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To boldly go where no plot has gone before

To boldly go where no plot has gone before.

If only.

There is a monster lurking in Hollywood.  It’s clever. Very clever.  It gets its evil way by controlling the innocent minds of Hollywood executives and directors.  And these poor, simple folk are easily fooled.  Even those brave and clever freedom fighters, the writers, are caught and forced to its will, for it is all-powerful.  And what is this terrible monster?  This evil, all-controlling beast that almost certainly should be numbered 666?

It’s a plot called the Hero’s Journey. (cue dramatic music).

No, this plot really is bad.  Honest.  Let me explain.

Like all evil villains it has a number of aliases but the one that gives it away is “Overcoming the Monster”.  It can described using the following 3 acts which are forced into every blockbuster:

  • Act 1: the hero demonstrates that she, he or it is powerful by defeating a lesser monster but the hero has a flaw as well as being a cocky smart arse;
  • Act 2: and it is that flaw that is the hero’s undoing when a greater and more evil monster – probably with an English accent – appears and steals something of immense value to the hero.  It might be a treasure, a loved one (girl, boy, robot, alien of irrelevant gender) or even a spaceship.   The baddie is unlikely to disfigure or serious abuse any beautiful woman or any main character – isn’t that strange? – and that is why there are bit players (probably wearing red shirts). But something that can be rebuilt, like a starship?  Now that can be treated really badly.   The hero fights back, but the monster is very powerful and totally amoral so it defeats the hero.  The situation is clearly hopeless, everyone is suffering, the hero cannot win and should just give up, forget the stolen treasure and preferably die.
  • Act 3: the hero finds new depths, or new ideas, or a new Star Trek metaphor which enables her (or him, or it or whatever noun applies to asexual aliens) to meet the monster in a final cataclysmic battle.  Due to incredible heroism, appalling shooting by the bad guys and amazing CGI effects the hero defeats the monster, wins the final long drawn-out fight and regains what was lost in act 2, even if this means rebuilding a beloved starship or having Spock get a girlfriend (what?).

This plot is very clever.  Even it’s name distracts you, it suggests “use me to overcome the dangerous monster of a flopped blockbuster.” It is so clever it doesn’t even have an English accent so it’s not easy to spot that it’s evil.  It’s only when an executive reviews some poor writer’s hard labour behind tightly closed doors and asks “where is the end of the second act?” that its true evil is revealed.  The writer must now add a scene where some innocent bit player is tortured horribly or an entire planet of unknown faceless people is trashed.  And the risk to the characters we do know is clearly shown.  The evil plot has won again.

Alice through the Looking Glass shows just how insidious this monster can become.  The Alice stories were written around another plot that I like to call “Journey into a Strange Land”.  Its structure should be obvious from the name. Lewis Carroll used this plot to create the whimsical humour we all love but the top priest of Overcoming the Monster, Disney Studios, subverted the story, tortured it until it gave in and adopted the standard Overcoming plot.  And we had yet more reliance on CGI and tricks in the storyline to hide a predictable ending.

Even Deadpool with all its humour, irreverence and breaking of the rules of cinema did not dare break this plot from the initial fight scene right through to the final titanic battle.

This plot is holding Hollywood funding in its insubstantial claws.  A blockbuster action movie with incredible effects is extremely expensive to make and they don’t want to take risks, so they stick to something that works.

Once upon a time, Star Trek was sometimes written around this alternative plot. The original series was the ultimate road movie as the Enterprise Journeyed into the Strange Land of space.  The Enterprise and its crew boldly sought out new worlds and civilisations, finding new and interesting situations that reflected the human condition.  Eventually, it too succumbed to the allure of fighting a monster.  And it is now lost to battles with Klingons, Romulans, Khan, the Borg and so on.  Did you notice that Idris Elba (Krall in Star Trek Beyond) has an English accent?

Don’t say this too loudly near Hollywood but there are other plots as described in his book by Christopher Booker.  Here’s the full list:

  1. Overcoming the monster
  2. Voyage and Return (I call it Journey into a Strange Land)
  3. The Quest
  4. Rags to riches
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy (Star Wars 3 was a tragedy and look what Overcoming the Monster did to it)
  7. Rebirth

I am going to make an insignificant and pointless fight against the plot monster.  I am going to write stories using the other six plots.  Based on my history so far my battle will be literally worthless as no one will pay for them, but at least I’ll have tried.  I ask your support as I go into the battle against obscurity, but I know, that, if I succeed and overcome the plot, I will have followed the plot of Overcoming the Monster and it will still win at the end.

Still I won’t be obscure anymore so it won’t be all bad 🙂



Why do I do it?

I call bullshit on why I write

My last post exposed the truth.  I may enjoy writing most of the time, but I’d like to be so well paid that I become a super famous multi billionaire.

Hmm. Let’s get back to reality, Wayne.

Realistically, I only need to be rich enough to be able to give up work.  To write when I want and not have to squeeze it in on the train to work each morning along with checking emails, feeding my fb distraction habit and, now, writing a blog.  Sounds believable doesn’t it?  Not very rich, just enough to live on and not have to work in the city.

This is bullshit.  I want to be famous and I want to be rich.  Even though I know that I wouldn’t be any happier as a result.  But I’d like to prove that I’m not actually happier as I travel through tropical waters on my super yacht with two underwater submarine docking doors.  Hey, I need submarines because I’m famous, remember, and I need to be able to come and go in secret. The paparazzi will be trying take my photo.  Submarines don’t just to show how rich I am. They’re not rich man’s toys.

There I go losing reality again.

Let’s look at the money rationally. First, what I do now. I have a daily 2 hour commute at each end of a brain battering as I heroically force dumb computers to obey my will so I can tell other people what they should do to make users happy with it.  And writing would be a good alternative. It’s enjoyable and, despite how it looks, you don’t need to always be at the computer.  Looks like a good retirement plan.

But, writing doesn’t easily pay well.  Even the lowest paid worker at 7-11 gets a better pay rate than a struggling author.  And I’ve been trying to get paid for writing for a decade.  And yet I keep coming back and trying again.  And again.  And getting highs when I’ve written that new story and lows when it is rejected.

Any rational person would stop and do something more useful with their lives.

Read the blogs from real, paid authors and they write things like “don’t write for the money”, “do it because you like it” or “you can’t help yourself” and “keep sending those manuscripts out to publishers and agents.”  But these are the authors who have succeeded.  That’s not me.  Yet.  When and how should I give up?  Never?  Maybe I should try just one more short story.  Or what about that idea I had for a brilliant series?  Or the story that was almost accepted?

It like gambling addiction, isn’t it?

Rationally, I should give up.  Take it easy.  Just focus on my work and relaxing on the train as I head towards retirement.  Forget the writing as it’s a waste of my time.  But then I wake up in the early morning with an idea in my head.  It’s good, I know it’s good and it probably is.  But between the first idea and the final pay cheque, there’s a plot; a storyline; a first draft; a rewrite; a new ending; a new start; another draft; another change; a good line added;10 bad lines removed; another 3 good lines taken out; more to be removed; even more; it’s broken; desperately  search for an old draft; I find it; it wasn’t that good; another rewrite; correct the errors; send it off; wait; wait; forget about it; wait; ask what’s happening; wait; wait; wait; ask again.

It’s been rejected. I’ll start on something new.

You get the idea.

I’m addicted. I’ve already invested more of my time than I can afford.  I want it back and I’m hoping that this time it will pay back. And like the gambler I get better at playing the game each time around.  Maybe if I rewrite that story that was just rejected by Albedo One…  It could be my big breakthrough…  Fame, fortune, happiness?  What? The train is arriving and I haven’t written anything all week.  Maybe next week I’ll write that big story.  Maybe I’ll be rich in a few weeks.  Or months.  Or years.  I just need that big break.



When am I going to make a living?

When Am I Going to Make a Living” was one of my favourite songs by Sade. It had such a delicious story in one title showing her talent, her history and the transformation from unknown, poverty stricken musician to a recognised, talented performer.  And I expect that she made a very good living from then on.

When I first started writing I was dreaming of making the same money as J.K. Rowling.  I should have done the maths.  How many authors were on the bookshelves and how many made that much money?  I quickly learnt that she made her money from spin offs, from the toys etc. and the writing was only a small part. And I wasn’t writing child friendly books.


Okay, I could be like Stephen King or Agatha Christie or even Dan Brown and make a lot of money.  What could I with that much money?  Help the poor? Fund a jazz orchestra?  Travel the world?  Wait on… a jazz orchestra?  I wasn’t going to be as rich as J.K. Rowling, I couldn’t afford that. But my future would be assured.  But I still hadn’t done the maths.  Just look at any decent bookshop. How many of those authors are well known and rich?

After yet another round of rejections on my second novel I scaled my dreams back.  All I needed was a decent living.  A few tens of thousands of pounds a year (I was in the UK then).  It was the most I could hope for in the sci fi genre.

On my third novel I was picked up by an agent.  I didn’t realise the consequences of taking on this particular agent but it can be summarised as I felt like I had been conned and I ended up with a self funded novel that had failed to catch the market.  I sold 41 copies and I could probably name almost every purchaser.  And it didn’t help that the few people who read it thought it was good.  Not enough people had read it, my agent had taken my money, my self publisher was constantly hassling me to hand over more money for unsuccessful marketing schemes and now the maths was becoming compelling.

I still had dreams, though.  If I could just win a few prestigious competitions I would be noticed.  So I wrote lots of short stories mostly weak but a few were excellent and even won the occasional unimportant competition but never one that mattered.  And by now I was starting to realise that every story that had been put out in the world and failed to catch the world’s attention could no longer be used again.

And then the internet revolution came along and anyone could publish online.  Unknown authors often published a story for nothing to get themselves noticed in the hope that people would buy their next novel and not simply pick up another free offer from another author desperately trying to be noticed.  The maths was longer possible because I had to divide by zero.

And now I’m managing the slush pile at Andromeda Spaceways.  They receive hundreds of short stories in just a few months, the majority of which are good.  The readers pick just a small percentage of them for the second round – less than one in twenty.  Of these an even smaller percentage of really excellent stories make it to be reviewed by the editor.  And then only a handful – maybe ten depending on the total number of words – will be published because they are really very good and they also happen to fit in with the theme that the editor wants to use.

And guess how much money you might make from a story published in a good magazine like Andromeda?  A story you might have worked on for a month with multiple rewrites and constant checking.  A story you spent 30 or more hours writing and rewriting and culling and thinking and trying to get a friend review, any friend.

Maybe, $100.

And I haven’t managed to get a story past the first round of any magazine.

So, you do the maths.  When am I going to make a living?  What an excellent illustration of the concept of infinity. 😉