Allan Mayer’s Weblog

Posts Tagged ‘Dan Brown

 

A few blogs ago I had a bit of a rant about what I considered to be duff advice about how to create characters in novels, and wrote a skit called ‘The DaDisney Code,’ in an attempt to spread an internet ruimour that Dan Brown based his characters on the seven dwarves. Maybe it was a little silly, a little surreal. But it was just a bit of fun.
I have since found that I did not invent the connection, and would have known that if I had been a little more attentive in my reading of the Da Vinci Code.
Apparently there is a long passage which claims that Walt Disney subscribed to the ideas expressed in Da Vinci (i.e.that the church suppressed information about Mary Magdalene having a child by Jesus- sorry one person who hasn’t seen/read it) and sprinkled his films with references to this belief.
Unlikely? Then why does this picture, the ‘Penitent Magdalene’ by seventeenth-century artist Georges de la Tour…

…appear in this one, from Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid?’

Hmmm… makes you think doesn’t it? But before we get carried away, it’s good to remember what my old theology lecturer taught me about signs and symbols: signs have one-to-one correspondence to the thing they represent. Symbols mean different things to different people. It’s a good job that road signs only have one interpretation- although I do sometimes wonder.

That particular lecturer could find ‘Tree of Life’ symbolism in almost any icon he was presented with, but never once referred to any phallic significance- perhaps that was because he was also a Methodist Minister.

Returning to ‘The Little Mermaid,’ there is a rumour that a symbol has been added by the artist to the picture below. Look closely at the tower…

Closer…

Closer still…
 
 
 

 


Yes, it is for real. Rumour has it that it was added by an artist who found that he was about to lose his job with Disney. But Stopes, that debunker of Urban and internet myth, has tracked the guy down, and he says it was nothing of the sort and that no resemblance was intended.
Thanks, Stopes, for spoiling a great story. I really wanted to believe that. I bet they’re hot on the trail of the guy who painted the Turin Shroud. 
 
BUT… doesn’t this open up an even greater mystery? I mean, when the artist sketched out the tower, when he added colour, carefully highlighting the glistening erection… did it totally escape his notice that he had just painted a giant golden ****?

Or is it just another example of the tree of life?

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As ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is to Pink Floyd, so The Seven Dwarves are to…

For some time now there has been a school of thought on the internet which has pointed out a spooky synchronicity between Pink Floyd’s ‘the Dark Side of the Moon’ and the film, ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ (Go on- check it out!)
The latest rumour of this type is that an unidentified bestselling author based the characters in his novel upon those of the Seven Dwarves. Judge for yourself from the exerpts below, which are taken from an early draft of the work acquired only this week…

Chapter 94

‘The curator even died with a smile on his face,’ said the albino assassin. ‘He was always happy, even in death. What bloody right had he got to be happy all of the time? He should have tried living my life.’

The Doc tried not to pay too much attention to the rubik’s cube which he was holding, because he now knew beyond doubt that it held the answer: at its centre was a parchment, wrapped around a vial of vinegar, which, if broken, would cause the material upon which the clue was written to disintegrate.

The Doc had had no trouble securing the cathedral for his private use. After all, the Archbishop owed him one, and all he’d had to do was say ‘nice frock, Bish,’ to reduce him to a blushing, beard twiddling, malleable heap.

So now it was a case of waiting with Miss White, whose skills as a cryptographer were second only to her indescribable beauty, to see who turned up.

And so far, it had been the albino.

It occurred to the Doc that even in the unusually tourist-free cathedral, the monotone voice of the albino failed to produce an echo, as if the immense walls were themselves finding him too tedious to engage with.

Just listen to him, whingeing again about his cilice. And it’s not even about it cutting into his flesh… oh no, it’s the style and colour this time… not what he would have chosen… so who did choose it? Who is the mastermind behind all of this?
The Doc’s train of thought was interrupted by the rustling of paper.

‘Gee what a nice little museum. Have they got dinosaurs?’

It was John Doe, P.I.

‘Surely,’ said the Doc, ‘you can’t be the evil genius who …’

‘No, I just got these from an English chipshop and stepped in out of the rain- want one?’

The Doc suddenly realised that in the last twenty-four hours he had traveled the length of two continents and as well as having no sleep the only thing he’d touched which resembled food had been a poisoned apple.

He reached out to take a French fry, but his hand froze as he heard an all too familiar sound from a dark corner of the cathedral:

‘Aaaaaa-choooo.’

‘Professor Teabing… I should have known… or ‘Sneezing Teabing,’ as we called you at the seminary.’

The Doc slipped the Rubik’s cube under Doe’s ‘chip paper’ and into his oily palm, whispering: get this to lecouchez at Interpol.

He knew that this could be a gamble. Lecouchez’s narcolepsy tended to kick in at inconvenient points during investigations… but who else could he trust?’

Spinning round, he saw Teabing hobbling toward him, and wondered why he had never noticed his strong resemblance to Magneto.

‘Give me the… A-a-a-a… give me the… A-a-a-a-CUBE!’

‘Haven’t got it,’ said the Doc, holding up both hands.’

‘Don’t lie to me, Doc, I know that.. Aaaaaaarrrrrrgggghhh…’

‘Was that meant to be a sneeze?’

‘No, it was meant to be an aaaarrrrggghhhh… you fool! What have you done?’

Teabing was staring over Doc’s shoulder. He turned to see Doe, who was holding one half of the cube over his dinner.’

‘Gee,’ he said, waving the broken puzzle , ‘who’d have thought: a Rubik’s vinegar shaker.’

Jack felt his pulse quicken, but the cube was no longer the focus of his attention. Something else, something he had never expected to see, was rising from the midst of the grease-soaked potato snack.

Chapter 95

Grabbing Miss White with one hand, and the bag of chips in the other, Doc ran for the door, leaving behind him the crumpled, sneezing theologian, the hapless Investigator, and the grumbling albino.

‘Where are we going?’ asked Snow.

‘Haven’t you worked it out? What we are looking for is not a grail, but a woman with royal blood from the line of king David.’

‘But who could it be?’

‘I don’t know Princess,’ he said, pulling a long turd-shaped object from the bag, ‘but I’ve got the next clue.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Deep fried Mars bar… we’re off to Scotland…’

I would be interested if anyone has any information of a similar kind. A.M.

Is Novel Writing Character Building?

So we have estabished the novel’s setting and it’s genre. Now to people it with characters.

Your story should be character driven, in which case you will find that the situations which start to form in your mind already come from what those characters are ‘about.’ All novels, whether they be thrillers, romances, Science Fiction, or whatever, should reflect life in that they deal with what happens when person A, with a certain agenda, meets with person B, with his particular motivations.

Some characters will mix well, but what really drives the story forward is conflict.

This doesn’t mean that your major protagonists always have to be a ‘goodie’ and a ‘baddie.’ Conflict can arise between characters who are really well matched- Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy being the classic examples of this.

As I am no Jane Austen (and who is?) I have stuck with clearly defining who wears the black hat and who the white from the outset.

But it is still important, having said that, to remember two things: firstly, unless you’re writing pantomime, characters never believe that they themselves are wrong or evil, because people in real life don’t think that way. Apparently Al Capone saw himself as a great public benefactor, and I’m sure that Robert Mugabe will think that he has been a great president.

Secondly, a character MUST have shades- even a bad guy has endearing features, and a good guy has flaws and even vices.

I once read a suggestion in a ‘how to write’ book that you could keep your characters differentiated by basing each one on the characteristics of a different star sign.

Now I wouldn’t want to knock someone who has taken the trouble to write a book which helps people to create, but personally I would find basing my characters on the supposed characteristics of their star signs about as useful as basing them upon those of the seven dwarves.

The problem with using this sort of formula is that it could lead to you not creating characters, but types.

Yes, you need consistency, and yes, the old cliche is true that there is a point where the characters take on a ‘life of their own.’ BUT… realistic characters, in literature as in life, have contradictions.

I have just been reading an article:

http://digg.com/arts_culture/The_Art_of_Character_Depth

where this very subject is being discussed with reference to film characters. Hannibal Lecter tops the list- a monster, but a cultured gentleman. Similarly, there is the much earlier example of Alex in ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ He takes part in gang warfare, rapes minors, terrorises an elderly intellectual, but doesn’t half love a bit of Beethoven!

And these contradictions not only give depth to the character- they are the hook upon which the whole premise of the book hangs.

In ‘Tasting the Wind,’ Della causes the death of a patient in her care (listen to this in the first video on this blog.) It would probably be classed as manslaughter. Without giving too much away, when we next meet Della she is a born again Christian. She has also developed from being an abuser, to the level of potential murderer. How are these related?

The backstory that emerges is of her seeking absolution, being told at an evangelical rally that her sins are forgiven, and spending a lifetime being tortured by her attempts to balance this against the weight of what she has done.

So if star signs and the Seven Dwarves don’t work for you, where do you get your characters from? You could always do what successful writers have done down the ages, which is to use a combination of experience and imagination.

It is well known that Shakespeare based his Falstaff on a man called Sir John Oldcastle, that Thomas Hardy drew heavily upon his background, D.H. Lawrence based the characters of ‘Sons and Lovers’ and ‘Women in Love’ upon himself, his family and his social set and (this one’s for the kids,) Andy Cope’s ‘Spy Dog,’ Lara, is a family pet.

I never met Della. She is a combinaion of 3-4 people I have known (not all female,) plus a large dose of imagination.

Obviously, if you are developing an unsympathetic character based upon someone you know, no connection should be left which can be used in court! Think what you want to say about the character. If your model is an obese woman, make your character a thin man. You can do that without losing essential elements of the character, and it will open up other avenues which will add complexity.

There are even bits of me in Della: large frame (Euphemism alert!!!,) love of gadgets. but that, hopefully, is as far as it goes.

That’s all for this meandering. I must admit, regardless of what I said, the idea of bestselling novelists basing their characters on the Seven Dwarves has somewhat fired my imagination.

Hmmm… I think I’ll explore that one in my next posting.

Friday, 25 April 2008

The baby wasn’t what I had expected…

So- I’ve got the setting, what is the story?

Needless to say the original idea was nothing like the finished product. My original intention was, purely and simply:
to write a novel about the grim realities of life in a Victorian institution, to chart the progress of individuals moving from one, and to give an insight into ‘Care in the Community.’

(Recognise that phrase? These days it’s used mainly by comedians or newsreaders delivering tragic reports. It used to be used by politicians to mean ‘cheaper option.’)

In the original story, Frankie Adams, or whatever I called him then, died halfway through the book, just before he was about to move to his new home. The novel was to be an unrelenting exploration of the harsh realities of institutional life. Frankie would die, tied to his hospital bed, and the cause of death would never be determined. That’s life- or death- for those at the bottom of the pile.

But I was never happy with that version. I wasn’t happy, because it made for depressing reading- and if it was depressing me it would certainly depress the reader.
I wasn’t happy, because it had been done before, and done well, in a novel by David Cook, called ‘Walter.’ That book was done so well that it was dramatised and shown on channel 4’s opening night with no less than a young (pre-Sir) Ian McKellen in the title role!
And I wasn’t happy because I work every day with people with severe learning disabilities, and I felt that for me to portray them in a purely ‘victim’ role would be disloyal, as well as being a complete misrepresentation.

So I fiddled around with it. Some ideas were better than others. There was one, which I now realise was particularly pretentious, which had a surreal, metaphysical subplot.
If you’re not into surreal and pretentious, then skip the purple passage below. If you’re Frasier and Niles Crane’s long lost brother, or sister, then this one’s for you:

For a long time in the evolution of the story it was interspersed with chunks of dialogue between God and the devil. That was probably more to do with personal hang-ups about what I felt was a failure of traditional religion to answer the questions about profound disability that were rising in my mind at that time. Basically, the devil took God on over aspects of the incarnation. Why, he asked, do we say that Jesus understood the human condition when he took on the form of a healthy young man who could perform miracles. Shouldn’t he have taken on the form of someone less than ‘perfect?’
Following the advice of my wife and a professional reviewer (my wife is still waiting for her cheque) I ditched the subplot. I am now very very glad…

Back to reality. ‘Tasting the Wind,’ was still to find its form.

The breakthrough came with one simple change. I cut and pasted the death of Frankie Adams to the front of the book and made it into the prologue which you can now hear on my first posting to this blog.
This had two immediate effects. The first was to open the book with a jolt, a horrific, memorable scene in which a man dies in unusual circumstances.
But a second thing happened: the whole nature of the book was changed. A man had died- not halfway through the book, at a point where his failure to escape the institution was an awful, tragic thing, but at the beginning… and if Frankie died at the beginning, there would be a tension : how will this come out?
I had already created the characters known in the prologue as ‘The Thin Boy’ (Andrew) and ‘the Moon-faced Boy,’ (Eddie.) They were the only witnesses.

Then the voices began…
There were only two witnesses…
… but one of them can’t speak… or even move…
… and the other one talks nonsense…

Given that, how was the truth ever going to come out?

And then it came to me, not a comfortable voice, but a challenging one from somewhere deep down in my subconscious. And it said: THAT… is what you have to find out.

Suddenly, something quite unplanned for and unexpected was happening. My creation was, for the first time, starting to separate itself from me and take on a life of its own.
What had been conceived as an ultra-realistic social comment was now being born. But it was being born as something else. After a lengthy gestation, ‘Tasting the Wind was emerging as… a thriller.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

So what do you know?

They always say- write about what you know. Strange really when you apply that to some best selling fiction. Did Frank Herbert know about space travel and the politico-religious structures of far-flung empires when he wrote ‘Dune?’ Did Martin Amis live his life backwards, as in ‘Time’s Arrow,’ and is J.K. Rowling regularly seen running through a pillar on a railway station platform?
Of course not. J.K. worked out that she would save a fortune in reconstructive surgery by leaving that sort of stunt to the imagination.
Now of course imagination is essential to good writing, but is a work ever one hundred percent imagination?
According to J.K. Rowling, the character of Hermione was based upon herself at the age of eleven. In the upper sixth, she had a friend called Sean who drove a torquoise Ford Anglia. That is a fact, and not particularly impressive, but what if that car could fly…

I’ll be writing more on how I created my characters in a later blog, but for now, back to ‘writing about what you know.’

There is a school of thought which says that all writing is autobiography. You probably couldn’t extend this to shopping lists, but I can see what they mean.
Look at a little baby- look how they take it all in, processing everything which comes to them through their senses. We are programmed to do that, although it doesn’t carry on at that rate (imagine your capacity for learning new languages if it did!)
What I am getting at is that for some reason we are a part of the universe which has been gifted or cursed with self awareness, and as such we are constantly processing information, trying to make sense of it either through science, through art, through music, maths or literature.

I spent much of my academic career trying to make sense of the Bible. Theology- another way in which we process ‘reality’ through interpreting what we know (Discuss!)
Somewhere back in the mid nineteen nineties I had just finished my Master of Philosophy thesis on ‘Who wrote the Gospel of John?’ After 60,000 words I had concluded that I didn’t know. I didn’t feel that it was a waste of time, because it was now an educated ‘I don’t know,’ and I had a piece of paper to prove it.
But something was missing- big style.
I was no longer writing. The poetry I had once written and performed no longer seemed to satisfy. Seeing 60,000 words bound, with my name on the spine, feeling the weight of it in my hands, oooohhhh…. I knew that I had to write a novel.
Even as a child, this had been an ambition. At the age of thirteen I had tried to write a complex science fiction story, but had given up after several fase starts, realising that at that point I didn’t have the tools.
I left college in 1984, with a combined honours degree in English and divinity. Things had happened there which I thought would one be the makings of a good novel. But again, I wasn’t ready, so what will one day become my second novel, ‘Legion’s Daughter,’ was placed on the back burner.
The next ten years were taken up with making a career in the caring professions, and completing my M.Phil.
This brings me to where I started this blog. It’s something like 1996, and I’m reaxing in a reclining chair on a visit to my brother-in-law’s house in Stafford. My mind is wandering to the idea of a novel, when the words come into my head: ‘Write about what you know.’
Well I didn’t think I could pull off a biblical epic. But what about a book in which people with severe learning disabilities are major characters?
In the mid eighties I had been involved in re-locating people from longstay ‘mental handicap’ hospitals. This was a world of which few people had first hand experience, and surely this quiet social revolution would provide a memorable backdrop for a unique story.
Thus ‘Tasting the Wind’ was conceived.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

So you thought writing it was hard…

…publishing it? Well that’s another story. Another story, written by someone else with half your talent whose appeal to publishers is not so much their writing skill as the size of their implants and how many grubs they ate in a jungle…

But enough of the rant- although this blog does come with a warning that frustration with trying to publish your work of art could lead to insanity.

If this is where you’re at, then you may wish to take the Hannibal Lecter route and create recipes for the untalented ‘writers’ who offend your sensibilities. Instead of fava beans I use baked beans. Budget baked beans.

So what is this blog about? It charts the progress of my novel, ‘Tasting the Wind,’ from conception, through revision and development, up to the present search for publication. Although I have yet to find a publisher, I have chanced across some interesting highways and byways of late, which I think will be of interest to both aspiring authors and anyone interested in the writing and publishing process.

The first few blogs will be ‘the story so far.’ After that, it goes live…
So join me on my journey, feel the frustration, share the eventual euphoria and drunkenness when I eventually sign that publishing deal… and if there are any publishers out there- OK, I will eat grubs… but you can forget the implants….

At the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence not only can you see ‘David’ but also several of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures.

An assumption I had always held about sculpture was shattered the day I visited that gallery: I had always assumed that a sculptor would chip away at the front of his slab of marble, then gradually move round it, whittling it down to a figure. Not so Michelangelo- He worked from front to back- and the unfinished pieces look as if all you have to do is to break the remainder of the ‘cocoon’ from aroud them to reveal a complete statue.

Some writers work that way. Stephen King, for instance, starts at the beginning and writes until he gets to the end, developing characters and situations naturally as they emerge.

I don’t think that I could write that way as long as I’d got a hole in my **** (or, for any American readers, ***.) I’m more of a potterer around the marble with my chisel sort of writer- I may start at the beginning, but in my mind I have scenes from the end or half way, and I need some sort of structure- loose as it may be- to hang the story on- a plan, an idea of major themes and significant scenes.

I don’t mean anything too complicated, and it doesn’t even have to be written- especially not on stone, so that once the characters start to find their feet they can run if they want to.

Having a structure can help when you hit the block- you might be getting bogged down with an earlier part of the story, but feel inspired by a theme which has flashed into your mind from further on. I would recommend that you go for that, write it (In these days of Word Processing it will hang around for you below the earlier pages until you catch up with it) then return to where you got stuck, refreshed with a dip into your creativity. Usually I go back to the sticking point after this and find that it is so below the level of what I’ve just been writing that I just delete it and start again.

And what about chapters and where to end them? Remember: each chapter MUST add something to the story- either in moving the story on or revealing something new about a character. If it doesn’t, you might as well get rid of it. And try to end your chapters with ‘page turners.’ Although my last posting was partly a bit of fun, there is something to be learned from an aspect of Dan Brown’s writing which is shamelessly parodied there. You get to the end of a Dan Brown chapter and there is always something there you didn’t expect, or which makes you ask ‘what happens next?’ or ‘how do they get out of that?’

To my mind, a lot of Brown’s page turners draw too much attention to themselves for what they are, and I think that he produces tiny chapters in order to do this (Look at chapters 53-59 of ‘Deception Point’ for example.) But who am I to knock this? I have read and enjoyed all of Dan Brown’s novels (with reservations about the DaVinci Code because I am a qualified theologian and know just how much he twisted the ‘evidence’- but hey, this is entertainment, and his sales figures speak for themselves.)

The point is, if you want to know what a page turner is, just go through a Dan Brown novel and simply read the last line of every chapter.

And when you’ve done that, if you are a writer, go through the last lines of each chapter of your novel. Do they just fizzle out, or do they make the reader want to read on?

This is your homework until next time.

As Featured On Ezine Articles

For some time now there has been a school of thought on the internet which has pointed out a spooky synchronicity between Pink Floyd’s ‘the Dark Side of the Moon’ and the film, ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ (Go on- check it out!)
The latest rumour of this type is that an unidentified bestselling author based the characters in his novel upon those of the Seven Dwarves. Judge for yourself from the exerpts below, which are taken from an early draft of the work acquired only this week…

Chapter 94

‘The curator even died with a smile on his face,’ said the albino assassin. ‘He was always happy, even in death. What bloody right had he got to be happy all of the time? He should have tried living my life.’

The Doc tried not to pay too much attention to the rubik’s cube which he was holding, because he now knew beyond doubt that it held the answer: at its centre was a parchment, wrapped around a vial of vinegar, which, if broken, would cause the material upon which the clue was written to disintegrate.

The Doc had had no trouble securing the cathedral for his private use. After all, the Archbishop owed him one, and all he’d had to do was say ‘nice frock, Bish,’ to reduce him to a blushing, beard twiddling, malleable heap.

So now it was a case of waiting with Miss White, whose skills as a cryptographer were second only to her indescribable beauty, to see who turned up.

And so far, it had been the albino.

It occurred to the Doc that even in the unusually tourist-free cathedral, the monotone voice of the albino failed to produce an echo, as if the immense walls were themselves finding him too tedious to engage with.

Just listen to him, whingeing again about his cilice. And it’s not even about it cutting into his flesh… oh no, it’s the style and colour this time… not what he would have chosen… so who did choose it? Who is the mastermind behind all of this?
The Doc’s train of thought was interrupted by the rustling of paper.

‘Gee what a nice little museum. Have they got dinosaurs?’

It was John Doe, P.I.

‘Surely,’ said the Doc, ‘you can’t be the evil genius who …’

‘No, I just got these from an English chipshop and stepped in out of the rain- want one?’

The Doc suddenly realised that in the last twenty-four hours he had traveled the length of two continents and as well as having no sleep the only thing he’d touched which resembled food had been a poisoned apple.

He reached out to take a French fry, but his hand froze as he heard an all too familiar sound from a dark corner of the cathedral:

‘Aaaaaa-choooo.’

‘Professor Teabing… I should have known… or ‘Sneezing Teabing,’ as we called you at the seminary.’

The Doc slipped the Rubik’s cube under Doe’s ‘chip paper’ and into his oily palm, whispering: get this to lecouchez at Interpol.

He knew that this could be a gamble. Lecouchez’s narcolepsy tended to kick in at inconvenient points during investigations… but who else could he trust?’

Spinning round, he saw Teabing hobbling toward him, and wondered why he had never noticed his strong resemblance to Magneto.

‘Give me the… A-a-a-a… give me the… A-a-a-a-CUBE!’

‘Haven’t got it,’ said the Doc, holding up both hands.’

‘Don’t lie to me, Doc, I know that.. Aaaaaaarrrrrrgggghhh…’

‘Was that meant to be a sneeze?’

‘No, it was meant to be an aaaarrrrggghhhh… you fool! What have you done?’

Teabing was staring over Doc’s shoulder. He turned to see Doe, who was holding one half of the cube over his dinner.’

‘Gee,’ he said, waving the broken puzzle , ‘who’d have thought: a Rubik’s vinegar shaker.’

Jack felt his pulse quicken, but the cube was no longer the focus of his attention. Something else, something he had never expected to see, was rising from the midst of the grease-soaked potato snack.

Chapter 95

Grabbing Miss White with one hand, and the bag of chips in the other, Doc ran for the door, leaving behind him the crumpled, sneezing theologian, the hapless Investigator, and the grumbling albino.

‘Where are we going?’ asked Snow.

‘Haven’t you worked it out? What we are looking for is not a grail, but a woman with royal blood from the line of king David.’

‘But who could it be?’

‘I don’t know Princess,’ he said, pulling a long turd-shaped object from the bag, ‘but I’ve got the next clue.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Deep fried Mars bar… we’re off to Scotland…’

I would be interested if anyone has any information of a similar kind. A.M.


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