SPREY Log #26 – Ingame Books and Fan Dragons

Welcome back, everyone!

My life is moving so fast right now. Currently, „Your Land“ has it’s first anniversary. Organizing the subevents and celebrating with the community is keeping me busy, as well as a few smaller commissions. And yes, there is pressure, but I’m learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable as they say.

I’ve mentioned last blog post already how I let go and went programming for a while, let go of everything (that is not the same as giving up) then realized „less is more“. I have then also tested this new paradime already by writing several ingame books in Your Land. Our game has this amazing feature where players can copy and paste a text up to 10.000 signs into an ingame book. My husband had even collected most of the past books written by players into a library. It was in an okay state when I took it over, but now with me as a driving force behind caring for the library and encouraging players to write new fun books at all occassions, the amount of books is skyrocketing, and so is the number of readers and writers, and the library is thriving. We have an organically grown literature scene now. I have heard from others again and again what I have learned ingame as well. „I had no idea how fun writing can be!“ We have all just forgotten how fun it is.

These ingame books are my playground, my experimental ground to finally stretch and strengthen my writing muscles far enough to get to a state where I can write a finished anything. You can do a lot with 10.000 signs it turns out. I don’t think any of my ingame books even scratch at that limit, I’m rather comfortable at 1.000 signs. Everytime I finish an ingame book though, something magical happens. Something in me listens up, realizing me and storytelling is not a lost cause, adding more curiosity, confidence and just a bit more ambition to the next work.

The next benefit of practising my writing in a videogame is that I get to experience a whole pipeline from idea of the book to finding the book on the shelves in a relatively self-contained, secure environment without added costs. Yes, even in a game where less forces than on the actual market are influencing what is read you have to advertise your stuff. You still have to proofread and edit and offer this service to other writers, too, in exchange, as none of you get paid. You still have to finish things. You still have to show up to write on the regular. You have to make the time to do all of this. And what I also had to do was to learn how to socialize at all. I think I finally got over the bump with that. I am running a well known Candy Shop in the game’s spawn city. And none of the players would believe my old shy „true self“ that isn’t true anymore. And no, this is actually not a case where I’m confident on the internet alone, it already crossed back over into the real world. Streaming works better than ever for me and I enjoy the resulting conversations a lot.

And it is actually true, if you have finished a couple of stories, your perspective on writing is changing up. You have more of a grid to work from in your head. It’s easier to keep the structure of the work together mentally as you’ve already worked through some of them in their entirety before. And having a good theme, really having something to say, doesn’t seem that difficult and abstract anymore, too. That was actually one of the things I learned fastest. Writing 1.000 signs is not hard, you can do it in a day or two. Writing 1.000 signs that give a meaningful or even pleasing experience to both reader and writer, that is harder. When you are thinking to yourself „Why bother?“ your current work probably does not have enough substance yet. For me, the fun at trying new things and testing how far my writing can go within the constraints has soon and quickly taken over.

I think my stream even taught me something very important the past days. I met Shiro4K, an old friend, again who now streams videogames now. He told me an anecdote from the day he met me in 2016, that I had forgotten myself. I was tabling at a convention and he jokingly asked me to draw something I had never drawn before. So I asked the tabling artist next to me for a fan you can draw on yourself and drew a dragon. I saw a photo of it, it doesn’t even look like it was drawn by me, but still works. That taught me something very important about myself, that I haven’t figured out without the reflection from others. Apparently I was never one for a uniform look of the art. I am rather one that relentlessly experiments, always moving forward and shaking perceived own limits. And it is fun being around me when I am like this. You can shake your head and go „what is she up to now?“. Let’s admit, that dragon could have gone terribly wrong, especially with my limited skillset back then compared to today. I was drawing it live on a convention. A stunt like that requires bravery. Apparently there’s more of it in me than I tend to show nowadays. It turns out again and again that I was worrying about the wrong things all along. I’m currently writing a sonnet written by an orc (with orc grammar and everything, but still attempting to keep up with the rhyme scheme and structure). I can’t say I’m good at poetry, but I’m taking the challenge. I am exactly the right person for something like this.

And now comes the clue, I’m not writing this down for the sake of me. But this gave you a taste of an authentic Styxcolor, maybe even just a glimpse of it. And if people hear about other people being authentic, it tends to encourage them to show a bit more of themselves, too. People do appreciate you when you show yourself. Go out there, try it, even on a small scope. You will probably not want ot miss it again. If you need to write books in a videogame to figure out and work on your true skill level, so be it. I bet there’s other venues to get started or repair your skillset as a storyteller, too. See you out there!

SPREY Log #15 – Exploring the Ending

I spent yesterday’s session working on the end of SPREY. The climax is pretty solidified at this point, so I was looking at what happens afterwards. The end determines what else the build up up to it might need. I wrote some villain biographies, motives and relationships down, so that I have a clearer picture who will do what in the final fight. I was focussing on the Executioner until now, because he is…well…easy to look through. He is named after activities he likes to do. The Speaker on the other hand has a telling name as well, but his words have more intention than just making noise. Ryu got some new attention as well, although I’m doubtful he survives until the last duel. And then there’s the old king of the slashers who loomed ominous over the early drafts. I cut him out of the story entirely for a while, but now that I’m reworking SPREY and dealing with a core of civilizations theme, he seems to fit in pretty well again. Let’s not start with Motofiend whom you don’t know yet.

Also a huge shoutout to my friend Vergil who patiently listened to several drafts of my final fight scene and gave me a new perspective on the slasher genre and the deeper seated symbolism. The killer doesn’t come from nothing. He has been either wronged personally in the past or is more, is a manifestation of a whole group of victims now turned into a raging beast past any eye for an eye retribution as they received no justice, turning against the innocent and blindly creating more injustice now. The virgin breaks the cycle of violence. Some cultures sacrifice her, let her symbolically innocent blood be the last spilled, maybe even hinting at political marriages. And some cultures apparently let her defeat the monster instead, laying it at rest again. SPREY does beautifully fit and not fit in this at the same time. My virgin ends the violence by becoming the slasher king and ordering the tribe to dissolve (probably). One small parasitic civilization collapses while also uncovering the rottenness, yet the strengths of the host it tries to nest itself inside. A lot of people fall over their own ego. But my slashers do try to sacrifice one of their worst enemies to avenge their dead and improve their morale again.

Another bit of confusion waned when I found an old fragment I had written. SPREY contains excessive flashbacks. While I love all that is happening I was doubtful whether I shouldn’t just trim that out and be more action oriented in the present. Then I read this little loving conversation between Rich and Willard and was like, no, moments like these probably give my comic soul. I will not spoil it for now, but imagine something like a couple of words lovers whispering into each other’s ears gives me confidence for the whole project…then there must be something to it. I’ll work on making this comic happen, like every day!

See you next blogpost!

SPREY Log #14 – Back to Action

I have understood the next truth of what I’m doing today. Writing a story, creating anything really, is an organic process. Organic means I will have branches and some of them will wildly sprout or die off and it is just a natural process. What I can do is cultivate what I want out of it. My approach to theme seems to be a pretty natural one. Most people will not think about abstract questions and answers first, but about interesting bits of plot and characters. No one starts out as a good gardener of stories, so patience is needed on the road to get there and a lot of mistakes are to be made. Maybe I was starting to stress too much about the theme. What I need to do now is to jump right back into the SPREY script and watch out that I don’t document more of the journey than actually travelling it and doing the legwork for it. But me having those self-doubts is probably the best indicator I’m not procrastinating on that. Keeping vigilant.

After a couple of days where I was too scared and dumbfounded with new things to draw more than just doodles, I have started to work through “If it’s purple, someone’s gonna die” by Patti Bellantoni to challenge me on the color side of things. Gurney’s book on color somehow never worked for me, but this one does. And it does wonders so far. You can see my first thumbnails influenced by this book as picture for the blog. I love them. This is also a Willard slasher look reveal of sorts, as this is where the design is so far. Changes are possible. Of course, color theory for art works for everyone like a natural law and has to be learned, but Bellantoni reached me emotionally, reached my emotions, which Gurney absolutely didn’t in the past. And I didn’t know it was that. That and a lack of confidence on my side. Whatever you start, you cannot succeed if you aren’t confident enough to go all the way in and go that way until the end. Gurney’s book was never the problem. I’m left to wonder now whether I can train myself to be confident directly. What seemed to work so far was to decide if I was a hero’s journey character myself the last thing I would want to do would be to be outgoing and confident. So I’m doing that every day now, probably for the rest of my life. Bleak.

Now excuse me, I need to get some writing on the new SPREY script out.

See you next blog post!

SPREY Log #13 – Genre Research

Exciting news, I finished reading Brian McDonald’s “Invisible Ink” and started reading the next book already. I will put “Invisible Ink” away for a couple of weeks and then read it again, just to make sure I haven’t missed the point. Then, I was very lucky as my kindle recommended K.M. Weiland’s “Writing your story’s theme” to me. Perfect, I told myself, reading another voice dealing with exactly what plagues me at the moment could be the best call now. And I found a treasure indeed.

First of all, according to Weiland what I have gone through and discovered througout my own past blog entries and writing sessions is true. Theme is indeed ethereal and you can actually craft a story without ever consciously dealing with any of it. You then just aren’t guaranteed a coherent theme will manifest through your instincts alone.

Weiland offers a more open view on theme than McDonald declaring theme a personal practise of each writer. She does for example not exclude single word themes or a preaching approach where you offer an answer to humanity’s biggest problems yourself from being acceptable themes. What I learn from this is that I can treat it like the discussion which art style is the best…none of them. I just have to find out where I fall on the spectrum of approaches and make the best of it. This of course in turn changes my search for SPREY’s theme. I don’t have to find that one statement that clutches the story climax and in turn is reflected through everything else in the story, although it would be good for structure’s sake.

Yesterday I figured out that current SPREY is a wild mix of themes. Weiland says if you can’t figure your theme out and are worried about the consistency of your story, you can always fall back on genre. At least that’s what I understood. It is probably not the most elegant way to do things, but if you at least do your genre right, you aren’t lost completely. After all, it wouldn’t be a genre if it’s archetypes and must have scenes weren’t tested. I took that to heart and put in an extra reading session yesterday, diving into the romance genre and slasher movies. I was surprised by what even a superficial look at both unveiled.

Genres are powerful tools indeed. A romance can be more than primarily dealing with a love relationship in your story. Actually, a classical romance can even work without a love interest. If you are interested in that genre and it’s history at all, look it up, you will not be disappointed. Looking into slashers was also pretty revealing. I have truly seen my share of them and never actually thought about the ritualistic nature and symbols in most of them. A virgin woman is protecting herself from a sometimes supernatural danger that has been killing her whole peer group. That’s like tossing an ancient Greek princess into a labyrinth to please that minotaur monster inside. Truly, some things never change. This time around the princess, rarely a prince, saves herself though. Here I’m baffled how I ever assumed SPREY had anything to do with the essence of slashers. I guess I just copied some of the aesthetics. On the other hand, they’re putting Rich on an altar to cut his heart out in the end. But he never was in a peer group that was killed off and left him alone to be tested. Also if anyone is a typical final girl it’s Willard, because he’s the only virgin I know of in the story. But Willard is also the one who returns to kill the monster. Decisions decisions. But at least I’m having a lot of new ideas to play with in my writing. I have no idea where this is going but I must write and test. I also hope I’m not being dishonest with myself here though. I don’t think the final girl protects “just” her virginity. This must go deeper.

See you next blogpost!

SPREY Log #12 – Hunting for a theme

Okay, before we dive back into dry writing craft, I have realized something.

I’m feeling young again. I’m feeling a specific feeling of youth I’m surprised I still remember. Many years ago I was an actual literature nerd, actually interested in reading, literature history and the technical and practical aspects of the craft of writing. Then I got a taste of literature how it was taught at the university I studied at. Not saying all universities are bad. That one probably was. It made me lose all passion and interest in pursuing writing and reading at all within a year. If that was “real” literature I didn’t want to do anything with it. Now I feel this is gone again, finally, after many years and I’m back to where I was.

And just to be clear, I’m not blaming the university, after all no one held a gun to my head and told me I may never read a book again. Everything that happened, I did to myself, in my head. I just needed the wisdom of many years to come to realize it and undo it. I would even go so far to say I dumbed myself down from then on, further manipulating my further endeavors for the worse. How could or should I ever succeed with any writing if deep inside I didn’t want to do anything to do with it?

I consider myself very lucky that I got behind it after all. Now I can deal with everything I must deal with in peace and without self-manipulation. Writing and literature should have always been a part of me, to whatever extent. I think this will improve my art, not distract from it. And just as a general reminder, me and you do not need anyone’s approval to pursue literature and writing and learning about it. The knowledge is out there, not discriminating, it’s there for everyone. And it wants you to learn about it and use it in your own writing as you see fit. And as anyone can publish books today, truly no one can hold you back but you. Apparently you have to be confident but humble. Confident, so that you don’t give up when you don’t get anyone’s approval first, and we’re talking years possibly, but always humble so that you don’t stop listening and working on your craft.

And now back to writing SPREY.

After last blogpost I made myself a list of bullet points what I have to establish in order for the story climax to work. And fascinatingly, I got a complete looking list of what belongs in the first and second act. This is spectacular to me, as writing had been an incredibly difficult cascade of guesswork for me before. The distance to bridge between first and third act seemed to be impossible. Never did it occur to me that not all story parts are equal, independent from each other, just boxes to tick to hit the “right” act structure. Pretty much everything before the climax is dictated by the climax. There is no guesswork. And now I see how this structure is the bones that hold the flesh of the story together. I was just sculpting the flesh before. Wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a scene where Rich is about to get sacrificed but then is saved by Willard? Isn’t that villain monologue lovely? I can still have ideas like that and see whether I can work with them, but they can never substitute the underlying structure.

But how can it be that I have SPREY current state now with it’s working structure without knowing my theme yet? Shouldn’t the theme sit one level above the climax and govern it? I’m starting to have a suspicion that I was just assuming a new structural model for my works again without fully understanding it yet. But through research I found a new clue. Theme is not message! A theme is asking and describing a difficult to answer problem or question about the human experience, a message is offering an answer to it. By design, the message can only be flawed, as the most interesting problems about being human absolutely have no easy answers and no matter how educated you are, your own perspective will never be a hundred percent and always right. Also, people tend to not like being preached to. Luckily for me, it doesn’t seem to be the job of a writer to solve existential problems and the human nature once and for all. It is my job to unveil that a problem exists and what makes it so hard to solve it in the first place. And that is what theme does. Which questions do I ask and look at about being human through my characters and what’s happening to them? I can absolutely have a clear theme, but it is not me saying something is so and so, it is rather me asking things like “If love always wins, what is about the villain who is also loved and loves? Is his love not good enough?” That is actually hard to answer and I would have to look at multiple cases or facettes of a case within my story. If my climax is the story core and tangible backbone, my theme is the soul. In a way it is ethereal. And yes, you can absolutely ignore it and create something down to earth without dealing with any of this. But I guess the best stories, those that stay in your memory, do ask those difficult questions.

With SPREY my struggle to find one red line might also stem from just throwing a lot of things together that sounded entertaining and interesting by themselves. But this also results in a mashup of themes, leaving us with no clear winner or direction on that front. Let’s take a look at what we got:

1 Love as a terrifying force

If you think about SPREY from an inverse perspective, a whole biker gang gets killed because they didn’t account for selfless sacrifices made out of love. Willard and Rich each get into mortal danger to protect each other, another character dies for people who aren’t even present. That is terrifying from an outside view. Love, that is regarded as a “soft” power actually lures people into death overriding their instinct for self preservation? Love gets people killed who stand in the way of lovers? Well, unfortunately the slashers are pretty bad people themselves, so in this specific case it will be hard to feel sorry for them.

2 The individual versus the group

Maybe I should rather go for the individual vs group angle. A human is a creature that must exist both as an individual and as a member of a group or groups to be happy, but in actuality humans are never happy. We get extreme cases like Rich who is a struggling lone wolf or on the other end of the spectrum the slashers who literally operate like a hive. And then there’s Willard who finds his own balance as someone who wants to be part of a group, any group, but just doesn’t seem to fit.

3 Are humans trying to domesticate themselves into a functioning civilization since the beginning of time

The slashers themselves as a concept ask a very difficult question. We think bounding together to a tribal group was what helped people drive civilization forward. But here a group has formed that actively undoes civilization, rejects rules anyone outside of them made and uses group synergy to harm and kill people. And they build nothing up of their own, they just destroy. Are they a mirror of us when we can’t get over our selfish desires to build a society that works, a failed civilization? This is a tough one.

4 Man vs (human) nature

And what about good and evil and how being amongst some of the most evil people imaginable teaches Willard to be a better balanced human being? As I said, theme is ethereal, doesn’t give easy answers. Ha, wait, maybe this is a good one – the slashers are everything we do not want to have in our modern, civil, urbanized society. They are a form of nature’s revenge. But it is not the environment that comes for us, it is the parts of the human nature that we don’t want to acknowledge or deal with, our own potential for evil. It comes back to haunt us, no matter what we do to shut it out. And Willard is us, he is very cultivated and civilized, first in utter disbelief about facing actual and unapologetic evil, then part of it, then out of it. Rich isn’t that severely affected because he grew up amongst evil already, there is nothing to be disillusioned about.

I will think about that.
See you next blogpost!