Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Writer’s Horror

I don’t believe I have talked about this yet. There is something that is so terrible, so horrible, and so mind-numbingly evil that it is the fear of each and every writer. It gives the writer such a sense of uselessness, impotence, and gut-wrenching dismay that it can destroy them. It can wreak havoc on their confidence, their dreams and aspirations, and make them miserable. What is this abhorrence? Most people call it writer’s block.

I cannot say that I have ever fully suffered from it. I can say that I have sat down and tried to write on one specific project and been blocked. However I cannot say that I have ever been in a position where I could not turn around and write about something else for some other project. Maybe that is the key to slaying that foul beast. This isn’t to say that it helps if you’re on a deadline for a project and the block hits you.

If I suffer from anything in my writing career, as just beginning as it is, it’s too many ideas. I have too many projects jockeying for room in my head. That is without the distraction of other, non-writing, work to be done. Back to the accursed writer’s block, I can only imagine that what I have said in describing it is both overblown and yet at the same time not touching the real pain and fear that it causes.

The worst of it would have to be when you have only one option really for what to write. If you had to write a novel because that’s the only thing that is going to make you money, and you can’t do it, it must be beyond frustrating. It’s not like that writer can just start writing a short story instead, except perhaps as something to get the brain jumpstarted. Once the brain is working I have found it to be much easier to just shift gears than it is to start from cold. So, here’s to hoping the block never gets a full grip on me.

Mood: indecisive.
Music: 1000 Points of Light by Bruce Dickinson and Captain Howdy by Twisted Sister.

Bruce Dickinson: Alive in Studio A
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Twisted Sister: Still Hungry

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Friday, February 23, 2007

My Pile-On Exemplar

There was one particular book that gave me the idea “pile on the circumstances”. The idea struck me so fully that I added it to my Windows desktop. This was a custom desktop I had made that had animation on it, and live links to files on my computer. This was back in Win98. The book is one of my favourites; in fact I have it listed at #5 on my list of favourite horror books at Bob’s Reviews. The book is  Cujo by Stephen King.

The book was chockfull of incidences that compounded upon each other to make for a small set of situations that seemed absolutely fated. If a couple of those circumstances had not fallen into place then the outcomes of the story could have been very different. The book itself could have been very different. This convergence, this conflagration built up the tension. It made the book. Not only was it a set of incidences that formed the plot, but it was also a set of lesser plots that formed into a single overarching plot.

This all hails back to the last three, and other previous posts, of this blog. As such it must be said that Cujo is not only a powerful book in its own right, but it is also a huge cornerstone of the “relational series” of Castle Rock books. As a part of that tapestry it drew upon the book before it,  The Dead Zone, and it impacted the future of the series starting with  The Dark Half. It is the familiarity that is brought to the story that gives it more strength than any stand-alone could wish to deliver.

These are the kinds of forces that shape a most enjoyable experience, a fan-base, and a market. It all builds upon itself forming something greater than any of the individual parts on their own. Not only that, but it makes for a phenomena, and who can argue with one of those in their repertoire.

Mood: level.
Music: King for a Day by Green Day and Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt.

Green Day: Nimrod
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No Doubt: Tragic Kingdom

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Get My Drift

One of the factors I really want to deal with in a ghost story is subtlety. For that I will require a novel length work and an editor who can stay with the requirements to pull it off. The last thing you want to do is having your subtlety removed because the editor looked upon pieces of it as mistakes in your narrative. I’m talking about the sorts of things—and this may be really giving secrets away—like an object being described as left in a certain position ending up in a different positions, things appearing where they shouldn’t be, things suddenly missing. These sorts of things might also include other kinds of inconsistencies.

Inconsistencies, misdirection, and lies can be a part of any story really. They’re not tied to ghost stories (obviously with poltergeist activity) or even to horror. As a secondary factor, this kind of thing has to be done carefully. First, it’s a part of the consideration that your readership may not be up to understanding what you are doing. This is an issue that I wish were pure fallacy, but there is an actual need to consider it. Secondly, not only does this affect your deciding on which market your work is going to appeal to, but also if parts of that audience are still going to be lost if you don’t explain it well enough, especially at the risk of moving it away from subtle.

God is in the details they say, or the Devil, depending upon whether the details are playing nice for you or not. One of the lessons I decided I wanted to follow, where I could, is to pile on the situations. Our lives are all about a million and one things going on at once. Why should a story with the room be any different? This is not to say that you have to be all over the place or write the dreaded non-related/tangential material. This is not the entirety of the idea, either. The other part of it is to pile on the circumstances.

What that means is to remember that more than one factor influences any given decisions and most matters are never black and white. So in keeping with this important bit of reality there should always be several reasons behind just about everything. This is especially important with the most important decisions that will be the driving forces of your characters and plots. If you can don’t be simple, because simple is dull, and simple isn’t particularly realistic. It’s all a matter that you have to shake things up to make them stronger.

Mood: shiny.
Music: Know the Difference by Stratovarius and On My Way Up by Brian May.

Stratovarius: Elements Part 2
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Brian May: Another World

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Feeding Off Of and Sustaining Each Other

For a number of years I have been thinking about doing a haunted house novel. I have done a couple stories with ghosts in them, a couple of haunted items, and in a similar but disconnected vein, a possessed house. What I find to be a real challenge is on deciding what kind of ghosts to use, what traditional haunting phenomena, and other related things. There is more than one approach to writing ghosts. There are different kinds of ghosts around the world, each with their own particular beliefs and superstitions floating around them. Then there are other divergent explanations to work with as well.

One can certainly delineate the meaning of hauntings into two categories, the supernatural, and the scientific. The supernatural explanations run from noisy, mostly mindless spirits, to apparitions seeking to complete some earth task or unmask their killers, to ghost who don’t know they actually died. The scientific explanations run from the overspill of mental energies to cause physical phenomena, to echoes of the past somehow imprinted on locations, to factors impacting on the human brain to cause false impressions and hallucinations.

Even without looking at the why’s and how’s science can still help out tremendously in explaining the phenomena involved in a haunting. There is the ever-popular cold spot theory that associates ghosts, even ones unseen, with a sudden drop in temperature in the area they “physically” occupy. There are the Electro-Magnetic readings which can either be evidence of the ghost, or evidence that it is the mind of the witness being effected, depending on what kind of readings are gathered and where. There is also audio-visual evidence, though much of it remains controversial, and the most compelling of this sort of evidence is elusive and hard to collect.

This is a mere brushing of the topic, but it gives a good impression of the breadth of factors to consider in just a couple of lines of thought on the matter. This is without taking a look at the story factors that will determine what phenomena, explanations and other details of the haunting will best fit the given story being worked on. Looking at things from the writing perspective, the rest of the story outside of the haunting itself should affect the haunting details the writer will use, and the details used in turn will affect the rest of the story, making for a relationship best described as symbiotic.

Mood: level.
Music: Good Mourning/Black Friday by Megadeth and These Colours Don't Run by Iron Maiden.

Megadeth: Peace Sells...But Whos Buying?
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Iron Maiden: A Matter of Life and Death

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Trilogies and Series

Our friends in the Fantasy community are very used to having their tales done in series of books. From the minimal contact I have with that genre I cannot name a single stand alone Fantasy book except for maybe Piers Anthony’s Killobyte, and with a book like that it is a pretty tenuous connection. Still, in horror we have a few series. Notably there is Stephen King’s Dark Tower, there are the multiple sets of books from Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series of series, and there are the series from Anne Rice.

I for one am a huge fan of book series. I draw this huge mental connection between them and television series. There are things that can be done within the scope of more than one book that are, at the least, much more difficult to do within a single novel. The requirements to write a successful series, of which trilogies are just a constricted scale version, are only extensions of what makes a successful novel. The most important of these are of course the characters. The characters that carry on from book to book have to be that much more compelling and able to carry the reader’s interest for that much longer.

The thing that I really admire about series is the ability that they give the author to be more subtle, and to build more intricate plots and relationships. This can be put to most spectacular use when there is an over-reaching plot to all of the books, an undercurrent that can be separate from each single book’s plot. I am speaking of the difference between the type of series that is like a single novel of immense size broken into separate books, compared to the type of series that is episodic with an overarching plot tying these episodes together.

There is also a third kind of series as well. That would be the kind where the books do not have to have characters in common or a plot that runs through them. These series are tied together by different criteria. An obvious first example comes from Stephen King’s Castle Rock novels. They can be considered a series because of their common setting, the town of Castle Rock. In a slightly different vein there can also be a series of books based solely on a thematic connection. I cannot name such an example from what I have read, but I am writing just such a trilogy. I always practice what I preach.

Mood: harried.
Music: 4000 Rainy Nights by Stratovarius and The Edge by Vince Neil.

Stratovarius: Destiny
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Vince Neil: Exposed

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Void

It’s no secret that I’m working on a couple of RPG projects. One is a fantasy-based game, though really this is a terrible misnomer given the way the definition cleaves. Modern Urban Fantasy might be a closer, but is still far off the mark. The fact is to say just Fantasy means specifically Tolkienesque medieval fantasy. If you step out of those bounds and retain the fantasy “name” you do nothing but draw ire, contempt, and book returns to the store. So, I feel I need a new name for this type of project. I will keep you all, gentle readers, apprised if I come up with something.

What I wanted to talk about today was an idea that I had. To give away some secrets, a big part of the setting I am working on involves the game’s world being an artificial construct. Nothing new there, except perhaps in which of the ways it is explained and what it means to characters, players, and the GM. It’s important I mention this condition because I want to talk about outer space. This idea I’ve had involves what if more than just the planet is artificial? What if it just hangs in “space” but not real outer space, as we know it, but a true nothing? Outside of the planet’s atmosphere there is absolutely nothing, or so this idea goes.

Now let’s further assume that these “fantasy” people have a way of getting up there. What sort of horror would they face upon this realisation? This is of course assuming they didn’t know and I have a very good reason for it, but it’s something I cannot divulge, something I believe to be fairly unique. So… when it comes to the time that the beings of this planet venture out of their atmosphere, they are presented with darkness and emptiness except for their planet’s own, lonely, star.

I’m reminded of an episode of Star Trek: Voyager when they travelled through a lightless expanse of space. Of course they were used to space being full of stars and nebulas and other things. Still I can only imagine what it would be like to go from a place of everything to a place of nothing. What would these fantasy beings think? How would it make them feel? Would they even care? I have to imagine it would be terrifying. Of course I have some additional ideas to truly bring the terror, but they’re secondary to just the conditions of space in this setting. You know I have to bring some horror to everything.

Mood: edgy.
Music: Accident of Birth by Bruce Dickinson and Cemetery Gates by Pantera.

Bruce Dickinson: Accident of Birth
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Pantera: Cowboys from Hell

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Mad Skillz

One of the important aspects of all role-playing games, even though it isn’t the coolest, or the most definitive, is the skill rules, and by extension the skill set that each character will be able to have and the player to manipulate to be tailored to who and what that character is as they want it to be. I have been thinking a lot about this ever since Friday when I was reading a discussion on a forum about a particular skill and when to use it. The first factor to consider in writing this section of the game is a matter of play style. The second factor is complexity. As usual both of these factors also have to take into consideration your game’s mood.

Most people it would appear deal with play style all on their own. They buy a game and they develop the way that they want to play it based on a number of criteria that changes based on their current mood, and the composition of the group playing, of course on both sides of the proverbial game screen. A big factor of that style determines how often they pick up the dice. Since it is such a fluid and variable condition things other than the audience dictate the play-style of a given game, except of course in the whom of the who will buy this product. The things it is dictated by are comprised of the set version of the things that the audience changes for themselves, and the aforementioned mood of the game.

Complexity is where I like to let my imagination run rampant. For skills I have this dream, this desire, to take a fairly dice intensive approach. If I were to go with such an approach, throwing mood to the wind perhaps, then I would have to design the skills to be used in a particular way. For example let’s look at using flying power armour in combat. In the complex approach you have to pilot the suit, read the instruments, be familiar with the weapon system in order to optimize your aim, and be able to fight in it. That’s four skills. Now, let’s say the combat computer is broken and aiming isn’t aided. Then you’d have to add in some ability to lead the target yourself, and determine windage to make a shot with any kinetic weapon at range, much like a traditional sniper. Of course usually many of these skills are lumped together cutting down on everything. It’s practically a requirement.

Mood: exhausted.
Music: Hot for Teacher by Van Halen and Stand by for Pain by Widomaker.

Van Halen: 1984
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Widomaker: Stand By For Pain

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