Friday, April 29, 2016

Rain and Music

Last week, I blogged about spring's amazing weather and today it's rain/snowing and chilly. Coincidence? I think not.

But enough about my weather woes. Let's talk music!

I normally write with whatever's on in the background (mostly silence or coffee shop music), unless I actually remember to turn on my writing playlist. Said playlist is either the compilation of movie soundtracks on my hard drive, or the Joe Hisashi station on Pandora (he's the guy who did most of the soundtracks for the Studio Ghibli movies).

Over the last couple of days, it's been the latter. And let me tell you, this music is not only fantastic for getting me in the creative mood, it's also wonderful to just listen to as I sit here and nurse my tea and watch the rain come down.

I know everyone has their own habits when it comes to noise while writing or focusing on something, so I'm curious about yours! Tell me in the comments or on our Facebook page.

Emily is hoping to avoid leaving her blanket cocoon for the rest of the day except when she needs more tea. She's also hoping it won't actually snow that much because she's so ready for spring.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Game Review: Fallout 4

I don't generally review games, but Fallout 4 is an excellent game which inspires and excites me as a storyteller. Let's get this started:

First off, I never played a Fallout game before Fallout 3 was released. I loved that game and played several-dozen hours of it, until the updates started to bog the game down on my PS3. Then I got Fallout New Vegas. Probably at least 200 hours of gameplay, all trophies earned, all story-lines complete, all DLC conquered. You could say I REALLY liked that game (and would play through it again if I had time to focus on more than one game at a time).

Then I started to see reviews of Fallout 4 shortly before release day (I preordered it and got the season pass pretty early on because I love the franchise). I got worried based on some of the things I read, but without seeing any spoilers, I was still excited.

A few people complained about the new settlement feature, saying they just ripped off Minecraft. I'd never played Minecraft, so I didn't know any better. I ignored that, and then moved on. Some glitches hurt the game for some players, including myself later on down the line, but all in all, my first play through felt like I got my money's worth from the game.

For those who don't know, Fallout takes place about two hundred years after a nuclear war with Communist China. In Fallout 4, you emerge from a Vault (bunker/habitat used to protect mankind from the fallout) to find the world is a mess. Raiders, feudal gangs, cities built up from scrap, and in Fallout 4, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts attempting to rebuild society so that it can return to pre-war glory.

As with Fallout New Vegas, there are four factions that can be joined in Fallout 4, and my goal is to see where each of those options takes the story. I know some people haven't played through this, so I'm not going to run through any spoilers, but what I will say is that the Minutemen play through is amazing. It gave me, as a character in this world, a sense of hope and accomplishment for the future of the Commonwealth. I racked up more than 5 full days (so over a hundred hours) on this one character, and I'm still looking forward to DLC to get me back into this character's life.

I'm in my second play through right now, and just like last time, I find myself struggling to make decisions. In this game, decisions that are made can block off other options. Leveling up the character requires some thought, too, because taking bonuses in one place may help with immediate problems, but sometimes there's a long-term goal that needs to be met, leaving me, as the player, to figure out whether I want a health bonus right now or an interaction boost that can help me out for hours later on.

Certain missions, too, require commitment to one side or the other. Because there's a cary limit on items, sometimes I have to decide whether I want to haul around the twelve typewriters in my inventory for use as parts in my settlements, or drop them so I can upgrade my armor and/or sell weapons I don't need for money I desperately require.

And then, as mentioned above, there's the settlements. With the second DLC, so many new options have been added. I can take a scrap of land and plant food, build wells, a five-story "skyscraper" with a basketball court on the roof, and an arena where my settlers can fight monsters, hostile raiders, and each other.

There are a few nitpicks I could complain about, but my only real disappointment (something that I think was a real mistake and oversight) is that they removed the Karma system. In previous games, going all the way back to the original Fallout, character decisions, like sparing someone's life or stealing, played a roll in how people perceived the player character. Faction Reputation was added in New Vegas, and that balancing act really helped me to get immersed in the story and the character. I wish it existed here, but based on the scope and other decisions that had to be made to make the game work, I do understand why it's not there. That being said, I still think leaving it out took away a critical part of what makes Fallout special (yes, I know other RPGs have similar mechanics, but Fallout handled it well and made it important to the story).

Overall, I give this game 4 out of 5. Not perfect, but a great game in my book and worth my time and money.

Giles is a gamer. Not avid in the way many gamers can be, but it's been something he's enjoyed for twenty five years. In the future, he'd like to review more games, but that requires finding/making more time for games. Stick around, that could happen.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Kill the Hero, Forget the Journey

No one can escape the Hero’s Journey. If it’s not in the books we read, it’s in the movies we watch. It’s lived out by people in real life, for Pete’s sake. As a narrative pattern, it’s universal.

Or is it?

I’ll be the first to admit that the novel I’m preparing to query is straight up Hero’s Journey. Call to adventure, mentors, total despair, atonement…I could tell you exactly how each of these features is represented by plot and/or characters in my book. The funny part is that my approach to writing – pantsing in the beginning that leads to plotting in the end – meant I didn’t realize I was writing a Hero’s Journey story until I was almost done with it.

So, why say “Kill the Hero, Forget the Journey”? Honestly, I think many writers focus too much on what their writing is “supposed” to be. Oh, yes, I’m including myself in this statement. There’s a huge group of writing snobs who believe the Hero’s Journey is the only way to plot out a book. In contrast to them, however, are more writing snobs who think the use of myths in storytelling is like teaching PhD students with a flannelgraph.

No matter what you write or how you write it, someone will be ready to tell you it’s wrong. Did your male hero rescue a female in distress? Wrong. Did your female hero rescue a male in distress? Wrong. Young, beardless mentor? Wrong. A character that doesn’t change? Wrong!

The time we have to write and be creative is too short to worry about how to please everyone. Just because everyone else jumps on the trendy bandwagon doesn’t mean you need to. Case in point: My new work-in-progress doesn’t follow the Hero’s Journey (*gasp*). I worried for a while about having a flat instead of circular character arc*. Does this even exist? Won’t everyone expect an actual hero on this journey? The answer was a resounding, “Eh, who cares?” I killed off the idea of my great, changing hero and set to work creating an adventure instead of a quest.

If someone tries to tell you that the only arc is the Hero’s Journey, feel free to get snobby right back and inform them of their error. Maybe you could even diagram it for them on a flannelgraph.

Michelle is currently trying to figure out how to describe [(X-Men: Origins * #squadgoals) + (Mad Max  - monster trucks + teenagers) + snark] in a query letter. It’s harder than it sounds.   

*I only say “circular” because in most diagrams, the HJ is portrayed as a circle. It’s drawn like this because the start and end point of a character’s development is always some kind of “comfort zone”. However, for the plot and character development to be a true Hero’s Journey, these beginning and end points cannot and should not be the same. In reality, the circle should be a spiral or some kind of 180° voyage. A “flat” character development diagram, in my mind, is more of an arrow moving at a small angle – an indication of little to no major change. YES, I KNOW I’m overthinking it. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Springtime for Emer!

I know I'm going to curse it by writing this, but I don't know what else to talk about today, so: I love Spring. Not as much as I love Fall, but it's still nice, especially here in Colorado (you know, when we're not getting buried by last-minute snow storms).

It's not yet too hot to just sit in the sun and read for a few hours, which is so relaxing. Just remember the sunscreen (I know, it smells gross, but it's really important; trust me).

More outdoors events are starting to happen, from family BBQs to festivals and markets. Actually, I think my local farmer's market starts up pretty soon and I'm excited! There's always at least one vendor with absolutely delicious varieties of goat cheese.

I can actually start to wear my awesome nerd t-shirts outside again without covering them with a sweater or sweatshirt. I like showing off my nerd shirts. Some of them are pretty epic. Not that I'm bragging or anything.

Basically, I'm kind of psyched for the return of warm weather (but kind of dreading the 90s of summer, ick) and hoping we're not going to get another massive blizzard as soon as I post this. Because that would be my luck, wouldn't it? So cross your fingers for some more nice, mild sunshine!

Emily isn't at all sorry if you now have "Springtime for Hilter" from The Producers stuck in your head. She might have picked the title of this post just for that very reason. Now, if you'll excuse her, she's going to go set up her family's hammock and read until the sun goes down.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Get Inspired, Don't Steal

If someone's writing or ideas inspire you as an artist, that's good. It means you're searching for inspiration and taking advantage of it. When you take those ideas, do nothing to change them, then claim them as your own, that's bad.

If I write a sci-fi western, I can easily say I was inspired by Firefly and Cowboy Bebop, two of my favorite shows. But that doesn't mean I'm ripping off the ideas. Of course, if asked, I would admit that those two shows influenced some of the concepts I came up with, but it's all setting. Now, on the other hand, if I use similar character names, dialect and slang choices, and story arcs, that's where it gets dangerously close to plagiarism, if not blatant theft.

People who create art take pride in what they do. Many of the creators I've met get super excited over the concept that something they've created has inspired someone else to create something new (ish since there's nothing new, technically). Themes, settings, basic high concepts, those are building blocks found everywhere in fiction. When a writer gets an idea and runs with it, making it completely different from the work that inspired them, that's awesome.

I'm not a legal expert, and this isn't legal advice. All I can say is that, it's important to find inspiration and make something amazing. But make sure it's noticeably different from the original work. Story arcs shouldn't match up, character names and traits should be as different as possible, and putting the story in a new setting can go a long way toward making your project completely your own.

Tons of authors have done this over the years, inspired by Tolkien (Warcraft, Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks to name a few) or Star Trek (basically anyone who saw an episode of the show and then went on to write science fiction), and no one is accusing those authors of STEALING from anyone (at least that I know of off the top of my head). But that's because they saw the inspiration (a vast universe of creatures and powers and opportunities for stories to HAPPEN) and made something that they loved.

As we've said before, we don't know a lot of the details of any of the cases we've discussed on the show. We're not passing judgement on anyone who is getting accused of plagiarism. What we're saying, as Beyond the Trope, is that it's important to be careful. And respectful. It's the best way to create without worry.

Giles Hash is a blogger, Y/A Sci-Fi writer, and brewer of home-made beer. He's passionate about stories, new ideas, and enjoying other people's crafts and art, especially when they get all due credit.

Monday, April 18, 2016

We Have Something For You

You guys. I’m just bursting with something I really want to tell you, but I’m not allowed (Giles and Emily would get mad if I spilled the beans too soon). So, instead of telling you everything we worked on over the weekend, I’ll just talk about our website.

We’ve had some website edits in mind for, oh, six months or so. On Saturday, we finally sat down and kicked our ideas around. Better late than never, right? Our “old” website content was relatively basic, but it was useful. It did what it needed to do. After receiving some feedback from our fantastic friends and listeners, we decided a few bells and whistles might work in everyone’s favor.

Here are the fancy new features we came up with just for you:

Top menu navigation that leads you to the archive on Stitcher as well as teases the next month’s worth of upcoming episodes. Now you don’t have to wander all over the place to find our backlog – just go to “Episodes”.
 Writing resources! I’m allowing myself an exclamation point because we’re excited about this one. This idea actually came from a new friend who asked if she could post links to our author interviews on a con website. It got us to thinking…we have so many interviews and so little organization. Why not put together a list of all the authors we’ve talked to? The result is an “Author Interviews” page that leads to every author interview we’ve done – and even I was amazed by how hefty the list is.
 Last but not least, we also have pages for “Episodes About Writing” and “Writing Resources”/”Recommended Websites”. When we run across sites that encourage and equip writers to hone their craft, we’ll add them to the list.

If you think we're missing any helpful sites, let us know. We’d love to add them to our bank of resources.

Michelle spends her free time taking pictures of her dog, drinking tea, and writing down snarky things.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Joy of Kid's Movies

Every now and then, I get an urge to binge on children's movies. Disney, Dreamworks, independent animation, all of it. Today is one of those days. I want to pop in some classic Disney, followed by How to Train Your Dragon, then some Studio Ghibli, Song of the Sea, The Lego Movie, and then maybe some newer Disney stuff, like Big Hero 6 or Monsters University. I can't help it--I just love animated movies, especially movies marketed for kids.

So, while I'm enjoying my children's movie binge and waiting for the bad weather to start up this weekend, I'll just leave a little reminder here: sometimes we all need to get back in touch with our inner child and re-experience the wonder of the world.

Letting yourself enjoy kid's movies and snuggle stuffed animals, or get super excited about something, or go somewhere you loved as a kid--like the zoo or the aquarium--can be super cathartic and help replenish your creative well. At least it does for me. Then again, maybe the alone time of kid's movie binges and stuffed animals is what's really useful for me. But I'm going to pretend it's the movies and the child-like wonder, because I can.

There's something special about trying to see the world through the eyes of a kid again. You tend to see a lot of things you haven't noticed before--which can be fantastic for us creative types!

Emily is totally going to take a mental health day and pop in every Disney movie she can find in her apartment. And probably sing along with the songs. And snuggle her Toothless plush. Because it's that kind of day.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Back Into the Routine

For weeks, now, I've been slacking. Not just on writing, though that's actually moving better than it was a month ago. I've been skimping on my physical health.

See, getting sick is a rare thing for me. Especially getting sick enough to make me want to do nothing more than sit around and pass out. To keep me away from good TV, video games, great books, and even junk food? Yeah, I was sick.

With other life-issues to distract my mind, I've been trying to make sure that I focus on mental health and my writing routine. The side result of this is a lack of going to the gym, eating healthily, and keeping to a regular sleeping schedule.

Sleeping schedule may be my biggest struggle, and it's something I'm continually working on, but the rest of my physical health is a matter of setting the proper routine. For me.

Step one required walking away from the candy dish at work. I managed to do this successfully for a year and a half, with the rare exception of having to take aspirin, which I NEVER do on an empty stomach. I fell out of the habit a few months back and have struggled to keep candy out of my gullet ever since. But I'm a week "clean" from the stuff, and I feel much better. Probably because occasionally, I've managed to get my hands on some cookies or donuts (which my bosses sometimes bring for the employees to enjoy...and once I bought for myself). Yes, the probably donuts have to go away, especially because the carbs aren't as good for my brain as something healthy might be.

Step two is getting back to the gym. Yes, the gym. I enjoy working out. Not to get muscular, and definitely not to drop any weight (I'm at a healthy weight), but to get my blood flowing, turn fat into muscle (lean muscle, not bulging), and get my brain to shut down.

Step three would probably involve completely overhauling WHAT I eat instead of just paying attention to how much, and eliminating beer. But let's not go crazy.

Giles is a writer, exerciser, and beer enthusiast. In a few weeks, his life MAY be back to normal, but don't hold your breath.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Martian vs. The Martian

Yesterday after I finished reading The Martian, I convinced my roomie and her fiancĂ© to borrow the movie and watch it with me. If you haven't seen it or read the book yet, don't worry – there aren't any spoilers here.

So, first, I’d like to officially add The Martian to my list of Books That Actually Translated Well Into Movies. As always, there were cuts and changes, but most of them made sense for the different format. The screenwriting did a fantastic job of mimicking the same tone and suspense as the novel. The characters on the screen were faithful to how they were written* and the acting was superb.

The Martian, if you haven’t read or seen it yet, is like a MacGyver survival story set on Mars. But, thanks to the extensive research by author Andy Weir, readers almost feel like they’re reading a true-life biography of actual events. Weir’s a total nerd (as we SFF writers tend to be), and he doesn’t use magic science to get Watney out of trouble. The tension is real, people.

The book is so good I’m jealous. I love that Weir purposefully didn’t physically describe most of his characters. I mean, we get that Martinez is Mexican and Johanssen is small. The Chinese team is –duh– made up of Chinese people. Besides that, though, the author lets us fill in the blanks. I. Am. A. Fan. His character development is a thing worthy of praise, and his writing style carries you from beginning to end without letting you down. Weir mastered the cycle of things going well to things plummeting into hopelessness. I don’t want to spoil any of the plot, so I’ll just say it’s harrowing. HARROWINGLY AWESOME**.

Now it’s time for the book vs. movie spiel, which is going to be tricky if I don’t want to spoil anything for those people living under rocks. Hmm…I think the thing that stands out to me the most is the level of Oh Sh** that each of Watney’s problems presents. The movie needed to be quick – 2 hours and 24 minutes isn’t enough time to explore every single catastrophe. I think the action on the screen can get away with it because Matt Damon is brilliant and CG is crazy cool. BUT the book did a much better job of freaking me the heck out and making me certain I was reading a book that would kill the protagonist.

If you enjoy science-stuffed thrillers, I definitely recommend both the book and the movie. As for me, if anyone ever wants to put me in outer space, I will say Yes without hesitation.

Just make sure you send me with duct tape.

Things that make normal people afraid to go into outer space are things that make Michelle excited about it.

*even if “Venkat” became “Vincent”. I mean…1. Why change his first name? 2. Weir doesn’t  give hair/eye/skin color for anyone in the book, so I can’t really complain that they switched an Indian guy for a black guy. 3. But still. Da heck was wrong with “Venkat”?

**It’s a thing. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Being Creative Outside Writing

You know that time when you would rather do almost anything other than write? I'm kind of in that place right now. I have stories I need to write and finish, but I'm just having trouble getting myself motivated to work on them.

I'd much rather be doing something more tactile right now. I've been playing around with jewelry making since AnomalyCon (when I made a bracelet out of gear charms and jump rings, and a matching collar on a piece of a ribbon), and that's been fun. There's something refreshing about working with my hands and creating something three-dimensional instead of just a bunch of words on a page.

Don't get me wrong, it's also satisfying to look back a polished story and realize that you wrote it and it's fun to read. But sometimes that just isn't enough to sate the creative thirst, I guess. Sometimes I (and I know other writers who do this, too) need to add in a bit of something else, some other medium entirely, to sort of replenish the desire the create.

What other creative hobbies do you have outside your main one, whether that's writing or not? I'm always looking for new things to try and I'd love to hear your ideas!

Emily has quite a few random craft supplies lying around from her various dabbling eras. So far she's tried digital photography, acrylic painting, papercrafts, and jewelry making. Next on the list, she'd like to explore baking, metal stamping or wood burning, and some sort of sculpture. She might have a creative commitment problem.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Dead Week?

I hate missing blog posts, but I'll be honest, here: my head's not in the game today. I'm still recovering from being sick (don't know WHY I'm still feeling ill, but what are you going to do?), and I'm trying to prep for recording days over the next three months.

Oh yeah, and my car got stolen. Again. Locked and everything, some criminal decided to break in and take it away from me.

As you can imagine, I'm more than a little preoccupied. There are so many things I need to keep track of right now that I'm going to limit my blog post today. We're making some focused improvements to the show and website over the next few months, and we're going to continue blogging (hopefully with a new blogger soon!), but today, this is not a high priority.

I hope you all understand. The good news is, it gives you more time to check out our guest from this week's episode. Maybe read some of his stories. Michael R. Underwood was a great interview, and we could've talked to him for HOURS. So go check him out. He's a much better investment for your time today.

Giles is more than a little angry right now. He's also distracted. So thank you for understanding his plight.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Breathing is Nice

I'm writing this post as a reminder to myself as much as anything. We as creative people have to remember to breathe. Giles wrote on Wednesday that he's taking up a new project. Michelle is worrying over the ending of her book. I had hoped to have a rough draft of a novel by now, but instead I have a short story without the content call I was writing it for (the magazine shut down while I was working on it), a half-finished comic pitch due first thing next week, and three and a half chapters on the novel.

I think when you're creative, there's a tendency to take on too much or obsess over things until you're stressed out. And, while sometimes more than one project can be a good thing, it's important to take a step back and breathe. Give yourself the space to just exist for a few minutes. Constantly going and hitting the ground hard is only going to burn you out eventually. There has to be a balance between "butt in chair, fingers on keyboard" and "I'm going to stay in bed all day and not face the world." That balance looks different for everyone, but it's still an important thing.

So here's your reminder to breathe and take a break when you start feeling overwhelmed. It's okay. I promise.

Emily is working on breathing and taking things one piece at a time. It's not easy, but it's better than walking around in an overwhelmed daze all the time.