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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Making Music Through Actions: Video Game Sounds That Reflect Players via InsertQuarterly.com

Let’s tell a story about blindness, interactive creativity, and you.
Once upon a time, video game music depended on set compositions looping over and over, like the music in the earliest Mario games. Then, in 1987, a game you’ve probably never heard of changed video games forever. RBI Baseball simply did something new: the music changed when players reached first base.
Boom! Enter the world of “plot-change” sounds. In 1980, before RBI Baseball, Pacman had something similar to dynamic sound by raising the pitch of the music with the intensity of the action–as the game became more difficult, the pitch rose — but never before RBI Baseball did the music change in direct response to a single “story event.” Now, when you approach the Witch in Left for Dead II, you can hear it. When Link opens a treasure chest, or you win a Final Fantasy battle, the plot point triggers a sound. Settings change sounds, too, like when you walk into a new Zelda dungeon, or when something bad’s about to happen in a survival horror game.
We even have an element of “character-theme” sounds in Dead Space 3, where each new enemy on the field triggers an algorithm of chaotic violin squeaks and cacophonous musical chirps so each player experiences a slightly different set of sounds. That’s the heart of adaptive music. Now, what if instead of just producing a feeling, each part of the music has practical gameplay applications? What if each sound means a different character? Could you encode character location and combat into soundtrack?
In other words, what about an adventure game you could play without seeing?

Keep dreaming with me: Click here! Click here please, and leave a comment over there, not here!

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Hold My Wrinkles"--Revised Short Fiction

 Geriatric hospital. I remember that. But him?
"Hold my hand," he breathes.
The sagging skin on my forearm flaps as I raise the claw Time left me. Blotchy flesh-colors clash with the bedsheet's white. What is his name?! My thin voice stings my ears, so I whisper:
"I don't have a hand. I just have wrinkles."
His eyes glisten. He chokes: "You have a beautiful hand. That hand saved lives."
"And struck children, and broke wedding vows, and--" Whine, whine. Instead of my sonorous alto I hear a demoness screeching accusations. Heart-palpitations rock my thin chest. Everything trembles. "And let babies die, and--"
This is a panic attack.
I catalogue the fact. That's all I can do. Rant.
"I don't want to die!" The scream ends in hacking sobs, but dried-out eyes can't make tears. I hate this self. I catalogue that, too.
"Please hold my hand," he croaks.
"I don't have a hand!"
"I do."
I look at his hand, sprawling oversized on his forearm like a cartoon. I remember his muscles used to flex, round and fertile like South America, but I can't remember his name. Sixty years married, but no name. Pathetic. My chest aches; I finally feel tears. My nose runs--I knew he can see.
"It's okay, Jen."
"My wrinkles, he won't take these wrinkles...and I forgot again," I squeaked.
"I'm Brian. I'll hold your wrinkles."
I sigh. "Brian."
"Can I hold your pretty hand now?"
I nod.
He takes my hand.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Make Love Not War? Romance as a Video Game Genre via Insertquarterly.com

 The world could use a few more romance video games.

Oh heavens, the controversy. Let’s trust this publication’s readership is too intelligent to moan, “Oh gawsh, what a girl thing to say,” but maybe the sexists have a legitimate counter-argument here. Romance readership? Women. Romance viewership? Women. With pizza-covered adolescent white-male stereotypes running rampant through video game culture, do companies have any financial room to aim towards a probably female gamership? 

A million times yes. Women make up 47 percent of all gamers, according to a 2012 study by the Entertainment Software Association. Even better, women over 18 make up 30 percent of the community while only 18 percent of gamers are boys under 17. The stereotype is so broken it’s not even money.

With that out of the way, here’s a bigger hurdle: what the heckz0rz is a romance video game, and why would any gamer, irrespective of gender, care about playing it?

Read the rest at Insertquarterly.com. As you know, this blog's all about fiction and adventures, so let's talk about fiction and romantic storytelling in video games! Hurry up, head on over!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Importance of Desire--Cthulu in Love, and Firefly

 This is kind of a personal and controversial thing I'm going to say, so if you're uncomfortable with that, um, go sing about peanuts and climb on your roof? It's a good use of your time if the stars are out.

Here's this: we've got an issue with desire. Not just in the place I live, or sometimes in my personal life, or in the churches I frequent, but all across the world as a species there's something fading about us. Something insipid and tolerant and complacent.

No, this isn't the old Ayn Rand sheeple argument, or the old "hate everyone who disagrees with you" or anything like that.

But sometimes it looks like we got so wrapped up in tolerance and all getting along, that we began to become very, very angry. We began to--

Okay, let me back this up and explain. See, sometimes I wonder if the 1% got there because they just want money and power so bad, they made it happen--and the rest of us don't really know what we want, so we're totally okay with them just making all our decisions for us. I'm sure that's not true. But I'm also sure it's not 100% false.

People say wanting something doesn't make it happen, but I say just wanting something doesn't make it happen. Longing for something with the deepened, faithful, persistent passion that drives men and women to die or fly or burn paths through the unknown, ignoring all the bruises and scraped knees and torn emotions along the way? That can make things happen against all odds. Against frikking armies. And when two giant desires like this meet--

Oh gosh the fireworks.

People say we're just extremists these days, all on either side of the political spectrum, and that we're just devolving into screaming at each other on the internet. Yes, but that's not because we want something bad. It's because we want something, and we're pissed off that there exist forces that oppose it. That's not the same thing as the kind of longing I'm talking about.

Because frustrated longings can level cities. But a deep desire to change someone, for example, will start by seeing them as a person. It will study the most effective ways to get into their heads. It will realize that stereotyping them--"gah all you Republicans want to suck on the blood of the poor," "gah all you Democrats want us to pray to Allah"--and hating them doesn't work. True desire will throw away plans that aren't working, strategies that suck.

Why? Because true desire wants to succeed, that's why. It doesn't want to sit there shaking its fist at the computer screen while the world burns.

Maybe some true desire wants to fly airplanes into innocent civillian workplaces. That sounds more like desperate depression than desire to me, but for some I'm sure it is a desire. That's a different issue entirely. That's just a bad desire. I'm not talking about that.

I'm talking about the true good desires that we don't feed. Like the desire to change someone who we believe is engaging in self-harmful behavior, or the desire to make people laugh, or to tell a story, or to get that book published.

How many of us stay in dead-end jobs we really don't give a crap about, or go through college and come out the other side all, "well...okay I guess," wandering into the first employment we can find that we don't really want, or don't tell our friends we think they're hurting themselves, all because we're afraid to want something, get shot down, and lose everything? Or maybe we're not afraid, and we just don't care. I don't know.

I know that back in certain times of history giant desires have clashed, and they've been terrible. The entire Medieval period sounds to me like huge desires running over each other like tsunamis--and I'd argue that what we desire is of infinite importance.

But did fearing wrong desires cause us to cease desiring entirely? At the end of World War II, did the entire population of the world die to--well, begin teaching its children to fear the heartfelt--

Okay, I don't know. I don't like extrapolating about history, although my degree gave me some wild ideas.

I just know that if we really want to achieve, we need to want more. We need to get less afraid of telling the truth to our friends, and at the same time more afraid of screaming at strangers. Love is a double-edged sword which takes skill to wield, but if you want it enough...

There's a verse in the Bible, in the tower of Babel story, where God says that there's nothing impossible for man, bad or good, if God doesn't step in and stop it. Maybe you take that as mythology, but there's a nugget here humanity cannot afford to overlook. The nugget that we are powerful. Wanting things is powerful. If you really, really want publication, there will come publication unless God Himself opposes you. (He is more powerful than you.)

I'm saddened by my lack of desire. By the doubt that creeps into me and makes me waste my time. By the way I have the best job in the world, but I still don't maximize its potential 'cuz I'm so willing to settle for less. I don't want that for me, and I don't want that for you. I want you to have desire. The movie Serenity--the "conclusion" to the Firefly series--calls this being a "true believer" and says it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you're true about it. As long as you really, really want it. I think it's obvious that it does matter. If your true desire is to disembowl people, no, I'm not gonna be tolerant and sweet about that. I'm gonna lovingly send you to jail.

But please want something. There's one thing I wish everyone wanted, above anything else, and I'm well aware that's not going to happen. I'll make that request. I'll include that link up there, and I'll say, "want that, and want it more than anything else." But if you can't want that--or you already want that, and it's time for you to want a more specific life goal or mission or vocation because of that--what do you want? Do you know what you want? Maybe you do. How bad do you want it? Are you like me, knowing exactly what you want, but sometimes just not wanting it enough? Do you doubt it? Doubt whether or not you can make that happen, whether or not it's worth everything? Are you afraid sometimes?

Can I hug you about that? I get that. Seriously, if you understand what I'm trying to say here, and you're struggling to whet your desires against apathy and self-doubt, too, take an imaginary internet hug. I'm discouraged, and if you are, too, I want you to have a hug!

If you don't understand, and it sounds like I'm making a big deal out of people just living their lives and going with the flow, well, I'm sorry I'm a bit ineffective. It's been a long day. I'm not judging you, I'm judging me, and it's okay. It's a healthy sadness. Have an internet smile, and go sing about peanuts like I told you to at the beginning of this post.

Let's want more.

I'm not a poet, I'm a singer, so if you read on imagine it with like a gazillion power guitars, an operatic voice straight from heaven, and the best death-metal growl short of a lion's roar.

The creature roars the single note that can rise above the din
Of the cities that are grumbling with its tentacled grin
But what if you could channel that power
What if you stood before the fire and brim
Stone with your hands outstretched and your own fires within
And with one loud scream
Your fire wins
Your fire wins.

Oh God, I want to push off on my toes and leap into the galaxies
But I find myself bound by my doubt-centered gravities
It's like I don't believe!
I want to burst through the atmosphere with flash-flares of love
Like the greenish Northern Lights but with more boom and more thud
But I'm restraining me!
Please awaken me
With the fire of a Cthulu in love

The creature's melting Siberia, already levelled Japan
All your artisanal glasses are returning to sand
And all of Lovecraft says you're equally damned.
But you stand with your arms spread wide
Like a little letter t overlooked by mankind
Pierce my heart, my mind
I'm Cthulu, I'm a force, I'm intense and I destroy but
You are stronger still
Fill me with irresistible love
Irresistible love

Oh God, I want to push off on my toes and leap into the galaxies
But I find myself bound by my doubt-centered gravities
It's like I don't believe!
I want to burst through the atmosphere with flash-flares of love
Like the greenish Northern Lights but with more boom and more thud
But I'm restraining me!
Please awaken me
With the fire of a Cthulu in love

Can you imagine Cthulu in love
I can. I can imagine the world in splendor, too.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Two-Headed Lizard

I don't know what food tastes like.

It looks like I have to find out.

The thing that eats died yesterday. It was a head, bigger than me, with deep orange spikes rising off its frill and brown bumps, much rougher than mine, rising all over its nose like the pebbles on the cage floor. It stayed with me all the time, connected to my neck. I don't know why. I guess it liked using my body, telling me where to go. Every now and then I would take control--you know, think about moving a claw to scratch my nose--but I think it thought the body belonged to it. I didn't mind. I'd look around. I'd feel the gravel under my clawpads. His--for he must be a he, since I am a he--neck muscles would pull against mine, and I'd look a different direction. Sometimes he bumped me against the glass. Cool, smooth.

Best of all, I'd watch him tear into crickets--feel the energy, the thrill, as my body leapt at them. My eyes would glimmer with his as he snapped his head. Crunch. Little feelers waved slow goodbye as he held them there, crushed between his teeth, for just a second before the gulp. I would listen for the gulp. It meant soon I'd feel the tickle of their antennae in my throat as our muscles rippled to push it down. Down there, it felt good. My blood would run with its green energy, and I felt good.

But something fell on Eating-Head yesterday. The Soft-Claw, the giant pink one that feels moist and spongy like rough moss under my toe-pads--it lifted us out for a walk. We bumped something. Something fell. It pounded on my neck with a sharpness like the cry of a hungry-crow. Heavy. I screamed. Soft-Claw roared and pulled the heavy off. 

But Eating-Head's shriek gurgled into a slow whine, and now he doesn't eat anymore.

Soft-Claw cut him off of me before the death-smell became too strong. The searing tear as the knife rasped through hard skin, squicked through soft flesh, crunched through bone! My whole body shuddered with one long pang, a body-scream that tore at my brain like lightning into my eyes. Get me out! Run, run! Bite, bite!

Then those violences stopped. A tension snapped. I turned to look--my head now turned without any neck muscles pulling the other way. Light. Weight gone. Eating-Head lay next to me, scarlet oozing out of its neck-hole, empty black eyes blaming me for letting it go, for not biting, for not running. But I never do those things. It did those things.

More body-screams. Soft-Claw wove a sharp metal with string through the hole on me where Eating-Head had been. The hole closed.

Now Eating-Head is gone. I am alone. My down-there, my inside, my middle-core--it's empty. It's juicing, gurgling, aching. It wants. It wants so much. It wants that cricket blood.

I know how to pull liquid into it. I dip my head into the clear coolness, the glass that isn't hard, and soak it down. I've always done that. But when Soft-Claw drops crickets, I cannot snap. When Soft-Claw drops the little dead squiggles of red meat Eating-Head loved, they stick on my tongue. I want them down. But I've never put them down. They don't flow like the water. They glob. They need breaking. Eating-Head always broke them. I always watched.

Always watched.

Now I wait. I sniff. The deep red scent drives my head mad, my vision blurry. I want it in.

But I've always only watched.

Inspired by the two-headed lizard Jekyll and Hyde, here. Important note to consider: in two-headed animals, there is almost always a dominant, which is why two-headed snakes do not survive long (the dom eats the other). Please remember that conjoined twins who are joined at the neck are not like animals. There is not necessarily a dominant, and this story is not meant to imply in any way that any conjoined twin lives life "watching" the other, although in some historical cases this has been a fact. This isn't a story about that. 

This is a story about me and you.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


 You love me.
You made this for me.
I did not make this for you.
This life is your gift to me.
Nothing that I give you is ever a gift
It is only the natural flow of the rivers of life that you give me
It is the overflow
the droplets
The excess of what you gave me
You're ultimately giving it all to yourself
But that's not my place to judge
Not my problem to worry about
This is yours
This is from you
Because you love me.
You are my best friend.
You sat next to me in the Garden of Gethsemane
You hung over me at the cross
You saw me in every torment you went through, not as the evil tormenter you could have seen, but as the beloved you wanted to save.
You dearly dearly dearly love me
You're obsessed with me
You didn't just die for me.
You threw away

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Do These Dialogue Lines Do Anything For You? (Two-Line Dialogue Twitter Fest Results)

Yesterday and the day before this blog ran a two-line twitter fest focused on improving dialogue! Check out this post to get the down-low on how this works--and how Joss Whedon uses two lines of dialogue to kick storytelling butt--and check out my results below.

This one's probably best done with the last line in reverse: "You're curious. You won't care if we do."
@StaceyNash responded to and liked that one!
Man that one's a little o_O
I really like the story that one implies.

What do you think? Does that do anything for you? What are your favorite "two-liners" from movies/books/your WIP/etc?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Dialogue in Two Lines--Using Twitter and Joss Whedon to Improve the Craft

Yesterday, we (Tink & I and you if you were cool enough) explored setting through twitter. Today, we're going to see if we can develop a full emotion or the idea of a conversation through two lines of dialogue alone. 
Glowy stick of destiny, used by Whedon for his dark dialogue arts

Impossible? It's the two-liners that make Joss Whedon's screenplay so powerful. If you can, re-watch the scene from the Avengers where everyone starts arguing next to the glowy stick. Not one word is wasted, except maybe the "are you boys really that naive" by our stereotype in spandex. Joss Whedon's power comes from one strong character's line bouncing off the one before it.

For example,

"I thought humans were more evolved than this."
"Excuse me, do we come to your planet and blow stuff up?"
You know from the hoity-toity tone the first line's Thor's. You can hear he's a non-human, and there's all kinds of superiority and shady human activity wrapped up in that quote. You get Nick Fury's Sam L. Jackson tone dripping through the whole second line with the informal diction and the powerful attitude. Even if you hadn't seen the scene, you've already got a general idea of the past conflict, the setting, the genre, and the characters involved. SO POWERFUL.
Here's another:

"You didn't come here because I bat my eyelashes at you."
"Yes, and I'm not leaving 'cuz suddenly you get a little twitchy."

Who's the femme fatale? Who's the Hulk? Tone's obvious, again, because of the diction. The tension's overwhelming in the bitter, clenched-teeth condescension of the second line--stubborness, fears, authority-struggle--it's all here. Whedon gives you plot, character-development, and emotion all in two lines, and you don't really need the surrounding scene's details to feel the stress. Incidentally, it's really only through Black Widow's interactions with Hulk that she becomes less of a spy-woman-tight-pants-object and more of a (gasp) human being. Here Whedon disconnects her "feminine wiles" from Banner's actual decisions, and in her sarcastic statement Widow deconstructs and debunks her own stereotype.

Last, here's my favorite two-liner from that scene:

"The only thing you really fight for is yourself--you're not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you."
"I think I would just cut the wire." 

This whole conversation made my heart skip, but RIGHT HERE you get its strongest punch, the philosophical bind between IronMan and Captain America, and the question of IronMan's character development throughout the whole movie. In this living nugget you find the thematic seeds of heroism and innovation, the conflict between old and new--and a really funny quip, besides. These two lines made the entire movie for me--especially because in the end, IronMan does lay down on the wire. By themselves, these two lines already tell a story. FORESHADOWING FTW

True, a story can't rest on dialogue alone: background settings, the adventures we go through with a character, and the characters themselves inform our interest in what they say. That's why literary agent Jessica Sinsheimer says on twitter she doesn't like to see a first page that's more than 1/3 dialogue. Yet an expert writer can accomplish all the prime directives of storytelling--plot, character, theme, and emotion--in just two lines. Quippy one-liners make up the fare of crazy action sequences; two-liners develop characters into people we love and remember.

So...I'm going to try my hand today and tomorrow. Feel free to laugh/roll your eyes/punch me in the face, since this is much harder for me than settings. I'll post my results tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Settings Day--Using Twitter To Improve The Craft

Let's fly away, shall we? Let's make twitter do it with us.

Huh? Well, writers tend to use twitter for publicity or communication, depending on the size of our heads and our stage in the writing process. Let's take a break from that. Let's do a daily series this week using twitter for mind-travelling. I'll be exploring, seeing how far away I can get in just 140 characters, how much I can hone my craft--and you're welcome to join in or watch the trainwreck of humiliating/fabulous prose, your choice.

Today's twitter-game was settings. Can I transport us to a different place in 140 characters? Here's what I've got:

Kudos and a free critique to anyone who guesses where those #guesswhere places are.

So yeah, good practice. I think I do better when I'm writing scenes I feel an emotion about, rather than just describing a picture. The last one was kind of an 'eh...'? Tomorrow I'll work on dialogue.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Beginnings: What NOT To Do

I'm so frustrated I could rip the virtual paper in my computer screen.

Beginnings always hurt me. I think I'm chronologically handicapped, or something, because when I dream, I start in the middle, finish to the end, and then--I kid you not--cycle back to the beginning. I read books that way, too. Beginnings bore me. I skip them. Start in the middle.

Well, that's made beginnings really, REALLY hard to write.

Here's what I've learned--via trial, error, and agent-advice-trawling--NOT to do:

1. Start with an unrelated, high-action bang.

Yes, the agents and editors always tell us to start with something gripping. What they DON'T mean is start with a high action sequence where no one knows the characters or the stakes. Starting with a central conflict isn't the same thing as starting with random bombs and screaming matches. It's explosions! There's death! It's scary! But without a motivation or a character to care about, that's all it is. Special effects and fancy one-liners. Like a Michael Bay movie or something.*

2. Start with a huge internal monologue.

This one should be obvious, but those of us who tend to write literary also tend to get WAAAAY wrapped up in philosophy and thinkings and musings until everyone else really just wants us to shut up. You know what I'm talking about--beginnings like,

"Love is a kind of bomb. It's a time-bomb, I think, but then again it could be a flower. My mom always says it's more like a computer screen. I can't get the bomb image out of my mind, though, and don't explosions look like flowers? That's why we need more marriage rights for puppies--more exploding flowers for everyone."

I'm joking. I wrote that crap. But I'm also serious. I've been on critique forums and in critique contests with beginnings like this going on for 500 words all over the place. Stop it! We're story-tellers. People who read novels want the story to make the point for us. They want us to tell stories, not preach sermons.

BUT big internal monologues have their place, and I miss them. One of my favs comes in C.S. Lewis' Perelandra, where the M.C.'s trying desperately to figure out whether or not to attack a demon-thing (thereby risking his tendons, I kid you not). 

Lewis also starts the beginning with a monologue. That monologue almost tanks, though, because it's long, not even from the POV character, and wordy. I don't know if it would have worked in today's fast-paced "grip-em-now" publishing world--except for the fact that there's a conflict, a danger, expressed from the first paragraph. The POV character has to accomplish a fairly simple task--go to the protag's house--but there's something shady going on about the whole affair, and POV guy's mind starts playing games with him. The monologue ONLY works because it comes with a central conflict and begins to characterize the protag via POV-character's observations.

That is HARD TO DO RIGHT. Lewis had the advantage of tons of publications behind him and years of teaching creative writing and literary philosophy at Oxford, for Pete's sake. I know I shouldn't start with an internal monologue unless I've got reason to believe I've got 1) voice, 2) conflict, and 3) protag characterization going for me and my endless streams of philosphy. Even then, can you name one best-seller published recently that began with a three-page internal monologue? I can't...

3. Prologues.

Gah, I dunno on this one. The trend I'm hearing right now is "just start the story already," mostly because some folks--especially in high fantasy or space opera--will go all-out with a five page description of the great Space Elf Wars of long ago before starting the story proper. That's not good. We can't care about the Space Elves until you give us a story to rally around, a hero to feel, and a voice to follow. Once you've written the fabulous novel, put the Space Elf Wars history in the appendix. Your hard-core fans--and only your hard-core fans--will read it there. Cut it out with the back-story prologue.

But then there's the king of prologues, Frank Peretti. This horror writer starts at least half his stories with a prologue about some random folks dying in some scary way. Peretti's an NY-Times best-selling novelist with more than 15 million books in print--so he's doing something right.

Why do Peretti's prologues work? Because he establishes the elements of the story, even though we haven't even met the protag yet. Conflict? Check. I know Nightmare Academy is gonna be about kids going insane. I know The Oath is gonna cover some cult-people killing people. And I'm already scared out of my bra-straps. Best of all, by the time the protag faces BIG SCARY WHATEVER, I'm already more terrified for poor dear protag than protag is. Protag wasn't there at the beginning. I was! Protag can't see how Peretti's using parallel structure to mimick what happened before. Protag can't see SHE'S GONNA DIE or HE'S GONNA GO INSANE or I'M GONNA CRY ABOUT THIS. Peretti's prologues usually also hint at the major theme of the book. Yay!

So those are three ways I know I shouldn't start a story, or at least, not without deep self-reflection and so forth. Maybe these things help you.

I am, however, still at a loss as to how one SHOULD start a story. There's this delicate balance between giving enough information that people know what's going on, and not writing an info-mercial. There's this desire to create tension, and then this desire to foster relationships. There's this desire to make war, and this desire to weave love.  GAH!!!! 

How do you start a story--and how do you do it well?

*Disclaimer: I am joking. I am also not qualified to criticize films I have not seen.