Writing Update

I’m at a very slow stage in the writing. I’ve completed all the revisions and editing that I mapped out, and sent the new manuscript off to a final beta reader. I’ve also printed out a new copy and am going through it word-by-word, doing a final polish.

My next step will be commissioning a cover. I’m considering several options for this, but am open to hearing about other possibilities, if anyone has suggestions.

After that, we’re looking toward actual publication, probably using both IngramSpark and Amazon KDP Print. This is very exciting, but also intimidating. There is a lot of work to be done in the background.

I’ll blog more when I have something more to say, review, etc.

The Hero of Destiny heeds the Call to Adventure (a tabletop game review)

My life truly began the day I took my vows as a squire. I worked hard, and my bravery was noted by all those around me. When the invaders came, I stood alone to defend my homestead. This act of valor won the loyalty of my bitterest rival, who from that day on followed me. He became my sidekick, if you will.

I knew, long before anyone else, that my destiny would be a great one. For I was pure of heart, enlightened even, resisting the darkness wherever I found it. That darkness is everywhere, even within corrupt officials who tried to frame me out of jealousy. I resisted their arrest and fled into the wilderness, where I encountered the monstrous wolf that had tormented our region for years.

After slaying the beast, I returned in triumph to my home, wearing the wolf’s pelt as my trophy. In time, I became a leader of men, charging into battle ahead of them all.

And then the Warlord came, with his dark forces, his innumerable minions swarming across our land. In my darkest moment, I saw our king slain and I resorted to the only means I saw of obtaining victory. I sacrificed my own troops in battle so that I could get close enough to the Warlord himself. We dueled at the very gates of the city, back and forth for over an hour as the battle stilled about us. 

I emerged victorious, slaying the man who had wreaked such havoc across our land. As his dispirited armies fled, I took my place in the palace and claimed the crown. For was I not… the Hero of Destiny?

IMG_1788.jpegThis is but one of thousands of possible stories you can create with the game Call to Adventure. It’s a simple game, but full of excitement and delight. As in the story above, you can soar to the heights of glory as a Hero of Destiny, or be driven to despair as you take the dark path of the anti-hero, perhaps even becoming a Cunning Villain yourself. Or weave a course somewhere in between.

At the beginning of the game, you choose three base cards for your story: your Origin, your Motivation, and your final Destiny. You are dealt two of each of these, so you can choose which you would like to pursue, and find interesting combos. For example, for Origin, you might be dealt Acolyte and Hunter; for Motivation, you might choose between Bound by Honor or Lone Wanderer; and your Destiny could be Paragon of Light or Hand of Vengeance. Which will you choose? That’s entirely up to you. You could note that the Hunter Origin works well with Hand of Vengeance in mechanics and will help you pursue a points victory. Or you might just decide that Bound by Honor makes so much sense, story-wise, to become a Paragon of Light, regardless of the whole “points” thing.

Because that’s part of the beauty of this game. Yes, you can “win the game” by scoring more points than your opponents. Points are awarded based on triumph and tragedy cards, experience, hero or anti-hero cards, and icon set collections. It’s fairly easy to rack up a good score, especially if you’re actively trying. For players who are all about exploiting card combinations and winning at any cost, the game may fall a little short.

But for those who are playing for the experience, the game is brilliant. Winning is desirable, but secondary to the goal of pursuing an intriguing story.

To create your story, you choose from a tableau of cards arranged in front of the players. These cards consist of either Traits or Challenges. Traits are fairly easy to obtain, but are usually based on abilities you already possess. Those abilities are also what you will use to conquer the Challenges. Dungeons & Dragons players will immediately recognize the abilities – strength, dexterity, constitution, wisdom, intelligence & charisma. Taking on a Challenge to Prepare for War, for example, would require strength and/or dexterity. Dealing with an attacker in a Street Fight, could require constitution and/or charisma (because you might talk your way out instead of just brawling). 

(I won’t get into all the details of the mechanics. You can find those in other reviews, videos, and the updated rulebook available as a download. The original rulebook, sadly, does leave something to be desired.)

In addition to the base game, you can also play solo versus a specific Adversary card, or even team up in cooperation against an Adversary. I’ve tried both, and while I enjoy the solo play, I much prefer the competitive over cooperative for multiplayer.

My gaming group is very eclectic in what kind of games they like. If you map each of us on the Board Games Motivation Profile, we are all very different. It’s amazing we can find games that we all enjoy, more or less. So far, Call to Adventure is one of those games. In the times we’ve played so far, I haven’t heard a single complaint about any aspect of the game. That’s about the highest praise this group can offer. That, and the fact that two of them want their own copies now, since mine won’t always be there for them.

Every game has been different so far. I do, however, concede that eventually I may get too used to these cards and it might get a little old. Fortunately, that seems to be in the distant future right now. Two expansions are on the way. One is based on Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, and the other on Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive. These will add many new cards and mechanics based on the specific storylines, magic systems, and so on of those books. While I’m excited to see what those have to offer, I must confess that after playing the game, I would actually be happier to have more “generic” cards like those in the base game. These cards are filled with fantasy tropes that are highly familiar to those of us who have read Tolkien, Jordan, and so many more, or have played other fantasy-style games, whether RPGs or tabletop. I would love to have even more of them.

As a writer myself, I love to compare the interplay of these various tropes, watching how the combine and gaining new ideas myself for future stories. It’s educational about the art of storytelling, even while it’s fun!

Maybe this is not the kind of game that appeals to you. It doesn’t have a ton of strategy. It’s definitely no Twilight Imperium (one of my favorite games of all time). But in this case, story/theme trumps strategy for me. I love it. And I can’t wait to play again.

Update – Writing & Otherwise

I received my manuscript back from the editor. The good news is that she had high praise for the book overall. She also gave me quite a list of suggestions – revisions, editing, and so forth.

After carefully considering all of her suggestions, I made a revision plan consisting of eight steps. I’ve now completed four of those steps. Once I finish the rest, I’ll make a new printout and go over the entire thing page-by-page for the tiny details. At the same time, I’ll send it off to a final beta reader.

And then it’ll be done. Complete. Ready to move on to the publishing stage, in whatever form that now takes.

Unfortunately, I’m also now searching for a new job. It turns out that you can’t really make money before actual publication. What a shame. Anyway, this will undoubtedly take more time away from my writing until things settle down. At this point, everything is up in the air.

Brief Writing Update

Things are moving along with my current novel, Until All Curses Are Lifted. Later this week, I’ll be sending the latest revision to an editor. I’ve spent the last couple of months making some suggested changes and rewriting the first twelve chapters.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I’ve really spent the last two weeks on the rewrites. Most of the rest of the time was spent in procrastination.

I’m a master at procrastination. I deserve a trophy. Or at least a ribbon. Let’s be honest here. Most writers are masters at procrastination. So we all deserve ribbons. Participation ribbons. 

Procrastination Participation. Someone should design those.

I’d get right on it, but… <insert obvious joke here>

But getting back to the main topic: After I get the manuscript back from the editor toward the end of the month, I will make one final revision. The next step will be commissioning a cover. After that, we’re looking at actual publication. 

The beginning is in sight.

Glass – Expectations vs. Disappointments

Every time I sit down with a story of any kind – book, movie, game, etc. – I have expectations. Everyone does. Those expectations will be based on things we heard, read, or saw about the story before beginning it.

In the case of the movie Glass, I needed no hype. Unbreakable has always been one of my favorite movies ever. The Lord of the Rings trilogy tops all, of course, but if I’m going to sit down and watch one single movie in my collection, it’s probably going to be Unbreakable. (I could write another lengthy explanation for why that is true, but that’s not the point of this blog post, so just accept it and we’ll move on.) So when I heard about the ending of Split, and then that a new movie was coming that was the long-awaited-and-dreamed-of actual sequel to Unbreakable… I needed no hype. I was ready.

1547016882803.jpegI saw that the critics hated it. No big news there. Critics have hated everything Shyamalan has directed since The Sixth Sense. Even Unbreakable got mixed reviews. I ignored them and went to see for myself.

My expectations were not met. The movie had two big flaws – one excusable, and one… not. The first one is a movie problem. But the second is a storytelling problem. Without delving into deep spoilers, here are my problems:

  1. The music. James Newton Howard’s original score for Unbreakable is beautiful. I listen to it all the time. When the familiar theme started playing at the end of Split, I got excited. I love the music almost as much as I love the story itself. Sadly, Howard did not compose the music for Glass. Was he not available? Does he cost too much now? Instead, the music was done by West Dylan Thordson, completely unknown to me. And after reviewing his credits on IMDB… he remains completely unknown to me. The Unbreakable music did show up in the movie a couple of times, but only in flashback scenes (which were actually deleted scenes from the first movie).Howard’s score for Unbreakable is moody, yet quietly uplifting. In the climax, it swells to triumphant, yet still maintaining an element of melancholy. It’s brilliant. The Glass score is… not. It’s filled with standard horror music tropes in a misguided attempt to build tension and sound creepy. When the Unbreakable music slips in, it’s so, so much better.

    Ultimately, I can forgive the music if the story is brilliant. But that brings me to the second problem.

  2. The missing character arc. I’m talking about David Dunn. You know, the hero of Unbreakable? The protagonist? The new movie seems to be primarily about him at first. (In fact, it’s kind of odd that a movie titled Glass doesn’t give its title character a single line of dialogue until at least halfway through!) It seems to be setting him up for a big, important thing at the end… and then it doesn’t. Without giving away the ending, let’s just say that David doesn’t get a satisfying conclusion to his character arc. He really doesn’t even have a character arc. He’s just there to look confused and fight the bad guys. Bruce Willis may have had more acting to do in his cameo appearance in The Lego Movie 2. Since I so loved his character development in Unbreakable, I was very disappointed in this.

    Now to be clear – character arcs are not always necessary, despite what Peter Jackson says. Some characters are intended to be icons, unchanging. And that’s okay, when done right. But this movie repeatedly hints at a character arc for David, then never follows up on it.

    By necessity, David is much older in this movie. His son Joseph is all grown up. So he’s been sort of a hidden superhero for many, many years. And we didn’t get to see any of that. There are some brief references to it, but that’s all. Going from Unbreakable to Glass is like reading the first issue of a comic book series, and then the final issue of that same series… without reading anything in between! Or imagine reading the first few chapters of Harry Potter… and then skipping to the last few chapters of the seventh book, without reading anything in between. A lot has changed, but you don’t know why. Glass tries to throw in explanations of those changes, but they feel forced.

They’re forced because ultimately, it seems that the continuation of David Dunn’s story isn’t the story that M. Night Shyamalan wanted to tell. He wanted to conclude the story he began in Split, drag in the connection to Unbreakable, and point out the brilliance of mastermind Mr. Glass. He accomplished all of that. But for those of us who wanted a real sequel to the original story of Unbreakable, it feels less than acceptable.

I could be wrong. I’ll watch it again when it’s finished its theatrical run. Maybe it’s better than I’m thinking right now. We’ll see whether I end up being satisfied at this conclusion to one of my favorite stories, or whether I decide to stick with my own head canon and ignore this movie altogether.

When a Story Isn’t Enough – Filling in the Gaps

Most of the time, when a book is adapted into a movie, time is “sped up.” In other words, what takes a long time in the book takes a very short time in the movie, so as to keep things moving for an impatient visual audience. Action scene jumps to action scene as rapidly as possible.

As a storyteller, my mind usually works in the opposite direction. I fill in the gaps, expanding the story in my head. Obviously, this doesn’t happen all at once, but I’ve found that the longer something remains in my mind, the lengthier it gets.

For example, when I was a child in the 1980s, I saw Transformers, the movie (the animated one, AKA the good one). I did not see it again for decades. 

hotrod1400x700.jpgTransformers had some truly epic moments – the death of Optimus Prime, Starscream’s final betrayal of Megatron, the coming of Unicron, and of course, “Light our darkest hour!” But when I watched the movie for only the second time, decades after the first… I was shocked to discover that these epic moments came quickly, with almost no downtime between them, connected only by more rapid-fire action scenes.

I was confused. This wasn’t how I remembered it. I remembered a sprawling epic story that contained soaring emotional moments. Had the movie been edited heavily before its release on home video? No. My memories were wrong. Or, rather, my mind had been adding to them over the years.

As best as I can tell, my story-loving and story-telling mind loved the great moments of the movie, and loved even more the greater types of story moments that the animated movie was attempting to replicate. So over the years, my memory of the movie became expanded, as I “remembered” how I wanted the movie to be.

What does this mean? I believe that deep down, we all long for epic stories. We all want to read/see stories that move us, that inspire us, that thrill our hearts. Some of us just take it a step further – by coming up with those stories ourselves. Or, when an existing story isn’t quite good enough… expanding it in our imaginations, making it become the story we wanted all along.