Side tracked

After a six month foray into the pit that is known as video game addiction,  im happy to report I have resumed my writing. It was hard to quit Destiny. But in the end, it needed to be done. When gaming quits being a past time and becomes an obligation or obsession, its time to make a change.

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Cheating on my WIP

I get it. I really do. You’re supposed to finish a project before moving on to the next, otherwise you’ll end up with a bunch of half completed manuscripts and no completed novels.

But what about when an idea strikes that you can’t help but delve into the new idea a little deeper. I know, I know. The honeymoon stage of a writing a new book is always more exciting than staying with the wip that you’ve been blandly living with for more than a year. But how can I not start down that new path with the “presently” more exciting idea. The characters are new and I haven’t reached that frustrating part of having to make eveyything fit together.

And yes, it does seem like I’m making excuses. And yes, perhaps I wouldn’t be in this mess if I remained a little more dedicated to finishing Shaw’s story than to my PS4. But still, I have to at least explore this new idea a little bit so as to have something else to move onto when I finish the first book.

I’ve always wanted to write a space opera and have waited for years for the right idea to strike. And it has.  And I can’t wait to begin working on it (that is, after I make myself finish Song of Sheol.) Here is a little glimpse of what awaits when I finish with Shaw.

Starburst Absolution – A space opera in which hardline Shepherd Black travels the star ways to uncover the Universal Church’s hidden secrets and finds more than he ever bargained for.

While it’s not much, I am excited about what this story can be.  It’s equal parts inspired by Ennis’ Preacher, Judge Dredd, and Whedon’s Firefly. I love the idea behind a frontier space, a vindictive punisher, and a man who has more inner demons that I care to count.

 

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The Irrationality and Necessity of Fear

Slender-man-memeOur fears dance upon our psyches, pulling the strings of our imaginations, with the most unpredictable results. Fear, warranted or not, plays a major role in all of our lives. Our fears often drive our decisions, motivations, and accomplishments. While many look at fear as a weakness or some crippling disability, I see it as an absolute necessity to our own mental and physical well-being.

Loss, in our personal lives, drives these fears even if the embodiment of the fear is rooted in irrationality. We fear loss, and by extension, whatever acts as a vehicle that leads to this loss. For example, many movie monsters offer cheap thrills, but most of us are not truly afraid of them, either as an idea or an actuality. Zombies? Nope, smash them with a baseball bat. Mummies? Ditto. Vampires? Bring on the eternal night, I welcome immortality. Mothman? Getting closer, only because I see him as a slight possibility. Slender Man? Now we’re talking.

While in my rational brain I know that Slender Man is a unbased, irrational fear, he still sends the ebie jeebies through my body. Think about that. A tall, dark, distinctly improportionate man who originated in internet memes is the object of terror in those lonely dark nights where I find my self awake and alone.  I know, laugh all you want, but here is where I make my point. In these internet memes, Slenderman is often portrayed as a stalker of children.  At this point in my life, my children are the most important thing, thus Slenderman is the irrational embodiemnt of my completely rational fear. So a being of abject mystery who stalks children is personal, not because of who he is, but rather what he represents.

While I’m not truly afraid of Slenderman, I am afraid of losing my children. Through this, my fear creates a heightened sense of awareness, making me hyper-vigilant when it comes to protecting my chidlren.

You can see fear manifest in this way in the majority of our lives. These fears, while seemingly irrational, are the fuel that keeps us on our toes. Humans are naturally fearful of the dark, because we know that we are no longer in our element and are vulnerable to attack.

Conversely, there are times when people let this fear terrify them into inaction. It is here that fear stops being an enabler and becomes a hindrance.  So while I say fear is a vital and healthy part our lives, mastery of the fear is a sure necessity.

What irrational fears exist in your life? Can you idenify the actual driving force behind them. It is only with this realization, that you will learn to master your fear.

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A Demon on the Chest

sleep-paralysis

Sleep Paralysis is a sleeping disorder often accompanied by the most vivid of nightmares. In nearly every culture around the planet, these nightmares are found in folklore. Known to those in China as “Ghost Oppression, in Japan as ‘kanashibar’ (literally meaning bound of fastened in Metal, in Newfoundland as “The Old Hag”, and in Mexico as the phrase “a dead body climbed on top of me.” Sleep paralysis nightmares are always characterized as the same, one lays awake, unable to move and is partially aware of their immediate surroundings but they are aware of another presence in the room.

Sleep paralysis was first identified by Wier Mitchell in 1876. Of it, Mitchell stated, “The subject awakes to consciousness of his environment but is incapable of moving a muscle; lying to all appearance still asleep. He is really engaged in a struggle for movement fraught with acute mental distress; could he but manage to stir, the spell would vanish instantly.”

Sleep paralysis is closely linked with REM sleep, which is the period of time when your brain dreams the most. During REM sleep, your brain is unconscious while the body is partially paralyzed to prevent one from carrying out the actions of one’s dreams. However, in Sleep Paralysis nightmares, two key REM sleep components are present, but you remain conscious. It is during these times, that one experiences hallucinations that often carry a dark undertone.

I myself, suffer from sleep paralysis frequently and the dreams are the most vivid of any I’ve ever had. One evening, I was sleeping and my arm was dangling over the edge of the bed, I suddenly became aware that I could not move. The next thing I knew I saw a wolf right in front of me, tearing and biting at my arm, threatening to rip it off. I struggled against my frozen body, pulling with all my strength, but it was several minutes before I could actually move and sit up. Until then, my dream state mixed with my real world surroundings were indistinguishable.

Another night, after watching the show Hannibal, I woke up in the middle of the night paralyzed. At the foot of my bed, the crazy scary elk from the show stood, its hot breath exhaling on my face. I remember trying to jump up, trying to run, but I was helpless as the large beast climbed up onto my bed. As the elk stood on my chest, his black eyes burned in the darkness. Minutes passed before I was able to finally move my fingers and end the dream.

The latest incident came last night and it was without a doubt the longest I’ve ever been trapped in this state and incidentally, the most terrifying. In my dream, I awoke and could see the basement around me. I could sense a presence to my left, just outside of eye sight, that clutched at my arm, pinning it to my back. In the corner stood a demon, hideous and black, with blue eyes that blazed with electricity. To my horror, in my dream I could hear my son coming down the stairs. I watched as he stopped and ran back up the stairs to hide from the Monster.

The Demon grinned at me and I watched helplessly as it followed after my son. I struggled against the paralysis, willing my limbs to move. But I could do nothing. I listened as the scream began to echo down the stairs. I continued to struggle against my immobile body, and eventually remembered that most people who struggle with sleep paralysis find that it is easiest to break the hold by concentrating on their fingers.

Eventually, I was able to free myself from it and ran up my stairs. As I ran, the dream proponents faded and I found my daughter crying. She had simply woken up for a diaper change.

I’m not really sure why I experience sleep paralysis on a regular basis, but it is among one of the more weird para-somnia’s that I deal with.

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Fury: A movie review and story analysis

Fury

This past weekend, I saw Brad Pitt’s new movie, Fury.  At first glance, Fury appears to be simply another generic war movie, but in taking a closer look, Fury is a story that contains depth and illustrates the horrors of war and how the mayhem transforms all involved.  Spoilers ahead.

In doing this review, my goal is to break down the different story elements and plot points to show how and why they make the story work.  This is as much an activity in story structure analysis for myself as it is a movie review.

All successful stories contain certain key moments that are designed to make the story work.  They key moments are the hook, setup, first plot point in which everything changes, the response to this, the midpoint contextual shift, the attack, a second plot point that sends the story hurling towards a final conclusion.

Fury’s hook sinks deep fast.  We see a diplated battle field complete with dead bodies, burning tanks, and a German on a horse. As the horse and soldier near one of the tanks we are given that first “oh shit” moment in which Pitt as a savage and grim soldier dives from a hidden spot on board his tank and sinks a bayonet into the German soldier, killing him and simultaneously grabbing our attention.   Who is this man and where did he gain his warrior instint.

We are quickly introduced to the rest of Pitt’s tank crew and though these three indivduals are common war movie tropes, they serve as a contextual landscape for the main character who will be revealed later. We see Shia Lebeouf’s highly religious hand of god type character “Bible”, Jon Bernthal’s savage and crazy animal of a man “Coon-ass”, and Michael Pena’s general all around nice guy “Gordo.” While these three characters are all the most basis of tropes they are good representations of the different paths war can break a man. They’ve all been through hell and their psyche’s are cracked, flawed. They are men pushed to the brink.

In the next part of the movie we are introduced to Logan Lerman’s baby faced newbie, a man brand new to the army and as of yet unspoiled by the war.  This immediately creates tension within the crew. They’ve lost the guy he’s replacing and he represents everything that they used to be but are no longer.  This innocence is always recognized in the military and quickly stamped out. I’m not sure why but I think its because soldiers see something in the new soldiers that they used to have.  I don’t think its envy, but more a recognition that creates resentment. But this hostility also serves another purpose, it hardens the fresh recruit ensuring that he has a chance to survive a war that would otherwise destroy him. In this portion of the movie Lerman’s character is resistant to these changes and retains his ideals but the change is inevitable.

The firs plot point of the story offers a poignant contextual shift. Pitt’s character forces Lerman to kill and unarmed German soldier who had already surrendered.  It is at this moment, the Lerman’s character realizes that he is changed. He spends the next 25% of the movie reacting to this.  This second 25% is in my opinion the weakest part of the story. While others may find it a defining character moment, I found it clunky and prolonged. We are given a dinner scene between Pitt, Gordan, two German women, and the rest of the crew that comes across as painfully akward as it can. The purpose of the scene is to set up the contextual shift. It’s purpose is to create the right circumstances for Lerman’s character to change his point of mind. It works, but feels forced to me.

This leads to the mid-point shift.

Having established a brief relationship with one of the German women, Gordon’s life changes shortly after the dinner scene. Gordon and crew are outside when the young woman dies in an artillery attack.  It is here that we are supposed to accept Gordon’s sudden transformation from reluctant soldier to blood thirsty killer. I can see why they did this but I think the setup could have been so much more.

In the next scenes, we see Gordon’s character drastically changed, gunning German’s down in his righteous fury. They have been given a tack. Hold the crossroads and keep the supply lines safe. IThe other tanks in the group are destroyed in an epic battle between the 4 outgunned American tanks and a superior, heavily armered German Tiger II tank. Only Pitt’s Fury makes it out of this battle alive. All of this leads to a final conceptual shift that gives us the grand finale.

This second plot point occurs when Gordon’s character spots a SS platton of around 200-300 German soldiers. He rushes back to the tank crew to inform them of the overwhelming numbers. Pitt’s tough guy sergent decides to stay and fight based on his personal hatred for the SS which is forshadowed throughout the movie.  Pitt tells the rest of the crew to leave, but Gordon’s character steps up and courageously offers to stay. The rest of the crew join them and they all know their fate is sealed.

The conclusion, while predicatble gives us an amazing battle scene that feels clausterphobic as the Germans close in the disabled tank. The end comes to it’s  inevitable conclusion.

All in all, Fury is a character analysis on the horrors of war and how a man can be twisted by them. While it won’t be remembers as the classic that Saving Private Ryan is, I loved the movie.

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Search for a Story

As the months have trudged onward, my book remains in that perpetual purgatory that is known to many as writer’s block/proscrastination/search for a story.

A brief confession, when I began this writing endeavor last December, I planned to have everything wrapped up and complete by April. Now, nearly 10 months later my progress resembles something very much a roller coaster. The up and downs of this process can really get one up or down depending on the day.  Today’s conquests become tomorrow’s failures. As one who who bases success only in the successful completion of one’s goals there can be no “just enjoy the ride” sentimentality.

Despite my in-so-far failure, my story stills begs to be let out and I must grundingly comply with this obsession or let Shaw’s story drive me insane.

It’s said that when a writer gets stuck that there is something wrong with the story.  I now believe this to be true.  The last several months, I have been on a abstract search to find what is missing.  I believe my concept to be strong. But there has to be something more than just the “cool” factor. I really need this story to resonate on a deeper level. It is too important to my own grieving process. Its my protagonist that continues to be lacking.   When my writer friends critique my work, it continues to be an issue. Who is Cameron Shaw and why does he want what he wants.  In my mind it is clear as day why he needs to find his brother. Yet this is a correct critique on their part. But to be honest, I don’t know who my main character is. I only know what is important to him because it is important to me.

So I’m to a point where I believe the conceptual premise (the fantasy world of Sheol) remains strong. I am searching for a dramatic premise that will make readers care about this character and his quest as much as I do.

I will get there.  Some day or another anyway.

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Book Update

As I continue this task of writing my first novel, it’s begun to dawn on me just how much work a novel really is.

When I recently trashed the most of 45000 words I knew I needed a better plan of action. Conflict was missing, the rules of my world were very hazy, and I hadn’t a clue as to what was motivating each character. Sure I had the general gist of my protaganist and antagonist, but everything else was flat.

Enter planning mode in which I devoured as much as I possible could on the art of book writing. Sanderson’s laws of magic taught me about the importance of structure with a Novel’s magical constructs, Butcher’s blog taught me the importance of conflict within a story and the tension that results, thereby making a book more interesting, and lastly I took the time to find out who my characters were. I wanted to know their motivations, their past, their quirks. etc…

Now that I have firmly laid these in place, my writing has begun to take off again. Here’s to hoping for a good month’s work and progressive progress for the Shadow Soul.

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