Summer and Winter

As a kid, I loved winter and loathed summer. That was before we got air conditioning. Now, it’s kind of the other way around. A bit. Not fully reversed, but definitely the other way around: I like summer, though sometimes it’s too fricken hot, and I sort of dislike winter, though it’s nice sometimes. Weird as hell. When did I get these two confused? 

Old influences

Once upon a time, I wrote 16 novellas. Or long short stories. Depends how you measure them.

Back at the time, when I was just starting out as a writer (this was in my teenager years) I had ideas for episodes, like a tv series, and wrote up a storm. That was age 15, and that was a good year. It was around about when I saw Neon Genesis: Evangelion and Dragonball Z and played Final Fantasy 8 (the best of them all). In my mind, those are the holy trinity of Japanese entertainment and things that I recall most fondly indeed.

When I was 15, I thought my writing was top shit. Everyone does, when they’re at that age and that level. If you come to writing later in life, I can’t say what your skill level will be like. But I imagine you’ll be more experienced in fiction, at any rate, having seen more, heard more, experienced more. But that’s neither here nor there.

What I’m getting at is my nostalgia is flaring up lately. I’m pining for the good old days when things like anime and movies were new to me. Well, movies weren’t new to me, just M-rated ones. I had strict parents, they didn’t let me see M-rated stuff until I was 15. Then the floodgates opened and the local Video Ezy knew me by name. Not really. But they would have come to recognize my family, we were there all the time. I think my brother actually got to watch M-rated stuff at 12, come to think of it. He would have been allowed to watch them with me present. That or mum and dad didn’t care.

I had this whole new source of entertainment, this whole new realm of experience just about downloaded straight into my brain, I binged so much. And those anime and video games I mentioned, they were some of my biggest influences. I wrote fiction that combined all three into one. They were like the Megazord or Voltron of genres to me. So i wrote a little series called Supertron (remember, 15) and it merged the Super Saiyan ability of DBZ with the magic and weapons of Final Fantasy 8 and the giant ‘robots’ of Evangelion. My writing was shit – I looked back upon it recently, so I can say this honestly (and I was 15, so I can say it objectively) – but I remember it fondly as a series I loved writing. I wrote about 16 parts, they went from 8000 words to 16000 words, and to me, they were awesome. My whole grade at school seemed to think so. I asked my grade 10 English teacher if I could hand in the first one as an assignment. He agreed. I submitted 8000 words on a grade 10 English paper. My grade bowed to my awesomeness.

Those were the days. Now I struggle to write anything. I’m not sure what it is that’s holding me back. Maybe I’ve just grown jaded with the experience I’ve accumulated since then. Oh well. I will keep trying.

But I wonder if people could handle the awesomeness of Eva + DBZ + FF8? In concept, it rocks. On paper, it probably would, too. I’d have to alter everything so as to not infringe upon copyright, naturally.

Of course this is all just fancy and nostalgia. I don’t plan to actually write these old stories. Originality and all that.

Breaking up with my novel

I don’t think I can do this any more. Writing a novel, I mean. I think it’s time that we go our separate ways. It’s just not working out between us. I just feel that we’re too different to make it work, together. It’s been 6 years, and you’re still a work in progress. I don’t know. I’m just not feeling as in love as I was at the start. My brother suggested I write you, and I tried, I really tried. But there’s been so many roadblocks… I just can’t go on living a lie. I’m not a novel writer. I work better in shorter forms. A full -length commitment to you is stretching me thin and I don’t know if I can handle 50,000 words. I’ve been trying to write you for so long. I think we need to see other projects. I’m going to go back to basics. I’m sorry you had to hear it this way, but I just can’t. I just… can’t even… with this. You know?

Two stories

I’m in two minds about a major character’s origin story. I’m wanting to write one, but it looks like I might be writing two. Sort of.

In one, Jess, a female, psychic sniper, goes through a military experiment with unobtainium, the magical whatever that makes the story go, which gives her her powers. Since this is Australia, she can’t join the military on the front lines, so she volunteers for the experiment. It works, it gives her powers, and they see how dangerous she can be. What they needed was a mind reader. What they get is more than they expected.

In the other, the same character doesn’t go into the military, instead finding an alien rock or parasite out in the field one day while exploring. She touches it, gets psychic powers, learns them, moves to the city only when she can control them (they start off weak and only get stronger when the kind of thing that they’d be perfect for presents itself). She returns one day and reflects on life in the small rural town. I’m thinking she meets a centaur at some stage. This one uses a prompt I found involving a centaur.

 

Decisions, decisions.

Short story checklist

I’ve found this following checklist, that I either made from a collage of advice, or found somewhere (no idea where), to be really helpful in writing short stories. Would that I had had this when I studied Short Stories at University as part of my degree. It would have been handy. I don’t recall any real checklist of this sort, from that class. I might have written better stories back then, but not likely – my head was a mess back then. Still is, a bit, but nowhere near as muddled and haphazard as it was when I was under 25, the magic age at which boys grow up and people with Asperger’s Syndrome “sort themselves out”. From what I’ve heard.

 

Ahem.

 

Here, without further adieu, is my checklist.

 

Short description:

Here (I find italics works well) I write down a brief outline. If you are deathly allergic to outlines, I pity you, because you’re just making excuses and I have zero tolerance for whingers  who bitch about outlines ruining the creative process. That said, anyone who can write something amazingly first go, with zero planning, by means of “discovery writing” aka “pantsing”, who don’t need to outline, who know the rules and know what they want to do and can just DO IT, well, I respect you. You get in there, you get shit done, and you have a product. It’s the complainers I can’t stand. They just sound entitled. So that’s my view. It will rub people the wrong way, I’m sure, but that’s my opinion and I was told that a blog is about a person’s opinion, and sometimes it should be controversial.

Back to the point: write a short description of what you’re thinking this story is about. Stick to about 100 words. Italics looks nice to me for this purpose. You do what you want though. Just not bright comic sans font. If you do that I’ll lose all respect for you, forever.

 

Character wants: I’ve been told over and over again that every character has to want something. Even if it’s a glass of water. But this advice is golden because it’s true. So here’s you place to figure out what they want.

Character fears: In the way is what a character fears. Most stories are supposed to have characters who confront their fears, is what I’ve heard. I suppose something that stands in the way of the goal is fine, I don’t know for sure, but it usually boils down to fear. What do you think?

The conflict: The character’s desire meets their fear head on and creates that most magic of story things, conflict.

The place: Obvious point, but sometimes you get fiction that’s just talking heads, or the setting equivalent thereof. It could take place anywhere. It may as well be on the moon just as much as it may as well be a basement somewhere. I’m so using those two locations in one work.

The weather: Don’t open with “It was a dark and stormy night”, but some idea of the weather is a good thing to figure out. Weather may or may not drive the story, but you can use it to great visual and other-sensory effect. A snow storm. A sunny day at the beach. A deluge of tropical rain. The blistering desert in the middle of the day. Figure this out, it may be important.

The time of day: Remember I said I wrote some scenes that could have taken place anywhere at any time? I know I didn’t say it in those exact words, but the point is, you have to anchor the story in all of these elements. Time, place, weather, lighting, etc. Plays take place in representations of places. The stage isn’t just a stage with an actor standing there narrating something, like my Grade 12 English presentation on McBeth, because I couldn’t A) think of anything and B) find anyone willing to partner with me. Ahem. The stage is set up to look, at least approximately, like a place. And that place at a certain, though sometimes vague, time. That’s why you have staging directions in scripts, the ones that say Interior, Day, a Diner. That sort of thing. Get the picture yet?

Key sensory details: Don’t skimp on the senses. Don’t overload the reader either, that’s *probably* a bad thing, but strong, vivid sensory details can make good writing into great writing. It’s good descriptions of not just the sights, or just the sounds, but also the tastes, smells and feels that, if used right – not too little, not too much – that can make or break a story.

The change: Conventional fiction contains a character who is a certain way, but by the end of the piece, is a different way. An angry person clams themselves. A timid person gains a +2 to bravery (can you tell I’m keen on the new D&D?). Characters change, and if you’re writing the story correctly, they change by facing their challenge, which 99% of the time involves a STRONG element of fear.

What is the theme? You know, my first go at Children of Fire didn’t contain a theme. The second go, a little bit better, but not quite there. I’m trying to figure out my theme. I’m also keen on writing short stories, about my major characters, for various reasons. But one benefit of doing this is that I am forced to write with a theme in mind. Your short stories – all of your fiction, really – should have a theme. I realise this now.

 

What happens in the beginning? 

What happens in the middle?

What happens in the end?

 

Every story has a beginning, middle and end. Answer these questions, which will be based – drumroll – on that short description at the start of this list. See? Useful.

 

Protagonist’s skills, abilities, relevant powers (if they have access to super powers of some kind): What can your protagonist do? What can’t they do? Like, what is physically impossible for them? If it’s a superhero, fantasy or sci fi story, or something along those lines, they might have a super power. Superpowers are great and all, but these too should have clearly defined limits. Conventional wisdom says this, anyway. The character needs to push at these limits, to. I don’t believe that every power should come at a cost, but it’s one way of limiting things and creating compelling stories. It’s up to you to do something cool with what the hero can and can’t do. But either way, their skills and abilities (super or mundane) need to come into play.

 

I hope that helps you if you’re stuck on how to write short stories. Or just need these things organised into lists (I really, really need lists).

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition – thoughts so far

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition – initial thoughts

 

Every gamer and his cat (named Muffins, most likely) knows that D&D, the granddaddy of gaming, because it actually came out before computers – if I’m not mistaken – has released a new edition. Sort of. In typically D&D fashion it’s released a basic set, this one being a free PDF, followed by a sort of expanded-basic set, for about $20, wherein this stuff is expanded upon and there’s more content (such as monsters, I imagine, as I don’t have it yet and won’t till Tuesday at the earliest, but there aren’t any in what I’ve got so I assume there’s a few in the starter box set) therein.

I’ve had my copy of the PDF for all of two or three days now, and based solely on the character creation, as that’s all I’m up to, I’m enjoying it. It’s not perfect – it never can be, and it will never please everyone, 100% of the time – but basically, it’s a good edition. They kind of had to make it a good one, after the debacle of 4th edition. Hoo boy, that 4th ed.

4th Edition was made as (what felt like) a knee-jerk reaction to the popularity of MMOs like WoW and Guild Wars. It tried to be something it wasn’t. Wizards of the Coast kinda dropped the ball on 4th edition, big time, and players were outraged by the drastic changes. And the deviation from Vancian Magic, of all things. I actually don’t mind the per-encounter and per-hour parts of the magic system from 4th Ed. I just don’t like 4E on the whole.

What’s great about 5th, and which actually carries over from 3.5, if you think about it, is that you can rest for an hour and restore some hit points and uses of spells – not as good as a full 8 hours’ rest, but you do get some back. I recently figured out that there was a part in the rules of 3.5 that says that you study hard in order to replenish (arcane) magic. That means wizards aren’t as screwed as I thought they were. I’m happy about that! You didn’t rest, so you didn’t regain HP, but you did memorise your spells and you could change your selection based on the challenge you faced, at least. This only worked if you had spell slots left, but it gave you some flexibility which is better than none. 5th edition has improved upon that and made it easy to find and able to benefit all characters. A full 8 hours will completely and utterly restore you, much like in computer RPGs – Skyrim, Final Fantasy, you name it.

Another thing I like is that every ability score – Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma – has an associated saving throw. The free pdf doesn’t say what would cause such saves, but I would imagine that the new ones (Str, Int and Cha) would be for; Strength: anything that requires a contest of prolonged use of strength, such as holding a door open or closed while it’s fighting you, or for hanging onto ledges or basically pushing, pulling or moving your body weight; Intelligence: retaining your sanity and your IQ when talking to the town fool; and Charisma… I can’t really imagine what you need that for, in a save situation. Possibly anything that erodes at your personality, though you could justify that as a will save, at least in the old versions 3 and 4.

I like how the proficiency bonus applies to all attacks, saves and skills. One stat, added to anything you’re proficient at. Something they’ve done is to merge the different Armour Classes (your basic defence stat) into one. I think overall that’s good, considering this edition so far seems geared towards being newbie-friendly. This is a radical departure from 3E and even 4E, but in ways I think work.

A few boxes could stand to be spread out. ‘Other proficiencies and languages’ is a problem space, because you can gain new languages and then have to put them down after the ‘other proficiencies’ you’ve got listed if you haven’t left room for new languages. I’ve done that once. It wasn’t game-breaking but it could have been organised better.

Hit dice could be handled better, but it isn’t game-breaking the way it is done here.

There’s no place for gender (sex). I don’t know if that’s a statement about the more-ambiguous nature of today’s gender theory, or saying that gamers are virgins.

Skills have been merged left right and centre. Some of these I was aware of already, through Pathfinder (3.75) such as Acrobatics being Balance and Tumble while Athletics was originally Climb and Jump (I think). I’ll have to look through the skills section some more.

You get three successes and three fails on a Death Save. The idea, I think, is to just not get three fails. I’m not too familiar with this part yet though. And I had a house rule for 3.5, so I may develop one for this. In fact I have a few house rules in mind already, such as: Success, Success but, and Fail, wherein you succeed, you succeed however you hurt yourself or only partly succeed, or you straight—up fail. In the middle case you must fail by 5 or less. Any more than that and you utterly fail.

The spells page is included on your character sheet, and it’s a page dedicated to spellcasting. It’s not squished up into a tiny part on the last page. It’s got its own page, which means it has room, thankfully.

You have space on the front page of the character sheet for your adventurer’s personality, ideals, bonds and flaws. That’s awesome, I feel. It means you actually have to roleplay, not just rollplay. You pick or randomly select based on your background, for which there’s a space right at the top of the first page. This, if anyone played d20 Modern, had a similar thing in starting occupation. Well played, Wizards.

The inspiration space, where a player gets a bonus for good roleplaying, is a bit iffy. I might just remove it, but one possible house rule I’m thinking of is that, while the inspiration is active (whatever causes it) might give you bonus experience for the encounter. I haven’t read much on this particular part yet. Be patient, please.

So that’s my impression of 5.0. By the time I’ve got all the books they’ll have 5.5. Hopefully they won’t have another knee-jerk reaction to MMOs, barely 5 years later, like they did with 4E. (It might have been 7, I’m not sure)

That took longer than I expected. There you go, that’s my view. Now to convince my players to try it out.

Colonist’s Guide to Mars (Colonisation In SciFi part 2)

Here’s part 2 of a two-parter, the first of which is here.

 

What I’m going to talk about here is how I’m using colonisation in my own writing. The following post contains spoilers. But that’s for stuff that’s like, 3 years down the road anyway, so.

 

In 2099, Mars is a hot destination. Well, not so much that as it’s an alternative to a war-torn, depleted Earth.

Kaiju have basically wiped out humanity on Earth, and instead of reconstruction and clean-up, society just said “fuck it, let’s go to Mars” since that was the plan already. Just build more ships and people would pay through the nose to get off Earth after the “Kaiju problem” rather than clean up Earth.

Only the poorest or the most steadfast people stay on Earth, which has become a ghost town. It WAS a slum though, our numbers were that great. Then Kaiju.

A colonisation effort on Mars has finally reached dividends. Mars has several colonies scattered around it, where instead of terraforming the entire of the planet, they just terraform ‘bubbles’, kind of like greenhouses, turning pockets of the red planet into liveable spaces for mankind.

With current technology, it would take 40 days to reach Mars, so I’m told. I don’t know if that means at its closest to Earth, or furthest, but whatever the current record, well, there’s advances happening all the time. And it just so happens I typed in the right words to make this come up on a Google search. (Do I rock or what?) Whatever the record is now, this is the future, baby!

There would be a quarantine space station in orbit around Mars; colonists coming in by spaceship (and these will be big, because it’s a setting with Kaiju and Mecha) stop in here as a waypoint between Earth and Mars. It might also act as a defence device for Mars, although until the events of the first book, Kaiju were just an Earth problem.

Whole countries and mega-corporations own the various colony bubbles on Mars. I don’t know if they’ll be known as “McDonalds Colony 5” or “Microsoft Colony 9” or whatever, probably not that ridiculous. But definitely the countries, that much I know. Which reminds me of a part in Fight Club where Tyler/the Narrator says that corporations will name the planets when man finally settles other planets. IBM, McDonalds, Chrysler. Something to that effect. That’s something to think about, and get depressed over.

I don’t know what the population on Earth at the time of the story (less post-Kaiju) would be, nor for Mars, nor the ships coming in. But I do know it will significantly fewer than pre-Kaiju-attack. We were overpopulated.

I will have to work out all the other details. I had about five minutes to come up with this much, during the writing group discussion that this sprang from (I have permission to post my notes on this discussion). And that was from what I’d figured out already. Part 3 will take a while, but it will address all of the points from the first part.