Short Story Streak

This has been without a doubt my most productive month of writing in some time. I just can’t stop writing short stories. I’ve put the finishing touches on one, completed drafts of two additional ones in less than 24 hours, and am on the cusp of completing the draft of another one as early as tomorrow.

I just can’t stop writing.

What has changed recently? Ridding myself of the flawed draft of what was to be my first novel has defiantly been a major help to me. One of the reasons I wasn’t so confident about my work was my constant attention given to a story that, deep down, I knew had fundamental flaws that I just wasn’t willing to overlook. Moving away from it and writing anew on the other hand has reassured a lot of my various anxieties. I’m writing stories that I’d love to read.

What have I noticed with this unexpected bout of creativity? My prose and dialogue for one have vastly improved since I went to work on my book over three years ago. Some of the more creative language that goes with a book just seems to come naturally.

I’ve also formed much better habits as a way of combating writer’s block. Before I’d pace around a room in desperate search of an idea. Now if I have trouble forming my thoughts into words, I need only reach for the nearest book and read through a few pages. It’s kind of like recharging a battery. The words on the page give my head some good extra juice, just what I need to power up my pages.

I’ve thought abut short form fiction before, but never really got around to it. I suppose I figured my work was better concentrated on long form work. Perhaps that was a little arrogant of me as short form fiction has proven a lot of fun. I never thought that simply writing a short story could bring such a feeling of accomplishment, but when all is said and done, there’s still a finished story in front of you once you hit that final period key on the manuscript.

I’m still submitting to magazines. i think I’ve hit twelve so far and already got my first rejection letter!

Okay, maybe I’m not so happy about that last part, but at least I’m submitting work I’ve got some faith in.

Unsure if any of these stories will be published on this blog since many of these publications forbid it, but if they have an online venue, I’d be more than happy to link any of my material back here.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I got a story about a couple of hunters running afoul some monsters in Kentucky that demands my attention.

 

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Preparing For Change

Big things are happening soon.

After three years of struggling to make it as a filmmaker in LA, I’ve come to realize this place makes me pretty miserable, not the struggle itself but the setting. A lot has happened in this tie. I’ve grown far more interested in the writing process itself as opposed to getting behind the camera and barking orders to actors and crew. Knowing this, I was hit with a realization.

I don’t have to be in Los Angeles to write.

So I’ve made the decision to pack my bags and go back to where it all began, to a little state in the midwest where my dreams of storytelling first took a definite shape, back to Ohio.

This choice fills me with a mixture of hope and fear. It’ll be good heading back to a place where I don’t have to worry so much about money and can focus on my writing more thoroughly, but at the same time I don’t want to stagnate and languish as I have out here.

Steps are being taken to prevent this. I’ve been in touch with some of the heads of my college and they’ve been putting me in touch with many of the film and writing oriented societies that have taken root around town since my departure, and I may have already landed my first piece of remote freelance work. Paying for rent won’t be a concern. Getting work that is worthwhile on the other had will undoubtedly prove challenging.

What I do expect is my writing to improve. The big city is a noisy place and it’s hard to concentrate. Ohio has some urban areas, but none so overwhelming as the cacophony of Southern California. For a writer seeking solitude, quiet, and a relief from some of life’s pressures, where I’m going is a dream.

Survival will not be a problem, and I doubt very much writing will be either.

I look forward to going back to this place. It does fit into the whole “This was your home all along” cliche that we see in so many bad stories. I suppose I don’t mind if my story is bad, just so long as there’s a happy ending, but then again, that’s all up to me.

Starting Over Set Me Free

Putting away my book which Id been working on for three years was initially a very painful decision, and for the last few days I was greatly fearful that this story I so loved was now dead, and nothing would bring back the passion I once felt for it. However, soon after putting down my draft and moving away from it, a funny thing began to happen.

Fresh ideas.

Since putting down my draft and unshackling myself from all my previous plot-points, I’ve come to recognize my approach was fundamentally flawed from the start. My first scene, though thrilling and tense, resulted in the first of a series of contrivances that were to bring my heroes together, when in truth there was a much more simple and effective approach to do that.

My original take was my character is forced to take up the role of hero through blackmail. What I realized was my favorite heroes are forced into it by circumstance. Characters like Indiana Jones, John McClane and Ellen Ripley are not brought into insurmountable odds by any sort of planning. They often have those odds dumped on top of them unexpectedly. It is how they react to this sudden upheaval that they become heroic characters.

That I think is the approach that will best work for my protagonist, and may ultimately make their turn all the more unexpected, which was the original intention anyway.

This sudden flush of ideas has brought me nothing but relief. Though I ended up hating the book I wrote, I was still in love with the characters, the world, and the emotional core I was trying to evoke. Though I failed with that last draft, I knew there was a story worth telling in there somewhere. After only a few days, the mistakes are becoming more obvious, and that story is starting to take shape a little at a time.

My first draft was never going to be what I wanted, no matter how many times I hammered and chipped away at it. I initially thought the right amount of work could make it happen, and kicked myself every day I’d go another round on my manuscript and it still wouldn’t come to life. Now I see that there is no fixing a story that’s fundamentally flawed, except one. Throw it away and start over. It sounds terrible, but it may be the best creative decision I’ve ever made.

It will still be a while before I get back to it. Another book has taken priority, one for which I have a clearer vision. Still, it’s good to know that there is still life buried in there, enough for even the most meager ideas to struggle their way to my consciousness.

The last week was one plagued with self doubt. Though I’m still nervous about my eventual return to my planned fantasy epic, the doubt is not as strong anymore.

My manuscript depressed me with wasted potential. This new empty page excites me with endless possibilities.

My Big Concern – Not A Lot of Completed Works

As a writer, I have a number of problems that will need to be fixed. A shortage of ideas can’t be counted amongst those problems. Over the years and over the last few months especially, ideas have hardly been an issue with me. But having a vision and knowing how to structure a coherent plot relatively free of contrivances are two different things, and sometimes the ideas for different stories come so quickly, I don’t take the time to finish one.

When I look at my body of completed works, I can’t help but be dissatisfied. Over the last few years, I’e written numerous drafts of screenplays that, while technically are complete, I consider far from finished. I’d say a total of three or four. Numerous short stories and short scripts have been finished as well, and it seems in short form, I’ve found more success. When it comes to books, forget about it. Three years and the one book I’ve been working on just hasn’t worked out. I’ll finish it and complete my three book ark, but now isn’t the right time for it.

So what are the numbers? I have three completed feature scripts, but I’ll be doing additional drafts of those and adapting one into a novel so I’m not sure if those count as being done. Books, the one book I was working on was Never Heroes, and that is being put away while I  build up the world’s history and mythos. Short subjects I’ve done better with, with some six or seven completed shorts. The numbers aren’t terrible, but they’re far from where I want them.

Sometimes the ideas seem to come so hard and fast, it’s difficult to commit to one project. I have two versions of this problem. I overcommitted to the book and shelved a lot of projects I should have been working on. But if I spread myself too thin, I could also under-commit to both projects and have them both come out poorly. There’s a lot of distance between getting tunnel vision and not being focused on anything, and the trick for me is to find that healthy middle ground to make sure these things get done.

My numbers aren’t bad, but they’re far from where I want them. I want to see this stuff get done. Hopefully my completed short story this week will be a sign of things to come. I’ll be trying to think up another piece of short form fiction, and hopefully this new book will be getting underway soon. By the time I turn 30, I want to have a finished novel that I’m satisfied with.

Back to Writing

After putting away my book for a spell, I had to get back to writing. Already I’ve finally completed another project, this one a short story that I aim to submit to some magazines.

This short story was one I’d started writing last year, and always wanted to get back to. After getting caught up in writing the book however, it fell to the side and I forgot about it. I thought it best to try and tackle something a little shorter in order to get back in the swing of things, so I dug it up and got it finished.

It took three days to get these 2,600 words where I want them, but after going over it a few times, I think it’s ready to go. Now we’ll see if any of these magazines agree.

Wish me luck, and it feels good to be back in the saddle. I’ll post the short sometime in the next few days for anyone interested.

A Painful Decision

Three years ago I started this blog with the help of some very dear friends of mine, all with the goal of promoting a book I was writing, one that I was certain I’d be finished with by December of 2014.

If you listen, you can hear someone laughing.

A few months back, I said that book was finally finished, though that was only after making the same claim some five or six times since this blog was started. Perhaps the impact of that promised had been a little bit dulled. A lot has happened to me since then. I’ve learned how to write better, actually have a job as a critic for scripts, enjoyed a brief stint writing op-ed pieces on films I loved and loathed, and have several projects I’m just dying to jump into. I’ve also come to a very painful realization, one that has resulted in one of the most agonizing decisions I’ve made thus far.

I can’t write my book.

I don’t mean it will never be written. I’ve put too much time and passion into this world and its characters to ever let it die. But this has been a very saddening journey for me, working through multiple drafts and edits, and still being able to tell that some special magic was missing from my work. After that initial satisfying elation after an edit, it went back to the way it was before. It just wasn’t enough.

Eventually what I realized was the writing style wasn’t the problem, but the draft itself. My draft has many fundamental narrative flaws in it, from an annoying comic relief to an endless series of contrivances, and a needlessly convoluted series of events that bring my characters together. I’ve read enough scripts and written enough reviews to recognize these problems with my own work. The feelings I had for the story remained just that. They were always feelings and never words.

I’d also put myself in quite a bind. The entire book is told from the lead character’s perspective, but the world was so big and the story so vast that I couldn’t tell the whole thing without thinking up some very silly reasons as to why my hero would be there, (or how he’d fit given he’s over 100 feet tall. Bound to one perspective, I never could explore the world, or how the other characters viewed my hero. My stubborn refusal to give up that perspective might have been this draft’s downfall.

How many times had I edited this draft? Not sure, but the number is probably high. Did it improve the draft? Sure. Some of the writing was a lot of fun, and exactly the thing I’d like to see in a book of this genre. However, those were just little bits that shined in a story that was otherwise pretty dull. No matter how much impromptu surgery I performed and no matter how many paragraphs I stapled on, it would never come to life because I was stapling those things onto a corpse.

Wow. This blog post already has much better writing than my book.

The draft has surely improved since I started it. It now has a beginning, a middle and an end, a clear goal for the good guys, and some nice character arcs amongst the cast. To say it hasn’t come a long way since 2012 would be false. But is it good enough? I don’t think so. So, as of this week, I’ve made the painful decision to put the book down.

Not forever. Just for now.

I’ll never be a perfect writer, but there’s still a lot for me to learn before I’m ready to tell the big fantasy epic I want to tell. It was like trying to drive a cruise ship without learning how to operate the paddle wheeler first. This story will be told, but there’s a lot more to learn before I’m ready. With a story this complicated with a world so intricate, I think it’s best that I take the time to hone my skills on other projects.

Fortunately there’s much to do. I’ve got a werewolf themed thriller that could benefit from some attention. I had the privilege of contacting my writing partner last night where we had a rather exciting meeting about the story, and it left me invigorated and hopeful. There are also plenty of short stories and other subjects that could be refurbished and sent out. I’m working on a short story right now that I aim to send out to some magazines.

Never Heroes will never be put down forever, but I will finally say this. I don’t know when it will get done. It could be next year, next decade, or it could be finished on my deathbed. Maybe I won’t finish it and will pass my materials onto a more capable person, but where’s the fun in that?

This choice was painful, but I also think it was right. Now was the right time to begin the story, but not the right time to end it. In time the ideas will come, a clearer picture will emerge, and the story I want to tell will finally take shape. Until then, all my favorite characters should take a well deserved rest. We’ve all earned it.

I’ll be back soon with updates on my current projects, including a brand new short story. Hope to see you all then. Take care.

My (Brief) Career as a Paid Film Critic

Last month I was a paid film critic. I wrote my opinions on films both old and new and received capital for my opinions. It gave me an outlet to vent my frustrations, and sing praises to the things I loved. And it was a job. Not a hobby, but a job. Unexpectedly last month, that job ended.

This was honestly why I haven’t been producing content on this site very much. Between re-writes for my book, my part time job and the magazine, it was hard to make time. So while I am happy to return here, it has come at a cost.

It wasn’t exactly something I was getting a lot of money for. I perhaps earned around one hundred and ten dollars since being hired in December of last year. Still, it was something that made me feel more on the professional side when it came to writing, and the circumstances around it ending were both sudden and beyond my control.

Last year I wrote an article here on tonal shifts in stories, commenting on how to do such a thing right and what mistakes to avoid. That article was noticed by someone from Creators.Co, a fan run writing website where people would write content for online magazines to be read by the masses. They offered me a job. It was hardly a big magazine, but it was still about as fairy tale a story as you could expect.

I wrote on a variety of topics, from retrospectives of established classics to commentaries on current films. My most successful were still the articles on the Alien films. Between half of and a third of my earnings were based on that series alone. People ask what was the point of me hating Alien: Covenant so much? I got paid to share my opinion.

Then unexpectedly at work I got a message. It wasn’t about being fired or dissatisfaction with my content. At least those were things I would have had some control over. No. The message I got was that MoviePilot was closing its doors.

It came at a bad time. I was at work having a bad day, and on top of all that was this one additional bad thing. I wasn’t at all stressed with the money. I can survive without that extra ten bucks a month. What bothered me was what those ten dollars represented. I was being paid for my writing. My actual content and it was earning me money. That measly one hundred dollars is more than most writers see in a lifetime, and I knew it was a sign of things to come.

That it ended so unexpectedly was a major blow, as I wondered if perhaps maybe my position would climb at this modest little online venue. Sad to say, it wasn’t to be.

I must have spent three hours going through all fifty five of my articles and saving them, hoping that even when the magazine was going under I could find other places for this content to survive. I’ve already found a place run by a close friend of mine that will gladly be hosting my content dealing with monster movies. I won’t be paid, but I will be read. It’s at least a way to start over.

If there’s one thing I take away from this, it’s that I now have an actual publishing credit to showcase to potential buyers of this book. Here’s hoping that will be enough to turn another head or two.

The Dialogue Problem

Every writer has a shortcoming of some sort. It’s not something they can’t overcome, but damn if it isn’t a difficult thing to do. In working on my first book, I’ve found my biggest issue is my dialogue.

It seems like the easiest thing in the world. You are after-all just writing a conversation. We’ve all had those so how hard could it be? I think it may be a similar problem to all of us remembering the precise look of a minted coin. We’ve see it so many times that when you’re shown a picture it looks right, but sometimes it’s hard to remember precisely where the date is on the coin, what direction the person on the coin is facing, etc.

Conversations are the same way. Since we’ve had them so often and seen them so often, sometimes you go into one with a little more confidence than you should have and the dialogue comes across as forced or stilted.

As someone on the autism spectrum, I have my work cut out for me. When it comes to my writing, description is where I flourish. Dialogue on the other hand has been a constant struggle.

One of the characters from my book, the intended comic relief, was marred by their dialogue. While speaking with an editor, the comment I received where the character’s actions were of someone courageous and loyal, but the dialogue made them into just about the most annoying character imaginable.

“I shouldn’t hate this guy because their actions are good. But the dialogue kills them,” my editor said.

Ouch. But hey. If it’s flawed what can you do? Do you give up or try to fix it?

My portrayal of the art of conversation is getting better, but it has been a struggle. But for all the bad lines of dialogue I’ve written that really are cringeworthy, nothing compares to the feeling when you look at a line and know it’s a good one.

So What Next?

As the time approaches to once more submit my book for publication, things have gotten pretty exciting. I have found several publishers that are willing to take manuscripts without the need to work through an agent, and couldn’t be more enthusiastic about that. It’s just a matter of waiting for the deadlines while we send out queries like usual.

Of course, then comes another big question. What next?

It’s been a mixed bag of a month. The magazine I was writing reviews for suddenly folded, ending my brief career as a paid film critic. But I’ve also been working on a number of other projects, including a novella with my roommate, and two scripts with friends. Still, while the writing itself has improved and remained prolific, there’s still the feeling that things are moving still.

I’m the sort of guy that likes to feel like things are moving. I just feel like there’s something more I could be doing in order to get this writing career going. I’m a person of faith, but I don’t believe getting on my knees and asking for success is a way to get it. I also don’t think staying in my apartment and writing all the time is a way to get it either. I don’t believe in networking events as the people there will be just as desperate as I, and I’m not sure what jobs I could apply for where these kills would come in handy.

There has to be something, and it’s something I’ve been mulling over a lot.

My Hatred of the Alien Prequels

It’s a really ugly thing to hate a work of fiction. It’s an unpleasant and tedious endeavor that stirs negative emotions, causes much undue stress, and overall just plain sucks. But sometimes there’s a work out there that really gets under your skin. No matter how hard you try to move past it, it’s sometimes hard to let go. I never considered myself a person who dwelled on such things, but the last few months have proven me wrong.

I hate the Alien prequels. I mean really, REALLY hate the Alien prequels.

It took me a while to find out precisely why these ones were so special. I’ve been exposed to bad movies before, including many bad Alien films, but something about the release of Alien: Covenant stirred a reaction on me that’s best described as rabid. My anger is completely overblown, absolutely uncalled for, but all around inalienable. With the news that a third film is in the works, that anger seems to have resurfaced. I suppose I’m writing this hoping it will be therapeutic.

Alien-1979-Poster

Alien was more than a movie to me. It was a life changing experience. I first saw the film at 12 years old when my mother caved and let me watch my first stack of hard R VHS tapes back in 1999. It was a revelation. I’d never known how far a movie could go, but that movie gave the twelve year old me a pretty good idea. But more than that, Alien was the first movie with a monster I fell in love with.  Time and again I found myself looking forward to the arrival of the beast. Like a femme fatale from one of those old pulp detective magazines, there was something about it both alluring and dangerous.

Aliens-vs.-predator-2-game

For the next 17 years the series became a major driving force in my life. I not only saw all the other films, but delved into the expanded universe with various comics, novels and video games. It was a place I’d never want to live, but definitely one I loved visiting. Learning about the Alien itself, its culture, and seeing that it was not a wild animal but a capable and sentient thing, made me love it even more, even identify with it in a strange way.

So you can imagine how elated I was when Ridley Scott announced his return to the series. The man who directed the original classic was coming back? It seemed the series couldn’t have been in better hands. Then Prometheus started.

prometheus-engineer-image

Prometheus attempted to give a backstory to the mysterious Space Jockey from the original movie, and featured a new cast of characters. Most prominent among them was Michael Fassbender’s David, an android and predecessor to all the other AI characters in the series. I wanted to love the movie, but something about it left me feeling strangely empty. The characters didn’t capture me, the atmosphere wasn’t frightening or provocative, and worst of all it attempted to explain some of the mysteries I found so appealing about the original movie.

I’ve compared Prometheus to the Halloween sequels. The original Halloween is a minimalist classic that explains nothing about its antagonist. When the sequels tried to explain the killer and his motivations, things quickly descended into mediocrity. Sometimes less is more, and mystery often holds an allure that answers can never provide. I didn’t like the movie too much in case you couldn’t tell.

Still, I figured it was a fluke. There was going to be another movie soon and perhaps it would be better. Whatever the case, there was no way it could be worse. Then along came Covenant. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t expect a masterpiece. I expected it to be okay at best but I was gung ho for it. You can do a lot worse than okay. All that changed one day when I read a single plot detail. The android David, played by Michael Fassbender, was revealed to be the creator of the Alien creature.

Covenant David

Everybody remember when Phantom Menace came out? This was my midichlorians moment. Something about that revelation hit me where I lived. I was genuinely furious, furious to the point I knew it was an overreaction, but I couldn’t pull it back. It’s just a movie, and the Alien series has undoubtedly produced far worse. What made this one special?

One of the things I enjoyed about the creature was that it was a pioneer. The original film and some of the expanded universe didn’t provide much backstory, but the brief glimpses you got were intriguing. The creature was taken from its home to be exploited by a technologically superior Space Jockeys, but somehow they conquered their encroachers to the point of eradication. Now humanity was trying to exploit them in that same way, our hubris threatening us with the same fate as the Jockeys. History repeats itself unless you learn to respect this thing and leave it alone, the lesson the Ripley character consistently tries to teach the other characters.

Covenant disregarded that. The creature was no longer ancient, but a product of an android’s experiments that only dated back a few years. Worse yet, this untamable thing had now been subjugated, born subservient to the character of David when previously it had no master. Even in Alien vs. Predator and Alien Resurrection, those ideas were left untouched. It would be like if someone did a Jaws sequel where you found out the shark was under the control of Amity’s corrupt mayor the entire time.

But it goes deeper than that. Scott said that he felt there was nothing left to do with the creature before doing Prometheus, which is why he wanted to move in a new direction. And honestly, I was fine with that as long as the foundations remained undisturbed, because those foundations were central to me as a fan. Scott and the studio believed the mixed reception to Prometheus was due to the creature’s absence (which it wasn’t) so they put it in the last film. But the movie wasn’t about the Alien. Scott merely used it to package a passion project with little regard to the original source material. At best the famous director seemed indifferent towards it, and at worse he seemed to outright hate it.

I think that’s what hurt most about CovenantAlien vs. Predator wasn’t a good movie, but there was still affection for its source material. Covenant almost seemed ashamed of its roots, and in that respect, seemed ashamed of its own target audience. Maybe that’s why I took it so personally, because no Alien movie, no matter how bad, ever gave me the impression that the director didn’t want me there.

To call these feelings an overreaction would be the understatement of the century. Be that as it may, that feeling is here, and it’s a hard one to shake. Will I move on in time? Yes. Are there worse things in the world than a disappointing sequel? Of course. Is a mediocre movie really worth my time? Hell no. Still, sometimes a piece of media really does get to you, in particular when one is passionate about the medium. When it involves something that meant a lot to you and helped you discover who you are, its kind of inevitable that you take it personally. I’ll move on in time to the world’s more pressing matters, but there’s still a lot of negativity to flush from my system. Hopefully I can find a creative outlet for it.