Aggression Yields Protagonism

This post on MultiVBooks

While we are often off-put by people with overly aggressive natures, there is no denying that these people typically control the room, platform or story they are in.

We saw this just last night (9/29/20) in the very unusual presidential debate. Trump came out swinging, badgering Biden, interrupting the moderator and generally asserting his dominance in the room. Whatever you think of the politics involved, whatever your expectations of decorum in a debate, and whether your mind was changed on any particular ‘talking’ point, I would have to say that Trump owned the room.

He pushed his narrative forward by being verbally aggressive.

I have been sort of reluctantly watching season 2 of The Boys on Amazon. It’s hard for me to resist Superhero fiction made with any level of quality, and even when I know ‘grey’ characters aren’t ever going to turn it around, there’s a part of me that still watches in hope. Beyond that I still enjoy studying the craft of screenwriting and narrative.

Anyhow, one thing that I’ve noticed is that despite a shifting focus between several characters – Hughie, Frenchie, The Deep, Starlight, Homelander, Butcher – only a few come across as satisfying protagonists. I find myself far more interested in Homelander, Stormfront (even though she’s not getting any tight POV) and to a lesser extent, Butcher.

Guess what these characters have in common? Aggression. One old adage holds that the more aggressive party will usually win the fight. For our purposes, said party will drive the plot (and strike the audience as more intriguing).

Hughie’s back to being a pushover most of the time, The Deep’s in an existential crisis, Starlight is trapped and mostly reactive, and Frenchie’s just simping full time.

Homelander and Stormfront (and again, to a lesser extent Butcher) are actively seeking their goals, and doing so aggressively. The other stories are mostly filler for me, making this pair the primary protag and antag respectively in my eyes.

So both of these were negatively-oriented examples of protagonistic aggression, but the principles apply to all characters. Aggression doesn’t always have to be verbal or physical.

One can aggressively court a love interest, or pursue a scientific breakthrough, or stand up for what’s right in court. You could simply call it being proactive, but I’d argue that shifting from ‘merely’ proactive to fully aggressive ups the energy of a situation.

Not to toot my own horn, but I think that I succeeded in this myself with my current line up of heroes. All are motivated by a hatred of evil. Pierce from Hero’s Metal is further energized by his adrenaline addiction. Jon is desperate to find atonement. Jack has a fierce dedication to the Godly aspect of Justice. All of their passions help me to show them pursuing their goals quite aggressively, so that they are never stuck in a reactive state. 

This motion creates a wake that supporting characters can ride in or pull tricks off of – they can be the ones to react. And all of it together really helps to keep the conflict in view and the narrative in motion.

Thus, when I write, read, or watch, I will continue to seek aggressive (remember that this doesn’t necessarily mean violent) protagonists. I’m done with passives and characters who have to learn to ‘come out of their shell’, at least for a little while. 

This was all sort of off the cuff, so let me know what you think and help me refine my doctrine of protagonistic agression!

God bless.

State of the Multiverse

Hello there, dear blog visitor or regular reader!

I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who’s bought, put one of my books on the tbr pile, read, and reviewed any one of my works. Just knowing that the stories are out there doing some kind of work does my writer’s heart good.

Thank you!

For those who are curious, here is where the Multiverse stands right now:

RawJack has moved the most copies, with Coming to Power in second place. Hero’s Metal #1: How Black the Sky brings up the rear, which I’d expect given the seemingly niche heavy metal aesthetic. I may consider altering the branding of it to focus more on sword and sorcery (so as not to scare people off), though I fear that will change my artistic outlook. We’ll see.

I had been hoping that I would be able to see more quickly which of the three series warranted a sequel first, but that hasn’t quite worked out.

On the note of new material, Hero’s Metal #2: Out of the Deep is complete but for a few gaps that need to be filled in revision. This one has been a rough road, and various factors contributed to slow my progress and create insecurity. Whenever I read through, though, I appreciate what’s grown out of HM#1 and I think that many of my fears have been allayed by the passage of the months. Currently I’m planning to polish the story up and release Out of the Deep next. Those who are interested in the strange world and heroic characters of Hero’s Metal will enjoy it greatly I think.

The following release should be my first YA-style novel, working title of Rattan. This one is a mashup of Academy and Survival, with a female MC that I was quite pleased with. It takes place on yet another new planet, in a future fantasy setting that may or may not have some relation to RawJack’s. I need one more revision pass on Rattan and a few final proofread, and it too will be ready to go. 

I hope to have both out before the end of the year.

Several weeks ago I derailed my other plans for the year entirely with a sudden and overpowering urge to write a Knightrider-Cyberpunk-GameLit rag that took off swiftly but was slowed when I had to go back to my day job. (Any other writers out there who enjoyed the lockdown?) I would like to have this one out within a week of the release of Cyberpunk 2077, but at this point it’s a really fast turnaround and I’m not sure if I’ll make it. The adventures of Gun and Octavia may have to wait a little longer, but hopefully I’ll surprise us!

Heading into 2021 I plan to work up the first of my true space operas, dive deeper into Arc #2 (it’s already started) and knock out the rest of Hero’s Metal. As intel comes in concerning the reception of the other series, I may see fit to change the order of things. If you, dear reader, have any input I’d be glad to hear it!

I have far more concepts to work up than there is time for, and so I am always looking at the possible line ups to balance fun for you and myself with marketability. That said, if I could find my way to a sustainable crowdfunding structure/sales combo, I could go full time and just write everything! I would certainly enjoy that (it’s the dream, isn’t it?) and I’m sure that you would too. Stay tuned.

On the financial front I am still paying for covers out of pocket, but starting with Wave 3 I would like to consider at least small crowdfunds so I can up the art budget. 

And that’s about it! 

Thanks for reading, comment here or hit me up on Twitter @HabitualLevity. I’ll see you in the pages!

Limited time SALE on Amazon!

$.99 Coming to Power

$.99 How Black the Sky

$FREE!   RawJack

Supers v. Sorcerers is a go!

This post on the main site.

You can buy RawJack here.

Just a few days hence I released one of the projects I’ve been most excited about over the last year or so.
In suffering an insatiable desire to try my hand at superhero prose, I entertained the concept of innate powers versus earned magic for quite a while as the story and world took shape. We’ve tread the ground of ‘what would it be like if superheroes came about in the real world’ plenty of times, and I wanted to try something different. Peter Cline covered supers in the zombocalypse quite nicely, and many many authors are currently delving into superhero litrpgs. 
What I had not yet seen was a world where people recognizable as supers, with power levels ranging from X-men to Superman, rose to foil not a world of mundanity, but one saturated by magic.
This was very much a case of building the world first and characters second, and I think that shows in a sense that this first installment of Hero Planet could have taken place in any city, with any hero as its protag. This I think is an element that Coming to Power and How Black the Sky do not possess. 
Interestingly, I have far less anxiety about producing a quality sequel to this book than I do about the others… I think this is part of the reason why.
Our main hero, Jack, was a pleasure to write, as I seem to enjoy painting my characters’ responses to pain as vividly as I know how… and Jack can take more than either Jon or Pierce. Honestly he’s probably only rivaled by the skeleton man Agrathor in this department.
I can’t tell you how many times I made my own stomach growl describing whatever Jack was eating to kickstart his healing factor… Just thinking about it makes me crave sushi and gyros.
If you know me by now, you know that saying I’m excited to continue writing in this world is about as novel as someone saying they like donuts or cherry pie, but I’ll say it anyway.
I’m so excited to keep writing in this world!
So read free on KU, or grab it at a very reasonable price, leave a review, and I’ll see you on the magical hero planet Ellio!

LESTER VERSUS THE CAT – OUTLINE MASHUP!

Sometimes you need to power up!

Visit the new site on Blogger if you prefer.




I love working with outlines, despite my checkered past as a pantser.
Some complain that outlining ruins the joy of discovery for them, most notably Stephen King himself. But as I’ve mentioned elsewhere (YouTube ), outlines serve a number of functions for me besides initial planning, and none of them diminish the fun.

Most recently I’ve been working on a particularly troublesome pulp novel, the sequel to How Black the Sky. I wrote it originally in Save the Cat form using my condensed version of the 15 beat formula, which I’ll post below. Encountering massive issues with pace and focus, I’ve had to sit back and re-outline the mess away, which of course does happen some times.

As I sat to do that, I decided to throw Lester Dent’s pulp formula in, the hope being that it’ll help keep things moving! This isn’t rocket science or anything, just another way to bolt that story together in the hopes its monstrous shambling will leading to lots of exciting drama, destruction, death and the villain’s defeat.

If you need more info on Lester or the Cat, feel free to check out their links or google. If you’re already familiar, read on and season to taste!

Premise: 


Opening Image:

  • 1–Intro and Stakes

  • 2–Immediate Proaction

Setup:

  • 3–Intro other Characters

Catalyst:

  • 4–Physical conflict

Debate:

  • 5–Twist

Break Into Two:

  • 1–Grief, rising stakes

B-Story:

  • A

Fun and Games:

  • 2–Hero struggles

  • 3–Physical conflict

  • 4–Twist

Optional Repeat the Loop

  • 1–Grief, rising stakes

  • 2–Hero struggles

  • 3–Physical conflict

  • 4–Twist

Midpoint:

  • 1–Grief, rising stakes

  • 2–Hero makes headway – (You could probably put these in a blender and play with false victory/defeat)

Bad Guys Close In:

  • 3–Physical conflict

  • 4–Twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad

All is Lost:

  • 1–Dogpile the hero

  • 2–All is lost

Dark Night of the Soul:

  • A

Break into Three:

  • 3–Dig Deep

Finale:

  • 4–Final Mysteries Unraveled

  • 5–Final twist

Final Image:

  • 6–The snapper, the punch line to end it.




My copy of Lester’s outline, condensed for ease of use:


  • Premise

    • 1. AN ORIGINAL METHOD FOR THE VILLAIN TO USE

    • 2. AN ORIGINAL THING FOR THE VILLAIN TO BE SEEKING

    • 3. AN ORIGINAL LOCALE

    • 4. A MENACE WHICH WILL HANG LIKE A CLOUD OVER THE HERO

ACT 1

  • 1–Intro and Stakes

  • 2–Immediate Proaction

  • 3–Intro other Characters

  • 4–Physical conflict

  • 5–Twist.

ACT 2

  • 1–Grief, rising stakes

  • 2–Hero struggles

  • 3–Physical conflict

  • 4–Twist 

ACT 3

  • 1–Grief, rising stakes

  • 2–Hero makes headway

  • 3–Physical conflict

  • 4–Twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad

ACT 4

  • 1–Dogpile the hero

  • 2–All is lost

  • 3–Dig Deep

  • 4–Final Mysteries Unraveled

  • 5–Final twist

  • 6–The snapper, the punch line to end it.





Writing as Simulation

It’s easy enough to just say those words, let the mind casually work out the implications, and say, ‘Oh, neat.’ But I think there’s some value in treating one’s writing as a simulation deliberately. 

Let’s explore how I got to this view.

My first completed novel was Coming to Power. This was my, “This novel is so important to me/It has my soul in it/Why haven’t I finished it yet” novel. Many of you know what I’m talking about. I’m almost embarrassed to say how long it took to find the discipline to finish, but part of what I want to do with my blogs is to be transparent. 20 years… Yes. Eek.

During that time I wrote half the novel, including scrapping the beginning perhaps 4 times. Of course the writing was awful, but thanks to the #pulp in all of us, the basic plot was solid fun. Then I lost half my possessions to stupid stuff, including the handwritten half manuscript.

Stirred but not shaken, I started over. It was better this time. So much emotion! A better beginning! Purple, purple words in green ink over five hundred handwritten pages and too many years. Then, complete. Steak dinner and self-congrats.

A little more time passed, me knowing I needed to sit and start transcribing. When I did… well, a lot of it was just kind of wonky. Shifting styles, jumbled themes, leftover silliness. It seemed that a rewrite was in order. 

It was better this time. Real emotion! Just enough purple to match some of my favorite authors without seeming lame. Tighter plot, clearer themes.

I pored through the handwritten copy to compare and make sure no nuggets were lost. A few were and I smelted them into the mix. But the main thing I noticed was this: running the characters, setting and various variables and parameters through my particular brain, even years removed, I hit the same beats (the important ones anyway) and the characters even said the same things, if sometimes with different words. 

It was then I began to realize I was running a simulation in my head. If the seed was slightly different but the input was the same, my personal procedural world was destined to look somewhat alike in each new iteration. The characters had the same AI, so they were likely to move about in similar ways. It was just a different way to get from A to B to C. 

I do a lot of freelance work, mostly consulting with new authors to help them break through perceived walls and learn tools they need to be self-sufficient, but also world-building that’s essentially me ghostwriting. Going through this process a few hundred times has further solidified my perception of writing as simulation.

A client passes me parameters, sometimes a partial outline, sometimes a premise, sometimes hundred-page messes of notes I have to mine for goodies, and occasionally just a prefab book cover. I feed the data into the me-machine. Following the procedural generation rules written in my brain, the world spins out in a sensible way until it becomes real, and then, complete.

If you pass the same data into the same machine, you get a similar result every time. It might be the same if humans were more machine than man (twisted and evil) but since we’re not, Ian Malcom’s chaos theory goes to work and the resulting sim is only 90% identical and not 100. 

So this is a distillation of my perception of the matter, but what good does it do everyone else? Well, I think it helps as you write, outline, or worldbuild to view the project as a simulation, especially if you come up against road blocks. 

Stuck on a chapter? That’s because you’re missing a variable or function somewhere that will create tension or provide the solution that will move the narrative forward. 

Story not working? That’s because you’ve got mismatched or corrupted data, or possibly just a bad seed. 

How do I know? Because I’ve been through it.

If one of the three of you has been following, you may have seen me mention that Hero’s Metal book 2, Out of the Deep, has not been playing nice and has actually set me off my schedule by two months. I pushed through to push through, but I’m now 95% certain I will have to rewrite from the beginning. I hate this, but I believe it must be done, and now I know that the result will be far superior to the current state.

The problem? Corrupt data and a seed that’s nearly right but not quite there. The solution? Purge the corruption, adjust a few variables, reset some constants, and start the sim over. Do I want to do it, no. Will it pay off? I think it will.

So I’d like to get crunchier with this metaphor, perhaps to the point of drawing it out into a proper PROCESS, but I think the thoughts are enough for now.

Ruminate on it and let me know what you think! For now, back to simulating.

If you’d like to see the result of my long hours of crunching data so simulate far-off magical worlds, check out these fine novels:

Great review here: https://periapsispress.com/review-how-black-the-sky/

Why Stories Must Always Be Told

I see it coming.

Today #theshowmustbepaused is trending. Music will supposedly stop tomorrow to show solidarity concerning current events. If by some oddest chance you’re reading this in the future – that means protests, riots, conspiracies and a weird kind of civil war that’s already been started but also hasn’t been. It’s a very strange time when nobody really knows what’s true and what’s not in spite of, and because of, our ability to manufacture, disseminate, and consume digital content from anywhere at any time.

I see it coming – the rest of entertainment will follow.

Before I get to stories, in case you’re someone who needs to know what my political stance is, let me express it somewhat briefly and without hashtags. I believe a Christian kritarchy would be our best state. That will never happen and I’m okay with holding the impossible ideal. You can tell me I should think differently but it isn’t likely to happen.

I do not support violence when a gentle word could turn away the wrath. I do not support killing when pain would end an attack. I will defend my family to the death and I will take a bullet for my friends. I will always cheer when evil is burnt to the ground.

But what is evil, you ask. Who is right and who is wrong?

I try my best to do what Jesus would do. If I were alone, I would never lift a finger against someone else. I’m always put in mind of Jesus telling His disciples all to find swords. They have two and he says it’s enough. One is used before His arrest, and Jesus tells Peter to put it away, then repairs the damage. He literally told them to bring swords just so He could have them put the weapon away. I think this speaks volumes. There’s more beyond this, and a world of reasons to keep the sword out, but the bits above are the center of my politics concerning the moment and so I’ll leave it at this and you can lump me in wherever you like, at the risk of being wrong.

On to stories, or art as a whole.

Art must not be silenced at the whim of madness. I could sardonically state that once silenced, it would never find the rationale to speak again.

Let’s go pragmatic first. I’ve already seen arguments about people pushing their new releases (of which I have one) right now and to that I say – Writing is a small business, self-pub or otherwise. Would you ask a food truck owner to shut down when they’re operating on a razor thin margin? How about the butcher or the small-time farmer? Any business in fact. Any given one may not be essential to you, but I guarantee its operation is essential to the owner.

The big companies are too big to fail. The rest of us have to hustle all the time.

Let’s get emotional/artistic. I highly value the few clear hours that I get per day to build my writing career. It takes a little time to get the drill running, if I’m lucky I strike a bit of oil, and then life moves on and the zone fades away. Every day I miss is a day of writer’s guilt – that sense that I could have improved my family’s lot and my own skills but failed to do so. Every day I miss represents roughly 1% of a work in progress, and thousands of words that are now lost to time and space because tomorrow I will be a slightly different person.

There were mornings during the beginning of the coronachan lockdown that I didn’t want to write. Those mornings saw the world and characters of RawJack (my magipunk/superhero ditty) do and experience things that they may never have done otherwise. I’m glad I pushed. I’m glad that the chaos of the virus didn’t steal that time, energy and creativity from me. I won’t let violence do so either.

We can’t let this set a precedent. We can’t stop creating under external pressure because then we will be more likely to do so again, or worse, be made to do so. We may even teach ourselves to cave to the internal pressure as well, and then we’re left debilitated, paralyzed, unable to move forward and influence and repair our damaged culture.

Imagine the stories that could have, or have been lost to fear, trauma, or undue pressure? It’s something that should bring a tear to your eye – beauty, unborn or killed in the face of hesitation, neglect, or coercion.

I for one won’t miss a moment. As always, you can choose for yourself.

If you’d like to see the fruit of a very long struggle, check out my epic sci-fantasy. Maybe you’ll feel as special reading it as I did making it.

If you’d like something both more brutal and more humorous, my pulpy fantasy adventure might strike true. It’s on sale!

I know you won’t forget to subscribe, because you’re just the best. Watch for freebies!

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#art, #trauma, #writing

Update

Coming to Power releases today! I’m beyond excited to share this with everyone, and I hope it’s as fun to read as it was to write.

Meanwhile, How Black the Sky is on sale this week for $0.99! (This may not show for a few more hours depending on the time you read this.)

Both are free to read if you use Kindle Unlimited. Leave a review – it’s like dropping a sweet tip on a server!

Word is the word

So I finally caved and subscribed to MS Word, or I guess you’re supposed to call it Microsoft 365…

I have such a habit of avoiding things just because they’re ‘popular’, ‘normal’, or ‘standard’. Sometimes that works out well, but other times it results in me missing out. I think this is going to end up being a case of the latter.

This change came about as I struggled to prepare the print version of Coming to Power, which releases (in ebook at least) on Saturday. Everything was going fine until it came to one simple thing: the map.

So here’s the process I’ve been using, which now feels very comfortable but may seem overly complex to some –

Draft and edit in Google Docs – this in mostly because I often have to write from different computers and there’s no syncing to worry about. Just log in and write.

Compile my separate chapter docs in Scrivener. I really love the organizational tools and the ability to compile into multiple formats easily.

From there I generate an .epub, which I then load into Kindle Create (I know, I know) because it normalizes the formatting and makes adding some flourishes very simple.

Here’s where the problem came in. This map works just fine in an ebook:

But Create forces a size cap and offers no orientation tool. It looks awkward. Okay…

So fine, I’ll split the image and put half on each page as is often done:

Guess what? The preview shows the west side on an odd page and the east on the flip side. Fail.

Easy fix right? Add a page before the map. Nope. Fail again. Create added an extra extra page. Thanks.

Next – try several fixes and fail. Get mad. Angrily pay for and download Word (and incidentally all of Office with it – sigh). Set up the template and am now in the midst of pasting all the CTP chapters in. There’s still a lot to do and I have no proof it will work, but I believe it will. I mean, people do this somehow right?

All annoyance aside, Word seems pretty legit after all. I appreciate Styles and a few of the deep mechanical viewing options. Hopefully the results will be beautiful!

If you’d like to reward my slaving away, grab a copy of Coming to Power when it goes live on Saturday! How Black the Sky will also be on sale.

Coming to Power

World-shaking magic, deranged posthumans, far-future technology, alternate worlds, the power of friendship, and absolution.

Coming to Power will appeal to fans of The Stormlight Archive, The Dark Tower, and Dragonball, and anyone who’s ever just wanted to escape.

When a rough night and some bad decisions leave an average guy wanted for murder, a visit from a strange spirit gives him the way out.

Escorted beyond the bounds of our world, Jon is led to an Earth at a crossroads. There he’s given a rare gift of power and the choice to help a people on the edge of disaster. But it’s something he can’t do alone, no matter how strong his magic.

He’s joined along the way by Bahabe, a lovely magical girl with a mysterious past, and Dahm, a wise and powerful Traveler and master of stonecraft. Together they’ll stand against the enemy horde and the mad posthuman they worship as a god.

Myths and nightmares take to the battlefield, thirsty for the blood of our heroes. Jon will have to find the forgiveness he needs, and confidence in himself and a higher power, in order to bear up against the impossible odds.

Buy the eBook here when it goes live on Saturday, 5/30! You can also read it free on Kindle Unlimited!