Monday, June 28, 2010

200 Word Challenge, Easy & Expert

A few weeks ago, I posted the 200-Word Challenge. However, as my sharp-eyed students and Donna Hole pointed out, I'm clearly not ready for that level of challenge! So this week, I would like to introduce the Easy and Expert levels of the 200-Word Challenge.

The Easy Level: Write a 200 word passage, without repeating a single noun, verb, adjective, or adverb. You may re-use articles, conjunctions, and even prepositions. The passage has to be cohesive, but may be about anything you like. It may be a descriptive vignette, or a short character profile, or even flash fiction.

The Expert Level: Again, write a 200 word passage, of any nature, but without repeating a single word. No repeating articles, prepositions, adverbs, verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, not even gerunds nor predicate nominatives! If you succeed on this one, I definitely want you to post it, because I at least know that it is theoretically possible...

The standard challenge is linked at the top of the page, so feel free to revisit that as well, if you like. I'd love to see your various efforts posted here. Good luck!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Memory: A Nanite Chaser Story

The new episode of The Nanite Chaser series is up! Along with the new episode, Derek Daniels got a snazzy new logo image for the series. (Look to the left. *wink*) I think he looks rather dashing, don't you?

The new episode has replaced the first one on the home page, so you'll now see Memory listed there instead of The Nanite Chaser. To get to the first episode, I've put in a dropbox under the new story to find Earlier Episodes. Just pick the one you need to read and click Go. Memory will go into this dropbox when Stormy Weather goes up next month. Oops, I said too much!

To me, Memory is a fun one because you get to see a little bit of the early days for Derek Daniels, when he was still learning some of the tricks that are more familiar to him later on. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Motivations of the Meanies

Last month, on Magical Words, Faith Hunter began posting a series about the requirements of a successful modern antagonist in several different genres. She calls the series The Great Satan, and has so far posted three parts. I looked forward to the continuance after ConCarolinas is over.

The primary thrust of her articles is that, in most genres, antagonists need character development and motivation as much as the protagonist. They are, after all, equal and opposite.

This aligns very well with what I have been trying to be more conscious of: making sure all of my major characters have a reason to be there. This idea also echoes my acting training very well. When on stage (or camera), every single movement or action or expression means something. Thus, you cannot do anything on stage (or camera) without a reason for doing it. Too many beginning actors make this mistake, moving across the stage because "they felt like it" or, worse, because "I need to be there when Erick enters the scene 5 minutes from now." Your character doesn't know Erick will be entering the scene in 5 minutes, or that he needs to be standing there to catch Erick when he falls in, drunk! So, the actor needs to be there, and the actor needs to find the character a reason to be there, too.

So now we see that this is a mistake a writer can make as well. Why does the dragon destroy the land? Why does the queen kill any pretty girl in the kingdom? Why does the magic tower of smoke drag people down the hole? It might be a dragon, a government employee, or a magic tower of smoke, but it has to have a reason for doing whatever it is that it's doing.

Faith Hunter asks four questions as she addresses the common antagonist in each genre:

1. What makes them work?
2. How do we keep them from becoming formulaic? (The pseudo-Satan.)
3.What mistakes do we writers make that allow them to become formulaic? (Just another way of looking at number two above, with a different perspective.)
4. And how do we as readers contribute to the success or failure of the BBU? (Culture and the reader.)

Based on the first posts, and my own experience, I would say that generally, the answer to #4 is "expectation of the genre" and "suspension of disbelief." The reader knows if they pick up a mystery, that there's going to be a murder and the guy's going to try to get away with it. If they pick up a fantasy, there's going to be magic involved, especially from the "Big Bad Ugly."

The other three questions, however, are what we writers need to pay attention to in this realm. Much of the answer falls into the idea of developing the antagonist the way one would (should) develop their protagonist: make them believable, give them proper motivation, paint them with both weaknesses and strengths, etc. In other words, make your "villains" into "characters" instead. Give them a reason to be in your book other than what you need from them.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Missing the Bricks

I've re-initiated work on Hero Games and realized that there really wasn't enough pre-planning done for this work. There was a good conflict laid out, most of the main plot was in place, and I had a whole double-handful of characters. However, those characters had almost no depth to them. I had images, which I had gotten from HeroMachine (thanks for the permission, Jeff), and I had a couple of character bases, borrowed from people I know. Mostly, I had a great world concept with lots of possibilities in it.

That, my friend, does not a novel make! I had already written the first few chapters, and I had done a fair amount of planning, using spreadsheets, on the game design which was part of the world concept. Fortunate, because that was what most of the first few chapters were about, introducing the reader to the game itself. Those first few chapters, by the way, were lots of fun, because they were delved from the body of research and planning that I had already done: the game design, and a few character bases/game-character concepts.

What I realized when I dove back in to the work, was that I was missing two things crucial to any good novel: subplots and characterization! I had an over-arcing, main plot that involved everybody, but nothing personal to the characters. There was no individualized subplot to give the characters drive, purpose, motivation. Without that sub-plotting, characters become flat and static. So I decided that I needed each character to have their own, personal subplot. Have I mentioned that this novel's characters include 11 player-characters, who each have 1-2 game-characters? A total of 23 main characters?! Quite a daunting task! Well, I did some thinking on it. For most of the game-characters, they are just an alter-ego of the player-characters. For instance, Paul is a person playing the game. He creates a game-character called Peacekeeper. Paul and Peacekeeper are the same person, with a different look, in different situations. I realized that the game-characters, like Peacekeeper, already have their plot: the main plot that drives the total story, and the general sub-plot of leveling up and advancing their character within the game. Thus, the game-characters don't need a separate plot; they are an extension of their player-characters. Ha! Cut my work load nearly in half with that one!

However, I still have some characterization to do, and I don't think I can cut that down by much. The game-characters still have a particular style, a way of doing things, a feel about them. Also, they will still have a backstory, but the player has to write it! That becomes a fun challenge, as well. I'm having characters create the backstory for other characters. Thus, the 12 game-characters have characterization to be done. Naturally, the player-characters can't get left out of that! They need their own style, way of doing things, opinions, morals, backstory, motivations, desires, oh-the-list-goes-on!

So I found myself with the daunting task of weaving 11 sub-plots around a main plot, in a clever world, with 24 well-fleshed, intriguing characters! Phew! Standing on that precipice, I went to the net to see what other authors might have to say about such things. Most helpful as yet, has been Simon Haynes, author of the Hal Spacejock series. On his website, he has a series of articles that begin with How to Plot Your Novel. In this article, Haynes describes a piece of free software that he uses to plot his novels, as well as To Do lists, and many other things. This software is called FreeMind. I decided to try it, and I have to tell you I LOVE it! I started with the title of the novel in the center, branched out to each of the player-characters, who branched out to their game-character, their subplot, their real-character, and went on from there to fill in plot details, physical descriptions, backstory, power information, etc.

I'm nowhere near done, but I'm really enjoying this tool; which is helping me get organized. Thanks to Simon Haynes and FreeMind. I suppose now that I've talked all about it, I should go work on it!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Issue with IE fixed.

For those of you that were having trouble viewing the new excerpts in Internet Explorer, that issue has hopefully been resolved. :)

Please, let me know if you find more problems.