Sitcom Law

[Spoilers ahead]

Q: What’s the number one rule of a sitcom?

A: The characters don’t change.

Take The Office (British version). Ricky Gervais put the nail in the show’s coffin by having his character become tolerable.The American version on the other hand is still plodding steadily into the future on the back of Michael being zany… over and over.

So how does The Big Bang Theory handle this? The Leonard and Penny romance was only ever going to work if either of the following was to happen. 1) Leonard became normal or 2) Penny became severely nerdy. This has been solved by having them sleep together anyway and ignore any of the logic that would make this possible. I think it helps that the audience are more interested in what Sheldon will say next rather than any other aspect of the show. The romance is almost inconsequential and certainly the least engaging aspect of the show. But then Big Bang Theory has always played free and loose with its “plot”, so I guess it doesn’t matter.

The question then becomes: How long can the show continue to run on the back of Sheldon’s “issues”?

Disarming Fantasy

Very little fantasy seems fantastic any more. A sweeping statement I know, but it’s true all the same. We’re too comfortable with it. While the magic and advanced technology doesn’t exist, for the purposes of stories, it may as well. Space ships, ray guns, zombies, dragons etc. are such a big part of our collective pop culture, that they have lost a lot of their impact.

Take the trailer for Avatar. It impressed me with all its technological wizardry (in creating such a realistic looking world), but none of the creatures, technology or landscapes made me think “WOW”. I just thought “space marines vs. night elves… great…”

I sometimes wish I could erase from my mind all the tropes, clichés and expectations that go with fantasy and SF stories. I recently read The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man, both by Alfred Bester, and was blown away. But not as much as I could have been. The former deals with a society where teleportation is available to all and the latter the effects of telepathy on police work. To read these novels without any knowledge of either subject would have been amazing.

The fantasy and SF stories that really excite me are those that introduce something new, either in terms of the magic they deal with or the technology they present. The battle between the sentient storms of Jupiter, described in Phillip Reeve’s Larklight, was so epic in scale that I read the chapter several times over. And this from a writer of YA fiction, something that a lot of fantasy readers appear to deride.

So much SF deals with a future so far removed from our own that we have no basis on which to connect with that world. Far more interesting are tales that look at the potential effects of near-future technologies, those that according to Wired (and other such sites) might be just around the corner, ready to transform our lives. The bite-sized stories told in Global Frequency, by Warren Ellis, are a perfect example.

Is there still room on my bookshelf for a story with magic swords, dragons and faux-medieval kingdoms? Sure. But there’d better be a “holy shit” moment in there too. Preferably two or three. Ideally more.

Creativity Failure

I spent a decent amount of time this week drafting a new story. It was set in a post-apocalyptic world, where a cataclysm had turned the landscape into glass. My two protagonists, a weaver, who had failed to prevent the cataclysm, and an oven cleaner, whose daughter is injured by protection racketeers, seemed interesting, perhaps even entertaining.

The problem was this: The world did not inform the story. As a result, I ended up with a simple tale of revenge, albeit one that re-energised my characters. There was no reason whatsoever that this story couldn’t have been set in the real world, present day.

I want to write speculative fiction. I want new ideas, both big and small, to make a difference to my characters. So this story will remain incomplete, and tomorrow I’ll start a new one.

Reading Meme

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?

Cookies. Yes, I’m very original.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

Nope. When I forget something, I tend to flick backwards through the pages, like a madman, until I find the bit the current bit connects to. I just don’t think writing in books is necessary.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?

Bookmarks most often, but dog-ears in an emergency. I’m not the type who can just remember page numbers.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?

Pretty much all fiction.

Hard copy or audiobooks?

Hard copy.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?

Either or. I’m easy.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?

Depends if I care enough.

What are you currently reading?

Sandman: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman.

What is the last book you bought?

The Walking Dead 10.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can
you read more than one at a time?

Depends if a book grabs me. I like to finish them, but I do tend to start others if I’m not enamoured.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?

On the settee, pretty much any time.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?

Stand alone books.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?

David Gemmell.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)

However they land. I like to group series together.

Writing Again

Close to 11pm on a Sunday night. Clearly the best time to start writing again. Screw it. I’ve never been a morning person. So this is me resuming an earlier project. One that, to my annoyance, was too long to be used for a fiction assignment and too short to be used for my dissertation. I mean I loved those projects, but this is something else: the first short story that might actually be good enough to send out. Reading my earlier submissions, it’s obvious why no one in their right mind would touch them. This one will be different.

Here’s the first little chunk…

She grips my ankle, dragging me down. The dim circle of light above me shrinks, obscured by mud and weeds. Tangled in wet clothes, I try to twist out of her grasp. It’s so damned cold. I cry out but water rushes into my mouth. Then we hit the bottom and her face is before me. Beautiful. I twist again and fall, cracking my head on a rock.

“Alfie! Wake up for God’s sake!”

I wake. But my body still panics. I lash out, catching Karen on the side of the mouth. She screams and I scream. Cold sweat plasters the sheets to my body. My head cracks against the headboard for the second time and I lie still. I hear moaning and then a sob. Tearing at the sheets, I stand up. It’s freezing. Karen stares up at me, her eyes filled with hurt. She nurses her jaw and blood trickles from the corner of her mouth.

“Shit Alfie. I think you split my gum.”

I’m next to her in an instant, trying to both hug her and dab at the blood. The words “I’m sorry” never felt more useless. I say them anyway, over and over. She shrinks away at first but I drag her close and hold on until her shudders subside. We sit there as dawn breaks, shivering in my cold sweat. I can’t let her go.

Supernatural Season Five

It’s finally back! Supernatural is one of the few shows that I’ve made the effort to follow from start to now. The fifth (and I hope final) season began right where the last one left off. Lucifer is risen and the brothers are left to pick up the pieces of their own mess. The writers did well to inject humour into what could have quickly descended into depression. Overall it’s pretty much exactly what we expected: very watchable.

One little thing… I’m not sure why Dean gets to give Sam such a hard time, since he started this whole mess and Sam was really just an enabler…

Oh well, looking forward to the next week’s installment!

iPod Nano With… Video?

iPod nano now has a built-in video camera that lets you record fun as it happens. Then share it with friends on the Internet. It’s the video camera that’s small enough to take with you everywhere.

Apparently, the one thing the iPod Nano lacked was a video camera. I understand. No other common consumer devices have that capability. At all. Nope. Certainly none of them are small enough to fit in your pocket and “take with you everywhere”…

Apple’s best move since creating an iPod Shuffle that requires proprietary earphones?

And here’s me hoping for a tablet.

The Pressure of Ideas

It’s been nine days since I handed in my dissertation. If I’m honest, I didn’t feel much. I expected relief and maybe a little joy. I was denied. I spent the next few days milling around, sitting on the settee, thinking that maybe I should be getting my arse in gear and doing something. The pressure of the deadline (now passed) leapt from task to task, and in the end I forced myself to ignore it.

The weekend was good. Friends, food, a bit of booze, lieing in, relaxation. It broke the grip of stress. For a few days, I was able to relax, until I went back to work and life quickly became same old, same old.

But something is different. I’m now free to work on a project of my choosing. Of course, I’ve still got to take that dissertation and finish the novel, but I no longer have to ignore all those other chunks of inspiration.

For the last three months, any idea that popped into my brain, be it a scene, a character or just an image, got filed away in a Google document. This week their clamour became a roar and I realised it was time to pick my next project. That’s how it works. Ideas, the ones that don’t fade away, lodge somewhere and keep on nagging at you. Something has to be done with them.

It’s a good feeling. A scene blazes its way across your mind. It feeds back on itself. It joins itself to others. It digs them up from the depths of your subconscious and, when there’s enough to form a whole, your mind nearly implodes with the potential for awesome.

Never mind the fact that they normally turn up in the middle of a long car journey, when you’re in a hurry and have no way of recording them. It’s that feeling of being lost in something else, for however brief a time. It’s nothing short of creation.


Well, that’s it. Over. Done with. With my dissertation handed in, I’ve completed every requirement of this MA (short of turning up in a cap and gown and having Michael Parkinson give me a certificate).

How does it feel? Kind of empty to start with. Tired. Irritable. I’m sure it’ll fade. But I won’t be satisfied until I get my marks.

But, now. Not onward. Rather, to rest.

First Draft Complete

I’m officially declaring the first draft of my dissertation prose complete. Five fairly long chapters and 15433 (according to Scrivener) words later and I’m relaxing a little. Tomorrow I can start editing.

The plan is…

  • Break up the chapters and use Scrivener to label scenes as “main plot”, “sub-plot” (by character name), “action” and “exposition”.
  • Use Scrivener’s outliner tool to examine the balance of the above labels.
  • Print them all out and give them a read through.
  • Let that sink in.
  • Use the patented ‘Graham Joyce Process’ (narrative, character, setting, int/ext balance and sentence level edit) to fine tune the prose.
  • While doing all this make notes for my commentary.
  • Write up the commentary.
  • Cry while editing and improving all of the above.
  • Get the thing bound and handed in.
  • Have nervous breakdown while waiting for marks.
  • Graduate.
  • Keel over.
  • Spend the next month doing everything I’ve not been able to do (because I’ve been feeling so guilty about not putting enough effort into the MA).

That should about cover it.