Characters’ Emotional Arcs, Quick Thoughts

I had a frustrating but informative (and helpful) experience this afternoon while attempting to fix my plotting problems for the sequel to Barium Deep. After I had resolved multiple problems with my plot arcs, charting them out for my own clarity and future reference, I couldn’t plot one of the emotional character arcs that I wanted for Cesium (the POV character for the second book).

I wasn’t doing anything very complicated, just tracking some of the beats for the specific section of storyline that I wanted to follow. That made my struggles all the more obvious.

Minutes before, I’d plotted out a parallel series of arcs for a totally different story; they’d flowed easily, and made good sense. They were simple, straightforward, and very formulaic—which felt fine for the first pass on an idea that came to me last night. I’m sure that they’ll change and become more interesting once I’ve worked more with that story. If they don’t, I might discard the story or put it on ice.

But those arcs, with their clear points of conflict, transformation, and growth, had come so easily that my difficulty with Cesium was glaring.

A brief aside: the idea that came to me last night dealt with using magic (or something similar) as a manifold metaphor for anger, and perhaps war and military service, with weaker connections to violence and abuse.

The physical plot for Cesium felt simple and straightforward. It fit neatly within the expected bounds of adventure fiction and other upper middle grade stories. Even though I know I’ll change it in a heartbeat if I find something else more emotionally and thematically compelling, it feels good to have laid it out. The problem with Cesium’s emotional arc was that I was (and still am) unsure of what approach I want to take, or how to zero in on Cesi’s changes in ways that will feel rewarding without feeling too neat or pat.

I think it comes down to disliking the pattern of total character transformation that I’ve seen in some middle grade stories. I find incomplete transformation more rewarding, because of how it allows individuals to face their struggles as slightly modified versions of themselves rather than as different people. This fractional shift of self is less important when a story covers a long period of time, as more shift can occur without seeming too abrupt. But when I want a reader to follow a character’s emotional shift from A to B, I feel it helps to highlight the ways the character is still uncomfortable / unfamiliar with their new experience at B. At some point they’ll feel comfortable in the new experience, and that will be cool, but if the story is about them facing that experience I want facing it to be dramatic, tense, uncertain.

The upside of all this is that I think I’m closer to a working draft of Cesium’s story. But I clearly still have more work to do.

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Death, Mourning, and a LARP

It feels funny to say this, but… death has been a big part of my life.

Not in any ground-shaking, crushing way, but as something slow and omnipresent and always visible. I suspect my mom’s work with the elderly and in hospice influenced that. I learned that people react oddly to their own incipient death, and that they have many ways of coping with the loss of those they love.

I lost several pets before any family I knew died. Those experiences weren’t at all the same, but in some way the one helped me with the other. Now, most of my grandparents’ generation is dead. I’ve lost friends younger than me, a cousin, others. I was so choked up with an unwillingness to process grief that I took years to say goodbye after my first grandpa died. Saying goodbye to my friends hasn’t really been easier, except insofar as I know that mourning them is a cycle I will revisit many times.

This is something that I’ve thought about more in the past few years. Coco really drove it home for me. I knew after watching that movie that I wanted to create something that would help others learn how they could mourn, learn how they could remember even as they let go.

I’ll tell you more about this when I’m not racing a deadline, but I’m working on a LARP that I think might do some of this. I want to give my players a chance to experience grieving for others, and being grieved for, in its entirety. I want that to be a healthy experience, one that allows for connection and catharsis. And I want my players to have fun. I hope it works.

More details soon.

Exploring Political Stories

I spend a lot of time thinking about stories and what they offer us, their audiences and their authors.

It isn’t radical to describe a continuous circular relation between us and the stories we tell about ourselves. Nor is it radical to say that many stories we tell can be read as being about ourselves, whether they were intended to be or not.

Where am I going with this?

I’ve studied the creation and propagation of ideology through political speech. I’ve studied the creation of stories.

I don’t know why it took me so long to write something here about the political stories we tell ourselves.

Now, when I say political stories, I’m specifically talking about stories that are incorporated into political speech. I refuse to draw a line and say that these political stories are the only stories which are political—any story, like any art, is political. But I’m most interested in talking about the stories that we use, consciously or not, to ground our political arguments. I recognize that this is a somewhat mushy definition.

How much substance, and what sort, do I need before I’m willing to call something a story? Do I need to have an entire literal Horatio Alger novel about gaining wealth through the assiduous practice of Protestant capitalist virtue before I’m willing to call it a story? No. I’m willing to call most things that we tell ourselves about the world “stories” for the sake of this exploration. The important part, as far as I’m concerned, is that what we tell ourselves inform the way we see ourselves (or other people) and inform our actions going forward.

To clarify, “Some people have blue eyes,” doesn’t qualify. But, “People with blue eyes are good,” does. So does, “All men are created equal.”

Furthermore, you needn’t explicitly say “people with blue eyes are good” anywhere in your story if people are able to infer that from the text. And it’s possible to infer from a text stories that the author didn’t intend to include. Stories—and people—are tricky like that.

I suspect that’s part of why political ideologies aren’t static.

I’ve come to this late enough today that I’ll stick to this introduction for now. I already have some ideas of political stories I’d like to explore in more depth in the future, but I think any particular story I explore will deserve more time than I could give it today (and I want to post today). If you have a particular story you’d like me to write and think more about, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments below.

The Knife-Tree

As with The Tower of Peng the Unprepared, this is intended to be a setting-seed for some future story or game.

The knife-tree stands tall at the top of a high cliff, a hard rock face that rises out of the woods below. The knife-tree is so called because it rises to a sharp point, limbs blown back into a shape much like a belt knife when viewed from the bottom of the cliff. It is well known as a landmark in the surrounding area, and was once a favorite lookout spot. It is now assiduously avoided. The locals swear that something odd and dangerous has nestled in its roots for the past two generations at least.

The cliff beneath the knife-tree is riddled through with caves. A few of the caves are inhabited by large and hungry beasts which roam the forest. Several of the caves were clearly once occupied by intelligent stone-workers, but none of the locals know any details beyond ancient stories of folk who lived there underground. Those stories all agree that the folk ruled the surrounding land, but beyond that they’re muddled: some claim they ruled kindly, others speak of their arbitrary nature, or their greed, or the wondrous way they had with the forest around their caverns. Each family passes on their own tales.

Regardless, the locals all agree that there used to be treasures of great value in the caves beneath the knife-tree, left by the stone-workers. They also agree that those who sought the treasure were cursed to wander ever deeper into darkness, never to be seen again. That last part may be a later addition to keep young idiots from tempting the beasts that lair in the caves, or the unknown thing which has roosted at the top of the cliff.

Potential hooks include: legends of the stone-workers, hunting ancient treasure, a hunt for the beast that lairs beneath the knife-tree, desperate locals pleading for help dealing with the beasts beneath the knife-tree, seeking a path into the dark through the stone-workers’ caverns.

The Tower of Peng the Unprepared

This is a quick glance at a location that came to me this morning, something I might put to use in a story or game in the future. It’s deliberately scant, intended to spark more ideas and let me fill in the details later, without committing it too firmly to any one setting or story. I’ve written it such that I can replace any backstory I establish here without altering the physical location. Maybe you’ll also find it useful or inspiring.

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A Mental Health Day for Henry

This morning, for the first time in a long time, I paid attention to how I was feeling and decided that what I really needed to do was take a mental health day. I haven’t written anything for my creative projects today, and I’ve decided to be okay with that. That’s mostly working. I took time to socialize with a friend I haven’t hung out with for too long, and that was great. This isn’t to say that I haven’t written anything; I had a course evaluation that I was supposed to fill out last month which I finally took care of (to the tune of 1822 words, no less). And I’m writing this, here. But I’m taking a break from trying to outline interactive fiction (which is a frustrating pain in the ass), and focusing instead on giving myself a break of sorts. And that’s been pretty good.

I’ve thought, for some time, that I must have struggled with depression at some scale for a good portion of my adult life. I’ve never discussed this at length with a professional, so I’m not sure how to judge it. I think college is the first time that I can recognize what I now believe were depressive episodes. I haven’t previously given myself space to call it depression because I always figured that other people must have it worse; claiming that I suffered from depression (to any extent) seemed like it was presumptuous, claiming attention for myself that I didn’t deserve and taking it from people who *obviously* deserved it more, people who weren’t poseurs like me. After all, I was basically managing to cope, and other people seemed like they had it worse.

But that is dumb. I still don’t think I suffer as much from this as others (including a number of my friends) do, and I still don’t want to be a distraction. But I’ve abandoned my implicit assumption that this has to be a zero-sum game. Admitting that I have trouble sometimes doesn’t mean that other people who are dealing with depression (or other mental health issues) can’t get what they need. And, providing I’m not a greedy loud jerk about it, talking about it might help other people rather than suck the oxygen out of the room.

I am fortunate to have friends who talk about their own experiences with depression, and the feelings and experiences they associate with their own depressive episodes. Without them, I would not have learned to recognize my own experiences as something that merited my attention, nor would I have recognized that I could do things to head off my feelings of depression and avoid making my life worse. Listening to them talk about the ways they deal with their own feelings has helped me. It’s proof that mental health doesn’t have to be a competition (which I suppose should be obvious, despite past-Henry’s unconscious assumption).

I’m especially fortunate to have these friends because, when I recognized those twinges this morning, the habitual narrative that I’ve learned so well, I finally had the thought that maybe I should take care of myself. I’ve had a much better day because of it.

I hope I remember this for the future. I hope I can share this with others in a way that helps them too.

Miska, Chapter 4 (4/22/2017)

Here you go, the beginning of Chapter 4!

 

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Miska, Chapter 3 cont. (4/18-22/17)

Here’s the rest of chapter 3! My apologies for the delay: I’ve been distracted by wrapping my brain around interactive fiction.

The earlier bit of chapter 3 is here.

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Miska, Chapter 3 (4/18-22/17)

Still in need of rewrites, as per the rest of this material. I’ve fought off the temptation to edit before I post this, beyond pulling out the material I’d already struck-through back in April.

The preceding chapter starts here, and continues here and here.

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Miska, Chapter 2 cont. (4/17-18/2017)

This is the last part of Chapter 2, still in need of edits. But it’s here for you to read. Enjoy.

Here’re the other pieces thus far: prologue, chapter 1 (pt.1, pt.2), chapter 2 (pt.1, pt.2)

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