Writing an Epistolary Short Story

So I just finished the first draft of a short story done entirely as a text chat group conversation. This technically makes it an epistolary short story, though many of those are letters–ONE person writing at ONE time, usually but not always to ONE other person. This short story? Nine people writing to each other all simultaneously. It was a bit maddening.

As I wrote I realized I’d started forgetting about the “main” character, who I’d originally come up with mostly as a way into the more important characters. The problem with that, I realized, is there can’t really be such a character–you don’t see anything from their point of view. You just see the words on the screen. You get no insight about it, only what they literally say. While this “main” character is notable, it’s mostly at the beginning, and I could probably merge them into someone else. Other merges and cuts could ease up on how many characters are here, because it’s probably a bit overboard right now. (I mean, realistically it’s probably a bit below average, but realistically we’re not reading real people’s chat messages unless we’re the NSA or something.)

The major thing I plan to do while editing this though is to read it repeatedly, each time from the point of view of one of the characters to get a better idea of what and how long they might be thinking and typing to make it flow more naturally. Then in places where I kinda forgot about them in the first draft I can have them chime in more or have them send a brb message to explain the disappearance. This is kind of the idea I probably had when I came up with the “main” character, but it’s not how anybody will actually be reading it.

This whole story is in part a test, too. Some years down the line I’d like to write an entire epistolary novel in this chat text program style. But dang, it’s pretty difficult when you’re juggling a lot of characters! I think I have a new respect for Andrew Hussie (Homestuck) now.

The Rig Veda: Creationism

I’ve been going through my old college textbooks of stories and other written works from various English classes. We never looked at everything in them, which in retrospect means what we read was largely up to the views of the professor, but now that I don’t have to discuss it or write about it and can just read it on my own time, I want to go through everything! But I’m reading other authors and books too so I’m going through it pretty slowly, but I finished the Odyssey sometime last year, which was the last thing in this textbook I read. Then I put Top in it!

So according to this the Rig Veda is part of the Vedas, the sacred texts of Hindus in India. The Rig Veda is partly about the origin of the universe, and it discusses questions about before the gods and how they didn’t create the universe and the origin and stuff.

In this day and age creationists might say, “what was there before humans? what was there before the universe? it was GOD.” And maybe someone will respond, “What was before god?” And a creationist might say, “THERE WAS NO BEFORE GOD GOD WAS FOREVER”

Glad to see Hindus thought about it 3000 years ago.

It’s 2019, is it still cool to even talk about creationists? I mean, it’s about a decade after I read this stuff for college, and now I do want to write about what I’m reading, so I’m not going to let something like timeliness stop me!

Technology in Stories

As TV Tropes has an entire page about, cell phones are still hard to work into stories for some reason. Maybe we’re all still used to them being part of the future, like in sci-fi TV shows and such. One of my favorite books about writing, How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman, makes mention of this–in the past nobody had cell phones, and there are lots of stories from back then that would be totally different with cell phones. If you’re writing in an era that has them though, you at least need to remain aware that at least someone probably has one–unless you’re dealing with my dad in which case he might’ve forgotten or intentionally left it at home. Or you’re dealing with me, who hates all phones and refuses to have one. But I still have a tablet, and I’m at least gonna email somebody, even if they don’t respond.

My first two novels, Slubes and Darmenzi, featured protagonists from a small village–only a couple characters even have regular phones. So that wasn’t much of a big deal… except in retrospect I’m not sure why Zeth didn’t have one, but does have a phone in his vehicle. Ah well, what’s past is past. Maybe he was trying to hack his phone and install wings on it or something and he broke it. He doesn’t live at a place where he could buy another one, anyway.

In Wandering Fortunes, the protagonists again begin living in a very rustic area, so they have no cell phones. Then they move to the big city… so of course they’re going to get cell phones! Now I have to deal with this malarkey! Well, the first time it really becomes pertinent it actually makes more sense for them to not have them–they’re put in prison, of course their stuff’s going to be confiscated. But for the most part I actually have a note while editing, and one of my passes I actually keep cell phones in the back of my mind. “They have them, is there a reason to use them?”

Now then, the reason I didn’t call this “Cell Phones in Stories” is I also apparently have trouble remembering that cars are a thing. At New Zhopolis the main characters are always running around; initially they don’t have a vehicle, and at a big city I suppose I can imagine traffic being so bad that it’s easier to get around walking. It’s also particularly troublesome when there are few parking spaces. But you know what probably does exist? TAXI SERVICES. Buses! And if you’re going halfway across the city you’re probably not gonna run there!

A lot of times this probably doesn’t matter because you’ll show the characters once they’ve arrived, not on the way, but you’d better believe I had a chapter where they ran halfway across the city and when I started editing I was like “why are they running halfway across the city?? they’re in a hurry so they won’t wait for a bus but did you know there are services now where you can call (maybe with a cell phone??) and someone will drive to where you are to drive you somewhere??? I’ve used one before! what? no i’m not talking about uber. i think these are local. although an uber service would definitely be something you could easily have in a story, but honestly the only difference between it and taxis i can imagine is one of them probably isn’t unionized, and obviously you should make sure your fictional characters are properly unionized. what were we talking about? who are you, anyway?”

Anyway. Check your email. Then check your spam folder. Thank you.

Character Recurrence in Novels

Something I’ve noticed when reading old Charles Dickens novels is that many stories of his have some character who appears early but is gone after a few chapters. They’re named but they’re not really important, and they disappear and are forgotten soon after.

And then 80% of the way through the story they return, out of nowhere, and it’s mentioned they knew this one character from the beginning of the story. Does this happen in stories anymore? I’m particularly thinking of Dickens stories that take place over a character’s whole life, which is actually probably most of them, but this is something I tend to notice a lot in Dickens books but not so much in more modern tales.

It’s an interesting part of stories. I’m holding things like this in reserve for the Cloudy Cuckoo Cosmos as a series, though that’s over multiple books where a character who appeared in one might appear unexpectedly in another, and that’s more notable for full-series readers than having a character return in a single book.

What started me thinking on characters returning within a single book was a chapter I was editing recently. My original draft had the main character meeting with some unnamed characters for a conversation just for a bit of world building, but there really wasn’t anything to it. As I’ve been working on a lot of story notes regarding characters related to where this meeting took place, I realized a couple characters who’d appeared earlier could easily appear instead, connecting the world and time in the story more. These don’t appear at the beginning–not until more than halfway through, in fact–but it’s still a bit of an “oh yeah, them!” moment.

The weird thing about Wandering Fortunes as you can see with what chapters I’ve put up is the second half is a different planet. With an entirely different setting, there’s not much call for characters from the first half coming back. My fourth book will be a little like that too, in fact. But in future books this happenstancing of old character return meetings is something I might experiment with. It’s probably easier both to do and make significant if it’s planned from the outset, and I do write outlines before I write stories, but in the case of Wandering Fortunes the meeting was both added in the editing phase and spur of the moment.

Character Creation: Random Element and Character Interaction

(what am i actually doing this okay here we go)

CHARACTER CREATION! For most, this is no mere hypothetical. The Latin Alphabet is composed of 27 characters… or is it 26? 14?? I don’t know. But this is irrelevant. I am referring to characters in a story. Most stories have them. Stories that don’t exist may even have them. Stories that don’t exist as well. These two sentences are saying different things. Where am I going with this? WELL. Even the shortest, saddest story has characters, even if some of them are dead. Do baby shoes count as characters? Well, that depends on what kind of story you’re writing. Has anyone ever written from the POV of the baby shoes?

Longer, more involved stories, novels particularly, have a lot more characters, some of them even named! These characters are usually dealt with for so long that some backstory is in order. Sometimes it’s as simple as where they were raised; other times it’s a dark and brooding history of death and loss and that’s why they have this scar and this edgy haircut and wear a mask.

But in my case, I don’t just don’t have involved stories, I have an involved figgin universe. Lord of the Rings had a lot of history and only a few books. Discworld had over 40 novels and quite a bit of backstory, but I’m not sure how much. I forget if Rincewind’s parents are ever mentioned. But many writers, especially of a series with multiple books, write more backstory than ever gets mentioned in books. Having all this solidified lets the writing be more consistent; you won’t have a character mention their childhood on the farm and then in a later book we meet their high-profile business consultant parents. No, you decide early on their parents are owners of a taco stand, and you stick to that. Well, unless you come up with something better later, but then you have to make sure it doesn’t contradict what you have written into books, unless you just don’t care, because honestly, are we sure most readers are gonna care?

Anyhoo, how does character creation work? Well, you start out with a setting and generally have an idea of what kind of character you need. Meek accountant? Beefy accountant? Clownish accountant? Someone who’s not an accountant?? Maybe a small business owner who shows kindness to the protagonist, or a small business owner whose churlish attitude just shows them further how dismal the city they’ve arrived at is. A military general to fight in a war, or a cool kid friend to balance the nerdy friend. There’s lots of characters to choose from, and the general idea isn’t that hard to start from. Then you do a whole bunch of stuff like names and design that I don’t want to talk about today. I am going to touch on it, though. Because:

RANDOM DECISIONS: So the thing is that in real life a lot of peoples’ information is arbitrary. Not always–names might change based on who their parents are, date of birth might make when events in their life happen different, gender probably changes stuff. But for the most part a character can have any number of these things and still basically be the same. How do you decide? Um I just pull up a random number generator and let it decide for me. Names I’ll usually look at a list of names and choose one at random but like, date of birth? Random number. Gender? Random number (and yes, that’s on a spectrum–depending on the number, this character may be trans!) Do you need glasses? WELL YOU DON’T GET TO CHOOSE IN LIFE IF YOU NEED GLASSES, SO I WON’T CHOOSE FOR THESE CHARACTERS. Maybe. I have different species and some have naturally better eyesight. Maybe better eyecare is available for the affluent? You know, I use random number generation but still pull things in various directions.

And then there’s character interactions. Characters interact with other characters, usually, and having a backstory means they meet other characters. Once again I use a random number generator to go through my list of existing characters and find out–have they met in the past? If so, when? From this I get a clearer idea of a character’s history. (And in one case got a potential short story idea for the future!) Once I know who they’ve met I determine who they’ve met long enough to get an opinion or history with, and then–you guessed it–RANDOM NUMBER GENERATION. I get a random number, and the better the number, the better their relationship.

So for example, a group of senior generals for a kingdom’s military. Get a variety of personalities, some good, some bad. Maybe use RNG for this, maybe not. One of the generals is a nice guy, very jovial, everyone loves them and they’re one of the most personable generals. They have a family, they’re well-known and respected, and then as you’re grabbing random numbers to determine their relationship to characters they’ve met their spouse rolls a ONE. This loved character has the worst possible relationship with their spouse.

And so that’s how a well-respected, noble, adored general is secretly beating their spouse.

Not all is well in random number generation land. Sometimes it makes characters and settings harder–harder to figure out, harder to write. But realistically? I think adding the random element makes it more real. And it adds another dimension to a character and their history that wasn’t there before.

I mentioned characters meeting other characters in their past, and I’m actually going to talk about that more next week. After all, once you’ve put all this work into a character, why only use them once?

Waluigi

If you follow me on Twitter or Mastodon you may have noticed I started writing a Waluigi story a few weeks ago. His disclusion from Smash Bros. is a disillusion on my part. I mean, I can identify with the guy. Not the mean, nasty parts–well, not all of them–but his self-pitying feeling that everyone does better than him. If he can just find something to give him an edge, that one thing to give him a boost (which for him is usually cheating), he can show the world that he’s the greatest and then lord it over everyone who said he’d never make it!

Of course, I’d never do that, noooo.

Anyway, if you follow anything Nintendo you’ve probably heard of the memes, the rotten memes, the harassing, but maybe you’ve also heard of the more artistic, good stuff. This is none of that. This is more of a look at Waluigi. I was talking with a friend about him the other day and thought the resulting discussion was interesting.

WA more

A brief story of grunkiness

Grunkiness is basically what I’m calling how I’ve been feeling kinda depressed lately. For various reasons that all may just be capitalism, but let me tell you about myself this morning.

I stopped drinking disposable bottles of water a while ago. Bad for the environment, you see. I just use an old reusable water bottle and fill it from the tap. Except it’s a little bit leaky when you shake it. Well, I drink Crystal Light, so when I shake it up it kinda leaks, so I usually screw the lid on tight. Anyway I screwed it on too tight and the bottle’s dumb straw got dislodged and I couldn’t open it and I gave up on it and chucked it in the sink and just went to lie down because I’m sick of the dang thing.

In my annoyance I forgot that I actually do have bigger packets you mix into a pitcher of water, but I usually end up not actually making some because it’s such a hassle and annoying and I never feel like I have any time anyway. Except. While I was lying down I told myself that, really, it’s not that big a deal to do it. And my brain responded, “yes it iiiiiis.”

so anyway is that a sign of depression

That said I made myself get up to make some, told myself that when I’m out I’m going to start immediately making some, and

I feel kind of happy now??

I’ll take it!

The First Pokemon Trainer

So like

were the first people in Kanto and the surrounding areas from Pallet Town? And the first-ever Pokemon Trainer was REALLY BAD AT NAMING THINGS?

So this first Pokemon Trainer leaves Pallet Town, no one has ever ventured outside it, no human, they probably arrived to the region on boats to the south shore of it, and this person just goes into this field with some birds and rats and says “this path shall be named! Route 1.”

They move on to more fields and a forest area and declare, “this path shall be named! route 2.”

They keep going until they hit mountains. Nope, not gonna climb that. Head east. “this! name! route 3.” They hit another mountain but find a path through it, and upon emerging they declare route 4. Then they head south for some reason, that’s route 5. And the routes are just numbered in the order they visited? For some reason they didn’t notice 24 and 25 until everywhere else, and then after they mapped it all out they headed back home only to notice more stuff to the west and they headed to route 26 and Johto? I guess they went back to the mountains for route 28 and then route 29, etc.?

After they mapped Kanto and Johto, and maybe subsequently Hoenn and Sinnoh in that order, people left Pallet Town and began to build new towns. These people were better at naming things. They were kind of creative but derivative and homesick so they springboarded from pallet.

Obviously in Unova, Kalos, and Alola there was a different First Pokemon Trainer who was also usually pretty bad at naming things. Everything not named route _ was named by someone else later.

The Pokemon World is weird. Yes, the naming conventions of locations is what makes it weird.

Evolution of A Weird Trend in Youtube

The other day Youtube recommended a video to me, Evolution of Deleting Save Files in Kirby Games.

Well, weird, but as it’s not something many people do, it’s nice there’s a video even though it’s probably really boring.

Later I was recommended a video, Evolution of Deleting Save Files in Kirby Games.

It was by a different account.

There are no fewer than FOUR videos dedicated to that concept. Not only that, they are ALL in the same format: Evolution of [blank] in [blank] games. Where did this format of videos come from, and more importantly, WHY ARE THEY ALL NAMED THE SAME? And they were all released within several days of each other!

I seem to recall this format starting a while ago, but generally with something pretty straightforward, generally boss battles I think. “Evolution of [this boss] in [these games]”. There you can show the boss battle, then move on. But now we’re getting “Evolution of the Butterfly in Kirby Games” and it’s like… why do you even need to format the title like that? Can’t it just be like, “the butterfly’s appearances in kirby games” or “the butterfly keeps appearing in kirby, CONSPIRACY!!” Yes I am recommending people put conspiracy int their titles instead of evolution. I don’t know.

Do a search for “Evolution of * in * games” and what do you get?

Evolution of Final Attacks in Kirby games ᴴᴰ (2011 – 2018)
Evolution of Final Boss Deaths in Kirby Games (1992-2018)
Evolution of Final Bosses in Kirby Games (1992-2018)
Evolution of Spider-Man Games 1982-2018
Evolution of Rick in Kirby Games (1995 – 2018)
Evolution of Kine in Kirby Games (1995 – 2018)
Evolution of Coo in Kirby Games (1995 – 2018)

You can’t just like… Rick throughout Kirby games? Rick from Kirby? No? You have to copy? This is the new Let’s Play, isn’t it? And not only that, but what does Evolution of Rick in Kirby Games even entail?? It just… shows… footage of Rick. That’s it. That’s just. I don’t get it. This is so weird now. I suppose on this side of my considerations you could argue that some people might be looking up videos specifically to check something, maybe they’re writing or drawing fan stuff with Rick and want to see everthing, so that’s fine, in the end.

BUT CAN’T YOU CALL IT “HISTORY OF RICK IN KIRBY GAMES”?? EVOLUTION DOESN’T EVEN MAKE SENSE HERE. You’re blatantly copying the first person to use what is arguably a terrible title!

I don’t know why I’m yelling, it’s not that big a deal.

I would definitely rather feel free to spend time than free to spend money.

I wrote the title on social media kinda quickly earlier, and since then have thought about it more, so I’d like to expand on it.

While it would be nice to not have to ever worry about having enough money to buy things–to just buy stuff without thinking “but do i have the money”–I would rather have more free time. I imagine many of us would all like to be able to go to the store, buy food, and not worry that we bought too much–to not get a specific brand because it’s on sale. We’d like to buy a new movie, or book, or video game, or album, without having to justify the purchase. We’d like to buy a new car when the old one’s turn signals become shoddy and the driverside window doesn’t go down and the seat doesn’t adjust. Me too, but if I have to work 10 or 12 hours a day to get it–or, worse, work 8 hours a day at something I don’t like–I’d much rather just have barely enough to get by. I want, not freedom of cash, but freedom of time. I value time a lot more than money.

For me, it’s less about living below my means and more about meaning down to my life. Er, wait. It’s about dropping my means down to just above my living, so that I may therefore have more time to live.