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New eBook Release: When Ai Met Yu

After being published in five parts on my own blog, it's time for this story to come to a wider audience. My first attempts at both a re...

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Reapers are a Writer's Best Friend; Part 3 - Television

Let's face it: death in all its myriad and repulsive forms is an inseparable part of life. It's the yin to the yang, the other side of the coin. Nere the twain shall meet, yet one cannot exist without the other. But the problem is that death is liable to be treated in popular media in a way that might skew its place in people's lives. Sure, there are plenty of ways in comics, movies, television, books and games that treat death with the respect and gravity it deserves, but there are just as many who treat death as an almost-trivial means of advancing the story. In this post, I'll be looking at how death is portrayed in a variety of television series.

Oh, and since we're delving into character deaths, I'll say this for the sake of formality. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Mystery stories are too numerous to name in a single article without it turning into a list, and they all have something in common; a death provides the catalyst for the story's action and central mystery. While the most noteworthy are adaptations of the most famous works of mystery writers - whether faithful to the text or replete with creative alterations - there are several original productions of note. Silent Witness focuses on the forensic side of the crime, the surreal Collision shows more of the investigatory side a massive car crash, Colombo flips things on their head by showing the entire murder before showing how the titular detective solves the crime, Person of Interest puts a science fiction twist on investigation, and NCIS mixes the crime-solving with a strong focus on personality to prevent the show from going stale. In such long-running series, it is more shocking to see characters die - more often it is the character "retiring" or "moving on" that is used to explain the actor or actress moving on to new roles. Notable deaths in long-running series include Warrick Brown from the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Kaitlyn Todd and Ziva David from NCIS, and John Reese from Person of Interest.

In Doctor Who, the very long-running television series, death is actually cheated multiple times. Due to the format of the show and the creative decisions made over the years, they solved the necessity of the lead actor moving on - have each character's "death" be a transitional phase through a pseudo-magical-scientific mechanism unique to his race. Despite the main character cheating death, many supporting characters have met their ends over the course of the story, sometimes in quite unpleasant ways - the many character deaths in series as varied as The Seeds of Death back to Tomb of the Cybermen and forward to Warrior's Gate, the tragic massacres of The Curse of Fenric and Logopolis, the basic premise of The Talons of Weng Chiang, and the unexpectedly mature narratives of Inferno and The Deadly Assassin. I could go on. The thing lacking from the series is companion deaths; the first and one of the most shocking is the death of Adric in the 1982 serial Earthshock. Take into account that this was before the near-pessimistic attitude growing into the revives series of 2005 onward, when the series was still aimed squarely at a younger audience.

Death as an artistic and stylistic expression is nearly unheard of in any non-interactive medium, at least in the sense that the death of a key character forms a recurring concept. I mean, death is final. Isn't it? Well, not in the universe of Aeon Flux. The black-haired, leather-clad, acrobat assassin has been lingering in the public imagination since the 1990s, following a successful series of animated shorts on MTV, culminating in ten half-hour episodes which moved into more conventional territory. A recurring feature of the shorts was that the titular heroine would end up dying in some way. Whether shot, garroted by a cable, killed by a lethal fall, or attacked by an inhuman monster, she met an often grisly end at each short episode's climax. This makes the series stand out from the crowd - what other universe kills its titular protagonist in every single entry? Well, barring the half-hour episodes and later movie adaptation. The movie's tie-in video game did something to rectify that, as a recurring element was each story sequence or mission ending with Aeon's death. This use of death falls within the series' bold experimental style, and helps Aeon stand out as not only one of the most enduring, but one of the clumsiest heroines in science fiction.

Now obviously there are too many television series or one-off specials in existence to count, and those listed above are a very general selection from my own limited experience. But there is a recurring theme I've seen as a writer examining stories. The episodic format of many a television series turns death into something with more impact than often possible in movies; unless it's end of series, the rest of the cast need to move on without that character. In movies, you normally have around two hours with the likelihood of another death down the line. In television, you can have as long as sensibly or even idiotically possible. Of course the quality of that death, as with all things, relies on the quality of the show. For example, character deaths in Primeval resonate far less than those in Sons of Anarchy. This is a rule that applies to all forms of storytelling, but people can be especially critical for television series.

Next week, we dive into the realm of video games. Sharing stories with other mediums, video games have the advantage of being an interactive medium. This enables games with stories of incredible complexity, in addition to turning death into a whole mechanic, and even an element of player choice narrative.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Reapers are a Writer's Best Friend; Part 2 - Movies

Let's face it: death in all its myriad and repulsive forms is an inseparable part of life. It's the yin to the yang, the other side of the coin. Nere the twain shall meet, yet one cannot exist without the other. But the problem is that death is liable to be treated in popular media in a way that might skew its place in people's lives. Sure, there are plenty of ways in comics, movies, television, books and games that treat death with the respect and gravity it deserves, but there are just as many who treat death as an almost-trivial means of advancing the story. In this post, I'll be looking at how a death can advance a story in movies.

Oh, and since we're delving into character deaths, I'll say this for the sake of formality. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Movies have a distinct disadvantage against books; they have time limits, and are based on visual elements more than description. Live-action movies also have the issue of the basic restrictions of reality on their characters. This means that many deaths in movies can come off as fairly pedestrian. Sometimes this pedestrian quality can itself be dramatic. An example is the final sequence of events of the gangster movie The Departed, a Westernised remake of the Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs. The final scene is a stark contrast to the hectic massacre that precedes it. Main protagonist Colin Sullivan has been responsible for killing his former handler Costello, undercover cop Costigan, and another mole in his department. He is hailed, but he is also miserable; he has destroyed both his own life and the lives of many others. Returning to his apartment, he is faced by ex-cop Sean Digman. Without music or fanfare, preceded by only a single hollow expletive, Sullivan is shot through the head and left on the floor. This hollow ending for the movie's main protagonist is sudden and flat, but that actually makes sense within the story's context. Considering all he has been through and all he has done, such a weak ending is perfectly suited to his character.

From protagonists to antagonists, we turn to the despicable personage of Hori, who is arguably the main antagonist of The Hidden Blade. A theme throughout the movie is how the honour and traditions of the samurai are beginning to come under threat during the 1860s, the last years of the Edo period. Main protagonist Munezo Katagiri is forced to watch the life of his friend Yaichiro Hazama twisted and ruined by the corrupt Edo elite, represented by Hori. Hori is shown to be truly repulsive, showing no respect to Katagiri and trying to force him to compromise the samurai code. He then arranges Hazama's dishonourable death, lies to Hazama's wife to receive sexual favours for the promise of Hazama's survival, then all but laughs even after her suicide. Katagiri is the man who whose unbending fealty to his clan meant the killing of his fallen friend, but when faced with Hori's horrific actions, he acts as Hazama's avenging angel. Using a secret style, Katagiri punctures Hori's heart, fatally wounding him. This is a richly-deserved death; for Westerners we seen a plain old horrible man, for Japanese viewers this is a man who soils treasured samurai traditions. His death is also quite apt; destroyed by the very man he forced to influence, with a technique he could never hope to understand, on behalf of the memories of those he condemned to death.

Death is not just a singular event, but can be the thematic foundation of a story. An example of this can be found within Star Trek Generations. Death, the end of things and the meaning of one's life form a recurring theme in the movie. Main villain Soren's obsession with reaching the blissful extra-dimensional Nexus partially stems from the death of his family at the Borg's hands; Picard's brother and nephew are reported dead, leaving Picard as the last of the line; and the movie itself opens with original protagonist James Kirk apparently dying saving the Enterprise-B from the Nexus ribbon. The movie ends with Picard and Kirk ironically using the Nexus itself to foil Soren's plans, but this results in Kirk's true death. Kirk's death alone would be shocking enough to long-term fans of the series, but the movie's real strength is that it uses death and endings as a recurring theme, even if many of the deaths seen during the story are reversed. This lends the movie a far greater weight than if it had been just one death.

In books, words are used to describe nearly everything, even when illustrations help. This can result in death scenes becoming clunky if handled wrong. In the visual arts, particularly in movies, a death can be illustrated in a fraction of the time it might take a book. It can also leave a more vivid impression, as the scene is exactly that; visual. As humans, we respond better to visual inputs, we see and we assimilate through seeing. Seeing death makes it that much more real; thus seeing death in movies, in all its subtle and gory forms, makes it more real to us.

Next week, we dive into the realm of television. While sharing many similarities to the workings of movies and more frequently bound by the rules of the real world, they also have the ability to tell longer stories and a greater freedom of expression.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Reapers are a Writer's Best Friend; Part 1 - Books

Let's face it: death in all its myriad and repulsive forms is an inseparable part of life. It's the yin to the yang, the other side of the coin. Nere the twain shall meet, yet one cannot exist without the other. But the problem is that death is liable to be treated in popular media in a way that might skew its place in people's lives. Sure, there are plenty of ways in comics, movies, television, books and games that treat death with the respect and gravity it deserves, but there are just as many who treat death as an almost-trivial means of advancing the story. In this post, I'll be looking at how a death can advance a story in books.

Oh, and since we're delving into character deaths, I'll say this for the sake of formality. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

To take an example of death being a multilayered story catalyst, let's look at the death of Boromir from Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, the first volume of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. While not exactly foreshadowing, Boromir is constantly shown to be the weak link in the Fellowship, as his will is being easily suborned by the Ring's baleful influence. Events come to a head when he tried to force Frodo to hand over the Ring, an act which ultimately breaks his madness. Aragorn offers him a chance to redeem himself by protecting Merry and Pippin. Boromir is ultimately slain by orc arrows, redeeming himself by giving his life in defense of the remaining Hobbits and proving his worth despite the Ring's temptation. Boromir's fall and death serves a three-fold purpose in the narrative; it shows the full corrupting force of the Ring as Boromir is otherwise a noble and true man, it allows the character to find redemption and regain reader sympathy after being an ambiguous to antagonistic force, and symbolises the shattering of the Fellowship that has endured since Gandalf's fall and presumed death in Moria. This is an example of a potent story death, as it drives home plot points and evolves the plot beyond the initial volume, giving readers an extra hook to continue following the story.

Heroic deaths are as common as they can be in general fiction, so it's difficult to pick out any one death that fits this trope while doing a good job of it. The death I'm choosing for this next piece is from Jonathan Stroud's final original Bartemaeus novel Ptolemy's Gate. This novel is the culmination of plot threads scattered through the length of the trilogy, whose hidden main theme is the unequal relationship between magicians, their magical servants, and the people they rule through fear and ignorance. After the spirits of magicians are liberated through forcefully possessing their masters to destroy humanity, the two main protagonists - Bartimaeus and his master Nathaneal - are forced to undergo a similar merge while working cooperatively to destroy the abominations born from the rebellion. It culminates in Nathaneal breaking the powerful staff he has been using to destroy the powerful Nouda, an act that would kill both himself and Bartimaeus. Going against all their interactions up to this point, Nathaneal releases Bartimaeus before his death, sacrificing himself but freeing his servant. Through his death Nathaneal saved both London and humanity in general, but through releasing Bartimaeus he overcame the precepts of being a Magician that were drilled into his otherwise kindly self.

Death forms a core part of many of the most famous mysteries within crime fiction. Wilkie Collin's seminal The Moonstone focuses on theft far more than death despite being classed as the first true detective story, but there's no denying death is the central theme of crime and mystery novels from the Victorian era onward. Historian Lucy Worsley, in her book and television series A Very British Murder traced a line of public fascination with murder going back into the early 1800s that influenced the trend in fiction. When used in detective or mystery fiction, the murder is the focal point of the plot. Your protagonist seeks to discover the truth behind the murder whether the reason be simplistic, complicated, farcical or tragic. Everything else about the story can be seen as incidental to the central murder. Of course in some stories, such as At Bertram's Hotel, a murder only occurs fairly late in the story and is almost entirely separate from the main mystery.

The deaths of people otherwise unconnected with the flow of the story up to a certain point can seem odd and jarring, but there are several works that use it to great effect. One of the most forceful uses I've ever experienced is Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Much of this story concerns Professor Aronnax's journeys with the enigmatic Captain Nemo around the oceans, seeing its wonders and dangers while getting to know his captor/host better. But the story started with a monster attacking ships, and it would begin its conclusion with that. A mysterious ship appears that enrages Nemo, prompting him to imprison his guests and attack the ship. Aronnax becomes witness to the aftermath - the ship sinks into the abyss with all hands as Nemo watches every detail and Aronnax watches with him in stunned silence. These people and the ship has never appeared in the book to this point, but Nemo's merciless action and the sequel Aronnax observes acts as the book's emotional crescendo, and a turning point leading to the final escape and the apparent loss of Nemo's ship to the Maelstrom whirlpool.

A recurring element within novels is that individual and widespread depictions of death are frequently well-described, or at least given a substantial amount of description and dialogue. This is due to the ever more relaxed restrictions on word usage in various genres despite continued expectations of certain lengths being attached to certain genres. You could be detailed and gruesome about a single corpse, or place sweeping descriptions of widespread carnage. It's something unique to novels - the ability to tell through words, leaving a lot up to the imagination while also giving more detail than many visual media can accomplish.

Next week, we dive into the realm of movies. Functioning on similar yet differing rules, death is portrayed differently from novels, turning it into an alternately thrilling and gratuitous experience unlike any other.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Reapers are a Writer's Best Friend; Introduction

Let's face it: death in all its myriad and repulsive forms is an inseparable part of life. It's the yin to the yang, the other side of the coin. Nere the twain shall meet, yet one cannot exist without the other. But the problem is that death is liable to be treated in popular media in a way that might skew its place in people's lives. Sure, there are plenty of ways in comics, movies, television, books and games that treat death with the respect and gravity it deserves, but there are just as many who treat death as an almost-trivial means of advancing the story. This post is in the form of a basic introduction to the concept, recurring themes, and my goal with this post series.

So what makes a good death in fiction? Well, it depends on the genre, the scale and the setting, and also on how you want to tell the story. Deaths in the main cast can prove a strong catalyst for the story depending on how you lead up to them, while supporting characters carry less weight and are consequently more liable to slip into the background of importance. A villain's death or expected death - whether just or ironic or even humiliating - is an expected and consequently overused trope. Quite often it's the main protagonist dealing the blow, or failing that trying one last time to save them despite their villainy. Widespread death of a population can also form both a background and catalyst in the story - these can be caused by plague, human agency, or widespread disaster.

In a murder mystery or thriller, a death acts as the catalyst for the entire story, and can be anyone with anything as long as there's a kind of reason and logic apparent by the end of the story; it also has a realise on the type of genre featured. It can be a single isolated death driving the characters forward, or a series of murders leading them on. Everyday stories don't tent to feature death except in a natural form. In fantasy and science fiction, death can be treated rather more freely, even to the point that none of the characters die at all. It is also more likely to be highly fantastical and perhaps even clean due to the nature of the death.

The type of story the author wants to tell also affects whether death plays any part. Young children's fiction generally avoids the topic for good reason. Older children and young adult stories can more frequently involve it, but often in a stylised form. Adult fiction more often brings forward realistic and messy deaths where applicable. In general, various factors contribute to how death is introduced and handled , varying from author tastes and genre to the story's setting and tone.

Over the next few weeks, I will be creating several articles that look at particular deaths in different media, and how they impact and advance or conclude the story. My articles will concern death...

In books.
In movies.
In television.
In video games.

Finally I hope to look at how my own character deaths are created, and the lessons I've learnt over ten years of evolving my style. So until next week, please look forward to it. See you then!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Mythos - My Picks

A mythos is something a large number of fictional universes have. Some are more detailed that others, and some are so detailed that they come off as obtuse until adequately explained. In this article, I'll be looking at three chosen fictional universes with extensive background lore. One from the world of books, one from movies/TV, and one from video games.

The first mythos is one I've chosen from one of my favourite authors - that of the Bartimaeus series created by Jonathan Stroud. Spanning the original trilogy and a later prequel novel, the world of the sarcastic Djinn and his human associates and masters is incredibly detailed and expressive. Something to note about this is that it is the product of a single mind, and because of this that one mind is able to cover and control the mythos' content, but you have to admit his skill. Without any contradictions that are easily seen, he tied together a pseudo-magical alternate history where a series of Magician-ruled civilisations rise and are brought down by their own dictatorial power. Also, by telling the story from two and eventually three points of view, he offers a full vision of Britain as the magical ruling power, giving a perspective that many other similar narratives would lack. But is above all the sympathetic tone of the cast that enables a full absorption of this world Stroud created.

In both movies and television, the Star Trek universe is both massive and detailed. Beginning as a series with a tight budget and moralistic finales in the mid-1960s, the series proper has spun-off into six series, ten movies and an ever-growing mountain of additional media. Amazingly, across the series and movies at least, the series' canon and continuity has remained consistent across fifty years despite some dubious actor-based failures in alien or character portrayals. Here the reason is known and clear; a series bible that has been maintained and adhered to right up until the recent movie reboots reset the timeline. Across upwards of three generations, with only occasional drops of clangers, the continuity of race encounters, relations and discoveries has been preserved to the point of obsession. This makes Star Trek one of the most uniform speculative fictional universes in existence.

In television, there isn't a universe to rival Star Trek aside from Doctor Who, which initially ran from 1963 to 1989, before being resurrected as a television movie in 1996, and then revived successfully and running since 2005. One of the main explanations behind the variety and scope is that well over thirty writers have worked on the series during the course of its run. There is also the fact that - as a science fiction universe involving time-space travel - the number of ways and times events could cross is strictly limited by the laws of common sense. That also leads to a question - how the heck do they keep the canon from being riddled with contradictions? Well, it was at one point. But since the advent of the second-to-third incarnations of the Doctor, established lore has been set in place that new and returning writers follow. Writers for the revived series have taken the trend of tying everything directly back to overarching threads, but they have also respected the earlier canon. The creators of the original series managed to use the format of episodic and disconnected stories to avoid alienating potential new viewers as they could jump in at any stage. Sadly the revived series has not followed this model. While the inner workings can still be something of a mystery, but you have to admire the writers for keeping the lore consistent as far as humanly possible within the scope of over two hundred stories from

For the video game entry, the one I must choose is Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy. Created by regular Final Fantasy writer Kazushige Nojima, the mythos is mainly seen as a failure by fans of the Final Fantasy series, and from a developmental standpoint it was undermined by its own ambition, which was not compatible with the development resources and production structures of the time. Compared by developers and journalists to Classical Greek mythology, the mythos is a fairly simple tale of divine rivalry and the nature of "heart" and "soul" in humanity, all tying into a darker take on the Final Fantasy series' traditional Crystal motif. This mythos is unique in that it doesn't tie into a continuous timeline, but rather creates a shared theme of divine power enforcing its will on chosen humans. Unfortunately, despite the promise of the mythos, the developers made the cardinal mistake - by jumping between information dumps and complete mystery and the detailing of crucial elements in Japan-exclusive material, the mythos alienated players before they could appreciate its nuances.

There are more expansive universes than one article can comfortably accommodate, ranging from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, the overly extensive and retcon-filled comic series of Marvel and DC Comics. The ones I've chosen represent both my favourites and those I've had extensive experience of. Each of the ones above provided experience and inspiration for me for my own work as a writer and author. Out of all the extensive universes I've experienced, there's one thing I've learned - make it consistent, or people will roast you.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

New eBook Release: When Ai Met Yu

After being published in five parts on my own blog, it's time for this story to come to a wider audience. My first attempts at both a real world setting and a romance, it is a story set in contemporary Japan that casts a critical eye over the tropes of the country's LGBT literary and graphic novel genre.

When Ai Met Yu tells the tale of two men and their romance in a culture with a history of both tolerance and prejudice. Told from the perspectives of Ainori Uchida and Yusuke Ishinori, the two navigate life as they go through Wasada University and reunite some time later to realise their feelings for each other. Can they find happiness without compromising each other's freedoms and identity?

As of 8 June 2017, you can buy When Ai Met Yu on Amazon Kindle...

https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-Ai-Met-Yu-Japanese-ebook/dp/B072PWD734/

https://www.amazon.com/When-Ai-Met-Yu-Japanese-ebook/dp/B072PWD734/

...and Kobo Store.

https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/when-ai-met-yu

As might be expected of a short story, it is placed at a bargain price that puts minimal strain on the wallet. For those who buy it, they will be experiencing a romance that not only falls within the boundaries of the yaoi/bara genre, but also subverts them with its distancing from and criticism of typical tropes surrounding the nature of the romance and the imposition of male-female roles.

This is an LGBT romance for everyone, as its lessons can apply equally to heterosexual relationships. Here's hoping you enjoy this trip into my take on the Japanese LGBT romance subgenre.

In addition to this, the story has undergone further revisions and editing to increase both quality and readability. In addition, minor alterations have been made to character names with the guidance of novelist and anime reviewer Sarah Ash (WebsiteTwitter, Facebook) to make it even more authentic.

So there's only one more thing to say; read and enjoy. Arigat┼Źgozaimashita!

Saturday, 10 June 2017