Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Gambler

Rated R / 1 hr 51 min / Crime - Drama - Thriller

What is it about?

Mark Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett who is the gambler even though he wouldn't call himself a gambler if you ask him. He goes to a local gambling house, and quickly loses it. He then asks for more on credit. They grant him the amount requested that he doubles then quadruples up. He seems obsessed and keeps betting the full amount until he eventually loses. Now he's in debt to the Korean mob for over $200,000. He then borrows from a loan shark to pay back a portion of that debt and gamble some more. Both of his creditors give him seven days to pay them back. He has no money, and works as a professor at a university teaching English. His grandfather was one of the richest men in the world, but when his grandfather died he didn't inherit any of the money.

You will like it if...

You like brooding dramas where the protagonist is constantly trying to hurt themself. There are some interesting ideas that come through in this movie like the thought that if you're not trying to be great in sports or art then it's a waste of time. These ideas get lost throughout the movie in the long stretches of space that surround them. The movie could have easily been cut down to 90 minutes. Mark Wahlberg can scrunch his face up and play brooding with the best of them, but there is simply way too much of it in this film. You spend more time wondering what the main character is doing as he spirals down towards self destruction. The film turns into a study in depression and self loathing. The ending is disappointing and defies explanation as it flies in the face of everything that the movie had built up to. I would suggest waiting until the film is available on Redbox if you must see it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies

Rated: PG-13 / 2 hr 24 min / Adventure - Fantasy

What is it about?

Smaug has been awaken and is wreaking havoc on Laketown. The humans there are trying to escape with all of their belongings. Bard is in jail and the only one who wants to fight the dragon. He manages to escape and take down the beast. With the mountain now dragonless there are several armies marching on the stronghold. All of them want their shot at the treasure inside. Thorin is the new king under the mountain, but he's afflicted by a fever that compels him to hold onto all of the treasure. The armies gathering at the mountain are unaware of a massive Orc army that is coming to take the stronghold for themselves.

You will like it if...

You enjoyed the previous Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies. Peter Jackson does epic fantasy as written by Tolkein for possibly the last time. It has been a good run, and this edition is just as good as the previous films in the series. The special effects are just as stellar as the previous films. Some parts of the story are a bit strange, but they are part of one of the small subplots within the movie. As with any complex work of fiction there is a lot of story to be packed into the two and a half hours of film. If you're a fan of the series then this is a must see. If you have missed out on the previous Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies I have one question for you. Have you been living under a rock? They are all worth watching if you enjoy fantasy movies with wizards and creatures other than humans.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Character Building Guide - Part 3: Describing the Character


In this edition of the character building guide we will discuss some basic techniques to describe your character on the character sheet we are putting together. I prefer to use a pencil and paper RPG system as a guide for a basic character sheet, but this is one of the areas I add another seperate sheet. Most systems will have some basic spots for descriptors or possibly a spot on the sheet for a picture. I still find it lacking in this department no matter what system you use especially since I can't draw. This will include some basics like name, height, weight, etc. which are most likely covered on the basic sheet. I will add in some other things that I sometimes like to include, so let's get started!

Method

  • Step 1 - Name Your Character. I usually like to wait until the end of the character building process to do this, and it can be done at any point of the process. This is one of the most important parts of building your character, so you want to put some thought into it. The genre you are writing for can have a big influence over what kind of name you pick. If I am having a hard time with picking a name, I will take a list of first names and another of last names. I will close my eyes and point at a random spot on the paper and use whichever name is closest to the spot I am pointing at. I would suggest looking into baby naming guides, especially if you can find one for the year your character was born. There are many websites with name generators as well that I have found useful from time to time. If you use a name generator be sure to use one that fits the genre you are writing.
  • Step 2 - Height and Weight. I put these two together because they tie into each other. I like to look at a list of healthy weights for a person of a certain height, and adjust the values using the chart based on what I expect the character to look like. So if you want a shorter character that is a little on the petitte side then you can look at the chart of what a healthy weight would be for a character of the height you wish then to be. You then subtract a few pounds from the minimum healthy weight you have found on the list. You can find a height/weight chart here: http://www.healthchecksystems.com/heightweightchart.htm
  • Step 3 - Age. Determine your character's age. This can sometimes indicate how naive the character is, or how much life experience the character has. That isn't always the case though. A young character who had grown up abandoned on the streets would have more experience finding necessities than someone who had been sheltered from the outside world by their parents for over twenty years.
  • Step 4 - Hair Color/Eye Color/Race/Gender. Now we're getting more into specifics of how the character looks. This can effect how other characters react to them especially if any of your characters are racist. I try to stay clear of race issues, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. Some people don't react the same to characters that don't look like them. It's up to you if you want to tackle those issues in your story. If your character is an alien then you might want a seperate sheet to describe the alien race. Gender inequality is also a very real thing. If you create an alien race then you should consider the differences in gender if there are seperate genders.
  • Step 5 - Fashion Sense and Personal Style. This is where you decide how your character dresses, styles their hair, facial hair, etc.. Some characters will dress in a more functional way for their profession. Some will dress for comfort by wearing baggy or loose fitting clothing. This can also have an effect on how people react to the character. High society may look down on those who can't afford or don't dress using the latest fashion.
  • Step 6 - Other Distinguishing Features. Scars, tattoos, and birthmarks can be included here. Perhaps your character had their nose broken and it healed crooked. If your character is of an alien race then you can add face tentacles or hard spikes instead of hair. If you have a seperate sheet that describes the alien race then you can describe unique features that the character has for a member of that race.
  • Step 7 - Picture Your Character. Now that you have all of the physical details, you can get a good idea of what they look like. Close your eyes and picture them in your mind. If you want to be more visual then you can use google to try to find a picture of them. If you fancy yourself an artist then you can draw a picture of the character yourself. I prefer the mental picture to an actual picture because readers will form their own picture of the character that is unique from yours. I don't think their picture is any more or less valid than the author's picture of the character, and I enjoy seeing reader art.

Example

  • Name: Penta Torov
  • Height: 5' 3"
  • Weight: 103 lbs.
  • Age: 14
  • Hair: Black and curly
  • Eyes: Blue
  • Race: Human
  • Gender: Female
  • Personal Style: Penta prefers black or dark colored clothing. She likes tight fitting clothing that has good mobility, so she dresses in a more functional way. She likes hoodies.
  • Scars: On the back of the left hand going diagonally from the knuckles to the wrist.
  • Tattoos: An ornately designed cross on the right forearm.

Use

Penta has reached the jump, but there's a problem. The distance looks too far for her short frame. She pulls back her black hood revealing her equally black hair. She has lived in fear of a day like this for all of her fourteen years. The zombies are coming, and she's not sure if she can make the jump. It looks like the diggers were a bit overzealous on this side of the settlement.

She peeks with baby blue eyes over the edge of the trench. It's at least thirty feet down. She scratches at the scar on the back of her left hand. A reminder of the last time she didn't make it across a jump. Her parents were there to save her then, but this time she's on her own.

Penta walks away from the gap in the ground giving herself room for a running jump. She can see the zombies limping their way towards her, and now that she's closer she can hear their faint grunts. She pulls up her sleeves revealing the cross tattoo on her right forearm. It is still pristine with all of the ornate designs that are supposed to protect her. It is meant to be more of a warning. She had heard stories of people who had been bitten. Their cross tattoo did nothing for them. They were in agony for days, complaining about burning on their skin. Before they had fully turned, the skin containing the cross had turned black.

The zombies will be on top of her if she keeps procrastinating. There's no other path to escape other than the one in front of her. She takes off in a sprint towards the jagged gap in the ground that represents the edge of the human settlement and the barrier she must cross to reach safety. She reaches the edge and leaps.

So far so good. Next post in the guide we will flesh out the character's physical attributes and find out if Penta makes it across the gap!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings

PG-13 / 2 hr 30 min / Action - Adventure - Drama

What is it about?

The movie follows the Biblical tale of Moses. Moses has spent his entire life with his best friend Ramses. They were raised as brothers in Pharaoh Seti's home. The high priestess predicts that a leader will emerge from battle by saving the life of the Pharaoh's son Ramses. Moses saves his friend's life. After Seti dies and Ramses takes over, Ramses finds out that Moses is in fact Hebrew. He then exiles Moses against the advice of his mother who wants Moses dead. Moses eventually comes back with God's guidance to help lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt. Ramses doesn't want to let his slave workforce go. God unleashes several plagues to convince Ramses to let the Hebrew people go.

You will like it if...

You enjoy epic movies based off the Bible. Christian Bale is one of my favorite actors, and he does a fine job in this movie. Joel Edgerton's portrayal of Ramses is compelling as well. The special effects are also amazing. There are so many epic vistas displayed in this movie. This is one of the best looking movies I've seen in 3D, and it's well worth seeing just for how beautiful it is. The biggest problem is that it moves at a snail's pace throughout, and it doesn't help that they don't seem to leave anything out. Ridley Scott clearly has enough creative freedom to make his movies as long as he likes, but this one should have had more of it left on the cutting room floor. The story is the classic Biblical tale in all of it's glory with several inaccuracies sprinkled in which happens whenever Hollywood takes on a project like this. The movie is worth going to see for it's spectacular vistas, better than average acting, and the epic story. Just be prepared for the long runtime and slow pace.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Character Building Guide - Part 2: Getting Started

 Getting Started

Welcome to the second installment of the character building guide. In this part we will focus on setting up your initial character sheet. It sounds simple enough doesn't it? I prefer use to pencil and paper role playing game character sheets as a starting point. You can also use any sort of blank paper that is available. This post will not have an 'Example' or 'Use' portion because this step doesn't involve adding any character information.

Method

  • Step 1 - Gather your materials. If you are doing all this digitally then you will only need the programs you intend to use. Otherwise you will need loose paper or a notebook, pens, pencils, etc.
  • Step 2 - Determine your needs. Depending on what type of character or story you are writing, you might not need to know their detailed history or what their exact physical attributes are. For a romance novel you may want to spend more time on getting to know your character on a personal level. For an epic fantasy novel you may want to have a detailed list of spells for your mage character.
  • Step 3 - (optional) Find a Role Playing Game (RPG) system that fits. This is optional because you might not need what a RPG system can help provide depending on the type of story you are writing. Most RPG systems focus more on what a character can do physically. There are some that put an emphasis on character interaction that can also be useful. I personally like GURPS because it is a generic system that is easy to customize to your needs. Another advantage is that they have blank character sheets that have already been formatted. Those character sheets usually lack a few things that I like to include, but you can always customize them to your needs. There are tons of resources available online, and you can get a blank copy of almost any RPG system's character sheet here: http://www.rpgsheets.com/
  • Step 4 - Outline your character sheet. This is where you block off space for everything you want on your character sheet. If you're using a blank RPG system sheet then some of this has been done for you already. Any customization will most likely need to be on another sheet of paper. The most important suggestion I can give is to leave extra room for additional information. You may need to add things to the character sheet as the character develops. Things can always change while you are writing. Some things, like attribute ratings, may only need a single line, or a small section of a few lines. Other portions of the character sheet, like the character's history, may take several pages.

Now we're ready to start filling in specific character information!

Character Building Guide - Part 1: Introduction

Hello! Welcome to my character building guide for authors. I intend this to be a comprehensive guide towards building characters. This is a long term goal that will be built over the next few months, and I will continue to develop for years going forward. I don't personally follow all of these steps when building characters. To get an idea of my process, you can read my blog post titled Character Building in 4 Steps - http://brianbasham.blogspot.com/2013/07/character-building-in-4-steps.html. I have tried all of the methods listed in this guide at least once.

You can bookmark this post for future use as I will update the Table of Contents as additional information is added to the guide. If you have any ideas or suggestions for the guide then please leave them in the comments.

How to Use This Guide

This guide is intended to help authors develop characters for use in works of fiction. Writing is a highly subjective pursuit with an infinite number of ways to do it. This guide contains suggestions on how you can develop or get to know characters. Please keep in mind that sections that aren't useful to you might be useful to others. Take what works for you and leave the rest behind.

The posts will be broken up into sections as this guide grows. Portions of posts within each section may seem redundant as there are many ways to accomplish the same goals. To ensure this is a comprehensive guide there will be some overlap in topics.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Introduction - This page
Part 2: Getting Started
Part 3: Describing the Character
Part 4: Basic Attributes

Structure of Posts

Each post in this guide will have the same structure as outlined below.
  • Topic - A brief description of the topic that will be covered and the method used in the current post.
  • Method - A longer description of how to reach the goal of the post step by step. There may be more than one method for each topic, but each method will have it's own post.
  • Example - A detailed example using the steps described to build a character that will be developed over the course of the guide.
  • Use - How to use the information in the example while writing fiction.

I hope you all enjoy this guide. Please leave any comments and/or suggestions in the comments. Thank you for reading!

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Pyramid

Rated R / 1 hr 29 min / Horror

What is it about?

A documentary film crew is sent to follow a group of archeologists who have recently made "the find of the century". They have found another pyramid near the Giza pyramids near Cairo. This one is unique as it has only three sides. Using satellite imaging they have found a tunnel that leads to the entrance of the pyramid. When the diggers break through a big puff of ancient air spews forth dust and debris. The digger in front absorbe the brunt of the blast which makes it look as if his face is melted off, but we're told later that he's OK. Egyptian police tells them to leave because of a possible civil war that is brewing in Cairo. The archeologists decide to send in a robot borrowed by NASA before they are forced to leave, but it is mauled by some creature shortly after entering. They can't afford to pay back NASA for the million dollar robot, so they have to go in after it.

You will like it if...

You like B horror movies that try to add a bit of Indiana Jones into their script. This movie is very similar to As Above, So Below which is the only other movie I can think of that mixes this blend of archeology and horror. There is a bit less Indiana Jones in this one, so it isn't quite as entertaining. Several scenes duplicate the closed in claustrophobic feel that As Above, So Below was so adept at. The Pyramid has more variety to it that gives the film more avenues to scare you. The special effects are done very well which gives it more of an A movie feel. The acting quickly bring you back down to the B movie level. There is one part where a female character starts screaming and acting like she is going to attack one of the men. It's by far the worst performance in the entire movie. It feels so fake that I'm surprised the scene wasn't cut out. The Pyramid ends up being a decent B horror movie that packs in enough scares to satisfy hardcore horror fans, but not good enough to cross over to mainstream fans.

Monday, December 1, 2014

WriteOn by Kindle

WriteOn is Amazon's answer to Wattpad and other writer communities. It's a writer's community program that is currently in semi-public beta. You will have to ask for an access key to sign up, but it only took a day or two to get my key after requesting one. Once you are able to get in, you can request extra beta keys to get some of your friends in. I have requested a few keys, so I will probably have a couple soon. If you would like one, and you haven't requested one yet then you can message me on one of the various social media outlets. I will hook you up if I can! For now, let's take a look at what's under the hood and what the possibilities are with this program. Let's keep in mind that this is still in beta, so there are more features and content to come in the future. If you want to check it out the link is at the bottom of this blog post.

Features

  • Browsing - Browsing for stories is as good as you would expect for something presented by Amazon. The main page features the top trending stories, authors that are looking for feedback, and new stories. The categories available are listed at the bottom. You can search for what's new, old, trending, popular, or you can search for tags that authors attach to their stories. You can also search for specific story titles or authors. As with most community sites there are reader comments that can be posted on each chapter to give you an idea of what people are saying about it.
  • Weekend Write-In - This is a writing prompt that is featured in the main graphic at the top of the main page as if it is a special event. I don't know if this is a weekly feature to try to build more content, but that's what it looks like to me. If you click on the link in the main graphic then it takes you to the create story page rather than a page explaining the event. Tricked you! It does look like people are participating. If you search for write-in on the site you'll get several stories. The most recent ones will be based off the most recent writing prompt.
  • Create - The editor for this is quite nice, and it contains many of the same features you would expect from any social writing website. One thing jumps out at me right away that I like more than the other sites I have tried. This won't apply to most of you, but I do all of my blogging and writing from my Android tablet. Most websites try to display a mobile version of their website or a dumbed down Android tablet version no matter what my settings are. This appears to be a version that retains all of it's features. Also a lot of the formatting buttons lead me to believe that it is primed for Kindle integration. I like the wordcount generator which works on Android. The feature is not available on Wattpad's editor if you are using an Android device.
  • Your Stuff and Profile - The profile is pretty standard stuff at this point. Your stuff is formatted nicely with your most recent story comments in the right margin. A list of your stories gets center stage with all of the stats on reads, comments, and likes. You can follow a story, the author, or both and those show up here also. One glaring omission is the lack of private messaging on your profile or on the forums. This is something that needs to be addressed, and I have to believe they will at some point. Most people are using the comment box on stories to pass on messages directly to the author for now.
  • The Community and Messageboards - There are quite a few writers on this site, but not a lot of readers. This is leading some authors to want to leave the site. Hold on there Tonto! You have to remember that the site is still in Beta. Once the site goes live there will be plenty of readers available to fight over. The community as of now seems to be pretty helpful. Everything is new and shiny and full of bugs. Don't worry, the exterminators are coming. I haven't noticed any significant bugs thus far, but I've only been on the site for a few days.

The Future

This is all my personal speculation, so don't look too far into this. Some of the things on this list look like the obvious next step for this project. If any of these have been announced, I am not currently aware of it. I haven't read through all of the news posts on the forums.
  • Kindle Integration - This is a no brainer for Amazon. It's obvious that is one of their goals. A community like this needs a mobile app of some sort. I would prefer a seperate app that allows many of the sharing and commenting features that are available on the Wattpad app. The Wattpad app has made many great strides in the past year that need to be integrated into the Kindle app.
  • Readers will flood in once it's made public - If this community goes public to every Kindle and Kindle app around the world then the readers will flock to it. I'm not sure if this is such a good thing. This could be a mixed bag because many of the works on the site aren't finished. Several of the stories are first drafts or in the process of being edited. The site will end up becoming more of a popularity contest instead of what I believe is the current intended focus of the site. I'll get into that later in my final thoughts.
  • Amazon Ebook publishing integration - If Amazon's intentions are where I think they are with this community then this would be one of the logical next steps. Looking at all the formatting options in their text editor, they are helping to create a clean text file with all of the HTMl tags needed. Normally you would only then need to run it through Callibre to finalize the ebook file and create the Table of Contents, but why would you do that if all you need to do is click one button on the WriteOn website?

Final Thoughts

This could end up being a launching pad for aspiring professional authors. I believe that Amazon intends this to be exactly what it looks like, a writer's community where authors can polish their works with the intention of publishing them for sale on Amazon. With the power of Amazon behind it and Kindle integration, it will be tough for other communities to compete for serious writers. Wattpad and other writing communities will still have their place for casual writing and fan fiction. I just wonder how they will be able to compete with WriteOn for serious authors/readers once Amazon catches up with the feature sets of these other established writer communities.

I encourage you all to check out Grim. It's a serial story about a grim-reaper that is caught in the middle of a game between an angel and a demon who are fighting over the reaper's soul. The final chapter of Season 1 will be posted later today December 1, 2014. You can read it here: http://www.wattpad.com/story/15571872-grim
The WriteOn community link is here: https://writeon.amazon.com/