Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A thread about pdf piracy

An extremely practical thread over at the Forge about the publisher of Panty Explosion (the RPG of psychic Japanese schoolgirls) dealing with .pdf piracy.
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Monday, October 30, 2006

How I brainstorm a scene

Sometimes the writing of a scene just flows – every line clicks into place; it’s easy to visualise the action – and that is awesome.

Other times, not so easy. That’s when I have to get a bit mechanical. I roughly outline the beats that I know will be in a scene, and then I B20 (brainstorm 20 options) for each character in the scene – for their overall motivation, all their reactions, and every line of dialogue.

When I do that, I’m looking to find truth about the characters, insight into them, and either originality or authenticity.

Every time I go through the B20 process, I tend to got through the same emotions and reactions. What I’m trying to do here is describe that pattern and then (hopefully) isolate some key questions to ask, that’ll speed up the whole thing up.

  1. First off, the obvious lines are the ones I write down.
  2. Then variations (sometimes very slight) on those obvious lines.
  3. Random lines, as they occur to me.
  4. Come up with a few arbitrary lines, that don’t really fit with what the beat’s trying to do.
  5. Write a line that hits the mark. Experience satisfaction, then slack off / consider giving up or settling. This (and every point here) can happen multiple times during a B20.
  6. Spell out the subtext behind the line.
  7. Play around with that.
  8. Try another subtext. Every subtext I find is a different area to explore and mine for possibilities.
  9. Realise that the line doesn’t exist in isolation and link it back to the previous one(s), so it flows.
  10. Imagine the actor who’s saying the line.
  11. I get exhausted towards the end, and struggle to come up with lines.
  12. That’s when I re-read it all and jot down any lines that occur to me from reading all the others.
  13. Towards the end, I almost always get a fresh insight (or two) into what’s really going on.
  14. And I usually write down some crazy, usually rude or sociopathic stuff just to get the thing finished off.

So, what can I distil from that?

Before I begin:
Bear in mind that the line doesn’t exist in isolation. It needs to flow from what has come before.
Imagine the actor who’s saying the line.

  1. First off, write down the obvious lines.
  2. Then spell out the subtext behind the beat, and play around with that.
  3. Once those lines dry up, try another subtext. Feel free to write down random lines, as they occur to me.
  4. Then re-read it all. Jot down any lines that occur to me from that.
  5. I always get a fresh insight (or two) towards the end.
  6. Finish off with some arbitrary stuff.

Then I go through the list of 20 options, circling the ones that appeal to me. Create a separate list of those options and choose the one that most appeals. The point is not to get it perfect; it’s to get it done. This is the point to rust my instinct and save ‘perfection’ for the rewrite, once I see how the line plays in the context of the whole show.

If, at any point, the scene just completely tries up for me, I use the Brian Johnson trick of tracking back a few lines or a page and seeing where it all started to go wrong. It’s usually quite obvious in hindsight.

I don’t get the scenes completely right using this process, but so far every time I’ve re-read one it’s been obvious where it works and where it doesn’t.
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Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Limit - a nice bath and a read

Further to my last post, about what to do at this stage of the script, I found going for a long walk and just jotting down thoughts about the script as they came to was a good way of organising my memories of what needed to be improved with the script.

I used a mind-map, and drew four spokes (one for each act) and then placed each memory on the appropriate spoke.

Then I fine-tuned the proper notes.

Today, I just had a long bath and a re-read of the script - where I found myself jotting down ideas and suggestions. The script was much more enjoyable this time round (perhaps I was less judgmental?) and the flaws seemed obvious - or at least the obvious flaws did.

Next step is to go through all the feedback and the marked up script and see if there are any global problems (affecting the whole story) that need to be resolved before I start rewriting. If not, I'll just go scene by scene - which has worked well for me in the last few drafts.

(Idea: I should set up another folder for each script, to store all of my Engagement Charts, so I can easily find them and compare between drafts.)
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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Land of the Dead

wr. George Romero

A zombie movie that is less tense than Romero's other 'Dead' movies. At the start of the film, the survivors have reached an equilibrium with the zombies. They're not under immediate threat, and civilisation is being re-established - we've moved from Day of the Dead (where there was stability and protection for a small group) to Land where a city has been taken back from the zombies. At the same time, the zombies are also beginning to form a society.

I find it hard to talk about this film without referencing the three that preceded it. Land is a movie with less threat, and more fun & toys. The zombie carnage is kinda ... perfunctory. It feels like it's there because we expect the zombies to breach into civilisation when we watch a Romero zombie movie. Hell, I'm not sure what other story you can in the zombie genre other than the threat to & dissolution of a fragile civilisation. Even The Walking Dead plays with those beats.

The heroes in Land feel like they have Hollywood hero immunity; the threats to them aren't played for keeps. However, by the end of the film, I feel that they've lost their immunity & from here on, things are going to get rough for them. And this really does feel like the first in a trilogy - like these characters have just been set up & will go through hell in following films.

Land feels way more ... coherent and conventional that the first three. Which I like, because it's not repetitive. But not a lot happens, the story is actually mostly set up, with a little bit of Die Hard and a little bit of zombie carnage thrown in.

Because of the more Hollywood-style, I don't *care* as much about the characters as in previous Dead movies. I don't feel the deaths as much (maybe because there are more people dying?). But I do love the performances. All of them are grounded (even Dennis Hopper isn't playing it camp), they're wry, and just world-weary and shocked enough without being too downbeat. There's a lot of life and professionalism to these characters and I'd like to see more of them.
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Dawn of the Dead (2004)

wr. James Gunn

This is a review of the plot of the DotD remake. I'm quite interested in the structure because for me it moves from working to not working back to working. And it does so in a way that's similar to Trainspotting; it's fascinating when focusing on the characters responding to their situation, but feels less intelligent & more stereotypical whenever it introduces 'plot' hooks that don't come from the characters.

By the 10 minute mark, we've established Sarah Polley's nurse as the main character and that the world is falling apart. By 35 minutes, our core cast has been established and they're in a tough situation (prisoners of the mall's security guards).

The Midpoint comes at the 50 minute mark when the characters discover that being bitten turns you into a zombie. This forces the core cast to make decisions (like will they kill bitten people, or say if they've been bitten). Up till now, I've enjoyed the movie - I like the characters, they've acted smart at every turn, and they've had to respond to the pressures of the situation.

Now the movie skips forward somewhere between a week and a few months.

The movie starts to fail at about the 55 minute mark, once a routine of safe daily life in the mall has been established. In order to put the characters into zombie jeopardy the script has to manufacture situations. In this case, the generator goes out, forcing some of the team to go fix it. While that seems arbitrary, there's a zombie pregnancy going on at about 70 minutes that I can get behind but it's not utilised to create more zombie menace (the two people killed in the ensuing gun fight don't turn, for instance).

At 75 minutes, the nurse says "I don't want to die here." She wants them to leave the mall. This sets up the plot for the rest of the film.
Logically, it's a reasonable position. Eventually the food will run out. But I haven't been emotionally convinced as to why they have to leave. Just as an example, I haven't seen any 'deterioration' in their quality of life at the mall.

But after a quick inversion of the Andy situation at the 80 minute mark (which manufactures a crisis of needing to rescue Nicole and leave the mall ahead of schedule), I buy into the action movie chaos that follows as they escape. It's good dumb fun. However, the finale and aftermath are a return to the subtler, nastier horror that I liked in the film's opening third.


Luke, ideas this gave me for Game of the Dead:

- give the players incentives for taking risks & reward characters who do.
- maybe PCs have immunity from getting bitten (like hit points, but let's call it 'Life')
To succeed at anything costs you point(s) of Life. To get life back, you have to create a fuck up (like the zombies breach a layer of security, or you put someone in danger, or similar 'why are you acting like an idiot?' moments for characters in zombie films).
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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Gametime update

I've posted a summary of why I believe theory can be useful to gaming over at Gametime.
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The Limit - spring cleaning

So, I've just drawn up the chart for how engaged I was during this read.

Now I have to:

- write down (on one page) the fundamentals of what needs to be done with this draft, based solely my memories of reading it. I will not refer to either the script or my notes during this process.

- tidy up my more in-depth notes, which will involve comparing them to the .wav file that I dictated, and possibly simplifying or categorising my observations.

- re-read the script.

Aside: I watched a show called Quite Interesting last night, a BBC comedy/quiz hosted by Stephen Fry. Lots of fun, but I'm finding the memory of his polished and grammatically precise manner of speaking is making me very self-conscious about my writing right now.
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Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Limit - rebeginning

Re-read the script after about a month off. There was a six page stretch (of restructured and new material) in the middle where I was just thinking "Oh my god" over and over again at how tense the writing was making me.


Now to chop a little bit out of the first act, rework Turning Point 2 a lot, and figure out the ending again (it's still not quite working).

I'm not sure what to do next - probably draw up my Engagement Chart, do the notes and then re-read it.


Other script tip stuff, while I remember:

Have two folders - one for the current draft, and one for the next draft.
Jane Espenson pointed out that you can ask what's the script about, and then you can ask what it's really about. Both questions are useful for keeping your writing on track.
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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Lost - new season

Without spoilers, here's what I think:

a) great opening sequence
b) they've consciously gone for an approach that'll make it easier for new viewers to join in.
c) some flashbacks are less interesting than others
d) the show isn't compelling yet.
e) The Others ARE the new Hatch.
f) I loved the ending.

Oh, and thanks to Kung Fu Monkey for revealing what the numbers really mean, [Big spoilers if you click on that link] as revealed in the Lost ARG (Alternate Reality Game). And for bringing the idea of the numbers stations to my attention - my Big Book of Conspiracies never mentioned those.
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Veronica Mars opening credits

I'm really digging the remixed VM theme tune, a little downbeat, a lot cool.

Plus it seems that the network-imposed structure of smaller mysteries may really work out. I'm enjoying how fast the case is progressing.

(And once again, effortless introduction of new characters to the supporting cast.)
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Sapphire & Steel - reborn

The BBC has been doing a whole bunch of Sapphire & Steel radio plays? Starring David Warner as Steel? They're up to Season 2, and it's been going for at least the last 2 years?

Thanks for the tip, i/s.

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So, I'm now a co-editor of a NZ gaming blog - Gametime. This is where I'll be posting much of my RPGeekery from now on (and linking to it from here).

My intro and first post (about a particular style of gaming I'd like to try) are up.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Mega Roleplaying Weekend - The Haikus

Lots of gaming over the weekend at a house-con up on the coast. It was intense – so many games I wanted to play. Rather than regale you with war stories, I give you haikus.

Don't rest your head. Insomniacs see what's behind the real world. It's scary, in a Grant Morrison 'Doom Patrol' way.

Lonely man, awake.
He must find true love or else.
Trapped in the Mad City.

The Princes Kingdom. A princess and two princes travel to the island of Astoria to solve a brewing conflict between settlers and natives.

Little royal child,
you know your father loves you.
Can you stop the war?

Agon. Ancient Greek warriors of legend pursue epic quests to win the favour of the gods.

Scream and rage, bold heroes!
Fight and race each other now.
Fate, your time draws near.

Primetime Adventures: Displaced. A 90's TV show about a space hero fighting an evil galactic conspiracy with his friends from the 20th century.

These freaks with my ex
are trying to save the Earth?
Wait. They want me, too?

You can read more about them at the local forum I'm now moderating – Random Play.

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