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.

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!

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.

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

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

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

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

But, whatever, that’s a different post.

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

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

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

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

Second . . . yeah, shit got weird.

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

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

Aixa the Hexcaster 2: “I Love That Cleaver”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

You can check out AI Dungeon here.

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

Either way, thanks for passing by.

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 stormtropers.

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.

Or–

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

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

Most Stories Can’t Be This Clean Cut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m just begging you to please be responsible.

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

Please wield that power well.

~~~

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

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

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

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

Until next time, take care and stay safe.

Let’s Talk About – That Nostalgic FOBU

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

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

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

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

*5 minutes later*

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

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

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

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

But I came away from that play session shaken regardless.

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

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

The Olde Fear

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

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

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

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

The Nostalgia of It Was Weirdly . . . Comforting?

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

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

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

Because . . . Well, quick story:

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

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

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

Like, “Motherfucker, excuse me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . real talk: you’re already fine.

~~~

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

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

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

A Writer Watching – Titans, Episode 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Disappointing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Them: “ARE YOU GETTING IT!?”

    Me: . . . <unconscious>

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

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

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

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

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

    Gang A: “As requested.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Them bats gotta grit, I guess.

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

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

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

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

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

    And Robin is like, “Wha–What!?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And that amnesia plot is also gritty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Fucking . . . lame.

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

    And it just fucking sucks.

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

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

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

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

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

    Nah. They did my Beast Boy dirty.

    He looks . . . terrible.

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

I Hate Proxy Racist Characters

I tried watching Cobra Kai.

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

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

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

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

Cause, yeah, believe it or not . . .

I FUCKING HATE

RACIST CHARACTERS!

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

Which makes me sad.

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

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

So let’s define it.

The Proxy Racist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Tired of Racist Proxies Ruining Shows for Me

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

I had a passionate exchange with some friends about it.

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

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

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

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

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

But Racist Proxies Also Ruin Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not even the main villain, dude.”

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

“There’s another way, Bob.”

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

There’s Another Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

Until then, take care and stay safe!

Process in Progress #1 – The “Promises Outline”

My process has always been manic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “Promises Outline”

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

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

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

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

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

That said, let’s get to my process:

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

LS-ArchetypesExample

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

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

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

LS-PromisesExample

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

Typically, my design standard here is:

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

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

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

LS-Ch1OutlineExample

Chapter Number: Chapter Title

Chapter Number.Scene Number

Promise Title

Promise Title

Promise Title

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

Until then, please stay safe and take care!