I had been busy with making my Halloween webcomic the night before I wrote this article, I got distracted. Naturally, the cause of this procrastination was none other than a computer game. Yes, “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” again. I’d originally planned to set aside an hour or two to play it, but I ended up having the kind of marathon 3-5 hour gaming session that I haven’t had in a while. And I still haven’t finished the damn thing yet!

This, in combination with a few other things I’d been looking at recently, made me think about the subject of trances and creative works. Because, one thing I noticed when playing “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” was that I was feeling a slightly similar sense of.. immersion.. to the one I feel when watching a good TV show or reading a good novel. But, because of the game’s interactive nature, it was a bit more like the sense of immersion I feel when I’m making an inspired piece of art or, more accurately, when I’m writing fiction (and feeling very inspired)!

This is the kind of feeling where the outside world seems to fade away slightly and you become part of the thing that you’re reading, writing, drawing, playing, watching etc…

The best way to experience this for yourself is to put a playlist or a CD of good music on in the background whilst reading a really good novel. When you stop reading the novel, you’ll suddenly realise that you can’t remember hearing the last few songs on the playlist. They were playing, but you didn’t notice them because your consciousness was somewhere else.

Likewise, the experience of suddenly looking away from the screen after binge-watching a compelling TV show or playing a fascinating computer game for a few hours can feel like a very mild existential crisis of sorts. For half a second, the world around you seems both starkly empty and bizarrely alien at the same time. For a second, nothing seems to mean anything.

In essence, being immersed in a creative work (whether making or experiencing it) is almost a mild trance-like state. The best description that I’ve read of this can be found in a short story called “An Extra Smidgen Of Eternity” By Robert Rodi. Rodi’s description is: ‘Stories are hope. They take you out of yourself for a bit, and when you’re dropped back in, you’re different – you’re stronger, you’ve seen more, you’ve felt more. Stories are like spiritual currency.’

Likewise, I also found a fascinating Youtube video which pointed out that patterns of brain activity whilst playing a computer game that you’re really good at are actually closer to patterns of brain activity during daydreams than anything else. And, yes, I haven’t mentioned daydreams in this article because that would be a whole article in and of itself.

This naturally made me think about the cyberpunk genre, since I’d seen the word “trance” used in combination with it a couple of times recently. Once was when I played a game called “Technobabylon” a few months ago (in the game, connecting to virtual reality is called “trancing”) and the other was when I watched an absolutely brilliant low-budget sci-fi movie from the 80s called “Trancers“. It’s a weird film about time travel, zombies and hardboiled detectives. It’s barely cyberpunk in the technical sense of the term. But, neither is “Blade Runner” and the cyberpunk genre would be a lot poorer without that film. But, I digress….

In it’s most traditional form, the cyberpunk genre is entirely about this trance-like state that I mentioned earlier. It’s a genre of fiction/cinema/gaming about characters who spend more time existing in rich, detailed virtual reality worlds than they do in the stark, dystopian “real world” of the future. It’s a literal embodiment of the “existential crisis” thing that I mentioned earlier, when talking about looking away from the screen after being immersed in a game or DVD for hours.

But, more than that, it often frames this “escapism” into virtual reality as a heroic thing. Which is awesome 🙂 The heroes and heroines of the cyberpunk genre aren’t muscular soldiers, charismatic figures or anything like that. They’re people with mediocre, boring and/or crappy “real” lives who only truly flourish within imagined artificial worlds. They become vaguely shamanic explorers who are more than they might appear to be on the surface. Writers, artists, introverts and/or nerds of all kinds can probably see the appeal of this metaphor.

Escapism tends to get a bad press. Even I had to suppress a bit of a laugh at myself when I talked about a “marathon 3-5 hour gaming session” at the beginning of the article. Ok, I didn’t drink any energy drinks or start talking in l33tspe4k or anything like that, but I couldn’t help but affectionately think of myself as a hilariously pathetic “nerd” afterwards.

But, if there’s anything that this world needs, it’s the trance-like state that comes from creative works. I write these articles quite far in advance, but I can’t imagine that the real world right now is any better than it was at the beginning of this year. Not only does this trance-like state help to preserve our sanity, but it also helps us to develop as people too. And, as much as activists of all kinds might disagree, it’s probably good for the world too.

If you enjoy this kind of thing you’re (like me) probably something of an introvert. Don’t worry, immersion in creative works isn’t going *ugh* to turn you into some kind of brash, superficial, hyper-social charismatic figure or anything like that. During 2016, several parts of the world were thrown into chaos by these kinds of charismatic businesspeople, journalists, politicians, celebrities, religious figures etc…. The world needs less of these type of “heroes”. They tend to mess things up. What the world needs is subtlety and nuance.

The world needs new heroes. It needs a type of heroism that can actually be translated into real life. Charismatic superhero-like “strong men” are always far better in fiction than they are in real life.

But, the kind of people who can navigate the landscape of their own imaginations and turn the things they find into things that inspire other people or expand other people’s view of the world (and themselves) are the kind of heroic people we need. Even if you just read/watch/play a lot of things and don’t create anything, you’re probably going to have a more intricate, nuanced and developed understanding of the world, of politics and humanity than you might think. It’s educational!

Going back to “Shadowrun: Dragonfall”, it is a cyberpunk fantasy computer game that is set in an anarchist mini-state in Berlin. Although this isn’t a major part of the game, it will probably teach you more about both the pitfalls and the benefits of anarchy than anything else will.

The main plot of the game is, in part, about the problems of relying on one person for leadership. The community of characters in the game is also an example of a (mostly) functioning society without a leader. People follow their vocations in life and, in the process, help other people. It’s a bit like John Lennon’s “Imagine” in some ways. Society is, mostly, fairly laid-back and non-judgemental (but not in a preachy way).

Yet, the game doesn’t shy away from the reality of anarchy either. With no police force, people are forced to rely on armed mercenaries (like the character you play as) to solve their problems. With no laws, people have to rely on verbal contracts that can easily be broken if they aren’t mutually-beneficial enough. Likewise, with no law or order, the only thing keeping amoral mega-corporations and violent political gangs in check is other mega-corporations and violent political gangs.

Spending hours in a trance-like state playing this game might seem like “wasted time”. But, it’ll make you think more about politics, humanity and the world than you might expect. It’ll help to add nuance to your opinions about things like the role of government etc… It’ll also give you a slightly deeper understanding of humanity itself, of the value of mutally-beneficial things etc…

It’s like the lyrics to a song (I can’t remember which one) by an acoustic punk band called Johnny Hobo And The Freight Trains: “A punk rock song will never change the world/ But I can tell you about a few that changed me“.

We need more introverted “heroes” in the world, and the cyberpunk genre provides these in abundance.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Ways To Make Things That Will Inspire Other People

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Although I’ve probably talked about this topic ages ago, I thought that I’d return to it today. I am, of course, talking about how to make things that will inspire other people to create things.

It’s kind of like how “Blade Runner” was just one film from the early 1980s, but it has inspired and influenced more things in the sci-fi genre than anything else.

Or like how “Sherlock Holmes” was a series of detective novels and short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from the late 19th century/early 20th century which has influenced virtually everything made in the detective genre since then.

Or how “Doom” was a computer game from the early-mid 1990s that popularised the first-person shooter genre in a way that no prior game could.

So, how do you make something that will inspire other people? Here are a few tips:

1) Ambiguity: One way to make something that will inspire other people is to leave as much to the imagination as possible. Yes, you’ve still got to dazzle the audience with interesting backgrounds/settings/characters/events etc…., but you’ve also got to leave a lot to the imagination too.

Why? Because it makes the audience curious and, if they’re curious enough, then they’ll probably start making new things of their own in order to explore the things that you’ve left hidden.

For example, a fair amount of my own art is inspired by the movie “Blade Runner”. To show you what I mean, here’s a painting of mine (which was also inspired by “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex) that appeared here a while ago:

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

But why was it “Blade Runner” (and not, say, “Star Trek” or “Star Wars”) that influenced me so much? Although there’s a “Blade Runner” sequel coming out soon, it was a stand-alone film for quite a long time. So, there was just one film that gave the audience a few tantalising glimpses at a giant, detailed futuristic world and then just left the rest of it to our imaginations.

Seriously, apart from a few streets, a few cityscapes and several building interiors, we don’t actually get to see that much of the “world” of this film. But what we do see is absolutely fascinating. So, it is up to us to imagine what the rest of the film’s “world” looks like. And, if you’re an artist or a writer, then this is a good starting point for coming up with your own original sci-fi art, fiction etc…. Just remember the difference between inspiration and plagiarism though.

So, yes, if you show just enough to tell the story, but leave a lot of tantalising details to your audience’s imaginations, then you’re probably going to inspire other people.

2) New mixtures: As the old saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun. It is quite literally impossible to create something that is truly “100% original”. That said, the things that tend to have the most influence on other artists, writers, comic makers, game developers etc… are more original than average. But, how do they do it?

Simple, they find something seemingly “unrelated” and add it to a well-known genre. For example, Sherlock Holmes wasn’t the first fictional detective, but he’s the most influential one for the simple reason that he was the first to apply deductive reasoning and the scientific method to solving crimes. Previously, no-one had really thought of combining science and logic with the detective genre. These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a detective story that doesn’t involve science or logic in some way.

Likewise, “Blade Runner” certainly wasn’t the first science fiction film ever made. It wasn’t even the first thing in the science fiction genre to question what it is that makes us human. But it was one of the first films to combine the film noir genre with science fiction. It was also one of the first western sci-fi films to take visual inspiration from large cities in countries like Japan, South Korea etc… too.

So, if you can find an interesting way to add something new to a familiar genre, then there’s a good chance that the things you create will end up inspiring other people.

3) Timelessness: One other way to make something that will inspire other people is to make something that is timeless. Thinking about it more, the best way to do this seems to be to make sure that the underlying structure of the thing you’re creating is the kind of thing that has a universal appeal.

For example, the original “Doom” is a computer game from 1993. It looks very old. It was originally distributed on floppy disk. In fact, you can play it using nothing more than the keyboard if you want to. It looks very 90s, but it’s an iconic game that people have been playing (and modifying, updating etc..) for over two decades because it is fun!

It is a game that focuses on fast-paced combat, basic puzzle solving and strategy (eg: many challenging modern fan-made levels for “Doom”/”Doom II” pretty much require you to know the ‘rules’ of the game, and how to use them to your advantage). These things are timeless and universal.

Likewise, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original “Sherlock Holmes” stories are (mostly) set in the 19th century (“His Last Bow” is set in 1914 though). But, they have a timeless appeal for the simple reason that the underlying structure of the stories revolve around a highly-intelligent detective using science and logic to solve crimes.

This part of the stories is timeless and it’s one reason why Sherlock Holmes has not only inspired many other fictional detectives, but why he can be easily transposed into more modern settings (eg: like in the BBC’s “Sherlock” series) and not seem out of place.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

The Joy Of… Genre-Specific Creativity

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Although this is an article about art, comics and fiction, I’m going to have to start by talking about music. This is mostly because, a day or two before I wrote this article, I heard a rather interesting song called “Metal Inquisition” by Piledriver that made me think about audiences and genres.

“Metal Inquisition” is a song which heavy metal fans will find absolutely hilarious and non-metal fans will probably find mildly disturbing. It’s a knowingly silly song about a Spanish Inquisition-style group who try to ensure that everyone listens to heavy metal… or else!

And, it’s also the perfect example of a genre-specific thing. It’s a comedic song that is written specifically for heavy metal fans. If you aren’t a metalhead, then you probably won’t get the joke (eg: it’s about heavy metal’s [lack of] mainstream popularity etc..).

There’s certainly something to be said for things that are squarely aimed at fans of a particular genre. For starters, the trouble with making everything suitable for everyone is that, unless it’s done extremely well, it often ends up appealing to no-one.

Unless you are the mythical “normal person” that mainstream cinema, pop music, advertising, gaming etc… exists to serve, then there will be a certain emotional distance between you and the creative work in question. And, well, no-one is that idealised “normal person”. We’re all geeks or nerds in some way or another. We all have preferences and fascinations. We’re all fans of one thing or another. After all, we’re all unique human beings.

Creative works that are squarely aimed at fans of a particular genre acknowledge that uniqueness. They say “some people like this, and that’s cool. Some people don’t, and they should probably find something else“. As such, if you find something that you are a fan of, then it’ll feel more meaningful to you. It’ll feel like something made specifically for you.

This is also useful for creating a sense of community too. After all, if you’re a fan of a slightly obscure genre, then genre-specific things can be a thing which reminds you that “other people like this stuff too!“.

For example, going back to “Metal Inquisition”, the song is such an amazing song for the simple reason that it is a gleeful celebration of heavy metal music (a bit like Saxon’s “Denim And Leather”, Judas Preist’s “Deal With The Devil”, Helloween’s “Heavy Metal (is the law)”, Sabaton’s “Metal Machine” etc… ).

It’s a song that amusingly imagines what the world would be like if heavy metal was the most mainstream genre instead of the least mainstream genre. It’s a song that recreates the feeling of going to your first metal concert and seeing literally hundreds of other people who also like the same music you do. That awestruck sense of actually belonging somewhere.

But, in addition to this, genre-specific things are also awesome for the simple reason that they’re an expression of creative freedom. They show that the person who made them is such a fan of that particular genre that they felt compelled to actually make things for other fans. They show how great stories, films, games, albums etc… can inspire people to create things themselves. After all, you don’t make a genre-specific thing unless you’re a massive fan of things from that genre.

Genre-specific things aren’t “manufactured pop band # 345,237” who were designed by committee in order to maximise sales to the 16-24 demographic. They aren’t “Generic military action videogame #17” churned out annually in order to sell more games consoles. They aren’t “CGI-filled Hollywood Movie # 500,000” with 20% less dialogue to reduce translation costs for international distribution. They aren’t “hip fashion trend #7653” that will empty the wallets of trendy people in London, New York etc… 50% faster than usual.

No, genre-specific things are things made by people for people. They’re the sorts of things that people would make even if they didn’t get paid. They’re things that are made out of love, rather than out of greed. They are things that aren’t “mass-produced”. They’re things that are brave enough to say “if you like this, then that’s great. If you don’t, then find something else!

Genre-specific things are a testament to the power of creativity for the sake of creativity, and to the value of individuality.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Ways To Do Surrealism Well (That I Learnt From A 1990s TV Show)

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As regular readers of this site probably know, I’ve been watching an old American TV show from the 1990s called “Twin Peaks” on DVD recently (I haven’t seen any of the new episodes though). This series has something of a reputation for being slightly on the stranger side of things, although it isn’t really as ludicrously surreal as I’d expected it to be.

Still, it does provide some interesting lessons in how to do surrealism well. But, before I begin the list, I should point out that this article may contain some mild plot SPOILERS. That said, let’s begin…

1) You still need a story: For all of the strange stuff that happens in “Twin Peaks”, there’s still an actual storyline that you can follow. Yes, there are lots of twists and turns, but the series actually has a proper plot that – mostly – makes sense. Even the stranger parts of the series often end up having some kind of explanation later in the series.

In other words, for all of the strangeness, there is still a coherent narrative. There is still something that the audience can understand and, as such, they are more willing to overlook the parts of the story that they can’t understand.

In other words, you need to find a good balance between traditional storytelling and strange surrealism.

2) Different logic: For all of the strange things in the show, there is often some kind of logic behind them. As an example, one of the show’s most famous characters is the Log Lady. She’s a slightly strange woman who carries a small log with her wherever she goes. She’ll also talk to the log sometimes and claim that she receives messages from it.

The Log Lady from "Twin Peaks"

The Log Lady from “Twin Peaks” (1990)

Although she could easily just be a “strange for the sake of strange” character, the series contains some mysterious paranormal elements. So, the Log Lady’s initial explanation that the log contains the spirit of her deceased husband makes slightly more sense when you’ve seen more of the series. Of course, given that the one of the main themes in the TV show is mourning and/or grief, it’s also possible that her obsession with the log is merely a psychological reaction of some kind to her husband’s death.

Even though this is left slightly ambiguous, the fact that there is at least one “logical” (in the context of the story) explanation for this “strange” part of the show helps to avoid breaking the audience’s immersion in the story.

3) The ordinary: For all of “Twin Peaks’ ” strangeness, most of the unusual parts of the series are at least vaguely related to ordinary life.

Sometimes, this can take the form of a character owning an unusual (but available) object – for example, one character is seen eating a piece of smoked cheese that has been sculpted to look like a pig. It’s strange, but it’s also the kind of thing that can probably be bought from gift shops in areas where smoked cheese is made.

Sometimes, this can just be ordinary things that are subtly out of place. For example, the pilot episode of “Twin Peaks” includes a scene set in a rural American bank. This is the kind of place where you might possibly expect to see a hunting trophy in the lobby. A stag’s head wouldn’t look totally out of place here. Yet, merely by placing it somewhere slightly unusual, the show is able to add a touch of surrealism to what would otherwise be an “ordinary” dialogue-based scene:

As you can see in this scene from "Twin Peaks", the placement of a "normal" item in a slightly unusual location can instantly add a surreal atmosphere to a story, comic,. TV show, painting etc...

As you can see in this scene from “Twin Peaks”, the placement of a “normal” item in a slightly unusual location can instantly add a surreal atmosphere to a story, comic,. TV show, painting etc…

4) Comedy and horror: The surreal parts of “Twin Peaks” that aren’t fully explained are often still surprisingly interesting for the simple reason that they’re designed to either frighten the audience or make them laugh. Or both.

Since these parts of the show are designed to evoke strong emotions, they are more likely to bypass the more “logical” parts of the audience’s minds. Since these scenes are clearly designed purely for comedic and/or horrific effect, then they are less likely to break the audience’s suspension of disbelief too. After all, “it’s meant to be funny” or “it’s meant to be scary” can often be a logical explanation for otherwise illogical things.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Ways To Make Something That Is ‘So Bad That It’s Good’

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I’ve probably talked about things that are ‘so bad that they’re good’ before, but I was reminded of this subject the night before I wrote this article. This was mainly because I started watching an anime series called ‘Tokko‘ about a police officer who has to face hordes of demonic creatures.

It might be because I accidentally left the default dubbed audio track on or because I had slightly different expectations about the series, but it fell into the ‘so bad that it’s good’ category. Far from being a serious horror series, it is (both unintentionally and intentionally) one of the funniest comedies that I’ve seen recently.

The police officer and his best friend look like what people in the very late 1990s/early 2000s considered to be “cool”. Personality wise, they are basically two American frat boys/slackers. The cheesy dubbed dialogue tries to be ‘edgy’ at every opportunity, and often comes across as being eye-rollingly immature. The “scary” monsters either look adorable and/or hilarious. The animation can be a bit clunky and the fight scenes are ludicrously gruesome (in a silly over-the-top way, rather than in a genuinely disturbing way). Yet, surprisingly, I really enjoyed the episodes I’ve seen so far. As I said, it’s literally so bad that it’s good.

So, how can you make things that are so bad that they’re good? Here are three of the many ways:

1) Awesome idea, terrible implementation: One of the best ways to make something ‘so bad that it’s good’ is to try to stretch yourself far beyond your abilities. To have the ambition of creating something awesome, but without the resources or knowledge to really do it properly.

There something endearing about someone trying to create something great, even when they can’t. There’s something warmly amusing about, say, a low-budget DVD whose cover art promises an epic story that both you and the people making the DVD know won’t be delivered.

Most people’s first attempts at making a webcomic automatically fall into this category too ( in fact, making it through this ‘crappy’ early phase is something of a test for webcomic creators), because they’re both highly inexperienced and yet highly inspired by other webcomics that they’ve seen.

These things are “so bad that they’re good” because they’re more ‘real’. They’re literally the polar opposite of flashy Hollywood movies, slick mainstream comics etc.. They show people trying to create things because they want to and because they believe in what they’re doing, rather than because they want to make millions.

2) Hyper modernity: If you make something that is very much of the time that it’s made then, years later, it will look amusingly dated. This is especially true if you are trying to use an old idea for inspiration, which can often result in something appearing slightly dated when it is originally released.

This is also especially true if you try to make ‘modern’ science fiction. A great example of this would probably be a ‘so bad that it’s good’ spy/thriller/sci-fi/comedy TV series from the mid-late 1990s called “Bugs“. At the time, it was probably a lot more “cool” and “futuristic”. But, these days, it’s joyously hilarious to see all of the characters using ‘gadgets’ and surfing the internet with 56k modems and computers that still have CRT monitors.

So, if you make something very ‘modern’, then there’s a good chance that it will become ‘so bad that it’s good’ in a few years’ time.

3) Earnestness: Creative works that try to be hyper-earnest about politics, or go to ridiculous lengths to show off how “liberal” or “conservative” they are, can often fall into the ‘so bad that it’s good category’.

This is basically because the extremely prominent and earnest politics end up distracting the audience from the actual story and completely wrecking their suspension of disbelief. This will reduce even the most serious story to unintentional comedy within minutes.

I would describe modern examples of this sort of thing. But, ironically, in our highly-politicised age, I’d probably end up infuriating a lot of people if I gave cynical descriptions of these things. Still, the modern trend for hyper-earnest politics (on both sides of the political spectrum) will at least ensure that we’ll never run out of ‘so bad that it’s good’ things in the near future.

But, if you earnestly try to shoehorn politics into the things you make, then they’ll probably turn into unintentional comedy fairly quickly.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂