Tag Archives: plotting

Simple stories = compelling narrative

Phil: A couple of weeks ago, I spent a Sunday afternoon in the Electric Cinema in Birmingham watching the 1973 film Westworld.

For those not familiar with this Michael Crichton written and directed film, the story follows a couple of guys heading off on holiday to the new and amazing Delos resort in 1983. Phenomenally expensive ($1000 a day!) they promise that “”Boy, have we got a vacation for you!”.

Indeed they have. Guests stay in either MedeivalWorld, RomanWorld or WestWorld, sharing the locations with incredibly lifelike robots who that can fight, kill or shag to their heart’s content.

This being a film, things go wrong. The robots develop some sort of virus (the first time this had ever been mentioned) and malfunction. Eventually, they kill all the guests except our hero. He finds himself pursued by Yul Brynner wearing the all-black costume last seen when he appeared in the Magnificent Seven. This time, he is an unstoppable robot gunslinger and the final third of the film is taken up with a chase around the park.

Brynner hardly speaks, or runs during this, making him a proper, menacing unstoppable force. I’ve seen the film before and it’s still edge-of-the-seat stuff.

“So, why have you illustrated this with a low-res picture of a dinosaur?”, I hear you ask.

Well, this screen grab comes from one of the greatest computer games of all time – 3D Monster Maze.

Launched in 1982 for the Sinclair ZX81 computer, the premise is simple. You are in a maze along with a T-Rex. You can’t see the beast, you have to run around and find the exit. If Rex sees you, he will give chase and probably eat you.

Since the computer was very basic, there wasn’t any sound. Instead, we had subtitles. The words “Rex has seen you” appearing at the bottom of the screen sent a shiver through the player as it was time to run or be dinner.

Graphics were low resolution as you can see, but it didn’t matter. Played in silence, this was properly spooky. OK, we weren’t used to first-person points of view in games back then but this just makes things more claustrophobic.

The game is really, really simple. But utterly addictive. You know what you’ve got to do and since there are only 3 keys for movement, how you’ve got to do it. It’s just you and a dinosaur.

Which is pretty much how WestWorld works.

We can put ourselves in the position of the “prey” in this particular hunt. The predator is unstoppable (Spoiler: In theory) but we will our hero to escape. Whatever plot holes there are (how are the guests stopped from fighting, killing and shagging each other rather than the robots in  MedeivalWorld and RomanWorld?) we cast them aside and get caught up in the action.

In fact, this is such a simple and effective plot that Crichton pretty much used it again in Jurassic Park (see, dinosaurs again) and James Cameron did it in The Terminator. I’m sure readers could suggest others. So, feel free to have a go in your novel too!


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Too much chocolate not enough writing?

Easter the @KerrangRadio way.#foofighters @Practical_Phil http://twitter.yfrog.com/ess6upznj

Candice: Phil and I got together on Friday for a writing session.  I wasn’t sure how it was going to go as we haven’t done this on “the book” for a while as we have been ignoring it.  Why?  Too frightened to start again and not sure how it would go.

Anyway, Phil turned up a present for me – a Foo Fighters‘ egg.  Well, not exactly, its more like the only time that OneD and the Foo’s are likely to be in a mash up. Made me smile though.

Anyway, after an hour of catch up I said ‘work time!’ off we went to our respective corners.  I was upstairs keeping an eye on the cat while on the big computer.

Well after some surfing I pulled up the words and had a go.  And out it came.  All the ideas I’d had floating around in my head for the last year.  And new first chapter took shape.  An hour later I gave it Phil to read and we were well on our way.

However, then things sort of fell apart as we rehashed all our ideas over food and then went to Fallen Angel for a final celebratory cupcake.

I was in a very single track mind on Friday and wanted to get something done.  But I’m not sure we’d done enough to deserve the cake.

But I spent Saturday and Sunday beating myself up for not doing enough, and then have come back today to update Chap 2.  What I can say is what came out is pretty good.  I think we might have cracked it in making our story more punchy.  I’ve been ruthless with the pruning so its now much slicker.

Plan – 1 lunch break a week for running and 1 for writing.  And when I say writing I mean book writing not just the short stories.  We’ll see….

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Wasted paper basket ? No it isn’t.

Kit 47 in waste paper basket 4Phil: I’m glad to read that my esteemed co-writer still likes our book, as I’ve got bucket loads of ideas to improve it. My writing time since our last serious efforts in this direction hasn’t entirely been wasted, there are a couple of new attempts at the early part of the manuscript floating around and I know that a third is soon to be thrown in my direction.

We both agree with some of our test readers that the start of the book is slow. Having fallen into the classic new author trap of spending many pages setting up the story, it takes around a quarter of your reading time before getting stuck properly into the action. Obviously after this it’s a helter-skelter ride of thrills and spills but your average reader doesn’t want to know that if they stick at it good things will happen. They want it NOW !

All this means there is a lot of story won’t see the light of day. As writers, we need to get our heads around this and move on. Just because those words don’t appear in the final version of the book doesn’t mean it was wrong to write them. They are a necessary step along to the road to the perfect story (not that our story isn’t perfect, it’s just not everyone recognises genius when they see it), the base camp before scaling the mountain of publishing. The effort hasn’t been wasted if it helps us towards our goal.

Anyway, they won’t be lost. On my bookshelf I have two earlier versions of the book, one with scribbled in the margins (Thanks Sarah) each of which contain chunks of text since exorcised. One day, when we are famous, JK Rowling, Dan Brown and the 50 shades woman envying our sales figures (if not our actual figures, bloated from the endless promotional tours around the world) these will be worth more than Australia. After all (Olympic joke alert),there’s not much gold in that country ! We will still be able to enjoy them and perhaps even release a sort of DVD extras version of the book with everything ever edited out of it thrown back in.

Anyway, once we get back on track, there will be a new and exciting opener plus, apparently, lots more exciting plot. Best of all, since we both write on computers, the bin won’t need emptying !


Filed under Phil, Publishing, Writing

Resolutions for 2012

Choc chunk cookie with added SmartiesPhil: On my calendar, 30th December has been marked “Writing Day” for many weeks. I’ve written it so large there was no chance of squeezing anything else in the box. Even if I crossed it out, I couldn’t add anything in its place.

On this day, we had decided we’d meet up and start Book 2. Lunchtime waffling was no substitute for a good solid writing session at the spiritual home of nolanparker wordsmithing, Solihull library. While we both write at home, it seemed that a session in the right atmosphere with no possible distractions was required to get the new book started. They say every journey starts with a single step. We were just struggling to take that step knowing how much effort the journey will require.

However, all did not go to plan. The library has an excellent cafe in which we met to refresh ourselves before taking up our wordy processors. And there we chatted.

Unusually, the chat wasn’t random. It focused on lessons learned from writing Book 1 and how they could be applied to Book 2. Then the focus moved back to some feedback received on the first story (Candice will be blogging this soon) and maybe how we should re-work our existing tale. In fact, after just over 2 hours, a four cups of tea and accompanying cookies as well as some toast, we felt it time to head to the pub for lunch and even more chat.

The upshot of this was no real writing, apart from some notes, but lots of productivity. Instead of ploughing ahead we stood back and were critical of what has been done to date and then formulated a plan to use this to achieve the aim of a published book. Maybe it’s easier for a pair of writers but as we brain-stormed (I don’t care if that term isn’t “correct”, it saying “mind-showered” in this context just sounds rude) we came up with different ways to work on our story that would tell the same tale but even better, tighter and in a more marketable way. We stopped being precious about things and found that we could think the unthinkable. Hopefully this means we might be able to achieve the unachievable.

So the resolutions for 2012 are simple:

  • Write Book 2 – We’ve mapped out the basic plot and main incidents and with this we can begin filling in details and doing the fun stuff. Last time the story developed organically, this time we have done things the “correct” way around which will save lots time rewriting things as new sections are dropped into the manuscript which then has to be adapted for continuity.
  • Make some changes to the order of the Book 1 text. Not yet though. Those ideas will mature in the back of our minds for at least a month. We’ll walk away from them and come back and take another look to see if they are as smart as they sound in the heat of a Wetherspoons.
  • Eat more cake.

Sounds like a plan.


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