I Fucking Love Life is Strange (and Why I Think Max and Chloe Should Return for Season 2)

Recently I played through Life is Strange and absolutely loved it. I haven't been able to get it off my mind since. Chances are that we're getting a whole new cast for season 2, but I wanted to make my case for why I think Chloe and Max should return for Life is Strange 2.

Spoiler warning for Life is Strange.

***SPOILERS BELOW***

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Bottom Line

Wil hated his job.

He’d been on his feet for sixteen hours, plugging his doohickey into circuit boards to make sure they worked. All the while the company’s eye watched him from above. A hovering deep red drone that recorded everything.

The only breaks Wil got were to take a piss. No food. No drinks. He didn’t need them. One of the benefits of Juice. The nutrient goop kept people like Wil upright for as long as the company needed. The stuff was cheap to make too. Wil wondered if he had the last job that robots couldn’t do, or if the robots that could do it were too expensive.

Wil wanted to go home, to crawl into his five foot apartment cube and pass out with the TV blaring.

The company drone hovered near. “Please, let me go home,” Wil muttered. The drone’s eye scanned him, and then a long needle jabbed into Wil’s arm. He felt the Juice surge through him, guaranteeing five more hours of work.

Tears welled at the corner of Wil’s eyes. He wanted to scream and cry and punch the dumb drone in its dumb robot eye.

Today was the day, Wil was going to quit his job.

Uncle Dan had said the same thing. Proud, sure, earnest to fight his way up to join the Lucky Few. But he couldn’t fight his way anywhere, and apartment cubes don’t abide late payments. Companies don’t like hiring people with fire in their bellies. Four months later Wil found Dan on the street, ragged and unkempt. Dan’s eyes were pleading, sad, hopeful. Wil couldn’t afford to help Dan and he didn’t know anyone who could.

Wil had rent to pay, groceries to do, and maybe he’d have enough time to watch twenty minutes of TV before bed.

“I’ll quit tomorrow,” Wil thought.

Goodreads Giveaway: Moon Breaker

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Moon Breaker is up for grabs over at Goodreads. Enter the giveaway for a chance to win a paperback copy of the prehistoric novella. The giveaway is open to residents of the United States and Canada, and it'll run for 30 days.

If you've been curious about the kind of stuff I write, this is a good opportunity to jump on-board at no cost.

EDIT (October 11, 2017): The giveaway has ended. Thanks to everyone who entered!

Worldbuilding Part 5: Smoke and Mirrors

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Implication makes your world feel vast and complicated. It paints images in the reader’s periphery, giving them an idea—a generalization—that’s just enough to fill in the blanks without spelling out the exact formula.

It’s smoke and mirrors, hand puppets making shadowy shapes on the wall. That’s the Imperiator’s Sanitarium, and you never want to go there. Why? Because we’ve seen someone refer to it with fear, or maybe someone who went in came out different. We don’t know what the Imperiator is doing in there, and we don’t need to. All we need to know is that it’s bad.

That’s just one example, but there are tons of other ways you can fill out your world using little details—each one hinting at the wider world without explicitly saying it.

An organic world has constants that affect all its denizens. These are things like trade, religious institutions, markets, etc. These elements can be littered throughout your world and have small levels of influence on your characters. This will imply that there’s a larger organic world, one that has its own ebb and flow outside of your narrative. This can be done with little bits of detail sprinkled throughout your story. A mention of trade routes, or how two different people view a religious institution, little moments that not only build character but fill out your world.

Keeping details vague can make your world feel bigger. Give them just enough to fill in the blanks, a few guideposts here and there will allow them to populate the roads with their own speculations. If we look at the above example, the Imperiator’s Sanitarium, we don’t need to know what they’re doing in there. Long descriptions of their experiments/torture/whatever will narrow the walls of your reader’s view. They’ll feel boxed in, and everything will start to lose its sense of scale. Leaving things vague, only giving hints of what happens in the Sanitarium and showing the consequences, gives room for the reader to fill in the blanks with their imagination.

The key is to convince the reader that there’s a whole lot of shit happening behind the scenes that they don’t know about. There should always be a sense that there’s more to learn, more to discover.

Small street level elements can add a lot as well. Things like magic lanterns, the way buildings look, or those crow/rat hybrids that are all over the city. This can take pre-established worldbuilding elements and show the readers how they’re integrated into the world. Necromancy is cool when the secretive underground cult is chanting and ohming, but it can also be dotted throughout the world. Maybe detectives raise the dead to ask them questions, or people make a wish when they see a roving spirit. Really, these elements can be integrated any way you like, but having them be constant, as well as showing how they affect the grander world—not just your plot—goes a long way in making the world feel expansive.

The local lingo can show how your world grew organically. If your denizens worship a fire god, then maybe they shout burn me! as an expletive. Language can play a huge role in cementing the believability of your world. The names of people and places should have a sense that they share an etymology, or if they don’t then maybe that’s also a worldbuilding element. If all the people/locations have monosyllabic names like Grot, Kur, Fin, and so on, when Ezekael shows up, we know he’s a stranger from a foreign land.

But don’t go overboard with made-up words, they should be sprinkled throughout the story. Too much all over the place can make your story unreadable (Mad Max gets away with this, but its lingo fits into the degraded sanity of the wasteland).

These are just a few ways to make your world feel big. Each, on its own, seemingly a little detail, but together they create a cohesive and evocative image. Give them try and let me know how it turns out!

***

This worldbuilding series is less a how-to and more a way for me to try and figure out the big messy process of creating secondary worlds. Check out Worldbuilding Part 1Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Mad Max (the Game): Is it any Good? (Spoilers)

Mad Max (the game) is one of the best licensed games I’ve played. In theory, it’s a prequel to Fury Road, but I don’t think the story is canon. The game starts with Max getting into a fight with Scabrous Scrotus, losing his Interceptor, and is left in the wasteland with nothing but his torn up clothes.

Enter Chumbucket, the deformed hunchback who believes in the Angel Combustion. He’s a black finger (a master mechanic) and thinks Max is his warrior saint. Max needs a new car, and Chum promises to build him the Magnum Opus—the car you will be upgrading throughout the game.

Max’s goal is to create a car that will be fast, durable, and able to carry enough fuel to get him to the Plains of Silence. As you get upgrades for your car, you’ll meet stronghold leaders, lunatics, scavengers, and a whole crapton of war boys.

The gameplay consists of two major parts, car combat and ground combat. Both are equally fun, but have their own little quirks and issues.

***SPOILERS BELOW***

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Flash Fiction Challenge: The Ritual of Souls

This flash fiction challenge, posted over at Chuck Wendig's terribleminds.com, had one stipulation: incorporate "there is no exit" in some way. Thematically, as literal dialogue, or whatever.

And so I whipped up The Ritual of Souls (in 1.5 days, so go easy on me). It ended up like a Saturday morning cartoon, but slathered in blood (which is pretty cool). 

***

Blood rushed to Kelly’s head as she hung upside-down, hands tied behind her back. She stared into the emerald eyes of Nagazhul.

“You can’t stop it now,” Nagazhul said, his voice echoing deep in his throat.

The swirling violet crystal behind him hummed, emanating light to the chanting acolytes encircling it. Beyond, Kelly could see the cityscape, each window like the light of a firefly. Those people had no idea how close they were to death.

“Ritual’s not done yet,” Kelly said, writhing against her bonds. She shimmied her hands to the knife hidden in her belt.

Nagazhul reached out with a clawed hand and ran blackened nails along her cheek, he inhaled, as though smelling her scent. But Kelly knew he was tasting her soul, just the edge of it. Being an agent of the occult, Kelly had an iron will that meant shitheads like Nagazhul couldn’t work their magic on her.

“Eight million souls, agent Kelly, all in a matter of seconds.” Nagazhul turned his back to her, staring out of the skyscraper's windows. “It will be death on a scale so sweat, so unimagined. I will ascend. Can you comprehend this? Godhood awaits me, in a matter of moments I will be a breaker of worlds, eater of eras. And you will be my mortal witness. You’re terror will ripple throughout purgatorium. It will taste so sweat,” Nagazhul inhaled. “There will be no exit, no escape from my will.”

He turned to Kelly, his emerald eyes glimmering with delight.

Kelly stabbed him in the eye.

He reeled, clutching his bloody socket.

Kelly, arms free, cut the ropes around her feet, hit the floor with a roll, and charged at the ritual crystal. It hovered in the air, spinning faster and faster, radiating blinding light.

Nagazhul roared, his voice echoing with the power of a thunderstorm. “Kill her.”

The chanting acolytes turned as one, staring at her from shadowed hoods, jagged serpentine blades held high, screeching.

Kelly drew her boot knife, twelve inches of carbon steel, and slammed it to the hilt in an acolytes gut.

They swarmed her, kicking and biting and stabbing. Kelly’s blade flashed, arcs of red splattered on the floor, on the ceiling, on herself. She reached into a shadowed hood, and felt the chill void on her flesh, and then she clutched his windpipe and squeezed. A soft, wet gurgle escaped the acolyte.

Kelly broke bones with kicks from her steel toed boots, her knife dug through robe and flesh. And Kelly shoved the bleeding acolytes aside, charging for the now spinning crystal.

She reached up, an unspeakable force pushing against her, trying to drive her back. Her fingers inches from the crystal. Just. A. Little. More.

Got it.

Kelly tore the crystal from the ritual circle with a crack of thunder. Nagazhul bellowed, but she was already running for the window, crystal under her arm.

The acolytes leaped for her, trying to grab her arms and legs, and each time she barreled past them, kicking and punching them aside.

And then she hurled the crystal into the window. The window shattered, and the crystal pin wheeled to the street below, exploding into a thousand pieces.

“Rituals done,” Kelly said.

Nagazhul stared out the window, hand outstretched, mouth agape. Then, his brow furrowed, his features contorted into a bestial countenance. He inhaled, and as one the acolytes bowed to him, their souls draining away like blown mist, spiralling up into Nagazhul’s mouth and nostrils. The acolytes slumped, their bodies drained, dead. Nagazhul glowed with their power, glowed from the surge of strength it gave him.

He set his emerald eyes on Kelly and breathed deep.

Pain lanced through Kelly’s body, piercing from the inside out. Her hands melted away, dissolving into mist, pulled into the wide maw of Nagazhul. Then her legs dissolved, her torso, and it crept up her neck until her sinuses burned and her eyes watered, and then blackness.

Solid blackness beneath her, miles upon miles of blackness surrounded her. Kelly breathed, and no air entered her lungs, but somehow she lived.

Nagazhul tilted his head, a beacon in the darkness. “Curious,” he said. “How do you persist?”

Kelly was an agent of the occult, her spirit iron willed. And unlike the others Nagazhul had eaten, Kelly’s spirit was weighted with the will of her determination.

Nagazhul hadn’t expected Kelly to lunge, but he especially hadn’t expected her grasping hand to have weight, to clutch his robe, and to throw him to the ground. Nagazhul shrieked, confused. Kelly drove her knife into his heart, and his face contorted into a visage of primal pain.

The blackness below him opened. Tentacles thick with bloodshot eyes writhed and wrapped around Nagazhul. He pleaded, begged for mercy. “Don’t send me back there. Please. I can’t take it anymore.”

“You don’t have a choice. Enjoy a century of nightmare, fucker.”

Kelly twisted the blade, and Nagazhul was pulled through the rend, consumed by the writhing, bulbous mass of the eldritch domain.

And then she was alone. The blackness crowded around her, pressing against her like water filled sacks, suffocating her. She dug her fingers into the darkness, pinpricks of light emerging from her finger holes, and she tore it in twain.

Nagazhul’s flesh fell to the floor, shed like a false skin. Kelly stood in the skyscraper, bathed in blood, surrounded by bodies, hair whipped by the broken window.

Just another job done.

Guardians of the Galaxy and Narrative Structure

There’s a lot to love about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, but what pulled me in was how intertwined all the character arcs were. Each character had room to shine and grow, as well as moving the plot forward. None of it felt bloated or needless.

But I want to talk about a few of my favourite aspects of the movie.

***Spoilers Below***

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The Writing Schedule

THE PLAN

Over the course of three or so months (including June*), the plan is to write about 90,000 words of my current work in progress. I’ve been using a word tracker app to set monthly goals, it shows how much you have to write each day to hit your word count goal, and it’s been extremely helpful in motivating me to stay on track. (The app I’m using is an old one called WriMo Demon, I don’t think it’s available for download anymore, but I’m sure there are other similar apps.)

After I finish the first draft, I’m going to set it aside and hunker down to finish The Underbelly War. My goal will be to write another 30,000 or so words. At that point the story should be finished, and then I’ll set it aside.

After that, I’ll dive back into the inevitable mess that the 90k novel will be, and start rewriting/editing it.

Throughout this I’d like to carve out some time to write a few short stories that’ve been knocking around inside my head. 

 

THE GOAL

Get some shit published.

So yeah, that’s the current plan. I might provide some progress updates along the way.

Are you working on anything, from a short story to a beefy epic, and if so how have you planned out your writing schedule? 

 

*I started about a week into June, but as of today I’ve written 23,000 words of the 90k novel.