Creativity, Subcultures And Fandoms – A Ramble

Although this is an article about making art, writing fiction etc… I’m going to have to start by talking about music and fashion/clothing for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later. But, if you don’t have time for this, then just skip the next five paragraphs or so.

A while before I wrote this article, I ended up reading some online articles about something that I’d seen a few times at concerts/festivals but didn’t know the exact word for. I am, of course, talking about heavy metal “battle jackets”/”battle vests”, which are covered in band patches. No two are the same, and each one is a reflection of the wearer’s musical tastes.

Even though this made me curious enough to make a fan art painting of what my ideal battle vest would probably look like, it also made me think about my relationship with the heavy metal subculture too. But, first, here’s a preview of the fan art painting I mentioned:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 12th October.

Although I had a lot of fun making this painting, I suddenly found myself wondering if a battle vest was “too metal” for me. I mean, I wouldn’t think twice about wearing an Iron Maiden/Judas Priest/Cradle Of Filth etc.. T-shirt, but a battle vest seemed like a totally different thing.

Even though heavy metal is one of my favourite genres of music (and has been for over fifteen years), I felt strangely uneasy about the idea of ever making or wearing something that distinctively showed me to be the most absolutely dedicated of metalheads.

Why? Because metal is one of several genres that I absolutely love. I’m also a fan of songs by several punk bands, several gothic rock bands, a couple of electronic musicians, a couple of rappers, an indie band or two, a few acoustic musicians and even (dare I say it?) a few pop musicians. In other words – if I like a song, musician or band, then I like it. If the music is good enough, genre doesn’t matter.

But what does any of this have to do with creativity?

Simply put, having a wider range of interests (simply by following your own instincts about whether something is good or not) is essential for both creativity and originality. If you only take inspiration from things in one particular genre, then your creative works won’t be as distinctive as the things that you really love. Why? Because true originality comes from taking inspiration from lots of different things.

Following your own instincts about what you enjoy, rather than rigidly sticking to just one genre, also means that you have to think more critically about your own sensibilities. In other words, you have to look at what all of your favourite things have in common. Once you’ve learnt this, you can use this knowledge to improve your own creative works and make them distinctively “yours”.

To use an artistic example that I’ve used many times before, almost all of my paintings from the past couple of years feature high-contrast lighting and/or chiaroscuro lighting. My usual rule is that at least 30-50% of the surface area of each painting should be covered with black paint. It results in art that looks like this:

“The Lost Room” By C. A. Brown

“Launch” By C. A. Brown

But, how did I learn this rule? Simply put, I noticed that a lot of things that I thought were cool followed it.

These included things as diverse as heavy metal album covers, various computer and video games, old horror novel covers, the film noir and cyberpunk genres, 1980s/90s films (in several genres), historical paintings, various comics etc.. So, looking at a range of different “cool” things can help you to refine your own style and make your creative works more original.

To use a musical example, one of the qualities that I love in music is lyrical sophistication (eg: clever rhymes, good metaphors, interesting vocabulary, humour etc..).

This is why I really love various songs by Cradle Of Filth (heavy metal), Tinie Tempah (rap), Suzanne Vega (acoustic) and Bad Religion (punk). All of these musicians share this one quality, even though their music sounds extremely different. So, if I ever had the musical skill to write a song, then it would probably include this quality.

As cool as subcultures are and as cool as it might be to just focus on one genre, don’t let this restrict you! Following your own instincts and understanding your own sensibilities is much more important for your creativity than fitting into any one subculture, genre or fandom.

Of course, because the universe loves irony, one of the main themes in many subcultures is rebelling against conformity. Seriously, it’s something that metalheads, punks, goths, retro/indie gamers, hipsters, horror movie fans etc… all have in common. So, try to actually take it seriously.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

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Using Fake Anachronisms In Historical Art And Fiction – A Ramble

Although this is an article about making art and/or writing fiction, I’m going to have to start by looking at part of a computer game for a while. As usual, there’s a reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A couple of days before I originally prepared this article, a game that I’d been meaning to buy for a while finally went on special offer. Although I’ll post a full review tomorrow, it’s a “point and click” horror game from 2016 called “Kathy Rain”. One of the things that interested me about this game is that not only does it look like it’s from the 1990s (and will also run on old mid-2000s computers πŸ™‚ ), but it is also set in 1995 too.

This is a screenshot from “Kathy Rain” (2016). Yay! It’s a retro-style game, set in the 1990s πŸ™‚

From what I’ve seen so far, the game takes a very clever approach to historical accuracy. There were a few things that I initially thought were anachronisms, yet some brief internet research seems to show that they could theoretically have happened or existed in 1995.

To give one example, the main character mentions that another character used the (modern-sounding) term “spoiler alert”. Yet, looking online, the term was apparently used in old newsgroups in the early days of the internet (and the character who used the phrase is shown to be something of a geek). So, it’s possible but unlikely that the term would have been used in everyday conversation in 1995.

Not only that, a dialogue segment is displayed if you look at what is implied to be a poster for the 1997 film “Titanic”. The poster’s seemingly anachronistic presence is explained in a really interesting way:

Again, looking on the internet, the film started production in 1995. Again, this is a “possible, but unlikely” fake anachronism.

These “possible but unlikely” fake anachronisms are really interesting since they signpost that the game is a stylised modern game, yet they still technically fit into the game’s historical setting. In other words, they are perfect for things that are meant to evoke nostalgia and/or a stylised version of the past.

Another interesting thing about these types of fake anachronisms is that they show that the main character is slightly “ahead of their time” in a way that could realistically happen. This can provoke thoughts about what “futuristic” things could be hiding in plain sight in our own time.

For example, a short story I wrote last year (from this collection) is an ironic historical comedy story, set in early 1997, which revolves around two games critics discussing a mysterious videogame cartridge that arrived in their office. This allowed me to include an ironic joke about a game called “Goldeneye 007” which wouldn’t be released for a few months, but had been mentioned in game magazines at the time. Again, those “in the know” would probably know about the game, but most people probably wouldn’t have heard of it.

In terms of art, these types of fake anachronisms can be a little bit more difficult to include unless you are making a historical comic set in a specific year (rather than a vague time period) or making art based on a recognisable historical event. Plus, since art is primarily a visual medium – it can be a little bit more difficult to explain the presence of fake anachronisms to your audience.

One of the best ways to do this sort of thing in art is to either go for a stylised “nostalgia” montage picture, or to blend a historical setting with a clearly fantastical one. For example, here’s a sci-fi style painting of mine that is set in a “futuristic” version of 2004. Most of the things referenced in it (except for the flying cars in the background) existed in 2004, but it’s unlikely that they would have been in the same place at the same time.

“Future 2004” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, fake anachronisms are an absolutely wonderful thing. Not only can they intrigue your audience, but they can also be a way to give your historical fiction and/or art an instantly stylised and nostalgic type of atmosphere.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Ways To Deal With Comparing Your Own Creative Works To “Great Works”

Truly great creative works are, of course, something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they’re usually the things that inspire you to make art, write and/or make comics. But, on the other hand, it can be very easy to feel “not good enough” if you compare the things you create to them.

In this article, I’ll be talking about this “not good enough” feeling, and how to deal with it.

1) Difference: The first thing to remember about great creative works is that they will always be different to what you create. Part of what makes them so amazing is the fact that they are so refreshingly different to the majority of other things you’ve seen.

It’s that feeling of “Yes! Someone actually made something like this!“. It’s the fact that they seem to come from a different time, place, context and/or imagination from yours. The difference is what makes them seem so amazing.

In other words, you’ll never be able to be the same person as the person who made the great work you are comparing yourself to. And that’s ok. In fact, it’s a good thing. Imagine how boring the world would be if everyone’s imaginations, personalities and worldviews were the same.

In short, it’s all a matter of perspective. Your own imagination might seem boringly ordinary to you, but it’ll seem intriguingly different to someone somewhere.

2) Mystique: It can be very easy to be fascinated by the mystique surrounding a great creative work and to romanticise the way that it was created or the time it was created in. It can be easy to think that the people who were making it knew that they were making something truly great, and that the creative process was some magical thing that you’d give anything to experience yourself.

Chances are, it wasn’t. Chances are, it was exactly the same ordinary mundane experience of writing, drawing etc… that you experience on a regular basis. There were probably uninspired days, technical issues, worries, boredom, self-doubt and all of the things that you’ve possibly experienced when creating something.

Chances are, the time or place that the great work was made in wasn’t some rose-tinted utopia or “better time” either. At the time the work was being made, the person who made it probably just saw it as boringly, drearily “ordinary”. Just like the time and place you are in now.

3) Everyone feels it: Even the people who make creative works that seem indescribably good probably feel like their works pale in comparison to the things that really fascinate and inspire them. Why? Because aiming to make something that is even a fraction as good as your favourite things is one of the best and most common sources of creative motivation in existence.

In other words, the creative works that you are idolising as perfect things that you “could never hope to make something as good as” were probably made by someone who wished that they were even a fraction as good as the people they admired.

In other words, feeling inadequate in comparison to a great creative work is a good thing. It means that you are a creative person. It also means that you have something in common with the person who created the great work that you are standing in awe of.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Single-Location Comedy – A Ramble

Well, since I was also busy preparing last year’s Christmas short stories at the time I was preparing this article, I thought that I’d talk very briefly about single-location comedy.

This is mostly because the events of the previous two stories I’d written (this one and this one) before writing this article both entirely took place within a single office.

This type of single-location comedy tends to turn up more often in film and television than in other mediums, for the simple reason that it is cheaper to produce. After all, if you only have to build one set (or a small number of sets), then it’s going to cost less. But, of course, it can also work in other mediums too.

The main advantages of setting your comedy story and/or comic within a single location is that it places more emphasis on the dialogue and the characters. More crucially, it is also perfect for shorter things (eg: flash fiction stories, three-panel comics etc..) for the simple reason that you don’t have to spend too much time setting the scene.

In addition to this, the limitation of setting an entire story or comic within a single location also forces you to be more creative too. After all, if you have to make something interesting, funny or dramatic without being able to change the location, then this pushes you to be more inventive.

Likewise, if your single location is distinctive or interesting in any way, then it can also almost become a character in it’s own right. This helps to increase audience immersion in the story, in addition to giving your fans something to focus on too.

However, the main disadvantage of only using one location is that – if the writing isn’t good enough – then it can get very boring, very quickly. This is not just true for your audience, but for you too.

Whilst this isn’t as much of an issue in prose fiction, having to draw the same background over and over again in a comic or webcomic can become tiring or monotonous very quickly (and is one reason why many single-location comics tend to have more minimalist backgrounds).

So, with prose fiction and comics, it’s often better to go for a happy medium. In other words, set most of your story or comic in one location (in order to gain the advantages of using just one location) but don’t be afraid to include the occasional scene set in other locations – when justified by context. Not only will this make these scenes stand out more by comparison but, since you’re writing or drawing rather than making a film, it isn’t like it costs anything extra to include other locations.

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Sorry for such a short, basic and rambling article, but I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Unusual Things To Do If You Write Yourself Into A Corner

Well, at the time of preparing this article, I was also busy preparing last year’s Christmas stories. In particular, I’d just written the fourth one. This one was a bit more of a challenge than usual since, thanks to what I’d thought was a clever plot twist at the end of the third story, I had placed my main character in a seemingly unwinnable situation. I’d written myself into a corner.

If you take a slightly more laid-back approach to planning your stories, then this can allow you to surprise yourself in all sorts of cool ways whilst writing. But, it can also sometimes lead to situations like the one I mentioned earlier.

So, what can you do if you’ve written yourself into a corner?

1) Think it all through: As counterintuitive as it might sound, look closely at the “impossible” direction your story is going in. Think about it in as much depth as you can and look for any small flaws or gaps. Once you find one of these, exploit it for all you can!

For example, I’d ended the third story in my Christmas collection by showing the main character – a private detective – almost being put out of business by a trendy new start-up company (which was meant to be a parody of “disruptive” crowd-sourced companies). It seemed like a really clever modern twist on an old plot device.

But I suddenly realised that there was no way that, if I wanted to keep the story vaguely realistic, my main character could actually “win” against a company like that. My main character also didn’t seem like the kind of person who would want to join such a company either. But, of course, I’d planned to write six or seven more stories. What could I do?

Simply put, I thought about the idea in more depth. One of the problems with crowd-sourced companies is that the “staff” aren’t always as experienced or qualified as those in more traditional occupations. As such, with something like private detection, they might find themselves “out of their depth” fairly quickly. What does someone do when they find themselves in this situation? They find an expert.

As soon as I had this thought (from thinking about my “unwinnable” story situation in more depth), the blockage cleared. The direction seemed obvious. My main character could become a Sherlock Holmes-like consulting detective! A detective for other detectives.

So, if you want the solution to an “unwinnable” situation in your story to fit in with your story, then just think the situation through from every possible angle until you find a flaw that you can exploit ruthlessly.

2) Look back: Look at the earlier parts of your story and see if there’s anything there that you can use to solve your current problem. It could be some background element or a throwaway line of dialogue or something like that. This isn’t always the case, but sometimes a possible solution to your problem can actually be hiding in an earlier part of your story.

For example, when I started writing the troublesome fourth story in my collection, I’d started it with a cynical piece of narration about how Sherlock Holmes made everyone want to be a detective. This was a brilliantly cynical opening line.

It also, perhaps subconsciously, helped me come up with a solution to the writing dilemma I found myself in about two paragraphs later. After all, Sherlock Holmes is a “consulting detective”. But, surprisingly, I didn’t consciously realise this until I’d gone through the thought process I mentioned earlier in this article.

Again, this doesn’t always work with every story, but sometimes you can use something you’ve included earlier in your story to solve your problem.

3) There are no unwinnable situations: Simply put, the best attitude to take to these situations is simply to remember that there is always a solution. It just involves determination and a willingness to think outside the box.

If it helps, think of your story like a challenging computer game. A computer game may contain difficult situations, but no game is intentionally designed to be unwinnable – however it may appear to the player. In other words, there’s usually a solution. It may be hidden or it may involve the player having to do something that the designers hadn’t planned for (eg: exploiting a glitch in the game’s code in order to defeat a challenging level boss etc..), but it’s there.

If you take an attitude like this, then it will put you in a much better frame of mind for dealing with the times when you’ve written yourself into a corner.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Top Ten Articles – September 2018

Well, it’s the end of the month and this means that it’s time for me to do my usual thing of collecting a list of links to what I feel are the ten best articles about making art, writing fiction, making webcomics etc… that I’ve posted here during the past month. As usual, I’ll include a couple of honourable mentions too.

All in all, this month’s articles turned out reasonably well. Surprisingly, I actually ended up writing a few critic-style articles about “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines“, mostly since I was re-playing this game at the time, which also explains why my planned review of “Under A Killing Moon” never appeared.

Still, since I was preparing last year’s Christmas stories at the time I was writing these articles, there’s a few articles about the film noir genre here.

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

Top Ten Articles – September 2018:

– “Three Tips For How To Look For Inspiration
– “How Much Do You Have To Explain About Your Fictional ‘World’ If You Want A Re-Readable Story?
– “Three Quick Tips For How To Fake “Film Noir”-Style Narration
– “Three Reasons Why Fan Works Can Sometimes Be Better Than Their “Official” Counterparts
– “Four Rambling Thoughts About Making ‘Film Noir’-Style Art
– “Two Very Basic Tips For Writing ‘Film Noir’ Comedy
– “When To Wait For Inspiration (And When Not To) – A Ramble
– “Two Tips For Binge Creativity (eg: Binge Writing, Comic Binges etc..)
– “Three Cool Benefits Of Reading More In The Past Than You Do Now
– “Four Tips For Finding Creative Inspirations On A Low Budget

Honourable mentions:

– “Four Reasons Why Things From The 1990s Can Seem More Creative
– “Three Technical Tips For Painting From Memory

Three Quick Tips For How To Fake “Film Noir”-Style Narration

Since I write these articles quite far in advance, I was busy writing last year’s “film noir” Christmas stories at the time of writing this article. However, although I’ve obviously seen and read a few things in the noir genre, I would hardly call myself an expert on it. Still, one of the most difficult things to get right if you aren’t an expert on the noir genre is the narrative style used in many things in this genre.

So, here are a few quick tips for faking “film noir”-style narration in your stories:

1) Less is more: Simply put, film noir narration doesn’t actually have to be that different from ordinary narration. If you go overboard with clichΓ©d “film noir” narration, then it will come across as obviously fake pretty quickly.

So, just write ordinary narration – with the occasional use of short sentences, pithy metaphors and/or drily amusing observations. The thing to remember about hardboiled narration is that it wasn’t originally meant to be a stylish fashion statement. It was meant to be an engaging style of writing that was quick to read and quick to write – after all, a lot of old stories in the noir genre were published in monthly magazines for a mass audience.

As long as the content of your story (eg: private investigators, crime, gloomy lighting etc..) fits into the noir genre, then you can get away with using ordinary narration that just includes a few cleverly-chosen noir features. But, remember, less is more.

2) Keep it simple (but not too simple): Following on from the “ordinary” thing I mentioned earlier, one of the easiest ways to fake “film noir” narration is just to make your narration sound a little bit like ordinary speech. In other words, there should be the occasional long word or complex sentence when necessary, but the prose shouldn’t just be elaborate for the sake of elaborate.

In other words, keep it simple. But not too simple. Once again, remember that noir stories were originally meant to be popular entertainment for a mass audience. They weren’t meant to be books for children or books for highly-educated literary critics. So, if you go to either extreme, then you’re missing the point.

Basically, just look at one of the noir genre’s modern equivalents – ordinary thriller novels – if you need examples of this happy medium between sophistication and simplicity. An author who provides a good example of this writing style is probably Lee Child. He writes in a fairly hardboiled and “matter of fact” style, without actually writing stories in the noir genre.

3) Small details: One of the easiest ways to give your narration more of a “film noir” quality is to include a few mildly unusual small details. These should be things that are slightly unusual, but could realistically be expected to be seen in everyday life. Generally, things that seem like kitsch or ephemera tend to work best for this.

For example, the second story in my Christmas collection last year includes this descriptive segment: ‘My eyes rested on the ornate marble finish pen that took pride of place on my desk. After I’d filed off the “Ebenezer’s Floor Tiles” e-mail address on the side, it actually looked like I’d paid good money for it.

Don’t ask me why, but this sort of thing tends to create a wonderfully noirish atmosphere. So, focus on mildly unusual everyday details occasionally and this will help to give your story slightly more of a “film noir” quality.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚