Tag Archives: hitchikers guide to the galaxy

Telling the story in different media

MarvinPhil: Last week I went to see The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show.

It was, quite frankly, brilliant. If you know the radio version and get the chance, go and see it. You don’t have to dress up in an Arthur Dent dressing gown (about half a dozen did) or take a towel (a few more) but it’s a great night out with the real cast. Apart from the ones who are dead obviously, but the replacements are very good although Miriam Margolyes was perhaps a bit to thespy for the book compared to the Peter Jones original.

What has this to do with writing books?

Well, Hitchikers exists in lots of different media. To date these are:

Each version of the story is the same. But different. For example, in the radio and book versions you can have characters that change shape on a spaceship. The BBC might have been able to solve the problem of a character with two heads in 1980, but they baulked at this so Douglas Adams wrote a version that was filmable within the budget and technical possibilities.

The terrible, terrible film is written by morons and we shall talk no more about it.

On stage, most of the effects you might require for a show aren’t possible. Space is Big, really big after all. So the adaptors cherry picked elements from the story and strung them together in a way that told the story but could be realised live. To be honest, doing as though the cast were recording a radio show but with special effects and costumes was a genius move too.

The computer games is probably the most interesting. Although it follows the main story, since you play the role of Arthur Dent (the main character) it behaves differently. You can explore the world in much greater detail than is possible in a normal narrative. For example, it’s important to look under the bed in the game but we never get to do this in radio, book or TV series. Of course if you are in control, doing this is interesting. On the page, who cares unless it is essential to the story?

What you have to do is make best use of the media to tell the story in the best way possible. The story is the backbone of everything, and if it’s rubbish no amount of budget, bells or whistles will make it better. Start with a good ‘un and you can’t go far wrong. Well unless you produce the second worst film in existence, but I said I wouldn’t talk about that.

Is this relevant to team nolanparker?

Maybe. At one of the places I work (portfolio career, I do lots of things now) one of the guys is a screenwriter. A proper one who’s been on courses and everything. He’s working on a secret screenplay at the moment that stands a good chance of getting him, what he describes as the Holy Grail, a credit on a film. Chatting in the pub a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that we had written a great book. I generously suggested that if he could bag us a film deal, the adapting credit was his.

I guess we just have to sit back and wait.

The thing is I can see how The Book would work on the screen. Both Candice and I write by imagining the scene in our heads. We have a pretty good idea what the characters look like. We even, after a little discussion a few weeks ago, have the perfect role for Michael Palin. So perfect in fact that I really want to make this happen before he gets too old to drive a tractor!

In the past we’ve even discussed a stage show. Like Hitchikers, we can’t do the thing as a play. Instead, we have an idea about starting with a reading of a few paragraphs and then getting on with the story of how we came to get into writing. There will be much banter at each others expense. One of use will make numerous costume changes and we’ll even have time for a bit of Q&A at the end before shuffling the audience out to do a quick book signing.

Maybe Douglas Adams started something. Is the future one story but spewed out over lots of media?

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Puntastic

Marvin - the proper one from the TV series.Candice: Phil, being Phil, fancies the Pun Run,  ”the only pun and wordplay-based comedy club in the UK”

Phil: M’writing friend is not wrong. I love a good pun. In fact, like most writers, I really enjoy wordplay.

Next week I’m heading off to see “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show” which means an evening spent enjoying the wonderful writing of the late Douglas Adams. He was a man who enjoyed messing with the language to amuse the reader. Who else could have described a space ship thus?

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

or the exchange

“What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”

“Ask a glass of water!”

These aren’t jokes, but they are funny. Or at least I think they are.

Enjoying langauge is vital for writers and playing with it is an excellent way to get better at using it. In one corner of my life I spend my time trying to communicate to people the methods for making models. The problem with this is avoiding repetition. Sometimes you desperately strive to avoid repeating a word. In my head, using the same one twice in a sentence is a crime I’ll do my best not to commit. For this reason, I chose a thesaurus over a dictionary when offered the choice some time ago. I need more words!

I guess this might also explain my predilection for the Quick Crossword rather than the more elegant cryptic version. I can’t solve the later but really wish I could. As it is, the idea that I need to find a word that can replace the quick clue is irresistible, although I need practise to become any good and stand a chance of completing the grid.

Writers seem drawn to crosswords and other word puzzles. Maybe we have a larger vocabulary than mere mortals, I prefer to think it’s like muscle memory. If you exercise it, you gain strength and writing a book is hard work.

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Sci-fi short stories

Space 2 and all Asimovs Robot Stories.Phil: When Candice mentioned a couple of weeks ago that she’d met someone who write for Starburst magazine and that perhaps we ought to think about some sci-fi short stories, it sent me scurrying for my bookshelf.

While I own a huge number of books, very, very few of them are fiction. Those that are, are probably sci-fi because I like that sort of thing. Ignoring the complete set of Douglas Adams Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books (which I have as well as all the radio series on CD and the TV series on DVD but don’t mention the terrible film) this leaves three books, two of which you see in the photo.

Whatdayaknow ? They are all short stories. Space 1 and 2 are compilations of shorts and the fat book is a collection of all Isaac Asimov’s robot stories.

Which makes me wonder why. I’ve read proper fiction at book length, but I didn’t want to keep it. Chatting this over with the Nolan, we both have the same problem. Reading a book is a voyage of discovery. Once you’ve been through this, a re-read isn’t as much fun. Thus, the books are destined for the charity shop to be replaced with something new but for some reason, I kept these.

As far as science fiction goes though, I’ve never been into the big books. Asimov wrote many short stories but also his magnum opus, the Foundation Series. I tried to read this, but like Frank Herbert’s similar Dune series, I couldn’t get into it. Monumental fiction doesn’t grab me. I’m sure that when you get into it, you love it. I can’t.

It’s not just books either (God this post is making sound really nerdy) but TV too. Start Trek is fine. I can handle the Next Generation of the same. Each episode is a story. Move on to Deep Space 9 or Babylon 5 (I know the later is a different “universe” but the point is the same) with its massive story arc that provides fans with endless hours of internet chat and I really can’t be bothered. These guys aren’t just writing about worlds but entire star systems with a breadth of imagination that makes the Total Perspective Vortex in Hitchikers seem sensible. (For the non-geek, this is a torture device where the victim is shown how unimportant they are in the whole universe. It’s powered by fairy cakes, thus justifying its place on this blog). I prefer to stick to a single species in a story, maybe two if pushed.

Be warned though, giant sci-fi can catch you when you least expect it. As a youth, I dabbled with the Perry Rhodan series of pulp fiction books. I foolishly thought I could read the set but then discovered that this German (translated into English, I’m not that clever) series actually ran to more volumes than there are people on the planet. When you find number 136 on the shelf of a bookshop, you get the message that there is more to this than you thought. My excuse is that I was introduced gradually with some fun stories and found myself hooked…

Anyway, I’ve re-read some of the books and you know what ? They are pretty good. Not too geeky – good sci-fi takes a real plot line and simply transfers it to a fantastic location or time – and very interesting. If nothing else, all this has made me re-discover some excellent writing.

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