Brief Star Wars Review – No Spoilers

So I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night. It was fun fun. I figured I would post my initial thoughts, leaving out any spoilers.

Overall, I thought it was an excellent addition to the Star Wars library. It was far more in line with the original movies than the prequels, which, of course, everyone appreciates. I do have a couple criticisms about the writing, but since those are spoilery, or at least spoiler-adjacent, I will have to save them for now. (I may do another post in a week or two with more details)

First, I’ll say that unlike the prequels, the acting was superb all around. The new stars in particular, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley, did a great job. I was a little surprised about the tone of the film – it was a little darker than I was expecting – but there were plenty of comedic moments, and the cast, especially Boyega and Harrison Ford, were great with their timing and delivery here.

The visuals were also great. Here again, much more like the originals than the prequels. While the creators used CGI throughout, I didn’t find much of it annoying, distracting, or unrealistic. And they did make fairly extensive use of puppets, giving the movie the same kind of gritty, realistic feel of the originals. I found the battle scenes to be pretty stunning, and the landscapes visually pleasing.

One of the most important aspects of this installation was the return to focus on the main characters as the drivers of the story, rather than politics and trade regulations and that sort of shit that ruined the prequels, especially episode I. Okay sure, the bad acting, shitty writing, annoying characters and visual effects contributed too. But still.

So, a fun, compelling movie, done well (with some flaws I may talk about in the future). But it’s hard to say that this was a life-changing movie. Hoping to recapture the magic of the originals that we all saw as kids is a bit of a tough task. Much of that is probably nostalgia, anyway. But I’m glad this happened, and I look forward to more.

Rising Tension

As we near the end of 2015, and I reflect back, one of the things that stands out in my mind about the year is that I was pretty disappointed in many of the books I read. Not everything I read this year was published in the last twelve months, but I’d say that over half of my selections came out in the last three years. I’m not sure if my standards are getting higher as I study writing more, or if the industry is getting weaker in general, or if I just picked the wrong books through bad luck.

I did find a few books that I liked. I always enjoy Brandon Sanderson, and Firefight was one of my favorite reads this year. Mark Lawrence is another one of my top authors, and Liar’s Key was a solid installment, though the books from the Red Queen trilogy aren’t as good as those in the Broken Empire. I found Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades (2014) and Naomi Novik’s Uprooted to be quality reads as well.

But I tried quite a few others that I didn’t like, some of which I found so weak I didn’t even bother finishing them. While they all had their own flaws, I think the biggest commonality among those stinkers was a failure to elevate tension throughout.

Because I’m a fledgling writer, I feel obliged to use a silly metaphor here. I like to think of creating, maintaining, and elevating tension in a (long-form) story as the act of blowing up a balloon. Take a deep breath right before you start, push it all into the balloon, and repeat. There will be short breaks for you (and the reader) to catch a breath, but make sure you never let any air leak out during the process. From start to finish, the balloon should only grow in size, until it pops at the end.

Some of the weakest books I’ve read recently either failed to work at building tension early in the story, or even worse, blew the balloon up part of the way and then let a bunch of air leak out halfway (or 1/4 of the way) into the book. I really think this kills the story.

Yeah, I’m sure some people don’t mind reading stories that meander around and eventually sorta just wander into the point. But I (usually) don’t, and I think most readers of genre fiction feel the same way. And I’m still surprised when I find traditionally published (meaning Big 5) genre novels that fail at this. Yet I still see it a lot, even among books that are nominated for awards.

I Lost at NaNoWriMo…Again

And you know what? I don’t mind a bit.

Just before November, I posted my thoughts on NaNoWriMo. I participated in the event once again this year, as I have the last few years. But I never seriously expected to reach 50,000 words, nor did I really try to do so. I prefer to write at my own pace, and that pace doesn’t lead to writing 50k words in a single month.

But that’s okay. I’m confident I’ll finish my current project, which sports the working title Daughters of Darkness. I wrote 22,572 words in the month of November, and up to this point, the work totals about 43,300 words. I’m expecting the first draft to come in around 125,000 words when it’s done. That’s long for a (potential) debut novel in general, but I write epic fantasy, which has a different standard for length compared to other genres.

Here’s the chart of my progress from the NaNoWriMo website:

nano_chart

You can see I hit a little snag as we got to Thanksgiving. Excessive quantities of wine and turkey are not conducive to writing a lot of words, let me tell you.

Anyway, I’m still hoping to finish the first draft in March, with the goal of querying agents on the book in early Summer.