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Tag: outlining

MisCon 28: Keeping Track of Story Elements

(To see all my posts on MisCon, go here.)

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.

Panel title: Keeping Track of Story Elements
Panel members: Steven Erikson, Rhiannon Held, Ken Scholes, Mark Teppo
Panel description: Steven Erikson wrote one of the biggest, most sprawling fantasy epics out there. How does he do it? What are some of his, and other writers’, tips and tricks for keeping track of all those plot lines, characters, histories, personalities, and quirks? Join us and find out!

KS: What do you think are the elements of story?

SE: Welcome to my nightmare! After ten books, keeping track is a major thing. I’m concerned with the character in crisis. I can take a metaphor and make it real which becomes a comment on the human condition which lies under the surface. Emotional convergence is picked up during the narrative.

RH: I think of continuity details which I need to keep remembering mentally like the arc of the story. I incorporate that into the character so I don’t forget it. It’s not necessarily about eye color and other physical attributes. It can be situations. Was it the first time the character went to the zoo or not? What did they see there? What did they think about the lions?

MT: I tend not to plan a whole lot. I build meta structures with a number of loops to keep track of the book–then I go back and fill in the details. I find a natural rhythm where I don’t have to consciously think about it. For small details, make friends with your copy editor so they can help keep track of them.

KS: There are a lot of things I don’t keep track of in storytelling. I write by ear. The storytelling is internalized. For details in a long series, I reread the books before I start the next. The downside is, if you don’t start in time, you’re fucked. For the rest of you, what would you do differently next based on what you’ve learned?

MT: I write small chunks at a time. So I would just get it down. Don’t do research beforehand. Do the research later for the details.

RH: If I were doing a longer series, I might change my behavior if I find myself plodding. I make a graduated effort. I find a massive series bible at the beginning to be a wasted effort. In revision, anything can change so it can be set up to trip you up later. I also do a lot of rereading. I did it while copyediting the first book while writing the second book.

SE: In the original series, I used years to mark time but I now realize it’s a mistake. The timeline is fucked up. So I don’t mention dates now to avoid cause and effect. I don’t want to be pinned down.

KS: I want to have a world, not an entire bible but more like a map and some ideas, in place before I start on a short story. It’s a good idea to go to that place to live there and see what it’s like but not to deliberately research. If you wander, you can find a story. Sometimes a new place will inspire a story. Fans also help because they read your work. I have a fan/friend who built a glossary for my world and he can tell me details I’ve forgotten. These days, I’d rather go under the knife or write a romance than write another fantasy series. What’s your biggest book mistake?

SE: I had a character who changed gender.

RH: Some of the mistakes were caught during copyediting. But one mistake that made it into the book was that one character said that he was never threatened by a gun, but he was threatened by a gun.

MT: In my first novel, there’s a scene that takes place in Portland at the bookstore Powell’s. In the book, I wrote that the tarot cards were in the rose room. But then I was told that they had moved the cards to the orange room! So I put a note in the back of the book that the location of the cards has changed. However, I think they put the cards back into the rose room now.

KS: I had places that were only mentioned in my first book but never put on the map. The name of one character’s dad changed in different books. There is no such thing as a perfect book. Another author had put Jakarta in the wrong hemisphere. What’s the one question you (the panelists) wished I had asked?

MT: I have a question for Steve. You said you have a last scene in mind before you write?

SE: I just have to get there. Give yourself a lot of room to get caught up. Bring things in for mystery. The key is not to overbuild. Leave room, especially in role playing games.

MT: In an RPG, the GM may drop notes for where the players should go, but the players just go the other direction. It’s spontaneous.

KS: I found that the most useful game was Dungeons and Dragons for planning, interacting with difficult people, budgeting, etc.

Q: Do you have any tricks for keeping track of story elements in shorter fiction?

SE: Take notes.

RH: Have a good memory. It depends on your personality. I don’t recommend a series bible. I like graduated effort. Be aware of your own abilities. What kind of notes do you need? Time is also a factor. Writing it continuously is easier than writing scenes one year apart. Rereading is not a time commitment.

KS: You can hold a short story or novella in your head but not an entire series.

Q: Do you compile your notes electronically? If so, how?

SE: Fans have compiled a wiki for my series. I also have thirty boxes of notes. I have no idea what’s in them. You can get away with anything if you have unreliable notes.

RH: I have some electronic notes on Microsoft Word. I hit “control F” to find what I’m looking for. It’s brute force but effective.

MT: I use a pocket notebook for my grocery lists and book notes. I also use Evernote, Dropbox, and Scrivener which is great because my work and my notes are in the same file. I’m very mobile.

KS: I use a tablet of graph paper. I don’t really use electronic notes because I don’t think it’s robust yet. I’m a mix of planner and pantser. J.A. Pitts has a really robust planning strategy using Excel for characters and scenes. I like to plan it like screenwriting. I’m terrified of the commitment of writing a novel, so I break it up. There are scenes for every character and several scenes for each character. I come up with the box and then come up with the story to fill the box. And as a pantser, I only move from one act to another at a time.

Q: What are your suggestions on what to do if you lose or forget your notes?

MT: Make new notes. If you’ve forgotten it, then it’s not worth it. If you remember it, it’s worth enough to keep.

RH: Losing something can be the best thing. When you’re trying to find it, you’re searching for the “awesome” feeling you had when you had the idea and not the idea itself. So maybe it wasn’t that great.

KS: Everything I write, I lose.

SE: I lost the first 100 pages of one book so I decided to push it to later. It happens.

Gearing Up For Camp NaNo

April’s Camp NaNoWriMo session is just around the corner and like every other die hard participant, I signed up for it. I also signed up to do NaNoWordSprints again so I’ll be metaphorically cracking the whip on Twitter to get people writing. In a fun way, of course.

This time, I decided to do a bunch of science fiction short stories. We’ll see if anything pans out. My planning this time primarily consists of gathering ideas and doing outlining depending on how complicated the idea is. So without further ado, some possible ideas I might end up using next month:

*Cluck. Based on my first tweet, a murder mystery taking place on a Dyson sphere where the investigator also has to contend with alien possession. I’m still not sure whether I want to eventually put this up as an interactive fiction or not–if I manage to finish this.

*Histone Corps. Basically, fairy tales in space. The monsters are genetically engineered creatures and/or aliens and the main characters stumbling upon this science fiction version of fairy tale tropes are named after famous fairy tale collectors and writers. (Grimm, Anderson, Perrault, d’Aulnoy, Lang, etc.)

*Hair Apparent. This one takes place in Restoration England. People start acting funny. It’s due to mind controlling parasites hiding in wigs. My original intent was to lampoon wallpaper historical romances, but the more I think about it, the more serious it gets…

*Fred. This is a murder mystery told from the point of view of a pet python owned by a psychic who denies her abilities by stubbornly running a gag shop. It takes place in the same steampunk universe as another idea I’ve been trying to develop for a full fledged novel.

*Back to Nowhere. The main character needs to go back to her home planet–a backwater mining colony–because of reasons (I’m still trying to figure this out). It’s a parody of a small town romance. But it takes place in space.

*Tooth and Claw. Humans are insignificant. Shapeshifting dragons secretly control the planet. The shapeshifting is not the result of paranormal woo woo but due to movement in higher dimensions. Think: the Sphere passing through Flatland. The plot for this one is kind of up in the air at the moment, though.

So, those are some ideas in a nutshell. The titles are all tentative–they’re just place holders for now to help me keep the ideas straight. Unfortunately, my problem isn’t coming up with ideas but the execution…

Writing Update (A.K.A. Pew-Pew-Pew-OMG-BOOM)

So, AugNoWriMo came and went. I only got halfway through my goal, but if you added in all the writing I did for work, I would have easily surpassed it. But no, usually for these writing-a-novel-in-a-month things, I only count fiction so I’m content to just say I “failed” this and only got halfway.

However, I did manage to finish a short story to submit to the AugNoWriMo anthology. In some ways, finishing a piece is a lot more satisfying than just pounding out a kazillion words with no ending. It’s called “Unnatural Neighbors” and it’s about a hacker who gets shipped off to a backwater planet on a new assignment because she did something she wasn’t supposed to. The whole story revolves around whether or not the hacker’s new landlord actually killed his last tenant. So it’s more like a cozy mystery masquerading as sci-fi. And while there are genetically modified creatures and laser beams and pew-pew-pew-OMG-BOOM moments, most of this takes place in a freakin’ tea house. You can’t get more cozy than that.

Labor Day Weekend is also the time for the 3-Day Novel Contest. In previous years, Labor Day Weekend did not overlap with August so I didn’t have to worry about two writing events happening at the same time. But this year, no such luck. The last two years, I officially did the contest and actually submitted my work. This year, I decided to do this unofficially because I knew I would be busy and I haven’t had a chance to do any planning.

My goal, when I had done the 3-Day Novel Contest previously, was to write a 30k novel. Because it has overlapped with AugNoWriMo, I’ve decided to modify my goal to simply writing at least 30k over the three day weekend. And I’m counting the words I wrote for AugNo (but only the words I wrote on August 31) in that goal. So as of this writing, I have 20k more to go.

This morning, I did some outlining rather than writing. I’m more of a planner than a pantser in temperament and I’ve found that planning, even a little bit, beforehand allows me to write faster. I’ve outlined a retelling of the fairy tale Prince Lindworm. But while I’m a fan of fairy tales, enjoy reading other people’s retellings, and have plenty of ideas for retellings on my own, my follow through rate is rather dismal. So we’ll see if I crash and burn in the next two days.

Notes from MisCon 27, Part 12

(To see all my posts on MisCon, including last year’s notes, go here.)

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.

Panel title: Writing Yourself Into (and Out of) Corners
Panel members: M.H. Bonham, Jim Butcher, John Goff, Dave Gross
Panel description: In this panel we’ll talk about to write your character into a corner (literally, figuratively, emotionally), and how to get them back out again.

JB: What happens when you write into a corner? How do you write into a corner and what does it mean?

DG: I wrote about a character I didn’t create (like Spiderman). The character was not revealed yet. But I had to write it in a short period of time. Others who owned the character changed the character’s motivation and told me I had to revise it by Thursday. The conflict still paid off with the different character, but there were shifting relationships.

MHB: Throw everything and the kitchen sink at the character. Sometimes you have to take a break and work on something else. I get ideas when driving. Don’t use the God card too much–only once in a great while. Think out a solution.

JB: At the beginning of writing Grave Peril, there was no mystery or bad guy, so I needed to throw out those chapters. If I’m in a corner, there’s no clear path and I don’t know what to write next. During a deadline, getting a character into a corner is easy.

JG: I write mostly game related material, so there’s mostly action. I wrote about a vampire and a gunslinger and I found myself in that situation frequently.

JB: How do you get out of it?

JG: I killed him. But the gunslinger was also undead. I don’t like blood, so I go as far as I can go and twist it.

JB: I don’t think there are corners. I think they’re for something awesome to happen. Think laterally. Look for a solution that is not two-dimensional, outside the box.

MHB: By thinking outside the box, ask what is the worst thing that could happen. Delaying the problem could make it worse.

DG: You could avoid getting into corners by outlining. Outliners are like the idiots that drive too slowly and pantsers are like the maniacs who drive too fast. You need to balance between the two.

JB: There’s great strength with solid structure. Have a good idea before you start writing. For example, if you’re driving to California, you need to know which highways to take.

Q: Have you ever come up with an idea where the solution to the problem is a McGuffin that comes out of nowhere?

JG: Yes.

JB: It’s cheating.

MHB: I used to be a pantser but now I outline. If something goes off, I write WTFIDK in the manuscript to indicate where other things go.

DG: I’m an outliner. 90% of my writing is licensed work. They want to know what you want to do. There was one author who had an 80k outline for a 100k manuscript. I try to have tight outlines. I try to get it down to 5k but usually it’s around 15k. A good editor once said that you have to lay the pipe down early.

Q: How horrible is it to insert flashbacks with characters and themes?

JB: If it’s right there, that’s obvious. Lay the groundwork for it.

JG: I like to use flashbacks more for character development. I try to avoid using flashbacks as the solution.

MHB: I use flashbacks as character development or to reveal a piece of the puzzle.

DG: I use them as action beginning the chapter and use them as explanation, but I only use them at the right time.

Q: Do you find yourself coming up with a clever solution first and then writing the character into a corner or is it more common to write into a corner and then bang your head against the wall trying to come up with a solution?

MHB: I used to come up with the trouble first, but now with outlining, I know where I’m heading.

JB: The danger you run into as a writer is that craft can overcome the character. If it doesn’t make sense, you need to let it go if it doesn’t go with the story. The outline helps you get to those places without too much fuss.

DG: I started reading many authors. I’m a film fan and I learned from Buffy. You can pen the story sooner than the audience expects as long as you have something bigger later.

Q: Have you come up with a cool solution that you have to make up a problem for?

JB: Sometimes, depending on the story. But it can be hard. You need to predict how characters will react, what the response will be, and what the emotions are. Does it make psychological sense?

MHB: I agree. You need to consider the emotion of the character. One author had a love interest in a space opera. She wrote a sex scene and afterwards the characters acted differently because there was too much emotion. So she had to cut the scene.

DG: I mostly approach it like a mystery. Think who gets killed and why. Determine the mechanical resolution and how to obfuscate or delay the answer.

JG: Yes. I’m like an outlining pantser with a highway map especially for character motivation. I once had a poker playing character I needed to kill off. So the character died in a cyclone of cards.

Q: Do you ever realize halfway through a book that you need to redo the outline? Or do you just continue?

MHB: I just continue and return back to where I need to go. Sometimes I need to change and don’t reoutline unless it’s really messy otherwise.

JB: I do change the outline and seek an alternate route, a new way to get there.

Q: For that route, do you go with the vanilla option or the science fiction/fantasy option? Like Indiana Jones shooting the swordsman?

JB: That was Spielberg in a corner. He couldn’t film a sword fight scene so he decided just to shoot him. When writing fantasy, using fantasy is usually more fun getting out of a corner. Use what’s close at hand. Consider the creator versus the character getting out of the corner.

DG: Go back to who the character is. If the character thinks that he is human but he isn’t, maybe that’s how he survives the situation.

MHB: I once had a sword with a personality. When all the magic was taken away, we can still use the sword. Come up with a solution which is a way around. Or go in the opposite direction.

JG: I don’t want to use a supernatural solution if it’s not a supernatural story. Ask, what can the character do?

Q: Is it more beneficial to get the character out of a corner instead of making the corner collapse and having the cavalry come in to rescue the character?

DG: The character must have earned the rescue, otherwise it’s a deus ex machina.

MHB: Only have the cavalry come in to clean up the mess.

JB: You can have the cavalry show up but only under specific circumstances. Don’t have them show up in the middle of the story. Instead, they should show up at the end of the book.

JG: You should also establish earlier that the cavalry even exists. You can use it to get conflict. And remember that you’re writing the book about the character and not the cavalry.

A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 8

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

On Sunday morning (5/27), I managed to get to the panel “Plotting Over the Course of a Series” a couple of minutes before it started. The panelists were J.A. Pitts, Peter Orullian, and George R. R. Martin. (AQ is an audience question.)

JAP: There are many types of series. But how far out do you plan?

PO: When I first sold, it was a complete surprise. And they wanted outlines for books two and three by 48 hours. I’ve consulted pro writers who said that it didn’t matter what you put in the outlines. They’re guideposts. But I already knew the ending.

GRRM: When I first started A Song of Ice and Fire, I had two one-page outlines–which bears no resemblance to the books. The publishers like books in triads, groups of three. First you come up with an overplot. I did my Wildcard series with a New Mexico gaming group where we had a retreat for the writers to plot it out and hammer out the details. The act of writing creates a new story. Some of it is technique you can get from writers in Hollywood. You can write a television episode and get help from other writers. Some writers like to break a story. But I don’t like anyone else breaking my stories.

JAP: Tor asked me how many books I had planned. I told them I already planned three, so they bought three. I break my stories with my son who finds the piece that is missing in the story. You need multiple arches and character plotlines. You need to find anything that’s surprising.

PO: I use Excel for outlining. I have a row for characters and a column for what happens. But by the second book, I’m coloring outside the lines so I needed revision. For me, it’s more of a discovery process, which is part of the fun. For writers like Brandon Sanderson, they need more architecture.

GRRM: Not all writers are pure “architects” or “gardeners.” Do you have a green thumb? Then you’re more like a gardener–you plant the seed and let it grow. If you’re an architect, you have to plan out how many rooms and so on. Writing is both. But then again, architects really don’t do any building. They let a contractor do it. So if the architect makes the contractor do the work, what’s the writer equivalent?

JAP: James Patterson and Tom Clancy. They have other people write their books.

GRRM: That’s fraud! It’s like V.C. Andrews. She became even more popular after she died.

JAP: I ended up putting stuff meant for book 4 in book 3, so the title changed. I put in many plot points subconsciously. It’s like the gun on the mantlepiece. It’s organic. But I do like to outline to see what to do next in order to get to the end. Do you do a different arc for each character? What about secondary characters?

PO: I trust the process. Sometimes you drop a hook and don’t know why. But trust it. It will work out if you relax and go with the narrative.

GRRM: I don’t do plot arcs for all of my characters. Some are bit players–they end up dying or they’re there to just serve tea. But I certainly have arcs for major characters and major secondary characters. Sometimes I don’t know all the details from A-Z, but there’s also a lot of discovery. That’s the fun of writing.

JAP: One negative side is if you have interesting things happen, but then you can’t get back to what you originally planned. Do you end up changing your plans or do you prune back? Connie Willis listens to what her characters have to say, but then she tells the characters what will happen. Do you religiously stick to outlines?

PO: I color outside lines a lot. My editor tells me to pull out the gratuitous writing, so only a tenth of what is written is used. However, I don’t get too far to the point where I need to scrap the book. I write to please myself. But I also have a day job so I can write for myself.

GRRM: When people label something in a book as gratuitous, is it unnecessary to the main plot? I don’t think that anything is gratuitous. Plot is only one element and not the most important. Otherwise, we would just read the Cliff Notes. Create a book that’s immersive. Great books will make people feel like they lived it. Critics will call a lot of detail, sensory detail, gratuitous. But by describing, it makes scenes come alive. They also call sex scenes gratuitous. But the journey is the thing and the details in the journey. Richness of detail might not be in some other genres–like John Grisham. I like gratuitous scenes.

PO: One example of detail is the description of women’s clothing in Robert Jordan’s books. Other writers might have no plot but rich description.

JAP: Learn the rules so you know how to break them. If words don’t do two or three things, then cut them out. It’s like poetry. But you can’t be so sparse. You have to figure out what’s right for your writing. One example is the wedding feast scene in Dickens’ Great Expectations. Keep the reader engaged and don’t bore them.

GRRM: Different readers are bored by different things. I get bored by action movies–especially car chase scenes. F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote a screenplay with twenty pages of just talking in a car because he thought people would be interested. Then again, I liked My Dinner with Andre. Write for yourself and hold tight to it. Write what you want to read and hopefully you’ll find an audience. Urban fantasy has the advantage of being in the modern day. You don’t need to describe McDonald’s because everyone knows what it is. But in epic fantasy, you need to describe the inn.

PO: James Patterson used “lobby” as a shorthand. But in a secondary world, get into sensory detail. Due diligence of imagination will be the view lens of what happens with the plot.

JAP: I don’t like to take shorthand. I don’t take my characters to Starbucks. I take them to some other coffee shop. Plotting is the skeleton. I mostly describe character.

AQ: If you write a phrase of dialogue or prose into the outline, does it make it into the story or is it more organic?

GRRM: Outlines are more functional than polished. More comes from the actual writing.

PO: James Patterson created a spare part of a novel, turned it in, and it worked. That became his formula. When Kevin J. Anderson builds a building, he needs a detailed plan. Brandon Sanderson writes many notes including narrative. But don’t be slavish to the outline.

AQ: You mentioned the gun on the mantlepiece, Chekhov’s law. How often do you realize you have forgotten to set up a plot point?

GRRM: Often, because I get distracted. It’s easily resolved in a novel by rewriting the novel. It’s tricky in a multi-part saga since the first couple of books are already published. Gene Wolfe, the author of The Book of the New Sun, was the editor of an engineering magazine so he wrote on weekends. He wrote four books in first draft and then revised all four at the same time. That’s the way to do it. But realistically, you either need a full-time job, be disciplined, win the lottery, or marry an understanding woman with a good job.

PO: If you’re still editing book one, you can still go back. But after it’s published–be thoughtful so you don’t paint yourself into a corner later.

JAP: Balance what’s right for your career.

AQ: It’s hard to know how much research to do. How much time do you set aside for ground work and outlining?

JAP: I take the same amount of time to do an outline as the first draft of a 90,000 word manuscript.

PO: I do a lot of thinking about world creation although not all of it. I do some creating as I go.

GRRM: I don’t do outlines.

AQ: Are you ever surprised by a minor plot twist?

GRRM: Yes. Sometimes it leads to the best stuff, a better idea. Sometimes it’s a dead end so I need to go back.

PO: I literally had a character turn left rather than right and it turned out the path was my favorite. Once I got most of the way through the book and decided to do something else. The revisions took a lot of work and were grueling, but it panned out.

JAP: Sometimes I do an outline and get bored. So I trash the outline and make a new one that’s better.

* * *

Stay tuned for Part 9, which includes a panel on the psychology of going into space.

What Outline?

The idea for this year’s Maynowrimo project began as bits and pieces from other projects I was mulling over at the end of April.  It didn’t really become a coherent idea until I went to the library to check out a guidebook on Venice (published in 1993, so it is woefully out of date–but who really cares, since I’m setting the story in 1880).  Basically, the only research I’m using is that guidebook, Wikipedia, Google Maps, and a naming website called Behind the Names.  In other words, the locations are real, the people and situations are not.

I am also writing without an outline, so we’ll see how that goes (or not).  This is due in part to my last minute decision to write this.  It’s also a reaction against the hefty outlines I keep reading about from other writers.  Sure, every writer has their own method that works for them.  It’s one thing to have a two or three page outline.  But I’m beginning to think that 100,000 word outlines are counterproductive.  I mean, that’s as big as a book itself!  Wouldn’t it be more efficient and worthwhile to spend your time actually writing the story?

Anyways, the freedom of writing without the outline is that I get all sorts of ideas while I’m writing and I get to think–Hey, that’s pretty interesting.  Maybe I can incorporate it somehow.  At this point in the draft, it’s everything and the kitchen sink.  The cutting will be during editing when I’m not so worried about the word count.

The most difficult thing I find about beginning this project is in introducing the characters and setting.  Unlike some other writers who have characters dancing in their heads for years or have done extensive character backgrounds and pre-writing, I do very little delving into the psyche of my characters before I do the actual writing.  The best I can describe it is awkwardness, the same kind of awkwardness that you feel when you’re introduced to a new person in real life.  So in the first few chapters, I’m kind of like a reader looking from the outside in.  It probably won’t be until a few more chapters in when I become more comfortable with the characters and settings that the words will come a little easier.

First Notes for Next Month’s Insanity

I recently signed up for Julnowrimo.  The last time I tried writing 50,000 words in the month of July (a fantasy western back in 2004), I got halfway and stopped.  I tried picking it back up the following year but I only managed a chapter or two more before I stopped again.  The problem, I think, was similar to all the trouble I had finishing the scripts that I had started prior to this year’s Script Frenzy–lack of planning.  I had a cast of characters and a destination, but I really didn’t have any idea what was going to happen in between.

For July’s story, I’m revisiting one of the ideas I discarded for last year’s Nanowrimo which had involved Iceland, wacky chase scenes, and the Midgard serpent.  This time, though, I’m just going to keep the Midgard serpent (he will become a main character), eliminate the chase scenes (they’re not that interesting anyway), and change the setting (some place that is more boggy and less icy).  And since I will be borrowing heavily from Norse mythology, I’m going to bypass a lot of the headache of picking character names.

Outlining the events in the story is another matter.  Most of the work comes from figuring out what makes the journey from point A to point B so interesting.  There will definitely be more lightning and less bananas.

Mapping the Cave Crawl of Ideas

Ideas have a funny way of coming together and melding when you least expect it.  It’s easy coming up with ideas but I find them difficult to implement (whether it’s a story, novel, or in this case, an interactive fiction game) right from the get-go because I often have the nagging feeling that something is missing.  So there’s always this bit of time that I force myself to think about something else and let the idea morph and mature in my subconscious before pulling it out again for reassessment.

I’ve settled on an idea that is a mashup of an escape room game, post-apocalyptic Las Vegas, the sillier aspects of archaeology, the grumpy grad student mentality, inspiration from several BBC documentaries*, and Alice in Wonderland.  I am aiming less for originality and more for something that will let me experiment with some concepts that might or might not fail in the IF medium.

Because this is my first serious attempt at IF, I’m planning to keep the game small and relatively straightforward.  And speaking of planning, there’s going to be quite a bit of that going on before I even start writing the code.  I’m approaching it in several stages: 1) prep work; 2) outlining; 3) fiction writing; 4) code writing.

In the prep work stage, I basically worked out the premise of the story, the motivation and background of the protagonist, and the setting.  All of this sets up my constraints–what I’ve decided what can or cannot be done in the scope of the game.  In the outline stage, I am figuring out where the story should ideally go and other alternatives which a player may take.  While the outline of a regular story–for me, anyway–is a rather linear list or timeline, going the choose-your-own-adventure route makes that linear list explode into a tangled web.

The outline, I’m finding, is a lot more complicated than I had anticipated.  This is where I must consider all the possible decisions the protagonist can make, the puzzles and their solutions, and how each object that I’ve included should interact with everything else.  If I were to be optimistic, I’m probably about halfway through the outline.

But even at this stage, I’m worried about one thing.  It’s one thing to write about altered states in fiction.  But how am I to implement it in code?

*How Long Is A Piece of String? Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Parallel Universes Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Illusion of Reality Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Script Ideas and Other Ephemera

Back in late January, I came up with a possible idea to use for Script Frenzy 2010 and posted it on Twitter:

An inkling of an idea for this year’s Script Frenzy has crept into my brain. It involves a road trip across a semi-terraformed Mars starring an astronaut with a mid-life crisis, a re-purposed lunar buggy, hot Martian chicks, and a multi-kazillionaire tycoon who wants to reactivate Olympus Mons to create the most awesome amusement park ever.

The only other planning I’ve done since then is to stare at topographical maps of Mars* and plot the direction of the road trip.

I really want to finish a script this year.  But I have had this block the previous years–mostly because I’ve failed to do proper outlines like I’ve done for Nanowrimo and having an indifferent attitude towards the script format which for some reason seems like a reject poetry form to me.

So my first order of business–to conquer this goal–is to write an outline.  Hopefully, I will restrain myself from making a stick figure storyboard.

*I also tell myself that this also doubles as doing research for possible future careers.  Let me know if you notice available post-doc positions in labs studying microbes in outer space.