End Of The Movie

End Of The Movie

I've lately become somewhat obsessed with a particular type of movie ending.

You know the one.

Our protagonist/antagonist has overcome whatever it is Joe Campbell said they must overcome. Happily ever after feels imminent, as underlined by perhaps the opening riffs of a familiar pop-tune. But our hero, they've still got one final punchline to drop, whether verbal or otherwise, right before a cut-to-black.

And that music? It plays. We hit the chorus, or an ironic line, or something that makes us smile almost as much as the punchline, hitting its stride just as the first names appear.

It's a very specific type of ending, and to be honest, I have no idea if there's a particular cinematic term for it. But you know what I'm talking about, right?

In case you're unclear, here's one - the final scene of the Wachowski's paranoid red pill, The Matrix:

At this point of the movie, we've just seen the protagonist literally return from the dead, a god reborn. The new, subversive king of an artificial world populated by human slaves spending their entire life asleep as part of the plot's major twist: as our evil robot overlord's organic power supply. Seeing Neo fly up out of shot like that for the first time, it's a real moment. People do superhuman things inside the Matrix, but nobody's ever flown. And to suddenly drop an entirely fresh twist like that, literally a few frames before the cut to black? The effect it has on the average nerdy viewer is close to orgasmic. But then consider the tune itself : Wake Up, by Rage Against The Machine. One of the seminal anti-establishment protest songs of that odd late-90s era, with no accident that it both matched the subversive themes of the film itself, but also that it quite literally has a title matching the central demand placed on all the major characters (and presumably the millions of sleepers) as the film closes - an awakening this new god will hopefully bring about.

It all works. All a bit obvious, perhaps, but in the heat of the moment, if you're too caught up in the action to ponder it, the resulting end-of-the-movie moment is electrifying.

Though this technique does not necessary have to be a high-powered fist-bump, of the likes of Fight Club ('Where Is My Mind?') and Iron Man (though does that one count, the music starting arguably a touch late?) There's also the softer, smoother exit via the exact same route, often creating as evocative and energetic a moment as the punches-in-the-face.

Take the final scene Wes Anderson's classic, Rushmore:

While our protagonist doesn't actually do much more to advance the plot here, he does succeed at taking the hand of the woman he'd attempted to woo so unsuccessfully throughout the film. And perhaps in that final moment as the music begins to play, by hearing the mature way Max accepts his defeat, in taking his glasses off, Rosemary's finally looking at him as a man, not the ridiculous young boy he'd been throughout the film. And the song itself… well, that says it all. As the verse swells, the film slows to almost a halt, as we see all major characters assemble for one final photo, our couple still very much the focus of the frame. And just as the cut to black (or in this case, the curtain close) finally occurs, the music reaches the chorus: "I wish that I knew what I know now"; a line whose relation to everything else one can hardly ignore. But are these the character's thoughts, or that of the director himself? With Anderson's name revealed immediately as the line is sung, perhaps this busts the fourth wall for us slightly, the director having said on occasion how much of his own past he threaded into the film's central character.

I love these moments, and yes, I've become obsessed.

Taking note of them for months. Collecting them. Stashing them away for some unknown purpose, unknown even to me at this point. The novel I'm currently developing has accidentally wound up with moment like it winding through the narrative and tying up the ending. Part of me even thinks there might be an idea buried amongst this odd collection to form the premise of an entire story in itself. Perhaps a tale about someone bound by a collection of endings, the same way the protagonist in High Fidelity (another great end-of-the-movie play-out moment) seems bound by the songs and playlists of the women in his past.

Or is that just too obvious? Would it be more appropriate for a literary tie-in of this device to be something more down the 'random swing track' path Die Hard treads, or merely a stretching of the final mood as per the much-drooled-at Gosling-fest, Drive? Or is it foolish to even be trying to force this round cinematic peg into square literary hole?

I don't know. And if I'm completely honest here, I have no idea why I'm collecting these. And yes, I am collecting them. Check out these sweet puppies on Spotify. Each one of them one of these very deliberate end-of-the-movie music moments (if you can guess them all). Well, not this one, which I kept on the list for no good reason than… well… who doesn't think every playlist deserves a little Backstreet? And no, it really doesn't count as one of my obsessional types. Party tracks, such as the play-out at the end of Dirty Dancing, or the odd moment at the end of 40 Year Old Virgin; this type of ending isn't quite the same. They're literally just playing the track, delivering a performance. Where's the irony, the punch-in-the-face, protagonist's final punchline? No, not quite as magical, no matter how awesome or appropriate a party playout can be as an ending.

My search shall continue, but until I reach whatever the unknown destination is, let me know if you think of any more.

And like, don't you… forget about me…

 


demislw - Online Book Discovery

The Pitfalls of Online Book Discovery

Books, and in particular, the process of book discovery, are still being somewhat failed by the Internet.

No, that's unfair — a big call, and a big generalisation. Certain genres are fine, as well as anybody interested in keeping up with that handful of bestsellers that happen to be riding high on the western world's collective Top 20 at any given time. You know, those titles you find in every airport bookshop.

But wait, there I go already: using a real-world example to represent book discovery in a way you'll all relate to. Where's that ubiquitous Internet equivalent? I'm sure many could throw an example or ten at me, but of those, how many will have a list identical to the next? And even though there'll be some places that will start to clump, what are the chances that those popular sources match my particular taste in books?

It's all so hard. If you want to get serious about finding online book reviews and curation that matches your own tastes, it really is a lot of work. Too much for most, which is a shame, considering what is potentially being missed if you stick to the easy Top Lists. Plus — and I'm happy to cast this generalisation out there without sounding like a total snob — there's often a lot of pulpy stuff on those Top Lists. I'm sure you can pick a few titles out of the air that found their way onto the popular bestseller lists that may have been a fun holiday ready, but ultimately drivel and not all that engaging as a non-holiday read (if that's what you're into). Or worse: crappy YA or NA titles that get caught on that list for two years at a time, often joined by their sequel/s, openly derided by all bar their specific demographic or fan-base.

Look, all that stuff is still fine. Each to their own. I don't mind if people are reading crappy books - it's still cooler they're reading anything at all, rather than not. If those books are what sells, then whether I'm into them as well is irrelevant - give the people what they want.

The problem, then, is still this other one: how are the rest of us supposed to navigate? With the most prolific book-buyers (thus demand-supply drivers) not always encouraging titles with higher education or reading-age levels, particularly with the rise and rise of the Young and New Adult genres in the past ten years, those with broader genre or literary tastes aren't getting the same ease of discovery as the rest. Those reviews are still all out there, those books still being reviewed, but it takes a lot more proactive work to sift through it all, and even more research to know whether or not individual reviewers might share your taste (as opposed to going with the numbers, as YA readers are often able to do).

The solution, for now, would appear to be one-on-one engagement within communities you know and trust.

Finding certain Goodreads lists. An individual reviewer on your favourite newspaper. A regular best-of-the-month post on a particular blog. Some dark corner of one of Reddit's numerous book subreddits.

Yes, it's all out there. It's still just a little too hard. I've had to do a lot of work over the past couple of years whittling down my own preferred sources. And honestly, when all is said and done, apart from the annual Booker Prize Longlist and a couple of favourite reviewers, much of my own reading list comes from a handful of trusted friends I'm in regular comment-banter with on one particular (private) Facebook Group.

"You'll love this one, dude." See, I can trust that title, since I trust the guy behind the words.

What I'm hoping to see in the coming years is a stronger level of AI on popular book sites or stores. Right now you tend to get "other readers who bought this also bought ____ " style suggestions from sites, which I'm assuming are largely based on the numbers (see above re: pulp). But imagine if the software began digging even deeper than that. What if, having just picked up and enjoyed The Goldfinch, some clever piece of code was able to identify that I enjoyed that particular style of writing, or that I like stories with characters spiralling into dark, dark places, or that matched books with similar overarching themes, keeping that in mind while they ran through your own history for things of a similar reading-age etc. Perhaps it'd be smart enough to learn that you didn't just like reading heavy book after heavy book, throwing in something lighter or quirky after you just read something dark? I can see it being possible at some point, though it doesn't exist yet. Not online, not automagically.

Or does it?

I am getting my reading list from somewhere, right? And didn't I just say most of it was coming from a nice bunch of trusted friends on a private Facebook Group? My eyeballs are still finding those great book titles, aren't they?

Haters gonna hate.

I'm sure I'll get my super-smart AI book-discovery robot one day, Internet. (And my flying car.) And boy, will there be hell to pay the first time that bleeping bastard serves me up a copy of Twilight or Fifty Shades.


Page Break

It's been a busy November. After several very solid crunch-time weeks getting my upcoming novel The Brave ready for a team of readers to break, it's out there, being picked through, chuckled at, and critiqued even as I type this.

No matter how much I prepared myself for the day it would finally leave my laptop, it was still an unexpected and difficult moment - sitting there, finger poised above the send button on a bunch of emails, waiting to send the baby off on its first day of school. The feedback has already started trickling in - largely a good list of constructive picking-apart which I'm largely taking aboard in order to make The Brave a better book (and without too much work) - valid points, all. I expected there'd be fights and tears, but those haven't come. (Still... early days - nobody has finished yet...)

For now I'm trying to forget about the book, the disastrous number of typos I'm only just starting to notice, and focus on the next phase - agents, my pitch, and how to get it out there. There's still going to be some work to do once the team have delivered their numerous verdicts, but it's been nice getting out of the word-space this week and back into the cold, boring reality of finding the right home for the toddler once it hits its teenage years. Mind-numbing stuff. Staring at a billion literary agents' websites, poring over the likes and dislikes of the numerous strangers' biographies (all those heads I need to get right inside), staring at their mugshots, trying to see if I 'feel the vibe'. It's fun in its own way, but difficult - I know how busy these people are, and I don't want to waste their time with a book or a relationship that's not going to work out. I've got a strategy at least. I don't know if it's a good one, but like any great casino gambler will tell you, coming up with a thoughtful game-plan before putting in the hours is the only way to get results.

For now it's a great distraction. The coming weeks are likely to get icky as I keep polishing, incorporating reader feedback, and trying to stay positive about the steep curve of rejection I'm about to start stumbling up, but even with all of that I'm still loving the hell out of this process. The crazy long weeks I've been putting in lately meant that suddenly I'd absorbed the entire book into my head, and can picture it as a whole beast rather than the individual sections I'd been working on in the past - a funny zen absorbency situation, just like Neo and his kung-fu. I kinda know the deal with it now - how the book really is, as opposed to how it was as a plan, and what the aftertaste is once you put it down. There are plenty of things about it that I'm not in love with, but it feels like something at least, warts and all. While there were a few moments I cringed at the craptacular, but there were plenty of others where I laughed out loud or felt genuinely stirred. I'm happy. I've learned a lot, and already have plenty of thoughts as to what I'll do better writing the next book. Yes, there's still a pile of that self-doubt rolling around as always, where I'm still asking "Is this good enough?", hoping trained eyes will see enough promise to throw their talents into the manuscript and make it a book. But for my part, I'm happy. It's not finished, but writing a book is something I've done now - the rest from here is a new and different process, one laden with a whole new set of mysteries. 

Anyway, can't sit here blabbing on all day. This phase might be nearly done, but the toughest hurdles are yet to come...

Wish me luck.


Words, words, words.

I finished reading The Brave last night. After taking a few weeks off after finishing the draft - just to clear the air - the read-through took a lot longer than expected, in part due to how much more closely I was paying attention to it than a regular novel-smash. Also, I took a lot of notes.

The verdict? 

It's a book. Definitely a book. Particularly from about half way to the end it felt like something, albeit a messy kind of something. Having said that, the first few chapters are a different beast; five chapters in, I was actually starting to feel something close to despair. I finally understood what they mean when folks describe their early drafts as utter rubbish. Salvageable, yes, but still rubbish. If it weren't for the fact I seemed to find my stride at a particular moment in the book, then hold the same level fairly consistently through to the end, I'd be heavily entering the murky realms of self-doubt.

Once I did get to the end, I was pleased. Proud even, if one is allowed to be at such an early juncture. It's definitely a "first book", in that it's not that complicated, not that heavily layered, and the subject matter is fairly straight-forward, but at the same time I did find myself entertained, chuckling at some of the characters, and feeling for (at least some) of the characters. It's hard to read something you've been so immersed in for so long, but if anything, the fact that it had taken me so long to write afforded me a certain distance from particularly the earlier half of the book, and I did find myself coming into certain scenes quite cold, unable to recall exactly how I'd written through. There were no surprises (beyond a couple of classic typo's... I actually used my own name in dialog at one point by mistake, twice on the one page.... who knows what that was all about.... The annotation (for correction) I left in the margin was simply : "LOL"...) but I did feel I was reading certain lines or paragraphs quite fresh.

Hopefully, for the last time. Now shit gets real. The next time I sit down for a scheduled writing session, it's game on. I know what I need to do to pull the early structure back into line. I'm absolutely GAGGING to get finished with the structural reshuffling and start looking at each and every paragraph, sentence and word, and working on my economics. I'm really, really looking forward to ditching - entirely - the chapter now formerly known as Chapter Three, razed ruthlessly and dissolving back into the ether from whence it came by the time I do the next full read.  

Exciting times, though who can tell? The whole process so far has proven that yes, I enjoy the hell out of writing, but that life does indeed get in the way when you're still trying to hold down a day job. I wonder if I'll get there? To that place where I'm actually smashing out words all day long, instead of smashing out slap-comps for the shooty-bang-bang car-chase action movie? (Side note : not that I'm not enjoying vfx at the moment. It's strange - I've had a complete revival of enthusiasm for the job since getting to London. The change was as good as a holiday, and while I still do plan on moving on eventually, I'm not hating my days at all right now.)

I shouldn't get hung up on the time it takes though. Nobody else is. I'm getting a few "shit... how long have you been working on that now" comments of late, but internally I'm pretty aware of how long this stuff takes now, especially when you're only getting to it for a few hours a few times a week.

I'll get there. It's still a steaming great mess, there'll be hair-pulling, grunts, speaking in tongues and moments of madness, but I will get there.


Smashed

219,276 words in, and suddenly I'm all finished. The big draft, at least. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a private tear of two from my lurking-place in the back corner of the café as I tapped that last word and hit "Save", either. Whatever that feeling was that washed over me, it was intense, and I liked it. Today was a good day.

There's a shitload to do now - in a lot of ways, the real work has just begun - but tonight, I rest. Messy, but beast now has a start, middle and end, and a distinct voice, shape and flavour. The rest, from here, is just in the details, the perfectionist's urge, and blind luck.

The writing part has been so awesome, particularly these past couple of weeks, where it's been my full-time pursuit. The momentum, rounding the final curve, has been incredible. My first day in the library I cracked about 3000 words, the total gradually rising, until today, running on very little (too excited to) sleep, I crashed through 6000 words to finish out the final chapter and the shorter epilogue. I knew how exactly how it was going to end - the plan drawn up 18 months ago still largely holding true; all I needed to do was stick to it, keep my ass of Facebook, and type.

In the greater scheme of things, patting myself on the back today seems a little bit premature; just a draft. But it's a first, and anything first deserves it's moment.

So much work to do now, still. Two chapters I'm determined to turn into one. Minor characters whose stories I forgot to lay the groundwork for in earlier chapters. Important historic strands which only sprung into life once I'd hit chapter eight, now very much needing referencing somewhere in chapters one through seven. Hacky, shitty writing in the earlier chapters which progressively found it's form as time went on and the narrator found his true voice. A tonne of repetitive words, phrases, errors. Probably around five-hundred too many instances of the word "fuck". Some of the smaller characters need to be smaller. Some of the larger characters need a bit more three-dimensionality. Apostrophes...

...And these are the ones I can remember, not having read the thing back yet. A mess, to be sure, but it's my mess, and one which I'm chomping at the bit and rearing to get in and improve upon.

Hope I've got a great novel for y'all to read pretty soon. I've got a novel now, at least.

I'm tired. School's out. Time for bed.


Writing Yourself In Too Deep

"Write what you know", they said. "Look to your own life for inspiration", they said. So I did, only to discover there was indeed a story lurking in there. But now, plodding along somewhere in my last chapter (not including the epilogue) I've been getting a distinct feeling that perhaps - oh shit - I've written far too much of me into the novel.

First-person was always going to be tough not to completely separate, but when the main character is living through a similar major arc to a chapter from my own life - a major chapter dotted with incidents and incitements whose kernels are pulled from my own memories and the collected fireside tales of my colleagues at the time - then complete isolation got tricky. Next time (and there is most certainly going to be a next time, premise and rough plan already being held back while I finish the current opus) I'm going to stay far, far away from anything even vaguely connected with my personal life or personal history. 

Why? Well, not because I'm in too deep. It's not like there's been an Adaptation moment where I've realised I've written myself all the way in. No, our hero still isn't me exactly. But sometimes he thinks and speaks like me; therein lies the problem. Call me paranoid, but should this beast eventually make it out there and published, there's enough of my calling-cards in the current draft that people who know me are more than likely going to assume it's all me. Or worse: know it's not, but in later years, only ever remember the fictional account of the few scenes which I did lift from real life. Or even worse: I forget how things really were, and only remember the semi-fictional account I put to page. (To be clear: lifted the setup and the scenario, but I've mostly let the characters play things out organically within those scenarios, without too much forcing of square pins into round holes). Then there's the exes, the one-night stands and the crazy germans who I guarantee will read more than their fair share into some of the fictitious-but-littered-with-hints-of-memory events in the book, and very easily become enraged to nostril-flaring, forum-burning proportions.

All sounds a bit presumptuous, self-centered and delusional, but that is precisely my issue: perhaps in a completely fictional universe, I wouldn't have any of these insecurities bumping around, because hey, who cares? It's my book, my story. If they don't like it? Fine. No problem. I guess it wasn't the book for them. But once that fourth wall has been broken, even just a bit, suddenly I feel more responsibility over how it's all going to be received. Bad enough that this is my first novel, likely to be torn to shreds time and time as it is, purely for being the first, with all the rookie mistakes.

Which is fine too. I've learned a lot, and I can't wait to get cracking on the next project to put all the new lessons into practice. I don't entirely regret the inspired by actual events path that was taken, but I don't think I'll do it this way again. All the normal writer's insecurity stuff aside, I'm mostly just sick of spending so much time in my 2003-4 headspace. A fantastic, thrilling, reckless and memorable time for me, possibly the most. But in other ways, the most lonely and self-punishing. And I think what's bugged me the most during this process: if bits of me weren't flooding so many of the scenes and situations I think I'd be much more able to switch off and walk away from the character when I'm not typing at my desk. Instead, I'm going to sealed-off places every night, writing them like it's still fresh and raw; dredging up real shit for the sake of dredging up real shit kinda sucks.

But hey: if it makes for a better book, then whatever. I shouldn't complain; I should just keep typing, then vent about the murky stuff afterward on a blog. "Write what you know", they said. So I did, only to discover there was indeed a story lurking in there.