The Astral Empire – Treasonists Update

Chapter Seven has been officially finished as far as this draft goes, titled ‘The Astral Empire.’

So, let’s see what came out of this chapter (I’m going to steal an update summary technique from Court Ellyn!):

Original words: 0
Current words: 4600
Bad things that happen: the Astral Empire senate votes to stay out of the war.
Good things that happen: Prince Sephiran finds an ally elsewhere.

Yes, this is the first chapter so far that has been entirely new material, and I am quite glad at how it has turned out as it adds a lot to the early parts of the story, and provides some much needed narrative relief. In the original draft, Prince Sephiran sets out to rally allies to join him in his war against Silvara – and the first 25,000 words or so concern him getting to one such ally, to seek their help. There is a lot of build up surrounding this – Sephiran says they will help him; they must help him, for it is his only hope.  Zyrina argues they won’t; she warns that they are too selfish and apathetic, and he would do better elsewhere. There is a lot of tension built around this, and one question glows in the reader’s mind; ‘Will they help?’

Continue reading

Creating Good Characters – Tropes and Relationships

About a week ago blogger ‘ericjbaker’ posted an article called ‘Writing Motivated Characters,’ on his blog, found by clicking the name. It is a good read, and I recommend you go take a look if you haven’t already. I posted a brief comment in reply, mentioning my own method of creating characters; it is this method I would like to go through today.

‘Characters for an Epic Tale’
Source: Tvtropes.org (click image for link)

Continue reading

The Treasonists March Onward

After a long and successful campaign through the battlefield that is first-year University, I have returned to the home-front that is Treasonsists.

Alright, enough war metaphors – that was in danger of becoming purple. Over the past couple of weeks I have made huge progress with Treasonists, Pulling it from an idyllic dream into what initial readers tell me is reminiscent of a professional book. As you can no doubt guess, I’m quite stoked to hear that, if a little disbelieving. However, it is hard to deny the difference in quality between now and the last round of drafting – A lot has been added to the plot, characters and world and, to me, it seems like things are coming together as they should instead of being segmented in their own scenes. When I first started, my goal was to have a product of at least 75,000 words – the current count is about 80,000, and with much to go I expect the end product to be at least 100,000 words strong, if not more.

In celebration of my progress, I thought I’d give you a short teaser from near the start of the book. This is fairly close to what I imagine the final product to be, but please do keep in mind it has a little to go yet.

 

Treasonists – excerpt 1

‘Father, war is not the answer. It is already difficult enough to defend the food storehouses and prevent the civilians from murdering each other. Even our own soldiers quarrel over bread. A foreign invasion will only cause further hardship for our people and needlessly add to already overflowing graves. There must be a better solution; we can appeal to the Astral Empire, offer trade with Erethol! Surely, if the royal coffers can support an invasion, we could equally support the rebuilding of infrastructure and agriculture. But to go to war would achieve nothing but needless destructi-‘

‘Nonsense!’ Silvara seethed. ‘You know nothing of the situation or politic! Run back to your toy soldiers and leave such worldly matters to others.’

‘The blood of the empire runs through my veins just as yours, and I receive the same reports.’  Sephiran retorted, holding his ground.  Silvara scowled and turned to the king.

‘We must unite the people to remove the threat of revolt, and seize crops and farmlands to quell starvation and discontent. My king, you must make a decision now; we don’t have time for diplomacy or games.’ The tired eyes of the king rested wearily on Silvara, and his lips parted to draw fresh air into his lungs.

‘We must,’ Came his croak, dry and crackling, ‘to war.’  He coughed painfully, dry air forced from his chest. ‘It is the only way.’

‘Do you see, Sephiran?’ Silvara turned to her brother. ‘War is the only path, even our father, the king and emperor of all Azimir, agrees. What place do you have to object?’ Sephiran’s mind whirled with objections; to start a war was pure folly. Neither the Astral Empire nor Kingdom of Erethol would look kindly upon such reckless expansion across the seas, and if Silvara meant to attack one of the greater powers – it was inconceivable. The Three Emperor’s Treaty was signed by the king of Azimir himself, and guaranteed an alliance between any two empires against the aggression of the third. Yet with all these objections burned into his mind, all the Prince could do was stammer in confusion.

‘Please, father, I beg you reconsider. We can gather support from the other empires and states, we have treaties and agreements!’

‘You would throw us at the mercy of other empires?’ Silvara snapped, ‘Have you no shame? No honor ’ She paused, catching breath, ‘War is the only way to ensure the people of Azimir don’t turn against each other, or our king! Are you a traitor? Do you not care for your country? Your people? Your father?’ Silvara spat at Seph’s feet in disgust, smirking as the boy stood paralyzed in shock, his mind struggling to make sense of Silvara’s attacks. The string of treacherous accusations had come from nowhere, and he was unready to counter them. Silvara grinned at his inaction, and her eyes flashed.

‘Nothing to say?’ she mocked, snatching advantage from his silence ‘After all, Sephiran, you cannot argue with the truth.’  Silvara approached the king, and leaned to whisper something in his ear. Slowly, the monarch’s eyes grew wide as his face twisted in anger.

‘Sephiran!’ He didn’t yell; he couldn’t yell, but the sentiment was clear in his tone.  ‘You are banished!’

‘Prince Sephiran,’ Silvara gleefully took over the monarch’s rites, hints of humor flaring through her voice. ‘Third in line for the Azimiran throne after Lord-Lieutenant Princess Silvara and Prince Admiral Garcia, I presently strip you of your royal title. You are banished from the Empire of Azimir for treason and crimes against the throne.’

1812 – Year of the Zombies (And my return to the scene)

I feel a little like a zombie right now, actually. All of my Assignment’s have been handed in, my semester exams are over and on top of that I have the Flu. Since March, so much of my time has been dedicated to reading textbooks and essays and writing essays and assignments that now I have the freedom of the winter holidays, I forgot what I’m meant to do with myself.

Perhaps that’s why when a writer-friend Alerted me to Acacia Moon’s upcoming Zombie Anthology ‘And Then Jayne Was A Zombie,’ I was hit with a sudden bust of inspiration. A good thing, too – I was finding it hard to get back into the middle of a project after so long of writing nothing but History and Psychology assignments (As much as I enjoyed writing those – Particularly my major essay on the Industrial Revolution. Fascinating stuff). And so began a frenzy of thinking and note writing that would steal yet more sleep from my tired body.

I have yet to see zombies done correctly, yet to read a book or see a movie that really makes me think ‘Yes, this is what Zombies are.’ (I think I may have told you this before, Internet…) Don’t get me wrong, I love zombies and Zombie fiction to (un)death – WWZ by Max Brooks is my favorite (But His Zombie Survival Guide is cringe worthy), and I have all of Romero’s Zombie flicks – even the bad ones. 4pocalypse by Dark Red Press deserves a shout out here because I didn’t have the time to review it – though I loved it – and it has some very cool takes on the Zombie theme (and a Swordfight.) I have about two hundred and sixty hours clocked on Left 4 Dead, and it remains one of my favorite games. But I have never quite seen Zombies done – in any medium – in a way that completely fills the hole in my heart brains, so to speak.

Now, I’m not about to say I’ve written it. I would love to one day, and probably will end up doing so (I would have loved to be the first to combine Zombies and Steampunk – two of my favorite themes – if Cherie priest didn’t bollox it already) but not now. To be honest, I’m not even sure exactly what I would consider the zombie ‘perfection’ – Probably something of ‘War of the worlds’ style – a tale of survival until the Zombie menace falls to decomposition, with a heavy dose of humanity and human nature through a magnifying glass,  inspired by my many hours of Sneaking around Chernarus in Day Z(I wrote an essay about that, too – Perhaps I’ll fix it up and post it here) No, I don’t think I can do Zombies justice yet, so my Zombie Magnum Opus will have to wait.

But even so, I am excited to do something with zombies for the anthology (And, well, just because I love zombies, in case you didn’t get that) so I filled three pages of a notebook with notes on Zombies and a dozen half-detailed ideas. Originally I wanted to explore some of the themes of my essay (That, I have decided, I will fix up and post in the near future), which can be summarized as a look at why survivors tend to shoot each other out of fear of being shot themselves – Along with themes like Scavenging and guerilla warfare, Heavily inspired by Day Z. However, I was finding it difficult to pull together a nice, coherent plot – especially as I had assumed a somewhat modern-day setting, and I am terrible at modern-day settings. So I took all of my Zombie Ideas travelled back a few hundred years, to the setting I work best with, and – in a Brilliant coincidence – This is when Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture started playing over my trusty digital gramophone (Read: I-tunes), so I thought – Zombies, in Napoleon’s 1812 Invasion of Russia? This could be very interesting.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to dig out my books on the Napoleonic wars.

Game Writing 101

Growing up with a love for both books and video games, I was always disappointed at the quality of the stories found in my games.  Games had the gameplay, while books had the plot – the two never really mixed. Sure, there are a handful of games with top-notch plots behind them, and it could be argued that for some games the story is irrelevant (and in some cases, rightly so.) But I always wanted that little bit more from my games, and it was disappointingly rare to find a gem that delivered. Even rarer to find a game that shines in both aspects, story and gameplay.

But it wasn’t until I tried to write my own game plot that I realized just how hard it is.

Let me explain – I am one half of an indie game-development team called ‘Nightfall Studios,’ and for the past few years we have been working on our first game ‘Shadow of a Second Sun’ – I had been involved in it from the beginning, but my biggest contribution was writing the plot and several ‘faction plots’/subplots/sidequests.

When I set out to work on the plot, I really wanted to come up with a good game plot that could drive a long campaign forward and bring out the best a game can offer. The standard for game stories has been set depressingly low, and because I come from a novel-writing background and consider plotting to be the strongest aspect of my writing I decided to treat it like a novel. I would write a plot that evolves, captures and holds interest and makes the player  feel for the characters involved in the story – just like any good novel.  However, there were a few major differences between novel and game writing I quickly learned to keep in mind…

First of all, there is the question of what can be portrayed in the context of a game.  In a novel the writer can portray almost anything with the clever use of words, and they can  jump from place to place, character to character to show a reader different events happening at different times, far away from each other. The entire purpose of a novel is to tell a story, and it is perfectly suited to doing that. A game, however, is a little more restricted.

I wanted to have the story develop and evolve around the player as they play the game, as opposed to having segments of story and play with relatively little to do with each other.  I was able to achieve this in two ways – First, I made sure everything I wrote could be portrayed in the game. This means I stuck to a single characters point of view and didn’t write anything that required programming or extra game features to implement. Working within the context of the game mechanics  is very important, and being mindful of that allowed me to write a plot that can be written into the game without changing and reworking core game mechanics and systems. In fact, I was able to actively use the mechanics of the game in the plot.

Second, I use a lot of characters to inform the player of what is going on in the world around them. This is the first major deviance from my ‘write it like a novel’ philosophy, as in a novel it would be a blatant break of the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule.  However, it is justified in the context of a game where it is impossible to show the same amount of detail possible in a novel.

The second concern was the question of interactivity. Unlike a novel, where the story is the sole attraction, a game is based on interactivity with the player – indeed, that is what makes it a game. While writing the plot, I had to keep this in mind – the primal purpose of a plot is to give context and purpose to what the player is doing.

Here, I used the concept of ‘modular plotting’ – the idea was to give the player a goal to work towards, and let them follow it themselves.  In addition to this, I tried to make the plot events themselves as playable as possible, so that the player was actively working towards their goal in the game, instead of simply running between cut scenes.  This created two kinds of gameplay – ‘plot’ gameplay, where the player is playing directly for the advancement of the plot – be it delving deep into a dungeon to recover something, escaping capture, to raiding an enemy fortress – and ‘world gameplay’ where the player is exploring the world, making their way from one point to another.

The story was written to have all the aspects of a good novel, so that if I wanted to I could write a book from it – but gameplay-story integration was also a high priority. The balance between these two demands was hard to get right at first, but I’m confident we have stuck it (or are very close). It’s a compelling plot with all the Themes, characters, emotion and connection as a novel, but happens within the context of a playable and evolving world where the player makes their own decisions and, most importantly, plays the game.

So, there is a little about how the plot for Shadow of a Second Sun was written.  Next time, I’ll talk more about the plot itself, and difficulties with character.

I thought I’d end this post with a short list of some of my favorite story driven games. So, in no particular order, here goes:

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones – I love all FE games, but Sacred stones if my favorite.

Legend of Zelda:  Majora’s Mask -The Zelda games are very Similar, But Majoras mask is a stand out story-wise. Ocarina of time is my favorite, overall.

Bastion  – Bastion has a good story, but the really impressive part is the way it is told and explored through the game.

Metro 2033 – Metro 2033 is perhaps one of my Favorite games. It has a Brilliant story, brilliantly told –with most of the plot unfolding naturally around the player – it is Linear, but it doesn’t feel like you are being pushed though a set plot. The Narration between chapters is just the icing on the top.

Arcanum of Steamworks Obscura  – a Great RPG. Maybe I’m a little Bias because I love anything Steampunk. It’s a Good example of a story the player has a huge effect on, where player choices have significant and permanent effect on the plot and world.

World In Conflict – Proves RTS games can have good stories.

Half-Life 2 – Another prime example of the story evolving right in front of the players eyes.  Like Metro 2033, everything seems to naturally fall into place.  (A bit of a ‘gaming confession’ – I haven’t played Half life 1. I know – terrible, right?)

What story based games to you know? Leave any game suggestions or comments below! 

Why I Write

Today, a friend asked me where I get the will to sit down and write. Here is a (refined) Copy of the answer I gave:

I write because it’s what I love. Well, there is more to it than that, but that’s certainly the first step.

And if that is the first step, then next are inspiration and confidence.  I love my characters, I love my stories, I love my settings – and I really think that, once I have it all written down, other people will love it too. When I’m planning something, I make sure that every character, every scene, every theme – everything that goes into it – is awesome, even on its own. I make sure every sentence I put down is something I would enjoy reading.  Then, when everything has been combined into a novel, I know I’ve come out with something awesome.  And that Inspires me. It is important for me to be inspired by what I’m writing about, and by the characters. It’s important I feel for my characters – because if I don’t, how can I expect readers to?

But the actual task of sitting down and writing? The act of pushing keys until words form, and doing that over and over until I have a string of letters that make some sense? That can be hard, sometimes. I’m Lazy. It’s easier for me to browse the internet, or watch a movie. Heck, it’s easier for me to sit around and stare blankly at my plot outline imagining everything as a movie (or rather, Imagining everything as an anime). Sometimes I’ll sit and write a few sentences or a paragraph and then get distracted and float away. Sometimes I’ll stare at the blinking cursor then decide to check my e-mail, then Facebook, then whatever else I can do to avoid writing.

Out of everything I do as a writer, starting is the hardest part. So I give myself a goal and promise myself a reward, just to start. I force myself into it. Just grit your teeth and do it, I think. And then, a few minutes later, I’m fully immersed in writing and nothing can pull me away until I hit the next bump. Then, usually, it’s off to see what shiny things are on the internet (it’s amazing how much more productive I am when I unplug the Ethernet cable). Sometimes I delete the last paragraph and re-write it from memory, as close as I can, just to get my fingers moving on the keys and my brain ‘into gear.’ Sometimes I do some reading before I write, Sometimes I log onto LegendFire and give a short critique. Sometimes I just listen to music.

But what drives me? Where do I find the will to do any of it, at all? There is no real easy answer to that question.  I could say that I write because it’s what I love, because it’s ‘my thing,’ but that ignores the fact I fantasize about giving people I know a copy of my book.  That ignores the fact I fantasize about seeing myself in the bookstore.  It’s true, though. I do write because it’s what I love, and even if no one could ever read it, I’d still spend hours tapping away.  Writing, Just the simple act of writing, gives me an amazing feeling I can’t get from anything else. I can look back after hours of work and think ‘I wrote that, I created that. Without me, that would not exist.’ Maybe writing is my way of proving I exist. I write, therefore I am. Maybe. But even if every word I put down was to be erased at my death, I’d still write. Showing my work gives me an amazing feeling, too – being read, having another sentient Life-form read and enjoy something I wrote. The feeling is pure euphoria.

I guess it all comes down to this. I write because that’s me. Its who i am, it defines me. I know that sounds cliché and useless, and maybe it is.

But that’s really the only answer a writer can give.

 

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my greatest inspirations:

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

– George Orwell, ‘Why I Write.‘ 

Joyeux anniversaire monsieur Verne!

Oh marvelous day!

For those not in the know, Today, the 8th of February, is the 184th birthday of Monsieur Jules Verne – French Author and Pioneer of Science fiction.

This fan plans to celebrate the birthday of his favorite author by reading two short stories, ‘ A Drama in the Air’ and ‘The Blockade Runners’ – both available (with many of Verne’s works) freely and legally though project Gutenberg – even in English.

So – Happy Birthday Jules Verne!

 

On a semi-related note, I hope Google translate is worth its salt.