Chapter 15 and 16 – The Calm Before the Firestorm

Today, chapter 16 of Zhyx was finished. The manuscript currently stands at 173,473 words with a mere four chapters to proofread and alter before draft 3 of the novel is completed. It was only back in mid March that this draft was started, and it sure has flown by.

Chapters 15 and 16 were an important part of the narrative. They present a much needed break from the action that took up a whopping three chapters and 78 pages. As fun as it would be to continue the action non stop until those final pages, we all know how exhausting that can get.

(coughs) Michael Bay (coughs)

No. These scenes are slower, featuring greater dialogue, some exposition revealing a little more about our characters, and put a focus on dealing with Zhyx’s very heavy injuries. After all, Zhyx has just gone head to head with another dragon and didn’t exactly come out on top. He will need some tuning up before he is ready for a re-match.

To me, such breaks in the action are important to not only give the audience a breath, but also show the more quiet and emotional side of a story. Such moments work very well in many action stories, such as the Indiana Jones and Die Hard films. Often, they are more memorable sequences than the action set pieces, which shouldn’t be surprising as it is these quiet moments that give the action scenes what they need most.

Weight.

Without them, there would be no time to know character, no time to hear their stories, and no time to forge emotional connections. So when everything starts kerploding, we have no real reason to care. It is my hope that these two chapters will do just that. Zhyx grows a lot in these 50 pages, and comes to know the band who travels alongside him more closely than he would have hoped. But it was inevitable for him not to learn more about his companions, and more importantly, for them to learn more about him.

But now it is time for the action to pick back up. The final battle is on the way, during which something very interesting is going to take place.

What exactly? Well, in order to explain, lets take a look at the opening scene of the film The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. 

One of the things that struck me about this scene was the sheer amount of fire that engulfed Lake-town. I suppose it makes sense. Smaug is a very nasty hombre so he would have no moral objections to indiscriminately obliterating everything in his path. It is a very visually stunning and beautiful scene that captured wonderfully what pissing off a dragon entails.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 10.01.35 PM

There is just one problem with this scene. A certain scientific inaccuracy. Now, I know that this is the fantasy genre where anything is possible, but it seems basic laws of physics still apply. Simple laws like fire is hot, fire feeds off of oxygen, and very big and very hot fires need a lot of oxygen.

Therein lies the problem of this scene. There is no firestorm.

What is a firestorm? Apart from the DC Superhero, a firestorm is a very interesting phenomenon that occurs when a large fire gets out of control.

Basically what happens is when the fire gets larger, it requires more air to keep itself going, so it ravenously sucks in every ounce of air it can. The result are gusts of ground level winds reaching up to and beyond 100 miles an hour, all traveling towards the updraft at the center of the fire generated storm. As long as the fire has fuel to feed it, it can sustain these winds for very long periods of time.

The below pictured graph displays how a firestorm operates. Obviously you have your fire in mark 1. The rising heat creates an updraft, marked number 2. The updraft draws in air from the ground shown at mark number 3. Last is the formation of a pyrocumulonimbus cloud, or pyroCB cloud. This is a type of cloud that is exclusively formed from such phenomenon as fires and volcanic eruptions. Such clouds do not form in all firestorms, but they are a very common occurrence.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 10.02.59 PM

A good dramatic description of a firestorm can be seen in the Academy Award winning anti-nuclear documentary The War Game. The sequence begins at the 18 minute and 20 second mark, and continues for roughly 1 minute and 30 seconds. Despite limited resources, this scene shows the sheer terror of being caught in a firestorm pretty admirably, with people tumbling end over end when they are not being pelted with flying debris. It was this video that first got me interested in the phenomenon.

Now, I am sorry Peter Jackson, but with the amount of fires that Smaug was setting in Lake-town, there should have been so much wind that no one would have been able to stand. I am not one to insult Peter Jackson as a filmmaker and an artist. He re-popularized the fantasy genre, giving it its biggest series of big screen blockbusters that re-energized interest in Tolkien’s masterpiece, and brought a slew of new fans into the fantasy genre. Most people can agree that he was the right man for the job when it came to bringing Tolkien’s classic works to the big screen. So kudos to him.

To me personally, this seemed like a real missed opportunity for the film. Imagine if Bard the Bowman and little Bian had to really fight their way to the top of that tower, with those inward rushing winds nearly tearing the Bowman’s son right out of his arms. The loud wind would be howling around them as they stood atop the tower, as if to enhance the threats of the oncoming Smaug. It would have seemed like the end of the world.

Now, a large portion of the finale of this story takes place in a medieval city that is slightly larger than Lake-town. In this city, two dragons, one (sort of) good and one evil, fight each other to the death. During the course of this death-match, an awful lot of fire will be exchanged. An awful lot of things will burn. Those things that burn will need an awful lot of oxygen of they wish to keep burning.

While striving for scientific accuracy in a fight between two mystical creatures may not seem high on the priority list, just hear me out.

The storm will obviously not be a major threat to the hero of the story, nor will it be a threat to the villain. To everyone else on the other hand, namely those who are slightly more vertically challenged than the hero…

Dragon 19

…things might get pretty hairy.

What drew me to this idea was not really the science behind it, as fascinating as that science is. It provides a great opportunity to make this fight scene more dynamic. Our hero, though he refuses to admit it at this point, is there to protect the innocent. With the entire city getting inhaled towards its center, he will have a lot of saving to do during his rounds of switching between ass-kicker and ass-kickee.

The phenomenon also provides an important scene for the character of Blondie in chapter 16, who tells the others just what it is like to be in the middle of a firestorm.

The final fight that will mark the bitter end between the not quite noble Zhyx and the nefarious Heavy is about to occur. It promises to be an event.

That is the news on the writing front. On the drawing front, the illustration for chapter 2 is nearing completion. The header for this article is a preview of that illustration, which is only down to coloring. My artist and I will be having our meeting tomorrow, during which time we will attempt to finish it.

Thanks for your time and support, and I will keep these updates coming over the next few weeks.

Random Thoughts – The Day After and Me

Back in 2000 in a world very different from the one we know today, my mother was a colonel in the United States Air Force. A single mother, she was dedicated to her job, but also committed to giving my sister and I the best possible upbringing she could. Often called away to attend conventions and hearings, she would use those as opportunities to take my sister and I on vacation, showing us the sights when she wasn’t attending official business. On this particular occasion, she took us to New York City.

I of course was binge watching the media. We had just discovered the SyFy (then the SciFi) channel, and I was watching such shows as The Invisible Man, Farscape, and the 80s incarnation of the Outer Limits.

Then I saw an advertisement for a major event that was going to play. A movie billed as one of the darkest moments in television history. The announcer opened the advertisement with this chilling phrase. “This is the day the world ended, and this is the day after.”

The film was a 1983 television epic, still the most watched TV movie in history, and still as chilling as it ever was. The Day After.

My mother of course argued against me watching it. She explained everything to me, the Cold War which had ended during my younger years, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the concept of a nuclear war.

To me, it was something beyond imagining. I asked in the naivety of my 11 year old vision of the world “There is no way we could destroy the world, is there?”

I of course talked her in to letting me watch the movie. It was late, and I fell asleep immediately after the missiles hit. But the visions of the cities being destroyed, and people getting reduced to clouds of vapor in an instant was something that stuck with me. I thought “Why would we do that to ourselves?”

I didn’t get to see the movie in its entirety until it was released on VHS tape a few years later. Now I went beyond the missiles into the real horror, the aftermath. A wasteland filled with poisonous fallout, not enough food and water to pass among the scattered survivors, and an ever growing despair that would be enough to last the next thousand years.

The Day After is a vision of a world gone mad that, as it turns out, I have an odd relationship with.

The Day After was shot in a town called Lawrence Kansas, at the time the perfect example of small town America. The bulk of the picture takes place at Kansas City University in the boarded up classrooms and dorm buildings as the people inside attempt to tend off the fallout. Both my mother and father were in the military at the time, and though my mother had yet to make the climb to colonel, my father was a major. At the time the movie was being filmed, Mom and Dad were going to school, at Kansas City University.

Mom and Dad both traded me stories of how it affected the campus. It was a major production made at the height of the Cold War and dealing with a disaster that, at the time, many felt was imminent. The school community was obviously very supportive, chipping in any way they could. While teaching there, my mother had one of her students miss class to appear in the film as one of the numerous fallout victims.

Dad’s story was even more interesting. Towards the end of the film, Steve Guttenberg, sick with radiation poisoning, seeks out a friend in Allan Field House, transformed from a once beautiful gym to a dumping ground for the dead and dying. One day whilst walking to class, Dad passed Allan Field House and observed the scene being filmed, though he was sadly unable to meet Steve Guttenberg.

After the Day After, I sought out and watched many more movies dealing with the subject. War Games, Testament, Threads, When the Wind Blows, Panic in Year Zero, By Dawn’s Early Light, Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe, all of them engrossing, all of them chilling, and all of them making me wonder why anyone would build such a sinister machine as this.

But my relationship with nuclear armageddon is much more intimate than just a television movie. It is also much more frightening.

My father, as I mentioned before, was a Major in the army. He was also a missile officer. He was one of the men in the silos. He is one of the men who would have, if it came down to it, turned the keys to send a minuteman missile to Russia, to kill God knows how many people.

Shortly after seeing the film, Dad took me down into a training silo and showed me how it worked. We turned the keys together, because to me it was all a game. There is no way this could have ever happened. No one would have been that crazy. Honestly, it is one of the more fun memories I had with my father. He explained to me the concept of deterrence, and how weapons such as this are not intended for use. The threat of use holds back any hostilities.

But as I grew older and learned more about certain events, events like the Cuban Missile Crisis, and hearing stories about close call after close call, I truly understood the real horror of the concept of nuclear war.

Considering how close we came a few times in our history, I wonder if Dad would have been able to turn the keys. If knowing what it would mean for my mother, my sister, my grandparents and me, I wonder if he would have been able to go through with it.

I like to think not.

This article will be archived in The Treasure Hoard

Beyond Chapter 14, the Final Act

With the conclusion of chapter 14, I am again at a stalemate. Unlike what happened in chapter 12, the solution is immediately apparent.

In chapter 14, Zhyx has his first physical confrontation with the villain, and an epic confrontation it is. The two have a several page long fight that takes them to the clouds, to the mountains, and eventually into the sea.

My problem with it was how it ended.

It wasn’t a problem before. In the 2nd draft of the story, Zhyx had a power, a power that ended up not serving much use to the plot. I will not go into specifics, but this power was deleted in order to streamline the story and leave him more vulnerable as a character.

In doing so however it created a problem. The only way to solve this problem was to raise the stakes.

Zhyx was to leave the villain behind in order to save himself, and move on to the final destination of the story, a city where the finale is to take place. His power left his enemy blind, requiring them to recuperate themselves over time, providing a kind of interlude before the final showdown.

With this power gone, the villain’s sight is in pretty good shape, which left me with two questions.

Why does Zhyx leave him behind, and how is he able to get to the final destination before him?

Nothing made sense. No angles I tried worked. All of them seemed too convenient and anticlimactic. The only purpose they served was to preserve the way the story currently operates, which I quickly realized was not the right way to do things. The story is supposed to get better, not stay the same.

It was impossible for the villain to reach the city after the heroes. He would beat them.

This simple fact opened up a lot of exciting possibilities as to just what happens in between this initial battle to the final mano y mano confrontation that will take up the final chapters of the book. Namely, the third act will now be much more elaborate.

Obviously the villain will probably have a lot more henchman under his command in this situation. That means a lot more dead henchman, one of the central staples of this genre and something I am sure a lot of you will like more of.

But above all else, in the interlude between this confrontation and the arrival of the heroes, a greater sense of urgency will be present. Honestly, the third act is not all that good in its current form. There is a lot of good in it, and the ending is still pitch perfect, but the section between here and the ending that quite frankly, just missed the mark. But now, with the underlying threat, everything will be spiced up.

One of the issues I had with it was an overabundance of dialogue. The characters had to be introduced this way, leaving many of their introductions pretty dull. It is far more interesting to meet a character in a situation as opposed to a conversation. The best character introductions of all time are through watching them in action.

Secondly, the characters seem far too relaxed. Too many conversations and not enough making and enacting plans. This is the end of the world they are dealing with. Where was the tension?

The villain getting there first changes everything.

Now when the heroes arrive, the city will be besieged, evildoers will be crawling out of the woodwork, innocent lives will be at risk, and an evil dragon will be ready to do whatever horrible deed it takes to meet his goals.

The hero will have no choice but to fly straight into it, and he will need all the help he can get.

Chapter 14 is finished, and the first few pages of chapter 15 have been edited. Though I do know the ending of the book and have a rough idea what happens in between now and then, the fact remains.

Zhyx will have his work cut out for him.

That is exactly how it should be when you come down to the final act.

Above pictured is a sample of the progress on the illustration since yesterday. The manuscript currently stands at 169,207 words.

Chapter 12 Out of the Way and Significance of 13 and 14

Chapter 12 was a long and frustrating ordeal.

It was the beginning of one of the most problematic vignettes of the entire book, kicking off a series of action set pieces that last a full three chapters.

Though I am in the first proofreading phase here, I could not move on to chapter 13 until the issues with chapter 12 were worked out. Since the focus of this run through is plot details, these errors had to be fixed, lest they bleed into chapters 13 and beyond.

My main problem was a clear inconsistency in my lead character’s actions. He spends half the chapter running towards the danger when his goal is to get away from it.

Even as I was going through the revisions, I could hear him whispering.

“Do you really think I am that stupid?”

In answer to your question Zhyx, no. I don’t think you are stupid. You are a hell of a lot smarter than me and given that this is your story, you know what is best for it.

So I slaved over it for 3 more days. Working out the plot details one by one, slicing away the bad and doing my best to keep all of the good. Even then, some of the good had to go. The final product was not as many words or pages, but it was definitely an improvement.

It was without a doubt the most frustrating part of the process so far, looking at something I wrote and knowing it was bad. Wondering how I could let myself write something so horrible, and feeling guilty for forcing it on the characters I have come to view as family.

We got through it though. The errors were dealt with and are no longer of any concern.

Since we last spoke, chapter 13 has also been completed, and chapter 14 is so far along it will likely get finished tomorrow. Unlike 12, 13 and 14 have been very fun, because it is this segment of the story where our rather large protagonist takes on a new role.

He becomes an action hero.

John McClane style.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 9.15.38 PM

That was what drew me to this idea in the first place. Though it has since taken on much more emotional depth, the original idea was simple. A dragon as an action hero. I had never seen a fantasy done in that way before. As the old saying goes, everything has been done, just not in every way.

Telling fantasy as an action story, it seemed only appropriate to put arguably the most recognizable icon of the fantasy genre at the helm. After all, one of the joys of the action genre is explosions. What mythical creature just might be very good at explosions?

Until this point, Zhyx has been more of an explorer and a stalker, moving from place to place and slowly finding out the scope of the enemy he is to defeat, and his overall place in the grand scheme of things, all while being a pretty big dick about it. He complains, says he would rather be somewhere else, and is generally a less than pleasant individual to be around.

That all changes in chapter 13, a chapter that yielded a pretty interesting surprise for me as a writer.

You see, Zhyx is this big.

Dragon 19

That size was decided on for a number of reasons, namely the ease at which he could transport his co-stars from one place to another.

The end result was a dragon who is pretty f**king big.

Now, they are in a base with a lot of bad guys. A lot of you or me sized bad guys. You know what that means?

Zhyx quickly became one of the most prolific killers in the annals of action heroes. It was almost a given considering that Zhyx is a good deal larger than stars like Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Sylvester Stallone. Obviously it would take a lot of bad guys to take him down. Obviously the bad guys would know this.

Obviously swords might not work well on fireballs getting launched at your face.

I am not sure of the exact number yet, but my more generous estimates put his current kill count at around 200.

200 in 2 chapters. Yikes.

I couldn’t believe it myself while writing it, but it made sense. Not only would it work given Zhyx’s sheer size, it also makes sense if the villains are smart. Obviously they will not send 1, 2 or 3 henchmen after an elf wizard wrecking general havoc. They will send maybe 20 or 30. And those 20 or 30 won’t last very long when Zhyx comes stomping around.

Likewise when you are holding a small town hostage. In that case, 20 or 30 won’t do the trick. 100 on the other hand would be a pretty good number. Of course when the fire breathing colossus shows up, that number will very quickly become zero.

I was worrying that it was overkill, but it wouldn’t seem smart of the villains to not tap into their resources, even if those resources don’t end up lasting very long. This is where the whole monster fighting part comes in. If Zhyx keeps dealing with cronies this size, it isn’t exactly going to be as tense as Indy fighting the big German guy at the runway. Zhyx would just step on him.

So the bigger villains of this work will not just be bigger in a figurative sense.

Now I know what you are thinking. Surely there must be something more significant about 13 and 14 than Zhyx accumulating an obscene number of corpses to his name, and believe me, there is. Up to now, Zhyx’s attitude towards this quest has been one of general annoyance. He has viewed it as a burden, seldom enjoying the company of his new companions, and making damn sure they don’t enjoy his company either.

But all that changes here. In these chapters, Zhyx doesn’t just end lives. He saves them. Perhaps only as a byproduct of his mass henchman killing activities, true. In the end however, he prevents a lot of people from getting killed, including his companions. After all, one saved life is a far greater effort than all the dead henchmen in the world.

The big guy may not be ready to accept it just yet, but he has become a hero.

But more news. The illustration for chapter 2 has finally finished the design phase. Now it is on to coloring. While I have been disappointed with how slow things have been moving, I will be having a talk with the artist during our next meeting. As a pace-holder, here is the current progress on the picture. You will notice we completely re-did the cheek fan and Saar’Jya’s eye has been fixed. Colored in, the picture should be rather spectacular.

Zhyx Taunt 18

Next world building article is also in the works, and the proofread for chapters 1, 2 and 3 are moving along.

The manuscript currently stands at 171,119 words with 479 pages at 1.5 spacing.

Thank you all for your time.

Chapter 12 and Frustrations

As promised, I finished chapter 12 of the book a few days ago.

Just one problem.

It sucked.

I mean it really sucked.

The actions of the characters didn’t make any sense, everything was too convenient and what I was left with was in the end a long action sequence with a dull ending. Five thousand words and twenty pages of nothing.

Before I move on to 13, these issues have to be resolved, as the actions of one chapter affect the next. I have a few ideas that seem like they are worth a try. So far the re-writes are going well enough. It seems that the best thing to do would not be adding stuff on, but taking more stuff out. I have deleted an additional 1000 words since the chapter was ‘completed.’

I see more deletions in chapter 12’s future. Might make it a short one, but short and sweet wins over long and dull any day.

Manuscript Update, World Building and Other News

Today is a special day for me. It is my first day off in three weeks.

Three weeks of switching between a retail position and a film internship. Three weeks of greeting customers at the hardware store and typing up documents for the Cannes Film Festival. I am very much enjoying this first day.

Well, it happened. I was able to get through chapters 10 and 11 of the proofread. A lot of rearrangement, a lot of revision, but they are much more effective, with several story issues worked out, the characters more pronounced and real, and much less wordy.

Oh yes, about that wordy thing. The manuscript began at 175,701, and now stands at 169,419. This was the first time thus far I deleted such a large portion. Some of it was painful. A few good lines here and there that I might have some use for later. On the other hand, most of those 6,000 words were pretty terrible. Repetition and inner monologuing at its worst. You know what? That makes me happy. Stephen King made a good point when he said to kill your darlings in writing. These 6,000 words are my first casualty. Not exactly a darling, but it is good practice for when that time comes.

But it is done. The 11th chapter is in the bag, bringing me and these characters past the halfway point. They have seen the villain for the first time, seen what they can do, and the stakes have been raised. They are beyond the point of no return, and the only way this novel’s fire breathing protagonist can win is to go all the way.

Now some of you may be interested in that world building article. We have a new one all ready for you, this one dealing with Tygan’s take on magic. Here it is, and hope you all have fun reading it.

https://zhyxthenovel.wordpress.com/world-building/arcana-history-and-classes/

I aim to finish up chapter 12 by today. With my bosses overseas for the next two weeks, I should be able to get a lot done. And you should be able to see a lot more too, because the current versions of the first three chapters have been sent out for proofread. They will be up shortly.

Much is about to happen on Tygan. The firestorm is coming.

The Treasure Hoard is Here and Next Article is Up

Lugia-Cropsy

As promised, the Treasure Hoard is here. After work, I was able to catalogue my posts for the short story City of Wolves as well as the video articles on Joe & Eric Watch I Spit On Your Grave, and Simba’s Day Off.

Yesterday, I finished the next article for the Treasure Hoard, dealing with my bizarre college thesis film on how Pokemon stole music from a 1980s slasher film. It is now available for your viewing pleasure.

There are exploding heads. Wink Wink. Nudge Nudge.

https://zhyxthenovel.wordpress.com/the-treasure-hoard/video-that-time-pokemon-stole-music-from-a-slasher-film-i-did-a-short-film-about-it/

As for the book, I have not been able to tend to it the past few days due to my bosses preparing for the Canne’s film festival. I will be getting off work at 5, and plan to knock out a few pages afterwards. The next few days I will be working at the store, and I tend to be much more productive there, so chapter 11 should be getting done very soon.

My fingers are already dancing with anticipation.

A Special Thanks and The Treasure Hoard

Hello all.

First off, I would like to thank everyone for the success of our most recent world building article. It was by far our most successful in quite some time. The immediate traffic on that article was very encouraging. Rest assured, we have several more such articles in the works to showcase this world, and those first three chapters will be up soon.

I would like to announce a new section is going to be added to this web page, a misc section.

The Simba’s Day Off post was one of the more popular efforts on this site, and I thought it would be fun to share other things such as short films, pictures, artwork, script writing projects, opinion pieces and the like. This new section shall be dubbed THE TREASURE HOARD.

Why Zhyx would bother collecting this crap for his hoard is beyond me, but I digress.

Obviously the tale of our scaly hero will take priority, but this I feel will give some variety to the web page, and also ensure a more steady flow of material when work on the book slows down from time to time.

Hope you all enjoy it, and looking forward to treating you all to a healthy dose of nerdy mana. The next article will be how Pokemon stole music from a slasher movie.

There are exploding heads in it. Wink Wink. Nudge Nudge.

Orc World Building Article and Manuscript Update

Reached an exciting milestone in the manuscript. This proofread of chapter 10 is done. That brings us up to roughly the halfway point of the story, right to where the characters meet the villain face to face for the first time.

Work on chapter 10 was surprisingly quick, a run through finished in only two days. With chapter 11 started, the revisions of this problematic section of the story are actually proving to be very entertaining. The current tally is 175,701 words and 491 pages. Aim to get more work on 11 done tomorrow.

In the meantime, the article on Tygan’s version of orcs is up. The next two articles are currently in the works.

https://zhyxthenovel.wordpress.com/world-building/orcs/

I have decided to make the first three chapters available here for free as opposed to just the first two. That will amount to around 74 pages of material. Got rid of some typos but another read through will be in order to spare you all the rest of them. Will keep you all posted on that.

Enjoy the article and thanks again for your continued support.