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Staying Focused


Some anonymous wit once said that writing is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the internet. This is so true that the London County Council even put it up on a blue plaque. Distractions abound – blogs, Facebook, forums and Pinterest. Instead of editing last night, I spent a couple of hours compiling this. It’s related to the book, so it’s like writing, yes?

No. Bad everwalker, no biscuit.

Even other stories count as distractions, really. Mercy the Goblin, that most determined of narrators, keeps using my hand to write her diary. Bodysnatching, that’s what it is. And she’s stronger than me. The trouble is that, the nearer I get to the end of working on Spiritus, the less I want to work. Partly because I’m bored of editing (in a weird not-bored kind of way, like when you objected furiously to being taken on long walks as a child but actually quite enjoyed it once you were out there), and partly because I don’t want it to finish. I don’t want to break up with my pet project of the last 10 months (blimey, has it been that long?).

Suck it up, princess. Bite the bullet, shoot the internet, and EDIT.

That was Mercy talking. She’s a menace.

I read a good piece of advice yesterday – every character wants something, even if it’s just a glass of water. Thea wants gender equality, Astraeus wants glory, Sabine (narrator of Corpus) wants wealth, Mercy wants justice. And a fight. And a beer. Aaanyway… it sounds obvious but it’s quite an easy thing to overlook. Without that focus, though, you risk rambling both in scenes and throughout the story. Every scene and story needs a villain or opposition; they also need a goal. Even if the goal is a glass of water. Keeping that in mind helps focus the direction. The goals in Spiritus are actually a little fuzzy and I think it’s a lesson I can usefully apply to the next project. Once I get there.

All the Talking in the World


I’ve talked about the global country of social media before, and I suspect it’s something I will come back to more than once as it’s become such a dominating force. The rise of social media has impacted almost every part of our lives in some way, meaning we have had to redefine etiquette – how do you unfriend someone politely? – behaviour, and even relationships. If you can keep up with someone’s life by watching their Facebook status’ go by, requiring little to no effort from you, are you still really in touch? If you chat to someone online a lot, but have never actually met them face to face, what kind of relationship is that?

This brings me onto the subject of voice. I’ve already talked about the impact of the narrator’s voice in stories, but it goes further than that – what voice do you use, either consciously or subconsciously, in different situations?  You wouldn’t address a business meeting using the same vocabulary or mannerisms as when talking to your mates down the pub, after all. The same goes for media: your choice of communication channel will directly impact the language and style of your speech.

A close friend recently commented that he would not have guessed this blog was me if he hadn’t known already, because the tone and style of language is so different to my day-to-day conversation. It’s a common phenomenon that people are very different online. Some have more confidence because they are not face-to-face, some are less adept at socialising because they cannot take cues from body language, some are more open and some are less. Relationships will therefore be different.

There seems to be a growing trend of using social media for everything – relationships, business, marketing, hobbies, etc etc. I may be in the minority here but I happen to think this is not the right approach. You still have to choose your voice and your channel. Twitter, for example, is not a good marketing tool (no matter what my boss might think). The updates go past so quickly, the space is restrictive, and there is so much white noise on there that people are not going to bother reading something boring. The more noise there is, the louder you have to shout to be heard and no one will listen if all you’re shouting is ‘get your hot dogs here’.

This idea of global communication is not new. Go back to the Old Testament and you’ve got the classic Tower of Babel story. Just after the Flood, everyone tried to live together and speak the same language – an approach that was confounded by God because of the risk that ‘nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.’ (Genesis 11:6) Compare this to the Invisible Children Kony 2012 campaign, and the movement they created. We aren’t there yet, but we’re closer than we’ve ever been.

No Man Is An Island


Communication and storytelling in the modern world has run into a weird phenomenon – something that various people have termed the ‘over communicated society’. Social media means there’s so much white noise that it’s nearly impossible to hear the important stories or (more crucially in some cases) the important silences.

I want to take the recent Kony 2012 video as an example. When you have 30 minutes to spare, watch this:

It’s a fantastically well put-together story, spread using social media to tell the world. The global fireplace, if you want to get purple about it. And when I first saw it, I was hooked. Yes, it simplifies the issue of advocacy in a regional/civil war, but that was inevitable since you can’t get an international popular movement without a single strong point. The man on the street isn’t going to be emotionally involved in a debate on the morality of funding in Africa, but he might possibly get off his sofa to do something about child abduction and torture. They weren’t asking for money, either – all they were asking people to do was raise awareness of Joseph Kony, so that his crimes could no longer be ignored. I was impressed, enough to want to help. (And that’s hard to do, since I’m innately both lazy and selfish.)

Assisted by the raptor, who is innately cynical (one of many reasons we work well together), I spent a couple of hours on the internet researching. There are issues around Invisible Children, including funding (irrelevant to the argument of raising awareness), something called the ‘White Man’s Burden’ (insert John Dunne quote here), and the ignorance of Western Society meaning we shouldn’t get involved (which, followed through, means no one does anything about injustice and I might be speaking German right now). There were numerous blog posts, twitter feeds and debates going on across all forms of social media and, in the end, it came down to whether I felt the central point – that of raising awareness about Kony and his crimes – was valid and separated enough from the attacks on IC themselves.

What I did not find until the following day was this: Kony isn’t really the problem anymore.

The amount of social noise and hype made that rather crucial fact very hard to find. More hours of research later, I’m still not 100% certain of it (citation please, James?). What Invisible Children did – telling a story to the international country that is social media – is truly impressive, and the response shows how powerful such tools are. But I think it also shows the dangers.

There’s another danger which I haven’t really seen people touch on. Exposure to what’s commonly called the ‘data explosion’ means that we are much more likely to become jaded. Murder? Nothing new. Famine? We’ve all seen millions of pictures. You can’t care about everything so, in the end, you don’t care about anything if it doesn’t directly affect you. It’s much, much harder to get people worked up enough to take action which is one of the reasons I was so impressed with IC. As a couple of teachers on various blogs about the issue said, they even managed to get middle-class American teenagers to care enough to save up their pocket money. That’s powerful.

Like I said, I’m lazy, selfish and jaded. Yet the story IC told was strong enough to make me start to do something. If it wasn’t for a friend sending me that last link, I would (I hope) have gone ahead and run London IC Blackout Night. But the fundamental story is based on a lie – one they have deliberately propagated.

I still believe in the importance of stopping child abduction, soldiery, rape and torture. There are other ways to help. But, with all this white noise, they are harder to find and sadly, I’m a bit more cynical than I was before.