Over the last four years, the From the Rock series has become one of the preeminent anthology series’ in Atlantic Canada. We have been home to some amazing established talent and helped some new authors break through that have gone on to dominate their fields, becoming genre bestsellers in their own right. From the Rock is a title readers consistently ask for, review well, and is a great way for avid readers to get introduced to indie talent they might find interesting. In March 2018 the series’ third entry, Chillers from the Rock, went Bestseller on pre-orders alone!
Hideo Kojima, the creative force behind the Metal Gear Solid series and, most recently, Death Stranding, is one the gaming industry’s great auteurs. With each entry in the MGS series, he pushed the envelope with regards to how a video game can tell a story. In this blog post I’m going to talk about some strategies writers can learn from Kojima and MGS.
There’s a lot to say about MGS and the many themes and ideas Kojima manages to touch on. Stuff like post-humanism, censorship, war, individualism, and gaming itself, which barely scratching the surface. What I want to discuss in this post is the series’ tone. Kojima manages to cast a wide net with his storytelling because he’s a master of layering concepts.
When Metal Gear Solid starts, it feels like you’re playing a Tom Clancy-style techno thriller, which was very popular at the time. (However, MGS is more stealth-focused than, say, Rainbow Six, etc.) There’s a high emphasis on verisimilitude. Playing as Solid Snake, the game’s protagonist, you must sneak around enemies and use various tools and weapons. As the story develops, you learn about a conspiracy to develop nuclear weapons, post-Cold War tensions. Yadda yadda yadda. So far, pretty conventional.
Then things start to get weird. You encounter a cyborg ninja who may be a long dead former comrade. And then you battle Psycho Mantis, a master of telekinesis and telepathy. The boss fight is pretty legendary in gaming. In a fourth wall-breaking maneuver, you have to change your controller’s ports so Mantis can’t anticipate your moves. I, and most others, had never seen such a post-modern design in a video game before.
It gets wackier from there. There’s a conspiracy about cloning, a sniper battle involving wolves, a Gatling gun-wielding shaman. It’s pretty awesome. I highly recommend playing it or at least watching a playthrough.
What sets MGS apart from its peers is how Kojima manages to bring in melodramatic anime influences couched in a realist setting. This is what I mean by layering. MGS probably would’ve been modestly successful by just being a military stealth game. What elevates it into becoming a classic is how Kojima brings in these other influences. What amazes me is how seamlessly Kojima transitions from one style to another. Then, by opening up the story to these different influences, Kojima is able to explore more ideas and themes.
I first learned about the concept of layering from Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert (yes, I know). He talks about when he first created the cartoon he recognized that he was a good, but not great, artist; he knew a fair bit about business, having worked in an office; and he had a pretty good sense of humour. He wasn’t great at any one of these things in particular, but when he layered them he was able to achieve great success.
Layering can therefore be a powerful tool for writers, especially for those who don’t want to write purely in one genre or style. It’s also a great way to combine genres in new and unexpected ways. In his Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs famously said “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” That’s why I find Kojima so inspiring. He shows that you can connect the dots, no matter how disparate they seem.
If you’ve got an awesome flaming sword (or a Chekhov’s gun), you’re going to want to use it. You won’t want to listen to some NPC drone on and on for hours and hours. Yes, information is important and you’ll never solve the story’s mystery if you don’t talk to people or listen to clues, but eventually you’ll want that local farmer to shut their yap so that you can start doing some things. Knowledge is great, but if your dialogue seems to be going on for too long, toss your character a task that needs completing, even if it’s a simple one.
2) Too much fighting can be exhausting.
Fights are thrilling, but if your character is going from one fight to another to another to another, eventually you’ll get battle fatigue (just like your character). You’ll want to rest and heal up, maybe go to a hospital. Or maybe you’ll just want a quick nap and a sandwich. Either way, action’s great and all, but too much of it and you risk tiring everyone out*. Continue reading Writing Advice I’ve Gleaned from Playing DND | House Blog→
I know it’s long overdue but I’m finally posting another blog. I haven’t done this in so long, but I remember the last blog was written in my son’s room long before it was ever going to be his room. So last week I attended Fan Expo in Toronto. I was completely blown away by the entire experience. I’ve never seen so many people in one place before, let alone so many fans of all things geeky. They had everything from Star Wars to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Micheal Myers and everything in between. Paul Gossler, i.e. Zach Morris, John Travolta, Johnathan Frakes, Jeff Goldblum, Brendan Frazier and many more were guests. There were artists and cosplayers for as far as the eye could see. If you are ever in Toronto I’d reccomend attending, there’s something there for everyone. However, since this is the good, the bad and the zombie, this leads me into the bad. Continue reading The Good, The Bad and The Zombie #3→
This was going to be the year when I wrote more, submitted more, was rejected more, and (hopefully) accepted more. And I was prepared. I had a calendar where I could highlight the dates of deadlines (pink for “hell yeah, I’ll submit” and yellow for “if I have time/an idea”), with a monthly reference sheet for which deadline was for which publisher/idea, plus links to their website and guidelines.
This past near has been interesting for me, nostalgia-wise, as Engen Books has been re-releasing my original 10-part urban thriller series as Coral Beach Casefiles with some wonderful covers by Kit Sora. As such I’ve been taking the time to go back and tweak and adjust some goofs in the original texts.
There’s some things you can only write when you’re young I think, and last month and this month were a very anxious time for me because they saw the release of Ghosts of the Past and Ignorance is Bliss… both of which have plots which revolve chiefly around children in peril, and one in which said child meets a (spoilers) very bad end.
This is the type of thing I would rarely do today, and even looking back on it I find it… squeamish. Have I lost my edge? I went back a re-read these books with a kind of half-grimace, because all I remember are the outcomes… but then I remembered, these were actually half decent books. I actually started to like the writing again and get back into the mindset.
For a lot of us writers working a “real job”, finding the time (and motivation) to sit down to write is a chore. Real jobs are exhausting. If you’re anything like me, coming home from a day at the office leaves you wanting two things: food and sleep. That’s right, I just want to eat and go to bed. Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of leisure time. When I come home I have three kids, a wife, a dog, and my wife’s cat. Napping has become impossible, and I’d be lucky if there was any food left in the house by the time I got home from work. Of course then there is supper time, bath time, and bed time routines. Hanging out, homework, and, if we’re lucky, a few minutes to catch up with my wife before sleep drags me down into its sweet, sweet depths. Did you notice I didn’t work in any writing time in there? Yeah, about that…