Monster Showcase – The Orphan of Kos

If there’s one part of Fantasy writing that I’ve largely ignored on this site, it’s Fantasy monsters.

And, right out the gate, full disclosure: it’s because I have a hard time creating them.

In part, it’s because I turned off the “dragons are great” part of my brain ages ago. I have personally always written with the mantra “no old man wizards and no dragons.” Not because I think those things suck, but because I wanted to avoid using the tropes that came with them.

The thing is, that mantra was shorthand. What I really meant was, “No old man wizards, knights, kings, elves, dwarves, <deep breath> dragons, griffons, medusas, hydras, skeletons, zombies, wyrms, elementals–

And I’m just gonna stop there, because I grew up with JRPG’s and I’ve played a ton of D&D, so the list goes on.

Which means that when I put a monster into a WIP, I take wa-a-a-a-a-ay too long trying to make that monster unique. And, yeah, already a total nightmare.

But, on top of that, Fantasy monsters have never easily meshed with the bureaucratic side of my brain either. So even when I do create something I’ve never seen before, I then have to figure out why/how it exists.

Most of the time, that means my “monsters” are just weird animals that attack humans the same way a lion or a cassowary bird would (and if this is the first time you’ve ever heard of them, cassowaries are huge birds that are real and have giant claws on their feet, similar to a velociraptor; they look doofy, but do not fuck with them because they will murder you).

But sometimes, my monsters need to come from somewhere, so I engage in the insane practice of creating entire systems by which they exist. In my first book, for example, the monsters were all undead nightmares (the story was heavily inspired by Castlevania), so I had to invent a school of Necromancy that focused exclusively on making those monsters.

So yeah . . . A lot of work.

In the end though, all of this means that I spend way less time thinking about Fantasy monsters than I should. I want to rectify that. And I figured, “Hey. Why not do it on the site?”

So thank you for joining me for the very first installment of what I’m calling “Monster Showcase,” a series where I’ll be talking about a monster that I thought was really awesome from a book, game, movie, or TV show. I promise to never go typical with this (I’m always going to try to bring something genuinely weird and unique to the table), but there’s one in particular that’s going to be a nostalgia trip, so keep in mind that we may go deep into 80’s movies here at some point.

Anyway, for this first installment, we’re talking about . . .

The Orphan of Kos

Where It’s From: The Orphan of Kos is the final boss of the Old Hunters DLC for Bloodborne.

What It Is: It’s . . . <sigh>. I’m sorry. Bloodborne in particular has some bizarre fucking monsters, so this is tough. Apparently, the Orphan is the newborn child of a dead, Lovecraftian god. It is humanoid, skeletal, has giant flaps of skin hanging off of its back (which start floating behind it like wings in its second phase), and it’s holding its placenta, which it uses as a weapon.

“What the fuck?” Yeah. I heard you say that out loud, and I know–trust me, I’m right there with you.

To actually understand this thing though, you have to see how it moves and hear what it sounds like (nightmare fuel on both counts). Here’s a video from the Boss Fight Database on YouTube (the second phase, with the weird wings, starts at 2:41 [and here’s a convenience link to that as well]).

If you don’t have access to video, this thing alternates way too quickly between “hunched slow walk” to “leaping around the entire battlefield to slash at you.” Even though it’s bipedal, it attacks with the too-quick ferocity of a rabid dog . . . while gasping and crying out in an eerily human voice when you hit it.

Why It’s Worth Talking About: First, because it is just so fucking bizarre.

If you’ve never played Bloodborne, it is a master class in “What the fuck am I fighting?” Halfway through the game, I realized that I’d never win the metagame of trying to guess what the next boss would be.

But the Orphan really takes the cake.

Why is it humanoid?

Why is it so creepily thin?

What is that thing it’s holding? Oh–that’s its placenta. Great. Real cool.

And why those wings? For me, the wings are really what pushes the Orphan into “wait–what?” territory. Give me a gangly skeleton man, give him a placenta, and tell me he’s a Lovecraftian god’s baby, and I’m like, “Sure. I guess. Whatever.” But give that skeleton man gossamer wings and I’m like, “Fucking what?” Why did they make those wings silken? Why did they want them to look pretty as it screams, cries, and lunges at you from 20 feet away in a heartbeat?

It invites you to speculate on what the Orphan actually is–to draw the natural parallels to angels, sure, but to also question not only what the game’s “Great Ones” actually are, but why you’re fighting one of their children when you have no clue what they are.

And, beyond the crazy design of this monster, the Orphan’s ability to make you ask those questions is what really makes it worth talking about. Not just how cool or weird or creepy its design is . . . but how that design makes you feel.

Because a normal monster looks tough, scary, or intimidating, but the Orphan . . . makes you question yourself.

You find it on a beach as it’s being born. During the fight with it, it will sometimes scream–deeply and agonized–a signal that it’s doing a lightning attack. But that attack . . . comes from its mother’s corpse. It’s hard to be sure about anything when it comes to the orphan, but the implication seems to be that it’s sad about its mother. Maybe it doesn’t know what’s going on. Just a weird monster, born only a moment ago, attacking you with the only thing that it had close to hand–fighting you because you’re there and you’re aggressive.

And you, on the other side, totally unaware the Orphan was out here on this beach. At this point, you’re deep inside what NPC’s have called “a Nightmare”–what feels like an alternate pocket of reality where you’re living the past and walking across a twisted dreamscape.

So you, unsure what’s going on, fight the Orphan because it’s there and it’s aggressive.

From Software games usually don’t give you a happy ending, but killing the Orphan was particularly strange because it felt . . . like you were killing yourself somehow. Not in the uplifting sense that you were killing the dark, feral side of your human mind, but that you had become that part of your mind–that you had finally become a Beast, like so many NPC’s before you–and you were just slashing wildly at a mirror.

The Orphan of Kos is an interesting monster, because fighting it makes you the monster.

What I Learned from It: I was already aware of the idea that monsters are better if they come with their own little stories. If you want to design a small lizard, for example, you’ll get way better results if you think about what that lizard wants, how it eats, where it sleeps, etc. The same goes for violent, true monsters (I still differentiate “unique animals” and “true monsters” in my mind, which I guess I’ll talk about another time); a phantom possessing a suit of armor is way more interesting if you create the story for how the phantom got into that armor, why it picked that particular suit, what it intends to do, etc. And, when you’re done, both the lizard and the phantom will tell that story without words; a reader/viewer/player will see that the lizard is dirty and walks really slowly and infer it lives in the dirt and maybe has some kind of defense mechanism that makes it so chill.

But the Orphan makes it clear that those stories don’t have to always be internal. A monster’s design can affect a person beyond making them scared or creeping them out.

A monster can make you question yourself, and, at the very least, that’s something worth thinking about.

~~~

Phew. That wound up being longer than I expected. I hope you enjoyed! If you did, feel free to drop a like or a follow. I’m not sure when I’ll do another “Monster Showcase” (I play all of these posts by ear), but if you “Follow House of Error” via the button on the left side of the screen on PC or the top right on mobile, you’ll have my future posts emailed directly to your inbox.

Man, I really need to find a new name for this site. Whatever–that’s for me to figure out.

Until next time, take care, stay safe, and watch There Will Be Blood if you haven’t. That movie is amalzing . . . Also, Kim’s Convenience is really good. Okay–bye!

I’m Living for My Writing Group Right Now

I’ve always been wary of writing groups.

But not because of other people; it’s a me thing.

I am hyper-aware that I’m not the most amazing writer in the world, so I am a very intense self-editor (and have been for a while). It’s a habit I’ve mentioned on here before–my tendency to edit my work directly into the ground. To take it from ‘bonsai’ to ‘twig’ to (somehow) ‘Chia Pet.’ And I’m aware that’s not the perfect metaphor (my editing always yields net positives, but sometimes those positives are additions with new grammatical errors) but it absolutely nails the vibe.

Anyway, that need to edit comes in when I read other people’s work, and that’s why I try to stay away from collaborations these days. I have upset people with edits that were too intense. Also, a few times, someone has said, “Read this and give me thoughts,” and I’ve heard, “Read this and correct my grammar!”

Not . . . the best look.

So if you asked me in 2019 if I’d ever join a writing group, I would’ve said, “No. For their sake.”

But then, of course 2020 happened.

By September 2020, I was wildly strung out. Already 6 months deep in the lockdown hole, freshly unemployed, routinely losing sleep to my then-roommate’s obnoxiously loud kids while the election loomed in the distance, I was perpetually tired. Of just fucking everything.

So trust me when I say that the moment a longtime friend of mine invited me to join a writing group with him and his buddy from high school, I was like, “YESWHEN”.

Was a part of me still worried about being a needlessly intense critic of my friends’ work?

Yes.

Did I learn to curb that reflex out of pure, immediate necessity?

Abso-fucking-lutely.

And . . . I almost feel like I have to thank 2020, because if I hadn’t been backed into a corner, forced to accept an invitation I might not have . . . I would have missed one of the best experiences in the entirety of my time as a writer.

A Writing Group with Close Friends
Is So Positive It Feels Wrong

Like, you know when you try a new fat free ice cream and it tastes better than real ice cream, so you check the ingredients and it’s like, “Molasses, Soy Lecithin, and Kitten Souls,” and you’re like, “Ah. Right. Of course”?

My writing group feels like that, only without the Kitten Souls part. It is so good it just has to be wrong somehow. But 4 months deep, it still . . . isn’t?

I meet with my friends once a week over Zoom so we can discuss progress on our work, and–most importantly for me–take criticism. Each week, one of us gets in the hot seat and sends work for review, while the others make progress on their own work for their next session.

And, somehow, despite everything being set up for this to go poorly, it just hasn’t.

My friend, his buddy, and I are just naturally careful about our criticisms while also (thankfully) being totally candid with them.

In a recent session, one of them suggested that I significantly change the intro for Memory because it was a little cliché. And, mind you, this is an intro that is relatively new; I’d hammered it out in the middle of 2020 when I started the outline for my rewrite, so hearing that it needed another change threw me a little bit.

But the approach to that suggestion wasn’t invasive or hostile in any way; this was a point made by a friend of mine who wanted to challenge me to write a better prologue. So, instead of clamming up, I sat down and reflected. Not just on the fact that I usually struggle with intros, but on the merits of the suggested change. If it had been suggested to me a few years prior, I might have waved it aside and tried to rewrite the prologue in some other way.

But, in 2020, I took an afternoon to review themes, plotlines, and character beats and realized . . . Yeah. That additional tweak to the prologue would just . . . work. Really well.

And, just like when I found Brandon Sanderson’s “Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy Classes” on YouTube, the realization that I could just have help really took me by surprise. A healthy writing group is something I didn’t realize I needed, but also something I stubbornly thought was impossible. Growing up in America makes me keep blinking like, “Wait. I’m supposed to pay for this somewhere, right?” Like one of my friends is going to copy and paste an invoice for $700 to the Zoom chat. Seriously, this is supposed to be, like, $80 an hour, or I’m supposed to go to a convention or win a contest to get this kind of constructive criticism.

But, no. I can just have this–all of us can.

My writing group is just real. None of us pull punches; from the very first session, they’ve been totally honest about the parts of my WIP they didn’t like, which is its own miracle. But on top of that, none of us are taking ownership of each other’s work, expecting the others to implement whatever changes we suggest. None of us think we’re better than the others. And none of us reject every single criticism we get, refusing to entertain change and growth.

It is . . . so healthy.

And extremely exciting. I drastically improved Memory over the Summer, and now I have two friends taking a close look at my outline and helping me improve it even more, and just holy shit.

Having a Writing Group with Your Close Writer Friends
Is the Best Thing Ever and Every Writer Should Do It

I can’t recommend joining a random writer’s group, because it is still impossible for me to believe that experience wouldn’t be problematic.

But if you have close friends who are writers working in the same genre . . .

DO IT!

As long as all of you understand how to be chill about it–how not to tear down each other’s work or demand that they start writing in your style. Read their works-in-progress, make suggestions that improve them, express your feelings about them in a way that isn’t needlessly harsh. Strike that balance of being open to changing your stories, but secure in the knowledge that if you don’t think a suggestion yields improvements, you don’t have to implement it.

And, okay, I kind of went on a rant there, but I didn’t write all of this just to gush. What I’m trying to say is writing sucks. It’s extremely rough and, in my experience, there are a ton of people waiting to take advantage of you. We are professionals who spend years working on singular pieces of art that we send to publishers and contests, hoping to get paid for a fraction of the time we put in. I know that you know, but just in case you haven’t thought about it in a while, writing is an insane, extremely unforgiving profession.

We deserve every bit of help we can get.

~~~

Thank you for passing by. Can you believe it’s only the second week of 2021? As an American, I . . . am . . . already reeling this year.

But whatever. I hope you’re doing well, wherever you are. If you enjoyed this post, please drop me a like or consider following The House of Error via the button on the left side of the screen (on PC) or the top right (on mobile).

Either way, take care, and if you come within petting range of an adorable, friendly cat or dog this week, please give them a pat for me.

Writer’s Workshop – A House on Gravel (& Some Much-Needed Venting)

The house looked like it was falling apart. A squat, thin rectangle of wood slowly dipping toward the gravel, but never quite making it. Not because it refused to go down, but because giving in would be too much work for it. “Ugh. I’m just gonna stay just like this,” it might sigh, and I, slow blinking as I looked at it, would nod and say, “I get it.”

“It looks terrible on the outside, but inside it’s really nice,” my friend said. He wasn’t wrong; the room he wanted to rent to me was particularly nice–larger than any of the rooms in my current apartment, especially after I came out of my room on December 21st to find the superintendent splitting the living room into two more bedrooms. Apparently, my old roommates, having moved on to a house, went full-on “money-hungry assholes”; they’re cramming as many people as possible into this tiny apartment. Because of course.

Which is why I was in Connecticut in the first place. I was really, really hoping to make a quick move to avoid whatever eight additional people my old roommates were going to wedge into their old apartment.

But then, there was the house perpetually tipping. And their bathroom with literal shit caked on the toilet. And the town itself, where we grabbed dinner and I was warned to quiet down because I was making fun of flat earthers and apparently there was a 90% chance one of the old white people watching me at that restaurant was a flat earther.

I was so hopeful that it would work out. And if I was a different person, it definitely would’ve.

But, as I am now, I couldn’t help looking at that tired house and nodding.

“Better to just stay like this.”

#

It’s been a while since I’ve done a “Writer’s Workshop,” and this is one I needed to do.

Because I really needed to vent.

After my last post, shit fell apart pretty quickly. The super was here almost the entire time, using power tools and leaving piles of empty Coors Light cans fucking everywhere.

I’ve still stayed productive, and it’s probably for the best that I didn’t have a totally chill, calm holiday because I would’ve become complacent. As is, I’m actively going out, trying to find somewhere else to live while hoping that, in the meantime, my new roommates won’t be loud monsters.

So far so good–I met one of those roommates, who came in while I was eating dinner last night. An old black man who was wearing a mask and–thankfully–was not down to shake hands or stop and chat. The nightmare for me is the party dude who comes cartwheeling in without a mask and asks what I’m cooking, so an old man saying hi and going to his room to tend to his own business is exactly the kind of roommate I want.

Fingers crossed for the rest of them.

And fingers crossed about any of the jobs I’ve been applying to. This week, I delve into the bizarre realm of freelance work, temporarily sidelined by packing up when I hoped I was moving to Connecticut. With any luck, I’ll have a good enough first week to feel secure leaning into it.

Because the dream is not having to strap in. I don’t want to be here a few more months.

But if the first few weeks of the Year of Endings are any indication, this is going to be a non-stop struggle.

Because of course.

~~~

Thanks for passing by. I’m definitely going back to the usual content next week, but I just got back from CT yesterday and needed to vent.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to gush about my writing group next week, because I’ve wanted to talk about them for a while–how two close friends have kept me going for months now and how they’re helping me make Memory awesome–so expect that next Sunday.

Until then, thank you for passing by, and I hope you have a Happy National Spaghetti Day! And no, I’m not making that up. The 4th is also National Trivia Day, but not on this fucking blog. Get yer spaghet, erbody!

An Actual Christmas Miracle

I do not know where to start explaining how weird the last two weeks have been.

I guess I’ll start chronologically. Two weeks ago, I talked about how I was going to get into graphic design. That, like most things, is going to take significantly longer than I thought; I’m still building a portfolio and setting up accounts on different sites, but those efforts got hit pretty quickly by real life bullshit.

I usually don’t give details on this kind of stuff, but I had a really bad panic attack in public last week. And—this is not a joke—it was actually because of my roommate’s daughter being on her cell phone. And let me just explain what that even means.

I’ve never talked about it on here, but a major deterrent to my creative efforts in the past few months has been my roommate’s daughter talking on her phone. And, because that probably sounds like an exaggeration, just imagine the following:

  1. Imagine the most annoying person you’ve ever heard on a phone. Unreasonably loud, even when speaking. Maybe yelling their friends’ names and actually cackling when they laugh. If you’re imagining a comedian doing an intentionally over-the-top impersonation of someone drunkenly shout-laughing, I promise that you’re in the ball park.
  2. Imagine that this person . . . is your roommate’s/landlord’s daughter.
  3. Imagine that, a few months into the pandemic, she decides that, in the apartment you share with her and her family, the best place for her to take her online courses is on the couch that is seven feet across from your bedroom door.
  4. Imagine that your roommate’s/landlord’s daughter just tells her teacher something’s wrong with her camera, mutes herself on Zoom, and then calls her friends, laughing over her school lessons. Maybe she puts on music, but whatever she does, she’s always yelling. Sometimes, she’s yelling for her mom to get her food, even though the kitchen is 10 feet away from her couch. Sometimes, she’s yelling for her brother, who’s at the far end of the apartment, to come answer the front door, which is right next to her couch. Usually though, she’s yelling because her friends just said something so funny it requires another insane cackle, just like the one from two minutes ago.
  5. And, finally (and this is the most important part), imagine that this happens Monday through Friday, from (on average) 9am to 5pm.

TL;DR: Imagine having to listen to the most annoying person you’ve ever heard on the phone for (again, on average) eight fucking hours, five days a week.

For months, I just tried to shrug it off. But when someone is screaming so loudly that I could hear her through (I shit you not) earplugs and headphones, with music/videos at max volume through those headphones, it’s just torture. Like, no matter how cool you think you’d be with it, it’s actually a torture technique they used at Guantanamo.

I asked this girl, very early on, to please keep her volume down.

The next week, she was back on that couch.

I was worried about talking to her mom because, with COVID, I was already expecting the dreaded, “You have to move out.” Not because I loved being in this apartment, but because I’d lost my job and the only place I could go was back with my mom, who has always had issues with her lungs. So, rather than complaining to my landlord (who was always present and knew it was happening anyway), I just grinned, bared it, and developed a really terrible schedule (where I tried to stay up as late as possible to work while everyone was asleep, and then sleep in as close to 5pm as I could [which never worked because she would usually wake me up bright and early at 9am anyway]).

All of this came to a head last week, when I had that panic attack.

Now, I’m not a person who has panic attacks. I struggle with depression, so I’m used to lying in bed, staring at a window, doing nothing and feeling hopeless. Panic attacks are a very, very different experience.

On that day (and I don’t even remember which day—maybe Wednesday), I was at a supermarket, looking at the wall of budget cereal brands they have here in the Bronx. I’d already been woken up early (after staying up until 4am the previous night working on a logo), so I was exhausted.

And I just looked at that wall of cereal, considered which one to buy, thought, “I’ve had them all and I don’t like any of them, but I have to pick one,” and my brain just shot me forward in time, to when I’d be sitting at my desk, in my room, eating cereal I hated while listening to that girl on her phone . . .

. . . and I just started crying.

Not bawling or sobbing. Not even obvious. The emotion hit me, I took a breath, thought, “Fuck, am I actually about to cry?” and then started hyperventilating while walking around that supermarket, looking for the stuff I was supposed to buy.

Just, overall, real bad time.

I got upstairs, actually cried in my room (yes, while the girl was yelling to her friends in the background), and then, finally acknowledging that I just could not listen to more cackling, I knocked on her mom’s door.

And this is where the miracle part starts, but not the entirety of said miracle.

Turns out her mom also totally hated her being on the phone all the time.

Thank . . . God.

She and her husband were going to talk to her daughter when he got home, and finally . . . my long-standing, surprisingly effective, literal torture was over.

I’m absolutely sure that I created a super villain (because the daughter went into her room and didn’t make noise or come out for the rest of the night, but it is impossible for me to care.

Because when I got back to my room, dead silence. Total and complete.

I went to sleep, woke up, wrote, and worked more on that logo. Basically, I lived. And it was amazing.

The next few days, I was just in recovery mode. Didn’t try to be especially productive, but I did finish a logo for the portfolio and got a good amount of writing done.

Cut to this week . . . which started with what I can only call a family meeting.

My landlord/roommate was there. Her husband, son, and daughter were as well.

I was totally expecting the worst.

And they told me . . . they were moving.

And this part is the miracle part.

Because I have not been kicked out; for whatever reason, they aren’t breaking their lease.

They’re just letting me live here–by myself–for the same amount of rent I’ve been paying. They are going to find a roommate for me . . .

. . . but right now, I live in this apartment by myself.

And just . . . I’ve never mentioned it on this site, but I’ve never lived anywhere by myself, and that’s been a dream of mine for years. My major resolution for this upcoming year was “Get that apartment.”

So this, for me, is a Christmas miracle. Having an apartment all to myself for Christmas is just . . . it’s probably silly, but I can’t express how much it means to me. The freedom alone—the sense that I can go to sleep, shower, wake up, cook, write whenever I want is almost too much.

It is such a crazy blessing.

And a ridiculous boon to everything in life.

Like, if anyone ever tells you that it isn’t any easier to finish working on a project in a quiet apartment, that is an absolute lie. I’ve been blissfully cooking actual food and taking longer than necessary “freedom” visits to the bathroom, but I’ve also legit been pissed imagining how much further along I could’ve been in my writing career if I’d always had a quiet place to work.

But, whatever—I don’t want to get hung up on that.

The point is, I am currently living in a miracle (especially in New York). It is wildly temporary (I’m assuming I have a week before shit goes to hell), but I am just taking it. This Christmas is just mine.

And I’m not just going to use it to make coquito and take longer-than-necessary showers.

I’m going to fucking finish my outline for Memory, start writing that novel, apply for jobs, open my freelance design profile, and get as much done as I possibly can.

I’m going to use it to live the life I want if only for a week or two.

But, most importantly—and this is going to come out of nowhere, but—I’m going to use it to start the year I’ve been dreaming of since forever.

I’ve fantasized about it for a while, and in those fantasies, it’s been the year when I finish Memory, stop living with roommates, stop worrying about work. The year when I stop feeling stuck.

I’ve always thought of it as “The Year of Endings.”

And it begins right now.

~~~

I know this one is a little weird, but I’m actually happy for the first time in a long time, so forgive me.

I am taking next week off because I want to get as much done as I possibly can in this coming week. But I’ll definitely be back in January to kick off my Year of Endings.

I hope all of you have an awesome holiday. Stay safe, text someone you love and tell them you love them, and most importantly, if you didn’t know, Tofurky sausages taste, like, 500% better when you can actually fucking cook them. Fire is awesome, shoutout to my boy Prometheus, I love y’all, and happy holidays!

Had a Long Week / Taking a Break

Hey, everyone.

This’ll be an extremely short one. I just wanted to come on here and say I’m taking a mental health day today. This week wound up being a total mess. Not a mess related to the graphic design aspirations, although that isn’t exactly going smoothly.

I will absolutely be back next week with an actual post and news, but today, I just need to relax and not do anything.

And, in that spirit, I am off to just melt into my bed for a while before I have to reconstitute tomorrow morning.

I hope all of you are doing well. Take care, stay safe, and remember: the vaccine is real and it’s finally coming. At some point soon, we’ll be able to go outside, sit on park benches, take off our masks without worrying, and eat our Gordita Crunchwraps in peace.

Full Disclosure: I’m Trying to Get Into Font Design, but It’s Making Freelance Graphic Design Look Easy, So I’m Doing That Too

A few weeks back, I dropped a hint that I was working on making digital products as a way to earn money while looking for a new job during the pandemic.

But also, in classic-me fashion, when I talked about all of this, I added that I’d be releasing that product “this weekend.”

I’ve since discovered that font design is incredibly rough, and every attempt I’ve made at finishing a font has somehow led to more problems.

Because, look, here’s the thing: I’m a perfectionist. It is incredibly hard for me to release something before I feel like it’s perfect (a reflex that I’m 100% aware has slowed down my writing progress, and thus a reflex I’m trying to tamp down). Even when it comes to writing posts on this site, I usually write them the day before I release them, so I can go over them multiple times to “line edit.” But that always turns into me making content edits for clarity and flow until I hit a deadline and have to click “Publish” (usually with more errors that I then have to fix in post).

What I’m getting at: I’m definitely a perfectionist to a massive fault.

And font design wound up being a pit for me to drown in.

The actual design work of font making? Absolutely no problem. That’s the annoying part of this; I wound up working out a system by which I could turn out a new font, with sketching and glyph design on my computer, in 2-3 days. I have graphic design experience, so, even learning Inkscape so I could put together glyph sets for free = no problem. Not even the idea part was difficult for me:

My first font, Astronav, was designed to be the staple font of a fictional space colony; the stencil over the doors on their starships, leading to “FTL Control,” “Specimen Containment,” “Astronav,” etc.

The programing side of font making, however? Total nightmare. I tried the three programs I could afford (free, free, and $10). The two free ones would not accept the glyphs I made in Inkscape for some reason, and although the third, Birdfont, did accept the glyphs (to the extent that I have Astronav and Astronav Light just sitting there, finished and ready to go), it did not export them correctly. Additional issues, like the way the font displays em dashes and bullets, just make the whole experience an absolute nightmare (because I can’t just try solutions, find one that seems to work, and ship it–I’m the kind of person who needs to understand the problem and know that a solution will work for everyone, always). However, font design is still growing in popularity, so the resources available to spell out the problem with my version of Birdfont on my version of Windows just isn’t there. I’m sure there are solutions; I’m going to keep looking for them, and this definitely isn’t to say Birdfont is a bad program–I love it.

This is just to say, if you’ve been here for a while and you remember me saying I was working on a thing that never happened, this is why.

But look, okay, I’m not here to just vent (although it’s nice).

I’m actually here to do something a bit weird.

Wordmark Practice

Like I said, the designing part was fine. But it was also . . . good practice.

Learning Inkscape and designing fonts made designing wordmark titles for my friends’ works in progress an absolute breeze.

So, that’s what I’m shifting my efforts to for the immediate future: wordmark logos. I timed myself on one this weekend, and it’s taken a cumulative 5 hours to get it close to complete.

But I need more practice.

So, I am asking for your help.

Not monetary help; I still feel weird asking for donations, so I’m not doing that.

However, if you have a WIP that you’d like a wordmark logo for, email me. No charge, one logo per person, with the following understandings:

  1. If you’re not familiar, a wordmark logo is a logo made of text, so basically any title. I do custom glyphs (letters), meaning you won’t have to worry about having font licenses for the title, because I won’t be using a pre-existing font. However, while I can do very light additional graphics, something like the title for Grounded, with the silhouette of a character in the “N,” is just honestly outside of my current skill set.
  2. I would provide you with both a PNG and SVG of the finished logo that you can do absolutely whatever you want with. I’m not expecting payment or for you to use it and shout me out (although if you get published and convince the publisher to use that wordmark, please shout me out, because that would be awesome). But if you’re asking yourself, “Well, what does he want in return?” the answer is . . .
  3. Practice and an item for my portfolio. To be clear, I would use a watermarked version of the logo for my portfolio, which I would post on this site, art display sites like Behance, and freelancing sites like Upwork, so I can start getting freelance graphic design work.
  4. I have no idea how many replies I’ll get, because I have never, ever done a giveaway before (which this technically is I guess?), but I will probably cut off the replies at five, because I don’t think I’ll be able to manage more than five in the next week. But also, once again, only one logo per person for the same reason.

If you’re down, send me an email at l.santiago.author@gmail.com. In your email, please include:

  1. The title of your WIP.
  2. The tone you’re going for with that WIP, overall.
  3. And–only if you feel comfortable sharing it–a brief summary of an important moment in the story (I often take inspiration from story elements when I design their titles).

This is kind of crazy for me because this site has been around for 12 years and I’ve never done something like this, but hey, it’s also exciting. And after 9 months of being stuck in the same room, I’ll take “exciting” any way I can get it.

~~~

Thanks for passing by for what is admittedly a very weird post on this site. If you enjoyed and/or want to find out how this facet of my unemployment goes, please feel free to give me a follow.

But, either way, take care, and have a happy Put On Your Own Shoes Day!

Let’s Talk About – The Anatomy of a Good Crew

A while back, I was talking with a friend and fellow writer about a future project. While describing it, I called it a “Team story,” and then squinted.

“Is there a better word for that? Like, a story where your characters are one team?”

And I don’t remember if I stopped trying to explain or she cut me off, but she answered, “An ensemble cast. You’re talking about an ensemble cast.”

And I remember thinking, “Is that what I’m talking about?” In the moment I was just like, “Sure,” but I kept thinking about it for a while because, in typical bureaucrat fashion, I wanted to find the perfect heading to sort my ideas under and I knew it wasn’t “ensemble cast.”

Because Game of Thrones has an ensemble cast, but it is not a story about a united team.

Something like Friends, however, does star an ensemble cast while also presenting those characters as one, cohesive unit for the audience to love.

And it’s the latter part–the team part–that I was trying to get at. I now have two future projects that are going to require a balanced team with interesting dynamics, and because my life this week has been steeped in Star Wars, I’ve been thinking a lot about highly dynamic, synergetic teams.

Or–as I have ultimately, lazily classified them in my head–crews.

So let’s talk about them.

Not whether they’re good or bad, but just what I’m learning from looking at / remembering a few standout examples.

What I’ve Learned About Crews (So Far)

If ever there was a franchise that lived off of it’s crews, it’s Star Wars.

Seriously, part of the reason The Mandalorian feels so fresh is because it’s the only popular Star Wars story that doesn’t have a crew.

Anyway, let’s get into it:

  1. Smaller crews feel clean, and give everyone time to shine, but large crews are totally possible if you make them super charming. By my count, there were 8-9 people on the Serenity, but Joss Whedon made all of them super lovable and interesting anyway, in part by all of them unique Specializations and Plot Functions.
  2. Every member of a crew needs to have a Specialization (pilot, mechanic, fighter, lockpicker, etc.) but they also need to serve a Plot Function (comic relief, responsibility anchor, protagonist).
  3. Specializations vary depending on what you’re writing, but when it comes to Plot Functions, memorable crews usually seem to have the following:
    1. A Protagonist who usually has to learn to become good at their Specialization or learn a different skill entirely. Luke and Aang are prime examples of protagonists learning Specializations as parts of their arcs. On the other hand, Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t learn anything–he’s just good at a handful of things and has emotional arcs instead.
    2. A Responsibility Anchor who steps in to keep the plot moving in the right direction. Princess Leia and Gamora are really popular standouts, but Kanan Jarrus from Star Wars: Rebels and Cere Junda from *deep breath* Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order are the two I experienced the most this week.
    3. A Romantic Interest. Not gonna go in-depth here.
    4. Comic Relief. Also not gonna go in-depth here. But I will point out that there’s almost always more than one comic relief in a good crew.
    5. The Muscle. The usually gentle, often giant who’s going to crack their knuckles and walk into a bunch of enemies and come back fine. Familiar examples are Chewie and Groot. Significantly different examples are Toph Beifong from Avatar, River Tam from Firefly, and Nightsister Merrin from Fallen Order who, and this is true, is my waifu. I am a grown man who never once said anyone anywhere was his waifu because I didn’t get it, but now I get it.
    6. A Scrappy Person. This is a weird one, but there’s often a person who’s . . . bad at fighting even though they want to be good at it? Or who often need saving. Classic example, even though it doesn’t seem like it at first: Han. Yes, he will chase Stormtroopers down a hallway, firing his blaster, but he’ll be back in 3 seconds, running from a hangarful of them. Sokka is another example.
    7. Someone who doesn’t speak Common or who is hard to understand for some other reason. I know this is weird, but it’s real. It’s obviously nonessential, but you can put in characters who don’t speak Common. They’ll just need another character to answer all of their questions in Common, thus translating, and they’ll need to emote well. And I have to take a moment here to remind everyone that the crew of the Millennium Falcon has two–fucking two–characters audiences love even though they can’t understand anything they’re saying. To this day, that blows my mind. Aside from R2 and Chewie, Groot is one of my favorites.
    8. The heart of the team–an Emotional Anchor. Someone caring to keep the team together by helping them solve differences, the single greatest example of which is Steven from Steven Universe.
    9. And finally, a cute companion! Also obviously nonessential, but so adorable when they’re done right. Like Appa! And I would say BB-8 if he wasn’t attached to a series of films that wound up being one of the most disappointing trilogies of all time.
  4. As you’ve probably noticed, those nine Functions are not limited to one character each, or even one per crew. Your Protagonist might also be the Scrappy Person, like Ezra Bridger from Rebels. Your muscle might not speak Common, like Groot. You might, like Guardians, have three separate characters who could all count as the Muscle. Making that composition–and playing with it–is one of the major parts of making a crew.
  5. But the other major part is making sure that your composition has characters who all feel unique from each other but also have good chemistry. They should have different, maybe even conflicting personalities, but they also need to be able to engage with each other in a way that’s entertaining. If two of your characters are stuck in the same room together and you can’t write an interesting or fun scene with them, something’s wrong.

Two Crews That Didn’t Work for Me

I’m still trying to be more positive on here, but I do have to point out the two crews I didn’t find interesting (and explain why).

The crew of the Ghost on Star Wars: Rebels.

I watched 6 or 7 episodes of Rebels while working on my computer, and I ultimately wasn’t hooked for a few reasons. The reason related to this post: the crew was split into two extremes.

On one hand, you had Ezra, Zeb, and Chopper who were always bickering and playing pranks on each other.

On the other hand, you had Hera, Sabine, and Kanan who were all super capable and professional.

I’m sure the show gets better, but the team chemistry just wasn’t there. Everyone had good Specializations, their Plot Functions were super clear, and they all looked unique from each other, but they all felt like they were sharing two personalities, so I ultimately had to bail.

The crew of the Mantis in Jedi: Fallen Order.

Now, I’m ending here with a crew most people haven’t experienced because it comes with a lesson.

Pictured above is the entire crew. From left to right, it’s BD-1, a little droid who specializes as the hacker and can’t speak Common. Next is Greez, the pilot and comic relief. Then there’s Cere Junda, the Designated Plot-Driver and secondary hacker. Cal is our redheaded Protagonist. And last is Nightsister Merrin, who’s arguably the Muscle (because Cal would be, but she’s a space witch who saves his life a ton) and is also, believe it or not from this picture, more Comic Relief.

So what’s the lesson here?

Never have one member of the crew join super late in the story.

Nightsister Merrin doesn’t join the Mantis until insanely late in the game. Seriously, she joined my crew last night, after, like, 20 hours of playtime. Which is bizarre because . . .

. . . this crew is not complete without her.

This is not a waifu joke; seriously, dialogue in the Mantis was so boring before she joined.

For 20+ hours, cutscenes with the crew were extremely one-note. Cal was goal-oriented, Cere was goal-oriented, BD-1 was goal-oriented, and Greez, while charming, just followed orders and complained. Very quickly, everyone believed in and supported each other, so there was just nothing to look forward to in their interactions. Even a mid-game semi-twist with Cere didn’t throw off the “we have to keep fighting for what’s right” vibe.

After Merrin, dialogue is likely to take a weird turn when she asks things like, “What Empire?” because she grew up on Dathomir and has no idea the First Galactic Empire even exists. When Cere asks her about her magic, Greez might compare it to the time he ate a huge steak to win a prize, and Merrin might say–against all odds and in perfect, non-combative monotone, “Yes. My magic is exactly like eating steak.”

And just . . . h’oh my God! They have chemistry now! How? How did the one extra character make the most boring crew ever so much fun? I want to actually listen to their dialogue now. And even though I assumed the crew of the Mantis was a safe, corporate decision for 20+ hours, I now feel like I’m playing the main writer’s head canon crew that they’ve been nursing since Revenge of the Sith. And I actually want a sequel for this game I never thought I’d like (which, btw, if you haven’t played Fallen Order and you’re looking for a decent Souls-like, it’s way better than it has any right to be [just put it on max difficulty and prepare to die]).

But, look, whatever. I’m sure I’ll turn on that game in a little bit and Merrin will immediately peace out or Cal will die, but the lesson I took from that experience (aside from never ever bury one of your crew members at the end of your story–why would you ever do that???) is this: there is a very fine line between an incredibly boring crew and a super fantastic one. You can be off by just one character.

There is no formula here–at least not one that I’m aware of. You can play fast and loose with your character’s Specializations and Functions, and you should to make sure they, as a whole, are unique.

But, the worst thing you can do with your crew is make them boring. And you make them boring by making their interactions uninteresting.

As always, I have to add the extra disclaimer that I am just a man, not a professional. I don’t know the ins and outs of making a compelling team of characters.

But hey, it can’t hurt to talk about it.

~~~

Apologies for getting this one out late, but I was working through my observations as I wrote them here.

If you enjoyed, you can always feel free to drop me a like or follow.

But either way, it’s 4AM and I need to go pass out.

Take care, and, always be secure in the fact that if you’ve already eaten one cookie, a second cookie will not kill you. Goodnight!

Dream Diary – Willy of House Wonka, First of His Name

I had a lot of things I could’ve written about today.

But I had a dream where I was Willy Wonka embroiled in a Game of Thrones-esque plot to take the Chocolate Factory away from me, and I just had to share that.

I don’t remember everything that happened in the dream, but I do know a few things:

  1. I was Gene Wilder Wonka, not Depp Wonka.
  2. The plot to take over the factory was coming from inside House Wonka. I wish I could tell you who it was, but I only have the vague vibe that it was Willy Wonka’s brother. So . . . Walter Wonka?
  3. There were other Houses involved, but no matter how hard I tried to remember what those Houses were, I lost them. I want to believe it was like, “House Keebler” or something, but, in typical “What the fuck?” dream fashion, I think the other major House involved was House Mormont. Like, just inexplicably, a mile down the road from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, there’s House Mormont, as grim and dirty as it was on the show.
  4. I kept giving arch-as-fuck monologues, Cersei-style, while eating Gobstoppers. This is 100% real; it happened three times over the course of the dream, and every time, I stopped near the end of the monologue to spit out the Gobstopper like, “Why do I keep doing this?”
  5. I pushed someone out of a window. Episode 1 Jaime defenestration. It was the very end of the dream, and although I do not remember what they looked like, I know it was the person trying to steal the factory–so Walter, I guess. I know for a fact that after I pushed them out of the window, I said, “Well . . . That was easier than I thought it’d be,” but I immediately choose to retcon it so I instead shouted, “You get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!” out the window. Not just because of course, but because if I ever need to push someone out of a window in real life, I’d want to shout that after them.

Now, you might be asking yourself, “Louis, did you want to share some kind of affirming realization that hit you during this dream? Maybe a thought on how fun it can be to mash up different IP’s?”

No. I just needed to share that dream, because I woke up from it like, “Wait–what? Really!?” Hands down the best, weirdest dream I’ve had in years.

What I will say, in conclusion: I am not the man to write it . . . but if anyone else out there decides to write a high intrigue, political drama set in Willy Wonka’s goddamn Chocolate Factory, I’m here for it.

~~~

I would like to thank my roommate for sending her kids to the grandparent’s for three straight days. You alone made it possible for me to actually sleep and have this insane dream.

That said, I’m gonna hit post on this one and wind down (today was one of those 95% pratfall days where things just keep going wrong and I’m over it). If you enjoyed, you can always give me a follow.

Regardless, take care and get more sleep if you can. Weird dreams are the goddamn best.

Let’s Talk About – Iconic Characters

Man, being able to breathe is amazing, isn’t it?

Like, I woke up today and didn’t immediately look at the news. Isn’t that wild? I just woke up, drew in a breath, exhaled it, and then did that again a few times without being afraid, and holy shit, isn’t that weird?

Anyway, hi and welcome back.

Of the topics I wanted to talk about for a while is the idea of the Iconic Character, in part because I find the concept interesting, but also because I’ve been working on a Fantasy novel that does the Iconic Character thing and I only just realized it recently.

To be clear, I’m not being the smarmiest asshole on planet Earth like, “My character in the novel I’m writing is iconic. Hmyeah.”

What I mean is, my current WIP fits into the Iconic Character archetype.

And, before I move on, let me just explain that really quick.

The Iconic Character Archetype

Any story that is at least partially carried by a character the audience wants to see being the best at whatever they do.

So, basically, 99% of cape comics.

And a ton of movie protagonists (James Bond, the Terminator) and antagonists (Jason Vorhees, the Terminator).

Also, TV protagonists, like House (who jumps to mind immediately), and the Mandalorian (who banks entirely on being from the same space culture as Boba Fett, a Star Wars character people have been obsessing over since 1978).

But, really, the example who’s been around the most in my life (and thus the one I’m most tired of) is Batman. People buy Batman comics and go see Batman movies because they want to see him being Batman. And, I don’t want to dwell on this, but I do feel like he’s the perfect example because he’s often super flat as a character; people do not go see a Batman movie to see Bruce Wayne handle a difficult, personal situation–they go to see him beat the shit out of a bunch of criminals in a warehouse.

The thing is . . . the majority of these characters are very well established. Like Batman, the Doctor has been around for decades. Which is really why I wanted to bring this up: the single, simple question:

Is trying to write a new Iconic Character
the worst idea ever?

I didn’t do it on purpose; I just had the idea for a story, wrote an entire first draft, and then got way deep into a rewrite before realizing my protagonist would be vying for a spot among these pop culture titans (not House).

I mean, obviously, there wouldn’t be any Iconic Characters if new ones never broke through. But . . . a lot of them don’t? Especially in the remake/reboot/sequel-obsessed Hollywood of 2020, which has us all set to watch Batman’s parent’s get killed on the silver screen for the <checks watch> 298751853265275th time.

So I wound up asking myself, “Is this just the worst idea ever?” I seriously don’t have another character like Memory–she is the only fighty badass I intend to write–so should I just . . . not?

To be clear, I have a ton of faith in my girl; Memory is a ninja-assassin-bureaucrat who’s also a cyborg or maybe a goddess (the stories people whisper about the Lord Sun’s Shadows are wildly conflicting).

But I’ve had a lot of faith about a lot of things that didn’t ultimately work out well.

And the Iconic Character is really an all-faith play; you think your character is so awesome that you put them out there.

So, is writing a story that focuses on a badass character just a terrible idea?

I . . . Don’t Think So?

On one hand, it’s wrong to say it’s a terrible idea to write about anything (aside from really obviously bad shit, like Proud Boys writing about how Hitler wasn’t really a bad guy).

But on the other, holy shit is this dangerous.

It’s a lot to bank an entire story on a character’s badassedness. And, look, there’s a lot to Memory aside from Memory. There are other characters, other arcs, weird settings, etc.

But I am still going to have to do a ton of work to make sure her perspective is as unique and intriguing as I want it to be.

And, I guess if there’s any advice I could fashion out of this experience, it’s that: make sure that your Iconic Character is unique. If they’re just a reskin of Superman, they will get massively outshone when standing next to him.

But also, if you think you have something unique, keep working on it.

Thats what I’m going to do.

I’m very cautiously optimistic. I am at whatever level of DEFCON writers fall into when they develop a novel for practice (let’s say Danger Level Hot Pink). I am not assuming that Memory will get published.

But I am still working on it.

Because the best thing we can all do is keep putting in the time.

Keep fighting. Never give up.

~~~

Thanks for stopping by for this weird chain of consciousness. The nice thing about Memory is that I’m part of a writing group now with a two close friends who are giving me a bunch of feedback about it. I’m still just writing it for practice (trying to prepe my process for a follow up that I have a lot more faith inl, but I’ve also never had as much faith in Memory.

Anyway, if you’d like to be notified when I post again, it’s next Sunday (I usually post on Sundays). But if you’d like a straight up reminder emailed to you, you can always follow The House of Error via the buttons to the left on PC and the top-right menu on mobile.

Until next week, breathe easy, folks.

It’s Time to Keep Fighting

I . . .

I don’t even know where to start.

Yesterday, by 10PM, I had a massive headache from crying happy tears.

I didn’t think I’d cry at all at first.

But then . . .

And I just want to clarify that I wasn’t being dramatic there. The sensation that hit when the election was called for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris wasn’t relief that they won.

It was relief that there really would be a cure for Coronavirus that we’d have access to for free. 2020 has been bad for everyone, but the heart of my personal canvas of nightmares was, “The cure will be found in another country and Trump will refuse to import it because Regeneron (or whatever big pharma company he was shilling for) had a cure ‘coming soon,’ and we needed to wait for it because ‘it will be so much better!’ (so Regeneron could profiteer off the pandemic).”

And just typing that makes me want to jump to the alternate reality where Trump won so I could join their rebellion.

That was an absolute nightmare scenario for me. The idea that the cure would be available, but a rich person would demand I pay $300 per dose after losing my job because of a pandemic they didn’t bother to control.

But now, I don’t have to worry about that.

I get to just live.

Sure, there are still the other problems on that nightmare canvas.

But what matters is that I feel like I can honestly start working toward fixing those problems. I won’t get close to finishing a novel just to find out that, on his third term, Trump has started rounding up all Hispanic people in ICE camps.

Okay. I don’t want to just dip into the negative again: the point is, the world really sucked two days ago, and I’m glad it’s not as huge a feast for vultures anymore.

But if there’s one thing I want to say here to everyone who reads this, it’s the scope of that title.

It’s Time to Keep Fighting

It would be so easy to check out. A part of me just wants to let the relief wash me away so I never have to think about numbers, maps, or the colors red and blue ever again.

But that is not the world we live in. It never has been. If we’ve learned anything from the past four years, let it be that.

This is a time to be diligent. To remember not only that Republicans adopted a fascist as their leader, but those same Republicans, who gleefully embraced hatred for money, are still out there.

I see people talking about how we need to be kind to Trump supporters.

No.

No, we don’t.

It’s time for them to stop expecting the world to coddle them. Being nice and pampering them is the entire reason they feel comfortable screaming about not wearing masks. They get whatever they want–are born with so much privilege–that they think wearing a fucking mask is oppression. They need to lean to accept change and listen before screaming about what they want.

I’m not saying we need to go out and fight them. I know that many of us will have to try talking them down from the insane beliefs they’ve adopted (and my heart goes out to everyone who has Trumpers in their life–that weird inverse of “the talk” with your parents isn’t going to be fun).

But beyond that, they do not deserve our support or even our attention.

Our attention, from here on out, always has to be on fighting for our rights. We have to stay engaged with politics, encourage others to vote, help out however we can.

Right now, that means that we have to pay attention to the run-offs in Georgia. It sucks–I just want to never pay attention to another election ever again, but we cannot ignore this.

Click here to donate directly to Democrat Reverend Warnock’s campaign.

Click here to donate directly to Democrat Jon Ossoff’s campaign.

Click here for a Fast Company article listing other ways you can help with the run-offs.

And if you live in Georgia, please consider going full grassroots with friends and family members who aren’t registered, and get them to vote.

~~~

I understand that this post is super weird for this site–I never get political on here.

However, I really needed to say all of this.

Because people have been bitching for years that, “Your vote don’t matter!” and, “They gonna elect who they gonna elect!” but, America, we just proved them wrong.

Take care, stay safe, and, remember that it’s okay to believe.