Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Six Aspects of a Story: What the Heck is a "Concept"?

The way I see it, every story--regardless of its genre or form of medium--can be broken down into six different aspects:

Some of my favorite stories of all time excel at all six of these, but a solid story will do well at least at a few. Some of these aspects are more complicated or time-consuming to work on than others, but that mostly depends on the author. Some aspects just come naturally to some writers; other writers may struggle with all five. But I think most writers usually have at least one that comes easily.

Today, let's look at that first aspect: Concepts.

Concept

If you ask somebody what a certain show is about (and insist on keeping it spoiler-free), they'll probably tell you the Concept. The Concept is what the story is about, what's it like, what's its main focus. It is NOT a summary of everything that happens in the story (that'd be a summary of the Plot/Pacing). The Concept is a hook--it's something interesting about the world, the characters, or the plot that draws audiences in.

This means that although the Concept might include a tidbit of the plot (what happens in a story; more on that in the weeks to come), it is separate from the Plot/Pacing. After all, you could sit there and tell people exactly what happens in the entirety of Game of Thrones (it'd take a while, but it's possible), but that's not telling people WHY they should watch or read Game of Thrones. That's what the Concept is for--it's the why. Why people should care about the story, why people should watch or read or play, why the audience will enjoy the story.

To find the Concept of a story, ask yourself this: "Why do I watch this show/read this book/go to see this movie?"

For example, here's a few Concepts of some stories you might be familiar with:

Beauty and the Beast - A prince cursed into the form of a hideous beast must find true love before his transformation becomes permanent. But will the woman who stumbles upon his castle be able to break the spell?

Super Mario Bros. - Plucky plumber Mario and his brother, Luigi, fight a medley of monsters in order to save Princess Toadstool from the evil Bowser.

The Blacklist - One of the FBI's Most Wanted abruptly turns himself in after twenty years of successfully eluding capture. He agrees to give them the names of criminals so dangerous that even the FBI isn't aware of them. The catch? He insists that the only person he'll speak to is someone he has no right to even know about: a brand-new profiler and no-name, Agent Elizabeth Keen.

The Big Bang Theory - A group of stereotypically socially awkward but brilliant and men humorously shed light on life as a nerd, especially highlighting what's most important to them: comic books, quantum physics, and finding out how to get (or keep) the ladies in their lives.

Notice that some Concepts actually introduce questions. That's another way they can hook their audiences. If a story raises questions, we're naturally inclined to sit down and hear more, even if the rest of the story doesn't seem to be something we'd enjoy as much. It takes advantage of our innate human curiosity.

What's It About?

Ever been in this scenario?

You're in the middle of a TV show when someone walks by and asks what you're watching. You tell them the title, and then they ask the inevitable followup question: "What's it about?" But you discover you have no idea what to say. Of course it's not that you don't know what your show is about; it's just really hard to define. You say it'd just be easier to show them rather than explain it.

A story's Concept isn't bad if it's hard to express; it might just be a Concept that's less focused on the plot and more focused on the characters or on the setting itself. This isn't the norm, but it does happen.

For example, I could tell you the plot of one of my favorite video games, Journey--it's about a person who goes on a quest, a journey. That's it.

But it's not so much the plot (the "what happens") in the story that is the Concept of the game. It's not the plot that keeps me playing it over and over again, that sucked me into the world. In the case of this game, its irresistible qualities were a combination of the Style (its aesthetics, in this case) and the Concept--because the Concept of this game is that while your character goes on a long journey, they don't do so alone--they meet a companion along the way, a randomly-selected real-world human player, and together you battle the elements and puzzle through the challenges to complete the journey as a team. The Concept of Journey, then, is the protagonist undergoes the trials of a journey while forming an indescribable bond with their companion.

Sometimes a story's Concept is the world itself (the Setting, or where and when a story takes place). I think this was the main draw of James Cameron's Avatar: its setting was so breathtaking that it was what people went to see the movie for.

Sometimes a story's Concept is the Characters, especially their interactions with one another. These are perhaps the hardest Concepts to define because it's really hard to clearly sum up what a character (or characters!) is like.

What Makes It Different?

A Concept is equal parts what your story is about and what makes it unique. Uniqueness is another thing that attracts an audience like bees to a flower. If something about your story stands out, more people are probably going to take notice.

For example, plenty of stories take place in a post-apocalyptic future. But what makes something like the Fallout series so popular with gamers? It's a post-apocalyptic radiation-mutated world in an alternate universe that is probably forever locked in something akin to Earth's 1950's. That 50's flavor is something very different from other post-apocalyptic stories and is something that both differentiates and endears Fallout to its fans' hearts.

Why Should I Care About Concept?

Sometimes a Concept is the very first thing developed in a story, and sometimes a Concept is one of the later things a writer may consider. Often it's not the last thing to be developed, though, since a writer needs to have in mind WHY an audience would want to pay attention to their story in the first place. Remember, this is exactly what the story's Concept is--the why.

A story--any story--runs off the "why": "Why should I care about this character?" "Why should I care about these events?" The audience is too busy being bombarded by other media to pay much attention if a story doesn't answer those questions in a way that satisfies them. If the writer isn't considering the why, people probably aren't going to see a point to pay attention to their story.

This is why the Concept is so important--and is the first in my list of the six aspects of a story.

Next we'll be looking at Characters--what they do for a story, why they're so important, and why the best characters really stand out!

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Is There a Little Author in Every Character?

I used to subscribe to a hypothesis that an author puts a little piece of himself--however tiny--into every character that he or she creates. It could be as big as a self-insert character ("This character is based off me," as is the case of my own character Emarella) or as small as one of the author's personality traits, a like or dislike, or a drive or goal.

I didn't think this insertion was always intentional. In fact, I thought more often than not the best characters were usually a subconscious extension of the author, rather than a conscious effort of the author to write a part of themselves into a character. But I thought that the difference between a round, realistic character and a flat, cliche caricature was often whether an author had put a piece of herself into her character.


For example, let's look at three of my most recent characters: the Norse goddess Idunn, a dirty cop named Cassius, and a young Jedi named Cailen.

It's hard for me to point out something that all three of these characters have in common. Idunn and Cailen are both relatively mild-mannered and want to change their worlds for the better, whereas Cassius is only in life for himself. Cassius and Idunn would move heaven and earth to protect the ones they love, but Cailen doesn't even know who his family was. Even so, each of these characters has a piece of me in them--which was completely unintentional.

It was only after spending an extended time contemplating their characters that I realized there were reflections of me in all three of these characters. Idunn and Cailen both struggle with a major flaw of mine: they wrestle with crippling self-doubt. Cailen struggles to believe the picture others paint of him, because he believes that they don't understand his flaws and failures the way he does. Idunn constantly compares herself to others, thinking she's inferior to them: she's not as pretty as Freyja, she's not as brave as Thor, she's not as strong as Ullr.

Even Cassius, who is arguably the least like me out of the three--I'm certainly not violent, self-assured, brutal, and willing to crush whoever gets in my way--still has a piece of me, too. He struggles to submit to authority. His greatest desire is to break from the shackles of society and be truly free--from an overbearing government and from anyone telling him how to live his life.

I thought this phenomenon was connected to the old adage, "Write what you know." How better to create a character that feels less like a character and more like a real person than by putting a piece of a real person into them?

But you may have noticed that I keep writing this in the past tense--"I thought" and "I used to." That's because I'm not entirely sure if I believe my own hypothesis any more. That's because I spend a lot of time writing with a buddy of mine who... really doesn't fit into this theory at all. Unless he's a much different person than I've known for the past few years.

In most of the stories (roleplays) we do together, I play the protagonist and he plays... well, everyone else. It's difficult for me to show in the short span of a single blog post just how different but vibrant his characters are--but that doesn't mean I won't try. For instance, in Idunn's story alone, my friend's characters range from the sneaky and charismatic (but dangerous) Lucifer, the arrogant and gruff Ullr (who loves to make fun of how inept he thinks Idunn is), the sensitive and wise Prometheus, and the teasing but protective and brotherly Heimdall (who does his best to take care of Idunn even when she constantly gets herself into trouble).

Yes, I suppose I could try to figure out how each of these characters portrays a piece of my friend, but I'd be hard-pressed to do so. So few of these characters are anything like him. And what's more, he says his character creation process is simple--make a character that's interesting. That's it. He never thinks about whether they have a part of him inside or not. He just does what he thinks would be fun to write and what would best serve the story.

It doesn't exactly completely disprove my hypothesis, but it sure makes it hard for me to hold onto it.

Oh well. Such is science--creating and disproving hypotheses, only to make new and better ones.

...Did I just turn my writing from an art into a science? And here I thought I could never be a scientist.

---
How do you create characters? Do you think there's still some merit to my hypothesis, or can you find ways to improve it? Let me know in the comments section!

--- 
Photo by Aaron Burden. Originally posted on Unsplash.com.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Don't Take Fifteen Years to Write a Book

What the title says. Don't do it. Don't write a book over the course of fifteen years. It'll save you a major migraine later in life.

Or at least, if you're going to work on a book for more than fifteen years, make sure it's fifteen years in a row of constant work. Don't take multiple-month breaks because you don't feel inspired.

My notes for The Victor's Blade are a mess. And they're a mess because 1) there's so many of them (content developed over the course of fifteen years will do that), and because 2) there's so many versions of them. I guess content developed over the course of a bajillion breaks will do that, too.

I mentioned in "5 Things I Hate About Being a Writer" how many different ways I've created to keep track of my book ideas. It's a lot. Long outlines and short outlines and chronological sequences of events and timelines... it was a mess. It was too much. So lately I've been taking some time off writing to organize my notes. It makes it a lot easier to write when I know where I'm going. And it's a lot easier to know where I'm going when I can just easily glance at my notes.

Glancing at my notes hasn't been easy: not when I need to skim through at least three different documents just to see if there's some idea or plot point I need to touch on. Remember how I mentioned how hard it was to keep up with subplots? Yep. I'm dealing with that right now.

I almost feel a little guilty that my notes are all over the place. I used to think if an author didn't keep the details of their own stories straight, it meant they didn't care enough about their stories to begin with. Now that I am that author who keeps uncovering conflicting ideas in her plot plans, it's safe to say I don't subscribe to that thought any more.

At least I'm looking for those conflicting details, right? Right? Ehhhh...

A lot of the stuff I'm planning won't even make it into The Victor's Blade, just like how much of what J. R. R. Tolkien planned for The Lord of the Rings didn't make it into the trilogy proper. There's a lot of worldbuilding stuff that would be silly for me to include in this particular story, but it's no less vital to, well, build the world of The Victor's Blade.

But sometimes I worry much of my book is too complicated. What if this plot point doesn't make sense? Will readers understand what this character is trying to say? Are all these details weighing down this arc?

For now, I'm trying not to worry about that. I have to focus on one problem at a time.

And lately, that one problem is cleaning up these over-complicated notes. Once I do that, I can solidify my outline. And once I know where to go, writing is a piece of cake.

In theory. I may still hit a brick wall of writer's block. Ughhhhh...

One thing at a time, Jeannette. Just one thing at a time.

---
Sorry, all. Was going to post a photo, but looks like Photobucket crapped out on me again. One of these days, I need to figure out what it is that determines whether it'll work or not. And I need to find a better uploading site. Sigh.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Broken Engagement: Am I Over Him Yet?

Yeah, I've been through the agony of a broken engagement. Not a fun experience, to put it kindly.

Awkward segue time: dreams have been on my mind a lot lately.

Now, this isn't the first time I've talked about dreams. But the thing that's really on my mind today is one of the kinds of dreams I brought up way back in March--those dreams that sort of stick with you even after you wake up. The ones where your significant other says something really horrible to you and you wake up ready to pummel them with your pillow. The ones where you're late for class, but your shirt has a hole in it, you can't find your backpack, breakfast keeps burning, and everyone and their mother wants you to do the twelve Labors of Heracles before you leave. Then you wake up and wonder why you feel exhausted before the day's even begun.

I get these dreams fairly often. And recently, a whole heckofa lot of them have been about my former fiance.

Whenever I have a dream more than once in the span of a few days or weeks, I start to wonder if there's some meaning behind it. And especially considering how these dreams with my former fiance always leave me emotionally-charged, they make me feel like my subconscious is trying to tell me something.

My former fiance and I broke off our engagement years ago. I want to say it's been four since February, but I'd have to look it up. And that's not so easy. Because despite my desire to heal in an emotionally-mature way from such a painful event, I didn't exactly meticulously document the break-up. At least, not the night it happened. I've documented my broken heart pretty well since then, in bits and pieces.

Usually that happens on a night when I feel so overwhelmed with emotion that I can't help but sit down and journal. There's no resisting the urge to write about how I'm feeling. I've tried. Not writing just leaves me feeling... it's hard to describe. Kind of like a closed plastic bottle filled with soda and Mentos. It's not going to take long before all that pressure builds up and I explode.

I figure writing is the better alternative.

But writing only takes me so far. It helps me feel better for a little while, but I often wonder how much it helps. Is it really helping me heal? Yeah, I get to be honest about how I'm feeling, but how I'm feeling is always the same thing: "My heart is aching. I feel so alone. I'm overwhelmed. I wonder if this will ever get any better. I feel like it won't." My sorrow seems to swallow me whole each time.

That, coupled with the recurring dreams of my old flame, makes me wonder... Am I even over him yet?

When you promise you're going to get married to somebody, when you really think you love them, do you ever truly "get over them"? Or do they always have a place in your heart, even if that place changes over time? Do you let go once you move on to the next date? When you're married?

I guess the question I really keep asking myself is...

How do you know when you've healed over a terrible loss?

And have I? Will I? Or am I going to be stuck in this dark hole for as long as I keep poring over my feelings? Have I expressed all my grief, or am I still keeping some hidden inside?

Because I'm really good at holding emotions in. Or really bad with it, I guess is the better way to say it. Expressing myself doesn't come naturally unless it's gotten so bad I can't hold it in any longer. Better to just stuff it all inside. Better not to think about it.

Better not to dwell on the pain.

But are these dreams warning me that I'm not expressing my real feelings enough? Is that why my former fiance keeps traipsing the corridors of my dreams? After all, if that's the case, then something's got to confront me about it. Something's got to remind me that there's feelings there that haven't been dealt with.

The thing is, I feel like I have dealt with them. Again and again and again, every time that I journal about it.

So what gives? Do my dreams mean nothing? Should I just ignore the dreams? Ignore my feelings? Let the feelings go? Stop lingering over them and move on?

Or is there more going on here?

I honestly don't know. Wish I did.

There's some things I know for sure, but they're not pretty.

I know that I wish the dreams would just go away. I know that they make me feel like I've been set back a thousand painful paces from where I started after we broke up. Like dreaming them dredges up all the broken pieces of my feelings that I thought I tossed out already, or that I should have discarded a long time ago. I know that while I'm dreaming, I feel so many of the good things I miss about him. And I know that when I wake up, I'm left feeling sick to my stomach, as if I had to say goodbye to him all over again.

I know that I hate goodbyes. Living in a long-distance relationship will do that to a person.

And I know that it's good we broke up. I know that it was healthier for both of us to say goodbye. But I also know that I still hate it had to happen. I still hate all the pain it caused us both.

I know that I feel like I should be over him by now. I know that I feel like I should be healed from it all.

But I know I'm not. Because if I was, I wouldn't feel ashamed every time I wake up from these dreams about him.

It's especially hard going through stuff like this because I know so few people who have gone through broken engagements. So many people have break-ups, but a broken engagement... maybe I'm just being prideful, but it feels like it's different. It's a different kind of pain. And because it's so freaking personal and sensitive, I can't exactly just bare my heart to every Joe Schmoe who walks on by.

Even though that's probably exactly what I'm doing by posting all this on the internet... Now I'm fighting the temptation to just delete all this and start over with some other light-hearted blog post for today.

But that's not honest. That's not what's really going on with me right now. And I feel I owe you that much, to be raw and real with you. And I'll never break free of the pain if I'm not honest about how much it hurts, right?

I can only hope that by showing off some of my scars it'll help others out there who are suffering with scars of their own. Maybe even some of your own. Because it's not wrong to be scarred. It's not unnatural. You're not alone.

Okay. The other thing that seems to help, even temporarily? Prayer. I think it's just gonna be a hardcore prayer day today. Because no matter what pain I'm dealing with, no matter what shortcomings I'm having trouble overcoming, I know that God is there to understand.

Yeah, it's a prayer day today.

Peace.

Monday, June 20, 2016

5 Things I Hate About Being a Writer

I love being a writer. Over the past couple of weeks, I've written about some of the things I love about being a writer.

But as much as I enjoy crafting an entirely new world and all the little details that go into it...

I'm just gonna admit it now: writing can be a real pain in the butt. 'Cause it's harrrrd.

Here's just a few of the things I loathe when it comes to writing (in no particular order).

Reason #1: Killing off Characters


Killing off characters is like asking me to drop-kick a sack of three-legged puppies.

Don't make me do it!

My roleplay buddies used to tease me incessantly because I was the one person of the group who absolutely refused to kill off her characters. I've learned since then that sometimes you've just got to do it, but that doesn't make it any easier on me.

I mean, can you blame me? I spend hours, days, weeks, months, sometimes years developing characters. Why would I want to throw away all that hard work by killing them off?

And just like with people, when you spend that much time with a character, you tend to fall for them. I love a vast majority of my characters. I get to know them just as well as--heck, often even moreso--than most real people I know. My characters are funny or quirky or relatable. But once they're dead, they're dead. No more enjoying their company or laughing at their antics or lamenting their sorrows. How could I possibly let go of that? Why would I?

Well, there's good reasons why I would, but they're few and far-between, so I still only kill characters sparingly. Unless it's a villain. Then I'll murderize them with a vengeance.

I don't have problems, I swear.

Reason #2: Deleting Characters


Killing a character is hard. But at least their death means something. They died to protect another character, or they gave the protagonist the push they needed to become the hero they were meant to be. The dead character was part of the story, if only briefly. The reader got to know (and hopefully love) them.

Deleting a character before the story's even begun is hard in a different way.

I haven't deleted too many characters, but doing so always kills a tiny part of me. Even if it was a character I didn't like, it's sad to know that I'm making the conscious choice to never let them see the light of day. Nobody besides me is ever going to know they even existed. I know it's a necessary evil, but I can't help that even a tiny part of me thinks how cruel that fate would be if this character were a real person.

"Hey, guess what! You've been born into this world to serve a very specific, important purpose--

"Oh, actually, just kidding. You know all that stuff we said only you could do? Yeahhh, we're contracting that to that loser over there, Jerry. You're out. No one is going to remember you. What about your mom? Oh, she's Jerry's mom now. No, you're not her sweet little boy any more. Jerry is. Actually, no one's even going to know you ever existed. ANYWAY HAVE A GREAT DAY BYYYYYE!"


It just feels like a betrayal. It probably doesn't help that this is a recurring theme in one of my favorite game series, Kingdom Hearts, where you experience how painful it is for characters who disappear and are summarily forgotten by their only friends.

I'm a horrible person. I'll just be over here in the corner, curled in the fetal position while rethinking all my life decisions.

Reason #3: Subplots

I have a love-hate relationship with subplots. Subplots can be awesome! ...If done right.

Subplots are there to support a main arc, not take attention away from it. As soon as a subplot begins to take up more time than the main arc, something's gone wrong.

That's not to say I don't like subplots. They're there to add, which means subplots enrich a story--again, if handled correctly. There's little I find more satisfying as a consumer than when a bunch of seemingly unrelated subplots finally weave together to form a tale's dramatic conclusion.

One of my favorite anime, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, does this perfectly. Fullmetal Alchemist has about as many subplots as it does characters (and it has a large cast), but by the end, a logical series of events brings all of these disconnected characters together. The subplots merge together. It gives the characters far more meaning. It brings an end to their arcs. And it's as satisfying as a giant bowl of double fudge brownie ice cream on a hot summer day.

One small example of this (in as spoiler-free terms as I can manage): the once-selfish prince forms an alliance with a former enemy, but loses one of his loyal retainers to the blade of a major villain. Overcome with grief, the prince becomes the selfless leader his kingdom needs him to be. At the same time, the enemy-turned-ally is inspired by the prince, becoming a hero who grants the prince the strength he needs to take on the powerful major villain. They manage to wound the villain, weakening him enough to allow yet another side-character to finish him off later.

And that's not even the main storyline! But the writer masterfully thrusts all these seemingly-unrelated characters together at just the right moments to move the story forward. It's incredibly fun and interesting to watch.

It's also incredibly hard to pull off. Subplots are messy things.

One of the biggest things that makes subplots so messy is that each character has their own story, which is going on at the same time as many other characters' stories. That makes it very difficult for consumer and writer alike to keep keep track of everything.

Adding to that is the fact that many of these things aren't necessarily revealed to the viewer right away or in the correct order. You've got flashbacks, flash-forwards (think prophecies), and characters withholding information that will be revealed later. So as a writer, you have to not only establish 1) when everything happened, but also 2) what you're revealing to the viewer, AND 3) when to reveal what.

And trying to plan all that out, let alone keeping track of it all, is a living nightmare.

I feel like I've tried just about every method to keep track of subplots. I've filled out characters' actions on index cards and strung them across a wall (yes, it took up an entire wall). That took up way too much space, so I then moved it over to an Excel spreadsheet. But even that couldn't give me a good idea of what was happening at what time. Currently, I have:

1. A timeline of major events
2. An Excel sheet with all plans or ideas
3. A Word document with more detailed notes on all those ideas
4. A detailed outline of what will be revealed when
5. A less-detailed outline to see what the detailed outline says at a glance, and
6. A Word document listing every event pertinent to the book, listed in chronological order.

So, yes. Subplots are a bear.

Reason #4: Missing a Plot Hole

You probably already know how much I hate dealing with plot holes. They're hard to fix. They're a lot of work. But since I've already written your ear off about that, I'll tell you the one thing I might hate most about plot holes:

When I miss one.

One of the big reasons why I dread plot holes is a paralyzing fear I have...

Picture this: I've finally published The Victor's Blade. I have a copy of the hardcover on my bookshelf. It's shipping to all the bookstores. Things seem to be going well... until the first reviews hit. People are tearing it to shreds. They're laughing at it. No one can take it seriously because the entire series of events hinges on a a plot hole I never even noticed. And now it's too late to change it.

AHHHH!

Kind of like those dreams where you keep falling and falling and falling...

Ridiculous hyperbole aside, I really am scared of accidentally writing in a plot hole I never detected. I'm a fallible human being. I'm not going to see every issue with my story. But it seems completely unfair (not to mention terrifying) to think that the book's reputation (and mine) could hinge on something that I don't even have control over: something I didn't notice.

Reason #5: Dialogue

Dialogue sucks.

I love watching characters banter. But writing that banter is really hard.

Each character needs to have their own distinctive "voice": a reader should be able to recognize which character is talking just by the way they talk. After all, readers don't have the luxury of sound.

But you can't just slap a different accent on each character. Not only is that lazy (and unrealistic), the reader's going to get tired of it real quick. Reading dialect is much harder than normal English, because a lot of times a reader will have to "interpret" a character's dialect. There's a lot of missing or changed letters--it's just a bit messy.

No, no. Each character's word choice and turn of phrase should be different. They need to sound unique but still sound like normal people. (Unless their schtick is that they don't talk like a normal person, in which case, they need to not talk like a normal person, which can be just as tricky to pull off convincingly without your reader going "Nobody would ever talk like that.")

My problem is that many of my characters sound alike. They sound like me. But I don't want my characters sounding like me. I'm boring! And having a million clones is boring, not to mention confusing.

I saw a perfect example of this in a series I read a few years ago. There were points where I had no idea what character was talking unless there was a dialogue tag ("Roland said..."). To make matters worse, the characters didn't even seem to stay in character when they talked. Character personalities all seemed to sort of meld together.

In the most heinous offense, the grizzled ranger, renowned for his dry wit and snarky humor, seemed to seep into all of the other characters. Maybe the idea was that he was rubbing off on his companions, but when his chipper young knight companion (a bit of an innocent meathead, but with a heart in the right place) began to use the exact same dry wit and humor--with no comment from the author that he was teasing the ranger or accidentally becoming more like him--it felt very unrealistic. That's because it's not realistic. Nobody talks exactly like you. Nobody, not even your friends, makes all the exact same kinds of jokes that you do.

It's extremely difficult to make characters talk differently from me, since that's the only way I know how to talk. I have to either pull things out of the air or study how other people talk. Writing different kinds of dialogue just doesn't come naturally.

Still, I can't deny that the result is well worth it. If only it weren't so hard to keep Jaranin from sounding just like Isalaina.

Ugh. Writing is harrrrd.

---
Photos (in order of appearance):

By jagdprinzessin; originally posted on Pixabay.com.

By Gerd Altmann; originally posted on Pixabay.com.

By Tom Sodoge; originally posted on Unsplash.com.

By Alexis Brown; originally posted on Unsplash.com.

Friday, June 17, 2016

No Update This Thurs! Sorry!

Hey everyone! I must apologize for the lack of a second update this week. As you know if you read my post on Tuesday, I've been suffering from a severe lapse in productivity, compliments of my addiction to E3.

As such, I was trying to catch up on working on The Victor's Blade Thursday... and completely forgot to write a blog post. I'm trying to write one up for later today, but I'm not sure that I'll get done with it in time.

(Yes, I'm going out of town once again...)

If I don't happen to get it finished today, I'll be posting Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday next week. I'll be sure to let you know either way, so check back for further updates! Sorry again in advance!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Confessions of an Excited Gamer

Maybe I should have named this "Confessions of a Procrastinator," because I've been doing that, too. But can you blame me? E3 is upon us at last. It feels like I've been counting down the days to E3 since February or so.

You see, E3, or the Electronic Entertainment Expo, is basically Christmas in June for gamers. For three glorious days, we are gifted with an enormous amount of news, trailers, and gameplay of upcoming games.

It used to be that I'd just check out trailers on YouTube long after E3 was over. But I've been getting more and more infatuated with E3 as the years pass. It's almost becoming an annual tradition: my siblings and I (and sometimes our dad) will park ourselves in front of the kitchen computer for hours on end, one of us cooking lunch or dinner on the range as we absorb as much information as we can.

It sounds boring (or extremely unhealthy), but trust me, for a gamer, it's my soaps. Or my Game of Thrones. I guess that's more popular these days. (Can you tell I don't watch shows much?)

My work flow had started trickling anyway. I've been hitting a brick wall with this most recent chapter of The Victor's Blade. But getting really into E3 has simply destroyed my productivity. I don't know if it's because I've been getting more and more invested in E3 recently or if it's because they're featuring four of my most anticipated up-and-coming games. And they're anticipated for very good reason. All four of these have been in development for a very long time, all four are installments in my favorite game series, and almost all four of them have been oozing with drama about their development and release.

Kingdom Hearts 2.8

I'll start with the newest Kingdom Hearts title, Kingdom Hearts 2.8. The Kingdom Hearts series follows a small-town boy named Sora as he fights back the dark forces that threaten to destroy the universe. This universe is comprised of many individual worlds that Sora visits, each populated by a colorful cast of characters including well-known Disney and Square Enix characters.

Now, Kingdom Hearts has always been mocked for its odd titles, but Kingdom Hearts 2.8 has a very good reason for the decimal: it contains events that take place between KH2 and the still-in-production KH3 (which I'm also anticipating with bated breath). Why 2.8 instead of 2.5? Well, the short version is because 2.5 was already taken by the remastered Kingdom Hearts 2--but that's another story for another time.

Now, why would I care about a game that just leads up to KH3? So glad you asked.

Kingdom Hearts is an incredibly complicated and deep storyline. Without playing (or at least watching) all the games, you'll probably be confused if not downright lost. Since Kingdom Hearts 3 is probably going to be wrapping up fifteen years' worth of story (the original Kingdom Hearts came out in 2002), it stands to reason there's a lot you'll need to know when going into this game. And Kingdom Hearts 2.8 is going to help do exactly that--prepare the players for KH3 by revealing some key information. That's why I and many other Kingdom Hearts fans are very excited for 2.8. So while it may seem silly to be so eager for a remaster and in-between game, trust me when I say that getting any little tidbit of story is well-rewarding when it comes to this series.

Besides, we haven't seen a main series title (KH2) since 2006 here in the US. And even the most recent full-length console game, Dream Drop Distance, released way back in 2012. We've had only one other Kingdom Hearts game to sate our appetites for KH3 since DDD, and that was the free-to-play mobile game that came out earlier this year--but let's face it, a mobile game with virtually no story is not really a good gauge for how long we've waited for more juicy Kingdom Hearts content.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda is one of those odd game series that had little story connection between games (up until recently, when they released an "official timeline" that connected the games). However, the games always follow the adventures of Link trying to save the world from danger. There's usually puzzles to solve, enemies to kill, and odd tools and weapons to pick up and utilize.

The newest title in The Legend of Zelda series was known until today as "Zelda U," since it was the first main-series title releasing for the Wii U console. Fans have been waiting for this game since seeing its teaser trailer at E3 2014, but we heard very little about what kind of a game it would be after that initial tease.

With a game series like The Legend of Zelda, that's big news to be left in the dark about. That's because the Zelda games have featured completely different styles of gameplay throughout the years, varying from the pixelated top-down action-based combat of the original game to side-scrolling Mario-style platforming to the puzzling, platforming, dungeon-crawling of the more modern games. Once we were told Zelda U was going to be an open-world game based on exploration and freedom, I and many other fans nearly lost our minds with anticipation. The game was initially set to release in 2015... and then it was set to release in 2016... and is now slated for a 2017 release.

Needless to say, after waiting for so long to see more than just a teaser trailer, seeing Breath of the Wild in action at E3 this morning was just phenomenal. In fact, as of the time of this post, Nintendo's Treehouse Live, which features gameplay from the game, is actually still running. Try checking for it on Nintendo's channel at Twitch.com.

Final Fantasy XV

The Final Fantasy series is another series that is difficult to define. Each game has a few core elements in common with its predecessors--the same healing items, usually in the JRPG (Japanese Roleplaying Game) genre--but each game is often self-contained and disconnected from the other games.

Final Fantasy XV was actually originally titled Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which shows just how long this game has been in development. Yes, there have been TWO main-series Final Fantasy games released since this one. Final Fantasy XV has been in development at least since 2006, when we saw its first teaser trailer.

The Final Fantasy series had been lagging after the lackluster releases of XI and XII, so fans were ready and rabid for a new solid entry to the series. So when the epic-looking 2006 teaser trailer released, fans (including me) nearly lost their minds with excitement. We had to get our hands on this game with the clean-cut protagonist and his magical armory and teleporting abilities.

The long wait began.

Very little news came out about Final Fantasy Versus XIII, even after Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIV released in 2009 and 2010. We even saw a sequel for Final Fantasy XIII a few years later (and sequels are highly unusual for any Final Fantasy title), but we still received very little news on Versus's progress. Rumors that the project would be canceled buzzed around the project like vultures around carrion.

But then, in 2013, the same year that they released a second sequel for Final Fantasy XIII, Square Enix revealed that Final Fantasy Versus was not only still in production--it had undergone a name change. It was now the next main-line title in the Final Fantasy franchise: Final Fantasy XV.

I was nearly blown away at such an amazing upgrade. Final Fantasy sequels are often not nearly as well-crafted games as the main-series titles, so the fact it had sloughed off the title of (what I considered to be) the sub-par Final Fantasy XIII blew my mind. And although I'm currently terrified it may not live up to my ten-year-long expectations, I'm still eager to get my hands on this game come this autumn.

The Last Guardian

If The Last Guardian had a spirit animal, it'd most definitely be the phoenix--and not just because of the bird-like animal companion featured in the game. Little is known about the story of The Last Guardian, but it seems to follow a small boy and his gigantic chimera-like companion as they traverse through a series of dangerous ruins. However, the key draw of the games produced by Team ICO isn't necessarily the explicit story--it's often the aesthetics and subtle storytelling through gameplay that draw so much attention to their games.

ICO, the team's first project, has and always will be my favorite game of all time. Although it contains a very simple story on the surface--boy is imprisoned, boy finds a girl, boy and girl try to escape girl's murderous, callous mother--it's an experience and a work of art so much more than "just a video game." Because ICO was such an incredible experience for me, I craved more games like it once I'd completed it. But that's the problem with something fresh and unique--there's not much else like it out there. I literally dreamed of them releasing an ICO sequel, but since the game sold relatively poorly, I thought there was no chance of that.

But they did. I played Shadow of the Colossus on my sixteenth birthday, in 2005. It was also amazing, but I still wanted more.

And then 2007 happened, and Team ICO revealed it was working on yet another project--which they affectionately referred to as "Trico," the third "ICO-type" game.

I repeatedly visited the official website of "Trico," as it featured two short trailers and screenshots from the game. I'd pore over the content there, hoping each time that this would finally be the time they'd have uploaded new pictures, or one tiny new video. The site was in Japanese, and I knew exactly zero Japanese, but it didn't matter. The visuals could keep me going, even if I couldn't understand what was being said or what the captions were.

But the website never updated. All I met with was years and years of deafening silence. And after the silence, something worse: bad news.

Rumors spread like wildfire that the director had been fired. Or had quit. I nearly panicked. The game would never possibly be the same without the man who had created my beloved ICO! When news came that he was no longer directing but was still working on the project, it allayed some, but not all, of my fears.

Then the real death-knell: word that The Last Guardian had been canceled.

Despite Sony continually refuting this, articles still kept popping up on relatively reputable sites saying that The Last Guardian had been canceled. Then a friend of mine told me that the trademark had expired. Facts couldn't lie. If the trademark for the game hadn't been renewed, it seemed clear there would be no game.

The Last Guardian looked like it could have been a rival to my all-time favorite game. But it had met with so much silence and struggle during its development, I'd wondered if it could really make it. I'd feared the game releasing as only a shell of what it could have been. I'd feared the game dying long before it could ever take flight. Now it had happened. Now those dreams were crushed. There would be no Last Guardian.

I was watching Sony's panel last year at E3 2015 when a familiar little boy ran across the screen. I just remember shrieking for joy as I saw The Last Guardian rise back to life before my eyes, in all its glowing glory. When the game was slated for a 2016 release date, I nearly became a puddle of grateful tears.

Needless to say, with four $60 games on the horizon that I absolutely have to get my hands on, I've said hello to all this glorious new information... and bid a tearful farewell to my wallet.


Whoa, what do you mean, these games came out already? Did the games live up to my expectations or crush my hopes and dreams? Here's where to find out:
No, Kingdom Hearts 2.8 hasn't made it on the review list just yet. Stay tuned in the future, though!

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Featuring a lot of Wikipedia articles to confirm exact release dates. Check out the links. I'll be citing them later. Ciao~!

Friday, June 10, 2016

5 More Things I Love About Being a Writer

Apologies for the lack of post yesterday! Life stuff shoved the blog totally out of my mind until it was too late to post something. So, Friday update! Oopsies.

And more apologies, I won't have pictures up for a bit here. Sorry!

But anyway, here's five more things I really enjoy about being a writer.

Reason #6: Watching Characters Evolve

I love character arcs. In my mind, a good character arc can save a poor plot. There's something I find incredibly satisfying about seeing a character go from someone I hate to someone I can't enjoy the story without. So when I get to create characters who are rough around the edges and watch them grow, it's so enjoyable to see.

I think there are two arcs in particular I never get tired of, no matter how often I see them.

First, there's the characters who start out cold and harsh and then soften up. My heart melts seeing a tough, loner character learning how to be vulnerable by opening up to others.

Then there's the characters who begin innocent and clueless but eventually gain more and more experience. This is the typical "coming of age" story, where you get to watch a character grow both physically and emotionally.

Reason #7: Being Mean to Characters

Okay, this is a guilty pleasure for me. In order to facilitate those character arcs I love so much, sometimes you've just got to be downright mean to your characters. Sometimes I even feel like I'm personally picking on my characters (but only the ones that needed or deserved it, I swear)!

This is a whole lot easier when your character is particularly nasty to begin with. It's rather satisfying to dish out small punishments to a character who's been making everyone else's lives miserable. Maybe it's enacting poetic justice (cough revenge cough), maybe it's being able to see a normally high-and-mighty character brought down to a vulnerable state, maybe it's just enjoying watching someone else's misery. Either way, it's pretty fun to be mean to characters.

Reason #8: When People Get Addicted to the Story

There isn't a whole lot about writing that leaves me feeling excited, motivated, and self-assured. But whenever I hear the blessed plea of "Write more," I know I'm doing something right. Two little words throw all my doubts out the window.

Knowing people are interested and excited about my story gets me motivated to keep going, even if I don't think it's my best work. And since I tend to procrastinate, knowing there's people who are dying to read more is a great way to push forward. It helps that, more often than not, they don't think a chapter is total crap like I might (I tend to be my own worst critic).

Reason #9: When People I Don't Even Know Get Addicted to the Story

This hasn't happened to me much yet, since I haven't published anything publicly. But I did get a taste of this ten years ago when I was writing stories on a relatively large-population forum.

Initially, the only people reading and commenting on my stories were, of course, my forum friends. It meant so much to me to see them supporting me--and to know that they wanted me to keep writing so they could find out what happened next!

But it's an entirely different experience when complete strangers stumble across your story and go, "Hey, this is awesome! When's the next chapter coming out?"

I tended to wonder if my "talent" only extended to my loved ones' opinions, which are totally biased in my favor. It was so validating when people I didn't know--and not even friends of friends who had been referred, but total strangers--started begging for more story. That's when I knew without a doubt that I really could make good stories. And each and every fan brought an incredible rush.

Seriously, fans fuel writers. So keep telling the people you admire how much you appreciate what they do!

Annnnd Reason #10: Pretty Much Any Scene with Jaranin and Isalaina

Because Jaranin and Isalaina are my most adorable couple of all time, and I love them. I think from now on, whenever I'm hitting another rut with The Victor's Blade, I'll just start writing a new scene with Jaranin and Isalaina to refresh my memory of why I've loved this book so much for so long.

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Missed my first five things I love about being a writer? Don't worry. I got ya covered.

Or are you feeling pessimistic and down and want to hear someone rant? How about five things I hate about being a writer?

See? We have something for everyone here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

5 Things I Love About Being a Writer

Creating an entirely new world and populating it is hard enough without even getting into crafting satisfying plots and funny dialogue that leaves readers wanting more. Nobody said writing was easy, but for people like me, it sure is rewarding. Here's just a few of the reasons (in no particular order) why I love it.

Reason #1: Creating New Worlds



Yes, it's daunting, but creating an entire world from scratch is so satisfying. I find the deeper I go into my fictional universes, the more real I make them feel, the more and more rewarding it gets. My particular favorites are:

  • Creating landscapes I wish I could really visit. Like the little town The Victor's Blade starts in, Sinoa? Man, I'd love to be able to go to Sinoa. They have wild unicorns! And flowers everywhere!
  • Making cultures with interesting traditions. I had a really fun time working on the citystates' cultures for my future project, "Elemental" (working title). Each city had to have a very different feel since they were each based on a different natural element. The fun thing about these particular cultures were that they all wanted to avoid their native element--for example, the light-based citystate operates in almost total darkness!
  • Inventing holidays and festivals. Another reason why I wish I could visit a real-life Sinoa. Between the feasting, dancing, games, and storytelling, they sure know how to party.
  • Crafting myths and legends. I've always been a huge mythology-buff, so being able to make up my own myths is just too much fun.
  • Forming new languages! Yes, I really have made an entirely new language for The Victor's Blade. And I'm hoping someday to even be able to speak it fluently. Am I insane? Yes, I am. 

Reason #2: Controlling the Story


We've all been let down by stories before, sometimes even by stories we loved. We hated the way that TV show slowed to a crawl when they introduced that arc. We wept when they married the protagonist off to that jerk we hated since two minutes into the movie. We screamed at our book when the writer had the audacity to kill off our favorite character for no reason.

 "They did WHAT?! BUT IT'S THE SERIES FINALE!"

The great thing about writing is that you have control over the story.

If I like two characters together and want them to pair up, it's as good as done. I don't have to sit on the couch every week hoping and praying these two will see they're meant for each other.

If I'm getting tired of this jungle setting, I can switch it up. Suddenly, everyone's shipped out to an exotic island. Now if only I could whisk myself there, too.

And that hilarious side-character that never gets enough love? I can devote a whole chapter to him. Heck, I can get him a girlfriend and a key position in the plot while I'm at it.

The best part about this is having control over the story's ending. Let me tell you, if I was writing all those short stories I had to read in high school, there'd be way fewer nights I spent under a dark cloud of depression.

As a writer, I get to make sure the ending is sensible, satisfying, and just plain awesome. No more screaming at the TV because the movie I loved for two and a half hours pulled a plot twist I hated. No more closing the book shut and thinking, "Wow, that's where they decided to end it? Isn't there more? Epilogue? Sequel? Something with a semblance of closure?"

Do you prefer tear-jerkers or happy endings? As a writer, you get to decide how your tale ends.

Reason #3: When the Story Controls You


Okay, so I lied. As a writer, you don't have complete control over the story. Because sometimes, the story will grab the wheel right out of your hand, and you have no choice but to hang on for dear life and enjoy the ride.

I wish I could remember which author I first read who introduced this idea to me. Perhaps Anne Lamott? She seems like the sort to write about a little writer inside taking control of the story without your consent. I'll let you know if I find the exact quote. For now, suffice it to say that the idea is NOT original to me. But I've experienced the sensation plenty of times to recognize it.


Sometimes while I'm writing the story will take off in a direction I had not planned beforehand. And I'll have fun and play along. Or sometimes I will have a plan, but the story will have other ideas. Suddenly, the story's romping down the left path when my outline specifically says it's supposed to go to the right. But the story doesn't care. It just goes on and I have no choice but to follow it. And more often than not, it'll be better than the right path anyway.

Characters do this, too. I'll plan them one way, but as soon as they're dropped into the world, they'll take on a life of their own. Zaelor is the most recent example. Initially starting out as a stern and just in general grumpy character, I put him in a tavern and all of a sudden he's decided he wants to be a spy with a bit of a morbid sense of humor.

I always find it fascinating when the story starts taking on a life of its own. It not only surprises me by taking me off the path I beat out (since I'm an over-planner, after all), it also is often far more entertaining than anything I initially planned for.

All right, story. You win this one.

Reason #4: When One Plot Line Solves Another Plot's Hole


I've written about this before, but self-solving problems are the best problems in life. Sometimes, I'll be in the middle of planning a certain aspect of the book which will take me down the usual bunny trail of thoughts. But the best part is when that trail actually leads right to the solution of a problem I've had with a seemingly unrelated problem in the story.

 And then Handel's Messiah starts to play.


Reverse Butterfly Effect for the win.

Reason #5: Pure, Simple Catharsis


Writers love to talk about how they have to write. It's as if it's right up there with the other necessities such as breathing and sleeping. The general consensus among writers at a glance seems like "If I don't/didn't/couldn't write, I'd die!"

I can't speak for everyone else, but one of the reasons I share that feeling is because writing is so cathartic for me.


Writing allows me to express feelings I'd otherwise ignore, stuff deep inside me, or agonize over... and over... and over again. But if I write about it, it frees me to experience those emotions in a way that's safe, a way that has a start and end. It helps me establish healthy boundaries. And it helps me get rid of negative emotions I've been carrying for way too long. For some reason, if I've been having a really bad day and just feel awful, writing about it helps take the pressure off. It gives me room to breathe again.

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Want to know another five things I love about being a writer?

I knew you would.

Oh, you don't? Well, since you're feeling so cynical, how about five things I hate about being a writer?

(Nailed iiiit.)

Images (in order of appearance):

By Shontz Photography. Originally posted on Unsplash.com.

By Tania Van den Berghen. Originally posted on Pixabay.com.

By Gerd Altmann. Originally posted on Pixabay.com.

By Ales Krivec. Originally posted on Unsplash.com.

By Jill Wellington. Originally posted on Pixabay.com.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

This Is What Writer's Block Looks Like

I feel like under that title I should have put a picture of myself. I probably would have if I had any recent photos. (Have I mentioned I'm not a selfie person?)

Well, judging from the trail of "Challenges" posts I've done, you can probably gather that The Victor's Blade hasn't been going so well.

In numbers, I suppose it has. 114 pages according to Google Docs; more if you ask Microsoft Word.

But writing the past couple of chapters has been more difficult than bathing a stray cat. It feels just about as painful to me, too.

It's especially frustrating for me because I know I can write. I can. I have the ability. I've done it before. There just seem to be phases when I can't. Like now, for instance.

But I'm currently undergoing what I find to be the most annoying form of writer's block: when I know I want to write, and I know the gist of what I want to write, but for whatever reason, nothing really comes out. Or what comes out is lifeless crap. In many cases, that's worse than nothing coming at all, in my mind. I know I can write better than that. But for now, that's all that the page gets.

This is particularly annoying for me because of the frustration it brings. Not just frustration that I can't be as productive as I would like (or at the level of quality that I'd like), but also because it really does block me. It stifles all these feelings inside that I would otherwise be "exercising out" by writing--even if the writing's unrelated. Writing is cathartic for me. Creating is cathartic for me. So when I get stifled, it feels like my whole life gets blocked, piece by piece. All I can feel is a quickly-mounting pile of stress and emotions and tension that needs release but can't get it because it's all stuck. I can't create. It has no release.

Writing isn't my only form of creativity, but it is the one that comes easiest to me and the one I feel I'm best at. I draw from time to time, but that's more work than it is relaxation and release, given that I haven't devoted the time to get good at it. I've also dabbled in creating any number of other kinds of art, even including music, poetry, or video games. I'm not much good at those, either.

The problem is that writing is the one that comes easiest. So as soon as I feel I can't write, insta-block. Complete and utter art block. If I can't even write, nothing else is going to be easy enough to provide release; if I even can gather up the energy to attempt another art form, trying to force myself to do it is just going to lead to even more work and stress, because it's harder work than writing.

Now, don't get me wrong. The Victor's Blade hasn't come to a screeching halt, but I've lost a lot of steam since the beginning. For a while, I had a smooth rhythm. I was chugging along on the rails at a steady pace. But over the past couple of weeks, I've been so underproductive. Now I feel lucky if I manage to glug-glug-glug through three pages. A finished chapter (I shoot for ten pages per chapter) feels like a milestone accomplishment (one to toot my horn about, if you pardon this extended metaphor that I've carried on for far too long).

Much like this train car, it seems like I'm not going anywhere fast.

So I feel stuck. Stuck on The Victor's Blade. Stuck on expressing myself. Stuck on a myriad of other creative projects that I never gave enough love or attention to, so they never got off the ground.

I feel stuck in life, too. I wonder how strong the correlation is between feeling stuck and feeling blocked.

What do you do to get productive again? Take a break? Watch a TV show? Eat a snack? Vacation? Long weekend?

I feel like I've tried all the usual suspects--except for the long weekend. Thank goodness that's starting today, in celebration of my sister's birthday.

Maybe what I really need is to spend some time alone and get in touch with my inner self.

Ha.

I believed that for all of two seconds, before I realized I'm terrified of being alone in my head. I practically live there anyway, and it's just awful. Especially awful when I'm feeling tired and frazzled and frustrated like I do now.

We'll see how the weekend plays out.

But in the meantime, if you know of any good stress-relievers, let me know.

Seriously.

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Photo by Samuel Zeller. Originally posted on Unsplash.com.