State of the Mind: March, 2015

So, what does a couple months of progress look like in editing Project: Embers with my schedule?

A few chapters that have nearly been re-written from top to bottom. I’m not joking, the amount of scenes I have simply deleted and re-written from the ground up is either saddening or staggering.

Perhaps it’s both.

What prompted such a large amount of re-writing? I changed how the protagonist was introduced. In doing so, it set off a chain of events that radically reshaped how the story opens.

The intro starts closer to the main events, it’s got more tension, some characters were cut and rolled into others, etc. All of this simply from changing the protagonist’s intro.

Then there’s the pre-chapter articles, some story threads being removed or altered, building on the personalities of the existing characters, and more.

Editing Blood in the Machine took me some time to do, but Embers is an entirely different beast.

But what about things outside of Project: Embers?

Well, since the re-writes have mostly come to a stop, I am now beginning work on a new project to fill the gap. While I can’t say much about it yet, it is something a bit different with less emphasis on action and more on emotion.

It’s work-in-progress name is Project: Binary.

This project is currently in the planning phase, so nothing has been set in stone yet. However, it has been something that I’ve been dwelling on for some time while I’ve been editing Embers. Thus, I figure it’s time to start jotting down some details and start shaping it up.

I’ve also made a slight addition to the website. In the upper-right hand corner, you will find a small text section detailing my current status on open projects of note. For now, this lists my editing progress with Embers and my planning status with Binary.

Figured it should help keep is visible that I am actually working on things, yeah?

For now, however, the work continues. Embers trudges further along to completion, while Binary starts taking some form. I am eager to see the final state of the former, all while looking forward to crafting the latter.

Until next time, however, have fun.

~ James.

State of the Mind: February, 2015.

It feels like it’s been awhile since I wrote a “State of the Mind” address. Let me check and see when the last one was.

June, 2014

… Well, that was unexpected. I honestly didn’t think it had been that long ago that I wrote one. Then again, I could simply be thinking of the last time I thought about writing one.

Sod it, let’s get on to the new one! To the numerical list of topics!

~

1: I re-made my old LinkedIn profile. No, I’m not sure why, but I did. It’s over here if you want to connect to it.

2: Project: Embers is on-going, though taking some sweet time to get much of anywhere. I’ve basically had to delete the entire intro and rewrite it, so that’s fun. On the other hand, it gets moving faster and the characters feel more natural.

That’s the problem with being like me and having an issue with introductions. Everything doesn’t feel ‘real’ yet, so the end result is always going to be remarkably different. At least now, the characters feel more refined and defined, so things flow easier. It’s also giving me the chance to double-back and fix a lot of my earlier inconsistencies.

As for what how much work remains to be done to the overall draft, I have to A: re-write a ton of scenes, B: delete a small number of characters while making others more prominent, C: change existing characters to fit more suitable roles. That’s all on top of the normal grammatical sweeps and such.

3: I have a new nightly schedule. After dinner, I sit down and write 1,000 words and edit a whole scene (if the scene needs a re-write, they combine). Then, I get to relax and play around or watch stuff. Afterwards, before I hit the sack, I read a short story. Found a couple good ones so far thanks to Apex Magazine, and will probably make a list of some good finds once I have a few titles to add to it.

4: I’ve been checking out the Aeon Timeline software. When I make fictional worlds for sci-fi or fantasy, I constantly dip back and start mapping out the history to make the ‘current day’ story flow better and have reference material. I’ve been using Scapple, Scrivener’s sister program for mind-mapping to do it until now, but it just doesn’t work well.

I know some people have recommended a couple free alternatives, but it comes down to interface for me. Aeon seems to flow well and come to me intuitively, so it’s working rather well. Overall, I’m regretting not looking into it after my first two NaNo sprints where I had coupons, since I will be buying a license.

5: Also in regards to Project: Embers, I am starting the hunt for some cover art. I can’t say much has tickled my fancy yet, but we’ll see if anything comes up between now and when the cover becomes a big sticking point. As tempting as the allure of an illustrated cover is, I don’t exactly have thousands of dollars to throw just at cover art alone.

6: I am currently kicking around some ideas for other stories to write. I’d like to get more works both in publications and on the Kindle marketplace, so I am trying to figure out where I stand with what I have and what exactly to do with it. Time will tell, but if anyone has some feedback, I’d love to hear it.

7: Homeworld Remastered is coming out at the end of the month. No, this isn’t writing related, but the Homeworld series is literally my favorite in all of gaming. 15 years later and nobody has made a sequel or game of its type that is even close to as good. I am literally bouncing with glee at the chance to play it again, especially after so much time has passed.

To me, the series was masterful in its storytelling due to the simplicity and purity of the story, combined with perfect dialogue and musical score. Even the gameplay mechanics (persistent fleet, the difficulty, need to harvest everything you can) add to the emotional drive of the story.

Homeworld, to me, is an all-time classic that truly does deserve this remaster. I am eagerly looking forward to playing it, and might even be letting this schedule slip for a few days while I dive back in with the fleet.

~

So, that is where things are at the moment. Progress is being made, though there is a ton to go. I’ll be trying to stay a bit more active on the feeds, though my nose will likely either be buried in my own work, another writer’s material, or chilling off in a game. Either way, we’re moving forward which is especially important after such a lax last year.

Until the next update, however, I’ll see you ’round.

~ James.

My thoughts on: Destiny.

“Masterful game-making” – The Escapist

“Activision and Bungie have a massive new hit” – Variety

“A Thrilling new franchise” – USA Today

“A more ambitious game than anything that has come before it” – Forbes

All of these glowing endorsements come from Destiny‘s own launch trailer. Now that the game has been out for a little time now, it’s time I gave my thoughts on the game’s narrative and voice-over.

Before I begin, do note something. I am only talking about the voice-over and story aspects of the game. If you want reviews for the rest of the game and its mechanics, I’d advise checking out the myriad of other reviews including Angry Joe, IGN, etc. I found the game to be slightly above average, though kind of addicting simply because of the loot.

Now, onto the show!

For those unawares, Bungie (the developers) were the founders of the Halo series. They bought themselves back from Microsoft and were brought into Activision’s fold to make Destiny.

With Halo as your previous works, that sets a pretty high bar. Right? Sadly, Destiny disappoints.

First off, have you seen the list of voice-actors in this thing? Peter Dinklage (Tyrion in Game of Thrones), Bill Nighy (Viktor in Underworld, Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean), Lauren Cohan (Maggie in The Walking Dead TV show, Bela in Supernatural), Claudia Black (Aeryn in Farscape, Morrigan in Dragon Age), Nathan Fillion (Come on, do I really have to list his credits?), etc.

Awesome stuff, right? Too bad the vast majority of all the voice-acting feels soulless and void of life. That’s also just for what dialogue their characters actually speak, but I’ll get back to that.

The back-story is this…

Mankind has gone to Mars and made contact with this giant orbiting sphere that’s called “The Traveler.” Due to the things it teaches us, Mankind has a golden age in which Venus becomes a Garden-class world, Mars is settled, etc. AKA: Lots of good things happen.

Then, “The Darkness,” comes in and ends Mankind’s golden age and nearly destroys us. You are brought back from the dead to be a Guardian by your “Ghost” companion, an AI fragment of The Traveler voiced by Peter Dinklage. Upon your resurrection, you’re tasked with trying to push back against alien species fighting Mankind’s remnants.

And that’s the story as a whole.

No, seriously, that’s it. There’s a final boss, but there’s no real build-up as to even who or what it is. As I’m finishing the campaign, I’m feeling no more remarkable than when I started and, even worse, I’m left wondering what I even accomplished across this entire campaign.

This confusion is further expanded by questions that are left unanswered. Our Ghost tells us that we’ve been dead for a very long time and are going to see a lot of things we won’t understand. After that, we’re never actually told anything to bring us up to speed and get us informed. There are multiple moments like this throughout.

What doesn’t help this problem is the fact that, with what lore and background info that is actually there, over half of it isn’t actually even in the game.

As you play, you collect grimoire cards which give you snippets of lore and background info for the missions, the setting, and the universe’s history. Where do you view the lore from these cards? On Bungie’s website or phone app.

You read that right. Well over half the game’s background lore and even some mission briefings aren’t even in the game, they are on a website you won’t visit or a phone app you won’t want to install. You have to go ridiculously out of the way (and game) to get the big picture.

Even then the picture isn’t anything close to complete. There are holes in information all over the place, likely to be filled by expansion packs. Except, isn’t it a bit ludicrous that we’re hoping that we can buy expansion packs just so we can get an idea as to what is even going on or why we should care?

The voice-actors in that list above? They barely get a few minutes each with the exception of Dinklage. What’s worse, a number of grimoire lore entries have dialogue from their character in text-form that isn’t in the game. Worse yet, there’s more dialogue for those characters on those cards than there is in the actual game.

A nice example of this is a story that Nathan Fillion’s character tells as if he’s around a campfire. It was an interesting story, and when I was done reading it, I found myself craving the chance to have it in the game and actually voiced. You have a large list of good actors in your cast, squeeze some performances out of them and actually use them.

Bungie attempts to disguise their lack of story with subtle references in names and hinted concepts, leading you to think that the shallow pond is actually much deeper and you just don’t quite get it. Worse yet, to see it, you have to leave the game entirely in order to try and understand it.

Seriously, remember Mass Effect‘s codex? I wasted hours with the entries in that damn thing. You can’t tell me you couldn’t add a codex menu, an archive in your tower-base, or some bloody voiced comm-chatter.

In respect to the game’s narrative and delivery, Destiny is woefully lacking. It is a shallow experience that leaves me baffled at just how lifeless it feels.

From the people who brought us compelling adventures in the Halo series, filled with memorable characters who had more than their share to say, we’re left with Destiny. This new title is filled with no narrative substance that is left even emptier by soulless performances with only one or two exceptions (Lauren Cohan’s “Exo Stranger” stands out to me, though only from the two cutscenes she’s actually in).

Is Destiny the “massive new hit,” and “masterful game,” we’ve come to expect? No, it’s not. It had its sights set on a larger target, but it failed to suck me in and left me feeling like I could literally have grabbed any other shooter and played that.

Writing is crazy.

Before we begin, let me drop a simple disclaimer that I shouldn’t need to drop, but will do so anyway because this is the internet. This article is my own opinion and a general statement. It doesn’t apply to everyone, it’s not meant to, so on and so forth.

With that said, on with the show!

“Writers are crazy.”

We’ve heard this statement or something echoing it for a long time. Hell, must of us writers will admit that we are more than a little strange in our ways of thinking and that we might not entirely be of sound mind.

It’s also not true.

Most writers you will ever meet are perfectly well rounded and normal individuals. We’re maybe a bit more insular or private in our lifestyles, but nothing you could generally label as, “Serial killer waiting to happen.”

That part I said about being insular and private? It ties partly in with our creativity. We are people who silently refused to ignore the creative imagination we had as children.

Instead, we nurtured our imaginations as we grew up. Using films, books, games, and music, we helped feed it.

This can be applied to all artists. Whether you’re a musician, author, illustrator, filmmaker, etc. At some point or another, people in these lines of work ignored the call for us to stop fantasizing.

The reason people like (and including) myself say writers are crazy is because we are the ones who think of fictitious details. It is not seen as an entirely normal habit for grown adults outside of artistic fields to constantly be thinking of things such as those. Thus, we get labeled as being crazy or abnormal either by other people or even ourselves.

Take for example, my current work on Project: Ember (Under a Falling Sky/Flames & Ashes). I’ve had to think up the people, places, history, cultural habits, technology, countries, and so on that populate the world of the story. All of that, I’ll add, is in lead-up to the actual story of the book.

The first draft is almost done, by the way.

As you can imagine, when broken down like that, it takes a considerable amount of time and thought to create a fictitious world. As the saying goes, “If you want to make a pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”

This also ties in to how a number of people usually see us as quiet or privately kept. We can easily get lost in thought, so it’s not uncommon for us to seem slightly distant or shut in. We’ve got to keep track of the details in multiple worlds after all.

The truth is that most writers you ever meet are normal, well adjusted people. They might often be the creative thinkers in their households or workplaces, but they’re no more crazy than the neighbor you know who collects stamps.

Depending on how obsessively they collect those stamps, maybe even less so.

So, yeah. I’ve got the fate of worlds, the live of numerous people, and the rules of reality in my hands. I think of creative ways to tell, cause, or allude to people’s tragedies or redemption.

I’m also not crazy, nor are a lot of other writers. We’ll just tell you that we are just so you don’t look at us quite as funny when we start talking about it all.

State of the Mind: June, 2014.

… *sharp whistle*. It’s been a stupidly long time since we did a State of the Mind address, hasn’t it? Well, let’s crack some knuckles and get on with the show.

~

So, what has been happening? Well, I got out of my self-induced lull and have been busting keyboard keys trying to get new works out there. Enough so that it’s actually beginning to drive me insane with the workload.

Back on May 18th, I began work on the new version of Under a Falling Sky. I set a deadline of having (at the very least) the first 60,000 words of a first draft done by July 1st. To help track it, I wound up making spreadsheets and everything to help it along.

I’ve been, for the most part, keeping steady with the estimated requirement (1,364 words-per-day). There have been scenes that have slowed me down to a crawl, or nights where other things wound up interfering with the time I set aside for writing. At the same time, there have been weekends and days where I can make up the difference. Thus, I am still on-track to have that first 60,000 done on time.

Why 60,000 words though? A novel is classified as starting at 50,000 words, with average sci-fi novels running an average of 80,000-100,000 words. I figured that if I could get above the minimum done by July 1st, I would be on solid ground.

At the same time, while writing it, I’ve been making notes about scenes and characters to add, dialogue and interactions to better show off, or even marking where existing scenes will need severe re-writes.

Words I am living by.

Words I am living by.

Now, why July 1st? Well, that actually leads into some news that I am excited to talk about. In the next couple of months, a flash-fiction story of mine that was accepted by Fireside Fiction Company will be published in an upcoming issue. I’m still working on the exact date (I had originally heard the July issue), but I will let you all know when it comes time for release or as it becomes available.

I wanted to make sure I had something well on the way to being roughly completed by the time that story releases. Try to capitalize on any hype and all of that, show that there was something on the way and that I wasn’t entirely sitting around on my ass.

What this schedule has done is obliterate any and all free time I had. Days are spent at the day job, I squeeze in about an hour of R&R, and then I move straight on to writing through the night. It’s tiring, and it’s made me appreciate weekends all that much more (cut out the day job part for a couple days, more time for R&R), but I can’t deny the progress that has been made.

I’m slightly behind where I should be at the moment, sitting at 25,000 words when I should be at 26,000. Over the span of (roughly) 2.5 weeks, I’ve managed to pen half of the bare-minimum for a novel draft, which is good progress in my mind.

However, the progress doesn’t stop there. I am also currently working on a piece of flash fiction for another magazine submission. I have the story mapped out in my head, though I will likely have to cut parts off like it’s going out of style to condense it to fit (1,000 word-cap). I am looking forward to seeing how that goes, but if nothing else, I want it out of my head and onto paper.

What this all has done, outside of create a mountain of work, is limit my time for entertainment. Lone Survivor, which I saw in theaters and loved, came out and I haven’t had a chance to see either it or RoboCop yet. I’d normally watch it this weekend, but I am reserving that time for gaming and watching Edge of Tomorrow.

As far as gaming goes, I have a back-log of games consisting of A) more WildStar, B)¬†more Watch_Dogs, C) Murdered: Soul Suspect, D) more Transistor, and E) wanting to go back and play the Freespace games. Yeah, not like I’m keeping track or anything.

Now, you might have noticed WildStar on that list. I have been playing since the head-start (though only level 17 due to time limitations), and have been enjoying the hell out of it. It has its own comical, action-y charm to it that soaks me in. Well, that and the (awesome!) player housing.

If anyone reading this is playing the game, you can go ahead and add me. I am currently playing on “Orias [NA]” as Exiles. My main character is “Ashayl”, though you can add my account nickname of “Darrow”.

What can I say, I tried to keep it simple.

So yes, that’s where we’re at for the moment. I’ll keep on working on Under a Falling Sky, along with work on the other project. I’ll also try and keep my sanity with some R&R, though I really can’t promise that. Until I see you guys online (or on Nexus in WildStar), see you around.

~ James.