Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why you should be watching more TV.

This post was written as part of a Fantasy blog hop, coinciding with the opening of the second Hobbit movie. You can check out the blogs of all the other writers here and sign up to win prizes, including a free copy of The Lost Tower.

Why you should be watching more TV.
Congratulations! You have decided to start writing your first fantasy or sci-fi novel. Or maybe you are just creating a new secondary world. Regardless, it is a big undertaking and conventional wisdom would say that you need to sit and crack the whip, read a bunch of books, and really create. I have a different bit of advice. Go and watch some TV.

That is right. Go watch TV, and I don’t mean something like “Real Housewives” or “The Voice.” Though, if you like those I’ll be sitting over here quietly judging you. (Kidding. Everybody loves themselves some trash.) No. What I want you to do is go and watch some quality scripted TV. And it doesn’t have to be in your chosen literary genre.  It is my view that, outside of the novel, TV is really the only good place to get long form storytelling.

A multi-season television show of high quality will have long running character arcs that are established from the very start. They have plots that run long, but also small ones that wrap up, setting up new ones and shining a light on characters. Also there is nothing better for learning how to write dialogue then to listen to a well written TV show. You can also get this in a movie, but they have far fewer ideal conversations.
So, from here I will break out some examples of what I am talking about. I tend to watch mostly fantasy and cable shows, so that is where my I get my examples.

Long form character building. You can see the rise and fall, birth and death, ups and downs of a character on TV faster than almost anywhere else. Especially if, like me, you are a slow reader. There is also a powerful lesson about characterization. In a book we have the tool of inner monologue, or VO. You can sort of have it on TV but it doesn’t always work. The best example is to watch an early season of Dexter and see it done well and then watch one of the later seasons to see it done poorly. Without internal monologue you are left to learn everything from the perspective of what people say and do.

Far too many writers build all of their character work by what people are thinking and not what they are doing. So you can learn quite a lot about making a person’s actions speak louder than their thoughts. Look at Breaking Bad and Walter White; he is a man who is prideful to a fault. We don’t need to hear him tell us that, or even have another person tell us, because we see it in every single action. I feel that this kind of characterization, with the support of internal monologue, is the strongest that a writer can create. Far too often I read stories where I am told all these things about characters but never see them do things, so I guess it goes back to show- don’t tell, and watching a few good programs will get showing stuck in your head.

Dialogue. A well written and well-acted TV show is like a master course in how people talk. Take this scene from Game of Thrones first season. You learn gobs about both the King and Queen from an idle conversation that feels natural. At no point do we need graphs and graphs of internal thought about how the people are feeling because it is all right there in the lines. The other thing that watching a good dialogue heavy show does is help acclimate your ear toward what sounds right coming out of a person’s mouth. Far too often writers will concoct this wonderfully long complex sentence and then slap quotation marks around it. That, at least for me, is something that can kill a story, because in most cases people just don’t talk like that.
So here is a test. I want you to watch three episodes of The West Wing and then try not to talk and think in the shows voice. That illustrates my point. If you have at least a smattering of shows that do that in your head you can really build some good original dialogue. There is nothing better  when you are editing than to get to the tag at the end of a line and realize that you don’t need ‘he said sarcastically’, or ‘Jack grumbled,’ because what they are actually saying is strong enough to convey all of that emotion.

Visuals. As writers, we are the actors and entire production crew for the little head movies that we are building for people. Far too often we get lost in building and describing a world to the point that the story gets lost under the fifty course dinner. Visual mediums have very refined image based shorthand that I have found translates very well to prose. So build up the world enough that we can see it, and then go into detail on a few meaningful images that really drive points home. I don’t need hundreds of words about how Apollo doesn’t feel like he is living up to his father. After setting it up, all we need is him looking down at the lighter. (This is from Battlestar Galactica Season 1 Episode 10 ‘Hand of God’ youtube failed me.)

I think this, more than anything, can help keep your novels shorter and more focused. I’m on a mission to kill the bloat in fantasy novels, but that is another post for another time. Along with the short hand visuals, watching an actor’s face can give you a good idea of how people look when they react beyond just ‘he grimaced,’ ‘she winced,’ ‘Jack’s eyes bugged out.’ Think of it as people watching in a controlled environment.

Plot. Anything more than dialogue that you can learn from watching a good, well focused season of TV is plot. The success of a show rests on both its characters and the story that it is telling. I like to think of chapters. Multi- scene chapters are episodes comprising the novel or season. Each one should have a small situation that is resolved and reflects back on the main plot. More than anything, I see it as a place to crib a bunch of ideas because, outside of the novelist, TV show writers are really juggling more plot balls that anybody else out there. 

Every once in a while you can learn more about your craft as a writer by looking at another creative craft. I know people that pull inspiration from movies, music, or video games. Me?  I’m a fan of TV. So go and open Netflix and watch something new and awesome or old and comforting. Then after a few episodes, get back to writing.

Tell me how you feel using TV as a writing tool in the comments below. If we get more than five people talking, there might be a prize in it for one of those people. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What is The Lost Tower

So I said after the first hundred pages I would let people in on what I was working on. I thought about pulling some JJ Abrams crap and releasing a single word or something like that but decided that would be silly.

I'm sure you all remember The Long Night (all of you did read it right... of course you did). Anyway for a while I had been thinking how do I write a sequel to a story that has a very very definitive ending. I'm not spoiling anything by saying that it doesn't end with a to be continued or end of part one tag.

Anyway I finally figured out a sort of sequel. The Lost Tower builds off of things that were set up in The Long Night and takes place in the same world fifty years later. Think of it as kind of how The Hobbit is related to Lord of the Rings. That is also an apt comparison when it come to talking about scope, Because if this book is as long as I think it might turn out to be, I have at least a dualogy on my hands but probably a trilogy. That said I am going to write it as a single book and then worry about splitting later. I think stopping and splitting The Conflict Within is what killed my interest in the story.

So What is the story?

Rumors are coming from the west that Tygosh the longtime rival of the now fractured city of Lysta is building an army and marching on a war of conquest. A shadowy noble puts together a group of adventures to seek out a long lost relic called the Star of Fle'net, which he believes might help unite and save the city.

The only information they have about the star mentions three towers, and so the group sets out on their quest.

That is all for now, I'll do some character profiles or something a bit later down the line. For now it was just cool to dust off the blog.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The weekly update

Friday will now be reserved for how well did writing go this week.  Last Friday I started back on The Conflict Within and this was a good week. normally I shoot for 2k words a day during the week when I am on a binge, and managed to meet that goal all but one day of the week. Most days though 2.3 thousand words or so were clocked in for a grand weekly total of 14,439 words. 

Things that I have learned so far this week. While i am a plotster (a person who works from an outline) but working from my only slightly reworked ten year old outline, I am turning into a pantster (person who just makes things up as they go along). Because while I have my plot points laid out so that I can keep track of all the crazy stuff that is going on, I have been making up long detailed handles for each of the scenes, starting things well before the stuff in the outline, giving the characters some breathing room and letting me build more of the world. 

So far this week it has mostly be recovery form the big battle that I had just finished when I left the book last year, now I think we have almost completely dealt with that and have moved on to setting up the next phase of the plot.

* Looking at my outline for the next three books, I have discovered that I let a lot of really good plot points dangling that I set up in the first, so I can see major outline revisions needing to be done before I start writing book two.  A few people that were small parts I have become found of and found ways that they work in book two so they will come back. A few people have changed dramatically as well.

* I pulled a page from Game of Thrones hand book, the show not the books though I am guilty of that as well. No this time I feel into the world of sexposition, which I will leave the link here to explain for you.

* Being back in my office has worked wonders for my productivity.

* The Conflict Within went from the shortest book I currently have to the third longest, passing both Killing to Know and Bodies Under 95. I should pass Breaking Overnight next week without much trouble. The Long Night is still probably two weeks out before I can pass that, which I have no doubt that I will because this book will be massive.

That is all for this week, I'll have another update on the book next Friday.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Galactica Part 1

This is the first TV Wednesday post and I figure that I will start with something that isn't as scary in the space opera genera, Battlestar Galactica.  I won't bore people with reviews of every episode, or a long discussion on the show and God (OK well that might be another post down the road) but today we are going to do the the top ten episodes of the re-imaged Galactica. Now this is my top ten favorite episodes, there are some good episodes that had some great moments that didn't make the cut, and I might have to do a best moments list as well but enough of the build up lets get the the list numbers 10-6.  All the summery will be taken from the Battlestar wiki

And lastly expect spoilers, so ya, if you haven't just go watch the show, it is on Netflix instant.

10: Hand of God Summery
I have always liked this episode because it isn't about the greater overarching plot (aside from the fuel issue in season 1) and it is filled with action. Also as an Apollo focused episode it should be definition suck, (I'm looking at you Black Market. This one works because he overcomes that I'm not good enough complex and gets the job done. Also it introduces the theme that picks up between Apollo and Adama throughout the rest of the show.

This is one that I can see people thinking I am crazy for liking so much but I like it because it is so simple.

9: Scattered Summery
This first episode of Season 1 is what established Colonel Tigh as my favorite character. He shows that in a solely combat since he can lead the ship, and does manage to find the rest of the fleet. Another episode filled with action and this show does dog fights really well.  Also with our dog being named Gaius Baltar the line where Tigh calls him a "shifty son of a bitch" is one of my favorites.

One Kobal, everything is going to hell for for the crash survivors, and that is a fun little story line watching Crashdown fail at being a leader, and Baltar being as always a coward.  This is the only episode from the whole 9 episode Kobal storyline, on a whole that is a really good span of episodes, and so interconnected that I don't always remember which episode is which because they run together so well.

Also it ends with a good cliff hanger.

8: Revelations Summery
The mid season finale for Season 4, and the episode where they reach Earth and find it to be completely nuked. This one has some payoff, mostly Starbuck and her Viper, and of course we reach Earth. The first half of the season was so dull and dragging that his episode which is tight and tense was a breath of fresh air. There is also that nice cold war feel of we are talking and threatening each other with nukes hiding behind the threats.

7: Downloaded Summery
What I really like about this is that it takes a comply different perspective on the whole universe, and then manages to reshape how we see everything. I liked how you had two Cylon heroes who were just as damaged and screwed up as the humans in the Fleet. Caprica Six is not in anyway how I thought she would have been after spending so much time with Head Six, and Boomer was still all trauma shocked. This lead directly to how the New Caprica storyline played out, and made me like one of those Cylons more and make me cheer when the other got offed in Daybreak.

6: Pegasus (extended) Summery
I would like to first say this is for the extended version of the episdoe that can be found on the season 2.5 box set, I'm sure it is on the blu ray set as well. 
It starts with such hope, they find more humans and another Battlestar to boot, and things are downhill from there.  We get a much crazier version of Admiral Kane then we had in the original series, and she outranks Adama as well. Tension starts to mount as we get bits of info about a fleet that they might have had, and just the general way that the Pegasus crew operates. This is another one of those episodes where they spend the whole time ratcheting up the tension and the end it with a great cliffhanger, the ships positioning themselves to blow each other out of the water.

Those are the first five on my list of ten personal favorite episodes, I will have the top five next week. So say we all.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

First book review and a slight change of pace.

So far this blog has been about how I got to where I am now as a writer. Now that I have picked back up The Conflict Within, I am going to start really seeping myself back into my Sci-fi roots. So for a little while, and I hope to post more then once a week, we are going to talk about Sci-fi and Sci-fi only, except for a little Game of Thrones here and there.

So come join me as I geek out, I'm going to try and review books and episodes of some of my favorite shows, we are going to start TV wise with what I call sci-fi pot Battlestar Galactica (RDM) and then move to something a little more scary, Babylon 5. I believe this to be the best show ever and if you don't at least like it after seeing all five seasons I will rethink our friendship. If you think I am kidding ask Elizabeth, I was really worried that we couldn't be together if she hated that show.

But enough about TV because today we are going to start with a book review, because well I am writing a book that is what I do, and even though TV and movies have really framed my world view of the genera but today a book.

This afternoon I finished the first of the Gabriel series by  Steve Umstead the book is Gabriels Redemption.

At first glance I'm going to give this four stars I had a lot of fun reading it and picked up book two as soon as I finished the first one.

(This is the book summery from Amazon for those who are leery to click links)
North American Federation Navy Commander Evan Gabriel was dishonorably discharged after a disastrous mission on a far off world called Eden. He's spent the last five years hiding from his past, from those responsible for the failed mission, from those responsible for running him out of the Navy, and from those originally responsible for making him into who he was - a highly-trained, physically and mentally augmented Special Forces soldier.

Two mysterious visitors appear unannounced at the door of a Gabriel's seedy hotel room in the slums of Jamaica. His past has finally caught up with him.

From the decaying Caribbean to politically-charged South America, from the back alleys of Mars to a tiny colony on a planet six hundred light years from Earth, Gabriel's Redemption is a near-future military science fiction story of a personal journey seen from the perspective of a soldier who has lost everything -- one who desperately needs to redeem himself not only in his government's eyes, but also his own.

Interstellar action and political intrigue mix with one-on-one battles on the surface of a frozen planet in Book One of the science fiction-adventure trilogy. 

Hello again. OK so how do I feel outside of the simple statement of 4 stars. I love good military sci-fi in books, love it. This is in a lot of ways Starship Troopers without the political side story. (Yes I know that is what that book is but the comparison is apt.) The main character Gabriel is drawn well and makes since. As the story starts, Umstead builds the world very very well. Technology makes since, I love their ships and the way he deals with FTL travel, wormholes that are a crap shoot the first time through is really cool. The team of gruff special forces types come together, as good real people, that you feel when bodies start to hit the floor.

My only real complaint with the book was that it seemed to rush a bit through the climax, wrapping everything up a little to quickly. I felt like the book could have easily been another hundred pages and not felt overlong or milked. (pages being relative as I read this on my Nook which does page numbers).

I like to keep reviews short, so I am going to end it by emphatically stating that you should give this indie author a go, I mean what do you have to lose but a few bucks, still cheaper then a paper back and as good if not better then what you are going to find new in a book store.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Going Free

After enrolling Killing to Know in KDP select, I started a free three day promo that started yesterday and goes through tomorrow.  So far I have seen almost 6000 downloads and gotten my rank to as high as #43 in the free store and #3 free for hard boiled. I'm sitting at #50 in the free store as of this writing. 

The hope is that this will maybe lead to some sales put me in a better place then deep deep in the 100k in the paid store, and most importantly generate a few reviews. 

I shall update you my faithful readers in a few days as to how this all shakes out.

Update #1 (12:08 March 6)

Killing to Know is doing well, March has so far been the best month that I have had since I started publishing.  I have learned a few things though. When you go free the grammar people come out. Apparently there were still more error then I thought in the text and I have been called to take on it twice so far, and netting a one star review, pulling the book down to 2.5 stars.  I also had a single return.  So I might have to get another set of eyes to go across it. I don't want that to sound like I'm bad mouthing the people that did edit the book, I mostly feel that I should have delivered to them a cleaner script. 

That being said The Long Night isn't going anywhere near Select until it gets a good grammatical polish, people have given it a pass so far, but I don't want to get ripped up like that again. I would rather get a bad review because they hated the book not because I can't spell or use a comma to save my life. I have faith that that book can fly with six good reviews and a cover that keeps getting compliments left and right.  

I think marketing wise my one major mistake was that I assumed that Pixel of Ink charged for free books like they did paid books and thus missed out on trying to get in on one of their mailings, which might have netted me another thousand or so more free books.

So my plan going forward with Killing to Know is keep riding the wave, promoting, and hoping that it gets moved around and picked up, maybe gets a review from a person that is not as anal. Then I'll make sure that Breaking Overnight is is super strong condition, and launch it in select, so that I can do a free run a week or so after it's launch.  It sucks that I have to make the Nook people wait 90 days, but the freebee has given me more traction than I was going to get otherwise.  I got lucky in January with B&N being nice to The Long Night. That said I don't plan to stay in Select for more then the normal 90 days going back to being avalable for everybody, with hopefully some more momentum.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Two Towers

I tried to come up with two book-ending posts about fellowship and returning kings so I could make a grand Lord of the Rings reference, but I just couldn't come up with anything, the little nerd inside me is sad.

Onward, to what this post is really about.  This is Gracie, she is a grumpy ten year old Persian with arthritis.  Her aching back legs have kept her from getting on the table where her food was.  Her food of course was on the table so that Gaius, our thieving little dog, couldn't get to it.

After spending night after night listing to her fail to make it up onto the table an falling to the ground with a loud smack followed by a long painful moan Liz and I decided to move her food to the pet room, where her litter box is. The pet room is blocked off by a baby gate, so low enough for Gracie to get over but to high for Gaius and his stumpy little Doxie legs to scale.

That was what we thought, turns out Gracie is the exact opposite of her name, and doesn't quite face plant into the gate so much as get her front paws over the top and then scuttle across. More often then not though she would fall to the ground and again scream in pain. Now the Pet room is right next to the Master bedroom, making this night time screaming worse.

Or original idea was to get a long piece of carpet and lay it across the gate so that she had coming to grip and pull her self up, because as she reminds us when saving her, Gracie still has claws. A few weeks ago Liz and I were in NoVa at her parents house, because we had a meeting with the rabbi (ah wedding planning). I got to talking with her dad about our problem and plan, and he suggested a cat tower, and after spit balling the idea we hit on the idea to use two small cat towers next to the gate so she could get on them climb and even sit down if she wanted.  We lucked out in that Liz's parent's had two old towers that their cats were not using.

We came home and I put this together.

After a few days, and some well placed tuna, Gracie got the idea and started using the towers to help her get across the gate to her food and litter box, which were now pain free and dog safe. A few days ago I saw her sitting in the outside tower, she looked up and said hello as I walked by even, so I think this was a susses.