The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘nanowrimo’

Why Writing Comics Ain’t Kids Stuff

Posted by BigWords on November 29, 2010

Despite there being no good reason for my hesitancy to commit to the proposal of my NaNoWriMo “novel,” which is actually a comic-book as there is nothing in the rules to say that such things are disallowed, I still can’t get the thing to anywhere near the required 50k. The reasons for my failure are complex, though I can pin down the biggest problem with one word – format. I fucking hate writing in such an annoying layout, and every couple of pages I’ll revert to film-script layout for a few scenes before realizing what I’ve done and have to re-set the pages to conform to the overall aesthetic. My OCD is absolutely hammering my creativity on this project, so I’m kinda being pushed into taking extreme measures. This probably falls somewhere between the cracks of the accepted NaNo word-pimping techniques, but as I am already bending so many rules with this thing – inserting fake ads, writing two background novellas,  some Alan Moore-esque “historical documents” – there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with a further mockery of the rules.

This post, as you may have gathered by now, exists for the sole purpose of getting me somewhat closer to the magical fifty thousand word minimum. In order to justify my use of these words towards my goal I am stripping apart the bones of the story and laying them out before you, in a sort of masturbatory look-how-clever-I-am way. You’re probably already sighing and shaking your head at this blatant cheating, so I’ll sweeten the deal by giving you a (very concise) history of comics alongside my outline for… ah, here’s where the problems begin. The title of the story is “Who Needs Heroes: An Existential Crisis Of Conscience.” To any comics reader, one word in there will probably stand out – it is, of course, riffing on DC Comics’ Crisis, and is an easy reference to get.

There are a lot of obvious gags in the text, but I always try to throw in the odd genius bonus where I can, though never at the expense of those who may not be so well-read. Allusions to popular culture are a recurring theme in my writing, and event though there are people who insist that such things are not meant to appear in “literature” I heartily disagree. In-jokes and fandom-pleasing references have a long and glorious history, reaching back to the days of Shakespeare plays and beyond. Just because the jokes have lost their grounding in places, events and people, doesn’t make the fact that they are there any less important. Ever wondered why the line “a rose by any other name” can make me smile? Go look it up. You may be surprised at how immature a diss it truly is.

One of the reasons I chose to portray my “heroes” as amoral, bad-tempered, border-line sociopaths was to honor the true spirit of early comics – a time when Batman shot people with no compunction and Superman spent an awful lot of his time grabbing criminals crotches. Ye gods, I can’t believe I just typed that sentence, but as I have started I may as well make my stand and hope for the best. National Periodical Publications, one of the names under which DC Comics was publishing in the early days, wasn’t adverse to the kinds of characters which I am making use of in my own superhero work – those first heroes were racist (“Slap a Jap” is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Golden Age comics), sexist (Wonder Woman may as well have been called Bondage Woman) and, despite everything, truly fun to read.

In many ways, my loutish superheroes are more respectful to the early comics than the Mary Sue fan-fiction currently being published by Marvel and DC, and the best example of where I am pulling ideas from is The Sub-Mariner. Despite appearing in print for the first time in a children’s comic, he was a precursor – in many ways – to the post-millennial terrorist fears which Hollywood has peddled with gleeful abandon. Here was a character who didn’t merely hate America, he hated the entire human race. In his first appearance he throws an ship out of the sea in the kind of act which would get serious members of Greenpeace stiff. The only way a comic-book could be more contentious is if the hero was an Osama Bin Laden expy, and he was able to tear apart submarines with his bare hands… It was this willingness to murder supervillains which led me to think about the world after the criminal element had been, uh, “disposed of.” It didn’t take long to work out that, deprived of their raison d’être, they would eventually end up being just as shallow and uninteresting as the vapid celebrity element currently being embodied by the underwear-eschewing, nightclub addicted (and quite possibly insane) Britney Spears. Superheroes would be assholes in real life.

Wait a sec. Before you jump to the comments and start telling me how pessimistic a view of humanity I have, let me qualify this with something which has been bugging me for a few years. Before the Comics Code Authority laid out a list of things which couldn’t be seen in comics there were stories which set out the behavior pattern of the “heroes” which would, by and large, dictate the way they would thereafter be presented. In most of the stories the heroes were, quelle surprise, complete monsters. Not only were they hypocritical, they were self-interested, egomaniacal, power-hungry and vicious. Removing the taming influence of their mortal enemies would only lead them to boredom, and with boredom they would lose what little self-restraint they may have possessed.

A rather contentious argument, but one I’m willing to run with.

You’ve probably encountered the odd time travel story here and there, and it’s an easy enough plot to service almost any set of characters. It was the way that I could play with preconceived ideas which made it top the list of plot elements I wanted to squeeze in, but building up to the big plot reveal mid-story meant that the rest of the story fell away. There really was no other way of handling the twist other than by making the MC go back mid-story – otherwise I would be building up to a climax which could never pay off. The twist, that the hero goes back to save a supervillain in order to  bring them to the future and reignite the heroic impulse in other heroes, was too funny not to run with. That, of course, presented a further opportunity to mercilessly mock the way comics are written.

I have some really big problems with traditional DC and Marvel villains. They are motivated by their characterization rather than internal motives. Reading through any number of the acclaimed stories will show that the primary element of their personalities is imposed on them rather than occurring naturally from their circumstance. Kraven’s Last Hunt is one story which I often point people to, in order to see what proper characterization can add to a superhero story, and it avoids all of the pitfalls which annoy me so. He’s driven to his actions by something other than the need to fill a few comics’ worth of stories.

The villain I chose to be the Big Bad, whose elimination in the 80s would scatter all remaining supervillains and begin the reign of superhero-delivered peace, was to be built up into someone whose reputation was equal parts Lex Luthor and Khan Nonnien Singh. I really did my best to portray him, in the minds of everyone who spoke of him, as someone who was a feared and majestic leader of the most powerful criminals on Earth. Then, when I have him yanked from the last moments of his life into the future, I decided that I would eschew the godawful writing which most supervillains fall prey to. I did the opposite of everything which another comic would have. I had him state, that given the fact everyone thinks he is long dead, he will use his time to take up crochet, watch all the movies he missed, get a dog and settle down. As I was writing it, I knew there could only be one way to handle the end of the scene. The hero, frustrated that his plans have gone so awry, kills the former villain in cold blood. It’s funny in context…

Okay, so “funny” is a matter of opinion.

Maybe the month-long rush to get the story laid out wasn’t the best way to deal with something which required two timeframes, and thus two realities of the “present era” – one with peace, and one with a villain. It was when I decided that I might have pushed my hand too far that I freaked out, and started frantically re-writing chunks, deleting scenes, and making the work less horrific. There were way too many personal attacks, jibes at the expense of best-selling titles and popular characters – all of which I still feel have been sodomized by the current level of artistic indifference in the comic-book industry, but I’m not willing to risk alienating the companies whose characters I want to play with eventually.

Anyway, by the time I had completed my clean-up, I had eliminated the headway I had built up – and spending time compiling and writing a list of all the zombie novels available didn’t help with the word-count either. That moment of pure panic managed to give me enough time to come up with a few ideas which didn’t call into question the artistic element of the project. There’s a thin line between the super-minimalist quality of, for example, Jack Staff, and the woodcut influenced Mignola material I was looking at. It may not be something which I should have been concerning myself with, but in order to write effectively I have to have an idea of what I’m going to do with the finished story.

This is where I would normally image-spam you with all the sketches thus far, but most are (at best) scratches of ink across paper, and are less than suited for an accurate representation of the comic. I’ll do a post with character designs and style elements at some point, but at the moment I’m rushing to the finish line with a deficit of a couple of thousand words. There’s little time left to get this post written in order to pull me over the word count, and I’m damned if I’m going to lose so close to the end.

Where was I? Ah, yes. The references. I knew I was going to get around to this sooner or later, and this post may as well have some sort of explanation about the barrage of hat-tipping which makes up the character-interactions. If there is one thing which I can claim to do well, it is the ability to shape scenes with pop-cultural emphasis to bolster verisimilitude. People, in real life, often speak with others in a shorthand – having the films, books, television series and other media which shape their cultural background as one of the defining elements of their speech patterns. Look to the work of Joss Whedon for the best examples of this form of chatter.

I am not sure as yet if I have managed to ramble on long enough to get over 50k, but I’ll find out soon enough. Given that I spent all of Sunday frantically pulling scenes together, I really hope that the effort hasn’t gone to waste. There’s something to be said for a last-minute panic rush, but banging up against deadlines also brings out the worst in me. It makes the small problems seem larger, highlights writing deficiencies, gets me smoking more than normal… So that one may not be unusual, but the rest – real annoyances when I’m trying my absolute best to get enough written to make the concept worth doing.

Whatever. Off to see how much words I’ve managed to bank so far.

Posted in comics, Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Mid-November Update

Posted by BigWords on November 15, 2010

This is my mid-November update, just like it says in the post header, and seeing as how I have managed (in my own special way) to add more projects than is either sane or remotely normal in one month – remembering that this is the height of the NaNoWriMo rush as well, you’re lucky I am writing this much about my activities. I’ve been pondering how I could break the following news to people without getting shouted at, but it seems that no matter how I word this list of projects I’m gonna end up with people wondering about my sanity.

The Comic

Yeah. That’s not going so well. It’s stalling somewhat because of the nature of the story… It was originally a neat examination of what a world would be like if superheroes defeated all the supervillains, but then I went and did something really stupid. I found Rick Veitch’s Brat Pack and Maximortal while I was moving stuff around, and even though there was a list of things I needed to do I decided to re-read them. Then (through mental machinations which my subconscious can only hint at, and for reasons even I don’t fully comprehend) the story took a wide left turn and had all kinds of things happen which undermines the simple message that you can’t always get what you want. I’ll start drawing the pages as and when I’m certain that they’ll not go through further permutations, though it doesn’t appear that I’ll be making the series available for download until March at the earliest – and that’s if it makes an appearance in finished form at all. There’s so much more than I expected lurking in the idea that I may see if I can pace it out properly at a later date and shop it around – there’s at least a couple of things in there which made even me (the man behind the story) do a double-take. It’s not that it is particularly violent, nor too offensive (especially given the type of things you can see in Max or Vertigo titles) but it has a feel to it that is off-key.

The early draft of the first issue is still here – and I’m wondering how Dan feels about his dubious caricature. Pfft. Whatever. I’m not going to change it now.

The Zombie List

The other main project for November was a list of all the zombie novels I could conceivably think of, and even I’m surprised at how many there are. It’s not as if I expected it to be easy, but it’s already longer than I anticipated, and the listing thus far is only up to the letter N. I thought that I would be done by Saturday, freeing up the rest of the week for the NaNo, though it now appears I’ll be doing this particular list for another couple of days. The list of short stories and other material to be found on the web will eventually be moved to it’s own sub-page as I get around to including all of the wonderful material I have yet to include, but for the moment it is all bunched together on the master page. The few titles missing from the list will eventually get added as I get around to confirming whether or not the undead in those works are indeed zombies, or if they are expy’s for vampires or other strains of the undead – there are a lot of mythological beings which look, at a cursory glance, to be zombies but are much different.

The Fanfic

I pointed out the fact that I was attempting to alter the largely negative attitudes to fanfic writing through an elaborate and interconnected saga which I would be writing through the latter part of this year, though it has increased significantly in scope, running (at present) to around 300k, and still incomplete. When it is nearly finished I will start polishing the opening chapters and begin posting them online a safe distance from my other locations on the interwebs. The last thing I need is to get embroiled in anything which it may arouse in people.

That’s all the shit you probably know about, and I’m sorry if I’m boring you to death by stating – yet again – that I’m busy working on things and not plying my usual brand of mind-games and madness online. There are only so many hours in the day, and it seems as if I am making things even harder on myself by adding more projects when I should probably be streamlining my activities to a few core things. The advice to writers is often “write what you are working on, and store away those good ideas for later” but it fails to take into account the sheer number of mind-blowing ideas which present themselves. If I started writing everything I want to write, I still wouldn’t have exhausted all the good stuff by the time I die. And you don’t need to start pipping in with a dead pool for me, ’cause I intend to live forever just out of spite.

Yeah, you heard that right… I AM NOW IMMORTAL.

The New Idea – Realism In YA

There was a couple of blog posts which I quickly browsed through – noting complaints and suggestions for the future of YA – which piqued my interest in the ways that a progression of sorts, or rather an expansion, could be done. The limited nature of YA – and I mean no offense to the many YA writers whose work I enjoy immensely – means I often get frustrated. The fact that so many of the YA books have resolutions which affirm and secure the reader is irritating and (whilst understandable) too neatly tied up. One of the biggest prompts for my concept – which I will come to in due course – was a post which suggested that there ought to be more diversity in the largely whitebread YA books. I love this. The only niggle at the back of my mind, questioning the suitability of myself as a YA writer, is the story I managed to subconsciously patch together whilst these thoughts I was consuming boiled over in a stew of possibilities. It isn’t exactly the type of thing I would imagine being an easy sell.

When people start begging – or at least pleading… maybe merely asking, now that I come to think about the wording of that post – for a more realistic set of texts for young readers, I always have the same reaction. It’s not that I don’t trust people’s judgment to separate the reality from the fiction, but it feels as if I need to repeat the same bloody thing over and over again – kids can be little shits when left to their own devices. The current way that they are represented in fiction could lead people to believe that children are somehow different from adults in their capability for acts of violence, malice and calculated evil. You don’t need to search too long to uncover some of the stories which have come out of the news channels regarding these kids, and it seems – to me, at the very least – that there may be worth in showing YA readers that not only do the good guys don’t always win, but that the flip-side of the coin can have widespread ramifications.

This, combined with a longstanding love of classic hardboiled writers, The Wire fresh in my mind, and a fortuitous e-mail from a friend whose career in Social Work gives me access to details I could only dream of, managed to combine to create a tale about a twelve-year old who graduates from running drugs and stealing, to the “heights” of running his own criminal empire in a housing estate. I already have the opening scene, with a clock of cement being thrown off the roof of the estate onto a policeman’s head, and I know how the story ends – the kid, now fourteen, is shot dead by police. That’s as much as I want to share at the moment. And for those of you who asked for more realism, I hope you’re happy…

Somehow I have the feeling I should have merely copied Jack’s response to being asked for truth.

Posted in comics, Over The Line, writing, zombies | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

TMI Tuesdays

Posted by BigWords on October 19, 2010

WARNING – this post is going to have material which may make you feel nauseous, grossed out, or potentially make you lose the contents of your stomach all over your computer. Walk away now if you don’t think you can handle the blow-by-blow account of my Monday.

… seriously.

…I’m not joking.

I did warn you.

As I pointed out on Twitter on Sunday evening, I have been busy trying to get as much of the art for my NaNoWriMo comic done as possible. One of the techniques I have been using is pastels and charcoals for background elements, but this requires fixative spray – otherwise the image would get very smudged, very quickly. So here’s something that people don’t often mention when they talk about art, as it tends to put people off the idea of creating – there are some substances used in art which have a negative impact on the user, and can slow down output to a standstill. The use of fixative spay in an enclosed area is one of the things which will completely knock you off your feet if you aren’t careful.

Monday morning.

2am.

The waves of nausea were hitting hard, and it felt as if there was something moving around in my stomach desperately seeking an exit. The bloated, horrible feeling of knowing that something is wrong, but not knowing exactly what. I tried to drink a coffee, but the taste was off – it wasn’t even the rich stuff, so I know that the coffee wasn’t to blame. This was around the time when the headache kicked in, and a fuzzy feeling, as if there was something just out of my peripheral vision. This wasn’t like a hangover – I’ve had plenty of those, and this was entirely different in the level of accompanying confusion.

Oh, and there was a tingling all over my skin which was really weird. My fingertips were numb at this point as well. Not sure why, but I felt as if I was burning up at this point – a feeling which would continue all through the day. I spent the entire day wearing just jeans and a t-shirt, but I really felt as if my temperature had rocketed into the stratosphere.

5am.

Everything that comes next is horrible, though in the interest of being completely honest and open, I’m going to go ahead and lay it out for you. The waves of nausea were kicking in hard, and a certain amount of disorientation and pain was beginning to set in. I’m guessing that the aerosol nature of the chemicals used in the spray were to blame for all my joints feeling as if they were being pulled apart, but this was soon to be forgotten as the back of my throat started burning. The simultaneously bitter and sharp taste of acid hit out of nowhere, then got worse as I staggered to the bathroom, whereupon the previous night’s meal made an unwelcome reappearance.

This was mostly chunks of meat, and the sensation of the small (and some not so small) pieces banging off the top of my mouth was enough to make me nearly choke. See, I did warn you I wasn’t going to hold back. Oh, and while it is still (all too) fresh in my mind, I may as well point out that the thin watery stuff which was simultaneously streaming from my nose stung like hell. This was around the time I started thinking that death would be a merciful release from the seemingly endless torment, but no… There was, much, much worse to come.

6am.

If the chunky stuff was bad, then the liquid ejecta was ten times worse. I pulled a chipmunk face, desperately trying not to release it all over the room, and barely managed to make it into the bathroom before my face gave up any attempt to contain the mess. It felt as if there was liters and liters of the too-warm and too sickly-smelling stuff coming up, wave after wave of it threatening to drown me if I passed out. The ‘cloudy’ feeling, which I can only describe as one of disorientation, managed to completely obliterate my hand-eye coordination at this point, leaving me to try and stabilize myself by holding onto the wall. Aiming my face in the general direction of the bowl wasn’t of utmost concern at this point – staying conscious was.

Oh, and the smell. The chunky stuff earlier in the morning was practically odorless, yet the liquid stank the place out. If I hadn’t already been sick on an epic scale, then that would have driven me to another bout of retching.

For the rest of the day I was completely worn out. It was as if all of my muscles had lost the ability to move. I’m still achy, and the headache hasn’t gone away, though having both art and words together for NaNo seems even remoter than ever.

Posted in Misc., Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Preface To Some Thoughts

Posted by BigWords on March 29, 2010

Back in October of last year I began, in earnest, collecting data for a story idea which hadn’t yet fully formed in my mind. Amid the usual nuggets of near-future optimism I uncovered were concepts which were to shift my focus from the then-brewing story, much as I wanted to focus on plot. The world-building was as interesting as the story (for me) because I was able to apply everything which already exists (in some form) to the reality which limits our day to day existence. Building a future from current technology is a game which many (better) writers have played, but setting out a stall where those ideas can be openly discussed has always had limits – at any point in a forum discussion where feasible technological solutions play a major role, someone will always jump in with the stock SF variety answer. Not that there is anything wrong with unbridled optimism, but I like to play with things in SF which (to me) are possible – not necessarily probable, but possible all the same. The way the world ought to appear was really inconsequential to me, but the underlying society became very important.

My first goal was to interpret the media surrounding individuals in, say, a hundred years or so. How the characters in the story would approach the mass communication of the era played a vital role in determining their reaction to events unfolding in the city around them. I had a hard time trying to figure out the ways in which the internet and television would (and could) co-exist until I realized that I was taking a modern view and trying to attach it to a futuristic world. The origination of the next few posts lies in my eventual realization that the nascent media groupings of modern multimedia will, at some point, reach a generational shift into a fully cohesive form which will supersede such modern ideas as ‘internet’ and ‘television.’ Televisions are already on the market which are able to browse the internet, but most (if not all) require the viewer to shift away from one function to utilize another. This, to me anyway, seems a makeshift feature, neither wholly separated nor wholly integrated. I thought about the ideas which became the basis for the world I had created more, and slowly realized that there were bigger questions.

Backtracking a moment, to my long-standing WIP regarding a group of secret agents: There are thirteen (possibly fourteen, if the abortive drafts are to be considered) plots which are completely incompatible with one another, but which are equally solid tales. I like all of the variations, and to pick one (which will then define those characters in the eyes of readers) is damnably difficult. The truth is this – I don’t want to pick just one path through the story… Add to that my insistence on doing things out of sequence in the first place, and you have a good reason why the tale has notched up so many variations. The differences aren’t merely changes to motivation, or tone, but completely different goals and settings wherein the same basic threat is tackled by similar means, resulting in a similar goal. The only major connection which holds the versions together is at the start of the narrative, wherein several elements are slowly revealed to form a pattern for the heroes to investigate. The puzzles are important, and have (in these last few months) taken on even greater importance for me.

Flashback done with, I’ll get back to a semblance of continuity of thought. The research on SF stories, and the world-building involved in getting them to hold together with some degree of stability, drove me to some strange corners of the net, following (Hänsel and Grethel-like) bread crumb after bread crumb of tantalizingly vague links. Quickly moving past the corporations promoting their current gadgets, I looked at the pages where ‘what if’s’ were discussed, and through them to the sites where cutting-edge technologies were being paraded. The breadcrumbs never did reach any useful gather-all sites, but I did soak up enough information along the way to decide that I was going to start paying closer attention to a few of the ideas which had, by and large, been ignored by the mainstream. I’m not sure if any of the concepts have been attempted, mostly because any searches for specific instances served merely to turn up material out of my area of interest, but there are probably a few brave pioneers out there embracing the fullest potential of the multimedia landscape which I am now obsessing over.

The mutimedia stuff? Don’t worry, I’ll be posting about that soon enough. In the meantime, while I’m busy refining thoughts, collecting links, and sorting out the impossible from the improbable, I’ll leave you with several thoughts which have been the source of much personal consternation for me over the last months:

  • I’m reading fewer new comics than ever before. It isn’t that DC and Marvel hold zero appeal, it’s merely the fact that the older material I have been buying (Gold Key, Dell, Whitman, and an array of Alan Class titles) seem to have better value for money. The stories (quick, to the point, and never outstaying their welcome) make me think more about their storytelling techniques than most of the current releases I have flicked through.
  • The games I have bought has almost universally contained mini-games, or are themselves collections of simple arcade games – not to say that I am turning away from the more complex releases altogether (because GTA‘s pool game is addictive), but I feel that I need something which isn’t dictated by an arbitrary script, whose ending was written before I even bought the game. I want to contribute something towards the story.
  • I have been buying more short story collections than I have been buying novels. This has had the unexpected benefit of introducing me to the work of hitherto-unknown authors, but has caused me to think upon the rampant verbosity I am capable of when let loose on a subject. How do people manage to cram so much into such a short space?
  • My new television has sat idle for nearly a month. The earache and overwork made the beginning of this sabbatical from the idiot box a necessity, but now that I have no reason to avoid the output of British television I realize that there is nothing I can be bothered to watch. When Doctor Who returns (next week) I will tune in for the first episode of the new series, but other than that… I really can’t summon up the strength to sit through one more episode of Law & Order. Ever.
  • DVDs are, increasingly, taking the place of my other pastimes. I like the way the more complex examples are put together, and their construction has been fueling some of my thoughts on where I want to take my writing. I really like the ‘Follow The Rabbit’ bits in The Matrix, and a lot of the extras in the 3-disk Hellboy edition are giving me things to think about.

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The Primordial Stew Of Imagination, Part 2

Posted by BigWords on November 30, 2009

When To Add, And When To Take Away

In the previous post I ran through the precedents of the story, but sticking all of those ideas together higgledy-piggledy would be a mess. Simply adding ideas without knowing who, what, where, how, why and when is madness of the highest order. The bag of tricks is filling, but to pull out objects in the right order we need to go back to basics and ask whom the characters are. This is where I normally throw away the rulebook and look to television for a bit of help. There are lots of threads at AW which have various people urging against the use of televisual techniques in writing, but one in particular is acceptable. If you go back to the beginnings of my story you should see where I drew from Star Trek.

Yes, the cold, analytical mind on one side of the focus character, the hearty life and soul on t’other. It isn’t, you will discover, a particularly original idea. There are examples you could pull from very popular books of the last few years that contain the same set-up, though I’m sure J.K. Rowling wouldn’t admit to borrowing the make-up of the central trio from an old SF show. I also allowed myself the luxury of hand-waving the living situation of the characters at that point in the story, mostly to let the narrative move quickly on to other things rather than worrying about how they could get their hands on regular money.

There is very little in the above taken from the previous post. This is important. When the story requires any of those elements to be brought in they are already bubbling away under the surface, there to be brought onto the stage when they will have the best possible effect then quickly ushered from the limelight to concentrate on character and plot. It may seem counter-intuitive to plan deeply and yet present a thin slice, but reversing the levels would turn the novel in to a comedy, or unbalance the flow so severely as to make it unreadable. I think I have gotten away with most of the descriptions in the first draft, but they will be refined and pruned, edited and clarified as needed.

None of what has come before actually answer where the ideas come from, but I’m getting there…

I skipped any explanation of where my hovs came from in the last post. This is where I show how I stitch together the different ideas that others have come up with, throw in some new thinking, make major (and fundamental) changes to the transport system of the future. There isn’t enough space in a single post to list every instance of flying cars ever seen in fiction, but you should know the basics anyways.

  • The use of petrol in the future strikes me as dumb, mainly because the stresses would make it uneconomical to use. A fuel cell of some sort seems more believable. This would eliminate a lot of engine noise (handy if it was ever filmed :D), and provide a logical reason for bigger explosions than you would see than with an ordinary car crash. Hollywood Rule 1 is The bigger the explosion, the better.
  • A HUD rather than a conventional dashboard would be a logical step forward, with adaptive and customizable software to make each vehicle perfectly suited to its’ owner. There are already steps towards this kind of use, but we are still a way from having a completely digital representation rather than dials. I never completely bought into the fact that dials and switches in spacecraft for this reason.
  • Your now thinking “how do you stop fender benders?” right? Well, sensors on the sides, top, bottom, and on each of the corners would keep a minimum safe distance between the vehicle and all those around it. The screen could then flash red if an accident was imminent.

None of that is radical. This is:

  • Every action, every movement even, would be recorded and fed into a main computer system so that safety could be assured by insurers. The police would have full access to this system.
  • Roads incline up to the next vertical level anti-clockwise around buildings, descending clockwise. This wasn’t a big deal in my story, but I had it worked out before I started.
  • Hacked cars can be made invisible to the constant recording.
  • The cars need to be at least four feet above a solid surface to operate safely, save for military-grade vehicles. A plot point about the DCU vehicles travelling freely in a vertical manner never came across clearly, but it was what I had intended.

The rest of my uses of the technology rested on the fact that it wouldn’t be cliché.

I have to admit that I was reminded of an old First Comics’ series called Zero Tolerance when I got into any sequence where the flying cars came to prominence, though that is obscure – even for me. Umm… Maybe if I just pretend I was thinking of Fray, nobody will shake their head and sigh at my geekishness slipping to the fore.

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The Primordial Stew Of Imagination, Part 1

Posted by BigWords on November 29, 2009

The old “where do ideas come from” question keeps resurfacing, and – even though I already covered this – there are writers asking this question now. I really don’t know how to explain the process that goes with the formation of story, character, concept and (shudder) Big Ideas, but I’ll give it a fair whack… The least I can do is dissect the piecework of thematically linked elements I used for my NaNo, since November is technically still with us. It won’t be pretty and it won’t be entry-level, but if you’ve come this far then you might as well see the “behind the scenes” extras.

The Scalpel Cuts Thin And True

There are, I am reliably informed, no new ideas. That’s fine. That’s groovy. I’ll play along with the notion that no matter how far I push things I’m never gonna create an entirely new genre, or open up hitherto unknown elements of the craft, or be able to transform the written word in ways which would make Shakespeare spin in his grave. None of that really matters. If originality is over-emphasised by a lot of writers, it is merely due to an abundance of fear. We’re all in the same boat – you, me, Stevie King too – when it comes to new ideas, mostly because the printed word has existed for so long. There are a lot of books, and writers, between the creation of the Gutenberg bible and this moment in time.

Which is why we have to take the scalpel to the world around us, and cut off slices of cool and interesting stuff. There’s big differences between the writing methodologies which have been given prominence over the last decade or so, but the generation of material is still the responsibility of each and every writer. You want my own examples?

  • Robots on the rampage featured in the lacklustre I, Robot adaptation. If you can ignore a woefully miscast Will Smith, and the not-so-subtle allusions to Apple being the OS of the future, you will find a couple of salvageable ideas in that mess of a film.
  • A robot rebellion (where the artificials gained some semblance of sentience) also makes a mark in the superior Michael Crichton novel Westworld. The films are recommended, though the television series is somewhat less impressive.
  • An agency dealing with cybercrime and robotic crime is the focus of the Ghost In The Shell manga and anime. It contains the best depiction of a future society where robots and people co-exist. The multitude of robot forms is more realistic than I, Robot‘s conceit that one company runs the entire industry.
  • My plans for Charlie were directly influenced by The Godfather, Part II (though it is kinda difficult to get close to that kind of character study, never mind surpass it).
  • The idea of the Turing collar came directly from an article in New Scientist which pondered the possibilities we might face once robots gain the level of intelligence we have.
  • The small pink rabbit/cat joke characters I used was (in part) a joke at Tenchi Muyo‘s expense. I never did like the annoying pet.
  • Robot dinosaurs are common in many SF works. I did, however, base my views primarily on old comic-books of the sixties and seventies, wherein they were treated with more seriousness than in some novels.
  • The notion of a robot framing a human for a series of murders really caught my attention. I’m not sure if I lifted the idea, or if it was a reaction to I, Robot. Maybe a little from column A, a little from column B.
  • The comm’s used throughout my story are direct lifts from Doom 3, which was the first game to make me like the PDA as a game device. It had, of course, been an SF staple for decades, but if I wanted one it would be the make and model seen in Doom 3 I would get.
  • Plastiglass is a more complicated notion than glass reinforced plastic, but the idea is in use today. The technology I describe at one point where the glass can be made to turn opaque is also not a strictly SF idea.
  • The concept of a city being built vertically goes back to Metropolis, and has seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to Judge Dredd and its’ spin-offs.
  • Flying cars… Well… Um… Moving swiftly on-

I would also add stories from The Outer Limits, the legendary RUR, and bits and pieces of non-fiction as having some bearing on the way I fixed my ideas up. See… There really are no new ideas – it is all in the handling. That accounts for the nuts and bolts, but the actual writing will bring out other elements of any idea that can be conjured. There are a few things which haven’t been covered here, but they aren’t pushed to the forefront.

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NaNoWriMo Word Count Verification Blues

Posted by BigWords on November 25, 2009

If you head over to my NaNo user page you will notice that I have uploaded my novel for word verification already. There is a massive back story to such a simple act as uploading the novel, so I thought I’d treat you to a missive on how things which seem easy can turn out to be a massive nightmare of complications, alterations and attempts at tricking my web ‘n’ walk stick into letting me perform such a relatively straightforward action. I figure that this might come in useful for anyone else having difficulties uploading their material, so I’ll share my method of getting around the problem of constricted web activity.

This is not a rant, before you start up on me… This is merely me venting some frustration. There is a difference.

So… three o’clock in the morning, and I’m thinking that I really ought to make sure I remember to verify, because it would be a fucking disaster if I went through all this and neglected to actually put my novel through the NaNo word counter. Fine, I think, no time like the present to be getting the paperwork out of the way. The bit on the ‘My NaNoWriMo‘ page is easy to find, so there is one hurdle down. I stitch all of the pieces together in OpenOffice and save the completed material as an RTF file. I open the file up in Wordpad and copy the text into the box on the webpage and hit the button to send.

And I wait. And I wait. And I wait.

And the fucking useless web stick dies on me. I hit the refresh button and wait once more. Same thing happens again. My heart is pounding in my chest, the li’l vein on my forehead pounding away, a thousand profanities pouring forth from my lips as I try to work out what the hell is going on. The stick, it turns out, is using too much bandwidth… Or something. It cuts out after about half the material is sent, meaning that I get a white page which has failed to load in Firefox. Fine, I try to get the information down to a manageable level.

This means going through the text and taking out every… single… blank… line. It takes forever, but I finish up, save the document, copy it into the wordbox and try again.

And I wait. And I wait. And I wait.

And guess what? Same shit, same problem. The web stick doesn’t like me this morning, so I have to find a way to get the material down even further. This is where I get creative, and start using Find & Replace to squeeze every single word down. I change every use of “Talos” to “Tal”, “robot” becomes “bot” and “the” is squeezed to “t” in an effort to minimize size. I go through the text, quickly swapping out every word longer than five characters long for something smaller. It ain’t pretty, but at least it’s gonna go through to NaNoWriMo.

But it doesn’t. At this point I open the RTF and save it as a TXT, hoping to shrink the information by way of magic and belief in the digital gods. It’s right about this point that I’m wishing I had some grass in the house so I could chill myself out a little, the nerves and fear of failure pounding at my brain like a demented midget from hell. Again I try uploading the material, fingers crossed for the trickery to work on the damnable stick.

And I wait. And I wait. And I wait.

The familiar white screen pops up on Firefox again. This is the point I really lost my cool, and the thoughts running through my head really, honestly don’t need o be spelled out here. I get myself in enough trouble without threatening the health and safety of whatever moron was in charge of coding the Bytemobile Optimization Client in the toolbar, which turns red at the slightest provocation. With little option, I switch off the web ‘n’ walk screen, run Crap Cleaner, defrag, clear my internet cache and bring the web n’ walk back up again.

By this time the text is all but unreadable anyway, so I figure I may as well add to my chance of success by pruning a few thousand words from the end of the document to get it even further down to a “reasonable” size. I save the file, copy its’ contents, close Notepad (which has taken over from Wordpad in my haste to shrink size) and paste it in the wordbox at NaNo.

Take a stab in the dark here. What do you think happened?

Damnable, fucking useless piece of outdated shit, pretending to be a bloody internet connector…The pile of cigarette stubs next to me has grown by a count of ten in the three hours I have been messing around with the document, and I still had more pruning to do before it accepted the text, but I did it. I got my winners page up on screen. I also have a rasping sore throat, a headache and a temper that would make even Old Nick himself think twice before fucking with me, but I managed to get everything working.

The wordcount (on NaNoWriMo) stands at 135,750.
The wordcount (unbutchered) stands at 196,942.

I haven’t hit my goal of 250,000, but – considering the obstacles the universe likes throwing in my direction – I’m lucky to have gotten this far.

There ya go. The best advert for getting broadband access you’ll ever read.

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A Brief Hiatus From Writing, Where I Delete Some Words And Add Others

Posted by BigWords on November 23, 2009

Rules are meant to be broken, so… I started editing. I know that NaNoWriMo lasts the entire month, but I wanted my copy, which extends a ways either side of what I have posted, to be a bit easier to manage. There are a few bits and pieces which were glaringly obvious as I tried to quickly beat it into shape, and I wanted to have something more malleable for the real editing work which is coming up. I also noted where strands tail off, pieces simply don’t fit and – the biggest irk – things that are referred to once and never mentioned again.

I’ll post revisions of the material later, mostly because watching the hundred minute differences between each draft is tedious and I don’t want to spoil surprises, but this update will point out some of the things which I have discovered abut the world I have created for NaNo.

Just Because It’s Cool, Doesn’t Mean It’ll Work

The beginning of the story has bugged me for the better part of a week. I like opening fast, but the random nature of the attack seems a bit too contrived, though I still haven’t worked out the best way to work myself into that scene. Three pages of dialogue didn’t work, a flash-forward to some place near the robot war later on felt too choppy, and I can’t even begin to explain how dull my attempt at injecting asymmetrical game theory into the opening managed to be.

Then I thought about how difficult it was to sell the notion of a homeless brat rising to the top of a major criminal organization in the space of a few years. Despite surrounding him with a bunch of characters who have ties to the Kings it still feels as if the shift is too quick and too unbelievable. I like the notion, but cutting out his story leaves me with a second headache that ties directly into an issue that presented itself later on. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

My political piece was an anti-robot, anti-cyborg manifesto presented by the Senator soon-to-be Vice President Leukman. His thread was basically to build up the DCU as an independent agency outside the normal channels of command. If they acted under specific orders then I would have had to manage hierarchy and their position in the wider policing status of the nameless city (which has gone through a couple of lame names), which would have handcuffed me at the penultimate big event.

Add to the fudging, there is also the issue of “the only sane man” going off the deep end into major insanity too quickly. Selling that plot point with a nanotech-gone-wrong monster just isn’t enough, though I’m not sure what else I could do to drive him insane whilst still being a viable candidate for such a large political role during his death scene. Which is tied in to the issues I was having with Charlie in the later sections.

Chronologically, the next piece of the puzzle which is really annoying me is the five / ten year jump between Charlie being crowned boss of bosses and the introduction of the de facto main character. There are examples of this having worked well, but there aren’t that many connections between the two stories. Talos can’t be moved into the position of the main character, because he really doesn’t do much for large tracts of the story.

The Message Is In The Messages… Honestly…

My attempt to position Charlie into the Kings crime syndicate was for one reason, and one reason alone. He absolutely had to be killed by Adway to bring Talos’ machinations into the open. Talos, as I had sketched out, was sending the detective the texts to get rid of Charlie, riffing off a mentor trope.

Talos deactivated his comm interface, satisfied that Adway would take the necessary steps to remove the increasing problem which Charlie had become.

Clumsy writing, I know…

The content of the messages always bothered me. I can’t have them come out and say that Charlie is behind the meme murders or it’ll look like a set-up, but too obscure and they look like McGuffins. I’m not sure if it can be fixed to any degree of clarity while remaining vague. A puzzler.

I’ve had a couple of comments about Adam’s part in the larger story, and I always intended him to blow himself up, much like the artificial in the blimp segment, but it never quite managed to sit right on the page, and always seems to come up as a sudden turn. I’ve tried a few ways to merge him into the story, first with conversations held between him and Talos via cyberspace, then with him escaping – none of the ideas seem to make his actions more cohesive…

Even when I’m editing in brief spurts – fixing tense, smoothing dialogue, easing in plot points, and slipping in the odd joke – there is the temptation to pull everything apart and do major reconstructive surgery to the novel. I’m trying to avoid heavy editing, but it is really, really difficult…

I’ll write without editing anything tomorrow, I swear. 😀

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NaNoWriMo: The Plan

Posted by BigWords on November 22, 2009

Pope Joan took the ID cards and spread them across the table in a fan shape. “Do you have any idea how long it has been since I saw so many of these. Mmm… Brings back old memories.” She lifted a card and sniffed it. “There are still traces of cocaine on this one. God, I miss the old days.”
“You told me that they contained information.”
“That they do. Now, young Charlie… You brought me cards with Charlie…” She paused, “I find that ironic. Anyways, the information on the cards is directly related to the importance of the individuals who were issued with them.” She picked a card from the table and inspected it. “The serial number that rests along the bottom of the plastic indicates the location of issue…
APC 05
“The person who issued the card…
158-392-602
“The status of the card holder…
D8
“And-” Joan broke off from her train of thought, noticing another card on the table. “Where did you get this one?” She held the card which belonged to the enforcer Talos had killed so many years earlier.
“It was from a friend. He killed a guy with a funky eye. I took the card.”
“You might be in luck. This would have been issued before the cards were keyed to specific locks. You can get into buildings which the Kings haven’t upgraded yet. Saying that, those delightful fools rarely spend money on physically protecting their belongings because they have enough rep to do what they want.”
“That’s good to know.” Charlie pondered.
“Do you know where the strongholds are located?”
“No, but I can find out.”
“Ah, the power of self-belief. Give me your hand.”
“I’ve told you often enough – We’re not going there.”
“Please, give me your hand.”
Charlie cautiously offered his hand. Joan produced a small tool from her purse and pressed it against Charlie’s hand.
“What is this supposed to do?”
Joan pressed a button on the device, eliciting a howl of pain from Charlie.
“Now you have an embedded chip in your hand you won’t show up on the Kings security systems.”
“Y’know, I’m getting really fed up of people setting me up for shit without advance warnings.”

####

Charlie banged on the door of the pawnbroker, eyeing the street for movement while he waited. The street was too dark to be completely sure, but it felt as if as if there were people moving around in the shadows.
“Yeah, whaddayawant.”
Charlie held the card up to the cam. “I need a word.”
The pawnbroker beeped the door open. “Come on in.”
Charlie swung the door open, the strong smell of old wood, freshly cleaned metal and blood hitting him as soon as he entered. “I’m here to talk about the last shipment.”
“It was sent out, just like all the rest.”
“Well it didn’t turn up, and you were named as the last person to see it. Care to comment before I am forced to do something I don’t want to do.”
The pawnbroker paled at the thought of his name being sent to the Kings’ enforcers. “I’ll take a look at my records. No need to act rashly here, ‘kay.”
As the old man disappeared to the back room Charlie took a look at the display of items stolen from across the city. Some of the objects still retained the blood of their previous owners, and it was surprising how much of the worthless junk had been priced at high prices.
“I have the paperwork here. It was sent to the lock-up on the fourth roadway at the side-entrance to DigiMax. Frankie the Nail took it up a couple of days ago.”
“Let me have all the paperwork you have. The bosses are taking inventory, and anything out-of-place will be accounted for.”
The pawnbroker handed over the file in his hand. “You want everything?”
“Every last piece of paper. Every digital file. Everything.”

Outside, Charlie held the box of information close. He stifled the urge to grin like a fool, moving hastily to his hov. Things were improving at a rate of knots, and soon he would be ready to show the Kings how business could be done.

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NaNoWriMo: Evacuation

Posted by BigWords on November 22, 2009

The robots swarmed the DCU building with unstoppable force, swiping aside the DCU agents as if they weren’t even there. Five thousand artificials with a single objective – clear the agency of all occupants. As the robots flooded the lower levels with increasing numbers, The General watched events from his office. Flashes of gunfire flared on some of the monitors, others were obscured by streaks of blood, and more were failing every minute the situation continued. Even a best case scenario would result in the loss of unacceptable casualties, the kind which brings congressional hearings down on government agencies.
“This is The General to all staff. Evacuate to the Black River Complex immediately. I repeat… Evacuate the building immediately.” The words didn’t come any easier with the knowledge that the action was the right choice to take under the circumstances. “Computer… Activate security ptotocol Alpha Black Five.” A three dimensional map appeared on his screen, displaying the immense hollow at the centre of the building.
A password box appeared in the middle of the screen, flashing spaces for the twelve digits required to complete the activation sequence. He paused a moment before commiting to the procedure, the knowledge that it could not be revoked weighing heavily upon him, but with time in short demand he forced himself to input the alphanumeric code. The screen turned red as the protocol was activated.
‘Thermo-nuclear detonation in one hour,’ appeared overlaid on the previous screen, all commands from the console finally and irrevocably locked out.
Closing down the lid of his command console, The General grabbed his comm and headed out for the upper hov deck. A siren blared through the halls, indicating that the self-destruct had been initiated. Over the alarm, the sound of twisting metal carried up the floors of the building, but he pushed on, determined to resolve the occupancy of his department by aggressive forces by any means at his disposal. The infected, whose occupancy of the basement could never be revealed, would hopefully be obliterated in the blast. No trace of the horrible secret could leave the DCU, no matter what else occurred.

####

Connell sighed as the DCU building came into view. “Say little guy, would ya mind if I had a moment tuh sit-down. All a’ this walking is making me feel like I’m gonna be sick.”
“You are ill?”
“I’m an overweight drunk.” Connell admitted, “I’m not made for all a’ this walking.”
“We will remain here for three minutes and thirty seconds, during which time you can recharge.”
“I ain’t promising anything, but I’ll take what I can get,” Connell said as he flopped to the ground.
From his vantage point, Connell could see the a fleet of hovs departing from near the top of the building at some considerable speed.
“There must be a sale on donuts somewhere.”

####

I didn’t post yesterday as I was out all day. And I didn’t – technically – write anything either. A dozen words typed into my phone don’t really count…

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