Untimed – Off for Line Editing

Yesterday, I finished my fourth (more like 3 1/2) major draft of my new novel, Untimed, bundled it up, and shipped it out to my editor for line editing. This was a relatively quick and easy draft (about ten days), although it still took the usual three passes/reads. I concentrated on beefing up conflict. Every book has its trouble spots. In Untimed, these are the couple chapters following the Act 1-2 break and likewise those surrounding the Act 2-3 break (plus in earlier drafts, the ending — but that’s been resolved since the second draft).

The early Second Act has the problem of needing to up the stakes without being too flaccid or redundant. In the first and second drafts it had problems with being divergent to the main storyline, of basically doubling down on the action that occurs at the end of the first act. 1+1 does not equal 2. With the third draft I rewrote it completely, but here in the fourth, my editors had suggested a superficially minor reordering of the action. While textually small, pulling a couple reveals earlier had some great effects on the dynamic between the two leads, basically, giving them more divergent agendas for several chapters. Conflict is good in fiction. In real life we go to a lot of effort to minimize it. When writing, you want to squeeze every ounce of fight out of the story.

The Third Act break just plain needed more fighting (the personal, not the physical kind). I ramped it up again. Still, I wonder if I couldn’t use a bit more of “the whiff of death” but I Untimed is fairly light and I didn’t want to somber it up. Anyway, it read pretty well in my read through.

I’ve also been banging my head a bit with the issue of character arc, but I’ll have more to say on that in a day or so.

Now off to work on other things while I wait for the line edit to come back.

For more posts on writing, click here.

Middle Madness

I think I’m over the hump with the third major draft of my new novel, Untimed (for a quick blurb see here).

Story structure is hard. And while this book is much better structured than early drafts of my previous novel, it had two major problems: the ending and the first part of Act II. Late (very late) in the second draft I cracked the ending. So that just left the middle.

Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when the biggest comment from my awesome freelance editors’ (I use three: Renni Browne, Shannon Roberts, and R.J. Cavender) involved problems in this middle section. It’s not that the scenes wen’t good or exciting, but mostly that I fell prey to a personal need to sneak Napoleon into the story (time travel seems to call out for the most pivotal personality of the modern era) and this resulted in a bad case of “Double Mumbo Jumbo” (or a variant thereof).

So what is the dreaded Double Mumbo Jumbo? Most specifically it’s the phase coined in Blake Snyder‘s Save the Cat book (which I discuss here). DMJ is invoked by throwing two unrelated implausible things into the same story. However, my specific problem is really a cousin, what my editor Renni calls “1+1=1/2”. This is, the idea that doing the same improbable thing twice in the same book isn’t twice as good as doing it once, but actually half as good. Even if the thing is cool. So a kind of DMJ.

And I was doing it in my middle.

Still, this section of my story accomplished a lot of other things too. And I had to figure out how to rework it to keep as much of the good as I could, avoid a DMJ — and not make TOO much work for myself in terms of repercussions later in the book. Thinking about various ways to restructure, particularly given the constraints of my story, my elaborate time travel scheme, and history itself, was quite the brain buster. I thought on it all day for at least a week. So hard one Friday that I literally gave myself a migraine headache! I found myself pondering time travel so aggressively that I became confused as to what year it was — and then my vision began to shimmer (migraine).

I probably outlined 15 different scenarios and talked about countless more. This part of the writing process is very peculiar. I often end up with a half-baked scenario that satisfies some goals, but just doesn’t really work. One quickly reaches a point where no new ideas surface internally and you need to shake it up. I then find it extremely useful to talk with a limited pool of friends who have read the book in it’s latest incarnation. This allows me to efficiently go over the possible elements. Then we talk out the problems. By vetting numerous failed scenarios it’s often possible to collect enough different disconnected ideas that a single coherent new plot can be jig-sawed together. Or at least coherent enough to polish out in the writing.

This last week, I even twice resorted to writing out (as prose) incomplete outlines to see if they worked. The first revealed itself as a miserable failure. The second made it to the finish.

Now it’s off to friends and editors to see how it passes muster.

For more posts on writing, click here.

Crash Bandicoot – Interviews “R” us

These are answers (of mine) to a series of interview questions from Russian game site  www.crashbandicoot.ru. They’re a major Russian Crash fan site, hence the bad pun in my title. If you happen to speak Russian, they’ve it here.

The questions are in bold, and my answers in normal.

Crash Bandicoot (series)

Image via Wikipedia

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There was the soundtrack of Komodo Bros. boss on the CB1 CD. Does it mean you planned to bring this boss to the first game? What the fight was like and why have you dropped this idea?

Time. We ran out of time, plus we already had six bosses. They ended up in Crash 2. The Crash 1 battle plan was about 30% larger than the game we shipped – which was plenty big enough – as we planned too much. Everything extra ended up in Crash 2. But we didn’t actually make it during the Crash 1 development, we realized before then that there was too much in the plan and shelved it for later. It takes much less time to write on paper, “cool snow level where crash can slide around on the ice” than it does to design, model, and program said level.

Why the cut levels from CB1 beta like Cavern, Cliff and Waterfall haven’t reached its finish point in the final version of the game? According to the video they were well developed.

These were two early levels. The Cliff and Waterfall are the same level (jungle1). The cave was (cave2). These were the first two levels we built in Spring 1995, and they just didn’t work. The designs were too open, showing too many polygons and not channeling the player well enough for proper gameplay. If the space was so big that Crash could just walk around the enemies it wasn’t very fun.

There is the screenshot on crashmania where you can see the fruit similiar to pineapple instead of wumpa. Is it right and was it planned to add different fruits to the game?

Originally (for over a year in development) we had an elaborate fruit currency for pickups. Different fruit were worth different “points.” The only problem with this was that we only had so much texture memory and so each fruit got very little, and didn’t look that great. We eventually decided to spent all that memory on one fruit (the Wumpa fruit) and make it look really good. We rendered it out rotating and stored all the angles. Doing the fruit in actual 3D wasn’t feasible because fruit are round (hence lots of polygons) and we wanted to have many of them on screen.

What the bosses’ heads of Pinstripe, Koala Kong and Papu were for in the bonus rounds in the early version of the game?

We experimented with different “bonus head” currencies. I can’t remember which. In the end Tawna, Cortex, and Brio won out.

What the famous platform with plants from the level Air Crash (CB2) was for? Lots of players used to think it could take you to some secret place however there was the published video where Crash stayed on the platform and nothing happened.

That is just a video of some uncompleted area in some unfinished version of the game (say for a tradeshow). It was under construction and was never intended to be seen. Under construction levels can display any kind of whacky behavior.

The returning characters of Crash Tag Team Rac...

Image via Wikipedia

Why Nitros Oxide wasn’t brought to playable characters in CTR?

We only had room for so many, and the consensus (particularly of the Japanese) was that the cute characters were better choices (like the polar bear cub).

Is it true that there was a secret character called Hippo in the beta of CTR? Why weren’t all the characters from original trilogy included? It’d been nice to see Koala Kong and Nitrus Brio there.

Time and space. Each character was a lot of work and took up a lot of memory. I don’t remember the hippo though.

Why did you choose Mutato Muzika as the music composer to the all games of Crash Bandicoot?

We auditioned a number of composers to give us sample music for the game. Theirs was the coolest. And we were in a hurry J. But it worked out great!

Why CB1 takes all space on CD while CB takes only 1/3 of disk space? It’d be nice to see CB2 on mini-CD.

There is a huge fake file on the CB1 CD (the data.wad) which the game doesn’t care about. The file is full of random numbers and it was there to fill out the disk. The reason for this was twofold. First of all, the outside of the CD is faster, so by putting the useless file on the inside the game would be pushed to the outside. Second, we thought that pirates would be irritated by and less likely to download a 650meg game than a 150meg game. Less pirate copies is a good thing when you make games for a living.

Why have you deleted your official site of Crash Bandicoot on http://www.naughtydog.com? I’d like to read 20 questions and answers for Crash Bandicoot one more time.

I don’t control or influence www.naughtydog.com in any way, and haven’t since 2004.

What do you think about the bug which allows player to take the red gem in CB2 in an alternative way, not through the secret warproom?

I don’t 🙂 But it’s just a bug. In 1996 it would have pissed me off (mildly), now I shrug and smile.

Why do Brio and Cortex quarrel so that Brio looks for the way of destroying Cortex Spaceship in CB2?

Brio turned out to be surprisingly sympathetic (because Cortex picks on him) so we thought it would be amusing to develop that a bit. The Crash series, however, is not exactly The English Patient in terms of character depth.

It is very interesting what was planned to develop and what plans of that came true in CB2 and CB3?

For Crash 1 we had this huge three-part Island and all sorts of ideas for different areas and levels. Crash 2 was to a large extent those that didn’t make it in the first game plus lots of extra cool ideas we had. There was more time for new mechanics like the surf board, zero-G, sliding on the ice, etc. For Crash 3 we needed something a bit different and came up with the time travel idea (mine!). But truth is that we all loved that idea, and both Jason and I adore time travel. My second novel is about time travel! So the idea naturally led to putting in favorite times and places as levels for Crash 3.

Have you ever regretted of selling the rights of Crash Bandicoot franchise to another company? If there was a chance would you like to return on developing this franchise?

It made sense at the time, but I love Crash. Of all my creations it’s still my favorite and it’s sad to see him drop to his current lows. As Jason puts it, like discovering that your sweet High School girlfriend is now a street walker in Atlantic City.

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Why did you call your company just “Naughty Dog”?

We liked dogs. Plus Jason was always drawing these cool cartoon characters (in the mid 80s) and one of them was “The Naughty Dog” a studly 80s shades wearing dog who always got the chicks. So he became the mascot and source of the name.

Why Crash Bandicoot and Jak franchises are so similiar? I mean it includes the way of games (1, 2, 3 and racing). The first game of Jak is very similiar to CB1, the attack of Jak is like Crash’s one, we are destroying the crates and so more. Dammit, you can also see the Plant from CB1 in the beginning of the game?

The same people made them. Sometimes you like your own ideas 🙂 Certainly there is plenty new stuff in Jak.

Why have you developed Action-Adventure but not the platformer on PS3 as it lacks of them? I have read your Making of Crash Bandicoot series where you have said Naughty Dog was always looking for the opportunity ways, don’t you think the nice platformer could worth it?

I myself didn’t really do much PS3 development. I left Naughty Dog when Uncharted 1 was in its infancy. But market wise there seemed to be less support for pure platforming. It was seen as old fashioned.

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What are you interested in besides the video games?

Lots of stuff. Look at my blog http:all-things-andy-gavin.com.  Food, history, travel, writing, fiction of all sorts, technology. I’m very much a fantasy geek in the broad sense of the word.

What is your favorite game?

World of Warcraft. Even though I “quit” (again) after six years. Told you I’m a fantasy geek.

According to Facebook you like classic music. What are your favorite compositions?

I like a lot of music. In pure classical everything from Mozart to Stravinsky. But I listen to a wide variety of things, from weird folk music to industrial techno.

Have you ever been to Russia or the countries of post-Soviet Union. If yes did you like them? If no then are you going to visit them some time?

The closest I’ve been is Budapest and Prague. I’d love to visit many places in the former USSR. St. Petersburg is high on my list because I have a palace and museum fetish and I must see the baroque palaces there. Jason’s been to Moscow too – and I’d love to go there myself.

How do you think if Crash Bandicoot is relevant nowadays?

Current (or recent) Crash games are not relevant, but the character is. The response I get from my blog proves this. People still love the character, his world, and the games. I’m sure if they got an opportunity to play good Crash games in an updated format — millions would.

Any wishes to the users of Bandicoot Internet Zone?

I’d like to thank all the fans. It’s always been so gratifying how much people enjoyed visiting and playing our whacky cartoon universe. We brought it to life because it was just this super silly place that we thought would be a fun to inhabit (even if virtually), and it’s so great that millions and millions of players agreed and had a blast there!

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The index of all Crash posts is here.

The Making Crash series: [12345678910, 11]

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Also, peek at my novel: The Darkening Dream

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Untimed – Two Novels, Two Drafts!

My second novel, Untimed, is a YA time-travel adventure.

And I just finished the rough version of my second draft. Whew! Happy to be done with that. The book grew to 84,000 words (it’ll probably get trimmed down a bit for draft three). It still needs polish, but the second draft is often the worst, and this one took 5 or so weeks of concentrated work. While I learned from my first novel and put the beginning at the right place, the previous draft still had a number of classic first draft problems.

Namely, character and motivation needed work. Plot can formally be considered the friction between the protagonist’s desire and the obstacles to said desire. The book is/was jam packed with conflict and action, but the desire line was a bit weak. I won’t say it’s perfect now, but it’s a hell of a lot better. As are the characters. For me it’s difficult in the first draft to flesh both of these out because as a pantser I don’t know exactly where I’m going with the story until I get there. Not that I write blind, but I like the story and the characters to take me where they want.

When writing the second draft, you have an end (even if you plan on changing it), so you know all the elements that you intend to put in the book. Therefore it’s easier to go back and foreshadow those and reinforce the important ones. You also know what the character is going to need to feel at different points in the story, so it’s easier to try and set up and reinforce those feelings.

Additionally, as a pantser, I actually get to know my characters in the first draft. The writing of them brings them to life in my head. Then in the second draft, I need to brainstorm extra elements in their past and present that reinforce the traits I know they’re supposed to have, then hint at the them in the book. Again, hard to do the first time around.

Now to see what some reader that aren’t me think — and trial and nail the third draft.

I’d also like to thank my story-consultants Sharon & Bryan for listening to every blow by blow change and my independent editors Renni & Shannon for pointing me in the second draft direction. Here’s to hoping I went far enough :-).

The second draft involved a few weeks of incubation (June), a full read and polish (also June), and then hardcore writing from June 30 until August 2.

And in case you’re wondering what the book is about, I still haven’t written a log line, but its a lean-mean-fast-paced first person present story about a boy whose name no one remembers — not even his mother. And it features Ben Franklin, Napoleon, a male gang leader that wears red high heels, and the Tick-Tocks, creepy clockwork time traveling machines from the future.

For more posts on writing, click here.

Untimed – The Second Cover

Just finished up a new “working cover” for my second novel, Untimed. Thanks a million to my friend and long time business partner Jason Rubin for concocting the excellent logo. He is a true Photoshop wizard.

If any of you have thoughts on the cover (the book’s a YA time travel adventure), post them in the comments.

Now back to working on the second draft.

I will use powers of superhuman concentration to ignore the fact that I have A Dance with Dragons sitting on my iPad — more or less unstarted.

I will.

Not reading during working hours!

Untimed – Two Novels, Check!

Today I reached a milestone and finished the first draft of my second novel, tentatively titled Untimed. Now this doesn’t really mean it’s done, revision is usually more work than the first draft. Still, it’s a book. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Untimed is the first book in YA time travel series. I haven’t written a log line yet, but it’s currently 70,000 words, and is a lean-mean-fast-paced first person present story about a boy whose name no one remembers — not even his mother.

Oh, and it features Ben Franklin, Napoleon, a male gang leader that wears red high heels, and the Tick-Tocks, creepy clockwork time traveling machines from the future.

I started it Feb 9, 2011 and finished the first draft May 20, 2011. I took about three weeks “off” to work on revisions of The Darkening Dream. So that’s roughly three months. My output was actually slower (as measured in words) than with TDD, because a don’t overwrite now. If anything Untimed is underwritten and certainly needs a lot of character work in revision, which might make it grow slightly.

I learned a lot of things from problems with TDD (mostly fixed in my many many revisions). I learned to find a place to start your story that really hooks BEFORE starting to write. I learned not to write any scenes that involved merely going from place to place. I learned not to flash back. I learned to stick with the plot, not the sub plots. And a whole lot more.

And I tried to outline the entire story before I wrote it, failed miserably, and concluded that I’m really a pantser (a seat of the pants writer).

For info on my first (and completed) novel, click here.

ps. If you’re one of my many dedicated beta readers, and want to offer early high level feed back, send me a note.

Back to the Future Part III

Title: Back to the Future Part III

Director/Stars: Michael J. Fox (Actor), Christopher Lloyd (Actor), Robert Zemeckis(Director)

Genre: Time Travel Comedy

Year: 1990

Watched: March 31, 2011

Summary: Ug. What happened?

 

The end of part II leaves us with this sweet little setup. And then Back to the Future Part III just craps all over it.

Really this is barely a time travel movie. Basically Marty just pops back to 1885 to save Doc from being shot by Biff’s great-grandfather (again played by the same actor). The DeLorean has run out of gas… in 1885, so they have to figure out how to get it up to 88 miles an hour. Answer locomotive. This is a reverse of, but nearly the same, as the gimmick from the first movie with having to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of power via lightning bolt. Oh, and Doc falls in love.

What follows is a pretty silly, downright camp, little western pastiche. And that’s about it.

As I said, there isn’t much of the time travel and paradox fun we had in the first two films. But there is more rehash of the same jokes. Michael J Fox plays another McFly family member. Although one has to wonder why his great-grandmother still looks like Lea Thompson when she married into the family in the 50s! And the Fox genes must be dominant over the Glover ones. Oh we also get the “Biff eats manure” joke again. There’s also Doc’s little romance. I know it’s supposed to be sweet, but it really wasn’t doing it for me. Nothing really did, sorry.

This is only the second time I’ve seen the film (compared to like 15 times for part I and 5+ for part II). I remember being massively disappointed in the theater in 1990 (maybe even on opening night). I don’t feel any differently 21 years later.

I hope they don’t do some awful part IV that’s on par with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Check out the Back to the Future review Part I here.

Or my review of part II here.