What I Learned from Xiran Jay Zhao – The Art of Almost Never Using the Same Setting Twice

*Updated in February of 2022 to use the author’s pronouns.

**This is a spoiler-free post.

Hello and welcome to the very first installment of a new series I’m calling “What I Learned From . . . ,” where I’ll be talking about one thing I learned from an author I’ve read.

This series is ridiculously long overdue; I love reading and I learn things from authors all the time. I think I’ve shied away because sometimes I learn things from authors’ mistakes and I never want to come off as anything but respectful. But I decided I’m just going to focus on authors I’m a huge fan of.

Which is why, today, I’m talking about Xiran Jay Zhao.

I learned a lot of things from reading Iron Widow, but one thing in particular stuck out–a pacing technique that I think is next-level amazing, so I had to share it here:

Zhao’s Technique of
Almost Never Using the Same Setting Twice

I mentioned this in last week’s post, but Zhao almost never uses the same setting twice in Iron Widow.

And, just to be clear, Iron Widow is not an epic journey Fantasy; the novel does not center on a quest from one part of a world map to another. It’s actually fairly stationary.

But it doesn’t feel stationary at all because even though the characters stay in certain locations / return to certain locations a bunch of times, Zhao almost never reuses the same part of those locations. For example, the second scene on an estate might take place in a gazebo on the grounds instead of returning to the office used in a previous scene.

What does all of this bring to the plot?

Mobility & a Hook

Zhao’s use of settings made a fairly stationary plot feel incredibly mobile. Even when it returned to places we’d already been, there was a certainty in the back of my mind that something new would happen in that setting, conveyed by literally new sights to catch my interest.

It got extremely addictive almost immediately.

Like, you’re already reading Iron Widow because you’re really into the characters and the drama is so good–but also, subliminally, you’re excited to see where the plot literally goes next.

It’s Also a Vehicle for Descriptive Writing . . . & a Hook

Zhao has such an affinity for descriptions; they just go in describing a cool new setting in a way that blows your mind, and reading how they describe things immediately becomes its own hook, which I haven’t experienced since reading The Vagrant, by Peter Newman.

But to stop myself from devolving into how great Zhao’s descriptions are, I’ll just say that the point is, if you’re great with descriptions, continually introducing and describing new settings the way Zhao does might be the way to go for you.

At the very least, it’s worth an afternoon writing exercise.

Using Settings-Within-A-Setting
Can Also Make Scenes More Memorable?

I seriously feel like I can recount everything that happened in Iron Widow beat-for-beat, in perfect order.

On one hand, that might be because the plot and characters were so memorable and the drama was so juicy.

But I also think it’s because I remember the graduation of certain settings-within-settings, which I’m going to call micro-settings from here on out because it’s easier to type.

What I’m getting at is that I remember, and can clearly differentiate, the scene that took place in the living room of the one apartment and the scene that took place in the kitchen of that same apartment.

And I feel like there’s an inherent value there; I don’t want to make this post too much longer, but there’s absolutely a dissertation in the application of Zhao’s micro-settings. How they can be used to create visceral associations to specific moods; how reminders of those micro-settings can snap a reader back into those moods very easily. How they can be used to convey character growth by only returning to a micro-setting from previous scenes when characters and / or circumstances have significantly changed.

But, more than anything, how they can be paired with significant events to make those events–and the scene where they happen–more memorable.

Also, if you write a dissertation on this, please let me know where I can read it. Not a joke.

Finally, I Mean . . . Why Not?

If you’re writing a fantasy novel . . . you can just do this with your settings and there’s no consequences. You aren’t beholden to a budget; you can use whatever settings you want for whatever scenes.

Disclaimer: I definitely I get why you wouldn’t though. And I understand that maybe you shouldn’t. There’s nothing wrong, in any way, with reusing specific rooms for multiple scenes. In fact, doing so might be essential to your WIP–especially if you’re writing a location-based story; off the top of my head, something like Harry Potter relies on returning to certain locations to make the audience feel familiar with / comfortably rooted in Hogwarts. But even if a story only reuses one setting, that setting can be pivotal to cementing a vibe (like the conspiratorial feel of Mistborn being bolstered by returning to the gang’s hideout).

That said . . . you can still make your stationary story feel incredibly mobile if that’s something you want to do.

And even if it isn’t, I can’t help feeling like it’s worth remembering that we can make our stories take place wherever we want. Even if it’s within a small part of a setting we’ve already established, that tiny bit can house a really awesome moment. And why shouldn’t it?


Thanks for reading!

It felt great to write this one. In the wide, messy spectrum of stuff I post on this site, this felt like Content Prime. Like this series is what I should’ve been writing from the beginning, combining my habit of over-analyzing things with my love for writing Fantasy. Seriously, if I could add a spreadsheet to this somehow, it would be the single most me post I’ve ever written.

Anyway, I post every Sunday and sometimes Monday. If you enjoyed what you read, I always appreciate Likes and Follows. They both help steer the direction of my future content and build my platform.

Because I forgot to say it last week, to anyone doing NaNoWriMo 2021, I wish you good luck! I believe in you! And also, if this is your first time, you just took the super important step of starting a WIP. No matter what happens, that’s an amazing first step that takes a lot of guts and it’s worth celebrating . . . in December. You have to work on your work count for today. Hang in there!

Anyway, until next week, take care, stay hydrated, and I miss D&D. Yep–I’m using these salutations to vent; I miss D&D, guys. The next time you play, please roll a natural 1 just for me. And when you do, raise a clenched fist and shout, “Damn you, Louis Santiago!” as loud as you can. And when your friends are like, “Who’s Louis Santiago?” don’t tell them. LOL Just be like, “Ya know. Louis Santiago. Anyway, did I drop my sword?”

. . . These salutations are getting weirder and longer every goddamn time–I swear.

Anyway, bye!

Something to Read / Watch / Play – October 2021

Happy Halloween!

Nothing on this list is scary.

I’m sorry, but I’m just not into theming these posts for holidays. At least not yet.

What I am into: taking a little break from publishing long, monstrous posts . . . by promoting some stuff I recently read, watched, and played that were really good.

Something to Read:

Have you ever followed a YouTuber for a few months and then found out that they’re a Sci-Fi / Fantasy author whose debut novel just came out? Have you ever decided to check it out and were so utterly hooked by the first page that you dropped everything you were doing, bought an ebook of it, and binge-read it for hours?

That was me when I decided to check out Iron Widow, by Xiran Jay Zhao.

The novel follows Wu Zetian, a young woman who decides to enlist as a concubine co-pilot of a mech, the Nine-Tailed Fox, so that she can kill its celebrity pilot. Why? Because that celebrity pilot killed her sister: one of the many concubines that he and other pilots sacrifice to power their mechs in battles against alien creatures.

And that . . . is . . . just the exposition.

Yeah, that’s not even the entire premise. Seriously, that’s just the set up.

Iron Widow is a beautifully written novel that repeatedly surprised me. It did so many things I wasn’t expecting that I actually had no idea how it was going to end while I was reading it. And then it did end and I’m still reeling.

Just such a wild, unique, awesome ride of a Sci-Fi / Fantasy novel.

Also, it has really well-crafted, extremely visual descriptions.

And an extremely well-paced plot (to the point that I want to write a post about Zhao’s technique of almost never using the same setting twice, which blew my mind).

Also, great characters that you root for even though some of them have done some terrible things. Seriously, where some novels briefly mention that there’s a grey area between their heroes and villains, Iron Widow dives in, head first, and just stays there.

Finally, on top of all of that, there’s a romance that also just . . . I can’t. Just read the book! I want to talk about the romance and how beautiful it was, but I also, desperately want to avoid spoilers.

Please note that the novel does touch on topics like suicide and physical/emotional abuse, so if you are sensitive to those topics, it may not be the right book for you.

But if you’re okay with those topics, I cannot recommend Iron Widow enough.

Something to Watch:

Ah ha! It turns out there is something vaguely spooky on this list!

Am I Halloweening correctly?

I could have given you a confectionary treat, but instead, I have given you . . . a deception!

Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m doing it right.

Look, if you’re reacting to this pick like, “Wait. A YouTube video about wrestling?” let me immediately say, “I know.”

I get it–I haven’t watched wrestling in about 20 years, and I’ve never regarded it as a legitimate medium for fiction.

However . . . one of the guys in my writing group brought up how one of our projects unwittingly used a technique that pops up in professional wrestling of all places. The technique in question was elevating one villain by having them squash another, more consistently present villain from the first act. And when I learned that technique had a name in wrestling, of all places, I was extremely intrigued.

So that guy from the writing group recommended a YouTube channel that regularly talks about storytelling in professional wrestling. And this video, “The Undertaker: Long Term Story Telling in Wrestling,” hit me hard. Not just because of its polish or the emotion it invokes, but because I never noticed how unique of a storytelling medium professional wrestling is or how intricate its characterizations can be.

If you have a half hour and want to either celebrate an avenue of storytelling you already love or dip your toes into a completely new realm of living fiction, then check out “The Undertaker: Long Term Story Telling in Wrestling.”

Something to Play:

I mean . . . I usually want to talk about lesser known things with these “Read/Watch/Play” posts, but I already talked about Iron Widow, which was a New York Times Bestseller before I even started reading it, so whatever.

And besides, Metroid: Dread is amazing.

It is . . . extremely hard. Like, surprisingly, mind-bogglingly difficult for a Nintendo game. Having died a total of maybe twelve times in total across all of my casual playthroughs of previous Metroid titles, I died in Dread a lot. Seriously, getting to certain stealth segments required flipping a switch in my brain like, “Time to die, like, 10 times in a row!” The last boss alone took me an hour to get through.

The thing is . . . that level of difficulty feels incredibly appropriate for the series.

Because Metroid has always had an element of skill shot. It has always been the platformer where you can either wait for Space Jump or perfectly time your Morph Ball Bombs to get to an otherwise inaccessible area.

You can wait until you get the Screw Attack to get up this tunnel, or you can learn to wall jump right now.

In the original Metroid, you can wait to get the Bombs so you can get the Ice Beam like a normal person or . . . you can learn to execute a screen wrap in 1987, before the terms “screen wrap” or “speedrunning” even existed. Obviously, a screen wrap is an exploit that wasn’t intentional, but everyone still knew about it, so of course it bled into the identity of the series (evidenced by things like the ability to sequence break the original Metroid II: Return of Samus by running through lava without the Varia Suit, and the ability to get the Ice Beam early in Super Metroid by executing a bunch of difficult tricks).

My point is, Metroid has always had a high skill ceiling.

And Metroid: Dread leans all the way into that design philosophy, bringing back the parry skill shots from Samus Returns, giving you an extremely narrow chance to counter enemies that are about to insta-kill you, etc.–and, to me, it all feels completely and utterly Metroid.

Accepting the skill shotiness of Metroid also means that Mercury Stream was able to fashion what are, hands down, some of the best boss fights in any Metroid title. Bosses, which would usually be a thing to coast by, became amazing, challenging treats that felt so rewarding to overcome that when some of them didn’t give me an upgrade, I didn’t go like, “What? No Power Bombs?” I was just like, “No! Is the boss dead? . . . Can I just fight it again? Is there a Boss Rush??”

Combat is fluid and fast, but early-game encounters teach you to respect every enemy you come across, so that, late game, when you’re finally fully powered, you respect that power so much more.

Exploration is definitely more limited than it used to be. Dread still chooses to deliver a story and experience on a more linear path than other Metroid titles.

But the story and experience that are delivered are so completely different from what you’ve come to expect from the series that even I–a dude who values free roam mechanics over everything–didn’t really care, because I also appreciate when a series dives head first into new, weird territory. Metroid: Dread presents a totally new villain who still feels perfectly in line with the series, but also a new planet. New enemies. New [redacted to save you from spoilers].

Most importantly, it did what I now accept as the true hook of the series: pushing Samus Aran into perpetually newer, stranger situations that she perseveres through, getting more badass and more . . . weird every time. Did you think it was strange when she almost died in Fusion and had to have Metroid DNA spliced into her own DNA to save her? Child’s play.

Would I love it if the next game gave you more freedom to explore? Absolutely. Would I still buy DLC for Dread even if I knew it was completely linear? In a heartbeat.

What I’m saying here is . . . Metroid: Dread is really good. If you haven’t played it yet and you’re looking for a beautifully designed, challenging 2D platformer that will not hold your hand, then give Dread a shot.


That’s it for me. I’ll be back next week.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider giving it a Like or giving me a Follow!

Until next time though, stay safe, take care, and always remember that a minority doesn’t have to prove their minority-ness to you. It literally doesn’t matter who you are; you don’t get to judge a Japanese person for not knowing a lot about Japanese cuisine, or a Brazilian person for not speaking Portuguese. If all else fails, the simple test goes as follows: Think, “What am I?” Whatever the answer is–for this case, let’s say, “Irish”–ask yourself if you know the information about your own culture that you’re about to roast someone else for not knowing about theirs; for example, “Can I speak Gaelic?” or “Do I know everything about traditional Irish food?” If the answer is “No,” then shut your fucking mouth. If the answer is, “Yes,” then shut your fucking mouth. Not being able to speak a language doesn’t somehow lessen the amount of bullshit a minority goes through, and, ironically, when someone else expects us to be a full glossary of information for our cultures, that’s just another level of bullshit being foisted onto us. An ethnicity is not a goddamn monolith.

Anyway, enjoy the rest of your Ghosts ‘n Candy Day!

What If… Someone Made a Smash Clone for Fantasy Fiction?

Disclaimer: Let me say right out the gate that this entire post is me being a huge nerd. That’s all it is–no insights about writing or documentation about my current work in progress. All it is: me mashing up two things I love in a way I’m not sure overlaps for a lot of people. So if you’re not a gamer and a reader of Fantasy, this post might not be for you.

For everyone else: holy shit!

You guys . . . what if there was a Smash Bros. clone for Fantasy fiction characters?

I need to back up; let me explain.

Two weeks ago, Sora was announced as the final DLC fighter for Smash Bros. Ultimate.

And I have to be real here: I didn’t care that it was Sora.

Nothing against him or Kingdom Hearts; I just don’t have a close connection with those games. Worse, the trailer really made it look like the Chosen Undead or Ashen One from Dark Souls was going to be the last fighter, which blew my mind so hard for five seconds that anything else could only be a let down.

Like many a disappointed nerd that week, I turned my thoughts to who I would’ve preferred instead of Sora (the easiest fucking choice in the world being Urbosa from Breath of the Wild, who I will champion from now on as the next Zelda character we need). Alucard was a close second.

But naturally, my mind went, “How about Memory?”

Memory, if you’re new here, is the masked bureaucrat-ninja-assassin-protagonist of my current WIP. And I surprised myself when I imagined her in Smash because, “Holy shit. I found it; the only daydream more indulgent than imagining my novel becoming a million-dollar Summer blockbuster: imagining my character getting into Smash before Waluigi.”

“Or, like, Harry Potter. Or Frodo. Or any other classic Fantasy character that–“

I texted one of the guys is my writing group immediately.

We went back and forth about how much we’d love a Smash clone full of Fantasy characters.

At one point he said, “I want you to write a post about this.”

I seriously sent him back pictures of the draft I was already working on.

Everyone . . . please indulge me in what is undoubtedly one of my nerdiest posts ever: my roster for the Fantasy fiction Smash clone that I now want more than anything in the world.

The Core Eight

First thing first: let’s do this right.

If we’re doing this like Smash, then we need to have the eight, core characters. The ones who would be in the very first iteration of the game and all of its sequels, even if the rest of the cast fluctuates. The backbone of the franchise, without whom it wouldn’t exist. Everyone’s picks would be different, but here are mine:

  1. Frodo – I mean, come on. Not only does he feel like the #1 must-have, but I honestly think he’d control like Mario in Smash, with the same speed and size.
  2. Harry Potter – The titular boy wizard from the famous series written by Hatsune Miku. I’d probably never play as him despite loving those books, but he should be in the game regardless.
  3. Aslan – Having only read the last of the Chronicles of Narnia when I was eight (and didn’t know better), I was hard pressed to pick one character. In the end, Aslan felt like an appropriately-video-gamey choice because he’d be a literal fucking magic lion in the roster.
  4. Drizzt Do’Urden – I will be totally real here: The Legend of Drizzt is one of the ones that got away for me. It’s a hole in my Fantasy knowledge that I need to shore up. But the one thing I know about him: he feels like a great, classic Fantasy addition to the core eight. Like, how could we not have at least one of the common Fantasy races in here? I know he’s a Drow and not a traditional Elf, but wha-a-a-a-atever.
  5. Lyra & Pantalaimon – It is extremely hard picking out only eight core characters for the theoretical first game, but Lyra & Pantalaimon feel like such a good addition to the roster. They’d be the first game’s weird team-character with a complicated move set that would absolutely dominate at Evo.
  6. Shadow Moon – We just need a Neil Gaiman character here. I was going to pick the Sandman because I feel like he’s Gaiman’s most iconic character, but it felt wrong to dip into graphic novels.
  7. Kvothe – I know there are many more classic fantasy characters who could fit into this spot, but it just felt weird to not feature the protagonist of one of the most popular modern Fantasy series out there.
  8. Vin from Mistborn – Of the Core Eight, ladies and gentlemen, may I present . . . my main. I have seriously been waiting to see a movie and/or play a video game about Vin for nearly 20 years. If this game was real, she would be my very first pick, hands down. *Also, just a reminder that this is my list, and if I was producing the game, Vin would have to be up there.

The Sequel Additions
“These people seriously weren’t in the original!?”

If choosing the Core Eight taught me anything, it’s that the first game would definitely need to have more than eight characters.

But if we’re following the Smash model for fun, then these are the equivalent of that Melee-specific vibe of, “Wait–Bowser wasn’t in the original? What?”

  1. Conan – He is so culturally present that he’d probably be in the Core Eight if this game was real, but I’m imagining a world where lesser known characters are highlighted first. And also, I seriously just don’t have the emotional strength to keep rearranging that top eight.
  2. Geralt, the Witcher – I can’t help feeling like he wouldn’t be in the first game for licensing reasons. But I can dream that he’d eventually be there. A part of me wants him to be a totally new take on the character, but, realistically, he’d be the CD Projekt Red version, which means he’d also be a video game crossover character. Also, his last two color choices would be variants of his Netflix look.
  3. John Snow – I honestly just don’t think HBO would be like, “Yes, you can put a version of a character who was on our TV show in your indie game.” Maybe I’m wrong, but I think John would be one of the major “How the fuck was he not in the first one?” characters who would drum up excitement until HBO and George R. R. Martin gave in. His reveal trailer would be trending and he’d absolutely sic Ghost on his opponent with his Side Special.
  4. Ged from A Wizard of Earthsea- I have no idea how Ged would play, but that just makes me want him in it even more?
  5. Rand Al’Thor from The Wheel of Time – Everyone has their massive, Tolkien-esque, 80’s Fantasy series they read a ton of, and everyone would definitely put that series’ protagonist in this spot. For me, Rand is here because my 80’s Fantasy series was The Wheel of Time.
  6. Katniss Everdeen – Again, I introduce you to my motherfucking main. She’d have her bow on Neutral Special, freely aimed by holding down B, firing when released.

My Personal Must-Haves

Okay, look–I know the structure of this post is unravelling fast. And I apologize for that.

But . . . I mean . . . I fell into a rabbit-hole imagining the characters I would lose my mind for and you can’t blame me for that!

  1. Sabriel, the Abhorsen – Seriously, I got chills when I imagined playing as her in any video game. I realize I need to do a post about how much Garth Nix’s Abhorsen Trilogy influenced my writing.
    Neutral Special is “Necromancer’s Bells,” which changes all of her inputs to Ranna, Mosrael, Kibeth, and the rest of the bells. Different combinations have different effects, but also the speed that you ring them influences the strength of those effects (so you can ring them quickly for a few seconds of buffs/debuffs, or you can absolutely flex on someone by taking a full 10 seconds to ring the bells while an enemy’s recovering). The idea that she, a necromancer, would have more time to ring her bells when opponents are weaker (i.e. she’d be stronger when opponents are closer to death) is some of the tightest theming I’ve ever made up without realizing.
  2. Westley from The Princess Bride – If I wasn’t already down to buy this imaginary game, I literally just shouted, “WHAT!?” in my room when I saw him in my head-canon trailer. I would preorder it so fast to play as Westley.
    I imagine all of his Specials being parries that look the same but have wildly different effects (Up as a vault over the opponent’s head, Side to shove the opponent back, Neutral to deal extra damage, Down to trip them and set up combos?).
  3. Inigo Montoya – My other main. I can’t even right now. Why can’t this game be real!? He’d probably be an Echo Fighter of Westley, but I can’t help feeling like he would be insulted by that?
  4. Commander Vimes from Discworld – I imagine him being like Pokemon Trainer; you can swap between him and other members of the Watch on the fly, swapping through movesets.
  5. Arya Stark – It’s weird that I almost forgot to add her here, but that’s 100% because of season 8. It’s wild how that season made me forget that ages before the show was even announced, I thought Arya Stark was the fucking best. I would absolutely want her in with the stipulation that she’s novel Arya (which would never happen). Also, I was going to roll into a joke about how this theoretical game will come out before Winds, but then I got sad because that might actually be true.
    Down Special would let her change faces with her opponent, making her the absolute best for mind-games in hectic matches.
  6. The Strength and Patience of the Hill from The Raven Tower – I mean . . . how much more rad of a Fantasy character can you get than a fucking rock who’s also a god? This is another character I can’t imagine the moveset for but want to play as anyway so badly.
  7. The Malice – It was her or the Vagrant, and I just couldn’t help going with the Malice. To be totally fair and true to myself though . . . I wouldn’t go with either of them if it meant I could have the Hammer that Walks & the Goat as a playable character.
  8. The Hammer that Walks & the Goat – I just remembered this is my list.
  9. Wu Zetian from Iron Widow – It just came out (I just read it), so, first thing’s first: please skip to the next section, “The Rounded-Out Roster,” if you want to avoid spoilers for Iron Widow.
    With that out of the way, I’m imagining Zetian in her Vermillion Bird Spirit Armor for sure. Highly aerial and mobile, but never walking around because of her lotus feet.
    Her Final Smash has to be “Welcome to your nightmare.” It just has to be. It can be one of those Final Smash’s that you have to catch someone with at close range. And when you do, your opponent gets dropped into a Chrysalis pilot seat, Zetian behind them. They get the shit beaten out of them in her mind realm, and then the super ends with her dropping their body, standing over them, and shouting, “Welcome to your nightmare!”
    Just the ultimate flex.
    Also, for the record, I want Shimin and Yizhi both to be playable as well, but I desperately want to avoid spoilers here.

The Rounded-Out Roster

Okay. I’m just going to wrap up here with all of the characters I can think of. But also, I’m absolutely going to stop too soon because A) there are so many awesome characters in the Fantasy genre–this list will seriously never be done–and B) I’ve been maintaining critical levels of hype for too long, so I have to just let this one go.

Thus, in no particular order, under no particular heading, is everyone else I think would be / who I’d want to be in the game:

  • Bilbo (Echo Fighter of Frodo) – It was either Sam or Bilbo who would be an Echo Fighter. The clincher was the realization that, “Ah, of course Frodo and Bilbo would both have ‘Don the Ring’ on Down Special.”
  • Sam – I have no idea what his moveset would be, but I want him in it. Maybe if you’re playing on teams, Frodo will just collapse at 200% and Sam has to literally carry him for the rest of the match.
  • Gandalf – Without a doubt his final Smash would be him fighting his opponents like the Balrog. I mean how could it not be? Imagining it starting with “You shall not pass!” is enough to make my entire playstyle revolve around getting that Smash Ball.
  • Gollum – It was him or Sauron and I just feel like Sauron would be more of a stage hazard on the Mount Doom stage.
  • Aragorn – We have to just accept that this game is 75% sword fighters. It’s just worse than Smash in that regard . . . Unless, wait, is it? I’m not kidding–I’m looking at the roster and I think this game might somehow have fewer sword fighters than Ultimate?
  • Hermoine Granger – Her moveset would definitely be similar to Harry’s, but I feel like she’d have better spells–or maybe use the same spells in a totally different way because she’s a genius. Maybe all of the moves that are spells can be held to get her to perfectly pronounce Leviosa–for example–making it significantly stronger.
  • Ron Weasley (Echo Fighter of Harry Potter) – You need him for the trinity for sure.
  • Luna Lovegood / Your Favorite Potter Character(?) – It’s my list, so it’s absolutely Luna, but I think Potter characters could easily be the “Fire Emblem characters” of this franchise. Everyone’s waiting on playable Smaug, but Cedric Diggory gets announced and it’s like, “Fucking . . . really?”
  • Voldemort – For his Side Special, he can summon his pet snake, Nagini, who–as you and I know–has always been just a big snake and nothing else.
  • Brienne of Tarth – Not only would I put her in it, I’d make sure her kit as strong and technical as possible, so her skill ceiling would be through the absolute roof. Evo finals would probably be Brienne VS Lyra & Pantalaimon.
    Or, ya know, Pippin V. Pippin on Mount Doom over and over and over.
  • Daenerys Targaryen – Her Final Smash would be “Dracarys,” which would 1) activate an unskippable, four-minute cut-scene of the “Dracarys” moment 2) kill all of her opponents 3) log all other players out of the game, and 4) uninstall it from their console / PC so they have to download it again.
    I’m kidding. It wouldn’t do that. It would just melt their console / PC.
  • Lirael (Echofighter) – She’d have the pan-pipes instead . . . I just sighed. Seriously, I love The Abhorsen Trilogy, everybody.
  • Kelsier – Paradoxically, he’s already in Fortnite, although, I would not want to use his look from that game. No shade on whoever does the character designs for Fortnite, but he just looks like a frat guy in Kelsier cosplay?
  • Sazed – I can’t even imagine how to retrofit Feruchemy for Smash, and I feel like that’s . . . a good sign?
  • Auri – No idea how she’d play, but I just imagined finding her on a character select screen and went, “What!? Are you serious!? Auri’s in it!?” and I feel like that means she has to be.
  • Fezzik from The Princess Bride – I don’t even care what his moves would be–I would just taunt all day.
    “We face each other as God intended. Sportsmanlike. No tricks, no weapons. Skill against skill alone.”
    “I just want you to feel you’re doing well.”
  • Maggie Hoskie – It would just be rad to play as Maggie, who would be such an awesome, clean fit for this game. Her Final Smash would definitely be her letting in Honágháahnii.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell – I really shouldn’t put them together since they’re so at odds in their novel. But also . . . it somehow feels right to have them be a Pokemon Trainer-style team? Like, the longer you play as one of them, the stronger the other one becomes when they get tagged in, as if they need to one-up each other?
  • Death, Captain Carrot, and a Bunch of Other Characters from Discworld – It’s been ages since I read a Discworld novel, and making this list made me realize I really need to get on that.
  • Harry Dresden, Percy Jackson, Julian of Macedonia, Quentin Coldwater, and the Countless Others I Missed

Phew. I have seriously been tweaking this post for two weeks, and I just have to let it go.

If you stuck around, thanks for nerding out with me. I don’t usually write totally self-indulgent stuff like this, but I just couldn’t expel the hype for this completely imaginary game any other way.

I find it funny now that the original inkling for this idea was “Memory in Smash,” but somehow, I can’t convince myself to add Memory to this list of amazing characters. Maybe it’s because, in the end, the real excitement is just celebrating this mass of characters I grew up with. The depressing thing is that we don’t live in a world where this game would ever exist.

But the awesome thing is that I realize I have a ton of Fantasy characters I haven’t experienced yet. And that thought has made me happier than anything has in a long time.

The Poppy War is seriously right in front of me; like, abstractly, it’s next on my TBR list, yeah, but it’s also literally 10 feet away from me, on a table. I can see it from where I’m sitting.

The idea that I can post this, go make some tea, and then start reading it is an absolute treasure that feels somehow out of place in the existential nightmare that the world has become.

The plan was to work on my resume and do some other tasks.

But . . . Yeah, I’m putting a pot on. The resume can wait.

I want to get lost in another world again.


That’s it for me. If you enjoyed this post, I post here every Sunday / Monday morning. I write anything from posts about my writing process and status reports on my WIP to detailed movie critiques and random musings about the writing in general. You can find links to my most popular series on the red bar on the left side of the screen on PC or the top-right drop-down menu on mobile.

That’s also where you can find my Follow button if you want giant walls of text like this one emailed to you whenever I post. Likes are also always appreciated so I can tell how many people like what content going forward.

Until next time, take care and stay hydrated, and always remember that the Golem effect is real! Bye!

Something to Read / Watch / Play – May 2021

I’m getting this post out a bit later than I normally would . . . for about the exact reason I decided to take a break this week.

I had . . . a weird week.

Not terrible, but definitely exhausting. I got my sleeping schedule in order, which is cool, but every night since, all of my dreams have involved different people from my past?

As if I’m a character in one of my own goddamn books, I go to sleep, dream about a character from my backstory in a friendly, intimate scenario that never happened, and then I wake up like, “Why?”

Whatever. Point is, I wasn’t feeling it this week.

But, I started doing a new thing last month where, every day, I have to do something new. Watch something I’ve never watched, eat something I’ve never eaten, etc. I kinda love it.

And, since starting that, I’ve wanted to make a series to talk about the new things I’ve enjoyed the most.

And I figured, “Why not make my ‘Break’ posts into that?” so here we are.

Keep in mind that this is going to be an extremely laid back post (because I still want it to feel like a Break).

But with that said, let’s kick off this new “Something to Read / Watch / Play” series with . . .

Something to Read:

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie takes a bit to ramp up. But when it does, it really does.

I will spoil absolutely nothing here. I feel like I can’t talk about it without ruining some part of the experience.

So all I will say is, if you’re down for reading a Fantasy novel that presents an extremely interesting take on gods, interwoven with a political mystery / intrigue plot, and written with a masterful use of second person perspective, check out The Raven Tower.

No lie–kind of embarrassing–I hugged my copy for ten minutes when I finished reading it. So good!

Something to Watch:

I . . . am still shocked by how good HBO’s Watchmen series was.

It is nothing like Zack Snyder’s adaptation; all the ways that movie completely missed the mark of the original comics, this show does not. Clearly created by someone who read and loved the source material.

Actually, speaking of the source material, you will need to read Alan Moore’s original Watchmen series before watching this. If you haven’t, the Watchmen comic is still really good (a gateway drug the same way A Game of Thrones was for Fantasy), but if you’ve already read it, you can jump right in.

I was a little let down by the finale, but in the end, when I tried to guess how this story came to be (a game I play with all fiction), I assumed it was a plot someone lovingly crafted for decades after reading the graphic novel, and then fought for years to get it published somewhere. No idea if that’s true, but it feels true.

If you’re looking for a superhero show that dives head first into really heavy issues and fleshes out nearly all of its characters, check out Watchmen. As a nerd out of time, perpetually watching / playing / reading things years after the hype has died down, I’m telling you that Watchmen has my vote for Best Comic Book Show Ever Released.

Something to Play:

I almost don’t want to write this, because I just want to keep it for myself.

But . . .

Spiritfarer . . . is beautiful.

Beautiful in a way that no other game I’ve ever played is beautiful.

And, man, I’ve written this section so many times, deleted it, and started over because if I say exactly how I feel about it this game, it would color your experience with it, and that would be absolutely criminal.

So I will just say Spiritfarer is important to me in a way other games aren’t. It perfectly balances its story and mechanics, something that games that try to be emotionally impactful usually struggle with.

I recommend playing it. Specifically though, I recommend experiencing Spiritfarer alone, without looking anything up.

Just do what feels right.

And I hope that it helps you the same way it helped me.


Alright. I’m gonna go relax and mentally prepare for the dentist appointment I have tomorrow.

Until next time, stay safe, hug your animals, and eat your oatmeal.

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 triggered me.

Because, based on promo videos, I thought it was another Star Wars game that let us play as redeemable, likable space nazis, and my reaction was, “The world does not fucking need likable space nazis in anything we watch, read, or play.” And, again, yeah, I get it–that game isn’t actually about stormtroopers.

But holy shit 2020 has been long…

A few weeks back, in my post about how much I hate Proxy Racist characters, 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 it. 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 a YA novel with a toxic relationship, and assume 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.


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 “he’s a monster” 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.

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Until next time, take care and stay safe.