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Regarding my passion for writing, I’ve been a bit lacklustre lately. Full time work coupled with a dimming inspiration has made it difficult for me to “pick up the pen” so to speak.
Luckily science is absolutely awe inspiring (though I usually write fantasy over sci-fi). I was reminded of time dilation whilst reading about the universe and it made me want to write something. Something that is poetic in a way only science can be, and yet still informative and intellectual.
I have to admit, I may have bitten off more than I could chew. It was very difficult to make scientific references, whilst keeping character and maintain a rough scientific accuracy. A fuller explanation of this story can be found in this post, but I recommend you read the story first.
See if you can name all the scientific references I made! Otherwise, just enjoy.
The Loneliest Particle in the Universe
I am born into a frozen plane.
Behind me is a surging mass of super heated elements. I know this, but to my eyes it is dim and grey. And unmoving. Everything around me is unmoving.
There are more stars like the one behind me but they are few and far between. They provide a speckle of grey on an overwhelmingly black canvas.
There is no direction or goal, but my nature compels me to move forward. I leave my place of origin and venture alone into the black void.
I begin to pass rocks, planets and stars. Soon, I am crossing galaxies, but still, nothing around me moves. The worlds around me are desolate and empty.
I pass clusters of galaxies with innumerable stars but I am still alone. Nothing moves. The universe around me is frozen. It is not dead, but neither is it truly alive. Kind of like me. I am not dead, because I exist, but am I really alive? More stars pass as I ponder this. Perhaps I am both dead and alive. I may never know which. I need somebody to verify my existence – somebody who is not me.
As I pass through the empty universe, I search frantically for somebody, anybody who can tell me that I am real. That I am alive. Time stands still for everything around me, but I cannot stop. I am compelled to move only forward, straight and true. It is in my nature.
I grow tired. Not physically, for I have not aged, but emotionally I am drained. I see the vast universe around me but I am completely alone. I see others that look like me, some travelling and some just born, but the moment I lay eyes on them, a part of them is frozen to the spot and a part I cannot see is gone. Perhaps they are just like me – stuck in their own frozen planes.
Finally, I see a planet. Like everything around it, it is dim and grey, but somehow it feels … blue. What excites me most is what I see on the planet’s surface. Sentient life, capable of communication and thus capable of telling me if I am real.
A moment of surprise hits me as I pass through the atmosphere. Large clusters of molecules hang liquid in the air. As I pass through them, I feel my body pulled and stretched to breaking point. All manner of colour bursts forth from me but I struggle forward. It feels as if parts of me cannot keep up, but I continue straight ahead. It is in my nature.
My excitement mounts as I pass overhead, but soon I realise my happiness is premature. These creatures are frozen too, and I am moving too fast. Even if they spot a part of me, I realise I will be gone. Just like the others, I cannot truly be seen or measured. I can never know if I am alive.
It happens too quickly but I am gone. The blackness before me is soul crushing. The star here is dark – far darker than anything I’ve seen so far – and I feel as though all hope is lost. I know there is more sentience out there, but I also know now that I am a paradox. Nobody can truly see me. I will travel over 93 billion light years and not a second will go by. But for the entire journey I will be alone.
From my birth I was destined to be frozen in that one single moment for all eternity. I am Photon, the loneliest particle in the universe.
I’ve heard this question floating around again recently. It’s good to see most people know the answer now, but a mix of “long enough”, “depends on the scene you’re writing” and “depends on your style” is not really all-encompassing or detailed enough to really identify the deciding factor. That’s what I’m here for.
So what does sentence length achieve? In a word: pace. There are only two tools a writer has to manipulate pace, and they are sentence structure (of which length is a major part) and diction. I’ve done a post on both pace and diction before in my 5 Tips to Improve Your Fiction Writing.
Advocates of long, elaborate sentences are often misguided by the misconception that good writing requires sophisticated language, which in turn requires length and adjectives. These people often make an appeal to authority fallacy and bring up Hemmingway or Tolkien (I mention these two because I hear them brought up the most often). I want to point out two problems with using these authors as examples. First, language has evolved over time. We no longer use Elizabethan English, for example, so it would be inappropriate to write a story with such language. In general, older books will feature much more elaborate sentence structures. This is just a reflection of the language paradigm of their time. Second, Hemmingway and Tolkien actually do use short sentences to create impact and pace. They may not use it as often but if you go flick through one of their books and specifically look for them, you’ll find the sentences I’m talking about.
Thus, we are now at a position where we must agree that sentence length is used to control pace. There is no argument in this. How you use it and how often you use it is entirely up to your own style, but the bottom line is that your decision should be based on what sort of pace you’re trying to achieve in a particular scene.
So, I mentioned that comments like “long enough” weren’t specific enough (though true). What answer would I give? Everything I’ve said so far, but the crux of the argument is that short sentences create more impact and give an impression of action and pace. Further, you can enhance the sense of action and adrenaline by putting more emphasis on action words (verbs – things the characters are actually doing). On the other side of the spectrum, an emotional scene is less likely to have short, action sentences than a fight scene. It would focus less on action words and more on inner thoughts, and emotional tells. Introspective and emotional sentences would be more appropriate than short, sharp sentences. Just an afterword, remember to use all techniques with an even hand. Don’t go lathering on the short sentences. Or. You’ll. Be. Narrating. Like. This.
In short, the length of your sentences should be dependent on the scene you are writing. I’ve identified the two ends of the spectrum: short sentences for fight/action scenes and long sentences for emotional/slow scenes. I’ve also identified certain types of words you should (or should not) focus on, such as action words and introspective words (words relating to inner thoughts and emotions). Now it’s up to you guys to fill in the blanks and add your own flavour to it.
P.S. I debated adding examples to this post to show you but I didn’t feel like it in the end. There’s an example in my 5 Tips to Improve Your Fiction Writing. Otherwise, just read any good book and you should be able to identify what I’m saying.
First up: spoiler alert. Don’t read this if you haven’t watched the movie yet.
For you others, what did you think? Here’s my two cents.
Edit: This is turning out to be a long post. As a mini table of contents, I talk about plot devices, scientific accuracy, and finally draw connections to how this movie continues the Batman villain theme.
Fair warning, I analyse texts based on two things: scientific accuracy and quality as a written story. Yes, state of the art cinematic techniques, blah blah. Let’s get to the real stuff that you can’t just do with money.
The movie itself was more or less what I expected. Typical Bond movie sans the old school high tech gadgetry (a bit of an oxymoron there?) but with good pace due mostly to cinematography. They did do a cheeky reference to the new Bond movies’ lack of gadgets, perhaps in response to fan criticism: “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t do that stuff any more”. The movie seems to have tried to introduce gadgetry a bit more, especially in the final scene where they rig up a manor with booby traps. Not really “gadgets” in the old school sense, but I think there was still an intentional theme of “creative ways to make tools that kill stuff”. No, it was quite alright and enjoyable to watch. However, put that aside and we’ve got a few problems.
First of all, the story. Unfortunately, this movie just confirms the declining quality of modern day writers. Out of Daniel Craig’s Bond movies, Casino Royale had the best storyline. It was concise and did not overstep itself. It was coherent, had its twists and climaxes, and finished very tidily. I well planned out and executed story. Next was Quantum of Solace, the complete opposite. It bit off more than it could chew, setting the scene for a previously unheard of organisation that had infiltrated everything and was omnipotently powerful. It introduced so much: political warfare, battle over resources, and the concept of “you never know who you can trust”. Then it realised that it couldn’t finish this in one movie so it went and crapped on itself by skipping ahead very rapidly, getting very messy, and then finishing and never again mentioning this organisation despite how amazingly powerful it is. All he did was kill one member. Talk about anti-climax. The difference? Casino Royale is an old storyline. It was remade. Old writers are better at their craft. I think I touched on this in my rant on recently published books; perhaps I’m the victim of a changing society but social pressures and the drive to make money (off the mainstream, because that’s where money is) has led to a lot of shoddy writing these days, from games, to books, to movies, and even to shop signs. Regardless, it’s a fact that writers are different these days. I just think the new ones are a disappointment.
Feel free to agree or disagree with me on that. It’s an opinion and a sentiment I’m sure many older writers and readers will agree on.
Back to Skyfall. The story was better than Quantum of Solace. At least it wrapped up. However, there wasn’t that much substance to it and unfortunately, there were a lot of logic farts and stupid plot devices. Before I start getting scientific up in here let’s start from the beginning. Moneypenny is ordered to take a shot at the beginning, which hits Bond instead of the target. Ok, fair enough. Then she spends the next five seconds staring at Bond’s falling body and the escaping target. Hmm … TAKE ANOTHER GODDAMN SHOT. Ok, maybe if it was a flintlock with a single round in it, but no, she’s clearly holding an automatic weapon. She could have held the trigger down since she already hit Bond anyway. So the first plot device of this movie is a huge fuckup (pardon the language but that’s the best word to describe it), to which the rest of the movie is dedicated to fixing.
Now let’s get a bit scientific. There were a lot of things, as usual, that Hollywood decided didn’t have to follow physics. Many of these can be ignored because it’s an action flick. Fair enough. Causing an entire island to be abandoned due to “hacking” and spreading a rumour about a chemical leak? Ok. Let’s ignore the fact that stuff like that is usually checked. Like, the government sends in dudes in hazmat suits to assess if the leakage will affect any other areas. But ok, let’s ignore that. Then the computer network he has set up there. Fair enough, he managed to buy and ship all that gear to the island, supply the entire island with power and get internet access without anyone realising “hold on, that place is meant to be abandoned, why is there so much electrical power going into the place?”; let’s forget all that.
But the hacking thing? Again, I understand you can make money off mainstream audiences that don’t know any better but no, hacking is not some embodiment of god in your computer screen. You can’t just “click and it’s done”. So much of the movie was based on hacking and none of it was feasible. The more tech savvy of you lot will have been facepalming during the hacking scenes because they were so rife with errors. Normally, I’d let it slide but because the movie literally hinged on hacking, I had to bring it up. It’s practically a deus ex machina in that it was the excuse for several plot points.
Oh and, you know how the hero always jumps aside as fire is shooting down a tunnel? Yeah, it doesn’t work that way. Fire “travels” by burning oxygen. You can jump anywhere you want, it’s going to follow you. And after you survive, there’ll be no oxygen in the tunnels for a while, depending on how deep, twisting, etc. the tunnels are. I see this so much in action movies and it’s beginning to be annoying.
Now, introducing the villain, Silva:
Here’s where things get interesting. It seems Batman has kicked off a new era of villains. The psychotic, chaotic villain with questionable goals and even more questionable sanity is becoming popular. You know when something is popular when others try to copy it. By the way, I say chaotic intentionally – refer to an old post of mine about why we love villains so much.
Let me just get one last scientific pain the ass out of the way. Cyanide does not do that to you. I’m assuming you’ve watched the movie if you’ve read to this point, but to clarify, he pulls out part of his jaw and said the cyanide did that to him. No, cyanide is a form of a toxic inhalant. It can be administered in a variety of ways, but inhalation is the main issue. Further, it causes cell mortality via prevention of cell respiration. It’s not acid, it can’t melt your face off. Hydrogen cyanide does have a boiling point at room temperature but trust me, the bones in your jaw and skull can withstand that kind of heat. Again, it will not cause whatever the hell he had in the movie. Nor would you be likely to survive such a thing, or maintain any facial function if it did happen.
There was a lot of emphasis in the movie on his psychological state. Feelings of abandonment and suffering were imparted, though perhaps not enough to create an optimal level of audience sympathy, but there was that concept that he wasn’t completely wrong. His random acts of terror and being “one step ahead” was very reminiscent of the Joker, and the strangely lucid insanity only added to that effect. However, it did not achieve the same effects as the Joker because of a variety of reasons.
He won’t be a villain to remember, nor will the movie, but regardless, it was interesting to take note of how trends in media and texts are moving. This might be the period of amazing villains. Certainly, the villain demonstrated more character than Bond. Bond is the typical rogue hero. His vocabulary seems to be constituted entirely of snappy one-liners and his emotional range seems stuck on serious, cheeky and badass. Fair enough, but that makes for a very two-dimensional character. What I’m getting at is that heroes are very restricted but villains have unlimited potential. Again, you’ll have to read the article on villains to understand what I’m referring to. It’s an old article and messy. All my long posts are messy because I write what comes to mind so it tends to be disorganised collections of thoughts.
Anyway, enjoyable movie and it achieved it’s desired results, though to what degree is questionable. I still maintain that Casino Royale was the best of the three, mainly due to the strong storyline and just how “clean” it felt to watch.
I’ve been noticing another wave of incorrectly used semicolons. I joined another writing forum to see if I could meet any interesting writers, concepts or tips, and to provide advice. It seems a lot of amateur writers are caught in that transition phase between simplistic writing and using linguistic features (such as punctuation, and in this case semicolons) to spruce up their narrative. Unfortunately, this transition phase tends to see a lot of errors.
So let’s lay down some quick terminology. You should all know what a semicolon is. A comma splice is when two sections of a sentence are joined together by a comma when they can be standalone sentences by themselves (known as a main clause/independent clause). By the way, if you omit the comma altogether (so it’s just two sentences stuck on the ends of one another with no punctuation in between) it’s known as a fused sentence.
I’m still learning about punctuation, today I learned how to use semicolons.
That’s an example of a comma splice. Now there’s a number of ways to fix it.
- Separate it into two sentences. I’m still learning about punctuation. Today I learned how to use semicolons.
- Use a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but or, yet, so). I’m still learning about punctuation, and today I learned how to use semicolons.
- Use a subordinate conjunction (because, since, once, as, if, unless, though, etc.). Because I’m still learning about punctuation, today I learned how to used semi colons.
- Use a semicolon. I’m still learning about punctuation; today I learned how to use semicolons.
Let’s just solidify what those examples should have taught you (if you didn’t already know) and refocus on semicolons. The two clauses separated by the semicolon have to be independent clauses. They have to be sentences by themselves. It’s very easy to remember but oddly hard to follow.
On an ending note, I’d like to point out that sometimes rules can be broken. I’m a big advocate of bending the rules for stylistic effect but I’m tired of seeing people use this as an excuse. If you break a rule to create rhetorical effect, fair enough. Just make sure there’s a distinct purpose for you breaking the rule, and that even an idiot can tell you did it on purpose. And don’t overdo it. It’s only special if it’s rare.
While I’m on the topic, here’s another excuse that really ticks me off. Using cummings as an excuse to ignore rules of English. For those that don’t know, cummings was a poet famous for (among other things) ignoring capitalisation in his poems. That’s why people often don’t capitalise his name; it’s sort of like a weird little tribute to him. However, let’s get this straight. First, he wrote poetry, which already bends a lot of rules. Second, he became famous. It’s very difficult to criticise the successful. Third, you are not cummings. There are literally tens of thousands of other writers competing with you (in any sense of the word) and not many people have even heard of your name. You will not be excused for breaking rules. At least not until you become famous first.
This is one that people often mix up, and for good reason! A parody is a type of satire. Satire is the umbrella term, and involves a wide range of satirical techniques. There’s no such thing as a “parodical” technique. I guess in this sense, you could be excused if you call a parody a satire, because technically that would be true, but specificity is a hallmark of true knowledge. If someone showed you a picture of a flounder and asked you if you knew what it was, and you said “yes, it’s a fish”. Well …
So, the difference? Well, the commonly accepted difference is that a satire is more subtle. How? It’s sort of like the difference between metaphors and symbols. A metaphor is explained and made clear in the very sentence it is introduced. A symbol is never explained and thus open to interpretation. Similarly, a parody is always self-evident. The best examples are parody movies like Scary Movie, Vampires Suck and Meet the Spartans. You know straight away what they’re imitating; it’s blatant and exaggerated, and it’s precisely that hyperbole that creates the humour.
But a satire? A satire is subtle. It’s the gentleman of the mocking genre. Often, the uninformed will not even realise the text is a satire and will just read the surface as if it were a story on its own. The example that comes to mind here is Animal Farm, a classic by George Orwell. It is a criticism of communism and its failings, and identifies the nature of greed and megalomania as inherent personality flaws that will always undermine any attempt at equality. Of course, there’s more to the story than just that, but those are the main overarching themes. However, the uninformed would just presume it was a story about animals on a farm that ended up trying to run the place by themselves and live like humans. A funny little fiction, but not something as deep as political and sociological commentary.
If you’re familiar with any of the texts I’ve mentioned, you should be able to identify a key difference between parodies and satires. While both engage in ridicule, the method by which they do so is different. If we were to classify the humour as a point of reference, parody would be slapstick. It’s in your face; it uses hyperbole to blow things to ridiculous proportions and it’s meant to be lighthearted. Satire on the otherhand is clever, witty, intelligent humour. It uses references, symbols, themes and similarity to create humour, but the humour is more of a dark chuckle when you get it. It’s not lighthearted, it’s usually something heavy and deep, the kind of stuff that makes you question the intelligence of your leaders in politics or the nature of human society or our shortcomings as a species. It’s a sad moment of realisation that causes the laugh. Sometimes, there’s no humour at all; just realisation.
Notice I’ve mentioned similarity and imitation. Here’s another key difference, one that’s far easier to remember for you guys to keep in mind. A parody will mimic something blatantly. The characters and plot will be very similar (if not exactly the same). If you’ve seen the underlying text, there’s no way you’d not realise it’s a parody. Even if you haven’t most of the time things are so overblown that you’d realise it was a parody anyway. Satires don’t mimic things; at least not blatantly. They copy scenarios and concepts but replace everything so that only the underlying skeleton remains. Take Animal Farm for example. You’d never be able to tell a bunch of talking animals who want things on the farm to be more fair to everyone were actually representative of communist society. At least not unless you read very deeply into it.
A word or phrase used to characterise something. It can be used as a descriptive substitute for the name/title of a person such as The Great Emancipator (Lincoln) or Alexander the Great.
With exams over I’ve been trying to get back into writing. It feels bad knowing I’ve neglected my magnum opus for so many months so I’m trying to get back into the swing of things by writing a few shorts to warm up my creative mind. As usual, I don’t bother editing stuff that’s just meant for practice so excuse any errors you may find; it’s just a first draft.
He couldn’t see it, but he knew it was there. He could feel it – a warm, sticky sensation that hung thick in the air. It weighed heavily on his lungs, and even worse on his mind. It was oppressive and paranoid. It was fear.
Footsteps tapped in the background, distracting his senses. No, the sound of footsteps did not scare him. What hunted him could not be heard. It had no feet.
Trapped in a moment of respite, he tried to think of an escape but he couldn’t focus. His mind jumped from one thing to another in a frenzy of disjointed thoughts. As the panic burgeoned, he began seeing in brief flashes and blurred impressions. Each vision that appeared in his mind’s eye shook violently as it was quickly replaced by the next until he was stuck watching a cacophony of muted colours. But one thing solidified, right in the centre of his vision. The outline of a familiar man.
He muffled a scream as he opened his eyes. Without realising, he had closed them against the swirling images. He could feel the sweat on his clammy skin but it was still dark. What if it had come closer? How could he be so stupid! To close his eyes at such a dangerous turning point? Absolute stupidity.
Rising from the corner he had been crouched in, he quickly scanned his shadowy surroundings. Nothing moved but the footsteps got louder. They were approaching.
A cold shiver teased his skin and he started at the sensation. It was getting closer, but he had no escape!
The footsteps stopped and there was a metallic grind of something being slid aside. Brilliant white light poured in. Illumination, hope and salvation beckoned. The chilling sensation tingled through him again, somehow more urgent. He could see the outline of a man again. But his eyes were open!
Fear blossomed in his chest and his mind fixated on the only thing it could identify. The light. It promised escape.
He ran, full speed, towards that glorious square of hope. The man got bigger, closer, but he couldn’t stop. He was almost there.
Something crashed into him, solid and cold, stopping him dead in his tracks. Metal bars. Holding him back, keeping him away from the light. Trapping him in the room with the man. He could see the man clearly now. There was a mirror on the opposite wall showing a man behind bars in a dark padded room. It was the man that haunted him. One last burst of courage shot through him and he slammed the bars but they would not budge. Then all he could see was an explosion of colour – images and impressions flooded his mind and whispers echoed in his ears. All remaining strength in him fled, and he sank to the floor laughing.
“As you can see, the patient has lost any remnants of his sanity. His condition has progressively worsened upon arrival at the asylum, so we recommend a full lobotomy. For his own good.”
Do you suffer from procrastination? Never get around to finishing that novel? Spend more time imagining and jotting down every little detail of your fictional world than you do writing the story itself?
Then story outlines are probably not for you.
I know a lot of people will say to plan out your story and whatnot but I’ve always frowned upon this. For clarity’s sake, I consider outlines/planning to be anything related to the story that isn’t actually writing the story itself.
Ok, so planning stuff gives you an idea of where to go with the story, and keeps you “on track”, but consider this: have you ever stuck to your original plan? For me, that’s an easy no. As I write, new ideas come up and they are inexplicably more brilliant in their brief creation than anything I could have planned beforehand. Sure, my beginning and end usually stay the same, and maybe even some major plot points, but it’s a writhing, winding road between these.
Think of it this way. Nothing, and I mean nothing, you write in a plan or outline will ever be read by anyone except yourself. It doesn’t contribute to the story at all – the purpose of a plan is just a crude note to yourself to remind you of things. Despite this, I see people caught up in extravagant world building, from the terrain of the entire planet (when the story only takes place in a few cities), to religion, governments and other aspects that are not directly tied into the story. Worse, sometimes amateurs will consciously realise how much effort they’ve put into the plan and will try to incorporate it into the story somehow. This results in huge infodumps which are a big no-no in writing.
But I think the one thing that really epitomises the uselessness of planning is the use of “character profiles”. Really? Is it that important to know every character’s exact height to the centimetre? Their exact weight? Or, worse, their “likes and dislikes”. Let me tell you now, if you can capture your character in the brief confines of a profile then your character is weak and shallow. Further, the majority of your profile is literally useless and is really just a tool for wishful self-fulfilment to allow the “writer” to feel as if they’ve created a story with a set of strong characters when in reality the story is only in their heads. It’s not a story until you start writing it.
So am I saying everyone should stop planning? No, of course not. It works for some people because they know how to do it. However, I guarantee these people don’t sweat the insignificant stuff. A pre-writing outline should be a few key scenes jotted down. No detail – just the concepts. Your goal is to move the story from the beginning scene to the end scene, and I guarantee that along the way your plans will change more times than you can count. If you really are a dedicated writer, your story will plague your mind. Haunt you while you breathe and sleep. You shouldn’t need any plan to remember the important things in your story. At most, as you write, you should jot down specific numbers, features and directions so that you can keep them consistent throughout the story. You don’t want your characters changing hair colour half way through the story, or a city teleporting to another location. That’s about it.
Seriously though, just remember. Your plan is just to remind yourself of things. No one’s going to read it. Put your effort into the story itself.