The Hero’s Journey Shouldn’t Discriminate

I like it when I read something that gets me thinking. I like it when I read something that makes me ask questions, even uncomfortable questions.

I like it when I read something that makes me ask uncomfortable questions of myself, even if I wouldn’t qualify that process as enjoyable.

Sady Doyle wrote an article about the JK Rowling series that wasn’t, In Praise Of Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger Series. Miss Doyle spends the article praising Joanne Rowling for not writing under an androgynous-at-best penname, for writing a series starring a female protagonist who uses her intelligence and is rewarded for it, who isn’t the Chosen One and isn’t looked down upon or ignored because of it, for writing well-rounded female characters who all stand out without being stereotypes… and you probably get the point. Her followup, The Further Adventures Of Hermione Granger, gets into her reasons for writing this.

I’m a novelist-in-training, let’s say. Popular Anarchy is a book I wrote, stared at, and ultimately shelved for a rewrite. I’m partway through that rewrite, though I would be lying if I said I was proceeding well on it. I have another book that I’m working on in the conceptual stage, somewhere between world design and outline. It’s called The Breakers, and I’m really excited for it; I’ve got a good set of characters, I think the world is interesting, and I’m pulling from different inspirational sources to make sure I don’t write the same thing again. A little more Romance of the Three Kingdom Hearts, let’s call it, instead of The Occurian Candidate.

The Breakers has taken up a lot of my mental energy. I’ve put about twenty thousand words into my outline, and another ten or so into the world design document. Most of it is stream of consciousness rambling, which is how I outline things, so it’s not like I’ve written a short story about my world so I don’t write an actual novel about it. But there’s a bit in that document where I’m figuring out my protagonist, Adam Harper. I like Adam — I think he’s an excellent main character. He’s got flaws, strengths, an interesting set of friends, two of whom are also important characters in this book, and a family that factors heavily into what’s happening here. I’m proud of the work I did on him.

I never even considered making a woman my main character.

I’m mad at myself. In the midst of all this 1reasonwhy stuff that has me so up in arms, in the midst of me playing games ranging from JRPGs to Japanese visual novels/dating sims, in the midst of me raging at gender inequality and outright misogyny, I’m unconsciously enforcing it in my own work. There’s no excuse for this. I had a female character, Mira Jersic, designed long before Adam, but she was a supporting character in Adam’s story. Putting as much work into her design as I did didn’t make up for the fact that she wasn’t as important as Adam. The background work and extensive questionnaire I completed from her point of view didn’t mean anything if I put a ceiling on her level of import for no reason other than “a guy should be the main character.”

I’d like to say that there wasn’t anything sexist in my thinking on it, but honestly, I don’t know. I just looked at these characters I’d already made — two women, one man — and decided I needed a different main character. The character I made was male. Maybe that’s completely innocent. Maybe I was balancing things out. Maybe I was thinking of a specific story that only a guy could tell. But there’s nothing in my outline about that, and there’s nothing in the story I have outlined that is the kind of thing that can only be experienced/told/for a guy.

So I’m changing it. I don’t care if it takes me more time, I don’t care if I have to scrap stuff, and I don’t care if it’s harder. I’m swapping Mira into the lead role and starting over with The Breakers. I don’t know how different it will end up being, but I’ll gladly find out.

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Popular Anarchy And A Lack Of Excuses

I finished the outline for PA’s rewrite, which means I am officially out of excuses for not writing it. I’m trying to think of some; I’ve been helping train a new employee here at work, I have a pretty crucial run of sessions in Final Fantasy Omega that require a lot of work and investment, I’ve started playing tennis again to get back in shape, I’m reading more books lately, I’m playing in a Dominions 3 game with wargame expert and Dominions 3 manual writer Bruce Geryk (and he hasn’t killed me or called me a communist yet, so I think I’m doing well), I’m writing a Hakuoki game diary for Broken Forum still, and I’ve been following the NFL pretty close as free agency is going to be underway in about ten minutes and my favorite team, the Redskins, traded all of the draft picks in the eastern seaboard for Robert Griffin III.

I’ve written a book before. This is rewriting Popular Anarchy for the second draft, which comes with some pretty major changes, but the fact remains that I have done this before. I wrote a book, complete, from start to finish. It’s not like I can’t do this. I know I can do this. I’ve done this. But it’s still surprisingly hard to get started again.

But there’s nothing else for it. I have to get working on it or it’s not going to get down. No one’s going to write this for me, and no amount of hand-wringing is going to do this. Starting tonight, I write.

Right after I finish The Last Story.

Writing And The Management Of The Defantasized Zone

There are two major creative things I am working on in my spare time; Popular Anarchy, my first novel, and Final Fantasy Omega, my tabletop RPG. There are similarities between them, which isn’t too surprising as far as my tastes go. There are swords and sorcery, guns and explosions, cracking wise and often, airships sailing the skies and shooting at other airships, and nefarious villains doing nefarious things.

In the RPG, one of the characters has the ability to call down a rain of meteors on his enemies. He did this to derail a train loaded with biological weapons from hitting a city. The train then attacked the full party, and I believe was defeated by being suplexed (the preferred method for dealing with trains).

Popular Anarchy is significantly lower-powered than this.

I have found difficulties in writing both at the same time. In Popular Anarchy, I have two characters taking a trip via airship from Point A to Point B. My first thought for something to happen on this trip involved a high-stakes battle on top of the airship with people falling off and being narrowly rescued before plummeting to their deaths thousands of feet below. That’s a little at odds with the style of the book (though later I have every intention of high-stakes battles atop airships), but it’s perfectly in tune with gaming, where the players regularly leap through the air between airships because they can probably break the enemy ship with their fists if they hit it right.

In theory, I have a schedule for writing. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I work on gaming preparation. Gaming itself takes place Wednesday night. I then work on PA on Thursday and Friday. In theory. It’s getting more difficult to switch gears, though, since I’m so focused on some big story stuff happening in gaming.

I’m taking this week off from gaming, but I need to build in a stricter schedule for gaming and writing. I’m going to try planning gaming on weekends and then my novel work during the week; that’s more of a fair distribution of labor. We’ll see how this goes.

If Popular Anarchy has people punching airships, though, you know why.

Popular Anarchy: Tools of the Trade

I first got interested in writing in high school. I had an assignment to write something creative for my ninth grade English class, and I wrote a short story where my English teacher hunted down and killed every member of our class for various reasons. I think I died because I thought I was witty, yet was sorely mistaken. This story got me an A, the adoration of my teacher, and a trip to the guidance counselor. If I wrote that story today I imagine I’d be suspended and the teacher would be fired, so I’m glad that didn’t happen, Mrs. Jones! I hope you are doing well.

I still remember writing that story, sitting in my bedroom and typing away on a computer made sometime in the 1700s, using whatever text editor was available on Windows 3.1, typing in Arial font and trying to figure out what was happening whenever I used the world “I’ll” in a sentence. The computer I have now could probably load a few thousand instances of that program side by side while playing Skyrim with no slowdown, but I’m not posting this afternoon to talk about how old I am (29) or how easy kids today have things (so easy). I’m posting to talk about how I write, which is basically unchanged from that freshman high school assignment.

Popular Anarchy was written using Google Docs, mostlly because I can access my files from work, desktop, and laptop. Most of my writing has happened on lunch breaks and before work, though I’ve pushed some nights to midnight or later because the scene is working and stopping it would be silly. I know there are programs that are supposed to be of great help to writers — Scrivener is one that I hear a lot about from my friends — but I don’t really understand what those changes would be. I imagine once I actually sit down with the program I’ll wonder how I ever got by without it, just like how I felt with Google Docs after I stopped emailing Wordpad files back and forth to myself whenever I wanted to work on something.

Editing Popular Anarchy has been much more difficult. My preferred method of editing is to print the document out and make notes by hand, but every printer I have ever owned has died within a month and I don’t think I can get away with printing 120,000 words of novel out at my office. Crocodoc worked pretty well in theory, but in practice updates kept crashing my browsers and made editing much more of a chore than it needed to be. I took to editing with two pages open, with the story in one window and my notes on the other. It did not go well. I’m still not pleased with the editing, and if anyone has a better solution I’d love to hear it.

I’ve always been interested in how everyone actually writes. My wife writes longhand and transfers it to the PC once she’s done. Another friend of mine doesn’t sit down to write until he knows he’s ready to do the final project, and doesn’t write first drafts or big outlines, just the final story itself. My editor writes via typewriter and mails me my stories marked up with red ink with a handwritten note explaining that he doesn’t hate me. Another friend of mine writes on his laptop after disabling his wireless connection so he’s free from distraction. I can see the appeal of that last part; I remember looking up the official names of parts of a sword one afternoon and finding myself reading up on the history of Pac-Man less than an hour later. It’s not even that interesting. Wikipedia just does that to you.

While trying to find an image for this post (so many words!) I went on Wikipedia to look at “writing” and see what they have. I’m already on Sting’s page by way of Botticelli’s painting of St. Augustine writing. I’m just closing the browser now before somebody gets hurt. No image!

Worldbuilding And The Art Of Careful Appropriation

So I wrote a book. It’s called Popular Anarchy. I’m going to talk about it now.

The title itself is something I came up with as an angry teenager about twelve years ago. As most small-town teenagers with big dreams and an even bigger ego, I wanted nothing more than to get away from the idiots and the sheeple, man. I don’t know what perceived injustice I was railing against when the title hit me, but I kept it with me for a long time after that, wanting to do something with it. I had a few false starts over the years, but two years ago I finally sat down and started ironing something out.

As you’ll see elsewhere on the site (eventually), I run a homebrew d20 roleplaying game every week for my friends. It started seven years ago and has run ever since (January 2012 at the time of this post), minus a two-year gap in the middle where I burnt myself out on gaming and didn’t want to work on it anymore. It’s Final Fantasy, which makes me the King of All Dorks, but it’s fun, and it’s an original world that I built myself, in the FF tradition.

I was considering running a followup to that game back before it ran for 200+ sessions, and I started creating a world in which to place that game; a high fantasy world with multiple nations and races, a world that skipped the industrial revolution and instead had a magical revolution, a world with an actual reason for airships and passenger trains to exist, a world where I could have swords, sidearms, and sorcery side by side. And other things that begin with the letter s. Long story short, I decided not to run a Final Fantasy game in this world, but I did decide to do something with the idea. I took the Final Fantasy out of the world, removing moogles, tonberries, Ronso, Espers, and blatant references to four warriors of light and other in-jokes like that. In their place, I started worldbuilding.

Someone once said that there are no new ideas in writing. Every good idea has already happened, and now we’re all just writing the same story in different ways. I don’t know how accurate that is, but I did see some hints of that in my worldbuilding. For instance, the first thing I did was take one of the races I wanted to use in the Final Fantasy game, tonberries. I changed them from green to blue.

Completely original! No one will ever crack that code.

But that’s only the start. The next step is to take a look at what makes a tonberry a tonberry. (Slow speed, nightlights, and a penchant for stabbing.) Now I have to modify each of those in such a way that it’s no longer a tonberry and is, instead, something original. Once you get going, it gets easier. Instead of being a primarily physical race, I change them to be magical. From that idea comes a strict class system based around what kind of magic each one uses, a set of Houses that then corresponds to all of their society, and from there I’m sketching out a brief history of what caused the class separation to begin in the first place. In that sketch is the founding of their capital city, which leads into the design of their city, which leads to their need to trade with another race to bring in enough goods to make their country viable for long-term settlement by their people, which leads to a myth about what would happen if they were ever to abandon their home, which leads to…

Not every idea springs fully-formed from someone’s head like a literary Athena. Sometimes it starts as small as a blue tonberry. There’s no shame in that.

Plus, if Blizzard can get away with Zerg vs. Tyranids, I’ve got nothing to worry about.