Monday, August 8, 2016

Some thoughts on the 30th anniversary Transformers: The Movie Blu-Ray

Just heard about the upcoming Blu-Ray release of Transformers: The Movie, and got a little nostalgic for my childhood ... while at the same time remembering the time I saw the movie and the original TV series as an adult. And wow, what a difference a couple of decades makes.


I didn't see this when it was in theaters because I was around the age where I started thinking that cartoons were only for little kids, so I never begged my parents to take me to see it. I loved the original series, though ... until I tried to re-watch it a few years ago and realized it was terrible. I could barely sit through the first episode.

Before that happened, I picked up the 20th-anniversary DVD when it was released, and that's the first time I got kicked right in the nostalgia. Terrible script, awful dialogue, and most of the movie made no goddamn sense at all. And that one robot who looked like he had fucking dicknipples haunts my nightmares to this very day.

Some time after the letdown of seeing part of my childhood ruined, I decided to watch the TV show over again, figuring it couldn't have been that bad. Holy shit, was I wrong. Like I said, I barely got through the first episode. Tried to watch another later on, and just couldn't. If someone had walked into the room and seen me watching it, I would've been embarrassed. Even more embarrassed than I would've been if someone had caught me jerking off.

As for the movie ... eh, I guess you can make the argument that it tackled subject matter that was really dark (the deaths of major characters), yet it's a part of everyday life. But those deaths were in the script for completely cynical reasons -- getting rid of familiar characters loved by the kids who watched the show, just to make room for new characters and therefore new toys to peddle.

But then, even when I was a little kid, I already understood what death was and what it meant. My parents never tried to restrict my television viewing while I was growing up, so I'd already seen characters killed off all the time on Star Trek and Doctor Who (which sometimes had an astonishingly high body count) and other shows. Even when I was five or six years old, I could see a character's death, see the reactions of others when it happened, and put two and two together. I was around nine when I saw The Wrath of Khan in the theater in 1982, and understood exactly what Spock's death meant -- that he was gone. He no longer existed. I had no idea back then that he'd be brought back in the next movie, but that's another topic.

So, if I'd seen Transformers: The Movie in 1986, it probably wouldn't have traumatized me like it did so many other kids, at least in the sense of a loss of innocence. It would've definitely been emotional for me, though, seeing a character I loved killed off. It was a tragic, sad event, and would likely have been a profound moment for me ... if not for the awful movie that surrounded it. A moment of such gravity deserves a far better story, and it needs to happen for far better reasons than just to make room for a new line of toys.

I was never able to get into any other iterations of the franchise until Transformers Prime came along a few years ago. I decided to check out the first episode just to see if I could stand watching it, and was surprised to find myself enjoying it.


Aside from a few moments here and there, most of the time I could watch it without feeling like I was being talked down to. It ended up becoming my favorite series in the franchise, despite a fair number of missteps, and I was sorry not only to see it come to an end after only three seasons, but also to see it replaced by Robots in Disguise, which is every bit as awful as Generation 1. I wanted to like the new show, but it's aimed at a much younger audience and is more lighthearted and just plain silly. Maybe it got better as time passed, but I pulled the ripcord when I got to the fourth episode and saw that the villain of the week was a giant robot lobster. I only liked one of the characters, Strongarm, but couldn't stand the rest. Whereas, with Transformers Prime, I liked almost all of the characters, as well as the more serious "war is hell" approach the series took, and imagery that was often genuinely frightening.


And in the above clip there's something else -- something that would never have happened in the original series. While no deaths are shown on-screen, it's pretty obvious. Just think about that huge metal fist slamming into a human body at that speed, and you know every bone in the guy's body was shattered and his organs turned into pulp. Some people probably complained about that sort of thing happening in the series, but let's face it -- those guys were trying to kill her just so they could get their hands on a piece of alien technology. So she took them the fuck out. I love that the show didn't shy away from that kind of thing, when G1 and most of the other cartoons I watched as a kid almost never did anything more than show one character toss another into a pile of leaves or hay or whatever. I can respect a show that's willing to go there. The show also did a really good job of being about something, rather than just a thirty-minute commercial for a toy line like the original.

And then there's Airachnid. Jesus Christ, Airachnid. While I really didn't like her swan song in the final season (or much else about that whole episode), she was one of the most sinister villains I've ever seen. Just the sight of her was extremely creepy (in no small part due to the fact that spiders give me the heebie-jeebies). Then she'd open her mouth and prove herself to be pretty much completely insane. I don't remember the exact line, but in one episode she said something that amounted to, "When you kill me, make it hurt. I'd do the same for you." Seriously, that's a fucked-up thing for a character in a kid's show to say.


So. Yeah. Now that my skin's finished crawling ...

Transformers Prime may have been aimed primarily at kids, but definitely not at young kids, and I can watch it as an adult and not feel embarrassed that I enjoy it. G1 and Transformers: The Movie ... not so much. I'll be giving that Blu-Ray a pass, unfortunately. It's much better as a distant memory.

I'd love to see TFP revisited as a big-budget movie, someday, however. If it had good writers and Michael Bay wasn't involved, there are still plenty of good stories that can be told with these characters. Not that I hate Michael Bay or anything. I really don't. It's just that his movies are largely the same thing over and over again.

But that's a whole other rant, and I've gone on and on enough for one night ....

Saturday, August 6, 2016

First appearance of a new badass character

I finished and posted the latest chapter of Uncharted Territory a few days ago, and the new character I mentioned previously made her first appearance there. I made several attempts at inserting the image from the previous entry into a background, but never managed to get it to look right. One of my friends gave me some tips on how to blend the two pictures together, so I tried again this afternoon. Don't think it's quite there yet, but it's a vast improvement over my previous attempts. Still need to play around with it a little and see what I can do with it, but here's the current version.



I figure this image might work as a biographical card, with the character's info in the space on the left. Also, the right half would make a good book cover, and the left half would work as the back cover with a descriptive blurb and whatnot added. So, that's pretty cool.

Coming soon: a new chapter of Harbinger, followed by another chapter of Uncharted Territory, if all goes well.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A new video, a new chapter, and a new character

Just a few quick updates for now.

First up, last week I posted a new entry in my Mass Effect Writing Discussion series on YouTube. In this one: recruiting Samara, putting up with Conrad Verner's crap, and mowing down lots of mercs, plus commentary on a range of writing-related topics.


Next, this evening I finished a new chapter of Freelancers: Chapter 30, "Winds of Change." In this one, a three-hundred-year cold war may finally be drawing to a close. It's posted at Fanfiction.net, Archive of Our Own, and FanStory.

Finally, a really cool bit of inspiration hit while I was having my morning coffee and trying to finish waking up. I've been using Big Stock Photo for the images I use for my book covers. Didn't cost anything to sign up, and when I joined they were running an offer that lets me download one free image per month. I keep getting sidetracked and forgetting to sign back in and grab a free image, but occasionally I remember. :P

I generally look for starscapes or alien planets or cities/landscapes, etc., that I can place text over for the book titles and whatnot. Suddenly remembered the site existed this morning, planned to download one of the alien-planet pictures I'd saved to my shopping list, when I stumbled onto this image.



Took one look at it and an idea for a whole new character popped into my head. I'll be adding her to Uncharted Territory and sometime later on making her the central character in another book (and the above image will be one of the elements in the cover art, laid over a background image). Which is pretty much how Kolya Mason started off and ended up in Uncharted Territory. Sometimes all it takes is a single image to enter my line of sight and bam! -- a whole new character comes together in my head in a matter of minutes. I love it when that happens.

I decided to name her Vacendak. Heh ... Freejack wasn't the best movie I've ever seen, but it had a lot of fun moments, and that name stuck in my head for all these years. It just seemed to fit this picture and the ideas I had for this new character.

You'll be seeing more of her soon, starting with an upcoming chapter of Uncharted Territory ....

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"Typical" Writing

A couple of recent conversations and a video on YouTube reminded me of less-than-helpful comments writers sometimes get on their work, and things to avoid while writing, so I decided to discuss it a bit here.

One of the conversations covered a number of writing-related topics, and the other was more about a nonsensical suggestion one of my friends received on a manuscript she's been working on. The video was one of YouTuber Archengeia's "ruminations" on the Star Trek movies -- specifically, Generations.


It's a thorough and entertaining analysis of the movie, as are his other videos on movies, games, and TV series. I've learned a lot about writing from watching these, so if you're interested in becoming a writer or improving your techniques, these videos delve pretty deeply into things that work and things that don't.

In the above video, one of the points Archengeia discusses is being a "typical writer" -- the term being applied to him in a derisive manner. As in, "You're just a typical writer because [insert bullshit here]." In this case, it's not writing something unexpected that makes him "typical." He goes on to explain why it's not a bad thing, and I find myself agreeing because I tend to see my writing much the same way.

This all reminded me of a suggestion I got on one of my novels, which was to kill off a couple of fairly major characters because it would be a "gut-punch" for readers. And that was it. Okay, so, it'd be a gut-punch. So what? What would you actually do with it? What would be the point? Shock value isn't enough. It's got to happen for a reason. And in this case, there really was none, other than shocking the readers with the sudden deaths of two major characters.

Leaving aside the purely nuts-and-bolts problems this would cause -- having to rewrite the entire back half of the book because those two characters continued having a big role in the story -- I have a few other issues with pulling a stunt like this.

This is just my opinion, but I don't think a character death should be done lightly. A major character shouldn't be killed off just for the sake of killing him/her off. Shouldn't be done just to shock the readers or audience. If it's done, it should arise naturally from the events unfolding in the story, there should be a point to it, and it should move the story forward, not just cast a pall over everything following it.

We need only look back at Generations to see an example of a character death happening just for its own sake and serving no real purpose. It wasn't necessary to kill Kirk off, but if you absolutely have to do it, there are far better ways than what ended up in the movie. As Archengeia said, it would've been more effective if it had happened in the opening segment -- Kirk saves the Enterprise, the energy ribbon zaps the section he's in, and that's that. It was a powerful moment in the movie. A gut-punch that, to me at least, didn't need to be there, but was still an effective scene. It would've had a lasting impact on the rest of the characters, had the movie stayed with them rather than skipping ahead seventy-eight years to the Next Generation crew.

But then Kirk reappears near the end of the movie, when Picard meets him in the Nexus. When Kirk dies, it isn't the kind of death a character like him deserves. If you absolutely have to kill off Captain Kirk, you should at least come up with a fitting send-off, not just shoot him in the back (his original scripted death, before it was rewritten and the replacement scene was filmed) or drop a bridge on him. It doesn't affect the story except to cast a shadow over the final few minutes. Kirk and Picard meeting and working together to stop the villain should've been awesome. Their initial meeting was one of the best scenes in the film, but the way it ended after the fight with Soran was just anti-climactic and a huge bummer.

But maybe a writer wants to make the audience aware that anyone can die. Well, some ways of doing that are more effective than others. Serenity has a major character death near the climax of the movie, and makes it work even though it comes out of nowhere. It raises the stakes, makes viewers worry that most or even all of the remaining characters will die (which is something that happens fairly often when the protagonists make a last stand), moves the story forward, and will have a lasting effect on the survivors.

The best example of a good character death that springs immediately to my mind would be Star Trek II. This is among the points Archengeia discusses in his analysis of that movie, by the way. It makes for a good contrast between the two approaches to killing a character off.



The plot led up to it, it made sense, and it was a heroic death. Spock knew how to fix the engines, knew that something had happened to Scotty, and didn't even hesitate. He traded his life for the lives of the crew -- most of whom were trainees in their early twenties or even younger. It was also a turning point for Kirk. It forced him to face something that he'd been cavalier about during most of his career.
"No. Not like this. I haven't faced death. I cheated death. Tricked my way out of death. And patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. I know nothing."
If you're going to kill off a character, that's how you do it.

Contrast that with, say, Transformers Prime, which took the "anyone can die" trope and ran with it. As much as I love that show, it had its share of flaws, and this is one of them. Several characters were killed off in their debut episodes. The very first episode had a character who was a pretty major role in previous iterations of the franchise, and he was whacked within the first five or ten minutes. It affected the other characters for a very long time afterward, but for the audience ... well, for me it was, "Oh -- well, um ... that happened." It would've been more emotional for the audience if he had stuck around long enough for us to get to know him.

Several other characters cacked it over the show's three seasons, and most of those deaths were kind of pointless. Many more interesting stories could've been told with those characters, but nope, they were killed abruptly when they had only just begun to become interesting.

Another example that comes to mind is one of the deaths in Mass Effect 3. Granted, that's only one issue among dozens in what passes for a "story" in that game, but there's one character death in particular that just didn't have to happen. They weren't backed into a corner. There was a rather obvious way it could've been avoided, but instead of setting the death up in a way that couldn't have been dodged (and would've made sense, which much of the story did not), they just plowed ahead. I won't go into too much detail because I'm already dealing with that story in a series of videos I'm putting on YouTube and I'll get into the matter there. I'll just say here that, when I get to that point in the story, the scene will probably make me cry because I really like that character ... so yes, it's an emotional gut-punch -- but only on the surface. Because once you start thinking about it, it's little more than the death happening just because the writers decided it should happen.

And to bring it back to the suggestion I was given for my novel ... while killing off the two characters would've been a shock to the readers and maybe made them worry how many others would die ... we're only about halfway into the book by that point, if not less. With so much farther to go, it's not likely that many more would be killed off between there and the end. It's too early in the book to think about raising the stakes, and it would've served no real purpose. As mentioned above, it would've necessitated a rewrite that would've changed a huge portion of the second half of the book. Not only that, but it would've changed the tone of everything that followed, and would've been way too much of a downer in a story that already had its share of dark moments.

Also, if too many characters are killed off too rapidly, sooner or later it'll either lose the effect you're going for, or your readers will end up being completely turned off and stop reading. As a reader, I'd never be able to enjoy something like Game of Thrones because, from everything I've heard about it, it just seems like an incredibly unpleasant experience. If I started reading it, I'm pretty sure I'd get frustrated or depressed and just pull the ripcord.

As a writer, I try not to kill off any main (or secondary, or even tertiary) characters unless there's actually a point to it. It's got to benefit the story, not happen just because it's "unexpected" (which, to me, sounds like "just for the hell of it"). When it's done right, for the right reasons, it can be a really powerful moment, which is why I think it should be used sparingly. If that makes me a "typical writer," then so be it.

So ... I don't want to say there's a right way and a wrong way to write a story, because when it comes to writing, I'm not really sure there is such a thing. I'm just offering my perspective.

There are, however, approaches that work better than others.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Project Revenant submitted to Baen

Couple of quick announcements while I have a moment (and while I'm not writhing in pain from my screwed-up right knee -- a story for another time; for now I'll just say, getting old sucks).

First, a few days ago I finished the polish on Project Revenant and, after giving it a lot of thought, I decided to submit it to Baen Books. The response time is nine to twelve months, but I had to try. After looking at a lot of publishers and deciding to go with one of the biggest publishing houses, I figured I'd have the best chance with Baen. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed.


Second, because it's the third book in the series, I decided to make the first two books free for a limited time. For the next few days, both Load and Fifteen Minutes can be downloaded on your Kindle for free. If you'd like to see how it all started and how the characters came to be where they are in Project Revenant, grab up a copy while the promotion is running.

 

And finally ... I hardly ever post photos of myself online, and in fact hardly ever take pictures of myself at all. I'm just not comfortable on camera. Not really photogenic at all. But I've been meaning to take a new photo to use for author bios and profile pages and whatnot, because I looked grouchy in the old photo. Also, I just had to show off the new shirt.


Now ... time for lunch, a dose of pain meds, and hoping I'll be able to walk when I go to work this afternoon ....

Friday, June 3, 2016

Another humorous scene from "Chaser"

Finally had time to get back to work on some of my books, after everyday-life stuff keeping me sidetracked for the past few months. I'll have more to say about that in another post. For now, here's another amusing scene from Chaser ... hopefully one I haven't posted already and forgotten thanks to my chronic brainfart syndrome.

"Nice. I think I could start to like it here." I started making plans for Seth, Marissa, and myself after my shift ended. "All this place needs is a massage parlor."
"Which it has, actually."
"Really? Sweet. I haven't been to one of those in a while." I tossed off a lopsided grin. "I wonder if they'll give me a happy ending if I slip 'em a few extra dollars."
She snickered. "It never occurred to me to ask. I'll leave that to you."
"That's fine. I'm pretty shameless."
She laughed and we continued on our way. A few minutes later we reached the maintenance section and walked into a large repair bay filled with tools and other devices on workbenches, a shuttle and several smaller vehicles, and...
I raised a brow ridge and pointed. "Isn't that one of the 'kids'?"
She looked across the large chamber. "Yeah, that's Jamie. What the hell happened?"
We hurried over to where the car-size, spider-like robot stood. Several of his panels had been removed and his left-rear leg had a large hole punched through it. A book was clamped in his left pincers while he turned one of the pages with his right.
One of his "eyes" rotated up toward us. "Oh, hi!" he said, and waved.
"Hey." I waved a hand at the damage. "First day on the job and you break something?"
"Got hit by a micrometeorite. From the size of the hole it tore in me, I'd say it was about the size of a grain of sand. Punched right through my leg before I had any idea it was coming."
"Shit. Glad it didn't hit anything vital."
"Me, too! Kamala said it hit a weak point in my armor plating, so she's off looking for a replacement."
"I hope they have one that'll fit," Corona said, taking a look around the workshop. "I haven't seen any other robots like you and Adam here."
"There aren't any others now, but there have been before. Complex AIs need a change of pace now and then, just like organics, so the last group was sent home for their yearly maintenance cycle. Which opened up ten positions just before we shipped out. I've heard that another group will be sent over on a later shuttle, so all the necessary parts are kept in stock here."
"Glad to hear it." Corona leaned against the workbench beside him and stuck her hands into the pockets of her black cargo shorts. "Isn't this the kind of thing Otto and Shakira would be working on, though?"
"Hi, guys," Kamala's voice said from behind us. I turned and found her slithering across the floor, pushing a huge cart loaded with panels, a modular leg, and several boxes of internal parts. She stopped at the workbench and moved some of the boxes onto it. "Normally, they would, but I could use the practice. I mostly just work on computers and vehicles, so I figured it'd be a good idea to broaden my horizons."
"Whee, it'll be an educational experience! I love learning new things!" Jamie bounced and waved his arms.
Kamala laughed. "Glad to have an eager patient." She slid over to another bench, pulled a huge jack out from under it, and used it to prop up Jamie's backside. "Okay, gotta take your leg off now."
"Sure, whenever you're ready." Jamie moved the book in front of his lower eye.
Kamala opened a sliding door under the bench, took out a large toolbox, and opened it. She glanced at him and waved one hand at the book while digging tools out with the other three. "Interesting--you actually read books instead of just downloading them?"
"When I download books, it's just data. I've found that reading them the way organic people do is a much more satisfying experience."
"That's fascinating." Kamala smiled. "I think we're gonna get along just fine."
"Speaking of getting along," I said, "have you made any progress with Roger?"
She blushed. "I'm pretty sure he knows I have a crush on him. He seems to find it amusing."
"So, he knows you're interested, but hasn't made a move?"
"Why would he?" She waved one of her hands over her body. "I'm a snake with four arms and no legs. He probably thinks it's too weird, if it ever crossed his mind at all."
"You never know. Why don't you offer to buy him a cup of coffee or something?"
"Oh, Jesus." She shook her head frantically and unscrewed an access panel behind Jamie's damaged leg. "I--I don't think I'd have the nerve to do that. Not without having a stiff drink first. Or ten."
Corona cleared her throat and nodded at something behind me. "Don't look now, but opportunity is about to knock."
I glanced over my shoulder and grinned. There was Roger, standing near one of the doors at the far end of the room, glancing around as if searching for someone.
Jamie chuckled. "I just rearranged his schedule. I slipped in a request for a full system diagnostic, so it'd be the very next item on his list. Looks like he's already finished with his last job, so here he comes. You're welcome."
Some of the color drained from Kamala's face. "You what?" Corona and I looked at each other and burst into laughter.
"Jamie, you little pimp!" She high-fived him.
Jamie giggled and waved until he caught Roger's attention. "Over here!" He looked at Kamala and said in a low voice, "Don't worry, I won't let on that it's a setup. You can take it from here, I hope."
"Uh..." Kamala fixed a petrified stare on me and scooted a few inches to the right, hiding behind Jamie.
"Oh, no you don't." Laughing, I grabbed her arm and tugged her back into full view. "We don't want Jamie's efforts to be for nothing, do we?"
Corona patted Kamala's shoulder. "I'll go get some coffee for you both." She hurried away.
"I'm..." Kamala's voice was so faint, I could barely hear it. "I'm gonna need something stronger."
I gave her shoulder a playful swat, then noticed something that needed to be fixed before Roger came close enough to see it. I turned to face her and stretched my left wing out to block her from sight momentarily. "Um, you might want to pull your skirt up. Don't want to be too forward about this."
She looked down, gasped, and yanked her denim skirt up a few inches. "Damn it! It's the toolbelt--I don't have hips or ass cheeks, so the weight keeps pulling it down." She notched the belt tighter.
I pulled my wing back in and glanced over my shoulder. Roger had made it about halfway across the repair bay. "Well, in that case, you have a pretty good excuse for flashing him every now and then." I winked. "I'm assuming you have the proper parts down there?"
She snorted. "Yeah, I have the right parts. One of 'em is even located in the right spot, more or less."
"Hmm. So, both, uh, 'openings' are in front, then?"
"Yeah. Makes using a toilet damned awkward. And if I fart, it's literally right under my nose." She took a deep breath and rubbed her upper hands over her face. "I hope he doesn't freak out when he sees it. Assuming I ever get past first base."
I smiled and patted her on the back. "See? You're already planning to let him see your 'business.' You're making progress."
"I didn't mean it like--"
I looked over my shoulder again. "Oh, he's almost here. Make me proud." I backed away, smiling and waving at Roger as he arrived.
"Hi." He aimed a brilliant smile at her.
"H..." She cleared her throat. "Hi. C-can I have you? Help you! Can I help you?" She covered her face with her hands again. "Oh, shit!"
He stared at her with a bemused smile. "Well...actually, I'm here to run a full system diagnostic on..." He frowned, tapped his multitool, and glanced at the text projected in a small holofield above it. "On Jamie, here."
She nodded, keeping her hands over her face. "Sure. Whenever you're ready. I'll just...keep working on the damaged parts."
"Okay." He placed his multitool on the bench and brought up a larger holofield.
I leaned over to whisper into Kamala's ear. "Don't forget to talk to him. Just start a conversation."
"Easy for you to say," she whispered back.
"Well, if he didn't know you were interested before, he sure as hell does now. Don't blow it."
Chaser is available in ebook format from Amazon.

Here's a five-star review of the book.

And here's a video I made, in which I talk a bit about the book.


Friday, March 25, 2016

Tense scene from "Reactivated"

Here's one from last year, a little something I wrote for Kindle Worlds: Reactivated, the first volume in a series. (Which means I really need to get off my ass and write the second story. :P)

A short excerpt:

"Okay, Marvin, try it now." Diamondback waited for a reply, but there was only silence in the maintenance bay. She waited a few more seconds for her coworker to try to start the engine, then she frowned and slid out from under the combat car. "Marvin?"
No answer.
She glanced around and couldn't find him. The bay was empty aside from the vehicles they were working on and the half-dozen cars and mini-tanks in the "waiting line" along the wall opposite the elevator doors.
Huh. She tried to shrug off the sudden unease that had begun creeping up her spine. Maybe he's in the bathroom again. He really needs to cut back on that wheat cereal he loves so much.
She slithered over to the workbench and packed up her tools. It was past lunchtime, anyway; if the car still wouldn't start, it could wait until afternoon. She headed for the nearest wash basin and cleaned the grime off all four hands. She stared into the mirror to check for smudges on her reptilian face and found none. Her scales glistened as she turned her head one way and then another. Red eyes with slit-shaped pupils gazed back at her through wire-frame glasses custom-built to fit her human-snake hybrid features, framed by shoulder-length, wavy black hair.
The people running the lab all those years ago had intended to use her as a weapon, but fortunately they hadn't been allowed to complete their plans, and she'd made her own purpose in life. And, for a living weapon, she'd been told many times that she was kind of cute. Or, in Marvin's case, "adorable." She laughed softly at the thought.
Once she'd dried off, she grabbed a clean towel and wiped the dust and dirt off her glasses. She returned to the car, inserted her torso through the open door, and pushed the ignition button.
The engine started right up and quickly settled into a soft whir. She grinned, let it run for a few more seconds, and shut it down.
"Like it's brand new. Damn, I'm good." She chuckled, slid around the front of the car and turned toward the restroom door on the opposite side of the shop. "Hey, Marvin! Been eating too much of your high-fiber cereal again? If you're not careful with that, you'll start passing wicker furniture."
Again, there was no answer. She let out a nervous chuckle and shrugged again before making her way back across the shop toward the elevator.
That was when she caught it in the corner of her eye – the unmistakable shape of a pair of legs sticking out from behind one of the other vehicles scheduled for minor repairs.
"Marvin?"
He didn't reply. Didn't even move.
A cold sensation surged through Diamondback's chest and for a moment she couldn't breathe.
"H–hey, Marvin, quit screwing around!" Even as the words left her mouth, she knew her friend wasn't just having a bit of fun at her expense. He had a sense of humor, alright, but in the four years she'd known him, he'd never pranked her or gone any further than a bit of verbal teasing every now and then.
Could he have hurt himself without me noticing? Knocked himself out, somehow? Could I have been so absorbed in working on that car … ?
Yet she knew that wasn't it. There were several things that could be happening now, but somehow … she knew.
She raced toward him, slid to a stop, and hovered over his body. His eyes stared up and to the right, at a spot near the corner of the shop. Holding her breath, Diamondback turned his head slowly and recoiled at the sight of the exit wound in the other side. She cried out and flung herself away from the body.
Get hold of yourself! Whoever did this is probably still here. She covered her mouth with her upper hands and fumbled in her pockets with her lower hands. She dug her comlink out of her cargo skirt and checked it to be sure it was turned on.
Then she froze.
Someone's behind me. She held her breath. Both hearts pounded hard enough to shake her whole body. Right behind me.
She exhaled slowly, silently, preparing herself to erupt into the speed-burst ability that had been built into her bioengineered body.
Movement … air shifting … something moving into position at the back of my head.
She boosted herself and her sense of time slowed down.
Now!
She whipped herself aside and spun a split-second before a suppressed pistol discharged. A muzzle flash expanded slowly and propelled a slug through the space her head had occupied less than a heartbeat before. She clamped her upper-right hand around his wrist, twisted it and yanked him forward, while at the same time bracing her upper-left hand on his shoulder and pushing him, and snapping her lower-left hand out to grab the Bowie knife from its sheath on his belt.
The man pivoted, wrenched his arm out of her grasp, and swung his gun around to point it at her face. She blocked it with both right arms and passed the knife from her lower-left hand to her upper.
His finger tightened on the trigger as she forced his arm upward, and he popped four rounds into the ceiling. She pulled him off-balance again and hilted the knife in the side of his neck. His fists clenched and his finger clamped down on the trigger, firing round after round into the ceiling and walls until the clip was spent.
He fell to his knees and slumped over sideways.
Hands trembling, Diamondback picked up his gun and searched the body for fresh clips. After finding three, she reloaded the gun and shoved the other two into her pocket. She glanced at poor Marvin and looked away quickly.
Why?
She took a slow breath, pulled herself together, and slithered over to the elevator.
Ding.
She gasped and zipped into a U-turn. There was no one else in this small facility, so who the hell was in the elevator?
She glanced over her shoulder as she slid behind the biggest vehicle within reach, an armored van, and caught a glimpse of a huge rifle through the still-opening doors. She ducked out of sight, coiled her body up, gripped the pistol awkwardly in her inhuman hands, and tried not to hyperventilate.

Reactivated is available from Kindle Worlds for $1.99.

Other books and stories ...

Chaser
Load 
Fifteen Minutes (Sequel to Load)
Game Over
Uncharted Territory (Sequel to Game Over, work-in-progress, free to read on Inkshares)

For free samples of my writing ...

Freelancers
Game-Changer
Rematch
Enemy of my Enemy
Harbinger

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Another one on writing action scenes

Here's something I've noticed from time to time when reading novels and short stories: scenes, sometimes entire chapters, which read as if they're outlines rather than fully fleshed-out narratives. There's a lot of "telling" rather than "showing" -- action or dialog that's kind of glossed over or summarized rather than allowed to play out like an actual conversation or action scene. One example that comes to mind immediately is Revelation, a Mass Effect novel by Drew Karpyshyn, which I finally got around to reading sometime last year. I'm a huge fan of the video game series, and he was the lead writer on the first game (and on the second, if I remember correctly), but the novels ... well, his writing style isn't bad, but from what I remember, there was a lot of exposition and I didn't find things like fight scenes as compelling as they could've been. There wasn't much in the way of details.

I started thinking about this (not for the first time) last night, and figured it'd make a good topic to explore here. I decided to focus on writing action/fight scenes, since that's kind of turned into my "thing" over the last few years. And I thought it'd just be fun ... and it'd give me an excuse to get off my ass and write something, which I haven't done much in the last couple of months. So what follows is a short (-ish) action sequence to help illustrate what I'm talking about. I came up with it off the top of my head late last night.

Since Valeria seems to have become my go-to character for stuff like this, it'll be a scene with her in an isolated outpost filled with civilians that's being attacked by a small merc squad. The basic situation is, the civilians are taking cover but she needs to minimize gunfire to keep any of them from being hit by a stray shot. Which means she needs to get in close so the mercs can't fire at her without hitting each other, and go hand-to-hand with them.

There'll be two versions, one a short paragraph that summarizes rather than letting it play out and reach a natural conclusion, and the other a fully fleshed-out scene. One tells you what happened, and the other shows you. One gets it over with quickly, and the other brings the character and the scene to life. (At least, I hope it does, heh.)

Of course, there's no single "right" approach, and no "wrong" approach, really. This is just my particular sense of what works better.

Having said that, let's get started.

Version 1:
The mercs marched out of the smoke. Valeria motioned for everyone else to stay hidden and keep their heads down before charging into the middle of the group. They tried to aim their guns at her, but she disarmed them and knocked them out with a flurry of punches and kicks. Once she was sure none of them would get back up, she called out to the civilians and waved her arm frantically at them, urging them to clear the room while they had time.

That works well enough to tell that part of the story, particularly in a short piece where you're limited to 7,000 words or fewer, and you need to pack a whole story into that small space. When you're writing a novel that'll be 100,000 words or more, though, you have room to cut loose and let the scene unfold and reach its conclusion at its own pace. I didn't intend for the fleshed-out version to go on as long as it did, but I admit I got carried away because I was having so much fun with it.


Version 2:

"I'm in the armory," Valeria said into her comm. "What's happening in there?"
"I can hear them outside the door," one of the trapped civilians replied, his voice quivering and his breathing rapid. "They're gonna start cutting through any moment!"
"Get behind the biggest shipping containers, stay out of sight, and keep quiet." Valeria rushed over to the racks lining the walls. She grabbed a Phalanx hand cannon and an M-76 Revenant assault rifle. She clipped them to her armor, hoping to avoid shooting with all the innocent bystanders around, but bringing them along just in case. She picked up extra thermal clips, an armor-piercing knife, and a variable-density baton, the latter two being a better fit to the strategy she'd decided on when the shit hit the fan.
A Scorpion heavy pistol caught her attention as she turned back to the doorway. Originally brought into service by the salarian Special Tasks Group, the gun's projectiles were essentially small sticky grenades rather than the standard, sand-grain-sized bullets used by most other guns. A new idea clicked into place in her head and she clipped the Scorpion to her left hip.
"I'm on my way." She closed the channel and sprinted through the corridors to the cargo bay. She reached the large chamber and found it half-filled with huge shipping containers and crates of varying sizes placed seemingly at random. In the corner of her left eye, she found a couple dozen people huddled behind one of the big containers.
An almost liquid-looking stream of sparks punched through the door on the far side of the bay as the mercs began cutting through. Valeria turned to the civvies, made a "kaboom" gesture with her hands, and then motioned for them to keep their heads down. She drew the Scorpion and charged across the bay. She ducked behind a large metal crate, peeked around and aimed at the center of the roughly circular chunk being cut out of the door. When the cutter had almost completed the circle, Val fired six grenades into it and returned the gun to her hip.
The cutter finished its work and the sparks vanished. Val ducked back behind the crate an instant before the grenades detonated. A sharp bang made her wince and the shockwave rattled her armor. She peeked out and found a hole in the door; the thick slab of metal had been popped out like a cork, landing outside rather than in the cargo bay.
Valeria rushed over to the door, keeping away from the opening for the moment, and scanned the area with her Omni-Tool. It detected seven lifeless bodies crushed beneath the chunk of the door, and four more live ones. Through the smoke, her helmet's audio receptors picked up coughing and confused shouting. Her Tool located each of the survivors and painted their outlines in her heads-up display. Two humans, an asari, and ...
Great. One of them is a krogan. This ought to be ... interesting. Still, there was one weak point she could attack if she could get close enough. What the hell. Got to get right in the middle of them anyway, so they can't start shooting without blowing each other away.
She took a slow breath, let it out, and charged through the hole. The asari was nearest. The merc spun around and brought her rifle up just as Val tackled her. She gripped the barrel, wrenched it upward, and twisted it until the trigger guard snapped her opponent's finger. The asari groaned through clenched teeth and let the gun drop. She shoved her other arm out, palm straight into Val's face, and her Omni-Tool interface appeared for a split-second -- before a blinding light overwhelmed her helmet's video sensors and then everything blacked out. Overload blast, Valeria guessed as she yanked her helmet off so she could see her enemies.
The asari clamped her good hand onto Val's right mandible and yanked. Fiery pain ripped through the side of her face and she screamed. Unable to back away without injuring herself even worse, she swung her helmet around and smashed it into the asari's nose. The other woman cried out and stumbled backward, releasing her grip on Val's mandible. Valeria launched at her, cocking the helmet back and slamming it into the merc's face again and again and then again. Finally, she wound up one more time and connected with the merc's jaw. After another loud grunt and the snap of bone cracking, the asari toppled over, groaned, and lay still.
Valeria took several gasping breaths and rushed the nearer human. He sidestepped her and lashed out with the stock of his rifle, but she blocked it and head-butted him, sending him staggering back into the six-wheeled vehicle they'd arrived in. She spun him around and clamped her arm around his neck, bearing down until he stopped thrashing and sank to the ground. She let him drop, sucked in another deep breath, and turned to locate the remaining two.
Something plowed into her from behind, hitting with the force of a speeding truck. The krogan, she realized as the whole world tilted and she found herself being ground into the pavement.
"Bitch!" He lifted her up, turned, and threw her into the side of their vehicle. The impact knocked the wind out of her and everything started to fade away. She shook her head and forced herself back upright just as the krogan lunged at her again. His huge hands clamped around her throat -- but she pulled her right hand back and jabbed her talon into his eye. He roared and staggered away, clamping his hand over his eye.
Valeria yanked her knife out, charged, and leaped into the air. The impact toppled him over and she wedged her knife under one of the plates on his head. She pistoned her palm into the handle, driving the business end deeper under the plate. He had just enough time to suck in a deep breath before she wrenched the knife upward, prying the plate up with a sickening, crunching-tearing sound. The krogan howled and thrashed hard enough to buck her loose and send her flying. She crashed into the ground with a sharp grunt. She pushed herself back up despite the pain throbbing through her back and face. The krogan continued screaming for a few more seconds before losing consciousness. Breathing heavily, Valeria turned to face the last merc.
His eyes were wide and some of the color had drained from his face, but he pulled himself together and fired off several shots. Valeria's shields flared with each impact as she rushed forward. He snarled a curse and backed around the rear end of the truck while continuing to fire. Val darted in front of it, putting the whole vehicle between her and the merc, and then leaped onto the hood. She crouched and then vaulted over the roof. The merc glanced up just in time to see her dropping toward him.
"Shit!" He raised his rifle and stepped back, but couldn't get out of the way. She slammed into him and both of them sprawled on the pavement. The rifle slipped from his hand and clattered across the ground. She rolled over and pushed herself up, but caught a faceful of his boot before she could get her bearings. The world spun around her and when it stopped, she was flat on her back.
The man's boots pounded the pavement twice, and then one slammed into the side of her head. She rolled away with a shriek, blinked and shook her head, and pushed herself back onto her hands and knees. Her vision cleared in time to catch a glimpse of him diving at her. The impact slammed her back to the ground with him on top of her. He cocked his fist back and launched it. She deflected it with her right arm, lashed out with her left, and poked him in the eyes. He screamed and snapped his head back to get out of her reach. She bolted upright and punched him in the throat. He gagged, flopped over on his side, and tried to crawl away.
Gasping for breath and aching, Valeria rolled him onto his back and drove her fist into his face. He tried to swing back at her, and she punched him again. He threw another feeble blow, but she swatted his fist away and pounded him three more times. He groaned, shook his head, and tried to scoot out from under her.
Oh, for ... Valeria grabbed the sides of his head, lifted, and then slammed the back of his skull into the pavement. He hunched forward as if trying to curl up, but she whacked his head into the ground again. This time he turned limp with one last moan. Valeria dragged herself off him, propped herself up on her left arm, and continued sucking in deep, gasping breaths. She took a quick look at the four mercs to be sure they were all out of commission.
Still breathing, but they won't be getting up for a while. With a relieved sigh, she flopped over on her back and gave herself a moment to recover before opening a comm channel to the civilians.
"I've cleared the road. Let's get the hell out of here while we still can."

Okay, then. Version 2, I think, is more effective at bringing the scene and its central character to life. It also has the added benefit of adding to the word count without going all purple-prose. I should add that the goal here isn't filler. Scenes like these shouldn't be extended past the point where they should come to their conclusion for the sake of padding out the word count. They'll become tedious or tiresome for the readers if the fight drags on too long. But if you let the scene play out rather than gloss it over, it'll paint a more vivid picture in the reader's imagination and at the same time push the book that much closer to the total word count you're aiming for.

And, for me at least, it's just a hell of a lot of fun.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Action-packed scene from "Chaser"

Getting back to promoting my recently-published novel, Chaser, after a long period of getting nothing done at all. So, here's a snippet of an action scene that takes place fairly early in the book.

We made it to the elevator at the end of the hall before the shit hit the fan. The doors parted just before we reached them, revealing four people in armor and helmets. They froze for an instant, probably not expecting to find us right in front of them. They recovered and aimed their guns at us.
I grabbed Sledge, yanked him back, and threw myself in front of him and my friends, whipping my wings out to block them from the goons' view. I snapped my Glock up to draw a bead on the point man's helmet.
In the corner of my eye, Otto's left hand shot out, palm held up toward the guys in the elevator. The air between his hand and the thugs rippled, and all four of them slammed into the wall like a freight train plowing into a stalled car. Bones crunched like a fistful of fresh celery stalks, the wall behind them cracked and bowed outward, and the men crumpled to the floor.
Sledge leaned around me and stared at them. He turned his wide eyes back to Otto. "That was awesome!"
"Well, the elevator's probably hosed." Shakira waved a hand at the back wall, which had a dent big enough to scrape the shaft on the way down, if not prevent the elevator from moving at all.
"Better not take any chances." I headed for the stairwell, opened the door and waited for everyone to dash through it.
"Some of 'em are probably on their way up the stairs," Shakira said as she passed me. She and Otto took the lead and I brought up the rear.
We kept quiet as we descended the stairs, all of us quite aware that our echoing voices would draw the attention of any assholes on the way up to us. We ran into them about halfway down--six more black armor-clad goons carrying machine guns, and this time we didn't catch them by surprise.
I pushed Sledge, Marissa and Seth to the floor and crouched in front of them, trying to protect them while at the same time making myself a smaller target. Even crouching, I was big enough to give them plenty of cover.
They stopped on the bottom of this flight of stairs and aimed up at us. Otto held his hands out again.
Shakira leaped off the top step and landed right on their heads. Only one of them had time to get off a shot, and it punched through her "skin" and bounced off her metal skeleton before she crashed down on him.
The man farthest from her managed to avoid the pile-up and pointed his gun at Otto. He pulled the trigger and a burst ripped out so fast that it sounded like paper tearing--only a hell of a lot louder, of course. The bullets perforated Otto's shirt, turning it into Swiss cheese in barely a second and drilling into the wall beside me.
Otto's shirt and pants appeared to slide down through his body, ending up in a pile on the stairs. "Damn it," he grumbled, floating up a few inches to get completely out of them. "I still haven't quite gotten the hang of that."
The thug's blank visor stared at him for a long moment as Shakira tossed one of the others over the rail, sending him tumbling to the ground floor. Otto raised his hand, making a sort of lifting gesture, and the guy launched into the underside of the stairs over our heads. After the impact, he went all ragdoll and dropped back to the floor. I took my gaze away from him just in time to see Shakira finish off the last of the goons with a punch that cracked his helmet like an egg. The rest of them were already sprawled at her feet.
"How the hell did you do that?" Marissa said as Otto picked up his pants and put them back on.
"Same way I put my arm through your body. The bullets passed right through me. Unfortunately, so did my clothes." He shrugged. "I've never managed to get it right--to let the bullets or whatever go through me, but solidify fast enough to keep my clothes on."
"Let's keep moving before more of 'em come up to see what's taking their buddies so long." Shakira took the lead again, and Otto grabbed his shirt and slipped it on as he caught up with her.
"Those were some pretty nice moves, Shakira," Seth muttered.
She winked. "Always bet on black"
We got to the ground floor, going around or stepping over the body of the guy Shakira had dumped over the rail, and paused at the door leading into the lobby.
Shakira watched the door for a few seconds, held up two fingers and pointed at the door. Swell. Two more of 'em, and they were right on the other side.
I nudged her shoulder and she moved out of my way. I raised my right foot and rammed it into the door, snapping the bolt and slamming it into the two goons. When it had opened wide enough, I squeezed through and found them sprawled on the far end of the lobby. The top hinge, I noticed as I ran over to them, had been torn clean off the frame. Oops. On top of everything else, I wouldn't be surprised if I got billed for the damage.
I grabbed one of the men and dragged him along as we headed for the exit. Once we were out of there, this motherfucker was gonna tell us who he and his buddies were. I wasn't gonna give him a choice.
The other one moaned, pushed himself up on one elbow, and reached out for his rifle.
Otto leaned over, pulled the guy's helmet off and touched his forehead. "Nighty-night, asshole." The guy grunted and slumped over.
I glanced at Shakira before reaching out to pull the door open. She shook her head.
"There's more of 'em out there, but not very close. We'll at least have a chance to get to your battle wagon."
I nodded and looked at my brother, Shadow, Seth, and Marissa. "Stay between us and the building." My van was parked in the near corner of the lot beside the building, so it could've been worse. At least we wouldn't have to cross the entire lot and add another ten seconds to the amount of time we'd have to try not to take a hail of bullets in the back.
We got about halfway there before Shakira looked off to the left and shouted, "Get down!" She gave my shoulder a push that sent me stumbling into my brother and friends. I threw my arms around them and lunged, carrying them several more steps before a shockwave knocked us flat. I rolled over and raised my gun, then froze at the sight in front of me: Shakira's torso, only a couple yards away, pulling itself away from what was left of the lower half of her body.
Shadow gasped and clamped her free hand over her mouth. Caboose's fur bristled and he hissed and squirmed, trying to slip out of her other hand. Shakira looked down at the mangled edge of her torso and her mouth dropped open. "Fuck!" Otto, laying face-down a few feet away from her, pushed himself up and shook his head. He turned, took one look at her, and let out an incoherent scream.
"Keep going!" I grabbed her arm and hoisted her onto my back. "Hang on!"
They bolted toward my van and Shakira put her arms around my neck. Otto and I planted ourselves between them and the half-dozen armored scumbags slowly approaching us, keeping their guns pointed straight at our chests. The one on the far right was holding a mini-rocket launcher. Shakira must've thrown herself into the rocket's path to prevent all of us from ending up splattered all over the side of the building.
"Don't move!" one of the men said, his voice amplified by his helmet mic.
Slowly, methodically, but very likely with my building rage showing clearly on my face, I checked the clip in my gun to be sure that it held armor piercing rounds, shoved it back in and strode toward the one who'd just spoken.
"Uh..." He exchanged quick glances with the others. "Don't! Stop right there!"
I didn't stop until I was close enough for the barrel of my gun to touch his faceplate. I had no idea why he didn't pull the trigger. Maybe he was just that scared. Or maybe he didn't have the stones for it. If you threaten someone and don't follow through when they ignore you, you lose any control you might've had over them.
"Run," I growled.
They looked at each other again.
"I said, run!"
Another second or two passed, then the leader shouted, "Blow this bitch's head off n--"
I didn't hesitate. One quick twitch of my talon and a stream of blood spurted from the back of his helmet. He dropped as if his strings had been cut. At the same moment, Otto used his mojo to yank the guns from the others' hands. They reached for the sidearms on their belts, but Otto took care of those, as well, leaving them standing there and staring at us.
I drew in a deep breath and roared, "Run!"
They stumbled back a few steps, flailing their arms, turned, and bolted. I had to fight the urge to shoot each of them in both ass cheeks before turning and sprinting back to my van. I handed Shakira off to Otto and he jumped into the back, joining the rest while I squeezed in behind the wheel and started the engine.
"Bloody hell," Marissa gasped, staring at Shakira. "Are you gonna be okay?"
"I've had worse, believe it or not." Shakira shook her head. "I just hope my insurance will cover this."
I winced. "Damn. I should've picked up that guy I was planning to question. We could've found out all their names. Then we'd know exactly who to bill for your new body."
"Eh, it's probably better this way. If those guys were just the first wave, you might've gotten blown away if you'd stopped to grab him."
"Maybe." I spotted one of our attackers getting back to his feet as I headed for the street, and swerved toward him. He heard the rumble of my engine and turned around, then backpedaled. I grinned and held up my middle talon just before his helmet cracked open on the grille and his body fell under the tires. Ka-thump, ka-thump. The van rocked up and down and side to side twice in rapid succession, and everyone braced their hands on the walls. There's something deeply satisfying about knowing that the last thing the fucker ever saw was me flipping him off.
Once we were on the street, I accelerated and shifted up, wondering if it was too early to sigh with relief.
Chaser is available on Amazon from Keith Publications. Take a look here for a five-star review along with an author Q&A.