Monday, February 11, 2013

Themes and their tendencies.

When one has a certain number of things in their story- two characters, six buildings, fifty-two chapters, three books, etc.- we have a tendency as humans to say "But wait! This other thing that people know about has this many objects too! Maybe I can link them together!"

There are two sides to a coin or Yin and Yang. There are six sides to your average die. There are fifty-two cards in your average playing card deck. There are threes throughout the bible and trinities just about everywhere you look. So being humans, creatures that naturally want to lump things in tidy groups, we want to be able to associate things with other things. The more marketable the property, the more association. As I love to do, let's look at Batman:

The Joker, association to the card, and clowns.
The riddler, association to puzzles and childish playthings
The Hatter, association to Alice in Wonderland and other childish fairytale books.
The Scarecrow, association to both the Scarecrow of the Wizard of Oz, and the main character of the Headless Horseman tale.

All of these associate with the market that best related to them at the time of their creation. these character properties all link to children, who were the comic's primary audience early on. (anyone who says these characters are still for children needs to remember that we're referring to, in order: a mass-murderer, an egocentric psychopath, a possibly paedophilic (depending on interpretation and writer) man specializing in brainwashing, and a man whose entire goal is usually terrifying people for the sake of studying how to scare people even more.)  So we can see these themes. Further, there are sometimes gangs revolving around these characters' themes. The Hatter has had characters revolving around Alice in Wonderland as his gangs, the Joker has his goons (and a spinoff gang, the Jokerz, in Batman Beyond), the Riddler had Query, Echo, and some other goons depending on writer, and even Scarecrow has had a few friends, allies, cohorts, and gullible goons.

But let's go a step beyond the cover, shall we? Some have likened them to playing cards (The Joker and Harley Quinn being the Jokers of the deck, obviously, with Batman and his cohorts all playing individual cards), or perhaps liken all the characters to pieces of the Bat's psyche.

But we have to be careful!

When you keep relating a character to a specific theme, it gets a bit obvious. People start to predict. That might make sense if you're basing you've got a theme and the characters are based off of the seven deadly sins (see Fullmetal Alchemist), but when you've got a disjointed story and you only relate some things, you can frustrate an audience. Worse than going halfway, though, is becoming wearily predictable. If your character selections in the future can be narrowed by Occam's razor, you'll have to look hard to come up with new and surprising characters.

Just a bit of a warning for those who -like me- love to theme their characters.

Luckily for me, in the work I'm doing now, I'm making all (or at least most) of the characters relate to entirely different things. Or trying to. We'll see how it turns out! Perhaps I'll prove myself a hypocrite after all.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

25 Things I'm Not Allowed to Try in Future Tabletop Games

25 things I am not allowed to try in future tabletop games. (Some of these have come up, most of them I make up off the top of my head on account of not having much time to play. But most of these probably would come up, knowing me.) Most of these are meant to go with Airship Pirates, the Abney Park RPG, but  some I leave vague, in case I feel like taking up other tabletops. ...And you can bet I'm going to try most of these eventually. I'll try to add more later, if they're funny.

1. I am not allowed to try things I see in "Things Mr. Welch is Not Allowed to do in an RPG", no matter how possible or plot-relevant I can make them, whether or not I'm the DM.

2. I am not allowed to make Non-player characters specifically designed to piss off the player characters, and then make them plot-important, without letting the characters kill them later.

3. I am not allowed to make confusing the living daylights out of the party with logical puzzles the main point of the campaign.

4. I am not allowed to make a time paradox the main point of the campaign, either.

5. I am not allowed to transplant known characters into the campaign without at least fitting them into the genre, no matter how awesome Repo The Genetic Opera would be in 1800's Whitechapel.

6. I am not allowed to make a murder mystery in which I as the DM turn out to be the badguy. It's generally assumed that's the case, anyway.

7. I am not allowed to make the unsuspecting lawful-good player character the killer, either.

8. I am not to make a sport out of describing the most gory scenes I can to try and make someone whimper in terror or discomfort, no matter how funny it is.

9. I am not allowed to use the campaign to re-write stories in popular media that I think I could write much better, even if I'd do much better at it.

10. I am not allowed to try and convince the party that the itty bitty inconsequential characters are plot-important and hold the secrets of the universe.

11. Especially not right after they just killed said character.

12. Especially-especially not if said character has a combined Int. and Wisdom score of less than 15.

13. The personification of Death does not carry a smartphone in a universe that doesn't otherwise have them, and it most certainly is not pink.

14. I am not allowed to transplant Batman villains into a Steampunk society without informing my party prior, and I am not allowed to elect one of the player characters to be "The Robin that died", nor one of the other party members to be Batman.

15. I must use the appropriate dialect for voice-acting the characters.

16. Pig-latin is not a dialect, no matter how long it takes the Player Characters to realize it.

17. I am not allowed to allow a player to let their character captain a crew of a Circus ship without them having circus skills.

18. Being awesome in bed is not a circus skill, no matter what the player in question says.

19. I am not allowed to have my characters start playing out the entirety of a Shakespearian play in the campaign.

20. Especially not a Shakespearian play that contains a play within a play scene.

21. Especially-especially not while the current campaign takes on distinctly similar qualities to the play.

22. I am not allowed to punish the players for figuring out that this is my plan, especially when the main NPC's is Amhelt, prince of Mardken.

23. My character cannot have Flaw: Crippling Addiction to Coffee, no matter how much I can add to my Dexterity.

24. I am not allowed to force the players into going on a long quest for a terrible reward, and then not allow them to kill the questgiver to teach them a lesson in patience.

25. I am not allowed to pointedly remind the party that they are on a floating island by dropping the most annoying player down a trapdoor into the ocean, no matter how obnoxious they are.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The thing about writing with music.

"You should write more!" Say I to some of my friends, many of which profess to wanting to write stories, books, anime, movies, comics, videogames, etc.

"But it's haaaard!" they whine.

"Do it!"

"But I haven't had my muse for a while!"

And this is the point at which I silently sigh and rest my head in my hands, glad that most of the time this conversation is via E-mail or skype's instant messaging.

"Just start writing," I say "The rest will come naturally. Start anywhere, you'll get there."

"Okay." They eventually reply, after some encouragement. "Just let me get my playlist together." Usually at this point I groan aloud and melodramatically shift to the floor to complain to the empty aether. Writing isn't going to happen, now.

Now mind you, writing to music is awesome. I do it all the time.

"Then why complain?" You ask, probably personally offended because "I write to music all the time!"

Well, it leads to some problems.

1. It's harder to focus with some kinds of music.

Mind you, some kinds of music are GREAT for creativity. Classics, Techno, Dubstep, Jazz, foreign music, that sort of thing. Why these kinds specifically? Because they're less likely to have lyrics.

Now this might seem strange to some of you, but just think about any time you've tried to write with someone talking at you. Isn't that kinda hard? You're listening to your significant other ask you where to go for dinner, and suddenly your characters are walking into an Applebees instead of a dungeon. Why? Because you're trying to reply in your head and your hands can sometimes reply faster or more coherently than your mouth can. Music with lyrics that you can understand will distract your mind, because you're busy thinking of the lyrics. Movies and other things on in the background can also do this. Foreign music (when you don't understand the language being spoken to ANY degree) and music without lyrics won't distract as much.

2. Changing tracks/volume.

"It'l just take a second." You think as you switch windows to change music, or as you refocus your attention to alter the volume. You look back at your page and wonder "...What was I doing, anyway?" Now it takes you a few seconds to re-read and immerse yourself again. It's not as much fun when you're getting dislodged from your thoughts.

3. "Ooh, this track fits this character..."

And then suddenly you're writing a music video to your music. That's cute and all, but you're probably not writing a songfic. Songfics are a cliché and aren't nearly as clever as you probably think they are. Mind you, some can be good, some can be wildly successful, and some can be bad. I can't think of any that are particularly good, but I don't make it a habit to read them, so I can't mention any bad ones, either. Now writing things like battle scenes can benefit from listening to appropriate music. It can make the battle scenes seem more kinetic and fluid. But you also have to be careful that they don't end up schizophrenic, too. Just be very careful when you're taking inspiration from music. That said: I would suggest listening to character-appropriate music when you -aren't- writing. It can be great for getting inspirational juices flowing. But the other problems mentioned can really raise problems -during- the writing. You do have to be careful about that.

4. Sudden tonal shifts.

Not a big problem if your playlists are consistent, but if -like me- your pandora station covers everything from Dragonforce to Weird Al, you'll probably get a wide variety of music. If you're writing to music and you see your tone changing, that's a big red warning flag. You might consider consolidating your music to something tonally appropriate to what's going on. Pick something peppy for a happier scene or more active, lighthearted combat scene (characters like Nightwing or Spiderman are consistently the type to quip while they fight, they would probably benefit more from Smash Mouth or New Medicine than, say, Linkin Park or Dragonforce.), while a fate-of-the-world struggle between good and evil might need some opera or gregorian chanting or Skrillex or whatever you like for that sort of thing. There's all sorts of moods, sometimes music can be important to what you're writing. I personally have a supervillain playlist full of music that I will be using while I take over the world. (Metaphorically speaking, of course.)

5. Sudden jumps.

If you're switching tracks and tones and getting distracted by the words, you might get this curious habit of cutting or switching thoughts. A little bit of music-inflicted ADD, perhaps. I don't know that this is a big problem, but one must be wary of any kind of skipping or sudden changes that come from changes in music. Be warned! I hope this helps you all in wrangling that mysterious muse of yours in the future.

Be well, and good writing, my friends!

Friday, November 30, 2012

That is the Question.

Since this is now a writing blog, let's take a look at some writing that more people should be familiar with:

The Question.

No, not a thing that ends in a question mark, but the superhero "The Question". Why take a look at this character?
Well really, I want to take a look at a amusing part of his character that remains relatively consistent regardless of writer.

For those who don't know, the Question (or Charles Victor Szasz, or Vic Sage after he changed his name) is a superhero whose defining feature is a mask that makes his face appear to have no features. No nose, no eyes, no mouth. He can still see and speak, it's just a very clever mask. He is frequently seen in a blue trenchcoat and fedora (though his clothes have changed depending on the artist, as has his hair colour), but the one defining feature is his faceless mask. The second Question was Renee Montoya (who some may remember from the TV show of the early 90's, Batman the Animated Series, as a police officer) and she too had this mask.

So what do I want to say about the Question? His wit. He had a lot of pseudo-philosophical (and indeed, very philosophical) moments in comics, he talked a lot, he had some great jokes (in my opinion, he is at his best as the conspiracy theorist of the Justice League Unlimited series, where he appeared in just a few episodes and absolutely stole the show). His best jokes were simply a part of his character. People love to comment on the obvious, you see, and nothing endears one to a character more than a quick wit.

"What happened to your face?" someone might ask.

"Grandmother's lye soap. I was always grateful she never made me wash my mouth out with the stuff." He might reply.

"You've got no face!" Shouts a drug dealer.
"About time somebody noticed." Question muses dryly.

"What happened to your face?" Asks a doctor.
"Acne medication. I over-did it!" Q replies.

But when someone else asks
"Are you crazy?"

He says to an avenger:

"I am not innocent. Do I deserve to die?"

Characters who are otherwise difficult to redeem can become redeemable with a sense of humour. Characters that are otherwise very serious can be made into very friendly sorts with a few well-placed bits of wordplay. It's all a matter of finding the time and place. Question is a character with a good deal of depth if you get to know him, but I just wanted to highlight some of his humour.

Hopefully that will keep your interest today. Perhaps I'll touch on the topic of the Question again in the future. I'm sure I've mentioned him before.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Re-vamping of the blog and an exciting announcement!

I've decided that this blog should be more focused, and therefore it will now focus on writing. All opinions will only be the personal opinions of the author, but I think I have some valuable advice to give to young writers and old alike.

With the revamping will hopefully come many many more posts, of course. I hope you all enjoy! I'm going to try to make more posts in the hopes that I'll be able to make some kind of money off it for my next exciting announcement!

I'm going to London in the spring!

Some of you may know that I'm a big fan of BBC's Sherlock, the culture, the writing, etcetera. So you'll probably understand just how excited I am about this! But the problem is, it's an expensive trip, and I don't yet have a job. I'd like to make blogging my job, but I'd also like dragons to be real and for DC Comics to recind the reboot, and neither of those is likely to happen soon, either.

That said, myself and my travel buddy have begun another blog! This blog will cover our travels, from acceptance all the way until we return to London and have to deal with the reverse culture-shock!
This blog is at, it's Tea and Crumpet's Adventures in London. It'l have everything from journal entries to pictures to funny postcards to just recent events for us. We'd like to keep up a dialogue with readership, too, so feel free to comment!

Please pass the blog on to your friends. It'l make two travelling ladies very happy.


Monday, July 30, 2012

American English Vs. American Sign Language.

English is a funny language:
You can have a safe, and you can be safe, but you must save the safe.
I hear some people get frustrated when people don't ("won't") learn English when they leave their countries and come to America. But I'd like to point out that English is about as hard to learn as a second language asd Chinese is. If you want proof that there are much simpler languages, try ASL (American Sign Language). Children who are taught ASL as they grow up tend to prefer ASL to their spoken language, and with a good teacher, it's not very hard to learn. In college now I'm learning ASL, my grades are fantastic, I'm learning a different culture, and it's even strengthened my grasp of English.

Once on the Internet I heard of someone referring to ASL as a "broken English". Well that's completely untrue.
ASL is a full language all its own, which belongs to a culture all its own, and while we're at it, it's got a poetry all its own. There are ASL poets (Such as the late Clayton Valli ), Deaf doctors, Deaf lawyers, and a number of other things. Being Deaf doesn't hinder intelligence, nor does it prevent them from understanding a person. Some Deaf people read lips (which isn't a good plan if you intend to communicate for long periods, as it is somewhat innacurate), and many have hearing children or relatives who will be more than happy to translate.

Some argue that ASL isn't a full language. This is wrong, but I can see why some would say "But it doesn't have X!". English doesn't have many things, as well. English doesn't have a word for "feeling as though you have done a thing before", which is why we borrow the French 'Dejavu'. English doesn't have a word for "A witty comeback that you think of a little after it's too late", so the French have 'Esprit d’Escalier'. In Arabic there is a word ("Ya'aburnee") that describes the hope that you will die before another person so that you will not have to live without them. As such, ASL has untranslatable things as well, such as "Cow it", meaning either 'something slow', or 'deal with it'. There is "Train go, sorry", meaning 'you missed the boat'. There are signs for 'Feeling passionate', 'feeling deflated', and like English, there's more than one way to say someone has died. There are many similarities to English, and many differences. Some of the things that seem absent are actually just expressed in a different way, possibly through eyebrows or expression. Many of the things, though, are just not needed. When you say "The dog ran", is the 'The' completely necessary? Why not just say "Dog ran"? Especially if you can point in a direction, or signify if it's someone you know. Perhaps you can say 'A strange dog' to clear up the fact that you're not talking about all dogs? There are many things we do in English that don't make sense if you examine them closely (Saving Safes, remember).

ASL is a full language, it's interesting, and it's quite intuitive to learn the basics. If you only want to know 'in case you run into someone', then it's not a bad plan to try and learn, even if you only get the fingerspelling down. Many Deaf people will be nice enough to slow down and repeat themselves multiple times if you need to, but it's better if you learn the language and have some practice. Many things are intuitive. "Door" looks like a door swinging, "Book" looks like a book opening and shutting, it's really not hard to grasp many concepts. Some are harder than others, but with just a bit of time it can be learnt.

I might post more about Deaf culture if anyone's interested. I'm by no means an expert, but in my short time in class, I feel like I've learnt quite a lot about it. I have an amount of respect, and realize that people who are Deaf are perfectly capable of just about everything hearing people are.

Fun fact: The Football huddle comes from Gallaudet University, a school for the Deaf. The players realized that the opposing Deaf team could read their play signs, so they huddled up to avoid letting the other team know what was up. Now it's a staple of modern Football. Chew on that, and let me know if you'd like me to post more about my experiences learning about ASL.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Three poems for you all, and an explanation.

I've been away from my blog for far too long, and now fully intend to stay rooted on it. I also intend to make some other changes (for example, upping the font size and clarity). I'd like to eventually make money on my blog to save up for a big trip to London I have planned for the winter! I'll be going through my school. So keep an eye out for big changes, and please tell your friends to visit my blog! Thankye all for your continued following during my absence.

Leaving 7/29/12

Whiten teeth and cut my hair
Because I'm going over there
buy warm clothes in midst of heat
Learning how to travel neat.

Change my name, a new passport
Learn the game and Rugby's sport.
Just for fun, a new accent
Get ready to be feeling spent.

Learn the slang and history,
I'm on a self-improvement spree!
New make-up and brand-new clothes
But there's a problem here, oh noes!

I've changed so much from here to there
I'm not like myself much anywhere.
To make a good impression soon,
Sadly now it's not a boon.

Save my money, pennies pinched
Saving for it inch-by-inch
I cannot buy those books I want,
For one grand educational jaunt.

Magpie Murders 7/29/12

One for murder
Two for theft
Three for widows quite bereft

Four for poison
Five for knives
Six for someone's missing wives

Seven for luck
Eight for planned
Nine for tears that must be dammed

Ten for Hemlock,
twenty for Dwale
Thirty for bodies grown cold and pale

Forty for Vengeance,
Fifty for cash
Sixty for showmanship, bold and brash.

Seventy for ritual,
eighty an accident
Ninety for a murder not fully meant

A hundred for coincidence,
a thousand for planned,
Ten thousand, and the whole case goes unmanned.

Heraldry for Geeks 7/29/12

First you pick a shield:
Hero of the time,
of the people,
of the war.

Then you pick a colour:
Blue: Truth,
Green: Honesty
Red: Valour.

Then you pick your helm:
or hero's mask

Then what is your motto?
I'm afraid I have to ask.

Supporters left and right will guard your heraldry, as such:
or horse?
Yes, I would have thought as much.

But what goes on your shield I ask?
Well that one's up to you:
Writing tools
or gadgets,
time or pets
In red or black or blue.

A mantle top and bottom,
in the colours you have shown
You may have noticed now, but your mantle's overblown.

And lo we are not finished, for I suggest:
Want it to look its best?
you pick a crest!

And after that is all performed,
You need mantles top and bottom adorned.

So now you have a perfect crest?
it represents you? Well take a test!
Wait a year, untill things may change.
Go back, and make the crest again.

(Written out of frustration at the fact that there are few intellectually-based heraldic shields out there that I could find, and fewer qualities for those who wish to make a heraldic shield that are called intellectual qualities. Most are based entirely in battle, which isn't very useful in this day and age. I have no idea why some of the lines highlight, though. Afraid I can't fix that.)