Wednesday, December 31, 2008

... revisions complete

I met a goal. I decided I wanted to finish the revisions before the new years, and I did it. That's always nice. With the read-through of Chapter 17, the revisions are complete. Naturally Chapter 17 wasn't to see much work, because it was the chapter which inspired most of the revisions in the first place! Still, several spots were tweaked, a few clarifications added, and for some reason I forgot how to spell one character's name. Oops.

385,575 words. 964 pages at 400 wpp.

Trivia for fans of the original - At the moment, Nightfall is at around Chapter 22. James and Jyre are at around Chapter 17. (Merely a coincidence!) Sheam, Lytha, and Ghost are all, of course, far beyond where the old story ended. Why are they so far out of sync? Because in the original events were paced unnaturally to allow the characters to conviniently meet where we wanted them to.

Before I begin writing Chapter 18, (or outlining it - I always do that before I write a chapter) I'm going to see what segues I want to add (bits of story told between chapters from the point if view of very minor characters who are seeing things that I want the player to know, such as what mid-level characters are up to - I intend to do one between each chapter, but I am not forcing them, instead waiting for inspiration before writing the very short segments) and then will be sending the whole thing out to my critics. Nailbiting as it is, I will be attempting to find non Thief fans to read the story and get their opinions on it as well. I have a few suspects, but if anyone can make any suggestions or can help me find some unbiased bookworms with no knowledge of Thief, now's the time for it.

With the revisions over I will certainly be updating the blog much less, but I won't just vanish.

... only one left

Remarkably, there's very little to say about Chapter 16. There was very little editing to do, and thank goodness - I wrote it along with 15 and 16 just a few months ago. The 'revision' of it is done, and now there's just one chapter left to go.

Then... you know what that means.

... epic

Chapter 15 is epic.

It's also the only chapter that's one single section. There's no switching back and forth between points of view. It covers events that spanned about a half-dozen chapters in the original, though in the original it was all only given a bit at a time as the point of view switched around.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

... Ghost plays an FM

After 12 and 13 went so smoothly, it was a little jarring to have to go back into revisions mode for Chapter 14. It wasn't because I suddenly devolved (well, maybe I did) or had plot points to change, but because I made a bad decision while writing it.

When I first wrote it, I decided that COT needed to get back to its roots, so I wanted a character to go on an actual mission, and do the things that we taffers do on missions, and see the things we see, and have the same basic kind of experience. At the time, I figured I had pulled it off nicely. Stacking crates. Stealing loot. Twacking guards. Listening to servants babble. Reading diaries. Getting confused by samey level design. It had it all. Looking back at it, I found it a convoluted mess of asides, in-jokes, fourth-wall snickering, and outright nonsensical rubbish that gummed up a perfectly good humorous suspense sequence. I wasn't happy about it, since I thought that some of the things I had put in were clever, but I realised that they would only be clever to Thief players, and so the deal was off. I removed everything from the section that was unneeded, which basically amounted to everything which acknowledged the fact that Ghost was playing a game of Thief. I could keep a copy of the unedited scene on archive somewhere as a curious outtake, but I seriously think that all of the gamey stuff detracted from the storytelling. Close to 600 words were removed in all - the section itself around 4 ,000 words total.

14 marks a complete break from the original COT. Not a bit of it is based on the original story, because it deals with events in The City during the time when James, Jyre, and Nightfall are all away, and with Ghost and Lytha now a full day after their adventure in the original had already concluded. (None of it is borrowed COT2 material either.)

... more of a proofread

What used to be the second half of Chapter 12 and is now Chapter 13 has been revised, though now it's more of a proofread than a revision. Even though I wrote these chapters several months ago, I think I am still too "close" to them to seriously revise the contents like I've done for the past eleven chapters. Either that, or they're just fine and don't need many changes.

Like the new 12, the new 13 works very well in its divided state. The only problem was that many of the Lytha sections were designed with breaks in between, so that a 'boring' part would be simply left out (rather than narrated through) by switching to a different character and then coming back to Lytha later. Well, it seems that all of these switches were to either James, Jyre, or Sheam, which means that now chapter 13 is dominated through the middle by a very long stay with Lytha. As suggested above, the breaks were supplanted by bits of narration to connect one section to the next.

Monday, December 29, 2008

... easygoing from here?

Unexpectedly, I completed my revision of Chapter 11 and, in record time, finished Chapter 12 as well.

Chapter 11 was also very hard to work on, but for a new reason. It is the farthest COT has traveled from the Thief Universe thus far (and yet in one important way swings back around and becomes far closer to the Thief Games than COT ever dares elsewhere!) The rather longish chapter could have been even longer, had I included everything I wanted to, but so much is presented so fast, and all of it so new and so strange, that I had to hold back on several things.

Chapter 12 used to be the longest chapter in the story (twice as long as any other) and I now experimented with cutting it in two. The reason why I didn't divide it before was because splitting it down the middle produced something that I felt didn't provide a complete episode. I've discussed this before in the blog at length. However, electing a different method, I feel that the division was extremely successful. Rather than just finding the mid-point and inserting a new chapter title, I divided it by character. Everything for Sheam, James, and Jyre went into chapter 12. Everything from Nightfall, Ghost, and Lytha went into Chapter 13. I haven't read through the organized 13 yet, but I found it remarkable how much more entertaining 12 read when it focused only on three characters rather than jumping around between six. It's also a welcome break from 11, which was mysterious, slow moving, dramatic, and tense. 12 is fast paced, clever, familiar, and slightly humorous.

I believe that 12 also marks another resume after a break from writing, as the quality of the work is much, much higher than 11 and everything before it.

I'm going to tackle 13 now - I am feeling much better, and would really like to stick to my goal of finishing the revisions before New Years Day. Two days left!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

... recaps and infodumps

The chapter 10 revision is done. I think this chapter was the hardest to revise so far - in fact I even had dreams about it last night. 10 represents several turning points in the story. Ghost and Lytha are now finished with their original COT adventures and are now venturing into new territory. James finally appears in the flesh, as the sixth principal, with more than half of the chapter told from his point of view (though this is arguably superfluous, as the whole thing could have just as easily been done from Daneel's point of view!). Most importantly though, this is where we take a look at where we are, and where things are going.

Before the revision, much of this chapter was an infodump. I tend not to like those, but that's in the case of the author narrating a pile of information directly to the reader. In this case, it's one character explaining to another everything he knows about what's going on. After the revision, it's now an infodump intertwined with a recap. When I first wrote it I was afraid of recapping, thinking the reader would be bored by having things explained to them that they already knew. Now, I realised that it had to be done, both for in-character reasons (the explainer would tell his audience things that the reader already knew - they wouldn't skip over them!) and for storytelling reasons. The infodumps had to be grounded, completely interconnected, with what is already known. Simply putting the information out there and letting the reader maybe, maybe, figure out how it is related to everything they already know isn't good enough. It's actually pretty unsatisfying. I don't want to name any examples in the blog, that's a little too spoiler after all, but I can give a crude illustration.

The reader knows about C, E, and F. The way the original was written, A, B, D, and G were explained. So, now the reader technically should know what's going on, if they can assemble it all in their heads. After the rewrite, it is explained as A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Yes, it's longer, but I think it's actually a much easier read, because it's not full of holes.

I'm tired, and have gotten a little sick.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

... his name is Nightfall

There was no sense in putting it off - now all of the section headings for Nightfall are properly labeled as Nightfall and not Daneel, as per popular vote. Find and replace!

... they would call it episodic

Chapter 9 is the biggest example of inconsistencies of style which resulted from the huge writing gaps that occur ed from around 2005 - 2007, during which Chapters 6 - 9 were written. I was maturing as a writer, and was seriously feeling the stress of being cut off from something creative that I really wanted to work on. When I eventually did write Chapter 9, over the course of months, I redefined alot about Lytha which would then inform the revision I did after 9 was finished. Many of her scenes in Chapters 2 and 4 were written and rewritten after 9 was finished, such as her investigation of Thalia's chest and her infiltration of the astrologer's tower. Her torture scenes were also very nearly rewritten, expanding both on The Inquisitor's methods and how she reacted to it all. Essentially, Chapter 9 is the one that created Lytha.

For the others, it did not go so well. Nightfall's tone was also very different in this chapter, but rather than be an improvement I decided to scale him back to how he had been written all along, and during this revision I attempted to scale him back even more. At first he seemed to swerve in Lytha's direction, with his inner thoughts becoming very poetic, and then he swerved in the opposite direction, with over-written phrases and an overabundance of vocabulary that would have made him very tedious to read. Ghost became mostly wisecracks and humorous asides and little substance. His sections were riddled with commentary that often went off on wild tangents from what was going on, leaving him feeling detached from the action and the importance of where he was and what he was doing. I removed most of it in the revision just now, and in one case completely deleted an entire section of his and rewrote it from scratch - making it very different. It seemed that I knew what I wanted to do before, but it was too difficult to write in the amount of free time and energy I had during school, so rather than actually make any of it happen I made jokes about it and took shotcuts, thinking myself clever and ironic. Well, the new version is neither clever nor ironic, and is instead (I think) exciting and satisfying. It was good that I had done such a cheap shot when I wrote this last year - it allowed me to totally throw it out and do something good without quirks or gimmicks. When Ghost is funny, it's because of how he reacts to horrible situations, not because he's sitting in the theater as part of the cast to MST3K being all deconstructivist... or is that simply obnoxious?

Friday, December 26, 2008

... on the importance of being fry

I just finished some additional work to chapters 7 & 8 (mostly 8) that crept up on me during the past day or so. Just because it's Christmas doesn't mean my mind stops COTing! There were a few places which I felt were still a little shabby and I didn't do as well on them as I could have because I wanted to get 8 done before things got seriously Christmasy. Most of it is little touches, such as Brother Ivan spreading incense over the work site, or tweaks to the conversation Jyre hears at The Blood's hideout, but there were two bigger changes that reflect new ideas for Chapter 9 and beyond.

As I mentioned before, I have been thinking about both making COT more 'accessable' (a dirty word sometimes) to non-Thief fans and un-gaming certain aspects of The Thief universe. One difficulty is that the story lacks a Fry. A Fry, as I have decided, is what you call the outsider that is put into the story mostly for the purpose of exposition. The Fry doesn't know what anything is or what is going on, so other characters have to explain things to them, or they have to observe and figure out things on their own that everyone else would take for granted. Sometimes it works well (like Fry in Futurama) and sometimes it's tedious and alienating (like making Neo not know what EMP is in The Matrix).

I did a little tinkering with it today, focusing on the fire arrows. First I found all cases where they are mentioned and renamed them to fire-arrows. Yep, a dash. A small distinction, but I think it's important to idenfity them as a thing and not as an adjective followed by a thing. Ghost is the only one in COT (so far) that uses or sees fire-arrows, and he's the farthest thing from a Fry (at this point in the story anyway ... later on he very much becomes one!) So the problem was, how do I have Ghost explain to the reader something that he would completely take for granted? I added this paragraph to the start of his first section, before he enters The Bonehoard.

I checked my gear one more time before going in. I always took more than I would need, not because I was afraid of running out, but because I wouldn’t use what I had if I was afraid of running out, and might do something stupid instead. I had a set of fire-arrows, which I had already carefully inspected to make sure that the explosive crystal tied to the end of each arrow-shaft wasn’t chipped or cracked, or had any other flaw that would cause it to blow up while in my quiver. I didn’t have many, not because they were rare or expensive – in fact I grew them myself in a few fire pits I tended in my basement – but because if I packed them in too tightly the sharp edges would rub against one another and sooner or later the whole set would become just one big fireball. On the other hand the bombs and mines were more predictable and more expensive, and tended to be used as more of a defensive last-resort. They were the most fun when combined with big flasks of oil, which I had, to really make sure that whatever was chasing me would regret it.

So I had him explain something he takes for granted by making him consider something he would not take for granted - them exploding. I think it works. What do you think? What else in the story needs a Fry to explain?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

... an easy cut

Today I finally decided to remove the mysterious unmanned ship from the story of Daneel's arrival at The City. I had made a deal with myself that if I could not figure out what that was all about by the time I got to the final act of the story, I would change it. Well, I changed my mind - I am still in the middle of the revision and am not yet ready to write the final act, and I removed it completely. It was surprisingly easy, which is a good sign that it needed to be removed. I only had to edit the first prologue bit by the Keeper, and one paragraph of Nightfall's inner contemplation later (around Chapter 3 it seems). Rewrites were not even required; I simply removed the sentences that mentioned it and patched up the ones around it to make it flow correctly without them. Done. That's it. The following paragraph is no more and the events it describes no longer happen.

We discovered that this man, appearing as an aristocrat, was the sole occupant aboard the vessel. News of this aristocratic sailor and his unlikely feat of operating a ship of considerable size without a crew to aid him propagated through the seaside pubs and watering holes until it had passed from mouth to ear several times, soon to be disregarded as nonsense by any who considered themselves to be of discerning intellect. This vessel remains to this day, docked at a private location to which it was moved shortly after its owner’s arrival. Inspection of this vessel has revealed it to be nothing aside from completely ordinary.

Too bad. I kinda liked some of the phrasing in that.

I had already sent out the revised Chapters 7 and 8 to my critics, but I'm feeling the need to go back over them both one more time and make sure things are best. This is a point in the story that sort-of fell through the cracks when it was first (re)written, as I had just started Architecture school at around the end of Chapter 6, and would not find my stride again with writing until around Chapter 9 (which was then 8). So if memory serves all of the old 7 was sort-of tossed together when I could over the course of a year and a half. It's no wonder it's shoddier than most.

Monday, December 22, 2008

... the urge to add more

Chapter 8 was very easy to expand to a full chapter's length, and I didn't even really need to add any new plot points, just expand and extrapolate what was already there. The biggest changes were to Nightfall's sections, each of which were almost entirely rewritten. One small bit was cut off from where it sat, moved earlier, and expanded. I am surprised that so much in these sections as well as in chapter 7 were left so mediocre, even after the last revision. It's possible that when I was writing and revising it the subject matter simply left me so uninspired that I didn't want to bother trying to fix it. I feel that with the division and repurposing of these sections into a new chapter 8 with the theme of "serious distractions" (that's the new title) the events are given breathing room to be fleshed out and given true purpose.

Sheam saw the greatest amount of expansion, with several completely new scenes written that filled in some gaps that were left up to assumption before, or simply forgotten. The goal of the work was to 'give' the chapter to Sheam and Nightfall, just like 7 was given to Jyre. Though Ghost and Lytha see important events take place here, it is Sheam and Nightfall that provide the structure for the chapter. The strangest thing I did was the incorporation of the end-chapter segue into the body of the chapter. It was unique in that it was a flashback told from Nightfall's perspective, so it naturally lent itself to being part of a chapter proper, but was awkward because it dealt with events from a long time before the start of the story. I worked it in, and it works... I think so, anyway.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

... on chapters

I just sent the revised chapter 7 out to the critics. This chapter had some of the biggest alterations since the beginning, mostly centered around Jyre. Three of her scenes were very nearly rewritten, with one totally new one drafted to fill a careless gap. (Of course that means that there's new 1st draft material in this chapter, which means it will need attention during the next revision after this one.) The unexpected thing, however, was my decision to end the chapter about 12 thousand words earlier.

I take what constitutes a chapter fairly seriously, not only because it's important in general, but because the story is going to be released as a serial and each chapter needs to be able to stand as an episode. Even when the story is published as printed volumes I am not sure yet where the divisions will fall, and I don't want to compromise any of the books because one of the chapters isn't structured just right. The rules for what makes a chapter are quite flexible. As I am writing I tend to think of 20 thousand words as the 'standard' length for a chapter, though a few are shorter and most are longer. Each chapter tends to have a theme or a tone which makes it distinct from those around it. I try to give each one a sort-of arc, with a beginning, middle, and end, though what constitutes those is of course very open to interpretation. As a rule I try to avoid 'cliffhanger' endings because I happen to think that's slightly childish especially when done over and over. It works for the serial format because the reader then is anticipating the next chapter a week later, but in printed form it's a bit meaningless unless it's a chapter-a-night bedtime story. Basically it has to work as both - a novel and a serial - or I avoid it. I think the simplest, and most pure rule is this - if I can think of a short title that sums up the chapter's essence, it works. If I cannot, then there's a problem.

So, chapter 7 was giving me trouble. First of all, it was the longest so far, and the second longest of the entire story at 31K words, very far above the standard length. However I didn't think that it was the length that was causing the problem. After going over it a few times, I realised what was happening. The first half of the chapter was devoted to continuing and concluding events from chapter 6. It took the main action of those adventures and provided an epilogue for them, and set up the way the story was going to progress from there. Then, after about 19K words, it switched to new events which were of a considerably different tone and focus from chapter 6. I thought, okay, split it in two - but it wasn't that simple. It was very, very clear where Chapter 7 wanted to end, and it was at around the 19K word mark. I couldn't split it in two and have one of the chapter be a mere 12K words, which would be painfully off balance from the rest of the story. Length isn't the most important aspect, I reminded myself, what felt right for the chapter was. So, with that in mind, I wrote in 'End Chapter 7' where I wanted it to go, declared the rest of 7 to be the new Chapter 8, and changed the titles of both to things that I felt were far more fitting than the original title for the old 7.

So now figuring out how to make a 12K word Chapter 8 right is going to be interesting. I have a few ideas, but it doesn't involve chopping off bits of the old Chapter 8 and adding them on to the end. The structure of that one is just how I want it, and it doesn't need to lose its beginning.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

... one of the polls actually closed!

Looks like Ghost won by a landslide for readers of the original COT, with Lytha coming in last with zero votes. I really hope that for the rewrite the spread will be more even. I am curious though... if you voted, why? Assuming that those who voted for Ghost are still reading this blog, was it just because he was a funny rascal?

My thoughts for a new poll really don't work as a poll... I need actual text feedback. The question is basically this. How do you feel about the sections of the rewrite that are based closely on actual Thief 1 and 2 map areas? Did you know that when I wrote them I was actually playing the game to make sure of accuracy? Do you think it muddles the story up too much with needless details or does it work well? I'll make a poll for it anyway.

I am trying to ramp up to getting back to work on editing, but I am pretty exhausted from finishing thesis, publishing the japan journal, putting my portfolios online, graduating, and finishing all 26 cosas release packs. It is, however, very excellent to have done so many projects that I had to put off until now (sometimes for years). Things are finally getting done.

Monday, December 15, 2008

... restarting the revision?

Lately I have been thinking about restarting the revision, because I think there's things I am taking for granted. A recent discussion in Thief Gen started me thinking about the way the thief-game tools should be treated in a different medium. I realised that we, the authors of Thief fiction and those aspiring to create short Thief films often take things far too literally. I am no exception. Consider the differences between how a game set in the 'real world' compares to the actual real world. Everything exists as a cartoon version of itself rendered as either an obstacle or a powerup. I think that most Thief fans would be offended if a speed potion were called a powerup, since powerups are for mario, but that's what LGS called them in their development journals.

Some reverse engineering is needed, I think. I know that iff A then B, and I have D, and must find C. We know what the cartoon/game version of the Thief world is like. How do I backtrack from there and find the reality it could have been based on? What exactly are water and fire arrows when freed from the constraints of balanced gameplay? What about rope arrows, which many players and authors themselves have often scratched their heads over?

I'm not talking about throwing that all out. Jyre shouldn't suddenly use a different way to climb Nightfall's tower. Ghost shouldn't have to wrap an oil-soaked wick around an arrowhead and light it if he wants a fire arrow. These game items should have a 'real Thief world' counterpart that they are based on - not a mundane 'our real world' un-imagining.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

... mind the gap

I should have seen this coming. After working on thesis, COT, then the Japan journal, I am pretty sick of text. I did a little more work on the cosas release packs, but then decided I am sick of work in general. But now I need to get back to work... on school related nonsense. There's a thesis gallery on Friday, and because my presentation was done on the projector, and there will be none at the gallery, it means I need to get to work on a pinup. It's no big deal... it will just take a few hours. I am just sick of my thesis.

The good news is that both the MX manual printing and the Japan Journal have been a success. The manual is ready to go, but I am going to hold off on it until things can calm down. There's no rush, after all.

Also, from the looks of things, my critics don't have much time to do any criticising either, so now isn't a bad time for a break.

Friday, December 5, 2008

... I can get back to work now?

The full color version turned out to be way too expensive, but I am putting it in the store anyway, in case there's a crazy person out there. You never know. I might be able to get myself a copy when I actually have an income.
I'm tired now, but at least I can resume COT.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

... still "in" Japan

I gave the first run of the MX manual to the artist Ireth Kalt (Marianna) who did the team member portraits (which turned out to be eerily accurate in some cases, in spite of neither she nor I knowing what some of us looked like) for use in her samples kit. I expect the next draft in the mail any day now. An additional problem has appeared through - any time there are elements which must be precisely against the edge of the page, it seems I am asking for trouble. As a result, half of the borders around the pages are cut off by about an eighth of an inch. I don't think there's anything that can be done about it. Another problem was the darkness of the cover image, but I anticipated this and brightened it up for the second run. We'll see how it turns out! By the way, its a perfect fit for a DVD case insert; both the dimensions and the thickness of the booklet for fitting under the plastic tabs in most cases. I suppose this means that an MX DVD cover should be next, no? Anyone want to try designing one for me? :)

As the title suggests, I am still hard at work on the Japan Journal. The text is finished of course, with the selection and insertion of photos dragging on and on. The problem is that I have about 2,500 photos, and I am trying to narrow that selection down to only a few hundred. In the end it looks like the book will be about 400 pages long, which means for black and white it will be about $10 (guess) and for full color about $80. I'm going to make the full color one a hardback too. Oddly enough it did a switch on me mid-path. I was thinking of it as a journal with a few photos to illustrate. Really it's more of a photo book with a few pages of text as introduction to each photo section. Eeeash!

I'm going to add a new poll to the site, which asks opinions about the ending. Don't worry, I am not going to determine the story based on popular vote, I am just curious about how people feel concerning a certain topic, especially considering it entails dramatically changing the ending from the original. Doing this poll, I keep in mind several things. I have never been formally educated in creative writing, and have always considered COT as a learning process. Discussing and debating storytelling issues is almost as interesting as writing itself. I like to keep things unexpected and mysterious, but think that plot-twists are an overrated device. The reader should feel that the author is a confidant, not a trickster or conman.

Monday, December 1, 2008

... just a little bit off the top

It seems that there was a cropping issue with the manual cover design, which wouldn't be a problem except that I put the text so close to the edge and it looks odd. I've uploaded another try at the cover with proper margins this time, and had it sent to me with a bit of a faster shipping option. I am afraid I made the margins too big, though.

... in hand, 150 miles away

The Mission X Manual arived in the mail today. It came to my family's house rather than to my apartment. This is good, but it means that I will not be able to have a look at it until the 3rd of this month. At the moment I am back in Tampa turning in my printed/published Thesis. Work also continues on the Japan Journal today, with possably another day after that. I hope to resume work on COT no later than Thursday.