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Archive for March, 2011

Your Snarkiness is back!

After a grueling 5 weeks of Statistics class and being on and off sick (still coughing… yay suppressed immune system!), I am back with  a few musings.  I’ve been mostly involved in schoolwork and my job moving further away, thus stealing more hours of my day in commuting, but yet I have still been consuming – taking in media when I can and trying to make sense of our kooky world.

So a couple quick things.  Yeah… I was rooting for the Cobra never to be found and for it to continue to make me laugh as it lurked around New York City.  I mean, I know Cobra’s are supposedly “dangerous” and all, but I don’t live in NYC, so it might as well amuse me instead.  Seriously – considering some of the other news of the world – a cobra winning the hearts of NYC is the feel good story.

Secondly – have you read Jane McGonigal?  Or listened to her speak.  She’s got some really interesting things to say about how games could save the world.  Not a joke, not even kinda.  I bought Reality is Broken and I’m working my way through it (I love books and reading, but I am admittedly a very slow reader).  I’ll have more to say about her when I finish it.  Go check it out and prepare some notes so we can talk about it.

What I really wanted to talk about today is neat link that is floating around the Twittersphere,

“HOW TO STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST (AND 9 OTHER THINGS NOBODY TOLD ME)”

The advice here is second to none.  I know that Matt is usually the one to come by here and share creative advice, and he’s the more accomplished in that arena, but this struck me when I read it.  I was going to just send him the link to read, but I figured his blog was a little blah lately, so maybe I would drop by and add a little spice to it.

I admit, freely, to being a hack.  I steal, steal, steal and make ideas my own.  Nothing new is out there.  I really believe that.  Creativity isn’t about coming up with something new.  That shit is for scientists.  Artists don’t do that.  What artists do is take something that already exists and make it better.  We tinker with ideas until that great thing that you saw that inspired you is now something you are proud of and are brave enough to call your own.

I never heard of this guy before, but Austin Kleon is my new F’n hero.  Everything he said in his post makes sense to me and I fully advocate.

Anyway, when you’re done reading all that above (and you should, since I have commanded it), I have to ask… have you read The Antaran Legacy, Book 1:  For Duty? Well, if you have, you should review it.  Say nice things.  Here’s a suggestion – “Mr. Plourde writes about women so well, I think he might have lady parts.”  Or you know, something like that – you’re creative now – come up with something great!

m1k3

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Post Apocapalooza II

Seeing how Eden is still kicking ass on the post apoc lists, I was invited to an interview by a fellow “end of the worlder” Noah Mullette-Gillman.

You can check out the interview here (I’m way at the bottom).  

I’d just like to send a shout out to Noah – thanks for having me!

If you really like PA stories, give each interview a read and see if anything catches your eye. Good stuff, and great writers!

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My life is over: Minecraft

Luckily my hotel internet blows and I cannot play at nighttime this week. Otherwise, I would be fully digital by now.

What the frak is Minecraft?

This, the frak, is Minecraft:

Our budding castle / town

Okay, let’s check-off the things on “Matt’s Wacky Game Requirements List”:

– Sandbox? This game is the ultimate.

– Permanence? Yup, we already have a server.

– Simple, yet fun? Minecraft embodies this.

– Vomit-inducing graphics? You bet!

So, what do you do? Well, quite simply, you mine and craft. Brilliant! And no, this isn’t stupid, repetitive, level-up crafting existent in massively multiplayer online games. You change the landscape, drastically.

From something like this:

To something like this:

Here’s how it works. The game generates a random world roughly 8 times the size of earth. You enter the universe with nothing but your fists and your blocky, digital avatar.

From there, you punch trees (fuck yeah!) until you have enough wood to craft some crude tools: axe, pick, shovel, etc. With those tools, you mine deeper and find different types of materials to build whatever your imagination can conjure, lego-style. Castles? Underground cities? Squid aquarium? City in the sky? Powered train that transports materials/players from one city to another? CHECK and CHECK, to everything and more.

The game allows your imagination to run wild without imposing too many rules. The gameworld does cycle between day and night (roughly 10 minutes each), and the monsters come out at night! Your best tactic is to head indoors or somewhere safe. You can kill them with crafted weapons, but there’s no experience/levelling/grind. So, there’s not too much reason to fight them (besides fun) if you can avoid it. Of course, you could develop clever traps to kill them for you. 

I’ve played creative sandbox games many times in the past, but they’ve all been single player. The cooperative elements of the Minecraft server may just prove to be something quite special.

I’m just a noob, so I won’t bore you with any more of my own screenshots (the only one from our server was that 1st one). Maybe I will in the future, if I blog about Minecraft again. In the meantime, there’s a hole that needs to be dug.

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Estimated Release Date: November 2011

That’s right, mofos. I’ve hinted at this before, and now it’s actually underway. The script is done and the artist (Jordan Saia) is cranking out panels. My boy. Mr. Boucher, will be doing the layout. In the end, yet another journey awaits for our little team: self-publishing a graphic novel.

*cracks knuckles*

My goal is modest (because my budget is nonexistent): ~100 pages, full color, Nov 2011 release date

I’m quite excited to see the characters come to life visually:

Early concept artwork for Eden, the graphic novel. Artwork by Jordan Saia.

Jordan’s style fits perfectly with the mood/tone I’m going for and I’m jazzed to get the chance to work with him. Once more stuff is in, we’ll get a trailer out there for ya.

See how much I love y’all? A graphic novel to support the literary work! Fuck yeah! How many of your other favorite fiction writers do that for their audience? I’m committed to seeing Eden in as many formats as possible. If we crack another big number in sales, I’ll commit to the audiobook. I already have one of the best fantasy voice actresses in the world lined up for it… just gotta make the math all work for us.

In other news, Eden was recently reviewed on Luxuryreading.com. They were the first site to receive a review copy and I’m delighted to get a 4/5 rating from them!

In still other news, I have officially joined forces with an “underground” self-publishing movement. More on that next week!

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Yeah, I’ve been quiet and there’s a reason: when you survive one of those “mean cancers”, you really never stop fighting it.

I was in Wisconsin last week, on business, and I forgot my daily meds. You see, the radiation I received weakened my thyroid and left me exhausted for years afterwards. I always assumed it was just an after effect of my year-long battle, but a blood test before we traveled to Vietnam revealed my thyroid deficiency. Now, I take a pill everyday to correct the issue – yay modern medicine!

Well, I forgot those pills at home last week. Doing some quick “Matt math” in my head, I reasoned I could survive 5 days without my maintenance meds. After all, I’ve been taking them for years – the residual effects should be able to “carry” me for a little bit, right?

Wrong.

I guess I forgot that I’m not a doctor. I was drained and tired again last week, almost immediately. Then, my flight home was delayed-then-canceled late friday night and I scrambled to find an alternate route home. Though I succeeded, it was an extra level of stress/effort at a time where I was ready to collapse. Heap on top of all of this the fact that we’re selling our house and it makes for a recipe for less blog updates! 🙂

Fear not, I’m back on my sauce and working on one of the many projects I’ve hinted at recently. Of course, this is in addition to Babylon and I’ll have some teaser artwork quite soon for y’all.

In the meantime, Eden made a “mid-list“! Woot: Four Stars and Up Mid-List

So, not quite a “bestseller” yet (whatever that means these days), but I suppose I could tag my covers as such:

“A novel by mid-lister Matthew C. Plourde”

And the subtag:

“He’s good, but not that good.”

Actually, I wonder if some of the other self-publishers are cheating when they list themselves as “Bestselling Authors.” I mean – what list are you looking at? The one your kid made out of crayon? Does it need to be NY Times? Eden has been in the Amazon top 100 in religious fiction and epic fantasy quite a bit over the past 3 months – does that qualify?

I’ve even seen some self-pubbers “steal” shit for their trailers. One trailer very clearly had a scene from The Mummy in it, and I’d call him on it if I wanted to be petty. He actually had a supporting quote from a bestselling author but it makes me question the validity of that endorsement. If the author was willing to steal copyrighted material (likely without permission from Universal Pictures), then what else are they willing to do to try and snag a sale?

Dammit guys/gals, if yer self-publishing – don’t cheat/steal! ‘Nuff said.

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Awesome Endings

Since I couldn’t name this post “Happy Endings” without a few snickers from the uncivilized masses, I guess this will have to do. Who doesn’t like awesomeness anyway? (Neil Patrick Harris = awesome)

The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book.

~Mickey Spillane

Well, here we are at the end of this 3-part series on story. In case you missed it, check out the first 2 parts:

While most self-help “on writing” advice will tell you that your beginning is the most important part of your novel, I disagree. That advice comes from the assumption that your beginning will need to not only hook your reader, but a potential agent/publisher. While you should certainly have a “great beginning,” I believe the ending is what creates that lasting impression in the reader. The ending is what they takeaway from your story. You will impress your story upon their heart and it will be… wait for it… Awesome!

So, the ending of your novel is the topic of this week’s ramblings on writing. And I have some endings to consider:

The Resolution. Did your character(s) find what they were looking for, change what they wanted to change, overcome their obstacle, meet their goal(s)? If so, how does this affect them now? If not, what have they learned? How have they changed? What sort of impact did their choices have on the world around them? Did a new ‘cycle’ of some sort just begin? Were questions answered?

Most of these questions should at least be orbital to your resolution, some of them the main focus. A resolution doesn’t happen to an inanimate object – it affects a character! Show the impact. Savor the taste. Even if it’s only a few lines or paragraphs, make them count! Eden ends with perhaps one of my favorite all-time quotes, and those 9 words carry so much meaning because they were positioned by the 100,000 words that came before them.

Tragedies follow the “resolution” form, but they typically don’t leave us with hope or a fist-pumping ending. They typically teach or warn while entertaining us. Or, if the writer is a maniacal douchebag, they are meant to just depress us or leave a gaping hole in our hearts. Things are certainly resolved, but much to the detriment of our hero(es). If you are a hero on your way into a tragedy, you should read the warning label:

“Danger: this story contains high volumes of despair and pain, up to (and including) untimely death. Enjoy!”

So, be sure to have some concrete resolutions right there at the end. I admit, I’m guilty of the “run on” story. I never want stories to end. If I find a place I like, I typically want to stay there forever. Try to avoid this trap in your own stories – we humans like closure and a clearly defined “end” is a valuable milestone for your novel. Let the reader be fulfilled with a satisfying and unmistakable resolution.

The Payoff. Some stories are setup to reward the reader at conclusion. Romance novels, thrillers and mysteries come to mind as perfect examples of a story with a promise: if you stay ’till the end, dear reader, I will reward you.

The girl gets her man, the plot reaches its twisty climax, a surprise is sprung (thank you 6th Sense for restoring my faith in “The Surprise”) or the true killer is revealed. There are other ways to reward your reader, but these are amongst the most common. It’s also no surprise that these are the top-selling fiction archetypes – we all like to get paid.

If you are writing a novel with a payoff, be sure to deliver. Don’t endlessly dangle and then deny (you cock-tease). Your reader expects to be rewarded, so show them some love!

The Battle. Sometimes this is a grand clash between armies or personalities, or perhaps it’s within a character’s head/heart/soul. There’s something that needs defeatin’ and it’s up to our character(s) to fight the good fight. A battle for the sake of battle doesn’t work, but an epic end conflict where the stakes are palpable and meaningful can be a powerful ending.

I’m actually not a huge fan of this one. A final fight to give us closure seems too easy to me. Life rarely boils down to simply going to war against something externally or internally and then receiving a resolution because of that do-or-die conflict. Sure, a battle can be part of a resolution, but that outcome shouldn’t alone dictate the course of things.

I’ve read many endings to novels and watched battles play on the screen that have left me empty. Yeah, the battle is over and your hero(es) won, but what about X, Y and Z? Are we just to forget about these other influences and accept the notion that the battle solved everything? Gimme some resolution too! Or a payoff (he had what was comin’ to him).

Summary. A list of events which transpire after the “action” in your story ends is a lame way to end your novel. If you summarize things you are violating a sacred storyteller rule: show, don’t tell. While the summary trick may work for nonfiction, if you are writing fiction than I suggest you avoid it like you would a buffet next to a senior citizen center at 3:30pm.

Summary: Since this blog only qualifies as fiction to anyone reading it (and not in my own little mind), I shall end with a summary! Write for resolution, answer the questions you pose, stay true to your characters and try not to resolve things with conflict alone. Also, keep this important question in mind as you glide through your ending: “Who’s book is this?” If you are writing for story, your ending should appear as a mirage taking shape at the end of a long, lonely trek.

I’ll leave you with the worst ending I can think of:

Noooo!

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Great Middles

As a followup to last week’s Great Beginnings post, I figured I’d keep the momentum.

What comes after a great beginning? Well, a drop-kicking, nipple-twisting, hurricane-punching middle – that’s what!

I’ve heard/read many experts on writing talk about the “middle of the story doldrums” or the “transition pages” or some similar term to describe the part of a story that’s usually reserved for mere plot advancement/world development. Well, if you know anything about me by now, it’s these things:

  • Plot is a 4-letter word for me
  • I don’t condone writing “filler”
  • A world doesn’t need to be fully detailed down to the napkins for a story to take place there
  • Boston Market makes my boy parts tingly
  • God DAMN I love linking Youtube videos

The center of a novel is like the middle of a sandwich – that’s where all the good stuff’s at! Meat=good. Fried things=good. Cheese=good. Peanut butter=good. Barbecue sauce=good. Potato chips=good. Okay, while I cannot recommend all of those things in the same sandwich, don’t skimp on the good stuff! Arrange the ingredients that fit and allow your reader to sink their teeth into the middle of your wordforged sandwich.

Damn… now I want a sandwich.

So, what the frak am I talking about this week? Lemme explain. For me, I usually have a vague idea of a beginning and an end. Those are the easy parts. Then, there’s all this crap that happens in the middle. It starts as a foggy space and our job as writers is to clear that haze. The middle is where I have the most fun as a writer because I just let it all hang out (no, not like that you sick bastard). I let my characters roam free of constraints and death sentences (well, most of them). Here is where I really get to explore them and also add some density to the story. You see, when you start to write without limits a funny thing happens.

Story happens.

Once you get into that story-churning groove, it’s an impressive beast to behold. Characters act naturally and you’ll find that alone generates more story than you can handle. Don’t spend time trying to fit in 100 pages of back story or detailed descriptions of how your universe works. While I guess that’s valid for some fiction, it’s certainly a fart-noise-thumbs-down in my opinion. You’ve built this awesome beginning capable of reaching out and grabbing your reader’s heart. Keep with that head of steam. Keep them engaged. If you are a “story guy” like me, then I believe that task can be accomplished by merely staying with your characters. Let’s see how they react to that knockout beginning. What will they do next? What other hurdles/complications do they face? How will their actions in the “middle” affect the “end?” Where are they going and what do they hope to accomplish?

Juicy questions, all of them. Take your time and explore these questions. Allow your characters to experience the outcomes. Show their reactions. Grow their story. In the end, you may find more than a few surprises along the way.

Of course, you could take the whole “character dive” too far and you’ll find things just drag along as you follow one or more characters around on their daily tasks. While it’s important to see them in these roles, it’s far better to see them challenged. Build up the events that change (or not change) your characters. Don’t drone on for pages about their back story if it has no relevance to the current story. There’s also no need to chronicle every minute of their day working at the Starbucks counter.

A fantastic example of a “character dive” done well is in the movie For Love of the Game. We start with a major league pitcher and his estranged wife. Then, as the game unfolds, we flash back to important moments in their relationship. I believe this is done in a way to build the two characters to a point where you are caring for them and wondering how the end will roll. Everything we see in these flashbacks relates to the climax where we get our romantic payoff. Or, perhaps, I like baseball movies a little too much.

A “character dive” done poorly usually bores me or churns the cauldron of rage within my small, white & nerdy body. The best example I can think of comes from Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth novels. I forget which book it was, but we spent a hefty number of pages with a character who found/stole the sword of truth. This youthful thief was featured for chapter after chapter. I kept expecting to return to the main characters but we didn’t. We stayed with this new character for maybe half the book. We learn all about him and his troubles as a street rat. In my opinion he wasn’t even likable! Then, Richard (the main character) finds him and (I believe) kills him to get his sword back (just like any self-respecting D&D Fighter would do). So… yeah… what the hell was all of that? Why did I spend hundreds of pages with this lame character? Your guess is as good as mine and I encourage you to not leave your readers guessing.

There’s another kind of middle I want to spend a few moments on: the plot machine. Unlike a time machine (or rage against the machine), the plot machine has no useful place in our society. Three traps to avoid:

  • Sticking to your outline no matter the cost (hence, my advice to write without one)
  • Following the advice of so many “on writing” books: connect your scenes ahead of time (don’t plan all your scenes! and don’t play “connect the dots”!)
  • Inventing some device to introduce conflict or dun-dun-duuunnnnnn moments (these things should evolve naturally)

How about a few tricks to help you out if you get stuck or don’t know what you want to do? Ask yourself some critical questions:

  • Who’s story is this?
  • What’s my end look like at this point in time? (ie – where am I going?)
  • What motivates my characters?

Engage your readers with a great middle (packed with character choices, character change & story movement) and hopefully they won’t wonder when things are going to “get good” again. The middle will flow naturally from the beginning and spill into a spectacular ending. But, more on that next week.

A note on trilogies: some would argue that the trilogy is dead. Everyone write’s “sagas” these days. Nonsense! Maybe I’m just “old school” like that, but I’m a huge fan of the trilogy. Like a self-contained story, you have a beginning, middle and end. The above recommendations certainly apply to the middle act of a trilogy as well. My only caution is to keep the story rolling and avoid a “situation chain” with your middle book. It’s almost too easy to fall into the excuse: “well, this is the middle, it’s supposed to be filler and development.” Avoid that trap! Your middle book should continue to address the critical points regarding the main character(s), what their story is about and why they are motivated into action & change. The end of your second book should have a climax all its own and should set the table nicely for act three.

Check out the first part of this series, Great Beginnings.

Also be sure to catch the last post in this series, Awesome Endings.

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