Saturday, September 27, 2014

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright - Game Review

Image Via ign.com
What? GAME review? Am I on the right blog? 

That's right, game review. Yes, you're on the right blog. Today we're adding a new section to the Defender Logs - Game reviews.

But Rachel, games don't have anything to do with writing! D=

Untrue! Good games, especially the games I enjoy, have great stories. So while we're exploring the game play and the graphics and the music, we'll also look at character development, plot development, and world building. Is that acceptable?

Pfft, fine.

Okay then. Let's get started!

Awesome fanart by Itou Mari of DeviantART
 Today we're looking at Professor Layton Vs. Phoenix Wright (or Ace Attorney, if you play in a different country). It's a crossover game, which Capcom tends to do often, and it stars two of Japan's biggest handheld stars, Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright.

Both Layton's and Wright's individual games are heavily story based and are often known as "visual novels." The player does not do much in the way of playing. They make choices and follow a story. 

I've never played a Layton game before, but I've played every Phoenix Wright game that's been localized (including the Miles Edgeworth spin off games) so I'll be making a lot of comparisons between Wright games and this game.

In this game, Phoenix Wright visits London, Professor Layton's home, and the two get caught up with their "sidekicks" in a world of witches, witch trials, puzzles, and magic. The game takes place in Labyrinthia, a town ruled by the Storyteller, a man who predicts events by writing Stories for the people of the town. And all his stories come true. 

The town is portrayed as a medieval town, complete with knights, mistrals , and old fashioned bread baking.

Let's take a look at their combo game.

Image Via Wired.com
GAMEPLAY 
Layton vs. Wright relies heavily on Layton's game style. In the Ace Attorney games, the player runs through the game in a first person setting, usually through Phoenix's POV. Phoenix is rarely visible during most of the game, except during trials.

In this game, the player takes an omniscient POV, and all character interactions take place watching from basically a third person POV. Place-to-place movement is more similar to Layton's style, and there are hintcoins and hidden puzzles to find, which, again, comes from Layton's game, not Wright's. It's honestly refreshing to see Phoenix in cutscenes and discussions when we so rarely see his face in his own games.

Puzzles and Layton-style investigation takes precedence throughout most of the game. The puzzles are very fun and rarely frustrating and the music is calm enough that players won't tire of it after hearing it again and again while puzzle solving.

Wright's gameplay style comes up a lot more in the trial sections of the game, however, even these are done differently than a normal Ace Attorney game. Since the game's setting is in medieval times, modern day forensics can't be used in the courtroom whereas forensics are frequently used in typical Phoenix Wright games.

Also, whereas most Wright games would have Wright cross examining one witness at a time, in this game, Wright can cross examine any number of witnesses at once - a late trial has Wright examining ten witnesses at a time. This opens up new ways to find information and contradictions in cross examinations, including using other witness's testimonies. The changes are refreshing and it was fun to try something unusual to Phoenix's normal games.

Image Via Gamespot.com
MUSIC
If there's one thing that Japanese games really excel in, it's music. Phoenix Wright games already have amazing music, but the remixed music and the new original music in this game really takes the cake.

One of my favorite songs is the main menu song that plays when the game first opens. It's a sad minor key song with just a hint of the drama that's to come. Add the witch trial courts and fire from the title screen and you really get a good understanding of what the game is about.

Image Via Kotaku.com


GRAPHICS
The game's graphics are a combination of 3D sprites and anime cutscenes. The 3D sprites are visually appealing, and, for most Phoenix Wright fans, it's the first time we've seen Phoenix in full 3D. The 3D character models move smoother and more realistically than Phoenix's old pixel sprites, so the characters feel more real.

There are times when the sprites are reused to the point where they get dull and you can often guess what sprites will be used for which emotion or event, but the heavy emotional scenes, such as witch banishment, magic crimes, and the occasional fight scenes are often done in anime cut scenes, which keeps the emotion and tension high. The anime scenes aren't bogged down by a set number of limited sprites, so we get a lot of emotion in these scenes.

Puzzle sprites are often in "chibi" form, and all four main characters look adorable in these forms. Plus, it's fun to see Wright in Layton's animation style. Sadly, while the artbook has pictures of Layton on Phoenix's art style, we don't get to see this version in game.

Side character designs leap back and forth between Wright's more realistic style and Layton's more cartoony style. Important side characters, such as Inquisitor Barnham, Lady Darklaw, The Storyteller, and Espella, are done in Wright's style, whereas the townsfolk, usually the witnesses to whatever crime, are done in Layton's style. The two styles mix surprisingly well, though when you put Phoenix and Layton next to each other, it's obviously not a perfect match. Phoenix is taller than Layton, but Layton's head is bigger, so they clash a bit.

And now... on to the story bits.

CHARACTERS
Okay, I have to start this one out with some description.

In Japanese games, especially novel games and JRPGs, characters generally fall into obvious stereotypes. The perky girl, the angry shop owner, the crazy cat lady, that kind of thing. Usually this falls on minor characters, but major characters still get a bit of that side too. They aren't as well rounded as, say, Ezio from Assassin's Creed, or Cortana from Halo.

But this is not necessarily a weakness. Main characters are still well rounded, but they fall into broader categories than other characters might.

Phoenix Wright is one example. Phoenix is a passionate, kind man, with a small sarcastic streak in him, and loyal to a fault. He has a strange relationship with luck. He's got both bad luck and good luck at the same time. In one game, he falls forty feet into a raging river known for killing people and comes out with only a bad cold. In another, he gets hit by a car and sent sailing through the air, but only sprains his ankle on the fall. His luck follows him in the courtroom too, and he often wins by the skin of his teeth on pure luck.

While I don't know much about Layton's typical games, he's much the same way. A professor of archaeology by trade, Layton's major characterization comes from the fact that he is a proper English gentleman, something he often reminds the players of. Many of his actions, including defending the weak, standing up for justice, and trying to discover the truth of things comes from this characterization.

We get to see both characters in actions that aren't common for them in this game however. Layton fights knights head on with a sword and Phoenix tackles a knight to the ground trying to protect a friend. Both of them are desperate to find the truth behind the magic crimes, but neither wants to see a witch burn for such a crime and they try to fight back.

Phoenix especially acts out of his normal character at times. While Phoenix knows how to be loud about things (Objection!) he rarely gets seriously angry or seriously sad. He hits both extremes in this game because of dark event that takes place.

In other words, we get to see these quiet Japanese characters be bad asses. It's pretty fun and it allows them to be a little more rounded than normal. These are characters that you can really come to love. You care about what happens to them.

The only character I don't care for much is Espella. She has a streak of Mary Sue in her. Phoenix and Layton risk everything to help her, despite the fact that they just barely met her and don't know much about her. She's fairly helpless and probably couldn't get on without either Phoenix's or Layton's help. It doesn't help that she's the title character and pretty much everything revolves around her, but eh, if you focus on Layton and Phoenix then it's not that big a deal.



STORYLINE
Lordy. The storyline is very complex (as is most novel style games) and has a whopper of an ending.

Typical Phoenix Wright games, and really, typical Japanese novel style games, are very episodic. They'll often connect the episodes to a degree, but generally each episode is self contained. With Phoenix Wright games, the episodes typically start with investigations, then go to court, then investigations, then court and so on. Usually a court date ends the episode.

This game has "chapters" but like a good novel, the chapters blend together and don't follow the episodic formula. Everything connects to everything else. There are minor witch trials that lead to the larger witch problem, but each trial leads to the bigger picture.

One thing the game is very good at is dropping hints about the actual truth behind the world they're in, while at the same time letting the player fall into the world of the game and take it on its own terms. Characters die and you believe it. People come back to life and you believe it. Everything fits in the world of the game.

As an author, I've always been impressed with Phoenix Wright storylines, and this game is no different. Phoenix storylines lack plot holes and logic holes. COMPLETELY. Everything fits perfectly with everything else. Yes, sometimes you get ridiculous ideas (like the old wives' tale that pepper can be used to make someone sneeze being an important part of a court case) but generally speaking, the storyline is perfect. And it has to be to make things make sense. And this game does a great job of making everything make sense.

And the twist ending is quite a mind blow.

So there you have it! This is probably one of the most enjoyable Phoenix Wright games I've played in a while and I highly recommend it. I give this game...

9/10

Go out and buy a copy today! 

(All images are official game images, unless otherwise stated. None of these images belong to me).

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Subconscious Themes - Author Life

Let's start by looking back to the last English class you took... For some of you that's way back in high school. For some it was a college level class. Some of you might actually be in an English class right now.

Now think of some of the things you did in that class. Chances are, if you analyzed any kind of literature, you looked into the subconscious mind of the author in order to better understand why he or she wrote the literature that they did.

For example, why did Shakespeare write Hamlet? Many people claim it's because Shakespeare's own son died young. Or why did Ray Bradbury write Fahrenheit 451? It's a well known fact that Bradbury feared that technology would take over our way of life and become so ingrained in our culture that we would one day stop learning.

Literature classes often encourage looking into the author's mind while analyzing their work. But what about our own work?

We often write themes that we didn't intend. People who read our books or short stories will get things out of the writing that we never thought possible.

When you look a little deeper into it, those themes become obvious. But those are just themes. They are large overlaying elements to a story. They generally take huge chunks out of the story. It's what the story is "about" if you will.

But what about smaller elements? What about story elements that pop up unexpectedly? How does your subconscious affect your writing?

I learned something about my writing the other day. Let me explain a little.

The other day I was listening to a song that talked about the fantasy of childhood and the reality of adulthood. One line of it really struck home because it spoke about fathers. It said,

"My father said...
Don't you worry, don't you worry child,
See heaven's got a plan for you,
Don't you worry, don't you worry now..."

So on and so forth.

I don't know how many of you know, but my father passed away when I was only 12. My mother, by choice, did not remarry, so I haven't had much in the way of father figures.

As I daydreamed about the song (I often daydream stories and events from my novels or with my characters while I listen to music) I realized something... None of my major characters have much in the way of father figures either.

Six of my major and important characters without fathers. That's a lot.

And it got me wondering. Did I do that on purpose? Is my subconscious trying to tell me something? Is this a way for my mind to cope with the fact that my father is dead?

I wasn't sure, until I took it a step further. Two of those characters above (I'm not saying who) get their fathers back. Is that my mind telling me it wishes my father could come back?

I know I didn't do that on purpose. My father died a long time ago. I don't really think about it much, at least on the conscious level. It's really interesting to see how my subconscious has played a role in my writing. And I know this isn't the only example of such.

Do you have subconscious themes in your writing? Take a look at your own writing. Look at a novel, a short story, or whatever, and see if you can find your own subconscious working on elements in your story. This could be based on previous experiences, events in your childhood, your preference in writing or reading... all kinds of things.

Good luck!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Passive Voice and The Dreaded "To Be" Verbs

A few months ago, I got into a discussion with one of my fellow group members for the critique group I’m a part of. We spoke of the dreaded…

Passive voice… “to be” verbs. DUN DUN DUN.

Personally (and yes, I mean PERSONALLY, for my own writing and reading) I think using any form of "to be" verbs in anything other than speech is usually useless. USUALLY... not always.

(I should mention, as an aside, "to be" verbs in speech is almost always acceptable because that's generally how we speak naturally. Unless your character is giving a well prepared speech, he or she is bound to use a lot of "to be" verbs.)

For the most part, "to be" verbs are overused. We tend to gloss over them as English speakers, which automatically makes us passive readers, even if the "to be" verb isn't being used in passive voice.

Also, there's almost always a way to avoid them and replace the verb with something stronger and more concrete. "Was" (or "is" or "are" or "were" or any other "to be" verb) indicates a state of being - not an action. For example, "This is a book." This will always be a book. It's a permanent existence until something physically changes it. But "He was running." is far more temporary. His "running state" isn't a permanent "state of being" like the book.

I don't mean you can always avoid "he was running." But there's lots of other ways to avoid it. Use a different verb in general. You don't even need to use the verb. Here's an example:

"Matt turned. The horse was running right at him!"

can turn into...

"Matt turned. The horse dashed at him. Crap! Matt dodged."

Not the best sentence ever written, but this avoids the verb issue completely.

There is almost always a way to avoid "to be" verbs, even in simple description.
For example:

"The bowl was red."

There's two ways to go about this. If it's not significant that the bowl is red you can simply say

"The red bowl."

But if it is significant, (like, if it's red from blood or paint or something) you can change the verb completely.

"The bowl gleamed red and sparkled in the light."

This not only avoids the "was" but it also gives us a much more powerful description and verb in general.

As I said, you can't always avoid "was" or "to be" verbs. But you can a LOT and it usually makes for a better read.

My discussion partner also cited a link to a website that explains “past progressive” voice, which is considered okay for novel writing.

Being a writing Nazi, I tackled that too.

The link cited these examples as past progressive:

"Narrative in past tense.
It was raining. The water was pouring down in sheets and the passersby were getting wetter with every step, despite their umbrellas.
When one action is happening at the time of another particular time.
It was raining at noon.
It was raining during lunch.
When one action is happening at the same time as another.
It was raining while I was out walking."

Almost all of these can be changed to a more active voice and therefore made better.

"It was raining. The water was pouring down in sheets and the passersby were getting wetter with every step, despite their umbrellas."

Becomes...

"Rain fell from the sky. The water dropped in sheets and passersby soaked up every drop, despite their umbrellas."

As you can see, this even makes the whole thing shorter, yet more vivid, and even uses some metaphor to make the writing stronger.

"It was raining at noon.

It was raining during lunch.

When one action is happening at the same time as another.

It was raining while I was out walking."

Becomes...

"It rained at noon"
- Writers rarely need to indicate that "noon" and "raining" happened at the same time. "It rained at noon" and "It was raining at noon" portray, in most cases, the same action.

"It rained all through lunch."
- Again, no need for that passive voice. We still get the sense that "raining" and "lunch" happened all at the same time.

"Rain poured down while I walked that morning."
- We're still seeing some passage of time. We're also seeing "walking" and "raining" happening at the same time. All without those "to be" verbs.

For those “TL;DR” folks… “To be” verbs are almost always avoidable, and make for better literature. The end.

What's your thoughts on Passive Voice? 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Family - It's a Meenanful Life

Hey everyone! Welcome to a new Defender Log Segment - It's a Meenanful Life!

Ha ha, it's a pun.

Today we're gonna take a look into the Family Dynamic of the Writer... starting with the Family part. XD



There's my lovely husband... being photobombed in the background!

Joe and I met on a Sonic the Hedgehog fan forum run by the lovely and talented Netraptor. We realized we lived close to each other, so we started meeting in person. I think Joe was like... 15. I was 19. I'm honestly surprised that his parents let us meet up considering the age gap!

We were friends for years before we finally decided to give dating a shot. I think we dated a total of four years before we got engaged. This year we'll be celebrating two wonderful years of marriage. =) It feels like FAR longer, however, since Joe and I have known each other over ten years.

Being married to your best friend is awesome.



We don't have children yet, but we do have KITTIES.

This big guy is Ziggy, a four year old orange Mane Coon. My mom picked up Ziggy after we lost one of our other cats, Ari, to cancer. Ziggy's a cutie and he's super affectionate. He especially loves Joe. Joe never had cats growing up, since his father was allergic, but Ziggy took to Joe right away as a kitten.

This is Annie (standing in my clean laundry, of course). Annie was a stray that we started feeding out doors. One day I opened the door to the back porch and she just waltzed right in like she owned the place. She's been with us ever since. She's slightly more wild than Ziggy and not quite as affectionate, but she's still a wonderful pet.

These two little guys are the newest members of our family. The gray and white kitten is Leah and the orange one is Hunter. While they look remarkably like they could be the kittens of Annie and Ziggy, this isn't the case. My cousin Brenda found a box of kittens with a friend, just left out to die... these guys were probably two weeks or more when we found them and they needed bottle feeding.

Ziggy has already fallen in love with both kittens, but Annie probably needs more persuading. Such as it is with cats!

And that's my family. A Mom, a Dad, and a Crazy Cat Lady starter kit. XD Though we won't be getting any more cats any time soon... even Leah and Hunter were practically flukes.

Do you have pets? What kind of pets do you like?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Skyfire - Book Review



Oh. My. Gosh.

If you've read the first review (which you should) you'll already know about the awesome writing, powerful description, great character development, and amazing plot.

The sequel takes that and increases it tenfold. You can buy Skyfire here.

First of all, the world the book takes place in is massively bigger. Not just geographically, but also with the lore, the plot, and the characters. Let's take a look at these one by one.

Geography:
The previous novel, Song of the Summer King, took place exclusively on a tiny set of islands in the middle of a large sea. The descriptions of the various locations were vivid and the reader can really feel like they're in the middle of this gorgeous landscape.

In this novel, Skyfire, we still see that gorgeous little island, but we see it in the bleakness of winter, which serves as a metaphor for the damaged gryfon pride still living there. On top of that, we also visit the Dawn Spire, and the surrounding lands. A land so large that Shard, our island dweller, can hardly fathom it. We also meet many new and interesting creatures in this new land - painted wolves, grass lions, eagles, and - yes - dragons. Each group of animals have a special culture and play an important part in the novel.

The new gryfons we meet, too, have interesting roles to play. But I risk spilling too much if I mentioned what those roles are...

Lore:
The lore of Song of the Summer King is familiar, yet unique. Readers will recognize some of the tropes Owen uses in her book. At the same time, they are used in new ways, and mold into something identifiable, but interesting.

Skyfire expands the lore greatly and readers get to see far more in this new book than the previous one. Perhaps the most interesting of the new lore comes from the new cultures we see. For example, Shard encounters a gryfon culture that is so advanced that they even preserve meats with salt and use fire. Awesome.

More importantly, though, we get some answers to the lore questions left behind in Summer King, particularly about the conquering gryfon pride of Per-the-Red.

And the long awaited answers are worth the wait.

Plot:
The plot, as can be expected, is also a step up from the previous novel. The plot bounces back and forth between Shard, searching for a vision in a new land, and the damaged pride of the Silver Isles. The new and often wonderful experiences Shard has makes an excellent foil against the distrust, hatred, and fear the gryfons of Sverin's pride feels.

The thing I enjoy most about both books is the plot is very character driven. Everything that happens is based on character decisions, sometimes good, sometimes bad. And everything has a consequence. None of the events or character development feels forced. It flows naturally and readers will feel something for every character they meet.

I don't want to spoil anything, but make sure you have a tissue box near by - you may find that your favorite character may not live through the tale.

Characters:
Finally, the characters. Song of the Summer King stayed very close to Shard, the main character. Nearly every scene was done through his point of view, third person, with very few exceptions.

In Skyfire, Shard has been physically separated from his pride and, for most of the novel, his homeland, so we get the privilege of seeing the story unfold through many character's point of views. Some of the best ones come from Sigrun, Shard's adoptive mother, Kjorn, Shard's wingbrother and best friend, and even through Sverin, Shard's mortal enemy. All these points of view give us a stronger, better understanding not just of the traditions and customs of the gryfons, but also of the harsh struggles they face throughout the novel.

Conclusion:
This book is flat out amazing. Oftentimes, sequels don't match up to their first books. They are either too slow or too quick or they change characters and worlds in ways that don't work. But Skyfire had my heart from the moment I opened it. And it shows too. It only took me two days to read it.

And it did what very few books have ever made me do. It made me cry in the best way possible.

So go out and read it now!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What do you love about your novel? - Author Life

A friend posted a wonderful list of things she liked about her novel based on this quote, which was quoted on Natalie Whipple's repost:

Whenever I begin a new project, I also begin a list called “What I Love About This Story.” I start by writing down those first ideas that sparked the fires of my mind, and then I add more ideas to it as I discover them during my push through early drafts. ~ Stephanie Perkins

This is a fantastic idea. For one, it really shows you exactly what you like about your book. For two, if for whatever reason you CAN'T name anything that you like about your book, maybe you should scrap it.

So - What do I like about The Stolen Defender? Let's take a look!

- Character relationships: There's so much to explore here
- Description: I'm finally relearning the wonderful art of description.
- Characters: Especially my four main ones... and especially Matt <3
- Family relationships: Family relationships... aren't always fun. =(
- The Black Cloak (squee!)
- Magic: ...and fun magic at that.
- Horrific black creatures that CANNOT BE KILLED
- Defender Pendants
- Made up military lingo.
- Character frustrations... sorry, I like torture my characters. XD
- Summoning!
- Phoenixes!
- Mystery!
- Random mist on an island!
- And random humor.

Are you writing a novel? What do you like about your novel? Make a list!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Storm Chase - Book Review

Hey everyone. Do you love fantasy? Do you like watching people spew magic and save the world? Do you LOVE books?

Well fret not, because there are many awesome magic toting adventures out there to choose from. One of those is Storm Chase (The Spacetime Legacy) by K. M. Carroll.



Storm Chase tells the story of Carda Chase, a high school senior who has just discovered he has magic powers. After sending purple lightning bolts down his fingers and setting his English final ablaze with green fire, he learns that he's not just any breakthrough mage - he is the Strider of Chronos, a mage with two magical talents (Time and Space) instead of just one. He's a part of a long legacy of mages destined to... well, Carda isn't sure yet, but he hope it includes surviving! Ever since his powers started breaking through, Carda has faced one near death experience after another - and he hasn't even faced the worst of it yet.

Carda has allies though. His twin sister Michelle is a Gravity mage - almost as rare as Carda. He also allies with Indal, a Time mage, though Carda's first magical encounter with him splices him with a garwaf and turns Indal into a werewolf. He also befriends a Space mage Felician named Xironi, a girl who looks almost completely human, except for the cat ears and tail adorning her body.

Together the group must face evil mages, darkwinged angels, and a storm that can literally tear apart the fabric of time and space, threatening to wipe Earth off the universe's map.

As a character, Carda is fun loving, snarky, but not afraid to ask for help when he really needs it. He sticks up for his friends more than anything, despite his crazy home life and newfound powers.

What I really like about this book is that the characters feel genuine. They don't fall into standard categories and they aren't cardboard cutouts. They each have their own issues and their own ways of dealing with them. This is definitely a character driven book.

The book's pacing is a little slow at first, and some chapters feel a bit choppy. However, it's all worth it for the climax, which is surprising, powerful, and keeps you turning the pages all the way until the end.

WHY THIS BOOK IS UTTERLY AMAZING:
- Awesome, world bending magic (and wonderful descriptions to help visualize it)
- Strong, character driven plot.
- Amazing, on-the-edge-of-your-seat climax.
- DRAGON
- Saving the world!
- Lifesize remote controlled cars.
- WEREWOLVES

So go out and buy it today! The second novel, Chronocrime, is also available for purchase, so go out there and take a look!


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Log Lines - Author Life

One of the most important things an author can do while they're between works (or even while they're in the middle of a work) is study craft.

Studying craft is the deliberate decision to improve your abilities to write. All writers can benefit from it, and all writers nee to study craft on a regular basis. It's the best way to improve.

I've been studying craft this week and I came across Kristen Lamb's series about structure.

Now personally, I always hated structure. I never really knew why, but reading through Kristen's blogs, I realized why. I hate having to think too much about structure while I write. I'd rather write with abandon (with a detailed outline - I'm not a pantser) and worry about structure later.

While I was going through these blogs, I realized I tend to use a lot of structure already. But of course, I learned some wonderful new things.

One of them is loglines. A log line is a one sentence summary of your novel.

I'm not stranger to short summaries. I did a whole blog post about it in my old blog. But looking back over it it's a bit... lacking.

So let's see if we can change it up and make it better.

Old Log Line

The Stolen Defender - A high ranking member of a private army encounters a strange alien from another planet, fuses with him, and it is up to his partner and the alien's sister to separate them before they turn the population into a black army.

A good log line will have three elements.

IRONY - Or in simpler terms, it should have a contradiction. In Michael Cricton's Prey, the main character is an out of work computer program and his goal is to stop a robotic threat (taken from Lamb's blog). In Tolkein's The Hobbit, Bilbo is a peaceable creature who's goal is to burgle from a dragon. In Jess E. Owen's Song of the Summer King, Shard is the lowest gryfon in his pride, but he's actually a king both from legend and by birth. In K. M. Carroll's Storm Chase, Carda is an average kid who becomes the most important magic user in his world.

You get the idea.

EMOTIONAL INTRIGUE - Your log line should bring some EMOTION into things. If I don't already feel emotionally attached to your character, then I'm not going to read your book. Emotional intrigue can also paint the whole picture of the novel for you as well.

INTEREST AND CONFLICT - Your log line should be interesting and it should have conflict. Conflict drives a story. It's necessary to show us the conflict and stakes right away.

It also has specific parts, according to Kristen.

Protagonist - Active Verb - Active Goal - Antagonist - Stakes.

Going back to Storm Chase.

A high school senior (protagonist) must harness his new-found powers (active verb) to stop a cursed storm (active goal) and the mage enabling the storm's creator (antagonist) before it swallows Earth whole (stakes).

That's a pretty strong log line.

Irony - A high school senior with enough powers to save the world.
Emotional Intrigue - The protagonist has brand new powers and is already expected to save the world. That's gotta be tough on the psyche.
Conflict - A world eating storm AND a fellow magic user enabling it. Scary stuff.

I should note that it's better to use character professions and descriptions rather than names for a log line, since it gives potential readers, agents, and publishers an idea of what your character is like.

So let's try and do it for Zyearth.

A high ranking soldier (protagonist) must unravel (active verb) the mystery of a pack of indestructible black monsters (active goal) and the alien invader controlling them (antagonist) before the invader destroys the soldier's friends and family (stakes).

Let's break it down.

Irony - A high ranking soldier has been asked to unravel a mystery rather than simply fight.
Emotional Intrigue - Not only are the monster's a mystery, but there's also a mystery behind the alien invader, which has my attention.
Conflict - Monsters, invaders, and a threat of family and friends destroyed. I think there's lots of conflict in there.

What do you guys think? Good log line? What would your log line be for your WIP?

Monday, September 8, 2014

New Years Resolution Update - Author Life

WOW I'm updating my resolutions late. But it's getting toward the end of the year, so I better do it!

Let's get started!

#1 - Finish The Stolen Defender - and start sending query letters.

Ooookay this one is gonna need some explaining.

I am definitely done with the latest draft of The Stolen Defender. But I'm not going to be sending query letters. After a lot of research and debate, I've decided that self publishing, with a proper editor and book cover, would be a better investment then spending years looking for an agent that might take my very unusual book.

So I can't QUITE cross this off yet... more like a half cross.

#2 - Redesign some key Zyearth characters.

Still working on this. I don't know if I'm ever going to quite get it. I don't have a lot of motivation to draw these days for some reason.

I'll keep up the list... probably because I'll need it for next year.

- Matt Azure
- Izzy Gildspine
- Lance Tox
- Ferin Kitsurugi
- Ouranos
- Reil
- Aric 
- Dr. Jaymes Fogg

#3 - Draw and develop the Eight Summons of the Phonar Order of Draso.

Well I got ONE of these done. Just ONE. Birds are hard. Another one for next year I suppose. - Deo, the White Fire Phoenix (a Snowy Egret)
- Excelsis, the Black Fire Phoenix (a Secretary Bird)
- Kyrie, the Ice Phoenix (a Snowy Owl)
Archángeli, the Metal Phoenix (a Kestrel)
Jústi, the Lightning Phoenix (a Barn Owl)
- Pax, the Earth Phoenix (a Burrowing Owl)
Sémini, the Flora Phoenix (a Red Tailed Hawk) 
- Petra, the Rock Phoenix (a Roc)



#4 - Design and color a promo picture for The Stolen Defender.

Why on Earth did I make so many ridiculous art related resolutions? XP Put this one on the back burner again.

#5 - 




Okay, WereDriver actually DOES have some progress. I'm getting some character sketches done and I have five pages sketched out. But it'll be a while before it's actually out there. But hey, new logo!

Fernando got some pretty good facial expressions. XD

#6 - Sell more short stories.

Well... I haven't really done much with this one either. I have submitted a new short story to Writers of the Future, but I haven't really been writing more short stories. 

I have a feeling that I'm seriously failing these resolutions. XP I suppose I should get more short stories written. 

#7 - Reoutline the second Zyearth novel - Drifter

This one is actually moving along nicely. I have a new method for outlining and I've got a good outline going so far for Drifter. With luck, I'll have this one finished by the end of the year. 

#8 - The Obligatory Lose Weight Resolution (Again)

I'm not really losing weight... but I'm not gaining either, which is good. Joe's in a new weight loss program and I'm gonna be taking it with him unofficially, so hopefully this'll change as the year goes on too. 

#9 - Starting up Daily Devotions again.

This has ebbed and flowed all year, kind of like my relationship with God. I'm getting back into it though. =) 

#10 - Read 35 books next year.

....Yeah this one isn't going as well. I've read... -counts- six. Yeah, I'm behind. XP

#11 - Write more blogs!

This I'm actually doing. Yay!

So that's the breakdown of my resolutions. I'm not really doing too hot am I? Oh well. Better luck next year. =D Maybe I'll start feeling more productive now that I'm working again. Yay!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Song of the Summer King - Book Review

Hello Defenders! Today I'm going to introduce you to a wonderful book, Song of the Summer King, by an amazing author, Jess E. Owen. Jess is one of my heroes in writing and someone I aspire to be like. I love her descriptions, her characters, and her writing style, plus she's writing my genre without the fantasy part.

So go out there and grab a copy of her book!

Here's my review.



Shard is a gryfon in danger. He and other young males of the Silver Isles are old enough to fly, hunt, and fight–old enough to be threats to their ruler, the red gryfon king.
In the midst of the dangerous initiation hunt, Shard takes the unexpected advice of a strange she-wolf who seeks him out, and hints that Shard’s past isn’t all that it seems. To learn his past, Shard must abandon the future he wants and make allies of those the gryfons call enemies.
When the gryfon king declares open war on the wolves, it throws Shard’s past and uncertain future into the turmoil between.
Now with battle lines drawn, Shard must decide whether to fight beside his king....or against him.
 I was first introduce to this book by my good friend Kessie (you can read her review of this book here) Honestly when I first heard about it, my first thought was, "Geez, that sounds like every other cliche fantasy book I've ever read."

I was pretty darn wrong.

I think the best way to look at this book is to compare to others of its genre.

When I think of fantasy (especially tribe/magic/royalty based fantasy) I often find myself thinking of the Wheel of Time series. The Wheel of Time series is exactly the kind of stereotypes you expect in fantasy. The first book is three inches thick. The first hundred pages are just setting up the story. It's full of incomprehensible and indistinguishable titles and words and rituals that don't mean anything to the reader (and often are never explained) but they mean everything in the WORLD to the characters.

And let me say, "Song of the Summer King" is nothing like that.

When you first open the book you're thrown into the world of gryfons. Shard is a young gryfon, stuck being loyal to a conquering gryfon king and his "pride." Though he's "wingbrother" to the king's son, the king does not trust him because of his heritage, a heritage he knows nothing about.

So here, we start with a few uncommon terms. "Pride." "Wingbrother."

And here's what makes this story stand out.

"Pride" makes sense. These creatures are half lion. Therefore, they are a pride.
"Wingbrother" also gives meaning. For one, they have wings. For two, Shard's first interaction with a new character is with his wingbrother, and they automatically, without feeling forced, reiterate their wingbrother vow.

No confusion needed.

As the story progresses, we see Shard's extreme need to please his pack and his king. He's afraid of exile, but he also just wants to belong. It's something we all feel so we can easily identify with Shard's needs. We want to see him succeed.

But the story gets more complicated than just that. As time moves on further, Shard finds himself conflicted. He's not sure which side (The wolves, the Vanir, his heritage, or the Aesir, the conquering pride) is correct. Ultimately one comes out as the "wrong" choice, but it's not an obvious choice. And it's not something that applies to the whole species either. It's very individual. We feel just as conflicted as Shard does.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg, as far as story goes. Read the book to learn more.

As for the writing style and the author's choices, I have to say, I'm impressed. The book is written in third person limited, following the main character Shard through most of the book, though it jumps heads occasionally for some much needed character or story exposition.

But one of the best aspects to her writing is the way she writes her gryfons. She describes them as animals. Not as crazy magical creatures like most of us think of when we think of gryfons, but real living creatures. They struggle with flight at times. They fight against wolves, which are just about their height. They preen. They hunt. They aren't some inaccessible creatures. They feel as real as the wolves they face, even when they speak.

In a lot of animal based books, I read and tend to forget that I'm reading about animals. I think of them as humans automatically. But you never once forget that you're reading about animals with this book. She drops a constant, but not distracting, flow of hints and reminders not only about the animals, but about the characters. Colors become associated with certain characters so you never forget who you're reading about.

And it's awesome. I feel like I can learn a lot about my own novels from her writing.

So go out and get the book!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Start of a Beautiful Friendship - Author Life

Hey everyone!

As I mentioned in my last blog, I'm currently gutting my old blog and trying to delete old blogs that are useless and stupid.

Not all of them are as such though. Sometimes you get one that's a huge, wonderful reminder of something good in your past.

Today I found one of those. The start of my critiquing relationship with one of my best friends, Kessie Carroll.

So I'm gonna rely on an old meme here today and do a Throwback Thursday and share an important part of the post that started it all. Here goes!

____________________________________

Artistic Journeys
4/5/12
9:15 AM

When we last left our heroine, she was very slowly editing her novel and she had very little will to continue.

And then, a miracle. (angels singing)

Okay, not a miracle, but certainly one of the best things that could have happened to me. A good friend stepped in and offered to help edit.

I had seven other people who were editing my novel. Two of them no longer speak to me, one of them is in freakin' TAIWAN and is very busy, another just hasn't read much, and the other two know too much about Zyearth to really want to change much. So far, I was my worst editor, and even then, I was really only editing at the sentence level. Nothing really significant, and nothing that really made the novel better to READ. Not really.

Enter Netraptor.

She ripped my novel to pieces. Her FIRST SUGGESTION was to completely eliminate the first eleven pages or so of my novel.

Ouch.

But I took her suggestions. The whole of this novel is being rearranged, cut, repasted, rebuilt, and certainly, strengthened.

She's been helping me with the novel in 30 page increments and in return I'm editing her novel similarly. It's an awesome system and everybody wins. I'm beginning to love my novel in a whole new way like I never have before. It's also helping me work through some of my worst novel writing habits, which will help in writing future novels.

As time has gone on, I've also seen that it's helped me edit EVERYTHING, including my essay writing. Amazing.

So, slowly, I am remaking this first novel into something people might actually want to read.

____________________________________

And thus started a beautiful friendship. Kessie and I have been editing partners ever since and she's done some amazing things to help me improve my writing, my marketing ideas, my feelings about self publishing, and really, my whole thinking process with writing. It felt like my whole world opened up.

Ironically, that eleven pages turned into something far more than just eleven pages. I ended up rewriting the whole thing from scratch. But that's part of growing as a writer. And the novel is better because of it.

If you guys like urban fantasy about friendship, self sacrifice, love, and saving the world, go pick up the first Spacetime book Storm Chase from Amazon today. It's only 99 cents and it's an amazing book!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Growing as a Writer - Author Life

So this week I did a bunch of research on writing, marketing, and blogging. Anne R. Allen's blog is, frankly, one of the best places where you can really learn how to use blogging effectively.

I exercised my new found powers and gutted my old blog, Artistic Journeys, weeding out the bad posts and saving the good ones for reuse later.

I realized a few things about myself as I gutted that blog.

I have changed a lot.

My original blog posts were me counting Camp NaNoWriMo days and posting pointless word counts and whining about how HARD everything is, which I learned is not a good idea.

-delete delete delete-

But as I went through those posts, I discovered how far I've come as a writer. My goals as a writer and my skills in writing have changed. Back then I was worried too much about world building and info dumping and not enough about character development and drawing in an audience.

When I think about my past, I usually think of my high school writing days. The days where novels were written by Role Play on AIM and skills and audience weren't even considered. But now I realize I can look in a more recent past, (just three years ago!) and I can see the same problems. I can see how I've evolved as a writer.

It was a great boost of the ego to see how I've grown as a writer.

How have you grown as a writer? Or, if you aren't a writer, how have your tastes as a reader changed and grown?