One Basic Way To Make Up For The Lack Of Background Music In Art, Comics And Fiction

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this subject before, but I’ll be talking about background music (or, rather, the lack of it) today. This was mostly because I ended up watching this absolutely fascinating video about the soundtrack to the classic 1982 sci-fi masterpiece “Blade Runner“.

As the video explains, the soundtrack to this film is an integral part of the film for all sorts of interesting reasons. Naturally, this made me think about making art, making comics and writing fiction.

After all, in their traditional form, these mediums can’t include background music. In purely practical terms, this is probably a blessing (given the money and/or stress involved in licencing background music or hiring a composer), but it also means that comics, traditional art and prose fiction can’t really do the same things that films, TV shows and computer/video games can.

So, I thought that I’d take a quick look at one of the most basic ways that you can make up for the lack of background music in art, comics and/or prose fiction.

One of the most important features of background music in films, television and games is that it helps to set the tone of what is happening. If you hear ominous and suspenseful music during part of a horror movie, you know that something frightening is going to happen. But, of course, you can’t do this in art, comics or fiction.

So, what do you do instead? Simple, you use the background elements to do the same thing. Whether this is carefully choosing the lighting you use in a painting or using a slightly faster-paced narrative style with slightly less complex language during a thrilling scene in your novel, changing some of the background elements slightly can really help to set an emotional tone in a smilar way to how this is done through background music.

To show you what I mean, here is the example painting that I used in yesterday’s article. It’s a piece of gloomy 1980s/90s-style sci-fi horror art that I made a few months before writing this article. It relies heavily on gloomy lighting, a slightly limited colour palette etc… to create a slightly ominous atmosphere which compliments the events of the painting:

“Scaffolding” By C. A. Brown

Now, here’s a digitally-altered version of the same picture which changes a lot of things (eg: the background, the colour saturation etc..), whilst keeping the events of the painting the same. As you can see, it loses a lot of the ominous tone of the original version:

This is the same painting, but with some digital changes to the background, colours and colour saturation levels. The events happening in the picture are the same, although they look less dramatic due to the brighter tone of the rest of the painting.

To give you an example of this kind of thing in prose fiction, here’s a lush, vivid description from the first page of “Lost Souls” By Poppy Z. Brite: ‘The sky is purple, the flare of a match behind a cupped hand is gold; the liquor is bright green, made from a thousand herbs, made from altars.

And here’s a quote from a later part of the book during a more fast-paced moment. The sentences are shorter and the descriptions are considerably less complex: ‘He edged around the front end of the car and pulled his door open. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ghost do the same. They threw themselves in and both doors slammed at once. Steve thumbed the lock button. Ghost was ranting at him.

Although neither scene includes any background music, you can probably imagine the first one having a much deeper, more complex and more ambient soundtrack. Likewise, the second quote would probably have a much more muted and fast-paced soundtrack. Yet, the changes in atmosphere and tone are achieved by the way that each scene is written.

As for comics, there are all sorts of ways that these techniques can be used. As well as changing the “look” and detail level of the art to reflect the mood that you want to get across the audience, you can also do things like having dialogue-free segments during fast-paced or suspenseful moments etc.. Likewise, changes to the panel layout can also affect the tone of your comic.

For example, the second panel of this comic update of mine is a long, flowing thing that seems to consist of four panels blended together. Since there are no obvious panel borders in this scene, it creates a slightly dreamy and ethereal atmosphere which might make you think of a similar type of background music.

“Damania Reflection – Attention Span” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, novels, art, comics etc… can’t include background music, but they can do a lot of the same things that background music in a film does.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

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Unlike Fiction And Comics, Art Is Non-Linear (And What This Means If You’re Making It) – A Ramble

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about one of the ways that art differs from both comics and prose fiction, and how this affects things like getting inspired and getting information across to the audience.

With a few exceptions (such as “Choose Your Own Adventure“/”Fighting Fantasy” – style gamebooks), prose fiction is linear. It is read one word at a time in a specific pre-determined order. Likewise, every page of a book is supposed to be read after the previous page and before the next one.

The same thing is true for most comics too. Again, although there are some exceptions, you usually read each panel and/or each page in a specific pre-determined order. Likewise, although comics usually contain both artwork and text, the placement of the text usually determines whether the audience reads it before they look at the art (or vice versa).

For example, some traditonal-style newspaper cartoons (eg: “Giles” being the classic example of a cartoonist who did this) often place the text at the bottom of the image, so that it is read after the audience has seen the image.

None of this is true for art. Even though artists can use various compositional techniques to draw the audience’s attention to one part of the picture, the audience usually sees the whole thing at once. They can also look at any part of the picture in any order, without being too confused by it. Unlike comics and fiction, art is non-linear.

This non-linearity can make it both easier and more difficult to get inspired when making art. On the one hand, you only have to come up with a single interesting image, rather than planning a detailed story. I mean, a painting of a random natural landscape could be quite interesting, whereas a written description of the same scene would probably be less compelling (due to the lack of a story). So, not having to plan out a series of fictional events means that it can be easier to get inspired when making art.

But, not having to come up with a story also means that you have to come up with a new idea every time you want to make some art. Although coming up with the initial idea for a comic or a story might be a bit more difficult or time-consuming, it means that you can make more stuff more quickly afterwards. Because the events of your story will progress in a logical order, all you have to do is to look at your idea and ask yourself “what happens next?“. You can’t really do this if you’re making lots of separate paintings or drawings.

Likewise, because art is non-linear, this also means that telling a story or getting information across to the audience has to be handled in a slightly different way. Even though art doesn’t require a story, artwork can often look a lot more interesting if it contains storytelling of some kind or another. But, how is this done and what are the limitations?

In short, storytelling in art has to be done through implication. Since you can’t describe a series of events to your audience, you have to pick one moment from that series and draw or paint it in such a way that the audience will be able to work out what happened before and what happens afterwards. Likewise, you also have to imply a lot of the backstory through background details too.

Here’s an example of a digitally-edited painting of mine that includes some storytelling elements:

“Scaffolding” By C. A. Brown

The fact that this painting is telling part of a horror story is immediately obvious from the ominously gloomy lighting. Likewise, the futuristic headlights in the sky contrast with the 1980s/1990s-style buildings, technology and clothing designs in the rest of the picture, suggesting that the events of the picture take place in some kind of dystopian future.

In the middle of the picture, a woman is either inserting or removing a tape from a VCR. Yet, she stares at the screen in shock because a menacing picture still remains on the screen even when the tape isn’t in the machine, implying the unseen work of an occult hand. In the close foreground, a man holds up a cassette case for a horror movie, implying that this is the tape that the woman is holding.

As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words (or 133 of them in this case, but who’s counting?). But, although this one painting can get all of this information across to the audience in less than a second, non-linear artistic storytelling does have some disadvantages.

Simply put, you can’t tell complex stories or convey complex information in a single piece of art. Yes, you can give your audience the impression of a more detailed story, but if the scene in the example painting was part of a novel or a comic, you would not only know the names of the two characters, but you’d also know exactly how they ended up with the video tape and why they are watching it.

So, yes, the fact that art (unlike comics or prose fiction) is non-linear has both advantages and disadvantages.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

The Joy Of… Partial Fandoms

One of the most surprising sources of creative inspiration for writers, artists, comic-makers etc… can often be when you really like a few things that have been made by someone (or a few things in a particular genre), but don’t really consider yourself to really fully be a “fan” of everything that falls into this category.

To give you a musical example, there are four songs by AC/DC that I absolutely love (eg: “Thunderstruck”, “Hell’s Bells”, “Highway To Hell” and “Back In Black”, in that order). But, those few songs aside, I’m not really an AC/DC fan. To give you a literary example, I’m not really a fan of fantasy literature, even though I absolutely love some of the George R. R. Martin, Terry Pratchett and Clive Barker novels that I’ve read in this genre.

So, you might think, what on earth does any of this have to do with creative inspiration? After all, most people like a few things by someone or a few things in a particular genre, without being a fan of literally everything.

It’s important for creative inspiration for the simple reason that having a few of these “partial fandoms” can help you to come up with a unique mixture of inspirations for the things that you create. After all, if you only like one author in a particular genre or a few things made by someone, then this usually prompts you to ask “Why? What makes these things different?“. Once you’ve found the answer, you can use it to improve and expand the things you create.

For example, one reason why I like a few fantasy authors, despite not being a major fan of the fantasy genre as a whole is because they often do things like incorporating elements from the horror and/or comedy genres into the fantasy genre.

So, if I made a piece of fantasy-themed artwork, I’m going to do something a bit similar – like in this reduced-size preview of an upcoming piece of medieval fantasy-style artwork of mine:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 13th March.

Although I was in the mood for making fantasy-themed artwork at the time, I remembered the lessons I’d learnt from the few things I love in the fantasy genre and added some elements from the horror genre. For example, the ominous dark robes that the archer is wearing were mostly inspired by the evil cultists in a horror-themed computer game called “Blood“. Likewise, the menacing fiery lighting was inspired by various scenes from “Game Of Thrones“. Not to mention that my general attitude towards colour and lighting was inspired by some of my more major inspirations like the cyberpunk genre, old heavy metal album covers etc…

Of course, if I was much more of a fan of the fantasy genre, the painting would probably look different. It’d probably be brighter and more detailed. It would probably include a complex background and mythical beings (eg: elves, dragons, goblins etc..), rather than a dark and impressionistic medieval castle in the background. If I’d had a lot more fantasy-based inspirations, the picture would look very different as a result.

Likewise, if I’m going to include fantasy elements in a short story, then I’m probably going to add a lot of comedy too. For example, in this short fantasy-themed cyberpunk story of mine from late 2016, I don’t take the fantasy elements of the story even close to seriously, and I had a lot of fun writing it even though I certainly wouldn’t consider myself to be a “fantasy author”.

So, being a partial fan of something can actually improve your creativity and help you to feel inspired for the simple reason that it reminds you that good creative works come from having a mixture of different inspirations. Likewise, it can also help to expand the range of different things that you feel that you can create.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Old Machinery And Creativity – A Ramble

A while before I wrote the first draft of this article, I wasn’t in a particularly great mood. Surprisingly, one of the things that cheered me up was watching music videos where people used bulky old machines as instruments.

Whether it was someone using a clanking old washing machine for the percussion segment of a cover version of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”, or something a bit more elaborate like Paweล‚ Zadroลผniak’s “Floppotron“, or a mostly mechanical musical machine like Wintergatan’s “Marble Machine“, or even the Floppotron playing a cover of the Marble Machine’s song, there’s something oddly charming and reassuring about noisy old machinery.

Interestingly, this is one thing that classic British sci-fi TV shows often seem to get perfectly right. Whether it’s the amusing malfunctions and labyrinthine architecture of the titular spaceship in “Red Dwarf” or whether it’s the strange machinery of the TARDIS from “Doctor Who”, these vessels are a far cry from the sleek futuristic spaceships that are a lot more common in the sci-fi genre.

To give a more cinematic example, although “Blade Runner” is recognised as a pivotal work in the cyberpunk genre, the technology in it is a million miles away from the more realistically “futuristic” technology in more modern cyberpunk works (or even in cyberpunk novels from the early-mid 1980s). In “Blade Runner”, the technology is bulky, noisy and arcane. When the main character wants to examine a photograph in precise detail, he doesn’t use a microscope or a magnifying glass, he uses THIS:

This a screenshot from “Blade Runner – The Director’s Cut” (1992 [based on a film from 1982]), showing the bulky old “ESPER” machine that is used to zoom in on a photo

So, why does bulky, noisy, obsolete technology appear in so many creative works? Why does it fire the imagination so much?

The first reason is because of it’s age. Because this technology is so old, but still critical to the story – it instantly evokes a feeling of reliability and stability.

In an age where many mobile phones are designed to be replaced every few years (eg: they’re intentionally designed to be difficult to impossible to repair, batteries cannot be easily replaced etc..), in an age where some laptop manufacturers literally solder replaceable components into place (to prevent people upgrading without buying a new computer) and where there’s a constant pressure to have “the absolute latest technology”, there’s something inherently reassuring about an old machine that will just keep going and going.

The second reason is because it enhances the characterisation. Generally, if a piece of technology is old, then the person operating it will have spent a lot of time with it. In other words, the technology almost becomes a character in it’s own right, and the main character’s relationship with the technology can also show the audience more about the character too.

For example, if an old machine in a story has numerous welds, patches, replaced parts etc… then it not only shows that the main character cares about this machine, but that they also either know how to repair it or know someone who knows how to do this. Likewise, if the main character could “upgrade” but chooses not to because the old technology is better or more trustworthy or whatever, this also gives the audience more insight into the character.

The third reason is because it makes the technology look like, well, technology. One trend with modern technology is to make it look sleek, small and unobtrusive. But, this can often lead to a slight feeling of emotional disconnection with the technology itself. It goes from being some kind of wonderfully complex machine that someone has built to being just a “thing”.

Following on from this, the fourth reason is because it reminds us of the days when our relationship with technology was somewhat different, where users had more control and where there was a more ritualistic element to technology use.

It reminds us of the days where watching a film meant getting a physical tape or disc (which you actually own) and inserting it into a machine (rather than just “streaming” it from an online rental service ). It reminds us of the days when, if you wanted to access the internet, you had to go through the reassuring ritual of sitting down in front of a large desktop computer, powering it up and waiting for it to load before focusing your entire attention on web surfing. Sure, some of us (myself included) have never really left those glory days, but a lot of people have.

Finally, old technology can be an important part of creative works because it can be used to surprise the audience. I’m talking about things like sci-fi movies where the main characters’ clanking old spaceship somehow manages to outmanoeuvre or outrun the more “modern” spaceships that the villains are using. I’m talking about old computer and video games that (through all sorts of clever trickery) managed to do things that were considered “impossible” in games at the time (eg: I’ll never forget the time I got a second-hand game for the original Game Boy called “Chessmaster” and when I powered it up, the game literally SAID “Welcome to Chessmaster” in a crackly voice. Here’s a Youtube clip of it that I found).

So, yes, there are a lot of reasons why old technology can be an important part of creative works.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Three Random Tips For Creating Things Set In (mid-late) 1990s Britain

As a follow-on from my article about why it’s so hard to create things that look like they were made in the past, I thought that I’d give you a few tips about how to create things (art, comics, writing etc..) that are set in 1990s Britain. This is mostly because a lot of the most easily-available online research material, pop culture nostalgia etc… about the 1990s tends to come from America.

Of course, although there were probably some similarities, 1990s Britain was a very different place in terms of culture, attitude etc.. to 1990s America. Although I remember 1990s Britain, I was fairly young at the time (so, my memories are a little vague and I can remember the mid-late 1990s far better than the early 1990s). Still, I’ve probably seen more things from and about 1990s Britain than I probably think I have.

So, for the benefit of my international readers, I thought that I’d give a few pointers about creating things set in 1990s Britain.

1) The attitude: If there’s one thing that sets 1990s Britain (especially mid-late 1990s Britain) apart from 1990s America – it is the attitude. Generally speaking, 1990s Britain tended to be a bit more cynical, a bit more rebellious and a bit more hedonistic than 1990s America.

This attitude is surprisingly difficult to describe, but it is one of the things that makes 1990s Britain so cool (in comparison to miserable modern Britain). The best way I can think to sum it up is that it was a decade where even a manufactured pop band like the Spice Girls still had a slightly “punk” attitude. It was a decade where British game developers created controversial game franchises like “Grand Theft Auto” and “Carmageddon“. It was also a decade where slightly less controversial games like “Tomb Raider” were being made too.

It was a decade where a TV show like “Bits” could be made. This was a wonderfully sarcastic and surprisingly “punk” TV show about computer and video games that was mostly presented by Emily Booth, Aleks Krotoski and Emily Newton Dunn. It was eccentric, random, hilarious, low-budget and cynical… and a perfect distillation of everything cool about late 1990s/early 2000s Britain.

Although this show is impossible to find on DVD or video, there are thankfully still some clips of it on Youtube and an in-depth, if somewhat cynical, documentary video about it too [slightly NSFW].

It was also a decade where artists could actually be rockstars! I mean, whatever you think about the quality or sophistication of Tracey Emin‘s art, there’s no denying that she is one of the coolest art-related celebrities in British history. During the 90s, she was controversial, outspoken, hedonistic etc…. and just generally cool. By comparison, the most “rockstar”-like artist in present-day Britain is probably Banksy. A mysterious anonymous graffiti artist who paints political cartoons on buildings.

It was a decade where comedy on the TV tended to be a lot funnier, quirkier and more cynical than many of the more “mainstream” comedy offerings from across the pond (except the animated ones like “The Simpsons” and “South Park”).

This was the heyday of shows like “Harry Enfield & Chums“, “Goodness Gracious Me!“, “Spaced“, “Absolutely Fabulous“, “The Thin Blue Line“, “Red Dwarf“, “Brass Eye“, “Men Behaving Badly“, “Bottom” etc… These were cynical, slightly rebellious comedy shows that tried to make a point – now, compare them to something like “Friends“….

Even nerd culture in 1990s Britain seems to be different from it’s American equivalent. For starters, it didn’t really seem to be a mythologised “culture” in the way that traditional American “nerd culture” seems to be presented these days. Yes, there were probably some things in common, but there also seem to have been quite a few differences – for example, in southern England in the 1990s, someone who was into tabletop games was probably more likely to play “Warhammer 40K” than “Dungeons & Dragons”.

2) The crappiness: If there’s one thing to be said for 1990s Britain, it’s that it was possibly the last decade where Britain was still “crap” in a more traditional way. This is not to say that modern Britain isn’t crap, but the crappiness of 1990 Britain was a different kind of crappiness to the crappiness of present day Britain (or even the crappiness of Tony Blair’s mid-late years in office), and it’s kind of difficult to describe concisely.

This cynical attitude about Britain has been a part of British culture for at least a few decades and, surprisingly, it’s actually a good thing. Not only is it a source of everyday humour, but it also serves as something of a bulwark against aggressive nationalism too (or it used to before all of this Brexit stuff, anyway). Likewise, going back to the 1990s, it also meant that a lot of really cool stuff (food, films, music etc..) from abroad started to become a lot more popular during the 90s because it was, well, better.

Even so, 90s Britian was slightly more limited in some ways. For example, unless you were rich enough to afford satellite TV or lucky enough to live somewhere where Channel 5 was a terrestrial channel, you literally only had four TV channels available to you (BBC 1 &2, ITV and Channel 4). The pubs still all closed at 11pm sharp. The trains were being privatised, but still maintained their reputation for lateness and general crappiness. Some discriminatory laws about LGBT people were still on the statute books. We got films and games later than people in the states did. The film censors tended to be a lot stricter about action movies and horror movies etc…

That stuff aside, being slightly “backwards” when compared to America also had it’s advantages. For example, I was shocked to read that CD singles weren’t really a thing in the US during the late 90s, whereas they were a key part of my childhood musical memories of late 1990s/early 2000s Britain.

But, whilst a lot of popular media from 1990s America often seems really optimistic, trendy and futuristic, this is a million miles away from 1990s Britain. This is a really difficult quality to describe, but it’s a far cry from the more stylish “aren’t we awesome!” portrayal of America in culture from the period. Many creative works made here during the 1990s knew that Britain was crap and derived affectionate humour and/or gritty drama from it.

The best TV show for research into this is probably the earlier series of “Jonathan Creek“. Likewise, even a “super-cool gadget filled spy show” from the time, called “Bugs“, contains some of it in terms of the humour and the nature of the storylines. But, of course, classic BBC sitcoms from the 1990s are the best place to see examples of the “crappiness” of 1990s Britain pointed out to you. Plus, if you’re into computer games, try to track down an old game by Gremlin Interactive called “Normality” for a slightly stylised example of this. Or, if you have less time and/or money, check out a freeware game called “Beneath A Steel Sky“.

3) The fashions: For the most part, fashions in 1990s Britain were fairly dull and understated. Whether it was ordinary businesswear or jeans and a T-shirt, 90s fashion in Britain was mostly fairly “ordinary”. Yet, when it wasn’t, it is at least mildly different from 90s fashion in America.

The most famous example of 1990s British fashion has to be Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack dress. But, unlike America where things like grunge fashion were more popular in the 1990s, the slightly more “distinctive” parts of British 1990s fashion tended to include things like sportswear, wrapping a jumper around your waist like a belt, formal floral dresses, crop tops, cargo clothing etc…

It isn’t really as distinctive or eccentric as American fashion during the 90s was, but this kind of fits into the “crappiness” thing that I mentioned in the second segment of this article.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Why It Is Difficult To Emulate The Past – A Ramble

Although this is a rambling article about making art, making comics and/or writing fiction, I’m going to have to do my usual thing of going off on a slight tangent about computer games for a couple of paragraphs. As usual, this will be relevant to the point that I’m trying to make.

One of the great things about being somewhat behind on computer technology is the fact that, aside from a few modern low-budget 2D indie games (like “Technobabylon“, “Abyss: The Wraiths Of Eden” etc..) and a tiny number of low-spec modern 3D games that will actually run on my computer, most of the games I’ve played over the past decade or so have been made in 1993-2006.

So, I felt a bit of schadenfreude when I saw this negative video review of a modern “retro-style” action game that I’d been vaguely interested in, but couldn’t play due to the system requirements. This was a game that apparently tried to emulate first-person shooter games from 1996-9. Yet, despite an abundance of research material for the developers to draw on, the game apparently fails miserably at this for a multitude of reasons. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

But, what does any of this have to do with art, comics and writing?

It’s because emulating the past can often be a surprisingly challenging thing. As regular readers of this site know, I’m a fan of the 1990s (and, to a lesser extent, the 1980s and early-mid 2000s) – yet, it’s taken me quite a while to get even vaguely good at making art that even looks like a modern tribute to these three time periods:

“Metallic Magic” By C. A. Brown

“Marina” By C. A. Brown

“Death Takes A Holiday” By C. A. Brown

Not only that, my attempts at writing “realistic” fiction set in the 1990s didn’t turn out that well. Plus, although many of my occasional webcomics are heavily inspired by slightly older comics, they still don’t quite seem to have the same quality of humour as many older 1980s-mid 2000s comics do.

So, why is it so difficult to emulate the past? The main reason is that it not only requires a surprising amount of research, but you also have to work out how to use that research in order to create new and original things. You have to study a surprisingly large number of things from the past to see what they have in common and then see if you can derive any “rules” from this that you can apply to your own work.

For example, if you want to include “1980s cyberpunk movie” and/or “late 1990s computer game”-style lighting in your artwork, then the general rule is that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of your painting or drawing has to be covered with black paint or ink, in order to make the lighting stand out by comparison.

“Scaffolding” By C. A. Brown

In addition to finding rules to follow, you also need to know where to look and what to look for. This can, surprisingly, be the most challenging part of the research process.

To give you an example, one of the most informative/inspirational pieces of 1990s research material that I’ve found within the past year or two has been an old American TV show called “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman“.

This is a screenshot from season one of “Lois & Clark” (1993-4). As well as being a fascinating look at a stylised version of part of 1990s America, it’s also something in the superhero genre that ISN’T an ultra-serious, CGI-filled part of a “cinematic universe”. Seriously, I wish that the superhero genre was more like this one good example of it.

It’s a cheesy TV show about superheroes that has been pretty much forgotten when compared to some other TV shows from the time period (eg: “The X Files” etc..). In fact, the only reason that I eventually thought to seek it out on DVD was because I had a vague memory of seeing a repeat of it on the BBC once when I was a child. Yet, although the early seasons of the show are a fantastic source of research material for things like 1990s fashions, 1990s interior design, 1990s optimism, 1990s storytelling etc… it’ll only tell you about a stylised fictional city that is based on 1990s New York.

I mention the location because culture tended to be less “universal” in the past, which also makes it more difficult to emulate – or, more likely, means that your “retro” art/comics/fiction will be a hodge-podge of different cultures from the same time period. For example, something from 1990s California will be very different from something from 1990s Britain. Yet, if you’ve been heavily influenced by both things, then your creative works will be an ‘unrealistic’ mixture of the two. They will still be unique and cool, but probably not “accurate” in the strictest sense of the word.

Finally, even if you’ve done all of this stuff, trying to create new things in the style of things from the past is also challenging for the simple reason that we’re living in the present day. What this means is that we will inevitably be influenced by parts of modern culture when creating things. It also means that we won’t have the limitations that creative people back then used to have (which would often give historical creative works a distinctive “flavour”).

For example, although the written word hasn’t changed much within the past 2-3 decades, the resources available to writers have. These days, if a writer wants to research something or get inspired, they have the whole internet at their disposal. They have streaming video sites, search engines and vast online encyclopaedias. A writer in, say, the 1980s or the early 1990s wouldn’t have had this, so this limitation would have influenced what they wrote about and possibly even how they wrote.

So, yes, emulating the past can be surprisingly difficult. But, it’s incredibly fun nonetheless.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting ๐Ÿ™‚

Why Your Terrible First Attempt At Writing A “Novel” Is Important (Plus, An Extract From Mine)

Originally, I had planned to post a joke review today. This was because I’d just learnt about an infamous novella from the 1970s called “The Eye Of Argon” by Jim Theis. It is a story that is so badly-written that there’s apparently a party game where people read it aloud and try to see how long they can go without laughing.

Having failed to keep a straight face whilst reading it (the funniest line has to be “By the surly beard of Mrifk, Grignr kneels to no man!”), I had planned to write a silly review (in the style of my “3D Pinball Space Cadet” review). But, then, I happened to read a bit more about the history of the story.

In particular, the fact that the author wrote and self-published it at about the age of sixteen. Looking at it from this perspective, the story just looked like “the kind of thing that every writer has written when they were a teenager” and I suddenly found that I couldn’t bring myself to ridicule it mercilessly in the way I’d planned.

After all, over-descriptive prose, gratuitously gruesome melodrama, two-dimensional characters, unintentional humour, terrible continuity etc… were all things that had turned up in my own attempts at writing fiction when I was younger. And, yes, I’ll include an example of this at the end of the article.

So, instead, I thought that I’d write about the terrible (but usually unpublished) first “novel” that pretty much all writers (practicing or non-practicing) have written during their teenage years.

This is pretty much a rite of passage for anyone who considers, or has considered, themselves to be a writer. It is a moment when a person tells themselves that they’re going to write a novel and actually follows through on that statement (even if it usually ends up being far shorter than the 50,000 words widely considered to be the minimum length for a novel).

These novels are, just like “The Eye Of Argon”, almost always hilariously terrible. But, they’re important for several reasons. The first is simply that they usually get written because someone has read a lot at a young age and wants to follow in the footsteps of their favourite authors. It is a testament to the power that creative works have to inspire people.

The second is that, without writing a terrible first novel, no-one can write a “slightly better short story” or a “slightly less terrible second novel“. In other words, as well as being valuable practice, actually finishing the terrible first novel gives novice writers the confidence to keep writing. It is the thing that tells people that they can write novels.

Thirdly, in the traditional fashion, these novels are usually original stories. If you grew up in the age before fan fiction was a well-known thing, then your terrible first novel will probably be an original story that has been inspired by things that you think are “cool”. In other words, it is good practice at taking inspiration properly and experiencing the joy that comes from creating your own stories. These are all things that are essential to any creative person.

Finally, reading one of these stories can be a great exercise for the imagination. Kind of like how the pixellated graphics of old computer games forced players to use their imaginations more, deciphering terribly-written prose forces you to do a lot more imaginative work. It forces you to try to reconstruct the good story that the inexperienced author was imagining during their clumsy early attempts at writing. This can, ironically, make a badly-written early story seem more “epic” than a well-written story.

Anyway, as promised, here’s an extract from my own terrible first “novel”. It was a handwritten sci-fi/horror/thriller story called “Galacticon” that I wrote during my early teenage years. It was a story about three spacefaring warriors (Anna, Dale and Jim) who end up shipwrecked on an abandoned space station filled with zombies and monsters.

My main inspirations were probably various computer games, S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” novelisations, whatever second-hand splatterpunk novels I could find in charity shops at the time and probably a novel based on the “Alien” films. It took up 104 A5-size pages and I even made a cover for the notebook that I wrote it in:

Yes, THIS was my first “novel”.

And, without any further ado, here’s the extract (with as many of the original punctuation errors as I could stand to include). I just hope that Garth Marenghi doesn’t get too jealous…

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“Galacticon” (circa. 2001-2) By C. A. Brown – An extract:

The egg turned green, then the creature leapt out, it was a minature smaller version of the “serpent” they had seen.

Anna grasped the grenade launcher, the others stepped forwards.

“Leave it to me, snakes are my speciality!” Joked Anna, as she stepped towards the menacing creature.

It let out a quiet hissing sound before lunging for Anna. Anna darted to the side and squeezed the trigger, the grenade flew into the snake, there was an explosion. The serpent screamed in pain.

Anna aimed at the creature’s mouth and fired, hoping that the same thing that crippled the other serpent would do the same.

The serpent’s tongue lashed out and knocked the grenade shell to the side, it exploded, throwing shards of glass (from the tube which it came from) at the serpent, blue blood oozed out of the creature’s chest, yet it was still alive!

Suddenly, the snake’s belly was expanding, a hole popped in the side of it’s belly a small flow of slithering vipers, it’s stomach was still expanding.

“RUN!” Shouted Anna, they all charged away.

Splat!

Entrails splattered the walls. Jim looked behind them, there was a huge green tide of snakes following them.

They charged forwards, then they stopped, there was a huge metal door in front of them.

“Oh shit! It’s locked” shouted Dale as the green hissing torrent of snakes got closer….

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting, or amusing, or both ๐Ÿ™‚