Category Archives: Writing

Re-writing Rogue One’s most irksome scene

I want to talk about Rogue One – and my problem with the final cut.

I preface this by admitting the film was a commercial success, grossing more than $1bn globally – success that was reflected in the audience meta-reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, securing 85% fresh from critics and an 87% audience score. That’s decent numbers.

Nevertheless, personally, the film left me feeling hollow, and it took a second viewing two years later to really grasp why. Specifically, it took one scene to pinpoint my frustration with the film.

Aside: I’m aware the internet is awash with feverish fans pissing and moaning about their beloved franchise being supposedly ruined by all manner of nefarious forces, from SJW writers to diversity-crazed executives – absurd criticisms that say a lot more about the critic than the creatives.

This is not one of those blogs.

I want to talk about the writing – the agency, character development and dialogue. That’s what this blog has always been about, after all.

The scene I want to examine comes smack-bang in the middle, following the X-Wing bombing run on the Imperial research facility on Eadu.

This scene forms the crux of the story – it’s supposed to be the point at which Jyn shifts from passivity to action. Indeed, in the scene after this she has transformed into a spokesperson for freedom, encouraging lifelong rebels to fight against the Empire. Meanwhile, for Cassian, this scene reveals his remorse, and prepares the groundwork for his subsequent redemption. It’s a low ebb in a film devoted to low ebbs.

So, in its entirety:

JYN: You lied to me.

CASSIAN: You’re in shock.

JYN: You went up there to kill my father.

CASSIAN: You don’t know what you’re talking about.

JYN: Deny it.

CASSIAN: You’re in shock, and looking for someplace to put it. I’ve seen it before.

JYN: I bet you have. They know! You lied about why we came here and you lied about why you went up alone.

CASSIAN: [sighs] I had every chance to pull the trigger. But did I? [looks to Bodhi] Did I?

JYN: You might as well have. My father was living proof and you put him at risk. Those were Alliance bombs that killed him.

CASSIAN: I had orders! Orders that I disobeyed. But you wouldn’t understand that.

JYN: Orders? When you know they’re wrong? You might as well be a stormtrooper.

CASSIAN: What do you know? We don’t all have the luxury of deciding when and where we wanna care about something. Suddenly the rebellion is real for you. Some of us live it. I’ve been in this fight since I was six years old. You’re not the only one who lost everything. Some of us just decided to do something about it.

JYN: You can’t talk your way around this.

CASSIAN: I don’t have to.

The biggest problem with this scene stems from Cassian’s actions on the ridge. Remember, Cassian is the first character we’ve seen to so perfectly personify “rebel scum”; he is a murdering thug, who kills in cold blood, abandons his allies and stoops to anything to further the Rebel cause.

So Cassian is sent to Eadu to assassinate Jyn’s father, Galen, but at the last disobeys his orders. However, it is never clear why. Perhaps he believes what Jyn has told him, that Galen can prove to the Rebel Alliance that there is a way to destroy the Death Star. But if he believed her, why continue with the mission, why take the pilot up to the ridge as his spotter if he doesn’t have every intention of carrying out the order. No, it looks more like a crisis of conscience.

But this in itself is vexxing – we witnessed Cassian’s ruthlessness in his first scene. Remember when he was getting info from an informant, and they are discovered by two Stormtroopers? He shoots the guards, thereby alerting the rest of the Imperial forces to their presence. His injured comrade begins to panic, worried he won’t be able to escape with a lame arm. Cassian – for no discernible reason – takes it upon himself to calm the informant with soothing words before shooting him in the back. Cassian apparently has no conscience – he believes implicitly in the cause, will do anything for it, kill anyone for it.

So which is it that draws his finger off the trigger? If it is reason, he should have disobeyed sooner, and enacted a plan that might save Galen. If it is compassion, well, here’s that scene again:

Cassian’s character arc is all about remorse – we learn he has been fighting the Empire since he was six years old, and has done terrible things for the sake of the rebellion. But we are led to believe he suddenly has a change of heart when aiming down the scope of a sniper rifle at the man who designed the most heinous weapon in the galaxy. He’ll sidle up close to an ally to shoot them at point-blank range, but he hesitates when his target is a mile away and for all intents and purposes a far more dangerous enemy?

It doesn’t sit right.

So, not a great foundation for a pivotal scene. Let’s break it down, line by line…

JYN: You lied to me.

Jyn is referring to when she realised Cassian had left the ship with his weapon in “sniper configuration”. Fair enough – though he didn’t pull the trigger. So, while she may think he went up to shoot Galen, he didn’t, and therein lies a mystery…

CASSIAN: You’re in shock.

Remember, Cassian does not yet know why Jyn is accusing him of lying. Perhaps this is his guilt replying, but one might argue he’d just act incredulous. He has nothing to gain from admitting his order, and it would be much more in character if he continued to lie. Either way, his complete inaction during the Eadu scene has apparently made him the aggressor.

JYN: You went up there to kill my father.

Again, Jyn had good reason to believe Cassian was there to assassinate Galen; and yet, he clearly did not carry out the order. The question I would be asking is, “Why didn’t you shoot?”

CASSIAN: You don’t know what you’re talking about.

Cassian is being dismissive and patronising, and it’s his only line in this scene that makes any sense.

JYN: Deny it.

So I guess Jyn is challenging Cassian to keep lying – but he has been lying constantly and without contrition since the beginning, so it’s hardly the most likely way to win this argument, or indeed draw out a confession.

CASSIAN: You’re in shock, and looking for someplace to put it. I’ve seen it before.

This line is just semantically wrong. She may be in shock – and saying so is a good way to undermine her accusations – but you can’t put shock anywhere. What does that even mean? Looking for someplace to put your shock?

JYN: I bet you have. – They know! You lied about why we came here and you lied about why you went up alone.

The “I’ve seen it before” –> “I bet you have” remark & response appear to be there only to make the dialogue switch from one to the other. Cassian doesn’t need to say “I’ve seen it before” – it adds no weight to his point. Jyn’s response is basically meaningless – sarcastically implying he’s seen lots of people in shock? Well, yeah, he’s a soldier. What’s your point? And then she instantly changes tact with “They know!”

Note also she says Cassian lied about why he “went up alone”. But he didn’t go up alone, did he? He went up with the pilot, so that Bodhi could identify Galen. (I’m amazed his commanding officer couldn’t rustle up a photo of Galen before sending Cassian out to kill someone he wouldn’t recognise, but that is by the bye.)

CASSIAN: [sighs] I had every chance to pull the trigger. But did I? [looks to Bodhi] Did I?

Cassian lets the cat out of the bag by admitting he was aiming at her father. Fine – people make mistakes. (Bear in mind she had no proof, and further denial would have cost him nothing, ah well.) But then he looks to the pilot for affirmation, reminding the audience that he didn’t in fact go up to the ridge alone after all.

Yes, once Bodhi identified Galen, he sent the pilot away. But that begs the quetion, why ask for his alibi, when Bodhi might easily reply that Cassian sent him away?

Everything in this scene is warped.

JYN: You might as well have. My father was living proof and you put him at risk. Those were Alliance bombs that killed him.

This is where the scene loses it completely. Cassian had no sway over the orders of the Rebel fleet. He refrained from sending the signal in hyperspace because they were deep in Imperial territory (let’s give a pass to the fact he was able to take a call from the Rebels). Then they crash, damaging their comms systems. It is this loss of contact that leads to the X-Wing squadron being launched.

So when Cassian refrained from pulling the trigger, did that put Galen in more or less danger? I mean it’s just ridiculous at this point, isn’t it?

CASSIAN: I had orders! Orders that I disobeyed. But you wouldn’t understand that.

OK, so he’s categorically no longer denying it. He had orders, which he disobeyed. Why would Jyn – a woman who hasn’t followed orders since her father told her to hide in a hole – not understand about disobeying orders?

Perhaps he’s belittling her for not being in a position to have any orders – for abandoning the rebellion? Either way, his point is completely muddled by the fact he loves orders, despite disobeying them. (But she wouldn’t understand that – and neither do we)

JYN: Orders? When you know they’re wrong? You might as well be a stormtrooper.

Jyn accuses Cassian of disobeying orders, and then accuses him of following orders like a Stormtrooper. THIS MAKES NO SENSE.

CASSIAN: What do you know? We don’t all have the luxury of deciding when and where we wanna care about something. Suddenly the rebellion is real for you. Some of us live it. I’ve been in this fight since I was six years old. You’re not the only one who lost everything. Some of us just decided to do something about it.

Aside from the extremely staccato and choppy thoughts in this muddled block of dialogue, we’ve entered the realm of arguing for argument’s sake. He emotionally slaps her across the face by belittling her emotional response to watching her father die in her arms, and all because she nonsensically likens his disregard of orders with the actions of a mindless Stormtrooper.

But we get a glimpse of backstory, for the first time – and that’s welcome. Unfortunately, it comes so late in the film. Suddenly we’re asked to feel something for this character who hitherto seemed nothing more than a guide, or worse, a heel to the protagonist.

I’m not against rich, complicated characters, but this is the very first sign of complexity in a character who has already made his pivotal choice – to disobey his orders. For this switch to work, don’t we need to know earlier that he’s struggling with his remorse? All we have is that brief look of regret after he murders the informant in cold blood.

JYN: You can’t talk your way around this.

Talk his way around what? He has already admitted he was given orders to murder Galen. He has already made it clear he disobeyed those orders (though not why he did). What does he have to talk his way out of? Remaining her friend? He hasn’t shown any affection towards Jyn previously, and is certainly not attempting to salvage their relationship in anything else he’s said.

Everything in this scene is wrong, because it tries to take a load of scenes that contain no character development, or relationship development, and cram a shit-tonne in before they both have their pivotal redemption scenes. It’s a bandage, to cover the gaping wound in the story – that a sudden change in character will make no sense.

But who’s gonna write it, kid? You?

This is the part where you say, “OK then, you write the scene that fixes it, you sodding know-it-all!”

Fair enough. I’ll take a swing at it, but it’s difficult without being able to edit the rest of the film.

Still, I present to you my Eadu-escape confrontation scene.

J: You lied to me.

C: About what?

J: You came here, to murder my father.

C: [looks at the others, to get a sense of the room. A glance from Bodhi and he knows the game’s up] And? What of it? [he cannot face her] Your father was a traitor, and a danger to the rebellion.

J: Then why didn’t you kill him? [a tear rolls down her cheek, because she wants to grieve, but she needs to know]

C: It doesn’t matter why.

J: Tell me, damn you!

C: …

J: Tell me!

C: I wanted to! [he lurches towards her to whisper] I wanted to kill him… for everyone on Jedha. And it would have been righteous – Galen deserved to die.

J: You rebel scum…

C: Oh, there it is! You’ve been wanting to say it since you met me, haven’t you? Haven’t you! You look at me and all you see is a hollowed out soldier, who sold his soul for freedom. And maybe you’re right, but at least I fight for a cause. What do you fight for?

J: I fought for my father…

C: Sure, once we dragged you out from under the Empire’s boot and threw you into the fray.

J: You’re a monster.

C: D’yaahhh. [he walks away, making a show of examining some computer readout]

J: [pitying] You’ve nothing left, have you? Nothing but hate. You rebels are no better than the Empire.

C: [throws a helmet across the deck] You know nothing about me! I’ve given everything – EVERYTHING – to fight the Empire. I’ve known nothing else since I was a damn child! Since I was six years old! So you don’t get to lecture me, just because today the Empire finally took from you something you were unwilling to yield.

J: Oh, spare me the sanctimony! I know exactly the kind of man you are. You’re just another Saw Gerrera. A thug, a murderer. And precisely the reason I never wanted any part of this fight. But now I’ve no choice, have I? And since men like you have so spectacularly failed to save us from the Empire, it will take people like me – people like my father – who think before they fight, to clear up your mess.

C: I’d love to see you try.

J: You will.

This way, Jyn’s newfangled taste for rebellion is more believable, and her reasons for not joining the Alliance more understandable.

It doesn’t account for Cassian’s crisis of conscience, but I’m not sure that can be fixed from this scene alone. He needs another scene, in which he follows an order and weeps at the barbarity of his actions. That way the arc is complete: Status quo > Reflection > Change > Redemption.

I think with some jigging around, Rogue One could have been one of my favourites in the franchise. But I just didn’t care about the characters, and part of that was borne from confusion over who they were, what they wanted, and why they wanted to change.

What do you think? An improvement? Have I fixed anything, or made it worse? Let me know!

 

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If you don’t see me in November, blame #NaNoWriMo

With November fast approaching, I felt the need to explain my impending month-long withdrawal from society. Friends will be dismayed when I decline their invitation to the pub. Colleagues will wonder where I go every lunch break with my laptop (incidentally, I go to the pub to write, but don’t tell my friends). And my wife will offer me coffee while she catches up on all the rom-com trash I’ve hitherto vetoed.

I will not have time for such dalliances. I will be too busy creating!

If you don’t mind setting aside the pretentiousness of that statement, I shall explain: November is National Novel Writing Month, or #NaNoWriMo for short.

This means I will be joining thousands of other bleary-eyed writers around the world in attempting to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. Yes, you exceptional number crunchers, that does indeed equate to 1,667 per day. Also known colloquially as “a right proper slog”.

Back for seconds

I attempted (and completed – barely) the challenge for the first time last year, despite only discovering it on October 30th. That gave me two days to decide on an idea and plan some semblance of story from it.

The result was The Divine Alliance, an epic reimagining of The Iliad if Diomedes had recognised his ability to hurt the Gods. Thirty-odd chapters of Ancient Greek and Trojan kings rallying together to defeat their greater foe: the lords of Olympus.

If I’m honest, it has some problems, but there’s a body of work now, where once there was only the neurons in my brain keeping the idea in existence. It needs some rejigging, a little more agency for secondary characters, and an ending (I got to 50,000 words, I didn’t say I finished it), but I was pleased with it. There’s some great scenes, some neat concepts, and events that transpire as they do in the wider Greek tragedies, stoking themes of predestination and self-determination. I like it. And one day, I’ll go back to it and fix it up.

But not in November – no sir! In November I have something very different in mind.

End of the world as we know it

This year’s attempt will be a post-cataclysmic tale of survival. A woman finds herself trapped on the upper floors of a Piccadilly Circus building by a toxic mist that has come to rest over the streets of London. When escape becomes an impossible feat, she must turn to her copy of An Island To Oneself, a survivalist’s story of life on a desert island – only she’s on the rooftops, so scavenging for coconuts is out of the question.

The thrust of the story is the protagonist’s happy adoption of this new life, devoid of all the exhausting emotional trauma modern civilisation inflicts upon us. She builds a network of bridges between the rooftops, grows plants in a self-made greenhouse, collects rain water in office recycling bins, and sleeps in the empty luxury flats, devoid of utilities.

Now, my usual writing process is to just blurt out an idea and see where it takes me, something the writing community calls a “pantser” – ie, one who writes by the seat of their pants. So, spending more than a week on planning is an interesting experiment for me. We shall see if it reaps rewards.

In the meantime, please don’t take offence if I’m a little unresponsive for the next four weeks.

It’s not you, it’s me.

Good luck to everyone else participating! May your creative juices flow like the saliva of a dog in a butcher’s shop.


Featured photo by Mikhail Pavstyuk on Unsplash

The end is nigh, and other novel-writing revelations

A few weeks ago, the latest draft of Citadel tipped over the 100,000 words mark. It’s drawing closer to an end, when I can finally put this project to bed. I’ve spent the best part of 10 years on this story – though most of that time was spent learning how to tell it, rather than writing it, if that makes any sense.

That’s the nature of writing, I think. You can smash something out, but unless you study the craft and hone your talent, it is guaranteed to be a waffling mess. I look back at my early drafts, and they are practically instruments of torture – I cringe so hard reading them I give myself cramp. A lot of that was down to ignorance – ignorance of deep POV, narrative arcs, scene structure, character agency and the other mechanics of the trade.

But I’ve also learned to find the theme of a piece – the answer to the question: What am I writing about? If the answer is, “Radical battles and death and gore and political intrigue and titties!” you’re not quite there yet.

If your answer is actually another question, you’re getting closer.

But the biggest reason I’m excited to finish the story is that I want to do something else for a change. I want to write something new, something different and exciting. Something that I haven’t been mulling over for a decade. I can’t wait!

Why don’t I just sack off this project and do precisely that? Well, there are a few reasons: firstly, stubbornness is a factor. I said I’d do it, and I will, and not even me can persuade me otherwise!

Secondly, I don’t want the last decade to feel like a waste of time. I know it’s been a learning process – and that in itself is valuable – but to go so long without something complete and whole at the end of it would be pretty demoralising.

But thirdly, I’m not entirely without hope that Citadel is, in fact, a good story. I’ve no doubt I can do better, knowing what I know now, but there are scenes and characters in Citadel that I come across in the draft and think, “What the…? Who wrote this? It’s good.” There are moments that make my skin tingle, dialogue that’s witty and insightful (sometimes I don’t know if it’s me or the characters that came up with it), and tragic events that shake the very fabric of the world I’ve created.

So, I have to finish. And maybe an editor will say, “You need to cut out this entire sub-plot,” or “Do we need to see the antagonist in this light, or can we just leave him evil?” or “Have you considered doing away with description?”.

But that’s OK. It’ll be done. Finito. Complete.

A long, winding road leading to two words:

The End.

I can’t wait.

Published! My first short story now available, in The Infernal Clock

I am very excited (and nervous) to announce the first publication of one my short stories. My brain is a little all over the place, truth be told. I am as much daunted by the prospect as I am over the moon.

Here, let me pour out my mind soup, so you can see what’s going on:

I HAVE FINALLY ACHIEVED STARDOM – THE MUSE HAS SWEPT ME UP AND DELIVERED ME UNTO THE ANNALS OF HISTORY AS THE WORLD’S GREATEST WRITER – ummmm, steady on, what if my story’s shit? What if – actually – the first thing I’ve published is a steaming turd? – NO, IT IS A GREAT ACHIEVEMENT – oh shit oh shit oh shit – GO FORTH AND BE MERRY, FOR THIS MONUMENTOUS OCCASION NO DOUBT HERALDS FURTHER SUCCESS – every single literate English-speaking human has read it and they know my picture and they think I’m a total muppet and they’re laughing at my stupid face behind my back – IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO LAUGH AT SOMEONE’S FACE BEHIND THEIR BACK – oh God! What if my story is riddled with incongruous metaphors? IT IS A GOOD STORY, FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, GIVE IT A REST – I will not give it a rest, it’s called humility and doubt, you overbearing prat, maybe I should just not tell anyone – NO, WRITE A BLOG POST AND SHARE IT ON FACEBOOK – but then people might read it – THAT WAS THE POINT, WASN’T IT? – I don’t know! – GROW UP – Oh shit oh shit oh shit…

Oops, let me just close the old noggin there.

I’m erring towards Mr Shouty Brain, though – after all, I did write to be read, so I really ought to tell people when I have written something, right? So I’ll post this, and then go and hide in the pub for three hours.

So! On with the self promotion…

Continue reading Published! My first short story now available, in The Infernal Clock

2016 in retrospect

Yeah, I know; it’s almost February and I still want to talk about 2016. We’ve had enough of that monstrous year, I get it. But I want to ignore the political clusterfuck still smouldering in the UK and US, the hideous terrorist attacks in Paris, Berlin, Istanbul and the rest of the world, the rise of the alt-right (read: actual fucking Nazis), the permeation of fake news via social media, the gradual dissolution of political opposition in the UK, and the ever-increasing inequality our populace continues to vote for, like foxes voting Tory.

No – I want to talk about 2016 on a personal level. Because I’m a jabbering narcissist and assume I’m more important than our crumbling civilisation. It’s probably that narcissism that’s got us in this mess in the first place, but I’m a “Millennial” so I’ll do what I like, thanks.

So – 2016 was pretty mental.

For a start, I got married. I know, right?! I mean, who does that? Crazy stuff – but I have to say, it is rather nice. Actually, it’s almost exactly the same as before, but every now and then I mention “My wife” and I wonder whose brain I’ve taken control of, because that surely can’t be me, can it? With a wife? Like, I actually tricked someone into marrying me? And she PROMISED to stay with me, with no returns, and no backsies? Astonishing.

Continue reading 2016 in retrospect

#NaNoWriMo taught me how to pummel the page full of words

Yeah, that’s right Inner Demons – you were wrong about me. All that hopelessness and doubt you whispered in my ear was baseless baloney. You’re like the Breitbart of my mind – telling me everything is awful and finding people to blame other than myself.

Well eat this, you Pessimistic Pixies!

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_winner_congrats

Read it and weep, you Imps of Uncertainty. I came at this challenge unprepared and you told me to quit at every turn, telling me “You didn’t have time to prepare!” – “Sack it off and do it properly next year!” – “50,000 words is impossible with a full-time job!”

Continue reading #NaNoWriMo taught me how to pummel the page full of words

15 lessons learned from my 1st #NaNoWriMo

I decided to have a crack at the National Novel Writing Month challenge this November. I’ve written 13,400 words in seven days. And like every other writer with a blog, I felt compelled to regale my experience in a jovial list format. So, buckle up, list fans. It’s time to get jovial.

1.) Holy fucking jeebus, trying to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days is A LOT BLOODY HARDER THAN IT SOUNDS. I’m serious, break it down: 1,667 words each day… every day… for 30 days. Even on my most productive days writing Citadel, I was hitting 1,500 in a day, once every couple of months. Now I have to pull that out of my arse EVERY SINGLE DAY, with no respite, lest I need to play catch-up.

2.) For all that is good and holy, plan your bastard project with more than 24 hours’ notice. I committed to NaNoWriMo on the 31st October, and whipped up the most cursory plot to a book that’s been hibernating in my mind for some time. At least twice I’ve come up against a wall of incongruity, which might well have been avoided had I given the bloody thing more than two thoughts.

Continue reading 15 lessons learned from my 1st #NaNoWriMo

Another arbitrary milestone! Gadzooks!

“Chuffed” – that’s a good word. It’s informal British slang for feeling rather pleased with yourself, thank you very much.

I’m well chuffed, me.

You see? Nice, isn’t it? Just saying it makes you puff out your chest, a hearty smile creeping across your face. It’s warming and confident, and makes you think of toasting some small victory with a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Chuffed.

Why am I waxing lyrical about this particular word?

Simple: Because I am, in fact, feeling rather chuffed. For you see, dear readers (note the plural), Right Place Right Tim has reached its second milestone in its two years of existence.

followed-blog-200-2x
Two hundred WordPress followers!

Continue reading Another arbitrary milestone! Gadzooks!

What a writing journal can teach you about productivity

This week, I reached 115,000 words on my novel. I’m three and a half chapters from the end, on the home stretch, and already dreading the editing.Since October 2015, I’ve been tracking my progress with a writing journal, in which I record the time of each session, its duration, the number of words written and what chapter I was working on. A year later, I’m up to my eyeballs in data, and can draw some enlightening conclusions therein.

But first, a graph! Gadzooks!

word-count-oct16

As you can see, there are a number of lulls in productivity, loosely matching life events: Christmas in December, getting married and going on honeymoon in April, and being on holiday in August. Oddly, it is my holiday time that I’m at my least productive.

Continue reading What a writing journal can teach you about productivity

#Meanwhile… Choosing Which Criticism To Ignore

One of the crucial phases a writer goes through is garnering criticism from peers and beta readers, but when you’re putting your work out there, some degree of cynicism is essential.

Indeed, it is crucial for a writer to identify what advice to take and what advice to take with thanks as you slowly back away, holding their notes to your chest, before bidding them farewell, closing the door, and shoving the toxic lot in the bin. And setting it on fire.

Seriously though, it’s a skill. Every writer needs to master it, else you’ll either disregard everything and never improve, or end up writing by committee – and NOBODY wants that.

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LE Henderson has an excellent post on her blog Passionate Reason about the Seven Types of Writing Criticism to Ignore.

Enjoy.