Tuesday, December 2, 2014

NaNoWriBlo: There Went Nothing

It's almost the end of November and, thus, NaNoWriMo. I can't say I didn't try, but trying doesn't equal succeeding. I could say I didn't make it because I didn't have the time, but I did. I could have used the breaks at work, or the weekends... there's tons of opportunities I could have used.

The truth is, I got sick of the plot and my writing in this. I'm going to keep the setting and the characters, but I'm most likely going to ditch the plot, or at least rewrite it. The general setting stays, but it needs some tweaking to make it actually look like something other than generic somethingsomething.

To Drop

I'm definitely not going to keep every aspect of the plot. It might just be me, but it feels too safe and cozy. I don't feel like anyone's life was actually at stake at any point. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it, though.
The writing itself, aside from a few parts, has to go, too. It's horrible, full of padding and drips with clichés. I think that mostly happened because I was trying to :words: my way through the whole thing without knowing what I should really do.

To Keep

I feel like keeping Betsev-4 as part of the setting, but I should expand more on the main character's home planet. Damn, it doesn't even have a name, yet. I should also expand more on the characters there before actually going to Betsev-4. Maybe I'll introduce a few new locations.
I'll also keep the general aesthetics, but I'll change some things. Flying traffic in the city might be cool, but doesn't work if you don't have protection for the buildings. Suburbs are most likely not full of two digit floor skyscrapers. There's going to be a difference between inner city traffic (it's still going to be hover cars, though) and things that go off planet. These are all just examples of things I realized I should change. But the setting itself is okay.
I'll try to keep the characters, too. I'm not sure I can give all of them a role, because that largely depends on where I go with the plot. But Zackory and Ron, as well as Zackory's brother and his girlfriend stay. Yuka stays too, and her presence is one reason why I think the home planet deserves more screentime. She just drops off the screen when the story goes to Betsev-4.
And I'm definitely keeping the vampires, because vampires need to be cool again.

And Finally...

I thought I had enough of a plot, but I don't think I actually did. I made things up as I went, but I made the mistake of rushing through my existing ideas too fast. That left me with meandering scenes of people talking about the same thing over and over again, basically moving in circles. But well, lessons learned, setting gained, characters gained. In a way, it's still a win, even though it's around 25k words short.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

NaNoWriBlo: Oh God, Not The Backstory!

Also known as "this thing happened, but I don't want the plot to revolve around it." Also known as balancing story, setting and backstory. Yes, I talked about this before.

But first, time for some NaNoWriMo history on my end:

For my first NaNo, I didn't actually plan that much. I had a setting and some characters and I knew the specific plot twist I wanted. Then again, it was set in a world I had already established years ago, so no big deal there. This is actually the one I like the most, even though it gets weird.

My second NaNo was set in a whole new world (insert reference here). I did lots of planning for the setting, and I had that huge list of things I didn't want to turn into huge plot points because that's been done and I felt it was kinda ugh. I struggled to get my 50k and padded with all main characters watching the key scene of the ending.

My third NaNo was me trying to write by the seat of my pants and I failed horribly. I restarted after ~5 days, but couldn't catch up any more.

So I had varying degrees of story, backstory and setting, and I'm still not sure what the right combination is. But I have learned from my past mistakes, so, in order of the NaNos that taught me that, here's my list of things I'm trying not to do this time:

I won't let specific aspects of the setting take over everything.
I won't try to desperately exclude facets of the setting/parts of the backstory.
I won't drop all story planning because I think I can pants this.

Let's see how fast everything derails this time.

The Big Event

Right now, there's basically one big event that's defined in the setting's history, and that's the attack on the mining colony town Betsev-4. People died, people were injured, the town was damaged, but most importantly, it was an incredibly bold move. Even twenty years after it happened, this event is still present in the minds of people. You could say it changed the world. Not just Betsev itself, but the whole network it's part of.

My first idea was to go "but this is not what the novel is about". Problem is that it is. The main character was present when it happened, so of course there's got to be an influence.

That doesn't mean it's the main plot. Twenty years is a long time. Just because something influences a character, that doesn't mean it's all there is to them. In this case, sure, Betsev-4 is going to come up, and it's going to play a role, but it's just that. I wish I could draw landscapes, because then you'd get concept art.


Words: 0 (Still not november.)
Current status: I'm fighting the urge to make Yuka more popular. Also, I think I worked out how Betsev-4 fits into the plot, but it's still kinda vague. I'm also not sure what Yuka's and Ron common backstory will be. If there is any. (And I still fail to draw Yuka.) There's also going to be a space pirate clan leader, maybe the one who lead the clan when the attack happened, or her heir. I think I have to think about space pirates more.

Monday, September 15, 2014

NaNoWriBlo: The Lead Guys

I promised a blog post, so here it is. Since I talked about the veeery basics of my novel last time, this time I'll start throwing around details. Character details. There'll be some general blah about the setting, too, but that's unavoidable because characters can't always stand alone. Also, be warned, here there be bad art.

Who Are You?

So far, I have two main characters, and a few minor ones.

This is Zackory. He's in his early to mid twenties, but not always feeling his age. When he was five, pirates attacked his home town (more on that in another post), which cost him both his parents and his eyes. Zackory was adopted by a lower/middle class family, who cared for him, but did not have the money to provide the high tech prostetics required to still follow his dream to become a pilot.

Despite all that happened, Zackory's not supposed to be a dark and gritty serious business character. Sure, the attack left its mark on him, but he's not defined by it. Also, he did not have a shitty orphanage childhood. That trope can die in a fire, along with "you're not my real dad!" and its annoying relatives.

This is Ron. He's ~35-40 years old and used to work as a cargo pilot for a delivery company. They went bankrupt and, among many others, Ron was let go. He's generally a nice guy, but he wouldn't shy away from saying his opinion, even if that means he has to be rude.

Ron's supposed to be a foil to Zackory, but I have no idea how their dynamic will really play out. I don't have much set for him, as I feel that his personality will change and adapt a lot to what the story needs.

Aside from these two, I do have a few vague ideas about my supporting cast.

Yuka: Yuka runs a small bar near Zackory's home. She's a wiry woman who looks like she's constantly hungover. Most of that comes from being a vampire, but running a bar takes its toll on her too. She's got long, black hair, which mostly hangs down over half her face, giving people the idea that she can't see them properly. Spoiler: She can. The hair's basically her version of sunglasses.
She's always got an open ear for drunk and desperate patrons, and even though she sounds bored and disinterested, her advice is helpful after all.

Zackory's Brother: Here things are getting vague. I only know he's two years older, stayed in contact with his brother and joined the military. But he exists, he will probably show up and... I don't know... he exists? Ask me later.

And that's it for characters so far. It's not much, but I'm not someone who can plan characters. They happen while I write.


Words: 0 (Blog posts don't count.)
Current status: It's basically the same amount of stuff as last time, plus a huge even in the story's past, which will have an influence on the plot. I even mentioned it here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

NaNoWriBlo: So I'm doing this, and I'm planning on winning.

Yes, I'm still alive, I'm just working a lot.

Also, in ~2 months November is coming up and with that comes NaNoWriMo. I've already talked about how novels conceived during NaNoWriMo are first/zeroth drafts at best, and how you really shouldn't think you wrote a novel you can publish.

This year, I decided to also write about me writing. How meta. But yeah, I think this will help me focus/stay on track, and if you people like to read rants/ramblings anyways, I'm happy to provide some more.

But it's September!

I know. But if I look at last year, I also know that I'm not one to write by the seat of my pants. I need a certain amount of planning and a certain amount of pre-NaNo time to make up my mind about what I want to write and where I want to go with it.


Words: 0 (Duh.)
Current status: I've got my two main characters set up, as well as a side character. I've got a very general idea what the setting is, and no, I'm not going to reveal that yet. Also, I think I have a general idea for where the plot should go. And I'm getting a wallpaper for motivation. I'll link that one too.

That's it so far. More on November 1st. Whee~

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Scribblings: The Man in the Dungeon

So I decided I'd also put some semi- to unrelated writing stuff on the blog. Spoileriffic things follow after the story.

The Man in the Dungeon

 Eliza bit her lower lip and stared at the short straw in her hand. She was sure that the other maids had rigged something so she, too, would have to go down into the dungeons and feed the prisoners. Sure, they were behind bars, unarmed and, after years of being fed yesterday's leftovers, not exactly in their best condition. But still, Eliza thought, there was a reason why they were locked up.
 Followed by everyone's looks, Eliza picked up the basket full of bread and heaved it up.
 One of the older maids smiled at her. "Just stay out of spitting range. And don't show them any fear."
 Eliza nodded. "I'll do my best," she mumbled and walked out of the kitchen onto one of the side corridors.

 When she reached the entrance to the dungeons, Eliza dropped the basked and shook her wrists.
 "Who're you, miss?" the guard at the door asked. "I've never seen you here before."
 "I-I'm new." Eliza nodded. "I'm here to feed the prisoners."
 The guard nodded. "So we got another one... let me check your basket. I can't let some girl I've never seen before walk in with a basket full of god knows what."
 Eliza stepped back and let the guard search the basket. "Are they dangerous?"
 "Yeah, that's why they're here... nah, I know what you're asking. Just don't get too close to the bars." The guard resumed his original position next to the door. "Have fun, miss," he said, smirked and pointed at the door.
 Eliza grumbled, picked the basket back up and leant against the door to open it.

 The dungeons had their own, disturbing atmosphere. The air was a bit thicker than usual and smelled exactly like you'd expect a bunch of unwashed mostly male prisoners expected to smell. Most of them were male, ranging from young and lanky to tall and bulky. Some looked downtrodden, some angry and some agressive and some even upbeat, but most of had their own brand of threatening aura.
 "They're behind bars, and there's a guard right here. No need to worry," Eliza muttered and bit her lip. Slowly, she stepped forwards, continuously looking around for anyone who might jump at her from a dark corner.
 A mere moment after she entered the corridor, the first prisoners noticed her presence and, more important to them, the presence of food. One after the other, they lunged for the bars and stretched out their hands. Even in cells with more than one prisoner in them, they managed to arrange things so everyone had his place.

 Carefully, one loaf at a time, Eliza handed over the old bread. Occasionally, someone tried to get a second one, only to be pulled from the bars by another prisoner.
 Eliza tried not to think about the amount of violence she had, so far, only heard about.
 After a while, Eliza came across a section with no prisoners at all. Having been told to go through the whole corridor nonetheless, she picked up a loaf and walked on.

 Eliza almost overlooked him, mostly because he didn't bother to stretch his arms in desperation at the sight of food. Instead, he just sat in the darkest corner of his cell. His hair, a rather shining tone of blue, hung over half his face in greasy strands.
 "Uhm... excuse me?" Eliza peeped and held up the loaf.
 Slowly, the man pushed himself up, patted some dirt from his whide, black coat and, finally, looked up, right into Eliza's eyes.
 "So it's time again, miss." He walked over to the bars in a slow and deliberate way and held out his hand like a civilized human being. There was no hint of desperation in his clear eyes. Yet, from the look of his hair and clothes, he'd had to have been in that cell for a rather long time.
 "I've never seen you before, miss. Are you new?"
 Eliza nodded, while at the same time wondering if it was a good idea to talk to a prisoner. "You're not like the others."
 "I know," he said, and looked in the direction of the noisier cells. "Because I ain't. I'm as far from them as you could imagine." He let out a dry laugh. "Not just literally."
 Eliza handed him the loaf, which he took and held, instead of gulping it down like the others.
 "You're interested in who I am. I can see that in your eyes."
 Before Eliza realized her own actions, she nodded excitedly.
 "I'll tell you, since I think you might believe me. I'm the queen's younger brother."
 Eliza blinked. "Really?" She then laid her chin into her hand and squinted. "Now that you say it, you could really be."
 The man's face lightened up a bit. "So you're willing to believe me."
 "Maybe. Is this about the throne?"
 He shook his head. "I never wanted to be king. No, I believe this is some conspiracy my dear sister doesn't even know about."
 "I see why people wouldn't believe you."
 "You're distributing food. So you will meet her. If you do, ask her about her brother."
 "She's the queen!"
 "I'm sure she'll listen if you mention me."
 Slowly, Eliza nodded. "I'll try. But I have to go now, the others are waiting back upstairs."
 "And don't tell anyone else. You never know if they're in on it."
 Eliza nodded again, turned around and hurried out of the dungeon, back to the kitchen with the almost empty basket.

 It took three days until Eliza was deemed ready to serve a meal to the queen without another maid to accompany and watch over her. Carefully, Eliza knocked on the door.
 "I bring your meal, your majesty."
 "Come in."
 Eliza opened the door and peeked inside. The queen sat at her desk, brooding over a few pieces of paper. Her hair, which was a similar shade of blue as the prisoner's, was done up in a not entirely perfect bun so it wouldn't fall onto the paper and smear everything.
 Carefully, Eliza entered the room and closed the door behind herself. "Where shall I put it?" She looked at the desk and found no spot to put the meal.
 The queen realized that and stacked some of the papers on top of each other, so Eliza could place the meal in the resulting free spot.
 "Your majesty... may I ask you something?"
 The queen looked up with raised eyebrows. "Yes, but don't expect a long-winded answer. I'm busy."
 Eliza bit her lip. "D-do you have a... a brother?"
 Had the queen been holding something, she would have dropped it. "Why would you ask this?"
 Eliza froze.
 "What gave you the reason to ask this?"
 Eliza could barely breathe. "T-there's a man in the dungeons. He claimed he was your brother, and that there was a conspiracy so you wouldn't find out he was there."
 The queen sighed. "The paperwork can wait for a moment. Sit down." She pointed at a stool next to her.
 Eliza nodded and sat.
 "Yes, I have a brother, and yes, you met him in the dungeons. I had him put there."
 "B-b-but wh-"
 "What he did?" The queen let out a barely audible snort. Then she proceeded to eye Eliza closely. "You might be too young, but do you remember the Beheader?"
 Eliza frowned. "The Beheader? I... I think I heard about him, from my parents."
 "That's him."
 "What?!" Eliza clamped her hands in front of her mouth. "I'm sorry, your majesty."
 "This reaction is the reason why no one knows who he is. It just doesn't befit a queen that her brother is a mass murderer. You have no idea how difficult it is to have proper diplomatical conversations with people if your brother's known for beheading people." The queen looked out of the window. "You know, I think you deserve to know the story behind this, even if it's just to stop you from freeing him or telling others."
 Eliza nodded. "Yes, your majesty."
 "You know, he doesn't feel like he did anything wrong. He feels like he's some kind of hero, just because he only killed criminals."
 Eliza frowned. "But wouldn't that be... good?"
 The queen shook her head. "When I say criminals, you're thinking of murderers and traitors, of abductors and rapists. But he didn't care how minor the crime was. Once, he killed a poor woman who had been stealing bread for her family. Or a petty gambler who conned people on the street. But he felt they should be punished. He even had supporters, but that was only before someone they knew was killed for almost nothing."
 "That sounds terrible. Was he always like that?"
 "I think it started when his wife was killed by a thief. But that does not excuse his behavior. He's still a murderer. Remember that, should you go down to the dungeons again."
 Eliza gave the queen a firm nod. "Yes, your majesty, I will."
 "You're dismissed. I have paperwork to do." With these words, the queen picked her quill back up.
 Slowly, Eliza walked out into the corridors again. She thought back to the dungeons and to the queen's brother. He had seemed perfectly civil. Who knew, she thought, maybe he had given up already. Maybe he tried the same thing with every new maid. And maybe he really believed that his sister knew nothing. But Eliza would never know. And, so she thought, maybe that was for the best.

This one's inspired by the designated hero, who'd be way better off with being a villain. If only their creator realized it and wrote the story accordingly. Unfortunately, this seems to happen quite often in RM games. For the German-speaking people among you, go read this.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

So Perfect it's a Curse

No, this is not a Mary Sue rant. I did that already, remember? Actually, I'm going to talk about the main thing the Mary Sue character is lacking: Flaws. And yes, I think I've actually seen the title used as a character flaw.

The Flaw in Flawless

There's one major problem with flawless characters: They're boring. They don't screw up, so there's no tension in watching them. For them, there's no trying, there's only accomplishing.
While there's a certain probability that the good guys win, you never know how often they stumble on their way. That makes watching characters' journeys (literal or metaphorical) worth following. Working around flaws, having them exploited and learning from the experience... all that is character growth. No flaws mean no learning, no growth and no change, and that ultimately makes a character less deep than you'd want them to be.

When is a Flaw a Flaw?

We already established that flawless characters are kind of... meh. That's why the writers of these characters are often told to add flaws to make their character less flat. This is when pseudo-flaws come in.

Rule of thumb: If a flaw doesn't bring your character in trouble/cause inconvienience/isn't treated as one in-story, it doesn't count.

This means that many things that sound like flaws aren't, but on the other hand, everything can be turned into a flaw. I'll just throw in a list with my favorites.


This one is too easy. Just have your character stumble a few times and hah, a flawed character.
Not a flaw, because... this mostly serves to make the character endearing. Also, they can stumble in their one true love's arms and deer-eye them.
Make it a flaw: Turning clumsiness into a flaw is really easy. Have the character stumble while carrying something important. Have people be angry at them for spilling something. Clumsy kids aren't considered endearing and cute by their peers, they're being laughed at.

Too Beautiful

Where do I even start? "Oh no, I'm so beautiful it's a curse!" Ergh.
Not a flaw, because... no matter how much the character whines about being too beautiful, nothing harmful ever comes of that.
Make it a flaw: Beauty is superficial and thus attracts superficial people. It's coupled with expectations in both men and women. There's jealousy from others. I still wouldn't call this the main flaw of any character.

Too Helpful

Yes, that exists, too.
Not a flaw, because... being helpful is kind of a good thing. And these "too helpful" characters are often just a decent amount of helpful, not really too.
Make it a flaw: Where there are helpful people, there are also jerks who abuse that. But it's not just others that can cause trouble for the overly helpful character. If they really want to help everyone, they can easily overburden themselves or feel guilty for failing people in need.

I could continue this list for a while, but the bottom line is that many pseudo-flaws can be turned into real flaws by adding consequences.

Too Many Flaws

Flaws don't replace believable writing. If you just pile up flaws on your character, you'll risk making them unrelatable the same way you do when you add none at all. Also, failing at everything, if it's not in a slapstick comedy, isn't all that entertaining.

So, as with everything, try to find a middle ground between squeaky clean perfect and oh god how can this guy even survive a day. And, to quote a Mary Sue Test on this, if you ever describe your character as too perfect, douse yourself in cold water now.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Murder Mystery: Black Box and White Box

Another post? Well, I found my inspiration again. Turns out it was laying on dust under my bed... nah, actually, lying around in a hospital bed with nothing to do gives you a lot of time to get bored. Also, reading all the crime novels and thrillers got me thinking about my own ideas. This, in turn, got me thinking about the very thing I kept getting stuck on: The murder mystery itself. Who did it, why did they do it, and how the hell do the cops find them?

This post is about two basic ways of finding that out.

Thinking in Boxes

The terms I use here are something I unabashedly pulled from software testing. There, a White Box test refers to testing the product with knowledge of its inner working and free look at the source code itself. A Black Box test, on the other hand, gives you none of that, leaving you to test it under the same conditions as the eventual user. The same principle can be applied to the murder mystery.


White Box Plot
As with the software testing example above, you have all the information. You have plans on who did it, why they did it, who lies and who tells the truth. You follow the murderer, so you know where the evidence is, why they did it, and so on and so forth.

Black Box Plot
The Black Box Plot is best described as "follow the cops". You start out with just the things the cops see at the crime scene and basically do the same thing in your story planning as the cops do in their investigation.


Of course, both Black and White Box have their advantages and disadvantages. Also, not everybody can pull off both things equally well.

White Box Plot
The biggest pro of the White Box Plot is that you start out knowing who did it in the end. You don't pull things out of thin air as you go along, since you already have a fixed set of characters, pieces of evidence and other things where you want to end up. It's hard to get stuck when you already know something that's going to happen.
The biggest con of the White Box Plot is actually the downside of its biggest pro. You know who did it. It's easy to have your investigators jump to conclusions that sound a bit farfetched or have them find things by accident a few times too often. It's possible to ignore that extra knowledge you have, but it's harder than it seems.

Black Box Plot
The Black Box Plot basically writes your story for you. As I wrote above, you follow the cops, who are most likely going to be your main point of view characters. Sure, there's enough stories that include the culprit's point of view, too, but the main focus is still on solving the crime. So you're basically swimming with the stream here.
And again, looking at this from the other side reveals the problems. Following the cops will lead you the same problems as them. You'll find yourself endlessly meandering until you figure out what your next step is. Sometimes, you need to take leaps of faith and see if the story works out the way you want it to.

Plot and Story

Up until now, I've always talked about a something something plot. That was because I was talking about the raw "what is going on" of the story, not necessarily what is written down. Just because you develop the plot white box, that doesn't mean that you have any culprit POV segments in it, and vice versa. Because once you have your plot, you can write your story around it, and that doesn't need to have the same structure as your internal plot notes.
Of course, I'm not telling anyone how to make their murder mysteries, but I think I've done a decent job outlining black/white box differences for writing here. Because I'm preeetty sure you can apply this to other types of plots, too. Make of that what you will.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Writing Icebergs

Yes, I'm still alive. I spent my time working, in hospital and forcibly not doing anything (in that order). During the second period, my only source of entertainment was books. I found out that there seems to be an upper limit as to how much Jack Reacher someone can take, but luckily, my grandma brought me another book from the family crime novel stash (Yes, that's totally a thing.). That book did a few things wrong, mostly with its characters. One of these things is where my inspiration for this post comes from.

Oh god, I'm rambling again.

Iceberg ahead!

Icebergs (I love loanwords) are funny things. The reason I'm using them as a metaphor here is the way they swim. The largest part of an iceberg is, invisible to the common Titanic passenger, hidden under water. But it can still influence its surroundings, as the common Titanic passenger had to realize.

 Yes, and?

And now let's apply this to writing. Many concepts in storytelling should, if done well, be icebergs. How exactly that looks depends on the element, though.

One of the most common mistakes I've seen with people who want to present their game idea to the common public is way too much worldbuilding in the pitch. I already talked about plot in relation to the setting, so go read that post for more details. The bottom line is that the plot is what drives things forward, not the world it's set in.
Sure, you shouldn't completely ignore your setting. It exists for a reason, and not referencing it at all makes it interchangeable. But the other extreme, endlessly wallowing in the setting with hardly any plot, isn't much better. Make the setting matter, show things that need explaining, but don't cram every detail you have into it.

This is where my original inspiration for this post comes in. The book I read almost constantly threw its main characters' backstory at me, to the point where I started identifying them by what happened before the plot. As with the world, having actual backgrounds for your characters is a good thing. The things that happened in a character's past influence their decisions in the present. But that doesn't mean that these things should be elaborated every time they influence that character. Also, backstory is not an excuse for everything and characters should have at least some development over the course of the story.

Yes, even the plot can be iceberged to an extent. This refers mostly to overly detailed subplots that don't really add that much to the grand scheme of things. Alternatively, there's people who want to tell you every little thing that happens between important scene A and B, no matter how insignificant or matter-of-fact it is. This is like toilets in video games. Just because they're not in the game that doesn't mean that nobody poops. It's just not shown because it's irrelevant.

The Bottom Line

It all comes down to, well, paring down the things that are visible. I have the feeling that too many people feel that their audiences are morons and will not get things if they're not waved in front of their faces. Things can be left out. Things can be abstracted. We don't need to know that Bobby McJohnson's dislike of the color pink comes from the embarrassing hat he wore at his first day of school.

Also, this is one of these topics that's a highly uneducated opinion, so if I'm talking garbage, feel free to tell me. But include the non-garbage interpretation, too. Now, if you're looking for me, I'm in my tomato shelter.