How was I born? – Deep in the dungeons

Okay peeps, put yo hipster glasses on. Time to see who did what before it was cool!

Jus’ kidding. But, today Imma talk about NetHack, which came about pretty much before any of us were born.

What the heck is NetHack? It’s a videogame, one of dem “dungeon crawlers”, i.e. where your alter ego tromps through underground caves and tunnel systems, fighting monsters, foiling traps, and finding treasure. In NetHack, you travel deep underground, find a magic amulet, then climb back up and become a god or whatever.

Like with any self-respecting dungeon crawler, the story is bollocks. Like, there barely is any story – you just go into the damn dungeon, grab the amulet, and get out. If you can. But, the super wonderful thing in NetHack is that you can do anything. Or, like, you are stuck in the dungeon, but within those limits, you can do anything.

You can kick dogs and farm slimes. You can rob a shop by digging through the floor. Then you can evade the police by leading them into traps of your own design. You can wish for a dragon and get it – only if it is hostile, it’ll kill you.

The “anything” in NetHack is really quite overwhelming. You can do thousands of things, and nobody tells you how. On the other hand, you don’t have to know jack. You can just tap away and hope luck carries you till the end. Usually you just die, though. In that vein, NetHack was Dark Souls before the first King’s Field came out.

Soo… within dem limits, NetHack is so open-ended as to be kinda crazy. And, coupled with the fact that the story practically doesn’t exist, it creates a kind of magic: I can actually decide what the story is.

The story is what I do.

From a writing perspective, you’d think that’s kind of a nightmare, right? Not much use for a writer in a game like NetHack, right? After you’ve outlined the plot (“Player goes into this dungeon, at the bottom of which is the Amulet of Yendor. They get the amulet. Then they get out.”) you’re basically out of the picture… right?

Yeah, so, lately I’ve been dabbling in making videogames. I got nothing concrete to show you peeps yet, but I done a crapload of thinkin’ and adjustin’. That is, adjustin’ my writer self to the fact that writing can be a hell of a lot more than just words on paper and stories about characters who do stuff, save kingdoms, and grow as people as a result.

From a game design perspective, writing can be almost anything. Writing is deciding what the monsters are like, what weapons the player uses, and what the winding paths of the dungeon are like. (Oh, hello, world-building!)

I know some people are gonna say that those things are not writing decisions, they are game design decisions, but hey fuck y’all, this is about the revelations I’m having.

The revelation is that you can build it all. Nothing in a game comes pre-determined. (Kinda.) In the same vein, nothing in writing does, either. (Also kinda.)

In that regard, it’s ever more amazing to me how often people stick to grindingly boring and obvious clichés. Okay, so you’re making a new game? That’s great! What’s it about? Oh? A hero who’s a chosen one, gifted with magical power so that he alone can defeat an ancient evil rising from a thousand-year-old slumber, an evil bent on devouring the green crystal that keeps the world in balance?

O… kay…?

I know there are psychological reasons why people stumble onto those clichés time and time again, but… just… gimme a moment here. My mind boggles.

I wanna write porn

Hey peeps, Alice here!

So from time to time as I’m looking for porn, I despair. It just seems so goddamned hard to find some that’s good. Sure, I have some go-to stuff, but I find that the same old, same old can’t satisfy me in the long run. I always need to find new things.

It’s hard, though. Most porn I find is dreadful. Badly acted, formulaic, and most damningly, un-erotic. (Or is it irrerotic? My, that’d be a cool word!)

Soo… what do I do when something fails me? Do it myself, hoping to do better.

Now, I’ve no interesting in directing or acting in a porn film. What I can do is write, though. So I wanna write porn.

Written porn has some advantages I like, but also some disadvantages. The advantages include possibilities for tension, titillation, and plot complexity without wasting tons of money. I’ve read some written porn, and while it’s not my preferred type, it’s great for teasing.

The disadvantages? I wanna play a video to see people get fucked NOW, and writing doesn’t do that.

Anyway, I wanna try. I have ideas, of course. I’ve touched on some with The Knight of the Horned Goddess, but I’m not gonna talk about that now. Instead, I’d like it if you talked. I want your ideas.

So, any advice for me? If I wrote porn, what would you like me to do? What’s good porn for you? What’s sucky in porn, and what are the pitfalls? Answer me, ye gods, answer and deliver me!

Forgery is cool

The other day I watched this show on art forgeries. It was pretty cool. Like, did you know Michelangelo made some fake Roman statues so he could get a quick buck? Art forgery is super interesting, and made me want to see something crazy.

I wanna see art forgery taken to the realm of literature. I want to read forgeries of other writers’ works!

‘Course, this has been done. Don Quixote, already, had a sequel that was a forgery. Also, the writing world has always been full of pastiches (different, but similar) and cheap knock-offs (ditto). Also also, we have a form of officially condoned forgery called ghost-writing. Also also also, plagiarising goes on all the time.

So I guess what I’m really interested in is this whole show. Copying, stealing, faking, pretending, etc. I wanna know what it is that gives the mythical “originality” its shine. I wanna revel in forgeries. I wanna copy something so much that the copy becomes the original.

I want other people to steal my work and get caught. I want other people to steal my work and not get caught. ‘Course, I myself already steal all the time, I just wanna make a public declaration of it. I wanna go to book prison!

We all steal, right? We just call it by a nicer name. All art is, after all, based on copying other art. What I wanna know is, how do we draw the line between good stealing and bad stealing? It’s not just that one’s where you get caught and the other is where you don’t. Homages are good. Forgeries are bad. Why?

Gimme your opinions and knowledge, peeps. What do you think about other people stealing your work? Do you wanna fake something? If so, what? Do you like knock-offs, forgeries, and lookalikes, or do you hate them? Why?

It’s okay to forget

Hi peeps! Alice here.

I think one of the must-haves for a modern writer is a notebook. Y’know, something you carry with you all the time, where you jot down all the cool ideas you have, all the observations you make, etc.

If you don’t have one, you can be sure there’s a blog out there telling you to get one. And you can get a personalised one. Y’know, one that suits your writer identity.

I don’t think it’s really necessary, though. All dem ideas you have, all the observations you make? It’s okay to just forget them.

I mean, I don’t pack a notebook all the time. Sometimes I do, if I have a project going and I know my brain’s gonna produce material relevant to it. But I never carry one just to write down all the random ideas I get.

Why bother? Ideas come and go. I mean, I don’t store my farts in a jar either.

In fact, I feel it’s good to forget – to just let life and thoughts slip by. When I was younger I did always carry a notebook around, and all those damn books are full of stuff I never use. So why bother?

When I sit down to write, when I set my mind to the task and begin to haul the story rope out of the ocean of wonders, I get new ideas anyway. 

That’s what ideas are like. They’re sand, they’re air. There ain’t one good enough in this world to put down in a notebook. They’re all dispensable.

They attract their ilk, too. Sit down, write a story, and you start piling up ideas. Many of them are not good, but as you progress, they’ll gather more of their kin. They’re like moths, and you’re the fire-keeper. As long as you keep the flame of writing going, ideas are going to flutter around you. Just be patient and capture the ones that fit.

Yeah… for the record, I don’t suffer from fomo either. The more I miss out, the better.

Writing identities

Heya peeps! Alice here.

The other day I was reading an interview with a psychologist. She said something surprising about identities, something I hadn’t considered. She claimed that these days, people are in a big rush to form an identity.

Is this true? I’m not sure. However, she also said something else, something that resonated with me.

She said she didn’t really understand what identities are, and that she herself has lived her whole life without forming an identity. At that, I was like, YASS! Me too sweetie! I mean, what did having an identity ever do for me? Got me into a couple of fights when I was younger. That’s all.

I think identities can be harmful for writers, too. They impose certain wonky limits.

Say your identity is a “thriller writer”. That puts you in a neat little box. (Which can be turned to your advantage, but I’ll happily ignore that for now!) You do what “thriller writers” do. You write “in genre”. You try to work out what makes a good thriller. You hang out in thriller writer workshops and message boards. You look for a thriller publisher.

You get the idea. That handy identity cleaver has just chopped your mind down to size.

Additional fuck-up resulting from identities is that there’s usually only so many for sale. None of them fit particularly well either, unless you’re an ace in self-deception. (Don’t laugh now, but most humans got at least B+ there.)

In fact, even if you don’t identify as anything precise like “thriller writer”, it’s gonna be bad. Even if your identity tag is only “writer”, you’re living in a mighty tiny playpen. Like, these days writers are mostly supposed to stick to novels. Also, their writing is usually classified as “words on paper” instead of, like, game design narratives or roleplaying worlds. Also also, writers are supposed to read as their primary means of educating themselves. Like, what the fuck?

Writer, don’t be a writer. Don’t be you. Be like that imaginary handful of water Spike was holding in Cowboy Bebop. Be nothing. When you are nothing, you stop asking shitty questions like “Where do I belong?” and “What options do I have?”

Better questions to ask are “What am I gonna do?” and “How do I do it?”

When you are nothing, your answers are unlimited.

An innocent little question

Hi peeps! Alice here.

Let’s say you wrote a great story. Then you had a chance to publish it somewhere. Now my question is: would you publish it without attaching your name to it?

Like, what I mean is, would you publish a great story without people ever knowing it was you who wrote it? And I don’t even mean pseudonyms now, everybody does those. Let’s say it’d be published under a name with no possible connection to you. Or even anonymously. Would you do it? To publish a story and forgo all recognition?

Also, to complicate matters: what if you also had no way of making money off said story? Or what if you had no way of getting recognition, but you would be paid? What would you do?

Just something I’ve been thinking.

Choreography? Sod off

Hey peeps, Alice here! Y’all hard at work writing fight scenes? I got a couple of points for ya.

People often talk about writing fight scenes, saying that you gotta choreograph them well. Talk about how the fighters are positioned, who moves where, how the blows are dealt. Like good old dancing, huh?

Peeps, that bullshit.

First, actual fights aren’t like that.

Ain’t many of us who can really say what “actual” means here, but Imma throw y’all an educated guess: sword fights, for example, are over in 1.5 seconds, and consist of two moves on average.

In an actual sword fight, you don’t dance. You kill the other person. Duels be a different beast, of course, but on the battlefield or the medieval streets of Padua, you’d want that business over ASAP. Choreography has no place here, unless it says, “Step one: kill ’em.”

Actual fights be like this: you wait in a dark corner until your hated rival walks by. Then you step out behind her, stab her a lot with your knife, and then run away. The end.

Second, what happens pre and post?

This is way more interesting to me than choreography, but any and all fight scene advice seems to gloss it over. What happened to get your fighters into this suckiest of sucky situations? And what happened afterwards?

People don’t want to fight people. Even those consumed by hate don’t just go out, flailin’ fists haphazardly at the enemy. People spend huge amounts of effort so that they don’t have to fight. Which is good, from the peaceful coexistence perspective.

Fighting is a big deal for the homo sapiens. If you’re just, “Hey, lemme insert a fight scene here,” you’re doing more than just being a lazy writer. You’re ignoring some fucking huge emotions. The same if you don’t deal with the after-effects. She just cleaned her sword and went for a drink? Riiiiight.

Third, gimme some goddam meaning!

At its deepest, fighting is deciding who lives and who dies. For humans, that’s earth-shattering stuff. Its importance can overrule love, God, and the rising price of gasoline. So, if I read a fight scene, what I want to know is fucking why?

Why did they choose to do it? What does it mean to them? What’s the price they’re prepared to pay? And what is the price they’ll actually pay?

Fight scenes are big. Fight scenes change everything. Fight scenes have, deep down, jack all to do with choreography. You can write a perfectly good fight scene without giving choreo a single thought. How they swing those swords is unimportant.

Instead, what I wanna know is, how does this fight rewrite the fighter’s soul?

Oh, and before y’all call me a hypocrite: yes, I break all of these rules in my own writing. Genre gives you some leeway… though less than you may think. The ignorance of readers actually gives you more, but I feel it’d be immoral to rely on that.

My point here is, even if you write genre fiction where you disregard, say, emotions (ya cold-hearted bastard!), you gotta at least think about this stuff sometimes. Don’t just automatically be, “Hey, a fight scene! Okay, choreo time!”

Who knows? Doing a bit of thinking might enrich your stuff. After all, good choreo is dime a dozen.

Oh, um, and sorry ’bout my potty mouth. I guess somebody pushed my big red button…

Writing for videogames

Hi peeps! How many of you write, have written, or plan on writing for videogames?

This is something that gets me hot at the moment. My brain boils with ideas. Now I’m wondering, how many other writers have similar plans? So please, if you’ve got something to say, share it with me!

What is writing for videogames like? What should it be like? What do you think about it? Tell all, tell all, Alice hangs on your every word!

The usefulness of reading and writing

Hey peeps! A short thought for today.

What use is there for reading and writing?

None, as far as I’m concerned.

I guess some folks may find that thought odd. That okay. I think it’s natural for us to rationalise ourselves, to think that everything we do has a reason. Y’know, that everything’s gotta have purpose. I don’t think so, though, nor do I think that such thoughts are necessary. I do a bunch of stuff without either reason or purpose (as far as I can see, anyway). And I’m comfy with that.

Come to think of it, I don’t think thinking is necessary either. But maybe that’s a thought for another day.

Reaching for perfection

Hello peeps, Alice here. Y’all writers? Me too.

Ever wondered when you finally create the perfect story? When is the day that you uncover that perfect sentence, and wrap it up in a novel finished to perfection? Every day, we dig and toil, sifting gold from chaff, but when do we get good enough?

I got ya answer. Never.

Sometimes I bang my head against this idea that stuff has got to be perfect, and I hurt my forehead every time. I’m unsure where it came from, but according to it, you can’t do anything, write or watch anything, or go anywhere unless it’s perfect.

Every detail in its place. Plots ironed to perfection. Descriptive passages flowing effortlessly. Dialogue hitting all the notes, while story is poised to deliver at all the right intervals. Sound familiar?

To me, it sounds awful. There ain’t perfection to be found in nature, much less in human deeds, and to demand it of the things we produce and consume is to drink a soul-rotting poison.

Like, look at a “perfect” tree standing alone on a field. What is it really? It’s a big heap of mistakes, a thing that survived by making a mad mass of branches and roots in a desperate effort to get enough sunlight and water. Think about that while you post a pic of it on IG, hashtag perfection.

Think of the same as you write your story. What do you get if you iron out every wrinkle?

A while slate without surface, with nothing to grab on. Perfect perfection, where there is no room for human hearts.

Okay, now, I know a bunch of institutions seem to demand perfection of us. Publishers, agents, random bloggers on the Internet, all telling you your story’s gotta be perfect before you can even think of doing anything with it.

That kinda talk makes me afraid, I admit. But I want us all to ditch that fear. Be imperfect. Do stuff even if you’re not the best. Show folks your story even if that dialogue isn’t hitting all the fucking notes. Sing off-key, don’t give a damn.

At the same time, though, remember the other thing, the great thing, the dream thing. Always strive for perfection.

Ya. I mean it. Always try to get better. Always try to perfect your craft. And always fail, because you can’t ever get there. But even as you fail, always keep trying! The day you stop and settle for shoddiness will be some other fucking day, alright?

Fuck the noise. Fuck the demands. Meet perfection on your own ground. Perfection is God, perfection is the great demon at the hell gate, perfection is the final boss of the game.

You always train to beat God, even when you know you can’t beat God.

Also, fuck the flip-side too. Stop saying shit like, “You’re perfect just the way you are.”

That is garbage. It grossly devalues the concept of perfection. Instead, if you wanna say that this person matters to you, even though they’re not supermodel pretty and have adamantium bones, you can say, “Honey, you’re important to me. Whatever faults you got, I want you in my life. You’re a dear friend to me. I think you’re beautiful. I enjoy your smartass mouth. I think you got balls, and you’re clever too. I like you.”

Live in this world, peeps. This is the world where perfection doesn’t exist, but where you can still create an imperfect thing and revel in the glory of it.

At the same time, never stop striving for perfection. If you do, that is the day when the light dies.