Archive for Writing

NaNoWriMo 2012 Postmortem

Yesterday I missed work because of a migraine, but got a net gain on writing time as I spent the afternoon and evening well-rested and at the computer. Then this morning I had one of those bouts of insomnia that I get sometimes, and woke up at around 3:30 a.m. with little hope of getting back to sleep. [1] I pushed past 50,000 words and finished up my first draft of Magical Girl Radiant Yuna just before I left for work at 6:30 a.m. I don’t regret doing it, but I am very glad that it’s over. I feel an extra layer of exhaustion that goes beyond what the sleep deprivation can explain, and among other things I think if I do NaNoWriMo in the future I’ll do it with something more lighthearted.

What I have is most definitely a first draft. It has several parts that I really, really like, but also some glaring weaknesses that I’ll have to try to address once I get into the revision process. There are some plot elements that I need to just plain do more with, including some of the major characters. While I like the ending I came up with, the last quarter or so of the story seems very rushed, the kind of thing you get when the anime studio suddenly finds out they have to wrap things up in a couple episodes before the show gets canceled. I have a natural rhythm of stepping away from a project to digest things and come up with solutions for those kinds of weaknesses, and NaNoWriMo forces me to just write more regardless. It forces me to complete a narrative rather than neglecting a project indefinitely as I too often do, but it also seems to inherently mean there are going to be some flaws in the story that will take time to untangle. Of course, when I look at the stories that I really admire ( Wreck-It Ralph being one that was on my mind a lot lately), it’s obvious that they didn’t get that way on the first draft.

Although compared to previous NaNoWriMos I had a better idea of what I wanted to do with the overall story, there was still a tremendous amount to discover along the way. Some of the characters surprised me in odd ways, and new twists were emerging in the story right up until the very end. More than once I came up with something just to toss in to fill word count, and found I couldn’t imagine not having it in the story. There were also some things I thought were just plain neat, like an American magical girl in a wedding dress with a shotgun with intricate carvings of roses, or Ami Watanabe, the magical girl who now heads up the Japanese government’s underfunded supernatural intelligence agency. When I was gearing up to do this project a friend of mine asked me how it was going to be different from a Madoka Magica fanfic, and I didn’t have much of an answer because it was so obvious to me that apart from some superficial details, the differences massively dwarf the similarities, and that only became more true as I kept writing. To pick just one example, Pyonkichi, Yuna’s mascot/tsukaima, started off as a low-rent version of Kyuubey I came up with for the Magical Burst book, but he wound up having a character arc that I personally found much more interesting. Where Kyuubey knows exactly what he’s doing and simply reveals more of it over the course of the series, Pyonkichi, who takes a certain twisted pride in his magical girls, experiences profound conflict when he learns what’s actually going on. (I got a WordPress plugin that allows for spoiler tags BTW.)

Another thing that I realized is that at some point I would really like to put together an anthology of Magical Burst short stories. Evil Hat did such an anthology for their game Don’t Rest Your Head (which was an influence on Magical Burst coincidentally) called Don’t Read This Book . While I like where I’m going with Radiant Yuna, I deliberately made Magical Burst a game where the group playing it has a lot of power over the setting, and I want to make stories that explore not only other possible settings, but different tones besides the Serious Business one I struck for the novel. I especially want something zany that feels like a Studio 4°C short. But, that’s way in the future, probably well after I finally publish Magical Burst in the first place.

Focusing on one project for an entire month was an interesting exercise, but it really made me appreciate how I normally allow myself the freedom to jump from one project to the next at random like I usually do. I’ve got this big backlog of other projects that I want to mess with, and in fact a couple of times I couldn’t help but poke at some things. I do need to be better about making a habit of writing a bit every day, especially where writing prose is concerned, but forcing it to be on one project does violence to my normal creative process. Now than NaNoWriMo is behind me, I think my output of blogging and podcasting is going to go through the roof for a bit, because I have a massive number of things I want to work on on those fronts.

[1] Dehydration seems to be a big factor in this, and I’m planning to go buy a humidifier after work today.

NaNoWriMo 2012

This year will be the third time I’ve done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). (You can see my profile here , if you must.) I’ve done it a couple times before, though both of those times were while I was working as a security guard and could get in as much as 4,000 words in one day by bringing my laptop and typing while watching an empty building. Now that I have a full-time office job as a localization editor it’s a lot harder to make time to keep up the word count. I want to make the effort though, because in the past few months I’ve kind of fallen off the wagon when it comes to writing stories. I’ve been putting a ton of energy into designing card games, and while that’s included stuff like Channel A that involves words and creativity, they’re pretty far removed from writing stories.

I had originally intended to try to execute the “Tiny Aliens” story idea I’ve been kicking around for the past year or so, but in the weeks leading up to November I got heavily inspired to work on Magical Burst , my dark magical girl RPG, which in turn has led me to start working on the tie-in novel I’ve been wanting to write to go with it, tentatively titled Magical Girl Radiant Yuna . I’m writing this blog post on Day 2 of NaNoWriMo, and I’ve already broken 6,000 words. That’s partly because I’m writing both a foreword and an appendix of game stats for elements that appear in the book, and those things are generally a lot easier to do than story prose. On the other hand the pure prose part of the book is up to around 3,000 words. I don’t at all expect to be able to keep up this pace (if I did I’d hit 50,000 words in less than two weeks), but I’m glad to be off to a good start nonetheless.

A big part of what’s different this year versus the two times in the past when I did NaNoWriMo is that I’ve done more and better outlining for the story. There’s still a lot I’ll need to figure out and discover, but especially in this initial sprint I have a clearer idea of what I’m trying to do. For UFO Girl and Slime Story: The Legend of Doug I produced first draft novels in one month, but I still have a ton of revision to do on both of them. That’s partly because I’ve matured a bit as a writer since then, and partly because there are issues with plot structure and such that arose from the mad rush to finish by the end of November. (Seriously, some parts of the Slime Story novel are just embarrassing.) Sometimes I need to let stuff simmer until the right solution for how to handle something comes along, and I think that’s even more true of stories than games. In the days leading up to NaNoWriMo I did some fairly critical outlining work. I removed some of the more contrived elements of my earlier plans for the story (like there being a clone of one of the major characters), and I think strengthened the planned core plot immensely. I’m already doing some really weird stuff with the story anyway.

One of the interesting things about writing a story based on Magical Burst in particular is that the game has an awful lot of elements intended to help jog creativity. A lot of such tools exist, like Rory’s Story Cubes , Daniel Solis’ Writer’s Dice , and the Seventh Sanctum random generators site. I picked up the habit of using that kind of randomness in a big way from Maid: The Role-Playing game , which makes extensive use of random tables for character creation, random events, random items, and more. (If you’re not familiar with Maid RPG, here’s a fan-made character generator .) Magical Burst includes tables for most every element of magical girl creation, plus tables for creating monsters and mascots, for generating the mutations magical girls can sometimes suffer, and more. It both provides something I can fall back on, and gives me a decent checklist of things to be sure to cover, making the magical girl characters for the novel that much richer as a result. I didn’t go so far as to randomly generate an entire character (though there is a fan-made generator for that ), but the tables in the game have enough ideas that it’s never hard to figure stuff out.

The biggest lesson that I’m taking from this is that I can make time to be creative if I really try. I think it’s a lesson that needs to be reinforced from time to time, since apparently I forget just how much I can get done if I’m feeling obsessed enough. The turnaround time from the spark of an idea for Channel A to the “OAV Edition” I have up for sale on The Game Crafter was ludicrously short all considered. All of this makes me realized that NaNoWriMo and similar events like NaGaDeMon and Script Frenzy are just a really good idea. It’s easy to let life become a bland paste of random stuff happening, and it takes a certain amount of effort to turn a day into an occasion or a holiday. NaNoWriMo does that with novel writing, turns it into a celebration and lets you do it alongside countless other people.

Awesome Robot Stuff

I’m still plugging away at I Want to be an Awesome Robot , and I figured I might as well put together another blog post about what I’m working on.

Dr. Science
I mentioned before that Dr. Science was one of my big comedy influences, especially for the whole “saying made up shit with a straight face” kind of comedy. Since then I’ve acquired a Dr. Science CD (“Get Smart!”) and two books ( The Dr. Science Big Book of Science and Dr. Science’s Book of Shocking Domestic Revelations ). Dr. Science’s humor is kind of hard to explain. Some of it is his animistic and decidedly non-scientific view of the universe as he tells listeners about what kinds of bars subatomic particles frequent, how unintelligent oranges are compared to other fruits, and about how most dogs are possessed by Satan. He also has a strange wistfulness, and at turns yearns for and despises the way things used to be. As a character he’s larger than life, but in a strange and somewhat pathetic kind of way. He claims to live on vitamin injections and caffeine instead of food, and despite having several ex-wives has no particular interest in anything like normal human contact. His scientific knowledge is eccentric to say the least, and his most exceptional quality is his spectacular arrogance. And yet, he seems motivated by a desire to enrich the lives of his listeners. Sometimes this is friendly advice (from his warped perspective), and sometimes it’s from a desire to elevate them to his own kind of scientific enlightenment.

Artwork, and Kurumi

Fire the Orbital Friendship Cannon!

Books in this genre more typically use lots of stock photographs and public domain stuff. In The Dr. Science Big Book of Science they were particularly adept at finding odd National Archives photos and giving them weird captions. Awesome Robot is going to have a fair amount of that sort of thing, [1] but also some original art.

I have a muse/mascot character, a bunny girl named Kurumi, who I’ve already commissioned entirely too much artwork of . Since the book is going to have a section about her (one of the embarrassingly personal parts), I got Sue-chan to do the first piece that’ll go into the book. There have been two versions of Kurumi, and since the essay on her has kind of a retrospective I wanted art of both versions of her. (Though I’ve wanted something like that for a while regardless of whether it’ll fit into a book.) Sue-chan was the very first artist I’d ever commissioned to draw Kurumi, and although there are more technically proficient artists out there, she has a rare gift for for drawing with a certain joyful quality.

Today in Geek History
“Today in Geek History” is one of the more ambitious and creatively masochistic parts of the book. Inspired by Hodgman’s calendars in More Information Than You Require and That Is All , I started putting together a thing that gives some partly made up nerdy thing for each day of the calendar year (plus one for January 0, plus 12 extra entries because I felt the need to add a Yo Dawg reference). I’m more or less on the home stretch of this, or at least of the first draft of it, and I’ve hit a certain rhythm. I started out looking for different things to include as they occurred to me, but now I’m mostly going through month by month and filling in dates in sequence. My basic strategy now is to look up a date on Wikipedia, Wookiepedia, and Memory Alpha to see if there’s anything of interest, and failing that looking at the front page of Reddit for something I can make up, or just going with whatever pops into my head. I’ve put in a couple different narrative threads, notably about Abraham Lincoln traveling through time to fight History Crab, and about Gary Gygax going on a quest for the Rod of Seven Dice, plus some things about the secret World Nerd Council and the historic accomplishments of catgirls.

It’s kind of interesting to see the patterns that emerge when you try to do 378 discrete bits of comedy. A lot of them start out laying out stuff that’s perfectly factual and then swerve at the very last second. Other times the whole thing is nonsense, but regardless I often find myself having the swervy part be either an unexpected anachronism or a sudden veering into supernatural elements. Sometimes I just get really sarcastic and snippy, though I’m trying to limit that.

This part of the project is up to around 20,000 words so far, and it’s reached a point where a it looks like lot of my other creative endeavors are going to be at a standstill until I finish the first draft. Thankfully it shouldn’t take too much longer. Then I start bugging my friends for help revising it. Next year I’m aiming to do a daily podcast of the calendar, which should be pretty goddamn insane.

[1] My favorite idea for this so far is that there will be a section on weird D&D monsters, which includes a monster called “Evil Pants.” Next to that I’ll have a photo of an ordinary pair of blue jeans captioned, “A trap!”

At the Plant

This is another excerpt from I Want to be an Awesome Robot , and shows off the less wacky but still not quite true aspect of the book. It’s a sort of elegiac tribute to a shopping center near where I live. I took the pictures myself.

“The Plant” is a shopping center near where I live, a soulless conglomeration of chain stores. The name comes from how the space used to be a General Electric plant, though the one building left over from the GE days now contains an Edible Arrangements, because that’s apparently how the world works these days. There is more than one Edible Arrangements store in my city, and for that matter in the universe, and no one seems to know why.

No one is here to welcome you, but please come in all the same.

The heart of the Plant is a row of big chain stores. Target, OfficeMax, Toys ‘R Us (with a Babies ‘R Us), and Home Depot, plus PetSmart and Best Buy forming the short part of an L-shape of capitalism. When it first opened the only restaurant was Rubio’s Mexican Grill, a step up from Taco Bell, a step down from real Mexican food. When it first opened, there always seemed to be men in polo shirts looking at blueprints. Once I asked one what he was doing. “This is the new shape of the world,” he replied. It was true. There was the Market Center and a hundred others, shopping centers in orange and yellow, all across America, striving for the same set of chain stores like fevered poker players.

“Just kidding,” he added sheepishly. “We’re doing the electrical work for the new Radio Shack they’re putting in.”
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I Want to be an Awesome Robot: Inspirations and Influences

Involvement in the indie RPG scene impressed on me the idea that there’s no shame at all in openly discussing your interests and inspirations. I want take some time to talk about the things that inspired I Want to be an Awesome Robot and instilled in me the kind of humor that makes the book work. Remembering, researching, and writing about these things turned out to be intensely nostalgic in some cases. Does everyone have works that influenced them when they were young, little treasures dug out of weird corners of pop culture? I didn’t expect this project to lead me to dig up quite so much of my own past. I ended up ordering new copies of a bunch of books I used to have too.

Ask Dr. Science

“Where does the other sock go when you unload the dryer? The answer is of course B. Demons take it.”

Way back when I was in elementary school my dad got an audio tape and then also a book by “Dr. Science,” a comedy character from Duck’s Breath Mystery Theater. It was first and foremost a radio show on NPR, but I never managed to actually catch it on the radio. Instead I listened to that tape over and over, sometimes even letting Dan Coffey’s voice lull me to sleep, and I read the book cover to cover more than once. Duck’s Breath seems to have disbanded apart from the occasional reunion, and Dr. Science is down to a WordPress blog . It was my first exposure to the kind of beautiful lies delivered with an air of unflappable authority that John Hodgman later perfected. Dan Coffey would explain, without any shred of doubt in his voice, how money is a kind of fungus, about the kind of protective clothing he wears to divide by zero, about how to create life in your own bathtub. There was also a single TV special, The Ask Dr. Science National Science Test , which someone put up on YouTube, presumably from a VHS tape. It’s exactly the kind of relic of my past that I wish were better preserved than it is. The local PBS and NPR stations (KTEH and KQED) loomed large over my childhood.

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I Want to be an Awesome Robot

A while back I hit on the idea of putting together some weird comedy stuff about RPGs. This had a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been obsessed with John Hodgman and his trilogy of Complete World Knowledge, and I started writing a thing tentatively called “Beautiful Lies: An Untrue History of Role-Playing Games.” I had been thinking of making it into a series of blog posts and/or podcasts. On the other hand I also hit on the idea of doing a daily calendar type thing like Hodgman did in two of his books. Coming up with 365 things just about gaming was a pretty daunting task even if I allowed myself to make stuff up, so I ended up expanding the project to encompass just about anything I could convince myself to write about. The calendar became “Today in Geek History,” and I started working on sections about anime, Japan, food, conventions, and more. I also started writing some sections that are simple, honest memoir.

I haven’t settled on a title for the book yet. I was initially using “Yaruki Zero: The Book” as a placeholder, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s definitely much broader than my RPG blog. It’s a mix of parody, almanac, and memoir, and covers just about everything that interests me. Looking at other books in the “collection of comedy stuff” genre for title ideas isn’t all that much help, and the only thing I’ve got so far is something like, “I Want to be an Awesome Robot.” Then the cover could be a stock photo of a vintage toy robot.

The almanac aspect is pretty interesting by the way. I hadn’t thought to look at them for ideas before Hodgman mentioned that they were a major inspiration to him, but I’ve been looking at the Old Farmer’s Almanac and other books of trivia. These books feel like they come from another world, and yet they’re oddly charming. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is full of useful information on dates, weather, astronomy, gardening, etc., plus stories, recipes, and corny jokes. And while the contemporary almanacs are very well-researched and use legitimate meteorological data, the ads in them are for the weirdest fringe stuff: strange religious tracts, blatant snake oil, and psychic healers. I can’t help but imagine there are kids in rural areas who attended the FFA at school, and for whom the almanac was a window into a bigger world in the same way that Radio Shack and Bud Plant catalogs were for me. That also gave me some ideas for some new sections to add to the book, most notably one called “My Dumb Recipes.”

I’ve got about 40,000 words written already, though I want to get up to at least 60,000 and fill in several of the sections I started before the first draft is done. I also want to commission some artwork, and I’ll need some stock photos and layout and so forth. I’m thinking of self-publishing it when it’s done, but that’s a ways off anyway. It’s a very different kind of writing from what I’ve been doing so far. I’ve written comedy stories, and I’ve written non-fiction blog posts, but I’ve never really tried to blend the two. Delivering silly lies with a straight face is tremendously fun.

Over on my Tumblr I posted up some rough excerpts from the book, including several entries from the Today in Geek History calendar. I also put the list of 700 catgirl names up on the Neko Machi site. I’ll most likely be posting some more excerpts here as I make more progress, and I aspire to do a daily podcast of the calendar next year.

Image source: Josh McIntosh

Novel Writing

And now I will blather about some of the novels I’m trying to write. A lot of what I write has a tendency to come out as young adult fiction or something like Japanese light novels. I don’t know how to feel about that, but if nothing else it’s a genre with a definite market.

UFO Girl

UFO Girl is going to be a series of books about a teenage half-alien girl named Janet Smith. Specifically, she’s half-Altairan, and in the story the people of Altair look human apart from having metal antennas a la My Favorite Martian . In the first book, UFO Girl and the End of the World , she has to find a way to stop an asteroid from destroying the Earth. Along the way Janet and her mom run into the Greys, the Men in Black, the Ro-Man, a bunch of weird ufologists, the catgirls on the moon, and fiendish agents of Planet X.
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