Friday, March 27, 2009

360 Degree Character Reviews

Over on his blog Kung Fu Monkey, comics scripter and screenwriter John Rogers shares some terrific advice for developing well-rounded characters.
Occasionally, LEVERAGE writer Albert Kim will regale us with stories of the horrible traditions and kabuki of his previous corporate life. He recently explained the idea of the 360 degree job review. You are reviewed by:

1.) Your bosses
2.) Your peers
3.) Your underlings.

I started doing this as a way to develop characters, and I have to admit I kind of dig it. How does Indiana Jones's boss at the university feel about him? Other archeologists? His students? How about the bad guys? "Major Arnold Toht is the best commandant I've ever had. He never sends us into dangerous situations without also taking the same risk. He is very organized and makes sure we have the tools and resources necessary to serve the Fuhrer. We always go to interesting places, and he really encourages individual initiative. His determination is an inspiration to us all ..."

More fun is a recent bit of development I've been doing for villains and heroes -- flip them. Take a page and write about the villain as if he's the protagonist. I don't mean the anti-hero protagonist, I mean the "I admire this character and want to see him succeed"protagonist. Doing this with even minor characters can open up new interactions. What this does is
force you to come up with virtues for your bad guy, even invent some -- otherwise, he's not a hero, is he? (I recently psyched myself out of using a character as a villain, because I wound up becoming too invested in his non-villainous personal life.).

Years ago another writer taught me a simple exercise -- describe a character, hero or villain, as his best friend would describe him while setting up a blind date. Then do it from the point of view of the co-worker
who hates his guts and is unloading to his wife after work, or finally has a chance to sink him with a job recommendation.
I've used similar approaches in the past, but nothing as comprehensive as what Rogers is describing here. I may have to incorporate this into my outlining process...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Words words words

Today was a pretty good day.

I banged out 2500 words on a short story. Maybe I can finish it tomorrow and send it out before I leave town.

And I had lunch with Kate.



Monday, March 9, 2009

Free Fiction Right There in Your Hand

Howdy folks,

There were several of you following the writing contest and you said you wanted to read some of our stuff. None of my work from that is fit for the outside world yet, but if you like detective fiction, I invite you to read something of mine. I have attached a link to a short story that you can read for free from a new ebook site. And if you download the iPhone app, you can read me on the go.

I would appreciate some feedback on the story and the reading process using their interface.

That is all.



Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Domino Chronicles

I'm in revision mode now, going back through the narrative of what I wrote this past February and looking for things in my notes that I may have missed, or stuff I intended to put in but didn't, or adding things that I realized would make more sense in the beginning. I like where the story is going, so far. For being more than somewhat distracted last month, I was able to get what I wanted onto the page. This is a good thing.
I've come to enjoy the revision process a lot. What's nice about it is that I get to use a different skill set to analyse what worked and what didn't work, and then I get to hammer it back into the shape I wanted. It's pretty liberating. We at the CWSB Bunker use the phrase "Kill your Darlings" an awful lot in workshop. Me, I'm fine with it. Paraphrasing Bill Cosby, "It don't matter to me; I'll make another one just like it." It's a rare thing when I find I'm so happy with a piece of prose that I don't want to cut the hell out of it. As good as I can be on the first pass, I am much better after sitting on it for a week and then trimming the fat.
The current plan is to hammer what I've got into shape, run a detailed plot synopis and outline of the rest of the novel, and then see if I can sell it as-is.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Day 29- A Slow Day

Day Twenty Nine. Wow, I had a slack day today.

The Blood of the Gods- 1095 words

I chipped away at the next scene when I wasn't reading twittered notes from Warren Ellis...



Okay fine. I finally developed a few good habits as a writer and I intend to keep plugging away on the novel. Joking aside, I'll keep posting here, after all, I'm not moving anytime soon.


last gasp--1,942 words

Well, it's not last place, but on the other hand, I did get a good fourth of the way into this novel. With polish and my own tinkering, Part One will clock in at around 30k words. Not bad for a cold start with a full private schedule and a last-minute buy in.

I was hoping to give Frick and Frack a better run for their money. Oh, well, there's always next time. And the Retreat Loometh, so there's some funnery to be had there.

I'm going to dust and polish and then send my finished chunk out for private review before writing a pitch and trying to sell the puppy. Maybe, just maybe, after the polish, I'll post some finished stuff on our Boards. Anyway, thanks for watching and cheering. Hope you enjoyed the snippets and the sniping. For being so supportive of each other, we are also our own harshest critics. I expect some bloodletting, now that we can read what we've written.

Progress Report, Day 28

Comics pages: 11
Prose words: 0

I am here tonight not to concede, but salute the better man. Certainly we've had our differences since this contest began, but I want you all to know that I stand behind Barack Obama and I hope that . . .

Oh, wait. That's John McCain's concession speech. Here's mine:

Dear Bill: You suck, Mister "one point." I hope you rot in hell.

Um, or something like that. It was an honor just to be nominated. I demand a recount! Aw, I hate losing.

Progress Report, Final Day

A little bird told me Sturges only had a five point day yesterday. So, if I didn't write a word yesterday, I still win by one point.

Prose Writing: 0 Words.

Comics Writing: 0 Words.

Notes: Take that, Sturges. I beat you by one point. (Yes, I'm still smarting from your Bill-plus-one-word stunt many days back.) ONE LITTLE POINT! Take it, eat it, love it. True, I may have written a bit of this and a tad of that yesterday, but I'm not counting it, because winning by one point is better.
     Taking a cue from Bill, I'll post a longer contest wrap up later, but for now I am going to go see what the world looks like outside my door.

Feb Contest- The Personal Post Mortem

For me, the Great February Writing Contest was about honor. I find comic book writing very easy and prose writing very difficult. Unfortunately, I ran out of comic writing work and struggled with the heavy lifting for the back end of the race. Originally, the match was between Sturges and Willingham as they commisorated with each other about the volume of work they had bitten off. Hopefully, they have wrestled those projects to the ground and given them a good kick. I know I put a few notches on the bookcase.

The Personal Scoreboard

The Merry Widow- On February 1st, I was in the mood to write a revenge thing set in the bleak future that is around the bend. And I wrote enough of the project to get a good handle on the tone and the tempo of the thing. From that, I put together a pitch that has already been shot down by one publisher. Still, its more than I started with. I still might be able to find a home for it.

Skittlebones- When I started the contest, I had several short stories from this collection that had been in various stages of disrepair. By the end, I have finished the stories and now have enough work to send around and maybe make a buck or two. I started with rubble and ended up with 70K words that I can turn out like a Thai prostitute. I mean, I made art.

The Blood of the Gods- I really hit the wall on this thing with a week plus left. When I started the contest, I had an outline for the front third of the novel and a little over the first chapter down on paper. At the 20K word point, I had run out of outline as surely as Wile E. Coyote runs out of real estate when he's wearing the ACME rocket skates. But I've staggered on and the novel sits at 26K words, some of them good.

Now, I get to do the best part of the contest. I get to read what Willingham was hammering away on. Maybe I can comment on the final score when it posts. But I think I correctly called the final rankings on Day 4.

Here is some of the writing from yesterday...

Gulliver had pulled back to the narrow hallway that led from the barred door to the hallway. He waited quietly as the two men came to the door and did their best to reason out what might have happened. Standing as still as a statue, he waited as the two speculated that this prison might be haunted, most were. Finally, they decided to check and see what had happened and who had removed the bar on their side of the door. Gulliver waited, a trickle of sweat ran down his neck and kept on going as he listened to the two men creep close to his location. They drew their blades and he steadied his length of chain. The first guard to the corner got a length of chain to the face with the impact wrapping it part way around his head. The second guard came in and Gulliver just got the chain up to block the incoming blade. He sidestepped and the next time the man lunged, Gulliver wrapped the chain around the other man's neck. He got behind him and pulled with all of his might, tightening the chain. The second guard swung his sword back behind him and caught Gulliver in the side. The little thief tripped the man and sent them stumbling into the near wall with the guard hitting first and hardest. When the other man was stunned, Gulliver kicked the sword away and finished him. He checked the wound on his side and concluded that it was something he could live with for the moment. He got his breathing under control and checked the first guard who was still breathing. Then he searched the men and took enough of their clothes to cover his man-parts but not quite enough to pass for one of them. He did get to drop the manacles and chain in favor of a recently dropped blade. But what to do about Penelope?

She would almost certainly be useless in a fight. And how far could she get in her dehydrated state? Gulliver pondered what to do as he dragged the guards around the corner.

Gulliver walked back to her cell, holding the keys that he had just liberated from the first guard's belt. In his spare hand, he was carrying a shirt that was really the only part of the uniform useable from the first guard. Gulliver grinned in spite of the situation. For the first time in a long time, he had smacked the crap out of someone.

Penelope was shivering, but she was silent in her cell.

"Hey," Gulliver whispered.

She jumped.

"I'm going to try to unlock your cell door."

Her head whipped around. "I'm in a cell?"

"For another minute or two." Gulliver sighed and looked at the lock for a minute, then he looked at the crude key. The pins and tumblers seemed to line up. He slid the key into the mechanism and gave it a turn. There was a metallic clang and the door was free. He pulled and the barred door opened with a barking squeak. He crossed the floor to where Penelope was chained. "I'm going to take off the blindfold. Don't bite me." He threw the big shirt across her nude form.

"Why would I do that?"

"I dunno. It just seemed like a possibility." He removed her blindfold and was looking into eyes the color of an angry sea. He focused on the manacles and got them off of her. "Get into that shirt, we're leaving."

"Where are we?"

"I dunno," he said. "Can you use a weapon?"

"Like what?"

Gulliver pulled a spare blade out of the borrowed belt. "It's a cheap ass little dagger, but its better than nothing."

Penelope walked up next to him and reached out with a trembling hand. "I'll take it," she said.

Gulliver eyed her for a moment. "Just don't cut me." He led her away from the cells and toward the guards. They stepped around the men carefully and moved on into the hall on the other side of the door. He motioned at the girl. "Wait here."

"Why?" She was trying to blend in behind a little bit of wall that had jutted out at random.

"I don't know what's around the bend," Gulliver said. "Let me do the work, and stay a short way behind me." He turned and started moving along the wall, moving as quietly as he could. He whispered. "Keep me in sight." Gulliver crept to the corner and holding his breath, he peeked around the corner where the space widened. There was a table and a couple of chairs and a card game that had been abandoned. He drew his blade and moved to nearest door. He looked in on a barracks where a pair of men were sleeping on opposite sides of the room in two of the six cots. Gulliver motioned back to Penelope. He went in and finished the men as they slept.

Gulliver came back out of the barracks, a thin smear of blood on the borrowed blade. He was intent on finding his gear and if he had to pull the prison complex apart brick by brick he would get his sword back.