If you've just landed, the thirty posts below - one for each day of September - are this year's September Shorts 2020, my micro-blogging project.
You can read them all (they're quick!) by starting here and working your way forwards. You'll get gaming, movies, remote islands, writing experiments, Daphne Du Maurier and complaints about Morrissey, 80s horror geek-outs, Quentin Tarantino and an argument for remaking The Princess Bride among many others.
Or... you can jump in and read the guest posts, kindly submitted by writer pals. Follow the links for contributions from:
I'll take a well-earned blogging break for a while now. I'll drop by in November or December to say hello. Be good. :-)
The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment is ubiquitously discussed and endlessly referenced in seminars, motivational talks or books urging the importance of deferred gratification.
Two problems with the experiment, as far as I can see, aren't ever mentioned in the literature. Here they are.
1. In order to wait for the second marshmallow, you have to believe the researcher will come back.
If all you've had in life up to that point is concrete evidence that grown-ups let you down, you're gonna eat that first marshmallow as quick as damn possible. This doesn't demonstrate a lack of grit or persistence. It's a pragmatic decision to take whatever you can get borne of hard-earned life experience. This applies to other things too...
2. Marshmallows? Really?
I risk sounding facetious so let me get to the point: shallow marshmallowy rewards don't adequately replicate anything in real life. We don't work to get metaphorical marshmallows. Study after study shows that if our work is cognitively demanding, increased financial rewards for successful completion negatively impact performance. The world isn't set up to give marshmallows to persistent people.
Like I said on this day last year; the reward for hard work in real life? It's not marshmallows. It's more hard work. But it's the work that matters. That's what we're here for. It's up to us to just. Keep. Going.
p.s. Last word this year goes to Steve Pressfield. This is from his seminal Turning Pro:
As part of this year's September Shorts I've asked writer friends to contribute posts inspired by the title One Cool Thing. They'll be telling you about one cool thing they're looking forward to as Autumn approaches. It might be a book or movie, a tabletop or computer game, an event or visit to a special place, a chance to achieve something... or perhaps even an exciting new project.
Today is the turn of Jon Mayhew, the brains behind the break-neck, action-packed Monster Odyssey series and The Mortlock series of MG gothic chillers, as well as a proliferation of projects under other names, the latest of which are his detective novels featuring DCI Will Blake. You can check out Jon's website here.
Jon Mayhew: Plottr
Authors, we’re told, are divided into plotters and pantsers. There are those who map everything out in meticulous detail, from the characters' backstories through to the weather when any event is happening. On the other hand, there are writers who fly by the seat of their pants, seeing what happens next, enjoying the ride as much as they hope the reader will.
I’m sure there are those who work at either end of this spectrum but I suspect that the vast majority of us are somewhere in the middle. We might have a rough outline of the plot and characters but then we start to write and things change, the story develops and surprises us. I like to write fast, so plotting is important for me but I certainly veer away from my plan every time I write.
So when I saw Plottr, I thought I had to try it.
Plottr is a piece of software that helps you outline your story. It looks rather like a flow diagram, with chapter headings at the top and then different coloured plotlines below. You write your main plot points in boxes along the timeline. Each box can be expanded to accommodate more detail. You can use the headings in those boxes to assemble a rough synopsis of sorts. You can build character notes and a book bible to help you refer back to characters’ details such as eye colour or habits they might have.
I’m probably not doing it justice, here so go and have a peek for yourself. I’m looking forward to trying it out!
Dirty Projectors are an art-rock band from Brooklyn. In 2017 they decided to record Rise Above, a album that covered all the songs from Damaged, the 1981 debut album by hardcore punk-icons Black Flag.
Except here's the thing: although they were familiar with Black Flag's album, they decided to record their version without re-listening the source material. Instead, their album would be based only on their memories of the original. They'd filter Damaged through a sieve of time, recollection and perspective, and then they'd use the instruments they had at hand to recreate what they could of it. What came out was a ghost of Black Flag's original: stripped back, fuzzily-remembered elements reborn in a more acoustic context. It's a neat idea explored in this Indyweek article.
It got me thinking about writing equivalents. What if one tried rewriting a poem from memory? A short story from memory? Could the experiment create something of legitimate value? Hmmm. Not likely, but it's a prospect that led me to another thought experiment: what if one tried writing a story using the hazily-understood narrative framework of another tale? It would have to be a story-shape that was incompletely perceived, filtered through one's own perspective. It'd be - ahem - Damaged.
Then I figured out how it could be made to work. You could choose the soundtrack to a film or TV show that you hadn't seen and, using the aural cues and track titles only, build and write a story that matched the shape as well as the colour, texture and tone of the music you were listening to. You might hear threat, suspicion, conflict, retribution or triumph. You could build something new.
I've chosen a composer and a soundtrack and I'm listening now as I write.
I know nothing about the show (movie? TV drama?) and I won't be sticking it into a search engine and corrupting my perception, so no hyperlinks folks. It's called Nox. It might be notoriously bad, renowned in some way beyond my ken... I just don't know. It's French, so the track titles don't help much (with a few brave exceptions - 'Morgue' for example, 'La sextape de Julie' or 'Face a face: Catherine vs Nox.') I have mood and tone (this is the music for a psychological thriller, surely) I have character names and I have disturbing-looking scenes accompanied by dissonant piano and strings.
What I don't yet have is Julie's sex-tape scene sorted out...
September Shorts: 'Rewatching The Princess Bride With My Nine Year Old Daughter and Thinking About Culture, Ownership, Representation and Change' (or 'Seven Reasons to Remake The Princess Bride')
On exactly this day last year, I used a September Shorts to explore remakes. In the final line of the post I employ what my kid calls a "tutty-eyeroll"; that is, a sniffy, despairing and critical reference to something (as in 'Boris Johnson, eh?' tutty-eyeroll.) In the case of last year's post, my tutty-eyeroll was directed at a potential remake of The Princess Bride, which at the time was on the cards.
Yeah well more fool me because over the last couple of days I've rewatched the movie with my nine-year old and (*klaxon*) I've CHANGED MY MIND. That's right, I reckon TPB is ready for a remake.
Here's three broad reasons why, just to get us started:
1. By vocally opposing remakes we give the impression of being hopelessly devoted to the past, determined that culture should remain fixed. And we create canonical texts not based on their objective quality but on the fact they have a strong emotional resonance connected to our own childhoods. You can't touch that, we say. I loved it as a kid. Well your wasting you're time because...
2. Being a fan of a movie, book film or franchise does not give you a stake in it. You don't part-own TPB because you watched it incessantly in your early teens. Creators are free to do what they want with it. If you're a consumer and you don't like it - take your business elsewhere.
3. The remake doesn't erase the original. If you're so precious about the first version of the story, don't watch the second.
OK. Now four more reasons specific to The Princess Bride movie itself. My daughter really enjoyed the film, btw and I still love it dearly. But I have to admit, seeing it through her eyes, there are things that a remake could helpfully address.
4. "Buttercup doesn't do anything," my daughter observed, unprompted. "She just sits around." When the rodents attack in the fire swamp, she actually stood up and roared at the screen, "Do something! Help him!" as the princess cowered. Damn right, I thought. "Pass me that pitcher, farm boy" is about as assertive as she gets and that's in the opening five minutes, after which she's shuttled around, scooped onto horseback, ridden here and there and dragged running by the wrist. "But she's just one character," you might say. To which I say yeah but she's the title character.
5. TPB features an all-white cast in an all-white world. Not unusual for the eighties, but an opportunity waiting to be taken now.
6. The sets are as shonky as hell. The cliffs of insanity look like something out of Tom Baker-era Dr Who.
7. Mark Knopfler's soundtrack of parping synths and farting fanfares is rubbishy low-budget guff. And I'm speaking here as someone who had the OST on cassette tape and listened to it on his walkman while trying to sleep back in the day.
That's it - that's all I've got. So if you've perused the arguments above and find yourself simmering with barely contained contempt... well, fair enough each to their own and all that, I'm a big boy and I can take criticism.
Join and orderly queue and send me your tutty-eyerolls.