This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, a way for writers to discuss their writing anxieties. It cross-posts on each others’ blogs on the first Wednesday of each month.
One of the biggest problems I have as a writer is writing steadily and consistently. Looking back through my blog there is plentiful evidence of this – I have often gone months without posting, and my posts seem to cluster around a few weeks of activity at a time.
Most writers will have felt the instinct to wait for inspiration to strike, to write when the ideas are flowing most readily. But sometimes ideas have to be wrung forcefully from our minds, so that there is at least a terrible first draft when inspiration does strike – a rough skeleton that a better version can be superimposed on top of.
The goal with this blogpost is to build on the post I wrote the other day about the importance of themes in fiction. I’ll be exploring the themes and thematic importance of characters a particular work of fiction and their relation to the real world, in this case the first season of Netflix’s Jessica Jones.
Jessica Jones is the story of a superpowered private investigator in the superheroic world of the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ – the world of The Avengers. The scale of the story is smaller, making the tone more grounded and noirish. The first season covers Jessica fighting against her abusive ex-boyfriend Kilgrave.
For the purpose of this analysis I’ll be focusing on the following key themes:
Entitlement and abuse of power
Trauma, PTSD and guilt
Female solidarity and empowerment
Male allies and ‘nice guys’
and the following key characters:
Jessica Jones – a superpowered private investigator
Kilgrave – her superpowered, abusive ex-boyfriend
Trish Walker – Jessica’s closest friend
Jeri Hogarth – Jessica’s lawyer and employer
Hope Shlottman – Jessica’s client and a fellow victim of Kilgrave
Will Simpson – Trish’s love interest, a cop and an ally to Jessica and Trish
Luke Cage – Jessica’s on-off lover and ally
Dorothy Walker – Trish’s mother, a TV executive
Albert and Louise Thompson – Kilgrave’s parents
Malcolm Ducasse – Jessica’s neighbour
Dr Wendy Hogarth-Ross – Jeri’s wife
Pam the Secretary – Jeri’s secretary and girlfriend
In fiction, theme is what the story is about. So a romance novel will be, on the surface, a story about two characters falling for each other. But looking deeper, the themes will be what the work of fiction has to say about the fictional universe which the story is set in, and to our universe. Love is worth the pain that precedes it; love is where you least expect it; true love conquers all, and so on.
For Jurassic Park the most obvious theme is that dinosaurs are cool, but few films can become as successful as Jurassic Park was if that’s all they have to say. There’s also a key theme that it’s dangerous for humans to think that they can control their new technology – Frankenstein ‘playing god’ theme. It’s a recurring theme in Michael Crichton’s fiction, including Westworld and Prey. Another Jurassic Park theme is the importance of family, in this case the non-traditional ‘family’ that forms between the central characters in the process of protecting each other.
What are the best novels written about football? If you’ve got a contender in mind, odds are that it’s either a little-known book from a little-known author, a novel which doesn’t centre on football but only features it, or The Damned United.
Understandably a fair amount of what’s out there is football fiction books for boys – which makes sense given that it can be an all-consuming interest at that age. I read and enjoyed a few of Michael Hardcastle’s novels when I was growing up, lightweight novels centring around junior boys’ teams that I remember enjoying reading, but which left no lasting impact on me.
There also seems to be a market for football hooligan books, but realistically that’s centring around a subculture tangentially related to football rather than the game itself.
The football fiction that break into wider awareness tends to receive more ridicule than praise. For example the football manager Steve Bruce self-published a series of novel starring a football manager (Steve Barnes) who keeps getting dragged into murder investigations. The ridicule they’ve received is is a little unfair. Not because the books are good, which doesn’t seem to be the case, but because they seem to have been written for the fun of writing them, completing a trilogy during 1999.
Bruce isn’t alone as a footballer dipping his toe into the world of fiction. Theo Walcott, Jimmy Greaves and Terry Venables have also written novels about football – the latter being the fantastically titled They Used to Play on Grass.
I’ve tried to keep this blog apolitical over the years I’ve been writing it, on and off. I think it can be obnoxious when writers and entertainers use their pulpit for a different purpose to what the reader wants, especially when those political arguments are not particularly unique, insightful or intelligent.
Bryan Singer made a few headlines last week when he blamed the box office failure of his film, Superman Returns, on the fact that it was targeted at a female audience – who didn’t turn out to watch it as highly as he’d hoped:
It was a movie made for a certain kind of audience. Perhaps more of a female audience. It wasn’t what it needed to be, I guess. I think I could lop the first quarter off and start the movie a bit more aggressively and maybe find a way to start the movie with the jet disaster sequence or something. I could have grabbed the audience a little more quickly. I don’t know what would have helped. Probably nothing.
Singer’s quotes have been taken out of context slightly, but the idea that the film was targeted at women is his most solid definition of the “certain kind of audience” he was chasing, and he thinks that there was “probably nothing” different he could have done.
This is going to be just about the geekiest post I’ve written on the blog, so feel free to mock me in the comments. I won’t be offended if you do.
Despite the majority of my writing in the last year and a half being on other subjects (football, television, film and book reviews, analysis and rants mainly) my ultimate aim as a writer is to be a professional writer of fiction.
I prefer the blank canvas, the ability to create my own characters and tell my own stories, to the non-fiction writing I’ve mainly wrote and linked to in the year and a half writing this blog.
I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve got a lot of half-started fiction, things I started with a huge sense of ambition, excited about what I could do, and then more or less gave up, convinced that my story, for whatever reason, didn’t work.
It’s for that reason that I’ve started writing fan-fiction, using characters taken fro the Marvel Comics universe. (Though my interpretations of the characters are mainly based on those that have appeared in the recent films and 1990s cartoons.) Essentially, the idea is that, by using characters and scenarios created by others, I’ll have guidelines of sorts.
For instance, in the early chapters of what I’ve been writing, I felt like I wasn’t quite capturing the personality of Peter Parker the way I wanted. I was able to look up some old episodes online, to have a definite idea of how I wanted the character to speak – the sense of both humility and sarcasm. (My favourite version of the character is the one in the 90s cartoon series. While Toby McGuire and Andrew Garfield’s performances are decent, both are a little too geeky for me.)
Nothing is created in a vacuum – every writer who’s ever lifted a pen has been inspired by something. There’s a space opera short story concept I’ve picked up and abandoned many times over the years. Essentially what I thought for this would be the moral metaphors of Star Trek, in a darker and grimier world, more like Alien or Battlestar Galactica.
I’ve a hero that I wanted to be similar but different to common ideas of how a dynamic leader should behave… and it’s difficult working out the precise characterisation.
But with fanfiction, there’s something to consult, something solid that’s been made, to look at as an example of how a particular character should behave, what their home should look like, the kind of stories that work with that character.
My first plan was an episode by episode rewrite of Star Trek Voyager, which seems to have been a slightly ambitious idea.
My second project, which I think is more sensible, is to write a series of 500 – 1000 word chapters telling stories of Marvel Comics superheroes. (Spiderman, the X-Men and The Avengers are some of Marvel’s more popular characters, if you’re not aware which is which.)
I’m not a big comic reader – in fact the only Marvel comic I think I’ve ever bought was a Spiderman comic where he fought a guy on gigantic stripey stilts. For some reason I fail to comprehend, that villain hasn’t made it into the movies yet.
But I’m a fan of the movies, and grew up watching the 90s Spiderman, X-Men and Fantastic Four cartoon series.
What’s more, looking around various wikipedias – the Marvel Wiki, and of course, Wikipedia itself – it’s fascinating to see different incarnations of the same characters, the different ways the same stories have been told. Thousands of years ago, people will have gathered around campfires, reinterpretting and reimagining cool stories they’ve heard before, and I think comic stories are the modern equivalent of this.
I’m using the fanfiction essentially as a way of getting myself into motion, getting myself to write, to stay in motion and keep my instincts sharp. I’ve written recently about a story I’ve submitted for publication, and I don’t think I’d have written that if it weren’t for the fanfiction.
As I said, I’ve started putting chapters up at Fanfiction.net. I’ve enjoyed writing it, and you may enjoy reading it. Stranger things have happened…
This weekend sees the American premiere of 42, a biopic of the American baseball player and race pioneer Jackie Robinson.
It’s written and directed by Brian Helgeland, the writer of some of some very good films in the last two decades – LA Confidential and Mystic River among them.
Writing for the Ann Arbor Review of Books, I’ve reviewed six of his more notable films, all of which he wrote, some of which he also directed. Those films are LA Confidential; Payback (also directed); A Knight’s Tale (also directed); Mystic River; Man on Fire; Green Zone.
Yes, you read that right – the same man who wrote LA Confidential and violent revenge fantasies Payback and Man on Fire also wrote and directed the tale of a jousting knight, set to Queen’s We Will Rock You.
It’s been a while since I last wrote a proper blog post, rather than just link to posts on Bornoffside. I have been writing though, as well as looking into other writing opportunities. I’ll use this blog post to go through some of the things I’ve been doing, on the off chance anyone’s interested.