Friday, December 14, 2012

How I Wrote a Serial

Part One: Formulaic Nonsense
I’m already five-deep into the “Weirdo Company” 10-part serial. When I first started, I did a little research and I looked up some monsters that I thought were either interesting to build an action/adventure story around or that I’d simply never heard of before and thought would be cool. (“Hellshark” was an idea I came up with a couple years ago as a joke, and it fit right in.) So I found 10 monsters as I had already decided I wanted to write 10 chapters of this story.

While that idea was still forming, I settled upon the idea of mapping out the entire story like it was a season of a television show and treating each chapter of the serial like an “episode.” I looked at my list of monsters and started coming up with basic plots for them. Sometimes these were as simple as “The team is trapped underground with _____” or “zombies vs unicorns.”  But as the list went on, I had other elements I wanted to introduce that would link all the stories together until I basically had a short paragraph for each of the ten episodes. From there, I decided on a certain format each episode would (loosely) follow.

The basic formula is that each episode begins with a “cold open.” For example, the first story, “Zombies vs Unicorns,” opens with a brief scene of a scientist escaping a facility overrun by zombies, and then we jump a couple weeks later to introduce our characters as that situation has grown out of control.  The second story, “Ninja Werewolf Assassins!” begins with a harrowing chase sequence, and then the next scene actually jumps back in time to explain how we got there. So both stories follow the same format, even if the content of the scenes themselves is wildly different - and even the time jump is diametrically opposed.

Next, introduce the characters and throw them into the plot. In “Blood of the Keres,” I introduced the characters via a briefing scene, followed by them traveling to Europe and generally getting slowly drawn toward the inevitable final confrontation. That’s fine - I still had a big action-packed opening, and then I built every action sequence larger and larger until the all-out battle at the end.

And that’s the basic formula for each episode. Think of it like a check mark - Start with some big action, then bring it down a little, then build bigger and bigger and bigger.  

For “The Great Dragon Egg Robbery,” I eliminated the opening teaser.  The story has three major action sequences - a train/highway chase, a truck highway chase, and the finale.  In between are sections of plot and character development, but what I wanted this story to be, as the big “halfway there” episode, was essentially an action showcase. So I formatted the story around that. In terms of the plot, we actually open three days after this particular mission has been going on, and the team is frazzled and harried from the last few days. I sprinkle some information here and there in the dialogue to fill us in on what’s happening.

And here’s where we get to one of the important things I want to talk about: Length.

John Ward asked me to help him understand how to write something and keep it short. He said the temptation for many writers is to expand their story as large and as long as they can make it.

Each episode of “Weirdo Company” is around 14,000 or 15,000 words. That’s more than enough time for me to develop relatively simple plots, sprinkle in some action sequences, character development and one-liners.

Think about your average TV episode. I’m going to give my college screenwriting professor, Robert Johnson a shoutout here, because he was awesome and so were his classes. I learned a lot of wild stuff in those classes, such as that TV dramas are often split into A-plot and B-plot. The A-plot is the one with the major focus, while the B-plot tends to get less screen time. In the case of CSI, the A-plot is the murder and the B-plot is generally character-oriented, such as one of the investigators is dealing with a family issue or something along those lines.

In “Zombies vs Unicorns,” the A-plot is the mission - Weirdo Company has to deal with the zombies and the unicorns in a little town up in the mountains of New Hampshire. The B-plot is the new recruit, Davis, acclimating to the team and their charter to deal with strange and dangerous monsters.  In my chosen format for the serial, the next episode, “Ninja Werewolf Assassins!” sends the team on a new mission, but continues the character arc for Davis, who deals with the emotional repercussions of the first episode. And then the third episode does that again - new mission, coupled with character side-plot.

I did that five times.  Now it’s time for episode 6, “Chupacabras on a Boat.” My original plot outline had the team hunting Chupacabra through some tunnels and an oil rig, but since I used tunnels extensively in “Blood of the Keres,” I decided I wanted to look at some different locations. Well, where’s one place that Chupacabra absolutely doesn’t belong? On a boat, duh. So now that I have my simple, ludicrous premise... it’s time to get to work.

Part Two: Don’t Do What I Do

I’ll admit that a lot of times when I start writing, I don’t really know where I’m going with it. I’m not a fan of outlines, I never have been. That got me into a lot of trouble in school when teachers would force me to outline a paper I was going to write, and it was like pulling teeth. Then, once I’d finally come up with an outline, I’d ignore it completely and get an A.  My brain just seems to organize things on the fly, then I go back sometimes and edit.

So, and here’s where my process should probably not be recommended to everyone (or anyone) I often just start writing and see where it takes me. While I’m doing this, the story is slowly coming together in the back of my mind. When I finish a scene, I think for a bit about what should logically come next. Sometimes, that works out fine. Other times it doesn’t.

A lot of writers will read this and think, “You’re freaking insane.”  So be it.  I probably am. But I found that this is what works for me. Some writers will say, “Yeah, me too!” and that’s cool, also.  If you’re the kind of person who’s super organized and you need to have an outline, then here’s what I’d suggest:

Teaser
Act One
Act Two
Act Three
Act Four
Act Five

Or variations thereof, depending on your story. But try it. This is what’s called “breaking the story” in Hollywood. Tear it up into chunks and put them together in a way that makes sense.

TV dramas, at least when I was learning about them, were organized into a teaser and five-act structure. The teaser, as I mentioned before, sets things up.  “CSI” usually starts with some kind of act of violence, then jumps forward hours or days to when the team has found the body. Gil Grissom looks things over and spouts some kind of pun or witty remark and then all of a sudden The Who is rockin’ us through the title sequence. After that, each act progresses the plot forward but it also does one other thing: each act ends on a cliffhanger. You want your audience to come back after the commercial, right?

In writing this serial, I’ve tried to sprinkle little cliffhangers throughout as I would jump from scene to scene.  Give it a try! Outline a teaser and five acts for your story, each one increasing the stakes for your characters until you get to the climax, then slam us with the best you’ve got!  

Should you end each episode of your serial on a cliffhanger?  Maybe, maybe not. It depends on the nature of the story you’re telling. For “Weirdo Company,” the stories don’t end with explicit “To Be Continued...” cliffhangers (yet...) but I like to hint that the overarching plot is advancing, hoping that the reader likes these little teases enough to come back next month for another bite. I’ll admit, in five episodes, I haven’t given away much about the villains’ plan, but those revelations are coming. How quickly you seed them through your story is up to you. But a good place to do so is probably around the end of each episode, to sort of set the stage for your next one.

Part Three: Watch Your Mouth

So we’ve looked at the structure of a serial being devised like a TV show - carry over your character arcs even if you resolve your plot, divide your episode into acts, etc. So what? You could probably still write a 100,000 word novel with that structure. How do you keep it in check?

Most TV dramas, without commercials, clock in at about 40 minutes, sometimes a little longer like 42. Since I’m developing “Weirdo Company” in the mold of a TV series, that means there’s not a lot of space or time for artful navel gazing. So the plot of each episode is going to be relatively simple. The “CSI” crew have only 42 minutes to solve a murder. Well, I’ve only got about 42 pages to do the same thing.  

Economy of language. Don’t screw around.

One of the things I don’t do much of in “Weirdo Company” is talk about what things or people look like. I’ll give cursory descriptions like “a black Mercedes,” “a gray BMW,” or “a high-ceilinged room that felt like a cathedral.”  I think I might once have mentioned the hair color of a particular character, or that one character is large and muscular.

But otherwise, I’m not spending a lot of time on what things look like unless it’s important. I try to trust the reader’s brain to fill in that information for themselves. Since that’s taken care of, I mostly just focus on action.  In this sense, I don’t mean action in terms of gunfights and explosions, but actions, movements, etc. Instead of focusing on describing the way things are, I focus on describing what they’re doing.

Example: in “The Great Dragon Egg Robbery,” the opening action sequence involves Harper trying to stop a runaway train. I don’t describe what he’s wearing. There’s no scene that says “Harper arrived, wearing a neatly-pressed Saville Row suit with pinstripes and two buttons, his tie cleanly cutting down the center” or whatever. Instead, I just make passing mention to him straightening his tie.  Suddenly, your mind pictures him in a suit.

I could say something like, “Anders was a beefy man with a thick neck, square jaw, and a scar that ran across his eye. He’d gotten it years earlier in a battle with an enraged sasquatch. He looked at him quizzically, the meaning plain in his face.”

Or, I could say, “The big man, Anders, looked at him with his one good eye, questioning.”  The focus isn’t on the fact that Anders is big, or even that he’s scarred but on the action of him asking an unspoken question.  If I toss in that he has “one good eye,” the reader will more than likely conjure up an image of a man with an eyepatch or a scar, or whatever they innately want him to look like.

Spend just enough time on what things look like to get the basic gist across, and the reader will do the rest on their own. A short-form serial is no place for you to go wild with your characters’ deep inner thoughts, or to lovingly explore every nook and cranny on that tree in the background.

After all that, what am I saying?  Get to the frickin’ point.

Do it quickly. Do it succinctly. Still do it with flair, because you don’t want your prose to be boring, but don’t dilly-dally.  This also relates to your plotting and structure, too, not just how many words you use.

I started writing the opening of “Chupacbras on a Boat” and it was about four hundred words that mostly consisted of characters walking into a room, dropping their bags on their beds and then sitting down in an office for a briefing before getting to the fighting. it was totally boring. So I lopped it right out and got down to business. Sometimes you might have to do that - write the boring part until you get to the good part, and then ditch the boring part. Remember that you can always sprinkle some background info into the good part to explain things to the reader without having to actually explain things to the reader.

Part Four: The Gang’s All Here

The “Weirdo Company” series has seven or eight recurring characters that are generally in each episode. Think about the original “Star Trek.” Everyone knows about Scotty, Chekov, Sulu and Uhura, right?  Sure. But the main characters of every episode were Kirk, Spock and McCoy. The others were around, but they were rarely the focus of an entire episode, maybe just a few scenes here or there. Still, everyone tends to think of them as main characters.

Well, I might have seven or eight characters that are always in these episodes, but I’m really only focusing on three. Harper, Davis and Rhymes are the characters with the most “screen time” in my serial. The others are there, and they serve their distinct purposes, they’re just for support because I need a larger world than three characters. You might not, but in continuing the TV analogy, they’re my supporting cast. They’re my Scotty, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura.

Even in a modern ensemble TV drama, you’ve got a couple people who are always at the forefront of the action. “The Walking Dead” is undeniably about Rick Grimes, even with the hugeness of that show’s cast. We might focus on Andrea and Michonne for a bit, or toss a couple scenes to Glen and Maggie, but we’re mostly following Rick.

So don’t try to give all your characters equal time. Don’t always try to flesh them out as much as you can. Sometimes, you just need your characters to be who they’re supposed to be. Flint is the medic, Mendez is the gunner. Tailor their actions and dialogue to those purposes and they’ll do just fine.

And now: Villainy.

Your story will probably require some kind of antagonist or villain. Mine has two, a pair of brothers who call themselves Joker and Thief. Joker is the plotter, Thief is the doer. I’ve set up that dynamic, so the characters feel fairly well established even if we don’t know much about them - particularly their plans. But through the dialogue we know that Joker wants to rule the world and has some sort of intricate plan to do so while Thief does what he’s told and is resentful of his brother’s power over him.

All these things lead back to being economical. Don’t put more effort into something than you have to. Focus on telling a good story, rather than trying to flesh everything out. The short form prose is less about depth. I could write thousands of words about the backstories of every character, give all of them more time to do things like drink coffee or walk their dogs, but I’m stripping away everything that, while interesting, is ultimately unimportant.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NaNoWriMo is upon us!

Yes, the yearly writers Mecca is here: NaNoWriMo, the month when everyone sits down and tries to crank out a 50,000 word fan fic masterpiece!

Every year I find some excuse not to participate, though this year I'm getting closer. I've got two jobs and so many writing irons in the fire, that I just can't sit down and crank out a novel from scratch. Instead, I'll just use my NaNoWriMotivation to work on a novel project that I started before but only got about 16,000 words into before it came grinding to a halt.

I think that's a pretty good use of my time, considering the two jobs and working on the Weirdo Company serial. That project is going well, since I just released Weirdo Company: Hellshark and I've already made solid progress on the next episode, Blood of the Keres.

So, I'm feeling pretty good about NaNoWriMo, even though my participation is a little... NaNoWriModjacent. 

Any of you out there going to dive into this yearly sacrifice ritual?

Current Soundtrack
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier by Jerry Goldsmith

Review: "Whiteout" by Ken Follett


WhiteoutWhiteout by Ken Follett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first half is pretty slow, there is a lot of setup going on.  Follett is careful to introduce every character, no matter how minor, and give them all their own subplots.  At times, it feels like he's just padding things out - a subplot involving a a character having an affair with her sister's husband feels pretty pointless in the end - but mostly it all works.  Things don't start to really gel until the second half, when the plot kicks into higher gear.  The ending feels a little bit too neat, but overall this is a solid thriller.


View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Unleash the Hellshark! ...Also, tweets

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the third part of the Weirdo Company serial - Hellshark.


Having a personal crisis after the events in Britain, Becky Davis returns home to Florida to consider her future. But no sooner has she arrived than she finds herself thrust into a new adventure: The locals are being terrorized by a massive, bloodthirsty shark that can spit fire! 
With the team still scattered, Davis calls on her only backup - team leader Lt. Paul Harper and pilot Colin 'Rhymes' McCollin - for help. But Weirdo Company are not the only ones hunting this hellshark...


Hellshark is available now for your Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble NOOK.



In other news, Star Trek novelist Dayton Ward tweeted me the other day to say nice job on my Strange New Worlds story from 2006.  That's pretty awesome! Kind of made my day, since everything else that was going on had to do with Hurricane Sandy.  Luckily, Boston was mostly spared, and I was safe.  I have a few friends who lost power, but nothing major.  Unfortunately, it looks like New York and other nearby areas were hit pretty hard, so I'm hoping those people get the help they need. 

Current Soundtrack
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country by Cliff Eidelman

Saturday, October 27, 2012

My wasted Saturday

Today I had all kinds of things I wanted to do.  Big things, important things.  Things like finish the cover for Hellshark. Well now it's after 6 and what have I done today?

I put a bunch of beef in the crockpot and then watched 30 Rock until it hurt.

Okay, so I did do some work on the cover for Hellshark. Not bad.  And I managed to stick to Paleo meals today, unlike yesterday (stupid, delicious calzone...).  So I guess I didn't waste the day after all?  The beef is still in the crockpot.  It's been almost seven hours.  I hope it's delicious.

Here's the latest WIP cover for Hellshark, which I'm planning on uploading Monday for Tuesday release announcement.  Special thanks to Smalls for suggesting red, glowing devil eye.


Current Soundtrack
Quantum of Solace by David Arnold

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Adventures of Weirdo Company continue!

Yes, folks, the third part of the "Weirdo Company" serial is almost upon us.  Hellshark is complete, I just need to finish the cover and give everything a last once-over and we're good to go!  And that means it's time to announce part four:

Blood of the Keres
In 1944, a battle between Allied and Nazi soldiers was interrupted by hideous demons that fed on the blood of the wounded.  Decades later, this ancient evil has been disturbed once more to prey on an unsuspecting countryside.  Weirdo Company, complete once more, heads to Europe to investigate this latest strange occurrence, only to discover a shocking connection to Lt. Paul Harper's family history.  Burdened by guilt, Harper heads recklessly into danger.
But as the bodies begin to pile up, Harper and the rest of the team must devise a method to kill the agents of Death itself.

Sounds pretty cool, doesn't it?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Review: "Drown" by Junot Diaz

DrownDrown by Junot Díaz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is dirty. It is full of dirty people in dirty places doing and saying dirty things to each other. And yet, it is wholly fascinating. These are disparate tales of a family scraping itself through life on the edge, barely surviving extreme poverty, first in the Dominican Republic and then later in the lower-class immigrant communities of Miami and New York.

The stories themselves are fairly simple, in terms of plot. They generally involve everyday happenings like going to work or to a family party, but through the prism of a family whose relationships are essentially built on distrust and stress. But it's the author's use of language that makes them so fascinating, how he creates images that are both revolting and but gripping at the same time. Diaz is an expert at setting his scenes, and crafts a world that is barely held together, physically or emotionally.

Some of the stories are difficult to read because of their content. There's cruelty, jealousy, drugs, sex and violence on display here, but for readers who can stand it, "Drown" is a fantastic collection.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 12, 2012

Get Zombies vs Unicorns now... for free!

Today, October 13, 2012, in honor of World Zombie Day and the return of AMC's The Walking Dead, I'm giving away free copies of Weirdo Company: Zombies vs Unicorns for Kindle and Nook.

They are the US military's special response unit for monsters and other creepy-crawly creatures that go bump in the night. They are Weirdo Company. Lead by Lt. Paul Harper, the team embarks on a mission uncomfortably close to home: Contact has been lost with a small farming town in the northeastern United States. What the team finds there will set them up for the fight of their lives, as the townspeople have been turned into vicious, bloodthirsty zombies.

But Harper and his team, including a green new recruit Davis, will discover that there is far more danger in this town than just zombies. Because if the people have mutated into something grotesque and dangerous, what has happened to the farm animals?

"Zombies vs Unicorns" is the first story in the 'Weirdo Company' series and features thrilling, summer blockbuster-style zombie-killing action and a few fun surprises.



I'm doing these downloads myself, so the links will take you to a Google Docs page.  Click on the link for your preferred format, .mobi for Kindle or .epub for Nook and other e-Readers, and then click "Download" in order to get the file.  

And don't forget to circle me on Google+ or 'like' me on Facebook!



Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

'Ninja Werewolf Assassins!' and 'Hellshark' updates

For some reason, my posts announcing the release of Ninja Werewolf Assasins didn't actually... post.  Unfortunately, I was posting remotely and didn't bother to check if the posts actually went up, and well, they didn't.

So here I am, looking kinda dumb with a blog that hasn't been updated in over a month.  Awesome.

Anyway, Ninja Werewolf Assassins! is out now!  You can get it for your Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook.


My other update to share is that the third story in the "Weirdo Company" series, Hellshark, is moving along nicely.  I've mocked up the cover art for it, but it's a long way from finished.

I'll also be giving away a few copies of Zombies vs Unicorns this weekend in honor of World Zombie Day.

Current Soundtrack
The Expendables 2 by Brian Tyler

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Progress Update: 'Ninja Werewolf Assassins!'

The second part of the Weirdo Company series, which began in Zombies vs Unicorns, is well under way.  This next adventure of Lt. Harper and his band of monster hunters takes the team to the United Kingdom, where they will team up with their British counterparts to capture a wanted terrorist with a deadly secret, a dastardly plan, and a painful connection to General Thibault.

Right now, the story stands at 9070 words, about 4,000 of which I've added just in the last few days.  This one is just pouring out of me now, and I'm having a blast writing it.  It goes a little bit deeper into the characters, as my plan had always been for the first story to act much like the pilot episode of a TV series.  In fact, I'm approaching the entire Weirdo Company series like it was a TV show, and I've plotted out the arc of the "episodes" through a complete "season."  I'm hoping to release one per month,  with some real fun surprises in store.

In other news, I am still getting used to having an Olympus Mans Google+ page.  Right now it's really bare, but I'm going to be adding content slowly, and especially a lot more as I release more of my work and get down to another upcoming project that I'm very excited about.

Current Soundtrack
"Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" by Brian Tyler


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Circle my page on Google+!

I have created a Google+ page to mirror my Facebook page, a platform to share my writing and artwork in a more professional sense.

The Facebook page can be found here.

The Google+ page can be found here.

I can also be found on Twitter - @bkguilfoy.

See you on the web!

Friday, August 10, 2012

ZvsU, now on Amazon!

ZOMBIES vs UNICORNS
is now available on Amazon:


"They are the US military's special response unit for monsters and other creepy-crawly creatures that go bump in the night. They are Weirdo Company. Lead by Lt. Paul Harper, the team embarks on a mission uncomfortably close to home: Contact has been lost with a small farming town in the northeastern United States. What the team finds there will set them up for the fight of their lives, as the townspeople have been turned into vicious, bloodthirsty zombies.
But Harper and his team, including a green new recruit Davis, will discover that there is far more danger in this town than just zombies. Because if the people have mutated into something grotesque and dangerous, what has happened to the farm animals?

"Zombies vs Unicorns" is the first story in the 'Weirdo Company' series and features thrilling, summer blockbuster-style zombie-killing action and a few fun surprises."


Thursday, August 9, 2012

The zombies are here! (and so are the unicorns)

The first installment of "Weirdo Company", "Zombies vs Unicorns" is now live at Barnes and Noble!  There's currently something wrong with the Amazon version; I have no idea what, but the title is listed as 'not currently available' for some reason.  It is available via Amazon.co.uk and other Amazon sites, just not the US Amazon.com.

But, here it is in epub format for those of you with Nooks or other epub-capable ereaders:


When the Amazon link goes live, I'll be back with that!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The zombies are coming

Tonight, despite being massively sick, I managed to sit down and finish "Weirdo Company: Zombies vs Unicorns," the first in a new short story series.  It's silly, gory fun.  If you like zombies, you'll probably dig it.  If you like explosions and summer blockbuster-style action, you'll probably dig it.  If you like unicorns, you'll probably hate me forever.

Here's the cover I eventually settled on.  It's a bit simpler than I envisioned, but, deadlines are deadlines.


I'll have the links up as soon as the book goes live.  I can't wait to hear what people think of it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

'Star Trek: Russian Roulette'

'Russian Roulette' is a second story that I wrote and submitted for the "Strange New Worlds" anthology that wasn't selected, I can pretty well guess why this one wasn't picked: it's not very good.  While I've been a fan of this premise for a few years, and have tried to work it into several different projects, I've never really managed to make it work.  My execution hasn't caught up with the idea yet.

In this story, which is a much more traditional 'Star Trek' story than my last post, the Enterprise is damaged in orbit of an alien world.  The engines could overload at any minute, wiping out half the planet below.  To Captain Kirk's horror, the alien denizens try to use the ship's threat of destruction in some kind of sick game of worldwide, political Russian roulette - whichever half of the planet isn't decimated by the explosion wins. Even worse, military units from one of these nations manages to board the ship to try and force it to explode over enemy territory.

Again, I really like this premise.  I'm glad I wrote the story, but in rereading it years later, something about it doesn't click for me.  The ending feels kind of rushed, and I think my characterization of Kirk is... off.  He spends a good deal of the story being something of a bystander, and I think I push his fear of losing the Enterprise a bit too far.

I tried to 'hang a lantern' on the old 'transfer-power-to-the-deflector-to-solve-all-our-problems' trick, but I'm not sure that really works, either.  In the end, all I did was... well... transfer power to the deflector.

Still, on a technical level, I think I did pretty well with this story.  I like my descriptions and a good deal of the dialogue.  And, again, I really like this premise.  One day, I'd like to really do it the justice I think it deserves.  Until then, enjoy.

View PDF

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"The Infinite Perfectionist"

My first professional publication was a short story in the anthology "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, vol 9".  I submitted only one story, and I submitted the first draft of that story because I had run up against the deadline.

The next year, I submitted four stories.  None of them were accepted, which was too bad because I thought a couple of them were actually quite good.  The other two... not so much.  But, I've decided to share them here with you.

The first, "The Infinite Perfectionist," may be downloaded in PDF format here.  I think it's a pretty good story, though I can surmise the reasons why it wasn't accepted.  It draws upon a number of concepts and ideas from various eras of the franchise, and concocts a perhaps too complicated idea of a shattered, fractured timeline.

In it, a severely weakened Q finds Christopher Pike, who was to be captain of the Enterprise, but is in this new reality a New York City bar owner, and takes him and his wife on a wild adventure through time and space.  They meet a mutated version of Guinan, who helps send them to the Guardian of Forever.  There, Pike learns how time was fractured and figures out how to put things right.

The idea I had in my mind when I was constructing this story was to explore what would happen if something awful happened to the Guardian of Forever - like, say, having it be assimilated by the Borg.  Ultimately, I thought having it being assimilated wasn't right.  But if the Borg Queen were to step through it, the trillions of minds connected to her own would be too much for the Guardian to handle, and an overload would pretty much break time.

How, then, were our heroes supposed to put things back right?  Q and Guinan were natural choices.  Guinan has shown to be sensitive to changes in the timeline, and Q is, well, an omnipotent being.  But of course, I couldn't just let Q snap his fingers and put everything right, so I just said that surviving the time fracture had weakened him greatly.

Anyway, I thought the story was intriguing enough, and I even think it's fairly well-written.  But, like its premise, it's maybe a little too jumbled.  Maybe Pike was the wrong character to pick?  Perhaps it should have been Kirk, or even Picard - who, of course, has a much heftier emotional connection with the Borg Queen.  Pike would have never even heard of the Borg in the original timeline.  But I thought that was the fun of the story.

Ultimately, I can only guess why the story wasn't accepted.  It just wasn't.  Oh well.  If you get some enjoyment out of it all these years later, then, well, mission accomplished.  Sound off with your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Announcement: Weirdo Company

I'm very close to releasing my next story.  The story itself is finished, and I'm making progress on the second.  This is the beginning of a pretty massive project.  Work on other things, like the novel, are still progressing, but this is going to be one avenue that I'm exploring.

It's called "Weirdo Company."  A series of 10 short stories about a military unit that handles weird, screwed up missions involving monsters and other scary creatures.  It's not designed to be very serious, sort of like the "Call of Duty" games that feature zombies.  It has lots of violence and foul language, but it's also very silly and ridiculous. I hope people like it.

The first adventure is called "Zombies vs Unicorns" and I thought I would share some of the work I've been doing on the cover for it, the last step before release.

This is the first design I sort of slapped together quickly.  It's pretty lame, though I kind of like the treatment of the text:

You an see it's very plain, and the zombie and unicorn are sort of oddly off-center, which doesn't quite work very well.  And that 'blood spatter' looks more like bad spraypaint (which, I'm pretty sure it actually is).

This is what I've settled on for an overall template for the cover:

I think it looks much nicer, though I may play with the text a bit before I'm done.  The gray area in the middle will feature some artwork of a zombie and a unicorn.

Here's the beginning of it, in the form of a rough pencil sketch:

The picture is of poor quality because I took it with my phone rather than scanning the actual sketch.  But I think you get the idea.

Anyhow, I'm pretty excited about this project.  It's almost ready to be unleashed upon the ebook world, and I hope people enjoy it.

Current Soundtrack
"King Kong" - James Newton Howard

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A treasure trove of old material

Recently while on the search for something else, I discovered a large treasure trove of old files that include a bunch of writing from the last decade.  Most of it isn't publishable, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is copyright issues - several of the stories I found were submissions I made to the "Strange New Worlds" anthology that didn't get picked.

While I won't be able to release these stories for sale on Amazon, I do plan on putting them here.

But the biggest discovery was that I found the original version of "The Box".  As you'll recall, the whole reason I rewrote the story and released it via KDP Select was because I couldn't find the original to include in "Show Me the End of the World." Reading the story last night, I was pretty surprised to find just how different it is from the second version.  But, if you've read "The Box," what's interesting is that the premise of the story actually allows the two stories to co-exist.  I'm not sure what to do with this old version now that I've found it.  I half gave a thought to packaging it with the new one, but that doesn't seem fair to the hundreds who've already downloaded that.

More than likely, what I'll do is include it as a bonus in my next collection, which I'm already working on in addition to my novel.

Current TV:
'Star Wars: The Clone Wars' Season 3 [blu-ray]

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An old story I found

I took a short story class at one point in college, and this was unfortunately the semester that began in September of 2001.  It was a fine class, but the entire semester was... difficult.  The campus had a certain depressed air about it that I suspect is particularly familiar to many Americans old enough to remember that day.

This class pretty much dropped the syllabus and the professor basically just tailored the entire semester around analyzing our feelings regarding the 9/11 terror attacks.  I wrote this story, "What If Captain America Was Dead?" as one of the assignments in the class.  I don't really remember too much more of the context about it, other than it just came out of me very naturally.  The professor loved it and printed copies of it for his other classes.  I recall not feeling like the story was really all that great, and reading it now it seems almost kind of trite.

Is it any good, or am I just hating on my own work like I usually do?

Anyway, "What If Captain America Was Dead?" can be downloaded on PDF from this link or click on over to the Downloads page.

Current Soundtrack
'Skull & Bones' by Cypress Hill

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Status Update

Just some thoughts:

I'm waffling on the title of my novel.  Whether or not to include the word "City."

The novel itself is coming along well.  Following the outline, piecing back together parts of the 20,000 or so words I'd already written, discarding some, rearranging and rewriting others.  It will be much better now.

At the moment, it's about 9924 words, but there's still pieces to be added back from the original.  I suspect that I'll only lose about 3,000 or 4,000 words and then I'll be ready to start writing the rest of it.

I don't have a goal word-count for this project.  The disparity of online opinions of what length 'officially' constitutes a novel told me I should just write the damn story and see how long it ends up when I feel it's appropriately finished.

I plan on having a couple people read the novel before it's released to get some feedback as well as some extra editing help.  I didn't do that for "Show Me the End of the World" and there ended up being a couple of embarrassing errors.  I did it for "The Box" and felt much better about it, despite one friend's assertion that he got a Grammar-Nazi Eye Twitch (I suspect he was exaggerating).

"The Box" continues to sell an average of one or two copies a day.  Those three dimes keep rollin' in...

Current Soundtrack
"Thor" by Patrick Doyle

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A couple more reviews

...This time for 'The Box' -

First up is a four-star review here:

"What I liked: Great build-up of suspense. Writing was polished and flowed nicely. It was a fast read and even though I was sort of resisting getting pulled in completely, it made me keep reading until the very end. I think that's the definition of a page turner. Very good pacing.What I liked less: kind of a cliched set-up; group of diverse people called to a lab somewhere to combine their diverse talents. The characters made the switch from investigating the cube to picking up weapons a bit too easily.

Overall, if you don't mind paying .99 for a short story and you like fast flowing adventure, you could do a lot worse than this. It won't be the best thing you've ever read, but definitely worthy of 4 stars.



And next a five-star review here:
"I found this very entertaining. Great character depth, not too much nor too little, which meant I just had to keep reading.
The twists certainly kept me guessing even right up to the last few paragraphs. And the ending was very clever and very unexpected."



Needless to say, I am excited to see these. Since doing the KDP Select free promo, wherein I gave away some 217 copies of "The Box," I've noticed a steady trickle of actual sales happening.


And that put a much-needed smile on my face the last few days.


Current Soundtrack:
'Star Trek' by Michael Giacchino

Monday, April 9, 2012

Outlines are hard like my...

...high school algebra finals.

What?  Where did you think I was going with that?


Anyway, I've written before about my difficulty with outlines. But I decided a novel, as the single largest writing project I will have tackled so far in my life, deserved more than just to be spat out upon my keyboard, spewed forth from my brain without direction of any kind.

Thus it was that I completed an outline for my novel (which I have yet to settle on a title - that will be another blog post, I assure you).  It's a pretty basic outline which merely lists a couple of goals for each chapter, sentence fragments of ideas that I think should happen at each point.

"So and so meet at this place and discuss such and such" is essentially how it goes.

"So and so beat the crap out of each other at bla bla" and so on.

But one of the things that struck me while I was writing it was that the structure of it seemed to flow a little better.  The outline adheres to the basic idea of the novel I've had in my head, with some added junk thrown in.  But therein, you'll recall, was my problem - I constantly have new ideas I want to add in which ends up changing the project drastically as I'm writing it.  With the outline, I'm hoping to avoid it, but I don't know if that's possible because I simply found myself modifying the outline on the fly!

My high school art teacher, who always was reminding me that I was very talented but extremely lacking in organization and follow through, once said that "the real world doesn't have outlines."  This was because my naturally cartoonish artistic style meant that every object I drew had lines to define its shape instead of using shade.  It's sort of hard to describe, but essentially it boils down to, Look at the world around you and note that no real object has a black line around it.

This is a completely different kind of outline, but the idea popped into my head earlier as I was finishing the outline.  I thought this was very funny because now years later, outlines are still bugging me and I'm still a giant pain in the ass who lacks organization and follow through.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sample Sunday: "The First Seven Millenia"

Sample Sunday: "The First Seven Millenia" is a story available in my collection, "Show Me the End of the World."


I’d wondered once, what it would be like to be truly alone. I never imagined that it would be quite like this, of course. I thought to be truly alone would be like suffering from some kind of intense emotional wound, a trauma like someone had dug a hole right through my innards and kept on going and going and going, and nothing could ever, ever fill it in.
But really, being alone is much more like an intense boredom.
I’ve spent much of my life alone, in one respect or another. But this, this is absolutely terrible.
This morning I woke up, and, much like days previous, I did nothing. Now, it used to be that when I say that I did nothing, what I really meant was that I’d sat down and pretty much wasted the day by watching television or playing games or some other nonsense that didn’t involve any real stress or human contact. That’s what “nothing” used to mean to me.
These days, when I say nothing, I mean it in the very truest sense of the word that a human being is capable of. I mean that I opened my eyes this morning, awoken to a new day, and I lay in bed. All day. I didn’t get out of it. Ever. I’ve lain like that every day for the past forty-seven years. For as long as I’ve been alive, forty-seven years seems like, well, nothing, if I might apply a different meaning to the word.
To date, I have lived for seven thousand, three hundred and sixty-two years. So forty-seven, from a perspective such as mine, really is quite an inconsequential amount of time. To me, forty-seven years is a span of time somewhat like what a month used to feel like. I still keep track of my years as though they were my days. I keep track of my days as though they were my minutes. It’s bizarre, and slightly discomforting when you really think about it. I have dismissed time as most people think of it. It means nothing to me.
There’s that word again.
I suppose I ought to tell you just why and how it is that I have come to such an extreme age, especially looking as well as I do – that is, as a twenty-nine year old man in pretty decent physical condition.
I was born early on in the wonderful decade of the 1980s. I remember it like it was seven thousand years ago, which is pretty sarcastic of me to say. I remember it pretty well, as well as any normal man might remember his first few years, even though it was much, much longer ago for me than a normal man’s life span. I grew up as any child of the 80s might have, watching TV and playing Nintendo games, reading comic books, playing sports, riding my bike and playing with friends when the weather was nice, staying in when it wasn’t. It was, to put it mildly (and in perspective, considering the events later in my life) a rather uneventful childhood.
I like to think that my parents instilled in me a decent sense of right and wrong, and how to be a generally good person. You can see where I’m going with this, that is, that I was a very middle-of-the-road human being, with no distinguishing characteristics to my life at all.
I went to high school, dated girls, got drunk with friends, experimented with marijuana, all the things high schoolers do. Then college, a small liberal-arts institution in the American northeast. You can see how dreadfully boring it all is, a slice of Americana apple pie. Lots of TV, lots of videogames, lots of simply lounging around without contributing much to the world at large.
This was, of course, the time of the great technological boom, the growth of the Internet, 9/11, and all those things that made the beginnings of my life an exciting and unique time to be alive. But my life itself was not exciting, despite the grand surroundings. I was not famous, I was not a genius, or a star athlete, or anything else that got one noticed in that world so obsessed with success and celebrity.
All this is not to say that I didn’t want success or celebrity. Indeed, I desperately desired those things, just like anyone else of that entirely materialistic age. I wanted to be a writer, of all things. I wanted to make waves; I wanted people to notice me, to like me. I wanted to entertain people, and at the same time, I wanted to make embarrassingly large piles of cash, cash, and more cash – which, I learned, is something few writers actually manage to do. But I’d have been damned if I wasn’t going to try.
But that was not where my celebrity or my success would come from.
One thing that always struck me as being so bizarre during that time period was how obsessed people were with looking young, with staying young. We desperately craved to keep that youth that seemed so fleeting, even though it lasted so long. I never really cared, knowing that, yeah, guess what, people get old. Watching television became a practice in wondering how many new “rejuvenating skin crème” ads would come on during a particular commercial break.
A journalist once asked me when the first time I ever noticed I wasn’t dying was. This was sometime around age one hundred and twelve, give or take. I couldn’t answer him, at first. Eventually, I told him that it wasn’t like I had flipped the “on” switch to my magical immortality machine. It just happened. I thought I was born this way, since I could recall nothing so bizarre happening to me in my lifetime that I thought I had been bestowed immortality. I just was.
The interview took place just after I’d published the first volume of my memoirs, rather egotistically entitled “The First Hundred Years”. I was one hundred and twelve, and I had still not done much of anything. But it was around then that I realized that I wasn’t doing anything, but I was seeing everything. I noticed that I was in a position to offer a unique perspective on the world. I thought maybe I could teach people about the things I had seen, and maybe, for some reason, they would listen.
In my pride, I thought they would connect better with a living storyteller than some dusty history text. And unlike those books, I told myself, my memories were not skewed the perspective of the victor. I was an observer – I could tell them how it was, now how the people who won wanted them to see it.
I began speaking at colleges and universities around America, telling stories to history classes about what my mundane existence had been like a century prior. After I had done countless lectures, TV interviews, and dozens upon dozens of magazine and newspaper articles had been written on my life and times, I came upon a singular realization that changed my life absolutely forever.
They didn’t care.
I wasn’t teaching them, at least not anything important. I was two hundred and thirty years old, and all they cared about was the origins of television. I was quaint, a museum piece that people walk past and say, “Oh, wow, look at that!” and then move on a moment later.
I published “The Second Hundred Years”, selling only half as much as the first book. My status, and my celebrity, were wearing thin after two and a half centuries of life. The world at large did not care about me, that weirdo American who wouldn’t die.
It’s not for lack of trying, either. In those first two and a half centuries alone, I would have no less than fifteen attempts on my life, mostly by bizarre religious nut-jobs who thought I was the anti-Christ. Imagine how surprised I was when bullets didn’t hurt me, or knife blades, or firebombs or any of the other millions of ways human beings have devised to torture and maim each other for less than no good reason. When that little nugget of information got out, I thought it would stop the attempts, but it actually seemed to encourage more of them.
People actually were trying harder to kill me than those that had come before, and were using it as a sort of litmus test to gauge their own strength and cunning against their competitors (or even their friends). And each time someone tried to kill me, it got just a little bit more public.


"The First Seven Millenia" and the rest of "Show Me the End of the World" is available now at Amazon.com.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Amazon KDP Select Experiment: Phase 1

As I've previously posted, I enrolled "The Box" in Amazon's new KDP Select program.  Now, what this means is two things:

Firstly, that it is exclusive to Amazon - I can't sell "The Box" on any other store, which is fine.  To be honest, most of my sales of "Show Me the End of the World" came from Amazon anyway.  I might have sold four or five copies for the Barnes and Noble Nook, but for the most part, Amazon was where it was going.  Since I only had the one book, I was reluctant to give Select a chance, and some of the conflicting stories I've heard about it made me wary.

Secondly, and here's where the meat of Select comes into play, I am allowed to give "The Box" away for free for five days.  And here's why people are saying that Select is a bad idea if you've only got one book: If you give it away for free, you're not getting any money.  I've read accounts from other indie authors who say that they've given away the first book of a series in order to promote sales of the subsequent books.

Now, if I were to give away "Show Me the End of the World" for free before I had released anything else, my promotion is doing nothing but giving away free books.  Maybe some of those people would remember me and check back later to see if I have anything new coming out, but that seems unlikely.  More likely, I'd simply have given away a bunch of books and gotten nothing in return for it - and I don't even mean just money.  Will those readers turn into fans?  Again, probably not because I have nothing else to offer them and they'll forget about me and move on.

So I enrolled "The Box" in Select because I figured, now I have something out there to offer and the risk is somewhat minimal.  So I can give away "The Box" for free in the hopes that people will like it and seek out and purchase "Show Me the End of the World" as a result.  At least, that's the thinking behind it. I've seen stories of people who have found success in this method, and others who think it's one of the worst mistakes they've ever done as an author.

I'm not ready to declare anything like that at the moment.  Right now, I'm sort of laughing at myself because for the week or so that I offered "The Box" for a mere 99 cents (it is, after all, just one short story, maybe even the low end of novella but that seems like I'm stretching) I sold about six copies.  Now, because the list price is so small, I only make about 35 cents royalty on each one of those.  I don't get the whole dollar, not by a longshot.  But I put some advertisement out there... I put links on my personal Facebook page, on my Olympus Mans page, on Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and Goodreads that I was doing this promo.  And then when the time came and the book was live for free, I put the links out there again and asked people to share it around.

So in over a week I'd sold six copies of my 99 cent story and made a grand total of about two bucks.  In 12 hours, I gave away over 100 copies (about $30 that will not go into my pocket).  At this point, "The Box" has given away more free copies than I sold of "Show Me the End of the World" in total.  Am I happy about that fact?  Eh.  Like I said, this is a promotion.  The whole idea is that I'm trying to build an audience, that this audience will hopefully enjoy "The Box" so much that they'll go buy my other book.

Has that happened? Actually, yes.  According to the sales reports, while at this moment I've given away over 100 copies of "The Box" someone did, in fact, purchase "Show Me the End of the World" today.

Obviously, I'll need more time to look into how this whole thing will work out.  For the moment, I'm a little impressed that I managed to give away so many copies.  I hope everyone who reads it will enjoy it, and I hope that I get some fans and some feedback.  "The Box" was, after all, sort of a holdover from "Show Me" anyway, even though I think I got a little more attached to it than I thought I would.

So if you're reading this, and you've read "The Box", please sound off on your thoughts in the comments.  And if you're feeling really generous, rate it on Amazon.  I'd love to get some gold stars up on that page.

Current Soundtrack:
"X-Men: First Class" by Henry Jackman

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Free! Free!



That's right, folks - Everyone's favorite word!  Today (April 4, 2012) and tomorrow (April 5, 2012) my new short story "The Box" is free for everyone on Amazon.com.  Feel free to download it to your Kindle, iPhone, iPad, Android device, PC, Mac, read it right on your fancy-schmancy Internet browser, or... I guess you could print it out if you feel like putting too much effort into something.

But it's free!  So do whatever you like!  Read it, share it, tell all your friends and family how freaking awesome I am... :)

But above all, enjoy.

Current Soundtrack
"John Carter" by Michael Giacchino

Monday, April 2, 2012

The dreaded outline

I am not what you would call a particularly organized person.  I tend to just sort of let things happen, let them pile up.  I don't really plan things all that well, and I'm sometimes very poor at budgeting my time.

Of course, this is a problem for a person who wants to tell stories.  Disorganized stories can be a huge turnoff for a reader.  But my writing style is very "get started and see what happens."  The number of times I've started a project only to decide halfway through to veer off in another direction because I had what I thought was a better idea is astonishing.  It also means that there is a graveyard of unfinished stories, screenplays and half-baked ideas littered like slaughtered corpses throughout my hard drive.

For writing short stories, this is actually rather an easy problem to overcome.  They're typically short enough that I can just write and see where it goes and generally be pleased with the outcome.  I had some struggle with "The Box," but overall the writing of it went smoothly.  Of the stories in "Show Me the End of the World" only "DreamTime" and "Man's Best FrienD" went through any serious revisions.

But writing a novel is an entirely different animal.  I've even written screenplays without any real outline... they just sort of come out of me the way they do, and I rarely feel the need to go back and change them.  I've been slowly revising one that's been gestating since college, but even that has remained largely the same in terms of its structure.  Each time I read it, I see where I could make a funnier joke or that I need to add an earlier reference to pay off something that happens later, but for the most part the skeleton of the thing hasn't changed in the years since I originally sat down to write it while working crappy desk shifts in good ol' Larned Hall.

For this novel, I attempted to come up with an outline.  The problem is that when I sat down and started writing the novel I almost immediately started deviating from the outline!  I've struggled with this problem for all the time I've been a writer; rigid boundaries simply don't agree with me.  Outlines for school papers were a pain in the ass, and when teachers forced me to do second and third drafts as part of the assignment, I often simply passed in the first draft again and they'd get upset.  Even at work, I hate being constantly boxed in by design concepts older than I am, and I'm constantly battling with people over this.

I guess what I'm going to try for the novel outline is to simply write a simpler one.  I was trying to sketch it all out down to the individual scenes, but that isn't working for me.  I think I'll just put one or two sentences down for the goal of each chapter and hope that I can stick to that.

But maybe I'll get halfway through and decide, no, that's not how I roll.

Current Soundtrack
"Total Recall" by Jerry Goldsmith

Thursday, March 29, 2012

What's inside 'The Box'?

A mysterious artifact is uncovered in the desert. It is metallic, perfectly cubical, covered in strange writing... and older than human civilization. Four strangers are brought to a secret laboratory to unlock its secrets, including a codebreaker, a linguist, and a young prodigy physicist. What is the box? What secrets does it contain within? Finding out will send the team on the greatest adventure of their lives... and could mean the end of everything they know.

"The Box" is now available, exclusively on Amazon!  I have to admit that after uploading yesterday, I pretty much checked the status of it compulsively until it went live.  Amazon takes a few hours for ebooks to go on sale once they've been uploaded, and I was being my usual impatient self.  It finally appeared on the site at about 7 pm, and I immediately shared it across all my usual networks (I'm heavily into Facebook and Google+, so be sure to 'like' me on Olympus Mans and circle me on G+).  

Then, of course, I couldn't get to sleep last night.  Too excited.  It's a blast seeing your name on something that's for sale on a huge site like Amazon.  I'm not sure that'll ever become old hat for me.  At least, I hope it doesn't.


Now, about that novel...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pushing the button

Well, that's that - I uploaded 'The Box' to Amazon today, and enrolled it in their KDP Select program.  As soon as it's live on the site, I'll be posting links and updating the My Books page.  But mostly what I want to say in this post is that it feels good to hit that button.

When you get to the point where you know that continuing to work on something you're just spinning your wheels and overdoing things.  There's that saying that art is never finished, just abandoned - and there is truth to that.  At some point, you just say, 'Alright, it's time to get this out there.'  And that's just what I did today.

And it feels awesome.

Current Soundtrack
"Amaryllis" by Shinedown

Monday, March 19, 2012

A picture worth a thousand words

As an artist and a designer, I like to make my own covers.  I've made DVD covers, I've made posters, and I designed the cover for "Show Me the End of the World." That one came to me fairly easily... I recall my thought process being simply that I wanted an image of the world on fire and the text to have a fairly simple treatment and this is what came out:

Pretty solid, eh?  I mean, I dig it.

Now I'm designing the cover for my short story "The Box" and I'm running into a little bit of a snag.  Initially, I came up with this:

But honestly the more I look at it the more I think it just looks kinda cheesy and dumb.  In my opinion, the cover for "Show Me the End of the World" looks somewhat classier, and I think that's mostly because of my type choices.  I had a couple ideas for "The Box" where the type woud be box-shaped in some fashion to play off on that whole idea.

But then I started thinking more along the lines of the concepts at work in the story and about taking things a bit less literally with the cover.

This one has its own obvious problems.

I like the treatment of the text on this one, but otherwise it seems far too plain.  There obviously needs to be something else of a graphical nature on this version, but I'm a loss as to what.  I thought perhaps some kind of blood spatter, but where should it go and how should it interact with the type?  It's a conundrum alright.

Current Soundtrack
"Superman Returns" by John Ottman

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Editing Phase

So as you may know from previous posts, I've been working on a new story that I'm rewriting from an old one.  It's called "The Box."

Wellllll it's pretty well done.  Clocking in at just under 16,000 words, I'm steadily going through it now making sure all the i's are dotted, all the t's crossed.  I've had a couple people read through it and got some positive feedback on that end, as well.

On that note, I'd like to mention that editing a document in real-time with another person on Google Docs is pretty awesome.

But this story is nearing the finish line.  I can't wait to get it out there.

Current Soundtrack
"Tomorrow Never Dies" by David Arnold

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Reviews, reviews, reviews

Well folks, "Show Me the End of the World" has garnered a couple of reviews up on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk!

First up, a five-star review from the US site:


And then a four-star review from the UK:


I am, understandably, quite psyched.

Current Soundtrack:
"The World is Not Enough" by David Arnold

Monday, March 5, 2012

Moving along

Crossed the 12,000 word threshold on "The Box" tonight.  We're almost there, folks.  This one's going to go through some editing and then it'll be available.  It seems to be going a little smoother now than it was a couple days ago.  I actually chopped almost an entire scene that just wasn't working.  It was introducing a new element into the story too late, and I just realized I had no idea where I was going with it.  And remembering what I wrote about being lazy and covering up that laziness with action, I decided to do the harder thing and simply ax the entire scene and go in a different direction.  It feels good having done that; even though I liked that new element, I simply didn't know where to go with it after it was started.  Maybe if this were a different project - a novel instead of a story - I might have been able to get away with it and incorporate it into the larger narrative.

But here, there's simply no room for it.

...Which sounds funny when I think that this "short story" is going to end up being twice the length of most of the stories in "Show Me the End of the World."

Current Soundtrack
"Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" by Cliff Eidelman

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Milestones and finish lines

I hit 10,000 words on "The Box", finally.  It's coming along nicely, and I'm gearing up to bring it to its big, Baysplosion-y finale.  This made me think of the issue of pacing.

Generally stories are supposed to build to the climax, which is the big moment or scene where everything kind of hits the high point.  All of your storylines converge, the emotions of your characters reach their tipping point - essentially this is when you get to the entire point of your story.  When the audience is gripping the arm of their chair, riveted by whatever you're showing them.

When it comes to action-adventure stories, this generally means that things are at their most dire for the hero, and the villain is on the cusp of victory and world domination or some such.  Sometimes, it's okay to buck this idea.  In "Raiders of the Lost Ark", for example, the climax of the film is really when Indy and Marion are tied to a post and the Nazis are opening the Ark - although the film's biggest action sequence is arguably the fight on the plane tarmac followed closely by that amazing truck chase (which to this day is one of my favorite action sequences in any movie - ever.)

Or sometimes, even, your biggest action sequence comes at the beginning of the film.  The Battle of Hoth, anyone?  Generally, though, I think I like films that have a slower first-half and then unleash hell in the back.

Writing a short story is a little different.  With "The Box", which has a lot of action adventure elements in it, more so than any of the other stories from "Show Me the End of the World", I've tried to maintain a sort of even pace in the sense of building it steadily.  There's a creature hunting the characters in the story, and each encounter with it gets bigger and longer and more dangerous than the last.  What I'm hoping is that this lends the story a feeling that it's leading to a huge climax, that the finale of the store will be me letting loose with something truly awesome that made reading the rest of the story worthwhile.

Because if your climax fizzles, well... quite simply, as a writer, you've failed.  Don't let the reader come away disappointed in your payoff.  That's a fear that I've had about my writing rather often.  I'm afraid that I have these great ideas that I can't follow through on for whatever reason.  In screenwriting, I often found my way around this by tossing in some kind of action sequence which ultimately, regardless of how much I love the action/adventure genre, is just lazy writing.  If I'm ever going to overcome my own fears regarding my writing, I've got to force myself to sit down and think about what I'm doing and if I can't come up with a way around a problem, then the solution isn't to sidestep it with action but to go back and address why the problem exists.


But I digress.  "The Box" is almost finished.  At this point, I'm proud of it.  But it's not finished, it still needs work.

I still need to unleash it.

Current Soundtrack:

"Captain America: The First Avenger"
 by Alan Silvestri