Category: Pop Culture

And the turtle swims on…

The Mended Drum was silent. Well, nearly silent. The brawlers had long since left, leaving nothing but splinters of chairs and tables lying in puddles of well-quaffed ale. In the tavern’s centre, a single table stood untouched.

Five figures sat around it, cast into shadow by the guttering candles above. Together they sat and stared at the object in the centre of the table: an hourglass, nearly empty, the last of its sand emptying with a patient hiss that filled the room.

One figure shifted, the crooked point of his grubby hat swaying, the word ‘Wizzard’ barely visible beneath the grime.

“How much longer?” he asked softly.

NOT LONG, replied a voice as heavy as the grave.

“That’s what you said last time!” snapped the figure to its right, her arms crossed firmly in front of her plain, black robe, “I won’t stand for it!”

I AM SORRY, MISTRESS WEATHERWAX, replied Death, THERE IS NOTHING MORE TO SAY.

Another figure leaned forward, his well-worn armour creaking around him. “Isn’t there anything we can do? Some…” he swallowed his distaste and said the word, “spell, some magic that could save him?” He turned to the final figure, who sat slumped in their chair, an untouched pile of peanuts on the table in front of them.

“Ook,” came the sad reply.

THE LIBRARIAN IS RIGHT. THIS IS BEYOND THE POWER OF MAGIC.

“There ain’t nothing right about it.” murmured Granny darkly.

The armoured man started forward. “What about you then!” he challenged the Reaper. “What was it that saved me? ‘Kwa’-something or other? Couldn’t you use that to-”

‘QUANTUM’ COMMANDER VIMES. AND NO. I MAY NOT. YOUR DEATH WAS NEVER CERTAIN. HIS IS. HE IS GOING TO DIE AND NOTHING CAN CHANGE THAT. Death’s cowl turned towards Granny Weatherwax who met his endless gaze with her own piercing stare. NOT EVEN ME.

Silence fell again and all heads turned towards the life-timer as the last of the sand continued to fall, its hateful hiss seeming to grow even louder. Two bulbs stacked atop each other, connected by a small channel. Simple and unadorned.

“It’s so plain,” said Rincewind absently, “I’d have thought it would have been…grander somehow.”

“Ook.”

“What’s that supposed to mean, ‘just a man’? Without him we’d be nothing!”

“That’s a point,” said Vimes, slumped back in his chair, his armour even more rumpled than usual, “Has anyone thought about what happens to us?”

Rincewind’s eyes bulged with fear and realisation. “Oh by the gods!” He twisted in his seat, his hat swinging in a low arc that left a trail of dust and grime in the air behind it. “What happens to us?” he demanded of the Grim Reaper. “Do we just vanish? Is this the end?”

“No,” spoke Granny, uncrossing her arms and scowling at the sand as if sheer disapproval could stop its flow. “We stay. The disc turns and the turtle swims. We’ll be here long after he’s gone.” The spite in her voice made the very air tremble.

Vimes sighed deeply. “It’s not fair.”

“It’s not Right,” agreed Granny.

“It’s not just,” finished Rincewind.

THERE IS NO JUSTICE. said Death. THERE’S JUST-

“Eek!” screeched the Librarian, flinging a peanut hard at the grinning skull. It bounced off Death’s forehead with a soft crack and landed softly on the beer-soaked floor.

“No, he’s right,” placated Rincewind. He scanned the table, meeting his companions’ gazes one by one. “There’s just us.”

All eyes and eye-sockets turned to the life-timer for a final time. The last few grains were rattling in the top bulb. The flow of the sand had slowed to its final crawl.

“Well go on then!” bit Granny at Death, “You’ve got a job to do.”

The Grim Reaper bowed his head and stood. He reached out a bony hand and gently lifted the hourglass from the table.

FAREWELL. He said before leaving by the door. Of course, he didn’t stop to open it.

***

(From Sir Terry Pratchett’s Final Tweets)

AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.

Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.

The End.

Drake’s second outing and successful sequels.

I suppose those of you who’ve read ‘His Darker Eye’ and picked up on my very obvious hints at a sequel are wondering what’s happening on that front. Well, here’s what I can tell you.

Drake’s second outing is progressing well. I’ve finished the first draft leaving only the mean tasks of re-writing, editing, proofing, re-re-writing, proofing again, formatting and publication. I will not pretend to put a date on this last, partly because I don’t wish to get my readers’ hopes up but mostly because I hate deadlines.

As for what to expect, I can’t, or rather, won’t tell you much. Only to expect more from Drake, Grey and Mrs Hammersmith as they face a new villain with a mysterious ability. I can’t get much vaguer than that!

Well, since there’s so little to tell about my sequel, why don’t we talk about sequels in general?

The value and purpose of sequels are topics well and vigorously debated among those who prefer to live their life in fiction (like myself). Often, they are viewed as unnecessary or inferior additions and it strikes me that this is because of the contradicting properties they are expected to possess. Namely, that we want them to be exactly the same but completely different.

To clarify: the reason we like sequels is because we like familiarity. If we enjoy a book or a film we’re left wanting more. We want more wit, more twists and more thrills. But of course, there’s a problem. We can’t be thrilled in the same way twice. Hear a funny joke and you’ll double over laughing. Hear it again and you might crack a smile. Hear it a third time and you’ll probably grimace.

So how can sequels succeed? Well, my theory is that the answer lies in the emphasis of the original. By this I mean that most stories (regardless of their medium) can be broken down into three elements: plot, characters, and concept and, to succeed, a sequel must expand on the element that the original focused on. This is not to say that a story can’t excel at more than one or all three, but generally one element is the driving force.

Take ‘The Matrix’ for example, which I would describe this as a concept-heavy film. By this I mean not that it was difficult to grasp, but rather that it pulled you in with one simple idea: “What if your world isn’t real?” Were the characters terribly interesting? Not at all. Neo lacked a personality and once Morpheus and Trinity took off their leather and stopped speaking in riddles they became just as bland. As for the plot, ‘the rise of the chosen one’ is second only to ‘star-crossed lovers’ in overused tropes.

But this didn’t matter in the slightest. On the contrary, ‘The Matrix’s straight-forward plot and characters allowed us to engage fully with the concept. We connected with Neo’s Cartesian crisis (who didn’t go round searching for glitches after watching it?) while the ground-breaking special effects wowed us out of our existentialist funk.

The problem was that when it came to the sequel, ‘Reloaded’ offered us nothing new. It may have expanded the world and given us a few new characters (all of whom were just as mysterious and bland as the originals) but the central concept remained unchanged and unexpanded. The punchline remained the same, and altering the set-up wasn’t enough to make us chuckle.

For contrast, consider ‘Terminator 2′. Though nearly identical to its predecessor in plot, critics and fans alike consider it greatly superior. I believe that one can trace this success to one simple twist on the original formula: the Terminator’s growing humanity. Fans of the first film who loved seeing Arnie’s deadpan killing machine got exactly what they came for but also had that expectation subverted by watching the unstoppable, uncompromising monster slowly turn from a robot in a skin suit into a fully-fledged human capable of wise-cracks and self-sacrifice.

Of course, some stories are rather easier to write sequels for than others. Solely plot-driven sequels are doomed to fail as it’s nigh on impossible to replicate the sensation of a plot without making it a mere repetition of the original. Similarly for concept-driven stories, unless you pick something very rich to develop and expand, you run the risk of running dry rather quickly. However, if characters drive your story, even if all else is kept the same, your sequels will still remain interesting and novel, provided you don’t mess up the execution of course.

Consider Harry Potter, a seven book series where, despite constant injections of wonder and magic, the plot of each book was more or less the same: Voldemort’s up to no good and Harry and his friends have to do something about it. What, then, kept us reading, craving the next book as soon as we’d closed the last? It was the characters. We followed Harry, Ron and Hermione through their entire teenage years, watching them learn and grow alongside each other. Without those maturing and subtly shifting relationships I have no doubt that the magic would have worn thin by book 4.

The basic upshot of the above is that novelty can fuel a story but won’t sustain a sequel, let alone a series. When I decided to write ‘His Darker Eye’, I did so because I believed that I had found a novel device: a mysterious gentleman with a box of magical glass eyes. However, I’m very aware that if I expect anyone to read and keep reading my work that I need to offer something more than ‘a headful of magic tricks’. I very much hope that I’ll discover what that is.

© 2017 Michael Scoins