Saturday, April 04, 2020

This blog has moved!

I'm no longer going to post here. Instead I'm using the blog on my website, here:

Please follow me there!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

"The only graphic novel about Chernobyl. An absolutely FANTASTIC work of art."

"Why is this fantastic book prohibited? Are you people insane?"

Doc Chaos: the Chernobyl Effect original cover
Doc Chaos: the Chernobyl Effect original cover

This is an email sent to me from Ray der Chrome in Amsterdam, containing a review of my book Doc Chaos: The Chernobyl Effect

It's also an amazing story.

... A long, long, long time ago, back when I was in high school during the Reagan years, a nuclear power plant exploded in what is now Ukraine, Chernobyl. It was a massive, life changing event. 
Canned goods, parents putting their kids on iodine pills, cattle had to stay indoors. The nuclear fallout, the actual cloud containing the radioactive toxins, spread all over North-Western Europe, including Amsterdam, the Netherlands where I lived. 
I was 16 then. I recall my mom sending me to the store to go out and 'buy some fresh cauliflower'. I remember standing there in the store, staring at all the crops of cauliflower and opting for canned goods instead. My mom wasn't too pleased. 

I used to frequent a store in Amsterdam called: "The American Book Center" (ABC). They'd have cheap English language books and as a student/schoolkid I'd get a 10% discount. The store was quite popular (also for tourists) so they also had a coffee bar and a "comic section" where you could find "Watchmen" and "The Dark Knight Returns" in gorgeous high-quality hardcover English copies. [note: I edited these books in the UK)
They imported their own books from the US and UK. A couple of years after the Chernobyl disaster I was browsing the comic section and that's where I found... Doc Chaos.

Doc Chaos is an absolutely FANTASTIC work of art. An instant cult classic. 

Doc Chaos: the Chernobyl Effect artwork by Dave McKean
Doc Chaos: the Chernobyl Effect artwork by Dave McKean
It's a novel with artwork thrown in, sort of a graphic novel-lite if you will. Doc Chaos is a fictional character. He represents "science" run amok. He IS 'science', he is living radioactivity. He just wants to be set free. 
Thankfully the engineers at Chernobyl did just that. The book takes us through the disaster in Ukraine in 1986 in a unique way. The style of writing is like a William Burroughs-esque living nightmare of this beast that wants to be set free, wants to contaminate our world, this beast we simply cannot control.

I was so impressed with the book that I added it to my reading list. As I was graduating high-school (w/ Latin and Greek, the highest level), we were obligated to deliver (for our all our language courses, German, French, Spanish, Dutch and English) a reading list consisting of 10-12 books. In total we had to gather 20 "points". 
The point system left something to be desired since it was based on number of pages. So a 300 page dumb book, will get you 3 points. A 200 page dumb book will get you 2 points. And a very clever, creative and unique book like "Doc Chaos" will get you a mere 1 point, since it's under 200 pages :( 

Teachers have to "approve" your reading list. "Doc Chaos" was refused. Needless to say I objected. 
Why is this fantastic book prohibited? Are you people insane? 
My English teachers were quite clear: The book contains pictures, artwork, so its a comic book, not a real book. I was quite offended and took my case to the principal and board of the school. They held a formal hearing and everything. 
The entire English faculty was there. "It's under 200 pages, it contains pictures, so no, not allowed". I calmly listened to their nonsense for a bit and then asked: Has anybody actually read this book? Turns out.... nobody did :)

The principal and board then asked the English faculty: Why didn't you read this book? (Now this is before Internet, 1988-1989, so...) "Well we do not know where he got it and we never heard of it". 
I explained where I got the book, but alas, after numerous phonecalls with the American Book Center, no copies were available, they'd have to import more copies but those would arrive too late for my final (diploma) oral English exams. 
I then offered to loan my copy to the school who used a regular copy-machine to make several copies of the book. (And yes, that's technically "piracy"). English staff then read the book and quite quickly came to the following conclusion:

Doc Chaos is an intellectual and creative tour-de-force. We're quite pleased that this student has taken a liking to such challenging material.

Not only was the book allowed on my reading list... I got 3 points for it, even though it was well under 300 pages.

As far as I am aware... after so many years, Doc Chaos is still the only graphic novel / artwork that deals with the Chernobyl disaster, the worst nuclear accident in human history.

Now some 30 yrs later,  this rare and obscure little book has become a true cult classic.

I encourage everybody to read it. I give it 5 stars.

... And 3 points :)

Feel free to use this review anywhere you like and yes you can add my name: Ray van Chrome.
The book contains 12 illustrations by prominent stars of the comics art world: Simon Bisley ~ Brian Bolland ~ Brett Ewins ~ Duncan Fegredo ~ Rian Hughes ~ Lin Jammett ~ Pete Mastin ~ Dave McKean ~ Savage Pencil ~ Ed Pinsent ~ Bryan Talbot.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

What do you think of Netflix' Special series about cerebral palsy?

In case you haven't seen it, Special is a new Netflix series where the main character has cerebral palsy.
It opens with the main character falling over. Rather like me sometimes.

It is a comedy. At the same time, on the plus side, it is educating the public about CP.

I don't want to give any spoilers away. But for me, it's great that Netflix have commissioned this series. A thing like this is long overdue.

However, it should be just the beginning.

Mostly the only famous people with CP are comedians. Is that the best we can do? Laugh at ourselves?

It does remind me of the days 100 years ago when the only way black person could become a celebrity was to become a singer or a comedian, laughing at themselves.

Am I being unfair?

I would like to see actors with CP and other disabilities playing regular parts in regular dramas.

I'd like to see actors with CP playing lead parts, heroes and heroines, looking cool, and being great role models.

Then we will know we've really arrived and not just being treated with a little corner of broadcasting time to "educate" the public with a laugh-sugared pill.

Monday, March 11, 2019

A step-by-step guide to successful novel and script writing

Making readers care is now available exclusively on Amazon as a print and e-book.

Some of you may recall the presentation I gave in Cardiff last year on making compelling characters, or been on one of courses or other workshops.

Well, you can now read the book!

At the Society of Authors' Jo McCrum's clever suggestion I've now published the book of my writing course.

Making Readers Care with Psychology and Structure: The Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Totally Gripping Novels, Film and TV Scripts is about how to write a 'page-turner' – a compelling narrative with in-depth characters that ‘jump off the page’.

I came to it by considering deeply how to think about the reader and what they want, and how to make them care about what you're writing so that they ‘can’t put it down’. I guess that's its unique selling point.

Packed with practical exercises, I hope this book will help you get the best from your story, whatever genre, novel or script it is, to uncover inside it the seed of the perfect narrative that's waiting to be found.

I evolved the method using techniques from teaching hundreds of hours of creative and script-writing workshops, working with my students as they went through drafts.

It includes the 10 Steps To A First Draft system. This is the quickest way to arrive at a first draft, from the initial idea to thinking of every scene as a series of dramatic beats. It saves time and frees authors to write fewer drafts while concentrating on style – the exact words used.

Topics include:

  • using psychology to create flawed characters
  • the four story types
  • the four endings
  • the 'but' equation
  • the storyline
  • the hero's journey
  • character development
  • on dialogue
  • honesty and writing
  • planning a scene
  • beats and how to use them
  • suspense
  • pacing
  • humour
  • editing
  • openings
  • submitting your work
  • ...and much more.

You can get it here:

If it’s useful, please consider leaving a review - you know how Amazon works! Thank you.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Making Readers Care with Psychology and Structure: The Complete Guide To Writing Totally Gripping Novels, Film & TV Scripts

My new book will be published towards the end of February as an e-book, price £4.50. Watch this space!
Cover of Making Readers Care with Psychology and Structure: The Complete Guide To  Writing Totally Gripping Novels, Film & TV Scripts  by David Thorpe
It is for anyone who wants to write a ‘page-turner’ – a compelling narrative that readers ‘can’t put down’ with characters that ‘jump off the page’. These phrases in inverted commas are frequently used by editors, producers and agents to describe what they are looking for.

The way to achieve this result is by making readers care what happens to your characters, regardless of whether they are likeable or not.
My aim is simply to help you get the best from your own story, whatever it is; to uncover inside it the seed of the perfect narrative just waiting to be discovered and guide you in making it as gripping as possible.

I have taught many hundreds of hours of scriptwriting and creative writing classes, during which its content has been developed and refined from feedback with students.

It concentrates especially on two things: human psychology and structure. It provides a methodology.

Many readers, and many beginner writers, think writing is just about inspiration. Of course inspiration plays a part. But discipline and method, ruthlessness and determination contribute the rest.

Film, TV, publishing: they are highly competitive industries. Millions of dollars are at stake. To succeed you need to be working at a top professional standard.

This book contains the secrets of success for writers in these industries. The only other things you will need are your time and hard work.

Introduction 13
The nature of storytelling 13
How to use this book ... 14
10 steps to a first draft! ... 14
1. Choosing the right idea ... 17
Research the market 17
Exercise 1: Finalise the idea 17
2. The four basic plot types ... 19
How to decide your story’s plot type 19
1. Conquering the Monster ... 19
2. Rags to Riches ... 19
3. Voyage and Return ... 19
4. Rebirth ... 20
Exercise 2.1: What's the plot type? ... 20
So are there really only four plots? ... 20
Exercise 2.2: Practice the plot type ... 21
Exercise 2.3: Your plot type ... 21
3. The challenge of creating compelling characters ... 22
Be honest 22
Exercise 3.2: Know your characters ... 23
Exercise 3.3: Practising honesty 23
Issue-based characters ... 23
4. How to create characters that jump off the page 24
Exercise 4.1: Make a basic character sheet ... 24
Hear their voices ... 24
Complexity ... 24
Exercise 4.2: Creating complexity ... 24
Inner conflict 25
Ways of creating inner conflict 25
Exercise 4.3: Life scripts and inner conflicts 27
5. The ‘but’ equation ... 28
Upping the stakes ... 28
Exercise 5.1: Write a 'but' equation ... 28
What’s at stake? ... 28
Exercise 5.2: What's at stake? ... 29
How do conflicted characters behave? 29
Exercise 5.3: Plot goals ... 29
Make mistakes ... 29
6. The really interesting thing about superheroes ... 31
7. The story writing map ... 32
8. The four story endings ... 33
Exercise 8.1: How does it end? ... 33
Story arcs ... 33
Exercise 8.2: Check the ends ... 33
9. The three act structure and the sentence summary 34
The three act structure ... 34
The three sentence summary ... 35
Exercise 9.1: Analyse a story ... 36
Exercise 9.2: Write your three sentence summary ... 36
10. Loglines ... 37
How to write a logline ... 37
Exercise 10.1: Write a logline for another story ... 38
Exercise 10.2: Write a logline for your story ... 38
11. Research 39
How to do research ... 39
How to use the research ... 39
12. Themes and subplots ... 40
The use of subplots ... 40
More than one theme ... 41
Exercises 12: ... 41
13. The Hero’s Journey ... 42
Too formulaic? ... 43
Exercise 13.1: Look out for the plot points ... 44
Exercise 13.2: Map your hero's journey 45
14. Fleshing out the story ... 46
15. Character development ... 47
You are what other people think of you ... 47
Making an attitude table ... 47
Exercise 15.1: Make an attitude table ... 48
Stakes ... 48
Exercise 15.2: Sharpen the stakes 49
16. More on psychology and dramatic storytelling ... 50
The shadow self ... 50
Exercises 16.1: What is the shadow self? 50
Life scripts ... 50
Exercises 16.2: What are the life scripts? 51
People have ‘parts’ ... 51
Triggers 52
Exercises 16.3: What are the triggers? ... 53
17. The Storyline ... 54
Weaving yarns ... 54
The Storyline ... 54
Exercise 17.1: Make a storyline 55
Things to look for: ... 55
Exercise 17.2: Plant the plants ... 56
Exercise 17.3: Plant the props ... 56
Exercise 17.4: Perfect the storyline ... 56
18. The scene cards system ... 57
The scene cards ... 57
Exercise 18: Make your scene cards ... 59
19. The synopsis ... 60
Exercise 19: Check for plot holes ... 61
20. What is suspense? ... 62
Three ingredients of suspense 62
Levels of suspense ... 62
Ways to increase and vary suspense: ... 62
The payoff ... 62
Timescales ... 63
Layer your anticipations ... 63
Be aware of pacing ... 63
Relation to story structure: ... 63
Exercise 20: Monitor the suspense ... 63
21. Flashbacks and framing devices ... 65
Framing devices ... 65
22. Interlude: Imagination, inspiration and in-betweens ... 66
Empathy and imagination 66
Courting the unexpected ... 66
Breathing space ... 67
Exercise 22: Tap your subconscious ... 67
23. Writing the first draft ... 69
A suggested work pattern 69
How many drafts should you write? ... 69
How long should your novel be? ... 69
Assemble your tools 69
24. Honesty and writing ... 71
25. Choosing the point of view ... 72
Exercise 25: ... 72
26. Present or past tense? ... 73
Exercise 26: Play with tense ... 73
27. On Dialogue 74
Exercise 27.1: Plan a scene ... 74
Exercise 27.2: Dialogue vs. silence ... 75
28. More on dialogue ... 76
1. Intention ... 76
2. Pauses and attributions ... 76
3. Multiple topics in a conversation 77
4. Long speeches ... 77
5. Grammar ... 77
6. Phonetic spellings 77
7. Don’t use characters’ names too often 78
8. Don’t have long stretches of dialogue only ... 78
9. Reported speech ... 78
Exercise 28.3: Showing not telling ... 78
29. How to plan a scene (1) ... 79
The definition of a scene ... 79
Exercise 29: Prepare to write a scene ... 79
30. Transactional analysis of a relationship ... 80
31. How to plan a scene (2) ... 82
Exercise 31: Make the scene grip the reader ... 82
32. Suspense and structure ... 84
Exercise 32: ... 84
33. 20 tips on scene writing ... 85
34. Beats and how they work ... 86
Exercise 34.1: List the beats ... 86
Exercise 34.2: Check the beats ... 86
The relationship with adjacent scenes ... 87
Exercise 34.3: Check the scene ... 87
35. How to keep it simple and fast-paced ... 88
Tense and sentence structure ... 88
Exercise 35.1: Active-passive ... 88
Word choice ... 88
Use short chapters or segments ... 88
Cliffhangers ... 88
Jump cuts ... 89
The secret of good storytelling 89
Exercise 35.2: Cliffhangers 89
36. Pacing ... 90
What is pacing? ... 90
When to slow down ... 90
When to speed up ... 90
Exercise 36.1: Speed check ... 90
Exercise 36.2: Overwriting check ... 90
Action scenes ... 90
Cliffhangers and pacing ... 91
Summaries ... 91
Extending the dramatic scenes 91
Jump cuts ... 91
Short chapters ... 91
Word choice and sentence structure ... 91
Exercise 36.3: Read it out ... 92
37. Set-pieces ... 93
Exercises 37: ... 93
38. Show, don’t tell ... 94
Exercise 38.1: Noticing 'telling' ... 94
Exercise 38.2: Read and critique ... 94
39. Scene setting and the reliability of the narrator ... 96
Exercise 39: ... 96
40. Everything is particular: the art of writing descriptive prose ... 97
Exercise 40: ... 98
41. The extended metaphor ... 99
Cold Comfort Farm ... 99
Exercise 41: ... 100
42. Using humour ... 101
Types of humour ... 101
Types of humour in relation to character type or to genre ... 101
Narrative forms and humour ... 102
Types of verbal humour ... 103
Sample list of humorous books with types of humour ... 104
Other notes ... 104
Exercises 42: 104
43. Editing your work ... 106
Seeing it afresh ... 106
Exercise 43.1: Overview ... 106
Exercise 43.2: Settings check ... 106
Exercise 43.3: Style check 107
Exercise 43.4: Chapter or scene level checks ... 107
This is about making the reader care 108
Show don’t tell ... 108
Transitions ... 108
Making it flow ... 108
Exercise 43.5: Copy-editing ... 109
Exercise 43.6: Proofreading ... 109
44. Openings ... 110
Things that a beginning needs to do ... 110
How to do this ... 110
Exercise 44: ... 111
45. Notes on formatting ... 112
For the manuscript ... 112
46. Jokes for editors and writers 113
Explanations for the jokes ... 113
47. Agents and editors ... 118
48. What to send ... 119
Cover letters when submitting to agents/editors ... 119
Synopses ... 119
49. How to grab the attention of an editor or agent ... 120
50. How to deal with rejection and feedback 121
How to respond to feedback ... 121
51. To self publish or not? ... 122
Self-publishing and publishers’ services ... 122
Acknowledgements ... 123

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Mentoring writers and the Society of Authors

Some of you will know that I teach creative writing and mentor writers.

Last week I was privileged to give a keynote one hour workshop at the first Society of Authors event to be held in Wales for many years.

It was held in Cornerstones, Cardiff on a too-hot day. I gave a presentation on using psychology to create convincing characters that captivate readers and leap off the page – this approach also helps to overcome writers' block.

Thanks to Society of Authors coordinator Jo McCrum for giving me the chance to do this! And all the writers who gave me such great feedback afterwards.

Jo suggested I turn my notes into an e-book. When I've finished my current non-fiction book on creating sustainable 'one planet' cities, I will definitely do this will all my material for my writing course.

The next Welsh SoA event will be held in Swansea in September and be a simple get-together run with the help of children's writer Helen Docherty who's based in the town.

Right now I have an interesting job working with six PhD students of sustainable placemaking. They want to turn their ideas about living well into short stories for children.

Being academics writing fiction does not come easily for many of them but they're doing really well! They're now well into their first drafts and we hope to have an e-book out in the autumn! More later.

 If anyone here wants to know more, do get in touch and look at the page on my website about the writing course.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Come on a weekend retreat to experiment with writing about climate change

Incredible as it may seem it's still possible for children to go through school and come out the other end and hardly be aware of the existence of climate change, because it is barely touched upon in the curriculum.

It seems like a pretty vital topic, then, for writers to choose to include in their stories – to bring the reality of this topic into a children's imaginations!

That's why, this March, I'm running a weekend retreat for writers at the Welsh writing centre Ty Newydd, set in the stunningly beautiful Lleyn Peninsula.

Helping me to do this will be the poet, dramatist, climate change campaigner and performer Emily Hinshelwood.

We will be challenging writers to think about ways to expose and write about the often hidden connection between our profligate use of fossil fuels and the loss of habitat, life and lifestyle – that many in the world are already experiencing.

In our everyday lives we often don't have the opportunity or space to consider the emotions that arise in us as a response to such a nebulous and all encompassing threat as catastrophic climate change.

This threat seems both remote and near, far away in time, and yet touching the every day weather and the behaviour of plants and wildlife around us even now – as if they are early warning sensors.

We don't know how to interpret these portents and the very uncertainty around climate change and the sheer size of the fact makes us feel powerless and afraid.

Some of us go into denial, some of us are paralysed with shock and some of us are galvanised into action.

In writing for children, they mustn't be made to feel frightened or scared into shock and powerlessness, they must be helped to feel that the future does contain hope and that it is possible to do something. But there is so much to know. Where can writers start?

There is already no shortage of novels for children with the theme of climate change. Three years ago I took part in a session at the Hay-on-Wye Literature Festival where, with the author of the Carbon Diaries, Saci Lloyd, we touched on some of them.

For our pains we were accused of poisoning children's minds by the right-wing press and online trolls!

I've written something about the history of writing and climate change here.

In another project I've been involved with, Weatherfronts, an anthology of writing about climate change, some writers have addressed the question with a story set at a domestic scale rather than apocalyptic science-fiction.

Darragh Martin wrote a hilarious story for young children about fighting off a nasty polluter called 'Thumbelina Jellyfizz and the Elephant in the Bathroom'.

And what about picturing a bright future where we have solved the problems of climate change but maybe we have other problems instead?

To build a bright future we first have to envision it. Children, with their unfettered imaginations, unconstrained by preconceptions, are well able to contribute their own ideas. Writers can stimulate them to do this.

So our weekend course will discuss the many facets of climate change and the ways in which its impact is felt both by participants on the course and people throughout the world.

We will experiment with a variety of different approaches and investigate ways of tapping our emotional reactions, of using research, imagining possible scenarios, and generating meaningful stories.

We will also be using the cycle of recovery from shock and grief because we think it is directly relevant here.

We have seen people move through these psychological stages:

  1. shock & denial when they first hear about climate change; 
  2. pain & guilt about the suffering that humanity has caused and is causing by the use of fossil fuels; 
  3. anger and blame-laying
  4. depression, powerlessness, reflection
  5. an upward turn as one realises that life could still continue; 
  6. reconstruction of one's life in a new way that is more sustainable, perhaps making connections with like-minded people; 
  7. and finally acceptance and hope as they learn to deal with the new situation.

This almost sounds like a 'voyage and return' scenario or perhaps a 'conquering the monster' type of story, doesn't it?

It's going to be exciting to see what people come up with. Emily and I can't wait to see you there!

Find out more here:

[I am the writer of Marvel's Captain Britain, the sci-fi YA novels Hybrids, Doc Chaos: The Chernobyl Effect and the cli-fi fantasy Stormteller. I also run a regular writing course, called 'Making Readers Care' that can be taken online. Contact me if interested.]