We Can’t All Be Great

You’re walking out to your car after a late day at work. Its about 7:30. The suns making its way down under the horizon and you can see long shadows forming on the sidewalk. Its not that you’re scared – why would you be? You live in a safe part of town – but you are surprised when you hear footsteps approaching from around the corner.

The boss had you lock up, so when the men appear at the edge of the adjacent brick building, you know that you have no one to call to.

And they look like this.

After you bolt – after you get far far away – who is it you call? Is it the President, or is it the Police? Is it the Major of Gotham, or Batman?

In a book, its important to monitor how many “Great” people you are following. Gauge how many Kings, Dukes, and Majors are in your book based on the loftiness of the plot-line. If they are supposed to be duking it out with criminals on the street, you might have picked someone a little too high up the social ladder. The president shouldn’t be doing the job of the police, anymore than the major should be doing the job of Batman.

The author George R.R. Martin does this very well in his book series, Song of Ice and Fire. While he juggles characters who are undeniably lordly, he also has a cast of characters that are of a low caste. Characters that are deposed. These are the characters who are able to get in the muddy conflict on the street while the posh lordlings are battling with their minds in the castles.

You’ll notice that many characters are shamed, dethroned, or that their royal status is more of a joke and no one (save for themselves) recognizes it.

Seems presumptuous.

Seems presumptuous.

Its a great way to get some variety in a novel’s plot, so that the types of conflicts the author tackles doesn’t become stale. If you are writing a book and you feel like you might just be writing the same kind of scenes over and over again, try this out. It doesn’t hurt to shake up the social castes a bit.

Late to the Party of the Apes

Yes, I know that the movie came out awhile ago now. Don’t look at me like that Caesar.

It's frightening.

It’s frightening.

Still, I think that I want to throw my two cents in on the glorious movie that is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. In keeping with my petty cash metaphor, the first of my two pennies on the subject is about the plot – and why I think the loose interpretation of the series continues to be good. The second of the pennies is exclusively about CGI Monkey Facial Expressions.

It is widely agreed that the 2014 series is a loose interpretation of the original series movie – Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. I stress the loose interpretation, but there are still lines that can be drawn between the two of them. All in all I think that the newer iteration is tackling a different subject (I’m not just talking about the threat of fully-realized CGI Apes instead of the imminent incursion of people in monkey masks). For those of you who love the original series – please try not to bite my head off.

In the original series, the influx of apes before the rebellion is blamed on Americans using the creatures as pets – but soon after the purpose of the pets is warped into being easy enslaved labor. Especially in the modern day, the concept of apes being used for labor is so outrageous that I won’t even let PETA get out of bed to argue it for me.

Z Z Z Z...

Z Z Z Z…

See? Sleeping soundly, because we aren’t trying to make dogs work in a factory. Or make cats fix your plumbing. Not going to happen.

I’m much quicker to buy that the uplifted apes came out of an extraordinarily effective anti-Alzheimer treatment implemented through a virus. As a double wammy, it explains why apes could all become uplifted the minute one of them escaped the lab. If it wasn’t so sudden, I’d have to ask why we didn’t take action earlier.

All this also retools the movie to move away from the obvious racial implications of the first series. Now they focus on the fears that are all the rage in the media today. Superflus. Bioweapons. With Ebola tearing through the world, it feels pretty on point.

Ah, but its time for the second penny. While watching the facial expression of Caesar and his accompanying apes, I was left wondering “Why have I seen real non-digital casts of characters with worse characterizations and expressions than these apes?”

Well, I do have to concede that there were motion capture artists responsible for the facial expressions realized in the movie. With Caesar being captured by the talented Andy Serkis and the other apes by numerous other talents, no wonder it was fantastic.

Thanks, Alex!

Thanks, Alex!

No problem, guys.

But there was still something more to it. I think that in an environment where animators are constantly asking themselves what they should be doing with the motion and appearance of their digital characters – not just for the span of a scene, but for each single second – it puts pressure on the motion capture actors to give more thought into their second-by-second performance than even a live actor might put into it. They aren’t accountable for scenes, they are accountable for moments.

And truly, its something to see.

Monday Musing : “Slab of Glass”

Artists are paid (usually poorly) to look at the world in new and inventive ways. Who wants to read a book and have their own views spouted back at them? I mean, come on, they have their Fox’s and CNN’s for that.

So this Monday try to look at the world in a new way. While you’re at your job or in your class, examine the objects and people around you – figure out the strange building blocks that make them the way they are.

Only in a perfect world.

Only in a perfect world.

Here’s an example.

“Wyatt sat on a white-stone bench, swiping a finger across a slab of glass. It was precious to him. Pictures of old friends flicked across the surface, little black text times-new-roman life updates popping up beside them and he casually moved by each. From the way he held the slab, you may have thought that it meant nothing to him, but in fact Wyatt brought the glass everywhere he went and worried that the wind and weather might damage its surface.”

Your interpretation, as always, is up to you. Sure does carry a deeper meaning than an Ipad, though. Have some good musings and a great Monday!

Want to write a story, but never have enough to say? Take a look at this article.

I’ve noticed that I may have been somewhat…let’s say neglectful…of my blog as of late. What with all the college, book promoting, and a writing I’ve been doing lately I can’t say that I’m surprised it happened. Perhaps you’ll take this post-thanksgiving-post (hehe) as a small sort of apology.

CHARACTER ARCS – THE MEAT OF THE STORY

The number one thing that keeps people reading a book, and keeps the book interesting, is the characters. Their tragedies, their successes, their goals and hopes. As readers, we like to see characters change over the course of a novel. Perhaps in one novel it will be a hero learning to accept his responsibility, or in another it will be a young girl learning to overcome social stigma, but either way we yearn to see them become something they weren’t before. That, my friends, is the meat of a novel.

I am not in the mood for your irony, picture.

I am not in the mood for your irony, picture.

While I talk about character arcs and their place within a novel, I’m going to use Lord of the Rings as an example. Because Lord of the Rings is awesome. It seems to me that a lot of people think that Lord of the Rings is about a group of people trying to go to Mordor and destroy a ring. This is not the case. It is about a scared hobbit trying to find the courage to go to Mordor and destroy a ring.

That is a far more interesting plot than if Tolkien had kept strictly to the Mordor-ring-toss, because without an emotional character arc that the reader can relate to, it is hard to get invested in all the stabbing and death that the book talks about. It begins to seem like a string of unimportant names, instead of a full fledged fantasy world with characters that live and breathe.

“Now Alex,” you say. “I clicked on this post because it said that you were going to tell me how to find more to say when I’m writing.” Right you are, I did promise you that. When you’re writing, or when you’re reading, it may seem that a character-arc has run its course or that it has been going on for too long.

There's only so much Sad Frodo we can take, after all.

There’s only so much Sad Frodo we can take, after all.

What do you do then? End the story? Stop at the few pages that are blinking on the Microsoft Word document in front of you? Fear not. Lord of the Rings has shown you your answer, because if you were meant to stop writing after the first few pages, Lord of the Rings would not be ten-billion pages long.

The answer is more character arcs. In some cases, as many as you can fit in the book. If you look closely, Tolkien has a character arc for every single character in the Fellowship that goes to destroy the ring.

SPOILERS (for the 1% of the population who doesn’t know what happens in Lord of the Rings.)

Aragorn : at first the weary ranger, but he must learn to accept his royal blood and become king.

Boromir : at first the soldier who would use the ring as a weapon, but he eventually gives his life trying to destroy it.

Legolos and Gimli : An elf and a dwarf who hate each other at the beginning of the books, grow to be close friends by the series’ end.

Gandalf : A wandering wizard, whose near-death experience on the journey changes him into the great leader he was meant to be.

That’s crazy! I’ve left out all the hobbits of the Fellowship, simply for the sake of brevity. So if you’re looking for more to write about, and you’ve exhausted your main character of their story, think about creating more elaborate emotional journeys for each member of your cast to go through. By giving them interesting character arcs – you extend your story, and stop them from being 2D.

M - "I'm insulted." A - "Shut up, Mario."

M – “I’m insulted.”
A – “Shut up, 8-bit Mario.”

Villains are Overrated

You know the structure of the average book plot. Hero discovers Villain, a journey ensues – preparing the Hero for the climactic confrontation, and the Hero and the Villain meet.

It happens in every genre. It doesn’t matter what role the hero is currently taking on. An FBI Agent has his final confrontation with the Serial Killer, a Viking completes his hero’s journey against the realm’s Oppressive King, and a Space Marine never backs down from his duty to destroy Alien Bugs. I suppose they could be mix-and-matched if you read some out-there books.

"Stand together my viking brothers! The alien hivemind will soon be upon us!"

“Stand together my viking brothers! The alien bug monsters will soon be upon us!”

The Hero has some highs and some low, things may take a turn for the worst, but we all know that the Hero eventually overtakes the Villain.

So why do people stick to that format? Let’s change it up.

Writing can be so much more exciting when the Villain doesn’t exist – and I don’t mean that the Villain is sympathetic. Let me explain myself. In many books, the Villain is made to be “sympathetic” by giving them a tragic backstory or trying to explain their irrational hatred against the Hero. Doing so, however, doesn’t change the Hero’s Journey at all, the Villain is still the Villain. Instead, why not try writing so that every character’s actions seems completely rational from their point of view. No character is innately ‘good’ and no character is innately ‘bad’, the reader is finally allowed to decide who they want to root for – and with no defined Hero to fight an obvious Villain – they don’t know exactly how it will end.

Skullface, Lord of the Dead : "I probably don't get to be in the story anymore, do I?"

Skullface, Lord of the Dead : “I probably don’t get to be in the story anymore, do I?”

No Skullface, nor do any other villains who want to “rule the world”, “destroy good”, or “achieve infinite power”. They go to mental asylums because their psychological disorders were recognized early on and they were never allowed anywhere near politics.

So try something new, introduce a cast of characters where the moral high-ground is unclear. I promise, it’s a lot of fun to read.

 

Abandon All Hope…Or Most of it Anyway.

Are you a traumatic writer? Does your writing seem, at times, as though it is an experiment as to how much terrible sad content an author can compress into a single book?

Don’t worry, there is a way to get more people to read your book – instead of putting it down when they feel as though they are being emotionally dragged-through-the-mud. The answer is occasional dark comedy.

The Art of Dark Comedy

There are two aspects to dark comedy. It does not break the dark atmosphere of the story, because the jokes are perverse – and the jokes are perverse because they are funny. We’ll start with the first part of that statement and then move on to the second.

1. If the topic of the joke is morbid, it doesn’t ruin the dark nature of the story. In fact, by being so morbid, it makes the events of the story seem more commonplace and therefore casts the world as a darker place than it would be without it.

2. The jokes are funny, because the punchline is not something we would laugh at in real life. Without the tension and the story set-up, the joke would be in poor taste.

Example?

A famous boxer is shot twice in the skull. The local detective walks up and lowers his sunglasses.

"Talk about giving somebody the old one-two."

“Looks like somebody got the old one-two.”

It makes you laugh because its not something that should be laughed about, but it also doesn’t break the atmosphere because its not something that should be laughed about. Two birds with one stone! – he lowered his glasses to look at the pair of victims. Cause of death? Laced marijuana.

Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

Dark comedy can do a lot to help a grungy story, breaking up the monotony of continual dark storytelling. Don’t be afraid to use it, after all, it doesn’t ruin the atmosphere – it only makes it seem a little grittier.

 THE HUNTER GRAYEER

by Alex Billedeaux


SUMMARY

There are twisted creatures, hiding in the darkness. In the deep woods, the abandoned barn, the back alley, the empty apartment next door. Some control minds or weather, others dabble with lost souls and possession. They have preyed on the unwary for centuries and are only satiated by the next victim they take.

But they have not gone unnoticed.

There are Hunters, scouring just at the edge of the light. Michael Grayleer is one such man. Shotgun in hand, Grayleer tracks down whispers of attacks, finding the perpetrator and removing them before they can hurt anyone else. It is not so cut and dry these days, especially since Grayleer’s prey has found a new orchestrator. Grayleer is not the Hunter anymore. They are being sicked on him, one by one, until he either dies or turns to find protection at the hands of men that he would have never put trust in before. As he watches his new friends slowly lose themselves into the ruthless kills that his job requires, he is forced to wonder whether his Hunt is just – or even forgivable.


 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

How would I describe the novel?

It has its share of horror, but it is not a mindless b-movie scare. The moral development of the characters, more than anything else, is the focus as the book goes on. If you’ve written off thrillers as “mindless”, give The Hunter Grayleer a try. It may just prove you wrong.

Do I have other media comparisons?

If you like the TV show “Supernatural” on the CW, you’ll probably like the book. If you’ve never heard of the show “Supernatural”, you should probably remedy that as well.

Where is the book available?

Most major retail sites. Check out:

BARNES AND NOBLE

AMAZON


Monday Musing : “Fantasy”

I’m a big fan of the Fantasy genre.

When writing Fantasy however, its important to figure out exactly what the genre is accomplishing for you. For what purpose have you incorporated it into your book or story? Fantasy should always serve to emphasize the message of your writing, or to convey a theme that would otherwise be difficult to convey.

Here are a few messages that Fantasy can help send…

Fantasy Races (Elves, Dwarves, and everything in between) :

Thanks to Tolkien, fantasy races have never been bigger in literature. A big reason to use fantasy races is to create bonds and rifts between characters that readers can easily follow. Fantasy Races help to create the same bonds as family and friendship, but on a bigger scale that every reader can keep track of and understand.

Magic or Fantastic Elements :

Is there a reason for light shooting out of a character’s hands, or their growing ability to take flight? There should be. Magic and other fantastical elements can help emphasize character growth and shifts in personality. If a character, normally adept at controlling the gentle wind, is slowly gaining the ability to spout all-consuming fire – it conveys a shift toward hate and aggression that is pretty impossible to miss.

 

Fantasy is a way to explain concepts that are hard to understand in the terms of our every day lives. It is not less than other genres, or frivolous. It is another way to understand the human experience, and should always be written as such.

Would a Real Person Say That?

It has been awhile since a spoke about dialogue, so I thought I’d take some time and do it today.

In the past, I’ve gone over different approaches an author can take to craft the character’s speech in their novels. This does not guarantee that the dialogue will be good dialogue. The two things that should be done both revolve around making sure that the dialogue sounds like something a real person would say.

First, is the character saying something simply to give backstory to the reader? Yes? Then cut that out.

 

Try to avoid this seemingly obvious method for delivering story details – unless it is done in a situation where the characters would actually be talking about the backstory. I assure you that most people don’t forget about deaths-in-the-family, and they certainly don’t want to talk about it out of the blue.

Christ, random-minor-character-named-Jon, have some tact.

Please don’t let your characters over-share.

 

Many characters in books seem willing to talk about anything. Their insecurity in their future? Check. Their nearly stalkerish  romantic interest? Check. Evil inside of them? Check. Overwhelming fear? Let’s talk!

I challenge you to make an acquaintance of two or three days and ask them one of those questions. If they don’t raise their eyebrow and make a hasty retreat, feel free to write me and I’ll edit the post.

 

So there you go, two methods to quality-check your dialogue. Though the examples may be a bit outlandish, I assure you that an innumerable number of writers (like me) are guilty of these writing sins. Don’t be one of them!