Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 26
“How do you feel?” asked Doctor Gray, in a tone of voice that said: “I’m listening,” as well as “I care,” and finally, “I’ve done this six times today already and it’s nearly lunch.”
“I’m great,” replied Girth Loinhammer, Dungeon Lord. “I’m at the peak of my dungeon-lording career! The forces of good fear me, the forces of evil respect me, and forces in general tremble before me! All bow before my glistening muscles and terrible leather chest straps.”
“Is that how you feel,” pressed Doctor Gray, adjusting her spectacles, “or how society wants you to feel?”
“I…uh…” Girth sighed. There was a couch here; he figured he might as well lie down on it. “The second one, I guess. Except…” He waited for Doctor Gray to ask “Except what?” but she didn’t. She simply waited patiently for him to continue, so he did: “Most of the time I get the impression that the way society wants me to feel is really, really uncomfortable.” Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 13
Challenge #6: Write a story involving a stranger and an ambiguous proposal, borrowing the first line from another author’s story written this month. As an optional bonus, incorporate one thing from the list of “2425 Things Mr. Welch Can No Longer Do During an RPG.”
Sunshine, good music and a very long bar queue. This, Büzenpüken decided, was a strange sort of oppressed village. A strange sort of oppressed village indeed.
“It’s the dragon,” whispered a nearby peasant, the bags around his eyes black as the devil, and saggy as the devil’s devilish man-boobs. “The dreaded Party Dragon! He has made his home in Bierkan Mountain and demands that we honour his appearance with a thousand years of vigorous celebration!”
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” said Büzenpüken, scratching his beard.
“It wasn’t at first!” The peasant dropped to his knees, clutching Büzenpüken’s barbarian bearskin briefs. “But that was ages ago! I haven’t slept in weeks! All I do is dance and uncontrollably guzzle cheap booze!”
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” said Büzenpüken, again.
“It’s horrible!” cried the peasant. “And if we so much as complain about it…”
There was a roar from the cave at the foot of the mountain. A searing orb of flame arced across the sky.
“Uh-oh!” yelled the peasant, desperately zig-zagging away from the bar queue. “Uh-oh! Uh-oh!!!”
The sky is filled with great heroes of lore: Orion, Cassiopeia…Girth Loinhammer.
That’s right! I got a truly spectacular Christmas present this year in the form of this certificate:
There is now officially* a star named Girth Loinhammer in the constellation of Sextant (abbreviation: “Sex”). I’m trying to come up with a joke involving “rectascension” as well, but mostly I’m just super happy that there’s a star out there named after my unintentionally erotic epic fantasy bad guy.
*Nobody but the International Astronomical Union has the authority to name celestial bodies. Since they didn’t choose the name, it’s essentially only as official as the printed-out certificate makes it. That being said, I do have the certificate, so nyah nyah! Take that, space!
I’ve never really been a fan of New Year’s resolutions. They seem like a handy excuse for putting off doing anything until January 1st, and later on a handy excuse for giving up for ten months when you fail spectacularly in early March.
That said, starting something at the beginning of a new year does make it easy to set up a schedule, and so on this occasion I’ll be joining in too. My New Year’s not-resolution is to write a game article a week. At the moment I’m hoping to make most of them reviews of specific titles, but I’ve also got plenty of ideas for articles about game design and mechanics. Most likely there’ll be a fair bit of crossover between the two. The main thing I’ve settled on at this point is that whatever they are, there’ll be 52 of them by the end of the year. Or at the very least, there’ll be a dozen-ish by early March.
In the past it’s proven difficult to keep up weekly or even fortnightly updates. Beyond the Black Throne became problematic partly because I was juggling it with an MA course that steadily demanded more and more of my attention, but also because the interactive format made for tight deadlines and more or less eliminated the possibility of building up “buffer” updates that I could write ahead of time and post when necessary. Producing images and animation to illustrate the story—however hilariously amateurish those things were—also took a lot of planning and ate up a lot of time.
I’m still planning to pick up the story again at some point, but in the interests of producing something on a regular basis and building up my games-related portfolio, I feel as though the reviews are a safer bet for the time being. For one thing, I’ve already played through a bunch of games that I’d like to write about, which means I’m already halfway towards having a “buffer” ready. For another, games (even if they’re primarily text-based) offer the possibility of illustrating a post with screenshots, which don’t take too much effort on my part.
I expect it’ll take a while to play through anything I’m going to write about, which isn’t a challenge I had to face with Beyond the Black Throne, but at the same time that seems more compatible with my job at the moment than responding to reader suggestions and fiddling about with paper cut-outs. I could happily fit in the button-mashing after a day at work, then write the actual article on one of my days off. Combined with the buffer posts, that should ensure I’m able to keep these things regular.
But beyond that particular goal for the year, I’ve got another decision to make. I’ve still got access to the university recording equipment, and while that’s the case I want to make the most of it. However, that’ll mostly mean recording things I’ve already written, and I’d quite like to keep producing new stories at the same time. So here’s a question for you:
“New, experimental things” at the moment will likely involve audio, video, or interactive fiction. They’re by no means limited to that, though.
In any case, I’ll be doing a little bit of both either way. If you’re curious to see something a little different from me, I hope to have some recordings done in the not too distant future (and perhaps some 3D printed things too). If you want conventional stories, I’ll be including a brand new one in each of my monthly newsletters.
Happy New Year!
It’s Day Five of National Novel Writing Month, which means that my quest to produce a 100,000 word work of interactive fiction is already four days closer to completion. And what a four days they’ve been.
Since my last NaNoWriMo post came after just the first day of writing, and only included the bare minimum of work-in-progress work necessary to illustrate what I was doing, part of the point of this post is just to say that I’ve got into the swing of things and I’m expecting to have more of my NaNo project online and ready to read almost every day. I’ve found that although philome.la (my Twine hosting site of choice) doesn’t allow me to “edit” stories, it’s simple enough just to delete one and then reupload it under the same name. This means that the most recent version of Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure can always be reached through the same hyperlinks, no matter what version I was actually linking to at the time. I won’t announce every single update (except on Twitter): just check out the story whenever you feel like it and you’ll be able to see all the stuff I’ve added since you last had a look.
If you can find it, that is.
I’m currently writing the story back-to-front, in a sense. Rather than writing the first decision-making passage, then the two passages leading off from that passage, then the four passages leading off from those two passages, I’ve prioritised completing endings over writing beginnings. This is ridiculously complicated to describe, so here’s a screenshot of my work in progress:
The highlighted passage in the top left of the screen is the start of the story: the one containing the “You are Girth Loinhammer…” introductory text, and your first opportunity to decide how the story progresses. The passage far below it, connected by a long vertical line, is one I haven’t written yet (it just contains some NaNoWriMo filler text). However, the vertical chain of connected passages just to the right of that long line is one complete storyline: you’ll see it in its entirety if you choose to mope in the dungeon (or generally not do anything interesting) at every opportunity. Running horizontally along the screen are all the endings I’ve written so far. You can see how some of them branch off that complete “moping” storyline earlier than others.
The upshot of this is that rather than slowly building up more options at the beginning of the story and maybe starting to write endings about halfway through the month, I was able to have a dozen or so endings ready for people to discover on day one and add a dozen or so every day afterwards. I’m actually aiming to complete 16 storylines a day. Working like this has its good and bad points, and I think I’ve been at it for just long enough to get into those now:
- Word count is not a problem. I was originally wondering if I may have bitten off more than I could chew by trying to tackle 100,000 words for NaNo rather than the usual 50,000. I planned my project on the assumption that each passage would average 100 words in length, when in fact most of them naturally come to a fair bit more.
- Ideas are easy to come by. I thought quite a bit about what sort of story I wanted to write before I started. I even put out a poll to gather readers’ opinions. Turns out you guys were onto something: writing a massively branching story that doesn’t take itself seriously has given me a lot of options for endings: everything from alien abductions to death by boredom. This kind of massively branching format makes it difficult (though not impossible) to write yourself into a corner as you can when working on a linear novel.
- Quality seems okay so far. It might be too early to say for sure, but I don’t think the quantity of work I’m trying to produce this month is having too much of an impact on the quality. There are a lot of typos and I’ll want to do quite a bit of fixing up before considering this thing properly finished, but I don’t feel like I’m writing for the sake of it. I’m really enjoying coming up with these storylines and there are a few I’m particularly looking forward to.
- People seem surprisingly invested in the story. I really wasn’t sure what sort of reaction to expect to something I was putting on show in such an unfinished state. Interactive fiction often behaves a little like a machine, in that if parts are missing it won’t work at all. However, I’ve been absolutely blown away by the response. People have said they’ve gone through and read every ending, which even on day one meant sifting through 5,000 words of story divided between 30 or so passages.
- I will probably not finish on time. Despite being likely to absolutely shatter my word count goal at this rate, completing the entire story in November would involve an absurd amount of work. The problem is passages. Words might be easy enough to accumulate, but the easiest way to keep track of the story (for complicated mathsy reasons) is to aim for 31 passages a day. This is the easiest number to aim for, but it’s quite a challenge to write and it’s still not enough for me to finish in November. At this point it’s looking as though I’ll finish something like a week late–and even then only if I really stick with it.
- The story is difficult to organise. Twine is a great bit of software, but it’s difficult to set out a story this large as a readable flowchart. I’ve already ended up skipping passages because I lost track of what I needed to add where, and though I think it’s all fixed now, it’s a problem I just wouldn’t face with a linear novel.
- Many choices are inconsequential. I’m actually playing this for laughs quite a bit, but ideally interactive fiction should make you think about what you’re doing and what effect your choices will have. However, the sheer number of choices I have to write for this thing means that they can’t all be significant. The fun of Exponential Adventure will come primarily from exploring its multitude of storylines, rather than getting seriously invested in the fate of its protagonist.
- Interactive fiction gives me nightmares. This hasn’t so far been an issue with Exponential Adventure, but it happened with both Blacklight 1995 and Outpost, and I think it has more to do with format than genre. These things are all multidimensional worlds rather than linear stories, so it’s a lot easier to get wrapped up in them. On the plus side, though, I hope that also makes them more interesting to read.
So that’s how things are going so far. I’m on track to hit my target of 100,000 words, but at the same time it looks as though that target won’t be quite enough to get the story done during NaNo. However, it’s all going well so far, and if you haven’t checked it out since day one, Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure now includes nearly 20,000 words worth of silliness for you to explore. Also 64 unique endings.
Those things add up quickly.
It’s Day One of National Novel Writing Month, and so far I’m on track to reach my goal of a 100,000 word interactive story by the end of November. At this rate I’m actually expecting to exceed the word goal by a considerable margin, but only because it’s proving more challenging to keep passages short than to let them grow to however long they need.
I got the idea for this story while on the way to a Halloween event yesterday, so it’s maybe not as well planned out as it could be. Still, with 16 of the 512 planned alternate endings already finished, it seems to be going smoothly so far.
Find the work-in-progress here, if you dare.
It’s worth noting that I’m prioritising complete storylines over early branches, so at the time of writing your only option for the first five passages is to sit in the dungeon moping. However, there is already a lot of variety after that point. Enough that I hope people won’t be disappointed by this very early version of the work.
Also, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo yourself and would like to add me as a buddy, my profile is here.
Flash Fiction Month 2015, Day 31
Challenge #14: Write a story with a word count divisible by 31, featuring a multi-headed entity. It must include all 31 one-word prompts from this year’s event: Celery, Moon, Forgiveness, Excelsior!, Judgment, Dauntless, Terminus, Amorphous, Barbarian, Flabbergasted, Pulchritudinous, Twinkle, Ennui, Anagnorisis, Ethanol, Skank, Defenestrate, Moist, Summoned, Chiaroscuro, Legend, Elemental, Eldritch, Unfurling, Ending, Cicatrize, Catalyst, Codpiece, Facetious, Carrot, Google.
Girth Loinhammer was not a fan of this new-fangled internet thing. Everywhere he looked, people were gawping at tablets and squinting at phones. Very slyly, he leaned over to check what the barfly next to his left was looking at. “Super Cute Duckling Thinks Carrot is Best Friend,” read the massive headline on the tiny screen. Girth peered over the shoulder of the drunk to his right. It was a YouTube video about cats with boobs.
Girth settled back into his seat at the bar, adjusting the spiked leather straps of his torturer’s uniform. He’d sure like to find out where the internet lived and give it a piece of his mind, whip, and poker. Then again, knowing the internet, it would probably enjoy it. Just like all the other perverts he’d encountered during his not particularly long or distinguished career. There was no place for non-kinky torturers anymore.
He propped his elbows on the bar and lowered his head into his hands. “Another mead, barkeep.”
“The answer to your problems isn’t at the bottom of a mead horn,” said the barbarian barfly to his left.
“Of course not.” Girth angled the vessel over the faceplate of his helmet and tried to tip the drink through into his mouth. A lot of it missed and splashed onto his codpiece, making it look as though he’d wet himself. “The answer’s in all the lovely ethanol floating about in the middle.”
“Cats with boobs!” shouted the drunk, pointing at something just outside Girth’s field of vision. “Cats with boobs!”
A pulchritudinous woman with the head of a lioness marched swiftly over to the bar and roundhouse kicked the drunk in the face, managing to defenestrate him in the process. Continue reading
Last weekend wasn’t my first time at the Winchester Writers’ Festival, but thanks to a scholarship from the University of Winchester, it was the first year I managed to attend the entire event. That really made quite a difference, since the full range of day courses, talks and workshops offered far more variety than I could have got from any individual day. It was particularly useful to be able to get advice on both writing and publishing. Here’s how the weekend went:
Each day of the festival starts (if you get up early enough!) with coffee and an opportunity to chat to other delegates. For the first two days, this was also an opportunity to wander around the Book Fair. I was really keen to make the absolute most of the weekend, though most people didn’t turn up until a little later.
Being there at quieter times was pretty handy, because when it got busy (such as immediately after Sebastian Faulks’ keynote speech) it actually got a little difficult to move about the place. I got talking to Matador (on the far left) who were kind enough to spread the word on Twitter. Continue reading
The following stories were produced for Flash Fiction Day 2015. I’ll be updating this post with new stories throughout the day.
At a glance, the Human Fly wasn’t the most obvious choice of accomplice for a bank job. But X-Ray Ted wasn’t one to make decisions based on a mere glance. The Fly might not have the strength to heave a sack of gold bricks, or the mind-reading powers to get the guards’ security codes, he possessed one trait that no other supervillain had. Or wanted.
Super-corrosive bug vomit.
X-Ray Ted’s incredible X-ray vision had long ago revealed an odd quirk of this particular bank vault. The bulktanium mega-alloy of the door was capable of withstanding lasers, saws, and 99.9% of superhero eye beams, but for some reason had pretty much no resistance to being melted by acid. A can of supermarket own brand orangeade could probably strip the finish off. The Human Fly’s gastric juices could eat right through the hinges.
And so they did.
As the door of the vault crashed to the ground, the bank’s alarm began to blare. They would have only forty seconds until the cops arrived, but that was thirty-one more seconds than they needed. X-Ray Ted’s surveillance had been comprehensive. He ducked inside, gathered up a few choice—priceless—items, and let the Fly take his share.
The Human Fly hesitated, torn between a big bag with a dollar sign on it and a guard’s half-eaten bagel.
“Come on!” shouted X-Ray Ted, “We’ve got to go!”
The Fly took the bagel and stuffed it in the bag, which he heaved over his shoulder. He wasn’t smart, thought X-Ray Ted, but he wasn’t stupid either.
There were sirens in the distance. X-Ray Ted made a dash for the nearest window, the Human Fly buzzing noisily behind him. Ted jumped head first through the glass, did a flip, and landed on his feet in the alley outside. A standard superhero/villain move—banal, really—but it got the job done. He checked behind him.
The Human Fly was still inside, hovering just in front of the window.
BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! He took another shot at getting through the window, but brained himself on the wall next to it. BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP!
“It’s right there!” shouted X-Ray Ted, from seven feet away. “It’s right in front of you!”
BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! The Human Fly caught the top of the windowframe this time. BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP!
The sirens grew louder.
BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP! BZZZzzzzzzzTHWAP!
Finally, the Human Fly found the window and made his way outside. Then straight back in. X-Ray Ted considered running off and leaving him, but that would seriously affect his bragging rights down at the supervillain local. He hopped back inside the bank and tried to shoo the Human Fly out through the window, but it just freaked him out.
BZZZzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!! The Human Fly made a lazy lap around the foyer.
The cops burst through the door.
X-Ray Ted gave up. This was no longer the perfect crime he’d had his eye on, and bragging rights were the least of his worries. He dove back out through the window, and was immediately tackled to the ground.
“Should have used the door,” remarked Commissioner Hindsight, as he slapped the cuffs on him.
10:41 Continue reading
You wake with a pounding headache. Your mouth feels like an ashtray. An ashtray full of vodka. Vodka that’s been flavoured with spicy cat farts. You can’t remember what you did last night. If it even was last night! You feel like you’ve been asleep for more like several weeks…
I’m pleased to announce that a new chapter of Beyond the Black Throne is now available to read, and the next one is now open for suggestions! I’ve actually been sitting on the text of this update for quite some time: the main thing that was stopping me posting it was the difficulty of getting the images together, and the knowledge that even if I did, I’d be unlikely to find the time for the next few.
However, I think I’ve now solved both problems. I’ve got my unholy homemade tripod golem set up in the same room as my computer, which makes it easier to shift things back and forth, and I’ve settled on posting a new chapter every other Friday. I really didn’t want to do that–partly just because it makes it harder for people to follow–but relying on a (mostly) free day every Thursday/Friday simply isn’t realistic just now. Also, I’m expecting to have help from Cory Simmerson in the form of a spinoff series of comic strips. Any day the site is due an update but I can’t manage one, I’ll (hopefully!) be able to post an already-written comic to keep things rolling.
It’s really fantastic to have this kind of option. For one thing, it’s exactly in keeping with the idea behind the Black Throne saga, to which anyone can contribute, and for another it makes the fortnightly update schedule way less daunting. The main thing that was putting me off doing that earlier was that missing an update (which is still reasonably likely, I’m afraid) would mean either waiting one whole week and screwing up the schedule, or waiting two more and leaving it an entire month. I realise that it’s kind of weird to think that far into the logistics of a low budget BDSM-themed fantasy/humour series, but apparently that’s what I do now.
Oh. And I also spot food that looks like my cutout characters. In honour of Burns’ Night, here’s a scotch egg that looks like the Head Goblin Slave:
Here’s the link to the new chapter of Beyond the Black Throne. If you fancy making a suggestion as to what good old Girth Loinhammer should do in the next one–he’s in quite the pickle just now!–that would be fantastic. And if you’d like to also spread the word about it, that would be even better. More readers mean more hilarious suggestions (and there have been some great ones already)!