Creative Writing Workshop Plans Collection 1

Hello.

Did you know that some people like to write creatively? Well, they do. Yes, indeed! In fact, some people like to get together in a group and do (hopefully) fun exercises to do this creative writing. I’ll let all this mind-blowing stuff sink in for a moment, I know it’s a lot of information all at once. Anyhow, since the beginning of this year I’ve worked on leading a few workshops which notably includes coming up with a plan and structure as to how to run them.

Whilst you can find a lot of exercises and workshops through a simple Google, as indeed many of my workshops are adaptations of ones I found online, I thought I’d share what I’ve done so if you, dear reader, wanted to do some exercises to stretch your creative mind, then you could use these which by-and-large have been successful. Due to the sporadic nature of me leading the workshops, I’ll be putting them up here equally sporadically and in the interest of not having the largest page to scroll through, uploading them in pairs.

The key thing to bear in mind with these workshops is that they’re designed to be worked on in groups for around two hours, so a lot of the references to sharing and providing feedback is intended for a group sharing and providing feedback – really, exactly as it sounds – and some of the exercises might be a little hard to do by yourself, but I’ll try and suggest alternate approaches for trying to come up with them by yourself. Similarly, unless you have willing listeners/victims (depending on how you view your writing) you can probably skip the sharing and feedback sections which’ll dramatically reduce that two hour mark. I’ll also provide some notes, where I feel necessary, explaining or expanding on certain things.

Finally, the aim of these workshops is to allow people of any skill level and interest to write creatively for fun. Whatever aim you have going in to wanting to write creatively, well, these workshops should cover that general ground.

Note: Any time marking (in minutes) with [Group] before it means it’s specifically for structure in a group environment and can be safely ignored if working on it solo.

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WORKSHOP 1 – Making a character

[Group] 0.00 – 0.10 : Wait for people to arrive, have everyone introduce themselves and brief on the aim of the workshop, to produce an interesting character and put them into a short story.

0.10 – .25 : Exercise 1 – The List. Participants submit ideas for a communal list that is made up from larger primary and shorter secondary categories that are then written down on a large piece of paper that everyone can see. Ideas can be vague or specific. The primary category is “Things found in the bin.” The secondary category is “Date and/or time.” Once the list is filled out, participants must then randomly pick 3-4 items from the primary category and one from the secondary and determine an overview for a character. (Eg. Banana peel, pair of shoes, empty bottle and “July 25“ – This person has been trying to keep fit recently.)

[Notes – Whilst having a pool from lots of different people is designed to have you provided with ideas you might not have otherwise thought up, in trialling this exercise, I simply got a piece of paper and wrote down as many ideas as I could think up and that was sufficient. Nevertheless I also asked my parents to add any that they could. Similarly, you could try asking people near you for any ideas they can come up with. Additionally, the idea of ‘things found in a bin’ is simply a way of trying to put together items that could form a larger idea. It needn’t be a bin. It could, for instance, be a fridge or freezer, a cupboard drawer etc. etc. Finally, whilst the example items are ‘straight’, you can still add in some more unusual items, such as ‘a dragon egg shell’. It’s about as open as you want it to be.]

[Group] .25 – .35 : Feedback 1. Participants share what they’ve picked and why leading to their character overview. This is mostly to make sure that everyone has something to work with for the next exercise as well as making sure there isn’t too much overlap, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem anyhow as everyone will have a different interpretation.

.35 – .50 : Exercise 2 – Questions. Participants pair-up with the person next to them and briefly exchange their character overview. The initial few minutes should be used to independently write seven to ten broad questions that they can ask their partner who must answer for/as their character. The remaining time of the exercise is then used to answer the swapped questions in an attempt to round out their character. (Eg. When was your character last happy? What was your character doing on new year’s eve? Do they have any family? What is the next expensive thing they are buying? Etc.)

[Notes – Whilst a little more difficult to do solo, try ‘asking’ your character some questions to try and answer as them. Alternatively, you could have someone near by ask some questions which you can then use to answer and provide more character depth. Additionally, this exercise significantly overrun when doing it. It perhaps needs more time with the rest of the workshop accommodating this change, or fewer questions.]

[Group] .50 – 1.05 : Feedback 2. Participants share detailed information about their character and confirm if they’re happy with the information they have to be confident to write a scene. Participants who maybe aren’t confident can explain where they feel they are lacking to get started which can then be helped by other participants asking questions that may be able to plug in any holes. [Notes – It’s quite possible to make up time here if no-one has any significant problems.]

[Group] 1.05 – 1.10 : Break.

.10 – .30 : Main Writing. Participants can write about their character in any way they see fit for this section. This could be the start of a story or just one specific scene ‘later on’. [Notes – Obviously if writing solo, you can extend this out in a couple of ways. You could keep yourself to a time limit and see what you come up with, alternatively challenge yourself to a word/line count or until you’ve completed a scene you’re satisfied with. Or, of course, you could write until you wish to stop!]

[Group] .30 – 1.55 : Sharing. Participants take it in turns to read their work to the group followed by some brief positive feedback from the remaining participants. Obvious note, but if someone doesn’t want to share, they don’t have to. It should be greatly encouraged though as everyone will have different aims to take away from the workshop. [Notes – It’s exceedingly easy to underestimate how long it will take to share work then discuss it briefly afterwards. With a large group, this can take a significantly larger amount of time.]

[Group] 1.55 – 2.00 : Finishing sentiments.

Overall notes – For my first planned workshop, the response was very positive, however it overran by almost half an hour. For an organised time slot, that’s not great. A lot of time was lost on the sharing, as mentioned in the specific notes, as well as the second exercise. Nevertheless, as a ‘basic’ workshop and set of exercises, it’s a pleasant ease into writing short fiction, or for coming up with multiple characters for anything else you may be working on.

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WORKSHOP 2 – Music Evokes

[Group] 0.00 – 0.10 : Wait for people to arrive. Icebreaker exercise – participants must think of their favourite song or piece of music, then say this along with their name.

.10 – .20 : Starter task – associating images and sounds. Excerpts of non-lyrical music will be played and the group must provide immediate feed-back by way of brief description as to a potential scene or action that has been invoked by hearing the music (in the case of the starting example, it is likely most people would say “Mickey Mouse in a hat” or “Walking brushes” etc.). Or in other words, “say the first thing that comes to mind.” All the excerpts, around a minute long at a ‘notable’ part of the track, will have a video clip to go with them showing a potential interpretation of the music.

Excerpts:
Example – ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ (Paul Dukas) [Fantasia]
1 –‘Blue Danube Waltz’ (Strauss) [2001: A Space Odyssey]
2 – ‘Carnival of the Animals, Finale’ (Camille Saint-Saens) [Fantasia 2000]
3 – ‘Airwolf Main Theme’ (Sylvester Levay) [Airwolf intro]

[Note, some of the URLs used here and below may end up broken at some point, sorry!]

Important to note afterwards that given these pieces of music have pre-existing narrative contexts, it might be difficult to associate them with something original, but that inherent challenge is at the same time not necessarily bad. It will also hopefully become apparent (and if not, it will be mentioned) that a lot of the musical cues carry an associated action with them, from instruments to timing, style and volume etc. , which is something to consider.

[Notes – Phew, there’s a little to unpack here. Firstly, the music picked was based on my own knowledge of non-lyrical music that had accompanying video. In the case of Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Blue Danube Waltz, they’re both famously attached to video already and as such were placed early on to try and ease people into the exercise. Thematically, all the pieces have a difference in tone, speed, intention etc. If I were to do the workshop again, which I intend to, I’d keep Sorcerer’s Apprentice and replace the other three with a similar aim of easing people in.

It is certainly possible to do this solo, even if you are picking the music, as you can try and think of instances of music that perfectly marries with vision and the point of this exercise is simply to get you thinking about simple interpretation of sound into your own idea. Alternatively, have someone near by find some music/visual combinations that you don’t know and try and draw from that. Secondly, the reason for using non-lyrical music is that lyrics provide a (usually) clear meaning for the music it accompanies. Especially if you’ve heard that piece of music before, it will likely be unnecessarily hard to try and separate the singer’s intentions from an original idea you’re trying to conjure.]

.20 – .25 – .40 : Exercise 1. All the following exercises will follow a general pattern. The first few minutes will be used to listen to a track and the remainder of time in that block will be used to write (the music will be then played in the background on repeat for that duration of that block, but perhaps slightly quieter). As to how people go about writing, this is left up to them; people may decide to write in long-form prose, diary entries, etc.. The idea again in this workshop is not to look directly at written form, but to look at interpretation from another media so if that interpretation is for one person poetry and another poetry, that’s fine (which makes it even more interesting if both those people happened to include similar content).

There is obviously no right or wrong interpretation, however if people are aware of the tracks used and any imagery or narrative that has been linked with them, it is advised that they try and think of an alternative narrative (as difficult as that might initially seem). In addition, whilst the genres of music used will be intentionally different as to try and evoke different reactions, there is nothing to stop someone from attempting to link up all of their written content between the three exercises.

Stated before starting, if someone is unable to come up with anything, they’ll be free to write about anything or recall another piece of music that they know that gets their imagination going. Once all three exercises are done, I’ll say what the tracks are and where they’re from.

The three tracks are:

1. ‘Tornado in the Barracks’ (James Horner) – The Mask of Zorro soundtrack
2. ‘Heightmap’ (Darren Korb) – Transistor soundtrack
3. ‘The Road of Trials’ (Austin Wintory) – Journey soundtrack

[Notes – Like the previous note, there’s a bit of an explanation underlining this section. I’ll start with the timing, which jumps 5 minutes then 15. Each of the tracks picked were intended to be at minimum 4 minutes, no longer than around 5 and a half. This was done with repetition in mind so as to allow everyone at least four times of hearing the music, the first listen being where no writing was directly encouraged, although if people wanted to start writing they absolutely could, then the repeating of it in the background not too loudly allowed people to carry on writing with the mood they’d internally drawn from the track to remain in place whilst they wrote.

As for the tracks picked, I employed the use of video game soundtracks because I could be reasonably sure that the people who’d be at the workshop would in likelihood have been unlikely to hear them and thus not be influenced by them. I didn’t want to resort entirely to games though, especially as they carry their own intentions for fitting in to a sequence, so I wanted at least one film track. I first looked at Oscar nominated soundtracks along with any films I knew of where soundtracks were quite notable. I also followed up specific composers where they had a larger collection.

Similarly to games, the difficulty was finding something people were less likely to have heard (granted, looking at Oscar nominations doesn’t help, but I was specifically not looking for winners at first) so looking for something with a bit of age to it helped. In addition, try looking at soundtracks you haven’t heard; both Transistor and Journey are games I haven’t played, so I could be reasonably sure I’d have minimal preconceptions about them. Obviously while picking and listening to tracks you’ll start coming up with ideas, but it’s no problem to simply employ those when you later come to writing about them in the workshop itself. And, like the previous note, you could have other people send you pieces of music.]

.40 – .45 – 1.00 : Exercise 2

[Group] 1.00 – 1.05 : Break

1.05 – .10 – .25 : Exercise 3

[Group] .25 – 1.55 : Sharing and feedback. All those who wish to share what they’ve worked on can do so here. In the interests of time, people will be asked to share only one portion of writing they might have worked (regardless of whether or not it is connected to the other parts). It will be highly encouraged for everyone to share something.

[Group] 1.55 – 2.00 : Finishing up. Summarising the ideas, of interpreting one form of media and seeing what that can inspire in another.

Overall notes – It’d been something of an idea long-time brewing of trying to tie music and creative writing together and based on actually executing the workshop, I found it very enjoyable to lead, to share this idea, and to actually work through it too. The latter sentiment was reflected by those at the workshop too, which was obviously a pleasing validation of the fairly experimental nature of it.

Naturally the notes I’ve added now go quite some way into explaining each of the exercises and the logic behind them, but in talking to some of the people at the workshop there were some interesting suggestions about how this could be slightly changed and employed in a different way. One of which was simply to listen through a complete score (or as much as time permitted) with no time to pause and think and see how a more flowing selection of tracks would influence the material written. Also worth noting that the overall structure has timing a bit more fleshed out so as to not overrun in places and to allow the exercises a bit more time to breathe.

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Short: Samantha’s Conversation

“I mean, err, it’s not an easy choice.” Samantha realised her hand had moved from hovering over the enter key and was reaching up to scratch the back of her neck, a reflex for whenever she felt anxious. She otherwise remained motionless on the spinny-chair in front of her desk and after a brief scratch, she looked wearily out the window to find a distraction.
“Believe me, you were about to make the right one. I should know.” The replying voice bounced around the room and its similarity to Samantha’s still confused her.
“Yeah, well, I mean, how should you know, huh?” Samantha fixed her view on a particular branch that housed a bird’s nest, complete with bird, on a tree on the other side of the road.
“Well I am a demon, it comes with the territory.” Samantha turned around, her morbid curiosity getting the better of her. On her bed sat a mirror of herself twiddling with a doodad that was projecting different colours on the opposite wall, in this instance red, and bouncing some of it back onto her providing a faint glow. Her hair was different to what Samantha’s currently was, but Samantha quickly recalled it was in the style she had it during that summer holiday. Still, there that double sat, talking as if it didn’t care at all it had a lookalike in the same room.
“A, ummm, a demon?” She examined herself, or at least the herself that was on her bed and made it clear the red light wasn’t helping, to which the doodad was turned off and put to the side, prompting the double to stare intently at Samantha.
“You never heard of people having personal demons? Well, obviously you have, but it’s not just a phrase. Well It is, I suppose, but for a reason. Anyhow, this is that.” Her hands reached up to her head and felt the hair, nodding in appreciation as the hands traced the agreeable style. The bird from across the road raced off from the branch with a furious flap of its wings, the sound of which caught Samantha’s attention for a moment. As she turned back around to face the double, her head only got half-way as it encountered the double perched on the desk, kicking its legs against the shelves on its front, having moved to that position in an impossibly short time.
“Well shouldn’t there be an angel to watch over me, like, to balance you out?” Samantha didn’t seem too taken back by the double’s speed of movement. In that time there had been a subtle warmth passing through her body that calmed her in the presence of the double, not enough to be truly noticeable, just enough to make her feel comfortable.
“That really begs the question of us two, does there deserve to be one in this situation? Let’s be honest here, the choice is either something you know to be ‘bad’, hence me, or neutral. The mid-way point is you.” The kicking against the shelves was rhythmic and accompanied by a hum which prompted the realisation from Samantha that her double was performing a rendition of the Danse Macabre.
“That’s, ah, not exactly a subtle tune.” Samantha meant to say it with irritation behind the words, but it came out more jovial.
“I can’t really help it that that’s the tune I’m making, that’s on you.” The response came with a smile that helped put Samantha back at ease again, along with a stopping of the kicking and humming.
“So I need to argue with you until one of us wins and then, then I guess I go with that?” Samantha felt her hand reach up to the back of her neck again, but brought it back down before it got above her shoulder.
“It’s not so much an argument as points of reasoning against each other. You then pick the side you agree with. It’s all you, at the end of the day.”
“Okay. Well, point, err, point one is that…” Before Samantha could finish the double stared her down in a way that made her stop talking.
“Be honest now, you’ve already weighed it up. It’s the results you’re worried about, not the arguments for actually going through with it, or not. I’ll make it easy; you’ll probably get what you want from this, but of course you know that, it’s why I said you were making the right decision.” The double had now found a slinky on the desk and was tossing it between its hands.
“So you’re saying I should do it?” This time Samantha caught her hand before it had even left the rest of the chair. The double‘s response was simply a lack of expression and a still slinky. “Right, right, right, it’s up to me.” She lifted her hand, but this time to reach for the enter key once more.
“That said…” was all the double needed to say to stop Samantha from following through.
“That said of course you would say that, because that’s the part of me that wants to think it’ll be that easy…right?” Samantha’s plea was initially ignored. Within a few moments the only sound filling the room was the slinky that had been picked up again and was expanding and retracting.
“There’s an easy solution to this. I press the button.” The double broke the near silence, shrugged and opened her hands out in a nonchalant manner and then witnessing no response from Samantha, reached for the button.
“That doesn’t really, I mean, it doesn’t change me doing it, if I have this whole situation down right. Right?” Samantha twitched as she realised her hand was behind her neck scratching it. As the double’s finger got closer to the button, tantalisingly so, Samantha found herself unable or unwilling, to stop her. And then it was done.
“There, all done. How do you feel about that?” In the time of a blink, the double was lying on the bed playing with the doodad again, specifically pointing it at Samantha in a variety of colours.
“Err, good, I guess? Yeah, good. That was what I wanted.” Samantha smiled at the version of herself on her bed.
“Then there we go then. See you again sometime!” The double suddenly shone the doodad at Samantha’s eyes momentarily blinding her. As her eyes regained focus she realised she was finally alone in her room.

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Unfiction: The Best Of You

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Because of the broadcast agreements for showing the Formula 1 in the UK, the BBC doesn’t always have access to live coverage of the race weekend. Every few race weekends then I’ll be watching the race highlights on Sunday evenings. In theory the highlights will do just that, but even in a sport where there are people travelling along a road at 200mph it can still yield incredibly dull sessions that’ll send me to sleep. At the very least it paints an accurate picture of the race, even if it’s a boring one. Or maybe it’ll be a great race and I’ll miss all the boring parts to the extent that in my memory that entire race was just fun, exciting things and none of the tame parts ever happened.

Whilst we don’t all live life at 200mph, I think a good number of us are certainly presenting ourselves like this through a highlights reel of our life via our social media presence, a notion that isn’t exactly new (but let me have it, that was a good segue). Around a decade ago we began to embrace our digital presence without anonymity, a stark contrast from hiding behind avatars and display names we had on forums and games. Sure people on instant messenger would put up a profile picture of themselves, maybe actually use their real name too, the same maybe being said for MySpace even if that seemed intentionally a little off-beat, but it wasn’t really until Facebook gripped us providing a platform for a straight-faced information dump of your personality that the mask we wore when going on the internet, a mask of anonymity, really started to slip off our face.

Of course now it’s common-place to embrace social media in a significant portion of our lives. You could use Facebook to ask people for recommendations on somewhere to eat, go on Twitter to comment on a funny incident you saw travelling there, post a picture onto Instagram of what food you had whilst eating with the contact you found on Linked-In to go home and review the place on Yelp. You could do all of those things. I don’t believe many (any?) people do that, but they’re the options available to you, amongst many others. Even as an exaggerated example though, it serves to show just how many of our actions throughout a day can be showcased to the world if we chose to. And of course we chose to, everyone else does it.

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We’ve sort of all been whipped up into this vicious circle of having and maintaining a social media presence and like most times when we’re showing off who we are to other people, we want to show off our best bits. This means only putting up pictures of ourselves that we really, really like (and maybe untagging ourselves from any we don’t), liking our favourite media (and maybe not liking our guilty pleasures), restricting who can see certain bits of information and so on and so forth. Now none of this is inherently bad, it’s just that the combination of all of these things, well, paints a clear picture.

I would be remiss though in not saying that we cultivate how we want other people to regard us the rest of the time too, but that’s a naturally more limited to your physical presence rather than something you can just put up and forget about. For instance, you might dress up decently when meeting up with friends, or maybe what you’re doing is fairly low key and you put in a little less effort because they’re your friends and they know that if you need to, you can dress better, but who cares you’re just all there chatting away with a film on in the background. So there, that’s mentioned.

What it really comes down to is intention. Are you doing the thing because you want to or because you want to show it off to others? What if that’s one and the same for you? Again, this isn’t new or necessarily good or bad, it’s really just an extension of the idea of introverted and extroverted personality traits, but I think rather than a natural extension of who we are there’s a forced method in play. So an extroverted person might put up a ton of pictures and share everything they have ever liked, whilst a more introvert person won’t. A pic here and there, a like of something, maybe. This obviously assumes an audience (and the perception of what you put up by said audience), but that’s why there’s a news feed of what everyone else is doing to encourage you to put up more of yourself. I’m sure for more than a few people that’s turned a relationship into a passive-aggressive competition as to who can have more information presented up there.

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Of course all this information can be channelled in a specific way to attract specific attention masked as general interest. The obvious example really is the Facebook stalking we’ve invariably done (or if you’re a liar and won’t admit to that, thought about doing) that in some cases will be turned against a crush. Oh, they like this, that and that? Well, I’ll like this, that and that, or maybe make mention of listening/reading/verbing it and hope they respond. Maybe put up a particularly flattering picture as a profile pic. Again, this isn’t a new behaviour, when you’re around someone you want to impress, you do things you’ll think will impress them, but the information you show can be quickly changed and for those who thought otherwise of you, well they know that there’s stuff they haven’t put up there as a like, so why wouldn’t someone else?

I think my issue of this presentation ideal online over physical presence is that you can really easily, very quickly manipulate the idea of who you are. Change in the physical takes a bit of time, but online? Well, it’s already done. This, to me, seems really odd when you consider that you tend to behave slightly differently depending on who you’re around, despite the fact that this one cultivated persona is the one you show online to everyone at the same time.

Where’s the real you then online? Do you even know for sure? Hell, I haven’t even explored how language carries without the inflection that’s specific to us in person (although you’d hope that the people who know you and follow you on social media have a clue) or how older comments are saved and can impact your current situation despite not being the You presented right now. I suppose the real test will be the generation growing up with all of this well ingrained and integrating themselves into it as opposed to growing up and taking advantage of these new interesting things. Perhaps the end result will lead to some sort of weird dystopian future where we in a virtual world and who we are in the physical is meaningless and…

well. Huh. I, err, guess…see you in The Matrix, everyone!

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Unfiction: A Quick Note On Politics…

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I think it’s really important to acknowledge that no matter if you’re left-wing, right-wing or racist, there’s a democratic party that broadly represents your beliefs in government. That’s the core principle of a democracy, right? That there’s this wide variety of representatives to present the variety of views of the public. You, as a member of the public, are asked to find the belief that best represents you through a discourse of compromises, whilst the representative has to compromise with some of their own beliefs so that they can better represent the greater whole. And by now you’re bored of having to read the word ‘represent’. Democracy has some flaws, like any political structure, but it’s pretty good. It’s not bad. It could be worse.

What shapes the cycle of politics, a situational change affecting the individual or group that then pushes to have changes made in reaction that then impact the situation, on an immediate, personal level really depends on where you are in that cycle as well as your proximity to it. The issue that the Labour leadership election is highlighting at the moment is that your position can change in as little as a few months and in some cases barely changes at all. So yes, this is a reaction to the Labour leadership election and all that that would entail: mud-slinging, dredging up of old points to try and reduce a competitor’s standing and every so often some actual political beliefs that people champion because…well, and this is one of the two reasons I wrote this.

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It’s not that the general public is stupid about politics. Fact is most issues can be broken down so that even the most complicated can make a bit of sense, even if it skims some of the details. No, in reality the public doesn’t care, highlighted by the general election turn-outs. Between the bullshit in the press spouted from PR-trained ministers and staff that vocalise bullshit penned by people who know how to write their bullshit in a convincing way, why would you care when you’re not getting the truth? You can’t make politics sexy, it’s an inherently boring topic to many, but that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. So when the bullshit from any which way is largely the same, distance is created and that democratic compromise gets broken down.

This Labour leadership election has just been a demonstration of the purest irony in politics for a long time. The lack of a clear distinction in political leaning during the general election which pushed many away on the left away from Labour to elsewhere (the Scottish National Party, Green Party, etc.), parties that broadly speaking couldn’t afford to present too much bullshit and instead focus on the politics for the most part, is yet again reflected in the leadership election with the one person who was presented to us politics first then being chased in a race to see who could out-bullshit everyone else in order to grab that attention, completely missing the point that the attention was on the politics. It’s astonishing, really. All these people so locked into their PR structure and series of expected events that when something comes along that doesn’t fit into it, they sort of go into over-drive rather than adapt.

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The other issue is that of the ‘purge of voters’ happening. Namely, people who for whatever reason are now members of the Labour party and not able to vote in the leadership election. I’m obviously happy to dismiss the people who are intentionally signing up to cause havoc and be a general nuisance, such as members of the Conservatives signing up to try and push for one candidate for no reason that makes much sense. No, my problem is with the people who, say, demonstrated on social media that they didn’t like what Labour was in the run-up to the GE and suggested voting elsewhere.

That cycle of politics? Yeah, it can change for the individual at any point for a multitude of reasons. Maybe even in a few months. Maybe it’s been a gradual change that’s suddenly happened because you’ve found yourself galvanised. So what if I had signed up to vote, would I have been rejected? I mean, I don’t count myself as voting Labour in the GE even though I technically did because what actually happened was I vote swapped for Green. I didn’t make a big thing of it on social media, at least not that I remember, but god help someone if they have to trawl through the nonsense about games and writing workshops I put up on Twitter to try and find something incriminating.

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I don’t buy into being locked into a political belief, or vice-versa. I believe that I agree with a party that I share the majority of my most critical views with. Sometimes I have fewer immediate issues that I want addressing, other times it’s a sweeping movement of thought. But I’d have probably slipped through to be allowed to vote in this contest because I was quiet about my utter disdain at Labour. It’s simply nonsensical. And I can guarantee I won’t be the only one in a similar or exact-same situation.

Still, you’ve given people the opportunity to try and shape that representation. They’ve compromised what they held before, adapted it to the now and are being told “Nah.” Politics is malleable and should evolve with its populace, but instead we have a structure that’s just lagging behind and the people it should work for are just shrugging and waiting for something to happen to make them feel it’s really for them. So the bullshit comes out and that’s enough for some people to just go “Shut up, fine, I’ll vote. Eesh.” And that sucks. No-one is really happy with that.

I wonder where the public and I will be in the political cycle come the next general election, but I really hope that we’ve got things a little bit better.

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Unficition: A Snapshot of Nothing

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I’m sure you’ve heard of the idiom that too much of a good thing makes it bad. You can only eat so much chocolate before you feel sick, as ridiculous as that actually sounds. (Really, too much chocolate??) The reality though is that, like most idioms, its frequent usage is because it’s largely accurate. Doing something so much begins to devalue the purpose of doing it and will come with a negative consequence. Some of these are quite obvious, like feeling a bit queasy after the aforementioned chocolate binge, but plenty of others might be rather subtle.

Most people now have access to a device that allows them to take a photograph. In fact that’s been true for a while. Before smart phones and devices became so wildly possessed digital cameras weren’t exactly that expensive and came in so many different models that the distinction between a professional and amateur photographer was strictly the being-paid component and not really a signifier of a dramatic increase in quality that you might expect elsewhere. Even so, you were still restricted by needing to have the camera on you and really, you were unlikely to have it with you on your way round the corner to the supermarket. Sure you could chuck one in your bag and take it out if something amusing or interesting took your fancy, but they still mostly came out during big events, like a birthday party.

Even when camera phones (remember when that was a specific term?) came to be, the quality of the shots was usually so poor that in many cases it just wasn’t worth taking because you wouldn’t really be able to accurately capture what you wanted to. Of course this all changed when the megaton of the next wave of smart phone came along. Phone cameras had drastically improved and didn’t look poor and the connectivity of smart phones meant it was only a few clicks away from taking a shot to sending it out to the entire world, or at least that pocket of it you inhabited and could influence.

Now this is obviously common knowledge, but I think it’s worth remembering that it was a couple of steps from minimal camera coverage to seemingly everyone having access to a selfie-machine.

Where’s this all left us then and why haven’t you go to the point, you ask. Well, I’m getting to it, don’t push me!

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Just a look on Facebook once a day shows it littered with pictures and they just don’t mean anything to me. Even if you ignore all the other images that you get bombarded with, I feel like I’m inundated with stuff to look at that it just washes over me, I don’t take in any of the particular details. And the thing is, it’s been like this for a long while. There was a time when everyone was making fun of apparent idiots (read now: trend-setters) taking pics of their breakfast or their Converse shoes (and it was always Converse) because of how silly and inane it all seemed and then mockery became ironic usage became habit. That’s not to say that a lot of pics are inane in that way and certainly, I can see an argument for having food presentation that is interesting be worth taking a pic of (and if you were trying to describe the meal, having a visual representation would probably help your imagination work) it’s just that there’s only so many feet-up-with-plate-and-glass-in-front-of-bright-light/sun-set shots I can take in before they mush into one and that amount isn’t exactly too high in the first place.

By having the means to take pictures of anything and everything I actually think our observational skills have drastically declined. What we see now is immediate and looking to the side is a novel concept. The unusual becomes usual and uninteresting. There’s very little context to a lot of pictures I see now other than the obvious “I was here and needed to document that.”

I’m not going to say that before smart phones every picture taken was something of a definable high quality, but I think the noise to signal ratio was far more weighted to the latter. Hell, if you think back to film, you had to make every shot count because you had limited chances to get it right and you needed to save room for later. As a technological progression, I’m alright with the numerical limitation being removed, but it opens the flood gates and completely shifts that ratio to the former. We lose that critical eye and the need to ask “Is this the one?” for “So long as everyone is smiling this is a good picture.”

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It’s hard to entirely say though that everyone having access to high quality pictures is a strictly bad thing as it does mean more memories can be forged, but that doesn’t change the mass of noise that’s created. Nor do I want to have a snobbish attitude of “Why are you taking a selfie? It’s so pointless!” because something being fun is usually enough of a justification to do it, but in a lot of cases there doesn’t seem to be much consideration for the following step apart from what filter to apply and if it’s going to be shared on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram first.

And here’s the main thing I see, especially given the fact I work with children a fair amount of time; the people who grew up without knowing the limitation to taking a picture are capturing everything, but in doing so aren’t really capturing anything at all. That this then gets shared online without a real education for the impacts that carries means that so many people are putting out a lot of information about themselves into the world without really thinking that they’re doing it. As I joked with someone, “On the plus side, in the future it won’t really be scandal to have a silly photo of you from your past be brought up given that everyone will have one and it won’t be a big deal.”

Whenever I go to any sort of party I know that really, I don’t need my camera with me because almost everyone else will be able to take a picture and they can just share it. The likelihood I’ll want a picture of something someone else won’t is so small that I’m not too worried about missing anything and it allows me to enjoy and experience what it is first-hand. It can become so easy to view life through a screen that blurs out the noise around without realising that you’re just adding to the noise in a different way. We’re so engaged in documenting everything that we forget to actually experience it first. It’s the simulation of a lot of modern life.

So here’s my parting shot, no direct conclusion, but instead a challenge for you. Take one less picture a day. Let your mind waver for just a second before you decide to snap something. One a day, shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Right?

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Short: Summer in the Park

“Ha, I was clearly passing to you.” She waved with her racket at the friend whose incessant message checking was interrupted by a tennis ball that gently rolled up to and stopped by her sandled foot. She picked it up uncertainly with her left hand, her right still busy trying to key in a message to whoever. The ball limply cut through the air and bounced over the head of the other person on the other side of the court who was wrapped in appropriate garb and the only one taking it seriously. They flicked their racket and with seeming magic the ball made its way into the air ready to be served up. “Alright Suz, remember, you want to try and hit the ball this time like you actually want to!”

A grin came across his face as he saw the three of them in the court before his mind returned to matters at hand. There was a constant back-and-forth up there. He became aware once more of the sweat that seemed to be a layer of clothing; he couldn’t tell if it was the uncharacteristically generous sunshine or the ring in his pocket. He had put it in there so he didn’t have to go and retrieve it, but he didn’t know when during the day he’d ask him. So they sat there, enjoying each other’s company and the ice-cream they had until he realised that half of it had slipped onto the floor in the brief moments he’d been thinking.

“Wa-woof! Woo-oof!” His owner thought he needed water and granted he did, but he tried his best to articulate his barks as to say “Look, ice-cream, on the floor!!” Instead he was pat on his head and rubbed on his back. He wasn’t being led in the direction of the fallen ice-cream, but it was hard to argue with a good pat and a good rub. “Wuuurrrrrf.” He looked up at his loving owner and then carried on looking forward. “Woof!” Alert, owner, squirrel ahead! “Woof-woof!” Let me clear the way so our path out the park is clear. His owner didn’t understand, but the squirrel scampered away as quickly as it had appeared. “Woof!” You were lucky this time, squirrel! He quietened down soon after and happily followed his owner out the gates and onto the main road.

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Catching Up With…Twin Peaks

It’s quite obvious that Twin Peaks had a large cultural impact. From the characters to the setting, to the filming to the music, its ingredients insured that quality mostly aside, it was going to be remembered. So how on earth do you go about discussing something that has already been dissected and used to further more recent entertainment? The simple fact is I had no idea going into the show just how much or little I had been influenced by it indirectly. As such, the only way to enjoy and appreciate it was just to watch the damn thing. So I did. Thirty episodes and a film later I’m left with my complete thoughts. I largely don’t care about its behind-the-scenes activities simply because I tried to appreciate it for what I watched. With that in mind, let’s delve into it.

Twin Peaks is categorically flawed. What starts off as a stable, intentionally directed series of events and dialogues in the enjoyable first season (8 episodes) breaks down at the beginning of season two (22 episodes) before completely unravelling somewhere around its half-way mark. Whilst it does seemingly grudgingly pick up pace in the last few episodes, as well as a memorable finale, too much stupidity occupies them to make up for the tedium and similar levels of stupidity in the preceding episodes. The follow-up film, Fire Walk With Me, then adds little to the context of the show, with only a couple of note-worthy incidents adding anything of merit to the greater understanding of the narrative or to enjoyment.

What makes it so frustrating is just how enjoyable the first season really is. It’s extremely confident and openly embraces its own absurdities in a way that makes it relatively easy to follow whilst still keeping itself grounded. Its humour, both straight and twisted, compliments the intentional melodrama and farcical happenings that a wide cast of characters inhabit. It’s a shame that many characters have few really defining characteristics, but as a huge ensemble cast they fill out sufficiently to play back-up to the small handful of characters that are, in no uncertain terms, fantastic.

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The lead, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, is marvellous to watch early on. His unflappable personality is equal parts warm and professional and his appearance in a scene will easily dominate it, if not also occupied by Audrey Horne. Audrey is a mystical creature who sets herself apart from her perpetually dulled (and often utterly stupid) young peers by being both observant and then intelligent enough to mostly act on those observations in an appropriate manner. Cooper and Audrey are foils for each other insomuch as their characters are similar in terms of wanting to find out the truth, but differ in how they come about doing so. Scenes with them in together are perhaps the most powerful and it’s a joy to watch them.

Of course, even they fall foul as the show progresses with some odd characterisation and immensely stupid actions. Like the rest of the cast, they are liable to be twisted and forced to fit into the changing jig-saw puzzle that is whatever the plot thinks it is at the time. Nevertheless, there is a character for every circumstance and they easily fit into the small, quaint town aesthetic. Characters added later on though are much more open to direct negativity by making complicated plots needlessly more complicated, being love interests to characters who don’t need them and in one case, literally making every man in the room fall for her. That’s it. I suppose it’s possible to consider it a parody of similar characters elsewhere, but the joke runs for far too longer that it just ends up feeling absurd for absurd sake.

As the plot completely loses focus in season two though, so to do the characters. It’s not really their fault, they’re just getting caught in the wake. Whilst the early season two episodes just about hold it together, it eventually turns into what feels like them just making it up as it goes along. That this is actually what happened then doesn’t really come off as a surprise, but it’s a shame it was allowed to happen in the first place. What’s particularly frustrating about this all though is that there are some good ideas later on, but they’re either so badly explored or just continued off-screen that they were pointless to be included anyhow. The result is a Simpsons situation where there are more bad or mediocre episodes than good ones. It really makes it quite hard to recommend.

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Perhaps the worst part of the narrative is the focus later on of supernatural elements and whilst they’re necessary to set-up the moody, highly stylistic but ultimately unfulfilling finale (as well as several scenes throughout the show) they sometimes feel overbearing, uninteresting or unintentionally hilarious given how silly it all sounds. What starts off as a curious murder investigation soon becomes a hunt for the gates of hell/heaven, or things close to. What’s particularly amusing about this is the fact that it’s shown regularly how time aware the whole show is, so this all happens in what amounts to a few weeks. Sufficed to say, this is also a problem for other plot strands too.

On the up-swing, the presentational style is great! The entire screen is used to fill in details, be it of the gorgeous local environment, knick-knacks that line a house’s shelves or amusing background activities. It’s not just the size of the screen too as characters move about totally freely and not in the sense of a balloon deflating and flying around, but in ways that help to depict that character. A tick of the head, graceful walking, sharp turns or unflinching and repulsive proximity, it’s all there. Not everyone moves the same and it’s nice to be shown that these are people who have learnt to walk their own way. Considering how sparse dialogue can be in scenes, the movement alone can make for some fantastic viewing.

Combine that with the general direction, where scenes linger for what can feel like an eternity and action can be deeply unsettling and with the show at its best it is a visual treat. Distinctive colouring helps too making it very easy to read a character as well as the situation they’re in. The Red Room, an illusory locale, is striking and utterly memorable and the best example of this point in the show. If nothing else, when the show was at its most dull or inane, it was always pleasant to look at.

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Adding to this is a great audio presence. Sound effects were well done, but very much played second fiddle to the show’s score which was weird. But weird in a good way! Mostly, anyhow. There aren’t that many tracks that play over the scenes, so you start hearing the same ones over and over. At times it can feel a little bit of (self?) parody, but they are usually used well to help give a mood to a scene with their distinctive associated feelings. That most of them can segue into each other allows for a clear indication of what is going on tonally and help establish some of the best scenes in the show. They’re also damn memorable, part due to repetition and part due to them simply being effective and enjoyable to listen to. Regardless, all of the tracks felt just that little bit skewed that helps to give the show its identity.

Realistically, I’d be much more inclined to break down every facet of Twin Peaks and discuss them in significant detail, however I’m aware that’d be boring and take up a considerably larger word count than this one. Single pieces of dialogue have made me irate with how woefully they’ve handled their narrative, whilst simultaneously some sequences I’d love to pick apart and show how everything was working perfectly. It’s certainly the sign of an interesting show at the least.

But is it good? Well, I’ve already described it as ‘categorically flawed’, but that doesn’t necessarily mean something is bad, yet I find it difficult to call the show good either. It is very much its own show and little I have watched, TV or film, is comparable in a meaningful way. That said, I still find myself reflecting on the fact that I had to force myself to watch through season two and Fire Walk With Me, the latter of which I was constantly time checking. Even though season one was highly enjoyable and including season two’s best bits, I find it difficult to call it good, yet I also wouldn’t say “Don’t watch it.”

I think if you watched Twin Peaks and enjoyed it throughout, you’re a lucky person. If you watched it and gave up, I wouldn’t blame you and if you didn’t at all, I’d say you’re able to miss out on being disappointed by such initial promise.

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