Back on the Saddle of my Fickle Pony

So after I gave myself an asthma attack blowing off the dust from this blog, there was a moment of clarity (during copious nose-blowing, of course) about why I have been so damn neglectful.

Writing is hard.

Yes, it’s hard. At least for a chronic procrastinator who’s also a perfectionist. Talk about double whammy there. And writing with those two devils on your shoulder is especially hard when you lack interest for the story you’re supposed to be churning out in a desperate flourish of poetic zeal — a state of nirvana my fellow fanficcers (and writers in general) seem to reach easily, just as easily as I pour hundreds of hours into an RPG and then whine that I have no time to write. Like, duh?

My creativity suffered a blow when my “daydreaming” time (yes I set aside time for that) dwindled to nothing because of my job. Two jobs, actually, no time to exercise those Alpha waves – and my imagination was poorer for it.

My personality type is INFP (Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving) and after reading the little blurbs on what I should be like, this in particular was an epiphany:

INFPs have very high standards and are perfectionists. Consequently, they are usually hard on themselves, and don’t give themselves enough credit. INFPs may have problems working on a project in a group, because their standards are likely to be higher than other members’ of the group. In group situations, they may have a “control” problem. The INFP needs to work on balancing their high ideals with the requirements of every day living. Without resolving this conflict, they will never be happy with themselves, and they may become confused and paralyzed about what to do with their lives.

INFPs are usually talented writers. They may be awkward and uncomfortable with expressing themselves verbally, but have a wonderful ability to define and express what they’re feeling on paper. INFPs also appear frequently in social service professions, such as counselling or teaching. They are at their best in situations where they’re working towards the public good, and in which they don’t need to use hard logic.

While I have no desire to be a social anything (as I dislike social in general) Much of that rings true for how I’ve been feeling lately. Here’s some other insights to my personality, in particular, daydreaming:

INFP children often create their own fantasy world and live very much within it. They may daydream about what is important to them, and sometimes others wonder if they are in touch with reality. They often get lost in their thoughts and books, and may develop a special ability in communicating, such as writing. They are somewhat reserved, especially in new situations.

INFPs have a need for perfection in connection with their personal values. They become frustrated with those who dwell on trivialities.

Which does explain my certain members of my family exhaust me. And why it’s hard for me to relate to many people since my personality type is literally 2% of the population. TWO PERCENT?

I’m a fucking unicorn.

That being said, daydreaming is essential for me to write. It’s like an artist with a paintbrush and no paint. No day dreaming = no writing. My lull in higher thinking drove me to “find” creativity. Play games that allowed me to live though a character in another world, or do silly things such as arrange a pixelated kingdom to be aesthetically pleasing.

It was satisfying, but empty, like a twinkie or candy bar when your body craves some lemon-herb chicken breast or Chinese take-out. But technically, you could live off twinkies for a while – until malnourishment makes your teeth fall out and a scaly rash has you itching your skin off. Not good.

So, I switched to third shift, started baking for the company I work for. Great. I get the building all to myself. No customers, no distractions, and once I learned everything, plenty of daydreaming time. I think my alpha waves have increased by 120%.

But then I get fired from my second job. Unfair reasons, returning employees wanted my hours. It’s that nice? But while that sucks financially, it actually improved my sleeping patterns and now I have even more daydreaming time. The crisis was over in that part of my brain, but returning to writing or even art – was still difficult. Now I had – have – bad habits.  And they are hard to break. Then there’s the other thing:

My career life in general. I hate where I’m at. It’s not even a “career”. It sucks not being able to save any money or work for a decent wage. There’s no one to blame but me, though. And owning up to that is difficult and even a little shaming. Like, this is all I have to show? Some fanfic? And I can’t even finish that properly.

At least I’m contemplating the saddle now. My pony has grown a bit shaggy and worn, but she can be a good ride. I managed to take her out a bit, not far, but over 2k words in a night is pretty good. I posted for the first time in almost a year.  Still have a few readers who stuck around. That’s comforting. The rest of my stories are coated with dust and need a thorough cleaning  – not editing – but a read through, get the old scent back again. The mindset that I lost.

Wish me luck 😀

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Commentary on Shadowed Fate, Chapter 4: Dreary Party, Indeed

For those curious and wish to pick my brain, I’m going to divulge some of my creative processes and reasons for the unusual character directions I took with the Outsider and Corvo.

Blandcorp mentioned that much of the chapter is dense…like hiking through a thick forest of rich imagery. I tend to visualize everything I write as a movie – complete with special effects, lol. So yes, there are several visuals that I slowed down and took the time to build. The reward though (I hope) is a vivid picture in the reader’s mind of everything that’s going on.

I enjoyed Lady Boyle’s Last Party. It was a chance to see the more extravagant part of Dunwall, the pretty and glittering instead of corpses everywhere. That same party in the Void during Dunwall City Trials really stuck with me. The mistiness, the purple lights, the drapery. The masks and weird Voidness (lol) in general. Those details were the influence here when Corvo arrives at the party, and forgets everything (as people tend to in dreams). He then is a slave to the illusion Granny Rags has constructed around him, and until her little birdies attack the avatar of his soul (Tyger), he is helpless in her grip.

I figured Granny would want to look her best, just in case her groom happened to make an appearance. Hey, it’s a dream right? If you had control of your dreams, you’d look like a super model too. But in Granny’s case, she appears as her younger self. And getting her dialogue rhythm was tough. She has a particular way of speaking and I tried my best to duplicate it without cheating and using the same segments of dialogue as in the game (as I’ve seen some writers do. Drives me nuts). I also gave her the ability to conjure items in the Void: the fan the only example, made from the wine streaming by her. She also has more experience with the Void, and seems to “know” how to predict its arbitrary nature. Example being when she stops looking through the mirror at the dark mirror Outsider, and turns to welcome the real deal. She also has moderate insight to Corvo’s state of mind, and knows all about Delilah, Daud, and what happened at the lighthouse.

So despite her “kittenish yearning” for the Outsider, and obvious delusions of marrying him, she’s pretty powerful in this chapter. She takes on Corvo, doesn’t back down when he threatens her, and holds her own in the brief bickering contest between herself and Corvo. I didn’t want her weak because she was never weak in the game. I wanted her in character.

Which brings me to Corvo. There is a theme of mirrors in the chapters, of duel aspects of people and ideas. The Void itself is two entities: dark and light which the Outsider represents (and in turn, you have the “real” Outsider who is all spirit, hovering, and his dark mirror counterpart, standing on his feet) So when Corvo sees the dark side of the party, it creates a conflict of emotions for him. There’s disgust, yes, but there’s familiarity and comfort — which leads to a yearning of his own. He feels more at home in the darkness of Dunwall, having been forced into its shadows as he hunted his targets one by one. And since this is a high chaos Corvo, there is a sliver of his soul that desires that chaos again – and that sliver is what this story is all about.

Because what if that aspect of Corvo, that unpredictability and darkness, and craving for violence, was allowed to flourish and grow? What would it become? Maybe something that rivals the Outsider?

Realistically, people don’t realize they’re being idiots until they’re called out. This is why I let Corvo make a fool of himself. The Outsider gives Corvo a reality check, forcing him to confront the realization that he has been running from the very thing he craves. Like Granny Rags, he desires the Outsider, but has repressed the feelings so deep, it’s practically an epiphany when the Outsider spells it out for him. In the coming chapters, Corvo will be wrestling with this attraction, and will be trying to understand why he feels it.

I even let Corvo get angry at Granny and the Outsider for “dragging him to the Void” and then get angry again when they dismiss him. There’s no moment that he stops and says…wait I’m contradicting myself. Because again, who realizes they are being contradictory until it’s pointed out? The reader is aware of it, but Corvo is an unreliable narrator. He’s going to lie to the reader as he lies to himself. He’s a frustrating character to deal with, both reading and writing him – but that’s how real people are. He’s as deluded as Granny, but has the potential to overcome his faults, and be a stronger person. And this is why he feels sorry for Granny even though she tries to kill him. He still has the ability to empathize – which is the only thing keeping him from actually becoming the monster he thinks he already is.

And this is why he sees “himself” at first in the mirror. That mask is the persona he believes he truly is, but once he loosened up, allowed himself to BE honest with himself (craving Dunwall again) is when the Tyger appears.

Speaking of being honest, the Outsider was certainly blunt. He’s a little more chaotic in this world, influenced by Corvo’s actions in the main game. However, I kept the duality, the impassiveness, and sarcasm – with some hints of humor. He’s too damn old to be coddling his Marked, and since he sees everything, he knows what events will lead to his death – and what events that might lead to a rare, highly improbable future – but one he desires above all else. He knows he should kill Corvo if he wants to insure his survival, but that’s not how the Outsider works. His curiosity of “what might happen” is his character flaw – or strength depending on how you look at it.

My intention was to make the Outsider a three-dimensional character: not some dude giving confusing speeches or irritating Corvo with riddles. His body language, his gestures, glances, tone of voice are all deliberate. And when he’s caressing Corvo toward the end, I wanted a hint of desperation. The Outsider is a force of nature in my head canon. He floats at arms length for a reason. His touch will kill. The only reason Corvo isn’t waking up dead is because he (and Granny) have an affinity for the Void. And the Outsider touched Corvo’s dream body (dream kneecaps and dream bruises) which is technically his soul. If it had been Corvo’s REAL body, he would have died.

And yes, this is MY head canon. It’s something I decided to do because it felt right and it was different. The Outsider is powerful. Why not have a downside to that power? And what if eventually, someone came along that the Outsider could touch without sending them into convulsive fits?

The answer to that question will be in the later chapters. Much later.

So that brings us to Daud and Billie.

I gave Billie the Mark because you could tell in the game she wanted it. She mused about what the Outsider smelled like, and wondered when he’d talk to her. I gave her what she wanted, lol. Her powers are freaky, and don’t expect her and Corvo to be best buds. There’s a lot of rivalry between the two, and she will be angry about the mess he made of the Whalers – just as he gets angry about her involvement in Jessamine’s death. Then there’s Daud, who Billie wants to protect (from himself) so she start’s realizing that Daud’s feeling’s for Corvo go far beyond wanting friendship.

But that’s future chapters.

Daud…I’ve been playing a lot of Knife and Brigmore DLC’s to get a handle on his speech patterns and mannerisms. There’s still a lot of guilt there, some of which he actually jokes about when he’s being wrongly accused of assassination.

And the bounty thing. That’s something I think Daud would do just to be an asshole.

Next chapter will go into how Daud is there, and how much he knows about Arella (which won’t be much, surprisingly) and what she wants Corvo to do. We get to see Billie’s freaky powers (and they are…weird), a tea party, the Duchess slap Corvo, Daud and Billie crashing that same tea party, Arella revealing a huge plot twist, and High Overseer Hawk taking on Daud. Throw in some birds of paradise and a bunch of moths that eat people, and Daud chasing Corvo through the Palace, and you got chapter 5.

Should be fun 🙂

PS. I do want to post some rare info on the Outsider, that he was human around four thousand years ago in the Dishonored Universe. There’s some other cool stuff from the devs too. Just go here for some forgotten lore.

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Adverbs aren’t evil…really, they aren’t

So adverbs. I won’t quote writing books here, or give super detailed advice. These are my personal observations of writing NO ADVERBS EVER to “eh, one or two won’t hurt me”.

Every writer has a love/hate relationship with them. Some eschew them to the point of obsession. Some throw them around every other word. For me, it used to be the former, but now I’ve mellowed somewhere in the middle. I don’t throw them around, but I don’t stress over them as I used to, sometimes sacrificing brevity and common sense to avoid having anything remotely “LY” in my prose.

Many many many writing books (and critics) preach that adverbs make your writing weak and blah (maybe not quite those terms) to the point you feel dirty reading one out loud and start counting how many LY words you might have in your manuscript. Fifteen is the limit according to a writing book I read somewhere. Some writers say less.

My writing group had a few anti-adverb advocators that would make the pissy “what’s that smell?” face when an adverb crept into our narrative. I recall a friendly debate over it when I got tired of them shunning adverbs like red-headed stepchildren. The result was a tie, though, more so because they seemed so “certain”, and I didn’t want to press the issue lest it escalate into an adverb war with multiple causalities. I think I got one of them to compromise about dialogue, as we talk in adverbs all the time, but my parting shot was this: Never follow a rule off a cliff.

There are no writing rules, really. Guidelines, style tweaks, and prose sophistication. Some other less known elements such as micro-tension and pacing. But when it comes to mechanics, the nuts and bolts of language itself, adverbs are the shiny doodads of your machine. Too many, and your machine looks pretty gaudy. Too few and your machine looks kinda plain. There needs to be balance, and avoiding an entire line of modifiers is simply…counterproductive.

Adverbs are informal, yes, lacking that punch a stronger verb or noun would have, but sometimes a stronger verb or noun isn’t what you need. Sometimes you need a little tell rather than a show (as adverbs tell by default, and we all know the “SHOW DON’T TELL” beast that bellows when a writer dares to summarize a segment of time, but meh, that’s another post).

My hard two rules for adverb use are these: If you can use stronger word/phrase without breaking your brain or agonizing for hours, then go for it. If you can take the adverb OUT of the sentence and still retain the meaning of the sentence: i.e., “He skipped merrily down the street” = “He skipped down the street” (as skipping is already merry in most cases), then omit it. But here: “The ghostly presence lingered a while longer, then disappeared.” If I omitted “ghostly”…the sentence doesn’t quite have the same meaning. “Ghostly” modifies “presence” and enhances it – a shiny doodad twinkling at just the right brightness.

The biggest peeve I have is when writers tack on a LY word to “said”. It drives me nuts. Published writers do it all the time – and a few favorite writers of mine do it way too much. “She said happily” is telling and vague. “She said, her eyes twinkling”, gives more emotion and a clearer image. The only exceptions to this that I’ve found, is “he said softly”…though I still say you could use (depending on context) something else to indicate the softness of his voice. But meh, it’s not something that would break a story for me. It used to once upon a time, but I’m not a literary snob anymore 😛

Side note: I’ve found myself using more and more adverbs the closer and deeper I get to my POV character. The narration almost acts as dialogue…and what makes dialogue natural and flow? Adverbs. A smattering of them, at least. And even superfluous ones like probably, and really, and fortunately. It helps create a casual intimacy, and allows your character’s voice to shine through the narrative a little more.

So that’s my two cents worth on adverbs. Don’t shun them. Utilize them – but do so with care. Know when and why you’re choosing your adverbs. Remember too many doodads distract, and you want your machine to dazzle your reader, not blind them 😉

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Shadowed Fate: Chapter 2 Commentary

I want to begin by saying these commentaries are more for those readers who are curious about the nuts and bolts of my writing process, or are curious about my directions with plot. I’m being kinda nerdy when I write these, lol, but if it helps someone with research or techniques in their own story, then it’s not wasted time.

But before I go on about the chapter, I want to share the DEV’s notes on the Oracular Order.

Some of the highlights are:

  • The Oracles are not blind. This is a parlance of the Overseers and more of a symbolic “blindness” to the issues of the world.
  • The High Oracle’s location is a secret, but it’s suggested that she travels from chapel to chapel. In SF, she’s traveling with Hawk.
  • Oracles fight, apparently. And with maces. In SF, I call them Handmaidens (my own term) since they are Arella’s personal guard.

Some of this story is Pants-ing (writing by the seat of your pants, like Stephen King), and some of this is detailed outlines (chain of events). Which means the pantsing created some issues that didn’t fit into the outline. Some characters underwent revisions, and Tarquin Hawk was one of them. Arella is the other. Zoey became Billie Lurk to keep more canon characters in the fray. That, and Corvo and Billie will be bumping heads, a lot.

This chapter took a while (five versions…five!) because Tarquin Hawk couldn’t make up his mind whether to be a jackass, or empathetic bad guy. He decided on the latter when I overhauled his dialogue trees (since those kept sounding contrived) and really thought about his motivations and his method of speech. Tarquin is all about unity of the Empire, and he’s tired of the in-fighting going on between the nations (that hasn’t gone into detail at the moment), and he’s very tired of the Outsider’s followers making things difficult in general. He has seen some of the darker aspects of the Outsider’s influence – more so on his trip to Pandyssa than in The Isles. His knowledge of that continent comes into play very late in the game, but sets the stage for the third part of the story.

I wanted him sympathetic, not quite your amiable bad guy trope, but something close. He’s your “the ends justify the means” type of antagonist.

Arella is more ambiguous, very mysterious in her motivations. I do know why she does what she does, and what her eventual fate is, but I’m curious to see how people respond to her. Not many stories deal with the High Oracle (due to lack of info on their clandestine ways)  or Oracles in general, but I like challenging myself and fleshing out the Lore. But the one hint I can give is that Arella is the driving force behind Hawk’s interest in Corvo.

And Daud. Sorry to those who expected him to make an appearance. I ended up having to push him back to the third chapter. But the main question here is: Did Daud kill the Duke?

Maybe. Corvo will begin to believe it even more in the next chapter, which will set the stage for some interesting conflict when those two meet. And Daud’s involvement in chapter 2 came late in the revisions. He went from not being mentioned at all, to integral motivator in the conversation between Hawk and Corvo.  Big one-eighty and completely unplanned. Pantsing is fun sometimes 😀

I do want to say thanks to Blandcorp and Skarto for reviewing, and being there to bounce ideas off. And to all my other reviews, good or bad, for taking the time to read.

Next chapter will feature both Daud and the Outsider. It will be long. I like to keep chapters around 5-6k, but with what I have planned, it’s going to be an easy 7-8k. Lots of good stuff ahead.

Till then 🙂

Edit: Daud didn’t make it in chapter 3. But chapter 4…yeah, he’ll be there. Sorry!

 

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Shadowed Fate: Chapter One Commentary

Not sure what made me play Dishonored first…I had bought two games: Dishonored GOTY edition, and the same edition in Tomb Raider. I think the darker world and the lure of something new (since I’d played Tomb Raider when it first debuted on the original Playstation) made the choice for me. And once Dishonored got inside my 360, I didn’t take it out for almost a month.

The Lore, the World,  the characters – everything about Dishonored resonated with me. Several aspects mirror (since my novel will be considered Steampunk also) what I have planned for an original story – but only in tone, not content 😉 I love the Lovecraftian feel, and gloomy atmosphere. The style of the game drew me in. An oil painting come to life.

Anyway, I enjoyed my dreary stay in Dunwall so much I decided to write a fanfic, and get myself motivated again with writing in general. Deadlines are my bane, but I need to get over it and write – no matter what.

I chose the worst ending. Typical me. If it’s not bleeding or dying or sobbing in despair I get bored. However, not all is gloom and doom with this fic. There will be some moments of almost happiness. And some “stress relief” later on. Not with the Outsider though. He’s too complex for that sort of thing. 😉

Death Throes of an Empire: my interpretation of this line is the death throes of the “Present Empire” which yes, dies in this ending because of all the chaos Corvo incited. It was already crumbling (as the Outsider mentions) between the Plague, Overseers, Nobles, Gangs, City Watchman, Guardsman, and the general people – it was a mess to begin with. Hence why Corvo said screw it and headed home (as mentioned in the game – though I chose Serkonos because it made sense, not because the game states this.) after Emily dies.

I don’t lead in (never lead in) with a bunch of exposition and backstory. You present the setting, character and event in real time. Readers aren’t stupid. Okay, most aren’t.

The first few sentences state clearly, where Corvo is, what he’s about to do, and where he’s doing it. And the very first sentence sets the tone.  A reckoning had begun…meaning the norm was about to change in a big way. And then his orders: Leave none alive. Pretty much spell it out that the Duke is fed up with “something” – which we learn later in the chapter, is the kidnappings of citizens, and the Abbey’s increasing fanaticism.

Next chapter will spell that out even more, as another character mentions the Duke’s constant criticism of the Abby and Empire. What isn’t spelled out in detail is this puppet Emperor, and New Dunwall when Corvo is pining over the loss of Piero’s remedies.  This is left deliberately vague, but is clear in the fact that yes, there’s still an Empire, and no it’s not quite as we left it. The Overseers have a firm hold on the Monarchy in wake of Dunwall’s destruction, and containment of the plague (which again these details will be revealed in later chapters. Especially The Plague Wall which keeps what’s left of Dunwall contained.)

I mention Fugue Feast. It’s the end of it. I mention Oracles and Overseers in the same place – and regarding this religion’s misogynistic views, and the fact the Overseer’s would have Abbey’s everywhere (Abbey = church in my mind)  It’s not hard to deduce Oracles would occupy the same Abbey – and in particular – at the time of the Fugue Feast. That’s the entire point of the festival anyway: Fuck around, do what you want for however long the Overseers allow it. And it’s not hard to fathom an Abbey would be located in Serkonos’s capital – in addition to the Oracular order. That, and the Oracles are blind. They would feasibly need assistance. Who else but Overseers?

And it’s implied that the Duke chose the end of the Fugue Feast to strike because the Overseers would be partying the hardest.

As for the Fugue Feast itself, it’s equivalent to Mardi Gras or a carnival. It is not THE PURGE where anyone can run around killing people and it’s “okay”. Otherwise no one would leave their homes – and I know I wouldn’t be partying anywhere if someone could slit my throat and not be held accountable.

And the High Overseer signaling the hymn of atonement: this is vague in the game books. No info is given for when this ceremony takes place, where it takes place, or how it takes place. Therefore, I took liberties with the timing and aftermath. Here, Fairchild has just signaled the end of the Fugue Feast, and the next morning begins the new year. Everything is winding down. People are passed out.

There’s nothing that states the new year takes place right after the hymn. I feel there would be some downtime – like any holiday.

And speaking of Fairchild. He was unstable. I didn’t come out and say: Fairchild is unstable. I showed his instability: His capricious mood swings, his fanatical views, his love of torture and molesting – those were all signs that yes, Fairchild was a bad man. He didn’t deserve empathy. He deserved what Corvo did to him. But why was Fairchild High Overseer when clearly he was insane?

He wasn’t High Overseer. He was a decoy. And more on that next chapter.

Also, Samuel. I played Corvo on Medium Chaos. Sam punted his ass out of the boat, but didn’t light up the flare. Corvo is still resentful. Hence, why he tells Sam’s “ghost” in his head to shut up. Sam in the game was Corvo’s judgment (the very meaning of Samuel’s name) and he ends up being that little voice in Corvo’s head that tells him to knock it off. Corvo usually doesn’t listen.

Emily. Corvo mentions her grave, and the mask he left behind when he sets the current mask on Fairchild’s face. It’s been five years. No, he isn’t over it, and it’s stated earlier when he’s floating in the Void. How will he atone? This is the question that will be haunting Corvo for most of the story.

The Outsider: He has a little cameo here as the voice/force that keeps Corvo from dying. Literally. This may have been more subtle than I wanted, but easily rectified with a bit of dialogue in future chapters when the Outsider and Corvo finally have a “chat”. Corvo is rather unappreciative though, even when he finds out the Outsider nudged a few others to “rescue him”.

As for pairings, it’s a non-issue. Corvo and Daud, Corvo and the Outsider. They don’t happen overnight, nor do they happen for no reason. Like life, relationships take unexpected turns, and the Corvo of my story states it quite simply: “I fall in love with people, not genders.”  There’s nothing to defend because nothing is stated about sexuality for any of these characters – and even if there WERE, it wouldn’t matter. It’s fanfic.

A little side note regarding the Outsider and Corvo: their relationship (or lack thereof) deals with the darker themes of the story, and is the result of poorly made choices by Corvo. In the end, Corvo has no one to blame but himself.

 

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Shadowed Fate: Character commentary: Corvo Attano

*Edit 6/20/14:

Some of this info has been altered or has evolved. Sometimes a story may take a different direction than intended, or a character will suddenly make different choices and have different motivations. But rather than change this entry entirely, just take the info here with a giant grain of salt :D.  This was more of an exercise anyway…something that escapes one person who seems to think this was some stone-written character profile. Well, some folks aren’t the brightest, are they?

Shamelessly copying the character intro topic from my pals over on the Crackin’ The Whip blog, and keeping with tradition of expanding on chapters I’ve just submitted to FF.net and AO3, I’m exploring my MC of Shadowed Fate: Corvo Attano.

In the game Dishonored, Corvo never says a word. Developers seem to think (as with the first Dead Space and Isaac Clark) that a voiceless protagonist puts the player in their place. Not really…I mean it does, but there’s a reason Daud (who is voiced by the talented Michael Madson) is a mite more popular despite his questionable actions in the game. He has a personality. He has flaws. He is seeking redemption in the Knife of Dunwall and Brigmore Witches DLCs. Players identify with Daud. He is enjoyable to watch.

In fanfiction, writers have the opportunity to uh, fix things the developers didn’t get right. Or to explore the eternal question “what if?” It’s a powerful lure, that “what if”, and is why writers/fans who love the source material so much want to play in that sandbox.

Anyway, this isn’t a post about why fanfiction writers write fanfiction. This is about turning a voiceless character into something three dimensional.

So, Corvo Attano. Lord Protector of the Empress and betrayed by the people he trusted – not only once, but twice. Granted, a different group of people, but you’d think he’d would have learned his lesson the first time around.

Anyway, my Corvo is basically Nathan Gale from my original novel. Nathan 1.0 is what I like to call him. And if Nathan 1.0 had grown up in the Dishonored world, Corvo Attano is what you’d get. This enables me to play around with characterization and tweak some of Nathan’s quirks as Corvo. My original novel will feature Nathan 2.0, one who is on present day Earth and deals with his own set of traumatic events, but Nathan 1.0 will still be lurking underneath.

As Corvo, Nathan has a ruthless streak molded by witnessing the murder of a woman he loved and protected, betrayal by the people he trusted, and six months being tortured and beaten in a harsh prison. So when my Nathan/Corvo breaks out (with some help from the Loyalists), he’s pissed. He’s had all that time to stew and brood, and plot nasty horrible fates to those who’ve wronged him. Everything he loved is gone, except for Emily, the Empress’s daughter, but he has no idea where she is or if she’s even alive.

During the events of the Dishonored, my Corvo/Nathan goes on what I call a “quiet rampage”. His expertise lies in stealth, and he uses that to surprise his targets, often combining the magic the Outsider gives him to “chain kill” everyone in his path. Everyone except servants, survivors, the idiot nobles at the Boyle party, and of course, Sam, even when he turns on Corvo at Kingsparrow Island.

Under that overturned boat on the pub’s beach, Corvo had played Sam’s audiograph with a heavy heart. “I carry death wherever I go, it seems.” The words brought more than a little guilt, and more than a little shame. My Corvo wondered why Sam never voiced his concerns, and seemed quite fine with the way he handled things – even saying all his targets deserved their fates. But then, my Corvo never killed the main targets. Their non-lethal outcomes were often worse than death, and that suited my Corvo just fine.

But when Emily was found and brought to The Hound’s Pit pub, my Corvo’s actions influenced her in darker ways than he anticipated. The disturbing drawings, the cold things she said. They bothered him. Yet, he couldn’t let go of his anger. He couldn’t stop seeking revenge. And in the end, the collage of his mask Emily spread on his bedroom wall confirmed his worst fears. He had created a monster. What kind of merciless Empress would she be? How would Dunwall fare under such a ruler?

And this is what led to a spontaneous decision at the Lighthouse. He could have easily saved her, but he took a deliberate step forward and froze. Havelock fell, and Emily’s screams still haunt him. At the time of my story, Corvo can’t reconcile what he did, what he allowed to happen, and this is made worse by Daud.

Though Daud had killed Emily’s mother in front of her, and gave her to the morally corrupted Pendleton twins, Daud ends up saving Emily from being possessed by a witch named Delilah. Corvo finds this out when he and Daud meet again in Serkonos prior to the events in Shadowed Fate. Back in Dunwall, Corvo spared Daud because of his confession. Killing the Empress hadn’t been a personal vendetta, but a job, and one Daud regretted with all his heart. And now he can’t bring himself to hate Daud, or blame him for killing Jessamine. Corvo plans to keep Daud from discovering what really happened at the Lighthouse.

In Shadowed Fate, Corvo has been in Serkonos for five years. Daud and he are estranged due to Daud’s interest in the Outsider’s Mark, and the being himself. Corvo blames the Outsider for many things and believes he is the underlying cause for much of the Empire’s trouble. In Corvo’s mind, the Outsider is as guilty as the Abby of the Everyman, and in some ways worse.

During the first chapter, Corvo is on a mission from the Duke. Purge the Abby. The backstory here is that Corvo and the Duke have had several discussions about the Outsider and the Overseers, and are in agreement that both need to go. Over the years, the Duke has been secretly meeting with other like-minded leaders and parliament members in the hopes of gaining allies should Serkonos succeed from the Empire. And now, with the Fugue Feast winding down, this is the perfect opportunity to strike. Corvo goes at this alone (because he’s more than capable)  to kill the High Overseer, while back in the capital, the Grand Guard are killing every Overseer in sight.

During the scene, we have Corvo fluctuating between apathy and regret. The Oracle is the first sign that he’s not some merciless killer, but a man with a duty he finds difficult to carry out. He must constantly psyche himself up, rationalize what he’s doing. Even with Fairchild, he keeps reminding himself that this is a Bad Man, and Look At What He Did in order to continue with the torture. But in a sense, this works against him. If Corvo would have been more stoic and professional, he would have shot Fairchild and avoided the ambush waiting for him in chapter 2. Because he allowed his emotions to dictate his actions, he sets himself up for more pain and misery.

Then the frustration. I have Corvo venting quite a bit. I think this quote:

“You deserve this, and you deserve more — all of you! Liars and hypocrites, burning so-called heretics, torturing innocent people and children! And for what? Power? Order? You don’t even know!”

And this one:

“It’s just a game, isn’t it? The Outsider verses the Overseers. The bastard probably made you out of boredom, and now he can’t control you. So it’s up to the Marked to do his dirty work, to keep this world from falling into the Void because of your damned war!”

Pretty much spells it out that Corvo is fed up. He’s had it with the state of the world and the harassment of the Overseers. He’s sick of the Outsider’s meddling and leading people to their deaths. In his mind, the Outsider deserves some blame. Bestowing magic on a human is like giving a two-year old a loaded pistol.  The two-year old will shoot either his foot off or someone else’s.  It’s a given. Or maybe the kid won’t. Either way, wouldn’t you look at the jerk who gave the kid a loaded gun like: WTF dude? Why did you do that?

And this discontent only gets worse as the story goes on. But unbeknownst to Corvo, the Outsider is manipulating events and in a sense, herding Corvo to a certain fate. Corvo is a pawn, but a special one, something the Outsider hasn’t dealt with before, and this novelty intrigues him.

In chapter 3*, the Outsider pays Corvo a long overdue visit, and displays some facets of his character not seen in the Dishonored game. It’s always a challenge to take an established character and give them new motivations and situations they’ve never dealt with before.

Posted in Character Exploration, Commentary, Dishonored, Fanfiction, Musings/Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Psychic Distance Exercise

Reference Post. Anyone can link  or bookmark.

This exercise is to illustrate deep POV in an action setting with two male characters, and to accept the challenge presented by this book: Writing Character: Bringing your story to life, by William Bernhardt

In Chapter 7, Viewpoint, he states:

1. Identify the POV character in the first sentence
2. Never use their name again, only ever use he or she. (justification is that a mention of the name moves the distance further out, making the narrator appear to be more observer – less personal)
3. To avoid confusion, no other character should be referred to as he or she, always identify others by name or another identifier…

Many writers find this POV challenging because it requires you to weed out the narrator’s voice entirely. This is hard, even for me, and I love this POV.  The intimacy is unmatched, and when done right, pronouns He/She/I/Me are interchangeable. Thoughts are reported, not italicized. And by default, this POV requires more showing than telling.

But, you must know your character inside and out.  How he/she would view the world around them and how they would relay that information to the reader. This requires using their vocabulary, details, observations, and diction.

For this exercise, I’m using a snippet from one of my fanfics in progress. A scene where the POVC, Corvo, is about to assassinate Fairchild, a corrupted religious leader.

Some things to note: The fandom is Dishonored. The genre is fantasy/steampunk. And the Void is a dream-like realm where an immortal being known as the Outsider dwells. This realm is the source of magic for the world of Dishonored.  Also, Transverse = teleport.

“Come out, assassin,” said Fairchild with a smug sneer, his beady eyes glittering. “My sister Oracle warned me that a demon would attack during the Fugue Feast, but stars bless her feeble mind, I did not take her seriously. Our dear sisters see demons everywhere, in everything. Yet, here you are, as foretold. I assume you used black magic to get past my Warfares. Spawn of the Outsider. You cannot harm me.” Fairchild unsheathed his sword in one graceful move and assumed en garde. “Face me, witch.”

Who was he to deny a dead man’s last request? [Corvo Attano] sheathed his weapons and stepped into the light with a deep mocking bow. “As you command, High Overseer.”

No gaping astonishment, or gasp of awe at his appearance. A little disappointing, but then again, everyone in Karnaca knew him either by rumor or myth. Only a few trusted souls knew him by truth.

“Ah, the Shadow of Armas.” Fairchild squinted as if trying to see past the mask. “You are here at his behest?”

“You picked the wrong time to visit Serkonos, sir.” He withdrew the scroll and tossed it on the floor. “Your orders of execution, and of all those who follow you.”

Fairchild stared at the scroll as if it had just shat on his boots, and sputtered, “That fool has lost his mind! His entire court will be executed for high treason!”

“The Duke is willing to risk all of Serkonos to be free of the Abby’s yoke. It’s been around our necks for too long.”

Without changing his stance, Fairchild withdrew his pistol and cocked the hammer. “Have you been whispering in the Duke’s ear, Shadow? Using your dark arts to manipulate and beguile the righteous? The people say you never speak because the Duke cut out your tongue. Perhaps I should give that rumor truth. The pretty lilt in your voice tells me you’re a native of this island, but that nasal from the northern isles suggests some time abroad. Where do you hail from? Gristol or Morley?”

“Dunwall.”

Fairchild’s thick brows became one, then separated again. The pistol wavered. “You are Daud.”

He started laughing. Not that it was funny, really, but the irony alone deserved a good chuckle. If only a certain someone had heard that proclamation — but no, that someone was too busy playing mystical guru to a bunch of street rats and thieves to be bothered with trivial matters such as war. Still, Daud’s reaction would have been fun to watch, maybe even more entertaining than Fairchild puffing up his chest like an affronted crane and screeching with pious indignation.

“Filth! Vermin cannot mock the holy! They crawl on their bellies and gorge themselves on the dead! And you, Daud, you are the lowest creature, the most vile. You slither through the catacombs beneath our grand city and think the light cannot touch you. But it can. And it will. You will burn, witch. Like all your kind.”

The rant itself didn’t offend him. Every fanatic that followed the Abby sang the same tired old tune, but now he had ruffled Fairchild’s feathers well and good — and judging from the white-knuckled grip on the pistol — this old bird was ready to start shooting. A sleep dart would end the tantrum, but those things took forever to wear off. And executing a snoring target seemed…unsporting.

If the High Overseer wanted a witch, then he’d give him a witch.

Space warped around him and he Transversed. Fairchild shrieked at the sudden loss of his pistol and sword, and made a mud-crab scramble under the nearest workbench. In different circumstances, the sight of that white-clad, pompous rear smacking the bench as it wiggled underneath might have brought on another chuckle or two, but he didn’t have the luxury of chasing this fool all night. One bullet, one arrow – that’s all it would take. But would it be enough? That boy cooling on the floor deserved justice, as did every victim tortured and killed at Fairchild’s elegant hands.

No, an example had to be made, a warning to all future High Overseers who thought they were above the law.

The wall behind the bench and the crates to either side prevented escape, boxing Fairchild inside a dark cubbyhole where the only thing visible were the whites of his wide, unblinking eyes. Not the brightest High Overseer in the Abby was he? He aimed his pistol at the cringing lump in the shadows and said: “Out. Now.”

The lump didn’t move, but loosed a high-pitched cackling giggle before hissing one word: “Witch,” and retreated further into the gloom. One of the crates started rocking, followed by unmistakable sounds of rummaging and labored breathing. Searching for a weapon? Bad, bad High Overseer.

The crate splintered with his first and last warning shot. The lump twitched with a yelp that dissolved into another disturbing titter. People reacted differently to seeing magic. Some shrugged it off, others panicked and ran. And some just broke down. Seemed the High Overseer belonged to the latter group, which didn’t surprise him. The higher they were, the deeper they plunged. From the state of this torture chamber, and latest victim, Fairchild had been halfway there already. The baubles and trinkets inside those glass jars weren’t there for storage, they were souvenirs, and those clothing piles had been sorted with care. One pile to burn, the other to…keep. Twisted son-of-a-bitch.

More shuffling under the bench, a flash of black boot, then a defiant shove of the crate he’d just shot. Crazy bastard, but smart. His target must have realized by now the reason he wasn’t riddled with bullets or chewed on by summoned rats was because a worse fate had been planned. And this had become a stalling game, one he didn’t have patience for. He hunkered down and gestured with the pistol. “I said out, High Overseer. Or I’ll leave your corpse to rot where it falls so everyone will know how you cowered like a timid mudlark before I shot you.”

When all else fails, insult their pride. The lump seemed to consider this proposal, and accept it with a hesitant shift forward. He backed up to give Fairchild more room, but something plinked under the workbench, something metal, something familiar. Then that something rolled toward him in what seemed like slow motion. A canister, or —

Realization hit too late.

Grenade!

He threw himself to the side as it went off, but instead of his limbs flying in every direction, his lungs flooded with expanding chalk. Fire inside his eyes, in his throat, up his nose, burning and turning his tears to ash. Not a grenade. Chokedust.

His hands closed around an imaginary pistol. Magic surged so hard his skin prickled with icy heat. He Transversed into a table, knocking it over. Then a man-sized shadow charged at him through the cloud of smoke, screaming words that made no sense, and swinging something he should probably get away from. He Transversed again, but he was like a panicking bird flying in the wrong direction. His nose collided with the wall. Lights and black spots exploded behind his eyes.

He hit the floor.

Fairchild pounced on top of him, lips peeled back in a frozen snarl. Thick blood filled his throat, choking him from the inside as Fairchild’s hands squeezed from the outside. Sword. He needed his sword. He pawed at his belt and at the vise closing off his air. Fuck, where was his sword? Bright specks of color popped and sparkled in his vision, edges going grayer and grayer, and all the while, Fairchild cackled like the very thing he claimed to hate.

“Hah! Writhe, witch! Writhe and die! Your master won’t save you. You are nothing to him – nothing!”

The hands around his throat now clutched the sides of his head. He managed one, desperate gasp before the back of his skull slammed into stone.

Fairchild and the room vanished. The pain numbed. The Void expanded around him, enveloped him in hues of twilight and mist. Fragments of reality hung in the airless space: leafless trees upside down, their roots above intertwined like vines. Rocks in the air turning in place. Slabs of cobblestone floated next to the skeletons of buildings. Chains linked these islands one to another, strung from impossible points, and connecting to others unseen. No sensation other than helpless abeyance. Under his floating feet, a vortex churned, bottomless and forever. His soul mirrored the chaos below him.

 

There are many more elements to this POV discussed in Jill Elizabeth Nelson’s book: “Rivet Your Readers with Deep POV”.

  • Some of my own observations about Deep POV:

It’s like roleplaying. This isn’t what  you would do, but what you would do in the shoes of your character – if you had their personality, strengths and weaknesses.

How would Corvo perceive everything happening to him during these frenzied moments? What would I, if on the ground with some nutcase on top of me, be feeling in Corvo’s body, thinking with Corvo’s thoughts? It’s how I focused on the sensations and panic – using brief descriptions, short sentences. I slow down only when Corvo blacks out and travels to the Void.

Posted in Deep POV, Dishonored, Examples, Fanfiction, Preview, Psychic Distance, Writing/General | Leave a comment

Dialogue Woes: a wordy journey

Dialogue is the ball and chain that swings around in my prose, smashing my pretty descriptions all to bits. Even if a character says two lines, there’s at least twenty versions of those lines, and all somehow not “real” enough to me. That said, dialogue is a weakness of mine. When I first started out, I punctuated incorrectly, misused dialogue tags and action beats. My character said stupid cliche things, and talked about nothing for pages.

Books and practice helped sort me out, but it’s still an ongoing struggle to “get it right”. I may never master this art, but I can keep readers from cringing now when my characters open their mouths.

So what sagacious advice can I bestow upon the unlucky few who stumble on this blog?

While there’s no “true” way of writing dialogue, here are some common mistakes.

  • Tagging punctuation: This is the foundation of your dialogue. And if you don’t know where to put your periods and commas, you’ll be like me and get horribly embarrassed when someone reviews your story and points out that You’re Doing It Wrong.

Because I’m lazy, I’m going to paste a link on dialogue punctuation and let you frolic over there.

  • Dialogue Tagging: He said, she said.

But there’s more to tagging than punctuation. Too many speech verb tags ruin the flow of conversation. Too few tags and you have a bunch of talking heads. You should balance your character conversations with tagging, action beats and lines of straight dialogue.

And where and when to insert these “orange cones of flow” to direct readers to who is speaking, how they are speaking, and what they are doing when speaking, is all up to the writer.

Yep, it’s all on you. And since it’s your plot and your characters, you must figure out what exchanges are needed to advance the plot, develop your characters, and keep your reader glued to every word on the page.

This means, don’t have Sally and John talking about the weather unless some freak storm is approaching. Don’t have Sally and John discussing the color of their wallpaper unless said wall is eating people. Don’t have Sally and John wondering what restaurant to eat at unless John has anxiety of crowded places and hates forks.

Make. Every. Word. Count.

And this doesn’t include micro-tension in dialogue – which btw, you must have.

Don’t want readers skimming through Sally and John’s awesome conversation on biochemistry? Then have Sally and John disagreeing about it – hell, have them fight about it because Sally’s idea will save the world from the Mutated Sunflowers rampaging through town, and John is damn certain her plan won’t work. There you go, plot and micro-tension. And if Sally doesn’t cave to John’s bullying attitude we learn that Sally is stubborn and strong willed, and that John used to getting his own way. There you go, characterization.

And all in one conversation.  Your readers won’t be skimming out of boredom again.

  • Bookisms

Are a fave of novice writers who can’t handle the simple “said” and think it’s too “boring”.

Ex: Sally exclaimed. John chortled. Sally shouted. John bellowed. Sally whispered. John ranted, Sally replied, John answered, Sally indicated, John told,  and so on. These are okay when used for effect, and sparingly. Too many, and you diminish the impact of your dialogue itself. Let your character’s words indicate tone and emotion, not your tags. And this brings me to:

  • Said

Is as vital to dialogue as action beats. In fact, said and action beats are BFF’s forever. 

Said is unobtrusive, as invisible as a comma or period. Said allows your character’s words to shine because there’s no dialogue bookism to steal the spotlight. There are opposing opinions on this, but I find those who oppose the usage of said are reading stories that rely too much on the “said” tag, and not enough on action beats and straight dialogue. As I said (heh) balance is important.

Note: Please DO NOT attach an adverb to said. He said happily. No. Just…no. Okay, maybe if you absolutely cannot find another way of indicating tone (which I would suggest you try again, and then try again after that), then use that adverb.

Why? When you tack that adverb on, you not only “tell” the tone instead of showing it, but you make the reader go back and reread the same line differently after reading the tag.

I can’t tell you how many times in published novels that I read a line one way, only to discover the character said it “angrily”  or “cheerily”, or “morosely” – and had to reread that line in the proper “tone”.

It’s annoying. Please don’t.

  • Action Beats

These are your characters who are walking around, chewing food, punching someone, rocking in the corner, chasing their dog after he poo’d on their brand new carpet – all during a conversation.

These are great for giving your readers visuals of expressions, body language, and physical actions. These are also great when used in place of tagging. Instead of a simple “John said,” we can have John say how they’re all going to die while staring out the window at the comet coming closer and closer, and Sally throwing all their clothes in a suitcase while screaming for the kids to hurry up and get in the SUV before they all blow up. Granted,  I think Sally and John are pretty much done for, but you get the point.

So how would action beats, tags, and lines of straight dialogue work together? How do you know what to use and when to use it. Simple.

You don’t.

As I said way, way in the beginning, it’s really trial and error  – but, armed with the knowledge that each of your character’s conversations should advance plot, develop or reveal their personalities, include micro-tension on some level, and keep your reader engaged – you have a better idea of the conversations you need for each scene.

Whatever you do, just be clear who’s speaking or performing an action (while they’re speaking), correctly punctuate for each speaker.

And that is that. Hopefully I’ve helped someone, somewhere.

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How to Balance Writing Rules with Common Sense

Learning creative writing is a daunting endeavor. There’s this huge gray abyss filled with what-to-dos and what-not-to-dos that new and experienced writers find themselves diving into with no clue how to climb back out.

I tumbled in a few years ago. You couldn’t keep the writing books out of my hands. Anything and everything to do with plots, characters, POV, writing mechanics, grammar (though admittedly, I resisted the proper use of commas and continue to splice to my little heart’s content), tension, descriptions – if it picked the craft apart, I purchased it.

Then came the deep murk of application. Never use the passive verb “was” (She was going up the hill).  Never use the weak, telling adverbs (John angrily told Jane off).  Never tag “said” with an weak, telling adverb (she said cheekily?). Never tell, always show (John was sad = John sobbed in the corner). And those were the tip of the iceberg called Writing Mechanics.

But then there’s the subtle elements of fiction. Style sophistication and little known “gears” that turn your plot into a clockwork of perfection: Tension, Micro-tension, POV, Psychic Distance, Flashback scenes, Foreshadowing, Dialogue, Dialogue beats, Motivation Reaction Units, Active Voice, Scenes and Sequels, and the list goes on.

Once you fall into THAT murk, there’s almost no coming back. Your head is filled with all these tools – too many to keep straight ( <- AH, Split infinitive NO NO!) and you become overwhelmed, stressed out, confused to what you should use and what you shouldn’t. Should you add this flashback here? Or should you somehow incorporate this into the narrative? Should you go present tense or past tense? Would first person POV be the best, or third? Should you dare add more than one POV, and then who should be your POVC? What sort of voice should they have?

By the time you decide this, you’re so exhausted you don’t write anything. But that’s not the worst of it. No, no no. See, now you’re so full of knowledge your brain is ready to implode. You MUST share it or go insane.

So I went on a rampage, telling everyone and anyone about the lessons I learned, sometimes forcing it down their throats. I tried to adhere to every guideline in my examples, showing people how much more “wonderful” their words could be rewritten my way. Understandably, not everyone agreed with my paradigm of prose. Some clashes happened. Diatribes and debates over showing vs. Telling, or questions from the ignorant on why adverbs are “bad”.

Those were dark times, and I got lost in the rules, applications, and techniques of writing. But then, mysteriously and magically, I mellowed.  Honestly, I can’t say how or why, but I began using the no-nos in my writing again. Those adverbs, those to-be verbs, those splices, and fragments. No more wasting hours on an alternative for “was”. I just used the damn word and was done with it.

The great thing about knowledge is that once you know the tools, you can pick and choose what ones work for you. The great story-telling clock is not all that complicated once you break it down and learn how to build it from scratch. Once you picture the finished clock, building it is much easier. You start inherently recognizing what gear will make your clock tick, and what gear will break it. Sure that gear may be a little ugly, or weird on its own, but in the end, if it makes the clock beautiful, then use it. Don’t worry if someone thinks that “gear” is wrong.

Do what is best for your clock.

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