22 Jun 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 38 - Commentary

Brenna and family face off against Tricia's skeletons, in The Soul Blade Chapter 38.

Writing is tough, until you get past the first sentence.  I've never been one to be told, "Here's a writing prompt.  Write for thirty minutes."  Nothing comes out.  It's not that I need to be in the mood to write.  I need the scene, or at least the beginning, sorted out in my head first.  I run the scene in my head so I can figure out where all the character's are.  Sometimes, it takes a few passes to work out why a scene properly.  And with The Soul Blade needing an ending, I imposed on myself a need to write.

However, I already knew what the ending was going to be.  That made writing much easier.  The problem I had with finishing The Soul Blade was extraneous plot lines that hadn't wrapped up instead of not having a clue what the ending would be.  Made the writing easier.  And, yet, I still left wriggle room at the end.  Not "Next Week" but "Coming Soon."

The reason for the skeletal army was that, when I first started working on the story, zombies were getting overexposed.  Then The Walking Dead aired.  So, what do I know?  But zombies have well known weaknesses - head shots are common in zombie fiction, and they still have fleshy bits like muscles that could be damaged enough to slow them down.  Skeletons, though, don't have those weaknesses.  There is no brain.  There is no flesh.  Depending on the story, even smashing them doesn't stop the bony fingers from still trying to reach out to grab throats.  And, unlike zombies, skeletons are under the control of one person, who is usually evil.

The chapter is dialogue heavy.  The skeletons aren't doing much beyond marching and trying to choke Brenna and her family.  Everyone is just swinging bats.  The action gets repetitive.  The dialogue carries the plot here.  Thus, Henderson blowing up Matt's cruiser.  It got rid of the skeletal column just in time for the rest of the army to appear.

The story was building up to the final battle between Brenna and Tricia.  Too bad for Tricia that I had other plans for her.  Those plans were in mind ever since the Ashen Man appeared in Chapter 5.  He and Tricia had been working at cross purposes throughout the story.  The Ashen Man just never got the focus.  Questions should be answered in the next chapter.

It does feel good to see progress on the story.  Brenna has needed an ending since 2009.  With this finally done, I can start thinking about future works featuring her or the Soul Blade itself.

Friday, the thrilling conclusion, in The Soul Blade Chapter 39.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, TV versus film,. fight!
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Batman (1966).  Yeah, I miss him, too.

16 Jun 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 38

Previously:
"Do you hear sirens?"
"We're evacuating the neighborhood, sir."
"Novotny girls never run."
"Everyone ready?"
"Larson, did you see what your girlfriend just did?"  Cruz hurried her pace to catch up to Matt.  "Did you know she could make a light sabre appear like that?  How the hell did she do that?"

Matt fell back a few steps from behind Brenna.  "She showed me, Damaris, yes.  Can we focus on the skeletons?  Where's Henderson."  Matt turned around.  "Hey, Henderson, a shotgun?  What the hell, man?"

Henderson hefted his weapon.  "Bean bag rounds.  They should break bones."

"Just don't hit any of us."  Matt dashed to catch back up to Brenna.  "Bren, do you know what you're doing?  I mean, if this was a zombie movie, we'd just aim for the head."

15 Jun 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 37 - Commentary

The police broke up Grace's graduation party, in The Soul Blade Chapter 37.

The style of writing may have changed a bit between Chapters 36 and 37.  When I saw the end of the file coming, I started work on finishing The Soul Blade.  Going through the story again, especially after not doing much work on it since 2009, gave me a new perspective.  The numerous dangling plot lines I saw at the end of November 2009 weren't there, or were easily wrapped up.  Brenna's dislike of Amy was easily pulled out.  Her relationship with Matt was at a good point, with room for later works to expand if I wanted.  WIth the looming problems not so looming or problematic, I could find a way to end the story to my satisfaction, without having the conclusion drag several chapters longer than necessary.

As I started to write, a small detail almost stopped me.  Would Grace and her friends wear graduation robes at her party, or would she have to return them after the ceremony?  I asked on Twitter, and the majority of the answers I got said that she'd return the robes after the ceremony.  But the one response that said otherwise came from someone in California, not Ontario.  That was enough to have me wonder, so I did what I should have done in the first place and checked the web site for University of California San Diego, Grace's school, to see what graduation involved.  Grads there can choose to purchase a package that includes the robes to keep.  Grace did that, mainly because Gary was offering to pay and he wanted to see her in those robes.  My backup plan was having Grace in a nice dress, and had put that in as a placeholder while I checked details.

Brenna didn't want her family fighting alongside her.  She has the Soul Blade, she's the Chosen One, not them.  However, Joni trained Grace to fight the supernatural before Brenna got the Blade, and Dawn made sure her daughters were ready just in case.  There's no way to predict who will get the Blade when the previous Bladekeeper dies.  Joni and Dawn made sure their girls were ready.  Mostly.

The reunion of Brenna and Matt serves as the resolution of their relationship for the story.  They're a couple, even if they haven't told each other yet.  Grace and Rae do get Brenna to focus a little, mostly my causing her embarrassment.  Rae got a good flash of what Brenna was feeling, though everyone else probably realized what was going through her mind already.

Once again, the problem of how to fight skeletons comes up.  Baseball bats are good; most people have an idea of how to swing one.  My experience with them is that I tend to swing under the pitch; I'd kneecap a skeleton.  But the other problem is that skeletons don't have the obvious weakness that zombies have.  Head shots may or may not work.  Skeletons also don't have flesh, so shredding muscle isn't possible.  And there's never a cleric around when you need one.

The one issue I wanted to make sure was having proper cliffhangers.  Unruly and last year's NaNo let me learn how to set up cliffhangers properly.  The goal with Chapter 37 was to get something a good length worth reading without being too short or too long and still get the key elements out there to set up the fight coming up.  I also had a time deadline.  I started the writing after prepping Chapter 36 for posting.  Two weeks to get a chapter written should be enough, provided I can get the right approach.  The right approach isn't always easy to work out.  I set up the scene, then brought the focus on Brenna.  Given that I really wanted to wrap up The Soul Blade, I didn't get into great detail.  Might have been a mistake, but I've been working with it since the end of September 2016.  The story needs to end.  There may be longer serials out there, but The Soul Blade has been needing an end since 2009.

Friday, skeletons attack, in The Soul Blade Chapter 38.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Death Race.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, TV versus movies, fight!.

9 Jun 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 37

Previously:
"Bren, you can let go of me now."
"Try no skin.  Detective, are those things for real?"
"Detective, I know it's a long shot, but I think I know where they're going."
"Anyone got an idea?"
In the Halliday backward, Grace flitted from guest to guest, her black graduation robes flowing as she walked.  Her friends and fellow grads, Piper and Yesi, added to the bustle, socializing with the gathered families.  Brenna edged towards the Halliday home, keeping away from the centres of attention.  She sipped on her cola, trying to focus on the music instead of the vast throng of people celebrating.  Her uncle emerged from the crowd carrying a plastic cup half-filled with beer and approached the young woman.  Brenna flashed him a smile.

"Not enjoying your sister's party?" Keith asked.

"I am."  Brenna forced herself to smile more.  "Just, it's a lot of people."

"I get it.  Rae's inside.  You know how her empathy gets.  Maybe you should go in and keep her company for a bit."

"I don't know.  Rae needs time to herself."

Keith grinned.  "You don't have to be in the same room as her."

"Oh?"  Brenna realized what her uncle was saying.  "Oh.  No, I'm good.  Really."

"Are you sure, Brenna?"  Keith rubbed her shoulder with his free hand.  He paused.  "Do you hear sirens?"

8 Jun 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 36 - Commentary

Grace graduated and the police met Tricia's army, in The Soul Blade Chapter 36.

When I first wrote this chapter, I had place holders.  The chapter was done in the final days of NaNo, so I just getting words out was the main concern.  I was pushing for a nice large number, and got it.  I haven't been as prolific since, but I am getting better at pacing myself, both with how plots work out and maintaining a good writing speed.  To maintain speed and the ideas I had in my head, I put in variables for the different street names and Brenna's neighbourhood.  Turned out, the street names were worth more words than the variables.  But, working out where San Diego's cemetaries were, then working out walking routes for the skeletal armies involved would have taken away from both writing time and mental processing power.

Grace's graduation ends her story arc for the story.  She now gets a party with friends and family, works for the summer, then moves to LA to study law.  Joni's appearance might be a problem, as Greg pointed out in a comment.  If I had been thinking about it, Joni`s disappearance would have been related to Tricia`s blanket effect.  Of course, Brenna would then be worried about her.  I do have an idea, but it'd be difficult to retrofit now - Joni's purpose for remaining has been completed, so she can now move on.

Matt returns again!  This time, he's actually working.  Cruz and Henderson also return, mostly to give Matt a hard time.  I re-used Cruz and Henderson to avoid adding more characters to track.  Thus, they appeared in the chapters leading up to this moment.  They know each other, having met on the job, obviously.  Cruz has no problem hazing Matt, either.  It's about time Matt found someone, really.

The argument Matt and Cruz have is about the effectiveness of clerics in different versions of AD&D.  Cruz prefers first edition, where sixth level clerics got an automatic disrupt on the Turn Undead table against skeletons, destroying them outright.  Matt's playing with the third edition, where there's no instant destruction, but he can still force weaker under to turn away even on a bad roll.  Henderson prefers wizards, who can cast the third level spell fireball at fifth level, no matter what the edition.

Matt's last line, "Anyone got an idea?" isn't just him looking for options.  That was the end point of NaNo 2009 for me.  I let The Soul Blade lay fallow to try to clear my head and see what I could do to wrap up all the plot points I saw dangling.  That time let me see which ones were the problems, which ones were illusions, and which ones were important.  One thread involved Amy; Brenna did a 180 on her feelings about her.  Fixing that removed Amy as an immediate plot point.  On re-reading, the relationship between Brenna and Matt wasn't as urgent to wrap up as it was while writing.  During the writing process, it seemed like the obvious direction for them would be into the back of her van.  For now, they're in a good spot.  The odd thing is, there is more romance in The Soul Blade, unintended, than there was in my attempt at a paranormal romance.  Go fig.

There is more coming.  Chapter 37 goes up tomorrow.  There will also be a Chapter 38 and a Chapter 39.  I have an idea for the end; I just have to get to it.

Friday, the stage is set, in The Soul Blade Chapter 37.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Get Smart.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Death Race.

2 Jun 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 36

Previously:
"It's so nice you girls can work together."
"Then they should already be cringing in fear."
"'Everything has a price.'  I believe you even said those words to me at some point."
Sunday morning saw the Halliday household in a mad rush.  Aura helped Brenna get the older woman's hair properly styled.  As much as she wanted it, Brenna left out her usual ribbon, letting her hair down in a wavy cascade past her shoulders.  Gary knocked on the door, giving Brenna the five minute warning.  Brenna finished dressing, making sure the dress and her cardigan fit properly.  She plucked at her pantyhose and chastised herself for not getting a longer skirt for the day, then ran down to her father's black Challenger.

The drive to the University of California San Diego campus didn't take as long as Brenna's father expected.  The time saved, though, was used up finding a parking space.  Father and daughter crossed the paved expanse, passing by Grace's gold Beetle, to get to the Jenny Craig Pavilion.  Brenna let her dad find a pair of seats, then settled in.  She felt the presence of her mother hovering over her, watching the stage.  Brenna looked up and gave Joni a smile.

1 Jun 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 35 - Commentary

Tricia calls her legions, in The Soul Blade Chapter 35.

Once again, Brenna has a relatively normal day while Tricia continues working on her goal of absolute power.  With Brenna, the idea was to show her and her extended family and the relations within.  The conspiracy among cousins to get away from the parental units is one that has been used long before Rae was born.  Rae was always too young to join her older sisters and cousins on their hijinks before.  Back in Chapter 32, Grace complained about the last time she had to share a bed with Rae, so it has been some time.  Rae isn't a child anymore, so the older girls are now including her.  Not that Rae appreciates being included.  She's been the young tag-along for too long to trust her sisters and cousins.

Writing this chapter, I was still trying to set myself up for the end.  I could have focused on just Tricia the past few chapters, but the story is supposed to be Brenna's.  So, half the chapter is Brenna spending the day out, the other half is Tricia locating Brenna and her family.  I did manage to work in that Brenna was out and about into Tricia's scenes.  Getting the Bladekeeper and her family in one nice neat package is a bonus for Tricia.  It means she doesn't have to study genealogy to find her current and future threats.

Tricia is also taking advantage of having minions and magical power.  If one can't enjoy being attended to hand and foot by magically animated skeletal minions, why bother having them?  The location spell is something I used in a different story draft, one with a loose tie to the Brenna-verse.  The spell tracks a known person on a map, a real one instead of a map app.  Tricia's version requires a blood sacrifice, which is never a good thing, even if you use your own blood.

The raising of the skeletal army was worked out in my head before even setting words down.  I pictured the scene as a movie.  Tricia creeping through a cemetery, intoning mystical words, then skeletons crawling up from graves.  I try to work through a scene in my head before typing.  I want to make sure that I have the right point of view, the right camera angles, and the right feel.  If something is out of place, I can move it in the scene in my head far easier than I can when typing.  All I have to do after that is describe what I have in my head and hope that it makes the translation.  I'm not saying that this is the best way to write, but it works for me.

Friday, Grace graduates and the police respond, in The Soul Blade Chapter 36.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, adapting to games featuring Cortex/Cortex Plus.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Get Smart.