August 10, 2019

Muses and Themes


The very moment that I hit the Publish button for my previous entry, I already knew that something was off. Or rather, that I didn't think through the themes as well as I could have. So I spent more this week to flesh things out a bit more. While I absolutely love exploring the topic of inequality, I think the story is better served if the external conflict/social mirror revolves around the theme of Perspective. Or rather, fractured perspectives. You might be wondering why I'm making this switch. It's simple, really. My muse told me. 

Wait. Let's back up a sec and talk about what a muse really is. The modern, public perception of the word muse is one of a woman whose unsurpassed beauty would cause nations to go to war. Helen of Troy, anyone? The reason I bring her up is because the word muse itself comes from Ancient Greece. According to mythology, the Muses were goddesses who provided inspiration to those who wanted to express themselves through art (or gain knowledge). So that's where the "female" part of that perception comes from. It's pretty baked in, I guess.

Of course, we should know better. While a person can certainly be the inspiration, the person him or herself isn't the muse. The act of creating something arises from an obsession that the artist cannot shake. It could be about a grudge, or a desire, or discontent, or serenity. My muses for the past few years have been about brutal wars, oppressive governments, and societal inequality. The point is, the muse is a beautiful torment simply because it demands your attention, and when these thoughts come parading into your head, there's no way to turn them off or let sit.

So then why insanity as the theme? Well, put simply, some people just fucking drive you nuts... I met a person who literally drives me crazy, and I cannot stop thinking why. And thus, a new muse is born. But that's not the only one. Another thing that has been seriously chewing on my brain lately is this concept of perspective. Recently, I was involved in a conversation where, in the middle of it, I realized that my perspective was completely ignored and brushed aside. That it wasn't valid because it didn't match their perspective. It was infuriating and depressing at the same time. The tricky thing is that differing perspectives don't make one or the other more or less true. Sure, some truths are shared, but all perspectives are unique to everyone. Dismissing them is just plain wrong.

This isn't limited to just a couple of people of course. It isn't difficult to imagine a society whose perspectives regarding each other is significantly fractured. We have people in power who are deliberately confusing the public in order to manipulate their perspective in order to protect their self interest. They are incredibly adept at it. If someone is relentlessly told that something is true over and over again, especially if by everyone else around them, then it isn't long until they'll capitulate. At some point they get so far deep that convincing them that other perspectives actually exist becomes an impossible task.

Which brings us to the external theme of this story, finally. While the main character struggles with balancing their power versus their insanity, the world struggles to maintain itself due to a violently fractured populace. That said, the dystopian cyberpunk setting doesn't really fit well now, does it? I'm thinking it's more of a semi-surreal apocalyptic setting instead. I've expanded a bit on the basic premise I hit on last week. The setting is that the real world - our world as it is right this moment - is being slowly "invaded" by a digital world. Creatures and objects start appearing out of nowhere, while people and places start disappearing on our end. What's really happening is that the two worlds are being forcibly merged together in a process that will take, say, 10 years. For reasons unknown, but of course it will be related to the overall theme of Corruption. Let's just say Someone is trying to escape Something, and they'll do whatever it takes.

Anyway, the beats I've laid out for the first chapter will go a little something like this: the story begins 10 years ago, and the main character and supporting character are in a heated argument where emotions are flaring high. At the peak of their breaking, events kick into motion, and the worlds start to merge. With little explanation, violent unidentified creatures come out of nowhere and attack everything around them, causing mass panic. People are slaughtered left and right as emergency personnel try to create some order from the chaos. Our two characters start to get headaches, and they realize that they're changing. As they run, hide, or fight their way away from the madness, they understand that they're gaining psionic powers. The supporting character is quicker to understand how it works, and rapidly becomes adept at using it. It also allows them to sense other people, who they decide to meet up with. There might be a lot of distrust, but again they use their powers to overcome this. Just as everyone decides on the best course of action, they're attacked by an incredibly powerful psionic creature, drawn by the supporting character's growth. They realize this, and decide that the main character will flee with the people while the supporting character distracts the beast away from them. This is a classic "Draw Aggro" trope where the supporting character faces off against the Big Bad in a literal duel to the death. The main character, beset with a debilitating migraine at this point, struggles to remain conscious as the supporting character and the psionic creature obliterate each other. They dramatically implode themselves just as the main character falls unconscious. Chapter two starts with the main character waking up in present day - that past event that traumatized them has become a recurring nightmare that they suffer from. This is the insanity that forms the core of their incredible psionic power.

August 3, 2019

On Isekai


Some time ago, I ran into a person who is/was writing her own Isekai in light novel format. Though there wasn't much yet, there was so much potential to where it could be. In those few pages, the story delved into individual frailty and powerlessness amidst a society that acted like a cage. I liked it a good deal, and I think it sucks that I probably won't read a completed version of it. Anyway, this person and her story reignited my own desire to write an Isekai.

I've been a huge fan of the Isekai genre for many years now, but modern offerings leave so much to be desired, and only a few are really worth mentioning. For those who aren't too familiar with it, it's basically the Japanese version of Portal Fantasy. Common examples of Western portal fantasy would be The Chronicles of Narnia, Labyrinth, The Matrix, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and so on. As a storytelling technique, it's pretty baked in and there are few surprises. Most portal fantasy stories often delve into societal issues, such as religion, war, and law among others. Isekai shares many traits with portal fantasy in general, but a few traits makes it stand out from the others. Some I like, some I don't. Let's go through some of the more troubling ones first.

Male Power Fantasy. Most of the popular ones are based around the main character being overwhelmingly powerful without having really achieved much to get it. Overlord is the prime example of this. The main character is unbeatable, and not only that his subordinates are also peerless combatants in the world they're stuck in. They literally stomp over every obstacle they come across. While that is definitely cathartic, it's also empty, like eating a crapton of junkfood in your jammies at 2am. Ultimately a waste of time and energy. I get why this is popular, though. Fundamentally speaking, Isekai is meta-escapism. It's supposed to be a mirror as to why the audience is escaping into a work of fiction. It's where we, the viewers or readers, would want to go to when our real lives crumble all around us. This kind of Isekai though is in the extreme, and is only about sending shots of dopamine into your brain. Not really very enlightening or thought-provoking, is it?

Harem. Related to the MPF, but it's more about desirability towards the opposite sex. Isekai targeted at men and women feature the harem trait, so it can't be said it's necessarily a sexist thing, though I'm sure more shounen feature harem then shoujo. Regardless, demographically speaking, it's pretty universal, so I believe it's more of a loneliness thing. In most manga and anime, the harem exists solely to admire the protagonist. Well, they're characters in their own right with themes, arcs, conflicts, and so on. But what matters is that they're all (or mostly) of the opposite sex from the protagonist, and have varying degrees of admiration for him or her. Sometimes the admiration borders on the obsessive, which I can kind of relate to. It's kind of like if the protagonist was to form an adventuring party, it would be this. Except it's filled with a little naughtiness and innuendo. Though I like the harem trait, I'd rather a story didn't have it. Gate is a prime example of a pretty decent harem Isekai, though it's kind of a special case, because it's really a (somewhat nationalistic) portrait of Japanese culture. 

High Fantasy. Most Isekai have settings based in fantasy worlds. And they're typically high fantasy, which have elves, dwarves, dragons, magic, undead, orcs, and so on. Which is interesting, considering all the different settings that could be used. This seems like a missed opportunity to branch out and explore. This trend also makes sense, considering that Isekai is really an expression of its audience's love for RPG's, which are themselves mostly fantasy. Not that there's anything wrong with the fantasy as a genre. It's just that I'm tired of it.

Alright. There's three that are the most troubling (to me, at least). The following are ones that I find the most endearing to the whole genre.

Game World. Most but not all Isekai features a game world. By that, I mean the protagonist has a character that exists in a virtual game world, and a good majority of their conflicts take place there. This is beneficial in multiple ways. For example, the game world provides an easy way to see a character's growth in an easily understood way. Everyone who has ever played an RPG knows what gaining a level feels like. And when Isekai characters level up in whatever way shape or form, the reader is injected with that feeling as well. There's also a slight sense of control over things, that there are inviolable rules in place. This also provides a great amount of exploration into certain subjects, such as death, revival, second chances, and even existential meaning. Grimgal of Ashes and Illusion is one such Isekai: it explores death and meaning quite deeply.

Societal Mirroring. As mentioned earlier, isekai is a mirror that reflects the desires of the reader. Sometimes, a well-written isekai will use the world on the other side to mirror the real world, and criticize it. While not all isekai feature this, some of the more clever ones do. The Saga of Tanya the Evil, for example, reflects on religion, war, and human nature. Gate also criticizes war, particularly wars that the Western powers meddle in. My fave isekai, The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor, is in essence somewhat of a retelling of Machiavelli's The Prince, except in a far more entertaining way. Another of my favorites, The Twelve Kingdoms, goes even deeper into political theory and even defines what true leaders should be like. It is a beautiful series of novels.

As mentioned earlier, I've been wanting to write an isekai myself for some time, so I suppose this is my way of putting my thoughts together (for yet another writing project that I need to make time for). Problem is, I haven't been sure what it is I want to write about until recently. I'm also unsure what format I should write it in. This could certainly be in light novel format, which will be much easier to write. Symbolism can be simpler, as with style and structure. It'll also be faster to write as well, if I keep the word count at around 50k. But it could also be in interactive format, which will be much harder to write. But it brings some serious benefits with it. Most important is the tangible aspect of being in a game - having a character sheet, opening the status screen, reading abilities, branching storylines, having a Game Over screen, saving, loading. You get what I mean. The format just fits. But holy shit that's going to be a ton of work.

I've already somewhat decided on what the character mirror should be. I suppose this really is the theme that determines internal conflict. I think it should be insanity. I've been rolling around this idea of psionic powers, about how there could be classes or tiers of abilities. And how powerful a person is, is directly related to how insane they are. I want the main characters to come to this realization and understand the need to balance their own insanity against their own humanity. The tiers would range from moving small objects around to altering the very fabric of reality, so imagine that the truly insane - such as the main antagonist - has the capability to wipe civilizations off the map without having to bat a third eyelid.

In terms of story, I don't want any MPF scenarios, period. But I do want the main and supporting characters to be the two most dangerous characters in the story, after the antagonist. Well, it's not so important that they're powerful - it's important that they're insane. And I definitely don't want a harem, either. Though there will be party members who are joined by an ideal, this will really be an exploration between the main character and the supporting character, their psionic prowess, their insanities, and their ultimate, fateful end at the hands of the main antagonist.

I've determined that it would be best for the societal mirror, (or external theme) to be about socio-economic inequality. Since this will be part of the Fractal Universe, there will also be an underlying theme of Corruption. This sort of matches what I've been wanting to explore with a couple other planned Fractal stories - Umbra and ONI, so I may as well sift through the better ideas and merge them into this one. I most definitely want to criticize our modern oligarchy. Money rules the world right now, not people. Regardless, there are still a ton of things I need to determine. Notably: why are these people in this world? are they trapped? How about this one: two realities are colliding, and the main characters are trying to stop it from destroying everything they know? Hmm. Needs work.

Anyway, I'm sure that this will end up being quite a long story, so I'm a little bit afraid as to how much branching I'll be able to do. Certainly inter-personal conflicts will cause branching, as will main character power choices. But beyond that, should there be more than one ending? I suppose there should be a good ending as well as a bad ending, as typical with most RPGs. And that should revolve around how insane the reader allowed their character to become. Hmm. Also the varying societal consequences borne from character choices should be shown in the denouement. As in, did this character/town/friendship survive at the end? Did anyone change their ideals? Was the world saved? Were both worlds saved? That sort of thing.

Anyway, I've rambled on enough. Lots to think about.

July 28, 2019

Added Some Really Old Posts

I'm going to attempt to resurrect this blog as my writing journal. Again, for the 100th time. There's something different this go-around. I've gone and looked into blogs I have access to and imported a handful of really old rants, stories, and poems. I'll leave the rest unpublished. I figure that'll help kickstart this project/movement/whatever forward.

Anyway, anything prior to 2010 is going to be from a different blog. Most notably, LiveJournal. I still have my LJ account, but everything is locked away like some sort of ancient destructive beast. I could simply unlock everything there, but that would be mostly pointless. LJ has long since been dead (with the exception of GRRM's LJ account). Anything between 2010 and now is lost, apologies. That's what I get for not doing real backups. Maybe I'll dig into my writing folder and post old stuff once in a while, too.

If you do check out my older stuff, try to keep in mind that they are really old and quite sophomoric. Though, I have to say that I had a certain flair to my prose that I need to reintegrate again. There's just something snappy with how some of them are laid out (ie Crepusculum). I haven't seen that poetic prose style in forever, and going through my own posts makes me want to play with it some more. I think if I can mix that rhythmic snappiness with my current conversational style, it'll create something pretty refined.

Will test it out a little next weekend.

Serving Time

I recall how resolute the judge's stare had been, when my sentence was first handed to me. In the blink of an eye, an entire future had been ripped away and replaced with despair. A future made of cold stone walls at the bottom of a dark pit had been forced on me; a punishment so harsh for doing so little. One will certainly steal a loaf of bread when at the brink of starvation. But to be branded dangerous when no harm was ever intended is...

My throat cracks as I moan in grief at the injustice of it all. I've long since realized that the world's beauty is only matched by its harshness. Only it would punish the hungry by imposing an even deeper hunger. There's a loud clank as an iron slit at the bottom of my cell door slides open. Then the sound of a wooden bowl scraping across the rough stone floor invades my ears. I've heard it countless times over the years, decades, centuries. It's a familiar sound, comforting and maddening and heartbreaking all at once. I don't even have to look; I already know that my daily meal has arrived.

If a few stale crumbs of bread can even be called a meal. They're just enough to keep me alive, if that can even be called living.

My heart thumps for a brief moment when I do turn to look - perhaps the only sign of life I've expressed since, well, for too long. A few pieces of charcoal have replaced my usual sustenance, and I leap into action. I greedily snatch them up, walk over to my straw bed, and lay them down gently. These are truly precious treasures, and I have to take great pains not to use them all at once.

I stare up at the walls surrounding me - much of it has been covered in charcoal, at least as far up as I've been able to climb. My scribbles, sketches, and other insane ramblings cover most of the walls. There are stories of kings and queens, heroes and villains, of celebration and despair. Many images fill the spaces between: they're of happier days, places I've been, and loves who I've lost. My entire cell is a mad jumble of thoughts and hopes and defeats and darkness.

I run a few fingers across an empty patch - one I've been saving for some time - and feel the coarseness of the granite on my skin.

This one, I ask myself, is this the day I fill in this one?

I pick up a piece of charcoal, but hesitate before I continue further. I look up far above me and stare past worn steel bars and into the perpetually cloudy grey-blue sky. I dream that one day my bars will be pulled away as someone helps me out, the sun shining brightly behind them. I know better, however. The grim reality is that one day a storm will come and wash it all away; everything will be lost and forgotten along the river of time.

That's the price for hunger in this world.

July 22, 2019

the forest

my chest thrummed
deeply as though
running amok
thru the trees

a tall redwood
firm and proud
my hand grazed
its timeless body

along the long
paths lay a stream
its curves winding
this way and that

teasing with every
turn and tug
and then an
invitation

it was by the water
where i babbled back
to the noisy little
brook

the air was filled
with playful chirping
and wistful sighs
a deep yearning

a nymph of earth
rose up and danced
eyes made of stone
held me captive

days or hours
may have passed
but it was nothing
in the face of bliss

i laid my head down
on the soft moss
bright flowers swayed
and tickled my nose

the scents and sounds
of life and
love
surrounded me

then her song
struck me hard
and slumber
took me

away

...

a shiver

i woke with a
start and
all was
gone

the forest now
distant
dark

and cold

all sounds held
like a breath
save a wailing
mournful song

a chill reached
into me deeply
like a hand
made of glass

then a whisper
in my ear
as the cold
took my heart

i felt everything
drop like a weight
into a pit made
of hunger

i was warned
of the forest
and its day
and its night

i foolishly
believed the
forest was
kind, but

she tightened
her grip
and the
truth

of a

cruel

nature

appeared