Is Writing Too Conventional?

I studied Creative Writing at university for three years. During that time, I was taught all of the conventions of “good” writing. Since I have been made aware of them, it has become easier for me to identify famous authors using these conventions in their work. Also, when I read much older pieces of work, I can tell that they will have been written before these conventions will have been solidified.

As you probably tell from the title, I do sometimes wonder if this might be to the detriment of the art form. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand why it is that these conventions have arisen: they’ve honed and refined fiction to make it more enjoyable to read. Take a book from two hundred years ago and the author will tell you exactly what emotion the protagonist is feeling. Maybe they’ll also spend several paragraphs describing their clothes too. These are two things which our developing writing conventions have helped to eliminate in modern work.

But here’s what I mean by things getting too conventional: I was reading Les Misérables and the author went off on a huge tangent talking about the history of sewer systems. I’ll admit, it was really boring and a modern editor would have insisted it be cut due to the fact that it is irrelevant to the central storyline – but, I thought to myself, could not a writer make use of this method in a better way? Done properly a tangent could really illuminate or add interesting context to a story, yet most writers would avoid doing it.

I can completely understand why the rules and conventions of writing exist and they have genuinely improved the form a lot and helped to make novels much more engaging over time. Just every now and then, I wonder if they might stifle creativity in some ways.

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JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 1 by Hirohiko Araki

Volume 1 of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood is the star of the epic story of the Joestar family, which starts by focusing on Jonathan ‘JoJo’ Joestar, a simple, good natured young man living in 19th century England.

Jonathan lives an idealistic life in the countryside. He lives with his father in a giant mansion and has fun playing with his beloved dog, Danny. Sadly, everything begins to unravel when Dio moves in – the son of a man that Jonathan’s father believes he owes his life to. Dio has a dark side and Jonathan seems to be the only one who can see it.

As with the first volume of most ongoing mangas, as you read this you can tell it’s mostly just to “set the scene” for the story that’s to come. I guess that’s kind of unavoidable. Nonetheless, there are quite a few shocking and unexpected plot developments which keep the story moving along. They also do a good job of making Dio someone that you really love to hate, because he’s so nasty and manipulative.

I also really appreciated the opportunity to see 19th century England through a manga lens. It’s a setting that I have always been very fond of and it’s very interesting to see it interpreted in this way. From the scenery to the character’s characters outfits, I find the aesthetic very appealing… Even if it is a little over the top at times.

Speaking of things being over the top, you may find that the general mode of storytelling is a little over the top. Specifically, the character’s inner monologues are sometimes a little “on the nose” as they say and it feels as if their intentions and motivations are being spelled out a little too clearly for you. At times, it might seem silly, but other times it’s kind of endearing.

Overall, it’s an interesting volume and the start of one of the most famous mangas in history. If you’re a fan of manga, then you might just want to give this a try, although I am not sure that I would recommend it as your first manga.

Rating: 7.7/10

Buy it here.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)


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Colin Nightmare

The other night, I had a frightening dream about our friend Colin the Cow. No, I wasn’t reliving the sad day that he broke, it was actually a very strange situation with no basis in reality. Or, at least, I hope it has no basis in reality.

In the dream, I lived in a nice house by myself. It was a peaceful evening and I was enjoying the silence. In fact, not only was I enjoying the silence, but I was enjoying the dark too. Though the house was very different to any that I remember being in before, I was completely familiar with the layout. It was quite big, in fact, so wandering around it was a pleasant and time consuming task.

I got up to my bedroom and I was planning to go to bed. There was a chair in that room and it wasn’t a vacant chair – in it, sat Colin the Cow. Of course, in real life, Colin is the same size as an average finger puppet (which is what he is) but in this dream, he was about the size of a human being. As is often the case in dreams, this didn’t strike me as particularly unusual.

Something did strike me as particularly unusual though – Colin wasn’t sitting up straight. He was tipping to the side a bit, so I moved over to straighten him up. I put my hands onto his shoulders and was unnerved to feel the shoulders of a real person, rather than the softness of an inanimate object. Before I could properly process what this meant, Colin’s arms moved up and grabbed mine. Then, from underneath his happy wooden face, I heard the deafening scream of a horrified child. He wouldn’t let go of my arms, he was gripped on too tightly and the screaming grew louder and louder.

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Chef is one of my favourite Game & Watches. It’s also become fairly iconic since the image of Mr. Game & Watch holding a frying pan and flipping sausages is quite well known due to his various appearances in the Super Smash Bros. series.

Like all of the best games in this quaint little series, Chef is really very simple. You play as a chef who is flipping a couple of sausages and a fish with a frying pan. They all rise and fall at different speeds, so you need to move between them to make sure that you keep them up in the air. If you fail to stand under one of them (ready to flip) as it comes down, it will fall on the floor and a sneaky mouse will run away with it. Speaking of animals, there’s also a cat who’ll cause you disruption by holding a sausage in the air every now and then, leaving you with no idea of when it will fall and when you need to move to catch it. The hard mode also adds extra food.

It’s a game that’s all about timing and keeping an eye on different things.  So simple, yet not too easy. I actually find it very relaxing to play and I think it’s a great way to pass the time. There are more than a few long train journeys where I’ve spent a lot of time trying to beat my high score in Chef!

It’s definitely worth getting if you can find some way to access it.

Rating: 7.4/10

Buy it as part of Game & Watch Gallery 2 here.

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Mighty Beanz

I’ve always loved collecting things. I’m not sure what it is, but when there’s a nice set of things, I’m really keen to own them all. I enjoy having collections of things and making lists of the things that I have. Sometimes I like photographing them too.

As a child, one thing that I loved collecting was Mighty Beanz. For those who don’t know what they are, they’re a collection of wacky characters who’re all bean shaped and have a ball inside them which makes them move (apparently you’re supposed to use them for games, but I just liked owning them.)

I really enjoyed the designs of some of these characters and they all had different levels of rarity and so forth. There was one toy shop in Swindon where I always remember buying them. I was particularly excited when they released a special collection of Pokémon Mighty Beanz (in my head, connecting the world of Pokémon to the world of Mighty Beanz in a hugely satisfying way.)

Here’s a photograph of my surviving collection:

I’m sure I’ve lost a few of them over the years, because this doesn’t seem like very many (although I haven’t included duplicates.) Looking back, I think the Pokémon ones are slightly lower quality, since they’re artwork that’s wrapped around the “bean” shape, rather than made specifically for it, like the others. I think my favourite is Hatchling Bean, which is the dinosaur in an egg. Which ones do you like? Did you ever collect Mighty Beans? I hope that they’re still around for the children of today!

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Creative Curse of the Call Centre

Throughout the week, I’ll get several ideas for blog posts I’d like to write. My current job is very menial and repetitive, so I often find my mind wandering to subjects that interest me more. Something in particular that I like to think about is my blog and ideas for things I might write about on it. As I while away the hours, I get plenty of ideas. I’ll remember a funny thing that happened and want to write it up. I’ll collect my thoughts on a certain subject. I’ll want to  write a sentimental reflection about something. The problem is that I’ll always forget my ideas…

In any other context, the best approach is to jot down the ideas right away. In a call centre, you’re discouraged from writing things down and can actually get in trouble for doing so. They’re concerned that we’re all dealing with sensitive information from customers and so there’s the risk that we could be writing down bank details and taking them home or something. But I want to write down my blog ideas! For this reason, so many ideas have been slipping away from me. At work, I have so many things that I wish I could be writing, but then when I sit down to get it done, they’ve all gone. It can feel a bit frustrating.

Imagine this hypothetical situation: would you enter a room which would provide you with lots of fun creative ideas, if you knew that the ideas would definitely leave you when you left and you weren’t allowed to write them down? Well, this magic room is pretty much my office.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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Doctor Who: Timewyrm: Revelation by Paul Cornell

Timewyrm: Revelation is the final novel in the four-part Timewyrm series and, I have to say, it provides a really thrilling finale. After the series had taken a bit of a misstep with the third book, I was a little less enthusiastic about starting this one, but I shouldn’t have been worried because I think it might just be the best one so far!

The story is a really interesting one and I think the easiest way to describe it is like this: the Doctor and Ace both die and go to Hell and then they need to figure out how to escape. I’m sure that sounds fairly silly, but it’s actually pretty good and, don’t worry, its all still given some form of scientific basis.

One aspect of the novel which particularly appealed to me, was that it had a real emotional centre. We get more glimpses into Ace’s life prior to meeting the Doctor (and I just find myself liking her more and more) and we’re shown the emotional (and mental) toll that the Doctor’s lifestyle has on him. It’s amazing and I really liked that these two characters were taken completely seriously throughout. They (and the relationship they share) received some significant development.

What was also very appealing to me, was that the entire novel was very surreal. As you can see, the front cover shows the Doctor dancing with Death on the moon, as an astronaut watches on with a church in the background. This is an actual scene from the book. Perhaps the best way to put it, is that the book feels a lot like a dream and I like that very much indeed. It’s hard to get surrealism right in writing, but Paul Cornell has done just that.

Fans will also be pleased by the fact that there are several significant cameos by characters from Doctor Who history and the story really helps to make everything feel connected. Oh, and what pleased me enormously is that we find out that the Doctor once went to a party in Bath – I’m sure that fact isn’t too exciting to most people, but I was absolutely delighted, since I love the city so much.

Overall, a really good read and one of the best Doctor Who novels I’ve read. It does require a fair bit of pre-existing knowledge of the series, so I definitely wouldn’t “jump in” with this one though! My recommendation is to read all four novels about the Timewyrm books, because the pay off in this finale is so, so worth it.

Rating: 9.4/10

Buy it here.

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Internet Friend Communication

Over the years, I’ve made a couple of internet friends who have then gone on to become “real life” friends. In so doing, I have noticed quite an interesting pattern in regards to communications and it might only apply to me, but I still thought it worth sharing.

When I make new internet friends, I find that I speak to them online a lot. More, in fact, than my offline friends, since it is my only means of communication with them. We’ll share a lot about our lives and often talk long into the night. It’s interesting and exciting to get to know a new person and I love being introduced to new perspectives on things too.

However, once I’ve met them in person, it’s like a switch is flicked in my head. They’re no longer internet friends, but real friends just like everybody else. Before meeting them in person, I always worry (a little bit) that the chemistry we share won’t carry over into reality. Thankfully, it does do, but once speaking in reality is a viable option, speaking across the internet is just less appealing.

I mean, I could message them with all my life updates as and when they happen, but once I know that real life interaction is an aspect of a relationship, I always prefer to save things to talk about in person. I wonder if this has been true for many others with internet friends?

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My Phonetic Alphabet

At my work, I find myself having to use the military phonetic alphabet very often. I don’t really like it that much, so I decided to create my own phonetic alphabet. Without further ado, here we go.

  • A for “An Evening with Richard Thomas” Because who wouldn’t love an evening with Richard Thomas?
  • B for Blossoms. Onion blossoms, specifically.
  • C for Colin (the world famous cow.)
  • D for Dandelion & Burdock, the best non-water drink.
  • E for Everyone is Beautiful.
  • F for Fonetics. You know the fonetic alphabet.
  • G for Getting A Bit Bored of This Idea Now, Didn’t Think It Through.
  • H for Hitler. Monstrously inappropriate, I know, but I heard somebody saying it at work once.
  • I for One… hahaha Get it?
  • J for Just Kidding… But not about this. It’s genuinely the letter I mean.
  • K for Karrot. Who gets that reference?
  • L for Love – the greatest emotion.
  • M for Mandos. As in mandos Nando’s are good. See the letter “N” for more info.
  • N for Nando’s the famous, Oscar-award winning restaurant.
  • O for Oscar. This one may remain the same. One of my very best friends is an Oscar.
  • P for Porridge. Pure and Delicious.
  • Q for Your Favourite Ride.
  • R for Romeo and Juliet.
  • S for Sorry but I’m just so sick of you.
  • T for Trust Water Bottle. No explanation needed.
  • U for You but in text language.
  • V for Victory. It just rolls off the tongue.
  • W for Waltons, The.
  • X for Kisses xxx
  • Y for Goodness Sake!?
  • Z for Zexclon. That’s me.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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F-Zero is the first game in Nintendo’s series of futuristic, high-speed racing games. This first instalment was originally released on the SNES, which might cause you to worry that out-dated technology will render it unenjoyable (I’ve certainly played some older racing games which were pretty bad) but rest assured, this is a fun game which was ahead of its time.

Really, it’s quite a simple premise and a fairly simply game. You choose one of four hover cars, then use it to race around several futuristic tracks. It’s not a simple case of pleasant, safe racing though. Often there are huge jumps to make, mines to avoid and the other racers are always trying to ram you into the electric barriers which run along the sides of every track. If you’re not careful, the damage will literally cause your vehicle to explode (and, subsequently, you will lose.)

There’s may not be much to it, but there are three big reasons that I like it. First of all, the soundtrack. The music in the game is great and it really suits the feeling of driving along at extremely high speeds. Secondly, visually, it looks pretty nice and there’s a lot of beautiful background scenery. Thirdly, finally and most importantly, I feel like the controls are really tight. It can be quite a difficult game at times (certain obstacles are quite tough to maneuver) but finally being able to come first in a race was so satisfying, because you knew that it was skill that won you the race and nothing else.

Quite jarringly, there’s no multiplayer mode. I am sure that many will be disappointed that there’s no opportunity to play this game with friends. It is a bit of a shame that this option is lacking, but I don’t think it’s too much of an issue since it’s still fun when playing alone.

It’s also worth noting that this game contains the debut appearance of Captain Falcon, who has gone on to become something of a Nintendo icon. But don’t get excited if you were looking forward to seeing him in action – his appearance boils down to nothing more than a small silhouette of a head in the driver’s seat. It’s only through supplemental material released with the game that you really know it’s him.

Overall, this game is an interesting piece of Nintendo history and still fun to play to this day. If you enjoy racing games, then I definitely recommend that you give it a try. Be warned that the difficulty can be occasionally frustrating, though.

Rating: 8.6/10

Buy it here.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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