Like Mother, Like Daughter

One of the gifts my parents gave me was the belief that writing is not a job, but a hobby. I didn’t write full-time until I was unable to do any other work (and I’m still not making minimum wage, even though I’m well above the average Australian full-time writer’s income of $12,000/year)

I am giving Louisette the same gift, assuring her that her stories are excellent and at the same time teaching her that if she’s a writer she’ll be something else as well.

It happens that she really is a good storyteller, with an epic imagination. At one stage she had had about thirty imaginary friends, puppies, horses, and relatives (including imaginary parents), as well as a range of vehicles to bring them all along with us.

She also has a great mind for science and engineering, which I loudly and unconditionally encourage. Last Christmas we bought her ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER, which she loves, and which led to her winning a school prize for a House-Car-Plane device this year.

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This year one of her gifts is this building kit, which includes its own motor! How cool is that, for $25ish!

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But I digress.

Today, for the first time, she pointed out a plot hole in a TV show (specifically, “Why doesn’t the yellow dog go with the blue dog to make the fence? They’re both builders.”) That warmed my writerly heart.

But then I read her the first chapter of THE MONSTER APPRENTICE, bracing myself for my harshest review ever. Not only did she like the story and immediately care about the outcome (phew!) but she understood and extrapolated the universe of the story.

Rahana is a fairly low-tech world (although their ships are more advanced than the rest of their tech due to the fact that the world is made up of thousands of islands), and in the first chapter of THE MONSTER APPRENTICE an isolated and defenceless island wakes in terror at the news that a pirate ship is approaching.

I asked Louisette what she was worried about in the story. She said she was worried about the pirates coming, because Dance and her family, “don’t have swords or shields or anything”.

Here’s the thing: I never mentioned any kind of weapon in the story. She figured out the technology level because of her knowledge of history and/or the conventions of fantasy fiction!

I’m misty-eyed just thinking about it.

THEN she blew my mind a second time by suggesting, “Maybe they’ll invent electricity and that will help them fight the pirates.”

She’s five years old, and she’s a master of military tactics. That’s my girl.

 

 

Pictures worth thousands of words

I’m not a visual artist, and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of influence I was allowed to have on my books covers (Odyssey Books has a top-notch cover game).

It’s a good thing they go through a few drafts, too.

Can you see what’s wrong with the first draft of SILVER AND STONE?

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Thank goodness for Chris, and for my fellow ‘Oddies’ (we Odyssey authors are constantly talking book stuff together), who noticed what I didn’t.

So that was changed.

I was SO PROUD to finally have the finished cover, and to be able to put the two covers side by side on facebook. Only to realise (due to facebook’s arbitrary cropping) that half my followers were wondering why I’d called my first book “Fart of Bras”.

Does one’s underwear usually fart? If so, why? And how?

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In unrelated (but still vaguely visual) news, I was amused by the juxtaposition of these two reviews on the “Choices That Matter” Google Play app. The first made me laugh out loud, and the second was just icing on the cake.

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That’s an excellent screenshot summary of the review-reading experience.

There’s reviews on iOS too, but barely any (and they get deleted every time there’s an update). I gather it’s a lot easier to leave a Google Play review, since there are several new ones every day.

Conflux 13: Day 3 (& ChoiceScript)

Today, Sunday, was my Big Day. Not only did I have a Book Launch at 2pm…

Silver and Stone cover

…but I also ran a three-hour interactive fiction workshop in the morning.

Which was seriously awesome. (So was the Book Launch. If you haven’t seen the trailer, it’s here.)

The workshop was very biased, naturally, since it is all about my own notions regarding interactive fiction. This article, which I wrote last year, is an excellent summary of the IF scene (as I see it, having stumbled across it very recently).

This article focuses on the different elements of writing interactive novels as opposed to regular novels.

Today’s workshop was brimming with people who’d already written novels, which was quite different to last year. Last year we focused on Twine, the free tool that makes a useful map as you write and is the most user-friendly tool ever. This year we focused on ChoiceScript, which is a lovely elegant engine, also designed for non-programmers, made by Choice of Games. It’s easier to write longer works with ChoiceScript, because it’s set up for that (you can write longer pieces on Twine, but it’s trickier to do anything clever). More on that in a bit. FYI I’m not associated or affiliated with Choice of Games in any way.

I believe I promised a pic of yesterday’s outfit. Here it is (next to an ad for the excellent “Sentinels of Eden” series which I also mentioned yesterday).

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I’ve spent the rest of the day in Conflux mode… that is, hanging around talking to interesting people. My love for the venue is only growing with greater familiarity. Apart from anything else, they DO have special free conference wifi. And SO many power points, just everywhere *swoon*. The staff continue to be absolutely excellent. The food is pretty good but expensive and the menu is fairly limited. Huge portions.

A lot of local people are unhappy Conflux is at the airport, which isn’t great for most Canberrans (especially those who rely on buses—the special shuttle to or from Civic has been helpful). Next year’s venue is TBA. Parking underneath the hotel costs $6 for up to two hours but over $20 for a full day. For people that validated their ticket at reception, a whole day costs $14. There was plenty of space.

People like me (ie with a disability card) can park in a funny little 2-hour carpark that’s on the right as you drive around the hotel on your way to the front door. There are no designated disabled spots but with a card you can use public 2-hour parking for a full day for free. So the key to Conflux parking is to have a disability card but still be able to drive. For me, it was a breeze, and much much nicer than anywhere in civic.

And it’s pretty.

There’s a moment at sunset when everyone in the foyer suddenly has a golden halo. When the moment passes, the brass lamps all come on (not these ones; other ones). It’s quite lovely.

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The banquet was suitably glorious, and a very fine evening. Each item on the menu was linked to fairy tales. I ate a Goose’s Golden Egg for dessert (filled with panna cotta).

 

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There’s a Trivia Night tonight, but I shall be going home to sleep.

Thus endeth today’s Conflux Report.

I promised to write out a few very useful bits of code for those who are learning ChoiceScript. This is reinventing the wheel to a large extent, since the official ChoiceScript guides, including a free link to download it, are excellent.

So is the wiki, which has had many years to be refined and expanded. The Twine documents are improving, but they’re newer and trickier, and there are significant changes from Twine1 to Twine2.

When you download ChoiceScript, it has some very basic intro scenes, choices, and statistics set up for you. When you want to start writing, you can just delete a bit and begin.

HOW TO WRITE A CHOICE:

To “play” the example game, follow this path (it works on PC or Mac):

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It works best with Firefox, but most browsers are fine (other than, oddly, Google Chrome).

It’s fairly ordinary-looking visually, but it is immediately obvious how to progress the story (Click on a choice, then click on ‘Next’). Your text will be different to this image, because I’ve long since replaced the example with my own.

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To see the code behind the story, follow this path (using a text editing program—I recommend Notepad++ for PC and Sublime for Macs):

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The right-hand column above shows the startup file for the story I’m currently writing (so nobody look, okay?)

Don’t panic when you see a bunch of words and symbols. It will be okay.

NB: Each chapter of your book will be in a separate text file. You can name them whatever you like.

You can switch between the browser and the text file to see how the text file alters the story that you’re reading in the browser. The best thing to do is to just put your own words in, and you’ll be able to see them immediately fit the playable ChoiceScript format.

So if you write exactly this (at the END of the startup file, replacing the kingdom bit):

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Then you go back to the index.html file, it will look like:

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The * and # symbols are vital, and so is the spacing at the beginning of your lines. You can use either tab or spacebar to indent what needs indenting, but you have to pick one and stick to it or the game will break. Those three keys are the heart of your writing from now on.

If the reader picks “I choose option one” above, the line of text will appear, saying, “You chose option one.” Your story works—but so far you haven’t told the program what to do next (thus, the game will break immediately after that line).

Some structural info:

Many stories have a “branch and bottleneck” structure. Choices (often a whole series of nested choices) branch off in different directions, then different directions again… and then there’a a point at which they all come together, and then the choices branch out again from there. Here’s a diagram example using twine:

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As a writer, the hard part isn’t branching your story; it’s bringing things back to bottlenecks (so you don’t end up with literally millions of utterly different stories). One handy way is with time, eg:

“The sun is setting. Enough mucking around. It’s time to…”

“Mucking around” is non-specific enough to cover all the possible adventures the character might just have experienced. Or you can leave out that sentence altogether.

Back to your basic ChoiceScript thing:

A lot of choices within a story bottleneck immediately, which is written as:

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You can name your label whatever you like. Use lower case, avoid special characters, and remember each label must be different.

This is a simple choice structure that works. You don’t actually require the “goto” and “label” stuff unless you’re nesting choices, so a lot of the time it’s even simpler.

Whatever you write after “*label bottleneck” will be seen by all the readers, no matter what choice they made beforehand.

Anything that’s on a line marked with an * will not be seen by the reader.

If you want, you can write an entire story like this. The lines of unique text above (“You chose option one/two/three.”) are only seen by the readers that chose that option. Those lines can be expanded into literally any length, and can have other nested choices inside. ChoiceScript authors don’t have a wall diagram with string going everywhere; they have a ludicrous number of indentations as they write choices within choices within choices.

But you can also just bottleneck after each choice. That’s what smart authors do (for most of the choices, but not all of them—after all, you want your reader to have a unique experience). That’s how authors stay sane.

But how to make the choices matter in a deeper way?

[Tired? Breandead? Stop here and write some scenes. Come back later. This is where I stopped for a day when I was learning ChoiceScript.]

Choices have long-term consequences because of stats. Stats don’t create work; they are a brilliant and cumulative way of making hundreds of choices matter without writing a million-page book.

The two main types of statistics are personality based and skill based. So as your player makes their choices and has their adventures, you’re also noting what kind of character they are creating (think of them as a co-writer who’s in charge of the main character’s personality), as well as building their skill set (for later challenges that can be won or lost).

In ChoiceScript, you make your own unique statistics. The more unique the better!

One of the most distinctive & fun things about the ChoiceScript tool is that it often uses opposed statistics—so for example, you might have ‘Tactfulness’ versus ‘Straight Talker’. If a player chooses to be tactful, their tactfulness stat will go up and their ‘straight talker’ stat will go down.

HOW TO DO STATS:

First, go into the startup file. After the *scene_list but before the story begins, write this:

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You can set any number of (single, lowercase) words as beginning stats.

Your Tactfulness versus Straight Talker opposed statistic will all be expressed (code-wise) as + or – tactfulness.

Your name stat will be a one-off choice (and the players can enter their own; instructions here).

Your strength starts at 0. It will grow with strength-based choices, and it will be tested at later choices.

The “show stats” button on the browser version of the story (that the players see) appears automatically.

To make the stats page look good, go into the choicescript_stats file (which you already have in the same “scenes” folder as the “startup” file), and write this:

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It will look like this to the player:

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The numerical values will change as the player makes choices.

The ! makes sure that a word is capitalised (it’s also useful for pronouns—which we’ll talk about next—when they’re at the beginning of a sentence).

Here’s your first-choice example, with stats added:

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Now players who choose Option One have Tactfulness 60% (and Straight Talking 40%).

Players who choose Option Two have Straight Talking 60% (and Tactfulness 40%).

Behind the scenes, opposed stats are really just recording one stat going up or down, but they’re displayed with a red/blue bar for the player.

If the player chose Option Three, then “Bob” will appear after “Name:” in the player’s stat screen, AND their strength will be 5.

In the line “*set strength %+5” the % symbol is the key to avoiding maths. I have your attention now, don’t I? Long story short, if you use “%+” and “%-” for your stats, you will never get under 0% or over 100%. Is good.

Congratulations! You’ve written a functional choice that doesn’t break the game and that makes a difference to your statistics.

HOW TO DO GENDER:

In your startup file, write:

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Then have a choice (early on) like this:

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As you may have noticed above, you can put the stats and the text in any order. Since the player doesn’t see the stats (until they click on the button to see the stat page), it doesn’t make a difference. But consistency is a good idea.

Once you’ve done that, you can use pronouns, like so:

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This text will appear normal to the player, but will have the right pronouns, eg:


 

You hear two people talking about you.

“What do you think of them, really?”

“They’s okay I suppose.”

“Really? I hate their dog.”


 

There are two important things to note here. (Okay, three.)

-You can write an entire novel without player-character (PC) pronouns if you’re determined (as I’ve done for “Choices That Matter” stories on iOS and Google Play via Tin Man Games).

-‘They’ is grammatically distinct. You probably noticed the painfully incorrect “They’s okay” above. If you include they/them pronouns, you will need to be very careful to avoid a similar grammar fail. But it’s worth it. The IF (Interactive Fiction) community works hard to be inclusive, especially with gender and sexuality.

-Using he/his/him as your “base stat” in the startup file works well because the three forms are distinct (unlike for she/her/her).

Erm, it’s just occurring to me that it might work better to use they/their/them as your base. I’m not smart enough to check the idea is sound without writing a novel to check, but I THINK it’ll help a bunch with both Point #3 and the Point #2.

 

WELL that was a long blog entry. Are you still here, dear reader? I’m off to eat dinner and have a lie down.

PS Guess what! It’s October! Who knew?

More Conflux tomorrow!

PS Two more super-useful sites for when you’ve finished that brilliant interactive fiction game.

Dashingdon hosts ChoiceScript games, and Philime.la hosts Twine games. Both are free, and both allow you to show your game to a select few (editors) before uploading/publishing a finished version.

News about “Choices That Matter” story app.

Eep, I really haven’t written for a while.

In my defence, I am in a whirlwind of writing as I finish “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten”, write the sequel to “Heart of Brass” (it’ll be a trilogy by the end of next year), and research and write [redacted] for [redacted], which is terribly exciting.

First things first, the Tin Man Games story app formerly known as “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” (after the first story, which I also co-wrote) is now known as “Choices That Matter”. It’s still on iOS and Google Play, and the finished tales will eventually show up on Steam.

So, I co-wrote the first story, “And The Sun Went Out” (from arc 4 onwards)

I wrote the second story, “And Their Souls Were Eaten”

I shall be editing the third story, “And Their Heroes Were Lost”.

All in all, KG Tan and I have made sure our fingerprints are all over all three stories. (For those not in the know, KG Tan is the project head of both “Choices That Matter” and “Miss Fisher” and he wrote rather a lot of “And The Sun Went Out”. He’s the last line of defence when it comes to editing, especially coding errors, and he is a spectacularly gifted person as well as a genuine friend.)

Phill Berrie was the first-line editor for “And Their Souls Were Eaten” and he is the writer of “And Their Heroes Were Lost” (which is seriously excellent!)

 

So let’s talk “And Their Souls Were Eaten”, since it’s my big beautiful baby. It had forty updates over 10 months, and the final update will come out within days. The final word count is around 377,000 (which is impressive until you compare it to the 15-month “And The Sun Went Out”, which came in just over 600,000 words).

YES in case you were wondering, it is connected to my other steampunk stories (they’re all connected). It takes place in 1836 Europe, well before any of the other stories, and the central problem of the story is different to all the rest.

Whenever I write interactive steampunk, I decide one one version of the story that is the “canon” version—the least contradictory version. When it comes to “And Their Souls Were Eaten” the canon version is as follows:

 

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  1. The character is male (or appears to be), and after eating the soul of Charles Dickens they ultimately “become” the Charles Dickens that we know from “real” history (minus the horrible behaviour toward women, because I want to like him and it’s my story dammit). He writes all the Dickens stories just as they exist in our real world. The character might just show up in the novels (as “Charles Dickens”). He certainly shows up in “Stuff and Nonsense”.
  2. The soulless problem is 100% dealt with and although a few people continue to build anti-soulless towers and to keep an eye out in case any soulless escaped, by the time Emmeline Muchamore (hero of the novels) is causing trouble it’s rare to hear “soulless” or “Great Ones” even mentioned. In fact, they don’t come up in the novels at all (conveniently for those who read the novels but not “And Their Souls Were Eaten”.
  3. Activated gold is discovered during “And Their Souls Were Eaten”, and a few other magical metals are discovered in the 1840s, before the novels begin in 1853.

“Stormhunter” flounders as Satalyte falls to Earth

Most small publishers stop running within two years. Which is not surprising, when you consider that the large publishers make a loss on the vast majority of the books they produce. It’s the occasional bestseller keeping everyone afloat. People just don’t read enough books.

With that reality, small publishers deserve more credit rather than less. They know they’re probably going to fail. In my experience, publishers are greater dreamers than writers—writing, after all, costs very little.

Satalyte Publishing accepted my novel “Stormhunter” some time ago, but ultimately has just decided to close their doors. It’s not an easy choice, but I became friends with the couple running the show, and I’m glad they were smart enough to step away from their beautiful dream before it became a nightmare.

So, the fate of “Stormhunter” is once more a blank. It certainly eased my concern that I have SO much paid writing work to do already, and that “Heart of Brass” is safely published and in the hands of readers all around the world.

Despite an unfortunate end to our professional relationship, I have gained several good friends and quite a bit of useful knowledge from my journey with Satalyte. The publishing house is no more, but those friendships will last forever—and all the more because of a shared experience of grief.

Like many small publishers, Satalyte deliberately published the kind of books that are excellent, but not considered “marketable”. They made publishing better forever, and I’m grateful to them as both reader and friend.

Little Miss Helpful

For those who aren’t up to date on their classic picture books, “Little Miss Helpful” is about a person who’s always trying to help people and ultimately makes their lives much, much worse. One of her friends is sick and trying to rest, so she shows up to help. She wakes him up over and over again in the process of attempting to clean for him (destroying his kitchen in the process), and ultimately both are injured and I presume the friend gets pneumonia and dies. (I’m extrapolating from the fact that he ends up in a pond.)

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(Pictured: An unrelated children’s picture book.)

So this week I’m struggling to accept the fact that an introverted kid who is not mine doesn’t get to sit next to her best friend (aka my kid) six hours a day (but is still able to play with her multiple times a day). Her mum is long since over it but I’m still in overprotective mode.

Today I have a brand new drama that also fits the “Felicity Banks clumsily attempts to help a person/people who would be much better off if she didn’t bother” narrative.

The oversimplified version—also the version that I’m emotionally responding to—is that I wanted to write a story with a protagonist who was disabled, in part because that’s one of the many groups suffering from Trump’s power… but it has become clear that I’m not smart enough to cause more good than harm.

Like most oversimplifications the above is not entirely true, but has an element of truth in it. It was mostly a structural issue that caused me to need to drop that particular aspect of my protagonist. Still. . .

It’s hard for privileged people to learn how privileged we are. It doesn’t matter how many advantages you’re born with, life is hard. Stuff happens. And when someone points out that an aspect of their life is harder than yours, it hurts. It feels like your own struggles are less legitimate. When you’re trying to remember whether “gay” is still a insult or not, and then you find out that intersex is a thing that you also need to understand and learn about, it feels like people are just taking offence no matter what you do.

Those feelings are knee-jerk reactions, and they’re not actually true. There’s a really thoughtful article about emotional exhaustion here.

So yes, privileged people also have struggles. But part of being a decent human being is to get past that knee-jerk “Arg too hard!!” reflex and realise that it’s vitally important to acknowledge other people’s struggles, and to use what power we have to help others.

I’ve been passionate about discrimination against people who are LGBTIQ since before I knew that one of those letters applied to me. I’m a Christian and have felt since my teens that Christians treat gay people and Muslims poorly—which is exactly the opposite of what Christian behaviour should be. But even thought I’m disabled myself, I’ve never fought for the rights of people who are disabled. (Partly, if I’m honest, because I’m still coming to terms with it in my own body and mind… after fifteen years.)

The term “Social Justice Warrior” is an insult, but since Trump was voted in as US president the world is badly in need of exactly that kind of warrior to mitigate the damage he is doing to pretty much every vulnerable minority group anyone can think of.

 

When my daughter found out about Trump, she gave up her allowance for months so she could donate it to kids and communities in the third world. I thought about what I could do and realised that financial help and/or things that involve me leaving the house (like protest marches) are rarely an option. But I still have a working brain (sometimes) and I have two powerful resources at my disposal: my imagination, and my readers. If I write interesting and diverse characters, it will help all of my readers to understand and empathise with people who are different to them. And it won’t feel like work.

I can’t earn a living wage; I can’t walk or stand or march without pain; I can’t vote in US elections; I can’t run to Nauru and singlehandedly gather up all the innocent children and bring them safely home with me; I can’t roam the streets making sure non-cisgender people aren’t getting beaten up; I can’t teach manners to Islamophobic trolls; I can’t stop Australian politicians from stoking racist fears in my own country—but I can write.

Here is a music clip (technically an ad for last year’s Paralympics):

 

 

I watch this all the time. It’s one of the greatest music video clips ever made. I actually have a real-life problem with Louisette being jealous of people with physical disabilities because of this clip (specifically, she wants to have either one leg—so she can do a kick-ass hopping high jump—or no arms so she can be an awesome drummer). I have to keep explaining to her that if she wants to have the amazing abilities of these musicians and sportspeople, then she has to train like they do.

Unlike most inspirational stuff (which is nauseating at best, and insultingly incorrect at worst) this actually works for me. I know that every single person in this clip has thought, “My life sucks! I can’t do anything! My body is holding me back from the life I want to have! This is so unfair!” at least once. I’m technically disabled physically, but my depression usually bothers me even more than the physical side, so getting told to look on the bright side or cheer up (by healthy, not-depressed people) often actually means, “Stop bothering me with your pain.” The clip above makes me feel good with the music, and means more to me than any other song because every person in it still has big parts of their life that suck. It hits the exact right place between pity and awe (both of which are foolish reactions able-bodied people often have to people who are disabled, ie “Oh, poor you!” or “Wow, you’re SO brave!”). Actually, people who are disabled do have unique challenges, but they’re also just… people. (There’s an interesting article about the social pressure to be the “perfect” disabled person here.)

The clip cleverly erodes the patronising pity I might feel towards people who are physically disabled in various ways. There really are certain elements of physical disability that are wicked cool. These are my two favourites:

  1. Prosthetics. The whole field of prosthetics is evolving so quickly that it’s incredibly exciting. Those curved “running legs” sportspeople use are actually faster than normal legs. There are other prosthetics that also do certain things better than nature. I’m with Adam Hills (who, incidentally, has one leg): Instead of calling people “disabled”, he says we should call them something that reflects how freaking cool their bodies are. Hills suggests “mutants”. Like, X-men style. Obviously that’s not going to happen, but there’s truth in the comedy.       Now that I think about it, I actually had a one-legged romantic interest in “Scarlet Sails“, just because piracy does rather lend itself to non-standard body shapes. She even has a slightly-awkward sex scene due to my remembering Adam Hills talking about how he always needs to remove his prosthetic leg before sex. And in “After the Flag Fell” the main character almost certainly loses an arm—not just because steampunk lends itself to cool prosthetics, but because he’s an actual historical figure who lost an arm due to a battle wound.
  2. As a failed linguist (literally; I failed my second semester at uni) and a retired cross-cultural missionary (also literally; for ten years I worked towards a career in Indonesia teaching English etc to kids in the slums), I’m fascinated by the deaf community. Sign language is such an interesting set of languages, and the community itself is just that: a community. A lot of deaf people who could have their hearing restored through technology choose not to, because their deafness is as much a part of their culture as breasts are to a woman (As a breast owner, let me explain: So what if I’m not breastfeeding and never will? So what if my breasts require expensive specialised clothing and constantly get in the way? They’re mine and I’d be VERY upset if they were removed).

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(Picture: Would YOU waste time looking at her wooden leg?)

So as I was working on the outline of an interactive story, I had an idea. I could have the reader choose a disability for the protagonist from three options:

  1. Someone with a double above-the-knee amputation. This is a significant disability in the real world, but in my world the character lives in an enormous floating city (influenced by, among other things, the Bajau people, a refugee people group who live almost entirely on water and have extraordinary abilities as a result) so I wanted to write that they had the usual prosthetics (cosmetic, running, practical, “shorties”, etc) as well as a prosthetic tail that makes them look like a real-life mermaid—including a superior swimming ability. I’m already jealous of this character’s ability in my mind, despite the fact that they’d also have significant disadvantages.
  2. Someone who is mute. Originally I wanted to write a character who was both deaf and mute, but a writerly friend pointed out that not being able to describe sounds would cut back on sensory immersion (a vitally important aspect of writing; my writing isn’t good enough to make up for it) so I toned it back. The protagonist’s city is made of transparent spheres, and getting from one to another is slightly awkward. I’d already designed it as a place where everyone uses sign language every day to chat through the glass during that awkward transition from one sphere to another. As I was thinking about the real-world deaf community, I developed my setting into a place with a large minority of deaf-mute individuals (not such a surprising thing, given a recessive gene for a condition causing people to be deaf-mute, combined with a relatively small population). That way I could develop a whole bunch of different and complementary sign languages (slang, trading, one-handed, something specifically for talking underwater, something specifically for the protagonist to talk privately with their best friend, etc). It would be such an interesting and fun world! Languages are fun! I’m also borderline bilingual (Indonesian) and have lived in Indonesia with Indonesians for six months, and observed firsthand the way language changes the way I thought about things.
  3. A phobia of deep water. This is actually one of my own (extremely numerous) phobias (making research a breeze), and of course would be very difficult when the protagonist lives in a floating city. Unlike depression, it’s specific enough (and has so little effect on my actual life) that I could write about it without getting depressed myself (I’ve written a story about the real-life experience of depression, but it’s…well, depressing). Although I wouldn’t recommend an anxiety disorder to anyone (duh), it DOES have the positive side effect that I deal with fear every day, so when something really scary happens (like having a baby, or having Chris in hospital with a rare disease that is both incurable and potentially paralysing or deadly… yes, that happened; he got better) I actually handle it quite well. It also means that the character would adjust more easily to the time they spend on land (the Bajau people get badly landsick, and so will my non-player characters—but less so if they choose option #3).

So now that everyone is dying to read my nonexistent book, here’s why it probably isn’t happening:

Good intentions are not the same thing as good results. Obviously, my aim is to write a positive, enjoyable, interesting story that also gives people with certain disabilities a chance to play a character who actually shares that aspect of their life. And a story that helps people who don’t have any of those conditions to feel that classic “oh they’re just like us” moment that we all need to have about… well, everyone who is not our physical & psychological clone.

However.

One of the places I started my research was in the “Choice of Games” forums. “Choice of Games” is a hugely influential American interactive fiction company. (I am not associated or affiliated with them in any way; but I’m a huge fan and a Hosted Games author several times over.) They work hard to be inclusive, and it shows. The forums are a friendly, welcoming, helpful, and diverse place. I have accidentally stepped on people’s feelings there in the past (again, helping where help was not wanted) and people took me aside privately, and politely taught me how to be a better person. I was also forgiven by the people that I hurt.

I have genuine friends there that have made my life better, plus a really cool arch-enemy (you can read about him in the special features of Starship Adventures), and even someone I’ve since met in real life. Some of them are very different to me in various ways, and some are very similar (poor things). But I knew that I needed to research deafness, muteness, and the lives and feelings of amputees in order to write about them in a way that did more good than harm. I also knew that my research needed an extra layer: I needed to find at least one beta reader from the groups I was trying to represent. They would pick up on dumb mistakes I made. The forum was the perfect place to start looking for those beta readers.

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(Pictured: Not a suitable beta reader.)

So I started a new topic, called something like, “Looking for beta readers who are deaf-mute or double-amputees”. I winced as I wrote “deaf-mute” and “double-amputee” but even someone with one leg has a very different life to a person with both legs amputated, so I needed to be specific.

Within 24 hours people had already replied telling me they’d thought (based on the title) that I was deliberately trolling the forums, and an admin had changed the title (with my belated blessing) to be less offensive.

So as quickly as that, I screwed up. Alarm bells began ringing, and they continued ringing as various people talked to me via the thread, communicating (gently) how very uncomfortable they were that someone so ham-fisted would be writing such a story.

I immediately googled the terms I’d used, looking for less offensive words to mean “deaf” “mute” and “amputee”, while also asking the people in the thread. I found that the correct words are (wait for it) “deaf”, “mute”, and “amputee”. I also found that it’s preferred that people put the “person” first, ie I should say “A person who is deaf” rather than “a deaf person”. But clearly the title I used for the forum topic was still deeply offensive.

So I’m already at a loss. How can I write about this set of disabilities when it’s apparently not okay to say the words aloud? Someone (rather brilliantly) suggested that hey, it’s a fictional world, why not make up words? The only problem is that I then have to explain that “sffhuiwe” (or whatever…) means “deaf”. So we’re back to square one.

I have since worked out that (a) The thing that’s offensive is that my attempt at brevity made it seem like the disability was the most interesting part of the character, which it definitely isn’t, and (b) It’s easy enough to describe the actions of the characters without using any of the words that may be offensive to some people.

Now is a good time to mention that Australians have much more casual manners than Americans. It’s actually something I love about Australia. I find it more honest and open and straightforward… but I’ve run into trouble at least once before because people thought I was being rude when I thought I was being friendly. So that complicates matters, especially since the vast majority of my readers are from the US.

In the meantime, someone I deeply respect (especially in the field of interactive fiction) pointed out that if I had the reader choose one of those three options, it was structurally saying that all three options (I called them “quirks”) were comparable. Which is just not true (even though it’s true within the story).

So that’s almost certainly the nail in the coffin for my “pick a quirk” idea. Which is sad, but a far better fate than having me write 200,000 words that made the world worse.

So that’s what I’m crying about today. I really wanted to represent disabled people in fiction, but my own limitations (and privileges) make it a terrible idea.

Having written all the above, I’m no longer sure that giving up is the right option (even though it almost certainly is) so I’ll think some more, and talk to some more people, and make my final decision after that. But before I make too much of a nuisance of myself.

Well, probably.

As always, the questions that matters most to me is, “Will this cause harm?” but the second most important question is, “Will it make the story better?” It’s clear to me that these aspects of a fully realised and interesting character absolutely DO make the story better. That’s not an easy thing to give up.

Procrastination Technique #452: Reviews

I’ve written about reviews before, and I’m always fascinated, whether the review is positive or. . . not so much.

The Tin Man Games app “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” (including the second story, my steampunk fantasy, “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten”) has just under a hundred reviews (mostly just stars) on itunes and has just passed 600 reviews on Android.

Android apps have a cool feature where they say how many people have installed an app, and this app, our app, has been installed over 50,000 times! It boggles my mind that so many people are reading words that I write, and it makes me evil laugh when I read the desperate pleas of addicted readers hanging out for their weekly story fix:

Mario Zalout wrote:

Love it It’s hard for me to find games like this. I constantly crave the story, wanting more. However, I’ve caught up with And Their Souls Were Eaten about 3 times, and I always hate the break I have to take in between. And The Sun Went Out helps with that though, and since I know it’s considerably longer I work at it whenever Souls needs an update.

Theresa Budd wrote:

Great game but… This is a really great game but I wish they would update the bear version. I was having so much fun playing it and now I’ve got as far as can but they need to update it so I can finish the story please.

Zachery Fitzpatrick wrote:

You’ll love the story …..untill you get a nice distance in…. then the book shuts itself on your fingers and then throws itself into a fire and tells you wait for a update.

Trevor Veltema wrote:

So good Honestly the best game I’ve played, I was on it from 12am to 7 am, it’s very addicting

Johannes Haler wrote:

UPDATE MORE PLEASE The story And The Sun Went Out is easily one of THE best stories I’ve ever read. The plot about how the sun disappesring and stuff is just amazing! Please, I’ve reached the part where update is needed and I NEED MORE! Thank you Tin Man Games, for making reading fun, and making one of the best books I’ve read!

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There’s a whole sub-group who are angry that you have to pay (or watch ads) to read the whole story. Since I know exactly how much I earn (hint: not an enormous amount), I’m not entirely sympathetic to these:

Alper Can Buyuk wrote:

Ad-fest So you need “choice-tickets” to make decisions and progress the story. The only way to get these is either purchasing them, or buying a pass which allows you to progress through the app. The other option is watching a 30 second ad for a measly 3 tickets, completely breaking the immersion. Shouldn’t be a free app in the first place if this is the way the devs are gonna go about it.

Franz Airyl Sapit wrote:

TOO PRICEY. NOT WORTH IT. In my local currency, two Story Pass (needed to play this,”pay to play”) of this game is worth as much as Dragon Age Origins, a PC game. Imagine that.

Kaneki Ken wrote:

Money-grubbing morons. Whoever is the developer(s) of this game is seriously an annoying one. Not only do you deem it, unfavourable to have a narrator. To continue the story, you force us to give you money? How cheap is that of a practice! You don’t deserve money of you’re too lazy to have a voice actor!

In their defence, ebooks are sold in a much simpler system. There’s a big yellow button that says “free sample” and it’s easy to understand that the free sample is specifically designed to suck you into buying the book. These story apps are exactly the same thing, but app stores list them as “free, with in-app purchases” which isn’t deliberately misleading but it feels like it is.

Sadly, there are sometimes bugs and those reviews are always awful. The only up side is that bug-fixing horrors are someone else’s job to fix. Yay?

I love it when reviewers give useful information (and even more when they rebut the “I don’t want to pay/watch ads” reviewers).

DERPING Dubstep wrote:

Worth the read Don’t expect this to be an adventure game with managing inventory and fight enemies. If your looking for that you better off getting something else but don’t let that deter you from this experience. Like it is described by the developers the story is really choice based. I noticed how different the story was when i looked at the screen shots and compared it to mine, i was surprised. (And their souls were eaten seems really interesting hope we get an update soon)

Kat Hargis:

Amazing Currently reading The Sun Went Out- and the story is compelling and leaves me craving more. It is definitely worth to purchase the Story Tickets pass or whatever it’s called. Not only does it support the creative geniuses behind the story, but it also keeps me satisfied with long reads rather than short ones. Compared to other choice-based novels, this one is probably my top pick, beating even TellTale games. Once again, definitely worth that I initially spent. Looking forward to the updates on the story!

krazykidfox wrote:

Fantastic I’ve read both stories up to date. They’re both fantastic, and I’m eagerly waiting for more content. Pick this game up, hands down. While yes, you do have to either watch ads or buy tickets to progress through the stories, it’s honestly a very fair and generous system that stands out from all of the Free-To-Pay mobile games out there. Props to you, devs. Get this, you won’t be let down.

I don’t have a name wrote:

Awesome (Currently reading “And The Sun Went Out”)Intriguing, mysterious, smart and a bit dangerous. I love the fact that, although the choices you have are both natural and logical and not extremely different from each other, any choice you make has a huge impact on the story, changing it in major but still subtle ways. The only downside, in my opinion is the fact that you can’t redo a choice. You have the option to start the whole story from the beginning but I don’t want to repeat everything just for one mistake

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I really love that people are passionate about the stories!

The first story has been running over 14 months and is well over 500,000 words altogether (although each read-through would be about 100,000 words – the length of a regular book). 

The person known as “I don’t have a name” is going to love the stuff that happens towards the end of the first story, when literally hundreds of seemingly insignificant choices have the power to save the world. . . or doom it forever.

The final final final piece of the story will be released roughly on Christmas Day. If you want to read the whole story from beginning to end—possibly several times, so you get different experiences—then this is your moment to jump on board!!