School has started again. Summer’s lazy (ha!) days are at an end, and pencils and papers once more begin. This, of course, means I’m suddenly swamped with all kinds of stuff, as I teach middle school Creative Writing and Theatre, sponsor after school programs (three, this year), and have to organize for the school plays, as well as NaNoWriMo.
I do intend to maintain my regular posts, but there are likely to be some teaching ones added in as well. We’ve only been back in school a week, but my students have already edited a passage of writing, made their first, basic character, and written a short piece of fiction.
The short piece of fiction was my favorite thus far. Here was the assignment: They were to write a short (half-page) bio about themselves for homework, due the next class day. The catch? Everything in it had to be lies, except their name. (Had to know to whom to give the grade!)
It was awesome. Their initial reaction to having to write a short bio was predictable: groans and disappointed expressions. The news that it was required to be packed full of lies, however, was met with a mixture of disbelief and delight.
The results were even better. In my classes, I have a popstar that hangs out with Nikki Manaje and Selena Gomez, a top secret rocket-maker (can’t tell you his name, it’s classified), a kid that got into a fight with Justin Bieber, a successful 32-yr old writer (25 books to his name, but not sure why he’s still in middle school!), and a Hollywood director.
All in all, this looks like it will be a fun year.
I won Gods of Justice from Lisa Gail Green. It’s an anthology of superhero short stories. Lisa asked if I would write a review of the anthology, but since I like to give more than asked, I decided to do a review of each story, one at a time. In case you didn’t know, I really like superheroes, so this was a great prize for me. I’ll be reviewing them one story at a time in this “Gods of Justice Review series.”
Going My Own Way by Dayton Ward struck me as an exercise in characterization. The plot was thin and the setting, other than the midst of a building on fire, was nonexistent. That being said, the characterization was fun. It was a very interesting twist to see a super-powered individual stepping into what is traditionally a mortal’s job.
The story follows Daniel Balin as he and his partner work through a fire trying to rescue people trapped in the farthest possible safe place. The narrative is split between the current action and flashbacks of Daniel’s life, stepping stones that led him to where we find him in this story. The depth of Daniel’s character, and his decision not to follow in his father’s famous footsteps, make an excellent main character. I particularly like the touch that we see him and his father interact at the end. Don’t expect any tearful reunions or fatherly advice, however. Despite Daniel’s personal life decisions, he isn’t any different at the end of the story than he was at the beginning. Daniel is a static, instead of dynamic, character.
At the beginning, his partner’s character starts to develop, and it feels good. However, about half way through, she seems to just become another complication for him to overcome. A shame, really. She was almost the weakness that otherwise doesn’t seem to exist for him. Remember, even Superman has his kryptonite. Daniel isn’t all powerful, I was just never afraid for him, nor felt pity for him during the story. I liked Daniel, I just didn’t feel any sympathy toward him.
The plot of the story was rescuing the group of people from the fire. There were some good twists here, despite being a very simplistic plot. The safe room housing the people was in the farthest section of the basement of the building, and the closer stairwell has already fallen victim to the fire. The first explosion was a little predictable, but fun and well done, with even an injury to complicate things. The final entrapment from the fire, however, was more of a surprise. It was also the closest I came to questioning Daniel’s safety and/or success.
The flashbacks, instead of adding complication and revealing plot, merely revealed character. No bad thing, but it helps the character without helping the plot. Ideally, a flashback can do both.
As an overall read, the characters were unchanged from beginning to end of story. Despite being static, the characterization was deep and rich, with lots of potential and unique traits all his own. The conflict, though surely great for those trapped, was minimal for the main character, and almost non-existent for the reader. The setting was limited, being almost completely restricted to the fiery basement, though well-painted otherwise.
The next installment of this series will be Lisa Gail Green’s Identity Crisis.
Today is the Day of Hate, declared so by Tessa’s current blogfest: I Hate You Blogfest. Below is my own offering to the maelstrom of hate that she is building on the web today. Be warned: it’s longer than many of the others, at 2600 words, but I hope you find it worth the read.
The stipulations of the HateFest are as follows:
1. Sign up by the end of August 12th. The time is 4:22 PM Central Standard Time. I have hours until the cutoff!
2. On August 12th, post a story, an excerpt of your work or a poem you’ve written that shows HATE of some form or another – your character hates someone, someone hates your character, or maybe you hate someone/something? Total check. Hate doesn’t get much hotter than this. (There’s a pun in there.)
4. Don’t forget to link back to [Tessa's] blog when you post so people can find the other entries. I’ve now linked back twice.
Thanks, Tessa, for this really fun blogfest!
Oh, I suppose I should mention that this is a story placed in the world of On Common Ground that isn’t in the actual novel. Also, it happens afterward, so try to forget you read this if you get your hands on the actual novel!
* * *
He tightened the Palm Colors around his palms. Originally, they were the red rags dipped in the blood of his first kill that symbolized his acceptance and rank in the gang. The fact that his first kill hadn’t actually died was a separate issue. He looked up as a demon walked by and nodded hello before going back to his thoughts. He’d moved up to a completely different type of gang now, but he had kept his palm colors. They reminded him of the grudge he held for the one that got away, and the angel that had helped her.
He clenched his fist suddenly, thinking of that trio, and flames engulfed his hand. He flicked his wrist and opened his fist and the emotional fireball shot into the already scorched wall opposite him. He flicked his middle finger at the wall, sending a small jet for each of them. The cop. Hiss. The angel. Scorch. And that goody two-shoes demon. Blast. Though if it weren’t for that pansy demon kid going to the other side, his dad Nezbit wouldn’t have taken Rayne in, so that one was good luck for him.
Now, instead of being an average kid in a street gang, he was the adopted son of the hottest demon around and learning to use his new powers. That thought brought him back to reality. He had a trial to get ready for. Nezbit had said he would have three to choose from, but he wouldn’t know what they were until he walked into the trial chamber. He had to be ready for anything. Behind his shaggy bangs, his chocolate brown eyes glittered with demonic firelight as he tried to imagine what would be waiting for him.
The door to his right opened and an ugly demon stuck his horned face into the room.
“Rayne,” Belgard grunted, “they’re ready for you.”
Rayne nodded his head and stood up. He kicked a dusty rock with his leather boots and held his jaw firm. Must show strength. He walked through the door beside Belgard and took in the trial chamber.
The room was a giant triangle. The ceiling rose high above them, coming to a point at the top, from which hung what was probably a giant bowl full of fire. At this distance, it was hard to tell. Each of the room’s three corners was a cage. Against the left wall were six stone chairs, in which sat the various demons and supernaturals that would judge his trial.
Three of them were regular demons. Two, a male and a female, had the standard red skin, horns, and tail that mortals see in pictures. The female flicked her forked tongue at him. The other was mostly normal, except for the 6 inches bone spikes rising out of his shoulders and the fact that his left arm ended in a big crab pincher. The other three were mixed supernaturals. One was a werewolf with shaggy fur, long nose, ears, and teeth. Another appeared to be a witch, technically mortal, but probably a high enough ranking witch that she’d been around a couple hundred years or so. The last one matched the description of an earth elemental. He hadn’t seen an elemental in person before. The creature was living rock, dirt, and lava. His features were better described as aspects of landscape than as parts of a body. A fissure in its face opened and it belched noxious gas. The werewolf growled and tried to cover its nose, annoyed. This was not a good start to the trial, Rayne thought.
He glanced at the right hand wall as he walked slowly forward to the center of the triangular room, where he was expected to stand. Seated among a few of his new demon friends and his trainers, was his adoptive father Nezbit. He made no sign that he even recognized Rayne. It was his way. The demon way. You had to be strong enough to stand on your own. Nezbit had black hair with a red tinge to it, and looked handsomely mortal. Handsome enough to charm mortals to their doom. Nezbit may not show it here, at the trial, but he knew he would be pleased by a decisive victory, and much displeased by a defeat. Rayne didn’t want to think about a defeat. He’d narrowly passed the last test, and he knew what three failures would mean.
Rayne reached the small, raised dais in the center of the room and stood facing the six judges, waiting to be addressed. One of his friends had advised him to not even look in the cages until they were brought to his attention. It would signal that he was worried about the test. He wasn’t sure if he agreed with Garthos about that, but better safe than sorry. Better to appear strong, confident.
“Rayne, adoptive demon, today you face the Trial of Decision.” The male horned demon spoke. He must be the Head Judge.
“In this room are three cages.” The female red demon addressed him. “You will choose to enter one of them, and will not emerge until that challenge has been met to our satisfaction. Which
cage you enter is up to you. Choose well.”
“In the cage to our left,” snarled the werewolf, “is a pair of mortals. If you choose this challenge, you must turn them against each other until one is dead.”
Rayne looked at the cage for the first time. Under a blanket at the far corner of the cage were two people, clutched close together. He could see blonde hair spilling out from under the blanket. They appeared to be asleep, but were almost certainly a couple. Rayne sneered at the sleeping duo. Such an event would not even be a test, but a pleasure. His expression shifted through various states of amusement as he pondered the various ways of screwing with their minds and turning them against each other. Convincing the man to kill the girl would be almost too easy. Managing to get her to kill the man would be more of a challenge. He liked challenges.
“In the cage to our right,” cackled the high witch, “is a hellhound. Your challenge there is to master it. Subdue the beast and make it docile to you. If you succeed in this particular challenge, the beast will be allowed to remain with you.”
Rayne’s eyes lit up for that fraction of a moment before he reined his face under control. To have a pet hellhound would be quite a bonus for passing this test! He looked to his left at the hellhound’s cage. The beast was staring back at him. It was a dog in only a very general sense. Its short fur was a deep, blood red on black skin. The glowing red eyes didn’t blink and the center of them gave him a slight shiver. Its teeth curled out around its lower lip and the sliver smoked as it dripped from one tooth onto the floor. On its forehead were two horns that curved inward like deadly scimitars. It’s onyx colored claws were out, and the tips of them were stained with blood. The barbed tail whipped back and forth behind it. It barked once at him, as though showing off, and a spout of flame spat forth. Truly this was a creature to respect- and to own. With that beast by his side, and the powers he was learning, no one would stand in his way. They needn’t go on with the third cage, he’d made his decision.
The earth elemental brought his attention back. Its voice was like rocks being ground into dust, punctuated by boulders being split by dynamite.
“Your third option is not mastery or deception, but pure battle. In the cage behind you is an angel.” Rayne whirled, the hellhound all but forgotten. It was true. Standing in the center of the last cage was a glowing angel. Her wings, white with a fluorescent hint of silver, were curled around her, hiding her body. Above the wings, he could see straight, dark blond hair flowing from under a silver crested helmet. Her bright, gold eyes glared out at him. He glared back.
One of the demons spoke up. Rayne kept his eyes on the angel. “Which challenge will you accept for your trial, Rayne?”
“The winged doll is mine.” Without waiting for confirmation, he started walking toward the cage. His eyes never left the angel, who returned the confident stare motionlessly. Somewhere on the edge of his consciousness, he could hear the trial instructions from the panel of judges.
“You must defeat the angel in battle. She must either surrender or be unable to do so. You may use whatever abilities are at your command, but no outside help will be permitted.”
“I don’t need help to pluck her feathers,” He snarled under his breath. He flicked the fingers of his right hand and flames licked across his knuckles. He reached the locked gates of the cage and snapped his head around at the guard. “Unlock it,” he snapped. The outer gate had the lock built into it. The inner gate, closer to the angel, was chained shut, with the padlock that secured the chain hanging on the outside of the cage.
The lock of the outer gate had barely clicked free before Rayne kicked the metal door open and stepped inside. The guard closed the door behind him and he heard the lock click shut. His eyes were still on the angel, cowering behind her own wings.
“Say your prayers, corpse.”
The angel slowly took a step back, withdrawing into the cage. Just as slowly, she spread her wings and revealed the rest of her body, as well as the long, glowing sword she wielded expertly in one hand. She was clothed in a silver breast plate and a tapered loincloth of white leather straps that hung nearly to her knees in the middle, but was cut almost to her hips at the sides. It was an armor that afforded maximum freedom of movement with a minimum of protection. It also showed a significant amount of her very well-formed body, but all he saw was enemy. She switched the deadly glowing sword from one hand to the other, her knees flexed; her body poised for action.
Rayne smiled, standing between the inner and outer gates. He pushed back the left hand sleeve of his leather jacket. Three large, black spikes rose from the top of forearm and three matching spikes slid down toward the ground from underneath. The sets of spikes grew and curved, meeting at the apex of their arches. A red membrane grew between the spikes, creating a shield on his left arm. He juggled two fireballs in his right.
The guard turned the key in the padlock and Rayne threw one of the fireballs forward as he kicked the door. The chain rattled through the bars as he rushed forward. The fireball flew through the opening as the gate swung wide, straight for the angel. Rayne was right behind it.
The angel was a seasoned fighter. Long before the fireball reached her, she had taken to the air. It passed harmlessly beneath her and scorched a black mark on the back wall. The cage wasn’t big enough to allow her to fly completely freely, but it did give her enough space to make vertical moves an option.
Rayne had been expecting that. The second fireball went up, and was only a split second behind the first one. The angel dodged to the right and the fireball narrowly missed her wing. Rayne veered to match her and leaped for her legs, intending to ground her. He grabbed one ankle and flared the fingers against her skin. Fire smoked where their flesh touched and the angel howled in rage and pain.
She swung the holy sword in a powerful strike for his arm, but he raised his left arm in defense, and the angelic sword met the demonic shield. He poured on more heat, determined to hobble her. She angled her sword straight down at him and dropped out of the air. They hit the ground hard, with her standing on top of him. Her feet hit his chest and shook his grip loose. He flung his shield into her way just in time to catch the point of the sword driving toward his face. The tip penetrated, which forced him to give up his own howl of pain and anger.
He punched her knee and jerked the shield, with the sword still jammed in to it, to the left. The combination pulled her off balance and she fell to the side. The sword whipped free and clattered across the floor of the cage. Dimly, from far away, he heard cheering. He didn’t care. He rolled to his feet and jumped for the winged angel. She was on her back, wings spread wide. He flung a fireball into the feathers of the wing on the right and landed with one knee on her chest. He grabbed her throat in one hand and found her fingers wrapped around his own throat. She was strong. Stronger than he was.
He tried to force his weight down on her throat, to use the advantage of being on top. She used one wing to knock him sideways and rolled them as a pair, putting herself on top. Now she was the one with the advantage of gravity. He turned on the fire as he tried to tighten his grip on her throat. She shrieked as he burned her skin, but her grip didn’t loosen. He began to struggle for air. The fire between his fingers, without oxygen to support it, began to flicker. He tried to scream at her, but he couldn’t get any sound past her own throttling grip. His vision began to grow dark, and the bars of the cage above them started to glimmer with demon magic. The cage, and the rock walls beyond it, faded from view. There was only the warrior angel at the end of a dark tunnel, his hands around her throat.
Suddenly, Rayne ‘s hand was burning. He jerked it away and opened his eyes, ready to attack the angel with renewed vigor. Instead, he saw the hellhound returning his leg to the ground and walking away from the cage bars. His hand was dripping in burning hot liquid.
“Serves you right.” Standing over him, shaking his head pitifully, was Belgard. “You fought well, but you chose stupid. Never expect to win a fight when you’re fighting yourself.”
Rayne slowly got to his feet. His head felt like a road under heavy construction. “I wasn’t fighting myself. Did you not see that angel chick?”
“You were fighting yourself. You didn’t pick the angel. You picked your own emotions to fight. That’s a losing battle. You should have picked the hellhound. I think he likes you.”
Rayne glanced into the cage and the hellhound growled back at him. Yeah, right. Over Belgard’s shoulder, he could see Nezbit walking out of the Trial Chamber. Rayne didn’t need a demon nanny to tell him he was disappointed.
Rayne glanced at the other cage, the angel’s cage. She was sitting at the back, tending to her injuries. There were black burn marks around her throat. One wing was scorched, maybe useless, but certainly not as effective as it was. One of her legs, exposed from under the wounded wing, was burned badly, too.
“Next time, she dies.”
Every writer needs tools to get the job done. (Yes, pen and paper or laptop, I heard you. Please sit back down, peanut gallery.) I’m not talking about a word processor, or even a thesaurus. Plotting, organizing, scheduling, pacing… our tasks are many and guidelines few. My wife and I have developed and discovered some tools that I use, and I thought I would share what I am using and how I use it. To that end, this is the Writer’s Toolbox series.
The last post in this series talked about the Novel Stats spreadsheet, primarily the first page. I did mention some things that would only happen once you had input information on the Chapters tab. I’d like to talk about that today, at least to start.
We’re skipping over the Weekly Projection tab to look at Chapters. Chapters is really pretty clear-cut, I think.
You can click on these images for a larger version or, if you would like your own copy of this document to play with as you read this post, it is available here. It’ll start blank, waiting for you to fill in the information. The columns are labeled Chapter (this is for the chapter #), Title (The title of your chapter, if you do that- it’s an optional thing.), Words is where you put in the number of words in that chapter, and finally the Planner is a very simple Notes section to help you break down your story into chapter-segments.
As you enter word counts into this sheet, the first sheet (Novel Stats) calculates your words/chapter, progress, and such. When you complete a chapter, put the total word count for that chapter in the Words column, and zero out the count in the box at the bottom, “Words completed so far in current chapter.” Repeat until published. Or at least until you are done.
Now let’s get back to the Weekly Projection tab.
Don’t type anything on this page. This is purely information gleaned from the other pages and provided here for your own scheduling information. This page lays out each week of your WIP and lets you know how many words and chapters you should have written at each stage. It also lets you know where you stand and whether or not you are behind.
It also has this awesome little meter to show how far you are ahead or behind your schedule.
On the far right of the tabs, we find the Chapter Scratchpad. This page is virtually empty. It’s just a place to help sketch out the flow of the chapter. What events need to happen within the chapter or scene, and make note of details such as POV or characters present. Remember when you took tests in school and were allowed one sheet of scratch paper? That’s what this is. There are certainly much more involved plotting techniques and tools. This, like so many things, is only the beginning.