What Game of Thrones didn’t learn from Mass Effect

What Game of Thrones didn’t learn from Mass Effect

As I watched the final episode of Game of Thrones, I felt a sinking sense of ‘eh’. The episode was like a lot of season eight, at times visually impressive (Daenerys’s speech in front of the Unsullied,) occasionally rewarding, (Sansa becoming Queen of the North, Jon finally petting Ghost!), but also confusing (wait, why is Arya leaving to explore?) and often muddled or unsatisfying (Jon stabbed Daenerys real quick, and Bran?). Ultimately, I felt, well, not much of anything. And as the week went on and I struggled with GoT’s rushed finish, I started to feel flashbacks to the ending of another epic that was near and dear to me, Mass Effect.

GoT and Mass Effect might be separated by medium and genre, but the two share some surprising connections. In Mass Effect, the player character, Shepard, must amass an alliance of fractures alien species to face a greater threat, the mysterious Reapers. Much of the later seasons of GoT were focused on Jon Snow’s struggles to build an alliance of the warring Westeros kingdoms to fight the mysterious Night King and the White Walkers. Both GoT and Mass Effect were huge, beloved franchises that focused on a massive cast of characters that fans got invested in and both had trouble sticking the landing, for largely the same reasons.

Mysterious Villains

The original Mass Effect pulled off one of the best, most satisfying twists I’ve seen. It’s revealed that the villain, Saren, is being controlled by his ship, Sovereign and that Sovereign isn’t a ship at all, but an ancient, near unfathomable life form. It takes an entire fleet to kill Sovereign and they just barely pull it off. The game ends revealing that Sovereign is one of thousands of Reapers, a race of synthetic beings that arise once a cycle to destroy all organic life.

The first game did a lot to establish just how devastating the Reapers are. I remember having no idea how Shepard was going to beat them. Likewise, some GoT’s best episodes and moments helped to establish how much of an unstoppable, inevitable force the White Walkers were. Hardhome showed how futile fighting the dead was, and season seven showed how effortless the Night King could bring down even one of Daenerys’s dragons.

The Reapers and the White Walkers were mysterious, powerful and terrifying. Both wanted to wipe out all life and the audience desperately wanted to know more about them. Who made the Reapers? What was the Night King’s deal? And in the writer rooms of both Bioware and HBO, no one had any idea how to actually beat these unstoppable monsters.

Both the Reapers and the White Walkers fall after a brutal final stand in their respective stories, to plot conveniences. The Reapers have an off switch, the Night King is a final boss, beat him and you win the game. The answer to both the Reaper and White Walker problem turned out to be unsatisfying and did a lot to sap both the Reapers and the White Walkers of their menace and mystery.

A Massive and Beloved Cast

ME and GoT had a problem that most franchised would have killed for, a huge cast that people loved. Mass Effect 2 basically put the problem of the reapers on hold to tell a side story and shove even more characters into the mix and it was the best game of the series. GoT was at its best in the early middle seasons where it wasn’t clear if anyone would survive and you clung desperately to your fav.

Perfect little character moments became memes. Favorites developed and the creators listened. Tormund’s role expanded and his crush on Brianne, a throw away joke, became a full-on love triangle (kinda). Garrius and Tali both became romance options. Everyone was having fun, shipping their favorite couples, hoping the character they hated died and that their favorite would get more screen time; then came the ending.

A massive and beloved cast means that you have to give everyone a detailed and satisfying end to their individual story and that is just not going to happen. Mass Effect 3 seemed to pick squadmates out of a hat, side lining some of ME’s beloved cast and introducing new characters like the roided up Vasquez that nobody asked for (he was voiced by Frieddie Prince Jr and I actually liked him by the end). Some characters got little to no time and their endings felt unsatisfying because of it.

Game of Thrones whittled it’s cast down almost arbitrarily at the end, moments that should have felt immensely satisfying, like Cleganbowl, felt very ‘meh’. Some characters like Missandei were done away with for very obvious plot motivations. Both ME and GoT also spent time introducing villains that did nothing and nobody liked. Looking at you Euron Greyjoy and Kai Leng, seriously you two could be the same person for all the impact you had.

Rushed

This all leads to same poor conclusion. In both ME 3 and GoT the plot took over, the pacing picked up a maddening tempo and both rushed, fumbling to the end. You could feel them running out of budget, time or interest and just trying desperately to get it all done. Characters did things that didn’t make sense because they had to be at X place because the plot said so. Moments that both should have been building to like Jon stabbing Daenerys and Shepard selecting the fate of the universe, felt hollow and forced. The excitement that fans had been feeling for years, petered out and turned vicious, there were online petitions, hate mail, cupcakes!

It’s unfortunate, because I actually don’t think that ME 3 and the final season of GoT are bad. Rushed and unsatisfying at times, sure, but they have their moments, points where you remember why you loved the series to begin with. I also believe that both had an Icarus problem, they flew too close to the sun. ME 3 was never going to be able to resolve all it’s threads and beat the Reapers in 3 games, they needed a fourth one for that. GoT too needed a full season just to give the White Walkers a satisfying end and probably another season after that to make us believe that Jon would go so far as to actually kill Daenerys and that Daenerys was really a tyrant, or at least to muddy the waters better. Instead it got one little small season to do both.

For both series it’s interesting how the questions that drove most of the plot and fan speculation turned out to be the least important part. It never mattered what ending Shepard chose, or who sat on the iron throne. In both series, it’s hard to move past the ending because so much of the story was building to–something. We’re now left wondering what do we do with the rest of it? For GoT fans feeling let down, ME might have answer, you let go of the ending and you focus on what you loved in the first place…or you bake cupcakes.

A Tormund and Ghost Adventure

A Tormund and Ghost Adventure

Hi readers! I know it’s been a while and it’s strange to return with a Fanfic post, but here we are. I promise to have more book reviews and post on writing soon, but with the end of Game of Thrones I thought it might be nice to post something fun.

***Minor Game of Thrones Spoilers***

Tormund took a deep breath, feeling the stiff air, the frost that still lingered even as the world thawed. He smiled. He was home, beyond the wall, back where he belonged. He waited as Ghost sniffed and pawed at the frozen earth. The dire wolf raised his head, flicking his torn ear.

Tormund had taken the wolf down from Castle Black where they had been staying with the other survives of the battle of the dead. It had been cramped and crowded in the castle and both the wolf and the wilding needed some space. Tormund thought a walk would do them both a measure of good.

“Find something?” Tormund asked. Ghost stared back at him, before trotting up, tail swaying behind him. “Nothing?” Tormund asked as they continued on. The wolf kept his snout focused on the path ahead.

Tormund grunted, ahead was always better than behind. He took big steps to keep up with the wolf. They traveled in silence for a bit, Tormund taking the measure of his silent companion.

“Do you miss him?” Tormund asked, after they stopped to drink from a stream thick with ice melt.

Ghost looked at him. “It’s alright if you do, I miss him.” Tormund admitted. They continued, “Don’t be sad about him leaving you behind.” Tormund said, “His name’s snow, he belongs here as much as you or I. He’ll be back come summer when the green returns. The Crows never could never handle a true winter.”

Ghost snorted.

“I know it’s hard.” Tormund said, his eyes fixed on Ghost’s missing ear. “We fought the dead, we survived only to get our hearts broken.” Tormund grunted, thinking of the big woman. “It’s the way it is, but it’s better here, we’re free.”

Ghost whined as they turned down the path.

“I know it hurts. Jon is a good man, a king if any man is a king, but he’s from the south.” Tormund said. “They might make good iron there, but they make shit men. It’s their lords, and kings, and keeps. It makes them mad; they fight wars over stone and metal and who owns who, they aren’t free, their minds aren’t right.” Tormund stopped, blinking at the insanity “They ride dragons!”

Ghost stopped. He looked down, before craning his head up in mournful howl.

“What?” Tormund asked. Ghost looked at him, ear tucked behind his head. “No!” Tormund said shaking his head. “He didn’t leave you for the dragon! He’d never do that.”

Ghost gave out a panting bark.

Tormund came over and padded the wolf on the stomach. “I mean it, he wouldn’t! The dragon’s not even his! It’s that dragon queen lady.” Tormund titled his head, “What do you think of her? A woman that can ride a dragon, that’s quite a woman. But the people that follow her, you know the Unsullied don’t drink? Not even after he we killed the dead! Who doesn’t drink after that?!”

Tormund grinned, “But her horsemen, the Dothraki? They drank, they drank well.” Tormund laughed, “Jon should bring some of them when he returns, they would do well here.”

Ghost nestled Tormund’s hand looking for more rubs. Tormund abilaged, nodding to the wolf. “I know, I know, it hurts, come, come on, the cold makes it better.”

They kept walking, talking of the battle and the future for the Free Men now that the dead were gone. Tormund talked for so long he didn’t realize how far they had traveled from Castle Black. He didn’t smell the smoke of their fire until he was on them.

Ghost growled. Tormund stopped. There were four Wildlings in front of them, two with bows, a big bastard with an axe, and a hairy fucker with two long knives. Tormund remembered the hairy fucker.

“Korse?” Tormund said, “You’re alive?”

Korse blinked, “Tormund fucking Giantsbane? I was going to say the same thing about you!” Korse girned, his yellowing teeth parting his hair fucking face. “I thought you went with the Crows to fight the dead.”

“I did.” Tormund said, “We won.”

Korse looked to the others, they looked back at him and then up at Tormund. They were afraid, Tormund smiled, they should be.

“So, the Night King’s dead? What a thing,” Korse shook his hairy fucking head.

“It was.” Tormund said, looking at Korse. “Where were you? Everyone from Hardhome to Wall was supposed to be dead; was hoping you were one of them.”

Korse laughed and his men laughed. “No, we’ve been doing great! Stayed back from the dead but followed close.” Korse leaned in like he was telling a secret, “See, when people die, they leave their stuff and if you’re not dead you get to take that stuff, with everyone dead, we got a lot of stuff.”

Tormund nodded, “Ah, so you’re wearing extra furs Korse. I thought you just got fat.”

Korse laughed again, it was rattling, not-all-together laugh. “Not fat giant fucker—”

“Fucker?” Tormund said snarling, “I didn’t fuck any giant. I suckled on her tit, she was like a mother to me!” Tormund shrugged, “I did fuck up her husband, but—”

“I get it big man,” Korse said, “So what you doing back? You the only one to survive?”

“No,” Tormund said, “Many Wildlings did. I’m leading them, we’re wintering in Castle Black, but come summer we’ll be heading home.”

Korse looked to his men. Tormund noticed that they had a lot of stuff. They had on extra furs, armor, weapons. They wore roped necklaces full of trinkets: spoons, dog teeth, feathers, needles, arrowheads. Every time they moved their stuff rattled. They looked at each other with sunken eyes and twitching fingers. Tormund remembered the frantic flight from the dead, how they had fled like mice. He couldn’t imagine Korse and his men surviving for so long in the Night King’s shadow. They couldn’t be right in the head after that.

“If the Wildlings are coming back, they’re going to want their stuff aren’t they?” Korse said.

“Yes,” Tormund agreed, “How much stuff do you need?”

“What’s mine!” Korse said, “And I got a lot now Tormund, a lot.”

“Good for fucking you, Korse.” Tormund said, watching as the archers took a step back. The big bastard’s hands tightened on his axe.

“Thing is Tormund, when you get a lot of stuff, you always want more.” Korse said, his grey eyes searching Tormund.  “You kill the dead with that axe? Be nice to have.”

Tormund grunted, so Korse wanted a fight? Good. Tormund hadn’t fought anyone since the dead and that wasn’t a good fight. Tormund took his axe off his back. “I’ll give you the sharp end, Korse. Chop some of that hair off you.”

Korse laughed madly. One the archers let loose. Tormund felt the arrow smack into his shoulder. He let a cry of rage and pain. It felt good, he lifted his axe ready to charge—but stopped mid swing. He looked around axe still over his head. Korse and his warriors looked at Tormund weapons out, ready for a fight.

“What the fuck is it?!” Korse asked nervously.

“Have any of you seen a big fucking wolf?” Tormund asked. He had forgotten about Ghost and couldn’t see him anywhere, didn’t he want to fight to?

“A big fucking wolf?” Korse said, sparing a confused glance back to his men.

One of the archers screamed. Ghost pounced on him knocking the archer onto his back. The dire wolf tore into the man’s neck and shoulder and his screaming stopped. Ghost lifted up his head, gore streaked his white snout. He growled and was on the next archer before the man could run.

“There he is!” Tormund laughed, before attacking the big bastard. Tormund dodged a swing of the big fella’s axe, and swung his own axe low catching the big one in the knee. The man buckled, glaring at Tormund. But before Tormund could finish him off, Korse charged, knives flashing. Tormund bought up his forearm to block the blades and they gave him two deep cuts.

Tormund let out another roar of pain before bring the haft of his two handed axe around and smacking Korse in the head. Tormund heard the satisfying crunch of bone and saw the man real back. Tormund swung his axe, catching Korse in the side. The axe dug deep and Korse let out a gasp, hot blood splashed on the snow.

With Korse down, Tormund turned looking for the big fella. Ghost was already over him, teeth pulling on tendon and muscle. “Hey!” Tormund shouted as Ghost tore at the big fella. “He was mine!”

Ghost flicked his ears back apologetically but kept at it. Tormund sighed, swinging his axe onto his shoulder. Korse was kneeling on the ground panting, a fogging wound burning at his side, his daggers still clenched in his fist. Tormund considered the man. Their eyes met.

“I’m coming back as a fucking Wight and I’m going to cut your fat head off, you redhead, fire kissed fucker.”

Tormund hefted his axe. “Fire-kissed? They call us gingers in the south.”

“What the fuck is a ginger?!” Korse asked.

Tormund shrugged, “I don’t know, bet it’s pretty like a flower.” He brought his axe down on Korse before the man could say more.

Tormund nodded at Ghost and his work. The wolf trotted over. Tormund inspected the arrow, it was in his shoulder good and tight. He nodded, it wouldn’t impact their walk. He swung his axe back over his shoulder and let Ghost take the lead.

“So, the way you disappear, is that why Jon calls you Ghost?” Tormund asked, as the pair continued on further into the wild.

On Rejection

On Rejection

I’m querying my first manuscript. The process involves receiving a lot of impersonal rejection letters and reading a lot of articles about ‘writing the perfect query letter’. Querying has made me realize how much of a novice I am when it comes to traditional publishing and how much an expert I am when it comes to rejection.

When I graduated college in 2010, I entered teeth first into the great recession. It took me three years of near constant searching to find a job that even remotely justified the money spent on my degree. Dating has been even more instructive and humbling. If you really want to know rejection download Bumble.

I don’t bring either example up looking for pity. Rejection to me isn’t a bad thing, it’s just something that happens. It’s almost never about you, at least not the way you think it is. It’s just the world saying ‘no’, and it’s only dangerous if you fear it or misinterpret it.

Rejection to me is different than failure. It’s usually much less informative. I can try to run a 5k and fail and learn a lot about running and how to succeed next time. Failure is personal, internal. It is me not meeting a goal. I have all the steps, all the insights. Rejection is external. Another person or organization giving me a flat NO. It’s often coming from a source that I can’t get feedback from or any real explanation as to why I was rejected. When I send a query letter to an agent and they respond with a form ‘thanks, but no thanks’, I don’t learn anything other than that agent isn’t interested in my story.

Rejection to me is most instructive when there’s a lot of it. Most of the things we get ‘rejected’ from are a numbers game: dating, job applications, query letters, etc. A certain amount of rejection is excepted in each and we all do things to try and strengthen our odds: apply for jobs in fields we have experience in, ask for dates from people with similar interests, and so on. If you’re continuously getting rejected, then it might be a good idea to try a new approach. Do further research, ask for feedback from friends or colleagues, or other experts. Try a new strategy, go to local events to meet new people, try networking rather than job boards, try to get a short story published.

If feasible, ask for feedback from someone who rejected you, but if you do this understand, you will not change their mind. If someone has rejected you for whatever reason, it is not an invitation to debate them. The answer is NO, and you must accept that. Maybe that person will change their mind about you later, it’s a big random world out there, but its super unlikely and it will never happen from you trying again and again and again to change the NO to a YES.

Also, if you do get a reason for your rejection understand that it will probably have little to nothing to do with you. If I query an agent that’s tired of epic fantasy stories or hates orcs or just isn’t feeling the title, there’s not much I can do. If I don’t get the job I interviewed for, maybe it’s because there was an internal candidate or the company had a surprisingly bad quarter and couldn’t afford the position, or the manager didn’t think I was a good culture fit. The list goes on and the answers are never satisfying.

Rejection is about acceptance. You have heard a NO, from someone that isn’t you. The intensity of your will, wants, and desires do not matter. The reason does not matter, you will not receive closure from asking. The rejection means nothing beyond the NO. It doesn’t mean you aren’t talent, good, or worthy of love. It just means NO. It’s not a puzzle, it’s not problem, accept it and let it go. I understand it sucks. I understand that it stings. You get rejected enough and you will feel bitter and sad, and it’s okay to feel that. But you don’t need to linger there and if you do, that’s on you, not the rejection.

If rejection has taught me anything it’s to understand what I have control over and what I don’t. Love and success are things that will require a YES from someone else, but you can’t make anyone say yes. What you can do is work on yourself. Expand who you are, what you can do, and keep trying, keep looking for new opportunities. There is a lot of rejection in life, don’t fear it, don’t build it into something it’s not. Accept it, keep trying, I don’t know if we’ll get there, but trying and moving past rejection is the only way forward.

How to Create Habits for the New Year

How to Create Habits for the New Year

I started this series talking about setting goals, last week I talked about meeting goals, this week I’m digging a little deeper and talking about habits. Habits are the unconscious or semi-conscious behaviors that we routinely carry out each day, like reaching for our phones first thing in the morning or getting a candy bar from the work vending machine every afternoon. It’s something automatic, programmed, we’re barely aware we’re doing it.

Some habits are good, some habits are bad, some are neutral. Everyone has them, and they can be hard to control or change or even understand. But setting the right habits can have major impact on your productivity.

Why are habits important?

Habits are the small little things you do everyday that build to large goals. Running every morning will eventually let you compete in a marathon. Writing for an hour every day will eventually lead to a 200,000-page manuscript, but more than that, habits are nearly automatic.

As a society we mythologize willpower, but in truth we’re creatures of habits, reaction and emotions. We can’t will ourselves to achieve our goals, the best thing we can do is manage ourselves. Anyone who has tried to lose weight knows exactly what I’m talking about. Intellectually you understand that you have to stop eating junk food. But if you keep those Oreos in your house and try to will yourself not eat them, guess what, eventually you’re going to eat some Oreos.

The Habit Loop

To set good habits we have to first understand them. Habits are made of three components that act together to form a ‘habit loop’. These are ‘the trigger’, ‘the action’ and ‘the reward’. First, we see or experience something that causes us to do an action, and then we are rewarded for that action. The most famous example of this Pavlov’s dog. The dog heard the bell: ‘the trigger’, it started to salivate: ‘the action’, and then received a treat: ‘the reward’.

If you want to set up a habit you need to think of these three components. The trigger doesn’t need to be a literal alarm, it can be a time or a location. I used to write at the same coffee shop every day before work; being in the coffee shop acted as a trigger to start writing. The reward was I could get a cup of coffee on my way out.

The reward too doesn’t need to be a physical treat though. It can be something you were going to do anyway, or even just a dopamine hit. Going to the gym to lift weights always makes me feel better after I’ve done it, it’s a purely chemical thing. Likewise, to prevent me from laying in bed and playing with my phone, I put it in the other room to charge and only let myself look at it after I get dressed. My reward for that action is I get to check my phone.

Bad Habits

The habit loop is something that happens to all of us constantly, and you probably have habits right now you would like to break. The only successful way to get rid of a bad habit is to replace it with a good one. Dismantle the habit. You probably already know the action, figure out the ‘trigger’ and ‘reward’ and replace them.

Now this is admittedly, easier said then done. Almost anything can be trigger and it’s hard to figure it out exactly. Rewards too can be something different than you initially expected. I used to get up and get a candy bar every afternoon at work. I thought that the reward was the sugar from the candy bar. But when I went to break the habit, I realized that while I was eating the candy bar I wasn’t working. I tried replacing the candy bar with a walk instead, and it worked. I realized that the reward I was seeking was really just a break from my desk.

If you have a habit you’re trying to break write down what you did right before the action and what you did right after. Experiment, change your environment, pay attention to the time of day, your physical state, are you tired or hungry? What’s the consistent thing that seems to trigger you?

The Willpower Myth

Willpower is not a limitless resource. Everyone, even the most successful people, only have so much of it. Try to focus on managing yourself, you’re not a create of pure logic, you’re going to mess up or have a bad day or just feel too exhausted after work to do something. That’s okay, give yourself that break, figure out a way to decrease those barriers.

If you want to do more of something make it easier for yourself to do it. Pack gym clothes the night before, to get yourself out on a run. If you want to not do something make it harder for yourself to do it. Don’t carry cash to work so you can’t use the vending machine. You’re still going to mess up, but the harder you make the task the more willpower it takes, it’ll be easier to say ‘no’ if it takes too much.

Habits, focus, goals, these things aren’t easy. They take work. I hope these blog post helped you get started. If you’re looking for more information on habits check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I also can’t recommend this article on self-control enough.

After you do some reading go out there and create some habits! (like following this blog)

How to Meet Goals for the New Year

How to Meet Goals for the New Year

Last week I discussed setting goals, this week we’re talking about how to actually meet them. The truth is, that while important, setting goals is the easy part. It takes at most a couple of hours to map out your goals, but meeting them requires daily attention and will, and that’s tough. Here’s some tips to get you started.

Get Things Done Early

Okay, I admit this one is a little groan inducing. There’s definitely a wing of the ‘productivity world’ that fetishizes getting up at 4am and getting all your work done before noon. But when I say ‘early’, I don’t mean 4am. I mean trying to do your most important task first, as soon as possible, as early as you can.

Most days all you really need to do is one important thing. If you can get that out of the way before anything else, you have already succeeded. If you want to be a novelist get up at 6am and write for an hour before work. If you can’t get up early because the kids need to get to school, or your work begins at 6am, write the second you clock out. I stay at my desk at work and write for an hour before I go home and have dinner.

Willpower is a limited resource, it drains from the second you get up in the morning so make sure you spend it on what matters. This is especially true if you’re starting a new habit. You’re going to face a lot of resistance at first.

So, pick one task, and one task only, and make yourself do it as early as you possibly can. I know this sounds stupidly simple. But in practice it can be extremely difficult. We tend to procrastinate and the thing we push off the most is the thing that is often the most important. We do this because with importance comes weight, anxiety and pressure. Wake up and it get it out of the way before all that pressure can build.

Consistency is Best

Getting up at 6am and writing for an hour might sound realistic on paper, but there’s going to be that Monday were you stayed up too late last night binging Narcos on Netflix because you were depressed the weekend was over and didn’t want to go back to work; that Monday is going to suck and when you first start you’re going to have a lot of those Mondays.

The important thing here is not to go back to bed and try again on Tuesday, it’s to get up. Yes, that’s going to be hard, yes, anything you write is probably going to be awful, and yes, you almost assuredly aren’t going to write for a full hour. But that’s okay. The most important thing is that you consistently get up and try. If the idea of an hour is too intimidating that day, tell yourself you only have to do twenty minutes. If you’re worried about quality, give yourself permission to suck, just do it.

Goals are not met by crushing it one day a week and sleeping in all the others. They are met by consistently doing a little every day. Some days are going to be a wash, but that’s fine, if you got up and write, then you succeed, even if you’re just deleting it all the next day. You learned something, you strengthened a habit, you earned yourself a gold star.

Track Your Progress

When I say ‘earned a gold star’ I mean that literally (or, kind of literally? The word ‘literally’ has been in a weird place for a while now.) Rewarding yourself for completing a task is an important part of building a habit. And tracking tasks can help you set more realistic goals and modify goals you’ve already set.

I keep a white board where I give myself a tally for every day I write for an hour or for every query letter I send or even for every blog post I write. I then feed all my tracked goals into a spreadsheet, so I can figure out how much I’ve progressed or where I need to improve. The tallies also have the added benefit of acting as a reward. I feel a rush of dopamine every time I put up a mark on the board.

Tracking your goals helps build momentum and rewards can keep that momentum going. Pick rewards that are manageable or that will link the habit in your mind. Maybe you write in café every morning and the reward is a cup of coffee. Maybe you can only listen to your favorite podcast while on the elliptical at the gym. Think of small, pleasurable things that you can often repeat.

The end goal is to create good habits, habits are the building blocks that goals are constructed out of. They assure that you keep going without having to put in much will or thought. I’ll discuss habits in greater detail in my next post, for now pick that one important thing and get started!

Novel Update: Yes, I’m still writing a novel

Novel Update: Yes, I’m still writing a novel

It’s been awhile since I wrote about my creative work, so I thought I’d give a year end update. I’m working on a novel called Ghets (you can find out more here!) It’s a fun, fantasy adventure about guides who lead Lord of the Rings style Fellowships on quests. My pitch is Guardians of the Galaxy meets Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve been working on it for about…three years? It’s in its third draft which is mostly polish and line edits and hopefully I’ll have a concrete launch day by the end of the year.

Ghets is not the first novel I’ve written, it’s not even the first novel that’s made it to beta readers, but it’s progressed farther than any other I’ve attempted. It’s my longest novel too, a 205,853-word behemoth that will be a big ask for any literary agent or publisher to take on from a complete unknown like myself. I’ve put off querying a literary agent a long time because of the length and angst in general.

I’ve never written a novel and not felt queasy levels of anxiety. The anxiety is detached from the work, it lurks along the edges, coiling around me and occasionally squeezing. The closer I get to querying or finally self-publishing, the tighter the anxiety grows. Like everyone who writes a novel, I want my novel to succeed, I want three years of work to cumulate in some manner of validation.

I’ve gotten good at the mechanically aspects of writing novels. I can sit down and crank out pages. I like to think my prose is decent, and entertaining. I know from my beta readers I can construct a good hook. I don’t get upset or give up in the face of sharp criticism and I’m always trying to learn to write better. I know intellectually that most novels only sell a few thousand copies and with self-publishing I’d be lucky to hit a hundred.

But something about going to the next stage, about sending out letters or trying to promote a self-published work still frightens me. I can’t tell if it’s a fear of failure or success or both. Either way, I want to share my stories. I like writing them and I think people would enjoy them. So, the first inquiry letters are going out by the end of next week. While I query, I’ll be working to finish up the line edits and trim Ghets as much as I can, hopefully getting it below 200,000-words. I’ll share more updates as they come and let you know my experiences trying to get a giant fantasy novel out there.

Next week I’ll share some of my writing goals, and I’m planning a couple of posts on goal setting and productivity for January, which might help with any projects you’re working on. Also, I finally joined twitter after resisting it for years, so far it hasn’t been that bad. You can follow me @Arthurpenwright for retweets on comic book and fantasy novels, as well as plenty of puppies and the occasional writing stuff.

See you in the new year!

Ralph Breaks more than just the Internet

Ralph Breaks more than just the Internet

***This Post contains Spoilers for Ralph Breaks the Internet***

I loved 2012’s Wreck-it Ralph. It was a near perfect video game movie. Its references weren’t meaningless call outs, but tools to build a colorful, storybook world. It was a writer’s story too, a tight character driven piece of work that understood Ralph and Venellope’s desires and conflicts and weaved them together in a tidy braid. Even if you didn’t like the movie, the craftsmanship was something to appreciate. So, I was expecting to like Ralph Breaks the Internet and I didn’t. I wouldn’t say I disliked it either, I don’t really have any reaction to it other a bland sense of disappointment.

Ralph 2 isn’t bad. The internet world it creates, like the arcade world of the previous film, is a colorful, beautiful place that would be a delight to explore (unlike the real internet, save for gems like this blog of course…please follow). There are charming characters like the search engine Knowsmore, and the pop-up con-artist Double-Dan. I loved the constant costume changes of the Taraji Henson voiced Yesss and the energy she brought to the character was perfect.

The returning cast is just as good. Venellope and Ralph are adorable together, especially as they stumble through the internet lost and naïve. And scenes remain sharp and interesting, like the Disney Princess bit halfway through the film. The ingredients are all there, but the recipe never comes together. The issue is the plot. The problem that brings Ralph and Venellope to the internet essentially gets resolved with little to no effort, or at least little to no conflict. That leaves the movie asking, what are we doing here? What’s the fuel that moves us from scene to scene?

It finds answers, but they feel forced and the final conflict is heavy handed. It boils down to a lack of honest communication between Ralph and Venellope. Ralph unleashes a virus on Venellope’s new game ‘Slaughter Race’ in the hopes of slowing it down so that Venellope will get bored and go back to the arcade with him. It’s selfish for sure, but Ralph doesn’t understand the extent of the virus he unleashes and regrets it almost the second he does it. But, the virus escapes and builds a literal monster out of Ralph’s insecurities.

It’s too much, and a product of the film not having a defined antagonist. Ralph is clingy, but the big bad at the end is really himself? The film didn’t do enough for me to buy into that. I wouldn’t be surprised if an original draft of the movie had Yess as a villain. But maybe the writers thought that making the personification of click culture evil was too preachy or they just found Yesss too much fun to turn evil.

It’s possible they never had any villain planned at all, because the film seems to care less about its plot and more about what new fun internet-thing can it incorporate next? The world building is enjoyable, but it’s not as purposeful as the first film. Ralph and Venellope feel out of place, surrogates, the most easily adaptable Disney property to take this journey. Manic GTA meets Disney Princess musical numbers and creepy Dark webizens are bizarre enough to be entertaining, but Ralph 2 feels more like a series ‘Buzztube’ videos than a story. Much like the internet itself, it’s lesser than its potential.