Writing notes: ADoF chapter 28 ‘Interlude #4’

Aha! All is revealed. Or, at least, what happened to Cal.

The funny thing about the Interlude chapters is that they were never part of the original plan. I added Interlude #1 into the first story arc as a way to add some additional intrigue to the growing sense of conspiracy, and to unsettle readers. Interludes 2 and 3 then served to established Wynton Simons as a genuine character, giving the Arc 2 finale more emotional heft than if he’d just been Generic Faceless Might-Be-A-Bad-Guy.

Given the events of the last few chapters, carrying on with Wynton Simons interludes didn’t seem to make much sense. That particular story has run its course – for now. I considered dropping the interludes altogether, until I realised that they could be used to again show a completely separate part of the narrative: events that are concurrent with Kay’s experience, weaving in and out, but from a different perspective. In other words, finding out what happened to Cal and Holt.

It’s also largely from Cal’s perspective, even if it remains in 3rd person, which provides an interesting counterpoint to some of the uncertainy I introduced around his character in the Arc 2 finale.

This chapter was originally intended to be an enormous action sequence spanning multiple dimensions. Quite how that turned into a chapter almost entirely about two men rolling down a hill I’m still not entirely sure, but it’s certainly fun to experiene one of the genoshifts from Cal’s point of view.

So the axolot genotype is based upon salamanders, more—or-less. Remarkably, the seemingly far-fetched ability to protrude one’s ribs through one’s chest in order to use them as toxin-tipped weapons is something the Iberian ribbed newt can do. You can imagine my excitement when I read about that.

Seriously, salamanders are insane. Limb regeneration. Structural skeleton transformations when attacked. Basically, they’re the newt equivalent of the Abomination from the Marvel universe.

By the end of this chapter Cal and Holt are in a curious spot. Combine with Kay and Marv hitting the road at the end of the previous chapter, and we’re left in a position of real uncertainty.

It’s almost like I want you to come back next week.

Writing notes: ADoF chapter 27 ‘Flight’

And right here we have the setup for the rest of Arc 3. The previous two chapters were more about capping Arc 2, while ‘Flight’ sets us off in a new direction.

One thing I enjoyed about this one was juxtaposing the low key mundanity of a rustic farmhouse breakfast table with talk of rebellion. The Lynt family and their associates I was imagining in the vein of resistance fighters in 1940s France, operating behind a veil of normality.

The aim was to give the impression of there being interesting stories behind each of the characters we briefly meet – Malcolm, Sylvia, Grant, the unseen Jennifer – without every finding out what they are. A bit like how each of the aliens in the Mos Eisley Cantina suggests an entire other storyline, even though they’re only glimpsed for a second or two. I don’t think I quite pulled that off, but that was the plan.

The biggest thing in this chapter is the introduction of Rose Furey – who remains fairly enigmatic here but will be a major player for the foreseeable future. Introducing her character is another instance of No Turning Back: having added her into the mix, she’s going to be along for the ride whether I like it or not, so there’s always a bit of hesitation when approaching a major story fork.

It’s the rule of threes applying here, though – having three lead characters to play off each other is more compelling than just two, and opens up so many more dramatic options. Having had two males and one female for arcs 1 and 2, shaking it up to be the other way around should be good fun – not to mention seeing how Marv and Kay act when Cal isn’t nearby…

Talking of which, I’ve deliberately avoided explaining what happened to him and Holt for these first three chapters of Arc 3. That’ll change next chapter, though.

Soundtrack: Don’t recall, though it feels like it should have been the ‘Allo ‘Allo theme tune.

I’ve been doing other things in 2015

A glance down this blog would lead to the reasonable conclusion that all I’ve been doing this year is writing A Day of Faces. I should probably try to be rather more varied in my blog output.

So, other things.

At work FXHOME just released HitFilm 4 Pro. It’s a great NLE/VFX product and it also has a snazzy new website to accompany it. In terms of copywriting I’m massively proud of the new site and feel like it’s my best work to date. Do check it out over at hitfilm.com. I’ll be writing a full-on copy and design deconstruction blog at some point in the near future.

Related to that release I also ended up fronting the launch video, which you can watch here:

The VFX examples on display in there are a mix of work from myself and Josh and, again, it’s the best work we’ve ever done. For my part, the spaceship landing shot at about 4.06 seconds still gets me excited each time I see it. The 20 year old me would have been fairly stunned to think that I’d be able to make that kind of shot relatively easily 15 years later.

Meanwhile, in game dev land, I’ve been slowly plodding along with my experimental Conversation In A Lift game, Going Up. The concept is to provide a naturally flowing conversation (via a Twine branching dialogue) with far more flexibility than you’d normally find in a game. To make this doable the game is restricted to a single location (a lift) and just two characters. Your interaction with the other character will vary wildly depending on what you say.

It’s progressing but it also hugely complex and is thus taking far longer than I’d anticipated. I’ve discovered why most RPGs stick with Good/Neutral/Evil responses and leave it at that…

Also on the game front, I’ve been in talks with an indie development team to write for their game. That’s pretty much going ahead and I’m currently digging into their existing documents and code to see what I can contribute. I don’t want to say what it is just yet, until the project’s progressed a bit and it’s all ticking along nicely, but it’s a really exciting opportunity and the game itself has a ton of potential – both as a game and as a narrative design challenge. More on that soon, I hope.

On another note, I’m considering setting up a regular Norwich-based creative writers meet-up. No idea if there’ll be any interest but it seems worth trying. I recently attended the Norwich Indie Game Developers meet-up and it was super inspiring and entertaining. That experience, combined with my general love of collaborative writing projects, is what made me think it might be fun.

Right. I’d better go write some more A Day of Faces, then.

Writing notes: ADoF chapter 26 ‘Memory’

This one was unexpectedly tricky. I thought it’d be easy, because it’s action-heavy and action tends to be easier to write if anything, in my experience.

Rather than have a standard chase sequence, I decided early on to intersperse it with flashbacks to an event from Kay’s childhood.

That particular event only came into focus during the writing, which caused a few headaches – pitching the content of ADoF is a bit of a balancing act. Theoretically it’s aimed at late teens and upwards, with a bit of a hard edge – some of the content is potentially inappropriate for younger readers. The scene between Kay and Daniel was tricky in that it had the potential to become much nastier, in several ways.

I went back and forth on what exactly happened behind the changing rooms, before settling on a ‘less is more’ approach. We never find out exactly what Daniel was intending to do – it was probably bad – and we also don’t find out exactly what Kay did to stop him – it was probably also pretty bad. Ultimately I think that’s more effective in this case and fits better with the overall tone of the ADoF series. While there are some pretty dark moments, overall it remains an adventure with a lot of humour.

Aside from that, there was an added complication of there being a double-flashback structure. The chapter is being told from the point of view of Kay in the farmhouse, with the first flashback to the escape from Wynton Simons’ house. Then within that there’s the second nested flashback to Kay’s childhood. The first published version of this chapter was a complete mess in terms of past and present tenses. The day after publication I reworked it to have more consistency, such that the school scenes are told in the present tense, even though they take place the longest time ago. It’s an unusual way to structure the narrative but it hopefully work in context.

At the same time as writing this chapter I’ve also been working on the ebook for the collected edition of Arc 2. It’s slowly forming up but is still a few weeks away.

Soundtrack: Arrow Season 2, by Blake Neely. Because that show spends an awful lot of time running through forests, so seemed appropriate.

Writing notes: ADoF chapter 25 ‘Interdependence’

I’ve done unexpected jump cuts between chapter previously and this takes it rather further, being entirely disconnected from where we left things in ‘Cortex’. Given that ‘Interdependence’ is the start of Arc 3, it made sense to have a chapter to act as something of a blank slate, and a declaration that things are going to change again.

I’m always conscious of wanting to avoid burn-out or fatigue in my readers, and Arc 2 climaxed with essentially a 2-part huge action scene. Leaping straight in to a continuation of that would have started to feel a little one-note. Many of the most satisfying stories are those which constantly shift pace – that’s what separates Die Hard from a Michael Bay movie, or Half Life 2 from Call of Duty.

Thus, ‘Interdependence’ provides a total tone shift, before diving back into the action in the following chapter. It’s a moment of calm, made slightly unnerving by its juxtaposition with the chaotic events just prior. We’re not sure how Kay’s ended up here, but we know it probably isn’t going to last.

Soundtrack: A Dangerous Method by Howard Shore – reminscent of his early work with Cronenberg, where every moment has a sinister undertone.

ADoF writing notes: Cortex

Arc 2 finale time! This chapter is almost twice as long as the average ADoF chapter length and I considered splitting it in two but decided that it was most effective to keep it as single bumper edition. Having it be longer gives the finale a sense of importance and plays into the idea that Kay has found herself in a situation from which she’s unable to escape.

This and the previous three chapters all carry on from each other without jump cuts (to borrow a film editing term), which is unusual for ADoF. As I’ve discussed in previous notes, I tend to like leaping ahead between chapters so as to keep things a little unpredictable and make the narrative more interesting. That also means that when chapters directly flow into the next it feels like there’s a growing momentum to events.

As with the arc 1 finale, this is another Point of No Return chapter which both caps this arc and sets up the next one. Where our characters find themselves at the end of Cortex is wildly different to where they were at the start of arc 2, let alone arc 1. It’s also a place which is largely foreign to the reader, which hopefully makes them want to tune back in for arc 3, to find out how on Earth Kay and Marv are going to get by…on Earth.

While Apex Predator, the climax to arc 1, had some action stuff it was really quite subdued compared to what happens in Cortex. This is when we see Cal at his most powerful, which just happens to be when we’re also wondering whether he can be trusted.

Anyone who knows me will be well aware that I am rather partial to the occasional superhero story. While a lot of that feeds into the general setup for A Day of Faces, I didn’t want it to ever feel like a superhero-story-in-disguise. This chapter is probably the closest I’ve come to doing just that, and it’s not coincidental that events conspire to take Cal out of the picture for a while. His growing powerws are vital to the story but they also threaten to imbalance the whole thing – the closer Cal gets to being a walking, talking deus ex machina, the bigger that problem.

What is fun in these closing chapters of arc 2 is examining how these people fit into a context closer to our world. On Locque, their oddness is entirely normal. To Wynton Simons, in the supposed safety of his home, having a reptilian woman and a bear-like man smash their way in is far closer to a horror film. Context is all. That’s something I’ll probably be getting into more in arc 3.

Talking of which – I’m going to take a 1 week break in order to do some planning work and put together the arc 2 ebook, before returning with the first chapter of arc 3 on 2nd October. See you then.

Score: Didn’t actually listen to anything while writing this. I was very zoned.

ADoF writing notes: Hypothalamus

The pacing of the arc 2 finale was originally intended to be quite different. Behaviour and Hypothalamus were originally to be one episode, but their length meant they got spun out into two. The result is that this chapter and the next form something of a 2-parter, which I quite like in terms of making it feel ‘big’.

This is when we really get to see how each of our three leads react under stress. Combined with Marv’s reservations about Cal, it’s a good opportunity to undermine a lot of the status quo in terms of character relationships.

The Interlude chapters so far have been interesting side stories, expanding the story but largely remaining separate to the main events. This chapter is where those two worlds violently collide, and having the insight of the previous Interludes gives us a very different perspective on events, primarily giving us much more empathy with Simons.

Without the Interludes, this chapter would be about our heroes getting some answers from the Faceless Bad Guys. After all, their only direct encounter with them so far has been when Holt shot Marv’s arm off. It’d still be an exciting scene, I think, but with the extra knowledge we have as a reader this whole sequence turns into something else. We know Wynton Simons. We know he has a family, that he’s a kind man. We know he even has empathy with the inhabitants of Locque. Cal, Kay and Marv don’t know any of that, and it creates dramatic irony which elevates the chapter to a more interesting level.

It makes everything considerably more grey. This isn’t a 24-style interrogation in which any means are justified. The stakes are unclear. There’s a fuzziness to the situation of which only Marv is properly aware.

So, this chapter keeps things contained, to a degree. It’s the next one where it really hits the fan.

Soundtrack: T2, again.