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Channeling Your Emotions into Dark Writing Themes & Writing Complex Characters + Goals Update

4 Mar

Last weekend, I released a new YouTube video discussing the idea of channeling your own emotions in order to tackle dark themes in your writing and how this can result in more complex characters. Also, I reference some of my personal life experiences and explain how they manifest in my writing.

 

I really believe that if you’re going to play with any particular theme in a story—be it light or dark—then it’s important to come from a personal place when doing so. Otherwise, you run the risk of writing a story that does not emotionally resonate with readers in an authentic way and instead comes across more like a dry essay or intellectual exercise in flexing your technical literary muscles.

At least, this has been my experience while wrestling with my WIP and reading other people’s writing. Continue reading

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8 Sentence Sunday #6: Business & Pirates

25 Jan

In this week’s “8 Sentence Sunday,” Voi and Paul, her business partner and one of her best friends, are contemplating the state of AeroTaxi, their air charter and touring venture. This is just after their only tour for the day falls through early on in the story. Business has been increasingly slow–and while Voi is inclined to remain optimistic, Paul sees things differently.

Paul has always been skeptical about government, big business and large organizations in general–to the point of becoming a mild conspiracy theorist. While he and Voi fly planes, Paul is suspicious that a recent airship heist scare, combined with the wild success of a particularly large airship company, is somehow negatively affecting their ability to conduct small business.

Here’s a look at how he sees their current situation as opposed to Voi’s viewpoint. (Aside: both Voi and Paul are from a country named Apexia, though Voi holds dual citizenship in Borellia.)


The Snippet

“One measly Borellian cargo ship—not Apexian, mind you—goes missing, and suddenly everyone thinks Haran pirates are back.”  He looked outside again.  “As for the rest of us with real problems, a hot-shot Borellian war hero practically shows up out of nowhere and opens his own airship company after the war; it does amazing.  A handful of naval mechanics who’ve been working the ship yards practically their entire lives do the same with Skyward Enterprise, and they don’t last more than a year against Neverri before he buys them out.

“A fucking monopoly is what that’s shaping up to be.”

Voi took off her leather gloves and stuffed them into one of her pockets, shrugging.  “So he’s successful.  That’s no crime, is it?”


What are your impressions of Paul?

Do you think there’s a chance his concerns are legitimate, or is Captain Neverri’s imminent “monopoly” over the airship industry (and aerial transportation in general, in Paul’s eyes) as innocent as it seems? Also, what can you make out about the role of pirates in recent history?

Granted, this is all based on a short series of snippets, so this is just for fun. 😉

8 Sentence Sunday #4: Introducing Captain Andre Neverri

11 Jan

Every writer has their favorite characters, and ideally you’d think it’d be the main protagonists in their stories. As much as I love Voi, I’m afraid I love one of her employers even more. (That’s gotta be some sort of writerly sin!)

Captain Andre Neverri

Ah, Captain Andre Neverri…where to begin…

Aeronautical engineer, airship navigator, former air guard captain, pirate hunter and war hero, entrepreneur, multi-millionaire, gentleman inventor, expert on aetheric mechanics, and knife-throwing enthusiast…

Well, what isn’t this man capable of, dammit!

Ronny hates him, Milia can’t stand him and even Voi has her doubts about the man. Though, at the end of the day, in the middle of a crisis, Captain Neverri is probably someone you want on your side. He does have a reputation, however, for being a queer lone bachelor who keeps a crazy wife locked up in the attic (or local institution, in his case)… Though, *ehem* I digress.

Prolific resume aside, he’s a bit of a headache, to be honest, though that’s just my opinion. I’ll let you be the judge.

Below is a snippet showing the first time both Voi and Milia meet Andre. They were walking into a room full of men who were supposed to be working. Everyone is somewhat oblivious to their surroundings, as they’re all engaged in various conversations and activities.

Enjoy!


The Snippet

Without warning, an object came soaring through the air.

Voi froze instinctively, though Milia dodged more quickly than Voi could process.  A blink of the eye later, she realized Milia was holding a combat knife in her hand, hilt clutched at eye level.

Male voices cried out at first in appraisal, apparently thinking the knife would hit the center of the target board pasted on the wall behind the ladies.  Their cheers, however, were cut short as Milia slowly directed her gaze towards them, seeking out the owner of the deadly projectile.

Every wide-eyed soul in the room turned to the lone man sitting at the drafting desk some distance away.

“Whoops!” he declared blithely, tossing his hands into the air.  “Looks like you walked right into our little game!”


What were your first impressions of Andre?

And was it just a little bit absurd that Milia caught a flying knife mid-air? (Hint: the answer should tell you that there’s a lot more to Milia beneath her diplomatic title of “special envoy.”)

8 Sentence Sunday #3: Introducing Ron Callahan

4 Jan

For this week’s “8 Sentence Sunday” over at Dieselpunks.org, I’d like to share a snippet with a different character: Ron Callahan.

Ron, usually referred to as “Ronny” throughout the story, first introduces himself to Voi as a social worker. Though, it isn’t long before Voi realizes he is an altogether different sort of government agent! (I’ve written about his character once before in my flash story, “Betrayal.”)

Ronny’s character is revealed a lot more slowly than Milia’s and Voi’s, I’ve realized, so I’m going to fast forward and share a snippet from further in, after Voi’s already had the chance to exchange some words with him. We don’t really get to see much of his personality here, more the nature of his relationship with Voi. It’s definitely one of the more complex relationships out of all my characters, I think. Very nebulous. Though, when I think about it, Ronny isn’t the most straightforward, easy-to-understand character to begin with.

Of course, there are reasons for this.

Anyway, at this point, Ronny has just visited Voi’s home and has caught her skipping doses of the medication she’s supposed to be taking to manage her condition, emelesia (summary here). In Voi’s world, it’s a serious thing when a social worker comes to check in on you. Emelesiacs live under fairly close government scrutiny and dread the day they’ll be sent to live in an insane asylum—as most are at a relatively young age.

Even though she’d never admit it, Voi is pretty darn scared that Ronny is here to take action on her noncompliance.

However, much to her surprise, Ronny instead starts asking Voi to describe what it’s like for her to go back on her meds after she’s been off of them for an extended period of time. Caught off-guard by his curiosity, she hesitantly begins to explain but then pauses. He asks her to elaborate.

He’s waiting patiently for her reply but is still sensing some hesitation from her. This is what happens next.

The Snippet

Suddenly, the warmth of his aura seemed to reach out to hers subtly—like a soothing brush of the hand.

Voi closed her eyes, embracing the foreign calmness of that moment.  Though, she soon sensed his energy pull away and reopened them.

He stood there with his arms folded.

After clearing her throat and licking her lips, she explained, “I meant…my pores, they close up.  I noticed my senses become duller, as well, as if…as if they’re being suppressed.”

Mr. Callahan drew his eyebrows together.  “Ever wonder what else it is they’re trying to suppress?”

What were your first impressions of Ronny’s character?

What do you suspect is the nature of the relationship he and Voi will share? Let me know in the comments!

8 Sentence Sunday #2: Introducing Milia Furlan

28 Dec

This week, for my “8 Sentence Sunday” snippet, I’d like to introduce a new character: Milia Furlan.

Special Envoy Milia Furlan is a well-respected diplomat who works for the League, an international peacekeeping organization–modeled loosely after The League of Nations, as you might have guessed.  Though, it’s been around for about 700 years in Voi’s world. (Funny: I tried thinking of other names to use, though “League” just seemed to have the best ring to it!)

Voi has heard a lot about this woman in the newspapers–including the first headline from last week’s snippet–but this is the first time she actually meets Milia face-to-face.

Suffice it to say Milia is not who Voi expected her to be!

The Snippet

At the other end of the barn sat a woman in a steel grey ladies’ suit atop a bale of hay with her legs crossed, smoking from a long, silver cigarette holder.  Traces of a sweet-smelling smoke lingered in the air.

To be honest, the woman looked rather glamorous to Voi, with her thin red lips and wavy blonde bob.  She held an air of aloof worldliness about her—a complete contrast to Voi’s disheveled tomboy-pilot look.  As such, the mundaneness of her attire in comparison caused Voi to unintentionally slow in her approach.

“My goodness,” said the diplomat.  “You look so…Borellian.”

Voi just stood there and frowned.


Granted, none of my snippets have included a physical description of Voi thus far, so we don’t have any specifics as to what she’s talking about. (I will say she is biracial.) However, for our immediate purposes, the goal here was to introduce the kind of tension that will be present in most of Voi’s interactions with Milia, as well as reveal some of Milia’s character.

What was your initial impression(s) of Milia?

Based on my first snippet, do you think Voi and Millia have a good chance at working together as part of a team? Let me know in the comments!

8 Sentence Sunday #1: Introducing Voi Román

21 Dec

Since I’ve gotten back into blogging and editing and whatnot, I’ve come to realize that my blog here still has been gathering a good deal of new followers! Needless to say, this was only all the more reason to get back into the groove of writing (and editing).

One new writer I’ve met (so to speak) since coming back to the blogosphere is Sarah from The Old Shelter, who also writes dieselpunk fiction and is working on a trilogy, as well. In visiting her blog, I’ve learned about a series over at Dieselpunks.org called “8 Sentence Sunday” in which writers are encouraged to share snippets from their finished works or WIPs and get a little feedback.

Sounds pretty swell to me!

I think this would be a fun way to help get me back to my writing happy place on the regular, so I’m going to try this and see how it goes. 🙂

The following is actually a snippet from the first novel in my Element 7 series, which I’ve decided to call The Elementalist: Rise of Hara. Here, we get to meet the main protagonist Voi for the first time. Voi Román is an aviatrix with a rare genetic condition that she suffers from–or so she believes! Hint-hint: it has something to do with that fantasy element I keep mentioning. 😉 (Check out my updated blurb for a more detailed summary about the plot, if you’re interested.)

Anyway, without further ado…my 8 Sentence Sunday entry! (You’ll see where I’m getting the new name for my blog from, as well.)


LEAGUE SPECIAL ENVOY ATTACKED ON TRAIN LEAVING DARMOIL.”

“LOCAL PILOTS LOSING BUSINESS TO AIRSHIP CONGLOMERATE.”

“FLIMSY STUNT PILOT MEETS GRIM END.”

It was 8:37 sunrise and Voi soaked alone in her clawfoot tub, avoiding her meds, with a morning copy of The Chandra Tribune propped open.  An autumn breeze drifted in through the awning window, gently encouraging the jasmine-scented steam rising from the tub.  The telephone clanged repetitively from a faraway place—Voi’s sitting room, actually—though she paid it little mind.

Rather, she folded the newspaper and set it aside on a nearby stool, flexed her fingers and toes then slipped deeper into the bathwater with an earnest sigh, keeping her head aloft.  She shuddered as she closed her newsprint-assaulted eyes, momentarily forgetting AeroTaxi’s financial woes, the Tribune and the troublesome world it reported.

On Planning & Writing A Trilogy (Or Series)

19 Sep

(For more posts like this, check out my “series” tag!)

Some of you probably already know that I’m a pantser; in other words, I don’t really like to plan my writing!

Well, I take that back.

I do like having a little bit of a plan, but it’s so sparse that most probably wouldn’t even consider it “a plan.”  It’s more like this: “I want [insert big event] to happen in [insert cool locale], where the characters then find/achieve [insert objective]!”  Then I just figure out the rest from there.  And I think this only has a chance at working because my WIP is a quest/adventure series; it’s “mission-driven fiction,” essentially.

Not plot-driven, exactly, ’cause I still focus on characters along the way, but in terms of planning I think of the story in terms of missions…if that makes sense.

So yeah.  That seriously has been my plan for an Element 7 trilogy, in a nutshell.  (“What?  A trilogy, you say?”  Yes, dear readers, you read that right.  Though, I should have probably already mentioned that on my E7 page…heh.)

Planning A Trilogy

Why a trilogy, you may ask.

All right.  Well, I have this thing with numbers, in case you haven’t noticed, particularly the numbers 7 and 3–kinda similar to Dan Brown’s obsession with symbols, though maybe to a slightly lesser degree.  3 is just neat and tidy, in my mind.  I also like to use Platonic Solids in my novel (one in particular, for now, until later books…but we won’t get into that right now.)

So I’ve read only a little about how authors like J. K. Rowling went about their work.  Apparently she took around five years to plan the Harry Potter series before writing it, though I can’t recall reading the specifics about how she did this.  (It’s probably out there; I just haven’t had time to look it up, lol.)  Though, honestly, there isn’t really a lot of advice out there for folks who do want to write a trilogy or series (not in comparison to other writing topics, anyways).  Most times it seems writers are actually discouraged from doing so–at least when they are working on their first novel.

Apparently it’s too “cliché,” when you’re writing fantasy…

As for me, “planning” out a trilogy has kinda just naturally been happening while working on this first novel–like I’ll be in the middle of a scene and think to myself, “Hey, that would make for a totally cool thing to explore in Book II/III!”  And then I just plant the seeds, make a note to water them later and roll with it.  (I’ve actually got probably half of Book II planned out by specific scenes I’ve already written or summarized in my journals, with a few ideas for the other half and Book III still subconsciously cooking in my messed-up head.)

But really, all I’m doing is using that basic formula I mentioned at the beginning three times and designing each end objective so that they tie into one another, leading to the final objective in the last novel, while also figuring out the interconnecting threads (those “ah-ha!” moments) along the way.

I bet some people wonder why it would possibly take 5+ years to plan out a bunch of books, but now I’m pretty sure I understand why…

There Are Just SO Many Little Details That Have Got to Work Together!

Especially when you’re writing secondary world fantasy.  Every piece of invented information that’s in that bad-boy-of-a-series is coming from your brain.  It’s like this giant sprawling 50,000-piece puzzle of your own personal design; everything’s gotta fit together.  And when you do sit down to try and put this puzzle together, it typically doesn’t happen overnight.  Plus, you gotta hand craft all those pieces before that can even happen–nope, none of that computer-aided/die cut business.  So you can’t just toss in stuff willy-nilly because you think it’s oh-so-cool (learned that the long, hard way, lol); everything has got to have a reason for being in the novels–or else you have to work backwards and find a gorram reason for all the dangling stuff to matter.

Harder to do, imo, but doable.

When I first started learning how to write a novel my mind just couldn’t even begin to grasp this concept.  “Whaddya mean I can’t just throw in what I want and expect it to work? Bah!  Watch me…”  And y’know how that turned out…

Lots and lots of experimental drafts that went nowhere.

But that’s okay! ’cause I eventually figured out how to make all that cool stuff I originally wanted to shoehorn into the same story actually work together–haha! (Or at least I think I have…lol.)  Plus, I learned oodles, like…

The Importance of Foreshadowing

…which, I think, is extremely important when you’re planning and writing a trilogy.  Foreshadowed details provide rhythm and continuity and are like the threads that bind the novels in a series together–along with recurring themes, characters, settings and/or ideas, which all help to create a sense of unity and cohesiveness.  (Sorry, I’m using those pesky Principles of Art/Design again…but you’ll find them everywhere that good art or designs reside.  Writers and literary critics just tend to use different terminology for them, I think.)

You know how excited you get when you pick up Part II of a book, game or movie series and learn that some of your favorite characters are back?  Or the telltale hint, or sometimes outright slap, of a promise that “hey, there’s more yet to come”?  For me, that’s part of the excitement of reading/watching/playing a series; it’s also one of the reasons I want to write one.  (That, and getting to my favorite “candy bar scenes.”)

…Because I just love the characters so darn much.  And the world.  They’re just people (and places) I’d like to come back to again, to experience their adventures through their eyes.

‘Cause trust me, if I didn’t love them I wouldn’t even still be working on this project, haha.  (5.75 years is a looooong tiiiiime to be attached to the hip with the same old ideas…)

So how do you plan for a trilogy/series?

Or maybe you’ve never worked on one before; that’s cool.  You’ve probably read at least one, though, right?  What kind of things do you like about series?  What do you wish authors who write series did a better job of?

I know one of the reasons I started writing was because of my own “fantasy novel pet peeves;” I thought hey, why do writers keep doing this and that?  Let’s write a story that does it different!

Portraying Cultures & Peoples In Speculative Fiction

10 Jul

Normally I only post on Wednesdays (every other), but…I came across a blog from a writer who was new to me and she had a very interesting article that really got me thinking about some things.

I was actually doing a search on Twitter for other writers who are into the dieselpunk aesthetic and found Sophia Martin’s blog by happenstance.  Not long ago she wrote a post on dieselpunk–which, of course, I couldn’t resist.  Though, there’s a whole lot more packed into her post than explanations on what dieselpunk is.

Sophia asks some really thoughtful questions, I think, that could easily apply to all sub-genres of speculative fiction.  A substantial part of her post regards the problem of Orientalism, which she describes as “the representation of [non-western] cultures (most often Middle Eastern, but it’s just as valid for various Asian areas as well as any other part of the world where people are predominantly brown, in my opinion) through the filter of western ideas, desires, opinions, prejudices, etc.”  It has a negative connotation because these portrayals of non-western cultures tend to be heavily romanticized, prejudiced and/or grossly exaggerated.  Sophia also lists some examples of where this has been done, namely in movies.

I started writing up a response to share some of my thoughts, but then I realized it was practically going to be an entire blog post in itself, haha.  So instead of making a ginormous post over there, I decided to just blog about it here in a question-answer format.

Sophia Asks Writers:

“How do you portray a culture respectfully while simultaneously making it mysterious, sinister, and, in many cases, somehow mystical?”

I actually think this is part of the problem: (1) some writers try too hard at attempting to portray an entire culture rather than the individuals that contribute to it, and (2) they automatically settle for lumping an entire culture into “good” or “bad” categories.  The problem is that real-life cultures, like individuals, are way too complex for such simple treatment, so I don’t see why it should be any different in fiction that aims for at least some measure of verisimilitude.

When writers attempt to do these things, it tends to get especially hokey when they develop gross caricatures to represent cultures or focus too much on certain (often superficial) aspects of characters and take things too far—i.e. the writer harps on the same point over and over again in attempt to establish the “otherness” of someone/-thing: “He had an Italian nose…” (Which I think is a terribly lazy description, btw!)  Then the reader starts thinking: “Okay pal, you mentioned his nose several times in the first, second and third chapters.  How many more times do we need to be reminded of his ‘Italian’ features?  What is this obsession?!  We are capable of remembering details, you know.”

That kind of focus is too narrow, imo.  There should be many different aspects about a culture (cuisine, gestures, common verbal expressions used, customs, etc.) and yes, even an individual (quirks, speech pattern, thoughts, beliefs, etc.).  Of course, within the confines of a novel, you can’t list too many of these aspects or else it gets out of hand–yup, that elusive art/design principle of balance.  Still, these aspects should be given ample thought by the writer, and I think peppering–no, that implies superficiality–placing them into a story over time, preferably at different times, and refraining from putting too much focus on any of them in any given scene (unless a plot point hinges on them for some reason) would help alleviate this problem.

So how do you make a culture seem mysterious to a primarily western audience?  Study non-western cultures (especially rare ones)–which may include interviewing and interacting with people from those cultures–to inform your portrayal of said cultures in stories set in our world.  Or, in the case of secondary worlds, use that gained knowledge of other cultures as inspiration in order to derive new ones that will then, hopefully, seem “different” to your target audience.  (Easier said than done, right?)

Those are my amateur-writer thoughts, anyway…

(You know, author Kameron Hurley actually writes some really good posts that are related to this, namely her worldbuilding posts (see Worldbuilding 201: Normalizing the Absurd for an example).  I really think this lady knows what she’s doing and talking about when it comes to creating and successfully portraying unique cultures.)

Sophia Asks Writers:

“But how do you write about exotic lands without othering those people the main characters, who by nature of being dieselpunk characters will be westerners, will encounter there?”

Well initially, when anyone encounters something (or someone) that is unfamiliar to them then that something will automatically be “other” until they can get past the newness and are able to accept it as just another aspect of their reality–or, in the case of fiction, the story’s reality.

But that’s the whole appeal of adventures like in Indiana Jones or Star Wars and lots of other speculative stories.  Viewers/readers are always being introduced to new worlds, characters and cultures that may be very “other” to them, but hopefully, after having experienced the entire story through the eyes of the locals (characters), they’ve gained a better understanding of these things (assuming they’ve been accurately portrayed to begin with) as well as an appreciation for them–lessening the “otherness” and bringing about a sense of familiarity.

Also, I think you could still write a main dieselpunk character(s) who isn’t a westerner, per se, in the same way that there can be Asian-influenced steampunk, for example.  It’s just not typical to see here in the West.

And then there’s the potential for racism—which, if it’s an important part of a story… I mean it isn’t really bad to incorporate it if you’re going for some realism, but it’s different when it stems from a character rather than the author, if that makes sense…  But yeah, I won’t even get into that right now, haha.

In the end, I think all of this comes down to, well, (1) knowing what you’re talking about in the first place, (2) learning how much focus to put on any one thing in a story and (3) figuring out how to tastefully and artfully balance all the elements of your stories—kinda like art.  Though, like with art, measuring the success of the execution of these things is pretty subjective, so what works for you may not work for others and vice versa…

So yeah, those are my thoughts. 🙂

What Do You Think?

Have you encountered Orientalism in your writing projects, or seen it in fiction you’ve read/seen?  How can it/should it be addressed?

Using Astrology, Numerology, Archetypes or Personality Type Indicators To Interpret Character

25 Apr

I haven’t really been thinking as much about the writing process lately (and perhaps this is a bad thing…), but I have, for various reasons, been thinking about ways of understanding people.

Sometimes I like to analyze things, or study different ways of interpreting and making sense of the world–especially when it comes to people’s personalities.  It’s not that I place 100% stock in any one way; I just like to sift through them all and see how they make sense when considered holistically.  It’s kind of like I create this mental collage with information from different perspectives to in order to “see” the bigger picture, I suppose…

Potentially Helpful Writing Tools

In certain books about creating characters many authors will mention tools such as using character archetypes (such as The Shapeshifter, The Mentor, The Threshold Guardian, etc.) to help a writer determine what roles their characters will play in their novels.  Sometimes characters will fulfill just one role; others times they might fulfill several.  It’s not that a character has to follow these archetypes, just that it can make understanding his/her purpose in a story a bit easier.

But such archetypes are not the only tools at a writer’s disposal.

Over the years I’ve looked at a lot of other ways to interpret people’s personalities.  The astrological zodiac is probably one of the most popular tools Westerners, at least, use to identify themselves (especially when dating, it seems).  I’m not into reading and believing horoscopes and all of that, though I always find it interesting to read up on various personality types.  I’ve certainly used astrology to help me better understand some of the characters in my writing project.  It’s been particularly useful to me because I’ve been playing with the idea of the elements (earth, water, air, fire, etc.), so assigning each character a dominant element then reading about how this would affect their personality has been endlessly fascinating and useful for exploring the idea of the elements more deeply–both psychologically and in terms of magic.  There’s also Chinese astrology and its five elements, which I find equally interesting.

Getting away from astrology, there’s also numerology, which is based on a system of assigning numbers to letters and deriving meaning from people’s names and birth dates.  Personally I haven’t read up extensively on how all of that works, precisely, but I do find the resulting analysis of different names to be particularly enlightening.  Another interesting tool is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which may sometimes be used by employers to learn how their employees might fit into the workplace and also to facilitate better communication between everyone.

Now, any of these tools can be used on an individual character basis, though they can also be used to explore compatibility (or lack thereof) between characters.  Say you’re writing an interaction with two characters but the dialogue just feels stifled, or unnatural.  If you already know their general individual traits then you can use one of (or some of) these tools to read up on personality types, which could give you pointers on how these characters might behave around one another.

I think of all of these methods more as guidelines than ironclad rules–because, at the end of the day, people (and some characters) are just too darn complex to map out on paper.

Say, I Think You’re Going a Bit Overboard, There…

Hey, I don’t actually recommend using all of these things when coming up with characters.  Not only can it be time-consuming but unnecessary, once explored to a certain point.  (For me, though, it’s just something that really interests me outside of writing and so I just can’t resist!)  However, these tools can be useful if you’re having trouble fleshing out a character or deciding what kind of role they should play in your story.  In fact, I probably wouldn’t start out with archetypes and whatnot at all before I’ve attempted to put a character together myself and write about them a bit (I haven’t so far), but once you’ve gotten the ball rolling a bit exploration-wise it might not hurt to look into one of these tools for further development; they could provide great pointers and inspiration!

Do you use any of these tools when creating characters?

If so, which is(are) your favorite(s), or which do you find most useful?  If not, what else do you tend to use?

Mass Effect 3

14 Mar

So.

Some of you might know that I’ve been *ehem* neglecting the editing of my novel in order to do a play-through of a game called Mass Effect 3, developed by Bioware (now a division of Electronic Arts).  I’ve been a huge fan of their games since they released Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.  I don’t play a lot of video games, but when I do many times they’re role-playing titles by Bioware.

I love the idea that gamers can make decisions that can compound and actually affect the storyline (and, in this case, even carry over into other games).  Bioware thus far has done an incredible job of exploring the possibilities of this feature in their games, and Mass Effect 3 is no exception.

I’m not really here to do a game review, though.  I just want to point out some of the highlights of my gaming experience with Bioware’s latest title and reflect on some things I can take away from it as a writer.

Mass Effect 3 Is Not Afraid To Explore Dark, Gritty Themes

There were missions in this game that really made me cringe and wonder thoughts like, “How can anyone do that to another human being?”  It took me to places I’d, quite frankly, rather not go (were they real) and affected me on a surprisingly emotional level.  The game portrays humanity not only at its best but also at its absolute worst, particularly when things go terribly awry with certain technological advancements.  It shows a possible future that is staggeringly bleak and forces you to engage it head-on.

There were many a time during the game where things got so depressing that I truly questioned our hero(ine) Commander Shepard’s ability to unite a galaxy and defeat an overwhelmingly powerful enemy.  The foes are mighty and the stakes are insanely high.

No picnics here.

Mass Effect Asks The Tough Questions

Should humans develop artificial intelligence?  Do A.I. have the right to life?  Just what are organics (humans, alien races) really capable of?  What is the purpose of organic life?  How far should we take genetic engineering–or any scientific process, for that matter?  What is the next step in human evolution?

These are just some of the many questions that this game poses to players (very similar to Battlestar Galactica, actually) and asks them to make tough decisions about.

Mass Effect Makes You Care About What Happens To Characters

No small feat.

When I cry three times during one game (I’m not even kidding)…then I think the writers and creators have done something right.

Throughout all the games in the Mass Effect series players are given the option to cultivate relationships (both platonic and romantic) with other characters, and those can continue to grow over time.  In a story about galactic war, it goes without saying that some of the characters players grow to love (or hate) will end up dying–and I, for one, felt it.  The main ones, even some minor characters, all had their own personal stories and reasons for fighting, stories they’re willing to share if only the player takes the time to get to know them.  This made the playing experience all the more personal.

Also, I’m Still Trying To Suss Out What The (apparently controversial) Ending(s) Means

I get the feeling that things aren’t really as they seem to be on the surface… The “ending” (the one I chose, at least) felt very haunting and eerie to me and leaves a lot to the imagination (see here *spoiler alert*), making me suspect there’s more to come.  Whether in DLC (downloadable content) and/or another game, who knows?  Either way, I plan to stick around and find out.

Anyway, What I Took Away As A Speculative Fiction Writer

  1. Be brave in taking players (readers) to places they haven’t gone–not just philosophically or as far as using one’s imagination goes but also emotionally.  It may start in a foreign world/environment with exotic lifeforms but it really happens though characters who ultimately, alien or not, must feel human.  (See #3.)
  2. Ask the “what ifs” and try to provide some answers.  “How would a galaxy full of various alien races fare against a superior sentient machine race hellbent on annihilating and/or repurposing all advanced organic life?”  The Mass Effect series is the answer to that question.
  3. Develop distinct characters who have their own personal motivations.  If people can relate to their plights, then chances are they’ll actually care and the story will have more meaning.
  4. Endings are tough to pull off well; consider them carefully.

And…yeah, I think that about sums it up!

Anyone Else Playing This Game?

If so, what do you think about it?  Or, if you aren’t, have you ever played a game from which you were able to take away some writing lessons or goals to be inspired by?