Process in Progress #6 – I’ve Become a Criticism Vampire

Last night, I asked a friend if he hated my novel.

To set this up, it was the one friend who isn’t in my writing group. I sent my MS to him weeks ago and he avoided talking about it.

To me, that meant I was getting Ghost Read (my term for that phenomenon when someone agrees to read your work and then pretends they never received it, avoiding mention of it as if Thanos snapped it away and Doctor Strange made everyone forget you ever sent it).

But in the end, I thought, “This is stupid. I’m too old for this and too comfortable with criticism to let this happen,” so I asked that friend, point-blank, what they didn’t like about the draft.

They answered that they liked it but that they were just busy.

By which I was immediately disappointed. Not because they were busy—that was, I stressed to this friend, totally fine.

No, I was disappointed because I wanted to hear that Memory was terrible.

I wanted critique that I could turn into useful changes for the MS.

It’s a weird spot to be in after 30+ years of having a 0 in Accepting Critique. Back in the day, I’d just talk over someone giving me criticism, explaining why x element was y way.

Now, my Accepting Critique score is so far through the roof that I constantly feel like I need criticism. It’s almost like a hunger that strikes me, usually at night . . . although that’s just because my sleep schedule is still fucked and I’m always up at night.

Whatever. The point is: I’m a goddamn Criticism Vampire.

I regularly make myself coffee—the drink of writers—take a single sip, curse, and hurl it at the wall in disgust. And then I hiss, “I hungerrrr,” and text a friend like, “Dude, that one fight scene in chapter 6 sucks, amirite?”

. . . Okay, some of that was made up, but what I’m getting at here is that I really like criticism now. And yes, it is in part due to that all-too-familiar Impostor Syndrome creeping in, convincing me that Memory is actually terrible.

But what I should point out here is that none of this—the constant want of criticism, the dramatic hurling of coffee at walls while snarling like a gremlin—means that I’m going to stop working on Memory; I am past the era of my career where I drop a story halfway through and pick up a new one. If anything, all of this means I’m going to keep editing Memory until I feel it’s as strong as I can get it by February.

But I did want to share that the hunger is upon me. That I’ve come full circle from ‘being obnoxious about criticism’ to ‘being obnoxious about criticism in a bold, new way,’ and to me, that’s progress.

Also, fair warning: if you live in New York and hear a crash at 3am followed by an abomination screech, it’s cool—that’s just the hunger taking hold of me.

~~~

Thanks for reading this: what is one of my weirder posts.

My name’s Louis Santiago, and if you enjoyed, I post once a week, on either Sunday or Monday, usually focusing on my weird insights about my writing process and career. I cannot promise you I’ll talk about recent trends, but I can guarantee that whatever I post will be 100% me. If you’re on board for that, you can give me a follow via the button on the left side-bar (on PC) and the top-right hamburger menu  (on mobile). As I am slowly building my super tiny platform, I really appreciate any Likes and Follows; they keep me going more than I can say in the apocalyptic nightmare that continues to be the 20’s.

Anyway, with that said, take care, stay hydrated, and see Spider-Man: No Way Home. From a dude who was absolutely sure that movie would suck, it is so good. Trust me.

Have a good week!

Games for Writers – Hades Just Became the First Video Game to Win a Hugo Award—And Yes, It Absolutely Deserves It

I wasn’t going to write about Hades this week.

My post is late because, though I was planning on cleaning up one of the reserve posts I’d written a week ago, the news dropped yesterday that Hades won a Hugo Award for Literature. If that doesn’t sound impressive enough, Hades is the first game to ever win a Hugo. If that still doesn’t sound impressive enough, according to Eurogamer, the category of “Best Game” is a one-off. Which means they might never give a Hugo to another video game.

Which means they might have added the category this year just to give the award to Hades.

And, if you ask me, never has an award been more justified.

Because, as I’ve tried to explain to many writer friends, the awesome gameplay is not the most amazing part of Hades.

It’s the writing.

To put this into context, I am extremely hard to impress when it comes to writing in video games. I don’t want to get into a rant here, so suffice it to say that I just don’t grade on a curve. I am totally capable of saying, “That game has fun dialogue,” “That game had a surprising twist,” or, most commonly, “That game had an intense plot.” But I have almost never said, “That game is really well written,” because to me that implies that it has a complete, cohesive, engaging, active storyline. With legitimately great writing and charming characters who aren’t cliché. Essentially, the entire package that I’d expect from a film, TV show, or novel with great writing.

But Hades is that entire package.

If you haven’t played it, Hades is a rogue-like, which means it’s a game where you play as a character doing “runs” of an adventure with randomly-generated maps and assortments of enemies.

In this particular adventure, you play as Zagreus, the son of Hades, who’s trying to escape his father’s realm—the underworld. Not the most unique premise, sure, but hang with me here, because that’s the same thing I thought.

Until I started my first run and Zagreus started talking. I don’t mean that he was soliloquizing—there was no cutscene where he painstakingly detailed his reasons for wanting to escape.

I mean that when the game started, after Zagreus delivered two extremely brief lines about his escape (while I was controlling him), I ran up to a pillar and tried attacking it with my sword. And when it broke, Zagreus said a sarcastic, “Oops.”

And I blinked. “Oh . . . He’s . . . still talking. Alright.”

And then I went into the next room and Zagreus commented on the enemies that spawned there.

And then I found a golden vase, and when I broke it and gold coins spilled out, Zagreus said a devious, “I’m sure father won’t miss these,” at which point I chuckled like, “Wow. How much VO did they record? Does this dude just talk the entire time?”

Yes.

Yes, he does.

Also, a lot. They recorded a lot of VO.

In a world where the standard is to record a handful of grunts and shouts for your protagonist, only having them talk in cutscenes or when a game designer thinks you forgot an objective, Zagreus just . . . talks.

Like he’s just . . . a character?

An extremely charming character who I thought I was going to hate, but who I liked . . . immediately?

The thing is, then I got to the first boss, and I didn’t realize it was happening at the time because I was already too into it, but Zagreus spoke to that boss—a quick exchange of a few lines to show that they know each other—and that was the moment where I first experienced why Hades deserved its Hugo.

Not because Zagreus and that boss talked and it was cool, but because that was the very first moment where I understood that Hades was creating a world.

When I died (that first boss destroyed me), there was no return to the title screen. Zagreus, having died, just returned to his father’s home—the House of Hades, which he’d been trying to escape. Why? Because, in-world, that’s where everyone goes when they die. Did the game need to have an in-story, totally acceptable justification for the rogue-like genre model? No. Did I need to mention that it provided an in-story, totally acceptable justification for it anyway? Hell yes.

But, anyway, putting that aside, returning to the House of Hades was the moment I fell in love with the game because there were, immediately, so many characters to talk to—if I wanted to. I won’t spoil any of them here, but I will say that, aside from being extremely charming in their own ways (each of them great showcases for playing to a character’s strengths), they all make the world feel incredibly active.

Because, sometimes, they aren’t in the House of Hades. Zagreus will comment on their absence, of course, pointing out that they “must be on break.”

And sometimes, you can, in fact, find them on break.

Sometimes, new characters arrive after being away on business.

Sometimes, these characters are talking to each other! And of course, you get to listen in on a few lines of dialogue, but after the bit that’s relevant to you, they continue chatting to each other in cute whispers that you hear?

And also, every time—not even just sometimes but every time—these characters have specific dialogue in reaction to your last run. Characters comment on the enemy that just killed you if they logically would have that information. Characters comment on how they heard you beat the first boss and reached the second area of the underworld and “Good on you, lad. Keep fighting.” If you were killed by an enemy who killed you before, Zagreus will respawn in the House of Hades and angrily curse the enemy who killed him.

What I’m getting at here is that Hades is genuinely an achievement.

I am 30+ runs in, and I’m still getting unique dialogue.

It is just an incredible, technical feat. There are so many characters who are universally charming or annoying or cute or scary or hot (make me bi, Ares, you beautiful fucking monster), and all of them have an unreal amount of naturally flowing dialogue that presents an ever-evolving story that changes as you play. I desperately want to go into how, but I refuse to spoil this game for anyone. All I will say is that the first time I beat the last boss, their last line of dialogue hit me very, very hard. And that did not emotionally equip me for the epilogue, the music for which is a perfect embodiment of Zagreus’ legend. Music and legend that, mind you, both haunt me to this day.

It is just beautiful and I cannot express how incredible the writing is for this game. I wish I could watch a documentary about the writing team that handled all of it. Were there specific writers for each character? Were there maybe teams—like one person handling Megaera and her sisters or, conversely, a group of people handling Hades? Was it, impossibly, one person writing for everyone? Were the voice actors in the writers’ room riffing off of each other? And just how many pages was Zagreus’ script?

Okay—I have to stop because I will just rant forever. But what I will say is this: if you are a writer of Fantasy and you love video games . . .

. . . play . . . Hades.

The love that Supergiant Games gave to its characters; the way that they created its world and made it feel alive; the short, confident bursts of conversation between characters that they used to compliment gameplay instead of bogging it down; the slow, careful graduation of its story; and the way that Supergiant molded all of this perfectly around the rogue-like genre—all of that can only influence your writing for the better.

At some point, I will write about Hades again.

I know it without a shadow of a doubt. Because I barely scratched the surface.

And because there is no escape.

~~~

Phew. This took a while to finish. Thanks for reading though! If you made it all the way here, I have a few other “Games for Writers” posts on here, but it’s my most staggered series by far, so they range wildly in quality. On the low end: “Games for Writers: Metal Gear Solid 3 – Snake Eater,” which was awful and I don’t stand by at all anymore. On the high end: “Games for Writers – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Is a Great Fantasy World Simulator,” which was extremely fun and totally holds up.

If you enjoyed, I am not, by any means, a celebrity influencer. I’m just an aspiring writer doing this as a means of staying honest. Which means I’m still building my platform, and thus totally appreciate Follows (the button for which is on the left sidebar on PC and the top-right hamburger menu on mobile). I post every Sunday or Monday, but the topic, while random, will always relate to writing in one way or another. I might not post this weekend because of the holidays, but there’s an equally likely chance I’ll have a bizarre dream between then and now that I’ll just have to share.

At any rate, thank you for reading. Until next time, stay safe, stay hydrated, and have a great holiday!

Dream Diary – I Was the Leader of a Stranger Things-style Monster Neighborhood Watch / Monster-Fighting Corp.?

Disclaimer: While working out what to write this week, I remembered that I had multiple posts saved for future posting. I wrote them, saved them, and totally forgot about them. In one case, I actually just assumed I did post them and was genuinely shocked that I hadn’t. So, given that things are a little busy with editing and the holidays, I figured I’d post them now.

Welcome back to another round of diving into my weird dreams.

This one isn’t the most visually intriguing, but it’s still weird in a way that I felt warranted a post. Particularly because there’s an entire franchise in here somewhere.

I Was A Kid but Also the Leader of
A Monster-Fighting Army Full of Kids?

In the moment, I remember thinking how stupid and throw-away the very first facet of the dream was, but in retrospect . . .

. . . seriously?

This was a Monster Squad / Stranger Things situation where I was a kid and so was everyone else in what was, at one point, just a neighborhood watch where we specifically kept lookout for monster-related occurances.

Until, very, very quickly, the dream jumped to the future where we were a bunch of kids armed to the teeth, splitting off into platoons to actively hunt werewolves.

The part of the dream that always sticks out to me: watching a bunch of “soldiers” either open or close a gate as they started leaving or returning to . . . barracks? I seriously can’t remember details other than 1) we were in suburbia, 2) the street was wet like it had just rained, and 3) they were pulling open the gate of what I think was a multi-story brick building (which, post-dream, I can’t help thinking of as both a firehouse and “the Ghostbusters building,” even though I remember something bigger and purely made of red brick, like a school).

Anyway, as I was standing there, a soldier ran up and told me that one platoon encountered a monster–and I really, really wish I could remember what monster it was, but I can’t. All I know is, shit was so dire that I didn’t even redirect all forces to that monster–I just rerouted a single group of soldiers to take care of it. Because, apparently, there was a full on war with the monsters in my hometown? I don’t know if all of the adults were dead, but there were none in that part of the dream. Extremely weird.

Unlike most of my multi-phase dreams though, this one continued with something like a loose story:

Years Later, at the Monster Lab

In the next phase of the dream, I was an adult, but I was also Barry Burton, from the Resident Evil games. This was super short–I was in a high tech science lab. White walls and ceilings with read-outs on panels of black glass. I wish I could say I was sneaking into some monster-creation lab or something (i.e. the end of many Resident Evil games), but no–I was in the control center, talking with the scientists who were trying to figure out how to stop the monsters. And, weirdly, that’s all I remember from that phase of the dream.

Retiring to an Extremely Weird House

The final phase was me, still as myself as Barry Burton, but also played by David Harbour. And I was retired from the war and looking at my new home. You can probably already tell that the connections to the original dream premise were thin, but they got thinner really fast; almost immediately, the dream just became a static tour of that home.

Which was admittedly very strange. First off, it was tiny–not just one-story, but one-room. I remember that it was at the center of a grass plot of land enclosed by a high, wooden fence. And, in the style of dreams, it was night, and although it wasn’t raining, I had a vague impression of rain regardless (like it was raining, but someone went into the graphical settings of my dream and just turned off the visual effects for rain).

Anyway, back to the house–its walls were all doors. Pretty, gothic front doors with large window panes. I remember that at some point, the realtor showed me how all the walls could open like it was a good thing, and I remember asking something like, “Why?” I don’t remember much after that; I just stood in the house, trying to get used to the idea that this would be my weird, new home, and then the dream ended.

I almost want to know what this one meant. The consistency with rain was really interesting in retrospect.

But more than anything, I . . . kind of want to see that grim future Stranger Things / Monster Squad story? Like, it would never fly now, but there’s an alternate reality where that movie came out in the 80’s. I am sure of it. And it’s probably great and terrible at the same time.

~~~

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this. If this is your first time here, I post every Sunday / Monday about anything, from my quest to become a published novelist to the weird dreams I have. If you’d like to join me for what is clearly a weird, random journey, you can give me a Follow via the button on the left sidebar (on PC) or the top-right drop-down menu (on mobile). Likes are also always appreciated because, at my stage of z-tier popularity, they’re the only way I can tell what my audience likes.

At any rate, take care, stay safe, and, if you didn’t know, mudskippers are fucking hilarious. They are seriously everything I strive to make when I create an animal for one of my novels. Just knowing these gross mud fish exist brightens my day to no end, and I hope it does the same for you. See you next week!

Process in Progress #5 – I Need to Figure Out My Editing Process

Things That Happened While My Back Was Busted:

  1. I watched The Princess Bride, and in doing so discovered that . . . holy shit, Inigo Montoya is really the protagonist of that story. Like, the Han Solo factor of “Why am I not following this guy the whole time?” couples so strongly with his arc getting the most satisfying payoff that I came away from this last viewing like, “How is he not the protagonist?” Seriously, having read the book, it’s bizarre seeing how much the screenplay beefs up Westley (as if someone behind the scenes knew he paled in comparison). Potentially a post coming up about that. In the meantime, seriously, ask anyone to say a quote from The Princess Bride and consider how quickly they answer, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
  2. I started playing Hades. Possibly a post about that coming up as well.
  3. I trimmed the tip of the tree branch that kept bashing at my window, which I only mention because just imagine walking down the street and looking up to see a Hispanic man with wild, Medusa-like hair, Danny DeVito-panting as he clumsily hacks at a thin branch with an old bread knife. That was me. It only took seconds, but just in case no one saw it, now you did.
  4. I barely got any editing done.

Being totally real; my back was bad enough that I just stopped caring about anything. Coupled with the holiday, I just totally stopped trying.

However, the last time I edited (Wednesday) I did realize something.

I have no idea if I’m over- or under-editing.

To explain, my editing process so far has been as follows:

  1. The Big Fix Pass. I consider big feedback I’ve gotten from my writer’s group and pair that with larger edits I wanted to make to a chapter.
  2. The Small Tweaks Pass. After a break, I read back over the chapter, focusing on tweaking everything so it reads well and makes sense. Especially descriptions, which I realize I go super ‘implied magic’ on in my first drafts. Shit like, “The wind swirled blue, stalks wayward swaying,” which is not actually something from my first draft of Memory, but does perfectly represent the kind of starry-eyed bullshit I write sometimes. Although I’m much more guilty of under-describing because I don’t want to flood the read with worldbuilding. It’s weird to have to reign that reflex in (from what feels like the wrong direction), but I’ve really enjoyed getting to go ham with additional descriptions so far.
  3. The Line Feedback Pass. I whip out whatever line edits I have from my writing group and go over the chapter one last time, which works really well when it comes to catching anything I missed.

And that’s it. It definitely feels like a healthy approach to editing.

However . . . the problem is the Small Tweaks.

It definitely feels great every time I find a paragraph that doesn’t make sense. When I catch a description like “he rode the elevator down and the wall fell away” (paraphrasing here), I’m always super pleased to catch that, “No, the wall isn’t ‘falling’—it’s literally going up past the character because the elevator is going down, so I really need to find a new phrasing here.” Moments like that always feel like small victories, where I’m teasing out the best ways to describe a scene.

But I also feel like that side of myself—that focuses on literal meaning, clarity, and flow—can keep going forever if I let it.

Maybe that’s not true. Maybe if I went back and looked over the first chapter again, I wouldn’t find anything new to edit. But I can’t help feeling like I’d find myself thinking, “Well, is ‘chartreuse’ 2% more accurate to the color of the scum in this run-off ditch?”

But then, at the same time, if I don’t go back, am I going to feel massively unsatisfied when I finish editing this book? I’m two chapters in and every time I think about moving forward, there’s this nagging sensation that something’s wrong. And, being fair to the editing-Terminator part of my brain, I’m usually right when I get this feeling.

I think that what I need to do is add one more pass over a chapter. And, just imagining it, I’m sure it’s going to come down to this:

  1. I look over the chapter and fully accept that I can move on. That might mean finding a balance: adding charming descriptions to make things less clinical and further smoothing out moments that don’t make enough sense. Either way, I need to walk away feeling . . . Okay. This is going to sound super intense, but at this phase in my writing career, I think I need to walk away from every chapter feeling like it would be okay if it got published immediately. Like, if no one else ever touched the Prologue, I’d still be okay with the public reading it.
    Or . . .
  2. I look at the Prologue again and my eyes glaze over, indicating that my brain can’t handle another pass right now, which I would totally accept. And which would definitely constitute some kind of Final Pass on a 3rd Draft after I finish this edit.

Obviously, I don’t know which of these things will happen. But I do know that either way, all that matters is that I walk away from those edits feeling certain I can walk away.

Especially because, around all of this, there’s a time constraint; I still don’t live in a world where I can casually take another year to edit this novel. At best, I have until June of 2022, but I seriously can’t take that long or I’ll feel like a failure. Just personally, as a human being, I need to be submitting Memory by February at the absolute latest.

That’s . . . a lot of pressure.

Regardless, I’m grateful I was able to write all of this out here. Because when I started writing this post, I genuinely didn’t know how I’d solve this editing problem.

But now I’m both excited and terrified to attempt that one last pass and hope that I come away from it feeling certain. Of anything.

~~~

Thank for reading. I feel like I have to follow up on this next week, so that’s what I’ll probably do. If you’d like to find out what happens—if I’m relieved or infinitely more stressed out come next Sunday—then you can give my blog a Follow via the button on the left side-bar (on PC), or the top-right hamburger menu (on mobile).

Until next time, take care, stay safe, and if you’ve ever enjoyed any rogue-like, you owe it to yourself to play Hades. As a fan of the genre, Hades is easily my favorite ever. I seriously haven’t felt this strongly about a game recommendation since Spiritfarer.

Anyway, have a good week, everyone!

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

*This is a spoiler-free post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does all of this bring to the plot?

Mobility & a Hook

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

It got extremely addictive almost immediately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, I Mean . . . Why Not?

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

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

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

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

~~~

Thanks for reading!

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, bye!

Something to Read / Watch / Play – October 2021

Happy Halloween!

Nothing on this list is scary.

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

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

Something to Read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something to Watch:

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

Am I Halloweening correctly?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something to Play:

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

And besides, Metroid: Dread is amazing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

Let’s Talk About – How What If…? Was Not a Great Show But Is a Good Writing Exercise

Disclaimer: You don’t need to have watched Disney+’s What If…? to read this post. And, to be completely honest, it would be better for you if you didn’t watch What If…? anyway because it’s just honestly not worth your time. I’ve always been fairly critical of what Marvel Studios puts out and I have to honestly say that only one episode–“What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart?”–is legitimately good while the rest is probably the MCU’s most skippable content to date.

Regardless though, I will be spoiling parts of the show, because this post will briefly touch on its bad elements to highlight how not to do the writing exercise it accidentally presents. So if you don’t want any spoilers for What If…?, then this is your official warning to read no further.

~~~

I.

Am.

Still bedridden.

I realize I haven’t given updates on my leg in a while, but my kneecap is still loose. Months later.

I’ve seen three specialists now, and every visit yields a new prospective surgery I’ll need to correct what is now very clearly one of the shittiest legs ever. Long story short: the alignment of my knee is making it harder for my kneecap to heal. Or possibly my ligaments and tendons need to be repaired / replaced with surgery (one of the three–yes, three–operations I am going to need soon.

There are definite pluses to all of this, of course.

But also the side effect that I’m extremely bored.

I took over the world in Civ 6.

I’m close to the end of Metroid: Dread.

I already watched all of Star Wars: Visions.

And I watched . . . What If…?

And I know I took my time getting to it, but What If…? is what I want to talk about today.

Because holy shit was that show disappointing. I promise this isn’t going to be a hit-piece on that show, but I do need to talk about why that show is bad, so I can bring us around to the point of this post:

That, when done right, What If…? can be a great writing exercise.

But, first, let’s get to that realization the same way I did.

Starting with the confession that . . .

Man . . .
I Just Love Talking About Alternate Realities

If you haven’t been to this site before, I am a ridiculous fan of / believer in / supporter of the concept of alternate realities. I seriously think about them and talk about them all the time.

I’ve written a short story that focuses on them.

I often say things like, “In an alternate reality, there’s a version of me that’s a food scientist,” because, once upon a time, I did a way-too-elaborate presentation on cnidarians in college and my science professor offered me a job in his lab. A job which I didn’t take it for some stupid fucking reason.

I have often, when pressed for something to talk about with coworkers at my old job, resorted to throwing alternate reality hypotheticals at them. Questions like “If you went to an alternate reality and found out the version of you there was struggling financially, would you help them out?”

What I’m getting at here is that alternate realities are genuinely fascinating to me. They have incredible potential to make us question our own choices and the influence those choices have on who we are. For example, in the alternate reality where I wasn’t born with a fucked up leg, I’m probably in amazing shape. I definitely also wouldn’t know 99% of my current friends, because my life would’ve veered in a completely different direction when I was much, much younger (I honestly don’t know if I even would’ve had the same friends in grade school).

TL;DR: alternate realities are a cornucopia of possibilities.

And What If…? Totally Squanders That Potential

If you haven’t seen What If…?, it’s an animated series based on alternate realities within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It explores questions like, “What if all of the core Avengers were murdered before they became a team?” and, “What if Thor and Loki were never brothers?”

And then it’s like, “Thor would be a party boy.”

Me: “What? Wait . . . What?”

The Show: <throwing back a swig of beer so carelessly that it slops all over his shirt, and then wiping his mouth clean with the back of his hand> “If he din have his brother, Thor woulda been a big party man with a hammer.”

Me: “. . . Dude, what the fuck are you talking about?”

The Show: “He’d come down to earth and start a big party!

Me: “Okay. But, I mean, are there interesting consequences from that? Like, would Thor have become a shitty king? Would he have had more weird, space-centric adventures or just stood on Asgard forever?”

The Show: “Nah–it’d be like Ferris Thorler’s Day Off, I think. I dunno.”

Me: “. . . For fuck’s sake. Sure. Whatever. What about the other question?”

The Show: <grunts a> “Wha?” <as he eats spaghetti out of his hand>

Me: “The other theoretical: ‘What if all of the Avengers were murdered?'”

The Show: “Oh, right. They’d have to solve the mystery.”

Me: <blinks> “What?”

The Show: “They’d have to do it–have to figure out who done did it.”

Me: “Yeah, no shit. But how would that change the world???”

The Show: “Um . . . The Avengers would be dead?”

Me: “I know! But how would things be different!? What significant, unthinkable consequences would come out of that!?”

The Show: “Whoa . . . Dude . . . I can see you’re angry. Uh . . .” <lifts up his hand, offering> “Want some spaghetti?”

Yeah, I was . . . obviously a little disappointed.

But, if nothing else, this show did yield a really lively discussion with my writing group. About what the show did right (the animation was consistently beautiful) but mostly about what it did wrong. We tend to do that–critiquing pop culture content and brainstorming fixes for their missteps.

That discussion led me to create a question, on the fly, that I actually would’ve wanted answered: “What if Captain Marvel Never Left Earth at the End of Captain Marvel?” If I was part of the writing team for What If…?, that’s the first episode I would’ve suggested, because it’s the very first thing I wondered after seeing that movie for the first time.

But after the conversation, I wanted to make a joke to one of my friends that the episode I really wanted to see was “What if [the protagonist from their WIP] was evil?”

And then I immediately thought, Wait. What if one of the pivotal events in my novel never happened? What if someone else found the [spoiler]?

And, like a lightbulb flicking on, I realized . . .

What If…? Can Be a Really Fun Way
to Explore Your Own Stories

Obviously, this wouldn’t work for everyone; at its heart, writing fiction relies on the writer’s ability to make decisions and stick with them–to say, “Character A will be like this because that works with the theme I’ve decided on,” etc. So if you’re struggling to make decisions about your stories, maybe ignore this next part entirely.

For everyone else though . . . it’s weirdly fun to imagine how different your WIP would be if you changed one pivotal event or decision.

The one I stated above (the admittedly vague “What if someone else found [spoiler]?”) proposes a simple, extremely likely change to a single event in Memory that would completely change the story. Seriously, it would alter it in ways that I still haven’t grasped. The protagonists, Memory and Kole, would probably still come together, but they would’ve had a completely different quest that possibly would’ve been an elaborate heist? And the information yielded by that heist would not have had the same impact, so . . . would my villain have even been stopped?

It’s just wild to think about.

This is not me saying I’m going to rewrite Memory a third time. Hell no.

But wondering “What if . . . ?” does weirdly force me to explore character motivations in a way that I think is interesting.

It also naturally makes me see the world through a different lens that feels healthy for worldbuilding, if nothing else. The What If…? version of Memory explores a totally different portion of its world setting, and something about that feels especially rewarding to me.

Is it something I’d suggest for everyone? Not really. But it is a fun exercise in completely free plot-building.

And it can be a useful creative tool for the brainstorming phase of a new WIP. A way to test the parts of your plot that are absolutely pivotal and see the version of your story that you never would otherwise–a vehicle by which to explore an alternate version of the “Is this the most interesting time in your protagonist’s life?” question: “Is this the most interesting version of your protagonist’s life?” The goal of course isn’t to get lost considering alternate events for eternity, but to shake up your plot and force you to explore alternative events that might be better for the themes you’ve chosen.

For example, “What if Modis just stood in his cell?” . . . I know that means absolutely nothing to you–Modis is a character from the second item on my personal WIP queue), but holy shit, I just blew my own mind. Should Modis just stay in his cell and go to Primus? Would he get to Primus? Does that support the “Summer roadtrip” theme I have for that story more than him escaping?

Okay, sorry. I’m not even kidding–I have to go brainstorm a bit.

~~~

Thanks for reading. Especially if you got all the way to the end. This one wound up being way longer than I thought it would.

As always, I honestly appreciate Likes and Follows–Likes because they help me gauge what content to focus on and Follows because it helps me build my professional platform. The Like button is at the end of this post, but the Follow button is on the left sidebar on PC or the top-right drop-down menu on mobile.

That said, I appreciate you either way. Stay safe, take care, and seriously, fuck everybody else on your birthday. Like, go on vacation, but if you can’t, everything else that is not your favorite thing should fuck right off. Get that ice cream. Buy that booze. It is your day and anyone who’s like, “But I don’t want your favorite food for dinner,” needs to fuck off. Unless it’s also their birthday, in which case I have no answers–I have failed you. Goodnight!

Dream Diary – My Friend Published Novel Prime

It’s not often that a dream makes me jealous.

But man this one did. But also didn’t? I don’t know–it was weird.

This was another multi-phaser, but the other parts of it were extremely boring and mundane:

First, I was in a hospital visiting my old landlord’s husband for some reason? Particularly weird because he didn’t even have a life-threatening injury, but I went and sat with him anyway like we were family, even though I he was not and I would never do that.

Second, I had a car and lived in a small town in what I can only imagine was California? That part isn’t clear, but it was definitely a small, desert town where I lived with new roommates in an extremely large room? Again, weird, but mundane.

The only part that really matters was when . . .

An Old Friend Published Book Prime

Okay. This is weird to explain but during the dream, the “old friend” was just that–a static entity that I only knew as “an old friend.” I don’t know how often this happens to other people, but she was only an idea until I woke up and realized that the vague shape I saw in my dream-peripheral might have looked like an ex-coworker.

Whatever. That doesn’t matter.

What matters is, at some point, I drove my car through that desert town, got out, and went into a brick building (just imagine the most boring, two-story building made out of large bricks and concrete that you could possibly imagine in an a small, industrial town in an American desert and you’ve got it). And inside . . .

. . . an old friend was signing her newly published novel.

Somehow, this was a surprise. Like I was going to that building for something else.

I remember walking up and talking to her while she was signing for a line of fans. To be clear, there was no stage or signage; it was just her, sitting at one table that was weirdly placed next to machinery and piping.

Regardless, yes, I was being a weird, rude asshole in this dream–because who just walks up to an author while they’re signing and starts talking to them? Actually, on that thread, I remember her being visibly annoyed that I was doing it, but she was also amazingly patient about it (probably because it was my dream). She just gestured for me to check out a copy of her novel–one of the many on her table.

And . . . my God.

Okay, first, I remember seeing it while walking up and thinking, “Is she signing dictionaries?” because it was that thick.

Which is why, when I picked it up and saw that it was not a dictionary but a Fantasy novel, I remember saying, “Holy shit.” Part of that awe came from the dream-knowledge that this was her first novel, it was that long, and it got published, which immediately translated to, “It must be really fucking good.” On top of that, dream-me remembered talking with her about it when it was in the planning stages and now I was floored that it was here, I was holding it, and it weighed ten pounds.

But the real mind fuck was that the cover was gilded. Seriously, every copy was bound in actual leather with 14 karat gold accents. I opened it and not only were the edges of each page gold-leaf, but they were . . . wavy? Not in a water damage way–the edges of every page were intentionally cut so they swelled and dipped in a subtle, waving pattern. And that pattern shifted every twenty pages or so, so the edges of the text block looked like golden coins.

It blew my mind.

And, wildest of all, I opened up her novel . . . and discovered it was a graphic novel? Well, no–hold on. Not accurate. It was not a graphic novel in the way that term suggests.

It was a novel . . . that was fully illustrated. In color.

I don’t know how, but it was somehow both–full narration and panels at the same time.

I kid you not, even my dream brain was like, “No. This would never happen,” so the art in those panels was clearly not great.

But even with that, I just woke up. I didn’t jump awake like this was a nightmare–I just opened my eyes, blinked, and chuckled as I said, “Seriously?” to myself.

Because it was the kind of beautiful tome you’d see in the Cloisters or some other museum, published here in America, in bulk. There were so many copies on her table–of this book covered with actual gold.

It was cartoon-levels of ridiculous; seriously, I just started rewatching The Simpsons and I feel like it’s Homer-daydream levels of silly.

The moment I woke up, I was immediately disconnected from the jealousy in that dream, because I would never want one of my books published like that. The gold cover, the wavy text block, and then the horrible art inside is the exact opposite of what I’d want. I will admit that the idea of a bunch of high quality illustrations conveying all of the narration for an entire novel sounds amazing even though I don’t understand how that would work (wouldn’t it need to be, like, 14,000 pages?). But if there was any part of that dream that I’d actually want, it’s the signing–although not in a maintenance hangar in a desert town.

I dunno. This one was just all-the-way weird and I had to share it. If for no other reason than to just give everyone a peek into a weird, dream reality where publishers apparently don’t give a single fuck about publishing costs.

Seriously, in that world, every copy of Memory is a 13×11 tome with art by Yoshitaka Amano on every single page. And the cover has a silver mask that you can pull off and wear. Because why not?

~~~

That’s it for me. If you’re new here, I’m an aspiring Fantasy writer who posts here every Sunday / Monday. I tend to write about whatever I want, so posts range from talk about my writing progress to talk about the weird fucking dreams I have sometimes. If you’d like to join me on this journey, you can give me a Follow via the button on the left-side bar (on PC) or the top-right drop-down menu (on mobile). Likes are also always appreciated because they help me gauge what content people like on here.

No matter what you do though, thank you for reading. Take care, stay safe, and enjoy this last Halloween before literally everyone is Robert Pattinson Batman. Bye!

Drafts – The Abysswalker

It was the steed of a dead god.

Cel had always been told as much, but seeing the Abysswalker up close for the first time made it undeniable.

Even though it wasn’t a horse or any other beast of burden. Within seconds of seeing the large hump of it’s back, covered with metallic feathers that rippled over its body, it was obvious it wasn’t a larger version of any animal she knew. It’s head, vaguely shaped like a horse’s, only had calm, black eyes–at least from what she could see with the rest of its face covered by a golden helmet of gently swaying chain. On its side, what looked like a strange, vestigial arm–curled forward over the strap of its saddle–became a wing, at complete odds with its impossible legs.

They were the detail you always heard about when anyone spoke of the Abysswalker. The parts of its body responsible for its name. From her spot on the far side of the Walker’s boarding platform, she could only see the tops of them–long muscle corded in a way that made them look like tree trunks. But as she walked to the edge of the platform and looked down over the cliff’s edge, she saw them arching down an unknowable distance–a mile or more into misty nothing below them. One of the legs was straight, wooden muscles tight. The other curved, slack in a way that somehow didn’t demonstrate where its knees or ankles were.

Both legs stemmed from the Walker’s hind quarters.

“It really only has two legs?”

Its keeper chuckled. “Everyone always asks that. You pilgrims come here ready to let the Abysswalker carry you off into the unknown, but you’re all worried it’ll fall before you get there.”

Sacrificing your mundane life to ride the steed of a dead god into the Abyss, knowing that at some point, the Walker would return without you–that you’d be lost in another realm you couldn’t possibly imagine–was one thing. Having that steed stumble so you plummet to an early death in a mile-long pratfall was something else entirely.

“It’s surprisingly intimidating,” Cel said. “That’s all.”

A grunted chuckle as the keeper walked up and patted the Walker’s side. Cel heard it growl low before releasing a short cry. A trumpeted pop that echoed across the edge of the Abyss–the sound disappearing into its maelstrom of gentle, pearlescent clouds.

The Walker lifted its wings, exposing the rope ladder to its saddle.

“You sure you’re ready?” the keeper asked.

Cel looked at that ladder. Fidgeted with the straps of her travel pack, stuffed heavy and high over her back, but suddenly feeling too light.

Trying to keep her breathing steady, she looked back over Ashaiden–the immediate villages of Northwatch that she’d only just experienced, and the lands beyond, unseeable, where she’d grown up.

“Sure,” she said, because in that moment, no word could possibly be more decisive.

~~~

I woke up today with half of a post already written, but I decided I didn’t want to publish it. It was about my writing process and it felt a little too much like the last three months of my content, so I decided, “How about a Draft instead?”

With absolutely no idea what I’d write about, I looked at old, half-finished short stories from my discovery writing days and found a document titled “The Abysswalker,” which, when opened, turned out to actually be called “The Voidbeast” (because I’d been switching names for the story’s titular monster).

Seeing that “Abysswalker” was free though, I thought, “What would an Abysswalker actually be?” and that became the challenge for this Draft. Halfway through, I added on a secondary challenge of making this a “Megapremise” (a type of premise that I wrote a post about back in June) which worked out well enough that I kinda want to write more for this?

At any rate, thanks for reading. If you’re new here, I post every Sunday/Monday. If you liked this Draft, there’s a link to more of them on the left sidebar. But you can also find the Follow button there (on PC at least; on mobile, it’s in the top-right drop down menu) if you want to give my blog a follow. If you liked this post, please give it a Like so I can gauge how much all of you liked this content. It helps steer the ship when it comes to future posts.

All of that said, take care, stay safe, and Civ 6 is amazing. If you find it on sale or free on the Epic Game Store, it’s absolutely worth it. Unless you hate micromanaging the growth of a civilization for literally hundreds of turns. To each their own, I guess.

Gallery of Strangers – Actual, Normal Latinx Who Exist in the Bronx

I ran into a former coworker the other day.

It was a super short encounter. Basically a “Hello,” and, “Do you still work there?” and, “No, they were reopening in the middle of COVID,” and an extremely validating, “Pssh. Yeah, fuck that. I didn’t go back either.”

There was a little bit more to it, but that isn’t the point; the point is, I saw that coworker, and then, 10 minutes later, I thought I saw her coming out of a building on my block. Same height, same thin build, same hair, but totally different clothes and, I ultimately realized, different eyes above her mask.

Why am I talking about this?

Because it reminded me of something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while: some of the specific personalities you will actually encounter here in the Bronx.

Which I’m throwing out there because I’m A) sick of Hollywood’s bullshit. Sure, I’m totally glad we’re getting more diverse characters these days, but that diversity is taking its sweet time getting to the Latinx community. And for that same reason, I wanted to write this post because In the Heights just came out, and I need to eternally chisel in digital stone that WE’RE NOT A FUCKING MUSICAL. It seriously feels like the billionth time a new movie about Latinx turned out to be a street-level musical where everyone’s dancing and singing. And I just hate it.

But also, B) there are a ton of diverse Latinx personalities here in the Bronx that I’ve always wanted to highlight–in particular, the personalities of other former coworkers, brought to mind by that run-in. And, hey, if anyone is writing a story with Latinx characters, there’s a lot of personality to choose from. Hopefully, this will make that a little more clear.

How I’m Going to Handle This:

I’m just showcasing two Latinx personalities. Because I know this is borderline saucy and I don’t want to throw a ton of highly specific information at people.

I’ll start with the standard, bullshit Hollywood staple for Latinos and Latinas, and then I’ll give an example of one of the many types of personalities that exist for each–one that I’d like to see represented more often in Hollywood.

Full disclosure, I’m just making up throwaway names for these personalities (which will be very obvious once you see them), and, I feel like I can’t say enough that these are just a two of the personality types real Latinx people have. Please don’t read this as me saying, “All Latinos are [whatever niche personality I highlight].”

Also, even though I am Afro-Latino, I was raised in a Puetro Rican household. So, even though I really wanted to talk about the one coworker I love, who has a kind of personality I absolutely adore, I don’t feel comfortable talking about the Black experience or personalities that exist in Black communities. It just isn’t my place. So, today, we’re strictly talking Latinx.

Okay. That said, let’s begin.

Hollywood’s Latino Drug Dealer
VS
The Latino Goth Nerd

On one hand, we have Hollywood’s old standard–the Latino gang member that deals drugs. Eternal fodder for the exposition of a cop drama. I don’t even need to explain because you already know the stereotype I’m talking about–you’ve seen it a million times.

What I’d like to offer in contrast to that . . . is the Latino Nerd. In my mind, this will always be “Goth Nerd” because I was a Latino Goth Nerd when I was in high school.

But the point here is, any Latino who’s super into A) rock music and B) something nerdy. Pro-o-o-o-obably anime–specifically Dragonball Z. They definitely play a ton of video games. If they have straight hair, it’s probably super long. If they don’t . . . well, it’s probably still super long but put in a poofy ponytail or braided. They almost exclusively wear band t-shirts; 50/50 chance they are currently or were once in a metal band.

Also, they’re probably a bit hard to talk to because they get shit from everywhere for not fitting in. Seriously, imagine the usual social incongruity of a Goth, but in a society that is even more traditionalist than the white society Goths usually call home. Like, they don’t necessarily have bad family drama, but, for example, abuela doesn’t understand why he dresses so dark and / or can’t speak Spanish. Even if he can dance to Salsa, “Why does he have his hair like that???” Pretty much everyone he knows has, at one point, asked the same goddamn questions to the point that he is understandably loyal to the friends and family who just accept him.

I would love to see more of this personality type in pop culture because, obviously, it’s close to heart for me. But also, I still hate the ongoing drug dealer/criminal stereotype.

From what I’ve seen, the only example of this type of character is “Cisco” Ramon from The Flash. If you saw that character on that show and asked, “Is that a real person that even exists?” the answer is yes! You were looking at me the whole time! Only I recently cut my hair and I’m nerdy about writing, not science.

Anyway, moving on.

Hollywood’s Sassy Latina
VS
The Smart, Incredibly Focused Latina
Who’s Really Good at Everything

Yeah, the sassy Latina is Hollywood’s go-to Latina. She wears hoop earrings. She has her hair in ponytail. She has a ton of makeup on. And she don’t take shit from nobody. Also, that last bit is her entire personality.

What I’m suggesting instead: the smart, focused Latina who is great at everything and can achieve whatever she wants.

For this one, ha! I have an example now! AOC! Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a fantastic example of this kind of personality.

But to explain a bit more, I’ll tell you about a chat I had with a coworker who had the same kind of personality. We were talking about a trip she was planning. At one point, she said that she was reading all of the legal fine print related to her plane tickets. And her hotel booking. And I don’t remember if she said she was renting a car, but if she was, she read the fine print for that too.

All of this came up because she brought up extremely specific return policy on airline tickets; I asked how she knew that and she told me–while adjusting her glasses.

Again, she that’s all of the fine print she came across while planning that trip. As amazing as it is scary. To this day, if you listen closely to the wind, you can still hear me ask, “What?”

And that reflex to be super prepared and on the ball is the main feature of this personality. These women are smart, usually great at their jobs, watch what they eat, don’t start drama with anyone because they’re too busy working on their own goals, dress well–they basically do everything right. They’re fluent in Spanish and English and maybe a third language–fuck I don’t know.

And, yeah, I’d love to see more of that personality represented in pop culture. Currently, the only example I’ve seen in nerddom is Spider-Man: Miles Morales’ version of Rio Morales, who was probably inspired by AOC (but still, I’ll take her over the comic version of Rio, who gets Fridged after having barely any dialogue, and Spider-Verse Rio, who was so firmly in the background that I can’t even conjure up her face).

And with that, we stop. Short and sweet. To the point. Hopefully indicative of the range of personalities that exist in Latinx communities. Personalities Hollywood almost always ignores.

And, if you’ve never thought about the personality of a Latinx character before, hopefully this post will inspire you to do so–particularly if you’re writing one. No need to feel guilty if you haven’t–Hollywood is great at teaching us to see tropes and nothing more.

But that doesn’t mean we have to let that happen.

~~~

Again, keeping it short and sweet this week. I know it’s a bit niche, but eh.

If you enjoyed this post and you’re down for reading more of my sometimes highly esoteric thoughts, please consider giving me a Like or a Follow. Also, I updated the site a bit so it’ll be easier to browse popular series. Most importantly though, I updated my “About Me” with a picture of me as a young lad. Fun!

I am currently outlining the finale of Memory. I wound up having to rework the one chapter leading up to the endgame (the finale has changed so much), but I am actually working out what happens now and it’s a crazy rush. I will keep you posted, but there’s really no way I’m not going to have a finished outline by the end of the week.

Until next time, take care, stay hydrated, and don’t preorder games!

Which I say because it was just E3 and, seriously, we all need that reminder.

No Man’s Sky.

Fallout 76.

Cyberpunk 2077.

We live in the age of games being released broken and incomplete.

If you’re really hyped for something, that’s more of a reason to not preorder it. And yes, I’m looking at you, Elden Ring. We are primed for a From Software bad launch. Stay vigilant, my friends.

Also, bye!