Writer Workshop

(Posted by chris the cynic)

Those of you who also frequent Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings will find this somewhat familiar.  Here, as there, it was requested that there be a regular post to talk about writing projects (and other artwork-creation). Thus this post exists.

Pencil by Elisa Xyz

What are you working on? How are you feeling about it? What thoughts and/or snippets would you like to share? How does your activism work into your art? What tropes are you hoping to employ and/or avoid? Are there any questions you’d like to ask or frustrations you’d like to vent?  Writing workshop below!


16 thoughts on “Writer Workshop

  1. depizan October 30, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    I recently came to a realization that a giant chunk of the tone and feel of a story is its main character, or characters. This realization didn’t come from writing, or even reading, but from playing video games. As you probably know – since I don’t shut up about it – I play Star Wars: the Old Republic, which, typical of a BioWare game is one of those games where you kind of build your own character through the choices you make on your playthrough, though in SW:TOR, each class has its own storyline. Anyway, I’ve been doing a second play through of one class, and am finding the whole experience very different, even though I’m not doing that different a playthrough. (I can’t play evil, even in video games. I just can’t stay interested in a character who’s crossed the moral event horizon. Personal failing, probably.) So, in many ways, I’m seeing the same story but with a different main character – the same general events occur, but, thanks to slight dialogue differences and different headcanon, it feels very different.

    I’ve always thought of the tone and feel of a story as its own thing, created in movies with camera angles and music, or in written fiction with the way authors phrase things. (And maybe, in written fiction, that’s still the main way it’s conveyed. Though there’s often a consistency between the narrative of a story and the story’s main characters, making those things harder to separate in written fiction.) Now, I’m thinking you could shoot a movie completely dramatically but drop in the “wrong” protagonist and get a comedy.

  2. Ana Mardoll October 31, 2013 at 8:23 am

    [Spoiler: KOTOR 2 video game]

    Depizan, you haven’t played KOTOR 2, I think? That game feels TOTALLY DIFFERENT to me depending on how you’ve self-gendered the player character.

    The whole game is about the PC saving (or killing, if you play Dark Side, but assume a Light Side run here) the last 3 members of the Jedi Council, all of whom are (apparently) cis men. Those men then turn around and try to kill the PC, only to be stopped by an Old Woman With A Mysterious Past who has been in your party since the beginning.

    They had to re-record her lines for that very-near-the-ending cutscene, and I swear there is a WORLD of difference between “You shall not harm him. (Damn you!)” and “You shall NOT harm HER. (You BASTARDS!)” There’s a totally different sense there (to me) of her being able to project on a female PC as a younger version of herself as opposed to protecting a male PC as a friend / child-figure. And there’s a much stronger sense of the power differential when it’s 3 old men trying to murder a single woman as opposed to trying to murder a young man.

    I doubt all this was intended by the dev team, and a LOT of it is probably my OWN projection, but it definitely brought home to me that little changes in the protagonist can make BIG changes to the story…

    (* Note that the “damn you” and “you bastards” was my attempt at conveying tone. Not actual lines.}

  3. froborr October 31, 2013 at 8:30 am

    depizan: Airplane. The music, camera angles, and even most (*most*) of the dialogue are completely serious and dramatic… but the characters are all ridiculous. The result is one of the most sublimely funny movies ever made. In turn it launched a second career for Leslie Nielsen doing the opposite of what you’re talking about: playing comedy protagonists but with a stony, dramatic demeanor.

    There’s also the single comics story which more or less put Grant Morrison on the map, at least in the U.S., Animal Man vol 2 #5, “The Coyote Gospel,” in which Wile E. Coyote (or a thinly veiled expy thereof) comes to the “real” world with horrifying and tragic results.

    Another good example is Aliens, which is basically “What if you put action heroes in a horror movie?” The result is a very good action movie, apparently. This has given rise to what I refer to as “Ripley’s Rule”: You can turn any horror movie into an action movie by making the protagonist more badass. It works for horror-comedy, too, where I call it “Ash’s Axiom” because I adore alliteration and assonance always.

    For an example of Ripley’s Rule at work over the course of a single game, see Metroid Prime 2, which starts survival-horror and evolves into 3D Metroidvania action.

  4. L. Ross Raszewski (@lraszewski) October 31, 2013 at 10:33 am

    @froborr: Few people know this, but Airplane is a nearly shot-for-shot remake of a Canadian drama from the 1950s. It’s called “Zero Hour”.

    And if you want your mind blown further, “Zero Hour” is a remake of a TV-movie that was made by Sydney Newman, creator of Doctor Who. The success of the TV movie is what interested the BBC in him.

  5. froborr October 31, 2013 at 11:38 am

    I knew it started as a serious disaster drama, but I didn’t know the rest of the story! That’s fascinating!

  6. depizan October 31, 2013 at 1:01 pm


    No, I haven’t played KOTOR or KOTOR2. I have Jedi issues. Though I may give them a try sometime anyway.

    It may be that the different voice actors and their takes on the lines are also a big part of what I’ve noticed in SW:TOR, too. (I may have to test out what at least the first planet sounds like with a female character played the way I played my male character. For science!) Even though both voice actors read the part with a hint of… sarcasm… sardonicness… something, that means that a lot of lines can be taken either as professional or as trying not to let the snark leak out. Mostly, though, I’m feeling like serious, professional character = serious action drama; slightly-in-over-their-head twit = action comedy. Even when the plot’s exactly the same. I think I always thought the plot made more difference than it seems to.

    @froborr / L.Ross Raszewski

    Really? What bits of Airplane I’ve seen look like typical squicky comedy events to me.

  7. L. Ross Raszewski (@lraszewski) October 31, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    Most of the funny in Airplane is actually either sight gags or matters of timing and delivery. So in “Zero Hour”, people mention Ted’s drinking problem. In “Airplane”, they mention his drinking problem, then Ted tries to take a drink and misses his mouth. In “Zero Hour”, the Doctor comes in to give them a pep-talk right before the landing, in “Airplane”, he gives the same speech, but to an empty cockpit after the landing, and so forth.

  8. christhecynic October 31, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    I still have not played more than the smallest bit of Human Revolution. I simply have no desire to burn the money on it. I think I’d be more interested in it if it were it’s own IP, but the fact that it decided to call itself a Deus Ex prequel when it was made without even the pretense of trying to be consistent with Deus Ex (references do not equal continuity) sort of bugs me.

    That said, I still manage to be disappointed in the missed opportunities it represents. For example:

    In the setting it’s possible for people to be mechanically augmented to give them superhuman abilities, but people so augmented (even if it was a medical necessity) are viewed as subhuman by the population at large.

    (In Deus Ex it is impossible to hide these modifications, which is one of the reasons that various other means of augmentation were explored with such a passion by the people who wanted super-soldiers who could blend, in Human Revolution they fit nicely under clothes because it turns out the art team had the same aesthetic prejudices as the fictional future bigots.)

    This, to me, presents an incredible opportunity. On the one hand you’re going to want these superhuman powers because they’d freaking help. On the other hand getting them means becoming an oppressed minority. What opens some doors closes others. (I can reach new areas with my superhuman legs, but am now barred from polite society.)

    The player should be able to choose between these things. The player should be able to choose between these things because Deus Ex was very much about choice, and because the way James Bond solves problems is different from the way The Thing (member of the Fantastic Four if you don’t know, the only one who can’t pass as normal) solves problems not just because they have different styles but because people will talk to Bond while screaming, “Oh My GOD! What is that thing?!” at The Thing (whoever forced that name on him was a jackass) and because being able to play through both ways would show both sides of the privilege equation.

    On making the choice people would expect the bigger differences between reactions to and actions toward the character, but seeing the subtle differences they might not expect and so it could open their eyes to the subtler forms of bigotry in the real world. They could do an unmodified-person playthrough and think someone was a great person and then do a modified-person playthrough and discover that the person was a jerk.

    They could see how even non-jerks still treated them differently, they could see how the egalitarians, if any, weren’t always who they expected and that they’d have to accept that people who didn’t understand and were still practicing subtle bigotry were their best allies because of limited options and there was unsubtle bigotry to deal with.

    And –since it’s not a form of prejudice that actually exists (because the mechanical augmentations of the Deus Ex universe do not exist and never will; the technology is going to be, in many ways, better than Deus Ex which had a pessimistic outlook on prosthetics)– it can be seen as a metaphor/allegory/thingy for any and all existing forms of prejudice.

    There’s all of this opportunity for a huge social component that is privilege based. And it’s all missed because there’s no choice. Your character has to be the superpowered class, which means you never get to be both sides. (Also the level of bigotry against said class seems to have been toned down with a few token exceptions that people can point to to say, “No, they totes kept the whole prejudice angle,” and the examples of those that I’ve heard of are never subtle.)

    I just can’t stay interested in a character who’s crossed the moral event horizon. Personal failing, probably.

    This is an annoyance for me in The Nameless Mod because some of (most of?) the best dialog is evil-you verbally duking it out with the good guys. But I don’t want to play as evil character so I have to miss out on it. (Plus it really is an event horizon, if you cross it there is no way back out, though [spoilers in footnote]*)

    For example: Slicer and Trestkon debating who the hero is –with Slicer arguing that Trestkon can’t be the hero based on the fact that he sold his soul to Obviously Evil Incorporated– is way better than Zero Presence and Trestkon’s prefight dialogue but Slicer is the good guy and ZP is the bad guy so if you’re good you’re going to be talking to then fighting ZP, not Slicer.

    * The path that evil forces you down ends with the murder of all your old friends and the reduction of the planet to a place ruled by one or two people** with absolute power and thus a near total lack of freedom for everyone else, but if you haven’t burnt one particular bridge there is a sort of escape hatch.

    You cannot rejoin the side of good, but you can avert the abolition of freedom and whatnot (the murder of all your old friends being part of the whatnot to be averted) IF you cast the world into anarchy. Not exactly a shining beacon of hope, but it at least gives people the chance to rebuild and hopefully have better outcomes than absolute despotism. Plus you don’t have to murder your friends.

    If you cross the moral event horizon you cannot access good, but you can at least avert the dominance of evil and leave hope in the world. You can’t escape the event horizon, but you don’t have to go into the black hole.

    I’ve argued, apparently persuasively because one of the developers said that if they’d thought it through my way there would have been more options, that the moral event horizon should not have been an event horizon. It’s not that what is done to cross it is not unambiguously evil it’s just that for reasons of backstory and plot there are certain junctions at which people from the good side should be reaching out to you either because they have a previous relationship with your character or because things have gone so wrong that you are now their only hope no matter how much of an ass you turned out to be.

    Also repentance. After playing through the evil path I was thoroughly disgusted with my character and there’s no reason the character shouldn’t have been able to be disgusted with himself.

    ** Two people if you’re a loyal servant to evil. You are given your home city-state to rule with an iron fist, your boss takes the rest of the planet. Your boss is evil, but he does reward loyalty. (Could that explain Israel in Left Behind? In some backroom deal Nicolae agreed that if certain people helped him take over the world he would give them Israel and not interfere in its domestic affairs?)

    One person if you are not loyal, back-stab your boss, and take the entire planet for yourself.

  9. Firedrake November 1, 2013 at 9:53 am

    The thing about an event horizon is that it’s not a line in space that you cross. It’s the point that you get to where someone watching you, from back where you started, can’t see you any more. It doesn’t feel like a Rubicon.

    And that’s a story that doesn’t get told very much: someone who continues to think he’s a good guy, while very gradually becoming more and more evil.

  10. froborr November 1, 2013 at 9:56 am

    And that’s a story that doesn’t get told very much: someone who continues to think he’s a good guy, while very gradually becoming more and more evil.

    Which is sad, because that is how it actually happens. I can think of a couple of examples (Harry Dresden, Harry Potter, even some characters not named Harry) but in most cases the narrative never seems to notice that they’re not the good guys anymore.

  11. depizan November 1, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Yeah, I was going to say, that story gets told all the time, but, sadly, the authors never notice.

  12. Firedrake November 1, 2013 at 10:23 am

    I think that part of the problem is wanting to have cackling evil-for-the-sake-of-it villains, after which a real villain is much more boring (if realistic) and harder to write. Nobody likes to think of himself as the bad guy, and humans are really good at rationalising the behaviour they want to do anyway.

  13. christhecynic November 1, 2013 at 11:04 am

    My memory is that the event horizon is the boundry within which not even light can escape. If your are assuming a lack of superluminal speed capability then once you’ve crossed the event horizon you cannot get back out, but not being able to get back out is not the same as needing to go further in. (Escape velocity is greater than the velocity needed to maintain an orbit. Within the event horizion it is impossible to reach escape velocity, but that does not mean that everything withing the event horizon must continue inexorably towards the singularity.)

    As I recall/infer. Thus subject to potential total wrongness.

  14. Firedrake November 1, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Yes, that’s all valid. But if you’re sitting on, or even inside, what an outside observer regards as the event horizon, you don’t see a great big boundary in space — you see that somewhere further ahead there’s a zone from which light can’t escape, but where you are is just fine.

    Until you try to get out.

  15. depizan November 1, 2013 at 8:57 pm


    I don’t know. I think realistic villains are more disturbing. Think of Umbridge in Harry Potter – lots of people found her more upsetting and hated her more than Voldemort because she was an exaggeration of a mundane sort of evil lots of people have had to deal with. Not that she considered herself evil. (Hell, by D&D standards, she might well be lawful neutral.) But damn was she awful. And she’s not even that realistic a villain, in many ways.

    (Though as a writer and reader I prefer the “Hi, I’m evil” Bond villain type of villain, because I prefer fluff and don’t actually want to be disturbed by the villain.)

  16. froborr November 4, 2013 at 10:58 am

    I thought the event horizon was the point beyond which our understanding of the universe no longer applies, and it’s therefore impossible to say what it’s like past it? Or am I getting that confused with the gravitational singularity?

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