Category Archives: Geeky

Character Focus: Guardians of the Galaxy


by Heather Harris Brady

As someone who’s spent a lot more time in the classics than the comics, I was so surprised by this movie! I’ve now watched it twice in the last two weeks. It offers writers a lot of lessons, in my opinion, so it’s well worth your time. (There are spoilers below, so run and watch it if that bothers you!)

Here are a few of the things I think it does particularly well:

High Emotional Stakes

This movie is littered with characters who have high emotional stakes tied to the outcome, from Nova guards all the way up to the main cast. This is food for thought when you look at your own manuscript – how can you amp up the stakes and make sure they’re tied to the resolution? There are some other interesting twists as well within each character.

There is one thing they all share as loners: as they come to care more and more for each other any future danger is going to cost them that much more in exchange, ramping up the stakes as they go.

Starlord/Peter Quinn: Although he appears to have less at stake than most (his primary motivation is selfish – money, glory and whatever girls he can pick up along the way) as he grows into a leader we learn his father is an unknown entity. So as the story develops he might end up having the highest stakes of all and we just don’t know it yet.

Gamora: She’s trying to escape the violent life laid out for her and her father’s clear preference has turned her sister into her greatest threat. Despite that, she’s willing to put aside her own needs (selling the infinity stone could give her freedom) in order to save people she doesn’t even know. She also tries to get her sister to change her ways, to no avail (at least for now). Another nice angle: despite his attempts she’s not going to just fall at Peter’s feet like the other “starry eyed waifs”. Her love is a prize that will need to be won and even she may not know what that will take.

Drax: His primary motivation is to avenge his wife and daughter’s murder, whatever it takes. This could have been a flat character but the writers added some intellectual twists in that Drax is very literal. As the story develops we watch him grow, hinting that there may be limits in his quest for revenge if it endangers the other guardians. He works to understand his companions and their friendship, even trying to get a handle on metaphors. He progresses from nearly slitting Gamora’s throat to reaching out to comfort Rocket at the finale.

Rocket: Small, mighty and brainy it is so fun to watch Rocket try and control his aggression as the group creates problems all around him. I especially loved the “I didn’t ask to get made” scene, where again we see a deep emotional pool under the ripples on the surface. Always the wisecracking, callous adventurer with the chip on his shoulder, the finale breaks him and we see how much he cares underneath.

Groot: I saved Groot for last because he’s so fascinating. An ambulatory tree, Groot is the only one who might be said to have superpowers. There are little vignettes where we get glimpses of these hidden talents – he makes a flower for a little girl around the midpoint, these also move toward the forefront over the last third. Although limited to “I am Groot”, Rocket can parse different meanings intuitively. In the end, when Groot says one different thing “We are Groot”, and sacrifices himself to save the rest of the group, his silent strength is both a balm and a tearjerker.

Other highlights:

  • All the characters have lots of room to grow further (even Groot, literally)
  • The story revolves around the infinity stone but the characters don’t rely on magic or superpowers – they have what we all have for the most part
  • Watch for the emotional commitment from characters with lesser screen time: Nova guards/citizens, Nebula, the ravagers – it’s there!

There are a few nitpicky pop-culture things that bugged me a little bit, but overall this is an amazing story and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Now I wonder what else I could learn about novel writing from comics 😉

Update: I learned shortly after this post that Guardians is a surprise Writer’s Guild nomination for best adapted screenplay (writers James Gunn & Nicole Perlman), and I came across this article on Nicole Perlman

Now I love it even more!












Believing the Impossible

Although I’ve been a writer all my life, from stapling my own little encyclopedias together during snow days to high school newspaper and on from there. However, I’m only about four years into my journey as a fiction writer. During that time I’ve come to a good many realizations, one of which is – my mind works against me A LOT, constantly questioning and saying “THAT could never happen”.

So, to teach it a lesson, I’ve been working on a speculative fiction story as a NANOWRIMO fling. It’s got magic, a dual world ruled by women and many other exciting, potentially wonderful things. But even magic has to have some rules or there wouldn’t be consequences – you’d be able to “magik” your way out of every bad decision.

Luckily there are lots of amazing writers in this realm who’ve shared tips online, and I’m only going to list a few here, in case you’re considering your own magical journey – or maybe you’re in the middle of one right now!

Character-Driven Hero’s Journey
Brandon Sanderson’s First Law of Magic
Brandon Sanderson’s Second Law of Magic
Brandon Sanderson’s Third Law of Magic

That First Page & Call Me Ishmael


by Heather Harris Brady

I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately, just not on this blog! Right now I’m preparing for #PitchWars (for more info see Brenda Drake’s fab blog here), with my new YA contemporary. Since I have to submit a query and the first chapter, I’ve been scouring the internet to keep up on what’s working and what’s going on. In the course of my online adventures I can across several spots I wanted to bring to your attention.

Any writer knows the first page has to be amazing, easier said than done of course, and way subjective but still. It seems like the more first pages you read the more you get an ear for them, a little like developing an ear for music I suppose. I was so happy to find the thatfirstpage tumblr!


You can browse through a wide selection of first pages, all streamlined for your reading pleasure. I really hope the author keeps up with this tumblr, because it’s such a great resource for writers.

Then, on Terri Eichholz’s Engage Their Minds she featured Call Me Ishmael.


The site features an 800 number that goes straight to voice mail. Readers are asked to leave the name of their favorite book and a message about what it means to them or how it’s changed their life. I have so many I could call the line every day for a year I think! But seriously, the site is a great way to renew your love of books and what makes them special to a reader. ‘Cause that’s why we’re all doing this right?

Top photo: Mark Knobil, via Flickr/Wikicommons CC license

Apps Part II


by Heather Harris Brady

In my last post we talked about using online apps to be more productive. I’m going to get a little more in-depth today on using apps while you’re writing.

I write a lot of historical fiction (using my ipad), so I’m constantly jumping around to fact-check. I use UX Write as my word processor, partly because it was cheap and partly because it can deal with .docx files.

UX Write also has a nice working relationship with Dropbox. As you can see from the above graphic, when I’m in UX Write I can choose my working files (under ipad) or jump into Dropbox where I store my historical research.


Inside Dropbox I organize my research by writing project, noted above as Missfits 2 research. It’s worth noting that I do not ever save manuscripts or writing-to-be-published on any of the cloud services because I have a deep-seated skepticism of their privacy policies.

In addition to my Dropbox research library I also create mood boards and character inspiration boards on Pinterest ( Anything that isn’t conducive to either Dropbox or Pinterest I save in kippt (

I’m not receiving any kind of compensation for any of the services listed. They just happen to work for me, maybe they can help you out as well.

Getting more done with online apps


by Heather Harris Brady

Whether you’re a writer, a teacher, a student we all need more time, amirite? When it comes to finding reasons not to write I suspect we’re all experts. Not that we need any help when there are so many things to do as a writer these days – build the platform/online presence, stalk research agents, participate in critique groups, on and on. I can say that I’m working on it at least, trying to find ways to streamline things to make as much time as possible to procrastinate write. Here are few (mostly free) online tools worth a look, besides Google Drive:

Images from quotes

Picture editing and social media photo adjustments



To Do Lists

If you’ve found something great let us know in the comments! Happy Valentine’s Day readers –

Photo credit: This is a press photograph from the George Grantham Bain collection, which was purchased by the Library of Congress in 1948. According to the library, there are no known restrictions on the use of these photos.

Middle Grade Crafts: Bookmarks

bookmark1_mgmysteries    bookmark2_mgmysteries

by Heather Harris Brady

Since it’s the holidays I thought I would post a quick little craft middle graders can easily make for their teachers or other special people this holiday. These bookmarks are stretchy, so they will work on many sizes of books. You can use any regular elastic, but the fold-over type comes in lots of pretty colors and it’s shiny on one side.

Here’s what you need (for each one):

  • 20″ of fold-over elastic (You can find this on etsy or ebay, usually for less than .79 cents per yard)
  • Decorations: We used paper flowers, buttons, beads and rhinestones.


  1. Fold the elastic in half, shiny side out, and tie a knot in the top about 1.5 inches down.
  2. Arrange your decorations. The ones shown are little stacks of paper flowers, and a button on top.
  3. Sew through the stack of decorations with a needle and thread, making several passes through to hold it securely.
  4. Find the rough center on one side of the bookmark. Sew the decoration onto the bookmark, again making several passes through to hold it securely. Cut and knot the thread.
  5. We finished them with a few heat-set rhinestones, but if you don’t have a rhinestone setter you can sew or glue on more beads, sequins, etc.

Are you smarter than a 5th grader? Using Google Earth.


by Heather Harris Brady

I could actually change this post to second grader, because second graders are tooling around Google Earth too! Regardless, one of the first assignments elementary ipad users receive is to find their house on Google Earth. Authors can use it to enrich their user experiences by mapping the travels of story characters.

In my lit trip, above, I have travel paths marked for my two main characters, as well as a ship that plays a key part in the story. On key destinations I have embedded photos of special items my characters encountered along the way:


If you click on the pushpins you can see the images. You can download and view my entire lit trip here. You do need to have installed Google Earth first though.

If you’d like video tutorials on any of these IT posts please send me a request in the comments. I’m keeping them short on purpose, but I can always add more!

Are you smarter than a 5th grader? Augmented reality.


by Heather Harris Brady

If you took my hint earlier and downloaded the Layar app (Android, iphone/ipad), then you see this when you view my blog through the app. Hidden stuff! Pretty cool right? You can see a little slideshow with some little factoids about me, and a few other tidbits. (This is a photo I took of my ipad viewing my blog.)

Teachers have started using augmented reality in the classroom to embed richer information in graphics, posters, etc. Writers, of course, can use it as I have here – or you can use it to dress up your promotional posters, book covers, – pretty much anything! I’ve just done a simple demonstration here, but you can get crazy with videos that open up out of the page, etc.

The question becomes, how then, to make this magic happen. Well to do that you need two things:

  1. a creation site to allow you to build the hidden elements, and
  2. a viewer that will allow other people to see them through their phones, web cams and computer cams. Future web browsers will likely have this feature built in, but for now you have to download a viewer.

There are several easy, augmented reality options including Layar and Aurasma. Most work the same way:

  1. Choose a trigger image. For the example above I used my blog header.
  2. Add overlays/auras.
  3. Assign actions to each overlay through pictures, web links, mailto links, etc.

The scripting is done for you behind the scenes, and includes handy features like the slideshow I used above. The free versions of these products are fully functional but ad-supported.

Are you smarter than a 5th grader? Voice narration.


by Heather Harris Brady

We all know there are many good reasons to read your work out loud, you can get a good feel for the flow, catch mistakes, etc. If you want to multitask and have someone read it to you while you’re busy with something else than you might want to check out Natural Reader. There is a free, limited version or you can pay a bit to get more voices.

Teachers and students use this utility to explain lessons, add voice to projects, etc. If you want to get fancy set up Natural Reader in conjunction with iMovie or another recording device!

Are you smarter than a 5th grader? Augmenting a writer’s reality.

by Heather Harris Brady

This year both of my children received school-issued ipads for the first time. Last night my sophomore son sat on the couch with his, combining atoms to make table salt, while my fifth-grade daughter logged into her Google drive account to finish a writing assignment. We all know writing’s a tough business. Most of us hold down at least one other job, and raise a family besides, so keeping up with technology seems like just another thing to keep us away from writing. However, I would argue that if we push it aside for “later” we’re missing out on a lot of opportunities. Plus, we are deliberating removing ourselves from the real-world experiences of kids today.

My next few posts are going to focus on the technology showing up in classrooms today, and how it might work with a writer’s lifestyle. Can you find the technology hidden in this blog? You can if you have the free Layar app! (Apple, Android)