Sunday, October 28, 2012

Outlines; Character Action List

I've been reading a lot of posts about outlines over at Crimson League  and it's got me thinking about how I use outlines when writing A Mage's Power.  Most of the time I don't use them. I just think about what the characters involved would do next and follow that. When I get stuck or lost I use an outline I call the Character Action List (CAL) .

I create a list of events: '1. Bob does x. 2. Alice does y. 3. Charles does z. 4'. etc and I flesh out those actions when I do the true writing. One point can spiral out into several paragraphs because it is a general idea. It expands like unpacking a suitcase. This is enough to get the ball rolling and move on to the next scene.

This practice of CAL flows out of the idea that stories should be driven by their characters instead of their plots. A plot is nothing more than characters interacting with each other and their world; creating a list of the actions characters take in that world can do wonders for writer's block. When it comes time to write you have something to hold onto and push from.  It also serves as a check against Idiot Balls.

If the plot demands something of a character then a plot outline can hide how out-of-character it could be. The Character Action List  reveals the sequence of actions taken by the character and so it isolates the weak link where the character behaves differently than normal.  Spotting this sort of thing is the difference between leaving a reader in awe and providing them with snark bait.

Don't forget that the CAL is a short term thing. It maps a small area that you're stuck in and no more. Bigger outlines don't take organic growth into account and so they are too limiting. The characters are ignored in favor of what the author wants to do.  Use the CAL to listen to them and your story will be better for it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A "Incredible Hulk" trumps a mere "Hulk"

Continuing my exploration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I watched "The Incredible Hulk". I was skeptical when I bought it because "Hulk" was such a disapointment but I am a skeptic no more. In addition to having a plot this time, the reboot veers away from the human melodrama that killed the first by including plenty of action and occasional humor.

The story begins long after the experiment that transformed Bruce Banner into the Hulk. It focuses on a cure. Every action Bruce takes is towards a cure and leads the plot. On the other side of the coin, Blonsky's drive to progressively upgrade himself into the next Hulk. Thus we have passive and peaceful Banner vs aggressive and war-like Blonsky melding like yin and yang; a fascinating cinematic device. This is the sort of thing that was missing in the last Hulk movie.

Considering the poetential for action inherent in such a superhero there was little of in "Hulk". In contrast,  the "Incredible Hulk" tells the origin story briefly durring the opening credits and fills the audience in after a five month time skip. This allows it to go right to the HULK SMASH and give Bruce enough time to come to terms with initial angst. Furthermore, instead of whinning about it, this Bruce is proactive. He studies soft-handed martial arts, practices meditation, and wears a watch that monitors how close he is to hulking out. Living in a shared Marvel universe is also a bonus.

I love shared universes. Each story in the shared universe adds to all the others; a 'whole is greater than the sum of its parts', sort of thing. General Ross wants to weaponize Banner's DNA; why he wants to do this is not stated directly but inferred by the wider universe. First of all, The US government wants to recreate the super soldier serum (Captain America) to match the power of hostiles that can drop out of the sky (Thor) or wear powered armor (Iron Man).  Thinking about these elements provides a higher level of enjoyment.

The film is not perfect. There is a contrived coinicidence where the plot could have gone in a completely different direction. Then there's an idiot ball that I could have been avoided but is understandable.  Every time Banner hulks out it's in response to Ross attacking him but this is only pointed out by people who can't stop him anyway. On the whole, these issues are minor.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Incredible Hulk" an A-

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Power of THOR

Yes, late I know, but life happened. Anyway, THOR is a great movie but not for the usual reasons one would think of in the Super Hero genre. Yes, the battles are great. Yes, the special effects are impressive. However, the real pull for me was the twist on the usual villains that would inhabit this genre. They are are not (completely) evil and their minions are not cannon fodder.

The plot is notable is it's lack of a traditional "Big Bad" villain. They are the best part of the film from a story telling perspective. There are two and neither of them is the 'pure evil take over the world and laugh evily' sort.

The first villain Laufey who is introduced as a villainous character but doesn't do anything until Thor invades his world and kills a bunch of his people. This makes him an anti-villain because he is justified in his actions. One cannot dismiss him as 'pure evil monster to be smitten by the hero'.

The second is Loki. He is Thor's best friend and truly cares about him. It's only after a certain mind-shattering Revelation that he decisively moves like a villain but even then one can argue that this action was secretly to help Thor. His motivation becomes increasingly complicated as the story progresses and even at the end it's hard to call him a true villain.

Both of them lack evil plans at the story's beginning and so any evil they commit is more 'take advantage of an opportunity' than pre-meditated villainy. What's more, one can (and certainly my fellow tropers have) argue that their actions are justified, or at least understandable, given the context. The villains and their minions too.

On TvTropes we have a trope called "What Measure is a Non-Human" that states non-humans will always be treated worse than humans and when it does happen it's alright. It's okay for the hero to massacre a group of monstrous looking creature because they're evil or something. One of the reasons THOR is such a great movie is because the hero thought this was the case and was exiled for being a 'vain greedy boy'. Thor spends a great deal of the movie learning the opposite. The Frost Giants look monstrous and did indeed invade Midgard (Earth) in ages past to create a new ice age but they are not at all threatening in the main story line.

On a lighter note, humor. There's great humor. Thor and Selvig get drunk and sing. Thor and Loki have amusing brotherly moments. Darcy's role is Plucky Comedy Relief. My personal favorite involves Agent Coulson, the Destroyer, and Iron Man technology.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "THOR" an A+.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Answering Review Request: "Cloaks of Vermin and Fish" by Forrest Aguire

Forrest Aguire asked me to read his novella "Cloaks of Vermin and Fish" the other day. It takes place in Renaissance Venice and stars twin apprentices in the Thieves Guild, Italo and Vinecenzo, as they track down a relic for their boss. In the process they get tangled up with the assassin's guild, a wizard, and a cult that worships a fish god.

First off I'll say this the best opening scene I've ever read as a voluntary book reviewer. "Spoglio had wondered many times what it might feel like to die". That's the first line. Something like that draws attention. Spoglio is in the process of a robbery; an Action Prologue which also helps hold attention. It certainly had mine. It also provides world building. Finally, Spoglio is a decoy protagonist. These three factors got me interested in the story and flipping the pages. A crucial factor for the first few pages of any book. Unfortunately, the rest of the book is not so engaging.

The first twenty pages or so are a comedy. The two thieves are comical fools and the butt of jokes and amusing injuries. Even the death of their grandmother, as revealed in flashback, is treated as black comedy. Though the narration states the twins feel bad, the nature of the death and the tone of the story so far makes it hard to take seriously. Then a gruesome and horrific death occurs and the rest of the story is not so funny.

The death of their grandmother is only the tip of a horrible childhood. Without the humorous tone they become less endearing fools and more tragic victims. This itself is not bad but it occurs at the same time that the twins are demoted to someone else's sidekick. They follow this person from one informant to the next on their way to the climax. One of them performs a single significant action before the ending and the other is just....there. These two aspects drain the light hearted appeal of the story that grabbed my interest in the first place.

With a different tone, a different (for all intents and purposes) protagonist, and a shift from thievery to occult mystery it feels as though Mr.Aguire wanted to write a different story and attached it to the first. The change left a bad taste in my mouth.


Trickster Eric Novels gives "Cloaks of Vermin and Fish" a C

Click here for the next review request: Predation

Click here for the previous review request: The Trouble Shooter

Saturday, October 6, 2012

My first blog tour

Today I signed on to do my first blog tour. To be strictly accurate, it is Dan Wright's blog tour and I am one of his stops but it is still my first time being part of one. It's for his fantasy novel, "Trapped On Draconica" that I reviewed a month or so ago. Other bloggers are doing character interviews and others are talking about the influence of Greek myth on the story. Right now I'm thinking about what I should do.

My first thought was to talk about the geography of Draconica; Daniar's group travels through many interesting locales to resist Emperor Gothon. There's a swamp, for instance, whose gas can make one hallucinate a pleasing sight that gets Ben in trouble, and a mountain where one can hear voices from the other end of the planet. It is critical that authors create a fully realized landscape so characters do not move around in voids. I think it will be fun.

The tour beings on November 19 and continues through the 25. My spot is the 24th.  I'll have plenty of time to decide if this what I want to do and create questions for it. You're probably more interested in the prizes, am I right?

There will be one free limited edition Trapped On Draconica ebook per blog. The BIG prize is the following:

1 X Signed copy of Trapped on Draconica
1X One page mini-comic extra
1X Trapped on Draconica T-Shirt
1X Signed piece of artwork by Alexis M Centeno herself.
1X Artwork book showing character sketches and an interview with the artist.
1X Scrapbook containing teaser artwork/character profiles for the sequel novel Legacy of the Dragonkin.

Remember, the tour goes from November 19-25.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Inspirational Monday: Useful Problems

The first monday of each month is Inspiritational Monday. Share something that inspires you and the rest of us will read and comment and be inspired.

"A problem is a misunderstood opportunity"

-Dr. Dracken from "Kim Possible"

The above quote is from a Harmless Villain in Disney's Cartoon "Kim Possible." It was spoken in regards to his Evil Plan of the episode but I took it to heart. If one can take a problem and invert it into an opportunity then not only is your problem solved but you're better off. It's a 'glass is half full' kind of thing and I like to keep that stuff in mind. I realized its truth on a personal level last month with my own writing.

I had just put together the book form of my first manuscript, "A Mage's Power" and sent it out to other fantasy authors to review. Then one of them replied back asking if I was finished. I said 'yes' and they ( in more polite and less blunt way) said I wasn't. There were errors in the first chapter; lots of them. I couldn't believe it so I checked myself. It was true and I was crushed. I had done so many revisions already that I was sure I got them all. I knew how long another in-depth revision would take when I wanted to focus on the first draft writing of different. Instead I buckled down and started at the top: Chapter 1. I'm glad I did.

Not only did I fix the errors but I found other improvements. A reference here and a better phrasing there; little things that work together to create the Full Picture. The errors improved my novel because they forced me to re-read it after spending two weeks away from it. Fresh eyes saw new things and the book is better for it.

Instead of 'mindless spell checking' revisions should be approached as 'creative polishing'. This makes it more fun and puts the focus on improving the work instead of just dotting 'i's.