Three Reasons Why Creative Works That Are Never Made Seem So Good

The day before I wrote this article, I happened to find a really cool video on Youtube where, by editing together various audience recordings, someone was able to reconstruct what a live concert video for Iron Maiden’s 1986/7 world tour would have possibly looked like. This was a tour that was apparently never officially filmed and, were it not for the fans, would have been lost to the mists of time.

Although the tour was from before my time, I was astonished by how awesome this fan reconstruction was. Everything from the “Blade Runner”-themed introduction, to the costumes to the performance of songs that the band rarely plays live were really amazing. The blurry camcorder footage also made me wonder how much more awesome a proper official live video would have looked like if it had ever been made.

And this, of course, made me think about the topic of creative works that were never made. In particular, why they can sometimes seem better than things that were actually made.

1) Imagination: This is the most obvious one. If something is never made, then people will have to use whatever clues they can find in order to imagine what it looks like.

First of all, everyone’s imagination is at least slightly different. So, your idea of what a cool-sounding unreleased computer game/film/album/novel etc… would look like will probably be at least slightly different to that of the people who would have made it.

In addition to this, our imaginations also have very little in the way of limitations. In other words, we don’t have to worry about things like budgets, practical concerns or anything like that when we imagine what an unreleased film, game etc… might look like. So, it is probably going to look better in our imaginations than it ever would in real life.

2) Fandom: Following on from this, if you’re imagining something that was never made, then you are probably a fan of whoever would have made it. In other words, you’re probably judging it by the high standards of everything else that they have made. At the very least, you will probably expect it to be similar to these things.

The thing to remember here is that things that aren’t made sometimes aren’t made for a good reason. Maybe the underlying idea had a flaw of some kind? Maybe it was something that sounded cooler in principle than it actually did in practice? Maybe it would have required the person creating it to change something in a way that would alienate fans? etc…

A good videogame-based example of this is probably “Duke Nukem Forever”. For many years, this was a legendary unreleased game from the makers of the 1996 FPS classic “Duke Nukem 3D”. Everyone expected it to be like an enhanced version of “Duke Nukem 3D”. Of course, when it was eventually released in 2011, it was widely criticised for including all of the worst elements of modern FPS games (eg: linear levels, two-weapon limits etc..).

So, yes, “lost” creative works can seem better for the simple reason that you expect them to be like things that have already been released.

3) Context: Another reason why “lost” creative works can seem so amazing is because of the historical context surrounding them. In short, they evoke nostalgia. When we think about them, we think about the time period that they could have been made in.

We think about the earlier days of our favourite musicians, writers, game companies etc… and find ourselves wishing that we lived in that time period. And, whilst released creative works can evoke this nostalgia, unreleased ones tend to evoke it a lot more powerfully for the simple reason that we aren’t familiar with them (since they were never actually made).

As such, even a few vague clues about these things can seem like something “new” from the glory days of our favourite creative people.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Three Reasons Why Modern Creative Works Use Nostalgic Elements

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this topic before, but I thought that I’d look at some of the reasons why modern creative works use nostalgic elements.

1) Inspirations: This is the most obvious one. In short, people usually become writers, artists, musicians, film-makers, game designers etc… because they see, hear, play or read something so impressive that it makes them think “I want to make something like that!

Of course, thanks to copyright law, we can’t just directly copy the things we love. So, we have to learn what makes these things so nostalgic and find ways to incorporate these general elements in new and original works. This is why, for example, some modern creative works will be stylistically similar to things from previous decades, even if they differ in detail.

Inspiration is an essential part of the creative process and finding ways to make original stuff that is evocative of the things that inspired you can be a really brilliant source of creative motivation. Hence why it happens in films, music, books, games etc…

2) An instant quality bump: One of the things that prompted this article was that, the day before I prepared this article , I happened to find a modern punk song (explicit lyrics) that not only sounds like something from the early-mid 2000s, but also protests about current US politics in the same way that punk bands used to do about G.W.Bush during the early-mid 2000s.

One of the interesting things about this song is that if I had actually heard it during the early-mid 2000s, my reaction would have probably been “It’s ok“. Yet, listening to it today, my reaction was more like “Cool! It’s an early 2000s-style punk song from last year. This is so awesome!“.

In other words, the nostalgic musical elements actually made the song seem better than it would have done in the time period it took inspiration from. But, why? There are several reasons.

First of all, there aren’t that many bands still using this style of punk music, so the rarity of the song instantly makes it more impressive. Secondly, it evokes memories of the time when this type of music was a bit more mainstream. Thirdly, there’s a really interesting contrast between the “old” musical style and the modern subject matter.

So, using nostalgic elements can be a way to make your current creative works seem better in comparison to more “modern” stuff.

3) Audience connection: Including nostalgic elements can be a good way to connect with members of your audience who either remember the time period that you’re taking inspiration from and/or are fans of things made during that period of history. When done right, this evokes warmly nostalgic memories in older audience members and makes younger members of your audience think “Cool! People are still making stuff like this these days!

This is especially effective if you’re taking inspiration from a part of history that isn’t covered by popular nostalgia. For example, the reason why the modern early-mid 2000s style punk song surprised and delighted me so much is because this period of history currently falls slightly outside of the usual 20-30 year nostalgia gap.

It’s a period of history that I remember really well, yet it hasn’t quite passed into popular nostalgia yet. So, it stands out more and has more of an emotional impact than it probably will in 5-10 years time when there are lots of early-mid 2000s style movies in the cinema, lots of TV shows about this part of history, lots of computer games set in this time period etc…

So, if you want to evoke an emotional reaction in the audience, then nostalgic elements can be really useful.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Basic Tips For When A Genre Won’t Work In Your Chosen Medium

Although this is an article about writing fiction, making art and making comics, I’m going to have to start by talking about videogames for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A while before I wrote this article, I ended up doing some random online research about survival horror videogames on handheld games consoles during the 1990s. Interestingly, this awesome genre turned out to be very difficult to transfer to older handheld consoles – with one of the best examples actually being a game that wasn’t officially released. Namely the unfinished late 1990s/early 2000s Game Boy Color version of “Resident Evil”.

Needless to say, all of this made me think about the annoying situation where your favourite genre only really works in another medium. Whether you’re a writer who loves heavy metal music, a comic-maker who loves FPS videogames etc.. it can be more than a little bit annoying.

So, I thought that I’d offer two basic tips about what to do if you find yourself in this incredibly annoying situation.

1) Look at what makes the genre “work”: If you can’t directly use an awesome genre in your chosen medium, then one way to get around this is simply to look at what underlying qualities, features and techniques make the genre in question “work”. Once you’ve made a list of these things, then it’s considerably easier to apply them to other mediums.

For example, the key features of classic heavy metal music include things like: fast pacing, melodramatic horror/fantasy imagery, an emphasis on courage, a lot of theatrical flair, gloomy high-contrast lighting (in concerts, music videos etc..), a slightly rebellious attitude, hedonism, cool-looking machinery (eg: motorbikes, scary robots etc..) etc…

As you can see, these are all qualities that could easily translate well into either prose fiction or art/comics without too much difficulty. So, even if you can’t include any actual heavy metal music in these things, you can still use all of the underlying features and techniques of the genre.

So, looking for underlying qualities/techniques is one of the best ways to use an awesome genre in another medium when you can’t do so directly.

2) Visual media: Simply put, it’s really easy to translate one visual medium to another. This is mostly because all visual media are, well, visual. So, learning how to study and analyse images (and having a bit of knowlege of artistic theory) means that there’s a lot easier to, say, make art that is inspired by things like films and videogames.

For example, many classic survival horror games and old 2D “point and click” adventure games will often use fixed ‘camera angles’ that are designed to look suspenseful. This will often be done by either placing dramatic-looking things in the close foreground and/or using camera angles that look like they are “lurking” somewhere or perching ominously above the player. As such, it’s easy to include elements of survival horror etc.. in artwork:

“Cyberpunk Ruins” By C. A. Brown

So, if you’re working in a visual medium, then learning how to study images (eg: how to look for things like perspective, colour schemes, lighting etc..) is an incredibly valuable thing if you want to translate some of your favourite genres into your medium of choice.

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Anway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Working Out What To Show The Audience – A Ramble

Well, the day before I wrote this article, I happened to see something fascinating that made me think about something which anyone who is telling a story, making a piece of art etc… has to grapple with. Namely the decision of what to show the audience.

Anyway, the thing that made me think about this topic were a few videos from a fascinating Youtube series called “Boundary Break” where, using various tools, someone manipulates the “camera” in videogames to show you what you normally wouldn’t see whilst playing the game. And it is fascinating.

This is mostly because, in order to save memory and processing power, videogames will often only display the absolute minimum needed to make everything look convincing. For example, if a game displays a fenced-off road or passageway, the only things behind it will be what the player can actually see through gaps in the fence. After all, the emphasis is on making sure that the game looks convincing, whilst also finding sneaky ways to show the minimum amount of detail possible.

And, well, the same thing is true in almost every other creative medium too.

For example, many studio-based film and television sets will only actually contain what appears on camera (eg: the classic example being a set in a sitcom where one wall is missing in order to allow the cameras to film what is happening). Films can also take this a step further by giving the illusion of a large set through background details whilst only actually showing a few smaller locations.

The classic example of this is the 1982 film “Blade Runner“. This is a sci-fi film set within a giant futuristic mega-city. Yet, if you look closely at the film itself, the only actual locations in it that are shown in any real level of detail are several interior locations and a few streets. But, thanks to things like distant background details (created via things like paintings, scale models etc..) etc.. the audience feels like they’re seeing a much larger setting than they actually are.

Likewise, many pieces of visual art (especially in things like comics) will often focus more heavily on adding detail to more prominent parts of the picture, with the background detail often being left slightly vague or impressionistic. There are several practical reasons for this, such as time reasons and the fact that (unless you’re making a very large piece of art) it can be difficult to cram lots of detail into small background areas.

The same is true for prose fiction too. After all, if you have to describe literally every detail of a story’s setting, character backstories etc… you will end up with a very long, very slow-paced and very boring story. As such, you have to be very selective about only describing the most important, evocative and/or interesting details in each scene of your story.

For example, if you’re writing a “film noir”-style scene set inside a detective’s office, you might describe a few key details like the light filtering through the blinds, a cigarette smouldering in an ashtray and a rusty old filing cabinet. This gives the audience a quick impression of the scene, whilst avoiding the slow-paced boredom that would come from describing literally every detail of the room.

So, yes, working out what not to show is actually quite an important part of making any creative work. And the best way to learn how to do this is simply to see the thing you’re creating from your audience’s perspective. In other words, you need to think about how your audience will see the things you create, what they will find interesting and, most importantly of all, what their attention will be drawn to.

Once you know what grabs your audience’s attention, then focus most of your time, effort, words etc… on that.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Writing: Creativity Via Limitations – A Ramble

Although I’d planned to write a different article for today, I saw something shortly before writing this article [Edit: Which was several months before I got a vaguely modern refurbished computer] which made me think about creativity and the limitations of the written word.

It was a trailer for an upcoming computer game (called “Cyberpunk 2077”), of all things. For a few seconds, I really wanted to play the game until I suddenly realised “The system requirements will be sky-high. It would melt my vintage computer if I even tried.” This then morphed into the forlorn thought “If this was a novel instead of a game, I could actually enjoy it“.

After all, in English at least, writers only have 26 letters that they can use. Pretty much everyone is trained to read from a young age. Books don’t really have system requirements. And, whilst this means that we can do things like read books from literally over a century ago, it also has a lot of limitations too. After all, there are only 26 letters to work with.

Yet, these limitations are one of the main things that makes prose fiction such a creative thing. After all, writers can’t rely on fancy new computer graphics or anything like that in order to impress their readers. They have 26 letters and a pre-made system of grammar to work with. As such, writers have to get creative in order to make something astonishing within these old limitations.

And this produces some truly spectacular results. For example, when I was watching the modern game trailer I mentioned earlier, one of my first thoughts was “Oooh! A cyberpunk city during the daytime. This reminds me of Neal Stephenson’s ‘Snow Crash“. Now, for comparison, “Snow Crash” was published in 1992. On the other hand, the best computer game graphics from 1992 looked a bit like this:

This is a screenshot from “Alone In The Dark” (1992).

So, yes, novels have been using spectacular “graphics” for much longer than computer games have. Using just 26 letters.

This limitation has spurred writers to do things like find their own unique “style”, to think of interesting locations, to come up with brilliant characters, to tell new types of stories, to use things like grammar and chapter length to achieve particular effects (eg: short sentences and short chapters in a fast-paced thriller novel) etc….

In other words, it has forced writers to be creative. After all, every other writer will be using the same letters, words etc… so, what matters is how a writer uses them.

Interestingly, there is a little bit of a parallel with computer games here. After all, there’s a lot of nostalgia for games from the 1990s – and with good reason! Back then, computer technology was a lot more limited. So, like writers, game designers had to be creative within these limitations. Since they couldn’t rely on flashy photo-realistic graphics, they had to set their games apart from the crowd through the use of things like imagination, clever design, innovative ideas etc…

But, I digress. The point of all of this is that if you want to see a perfect example of how limitations can actually make people more creative, then pick up a book.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope it was interesting 🙂

Two Basic Things To Do When A Creative Project Fails

Well, I thought that I’d talk about failure today. This is mostly because I finished a failed creative project the day before I wrote the first draft of this article. It was my first attempt at writing a novella in quite some time and, although I completed it (it was about 15,600 words long) it wasn’t exactly the best thing I’ve ever written. I mean, there’s a good reason why I haven’t mentioned it in previous articles.

Yes, it started out well. Yes, I felt inspired at first. Basically, I tried to write something similar to the old second-hand 1970s/1980s horror novels (in particular, the sub-genre of monster-based novels inspired by James Herbert’s “The Rats”) that I used to read when I was younger and rediscovered when I got back into reading regularly a couple of months ago.

Since giant rats, evil scorpions, carnivorous beetles, giant evil crabs and monster slugs were already taken by actual ’70s/’80s horror authors and because I wanted to write a slight parody of the genre, I ended up choosing adorable badgers – albeit ones that have become immortal, and very hungry, thanks to a mutant version of the rabies virus.

Here’s a short extract from one of the more dramatic and well-written parts of the novella: ‘In an instant, Wilson saw everything. The cattle stalls were a disorderly mess of steaming offal and buzzing flies. In the eaves above, Jerry sat on a beam with a pitchfork in his arms and a look of abject terror on his face. A low chittering sound echoed through the air. Wilson spotted movement next to one of the beams. At first, Wilson thought it was a stray dog. But, as his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he noticed that it was a badger. Crimson foam frothed around the creature’s mouth as it stared up at Jerry and clawed at the beam.

However, large portions of the story really aren’t as good as this short extract. If I was reviewing the novella, I’d probably only give it two or three out of five. It was, in short, a failed project.

So, I thought that I’d give you a couple of basic tips for what to do when a creative project fails. And, yes, you’ve probably heard these before – but they’re well-known pieces of advice for a good reason.

1) Do a post-mortem: This one is fairly obvious, but it can be a bit of challenge if you’ve never really done anything like this. In essence, you need to take a step back and look at both what went wrong and why it went wrong. This might sound like a rather depressing thing to do, but it can teach you what to avoid in your next project. In other words, it reduces the chance of making the same or similar mistakes again.

In addition to teaching you general lessons, this also helps you to get to know yourself better. Because one of the best ways of finding out what your strengths and weaknesses are is to actually make something and then see what parts of it do and don’t work. Once you’ve found this out, you can play to your strengths and/or focus on your weaknesses in your next project.

For example, with my failed horror novella, some of the major flaws/lessons I found included:

– There were literally too many characters for a story of this length. Not only that, since I knew that all of the main characters were going to be eaten by badgers, I instinctively skimped on the characterisation since I’d find it too depressing to put too much emotional effort into developing a well-written character who was going to suffer such a tragic fate. So, the lessons here were to include fewer characters in my next project and to ensure that the characters have a good chance of surviving the story.

– A lack of pre-planning (resulting in somewhat uneven plotting) and the fact that I tried to write it relatively quickly (in about 18-19 days) meant that, whilst I was able to stay motivated, the writing would often get somewhat repetitive. I’d often re-use descriptions (eg: when describing the sounds the badgers made etc..) and many of the story’s dialogue segments would also sound incredibly repetitive too. The lesson here was to spend a while longer planning the story and to focus more on quality than quantity.

– The narrative voice throughout the story was incredibly uneven. Some chapters were supposed to be a parody of bad writing (which quickly turned into actual bad writing), some chapters sounded very “modern”, some chapters read like something from a thriller novel, some chapters had a more American-style narrative voice etc… A lot of this stemmed from the fact that I’d used third-person narration, and I’d had more practice with first-person narration in the past.

I could go on for quite a while…. But, working out what failed and why will help you to improve any future projects.

2) Remember that it happens to literally everyone: When a creative project fails, it can be easy to make the foolish mistake of thinking that you are a failure. That you’re not as good as the writers, artists etc… who inspired you to start your project. Well, I’ll let you into a secret. They’ve failed before, just like you have.

In fact, it is impossible to get really good at anything without failing. The only reason that the people who have inspired you seem like talented geniuses is because you haven’t seen their failed practice projects. They’ve failed just like you have. And, after they failed, they learnt from it and then tried to make another project. Eventually, they got better at writing, making art etc… because they refused to give up.

I mean, there’s a reason why – for example – pretty much every piece of writing advice out there will tell you not to publish your first novel (or first three novels or whatever). It usually takes quite a bit of writing practice before someone can produce a publishable novel. It’s not something that most people can get right on the first try. And, that’s ok. After all, you wouldn’t expect to be able to – say- play the guitar perfectly after picking up the instrument for the first time.

In other words, if you’ve tried to create something and failed horribly at it, then you’re doing exactly the same thing that the people you look up to have done in the past. In other words, you’re doing the right thing. At the very least, you’ve actually created something. Most people don’t get to this stage. So, consider your failure to be one of the steps on the road to greatness.

So, yes, failure happens to literally everyone. It is how you think about it and what you do afterwards that really matters.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Better Alternatives To Writing Fan Fiction

A week or two after I started writing daily short stories last February, I found myself tempted to write some fan fiction. Basically, I had started going through a phase of reading things like movie novelisations (and, yes, the recent book reviews have been written very far in advance) and, at the time of writing, there didn’t seem to be any novelisations of the “Silent Hill” videogames [EDIT: Whilst editing this article, I found that there are several Japanese-language novelisations and an English-language spin-off novel].

So, for a while, I actually thought about writing some fan fiction. Until I remembered that I didn’t write fan fiction. So, I had to think of alternatives. So, here’s an in-depth look at two better and more creative alternatives to writing fan fiction.

1) Be inspired (by multiple things): Ok, you’re a fan of something and you want to write something like it but you don’t want to write fan fiction. Great 🙂 This means that you can do something much better, you can take inspiration and then use this to tell an original story. But, how do you do this?

Start by looking at the basic, generic, underlying elements of the thing that has inspired you. These are general qualities that can be summed up in 1-3 words and which aren’t just found in the thing you’re getting inspired by (in other words, no highly-specific things like character names, location names etc..).

For example, the generic qualities of the old “Silent Hill” videogames would include: urban decay, implied paranormal horror, rust, gloom, vulnerability, grimy buildings, a foreboding atmosphere, psychological horror, mundane meets macabre etc…

When you’ve got your list of qualities, then try to tell a totally original story (featuring new characters, settings, background stuff etc..) that includes some of these generic qualities. You’ll end up with something that is evocative of the thing you’ve been inspired by, but also distinctly different, new and original. Because you’ve had to use your imagination, the story will also have a bit more of your own personal “style” too.

Of course, since you’ve got a list of generic qualities, then you’ll also be able to use it to find connections with other things – which you can also use for inspiration (via the same process) too. Basically, the more inspirations you have, the more original your story will be.

For example, after my initial thought about writing “Silent Hill” fan fiction, I decided to take inspiration instead. Whilst doing this, I realised that the list of qualities I was looking at were also shared by several other things such as the movie “Mimic“, the X-Files episode “Tooms” etc… I realised that all of these things were set in run-down urban parts of 1990s/early-mid 2000s America, they had a claustrophobic atmosphere and/or they often involved something lurking in the shadows.

I was then able to use these multiple inspirations in order to tell an original American-style horror story, set in 1997, about a haunted floor of an apartment block. Not only that, because I’d realised that claustrophobia was a major theme in this “type” of horror, I was also able to choose to use first-person narration and to set most of the story inside a lift/elevator carriage in order to add this quality to the story. This resulted in at least a mildly better (or at least less worse) story than if I’d tried to write some “Silent Hill” fan fiction instead.

Doing this kind of thing is better than writing fan fiction because it forces you to use your imagination a bit more, it means that your story will appeal to a wider audience (rather than just fans of one thing) and it also means that there are far fewer potential copyright issues with publishing your story too.

Although I’m not a copyright lawyer and this isn’t legal advice, this type of inspiration is actually encouraged by copyright law. This is because most copyright laws around the world deliberately don’t protect basic ideas, concepts, themes etc.. Instead, most copyright laws only protect highly-specific details (eg: specific character designs etc..). What this means is that, if you like something, then you have to do something new and original with the basic ideas behind that thing. In other words, you have to take inspiration and use your imagination, rather than just lazily borrowing.

2) Write an old-school British-style parody: Before about 2014 or so, there was no legal right to make parodies in Britain. What this meant is that if a comedy show on TV or a writer or whatever wanted to make a parody of something, then they had to be a little bit crafty about it.

In other words, they had to work out what they were going to ridicule (eg: the general qualities, ideas, themes etc.. behind something) and then come up with a new and original set of characters, locations etc… that evoked the thing they were parodying, and then use this to poke fun at the thing that they wanted to parody. Although this sounds like it would be really convoluted and result in worse parodies, the exact opposite is true.

What it meant was that things which originally started as parodies – such as the TV show “Red Dwarf” – are still going strong decades after they were first made. Because they had to stand on their own two feet, rather than rely on something else, they have a much wider appeal and a greater degree of longevity. Likewise, because they weren’t explicitly based on one other thing, they could also parody a much wider range of things too.

So, using this style of parody can result in much more interesting fan-based stories. For example, this short story of mine is clearly meant to be a parody of “Star Trek”. But because it includes original characters, original settings etc.. It also allowed me to write a much more general parody story about modern computer software, which will hopefully also amuse people who haven’t seen a single episode of “Star Trek”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂