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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, 26 February 2017

When Light Meets Dark - A Case of Juxtaposition

One evening (23 February) I was experiencing the melancholy charm of NieR:Automata, a video game from the weird and moving mind of Yoko Taro (or Taro Yoko, depends on how you read his name into English). And it really struck me - how well a juxtaposition of light and dark elements can create an engaging narrative experience. You can have some of the darkest content possible, but throw in some levity or lighter themes in the right place, and you'll have a killer combination that'll keep drawing in readers who want to see the next episode. Satisfying both needs without saturating either taste - the best of both worlds. When you have the time and - in the case of visual media - the budget.

So what kind of juxtaposition could you find? I'll give you an example. It's a family scene - a man is having some quality time with his family, showing that he is a loving and caring parent to his children, and a loving husband to his wife, who returns that love in turn. During the next part, he heads out for his job - it's as a soldier who is responsible for killing hundreds or perhaps thousands of people on a side that isn't his for a purpose that isn't his own. Love and war, family and combat, compassion and coldness. These two starkly juxtapose each other, showing the twin sides of humanity and enabling both the sweet show of love and the brutal thrill of death. Of course, that's a rather gratuitous example, but it establishes the theme. This type of juxtaposition isn't restricted to scene changes, as it can take place within a single scene or sequence. Also, this narrative tool has no specific genre, and can even hybridise with other genre tropes and writing tricks.

In books, this type of thing can be unrolled at a variety of paces, and can apply to both the protagonist and the antagonists (I won't say heroes and villains as that concept, while a storied classic, is more than outdated in real life and fiction). An example from my own bookshelf is Ursula le Guin's fourth Earthsea book Tehanu. The opening acts of the narrative sort of takes place parallel to the the events of The Farthest Shore, and focuses more in how the former priestess Tenar tended to the abused child Therru. Her gentle care first got Therru and then for the weakened Ged, and the everyday of her life on the farm clashes with the fact that she is tending to two broken people. The quest isn't one that offers itself well to juxtaposition like this, and thus things like Paolini's Inheritance cycle suffer considerably from an overly dour or focused tone. Tolkien does something in this regard through the earthly concerns of his Hobbits, although the other faults I find with his books mean it doesn't count for much.

Films have this hard due to time limitations. Aside from the real two hour+ films, or even the large epics that saturated the cinema during the 50s to 60s, there aren't so many opportunities to balance darkness with light. It doesn't help that the way films are made and have been made for a long time doesn't really allow for that - it pushes its theme into your face a lot of the time, allowing for little variety unless it's in the service of said theme or themes. Some films that try it fall completely flat, while others can seemingly jerk and judder along to the point that you feel disoriented. A good example would be The Fifth Element, which has amazing action scenes and a pseudo-mystical narrative combined with scenes of calm and scenes that make you laugh.

Television both live-action and animated can end up using this type of juxtaposition as a kind of get-out clause if they're running a little short on story, or want to drag out the course of events just that little bit further. This type of thing is more often called "filler". An example can be taken from Blood-C, where the clash of a fluffy everyday high school existence is juxtaposed against the brutal reality of protagonist Saya Kisaragi's nighttime slaying of the Lovecraftian Elder Bairns. In live-action television, this is used in almost every episode of the Crime Scene Investigation franchise - specifically CSI:NY - and NCIS. Since both shows are based around murder and other similar crimes, playing it straight would quickly send the series into a very disturbing and depressing place. The levity born from the interplay between different characters - or domestic scenes of what have you - pulls the viewer away for a much-needed rest from tales of murder, mutilation, rape and psychotic desires.

Video games, that oh so young and often clumsy narrative medium, have it a bit trickier in this regard as many of them are relatively short and have a highly focused approach. Also the state of the gaming industry is such that there isn't much creative freedom for a lot of studios to do what they might want to outside of a few notable exceptions. One of these is NieR:Automata and by extension the entire Drakengard franchise, but another more mainstream example is the Persona series, most notably Persona 3 onwards; each subsequent entry's unique combination of social simulator and deep role-playing game allows for that kind of juxtaposition. Beyond Good & Evil also demonstrates this with instances of whimsy and calm punctuating a dark sci-fi thriller.

I could go on and on and on forever listing various instances where juxtaposition was handled or mishandled in all possible story-telling media. It's heartbreaking to see a story fall flat without that flavour of mixed levity and horror. But it's also wonderful to see it used skillfully, or with enough flair to make even the dullest kind of narrative or setting engaging. Got your own candidates? Please share...

Sunday, 12 February 2017

My Many Selves

Hello there! I'm back, and I'm feeling like talking about something that maybe many other authors have experienced or use in their work. The subject this week concerns a concept that may be familiar to psychologists, psychoanalysts and authors the world over. The multifaceted self, also known as the Internal Family System.

This Internal Family System has numerous wrinkles and details that might make it rather daunting to understand, but the principle is simple enough. It's a combination of ideas that stretch back as far as the concepts of Carl Jung, which I will get into later. It's the concept that everyone has more than one "persona" within themselves, and that we add more selves and expand our knowledge base and psychological dimensions over the course of our lifetime - this setup has come to be compared to a family system for our own minds. If you want something a little more in-depth, then you can read more about it on this page.

A major precursor of the Internal Family System is the work of Carl Jung. Sigmund Freud is also cited, but his theories aren't really relevant today and his methods and diagnoses meant that many abuse victims and the like didn't get the help they needed. Jung, most notably in his Red Book of Dreams, described the human psyche as being made of multiple parts, in addition to being connected to a wider unconscious plain for all of humanity, with his archetypes and by extension several popular story figures being drawn from these archetypes. The most famous manifestation of his work is the Persona, a general term for the various archetypes that exist within us. When you strip away the mythical elements and the terms Jung used to communicate his theories to the elites of his time and be accepted, he's got something going for him. If you want a breakdown of his work and concepts, this page will do.

I must admit, before I heard of Jung and the Internal Family System, the only system for understanding the self I'd had any real interest in was Freud's outdated concepts of the Ego, Id and Superego. Once exposed to the concepts of Jung, I began to understand myself better, and the Internal Family System added an extra layer to that concept. With that in my head, I was able to understand more of myself, and it also ended up helping me get into the heads of the characters I create. While I of course use others around me for inspiration, and most certainly read and/or watch numerous other stories so I'm not starved of necessary input, it's also useful that I can dive into the many different parts of my self and find what one of those selves might think. So I can get into the frame of mind to understand both the darker (the lust for vengeance, sadomasochism, suicidal impulses and such) and lighter (being a prankster, feeling the full weight of love or happiness, raucous abandon prompted by joy) parts of my characters. All of this separate from my normal self, thank goodness. Heaven knows how I'd manage if all that was confined to just one personal self. I'd never fit it in my head!

If you're really interested in the result, then you read my work both on this blog and on Kindle, and see the many characters I've drawn from my multifaceted self. Enjoy!

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Writing samples on "Thomas' Thought Blog": FB3X Drabble Cascade #168 entry - "Stable Visitor" and Writers Online Talkback Forum: One Word Challenge - February 2017 - Word: Promise

Crystal and Sin; Complete Edition on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Writers Online Talkback Forum: One Word Challenge - February 2017 - Word: Promise

There's a new trial thing happening on the Writers Online Talkback forum. It's called the One Word Challenge. Basically, you are given a word, and you create a short 200-word max story out of that word. This month, the word was "promise". I decided to have a go. Here's what I wrote. If anyone else wants to try, feel free.

"Sitting alone. Cold and dark. The light holding no warmth, the moon no beauty, the world no colour. That was the price of the promise. The promise not to reveal what she knew to anyone, ever. Any promise was a burden, but this one tore her soul apart, clawed at the depths of her being. She shrank into her bed covers, her hands gripping her forearms, her entire frame curling up into a ball like someone lost to the mountain snow. It was so dark, so cold. But it was high noon, a bright summer's day, the day she had agreed to make a promise. That promise tormented her now; why had she made such a foolish vow, so rashly agreed to keep silent until death. Stupid promise. She hated it."

If you're interested in further work of this kind, check out the last time I did something like this: 'FB3X Drabble Cascade #168 entry - "Stable Visitor"'. I've got a feeling these two might combine to form a story at some point. You never know.