10/14/21

Valheim

For the last several weeks, I’ve been doing 1 of 3 things. Working the day job, writing these blog posts, and playing Valheim. I might be eating and sleeping in between, too, but that cannot be confirmed at this time.

Why am I still playing Valheim? What is it about this game that’s captivated my attention?

The short answer is that it is a solid game and I just like it. I have a LOT more to say on this subject, so if this is where you want to get off, that’s okay. Thanks for stopping by. If you’d like to play with me, let me know. I have at least one dedicated server running all the time.

For the long answer, I’m going to talk about what Valheim is, what it isn’t, and compare it to a few other games.

Valheim is an open world, sandbox adventure game set in a Norse-Viking, low-polygon world. The game is currently in pre-release, purchasable on Steam for $20, and it’s been out since February 2nd, 2021. It is developed by Iron Gate Studio, and it gained a huge amount of popularity early on, which forced the small development team to rethink their strategy and focus on bug fixes rather than new content. Recently, they released their Hearth and Home update which changed the weapons and food, and added a small amount of content, though it hasn’t opened up any new bosses or zones yet.

It’s received positive reviews. The Reddit community is not bad. It can run on PC and Linux, takes up very little space on the hard drive, and though it has low polygon counts, it can be absolutely beautiful at times.

What do you do in this game? What’s it all about?

When you start, you are flown into the world by one of Odin’s Valkyries. You are a warrior that has died in battle, and you have been recruited into Valheim to fight a series of monsters that upset the balance of the world. You are there to train up and prepare, so that you can prove you are worthy of moving on to Valhalla.

That’s more backstory than actual gameplay. What you actually do is survive in a world that kind of wants to kill you. To survive, you gather resources, build homes, forge weapons, and then pit yourself against the 5 bosses in the world. Defeating each boss opens up new resources which you’ll need to move on to the next boss.

There is progression in this game, but it’s very natural. Unlike some games, you aren’t leveling up a particular character class. You’re not going to become a level 20 warrior before you move on to defeat the swamp monster. Progression is more about what you as a player are capable of achieving, given the resources that are available to you at the time.

In the picture above, my character has the best weapons and armor available in the game. If I were to create a brand new character and pass all of that equipment on to them, that new character would be almost as powerful and effective as the old. I say almost as there are skills in the game, such as running, jumping, swimming, sword use, etc. The more you do those things, the better your character gets at doing them. However, player skill plays a larger role than the programmed skills. The programmed skills just makes you more efficient.

Your health and stamina in the game varies based on the food you eat. If you eat some serpent stew and bread, you’re going to have really good health and stamina until the effects from those meals wear off. In the beginning, you don’t have access to serpent stew, blood pudding, or any of those other meals. But you have access to berries and mushrooms, and you can hunt boar or deer for meat. Again, there is progression, based on the resources at hand. And just like with the equipment, it doesn’t matter if the character has been played for 5 minutes or 5 months. If I load both characters up with fine foods, they’ll both be equally tough.

I really like this kind of progress. It feels natural to me. It makes the experience more immersive.

So the point of the game is to eat the best food, put on the toughest armor, and fight the bosses, right? Well… that’s one of the things you can do in the game. Personally, I like establishing a base and getting comfortable before I move through the progression. I usually start with a relatively humble house. A place where I can store materials and rest when I need to.

Eventually I move on to making more extravagant structures, as I get access to stone working and iron supports.

Valheim has some of the best qualities of Minecraft mixed with some of the open world feel of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or whatever your favorite sandbox adventure game might be. When you first set up the world, it’s procedurally generated, so it offers lots of opportunities for exploration. In that respect, it serves the Explorer player type the way No Man’s Sky does.

By Explorer Type, I’m referring to the Four Player Types. I wrote a long write-up about the Four Types on Reddit some time ago if you’re interested.

Valheim is a game you can play by yourself, or you can play with friends. I did a full run through with Chris, and I shared an open world with Bryanna and her friend Eric for a while. Those were really fun adventures, and I’d love to play with people again.

What else can I say about this game? Death is not permanent. When you die, you drop everything you were carrying. which can be recovered. The skills I mentioned before drop a little bit when you die, but it’s not the end of the world. Since you respawn at the last place you slept, you might be quite a distance from your body.

Quests in other games might have you go out in the world and hunt deer to harvest 10 hides, to give to some NPC farmer so they can patch up their barn, or something. In Valheim, you don’t have any NPCs to give you quests. You give yourself quests. You may figure out you need 10 deer hides in order to construct a faster boat. This means that you might do similar activities to what you may find in an MMO, activities many people might call grinding, but it doesn’t feel like a grind since it is all self motivated.

If you enjoy open world, sandbox games and you’re curious about Valheim, I recommend giving it a try. I find it very relaxing. Maybe it’s the game for you, too.

10/13/21

The Next Sci-Fi Wave

I spoke with Mary Robinette Kowal during the retreat about a variety of topics, including genre and the cycle between Fantasy and Sci-Fi. We’re coming off a long cycle of Fantasy dominating popular media (with things like Game of Thrones), and if history is any indicator, a Sci-Fi wave should be starting soon. Mary Robinette recommended that if I have a Sci-Fi story with comedy elements, now would be a good time to work on it.

I agree with her, and I’ve been feeling for a while that people will be hungry for good Sci-Fi soon. I love writing Sci-Fi, so this would be fantastic for me if it holds true. Also, I’ve got a couple of Sci-Fi books I’d like to sell. It sure would be nice if the timing was in my favor.

Considering what I wrote yesterday, is it true? Will popular media shift and change as it has in the past, or will the fidelity and omni-presence of older works slow down the progress and evolution of stories?

I’m honestly not sure. Peter Jackson’s take on Lord of the Rings is a permanent part of our culture and regarded by many as their favorite movie. The ill-conceived Hobbit trilogy may not have delighted all the fans the way Lord of the Rings did, but it still made money, and it didn’t damage the popularity of Lord of the Rings the way the sequel Star Wars trilogy may have damaged its franchise. Game of Thrones is also still present in everyone’s minds, in spite of the dreadful last season. HBO just released a teaser for the next spin-off series.

On the smaller screen, we’ll have the Wheel of Time series very soon.

Fantasy doesn’t appear to be going away or receding. I can’t think of any Sci-Fi franchises on the cusp of seizing everyone’s attention.

I wonder if Superhero movies have taken the place of Sci-Fi in popular media. We certainly are not starved for that content, and I’m not complaining. I love all of it, even if I have very little interest in writing any of it myself.

The last time I visited Barnes & Noble, the Fantasy and Sci-Fi section seemed smaller than I remember. The Sci-Fi section in particular seemed very small, with only a few shelves. It makes me think that the Sci-Fi wave I’m hoping for is not yet on the horizon.

It’s hard to say. I don’t have anything concrete I can point at.

In the long run, it doesn’t matter what the market is doing. I’m going to write what I like to read and write, and if I’m lucky, I’ll find a way to put my stories in front of people.

Maybe the world won’t start on a huge Sci-Fi wave until I put some of my short stories out and give people a reason to be invested in that sort of content again.

10/12/21

Culture Frozen by Technology

I may have written about this idea before, but I want to revisit it because it still fascinates me. Modern culture appears to be frozen in time, and I believe it is modern technology that is preserving it.

For this post, I will talking about American culture, because it is the only one I’m qualified to talk about. Mostly I will be talking about music, movies, and books. To a degree, I’m just talking about pop culture, the music and media primarily broadcast at a younger audience, but I think this idea has broader application.

Find a young person. Someone in their teens or early twenties. Don’t be creepy, though. I’m not advocating that you go and stalk high schools. Just casually strike up a conversation with a young person that happens to be behind you in line, or maybe someone at a drive-thru that has been told to “engage with the customers” and is doing their best.

Ask this young person if they know the song “Take on Me.” You know the song. It’s by A-Ha, in case you didn’t know. It had a video where a young girl falls in love with a pencil drawn singer that breaks out of his comic book by thrashing against the walls of her hallway.

Whoever you ask, young or old, will know that song. They might even go into falsetto to prove it. It’s a part of our pop culture.

That song came out in 1985, nearly 40 years ago. To put that into perspective, it would be like a teenager in the 80s bopping around to Doo-Wop. Sure, there were some teenage music geeks listening to older music back then, but for the most part they were busy listening to the stuff being invented that decade. Even disco, which had been popular 10 years earlier, was considered gauche in the 80s.

Compare that to Cee Lo Green’s “Crazy.” I might be wrong, but I believe it’s still a well loved song that is familiar. It seems like it came out just a few years ago, right? It came out in 2006. That’s 15 years.

It could be a matter of perspective. That is, I’m naming songs that I grew up with, so maybe I just think other people know these songs. My kids know these songs, and it seems like they could have heard them from me, right?

That’s not generally been the direction of musical discovery, though. For the most part, I learn songs from them. I’m always hungry for new music, and Bryanna is an amazing source. Also, I’ve talked with my kids’ friends, and they also seem to know all this music.

Some of it is because of movies. Studios choose these songs as backdrops in scenes, and to change the feel of a teaser or a trailer. Some of these songs are fuel for memes. Everyone knows “Never Gonna Give You Up” because Rick Rolling is an indelible part of our culture now. That song came out 35 years ago.

Memes and movies provide an introduction, but technology serves to preserve the media in perfect fidelity. A person might have watched Watchmen and got Hallelujah stuck in their head. If they wanted to, they could look it up online and listen to it in perfect digital quality immediately. Hallelujah originally came out in 1984.

Technology preserves the quality of the images and music for all time, and it makes the media available on your cell phone whenever you want it. Also, it simplifies the means of production. Instruments and autotuning, recording and enhancing, packaging and marketing. It’s easier than ever to make music or art and put it out in the world. With the ease comes a homogenization of tools and patterns, which means the music made 10 years ago has similar sound and production value as music made today. That’s why Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” can fit easily in the same play list as Ava Max’s “Kings & Queens.”

I’m making a lot of assertions without much proof. As a means of verifying some of my claims, let me ask this: What did music sound like in the 60s? The 70s? The 80s? Even the 90s? These decades have distinctive sounds to them, right? The internet and digital media bloomed in the mid to late 90s. What does the music sound like in the 00s? The 2010s? The 2020s? Popular music in the last 30 years has homogenized.

This is not me saying that modern music isn’t good. I listen to lots of new music and I love it! It just seems like the evolution has slowed down as the shelf life of songs has grown longer and longer.

Michael pointed me towards a quote from Plato:

Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.

If music is the soul of culture, what does it mean when the music slows in its shifting into newer forms, lingering longer in our hearts and minds well after the musician has put down their instruments and left the stage?

10/11/21

Talking about Star Wars in 2021

I love Star Wars.

It’s good to start with a straight forward declaration like that, because when I get into some of my criticisms of the franchise, I’ll remind people to look at the first sentence, because everything I have to say about this fixture of our culture comes from a good place.

I considered starting by ranking the movies, but that’s not the greatest way to engage in a productive conversation about Star Wars on the Internet. Some of the fans have definite favorites, and the discourse dissolves as soon as we start arguing over which one is the best. I have a favorite flavor of ice cream, too, but if you offer me a bowl of vanilla, I’m not going to be upset. My favorite ice cream flavor is mint fudge, by the way. It’s a flavor that is hard to find now and is distinct from mint chocolate chip.

It is better to talk about why I love Star Wars. Usually, it’s the characters. I say usually because some Star Wars movies do a better job giving us characters that are memorable and fully realized. I like Rogue One just fine, but I still can’t tell you the names of half of characters.

The spectacle also draws me in. As maligned as The Phantom Menace may be, it gave us Darth Maul and the best lightsaber duel we’ve ever seen on the silver screen. Other lightsaber fights come close, but Ray Park gave us a physical presence and performance that no other Star Wars actor has matched. More than just lightsabers, I love the space combat, and the unique locations, and the vast, vibrant universe. The Star Wars world is at its finest when its a little bit dirty and lived in, because it feels like a real place that I could visit and enjoy. That’s all part of the spectacle.

I like how most of the Star Wars stories are put together. Many classes on story structure include Star Wars for a reason, because it gets the structure of the story right, most of the time.

There seem to be exceptions to all of the nice things I have to say about these movies. It’s almost as if I don’t like all Star Wars movies equally.

If we were talking about Star Trek, that would be fine, right? The rule of thumb used to be that every other Star Trek movie is good. Diehard Star Trek fans know in their heart that Wrath of Kahn is the best, Search For Spock is kind of terrible, and the one with the whales kind of rules. It’s not as easy to be so cavalier about the quality of Star Wars movies.

Star Wars fans are allowed to say that Empire Strikes Back is the best. Note that when Empire came out, it was not universally loved. A number of people didn’t like the idea that Luke’s father was Darth Vader. People that shipped Luke and Leia after the first movie couldn’t stand seeing Leia paired up with Han. Also, it ended on a down note. Han’s fate is uncertain, Luke was defeated by Vader, losing both his hand and his lightsaber, and the rebellion is floating homeless in space.

Critics panned Empire as well. It wasn’t until much later that a large portion of the fan base began regarding it as the best of the original trilogy. But they were all considered good, and no one got too upset if someone said the original movie was their favorite, or Return of the Jedi.

It’s difficult to be a Star Wars fan on the Internet and praise less popular aspects of the franchise. The level of rancor and toxicity grew to the point where it created a petition to declare The Last Jedi non-canon, and it bullied Kelly Tran so hard she killed her social media presence. Kelly Marie Tran was the biggest Star Wars fan getting to live her dream for a while, and other so-called fans tried to ruin it for her.

Worse, it appears this toxic fandom influenced the production of the final Star Wars film. Kelly Tran’s part was effectively deleted from the trilogy, John Boyega’s character reduced to mostly running around screaming Rey’s name…

Rey. Rey Palpatine. Another place where the toxic fans got their way, because they really couldn’t live with the idea of Rey being unrelated to any of the characters from the original trilogy.

I really didn’t like Revenge of the Sith. It came loaded with spectacle, but it did a lot of characters dirty. We could point at the plot and how it doesn’t make sense, but the reality is that you can tear apart the plot of any Star Wars movie with a little bit of effort. Even Empire. At their core, they’re whiz-bang adventures with characters we love doing cool stuff. Revenge of the Sith is the only Star Wars movie that went out of its way to go against the grain of the characters in order to serve plot. But since the plot was dumber than a bag of hair, it served nothing and no one.

If you loved Revenge of the Sith, I’m not going to yuck your yum. I’m glad you had a good time with that movie. I did not, and even after all this time, it still bothers me. If you enjoyed it, I wish I could see that movie through your eyes and enjoy it, too.

I’m not going to bully you for liking Revenge of the Sith, or tell you that you’re dumb, or that you have bad taste. I’m not going to do the things the rest of the Star Wars fandom has done online. I don’t believe those people are actual fans, by the way. Fans celebrate of art with other people that share their passion.

Star Trek fans, for example, walked out of Star Trek 5 and knew immediately that they’d watched something kind of terrible. Those fans spent a little bit of time lambasting it, then moved on to watch Undiscovered Country and start celebrating it again. Star Trek fans don’t really talk about The Final Frontier, or Insurrection, or Nemesis, because (for the most part) they’re too busy talking about Wrath of Kahn or First Contact or The Voyage Home.

I haven’t really touched on Solo or Rogue One. I thought both of those movies were mostly fine. Solo had some outrageously dumb and shallow fan service in it, but I still had a good time with it, and I would have liked to see more stories in that series. Rogue One had a really strong plot and some memorable sequences, even if the characters themselves were not particularly memorable. Solo and Rogue One were fine.

What about Mandalorian? I loved it, though it had a few problems. The first season felt like 3 hours of content spread over 10 hours. The second season was better than the first, but still felt a little thin in places. The look and feel was perfect, though, and it felt like good and proper Star Wars storytelling.

I haven’t watched the Clone Wars or any of the cartoons. I understand those are really fantastic, and I’ll watch them eventually. I suspect that some of the rehabilitation of the prequels comes from the cartoons being really excellent, lifting the source movies by association.

I love Star Wars, but I do not like Star Wars fandom. I hope we get some more great Star Wars movies in the future.

10/10/21

Planning the Rest of 2021

This blog is my open journal, mostly focusing on my writing journey. I have lots of posts about things I’ve learned as a writer that helped me with craft. These are my favorite posts, because putting that information out there has a tiny chance of reaching the right person and helping them with their journey. I want to leave the world better than I found it, and I want other writers to benefit from my experiences.

Not all of my posts are about writing, though, and that’s okay. These deviations are generally about my views and experiences, and all of these odd topics contribute to my writing as subject material. Common themes in my stories center on politics, religion, spirituality, and above all else, love. My odd posts here are reflections of all the oddities inside me, which may or may not shine through in my stories.

Almost every October, I dedicate myself to writing a blog post a day, and I usually come up with a plan at the beginning of the month because coming up with a topic on the fly every day is surprisingly difficult. Every time I’ve succeeded at Blog-tober, I’ve succeeded at NaNoWriMo. So if I want to write 50,000 words in November, I generally have to plan for October.

This year, I’ve been doing Blog-tober on hard mode, and 10 days into this exercise, I’m feeling it. Hence, I’m writing this very metatextual post, which are my least read blog posts. No one wants to read a blog post that’s talking about the blog itself. That’s okay, though! People only read the posts I promote, and I’m not promoting all of my posts this month since many of them are low effort, self-indulgent exercises.

Since I’m a third of the way through October, and I still have a desire (if not the energy) to complete NaNoWriMo this year, I should make a plan for the rest of this month. While I’m at it, I should figure out what novel I’m going to start in November, as well as figure out everything else I need to do this month in order to achieve my goals.

First, here are the topics I’m going to use starting from the 11th and going through to the 31st:

  • 11 — Star Wars in 2021
  • 12 — Culture Frozen by Technology
  • 13 — The Next SciFi Wave
  • 14 — Valheim
  • 15 — Social Media
  • 16 — Cell Phones – Less is More
  • 17 — Am I a Technophobe?
  • 18 — Othering
  • 19 — Missed My 30 Year Reunion
  • 20 — Something about Goals
  • 21 — Finding the Energy to Pursue Tasks
  • 22 — Being a Lazy Eater (Revisited)
  • 23 — Body Dysmorphia and Aging
  • 24 — De-escalation
  • 25 — Themes
  • 26 — < I’ll think of something >
  • 27 — < I’ll think of something >
  • 28 — < I’ll think of something >
  • 29 — < I’ll think of something >
  • 30 — Outlining for NaNo 2021
  • 31 — Being THAT House on Halloween

This looks like a good plan, and some of the posts are sure to be spicy. It’s difficult coming up with topics, especially when this blog has been running as long as it has. There’s only so many things I feel like I can intelligently talk about, and I hate to repeat myself.

For the 4 days I haven’t figured out yet, I’m sure something will come to mind between now and then. There may be a current event I’ll want to talk about.

Now that I’ve figured out Blog-tober… do I have any idea what I’m going to do for NaNoWriMo?

Not exactly. There’s a fantasy story I tried in 2011, and I’m still very interested in writing that story. It’s high on my list of potential stories. On the other hand, I’ve been itching to write an actual cyberpunk story, and not something with cyberpunk elements. Also, it might be in my best interest to write a humorous SciFi story. I’ll continue to think about these possibilities, then make a hard decision on the 30th.

Before November arrives, there is something else I must do before I start the next novel. I have a Synthetic Dreams problem, in that I can’t stop thinking of that story, and it’s interfering with my ability to draft something new. Before November arrives, I need to finish the next revision on that novel so that I can feel comfortable sharing it with people.

There’s also the Magic Typewriter short story I started that I’d like to finish, but I’m not sure that’s in the cards. It’s a good story, but I’m not feeling particularly passionate about it right now. Once I get a little deeper in, I’ll feel better. At the moment, it just feels like work.

In December, I’ll rest. If I’m feeling energetic, I’ll keep writing, but that’s not usually what December feels like when I’ve had a successful NaNoWriMo in November. I’m not planning on writing anything in particular in December, but I’m sure I’ll work on something just to maintain my sanity.

Also, I have plans on going to WorldCon in December. That will have some kind of impact on my writing. Usually after attending a con, I feel extra motivated. Maybe after WorldCon, I’ll finish whatever project I started in November.

That’s the plan for 2021! Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about Star Wars again. I’m looking forward to it, because talking about Star Wars on the Internet never goes wrong.

10/9/21

Hobbies I’m Considering Picking Up

I don’t have a ton of extra time, and yet, I keep pining over a few new creative outlets. Tonight I’m going to talk about a few of them.

Making Keyboards

I told Melissa in early 2020 that I was thinking about making my own mechanical keyboard. With Bryanna’s help, she ordered me a set of keycaps for my birthday. The pandemic hit, and I spent the summer and fall looking into the different parts I’d need to complete my first project. For Christmas, I received all the parts I needed and put it together.

Here are the videos I recorded for the initial process.

These videos were all recorded on Christmas, and I used the keyboard like this for a couple of months. The main problem was that the switches weren’t secured to the PCB very well, and sometimes it felt mushy typing, with the keys swimming beneath my fingers. I wound up hot gluing the switches to the PCB, and that made the entire typing experience much more satisfying.

Several people have encouraged me to start some kind of Etsy or something after trying this keyboard. It is very good, and it was a fun project. I’m not sure I want to turn this into a business, but I would like to make more keyboards for friends and family.

Unlike most of the other hobbies I’m about to talk about, I’ve actually made progress on this one. The only question now is what keyboard will I build next.

3D Printing

This hobby is more in support of other hobbies. I think it would be neat to design and then create tools and gizmos to improve my life. I also think getting a reasonable 3D printer will help me make some unique keyboards.

I’ve gone so far as to shop online for different types of printers, but I haven’t pulled the trigger yet. I don’t have a lot of space and I’m not sure where I’ll put a new printer. This might be another one of those things that waits until one or both of the kids move out.

If I do get a 3D printer soon, it’ll help be gateway into the next hobby on my list.

RC Airplanes

I’ve become addicted to YouTube videos featuring the assembly and flight of RC airplanes. I’m fascinated with the engineering and the craftsmanship involved.

It just looks like so much fun.

A lot of the videos I watch involve cutting and folding foam board, gluing components together with hot glue, and a little bit of soldering the electronics.

I haven’t done anything with this hobby yet, other than watch some videos. I think Chris might be interested in doing something like this with me, and I’m tempted to look up the prices of motors and controllers, just so I can get an idea of how expensive it might be to get into this hobby.

If I acquire a 3D printer, there are quite a few impressive RC plane designs I could download and assemble.

Before I get carried away with this one, I need to look up the closest locations where I can fly.

Paramotors

Some of the RC plane videos lead to paramotor videos, and now I’m hooked on those, too. In particular, I like watching Tucker Gott’s videos. His 1200 mile flight over 5 days was very compelling.

As far as this list of potential hobbies is concerned, this is the one I’m least likely to actually pursue. It’s one thing watching POV videos of people strapping a giant fan on their back and taking to the air with a parachute wing. It’s another thing actually doing it, especially when I’m a little uncomfortable with heights.

There are some paramotor trainers in California, so if I pursue something like this, I’ll start there. The cost of equipment is between $8,000 and $12,000, so this is not cheap when compared to the other hobbies on my list. Also… I’m probably not in good enough shape to do this. I may never be in good enough shape.

It looks like a lot of fun, though, and I’ve always wanted to fly.

Making Video Games

I’ve made a little bit of progress on this one. It’s the closest hobby to my actual day job, so it’s probably the most practical on this list. I know how to program already, and I’ve studied game design. I have some experience with Unity, and I have it installed on a couple of my computers. There’s really nothing stopping me from doing this.

The problem is that it’s so closely related to my day job, it’s hard for me to find the energy to put into a project. The kind of game I want to make involves greater graphical skills than I possess as well. I might be able to buy assets, or find some assets for free. There really isn’t any actual barrier stopping me from making something fun, other than finding the fun in programming the game.

That’s the list! What kind of hobbies have you gotten into recently, and would you recommend them?

10/8/21

The Discovery Writer and Story Structure

The master class during the retreat involved learning several different approaches to story structure. Some of these structures I knew before the class (like the story circle / simplified Hero’s Journey), some I thought I knew but I was wrong (I’ve been looking at 3 Act Structure incorrectly for a while), and at least one was new to me (Seven Point Structure).

These lessons on structure mostly pertained to planning and outlining a story. Early in the week, discovery writers were mentioned briefly, and how they could apply these lessons on structure after they finish their first draft, but it seemed to me that discovery writers weren’t going to see as much benefit from these lessons.

I am not disparaging the class, and as far as I’m aware, no one complained about the content. I know the material was challenging for some people, simply because that level of planning isn’t their normal process.

This morning, I had a thought that might help discovery writers apply the lessons they learned without having to create an outline first. Before I get into that, I’m going to clarify what I mean when I say “discovery writers.”

What Are Discovery Writers?

You may know them as “pantsers” or some other name. When I first learned of this dichotomy of writers, it was pantsers versus plotters. Panters “write by the seat of their pants” and plotters plan out their stories in advance, making sure they have as many details as they need outlined before they start writing. Discovery writer is probably a better term, because not everyone wears pants, and the word “pants” means something different in the UK.

I used to think of myself as a discovery writer, but my approach to writing has changed over the years, and now I prefer outlining. My outlines aren’t as detailed as a lot of planners / plotters, and I’m not afraid to change my outline if I discover a better, shinier path during the course of drafting. On the slider between discovery writer and planner, I’m somewhere in the middle.

Before embracing outlines, I didn’t like them because I felt like I was spoiling the story before I wrote it. Taking all of the surprises away spoiled most of my fun, and I’d lose interest in telling the story. It was never a matter of laziness or an unwillingness to develop the story. When I lose my emotional connection to a story I’m reading, I put it down. The same goes for stories I’m trying to write.

Discovery Writers and Structure

If discovery writers don’t like to plan out their stories in advance, how do lessons on structure help them? Is a discovery writer doomed to require massive rewrites of all their early drafts, just to get the structure right?

We are constantly soaking in story, whether we’re writing them or not. Humans naturally look for patterns. We don’t have to consciously look for these patterns in stories. We pick them up and are comforted by them regularly.

For a lot of us, story patterns and structures happen regularly when we write, even when we’re not planning to include those structures. Early drafts may not be as misshapen as some might assume.

Discovery writers benefit from studying story structure because it reinforces a lot of the patterns they may already be adhering to as they write. And, knowledge of structures is a handy set of tools during revision, which almost all stories require whether they were plotted in advance or not.

My Idea to Help Discovery Writers

What if a discovery writer wants to consciously apply story structure before they get to the end of their first draft, without doing any outlining at all?

I think they can, and this is all they have to do: after finishing a chapter, write a one to two sentence summary of the chapter they just finished. Keep this in a separate document.

My recommendation is that all writers do this because when you’re done with the story, your synopsis is complete, too. I don’t know anyone that likes writing their synopsis, and this is an easy, painless way of accomplishing that task.

The discovery writer gets a side benefit of being able to look at the structure of their story as the synopsis is being built. They will see the places where the patterns are naturally unfolding. If they choose to, they can predict where the story is going, or use their knowledge of story structure to influence what they’ll write next.

That’s the idea. Simple, right?

In Conclusion…

If you already have an approach that works for you and you’re happy, stick with what works. Applying story structure is just another tool a writer has in their bag for diagnosing what is and isn’t working with their manuscript or outline. It can point out places where the something is missing or doesn’t fit.

10/7/21

Self Identification

One aspect of the pandemic that brought me low is the feeling of losing myself. The features and qualities that I rely on for self identification melted away and what remained was not enough.

I’m not sure that I’m explaining it right. All of my life, I have used labels to define myself. They started off as nicknames or descriptors given to me by my parents or my sister. What does it mean to be “Supergoof” or “Strawberry Freckled Face?” That was me, when I was little. I was also “so smart!” and “such a good bowler!” and “spoiled brat.” The nicknames and praise made me happy, because I felt like I was those things. The criticism of being “spoiled” I also took to heart, and I tried for a long time to be generous enough that such a descriptor might fall off and no longer apply.

I lived for the praise. I still do, I suppose. Eventually, I started coming up with my own descriptors, and the external names became less important. I was good with computers. I liked to draw. I was skinny. I played saxophone.

I became a gamer, in the original definition of the word. I was a bit of a nerd, but that suited me just fine. I still played saxophone, and bowled, and did stuff with computers, and I played around with writing. After my Dad died, I decided I wasn’t just playing around — being a writer became one of my core identities.

I was someone’s boyfriend for a while. I was an Airman in the Air Force for a while. Then I became a husband, and a father. A “bread winner,” a home owner, and a computer tech.

Should a person wear so many faces? I saw myself as well-rounded, but maybe I was too divided.

These identities were based on the things that I did, and the things I did were the basis of how I saw myself. I’m not sure why I’m using past tense. It’s still how I see myself. When I’m not taking part in the activities I use to define myself, I lose touch with who I am. I become no one.

That touches on a central fear that I’ve talked about on this blog before. I don’t want to be a mistake, the accidental product of a couple of teenagers that had unprotected sex in the early 70s. Lives were changed, not always for the better, just by me existing in the world. I need to leave the world better than I found it. I need my life to justify itself, somehow.

How can I justify my existence if I’m no one?

With the pandemic, I stopped doing the things I use to define myself. I stopped writing. I didn’t play music. I didn’t bowl. I wasn’t reading or making art or game with people. Even at work, I was programming less than I used to, because they need me to do more than just code.

Recently, I went on a retreat and started writing again. Just last weekend, I played my saxophone with a swing band. Today, I helped a couple of people write some code. I’m still not programming much in the way that I normally think about programming, but maybe it’s a new identity starting to form. It feels uncertain and new and scary.

Who will I become if I stop writing again? Who will I become if I go back to doing nothing?

I’m writing now, and I can only control the present.

10/6/21

Finding an Emotional Connection with What If…?

We are going to talk about two things tonight.

  1. What it takes to make me cry
  2. My thoughts and feelings regarding Disney+’s What If…?

To begin, I do not cry often. I feel sadness as intensely as anyone else, but I don’t usually express it as crying. I’m not trying to be manly and hide my tears. There have been many times this last year and a half where I wanted to cry, but my body refused. I have theories as to why I am this way, but that can be a subject for a different post.

I am physically capable of crying, but it usually only happens when I’m experiencing something both beautiful and sad in an artistic expression. For example, Les Miz can bring me to tears if I’ve gone a long period without listening to it. At the end of Jean Val Jean’s life, there are two lines that hit me. First, when the ghost of Fontaine sings, “Come with me, where chains will never bind you.” It’s such a simple and profound way of describing heaven. That line cracks the shell, then this line scrambles my eggs: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Those are the most sad and beautiful lines I’ve ever heard. Think what you will of the movie adaptation, but even that was able to bring me to tears.

Art that makes my heart swell is capable of making me cry, and it usually takes me by surprise.

Now let’s talk about What If…? Not that there will be spoilers, so now is the time to click away if you haven’t seen the show yet.

** Spoilers for What If…? Below **

I liked the show. I just finished the last episode, and I think the whole series is really, really good.

Some episodes connected with me more than others. It started with the Captain Carter episode, and while I had a really good time with it, I can’t say that it hit me on an emotional level. It told a really great retelling of the Captain America story, hitting all the beats of the first Captain America movie, for better or for worse.

Episode two showed us what it would have been like if T’Challa became Star Lord, and hearing Chadwick Boseman did hit me. The story was fine, but it was Chadwick’s presence in the story that I remember the most.

Episode three gave us Fury’s Very Busy Week with a twist. It’s not easy watching all of the Avengers die, one by one, before they’re able to come together at the end. My emotions were stirred, but I wouldn’t say I was moved. At this point, none of the episodes seem to tie together at all, and it just feels like a fun ride with some interesting fan service.

Episode four is the first really dark episode, watching Doctor Strange try and save Christine over and over again, doing everything in his power to change one moment in time. He succeeds only to lose her and the rest of his universe. Still no tied to any of the other episodes, but I found this episode to be bitter and satisfying.

I’m going to lump episodes five, six, and seven together for brevity. The zombie episode had tone problems. I would describe it as interesting but not great. Six gave us an extremely interesting premise with Killmonger saving Tony Stark. This hit me as being dark like episode four. I did not like seeing T’Challa die in this episode. And Party Thor in episode seven was a fun and silly ride.

Throughout episodes one through seven, The Watcher becomes more and more substantial, with the ending of episode 7 showing The Watcher legitimately surprised when Ultron shows up, ready to destroy the world. The end of episode 7 is where we get our first hint that these were all stories part of a connected whole. From this point forward, we’re in for quite a ride.

Episode 8 shows us how scary Ultron could have been if he’d managed to get the body of Vision. He breaks his universe and turns his red eyes towards defeating the multi-verse. This episode was dark and beautiful and exciting, and it left me anticipating the final episode.

Episode 9 attempted to deliver on all the promises made throughout the whole season, and it mostly succeeded. The Watcher gathered characters from the previous episodes. It set up these Guardians of the Multi-Verse, and it was exciting to see them pitted against an infinity stone powered Ultron. Lots of payoffs for things setup throughout the season. It was very good.

Before the credits, our heroes are sent back to their respective worlds. Captain Carter stops for a moment and asks if she can have her happy ending with Steve. After everything she’s done and lost, has she not earned it? The Watcher apologizes, Captain Carter exchanges looks with Natasha, and then she goes through the door. Natasha is the last of them, and her world is the one Ultron wiped out. All of her friends are gone. She has nothing to return to. The Watcher bids her to go through the door and when she refuses, he says that the door was figurative, anyway. She finds herself on a helicarrier, where Captain America and Captain Marvel are fighting off Chitauri. The Watcher tells her that she’s in a world that lost their Black Widow. It’s not obvious, but this is the world from Episode Three that lost almost all of The Avengers, and she proves pivotal in defeating Loki.

The credits begin, and I think to myself, “This was a good series. I enjoyed this.” It didn’t hit me emotionally, and I felt a little bit hollow. But I had a good time and I had no complaints. If this had been it, I would be satisfied.

But then we get one more scene. Captain Carter, returned to the exact moment she left her universe. Natasha helps her, and they go down into the bowels of the ship where they find The Hydra Smasher, presumably with Steve Rogers alive inside.

And that got me. That choked me up. I don’t know why, but that was the emotional payoff I needed and I didn’t know it.

Why did that scene bring tears to my eyes? I don’t know. I think it’s because Captain Carter, after staying true and being the best hero she could be, took the step through the door knowing she would never see the one she loved again. Instead of leaving it there, the universe gave her and Steve another chance.

It got me, and I love it for it.

How would I rank What If…? against the other Disney+ shows? Just below Loki and either tied with or just above Wandavision. I’ve loved all of the shows and I’m glad to have watched them. Episode 5 of Loki still puts that series above all the others in my eyes, and I don’t expect anyone else to see these shows the same way I do. My criteria for enjoyment might be a little bit weird.

How have you enjoyed the Disney+ shows? Let me know your thoughts on What If…? because I’d love to talk with someone about it.

10/5/21

Writing Again

I hoped to find myself and my writing voice by going to the retreat. Though writing is a solitary activity, where the writer crawls into their own skull to mine their thoughts and imagination to produce words, we are still social animals. Being around other writers can be rejuvenating. Did the retreat accomplish everything I hoped?

Mostly.

It reminded me that I have skills as a writer. The retreat generated fuel for my passion, but on its own, didn’t reignite the fire. However, it reminded me that after years of taking this seriously, I acquired tools and abilities to not only make my stories better, but to push through writing blocks. While I didn’t generate a lot of words, I managed to push my most recent short story forward a little bit, and I know how to get to the end.

I don’t remember if I talked much about my current story. A writer acquires a magic typewriter and begins writing the best story he’s ever written. When he’s not working on the story, he becomes more and more depressed. But he discovers that as soon as he finishes the story, he will die.

When I started the story, the writer sat in a coffee shop, staring at a blinking cursor. I intentionally started it from an autobiographical perspective, grounding the opening in my own lived in experience. I didn’t realize how of myself I was putting into the story, though. He pines over this story he’s written, the way someone might long for their soulmate. I didn’t know that part was autobiographical until later, when I found myself procrastinating writing this story by reading parts of Synthetic Dreams.

I still haven’t finished the first set of revisions for Synthetic Dreams, and it distracts me from all of my other writing. It’s my favorite story that I’ve ever written. I may have to finish the revisions for that story this month, so that my mind will be clear for the new novel next month.

The retreat helped me get in a better headspace for writing. It meant a lot being around other writers again, and socializing, and being a part of something bigger. There were moments during the retreat where I felt like I was paying back to the community, at least a little. I learned so much over the last decade or so, and every once in a while on the ship, I had opportunities to share.

I’m not sure I’m completely right in my heart and my mind, but I’m writing again. I committed to writing something here every day, and this post will make 5 for 5. If I make it ten days in a row, I’m confident I can make all 31. And if I can do that, maybe I’ll be able to write every day in November and get the next novel out of my heart and onto the page.

It feels good to write again.