Thursday, December 26, 2013

Paradox is FREE in the Amazon Kindle store for 3 days!

From December 26 to December 28, Paradox is free in the Kindle store. Download and share! And if you enjoy it, please consider writing a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Guest Post at Save the Cat

Tomorrow, my guest post on Doctor Who's storytelling legacy will be featured on the blog for the Save the Cat! books by Blake Snyder. The post will examine how Doctor Who has continued to resonate with its fans for the past fifty years, as well as how Blake's storytelling essentials can be found in the series as a whole.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Formula vs. Structure

As a teacher, I know how difficult it is for students to write. Often, they need graphic organizers to begin any nonfiction writing. The issues only multiply when it comes to writing fiction. I have found that students like to write, but they often need a structure to guide them. Ever since I was a student, the traditional plot structure has been what is usually taught: exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, and falling action.

For the most part, this structure is helpful. Students know where they need to start and where they need to end up. However, it can be daunting to know how to fill in some of those steps. Students begin with a sequence of events that are often linked together, one after the other, until they ask, "What should I write next?"

This is why I have begun to teach the structure of the Hero's Journey in my classroom. It shows them that at their most basic elements, all stories share common character archetypes and elements. As students begin to see patterns, they also understand how events in their reading are structured as well, aiding comprehension.

Of course, as soon as someone mentions the Hero's Journey, objections arise as to the use of "formula" in writing. Some insist that by using a common structure as a guide can lead to formulaic stories. This is true, in a sense. If not understood correctly, any structure can become a formula. However, there is a difference between formula and structure.

I choose to look at the Hero's Journey as a structure, the basic building blocks for what makes a story "work." It's comparable to the foundation and walls of a house: all homes have the basic structure of concrete, walls, wiring, and plumbing. For the home to function appropriately and conveniently, it needs these basic elements. But this is simply a structure: writers can shift elements around based on their needs or ignore some completely. In a home, the architects and designers can shape the interior and exterior to their tastes as well.

Writing becomes formulaic when the author sits down with a structure and simply "plugs in" the elements just to make it fit. In reality, the focus should be on telling a good story, with the structure as a guide. When a story doesn't "feel right," or when the author wonders what might be missing, reflecting on the common structure of storytelling can guide them toward what is missing.

I love teaching the Hero's Journey. I love how it helps students see the underlying structure that all stories have, and how they begin to identify them in the books they read and in the movies they see. Most of all, I love to hear them say that writing is easier to them now because they have learned a structure that guides them more than the traditional (yet useful) plot structure.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Paradox now on sale at Amazon.com

My YA novel Paradox is now available at Amazon.com. The Kindle version is only $2.99, and the print version will be coming soon.
 
 


Here's the blurb from Amazon:

When Zac Ryger discovers TEMPUS, a machine that allows its users to travel into the past, it never dawns on him that time travel is a curse.
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“I want to go back,” Zac said. “I want to return to the present.”

“Soon,” Bryce said. “But do you see why we’re here? There is always something we want to change. Everyone has something, even I do. But we can’t change every bad thing. It’s impossible.”

“But this is so big,” Zac said, eyes full of tears. He tried to block out the sounds surrounding him.

“Yes, but it’s filled with so many variables that we don’t know what would happen if all those people survived.”

“Those are people, not variables!”

“I know,” Bryce said. “I agree. But there will come a point where every single one of us will want to use this ability of time travel to correct something. To stop something bad from happening. But we can’t.” He sighed. “We have to resist that temptation when it comes to us.”

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Reflections on the Man of Steel Controversy

I must admit that I enjoyed the movie Man of Steel. While watching it, I realized that this was the first time I could conceive of a being like Superman existing in our own world. And of course, there is one particular scene that immediately caught my attention, and it has been the source of controversy. (Spoilers ahead!)

In the film, there is a lot of violence. A lot. Lots of fighting, lots of destruction, and collateral damage galore. Some have criticized this as overkill, but I think that to root such extraordinary beings in our world, the filmmakers needed to show the contrast with our world. If beings like this came to our world, what would be the possible ramifications?

The damage done by the terraforming machine was massive, using gravity-like pulses to lift cars and people up into the air before slamming them to the ground. When buildings fell and the shaky camera followed people as they ran, turned, and looked, my immediate thoughts were how much this reminded me of the news footage I watched on September 11, 2001. The collapse of the buildings amplified the evil of Zod and his soldiers, as my mind linked the fictional events to the only other time I've seen buildings fall like that. Of course, that is not to minimize the actual events of September 11.

Some complained about the collateral damage, asking why Superman didn't try to lure Zod and his soliders away from populated areas. Of course, the immediate answer for this is because it was a movie, and the filmmakers wanted to show a lot of destruction. But from a storytelling point of view, one must remember that this was Clark Kent's first time putting on the warrior's uniform and revealing himself to the world. And just as he is learning to manage his powers, he is confronted by beings equally as powerful as he is. The fight scenes were chaotic and frantic, and Clark seemed like a frightened child in some sense. The battle began when he heard Zod threatening his mother; reacting in an intense, protective anger, he drove Zod through the field, using him like a plowshare, yelling at him to leave his mother alone. The fight scene that followed was more reactive than proactive.

The most controversial scene, though, was where Superman killed Zod by snapping his neck. In the comics, Superman doesn't kill the bad guys. And of course, some have defended the action by saying that the film is a new "vision" of Superman, a modern take on the classic hero. I think that there is more to the decision than the "new take," however.

Having seen the movie a second time now, I still registered shock each time I saw the action. Zod was bent on destroying Earth, and the earlier callous destruction only amplified that point. After Kal-El destroys the scout ship, Zod rises from it, declaring that his sole purpose for which he was bred was to ensure the survival of his people. (The film mentioned the fact that Kryptonian children were bred for specific roles; Zod's was to be a warrior.) He says that without people, he now has no purpose. "No matter how violent, every action I take is for the greater good of my people," he declares. As Zod goes on a rampage, they ultimately end up with Superman holding Zod in a choke hold. Zod declares that if Kal-El loves these people on Earth so much, he can mourn for them, and begins trying to kill a family with hi heat vision.

Superman begs him to stop, to which Zod responds, "Never!"  For Kal-El, it isn't just a simple command; he is begging, anguish in his face and in his voice. It's almost as if he is that small, scared child again, hiding and panicking in the closet, waiting for one of his parents to tell him what he needs to do. As Zod struggles to kill the family, we can almost hear an echo of the speech Zod gave earlier about his entire purpose being to ensure the survival of his people. Kal-El faces a decision, and he chooses to do what Superman never does. He kills him.

But it is not a victorious kill. It's an angst-ridden one. After snapping Zod's neck, he is quiet, shaken and shocked by what he has done, tears filling his eyes. Horror-stricken, he screams out in agony and anguish; clearly, this wasn't a decision he came to lightly. The scene closes with Kal-El slumped on the ground, burying his face into Lois as she holds him.

While I love the fact that Superman has always been the "big blue boyscout" in the comics, I don't think this scene ruined his image. I think it portrayed his struggles deep inside, revealing his humanity. It shows a desperate, broken hero. There is one other scene that I think best echoes his struggle. As he walks into the church, confiding in the priest about what he should do, there is a stained glass image of Jesus in the background. Only it's not Jesus on the cross or performing a miracle; it's Jesus praying in Gethsemane, struggling with the decision of what he should do for the sake of humanity.

Superman showed that he would protect humanity in those final moments. It also gave a glimpse of his own humanity.

Save the Cat! Guest Post on July 5

On July 5, you can catch my guest blog post at the web site for the best-selling Save The Cat! book series. Just go to the Save the Cat! web site. The topic revolves around the story types for Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University. And be sure to pick up copies of the books in the series. They're an excellent addition for any writer's bookshelf.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Monsters University: The Hero's Journey

I often write about how the Hero's Journey is seen in various movies, and it's not just applicable to superhero movies. Even in family films, the protagonist undergoes a Journey. Monsters University follows more of an inner journey, as this brief look shows. Of course, if you haven't seen the movie, be aware that there are spoilers below.

1. Ordinary World: Mike Wazowski is a small child. He's so small, in fact, that everyone treats him like he will never amount to anything, and he definitely won't be able to work as a Scarer at Monsters, Inc. But when his class takes a field trip to visit the facility, his dreams are set in stone.

2. Call To Adventure: Mike arrives at college, Monsters University. This is the Special World for him. A previous montage shows how Mike has planned his entire life out in minute detail in an attempt to achieve his dreams. College, however, will not necessarily follow his plans.

3. Refusal of the Call: For Mike, the Refusal mainly comes from others around him. While the Hero usually has some self-doubts, Mike is focused and determined. Others, like Sully, don't think he has what it takes to be a Scarer. And because Mike and Sully are a team later on, Sully's Refusal coupled with that of the others who reject him, gives him an obstacle to overcome on his quest.

4. Meeting with the Mentor: Mike is basically his own Mentor. At least, his dreams and plans are; they are what guides him and pushes him to continue despite the odds and the doubts of everyone around him. In addition, the flyer he gets for the Scare Games continues to guide him when he is kicked out of classes later.

5. Crossing the Threshold: The college classes start, and Mike quickly shows his stuff. But he is also upstaged by naturally-scary Sully, whose family legacy makes it easy for him to coast through classes

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies: As Mike begins adjusting to college life, he meets his roommate, Randall, and also encounters his classmates. Some simply tolerate him, while others like Sully and the guys in the fraternities, ridicule him. He faces a critical Scare test, and he and Sully are kicked out of the class while trying to out-scare each other.

Mike then tries to get back into the program by participating in the Scare Games. He joins the misfits in Oozma Kappa, along with Sully, and they begin to compete in events. They fail at first, but soon learn that they must use teamwork to win.

7. Approach:After finally achieving a brief victory, Mike's team bands together, taking the Scare Games seriously. Soon, they are quickly rising to the top, and will compete against the reigning fraternity, Roar Omega Roar.

8. Ordeal: During the final event of the Scare Games, the Journey to get back into the program could end in failure. Through teamwork, Oozma Kappa proves its resolve and wins the event.

9. Reward: The Reward is winning the Scare Games along with the respect of the other students, not to mention acceptance back into the program.

10. The Road Back: The victory is short-lived, however, as Mike discovers that Sully has cheated to help them win. Mike is determined to prove that he can scare, and walks through a door that leads to a summer camp. Sully confesses to the dean, but when he learns what Mike has done, he goes after him.

11. Resurrection:After Mike and Sully confess their shortcomings to each other, they team up, using their strengths, to prove that they can, indeed, be scary. Sully overcomes his fears about scaring, and Mike overcomes his doubts about himself as they discover that what they really need to do is work together.

12. Return with the Elixir: Even though they are still kicked out of Monsters University, Mike and Sully realize that they belong together and find work in the mail room at Monsters, Inc. The end credits show pictures portraying the rise of this team that has become a close friendship.

Man of Steel (2013): Kal-El's Hero's Journey

Superman's origin story is familiar to pretty much everybody whether they've read a comic book or not. An alien child, sent to Earth to escape a dying planet, lives among humans and slowly discovers his powers and abilities, learning what makes him unique. The new film proposed an exciting, different look into his origins. Gone was the weakness-causing kryptonite. Instead, Superman's humanity and struggle to cope with his identity would be the topic of exploration. This version of the origin story offers a darker, yet more realistic, interpretation. The writers correctly surmised that if an alien were suddenly flying around our cities, people would not be excited; they would be fearful. The story explores the humanity of Kal-El; what would it be like for a small child to hear all of the voices in his head suddenly, or to gain x-ray vision? Many think that to attain such abilities would be exciting; to a child, it would be terrifying.


Below is the Hero's Journey for Kal-El, the Man of Steel. Spoilers are ahead if you have not seen the film. The names Clark and Kal-El are used interchangeably, as they are his dual identities.

1. Ordinary World: While Kal-El's home world is technically Krypton, he does not yet know it. For him, his whole life has been here on Earth. He is named Clark by his parents, and this is the world he knows.

2. Call To Adventure: The film reveals Clark's Call through flashbacks. As a child, strange things begin to happen to him. He can see through objects (and people's skin), he has heat vision, and he can hear voices, making it difficult for him to focus. It's a horrifying experience for a child. He tries to understand why he is different, why he is a freak compared to everyone else. Teased on the bus, Clark endures the taunts, refusing to use his abilities to stand up to bullies. Only when the bus plummets off a bridge does he use his strength to save everyone. This, of course, causes questions to pop up from neighbors. His father counsels him, struggling with what Clark should do. He shows Clark the spaceship he arrived in as a baby, revealing his true heritage to him.

3. Refusal of the Call: Truly, the Call and Refusal flow back and forth throughout young Clark's life. However, Clark's main Refusal comes from his inability to fit in with society. He struggles with how to use his powers, not fighting back when thrown against a fence and taunted. Much of his adult life is spent as a drifter, going from job to job in an effort to find a place where he belongs.While working on one such job, he finds some answers.

4. Meeting with the Mentor: Clark finds a frozen spaceship while working with a military research expedition. Entering it, he uses his Kryptonian key, and an image of his father appears, Jor-El's consciousness transmitted from the spaceship. He teaches Clark his true heritage and purpose, preparing him to Cross the Threshold.

It is important to note that both his mother and father on Earth also served as key Mentor figures, as flashbacks show. His father was adamant that Clark keep his powers hidden, helping him to find the right time when the world would need and accept him. His mother also represented a gentler kind of Mentor, teaching Clark how to find stillness in the storm of his burgeoning abilities.

5. Crossing the Threshold: Having met with Jor-El, Clark emerges from the ship, stepping out in the warrior's garment he has found. Usually, Kryptonions would wear a heavier armor over that garment, as we will see with the others that appear later, but in this case, his garment is what the people of Earth will recognize him by. He literally steps through the threshold of the spaceship door, a symbolic representation of entering the New World, one in which he knows his place and his purpose.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies: Clark, now knowing his true name as Kal-El, tests out his powers and abilities. At first shaky, he soon discovers how to control them and how the Earth's atmosphere has strengthened him, his cells drinking in the sun's radiation. He speaks to Lois Lane at his father's grave, discussing his dilemma with her. He wants to honor his father's wishes for him to keep his abilities hidden, and she, in turn, keeps his identity a secret. It's a victory for Clark as he discovers a new ally.

All is not meant to remain victorious, however. The world soon learns that it is not alone. General Zod, having searched for the son of Jor-El for over thirty years, follows the beacon activated by Clark when he found the scout ship. Now, he broadcasts his demands to the entire planet: turn over the Kryptonian or face annihilation. Here, Clark is tested: he must decide whether or not to face this enemy. In a symbolic scene, he speaks with a priest in a church about his struggle. Does he surrender to Zod? Can Zod be trusted? Can humanity? As speaks his mind, Clark is sitting in front of a stained-glass window depicting Jesus praying in Gethsemane. This is Clark's Gethsemane, and a major test on his point. He must decide if he is truly ready to undertake this journey set before him as the enemy waits.

Making a bold decision, Clark decides to reveal himself to the world and to turn himself in to Zod. He and Lois are taken to Zod's ship, where he learns of Zod's goals: to turn Earth into a new Krypton. But first, Zod must find the Codex stolen by Jor-El. As Zod goes to the surface, Kal-El must escape.

7. Approach:Returning to the planet's surface, Kal-El fights Zod, protecting his mother and his home. The fight continues into downtown Smallville, where Clark has his first true fight with beings like himself. This fight is preparing him for the ultimate showdown. On Earth, challenges seem inconsequential. But faced with Kryptonians, he must fight harder. He has already learned that his body struggles with the Kryptonian atmosphere; now, he learns how difficult it is to fight Kryptonians.

8. Ordeal: Having survived the battle in Smallville, Kal-El now must save the planet from the terraforming machine. He struggles against it, as it is creating a Kryptonian atmosphere, causing him weakness. The technology of the machine seems unbeatable as it throws him into the water below. This is where he will learn if he can finish the Journey. It could end in his death, but instead, he stands beneath it, focusing as his parents taught him, fighting against the Kryptonian technology. In a desperate effort, he flies up and against the machine, destroying it.

9. Reward: Kal-El's Reward is the fact that he has saved Earth. But the Journey is not over yet.

10. The Road Back: Kal-El returns to Metropolis. Amidst the devastation, he finds Zod in the scout ship and confronts him.

11. Resurrection:The Resurrection seems to be two-part. First, when confronted by Zod to choose between Krypton and Earth, Kal-El declares that Krypton had its chance, destroying the scout ship and Zod's chance of recreating Krypton. Zod declares that he is now without purpose, as he was born to protect his species. He now dedicates himself to destroying those Clark holds dear. In a sense, this is where his other Resurrection moment comes in. After an intense fight with Zod, he ultimately kills him, despite a desperate attempt to get Zod to stop his actions. Kal-El makes a difficult decision, but it proves that he is loyal to Earth.

12. Return with the Elixir: The Elixir is Kal-El's new identity: Superman. He confronts General Swanwick, telling him that the world can trust him. He is not Earth's enemy; he is a protector.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"Tie-ing" It All Together

It has been a while since my last blog entry. I have meant to make more updates, do more analyses with the Hero's Journey, but time has been limited. For one, I have discovered a new hobby: tie-making. Well, sort of a new hobby. As a middle school teacher, I love to wear unique, geeky neckties. I have several superhero ones, but I have always wanted a Batman one. I quickly found out that they are either difficult to obtain or are too expensive for my budget. So, I decided to act on my plan from several years ago. Using a tie pattern I had bought, I purchased some Batman fabric and made my own. It actually turned out okay, and so I attempted to make a few more. Actually, "a few" would be an understatement. In all, I've made 10 so far, all completely geeky, as you can see below.

Superman, Star Wars Tie Fighters, and Batman
Star Wars Characters, Death Star/AT-AT Blueprints, Star Trek, and Marvel Comic Book Words
Wolverine/Hulk, Classic Comic Covers, and Iron Man/Thor



I would love to make a Doctor Who one, but the fabric is a bit pricey. Even so, I am thinking of selling some on Etsy for fellow geeks.But more than neckties, I've been finishing up my latest novel, tentatively titled Legacy. It's a follow-up to another one I did called Redemption. My students had asked me to do a sequel, but I don't write with sequels in mind. Instead, I wrote a companion novel. The most difficult, yet most fun, part of writing a novel is tying it all together at the end, letting the reader see and understand how all the pieces fit together.

But of course, planning is what makes this possible. For my novels, I have begun to reference them against the Hero's Journey structure and the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet from the popular Save the Cat! screenwriting books. These help me to see where pieces of the plot fit best, as well as help me understand what is missing. Most importantly, it allows me to ensure that there is character transformation, the most pivotal piece of any story.

My books will be available on Amazon.com in both print and Kindle formats, tentatively slated for this summer.