Books

Time to expand the Potterverse

Yesterday, I tweeted a link to a damn sweet collection of photo manips done by this talented Tumblrino. It reminded me once more how bad J.K. Rowling is at marketing the Potter franchise. Well, “bad” is a strong word. Let’s replace it with “extremely careful”. Though the typical merchandise and multimedia products are available, the Potterverse has never been the backdrop for something like a spin-off Saturday morning cartoon, a comic book series or something else that expands on the world presented in the books. While that is a good way for Rowling to protect her intellectual property from the mad ideas of other authors and marketeers, it is also a missed chance for a setting so rich like that of the Potter books.

Let’s just take a look at, for example, Star Wars. Over the years, the so-called “Expanded Universe” has deepened and enriched the franchise through comic books, novels and an animated TV show. “Enriched” is both negative and positive in this case: for every great character added to the pantheon of space heroes, a dozen plot holes popped up due to sloppy writing or contradictions with other storylines. This, of course, is the danger of such an expanded setting: once you give the reins to other authors, you don’t know what they will do to your creation. That must be a scary feeling, but one should also not forget that new people bring in new ideas.

I’m not saying the Potter franchise will die anytime soon, but I feel like the world of Hogwarts could use some fresh ideas. I mean, there’s a lot to work with, it just needs some fleshing out! How about a somewhat darker series of stories about Snape’s youth, where we see his lonely moments in Hogwarts, his initiation into the Death-Eaters and his torn psyche? Heck, we already know a lot about Snape, so why not pick something up that has only been mentioned passingly. Murf mentioned over on Twitter how a story about dragon-wrangling in Romania would be damn sweet. What’s a job like that like? How do you hide dragon hunts from mortal eyes? Who would take up such a job? It would be like Deadliest Catch, broadcasted in a pub in Diagon Alley!

As said, I can understand Rowling’s caution with handing over control of her universe to other writers, but I really feel she’s missing chances here. If a set of photo manips by a talented git from the Internet can get fans hyped about the possibilities of an alternate timeline, imagine what would happen when Rowling announces a mini-series about such a “what if”- scenario?

Trust me, even a Silencing Charm couldn’t calm the fandom then.

Immersion – how to make me drown in a fictional world

Jewel over at Healing the Masses posted a great article about immersion in MMO’s, and that post alone is to blame for my sudden need to share my opinion on the topic of immersion. Immersion…the word alone sounds like it is a science in itself. Quite frankly, that is the case. Being capable of having someone utterly consumed by a world that is not real (at least not in most definitions of the word) is both a scientific and artistic feat, and that is probably why so much media fails at it. Still, I feel like the foundation for an immersive experience is not too complicated, and that’s why I want to share with you how any kind of videogame, TV show, movie or book can have me drown in the world it creates.

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What happened to Digital Dragonslayers?

“Zinda the Dragonslayer” by eisu

On 1 November 2013, I started writing Digital Dragonslayers. As planned, I wanted to devote the month to writing a non-fictional piece about my life as a MMORPG gamer: how I started, why the genre plays an important role in my life and how it influences others. Within the first days, I was able to amass quite the word count. Without much ado, the lines and formulations just came to me, manifesting on the digital paper of my Google Drive. Then, however, something happened. Around the 15.000 words mark, I noticed something.

I was done.

At least, it felt like I had encapsulated everything I wanted to say about the life of a MMO gamer. I re-read my script, but in a way, I had covered everything I had set out to cover. Sure, I could have started cleaning it all up, adding a description here and there, but that would have never taken me to that 50k cap of NaNoWriMo. I was simply done…and that frustrated me so much I canned the thing.

Yesterday, I skimmed through it again, and noticed that I had given up too early. Sure, I had already covered a lot of what I wanted to say in those 15.000 words, but I’m not done yet. Re-reading what I wrote has given me ample ideas of what to do with what I already have, and how I’ll expand on it. Sure, I might have “lost” NaNoWriMo, got I won a treasure trove of blogging topics.

So yeah, I didn’t slay the dragon that is NaNoWriMo, but you will certainly hear of Digital Dragonslayers in the future…in one way or the other!

NaNo Prep: a rough structure

NaNoWriMo is less than a week away, and I’m knee-deep in my preparations for it. So far, I feel like I have the rough structure for Digital Dragonslayers down. Essentially, the book will be made up of three parts:

  1. A history of MMORPG’s
  2. Defining a Digital Dragonslayer
  3. The lives of the Dragonslayers

Each part will comprise several chapters, and I make it my goal to not focus make the historical parts too boring. Readers should get an entertaining overview of the genre, not feel like they have to take a re-sit of their most hated high school class.

Anyway, I’m still looking for MMORPG aficionados who would like to tell their story. Murphy over from murfvs.net already offered his support, and I will surely come back on that offer. If you feel like you have something to contribute to my project, hit me up!

NaNo Prep: what is a “digital dragon slayer”?

What did I get myself in to?

First, I decide to participate in NaNoWriMo. That’s no biggy. I mean, I’ve done it before, so what could happen right? Right?

Well, ambition happened. Planning to write an informative discourse about the lives of MMO gamers turns out to be more work than I expected. Researching the history of the genre and trying to get some gamers to share their stories with me is taking more time than I had estimated, and so I guess I’ll be going into November (and thus into writing the damn thing) ill-informed.

Oh well, NaNoWriMo is meant to create drafts, not finished books. Right?

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NaNo Prep: of rebels & dragonslayers

Sometimes, you just gotta give in and start a revolution. It worked for the French (kinda), the Americans (sorta) and, more recently, the Egyptians (well…), so why shouldn’t it work for me and this year’s NaNoWriMo? Eff yeah, I’ll be what they call a “NaNo Rebel”!

So, how does one rebel during NaNoWriMo? Well, while all the other abiding participants write some fictional story about dragons and the people who slay them, I’ll be busy writing a non-fiction tribute to the real dragonslayers: MMORPG players. That’s right, this year’s project will be a written look at the history of these games and the people who play them.

Working title? Digital Dragonslayers – when office clerks become fantasy heroes.

Why am I not going for a novel like many other participants? Simple: this fascinates me. I’ve been a part of this hobby for years now, and I would love to mix my practical experience with more knowledge about the evolution of social games and the thoughts and motivations of fellow gamers. It’s gonna be an exciting experiment in many ways!

There’s research to be done and people to be spoken to. If you have some fascinating insight into the history of MMORPG’s to share, or if you would like to share your story, hit me up in the comments below or send me a mail at the.chindividual@gmail.com

Go now. Those dragons won’t slay themselves!

NaNoWriMo: preparing for the madness

Hey kids, September’s almost over! You know what that means? Yes, October is almost upon us! And you know what that means? It’s almost November! November, the month of pre-Christmas madness, transitional shitty weather and, most importantly…NaNofrickingWriMo!

Last year, I participated in this month-long write-a-thon, blindly writing a story of at least 50,000 words. The end result, a sci-fi supernatural action story dubbed “Warlox” is still haunting my Google Drive, I haven’t done anything with, but the fact I got myself to write more than 50,000 worth in just four weeks is something I’m really proud of. This year, though, I want to raise the bar. This year, I’ll do this right. I won’t just blindly rush into the jungle that is writing. I will draw my map, set my course towards a firm plot, and fight my way through the constricting vines of plotholes, the dangerous Mary-Sue-Beasts, all the way to the hidden shrine of that total word count.

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Martin and the reason for his killing sprees

got jk rowling grr martin georgeHERE BE SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES, BOTH THE SHOW AND THE BOOKS!

The reason to write this post has two origins. First of all, I’ve caught up with the TV show of Game of Thrones, and now I’ve joined the great amount of people who are waiting for the next season. It’s better to be late to a party than to never arrive, right? Second, a comment from the Nerd Maids on my previous post about Game of Thrones has prompted me to share my opinion on the way Martin handles popular characters and death in his works.

First of all, thank you for commenting and sharing your opinion! You have valid points, and I can understand that killing off popular and cool characters seems counterproductive: readers care about them and use them as a way to interact with the written world, and so their deaths are all the more cruel. Plus, why not end the lives of characters nobody cares about, like the Freys in Game of Thrones? You can tell better stories with the “cool cast” still alive than with those…weirdos. I can relate to that opinion, but let me explain why I can’t agree with it.

You see, I’m also a person who really gets into the characters of a book, a show or a movie. If their story is intriguing and well-written, I’m hooked and reeled in like a fat carp. I’m a fan of good versus of evil, of knowing who I should cheer for or having the possibility of choosing a “team”. If both sides of a conflict have interesting characters, the whole conflict gets even more interesting. If you add an epic climax to it then, something that has been built up for multiple books or episodes, you have found a sure way to please me. However, you have also found the easiest way to please me, by serving me a meal I have eaten so many times the flavor has dulled my senses. If you happen to be George R.R. Martin though, you throw a plate in front of me with food that looks familiar, but with a taste that will overwhelm me.

Alright, enough of the weird culinary metaphors. What I’m trying to say is that Martin dares to cross lines other authors don’t, and all of this “trespassing” of his makes his work all the more interesting. Where other writers are afraid to kill their or their reader’s darlings, Martin will rip them out of his stories in a cruel way to propel the entire plot into a new direction. Sure, one might argue that death is the cheapest way to add drama, but it’s also the most efficient way to add emotion and the chaos it causes. Killing someone is final, it presents the reader and the characters in the story with an event they can’t just ignore. Everyone has to take a stance, and these stances will drive the story into an unexpected direction. Sure, the Red Wedding is bloody and cruel, but it turns the entire War of the Five Kings upside down and makes you, the reader and viewer, re-think your opinion about certain individuals. It keeps you engaged in a cruel, yet effective way.

A result of this murderous tendency Martin shows is that no character is ever safe. Fantasy writers tend to save the “heroes” of the story in that last, dramatic moment, just so that they can save the day, free the kingdom and rule with a gentle hand. Martin doesn’t do the “hero”-thing, and he puts everyone and their mother into permanent danger. Every character in his books can be killed, and you should learn that rather sooner than later. This fear of death is a good thing though, since it will make you care even more for the individuals in the story. Why hope that the hero will make it, when you know that the author is using every trope in the universe to make it so? What use is appreciating the depth of a fictional character, when he cannot be taken from you at any moment by some malicious enemy? This fear you feel, and your wish that your “beloved” character will make it actually strengthen your bond with the story, turning the reading of a simple book into a fantastic emotional rollercoaster ride.

I’m not saying that all fantasy authors should be like Martin. We still need the “classic” novels, where good and evil are clearly separated and where the brave hero gets the girl. However, we also need more writers who raise the stakes and add danger to their stories, having their own beloved creations entering the lion’s den multiple times. They might make it out…or they won’t.

No matter the outcome, you are cheering for your favorites, and you will remember their story. You should not weep for the dozens of characters Martin has killed, but the dozens of new plot hooks their deaths have spawned. Where one story ends, a new one begins. Trust Martin to make them good ones, and you will find out that he does not slaughter for fun, but for crafting an epic masterpiece of a story.

Strange Sunday – Roman steampunk and other genre mash-ups

“WWII roman steampunk” by Robbiekooljive

I’m lucky enough to be running my first game of Dungeon World next week, with two people that have made this hobby such a blast for me. As a preparation for the session, I have asked my two players to share some ideas for the setting and “feel” of the world, and after stating that I would like to see some kind of Industrial Revolution and drunken dwarves, while shunning the conflict of technology versus nature and evil orcs, my players shared with me their ideas. The final result is both wicked and challenging: our game of DW will take place in an industrialised Roman Empire, fighting a war against both the barbarians at the gates and a race of space dragons, coming from fallen stars that have ravaged a great part of the world.

Yeah, let me claim copyright on that idea right there, ’cause even Hollywood couldn’t think of that!

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Strange Sunday – Animals!

“corgi rogue” by reiley

My love for furry, little critters knows no bounds. I grew up with dogs, owned a guinea pig and even a group of adorable rats. If it’s a mammal and has big eyes, odds are high that I want to hug it and hold it close. Not really manly, I know, but that’s just the way it is. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who things animals are awesome, as their important role in fiction shows. Many authors and game designers go even so far to have four-legged mammals walk on two feet and have them act rather…well, human. Those strange people known as “furries” even go out of their way to make costumes to look like such a anthropomorphized version of a critter. Our love for animals and how we give them a place in our “art” seems strange to many, and that’s why I’m highlighting it in this week’s Strange Sunday, to discuss with you the stranger ways of using “anthros”

Heil Lassie
Alternate history is a popular sub-genre of fantasy, and it’s actually a genre where humanised animals haven’t been spotted all that often. A shame, if you ask me, because replacing humans with furry counterparts is a way of teaching people about history in an interesting way. As a kid, I rarely watched Alfred J. Kwak, a children’s cartoon that I absolutely didn’t care for back then. Years later, when I was in high school, I stumbled upon a few episodes and checked them out. And what do you know: there’s a crow in that show who turns out to be the feathered version of Adolf Hitler. It’s an interesting approach to show children such a villlain, and most adults will recognise him immediately.

Why not take this a step further? How about a Victorian era setting, in which the British Empire is run by two-legged collies, who struggle with the rebellions of the Persian cats? Or a game about a planet of highly advanced monkeys who...oh wait. Anyway, combining alternative paths of history with furry protagonists might turn out rather interesting.

My furry friend
Animals don’t have to be the main characters, of course, and their intelligent versions could just co-exist with humans. This is something that is explored in Exalted, where tribes of intelligent animals live besides or wage war with their two-legged neighbours. It’s also a core theme of the Ghibli highlight Mononoke Hime, where gigantic wolves and boars fight for the survival of their forest, while humans encroach on it.

Imagine a game where animals work together or against humans, and you’ll imagine a game with additional possibilities. Themes of racism and cross-species friendship become interesting plot hooks, and trying to place the intelligent animals in the setting becomes a writing challenge of its own. See if you can find out where a tribe of telepathic and magical mantis-people fit in…

That’s it for this weeks Strange Sunday. Now, if you excuse me, I have to look up that write-up to play a Corgi in a D&D campaign…