Tagged: plot

Flash Fiction Day 2017

Stories written for Flash Fiction Day 2017: I’ll be updating this post throughout the day if you want to keep up. If you’d like to get involved with this event yourself, you can sign up here! As long as it’s still June 24th in your time zone, it’s not too late!

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“Buttman to the rescue!”

“Wait, what?”

“Your friendly neighbourhood Buttman is here to rescue you. That’s what.”

“Yeah, I got that. The whole thing sort of came out of left field for me, though. I thought you just had a really impressive cleft chin or something.”

“Nope. My heroic visage is a sign to evildoers everywhere that they’re in for a serious ass-kicking.”

“Oh.”

“No ifs, ands, or butts.”

“But…surely there are butts? Surely that’s your whole superhero persona?”

“I guess…”

“And isn’t it a little unwise to bring up ass-kicking when your face is…you know…”

“Look, everyone has an ass, alright? I’m not the only person that can be flipped against. When other superheroes talk about ass-kicking, you don’t assume it’s going to be theirs that gets kicked, do you?”

“I think other superheroes just avoid that sort of pottymouth altogether, if I’m honest.”

“Hey! Don’t be cheeky.”

“Was that a butt pun?”

“I crack jokes. It’s part of my persona.”

“Oh.”

“When I said ‘crack’ just now, that was also a…”

“Yeah, I got that.” Continue reading

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Flash Fiction Day 2016

The following are my stories, all written in just 24 hours as part of Flash Fiction Day 2016 (I’ll be updating it over the course of the event). If you’re looking for all the other stories written for this event, then that link will have them all. If not, you may as well read on!

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“Gnome-slave!” The White Witch clapped her hands.

“Yeah?”

The witch rolled her eyes. “Gnome-slave, I am the malevolent ruler of an enchanted land, and you are the trusted servant who sits at my right hand. When I summon you, it is a thing of great import. Do not simply say ‘yeah’ in response.”

“Sorry,” said the gnome, hurriedly. “I mean: ‘Yeah, yer maj?’”

The witch rolled her eyes again. It wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do: on this day her minion’s sloppy throneroom etiquette was the least of her concerns. “Gnome-slave, I have received word that certain Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve have chanced upon my realm, transported through the ensorcelled wardrobe of the tales of old.”

“Yeah?” said the gnome, again. Then he spotted the witch’s expression. “That is, ‘ow portentious an’ wotnot. Do continue.” Continue reading

The Sundered Crown

Chapter One: The Watchtower

It was a marvel to see the White Queen paint. Marcia watched as the brush drifted across the surface of the paper, leaving no mark: its bristles held only water.

There was a knock at the door.

Marcia looked to the queen, and was answered by an almost imperceptible nod. Stepping neatly over to the door, she opened it.

“Your Majesty,” said the general, bowing deeply as he stepped inside. “We have repelled an attack at Hobnail Pass, but the lines will not hold.”

The White Queen traced the brush across the paper with extreme care. Marcia closed the door, then once again took up her place by the queen’s side, examining the paper with silent interest. There was no hint of her mistress’ work but a faint glistening of water in the light.

The general took no more notice of the queen than she did of him. Marcia observed him in one of the queen’s three grand mirrors as he strode over to a map laid out on a nearby table, cluttered with painted wooden models representing various companies and legions. The general scowled, removing a few dusty pieces and rearranging several more.

The queen dipped her brush in the little cup of water and dragged it back and forth quickly across the top of the paper, catching the little beads of liquid as they formed. She stared out of the window at the garden below, comparing this scene to the one she had formed. With a quick flick of the brush, she made an adjustment.

“It is my opinion that we must give up Wieseberg.” The general proceeded to shove a line of figures into place with a straight edge, then formed them into a swooping curve with a pudgy hand. “The city is of little strategic value, but eliminating this salient would shorten our lines considerably. The surplus troops here could be…”

“Give up the pass,” said the queen, dabbing carelessly at the paper.

“Your Majesty?”

“Give up the pass.” The White Queen folded her hands on her lap and turned to the general. “Our foe is determined to have that ground no matter what the cost. We will not be so foolish.” Continue reading

Camp NaNoWriMo and Free Face of Glass

Camp_logo

I’m planning to tackle Camp NaNoWriMo in April, so this seems as good an opportunity to offer everybody one last chance to get my 2012 NaNoWriMo novel, Face of Glass, for free. I’m doing this as part of a Virtual Book Fair, which ends tomorrow (March 3rd, 2016). After that, the book will only be available through the usual (bookstore) channels.

But back to the main thing: Camp NaNoWriMo. Though I’ve participated in (and finished) the main November event three times now, I’ve never even attempted one of the camps before. Partly that’s because the timing isn’t as convenient (they run in April and July, and my Julys have other commitments), partly because the idea of setting my own word count goal just doesn’t appeal as much as tackling a straightforward 50,000 word novel.

However, this year I’ve already got a project in mind (and subscribers to my newsletter may already be able to guess what that might be). It’s unlikely this project will warrant a word count of 50,000 words, so in this case the set-your-own goal works out just fine. If nothing else, I’ll be glad to have NaNoWriMo’s word count statistics available to me, since they do a great job of making it obvious how productive you’ve been so far, and how much more you need to put in to hit your target by the end of the month.

Is anybody else planning to tackle this event? I gather that one key difference between the November NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo is that writers are sorted into cabins. Though I’m quite happy to just shuffle myself into a random one, it would be good to team up with people I already know.

Storytelling in Gone Home

Gone Home is a game that, to be honest, I don’t think I can really review. The main appeal of it is bound to be discovering the story for yourself, and there’s very little gameplay as such wrapped around that story. However, that in itself is interesting enough that I think it’s worth looking into.

Screenshot from 2016-02-20 22:17:00

I’ve heard Gone Home described as interactive fiction, but really I don’t think it’s even that. To me, interactive fiction offers players (or readers: I’m not sure anyone’s ever sorted out the terminology for this) an opportunity to influence the story for themselves. In Gone Home, the story is set in stone–it’s already happened–and you’re just piecing it together. Put like that this all sounds kind of negative, but in practice the game is really quite effective. Linear stories, free from having to take into account every possible sequence of actions the player might perform, tend to be the strongest, and Gone Home‘s story is a strong one indeed. The actual process of unravelling it is also hugely satisfying. You’re free to pick up and examine virtually any object–which in itself is a rare feature of a game–and even the ones that don’t contribute directly to the story can shine an interesting light on the characters. Continue reading

NaNoWriMo News

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:

Exponential Adventure Screenshot

This is as far out as I can zoom. There’s about the same amount of story again offscreen to the right.

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:

Good points:

  • 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.

Bad points:

  • 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.

Marooned

Marooned is a piece of interactive fiction produced as part of a challenge to complete an entire Twine story in 24 hours. Turns out I only needed 15! G. Deyke took up exactly the same challenge and produced a story with something like four times the word count, so definitely check that out too. I actually haven’t read it yet myself, but that’s an impressive feat no matter what.

This isn't even the whole thing.

This isn’t even the whole thing.

As the (spoiler-free!) screenshot above will hopefully illustrate, the story isn’t massive but it is fairly complex. It’s either my first or second attempt at writing less linear interactive fiction. I’m actually in the middle of a similar piece, but I’m planning to take more than a day to finish that one!

Head over here to read/play Marooned.

Winchester Writers’ Festival 2015

Pretty much as soon as last year’s Winchester Writers’ Festival wrapped up, I was determined to go to the next one as well. The events were fun, the speakers were helpful, and the fact I knew I’d be a Winchester MA student this time around was also quite a factor. It’s not a cheap event to go to, but having made the most of a one-day ticket in 2014, I figured it would be well worth doing the same again. Coming up to this year’s festival, things are going even better than I expected.

First and most importantly, I’ve managed to get a scholarship!

Thanks to the University of Winchester, I’ll be able to attend all three days of the festival. That means even more opportunities to meet one-to-one with agents and authors, which this time around will be a huge help to my academic work as well as my writing in general.

Second, and also pretty cool, I won the festival’s #140filmpitch competition!

Continue reading

Record Cards, Astronavigation and You

This article was written in June 2013 for Project Educate on deviantART.com. The original can be found here.

Once upon a time, there was a strapping young lad named Arnold J. Rimmer.

Sec.Technician Arnold J Rimmer by Menschenhautkonfetti
Arnold Rimmer joins the Space Corps as a lowly third technician, but has great plans to work his way up through the ranks until he is an officer. To become an officer, however, one must pass the dreaded astronavigation exam. Fortunately, Rimmer is organised. He knows how to make the absolute most of his time, and so he takes a sheet of paper and draws up a revision schedule. He blocks out the times he must spend at work, and also those times when he will be distracted by his slovenly bunk-mate, David Lister. On another sheet of paper, he notes down all the subjects that will be covered in the astronavigation exam, and weights the importance of each one, colour-coding them for ease of reference. Now that he has established what he must revise and when he can revise it, he fills in each available slot in his schedule, using all his skill as an expert calligrapher to ensure that his writing is legible. Rimmer’s timetable is a work of art, magnificent in scope and glorious in its display of detail.

…so how does it work out?

worlds happiest mushroom cloud by smushbox

Not well.

You see, it takes Rimmer a week to make this epic timetable. That’s a week he can’t spend revising for the astronavigation exam. It’s also a week that he’d already planned into the timetable itself, rendering it pretty much completely useless. Because of this, he is forced to devise a new timetable, which also takes a week to produce, and thus is also completely useless. This happens two or three more times without Rimmer doing any revision whatsoever. Eventually he realises that the timetable has also sprouted an extra September and that he is an hour late for the exam…which he fails for the thirteenth time in a row. Shortly afterwards, he is vapourised by a reactor malfunction.

You don’t want to be like Rimmer, do you?

Nuh-uh!

Didn’t think so.

A plan—whether it’s for a novel, or for an astronavigation exam—should be simple, and it should be easy to change. The entire point of a plan is to give you an opportunity to change things without having to delete pages of text and hours of hard work. If you come up with some sort of colour-coded, laminated monstrosity, you might as well have just gone ahead and jumped right into the novel, because it’ll be a nightmare to change that perfect plan, even when that’s exactly what you need to do. Planning helps you get your story set in stone, but the plan itself should be changeable, disposable, because once the story is written, the plan is nothing.

Don’t be like Rimmer—be like Bruce Lee.

Everyone is different. There are people out there who can come up with a detailed plan right off the bat. There are also people who don’t need a plan at all. These two groups are typically referred to as “planners” and “pantsers.” However, there is a third sort of person who—like Rimmer—gets so stuck into coming up with the perfect plan that they never get any real work done. If you’re a Rimmer who wants to move onto the story, or a pantser who wants a little more direction, here’s a method that you might find useful.

This is what SD cards looked like in 1972:

SD cards from 1972 by DamonWakes

Record cards (also known as “index cards”) were used to store data in the olden days back before computers. As a ’90s kid, I have basically no idea how one went about doing that—they’re literally made of card, so I assume they’re not good for, like, .JPEGs or anything—but they seem to work pretty well for story planning. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • Record cards can be moved around, allowing you to change the order of events or look at the story from a new angle.
  • Record cards are too small to include an extra September.

I’m only sort of kidding about the September thing. The small size of record cards (3×5 inches, typically) forces you to think in terms of plot points rather that scenes, which is excellent if your plans normally go into too much detail. However, I first tried using record cards in preparation for NaNoWriMo last year, and found that it was also an excellent method for coming up with a plan really quickly: this one took less than a week. I have to admit, before I tried doing it this way, I never really planned novels out at all, largely because I just wanted to get stuck right in.

Spoiler alert! …but only if you can read my handwriting.

Face of Glass Plot Outline by DamonWakes

Apologies for the grubby carpet in the background! There were only so many places I could lay all of these out flat. Here are the cards—the entire plot outline—from my NaNoWriMo novel, Face of Glass. Twenty-five record cards, numbered zero to…wait. Eighteen?

Really?

Yes, really. That’s another bonus with using record cards—you can just slot in extra ones wherever you like. So if there’s a bit of a jump in the storyline between, say, card 10 and card 11, you can just add in a card 10.5. And if you need to come back and add still more, you can add a 10.25. If you were doing this with a regular pen and paper, you’d have to cram that extra text into the margin. If you were typing the plan on a computer, you’d have to print out a new copy. I wrote the card numbers in pencil just in case I had to change anything, but really there was no need. It’s not even essential that you number the cards, though it will make it easier to put them back in order if you drop them on the floor, and it means you don’t have to worry too much when you rearrange them, which is a really nice option to have.

Don’t concentrate on the finger! Concentrate on the moon.

A Finger Pointing to the Moon by DamonWakes

At some point—I think the day before I started the novel—I decided it would be good to have a story within a story. This inner story would be a legend told by in three parts by one of the characters in the novel. This meant that I had to work on two scales: coming up with the legend itself (making sure it was an interesting read in the first place), and working it into the book. This is the sort of thing you can do really easily with the record cards. Here you have the three cards that make up the legend. Set out on their own, without the other cards, you can easily see how they link together as a story in their own right (though I’ll admit it’s not exactly long or complicated). Having the three parts written out on separate cards also let me try putting them in a variety of places in the novel, trying either to liven up a calm portion of the story or to match the legend to something thematically similar going on in the main plot.This is just one example of how you could rearrange record cards. You can lay them out literally any way you want. Got main characters wandering all over the place? Not sure Bob’s story is pulling its weight? Make things easier for yourself by just laying out the cards Bob appears on. Alternatively, take Bob’s cards out of the deck and see how it changes the story. Any sections fall apart? Any sections where he’s not even missed? You could also set out the different character storylines side by side, something like this:

XKCD Movie Narrative Charts

Keeping things simple.

It’s worth noting that even at this late stage in the planning process for my book, none of the characters even had names. My protagonist was still simply called “the Hero.” People can get awfully sentimental about character names, but if you’re just interested in ironing the creases out of the plot, they really don’t matter. Similarly, the “Empire” antagonist later turned into a foreign trader with a band of mercenaries, overly keen to “civilise” the protagonists’ stone age society (and turn a healthy profit by convincing them to grow cash crops for export). I feel like this is a more interesting, believable motivation for the “bad guy.” If I’d stuck rigidly to the first version of the plan, I’d have been lumbered with a bloodthirsty “Grrr! Conquer everything!” antagonist who just liked to break stuff. The beauty of the record cards is that you can swap out anything, anytime (though in this case it was less work just to read “Empire” as “merchant”). Plot now, sort the details out later!

Sorting the details out later…

Character Cards by DamonWakes

Okay, so you probably will want to start keeping track of who’s who at some point. Record cards don’t offer any spectacular benefit over regular paper here, but it is still nice to be able to just keep a card for each character rather than have everything written on one big sheet. Again, if you tend to go overboard with tiny details when planning, the small size of the cards might help you stick to just the essentials. After all, there’s no point jotting down your character’s eye colour in the plan if it never comes up in the actual book. There’s not normally much reason to bring up eye colour in the book anyway. Time spent jotting down that sort of unnecessary detail is time that could be spent revising for your astronavigation exam. Or writing, if you’re into that.Personally, I tried not to add anything to my character cards unless it had already been written into the story itself. As well as keeping trivial details out of the finished book, this meant that I couldn’t fool myself into thinking that I had a well-rounded character, when in fact all I had was a well-rounded character sheet. The card in the bottom right corner, for example, reads:

SobaKe

A chief unfortunate enough to have had his femur turned into an arrowhead by the KasseKo hunter, BakaRo.

That’s it. That’s all he gets on the card because that’s all that made it into the book. He’s actually not so much a character as a means of illustrating that the KasseKo (one of the book’s stone age tribes) use arrowheads made of human bone. Still, the card was helpful just to keep track of the name (I couldn’t be sure when I introduced him that he wouldn’t get another mention later on), and to ensure I didn’t get my characters confused. Every character, no matter how small, got one of these cards as soon as they were mentioned in the story itself. I had a similar stack for the various tribes involved. There was also one card (top right) to remind me of the different name suffixes for different social ranks. This is all stuff that could just have been scribbled down on paper or typed into a file somewhere on my computer, but the cards are always handy and you’re never tempted to go overboard with the fine details.

Not going overboard with the fine details.

I’m not going to count how many words I used in my entire novel plan, but at a glance, it’s not a lot—you just can’t fit a lot of words onto 25 record cards. Face of Glass came to around 55,000 words. This means that each card represented (on average) more than 2,000 words of story. A little planning goes a very, very long way. I can imagine this might be daunting for someone who usually keeps a whole folder of plot outline, world history and character sheets, but as someone who didn’t normally do any planning at all, I found this gave me a nice, solid (but still versatile) starting point for the story. And even after I’d started keeping notes on characters and tribes, the whole collection of cards was still small enough to keep right next to the keyboard:

The Complete Set by DamonWakes

In conclusion…


Record cards are useful because:

  •  You can rearrange them however you like.
  • If you’ve written yourself into a corner, you can easily replace the cards that aren’t working out.
  • You can spread them out on the floor in various ways, tracking where characters are or how various storylines play out.
  • You can easily focus on just one segment of story, if you have to.
  • The small size of the cards forces you to focus on major plot points.
  • They’re exceedingly cheap and easy to get hold of.
  • They offer a readily available, easily stackable source of things to scribble notes on if (like me) you’d ordinarily just use the back of an envelope.
If anybody decides to plan a novel using record cards (or has already given it a go), I’d love to hear about it! Especially if you come up with some clever new way of organising them. It’s always good to find a new way of looking at your work.
I'm crazy by ViOLeTjaniS
Aaaaaaaah! It all makes sense now!

Thanks for reading.

Flash Fiction Month 2014

Every now and then, when the stars are right, an event rises from the unfathomable depths, glistening with unholy glory. That event is Flash Fiction Month: a month-long challenge for which participants write one piece of flash fiction every single day for the whole of July. I’ve done it twice before, and the results were OCR is Not the Only Font and Red Herring respectively. If you’ve read and enjoyed (any of) either of those, or if you’d just like to jump in and start following my progress this year, I invite you to follow me either here, on Twitter, or on deviantART (where the challenge itself originates).

Also, if you’re a writer yourself, I highly recommend giving the challenge a go. It may be short notice, but a big part of the beauty of Flash Fiction Month is that (unlike National Novel Writing Month), it’s not helpful, practical nor even possible to plan ahead! You just jump right in and see where each day takes you.

Also, Spoiler Alert, the first game you’ll ever uncomplete is now available on Steam for the kingly sum of £4.99, and until the 7th of July it’s only £3.99! Go get it here, or find out more in this blog post.