Author Archives: Simon Jones

ADoF writing notes: Alpha

With this chapter, it was all about racing to catch up with the publishing schedule, while assaulted on all sides by unavoidable crap things.

So on top of a hectic work schedule, I had a blocked sinus/cold thing which developed into a full-blown migraine, a child with chicken pox, an eye inflammation…you get the idea. Nothing too awful, but lots of things which add up to not really being in quite the right state of mind for writing.

None of this would have mattered if I’d kept up with the 2-3 episode buffer that I started with, and then let immediately erode, such that I’m now writing each week to publish the week after. Not ideal. Hopefully I’ll be able to speed up and build up that buffer again soon. This is the first time I’ve tried episodic releases, and publishing a story before I’ve finished writing it.

It’s kinda nerve-wracking.

Anyway – Alpha is a big one as it connects Kay with another very important character, and starts to bring in what will become the main plot.

Mostly, though, it’s about Kay and her house and parents. It’s about finding out where she comes from, which will go on to inform her actions down the line. Before things really kick off, it’s important to know who she is when things aren’t kicking off.

The cemetery out the back of the house was originally the car park of a supermarket. I went back and forth on that one for a while (they’re more-or-less the same thing, right?), but eventually went for the more gothic option. Not least because my own house has a cemetery right out the back and, you know – write what you know.

Still enjoying dropping in little snippets of information about the different genotypes in this universe. The fun is in presenting it as being utterly normal. It’s that nonchalance which is hopefully making it entertaining and amusing to read.

Soundtrack: I listened to Star 6 & 7 8 9 by The Orb while writing this. Ambient electronica is good for writing.

ADoF writing notes: Prey

Action is always easier to write. That’s why the word count on chapter 3, ‘Prey’, is almost double that of the previous two sections.

After the gentle everyday stuff (plus weird science fantasy gubbins) of the first two chapters, this is where we first catch a glimpse of what will become the main plot.

Having every single character be super-powered is an interesting writing challenge. From a social point of view, it results in a society in which powers aren’t special. The culture has already adapted – hence the police are equipped to handle all kinds of convoluted threats.

It also means that sequences such as this one are pretty fun, with different characters countering and negating the abilities of others. This is still a pretty simple introduction to that kind of stuff – I’m intending to have some truly crazy action later in the season.

By this point the anachronistic nature of the setting should be extremely apparent, with familiar elements mixing in with the fantastical stuff. That’s not just there to be contrary: it has purpose.

Soundtrack: Can’t remember what I was listening to when writing this one, so let’s just go with A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke. Listen to it while imagining the whole chapter playing out silently in slow motion. Go on.

ADoF writing notes: Survival of the Fittest

Having the word/phrase definitions at the start of each chapter wasn’t planned as such – it just seemed fun at the start, and I’m now kinda stuck with it, at least until the end of the season. Got to keep some kind of consistency, right?

So there’s the thing: I’m planning this out, loosely, on season arcs. Although I’m mostly writing by the seat of my pants, there is an idea of where this is going. There is direction and purpose.

That’s mainly because unformed stories always reveal themselves. Even the knowledge that writers are making it up as they go can undermine a story’s worth. Novels and movies are inherently completed by the time you see them: when you start reading a novel, you know that it’s been finished, and that it is as the author intended (for better or worse).

Television, comics and other serialised forms don’t always have that luxury, and it often undermines their storytelling authority. Take Battlestar Galactica, which hinged its plot on the antagonists “having a plan”. As the show reached into its third season it became apparent that the writers didn’t have a plan, and were in fact backing themselves into a corner. It remained a well produced show, but its ending was never truly satisfying.

Let’s not even bother getting into LOST.

Contrast with Babylon 5, a show which was planned from start to finish, over five years of TV storytelling. It didn’t go entirely according to plan due to actors leaving and networks meddling, but it had purpose, and knew what it was doing. Importantly, you knew when watching season one that the creators already knew what would happen in season five, giving everything a connective resonance that added up to more than the sum of its parts.

So, with chapter two of season one of A Day of Faces, I already had a vague idea of where it would be in season four. It wasn’t mapped out in huge detail, but the broad strokes were there.

Survival of the fittest’ is about expanding the world more, encountering more genotypes, showing that these people live pretty normal lives. It’s also about finding a way to use the word ‘nictitated’.

Soundtrack: Let’s go with anything by Nine Inch Nails. That’s what the Black Jasmine would play.

ADoF writing notes: Generation

3D faces

A Day Of Faces grew out of a simple, daft “what if?” concept: what would happen if everybody born on the same day looked the same? It’s since become something a bit more complicated but that’s still the central idea.

And it’s still very daft. But that’s kinda what I’m after with this, coming off the back of an extremely lengthy and precise writing process for what became a novelette called ‘Millennium Surfing’. That is hard(ish) sci-fi, and with A Day Of Faces I wanted to do something entirely different and have a bit of fun. I’m also going to be blogging about the writing process, starting retrospectively now.

Generation’ is a gentle intro to the world. You get a few hints about how it works, and it’s all done very deliberately nonchalently, with throwaway descriptions of horns and tentacles. It’s meant to pique your interest without diving too far down the rabbit hole.

In terms of inspiration, I had two things in mind at this point:

The film American Graffiti was slightly influencing the anachronistic setting and the portrayal of some of the characters. This world is meant to feel off-kilter, like an irrational blend of multiple genres and periods.

The bigger influence is Brian K Vaughn’s comic SAGA, which is currently my joint-favourite Thing To Be Reading (along with Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked + The Divine, of which more another time). SAGA embraces its own weirdness while maintaining an internal logic and resolutely refuses to explain its bizarre creatures (so far) and that was definitely a attitude I wanted to try to replicate with ADoF.

‘Generation’ is a gentle intro, with the next part diving into the deep end.

Soundtrack: Almost Grown by Chuck Berry. Because it just makes sense.

If Twitter hate mobs are Ultron, where is the internet’s Vision?

For the last ten years-or-so I’ve been convinced that governments would be responsible for the death of the Internet As We Know It: ever-encroaching censorship and surveillance transforming the promise of the open internet into something darker, more capitalist, more consumerist and, essentially, more 20th century. Here’s me on the Digital Economy Bill, and then on the good ol’ Twitter Joke Trial. That’s a lotta words.

Then so-called GamerGate happened, late last year. An amorphous bunch of apparent activists rose up, ostensibly to decry ethics in games journalism but in reality taking every opportunity to harass female game devs, game journalists and gamers, and anybody who supported them. Rape threats. Death threats. It was the abuse unleashed upon Anita Sarkeesian writ large, with a broad brush. The aggressors wielded the term ‘Social Justice Warrior’ as if it were something to be ashamed of. And all the while they claimed the moral high ground, even while forcing planes to land and issuing genuine terrorist threats to universities. The actions of GamerGate spoke far louder than its words. Continue reading

Editing 3000 words out of a 15k story

These things take a while. According to my revision log, I started writing Millennium Surfing in January 2013. That is months and months earlier than I remembered. The first draft was completed in July 2014, making it an absurdly long gestation period for a short story – albeit quite a long one.

I then received genuinely useful feedback  from a whole bunch of readers between July and October and began work on the second draft, which was completed at the end of March. As of last night I completed the third draft. So by some measures I’m speeding up.

If the second draft was about adding character and flavour to the story, the third draft was about tearing it to pieces and chopping off unnecessary appendages. It’s a much leaner, subtler and less indulgent story now and quite different from the cold, overly detached first draft.

The first draft clocked in at 12,700 words. The second was 15,400. The third and mostly final draft is 12,300. My intent was to cut it down to about 10k so that it was eligible for submission to Interzone, a magazine I’ve always dreamed of being published in, but that goal is still a long way away.

A story is as long as a story needs to be and, currently, Millennium Surfing is wanting to be about 12,000 words. It’s out for feedback once again so that may highlight opportunities to whittle it down more but, if not, I may just have to resign myself to it being unsuitable for Interzone.

I’ll probably send it off to them anyway, on the off-chance that something grabs them. There’s always the next story, after all.

Talking of which, that’s probably going to be called A Day Of Faces, and the current plan is to release it episodically via Wattpad as something of a seat-of-my-pants storytelling experiment. It’s science fantasy and deliberately anachronistic and is so far hugely fun to write. It’s also about as far from the Serious Science Fiction of Millennium Surfing as I can get, which I imagine is entirely deliberate on the part of my subconscious.

In the footsteps of Tom Francis

This is the blog post in which you can download and install A GAME WHAT I PROGRAMMED.

I’ve been following Tom ‘made GUNPOINT’ Francis’ GameMaker tutorials since the start of the year. The man has an uncanny ability to teach code in a way that makes sense to people who don’t code. I suspect he’s new enough to coding himself, relatively speaking, that he still remembers what it was like.

BASIC, Inform, TWINE and others have crossed paths with me over the year but none have ever stuck. They’ve either been too difficult or not quite relevant to what I want to do. TWINE is still the engine which has most appealed, because it enables a surprisingly pure writing experience. I suspect I may go back to TWINE, armed with a better knowledge of how all this stuff hangs together.

Tom is teaching GameMaker, the system he used to make GUNPOINT (always write it in caps) and which he is now using to make Heat Signature (not sure whether to write it in caps). Although GameMaker has all kinds of nooby drag-and-drop features, Tom’s bypassing all that and jumping straight into code.

I’ve just finished part 13, which has added a nice little menu screen to the game. As such, I thought it was time to share what I’ve been up to. Note that most of the code and actual design are from Tom’s tutorials, so it’s not like I’ve done this myself – however, I have understood the entire process and am already starting to think about what I can use these techniques for later in the year.

Download the latest build here.

It’s ugly as sin.

Instructions:

  • Move with WASD.
  • Aim with the mouse.
  • There are two weapons in the arena. Pick ’em up by rolling over them.
  • Left click to fire.
  • Right click to swap weapons.
  • The weapons interact in an interesting way. Experiment!
  • The enemies react in different ways to being shot.

Not much of a game there as yet, but it’s further than I’ve ever managed to get in 34 years of dabbling. And I’m still excited every time Tom Francis warbles “hullo” at the start of an episode.