Monday, May 23, 2011

Test Your Might

I'm just going to come right out and say it.  I LOVE FIGHT SCENES.  Not just action scenes, not just chase scenes, but good, old fashioned, knuckles smashing battles.  When I started writing, almost every piece of work I ever created had a fight scene nudged I there.  So today, I thought it would be great to talk about my favorite part of the writing process and how it ties into the Agent M series.

    My inspiration for writing climatic and otherwise epic battles began with watching professional wrestling.  And yes…  I know the matches are scripted, predetermined, and otherwise fake.  However, so is the rest of Hollywood and practically every film we’ve ever watched.  But, I digress.  Wrestling matches did one thing and it did it very well; tell a story.  I was mesmerized by the process.  Everything about it seemed so real (from an emotional standpoint).  While I don’t follow professional wrestling as I did as a child, I cannot deny the impact it had on my life.  Until of course, another man showed up and gave my fighting foundation a swift roundhouse kick.

    Martial arts movies are incredible.  And no, I’m not talking about “Americanized” martial arts (Steven Segal anybody?), I mean real, gritty, fierce combat.  Enter Jackie Chan, a world renowned actor and martial artist.  Many of his films have one supportive and major foundation, great fight scenes.  I remember reading an article somewhere about Jackie’s specific style of fighting used in films and he replied with something very interesting, “Nobody ever waits to take a punch.”  As soon as I heard that, I thought that was brilliant and also very true.  You can go on Youtube and watch kids, teenagers, or even adults brawling in the streets and the statement stands true.  Now any time I watch a fight in films, that is the first thing I look for and as soon as I see someone with their defenses down and chin up, then I groan.

    With these two elements taking root, my fight scene development and writing career started to grow.  Almost every time I began to write a story, the very first scene on my mind was a fight scene of some sort.  My short lived fan-fiction career completely revolved around fighting so I was right at home.  Hearing praise from some of my fans cemented my confidence.  I enjoyed every second of every chapter I wrote (albeit being a pretty poor representation of my work now) and when you’re doing something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.  To me, that is the most important factor.  If you’re not having fun while writing, then how much fun do you think your audience will have reading it?

    Writing the battles in Agent M: Project Mabus seemed so satisfying I almost thought I had done something wrong because it felt too good to be true.  When I hit that point, I knew I was doing something right.  There are a lot of action segments and fight scenes in Project Mabus because that is what I do best and the best thing you can do is accentuate your best abilities while taking focus away from areas you struggle in.  Funny side note, I asked my fiancé after she read the first draft of my novel if there was enough action because I thought it was a little light.  Her response made my night.  She said it was like watching an action movie at some points and that she couldn’t turn pages quick enough.  To me, there is no greater compliment I could have received.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

When you look at it on paper, the Agent M series took a long time to move from conception to its current physical form.  Almost 8 years to be precise.  Think about that for a moment.  Do you know how many things that can be done in 8 years?  That’s like going from the NES to the N64 or watching Hulk Hogan’s reign as WWF Champion to Stone Cold Steve Austin or the average lifespan of 8 Ford vehicles (cheap shot yes, but I was raised in a Chevy household).  So, with that in mind I thought it would be a good idea to look back on the journey thus far.

                I firmly believe that, once you have a good foundation in place, you should never stop building upon it.  It’s not enough to ride on the coattails of a good idea.  If you do nothing else then it’s a nothing more than a dream, a fantasy, not reality.  Agent M was not going to go down that road.  As soon as I came up with the concept on that fateful day inside the movie theater I began to take notes, doodle character designs, and writing back stories.  I really couldn’t wait to sit down and start writing everything I had built up.  The first draft of Agent M: Project Mabus began about two weeks after coming up with the concept.  Looking back on it, I was so horribly wrong.

                To say the concept was immature would be an understatement.  I blew through the first 3 chapters in the better part of two weeks without even thinking about characterization, mood, or future prospects.  Just getting the story written down made me happy and I chased that thought until I reached the end of chapter 3. My fan-fiction habits made the desire for recognition, approval, and praise skyrocket.  I posted my story to another fiction related website and awaited the results.  After 2 weeks, only a handful of people decided to read my story and only one left a comment.  Albeit a positive one, I spoke to another one of my fan-fiction colleagues and after some reassuring words and a bit of advice, I decided to pull the story off of the website and re-review it.

                Disaster is a word that gets thrown around these days.  The first draft of Project Mabus was borderline atrocious to say the least.  After achieving success and praise in the fan-fiction realm, I was sure this would be the next big thing to sky rocket my writing career (20 years old and immature, go figure).  This was my first failure as a writer and damn near killed my writing career.  I put the project on hold as an afterthought and concentrated on some other things instead.

                Though ignored, Project Mabus was never forgotten.  Every time the song Poem by Taproot came up on my CD player I was thrust back into the Agent M universe.  I never wanted to give up Agent M but I also never saw the desire to go back to it.  As the years passed, the universe began to unfold through the melodies and rifts of some of my favorite bands.  Agent M was evolving beyond my wildest dreams.  It wasn’t until 2008, when Disturbed released their Indestructible album that I was inspired to decimate my defeated attitude and start anew.

                Scrapping the draft was easy as well as starting over.  In the last 5 years I had evolved the Agent M concept beyond the simplistic frame I had initially developed and into something bigger.  All of my characters now had elaborate back stories that ended right as the story begins.  I was on a warpath.  I couldn’t be stopped.

                Until I reached chapter 2…

                After I had fleshed out this new story that I was completely ecstatic about, both in tone and characterization, I hit the wall again.  However, it wasn’t a creative one.  My graduate program was starting to get the better of me.  Working 50+ hours a week plus another 8 in school, I was burnt out and couldn’t afford to spend time writing.  I put the project on hold (again) and promised myself I would finish it once I graduated.  Unfortunately, luck was not playing in my favor nor in my company’s and after 5 years of faithful service, I was laid off.  As sad as it was, my time away from work afforded me a unique opportunity.  With only 6 months left until graduation, I decided to finish Agent M: Project Mabus once and for all.

                The motivation was ripe and so was my fury.  I attacked that story with an unbridled determination.  Every day I plunged into the book, refusing to quit until I had conquered my daily quota (3000 words or 5 pages give or take).  My fiancé lovingly supported my efforts.  Even with 16 hours of classes bogging down on me I was not about to be defeated.  Not this time.  Finally, almost 8 years (TO THE DAY) since Agent M began, it ended.  And I never felt happier.

                So that was the abridge version of the road I’ve traveled with this project.  I could go on for days about this journey but I just wanted to highlight a few key points and inform everyone that you should never got down without a fight.  Even if you don’t like what you’ve started now, who knows?  Eight years down the road might turn it into magic.  You’ll never go anywhere in life without taking a step forward.  And with every step you take, something good is bound to happen.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Catalyst that Sparked the Project

A lot of my close friends and family members that know about my writing project usually ask me, “How did you come up with it?” after I explained the concept.  Honestly, the story isn’t as amazing as one might think but for today’s report we will dive straight into the birth of Agent M: Project Mabus.

                Not too sound cliché but, It all started in early 2003.  I was working on a pair of different projects.  One of them was an idea for a new comic book series (that’ll hopefully see the light of day soon) and the other was a fan-fiction project based on one of my favorite fighting game series, The King of Fighters.  Both projects were taking up all of my creative resources (as well as earning my undergraduate degree) so any and every idea I had, good or bad, was written down.

While writing fan-fiction was taking up the bulk of my time I began developing more and more characters for this superhero comic.  One character in particular had struck my fancy.  I wanted to create a unique antagonist for my heroes to fight and in this case, it was going to be an F.B.I. Agent.  His goal was to apprehend the heroes as vigilantes and in order for him to do so, he would definitely have to be able to handle all of their unique abilities.  After thinking about it more, it started to sound like a bad idea and I had the feeling that it was going to be scrapped.  Little did I know, inspiration was waiting for me at my local movie theatre.

Being a huge comic book fan, I couldn’t wait to see Marvel’s newest release Daredevil.  My brother tagged along and we entered a semi empty theater at 10:45 am to enjoy the show.  Sadly, as many of you may have already heard, Daredevil isn’t all it’s an Oscar worthy film in any stretch.  During the film, I began listening to the music more than I did the actual story itself.  I’m much more inspired by a good song than any piece of writing (stories for another time) and so while I was sitting there in that theater I began plotting out the entire background for that one F.B.I. Agent that would have originally never seen the light of day.

The world I created for him became so incredible that my imagination went into overdrive.  I began seeing the merit of telling this story beyond the scope of a comic book and into something able to handle its magnitude.  Using the songs from the Daredevil soundtrack, I plotted out specific scenes of the story and set up this world that I have now created.

Weeks after I had the spark, I was inspired yet again from a pair of films (this one I didn’t actually see but only heard of), Aeon Flux and Ultraviolet.  Both of these movies had one major thing in common, strong female protagonists.  However, these females seemed weird to me. It appears the only way to write a convincing female heroine that kicks a lot of ass is to have them be brash and silent.  Why? I asked myself this numerous times.  Why can’t anyone write a convincing female badass akin to Bruce Willis of Die Hard or Jason Statham of The Transporter?  This question was resolved by looking back to my favorite film of all time and one of the strongest female protagonists that has ever existed, Sarah Conner.  Using her as a reference, I was able to build the foundation for the other protagonist in my story.

Finally, and probably equally significant, the original series was never going to be titled Agent M.  After building the basic elements of the story, The Catalyst was the working title of the book but after a few weeks of consideration, I thought it was kind of a weak brand name.  It’s instantly recognizable and known.  Therefore, there is no mystery to it.  When you hear Agent M, there’s an aura of ambiguity which completely fits the tone of this series.

Well, there you have it; the origins of my novel idea (pun intended).  Inspiration has many forms and thankfully, I never stopped developing my ideas.  Had I gone ahead and tried to publish my original manuscript, well…  I don’t think I would be nearly as confident as I am today.  Patience was definitely needed and thankfully, it’s one of the few things I have in abundance.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Eureka! This is the greatest idea EVER!

Since I started these insightful tutorials and helpful posts about the realm of creative writing there comes a time where some people just get stuck at the worst part, the beginning.  How does one come up with a unique idea?  Where do you go when you've got the concept?  Will your audience understand what you are trying to accomplish?  All this and more on this week's From the Mind of Dr. Legend!  (Special thanks to my fiancé for suggesting this topic)

                So, you're sitting in front of your computer monitor, staring at a blank word processing screen and thinking "what the hell am I doing?"  Don't worry; this happens to the best of us at time.  Writers conveniently call this "writer's block" but the point is, everyone goes through it at one time or another.  Sometimes long, other times short.  Getting discouraged is out of the question.  We all can empathize what you're going through and we're here to help.

                Coming up with a unique idea from scratch isn't as easy as it sounds and sometimes it is.  The guys at Mega64 came up with their entire premise and show concept by writing 8 words on a napkin and now they've blown up to unfathomable proportions since.  Agent M, on the other hand, was a long drawn out process that took me at least 6 months of planning to get the premise firmly planted and another 7+ years to actually write and I'm still stuck trying to sell this concept to potential agents and publishers.

                What usually drives a creative writing project from concept to beginning is usually an epiphany of some kind.  Let's try an exercise.  Sit back, close your eyes and think about all of the books you've read, movies you've seen, and games you've played.  With all of those individual memories swimming in your head, try and think about something that is unlike all of those individual ideas.

                ...  Keep'm closed.  This might take a while.

                Still stuck?  Don't worry about it.  Nowadays, all of the good and original concepts have been taken.  The internet age has exploded everyone's creative since the audience is now easier and cheaper to reach.  So, what do we do about it?  There are still some ways to get around outright plagiarizing other ideas so you can call them your own.

                For example, there is something I like to do called "the opposite effect".  Let's take a high fantasy world as our setting and our main character is a magician that is trying to find a hidden relic.  Pretty standard, right?  Well how about this then.  Instead of our main character casting spells, what if he absorbed them instead?  The guy/girl can't cast a spell to save their life yet they can't be harmed by them either?  Why is that?  Who knows!  But you've got a great jumping off point from there by taking something that is already engraved in the minds of readers and created something unique to compliment it.

                Another method to jump start your creative writing endeavor is to start a concept you're already familiar with.  I created the Agent M series while I was working as a volunteer police assistant at my university.  Writing a crime story just came natural to me.  While this might not work for every profession, it can work to make compelling characters.  My theory in life is that no one in this world is boring, it's just that some can tell better stories than others.  Even while working a number crunching job that steals a part of your soul with each punch in, that could be a great segue into something more.  It's always the quiet ones that surprise you.  You show me a computer analyst and I'll show you a White Knight itching to come forth.

                Remember to always look within yourself and you'll surely find something interesting to write about.  If not, make something completely outlandish and out of this world.  Either way, find something that makes you happy and keep at it.  You may not strike gold with your first swing (more on that story someday) but as long as you keep driving, the creative writing journey never ends.

HAVE AT THEE! - Thor Review

So after a long journey and a fantastic midnight premiere I have arrived to give the world my marvelous thoughts about the new Thor movie.

                Let me preface this by saying that I am a HUGE Thor fan.  His lore and stories throughout the years have been an amazing journey.  One of my favorites is the Ragnarok series which debuted many years back during the Avengers Disassembled arc.  I went into this movie thinking I was going to have fun, see come cool CG, and watch Thor come alive on the silver screen.

                And that's exactly what I got.  I have to give the writers credit.  They were able to take the Thor mythos and give us just enough to not only explain what was going on for new fans but also satiate the appetite of long time fans.  From the way he used his hammer to even the subtlest of mannerisms, Chris Hemsworth nailed it!

                The biggest surprise of the entire film was the level of humor involved.  It was almost to the point at which I would consider it to be an action comedy film (which isn't a bad thing considering).  Thor interacting with earthlings is absolutely priceless.  They completely covered the fact that he pretty much was a prick before being banished to the mortal realm.

                Sadly, there was but one disappointment that I suffered.  One injustice that was not delivered.  The one thing I wanted; nay, the ONLY thing I wanted to happen once during the entire film was for Thor to say his trademark catchphrase:

                "Have at thee!"

                And it didn't happen.  Did it take away from the movie experience?  Not in the slightest.  But for a long time fan of Thor it was kind of a letdown.  After watching the Hulk finish off the Abomination while saying "HULK SMASH" I thought it was almost a damn guarantee.  Alas, it was absent from the final cut of the film.  I hope the director has a damn good explanation for it when the Blu-ray comes out.

                There wasn't much else to complain about.  I honestly could have done without the Natalie Portman character all together.  Loki was in top form.  Anthony Hopkins was a brilliant Odin.  Minor flaws here or  there but nothing too horrendous.

                All in all, you should go see it whether you are a comic book fan or not.  Is it the best Marvel movie to date?  Not exactly.  While Thor was great, Iron Man was borderline perfect.  Still, everyone should go check out this movie.  You will not be disappointed.

Final Rating: A-

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2 - Retribution

Yeesh!  That's a mouthful.  I know this is a bit late since this game was released over a month ago but I thought since my attention has been somewhat monopolized by this title it was worthy of a review in this week's Wednesday Low-Down.

                Alright, I'll admit it.  I'm no stranger to miniature wargaming.  It all started back in 1999 when I attended a convention at the Westin Los Angeles Hotel.  I was sucked into the concept by a cunning salesman.  He assured me that this would be a fun way to spend my youthful afternoons.  After pooling in the $60 with my brother, we purchased the 3rd Edition Warhammer 40k starter set.

                And what a ride it's been since.

                So, after dueling on the harsh dice rolling battlefield, I became psyched to hear that there were going to be Warhammer 40k PC games in the works.  Being an RTS (Real Time Strategy for the less endowed) nut and aficionado (go ahead and challenge me in C&C: Generals...  I'll make you cry), I knew this would be an instant classic.  I've played a few of the previous titles in the past but none of them drew me in quite like Dawn of War 2 - Retribution.

                First of all, people can rejoice.  Unlike most RTS or RTT expansions, Retribution is a standalone title.  There is no need to purchase previous versions or even play them to understand what is going on.  The modes available are fairly simple and straightforward.  Campaign nurtures you into the game by providing a series of missions that does not overpower beginners to the franchise/genre.   There are 6 armies to choose from: Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines, Eldar, Tyranids, Orkz, and the Imperial Guard .

                Multiplayer is where this game truly shines.  Being a part of the Steam network automatically connects players to thousands of potential teammates/opponents.  Skirmish mode allows for various forms of competition including Annihilation and Victory point conquest for players to do battle in 1v1, 2v2, or 3v3 matches.   A unique feature to the genre is The Last Stand where a group of three heroes take on wave after wave of enemies in order to achieve a high score, earns experience, and set a record on the leader boards.

                So, after doing that dissection, I bet you're asking "what makes this game fun?"  Well, I hate to admit it but only fans of the RTS or RTT genre will get a kick out of the Retribution experience.   The campaign is furious and somewhat fast paced (unusual for the genre) so the ability to quickly respond as the tides of battle turn is a must.  Multiplayer is frantic and enjoyable.  The modes are simple and easy to understand while the maps are cleverly designed so that one area does not have a distinct advantage over the other.

                Sadly the game comes with a few flaws.  Multiplayer matchmaking takes a bit of time (up to 20 minutes in some cases) and the level of current competition is fierce that may dissuade newcomers from jumping on board.  Also, the single player campaign is essentially the same for every race.  While the story differs, every mission objective remains the same.  If you're looking for that deep and enthralling story experience, Retribution is not for you.  But, after the campaign is cleared with one race, it becomes easier to do it with a second is you wish to branch out and become a versatile army player.

                As far as offering my "Official Seal of Approval" I unfortunately have to balk on that.  This is only due to the fact that this game is catered to a specific audience.  But who knows?  Maybe you are an RTS gamer and haven't discovered it yet.  Steam is currently offering a free demo of Dawn of War 2.  It'll get you into the basics of the game without overwhelming you.  My advice is to give it a shot.  It's definitely worth an hour of your time regardless of what types of games you enjoy.  For core RTS and RTT fans, what are you doing still reading this?  Go pick it up, find me, extend a challenge, and prepare for extermination!

Final Rating: B+