I want to kill my characters

I think I can understand George R.R. Martin a little more today.

There are rumours and leaked Alpha scrips of the original Hanako path. If you’ve heard or read them, then basically there were three endings:

  1. Hanako Kills Hisao
  2. Hisao dies accidentally (after wronging Hanako)
  3. Hanako commits suicide.

That’s it. After being yelled at too much, there were a few more endings added in; the “Bad End” (which survives today and was based on a rejection of mine) and a “True” path (which was only accessible from the Lilly path).

And I had totally forgotten why I had done that until now. I’m maybe 85-90% through Arctic Gale. If you haven’t read it then please do, and then go on Reddit and repost it as “A Runner’s Afternoon 3″. Trolling for effect…

Anyway, I know pretty much what will happen in the remaining 3-5 chapters, but as I was writing today, that voice in the back of my head popped up again.

“I’ll let you write the ending you planned if you tell me why it can’t be a really bad ending.”

And, you know, that voice is write. There are so many things that can go wrong in the story now. I know that writers like Aura and Suriko like making sure that every loose end and story arc is completed by the end of the story, but… why? I know that obviously you need a conclusion, but dying in a hail of fire without achieving your mission is also a perfectly valid conclusion. Sometimes, the bad guys win.

It can be, in some ways, fun to write endings like “Hanako Punch”. One of the appeals of Game of Thrones is that main characters regularly do get killed, so you have to kind of accept that. You can’t be watching that show and thinking “Meh, it’s fine, the good guys will win and we’ll have a happily every after” story.

20150517131333_IMG_4422So, I’m at that point right now. I could really make it so that the whole story up until now was just a buildup to a massive anti-climax. Unfortunately for me though, I only really have one story thread and one set of characters to play with, so if I killed them off, that is the end. But, I guess that is also the point as well; when you write something, you want to know that these characters that you have grown up with actually achieve the goals that you set for them. Or maybe that’s just my Western view of the world.

Anyway, please look out for chapter 33 of Arctic Gale later tonight. (Edit – or now. Only a short one this time though, for dramatic effect).

PS: another Easter-egg, albeit tenuous – Tweedledee is the hot girl part of the Tweedledee and Tweedledum pair from Kiddy Grade. I couldn’t resist another KG reference…!

A Copy of a Copy

I was having dinner with a friend the other night, and he was talking about something being a copy of a copy.

Originally I had to say that I agreed with him, but that it wasn’t a bad thing, for dwarves can see far when they stand on the backs of giants.

He’s Japanese, so it took a bit of explaining, but essentially so long as you are not plagiarizing something then I think that it is totally acceptable to be inspired by others.

For example, when we were in 4LS, we did the the “Influence Map” Meme, both individually and as a group:

The result was spectacular:

The full 4LS influence map. Click for the full image.

The full 4LS influence map.
Click for the full image.

I had forgotten about it until he brought it up, and then it made me think about what actually influences myself. I think that the self-reflection that this exercise makes you do is a pretty good thing.

So, after a couple of crazy weeks, a good long soak in the bath, some vegetable soup and Chapter 31 of Arctic Gale, I decided that I should do the same for Arctic Gale. It’s also good timing with Arctic Gale, as we are now into the final few chapters of the first draft. Today I hit 60,000 words; not a record for me (I think the first draft of the Hanako path was about 100,000) but certainly long enough for me to achieve my ultimate goal of turning it into a physical book.

My Influence Map for Arctic Gale. Click for poor photoshop.

My Influence Map for Arctic Gale. Click for poor photoshop.

Now, I will admit that I am a little tired and a bit shit at photoshop, so forgive the poor quality. I will note that there are some mild “Spoilers” in the text below, mostly around things like location or Easter eggs, but please, if you get angry at that kind of thing then please tune out now. I won’t give away any vital plot points.

So, let me explain a few of the squares. Unfortunately due to my poor photoshop ability you will have to deal with me hopping around the place as a few of these squares have a temporal significance as well!

So, let’s start at the top right: Tsar Bomba. I’ve always been interested in nuclear weapons, initially as a pyromaniac kid, then as a scientist, and now as, I guess, what you could call a pacifist.

The Tsar Bomba was the biggest nuclear weapon ever exploded at 50 MT, and that was at half power as they wanted to be close enough to study it. If you get much bigger than this bomb then you reach the destructive limit of atomic bombs, as you punch a hole in the atmosphere and the blast energy heads away from Earth.

When I heard about  this bomb I got thinking about what it actually meant for the testing ground. It would effectively be off limits for humanity for quite some time. It carved out a huge crater in an otherwise featureless island in northern Russia. So when I started thinking about the location for AG my mind turned to Novaris Zemlya, the test site. It also inspired me to think about different technologies, like space mirrors, that could be used to warm up the tundra to become livable land.

To the left of this is 4LS. When I joined the team (after 6 chapters of AG) I was a pretty hot-headed, arrogant writer. The team at 4LS taught me how to critique my own work, and I’ll be putting those lessons to work during the approaching editing phase. Even when I’m planning the story or writing a scene I hear Aura, Delta, Suriko and A22 screaming at me to make it better, and hopefully that has helped you all.

Below 4LS is Kiddy Grade. This is one of the first Anime that I watched, and it was certainly the first one that moved me enough to start getting involved in the “creation” instead of “consumption” of content. I think I have written about this in my blog.

The two receptionists in the Depoc building that help in the first real fight of the book are inspired by Eclair and Lumiere, and Kate’s character is based, in part on Eclair’s ability to kick a massive amount of arse. I have also pinched a couple of other elements relating to the control of such Agents from Kiddy Grade, such as the remote control of their systems and the ability to control/sense things through a radio link (although this isn’t really unique to Kiddy Grade, either). Also partially featured in this would be Ghost in the Shell, but I didn’t really have the space to put in every bit of influence here! Maybe a better square would be Anime in which enhanced women kick significant amounts of arse and also robots.

Equilibrium and, I suppose in nearly equal parts, 1984, are both inspirations for this work, especially around the totalitarian government. Both deal with someone who has realised that the government is trying to develop a system to control everyone in the population and try to fight the system from within. Tied up into this as well is Schumpeter’s Socialism, Capitalism and Democracy, a book from the 1950’s that goes into waaaay too much depth about the three topics in the title. This was a bit of an eye opener to the attitudes of Socialists and the struggle that was starting up at the beginning of the Cold War. I’ve applied some of the techniques he discusses into the later parts of the book (I read the book in early 2014) and I’ll probably wrap some more of these thoughts into the character’s backstory (which I need to work on for Dani and Drew, given that they moved from fringe characters to central characters before I knew it).

 The Bloody Beetroots feature because their song, Chronicles of a Fallen Love was one of the songs that really inspired me to start writing again. I thought “man, I would love to have a song like this as the end credits song to the AG movie…” or something similar, and so when I get stuck I put on one of those tracks and get myself back into the groove.

The Australian Defence Force Academy applies here as well for a few reasons. It is where I did my degree, so it combined military and academic training (I will also note that I left the services after my degree). I won’t claim to be any kind of solider, nor did I get in any fights beyond training exercises, however I will admit that some of my feelings about the training regime have slipped into Kate’s story.

Lastly, the Killing Fields in Cambodia and the Christchurch Earthquakes are both areas that I have traveled to in the course of writing AG that have directly impacted the work. The Country House is an idea that I had after visiting Wellington and seeing just how long it can take for these areas to be fixed when you don’t have the money or the systems in place to deal with such incidents.

And the Killing Fields are one of those reminders that sometimes normal people can do extraordinarily cruel and unimaginable things when they are placed in a society that sees enemies in every corner…

So, I hope that this gives you a bit of an insight into the process. Even writing this has made me realise links that I hadn’t even noticed until now…

I hope that those of you that are reading Arctic Gale are enjoying it, and that now that we are approaching the end that I can live up to your expectations without having to write A Runner’s Afternoon 3…

The Dedication of Fans

A lantern in Seoul for Buddah's Birthday. Unfortunately I only had my phone with me...

Many years ago, when I didn’t know any better, I used to subject my underlings to some of the horrors of the Anime subculture. Basically, if you wanted to work for me, you had to watch all of Higurashi, and love it. Anything less was a sackable offense.

Thankfully, I have realised that this is not exactly a smart way to get ahead in life, so now that kind of behavior is strictly opt-in. Then again, I haven’t really watched any anime in a long while, so I have little ammunition.

However, at the time, one of my obsessions was Touhou music. Yes, I can admit it now. One of my favorite tracks is “(Yet Another) Drizzly Rain” by Cool and Create:

There is something about speed techno pop crap music that really helps me focus on inane tasks like soldering cables or drawing plans. Unfortunately for my crew, I used to play this on the main workshop speakers, regardless of who was listening. In reality, we all had odd music tastes, and we actually shared quite a lot of stuff. One thing that we did do was work together to get the Sydney Opera House organ to play Vocaloid, which I think ranks up there in terms of bizzare things that I have done.

Anyway, one day I was blasting a bit of Cool & Create and I mentioned to one of my crew that it was amazing that someone could actually play that. He laughed at my stupidity, as it was obviously a sequenced song. I never looked on Niconico at the time, but I suggested that he would be surprised, as I think it is likely that someone has already perfected playing the near-impossible track on piano.

The reason is that if you have enough fans, you’re bound to find one that is incredibly talented at something. In a sense, that is how KS was made; I had the pleasure of working with a lot of very talented authors, artists, directors and editors. And then if you look at the Shimmie you see this mass of art, and I know that there are some great fan fictions out there (I don’t often read them, but I often get listed on these lists due to A Runner’s Afternoon so I am aware of them).

One you get to Hatsune Miku levels of fans though, you find that there are a second ring of super-talented people (the first, of course, make the music and the video). That’s when you get something amazing like this:

Just think about the cycles of creative energy that went into that clip. Firstly someone made the original Ieavan Polka (a band called Lolituma). Then someone Vocaloid-ed it (let’s not forget the creativity of that software in and of itself). That inspired someone to make a Miku Miku Dance sequence for it, and then someone practiced their arse off until they had perfected a dance that uses a unrealistically proportioned and fast-moving model of a human.

Honestly, that’s the kind of cycle that I love being a part of, and I’m hoping that AG and any future works of mine (including my Day Job) will inspire people to do things as well.

Also, speaking of, here is another song that I have been crushing on recently:

(I actually think that my Youtube favourites are public if you can find my account).

So I have managed to write another chapter for Arctic Gale. Finally up to #30! Okay, technically it is the 31st chapter because I have a boner for prologues, but you get the feeling. It’s also looking like it will actually get to that novel length, which I wasn’t sure if I could manage on a first draft.

I have some things that I want to do when I go back and edit it for “publication,” but to hit that magical novel-length on the first run would be nice.

When I started out writing AG (in 2006, about 9 months before joining 4LS) it was already about an experimental colony and based around space travel. In fact, apart from changing the heat source from a huge, space-based mirror to a geothermal supply, I haven’t changed much about the setting at all. And yes, I did have a particular place in mind when I started writing it, and I think it still makes sense for the story to be set there.

But recently I’ve started getting interested in the science-y side of it again. One thing that I wanted to do was to make sure that everything was based on something that was at least logical. The genetics behind the Clock are something that people have been looking at for a few years now, and body enhancements are nothing new. Geothermal heating isn’t impossible, and the scale of the city and the economics of it all could technically work as well.

There is, however, one thing that you don’t realise until you experience it; light pollution.

In high school I did an extension course in Cosmology, and this included a few trips to the remote Australian telescope sites like Coonabarabran  or Narrabri 

These places are pretty much as remote as you can get; the nearest “towns” (some with fewer than 100 people) are tens of kilometers away. If you turn off the lights you get an eerie darkness. If you lay on the ground for long enough (with young, high-school eyes) you can see stars that are beyond an apparent Magnitude 6, which technically shouldn’t be visible to the naked eye. The Milky Way dances overhead like a long, luminescent cloud, mostly white but tinted in hues of red through the atmosphere (which would have scattered the blue away). It is very, very easy to lose your mind amongst the stars; you very quickly realise just how insignificant the Earth is in the great dance of the cosmos.

In Sydney the effect is greatly dimmed, but if you turn off your lights and find a bit of shade you can still stare at the stars. Unless you are right in the guts of the city you can usually get a bit of star-gazing done.

The year before last I took a weekend off with a friend in Japan. She had never been stargazing before, and I thought that we were remote enough to actually see something akin to the arching Milky Way from high school. But, alas, even a few hours from Tokyo on the train and we could see little of our Galaxy, and only the brightest stars were visible, even though it appeared as if it were a pitch black night. I was disappointed, but she was thrilled. It wasn’t until I moved to Tokyo that I realised why.

There are no stars in Tokyo.

It didn’t hit me at first, but I was guiding my parents-in-law around Tokyo Tower at night, and in staring up at the great structure I noticed that I didn’t notice something – the stars. Apart from the moon, there was nary a celestial body visible. Even from our apartment a few kilometers from the centre of the city you have no chance of seeing any stars. So seeing a few pinpricks of light against a navy-blue sky in Chiba must seem like a fantasy to the inhabitants of that metropolis.

And now that I can’t see the stars, I find myself wanting them; a classic case of you-don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-ism. I’m sure that I’ll make it better, but I wanted to try an inject that feeling into this latest chapter of AG; not only for nostalgia, but also because I have finally remembered one of the key points I wanted to introduce into Kate’s character – that utter isolation and fatalism that comes from realising that you are just a single speck of dust on this ball of dirt, and that 30-year life-span is exactly the same as a 300-year life-span in the eyes of the cosmos…

Arctic Gale Chapter 30

I am away from home so I can't post my Milky Way photos.  This one is By-CC-ND from http://free-images.gatag.net/en/tag/milky-way

I am away from home so I can’t post my Milky Way photos.
This one is By-CC-ND from
http://free-images.gatag.net/en/tag/milky-way


There are no stars in Tokyo

House of Gadgets

Everyone knows that Japan is full of crazy gadgets. When I was about 15 my uncle bought me a book – “Chindogu – The Art of (Un)useless inventions”. It was full of things like umbrellas with a built-in raincoat, head-worn toilet paper dispensers for people with hay fever, chopstick-mounted fans to cool your noodles and the like:

http://www.dogonews.com/2009/6/7/chindongu-the-art-of-un-useless-inventions

It was the kind of stuff that makes you laugh until you realise that someone devoted a lot of brain power to make these things work, and none of them is any less stupid than riding a Razor scooter to work.

We recently moved into our apartment in Tokyo. As we have less expenses here compared to Sydney we’ve been able to go a little up market, meaning that our unit has a number of gadgets that really make places like Sydney seem positively backwards.

Arse-washing toilet

The Japanese obsession with cleanliness is nothing new, and a lot of people have already made fun of the Washlet-type toilets with self-cleaning bidets built into them.
However, as we were shopping for our whitegoods, I found that you can actually buy portable washlets for “personal use”. These are basically battery-operated water pistols with nice, watertight cases…
The concept made me giggle, thinking that it was probably a gimmick, or for people who wanted a washlet but couldn’t install one in their home for one reason or another.
And yet, no later than a week after discovering these items in the shop, I hear two clients discussing their recent purchase of said portable Washlets at a dinner meeting.
So, apparently portable washlets aren’t only popular enough that two businessmen on the other side of the world had them, but they also deigned that this was an appropriate conversation at a dinner table as a classy restaurant.
I have a lot to learn.

Automatic Baths

I’m guessing that most people already know about the obsession with baths in Japan. The fact that almost all vacationing in Japan revolves around Onsen (or, at the very least, public baths) is widely known.
When I grew up we had single electric water heater; the type that regularly explodes after a couple of decades of use. We never had gas, so it is likely that the stuff below is really old news for some people.

There is a thermostat in both the kitchen and the bath, allowing you to select the temperature of the hot water. This is great when you have young kids that are starting to play with taps – they might get some warm water, but certianly not the 80C water that our system in Sydney used to produce.

But they also have an “Automatic” bath button located in the kitchen. So, assuming that you have the plug in the bath, you hit the button, and the system fills up the bath for you and lets you know when it is ready. That is really helpful when you are struggling to extricate a 3-year-old from her favourite PreCure dress…

The Lights

I’ve heard that in Germany you have to buy your own kitchen, even if you are only renting a place. In Japan, it’s lights. And I don’t mean in the French style of “oh, we didn’t want to pick this kind of light fitting because it might not match your furniture,” I mean the standard oyster lights that are the only kind of lights that seem to exist in Japan.

There is a standard fitting, and only one style of light.

However, the LED-powered lights are remote-controlled, so not only can you change the colour between florescent or incandescent, but you can also set the brightness, sleep timers and the like and save memories into the light itself. So if you prefer cold white for reading but warm lights for eating, you can switch straight away. You can also pre-program a random timer so that if you’re going to be away it will turn the lights on and off so that thieves think you are still at home (but who are we kidding – this is Japan).

The Key

Another, probably slightly boring touch is that the RFID tag for the security doors and the lifts is build into the front door key. So instead of carrying a physical key and a “swipe fob” for the doors, you only need one thing in your pocket. Also very cool is that when you swipe the lift it auto-selects the floor for you, so if you are carrying a load of shopping you can simply get in the lift and off you go.

Storage

There is so much freaking storage in our flat. There is more storage in our toilet than there was in our entire bathroom in Sydney.

Multi-function Ovens

I know that multi-function ovens (Microwave/Grill/Oven) aren’t exactly new, however our oven has NFC (so you can use your phone instead of dealing with the menus) and 64 sensor zones to detect the temperature of the food. You just tell the oven that you’re cooking toast and it does the rest. Or if you’re warming up tea/coffee – it works out what it needs to do and gets on with it.

Another cool feature is that it tells you how much electricity you used, so if you are into really tiny accounting you can see if it is cheaper to re-cook something or to cook a lot of it and heat it up…

The Fridge

The fridge, like the oven, has more features than you’d expect. There is an air-tight drawer so that if you want to store something that might release an odor (e.g. cheese) then you can put it in there so that it doesn’t spoil your experience when you open the door. There is also a CO2 scrubber in the vegetable section so that it keeps them fresher, and a -2C section for cooling beer and rice without freezing them.

Built-in 1Gbps Switch

I’m not sure why it is there, however there is a 1Gbps switch that was pre-wired into the house, which has made getting all of our network storage back up and running a breeze

Floating Floors

If you are into studio construction, you’ll know that most recording studios are “rooms-within-rooms” – floating rooms that really help with noise reduction.

Our unit is built in the same way, with a 10cm air gap between the floor, ceiling and walls and the concrete structure, meaning that there is pretty much no noise transmission. The glass is all double-glazed as well, so you can have a bus drive past the window and barely notice it…

Anyways, most of these things are probably normal in the modern world, however Sydney is very far behind the times when it comes to home construction and fit-out. Our Sydney unit, which was only completed last year, is still having issues with the hot water supply and at least 10% of the doors to the apartments are still getting stuck in the door jamb. So it really is a different world.

I have a week in limbo this week, so I’m hoping to get at least one, if not 2-3 chapters of AG out… at least, that is the plan…

Jetlag Express

I’m not sure how it affects others, but to me, Jet Lag is like a net that envelops your brain. When you wake up you feel its presence. I usually think, quite optimistically, that this is just the normal “tiredness” that will go away with breakfast and a coffee.

An adequate dose of caffeine and water tends to help, but as the day wears on, the net is slowly wound in, resulting in a feeling like you brain is being drawn towards the back of your skull. It’s an all-encompassing pressure, focused on the front of your head; unrelenting.

 

And then, once the day’s work is over and you feel like you can finally get some rest, your body catches up. You’re alive and ready to fight another day. All those hormones that you’ve been dumping in your system to wake yourself up finally line up with your diurnal cycle, and you’re in party mode. Since you’re usually not at work at this point, an offer to go for a drink or a dinner sounds like a good idea, and without your internal alarm clock telling you to go to bed, it is really quite easy to enjoy the night well into the wee hours. Even when you actually behave yourself (instead of saying “Ah, I shouldn’t drink tonight…” and then smashing half a dozen cocktails), you can still find that midnight creeps up on you with surprising stealth.

 

Last week I was in the States, and now I’m in Germany, writing a little bit of AG and preparing for three days of meetings before jumping on the plane back to Tokyo. Due to the way your cycles work, travelling east is always harder than west (think of it this way; if you go 8 hours east, you start work in the new zone roughly when you would be going to bed.

There is a significant drop on two sides of this runway...

There is a significant drop on two sides of this runway…

If you go west, you start work roughly at the time you’re wrapping up for the day, so you’re at least in “watch TV/play games/generally be awake” mode).

So, I’ve lucked out this time.

 

However, I did get to see the Grand Canyon, and I’ll admit, it is pretty Grand. Next time I’ll try and get there at ground level.

 

Thanks also to those of you who messaged me after my last post. I had only just landed in the States when trying to write this current chapter. I think I have it back on track now, and I have had a lot of time in the last 6 or 8 days (I’m not sure which at this point) to ponder how I can close off the last few threads of this story without it becoming too much like some kind of repetitive teen action movie (something that I’ve begun to fear after watching too many of Cinema Sin’s “Everything Wrong With” videos).

 

Enjoy the view.

Writing yourself into a corner

Sometimes, there comes a point when you are writing that you realise that the path you’ve wanted to follow may not completely resolve with the reality of the story as it has unfurled so far.

I’m at that point now. I’m thinking about scrubbing the last couple of chapters of Arctic Gale, or at least hacking away at them.

Or, I could change the way that I want to go forward.

it’s always a bit hard. When you’re writing a character, they form themselves around the original plan that you had in mind. If you decide to change things then you suddenly have to resolve a number of issues around that character’s traits and behaviors. And then there are things that just don’t make sense. Why would the rebels suddenly accept Kate back into their midst after she was obviously captured by Depoc? Or is that something that is resolvable?

How do the news reports about Cole make any sense? If he was the rebel leader, then Kate killed him, and that’s not acceptable.

If he was a double-agent, then why would Depoc go to the trouble of reporting him as part of the rebellion?

These are the issues that I am currently facing. That and jet lag.

PS I’m also starting to take notes about setting up in Japan in another Page on this blog. I’m updating it as I go along. There is a lot more between where I’m up to and the present day, but the process is still ongoing, so no rush…!