Writing Dark Stories

Terrible Writing Advice has a video about writing grimdark stories. As the name implies, it is a sarcastic lampooning of bad trends in fiction, especially written fiction. I link to it because it’s a pretty good summary of the problems that exist with how people talk about dark stories. It’s short on solutions, though, aside from the occasional “multiply this advice by negative one” bits.

I think perhaps the most important thing about writing a dark story, though, is to have some kind of actually dark theme that you’re building to, and that lacking this theme is why most of these “then the puppy died” stories don’t work. The substance of a dark story is to explore a depressing aspect of the human condition. Dead puppies is just style – copy the style without the substance and people will notice the writer’s a poseur.

It’s not hard to think of dark themes that could support a dark story. Here’s a freebie: Most people adhere to a set of morals because society punishes deviation from them, and would abandon those morals in the heartbeat it takes to come up with a dumb excuse if doing so ever became the easy path. Here’s another: Powerful societies concentrate resources in one place, which leads both to scientific and philosophical progress and to terrible abuse of those in the outgroup of that society, and thus human progress is eternally locked to human suffering not because one is a product of the other, but because they’re both side effects of the same process. Here’s a third: Nepotistic favoritism is a natural result of the principles of loyalty and friendship that we consider praiseworthy in every other context, and the lack of which most people would consider a warning flag for an untrustworthy leader – despite also considering the inevitable results of their presence to be corrupt.

These are depressing themes. If you write a book about how nepotism is the inevitable result of giving power to someone who believes in sticking with their friends, you will write a dark book that makes people feel the way early seasons of House of Cards did. Probably not as much unless you’re really good at writing, but same basic concept and being unfavorably compared to the first few seasons of House of Cards is praising with faint damnation. If you write a book full of dead puppies, then your writing is just dull. Happy Halloween.

Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Dark Side

Cecelia’s Quest 1

And now for something completely different.

Cecelia is Celia. Threadbare has had some obvious twists – Anise being Amelia was the one that was really easy to guess and also really wanted me to be surprised by it anyway – but I’m pretty confident that “Cecelia = Celia” is too obvious even for this story to think it’s a “reveal.” Like, King Melos is her father, and hopefully this book doesn’t hold its audience’s intelligence in such contempt that it thinks adding one extra syllable to a name is enough to get readers thinking “I guess he must have a different child that we don’t know about.”

So, Cecelia’s sparring with some knight. She’s got a bunch of skills at levels like 57 and 48, which makes her significantly stronger than Threadbare, who’s still muscling through the 20s even on his best skills.

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Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Spooktacular Free-For-All

Chapter 5

We start with a perspective switch to Madeline, where she recaps the plot of chapter 4 to Garon. This takes several pages. Towards the end, a note arrives, in which Threadbare says he’s got the dungeon core but is injured and needs backup before the cat queen comes to claim it. Naturally, the cat queen gets the same note. Both show up, but when the cat queen arrives, she notices something amiss about the stuffing left lying around from Threadbare’s battle with Zuula’s skeletons:

The Cat Queen stood in the clearing, looking up at the fluff scattered around the wrecked hut. Then her eyes narrowed. “Puffweed fluff?” She said, peering at it more closely. And it was. Here in the mountains it bloomed far earlier than it did elsewhere, and someone had wadded great masses of it together, wetted it down to look like stuffing.

But, hang on, that battle actually happened. Zuula was power leveling Threadbare by actually attacking him with skeletons. Since Threadbare has the skills to mend himself and they had the better part of a full day before the undead would be out and about, why not just actually injure Threadbare enough to leave some stuffing around during the fights they were already having? It would’ve prevented the cat queen from catching on and would probably have taken no more time than gathering up puffweed fluff anyway.

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Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Undead

Completely forgot to have a Threadbare post on Monday, so instead we’ll have three for today, and I’ll stick the usual Tuesday article on Wednesday instead.

Chapter 4

Threadbare plays cards with the vampires, some kind of heavily luck based game that helps get Fluffbear’s stats higher. While there, the subject of Threadbare’s mission to save Celia from King Melos comes up, and from there, how much the vampires dislike Melos.

“S’aw right. Ya good company, ya know?” Madeline sighed. “Knew it was coming. Soon as the north folded, and Balmoran fell, all the little revolutionaries and resistance fightahs that had gathered heah were next. But nobody listens to the vampaiah, huh? Now Balmoran’s gone, the dwarves are next on the chawpin’ blahk, and only the ranjahs up in Jericho’s Reach ah keepin’ them alive. They’ll be gone too soon, and tha King’ll have total control. Of what’s left ah this land, anyway.”

So apparently Balmoran isn’t the last pocket of resistance? Earlier it sounded like King Melos was already the king of everywhere reachable, but now there were two, maybe three different entities outside his control? Depending on whether these Jericho’s Reach guys are their own polity or just an organization within the territory of either the dwarves or Melos. Why did Caradon hide out within Melos’ borders when he could’ve been in dwarf territory? If Melos knew Taylor’s Delve was full of rebels all along, why did he wait ’till Balmoran fell to torch the place, especially when Balmoran is apparently not even the last formal resistance? If the dwarves and Jericho’s Reach capitulate, is there going to be another rebel territory that turns out to have been resisting Melos all along? That last question is the really important one, the one that all these little questions add up to: Is the Rebel Alliance going to be able to just keep pulling out new allies as the plot demands? Because it’s starting to feel that way, and it’s hard to care whether the dwarves bite it when they’re completely interchangeable with whoever the next final bastion of anti-Melos resistance turns out to be.

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Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Halloween Wars

When I said that I might not be posting daily for a while, I’ll admit that I was thinking “I might miss a day or two here and there,” not “there will almost immediately be a nearly week-long dark period split up only by reassurances that I haven’t wandered away, I’m just really busy.” The .pdf text for Petals and Thorns is now locked in, though, and I don’t have any more deadlines to hit except to get the Pathfinder conversion done by the end of December so I can get it presentable by the end of January. That’s not a trivial task, but the deadline is generous enough that I will hopefully not be busy for several days straight anytime soon.

Now that we’ve taken care of the explanatory paragraph that people reading through the complete series in the future don’t care about, it’s time for…

Chapter 3

Threadbare and Dark Threadbare are burying the raccants while Pulsivar hangs out. The soap thing from earlier comes up again: The familiar scent from when Pulsivar was a well-cared for pet and not a wild animal fighting for survival has a calming effect on him, so rubbing some on Dark Theadbare convinces Pulsivar to trust her (it also came up when Threadbare first reunited with him, but I couldn’t find a good place to mention it).

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Evermore: Sluggish, Confused, and Contrary

Yeah, that’s what everyone’s been waiting for, right? More Evermore posts. Longtime readers will be pleased to know that Threadbare posts are resuming tomorrow, it just so happens that my schedule freed up enough for real blog posts again just in time for a Friday post.

Fans of nitpicking will be pleased to know that Evermore is beginning to manifest some flaws, however. Three in particular. First, Evermore is sluggish. I mentioned last time that I’d just barely managed to get to the end of the hunter leg of their Halloween plot. I turned up today, showed Killian my hunter card (new actor on this one, I hope it’s because vital characters have different actors on different nights and not because they’re seeing actor turnover within the space of a single plot arc), and asked what to do next. She had nothing to give me. The plot dead ends there. I was okay with this during the soft open, but halfway through the entire arc the actual ending still isn’t available? The idea here seems to be that the plot advances week by week or maybe even day by day, and you have to come to Evermore very regularly to get each moment. But there’s not actually a whole lot more to do if you go multiple times, and people who visit early on during an arc and aren’t able to return until it’s over just never get to see how that arc finishes.

Evermore is also confused. The actors do not appear to be properly briefed on what the current plot is at all. I was receiving quest hooks for finding black stones to bring to Thurgood the alchemist (who I’m now confident actually is the dual-personality alchemist I met on preview night, but when I met him on other nights, he was played by a different actor – I don’t fault Evermore for this, retaining the same actor every night, six days a week, for every single role would very possibly run the actors into the ground). The problem is, that plot hook is no longer a thing. The Nettletons already have a supply of those black rocks, which they’re grinding up into little bottles of powder and distributing to anyone who asks about it to bring it to the witch Wyn Weaver (pronounced “when weaver,” I only know how to spell it because “Wyn Weaver’s cookies” show up on the food stand menus – they’re pretty good, too, but the hot chocolate is the real selling point when it comes to Evermore food).

Not only that, but apparently the Mother Nature/Mother Earth dichotomy is not a result of a divide between pre- and post-corruption, but instead everyone is just referring to her exclusively as Mother Nature, and reacted with bemused surprise at the notion that she was ever called Mother Earth. One of the off-duty actors even reacted with surprise that Mother Nature’s name was known to park guests at all, having apparently been told that it was being kept secret. This is what makes Evermore contrary. Not only do the actors not seem to be properly briefed on the current stage of the plot, they seem to be being given information that’s flat-out false. I met Mother Nature, identified by that name, during the soft open. That actor who was told she’s a secret wasn’t behind the current stage of the plot, they had been given information that was never true. I suspect there was an attempt to back up and hide Mother Nature’s identity (possibly why she switched to Mother Earth), which they later decided was infeasible so they walked it back. Certainly that would square with Mother Earth being reluctant to admit that she had previously been known as Mother Nature when I talked to her under that name during my first visit after the full opening, and then actors being unaware that she had ever had that name.

I did still buy tickets for Halloween, which will hopefully not be too horribly crowded. My last visit was on a Wednesday, and the more manageable crowds have reaffirmed my “don’t go on weekends” stance. Unfortunately, Wednesday and Saturday are the only evenings I have available, and next Wednesday is Samhain, which means I just have to hope that Evermore isn’t too crowded for the holiday.

There’s still a plot to wrap up here, even if it did advance hardly at all. Many side quests now give out little “gold” (actually pyrite, I’m pretty sure) nuggets, and if you hand enough of that gold into the acolytes, they’ll tell you that gold is magic and had something to do with the opening of the portals, and Wiccam and his assistant William can both tell you more. Wiccam’s not here, so William it is, but psyche, just kidding, William doesn’t know jack. Maybe Wiccam doesn’t either and the acolytes just weren’t informed that the next leg of the plot doesn’t exist yet. Hopefully my efforts to actually get to the end of the Evermore plot this Halloween won’t be thwarted by either heavy crowds or by the plot not actually existing.

Please Stand By

Certainly I do not intend to entirely abandon this blog. That said, it is more important that I stay on schedule for the stuff that people have already paid me money for than for the free blog posts. Regular posting should resume some time soon, but I need to get the .pdf text done by October 25th so I can get it to my layout guy David Shugars in order to have the .pdf ready on schedule. After that, I should have more time for secondary projects like this blog.

We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties

I warned you guys earlier that I might not be posting Let’s Read updates daily while fulfilling Kickstarter rewards, since it’s more important to keep those on schedule than to keep the Let’s Read updates consistent. That prophecy is coming true today. I’m having some trouble with Kindle in-browser, and using their downloadable app messes up my workflow for highlight/copy/pasting relevant passages. This relatively minor hiccup wouldn’t ordinarily be a big deal, but right now I just don’t have the hour or so to spare getting used to the new workflow or transferring to a new browser, so instead I’ll try to figure that out in time for the Monday update.

Fifty Followers

With the Sew You Want To Be A Hero posts, my blog has knocked over another tiny milestone: I now have fifty followers. I’m also pretty rapidly heading towards breaking 10,000 views from 5,000 visitors before the end of the year (I am reasonably likely to get that much by the end of October, even).

These milestones may seem paltry compared to the Kickstarter that had four times that many backers and made me a significant amount of real, actual money, but that’s all for tabletop roleplaying, and I have no idea where the ceiling on that is. Obviously it’s possible for Matt Colville to make $1,000,000 for one splatbook, which would cover my art and living expenses for approximately twenty-five years, but there’s no reason to believe I’ll be able to reach even a tenth of that level of success – I don’t have his charisma on camera, and the audience for my work is not “everyone who wants to play D&D” but rather “everyone who wants to play a specific kind of D&D that’s badly neglected by existing adventure paths.” I really wouldn’t be surprised if $4,000 per adventure is the upward limit on what I can achieve, which would require me to produce about eight of them to make a living off of them – and that’s assuming both that I can get nearly 100% of my art assets in a permanent library and that the whole thing doesn’t crash and burn on me somewhere in the next few months.

All this to say, I definitely want to keep my options open regarding a literary career path in case this tabletop thing doesn’t work out, so I’m glad to see my blog – which is popular mainly in proportion to how often I write about books – passing these little milestones.

On a somewhat related note, I may end up doing another NaNoWriMo thing this year. If I do, that’ll mean another interruption to the LitRPG reviews, which is one of two major reasons I’m considering not doing it (the other major reason being I don’t want it to interfere with the schedule on my Kickstarter rewards). On the one hand, I don’t want another interruption this close to the Kickstarter interruption. On the other, I will at some point need to actually write a book if I’m going to make this work.

Sew You Want To Be A Hero: The Novelization Of A Dungeon Crawl Is Still Boring

Chapter 2

Threadbare and Pulsivar enter the raccant dungeon in search of Dark Threadbare, and soon come across…

The little bear thought that maybe there was something hiding under the junk, but no, nothing was under there. The mob of trash had moved on its own and just slunk up and whacked him a good one.

An animate mob of trash. A trash mob, if you will.

And not much deeper in, Threadbare finds the heart of the raccant operation:

Threadbare gazed upon a large cave, with multiple seats and benches made from stalagmites, free-standing and in rows. Ropes and chains of lanterns hung from the ceiling, flashing with odd colors, and at least three dozen raccants sat on them or jumped up and down, dancing to the music.

Garbage piled high around the cavern shook to the beat, piles of trash and even cans of the stuff shaking as the beat thumped on. Occasionally a can would boil over, and a new trash mob would rattle out, then head toward one of the corridors leading out of the cavern.

And up on stage, was a Raccant wearing a pair of baggy black pants, a gold chain, and some odd contraption over his eyes that Threadbare had never seen before. Though for once that wasn’t due to his ignorance. After all, very few people in Cylvania would have recognized a pair of sunglasses.

Didn’t Caradon have regular glasses? Maybe I just imagined that. Either way, “glasses that are dark” doesn’t seem like it’d be that hard to puzzle out. Nitpick aside, though, I like this setup.

Threadbare is able to dispose of the raccant mooks by animating their own masks to attack them and then using his Wolverine claws to tear up what’s left, with some support from his animated high chair minion that he salvaged from the camp outside. That’s when the boss attacks with a hurricane of puns…

Then in a flash, the raccant was there, bashing the high chair to bits with a heavy hammer that he’d pulled out of literally nowhere.

He’d stopped because it was hammer time, and broken it down, just like that.

Threadbare popped claws and laid into him- or tried to, anyway. The bard could dodge like nobody’s business, thanks to his Raccant Touch This skill.

…which then retreats into a particularly abbreviated example of detached summary.

The fight went on for a bit, and Threadbare switched from trying to shred the guy to just trying to survive, letting Pulsivar do the real work. Fortunately that was a good strategy, and in the end, after three dodge skill ups and two more bodyguard skill ups later, the raccant fell, glasses shattering. Threadbare sagged into Pulsivar, hugging his wounds away with what remained of his sanity.

Survival Quest had this problem, too, where what makes for a good MMO fight doesn’t really make for a good book fight, and instead of having the MMO be weirdly high-lethality in order to pace the fights for a book, it retreats into detached summary. Survival Quest at least had the excuse that it was an actual MMORPG and it would actually be weird from a worldbuilding standpoint for the fights to be balanced around high lethality that allows them to be portrayed beginning to end in just two or three pages of book space (and also allows players to win with a strong alpha strike or even just some lucky crits rather than demanding an effective long term strategy – that’s bad for gameplay). Threadbare has a built-in excuse for having fights balanced for pace rather than strategy:

It's Magic 2

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