alexandraerin: (Default)
When I was a little kid, I liked to run.

Running around all over the places comes more easily to small children than it does to adults. I imagine the square-cube law comes into it somehow; their bodies may be less well developed, but they have to do so much less work propelling themselves from place to place. Then there are differences in the energy metabolisms of an explosively growing body and a sedentary adult one. Then there's the simple matter of social inhibitions that grown-ups are more prone to.

Whatever the full explanation, even the most athletic grown-ups can't help but know that they're paying a price when they run. The pleasure of running is even tied to this. You feel the burn. You get a runner's high. You push yourself to the limit, you pay the price for doing so, and you work towards a pay-off. If you're not moving fast enough to cost you anything, then you're not trying hard enough.

Little kids, meanwhile, run around all over the place like it's free. Like it costs them nothing. Like it's a joyous thing to do in and of themselves. They don't have to push themselves to do it. They probably haven't developed the skills to push themselves. They just cut loose.

When I was a little kid, I liked to run. I imagined that I was running really, really fast. How fast? Well, I ran faster than I could walk. I could sort of feel the air moving around my body when I did it, which to me suggested that I was on the verge of tapping into some kind of superpower or something. Ultimately I didn't have any kind of benchmark or frame of reference beyond "fast" and "slow".

Running was fast. I ran. Therefore, I ran fast.

I suppose when I started school I might have acquired some additional data points, if I'd been inclined to pay attention to my peers during P.E. and recess. But like Calvin, I had always been more interested in my own interior world. When we ran a lap around the gym, I was chasing or being chased by creatures unseen by the eyes of others, not measuring my progress against anyone in particular.

Then came a day sometime in the first half of my elementary school career when I became aware of a dispute between some of my classmates. They had been playing touch football or something and were arguing over who was the worst player in the group... not the sort of thing that I'd ever found very interesting. One of the contenders for the bottom spot pulled my attention all the way over, though, by responding to a claim about his slowness by saying, "At least I'm faster than Alex."

My first response was something along the lines of, "What a weird, completely random thing to say.", but then there was a chorus of agreement.

Yes, it was agreed.

At least he's not as slow as Alex.

No one is as slow as Alex.

Alex is the slowest.

And then the whole conversation migrated over to the jungle gym where I was hanging out to make sure that I knew this.

I disagreed at first, not because I thought I was the fastest but because the comparison didn't make sense to me. It wasn't how I thought, how I saw the world. I couldn't think of "slowest" as a thing to be. Didn't different people finish first all the time when we ran laps? So fastest and slowest weren't really things, were they?

Except, it was pointed out to me, I almost always finished last. Almost always. Different people were the fastest, but I was the slowest, and this was a significant fact. It mattered. A lot.

The conversation didn't open my eyes so much as it pointed them in a new and different direction, one where the point of running wasn't to be faster than walking, but to be faster than the next person, to be faster than as many people as possible. There was no longer any joy in simply feeling fast and free. I didn't understand running as a fun thing that it was possible to do with a pair of legs in moderate working order, but as a competitive endeavor that demanded one to work as hard as possible to be as good as possible, and if one could not measure up no matter how much effort one exerted, one might as well not bother.

And here we come to the point of this post, which actually has little to do with my lack of athletic ability or social awareness as a child and everything to do with running around all over the place with a childlike sense of abandon.

I see this attitude popping up a lot in the areas of writing and other forms of artistic expression, that one must be above a certain aptitude level in order for the exercise of creativity to be meaningful or useful or have any point... that if you can't do it professionally, it's not worth it, or if you can't impress the right people it's not worth it, or if you can't do it all day every day it's not worth it.

I think we probably all had moments in our childhood or young adulthood where we learned that it's not enough for an activity to be fun, that if we're not achieving or competing then we're not working hard enough. As I see it, there are three profoundly negative side effects to this.

One is that the fear of not being very good at something stops us from doing the work we need to get better. I know so many people who show some talent for art or writing, but who shy away from developing it because exercising that undeveloped talent... it almost embarrasses them. They think it's only worth it to create things if they are Great Things... merely good or decent or acceptable things aren't acceptable, and the risk of creating terrible or substandard or poor or rough things on the way to decent ones is just too great a risk to be borne.

It's basically the equivalent of not wanting to get dressed because to reach for a dresser drawer is to admit that you're naked.

Two is the fact that even if we don't all have it in us to do great things or even good things creatively (or in any other arena), that doesn't change the fact that exercise is good for us. It's a good thing to stretch, whether it's the body or the mind. And it's fun to cut loose.

See, I was never going to be the fastest runner in my class. There are reasons that I was the slowest, reasons that I couldn't have trained around or powered through. I could have maybe been faster than I was, but even if the difference between how I was performing and what I had the potential to become was immeasurably slight... even if I had never gotten better at all... I might have kept running for fun at my natural pace, and I think I probably would have been better for it.

Three is an outgrowth of both one and two: that because of these things, we end up seeing the world as divided into categories: runners and people who don't run, writers and people who don't write, artists and people who don't create. Don't get me wrong, there are people who can't run; as an adult with bad joints and mitochondria that can't keep up with my adult-sized body, I am for all intents and purposes one of them. But I can move and find joy in movement. I lack the coordination and visual processing necessary to ever be a brilliant visual artist, but I can enjoy physical crafts. I can enjoy and have enjoyed messing around with paints even while I'll never be anything like a painter.

And writing?

Okay, I have a little bit of skill there. But this is the main point I want to bring to this post. I see people rebutting the idea that ebooks and pop lit are going to bring about the downfall of civilization by saying "At least people are reading." But you know what I never hear people say?

"At least people are writing."

Even people who would be so-called real writers according to any metric anyone might care to name... when they see examples of what they consider great writing, they're more apt to say things about how it makes them feel like a fraud or wonder why they bother than to say something like This. This is why I became a writer.

I've always regarded this as a matter of straight-up impostor syndrome, and I think it is, but I can't help thinking that this is something that we do to ourselves, because as a society we don't value running around aimlessly and pointlessly like small children. We don't value doing things for fun. And when I say "we", I especially mean writers, and I especially mean writing. The feeling of dread we get when we look at a blank page and wonder how we dare think we can improve on it, the feeling of inadequacy we get when we look at those skill and artistry we admire... that's the hurricane we reap when we sow the seeds of doubt in the direction of people who write for fun without investing the same level of work into it, at the unskilled and untrained and untried, or even the undeservingly successful.

Writing is writing. I'm not saying there isn't such a thing as writing that is better than other writing (though I will say that there are "multiple betters", in the same way that there are multiple intelligences, and that our ideas of what constitute "better" are going to be biased in all the same ways that we are), but I am saying that our response to the people who drabble out bits of fanfic or who can really only write dialogues or sketch out a story in the broadest terms... it shouldn't be, "They'll never be a writer." but "Well, at least they're writing."

I know some writers who fret about anything that makes writing seem like something anyone can do, as they see it as a threat to their livelihood. I'm not aware of any instance of someone taking up jogging in the morning and then deciding that the Olympics are a load of B.S. after a week, though. This isn't about devaluing good writing as a product, but valuing the act of writing as an act worth doing in and of itself.

Or more generally, it's about valuing the act of doing anything for fun or for its own sake... about valuing the act of doing.

I don't think we can be a people who really admire good writers and good writing if we aren't a people who love the act of writing itself. I'm not saying that it's impossible for someone who never writes to appreciate the written word, or that it's impossible for someone who deplores amateur writing to honestly appreciate professional writing.

What I'm saying is that if one has, say, a nation of three hundred million people and one wants as many of those people as possible to have a positive love affair with the written word, then it behooves one to celebrate (or at least not disdain) the engagement of those people with the written word. I'm saying that people will love writing more enthusiastically if they are able to celebrate it with a childlike sense of glee.

And if you are yourself a writer, or someone who wants to write, or someone who likes to write even if you don't think of yourself as particularly good at it: remember when you were a child. Remember when you did something with abandon. Remember a time when you were able to cut loose and let go and act without restraint... and then do that, on an empty page.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, I have two hours of writing under my belt for today and 2,400 words to show for it. I started writing what's either one or two new erotica stories. I say "one or two" because I started with one story idea but now I'm not sure that the set-up I wrote goes with the action. It might either be thrown out, or grow into something else.

The part I'm definitely keeping is an expansion of my flash story "The Quick Brown Fox", which is something I've meant to do since I wrote it. In fact, as a vignette that revolves around the sudden and mysterious appearance of a naked woman, it was meant to be erotica before it was meant to be a flash story. The fact that I write a series with "adult" elements and am somewhat notorious for my stance that "porn" is not the opposite of "plot", erotica has long been one of the more difficult things in the world for me to actually sit down and write. That's one of the reasons I've been writing so much of it lately.

I've long taken the stance that writer's block--not the state of not knowing what to write but the maddening state of being unable to write for no real reason--is pretty much a matter of inhibitions. I've gone on record as saying that being a writer requires the arrogance to look at a blank page and say "I can do better than that." But you know, I'm starting to come around to the idea that arrogance isn't the only approach that works. One can look at the same blank page and say "It doesn't matter if I do better as long as I do something." or "I can make this mine."

And in the long run, I think that's the better way to go. I mean, it's okay to keep a critical eye towards your own work once it's out and done. You can always improve a story after it's written, but you can't edit what doesn't exist. You can't even really give it a fair appraisal. And if you're taking a too critical approach to your own work, you end up never doing anything with it. Ultimately that's the thing that keeps me from doing more with more of my work... why I've never put anything up on Smashwords, for instance, or any of the other online stores beyond Amazon, the one I first dipped my toes into. Why I keep stalling out when it comes to collecting the Tales of MU chapters into books.

I avoid talking about the quality of writing as an absolute, not because I think there is no such thing as a difference in quality but because I think it's overemphasized in our society to the point that matters of style and taste are taken as markers of something objective. But I think when it comes to sexually-charged writing, the Dunning-Kruger effect applies doubly. People who are confident and competent writers are more apt to be aware of the pitfalls of writing about sex, and people who would otherwise have little confidence in their writing abilities end up gauging their success by how hot they make themselves writing about things that turn them on. Some of the stuff I'm writing as warm-ups these days undoubtedly falls more into the "good only in the sense that it hits my buttons" way, but getting that stuff done and out of the way still helps. It's not all completely self-indulgent, either, and there is money in good erotica.

Coming up this afternoon I'm going to be kind of easing my way from writing random erotica to writing Tales of MU by writing some "mature" MUniverse stories. Like the quick fox story, this is something I have long been planning on doing... it's something I know there's a market for and I know where the market is, so it's pretty much a no-brainer... but sitting down and actually writing it has always just resulted in a serious case of Blank Page Syndrome. I'll keep you posted on how it goes today.
alexandraerin: (Default)
...you know, about whatever random stuff comes across my mind. It's been good. I spent much of last night re-reading old blog posts, going back to 2009 (before I really "met" Jack) to try to... I guess re-connect with my own life. Reading blogs led to writing blogs, which can only be a good thing. It's getting the words flowing and it's getting my mind moving in more directions now.

One thing I've heard over and over again from the people who follow my blog (and thus have a bit more direct insight than the people who just follow my writing) is how much happier I've been since we got together. I always wondered how people could tell that, and then I starting going back and realized how really, really, really angry I was back then. About everything. Anything. Sometimes nothing.

Yes, I ranted on a lot of serious topics, but (for instance) I think I wrote more words about how wrong some random people were about D&D 4E (and on the internet, the worst place to be wrong!) than were actually contained within the core rulebooks.

And I didn't even really remember the content of the posts, because they were all reaction, no thought.

And I wrote them in the middle of what was actually an incredibly awesome time, as it was in the midst of a weeklong D&D marathon with friends.

This kind of anger was not healthy for me on any level, and I'd been trying to scale it back already before Jack came on the scene. He has some anxiety issues, but outside of that he has an incredible calm. He finds it amusing, some of the things I get worked up over. I find it frustrating, some of the things that pass right through him.

...

Aaaaaaaaaaanyway, this started out being a post about how you're probably going to be seeing a lot more blog posts here in the coming days as part of my road back.
alexandraerin: (Panda)
So, the story I wrote today that I needed the Clarke quote for (see previous post) wasn't exactly a science fiction story. Yeah, I'll probably flag it as such when I post it on Fantasy In Miniature, because it has robots rather than elves, but it's really more a story that has a robot in it is than a science fiction story.

I mean, if I write a story where the protagonist sits at a modern-day computer and looks up information on the modern-day internet, or uses a modern-day smart phone connected to a 4G network, this story would be relying on fantastic applications of technology that are the equal or better of the uses for technology envisioned in many classic stories from the golden age of science fiction. Just a few hours ago I was contemplating using the internet to make a purchase using electronic money of a copy of one of Dr. Clarke's books, which would then be delivered wirelessly to a device that holds approximately thirty-five hundred books, only needs to be charged up once a month, and uses real-fucking-life ELECTRONIC INK to display text.

You know where you see something like the Kindle? Not in the annals of science fiction, but in the 5th season of Angel. The "source books" of Wolfram & Hart. Magic books. To the primitive minds of 2003 (the year the 5th season of Angel began and the year before Sony put the first e-book reader on the market), today's Kindle is "sufficiently advanced technology".

When Isaac Asimov imagined the future ubiquity of technological gadgets in his Foundation book, he imagined big cumbersome gadgets that needed a technician to adjust the dials of. There was no graphical user interface on the atomic gimcrackery (wow, Chrome's spellchecker knows "gimcrackery". I am impressed.) of his space traders, who were selling consumer goods that were supposed to be attractive to the point of being indispensable. What were they? Better penknives, better washing machines. Not so much as a personal organizer or tip calculator, just atomic powered versions of things that people needed in the 1940s.

When Asimov envisioned an entirely new gadget, it still appeared quaint and anachronistic a mere half a century later: Salvor Hardin uses an atomic forcefield built into his desk to harmlessly disintegrate the ash and smoke from cigarettes.

(The character of Salvor Hardin also gives us an epigram that is very applicable to anyone trying to write science fiction: "Nothing has to be true, but everything has to sound like it was.")

Reading passages like these from old science fiction books is very much like reading old laws and codes of behavior relating to the use of automobiles when horse-powered travel was still the norm and was expected to remain the norm... the idea that cars could spook horses was not only seen as a serious issue but was seriously counted as a strike against them. How could the blasted contraptions ever hope to catch on if they couldn't co-exist with horses and buggies?

People knew that automobiles existed but they had no idea what they meant.

Another example: some writers did predict a worldwide network of information storage devices from which people could query at will. H.G. Wells predicted a "world brain" where all of human knowledge would be indexed and could be transmitted rapidly to be displayed on a viewscreen. He thought we'd be using microfilm for this, but we'll let that go. He was envisioning new uses for the technology available at the time.

But could anybody who envisioned a worldwide network of computers linking people across nations and continents have imagined that I, a relative nobody who writes stories about people spanking each other, would be using that network to share an essay on science fiction beneath a picture of a meditating panda? That at the same moment that I'm typing this, there are several thousand separate conversations about magical talking ponies happening across this same network?

If you want to find anything even remotely like the common smartphones... or even a middle-of-the-line cellphone... of the modern era in fiction of preceding eras, you have to look towards the "do-anything" plot gimmick computers like the one carried by Inspector Gadget's niece Penny. Such a gimmick wasn't intended to be realistic or make sense. It wasn't meant to predict anything. It's like a sonic screwdriver with a slightly better user interface, and really if you think about it the invention of the graphical user interface is really the one thing that snuck up on people. In the original Star Trek, they interact with their computer through voice recognition, they fiddle with knobs and throw switches and click buttons, they peer into weird view things, but there's nothing so convenient as a mouse or even a keyboard. The interfaces used on board the Next Generation's Enterprise were impressively futuristic-looking when the show began, but the earliest PCs with a GUI were already on the market and by the time it went off the air... well, the show ended in 1994. Windows 95 came out the next year.

If you could go back in time and add a comfortable and convenient user interface to any science fiction technology of your choice, you would make the creator thereof appear about 10,000% times more prescient.

In 1997... less than a decade into the Age of the Internet... William Gibson said:

…I felt that I was trying to describe an unthinkable present and I actually feel that science fiction's best use today is the exploration of contemporary reality rather than any attempt to predict where we are going…The best thing you can do with science today is use it to explore the present. Earth is the alien planet now.
(Source-ish.)

1997 was also the year that the book 3001: Final Odyssey came out.

The four books that make up Arthur C. Clarke's "Odyssey" series are titled chronologically: 2001, 2010, 2061, and 3001. Each book in the series occupies its own timeline, however, where the events in the previous books are assumed to have more or less happened in more or less the manner depicted before, but with some changes. These are not just the normal discontinuities that can creep into any series: the timeline is pushed back so that the events of 2001 and 2010 have more plausible dates attached and the technology used in those books is tweaked to take advantage of advances in the state of scientific knowledge.

While an author's fans will often make heroic efforts to smooth over these kinds of inconsistencies, Clarke made no attempt to hem and haw or hedge around what he was doing. From teh very beginning he said 2010 was not a "direct sequel".

All in all, I think this is one of the more graceful ways of dealing with the consequences of trying to construct a vision of the future, a task that is always a matter of trying to hit a moving target. If Clarke had written the same four books but had each one following directly from the unaltered events of the other, then each book would have been a quirkier and quainter example of accidental retrotech.

One specific example that springs to mind: the original book depicts astronaut David Bowman being uplifted into immortality by becoming a being of pure transcendental energy. Now this is a common science fiction trope, but Dr. Clarke had to be aware as he was writing those words that they add up to a lot of great and airy nothing. All the stuff about propulsion systems and gravity-based space maneuvers and radio transmissions in 2001 was hard science fiction. "Beings of pure energy" isn't even soft science fiction, no matter how many scienterrific buzzwords you string together. It's what we might call soft fantasy: fantasy that suckers you into believing "it could happen" by saying "ectoplasm" instead of "ghost" and "energy" instead of "soul" and "subconscious psychokinetic manifestation" instead of "magic".

In the later books it's revealed that Dave's "pure energy" form is actually a result of his consciousness being uploaded into an alien supercomputer. By the end of 3001, his electronic consciousness has been transferred into a terrestrial computer with a "petabyte" storage capacity. That's 1,000 terabytes. When the book was written in 1997 that was meant to be an impressively large unit of storage.

To put a petabyte into context: it's slightly smaller than the World of Warcraft. It's about how much data Valve's Steam system delivers in a day. (Source, or at least a link to sources.)

But the point of this is not to marvel at the fact that we have video games that could beat up Arthur C. Clarke's nascent star-god. It's not how much the world has changed between 1997 and 2011 that I'm interested in at the moment, so much as how much it changed between 1968 (2001) and 1997. When Clarke wrote 2001, he had no idea how a human mind could plausibly be separated from its body to become an immortal intelligence. By 1997, the idea of such a "ghost in the machine" wasn't even original.

None of this is to impugn Clarke's lack of foresight. See above, in re: magical talking ponies and the use of a massive worldwide network of computers to discuss them.

How do you see something like that coming?

And that's bolded because it's really the point of this ramble, and why I don't consider anything that I write to be science fiction. On some levels I consciously avoid science fiction because I'm conscious of all the "soft fantasy" cheating that goes on in it (invent a particle, call it a name-on, say it explains everything... see also: Thank You For Smoking and "Thank God we created the, you know, whatever device.")... I'd rather just say "It's magic." then have it be magic but cover it up with a layer of deuterium-iridium alloyed lies.

But part of my sci-fi avoidance is the awareness that the future is a moving target. Even the present is up for grabs. I don't think any one of us is aware of the full potential of the internet yet... I don't think we really understand how the net works.

In some ways, we're still not out of the "don't spook the horses" age with regards to the internet.
alexandraerin: (Default)
The question used to be "Can self-publishing ever have the legitimacy of traditional publishing?"

Now it's becoming increasingly apparent that the real question is: what is legitimacy?

Can I spread it on bread and eat it as a sandwich? Can I pay the rent with it? Can I burn it to provide heat, light, and/or energy to power the gadgets that run my life?

If not, then why is it worth giving up so much money, so much control, so much of the chance to make an actual living at one's craft that so many authors are still chasing after it?

I say again as I always say that self-publishing is not a surefire path to fame and fortune, but there isn't such a beast. Self-publishing is merely an alternate route. It perhaps requires a slightly different skill set, but that's not as true as it seems and it's less true all the time.

I mean, I've long wondered how I'm managing to succeed when I'm really not that good a marketer. I'm socially inept. I don't like putting myself forward. I have long rambling arguments with people I've never met. If you meet me in person, I probably won't smile much or look directly at your face. I'm just not a natural schmoozer.

But there's a phrase I'm seeing being bandied about that really sums up my success. I'm trying to find it, but I've seen so many links in the past few days on the subject... I believe it was Joe Konrath (publishes as J.A. Konrath) who said it, but I'm not going to swear to that. I may have seen him quoting someone else saying it. It basically boils down to the idea that the best marketing is writing. The best way to attract readers is to put more material out, in other words. Each bit you have is another thing that someone can stumble across, and more importantly, it's something that will keep them reading.

Again, there are no guarantees. You can't just start typing and throw it up and say "I wrote a million billion books, where are my readers?" But people... no matter what any doom-and-gloom Idiocracy-watching cynics say... are readers by nature. I don't mean to say that every human being is literate or that we all enjoy the habit of reading, but our brains are wired to seek patterns and connect with stories. We are a people of tales.

If you produce tales that are readable, people will read them.
Brevity is the soul of what? )
alexandraerin: (Default)
Tomorrow I'm going to do another behind-the-scenes post for Tales of MU like the one about things that changed in the execution, but for now here's Yet Another Update On Gift Of The Bad Guy/the snackbar concept. I'm excited about this.

First, Bookman Old Style is almost definitely going to be the serif font. The number of people who've said "ooh" when I told them what I'm planning on using is impressive, and what's more, I like the reasons I'm hearing. It seems to be a genuine aesthetically choice... you don't have to be educated about why it's a good font to think it's a good font.

Second, at some point I absorbed and internalized a very wrong internal benchmark for estimating the page count of a work. Someone early on in MU's existence did a quick-and-dirty estimate using 500 words per page, and I thought that sounded about right and never questioned it. Turns out that 250 words of a standard 12 point font fit much more nicely on a printed page.

So my little fifty page book? Is a hundred pages long. I'm re-examining the price point question based on that, but it's possible that the results of my examination will be "No, I still want people to have a dirt cheap buy-in." Never fear, gentle readers... I wouldn't be giving it away at a penny a page if I wasn't sure I could make money off it.

And if it doesn't exactly sell like gangbusters? Meh. I've had a good month. If it starts slow, it starts slow. It's not like I've invested thousands of dollars and there's a whole department full of people whose jobs are riding on my first quarter sales figures being outstanding across the board. This is the beauty of a one person operation: if I somehow only sell three copies of the book in March, it's not a failure... it's a book that has yet to succeed.

I mean, I still have money trickling in from the PDFs of the first five Tales of MU books, and they are not half as snazzy as this is. I'll be honest, I'm not proud of them. I put them up because people demanded them. I did not at that point have the skills to make a decent e-book. I'm sure I'm still not great, but when I load the mock-up I made of Gift of the Bad Guy onto my phone and look at it, I get chills. I've never believed in the collected volumes of Tales of MU to the degree that I believe in the serial, and it shows.

This thing... both the specific book and the publishing concept behind it... is something I believe in. It's something I think people are going to want. It's something I think people are going to enjoy. And maaaaaaaaan, I know and you know that my hard drives and the internet are littered with the bones of my projects that ran out of steam, but here's the thing: this is not just another entry in that long line. It is the ultimate entry in it. Because that's exactly what happened with Gift of the Bad Guy... until I threw out a bunch of my preconceptions and started making new shit up. And now I'm looking at a bunch of stuff I never finished and I'm seeing them with new eyes.

Honestly, I feel like I did when Tales of MU started to catch on. MU isn't my first crack at weblit... I was writing stories on the internet as far as back as my junior year of high school (spoiler warning: they weren't very good. Though Ariella's were a thing of brilliance.) I'd been writing serials online for like three years before I started Tales of MU, but Tales of MU is where a bunch of things just fell into place for me.

Anyway, I'm blabbing a lot about this but it's because I'm excited and because honestly it's killing me to have a story and not be sharing it with people. Among the reasons I'm not launching the book with my typical ready-fire-aim immediacy is that I've arranged for a proofreader to go over it first. The first chapter should be available in a finished state sometime this week, and when it does I'll be putting up PDFs of both versions (sans and avec serif).

And I'm going to cut this post off here, because I think it's been sufficiently established that I can ramble on forever about this topic.
alexandraerin: (Default)
I used to play one of those clicky "games" on Facebook, one that revolved around superheroes. Not Superhero City, but another one.

It's dressed up as a superhero game, but it could be anything. The real point of the game is for you to come back and click on things several times a day so you can earn the right to click on more things more often. There isn't much to it for someone who wants to actually develop and create a superhero character and there isn't much of a fantasy element to it. There really isn't much to the game at all. But it takes seemingly so little time and effort to keep up with a game like that, so I kept up with it, though at some point I stopped paying attention to any of the specifics.

Then one day I happened to look at what I was clicking on, and realized that the mission I was returning to the site every hour to click on a few times was labeled "Prevent a mass genocide in Africa."

Oh.

This mission exists alongside things like super-soldiers going rogue, humanity being beset by zombie plagues, rebuilding the earth following a "global earthquake", and preventing a 4th World War. All of these labels are just that: labels. There's no actual difference between any of them, or the street crimes that you confront in the earlier levels of the game. You click a button and it tells you if you succeed or fail. And then you do it again until you've mastered the mission or run out of energy.

Yes, not only can you solve the humanitarian crisis in Darfur by clicking a button, you can do it so often that you become a real pro at it.

I don't play that game anymore.

That was back in December, a bit over a month ago. I'll come back to this whole thing in a bit.

The subject line on this post is one of my favorite lines of dialogue from a superhero comic, and I was very glad to see it make it into the animated adaptation (Superman/Batman: Public Enemies) It's sort of the meditation at the center of Gift of the Bad Guy, which employs a different approach to the superhero genre than I've taken before.

The story's not ready for public consumption, but Jack's been reading it as I go because I'm useless without an audience. In discussing it with him, I've been trying to figure out where exactly the story had its genesis, as it (like Tales of MU before it) started off with no plan and no forethought. DCUO seems like an obvious suspect, especially as I've mainly played the villain side, but there really aren't a lot of similarities I could point to. Having watched all of Venture Bros. just before the holidays probably made a bigger contribution to the story's birth.

I don't think there's much of the same "vibe" as Venture Bros. has, or a really similar sense of humor. I'm certainly not going for a VB-style story.

I believe that Kick-Ass has something to do with it, too, though I've neither read the comic nor seen the movie. But there was a conversation on somebody's LJ revolving around it, and the related phenomenon of "real-life superheroes". I stumbled across a forum of the same when I was first writing the first version of my Star Harbor stories... someone had copied and pasted some of my stories to the forum, which might have been bothersome enough on its own even without the fact that they'd presented them as educational/inspirational materials.

And of course, I also feel that the Facebook game I describe above and my sudden disillusionment with it helped the story come into being.

I consider superhero stories to be a subset of fantasy. My preferred term for the genre, in fact, is "superheroic fantasy". It doesn't matter if the character has no powers, like Batman or the Punisher, or if all the powers and high tech stuff are carefully couched in scientific terms. It's a fantasy story by its very nature.

It's a fantasy to imagine that you could fly by flapping your arms, even though humans do have arms and there are animals that can accomplish flight through the use of their forelimbs. It's a fantasy to imagine that Batman could go out and do what he does, even if armored cars and computers and martial arts and detective skills are all real things. Batman is not more grounded in reality than arm-flapping flight is. Not even if Christopher Nolan is directing him.

Gift of the Bad Guy is fantasy, to be sure. It's a low-powered and down-to-earth sort of superhero story, but it's not about "real-life superheroes", and it isn't founded on the conceit that a story is automatically more interesting for depicting things that could really happen. I'm not even trying to depict the way things would really happen if superpowers were really real. But in some ways, its writing is a reaction to the fantasy of the superhero, to the idea that solving bloody civil wars and humanitarian crises can be as easy as the push of a button. Not a deconstruction, but a reaction.

In some ways, Gift of the Bad Guy is a story about a villain, as the title suggests. But in other ways, it's a story about the stories we tell about superheroes.
alexandraerin: (Default)
News For Today

I'm drawing a blank on what's going on anywhere in my life. The only thing worse than trying to write one of these things just after waking up is doing it just before falling asleep. Well, I suppose doing it just after falling asleep would be worse still.

Self-Assessment

Yesterday my leg was very iffy, due to the bout of cramping I had the day before. You ever get the kind of nocturnal leg cramp where something in the back of your leg spasms and you end up with what feels like a knot the size of a golf ball in your calf? They're sometimes called "charley horses", but there's another sort of leg injury that also goes by that name. I'm sort of intermittently prone to those, and they don't always happen when I'm asleep. The worst part about them is the whole thing, but the second worst part about them is that they leave the tissue there feeling all torn afterwards. I know how to deal with them, though. It's better today. I'm only mentioning it here so I have a record, since I didn't post yesterday.

Yesterday was also a nice inadvertent experiment in whether or not my streak of somnia (as opposed to the in-variety) would be disrupted if something happened to utterly fuck my sleep schedule. The answer: no. I slept okay, just at a really odd time, even for me. Like noon to after eight, maybe. I did try to get my sleep schedule back on track today, but I didn't try very hard... there was DC Universe Online to be checked out.

Today? Well, physically fine. Mentally fine. My sleep schedule is still in a kind of inconvenient place. As in, I'm just starting to get sleepy now, which is a little under 24 hours from when I fell asleep yesterday. This means when I wake up my choices are going to be go online if I want to be able to talk to Jack at all today, or wake up and start writing furiously immediately in order to get a chapter up before midnight. I think I'm going to do the former, and then do my writing after he goes to bed, and then try to go to sleep myself sometime more morningly.

Dreams From Last Night

I don't recall any, but you may be interested to know that right now my brain is reassembling all the random background noise (computer fans, heater, etc.) into the voice of a radio broadcaster announcing a football game in another room. Auditory hallucinations are nature's way of telling you to go to sleep.

Random Link

The Ray-Gun Revolution, a D&D Gamma World adventure by Caoimhe Ora Snow. The in-jokes and references in it are hilarious, if you're old enough or historically inclined enough to be familiar with the era being invoked. Her blog is full of Gamma World content, including homages to Knight Rider and Doctor Who.

Plans For Today

Covered that upstream, I think. I'm going to go fall down.
alexandraerin: (Default)
This is the second Wednesday in a row (it's still Wednesday to my body calendar, as I haven't gone to bed yet) where I've felt absolutely run down and out of gas when it came time to put the pedal to the metal, to use a somewhat confused car metaphor.

And when I think back on when I was originally trying to keep to a five day work schedule, I had the whole "Thursday is my archnemesis." thing that was going on. What actually happened there is that early in the week I'd be getting the work done pretty early on, sometimes by midnight of the day it was supposed to go up, and then by Thursday I'd be feeling pretty burned out.

I'm not consigning Wednesday to a midweek weekend just yet, but I'm keeping my eye on the pattern. When I started refining my work habits, I had an eye towards nailing down a five day work schedule so that I'd feel justified asking for money and people would feel justified paying me... but this is a salaried gig, not an hourly one.

If I can turn out a story that people want to read, that's a good thing, no matter which hours of what days I'm doing the actual physical work of hitting keys on.

If I can manage it so that people know that if they come back on this day and this day and this day, there'll be something new to read, that's even better... and it still doesn't matter when I'm doing the writing or how long it takes me.

This is another example of an idea I started with that I need to let go of: what it means to be a "full-time writer". I didn't trade one forty hour job for another. I traded a job for a vocation, I traded work for craft, one life for another.

It's also an example of the sort of internalized criticism I need to make myself impervious to. The people who find evidence that I'm not chained to a keyboard for 8 hours a day cranking out the next installment of their litcrack of choice and declare that I'm not taking my job seriously and can't expect to make any money aren't likely to be the sort of people who'd give money in appreciation of something they can consume for free anyway.

Bleh. You know what? I just realized something... this is a perfect an example of how deeply seated those ideas are in my brain: when I started off on the plan that's culminated in my renewed productivity, the idea was a 5 day production schedule with one "dead day" built in, because I knew from experience that my body and brain can't always be relied on to come to terms and both show up to work.

I knew that there would be days when I would just stare at the screen and the words wouldn't come at all AND THESE ARE THE DAYS THAT NEVER END</MEATLOAF> and I planned for them... and yet that didn't even pop into my head. I didn't even stop and realize that I'd planned for this when I was considering the implications of an off day and whether I was "justified" in giving up on it.

Justiwhat? I posted a chapter on Monday and Wednesday, just like I said I would, and I have twice as much time to do it again on Friday as I used for either of those chapters. The one I just put up is honestly... well, I'm not going to say it's the best thing I've written in a while because I don't know if I could make that sort of comparison. But it's different. I'm proud of it. It's everything I loved about writing MU during the best times of the last three years. It's got linguistic play, it's got social issues, it's got teenage drama, it's got world background, it's got fantasy-equivalent-of-real-world-phenomenon, it's got Harry Potter and D&D/gaming references, and it hangs together as a coherent story without (IMALTHO) any of those elements overwhelming it.

I've written things that are better in some technical sense or that have a bit more poetry about them, but it's an example of what I want to be doing with MU, in general. What I set out to do. It's me being the best at what I do best.

So, anyway, to wrap up this post before it becomes too rambly or self-justifying, I'm coining a nice little mnemonic device for my planned work schedule and I'm going to post about it here as a reminder to myself so I don't do the same thing next.

We'll call it the 5-4-3 Plan.

I plan on having 5 workdays a week, Monday through Friday.

I plan on actually doing substantial writing on 4 of those five days.

I plan on having a chapter to publish 3 days a week.

See how there are two different levels of "safety" built into a single week? Given that on a relatively normal day I can produce a chapter, I can still maintain the ultimate plan... three chapters a week... with a failure on both of the preceding ones. And if I succeed on them? Then I'm building up a cushion against the future.

So, anyway... that's it for tonight. I'm trying to decide if I should go take a hot bath to soak my legs, go to bed floor, or do more idle things with the computer. If I stay at my computer, there may be some more random blog posts or Facebook statuses, but I'm not writing anything of consequence tonight.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Yesterday (that is, Sunday) I had a moment of thinking that it was unwise to go into the week with nothing built up in the way of story-padding when I'd announced a chapter for Monday. I've already demonstrated that under normal circumstances I can produce a chapter in a single work day, but what about unusual circumstances? What about days when I'm in pain or tired, or when something's on my mind, or when there are external disruptions?

In the end I decided not to work ahead on Sunday, because my goal here is to get a regular five day work week and I didn't want to set the precedent of violating that. And after I've done this schedule for a while, I should be able to get ahead and stay ahead by working more days than I post. Some people will bellyache about this, but I've learned that trying to do specific things to stop the chronic complainers only changes what they complain about. But I digress. The point is that the only reason I didn't have a cushion for this week is that I haven't been doing the schedule long enough to build one up that lasts more than a week.

And of course, what happens today? There's a big brain-eating blow-up in the comment section. And yet, I push through with the chapter. I'm not 100% happy with it. It's not the chapter I would have had under other circumstances. But it's there, it advances things a bit. It provides a framework for events. It gives people something to read. I'll look at the response to it. If it's better than I would expect then I'll shrug and move on. If people are underwhelmed, then if the situation comes up again I'll hold off on posting for a few more hours even though it's technically not "Monday" any more by the time I'm finished, and I'll point to this chapter and its reception as the reason why when (when, not if) people complain that I'm not keeping to the schedule.

But again, if I'm keeping the work schedule then this shouldn't come up again, because I'll have the backlog.

But then people will complain that I could be posting more than I am.

But... and here's the big but... I can't write for the complainers. I can't run things for the complainers. I can maybe stop them from using my space to complain where I have to hear it... maybe, though ultimately trying to block people on the internet can be a time-consuming arms race which is why I've taken to just asking them to stop.

Nobody read too much into this post, please. I'm just letting these chains of thought run their course, getting them out of my head so I can move on.

Oh, and note to self: get writing done tomorrow before checking reception of today's chapter. Or just don't check the reception. Yeah, that's probably the better idea. I enjoy reading most of the comments I get. But the other ones... they make the whole experience of direct feedback so not worth it.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Y'know, I made a Facebook status post a little bit ago that said "My resolutions for the new year are 1680x1050 and 1024 x 600." This was prompted by seeing a post a friend made elsewhere about not liking resolutions, in general... but now I'm thinking.

My post played on two different uses of the word "resolution". Only once a year is it really used by individual people in the sense of a plan of action. Normally it's committees and councils that "issue resolutions". When we talk about a resolution and we're not talking about display screens, we're more likely to be talking about endings... not our resolve to do something, but how something has ultimately been resolved.

By and large we're a race of actors in the moment and thinkers after the fact. We respond to things as they come upon us, we pick the hills on which we want to die and then we spend our lives constructing justifications and defenses for these stances, trying to convince ourselves as well as others that we're not just reacting. We use terms like "sunk cost fallacy" and "cognitive dissonance" and "confirmation bias" to explain this behavior, which we're far more likely to recognize in others than in ourselves.

A man named Robert Burns composed the poem that gives us the words to "Auld Lang Syne". He wrote another poem, whose most famous lines runs thusly: the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley.

For English audiences, the key lines are often quoted as "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray." And so it is with our plans and our resolutions. A plan of any scope and ambition worth speaking of is nothing more than an itemized series of hopes, our hope that the circumstances we're counting on will come to pass and that the we'll have the strength to follow through when the moment is upon us. Hope is a fragile thing. We are fragile things. Reality is hard and harsh and cruel.

In the end, so many things resolve themselves, and we try to explain to ourselves and each other how they happened. Sometimes we don't even pick the hills we die on... we just get pinned down somewhere.

And yet we never stop hoping. We never stop planning. No amount of dashed dreams or foiled plans is sufficient for us to learn the lesson. When I consider this, I can't help being reminded of something... something that happened just ten days ago. Remember it? The longest, darkest night of the year... the complete and total disappearance of the full moon. The depths of winter should be the season of despair, but it's a season of hope, spanning the solstice, Christmas and all similar mid-winter festivals, and the solar new year.

It gets dark. It gets cold. Our hopes and dreams come to naught.

Life goes on.

And it gets brighter. The air grows warmer. We make new plans. We pick ourselves up.

We go on.

2010 was not a great year for me when it comes to plans coming together, but it was definitely a year of resolutions. There are things that were resolved, ultimately for the better. Because of it, I'm starting 2011 in a somewhat better position when it comes to making and keeping plans.

Ultimately, the only resolution we can be sure of keeping for the new year is... the old year. It's over. It's done. Resolved.

Happy 2011, everybody. May the worst of it beat the best of the year that's passed.
alexandraerin: (Default)
News For Today

Business

Well, I'm very excited about the mounting evidence that I've nailed down what (and how long) it takes for me to produce a chapter of Tales of MU. Allotting five hours in a day seems to do it. That's only two hours of writing... which is what I've always thought it took... but it includes an equal amount of time for planning/brainstorming/daydreaming and an hour for overage, clean-up, figuring out what to call the dang thing, and other "miscellaneous" things.

If I'd figured this out a couple years ago, who knows where the story would be up to now... but because the "brain" stage of writing had never been a deliberate part of the process, it had always just sort of happened during the boring hours of work, I never factored it in. Five hours of trying to straight up write doesn't produce nearly as much as I can get done in four hours with the proper mental preparations.

And I should add that during each of the chapters I've produced in a single day in five hours of work has happened when things are going on around me that require (or ensnare) my attention during the designated time blocks. So this isn't something that will require perfect ideal conditions to complete. It doesn't even require that the five hours be contiguous.

I'm going to keep doing "practice runs" this way until I've got it down, and then... with a realistic idea of how much time and energy and attention it takes me to produce Tales of MU on a set schedule... I'll look at how to fit the other stories I want to do in around it.

Personal

Illness abounds, though it's missed me. Jack is sick, back in Maryland. My housemate [livejournal.com profile] bryirfox is sick here in Nebraska, though not contagious.

I'm working on weaning myself off of soda as a dietary staple and switching to coffee, for reasons of health and economy. I've discovered that making coffee via infusion instead of dripping it through a paper filter into a heated carafe leaves it tasting good enough that I don't need to add sugar or milk or sweetened flavored dairy product to it to make it drinkable, which is awesome.

Personal Assessment

Still on the sleep of streaking... oh dear God, I'm going to have to preserve that for posterity... the streak of sleeping without pills. My nose is less stuffy. Brain feels sharp. Legs are a little stiff.

Plans For Today

Do what I did yesterday: write a chapter of Tales of MU in five hours of designated work time. This chapter won't go up today, it'll go up tomorrow. My plan for the week is to have three updates, Monday-Wednesday-Friday... my larger goals, though, are to lock in this work schedule that lets me accomplish that and to get used to working ahead.

With chapters being produced in basically two chunks in a single day, my "magic under construction" posts are going to need some re-working to be worthwhile or interesting to readers... yesterday you got half the story and then I was done so there were no further updates to the construction post. So I think that if things continue the way they have been I'm going to have to bite the bullet and make the construction post have the meta-data at the top and then a link to the Google Doc where I'm doing the writing.

Yes, you're going to get to watch me writing. Yes, that makes me incredibly nervous. I'm not going to be doing it just yet. I want to have at least a full week of the five hour schedule and then be starting into the next week, so I know it's not a fluke. (I don't think it is, though.)
alexandraerin: (Default)
Today is a travel day for me. I'm also working as I travel, but my internet options are limited... I've got 20 minutes of complimentary wireless connection that I'm pretty much just using to post this message and catch up with people. I'll have a couple of hours to spend writing after this, but I won't be able to make use of my usual routine. I'd imagine that I'll probably be able to get Tales of MU for this week posted tomorrow, but I'm not sure exactly what's on tap for the next 24 hours so let's say Thursday.

I've got some decisions to make about output/posting frequency in the coming weeks, and this is going to involve a bit of conversation, but with twenty minutes of wireless time it's not really the time to go into that. It just popped into my head because I mentioned posting tomorrow.

...and it's also just occurred to me that I could have started this message offline and then accepted the twenty minutes of complimentary internet service. Ah, well. If I'd been planning ahead better I probably could also have got my phone re-enabled as a hotspot. Anyway, in a few hours I'll be on another plane and shortly after that I'll be in Maryland, in the company of Jack, so I don't really have much to complain about.

My computer was out of commission for most of Thanksgiving so I didn't really do a whole "thankful" post, but I've got a lot of things to be thankful for.

Just some quick thoughts on my trip: I've always said that if I ever found myself in an airport with enough time to kill I would sit down in one of the bar/restaurants and enjoy a glass of wine and eat an actual meal LIKE A MOTHERFUCKING ADULT, but every time this circumstance has arisen I've encountered a Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits before I reached the nearest bar and grill. Today I landed in Newark with the good fortune to have my connecting flight leaving from the gate right next to the one I arrived at, which means that without going seriously out of my way my only real options for food were a sandwich counter, a news agent, and a bar and grill, so I have more or less satisfied one of my life's remaining ambitions. I say "more or less" because I skipped the wine... my alcohol tolerance gets a little tricky to judge when I am tired and fatigued.

I say "tired and fatigued" because those are two very different things and I have to be aware of both of them, as they... along with alcohol intoxication... have effects that are more multiplicative with each other than additive. I'm getting better at being ready for a trip without a hectic panicky rush but I still haven't mastered the trick of getting a night's sleep before one, or any. I'm tired because I haven't slept and I'm fatigued because of the lugging around of luggage and things like that. So no glass of wine to relax myself. Not that I need it... I find being in an airport terminal, on the inside-side of the security perimeter, to be a very calming thing.

I did have a very nice lime-infused chicken and brie sandwich and received numerous compliments from the staff for my hat (I'm wearing the one with the flower, for those who know some of my hats).

Okay, going to wrap this up while I've still got time to do some email.
alexandraerin: (Default)
To a large degree, it was meditating on "Rangers" in fantasy games that led me to start working on A Wilder World, originally called A Wider World. The name was always about the range of possibilities presented... I added the "l" to emphasize that it's not just about the number of options.

Anyway, the Ranger has always been one of the sore spots of 4E character design to me, for a couple of different reasons.

First, there was very little that made it a "Ranger" and not a "Mobile Fighter" or "Skirmisher". Giving all Rangers one of the two wilderness knowledge skills and access to the other was really the extent of the wild flavor, despite the nutshell description of the character being "Warrior of the Wild". In terms of actual abilities, they reduced the character to a couple of fighting styles, which meant if you wanted to make a wildernessy character you were short on options and if you just wanted to make a Skirmishing Warrior you were stuck with this odd bit grafted on.

There are sufficient "primal" bits that can be grafted on (through MCing, or using the feats in Primal Power that don't require a primal class... they're perfect for what I think of as a "Ranger") that I don't really resent the fact that when they took the class down to its core they decided to focus on the martial mechanics rather than the wilderness flavor. I just think they did so imperfectly, and that until the Primal stuff came out, they left a design hole.

And of course, the fighting styles they stripped it down to are kind of... arbitrary and weird, when divorced of the context of D&D history. There's no thematic connection between "Skirmishing Warrior With A Bow" and "Skirmishing Warrior With Two Swords"... none that couldn't have been shared with a Skirmishing Warrior using another arrangement of weapons. The only reason Rangers in D&D are associated with these choices is Drizzt&Do'Urden history.

So I didn't really like Rangers as they appeared in the PHB, but I understood that they had come about from a process of taking the classes and boiling them down to simple concepts. The Ranger was a Martial Striker; that meant less focus on anything wilderness or primal, and more focus on moving around the battlefield delivering damage. Okay. There way is viable as a game design concept, but it causes people to run into creative walls because their idea of what's central to a Ranger might be very different.

It might focus on the idea of having animal empathy, or animal companions, or wilderness survival, or nature magic.

And the same is true of other classes. For Druids, 4E gave an overwhelming focus to the idea of Wild Shape. For Fighters, the idea of being the "meat shield" was enshrined as a game mechanic and indeed an entire role that the Fighter exemplifies. The new Essentials line has opened up the design space a bit, giving us alternate Rangers who have smidgeon more wilderness flavor, Druids who don't Wild Shape, and Fighters who are more of a meat sword, but we're still... outside of a patchwork multiclass feat tree and a warranty-voiding hybrid system... stuck with the game designers' interpretations of these concepts.

The idea behind A Wi(l)der World was to break character concepts down further and then allow them to be mixed and matched in a more comprehensive way than the Hybrid/Multiclass systems did. If your idea of a Ranger was someone who was a skilled archer, tracker, and rider who knows a little wilderness magic, you can make that. If your idea of a Ranger is a wily old man who can slip unseen through the forest and give people cryptic but strangely helpful advice, you can make that. If it's someone who wears light armor and fights with two swords and runs around the battlefield a lot, you can make that. There is an Archetype called "Ranger", but there is no Ranger class and any character guide for making a ranger would merely list it as a suggestion along the other ones that could be used for an interpretation of that concept.


  • Ranger is a trailblazer/pathfinder, inspired in large part by the "Strider" part of the prototype of the D&D Ranger, Aragorn. "Rangers get around" is the easy way to sum up their abilities. In combat, they focus on using the terrain to their best advantage. Their keen eyesight does give them some synergy with archery, as they can overcome penalties for distance or obscured targets.
  • Tracker is the faultless tracker of TV and fantasy fiction. "He can track a falcon on a cloudy day, he can find you." The same suite of abilities also works for a psychometric reader, or a cinematic forensic detective like Sherlock Holmes or Special Agent Paul Smecker.
  • Archer is a Weapon Master Archetype for using bows... or actually, ranged weapons in general.
  • Survivor started off as part of Ranger but branched off when I realized I was dealing with two too different concepts. This is a wilderness survival expert, though it can also work as the non-combat half of a "die hard" character.
  • Tactician, Scholar and Leader work for the "wise mentor" schtick that Rangers often have. (A lot of the more interesting Utilities that 4E Rangers have fall into this category.)
  • Alchemist also works as "Herbalist" with no rule changes.
  • The various "Companion" Archetypes can serve to give the Ranger a mount, hawk, cat, etc.


A glance at the list might make you think that there's not much room for customization of a Ranger-like character... once you take Ranger, Tracker, and Survivor you've only got room for one other Archetype. But it's all in what you choose to emphasize. Someone with those three Archetypes would be the consummate Nature Guy. Not taking Tracker wouldn't mean you couldn't track, just that you wouldn't have Track-Fu as a character-defining special ability. Not taking Survivor wouldn't mean you'd die outside the city walls. You could skip Ranger and be an outdoorsy type who's just not particularly light on your feet. Or you could take Ranger, Acrobat, and Skirmisher to be an outdoorsy type who's incredibly light on your feet. Acrobat and Skirmisher have nothing to do with the wilderness except that they work inside of it... they're just two more ways to emphasize mobility in and out of combat.

So, anyway, all of this is to say that I think Ranger's going to be the next Archetype that I preview. I was thinking of doing Ranger, Tracker, and Survivor, just to give a compare/contrast of "Rangery Archetypes", but I think I'd rather give a broader view, and those latter two need more work. Balancing these Archetypes involves way more art than science, as they're by definition useful under differing circumstances, but I aim to make sure that each Archetype has some abilities that are useful in general to avoid the Aquaman problem. ("Oh, look... this adventure also takes underwater, with a problem that can only be solved by talking to fish.")

I started by teasing one of the less obvious Archetypes (Coward). So I think I'm going to alternate. Ranger is one of the more traditional ones, so I'll follow it with another less traditional one (Fool? Tavern Dweller?) and then another more "character classy" one.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, for those who haven't noticed, I'm doing NaNo this year. The results are being posted daily in the [livejournal.com profile] ae_stories community. I hadn't been planning on doing it until a few days before the turn of the month... it was a matter of realizing that I had a lot of ideas that I wanted to do something with and wasn't. As I mentioned when I talked about officially mothballing my other serials*, there were other ideas that excited me more... but I wasn't sure what to do with them, how to get moving on them.

Trying to run so many ongoing serials was not the most sustainable idea in the world, but I tried it and tried to stick with it for so long because I find it an easier structure to work with than a novel. Easier to self-motivate, easier to gain and keep momentum.

Taking the NaNo approach (just under 2,000 words a day within a set amount of time) seems like a good recipe for combining what makes serials work for me with projects that are more finite and limited in scope. And so far so, good... though I'm not sure their stat tracking is going to have the desired effect on me.

For the three days of November so far, I've sat down for an hour and written about the right number of words (1,667ish). I haven't pushed myself to reach exactly that number, especially as their word counter and mine never add up to the same. Right now if I look at my stats, it says I'm at 4,842 of an expected 5,000 words. I look at that and think "Awesome! I'm in the right neighborhood. I am totally on track to be finished on time." But then I look further down and it says "Days behind schedule: 3". That's discouraging.

I could string together 58 more words to hit the target, but I don't really want to. There's already so much arbitrariness and artificiality behind this schedule. I think having a daily benchmark is a lot more useful than just having the goal of "50,000 words in 30 days"... that's too big and too distant to be a useful motivation tool... but if I focus on how many days I do or don't hit the target exactly, I'm apt to be dispirited.

I'm probably going to end up being ahead a bit in a little while, because I've been aiming at the benchmark and not trying to overshoot it, and because I've been getting the introductory bits out of the way. The actual story excites me even more. But these days of being "behind schedule" are going to stay there...

Aaaaaaaanyway, I decided to officially participate in NaNo this year because it was upon us at a time when I was looking to start something new, but if the rest of the month goes well I think I might keep up this approach. When I quit my day job, I'd meant to develop some stand-alone or finite-length novels that I never actually did... and I've got a good start on a novel right now (expanded on an idea from a Fantasy In Miniature story) that I'd like to do more on. Part of that was my dedication to developing serials. Part of it was that I never found a way to go about actually writing them. Actually, I think those two parts are strongly related.

Aaaaaaaaaanyway part 2, I'm going to be keeping this up. I like the infinite serial format. It has its strengths. But the world has room for stories that are longer than five hundred words and shorter than infinity ones.

Aaaaaaaaaaanyway part 3, I'm going to have a post sometime in the near future (by which I mean anywhere from tomorrow to next month) about exactly what I'm going to be doing with my canceled serials, because I've found that when I stop thinking of them as serials that need to be constantly updated I see some possibilities in the universes/stories again.

And that's really all I can say about anything right now without going into a full-fledged ramble.

Oh, and I just realized I haven't been doing task lists this week. Bad AE. No biscuit. In addition to what I've done so far:


  • One hour of TOMU 466.
  • One other hour of TOMU 466.
  • One hour of writing archetypes for AWW. Select three to clean up and post as samples in the next few days.
alexandraerin: (Default)
I think my next task in working on A Wilder World is going to be to just write out the rules in terms of simple straightforward instructions. I've got a good handle on them in my head but I'm having a hard time writing them out... I think I'm too much of a very non-technical sort of writer. Conciseness goes against my grain. I keep going into asides about the intentions behind the rules and the feeling they're meant to evoke.

I don't think including those things would be terrible... a little more focus on plain language and clear intention would have improved 4E in a few places, I think, and so a little conversational quality isn't going to be a bad thing in the long run.

But the rules need to be clear, too. If they can't stand on their own with a minimum of explanation, then they probably need revising. Also, I'll be able to have a copy of the rules that other people can view and evaluate (and use to make sense of the other snippets I put up) faster if I'm not trying to produce the final draft in the first sitting.

Skeleton first, then meat. It's way too early to be worried about the skin, much less the clothing.
alexandraerin: (Default)
The Archetype I'm currently calling Brute has gone through an interesting progression. The basic idea was "Barbarian", but stripped of a lot of baggage. "Berserker" and "Rage Warrior" were interim names that I didn't want to stick with because I didn't plan on having any mechanics to represent mindless aggression that can spiral out of the player's control. I settled on Brute, to evoke a brute force approach to fighting, with the positive result of realizing how the same Archetype I'd envisioned for people charging around with battleaxes could also work for wizards heedlessly tossing fireballs and such.

Similarly, when I started out with an Archetype called "Tank" I knew that was a placeholder name, both because it sounded too modern and because it brought to mind concepts that I thought would better be handled as separate Archetypes... I was using it for the "damage soaking" portion of the MMO-style Tank role.

My second stab at naming that Archetype was Juggernaut, which I still wasn't in love with. It's evocative, yes, but it evokes the unstoppable force much more than the immovable object. The damage-soaking Archetype plus the Brute Archetype might yield a Juggernaut, in the same way that the Archetype plus Challenger and/or Defender might yield something more like a Tank.

I came up with what I think will be its final name when I was considering how many Archetype names seemed to be evocative of negative character traits (Coward. Fool. Brute.)... I thought, "Well, why not have an Archetype exemplified by bravery?"

And when I started to brainstorm names for that, it didn't take long before I hit on a winner: Stalwart.

But I have enough Archetype ideas that a placeholder name isn't worth holding a place for, so I immediately started brainstorming ideas for what the Stalwart would be able to do, what it would look like.

And I realized right away: it would look an awful lot like the Juggernaut. Standing unmoving in the face of danger, keeping calm and steady as wave after wave of enemy thunders across the battlefield, shrugging off blows that would fell lesser beings... that was the Juggernaut. That's the Stalwart.

I didn't just paste the Stalwart label over the Juggernaut Archetype, of course. Calling the Archetype "Stalwart" helped me refine what it is actually about. It gave me an Archetype that uses the concept of Resolve to better effect than anything else has so far, which solved some balance problems I was having with the Juggernaut basically being an HP-recovery factory.

The vaguely defined abilities of the Juggernaut gave way to solid ideas for the Stalwart, along with a bunch of Techniques that are ultimately more interesting than variations on "gets hit, doesn't fall over". Now I have an Archetype that works not just for the big beefy barbarian who's too stupid to die, but the rebel who's too stubborn, the knight, the zealot, the plucky kid...

Yes, Stalwart is way better than Juggernaut.

(I could make a whole other post about the possibilities you get when you combine Coward and Stalwart. I call it "Stubborn Survivor". Give that character any offensive capabilities at all and you are officially the headache that won't go away.)

I hope to post more concrete info and less rambly rambles in the near future, because I know the concrete info gives a much better sense of the shape of things. I've just got to bear down and regain some focus. For now, it's time for sleep... or to be more precise, it was time for sleep half an hour ago, but then I started thinking about the Archetypes.
alexandraerin: (Default)
You know, I thought the hard part of closing the door on my neglected other serial projects would be saying so, coming to the decision and then getting the words out... I figured once I'd done that, it would be easy to wrap up the loose ends.

But I'm still not grappling with it. The actual act of putting up explanations on the individual sites feels daunting. I'm not sure what I want to say and how to say it.

But the whole point of this is to put them out of my mind, get them behind me, and forge on for the future... so for now that's what I'm doing. I'll shelve the shelving of them for a week or so and devote myself to other things. I've written a bit of a thing that could become the first new Fantasy In Miniature piece in a while. I've got a Tales of MU chapter pending, that I'm going to apply myself to with relish as soon as I put this post through. I have a roleplaying game project that's excited some interest... and that's not counting all the people who've said over the years that they'd love to play a game by me.

So, anyway.... shoving off or shoving on, it's time to shove forward. Okay that sign-off didn't make a lot of sense, but imagine I compressed several more paragraphs of rambling into one sentence.
alexandraerin: (Default)
I haven't made any more posts about A Wilder World (my roleplaying game project) lately because I haven't had a lot of chances to work on it, even to gather my thoughts and write them out for people. I'm leery about making posts that deal with the concepts at a glance without detail or supporting examples because, as the first post demonstrated, a "nutshell" description of something can be small enough to encompass entire universes of possibility.

Since I woke up today a few hours ago I have started pulling my notes on possible archetypes together into a sort of draft version of a standardized format. Later (possibly tonight, or in the coming days) I'll post some examples of archetypes, but for now I'm just going to post a bit of explanation and some rambly meditations on the subject of archetypes.
Cut for rambling nerdery. )

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