The Fabula and the Syuzhet

Fabula versus Sujet in Memento

The distinction between the ‘fabula’ and the ‘syuzhet’ as it applies to storytelling was first made by members of the Russian Formalism school of literary criticism, popular during the 1910s and 1920s. The ‘fabula’ refers to the chronological order in which the events of a story take place: the timeline, in other words. The ‘syuzhet’ refers to the sequence in which the author chooses to relate those events, which we could describe as the storyline or the plot. In the film Citizen Kane, for example, the fabula is the story of Kane’s life, from birth to death. The syuzhet, on the other hand, starts with Kane’s death and continues as the story of a journalist investigating Kane’s life, interspersed with a series of flashbacks. By using this device the screenplay introduces a degree of mystery and tension that would otherwise be absent. Continue reading

Mourning the dead

What happened in Manchester on 22 May is of course a tragedy and an atrocity. However, as I take in the images of the dead children and their grieving relatives, the memorials, the news items, the interviews, the debate and the double-page spreads, I can’t help but think of those countless other children who have been killed in their schools and hospitals and homes by the bombs of the West and its allies in countries like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Palestine. They too had hopes and dreams; they too have parents, friends, neighbours and relatives who grieve and feel anger and despair. I did not see their pictures, and I do not know their hopes and dreams, but are their lives worth any less than ours? Is their grief or their anger and despair any less valid than ours? Of course not, and if that is the appearance we give, then we should be ashamed.

Brexit bullshit (1)

BrexitWe should by now be well accustomed to the capacity of our politicians to spout endless bullshit, and of our news services to take such bullshit seriously. However seldom has that bullshit seemed more endless and pointless than in the current Brexit ‘debate’.

For example, as I write, so-called Brexiteers are crowing over the fact that the British economy seems to be booming, despite the woeful predictions of the Remoaners. This is to ignore the fact that we have a least two years to go before we do actually Brexit, and no idea of what that will actually involve, rendering any judgement at this stage utterly meaningless. Instead, what our economy is currently experiencing is the reaction of the world to the inevitable uncertainty that surrounds our decision to do so. Continue reading

Flash fiction

Just published: a couple of flash fiction pieces that I wrote back in 2014 while member of a writing group. To read them click on the ‘Writing’ menu option above, or on one of the links below:

Pretty straightforward, in which a mobile phone conversation is overheard.

Sam’s story, in which a young man describes his world.

Word as a writing machine

Word for novelists

An uncluttered Word (click image for a larger version)

Microsoft Word is the world’s most popular word processor and has become a standard in the book industry. However it is criticised by novelists for being too complicated, and for lacking the facilities of something like Scrivener which is designed specifically for creative writing. Thankfully Word is highly adaptable, and can be customised to give you just the features you need. It also has some advantages over Scrivener, in that it’s display adapts better to smaller devices such as tablets, and it saves your document as a single file which means it works better with cloud services such as Dropbox.

Here are some steps you can take to give yourself a relatively uncluttered screen, and add some features that are particularly useful. These instructions refer to Word 2010, but should work with later versions as well: Continue reading

Listening to the homeless

Photo by Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons

Photo by Albert Bridge (Creative Commons licence)

At around 11pm a few nights back I was walking through the centre of Bath when I encountered a woman and her dog sitting on a blanket next to a hat containing some small change. I did what I usually do when I encounter such people, which is acknowledge them and walk on, reminding myself that I can’t give money to every beggar I pass, and I do regularly donate to charities that work with the homeless.

However this time, having walked on a few yards, I stopped and returned. I had just come from a party where I had been talking to some extremely wealthy people, and I am not exactly hard up myself. Life works out nicely for some of us and not so well for others, but when all’s said and done, we’re in it together. I dropped a couple of pounds into her hat and apologised for my rudeness. No, she said, Don’t apologise – it’s nice to just get a smile. And so I listened to her story. Continue reading

The cost of self-publishing

Having published When Computing Got Personal: A history of the desktop computer in both Kindle and paperback editions, I thought it might be helpful to share the costs that I incurred in doing so. Much has been made of how cheap self-publishing can be, but there are some costs that you should not avoid if you want a professional product, even if you only intend to publish to Amazon’s Kindle platform.

Kindle only

Copy editing by LibroEditing cost £420. Liz Dexter’s standard charge is £8 per 1,000 words, but she offers a discount to self-publishers and quotes on the text as presented. Don’t even think about publishing without having your copy edited by someone who knows what they’re doing as readers are very unforgiving of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Continue reading

Choosing a narrative mode

NarratorAn important choice for any writer, particularly of fiction, is that of ‘narrative mode’, by which I mean the choice of viewpoint and tense. It is rarely make-or-break as you can usually rewrite your story in a different narrative mode, but you don’t want to have to do this after you’ve written a substantial amount, so it makes sense to get it right early on.

In most cases the telling of a story involves at least three people, namely the reader, the narrator and the protagonist (or protagonists). However they can be combined. In a first person present tense narrative, for example, the narrator is the protagonist and the reader is invited to occupy his shoes, as in “I pick up the gun and point it at the burglar. For a brief moment I wonder whether I should pull the trigger, but then he moves and my instincts take over.” In the right hands this can be effective, but it is limiting as it gives no scope for reflection. Continue reading

The link between storytelling and Gestalt therapy

I’ve just finished reading Into the Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story by John Yorke, a profound and detailed study of the underlying structure that is common to all stories, whether told through film, television or print.

To recap, the storytelling process starts by introducing the basic setting and the main character, the protagonist whose story it is. The protagonist is then presented with a problem or a challenge which he or she may at first refuse, but will eventually have to face and take steps to solve or overcome. His actions may bring some success, or make things worse, but either way they bring ever bigger challenges until he overcomes the final crisis and gets the girl/boy or vanquishes the monster and is able to return to continue on his way, enriched by the experience. Continue reading

Tax matters with Kindle Direct Publishing

Setting up an account on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service (KDP) now requires you to submit the information they need to deduct the correct amount of tax from your royalty payments. The process is not very intuitive and the documentation difficult to understand as it is intended to cater for a wide range of eventualities. What follows is a description of what you have to do if you are not a US citizen, do not have any other operations in the US, and are not operating as a limited company. These details are specific to a British publisher, but are probably valid for many other nationalities.

What Amazon requires from you is a Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding, otherwise known as a W-8BEN. This is a four-part form that enables you to take advantage of a tax treaty that exists between the UK and the US which allows Amazon to release the full value of your royalties, with nothing withheld for tax purposes, on the basis that you will be declaring it to the UK authorities. Note that this applies to all royalties, regardless of the country in which the sale occurred. Continue reading