Category Archives: Research

Essential Reading

This is my study Bible for the next couple of months, I’ll reckon.

 

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WordPress?

I have been using WordPress to do blogs and things like this for a while, and whereas I know that it is an incredibly powerful piece of kit if you know how to use it, I have never used it in this capacity.

 

But now, I am thinking;
I don’t really know how to do web design very well. Layouts and things look dated when I do them, and as for usability… Well…

There will need to be a lot of quality assurance.

But WordPress? What if I used WordPress to its full potential? What if I used WordPress, or something similar, to host my website?

What I am creating is essentially an archive of articles and artefacts; it’s a blog, really.

So why not take something I already know how to use, a bit, and create something more with it?

This would probably save me a lot of money, too, instead of buying Domain and Server space…

I’ll definitely have a think about it.

To Write Well

To write well, one must write

and write often.

To write well, one must read well:

reading often and reading closely.

Storytelling is contagious –

reading will spark the fuel of your imagination.

But storytelling has also been going on for as long as mankind has existed.

You should know what’s been said and how it has been said to do it well yourself.

To write well, one must treat writing both seriously and playfully, balancing the discipline of hard work with the pleasures of creativity.

Readers only respect writers who care enough to do both with vigor.

And they can spot lazy writing from a mile away.

To write well, one must first be willing to make a lot of mistakes in the name of experimentation and practice.

Otherwise, one goes stale or repeats the same errors indefinitely.

Or worse: one might become fatally boring…to readers and to oneself.

To write well, one must be willing to share writing with others, to get a sense of how readers respond to one’s efforts.

Never forget that writing is foremost an act of communication.

And if writing is an experiment, then workshopping is a way of testing the results of it.

Again: To write well, one must really care what readers think.

Often a reader’s needs are more important than the writer’s goals in telling a story. Sometimes you have to be willing to “kill your darlings.”

Yet to write well, one must not think of writing as a slavish act of catering to one’s audience — or as mandatory homework assigned by a teacher.

Writing is something magical that originates from within:

storytelling is one of the many ways we all have of expressing ourselves and discovering ourselves.

Even in fantasy, we” write what we know”

and yet, when we are doing it right, we surprise ourselves with our own imagination.

To write well is to tell stories consciously. We’re all already fictioneers,

we’re always telling stories in our everyday lives,

whether we know it or not.

But what separates a fiction writer from an everyday storyteller, however, is a particular attention paid to crafting the language and a purposeful massaging of the core elements of narrative to produce the desired audience response…

Something emotionally resonant or truthful…

 

Something approaching art.

“To Write Well”

Excerpted from a syllabus for a course in

The Writing of Fiction

by Michael Arnzen, Ph.D. | Seton Hill University(http://michaelarnzen.com)

Pinterest

I have created a Pinterest board for some of my research, in the hopes that this might be able to help people get a better idea of what I am trying to achieve. I will continue to add to it, but it can be found here. I am hoping that this will act as a sort of mood board, without the need to destroy a bunch of magazines I like, or old photographs, or without wasting tonnes of printer ink.

Visual Design

I have been thinking about designs for my postcards and the website. I think the main Image I want to try and achieve when attempting to represent Malice-Upon-Woe can be summed up with five examples:

 

  1. Norman Rockwell’s ‘American Gothic’
    American Gothic sums up, for me, the look of everyone who could live in Malice. Normal, but there’s something off about them. Stoney faced, serious, stern. This image has been a great inspiration and a great help when trying to describe some of the images I want to collect in order to create faux news articles for the website.
    Norman Rockwell - American Gothic
  2. “The End Is Nigh” and Victorian Photography
    I love Victoriana and gothica, and given that Victorian gothic stories were what inspired me to create this project in the first place, I could not describe it without referring to this imagery. The image below, of three men wearing their ‘The End Is Nigh’ board is something I would like to mock-up, with me wearing the board as one of the postcard designs, or perhaps for one of the news articles. It’s so bleak and miserable, so morbid. And fitting, for a town that destroys itself. For once, they were right.
  3. Memento Mori
    I speak a bit more about this on my other blog in this link but I will put a couple of examples on here.
    Victorians liked to take pictures of their loved ones in death, that their memory might live on. Memento Mori’s were not unusual, but to look at them now they seem very bizarre. A common trope was to prop the bodies up in order that they might look like they were still alive. In the image below, a young boy is dressed in a frilly dress with a basket of bay leaves: the parents wanted a picture of his deceased twin sister – it was the best they could do.
  4. Hidden Mother
    Hidden mother photographs are a great source of entertainment to me, because they’re so weird. Due to the long exposure times of old photographs, it was often difficult to get the child to stay still. A way around this was to get the child to sit in the lap of the mother, but so that the mother could not be seen, they attempted to disguise her as part of the furniture, so that it appeared to be just a picture of the child. It didn’t work. They look sinister as hell.
    Hidden mother 4
    Sometimes they did it with their pets too. This, if it was not given context, would be one of the weirdest things I have seen in a very long time.

    Hidden mother cat

  5.  The End Is Extremely Fucking Nigh
    And finally, that bit from 28 Days Later. You don’t know who wrote it, you don’t know why, but you know they meant it. Something is wrong here, and you’re not sure if you want to find out what.

Maps of Places That Don’t Exist

Arkham (H.P. Lovecraft)

Arkham (H.P. Lovecraft)

Maps of places that don’t exist are not a new idea. Whether or not maps are provided with a story, or whether fans map it out themselves, people like a sense of place provided with a story.

Here are a few examples I have found.

Arkham (H.P. Lovecraft)

Arkham (H.P. Lovecraft)

There haver been several iterations of Arkham and Innsmouth, by fans and through more official means, but the main things remain the same. Once you have provided a series of locations, and you know their vague relation to one another, you can start to map it out. As we know that Arkham and Innsmouth are in Massachusetts, we know that there will be a sort of grid pattern to the layout. If this were anywhere else, the layout would be slightly different. Knowing a vague location can change the interpretation greatly.

Innsmouth (H.P. Lovecraft)

Innsmouth (H.P. Lovecraft)

Middle Earth (J. R. R. Tolkein)

Middle Earth (J. R. R. Tolkein)

Middle Earth has had a map since its conception, to the best of my knowledge, but nevertheless, we know that it represents England and Ireland. People have made their own versions, but the major regions and the rough layout will be the same.

Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)

Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)

Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)

Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)

Neverwhere is quite an interesting one, because London exists. We know how London is laid out, we know how it works, but Neil Gaiman has used the template of London and reimagined it in his own way to produce a shadow version of London. We can follow the story on the map, however we know that because the London is not quite the same, it would not be the same experience. Using somewhere real as a template is an interesting technique, one used in the His Dark Materials Trilogy, and The Raw Shark Texts. Once again, we know the rough layout, but the world that is written about exists beneath what we can see, so there is still some room for artistic manipulation of space.

Twin Peaks (David Lynch)

Twin Peaks (David Lynch)

Twin Peaks is another interesting one, because we know roughly what it looks like. In the series, maps appear in various locations, and even reasonably detailed maps appear at one point in the Owl Cave, and on the blackboard in the Police Station, but this does not stop people from imagining it in their own way. Even given a very basic layout allows people to explore and imagine it in their own means.

Twin Peaks (David Lynch)

Twin Peaks (David Lynch)

 

Would it be best, then, to completely invent a new place, or to base Malice-Upon-Woe on a place that already exists? Could I borrow some locations from some places and make a hybrid of several towns? Should I be very detailed, or leave it more open to people’s imaginations? These are all things worth considering, and will change the way I create the maps.

For now, it is good to see the amount of detail that goes into other peoples ideas of what places look like.

Soundtracks

Although not entirely relevant, I always think it is useful to consider the style and genre of music used in soundtracks, especially if they are composed for the film. I will post a few I find particularly interesting, just as examples of how score can be used to accentuate moments in films. The style, genre, choice of instruments, everything changes how a film is perceived, so it is important to know what tools you are working with.

The soundtrack for Akira is massively varied, but uses a lot of percussion and vocals throughout. It reflects the erratic and unstable nature of business and life in NeoTokyo.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The soundtrack is incredibly understated and quiet, gentle. It is an unusual contrast to the usually gruesome or intense nature of the film.

Sergio Leone often worked with Ennio Morricone, who is one of the most famous film score composers I can think of. The theme used in For A Few Dollars More is incredible famous, especially for the use of a signifier as regards the watch, the theme coming in to play in order to highlight the watch itself.

When talking about Soundtracks, it would be remiss of me not to mention John Williams. The theme for Jaws acts both as a soundtrack, and as a signifier for Bruce. It is not unusual for characters to have themes associated with them, signifying their presence without even needing to mention or see them, but this is perhaps one of the most famous examples of this.

Hans Zimmer is another whose soundtracks are world reknowned. This track, from the Inception soundtrack, once again, has a slow build, very rhythmic and a structured building of layers. It seems that horns and strings are used mainly when someone wants to create drama through their music.

The theme for Requiem For A Dream has been used so much now, it is often forgotten that it is associated with this film. It is incredibly dramatic, using a string orchestra to full potential. It is very simple, with only a few notes, but the Kronos Quartet know nothing if not how to produce a lot from a little.

Thomas Newman is probably one of my favourite composers when it comes to film scores. He uses gentle, delicate melodies and is quite the contrast to the Kronos Quartet. They are often used to impart quite a different message to that of the Kronos Quartet or John Williams, for example.

Perhaps the antithesis of Thomas Newman would be Vangelis, whose electrical soundtracks are famous through many films during the 1980’s. He has a tendency to lay down one underlying track which will span the length of any song, and then layer up various melodies over the top, often mixing it up a little bit more than most composers, who will work on variations of a few themes throughout one track. Vangelis often uses stabs and strange electronic effects as artefacts throughout his music.

The Godfather Theme, by Nino Rota is another famous theme. In The Godfather, there is one melody, however each character has their own version of that melody which accompanies them, thus allowing us to identify each character through variations on a theme.

And finally, John Murphy’s soundtrack to 28 Days Later has to be up there. This scene, with the track ‘In The House/In A Heartbeat’ uses the slow build perfectly. It implies dread, foreboding, and crescendos with Jim’s rampage. It, again, has been used a lot, however I cannot hear it without associating it with thumbs in eyes.

Soundtrack can be incredibly important, but it is vital to know what you are doing and what you want to achieve from it.

I’ll finish on this; Ecstasy of Gold from ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’. The final scene lasts almost ten minutes before anything happens, with this song accompanying the drama and raising the tension. I love this track, and to me, it just encapsulates Spaghetti Westerns. This is what I think of when I think of Sergio Leone, and a way of building drama over ten minutes with almost no action.

The silence as soon as shots are fired, and the ricochet sounds just after Clint Eastwood kills Lee Van Ceef, the cicadas and the birds are the juxtaposition to the final speech and the final section of soundtrack.

It is also worth noting how the tempo changes throughout the course of the song, and what that does to the emotion. I also think it is strange how this is the main theme for The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, but it not as famous as the theme from the opening credits.

Sound Production

These two videos from Twin Peaks are both excellent examples of what I would like the sound production to be like on my series. Understated, minimal, but used highly effectively.

Harmonics, unusual sounds, very little soundtrack and only a bit of enhancement, the sound is unsettling because it is almost too silent. The Red Room has no ambient sound, there is no room noise. It is not a place as we know it. The less a sound is used, the more potent we notice when it is there.

The Coen Brothers know the importance of silence and how sounds can be used more effectively when they’re used sparingly. The above clip, from No Country For Old Men uses absolutely minimal foley just to give space to the room, and that is all. The below clips, from A Serious Man show, once again, how sound can be used incredibly effectively, especially when used rhythmically.

Both the slow layering of rhythms in the trailer and the minimal foley used in the end scene work as a way of suggesting foreboding, but in different ways. By layering, we are made to be very aware of each sound, wondering what it is building up to. The other example, however, makes us recognise the lack of sound, making us feel uneasy by highlighting silence.

Once again, it comes back to my two friends: Eerie and Uncanny.
Apparently, these can work just as well with audio as they can in any other medium.

There Will be Blood uses clashing chords and an off-key soundtrack to add a sinister element to the film. As with below, Oldboy, strings can be used to great effect to add a sense of dread, without needing to resort to the Cats On Violins technique favoured by so many horror films.

Graham Reynolds soundtrack to A Scanner Darkly combines several unusual effects, using traditional instruments (such as guitar) but treating them in unusual ways. Such as going absolutely nuts on the whammy bar, and using a resonator to get an unusual metallic sound. There is also a lot of use of a theremin, or something like it. Changing tempo and time signature throughout the film settles into one pace, before being pulled out and shoved into another. This can be quite jarring.

Welcome to Night Vale – Episode 2: The Glow Cloud

Welcome to Night Vale was a huge inspiration when coming up with the idea for this project, and I still maintain they know what they’re doing when it comes to sound design too. Minimal use of music or sound effects, only used to highlight certain things. Although I want to make it feel like it is more of a story being told, the way in which Welcome To Night Vale delivers the audio is a prime example of narration as a medium.

Breaking Bad uses audio to fantastic effect, especially during the earlier series. Frequently, an edit will be made with a piece of foley, recontextualising it from one scene to the next. Don’t Look Now famously did this at the top of the movie, transforming a scream into the sound of a drill.

The Pianist, again, uses silence to great effect. The energetic sound of the piano is harshly juxtaposed with silence in this scene. The sound of the piano makes the silence seem all the more complete once it is gone.

Pixar know how to do sound design. The wonderful thing about Wall-E is that there is no dialogue for substantial part of the film. Indeed, with the opening credits, we are treated to a section from Hello Dolly as we fly through space, but as soon as we arrive at Earth, the sound drops out. Once this happens, everything for the next few minutes is entirely diegetic, the music still being audible, but as played from Wall-E’s speakers. The reflections off the buildings adding extra dimensions and location to the sound.

And finally, one of my favourite films: Akira. There is almost no sound used in the opening scene, but once again, there is wind initially to contrast with and highlight the silence that follows. During the titles, there is the sound of a drum, which recurs throughout the film. It is often used to punctuate something, as it is here, and with massive amounts of reverb, it makes it known that this information is important. Unfortunately, in this version, it’s in German.

Sound can be used to create a space, as well as describe it. This is an important thing to remember.

Tracking Sound

In trying to consider what Malice-Upon-Woe would be like sonically, I have been looking around for things that I think represent the mood of the place. I have asked my friends, the Twittersphere and various places to find some pieces of music that I hope will help my sound designers consider what they might be trying to represent in Malice-Upon-Woe.

Here’s some of the stuff I’ve found. It’s not all completely suitable, but worth looking at. I will whittle it down when I want to give my sound designers an audio palette to work from.

For now, enjoy:

Legend
A collaboration between Japanese band Mono and Evosia Studios to create an epic landscape representation of Iceland. It’s very beautiful, very slow and orchestrally massive.

GodSpeed You! Black Emperor – East Hastings
Incredibly bleak, the second ‘section’ was famously used in 28 Days Later. I love this track.

A Silver Mt. Zion (Thee Silver Mt. Zion) – Broken Chords Can Sing A Little
A Silver Mt. Zion have changed title and lineup several times over the years. This is when they were still A Silver Mt. Zion. Very minimalist, bleak, gloomy. This is perfect.

Mogwai – Take Me Somewhere Nice
This track might actually be a little bit too cheerful or impart too much positivity for what I want to achieve, but the slow crescendo, the ordered building of the layers, the downbeat style. This is what I want. I want people to sit, and listen, and contemplate.

65daysofstatic – Radio Protector
Although 65daysofstatic are a bit more energetic than what I want, I really love this track. I love the energy and the emotion it conveys. This speaks to me of near-apocalyptic last-ditch attempts at survival. I want to be listening to this while I watch the meteor screaming towards earth.
(65daysofstatic also did a live soundtrack to Silent Running, which I still have yet to see, but I am looking forward to it.)

Sleep Party People – Heaven Is Above Us
This is more like what I think I am trying to achieve. Minimalist, haunting, misery. Finally, the ‘Suggested Videos’ tab on youtube shows something useful.

Red Sparowes – We Stood Transfixed in Blank Devotion as Our Leader Spoke to Us, Looking Down on Our Mute Faces with a Great, Raging, and Unseeing Eye
Red Sparowes, the band famous for having track titles which take longer to say than the songs themselves. Again, a slow built crescendos, minor keys, minimalist approach. I think there may be a theme growing here.

Explosions in the Sky – The Birth and Death of the Day
Crunchy guitars, loads of distortion, excellent. Again, this song is a bit too upbeat for what I want to achieve, but it’s a nice opener to an album.

Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto – Halo
A different kind of minimalism, this is a bit more glitchy than all of the previous stuff. Still, pretty much just a piano and a bit of production. This gives me ideas for a different direction to take in terms of sound design, making it a bit more production heavy.

Amon Tobin – Esther’s
Very dark track from the other end of the spectrum. Rather than going for crunchy guitars, this is dark and electronic. Again, perhaps another route to take instead of the slow build with organic sounds.

 

 

I think, from what I have found, I want dark, bleak, melancholy sounds built with perhaps a minimalist approach. An over-produced electronic sound, however, might be an interesting approach. I think it might depend on the story and what is happening in each episode, but in order to build a theme, these are good things to look at.

Building Suspense Seminar

How are people going to navigate the podcasts? How will they know where to start or finish?

Will there be photographs, illustrations, a list? How will they be planned out? Will there be an interactive calendar?

Does listening to one podcast prevent you from listening to any others until a later time?

Is the ‘Main character’ highlighted in any way? If you have photographs, is his large or small?

Do you want to limit peoples options when listening to them?

When you follow the links on the postcard or brochure, where does this take you?

 

CHARACTER IDENTIFICATION

Who is a fish out of water? Is it the listener? How are they introduced to the story?

There are lots of instances of ‘themes’, for example, the barking dog, or the man who smashes bottles. We do not need to be told these things are there to know that they are there. I can use these to create foreboding.

 

DO NOT BE AFRAID TO BREAK YOUR OWN RULES.