Today’s blog post is going to be a bit different. Usually I talk about my experiences writing or bemoan the fact that I always seem to go through a ton of ideas before settling down, but not today, my friends, not today.
I had a great idea for a blog post, but then I forgot it.
I can’t remember anything about it, only the vague feeling of ‘Oh, this’ll make a great blog entry’. The rest, my friends, is darkness. It felt like the kind of idea that I would have written an entire post about, instead of doing my usual thing, which is:
get an idea
write two paragraphs
wonder why I thought this would be a good idea in the first place
think of something else
repeat steps 2-5 many more times before losing your mind (once you’re officially insane, move on to step 7)
magically discover an idea that’ll fill a whole blog post
panic because it’s already the 18th and you’re behind schedule!
write the post
[Full Disclosure: I did steps 1-5 before that idea hit me, but I’m sure it would have made me go straight to step 7 instead of step 6. Fuller Disclosure: I only wrote one paragraph before I got stuck.]
Anyways, the point is that the idea left me. Utterly and completely left me. I was sitting at my computer, trying to think of something to write when suddenly I had a brilliant revelation. But instead of writing it down I got distracted by something and by the time I went back to it, the idea was long gone.
This happens most often when I’m trying to get to sleep. I’ll be thinking of how lovely it would be to drift away to dreamland instead of lying here awake when suddenly I’ll think of a new idea or scene or a way to fix a plot point that’s been bothering me. However, the thought of getting up and turning on the light, finding pen and paper and writing it all down can seem like a lot of work. So instead of doing that, I’ll tell my brain that I’d better remember this when I wake up or I’ll be pissed. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Which leaves me with the question I asked about three hundred and fifty-three words ago: what happens to a forgotten idea?
Is it waiting patiently for me to remember it one day? It it hovering in the background somewhere, hoping and wishing that one day I’ll suddenly have a light-bulb moment and it can spring forth?
Did it get lost in the ether, swirling in idea-purgatory forever? Hoping that it’ll stay above water and won’t get dragged down into the depths from whence it’ll never come back, buried underneath all the other forgotten ideas?
Or did it move on to someone else, finding satisfaction in being acted upon by a person who didn’t forget it? Have all my forgotten ideas shuffled off to someone else? Is someone else writing the stories that I didn’t?
I’d like to think that those ideas don’t ever leave me, that they get stored away somewhere in the back of my mind, waiting for the right time. And some point in the future something will happen and it’ll appear, ready. Maybe it’ll seem familiar or maybe not, but it’ll be there, and that’s all that matters*.
*And hopefully this time I’ll be smart enough to write it down the instant I think of it.
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→
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.