Friday, November 05, 2004

Novel Writing Exercise Day Five - Bring on the abseiling ninjas

Brazilian Donuts
Spent a few hours today at Kensal Green Cemetery. The light was fantastic and the combination of long shadows and bright stonework was truly beautiful and showed up the faults in my photographic technique to perfection. More of that anon. I bought myself a nice new 1gb flash card for my camera last week and, what with Nature abhorring a vacuum, I managed to fill it up completely along with a clutch of 256mb cards I took along just in case. Yup, 500 high resolution images requiring sorting and post-processing. It's almost like being at work.

On the way to and from Kensal Green I spent some quality time on the train with my Palm Pilot. Along with a flash card for my camera I have also treated my Palm to a new 1gb storage card. So, there I was listening the very finest and cheesiest C&W music, reading through a Mark Twain essay on the train. Yes, Twain on a train.

It was a very long essay. I have always rated Mark Twain very highly. For most people their experience of the Twainster stretches to awful, schmaltzy adaptations of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. He was better than that. His works include travel writings, accounts of life on the Mississippi and essays on a range of subjects. He had a clear, rational mind and wrote with sardonic humour; you can just tell he never took anything too seriously. His style is surprisingly modern and lacks all that 'forsooth' and 'begad' stuff that frequently makes older works such a labour to read through.

Anyway, there I was ploughing through a long essay entitled 'What is Man'. The gist of the essay is that:

  1. All personalities; our thoughts, our character, everything, develop as the result of external factors. They can be improved by training and life experience but they can only develop to the point of their maximum potential. Our characters are like machines, he would have said computers if they existed in his time. Characters function as the result of their hardware design and the quality of the programming.
  2. The primary motivation for ALL human decisions and actions is to please each individual's desires. Even someone giving up their life for another does that because they value the satisfaction their sacrifice gives them over continued existence.
Twain writes well and makes a strong case. He was a man of his times and the progress of science and Darwinian thought was behind him.
I believe he is wrong; not totally wrong, just 5% wrong. The most important 5%. Of course I can’t get hold of him to take issue with his thesis because he died in 1910. I couldn't even consider engaging the services of a spiritualist; as even if he was there he wouldn’t give me the satisfaction of a reply and thus proving his thesis wrong. The man had pride.

The programming point is fair. The ultimately selfish basis on all human actions is undeniably true in the terms Twain chooses to phrase it. Of course good people commit selfless acts because it pleases them. What good person would commit an action they believed to be wrong?

What Twain ignores is human self-awareness, our innate sense of spirituality and the impulse towards creativity for its own sake. Evolutionists maintain that these qualities evolved accidentally as consequences of other adaptations. Brilliant! If it doesn't fit in with your scheme of things, dismiss it as an accident. Very scientific. Twain compares humans with animals and makes the case that there is little real difference between how they go about their business. However, I have never seen or heard about a giraffe writing a symphony or a vole contemplating its own individual role in the scheme of existence. That's a shame because it would be cool to hear a penguin's take on the nature of the cosmos but it's simply not going to happen.
Why do I mention all of this? Because, after finishing Twain's easy I thought 'Fantastic, here's a theme for a novel. I'll start all over again and make the point that humans ARE unique and special, in spite of their material limitations and essential selfishness'.

Later on, I changed my mind and wrote this blog entry instead. That's saved two months of my life writing a verbose, fictionalised account of what I'm talking about and saved me the effort of spending fruitless months trying to get someone to publish it and inflict it on a disinterested world.

No, I'm sticking with the shagging-packed yarn plan. It's coming along nicely. Proposed plot elements so far include:

  • people getting their own lives mixed up with their own novel plots
  • the pagan geometry of London and Washington
  • 12 bodies found mysteriously in a trench with their arms interlinked
  • Armageddon in 2012
  • Someone being mistaken for Jesus by a group of evangelical Christians
  • the spiritual significance of Eazy Cheeze
  • a demented ninja army abseiling into a hollowed-out volcano base per 'You Only Live Twice', possibly the finest action scene in any movie ever made
  • lots of car chases, John Woo style gun battles and copious shagging
There will be an underlying meaning and theme to this work but at no point will it be allowed to interfere with profound character development. Or the shagging.

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