A Brand New… Vamlemtime’s Day Tribute to Baelbericht, the “War of Exiles” Character Who Got Away

If there’s one thing I love to do on this blog, it’s say one thing and be all, ” ‘S fuckin’ right, dude. S’a way to do it!” but then totally come from the other hand with, “<sigh>… Yeah… That’s the… way to do it. *sniff*”

So, hey, I thought I’d do some of the latter to celebrate this Valentine’s Day. And, ya know, maybe talk about writing at the same time—maybe stumble upon some kind of meaningful, important concept… maybe.

But, really, the learning—the important concept—shit’s not important. What’s important is paying tribute to a character who, I realized earlier today, totally did not make it to the rewrite of War of Exiles. Ladies and gentlemen, this post is for my friend…

<3 Baelbericht <3

So last year, Week 13 of Brand New Day, I wrote a post that was all about how I’d deleted a character. That was Ozi, who I’d called “the Laughing Ghost.” Still love that guy, still totally going to use him somewhere else (and I’m really excited for that), but this isn’t about him. In that post, I talked about how great and important it was to delete a character and chapter that were just not working with the rest of the plot. That’s still a good and healthy thing to do because a lot of aspiring fantasy writers (and I’ve totally been guilty of this) tend to add way too many ideas to one world or plot. The result?

Well, think of it like cooking; you’re trying to make your first dish the very best dish ever, which isn’t the worst idea, only you try to do it by adding in everything that sounds delicious… which is, like, everything in the cupboards. There’s already a jalapeno in there (intrigue?), but fuck it—empty the jar. Chocolate (romance) is awesome, so I’m going to throw that in there! Wait! Lemons (Jar Jar Binks)!? Going in! That last one was a joke, but the point’s gotta be clear; whether or not these elements are good or bad, they can’t all work jammed together with no rhyme or reason. Even a trained chef can’t make every single awesome element work in the same composition (i.e. why Dinosaurs aren’t in Game of Thrones). The discerning writer knows this and it’s ultimately why deleted scenes / characters / chapters happen.

But sometimes, deleted scenes are awesome and that’s what this post is (supposed to be) about.

Baelbericht was an awesome character who I really loved. He was a barbarian (they aren’t called that in my story, but I don’t want to get into the mess of naming analogue races [or, ya know, the mess of analogue races] right now, so I’ll just say barbarian). He had an awesome weapon that was so cool I’m not even going to talk about it. I will say that his shoulder guards were bear skulls (only the skulls were faced inward, so that it looked like he’d shoved his arms down their throats)… Not really sure how that armor worked out visually, but it was a cool, smaller detail on a character I liked a bunch.

Of course, the thing is though, I totally didn’t remember he wasn’t in the book, which says a lot about my capability to love things, right? But months ago, I’d planned out exactly how and when he would make his appearance in the rewrite.

It just didn’t happen.

So am I going to go back and write him in? Well, of course not. That’d be ridiculous and although I’m on a really awesome writing schedule right now, I don’t have time for bullshit like adding a character into chapter six and editing back up to twelve.

And really… Looking back at this character who I’d thought was so damn awesome, at this point, is like looking back at another time in my life. It’s perhaps, the same reason why I took out Ozi; I’m different now in the same way that the rewrite is different. Two years ago, War of Exiles was something else. Something I enjoyed at the time, but something that was, ultimately supposed to be a really quick project written by someone who definitely hadn’t read enough fantasy or tried to do anything more than create analog races (in a written story, at least [the series I started planning back in high school had a bunch of original races that I often go back and tinker with]).

When it came down to it though, the me I am now, nearly at the end of this extremely weird time in my life, just didn’t remember Baelbericht. Somewhere between figuring out (and always [always] writing down) exactly how my characters feel and just which twists are / should be hinted at in a scene, I’d completely forgotten to put in the generic dude with the crazy bear armor and the wicked cool weapon. And the plot (sorry, Bael) totally forgot as well. Because it isn’t a plot about giant warrior dudes battling zombies with their electric guitars (I swear that never happened in the first draft); it’s a plot about emotional people with real problems, thrown into a terrifying situation and trying to get out of it (add a bit of jalapeno).

So what’s my point here? How is this even a Valentine’s Day post? What does it have to do with anything?

Well, a major part of love is letting go, right? Whether it’s letting go of insecurities so you can trust someone or letting go of the one who got away so you can find someone else, goodbyes are essential for love.

So I thought it was appropriate I say goodbye to Baelbericht tonight.

I know I’ll see him again somewhere down the line, and I know that when I do, it’ll be awesome and he’ll be a real character. But for me, it’s just one of those Valentine’s Days that’s all about letting go.

Brand New Day – Week 13 – Things Unsaid

Last night, I decided to delete a chapter and a new character from the book.

Don’t freak out! Doing this hasn’t set me back at all. To the contrary, getting rid of an entire chapter and a new character who wasn’t exactly helping is incredibly healthy. Particularly for a first time writer who intends to submit to agents with strict guidelines for manuscript length; part of the reason I’m rewriting War of Exiles in the first place is that the original version was over 100 pages too long.

That wasn’t the entire problem though; it was too long and there were so many unnecessary plot points that I didn’t know what to delete and what to leave in. It was like looking at a tower of bricks loosely stacked on a tangle of wooden chairs and being told that you had to pull out half the bricks and chairs without bringing down the tower. In contrast, deleting Chapter 4 when I’m only up to Chapter 7? Getting rid of Ozi entirely? Saving him for a short story? Completely worth it.

In retrospect, the inability to make this kind of cut is what left me with a 461 page, bricks-and-chairs-golem of a first novel. And to me, it’s one of the things that separates an amateur from a writer who really wants to improve—the ability to be your own worst critic. You can sit back and judge everything else until your face turns blue (which most amateur writers do all the time anyway), but until you can do the same thing with your own work, you’re just wasting your own time.

And this is true for every kind and level of writing; after being a college tutor for nigh on seven years, I can tell you that the major flaw of students is a very common inability to pass judgment on their own work or deal with it from others. The amount of times I’ve had students get impatient with me because they didn’t want to acknowledge a grammatical error as a mistake is absolutely uncanny.

But really, nearly everyone is guilty of this crime. No one wants to accept criticism, particularly because half of the writers out there, who all seem like worthy readers, are usually waiting to shit on your work so they can feel better about themselves; I’ve actually had a trusted writer chuckle as he dismissed a short sample—of my outline. I remember sending it to him and thinking, “Do I even need to add ‘it’s an outline and I’m sending it to you because I need real, constructive criticism, or else why the hell would I send it in the first place; this isn’t to show off at all—I need help, not a snap and a headroll?’ No. He’s a good writer. He’s actually going to help, not take this tiniest opportunity to be a shithead.”

Lesson learned? All writers are readers, but not all writers are good editors. And, also, some writers are such amateurs that they’re absolutely in love with passing judgment because it makes them feel special. More important lesson learned? I’ve been that asshole reader. And, to the person whose manuscript I read, I’m sorry you had to deal with me being a total amateur.

Getting back on topic though, an inability to proofread and copy edit is only the basest facet of the amateur writer’s folly. A more mature form is the inability to trim; despite what many people think, the important difference between “we will have been there ten times” and “we’ve gone ten times” isn’t the subtle nuance of tense that imparts a delicate nugget of specific meaning. No, the important difference here is that “we will have been there ten times” wastes the reader’s time and bores the crap out of them. In my experience, there has almost never been a time where a flowery phrase couldn’t be reworded and trimmed into something far more engaging.

Take something like, “Then, he pivoted to his left, took out his well-sharpened dagger, and lifted it up as he struck!” With something like this, the writer felt it was necessary to give you a lot of extra details. The subject didn’t just pivot, he “pivoted to his left”. His dagger was “well-sharpened”. He “lifted it” as he struck. Fine, but none of those details are necessary. Look at how much more engaging this simple edit is: “He pivoted, drew his dagger, and struck!” There’s no filler to dull down the intensity and slow the action. And all of that nonessential information should be provided by other means anyway; we should know from this character’s personality that his dagger is well-sharpened. We should know that he’s a skilled fighter who would know which way to pivot—and really, in a basic, human way can infer that he pivots in one direction anyway and it really shouldn’t matter which way he chooses regardless. It shouldn’t matter how he lifts his dagger either, for that matter. But sometimes, people fall in love with the very particular scenes and actions they have in mind. And the inability to let go of that, to make scenes simpler and more engaging—the inability to embrace the things unsaid—is the heart of the amateurs’ inability to edit themselves.

And somewhere further down the line, there’s the inability to remove whole chapters, characters, and their plot lines.

Now, am I saying I’m the most epic writer of all time? No. I’m just saying that I’m incredibly glad I cut out Chapter 4 and Ozi. I know I’ve got a long way to go to being an author, but I think I’m getting there.

Brand New Day – Week 9 – When the Night Comes

When I was young, I used to get upset when the night came. A better word would probably be “afraid,” but that implies that I was just scared of the dark (which I was, but it isn’t that simple). I used to be afraid that the day was ending and I didn’t do enough with it. It’s a weird thing for a kid to be afraid of and eventually, I did get over that whole thing.

But I felt it again the other day. In the same way a Summer wind can smell just like a friend’s old house in Ohio, or the way sunset on a hot day with a large fan in the window can inexplicably remind me of playing the original Resident Evil with my brother, sunset the other day brought the fear right back.

It was definitely diluted; the original feeling was really a childhood fear of death, which is super morbid and not where I was. The new and improved version of the fear was just time-based; I looked away from Skyrim, saw that the sun was going down and realized I’d only been awake for an hour. Sure, I would be up until the sun came back for a while allowing me more than enough time to get things done, but would I?

Suddenly, I realized all of the things I’d missed lately: parties I couldn’t make it to, hang-outs that I canceled, outings I kept putting off; all things that work on a normal schedule I’d managed to completely invert for myself by playing Skyrim until 6 or 7 AM—sometimes later.

And all of it, the staying home, the backwards sleep schedule, was part of a self-sustaining funk that resulted directly from the major writer’s block that hit me late last month. I’d been incredibly optimistic about completing the outline and possibly first draft for my book in six months. But then chapter 6 came and… well, I didn’t discover what writer’s block is like because I’ve definitely had it before, but I did get a refresher course without pesky things like work and hanging out to bring the instant gratification.

But seeing that I was losing the sun a few days ago made everything simple. The fear came back—a small worry at the back of my mind—and suddenly I felt guilty. Because I was letting young Louis down. I was letting myself fail—letting myself be defeated. Even after getting over the block, I was letting the funk beat me; time was passing and I’d been so lax with everything, from working out to writing. I remember looking back to Skyrim and realizing I’d already written a review for it; I didn’t need to keep playing it. Especially when there were a ton of other things I did need to start doing. For starters…

Step 1 – Sleep and wake up like a human being, not a mole man. 

Step 2 – Finally stop being afraid that your final take on chapter 6 is terrible, give it a once over, and move to chapter 7. 

Step 3 – Start working out again. 

Step 4 – Start writing down every story idea you have and working on short stories like you were supposed to so you can have something to fall back on in case writer’s block happens again. √

Step 5 – Finally update your own blog… 

Brand New Day – Week 3 – Caught Between the Bell Curves

It’s Thursday night. I want to knock out a post before I get to bed; I’m going to Queens Comic Con tomorrow with Kenney Broadway and Chaos Mechanica. It’s an outing that was pretty exciting until I 8PM hit earlier and I realized that I somehow didn’t get anything done for my book today.

I know that’s not exactly fair—I made business cards today. And edited a few of next week’s posts. And worked out my schedule for Comic Con. And worked a bit on my big contribution to this year’s Con (a post for Infinite Ammo that’s still incredibly unfinished considering how complicated it’ll be to execute [thankfully Darth Healthcare {we’re just full of code names on that site} volunteered to help, but even the third of its writing portion, which I started months ago, is still unfinished and needs a ton of tweaking]). Still though, the goal was to roll out of bed, lay down on my couch and do that weird thing where I brainstorm by staring up at the ceiling (and maybe dozing off) to figure out exactly how the next chapter is supposed to work (which always leads to me crossing out the first few pages I get from the brain storming session and rewriting them later, after I discover the way the chapter should really go while doing something as unrelated as, say, petting a cat [as far as efficiency is concerned, it’s about as roundabout a way of writing as using brackets within brackets to steer myself away from a point {I swear I’ll stop this now}]). I was set to wake up and write just as I was ready for this whole Brand New Day thing to be relatively simple.

Relatively, as in I knew it would still be hard, yes. But I didn’t know I’d have so much work to do for Infinite Ammo that I’d realize the sun went gone down and wonder where the time went on a daily basis.

It doesn’t help that I feel determined to be unhappy; when I’m home, I wish I was outside. When I’m hanging out with friends, I wish I was out walking (I have a weird thing with taking walks and traveling), or home writing. And it’s not like I’m ungrateful or don’t want to hang out with my friends, I just want to do everything at once and I can’t. It’s really frustrating. Now that Chaos Mechanica and I have made a site that’s still going strong and has gotten nearly 3,500 hits, it’s lost its professional luster; all that there is for me is finishing this novel and possibly starting other ventures I’ve considered lately. There’s now a gratification curve to what I do, which, now that I say it, is possibly the same reason why I probably don’t feel completely gratified when I hang out; it’s not that the people I spend time with are lame or unfulfilling friends. It’s that… Well, you’ve probably loved someone so much that you didn’t know what to do when it didn’t work out with them, no matter how hard you tried.

Well, I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m caught between the bell curves and it’s a silent kind of unhappy that I try not to talk about to anyone. I want to finish more of this book every week. And I love her and miss her so much that I’m writing about it on my blog like this is high school.

Okay. Deep breath. One of those problems I can fix. The other I can ignore.

It’s time for bed; I can brainstorm/write on the train (where, oddly enough, I do my best drafting). I can spend a few hours at this Queens Comic Con, meet up with other friends afterward, hopefully go to Occupy Wall St. like I’ve wanted to. All of that is important.

One day at a time.

Brand New Day – Week 1

Last week, on Wednesday, the 14th, I worked my last day at Borders. The rest of that week and the weekend that followed disappeared in a bunch of Borders closing parties (and the hang-overs that followed).

Yesterday, Monday, the 19th, was a brand new day. In short, it was the beginning of my gamble to finish rewriting my first fantasy novel, The War of Exiles, within the next six months. And it began with a few wake up texts from Ronin at Hot Mop Films, asking me what time I’d be in. And, no, it wasn’t that I’d forgotten—I just thought we’d discussed the projects they wanted to recruit me for enough through email (and I also didn’t expect to sleep in ’til 11a.m. [memories of waking up at 4 o’ clock in the morning for Borders shifts that started at 6 are already so distant]).

This, in all honesty, was not how I expected the first day of the rest of my professional life to start, but there are worse ways. The meeting got me up, got me working, and (probably more importantly than I’d like to imagine) got me outside. It was still a little annoying though—not because I’m not excited to work with Hot Mop again, but because I was planning to roll out of bed and get right to work on chapter four of WoE. But now the entire day’s flow was thrown off; I’d get home and someone would be on Xbox Live, or there’d be something to work on for Infinite Ammo. There’d be no time to—

Wait. No. To hell with that.

When I got home, I ate dinner, opened the outline for WoE, and worked from 7p.m. to 5a.m. (allowing for the short breaks that often plague writing [which I hope to siphon out in the next few weeks because, seriously, ten hours?]). Not the amount of work I was expecting, but the amount I had to do because I could (there were at least five more times when that same voice came back with things like, ‘Well, you don’t need to write this character’s bio right now. Leave it for tomorrow! You’ve been at it for like, 8 hours!’ and ‘You don’t need to figure out this cultural detail right now. There’s always tomorrow,’ but each time I fought down the arguments and just didn’t stop]).

Today is Tuesday, the 2oth. And a brand new day.

It started with a wake up text from Chaos Mechanica, asking what stories were ready to post on Infinite Ammo. I spent an hour or two editing two of them and making and assigning images to both. Now, I’m moving on to writing ideas and drafts for Hot Mop.

And I’m also doing “alpha bullets” for chapter five of WoE.

Because the outline for chapter four is finished.

And now, completely unlike Louis from last week, I know I can get it all done by tonight.

Because now, every day is just another, oddly busier work day than I ever knew at Borders. And I’m absolutely loving every second.

The Turning Point

I’ve danced around the topic a few times on this site, careful to not talk about the actual experience or give any details about it, but, at this point, I don’t see a reason to hide that I work at Borders. I’m still not going to talk about working there or any of the people I work with because that’s not what this article is about. However, my being employed by Borders Inc. is incredibly relevant to this post.

You’re probably wondering why if you don’t follow the news at all. The answer: Borders is liquidating, and in a week or a month or sometime soon, I’ll be out of a job.

So, immediately, the question becomes, “What am I going to do?” And just as immediately, answers spring up. Some friends have been awesome enough to offer me recommendations at their jobs–places and positions that are completely what I’ve always wanted to move on to. Another opportunity–a tutoring job–would be very easy to get even though it would make me miserable. And, always, there’s the worst choice–natural progression: get a job at Barnes & Noble and lean back into the same spot I was just in.

But, even with the position I really wanted, I knew that I couldn’t. It wasn’t that my resume wasn’t good enough or I wouldn’t do well at any of these jobs.

It was because I knew I had to take the opportunity to really change my life.

I won’t be able to not look for some kind of part-time work, but in the hiatus, I decided I have to stop, collect myself, and finish War of Exiles.

I’m more than vaguely aware that this is a bad idea. I’m aware that it’s going to be very lonely and stressful and incredibly difficult. But I’m also aware that if I don’t take this chance to really finish my first novel and the several short stories I’ve already started on, I may never get any of it done. Or maybe I will, in 2015. Or 2018. Or 2024.

But it’s my dream. It’s always been my dream, ever since I played Final Fantasy III (it was III back then, not VI) and was amazed by the world and the drama between the characters. And I don’t want to put my dream on the back burner; I already have for years and years when I promised myself I wouldn’t. In my eyes, this is the only choice–it’s what I just have to do.

So what’s on the agenda?

  1. Work on the outline for Exiles and short stories everyday. The terrifying goal until I find my speed–a finished chapter outline every week, a finished short in the first month.
  2. For as long as I have an unlimited Metrocard, go to places from my past. I know this sounds weird, but I need to get my drama from somewhere. I’ll blog about some of those places here, killing two birds with one stone. I’ll also blog with updates on my progress, but I’m probably going to want to write about some of these places, and why not here?
  3. If I can, shoot at various locations. May as well work on my photography a bit while I’m at it.
  4. Work with Chaos Mechanica and other partners on a new website. For when I really, really need that instant gratification.
  5. Read fantasy novels when I really, really need a break. There’s nothing like rounding out my knowledge of my genre and keeping my head in the game while enjoying myself at the same time.
  6. Casually work on RED and other art projects when I have time.

And I believe that’s it.

I remember my goal on my 28th birthday–don’t turn 29 without getting something published.  If I hadn’t decided to completely rewrite my first novel, I possibly would’ve been on the way to achieving that goal. But now, I realize that with a few months left, I have to scrap that goal. Because I have a new one now, and it’s not a maybe or a try.

Finish the final draft of your book and get it published six months after you lose your job.

Just typing it terrifies me.

And Then They Dropped the Ball: The Last 5 Minutes of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Disclaimer: I know. I know. Lords of Shadow is really old news. But this isn’t a review–it’s a lesson. If you’ve already beaten LOS or haven’t and don’t intend to, read on. If you’re even considering playing it and don’t want anything spoiled, then seriously–stop reading now. Spoiler Alert. I repeat, Spoiler Alert.

It’s rough being a Castlevania fan. The 2D installments have been using mostly the same enemy sprites for the past nineteen years, and Konami’s attempt at bringing the franchise into the third dimension have been disastrous time and again, going from the not-quite-Castlevania-enough Castlevania 64 to the downright linear mess of Curse of Darkness. When I heard that Hideo Kojima was involved in the making of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, however, I knew that the tables were about to turn for 3D Castlevania.

And really, they did. Lords of Shadow is a great game. No, it isn’t absolutely perfect, but it has more than enough awesome art, action, and game play to earn the price of admission and make up for those times where you miss a ledge.

And seriously, on the 360, it had to be split onto two discs. You just aren't going to find many better looking games.

But really, like I said, this isn’t a review.

The major tension in the story is within our protagonist, Gabriel Belmont. An orphan and the very first of the famous clan (in this reboot), Gabriel is suffering over the death of his wife, Marie. This shows, more or less, throughout his adventures; we find Gabriel sleeping less and becoming more ruthless in his quest to find all the pieces of the God Mask, a relic that can be used to bring his wife back from the dead. But we also see Gabriel taking other relics that use dark powers from the enemies he defeats and the corpses of members of his Order of Light. He also takes relics from the Lords of Shadow as he defeats them, and although the relics themselves are not evil, the implication is that Gabriel is absorbing and using each Lord’s strength.

Now, by themselves, these details are only kind of interesting. But things get intriguing the further along you go. Particularly when you reach the Vampire’s Castle (not yet called Castlevania) and discover that there’s no Dracula. The name doesn’t even come up; the lord of the castle is a woman–a vampire named Carmilla. So what’s the deal? Gabriel isn’t going to find Dracula and absorb his… Wait a minute…

In classic Castlevania, Dracula’s only real redeeming factor is his love for Lisa, a human and Alucard’s mother. Sure, it was only hinted at in Symphony of the Night, but it was there and it was all the evidence I needed.

Gabriel Belmont is going to become Dracula. I was certain of it pretty early on.

With this possibility in mind, I was ready to tie up the story this morning by defeating the last boss in Chapter XII. I knew who it would be–it was obvious from his last few diary entries that Zobek, a member of Gabriel’s Order of Light who helps you throughout the game, was actually evil.

But that’s where what I expected to happen and what did happen stopped correlating.

What I Expected to Happen

  • Gabriel gets the last piece of the God Mask. He tries to use it but Zobek stops him.
  • Zobek reveals that he’s gone insane from being that one, super badass member of the Order of Light for too long. He’s used Gabriel to get the ultimate power with which he’s going to destroy the world, thus ending the battle between light and darkness forever. I know, it’s cliche, but that’s really what I expected.
  • You fight normal, human Zobek, but then, in a cut scene, Zobek gets the mask from you, puts it on, and becomes some giant monster. But like, a heavenly one. It is the God Mask after all.
  • In order to beat him, Gabriel has to make the ultimate sacrifice, giving himself completely to Dark Magic so that he can defeat Zobek and save the world from this self-proclaimed god.
  • Although he defeats Zobek, Gabriel is forever cursed. He disappears from the land and among the people he saved becomes forever known as the Prince of Darkness.

Ta-da. If I’d written it, I would’ve reinforced the curse by playing more on Gabriel’s growing insanity, a sub-text that the game touched on a few times. I would have introduced a voice a ways through the game that would help Gabriel–a voice that he would assume was just a part of his broken mind until the end, when it offers him the power to kill Zobek, who’s deceived him and wants to take over the world. Perhaps it would’ve been Satan, perhaps it would’ve just been a nameless demon or something–I dunno–but I would have put the player in a situation where they could not turn the voice down. It would’ve been such a solid way to make Gabriel into Dracula with a nice, stable support structure rooted in the middle of the game–at the very least. And the whole affair would have mirrored one of my favorite alternate origin stories ever–Punisher: Born by Garth Ennis.

Buuuut that’s not what happened…

What Actually Happened

  • Gabriel gets the last piece of the God Mask and makes it whole.
  • Zobek shows up and reveals himself as the Lord of the Dead.
  • You think to yourself, Didn’t I just beat the Lord of the Dead? And then you shrug and think, Well, the way I “defeated” him was kinda off… This is still cool. Zobek is Death and Gabriel is Dracula. Dracula and Death were always friends, so it makes sense. It’s all good.
  • Zobek reveals that you’ve been his pawn for the whole game. It’s not a big surprise, but the next 5 minutes of Zobek talking about it somehow make it less of a surprise.
  • He also reveals that he possessed you and made you kill your wife… which is completely unnecessary outside of supplying shock value. If they’d wanted to go this route, they should’ve given me a cinema that told me exactly how she died. Instead they spring a 3 second clip of the murder on you–which is extra ridiculous because Gabriel is in full armor in the flashback. I mean, sure, maybe when he goes with his wife on picnics to the lake, he does it in full armor. Hell, maybe he bathes in full armor… but seriously? Anyway, this implement falls flat on its face because it seems–and possibly was–very rushed, lacking any dramatic drive whatsoever.
  • Zobek pimp smacks you and takes the God Mask.
  • But before he can use it, Satan shows up.

Wait, what? Satan?… What?

  • Yeah, I know.
And joining us tonight, from left field...
  • Satan burns Zobek with a thought and takes the God Mask.
  • Gabriel’s dead wife brings him back to life.
  • Gabriel honestly beats the shit out of Satan. Well, after you beat him as the last boss (which still is honestly not the hardest fight in the game [fuck you, Pan. I’m glad you’re dead]). Anyway, even though Satan burned Zobek, the Lord of the Dead (remember him? He bitch slapped you) even though Satan burned that guy with a thought, and even though he’s now wearing the super powerful God Mask, Gabriel Belmont Goku’s his ass in about 30 seconds. The Chain Rule means nothing to Belmonts.
  • Now that Satan’s dead and Zobek’s dead, the curse that Zobek placed on the world, cutting earth off from heaven (the official reason why you were on this quest in the first place) has been lifted.
  • Your wife and another person you killed under Zobek’s influence show up in ghost form and express that there’s no hard feelings. Considering how he helped you kill Satan when you asked, it’s safe to assume God also forgave you. You save the world and everything’s great. And sure your wife is still dead, but yo–
  • Gabriel collapses in grief and asks his wife to forgive him as she fades away. This is seconds after she forgives him for killing her and he seems content. You think, Seriously? We’ve been over this, Gabriel.
  • Credit roll.
  • Cut to what must be some time later. Someone enters a chapel. You think, Is that Zobek? And then, a second later, That IS Zobek! And you don’t think, If he’s alive, why did his curse lift? because you’re too busy thinking, This has something to do with Dracula!!
  • Zobek breaks a wall in the chapel and flies up into a room that seems empty. He turns and addresses “the Prince of Darkness.”
  • You think, Holy shit! Holy shit! Yes!
  • Zobek addresses Dracula as Gabriel.
  • You knit your brow.
  • Zobek talks about how Satan’s coming back to take over the world and you need to help Zobek defeat him or he’ll enslave the both of you.
  • You think, What??? And then, Well… Okay. I mean, playing as Dracula would be kind of–
  • Gabriel attacks Zobek and Zobek knocks him out of a window–
  • –into a crowded, modern city street.
  • You think, Oh what the $&*@? And then, SIGH.
  • In the crowded street, while everyone’s staring/listening, Zobek tactlessly makes more of a scene by talking about how Gabriel can’t die, a detail that is definitely just thrown in there. But, hey, Zobek can find a way to kill you if you’ll help him.
  • Gabriel (I’m not calling him Dracula) screams and BAMF’s away.
  • You realize that if there is a sequel, it’s going to be Dracula 2000.
... with... Jonny Lee Miller?

But worse (almost) than that, if Konami sets the sequel in the present, they’ll be shooting themselves in the foot. I know that Lords of Shadow is a reboot–characters like Brauner, Olrox, and Cornell pop up in very different roles than they did in Portrait of Ruin, Symphony of the Night, and (especially) Legacy of Darkness, so the game really asserts its reboot status. But there are still things that people like to see in their reboots; in Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man still fought the Green Goblin. In The Incredible Hulk movie, the Hulk still smashed things. These are staples of those series. Castlevania‘s staple?

Belmont VS Dracula

Sure, after Symphony, Castlevania games gave us nothing but androgynies, none of them true Belmonts (excepts for Leon…

... but we never talk about Leon.)

Lords of Shadow is not only the first solid 3D Castlevania game, but it’s the return of the Belmont Clan, which all real Castlevania fans have been waiting a long, long time for. And now Konami’s going to get rid of them again, right away, and deny us the epic conflict we thought we’d be getting? And they’re going to pull us right out of the incredibly beautiful, myth-heavy, ancient world they set Lords of Shadow in to give us the pile of garbage on the street corner? It’s just bad for business in so many ways.

I would’ve had Gabriel disappear and then would’ve had a cut scene a lot like the one they gave us, only instead of Zobek, it would have clearly been another Belmont. Dracula could have asked for his name, and the Belmont could’ve said “Simon”, or “Trevor” or any other famous Belmont name. They could’ve had a tense chat in which Gabriel as Dracula talks about how God abandoned him and men are full of lies, like he always does, only this time, it would’ve mattered!

And then, before the screen cuts to black, Dracula would’ve stood. Light would’ve touched his face and we would’ve seen that, without a shadow of a doubt, he was Gabriel. He would have thrown his glass of blood at Simon and said,

“But enough talk. Have at you!”

Sighclops

Last week, we were treated to the reveal of Marvel Vs. Capcom 3‘s final boss–Galactus. The reveal meant many important things for me:

– I definitely wouldn’t be getting the game (because, really, I fought Onslaught enough, thanks).

– Now it’s even sillier that none of the Fantastic Four made the cut (*again*).

– And, finally, the game’s roster is probably, finally, full. Sure, maybe it’s not, but even so, it doesn’t change the fact that the other two members of my Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 team aren’t making the cut.

Definitely not Guile, because, hey, why bring him back when we can add Evil Ryu instead? Or Evil Sakura? Or Ken’s jacket? (Or go the Marvel route and add that one guy with the glasses in that one panel of Squirrel Girl #2. Remember him? Neither do I.)

And definitely, definitely not Cyclops, because… Well… <sigh>

Because he’s Cyclops.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of *those* MVC2 players; I didn’t pick Cyclops (without having any prior knowledge of or love for the character) just so I could run Optic Blast supers every three seconds. I chose him because I’ve always loved Cyclops’ dedication to the X-Men and ability to lead despite pretty terrible conditions, because I’ve always thought his power was really awesome, and because, when it boils down to it, I always root for the underdog. And also because, yeah, I always loved playing Cyclops in X-Men Vs. Street Fighter (which is still my favorite Vs. game and apparently always will be).

 

I already miss catching spamming morons with a Mega Optic Blast and then shouting "Come on!" <sigh>... clops.

 

But my love for Cyclops is definitely a rare thing. To understand exactly why 49 in every group of 50 think Cyclops sucks (why they’d make, say, She-Hulk playable before bringing Slim Summers back), let’s look at Cyclops’ terrible, terrible public image.

Oh My God, Shut Up About Jean!

Cyclops is a mutant who does a lot of things right. He’s a great leader. He’s in great physical shape. He’s pretty responsible and does well under pressure. He isn’t claustrophobic.  However, there are two very major character flaws that plague him, one of which makes him just about the most annoying X-Man ever. That failure can be summed up in one word:

In this part of X-Men 3: The Last Stand, Cyclops didn't actually shout "Jean!!" but that probably would've been a good use of his thirteen whole seconds of air time (known to X-Men movie makers as "Wolverine Time") before he was killed--off screen.

Now, before you jump the gun, no I’m not blaming Jean. But Cyclops saying her name is *the* embodiment of his biggest flaw–the way he’s a retard with women. I understand, Scott; everyone’s awkward with at least one love interest at some point, and to boot, you were orphaned at a young age. But man, how can you expect people to like you when you’re *that* guy?

– Jean stubs her toe. Cyclops has bandages that he’s kept in his visor for just such an occasion. Wolverine is off in a corner, smoking. Cyclops somehow counts all of this as a victory.

– Jean gets knocked down by a Sentinel. Cyclops drops everything to run to her side. Meanwhile, Wolverine claws through the Sentinel’s crotch, straight through its body, to it’s head, at which point he eats his way out because his rage is just that complete. When Jean comes to, Cyclops immediately observes that Wolverine is nowhere to be found.

Unnecessarily clingy, insecure to the point that it makes him an ass, Cyclops easily embodies the worst of every guy/girl. A lot of us find it hard to like him because we see ourselves in him; every time he runs to Jean with a band-aid, a lot of us think of high school and/or that boyfriend/girlfriend who had us wrapped around their finger, maybe not because they wanted it that way, but just because we puppy loved them *that* much. Or, for those of us who never experienced puppy love, we see a grown, team leading man who can shoot lasers out of his eyes acting like a high school kid. Granted, my scenarios above never happened, but read or watch any X-Men in which Jean is alive and tell me his shouting “Jean!” or being so obviously insecure about Wolverine doesn’t drive you up a wall.

The truly sad thing? He doesn’t get better without her:

– Jean dies and Cyclops leaves the X-Men.

– Cyclops marries another woman, Madelyne Pryor. Madelyne Pryor, who turns out to be Jean’s clone. Of course.

– However, when the real Jean comes back to life, Cyclops immediately leaves both Madelyne and their son.

– Then, after marrying Jean, Cyclops starts having a “psychic affair” with Emma Frost.

– Jean dies *again* and Cyclops starts dating Emma, a psychic and former super-villain, btw. Even Cyclops assumed she was controlling his mind.

Maybe–hopefully–Cyclops will change sometime soon. But considering that any major changes to his character (like Whedon’s removing his inability to control his powers) are retconned, it seems unlikely that Cyclops will, say, become the full Headmaster of the Xavier Institute, get his own movie or, ya know, become a round character.

Oh, and rewinding for a second…

Oh My God! Handle Your #$*%, Cyclops!

Like I mentioned before, Cyclops can’t control his powers. At first, it was because he hit his head during the plane crash that supposedly killed his parents. It was later revealed that he can’t control his powers because of a self-imposed mental block–a mechanism for coping with the loss of his parents, separation from his brother, and the manifestation of his mutant powers.

Man that’s crap. If Pikachu can handle his electric cheeks, Scott Summers, you have no excuse. Again, orphan–I got it. Traumatic plane crash–I got it. You became a mutant–I got it. But seriously, pretty much every other mutant in the world has experienced those same problems… Well, excepts for the plane crash (but other mutants have stupid names! That’s pretty traumatic. Just ask the Stepford Cuckoos). Really, getting over the trauma and learning to control his powers is the very first thing Cyclops should have done, because that’s what Xavier’s School for the Gifted *is for!* And even otherwise, honestly, that kink should’ve worked itself out after *years* of being team leader, dating extremely attractive X-Women, and saving the world. Instead, everyone gets a guy who’s a danger to everyone if his glasses fall off–a kind of doomsday nerd, if you will. Only, on the outside, he looks like a super religious uberjock.

How can anyone not dislike him after realizing all of this, right? The thing is, I don’t dislike Cyclops over this stuff because, unlike a lot of people that hate him, I see him from a writer’s perspective: Cyclops is a staple of the X-Men. Back in the 60’s, he was the very first member of the team. Thus, he, in the classic Marvel way, has to stay pretty much exactly the same way he was. Like Spider-Man (who’s one and only bout of drinking was retconned [his roommate gave him apple juice and Peter convinced himself he was drunk. How absolutely sickening] because fans complained), Cyclops can’t stop being a moron with relationships or learn to control his powers because that, in Marvel’s and purists’ eyes, just wouldn’t be Cyclops.

Which is incredibly sad because he has so much potential. Cyclops should be hyper lethal because he can hit you the moment he sees you. Cyclops should be one of the greatest fighters and strategists in Marvel history because  he’s been training in the Danger Room since he was a teen. Cyclops should be a badass. He should have his own comic, his own movie, his own life. But he doesn’t and he never will because he’s never going to be allowed to grow. And people are never going to stop blaming him for that.

A New Methodology

Writing used to be a feel good, hobby-ish thing for me. I would sit down and stare at my computer and brainstorm about what would happen next. And more often than not, an answer would not come. But that was always okay–cause it would come in time! As long as I was getting something done at all–as long as I was at least sitting at the computer with the intent–I was doing alright for myself. And to an extent, that’s true; just sitting down and clocking in is the first test of all writers.

 

But, that approach wound up leading to some major issues. First and foremost, I was way too laid back about what was happening in my story; things would feel right and I would throw them on the page, always going with my gut, never wondering how often my instinct matched what was happening or the tone I’d already set. More crucial than that though, plot lines got completely out of control; my first edit took months because I was just trying to close loopholes. I remember thinking, say, in the middle of my first draft, “Hey! This should happen! I’m going to write it in even though it hasn’t been mentioned anywhere else in the book yet! I’ll just catch it later and smooth it all out!” When I reached one of those moments during my first edit, I remember stopping, sighing, and (probably) saying aloud, “You bastard.” Tack on the countless switch-ups of characters’ moods and logic and the zig zagging plot (products of my returning to the computer completely clueless after weeks of not reading a word of my book), and the first draft of my manuscript was kind of a nightmare. And yeah, maybe it was a nightmare that would’ve sold–cause, sadly, I’ve seen worse in published Fantasy–but not something I’d want to produce.

So, really, the only option was to rewrite the whole thing, but the question became, “What can I do to keep everything from falling apart again?” The answer is probably too bureaucratic and neurotic  for everyone’s taste, but, hey, I’m just explaining how I do things.

 

An Outline, for lack of a better word. A single master file that compiles all of the post-it notes, standalone files, and thoughts I ever had about any snippet of my book, including the full outline of the plot. I’m not going to post a sample of the Outline here, but I will give a vague example of its set-up.

Chapter Number / Chapter Title

Main Characters: A list of all of the characters who are present in the chapter. But not just Name, Age, and Place of Origin; we’re talking everything about them, from what they’re wearing and thinking in this chapter, to whether or not the wound they took two chapters ago is still sore.

Side Characters: The same, only I add side characters’ back stories (I have a Foreword detailing all of my main characters’ stories).

Locations: A full description of all the major areas featured in the chapter.

Plot Lines: A list of plot lines, keeping close track of what I’m revealing, what I’m hinting at, and what I’m saving for later.

Bullets: The full outline for the chapter in bullet portions that are as simple or complex as I want.

 

This is a very streamlined, boring summary, but I have to add, before you bail on me, that it has a lot of great advantages if you use it correctly:

  • First off, approach the Outline chapter by chapter in solid, helpful steps. This is your chance to experiment and work out all the details of your story. To make sure I’ve worked out the initial kinks, I start with the Bullets written by hand in a notebook. Writing by hand keeps me from correcting or even caring about corrections because I can’t free-hand half as quickly as I can correct in my mind; I give up and just get the plot down, bullet by bullet. Here I take my time, deciding what happens on a ton of different criteria (“Is this too boring?” “Does this make sense?” “Would my character actually do this, or is it just from that one movie?” “Is this to simple / predictable / cliche?”) After I finish the Bullets by hand, I look them over and find every character, location, or thing I’m going to talk about in the chapter. With these points of interest, I return to the Outline and that’s where my supplemental info (Main Characters, Side Characters, etc.) comes from. After I have all of the supplemental info down, I copy my handwritten bullets onto the Outline, using the info to improve what I already have and, thus, making sure what remains is as solid of a first draft as it can be.
  • Actually write the supplemental info. All of it. When I was rewriting the first chapter, I decided I’d use a town called Mycelston. But it wasn’t until writing supplemental info that I realized Mycelston had a mine. And, hey, wait, if it has a mine, I could use that at the end of the first chapter… and it’d be awesome. Since doing this, I’ve found a healthy terror in the amount of things I know about my world that I’ve never, ever realized. But also, right there with it was some frustration; that first draft would’ve been a lot better if I’d known Mycelston had a mine. Or that Dawnspear has outlying farms up and down the Dawn Coast. But, hey, how was I supposed to know these things about my fantasy world if I didn’t write or even think about them? More importantly for you, what do you know about your fantasy world that you haven’t realized? You’d be surprised, I bet. Take the info dumps as opportunities to explore your world; don’t sell your it short by rushing through this step.
  • Treat the Outline as a very rough first draft. The bullets are there for you to explore and express your story without you getting bogged down by things like writing style and narration. You’ll have all the time in the world to work with those–give your plot its own attention and see where it takes you.
  • And stay on point with your plot. I know tracking all of your plot points for each chapter sounds tedious, and, yeah, it totally is. But the only thing that’s worse is losing hold of something or forgetting a very important but very minor detail 230 pages into a 461 page book.

Overall, is an outline like mine insanely time consuming? Yes. Will it require you to create a ton of content that (and this is necessary) isn’t even mentioned in your book? Yes. But will your world feel that much more complete? Will you have (as Ron Carlson calls it) more fuel for your story when you create that content? Of course. And when you’re done, will you have enough fuel left over for a collection of short stories set in the same world? Ohhhh, you betcha. Try it out is all I’m saying. I haven’t gotten anything published yet so I’m no guru and there’s a great chance this approach is just a crazy, Louis thing, but if you’re struggling, I hope this helps.

At any rate, I’m going to keep working it. Right now, I’m almost on chapter three. It is, in fact, taking forever. But really, all I ever have to do is compare the old draft to what I already have now and the time and effort are immediately so, so worth it.

A Split in the Road

I remember finishing the second draft of my book. I made the last corrections and was content. My friends and I had a barbeque over it and I was pretty certain I was about to achieve total victory; there was just one edit left–the one where I would spruce up all of the writing and tie up any holes.

Only, the agent I had an eye on wanted books that were about one hundred pages shorter than mine, so major cuts had to happen. But facing that challenge, I didn’t shrink away; I knew immediately what would go. At the time, it just felt like I was being prudent. I looked at parts I’d earmarked for deletion and thought, “These chapters aren’t really important to the story.” “This scene kind of annoyed me.” “I didn’t really think this should have happened anyway.”

And then a friend linked me to a post on Patrick Rothfuss’ blog where he explained his editing process. And from there, things kind of snowballed. I found myself wondering why I was ready to send out something that had multiple nonessential chapters. I realized, really, that a few parts of my own book made me cringe because they were so campy. Most important though, I realized why these things happened: I started writing the book in 2005. Such a long, long time ago. I was 22, I was conceited, and I was a completely different writer with a whole different set of priorities. I remembered wanting things to look good and be fun, never giving enough thought to how original and different everything was. I had the ground work set for something interesting, but then dropped in old cliches because I didn’t know better back then. The result was something I enjoyed, sure-probably something that a lot of people would enjoy-but not something I wanted to submit.

So I told a coworker of mine one morning that I’d completely rewrite War of Exiles only if I could imagine a better, more original version of it’s prologue. I began plotting it out at 6:30 AM. By about 7:20, I knew there was nothing to be done. It was too much better. And there were too many other possibilities-chances to make changes that were too complicated for simple edits.

So, here I am-back to square one. My goal: to finish my “first draft” before 2012.