Had a Long Week / Taking a Break

Hey, everyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wordmark Practice

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

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

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

But I need more practice.

So, I am asking for your help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s talk about them.

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

What I’ve Learned About Crews (So Far)

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

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

Anyway, let’s get into it:

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

Two Crews That Didn’t Work for Me

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

The crew of the Ghost on Star Wars: Rebels.

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

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

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

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

The crew of the Mantis in Jedi: Fallen Order.

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

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

So what’s the lesson here?

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

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

. . . this crew is not complete without her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

Let’s Talk About – Iconic Characters

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

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

Anyway, hi and welcome back.

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

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

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

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

The Iconic Character Archetype

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

So, basically, 99% of cape comics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I . . . Don’t Think So?

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

But on the other, holy shit is this dangerous.

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

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

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

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

Thats what I’m going to do.

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

But I am still working on it.

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

Keep fighting. Never give up.

~~~

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

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

Until next week, breathe easy, folks.

It’s Time to Keep Fighting

I . . .

I don’t even know where to start.

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

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

But then . . .

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

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

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

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

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

I get to just live.

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

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

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

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

It’s Time to Keep Fighting

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

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

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

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

No.

No, we don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

However, I really needed to say all of this.

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

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

The Last Weekend of America

I told a friend that I’m going to a liquor store tomorrow.

My exact words were, “it’s the season finale of 2020 on Tuesday, and we’re going to find out if this year was written by George R. R. Martin.” And, yeah, that sums up what I’m feeling right now.

I don’t think I can be 100% present that day. And, mind you, I am the most social drinker on the planet; before my birthday earlier in the month, for which I got a tiny bottle of plum wine, the last time I drank was in March, back when the theme was, “Quarantine! This is real! Ha ha! Why is any of this happening!? Haha HA HA!” Back when the vibe was one of my managers coming into the office and telling me to stop using the word “pandemic” in our customer service emails about the pandemic, and me thinking, Are you fucking kidding me? Really???

I don’t want to go into what I think is going to happen this week, because I don’t want the entertainment I seek out later to reiterate the terrible thoughts I’m having.

But I do want to say how weird it is that we’re living this.

As Fantasy writers, we often set stories around wars. There’s usually some Great War or Old War that shaped the worlds of our protagonists. In fact, one of my works in progress is set in a city directly before a war starts.

And now, I feel like I’m living in that setting, and it’s strange. I feel like something terrible is going to happen in a few days, and it’s not fiction. The most peaceful end result on the 3rd is the one that will ruin my life and countless others.

The end result where America dies.

And, weirdly, even though I’ve been calling this the “post-American” age since November 2016, I still had hope the world would turn around at some point.

And maybe it still will.

But I’ve read a lot of George R. R. Martin, and I’ve lived through all of 2020, so I’m just conditioned to expect the worst.

In terms of writing, all I can suggest is that, if you’re in America today, look around. Sit by a window for a bit and feel the quiet. Experience the setting. Remember it, because you will write it sometime in the future.

And if you’re not a writer, maybe sit by the window anyway and breathe in. Take in the crisp air that might be full of hope just this one last time.

~~~

Apologies for not having more, but I just needed to relax in this home stretch.

This isn’t what I intended to write about this week. And, actually, I was right about to say that I would write about that intended topic next week.

But I have no idea what the world is going to look like next week. So, ya know, no promises.

Thank you for stopping by. And if you haven’t yet, please vote.

Games for Writers – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Is a Great Fantasy World Simulator

Two weeks ago was my birthday.

I got Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Breath of the Wild, both from my mom who, in my adult life, has become my go-to dealer for my Switch habit. Seriously, my Switch and all of my games have been gifts from her.

So, A) thanks, mom, and B) to 10 year old me, dude, can you believe this shit? I am living your dream.

To be clear though, I already owned and beat Breath of the Wild on my Wii U; like a lot of people, I absolutely destroyed that game over the course of a few months and then put it down like I was entering the Odinsleep.

However . . . I recently saw a speedrun of it and the only let’s players I actually like, The Super Beard Bros., are currently playing it, so . . . “Is it time?” I thought. “Have I forgotten enough of that game? Can I play it again?”

And, yes; if nothing else, this post is to tell you that it’s time to wake from that Odinsleep.

But also, if you’re a Fantasy writer, then I just want to make you aware that your second playthrough . . . can play more like a beautiful, Fantasy simulation.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild can be the most fun (although admittedly super loose) Fantasy world research anyone has ever done.

And if you’re a Fantasy writer like me who just played it as a video game the first time around (or if you’re a writer who hasn’t played it at all), I just want to state my case for why BotW works as a Fantasy simulator.

Simulation of the Wild

The physics and logic in BotW are so variable that I’m still learning new things I can do in it, three years later:

There are so many weird interactions and dynamics among the elements of the game that it’s just easier to assume an idea you have will work.

And that’s not an exaggeration. Are you in a dark room and see the outline of a standing lantern in the distance but don’t feel safe walking to it? Well, you can throw your torch at it. Or, if you don’t want to lose your torch, you can shoot a fire arrow at it. Or, if you don’t want to put your torch away, losing the flame, so you can take out your bow, you can drop your lit torch on the floor, light a normal arrow, and shoot that. Or drop your lit torch, take out a wooden weapon, light that on fire, and throw it across the room.

You get the picture. That scenario alone dips into an almost D&D level of simulation, where you’re invited to solve problems in ways that utilize real physics and logic . . . but with the added bonus that you have special magical abilities that affect that physics and logic. It is the epitome of a magical world working with internal, inherently understood logic, and it works so well that I could write an entire post about the Runes of Link’s Shiekah Slate as a great magic system (but I won’t . . . maybe).

What I want to focus on here is the fact that a lot of us took a while to understand the depth of BotW’s internal logic on our first playthrough. In fact, most of us still hear about some shit someone else did in BotW that we never did, and we’re like, “Wait wait wait. You can throw rusty weapons at those Octoroks on Dead Mountain and they’ll clean them!?”

What this really means is a lot of us never really understood the freedom we had.

Which means a lot of us didn’t just experience it.

And, when it comes to being a game for writers, I think that’s the strength of Breath of the Wild: the freedom it gives you to exist in a Fantasy world to the extent that you can even influence its physics. The game’s ability to make you feel like you really are ducked behind a rock on a beautiful, summer’s day, waiting for a monster to turn around so you can sneak up and steal its weapon.

And, unlike other similar games, there’s minimal bullshit, which I’d argue makes it significantly better.

Abridged Sim of the Wild

Yes, there is a story. Yes, there are cutscenes and, of course, there’s a game inside the game, first and foremost.

But there are no complicated dialogue trees that make your character super specific. There are no factions you have to join with motivations, outfits, and plotlines you have to adhere to. Link is a blank slate who doesn’t talk, and Breath of the Wild is the world you experience through him. A game where you get to be whoever you want and do whatever you want.

And that decrease in dialogue/cutscene distractions is complimented by BotW giving you shit like the temperature.

While running around in what seems like balmy weather, you can always hit “-” . . .
. . . and check on the bottom left of the map screen. Huh. 63°. Colder than I expected.

So, yeah, the temperature.

And, yeah, it changes with fluctuations in weather.

The above shots were taken on a sunny day in Akkala, the region of the game stuck in perpetual Fall. However, on another occasion, when I checked the weather at random, I saw it was way colder than 63 and thought, “Wait. Why?”

And then a storm hit.

Being totally honest here, these smaller, environmental systems aren’t crazy robust . . .

but holy shit. I can check the wind direction by lighting a torch, and I can use that information to my benefit.

It’s immersive in ways Fantasy video games usually aren’t.

And there are things you can do to make it feel even more ridiculously immersive.

Going Full-Sim

For example, you can turn the HUD to “Pro.” I’m sure you’ve heard about this if you were in the thick of gaming media when BotW came out, but not having a mini-map–needing to talk to people, ask directions, and survey your surroundings–makes it so much more immersive.

But you can also take it a step further by adding other caveats that make the experience feel less video gamey.

I, for example, only have the one horse, Cowhorse, whose location I keep persistent in-game; if I board Cowhorse in the Woodland Stable, I have to go back to Woodland Stable if I want to take her out again.

Also, apples are her favorite. I have probably fed this virtual horse over a hundred apples I could’ve used for healing. In my defense . . . look at that face. ^3^

Obviously, you can take all of this as far as you want. For example, I don’t eat on a normal, human schedule because that would just remind me how fast the day/night cycle is, and make me feel the gameyness of the experience again.

However, I am playing a different head canon Link; for this playthrough, he’s more of a Raph: a stubborn, headstrong guy . . . who’s slowly learning that he has to do better, (which, in the beginning, meant that he went directly to Hyrule Castle with three hearts, almost got killed by Ganon, and is now following through on the rest of the quest as he learns to prepare for fights). Playing that Link has been extremely fun and su-u-u-u-uper rough; I died trying to get to Ganon, like, thirty seven times.

But, look, no matter what you do in this new playthrough, I suggest you also . . .

Talk to More NPC’s

Talking to NPC’s in Breath of the Wild doesn’t feel especially realistic. In fact, a lot of NPC’s will flat out be like, “Press B to place your amiibo on the thing for Nintendobucks!” or whatever. So many of them that you won’t really be able to avoid the gameyness of their instruction manual-speak.

But the rest of the NPC’s usually have really weird, human quirks, which is both quintessential to the Zelda experience and, at the very least, interesting as extremely subtle microcosms of worldbuilding. Tiny, fleeting, sub-sub-subplots that I completely missed my first time around.

For example: Leekah.

Leekah is a Hylian woman who I keep running into out in the dangerous Hyrule Fields. And, every time, she complains about how she just wants to go for one walk without getting attacked by monsters. Every time, she sighs a very 2020 sigh, runs off toward shelter, and that short interaction is so much simpler and more charming than the umpteenth character in Skyrim talking to me about another cave of bandits nearby. And really, even if it doesn’t feel realistic, “simple and charming” feels like a way better NPC model for a writer to experience than “complicated and generic.”

And, hey, I’m sure you can argue for the opposite; I know there are benefits to having long, linear quests with wordier NPC’s in other games. In fact, I’m sure I would’ve argued for that complexity 10 years ago.

But, as I am now, I will argue to the death for 4 NPC’s in a stable instead of 324 NPC’s in a fort town. Not because I think the latter is wrong and stupid, but because . . . dude, I’ve got shit to do today. I have to make dinner and there’s laundry, and I have to write my story.

And this is “Games for Writers,” not “Games for People Who Have Tons of Time, So Whatever, Dude! Fuck It!”

Okay–I Gotta Stop

The urge to just keep adding to this post is so strong, but I just don’t want it to become a monster, so I’m going to stop here.

If you are like me, a Fantasy writer who loves Zelda and is just getting more and more freaked out by November 3rd on an hourly basis, then you owe it to yourself to just have this experience.

Just put down your phone, your WIP, and your existential dread for a few hours and literally get lost in Hyrule. With, like, a wet horse who’s still moody even though you fed her your last apple, and something weird and beautiful is always just around the bend.

~~~

I honestly never thought I’d write a “Games for Writers” for BotW, because it never felt like it was actually rewarding for a Fantasy writer, but now, seeing it like a simulator has made me so much more excited for the sequel. And for 2024, when I’ve forgotten enough of this game to play it again on Master Mode.

If you enjoyed this post, you can follow me to the left (on PC) or the upper right menu (on mobile).

Regardless, as always, take care, and stop checkin’ the news!

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

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

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

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

But, whatever, that’s a different post.

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

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

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

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

Second . . . yeah, shit got weird.

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

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

Aixa the Hexcaster 2: “I Love That Cleaver”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

You can check out AI Dungeon here.

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

Either way, thanks for passing by.

Taking a Week Off

I just spent a few hours writing a post that was supposed to be fun . . . that turned into something really negative.

And, full disclosure, that’s because of the news, which I cannot fucking deal with anymore this week. Seriously, I already voted, but the pressure of November 3rd was not influenced a single fucking bit.

So I’m taking this Sunday off to just breathe and relax.

And to regroup; I’ve written a few total duds on here lately, so I want to take some time to center my attention for this site as well. I had a new direction I intended to take it, but then I didn’t. I want to correct that.

So, until next Sunday, I hope all of you stay well.

And I hope that at some point, we all forget to check the news for five minutes and just have a good, normal 10 minutes to ourselves.