Thursday, October 31, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013: In Which I Shoot for Consecutive Victory #8

It's that time of the year. NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow. Since I've been offline most of the last month or two, one would figure I haven't bothered to come up with a novel to win with. Not true! Unlike last year, I've got a very strong idea of what to do.

It's called Freefall. It starts and ends with the first-person villain protagonist falling to his death off a skyscraper. The all-important Dramatic Question: how did Eddie van O get himself thrown off the top of a skyscraper? The answer involves ex-wife Kelly with whom he has a passionate love-hate relationship, a would-be restorer of the tyranny destroyed at the end of Spanner Book 5 name of Martin Becket, various Spanner special guest stars, Eddie's long career as a hitman turned secret policeman turned hitman, and a city population that refuses to act like idiots just because villains Martin Becket and Eddie van O assume they are by definition.

Freefall is a far more straightforward thriller than I've attempted so far, though it's plenty convoluted. I was getting bored by all the moralistic conventional thrillers featuring government connected heroes who are cops or something similar and battling evil terrorists and serial killers and other stock supervillains on that order. Well, I decided to go noir on the ANSI Standard Thriller establishment and pit the serial killer against the terrorist. And they both lose because their Author has vowed to avoid David Brin's definition of the Idiot Plot. Roger Ebert coined the term to mean the all-too-common Hollywood plot that cannot progress unless the protagonists act like idiots. Brin's version is the one where all the bystanders act like idiots so the heroes can be heroic, also a standard Hollywood bad habit and one of the central conventions of the ANSI Standard Thriller, replicating the professional class's typically technocratic contempt for the working masses. And so we have our two stuck-up professionals, the professional killer and the professional mercenary, trying to bring back the good old days of Spanner's Conservative Revolution when the common people were required by law to be idiots, a requirement backed by brute force inflicted by professional thugs such as Eddie van O and Martin Becket. And the people have not forgotten. Specifically the people of Seattle, the city trashed by the Conservative Revolutionary terrorist Rev. Byron Scofield in Spanner Book 2, who takes over at the end of Chapter 23 (and Book 1) when Rev. Luke Everson of the infamous Fearsome Foursome and ultimately gets killed by — Eddie van O.

I'm taking a different approach to writing this time. Instead of using trusty old MS Word, I'm writing it in the heavy-duty text editor Vim in a wiki-derived text format called Markdown. Vim makes writing Markdown documents easy by allowing you to collapse and expand all the text contained under a heading. And to edit it I won't be using yWriter5; I'll stick with Vim and endure its considerable learning curve so I can tap its awesome power; and I suspect this will be the fastest edit job I've ever done.

Simultaneously, I'm doing the first preliminary work on an interactive fiction (text adventure) game called Dead City Radio, which is a prequel to Freefall containing many of the same characters and incorporating a "wide open sandbox" structure and multiple endings only one of which (called the "canon ending") leads into Freefall. And you can be sure I'll throw any ideas for Spanner I get this NaNo into their yWriter5 projects, the last three of which (for Books 3, 4, and 5) I'll have to create.

*takes deep breath* NaNo victory number eight, coming up! Here goes...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Spanner R5 Update: Chapter 1 Complete; or, The Author beheld his creation, and lo! it was Insanely Great.

It pays to edit. The fifth and final version of Spanner Chapter 1 took me months to edit, but it was very much worth it. Maybe throwing in the ghost of Steve Jobs in the first draft worked like a lucky charm (he was still alive then, but still)? He was renowned for his combination of perfectionism and impeccable design sense. Sure enough, I find myself playing Steve Jobs on my own work, fine-tuning here and radically revising there, reading it over and over to find anything that was even remotely not-right, making multiple passes to find all the errors and inconsistencies and any opportunities to strengthen the plot and reinforce the themes until it was as close to perfect in my mind as I could possibly get it. I am now convinced he would agree that the result is, in his immortal phrase, Insanely Great.

Oh, and what you think is Steve Jobs (the character in the story) isn't really the ghost of Steve Jobs at all, but my own monumental "Ego" speaking my own words and getting poetically clobbered in the third eye with my own monkeywrench. In my plan for the "Pilot Episode" ebook cover, it will be not Jobs' face but mine digitally altered behind the hand holding the wrench. Even my "Marius" (the Victor Hugo self-insert character in Les Misérables), Keenan Sasser (basically me as the grown-up "real Tommy Westphall" from the last five minutes of St. Elsewhere), is less "me" in Chapter 1 than the giant face of Steve Jobs is, complete with a symbolic warning from (and to) the Author about the dangers of letting success and power go to your head. Or, as the soap-opera announcer would put it, "The ghost of Steve Jobs will be played by Dennis Jernberg's ego."

In contrast to the climax, I added a new opening, a "Propaganda Reel" which retells the story of the Conservative Revolution from the revolutionaries' perspective in the form of the opening credits to a jingoistic superhero cartoon. I organized the requisite tropes in rigid conformity to the fifteen obligatory beats in Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! beat sheet as imposed by Hollywood studio executives in the form of a rigid template screenwriters and directors must conform to Or Else; then I associated images accordingly and translated it into movie script and song lyrics. I forced myself to let the thing suck at least somewhat, to symbolize the limits of the antagonists' worldview. The resulting script, I believe, reflects quite well the worldview Shira and her friends and allies must fight against when the story actually begins.

And now to go deeper into the details...

On the Editing Process
At first I thought it would be simple. Take out Karen and Hope, insert Elle and new "decoy hero" Rico X, all would be fine and dandy, right? I never thought I'd take several months editing it, and I never thought the final version would be so vastly improved over the fourth draft I thought all but perfect. But there you have it.

Karen: I realized she's already so heavily involved in what becomes the School Arc that she's got no time for Spanner incidents. Besides, she's too idealistic to take money from a group of corporations just to throw a monkeywrench with a plasma disruptor in its jaws. Edited out.

Hope: Shira's mother makes fewer appearances than she did in Revision 4. She pretty much comes with Willa and is not quite as needed. Presence reduced.

Elle: I fell hard in love with this character while I was writing Chapters 22 and 23 for Revision 4. As she embodied so well everything so deliciously wrong about Rockerdom, she made a superior replacement for Karen. Edited in.

Desiree: She not only replaces Hope in most of her flashback appearances from R4, she ended up playing a role in the episode finale. Edited in.

The new guy: Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age starts from the perspective of the Standard Cyberpunk Hero — and kills him off at the end of the first chapter. So I figured I'd do the same thing to the Standard Shounen Anime Action Hero (like, say, Ikki in Oh!Great's Air Gear) in Chapter 1 of Spanner. So I threw him in. At first he was just a handle: Blackflag. Then I made him a Brazilian hoverboard racer and the real name Oscar Ribeiro. Then I ditched both names and just called him Rico X, which Shira latched onto, calling him "X-boy" and "X-baby". Putting him in and killing him off also had the effect of making J.T. Sparks a villain for the first 2 chapters, which will allow me to greatly increase the WHAM! at the end of Chapter 2. Rico stays; edited in.

The Achievements: Since the original unnamed "Team Spanner" are hoverboard racers and because of the series motif of "Tournament", I decided to throw in some gamification, complete with achievement badges. You want to make your cyberpunk contemporary? Gotta throw in gamification and achievement badges along with your augmented reality.

Dreams into poems: In Chapter 1 R4, one vision scene and the climax are written in blank verse as "Bester moments", narrative distortions in the text of the kind used by science fiction grandmaster Alfred Bester, particularly how he depicts synaesthesia in Tiger, Tiger a.k.a. The Stars My Destination. That kind of text manipulation is all but impossible in CSS2 (used by EPUB2 ebooks), so I settled on free-verse poems in the Surrealist and Beat style. Then when I was doing the final edits on Chapter 1, I realized: they make italicized dream scenes in the dream-journal format look boring to me. I'm a poet and a CSS hacker too. Solution: convert the remaining dream and vision scenes into poems. Not only do they look better on the page, they allow me to write them more easily because I can capture the weirdness of dreams and visions better. Except for a very few selected dream sequences and the lucid-dream scenes, this will be my approach from now on.

Plus I made some changes to certain formats. For example, Shira's videoblog entries are now prefaced by one single italicized "Posted to LocaFantoma99's Profile..." line without the "Technosphere" location tag, and the whole entry is double-indented. I hacked up a new batch of styles for new R5-specific elements such as the achievement badges and the script-formatted new opening scene. I threw in some little nuggets of foreshadowing throughout the text and changed some of the wording to make many major themes stand out more.

And that does it for Spanner Chapter 1. It's done, it's finished, it's perfect at last. Like the Intro and most of the Interludes so far, it needs no more editing. It is now ready to blow minds. Only one thing is needed before I unleash the Pilot Episode (Intro + Chapter 1 + Interlude 1) onto the online bookstores, and that's the cover.

I'm breaking out the champagne. I'm taking a short but well deserved break. And then I'm throwing myself into Chapter 2...