Me — Working On An Outline…

So, a few weeks ago I wrote a story set in Nacre Then, a universe I haven’t written in in over a year. I hated the story, because it was just so… empty. Unfortunately for me, however, it also had the side effect of demanding that I write the story properly. The whole thing, not just one tiny scene.

And that’s how I ended up working on arguably my first “real” project since I put down Spear Gate indefinitely earlier this year. This isn’t without it’s challenges, of course. I’m seemingly inept at writing a full length novel since the first book I wrote nearly six years ago now. I wouldn’t consider this story I’m working on to be a full novel, but so far it’s looking like it’ll be between 10-20,000 words, which is daunting for the current Kollin.

I retired Nacre Then a while ago because it’s too full. I have every rule of magic, every cultural custom, every major event either written down or locked away in my head, because it was my first universe. I thought about it every day for years, and now it’s so full it has no room to grow. I can’t invent new characters because if I put them in a world with the others, the others will inevitably be more important. And I can’t write the stories in this universe because I’ve told myself them so many times I’m bored of them.

But this new story is something of a spin-off. The tragic backstory of a character that toes the line between minor and major. I’ve been exploring her past since I wrote that one little story, and it honestly intrigues me. The only problem is now I have to weave all these snippets into a cohesive story without stepping on my own toes anywhere else.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. I’ve published very little in the Nacre Then universe, so just tossing away what I don’t like would make the most sense, and that way I can work in the space I want to. As I always say, though, creativity is the ability to justify through constraints. If I just threw away everything Nacre Then has been, I’ll be left with nothing and not know where to go. And I can’t just ignore some things because I won’t know what to let go of. In fact, the only reason I can even explore this story is because it takes place in somewhat uncharted territory, so I’m already as free as I could be when working in this universe.

I’ll be honest. I’m scared. I don’t want to get bored of this story like all the others. I’m getting pretty frustrated with my inability to maintain interest. I just write something and then I start seeing plot holes and I ignore them until they get too big to ignore, and then I find something else to work on. It’s the same thing every time.

I know that part of it is just that I’m busy and I don’t have the energy to devote myself to a full story, but I can’t let that be my excuse because that’s just the way life is always going to be. It isn’t like grade school where every trouble and responsibility is gone when school is over.

They say nothing worth doing is easy, and I hate how right that is.

Prompt — Peaceful Songs

The magic of Songs’ performance flowed like gentle currents of winds throughout the Laughing Escape Inn. Unlike many of the taverns in the lower district of Three Rings, people came here to enjoy the performance accompanied by food and drink, not the other way around.

As always, the tabaxi bard kept silent, letting the bow and strings tell the tale. This one was about the Feywild—about dancing faeries zipping around trees and grass as they played with other winged friends without a care in the world. Most of the simple folk here would never have been to such an exotic place, and Songs was happy to share a piece of his experiences. This was what adventuring was all about. Not for the glory or the wealth, but for the stories.

Another peculiarity of the Laughing Escape Inn was the total silence beyond the music. There wasn’t an empty seat in the entire building, and yet each human, elf, and dwarf sat in an enthralled silence as they watched the ethereal faeries dance around them, their tiny forms landing on patrons’ shoulders and kissing them on the cheek before dissipating into nothingness.

As the song neared its conclusion, he nodded his respect to the creatures that accompanied him on his performance. They were mere manifestations of his memories, given life through his magic, but he still felt it important to show respect to those that had given him those memories, for without them there would be no music at all. At least, not any worth listening to.

The magic faded, and the weaves of blue light disintegrated into streaks of dust where they fell, an unintended side effect of Songs’ magic. The people paid it no mind, however, and the tavern erupted into an applause as relaxed and respectful as his performance. This wasn’t the place for cheering or shouting.

Songs stood from his chair and bowed, a self-satisfied grin on his face the whole time. He began putting his things away and pushed his coin purse forward to encourage donations, leaving it on the stage while he approached the bar. It wasn’t that he trusted the customers—they were as apt to steal as anyone else—but the amount of money he’d collect on any one night was a paltry sum. It was nothing compared to the money he had accrued from his travels.

“Another astounding performance, Songs,” Thakros, the half-orc bartender nodded to him as he took a seat on a newly vacated stool. “Though I see you’re still getting your magic sparkle dust everywhere.”

“My apologies,” Songs bowed to him. “I still have much to learn about magic through song. Your patrons don’t seem to mind, though.”

“Well, I do. Who do you think has to clean it up when you’re gone?” he huffed, passing him a stein of Songs’ favorite honeyed whiskey.

“I’d be happy to take my business elsewhere if you wish,” Songs smirked, knowing full well that neither of them had any real desire to end this partnership.

Thakros smirked, his tusks protruding a bit with the expression. “No, no, of course not. I’m just having a hard time finding things to complain about ever since you stumbled onto my stage.”

Songs considered that. “I could set something on fire if you like. Perhaps one of your esteemed guests?” A dwarven guest came to the bar and ordered something, eyeing Songs with a suspicious glare as he said this. Thakros found the dwarf a filled stein before returning his attention to the tabaxi.

“As long as the people keep coming in every night I don’t care what you do.”

Songs glanced about the tavern, taking a swig as he pretended to identify a suitably flammable target. “No, I suppose not. Your clientele is woefully lacking in treants. Perhaps another time.”

“Songs!”

The tabaxi turned to see Olnele, Thakros’ daughter approaching, dressed in the messy apron of a long evening shift coming to a close. He nodded to her. “Evening.”

She rounded the bar and leaned forward across the wood, either finished with her work or too disinterested to continue it. “Lovely song, but I wish you’d play something more dramatic.”

“Well, I do take requests, what did you have in mind?”

“You make music based on your adventures, right?”

“To put it simply, yes.”

“Well, have you ever been to the Nine Hells? Or the elemental planes? Anything more… exciting than faeries dancing in peace?”

Thakros frowned. “You want him to perform songs of pain and death?”

Her eyes lit up just thinking of it. “Yes! Just think of the people we’d attract, playing songs like that!”

Songs frowned at the expression. He knew what she meant, but it was all too easy to hear ‘playing Songs like that’, as if he was just being manipulated. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Olnele deflated a bit in annoyance. “Oh come on, Songs! Why not?”

“I don’t travel to risk life and limb against dragons and demons. I do it to find the beauty in the world, and there is little beauty to behold in such places. Besides, the people here don’t come for heroic tales of combat, they come here to relax and forget their troubles. I am merely a humble servant catering to their wishes.”

Olnele shrugged, but she made her dissatisfaction obvious. “I think a lot of people around here might enjoy hearing some real stories, Songs. Just think about it, okay?”

He did.

 

Prompt: https://www.deviantart.com/sinlaire/art/Comm-Performance-Check-750752051

D&D — Dungeons & Dragons as Escapism

I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for a while now. Technically, at least eight years, but I’ve only been serious about the hobby for the last two or so. I would attribute two things to this. The first is Critical Role, which I think is self-explanatory. If you play D&D you probably know what that is. The second was a surprising amount of interest when I offhandedly commented the possibility of running a campaign with my improv friends. Those two things put together suddenly made D&D a much bigger part of my life, and it wasn’t until then that I realized the untapped potential the game had for me.

Before I got serious, D&D was a hobby; an incredibly complex board game in which you made your character and then cast the spells you picked out on the monsters the DM picked out. But then I realized that it didn’t have to be simply a video game. It could be a stage. It isn’t just about numbers and statistics and jokes. It could be a place to become somebody new and then behave as they do. You work in a headspace not your own in a world so different from the one you live. It isn’t the natural 1s or 20s that interest me anymore, it’s the choices the players make at the table because of a world we all created together.

I had a dream recently where I ran down a steep hill and turned into a bird, gaining speed as I swooped down and feeling the air press against my wings as I soared upwards and over everything else. I have never flown in any of my dreams. The closest I’ve gotten was jumping like The Hulk or being thrown from point A to B. But the feeling of flying was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I am under no illusions: it is because my current D&D character is a druid that can shapeshift.

I don’t play to win anymore. In fact, the concept of “winning” D&D seems silly to me. Even if you and your friends are playing through a story that has a definitive beginning and ending, you can’t really “win” in the same way you don’t “win” when watching your favorite movie. It’s just an experience.

So nowadays, when I make decisions in this imaginary world, I don’t think “what is the optimal play”. I don’t even think “what is the optimal play given the information my character has”. Instead, I think “what would Taldarrin do in this circumstance?” For me, I get the most out of the experience by making the situation as believable as possible.

For example, at level 2, Circle of the Moon druids are basically the most powerful class in the game. Among other things, they can turn into a brown bear, which could probably fight off 3 other level 2 characters at the same time. Taldarrin has only ever turned into a brown bear once, and this was for intimidation, not power. He used to turn into a giant spider a lot, but every time he has, he’s rolled very poorly. So canonically, Taldarrin simply does not understand how to accommodate for all those eyes and legs, and thus doesn’t turn into that anymore. I think that makes for much better story telling than “when we fight I always turn into a bear, and if I roll badly it’s just a bad day. I’ll turn into a bear tomorrow”.

I don’t begrudge other playstyles. D&D is amazingly versatile, and any way anyone likes to play is certainly valid. I’m merely stating that I got a lot more out of it when I moved it from “video game” to “acting” in my head. I think all of us like being somebody else every once in a while, and Dungeons & Dragons is a great way to do that.

Review — Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Okay, as always with a review of a recent thing, I’ll write the spoiler free version first, then the spoiler-not free version after that. There will be a clear dileneation, don’t worry. Before I get to even the actual review though, I have a confession. I never saw the 2015 Jurassic World. These movies being what they are, though, I didn’t expect to really need that much context, and I was right. It’s not like jumping into Two Towers having never seen/read Fellowship of the Ring.

Alright: actual review. Overall conclusion is that its plot is sort of a mess, and I think a lot of things could have been handled better. For what it is, though, it does its job. It has all the suspense and action you would come to expect from the series, and I think it makes a fine addition to the series. I think it goes without saying that Jurassic Park is still by far the best one, but it often isn’t fair to compare movie sequels to their predecessors. For a lot of reasons, they simply can’t live up to the expectation.

My major gripe with the movie is actually the trailer that I saw. Now, I hate watching movie trailers, and this is the biggest reason. The movie that I expected to see from that trailer is not the movie that this was, and I’ll go into more detail on that later (with spoilers). It’s worth noting that I did not watch the “Final” Trailer until writing this now, and it does a much better job showcasing the basic plot without misdirection. That said, for that to be my biggest issue is probably a compliment.

Another thing that I wasn’t a huge fan of was the final 20 minutes. I feel like it could have been much bigger and better, but I would be willing to concede that that’s probably controversial, and I can see the merits to the version they went with. More on that later, too.

Overall, I think it was okay. The actors did a fine job, there were (as you’d expect), some awesome camera shots, and the action was approachable. I think the character motivations were often very shaky, though, and I felt a lot of the plot twists were uninspired. Solid movie, you get what you paid for, but I feel it could have been great. (Also, super bonus points for not making basically no romantic subplot whatsoever. I don’t know what happened between them in the previous movie, but I’m glad romance doesn’t get in the way of the plot here.)

And now: Spoilers!


Alright, my four issues with the movie.

  1. The trailer I saw was all about escaping the island and whatnot. I was led to believe the film would take place on the island, and the climax would be the volcano blowing up. Instead, everyone was off the island in half an hour and the rest of the movie was about the politics of trafficking dinosaurs. I mean… what? Sure, the plot made sense, but you’re going to put the actual exploding volcano practically in the exposition? Yeah, okay.
  2. We’re (literally) told that the Indoraptor is the smartest and most deadly creature to ever walk the Earth. And then when it (of course) escapes, it’s just a big, fast thing with claws and teeth. How is that any different? You tell us it’s smart, show us it’s smart. The smartest thing it does is figure out how to open a door that was made of glass to begin with. I guess you could argue that it breaking the elevator was smart, but that looked like an accident to me, when it should have totally been intentional. You also tell us it can smell things a mile away, but can’t pinpoint people hiding behind a thing ten feet away? It’s supposed to be scary because it’s smarter and stronger than other dinosaurs, and then… it really isn’t. (I also don’t get why they needed Blue alive. They already made the dinosaur before the trafficking thing happened, what was Blue even for other than to help the good guys?)
  3. Okay, I know this is stupid, but the tech guy. Franklin? His character was dumb. Why would a “germaphobe” let’s call him go to an island infested with creatures that want to eat him? The only character motivation we’re given as to why he’s there is a throwaway line about how his dad made him come. I mean, no. His character was funny and all, but nothing about his existence made sense for the plot.
  4. The ending is stupid. Why does Jeff Goldblum have a speech about dinosaurs being out in the wild when there’s like a dozen escaped dinosaurs? The amount of threat they pose to the public is laughable, and realistically, the worst damage they could do is in the form of disrupting the ecosystem through bacteria. They would all be tracked down and (probably) killed within a week. That’s not a setup for a sequel and I’m mad that the movie tried to tell me it was.

P.S. I think it’s interesting that literally nobody but the audience knows that the grandpa was murdered. Everybody knows he’s dead, sure, but the only guy that knew, the murderer, also died. Inconsequential, I know. Plus, he would 100% have died in the chain of events that took place in that house anyway, but I think it’s a thought worth considering.

D&D — Preparation for a New Campaign

A couple friends of mine and I are going to be starting our next campaign of Dungeons & Dragons soon, which means new characters, new worlds, and new adventures. Creating characters is probably one of my favorite parts of D&D just because I love the process, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about that. It’s worth noting, though, that our dungeon master wanted us to make all of our characters in a vacuum,  so if we end up with five healers, so be it. But I mean, that would never happen…

That said, I won’t be giving you all my character’s backstory and whatnot here. I plan on starting a journal for him on the blog anyway, so I want at least some of his personality and tale to come up over time.

We’ll just name my character now for the purposes of reading and writing: his name is Taldarrin.

So, as always, I start with a seed of “Oh, that’s neat.” This time around, it was my character’s quest. Taldarrin’s quest is to find his daughter. It stems from the fact that most adventurers tend to be pretty young, and parents are usually completely out of the picture (often via murder), so I wanted to put a twist on that and have my character be a parent.

From there I tend to think of how to turn that idea on its head by adding something opposite to it, or as I’ve never called it until now, “the but”. My favorite example is when I wanted to make a lawful evil character, so I made him a bard. Ex: “This guy is deceitful and antisocial, but he plays happy tunes for strangers”. This circumstance was a little bit more tricky, simply because it was so open-ended. I went with “He’s searching for his daughter, but she doesn’t need/want him.”

At this point I usually have to spend the rest of my resources (defining race/class/gender) justifying how those two clashing ideas work, but for Taldarrin I was still left with a pretty empty bowl. So I just picked Druid, because I’ve never played one and they seem fun. Like every other class I haven’t played.

The implications of this are pretty interesting to me. In most typical campaign settings, druids form nomadic tribes that generally stay put most of their lives. It isn’t common for people to just leave, and that wouldn’t be an interesting motivation for his daughter, anyway. So I needed a way for his daughter to leave, which would naturally inform Taldarrin’s own reasons for pursuing her.

The rest of the backstory will more than likely come in time, but there’s a few more steps we haven’t got to.

At this point, I generally come up with the name and voice I use for my character. In short, I would describe Taldarrin as your typical lawful good paladin, only he’s an elven druid instead. I often use personality to figure out both of these things, and I came with something I feel is a contradiction: any voice I’ve come up with seems to be too deep for an elf! I’m still working on this, actually, but the vibe I’m going for is “wizened and pleasant protector”.

After all that, I usually write a short story in their perspective just to nail everything down, and then it’s off to roll some stats.

Welcome to the roster, Taldarrin.

Me — My Dislike for Televised Media

I’m not a big fan of televised media as a whole. It’s characteristics don’t synergize well with my personality for a number of reasons, and as such I don’t watch a whole lot of things. It has led to this new problem, though, that I can’t relate to analogies people bring up in movies or TV shows, even classics, so there’s this barrier that happens between me and other writers. It’s something I need to work on, and I’ve tried forcing myself to start a weekly classic movie night, but it has never stuck.

I’ll say this much—I like movies way more than TV, and this is almost entirely because of the time investment. I really don’t want to watch the same characters dealing with the same issues over and over again for twelve one hour long episodes for ten seasons. That’s just… insane to me. One season I can get behind, but investing hundreds of hours watching one thing? What a waste of time. (And yet here I am complaining when I’ve binge watched almost 500 hours of Critical Role. Humans are nothing if not contradictory.)

I can enjoy movies without complaint because I know it’ll be over in three-ish hours. It’s not something I’ll spend the whole day getting a fraction of the way through. I’ll meet the characters, experience their story, and be done. Rarely are movies made with the intent of cliffhangers to explore in the sequel. We can’t all be the MCU.

But the biggest roadblock for me is the fact that TV shows tend to be much more character driven than plot driven. I know how to write a plot. Telling stories is my jam. The thing that my writing is lacking in is character, so I would learn a lot more from TV than movies.

Okay, I do have an explanation for the Critical Role thing. The biggest reason why I’m not just watching televised media constantly is that it demands all of my attention and focus to consume it properly, and if you know anything about me it’s my incessant need to be multitasking whenever I can. I’m not just playing games, I’m listening to podcasts. I’m not just eating I’m making a new playlist of music. You get the idea. I can’t do that with movies or TV, so I can’t help but feel like I could be spending my time more efficiently.

Also, going to the movie theater is awful. $10 for 2 or 3 hours of entertainment, are you kidding me? I would expect a video game to entertain me for at least 15 hours with that price. (You’ll notice I dislike going to see things in theaters in particular.)

I really don’t have much free time to myself. Even devoting enough time to watch one new movie a week feels like a lot, and I no longer consider that free time. In an ideal world I would have a time every week where I just sit down and watch a new movie, but my schedule doesn’t currently allow for that.

So until that day comes I’ll sit here twiddling my thumbs and grumbling about how I dislike television like an eighty year old man that doesn’t understand texting.

Me — “Who is your Mary Sue?”

You probably hear all the time about how budding writers fall into the trap of writing a Mary Sue as the main character of their story, or at least some prevalent character. If you haven’t heard that, maybe you’re accidentally doing it.

For those of you that don’t know, a Mary Sue is basically a character that is perfect in every way. They have no flaws to speak of, they’re super attractive, smart, talented, you know, everything.  They follow the “Rule of Cool” to its extreme, forgetting realism and ending up with a boring character. Good characters have flaws they have to face, after all, so a character without flaws is generally pretty boring.

But it got me thinking: We must all have a Mary Sue floating around in our head somewhere, right? Even if we’re cognizant of the fact that we can’t put an amazing being of perfection in our story and retain a compelling tale, we still like to fantasize about those perfect characters, right? (I actually don’t know if everyone does this, but I certainly do, so bear with me.)

I then came up with a thought experiment for myself. If I could make a character, or even several characters, without worrying about anything, what characters would I make? If I didn’t have to worry about making the characters too powerful, too cliche, too edgy, too anything, what would those characters look like?

Well, stay tuned for that, because I’m still working on their abilities and personalities. As you could probably expect from an epic fantasy writer such as myself, they’re all fantasy-based people with demi-god level power. Something interesting that I’ve noticed, though, is that I’m instinctively considering backstory and flaws. It’s difficult to curb that instinct, because giving somebody the title “The Corrupted Flame” implies backstory, but I am intentionally avoiding giving them flaws and backstories unless that is part of the “Mary Sue” I attach to them. It defeats the whole point to give characters flaws to make them more well-rounded, because the whole exercise is imagining these people in their most awesome form.

I’m struggling a bit because I have about 4 different archetypes of “Mary Sue”, but they come in slightly different species. One of them is the archetypal paladin, white armor with gold accents, harnessing the power of the Light to strike down his foes and defend his realm. Another is a vengeful angel sent down to incur the wrath of her god. These Mary Sues, I’ve found, are actually the same character, just different flavors.

It’s a strange balance to strike—imagining the identities of these characters without thinking too hard about it. After all, it should be intuitive. What is the coolest thing you can imagine?

And then, I realized something. What if fantasy book series are just about your protagonist’s journey to earning their “Mary Sue” status? I mean, think about how powerful characters like Rand Al’Thor from The Wheel of Time, Tavi from Codex Alera, or Kaladin from The Stormlight Archive get the more you read. If a character arc is about overcoming their flaws, they are, by necessity, becoming more perfect. So I bet you could pretty easily begin a book series with the end “Mary Sue” in mind, making the perfect hero, and then working backwards and imagining how your protagonist gets from Point A to Point Z.