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Tag: Kenneth Hite

A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 12

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9. Part 10, Part 11

The subject of the panel “The Many Ways to Tell a Story” was: “Stories come in many shapes and sizes, from books to comics to games to television and movies. How is storytelling the same among these media, and how does it differ? What are the challenges unique to each? What makes a good book versus movie versus comic?” The panelists were Kenneth Hite, George R. R. Martin, Peter Orullian, and Eldon Thompson. (AQ is an audience question.)


(Left to right: George R. R. Martin, Peter Orullian, Eldon Thompson, Kenneth Hite)

GRRM: How do you like to tell your story?

PO: I like multiple viewpoints to tell the relationship the characters have between one another. A person who does single viewpoint well is Patrick Rothfuss. You have to ask yourself whose eyes you’re telling it through.

ET: There are certain similarities despite the format. There are pros and cons.

KH: I provide the format in gaming as the gamemaster. Some role playing games have an implied story while others are broader. They allow as many stories as possible to emerge organically. Night’s Black Agents is a spy thriller with less handholding. For other fantasy games there’s a different framework.

GRRM: The gaming aspect is interesting. Is the video game a new art form? There are various forms that existed to tell stories. Poems, plays, and TV weren’t considered legitimate forms for storytelling when they emerged, but now they’re accepted. Are the video games developing in this direction?

PO: I work at Xbox and we prepare them like a franchise. In Halo, the first element is the story. It’s before developing the game engines or pixels. Then you figure out how to use the game itself–like novelizations, webisodes, or developing a movie. Corporations now look at this to create something novel. In transmedia, the story experience is larger than the sum of its parts.

ET: Transmedia has different facets. King’s Dark Tower series is too big for traditional film. Gaming can still deliver a story to the audience. It’s where the reader tells his own story. The API can allow gamers to build it. What’s limited is time development, so you can bring the gamer into it.

PO: Like fanfic.

ET: You could make that argument.

KH: In the tabletop game, you start from scratch. You can use any story or any character. There’s no set way to determine it. There are two types of video games: some have one arc where you can do side quests. In other games, you can do almost anything. It’s like a sandbox. But it’s hard to say it’s the same type of narrative like Gilgamesh or Casablanca. Narrative is collaborative in gaming.

GRRM: Consider the new versions of Sherlock Holmes like the one on the BBC or Robert Downey Jr.’s version. But Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain. Real Sherlockians would reject these new versions. There are lots of entertainment forms including video games which continue to evolve. But can it ever evolve into art? Art is usually the product of a single person. Our culture lauds artists as great. An author is given credit for bringing a book to art. Are video games waiting for its Shakespeare or due to its form, it will never come to pass?

KH: Bioshock is rather primitive. But you can’t say that they can’t be art.

PO: I would argue that the Shakespeare of video games is already here. They spend millions in development. There are cut scenes. And you feel like you’re participating with the story. There are alternate endings.

KH: That’s not unknown in novels. Bram Stoker had different endings.

PO: Storytelling is not mutually exclusive. You can bring people to the story. Transmedia can bring color. I would say it’s a Renaissance in gaming happening now.

AQ: What about PC gaming?

PO: The cloud is making it all converge so you can do gaming on any platform. Everything primarily resides in the cloud. It’s called cloud sourcing.

AQ: As a musician, I find that there’s a parallel between jazz musicians and gaming in regards to collaboration.

GRRM: You have a collaboration in a band. But the audience is still passive. In gaming, you involve the audience. So maybe it’s like karaoke.

KH: In role playing, you can draw a contrast with other art forms. It’s like a “jam session”. But can you call a jam session a composition? Is it just pure music or are you actually playing something? There are narrow stories in indie games.

GRRM: I’m nervous about collaborative things. Most great art are tragedies: The Great Gatsby, Romeo and Juliet, Casablanca, Citizen Kane. Part of us loves this stuff. But generally in a collaboration, you end up with a happy ending.

KH: When they staged King Lear, it ended up with a happy ending.

GRRM: If you give the audience a right to select the ending, then you may lose the tragic endings. That’s the danger.

ET: If you have no emotional attachment, there’s no reason to put in a happy ending. If everyone is telling the story then someone will ask, “why are you killing my character?” You lose the emotional power.

KH: The Odyssey has a happy ending.

GRRM: But only Odysseus had the happy ending. Everyone else didn’t.

AQ: What about Diablo? There are games that end happily or tragically or are ambiguous. Don’t you have to trust that they hire the right people to make the game? Isn’t there a different Shakespeare for everyone?

AQ: Halo seems like it has less of a story. They put out a new one, it seems, every month. Are there more commercial concerns that hinder storytelling?

PO: No. They have to think about a successful franchise. But they also think of the story. Of course, not all people will like the story just as not everyone has the same favorite novel.

KH: Like Merry Wives of Windsor.

AQ: Is there a plot to a video game if you have a controllable character?

PO: The video game is on rails, so you will get to the same endpoint no matter what you do.

GRRM: But what if you don’t want to shoot the bad guys?

KH: Then you bought the wrong video games.

GRRM: But I could negotiate with them…

PO: Have you read your own books? There are many video games from Bejeweled to games with an open world.

AQ: What about open source?

PO: There will be open source, but it’s like the Cliff Notes. Look at the construct, but never at the expense of the story.

KH: If you open up print, people will rip it off. One example was Dickens. His work was so popular during his lifetime, they wrote fanfic about it.

AQ: For adapting Game of Thrones to the screen, did they add scenes that you didn’t write? Did they need your approval?

GRRM: They didn’t need my approval. I think the extra scenes were fine as long as it added to the character, but I also dread it because it adds to the time it takes to tell the story.

AQ: How do you feel about new scenes when you haven’t finished the story?

GRRM: Well, we’ll find out down the road.

AQ: Is writing video games friendlier than Hollywood?

PO: There are some committees in video game development, but there’s someone who has the story bible and the shareholders. But it’s not as complicated as Hollywood.

ET: It’s more like TV than film. Less cooks in the kitchen.

GRRM: But isn’t there a problem with finding the Shakespeare of video games? That industry is very corporate. Is there a room for a visionary? Sid Meier is known for his games. But Halo has no byline. Is it all group think and committees?

PO: Single authors are emerging. Like the apps on the iPad. Draw Something had 55 million downloads in three weeks. Mobile gaming has the advantage of the size of its audience. Smaller game developers can be nimble. And bigger corporations are looking for small game developers. So gamers can now think about story and game design.

KH: There are other corporate cultures–like the Japanese and French–where people buy based on creator. It takes a while to get recognized. It was a while before Shakespeare got his name on his plays. For comic books, it wasn’t until Frank Miller and Alan Moore came on the scene in the 80s.

PO: But you need to distinguish it from names that are actually franchise names.

KH: Like Clint Eastwood or James Cameron.

PO: There’s opportunity for a person not part of a studio.

AQ: What about crowd funding?

PO: It’s like Kickstarter.

AQ: With all the new video games, what will happen to books?

GRRM: Books are not going anywhere. Platforms are changing but people still love reading.

PO: Video games may replace the table top games.

KH: There are people who only do World of Warcraft or watch Buffy because it fulfills all of their entertainment needs. But for most people, they like several different things.

GRRM: I began going to science fiction and fantasy cons in 1971 as a comics fan. But every year, those fans get older and there aren’t many kids. But it’s because they’re traditionally hostile to new media which keeps out the kids. And that makes me worried. But then I come to a convention like this where there are younger people. There’s Comic-Con but it’s not exactly the same. It has a wider, younger base. Publishers will find out that younger people will read. So people will do video games and books. And get gamers to read.

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Stay tuned for Part 13 which is a panel on writing villains.

A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 2

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Previous post: Part 1

I attended the Friday opening ceremonies but was mostly puzzled. I think there were a lot of inside jokes that I simply did not get.


(Guests of Honor, left to right: George R. R. Martin, Kenneth Hite, Rob Carlos)

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Eventually, I made my way to the “Throne Room”, a.k.a. the hotel lobby where the con organizers had placed the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones, to see the evening panel “The Effect of Setting on Story.” The panelists were Peter Orullian, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, Eldon Thompson, and J.A. Pitts as the moderator. (AQ is an audience question.)

JP: How important is setting? In The Maltese Falcon, the setting is important because the city is used as a character.

PO: In Lord of the Flies the setting works metaphorically as the characters move toward the wild state. James Lee Burke uses lush southern settings, creating feelings of lushness and sweltering heat which works well with mystery and convoluted plot twists. It’s also instructive to look outside of genre.

JR: Setting can be a character and should be developed with the same level of thought. In John Steinbeck’s work, the setting influences the protagonists and story arc. There is one school of criticism, eco-criticism, where they look at setting in particular. Tolkien personified parts of the setting, such as Moria.

ET: Setting can set the tone of the story and the emotional resonance. The setting can create conflict where conflict is lacking. George Lucas does this in Empire Strikes Back where the characters struggle against a frozen world. You can create more drama with a dynamic setting.

JP: In modern and urban fantasy, the reader is hooked with the familiar before introduced to the fantastic. Is it harder or easier to do familiar or non-familiar settings?

PO: You can use shorthand in a familiar world. If you say “lobby”, everyone already knows what a lobby is. If you’re doing a secondary world, you need detail to ground you in the new world. Detail makes it seem concrete and gives flavor to the story.

JR: Doing a secondary world is easier because you’re making it up and no one will ding you on the mistakes.

ET: It depends on what you want to do. Get the details right if it’s in the real world. If you make it up, stay consistent or it will kick the reader out of the story.

JP: For example, get a calendar so you know the phases of the moon. Always have internal consistency and don’t change the rules in the middle unless you have a good explanation. Let the reader fill in the details. Can you overdo detail?

ET: Yes. Don’t bore the reader.

JR: You want enough detail to feel real but not to put the readers to sleep. For instance, you can add detail by being specific, like “redwood tree”, or slip in bits and pieces in the narrative. Don’t write whole paragraphs of detail.

PO: In Carrion Comfort, Dan Simmons set his story in the South, but he’s never been there. But he saw pictures and read about it. He researches by “immersion reading.” So you can fake it. One specific detail can go far to establish your credibility.

JR: If you’re not using specific words, you’re also using weasel words.

JP: What about other sensory settings? In Alyx Dellamonica’s Indigo Springs, time flows differently so setting changes. In other books, authors use smell.

ET: The visual sense is overused (except in film where it’s limited to the visual). Show the way someone walks. Smell is a sense that’s underutilized, so it will stand out. The best sensory writing comes from poetry which is used for maximum impact.

AQ: In radio drama, how is sound used as a setting?

JP: Sounds are incredibly important since there is no visual.

PO: You need texture, audio cues. Smell can be typical. Go into a bar and listen to how people talk and other sounds. How writers write dialogue is not how we speak. Don’t neglect the other senses but also don’t use all the senses at the same time.

JR: Touch is important, especially if you have a character who is working with his hands.

AQ: If something has a specific name in a secondary world but also has an ordinary name in the real world, how do you balance this with setting?

PO: You need balance. Words have different connotations. But it’s a writer’s choice.

ET: You have to have something to ground the reader first.

PO: You can contextualize. For example, Patrick Rothfuss includes invention with clarity.

ET: And in George Martin’s work, it’s twisted just enought that it doesn’t seem anachronistic.

AQ: Can you legally write about a business?

JP: If it’s generic, such as a character going into Starbucks to get coffee, it’s okay. But if you’re saying how bad it is, it’s libel.

AQ: What about real people?

JP: If the person is dead, like Abraham Lincoln, that’s okay. But if the person is alive, that can also be libel. If you’re worried about it, just change the name.

PO: If you’re worried about it, you should get books about copyright and libel. Writers don’t do enough thinking about setting as metaphor. For example, the hollow man living in a wasteland. Use the setting as a macrocosm of the theme. Writers used to do this more. Also what about topography–who or why do people live there?

JR: In one of my books, I have the “dry line” where trees physically separate countries.

JP: For anyone under thirty, they grew up on TV and became lazy with consumption. It’s too fast. You need to immerse yourself in books and take time to delve into detail.

JR: Steinbeck had working journals which were very descriptive. For instance, in his journal for East of Eden, he consciously uses outdoor settings for foreshadowing.

PO: In Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, the setting mirrors the darkness of the main character.

AQ: With all the detail, how do you keep the story moving?

JP: You need to keep a balance. You can get a lot of imagery with a few words. Use three sentences rather than several pages.

PO: Not all writers are good at everything. Your novel can still be good if you’re good at things other than detail.

AQ: Can people see the same setting in different ways?

ET: Setting is the crucible for things to happen. You need to build it to force the character to grow. An example is Frodo’s journey in Lord of the Rings.

JP: Setting enables you to show external turmoil to indicate internal turmoil. Sam (from LOTR) had a totally different view point.

PO: Characters show what’s happening internally by how they view things.

ET: This is not how the author sees things.

AQ: Why do some authors, such as Anne McCaffrey, have other worlds but only use the background in side stories?

JP: That’s doing your homework but not showing it in the main story. Another example is The Silmarillion.

PO: However, there are exceptions. There are some writers who are so good you don’t mind reading pages of detail. These are suggestions, not rules.

AQ: How do you put alternate languages in context?

JP: Just don’t bore me. No apostrophes. Don’t drag the reader out of the story. Alternate languages should be used effectively.

JR: One thing that drags me out of a fantasy story is when they use modern day names.

PO: For invented languages, you can create a few words. It’s not necessary to create an entire dictionary. Be thoughtful about it, especially if it has a specific meaning.

AQ: What about creating naming languages like Tolkien?

JP: Tolkien’s names came from Welsh and mythology.

ET: The key thing is consistency. If you use a name with a hard “C”, don’t just use a “K” in the next name.

JP: If you know someone who knows another language, have them check it.

AQ: In Firefly, they used Chinese. In LOTR, Germanic dialects were used for the dwarves.

PO: Consistency and balance is good.

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Stay tuned for Part 3, one of the Saturday morning sessions.