Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I learned it from the dog

My dog has a curious habit

If he sees me looking at him, he will wag just the tip of his tail, just once or twice. *thump.....thump*

If I then talk to him, the whole tail wags. *thump, thump*

If I stand and start walking over to him, the tail really gets going. *Thump, Thump, Thump*

I reach out, *THUMP, THUMP, THUMP* my hand reaches his head, *THUMP.....* and the tail stops.

Now, this happens on a regular basis, not just once in a while. So, is petting a let down? Or is it that the anticipation is exciting and once the petting starts he calms down to happily indulge in it?

I'm not sure, but I know when I'm reading a book, it is the anticipation that really strings me along and adds tension. This works in lots of writing elements, whether it's action and danger, or relationships. Holding out really keeps the pages turning (and the readers tail thumping.) Once we reach that fight/love scene/ whatever has been building, that anticipation should be reaching the boiling point, because once we pass it, the tension breaks.

As a writer, I already feel all that tension because I see my characters in 3D behind my eyes. It's easy to forget that it has to be carefully layered into the story for the reader, and that if I rush to the payoff, they won't feel it. Exciting and dynamic language is definitely needed for a dramatic/important scene to work, but so is the build up. I forget that sometimes, especially in a first draft. I guess it's a good thing I have my dog to remind me...Anticipation can be the best part.

Today's writing progress:
Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
58,008 / 95,000

I'm still falling behind where I want to be, but I'm trudging along.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Think Tanks and storyboards

*Note, this turned out rather long*

Yesterday, (in a very ranty blur) I briefly mentioned that I worked on a storyline for a game my brother is designing. I want to expand on that topic.

Since early high school, my brother has wanted to be a game programmer, and since I've always written, I basically promised to write storylines for him eons ago. Well, now he is finishing his degree in programing, and he and three other engineers are designing a turn based RPG for their thesis (or something.) He told me about the project weeks ago and asked me to think up a story for it. We don't see each other that often these days, but we managed to steal a little bit of time to discuss things like battle mechanics and class types, (which can affect the story) but really that was all we had time to talk about.

I tried to work out a story from scratch knowing only a little of the mechanics they would be using, but everywhere I turned I hit stumbling blocks. This isn't a big budgeted Final Fantasy game where they will be able to create graphics for whatever I write--they are yoinking free graphics from the web that will be very limited. Days passed, and I still had nothing. I'm addicted to games, I write, I paint, but none of those qualities really prepared me to write a game storyline. I'm not helping with the graphics (I don't have that kind of time to offer) so my art background doesn't help. Writing a story is all about description and making the reader see something that has no images--which really is very different from dictating what graphics you have no control over will depict. Gaming might help a little, at least I understand the sequence these types of games go through, but that doesn't mean I can pull one out of the air.

Well, my brother called the other day to tell me the group needed the story because they needed to start. *guilt guilt* He said the four of them came up with something, but it was awful and needed help. He stopped by so we could talk it out. He was right, the 'plot' they had was scary bad--characters had no motivation, their journey made no logical sense, and the bad guy's plan was vague at best. He also brought something else--one of the group members had made a map.

I took the groups original idea (though they will probably barely recognize it at this point) and my brother and I sat around just talking out world building. I've never done the think tank thing before for writing, but it worked very well. I threw ideas out and he agreed or added something. Eventually we formed a solid idea of how to start the story and why the characters will react in certain ways to the events in the story.

*Note* by world building, I don't mean the map, I mean things like how and why magic works and what kind of peoples populate the game. World building and initial story ideas are a lot like carving stone in my opinion. I start out with very rough ideas that become more and more detailed as I dive further in. For this reason, before I start an outline or anything when I'm writing, I usually jot notes down on paper. Not because it's any faster, but because things are spilling out of my head in a chaotic jumble, and I basically just scribble the most random notes all over the page. Try to put that into word and it looks like free writing from hell. I also make small doodles, circle, star, and stike the ideas as I work through them. I did exactly this as I sat with my brother. And having the give take of doing it out loud while jotting down the notes and getting someone else's feed back was actually very fun.

After we had our world building done, we pulled out the map. Now this is where the process became really interesting. RPG's are all about talking to people, fighting bosses, and unlocking cut scenes that tell the story. All of these things are activated by traveling to worldmap, so plotting out the journey is very important. Now, as a writer I'm used to outlining by key plot points, but for this, it was all about location. We looked at the map, circled spots and said "here is where MC should pick up the second character, they should find another playable character here, or there should be a boss fight here." (And that's where years of gaming plays in, there is a sort of system to games) So, instead of writing up an outline with major plot points, I had a map where I knew things had to happen, and I had to write a plot that would make those things happen. It was a different approach. Once we had the map figured out, (we moved a few things, but not many,) and a basic idea for the story, my brother headed out so I could actually write down all the things we'd discussed in a usable formate.

I didn't have the time or the required skill to storyboard visually, so I wrote a very detailed outline type storyline. In some ways it wasn't unlike the outlines I write for books. Some parts were very detailed, though I didn't include much dialogue (I'll probably end up writing dialogue for them later. It depends on whether they ask me too or not.) other sections, especially the 'dangerous' areas where not much story takes place ended up with notes like "Heroes navigate to the center of the gate tower fighting monsters along the way." It was strange to break the outline by location. I couldn't tell you how I normally break up my outlines...they are a bit of a mess and pretty organic, but I can't imagine ever writing a novel outline with the main divider being 'New York' and the next section 'LA'. *shrugs*

I emailed out the storyboard last night, and I haven't heard anything back yet. I hope the group likes it. (I've never met any of them aside from my brother.) Over all, I really did have a lot of fun doing this once I found a clear path to work on. Of course, I wrote several thousand words that don't count for my own goals, but in a way, I think this was a very good exercise. I've mentioned before, plot isn't my strong point. I really have to struggle to find a plot for the characters that tend to show up in my mind. The game's plot is very like and not terribly complicated, but I did have to work it out piece by piece. If asked, I would do this again. I might also my steal my brother once in a while in the future to bounce ideas off him. He can't write a story to save his life, but he is great to brain storm with.

Monday, February 05, 2007

It's not as good as it sounds

Insomnia, that is. If you've ever said "I'll sleep when I'm dead" or "I could get so much more done it I didn't have to sleep"'re kidding yourself. Sure, it sounds great to have 22 hours in a day instead of 16 or so, but let me tell you, having 16 usable hours is much better than 22 hazy hours.

What is this all about?

I've had insomnia since just before Christmas. Over the past month or so, I've celebrated the handful of days were I've managed to get 4 to 6 hours of sleep. I really need 8 to function, and I'm partial to 9...but in the past weeks I've averaged 2 a night, and that has typically been interrupted. Laying in the dark, staring at the walls gets very old, very fast. Many times I get back up after a few hours of waiting on sleep, and I try to work or read, but just because I can't sleep doesn't mean I'm not tired--that deep ache behind the eyes tired. I feel like I'm walking dead in a thick haze more than half the time.

But, I didn't mean to go on and on about insomnia. I meant to apologize for the scarcity of posts recently. The insomnia aside, things have been terribly hectic and I've hardly been home or near my computer recently. Not all the craziness has been bad--I went to my local chapter meeting this weekend and had a great time--but in the last week I've been juggling an unreliable car that we finally decided to trade in while it still had some bluebook value, a lease on the apartment that we had to fight tooth and nail to get in our name and renewed (long story, but I started packing boxes because it got so close) and of course the craziness of a new car and insurance and stuff. When I have been at my computer, I've been spending ungodly amounts of time on my email because 1) I just got added to my chapter loop, 2) I'm moderating an online workshop, and 3) I'm taking an online workshop. I also agreed to help my brother write the storyline for a game he is designing (and trust me, don't let a group of engineers write a story... well, this group at least) In between all of that, I've been writing, so blogging kind of fell to the bottom of the priority pile. Hopefully things are finally calming down. I know I have at least one more trip back to the dealership (another long story) but the apartment situation is finally taken care of. The email thing won't be that scary if I'm actually around to you know, check it more than once a day.

Really, I don't know how I finished anything back when I worked full time. And I really don't know how writers like Rachel Caine work full time and write two or more books in a year. It's amazing. Maybe its practice. I can only hope I'll pick up the skill if I work at it. (Though I swear I'm struggling with my current WIP more than my last.)

Okay, writing progress:
Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
56,465 / 95,000

I didn't make my 60k last week (obviously. I was short by like 4k... a long way off.) So, I plan to make up my deficit, and still write my 10 for the week to end at 70k. My over all goal is to finish CD by the 23rd because that day marks a quarter of a century I will have been breathing air. I can't control if DH sells by then, but I can plan to finish the first draft of CD.

I'd say 'wish me luck,' but I don't need luck, I need to keep my butt in my chair, and maybe some sleep.