The Vacation Ends and the Book Begins

Zhyx-The-Dragon-Color

Well, today is the day. A month and a half ago I finished my latest feature script and decided to take a break from writing. Upon the completion of this vacation, I would return to writing in a big way. I would begin work on the second book in the Never Heroes series, my fantasy/adventure saga about a large red dragon who is roped into an adventure with him as the world’s savior.

Can’t lie, but I’m more than a little nervous.

Writing the first book was a long and difficult process which took about a year. I went through three drafts, each draft taking about three months to finish. During this time, I found the story’s voice, plot points were written, re-written, dropped altogether. Characters grew and evolved to become completely different from who they were when the story was first conceived.

I spent many long days and nights pounding away at the keyboard. Even now, the first book isn’t completely done just yet, undergoing its final edits. But three hundred and seventy pages later, I had a completed manuscript of over 130,000 words. I never thought I could write a complete book, and even though it’s right in front of me, it seems impossible that it was done, much less that it can happen again.

The story of Zhyx the red dragon (known as ‘Red’ to most of his companions) went through many changes when I started writing the first book in June of 2014. Originally cast as a mythical chosen one, his story soon became about a character who gets involved in a world saving adventure purely out of his own pride and greed. He is a character who boasts of his greatness, but with the world at risk he is soon forced to become great for real. Eventually, he wages war with an evil dragon, saving an entire city in the process.

Never-Heroes-Chapter-1-Illustration

The final illustration for the novel, Never Heroes. This images shows the colossal red dragon, Zhyx, towering over the adventurer Major Celice Arietta who has come to steal his favorite piece of treasure.

The first book set the stage for the saga that followed, but was also a self contained story.

Even after the completion of the first book, I took many notes for sequences planned in the first book, but I could never find the space for them. Many notes were also taken on where the series could go from the end of book one. My main villain still wasn’t dead, several characters I had written have yet to be introduced, and various monsters and other baddies were put on the back burner for later. Now it’s time to take those ideas and weave them into a coherent story.

Unlike the first book, I have a much clearer idea of where the later books will go. Several key sequences from all three of the sequels have already been planned out. My villains have already been introduced and it will be great fun to develop them further. I even know what events need to happen in each specific book, so that isn’t the issue.

The plot basically is after the events of the first book, the cult that Zhyx is trying to defeat ends up turning the populace against him, playing on peoples’ fears of dragons to get slayers and knights to come to their aid. Zhyx doesn’t do that much defeating big monstrosities like he did in the first book, and instead must content with a hoard of tiny villains with ships, heavy weapons and a determination to bring him out of the sky. He has but a few people who still trust him, and he must depend on them in order to survive and expose the villains to the world.

My problem with book two is far different than my problems with book one. In book one, it was a lack of ideas. Book two has plenty of ideas, but now they need to be sorted out and organized. I know how book two begins, and know how it ends. I know the key character moments that are to occur in it, just not where they go in the book and when they will happen. I have even written several scenes in their entirety, just waiting to find a home in the pages of a new book.

Still, there is a lot to look forward to in the second Never Heroes book. The characters for example have just begun their journey, Zhyx in particular. By no means will he remain stagnant, which is something a character should never do in a series. There are plenty of opportunities for him to grow and evolve along with his companions.

Yes, I am nervous about writing this new book. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the sessions of sitting at the keyboard for hours on end, inching my way through chapter by chapter, finding myself stuck and unable to get past a critical sequence in order to reach a point I’m actually looking forward to writing. Yes, creating a story is hard work.

Fortunately I have learned a lot about writing books during my first journey, and now have a lot of tools at my disposal. My three act graph proved very helpful while writing my last few projects, and it certainly will here.

Screenplay Structure For tips

Through it all though, there is that feeling of accomplishment when you look at that last page and type those two immortal words, THE END. To see them appear before you, I could have never imagined the feeling of accomplishment and validity that brings. It just rings in your head, those two words, and all they mean. They mean you accomplished something. You did it. It’s real, and it’s yours.

I’m only twenty seven years old, and hopefully have a long life to live. In the short time I’ve been here, writing the first book in the Never Heroes saga was one of the proudest moments in my short life. I have a lot more life left to go. It’s time to do it again.

Commercial Can Be Important

It is something that a lot of artists say, myself included. They don’t want to do shallow art just for the sake of selling it. There is no real interest in creating the next big franchise or money maker. That art is shallow. In fact, it may not even be art, and just a product people create to sell and line their pockets. There’s also a certain bitterness that more ‘important’ and ‘thoughtful’ fiction is not as widely seen as the latest big action film. People have a hard time quoting a French film about the Holocaust, but most people can drop lines from any Schwarzenegger action epic.

But commercial art can have messages that are important, and packaging it right can help that message reach more people.

Take for example the Disney film Zootopia. This recent smash has been making waves and gaining praise for much more than just its animation. While on it’s surface it looks like a mere cartoon about cute anthropomorphic animals, it discusses a much more important and relevant topic.

In Zootopia, the populace is divided into predators and prey, though the two no longer eat each other. A series of strange incidents start occurring where predators go insane and revert back to their predatory instincts. The two main characters are a cop bunny named Judy Hopps and a con artist fox named Nick Wilde, prey and predator respectively.

After uncovering that predators are reverting to their natural instincts seemingly without cause, Hopps holds a press conference, speculating that these attacks are due to natural instincts. The exchange between her and Nick after the conference sounds a lot like something out of a different kind of film.

Nick

Clearly there’s a biological component? That these predators may be reverting back to their primitive savage ways? Are you serious?

Judy

I just stated the facts of the case! I mean, its not like a bunny can go savage.

Nick

Right. But a fox could, huh?

Judy

Nick stop it! You’re not like them.

Nick

Oh, so there’s a them now?

Judy

You know what I mean! You’re not that kind of predator.

Nick

The kind that needs to be muzzled? The kind that makes you believe that you need to carry around fox repellent? Yeah the only thing I did notice that little thing on the first time we met. So l-let me ask you a question; Are you afraid of me? You think I might go nuts? That I’ll go savage? You think that I might try to eat you!?

Judy reaches for her fox spray. Nick’s face drops.

Nick

I knew it. Just when I thought someone actually believed in me.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what this movie is about. One reviewer said it best when they said  Zootopia was Disney’s answer to Crash.

Some will say it’s a cheap bait and switch, advertising something as a children’s film only for it to be a ‘message movie.’ Here’s the thing though. Shouldn’t that be what mainstream movies try to do?

You see this in a lot of different eras and a lot of different genres. The 1980s saw a slew of highly commercial and highly profitable movies dealing with the Cold War and the dangers of nuclear proliferation. One of the most famous of which, War Games, had a computer attempting to start World War III, unable to tell the difference between the projections in its program and the real people it was going to kill. When the young hero, played by Matthew Broderick, uses a game of tick tack toe to teach the computer that nuclear war is a no win scenario, the computer laments the following.

“Strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

The preview audience cheered at the line.

Two of my favorite science fiction/horror films of all time, Alien and Aliens, feature strong anti-corporate messages. The best example is in Aliens where a corporate CEO, played by Paul Reiser, attempting to smuggle one of the deadly creatures back to Earth for use in their bioweapons division. When his plan is revealed, the heroic Ellen Ripley calls him to the carpet for his greed, saying he is lower than the monsters she and the marines are fighting.

“You know Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.”

While it’s sometimes popular to disregard commercial film and literature as being just that, the fact remains that this work is the most widely seen. Experimental art films are wonderful, visually stunning, and psychologically unsettling pieces, but they don’t appeal to the masses. A story about a young boy going to a school for wizards does. People may not be too interested in seeing another documentary warning about the dangers of climate change, but an adventure to preserve the beauty of the far away Pandora is something people will flock to. An anti-corporate message will bore most people, but throw in acid bleeding aliens and you will draw a crowd.

Important and relevant messages can reach a wide audience if they’re packaged right. This isn’t a cop out and it doesn’t diminish the purpose os your art. Doing this only increases its chances of reaching more people, ensuring your message is heard by a wider audience, and allows the to have fun while you’re discussing potentially hot button topics.

Balancing both commercial and topical art can be difficult, but if you go too far in either direction, you have failures. The Transformers movies may earn a lot of bank, but they’re pretty shallow and exploitive action films. A French art film about genocide may be well made and heartfelt, but people need to see it for the message to be heard. If you find the healthy middle ground, you can make something people love, something that lasts, and something that gives an audience food for thought.

Zootopia has a cast of cute animals, but it’s still about the problems our society continues to face with ethnic and racial groups continuing to mistrust and categorize each other. If that message is still there, who cares if it’s told with a fox and a bunny?

More Never Heroes News

Never Heroes, my fantasy novel continues to near completion as the days go on, and as the days go on my excitement for this book grows more and more.

Yesterday I completed a tedious pre-final edit to send to my partner in crime, my book editor. I was concerned about chapters 18 and 19 since they amount to one giant fight scene between my hero and the main villain. My new edits were aimed at keeping the action fresh and filled with variety so it doesn’t get repetitive. I’m pretty happy with it so far, and my editor will only help it improve more.

Just as exciting is the progress made on our cover. Our talented illustrator, Joseph Buehrer, completed one of our prominent supporting characters, the elven wizard Hunter ‘Sparks’ Nightshadow. Though this character was of some concern to us when he first started the illustration, we’re both pretty well pleased with the result.

Cover_Hunter_03

The background on which the characters will be composited together was started today, a mountain range on sunset with our city of Ganbury and the five moons, visible in the upper left hand corner of the picture. Though the necessary details have not been added just yet, this does capture the general feel the final picture will have, from its rich colors to the spectacular landscape.

Cover_Background_01

This picture will not only take up the front cover, but also the back cover. The left side will remain untouched, while the right side will have the individual images of the characters added in for the final Drew Struzan style collage. In its own, it already promises to be spectacular enough. It will be a shame to cover up this image. We’ll try to keep plenty of it visible.

Now all we need is the image of our leading man, or rather our leading dragon. Creature creator David Spada sent in these sample doodles on which our hero could be modeled after. We decided to go with the highlighted one. He’s already looking pretty hansom in these early stages.

Zhyx Cover Tests

I have no doubt in my mind that this cover will be glorious when it’s finished. I’ll keep you posted as more work comes in.

Thanks for reading.

Working with Writing Editors: Why and How

Getting an editor for your writing can seem like a waste of money. Such editors often go for around two to four thousand dollars if they have been working in the field for a number of years. Also, why should someone need an editor? What do you need to worry about other than typos?

The answer is a lot. A lot can go wrong when writing a book or a script, and if you find the right editor, you have an opportunity to fix those mistakes. I have been working with my editor for roughly a month now and can say that her input in my project has been most insightful. Working with an editor can help expose your shortcomings as an artist, and this can be a gut punch. But instead of taking it that way, you can accept those weaknesses and take it as a challenge to make your writing better.

First things first, don’t have someone you know be the editor unless you’re sure they can view it objectively. You can have such a person sweep for typos, but if they know you will it is hard for them to take a step back and provide an honest opinion. They know who you are, can pick up on little in jokes that a general audience probably won’t, and will often do their best to be encouraging. You won’t get an honest critical evaluation from your own mother. Think of your writing like a pool. Those you know have already waded in and are comfortable with it, but most people are going to be jumping in cold. If it’s uncomfortable, they’ll just leave and move on to warmer waters.

The best editors are ones you don’t have extensive connections to, because they can come into the story cold from the point of view of your audience, as someone who doesn’t know you, is meeting your characters for the first time, and just getting ready to explore the world you have made. This brings us to the problem of objectivity, not just for them, but for the writer.

Objectivity is a big one for writers, myself included. When delving into your story, you often feel a flood of emotions and are aware at any given moment what your characters’ innermost thoughts and secrets are. Nobody knows the story better than you. That is a big risk since you know the story so well, you may not communicate what you feel because you already know it.

Unless your audience is also aware of those things, a character’s actions will probably not have the same impact for them. Editors, like your audience, offer an objective point of view. If they are unable to get the ideas you are trying to put across, chances are your audience will be the same way.

Take me for example. I’m not terribly fond of depressed or angsty characters. I just have a difficult time connecting with someone who complains about the meaningless of life on a regular basis. While editing my book, my editor made the comment that my protagonist seemed angsty at times. When she revealed this to me, I was somewhat distressed. I was going for more a gruff and angry kind of character who complained, but did it in an intimidating or even funny fashion. Since my editor didn’t quite get that, it doesn’t mean she didn’t ‘get’ the story. It just means I didn’t communicate my character properly.

So my editor and I arranged a meeting where she addressed her feelings, and I told her what I was going for.

Her response was something to the effect of “Ah, yes. I can see that now.”

Then I said “Okay. So how can I communicate that better?”

The tips and examples she offered me after that meeting were most helpful, and helped me improve my manuscript greatly. Lines of dialogue and certain actions now stuck out as being against everything I wanted my character to be, so a few strokes of the keys and they were fixed. That’s what you should do. If something doesn’t work for your editor, talk to them, tell them what your goal is, and ask for tips on how to help that come across.

This brings us to another advantage of having an editor. They can be a good partner to work with, and even make the editing process very fun. A good editor will talk to you, try to understand who your characters are and ask you what you want your story to be. Once they know that, an editor can be a lot like a coach or personal trainer. They’ll be over your shoulder and offering input and criticism, but it’s all to help you build those writing muscles. Eventually, you will work those common mistakes out of your system, and you’ll be a better artist for it.

This doesn’t mean you should listen to everything an editor says. Sometimes you’ll have a strong idea in a story that means a lot to you and you want to keep. My editor has suggested the deletion of passages or lines that I find it difficult to part with. Sometimes they’ll suggest deleting something, only to go through the manuscript and see you were trying to set something up before, then tell you to go ahead and leave it in.

If something means a lot to you and not to the editor though, you can take that as another sign that it doesn’t quite work. That doesn’t mean you have to get rid of it. It just means that element needs some fixing.

Now, not every writer needs to work with an editor. Sometimes it is a more comfortably process to work on something alone to keep any distractions from clouding your thinking. Sometimes every word just means so much to you, it is impossible to part with any of them. If however you are insecure with your work or want to go through a test run with it, I would suggest seeking an editor out. I can say for my first time working with an editor, this has been an enjoyable experience that has helped my manuscript get re-energized. There are not many joys greater than seeing a manuscript you already love come to life as your ideas leave your head and become words on the page. You work with a good editor, that joy can be yours as well.

Books or Movies? Evaluating My Career Path

In these two years since I got out of college, a lot has happened in my professional life to give me pause over which career would be best for me, film or books.

When I was a young boy of around six years old, I saw Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom. The movie was so rich with imagination, action and creative imagery, I fell in love with it right away. Looking at what was playing out on the screen, I asked a question that changed my life forever.

“How did they do that?”

I had never considered the question before when watching a movie. I had always assumed these wonderful things just winked themselves into existence. After that question, I watched documentary after documentary on how these works of art were created, and made the declaration when I was 10 years old.

“That’s what I want to do.” So I went to college for it, aced my grades, and learned everything I could about the elaborate and complex craft of filmmaking, from conception to the screen. I was going to be the greatest director ever. Now 27, I have only made a few short films, no features, and have a small job in a film company. They are good achievements to be sure, but not my greatest. My greatest was that I wrote a book.

Over one hundred thousand words, over three hundred pages. I sooner saw myself directing a massive budget epic then I did writing so much as a short story, but here it is. Locked away in my external hard drive is a book, and I had the time of my life doing it. It has made me wonder which art form is more right for me as a career path.

Two questions go into choosing books or film, how each works as an art form, and what goes into making either one.

Movies are an art for that interest me a lot more than books, because they are every art form rolled into one. They have writing, acting, music, digital and painted art, architecture, everything. Whenever a new art or technology comes along, movies absorb it, growing as humanity grows. They are in many ways the universal art form. Not everyone has the time or the patience to read a book or play a video game, but with a movie all you need to do is sit back and take it all in.

Books by contrast only deal in writing. There is no music, no acting, no effects work of any kind. They are just words on a page. Unlike movies, books ask a lot of their readers. They ask for time, concentration, but greatest of all, they ask for imagination. That is the one thing books will always win at. A book is different for each person, and on each reading. The words change and grow with you, and you are in control of it all. How the sunset looks, how the birds sing, how the couple kiss under the moonlight. Movies have the personality of their makers, while books have a lot more of their readers in them.

Movies and books are both wonderful, beautiful things. Thing is, I know much more about movies than books as I’m a very visual thinker. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about the great authors of our time, but you ask me one question about any film from a Hollywood blockbuster to an 80s slasher film and I can spew out more trivia than your average google search.

As for reading books, I’ll freely admit my guilt in not reading some of the best ever written. The Great Gatsby, Gone With the Wind, Slaughterhouse Five, 1984, the list goes on and on of great books which never graced my unfortunate eyes. Perhaps it’s because I better process the auditory and visual information in movies. I like seeing and hearing all these things, looking at a good piece of cinematography or hearing a great score to go along with it. With books however, you get to make your own. Chose your own actors, write your own music. You could have Dumbledore played by everyone from Gregory Peck to Harrison Ford.

Harrison Ford as Dumbledore. How kickass is that?

What about what goes into making either one? That perhaps is where the two differ the most. Though I always dreamed of being a film maker, the actual making part always filled me with dread.

Movies require many things. They require money, untold numbers of man hours, crew, safety regulations, you name it. These are all things one must consider when making a motion picture, because movies do have limitations. A first time director isn’t going to get a job directing a megabucks movie.

Also, as much as this pains me to admit, you don’t have that much creative freedom in movies, especially a big studio film. Studios give you the money, and they want a product they can sell. I suppose this does make sense. If I shoveled that amount of cash at someone, I would want them to follow certain rules also. Studios won’t give you that kind of money to see your dreams come true. Movies are art, but they’re expensive art, and expensive art has to sell.

With a book though, there is no crew, there is no limit on budget, and there is no person looking over your shoulder whispering yay or nay. You just set your fingers loose on a keyboard and watch them dance. You can do this anywhere you want. On a lake, in the few hours before work, on a vacation to Universal Studios, wherever your fingers can meet those keys. If something goes wrong, just erase it and start over. No time to reset the effects and actors. It’s ready to go as soon as you are.

Best part about a book though, is there is no waiting. No waiting for someone to green-light a passion project you’ve been wanting to make for the last twenty years. No waiting for a bigwig to take a passing interest in that baby that means so much to you. Whatever project you want to do, whichever one is most in your heart at that moment, that’s the one you make.

You can do whatever you want, whenever you want when writing a book, and that’s the dream of any artist. You want to sink an entire continent into the sea? Have an entire city fly to the moon? Whatever you can imagine, it only costs the ink to print it and the paper to put it on, available at any fine retailer. It takes only two things, your patience, and your time.

Still, making a movie is an experience. It’s collaborative. You meet and work with a lot of people. You make memories while making a movie, of late nights and early mornings, hanging out and trying the catering, all the things that have gone wrong and all the things that went right. It may be stressful, but it’s the stuff memories are made of. When all is said and done, it’s a mountainous achievement.

Making a movie is much more challenging than writing a book, but in the end, both are just as rewarding for the artist and their audience. Honestly, I’m not sure which is better for me now. Film has made a much greater impact on me. They were my focus on college and in my dreams for almost twenty years. But the writing of a book was such an enjoyable and free process, it was the first time in my life where I felt free of any limitations. Whatever story I wished to tell, I could just get started.

I’m still working on both careers. I have a meeting with someone who’s wanting to work together on shorts and features, and you better believe I’m completing my fantasy/adventure book series. The question now is which one I find more fulfilling, the challenge of filmmaking, or the freedom of book writing.

It has given me a lot to think about.

 

Ego Can Destroy Art

Artists who let their egos run rampant.

We have all heard the stories. They come time and time again of artists, often once talented and revered, spiraling into a pit of mediocrity, all while claiming they are misunderstood geniuses. There is a certain tragedy to this, seeing a great visionary fall into this trap of believing they are indestructible, or a newcomer unable to overcome the belief they have no more to learn. That feeling of indestructibility can destroy works of art that may have otherwise been great, and stop great careers before they even begin.

A big ego is a dangerous thing to have, particularly if you’re an artist. With it comes the assumption that everything you do is flawless. Surrounding themselves with ‘yes men’, no one ever questions what they do, and by the time the art is finished and available to the public, it’s too late for the criticism to make any difference. There are few examples as great as the saga of Michael Cimino and Heaven’s Gate.

The story of Heaven’s Gate is a tragic tale of an up and coming artist’s self destruction. Drunk off the success of The Deer Hunter, Cimino sought to make the great American Western. Given full creative control and a budget of twenty million, the film ran over time and over budget, Cimino frequently clashed with his producers at United Artists, and the incidents that happened on set caused ripples still being felt to this day.

The film was eventually completed on a budget of 50 million in 1980 dollars, only making 3 million at the box office. It flopped so hard that it closed United Artists, which had been the studio for creative freedom. The rampant mistreating of animals on set, ranging from live cockfights to a horse getting blown up with dynamite, resulted in new regulations against such cruelty. In the ensuing fallout, Cimino destroyed many careers, including his own.

This incident ended the era of creative freedom in Hollywood. Not enough people said ‘no’ to Cimino, and he refused to listen to those who did. There is a lot tragic about this story, from the destroyed careers, to the resulting restrictions on creativity, not to mention the the animals harmed on set. Another tragedy is this film was Cimino’s passion project, the film that meant more to him than anything in the world, and he bungled it. It is forever a part of film history not as a rousing success, but as a crushing failure.

If you see Heaven’s Gate, it’s a beautiful film to look at. Not a single frame in the movie doesn’t qualify as modern art. The acting is astonishing, the direction is top notch, the sets are breathtaking, even its plot deals with the Johnson County War, an important chapter in American History. All of it however, is wrapped around a script that is dull and uninteresting. Had Cimino listened to those around him, he may have been able to improve the script enough to make the film his masterpiece, paving the way for a great future in movies.

In the making of documentary, one of Cimino’s friends said it best. ‘No one wants to believe they have an ugly baby.’ That’s true, especially when that baby means as much to you as Heaven’s Gate did to Cimino. It becomes more damaging when you believe you’re a genius, because then a legitimate criticism can be written off without a second thought. Looking at the saga of his botched western, one can’t help but get the feeling that Cimino thought of it as his show, and not the show of the characters or story.

I personally believe that’s what every artist should remember. The show isn’t yours. The show belongs to the art. People didn’t go to see Raiders because of Spielberg. They went to see Indiana Jones. People didn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird because of Harper Lee. They read it because of the Finch family.

You can point to celebrities and artists who are beloved and revered, but it doesn’t really have much to do with their personalities or private lives. People don’t chat with Spielberg about that time he and his mother snuck a few lobsters, or how Harper Lee took a spring walk with her father in the south. They talk about the art and how it moved them. 

There’s something oddly liberating about taking that stance. You don’t worry about what people think of you and don’t have a drive to prove yourself. You don’t have that thought nagging you all the time of ‘I’ll be famous.’ You just want to make the art the best it can be, and if it makes you famous, that’s nice too.

Artists always have a lot to prove, and the desire for recognition is one of the bigger drives in a creative mind. We all make art with the goals of making better lives for ourselves and building successful careers. Remember though, it’s not you who makes the art famous, but the art that makes you famous. A good work of art can elevate its creator to new heights, gaining you a place in history and making all your dreams come true.

This is not to say you shouldn’t be confident. Confidence is a great thing that lets an artist take that risk of putting their work into the public eye. Confidence can keep you from giving up, not stopping until you’re finished. Its also a great thing to make something you’re proud of. Validation at making something great is one of the best things a human being can feel, but there is such a thing as taking it too far.

There are also many artists who can be called vain, but they may have developed that vanity over years of success. Many artists boast of how they will one day be famous, and never get there because they don’t try to get better. They effectively put themselves in a trap, and refuse to leave to greener pastures.

There’s a fine line between feeling proud of your accomplishments and declaring yourself a perfect genius. If you keep yourself from crossing that line, you’ll find things are much easier. There’s always more to learn, and always time to stop and take a look around before making a mistake. If you put your own feelings aside and give the art the care it deserves, it will be good to you.

Our Book Cover and Final Chapter 1 Illustration

Yesterday I had an excellent meeting with my illustrator, Joseph Buehrer, and we completed two more characters for the book cover of our fantasy adventure epic, Never Heroes. Those characters completed were orphaned 15 year old and deuteragonist River, and the tough and brave Major Celice Arietta. Pictured below is the updated artwork which will be added to the final collage.

Cover_River_02Cover_Celise_05

One of the things that greatly impresses me about this artwork is the loving detail Joseph has given the characters’ eyes. He really gives special attention to them, making the illustrations all the more lifelike. Our plans for the cover to be Struzan-esque certainly seem within reach now.

The next character to be completed is the elven wizard Hunter ‘Sparks’ Nigthshadow. After the final touches are put on River and Celice, we will work on Sparks and the background of the cover full time.

Hunter

Also, the full high resolution version of the now completed illustration for Chapter 1 is finished and has been added to the Chapter 1 gallery. This image, depicting our dragon protagonist Zhyx meeting Major Celice for the first time was already spectacular, but Joseph, without any request from me, took it upon himself to tough it up after feeling his skills had improved enough to warrant some revisions. The end result is breathtaking, and a great depiction of one of the novel’s most pivotal moments.

Zhyx Chapter 1

If you’re interested in checking out the step by step creation of this piece, click on the link below to watch it take shape from beginning to end.

Chapter 1 Illustration Concept to Completion

It certainly is a very interesting time for all involved, with the final edit underway and this spectacular cover edging closer to completion every day. All of us have a lot to be thankful for. I certainly do surrounded by talent like this. I’ll continue to post updates as soon as they’re available to me. Hope you all enjoy this artwork, and thanks for reading. Take care.

Plot vs. Story

The difference between plot and story can be hard to figure out for a beginning writer. Often confused for the same thing, the two really couldn’t be more different, or more dependent on each other. After writing for a while, you do start to differentiate them. Knowing the difference can help you gain a greater appreciation for the stories you love, and help you improve your work in ways you never thought possible.

There is one project that has been giving me such trouble, a thriller that I’ve been wanting to do since I was a good deal shorter. Everything seemed in place with a setting I loved and a topic I was passionate about. When I tried writing it though, I had to stop 15 pages in because it was clear it wasn’t working. Reading my characters, I just didn’t care. They were only going through a sequence of events, no significant changes to be had by the end. I had a plot, but there was nothing inside that put magic in it.

That’s the best way to tell the difference between plot and story. You take a look at a story you love, and at first glance it look’s pretty easy to say what it’s about. Take Star Wars for example. That’s pretty simple, a group of rebels try to take down an oppressive empire in a galaxy far, far away. It is a fun western style space adventure. But stopping there is a mistake, because that’s not what makes Star Wars special.

Ultimately, Star Wars is the story of two characters, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Vader has sided with the Empire and seeks to destroy the things his son holds dear, while Luke tries to find a way to convince his father that his views are worth fighting for. In the end, Vader choses his son over his old viewpoints and sacrifices his life to save him, paving the way for a better, more peaceful galaxy. That’s the story of Star Wars. All the space battles and lightsaber duels are just dressing for what lies underneath.

How about To Kill a Mockingbird? The plot is a lawyer risks his reputation by defending an African American man falsely accused of rape. What’s the story though? The story is about his children. Witnessing bigotry in all its ugliness, their childhood innocence is shattered, but they get it back due to an act of random kindness from a neighbor they once feared.

A story keeps your reader or viewer from asking that question ‘Why should I care?’ In all of the above listed examples, the viewer has a good reason to care. Plenty of science fiction stories came out with aspirations to be the next Star Wars, but none of them achieved the same level of success because they were nothing but lasers and space fights. Many books and films came out dealing with racism and hatred after To Kill a Mockingbird, but none had the gut punch of showing how those evils destroy children.

This is not to say that plot isn’t important. Plot is what gives a story its character, providing a unique finish that creates something completely new. You can make a quest about destroying an evil ring or killing a giant shark. You can set a tale of reconciliation in a suburban neighborhood or a high rise overrun by terrorists. You can put a tale of lost innocence on a set of railroad tracks in Oregon or on a river in Vietnam’s jungles.

Plots are the little differences between stories that allow us to tell them apart. They are ways to customize stories for any type of viewer with a variety of genres like horror, fantasy, science fiction, and action, allowing you to reach people that were otherwise uninterested. Someone might not be too interested in the tale of a working woman overcoming her past demons, but if that woman is Sigourney Weaver and those demons are acid bleeding monsters, you will turn a few more heads.

The plot is great, but sometimes it’s too easy to get lost in it and lose sight of what gives a narrative its power. It’s not hard to see why, especially in genres that rely on creative worlds, frightening imagery and spectacular set pieces, but those things can’t sustain a narrative on its own. You look something like the recent flop, Gods of Egypt. It has a simple straightforward plot and is jam packed with creative and beautiful creatures and set pieces. Underneath it though, there’s nothing. Having plot with no story is like coming to a party with the most delicious icing in the world, but forgetting the cake to put it on.

It seems my thriller fell into that same trap, with an over reliance on its premise and no real care or attention given to the characters to go through it. I asked myself why the journey was important, and realized by page 15 that it wasn’t important. That was a hard realization for me when I reached page 15. It isn’t important enough for a reader, and it’s not important enough for me to waste my time on, at least not yet. I am off to a decent start with a delicious icing of creative imagery, pretty spooky sequences, and a nice serving of tension and dread. Now it’s time for the hard part, baking the cake to put it on.

But oh, so many flavors to chose from.

Re-Reading Your Work

My first book has been in my heart for the last eight years. Now the first book in this planned series is nearing its final stages. It is an exciting time to know that the project, at least in the way of writing, is almost completely finished. We have an editor, and around this time next month, the search for an agent will continue, and then comes the publisher, and hopefully a career.

My editor has been very good. I just received the note ridden document on the first chapter, and am absolutely thrilled with it. What I like about this editor is she really wants to help improve your story. You hand her silver, and she tells you how to make it gold. Poor analogy if you prefer silver to gold, but you get the point.

Sometimes getting editing tips can sting a bit, but you need to remember that an editor is coming at the story from an objective point of view, the same way your readers will. If something confuses them, it will likely confuse other readers as well. An editor’s tips can be most helpful to increase a manuscript’s readability and put your own worries to rest.

Though I trust her completely, there are a few things I myself still wish to correct before she gets to work, so I have been re-reading my manuscript and tweaking it in parts. Personally, this is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Re-discovering your work after a break from it can be a real eye opener, allowing you to see the things that don’t quite work, and also see where the story got something right.

The edits were superficial for the most part, removing a few lines of dialogue and description here and there, changing things around, and giving her more to work with when she gets the chapters. Last night I blew through chapters 7 and 8, editing them as I went before they get their final evaluation. It had been many months since I read them, so I had actually forgotten a few of the things that happened in my own book.

This is one very important reason to re-read your work, but only after a break. If you go back over it moments after wrapping it up, your mind is still racing from what you just finished. Not a good state to look things over in. If you give yourself a break and then go through it, it helps you look at it with at least a little less bias. When you’re calmer, you can just relax and look through your work with much greater care. You may even get caught up in your own story.

Every once in a while, there would be something that made me cringe, wordy inner monologue, a strange exchange between two characters or any number of other small errors in a narrative. These things were not indestructible, and were vanquished after my fingers did a little waltz on the keyboard. It felt like cleaning a room or polishing a car. There was a nice sense of accomplishment knowing that the story became just a little bit better.

Occasionally, a few of my fears were calmed. My main character is a dragon, and one of my other characters had a bad experience with dragons in the past. We all know that archetype, from the angry police chief in every Dirty Harry film, to Val Kilmer in Top Gun. They’re that character that doesn’t trust the hero, calls them dangerous, reckless, and eventually they either come around, or get their teeth knocked in.

I like the angry police chief as much as the next guy, but if that’s all a character offers, you can’t help but roll your eyes. Fortunately, reading through the manuscript again has calmed my nerves. This character, named Blondie, is more than just paranoia. She cares about her companions, is passionate about her work in history and archeology, and her suspicions are purely based on worry for those closest to her. Her reasons are well founded, and you can actually understand and empathize with why she is not entirely trusting of the hero. I can’t begin to tell you the relief that brings when you fear something won’t work, only to discover it does.

In an earlier post, I compared reaching the ending to a book to climbing a mountain. You know where you’re headed, but the real question is getting there. Going back over a manuscript after a period of rest is similar. You know where to go, and how to get there. The only difference is you can avoid the rocks you tripped over last time.

Unexpected Surprise From My Illustrator

Sometimes the little things in life bring you so much pleasure.

My illustrator Joseph Buehrer is an artist of high standards. He always strives for the absolute best when it comes to his work, even after it is supposedly finished.

The illustration for chapter 1 of the Never Heroes fantasy/adventure series he is helping on was one of the biggest moments in the history of this project so far. Finished last year, it became a favorite piece of ours to show off, and putting it on here greatly aided in the site’s traffic.

I was satisfied with it. Joe wasn’t quite finished.

A few days ago he sent me a message, saying he wasn’t satisfied with the image given how much the quality the illustrations has increased, especially since last December. So, he tweaked the image until it was more up to the standards of the current work and sent me the update. Here it is.

Never Heroes Chapter 1

I must say, the updates were most thrilling to see, the most obvious being the new scale pattern in our dragon protagonist’s neck and chest, and the added detail and color to his great horned crown. I don’t have the HD version of this picture just yet, but will add it to the Chapter 1 Illustration page once it becomes available. In the meantime, I hope this SD version will satisfy your dragon needs.

Updates on the book cover coming soon. Thanks for reading.