Snow Day

So today is a Snow Day for me.  The semester was supposed to start today, but school was closed, so I’m taking a day to get mentally set and prepared for the upcoming semester.  Specifically, I will be trying to work on writing and getting ideas down on to paper and planning stories today.  I will also be working on revisions and editing also if there’s time.

I hope to get a lot accomplished today (while also resting a little as well).  I’ve learned from my time as a Middle School teacher–you want to really use Snow Days effectively (and I have several projects that could use a little more time to work on them!).

Be safe!

Sidney
Read Skin Deep for Free at Aurora Wolf
Read Childe Roland for Free at Electric Spec

Advertisements

Finished Mad Max (The Video Game)

So over the Winter Break, I finished Mad Max, a video game based on the Mad Max character and world, but not based on the movie Mad Max Fury Road.  It is an original game using the character of Mad Max and the apocalyptic world that he inhabits as the focal points to tell a unique story.  While I did finish it, I did also feel that it was a bit of a slog to get through (more on that later), but more than that, I had real issues with the way the story was told, or perhaps more accurately, how the story unfolded.  According to my year-end Playstation stats, it was the 3rd game that I spent the most time on this year, clocking in at about 124 hours.

Unsatisfying Journey
Part of my issue is that the story was really very good up until the final missions of the game.  Essentially, (without massive spoilers) the game is essentially a massive “rebuilding” operation where you do various missions for various “faction” heads and then “build” up that faction.  The missions were side missions, but they also acted as “gating” missions, meaning that your progress was locked (i.e., “gated”) until you completed the side missions/story mission for that faction.  The way it worked seemed to imply that at the end of the game, these “factions” would aid you in your story after you had done all of the things you could to help them–alas, this was not the case.

The “Circular” Story
In the last few missions of the game, your character (again, no spoilers) makes several choices in the cut-scenes of the game that you as the player probably would not have made and you’re left with the ramifications of the choices that he’s made.  For an open world game that is all about player agency and choice, the story oddly takes the narrative out of your hands in the most unsatisfying of ways.  In games like this, there are sometimes multiple endings (InFamous series springs to mind), but most often than not, the ending is the same, but little things are able to be changed here and there so that even though the ending is the same, the choices that you made seemed to have mattered (even if, in truth, they did not).  MM doesn’t even give you the illusion of choice–you see the moment when the creative director rips control from your hands and see the results of the outcome and then the game gives you back control.  Worse yet, the character doesn’t learn anything from the experience.  He goes back to being the exact same character that he was in the beginning of the game, which leads to a Why does this even matter question after one finishes the game.

The Audience changes, but the Character Does Not
In this game, the story wants the audience to feel for a character who doesn’t feel at all.  I can understand that narrative, but I also question it.  One of the reasons Hamlet works is because we see that Hamlet, the prince, is conflicted.  Hamlet isn’t dead inside like Mad Max, but Hamlet feels–one might argue that Hamlet feels too much and that because he doesn’t just kill the king when he has the opportunity, he sets in motion his own downfall.  MM falls into that nihilistic category that modern storytellers seem to love so much: let’s not change our character, but let’s instead change our audience.  Let’s tell them this really (insert adjective here–gory, sad, disgusting, etc.) story and then destroy everyone except the hero and then watch him or her ride off into the sunset.  This will wring pathos from our audience.  I was really disappointed with the way the story turned out–if it is an open world game, then please give me, the player, agency over the story.  That’s what video games are all about and that is the strength of the medium over other mediums, say books or movies.  Let the player decide the outcome of the story, rather than the other way around.

Sidney
Read Skin Deep for Free at Aurora Wolf
Read Childe Roland for Free at Electric Spec

Drafting up a Skye (Project Skye)

So in the last blog post, I talked about planning a story for January.  In this blog post, I’m going to talk about drafting (aka writing) a story.  The story that I’m writing for January 2018 is Project Skye (the short story).

Short Story as Character Sketch
I’m writing this story as a way to examine Skye’s character.  I was tasked to come up with a character sketch for Skye by the MTSU Writing Center as I struggled to try to create a novel this past semester.  I struggled to do the character sketch because all my choices seemed arbitrary.  So, I decided to write a story which puts Skye into jeopardy to see how she would react–to reveal her character through action.

Not as Easy as it Sounds
This sounds easy–I wrote a brief one sentence outline of everything that I wanted in the story.  I wrote a beginning, middle, and end for the story.  I wrote a 1 sentence brief outline of the scenes (3 scenes) in the beginning, middle, and end.  I’m about halfway done, but I’m having problems working on it because 1) I now realize the setting actually needs to be changed (this is happening in their aircraft when it should be in “hovercars,” 2) this was to be a “prologue” event to show how they know each other (there needs to be a different prologue event and this needs to happen later in the novel’s timeline), and 3) The first section is waaaayyyy longer than I’d intended it to be (by about double–I feel like I need that length, but it is making the rest of the story unbalanced by comparison).  Basically, I can see all the flaws that I want to go back and fix (i.e., start over).  I’m going to try to trudge to the end, but when I’m not happy with the results of my writing, it is very difficult to finish.

Knowing When its “Right”
When HawkeMoon was “finished,” I knew that it was “right.”  The same is true with Silence Will Fall (although I knew at the time that I’d written away from the ending I had in mind–so that’s why I had to rewrite the ending last year–to bring it more in line with the original ending that I’d dreamed about with that story).  However, I’m not even finished with Project Skye and I know it isn’t right.  I’m going to need at least one more draft to get it where I think it needs to be.  That is the hardest part of drafting for me–having to keep going even when I know that the draft is lacking because I want to fix it immediately.  I think, because I just dove into the project, without doing what I normally do (i.e., writing a draft that is just for me–my own personal “telling” myself the story, I don’t think that I have the action as firmly in place as I should).

Lesson Learned
As I go throughout this year, planning stories, the end goal needs to be: sometime during the last week of the month I need to write out a Rough Draft in which I “Tell, Don’t Show.”  This draft is For My Eyes Only and will aid me when the time comes to turn my story into a draft for the audience where I then “Show, Don’t Tell.”  If I don’t do a “Rough Draft,” then I’m going to have to spend even more time “fixing it” with another draft later on down the line.

Sidney
Read Skin Deep for Free at Aurora Wolf
Read Childe Roland for Free at Electric Spec

New Year, New Project: Introducing Project Sea

So the first of the new projects that I’m planning is a new short story that I’m calling Project Sea for the moment.  It is in “preproduction” stage throughout the month of January.  I have a small book that I’m reading in addition to try to gain the requisite knowledge for it as it involves sailing vessels, pirates, and voyages on the high seas.  I’m not a sailor, nor am I a sailing person, but I would like to get the nautical usage correct.  I’m a fan of Robert Silverberg and if I remember correctly, the first book of Silverberg’s Valentine novels (Lord Valentine’s Castlefeatured an extended voyage at sea with a cast motley characters.  This is what I’m looking for in this project.

I don’t want to go too into detail or depth so as 1) not to reveal, but 2) also not to write away the surprise of the first rough draft when I finally get to writing it at the end of the month.  Right now, I’m focusing on characters, their motivations, and (surprisingly) plot as this is one of the few stories where the action of what happens is nebulous for me.  Right now, I only have the world really clear in my mind and I’m trying to flesh out some of why the world works as it does and the characters that inhabit this world.

My ultimate goal is to have characters (goals, motivations, character change), plot (beginning, middle, end) and setting (why does the world look/act as it does) planned through January and write a 1 or 2 page Rough Draft during the last couple of days of January.  I then plan on putting it away for a while and pull it out again later in the year to Revise into a “Working Draft.”

Below is the trailer to Skull and Bones, a new game from Ubisoft coming later in 2018 that is a partial inspiration to this project.  It really only inspired one potential character, but it does also give a visual sense of what I’m trying to achieve in my story.

 

That’s all for today.  I hope you have a great day!

Sidney
Read Skin Deep for Free at Aurora Wolf
Read Childe Roland for Free at Electric Spec

“Don’t Be a ‘Writer.’ Be Writing”

This quote from William Faulkner is as close to a New Year’s Resolution as I will allow myself for this year.  I’ve tried too hard to be a “writer.”  I need to just write.  I need to plan what I want to write (for me that generally means character sketches and plot outlines, along with world building) and I need to revise what I write (getting it in good enough shape to submit and making adjustments as necessary).  But most importantly I need to just write (to draft project after project regardless of whether I’m selling the projects or not).

Planning to Write
I’m working on planning at least one project to write every month.  If I finish planning a project early, then I will pull out another project and plan it, but every month I plan to have at least one project done (so I should have 12 new projects ready by the end of 2018).  This is both attainable (hopefully given school work) and measurable (I report back at the end of the year to see how closely I matched this goal).  I created a Planning Checklist in Numbers (Apple’s answer to Excel) to track the days that I can actually work on planning and on the days I do, I simply place a checkmark beside it to give visual feedback on how well I’m doing.  Thanks to my illness, I only got to work on planning 2 days last week.

Writing
This is where the rubber meets the road.  This where I actually sit down and draft out a story, trying to adhere to all the story conventions (Character, plot, dialogue, setting, beginning, middle, end, exposition, rising action, climax, resolution, etc.).  I intend to create a checklist for this process as well to help give me visual feedback on how well I’m doing.  Thanks to my illness last week, I didn’t get any drafting done last week, although I did draft 5 days consecutively the week before Christmas.  The same thing applies: every month I’m drafting 1 project, so that at the end of the year I should have at least 12 projects written.  I want to be a little “harder” on myself on this step as it is doable.  Just pull the internet connection on the laptop and write until the battery drains (which in the case of my late 2008 Macbook Pro is only about 45-50 minutes), so this is where Faulkner’s quote comes in: don’t be a ‘writer’ Be writing.  This is where I really want to show growth/improvement in the coming year–(again, based on schoolwork).

Revision
While I understand the market isn’t perfect and I’m not the flavor of the month, I still want to publish my work.  To that end, like the other two steps, I want to try to revise at least 1 project every month and put it out on the market.  I plan to follow the same “mold” as the other two steps in creating a checklist to help give me visual feedback on the days I worked on the project.  I worked 1 day on HawkeMoon last week due to the illness.  I want to submit it to an anthology that has a deadline of Feb. 1st, 2018.  I intend to enlist aid from either another grad. student or the Writing Center to help get the story where I want it for this market.  I intend to write an Author’s Note for it as well as to write a more in-depth Revision Note section on what I want to revise and why and try to solicit feedback on how to achieve this goal.  As I type these words, I just got an email from a market that Silence Will Fall made it to the second stage (the “maybes” pile) at a market–so there’s hope still that some markets do, in fact, like what I write.

Well, that’s all for now–while I might not touch on this monthly (although I might give periodic updates, I’m not sure yet), I will try to revisit this in an end-of-year post to see how well I’ve done.  All of this is dependent on school/classwork which is the great unknown in this endeavor, but hopefully I can find 45 minutes somewhere in my day to not be a writer, but to be writing.

Star Wars (The Original Trilogy) Themes

One of the reasons that Rian Johnson had so many problems and so much of a backlash against SWTLJ is the exact same problem that I had with Looper–he relied on visuals rather than trying to create epic themes that SW (especially the original series).  SW at its core is about relating its characters to the world and showing how much more you can be.  SW is about themes that resonate through the characters’ (& by extension, our own) lives.

Star Wars: Believe in Something Greater/Higher than Yourself
The theme of SW is to believe in something greater/higher than oneself–to have faith.  There are a multitude of scenes that illustrate this including the famous “Trench Run” scene where Luke is told by Ben’s voice to trust the Force and he turns off his targeting computers.  In doing so, he is questioned by “ground control” as they wonder what is wrong.  It is most explicitly talked about, however, during Luke’s “training” with the drone with Ben teaching him about the Force.  We see that once Luke realizes that he can “see” beyond the physical and into the immaterial, then the Force “guides” his actions and helps to move him from good to great.

The Empire Strikes Back: 1) You May Not Have All of the Facts Even When You Believe You Do and 2) The Power of Belief.
The ESB is a darker movie, not because it is literally shot darker, but because it deals with more complex and more nuanced themes.  Most specifically, one of the main themes that runs throughout the movie is the idea that even if you think you have all the information at hand, you actually might not not and a closer look might be wise.  This happens to both Luke while training at Dagobah and to Han, Leia, and Chewie in Cloud City.  In each situation, both groups think that they have all of the pieces of information they need, when in fact, they are missing valuable pieces that would greatly enhance their understanding of the situations they find themselves inhabiting.  It really comes down to trust.  Should Luke trust his teachers or trust himself, should Han, Leia, and Chewie trust Lando or not?  Luke also learns from the raising of the X-Wing that he doesn’t really truly believe in the power of the Force.  Yoda has given himself over to it completely where Luke has learned the lessons, but when things get hard, he doesn’t really trust in the Force to see him through it.  This ties back into the first theme when Luke doesn’t trust Yoda enough to see his training through even though it might cost him his friends.

The Return of the Jedi: Point of View as well as Friends versus Lackeys
For RotJ the theme is trifold: 1) One’s Point of View, 2) the idea of having Friends vs. Lackeys, and 3) Don’t make the same mistakes.  One’s Point of View is very important in orientating/grounding the character to the world and has an important bearing on how the person/character looks at the universe.  Luke is angry with Ben Kenobi for not telling him the truth about his father, but Ben tells Luke that many of truths that we cling to in the universe depend greatly on our point of view.  Had Luke not learned that lesson then he might have fallen into the trap of believing that his father was completely lost.  Having friends that one can depend on was very important to the SW characters as they are always bailing each other out and formed an interconnected web.  The Empire, however, relied on lackeys to serve and fulfill the Emperor’s will and this ultimately cost them the battle.  Many fans hate the Ewoks because they reason that the Empire shouldn’t be able to be defeated by “teddy bears with spears,” but history is replete with examples of finer military forces getting upended by smaller, less advanced forces because those smaller forces have better “grit” for lack of a better word.  Even the biggest Imperial Walker can be taken down with the right combination of grit and moxy–something the Ewoks had in spades.  Finally, Luke learned a valuable lesson in ESB–that under the right circumstances he could find himself in the same position and be lured to the Dark Side.  Luke was especially conscious of this based on his experience in the “cave.”  When his time came to be tested, he saw what he had done and stepped away from the “precipice,” something his father couldn’t do.  So he learned his lesson well and ultimately, it served to save his life as well as to ensure the victory of the Rebellion.

This is where SWTLJ ultimately failed in that it really didn’t go deep enough with the themes that the characters inhabited to make it a truly satisfying movie for fans of the original trilogy.  There is a reason that many are calling Rey/Kylo Ren’s “relationship” “Reylo” and that is a true disappointment to me personally, but to many other OG SW fans out there.

Slight spoiler here–Skip down to the next paragraph if you want to know nothing about TLJ–you know you’ve gone off the rails somewhere if there’s a scene in a SW movie where Rey is telling Kylo Ren to put a shirt on (and yes, that scene exists).  Why does that scene even exist?  What function does it perform that either a) ties into the greater universe as a whole or b) reveals something unique about the characters or the world?  It was simply a throw away line designed to get laughs and get tweens speculating on how cool it would be if Rey and Kylo “hooked up?” Gah!  Please, someone get that out of a SW movie and put it in Twilight where it belongs!

We talk about suspension of disbelief–well, for me, that was the moment when the “magic” was broken and I saw SWTLJ as a movie rather than a story.

 

OtherWorlds Top Ten Posts of 2017 (Happy 2018!)

Happy New Year_rukia_us

Sorry this post is late–I caught the flu on Friday and I’ve just now begun to feel better.  I’m still not 100%, but I wanted to make sure that I got this out today (it was supposed to go up New Year’s Eve, but I was just too sick to finish it).  Anyway, here it is!  Happy 2018 everyone!

So people love Top (Insert number) lists, especially at the end of the year.  So this year, I thought I’d get into the act, by going through some of my posts as displayed by WordPress as the ones that viewers to the blog have viewed the most.  Surprisingly, a few of the higher posts are older than 2017, meaning that the topics are either still relevant or popular even after long periods of time.

The overall winner isn’t actually a post, so I’m disqualifying it from the Top Ten List as it is the Home Pages/Archives Section.  It is by far the leader with almost 300 views and I can relate to that–people (myself included) like to browse.  Maybe readers want to see if I’ve done a post for that day, or maybe they like my writing posts, but not my Nostalgia C64 posts, etc.  The point is many people browse the site and that’s fine, but I’m going to try to limit the top ten to specifically those posts that people clicked on in 2017.  So in reverse order:

10. “Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain”
2017 Post.  So this post was written in 2017, in the summer if I remember correctly, and it explains where this expression comes from and how my family used it as a sort of “code” or “shorthand” to basically try your best at all times.  I think it resonated because this world is difficult and sometimes we need a reminder (or at least I do from time to time) to give it your all because you might just be surprised at the results.

9. Player Unknown Battleground
2017 Post.  This was the “little” game that could apparently because even though this was written in the late Summer/early Fall time frame, it still managed to chart in the top ten posts for the year.  This one really reflected the desire of hardcore gamers to read about their favorite game.  PUBG really seemed to strike a cord with the gaming community this year just as Overwatch did in 2016.

8. Not Enough Time
2017 Post. Time (and time management) is hard to do consistently in today’s modern hectic world where everything seems to move at frenetic pace.  Here I tried to blog during breakfast times and that worked–for a while.  The problem became, ironically, time.  It takes time to write my blogs because they aren’t usually as short as this blog was and as such take up much more time than I have even at breakfast, so I had to modify this technique quite a bit to get my blog entries to post on a regular schedule.

7. Black Panther vs. Spider-Man: Learning How to Navigate Social Interactions through Comic Book Trading
2017 Post.  I think the popularity from this one comes more from the Spider-Man Homecoming movie than it does from Black Panther or comic book trading.  I learned a valuable life lesson here which I relate, but coming so closely to the movie, I think people viewed it more for movie/character impressions than for the content of the post itself.  I wonder how this post will do when the Black Panther movie releases in February?

6. The Outline’s the Thing (to Catch a Story) Redux
2017 Post.  So this post is a “sequel” of sorts to a older post that I did on outlines and outlining.  A commentor to the blog noted that he found the entire process of outlining not as useful as just jumping in and writing by the seat on one’s pants.  While I felt that I explained myself well enough at the time, I thought I’d write another post explaining that “real” life doesn’t usually happen by “the seat of one’s pants.”  We plan out what we intend to do (usually) and spontaneity, while useful for keeping one’s life from becoming dull, doesn’t really factor into our day to day lives.  In this post, I simply set forth an argument as to why we should also plan our writing lives and note some of the successful writers who do so.

5.  The Witcher 3 The New (Old) Rhetorics of Grimdark
2016 Post.  Okay, so I’m not really sure why this one is still so popular.  Perhaps it is the game as it was one of the best games to be released last year (2016).  Or it could be because people are interested in the “Grimdark” genre (a genre where “bad things happen to good people”).  Or perhaps it is a combination of both–whatever the reason, this one was very popular even a year out from when it was written.

4. Great Actors in Small Roles: Madelyn Horcher as Sgt. Leach
2017 Post. I’m actually very glad that this one was super popular this year as I think many of the big name stars get both money and recognition, but the smaller players are also integral to the story when they nail their roles.  I started this “Great Actors in Small Roles” to highlight actors who I thought really turned in a stellar performance.  While I’m no casting director or agent, but I’d really like to see these actors in more (and larger) roles.  So far I’ve only done two of them this year, although I probably should have done two for World War Z in 2013 (for two of the actors who played scientists late in that movie) as both performances were well done–both went on to a measure of stardom which I was thrilled to see.  I would love for the same thing to happen to the two talented actors that I’ve mentioned this year (even only one made the Top 10 List this year).

3. Author’s Note: Here Be Monsters
2016 Post. So, I’ve done quite a few Author’s Notes for stories that I’ve finished, but this is the only one that has “charted” in the Top Ten.  This is one of those stories that I think really could  sale and be really unique because of the realism that I put in based on the research that I put into the story.  The setting is unique, so I’m fairly surprised that the story hasn’t sold, but I’ll hold out hope that eventually an editor will recognize its worth and purchase/publish it.  As I type these words, it is currently out to an anthology, so fingers crossed.

2. The Outline’s the Thing to Catch a King (or in this case, to catch a story)
2016 Post. This one might be a bit of a cheat as I assigned it to my class to read after another blogger commented on this post.  We were studying different genres and this blog (& the comment section) is the perfect example of Editorials/Opinions Genre listed in the textbook that we use (The Bedford Book of Genres).  However, even though this gave this post a huge head-start, one can see be the popularity of the sequel post (at entry #6) which I did not assign btw, one can see the discussion of outlining vs. writing by the seat of one’s pants (aka “pantsing”) is really important to the creative writing community.

1. Ranking Marvel’s Cinematic Universe Movies–2017 Edition
2016 Post. By far and away the most clicked on post of 2017 was the ranking that I did of Marvel’s Universe Movies which shows the popularity of Marvel Movies is still going strong.  I have a feeling that this would have been more relevant had not my local theater changed ownership and if I could have seen more of the Marvel movies “on time” as I had been able to in 2016.  As it is, I’m still missing Thor Ragnorak and probably won’t get to see it until the Spring (Easter?), although I’m planning on perhaps seeing Black Panther at the theater (although it might not be my own here in Chattanooga–we’ll see . . .).  I’m also considering seeing the newest Avengers movie as well in the theaters.  People (right now) really love the Marvel movies, but if Disney isn’t careful, they could find themselves with franchise fatigue, but so far they are by far (based on the popularity of the post) still the most popular of the movie franchises.

Well that’s it for my Top Ten of 2017.  With any luck, I’ll be able to a similar post for the top posts of 2018!  Have a great and wonderful new year!