Category Archives: Writing

NaNoWriMo 2016

When I was 12, I got into an argument with my brother. See, I had showed him my “book” I was writing. And I said I wanted to be a writer. My brother was an artist, in that he drew, sculpted, and painted. He told me “Don’t be an artist, you don’t want to end up like me.” We argued because I insisted being a writer wasn’t the same as being an artist. To me, it wasn’t.

I see now what he meant, but even so, I still think I am right. It’s not the same. It is, in some ways, you have to be creative, determined, and dedicated. You have to practice and work at it to improve. But at the same time, his art required a dexterity of hand I did not have. My work required finding words fascinating and enjoying finding the right one.

In college I took all the English classes, including the one creative writing class. I wrote a 40 page story for my Humanities semester project. I loved writing stories, often writing down my own little head fantasies. I was in high school before I found out other people didn’t do that – have little plays in their heads.

I went off to Video Game school, determined to learn a skill that could be leveraged into a career. But I never stopped writing.

I never finished writing though. I would write for a few days, then not do it for a month, come back and the story in my head had changed. So I would write and rewrite. I would get distracted by games or tv shows. Work and side projects. There was always something.

A few times, I managed to press forward and get a hundred or so pages on some story, but it would always have flaws that kept me from FINISHING something I was writing.

This was about the time I saw NaNoWriMo for the first time. That was it. That was what I needed. A tight deadline. It needed to be a constant pressure on me to keep.writing. So I tried it for the first time 2009.

Except my job went into crunch and I had barely enough time to sleep much less write. I tried writing on the ferry and commute, but at the end of a long day of work, I was spent. There wasn’t anymore *juice*. I got about 10k words written.

It was weird – how much I felt like a failure. I hadn’t even signed up on the site. There was no one who KNEW I was a failure, but I felt like – that was it. I wasn’t a writer.

The next year, not crunching, in a much better place, I decided to try again. I planned my novel, got all my characters ready. I was good to go. I was unemployed too. PERFECT FOR WRITING. Then I literally got a job, and won a trip to BlizzCon. In November. I ended that one at around 5k words.

Even more of a failure.

The next year I just ignored it. I wasn’t a writer. And I was going to BlizzCon again.

The year after that – I had just had a kid, are you kidding me?

Then in 2013 I thought, okay, surely I can do it this time. I even had a different plan of attack. I would write it in tweets. It would take about 100 tweets a day, but it was so doable. I loved tweeting!

I managed to make about 200 tweets. Wah wahh. BlizzCon again. Man, was that convention a real killer. I would end up 5 days behind without even TRYING.

2014 I had the worst year ever and just completely ignored it.

2015 I decided to write about 2014. Turn my pain into art. I got 2 days in and realized, nope, there wasn’t enough distance yet. Just thinking about it made me sad and depressed. So I killed that one too.

Then it was October this year. I still really wanted to give it a legit go. This year though, I needed to do something different. The planning it out and trying to write it thing wasn’t working for me. So instead of doing one long novel, I would write short stories. But more than that, if I got bored with one I would just BAIL on it. Even if it wasn’t complete. Just keep writing. Write the 50k words and be done with it.

So day one, I started with a writing prompt from pinterest. I had a little plan in my head for what I was going to write this short story for, then get on it.

4 days later, I was still writing on the same story, and it was going places I TOTALLY didn’t expect. A week after that (the 11th) I hadn’t written on it in a week. WELL.CRAP. But I had a free night, and I didn’t feel like playing WoW so I started hammering on it. By the end of the night, I was only a day behind.

That was the moment. Realizing I could write over 10k words in an evening? Oh yeah, I could do it. And even better, it was fun. I felt energized and happy. Like I had accomplished something.

I was more consistent for the rest of the month, writing every few days for long blocks of time. And I finished early. Nov 27th, at 4am, I finished the book and the 50k words. I hadn’t meant to stay up to 4am, it just kind of happened. (Gamers – it was 100% a 1 more turn thing.) And even funnier, I had written one long story. I never moved off the first prompt. It had gotten interesting and I was enjoying watching it unfold. I was entertaining MYSELF by writing.

I had done it. And it was like – my brain went – Oh right, no, I can do this. This is easy. This is fun. And it’s something I like.

I took the next day off writing. But by Monday evening, I was antsy again. I decided that while my first draft was “settling” over December – I would do it again. 50k more words in 30 days. And it doesn’t seem insurmountable. It seems easy. Totally doable.

So here are the things I learned from finally succeeding:

  • Sometimes you can over plan.
  • It’s more about staying the course of writing every day than writing the right thing.
  • Writing the right thing comes in the revision stage. That will take longer.
  • Sometimes you have to just write – [Ugh – explain this later] and move on.
  • Sometimes you just have to write [And things happened – but they end up here.]
  • DO NOT RESEARCH. It will kill your progress.
  • Give characters stupid names. It’s fine. Replace them later.
  • I write better in long blocks. I will get more done in a 4 hour writing session than 4 1 hour sessions.
  • It’s possible to not know the answer to a question a character asks – and as you are writing their response you write out the answer. Without having known it. It’s super weird.

I decided to trust Stephen King and Neil Gaiman and let my work sit for a bit before the first revision. I am actually very excited about going back and rewriting parts and reviewing it. I also found my brain expects me to write. I can do it faster and easier now. Like this whole blog post took 30 min.

Maybe I am a writer after all.

It’s a Mad Men World

It started as a joke. “in 40 years, a Mad Men-like prestige drama about a 2010s game studio falling apart” – a funny idea. Take the show Mad Men and make a version of it that deals with game studios dying.

Someone else tried to spin it into a “woman power story” which I could approve of, except for the fact that *I* work in this industry and I immediately laughed at the implausibility. “Underdog female protag starts in QA, becomes the studio’s lead designer in 7 seasons. I’m in.”

I am a woman, designing levels and games, I have a Master’s Degree. I have 8 years of experience. I have shipped 6 titles. Three of my titles have sold over 15 million copies and earned over 3 Billion dollars in 4 years. If a season == a year – this idea for a story line was completely implausible. So we started piling on more “joke” ideas. Only they weren’t jokes. They were things. That have happened to us. The laughter stopped and all that was left was several people staring at Twitter slightly disappointed and dismayed. That was when I realized, it really was a good Mad Men like story. It left us just as depressed and demoralized as if we had been watching Mad Men.

The season arcs do write themselves.

Season 1 – our studio is starting work on a huge game. Staffing up, hiring friends. Getting into the flow of making the game. 3 episodes in, a publishing head hancho comes in and makes some outrageous and insane demand. Adding some super complex feature without adding more money. 6 episodes in, the game is announced. The high is being ridden. Everyone parties, then buckles down to work. 9 episodes in, crunch begins. Episode 12, after 6 months of crunching, the team finally ships the game. Season finale.

Season 2 – The team celebrates launch. Halfway through the first episode half the team gets canned. Those who remain get doctor’s appointments and lawyer appointments to deal with the fallout from 6 months of crunch. The season continues with the team getting to work on a sequel to the game they just launched. The game has gotten a 7.5 metacritic. It sells well enough to get a sequel, but not well enough for anyone other than leads to get bonuses. Over this season, good talent starts leaving and the only ones who get promoted are the idiots to get them out of the way. The season ends with being halfway through the 1 year turn around sequel when a competing company announces a game that is the same game, but with better art, better licenses, and a dynamic lead designer.

Season 3 – The deathmarch of crunch is worse, more talent is bleeding away to other studios. The team is completely demoralized working on a project that no one wants because of the other better game. The season continues showing the life costs of working on this game. Divorces, affairs, lost connections. They finally ship the sequel game, to lower review scores, lower sales, and the internet is calling for those “hacks” to be fired. The finale is the employees showing up to work one day and they are locked out. The studio has been closed.

Season 4 – Starts with a few of our favored protagonists starting an indie studio. They are living on savings, borrowing money, etc etc. They try to get publishing deals for their “genius” idea game. It never works out. The whole time one of the no talent hacks from the former studio goes off, manages to luck out and get a job as a lead designer on an amazing game. The indie guys keep working, robbing Peter to pay Paul, and finally at the end of the season ship their indie game.

Season 5 – Indie game is DOA. They try to monetize it differently. It’s critically acclaimed but no one buys it. They struggle on, as the team loses people 1 by 1 as they all go back to crap jobs at big studios just to pay bills. Maybe even losing one or two to death – especially due to heavy alcohol drinking (which has gotten progressively worse over the series). Season and series ends with only character left getting a super high paying job as a programmer in banking doing mindless menial tasks 8-5, and coming home and playing video games. Not doing his dream job, but happier for it.


There. There’s the outline for the Game Developer Mad Men. I am going to go get a drink now.

Black Wings

I needed to be away for a while. To not be where people knew me. My studies were important, but I found my spirit flagging. Even normal magic became difficult to cast in my deepening sadness. I needed to leave.

I thought I had more roots, but it took less than a week to deal with my worldly possessions. My mentor and friend, Joren took most of my books and supplies. Clothes were donated to the city temples. Everything quickly cleaned and sold. Suddenly my cluttered laboratory was empty of all but furniture. A friend would be taking over the space. I imagine Ayen will do good work here.

After decades of a sedentary life, all my worldly possessions fit in a single leather pack. A common brown horse, named Nomad, laden with two saddlebags filled with items I knew to be useful to life on the road.

I am afraid. It’s a new feeling, and one I welcome. As a child I was never afraid. My parents supported my every study and dream. As a young adult, I moved to this city to study magic with the human Wizards. I was apprenticed to Joren, and life became a clouded haze of learning, study, and experimentation. I lived in constant amazement of Joren’s power, confidence, and knowledge. The most archaic bits of knowledge he loved to throw out like tidbits to children. The most complex spells and rituals were all within his grasp, though he rarely had cause to use them. He taught me much. Even his presence and friendship is not enough to keep the darkness at bay. My spirit knows it’s time to leave.

It took two weeks to get beyond the fields and hamlets. To the wilderness. I was not as prepared as I had anticipated. There are things that one cannot learn from books.

Several months later, I found myself at an abandoned watchtower. The door had rotted away, and inside the derelict building was filled with dirt, leaves, and the remains of past campfires. I pushed aside some built up piles of plant material, when I noticed the blue slate floor. It was the color of sky. Surely an odd thing, in a watchtower in the middle of nowhere. It must be a native stone.

A quick trip outside and I returned with a leafy branch, the appropriate length for sweeping. An hour later and the floor was cleared. I discovered in my labor, a well designed firepit, lined with stone. It took me a bit to find a nearby stream, but once I did, a floating disc spell carried water back to wash clean the floor. By nightfall, I had cleaned the room to the standards of any innkeep. A small fire crackled in the pit.

The night still held a chill, despite being late spring, so pulled my traveling cloak tight and made sure to cover Nomad with my winter blanket.

“It’s going to smell like horse now.” I said, patting the gelding’s nose. He wickered back, and nuzzled me. His lead was tied to the side of the window, so I was sure he was nearby and safe. As I turned to reenter the watchtower, I noticed a large raven on a branch watching me intently.

“Hello my friend. You’re a pretty fellow aren’t you?” He cocked his head to the side, as if in response, to preen slightly.

“I will share my bread with you, if you are hungry, friend.” I beckoned the bird inside. As soon as my foot crossed the threshold, the flutter of wings sounded, a breeze passed my cheek, as the raven flew past to land on the saddle I had removed from Nomad.


“Alright, I am getting it.” I opened the bag as the raven adjusted his perch. A fine white loaf of bread wrapped in oil cloth soon served as dinner to me and my new feathered friend.

“What say you, Corvo? A bit of water, then to rest?”

“Chirp.” I held out my hand, and poured water from my waterskin into it. The raven eyed me suspiciously, but jumped to my hand to drink.

Once he was done, I settled down to mediate. I had only used a single spell, so I wasn’t concerned with restoring my magics. A simple trance would refresh me and I could once more be on my way.

I passed into the trance. As I rested, I felt something on my leg. When I once more awakened, there sat the raven, perched on my leg, resting as well.

I returned the raven to the saddle, then headed outside to relieve myself. When I returned, the raven had departed.

I doused the coals, re-saddled Nomad, and prepared to leave. As I mounted, I called out, “Good bye Corvo, may you be blessed friend.”

That evening I once more stopped alongside the road, simply pitching my tent within the trees. I set up a small fire, and made some tea.

“Chirp.” I looked up and there he was. Perched on Nomad’s saddle.

“Well this is quite the surprise my friend. How did you get here?” The raven flapped his wings a few times and looked at me once more.

“I swear… I think you can understand me.” I held out a bit of bread. The raven fluttered down and ate.

“What is your name then my friend?” I asked.

“Corvo.” The bird replied. I blinked exactly twice. I had always been told ravens were devilishly intelligent but I had never seen it in reality.

I spent the evening talking to Corvo. He frequently replied with just a chirp, or would mimic words I would say. By morning, I no longer felt like I could leave him behind. I plied him with food, and he perched on my shoulder as I rode away from the campsite.

Throughout the day, Corvo would take flight, off to peck at something, or simply just fly about, but he frequently returned to my side.

That evening I stopped early. Corvo sat on my shoulder, playfully pecking at my hair ornaments. I searched through my spellbook until I found the incantations. Corvo certainly fit the bill for being a familiar.

“Corvo, would you like to be even more intelligent?”


“It would mean being my familiar. I’m a wizard you know.”


“So… yes then?”


“Okay.” I set about preparing the campsite for the ritual. It takes a full 24 hours of incantations. I took the time to gather some nuts and berries, as well as plenty of firewood and water. Corvo followed me around, watching intently.

For the first hour or so of the incantation, nothing seemed to be happening. But over time, I began to feel… odd. I felt… a sense of excitement. Not normal excitement, but the entire world was changing excitement. I probed the feeling and dwelled on it. It was so different from my pervasive sadness I wanted to crawl inside it.

“Why sad?” Corvo asked, his voice very pitched and chirpy.

“I don’t know. Something is missing.”

Corvo hopped forward, and rested his wing along my thigh.

“Wait… You can speak?”

“Words. Meaning. You… did this thing. The words… I know now.”

“The spell, it makes you a familiar. I guess it allows you to speak.”


“Friend, companion, a magical creature bound to me.”

“Wing sister?” His words were paired with a feeling of flying in a group of ravens.


“I like you. You … different.”

“I like you too Corvo.”

“What is… Corvo mean?”

“Corvo is draconic for raven. I was just calling you raven.”

“Corvo. Understand. Names…” I could feel his confusion. Ravens don’t have names for each other, though they know specific ravens.

“My name is Riatha… But you should call me Rain.” I said as he pondered it.

“Rain?” My mind was filled with the feeling of rain pattering down on extended wings.

“Yes, it’s my hatchling name.”

“You Rain. I Corvo.”

I continued with the ritual. Corvo flew around the circle I had inscribed in the dirt. He fluttered happily as the bond between us grew. I could feel his excitement. All his life he had watched humans and wondered about them. Now, through the bond, he had his answers. So clever, and so intelligent. I wondered if all familiars were like this. Was this the reason I had been so dissatisfied? Was Corvo the piece I had been missing?

The ritual took a full 24 hours. The sun was near setting by the time it was done. I fed Corvo some bread (he loves bread) and settled down to meditate. Corvo settled on my thigh once more and rested as well.

I rested 8 hours instead of my normal 4, then got up to prepare to leave.

“Where go?” Corvo asked, and for the first time, I realized he spoke in Elvish. So weird.

“I don’t know. Somewhere else. Somewhere interesting and adventuresome.”

“Fly Rain!” Corvo chirped and took off. I mounted Nomad and followed at a quick walk.

The next few weeks were filled with odd conversations with Corvo, and learning how to speak with one another through our empathic link. I taught him to scout and what to look for as far as ambushes, geographical hazards, and cities. When we first came to a city, I explained that he needed to stay close by, so he wouldn’t end up in some farmer’s stew pot.

Ravens have no concept of stealing. Unless you have eaten it, it’s fair game. I learned from him, as much as he learned from me.

I also learned to keep him from talking. The first time he spoke in front of people, they tried to drag us off to a temple to be “cleansed” of our demons, which would likely have led to his death.

“Corvo… Do you regret joining up with me?” I asked one night, in our tent as rain poured down.

“Regret?” He didn’t understand the emotion. I tried to explain in feeling, but even so, he didn’t understand. To him, there was no past, only now. Only the joy of food, flight, and wing siblings. One day, maybe the joy of a mate. Maybe the joy of hatchlings.

As we sat listening to the rain, I finished carving the outline of a raven into my quarterstaff. Corvo fluttered up to sit on my shoulder and peck at the silver chains threaded through my hair. My raven black locks blended quite well with his feathers. We were clearly a matched set.

I had set out to find adventure and ease the restlessness in my soul, and in doing so, found a bit of it, in this lovely friend. As far as Corvo was concerned, we were both ravens, and that was simply how life was. I am surprised I was willing to accept it.

Reading a Bad Book

Richard Dansky wrote a post on responses to reading bad books. It made me think about all the bad books I have come across recently.

Ironically, most of them have been recommended to me by friends or people I respect. And yet the books turns out to be abysmally bad. Like not Twilight bad, but close. The truly sad thing is, when I express my dislike of the books, I am met with blank stares and people who point to the books being on best selling lists. Yeah, well… so was Twilight.

I got through all of Richard’s stages every time I read a bad book.

1. Resignation:

To be fair, I do this much less than I used to. I am much more willing to bail on a bad book, movie, or game now than I used to be. I never had the sunk cost fallacy issue. To me, it was much more of the “hope springs eternal” thought. Surely the book would get better. Surely the writer would redeem the story.

Now, if I am 100 pages in and I still hate all your characters, I am going to bail. Sorry.

Notable exception: Karen Miller and the Godspeaker Trilogy. I persisted through the book, not because of the plot, characters, or even the world, but rather because of the glorious construction of the words.

He was right, I did grow out of this.

2. Indignation:

I do this quite frequently. I get mad that such unimaginative crap has been published, I sit down and write on my own work to “cleanse” the taste from my mouth. Also, I tend to go back and re-read stuff I know is good. Every poorly written fantasy novel has me crawling back to Robert Jordan. Every terrible love story has me slipping back to Julia Quinn. Every idiotic children’s series sends me right back to the Dark is Rising.

The funny thing is, I don’t do this just on books. Blogs trigger this response as well, as do video games. Video games are perhaps the worst, because I know I could do better than that stupid designer, but that company won’t hire me. Likely because I call their designers stupid.

3. Rage:

I love what he says : “they could have spent doing literally anything else is enough to bring out a Hulk-like rage, often punctuated by the book in question going airborne. While counterproductive, it’s quite cathartic.”

Oh but how un-Hulk like his response. Throwing the book? Haha. Amateur. I devise horrible ways to destroy said books. My favorite being the football spike into the Recycle Bin. See that? You words mean as much to me as the phone book and junk mail. I had a Calculus book go up in flames once. I used a terrible romance to practice my book hollowing technique.

I hate destroying books, so when an author has managed to get me to this level of rage, they are quite exceptional with their badness.

4. Peace:

I will never achieve peace. Because even if I recognize a book as able to stand on merits other people appreciate (I am looking at you Game of Thrones) their existence bothers me. How can people who seem reasonable, intelligent, and interesting like something so … illogical, stupid, and boring? I have been known to throw books away rather than give them to people I know would want them, simply because I don’t want them coming back in 3 months trying to get me to give it a second chance.


He says he hasn’t migrated to electronic books because of the worry of slinging said electronic, and while I have to agree with his point, in practice, I find disposal of ebooks much easier than paper books. A mediocre ebook can be tossed into the “Probably never gonna read again” category and ignored, never taking up precious apartment space or needing to be carried to Goodwill. A truly terrible ebook can be deleted. While not as cathartic as chucking it, or spiking it, at the very least, it’s a moment of “Let’s just pretend I never bought and downloaded you.”


So what is it about a book that makes it bad to me?

1. I hate the characters.

I need at least one likable character. One character I care what happens to. And that character, can’t be treated like crap the entire story. I first encountered this with the Dragonlance books. I loved the trilogy I read, then in the fourth book, they kill off all the characters I liked, leaving the one character I hated. I never read another one, and even more telling, I never read the trilogy again.

The Magicians was one such book. There were no characters of redeeming value. They were all spoiled rotten little twits that just annoyed the crap out of me. When I decided to stop reading I actually had a moment where I stopped to imagine a nuke going off in their little school. Any time I think a book is improved by a total board wipe, it’s time to stop reading.

2. It’s the Hero’s Journey.

Prophecy, long lost child who is actually the rightful ruler, two comedic sidekicks, scoundrel, mother/maiden/crone… oh god spare me. I really want to send these authors a copy of Mistborn and say, “Hey, take a minute and read about what you can do without resorting to crap we’ve heard so much we know exactly how the story is gonna end by the end of the first chapter.”

3. Wildly long tangents that have nothing to do with the story.

Tom Bombadil, die in a fire.

If a writer does this, he had better wait until book 4+ so I am invested. Or even better, make it suddenly wildly important later, we just didn’t know it at the time. Don’t waste my time.

4. Mary Sue/Self insertion fan fic.

Okay, this is Twilight, but the worst thing is, I see it everywhere now. People aren’t trying to create interesting stories. They are just writing out their fantasies. Of my 4 works I have written a great deal on, NONE are places I would want to live. None are situations I would want to be in. I could write a book about sitting around playing WoW all day, but god, who would want to read it?

5. I don’t trust the main character, any of their friends, and honestly, I don’t think they are right.

Trudi Canavan… How you managed to make a book full of what are supposed to be the good and awesome protectors of the world all seem like bad guys… beats me. Here’s the thing though, I am not a fan of bad guys. I like the good guys. or at the very least bad guys who are forced to be good guys.

This is the same problem I had with the rebellion in Hunger Games. Nothing they did proved they were any better than the Capitol. They were cut from the same cloth. Wonderfully, Katniss sees through this and reacts in an exactly appropriate manner.

6. They take themselves too seriously.

This is perhaps my favorite thing about Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. She never takes herself seriously. She never takes her writing seriously. And it makes it that much funnier. Some non-fiction writers just don’t get this. They think being published requires gravitas. It doesn’t.

7. The author makes no attempt to be logical or consistent.

The Spiderwick Chronicles really set me off with this one. Huge plot holes, shifting truths, and complete changes to what characters believe, without any explanation or attempts at explanation. She didn’t even say the “a wizard did it” line to try and smooth it over.



There are so many more, but these are the big ones. And they aren’t universal. There can be exceptions, but for the most part, I really feel like some writers are just angry at their readers and want to punish them.

Games I Played This Week

I really should have considered prior to deciding that I wanted to do a weekly post about games I played that it does happen I get stuck in playing several games that are very enjoyable.

I am still cracking away on DQ9. I now have multiple grottos available and am clearing out at least 2 every day. Sadly, my characters don’t seem to be leveling very fast. In other DQ9 news, I convinced my mother to purchase the game and she is *quite* addicted at this point. She keeps calling me and asking me questions so I am able to track her progress quite well. This game is definitely going on my list of games to suggest for people who have parents that play DS.

I will likely be grinding on the multiplayer while at home with her in May.

I am also still playing a game or two of the Pokemon TCG trainer every day. I finished with the Fire Deck and I am now halfway through with the Water Deck. I am also noticing that they keep having “overloaded” messages, so clearly I am not the only one who is loving it.

I have been playing quite a bit with my 3DS, mostly showing stuff off at work. Also I am loving the Street Pass, though it makes me long for PAX where there are more people to encounter.

In WoW both my Priest and Shaman are now getting in on Alt runs for Tol Barad. My server has reached critical mass for being able to field successful pugs for TB which is a huge help for my alts. Our guild has also started some TB alt runs. I managed to down Atramedes on two different toons this week, thanks to needing a healer for our 10 man run on Saturday and then needing a DPS for our OTHER 10 man run on Sunday. My guild is actively recruiting.

Joyia finally got bracers from BoT trash and exceptionally luckily managed to get the +spirit wand off Chimareon. Two upgrades in one week! We made some fairly serious attempts on 25 man Elemental Monstrosity, the RNG fight of doom. (Not from Hell, that’s Al’Akir.)

I also volunteered to get a new guild website set up for OLN. I decided to use WoWStead and it took me all of 45 minutes to get everything up and running. Bonus points for WoWStead’s usability.

Finally, I have taken some time this week to start re-reading some Julia Quinn, to inspire me to work on some of my writing. I had a fairly dramatic plot break through on Wasteland, which I hope wraps up the inconsistencies and allows the story to have a conclusion that isn’t completely depressing.

100 posts

I really didn’t intend my 100th post to be a rant about entitlement and people not finding fulfillment in their lives because they are comparing themselves needlessly to others. But that’s how it turned out.

If it makes it any better I have like 20+ unpublished posts that are half written, or turned out to not really be interesting that I never posted.

But I have two great ideas… no make that three… for this week. Lets hope I keep up my posting throughout this year. As much as I don’t expect people to read this, it does make me a better writer. It also gives me an outlet to rant about things I feel are very silly.

What’s in a Name?

Writing for video games is one of the hardest mediums to write for. Bypassing entirely the fact that development teams think they don’t need a writer, the writers being brought in exceptionally late, and/or assuming that anyone on the team who can put words on paper counts as a writer, there are a ton of minor issues with traditional writing that make writing for a game difficult.

One major issue that is very common is the assumption that story can only be told in text blocks. Bioshock has proven this to be completely untrue. Story can be told using models, textures, sounds, and even enemy set ups. This is part of an idea that when making a story the designer is also making a world. Everything in the game has to be a part of the world and a part of the story. Nothing should be put in the game that doesn’t support the world and the fiction.

If the design of the game requires something like zone or area names, then it logically follows that each of these names should be selected to support the fiction. Brand names, character names, place names… every single proper name in the game should be carefully considered and chosen to support the fiction. Nuka Cola in Fallout 3? Perfect. Pokeball to put Pokemon in? Perfect. Sinclare Solutions? Spot on. Each name supports the world.

That means the person on the team who knows the world best (hopefully an evil overlord of design), if not a writer, should at least be working with the writer to generate proper names for every single thing within the game. From characters to unique items. From places to technical terms that need to be renamed for the players (eg spawners). These molecules of flavor are just as important as a good footstep sound effect and a well placed combat area for making the world feel real, consistent and coherent.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Recently I decided to start reading more books that fell outside my “normal” reading patterns. The first book I picked was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a mystery book by Stieg Larsson. I chose it, as the main character, the titular girl, Lisbeth Salander is a computer hacker, and earns her living working for a security firm by finding out people’s darkest secrets.

Overall I think the book was a good book. Worthy of a spot on my shelf, and it has lead to me acquiring the second in the series. (I will buy the third when it is released in paperback.)  If you like mysteries, I can suggest it as one of the best I have ever read. If not, perhaps a look, but maybe with a bit of a check first.

NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK. (Or if you don’t mind being spoiled.)

First off, I love the character Lisbeth. She is a wildly intelligent hacker, that clearly has had a very rough life. Her social skills are painfully absent. She trusts no one and has very odd sense of right and wrong. Through the course of the first book, we see her sense of fair play that borders on psychotic. She always does what she feels is right, regardless of whether it is legal.

She seems completely unable to understand people’s intentions or responses towards her. Her antisocial and standoffish behavior seems to draw others in the book to her. I find it interesting that unlike most authors, who will give their characters “abilities” beyond the norm to assist them, Larsson realizes that her ability makes her that much more incapable of handling things. He makes her exceptionally strong, while giving her extremely profound weaknesses. He also doesn’t seem to mind heaping misfortune on her. One of my favorite qualities is her inability to have compassion for a victim. She is furious at a character for fleeing. Even going to far as to blame the victim for not doing something about the crimes sooner. But then in the very same scenes, proceeds to cover up a serial killer! She also scoffs at the notion that society or upbringing can be blamed for anyone’s crimes.

The book is very dark and is far more along the lines of a Law and Order Special Victims Unit than a standard mystery. The author is not one to shy away from detailed gruesome details. It makes for uneasy sections, but then, it really solidifies the reader to Lisbeth’s side.

I also really liked the fact that the book is very Swedish. They didn’t change or edit it (at least not as much as some others) to make it more “American”. The constant issue with characters not owning cars and having to rent them. The fact that square footage is generally included in a place description (how many Americans can even tell you how much square footage their home is?). They always speak of money in kronor, although I think they converted the numbers to the American equivalent without taking into account the exchange rates now…  Otherwise the numbers all appear to be shockingly low. $20k driving a company into the ground?  Regardless, it’s nice to read a story that is allowed to be told from a different culture and viewpoint.

The ending, while “happy” does not feel satisfying. Much the way that I dislike Law and Order Episodes where the outcome is unclear or the guilty party is not punished for their crime, this book leave the reader with a hollow victory. Yes, the serial killer is dead. But was he brought to justice? Were his crimes brought to light? Was he forced to suffer the atrocities he committed on others? The grand cover up just annoys me more. As I pondered why, especially since the characters give such convincing reasons why it should be covered up, I realized that my biggest issue is none of the characters grew as people from their experience.

Harriet was no more able to face the truth of her childhood than when she ran away. She was just as irresponsible and weak willed as she was at 16. Mikael is just as flaky as he has always been, and just as self centered. He ignores Lisbeth’s feelings to the extend he might as well be just as oblivious as her! Does he consider the women who have died? Does he lose sleep over the person he was friends with that turned out to be a serial killer? Do ANY of them stop to wonder about the man’s girlfriend?!? No, he is far more concerned with his vendetta against the guy he libeled.

After reading the first part of the second book in the series I discover that Lisbeth is in fact the *only* character that grew as a person!

All in all, it was a good book. I am reading the others in the series, but I am wary of suggesting it to others, as it could be a bit squeamish.

Novel November – Once More, With FEELING

Last year I took part in Novel November in that I worked diligently on attempting to just write a novel, regardless of how close to done it got. I tried to ignore things like factual representation and just tried to get the gist of the story down

I failed miserably on all counts. I didn’t finish it. The story ended up in totally the wrong place. I lost the feel about halfway through. I lost the feel of the characters and they morphed into totally different people. Writing is not easy. I would say it is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. And I make video games for a living.

So my plan is to try again. Once more, with feeling! and this time with a few minor adjustments.

Novel November will be proceeded with Prep-October. No actual writing will be done, but rather character profiles, outlines, and research. Then on Day 1, I will have a slightly more focused goal and attempt something better than just failing about typing the story as it comes to me.

A Memory

I have recently been reading a great deal of books on writing. One of the most interesting things that struck me was the advice to read books that are similar to what you are writing. And even beyond that, read voraciously. The ever snarky part of my brain piped up with, “No sh*t Sherlock.” It is perfectly obvious that as a writer, one should always be reading. But then I suppose the writer of this book intended to cover all his bases and make sure that everyone knew this as well. I read to excess and exceptionally fast. It is easy for me to blast through a 300 page book in 3 or 4 hours. People are always amazed at how fast I read and yet manage to comprehend and remember everything I read. This is always the point where I look at them and tell them “Well, to be honest, I have had a great deal of practice.”

As a kid, I lived in a house where TV was not considered an important thing. Not to mention we lived so far out in the country we had a grand total of 6 channels, and 2 of them were frequently static-y or down if it was cloudy. My parents didn’t see the value in buying movies, so I probably had about 10-12 VHS tapes of various kinds, mostly Star Wars and Disney. But books were a different story. $6 for a paperback book that I could read over and over again was considered a frugal bargain and as such I quickly discovered that while I could never convince my mother to buy a movie or toy, I could always convince her to buy a book. Add this mentality to the fact that as a high school student I often stayed after school for drill team practice or band practice, after which I would walk to the public library, to have somewhere safe to do my homework, and they sold old books for 10 cents a piece and you have all the makings for a girl with her nose in a book most of the time.

The real point at which I became so enamored of reading and by it’s extension writing my own stories down was in the 4th grade. I remember the event quite well because it was one of the first points in my life I felt real frustration and excitement. Every week or so our well meaning teacher would take us to the library in our elementary school. Here she would attempt to teach us about research, decimal systems, and the value of reading. We would do our best to ignore her and hope to get on to the end of the day. In an attempt to convert us, she required us to check out a book every time we went to the library. The first day she instituted this policy many of us were quite annoyed, but dutifully searched the shelves for anything we might want to check out. Several students took the easy route and checked out something they had read. We were, after all, mildly intelligent and it was easy to see this spawning book report assignments.

I wandered down a shelf of books reading titles, not really interested in anything. I didn’t particularly like reading “grown-up” books, i.e. books not written by Seuss. Near the end of the row I sat down and started pulling out books to look at their covers. My mother always said “Never judge a book by it’s cover.” But I had nothing else to judge it by, so I judged away. I found one book with this rather nifty looking image of a wolf on the front. The Grey King by Susan Cooper. Sounded good enough for me to check out and tote around with me until we had to return it.

Ever the normal child I carried the book around, but didn’t actually read a word of it. To avoid the search for a new book, I continued to check it out over and over again. I can only assume the teacher believed me to be a slow reader, or the book to be a bit out of my vocabulary range. Then the unthinkable happened. For whatever reason we had downtime, despite trying I cannot remember what is was we were doing. We weren’t allowed to get up, or even to doodle or whatever. All we could do was read a book in between the something or other. So I pulled out my library book and read it pages for something to do other than stare at the same walls.

Imagine my surprise when the book was quite interesting. I became immersed in the world and deeply interested in what happened. However, before I could finish the book we were back in the library. With a far more suspicious teacher. She insisted that if we had checked out a book 2 or more times we could not check it out again. I was only a part of the way through The Grey King and had checked it out 6 times. It never occurred to me at the time to lie or even to go home and ask my mom to buy the book for me. All I knew was I *had* to keep the book and take it home that day. So I went up to the teacher and told her the truth. Yes, I had just picked a book randomly from the shelf. No, I had not been reading it. But I had started and it was pretty good so far. I wasn’t done and couldn’t I please just have it for one more week so I could finish it. I promise I will turn it in next week. Perhaps in her infinite wisdom she realize that this was indeed a turning point for me. Perhaps she hoped maybe even one good book would make a difference. Maybe she was so surprised I told the complete truth. If she remembered the event, I would certainly ask her now. Regardless, she acquiesced and let me check the book out one more time.

The Grey King was exceptional. At least to me. I thought it was the most wonderful book with a fascinating story, characters, and ending. I returned the book the next week, having finished it over the weekend. I immediately went back to that section of the shelves and touched the spine of what was now my favorite book. Though to be fair, it had no competition. In my childish mind, this was the section to pick another book from for the next week because clearly the shelves had given me such a wondrous treasure before. Next to it on the shelf was a book called The Dark is Rising. Sounds good to me, I thought and checked it out.

I wish I could say I was observant enough to notice the author’s name was the same. I wish I could say I was observant enough to notice the small print on the cover of The Grey King that plainly marked it as a series. But I didn’t. Imagine my surprise when the new book I had checked out was about the same characters! But it told the story of what happened before! How exciting for a 9 year old! It took less than a week for me to finish The Dark is Rising. Far wiser, I returned to the section and with a bit of assistance figured out it was a series of five books. Suddenly the librarian had to deal with a girl who previously had checked out the same book for 6 weeks just for show wanting to check out THREE books at once. The limit on checkouts was 2 at time. Bless her reading heart, she bent said rules and let me take home Over Sea, Under Stone; Greenwitch; and Silver on the Tree.

This was my snowflake. This was the tipping point. It lead to Coville, Keene, Lewis, Alexander, Raskin, Bradbury, and so many more. A snowflake that became a snowball that became an avalanche. For years I known for reading books every chance I got. At the dinner table, in the car, sitting at home, in class… In fact, by sixth grade I was so known for reading when I should have been paying attention I was the only person *not* allowed to have books at my desk.