Top Ten Articles – June 2019

Well, it’s the end of the month and this means that it’s time for me to collect a list of links to my ten favourite articles about writing fiction, making art etc.. that I’ve posted here this month. As usual, I’ll include a couple of honourable mentions.

All in all, this month’s articles turned out surprisingly well given the hot weather at the time of writing them. Likewise, with my daily art, I finally started making a mixture of realistic landscapes and my more traditional sci-fi/retro art (rather than just landscapes) again πŸ™‚

However, the hot weather affected this month’s reading quite a bit. Although I was able to review 14 books this month, the weather meant that I had to focus more on shorter books, TV show spin-off novels and/or fast-paced novels.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed some of the books I read and my favourite ones from this month are probably: “Martin Misunderstood” by Karin Slaughter, “No Time Like The Past” by Jodi Taylor, “The Eye Of The Beholder” by Marc Behm, “Plague Town” by Dana Fredsti and “The Ectoplasmic Man” by Daniel Stashower.

Anyway, here are the lists πŸ™‚ Enjoy πŸ™‚

Top Ten Articles – June 2019:

– “Three Basic Tips For Writing Gruesome Horror Fiction
– “Three Things Artists Can Learn From Old Survival Horror Videogames
– “Three Reasons Why You Should Abandon A Novel You Don’t Enjoy Reading
– “One Basic Tip For Taking Dramatic Reference Photos In Bright Weather
– “Three Basic Tips For Making ‘Silly’ Stories Compelling
– “Two Basic Tips For When A Genre Won’t Work In Your Chosen Medium
– “Three Reasons Why Reading Regularly Is Important If You’re A Writer
– “Four Wild Tips For Writing Hedonistic Stories
– “Three Tips For Keeping Up Your Reading During Hot Weather
– “Three Things That Novels Can Learn From Computer Games

Honourable Mentions:

– “Three Thoughts About Film Theory And Writing Fiction
– “Finding The Right Writing Style For Your Story – A Ramble

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Three Tips For Keeping Up Your Reading During Hot Weather

Well, I thought that I’d talk about reading today. In particularly, how to keep reading when the weather is hot enough to make reading books seem like far too much effort.

I mean, this might just be me, but I’ve found that – since I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, reading is easier and quicker when the weather is colder.

When the weather gets too hot, it can easily drain your enthusiasm and make the idea of just watching a DVD or playing some computer games feel like a much more relaxing and enjoyable prospect.

So, how can you keep up your reading when the weather is really hot and sweaty? Here are a few tips:

1) Read fun books: This one is fairly obvious but, when the weather gets too hot, it probably isn’t the time to push yourself to read high-brow fiction (although, if you really love this type of fiction, then skip to the second point on this list). In other words, you need to choose books that are just pure escapist fun.

You need to choose stories that move quickly, that make you want to know what happens next and are written in the kind of informal “matter of fact” way that you can read without thinking about too much. Whether they are thriller novels, romance novels, zombie/vampire novels, TV show spin-off novels or movie novelisations, go for books that you feel are just pure fun πŸ™‚

There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, if the weather is hot enough to make reading seem like an effort or a chore, then you need something to remind you of how fun books are supposed to be. Secondly, if you read a fairly informal or fast-paced novel, then you’ll probably read it fairly quickly, which can help to boost your confidence in your reading speed.

2) Read short books: Another thing to do is to go for shorter books. Yes, these days, shorter books are becoming less and less common but they still exist. Not to mention that many older paperback novels (from as recently as the 1980s/90s) often tend to be shorter than modern ones too.

The main advantages of reading short books during hot weather is that there’s less to read (which helps to compensate for less enthusiasm/reading speed), they tend to tell more focused and streamlined stories (which are more likely to hold your interest) and you’ll finish them at about the same rate that you might finish longer books during colder weather (which helps to keep up your confidence about reading).

In addition to this, reading shorter books can also allow you to read more high-brow fiction when the hot weather is sapping your enthusiasm for reading. And, yes, there are plenty of short, but high-brow, novels/novellas out there. Some examples include “The Stranger” by Albert Camus, “Sulphuric Acid” by AmΓ©lie Nothomb, “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess, “Heart Of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, “The Passion” by Jeanette Winterson, “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, “The Red Badge Of Courage” by Stephen Crane etc…

3) Plan ahead: One of the things to watch out for during hot weather is finishing a book and then not bothering to pick up another one (because something else seems more relaxing). So, planning ahead is even more important than usual.

In other words, in addition to working out what you are going to read after you’ve finished your current book, try to work out what you are going to read after that book too. Keeping 2-3 books queued up and ready to go means that there’s less risk of losing interest in reading after you’ve finished your current book.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Reasons Why You Should Abandon A Novel You Don’t Enjoy Reading

Although I’ve already written about when and how to abandon books that you aren’t enjoying, I thought that I’d look at some of the reasons why you should do this.

After all, if you read regularly, then there can often be a feeling that you should just keep reading a book even if it’s something that you really don’t enjoy. Getting over this reflex can have all sorts of benefits, even if it takes a little while to learn how to do so without feeling like you’re doing something wrong (you aren’t! Unless the book is a set text, abandoning it is the right thing to do).

So, why should you abandon books that you aren’t enjoying?

1) It keeps you reading: If you’ve started reading a book that you don’t enjoy, then one of the first signs of this is that reading it feels more like a chore than anything else.

It feels like you’re back in school/college/university again and have to slog through one of the more dusty set texts (on penalty of getting a bad grade if you don’t). It feels like you’re wasting your time. It feels like you’ve just volunteered for something arduous. It feels like you’ve been swindled by cool cover art or an awesome blurb. I could go on…

And, when this happens, you’re probably going to procrastinate or let yourself get distracted. In other words, you’ll be doing things other than reading. Needless to say, if you want to keep reading regularly or to remember why you read regularly (hint: it’s supposed to be fun), then this sort of thing isn’t good.

So, if you want to keep reading, then don’t be afraid to abandon books that you don’t enjoy and read something that you do enjoy instead. Think of it as literary self-defence or something like that. Abandoning a book that you don’t enjoy protects your enjoyment of literature as a whole.

2) Time is more valuable than money: Even if you binge-read fairly quickly, books are still one of the most time-consuming entertainment mediums out there. Even the longest and most drawn-out of modern Hollywood movies (and don’t get me started on this topic…) are nothing compared to even a medium-length novel.

Books, of course, repay you for this by providing a type of storytelling that is deeper than the most well-written TV box sets and more immersive than the latest VR technology. When a book is good, all of this time feels like time well spent.

Time is more valuable than money. Even if you’ve splashed out on a brand new hardback novel that you later find that you don’t enjoy, then the 4-12 hours you’ll spend reading it is more valuable than the Β£10-30 you’ve spent on it. At the very least, you could spend that time reading a better book instead. Yes, you might feel like you’ve wasted money if you abandon a book that you’ve bought, but you’ll have saved time. And, time is more valuable than money.

So, if you really aren’t enjoying a book, then don’t feel bad about abandoning it and reading a better one instead. After all, everyone only has a limited amount of time and you might as well spend it well.

3) You can’t read every book (so, make each one matter): Following on from my last point, there are more books published within even the last decade than anyone can ever dream of reading – let alone all of the books published during the centuries-old history of the medium. It is impossible to read every book ever written.

So, if you can’t read every book, then you should focus on reading the best ones. On reading the books that you really enjoy reading. On reading the books that are so compelling, atmospheric, profound, imaginative etc.. that they take up residence in your imagination long after you’ve finished reading them. On reading the books that make you think “I’m really glad that I read this“.

So, you shouldn’t feel bad about dropping a book that you don’t enjoy. You can’t read everything. I mean, you probably won’t be able to read all of the really good books ever written (because there are too many of them), so why miss an opportunity to read another good one by reading a less good book instead?

This brings me back to the underlying theme of this article. Time spent pushing yourself to read a book that you don’t enjoy is time you could be spending reading a book that you really enjoy. So, don’t feel bad about abandoning books that you don’t like.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Reasons Why Reading Regularly Is Important If You’re A Writer

Although the writing project I was working on at the time of preparing this article seems to have stalled due to the hot weather, I thought that I’d talk about one of the essential parts of being a writer today – reading regularly.

Even though this is a fairly well-known piece of writing advice (I mean, there’s a famous quote about it from Stephen King), I thought that I’d look at a few of the many reasons why reading a lot is important if you’re a writer.

1) Finding your voice: Simply put, one of the best ways to find your own unique narrative “voice” is to read a lot. Being exposed to lots of different narrative voices from different authors will help you to learn what does and doesn’t “work”, in addition to helping you to work out what types of narrative voice (eg: fast-paced, slow-paced, descriptive, informal, formal etc..) really fascinate you.

Plus, immersing yourself in fiction is one of the best ways to pick up a narrative voice- in the same way that being surrounded by people who speak in a different accent can sometimes lead you to “pick up” their accent. However, this is also why it is very important to read lots of different authors.

If you read too many books by the same author within a short period of time, then this will turn your writing style into a second-rate imitation of the author that you’re reading. So, reading lots of different authors means that your style will become a much more unique mixture of different styles.

2) Every book is a writing guide (if you think like a critic): There’s an old saying that critics are just failed writers. Whilst this may or may not be true in some cases, it isn’t a general rule. In fact, thinking like a critic (and maybe even writing a few book reviews) is one of the best ways to improve your writing. If you learn how to think like a critic, then your writing will improve.

Why? Because you’ll start looking at your own writing in the same way you look at books by other authors. Yes, you’ve got to be careful about being too much of a perfectionist (since this can cause writer’s block) but knowing what makes a story good, mediocre or terrible from reading lots of books will help you to see your own fiction in a more objective way, which will result in better fiction.

In other words, when you think like a critic, every book you read is a guide. A book can show you techniques you’ve never thought about using before, it can show you what kind of mistakes to avoid, it can make you think about things like pacing and structure etc… I could go on for quite a while.

3) Immersion: Reading enjoyable books in your favourite genres regularly will make you think of fiction as an “everyday” thing, in the same way as other entertainment mediums like television and videogames might be. However, unlike those things, writing is a lot easier to get into. After all, it just involves using words that you already know. You don’t need lots of expensive equipment or anything like that either.

So, immersing yourself in fiction regularly can make the idea of writing it feel less intimidating. Whether this is because you read a book that is so terrible that you think “I can do better“, or because you read a really cool novel that reminds you why you are a writer, or because you just start to become more familiar with the idea of written words being just as (or, when they are at their best, even more) dramatic/gripping/interesting etc.. as other entertainment mediums.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Obscurity And The Written Word – A Ramble

A few days before I wrote this article, I was reminded of one of the major differences between film/TV/videogames and novels. The novel that I’m (still) re-reading at the moment is a spin-off novel based on the “Final Destination” horror movie series. This was a novel that I first read in 2005/6 and, when I first found my old copy of it, I thought “I remember this! I’ll look online for other books in the series“.

It was quite an eye-opener. Whilst DVDs of the films from this series were reasonably cheap, most of the spin-off novels (all less than two decades old!) were surprisingly expensive out-of-print copies. Whilst I was pretty amazed that I unwittingly owned a book that had become a collector’s item, it also crystallised one of the major differences between prose fiction and other mediums.

Namely that it is much easier for books to be obscure than it is for stuff in other genres. After all, if you see an interesting film or play an interesting game, then there’s a good chance that quite a few people have heard of it. There will be Youtube videos about it, fan art about it and maybe even mainstream press coverage too. On the other hand, if you find a really interesting novel, then there’s a fairly good chance that most people haven’t even heard of it.

There are, of course, a lot of reasons for this. Books take more time and effort to enjoy than other mediums. Publishers’ advertising budgets are lower, so only a few big name authors tend to get promoted. The experience of reading a book is slightly different for every reader. It costs less to produce a book, so there are many more of them. Reading is an inherently solitary activity. I could go on for quite a while, but there are a lot of reasons why books will often be more obscure than things in other mediums.

And, yes, this can be somewhat off-putting at times. I mean, when I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, I soon felt the familiar feeling of disconnection that comes from enjoying a medium that really doesn’t have a mainstream fan culture in the way that games, films, TV shows etc.. do. Or, rather, one that has a very limited mainstream fan culture. Seriously, aside from classic literature and a few big name authors, books really don’t get the kind of press that games, films etc.. do.

And, yes, this can make being a reader, rather than a gamer or a film/TV buff, feel somewhat lonely. But, it isn’t all bad news. For starters, the obscurity of most novels means that there is a whole culture that is “hiding in plain sight” in the modern world. Whilst film franchises might be well-known about, there are loads of even better book franchises that no-one has heard of. And discovering one of these is like finding hidden treasure or joining a secret society or something like that.

Likewise, this obscurity also gives books a level of freedom that other mediums can only dream of. After all, the more mainstream something is, the more it has to appeal to a mainstream audience. Because most novels won’t become well-known, this gives authors a lot more creative freedom. This includes everything from the choice of main characters to the types of stories told to things like censorship-related issues (seriously, read a 1980s splatterpunk horror novel. It’ll make even the most gruesome modern horror movies look tame by comparison.)

Plus, because books don’t require things like special effects, teams of programmers etc… books can do things that films, TV shows and games can’t do. Or, to put it another way, even the cheesiest and most “low budget” novel can be considerably more impressive than even a mid-budget film, game or TV show.

This obscurity also means that books can be years ahead of other mediums too. For example, this horror novel from the mid-2000s actually seems like it’s from the mid-2000s, rather than the “1990s in disguise” that films from the time often inhabited. This sci-fi novel from 1992 reminded me a bit of a sci-fi movie from 1995-99 (like “The Matrix” or “Ghost In The Shell”). I could go on, but because books don’t have to fit into mainstream expectations, they can often be years ahead of more popular storytelling mediums.

The obscurity of books also means that, if a genre that you aren’t a fan of becomes popular, then there are still loads of other good books out there. I mean, whilst superhero films and online multiplayer games might be all the rage these days, lots of new books in all genres are still being published all the time.

So, yes, books being the most overlooked and obscure storytelling medium out there these days isn’t an entirely bad thing.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Three Reasons Why Books Don’t Get Remakes

Well, the day that I wrote this article, I ended up thinking about the subject of remakes after seeing a trailer for the then-upcoming remake of a classic 1990s horror videogame called “Resident Evil 2”. Although the game itself looked far too modern to actually run on the computer I was using, even just seeing footage of it evoked lots of nostalgia… and made me think about the subject of remakes.

But, since I’m going through more of a reading than a gaming phase at the moment, I started to wonder why books don’t really get remakes. After all, there are plenty of compelling vintage classics which could probably be spruced up with more readable and/or fast-paced modern narration etc… So, why doesn’t this happen? Here are a few of the reasons.

1) There’s no need: As I sort of mentioned a couple of days ago, the “technology” behind literature is pretty much the same as it has been for quite a few years.

In other words, most English-language books use 26 letters and standard systems of spelling, grammar and punctuation. None of this has really changed too much during at least the past century or two.

In purely technical terms, old books are still as readable as new books. Unlike with film or games, where the technology is still constantly changing and growing, the written word has pretty much been perfected these days. As such, a new remake of an old book would still look like… well… a book. It would still contain 26 letters and the usual spelling, grammar and punctuation.

In other words, remakes of films and games allow people to add modern graphics, special effects etc.. to older works. With books, there’s less of a need for this. Sure, you could update the wording or the settings slightly, but the original would still be pretty much the same thing as the remake.

2) Authorship: Unlike films and games, which are large collaborative projects, books usually have just one author. As such, books will often have more personality and uniqueness to them than films or games do.

Yes, you should always view a novel on it’s own merits, but there’s no denying that part of what makes a good novel so compelling is the unique way that the author describes, sees, thinks about etc.. the story they are telling and the world they are describing.

And, without getting into questions of copyright, moral rights etc…., this is a major practical reason why slightly older books don’t usually get remakes in the same way that films or games do. After all, the author is an integral part of what makes a novel so interesting. By changing the author, you change the story itself in a fairly major way.

In other words, another author’s remake of a classic novel wouldn’t be a remake… it would be a different novel altogether. After all, novels aren’t usually collaborative projects in the way that films and games are.

3) They get adapted instead: Sad as it is to say, books are no longer a popular entertainment medium in the way that they apparently were a few decades ago.

As such, if there’s a really compelling older story that someone wants to bring up to date so that modern audiences can really enjoy it, then they’re probably not going to reach a large audience with a rewritten book.

As such, instead of remakes, interesting older novels usually tend to get adapted to more popular mediums like film and television instead. Yes, these adaptations will sometimes do all of the things that a remake would do (eg: updating the settings etc..) – but they will still be adaptations rather than remakes.

So, yes, because the largest popular audience is more likely to be found in front of a screen than a book these days, interesting older books usually tend to get adapted rather than remade.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚