Three Reasons Why Combining Two Awesome Things Can Sometimes Be Less Awesome

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before (I had a sudden moment of deja vu halfway through writing the article), but I thought that I’d look at one of the more paradoxical things that can happen with creative works.

This is when something either directly combines two incredibly cool things or takes inspiration from two incredibly cool things, but somehow ends up being mildly less awe-inspiringly magnificent than it should logically be.

For example, I’m a massive fan of both Iron Maiden and “Blade Runner“. So, you would think that “Somewhere In Time” would be my favourite Iron Maiden album.

After all, Derek Riggs’ ultra-detailed cover art for the album is inspired by “Blade Runner”, there are a couple of sci-fi themed songs on the album (with the opening track being one of Iron Maiden’s best songs) and, when the band originally toured the album during the mid-late 1980s, they apparently played the “Blade Runner” theme on the PA before each concert.

Yet, it isn’t quite my favourite Iron Maiden album (that title probably goes to either the criminally under-appreciated “Virtual XI” or possibly to “The Book Of Souls). Sure, “Somewhere In Time” would probably appear in my top five or top ten Iron Maiden albums, but it isn’t my absolute favourite.

So, why can combinations of awesome things somehow end up being slightly less awesome than they “should” be?

1) Creativity isn’t maths: This one is fairly self-explanatory really. With something as subjective as both the creator’s imagination and the unique tastes of each audience member, creativity doesn’t exactly follow logical mathematical rules.

Merely adding two cool things together won’t always produce something better than either thing for the simple reason that it depends a lot on how those two things are combined and how the audience expects them to be combined. In other words, everyone has a slightly different idea of what makes something awesome – and they will focus on these elements when either creating things or being a member of the audience.

For example, one of the reasons why I don’t consider “Somewhere in Time” to be my favourite Iron Maiden album is because it really doesn’t focus that much on the philosophical themes or the cyberpunk atmosphere in “Blade Runner”. Then again, the album is Iron Maiden’s interpretation of the science fiction genre, rather than my own interpretation of it. So, it’s going to be different.

Once again, creativity isn’t maths. Merely adding two things together won’t automatically produce something even greater because creative works are made and consumed by humans rather than machines.

2) High expectations: This is also another self-explanatory reason. When you hear that something has combined or taken influence from two of your favourite things, then it’s only natural to expect it to be the best thing in the world. And, even if it’s just as good as one of the two influences, then it’s still going to fall short of the impossibly high expectations that you have about it.

Going back to “Somewhere In Time”, it’s a very good album. In fact, it’s one of those great albums that doesn’t contain a single “bad” song. But, because it presents itself as being Iron Maiden’s version of “Blade Runner”, I kind of expect it to be twice as good as I would ordinarily expect an Iron Maiden album to be. And, given that I already consider this band to be perhaps the best in the world, not even they could surpass themselves to that extent.

So, yes, hearing that something combines two of your favourite things can sometimes create unrealistically high expectations that can lead you to look down on things that, on their own merits, would otherwise be considered great.

3) Crossovers and Canonicity: Although this isn’t a problem with original works that take inspiration from two great things, it can be a problem with “crossovers” between your favourite things. Basically, as cool as crossovers are, they often carry less dramatic weight than each of their component parts do.

The reason for this is simply to do with canonicity. Basically, because a crossover consists of characters from two completely different fictional “universes” meeting each other, there usually has to be some kind of convoluted explanation for it. Likewise, it’s not usually considered to be an “official” part of either story. As such, there can’t really be any significant character or plot developments in many major crossovers.

So, if the characters from two great stories happen to meet during a crossover film, comic, novel, TV episode etc.. then it will often be more like “Hey! These characters have met each other and gone on a fun self-contained adventure!” rather than a more complex story like the one you would find in either individual thing.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Why Do Some Genres (In Different Mediums) Go Well With Each Other? – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Why Do Genres Go Together Well Article Sketch

One of the things that always fascinates me every now and then is how certain genres (even in totally different mediums) just seem to go well together. Well, today, I thought that I’d offer a brief partial explanation for why this happens.

A while before I wrote this article, I was watching random music videos on Youtube when I happened to stumble across this dramatic horror movie-style heavy metal music video [WARNING: Contains stylised scenes of violence and torture], after seeing a video of the band’s lead singer performing an absolutely amazing vocal cover of “The Clairvoyant” by Iron Maiden.

The interesting thing is that, if it had been any other musical genre, I’d have probably found the horror movie-style music video to be significantly more disturbing. But, since it’s a music video for a very intense metal song (it’s kind of a bit like shouty ’00s-style metal though), my reaction was just “yeah, this song would probably have a horror-themed video. Meh.

And yet, in theory, the horror genre and the heavy metal genre shouldn’t have anything in common. One is a type of music and the other is a genre of fiction, and yet they go together surprisingly well.

Of course, the reason why the heavy metal genre and the horror genre go so well together is all to do with the emotional tone of each genre. Both genres try to evoke intense feelings in their audience, both genres have a certain visceral energy to them, both genres are sometimes about shock value and both genres are often about emotional catharsis.

Even though they’re totally different things, they have a lot of emotions and themes in common with each other and – as such – they go together really well.

The same can be seen in lots of other interesting genre blends – for example, why does the cyberpunk genre often feature gothic fashions?

Both genres are kind of about free-thinking people (whether they’re ordinary real people or whether they’re fictional computer hackers) trying to find their individuality in a bland, nihilistic, corporate-controlled culture. Both genres also focus on the power of the intellect (whether it’s gothic introspection or a cyberpunk hacker’s computer skills etc…).

Both gothic fashion and cyberpunk cinema/comics/fiction have at least a slight emotional and thematic overlap with each other – as such, they go well together.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule – for example, the horror and comedy genre can go well together – but, in general, you’ll find that two genres (even if they’re in totally different mediums) often go together really well if they both have emotional and/or thematic similarities with each other.

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Sorry for the ludicrously short (and badly-written) article, but I hope it was interesting 🙂

How and Why You Should Add Crossovers To Your Stories and/or Comics

2013 Artwork Crossover Blog Sketch

I love crossovers (where something or someone from one story appears in another story), both when it comes to reading or seeing them in other people’s works and writing them myself.

Crossovers can range from being so small that you barely even notice them (eg: as an in-joke or a background detail in a comic) or they can be the basis for an entire story (such as the excellent “Star Trek: The Next Generation”/”Doctor Who” crossover comic). However, they can sometimes be difficult to write well and it can be difficult to know when and when not to include them.

They turn up surprisingly often in my work and there are numerous crossovers with my other comics in “Somnium” and even episode four of “CRIT” was basically just a geeky excuse to write a crossover story with an unpublished sci-fi story I wrote in 2009. Not to mention that the title illustration for this article also includes Suzy from “CRIT” too.

I could devote an entire article or series of articles to listing all of the crossovers in my comics and stories, but I might save that for another time. After all, this article is about helping you to write your own crossovers.

This article will focus on writing crossovers between your own stories rather than crossovers with other people’s stories. Whilst some very small crossovers with other people’s work in your own published may be covered by “fair use” and/or “fair dealing” exemptions in some countries, this is quite a complicated subject from all I’ve read about it. Larger crossovers with or between other people’s work are probably likely to be ok most of the time in non-profit fan fiction or fan art which is properly labelled as such though. However, for both creative and legal reasons I’ll be focusing exclusively on crossovers between your own stories.

There are ways to use other characters from other stories, for example if they’re from works which are out of copyright (eg: “Alice in Wonderland”, “Dracula” etc…) or if a character is clearly a parody of a character from another story (but has a different name and appearence) or if a character from another story is only alluded to briefly but never really named or shown. But, even so, I’ll only be focusing on crossovers between your own stories for artistic/creative reasons.

One benefit of adding crossovers to your story is that it subtly introduces your other stories to new readers and it is also a fun bonus (but hopefully not a service…) for fans of your other work too. Plus, crossovers are fun to write, in fact they’re either an essential part of or a natural extension of geeking out about your stories.

As well as this, crossovers also contain a sense of connection between your works. This helps the reader, as well as you, to see your entire body of work as a single thing with lots of different parts to it. The human brain works by making connections between neurones (or is it neurites or neurons? I’m really not sure), imagination often works by connecting two different ideas and the internet works through connections too (both between sites and between users). Connection is a basic part of humanity. Crossovers are connections.

The thing is that writing a good crossover can be more difficult than it looks. Although, if you read a reasonable amount of stories and/or comics or you watch a lot of TV, you’ve probably worked some of this stuff out for yourself anyway:

1) Sometimes “less is more” if your stories are very different: This is a good rule to follow with crossovers. If it isn’t appropriate to the general tone and storyline of your story, then it can be better to make your crossover quite subtle and small. Just have your other character standing in the background, or a memorable object from your other story appear briefly in one of the settings or have another character briefly mention or refer to (either directly or indirectly) something or someone from one of your other stories, without showing it.

This works best if you’re writing a crossover between two stories in very different genres or vastly different fictional universes. For example, having a character from your serious contemporary police procedural stories appear in your historical fiction stories about 16th century Europe would look incredibly contrived. There are, of course, ways of writing these kind of storylines, but on the whole, they only really work as novelty storylines, non-canon storylines and/or if they’re played for laughs.

However, you can use it for serious stories if you’re really clever about it. Going back to my earlier example, a good way to do a “serious” crossover between those two stories would be to have the protagonist in your realistic detective story (and I’m going to assume that it’s set in America, because many of the famous “police procedural” TV shows are usually set there) being called out to investigate a murder at a Renaissance fair where either the victim and/or the suspects bear an uncanny resemblence to the characters from your historical fiction stories, even though they’re technically different people.

In short, if your stories are very different – then you have to either play it for laughs, be very subtle or be very clever about how you write it.

2) Know your characters very well: This is essential for storytelling in general, but it’s even more important when you’re writing a crossover. One of the main appeals of reading crossovers is that you get to see how characters from different stories would get on with each other if they ever met. This means that you, the writer, have to have a very good sense of who your characters are and what their personalities are. If your characters suddenly start acting out of character during a crossover, then this can be extremely noticeable.

If you do this well, then it also helps to add characterisation to both of your characters at the same time and you can use it to subtly reveal things about one or both characters which may have been more dififcult or incongruous to reveal in each character’s induvidual storyline. Again, this can either be done seriously or for laughs or both.

3) Stories with crossovers should still work as standalone stories: What I mean by this is that a reader who has never read any of your other stories should still be able to understand and appreciate your crossover story. This may sound fairly simple, but ignoring this can confuse and alienate some of your newer readers. However, there are quite a few ways around this. Either make your crossovers small enough so that they won’t really be noticed by new readers or give a small amount of background for the character from your other story if they’re a main character in your crossover.

This doesn’t have to be their entire life story, but it should briefly give a new reader a sense of who they are and why they’re in your story. This can be done either by having the other character introduce themseleves or having the characters from your story briefly talk about the other character. Or some of the other character’s backstory can be briefly mentioned via dialogue with the main characters later in the story.

This can also be done by either pretty much just presenting the other character as a new character or by making their personality obvious from the context of the storyline. For example, in part of the first volume [“Preludes and Nocturnes“] of Neil Gaiman’s excellent “Sandman” comics, the main character needs to find a bag of magical sand which he has lost several decades earlier. In the end, he enlists the help of a private detective who specialises in the occult. This private detective wears a trenchcoat, is reasonably cynical and smokes like a chimney. His name is John Constantine.

If you didn’t know this last fact, it’d still work very well as a standalone story – but fans of “Hellblazer” (which, regrettably, I’ve only ever read a couple of issues of) would instantly recognise this as a crossover. By doing this, Neil Gaiman is adding something for “Hellblazer” fans, whilst still ensuring that people who have never heard of it before won’t end up being totally confused by this storyline.

4) Have a small motif or common object in many of your stories: This is an extremely subtle type of crossover, but it can work if you’re writing lots of very different stories or if a character-based crossover wouldn’t really be appropriate. It’s something which your fans can have fun finding and it’s something which marks your stories as being yours.

This doesn’t have to be anything major, in fact it works best if it’s something totally mundane (but with a rather distinctive name), but it provides a very subtle sense of connection and continuity between your works as a whole. Plus, it’s just good fun to do too. Some examples from my own comics and (mostly unpublished) fiction include Tangerine Frost [an orange ice-based drink, occasionally with vodka], a heavy metal band called “Twilight’s Requiem” and an old book called “The Forgotten Art of Oneiromancy”.

These don’t have to appear in literally every one of your stories (if it doesn’t fit into the context of your story) and it’s usually good to have at least a couple of them to choose from, but it can be a fun way to add your “signature” to your work.

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Anyway, if you didn’t already know this stuff, then I hope that this helps you to add crossovers to your work. If they’re done well, then crossovers can be a real treat for both you and your readers.