Stranger Things: Mini-Review (No Spoilers!)

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stranger things

HORROR FOR A NON-HORROR FAN

I just finished watching Season 1 of Stranger Things (ST) and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I was afraid that the series wasn’t going to live up to the hype set up by online fans of the show.  However, after watching all eight episodes, I have to say that I really did come to enjoy it.  It started a bit slowly for me (Episodes 1-3), but the middle episodes (4-6) really ratcheted up the tension and while the resolution was good (7-8), they weren’t nearly as impactful as the middle episodes in my opinion.  This, I think, is why I didn’t rate it higher.  When it is good, it is excellent, but the slow beginning and the not as impactful ending really made the show seem not as suspenseful as it could have been.  Now, I didn’t “binge” watch it, but rather watched it one episode at a time on Saturdays (as a reward to myself for getting through a “hard” week), so perhaps that had something to do with it, but in my mind, a really good series should be able to be watched either one episode at a time or “binged” watched without it making a difference.

The one thing that the show really gets right (and makes the bulk of the middle episodes) is the idea of mystery and suspense.  These episodes drip feed the story to the viewer in just the right amount of atmosphere, suspense, mystery, character development, and plot progression.  We discover more about the characters, the world, the mystery of what is going on, and how all of this came to be in the middle episodes and that is what makes this show so great.  While there are horrific elements, the goal is less on trying to scare the viewers and more on creating tense and suspenseful encounters to place the characters and I really appreciated that as a viewer.

STEPHEN KING “LITE”

Okay, so I’m not really a “Horror” fan.  When I say that, I mean that while I have read some horror novels and seen some horror movies, they do not make up a major component of my genre experience (unlike Fantasy and Science Fiction).  I read authors such as Dan Simmons (in his “Horror” phase) and British author James Herbert (who would now be considered Dark Fantasy instead of Horror).  I’ve also seen movies such as Alien and others like it, but in general I prefer the feeling of wonder and excitement to that of dread and horror.

I used to read Stephen King (his 80’s and 90’s work) and ST gives me a Stephen King “Lite” vibe.  It has a construction of a less intense and less horrific version of Stephen King’s It.  I think that it is the focus on suspense rather than horror that really helped me to become invested in the series.

GOOD RESOLUTION (FOR THE MOST PART)

I liked the ending, although I have to confess, that I wanted the “love” subplot to go differently than it turned out.  The resolution of that subplot seemed forced and cliche and relied on a character change that wouldn’t have happened in real life based on the way the original boyfriend acted in the earlier episodes.  The character does a complete 180 change in behavior that was hard for me to accept based on his earlier behavior.  Also, the creators set up the early episodes giving the “new” love interest a lot of pathos by showing his backstory, his motivations, etc., but because of the old boyfriend’s abrupt change in behavior, this doesn’t go anywhere.

The ending of the main plot, however, seemed to end well and left itself open for a sequel, as shown by the Super Bowl Ad.  It definitely seems that while things resolved, it doesn’t seem like the sequel will be forced or unnecessary.   I’m actually looking forward to it.  I think it will take the show into some very interesting places.

RATING: Season 1 Grade: B+ (Above Average)

If you like suspense and mystery and don’t mind a few chills and scares, then this is a great show to watch.  Even though the cast includes a mix of child and adult actors, they all do a great job and are completely invested in the world that the show runners created.  I look forward to Season 2 later this year.

IMPLICATIONS FOR MY WRITING

I learned that putting characters that I like into dangerous situations helps to create suspense because you’re invested in that character and you don’t want to see anything bad happen to that character.  This tension is what creates suspense and why I think that the middle episodes (4-6) are so good.

Also, I learned that I shouldn’t change a character’s behavior mid-way through without a good reason (perhaps externally).  The show runners obviously wanted to show that the “old” boyfriend had a change of heart, but his change wasn’t earned well enough/strong enough (in my mind) to result in the change that occurred.  I need to remember to make any change in the character that deviates radically absolutely explicit to the reader to make the reader believe that the character could change realistically in the way I show by clearly showing the internal/external struggle that forces that change.

The Outline’s the Thing (to Catch a Story) Redux

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Outline

Source: bcourses.berkeley.edu

OUTLINING (Why the Hate?)

When I mention (either in person, or on the blog) that I outline, people react violently as if it is wrong to want/need to plan out a story.  There’s almost an elitist attitude toward creative writing without a plan, as if it is some badge of honor or mark of genius to just sit down and start writing and hope that the story will come to you as you write.  However, I think a lot of this anxiety over the outline comes from the image above.  Outlining, as you can see from an outline that I found online, requires much forethought and planning.  Inside this particular outline, you have topics, subtopics, and even nested subtopics.  If you look at this outline, however, you could write this paper.  The thesis (main idea of the paper is clearly listed and each topic relates back to this one idea.  You would only need to go and research those individual topics to craft a paragraph (or chapter) on each of those subjects, right?

Boring!  This is what makes academic papers so hated by so many students because they don’t see the need for this highly stylized way of writing.  They don’t understand the conventions behind the academic essay nor do they see the need for creating an outline that helps you to write in this formal way.  They hate it and, by extension, they dislike the process of outline.  This is too much trouble.  Why in the world would anyone put themselves through this willingly?

The reason is simple: It gives a concrete roadmap as to where the paper is going.  You, or I, with enough research could write this paper.  We know what we need and we know where to put it.  Now that the outline is done, we simply just need to find out what we don’t know about the subject (the research) and then start drafting it.

CREATIVE WRITING 101

So, do you need to outline like this for a story?  No, of course not–an outline can be as simple (or complex) as you need it to be for your own purposes.  For me, I use a slightly modified version of this outline:

This has the bare minimum that I need to tell my story.  I need to know the setting (where and when the story is taking place), the major characters and any minor characters that I’ve thought up.  I need to know what the main character’s problem is  and why it is so important to them.  I need to know the three main scenes that happen in the story (beginning, middle, and end)–I used to use five scenes and I would structure it like a Shakespearian play, but I discovered that it was making my stories too long for many markets and it wasn’t really adding a whole lot to the story–that’s why I’ve gone back to just the essentials.  I also need to know the outcome of the story (how does it end).  I’ve also added one thing: the Theme (why does this story matter, or what am I trying to impart to the reader).  Now, I’m not trying to give a moral to the story, but I do want to have the character discover some “truth” about themselves, life, or others at the conclusion of a story and knowing what a possible theme could be at the beginning helps me to do this.  Outlines don’t inhibit creativity; rather, they provide a sense of knowing one’s destination and the steps needed to get there.

AN IMAGINARY TRIP TO FLORIDA

So, right now, I could go jump in my car and go to Florida.  I know that Florida is south and east of me and I know which direction southeast is from where I sit as I’m typing these letters.  I would only need to get on the highway, keep going in a southeasterly direction, and eventually I would make it to Florida.

google maps 2

But in real life that’s not what I would do, nor most of us, if we’re truthful.  We would open up Google Maps or Apple Map or some other mapping application on our phones (or other navigational aid, or, if you’re old school, a physical map) and we’d plan out our trip and use the app or navigational aid to help us navigate the highway system.

So, how is this any different from outlining a story?  To quote Yoda: “No, no different, only different in your mind.”  Just like I could get to Florida by heading in a general southeasterly direction, I could write a story by just jumping in without outlining, but there would be so many wrong turns, dead-ends, and general confusion, that I wouldn’t be having any fun and I would most likely abandon the project before I finished (or to continue the metaphor, turned around and went back home in frustration).

SAVING THE STORY, ONE OUTLINE (STORY MAP) AT A TIME

Now I’m a great proponent in finding the process that works for you as an individual.  No two writers are going to write in the same way, using the exact same process.  I’m also a great proponent for the idea of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”  If what works for you is to jump write in without an outline, and you’re a successful writer (aka making a living at it), then don’t try to change it.

However, I’m also a proponent of tinkering and adjusting something that’s broken until I get it to work (longtime readers of the blog know of my almost year long quest to find the solution to my wi-fi issues back in 2014-2015–read the posts from that year for more info).  If you find yourself not as successful as you’d like to be as a writer, or you are abandoning story after story, or that you can’t your stories to match the vision in your head (like what was happening to me about a year ago when I wrote the original blog entry “The Outline’s the Thing (to Catch a Story)”), outlining should be a technique that you should at least try in order to see if it might work for you.  My process was broken because I need to outline.  Just jumping in only results in frustration for me.

In conclusion, writing is such an individual process that the only way to know what works for you is to try it.   The advice to just dive right in and not to worry about outlines, while well meaning, isn’t really helpful or useful advice unless that’s what works for you.  If it doesn’t, it’s like telling a drowning man, “hey, just suck it up and keep struggling, you might just learn how to swim eventually,” whereas the process of outlining could be the “life-preserver” that the drowning man can use to keep himself afloat.

P.S. In case you think I’m the only one who thinks this way, I’d encourage you to take a moment to enjoy some of these quotes by other writers who “think” the same way I do:

I force myself to outline, but not too closely, so I guess I plot by the seat of my pants? My natural instinct is to dive right in, but I know I’ll get stuck. I like to stick with the architect vs. gardener metaphor. I guess I’m a gardener who plants tomatoes. I have the sticks in the ground and let the vines grow along those parameters.
–Victoria Aveyard

I am a big outliner. For my adult book, ‘The Visibles,’ I did not outline, and it took me two years to write because I just didn’t outline, and I had no path.
–Sara Shepard

I am a writer who works from an outline. What I generally do when I build an outline is I find focal, important scenes, and I build them in my head and I don’t write them yet, but I build towards them.
–Brandon Sanderson (one of my personal favorite authors at the moment)

If you take a few days to write an outline, you’re just making up scenes that you think will work, that you think will be interesting. But as you write it, other ideas occur – better ideas that have to do with what you’re writing.
–Elmore Leonard

I have a number of writers I work with regularly. I write an outline for a book. The outlines are very specific about what each scene is supposed to accomplish.
–James Patterson

and probably the most telling of all:

I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write.
–J. K. Rowling

(Source: http://www.brainyquotes.com)

Book Haul for April 2017

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I love books and I love reading.  I love going to bookstores and libraries and just walking down the rows of books, pulling out books that look interesting, reading the blurbs on the dust jackets and the backs of the books.  However, I don’t love the modern incarnation/conception of libraries and bookstores with their focus on book “communities,” reading “clubs” (aka reading “circles” or “groups”), and focus on other non-narrative media (movies, audio, and even video games are fine for me because of the narrative aspects of those media, but when start moving into toys, and food and beverages, that is where I lose interest).  However, I discovered that if I’m able to get to the bookstores/libraries early enough in the day, I can recapture some of that joy in cruising the aisles in order discover that special book that I can lose myself in.  So, I thought I write this week’s blog entry on the four books that I bought recently at a used bookstore.  I don’t know if this will become a regular feature of the blog, but it seemed like something fun to write about.  I bought two fiction books and two non-fiction books this time around.

TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT (Book 13 of the Wheel of Time Series) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Towers_of_Midnight_hardcover

I have read this book before.  I have completed the entire Wheel of Time novel series having started reading them way back as an undergraduate when I started my college career at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UTK) before I transferred to U.T. Chattanooga (UTC) a couple of years later.  This series is one that I found with help from a friend from high school who was also attending UTK  (An aside: quite a few of us actually ended up at UTK, especially in that first year and we often talked about cool Fantasy novels that we were reading).  I read this book about a year or two after it was published.  I didn’t read it initially because I concerned about Sanderson’s (or any other writer’s, for that matter) ability to successfully conclude the story that Jordan had been working on for so many years.  However, after reading an Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) of Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings, I felt confident in Sanderson’s approach that I went ahead and finished the three books the Wheel of Time Series.

WRITING FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION: HOW TO CREATE OUT-OF-THIS WORLD NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES by Orson Scott Card, Philip Athans, and Jay Lake & the Editors of Writer’s Digest.

Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction

Source: Amazon.com

This is one of those books that I simply couldn’t resist based on the cover and the title.  I try to buy only one book in each genre (in this case, how to: writing), but I simply couldn’t help myself when I saw it.  It covers a lot of material that I already know and/or have in other forms somewhere else, but I”m super interested in transitioning from short form Fantasy and Science Fiction into long form Fantasy and Science Fiction and I’m looking for any tips and techniques that I can find to aid me in my process.  It also has a very comprehensive “reference” section that relates to various historical elements that might be useful to a Fantasy writer, in particular and I just couldn’t resist.  I don’t think it will be as helpful to me as the other book on writing that I bought (see below), but it did have a dragon on the cover.  Note to future authors: if you want to pique my interest, just put a dragon or a spaceship on the cover.

BLEAK HOUSE by Charles Dickens

bleak houseOkay, so this is one of those books for “school.”  My program has a fairly exhaustive list of famous/important literary works for incoming PhD students to read and take a test on.  Now I’ve already taken (and PASSED! 🙂 ) this exam, but I the idea of a list of important literary works is a “challenge” that I really want to undertake.  So I’ve made it my goal to finish all the books on this list.  I actually downloaded the audio version of this book to listen to on the drive to and from school, but I really do follow the story better when I can read it, rather than listen to it.  So, I decided to buy this copy and read it during my “downtime” between classes, waiting in lines, etc.  I’ve read Dickens before, but not this specific book, so I’ll be interested to see if I like it as I do all of the other Dickens novels that I have read.

WRITING THE BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL by Albert Zuckerman

Writing the blockbuster novel

Source: Amazon.co.uk

This is another book that I’ve read before–I read it at the Chattanooga Public Library long before I started working there.  It didn’t really make all that much of an impression on me at the time as I was primarily interested in learning “short story” writing.  I wanted to learn how to write short form fiction before stepping up to the “big” works of novels, screenplays, and the like (graphic novels, while around, were not really viable options at that time).  Now, however, I think that I’m ready to learn the lessons of novel writing.  I especially love the fact that point number on the dust jacket in the inside cover is “how to develop and use an outline.”  Anyone following the conversation that I had two weeks ago with a blog commentor named Tom Cordle will appreciate the fact that I like outlines to guide my stories into rough draft stages.  Outlines make sense to me where as just jumping in blind does not.  I can’t tell you how many novels that I have “in my mind” that did not make the translation onto the page because I did not complete a strong outline/rough draft.  I’m hopeful that this book will allow me to produce an outline for a novel over the summer and (fingers crossed) a rough draft for it by Christmas of this year as well.  Well, I can dream big, at least.

Well, that’s it for me.  Here’s hoping you have wonderful, book-filled, week.

 

Working Smarter, Not Harder

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Source: Lifehack.org

 

WORK-LIFE BALANCE

As I work to perfect my “Work-Life” Balance, I have found that I haven’t been utilizing my time and resources as effectively as I could and this blog entry details some of the ways in which I have developed to address this imbalance.  In 2015, I wrote a lot, but did not maximize the submissions part of my writing.  In 2016, I wrote a little, but I really focused on the submissions aspect, and did not really focus as much on my writing.  This year, I’ve tried to focus on both, but the amount of schoolwork has limited my ability to really write creatively, as you can see through the lack of blog entries that I have posted this year.  So, I had fallen back to prioritizing submissions as a way to still feel connected with the creative writing part of my life.

STEPPING STONES

However, after recently dusting off an older story that was already published and sending it to a market that accepts reprints, I realized that I already have a cache of material, that with a little reworking, that I can use as “stepping stones” to create longer, and more lucrative works.  Ship of Shadows (SoS) is a story that I created, submitted and was published in Visions IV: Space Between Stars.  I have detailed its genesis in this blog entry.  I am really proud of this story, but rather than try to reprint it in other Visions IVanthologies/markets (although I totally could as the rights have reverted back to me), I wondered if there was a way to “expand” upon it in some way, and to make it longer and more in-depth.  In other words, was there a way that I could revise (“re-vision”) the story and take the same “kernel” of the story, but “re-see” it in a new, longer form work?  I then began to brainstorm what that would look like.  First, I would need to know what longer form work is it that I’m envisioning.  The options that I would be interested in working on at the moment are graphic novels, screenplays, and novels.  In my mind, the next logical stepping stone up from a short story is the graphic novel–it is short enough to be read in one sitting (in many cases), but tells a more elaborate story.  I already know that the characters, setting, and plot are strong because it was published (& something an editor paid to publish), so why not work smarter and try to “build” upon a structure that I already know has the potential for success?  So I am currently working on outlining the graphic novel version of SoS.  I am hopeful that I will be able to write a strong rough draft from my outline during my Summer Break.  I will, of course, be detailing its construction in this blog.

MAXIMIZING FREE TIME

Okay, look, I’m a PhD student.  My days are jam-packed with reading, teaching, reading, working, reading, writing (academic), reading, grading, reading, reading, reading . . . you get the picture.  Heck, even as I type these very words, I have a 5-7 page paper to complete and an annotated bibliography to start, so my time is precious to me.  This, unfortunately, means that creative writing has gotten the short shrift during the past two semesters.  I realize, however, that I have a lot of time (free) built into my days that I’m not utilizing in a very productive way.  On those days where I’m “free” (i.e., no classes, I should take an hour as I’m eating to simply write on the current draft that I’m working on).  On the days I have to “work” (i.e., days where I have classes or academic commitments, I should simply outline/rough draft future works).  That way, I’m always working on something current and will be ready for those extended “Breaks” (Summer & Winter) when I can devote my full time and resources to the things that I’ve outlined or rough drafted.  On weekends, my time should be used for preparing submissions.  If I can somehow achieve and maintain this balance, I think my writing production and my satisfaction with the writing process will improve immensely.

Well, that’s all I have time for this week.  I’ve got assignments to write, papers to grade, and books to read, so I’ll sign off.  Here’s hoping you have a successful week, and with luck, hopefully I’ll have a successful writing week as well.

Did You Miss Me?

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moriarty

I have been “gone” for a while and I’ve let my blog (in addition to many of my writing projects) languish over the course of these last few months.  This has been partially my fault as I have felt too tired, discouraged, or overworked at various times and in varying degrees during these past two semesters to give the blog (or my creative writing) anything close to the time required to keep pushing through as I did when I was a teacher.

However, one of my professors was instrumental in reigniting the fire of my desire to write creatively at a high level.  On the first day of class, she showed a short YouTube video about Neil Gaiman’s writing process that really inspired me and made me start to want to try to write again.  I’m including the link below (although according to WordPress’s analytics, no one ever clicks on the links to the videos that I include, but I’ll include it in the off-chance it will inspire someone as it inspired me.)

YouTube video: Neil Gaiman

I have started watching Babylon 5 (the first season–yes, I know it’s old, but it was on sale on iTunes and I never did get to see more than a handful of episodes during its first run–though strangely enough, I did see the conclusion, so I know how B5 ends–I just don’t know how it got there) and Stranger Things (I started with The Expanse, but didn’t like it, so I switched to ST and I’m about half-way through and really enjoying it).  I’ve also seen Logan and Kong: Skull Island. Expect Mini-Reviews for all those in the coming weeks/months.  I would also like to redo/revise my Marvel Movie listing as it is the most popular post on this blog and several movies, including Dr. Strange have come out in the interim and I would like to keep it as up-to-date as possible.

babylon 5stranger things

While I don’t have a ton of time, I really don’t like not writing creatively.  If it means that I’m not a “true scholar,” then so be it.  I only have one life to live (to my knowledge as much as people rave about The Walking Dead, last I heard it was still only fiction) and I have to be true to myself.

I may never have the advantages that many celebrities have (like a Radio DJ playing a certain recording artist’s neophyte songs over and over for an entire summer until he got “discovered” by a major record label and now he’s an international star–true story).  And maybe I’ll never make the millions that the particular superstar is making, but if he gets to make the “art” that he wants because he had people to help him, then by golly-gosh, I’m going to make the art I want, even if I never have anyone to help me.  And if I die in obscurity and poverty, which is looking ever more likely as the years go by, then at least I’ll die knowing that I tried–and that’s all any human can do.

Skin Deep Published in Aurora Wolf!

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Source: Aurora Wolf – A Literary Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy (aurorawolf.com)

SKIN DEEP PUBLISHED!

Just wanted to let you know that Skin Deep, a short-story that I’ve worked on and detailed on the blog has been published by Aurora Wolf – A Literary Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  Please head over to their website, read my story, rate and comment on it and (while you’re there) perhaps, read and comment on other stories that I are listed.  Right now my story is on the from page (with the above image – thanks to Aurora Wolf for letting me use the image!).  There is no cost to read the story, or  in other words, its FREE!

Skin Deep has been very much of a long-term passion project.  It was one of the first stories  I wrote with the intent of getting it published.  The story that is published in the 3rd major draft of the story.  My first draft came in the 90s and I submitted it to several markets found in Writer’s Market & Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market.  I only remember one piece of feedback that I received for it from an editor who thought the Psionics (mind powers) in the story strayed too close to magic for her tastes.

I put it “in the trunk” for a while and then I rewrote it substantially around late 2013 – early 2014.  The basis of the current version came from this rewrite.  I had the plot and most of the character, but something still didn’t feel right about the character and her motivations.  I put it up again (not submitting it significantly) until I revised it mid-2015.

As I noted in the blog about the story,  I changed the main character’s name, and really worked to increase the setting of the story and I think that’s what was missing from the 2nd draft–not enough setting to really ground the story.  In all, I’m glad I got to tell Mahalia’s story.  Please go read it if you have a chance–best of all, did I mention its FREE!

CHILDE ROLAND PUBLISHED!

In case you missed it, Childe Roland was also published late last year.  It is still up and, like Skin Deep, it is also FREE!  Please head over to ElectricSpec.com to give it a read as well if you have the time.

OTHER PROJECTS

Lastly, I’m still writing and working on other projects.  As you’ve no doubt realized by the slowness of the blog, I’m really overwhelmed with coursework and classes, but I’m trying to get a handle on the massive amounts of reading and grading that I’m having to do.  I will post more about other projects that I’m working on in the coming months.  Like a business, I need to refresh my sold “stock” with new “stock” if I’m going to make my writing career work, so I have lots of new projects in the wings.  More on these soon.  Well, that’s all for this week, and I’ll try to have a new post up next week (I promise, I really will TRY!).  See you next post!

Interesting SubTitled Films

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subtitled-screenings

Source: Yourlocalcinema.com

So sorry for being away, but I really wanted to make sure that I was completely immersed in my classes before I continued posting, writing, and doing all the things that I normally would do.  In the English class that I teach, I was showing parts of a foreign film and we were analyzing it, when one of the students asked what prompted me to watch this film that has subtitles.  For me, subtitled films are not a consideration.  As long as the film has elements of the fantasy, sci-fi, or (more rarely) horror genres, it doesn’t matter to me whether the film has subtitles or not.  I simply watch it for the story, no matter the need for subtitles.  This, however, got me thinking about some of the movies that I’ve watched with subtitles and I thought I’d list some of the more interesting ones.  Now, these aren’t ones that I think are the best–the first two on the list aren’t very good (from a narrative point of view), but they are interesting examples subtitled movies that make you appreciate them even though they use subtitles.  There are many more and I may (depending on time) update this list from time-to-time to reflect movies that I find interesting that use subtitles.  Below you will find the trailers and a brief description of the movie (from IMDB).

NIGHT WATCH (Russian)

A fantasy-thriller set in present-day Moscow where the respective forces that control daytime and nighttime do battle.

DAY WATCH (Russian)

A man who serves in the war between the forces of Light and Dark comes into possession of a device that can restore life to Moscow, which was nearly destroyed by an apocalyptic event.

KUNG FU KILLER (Chinese)

A martial arts instructor from the police force gets imprisoned after killing a man by accident. But when a vicious killer starts targeting martial arts masters, the instructor offers to help the police in return for his freedom.

DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME

An exiled detective is recruited to solve a series of mysterious deaths that threaten to delay the inauguration of Empress Wu.

ONG BAK (THAILAND)

When the head of a statue sacred to a village is stolen, a young martial artist goes to the big city and finds himself taking on the underworld to retrieve it.

THE WAVE (Norway)

Although anticipated, no one is really ready when the mountain pass above the scenic, narrow Norwegian fjord Geiranger collapses and creates an 85-meter high violent tsunami. A geologist is one of those caught in the middle of it.

Star Wars: Rogue One Mini-Review (No Spoilers!)

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Source: Starwars.com

A STAR WARS STORY

Star Wars: Rogue One (SW:RO) is a stand-alone story set in the Star Wars Universe.  It takes the exposition from the “story crawl” for Episode IV: A New Hope about stealing the plans for the Death Star and expands upon it.  While not flawless in its execution, the story is well told and is an enjoyable Star Wars experience.

CHARACTERS

This is an ensemble film and I really like the characters that are presented.  You can understand their motivations as they try to complete their mission.  Some characters get more screen time than others, but the Droid and the “Force-Believing” character are standouts.

TONE

For all that it is a Star Wars film, the tone is actually quite dark. Without spoilers, it is hard to clarify why this is so, but be assured this one is probably as dark as Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, maybe more so.  It does have the trademark humor, but most of it comes from one character in particular, so when that character isn’t on-screen, many of the scenes are fairly gritty.

3RD ACT

Where Rogue One comes into its own is its 3rd Act.  The characterization and Special Effects in that Act really emphasize the desperate nature of the characters’ struggle.  They are fighting for something that matters, both to them and to the plot.  The 3rd Act is truly where the film is elevated from merely good to great.

RATING/GRADE

So, on a A-F scale, I would rate this as an A-.  It is excellent with a few small flaws that keep it from being a perfect film.  The earlier action, while necessary to both plot and characterization, sometimes feels as if it is just going through the motions to get to the stupendous final act.  Also, some characters are given more time than others and we lose out on characterization of some of the more minor characters, but that is just the nature of ensemble films.

IMPLICATIONS FOR MY OWN WRITING

Having stakes that matter to both the plot and the character is a technique that I need to work on as a writer.  I often have things that matter in terms of the plot–if “character x” doesn’t do this something (usually bad) will happen.  However, I’m learning that I need to motivate the characters with some internal conflicts as well.  In Rogue One, Jyn Erso is motivated by a desire to find her father and later by her faith in her father’s words.  These are both internal to the character and intrinsic to the character.  Yes, the Death Star is bad, but that’s not why looking for the plans (can’t go any deeper without spoilers).  Her motivation comes not just from all the bad stuff the Death Star can do, but also how her father spoke about it and her relationship to him.  I need to do a better job of finding internal motivations for my characters.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Twofer : Two Posts in One

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Source: KFLEnglish.de

TWO POSTS IN ONE

So, I’ve been away for a while as I worked through the semester at MTSU.  It was difficult trying to adjust to my first semester of taking graduate classes at the PhD level, working in the University’s Writing Center, Teaching, and trying to write creatively all at the same time.  Unfortunately, the blog was one (of many) casualties of trying to all these myriad and various endeavors at a high level.

However, to quote Hideo Kojima from the 2016 Sony E3 Conference or Chun Li from the Street Fighter series: “I’m Back!”  I plan to post weekly as I always have a set time on Sundays when I can write (I just haven’t been taking advantage of that time usefully).  I now intend to do so.  This first post after the long hiatus is what my late uncle called a “Twofer” (Two topics in one post).

CHILDE ROLAND ON ELECTRICSPEC.COM (FREE!)

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Source: YouTube.com

“Childe Roland,” my short-story about Roland and his search for the Dark Tower (based Robert Browning’s poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came“) has been published in the November 30th, 2016 issue of Electric Spec.  The issue is FREE, so you are welcome to read the story and come back here to post comments/reactions to the story.

They do solicit donations, and as they pay their writers as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, it would be awesome if you might consider a small donation to their website to help us writers out.  Publication is nice, but as writers need to eat as well, publication with pay is the most preferable outcome (even if the pay is small).

You can find a link to the online magazine above, but if you just want to read Childe Roland by itself, you can find a directly link here.  A word of caution: Electric Spec does switch out their stories on a quarterly basis, so if you are reading this entry long after Nov. 30th, 2016, then the story will not be available.  I’ll try to post an update here (if I can remember) should this happen).

WARLIGHT IN VISIONS VI (AVAILABLE VIA AMAZON.COM IN PAPERBACK AND ON KINDLE)

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My story, “WarLight” was published in Galaxies VI, edited by Carrol Fix.  It is currently for sale via Amazon.com.  It is available in paperback and Kindle formats with the Kindle format being by far the most inexpensive way to check out my story (currently $2.99).  In addition, you will find other Sci-Fi stories included as well.

Be sure to support Carrol Fix’s anthology if you can.  As a writer for anthologies, I don’t receive any additional payment for how well the anthology sells, but anthologies need to sell copies, otherwise editors like Carrol won’t create new anthologies for writers like me to publish our stories in.  That’s just the way publishing works.

Thanks for reading and I will try to keep up this blog on a weekly schedule (I’m planning on a Christmas post as well as I have the same the time even though its a holiday, but I’ll wing it as I may post on Christmas Eve instead.)

Dr. Strange: Mini-Review (No Spoilers)

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Source: ComingSoon.net

MAGIC AND MARTIAL ARTS

This is a really interesting story.  In many ways it is the story that I was trying to write with my own story, I, Magi.  The creators manage to combine Magic with Martial Arts and the results come together surprisingly well.  Now, martial arts movies are a “guilty pleasure” of mine.  I know some of the earlier ones in the 70s and 80s aren’t really good narratively speaking and that the English dubbing is sometimes so awful as to have entered into the realm of cliche, but I love the action, the movement, and the artistry of the genre.  Recent entries, since the mid-90s have been much better and I feel they have come into their own thanks to great actors in the field.  I love (& have seen most of the practicing martial arts actors–male and female–and have enjoyed them immensely, but I have a personal fondness for Jackie Chan, mostly for the outtakes reel that he includes at the end of his movies).  There are two or three centerpiece fights in this movie and add in magic–and well, you have a strong action based movie.

If there is a downside, its that the movie is an origin story, so if you already know the origin of the hero, Dr. Stephen Strange, then you will have a pretty good clue to the first half of the movie.  Still, that is a minor complaint (similar to knowing the origin stories of heroes like Batman or Spider-man.)

A GOOD SENSE OF HUMOR

This movie has a pretty good sense of humor as well.  From other reviewers, some of the jokes seemed to be hit or miss for them, but for me, I chuckled at the jokes, even when the set-up was telegraphed a mile away.  There were some truly laugh aloud moments, but the movie didn’t set out to be a comedy.  In many ways, the humor is much more sedate, more dry than say, the Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy.  The humor seems on par with Ant-Man.

COMIC BOOK MOVIE FATIGUE

Many reviewers seemed to be noting comic fatigue for friends who they took to see the movie and reported not like it.  I think that they fact that it is also as much of a martial arts movie as a “Marvel” movie also has something to with one’s enjoyment.  If you don’t like Martial Arts movies then chances are really good you aren’t going to like this movie as many of its set-ups and structure follow that genre and its conventions.

In many ways, the director and writers of this movie did what I wished Joss Whedon would have done (if possible based on studio notes) for Age of Ultron. They completely went to another genre–martial arts movies, just as the last two Captain America movies have done to a larger/lesser degree political thrillers.  Imagine if Age of Ultron had gone for a completely “horror” movie vibe with Ultron (and the twins) hunting/eliminating Avengers in pursuit of the “Vision” prototype.

I wonder if it is truly a case of comic book movie fatigue or rather a miscommunication of what genre to which this movie actually belongs.

IMPLICATIONS FOR MY WRITING

Fight scenes need clarity.  As I mentioned above, this is what I’d hoped I, Magi would be like, except that Magic is limited, so they (mages) have to rely on fighting skills to make up for the lack of magic available to them.  In the movie, however, I noticed that the fight scenes were clear.  I think that at times (especially when I try for action scenes) my own description breaks down and it is unclear who is where.

I intend to try to work on that and make might fight/action scenes more clear and more visual in the reader’s mind.