Monday, May 31, 2010

On Memorials

So when I heard that there was going to be a mosque put up near Ground Zero, I was kind of upset. After all, 9-11 was not the happiest time for me, or for anyone living in or near New York, and the idea of mosque going up at such a…shall we say sensitive? bothered me. Of course, further checking into the situation told me that the mosque was pretty much just a previous mosque being rebuilt a few stories larger, so it wasn’t such a big deal to me anymore.

What is kind of a big deal is the fact that Ground Zero is still a big hole in the ground. Nothing’s really been done other than clearing up some of the debris. I think the mosque thing wouldn’t be such a big deal for anyone if we had put something up by now to commemorate those we lost that terrible day. I’ve heard that there are various plans and ideas, from a series of smaller towers to a park to a community center. Some have even said that the simple elegance of the hole left by the Towers’ destruction is memorial enough to the tragedy.

I disagree. While not a New Yorker myself, I’ve been able to get to know plenty of people from the city while I lived in Connecticut, and such simple memorials are in no way really representative of the character, courage and charisma of the Big Apple. It just doesn’t fit either the tragedy itself, nor the city that bore it to leave things as they are, and I’m kind of dissatisfied with the plans that I’ve heard to remedy it.

Then again, my own personal idea of what an appropriate memorial would be might be considered a bit extreme. I envision three new towers, two of which are more or less replicas of the old. They would be called the New World Trade Center, and they would be places of business, commerce and enterprise, just like the old ones. I want all three of them to be full of stores, offices and headquarters for police departments and fire stations. I want them built back just the way they were, with the extra tower standing to the west, just a little smaller to not overshadow the replicas of the originals. I want them back, with one real difference to make sure we never forget what happened. You could call it a personal touch.

I want the South Tower to have murals on the ground level showing the wars in Iraq, the beginning of the democratic process in that country, and the defeat and trials of Saddam Hussein. The North Tower would have a mural depicting the struggle in Afghanistan, the defeat of the Taliban, and the democracy that is starting to form there. On the bottom of the third tower, I want two murals. One to show the trials, imprisonment, and executions of every single person responsible for what happened that day with the centerpiece being whatever suitable fate we eventually give Osama. The other would show the heroes that stood up in spite of it, the firemen and police that went into the Towers before they fell, and then a depiction of the Towers being rebuilt, story by story, floor by floor.

The last touch that I would want would be an empty field to the east. There would be no fences, no benches, nothing but grass and a single stone plaque facing east. On it, with words engraved in both English and Arabic, would be a single message. “There’s room for a fourth, you bastards. Signed, New York City, United States of America.”

That’s the only memorial I could ever find appropriate for the World Trade Center. Give me that, and you can build whatever you want around it, I won’t care. Then again, I might be satisfied with something else, if the politicians ever stir themselves to do something. Cause the hole in the ground is something they made. It’s not a memorial. When a terrorist attack claims thousands of American lives, something needs to be said by us, the ones they left behind. And a park just doesn’t cut it.

Friday, May 28, 2010

On Sleep

So the past couple of weeks I have been having issues in terms of sleep. My current work schedule has me staying up extremely late. While I wouldn’t normally be bothered by that, for the past six months or so I have been getting up in the wee hours of the morning to send my wife off to work. It also hasn’t helped that I don’t sleep very well when there is any kind of light outside.

The combination of the two has not gone too well. I’ve either been konking out for a couple of hours in the morning and waking up a little groggy for the rest of the day, or I just don’t sleep at all after my wife leaves, and end up going from early morning to late night with very little rest.

Fortunately, the early mornings will come to a stop soon, so I won’t have to worry about that for much longer. Now if I could just get used to not being up before the sun…

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On Crappy Beginnings

I think that one of my weaknesses as a writer is the beginning of a story, especially when it is a new story and the first draft. I feel like no matter how hard I try, I never figure out how I want a story to be until I am like 60k words in. It’s like it takes me that long to figure out where I want the characters to go, what structure I want the plot to follow, and what major events I want to happen by the end. Even the setting feels like it takes a while to solidify, whether or not I am writing a setting heavy story.

I have no idea why I work like that. It isn’t like I don’t bother trying to outline a story before I start, and I usually have some idea of where I want to go an what I want to accomplish. Still, I always end up rewriting the first half to around two thirds of the first draft completely. It’s like I have to play around with the story a bit before it really makes sense to me.

The reason why I am reflecting on this problem of mine is the fact that I am at about this point in Realm, where I can tell that virtually all of the first two thirds of what I have are crap. It’s taking just about all of my will as a writer just to keep going and finish the story rather than turning back and rewriting all of the inconsistencies, crappy details and unnecessary bits out of the beginning. Come to think of it, I had to go through this with Wolfhound as well. Don’t even get me started on Brellan.

So does anybody else do this? Or are your rough drafts pretty much right on from the first? Just some random musings on the state of my writing before I head out. Have a great week, guys, and I’ll hopefully write something more in depth on Friday.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Game--Battle Magic, Part Two

So, here is how I’m planning on fixing this system. You know, for all those people who are actually interested. :)

The first move would be to get away from the linear progression in terms of development. I want to give each magic type three different paths of progression, built around Attack, Defense and Special Effects. That way each magic type can be free to develop the types of spells that most interests them, whether that be primarily defensive techniques, offensive spells, castings based around more odd-ball effects, or a mix of all three. Now instead of just grinding through the spells you hate to get to the ones you actually want, a player can choose the path of their own progression. Hopefully that would lead to more interest and more connection to the techniques they get.

The second move is to change the energy base the magic is based off of. Rather than having each spell run out of juice individually, I’m going to have a central pool of Magic Points that each player uses up for all of their spells. That would force them to choose during battle between the spells they are going to use, maybe even hold back a bit so that they won’t find themselves out of juice during an important moment. A small fix, but an important one.

Finally, I’m going to take out the late spells that were basically stronger versions of earlier spells. I think players always grew a bit bored when things like that happened, and it made them less excited for a new technique. Rather than having that, I’m going to make it possible for the players to use the Tech points they gain from spell usage to enhance the spells they already have. That way if someone likes throwing a plain bolt of lightning, they can upgrade it. Someone who doesn’t can just save the Tech points and get a new spell. I’m also going to make it so that Tech points can be used to increase the pool of Magic points available to the user, or to increase the recharge rate of those points.

Along with some changes to spells and such, I also decided to work in some item creation. Another, unmentioned issue with Battle Magic is that you could never make anything with it. While other abilities gave you access to items and enhancements and such, Battle Magic was only about firing shots. To make it more interesting there, I’m going to make it so that Battle Magic users can create magical artifacts, materials and spell books. This way Magic users who reach the rank of Channeler can have a lot more in the way of crafting when they aren’t blowing things up.

One last random change is that I am going to include something new in the system. In each of the branches of this revamped version of the Game, there will be a point where you will be able to choose to advance on either the side of Good, or the side of Evil. In Battle Magic, that choice will come up fairly late in the progression, as the first two ranks (Caster and Channeler) are considered neutral. Once a Magic user has reached the third rank, they will be able to choose to become either a Mediator, who uses Peacecrafting spells to further the cause of good, or a Necromancer, who uses the chained spirits of slaves to access Death Spells for their own ends. The highest rank, that of Mage, will also be associated with either side, and will still be able to design and create their own spells.

So those are the new ideas that I’ve had concerning this part of the Game. Let me know if you guys have any way of making it better than it currently is. If there is anything interesting about it to you guys, just let me know as well. Thanks for your patience, and I’ll see you around.

Friday, May 21, 2010

On Balance

So, I’ve come to the end of my first week of full time employment, and I think I need to readjust my expectations. Perhaps writing 10k words while also working 40 hours in an emergency room is a bit much. (Yes, I really did try to do that. No it didn’t end well.)

As I make the goals for next week, I will have to be a bit more conservative in what I attempt to accomplish. I focused a bit too much on trying to keep up with all of the house chores that I had been doing during my lack of employment, with the result that I planned on cooking a meal nearly every single night along with cleaning nearly the entire apartment by myself. The only reason why I didn’t go nuts sooner, I suppose, is because my wonderful wife kind of sensed I was driving myself over the edge and helped out a little.

Still no word from med schools or the like, though we now are nearing the end of May. Grrr. Oh well, such is life. I suppose I should be happy that I have a wonderful opportunity to work, and that my main worries involve finding constructive ways to relax rather than where my next meal is coming from or how to make ends meet. Far too many people have those kinds of concerns these days, and I am fortunate indeed not to be among them.

So, yeah. Maybe if I feel extremely motivated, I might post up the second part of the Game stuff later on tomorrow. I just know all of you are looking forward for more of that. Hahaha. See you around, guys, and have a great weekend.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Game--Battle Magic, Part One

Alright, so I thought I’d start this analysis off with Battle Magic. It was one of the more distinctive systems of the Game, so it’s a decent enough starting point.

Battle Magic was partially based on the magic system in a game called Chrono Trigger. It was a Super Nintendo RPG, and one of my favorites as a kid and even now. One of my first efforts at writing involved writing a corny fan fiction for a Chrono Trigger sequel. The game had four different magic types (Fire, Lightning, Water, and Shadow), and seven characters, some of whom had no magic and some of whom doubled up on one of the four. I didn’t think that was fair, so in my fan fic, I added three types, Sonic, Wind and Earth, to make up for the deficiency. When I started the Game up, I transported that concept over to make up the basis for Battle Magic.

Anyone who played was automatically assigned a magic type based on how I viewed their personality. Extremely independent types got Lightning, Shadow went to people who were focused on having really cool abilities, Water went to people comfortable with stable social situations while Fire was given to people who constantly tried to shake things up. Wind went to people who cared a lot about imagination and ideals, while practical people got Earth. Sonic, which was kind of a grab bag, went to people who wanted balance, or who were balanced themselves. It worked out alright, and gave me a pretty good mix of players and magic types.

I included a few other extra bits and pieces to it as well, though they didn’t all work out. I gave Battle Magic a weakness, so that if it was used at extremely close range it became as harmful to the user as it was to the enemy, and perhaps more so. I made it so magic could pass through friendly troops without harming them, and made it so that the players could learn new spells by using their old ones. There were a total of thirty one for each magic type, and each type had its own characteristic spell set. I made it so that you could run out of ‘shots’ of each spell, to encourage them to use them carefully. I even included combination techniques that two magic users could join forces to use, a kind of homage to similar techniques in Chrono Trigger.

Unfortunately, there were some problems with this system. First off, the players never used the combos, and they were soon dropped simply to avoid having to deal with them any more. A much more severe problem was the limit placed on the player’s progression. I’d set up the list of spells so that you had to progress in a linear fashion through them, which meant that it was more or less a grind for the players to earn each new spell. There was no real personalization of the techniques, and the players usually just wound up saying ‘I use my most powerful attack, then my next most powerful…’ and so on until they were out of spells. They didn’t really care about conserving their attacks or using them tactically, since spamming spells always rewarded them with advances towards the next level of spells, and most spells were just a standard blast attack. It just wasn’t as engaging a system as it could have been.

It didn’t help that between the seven types, I had more than two hundred spells to organize and remember. Keeping track of them all was difficult, and nearer the end even I lost interest in memorizing the exact effects of all but the highest level. What I needed was a more customizable system with interesting spells, one that allowed the player’s progress to be based on their own choices and encouraged them to be more selective in how they employed their powers.

Next time I’ll get into the details of how I am planning on fixing these flaws. I promise. :)

Monday, May 17, 2010

On Employment

So as of today, I am once again among the employed. Huzzah!

Having a job is kind of different. It’s more a mindset thing than anything else. Writing is now no longer a priority so much as a hobby, and that is strange. I’ve grown so used to having to struggle so hard to focus on my stories that it is hard to break out of it. Fortunately, the pace of my job can be pretty intense, so that should help me to keep my eye on the ball rather than wandering in the corridors of my imagination.

Adjusting the expectations I have of myself is another issue I’m facing. I won’t be writing 20k words a week any more, and I probably won’t be able to divide my attention between various projects like I have been. At the same time, lowering my goals has left me feeling like I’m slacking off, which I’m not. I just have a different reality to get used to. Rather than having to fill up empty time with lots of work, I’m going to need to plan relaxation so I don’t wear myself out. That is new, but probably better for me mentally.

The job itself should be interesting and fun. I likely won’t discuss the specifics of it much, given how easily stuff can be taken out of context online, and I wouldn’t want to screw up my chances at such a beautiful opportunity to work just because I waxed whiney on my blog of all things. Suffice it to say that I was able to get a position where I was once volunteering, the people I am working with are fantastic and patient with me, and I feel like if I need to I could stay here for a while. That, and the emergency room is a pretty crazy place, but that’s kind of a given. :)

So yeah, no other news yet on my applications to med schools. I am thinking of beginning the application process to grad schools at this point, but an awful lot of my future career still depends on what answers I get back in the next few months. I’ll let everyone know when they finally come in, whatever they may be. See you around!


Friday, May 14, 2010

On Myths

So I just wrote a creation myth for a completely fictional world. The world itself is a background for a game nobody plays, and likely won’t even contribute to any future stories for something like years in the future. Yet I still wrote it. Does that make me crazy, or just really, really nerdy?

I’ve always found the concept of a myth to be useful when I’m planning the background to something, though. It helps set up the culture of a setting in a very significant way, and helps me to get a definite feel for how the people would react to the situations around them. Some of the most interesting settings have always had some form of myth or something in the background that held them up.

One of the times I enjoyed it the most was during the Larinia project we worked on in the Quark writing group. Just the origin myths for the different elf tribes there were fun to write for some reason, and I felt like it gave me a really good grasp on each of the societies. Their characteristic feel just seemed more unique after that, so maybe I should do it for more of my stories.

So should I post it on here, or just let it gather dust in my document bin? Just wondering if anyone’s interested in it, if only to mock it. Hahaha. Hope all is going well for everyone, and I’ll see you Monday. Hopefully there’s some news about life by then.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Merge, Everybody Merge!

So as I was pondering today, it occurred to me that a lot of my best ideas come from mashing a lot of different themes, character ideas and plotlines together to make a new, chimerical monstrosity to work with. I’ve done it with a lot of my favorite stories, or at least parts of them.

How I typically put things together could be shown a bit more clearly by a short story I wrote called Killer. I pretty much started out with three ideas and smashed them together. The first was the character of Teancum, of Book of Mormon, spear-to-the-chest fame. He’s always kind of appealed to me, and the fact that he’s typically overlooked when those chapters are discussed added to my interest. Another idea was presented in a class I had during college, called Immunity and Infection. The teacher had been relating some information about various diseases, and mentioned an anecdote that caught my attention. He told a story about how a disgruntled employee had actually sprinkled Shigella bacteria on the donuts in the break room of the facility where she worked to get revenge on her coworkers. The sheer craziness of that situation was too good to pass up. The final piece to the puzzle, though was the whole idea of revenge versus justice. That theme has probably been done to death many, many times, but here was a way to approach it in an entirely new way. Thus, the story was born, and I think it turned out very well.

Wolfhound is one example of a novel when I did this, while Brellan is an example of a time when I didn’t. The former came together almost like the pieces of a puzzle, each character and plot event clicking in and settling perfectly against the others. All I had to do was write well enough to express what was going on, and the story took care of itself. The latter, on the other hand, seemed to make me work and fight for every page, and it always seemed a bit more insubstantial than some of my other stuff. When I finished the latest complete draft, I still felt uncomfortable with how it worked out, and from the start I knew it would need a lot of revision to work. From those experiences, it kind of seems like I just can’t write based on a single, overriding idea and have enough to keep the story really going. I need a bunch of stuff to bounce off of.

So that’s a writing technique I guess I use when I am putting together the idea for a story. How about you guys? Let me know if you have a particular way you work; it’s always interesting to me to see how my fellow writers think. Not that I have malicious plans about that or anything. Mwahahaha… See ya!

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Game--The Original Setup

So, since I can’t come up with anything else interesting to talk about, I’ll just babble on about a game system that nobody cares about anymore :) It’s my blog anyhow, and I can rant into the void if I want to.

In any case, the original setup for the Game was meant to provide as many options for players as possible without overduplicating abilities. I wanted them to be able to combine different branches of skills or focus on their favorites enough to create unique characters, but I didn’t want enough that it would consume whatever grey matter I have in between my ears just trying to keep up with it.

There were six original “Lesser” powers, though each of them continued to mutate and change as the Game grew more and more complex (As I suspect many of my more experienced players noticed). I organized them in pairs, each pair corresponding to a particular bent. There was Magic, divided into Archmagic and Battle Magic. Mind powers was another pair, divided between the telepathic area (Psychic) and telekinetics (Enchanters). Normal abilities, such as Technology/Strategy and Physical Combat were also grouped together.

Each of these fields had their own limitations and advantages. In my Game, Physical Combat skills, if studied enough, allowed a player’s character to move faster, be stronger, and endure more than any normal human. Psychic allowed players to communicate over distances, scan opponents, and even assault an enemy’s mind directly. Technology allowed access to untold horrors of machinery that I failed to anticipate, and Archmagic provided them the chance to create and build on hordes of magical constructs to do their bidding. Enchanter allowed them to manipulate the elements around them and turn them to their tasks, while the slightly more rigid, yet more intensely powerful Battle Magic allowed players to nuke the crap out of anything that opposed them. (Those of you who’ve read my stories can probably stop noticing the similarities to a certain work of mine; your suspicions are correct).

Of course, in addition to these Lesser abilities, there was another tier that I referred to as the Greater powers. These were split along Light and Dark, and were mostly based around moral choices when compared to those above. The Lesser powers were like fire; morally neutral and capable of serving either side. The Light powers, however, only corresponded to morally good characters, allowing extra abilities and powers beyond the Lessers’ capability to give. Dark allowed access to corruption and evil untold. There were sub-abilities within these opposing sides that gave each character a whole new and unique field of skills to play with as well.

So that’s how the whole shebang was originally oriented, though near the end it had grown to such a convoluted mess that I don’t dare explain it fully in one post. As I go through the changes I’ve made, I’ll refer to each of these fields and how they either succeeded or failed, and how I’m going to fine tune the whole process. Should be interesting—to me at least. :) See ya round!

Friday, May 7, 2010

On Reading

So lately I’ve been reading bits and pieces of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. It got me thinking on how weird I am with books. First off, I don’t tend to read them slowly; a lot of the time I tend to absolutely devour a story, reading through it at a blazing pace. Then I seem to like to go back over the parts I liked, reading a little bit slower on the second pass.

I don’t know why I read that way, it’s just something I do. It gets even weirder once I start writing something. For some reason its like my brain gets hungry for a particular kind of scene or writing style, and I start devouring those books all over again. You could almost say that I use them to fuel my own creative process, kickstarting my own thoughts on what I would write if I was in charge of the story/world/premise. It’s not like I am trying to fix the other author’s story, more like I am noticing the themes and other aspects that work and incorporating them into my own ideas.

I think that’s why I like the kinds of books I do. Authors like Stackpole and Sanderson, Jordan and Scalzi, and all the others of my eclectic reading selection appeal to me because I love how their ideas inspire my own work. Maybe that’s why whenever I get my hands on a new book that impresses me with its story, I burn through it like it wasn’t even there.

Well, that’s all for now. Just some random thoughts tonight, I guess. Perhaps I will have more deep thoughts or interesting material on Monday. :) See ya round!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May Update

So it is May now. I’ve been looking forward to this month, both because it is time to start hearing back from medical schools at last, the time when I might start being gainfully employed, and the time to start considering where life will take me for the next year or so.

The job part has been particularly interesting. Over the past six months, I’ve been volunteering at a local emergency room, where I’ve been helping patients fill out forms, giving them towels, that kind of thing. One of the departments attached to that emergency room has an opening that I will be able to take advantage of, thanks to some of the kind friends that I’ve made during my time there. I should be able to start working there in the next couple of weeks, which I’m excited for in a lot of ways. First off, I’ll be able to feel like I am helping out the hospital a lot more than I could as a volunteer. Of course, the opportunity to actually earn some money rather than just rejection letters helps my perspective on things as well.

Speaking of rejection letters, there is still no news on the medical school front. That leaves me with four different medical schools, each of which I would love to attend, still able to either drop me or scoop me up at any time. While it is good news that I still haven’t been rejected, I really had hoped that I would have some idea whether or not I would still be living in Houston or going elsewhere by now. After all, we may have to move as far as the Great Lakes depending on how it turns out, and if I want to start the application process anew, that deadline approaches at the beginning of June—and I really, really don’t want to go through that again if I don’t have to.

In terms of my other options, Wolfhound is still collecting a few rejection letters. I’m not discouraged though; I still love that story too much to dump it yet. Depending on how med schools answer back and the schedule I get from my newfound employ, I am considering trying to attend a convention so that I can actually touch base with potential agents rather than sending blind query letters. The GRE, on the other hand, went extremely well, so applying to graduate schools may open more doors for me in the future.

So that’s kind of where I’m at right now. A little bit of limbo never hurts anybody, right?

At the very least, though, President Obama appreciates what I’m going through. Or at least, somebody who has access to his signature stamp does. I got a package in the mail the other day that pronounced me worthy of the President’s Volunteer Service Award. I got a certificate, a letter that was ‘signed’ by the president, and a little pin thing. I never know where to put those. Do you ever see some guy with an Eagle Scout pin or something just walking around? I guess that would be cool. It’s like a conversation piece you can wear!

In any case, I hope all of you guys are doing well, and I’ll see you around. Until then.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

On Running

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a runner. Not that I am incredibly good at it, I just have always enjoyed it. Any sports that let me run around, like soccer, I tended to enjoy. Sports like baseball, where you had to sit around and wait for long periods of time, I hated. Activities like crew, where running is barely involved in things outside of training, were misery incarnate.

Running just helps me relax in a way. It clears my mind, letting me think up new solutions to things or plan out my ideas. Even better than that, it helps me get to sleep easier at night, giving me that much more clarity of thought when I wake up in the morning.

Those benefits alone would have given me reason enough to continue enjoying the occasional run, but I tend to get more out of running besides just health benefits and mental cooldown times. There is little more satisfying than to be able to put everything you’ve got into a sprint to the finish; the rush and exhilaration is beyond words. Few experiences compare to taking yourself to the edge of your endurance and ability on a longer run, and then toughing it out to the end; the sense of accomplishment is almost tangible. At the same time, a bad run can ruin an entire day; a failure like that is something I tend to mope about for hours afterward.

Writing and running can share a lot of the same characteristics, and I tend to compare them a lot. When they go well, you almost feel like you are soaring, that your legs hardly touch the ground, and your fingers barely hit the keys. A well written scene and a final sprint can leave you with a glow for the rest of the day, and finishing a story or a long run gives meaning to otherwise dull toil. Stumbling in either sucks the fun out of things, and can be incredibly frustrating.

Recently I’ve been reviving my running habits, after taking far too long of a hiatus. I’ve been finding that it compliments writing perfectly though, and helps get me out in the sun a little. That way I don’t end up turning into a cave dweller or something. So what else do you guys enjoy doing? Any hobbies or habits that grew up alongside writing or robot programming, or am I alone in my crazy running ways? Just wondering. I’ll see you around!

PS My apologies for writing such a late blog post. I wrote quite a bit yesterday on Realm and reviewed some of the comments on Brellan before starting the post. When I started on the post, my head literally started aching with pain, which I took as a sign not to continue. :) I’ll try to be a bit more consistent tomorrow.