Thursday, 28 July 2011

Lines To Fall In Love With

This past week my boyfriend talked me into watching Sherlock (the recent TV series) with him. I was pretty dubious about it to be honest, I'm not sure why, I didn't have any particular reason to think I would dislike it, I just didn't have any reason to think I would like it either, well apart from Steven Moffat being involved, which was my boyfriend's winning argument (as I love both Dr Who and Coupling). Basically I think my attitude can be summed up as 'Another take on Sherlock Holmes?' I don't know if there really have been a lot lately or whether that's just my perception but either way I was less than enthusiastic, in short I needed winning over.

And it didn't happen straight away, I watched the first few scenes feeling that okay this was sort of interesting (I wasn't actually aware before watching it that it was a modern retelling... so sue me) but nothing really grabbed me until Watson repeated another characters opinion that Sherlock was a psychopath to the man himself and he replied something along the lines of 'More like a high functioning sociopath.' (not an exact quote because the episode in question has since been taken off iPlayer and my memory isn't perfect) and just like that he (and by extension the series) had me, it was kind of like that eyes across a crowded room moment that only happens in badly written romances only with words...

But this post isn't about Sherlock being awesome (although it is) it's about the realization I had today that this has happened to me before, with Leverage for one, I was enjoying it anyway but Parker asking what it is about women and shoes was the moment I knew I had to keep watching the show, for her if for no other reason. Now I'm wondering if I can recreate that kind of moment in my writing.

I'm not sure, partly because dialogue isn't my strongest suit (although I suspect that in written format any sentence may potentially create the same 'I have to keep with this' effect, because in written format everything is words, not just the dialogue... incidentally I do read a lot, and have since childhood, I don't actually watch a lot of TV / films and yet when I'm thinking of examples of storytelling things I almost always think of examples from visual media, go figure) but mostly because my reaction to those particular characters and those particular lines is obviously a very personal thing, other characters I've had that kind of attraction to over the years include Wesley Crusher and Zach from Bones (I was so mad with the end of season three I've refused to watch the show since) so yeah, I definitely have a type and I doubt that many people share it (in fact I'm absolutely certain that they don't, especially the Wesley Crusher thing, all I can say is I liked that he was an obnoxious know-it-all) so what worked for me isn't likely to work for anyone else.

On the other hand perhaps I can still learn something from this experience (other than I'm pretty weird, which I kind of already knew, I mean I once went weak at the knees when a guy quoted pi to ten decimal places, that can't be normal), I like those specific lines because they're character defining, unexpected and honest and maybe that's a combination of things I can strive for.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Reviewer Isn't Talking To You

If you'd asked me a year ago whether published authors read the amazon reviews of their books I'd have laughed and said 'No of course not.' Turns out I was wrong about that, it appears that, some at least, not only read them but obsess over them. This was, in all seriousness, a major surprise to me.

Partly this is because I rarely read the reviews of a non-fiction book I'm considering buying and have never, ever read the amazon reviews of a novel before buying it, (I mean, there might be spoilers and how do I know which of the random folks reviewing the book share my taste in fiction? I have on occasion read the reviews of a novel I've already read to see if other people agree with me about it, but that's not really the point here).
Obviously people's buying habits vary, so maybe there are people who read every single review before handing over their cash, but on the other hand customer reviews are a pretty long way down the page which tells you something about how important amazon thinks that information is to making a sale.
My point is that I didn't expect authors to read amazon reviews because I don't rate them as being particularly important or informed and if nothing else you only get to see them if you've already found your way to the book's page (unless there's some other way to see them that I, as a casual customer, don't know about) essentially they're preaching, if not to the choir, then at least to the congregation.

However, the main reason I didn't expect authors to read their amazon reviews is because, well, it seems kind of creepy, like eavesdropping to find out what people say about you behind your back. The thing is, it's my belief (and I may be wrong about this) that the majority of amazon reviews are written, not for the benefit of the author, but for the benefit of potential readers. To me it seems as if someone with something to say to the author of a book would do it somewhere dedicated to the author, a fan site, the author's personal website, something like that. Writing a review on a shopping site seems more under the heading of consumer services (much like contributing to wikipedia on a subject you're knowledgeable about is often motivated by the desire to help people who want to know about said subject, but don't). This seems obvious to me, so obvious I'd never consciously thought about it (which doesn't of course mean I'm right), or rather, it did, right up until I heard (or rather read, it was on twitter) a writer ask why anyone would write a two star review.
I was, I have to admit, stumped, if I'd had an immediate answer maybe I'd have replied (or maybe not), but in my gut I knew that writing a two star review was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, I just had to figure out how to put that feeling into words. So I went away and thought about it and this is what I came up with:

The reason to write a two star review (or at least a reason) is that 'this book isn't terrible but it's nothing special either' is valid and helpful consumer advice (or it can be if you accompany it with your reasons for thinking that), and if what you care about isn't the book itself (or by extension, the author that wrote it), but the people that might be considering buying it, then taking the time to give an honest opinion is just as worth it, regardless of what that opinion actually is.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Aurum Inheritance

So, a couple of weeks ago I volunteered to write a flash fiction about estate planning for this challenge set by Dan O'Shea, I'm not sure dragons was quite what he had in mind, but here it is anyway.

The Aurum Inheritance

"Dragons aren't cooperative at the best of times, but if you want to see them at their worst, I mean their absolute, eye-scratching, back-stabbing worst, you want to be there when they read out a will." The old elf lawyer chuckled and leaned back in his wingback chair "Oh there are a dozen tales I could tell you, cousins spitting fire, brothers and sisters all but tearing each other apart over a chest of gold, but the worst infighting I ever saw, the very pinnacle of avaricious spite was when that twisted old lizard Aurum died."
"I think I heard about that." the elf's companion was young mostly by comparison, and somewhat rounder now he'd mostly given up the life of a sword for hire "Was he the one that got run through by that wandering knight?"
"That was the story, though no knight ever did come forward to confirm it. I know there were some folks who never did quite believe it, said anyone could have used a lance if the beast was asleep first."
"Not anyone." the swordsman corrected "It would take strength to drive the shaft in far enough to hit any useful organs."
"I bow to your superior knowledge." The elf nodded as though this confirmed something he had long suspected "But what no one denied is that Aurum was dead, and to the best of anyone's knowledge he had left no will."
The swordsman frowned in puzzlement "That isn't what I heard. Wasn't there a mistress or some such, claimed he'd written one in her favour?"
"Eventually there was, I'll grant you, but I'm speaking now of the weeks and months immediately after the old miser died and at that time there was no whisper of such a thing. No, nor anyone who thought it likely either." the elf explained "It was widely rumoured that Aurum had made a pact with the Reaper herself that he might never die a natural death, and it was certainly known that he had taken measures to ensure that he had no heirs that might challenge him for his gold. As best the records show he ate at least a dozen younglings that might have been his."
"A gruesome business."
"Indeed, and one that caused no small amount of legal wrangling during his lifetime, other dragons claiming he'd wrongly disposed of their offspring. In point of fact there were two cases still being tried at the time of his death. An added complication you understand, none of the claimants to his fortune wanted a single gold piece to be paid out in compensation you can be sure of that." the lawyer chuckled nastily "They were prepared to pay quite highly to see that it didn't happen too, far more than the compensation would have been worth."
The swordsman narrowed his eyes at that but his companion was too intent on telling his tale to notice.
The elf continued "There were quite a mess of claimants in the beginning, an assortment of nieces and nephews for the most part and Aurum's one surviving sister, whom he was known to have been on good terms with and who would likely have taken the largest share had she not mysteriously fallen ill and died herself before the claim could be settled."
"Poison?"
"It was suspected, certainly, but never proved." the elf lawyer stared into the fire, his mind far away, or rather long ago "After that, things became nasty. One by one each of the surviving claimants realised that if one of the others could be blamed for the murder, if murder it was, they would forfeit their share, leaving more for the rest of them. Accusations flew thick and fast, evidence was brought forward and decried as fake. There were injuries and freak illnesses, and with each new incident, there would be a culprit sought, who would then deny the claim and point the finger elsewhere or else back at the injured party, saying that the injury was faked to cast the blame at them." he sighed a little wistfully "It was a time of plenty for those of us called upon to represent the various factions."
Again the swordsman frowned, finding the lawyers glee more than a little distasteful.
"Then, as you say, this supposed mistress came forward, claiming that there was a will, not that she could produce it of course." the old elf shook his head regretfully "It rather spoiled the game. Faced with a common foe Aurum's various surviving relatives joined forces, settling their differences so as to get their claws on a share of the gold before this fabled will could come to light."
"I heard she claimed that you were the one who drew up the will." the swordsman spoke casually, a little too casually.
The old elf looked at his companion, suspicion crossing his features for the first time "Now where could you possibly have heard that?"
The swordsman didn't answer the question "Is it true?"
"That was indeed her claim." the elf lawyer agreed "Though there was never a scrap of proof, and waiting so long to come forward did little for her plausibility either."
"I imagine if the will had existed, you and your fellow lawyers would have made rather less gold." the swordsman suggested.
"Quite likely, quite likely. I imagine the will would have been contested, of course, but agreement would surely have been reached sooner." the elf frowned "I do wonder where you heard that detail however. You can't have heard it from her, she's long dead."
The swordsman rose to his feet and drew his sword "True, but her child is not. Her child, Aurum's child is very much alive." the elf lawyer barely had time to realise he was in danger before his head tumbled to the ground. The swordsman looked down at it with something approaching regret "There's more than one way to get gold out of a dragon."