What Your Desk Thinks About At Night

At first, I thought my scars were the reason why he’d changed.

He was sat on the edge of the chair, shoulders arching towards his ears, with his face close to the computer screen. Faint murmuring came from his headphones. He’d already turned off the main light, so he wouldn’t disturb the others in the house who were asleep. Another late night.

Moonlight spilled through the window and onto the floor. The lamp warmed the room. His chair creaked as he shifted. I thought he was getting up to go to bed, but instead he rubbed his eyes, stretched, and coiled back into his stiff position. He hadn’t finished working yet. Usually, when he was in here working, his eyes were alight. Now he was drained.

He never used to spend so long at the screen. He preferred pencil and paper to his tablet, but he’d been like this for months now.

It happened suddenly. He stopped leaving the house. At first, I didn’t mind because we spent more time together and spending time with me meant he was doing the work that made him happy.

Then the new desk arrived. My replacement.

I didn’t understand it. I was still sturdy. My legs held weight, there was no rust on my hinges, and though I’m decades old, there was no fault with me. Except, maybe, the scars. The new desk had no scars. And it was flatter, whereas my back was sloped. Better for resting on.

The computer arrived after, positioned on the new desk, on the opposite side of the room to me. What I’d once thought to be my replacement was simply an unwelcome addition, thieving his devotion. With his gaze and his hands occupied elsewhere, I was left covered in in a fine layer of dust.

Straightening abruptly, he dragged his hands through his hair and stood. The room darkened as the computer powered down. The work must finally be done, though there was nothing to show for it.

Clenching his teeth around a yawn, he shuffled into his slippers and approached me. Drawings hang from a string above me, dry long ago but not touched since. He looked at each of the drawings, before glancing at the clock on the wall.

“I’ll make time tomorrow.” He promised, running a wrinkled finger along the largest of my scars, where black powder is trapped.

Though I’m forever bloody with paint and pencil, I miss earning my charcoal bruises.


Prompt “What Your Desk Thinks About At Night” is from 642 Things To Write About by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.

My take – “Working from home, a man is up late at his computer, drained and miserable, while his old artist’s desk and artwork sits forgotten.”

What do you think? Love it? Hate it? Think it’s dumb? Comment and share!

Why ‘WandaVision’ Is The Best Thing For Wanda & Vision

I wasn’t interested in WandaVision at first. Yet, after giving it a try, I was hooked in the first few minutes, all thanks to the titular characters. Two characters I had very little interest in before now. Is this series the best thing to have ever happened to these two?

Wanda and Vision were first introduced to general audiences in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. While they have a complex relationship in the comics, the same can’t be said for their big screen counterparts. Coming from a franchise that isn’t exactly known for having well-written romantic relationships, poor Wanda and Vision never stood a chance.

Their relationship is forced. In the space of three movies, they barely got time to talk to each other, let alone form a believable bond. Understandably, they had little to say to each other in Age Of Ultron, what with being too busy fighting the Big Bad and sloppy pacing. Avengers: Civil War showed a tentative friendship, which resulted with Vision attempting to imprison Wanda and Wanda yeeting him six hundred feet under. They met in secret while Wanda was a fugitive, a scene that lasts barely a minute, and we’re meant to assume they fell in love between movies. With the little development they had, when their big romantic tragedy happened in Infinity War, the whole thing felt a touch melodramatic.

WandaVision on the other hand… Oh boi, I’m boarding this ship now.

Why? The answer is simple enough.

Never underestimate the power of the domestic AU.

In fandom, a domestic AU is a work showing canon characters living everyday lives. Hang about in any fan circle for long enough, you’ll come across this idea eventually. Sometimes, when science fiction and supernatural plots get too heavy, we just want to see our favourite characters take a breather and experience the wonders and troubles of normality.

WandaVision is the epitome of a domestic AU – married life, kids, working life etc. There’s something charming about seeing Wanda flying saucers into Vision’s head one episode and debating what to name their kids the next.

Some might find this slice-of-life story out of place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that’s exactly why it works. Marvel has been building its canon since 2008’s Iron Man, consistently releasing a new movie every year except for 2009 and the year-of-disaster 2020. That’s over a decade of Marvel’s action-packed spectacle. A lot of us are feeling a little burnt out by now.

You can still be a Marvel fan and feel burnt out by Marvel movies. That proves you’re a fan.

WandaVision, on the other hand, is refreshing. It’s not afraid to slow down, show less action, and just have two people being themselves as the central conflict. Of course, there’s a lot more than that going on. There’s plenty of mystery crammed between its charm and wit, puzzle pieces that are slowly slotting together as the series goes on. This is, after all, a part of the MCU, and no monochrome filter will hide that.

This is exactly what Wanda and Vision needed – a chance to work together as a couple.

The series has given them room to flourish. In this case, it gave them an all-American neighbourhood, white picket fence and all. Now, it’s plain to see why these two love each other. I just wish they’d been given this chance before Infinity War.

So, is this the best thing to have happened to Wanda and Vision?

In short, the answer is yes. Yes it is.

Why ‘Love Is Gone’ Is Vital To The Muppets Christmas Carol

The movie was perfect, to begin with.

I’m serious. There’s something special about The Muppet’s Christmas Carol. This 1992 family film is directed by Brian Henson and is the first Muppet film produced by Walt Disney Studios. Even people who aren’t fans of the Muppets like it. It’s full of heart, wit, and great songs, including one that’s gained some infamy.

Just last week, news dropped that ‘Love Is Gone’, the film’s lost ballad, has been found. The song was lost to the vast Disney archives after being cut from the theatrical version, and has been missing for over twenty years. Those of us who were lucky enough to see the film on VHS got the experience of watching the film in it’s entirety, but the song is missing from later DVD, Blu-Ray, and even Netflix releases. I was one of many fans who bought their replacement DVD after my VHS wore out, excited for a HD watch of my favourite Christmas movie, only to be confused by the lack of a pivotal scene.

So dust off your VHS tapes, big kids, and press fast forward to the 40 minute mark. It’s time to talk about an amazing scene that should never have been lost.

Or you can watch this version on Youtube

As the classic tale goes, Scrooge (Michael Caine) has been transported into the past to learn how not to be such a cold-hearted, well…scrooge. Up until this point, we as an audience have been feeling a little lukewarm towards , as we should, but by seeing his past we’re slowly beginning to understand him and open up to him. Scrooge opens up too, warmed by nostalgia by seeing headmaster and employer. This is build up, preparing us for the moment when his fiancée Belle (Meredith Braun) leaves him, laying down the foundation for the emotional scene that will follow.

Scrooge watches as Belle tells his younger self (Ray Coulthard) that she must leave him, because he doesn’t love her anymore. When she sings, she’s expressing her regret but is resolute in her decision and as the song draws to a end, Scrooge stands by her side and sings with her – showing us that, years later, he still remembers her words.

When your break-up song is too ’emotionally sophisticated’ or something.

Rumour has it, the decision to cut the ballad belonged to Jeffery Katzenberg, chairman of Walt Disney Studios at the time, who thought the scene was too mature for children to enjoy.

If that’s true, that’s a pretentiously idiotic thing to say.

Also, what a way to miss the point. Yes, the song is emotional. Break-up songs are seldom anything else. Some may argue, as Katzenberg reportedly did himself, that it makes no difference to how the film plays. Not true. The song has a purpose and cutting it from the film fundamentally weakens it.

One key difference is in the cut version Belle walks away. She tells Scrooge he doesn’t love her, gets up, and leaves.

This is not what happens in the version with the ballad, where Scrooge walks away. The difference is minor, but it emphasises how right Belle is. Young Scrooge proclaims he loves her, but doesn’t protest anything she’s saying. He has no passion for their relationship and when he leaves, it’s the equivalent of him shrugging his shoulders. This adds a brilliant contrast to Michael Caine’s Scrooge. This man, whose had years to reflect in isolation, watches Belle attentively. He could have thrown up his hands and said “Look at what this heartless woman did to me!” which is probably what his young self is thinking. Instead, he joins Belle and sings with her, and as he sings he grieves, the breakdown happening at such a pace that the audience feels every tragic second of it.

Spencer Braum, in a 2017 article on Medium, said it best:

This is Michael Caine’s scene to carry. He breaks down in tears and can’t finish the verse. It’s a profound moment of change in Scrooge’s life, and it works because it resonates with the audience so deeply.

Spencer Braum “When Love Is Gone”

We feel for Scrooge. We understand his regret and we understand that he can change. He didn’t walk away this time.

Which is the entire point.

This is what K.M Weiland calls the thematic Truth. A Christmas Carol asks us “Can Scrooge become a good person?” and this moment shows us he can. It’s brilliantly conceived, and one of the reasons that the Muppets is one of the best adaptations out there.

Your Plot Will Be As Solid As This Very Building

‘Love Is Gone’ occurs roughly at the 40 minute mark, at the Midpoint, and conveys Scrooge’s revelation and transformation. Now we understand Scrooge, and Scrooge gets a hint of understanding too, this raises the stakes.

But this glimpse of what his life could have been hurts.

He wants out and for what might be the first time in the story, we empathise with that. He demands the spirit leave him, seemingly rejecting the story’s thematic truth, and retreats to the comfort and safety of his bed chambers. Deep down, he’s been humbled, making him open and ready for the lessons taught by the Ghost Of Christmas Present, who he quickly develops a bond with. But the rejection tells us that this is going to be difficult for him, and now we’re fighting in his corner.

Technically this moment still exists without the song, but it’s nowhere near as powerful.

Without the song, we simply cut to Scrooge (and Rizzo the Rat) in tears. Tears that aren’t earned. We don’t see him struggle with his emotions, we don’t see him stand beside Belle, looking at her, as he’s barely able to contain his regret. We don’t feel the moment with him. All of that is contained within the song and without it Scrooge’s arc is weakened.

Removing Love Is Gone has consequences all the way to the final minute.

About That Reprise

A reprise is a repetition of musical material heard earlier in a composition, album, or live performance. Before the credits roll, Scrooge and a gathering of muppets sing ‘The Love We Found’ which serves as a counterpart to ‘Love is Gone.’

This closing song was purposely composed. A musical motif that follows a man’s transformation from a isolated, hateful man, to a open, compassionate one. It’s that satisfying kick every ending needs, a spotlight on his redemption, a wonderful, moving pay-off.

Which falls spectacularly flat when it’s musical thru-line has been cut. How can love be found if it was never gone, Disney? The pay-off remains without the set-up, the foundation that makes a pay-off satisfying, and without it the ending is weaker.

Read more about set-ups and pay-offs in my critique of Robot and Frank.

While I’ll never not be frustrated by this decision, I concede that the movie isn’t ruined by it. There’s too much fantastic, witty writing, quotable moments, and great songs for that. Still, a little heart is lost and modern cinema seems to be going the same way. Disney, especially, don’t seem to understand what makes a story special, with their masses of live-action remakes on the way, all of which are dry, soulless imitations of their predecessors.

Now the song is back and the response has been positive, I hope the powers at Disney will notice the trend they’ve set and turn back. In the meantime, I’m satisfied that, finally, love is found.

Why 2020’s NaNoWriMo Will Be Different

Earlier tonight, Boris Johnson announced that the UK would be going to a second national lockdown. I know people across the country will be devastated – friends included – but I’ve been feeling a resigned calm. Here we go again.

For a lot of reasons, 2020 doesn’t feel like a year that I’ve lived, but a year that I’ve watched, like looking at a storm through a window. In no time at all, we’re at the end of October.

And the eve of National Novel Writing Month.

National Novel Writing Month (or Na-No-Wri-Mo) is a event where participants push themselves to write 50,000 words before the final minute of November 30th. This is usually a novel, but could be a collection of short stories or some other writing project. I’ve taken part before, to not-so-awesome effect. It’s the good kick any procrastinator needs.

A lot has changed in 2020. Face masks. Social distancing. Home working. The national and global culture has shifted and will never be the same. Like everything else, this year’s NaNoWriMo will be different too.

I’m not talking about being in lockdown. What would that make me? Your grouchy professor? You’re at home all day, grrr, do some work grrr… Forget that. More time to write is nice, but let’s not pretend this is voluntary. (And I’ll still be working, so there’s that.)

I’m talking culturally.

If you lurk in twitter’s Writing Community, or on Authortube, you’ll have noticed there’s a stereotype that writers procrastinate. A lot. It’s definitely an issue I have and one of the reasons I bypassed 2019’s NaNoWriMo.

This year feels different, at least to me. This year has been stop-and-start. Plans have been made and cancelled. I’ve needed to take the opportunities as they come. I even managed to go on holiday to Spain, leaving two days after travel restrictions were lifted and returning the week before it was announce all Britons returning from Spain would have to quarantine.

Too much of this year has been spent watching. Opportunity is there, but it doesn’t last. There is so much uncertainty.

I’m not going to pressure myself to win NaNoWriMo or even make the goal, but I’m going to give it my all and I’m optimistic I’ll succeed. It doesn’t matter if I work full time, am redecorating, or have a dozen projects on the side. Another year will soon be gone. It may be the strangeness, anxiety-fuelled year of our lives, but time will run on.

Here I am. Ready to write to the final minute.

Writing A Non-Linear Story? Don’t Do This!

Non-linear narratives can be super engaging and fun, but are prone to problems that kill their good qualities. So when should a story be told in a non-linear way?

First, let’s define a non-linear narrative.

“A narrative technique where events are portrayed out of chronological order or the logical order presented in the story. The pattern of events needs to jump around and not follow a linear pattern. 

Jason Hellerman (No Film School)

*

Common Problems In Non-Linear Stories

No one Understands What The H*ll is Happening

Netflix’s adaptation of The Witcher jumps back and forth from past to present. One story follows the young princess Ciri as she searches for the witcher, Geralt. Another follows Geralt as he hunts for monsters. And another begins with a young mage, Yennefer, learning magic.

…I think.

It isn’t apparent until episode 5 of this 8 episode series, that we’ve been watching this story jump between different time periods. This is when the story threads start to converge and become clear. Not only are we following characters in three separate timelines, these timelines span decades.

That’s 5 episodes of not knowing what’s happening. It’s distracting.

The problem with that, of course, is that we’re so busy asking ‘What’s going on?’ that we don’t care about why it’s happening or the character’s it’s happening to.

Stories that do this should provide some hint, marker, or some detail like a time stamp to let us know where we are. The Witcher doesn’t do this.

The Witcher also relies on ‘telling’ and not ‘showing’ us how character relationships have changed over the years, presumably to help ease some of the confusion, but only serves to make character motivation hazy and their arcs boring.

*

Your Timing Is Terrible

Stories can hurt. Some stories are meant to hurt, but sometimes writers goof it up and go too far. This is why timing is everything.

If a flashback or flashforward is poorly timed, it can be met with confusion, annoyance, and in some cases anger. Take the controversy around The Last of Us: II 

This a beloved video game franchise follows surrogate father and daughter, Joel and Ellie, who meet in a zombie apocalypse and give each other a reason to keep living in a hopeless world.

Part 2 in the series has gotten…mixed responses to say the least. While it’s not really a non-linear narrative, it does demonstrate why the placement of specific plot points can have a huge impact.

*VAGUE SIMPLIFIED SPOILERS AHEAD*

The Last Of Us 2 and The Importance Of Chronological Storytelling

Shortly into the sequel, Joel is killed off by a new character called Abby. Naturally, this has upset a lot of fans.

So…Abby getting any kind of sympathy was already going to be difficult. But on top of that, she is a violent, self-interested character who attacks and kills several innocents.

The story does try to get us to feel sympathy for her, by showing us her ‘tragic’ backstory. We discover through a flashback that Abby’s dad was murdered by Joel. This provides a understandable motivation that, in theory, would help us empathise with her.

Problem is, this backstory is so poorly placed it only convinces us to dislike her more. This kind of reaction is exactly what a writer doesn’t want.

Before we learn anything about Abby, she has already killed so many of Ellie’s friends and allies. Personally, I think it would have been more palatable if we met Abby and her dad first, establish a connection with them before her dad is killed. While this doesn’t change the upset a lot of people feel over Joel’s death, or Abby’s other kills, it might help elevate Abby from ‘most hated’ to ‘hated but understood.’

*

There’s No Rising Tension

Messing with a story’s chronology means messing with the scene-by-scene cause and effect. This isn’t a problem unless it also messes with the tension. 

Story tension means conflict and stakes. It means suspense. It’s why we get invested.

Interesting stories are ones were the stakes and tension rise as the story moves along, eventually reaching its peak at the climax.

three act structure

No matter what order your story is in, the tension still needs to build and build. If not, the story will fall flat and end up being pretty boring.

This brings me to a very important point…

The One Reason To Tell A Non-Linear Story

Most stories should be told in order. Beginning. Middle. End. Easy to follow, with a clear rise in tension and stakes… But there is one reason not to.

It’s when there is more suspense, more tension, when the story is non-linear.

Tension comes from whatever question the story asks. Non-linear narratives are about discovering something that has already happened or that happened in a way that isn’t expected.

Generally, the plot is more important than the characters.

In Station Eleven, the question is ‘Who survives the pandemic and will they discover their connection to each other?’ The story follows different characters as their lives intersect and none of them are aware they are connected, or how much they will influence each other. The climax is when the surviving characters are revealed and finally brought together. This wouldn’t have worked if told as a linear narrative, because it would have revealed the fate of certain characters too soon. The non-linear narrative also helps the reader draw the connections between past and future, between one life and another.

Station Eleven

How do you know for sure when a story should be non-linear? It helps if the crux of the plot is based on some kind of reveal but that doesn’t guarantee a non-linear narrative will work, especially if it falls into these other traps.

The simple answer is, if your story is more exciting told out of order, then tell it out of order. If not, it’s best to stick with a chronological narrative.


Tell me your thoughts below! Are you telling a non-linear narrative? Were you aware of these pitfalls? What’s your favourite non-linear story?

Pretending To Sleep

The floorboard by the bed creaks. Soft footfall moves away, growing quieter and quieter until… Another creak. This one is more of a groan. A throaty groan that means they are at the door. There’s a hole there, maybe. A big hole that has since been hidden by wood. That’s why the creak sounds like a groan. It’s the sound a person makes when they’re stepped on.

Now they’re at door, what comes next is closing it. It’s a quiet sound, a little whoosh and then a click. The whoosh barely ever heard. The click is. The click means it’s safe to open your eyes. The click means it’s safe to move. You have to be quick, though, because they might come back. Sometimes it’s safer not to move at all. Especially when they might be listening.

The click is taking a while. If you can imagine that person in their hidey-hole, imagine them holding their breath. Imagine them with the weight pressing down on them, becoming more unbearable with every passing second. They’re waiting for the click. Or rather, the moment just before the click when the weight eases away and the door is pulled shut.

Click.

A hiss of breath. A sigh of relief, maybe, for the weight is gone. Or just the sound of a silken dressing gown moving across the floor.

Don’t move yet. Don’t look. They might still be there. If they hear the wet sweep of eyelids lifting, they’ll be back. Go to sleep. It’s bedtime.

Wait just a few seconds until the light switch flicks. Now move. Slide further under the covers, into the warm dark, where no one can hurt you. Especially not the body under the floorboards, who scratches and moans.


Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

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