Life — Writing Mode

Over a month ago I had plans for what I was going to do over the summer. With no school or job, I have pretty much free 24/7. So, I decided to utilize it to implement Stage Three of the “Productive Me®”. After Stage One and Two (overhauling my work space and my physical appearance), Stage Three was to be a full, set in stone schedule I would adhere to day by day. It included set times in which I would be eating as well as specific break times in between a six hour writing session. I had everything planned.

And I had the self discipline to adhere to it exactly one day.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated with myself, but I’m not surprised. The heat always makes it difficult to be productive, and while I don’t want to diffuse the blame from my own lack of willpower, I really do feel like I could be doing more than what I am if I were in a different situation.

I’m not trying to make excuses and say “Woe is me, I would be great if only…”, but rather I think the way I’m forcing it isn’t right. That isn’t to say I’ve learned what does work, because I wouldn’t be having any issue of I did, but I’m still missing something.

I think about this a lot. I go to bed and wake up later than I’d like. I’m a morning person, but I rarely have any mornings because I don’t go to bed before 2 am. I’d go to bed sooner, only my room is loud and that path isn’t likely to bear fruitful results.

If I had the means, I would move. I’d find an apartment or condo in northern California or Oregon where the heat isn’t so oppressive, and just existing isn’t quite as expensive as it is here. Somewhere where things aren’t so busy.

Am I lazy? I would argue against that. So much of my thought process is driven by my desire and need for independence. Every time I need help in anything it weighs down on my soul, and so I strive to be the best at anything I do.

So when I can’t find the strength to sit down and write, even when I know I’ll feel great when I’m done, I’m at an impasse. I sit there staring at the blank screen for over an hour. Maybe a few paragraphs, but “Writing Mode” never comes. That elusive trance where the minutes float away as I’m lost in thought writing. I can’t force it, no matter how hard I try. But I know the conditions when it comes the easiest. And those conditions aren’t easily accessible at the moment.

It’s times like this that I wonder. Is this a writer’s problem? Or a human problem? Perhaps it’s something unique to creators, but I can’t help but feel like every day that I let slip without writing a substantial amount of fiction is a failure. What am I worth if I can’t even muster up the willpower to sit down and stare at a computer?

Story — (SG) Prologue

She glanced back to the house, ensuring there were no witnesses. There was nothing wrong with what she was doing, of course. She was only breaking one small rule. Satisfied that she was undiscovered, she laid back down on the grass behind the precisely trimmed hedges.

Esmina held the little device up to her eye again, looking up at Eranos. The sister-planet currently blocked the sun, as it always did this time of day. It was a period of false night; the Shadow it was called. As dangerous as the genuine dark, if Aenias custom was to be believed. Naturally, all that was foolish nonsense. She came outside during as many Shadows as she could get away with.

The planet’s surface was difficult to make out in the dark, but that didn’t mean much, thanks to her clever new invention. With just a few shaped lenses, she could make out the planet with far more detail than before, even in the dark. She could differentiate between the land masses and the oceans, and if she was lucky, she might be able to see some tiny pinpricks of light, like yesterday. Faint stars twinkling on the planet’s surface. What could it mean? Fire, probably. Eranos probably had forests just like Asamos did. With as faint as those lights were, however, forest fires must not last long, if that’s what the source of the light was.

But she was not so lucky, as there were no such lights today. Disappointing, but she wouldn’t let her precious moments go to waste. Instead, she tried to spot any distinctions that were less prevalent when the sun shone on its surface. It did seem to have thicker clouds during its night time, but she hadn’t studied that particular subject long enough to come to any firm conclusion.

Soon the sun started to peek out from behind the sister-planet, signalling an end to the Shadow as the world was bathed in light once more. As it did, however, she caught movement in the sky. Something small. An insect, perhaps.

But no, her eyes spied a small dot in the sky. Something that didn’t move. She used the device to get a better look. A spyglass, she thought. That would be an appropriate name.

It was difficult to make out, especially with the sun so near, but the object she found looked fixated, much like Eranos. It was circular, as well. What could that be?

She tried to find it again without the help of her invention. At this point, however, the sun was too close, and she couldn’t make it out. It would have to wait for tomorrow.

With the Shadow being over, it was no longer taboo to be outside, but it would be suspicious if she returned to the house at this moment, so she would still have to sneak in. And now would be especially risky because anyone could walk outside and find her here.

With a slow exhale she got up from the ground and into a crouching position. Moving around in the dresses her father recently began forcing her to wear was troublesome, since it was more difficult to be quiet, but she was getting used to it as the days passed. She bunched up much of the excess cloth from her legs and held it in the hand carrying the spyglass. Then, peeking over the hedges, checked to make sure nobody was watching. As soon as she deemed it safe, she turned towards the path and hustled towards the manor.

And bumped into somebody the moment she rounded the corner.

“Oh, my!” Gaelin breathed, shielding his eyes. “My sincerest apologies, miss.”

“Gaelin! What are you doing here?” she hissed in a hushed tone.

The ashen skinned Tenshari stood with his left hand completely covering his eyes. His servant’s garb was kept nicer than most, and his right arm was completely bandaged in typical Tenshari fashion. “Looking for you, I’m afraid. It appears we must discuss your disregard for customs.” Peeking an eye to look down on her through his fingers, he soon turned around to face away from her. “Including your decency. Do cover your legs, miss.”

Esmina dropped the bunch of cloth to let the dress fall once more, and her face reddened despite herself. “I don’t know why you’re being so weird. You’ve bathed me hundreds of times.”

After a quick glance to make sure she was proper, he faced her once more. “I may have bathed a child hundreds of times, but you are no longer a child. Surely your father has made you aware of this.”

She scowled. “Don’t remind me.”

“Besides, if your father hears any rumors of his daughter and Tenshari servant being outside together in the garden during the Shadow, I fear banishment would be the least of our concerns.”

“Wha—but I didn’t even know you were out here!”

Suddenly panicked, he put a finger to his mouth to quiet her. “The truth hardly matters where gossip can breed, miss. Now please, go inside before we are both punished.”

She glanced up at the sister-planet. Was that tiny speck still there? There would be time to think on it later, but for now Gaelin was right. She shuddered to think what her father would do if some absurd rumor got out. Best to avoid trouble if she could. “We’ll talk later, Gaelin. I have some things I’d like to share with you, when we have time.”

Gaelin smiled. “I’d love to hear it.”

With that, she hurried back to the manor, eased open the door, and closed it behind her without a sound.

Review — Starcraft: Legacy of the Void (430)

Starcraft has always had a special place in my heart. I know it’s not accurate, but I do consider it the beginning of Esports and gaming on a competitive level. I never was very good, though. I was probably only about twelve years old when the second true installment of the game, Wings of Liberty, came out. This game has had an enormous impact on the gaming community as a whole, and while I’ve talked about it before, let me give my thoughts on the latest version. Even though it’s already two years old at this point, I hadn’t played through the last chapter until this past month, so cut me some slack.

Protoss is my favorite race. Between the goopy, brooding, and infesting insectoid swarm of the Zerg, the mechanical, sturdy, and militaristic might of the Terran, and the advanced, noble hierarchy of the vengeful Protoss, I’ll take the latter. I don’t like the bug or the hardbitten war aesthetic much, but an ascended race of people who think they’re better than everyone else? Yes please.

So, I think it goes without saying that since Legacy of the Void was the Protoss chapter of Starcraft II, it was definitely my favorite. I have the strongest handle on what my capabilities are with that faction, so I can try a little bit harder and pay more attention to the story than I could before.

And man, Legacy of the Void has some awesome characters and stories. I won’t spoil anything here (though the statute of limitations is definitely over), but it definitely has a lot more character than anything I really felt in the other two campaigns. The previous two objectives were: “save my x-girlfriend”, followed by “figure out who I am then get vengeance”. This time it’s “unite your fractured people, then take down a god”. This campaign felt a lot more impactful than the previous two, even if it is because it’s the “final chapter” of Starcraft II. Obviously I can’t really give credit to the writers here. It’s pretty much comparing the climax to the beginning and middle of a book, which isn’t fair at all.

All that being said, my favorite part about the single player is that it’s totally okay to give the player incredibly powerful abilities because it doesn’t have to be balanced. You’re supposed to win. The way that Legacy of the Void achieves this, through giving your character choices of unique units as well as adjustable in-game abilities (like ‘giant_lazer.exe’). Being able to upgrade and customize the way your character(s) go into a fight is one of my favorite game mechanics, and the fact that the things I’m choosing are all incredibly powerful makes my decisions feel extremely rewarding.

And, of course I can’t talk about Legacy of the Void without mentioning Alarak. (Minor spoilers ahead, but nothing too pivotal to the actual plot.) As far as I know, this character didn’t even exist in the Starcraft universe before this campaign, but he quickly ascended (see what I did there) to one of my favorite characters. You don’t get a lot of ‘Lawful Evil’ characters in any franchise, and even the ones that are aren’t on the good side. Alarak is a good guy, but he would never be mistaken for a good guy, if you know what I mean. Plus, he’s amazing because he’s so condescending, and the way he does it is so funny it’s amazing.

So, is Legacy of the Void worth getting? If you’re a Starcraft player, absolutely, but if that’s the case then you’ve probably already bought it. If you’re new to the RTS genre and want to know where to start, it’s great for that, too. All the complicated strategy stuff is easily tossed aside for new players. It’s mostly there to give veterans a way to amplify their abilities even more.

But, as old as Starcraft II has gotten, I’d imagine the next major installment for the franchise is due somewhat soon. I’d be willing to bet that the next big game release will happen before 2020 ends. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if it was announced by the end of the year, but I don’t expect it to be. Whatever might be the case, this game is great and is very compelling for an eight/nine hour experience!

Learning! — Beginners are Unoriginal

A big problem that beginning writers (and other content creators) have is that they struggle with the concept of being original. Obviously, it’s really hard to come up with things that are original. There are so many things out there it almost goes without saying that anything you try will have been done before.

But what many aspiring writers don’t realize is that this doesn’t really matter. One of my first blog posts was about how originality is a myth, but really the core concept of being unique boils down to three things.

The first is that the single most important thing for a writer to do is to read and write. It doesn’t matter much what you read and write, in fact. You could spend your days reading magazines and writing a blog (self burn) and it still counts for author brownie points. They may not teach you as much as reading and writing novels, but practice is practice. Don’t waste your time not writing because you’re worried about the words not being poetic or unique. That’s not what matters.

In fact, this leads me to my second point, and that is that originality is far from unattainable. The only thing that isn’t original, in fact, is straight up plagiarism. If I told you to sit down and spend the next few weeks writing The Lord of the Rings from memory, filling in all the gaps with plausible plot points, it would end up being pretty different. I’d bet that if you changed all the names, the only thing that would bear much resemblance to Lord of the Rings would be the plot structure . Certainly the words wouldn’t be the same. Tolkien is practically old enough to be considered literature, for crying out loud. All things considered, I’d wager an experienced writer that took me up on this bet would be able to publish if those gaps they guessed at were compelling enough. (This activity would probably be an excruciatingly painful and unfulfilling exercise, though. Would not recommend.)

My third point is that it is perfectly acceptable for an aspiring writer to be intentionally unoriginal. Fanfictions are good writing practice, because the story structure is all yours. It’s a good crutch because you don’t have to invent new characters, but it still teaches you a lot. At the same time, writing a story about a group of kids that discover a new world will teach you about pacing and description regardless of how much you base its characters or events off Narnia. I would actually consider this sort of thing a great idea if you want to hone a specific skill. If you want to know how to put sentences and paragraphs together before you start stitching personalities into characters, fanfiction is a great place to start. If you like to build characters, don’t be ashamed of copying the plot-line of your favorite book.

Here’s the takeaway, really. This goes for everything, not just originality.

An aspiring writer can do no wrong as long as they are both reading and writing.

Story — My Superpower

“If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” We’re asked this question often enough to merit a prepared response. The same sort of preparation that goes with “What would you do with a million dollars?” or “What’s your favorite color?”

I’m not one for open ended questions like that. I tell people my favorite color is blue. But sometimes, it’s green. It depends on the shade and the context. I like forest green, but if we’re painting the walls or the cars with it, I’d rather use something more plain. There are pros and cons to everything. I love different movies for opposing reasons. I can’t compare the two because there are too many factors to consider.

But when I’m asked what my preferred superpower is, I smile to myself. I smile because the thing I would choose is something I already have. It isn’t unique. There aren’t any superheroes featured on the front cover of any comic books for this ability. It isn’t anything as ‘Flashy’ as super speed or as ‘Mystical’ as shape-shifting.

In fact nearly everyone I know has it. It’s the ability to write.

Writing is so much more than putting words on a page. It’s magic. Crafting worlds and creating living, breathing people with full lives and histories. It’s also telepathy. I can craft any world, and person, and any idea, and implant it from my brain to yours. This telepathy transcends all physical boundaries. Even time.

Think about it. Every word you have ever read was written in the past. It may not be as dramatic as Shakespeare or Plato speaking to their readers hundreds or even thousands of years in the future. If we think of time as distance, everything lines up. Very few things have survived the journey of thousands of years past, but what little we do have allows us to see what life was like back then, almost as if we’re looking back on another world through a telescope.

It’s also incredibly complex. Minute differences lead to drastic changes in the message. If you consider all of the paganistic rituals (mostly in the fiction I’ve read or watched, probably,) then everything has to be absolutely perfect. If you draw a circle with that chalk, you better make sure that that circle is flawless because if it isn’t, you’re not going to summon that genie or demon.

It’s the same thing with words. Not only are the specific keystrokes important, but the size is, as well. A missing line and a ‘T’ becomes an ‘l’. If your circle isn’t full, your ‘o’ might become an ‘e’. InCreaSing the SiZe Of SOme letterS ChangeS even slightly makes everything look wrong, even though the way the letters are shaped isn’t affected.

And then, when one chooses to be a writer, one must look deeper. Simple word accuracy is no longer enough. You have to find the right words in the perfect context and, when necessary, apply the appropriate typeface. You have to carefully structure your sentences to convey proper pacing. Otherwise, they’re abrupt. Sporadic. Scatterbrained, even.

One must learn all these things to master the art. It may not be a superpower to some, but with practice, one can transcend time and space itself.

Improv 101 — Stand Bend Sit

Stand Bend Sit is one of those games that is really easy to explain, but actually playing it successfully can prove quite challenging. It requires a lot of coordination with the rest of your cast, but regardless of how well you know each other, everybody is going to end up confused in the end. My troupe has never gotten the hang of Stand Bend Sit. Again, it’s a simple game, but it’s really tough to nail. You’ll see why.

This is a high energy scene game specifically for three people (but can be modified for a fourth). Here’s the whole game: Construct a scene in which one person is standing, one person is bending, and another person is sitting. If one person changes their position, the others must change their position so that every position is always being fulfilled by somebody. With a fourth person, you would add ‘Lay’. Usually you get a suggestion of a location, but anything can work here.

Sounds easy, right? Only, as soon as one person starts standing up, the other two people will move to fill the gap, adding multiple seconds to get into the correct positions once more. It isn’t easy to make sure one of every position is fulfilled at all times, but what’s more is that in the context of the scene, these positions must also be justified. Why did one character stand up and make another person start bending?

One of the problems with this game is that it is very difficult to move a scene forward like this. You have no stage entrances and exits, and two of the three positions are low-energy, not conducive to making an audience laugh. You can’t very well move the scene from whatever the location is, because people have to be sitting and whatnot. You could, perhaps, jump in a weird clown car that allows for standing position, but what I’m getting at here is that it isn’t easy to establish and maintain a conflict.

The kicker here is that there isn’t anything this game brings to a stage that another game can’t do better. I classify this as a high energy game because this game always ends with people switching positions back and forth and confusing the entire scene (which, admittedly, can be hilarious). But games like Four Corners and Chain Murder Mystery can confuse the improvisers while entertaining the audience much more reliably and effectively. If you’re looking for a high energy scene game for a performance, this wouldn’t even make the Top 3.

Of course, it could simply be a case of practicing this game wrong. I’ve never seen it performed, and maybe there’s a piece I’m missing to truly understand it. As with all games, there is certainly quite a bit of fun to be had, but as far as “successfully performing for an audience” goes, this game falls short too consistently.

If my mind ever changes on this, I’ll be sure to edit it (or even make an entirely new post) to fix whatever I had gotten wrong or missed entirely.

Life — Chapter One. Again.

One thing about my writing career that has always frustrated me, and that I cannot seem to train myself out of, is the fact that I get bored. It has happened every time I try to write one continuous story, usually around the ten-thousand word mark. When I was actually trying to write a novel I would press on after that, but often when it hit that point it became a chore, something that writing should never be. “Only write what you love” is advice I get a lot. So I adhere to it.

It’s ended up creating this sort of bizarre paradox in my writing. My passion is worldbuilding. I love grabbing huge ideas and making societies out of them. “What would a culture of people with no eyes be like?” or “How could a people scared of the nighttime survive, and how would it shape their lives?” I end up with original cultures, nations, and religions in crazy fantasy settings. But those details are never fleshed out onto the page because I never get that far.

If it’s one thing I do, it’s write great Chapter One’s. I’m constantly writing short stories that sound like they are the first chapter in a novel. It’s because they are. But I don’t want to keep writing because I don’t want to stop liking that character and their story. Sometimes, I won’t even know what comes next.

This has been my plight. I know I can write great hooks. It’s all I do, for one thing, so I get a lot of practice in, but I don’t want to be a short story author. I want to be a novelist. In short stories, I can only tease at the societies and the worlds I’ve created. I never have time to flesh them out.

One of the big reasons why all of this is a big problem for me is because I’m actually really bad at both character and plot development. At least, I think I am. Plot is especially hard for me, because trying to piece one together has never felt good to me. It always feels fake, and I don’t know exactly why it seems so artificial. I’m better with characters, but I feel like I only have a few dozen, and the only thing that changes is their name as I put them in different settings.

I’ve tried outlining. I’ve made character sheets and framing the plot structure chapter by chapter. But taking any meaningful time to do that saps the enjoyment from the story, so when I do try to write a novel, most of the time I wing it, with the only preparation being a few loose ideas I have in my head. This is often called “discovery writing” in the community, but this also feels wrong to me. I have such a technical and organized mind. I like to plan. Except when it comes to writing.

None of it makes sense, so I stick to what I know. “Chapter One”.