Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Characters! And trees thereof!


Sorry for the delayed post,  life keeps getting in the way. This week I wanted to talk about character trees. In their simplest form these are a list of the physical and character attributes of your cast. Everyone has their own idea of what these entail but I'll cover some of the basic information that they should include.

Why bother doing one in the first place? I find they're useful to ensure your characters remain consistent throughout your novel and help you differentiate them from each other so everyone doesn't act and sound the same. Working out who your characters are will help a lot in working out what they will do once you get to plotting. Here's a quick list of what you might include in a character tree.

·         A quick overview or biography of the character. Who are they? What do they want? What's their relationship to other characters? Where are they at emotionally?

·         Physical description. This can be anything from body type, hair colour, eye colour to how they dress. Be sure to include every detail you think is pertinent, from whether they wear jewellery or make up to their personal hygiene regime. It'll inform your writing of the character through the book.

·         Their character traits. Are they outgoing or introverted? The life of the party or do they sit in the corner sipping a coke? What are their interests? What are their strengths and, more importantly, their flaws. That last one is important. Nobody's perfect and the protagonist of your novel shouldn't be either. They need something to humanize them. I'll give you an example: take Superman and Spider-man. Superman is perfect, he's the strongest, smartest and has the ethics of Ghandi. As a result of this he's about as interesting as whole grain toast. Spider-man isn't perfect. He's often late for important events in his personal life, he's prone to slipping up and he rarely gets the girl. He's human but you wouldn't mind grabbing a beer with him sometime, He feels like an approachable guy. Remember you need your readers to want to spend time with your characters, make them likable but not perfect. We hate those who have everything, sad but true.

·         Their relationships with others. Who are their parents? Are they married? Engaged? Do they have kids? Are they a good husband/wife/mother/dad/friend? Who do they hang out with?

·         Their character arc. Who are they at the start of the book? How do they change? What new skills do they learn? Who are they at the end?

 

That covers the basics. As an added bonus I'm including my own character tree for the character Aimee from "Flare." It's not perfect but it could serve as a practical guide to what you might need before you start tackling the plot. My tree for Aimee isn't comprehensive, there's more in the novel that I didn't have here, but that's the fun of writing, sometimes you end up in a place you weren't expecting. I’ve also left out my character notes for books two and three, because spoilers. As always, please direct any questions, comments and offers of hugs to me via facebook.com/flarebookseries or @paddylennon1 on twitter.

Flare Series: Character trees.

Character: Aimee Dewitt (Revenant)

Bio.

Aimee is aged fourteen in part one of book one. She’s a “Vanguard” fan girl when we first meet her. She buys all their merchandise and idolises them completely. Her family are rich, her Dad, Paul, runs “DeWitt Industries” an electronics concern and weapons manufacturer. Aimee’s mother is Barbara, a former model and beauty queen. Aimee doesn’t really get on with her parents. Her Dad is distant and only had a child so there’d be someone to carry on the family name and inherit the money. Her mother is obsessed with fashion and likes spending her husband’s money. Barbara is a little put out that a daughter of hers could be so uninterested in shoes and clothes.

Aimee is embarrassed by the money her family has and isn’t really into the whole “accumulating possessions” thing. She hasn't got any friends as she finds stuff the girls her own age are interested in to be boring and she feels that most boys her own age are too dumb to be worth dealing with.

When Aimee and her mother are kidnapped it’s up to Aimee to step up and free herself. But what happens that night leaves her heartbroken and angry. Angry enough to decide to train and become a vigilante like the Vanguard members she adores.

In part two, Aimee is nineteen. She’s still not in regular contact with her father although she hears from him occasionally. She has spent the intervening five years training in martial arts, free-running etc to become a superhero. She’s been inspired by the Vanguard to try to make the world a better place, one crippled mugger at a time. Her love for the Vanguard will make her helping Ryan a natural thing when she encounters him; after all, he’s the only son of her heroes and inspiration.

Aimee is an experienced and creative fighter. In her five year training period she’s become an expert in Escrima, Silat, Kick-boxing, Karate and BJJ and is able to mix and match these fighting styles. Of the three main characters she’s the most “heroic” of the lot and, initially, by far the most competent. She’s brave, tough and utterly unwilling to back down from a fight. She has no trouble charging headfirst into a brawl and throwing everything at her opponent until they’re beaten, though she's not above cheating to ensure that she'll win. She does have a tendency to be brutal, she won’t hesitate to dislocate or break an opponent’s bones with her first strike if it means she’ll come out on top. 

Appearance.

Aimee is five foot four, brown haired and reasonably attractive. She’d be stunning if she ever made the effort to dress up, a side effect of having a model mother. She’s a fitness nut and exercises a lot through martial arts training and jogging so she’s in excellent shape and health.

Her clothing is practical and plain, no bright colours or ornamentation. She doesn’t wear jewellery as this would be dangerous in a fight (earrings get pulled out etc). She will wear gym gear a lot on her down time and hoodies and jeans when just hanging out. None of her relaxation clothes will be top of the line stuff, no Gucci or Prada for her, just better than average brands but nothing flashy.

She wears a bare minimum of make-up, no fake tan etc.

She will dress up for work, plain suits and blouses, better than the average but not over the top in any way. She’s a little ashamed of her wealth and doesn’t want to advertise it.

Revenant.

Aimee’s costume as Revenant will be practical, plain and cover her entire body. It’s mostly black with some grey accents. It would be similar to the survival suit from “Batman Begins”, matte black body armour with a soldier’s web-gear on top. It’ll be tough enough to stop a bullet or blade but also flexible enough to allow her to fight.  She carries her equipment in her web gear. Two Escrima sticks in a scabbard on her back (sticks are thirty-two inches long), combat knife in a scabbard on her left thigh, Grappling gun in a holster on her left thigh. Two flashbang grenades in a pouch on her waist. Other pouches have plastic explosive, detonators, a Leatherman tool, a torch, matches in a waterproof pouch, survival rations and a canteen of water.

She wears a mask to obscure her features but which leaves her mouth visible. The lenses in her mask act as infra-red and night vision lenses when required.

She has a portable computer built into the gauntlet on her left wrist, this is a GPS / map and can help her hack into security systems etc.

Book One Character Arc.

Aimee becomes a hero after a tragedy. We see her first night as a hero and on her second evening in the suit she runs into Ryan. She starts out as someone who is only interested in revenge but meeting Ryan will soften her somewhat. She’ll joke with him etc as she’s so happy to be hanging out with the son of the people who inspired her.  She’s almost too ready to trust him but will quickly assign herself the role of his protector as she realises that Ryan can be a little swept up in things and quickly finds himself out of his depth.  She may even come across as a little bossy to Ryan at certain points but it’s because she wants him to push him to live up to his lineage.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Things I wish I knew before starting to write.


Now that I've got Flare out there and Shooting Star is coming along nicely I thought I'd write a few pieces for the blog about things I wish I knew before I started to write a novel. I didn't really have a lot of experience with creative writing before I began Flare, I did the small amount required in school and then, once the decision was made that I wanted to give writing a try, I attended a number of creative writing courses and workshops. Some of these helped, some didn’t.

In short, I was wholly unprepared for the hell I was about to unleash on myself. Most writing courses seem to focus on writing style and so on but don’t seem to address the nuts and bolts of motivation to write, story-lining or character development.

This complete lack of preparation meant that writing Flare included a lot more work than it should have been. Now that I'm two years wiser and managed to get Shooting Star in readable shape in less than half the time of my first try I figured I'd spread the word about how others can learn from my numerous mistakes. This week I'll go through ten tips about tackling a novel that will make your life easier. Ready? Let's begin!

  1. Write what you love. People always say “write what you know”. They're often correct but with fiction if you stick to writing about what you've directly experienced then things will get boring for both writer and reader. If I only wrote about “what I know” then most of my writing would be about sandwiches, about which I am an expert. Also, the science fiction and fantasy genres wouldn't exist as no one has ever travelled to another planet or fought a dragon in real life. So, a writer has to lie and write about things they don't know about. It's more interesting. When you decide to write, whether a poem, short story, comic book, screenplay or novel, you need to pick a topic that compels you. It needs to be something that you're not going to get bored by over the length of time it takes to write the story, see it published and promote it. That can be anywhere from two to ten years. That's a significant amount of time, so choose wisely and make sure you're writing something you would like to read or the motivation to tackle an 80,000 word time sucker like a novel will disappear fast.
  2. Plan. I found it to be impossible to just start writing from page one of a word document. The white space of that first page just stares at you and turns your mind to mush. Plot holes and inconsistencies will abound unless you’ve taken the time to figure as much as possible out in advance. Not everything needs to be planned to perfection; that will spoil the fun that spontaneously creating an unplanned character or scene can bring. You do need to outline the main plot of the novel in terms of "A then B then C then D then ending." I found that this saved me from running out of steam half way through the book and stopped writers block from occurring. If you know what the ending is then you'll always at least be able to write that! I'll go into greater detail about plot outlines and character building in coming weeks.
  3. Write for the edit. Get the first draft written. That’s it. Don't worry about formatting or spelling or even if chunks of character development are missing. Just get the main plot fleshed out as completely as possible for your first draft. You need something you can edit. This first draft will represent the most difficult part of the process, and most likely the longest period of writing time so get it done in a basic format. You can work on making it pretty later.
  4. Take a break. Leave your first draft in a drawer, go watch some movies and maybe even go on holiday. Rest a little, you've earned it. Then you can come back for the second draft refreshed and with your mind ready for the next bit.
  5. Draft, then redraft. Read your first draft again. By the end you'll have spotted a million things you need to fix: characterisation, plot holes, dialogue. These are going to be the things you need to fix. Once it's done repeat as necessary. How often? More than one book on writing I’ve read recommends seven drafts. Flare got eight by the time I felt it was good enough to be let free into the world. It still isn’t a perfect novel by any means but it’s my first, I’ll get better. The only writer to do a perfect first novel was Harper Lee, I’m no Harper Lee.
  6. Listen to what's going on around you. Don't just lock yourself in an office and write all the time. Get out into the world and pay attention to what's going on. Listen to how people talk and interact, it'll improve your dialogue and character interplay in later drafts.
  7. Be specific. If your planned story allows you to, use real world examples in your novel. It helps relate the world your character lives in to the world we know. Use real street names, places, events and flora and fauna to make your world a real place. I'm assuming the book is set on Earth.  A flock of birds shouldn’t just be a flock of birds; it's a flock of sparrows or seagulls. These extra little bits of description help the reader get a feel for the fictional world, which is what you want if you’re hoping they stick around until the end.
  8. If you love it, let it go. Sometimes there'll be a piece of dialogue or particular sequence that you adore that just doesn't fit the story. Maybe a character says something that doesn't gel or the scene doesn't serve a narrative purpose, you have to be brave enough to cut these out and save them for another time and place. Every writer has a box marked "for later use" containing their discarded ideas. Don't panic if something you like doesn't belong anywhere, someday it will.
  9. Spelling and grammar. Once the story and character arcs are good and you're happy to have someone else read it, have another pass and fix all the spelling and grammar errors. You won't catch them all but it'll help everyone else. An agent or publisher will throw manuscripts with poor spelling in the bin without reading them. They've got plenty of adequately written books to read to spend time hoping to find a gem amongst all the scripts with incorrect spelling. This applies double if you're planning to self-publish. This is your work, there's no one else to blame if there are errors. Editing text is boring but extremely important. The most exciting story telling in the world won't mean Jack if it's an unreadable mess.
  10. Get another reader or two. Once your manuscript is in legible condition and you're happy with the idea of others reading it then proceed to find a friend to give it a look. Ideally, your friend will have at least a passing interest in the topic of the book, they'll have read similar works or pieces in the genre and will be familiar with the conventions etc. Once your clued in friend has prepared notes, work on those as your next draft. Then find another reader who isn't a fan of the genre, they'll spot things the previous reader missed and will force you to work to explain items that maybe the casual reader will need explained. Again, use their notes as the basis of another draft.
That's it for this week; hopefully my limited experience will help make you think about what you could do to make your work better. If anyone has a topic to suggest please do so via Facebook: Facebook.com/flarebook or Twitter @paddylennon1

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Deer

It's been a busy few months as I've prepared "Flare" for publication (available now on Amazon in Kindle and print!) Go buy it. But I've got a quick short story for your reading pleasure! Based on a true story no less!





Nigel pulled on the arm length rubber glove over his right hand and made sure to extend it along his forearm and across his bicep. Once he was sure that he was protected from the worst of what was about to happen, he reached into his medicine bag and took out a large plastic bottle. He opened the lid and took out a red pellet that was half the size of his palm. The cow that stood in the corner of the barn mooed pitifully. It was sick, which was why Nigel was preparing to give it an enema.
 
Nigel walked over to the cow and inserted his arm into the back of the animal. It mooed louder and shuffled a little.
 
Nigel’s mobile phone chose that moment to ring. He reached into his pocket with his free hand and answered it.
“Nigel Watkins.”
“Is that Nigel Watkins? The Vet?” asked a woman on the other end.
“Yes.”
“Good. It’s Eileen O’Mahoney from the Glen Walkers.”
Nigel cursed under his breath. Eileen was a perennial thorn in his side. Her dog had gotten run over by a tractor last year and Nigel hadn’t been able to save it.
“Mrs O’Mahoney, this really isn’t a good time.”
“It’s not about the dog, though I notice you still haven’t given me a formal apology for your inability to fix poor Remington. I was on the walking trail near Robertson’s farm. There’s an injured Deer up there, I think it’s leg is broken. Take the path and you’ll see it fifteen yards past the Oak tree that fell in the storm last week.”
“Oh, OK. I’ll go up there directly.”
“Just thought you should know, Someone needs to put it out of it’s misery.”
“I will.”
Eileen hung up without so much as a “goodbye.” Nigel finished up his date with the cow and headed back to his veterinary practice in his Jeep.
 
Nigel stopped by the office to pick up a rifle and some ammunition in order to put the Deer down. It was sad but had to be done, the poor thing would never walk again. Before He left the office he made sure to call the local Guards and have one of them meet him at where Eileen said the Deer was. A Guard needed to be present when he discharged the firearm and put the animal down, it was the law. The Guard at the station answered and said they’d send a patrol car to meet him at the walking trail.
Nigel jumped in his jeep and headed for the location. A patrol car was already there when he arrived. Nigel was surprised that the Guards had made it there that quickly. Supervising the putting down of a wild animal was usually way down their list of priorities. No Guards were present. They must have already gone up the path. Nigel parked his Jeep and opened the boot to get his gun. He walked up the trail to where Eileen had said the Deer was and didn’t see anyone. It was a weekday, there weren’t any walkers out and he saw no sign of the Guards. Nigel found the animal, saw that it was still alive and waited for the Guards to arrive. After a half hour there was still no sign of them and it was starting to get windy so Nigel decided to walk back down to the cars.
 
He waited for what felt like an age and decided to take his rifle from its holdall to make sure it was in good condition. He had cleaned it a few days before but you could never be too careful with a weapon. As he checked over the gun he saw two Guards, a lanky, skinny young man and an even younger woman, approach from a field opposite. They were returning to their car. Nigel stood up straight and waved at them.
“What are you doing here?” asked the male guard as they approached.
“I’ve been waiting for you.” responded Nigel.
The two guards looked at the rifle in his hands and then stared at each other. Without a word they dashed over a hedgerow and ran away as fast as they could. Nigel was shocked:
“Come back!” He shouted. “I need to shoot this thing!”
The Guards didn’t look back but pelted across the field at top speed until they disappeared from sight over in the trees.
Nigel’s phone rang again. He answered it.
“Hello?”
“Nigel Watkins?”
“Yes.”
“It’s Sergeant O’Shea. Sorry for the delay, I’ll meet you in a half hour and you can put down the Deer. We’ve been busy today searching abandoned houses in the countryside for Marihuana growing operations. Wicklow is dirty with the feckers. Anyways I’m free now.”
“Oh, See you soon.”
“Bye now.” said the Sergeant.
Nigel sighed and looked across the fields to the forest where he was sure the two young Guards were cowering behind an Oak tree. He owed those two an apology.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Greystones FC

Hello again, Life's gotten in the way with holidays and moving house having eaten into my writing time, but I'm back with a new story based on something I noticed about my new home town of Greystones. Enjoy.


Jacob sat down outside the natural food store cum cafe, stirred some brown sugar into his organic, fair trade mocha and sighed. He was dying for something unhealthy to eat but he'd promised his wife that the days of guzzling saturated fats and grease were over. Beside him, in her pram, Jessica clenched and unclenched her tiny fists. She was the reason for many of the lifestyle choices imposed upon him in the past eighteen months. Jessica struggled as she reached for the fabric giraffe that adorned the front of her pram.
She was four months old and content. Jacob and Jessica had gone for a walk go escape the house they shared with their wife / mother. Post natal depression had taken a toll on the relationship between them all. Mummy needed time alone to have a bubble bath and knock back a bottle of Lidl's finest wine. Jacob stared into his coffee and absentmindedly put another sugar in, feeling guilty as he did so.

"You look bored, mate." opined a voice from an adjacent table.

"Sorry?" asked Jacob.

"I'll bet you are." responded the bald man seated nearby. "Bet you've always been sorry, usually about the things that are beyond your control."

"I've no idea what you mean."

"Sure you do. Wife's not giving you any attention. Told you to get that kid out of the house before she had a nervous breakdown I’d guess. Boss ignores your ideas; you haven't made a single friend since you moved to this town."

"Greystones is fine." Jacob protested. "There's some good cafes..."

The bald man looked down the street and noted the dozens of cafes, each providing broadly the same menu to the denizens of Greystones.

"There is, but it's missing something isn't it? It's too safe, too normal, a bit dull. People come here to raise their kids, not live their lives. Am I right?" The bald man finished.

A lot of what the man said rang true. Jacob had secretly thought much the same thing. Moving there wasn't his decision, like most of the life choices made in the past eight years. Angela had decided where they were going to buy the house because it was near some reasonable schools. She'd rejected his plans for a home cinema and an exercise room because they wouldn't have time for those things with the baby coming. Jacob realised with a start that nothing had turned out the way he wanted it to. Jacob took a sip of his ethically sound overpriced coffee and nodded to the bald man.

The man smiled and then spoke.

"Course I'm right. Tell you what; I'm starting a club for people like us, calling it Greystones F.C. You're welcome to join. We're meeting in Reynolds' field near the windgates. We have matches every Tuesday at 8. See you there."

The bald man got up and left, heading down Church road to do some more recruiting. Jacob finished his coffee. He and baby Jessica went home.

On Tuesday, Jacob showed up in the right place at the right time to join in on the match. He'd come kitted out for a soccer game, a decent run around the pitch would help him blow off some steam he had reasoned. Angela had protested his leaving her alone with the baby but he told her he needed some time alone as well.

Jacob looked around the field. It wasn't really suitable for a soccer pitch, there were rocks strewn around and the grass was too long. Six other men were there, standing around in a small circle. The bald man was one of them. Most were around Jacob's age, mid-thirties, and they all had the look of the sort who crunched numbers or pushed paper all day.

A couple of the men nodded greetings as he approached.

"Right lads, we playing soccer or what?" Jacob asked.

The others laughed nervously.

The bald man spoke: "Running around kicking a ball isn't what we need. I've planned something a little more exciting. Take off your rings and jewellery if you've got them lads." The bald man pointed to a tall, thin man on Jacob's left. "Trevor's your opponent for tonight."

With that, Trevor, an estate agent originally from Malahide, stepped forward and punched Jacob in the face. Jacob fell flat on his back.

"What the fuck?" Jacob said, feeling the anger burn inside him.

"This isn’t football mate; it’s a lot more primal than that. What did you think “F.C.” stood for? The anger your feeling is how we’re supposed to feel. That's good, use it and hit Trevor back." The bald man said.

Jacob got to his feet and charged at Trevor. They collided and tumbled to the ground. Jacob ended up on top and commenced pummelling Trevor. He hadn't felt this alive in ages. With every blow he felt his power, so long neutered in this clean and boring town, return. Trevor walloped him on the side of his face with a quick jab; Jacob smiled and continued to punch. He kept going until the bald man pulled him away.

"That's enough, there's another round coming up. Take five."

One of the other men handed Jacob a bottle of water. Jacob took a drink, sloshed it around his mouth and spat it out. The water had turned brown from the blood in his mouth.

"Right." The bald man said. "Ready to go again?"

Jacob and Trevor faced each other. Jacob felt the bloodlust rise in his chest and stormed in towards Trevor, flailing his arms about like a madman.


Four minutes later, it was over. Jacob and Trevor sat down beside one another and slapped each other on the back. Both of them were nursing bruises and split lips but were ecstatic at having felt like men again, even if only for a moment. As they watched two more competitors circled each other, fighting their cares away. Jacob smiled and relaxed for the first time since he had moved to the town. He finally felt like he was at home.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Flare: The Kitchen Scene

Here's an extract from Chapter five of the book. This is probably the scene in the book that went through the most re-writes. The characters have already been introduced at this point in an earlier battle scene but I wanted to add some depth to them and show off their personalities and particularly their relationships, mainly through dialogue. I hope you all enjoy it and see you next week for one more extract.

Velocity sped into the kitchen in her dressing gown to put the coffee on. Mage was sitting at the table with a full breakfast already prepared.

“Morning!” he said cheerfully.

“Mage?! What in the name of Heaven are you doing?” she tied the belt of her dressing gown tighter, making sure she was completely covered up. “Since when do you get up this early? How did you get in here?”

“I can walk through walls when I need to.”

Velocity covered her face with her hands, it was too early in the morning to be dealing with this guy: “Why did you “need” to walk through ours first thing in the morning?”

“I need a small favour. Tiny, you could even say its infinitesimal. My new line of wholesome, healthy foodstuffs is getting its official launch today. Photographers, T.V. cameras, all that good stuff. I could use some backup. It’d be good P.R. for the team!”

Solarstorm entered the room dressed in a navy suit, a blue shirt and tie.

“This is the same “wholesome” stuff that you complained gave you Diarrhoea last month?” He asked.

“The very same. The Doctor actually said it was chronic Diarrhoea, by the way. I have a sick note.” Mage picked up a box of breakfast cereal from the table. “Check this out. It's called “Mages Choice” and it's worth a lot of money to selected charities.”

Velocity examined the box, which had a picture of Mage smiling and giving a thumbs up as he used a spoon to scoop up some cereal from a bowl.

She laughed: “Do these “charities” include the local bars, restaurants and clothes stores?”

“Oh, what’s this? I'm getting harassment from the woman who endorsed those running shoes that are made by five year olds in a sweatshop.”

“Those allegations were never proven!” Velocity retorted.

Solarstorm raised his voice to try and stop the developing argument: “We’re not interested Mage. Buying a lot of fancy food from your company won’t make people healthier or thinner, Why not just tell people to eat some fruit and vegetables and do some exercise if they want to be healthy?”

“Because” Mage said slowly, as if speaking to a child; “that’s…not…profitable. “Mage’s Choice” is more than just a food brand. The very name conjures up a lifestyle choice that means no stress and no effort, just the need to spend money on these “dried fruit crunchies” that I’m selling.”

Solarstorm sat down and poured himself a large cup of coffee.

“Very nice. Was some of that a quote from the press release?”

“Yes.”

“No deal. People are told to buy useless junk by companies all the time; we’re not getting involved in that.”

“Fine, Ok. But what about that reality show that my agent is trying to set up over at the TV network? Can't you at least sign off on that?”

“Not happening. We're private individuals. We don't like seeing our faces plastered everywhere.”

“We're the world's greatest heroes. We're going to have our faces everywhere whether we want to or not. Am I the only one who wants to make some money off of that?”

Solarstorm sighed: “We’re well looked after by the Government. Velocity and I love to do the charity work but we're not in this for the money. In fact we're thinking of stepping back from all this.”

“You're breaking up the band?!” asked Mage, surprised.

“We've been talking about it.”

A tear appeared in Mage’s eye. He fell off his chair and got down on his knees:

“Please, please do this for me! For us! For the good of humanity! Couldn’t you at least wait until my brand has established itself in the marketplace?”

“That was much better than usual, have you been practicing your grovelling technique?”

Mage began to cry: “I don’t want to die poor! I don’t want to!”

Real tears continued to streak down his cheeks as he pounded his fist on the floor and wailed.

“We're not needed Mage.” Velocity cut in, “Yesterday was the first action we've seen in six months. Our family deserves a normal life. We've been superheroes but not great parents for a long while now. It's time for us to fix that.”

Mage got to his feet and wiped the tears from his eyes: “Thanks for that rousing speech, Yoko Ono. You two are a disappointment!”

Mage strode to the door, opened it and slammed it loudly, for effect. He turned around to face Velocity and glared angrily at her for a few seconds. He finally left the apartment by passing through the wall as if it wasn’t there.

Solarstorm looked puzzled: “How is it that he can enter our apartment and make breakfast without making a sound but he always makes sure to slam the door when he’s leaving?”

“Typical Irishman.”

Solarstorm tried some of the cereal. It was terrible. He coughed most of the mouthful into a napkin and washed the remainder of the cereal down with some orange juice.

“That’s awful; I think I’ll have some toast instead.”

Solarstorm picked up a slice of bread in his right hand and pointed his left index finger at it; his finger emitted a soft orange glow, within seconds the bread started to toast.

 “Do you want to discuss what we said last night?" asked Velocity “Ryan will be up soon and we should talk to him about it”.

“I think we’re done. The super criminals are all safely locked away and the Police are well able to handle everything else, they could have dealt with that hostage situation in the Casino without our help. The Mayor didn’t need to call us in for that.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I’ve been thinking the same for a while.”

 

Ryan walked into the room, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, carrying a schoolbag over his right shoulder. Solarstorm smiled at him:

“So kiddo, you ready for your first day of public school?”

Ryan nodded: He had already decided not to tell them that he had actually started yesterday. It would upset them if they realised that they had forgotten the correct date. “Got my switchblade, some notebooks, my laptop and these writing sticks.” He said, fishing in his backpack and producing some ballpoint pens.

“Pens? I remember those. Is your switchblade properly sharpened?” Solarstorm deadpanned.

“I think so; Warfare gave it to me last Christmas. He doesn’t usually give inferior sharp objects as gifts.”

Solarstorm looked across into the living room to see the display of old fashioned weaponry that Warfare had given the family over the years, Battle-Axes, Swords and even a Mace were displayed in various locked cabinets. Warfare had odd ideas about what people should receive for birthdays and Christmas, but his heart was in the right place.

“Honey, leave that at home!” said Velocity

“Mum, I don’t really have one.” said Ryan, a little exasperated, “I asked Warfare but he said I wasn’t ever going to need one.”

“He’s right; this is a public school you’re going to, not Iraq.”

“Ok, but if I come home covered in bruises…”

“Could you try to avoid that kind of thing? We’re running out of schools to send you to.”

“Tell the kids to stop picking on me just because my Dad can knock buildings over and my Mum can run faster than anyone else on the planet. Things are a lot different to when you two were in school.”

“Hey” Velocity cut in “We had it hard growing up too!”

“You had powers, I don’t.”

“You still might. You’re only fourteen.”

“I’d prefer not to get any, thanks. Am I supposed to grow up to be a super-powered accountant or something?”   

Solarstorm grabbed his car keys from the kitchen counter: “Come on, I’ll drive you to school. We still have plenty of time to ruin your life for you. You’re our responsibility until you turn eighteen.”

“Yeah, you two go on ahead” said Velocity. “This apartment is a pigsty; I’m going to clean it.”

Ryan looked around the spotless apartment;” Mum, we really need to get you a hobby. I hear that knitting is a lot of fun.”

“I already tried it. I can knit a jumper in forty seconds. Your Dad has a wardrobe full of them from when we started dating.”

“I never wear them because they’re so special.” said Solarstorm. “It’s definitely not because they’re in garish colours that make my eyes bleed.”

“We’re going to be late!” said Ryan, checking his watch.

Solarstorm smiled: “See Lisa? He gets that from you. We’ll speak to Warfare when I get back.”

“Sure, go. I’ll see you in an hour or so.”

 

Ryan sat in the passenger seat of his Dad’s car as they drove through the traffic on the way to school.

“Listen Ryan. Your Mom and I are worried. Are you going to be OK in this new school? You’ve had a lot of trouble fitting in everywhere.”

“Something about having superhero parents doesn’t lead to making friends easily.”

“I can understand that. It’s difficult to make friends at all. You’d be surprised how few we have. Outside of the hero community, I mean.”

“Because you have powers?”

“That’s part of it, but it’s more like regular folks don’t really approach us as people. We’re icons, like famous actors or singers. People see the glitzy public fa├žade but not what’s inside. The fact that we’re famous makes our relationships a bit on the superficial side. People want to be friends with you for what you can do for them. Not necessarily because of the person you are. We don’t want that for you. If there’s a chance for you to be a normal person, unaffected by all the craziness that this life brings, then we’re going to take it.”

“Which means what exactly?”

“It means we want you to study and talk to kids your own age, your best friend at the moment is a walking pile of rocks that likes to smash robots.”

“I’ll try.”

“Good, I’m not sure that I’ll be able to pick you up, you can get the school bus home if neither your mother nor I can make it. I’ve a feeling that the meeting with Warfare is going to take some time. Enjoy your day. Try to talk to some other teenagers, preferably ones who aren’t members of a gang.” 

Saturday, 27 July 2013

How Much is the Geek Dollar Worth?


In the aftermath of the meat grinder that is San Diego Comic Con and with the relative underperformance of Pacific Rim (in cinemas now! Go see it!) I’ve been wondering how much of a dollar figure can you put on the support of the worldwide, internet savvy nerd. Are films and comic books destined to remain in some form of ghetto? Ignored by the mass audience until something like “The Avengers” or “Harry Potter” breaks out into the mainstream once a decade? Full disclosure, I’m a geek. I play video games, have watched and enjoyed Anime, read comics etc. But I’m also financially minded, I studied Business in college and work in that area, I read a lot of articles about economics and finance. My life is clearly thrill a minute stuff to be sure. As a result of my education, I’ve always been interested in the business part of “entertainment business.” I’ve been known to read a book or two about the topic on my commute to work.

First, let’s talk “Pacific Rim”. I saw it, loved it and will likely try to see it again before it leaves cinemas. I’m sure many of you reading this had the same reaction. My Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of my friends saying great things about the film. It’s probably got the best word of mouth of any film this summer. But the end result is that the movie will struggle to achieve $100 million in its theatrical release in the United States. It’s good money to be sure but it’s far behind several inferior films released this summer. A cinema ticket costs ten dollars, a 3-d ticket somewhere around fourteen dollars. Going by those metrics probably around seven to nine million Americans will pay to go see Pacific Rim in the cinema. When you take into account those of us that will go see it twice or even three times the number of paying individuals shrinks down to the lower end of that 7 to 9 million figure.

That’s a reasonably sized market, but it’s only about 3% of the population of the entire country going to see one of the biggest and best summer films of the year. The film clearly hasn’t hit the mainstream in the way that its makers would have liked. It had a few things going against it: no brand name recognition and no “stars” being the main ones. Studios cannot make money selling a mass released product to 3% of the people, which means that films need to reach a broad audience. One way of ensuring this has been to take product from other sources and adapt it. Comics and books are the old reliables for adaptation as evidenced by the proliferation of comic books on screen we’ve seen since the mid-nineties. World War Z was based on a well-received, though not really mainstream book. Adaptations of pre-existing material have benefits, if they’re good they have a built in fan base and have a story arc mapped out on the page which means less guessing as to how to fix those problems in the third act.

Pacific Rim is an original creation, more or less, it’s heavily influenced by Japanese monster and mecha films and shows but it’s not a straightforward adaption of any of them. As a result it’s not as easy to market it to mainstream audiences. Most peoples experiences with the genres it draws from are “Godzilla” or something brought over from Japan and badly dubbed to be shown to an audience of sugar crazed eight year olds in the mid to late eighties. Telling people that the movie is “Robotech versus Godzilla” isn’t going to sell tickets. We’ve already been burned by that sort of thing thanks to Matthew Broderick. One complaint I’ve read about Pacific Rim is that the trailers didn’t grab people. This is most likely because the coolest stuff from the film isn’t blown in the trailers. This is something that’s infected Hollywood in a big way this past decade. The money shots are used up in two minutes of footage shown four months before the film is released. It drags people in to see the film but it also leaves audiences with a bad taste in their mouths once the film is finished 

Which brings me to San Diego Comic Con, this years’s convention was the biggest ever. 140,000 people passed through the doors of the convention centre to see previews of next year’s slate of geek friendly product. There were massive queues, some crying, new trailers etc. What got good buzz? The Hunger Games, The announcement of Batman versus Superman, The Marvel Studios panel and Agents of SHIELD. These properties don’t really need SDCC to sell themselves, they’re based on pre-existing material with a large fanbase. The trailer for Catching Fire could have been released at any time and garnered just as much attention. Batman versus Superman is a fine idea until you hear that Zack Snyder is directing it because you can then be assured that the plot can be written in two sentences: Batman and Superman are manipulated by some villain to fight each other. They then team up to take down said villain.

SDCC is a great promotional tool but it mainly works for pre-existing properties and caters to those fan-bases. The hype about the show being where projects are made or broken is just hype. There’s very little in the way of evidence to back up that assumption. New properties, whether they’re independent comics or new TV shows don’t break out into the main stream from a good showing at SDCC. I went to SDCC a few years back, one of those years there was reasonable buzz about the “Bionic Woman” pilot that was shown. The result? The series didn’t survive. Good word of mouth from SDCC didn’t help it reach a worthwhile audience share. Maybe there are examples of breakout successes for new properties from the convention but I’m honestly struggling to remember any. The  hype generated by SDCC doesn’t pass beyond the people who were probably going to buy or watch the product anyway and that audience isn’t particularly large to begin with.  

So in short, the engaged, hardcore geek audience is small, maybe it’s five million people in the United States and a few percent of the global market worldwide. There’s money to be made there for sure. But is it enough money to fund massive films and base an enterprise on? I think this year and next year will show it for certain. The summer blockbusters this year all underperformed except for Iron Man 3 (which was successful on the back of 2 previous films and the Avengers). Will the blockbuster season become one breakout hit per year with a bunch of barely profitable also rans like this summer has been? It’s a scary thought and it would mean that our summer films become ever more generic, mindless and dumb in order to get Joe and Joan Average to attend them in cinemas. Scripts and production design will continue to fall in importance in the Studio’s minds as it will all be about the marketing. Trailers will continue to show the best moments of the movie in order to get people in the doors. Which is exactly what Pacific Rim didn’t do and is now paying for.  Go see Pacific Rim and show the studios that there’s an audience for a superior summer film, before it’s too late

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Flare: Chapter Two.

After the blurb last week it's time for the first of three sample chapters I'll be putting up here in the run up to releasing the book sometime in mid August. This is the shortest chapter of the book at 1400 words. Generally I aim to have the chapters end up being around 3,500 to 4,000 words for a couple of reasons which i'll bore you with over a pint sometime. I thought for the preview I'd focus on introducing you to some of the main characters, namely Ryan Curtis and his parents, Jake and Lisa. This extract is the entire of chapter two and serves as an introduction to Ryan. 

Chapter Two: First Day.


 Ryan sat on the armchair beside the window in his bedroom. It was seven in the morning and his parents were nowhere to be found. That wasn’t surprising. He had heard them leave an hour earlier as they raced out the door of the apartment to go to work. Had they managed to forget about today and how important it was? There was no way they were going to be back on time. Ryan decided to get ready for school by himself.

He was already washed and dressed so all he had to do was drag his protesting body off the chair, pick up his school bag and head out the door. He entered the kitchen, opened a cupboard and the fridge and pulled out the ingredients he needed to make a southwest omelette: Eggs, some butter, ham, onions, peppers and parsley. A normal fourteen year old boy wouldn’t have to be able to exist completely independently of his parents. But Ryan’s situation in life was far from normal. He listened to some music as he prepared and ate his breakfast. Once he had finished, Ryan placed the dirty dishes and cutlery in the dishwasher and then placed a load of laundry in the rarely used washing machine. Ryan’s mother, Lisa, never had the patience to wait the eternity it took the washing machine to clean a load of clothes. She washed everything by hand. It was faster.

Once the chores were done, Ryan took the cookie jar down from the shelf and dipped his hand inside to take some money out. Ryan’s dad wouldn’t allow sweets in the house, instead the cookie jar held a few hundred dollars in cash, just in case it came in handy. Ryan took a roll of fifty dollar bills out and slipped one into his front pocket. He’d have to pay for lunch in school today. He didn’t have time to cook something decent.

He left the apartment and headed for the elevator in the hall. He needed to be at the bus stop in five minutes. The rest of the building was quiet. The other occupants had left at the same time as his parents had. He exited the building and walked to the bus stop. He didn’t have to wait long for a yellow and black school bus to turn the corner and pull up at the kerb. He got on board and nodded in greeting to the driver. The bus was mostly full. Ryan shuffled down the aisle as the bus started moving; several of the other kids were staring at him, wondering who the newcomer was. Ryan continued on down the aisle and spotted an empty seat about half way down the bus. As he approached the boy sitting beside the seat placed his hand to guard the empty space:

“Someone’s already sitting there. Find somewhere else.” The boy said.
Ryan sat down on an empty seat near to the back of the bus, beside a girl who didn’t even look at him as he sat down. She was too busy staring out the window, trying not to catch his eye. The bus sauntered through the early morning traffic and reached its destination: Jimmy Carter Middle School. The doors opened and the bus disgorged its passengers. Ryan followed his new schoolmates out the door and into the school. The place was noisy and warm as friends who hadn’t seen each other in weeks laughed and talked together. Ryan took it all in as he moved slowly down the packed corridor. The School had the usual cliques, the pretty girls hung out with other pretty girls, the sports stars hung out with other sports stars and the quiet kids hung out in small closely knit groups or alone.

It was exactly like Ryan’s last school back in Chicago, except that most people here were much better sun tanned. Ryan followed the signs for the Vice-principal’s office and knocked on the open door.
“Come in.” said a bespectacled woman seated behind a desk.
“Excuse me.” said Ryan. “I’m a new student here.”
“Name?” She responded.
“Ryan Curtis.”
“Ah, Yes.” She said as she ticked a box on a printed list that lay on her desk. She smiled at Ryan: “Are your parents with you?”
“No, they’re busy.”
“Well that’s understandable. I’m Angela Williams. Your home room is number fourteen. Take a right when you leave my office and then take a left. It’s the sixth door on your right. It’s numbered.”
“Thanks.” said Ryan.
“The Vice-principal asked to speak with you when you arrived. He’s in his office, go straight in. I hope you enjoy your time with us Ryan.”
“I hope so too. See you again.”

 
Ryan rapped his knuckles on the open door and entered the Vice-principal’s office.
The Vice-principal’s nameplate on his desk identified him as Mr Stack. He attempted to smile as Ryan walked in, at least, the sides of his mouth curled up slightly and he exposed some teeth.
“Ryan Curtis. It’s nice to meet you. Are your parents here?”
“No. They were called away on business.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, I was really hoping to meet them. Never mind, let’s have a quick chat before you start class. I like to get to know all my students. Connecting with people personally was a value espoused by the man who this institution of learning was named after: Our thirty-ninth and best President.” Mr Stack leaned back in his chair and pointed up at the portrait of President Carter which hung over his desk.

“That’s great.” said Ryan.
“Yes, He was great wasn’t he? I know it’s fashionable for people to mock the man as ineffective in office but he proved them wrong afterwards. Yes he did!”
“I suppose.” said a confused Ryan, this wasn’t how educators were supposed to talk.
“His approach to life informs everything this school strives for. Have you seen our motto? “Attempt to succeed.” Marvellous sentiments, I’m sure you’ll agree.”
“Yes, I definitely do.” Ryan said in an effort to bring the conversation to a close before it became even weirder. “I’d better go to class.”
“Yes.” responded Mr Stack as he stood up to shake Ryan’s hand. “Best of luck.”

Ryan left the office as quickly as was polite. A bell rang, signalling to everyone that they had better get to class instantly. Ryan picked up the pace and got to his new classroom just as the second bell sounded. A desk at the front was the only one still free. He sat down and tucked his bag underneath his desk. He probably had a locker somewhere. He’d ask someone later on. An adult waltzed into the room and stood at the top of the class.
“Good Morning class.” He said with a slight lisp.
“Good Morning sir.” The class chorused in unison.
“Many of you know who I am, I recognise a lot of you from last year. I’m Mr Ridge. English teacher and the nearest thing this school has to a poet. But enough about me; we’ll allow our new classmates introduce themselves. You there!” he said pointing at Ryan. “I don’t know who you are. Tell us about yourself.”
“What would you like to know?” Ryan asked.
“Your name for starters.”
“I’m Ryan Curtis, I moved here nearly a year ago but this is my first time at the school.”
“And what did you do for a year instead of coming to our palace of education?”
“I was…home schooled.”
“And why did you stop?”
“My parents thought it might be a good idea to meet people of my own age. We used to travel a lot because of my parents job but we’re settling down now.”
“Very good. What do your parents do?”
There it was: the question Ryan dreaded. The answer he gave would undoubtedly greatly affect the new few weeks and months of his life.
“They’re involved in law enforcement.”
“Excellent. Who’s next? You there, the blonde girl with the vacant expression!” said Mr Ridge.

Ryan sat back and relaxed. He’d dodged that bullet. He mentally gave himself a pat on the back, saying that his parents worked in law enforcement had been smart. It was partially true and also managed to skirt the issue of what it was they actually did. School life would be difficult enough without letting everyone know on the first day that his parents were Superheroes.