KDP Paperback Problems Part Two

KEEP LINES TOGETHER!

Remember that.  It’ll come in handy later.

In my last post I complained bitterly about the new KDP template for a book, highlighting three immediate problems:  American spelling (disaster when you write in anything else);  bizarre circles when you turn on the Pilcrow button;  and uneven pages with white gaps at the bottom of pages.

By Friday evening last week, I was shattered with exhaustion trying to mend the last of these problems.  Angry, frustrated, miserable, foreseeing a future in which I couldn’t publish any paperbacks because (a) the template was so rubbish and (b) no agent in the universe was ever going to take me on.  Truly, I was in despair about this.  There’s only so much a one-man operation can cope with before crumbling to dust with the weight of problems.

While trying to pull myself together, several emails passed between me and KDP support.  The first one told me to turn on the Pilcrow button (explaining it to me as if I’d never heard of the thing) and turn off all the page breaks.  Except it wasn’t page breaks causing the white gaps.  So I sent images of what was happening and got another email to say that I needed to check the Don’t Add Space Between Paragraphs Of The Same Style option.  I tried this to no avail.  In fact, until this morning, I had checked and unchecked and rechecked every bloody option available in an effort to get rid of those goddamn white gaps.

Then I gave up and began to construct my own template.  I followed the instructions religiously in KDP’s “Build your book”, learning such interesting things such as custom-sized pages and customising margins, things I hadn’t ever done before.  Most interesting was discovering that you can make mirror pages, which is what you need for a book.  However, having spent several hours doing all this and feeling quite pleased with myself, I noticed that my document didn’t look quite the same as the document made in KDP’s own template.  With my very sharp eagle eyes, I tried to get everything exactly the same (except for the white gap error, obviously) and it still wasn’t right.

So I gave up, went for a walk, had lunch, read my book, ate chocolate, drank tea (some not very nice stuff from Whittards – remind me to get some Lapsang Souchong next time I go shopping) and then sat down again this afternoon to have another bash at this utterly infuriating document.

Oooo, what’s this, I wondered, noticing that the option (under Paragraph, Lines and Page Breaks) called KEEP LINES TOGETHER was checked.  I unchecked it but it made no difference.  So I selected a troublesome area and tried again.  No difference.  I selected the whole document and tried to uncheck it but it wouldn’t allow me.  So I tried placing the cursor in different places and bloody miracle of miracles I FIXED IT!!!!!

Yep, it was that option KEEP LINES TOGETHER that was forcing paragraphs to stay whole and not break up from one page to the next.  When unchecking the option, it’s VERY important that you have the cursor at the beginning of the paragraph you want to break up, i.e. at the start of the page, immediately before the first letter of the first word.  It’s unbelievably laborious going through an entire novel unchecking all those boxes.  I will have serious words to KDP about this but you can be damn sure they’ll not do anything about it.

And as for the weird circles….?  As soon as I had changed the margins on my new document, the circles appeared out of nowhere.  So it’s not a bizarre KDP thing or an internet thing or very small aliens trying to invade your document, it’s some kind of bizarre formatting doobie-dad.  Could have lived without that one.

I hope the following screen captures will help.  I’m sorry the pictures are so small.  WordPress has decided that we are no longer allowed to change the size of images.  Another platform sabotaging authors.

Fixing bad template 1

HERE YOU CAN CLEARLY SEE THAT THE TOP RIGHT HAND PAGE DOES NOT END AT THE SAME POINT AS THE ONE ON THE TOP LEFT, WITH A LARGE WHITE GAP

Fixing bad template 2

OPEN PARAGRAPH, THEN THE LINE AND PAGE BREAKS TAB. YOU WILL SEE THAT KEEP LINES TOGETHER HAS BEEN CHECKED. IT’S NOT VISIBLE HERE, BUT THE CURSOR HAS BEEN PLACE NEXT TO THE WORD “YANI” ON THE BOTTOM LEFT PAGE, AT THE VERY START OF THE PARAGRAPH.

Fixing bad template 3

UNCHECK THE KEEP LINES TOGETHER OPTION AND CLICK OK.

Fixing bad template 4

MAGIC. THE PAGE NOW LINES UP. THE PARAGRAPH STARTING “YANI” HAS BEEN BROKEN OVER ONE PAGE TO THE NEXT.

 

 

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KDP Paperback Problems Part One

I never thought I’d say this but I miss Createspace.  God, it was easy.  You uploaded your manuscript as a Word document.  They sent you another Word document with your manuscript magically turned into book format, with “left” pages and “right pages.  You spent a few days fixing everything up:  the spacing, chapter headingss, what you wanted on what page where, page numbers, embedding fonts………….it was such fun.  It was easy.  I got really good at making my self-published paperbacks look good (the contents at any rate……not so much the covers!)

But Createspace has been killed by KDP.  I wouldn’t mind so much except that they’ve replaced it with a really shit programme.  If it ain’t broke, why fix it?  There was nothing wrong with Createspace.  Why replace it with the worst template in the universe?

What you do now is download a template for your book.  You can pick one that is blank or has placeholder text.  Since I’m smart enough to know how to actually use Word, I went for the blank one.  Then I copied and pasted my novella and off I went to work on it, getting it into shape, chapter headings, fonts, etc etc etc.  All the usual stuff you do when working on a document for a book edition.

It should have been easy.  Clearly KDP had worked out this was an easier option than uploading to Createspace.  I don’t know WHY they thought this, but I was ready to go with it.  I didn’t really care HOW I got my book contents published, as long as I could.  As I said, it should have been easy.

But the template is rubbish.

A major issue is WIDOWS AND ORPHANS.  I am not going to explain what this is.  If you don’t know, google it.  Something about this damn template has FORCED all new paragraphs to start on a new page, thus preventing widows and orphans.  Now, any book in the universe that you pick up is full of widows and orphans and paragraphs that start on one page and end on the next.  This is normal.  This is what books look like.  But, oh no, not this goddamn template.  ALL new paragraphs start on a new page if they don’t fit in at the bottom of the previous one.  This means that there are large white gaps at the bottom of EVERY PAGE.  It means that the pages are uneven.  And it looks HORRIBLE.  Upon querying this, KDP told me I must have hidden page breaks and instructed me to click on the Pilcrow button, as if I didn’t know what this was.  I am a goddamn professional author who REALLY KNOWS how to use Word.  Did they not think I would check?  I have gone into the Widows and Orphans function and tried everything but it’s jammed.  So basically, there is NOTHING I can do to make my book look nice.  It’s a shit template and there is no getting round it.

Another extremely annoying matter is that the template is stuck on AMERICAN ENGLISH even though I’ve got Word options set to UK English.  This means that about 25% of the manuscript is now littered with red squiggles which is REALLY annoying.

A more worrying factor are the SMALL CIRCLES.  What the hell is that about!  Clicking on the Pilcrow symbol brings up returns, spaces, page breaks……..and millions of small circles, like degree signs, littered all over the document in no apparent order for no apparent reason.  I tried to delete one and the space deleted.  What is it?  It looks like contamination and I fear that my uploaded document (if I ever get that far considering the widows and orphans fiasco) will somehow be affected and the formatting ruined.

All the excitement I felt in creating a new paperback has died.  The setbacks are just too enormous for me to cope with.  I’ve struggled and struggled and struggled for years, putting in endless time and energy in trying to get my books out to people to read and have failed again and again.  This is just another huge big failure on my part.  I’m not entirely sure I can take anymore.

 

Bad KDP template 2

Check out the little circles everywhere.

Bad KDP template

An example of a bad white space and one made with a page break.

 

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The worst thing that can happen to a writer

An HP update this morning wiped all the work I did yesterday, despite the fact that I save it AND saved it to a memory stick.  It even wiped the work from the memory stick.  I have looked everywhere on my computer, in vain, trying to find some kind of backup, temp folder – anything – but it’s as if the last 24 hours never happened.  It’s as if I never even turned on my computer yesterday.

And of course it was the best work I’ve ever done.  I started this novella in January this year and battled with it for so long that I eventually abandoned it.  A few weeks ago, I began work on it again and slowly, slowly, I began to make progress.  The exciting part at the end of the story, in which multiple threads had to come together, was slowly approaching.  Yesterday, finally, I reached the exciting part.  And I was on fire!  The argument between my two main characters was bloody brilliant.  It went better than I hoped.  I found information that I’d forgotten and added that to the argument was well.  The ending was shaping up to a brilliant piece of writing.  I finished one mammoth scene and even began to the next one, which began differently than I’d expected, with some hot, fast writing, full of action…….god, I was so pleased with myself.

It’s all gone.

When I realised this, I almost fainted.  My knees actually turned to jelly and my head went weird.  I have since gone through every emotion, many of them at the same time:  rage, tears, despair.  I have cried.  I have sworn.  I have attacked HP on their useless website.  My daughter and I have spent hours going through everything on my computer, trying to find some hint of where the work might have vanished to.  But we found nothing.  It has gone gone gone gone gone gone gone gone gone gone.

Why me?  Am I cursed?  Is it not enough that I have suffered for decades as a writer?  Is it not enough that younger writers with no more talent than I’ve been blessed with have been published, awarded, feted, lauded, loved, sold movie rights, been able to afford a holiday.  Is it not enough that I am unknown, unread, invisible, middle-aged and lonely?  Is it not enough that I’ve cried into my pillow a million times, suffered deep, scarring bouts of depressing, whipped myself over and over for being such a failure?

Is this not enough?

Must I go on suffering, that when I finally get to write something halfway decent, a stupid fucking automatic computer update arsehole thing comes along and KILLS IT?  Is God sitting up there going, oops, she’s a bit happy, fuck me but we can’t have that so BOOM!  Kill her work.  Wipe it out.  And do it in such a way that there is no way in any universe that it can ever be recovered.

This is truly the worst fucking thing that could ever happen to a writer.  Particularly when you KNOW you saved it.  Twice.  And for this to happen on the last day of the year too.

Happy fucking new fucking year not.

suicide

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The Brilliance of Voltron

[SPOILER ALERT:  This article discusses the final series and the events of the last episode.]

 

The big question at the end of the eighth and last series is:  what did you think?  I’m surprised to find myself saying:  IT WAS BRILLIANT.  Yes, it was flawed.  No, this isn’t what I thought was going to happen.  And no doubt the fandom is up in arms and raging with trillions of theories and “should have beens” flying across the interweb.  Fortunately, I live in a universe of one (me) where virtually no opinions colour my thinking on anything, so I can say, without knowing what anyone else thinks:  I loved it.  It was bloody brilliant.  And it ended exactly how it was supposed to.

The two main aspects of the eighth series were the Lance/Allura relationship and Allura’s death.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say:  it had to happen.  Both aspects HAD TO HAPPEN.  She had to have a relationship with Lance.  And she had to die.  No one wanted her to have a thing with Lance, least of all me.  The idea was put forward quite early on;  after all, Lance had a humongous crush on her from the moment he saw her.  But the idea of this rather young and immature guy with the extremely sophisticated, intelligent, powerful woman who was ten thousand years old (and counting) was just WRONG.

BUT!  The fact that it was wrong, meant it was perfect.  Wow, that’s going to be hard to explain!  For a start, the moment the relationship was established in the first episode, I realised she was going to die.  It was the Big Arrow:  the fact that their relationship was wrong indicated directly that she had to die.  They couldn’t be together forever.  There was no happy-ever-after for them.  Knowing she was going to die (and I promise, I knew NOTHING about this series when I started watching:  I go in with no spoilers at all, no knowledge, and no discussion with anyone) meant that I watched the entire series on edge:  when would she die.  How would she die.  How would this affect everyone.  How would this affect Lance.

Simply put, what we have here is a conflict in a relationship:  it was perfect and it was wrong.  How could it be both?  It was wrong, thus it signalled Allura’s death.  And it was perfect because of a little thing called STRENGTH.

Now I need to talk about Allura:  she was by far the strongest character, in every way, and also had the greatest strength of character.  She believed in the Paladins from the moment they arrived, before they even had a chance to believe in themselves.  She held them together.  She had knowledge.  She had power.  She was absolutely driven, too, and very focused on what needed to be done.  She had lost everything:  her family, her people, her planet.  She had nothing left and everything to live for.

ALLURA GAVE EVERYONE STRENGTH…….

……but who gave Allura strength?

Not Lotor.

Ah, Lotor.  Sigh.  Seriously hot.  Sexy voice.  God, he was yummy.  Please let me take a moment while I divert into fantasyland…….

Anyway, Lotor was the ideal partner for Allura.  Completely besides the fact that he was gorgeous, he was her equal in every way:  intelligent, educated, driven.  They talked the same language and they understood one another.  And they looked really good together.  The chemistry worked.  They worked.  It was an ideal match.  I wanted them to get married and have lots of babies all in different colours with white hair.  This was a couple that fulfilled my every romantic dream.  However, this would only have worked if Lotor was redeemed.  Just how he could be redeemed, I couldn’t imagine.  He had been broken by his godawful parents.  Was there any possibility of coming back from that kind of insanity?

Which leads me back to my question:  who was there to give Allura strength?  And the answer is:  Lance.  When she was broken after her foray into Honerva’s mind, who brought her back?  Who sat at her bedside and LOVED her?  Lance.  No one else could do it.  And THAT is why their relationship was perfect.  THAT is why it had to be:  SOMEONE had to give HER strength and that person had to be someone who offered her pure, innocent, devoted, whole-hearted love.  Someone who loved her utterly for who she was.  It was love that brought her back.  And however much I felt uncomfortable with their relationship, I could see it had to be.

It was also part of Lance’s story arc.

I want to look briefly at all the story arcs, because one thing that troubled me in the eighth series (and for the seventh as well) was that there was very little character development.  I only realised later, once I’d finished watching to the end, that the reason for this was because most of the character arcs had already finished.

Pidge:  Her story ended basically when she found her brother and father.  She was now complete as a person.

Hunk:  He didn’t have much of a story arc but it was completed right at the very end when he cooked for the diplomats, which was a really nice touch.

Shiro:  His story arc ended when he truly found himself, as it were, and became wholly himself (with that awful new arm that I really hated, but that’s another story).  He reached his pinnacle by running Atlas.  Before he’d been the leader of Voltron, but being the leader (captain or whatever) of Atlas, meant he was even more powerful.  So he had all the power he was going to get and didn’t need to develop much more.  I loved that he had a happy ending with a new partner:  as a character, he really suffered the most and deserved some joy.

Keith:  His story arc ended with his rescuing Shiro and finding his mother (not in that order, I don’t think!)  So as a person, he was complete before series eight and didn’t need more development.  I personally don’t think Keith was capable of a romantic relationship with anyone, boy or girl.  I think he is destined to be a lone wolf for the rest of his life.  His pinnacle was being able to lead Voltron:  this was Keith at his most powerful.  His friendship with Lance, I think, was extremely important, and I imagine he would always be there for Lance.  This was indicated in a scene towards the end and was a sign of his maturity.

Lance:  But no one matured more than Lance and we had to wait a long time to see that maturity.  He was silly and funny and excitable and jealous.  But he was also smart.  His perfect-but-wrong relationship with Allura gave him the maturity he lacked and I even wondered at one point:  who are you and what have you done with the real Lance?!  Not only did his chance to openly love the woman he had yearned for for so long make him grow up, he also actually grew a few inches and ended up taller than Keith!

So:  it was part of the crucial story arc that Lance reach maturity by having that relationship with Allura.  It was part of Allura’s story arc that she be given strength from someone who loved her because frankly, she was exhausted after giving up all her strength for everyone else.

And just because her death was signposted (to me, anyway, as I am a writer and have an understanding of story construction), doesn’t mean it wasn’t a shock.  The moment she said, “I’m not coming back,” I broke down and sobbed.  Her sacrifice was the right thing to do but it was still heart breaking.

More about that sacrifice:  why did it have to be Allura?  Because she was a goddess.  She may have been born a princess, but she grew into her godhood.  This was her story arc:  her attainment of power.  She became more and more powerful as the story developed until she was powerful enough not only to end Honerva but to REDEEM HER.

Before I do on, I want to make a note about the theme of Voltron.  To me, it was about strength.  Not just the characters and that whole “my robot is bigger than your robot” thing.  Behind every evil character was another evil character who was even stronger than the first.  But the strongest of all was Honerva.  She was, frankly, horrible.  But the more powerful she became, the more one pitied her because all she wanted was to be her little boy’s mother.  And there is no greater strength, if you can measure such a thing, than a mother’s love for her child.  Not all mothers.  Not always.  Not always in the right way.  And not all parents bond with their kids.  But if there is a bond, the pain when it breaks is truly terrifying.  And it was that pain and loss that drove Honerva.  It was that pain and loss that gave her the terrible strength to do what she did:  to tear through universes to find the right one where she could be a mother.

And – oh! – what a fantastic piece of writing!  THE IRONY!  When at last she found the perfect universe, when she found Lotor as a child, he REJECTED her because he was uncorrupted and pure and could see her for what she was.  The irony is that the only universe that produced an uncorrupted Lotor was the one in which Honerva had disappeared.  Honestly, even the Star Wars universe couldn’t produce an idea as good as this, as subtle, as complex, as brilliant.

So now it’s the end and we have the two most powerful beings in all the universes confront each other:  good vs evil.  I love that they were both women.  And I love that Allura showed her strength not by fighting, in the end, but by showing the greatest strength of all:  she helped to redeem Honerva.  And by redeeming Honerva, she also redeemed Lotor:  by recreating all the universes again in a new god-like big bang thing, it meant that that uncorrupted Lotor, in his universe, could grow up to be a good man, the one he wanted to be, the one I wanted him to be, the one Allura would have wanted him to be.  So he was redeemed after all.

Now who can truly offer redemption more completely than a god?  Or goddess?  Thus did Allura reach the level of godhood.  And gods and goddesses are, as we know, immortal.  So Allura isn’t dead.

She’s out there.  And she’s strong.

 

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Writing a treatment for your novel

A treatment, as defined by Wikipedia, is:

A film treatment is a piece of prose, typically the step between scene cards and the first draft of a screenplay for a motion picture, television program, or radio play. It is generally longer and more detailed than an outline, and it may include details of directorial style that an outline omits. Wikipedia

I’ve found that writing a treatment for a novel is equally useful.  The note-making process for a novel can be a bit scatty – or it is, if you’re me.  By the time I’d finished the first novel in my new fantasy series, I was already making notes for the next novel (and the next, and the next……)  Then, while I was off doing something else for a year, I would add a few more notes as they came to mind.  When I finally sat down to start the pre-writing process, I had LOADS more notes with lots of ideas cropping up in odd places, such as plot development ideas occurring while working on character biographies.

While the story was very clear in my mind, the actual course of events needed to be sorted out, as did the balancing of dramatic and reflective moments.  I’ve also constructed very tight writing rules for this series of novels:  no more than 80 000 words, a relatively fixed number of chapters, very clear plot developments.  In order for all this to work, I needed a VERY well-constructed treatment.

When I sit down – finally – to write a treatment, I already know my story very well indeed.  By the time I’ve finished the treatment, I know it inside out.  I go through my notes again and again, finding bits that are hugely interesting that I want to include and then add it to the treatment.  What you have at the end is a well-structured short story BUT not at all written in “story” form:  this is not the place where real writing is done – this is where thoughts are ordered.  Think of as creating a skeleton on which to hang your first draft.

The completed treatment for the second novel in the series is almost 10 000 words long and comes to 20 pages.  I set it up as a table with a narrow column running down the right hand side.  In this column, I have chapter titles and structure notes such as Act I Climax, Intro to Character, Flashback, first vital clue, that sort of thing.  I also have dates, indications if I think a chapter might be longer than usual, which means I know following chapters need to be shorter.  Sometimes there are notes indicating whether a chapter needs to be slower due to extreme action in the previous chapter.  I have chapter titles in red.  I have a row of little flowers to separate chapters.  If there is too much information written elsewhere, I will make a note of exactly where that info is if I need to refer to it.

By working on the treatment, it usually means the notes in the right hand column have to be moved constantly.  This can be a tad tiresome but in the end, it all works for me.  I print it out when it’s done and then basically all my notes are in one place, nice and neat and easy to read.

None of these notes, however, are written in stone.  With the first novel, there were many name changes.  I made an error with a date and had to change it which resulted in a chapter title changing too.  An extremely minor character became more interesting and I foresaw an unexpected romance in the distant future.  There were visual changes too.

But because of the treatment, I was able to sit down and write a first draft without stopping, without, as it were, hesitation, repetition or deviation.  It was brilliant!  It was a breath of fresh air!  I felt FREE because I had rules, weird as that may sound!

So if you are a scatty, rambling writer as I have been, there is a way to learn some control.  Writing a treatment-plus-structure has been my saving grace.  It’s also GREAT fun, as you can see your novel taking shape which can be very encouraging.

Obviously you can set it up however you like.  Mine looks something like this:

(Please note this is a sample only – my first chapter went on for a page and a half, the second for two pages;  another chapter further on was about five pages long!)

Sample of full treatment plus structure

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Finding the right name for your main character

One of the difficulties I had in That Difficult Novel was finding the right name for the protagonist.  When I first created the novel (many years before I actually began work on it), I really fancied calling her Ygraine.  But this is a famous name in a famous tale with huge historical connotations, so using it would be a deliberate act, a direct reference to Arthurian legend.  As I had no reason to use it other than that I liked it, I realised at once that I would have to change it.

And change it I did.  A hundred times.  I worked as hard on finding the right name as I did on the millions of notes I ended up making in trying to get the novel written.  The novel is borderline fantasy so I couldn’t use anything too modern.  But I didn’t want to use anything too obviously fantasy-style either.  I began to lean towards Welsh names but that would have been too obvious as well.  And anyway, my novel wasn’t set in Wales.  It wasn’t actually set anywhere, which was half the problem.

In the end, I came up with Ilgria.  This had at least 90 different spellings before I settled on the simplest version (other versions had the letter Y in various places).  And Ilgria she remained for several years.  Having abandoned its the novel for a year or two, I decided that what was wrong with it (amongst other things) was that the name was wrong.  It has the sound of the word “ill” at the beginning, making her sound, well, ill.  Having re-watched Lord of the Rings for about the nth time, I recalled a speech given in Elvish by one of the characters using the word “elanen.”  At least, that’s what it sounded like to me.  Brilliant, I thought:  that could be a name!  So Ilgria became Elanen.  It does, at least, sound like a name, although I argued with myself lengthily on how it should be pronounced and that it was likely to be mispronounced by everyone who read it and wondered why it wasn’t just Elaine.

Another year trickled by.  I had a brainwave:  the reason why I was struggling with a name for my main character was because she wasn’t supposed to have a name.  She was meant to be nameless!  The story is, after all, a Beauty and the Beast allegory, and Beauty, as we know, didn’t have a name.  The story is told in the first person so I thought it would be a simple matter of deleting the name wherever it appeared.

I began this task this week.  There were over 200 instances of the name being used, quite extraordinary when you think it’s a first person tale.  But off I went, deleting the name, primarily uttered by others in conversation with our heroine.  There were some awkward places where a name was really required but I managed to get round those, sometimes losing something of the art of the novel in the process.

And then I got to the third act.  This is narrated by the love interest, the main male character, and it didn’t take me too long to realise that it was utterly impossible for her not to have a name.  If he kept referring to Elanen as “her”, it would  make him seem cold.  And there were sentences where I absolutely had to have a name for her.  I couldn’t just knock the name out;  I had to find another word to replace it.  At one point I just came up with “joy.”  He refers to her in a way that ended, “…..my Elanen” which I then turned into “…..my joy.”  But this was lame.  It didn’t work.  I didn’t like it.  She had to have a name, after all.

Back to square one.  The same problem for what must be 7 years now:  what do I call this bloody woman?!  I googled “joy” in other languages and came up with “alegria” in Spanish.  Recalling that Allegra is a popular name (I think it means joy in Italian), I wondered if I could use Alegria.  I didn’t want to use Allegra as this brought to mind Byron’s daughter Allegra, whom he tore away from his discarded lover and stuffed into a convent (the child), where she promptly died.  (I think Byron is an utter shit but anyway.)

Alegria worked.  It even sounds a bit like Ilgria but is more feminine and somehow more familiar looking.  So now I had to go back and reinsert the name!  Fortunately this was quite easy as I was using a new copy of the document and could just have the original open beside it on my screen.  I’ve decided to keep her name in minimal use in the first two acts, though, as her almost-namelessness still strikes me as a good idea.  It seems to work better when we, as a reader, hardly know her name, while her lover uses it constantly, thus establishing her identity.

The irony of all this is that I hardly ever have trouble with names.  They pop into my head from nowhere.  Gomenzi as one of my favourite inventions, so good I had to make two of them (he had a twin).  I love Angelica Zippoli as well.  And Sistia Scarpora.  Most names just bounce out the ether, for which I’m eternally grateful.

Okay, wait, I’m seeing a theme here:  why do all my names SOUND ITALIAN?????!

Anyway,  names are important.  Don’t be afraid to change them.  If you want people to like your character, they have to like their name too.

1

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Interpreting Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas is the book I wish I’d written.  I read it sick with green envy.  How much easier would my life had been if I’d been awarded even an ounce of David Mitchell’s talent.

It’s not that I think it’s brilliant.  In fact, I didn’t particularly like the story and found myself getting bored quite often.  It’s not even a story I’d want to tell because these are not my stories.

It’s the technical aspects I envy.  The writing itself is superb.  The book is well-researched, the settings believable.  Imagination has worked here, strongly, taking you to places you would never have thought to go.  There is daring, hard work, cleverness.  The structure is clever too:  I love it.  I would never have thought to structure a story in this way.  The connections between the different time frames are easy to grasp and convincing.  When I try to write this sort of thing, it’s fudged and vague and obscure and the reader has no clue what is going on.  I was never lost in Cloud Atlas.

Several years later, I don’t actually recall what the book is about, only the taste of the envy that is still bitter in my mouth.  I’ve read no reviews of the book or the movie, so can’t judge how they were received, but the book must have done well enough to warrant such an expensive movie.  I started watching it last night and visually, it is stunning.  Every time frame is beautifully created.  The chase in the futuristic section is gobsmacking.  And the acting is wonderful:  I haven’t enjoyed a Tom Hanks movie this much for years.  Halle Berry is excellent too.  How does this woman never age?  I loved how the same actors turned up in different time frames, often unrecognisable.  I listened to some ugly bloke spouting forth for ten minutes before realising it was Huge Grant.  All the performances are fine indeed, bringing characters to life in a way I hadn’t observed on the page.

The structure of the movie is different to the book.  If it had stayed the same, it would have ended up being a portmanteau, which wouldn’t have worked.  Here, the time frames are intercut, and you flick from one to the other, never in any particular order.  I did find myself wishing there was some kind of order because it often lost coherence and I wonder if I would have enjoyed it as much if I hadn’t read the book.  Sometimes the scenes felt connected, but often they weren’t.  I’ve got an hour left of the movie and will be interested to see if it approaches any kind of climax, something I felt the book lacked.

While this is a positive review of the technical aspects of Cloud Atlas, I couldn’t say the same for the story itself.  As the tale unfolded, it seemed to be offering the reader something extraordinary.  Long before I’d finished, I realised how hollow it was.  The story itself has no centre.  It has no heart.  I didn’t care for any of the characters.  Most were pretty unlikeable or so unlucky you couldn’t be made to care.  In the end, the book left me cold, despite it’s brilliance, which probably explains why I can barely recall what it’s about.

Whatever other interpretations there are of the book, I wouldn’t know, so can’t speak about what this book is “really” about – or how it has been understood by others.  I can only comment on what it was about for me:  it seemed to be suggesting the main characters of each time frame were reincarnations.  As this is something I write about all the time (in fact, immortality is pretty much all I write about), this was of great interest to me.  I don’t particularly agree with the time of reincarnation written about here.  It’s very imaginative but really too fanciful for me to be even close to the reality.  This wouldn’t matter so much except for the comet-shaped birthmark.  Without it, there would be nothing to signify to the reader the connection between the characters.  In the real world, this would never, ever, ever happen.  But, hey, imaginatively, it was a great idea.

Googling this book brings up the immediate question that everyone seems to have asked:  what is it about?  It seem to be that if you have to ask, it’s not worth knowing.

 

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