Bunches of Themes

In the end for Tales from the Twisted Eden Sector, all of the stories were grouped based on a similar theme or idea. I played with a lot of different groupings for them, but in the end I found that thematically made the most sense when you were reading the anthologies.1 The ideas, for those who have not checked them out yet:

Syndicate – An introduction to the universe and some basic elements

Backstreets – What the backstreets are

Office – The Syndicate offices and how it functions

Visitors – Things that exist in the universe that should not be there

Evidence – Magical items

Legacy – A look at all those potential “Chosen ones” that exist in these sorts of stories and what they’re doing

And then there’s Simya Academy, which was a tie in novella and isn’t going to be talked about too much in this series.2

As one person pointed out, doing this didn’t work for every book. Backstreets, I agree, was very samey after a while because the type of story is very much the same when I tell something that happens in the Backstreets. It’s essentially a winding haunted house, so they all came out with a very heavily haunted house influenced feeling and narrative structure.

Legacy also had issues in that it was the last book of a very loosely explained series that attempted to give an explanation of what was going on.

Overall, though, I think it worked for this series. Considering I was going to allow users to build their own books from the stories provided,3 I think this was probably the best idea I could have gone with.

You know, until next week when I think of something better.

  1. And for writing them! []
  2. Nor is the actual content of the series at all. []
  3. And an earlier structure that involved rigid classification and no consideration for arcs at all []

Tagging Narratives

Back when I was still sitting on Tales from the Twisted Eden Sector, I talked to the CEO of a company of BookRiff and she presented a very interesting idea that I pretty much immediately took to. The idea of BookRiff, originally, was more academic1 and would allow you to take articles and chapters out of various books and merge them into a different book. Ideally, it meant that students could get cheaper textbooks by only printing off what they needed.

I, being someone who had an anthology series with strange linearity, had a very different idea. In one of the early iterations, instead of releasing them in collections, I was going to release every story individually and give people a way to create their own books based on which characters they liked or which stories they wanted to continue with.

This, of course, fell through. But I haven’t quite given up on the idea. I like the idea of a build-your-own-narrative where you pick the pieces you like and put them together to make them your own. A whole book with only those characters you like. An arc that is put in the proper linear order. Just giving people a way to take the existing pieces and let them put them together in a way that makes sense to them.

In my head, I call it a tagged narrative. The idea of it is that it is a group of stories that are user created and grouped under a categorization that the user creates rather than one that the gatekeeper2 imposes. It could be something curated by a lot of people that doesn’t have anything to do with the way the original content creator had grouped the narratives originally.

  1. Or that’s how she pitched it, anyway []
  2. In this case, me, the author []

Not So Linear

In all my talking about Tales from the Twisted Eden Sector, I haven’t really talked about on how much I have always wanted to play around with linearity. I do love messing around with linearity, but I have issues with time travel narratives because then you have to deal with time travel rules. If you affect something from the past, does that split off the timeline? Does it change the existing? Does knowing at all pop you into a new one?

I liked the idea behind things like Momento or Sandman,1 where the story was set but the order the story was told in wasn’t strictly linear. Instead, you got to use the cues in the stories to try and figure out where in the timeline of the overall narrative everything took place.

While I wanted to, when I tried messing around with the order of the books, they ended up being a mess. There are bits of not so linear storytelling in the order of the stories in each of the books, but within the books they are largely in order. The books themselves, however, overlap in terms of linearity.

Not that it’s impossible to tell what happens when. There are little nods to previous stories that would be lost if you read them out of order2 as well as much more clear references3 that are intended to help tell which one happens when. You can reasonably tell when one story comes after another one if you really try to, though a few will be left in question.

It’s a bit like I mentioned before with everyone coming back from a trip with different stories. You can piece together how everything fits together, even though conflicting stories. Like that example, though, there are always a few stories that you just can’t place on your own.

Or you can cheat and check the timeline I made while I was writing. That is also an option.

  1. Or Time Stranger, but I think I’m the only one who likes that movie []
  2. Such as Mikey and when he works with Jason []
  3. The age of the twins is directly referenced a few times []

He Said, She Said Narrative

I’ve been talking about my Tales from the Twisted Eden Sector’s narrative structure a little and how I tried to evoke a feeling of urban legends being told in a bar one night1 rather the traditional storytelling method of making everything feel genuine to the universe.

And then I kept going with the idea.

I thought about stories I’ve heard my friends tell and there was one more element to it that I was overlooking. If there was a story from, say, a camping trip2 there was never one story. There were different ones told from different perspectives that all seemed to hook together if you paid attention to them. This fragmented narrative structure made the storytelling a lot more fun because they wouldn’t frame it as before or after or during another event – you’d have to figure it out based on other story details.3

I liked the idea and ran with it as an intentional part of the structure. Within the sets of not-so-self-contained stories are arcs told from differing perspectives, all of which add something different to the narratives. Even outside of the arcs, there are items and characters that appear at different points with different tells that give you a sense of when each story is taking place within the narrative and giving a different context to the events in other stories.

And I do like to find ways to make the third person limited perspective a bit more interesting. As much as I dislike first person for the number of times I’ve felt trapped in the head of a character I grew to despise, I do like how it limits things to what a character would feasibly know and leaves the reader with an incomplete picture of what’s going on.4

Yeah, that part was intentional too. I’m not sorry.

  1. Not actually what I said, just go with it []
  2. I would never be in attendance for those due to my skin’s disagreements with the outdoors []
  3. Or you cheat and ask, but what fun is that? []
  4. When it’s done well, anyway []

That Thing That Guy Talked About Once

I said before that there was a reason that the stories in Tales from the Twisted Eden Sector never seemed to be completely done, then I just stopped in a place where there was kind of an ending but not really.1 Let’s get into that reason.

Like I said before, endings are fascinating to me in that they rarely ever actually are endings so much as break points in stories with so many things that could continue the story, but we don’t continue them because we are satisfied with that much.2 I often wishing the story were being told by a person so I could ask what happened next or for some update on it.

That’s largely where the last story in each of the books came from. There was someone in a bar telling some urban legend they heard from a friend of a friend who would elaborate on prompting if necessary, but ultimately wouldn’t know. Maybe they would elaborate. Maybe they would lie and say they knew more.

From there, I took the idea and ran with it in a lot of different ways. For now, the beginnings and endings. I stopped thinking about the narratives as prose and started thinking about the stories as things you would tell your friends about. If I were going to tell my friends about, say, that time I had to interview a couple of crazy children with superpowers and they dragged me into hell and I had to figure it out via surveillance footage hours later, where would the story start and stop?

While part of it was trying to find a way to make the last story not seem too out of place, I found I really liked the effect of the narrative. It ended up giving this effect3 of a bunch of stories that your friend told you the last time you were hanging out. The way the stories began and ended felt more like urban legends than set in stone text about the universe.

Given the stories are supposed to be about a well kept secret world that coexists within our own, it felt like a very good format. If I can make it seem like all those brick backstreets in Vancouver seem like they were hiding more than they actually were, then that was perfect.4

If that’s where it ended, that would have been great. But I kept thinking about it and I just ended up expanding on the idea.

  1. It was a parallel to what I was talking about in the post, but if I have to explain that then I need to work on my execution. []
  2. I didn’t say all of this, but we’re going to pretend I did to keep me from meditating too much on the nature of endings. That’s another post entirely. []
  3. To me, at least []
  4. And everything in Vancouver is red brick. []

The End Came and Nothing Happened

Now that Tales from the Twisted Eden Sector is done,1 I want to talk a lot about it. It’s not one of my more popular series by a long shot. It’s weird and it doesn’t all seem to fit neatly together. There’s questions at the end of it that are never fully resolved. Hell, there’s something called The End in the series that’s alluded to over and over again that never gets a resolution.

Let me make you angry. That was intentional.

The whole series was a way for me to play around with a lot of concepts in stories and narrative that most other people really don’t like. None of them are books you can sit down and read from beginning to end and leave with a sense you got the whole story. The shorts have these dangling threads at the ends that hint at a story that is still to come. Even those stories that stretch into two or three more shorts don’t wrap everything up nicely in the end. On top of that, things aren’t always in their proper order, leaving the reader with a mess of stories that all take place in the same area and have a few characters to connect them, but no idea what they are supposed to do with all of them.

Let’s start with talking about endings in general. I’m fascinated with the idea that fiction has to wrap everything up neatly and that there is a definite ending to anything. So often, I’ve read stories where the main character will have a breaking point in their story2 that isn’t actually an end. On top of that, the effects of the climax are never fully addressed or even acknowledged for the most part.3

With Tales from the Twisted Eden Sector, I decided to play around with how the endings worked. The beginnings too, to an extent. Normally a short story is meant to be self contained. They have a proper beginning, middle, and end. While all of the stories in the series definitely had a middle, the beginnings and endings were much less defined, with many just starting and ending in strange places with things left open.4

There are endings of a sort. There are some things wrapped up. Some questions answered. But I’m very aware of all the questions that have been left behind unanswered. But there is a reason for all of this, and that is twofold.

  1. In the loosest sense of the word []
  2. They won that last fight and hooked up with their love interest and they walk off into the distance []
  3. So how is the city recovering after you blew half of it up? []
  4. We still don’t know if Flint’s still alive from the first book, for example. []

Throwing the Plot Out

So you know how I love plots? There’s a secondary thing I have to mention about that.

See, there comes a time when I’m writing that the plot, great as it is, doesn’t work anymore. The characters have become people rather than vague memories of people I knew once that I’ve placed into the story as stick figures to dance at my every whim. When that happens, events start to unfold differently and, a lot of the time, it means that the original plan no longer works.

Then I throw out the plot.

And that’s totally fine. ((For me, anyway)) By that time, I’ve usually gotten to the point in the story that I already know what my characters are like and what they would do in any given situation. Not only that, but I’m also very familiar with how the antagonists will move as well, so the rest of it comes together in a secondary, on the fly sort of replacement plot to follow instead. One that is this time informed by what the characters are actually like and not what I think they will end up like.

I try very hard not to get attached to those original endings.1 In doing so, I don’t really mind when something changes drastically and I can make it all work out in the end. It’s not like the original ending is going to waste,2 it just means that it doesn’t work here. And so it’s totally fine to let those endings go away and be replaced by something that’s more fitting for the characters that the story actually churned out.

In the end, it makes for a better story. I love plots, I really do, but sometimes you just have to know when to let that plot go. If it doesn’t work anymore and you have another idea that’s really good, you can always toss out the original and go with the new one. In fact, you should probably do that. If it doesn’t work out, your original plot will still be there3  and you can go back to it if you need to.

  1. A lot more people would be dead if I were []
  2. If I like it, I can always use it somewhere else, and I have! []
  3. Don’t set it on fire or anything, just put it off to the side after throwing it dramatically in the air []

The Joys of Plotting

There’s an old question in the writing community that I think most of us have been asked at least once. Plotter or Pantser? Do you already know your story when you start writing, or do you write without a plan and let the story flow naturally and see where it goes?

Pantsers do have more fun. I was a pantser originally and there’s a thrill and joy in just barreling through a story and seeing where it goes. You have a lot more opportunity to be surprised and invested in the story because you are seeing it unfold as you write. Every twist is interesting and, sure, the editing in the end is a bit crazy, but the ride is worth it.

Or it used to be. I am a plotter now. The trouble I kept finding when I was pantsing was that I had a lot of stories that never got done. I kept getting stuck and I didn’t know what I was going to do next, so I would go to another project. I had every intent of coming back, really, but I just never did. Worse, I’d come back to it later and realize how little sense previous scenes made in the context of newer ones and the work required to bring it all into something cohesive was too daunting for me to want to go back to it.

I love having a plot to work with and knowing where my stories are going. If I know what’s going on, then I never have to stop to consider what’s come before and figure out how the next sequence of events actually fits in. The plotting process, for me, is where I get the first run of the story done. It’s where I get the story figured out before the characters come to life. It’s when I get to barrel through the story and see where it goes.

Essentially, the plotting stage is pantsing for me.

I get to see where the story goes and learn about the characters as I see what their actions are. If something doesn’t make sense, I can very easily go back and see what works and what doesn’t. Because I haven’t written it proper yet, I can change the notes and it isn’t too daunting. And while I’m going, I can throw in all the specifics of a scene to include when I get around to writing it, as well as create those scenes that I know I’ll be really excited about getting to.

I also finish a lot more now that I’ve started plotting. The first draft now feels a lot more structured and I know when it’s going to end. I don’t always know how, but if I ever get lost, I have something to fall back on, and that has made all the difference. Well, for me at least.

About That Thousand Words a Day Resolution

It’s almost the new year and it’s the time for people to start setting goals and resolutions for themselves. I have already talked about mine far too much, but there’s another one I see very often around this time of year coming from writers and people who want to get into a better writing habit.

I’m going to write 1000 words a day.

Now, this resolution is a nice idea with some great foundation. Writing every single day is a good habit and 1000 words is a very manageable goal for a day’s word count. At the end of the year, you’ll have so much stuff written! And after that, it will be easy to just keep writing that much every day because you’ll have that habit down.

On the other hand, a year is a long time and a lot of stuff can come up in that time. You get sick, your computer breaks, you get carpal tunnel. There’s days you just can’t bring yourself to get it done. Other, more important stuff comes up and you have to deal with that instead. And if you can’t get to that 1000 words for the day, it can make you feel like a failure.

I’ve seen instances where people stopped at 1000 words in the day and left the rest of it until the next day out of fear that they wouldn’t have anything for the next day’s word quota.1 As I’ve learned now that I do have that regular writing habit, stopping when you’re on a roll can make it really difficult to pick up where you left off the next day because the spark doesn’t always stay with you that long.

I’d instead propose a slight modification on the goal. Maybe instead of 1000 words a day, aim for 366,000 words for 2016.2 From there, break it down to, say, 31000 words for January, 29000 for February, and then allow for a little more flexibility. That way you can still aim for that 1000 words a day, but going over means that you will have a buffer for those days where you just can’t do any writing that day for whatever reason.

I’ve done the 1000 words a day challenge in the past and had to switch really quickly over to this methodology. My laptop died in the first month of the year and then finals took over my life a few months later. I needed to give myself a break, and so I started writing more words earlier in order to have time later for other parts of my life to have my full attention.

And I still developed a strong writing habit from it. With a lofty goal like 366,000 words, you need to pace yourself. It’s still going to be a year long challenge for most people, and 1000 words a day is a great way to get yourself into a regular habit, but maybe instead of holding yourself to a daily word count, rearrange the resolution and give yourself the chance to take a break now and then if you need it.

And, of course, if you happen to hit the goal a little early, there’s no reason you can’t increase that number a little. Find what’s good for you and go for it.

Good luck and happy new year everyone. May next year be better than the last.

  1. I have also done this. It’s just nice to know I’m not the only one. []
  2. Leap year, so don’t forget that extra day! []

The Science in After Destiny: Greenberg’s Syndrome

In the book, there’s a character named Brady who is a seventeen year old kid in the body of a six year old. In part, this was just to illustrate that there’s some side effects to having a pregnancy partially out in the wastelands, but there’s an actual rare condition that has occurred that is related.

Brooke Greenberg was diagnosed with something called “Syndrome X” which meant that aged incredibly slowly. It’s a bit of a medical mystery, with only a handful of people developing it worldwide at any given time. Interestingly, their mental states also don’t age, which means it’s not a glandular problem like in some cases, but that they actually aren’t developing at the speed of other people.

I gave Brady a modified version of it. In the universe of After Destiny, there is a treatment for it, though they had a very limited supply of it and it only allowed Brady to age until the point he is now physically. I had plans to do more with it, but it didn’t fit within the context of the revised narrative and, like many other little darlings, the full explanation of Brady’s medical condition was abbreviated and largely cut back.

If you get a chance, though, do read up on Brooke Greenberg and Syndrome X. It’s fascinating and I couldn’t help but draw a little inspiration from it.