Gods of Justice Review: Going My Own Way

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.

The Rest of the Series:
The Mass Grave of John Johnsons by Micah Urban
Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom

Tessa’s HateFest

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.)

3. Once you’ve posted, go check out the other entries and share some comment love! I’ve already read and commented on Donna Hole and Word+Stuff.

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.

“Open it.”

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.”

Writer’s Toolbox: Novel Stats, Part 2

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.

Earlier posts in this series:
Writer’s Toolbox: Google Docs
Writer’s Toolbox: Novel Stats, Part 1

Hero Games Contest Results

Over the course of the last month, I’ve been running a contest on the blog for my current Work-In-Progress, Hero Games. The idea behind the contest was to use the wonderful tool Hero Machine to create a hero much like the ones for my main characters that I would then cameo in the story.

It turned out that making the hero, capturing them, and sending them to me was more work than I had realized when I set it up. (I’d have known that if I had taken the time to ask any supervillain about capturing a superhero alive.) So, despite some fantastic promotion from other bloggers (Thank you, Donna) and positive feedback from interested readers, I actually received very few submissions. Even with so few entries, it was difficult to choose from among them.

One entrant even created a nude superhero! Well, almost nude; she was wearing a very nice leather jacket. Perhaps I’ll save her for a different genre all together!

I have decided, however, to write a scene for each of the heroes I received and put one or two in the novel, posting the remainder as bonus material. Posted here in this blog entry are the top finalists for the Hero Games Contest. Thank you, one and all, for your willingness to have some fun!

Obviously, the heroes’ promotional photos aren’t the only thing you need to know to like the hero, but feel free to offer your opinion of the heroes here in the comments, or even to suggest character ideas to include in the scenes! You can click on the images for larger versions

Gods of Justice Review: The Daughter of Nyx

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.”

The next story in the anthology is The Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom. First, let me say what a wonderful world Kelly Wisdom has created here. Packed full of conflict and angst, with a 1984 dystopian feel to it. We follow the main character, “Vee” (short for Veronica which you don’t find out until late in the story) as she deals with a combination of relationship issues and governmental oppression issues, which resonate closely with some self-worth questions. The story builds to a wonderful series of events of self-discovery, along with a not-so-gentle tug on your heart strings.

I have little to say about the plot this time, mostly because it is quite well done and I don’t want to ruin it. Suffice to say that Vee is hiding a secret that the government would kill her over, and this keeps her from getting close to anyone. (Does it have your attention yet? I thought so.)

Let’s look at this world, which Wisdom reveals slowly, mysteriously. We begin in what feels like a church, during a sermon, but something feels slightly wrong. Soon we realize that it is a church of the government, the Bureau, which advocates following the very strict laws of this society (curfews, missing the Bureau’s services, sedition, etc) and pay the “atonement” of any minor infractions. The oppression and control do not stop at the walls of the chapel. THe lower class, which appears to be most of society, are kept poor, and under control, scrapping not only for food, but even for chunks of coal for heat. Much of this world and society is not blatantly painted, but hinted at, as shadows of a story seen through the eyes of our POV characters. This is how a master painter creates a landscape: one horizon at a time, and letting your mind fill in the brushstrokes that aren’t really there.

Characterization is actually the one stumbling block that got me as I read this story. It wasn’t until page 13 (out of 21) that I finally was certain of the gender of the protagonist. Identified as Vee until then, I had the suspicion of femininity, but not the confirmation. The first person narration, coupled With the roughness of the society, Vee’s job as a ‘lowly dishwasher,’ and the romantic interest between her and Mia, kept me from being certain of her gender. Does it matter? Not too much, the characterization was strong regardless, and Vee’s conflicts, both interior and exterior, were well established. However, that question nagged me for those first 13 pages, preventing me from being able to completely immerse myself in the story. It’s tough to focus on what is happening when you don’t know who you are.

All together, this was a wonderful story that I thoroughly enjoyed. I suspected the plot almost from the beginning, but certain twists caught me by complete surprise. Well done, Kelly Wisdom. Thank you for the pleasure of sharing your world. Read more about and from Kelly Wisdom at www.kelly-wisdom.com

The Rest of the Series:
The Mass Grave of John Johnsons by Micah Urban

Writer’s Toolbox: Novel Stats, Part 1

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.

This post, I’d like to share the first tab of what we call the Novel Stats sheet. This is a dynamic spreadsheet that my wife and I worked up to help me with scheduling my writing time and tracking my progress. If you would like your own copy of this document to play with as you read this post, it is available here. Check my first post in this series, on Google Docs, for information about how to Save a Copy.

The embedded document above is the template. All the numbers are blank. The images I’m going to show you come from a sample document that I made up, using the same Template shown here. This document is great for keeping me on track with my writing. It lets me know when I am behind schedule and how far I have to go to get on schedule. It’s also packed with neat little facts that help me figure out other things, like how long my chapters are, and what kind of deadline I can afford to set for myself. It also has some minimal plotting features worked into it, though I’ll show you some more involved and complicated methods later.

I start by hiding that big, yellow banner with the page instructions.

Who needs instructions, right? I do, but I also don’t want them in the way when I am trying to work. You hide a row by right clicking the row and choosing Hide row. I just don’t want to confuse you when you get the yellow bar on the Template, and it isn’t in my Samples.

To begin with, the Novel Stats page is pretty blank. It needs information from you. The only typing you do on this tab is in the green section. (Remember those big, yellow instructions at the top? You didn’t read them, did you? This is what they were talking about. Shame, shame.)

We’ll talk about the neat gadget on the side in a minute. Focus on the numbers in green, please. The three items in green are “Target Words in Novel,” “Target Weeks to Completion,” and “Start Date.” Under Column B of Target Words is where you put your word count goal. NaNoWriMo’s is 50k, so I filled that in for my Sample Novel sheet. It’s summer, so I decided to claim 3 months (12 weeks) to write my novel. Then I put in a start date of June 15th.

Once I’ve filled in those numbers, notice that some of the other areas on the page have magically generated some values. Down at the bottom, the first red arrow I’ve drawn in the picture, you see that the sheet now knows what week it is. It has calculated based on the deadlines I gave it, what week of writing I should be on and what percentage of the novel I should have written at this point. As you can see by the rest of the document, I haven’t written anything in this novel yet, so I’m horribly behind schedule. So far in fact, that it can’t yet tell me how far behind I am! The next arrow points out a piece of information for me to use in my time management: I should be averaging 4,167 words/week to hit my goal.

However, with more information, the sheet becomes even more useful! I’ll just take a break and go write a little. It said I needed 4k words, right?

OK, *phew!* that was some fast writing. I’ve plugged my updated word counts into the ‘Chapters’ tab of the spreadsheet (more on that in the next post). I got 4,062 written; let’s see how that compares. You can now see that I finished the first chapter at 3,500 words, and wrote another 562 in the second chapter. The average words per chapter, obviously, is 3,500 because I’ve only done one chapter. However, using that average, it now tells me how many chapters it expects me to have in the novel. Also, I now know what my percentage complete is, not only for the novel, but also how deep I am in Chapter 2, using the numbers I’ve given it! These are the numbers reflected in those nifty gadgets on the right hand side of the page. The top one is Novel Completion, which shows how close you are to your total goal, and the lower one is chapter completion, based on your words per chapter average, how close you are to finishing the current chapter. Also, at the bottom of the sheet, you can now see how many chapters (Average word count) you need to write to stay on schedule.

Let’s get one more week’s worth of writing in before leaving this tab. Let’s see, how many times do I turn this stupid time necklace again? …

… Whoa, sorry I took so long, had a little writer’s block. OK, so now I’ve got over 8,000 words logged into the Novel Stats (again, that’s done over on the ‘Chapters’ tab.) The biggest difference at this point is that I have passed one week’s worth of writing being tracked. Thus, it can now tell me how far ahead or behind I am! According to line 24, I am perfectly On Schedule, which shows up in blue.

If you work really hard, you can get Ahead, which reads in green, because you are GO-ing somewhere. (OK, bad pun.)

However, if you don’t work hard, and goof off instead, you can get Behind, which glares at you in an angry, neglected, red letters. You shouldn’t neglect your word count. You wouldn’t like your word count when it gets angry. (No, wait, he turned green when angry. Ok, scratch that whole reference.) Anyways, when I am actively working on a project, this is how I keep myself on schedule. Stay tuned for more from the Writer’s Toolbox!

Contest Deadline this week!

I’ll have my regularly schedule post in the Writer’s Toolbox Series up later today, but first I wanted to remind all of you that the deadline for the Hero Games contest is THIS FRIDAY!

If you are having trouble with it, I posted a “how to” on my blog, also. Go on over and give it a whirl! Everyone who has gone over has reported having fun, so what do you have to lose? Plus, you have something to win!

Gods of Justice Review: The Mass Grave of John Johnsons

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.”

The first story in the collection is The Mass Grave of John Johnsons by Micah Urban. Urban’s true strength in this story is the extremely creative (though macabre) ideas he works into the characters, world, and plots.

Most of the setting is presumed to be “Earth normal” and “modern times.” A mortician is given the mystery of a mass grave of 44 bodies, and calls upon the county, the state, and even the federal level for assistance. Our first clue that something in this world might be different is the Federal Office of Super Heroes that finally answers his call. Superpowered individuals being licensed and employed by the government isn’t part of our status quo. I don’t think. Let me check with my CIA contacts on that; I’ll get back to you. This is an interesting idea that isn’t present even in most of the current superhero dogma. Makes sense, though, and certainly smacks of the way Government works. If it has something to do with power or control, they’re going to want to be in charge of it.

The heroes from the FOSH organization have very specific and limited abilities. A team of three arrives to assist the good doctor with his problem. The first of the trio goes by the name WhoDied and has the ability to tell who a body belonged to no matter the state, or how much matter is left. His companions, a girl named Locality and a quiet youth called 4D, can tell where and when a body died, respectively. Without a doubt, these are some unique abilities that have rather specific applications. Coming up with unique super powers, while creative, isn’t all a character needs. A character, particularly ones so unusual as these, need their own voices. WhoDied succeeds in this, creating a macabre vision of bland detestation. The simple, matter-of-fact way that he goes about his wretched business makes one’s flesh tremble. Locality, on the other hand, mostly serves as narrator to explain subtle points of WhoDied’s work and the situation at hand as it unravels to be more mysterious, and devious, than it at first seemed. 4D has almost no character at all, serving primarily as a vehicle to put the feather in the cap of the introductory (primary?) plot.

These characters are weaved in to this setting through the use of three plot lines: the mystery of the 44 dead bodies, the mostly interior-conflict subplot of the main POV character’s paternity, and the prevention of the 45th murder. The mystery is handily solved, but the initial action of the story, in fact most of the story, centers on it. The solution of that mystery yields a new plot to follow. These two plots are uniquely twisted, which is wonderful, and their pacing is well done. However, they are each rather simply solved. There feels to be no real challenge to them.

The third plot centers around an internal conflict as to whom the narrator’s real father may be. While this plot is worked heavily into the story from the very beginning, and continues until the very end, it feels weak. As I read the story, I was interested in the mass grave, and I cared about preventing the next murder, but the daddy-dilemma didn’t matter to me at all. It was an afterthought, a minor character trait. Finally, though we got the answer, it felt obvious and unfulfilling in the end.

I came away feeling as though this story was a bonus, side story taken from a rich, wonderful, interesting world. I felt as though the characters were much deeper than shown here, and that the plots, at least the one about the dad, continued beyond where the story stopped. I hope to find that this story is, indeed, a small taste of a larger world. Meanwhile, it got my feet wet for the rest of Gods of Justice, and I look forward to Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom.

The Rest of the Series:
Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom

Writer’s Toolbox: Google Docs

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.

There are some great programs out there that I can’t yet afford, Scrivener being one I’ve heard much about and am currently looking into. In the lack of luxury, necessity can breed creativity. (Not sure what that means, but it sounds pretty intelligent and philosophical, right?) Over the past few years, seeing my struggles with organization and planning, my wife has stepped in and helped me find ways to get organized. Utilizing the amazing (and collaborative) free features of Google Docs, we created tools to track and predict word counts for chapters, schedule word count goals based on a deadline, to chart and pace the plot of a novel in progress, and other things. Very little of this is ground-breaking stuff, but I’ve found it extremely helpful. Since it is free, it’s very easy to share what we have made with you.

For this first post, let’s talk a little about Google Docs. You’ll need that basic understanding to follow many of the other tools in the series, and it’s a wonderful resource on its own. I love Google Docs. If you haven’t heard of them, they are basically a completely free, online version of Microsoft Office. Spreadsheets and documents and more, I do the vast majority of my work there. I have access to it from any internet connection; I can download it to hard drives, print to pdf, even view it on my iPod. They’re great. So, let’s look at Google Docs.

Start by going to Docs.Google.Com.

You can also get there by going to Google’s homepage, and choosing Documents in the list at the top. If you have Gmail, or use any other Google application, you probably already have a Google account. If not, sign up for one now, it’s totally free. Upon signing into Docs, you reach the home screen, which will have a list of all of your documents, and folders(Collections) on the left to help you organize them.

There’s a button at the left, under the Google Docs logo, that says “Create new”. To start your own work, use that button to Create a new document, spreadsheet, Collection, whatever you want to work in. Once you give it a title, they save automatically, so you don’t have to worry much about losing what you’ve written.

Another great tool in Google Docs, conveniently placed under “Tools,” oddly enough, is the Word Counter. So many free-standing word counters on the internet, and this one is built right in. Bonus, it tells you a lot more than just word count for the total piece AND a selection as well! Words, characters, paragraphs, even readability stats!

Now to teach you about copying someone else’s work, which is not something I allow in my classroom, but am highly encouraging in this blog series.

In a Google Document, click on File at the top, and choose “Make a copy…” (I know that isn’t very intuitive, but work with me here!)

A box will pop up asking you if you want to make a copy of the document and what you’d like to title your copy, and warning you about copying collaborators and such. (It may also pop up without asking you for a new title, in which case the title will default to “Copy of [whatever it was called].” You can do this on any open document (like the templates I’ll be giving you) and thus have your own version to use. Isn’t Google great? I didn’t create Google, I’m just a user. Next post, we’ll get to the stuff I not only used, but I also helped design!

Motivations

Yes, I understand that I am dashingly handsome, rich, and a fierce fighter, bent on protection of the weak and striking fear into the hearts of the wicked, but what is my motivation? ~Bruce W.

According to some psychologists, everything we do and are and want has its motivation buried deep within our subconcious. I don’t care. I don’t like horror movies, and I don’t need to know why I don’t like them; I’m not watching them. What I do need to know, is why my character doesn’t like pizza. Or why my character is a loner. Or why my character is greedy.

There are some traits that you can get away with not having a “reason” for, like being shy, or having blue eyes, but the vast majority of characterization must have a motivation. I’m not saying to include that motivation in your story. Not even the reader deserves to know everything about your characters; let them have a little dignity and privacy. You, however, their author, need to know.

One of the characters in my current WIP is the villain. I know, you never saw that coming, did you? Well, while looking over my notes with my wife, she happened to ask why he steals. I was taken by surprise. What do you mean ‘why does he steal?’! He’s the bad guy; he’s greedy and wants some money!

Stop right there. We have both a problem and a solution in that statement. First, ‘He’s the bad guy’ is NEVER your answer for motivation. That’s called a Disney Complex (Sorry, Walt.) The early Disney villains were notoriously flat characters. No depth, no change, no motivation. They were just bad. Those aren’t bad characters; that’s bad writing. Every character must have depth and motivation. Stock characters (the Hero, the Villain) are no longer good enough.

Second, we have something good from that statement: ‘He’s greedy & he wants some money.’ This is by no means good enough, but it is a start. He’s greedy = character trait. He wants money. He doesn’t want to save his family from poverty. He doesn’t have a drug issue. He isn’t trying to steal bread to survive. His top-level motivation isn’t survival or necessity, it’s money. This is important because you will write him differently based on his motivation. He will behave differently based on his motivation. A thief that is trying to survive by stealing apples and bread is a very different character than one who steals for the kicks of getting away with it. For them, the money or goods aren’t even that important. Very different than my character, who wants the money itself. Why he wants, not needs, money (greedy little punk) is where he needed work.

On the one hand, I was a little miffed. What do you mean he needs justification for being greedy and wanting money?? Would you like to drive down to a prison and go ask the offenders about their motivation? Then I realized, it doesn’t matter. They don’t need to know their motivation; they just need to know how many years they have left on their sentence, or how not to get caught alone with Joey the Shank. I, however, am a writer, and I need to know why my characters do what they do. I need to know why the villain wants money. I need to know why the hero wants to save people. I need to know why the girl dies. I need to know why he’s an arrogant SOB, why he stays aloof, and why she’s suicidal.

UPDATE: Thanks to @LisaGailGreen on Twitter, I ran across a very interesting site this week that plays right into this post on Motivations! The Character Therapist is an actual, licensed therapist that will take your character and psychoanalyze them to break down their motivations. Isn’t that awesome?!