On Writing

Where did I go?

This blog has been shamefully dead for several months, despite my frequent promises of returning. Suffice to say, I believe I’ve disappointed many people, myself included.

The past year or so has been difficult for me. A down-turned economy means there’s lay-offs everywhere, and the few jobs in my field are seeing fierce competition. I started 2016 off unemployed. got a new job, and ended up having to quit after a few months due to the conditions there. While I was able to get another job straight away, I felt like I was back at the beginning, and that I would never get anywhere. That I had let everyone down.

My writing has suffered. I have not worked on anything personal in months. The inspiration I once received from the Steampunk community I was part of dried up after too many elitist encounters. The manuscript I had written no longer appealed to me. I started to make moves to improve it, but stopped somewhere along the way.

I’ve been living my depression in distractions. Finding ways to write that, while fun for me, are not working to further what I want from life. I just stopped trying.

But in recent months I’ve made a choice. I’ve taken steps to improve my mental health. And I feel they have worked. Slowly, my depression has alleviated. I feel more motivated to do things. I’m applying for more jobs, going out more.

But my writing is still lagging behind, this neglected blog being a testament to my own failure.

I can’t be a failed writer before I’ve even gotten started. If inspiration will not come, I will make it come. I will start here, returning twice a month with more writer’s thoughts and advice for my readers. I will return to my research, to create a more believable world for people to get lost in. I will look back to the things that had inspired me before and see if they can’t do it again.

Most importantly, I will stop hiding.

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Death in the Pages

There’s been a death in my family.

Death always comes as a shock, even when the individual sits at his door for a long time. When it’s obvious someone is going to die–whether it be illness, age, or an injury that can only be repaired so much–you try to prepare yourself for what’s coming. You think that knowing it’s coming will make things easier. That you’ll be able to move on sooner. That it will be less difficult.

But the moment of death still always comes as a shock.

Death is more than a theme or inevitability in fiction. Sometimes, Death is a character all together. But I’ve always had a fondness for a specific portrayal of Death. I’ve always liked the kind Death.

I think Terry Pratchett’s Discworld was my first experience with Death being written in such a way. Although I know he didn’t start out that way, Death–despite bearing the classic appearance of a skeleton in black robes, wielding a massive scythe–was a kind and personable being who cared for the souls he collected. His later iterations never showed him cutting someone’s life short, but rather guiding their souls after they had already died.

During his life, Sir Terry received many letters about his portrayal of Death. Some of those letters were from the terminally ill, thanking him for this version and hoping that Death was truly as the author imagined him.

I don’t care for the cruel Death. The Reaper. The Horseman of the Apocalypse. Any iterations where Death harvests souls like a heartless machine.

Give me the kind Death.

Give me the Death who doesn’t seek out souls to reap, but merely comes to collect them, to sever them from their mortal coils and guide them to wherever they need to go. The Death that cares for humanity and wants them to feel secure in what comes next.

Give me the Death that makes you feel there’s justice in the world when it all ends. The Death that doesn’t take from us, but ensures those we love are brought to a place they can be eternally happy…and those who make the world so harsh are punished justly.

Life is hard enough. Life can be cruel.

So, in fiction? I am glad Death has the option not to be.

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Roleplay and the Writer: An Exercise in Immersion

If I got into MMORPGs for one thing outside of story and entertainment, it was Roleplay. Now, some of you may read ‘Roleplay’ and think of the sort of kinky stuff come couples do involving costumes and toys and such. As I am talking about a game where I play an elf, this is unlikely the same time of Roleplay.

Roleplay—or RP—in games generally means that you create your character, but give them a backstory and personality. You go through the gaming world as if you are this character, who lives in this world, and who may or may not have been witness to key events from the game’s story. Your character interacts with other characters and you form bonds with them—good or bad—as you move through your own plots and watch the character change before your eyes.

It’s a very immersive process, really, and it has given me better insight on getting inside my character’s head.

For the sake of clarity and focus, I play World of Warcraft. WoW operated on an instant messaging chat for communication between players. This is the method I prefer RP in for the sake of immersion. When RPing with someone else in this setup, you don’t have tons of time to respond. Your partner is waiting somewhere on the other end of the game you’re the next thing your character will do or say. You can’t respond two hours later. You can’t get up and come back to it after you’ve had some time to think. You’ve got maybe a few minutes to read what they’re saying, assess the situation, and determine how the character you’ve crafted will respond. You make the circumstances of past RPs into consideration as you get into your character’s head and make each move.

For example, not too long ago, I was involved in a storyline where my character—an Elven mage—had her son kidnapped. Her allies in recovering him were the boy’s instructor—a rather powerful priest—an old friend of her family—a burly, disgruntled paladin—and a man she’d been cultivating a relationship with over several months—a warlock nobleman.

Through magical means, they find where the kidnapper is keeping her son, managing to avoid the traps waiting for them until they reach the building…only to find that boy is gone but for some blood and a scrap from his robe.

Now, over the past few months, the warlock character had become very close to my mage and her son. The kidnapper was actually one of his enemies and he held a lot of anger on himself for failing to protect the boy. Seeing that they were too late only made it worse.

And this character has a literally explosive temper. I’m talking fire everywhere. He was radiating flames, screaming like a madman, and every so often his magic would burst, causing damage to the building they were in. At the time, he was with two characters—my mage and the priest.

This had been an aspect of the warlock that his player and I had been discussing: the idea that she should see him at his worst. I had to think of how she would react. What she would do. And take in past RPs to know what would affect those actions.

In this case, it was the knowledge that she had seen him lose control like this, briefly, when they’d discovered who’d taken her son.

Had she not seen this, her reaction would have been pure terror. Frightened screaming. Possibly trying to talk to him, but through panic and begging him to calm down. She may have even let the priest—whom had never seen such a reaction from the warlock—knock him unconscious.

However, because she had seen a hint of this before, I was able to turn to a core aspect of her personality. My mage can keep calm in a stressful situation if she has logic to cling to. In this case, it was knowing that she could use the scrap of her son’s clothing to divine where he might be. Having seen his flaring temper before, and knowing the warlock for who he was, she was able to take the situation differently.

She was still scared out of her wits—the man was losing control of his magic right before her eyes—but she was able to talk to him, and her worry for his personal safety overrode the fear she was feeling. She was able to give him logic to cling to as well, and he was able to calm down enough to tell them to get away from him so he could release the magic that was currently threatening to overpower him.

As writers, it is important that we are able to get right inside our characters heads and live in their moments. And nothing has taught me to do so better than knowing there is someone waiting for my response to their own actions.

It is an exercise I would recommend trying, if you are in to RPGs. If not, try to write as if you are. As if you’re trapped in a moment, and someone is waiting to see what you’ll do next.

Because your reader certainly will be.

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NaNoWri-Elephants.

So, last time I promised my return to steady updates. Getting a seasonal job turned that into a bit of a fib. We shall actually get back on track now.

But let’s get rolling, even if we’re a little late.

It’s NaNoWriMo and aspiring writers everywhere are trying to buckle down and prepare themselves for a daily word count of 1500 to reach their goal. A 50 000 word novel in a single month. It’s quite the feat! A feat I, admittedly, have failed year after year to accomplish. In years past, school work kept me occupied, and now I’m working two jobs to get some extra cash this holiday season. So, I have decided on a new strategy this year.

It’s called the Elephant Method…or something similar.

Writers can often find themselves needlessly distracted by the Internet. Maybe they needed a picture reference. Perhaps they were just looking for that perfect word. Next thing they know, they’ve spent an hour surfing social media and have lost momentum.

The Elephant Method is one solution for this. When the writer hits a point where they just can’t think of the right word…they use ‘elephant’ as a placeholder. Then they can keep writing and return to it during their second run through, and focus solely on replacing the elephants.

So, your sentence could read “It was just past elephant, and Professor Elephant’s office smelt of elephant, elephant, and fresh elephant” on the first run.

When you get around to editing, the sentence will then read “It was just past eleven at night and Professor Aubrey’s office smelt of cigarettes, ink, and fresh vomit.”

Pretty simple, provided you don’t forget an elephant or have elephants in your story.

But the idea is to keep you in your writing zone, preventing you from losing focus while you search for the perfect word or description. Remember, a rough draft is rough for a reason! You can substitute any word you might want– poodle, mango, chicken, butterfingers, I don’t know. It’s all up to you!

Now, I’m off to a late start, but. I’d best get back to mango-ing mangos with mangos.

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My Favourite Place for Names

A while back I wrote about names. I offered some stories and strategies I use for coming up with names. What I didn’t talk about, however, was how sometimes names just won’t come. Everything you try doesn’t sound right. Or you aren’t sure where to start looking when it comes to names for people from different cultures. Or maybe it’s not a person you need to name, it’s a place. What do you do then?

Find yourself a name generator.

I have a personal favourite for this task that I wish to share. Fantasy Name Generators was a website I came across while bored browsing the web. The Fantasy Name Generator is an endless source of naming delight. Their random generators touch all corners of your writing needs, from fictional people in a modern setting, to fantasy worlds, and the realm of fanfiction.

Under the ‘Real Names’ section, seekers will find three columns listing generators by ethnicity. The names range from modern to archaic to ancient in some cultures. Within, you can select whether you want a male or female name, as the family names generated are the same for both, you can easily go through dozens of names before finding one that you think fits.

Some warning here though. As some cultures use different writing systems from us and have different naming conventions, it is always best to do some follow-up research on a name. Make sure you have the western spelling right, and maybe ask someone from that culture if the name looks right.

Under the Fantasy Names tab, you get a strange and assorted list. Anything from Amazons to serial killers to vampires to wizards can have their name generated here. You get goblin names like Plyz or Slivak. Detective names like Norah Sharpe or Dan Maxwell. Superhero names like Venombite, or Doctor Smooth Vulture.

Okay, that last one was a bit silly. Some of them are.

The Pop Culture section is a fanfiction writer’s dream. While it’s not as extensive, it does focus on the bigger names: Harry Potter, Dr. Who, Star Wars and such. Great if you’re trying to name that minor original character from your Avatar: The Last Airbender story. Or if you just can’t decide what to name your next World of Warcraft character.

But for some, naming a character is easy. It’s the places around them—the cityies and cafes the parks and mountains—that stump the writer-to-be. Your protagonist could have a date at The Royal Junction or buy their morning brew from Big Boulder Coffee or spend their nights with friends at Club Embassy. Information is exchanged during a foggy night at Sunnyside Memorial Park. The possibilities here are endless.

But that’s not where it ends. Need a title for that catchy tune the bard is always singing? They have a Song Name generator. They’ve got Guild Names and Spell Names and Afterlife Names and Currency Names. Within their “Other” section, you’ll find all sorts of miscellaneous names you never knew you needed!

But this site offers more than just names. Stuck on an idea for your next short story? It offers plot descriptions and prompts. Need an actual idea for a city? It won’t only give you a name, it will give you some history and attractions for you to use as a springboard when you develop your world. The descriptions can be tweaked of course, to better fit your story.

The Fantasy Name Generator is easily one of my favourite resources for names. Here’s hoping it may become one of yours.

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Wading Through Word Vomit

My writing has suffered in the past few months due to my being caught in a sinking pit of Word Vomit.

As writers or readers, you may know this term. Word Vomit is a lot like it sounds—the act of spewing words onto a page, no matter how good or bad they sound, whether they make sense or not. Your first draft of anything is going to be mostly Word Vomit. As you read through it and re-write and edit, the Vomit gets cleaned off until three or four drafts later, where you will have a polished piece.

But I’ve always found Word Vomit frustrating in its own ways. Writing’s Block likes to sneak into even the sloppiest of writing, and Motivational Death results shortly after. For the past few months, I have been working on a new writing project. I got six chapters in before I realized I needed a new chapter four to fix the pacing and keep my POV alternations in order. So, with a suggestion from a well-read co-worker, I set out to revise this part of the piece.

I only recently managed to get to a point where I felt I could move on with the story. And ‘Vomit’ is an apt description for what I wrote. The chapter is a mess. While events are mostly in order, there are entire sections containing poor description, and other sections where I literally just wrote [MORE DESC] at the end of a paragraph. It was frustrating for me, to leave even a rough draft sadly incomplete. Yet it helped me see what was so essential about the Word Vomit process.

Yes, it’s messy. Yes, your word choices are terrible. Yes, your descriptions are confusing or incomplete. Yes, your characters are inconsistent. Yet even within the chaos, there is some order. And that order is just enough to let you soldier on ahead with your writing. Even with bracketed comments reminding me that more description was needed and a jumbled writing flow, I see where things are headed. There’s a series of events laid out, not clearly, but more like a street sign in a thick fog. I need to get close to see it, but it’s there.

Word Vomit is like the nervous system of your novel. It’s built on top of your outline—the bones—and is then supplemented by the edits and fixes and cuts you make later—muscle and skin. No matter how you hate it, once the project is complete, you will see how the Word Vomit supported the polished piece.

Chapter Four is an unholy mess, but I can see what it’s trying to be. And that’s enough to help me soldier onwards to Chapter Five.

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How NOT to Keep your Audience Reading

Your whole goal when writing, be you a poet or a short story scrivener or a novelist, is to keep your audience’s attention to the very last word. To have them so absorbed in what you ha e written that they absolutely need to finish that next page, and then the page after that, and then the page after that even though they should really be getting to bed because they have an early meeting tomorrow. There are many drafts to go through to reach this point, and every person is different so your writing won’t be for everyone.

Here are some things that have made me just give up on a book.

Endless Description– This is sometimes more of a skip offence for me. Details are great. They paint a picture, help immerse the reader’s senses, provide places to hide exposition and foreshadowing. But if I have read two pages describing the drop on dew on a blade of grass in the courtyard, I’m going to get bored very fast. I may not put your writing down if the story and characters interest me enough, but I will skip things over. I’ll put the writing down if I start to lose the plot trying to wade through metaphors and purple prose.

Boring Characters– If I’m supposed to follow these people around for the entirety of your story, as a writer, you need to give me something to invest in. If your characters are bland at best and loathsome at worst, I won’t want to read about them. Nothing is worse than your audience feeling apathy for your characters, and having despicable ones will not keep attention much longer.

The only greater sin is giving me really good minor characters, but forcing me to read about the terrible ones.

Confusing Plot/Boring Plot– It’s important to keep your plot organized, but also have it be exciting. If I have no idea what’s going on and can’t keep up with all the subplots infesting your primary plot, I will get tired of trying and give up. If I’m spending the entire time waiting for something exciting to happen, I’ll just get tired. The dreams I have while taking a nap will probably be way more entertaining.

Excessive Profanity– A good curse in dialogue is fine. A well-placed curse can even put emphasis on a crisis or make your audience laugh. However, dialogue is usually where curses should be limited. You don’t need to curse excessively in your narration, even if you’ve gone first person. A little emphasis is fine, but when every few sentences contains a curse, I don’t feel like I’m reading a professionally written piece. I feel like I’m reading the minutes of a fourteen year old boy’s Xbox session.

Cliches Galore– If I can guess everything that’s likely to happen in your story based solely on a summary and come out with a 90% accuracy rating, you’ve got a problem. Readers like to be surprised and to see new things. Predictability can leave your readers bored. We’re along to watch the struggle, not roll our eyes at obvious solutions or static characters and settings.

Preaching – There’s a difference between delivering a lesson and using a character as a mouthpiece to voice your opinions loudly and as if they are correct. Proper lessons are taught through character development and subplots (and even the actual plot, depending on your story). If I feel like I’m listening to an aggressive sermon, telling me about how this is bad and if you do it you are bad, I will stop listening.

General Discomfort– I once stopped reading a book with an interest plot, good form, and pretty good characters. My reason? Several scenes involving minor characters came off as exceedingly racist. Was this intentional on the author’s part? I have no idea, but writers, make sure you really look what you’re writing. You don’t want to alienate your audience with unintentional prejudice.

And if your prejudice is intentional? Then you deserve to lose readership.

Too many combinations of these will also result in a loss of interest, but for some people only certain combinations will do it. You could be fine with bland characters as long as the story is good. You might enjoy a cliche storm that you need not think too much about.

But as a general note, trying to avoid these issues will be the first step in keeping your readers engaged.

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Childhood Twists Sometimes Need A Tweak

Back in the 90s, I was a Pokemon kid. Like most in my age group, the Catch ’em All mentality was prevalent in my collection of cards, toys, and games. Unlike Sailor Moon before it, Pokemon served as an anime gateway drug for me. And like many kids, once Pokemon started to lose my interest, I turned to Digimon.

Now, I watched Digimon for many years, up until it started getting weird(er) and the kids no longer each had their own Digimon partner. I loved the heck out of the first series and quickly came in for the second. It was a semi-new team. Three new kids with newly designed Digimon and two from the first series, aged from children to pre-teens. I got some new, some old, and a continuation of the story, so I was excited!

This new team was faced up against the Digimon Emperor, an erratically dressed boy about their age who was enslaving Digimon and trying to take over the Digital World. I remember watching cartoons one Saturday morning and seeing a trailer for the next coming episode, where this villain’s identity would be revealed. This was an exciting deal for me, and I couldn’t wait for the episode.

Part way through the episode, the kids have a soccer game against a rival school in their world. A lot of the girls are gushing over this kid named Ken, the star player/high ranking honour student from the other school. This is the first time he is mentioned in the series and he’s made out to be a big deal.

Yeah, you know where this is going even if you’ve never seen the show.

Now, obviously this was a kid’s show, and reveals like Ken being the Digimon Emperor did surprise my younger, unobservant self. Even if I hadn’t noticed the set-up as obvious, an actor with a very distinct voice played the Emperor and, of course, Ken shared that voice. Plus, there was something suspicious about him the second he came on screen.

My point is that pulling stuff like this is not a good way to create a villain identity twist, even in a kid’s show. Kids are a lot smarter than people give them credit for. So, how is a twist like this best done?

Well, if I were to re-write the story with this reveal in mind, the best course of action would be to have Ken around from the beginning. He obviously wouldn’t be part of the main team (yet), but would have a presence as a classmate or a boy one of the team’s girls had a crush on. Make him visible enough to be recognized, but seem fairly unimportant in the whole Digital World plot. If he had popped up here and there beforehand, his reveal as the Digimon Emperor may have been a bit more shocking.

(Granted, kids may have also been able to figure out it was him based on his voice. As I said, it was a distinct one. But making him present, but forgettable enough from episode to episode would have possibly helped that as well.)

Surprise reveals need to be handled with subtlety. Most crime shows do this pretty well. A trained viewer, of course, can usually guess who the criminal is by the end. (Hint: In most crime shows, it will be the second or third person interviewed.) Scooby Doo also did this very well, to the point where there was an episode where the criminal was someone the Gang had never met—she was the assistant of the guy who’d hired them—and Velma made reference to how it didn’t make sense because there was no indication the perpetrator had existed before the reveal.

Obviously, the length of your story and the situations around it will allow you to lay as many or as few red herrings as you need, and distract the audience to the point where they might have not even realized what you were doing until later.

Today, my childhood nostalgia just happened to collide with my much improved writing skills. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an entire season of Digimon to re-enjoy.

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Lackluster Love-Interests

Romantic subplots are a great way to add a little spice into a novel. Whether they take only a single book or develop across an entire series, audiences love reading about the relationships between two characters. While they aren’t necessary to any story, there’s no denying that readers can be a very romantic sort.

But there’s no point to putting your protagonist into a romantic relationship if the love interest only exists for that purpose.

I’ve seen it many times before and there’s few writerly things that annoy me more than a love-interest who only exists to be a love-interest. They have only the most basic pieces of personality that are blatantly meant to appeal to the protagonist. They might mention having a job, or some goal they want to achieve, but it’s all waved off, secondary information that never gets elaborated on or shown. Any conversations about those topics end up quickly derailed into talking about the protagonist. The love-interest’s life revolved around the protagonist now that they’ve found each other. You’ll see this more with female love-interests than male ones, though there are cases of the opposite.

A love-interest who only exists to be a love-interest makes the audience wonder what the protagonist sees him them beyond the physical. Yes, there are generic traits like niceness or a sense of humour, but your love-interest needs agency and a life beyond her partner. Here are some things you should consider about your love-interest.

  • How are they compatible with your protagonist?

Yes, I did rag on this a bit, but a love-interest needs to have traits the protagonist will find appealing. However, they have to go beyond being “nice” or “having a sense of humour.” Consider the type of person your protagonist is. What qualities might they seek out in a partner? Are they the adventurous type who will want someone who can keep pace with them? Or are they the sort who needs a patient soul to wrangle them in when they get over-excited?

  • How are they not compatible?

There’s no such thing as perfection in a relationship. Personalities are going to clash in some cases and on some issues. If you protagonist is a hot-head, their habit of rushing into things full-steam may prove an issue to a more level-headed love-interest. Conversely, a love-interest with a blunt, matter-of-fact nature may be difficult for a sensitive protagonist to deal with. Personalities have to clash in more ways than “You do all these dangerous things and I want you to stop.” The trick to making the relationship interesting is in how they deal with these clashes.

  • What kind of life does the love-interest have?

As I said, the biggest issue with some of these love-interests is that they often exist only to be love-interests. Yes, they may be fighting alongside the rebels and wish for peace, but in the end they don’t have any real dreams or goals beyond the plot basics and getting with the protagonist. Your love-interest is a person with a life separate from their dates/random rendezvous in the starship’s halls/banter while travelling the kingdom. Where are they from? What do they do for a living? Who are the other people in their lives? Every person has a story you don’t know, and even if your novel is from the protagonist’s point of view, details of the love-interest’s life should pop up in dialogue or attitude.

  • What are the love-interest’s dreams and goals?

Everyone has things they are passionate about and things they wish to do. Losing weight, learning Croatian, getting their beginner’s starship licence—all these are examples of goals a love-interest could have. They could want to write a novel, travel the world by boat, or convert their sinking city into a flying one—all examples of dreams. Honestly, the two can often appear to be the same thing. While finding love and getting married can be one of these things, it shouldn’t be the only goal/dream for your love interest.

  • What is their purpose in the story?

To make a love-interest a full-out character, they need to be something more than a person for the protagonist to fall in love with. What’s their role in the overall plot? Are they significant to it? A love-interest is an important character, and they need to have more bearing on the plot then a few scenes showing their bland devotion to the protagonist.

Your love-interest needs to be a character in their own right for the audience to be invested in the relationship you’re building. You need to write your love-interest as a person, first and foremost, keeping their love-interest role as a secondary consideration. Perhaps not even that! Depending on how prominent a character they are in the overall plot, their love-interest status may even be a lesser concern.

Romance is fun, and can make an excellent sub-plot. However, if your love-interest isn’t on equal grounds with your protagonist, your audience is in for a bland, boring ride full of dull devotion and cliché conflicts. Readers get invested in characters, and if there’s nothing to be invested in, your romance will fall flat.

But look at it this way: would you want to be in a relationship with someone whose only interest was in said relationship?

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Silent Protagonists: Behind the Controller or Nose in a Book

E3 2015 has come around again and brought us a plethora of new game announcements to anticipate in the next year. New games, DLCs, sequels, remakes, re-mastered editions, all your gaming needs from Nintendo, Bethesda, Blizzard, Ubisoft and other big names and independent publishers. Of particular interest was Bethesda’s announcement: that they would be making a sequel to the highly successful Dishonored.

I’m so far through the moon about Dishonored 2 that I blasted out the dark side and landed in another galaxy. I know little about the game thus far, but the trailer shows that Empress Emily Kaldwin will be one of our playable characters alongside Corvo Attano, both having been betrayed. Talk of a Dishonored sequel was floating around the internet for a while, a lot of it spurred by a fake leak called “Darkness of Tyvia.” Throughout all of this, speculation, ideas, and suggestions were made in various gaming forums.

One of those suggestions plays relevant to the topic today: the silent protagonist. It’s always been a fairly well-known factor of video games, allowing the player to better feel like the actual protagonist. However, from a story standpoint, a blank slate makes for an uninteresting character. One thing some gaming forums demanded of a new Dishonored game was a protagonist who actually spoke.

Silent protagonists are not the easiest characters to make work. As they are a blank slate for the player, someone looking for a hero to support can find themselves a little underwhelmed. The only thing I projected onto Corvo was my desire to protect the child Emily. Unsurprisingly, I never went for one of the game’s bad endings. Overall though, there wasn’t really much to Corvo but that protective aspect and a desire for revenge.

The DLC content for Dishonored, however, gave us Daud. At the beginning of the game, Daud assassinated the Empress of Dunwall and appears near the end when Corvo is betrayed by his allies and left to die. In the DLC, you actually play as Daud, facing off against a different villain in an effort to protect Emily from a threat Corvo has no knowledge of. This content was far better written, with more interesting characters and locations than the main game.

Daud was a more interesting protagonist because he could talk (and was voiced by Michael Madsen aka Mr. Blond). We got to learn a lot about him. Saw how he reacted to situations beyond fighting. Came to understand how he cared for his subordinates and got to see how he related with others. Most importantly, we got to see the guilt he felt over the Empress’s death.

Granted, this is all the from the Good Ending run. Like I said, I was terrible being evil.

A silent protagonist doesn’t work well in a game like Dishonored because of the first-person format. Link from Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda franchise is one of the best known silent heroes in gaming. Where other characters have dialogue boxes (even if they aren’t fully voiced), Link is never shown speaking. However, because Zelda is a third-person game, the player can see Link react to things around him. They can see his facial expressions and gestures and the way he behaves around others. A silent protagonist must be visible and emotive to be effective in a video game.

But from a written perspective, a silent protagonist is probably best portrayed first person. If said character doesn’t have a communication method like sign language or writing in a nortebook, the reader will need to see inside their head. A silent protagonist could be done in third person, if they are an expressive one like Link, but in first-person the reader will get to better view their thoughts and feelings. We also will want to know why they’re silent. Are they mute? Did they lose the use of their voice in an accident?

However, the best way to create a silent protagonist is to use factors from both methods. Let us have the protagonist’s inner thoughts, but make them expressive so we can see how they physically react to the world around them. Stone-faced protagonists are rarely endearing when they talk. A silent protagonist with no inner thoughts and limited expressions is going to be either boring or a tired cliché.

Classic in video games but rarely seen elsewhere, the silent protagonist takes some skill to pull off. A silent protagonist need not fall into first-person gamer blankness as long as the writer remembers that even without a voice, there’s still emotion and agency behind this character.

Categories: musings, On Writing, video games | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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