Baby Steps To a Novel

So, yesterday I took my first steps to trying to complete a novel.  Regular readers of the blog will note that I’ve tried before (without much success) to try to write a novel, but this time I’m using my university’s Writing Center to help.  I’ve worked in the Writing Center myself all last year and I have a friend and colleague who is working there now who has agreed to a “Writing Partnership” with me–a fancy term for a standing appointment to talk about writing over the course of the semester.  Generally, they are used for long term projects (thesis, dissertations, etc.), but they can also be used for just improving one’s writing in general.  We talked about what I wanted to do ultimately (short-stories or novels) and we decided that writing a novel would be a good way to “grow” as a writer.  Then we discussed the idea I had for a novel and what the next steps should be going forward.

Character Sketch
So, my homework is to complete at least one character sketch–the main character/protagonist–and have it ready by the next meeting.  We talked about who the main character is (Skye–which longtime readers will remember from earlier blog posts) and what is her personality like.  If possible, I’d like to write a character sketch for her father as that is her major familial relationship in the book, but based on school work and obligations, there may not be enough time for that.  We spent quite a bit of time talking about the importance of characters and how they should act appropriately–something that I don’t think that I always do well because of my interest in the plot.  Hopefully, I can really nail Skye’s personality and be able to create a convincing character arc for her.

Plot Outline
I also need to produce a plot outline for the next meeting.  Again, one mandatory, but two if possible.  I have “story map” that I use that is a 1 page “synopsis” of the characters, setting, plot, climax, and resolution.  However, I’d like to also provide a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the story as that is where I always seem to break down when writing the novel, but I may find that that might be better suited to do after we talk about the character sketch/synopsis of the novel.  In any case, I do intend to do what Brandon Sanderson noted about how he writes novels on his podcast, Writing Excuses, where he notes that he writes down big tentpole scenes as he’s generating ideas for his novel.  I think that the tentpole scenes, in addition to the synopsis, would be helpful to do before trying to tackle the larger, chapter-by-chapter breakdown.

NaNoWriMo
November is National Novel Writer’s Month (NaNoWriMo).  I’ve never really tried to do anything for the month because I always had school (or a ton of things to do in the month of November), but as I’m in the midst of trying to write a novel and as the Writing Center will be holding a “Write In” on November 17, I guess I’ll give it a try.  I don’t know what the outcome of all this will be, but I’ll blog about the process here to hopefully inspire other writers (aspiring or practicing) and maybe provide, tangible techniques and tricks to my fellow writers out there as well.

Wish me luck! 🙂

 

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Finished Leave It To Chance, Vol. 2: Trick or Threat

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So I finished rereading Leave It To Chance, Vol. 2: Trick or Threat during this past week and I really enjoyed it.  It is a better story than I remember.  I really like it that Chance has agency in this story.  We can see rivalries and friendships develop and we see her take on a situation when she’s removed from her father.

Even the backup story for this one is good–as Chance tries to follow her father’s wishes, but is swept up by events and a desire to save her friend.  I think this one has more of a “Scooby Doo” feel meaning that while the monsters and supernatural elements are real, you get a real sense of the “adventure” or “mystery” that Chance and her new-found friends embark on in this story.

I really think that the creators hit their stride with this one and really found the link that made Chance feel real and alive and gave her a cool set of stories away from the noir of Devil’s Echo that really made the story resonate with me.  This is by far my favorite volume in the series and I think unfortunately, the creators lost this when they returned to Devil’s Echo (& took the agency away from Chance).  While I don’t know the particulars as to why the series ended, I do think this second volume is the strongest entry in the series.

Overall Grade: A

Leave It To Chance: Monster Madness and Other Stories

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Leave It To Chance: Monster Madness and Other Stories is the third book (Vol. 3) to the Leave It To Chance  series (yes, I know I’m out of order, but Vol. 2 was longer than I had time to read this week with grading and all) that I reviewed last week.  While I like this volume, I don’t like it quite as much as I liked Volume 1.  It tries to do something fairly unique, but the story (as presented) doesn’t quite work as well as it should.

Monster Madness takes the idea of what would happen in “movie monsters” came to life in the “real world” of Devil’s Echo (the city where the Chance stories take place).  However, it seems to focus more on Chance’s interaction with a “mysterious” character named “Lightfoot” than it does with her actually trying to solve a crime.  In fact, her dragon is knocked out for most of the story, and she is relegated to the sidelines while her father does most of the sleuthing/fighting the bad guys.  It doesn’t help that while Lightfoot is intended as a “possible” love interest in that Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys way of dropping similar characters of the opposite sex together and watching the sparks fly as their similar ways cause conflict (and interest), Lightfoot is drawn in such an unappealing manner that I (for one) was actively routing against Chance having anything to do with him.

I think Monster Madness (and the other story, which has heart, but still isn’t as good as the first volume’s story).  I think that while this was a good volume, Chance’s strengths are when she’s the center of the action, doing the sleuthing, rather than as a standby character who merely interacts when the action comes to her.

OVERALL GRADE: C+

Leave It To Chance

Leave It To Chance is a young adult graphic novel that I really, really like.  I wanted to take a moment to highlight this great (& short) graphic novel series.  I just finished rereading the first volume this week (I’m trying to read all my graphic novels as a way to remind myself of the graphic novel format since I’ve been away for so long).

Leave It To Chance was published in the early 2000s (2002) and it was written in the height of the GrrlPower movement (James Robinson’s Forward is dated 3.25.97 and this is in the height of the movement, but as the hardcover collection wasn’t published until 2002 which, by then, was the tail-end of the movement).  The protagonist is Chance, a young girl who is the daughter of Falconer, a mage of eminence and importance in the city of Devil’s Echo.  She is “protected” from the magical intrigue and derring-do by her father, but she is of age to take up training to become the next in the line of Falconers who are sworn to protect the city.  Her father refuses to train her simply because of her gender (noting that this “burden” of training is passed from male heir to male heir).  Chance decides that this is horribly unfair and seeks to rectify this (& gets into adventures on her own).

James Robinson and Paul Smith collaborated on the story and art.  This is actually my first (and I think, my only) examples of their work, but I really enjoyed the story when I first read it at the Public Library–so much so, that I bought a copy for my personal collection.  I like Chance’s character–they made her very much like a Nancy Drew detective and set the world in a Neo-Noir setting (grim, dark alleyways merged with aircars).  Chance also has a “Jubilee”-vibe to her and dresses similarly (who in turn, has bit of the Frank Miller’s female Robin from the Dark Knight look) as well.  You can almost see a direct progression from Miller’s female Robin to Jubilee from the X-Men, to Chance.  I own all three books in the series (will be doing reviews of the other two as well), but as a pure story, I think this first volume, “Shaman’s Rain” holds up the best storywise.

I think too, that the setting of Devil’s Echo was very well used.  It definitely precedes the entire Urban Fantasy craze that authors like Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, and Kim Harrison (to name a few) helped popularize in the mid-to-late 2000s & early 2010s.  I personally love the fact that Chance has her own (mini-)dragon–as it recalls to mind Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger books of the 1980s.  This one is a great series for both Young Adult Readers (& younger children), but has enough complexity, character development, and setting that will at least keep older readers from being completely bored with it, even if it doesn’t completely captivate them.

OVERALL GRADE: B

ReReading: Dungeons & Dragons: Shadowplague (Graphic Novel)

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Book Cover: Five fantasy adventures ready to do battle.  Image Source: OgreCave.com

So, I’m in the process of moving all my academic books to a bookshelf (looks like it actually be a bookshelf and a half or perhaps two bookshelves total) with me as I work on my degree.  However, this leaves me with a fairly large gap of three to four shelves that I probably should fill.  I already have my graphic novels (& comic books) on my main bookcase, but I’ve decided to reread my graphic novels (& comics) and place them on those free shelves.  I have several fairly large graphic novels that don’t fit on the shelf with the other graphic novels on my main bookcase, but this secondary bookcase has more than enough room for them.  If I can remember, I will try to take a picture at the end of the project and post it here.

DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS: SHADOWPLAGUE

This is the first of a “new” series of graphic novels with original characters in the Dungeons and Dragons universe.  I say new because this was tried in the late 80s/early 90s with a different group of characters written by Jeff Grubb, a prolific writer of D&D novelizations of the time.  This book is written by Jim Rogers and is full of post Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson) adventure/banter.  While not a comedy, Rogers does the “witty banter” so often found in comics and comic book movies that irked my late creative writing professor, Ken Smith when I tried to present stories in his fiction class with this same type of banter.  For Ken, the banter trivialized the drama and lowered the emotional stakes for the characters.  His argument (loosely speaking) was that if the characters are joking around during a life-or-death situation, then we get the feeling that the characters aren’t really in any danger.  I can plainly see that here as I didn’t get the sense that any of the characters (protagonists) were any in real danger, per se.

This sounds like I don’t like the story and that’s not true–I do like the book, but this is a fun, rip-roaring comic book adventure, but it doesn’t have a sense that the characters are ever really in jeopardy.  This book introduces and follows a team of intrepid adventurers of the mostly standard races (Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, and newcomer race, Tiefling) as they go through various adventures to discover the secret of the Shadowplague, a magical plague that turns ordinary people into zombies.  Abundant fight scenes, magic, and characters who all display a penchant for witty banter and sometimes painful backstories make this a fun and interesting story.

I did not happen to buy the other graphic novels that make up the rest of this series, but you can bet that I’ll definitely try to grab them as time and money allow.  The cover price of 24.99 is a bit steep for the product.  It is hardcover, but still it is really only worth about 14.99 to 17.99.  If I can find it for under 9.99, then I’ll definitely pull the trigger.  The problem is, the last I checked, it had gone out of print and Amazon 3rd party “scalpers” had driven the cost to above $30 dollars.  Sad days, indeed.  This is a fun little series that I wouldn’t mind getting a complete collection for myself–but if the remaining volumes stay out of reach, then this one volume will have to suffice, witty banter and all.

 

Batman Vs Superman Review (No Spoilers!)

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Okay, so (like Star Wars: The Force Awakens), I wanted to wait and take a moment before posting my (non-spoiler) review for Batman vs. Superman (BvS).  Unlike, Star Wars:FA, it wasn’t so much because of spoilers, but for other reasons which will become clear in a moment.

I LIKED IT

First, this blog post is not going to be one of my more popular ones–I already know that even as I’m typing these words because I’m going to go against “popular opinion.”  I actually LIKED the movie (quite a bit, actually).  I don’t use the “A” movie (Exceptional)/”B” movie (everything else) paradigm that you seem to hear (aka A-List talent vs B-List talent, or triple A movie vs a B movie).  When I rate things, I’m doing so using the scale that universities use for their semester grade reports:

  • A (Superior/Exceptional)–You’ve gone above and beyond in order to create something few could achieve.
  • B (Above Average)–This is a good product with some minor flaws that detract slightly from the overall experience, but is still better than many would achieve.
  • C (Average)–This is “good enough.”  You’ve done just enough to meet the requirements, but haven’t done enough, but have too many flaws to be better than others like it.
  • D (Below Average)–Not up to “standards.”  This has too many flaws, isn’t crafted well, or ignores requirements.  It is well below what most can achieve.
  • F (Failure)–Simply put, unable to succeed.  A product that is lacking in nearly every respect.

After seeing it, BvS for me is a B (Above Average).  It better than a “typical” action movie (I’ll get into why I think so in a moment).  It is competently made (i.e., it holds to the western philosophy of BME–Beginning, Middle, and End.  It has a Protagonist & Antagonist.  It has rising action, it has a climax, it has falling action, and it resolves.)  It follows Fryetag’s Triangle perfectly.  For that reason alone, it should not be rated lower than a C.

However, the critics would have you believe that the movie is a D/F and that it fails on many different levels.  And the justification just isn’t there for me.

OPERA IN MOVIE FORM

I liken the movie to an Opera.  It is a long movie (over 2 hours and 30 mins) and much of the first part is setting up the Batman/Superman, Bruce Wayne/Clark Kent dynamic.  But this a movie that is larger than JUST a comic book movie.  It touches on contemporary real world elements such police brutality, the nature of God and man, what it is to be a hero, what it is to be a above the law, discourse vs unilateral action, what it means to be a democracy, and what it means to be good/bad in today’s “modern” society.

All of this is in a “comic book” movie.  Critics slam this as being too much, having too many plot threads, “a mess,” as I heard one reviewer put it.  No, its not a Marvel movie, but then DC isn’t Marvel.  They have always done things differently than Marvel.  Many critics seem to be slamming the movie NOT because it is a bad movie, but because it is not a MARVEL movie and doesn’t use’s Marvel’s “template” for movies.

BvS isn’t as good as my current favorite Marvel movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but it WAS more satisfying to me than Avengers: Age of Ultron.  It wants to have a conversation that the critics don’t seem to want to have in their “comic book” movies.

DC MYTHOLOGY

If you like graphic novels, see the movie.  If you like comic books and are up on your DC mythology, see the movie.  This movie includes a LOT of knowing nods and scenes to those who like comics (DC comics and graphic novels and properties) and does NOT try to explain to those who don’t.  I caught several striking scenes from various DC media: Injustice: Gods Among Us, Batman: The Dark Knight by Frank Miller, various BvS Graphic Novels, The Flash (TV show, current version), and others.

The iconography is striking, but there too, the critics want to complain.  Zack Snyder (the director) is “style over substance,” I heard in more than one review.  But that is what Snyder is KNOWN for.  300 was NOT a “great” movie when you get right down to it, but it was a visually striking movie.  Why is that not good enough now?  Because it’s a KNOWN quality about him now.  Only if you’re NEW and FRESH do the critics seem to take any notice.

WHY THE DISCONNECT?

I’m linking to a YouTube video to help explain what’s going on with the review scores.  Basically, the Youtuber is correct: there is a contingent who want to use social media to FORCE Warner Brothers to cater to them (fans) or those who want to punish the movie in some way (critics).  I’ve seen this before in other mediums: MASS EFFECT 3 for video games comes quickly to mind.  Many fans hated the ending of ME3 and social media outcry FORCED Bioware to go back and “redo” the ending of the game.  This is what I feel is happing here.  However, this has been building since World War Z, Man of Steel, Jupiter Ascending, and most recently, Gods of Egypt.  The Youtuber ‘s (Grace Randolph) channel “Beyond the Trailer” is one that I’ve recently found) and she does a great job of quickly of explaining a lot of my problems with the critics for BvS, in particular.  It’s short–only 13 minutes long and very informative:

Beyond the Trailer (Special Report BvS)–Grace Randolph

There is nothing inherently wrong with the movie.  It should be getting B’s and C’s.  Not the D’s and F’s that it is currently getting.  This is a good movie, with some flaws that keep it from being exceptional, but not one that should be denigrated as a failure.