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Posted on by Steven Savage

Yes I’ve got my first Way With Worlds Minibook out! This one is on sex and worldbuilding, where we explore the biology and sociology vital to a believable setting – and so often forgotten!

I’m going to be doing a series of these, each 99 cents, over the next few months.  The idea is to do something parallel to my larger books, and focus on intense coaching on specific subjects – but without giving you something overwhelming.  Each book can be read in a few hours and you can get back to writing!

  • Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

Got a bit of bad news – Disqus has altered how comments work, which is including ads.  This required me to tweak assorted settings to get it to work right, and it may be creating other problems including formatting in mobile, load, and reference/search.  So I’ve had to take them down temporarily while I sort this out.  I think they’ll be down one to two weeks while I test solutions and check results – things are pretty busy right now.

Sorry for the inconvenience!

  • Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

You may have noticed some ads in the comment sections – a change from my provider.  I’m working to find the best settings (preferably “off”) for them.

  • Steve

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Apologies, but no post today.  I have been debating on doing fan-made adaptations, so expect a column about that in the coming month.  I’ll also remind everyone that Lost in Translation now has a Facebook page.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Marvel is riding high with the live action movie adaptations of its books.  This wasn’t always the case.  The first Marvel comic to be adapted for the big screen laid an egg.  However, Marvel had a better record on television, with The Incredible Hulk lasting from 1977 to 1982.  The success of Hulk brought the character into mainstream attention, with the series having an influence on the character’s movie entry in Marvel’s Avengers Initiative.  That same success led to the first authorized Captain America movie*.

Captain America was a 1979 TV movie starring Reb Brown, known for his roles in Yor and Space Mutiny, as Steve Rogers.  Steve is an former Marine turned drifter artist, hoping to travel along the California coast line in his van.  He receives a telegram from Simon, played by Len Birman, who wants to talk to Steve about his father’s research.  The Full Latent Ability Gain, or FLAG, is a serum that can maximize the human body’s potential.  FLAG has a drawback; the serum causes cells to degenerate faster, leading to death.  Steve declines the offer to test the FLAG serum on himself. and heads out.

Fate, however, brings him back.  Steve finds his friend, Jeff Hayden, injured in his own home, attacked by a thug sent by Harley, played by Lance LeGault, on the orders of Brackett, played by Steve Forestt.  Brackett wants a filmstrip** of Hayden’s work to use to complete a neutron bomb and wants Steve out of the way.  Harley lures Steve with the knowledge of who killed Jeff.  Steve shows up at the out of the way location at night, where Harley demands the filmstrip.  In the ensuing chase, Steve is forced off the road and over a cliff on his motorcycle.

To save Steve`s life, he is given the FLAG serum while in ER.  Unlike the previous test subjects, there is no cell rejection; the serum works.  Steve’s healing accelerates under the influence of the serum, but he has no desire to find out what else FLAG has done for him.  He doesn’t get to stay ignorant; Harley kidnaps him from the hotel, taking him to a meat plant.  Steve breaks away from his captors and plays cat-and-mouse among the sides of beef.  His newfound strength lets him take out Harley and his men, including through the use of a thrown slab of beef, the only object thrown in a fight in the movie.

Steve talks with Simon, who mentions the elder Roger’s nickname as a crusading lawyer, Captain America.  Simon offers a job as a special agent, which Steve accepts.  Simon arranges for extra equipment, updating Steve’s van, adding a new motorcycle with jet assist, and a bulletproof shield that can be thrown as a deadly weapon.  While he tests out the new motorcycle, Brackett sends men to chase him down by helicopter.  Thanks to the new motorcycle and FLAG-enhanced abilities, Steve manages to turn the tables.

Brackett is busy working on Hayden’s daughter Tina, using her to figure out where the filmstrip was hidden.  He pieces together what Hayden meant when mentioning his wife with his final breaths and finds the filmstrip.  Brackett takes Tina hostage and the filmstrip to his weapons expert, who can finish the neutron bomb with the information on the strip.  The bomb gets loaded on to a truck and shipped out.  However, Steve’s enhanced hearing picks up a clue on where Tina could be, leading to an oil refinery owned by Brackett.

Simon provides one last present to Steve, a costume to help hide his identity as Captain America.  Cap heads to the refinery to rescue Tina and stop Brackett.  He sneaks in but is spotted.  The alarm sounds, but Steve’s enhanced abilities are no match for the guards.  Tina is rescued, but the neutron bomb plot is revealed.  With some research, the target is located.  Steve and Simon fly off to stop Brackett.

A second made-for-TV movie, /Captain America II: Death Too Soon/, followed, with Reb Brown back as Cap and Christopher Lee as the terrorist, Miguel.  Miguel holds a town in check with a virus that causes rapid aging.  Unless paid or unless Cap can stop him, Miguel plans to gas a city and withhold the antidote, letting the city die of old age in hours.

The TV movies take liberties with Cap’s background.  Captain America: The First Avenger shows the origins well, with Steve Rogers volunteering for a super soldier program and gaining super abilities as a result, and only being frozen after a fight against the Red Skull.  In the comics, Cap is found by Namor, is thawed, and becomes one of the founders of the Avengers.  That is a lot of backstory to fit into a two-hour TV movie, so the change to an former Marine makes some sense.  Steve became an artist once thawed out, so that part is accurate.  In 1972, thanks to the Watergate scandal, Steve gives up the role of Cap out of disgust with the government and becomes Nomad, a wandering hero.  That storyline, though, only lasted a year.  The change to California is explained by keeping costs down; the studio was based in the state.

In the Seventies, the main names when it comes to live-action superheroes were Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Bionic Woman, all characters with similar power sets – super strength and endurance, all easily portrayed with practical effects, camera angles, and sound effects.  The cost of energy blasts in post could be prohibitive, as seen with the original Battlestar Galactica, but jumping higher than normal uses the simple camera trick of running the film of someone jumping down in reverse.  A drifting hero working for the government covers all the TV series mentioned; it’s a concept audiences should be familiar with and works for Captain America.

Reb Brown, while not the best actor around, is earnest as Captain America and, just as important in a superhero series, has the physique needed.  The earnestness helps when considering that Cap was often considered a Boy Scout in the comics of the time.  The music by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter is very Seventies with brassy horns and doesn’t quite survive the passage of time.  The concept, a hero working for a secret organization, is common, from the OSI in The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman to the Foundation for Law and Government in the later series, Knight Rider.

Captain America and its sequel are very much Seventies-era made-for-TV movies, suffering from budget limitations.  They take liberties with Cap’s background, but keep close to the characterization of the time.  The needs of gaining a television audience forced some changes. The movies are definitely curiosities, and make a valiant effort, but fall short as adaptations.

* The Turkish film 3 Dev Adam, released in 1973, featured Captain America fighting Spider-Man and was not authorized by Marvel.
** A filmstrip is a series of still photos placed on a strip of photographic film as a means of presentation, much like an early version of a PowerPoint presentation, often with an accompanying recording on cassette, vinyl, or reel-to-reel with signals to let the viewer know when to change the slide.

Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Because of other happenings in my life, Lost in Translation will not appear this week.  I should be able to give proper attention to the review on tap when Lost in Translation returns.

In the meantime, Lost in Translation can now be found on Facebook.

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, www.SeventhSanctum.com, and Steve’s Tumblr)

I’m looking forward to No Man’s Sky – which is apparent if you see my Twitter, Facebook, blogs, or just talk to me. The procedural space adventure fascinates me as it pushes all my buttons – and of course I’m big on procedural generation, so of course I’m following it.

Acknowledging this, this is fair warning you’re gonna see some No Man’s Sky posts. It’s relevant to my interests, to what I do here, so I hope they’e informative and interesting.

As I’ve scanned internet posts and Steam communities, one useful insight I’ve seen is that the game may face an issue of being “a mile wide and an inch deep.” A game, in short, of great breadth but not a lot of depth. I think this concern is worth addressing, as it reveals some truths about games, procedural games, and their development.

The concern is one I feel is legitimate for some in the audience. NMS’ videos make it clear that the game presents an enormous Sandbox galaxy, with straightforward systems of crafting, exploring, fighting, trading, and reputation-building. This may be enough for many (such as myself), and certainly enough for a broad, wide adventure – but it may not be enough for everyone attracted to the premise.

The “mile wide” may stand for people, but for some people the game may not have the depth they want – or the kind of depth they want. You won’t be building structures, negotiating trade agreements, or going on elaborate story quests – hallmarks of other games and science fiction. For some NMS will have everything they want – for others it’ll be a beautiful galaxy that might not have what they want, or enough of it.

I analyze what I see from NMS’s designers and ads, because watching this dream game evolve has taught me a lot about games and procedural generation. The concern about NMS not having the depth some one made me ask, simply, what if the game tried to add more?

It’s not hard to imagine adding some more classic science fiction elements from the novels that inspired it. Take the simple alien language engine and add some negotiation and trade deals. Allow some encounters to spawn some quests – like smuggling something thorough a blockade. Maybe even a bit of building or improving buildings. Just a bit more maybe . . .

. . . and this is where it gets complicated.

First, even if there is a desire to add “more” we’re talking a game with a setting the size of a galaxy, filled with procedural content so large the devs had to make in-game probes to study the worlds. Any addition of new features could produce development nightmares, adding them onto an already careully developed and tweaked engine.

Second, the developers would have to choose what new features to add to their already polished set. What would sell? What do people want? S much work is procedural, so much unknown, can the devs predict what people will want? Will they be able to balance demands? They can’t be sure how people will react to the game – potential pirates may become explorers, traders decide to cut out the middlemen and become pirates, and explorers may drop their archiving duties to just swap rare minerals for cash. Throwing in more features requires careful consideration of how the audience will reacts.

Third, if the new items could be added, then comes the question of testing. Adding new features onto procedural content produce a new nightmare of testing it and making sure nothing else broke and all the pieces work together. That “mile wide” part means a lot more testing work when you try to make that “inch” a bit deeper.

Fourth and finally the extreme “width” of the game means that, with too much “depth” the game might become a muddle of choices and options. NMS may give you the stars, but its focus on being a kind of space exploration/survival game provides useful boundaries for play. Throw in a few more features and a game that already provides little direction could end up a muddle.

Those concerned about depth have a legitimate concern – for some of the audience (again, I think most people buying NMS who are informed will know what they’re getting). But I think the creators have a sweet spot of features for this grand enterprise, and changing beyond that is fraught with dangr.

Is it the right choice? Well, we find out in June 2016 . . .

– Steve

www.StevenSavage.com

www.InformoTron.com

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, www.SeventhSanctum.com, and Steve’s Tumblr)

Sorry I vanished for awhile there folks – I just moved, and that of course is complicated.  Last move was a bit less hectic, so this one took more out of me – especially as I needed to buy some new furniture.  So let’s do a quick roundup.

  • I’ll keep up my series on why I write.  We’re getting to my good stuff.
  • The Fusion Food Generator will finish this month.
  • The Sailor Moon book goes to prereaders soon (like the day I post this).
  • Way With World’s is still at the editor, who got busy – as the editor is my roommate who also just moved.  I expect to keep it mostly on schedule, but am debating A) moving from late June ti sometime in July) and B) making the second book October since it’s either be August or September and September the Sailor Moon book drops.
  • I want to do some minibooks again but am trying to get my schedule together.

How are you doing?

  • Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, www.SeventhSanctum.com, and Steve’s Tumblr)

So lately I’ve been reviewing how I write.  Let’s take a look at where we are:

When I write I usually get a big idea, then I review and record it.  I figure if it’s book worthy if it fits my goals.  Then, I work on an outline (in fact I usually work on that earlier as I’m inspired and want to evaluate the idea).

So how do I write?  I mean I’ve talked about getting up to the point of writing.  So when does it begin and do I actually get stuff done

The above activities set the stage.  I got an idea, I have an outline, I have drive.  All that’s left is basically cut loose.

In short, I kind of vomit onto the page.

Disgusting Metaphors Go!

Actually I’m being a bit facetious.  I have an outline, so it’s not vomiting onto the page, it’s vomiting into a very specific framework that lets the vomit flow into the right form.

I sit down, with my outline, and following the direction it set I start writing.  The Outline provides me enough information to know what to write, and I simply do it.  I rarely take the time to do any editing or revision unless I have to.  My goal is to get from A to B in that outline as best as I’m able, even if it’s kind of crappy, half-assed, or understandable only to me.

(In case you wonder, yes, sometimes I eventually throw things out.  But stick with me – this works)

So what’s the benefit to this?  Quite a bit:

  • * First it’s fast.  I can get  a lot done – and the Outline helps that.
  • * Secondly, it’s visceral.  It’s from the gut, the brain, the feelings, whatever part of me is currently engaged.  It’s near automatic.
  • * Third, it’s disinhibited.  The worst enemy a writer has is often themselves.  I’m too focused to get in my own way doing this.
  • * Fourth, it’s about writing.  My goal is not to do anything but get something done, so I avoid distractions, or hemming and hawing.

Now note that this method doesn’t work as well if you don’t have an Outline.  The Outline gives you a pattern to work with (so you don’t go off the rails) and making it keeps you rethinking your ideas (so they’re more instinctive to write).  Going with no Outline can result in this vomit method getting pretty incoherent.

Pacing Myself

I usually set a pace for me to write – based on the aforementioned Outline – on how much I’ll do within a certain time.  It doesn’t have to be good or coherent, but I cover a certain percent of an outline within a given time.

I usually block out the major tasks of my book in terms of months, and set writing goals by weeks.  This way I have the large outline of the book (done in X months) and specific, actionable goals (get 15% through the Outline in a week).

I need this pacing not just to set goals, but because the outline and the “vomit method” actually mean I can overdo it.  I’ve had huge writing binges of hours where the words are coming out, and after awhile I’m exhausted.  I have trouble remembering writing parts of “Cosplay, Costuming, and Careers” as I was at my desk for hours.  Well I think I was.

You can too easily burn yourself out doing this – and because the goal is to “get it done” you might not realize it’s happening.  A 10% decline in quality when you’re using the vomit method isn’t apparent, and you won’t notice you’re real tired until your quality is much, much worse, or the words just stop.  Setting the goals helps this . . . but you might just go a bit farther.

So I pace myself, but I’ve never found a perfect method.  Mostly it’s a mix of gut,pre-set deadlines, and guesswork.

That may explain a few things.

It’s OK To Change

Now even though I go and just vomit onto the page, I do occasionally revise the Outline itself.

At times (less and less as I go on) you may find that things didn’t quite work out the way you expected.  It’s OK to revise your outline if you realize things need to be restructured.  However I’d do that as a separate task or after taking a nice break from “vomit writing.”

I also have found that in a few cases of writing you have to write in detail to know just what order things should be within your outline.  You may, say, know when events happen in a chapter, but only later discover the order you tell them in may need to be done differently.  Sometimes orders aren’t even apparent until you start writing – which is fine (and has been something I’ve done deliberately because I had to read over a lot of research and it was easier to find a pattern while reviewing it and writing about it).

Moving On

So then I’ve got a book that’s really a fast-written dump of ideas into a reasonably planned outline.  It’s barely a book at all.

Which is why, after I finish up all that writing, it’s time to go editing.  That’s when a book starts to become a book.

  • Steve

Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, www.SeventhSanctum.com, and Steve’s Tumblr)

Last time we met, I discussed that a major part of my writing is actually deciding what to do write in the first place.  I don’t just go “oh, I have to write this,” I ask where it fits in my larger writing career (and, occasionally, vice versa).  Part of being a writer, to me, is filtering.

But at some point the time comes to Write That Book.  So I write that book – by writing something else.  The Outline.

The Framework Of The Future

Almost every large work I write I write is Outlined, often in fine detail – fiction and non-fiction.  I have it broken down into major sections (often chapters) and what they’re about, and often down to individual paragraphs.

The reason for this is multifold:

  1. An Outline is a away to test-drive your idea.  There’s a chance you don’t have a good grasp of it or that it’s in an immature state.  In fact, when I schedule a book I usually produce a rough outline then – sometimes the complete outline.
  2. An Outline creates the basic structure of your book – and tests that structure  As you come up with an Outline you often find better ways to do the book – and in the end the outline means a stronger piece of writing.
  3. An Outline is a way to pace yourself.  When your book is broken down into sections and components, you can easily measure work done, work needed, and progress.
  4. An Outline, because of the above, becomes a time-saving device.

As important as this is in non-fiction, a good outline is even more important in non-fiction.  A large cast and large series of plot elements can easily go “off the rails” if you don’t keep track of things.  Writing a book, on say, Ball-Jointed Doll clothes may require certain cases of following instructions, but tracking three battles and twelve characters across 300 pages is going to be even crazier.

I have one friend working on an utterly brilliant story involving precognition. Imagine where they’d be without an outline . . .

So, me, I outline.  And what’s a good Outline?  Well, my outline tells me it’s time to discuss that . . .

A Good Outline Is . . .

So what does my outline contain?  Let’s look into that before I get into how I make it.  It sort of makes my goals clear.

First, a good outline contains a breakdown of the various Sections of a book – often this is chapters, but in the case of fiction it may be major events or milestones.  These are the “big pieces” of the book that get you from A to B, be it learning a skill or telling a tale.  The various sections are

Secondly, the Major Sections are also broken down into individual pieces, the elements that make up these Really Big Things.  A Chapter on, say, writing skills may cover the major skills and their role in your career.  A big event in a book, say a war, may start with how characters get involved in said war, what happens at various times, and the fallout.

Each Section has a specific goal, getting from A to B.  If its complex, not always clear, or needs precise pacing, I break it down further into subsections – major events, major points, etc.  For my nonfiction I may go as far as to break down what each paragraph is about.

You probably realize now that my Outline is, essentially, a fractal.  A Section has a start and a finish – and a goal.  So does each part of it.  So may each paragraph if I outline that far.

Sure this sounds like it may take time – it may or it may not (sometimes this stuff nearly writes itself).  I stop when I have enough information to know I can start.  You can overdo it.

When you really get “in the zone” of building the Outline, it can happen fast, it can be instinctive, and it can be powerful.  You truly know your subject after awhile, and it just flows.

Let’s talk about creating it in detail.

Creating That Outline

So how do I create that outline?  That . . . is both organized and not, depending on what I’m writing.  There’s a few methods I use to get started, depending on what works and what my mood is.  Then it’s mostly the same.

Methods to get started:

  • Brain dump method.  I write down everything associated with the book, everything I want to cover.  Then when I’m sure I have everything out, I sort it into an outline.  THis usually gives me a mix of Sections and fine detail to put in the sections.  The order usually becomes pretty apparent.
  • A to B method.  If a book has a very specific goal, I create my initial outline on how you get from A to B, each section or chapter being about one major milestone.
  • The Probe.  This is what I use if I don’t quite have a clear A to B method, but some path is apparent.  I write a sample outline, review it, then if not sure, write up a slightly different one.  Eventually the best A to B method emerges.

Which method works best?  That’s really something you have to try for yourself – and it depends on the subject.  Stories usually work with a mix of A to B or The Probe.  Nonfiction works can fit any in my experience – and you may not know which is best for a subject until you fail at it once.

So once I get started, and have a basic Outline, I then review sections, figuring out what has to go in them.  At this point since I know the goals of the book, I can pretty much write from A to B each section.  I cover each major issue that has to be covered at the very least.

If a book is larger, I often do several “Sweeps” fro start to finish, getting the Outline straight, reviewing it, and often adding more and more detail to the book – breaking each major Section or Chapter down further and further.  Sometimes, as noted I literally get to the level of figuring out what each paragraph covers.

How far do I take this?  Usually “until I have enough to start writing” or “I’ll know it when I see it.”  One can usually tell, instinctively, if a book is ready to go.

While doing the Outline, a few things to try out . . .

Insights While Outlining

So as I work on my Outline there’s a few things I do or try out:

  • Look for patterns.  Sometimes a book, no matter it’s form, has patterns in it.  You may find that each character’s story parallels the other, or you may find that your insights about specialty popcorn fit into four patterns.  Finding these patterns is important as they can guide, improve, o even replace the original outline.  If you find that each character’s story parallels that of the others, you may try to tell each character’s tale at once as opposed to people catching up in flashback.
  • Look for warnings. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, while working on an Outline you may find you’re totally off base and need to change all or part of it.  Heed the warnings – because once you’re down in the weeds outlining your next book, thats when you truly find your mistakes.
  • Take notes.  Sometimes you’ll find interesting insights you might not use, or questions to ask yourself.  Write them down and review later.
  • Other inspirations.  This often happens while writing, so keep that Brainstorm Book handy!

So When It’s Done

So once my Outline is done, I make sure to store a copy of it.  Because now it’s time to start writing . . .

  • Steve

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