Monthly Archives: February 2012

Crack the Surface – A Brief Review

Following on yesterday’s post about the possible consequences of urban exploration is a brief review of a beautiful documentary series on the subject.  Crack the Surface, from the people behind the urbex blog Silent UK, is a documentary series that, in part, answers the essential question of why people would risk their safety, and the possibility of serious legal trouble in some situations, in order to take a look at what’s behind the scenes in cities all over the world (though Silent UK focuses primarily on the UK and Europe).  The two episodes out so far intersperse interviews with footage from the exploration of various sites in the UK, France, The US, and Canada.

While the interviews with various explorers were interesting and provided some perspective on why someone would get involved in such a hobby, it was the footage of actual exploration that struck me and kept me watching.  Although I’m not bold enough to actually participate in any serious urbex, I find the pastime fascinating, and I was mesmerized by the footage of subway tunnels, sewers, and other unseen parts of our world.  These scenes are backed up by a dubstep soundtrack that never felt obnoxious or intrusive.

One theme which cropped up again and again in both episodes was that of personal responsibility.  You shouldn’t be surprised to know that opinions on this subject vary from those who feel that if you get hurt because you don’t know what you’re doing then it’s your own damn fault to those who say that they would feel awful if they knew that someone else had gotten hurt trying to explore a location they had posted pictures from.  In the end, the subjects all agree that common sense reigns, which I was glad to hear.

If you’re willing to invest forty minutes into watching these two videos, you will not find their time wasted, and if you’re like me, you’ll eagerly await any news of an Episode III.


A Cautionary Tale

I have written about urban exploration several times before here, and at least once, I’ve said that if you get caught, it’s all on you.  Today’s tidbit comes by way of Slashdot and is a reminder that you should really plan very carefully before you have a questionably-legal adventure.  (You should plan well before any adventure, actually, and always remember a clean pocket-handkerchief, but especially so if you’re going to do anything dangerous or illegal.)  These four got themselves 10-year ASBOs for doing a spot of urban exploration shortly before the royal wedding last spring, and while I’m not going to say they really did anything bad or that their ASBOs are entirely their fault, they could well have had the sense not to go exploring abandoned bits of the Tube shortly before a major public event when the police were on very high alert.

While you could just skim this article and forget about it, one link does point to a larger time-sink of which I had hitherto been unaware: Silent UK.  I’m way too chicken to engage in any serious urban exploration myself, but I love a good story, especially if there are a lot of pictures to go along with it.

If you’re interested in even more stories of urban exploration from halfway around the world, you would be wise to check out Gakuranman’s Haikyo photoessays, which take readers on tours through the ruins of forgotten and forbidden places in Japan (and elsewhere).  Just make sure you have a lot of time on your hands, because if you’re anything like me, you won’t be going anywhere for a while after clicking over there.

13 Ways of Looking at a Blog Post: 3

Once more into the breach.


Let yourself be with Not Knowing. . . .

For discovery writers, this should be pretty easy, for outliners, maybe less-so.  I myself struggle with Not Knowing sometimes.  Not Knowing can be paralyzing for any writer.  The best I can say is that you must let yourself inhabit the moment where fingers press keys or where the pen glides across the page.  Let that be the only moment, an ongoing moment in which story flows through you.  There are a million better things to worry about than what’s going to happen to your made-up people–they can figure it out for you if you only let them.  Some of the most powerful moments I’ve encountered in my own writing have occurred when I let the story take the path it needed to take, rather than trying to force it (see also 4).  As Palahniuk puts it, “it’ll be boring as hell to execute” if you know exactly where things are going.


If you need more freedom around the story, draft to draft, change the character names. Characters aren’t real, and they aren’t you. By arbitrarily changing their names, you get the distance you need to really torture a character. Or worse, delete a character, if that’s what the story really needs.

I’ve written about a related subject before.  Sometimes it’s hard to get that distance from your writing, but without that latitude, you’re less likely to see major improvements in your writing from draft to draft.  Remember that in the end, you have ultimate control over your characters, and you should do whatever is needed in order to make your story (or essay or epic poem) the best it can be.  Of course if you’re writing an essay, there’s the matter of making everything as true as it can be, so you’d better change those names back, unless you’re using pseudonyms.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, you should be using some sort of version control from draft to draft (or even from one session of editing to another, but I think that’s a bit extreme).  There are various methods for doing this.  While I use it more as a way to back up and sync my writing across various computers, Dropbox also keeps older versions of your files (and allows you to restore your files to a previous version).  My preferred method is to keep numbered copies of every draft, since I don’t always remember on what date I made any specific change.


There are three types of speech . . . Descriptive, Instructive, and Expressive. Descriptive: “The sun rose high…” Instructive: “Walk, don’t run…” Expressive: “Ouch!” Most fiction writers will only use one – at most, two – of these forms. So use all three. Mix them up. It’s how people talk.

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll add that, as a person who hears the sounds of words in my head as I read to myself, I am drawn to natural-sounding prose.  You shouldn’t be too chatty in your writing, but neither should you be too stilted.  Using all three types of speech should help you maintain a good balance that makes your prose fluid and natural.  As always, don’t be afraid to experiment with your writing.  The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t end up using what you’ve written, but even then, you’re practicing your craft, and you might just learn something or stumble across something new and unexpected.

%d bloggers like this: