A few months ago, I watched a TV series called 'In The Flesh'. It was advertised as a zombie drama. I'll put my hands up now and admit that I don't like zombie films but the cast and the director, Jonny Campbell seemed good, more than good, excellent. It was also a home grown British drama which always appeals to me. So I watched it.
I expected zombies and killings and bits that made me close my eyes (followed by dreams of being chased and overrun). There were zombies, shambling, grey, murderous creatures. There was an occasional killing but these were acted and filmed in an almost matter of fact way. Not once did I hide away behind a cushion and I had no bad dreams.
In The Flesh trailer
What I found was a story that, rather than concentrating on the horror of the zombies, instead focused on how humanity reacted to first, the zombies and secondly, the return of the reconditioned zombies to their communities. This was a drama about the human condition.
It got me thinking. I looked back over books and rewatched some films. I approached new material too - written and viewed - with one question in mind. Is this about the human condition?
The conclusion I came to is that whatever a story may be - romance, horror, alien adventure - it is ultimately about the human condition. We place our characters - human, animal, alien - in a setting, with a dilemma, perhaps with companions, and then we proceed to tell their story through our understanding of what it is to be a human.
I must have always written from this point of view but now I can bring it consciously to my writing. What about you? How do you write of the human condition?
Summer has receded into a blanket of cloud and rain. This kind of weather always makes me look inwards, which is handy when you're a writer. Less distractions, more imaginative delving, and all day (until school run) to write.
Dialogue can be a stumbling block for most writers - finding the right voice for your character, making every conversation count - so this week's link is especially useful, Write great dialogue scenes in 7 steps
from Nail Your Novel.
I may be showing my age here but when I was a child, I would take great delight in watching the Mission Impossible TV series with all its twists and turns, skeleton masks and mock rooms. The spies involved were sophisticated, clever and incredibly laid back. No one seemed to run anywhere. Their plans were so well planned and timed that each action slotted into the next with apparent ease.
Nowadays I would probably be able to predict what was going to happen in most episodes but back then, when audience expectations were different and I was a child, their schemes were genius.
Excitement in books is often equated to action - a fight, a chase, a death defying leap - and it is true that action can help to maintain pace. As a reader, as well as a writer, I enjoy the thrill of a heart wrenching escape as much as anyone. However, there is one other element that can occasionally work just as well.
Surprise your reader. Throw something into the mix that they could never have dreamt up in their wildest dreams. Get their heart thumping, not through a chase or a fight, but through a shock. Wow! I really didn't see that one coming. She can't be his sister, surely? He was wearing a mask? He's a quadruple-agent on the run from smuggler nuns?
Sometimes the unexpected can be just as exciting as action.…