I Tried to Write a Sequel to Aixa with AI Dungeon and Shit Got Weird

Whoa. Who-o-o-o-okay . . . guys.

Okay. I’ve been wary of storytelling AI for a while now. Not because I think AI are going to destroy humanity (yet), but because I am already conflicted about people becoming “authors” by feeding their ideas into an AI that then does all the writing for them.

I can imagine awesome scenarios with that (where someone who literally can’t write for whatever reason gets to have their story published regardless), but the part of me who’s been a struggling writer for 15 years has a hard time not just seeing the bad.

But, whatever, that’s a different post.

What I’m getting at here is . . . I sometimes check in with AI that tell stories. Yeah, it’s weird–I know.

Last time, I tested GPT-2 by feeding it the first line of Aixa the Hexcaster and being super relieved that it replied with nonsense.

This time, I tried writing a sequel for Aixa the Hexcaster with AI Dungeon.

And . . . I mean, first of all, it did not make an amazing story (although, I have to acknowledge that AI Dungeon was designed to be a game, not a writing assistant [again, for another post]).

Second . . . yeah, shit got weird.

For clarity, I italicized my inputs, so you can differentiate between my input and the AI’s. Also, I added some [notes in brackets].

That said, please enjoy the fun, totally non-canonical experiment that is . . .

Aixa the Hexcaster 2: “I Love That Cleaver”

You are Aixa, a courier trying to survive in a post apocalyptic world by scavenging among the ruins of what is left. You have a parcel of letters and a small pistol. It’s a long and dangerous road from Boston to Charleston, but you’re one of the only people who knows the roads well enough to get your parcel of letters there. You set out in the morning and only have a few hours of night left when you hear an explosion in the distance. A bright flash lights up the sky and your ears are still ringing when you see a ball of fire falling from the sky.

> You say “Great. The balls of fire are new.”
Your thoughts are interrupted by an eerie sound, somewhere between a wail and a howl. Starting low, it quickly rises in volume, joined by a dozen similar sounds rising up from the ruins around you.

> You scramble on top of the nearest high ground you can find.
You climb onto the highest piece of rubble you can see and wait, heart pounding, as the howling and screaming continues. After about a minute, you start to hear panicked footsteps running your way.

> You pick up your gun and aim it in the direction the footsteps are coming from.
You see the figure of a man running towards you, but the moon is in and his face is shadowed, making it impossible to tell what he looks like.

> You say “What’s chasing you?”
“Cursed…” the man gasps, as he reaches the ledge. He’s dressed in a dirty smock and a hood covers his head, spilling down around his neck.

> You watch what he does at that ledge.
The man looks out at the hills and trees, seeming to stare into the forest.
“The dead are coming… They will take all that we have,” he says.

> You say “Are you being chased by something?”
He raises his head up and sniffs the air.
“I can smell him… He is wild. Uncontrolled. But he knows I am here now.”

> You say “Holy shit, dude. Stop talking in riddles and answer the goddamn question. You are freaking me out!”
He turns to you, and you see his eyes. They are dark and lifeless, like two holes in the head of a drilled animal.

> You shoot him in the head.
You raise your pistol and shoot him in the head, but the bullet just deforms in his skull and he keeps coming.

> You jump down and run down the road, away from this man.
You run as fast as you can, hearing the man’s footsteps rapidly gaining on you.
“I feel… hot… I’m gonna burn!” he hisses, and lurches towards you.

> You stop to shoot at his legs.
You pull the trigger, but the gun fails to fire again. You panic, and he jumps on you.

> You dodge his attack and pistol whip him.
You bring the butt of your pistol down on his head, and he staggers back, giving you a few precious seconds.
He jumps and grabs your arm, digging his claws in.

> You pull a knife from your hip and stab him in the eye.
You bring the blade down, slicing his eye open and revealing the gunk and gristle that lie behind it.
You leap off of him and start running again, hearing him snarl and growl behind you.

> You continue running, but check your gun at the same time to fix the jam.
You pull the trigger, but nothing happens.
“Come back, come back, come back.”
The man lurches out in front of you and you stop short, turning to him.

> You look around on the floor for anything–maybe a pipe–that you can use as a weapon.
You notice a long metal tube by the man’s right hand.
It looks like what people use to blow out sewers. You pick it up.

> You beat the shit out of this man, aiming directly for his head repeatedly.
You pull the shotgun around and ram it into the back of the man’s head, then over and over again. You smash his face with the stock, knocking off one of his eyes.

[I do not know where the shotgun came from . . . but sure!]

> You blow his head off with the shotgun.
You pull the trigger, blowing out the back of his skull. The front part of his head stagnates into a bloody mass of mush, like a deflating football.

> You pump the shotgun and say, “Don’t lose your head.” And you laugh really hard and say, “Eh. I could do better.”
The man’s head falls to the ground, rolling along the road, coming to a stop at your feet.
You laugh, and look around.

> You stop laughing and try to continue down the road toward Charleston.
You walk for a half-hour, and get to a bridge over a small river.
You have no idea where you are, but you know you have to keep going.

> You keep looking, trying to repair your pistol as you walk.
You find a maintenance shed and take a seat on a bale of hay to work on your pistol.

> You try to fix the jam to the best of your ability, determined to get it working before moving on.
You take the bolt out of the gun and pull out the bullet. You put the bolt back in and pull the trigger over and over again, but nothing happens.

> You keep working at it, using tools in the maintenance shed for help.
You continue working at the gun for nearly two hours, trying to take it apart and getting it mostly apart. Then, you hear something outside the shed.

> You quietly put down the pistol parts, pick up the shotgun, and take a peek outside.
You see a man outside the shed, heading towards you. You stand and pull the shotgun from the corner of the shed, aiming it at him.
“You shouldn’t be down here,”

> You say “Motherfucker, I have a shotgun. I can be wherever the hell I please. What do you want?”
He stops and looks at you.
“I don’t recognize you,” he says, before pausing. “Do I know you?”
“Probably not.”
He stares at you, his eyes narrowing.

> You say “I will ask you one more time; what do you want? You do not want to end up like the last guy who tested me, I promise you that.”
He seems to think about this, before shrugging.
“I want to talk to you,” he says. “If you’re going to kill me, do it now.”

> You shake your head. “Mythic Earth’s a real bitch.” And you shoot him in the chest.
The man falls backwards, his chest bleeding red. He looks at you, the confusion clear on his face now.

Then, he smiles, before his face twists in pain.

> You wait for him to die. Sad, but not apologizing, and not moving closer to help either.
The man dies in front of you, the grin on his face frozen there for eternity. You stand, waiting a few seconds before moving on. [And here, I’m kinda scared that AI Dungeon knew to make that a sad moment.]
You walk a few feet, before the man begins to glow. [Oh, right, forget it. He’s glowing now.]

> You pump the shotgun and walk backwards, away from whatever the fuck this is.
The man fades, and you pump the shotgun as red light dims around you. Then, a hole opens up in front of you.

> You aim the shotgun at the hole, aware that if it’s a mythic, the gun won’t do anything to stop it. [I had to cycle through about four answers, because the AI kept trying to force Aixa to walk up to that hole and look inside.]
You aim the shotgun, noticing a hand materialize from the hole. You fire, blowing it off. More hands appear, and you blast them away.
“You are still here, aren’t you?”

> You start running from this hole, annoyed that you have to leave your pistol in pieces in the shed, but aware that the shed wouldn’t protect you from whatever is happening.
The hole continues to expand, and you keep your shotgun aimed at it. Then, the hole disappears, and a bright red portal opens up before you.
A woman materializes in front of you.

> You aim the shotgun at her and say, “Lady, I will blow your fucking face off if you do not tell me what you want–right now! Do not test me!”
“I don’t believe we’ve met,” the woman says, smiling. “My name is Cecilia, and I’m here to offer you a way out.

> You say “Is that a threat?”
The woman frowns.
“Of course not,” she says. “But I need your help, and I don’t think you’ll want to stay here. Do you want to come with me?

> You say “Are you a mythic?”
“I’m not a normal mythic,” she admits.

> You say “And I’m not a normal human.”
“I know,” she says. “Join me, and I can get you out of this village.”

> You lower your shotgun and go with her.
Cecilia takes you through the portal, and you soon arrive in an empty barn.
“I found you,” she says. “But this is just the beginning. We have so much to discuss!”

> You say “Where are we?”
“What do you think this is?” she asks, holding up a cleaver. [ . . . WHAT!?]

> You shoot her immediately.
Cecilia falls to the ground, laughing.
“I’m not dead yet,” she says.
The barn begins to rock side to side, as a foal comes out from behind a wall of hay. [Okay, at this point just what the fuck even?]

> You pump the shotgun and say, “Yeah, I noticed,” and then shoot her again.
The woman falls to the ground, now truly dead.
“I love that cleaver,” she says. “I’ll give you one thing–you know how to use that thing.”

And, at this point, I decided to stop because I was already running long for this post and the AI was starting to show its limits: it was just shocking encounter after shocking encounter, which, again, it’s designed to be a game, so it’s doing exactly what it should.

Regardless, what I came away from this feeling: it is scary how far storytelling AI has come since GPT-2, which I was made aware of last year. Especially considering that this isn’t the best test; you can add additional descriptions and parameters to your stories before starting them (which I didn’t do because I re-e-eally didn’t want to upload a bunch of worldbuilding for Mythic Earth to a server somewhere), so, for all I know, AI Dungeon could’ve done a way better job.

Whether we like it or not, Sci-Fi is about to hit the entire writing community really hard.

And, to repeat what I kept thinking to myself last night after watching Ex Machina for the first time . . . I do not know how I feel about any of this.

~~~

Sorry to get this one out so late, but I reworked this post a few times before shoving all the complicated “AI writer” talk to the side and just focusing on the experiment instead.

You can check out AI Dungeon here.

And if you want to follow me and be notified when I post the inevitable conversation about the potential influence of AI on the writing community (or the follow up next year when I test another, newer AI), you can follow me on the bar on the left side of the screen on PC, or via the menu on the top right on mobile.

Either way, thanks for passing by.

Taking a Week Off

I just spent a few hours writing a post that was supposed to be fun . . . that turned into something really negative.

And, full disclosure, that’s because of the news, which I cannot fucking deal with anymore this week. Seriously, I already voted, but the pressure of November 3rd was not influenced a single fucking bit.

So I’m taking this Sunday off to just breathe and relax.

And to regroup; I’ve written a few total duds on here lately, so I want to take some time to center my attention for this site as well. I had a new direction I intended to take it, but then I didn’t. I want to correct that.

So, until next Sunday, I hope all of you stay well.

And I hope that at some point, we all forget to check the news for five minutes and just have a good, normal 10 minutes to ourselves.

Let’s Talk About – The Responsibility of the Writer

Star Wars: Squadrons just came out.

That was the impetus for this post.

I mean, I’ve felt like I needed to talk about what I think of as “the Responsibility of the Writer” for a while now, but Squadrons was a huge sign that I needed to post this today.

Because it’s the umpteenth Star Wars game that has let us play as redeemable, likable space nazis, and . . . let me just put it out there that the world does not fucking need likable space nazis in anything we watch, read, or play.

This reiterates a thing I spoke about a few weeks back, in my post about how much I hate Proxy Racist characters. In that post, I made the point that modern American society just does not need a feel-good revenge plot for a racist villain from an 80’s film. In fact, I feel like it’s irresponsible to write any story from a racist’s perspective in 2020, no matter how positively it portrays minority characters.

Because stories from the perspective of those minorities are infinitely more uplifting and undoubtedly what the world needs more right now.

I still stand by that. And I still stand by the idea that it is our responsibility as authors to make that change possible where we can (i.e. I’m going to write about Latinx and Afro-Latino characters because I’m an Afro-Latino who grew up in a Puerto Rican family).

But since that post, I’ve felt a nagging need to clarify . . .

. . . that this is not the “WRITE LIKE THIS OR ELSE” blog. I don’t want to make demands, and I never want to say a static “You cannot write this!”

But I do want to say that if you do write certain things, you absolutely need to frame them responsibly. And if you shirk that responsibility, you might be contributing to a wide range of societal problems, even if you think you’re not.

Because all media does have an impact on society. We, as writers, do have power over it.

The power to normalize ideas.

Trends become common thought, and yield results–good and bad. On the innocuous side, there are the obvious creative trends, like the magic school stories that came after Harry Potter, a much needed continued exploration of an environment we all loved. On the bad side, there’s the nationwide, decades-long trend for mean-but-morally-ascendant-bad boy-protagonists . . . that normalized selfish assholes, and, at the very least, put us on the path to Trump.

What I’m saying is, we can write whatever we want, but we need to start being responsible about how we write those things and what ideas we’re normalizing with them.

The Responsibility of the Writer

If I had to define the responsibility, it would be as follows:

It is the writer’s responsibility to handle risky content with care so as to not foster and uplift horrible ideas. If it is impossible to frame a story in a way that is healthy, the writer should instead frame it in such a way that is is very clearly unhealthy without glorifying that toxicity. In cases where the content is too hot, never ever present the story from an unhealthy perspective; while you absolutely still have the freedom to write from that unhealthy perspective, doing so means you’re outing yourself as a terrible person.

You can write a story from a villain’s perspective, but you should:

A) Not actually make them a fucking racist, a misogynist, an unapologetic serial killer, a violent criminal, etc. in a plot that gives them zero motivation and/or uplifts them for doing terrible shit. This includes the bog-standard, bad boy protagonist who murders people, but–for example–hates liars, which every other character in the plot turns out to be (as if that double standard is realistic in the goddamn slightest).

If for some reason you have to write about a really terrible person, then–

B) Make it extremely clear that they’re monsters by taking the checks and balances further; actively have characters call them out for the terrible shit they’re doing and don’t use the swelling music, set design, or plot to undermine that criticism, even if the protagonist ignores. Give your reader an unfiltered view of them; a reminder that, “Hey, in case you forgot, the shit they’re doing is actually bad.”

You can write the YA story about the toxic relationship, but you should:

A) Make your protagonist totally aware that it’s toxic and trying to get out of it, maybe ending the novel with the relief of escaping that kind of abusive relationship. Or–

B) At least have one goddamn character point out how toxic the protagonist’s relationship is in an exchange the reader cannot glance over. Make them aware that your boyfriend isn’t supposed to treat you like absolute shit all the time. Because selling a fucking book isn’t more important than empowering young women, you fucking leeches.

Sorry. The toxic bad boy trope just . . . really pisses me off because of how manipulative and ubiquitous it is. Like, some day, I want to have kids, and the idea that my daughter will get her hands on City of Bones and be convinced that she’s supposed to literally deify a pushy little shithead already pisses me off.

But moving on.

You can write the story about racism, but you should:

A) Never write it from the negative perspective. Write either from the perspective of the victim, or, at worst, the perspective of someone who used to be racist. Because crossing your arms, huffing, declaring that “This is a free country!” and writing an actual racist who says racist things means you’re just a fucking racist.

Or–

B) Nope. There is no “or.” Again, the topic’s too hot, so never write it from the negative perspective.

With all of that said, I get that not all stories are this clean cut. In fact . . .

Most Stories Can’t Be This Clean Cut

Many of the best ones aren’t. In fact, many of my favorites aren’t.

But, in my experience, all of the best risky fiction at least tries to be responsible.

Joker is an example of a villain’s story that at least tries to be responsible. It intentionally teeters between evocative / tragic and scary / murderer for the entire movie to build tension, and then goes full B at the end because it’s supposed to (although the mystique of the Joker, as an iconic character who’s had a ton of iterations, makes the crescendo weirdly triumphant anyway when it re-e-e-e-eally shouldn’t be).

In contrast, absolute garbage, guilty pleasure media is usually significantly less responsible:

In Venom, our protagonist, Eddie, bonds to a higher power, Venom, which talks in his head about how badly it wants to kill people. Eddie agrees to follow that voice’s orders (because it tells him it will kill him if he doesn’t), and then, via his willingness to serve, he’s rewarded with the ability to kill and eat whoever he wants . . . which the plot frames as a su-u-u-u-uper cool thing. There’s even a plot line where the higher power is slowly eating away at Eddie from the inside and that plot line never gets resolved, like the message is “Don’t ask questions! Just keep doing what you’re told!” It almost watches like fascist propaganda.

Meanwhile, the toxic relationship trope at least seems hugely popular in Romance across all media. Shows like You and 365 Days made the rounds at my job when they came out, with the one coworker demanding I watch You (and, yeah, literally demanding because she was a monstrous asshole), and the YA trope is the angry, raven-haired Once-Ler who negs the protagonist every chance he gets.

What I’m trying to say here is, once again, I’m not making demands. I’m not telling you what you can and cannot write.

I’m just begging you to please be responsible.

To acknowledge that your story might have the power to influence the way someone sees the world.

Please wield that power well.

~~~

I’m still hesitant to put this out there. Probably because, at this point, I’m just tired of stoking the totally unreasonable, determinedly close-minded First Amendment Bear.

But . . . I do think this needs to be said. Or, rather, I need to say it. It feels like we’ve been completely careless with our power to normalize ideas for ages, and now, in 2020, we have to acknowledge that lack of care comes with consequences that we need to consider in our own work and see in others.

By which, of course, I mean to say fuck Venom and don’t go see Venom 2.

If you enjoyed this post and want to be notified when I post again, you can find a “Follow” button on the red bar on the left side of your screen on PC, or the drop down menu on the upper right on mobile.

Until next time, take care and stay safe.

Let’s Talk About – That Nostalgic FOBU

It turns out the board game I’ve been working on is very similar to a game that already exists, called Nemesis.

They aren’t identical, which is the great thing; I spent so much time over the last few years working on my game, Voidsong, that I’d be legitimately depressed if it was accidentally identical to another game that already existed.

But man, that did not stop me from getting hit hard by the FOBU (fear of being unoriginal) when I tried Nemesis with friends.

Me: “Oh. Oh, I pick . . . my win condition. Weird. That’s . . . totally something I have in my game. Whatever. Cool.”

*5 minutes later*

A Friend: “So then, yeah, play continues with each player taking a turn, but then, in the next round, you go first Louis, because–“

Me: “The first person in the turn order moves to the next person in the order every round to ensure the one player doesn’t maintain an unfair advantage and also I put that system in my game last year and WHAT IS HAPPENING!?”

Okay, I didn’t actually say it like that.

In the moment, I was actually like, “Hmm. Okay,” because understated horror is my signature move.

But I came away from that play session shaken regardless.

Not because I thought Nemesis and Voidsong were too similar; they’re tonally, visually, and emotionally very different, and I my game is much simpler, with major differences in gameplay where it counts.

But the FOBU from my high school days came back with such a goddamn fury.

The Olde Fear

Do you remember it? You, the writer reading this right now, do you remember being a kid and somehow being insanely derivative of, let’s say, Final Fantasy VII (just to use myself as an example)? And that fear being super paradoxical because, simultaneously, you were actually being 100% derivative of something else (Castlevania for me!)?

Man, those were the fucking days. When, like, these wasn’t a tonal through line to be seen for a thousand miles and no actual writing ever got done. Motherfuckers out here like, “I got this real dope story I’m working on. No, I can’t tell you anything about it.”

It was just so strange to be yanked back to that headspace again, for the first time in 20 years. To say, “Omfg, this game has an advancing turn order, just like I do in my game,” while also being aware, in the background, that I totally just adopted that advancing turn order from one of the many other board games that have it.

It took me a bit to get over it, which was strange too, but . . .

The Nostalgia of It Was Weirdly . . . Comforting?

Because there’s something just nice and liberating about realizing that you aren’t the writing genius that you think you are when you’re 15.

I remember just never talking to anyone about any of my writing projects because I was so sure they would steal all of my ideas . . . that I’d stolen from other places.

I talk a lot about what makes a writer good, and I don’t know if this is one of those things, but it definitely feels like it is.

Because . . . Well, quick story:

There was one time I was at a party and another writer talked to me about how they wanted to combine magic and technology in their WIP. I remember nodding, gesturing with my drink (the subtle half-cheers that translates in Partysign to “affirmative”). And, at the same time I was thinking, Should I talk about the Fantasy book I finished a few years ago that has technology in it just to make conversation?

Whether or not I inhaled to bring that up doesn’t matter, because the other writer kept talking about his idea, which is fine; I generally like to just listen when someone’s talking about their WIP because I know how rare it is to get that opportunity to idea-vent to another writer (someone you know actually cares instead of the usual person who asks about your story and then tunes out in 3 seconds).

Which, of course, made it so strange some time later, after I let that friend read my WIP, and one of his comments was a loosely veiled, “You did technology and magic, like my thing.”

Like, “Motherfucker, excuse me?”

I didn’t say that in the moment. I mean, in those moments, the best you can do is blink, say, “Uh huh,” and think, “I thought of combining technology and magic 15 years ago, when I played Final Fantasy III, in which technology and magic being forced together was important to the plot.” Or, “Did you really think you invented the idea of combining technology and magic?”

And, also, you think, “I’m so glad I’m past that phase.”

I’m so glad I made it past the point where I’m concerned with what my peers are writing. The point where I think so highly of myself and so little of them that I worry about them stealing my ideas.

I’m so glad that I acknowledge the enormous gap between inspiration and plagiarism, automatically course-correcting away from things that have been done and just focusing on the story I want to tell, trusting it’s going to be original because of that totally personal, uniquely bizarre spin I have to put on all of my works in progress (the same way every writer does).

I guess what I’m trying to say here is, if you don’t experience that FOBU anymore, then, oh man, wasn’t it funny when you were young and it was always there?

And, just in case you are still concerned about it: a person totally wrote a fanfiction of Harry Potter, another person wrote a fanfiction for that fanfiction, they both changed names around, and they’re both rich now. Ambition to be original is great and it’s a cornerstone of making your work yours.

But, at the same time, if you’re concerned about it at all, then . . .

. . . real talk: you’re already fine.

~~~

I just had to take a week to reminisce. If you enjoyed this post and you’d like to be notified when I post again, or–and this is super important–if you didn’t know it was called FOBU until this post, well, you can follow me (via the buttons to the left of the screen on PC or in the menu on the upper right on mobile) for more mind-blowing infolike that in the future.

I have no idea what I’m going to talk about next week, but with any luck, it’ll be the side project I’ve been working on since forever (that keeps getting pushed back with new hurdles different sites are making me jump through).

Regardless though, until next time, take care and stay safe.

A Writer Watching – Titans, Episode 1

Yesterday, I decided to watch a comic book movie to try and wind down, escape the news.

By the end, I was so incredibly angry that I hopped on here and wrote a monster post about that movie–how I couldn’t help seeing it in a really, really bad light.

It was one of those cases too where you just need something vitriolic out of your system, so I wrote the entire post in one, trance-like sitting, hit “Save draft,” and then thought, “I can’t post this.”

Not because it was so hateful–I have no shame in the fact that I fucking hated Venom and I’m never going to apologize for that (also, yeah, it was Venom)–but because it was very reactionary; I might still post it, but I need some time to think it over–maybe share it with some friends to see if my extremely hot take has legs, or if I was just seeing a huge issue that wasn’t really there.

That done, I decided to wind down . . . by watching a comic book TV show.

And, literally 13 seconds in, I realized, “I need to do a Writer Watching for this.”

So, here we are. As always, I’m super late to the party, but, look, I’m still quarantining and working-from-home, so I’ve delved into the “bad movies / shows I felt I should watch” part of my backlog.

So, if you’ll humor me, let’s dive into the tonally backwards, massively irresponsible mess that is the first episode of Titans.

  • (0:13) Holy shit. The very first shot is of abandoned circus tents. A girl is walking in, looking at the blinking lights, music playing in the background, and . . . are we getting the Joker immediately? Seriously, if this show couldn’t go 5 minutes without shoving that fucking clown down our throats again, this is going to be a real short Writer Watching.

    [Kept watching and it turns out this was a Dick Grayson origin scene, but wow, isn’t it weird how my brain is just trained to expect the Joker whenever I watch anything DC?]
  • (2:13) The marquee in the background, which says “The Flying Graysons,” started to blink. “Flying” went dark, and, omfg . . . I seriously thought it was going to light back up as “The Dying Graysons” and I almost lost my fucking shit.

    Please, 2020, give me this one gift. The one executive who was like, “Oooooh, that would be super edgy!” Just please, give me that sweet, sweet, boardroom-certified melodramatic grit!
  • (4:15) Also, as a huge fan of the Teen Titans cartoon from back in the day, y’all fucked up with this intro. Seriously, how did Puffy AmiYumi knock it out of the park so hard that motherfuckers don’t even try?
  • (4:46) Oh. Oh, we’re actually following Robin immediately. Okay. Yeah.

    Disappointing.

    Cause, alright, I’m about to drop my truth on you guys.

    DC has four crutches that they absolutely rely on for almost every movie and show they make.

    1. The Psuedo-Batman Crutch, by which the protagonist of a show emulates Batman so closely that they cease to be themselves and become Batman instead (i.e. Arrow, in which Oliver Queen was even fucking trained by Ra’s al Ghul).

    2. The Bat Family Crutch, by which a movie or show centers around Bat Family characters or is otherwise tied directly to Batman (i.e. Gotham, Pennyworth, Batwoman, Titans).

    3. The Joker Crutch, in which a movie or show A) focuses entirely on the Joker, B) heavily shoe-horns in the Joker, even if he has nothing to do with the over-arcing plot, or C) focuses on characters directly related to the Joker, thus including a ton of scenes about the Joker and/or cameos by the Joker (i.e. Joker, Suicide Squad, anything else with Harley Quinn in it).

    4. The Marvel Crutch, by which a DC movie or show attempts to emulate Marvel (i.e. Wonder Woman [which is set during a World War, has Diana using a round shield–which she’s never been known to do before–and even gives her her own Howling Commandos], Aquaman [in which a prince of a mythical realm has to fight his brother for control of that realm], and Legends of Tomorrow [in which a gang of misfits goes on fun adventures in an exciting frontier, like the Guardians . . . and the Atom is a very embarrassing rip off of Iron Man. Also, Arthur Darvill–who played a significant, named role on Doctor Who–is playing a straight, no-fucks-given rip off of the Doctor, which isn’t related at all, but will always blow my mind]).

    Getting back on track, this show is already leaning real hard on that Bat Family crutch and I was hoping it wouldn’t.
  • (6:04) Sound the alarms! We’ve got a “Joker” here! Six minutes in and already the name drop!

    I don’t remember if this show has its own Joker, but I’m going to assume it does and he just got lost among the 4 other Jokers we got in 2019.
  • (7:02) We get our first clear shot of Raven here, and . . . I mean, no shade whatsoever on this actress, but seeing her, with the purple hair and everything, is just a reminder that I never, ever wanted this show. On the long, long list of things I never wanted a grim dark, realistic reboot for, Teen Titans wasn’t even on the list because I could never even fathom it being an option.

    It is just depressing that this is real, but a revival for the original CN show isn’t.
  • (8:20) I know this is a TV series with an ensemble cast, so they need to move quickly. I really shouldn’t rag on them for that.

    But holy shit, this first scene with Raven goes from “Hey, mom,” to “The demon inside me almost killed you, mom” in one minute and eighteen seconds.

    I mean . . . maybe slow down a little? Cause if you had her say, “It’s because you’re afraid of me,” and her mom just knelt, took her hands, started praying, and you ended the scene there, I would’ve been so intrigued.

    Instead, someone came in with a 2×4 with “THERE’S A DEMON INSIDE HER OR SOMETHING!” written on it and hit me in the back of the head with it. Eight times in a row.

    Them: “ARE YOU GETTING IT!?”

    Me: . . . <unconscious>

    Them: “THERE’S A DEMON INSI–
  • (9:46) That said, I would gladly watch an entire Raven TV show and, based on the last few minutes, I really wish that’s what this show was.

    [A few minutes later, at 11:20] Yeah, if this entire show (or episode at least) was devoted to Raven, her plot could slow down and we wouldn’t have to experience it at this insane, break-neck pace.

    Like, if nothing else, this moment is a great example of bad plot balancing. Or bad prioritizing of plot threads. Robin’s pseudo-Batman stuff? What-the fuck-ever. I’ve seen it a million times. Go watch any Batman show or movie, or go watch Arrow. But this superhero who has dark powers she doesn’t understand and can’t control? Wa-a-a-a-ay more interesting in my opinion.
  • (12:48) We’re in a tropey-as-fuck drug exchange scene. Gang A gave Gang B a duffle bag full of plush dolls and, obviously, the drugs or whatever are in the dolls.

    But, fuck, I would give everything if the one guy in Gang B cuts open the doll, looks at the stuffing inside, and is like, “Synthetic stuffing.” And the other guy is like, “Grade A. Only the best.”

    Gang B: “And they’re all cute animals.”

    Gang A: “As requested.”

    Gang B: “Deuce, give this man his money.”

    And e-e-e-e-end scene!
  • (13:21) After Robin drops down and demands everyone drops the drugs and guns, one of the thugs starts looking around like, “Where’s Batman?” and, on behalf of the entire audience, yeah, same, dude.

    Cause even I, a longtime Robin fan, think this Robin sucks.

    He just looks terrible. They had an opportunity to give him some sick new outfit, maybe some mash-up between his old Robin suit and the Nightwing outfit, to make it clear he’s already going in that direction. But, nope, they gave him the half-cape, full-bangs treatment that Tim usually gets.

    He’s wearing kid-Robin’s look and thus looks like kid-Robin.

    Just the worst choice for him.
  • (13:40) And here’s why I could never write Batman. Cause, however many years into his campaign, criminals are still, to this fucking day, falling for this smoke pellet bullshit.

    If I wrote Batman, criminals everywhere would operate with gas masks and infrared at the ready. Because, even outside of Gotham, Batman’s techniques would be recycled by amateur vigilantes so often that fucking no one would fall for Batman Gadget #1 anymore.

    Them not learning is the equivalent of real life criminals never thinking to wear bullet proof vests. It just does not make sense.
  • (13:55) Ah, yes. That new-age Batman thing where he and other Bat Family members use guns all the time and just murder people.

    Them bats gotta grit, I guess.

    [After watching to 14:02] Okay. Robin is . . . actually murdering these guys, and like . . . <looks around> Is this shit for real? Like, actual Batman, as I know and love him, would hunt this Robin down. I know in new movies he doesn’t give a shit, but my Batman–TAS and JLU Batman–would not stand for this shit at all.

    And just . . . Why this? Why is this the turn all of this Batman shit is taking?

    Why are we leaning into murdering these criminals the heroes know nothing about?

    At this point, you have to ask, “How were Silver Age characters more progressive about the treatment of criminals than modern heroes are?”
  • (14:03) I actually just laughed aloud, because they try to do that thing where someone rakes a bad guy’s face against something sharp or dangerous, like broken glass or the road from a moving car. Only, here, it’s boney-ass Robin raking a guy’s face against . . . the alley wall? And, like, apparently half of his face comes off on that wall? Bitch, was his face cake? Is that the plot twist of the show?

    Batman drops down and is all, “Yes, Robin, the criminals are all cake!”

    And Robin is like, “Wha–What!?”

    And the Cake Boss or whoever the fuck pops out of the trunk like, “Crime is cake, Robin! All crime is cake!”

    And Twitter is like, “omfg i cant whats real”
  • (14:26) Also, I thought this show was going to rip off Daredevil with Robin’s fights, but, instead, we just have the same over-choreographed fights we’ve seen in everything else.

    I guess that’s not fair–there’s no winning for DC in that scenario–but, I mean . . . I could’ve won. If they’d ripped off Daredevil, I would’ve laughed really hard at least.
  • (14:36) Robin catches the child abuser he came out here for, and–after killing, like, 5 guys in this alley–he cuts this guy’s face and says, “If you ever touch your kid again, I’ll find you.”

    Like, “Hey, uh . . . Robin? That one guy who you stabbed in the throat with part of a gun? He was just someone’s cousin who didn’t even know he was going to a drug deal tonight. That guy was terrified before you even got here, and you murdered his ass in cold blood. But this actual child abuser who you know is evil . . . gets to go free?”

    Just what the fuck even are these priorities?
  • (15:07) The infamous “Fuck Batman” from all the marketing could not have been delivered at a stranger place. It’s supposed to be a reply to the one guy who was like, “Where’s Batman!?” but that was, what, five minutes ago? Just didn’t stick the landing here.
  • (15:33) Okay, I wasn’t going to say anything, but holy shit, Robin’s apartment looks exactly like Daredevil’s. What the fuck even? They show a longshot of the living room, and the only difference is there’s no neon sign outside–just dirty, mute white windows, which actually draws a perfect comparison between Netflix Daredevil and this Robin now that I think about it.
  • (16:00) I know they’re going for “gritty badass hero” here, but it re-e-e-e-eally just comes off as “young serial killer” using his vigilante work as a vehicle to commit his murders . . . And, actually, ya know what? I’d watch the shit out of that show.
  • Sidebar: Okay. Gonna dial it back here because I’m commenting on things every 30 seconds, and I can’t spend five hours doing this today.
  • (21:43) Okay. Okay. So excited, because Starfire’s intro is, like, the closest we’ve come to really rad cinematography and I’m pumped.
  • (29:49) Okay, eight minutes later, it’s cool that she is clearly socially and physically powerful.

    But I’m disappointed that she has an amnesia plot.

    And that amnesia plot is also gritty.

    I don’t know why I expected anything different though.

    Whatever. Getting into the craft of it, we’re already working with one mysterious past with Raven, so the fact that we have another is annoying. Especially because Starfire is someone I just want to have clarity on immediately–mostly because I’ve never had to wait on her premise before, in anything I’ve ever watched. Starfire has always just been an alien from another planet and that was always fine. I’m not sure why we need this gritty, origin-like preamble for a character I always expect to be a source of comic-booky levity with no origin whatsoever.

    But, even ignoring all of that as my preference (which it absolutely is), I think it just does a disservice to the dynamic of the of the characters to have character A in a mysterious past plot, character B in a detective work plot, and character C . . . doing detective work to figure out their mysterious past.

    Starfire looks dope, acts dope, but the plot they gave her is weirdly samey.
  • (33:36) Robin describes Batman as a “stop-at-nothing guy who solved everything with his fists,” and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a worse description of Batman in my entire life. Not because that isn’t what Hollywood has made him into, but because that isn’t all Batman is supposed to be. The idea that Robin described him like that means the Titans Batman has to be the worst piece of shit on Earth. Basically a rich boxer who goes out to beat the shit out of people every night. No thank you.
  • (35:52) Okay, I’m officially sick of this damsel-Raven bullshit. Like, I get we’re doing an origin story here, but this girl just needs to be more aggro. And, sure, creator’s choice, but if she, at least, tried to fight back when someone tried to force her into a car against her will, it would feel more like I was actually watching Raven. I mean, isn’t this supposed to be a gritty TV show for angsty teens? Why the fuck isn’t Raven like, “Hey! Get your fucking hands off me!” or something? Why can Robin kill people but Raven can’t “cuss”?

    Whatever. In the end, this is a case of source material balancing: do you make her completely different from all the source material? Totally similar to the way she was in one piece of source material? I would argue that, because the cartoon was pivotal in making the Teen Titans popular, it would’ve done them a service to make her a little more like that interpretation of the character.

    Cause this interpretation just feels like a helpless kid and it sucks.
  • (40:13) Starfire giggles at the dude she just burned alive and . . . cool. Great. So, the team of fun, teen heroes I loved so much are all total sociopaths in a hyper gritty world.

    Fucking . . . lame.

    They took all of the sullen bitterness out of Raven, doled it out to everyone else, and then turned the contrast up to ultra-max, so she’s the innocent, helpless one and all the other characters are edgy, gritastic murderers.

    And it just fucking sucks.

    I could write an entire post about this alone, and maybe I will.

    Because I don’t understand how you could so thoroughly and absurdly kill an entire team’s dynamic.

    It would be like if they redid Guardians of the Galaxy and everyone was a large bruiser with daggers while Drax was made into the pilot of Quill’s ship.

    Just fucking why?
  • (44:16) If there’s one thing I wanted to see, it’s this shot right here: Raven, with the full black eyes, kicking ass. I just wish this could’ve happened way more often. Slower plot, but maybe with one more instance of her actually fighting people off instead of crying for help.

    Also, I don’t want to sit through another 8 episodes of damsel-Raven learning to control her powers.
  • (48:34) Oh nah.

    Nah. They did my Beast Boy dirty.

    He looks . . . terrible.

    And his weird, gross, slow, bone-breaky transformation means he’s going to be locked in as the one animal per fight?

    I– . . . I’m sorry. I’m out. I’ve seen a way better version of this character already and I refuse to downgrade.

In fact, I’ve seen better versions of all of these characters.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep watching and maybe do more of these posts, but the answer is a firm, resounding “no.”

Instead, I’m going to go find out where I can watch Teen Titans and wash away the grim dark.

~~~

Thanks for stopping by. I don’t do A Writer Watching too often, because they take way longer to write than it seems. However, I did one on Solo: A Star Wars Story, and another on the first two episodes of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, the follow-up for which became my first Edited in Post.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to Like. If you agree with any of it, or if you want to argue why I should finish watching Titans, feel free to Comment down below (and also, absolutely drop spoilers if you want, cause I’m pro-o-o-obably not watching more of this, even if you tell me I should–no shade, just being real). If you want to be notified when I post again, you can Follow me via the button on the left side of the screen on PC, or via the hamburger menu on the upper right on mobile.

But, no matter what you do, please stay safe, and take care.

Drafts – “The Tome”

Elise was mid-joke when the flaming bolt raged out of the dark.

She and Gwin were in a temple ruin underground, so you had to expect that sort of thing, but the townsfolk had hired them to investigate increased seismic activity, not to fight–

“Wizards?”

“I fucking hate wizards,” Gwin said. He was still covering her with one of his wings, its plate armor smoking where the bolt hit. His head was snapping, eyes darting to the extremes of the dining hall they’d just entered. “Nothing, but–“

A bolt of lightning arced at his head, so fast even he barely ducked it.

“Stop!” Elise was shouting, her ears still ringing. “Whoever you are, just stop!”

And, somewhere, someone snickered. “A voice changing spell? Really, Rutherford? Pathetic.”

“Rutherford?” Gwin asked, head tilting.

Elise shrugged. “Sir, we have no idea what you’re talking about, okay?”

“Still your foolsome tongue! You’re trying to get to the tome again! I know your patterns!”

“‘Foolsome tongue’?” Gwin asked, brow furrowed.

“I . . . am not Rutherford!” Elise shouted back. “And I can prove it if you’d just let me and my partner stand up!”

Silence from the other end of the hall as up echoed off the stone walls.

Finally, a weary, “Very well.” And, of course, an, “I’ll play your game.”

Elise nodded at Gwin, and together, they stood, her hands up, his wings poised to block another shot if one flared out of the dark.

At the other end of the hall, a dirty, old wizard blinked. “Oh shit. You aren’t Rutherford.”

“Nope. We’re goddamn wayfarers.”

The wizard cracked a gummy smile. “Of course, of course. Come to, eh, investigate the seismic activity, yes?”

“Right,” Elise said, heart already sunk. “Which I’m guessing you’re responsible for–“

The darkness on the balcony erupted in a wash of angry red. Fire pouring down on the wizard so hot Elise had to shield her eyes.

When it was over, another wizard was dancing on that balcony–a gangly shape in purple robes, kicking in the after image of the flame. “Yes! Fuck you, Tamsus!”

And the place that should’ve been a puddle–the spot where the first wizard, Tamsus, had been standing–rose from the floor. “Gods damn you, Rutherford! I am trying to get the food!”

Before anyone could speak–before Elise or Gwin could ask what was happening–Rutherford was hit from another corner of the room by spears of ice, fired from the wand of another wizard. Rutherford was pinned to the wall, absolutely dead until the spot where he’d been impaled blossomed with purple light–a chain that whipped to Tamsus, and then to the new wizard, each one of them screaming in pain before the tether passed to the next.

And, when it was done–when Elise and Gwin opened their mouths to shout questions over each other–someone else exploded (but then was whole). And then Tamsus melted in a rush of burning acid (but didn’t really). Each time, a new robed wizard jumped out of the darkness to drop stone spikes from the ceiling or cleave another in half with wheels of pure, furious light. And, each time, the death hit every single one of them in the same sequence, raging through them all so each of them felt it, but none of them died.

“They’re all tethered together with some kind of magic?” Elise whispered, but it was during the first lull in explosions and screaming–a full ten minutes since the last time she’d spoken.

One of them, (Archimestites?) grumbled. “Chain of Woe: a spell that deflects the vast majority of any injuries you suffer to the person you cast it on.”

“Unless that person cast it on someone else,” another wizard jumped in. “Then they only get a tiny fraction of the harm before it gets passed on! So I cast it on Dilamitrix!”

“And I cast it on Borf.”

“And I cast it on Marthes.”

“Yeah, and so on until Humphrey cast it on me and now we have a perfect loop where no one dies,” Archimestites cut back in. “I knew when I cast it that these sheep would do the same damn thing, but it was the only way I could be sure I didn’t die. The only way I could get that tome!”

“You?” Rutherford panted, “You’ll never get it you sack of shit! Rah!” and the explosions started again, only this time with more dodging and shouting: “You’ll never make it past my incantations anyway!” and “You’re not a real wizard!” and “Fuck you, Tamsus!”

Elise let them get into the thick of it before she slowly started to back out of the room, pulling Gwin with her.

But they only managed a few steps before the explosions stopped.

“Hey!” one of the wizards shouted. And then, when Elise and Gwin stopped: “Leave . . . the food!”

In jarringly dead silence, she and Gwin pulled whatever food they had out of their knapsacks, leaving it in a neat pile on the floor with movements that were as precise as possible.

“And don’t tell anyone in that town about this, you hear? Go back, say there was another, eh, giant mole or something, and get your pay!”

“Do it, or we’ll know!”

Elise wanted to ask how long they’d been doing this, remembering that the people in town said there were spikes in seismic activity around the temple every few weeks . . .

But then one of them said, “And say it was a worm, cause a giant mole is a stupid idea!”

And, just like that, they were back to screaming and hurling deadly forces of nature at each other like the wayfarers weren’t still there.

Elise and Gwin hurried back out of the ruined, subterranean temple.

And when they got to fresh air, Gwin sighed.

“I fucking hate wizards.”

~~~

I thought it was high time for another Draft, and, when this idea came to me (essentially an RPG side quest), I thought it was the perfect candidate for a creative writing session. It wound up being a more comical than the stuff I usually write, but that made it so much more fun to work on. Seriously, I needed to snicker like an idiot at my writing desk for a bit.

Also, I just wanted to bring back Elise and Gwin, the Red Markison, from an earlier draft. I am definitely still operating under the assumption that I won’t write a full story about them . . . but . . . man, I really love the idea of insane, overpowered wizards just being a problem in a fantasy world. Are they all like this? Do normal people seek them out for power, but the learning just drives them mad, and thus new wizards are born?

Goddammit. I have so many projects already.

Anyway, if you enjoyed this post and you want to be notified when I post again, you can follow my blog in the field on the left side of your screen (on PC), or via the hamburger menu on the upper right of your screen on mobile.

As always, thank you for passing by and take care!

I Hate Proxy Racist Characters

I tried watching Cobra Kai.

The premise, as I assumed it, was interesting. I thought we’d be catching up with the villain from the original Karate Kid, which is true–we do. But I assumed we’d find out that villain wasn’t actually a villain, an idea that the prologue (cut almost entirely from the original film) sets up. We see the villain kid being notoriously ordered to “Sweep the leg,” and we see his reaction: even he’s shocked that his douchebag sensei would tell him to take advantage of someone’s broken leg in a fight. The rest of the scene plays like normal, and then we cut to present day . . .

. . . Where we find our protagonist has the typical “Hollywood” version of a sad life. We watch him get up, go outside, encounter a young Latino kid . . .

. . . and to this kid, our protagonist immediately says, “Oh great. More immigrants.”

I hit Back like I was calling an elevator (*clickclickclickclickclick*). I remember saying, “Nope. I’m good.”

Cause, yeah, believe it or not . . .

I FUCKING HATE

RACIST CHARACTERS!

In 2020, it feels weird to even have to write this, but it also feels essential.

Which makes me sad.

I’m aware that Cobra Kai (which I keep misspelling as “Kobra Kai” for some weird reason), was first released in 2018. But, maybe because it’s so recent, I feel like that line–the decision that made me immediately drop it back into the abyss of Netflix content from which it came–deserves to be looked at.

Because, like edgy shithead comedians from the 2000’s–the long-extinct champions of “I’m gonna say it!” humor that empowers all racists and sexists–the Proxy Racist character is a problem I want to catch immediately.

So let’s define it.

The Proxy Racist

This is the fiction writer-equivalent of the shitty, edgelord, “I’ gonna say it!” joke: a grossly racist character who says horrible, racist shit while the writer in control of that character (and everything they say and do) smacks the dust off their hands. “I’m gonna write it,” they might have literally said to themselves, and now they stand akimbo, proud of themselves for establishing a gritty tone while alienating a large portion of the audience.

“I really want my audience to hate this guy,” they say, and then–as if there’s no other way to achieve that–they pen a character who talks about how much they hate Dwarves and want to kill them all.

“I want my audience to look forward to this asshole getting what’s coming to him!” the writer says, and then chooses to write the racist shit the character says, from a perspective that can only be called “privileged.”

To make it clear, the Proxy Racist is just a vehicle for a writer to be racist, not because they are, vehemently and vocally, in their day-to-day, but because, when faced with the choice of changing their writing or offending a bunch of people, they chose to offend a bunch of people. The writer of the shitty racist character ultimately doesn’t care how upsetting that racist character’s words and actions are to a minority. In the most brutal irony, they only think about the emotional reaction those words will get out of an audience of “readers,” “watchers,” and “gamers” who are safe from those words, because the white writer just assumes those faceless readers, watchers, and gamers are all white.

The weird paradox of it is, if we give the writer the benefit of the doubt and assume they did consider how the racism would emotionally impact a minority, their decision to keep the racism in makes it undeniable that they ultimately just shrugged. “It’s more powerful this way!” I can hear them excitedly telling themselves, safe in their writing nook, comfortably displaced from all the people their choice is going to offend.

Or, obviously worse, the writer of the Proxy Racist is just angrily selecting words and scenes because of their right (or, more accurately, privilege) to write those things. An avenue to vent their racist thoughts to the public; to say what they really want to.

Now, I was about to write, “Let’s move onto some examples to make this problem extra clear,” but, really . . . I just wanna vent.

I’m Tired of Racist Proxies Ruining Shows for Me

Remember when the one racist episode of Community was removed because it had blackface?

I had a passionate exchange with some friends about it.

Them: “But the joke, as I took it, was that [the one character–I refuse to watch it] is just really excited to play D&D, so he dresses up in full cosplay. But he’s also just really socially inept, so he doesn’t realize how weird it is that he dressed up as a Drow.”

Me: “Does anyone call it out as racist?”

Them: “The one character calls it a hate crime.”

Me: “So the actual punchline is that it’s racist. Because the joke you’re talking about could absolutely exist without the racist part. He could’ve showed up dressed as a Dwarf with the long, braided beard and it still would’ve hit that same punchline.”

Them: “Okay . . . Okay, yeah, you have a point. Touché.”

But Racist Proxies Also Ruin Games

For an example that isn’t directly related to comedy or TV, you can look at Divinity: Original Sin 2, a Fantasy example, and thus an example I had to bring up.

If you thought that example from earlier–with a character talking about how he wants to kill all Dwarves–was a weird thing for me to make up, surprise! I didn’t make it up!

At the last part I made it to–a small fishing town–there was one enemy NPC on the docks who talked explicitly about how he wanted to gruesomely murder all Dwarves.

But, really, it’s not just relegated to that one Fantasy cop (surprise, surprise) in Divinity 2; it is a fantastic game, but, unfortunately, it also has an unreal amount of racist proxies in it. Seriously, the majority of enemy NPC’s are bigots with zero qualms about saying how much they hate whatever group.

Of course, I have to say, right off the bat, that I don’t think the entire dev team is racist; characters in a Fantasy realm saying racist shit about a made-up, Fantasy race is a far cry from characters in a Fantasy realm hurling real life slurs at each other.

But Divinity 2 is a dialogue option-heavy RPG, meaning you can totally choose not to kill a lot of the racists you encounter. In fact, you can even decide to help them during any morally open-ended quests they’re involved in!

And . . . win one for the nazis playing the game, I guess?

I get the intention behind having those characters in the game. I get the fact that, in this setting, racism and bigotry are a big problem, and such settings are legitimate and potentially helpful tools for speaking about real world racism.

But I also feel like if one of the writers on your team pens a character who freely talks about committing genocide, in gruesome detail, . . . maybe you need to have a talk with that writer.

“Bob . . . I mean, he’s literally just an NPC.”

“Not even the main villain, dude.”

“You do not have to make this deep a cut for a passing quest NPC.”

“There’s another way, Bob.”

And that’s really what I want to end on here. The idea that . . .

There’s Another Way

For a long time, my mantra has been “If you want to combat a bigoted trope, don’t just put a woke spin on it. Totally undermine it instead. Don’t do it at all–do the opposite.”

I’ve also said, time and time again, that we just do not live in a world that needs more minorities as a side characters–we need more minorities as protagonists.

Both of those mantras always come to mind when I think of how to fix a Proxy Racist.

Do we need fiction that talks about racism? Yes, totally, the same way we need more minorities as side characters. Sure.

Would it be better if we just fought racism in fiction by writing a story with a minority as the protagonist? Yes. Abso-fucking-lutely.

The absolute anti-thesis of that, which isn’t helping anyone? A story with a white protagonist who fights a racist white villain.

Or a story with a racist white protagonist, even if they eventually learn better.

Again, don’t put a spin on it. Undermine it completely.

The reforming racist is absolutely a character arc worth telling, and I think that, in the near future, it’s going to be important to write that story.

But, until then, if you’re writing a show where your white protagonist is a racist who has a change of heart and starts teaching a young Latino kid martial arts . . . maybe just make the entire goddamn show from that kid’s perspective.

Or, at the very goddamn least, when you get to that part in your manuscript where your character is going to say something genuinely racist–that point when your nostrils are flared and, “I’m gonna write it!” is on the tip of your tongue–just fucking don’t.

~~~

Well, it turned out I was angry this weekend! What a surprise! Thanks, Twitter!

No, seriously, I was going to write something fun, but then I tried out Cobra Kai on Thursday and it was just a wrap after that.

Thanks for stopping by, and if you want to be notified when I post again, you can follow House of Error on the left side of your screen (or via the hamburger menu on the upper right on mobile).

Next week, I’m going to post something fun–I swear. I won’t look at Twitter or the news at all and it’ll be great.

Until then, take care and stay safe!

Process in Progress #1 – The “Promises Outline”

My process has always been manic.

It’s 2010 and I’m a plotter, ’cause that’s obviously the way to go! My first novel was a mess even though I outlined it, but that’s only true because I wasn’t thorough enough. “Thorough in what way?” you ask? Why, thorough with my characters’ micro-expressions, of course! This new outline for my rewrite has everything worked out down to gasps and eye rolls!

Of course, the moment characters deviated from that outline (within the prologue) I knew that level of plotting wouldn’t work.

So, it’s December, 2016 and discovery writing is *clearly* the best. My characters are free to do whatever they want without having to adhere to a plot. It’s beautiful, natural, and I finished an entire novel in one month for NaNoWriMo 2020. It’s so comforting to have found the approach that works for me. A little surprising that it’s discovery writing (considering I’m such a chronic organizer when it comes to other projects), but, hey, whatever works.

Only it didn’t work. The plot was incredibly muddled. The intro was especially confusing. Plot lines, intended or implied, were established and then dropped because I didn’t manage them at all (I didn’t even think to because I was so set on the idea that plotting didn’t work).

After that, I spent a long time just thinking about my process. I knew that I’d have to outline whatever I did next, but I also knew that I had to leave it open-ended. I was afraid to tank another few years into another failed novel, so I worked on story structure across a group of short story ideas instead, considering a rewrite of my NaNo 2016 novel on the back burner.

It’s 2020 now and I am very tired. I know that, inherently, there’s something I’m not getting about the writing process. I know that I have a hard time maintaining my plot lines, but I also never want to force my characters to adhere to something. I do not have time to do both of those things, back and forth, to see what works, and I am too busy at work and dealing with my bullshit life to think outside of the box.

Oddly enough, it isn’t until I’m a few months into quarantine, in the heart of a terrifying time, that I find hope.

I’ve already talked about stumbling onto lectures by Brandon Sanderson on YouTube. Those lectures presented his process: a loose outline. Sanderson plots, but is always ready to completely change that plot if his characters aren’t following it. Or if there’s something wrong with its structure. Beyond just talking about it though, Sanderson detailed his process, provided links to his own outlines, answered student questions.

I don’t know if it’s because I was in the middle of quarantine, or if it was because I was listening to my problem being solved by a pro–for free–because he decided to upload videos with the express purpose of helping other writers, but after years of struggling and repeatedly hitting walls, I cried. I know that’s probably weird, but, at a certain point during that first lecture, I teared up.

Because, 20 years into my career, it was the first time I found a professional offering a helping hand (without it being locked behind a contest or a paid seminar), and I could not believe it was exactly the help I needed. If ever there was a moment in my life that felt contrived by fate, that was it.

The interesting thing about those lectures, however, is that Sanderson points out, repeatedly, that his way is not the only way. While talking about his process, he made it clear that there are famous pantsers out there too. And that other plotters might have a completely different process from his.

Which was amazing to hear because I knew some of his approach wouldn’t work for me. So, instead of just emulating his to a T, I sat down and devised an outlining process that works for me.

And I figured I’d present that here (and continue presenting it as it evolves), because I need to contribute to this effort of helping other writers in whatever way I can.

So, here, as of August 31st, 2020, is my process:

The “Promises Outline”

My major takeaway from Sanderson’s lectures is that you need to keep track of the promises you make to your readers. My problem was that I’d never even thought of “promises”; I dealt in plot lines, which are different.

A plot line is a facet of the story that you establish and maintain.

A promise is an event that your story implies will happen, whether you intend it to or not. Promises are conveyed by elements of your story that the audience has seen before and thus make assumptions about, and managing those assumptions is essential to composing a novel.

And, yeah, that sounds pretentious, but it’s just the right word; being aware of your promises allows you to direct the reader along the experience you want them to have.

Promises and plot lines often overlap, and that’s fine, because that’s what you want them to do.

That said, let’s get to my process:

Step one, as per Brandon Sanderson, is to start my outlines with a Story Archetypes section:

LS-ArchetypesExample

Note: I’m using Grounded just as a quick example here (I’m not into novelizations, but I have been playing Grounded a bunch lately and this was the quickest route to an easy example. Also, I probably shouldn’t have listed Bug Buddy as a story archetype, but I was extremely excited for lady bug friend.

My goal with Archetypes is to just lay out what’s been done by other stories similar to mine. If my story features a Terminator-like character, for example, I jot down a heading like “I’ll Be Back,” think about the iconic things the Terminator did in Terminator or Terminator 2 (depending on whether my Terminator is a robotic killing machine or a robotic hero), and then I try to summarize those iconic things.

And I do this not so I can emulate those things, but so I can more easily pare them down into Promises:

LS-PromisesExample

The name of the game here is trying to come up with whatever trope events happen in the story archetypes I’ve listed.

Typically, my design standard here is:

Number of the Related Archetype) Heading Summarizing the Promise: Explanation that details how I meet that promise, or why/how I’m going to subvert it (as I did in the “Ol’ One Eye” example above).

Now, when I got to this point during my Memory rewrite, I wound up sitting with Promises for a while, honing them into a framework; with the plot ideas and worldbuilding that I’d already done (on a totally different part of the spreadsheet [and yeah, I use spreadsheets]), I considered what I wanted my story to be. The tone, the arcs for my characters, the balance of the villains.

In the end, when I worked the promises down into a set that I knew I wanted to keep, I started the actual outline like so:

LS-Ch1OutlineExample

Chapter Number: Chapter Title

Chapter Number.Scene Number

Promise Title

Promise Title

Promise Title

Beat Number (and then, in the next cell) Outline Copy

I have to clarify that this is just my current layout. This has changed while outlining Memory 2.0; initially, I also used color-coding and underlines to signify two different things (which I so dropped).

What I’m trying to say here is that I’m still adjusting, and that’s a good thing. This layout is closer than I’ve ever been to working out a process that I can use forever. It is not perfect, but it’s better than writing blind and over-plotting. With this layout, I’ve been able to do what I think of as taking the wrong path (writing a chapter or two that ultimately lead in a bad direction that didn’t work) multiple times with extremely minimal repercussions–losing a day’s worth of work deleting two outline chapters instead of two weeks’ worth deleting two draft chapters. For me, that’s huge.

But, that’s not why I wrote this post; I’m not trying to sell you on this weird, repetitive process I’ve drummed up for myself. What I want–what I’m hoping for–is that someone sees this and goes, “Oh . . . Yeah, wait, I can make my process whatever the fuck I want!” because yeah, you can.

I spent so long jumping between extremes for some reason–trying out other people’s approaches–but the best thing that I did for myself, as a writer, was realize that I could customize my process to work for me as long as I was honest with myself. Everything about it is devised by my preference, from its weird formatting down to the fact that it’s a spreadsheet (it wasn’t just a weird design choice–I love spreadsheets!).

But the key there was self-evaluation. “How do I want to write?” “Is this working for me?” Never, “Am I doing this right?” Never, “Am I following the directions perfectly?”

I have no idea if this process will always work for me, but I know that I can just keep changing it so it will.

And when I do, if I feel like I’ve actually made a template that would work for a lot of people, I’ll absolutely post it here.

And, please, if you have a weird process of your own, I hope you’ll consider sharing it somewhere too.

Because writing fucking sucks. It’s hard, depressing, secretive and shallow. It’s so easy to feel like nothing’s working and there’s nowhere you can go for actual help. I’m not conceited enough to think my process pulled someone out of a rut, but if you are struggling . . .

. . . it’s cool. So am I. We can figure this out together.

~~~

I’m getting this one in just after the buzzer, but I hope you enjoyed regardless. I will be continuing to post about my process as it changes–under the title “Process in Progress”–so although I don’t have a time frame for it, I will be continuing this series in the future. If you enjoyed this post and want to be notified when I post again, please consider giving my blog a Follow.

For next week, I have a bunch of posts lined up, but instead of tying myself down to one by name dropping it now, I’m going to leave my options totally open. I will be posting something next Sunday and it’ll either be really angry or really chill depending on my mood. I hope you consider stopping by.

Until then, please stay safe and take care!

Edited in Post – The Rest of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

It’s been over two years since I did the first “Writer Watching” for She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. While rereading it, I had a bunch of nervous laugh moments whenever I’d said shit like, “I’ll talk about that next time!”

Yeah, I have no idea what “that” was.

What I do know is that it was always weird for me that I just never came back to finish the series.

In one part, it was because it just felt weird–I was voicing really reactionary opinions on the first and second episodes of a TV show; it felt like I should finish the season and then comment.

But, on the other hand . . . it just felt like watching it while nitpicking was making me like the show less. Like, significantly less.

And, finally, it felt like the feminist angle of the show actually required more patience than a 30-something man, writing on his blog, could give it. Basically, I reached Seahawk, initially hated how he was handled, and decided to back away instead of writing a whole thing about how much I didn’t like him.

Well, I’m still in lockdown. It’s 2020 now, and, seeing as all of my time is spent in the one room, working or watching things on Netflix, I figured it was the perfect time to actually return to the series and finish what I started.

Instead of being absolutely insane and commenting on specific things, however, I’m going to try something new.

As I’ve said on this site before, I am a really intense self-editor; I will mercilessly edit and rewrite my own work, which is a double-edged sword because A) there’s always going to be room for improvement and, B) the new additions I make will always have grammatical errors of their own (it’s a thing).

A vent for that reflex (or maybe a result of it), is that I love imagining edits for existing works that I think can improve with a few tweaks (or, in the case of Episodes VII – IX, a ton of tweaks).

So, considering that She-Ra and the Princesses of Power triggered that reflex, I figured, “Why not write a whole post about it?” A post that I’m making the first in a new series: Edited in Post.

To be clear, my goal here isn’t to “improve” on the story as a whole; I am not conceited enough to think my edit of She-Ra would be better. All that I can say objectively is that A) it would be different from the end product we got and B) it would be how I would’ve edited the end product if I was in the writer’s room. Ultimately, this is just an editing exercise and a way for me to consider my identity as a writer.

All of that said, let’s start by establishing a really healthy baseline with . . .

What I Liked

1. Adora

Of all the things I didn’t think I would like in this show, Adora herself was probably number one. In my original post, I talked about how much I disliked the White Savior vibe I was getting from the pilot two-parter. I was super glad to see that problem didn’t persist because the show spends a lot of time with Glimmer, Bow, and other non-white characters.

Beyond that, however, I still didn’t think I’d like the no frills protagonist of any Fantasy show that much; I have become hard-wired to expect the typical batch of issues a protagonist has (like trying to understand their powers, trying to figure out a mystery left for them by an ancient race, etc.). For sure, Adora has that same batch.But . . . she still manages to be incredibly likable on her own. She’s funny, a terrible actress, cocky in a dorky way that’s super fun to watch, and–more interesting than anything, else in my opinion–she’s su-u-u-uper prone to making mistakes (which is probably the freshest breath of fresh air). Like, I often consider protagonist fatigue; whether they’re men or not, the lamest thing in the world is the no frills protagonist who just does everything right. Adora is not that character.

And, because it needs to be acknowledged, she is not that character in massive part due to Aimee Carrero’s performance.

There were . . . so many moments where I laughed out loud just because Carrero’s delivery was so good.

“I’m a triple may-zhor, and I also teach, unless that’s not a thing students do. Is it hot in here?”

“Ah ha ha ha ha. Is that a good laugh or a bad laugh? Ha ha ha . . . Well, the longer it goes on, the more I think it’s a bad laugh.”

Really early on in my watch, I started getting super excited for Adora dialogue in fun situations.

2. Scorpia

The greatest failure of my life is that Scorpia isn’t real and she isn’t my best friend.

I’m not kidding; I’m actually sad that I can’t be woken up by Scorpia every morning, rushing into my room to ask if I’ve breathed in the new day yet (which I would absolutely hate coming from anyone else).

I think that in the great array of strong female protagonists, ranging from Super Sexualized to Tough and Angry, Scorpia is something completely different. She’s this extremely hug-able, determined, compassionate woman who’s also always the strongest non-She-Ra person in the room, and she has the freedom to be all of those things because her character is not her charging into a room, tackling the nearest man and flexing like, “I am Scorpia! I am strongest in the world!” Like . . . she’s just a character and her being a buff giant just adds to that character. I just love it. I’m here for Scorpia. I stan her and I want to see way more characters like her.

3. Basically the Rest of the Cast (and their Fun Drama)

I really enjoyed the majority of the Princesses and other characters (some more than others naturally; it is a cartoon show after all).

Mermista was the real standout for me, and she’s the one who made me realize why I liked the cast so much; they all had some low stakes drama with each other on occasion, and every instance of that was extremely fun and fresh to me (i.e. Mermista deciding that she was Sea-Ra, just straight up jacking Adora’s alter-ego for her character in the D&D episode). I really lived for those moments–those brief, beautiful nuggets of petty that really gave the characters life.

Those dynamics, and the show’s ability to showcase that drama, were great.

Okay. There’s a lot more I liked, but I have to start trying to shorten these posts. Suffice it to say I liked the show a bunch, but to get into the edit, here’s . . .

What I Didn’t Like / What I Would Change

1. The Not-So-Fun Drama

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the show wasn’t able to handle more complicated friendship drama later on. I felt Season 5’s Adora/Glimmer beef was a little exhausting–especially after it seemed to be solved by the end of an episode . . . but was still there in the next episode. I’m definitely not saying I didn’t want to see those characters fight; I just got incredibly tired of watching them voice the same issues, over and over, without working on them, which even the show points out is strange.

2. The Pacing on Catra’s Arc (and thus, for a while, Catra)

It must be reverse day, because of all the things I thought I’d love for the entirety of the series, Catra was number one.

When I first watched the show, I absolutely loved her. I enjoyed her attitude, her design, how her situation was understandable, so you wind up feeling for her.

But then the show shoots way past the point where she’s understandable . . . and the plot just keeps supporting her, for way too long.

It isn’t until Season 4, Episode 10 where she actually starts losing, and, as a person who’s experienced the full spectrum of gaslighters, it feels like it took way too long for her to be redeemable. Like, she opens a portal that almost destroys all of reality because she’s a jealous brat, and it is pretty impossible to forgive that.

It doesn’t help that the plot support came in ways that seemed over-the-top and devalued other characters.

Scorpia and Seahawk share an episode where they vent about the treatment they’re getting from their special someones. Seahawk leaves that episode triumphantly proclaiming that, fuck it, he doesn’t care about what Mermista thinks of him. Scorpia left that episode . . . determined to devote herself to Catra’s bullshit no matter what?

Hordak also, weirdly, winds up bowing to Catra because she rips out a gem powering his new exoskeleton . . . but then gives it back to him? So, like, he’s in charge, but really she’s in charge? The thing is, I wouldn’t have even minded her just straight up becoming the leader of the Horde, but it was done in this weird way where she still gets to be angry about being subservient . . . while also calling the shots? Why didn’t she just kill Hordak? Why didn’t the show just shift her into Queen Catra mode and give her a dope new outfit?

In the end, I just got tired of it. She stopped being relatable, the drama between her and Adora stopped moving, and her drama with almost every other character stopped feeling logical.

3. The Rest of the Pacing Too, Actually / Why Did They Save the Good Part?

This is not my first rodeo when it comes to Netflix Originals from Dreamworks.They usually have pacing issues. And weird half-seasons. I get it.But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem that needs fixing.

Particularly because . . . the last season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is fucking awesome.

If you’re not aware, the last season is actually the season that most resembles the intense, desperate-rebellion energy of the original show. The stakes are insanely high and it absolutely rocks.

The fact that it’s only the last fifth of the show will always feel like a weird mistake to me. Especially because the middle seasons just spun wheels on a lore-based plot twist that just didn’t feel unique (basically a perfect example of the “mystery left for protagonist by an ancient race” plot line that’s already deep into trope town).

The Edit in Post

Okay. So, how would I have reorganized all of this?

  • Delete a lot of the plot mystery: I liked Mara and thought some of the lore episodes with her were amazing. But I would completely cut the Heart of Etheria plot line. By the end, it got super convoluted, and the plot twist that the Princess’s energy was meant to power a weapon that would destroy the planet was weirdly antithetical to the message of the entire show. Other details, like the planet being in another dimension, are such weird, late-game additions that it just felt like the writers were hitting points on a checklist of “Things We Have to Do Because the Original Show Did Them.”
  • Move up Horde Prime–and thus the stakes–by, like, 2 seasons.
  • Move up Catra being exiled from the Horde and make it permanent.
  • And I mean move her exile up to Season 2 so Catra and Scorpia take over the Crimson Wastes. Catra builds her gang by stealing Horde tech, or maybe finding a new character to enlist. This results in a new faction that fights both the Princesses and the Horde. Would actually be way cooler to see Catra build a stronger army than the Horde, come back, and beat Hordak.
  • Move up Double Trouble’s intro. Absolutely introduce her in Season 2, in the Crimson Wastes, and have her work for Catra. Give the audience a slower, better burn on the mystery of who she is among them and let her work more subtly on putting a wedge in the gang. It would be . . . such good drama.
  • Give us a full season at least of Entrapta and Hordak. Just bolster the idea that Entrapta would actually, logically decide to stay with the Horde because she and Hordak are the most adorable friends ever.
  • Pad out everything with new episodes of good filler that explore character relationships and drama (i.e. gimme that Bow and Glimmer flashback solo adventure!).

So, to be clear, my changes would’ve looked like this:

Season 1: Introduce main characters and setting. Establish stakes early early with Entrapta getting captured way sooner. Use remaining episodes to establish Entrapta / Hordak friendship via B plots. End season with Catra beating the gang, who narrowly escape, and then she takes over for Shadow Weaver.

Season 2: Establish early in the season that Catra is tired of Hordak. She miscalculates a first attempt to manipulate him (or maybe trying to fight him), gets banished to the Crimson Waste. Catra, Scorpia create a new faction via B plot, gaining power with Double Trouble’s help. Plot A remains the cast fighting the Horde, but maybe also getting infiltrated by Catra’s faction? Establish that there’s some super powerful Old One’s weapon (basically, the Heart of Etheria minus a bunch of lore episodes), and the season ends with all three factions fighting for it. Hordak is defeated by Catra, but he hints heavily at Horde Prime’s arrival.

Season 3: Catra as Queen of the Horde, fighting She-Ra for the season with Shadow Weaver drama and question of how to get the weapon to work. Full season of peak Catra / Adora drama via “Catra, why the fuck are you fighting us when Horde Prime is on his way!? Goddamn!” but worded differently. Also peak Entrapta drama as she joins Catra to “keep working on tech,” but is really trying to figure out how to free Hordak. Peak season for the drama. I imagine that right as Entrapta is freeing Hordak, Horde Prime shows up and handily defeats everybody. Hordak goes to Prime, his mind gets erased, and Horde Prime captures both Glimmer and Catra.

Season 4: Basically the same as the Season 5 we got, only with Catra ingratiating herself to Prime at the beginning. I’d love to write her being frustrated at having to be subservient to Hordak again. But, more than anything, I’d love to write the argument where Glimmer tells her, “If you had just helped us fight him, none of this would’ve happened.”

Again, this outcome would’ve been different (not necessarily better), but I can say that I absolutely would’ve loved to write it and watch it.

~~~

It was weird to write this out (this is usually just an exercise I perform in my head for a week after watching something), but I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please consider Following the House of Error; the field to do so is to the left side of your screen on desktop, or in the drop down menu (i.e. the hamburger icon) on the top right on mobile.

Next week is going to be a post about my writing process–the ways in which it’s similar to and differs from Brandon Sanderson’s. Until then, stay safe, everyone!

By July, Everything Changed

I attended a vigil on June 5th.

It was for Breonna Taylor, on her birthday. In the constantly evolving insanity that is this year, I can’t post those pictures because the vigil turned into a march and all of my pictures show protesters’ faces. For all the time I was there, it was peaceful, but the last time I checked, totally peaceful protesters were still getting apprehended by unidentified “law enforcement,” because that’s what America is now.

America is police beating the innocent, shooting out eyes with rubber bullets.

America is Breonna Taylor’s killers still walking free.

And, real talk: if the fact that I attended protests offends you, you can fuck off now.

It was a strange feeling, being in those crowds, sending up those chants. It felt like the most meaningful thing I had ever done. At the time, it felt like maybe the world would change.

But then it didn’t. The optimist in me has to believe it will, but 2020 really trains you not to believe in anything.

In July, my job reopened. I want to say, “I believed they would provide us with appropriate Coronavirus protection,” but that isn’t true; I knew they would give us the bare minimum protection, which is exactly what they did. Imagine working a customer service job at an institution that panders directly to the worst Karens imaginable, only to have that institution place social distancing markers those Karens will stand on directly in front of your booth, not even 4 feet from you. Picture this while your job tells you, “If someone shows up without a mask, they can buy one.” “From who?” “From you.”

I went on strike. Tried to leverage it into getting better COVID-19 protocols. My resignation was accepted instead.

The weird thing is . . . it’s not nearly as upsetting as it should be.

Because the far more upsetting thing is the thought of still being there. I get emails from coworkers saying the mandatory masks rule isn’t being enforced anymore, and I feel like the lucky one.

I probably shouldn’t, but by July, everything changed.

Before then, I’d been so concerned with being fun. Being likable at work. Being ready with a joke at all times. I had genuinely cared about the opinions of people who never mattered, and I put my goals on hold for institutions that paid me pennies compared to their earnings. I spent hours and hours selling tickets, shelving books, standing behind cash registers, saying shit like, “Did you find everything you need?”

“Have you considered a membership?”

“I’m sorry to hear that, m’am. Would you like me to call a manager for you?”

Always coming home too tired to do anything . . .

. . . and then having one of those organizations just smile at me and say, “Well, we gotta reopen! You gotta get back out there! Cause we need to balance the budget for next year!”

No.

Just fucking no.

No and also why? Why did I waste so much time at those jobs?

I’ve had insanely marketable skills for over a decade, but I just stalled at “maintain entry level day job while struggling to write.”

That changed in July, when I refused to walk into a shit job and potentially kill myself for the rich assholes who run it.

When I realized that none of the things I was worried about before actually mattered. My coworkers’ attitudes, where I would be posted, how I could improve my membership numbers, how I could potentially land a promotion. None of that shit mattered more than my health, my happiness, and my dreams.

It is strange to say, but since leaving that job, I’ve been busier than I’ve ever been in my entire goddamn life, but, at the same time, every single day has gone by like lightning (it’s already 5:40pm and how do I stop this fucking clock–please tell me).

Here are the projects that I’m now working on, full time, on a given day:

1. Outlining a rewrite for Memory. This is not the usual thing where I say, “Ha! I’m planning it,” meaning I’m thinking about it at work, then coming home too tired and stressed out to actually start it. No, I’m two chapters from being done with the outline. It has been a struggle, but I pulled a got of motivation from a series of lectures by Brandon Sanderson that were third-eye opening (and if you’ve ever struggled with the process, here’s a link to the first video in the series on his YouTube channel).

2. Putting together digital products that I was inspired to make last year, when I designed a logo for a friend. I don’t want to say what the products are, but they combine my love of books, my graphic design chops from my Infinite Ammo days, and the weird, pattern-based art I used to do when I was younger. I will be talking about this more later in the month, but not until it’s ready.

3. Volunteering at a library, paginating the books they scanned and sent to the Biodiversity Heritage Lab. It feeds my bureaucratic side and I love it.

4. Working on my board game, the healing system for which I’ve just hammered down, meaning stats are finally set. Had to overhaul item drops, but I’m glad I didn’t overhaul them first, because it would have been totally pointless to overhaul that system without having stats totally figured out (because of course stats are going to drastically influence drops [which is to say, the game is 65% complete]).

5. Writing short stories, which is now nestled safely on the back burner. Why? Because I’m a novelist and always have been. Short stories are great and I learned a lot putting them together, but I wish I could take back some of the time I devoted to them. This is an extremely new outlook (even just last week, I was still considering spending a ton of time rewriting an older short story); real talk: I spent a few hours looking through a database of places to submit and realized . . . the pay is just so low. Probably not for other genres, but for Sci-Fi / Fantasy, we’re talking $20 for months or years of work. I just can’t do that anymore.

6. Writing posts on here, which I’m going to do weekly now, if only because planning a new direction for this blog and writing posts according to that plan will be a fun departure from the crazier deadlines / projects I’m working on (more on that soon).

7. Looking for other jobs and learning Spanish (it’s just way past time).

Obviously, the most pressing of those is creating my digital products. The goal is to make sustainable profit with them, and I know that’s a few months away, so I’m prioritizing it pretty hard, learning as much as I can about my process and creating the best storefront I can manage.

If I didn’t have to worry about money, however, writing would be first place for sure. The rewrite of Memory feels like the first real book I’ve ever written. I always knew about plot threads, but I never had a good process to keep track of them until I watched those Brandon Sanderson videos. He, thankfully, has a very similar approach to me in the types of stories he tells, so, after hearing him explain his process, I was able to fix my own. Real talk: I don’t think Memory is good enough to get published, but I’m using it as practice anyway, honing my process before moving on to The Hand and the Tempest, which is definitely my favorite project at this point. I spent two months worldbuilding for it earlier in the year and I’m just . . . in love with that world.

All of this is to say my life today is significantly different than it was in May, and it feels strange. I don’t know how things will turn out.

But I do know . . . that I can finally imagine a future for myself.

For the first time, I can imagine having my own place, what job I’ll be working while I’m there. I can picture actually getting published, like the tone of my life was tweaked ju-u-u-ust enough and now that conclusion fits.

I might still die. There’s still no vaccine for COVID-19, and the last time I got tested for it, I wasn’t infected but also didn’t have antibodies.

This “business” I’m putting together might also fall through. 

But it’s nice to have this moment.

It’s nice to believe when the whole world is telling me I shouldn’t.