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Archive for July, 2012

I just finished reading Warren Ellis’ FreakAngels, a post-apocalyptic coming of age story about twelve angsty 23 year olds trying to put their lives back together. Witty down to earth dialogue with a hint of British grit and compelling characters who can just be right assholes… right assholes with telepathic abilities.

Ellis’, as usual, is unabashed in his writing, creating intriguingly flawed characters guided by anger and fear and love. Paul Duffield’s art is beautifully organic, providing a rough charm that really gives the web-comic character. This is the kind of writing I think we need more of. FreakAngels is a richly character-driven and strikingly strange story of survival and friendship.  Though it’s no Transmet, Ellis’ FreakAngels is an enticing read and you can check out all 6 volumes for free on the FreakAngels site!

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Here is an excerpt from the young adult fantasy I have been working on. I find dialogue to be particularly tricky at times, especially when trying to find a voice for my characters. It reads fairly quickly, if you have the time please leave some feedback!

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They fell in behind merchants and peddlers, all waiting for their carts and packhorses to be inspected. Many jumped down from their seats and spoke amongst themselves, exchanging wares and bargaining for feed. The guards moved steadily between them, lifting tent flaps and checking baskets. A wiry man whose small cart lumbered forward on a cracked axle darted between merchants, showing them various necklaces and bracelets made of sparkling glass. His clothes were rumpled and covered in the filth and sweat of a poor man’s journey. They wrinkled their noses as if he churned a foul odor and turned their back when he would come near. The wiry man would simply grin and bow as if they had kindly dismissed him and swiftly move on to the next. The line trudged on and when it would soon come to be their turn the thin man returned, his hands still full of bright jewelry. Each bead swirled with dazzling colors like smoke trapped in clear glass. Fae dismounted onto the dusty path, smoothing her skirt as she looked around.

“Do not go far.” Matt said absently still studying the guards along the city wall. “We will be moving before long.”

“I won’t.” She said looking over to the wiry man. He was bent over the wicker baskets that overhung on the side of his cart. Fae saw him quickly stuff a few leather pouches that jingled with coin into the bottom of the basket before replacing the thick porcelain jars on top. She walked up behind him, carefully stepping to avoid making too much noise.

“May I see those necklaces?” She asked, leaning over to look at the display next to him. The man straightened with a jolt, looking at her with surprise then bewilderment. He quickly regained his composure and smiled at her.

“Why of course my dear.” He said. “Though these worthless trinkets would do you no justice.” With a flourish of his hand he produced a thin silver chain intertwined with a white thread that sparkled in the sunlight. He placed the necklace around her neck and fastened the clasp with his slender fingers. Now that she was closer, she noticed that his features were soft and young underneath the smudges of dirt. His wiry frame was that of an awkward bony adolescent but he moved into a graceful bow as he backed away.

“Quite stunning young maiden.” He said, lifting his face.

“I’m sure it is.” She said, placing a hand on the necklace. “But I’m afraid I have no money. I only meant to look.”

“But you must keep it then, as a token for your beauty.” He sighed wistfully.

“No I really couldn’t.” Fae continued, as she held it out for him to take. “I don’t know from whose neck you took it. It’d be awkward if they saw me wearing it.”

This time his faced showed no surprise, but a wide grin.

“Well if you have not yet told the guards then what is it you want from me?”

“Only to talk.” She shrugged, placing the necklace with the others. “Mister…?”

“You can call me Wit.” He said picking up the necklace and making it vanish with another flourish.

“Tell me Wit, those emblems on the banners, what do they stand for?”

“The blue is the feudal lord’s Coat of Arms. The sigil of House Cardel” He said slowly. “The other is that of the School of Alchemy; the four elements made into one.” He finished looking at her curiously. “Surely you are from the mountains to have not heard of them.”

“I don’t get out much.” She smiled. Suddenly her eyelids were heavy and she felt herself stumble sideways into a wide corridor. Books and parchment were scattered everywhere. The dim torchlight flickered on stonewalls spattered with fresh blood. A moon, a dove. Empty shelves and overturned bookcases and a need that drove her, pushed her from this place. This place was empty.

“Are you alright?” She heard Wit say as she regained her footing. “You tripped and almost fell over while standing still.” He laughed. She realized she had seen it all in an instant. She reached out to her sister’s awareness to steady herself and felt the familiar warmth. She looked at Wit whose smile had been replaced by a small frown. “Everything is alright?”

“Yes, just dizzy.” She assured him, pulling herself upright. “Wit, I won’t tell the guards what you’ve done, but they’re checking all the carts. Don’t you think you’ll be caught?” She added seriously as she regained her breath.

“You would be surprise how easy it is to be fooled by a fool.” He winked, looking over her shoulder. “I think your friends are looking for you.”

Fae turned and saw Matt starring straight at them.  She smiled and waved back to him, but it did nothing to lift the look of stone from his face.

“I guess I should get back to them.” Fae said starting to back away. “Maybe I’ll see you in the city.”

“It is doubtful you will catch me off my guard again.” Wit smiled.

Fae grinned as she turned back towards her horse. She quickly mounted behind Matt without saying a word, grateful to be sitting once more.

“You would do well not to draw attention to us.” He said plainly.

“I was only talking to him.” She said, slumping slightly in her saddle

“Did something happen?” He asked quietly not taking his eyes off the guards.

“We can talk about it later.” Fae watched Wit as they passed. He was putting on a show for the guards, wringing his hands nervously as he spoke with the foreman.

“I sell fabrics, dyes and glassware.” He said quickly, eying the men who were inspecting his cart. “Best deals in all the mainland, and even better for the protectors of our sovereignty.” He said a little louder.The foreman ignored him, signaling to continue the inspection.

As they approached the back tent flap Wit stepped forward shakily. “As you can see, all the dyes I carry are separated by color in these baskets.” He continued, pulling out the porcelain pots that were hiding what he had stolen. “I have the most exotic colors; ones you have never seen before!”

“We are not interested in the color of your dyes.” The foreman waved, smiling at Wit’s discomfort. “Pack those baskets up. Check the back!” He ordered with a sneer as Wit’s face fell, feigning anxiety.

The guards came around the back of the tent and opened the flap. From where she sat Fae could not see inside, but the guards and foreman looked at Wit incredulously, their faces flushed bright red. Wit simply spread his hands and smiled shamefully as they covered the back up again hastily with canvas.

“Lets move on!” The foreman said flustered. Wit looked over at her and winked as the foreman and the guards moved on, glancing back at his cart only to turn away with a guilty and embarrassed flush. Fae wondered what could have possibly gotten the guards so flustered. With a blush she shook her head and thought it best to leave it be.

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Life is a risky buisness

I think someone who’s able to follow their passion without doubting that it’s the right choice has found a strength within themselves that I admire. It’s a very rare thing to be able to do what you want in life, and even rarer to be any good at it. Success as a writer can be hard won and short lived; if you’re lucky you may be able to make a living from it. When I ask accomplished writers how to be successful, they always tell me the same thing: simply do it, take the risk that so many other writers have taken before you. But I don’t believe it’s that simple, history is written by the victors after all.

For every successful writer, there are hundreds who took the same risk and failed. So what’s the secret ingredient? The catalyst that allows your hard work to pay off? As inane as it may seem, I believe it to be luck. Talent and determination are the wings that carry you, luck is what keeps the skies clear.

You can say that you make your own luck, that you place yourself in a position to find opportunities or to be discovered by others, but that does not guarantee success. The simple truth is that there are no guarantees, especially not for writers. Luck can be a maddening thing. You have no control over it; you have no tangible means to acquire it. It gives no heed to talent or perseverance or courage. Taking risks is a given for writers, but not a guarantee. And yet we somehow find the strength to take them anyways.

I find it awfully challenging to take risks… I’m a realist for one, and I’ve never been very lucky.

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As previously mentioned, I have a love for good Story, and I actively seek it out in every medium I can find it. As a child, I spend the better part of my time behind a good book or in front of our television set. Whether I’m watching a movie, reading a novel or playing a video game, I love immersing myself in worlds unknown. I always found the gaming approach to story to be particularly intriguing, as it demands a higher level of active participation from the player. Each experience is unique, not one play through will be exactly the same. I’ve thus saved a place in my blog to discuss games that I find interesting in their use of Story.

I recently finished Alan Wake, a third-person shooter developed by Remedy Entertainment for the Xbox 360 (later released with enhanced graphics for PC). This game’s a psychological horror that follows Alan Wake, a big-city writer who’s struggling to continue his career after a two-year hiatus. In an attempt to rekindle his creative flame, Alan and his wife Alice travel to the small town of Bright Falls, where Alan becomes ensnared in his own nightmarish fantasy story come to life… one he has no recollection of ever writing. When Alice disappears from their lakeside cabin, Alan must follow the clues left in the pages of his own manuscript, becoming the protagonist of a novel rapidly deteriorating into a paranormal horror story.  Alan must fight the shadows of his own imagination, dark things made real as the town’s people become taken over by the Dark Presence residing at the bottom of Cauldron Lake.

The game is heavily atmospheric, seemingly straight out of a Stephen King novel, and Bright Falls recalls the eerie small town ambiance of Lynch’s Twin Peaks. As with all good horror fiction, the world of the game is its greatest strength. The Dark Presence that envelops the town infuses the setting with its own character, as Alan must traverse the town and its surrounding woods in unnatural obscurity. Using whatever he can find to dispel the darkness (flashlights, flares, flash bang grenades), Alan tries to circumvent the events of a story that has already been written, often finding manuscript pages detailing horrific occurrences moments before they happen. The pages also provide back story and insight into other characters and events that are transpiring elsewhere in the town.

The game’s hauntingly beautiful landscapes and chilling settings only serve to enhance an already captivating story.  Alan’s troubled introspective narration coupled with the mystifying manuscript pages keeps the player questioning Alan’s sanity and unsure how the story will progress. Throughout the entire game the player is restless and uneasy, mirroring Alan’s confused feelings of doubt. In keeping with the horror genre, the game features some unsettling plot twists and suspenseful scenes that chill the blood without necessarily resorting to gruesome deaths and gore. This leads to a particularity story-driven game that still maintains great game play. Combat is dynamic and impulsive, and sets up interesting ways to defeat enemies.

Aside from some minor faults, Alan Wake is a great example of how video game mechanics can be used to enhance the story experience. This game comes highly recommended to anyone who loves a good fright, and to writers who like experiencing different modes of storytelling. As a writer, it’s important to keep in mind the tools you have at your disposal to tell a story. A good story is worthless if you don’t master the means to tell it.

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