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 🙂

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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 🙂

The Library Of The Imagination – A Ramble

A while before I wrote this article, I happened to read this online article which speaks in defence of binge-watching TV shows. But, one thing that the article didn’t mention was the value that binge-watching, binge-reading, binge-playing etc… all sorts of entertainment media has if you are a creative person.

Simply put, it results in less writer’s block/artist’s block and it also allows you to make better creative works too.

Ok, doing nothing but watching/reading/playing lots of stuff won’t instantly turn you into a good artist or writer. You actually have to practice your craft too (regularly, no less!). Likewise, you also need to learn a few other skills like how to take inspiration properly (eg: how to be inspired by something, without directly copying it). But, in combination with these things, spending a lot of time immersed in creative works can have all sorts of brilliant benefits.

Why? The best way to think about this is to think of your imagination is as a chaotic, disorganised library. The more things that you put into it, then the more chance there will be that – when you browse it – you’ll find an interesting mixture of things. Not only will this result in more unique creative works, but it will also mean that there are more things for you to be inspired by. Which means less writer’s block/artist’s block.

For example, here’s a preview of a digitally-edited painting of mine that will be posted here late this month:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 28th November.

The initial inspiration for this painting was the memories of watching old 1990s episodes of “Twin Peaks” evoked by watching the modern version of the series. This made me want to make a “cosy” painting, set in a wooden building during the 1980s/90s, with some surreal elements.

But, in addition to this, I also wanted to include gloomy tenebristic lighting (like in a Caravaggio painting, or an old heavy metal album/horror novel cover). I also wanted to give this gloomy lighting a slightly more futuristic cyberpunk-like look (inspired by films like “Blade Runner”), whilst also adding a few gothic elements (inspired by classic horror games like “Resident Evil”, “Silent Hill 3”, “Clive Barker’s Undying”, “Alone In The Dark”, “Realms Of The Haunting” etc..). And, of course, my use of colours was also partially inspired by these fan-made “Doom II” levels too.

The number of different inspirations for this painting is probably at least ten or more.

But, the bulk of these inspirations are things that I’ve discovered over the past few years. Back when I started making daily art in 2012, I obviously had less practice (and my art didn’t look as good as a result) but I also had fewer inspirations too. Not only that, I didn’t really know how to take inspiration properly too. As such, my imagination felt somewhat more limited then than it does today. Likewise, when I felt uninspired, it was much more of a panic than it is now.

So, spending time watching/reading/playing things that interest you, in combination with regular art and/or writing practice can work wonders for your imagination. It’s like adding more books to a reference library, adding more colours to a palette, planting more seeds in a garden or adding more music to a playlist. It gives you more things that you can take inspiration from in new and creative ways.

So, yes, binge-watching a TV show or binge-playing a game isn’t a “waste of time” if you’re a creative person. Well, except when it gets in the way of your art and/or writing practice, of course.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Enjoying “Boring” Films, TV Shows, Games etc..

One of the interesting things that I’ve noticed over the past decade or two is that I’ve gradually become more interested in creative works that I would have considered “boring” when I was younger.

Whether it’s the deliberately slow pacing of modern films/TV shows like “Blade Runner 2049” and the 2017 “Twin Peaks” TV series (which I got on DVD as a Christmas present last year), whether it’s slower-paced games in the “point and click” genre etc… I’ve found that things I’d once have considered “boring” are much more interesting than they might initially seem.

But, how can you learn to enjoy creative works like this? Here are a few tips.

1) Work out why it is “boring”: Simply put, good “boring” creative works are slow-paced or uneventful for a good reason.

This is either because it gives the audience time to think about what is happening or because it gives the audience time to appreciate things like the atmosphere, visual elements, the characters etc..

A “boring” slow pace could also be there for the sake of emotional contrast, suspense or something like that. Kind of like how music sounds more dramatic because it also contains silence as well as noise.

Likewise, boredom can be used to add a sense of realism to a creative work. After all, everyday life is a boring, humdrum thing most of the time.

Artists, writers, directors, game developers etc… will sometimes include some of this boredom in order to show that their story is a more realistic (and immersive) one. Once you see it this way, then “boring” scenes can be a lot more understandable.

But, whatever the reason, there is probably a good reason for why a creative work is “boring”. If you can remember this, then you’ll enjoy these things more.

2) Read more: Although I don’t read nearly as much as I used to [Edit: No prizes for guessing what I rediscovered a week or so after preparing this article. Expect regular book reviews to start later this month], one of the things that changed my attitude towards “boring” creative works was reading a lot when I was a teenager.

But, why does reading matter? Simply put, reading gently gets you used to stories being told at a slightly slower pace.

Even the most fast-paced thriller novel still needs to take the time to introduce the characters and the premise. It’ll tell a more complex story than the average movie. It’ll be something that will demand that you spend 4-6 hours reading it. And, you’ll probably enjoy it. So, reading more (even in more fast-paced genres) is a great way to get used to slower-paced films, games etc…

3) Remember, it’s about the journey: One important thing to remember about “boring” creative works is that the most important part often isn’t the story, but everything else. I’m talking about things like the atmosphere, the narrative voice, the visual style, the underlying ideas etc…

In other words, these things are more about the journey than the destination.

A good cinematic example is probably the first “Blade Runner” film. The basic story of this film is just a simple detective thriller story. But that isn’t what makes it a brilliant film.

It’s a brilliant film because of the fact that it takes place in an intriguingly mysterious futuristic world which also looks stunningly beautiful too. It’s a brilliant film because of the fact that you notice something new about it every time you see it. It’s a brilliant film because of all of the thematic/philosophical/moral complexity hiding behind the simple story. I could go on for hours, but it’s a brilliant film because of everything other than the basic story.

In short, if you find a creative work to be “boring”, then try focusing on something other than the story. The story the creative work is telling might not be the main reason why it was made.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Want More Originality? Try Some Emotional Variation – A Ramble

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

Shortly before writing this article, I found myself listening to a song called “Land Of The Free” by Gamma Ray for the hundredth time and I realised something about my own musical tastes – I prefer optimistic heavy metal music. And, yes, contrary to popular belief, optimistic heavy metal actually exists. And it feels great to listen to!

Not only does it encompass pretty much everything within the Power Metal sub-genre, but optimism also can be found in individual songs by bands in many other sub-genres of metal. I mean, there are even optimistic death metal songs out there (like this one [WARNING: The video contains FLICKERING LIGHTS] ).

Yet, when you think of heavy metal, “optimism” isn’t usually the first word that springs to mind. And, yet, this is what makes these songs so intriguing and appealing. They do something slightly different with a familiar genre, leveraging the strengths of the genre in order to achieve a slightly different emotional effect. They take the intense emotional catharsis that the genre is famous for and imbue it with a sense of joy, fun and/or hope that is often missing from more traditional heavy metal. And it is really something to listen to!

It also prompts all sorts of other interesting creative flourishes too. For example, the theme of optimism means that these songs have something in common with songs from other genres – which is why, for example, a metal band like Alestorm can make an awesome cover version of a (not entirely radio-friendly) rap song called “Hangover” by Taio Cruz. Many of Alestorm’s songs are about drinking, partying and having fun. Taio Cruz’s song is about this too. So, the cover is absolutely perfect.

Likewise, it can also lead to some unexpected thematic matter too. For example, although I’m not a Christian, I was quite surprised to realise that the “epic fantasy” story told in a heavy metal song called “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” by Helloween is, thematically at least, surprisingly Christian. It’s this story about someone who goes on an epic quest to defeat Satan by destroying things related to seveal negative qualities (eg: hate, fear, senselessness, greed and ignorance).

So, why have I spent several paragraphs talking about heavy metal music?

Well, simply put, one of the easiest ways to make something “orignal” within a familiar genre (aside from taking influence from things outside of the genre) is simply to look at the general emotional tone of the genre and then try to create something that evokes a slightly different emotional tone.

For example, one of the things that I’ve noticed whenever I’ve made cyberpunk art is that I’ll sometimes try to make it bright and cheerful, rather than gloomy and dystopian. Although this was initially because I absolutely love this genre and want to celebrate it, it does result in a slightly different “style” of cyberpunk to many things in the genre.

“Market Seven” By C. A. Brown

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

Adding a different emotional tone to a familiar genre not only makes your creative works more original, but it also allows you to explore themes that you might not be able to if you stuck to a more traditional version of the genre. I mean, part of the creative process behind some of my “optimistic” cyberpunk paintings was just curiosity about what everyday life in a 1980s-style cyberpunk future would actually look like. And, well, it’s probably not all doom and gloom.

So, yes, adding a different emotional tone to a familiar genre can be a really interesting thing to do.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Brutalist Architecture And Creative Inspiration – A Ramble

Although I’ve written about Brutalist architecture before, I was reminded of it again after seeing this fascinating gallery of photos.

If you’ve never heard of Brutalist architecture before and don’t have time to look at the gallery, then it’s an absolutely awesome style of architecture from the 1950s-70s which consists of large, imposing, angular concrete buildings.

Even though some philistines loathe it with a passion (to the point of actively trying to get it demolished, like with the much-missed Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth), there’s nothing quite like this wonderfully unique architectural style for firing the imagination and making the world a bit more of an interesting place.

But, what’s so interesting and inspirational about Brutalist architecture? Simply put, it looks like a piece of futuristic sci-fi in real life. When the Tricorn Centre still existed during my early-mid teenage years, it was like a little piece of the dystopian sci-fi novels I was so fascinated by at the time. It was like a real-life piece of J.G. Ballard’s “High Rise” or Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” that I could actually look at in real life.

Photo via Wikipedia, by Foofy (original image from this site). CC-BY 2.5

Not to mention that, even though the Tricorn was disused long before I really noticed it, it still spawned it’s own mythology. It was nearly impossible to go to school anywhere near Portsmouth during the early 2000s without hearing at least one secondhand tale of someone’s friend of a friend who had supposedly sneaked into the centre’s abandoned Laser Quest arena.

When I went to university in Aberystwyth, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the university campus has a large Brutalist area – consisting of a central courtyard that is surrounded by the Hugh Owen building, the Arts Centre and the Student Union. All of these buildings are giant, imposing, angular concrete things which look like they could have come from “Blade Runner” or something like that. Seriously, this whole location is an absolute joy to paint.

“Aberystwyth – Campus Corridor” By C. A. Brown

“Aberystwyth – Taxi Ride” By C. A. Brown

In fact, talking of “Blade Runner”, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw “Blade Runner 2049” at the cinema last year. During about two parts of the film, there are some wonderful exterior shots of a snow-covered Brutalist building. It fits into the world of the film absolutely perfectly, with little to no exterior changes.

So, why are Brutalist buildings so wonderfully inspirational? Simply put, they’re unique. No two are exactly identical. They look very different from the vast majority of other buildings surrounding them. Not only that, they somehow manage to look both intriguingly old and fascinatingly futuristic at the same time. They’re creative buildings.

Their bare, dystopian future- like exterior design is also inherently mysterious too. If you see a Brutalist building, then you’ll probably wonder what it looks like inside or what it was built for. This sense of mystery is one of the reasons why these buildings can really fire the imagination.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Creativity And Learning Random Factoids – A Ramble

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about how learning random amusing factoids can be good for your creativity. I was reminded of this topic when I happened to discover that the background music for the American national anthem was taken from none other than the official song of an Ancient Greece-inspired 18th century drinking society.

But, what does learning random factoids have to do with creativity?

First of all, even if you don’t remember all of the hundreds of random factoids that you’ve found over the years, they can still spur your creativity.

This is because the reason why most of these factoids are interesting is because they either show that things are different to what we would expect (eg: like how archaeologists in Sweden during the 1950s found a small Buddha statue in a Viking-era site ) or they show that familiar things have more of a strange history than we might think (eg: the standard keyboard layout on most computers was originally designed to stop typewriter keys jamming.). In other words, they are irreverent things that make us think about everything slightly differently.

So, coming up with interesting pieces of backstory or interesting fictional background details is a lot more easier if you have the vague memory of hundreds of amusing factoids for the simple reason that they put you in the right frame of mind to come up with intriguing details for your story or comic.

Plus, random factoids can be used to make stories more memorable or interesting too. For example, although it’s an incredibly boring book that I had to read when I was in sixth form, one of the few surprising things about John Fowles’ “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” was the staggering statistic that something like 1 in 50 houses in Victorian London were brothels. Then again, thanks to it’s stuffy and uptight reputation, Victorian Britain is fertile ground for surprising factoids.

For example, drug use was surprisingly common back then. If you don’t believe me then read Thomas de Quincey’s “Confessions Of An English Opium-Eater”, read about Laudanum, read the first chapter of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sign Of Four” and/or read about how Queen Victoria apparently took “tincture of hemp” for monthly cramps etc.. Most surprisingly of all, it was all perfectly legal back then too.

Of course, if random factoids contain an element of mystery or horror then they can also be the starting point for stories or comics in their own right.

Finally, knowing lots of random factoids will also improve any dialogue that you write since, as long as they are relevant to the story and/or your characters, you can liven up the dialogue in your comic or story by including some of the amusing factoids that you know.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂