Monday, July 4, 2011

Lets Rip My Story Apart: What Happens Next

After careful consideration, I've created a list of Wants and Needs

I Need...
...Stronger driving narrative
...To finish each and every mystery in a given story
...To avoid plot holes (doesn't everyone?)
...To avoid wasting the time of the reader 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Let Rip My Story Apart: A Diagnostic

Summary of Dower Travels Edward (Spoilers if you know me in real life and actually have a chance of reading the whole thing): While delivering a package to a rich capital city, a mailman accidentally unleashes an unimaginably awful monster. He then time-travels with the Arch-Mage of the city. Time travel happens every so often. Eventually the entire universe is destroyed because of all of this time travel, but the characters are unharmed.

This is literally the most succinct way for me to summarize this 180-page story.

The problem with this story is that it doesn't seem obvious to me that any part of the story is particularly bad; it's that the story as a whole is disappointing and weak with flaws and cracks that meander all throughout the duration of the adventure. This means that the only way I'll ever be able to get anything done is if I knock the thing down to the ground and start again.

My first objection: The story isn't interesting, and it doesn't need to be told. If you think of fairytales or other famous bits of writing, usually there's a sort of seed to the story, the main grain of interest to the tale that is, by itself, pretty interesting. 

For instance, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. H.G. Wells's Time Machine. Frankenstein's monster. All of these stories have a story-seed so potent that movie studios seem to be perpetually re-making them. Sometimes they're modernized a bit, or they're in the proper period, and sometimes they're in outer space for no reason. Regardless of the additional trappings, the root of the story remains the same.

A scientist creates a monster who struggles with his own humanity.

A scientist finds a way to transform himself into what he thinks is a bolder version of himself, until this new version of himself is more powerful than his actual self.

The difference being that Dalaran floats and my city is on the ground.
You get the picture. My story (colloquially referred to as Travels) lacks an interesting seed. The reason for this was because it began as a writing exercise during a particularly boring part of a Digital Arts class, written originally as Warcraft fan-fiction (but only for the first four pages). I wanted to write about the ridiculous decadence of the city of Dalaran, a city with more magic than it knows what to do with. I emailed this story to myself to continue writing at home. Knowing the primary danger of fan-fiction (at least for me, personally) is that there is a very real danger that I won't always be interested in the game, I preemptively changed the universe to an original creation so it would last longer. After the initial description of world was written, I just kept going even though I probably should have stopped, satisfied with a bit of a job well done.

This kind of problem isn't unique to the written word. Recently there was a movie called Skyline that was directed by the brothers Strause. These guys were famous for making really good special effects in their commercials for Coca-Cola and Gatorade. Some movie executive thought it would be a great idea to hand these guys a hundred million dollars to make their own movie. What resulted was humiliating. You see, these guys were great special effects artists, but not necessarily great writers. I believe their creative process involved creating massive special effects sequences first, and later trying to write a plot that involved all of these things. Sounds like another movie I've seen.

Also during the writing, I had lots of other small hooks that I thought would be interesting in the story. One of them is that the main character has a sort of useless X-Men-like power that lets him “sense” money of any kind nearby. It was an interesting idea, but ultimately not enough to hang a whole story on. Another was that I had a man whose appearance would change based on the expectations of the person viewing him. That is, if they were expecting him to be an old man, that's how he would appear to them. I played it as a handicap, later exploiting it for his benefit. But still, this isn't Storytelling Gold.

Interestingly, I also had a few Inception-like chapters in which the characters had to enter the memory of the main character to recover a suppressed memory. I wrote it two years before the movie.

I think I got too hung up on the small details that I lost sight of the larger story. Here are my goals for this rewrite:

Start with an interesting story-seed; make it strong enough to hang a story on
Eliminate pointless plot threads and plot holes; consider shortening it into a short story
In general, tighten up the graphics

I guess for this rewrite, I have to find a seed that could be a central root of the story. If I had to take a pick, I'd say that time travel was an overarching theme, or perhaps terrorism via sending monsters in the mail. I'm not trying to write a commentary on anything, and I don't have a particularly compelling Twilight Zone hook (which is typically how I come up with my other stories).

Without further ado, here's the first section I'm looking at.

The city of Malara had a certain ring to it. However, the name didn't. When Dower described it later, he would say that the city "seemed like someone had hooked it up to an electrical current," but would add that "the name Malara just wasn't very appealing; it sounds like Malaria." Of course, both were true; the name Malara did sound a little bit like malaria.
It was very much as if the city had a charge, except it wasn't electrical. Although the city did have a rather robust electricity wiring system; it was used to power everything that wasn't powered by magic, which wasn't much. The hum that Dower described was caused by the throbbing magical pollution that hung over the city like fog. In fact, there were some places in the city that the magic had actually caused fog. It was dense, hot, and it sometimes smelled like strawberries and ozone combined in some kind of revolting, magical fruit salad. The mages couldn't be bothered to deal with the fog for most everyone in the city was too busy being selfish to care. Fortunately, the city was built on the coast, so the fog usually washed out to sea.

Yep. This was once composed entirely inside a gmail message. Hopefully you can tell the kind of whimsical tone I was going for with the narrative; a blatant imitation of Terry's Pratchett's Discworld writing style. That is, the way the story is told is usually more interesting than the story itself. Sorry mister Pratchett, but it's true. This brings me to my next concern with the story, which you'll get to learn about on Independence Day.