Archive for May, 2010

“Fourth Kind” Review on Paul’s Blog

Posted in Films, General on May 31, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

The ‘Fourth Kind’ …  The acting was great, but the story and the documentary style approach in particular was dreadful. I sometimes like the documentary approach in films, sometimes find it a bit frustrating but this style seemed so pointless here and a major hurdle to enjoying the film at all.

By including ‘genuine’ research/ interview footage alongside the dramatisation, my attention was dramatically pulled from the movie just when it seemed to matter and it abruptly made me stop caring about the characters each time it happened. Given that these moments would otherwise have been the most interesting and potentially scary, the movie was a big disappointment.

Paul’s review is here.


Doctor Who… was doing so well

Posted in General, scifi on May 30, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

Tonight’s episode – the concluding episode of the two-parter featuring the return of the Silurians – started out great… but then about halfway through I began to feel disappointed. It wasn’t the slap-in-your-face treatment of Rory’s erasure from time, or the lack of pain from Amy that the immediacy of Rory’s demise necessarily meant. It was something else that, although probably just an oversight, ruined the story for me.

I’ve always been a fan. I don’t take the series too seriously, but it meant a lot to me growing up. The Doctor, you see, never cared who you are as long as you were a good person.

In tonight’s episode, Cold Blood, the Doctor says how much he likes the Silurian scientist when the scientist frees a child from suspended animation unharmed and unmarked. The same scientist that at the start of the episode was about to dissect Amy and had previously performed a live vivisection on the freed child’s father. The same scientist that has supposedly kidnapped children and slowed their ageing processes while he robbed them of their lives and kept them in a tank for study.

Probably just an oversight, I realise, but what a stinker.

Hexagonal Joy

Posted in Design, Pictures on May 27, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

The Weakening Plan, or, How to Make Sure You’re Being Nasty to Your Characters

Posted in writing on May 24, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

When I started writing, I had some great ideas and some great characters. Characters I likedm whether they were good or bad. The trouble was that I just didn’t want to do anything bad to them. No trouble, no nasty accidents. I had my characters run at the first sign of trouble. Given that drama is when bad things happen to people we like, you can see my problem.

One of Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing a short story (from his book ‘Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction’), is:

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

That’s a great idea put really well. Characters need adversity to stand up against, monsters to fight, difficult choices and dilemmas to face. People have different ideas on how to plan this in their work, but here’s one idea that really helped me out. I use it mainly for sci-fi or adventure stories and I’ve found it’s a great way for me to get into planning and critically examining what I put my characters through.

The weakening plan.

When I was first introduced to the concept, it was presented to me in a way that I could really get to grips with and use from the outset – videogame stats. In a game like Final Fantasy, each character has a set of attributes that can be changed through battles, challenges, new weapons, accessories and story pieces. I’d written a novel and editing it was made a whole lot easier with this tool.

The idea was to look at each chapter and, for each of my two main characters, set out their health points, skill points, weapon points and ally points, starting at 100 points (because my characters were basically in a good state at the start). Every time something happened, someone got injured, lost a gun, couldn’t use magic, or when an ally got killed, the associated points drop.

It forced me to think of how each action, revelation, fight and ally were truly important to my main characters and the story by deciding how many points they were worth, and it forced some tough choices too. Each category is only out of one hundred and it can’t go below zero.

Sometimes the points go up (with a healing potion, for example) but mostly they go down.

By the nadir (an extreme state of adversity, the lowest point of anything – which should come right before the climax) the points should be low. Not necessarily in all the categories and, if you ever use this system yourself, you might want to make your own up. It’s a good way to see on paper or screen how the danger or crisis becomes such a big thing for your characters. It’s also a good way to look at your highpoints and low points, and to come across plot holes.

Broadly, I treated weapons as anything that the characters physically use to beat adversity: so, a gun, a vial filled with a deadly virus, or a book filled with spells. Skills I treated as actions: so, the spells themselves, top spying skills, talking, or an ability to fly.

Here’s a jpeg of an analysis I did for the film The Mummy and it shows how much of danger the Rick and Evie are in is highlight by the loss of their allies, and how very little relies on their weapons, health or ability to fight. The image also shows an addition to this method, simply tracking how I felt about the character’s prospects. It’s a simplified approach, but one that shows the ups and downs of the drama, and I think it identifies the trouble spots, a moment of hope and the magnitude of these events pretty well.

… As for plot holes, here are a couple. Rick completely loses his bag of weapons before suddenly having it in his possession. Evie loses her books and research material when the boat is attacked by the Medjay, but later at the hotel in Fort Brydon, Evie and Rick are packing and unpacking several books and a type writer that belong to her. I hadn’t noticed these before, and they didn’t spoil the film for me at all… but sometimes readers and viewers can spot things more easily than the writer. Although I didn’t change my points for these plot holes (because it’s difficult to account for them), I would never have noticed them otherwise. It was really useful to me when I thought my book was water tight.

I hope you find the tool useful, or that it gives you some ideas to develop your own.

Weaking Plan - Analysis of 'The Mummy'

Weaking Plan - Analysis of 'The Mummy'

Full Super Mario Galaxy 2 Soundtrack on Youtube

Posted in Games, music, Soundtracks on May 24, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

For anyone waiting with baited breath for Super Mario Galaxy 2 – especially those of us in Europe and Australia who have to wait until June (it genuinely pains me, alright?), Mahito Yokota has uploaded the entire soundtrack to the game on Youtube. It’s a work of brilliance and, now that Manchester’s week of  summer is finally here, some cheery music is good for the soul.

Click HERE for the playlist.


Posted in Stories, writing on May 16, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

The future, moments before the Earth is sealed inside an all-encompassing planetary shield.

Elliot brings his dying sister, Kayla, to meet his childhood friend, Shaw. Shaw is the son of one of the reclusive ruling Elite, and hides a secret that has been kept from the Surfaces of the Metropolis… but why is Elliot manipulating his old friend into revealing that secret, when he already knows the truth?


Closure - Download the PDF below


Design help

Posted in Design, General, Pictures on May 13, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

Thanks to my partner for this…

I went sketch and photoshop mad trying to put something together for the look of my blog. I knew what I wanted to do with the site and knew what i wanted to say, but wasn’t sure how to say it… and too many doodles, sketches and a lot of highly varied inspiration left me lost. So, my partner produced the following tool and I thought it’d be great to share.

For each line there are too different values, one on the left, one on the right. Easy. Just place a mark on the line at a point where you feel your site sits. Not every measure might be suitable, and I have to admit I was unsure about a few, but it set my mind going in the direction of something that I was happy with. Hope it’s useful – and if it helps you produce your site or just think of other measures for it, then great.

Just don’t draw on your monitor… Pen ink’s a bitch to clean off.

Blog Design Measures