LOM Syndrome

When I used to play D+D as a kid, there was a syndrome known as ‘LOM’. In D+D, you and your friends play a band of adventurers who then, well, have an adventure. The sign of a bad one was when a Little Old Man toddled up to your group in a tavern and said ‘Help me please, a group of bandits/orcs/politicians have stolen my sheep/daughter/haemorroid spoon, get them back for me please.’

Why is this bad? Mainly because there’s no thought been put into the story at all, and whether the audience (the players) would be remotely interested in it. The LOM is old and frail, entirely helpless and so only the hardest hearted adventurer would refuse. Its a catch-all premise. Also, he’ll turn up no matter where you go – tavern, marketplace, temple – where ever you chose to go, utrn left or right, he’d be there cap in hand to ask for help. At this point you either had to give in, or not play the game.

Any story, whether its on Film, TV, computer game or God forbid, in a book, has to do the same thing, and how often have you been expected to swallow a dodgy premise intended to make you carry on with the story? ‘The Neutrinos Have Mutated!’ is one of the best, (meaning the worst) from ‘2012’. Why have they? Who knows, and certainly ‘2012’ never tries to explain it. Accept it and move on, just like the LOM. Even porn movies put more effort into a story than this. Or so I’m told. Its why Dr Who often has a companion, its so he can explain the story to someone without seeming odd. Until recently, I thought LOM and its kin was the lowest point for a movie, one you could only watch with booze on board. I was wrong.

I just watched ‘Hemlock Grove’ Season 3. So you don’t have to. This show takes the concept of LOM and goes one step further – it just doesn’t bother having a story of any real meaning at all. There’s a vague nod to previous seasons, but not really. Characters just do things for no good reason, with no explanation, then next episode do the exact opposite. They can only do things when the situation needs them to – when its convenient for the writers to forget that one of the male leads can do mind control, well they just park that shit on the back-burner and don’t worry about it.

The characters meander about doing pointless things until at the end, they all die. Or some don’t. By then, no one is caring anymore.

The shame of it is, its not at all badly acted, but actors can only say the lines written for them. They might be able to add a blue rinse to the toilet flush, but its the writers deciding to put that toilet right in the front room that’s the problem.

I’m going to be writing a full length description of this awfulness over at Trashtalktv.com, when I do I’ll link it.

Colour Slips

Or, ‘Why All Writers Are Liars’.

When I was in the first form at school – or what is now Year or Grade Seven – I took my first Biology lesson. We were taught a very basic skill for any biologist, how to prepare a specimen on a slide, so you can look down a microscope at it and ask the teacher ‘What would I have seen if I’d done it right?’

It’s simple. You cut a thin slice of something, usually a plant but sometimes your finger, place it on the slide and then use a pipette to put some water on it. Finally you use a very small and extremely thin square of glass called a ‘cover slip’ to hold it all in place long enough for you to make erroneous observations down the cheap microscope your school provided. A very simple but important step in training future biologists.

The only snag for me was that I misheard the instructions. I got everything right, except I heard the teacher tell to use a ‘Colour Slip’ to hold the specimen in place on the slide. I didn’t understand the name and started imagining all sorts of explanations. One image in my mind still stands out – a ray of light going through it and becoming a rainbow. In retrospect I imagine that image was nicked from ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’.

For the next eight years I thought that little square of glass was called a ‘Colour Slip’. I took biology right up to University –  my degree is in English Literature, but I spent a year doing ‘Aquatic Biology’. That’s not for today.

Anyway, despite having made hundreds of slides by this point, it was only when someone in a new location – the University Lab – said the words ‘Cover slip’ that I realized my mistake. Eight years of pained anguish and an inability to work out what the hell the name meant vanished.

One question might be why didn’t I ask someone why it was called a ‘Colour Slip’. Well I didn’t.  It never occurred to me to do that. That’s one of the penalties of an overly introspective mind at a young age.

The point is, if you had read one of my stories from those years – and you won’t, I found one yesterday and spent the afternoon crying – all the characters would belong to a world where ‘Colour Slips’ were used to make slides. This would be an unquestioned assumption, self-evidently true. Admittedly, highly unlikely to turn up in the tales of ‘Robin the Ace Intergalactic Pilot Who All Women Found Irritable’, but it would be an underlying principle of the world the stories occupied.

The relevance to writing, and reading, is that authorial intention is overt in the story as written, but also covertly weaved into the world described. It shows up to a greater or lesser extent in every piece of writing there is. It can be so nuanced and subtle you think its not there, as in ‘Middlemarch’ by George Elliot  – the finest book I’ve ever read – or at the opposite end of the scale, ‘The Mummy’ by Anne Rice, who is never afraid to sacrifice historical accuracy for a story. Anne Rice is a good case in point – her early ‘Vampire Chronicles’ have most of the characters proclaiming that atheism is the only sensible option, as she was an ardent atheist at that point. Subtle.

So that is why all writers are liars. They can’t help it, they construct a world and everything that happens within it is directed by them, according to how they see the world.  Unfortunately, humans tend to have a very self-orientated way of viewing the world, and they often believe things that other humans don’t. Its why if you read a book or an article that makes you think, you should immediately consider what the beliefs and aims of the writer are, and why they are trying to make you think.

Clearly, this would never apply to me. At all.