Donnie Yen Joins Star Wars VIII

3727301-wing+chunIn what has to be the best bit of casting news this week, martial arts superstar Donnie Yen has reportedly been cast in Star Wars VIII. Yen may not be a household name in America like fellow Hong Kong stars Jackie Chan and Jet Li, but his work in Ip Man, Hero, Blade II and Shanghai Knights should lend him some familiarity with stateside audiences.

If not, you should really seek out some of his work (along with the previously mentioned films, Iron Monkey and Flash Point are good ones) and see what you’ve been missing. His ten man fight scene in Ip Man is still a classic of modern martial arts cinema.

Yen’s inclusion in the franchise (along with members of the Raid being cast in Star Wars VII) is a refreshing bit of casting that demonstrates a clear attempt to include some stars of Asian cinema. It’s entirely possible that this is just an attempt to tap the growing Asian market and make the movie more marketable to an international audience, but either way, it’s nice to see some diverse stars in the franchise now with Yen, Iko Uwais, Lupita Nyong’o, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker and John Boyega hopefully poised to take large roles in their respective films.

This Week’s Writing Links: Half A King

Half_a_King_by_Joe_AbercrombieFresh off climbing a volcano and watching an inspiring US Women’s World Cup win, I thought I would get back into the swing of things on the blog. I’ve been working tirelessly on the book writing side of things this year, but have been neglectful on the blogging side, which admittedly, if I had to choose between the duties of a contemporary writer, is how I would prefer it. But now that I’ve finished manuscript duties for the time being, I suppose it’s time to return to contributing to the overall betterment of culture and society by posting Nicholas Cage mashups and soccer videos on my blog.

I’ve also had some people email me asking about when the Exiles of the New World is going to be back in print. That’s something I’m hoping to have an answer to in the next few months. I have to wait and see what happens with this WIP before going ahead with Exiles. Even if this manuscript gets pushed back, Exiles should be back on the market at some point this year. Until then, please do not attempt to buy any of the gouged used copies being sold on amazon. Email me for more reasonable alternatives before buying a $60 copy online.

Anyway, moving on. This week’s writing links features the AV Club’s best in print so far for 2015 (including Joe Abercrombie’s ‘Half a King’ and Noelle Stevenson’s ‘Nimona’, both of which I’ve read a bit of and enjoy greatly), some July must-reads from Flavorwire (including Harper Lee’s much anticipated Go Set a Watchman), Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s reassuring advice to struggling writers and some cool maps of fictional literary places.

I’d like to quickly swing back to Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King and talk a little bit more about that novel. I have read some of Abercrombie’s stuff in the past and liked it, but have admittedly preferred the style of his fantasy contemporaries like Rothfuss, Martin and Lynch just a bit more. However, having recently read some of Half a King, I must say it is quite good. The first chapter is a masterclass on writing a very tight, involving opening that grips the reader from page one without plaguing them with exposition or resorting to the more popular crutches of YA fiction like a burst of immediate contextless action or using a prologue or zombies or zombie prologues. Either way, if you were struggling with your opening, regardless of what genre or age group you’re writing for, try to track down that first chapter. It’s a good one.

Speaking of Nicholas Cage mashups (just let this abrupt transition happen), did everyone see the Nicholas Cage as Game of Thrones character mashup? It’s amazing and I love almost everything about it, but my only problem with it is that I honestly thought this post would represent the literal end of the internet. Like I always imagined that if Jeff Bridges’ character in Tron kept driving his blue light bike out of the mainframe and eventually found the end of the internet many years later, it would just be this picture of Nicholas Cage as Bran Stark floating in the nothingness of space, kinda like when they found the edge of the universe in Dark City. Unfortunately that doesn’t appear to be the case, as this mashup exists and more internet content continues to be produced. Disappointing to say the least, but we must be strong and forge on.

Anyway, check out some other good writing links below and feel free to share your own.

PS. I have a new release date for Doors of Stone. It’s never.

Just kidding. I’m sure it will come out at some point, but not in 2015 as Rothfuss stated in a tweet, so Doors of Stone watch has officially been pushed back to at least 2016. I’m sure it will be worth the wait though. Can’t wait to check it out.

This Week’s Writing Links:

– Best in Print of 2015 so far (avclub)
– 10 Must Read Books for July (flavorwire)
– Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona (amazon)
– Dune, 50 years on: how a science fiction novel changed the world (theguardian)
– Matthew Weiner’s Reassuring Advice for Struggling Artists (fastcompany)
– Nicholas Cage as Every Game of Thrones Character (io9)
– Cool Maps of Fictional Places (joehill)
– Review of the Paper Towns Film Adaptation (thewrap)
– 7 Books to Read Before Seeing the Movie (kirkusreview)
– Every Time Travel Movie Ever Ranked (io9)
– Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness Avaliable as an ebook (sfsignal)
– How I Got My Literary Agent: Rebecca Phillips (writersdigest)
– How To Tell If Your Manuscript is YA (katebrauning)
– Hank and John Green’s new podcast (hankandjohn)

The Trailer For The Martian Has Arrived

And it looks great. I see no reason why it won’t be solid as long as they maintain some of the book’s humor (which the trailer certainly hints at with Matt Damon’s science line) and avoid giving their scientists Prometheus level decision making skills. So, yeah, should be great. Look for it in theaters November 27th.

The Martian Takes Shape

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Pictures from the film adaptation of Andy Weir’s sci-fi thriller ‘The Martian’ emerged this week, showcasing Matt Damon fully geared up for the role of stranded (and loveably sarcastic) astronaut Mark Watney. The suit doesn’t look monumentally different from what we saw Damon in last year for his role in ‘Interstellar’, but it’s still cool to see him in uniform. Bonus shot of Kristen Wiig as Nasa spokeswoman Annie Montrose, too! For those who haven’t had a chance to read the book, it’s a great breezy book that can pass as summer material if you don’t mind a bit of NASA jargon tossed into your beach reads. Either way, be sure to keep an eye out for this one when it hits theaters this fall on November 27th.

True Detective Season 2 Teaser Arrives

The True Detective Season 2 trailer has arrived, teasing a lot of unhappy looking people doing unhappy looking things. Rachel McAdams, Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn all look the part, but I am most excited to see Taylor Kitsch of Tim Riggins fame and Kelly Reilly from Calvary involved. Reilly has a knack for solemn material and seems like a perfect fit for this series, while Kitsch is Tim Riggins, so he can be in everything as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care if people didn’t like John Carter and Battleship. He’s Tim Riggins! He’s a Dillion Panther! He won state, man!

True Detective Season 2 returns to HBO on June 21st.

This Week’s Writing Links: Game of Thrones Returns to TV

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This Sunday (4/12) marks the return of Game of Thrones to television, sending viewers scrambling to reconnect with distant relatives at Easter dinners so that they can piggyback off their HBO Go accounts and once again enjoy the popular character generator/mutilator that is George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.

Season 5 will see the return of many fan favorite characters including Tyrion Lannister, Arya Stark and poor ol’ fingertipless Ser Davos (pictured above), who mystifyingly continues to put up with Stannis ‘no one wanted to go to Prom with me’ Baratheon (also pictured above looking like tons of fun) for no good reason. This season will also dive into material from the fourth book of the series ‘A Feast for Crows’ (and some of the fifth ‘A Dance with Dragons’, too, since both books take place chronologically at the same time), bringing us ever closer to the quandary of what will happen when the show catches up with the source material.

This week we received an answer to that particular dilemma when show creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss announced that the show will surpass the books and inevitably spoil the ending, putting to rest the fear that the tv series would fall into an endless limbo after season 6 until Martin finishes the rest of the books. I actually like this decision. I will of course read the books when they come out, but I’m also supportive of the show pushing on toward its own conclusion. I’m sure there will be enough compelling material in both mediums to justify their respective existences. And in even more promising news, George R. R. Martin has stated that he’d like to finish the next book, ‘The Winds of Winter’, before the arrival of Season 6 of the show in 2016.

To further support this sentiment Martin has cancelled a lot of appearances this year and decided not to write any episodes of the show this season. So, that’s promising. On the flip side, he also appears to be developing a new show for HBO called Captain Cosmos, which seems to counter all those other previous statements, but truthfully, he can do whatever he wants on whatever schedule he sees fit, and I hope he does just that. All I ask is that the show finishes up relatively soon so Maisie Williams is free to do the ‘Last of Us’ movie. She and Hugh Jackman have some zombie/clicker hunting to do together.

 

Writing Links:

– An Illustrated Guide to all 465 Deaths in Game of Thrones (washingtonpost)

– George R.R. Martin Developing New HBO Series ‘Captain Cosmos’ (rollingstone)

– Overanalyzing the New Game of Thrones Excerpt (flavorwire)

– Random House To Publish Terry Pratchett’s Final Discworld Novel (terrypratchetbooks)

– Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright on Writing (youtube)

– Science Fiction Writing Tips: How to Make a Vampire Not Suck (writersdigest)

– How I Turned Writing Every Day From a Chore to an Insatiable Itch (reddit)

– Randy Ribay: The Importance of Diversity in Fiction (writinginthemargins)

– 100 Best Films Decade So Far (avclub)

– Apparently the Brontosaurus Had Been Pluto’d and then Unpluto’d. Who Knew? (scientificamerica)

Mad Max: Fury Road


Mad Max: Fury Road continues to impress with each new trailer they roll out for it. The mayhem present is unparalleled and if it weren’t for Star Wars and Furious 7, this would definitely be my most anticipated movie for the year. It really does look like it could be the two hour chase scene that some people are predicting. I mean, in a recent interview, Tom Hardy estimated that he might only have four to twenty lines in the movie. And he’s the main character. So, unless this is just generic trailer voice over, Max’s lines in this trailer could be the extent of his dialog for the entire movie, which would be kind of awesome if the only things he says are allegorical abstracts and he ignores all other opportunities to speak or answer questions like, “What’s your name?” or “Why is there a guy playing a flame thrower guitar on top of a dump truck?”

The Value of Pacing In Your Writing

Although there are an endless number of topics that can be addressed in regards to what goes into writing a compelling story, today I would like to focus on the often overlooked topic of pacing. Admittedly, I may not place pacing above character, dialogue, prose, point of view or style (although I think pacing can greatly influence all of them) on the totem pole of story importance, but when used effectively, it can really enhance your story.

One of the reasons I think pacing’s importance is often marginalized is due to the fact that people often mistake it for as the occurrence of action or the arrival of plot to usher a character along on a somewhat contrived journey.  People interpret “your pacing is a bit off” as “there aren’t enough cars blowing up.” Somehow pacing is assigned this odd stigma as being a sort of gimmicky element of genre used to string readers along and keep them turning the pages. Those in this mindset unfairly confuse it as a means to bookend your chapters with cliffhangers and wedge action into every narrative lull.

Pacing is much more than action though. It is the ebb and flow of your story. It is the pulse of your narrative. Even within literary fiction where there are generally few occurrences of car chases, dystopian zombie landscapes or alien invasions, effective pacing can be the key to great emotional payoffs. Do you have a laconic, somewhat internalized protagonist headed toward an impending meltdown? What would be more shocking? A pg 15 outburst or a simmering rage that cataclysmically erupts on pg 210?

Truthfully, you can make either work, but if you are really looking for those big emotional payoffs in your stories, you are going to have to build up to such moments to earn them and when you arrive there, make sure the impact isn’t dulled by a sloppy flow. Even within the context of genre fiction (and arguably all fiction), pacing at the beginning of your story can be just as important. Do you start your story with immediate action, leaving out any context your protagonist’s situation, or do you take some time to set the scene and risk the dreaded information dump through heavy expositional passages? If you hit the extremes on either of these polarizing approaches, you run the risk of losing your reader within the first thirty pages.

Just to further illustrate, let us say your protagonist is in a story where he is unexpectedly jarred loose from a comfortable and familiar life. For this particular narrative yarn, you could have the catalyst enter the protagonist’s life and force him out of his shell on pg 4, setting the plot in motion, but what did we really know of the protagonist’s old life from only reading pgs 1-3? Certainly, you can revisit elements of his old life as your character is propelled forward. He can meet people from his past and reflect on the life he once knew, but that requires a gradual release of exposition over time in bits and pieces. On the flip side, if you spend the first thirty pages establishing his life, routines, friends and family, and then have him jarred out of that existence, you have a better feel for what he is leaving behind, and as a result, what is at stake for him. The pitfall of this approach is that you can fall into a slow developing exposition heavy first section.

So, how can you make sure the pacing of your story is in a good place? Well, one way is to sit down and outline your book. This will give you a broad sense of how your novel flows. You probably won’t be able to make too many declarative statements from an examination this broad, but it will give you a head start on isolating any problematic sections. Another approach is to go through each of your chapters and look for sections with long dialogue exchanges. This isn’t necessarily a red flag in itself, but you should pay close attention to these sections and make sure that they do not become long meandering diatribes. These are the sections where you run the greatest risk of losing the interest of your readers.

I personally prefer to dive right into anything I’m writing with a little bit of action. However, I also suffer from the dreaded exposition dump, bringing any sense of established pace to a screeching halt. This always leaves my first thirty pages as something of a bloated mess. Not really a desirable place to be, but this is where the editing process becomes invaluable. It is within revisions that I am able to trim and redistribute information, finding some semblance of pace to begin the story. So, do not despair if you think the flow of your story is a bit uneven. Editing is a great place to tighten that up.

Because I tend to write genre fiction, I actually do like the function of cliffhangers as chapter bookends (not for every chapter though, moderation is key). Cliffhangers and twists can be easily misused if you stuff the belly of your chapters with filler information and then try to rescue them by tossing in some unexpected cheap thrills to close. Utilizing this approach, you run the risk of having a notably hollow story strung along by unearned moments of shock and awe. But, if you can use cliffhangers well and you put time and effort into crafting moments of genuine surprise, these moments will pay off for you.

Ultimately, I think pacing is about balance, flow and consistency. If you’re writing a thriller, you can’t count on 300 out of 307 pages of car chases and shoot outs to be an involving experience. You really have to work at the other elements of your story and pace the action, so that when your character is placed in a tense or dangerous atmosphere, we care about them. So, yes, you could argue that the other elements of writing (character, setting, dialogue) are directly effected by pacing in your story. Because they are. If you don’t take enough time to develop your characters, you will leave the reader disconnected or apathetic to their plight. And on the flip side, if you spend too much time developing your characters and don’t place them in any situations of dramatic tension, readers may tire of the experience. For an example of really effective pacing in a genre novel, I would cite Suzanne Collins’ ‘The Hunger Games.’ That’s a great example of a book that utilizes effective pacing without skimping out on the core elements of what makes a compelling story.