Monthly Archives: August 2015

My Characters are Smarter than I Am

Chandler: My diary! My diary, that’s brilliant. I should have told her it was my diary. She never would have made
me read her my diary.
Monica: You know, that’s true. You’d be a great person to have around the day after an emergency.
[Friends: The One with the List]

We’ve all had a moment like this. I previously posted about a Chandler Bing moment. It can be annoying when after something has happened we suddenly think of what we could have said. Its not always something important sometimes its just a quip.

Garan: Surrender your weapons, or die where you stand!
O’Neill: Oh, if I had a nickel!
[Stargate SG-1: It’s Good to Be King]

I really admire people who are able to do this. Some people have a mind so quick and can always think of the right thing to say. Paul Merton is very good at this.

Alexander Armstrong: What would happen if we decided to shut down all the UK’s power stations tomorrow?
Alexander Armstrong: More sinister even than that.
Paul Merton: It’d go dark at night! Bwahaha!
I do have my moments where a silly thing occurs to me. The other day I made a play on words between two meanings of beef; the food and as in having a problem with someone.
This is all small stuff but what if quick thinking could save your life?
There was a real situation like this a little while back. A woman called 911 and pretended to order pizza. She couldn’t speak directly and could only answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ The dispatcher cottoned on to the problem and was able to send help.
This happens a lot in fiction. This tends to be a bit spoilery so I’ll give my own example.
A Detective Constable is being held hostage when his phone rings. The hostage taker is about to destroy the phone but our hero is clever. He says that his colleagues know where he is. So if he’s not able to answer the phone they’ll know he’s in trouble and send help. So the hostage taker lets him answer the phone.
All posts are better with pictures. Maybe this is where our unfortunate hero is held captive.

All posts are better with pictures. Maybe this is where our unfortunate hero is held captive.

With a gun to his head he can’t call for help directly so he has to send a message. Maybe it’s his wife and he can call her ‘Samantha’ when she always goes by ‘Sam.’ Maybe it’s his Inspector and he can make an oblique reference to another hostage case. Maybe its his daughter and he can say ‘Don’t worry I didn’t for get about your netball class on Saturday.’ – when he daughter has never played netball in her life.
This Detective Constable thinks quickly and saves himself. However if I was writing that scene it might go through several permutations. I might realise that he does call his wife ‘Samantha’ on occasion so it wouldn’t raise a red flag; The Inspector might not get the subtly;  And his daughter might just think her dad is doing his usual thing and not paying attention – she has a dance class on Saturday.
Sometimes a character’s wit and quick thinking has taken the author a long time. They might even have written themselves into a corner. When in the mind of their character they may have got them killed the first few times.

My characters are cleaver than me beyond this though. They know more than me too. I will only invent the world as I need it for the story. A character of mine, in a science fiction, might know all the Director Generals of the UN in the 23rd century.

This post is the product of a conversation I had with a friend they other day. I didn’t say anything bad but their were things I wished I’d said. Now though the things I wish I’d said seem a little OTT. So maybe what I actually said was better than what I wish I’d said.

So I’ll be happy to have characters who can; rally the troops, make the Picard-esk speech, say their version of ‘It is a far better thing I do now than I have ever done*’; quip with the best of them; have useful bits of knowledge; and know how to tell the beautiful woman that she is all kinds of wonderful.

This has been a bit of a ramble. I think I’m trying to say two distinct things. That there are things I wish I’d said in given situations – things that were only thoughts. Also there are things that I wish had occurred.  At least I can know that characters I write can be that great. They can always know the right thing to say. They can always keep calm in a crises. They can comfort their friends. They can be the people we wish we could be. They can look each other in the eyes and speak with great eloquence and say the important things.**

* I’ve never read a Tale of two Cities. I have seen The Wrath of Khan.
** Unless of course its a plot point that they make a mistake.

I just wanted to say that I have checked this post. I really have. Unfortunately my particular combination of dyslexia and dyspraxia makes it really hard for me to spot typos. Please enjoy and I’ll try not to make too many errors.


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Castle (TV Series)

Bute ParkI’ve recently started watching Castle. I’d heard of it a while back but never got round to watching it till now. So I’ve been racing through the episodes. Partly because its rather good but also because Amazon might remove it from Prime at any moment.

I was interested in the show because of Nathan Fillion. I like him as an actor and it’s good to see him in something else. In this he plays the eponymous character and stars alongside Stana Katic and its the chemistry between these two that really makes the series work and really that’s to be expected.

With any show of this ilk you know what you’re getting. The bad guy is always going to be caught by the end of the episode. What keeps people coming back is the intricacy of the plots and the characters.

One criticism I feel I must make is the background to Detective Beckett. Spoilers. Five… Four… Three… Two… One….

Beckett joined the NYPD because of the death of her mother. I tried to find the name of this trope but failed. I only succeeded in finding spoilers. So I’m not going to continue looking. In any event this is a fairly common device used as character back story and/or motivation. Not specifically a parent but a bad thing that happened in the past.

Adrian Monk (Monk): The death of his wife
Fox Mulder (The X-Files): Disappearance of his Sister
Temperance Brennan (Bones): The Disappearance of her parents.
Seeley Booth: (Bones): Worked as a sniper and now wishes to atone.

All these characters, and no doubt ones in other series, have this darkness. My googling says that there are over a million police officers in the US – do they all have tragedy in their pasts?

This backstory doesn’t detract from the series but I wish writers would come up with something new now and again.

One thing that really makes the series work is Castle himself. He is a fairly well rounded character. He has two ex-wives, as we might expect, but also has a teenage daughter, Alexis, and he is the responsible parent. In many ways Alexis is more mature than he is. The dynamic between them is wonderful. Fillion slips effortlessly between his bantering and flirty personality to being the responsible parent. The interactions between Castle and Alexis are wonderful and a nice departure from the usual cliches we might associate with a divorced father.

Shows like this are like popcorn. Little in the way of nutritional value but you won’t be able to watch just one.


I just wanted to say that I have checked this post. I really have. Unfortunately my particular combination of dyslexia and dyspraxia makes it really hard for me to spot typos. Please enjoy and I’ll try not to make too many errors.

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Susan Sheridan

Susan Sheridan (1947-2015)

Susan Sheridan played Trillian in the BBC radio adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The radio version was first aired in 1978 with the most resent version in 2005.

The radio series is a joy to listen to. It has excellent acting and is, in my view, the best version of this series. It made great use of the possibilities of radio. At one point the music is building and we are lead to believe that it is just background music until Arther says “Did you know this robot can hum like Pink Floyd.”

Susan Sheridan has been in other things of course but this is where I know her from. The radio series was first broadcast when my dad was young. He recoded on a cassette tape. Later he introduced them to me and I bought them on these new-fanged CDs. I’m sure I will listen to them again someday soon and maybe one day I can introduce them to the next generation.

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Last week I talked about my rather obsessive need to know everything in my science fiction writing. Oddly I don’t seem to have the same compulsion when it comes to writing fantasy. I think that this is because fantasy is more obviously not our world. Science fiction, only in some instances it’s true, is seen as a possible extension of now. Babylon 5 makes mention of the two world wars, Abraham Lincoln, the cold war, Tennyson, and other persons and events. It could be our future. Star Trek is almost the same except we didn’t have sleeper ships in the 1990s.

Read more here

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