The Lies Writers Tell

If you think about it, writers are natural born liars. It’s basically our job description.

We craft worlds from our words and fill them with living, breathing people who never existed outside of our minds. We imbue them with life and embed pieces of our soul throughout the story.

We twist your expectations to fit where we want you to think the story will end only to turn everything you think you know on its head with a few, well-placed words, leaving you wondering how you did not see it all along.

We have the unique ability to make the familiar seem strange and the strange feel familiar. We can make you question some things while blindly accepting others.

The lies we writers tell are loved by the world because we make people think about things they never really thought about before. We are holding up a mirror that shows the world not the way things are, but the way they could be.

These lies help people become better versions of themselves. They help people connect with others and with themselves in a way nothing else can.

In a way, we aren’t really lying. We are just showing the world a different truth.

The real lies, the dangerous ones, are the ones we tell ourselves.

I can’t make it as a writer

This is often tied to the lie that ‘writing is not a career’ and ‘I am not good enough’. Both painful lies that the world around us has a nasty habit of reinforcing. People look at writing as a hobby. Something frivolous that people do in their free time that is of no real value.

If you are a writer, you are going to have to get used to this. You are going to have to get used to people pushing you towards other careers that they view as more attainable. They are genuinely trying to help. They just don’t understand how painful that kind of job can be to think about. To have people constantly telling you that you will never be able to make it in life doing what you want to do.

It hurts even more when you begin to believe it yourself.

The truth is, you can make a living as a writer. It isn’t easy and is going to take a lot of time and effort, but it is 100% possible. Keep chasing your dreams and you will find a way. You may not be the next JK Rowling or Stephen King, but you can still make a living telling stories.

So-and-so is a better writer than me

First off, ‘better’ is subjective. Trust me when I say there is nothing good that comes from the comparison games. There will always be people who have been writing for longer than you, who have more experience in a certain genre, and who have published more books than you have.

I know some people who can churn out 10k words in a single day. I average about 500, maybe 1k if it is a really good day. When it comes to the quality of the content, there really is no comparison. Different people have different tastes. Your style will never match anyone else’s and vice versa.

You have to learn to be comfortable with your own progress and your own style. Lean into what makes you unique. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are a bad writer because you don’t write like someone else. Keep writing. Hone your craft.  

No one cares what I have to say

This is perhaps the most painful lie of all and it is one I still struggle with on a regular basis. I know what causes it too. When people talk over you when you try and tell them about your new story idea. Their eyes glaze over. They zone out, cut you off, and totally change the subject.

Couple that with the sheer volume of novels and novellas and poetry books already in existence, and the fact that most people do not consider writing to be a valid career?

It leaves you feeling like you have no chance. No one is going to like your book, no one will read it. You are just wasting your time.

This is complete and utter nonsense. There are people out there who need to hear what you have to say. They need to hear your story just as much as you need to tell your story. Words have power far beyond what most people will ever realize.

Every single one of these lies ties back to one thing. Imposter Syndrome. That voice in the back of your mind telling you that you are not enough.  The fear and anxiety that keeps you from chasing the life you want.

The important thing to remember, though, is that they are lies. They are the lies we tell ourselves because we fear the unknown of what happens when we take that leap. What happens when we leave behind everything the world tells us we should want in the pursuit of who we truly want to be.

Words have the power and we were born with words at our fingertips.

It is time we use them.

It is time to change the world.

Meet the Monomyth

Strap on your seatbelts and hold on tight, because I am about to take you through the plot of every story ever told.

It is all laid out in The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. Published in 1949, this book dives into the pattern that all stories follow in some way. I was first introduced to the Hero’s Journey (or the monomyth, depending on who you ask) in the lead up to my first ever NaNoWriMo. The Hero’s Journey is broken into 12 main stages set in the Ordinary (1-2, 10-12) and the Special World (3-9). Picture it like a clock.

Once you know this basic structure, you will never be able to unsee it. You are welcome.

1: The Ordinary World

This is where you introduce the main character and begin setting up the main conflict. The hero wakes up, eats breakfast, and goes about their day to day life. This is where you get to meet the hero’s friends and family and see what their ‘normal’ is. You watch them go through the motions of a regular day while longing for something more, something better (because rarely is a hero 100% happy with where they are in the beginning). There might be some hints of the coming conflict, but nothing that really catches the hero’s attention.

Everything is perfectly normal. Everyone is happy. Everything is about to change.

2: The Call to Adventure

A mysterious messenger arrives to inform the hero that, for one reason or another, they are needed to save the world. It doesn’t matter how familiar they are with the conflict or what their opinion is on the subject. All that matters is that they have been chosen. It is time for them to rise to the task of saving the world.

3: The Refusal of the Call

By the time it hits 2, the hero has point blank refused the call. Whether they are unqualified or just uninterested, they have absolutely no intention of answering the call to adventure. They are perfectly happy in their ordinary world, thank you very much (even though they were just complaining about how much they wanted something more not even five minutes ago).

4: The Meeting with the Mentor

The mentor arrives at 3 to tell the hero that they need to talk. Somehow they heard about the call that the hero refused. They have known the hero for some time or have been in the hero’s shoes at some point. They are more familiar with the conflict than the hero does and often have a greater understanding of the role the hero will play in the coming battles. They are the one who talks the hero into accepting the challenge.

5: Crossing the First Threshold

4 o’clock rolls around and the hero is finally ready to cross the first threshold. Reluctant or not, they have accepted the challenge and are answering the call to adventure. This can be a really challenging time for the hero. They are leaving behind everything they know and love. Sometimes they leave because the conflict has already destroyed the one thing they were staying for, other times it is because their home is threatened. Either way, they have accepted the call and there is no going back. Once they reach the point where they cannot return, they have crossed the threshold. The adventure is on and there is no going back.

6: Tests, Allies, Enemies

The 5 o’clock hour is divided into three things. First off, the tests. How well does the hero know the world they live in? Do they have the skills they need to survive? Are they worthy of being called a ‘hero’? Some of these tests are given by enemies who seek to impede the hero. Others are given by potential allies who are trying to decide if the hero is worth following/aiding.

7: Approach to the Innermost Cave

The approach to the innermost cave begins around 6. This is when things are starting to get dark. The hero must be prepared to face the great unknown that they have been fighting against the whole time. Think of this as the dark night of the soul. They have never faced a challenge like this before and they are going to have to use everything they have learned so far to survive this.

8: The Ordeal

The real ordeal starts at 7. This is the final test where everything is on the line. Everything they have learned over the course of the journey will be tested. This is where everything changes, including the hero. Some part of them will break. Something is going to die, whether it be a hope, a dream, or a person. It may even be the hero.

Let’s just say it isn’t called the ‘ordeal’ for nothing.

9: Seizing the Sword

At 8, the transformation begins. They have survived incredible odds and have come out even stronger (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually). They also obtained some sort of prize. The prize is the thing that the hero has been searching for this whole time, whether they realize it or not. It might be an object, it might be a secret. It might be knowledge or insight into a problem. It could even be a reconnection with a loved one. Either way, there is no time to celebrate. The clock marches onward and it is time to return home.

10: The Road Back

The clock strikes 9 and it is time to return home. This is a reversal of the call to action and crossing the first threshold, a final push back to the Ordinary World. They may revisit some of the same places (which is a great way to showcase just how much the world and the hero have changed since the ordeal). Ultimately, the hero will have to choose between their own personal objectives and a higher cause. Not an easy decision for anyone.

11: Resurrection

From 10-11 the hero has one final, incredibly dangerous encounter with death. The implications of this fight stretch far beyond the hero’s existence. The outcome of this battle determines the future of the Ordinary World. All of their knowledge and all of their experiences come to fruition in this final fight. This is a chance for the hero to prove that they have truly changed.

12: Return with the Elixir

Things have finally come full circle as the hero returns home to the Ordinary World. The conflict is gone, the threat has been vanquished, and there is finally some sort of peace in the world. Yet everything is not as it once was. The hero has changed.  They have grown. They have brought what they learned on their journey home with them to help make their world a better place.

 

If you pay attention you can see this pattern unfold in all of the stories that have ever been told. We have this natural inclination to telling stories like this and I find it fascinating. I could go on about the psychology behind it all as well as all of the different variations of this journey, the different character types, motivations, etc for hours.  And I probably will at some point.

For now, I have a strong desire to watch Star Wars.

Until next time!

Living a Life on Fire

When you describe something as being ‘on fire’, that can either be really good or really bad. It all depends on the context and the amount of exasperation or sarcasm packed into the sentence.

This is especially true when it comes to life.

I noticed a few weeks ago that I was constantly referring to my life as being “on fire”. What I meant was there are so many things going on all at once that I often feel completely at a loss when it comes to what I should do. The past few months I have felt like I am being pulled in a thousand different directions.

You have experienced that, right? Being torn between who the world tells you that you should be, the person the people around you need you to be, and the person that you want to be? That constant friction between desire in duty? It is a tough place to be.

If you leave your ‘duty’ to follow your dream you face the disappointment and disapproval of those you care about, but if you never allow your dreams to flourish you run the risk of living the rest of your life in regret, wondering what would have happened if you did.

So many people choose to play it safe, sticking with what they know because it is certain. And they spend the rest of their life ignoring that burning desire to do something different, the call to become who they were created to be.

This is something I have been struggling with for a while. The voice in my head tells me that I can never make it on my own, that I need to stick with what I know. Yet the voice in my heart is crying out that I can do this. It may take some time and it will not be glorious at first, but I may just be able to live the life I want.

I don’t want to live my life silently, suppressing that fire inside of me until it eats me alive. I don’t want to be that perfect girl who lives the way the world tells her too.

I want to let that fire loose. I want to live loud. I want to be so unapologetically myself that when people look at me they think “if she did it, maybe I can too.” I know that I was born to create. To craft stories that hold a mirror to the world to show people how things could be. I am done living my life with the thought that I could never make a living doing so. I am going to find my way and I am not going to let anybody stop me.

I know it is not going to be easy, but I am willing to try. This is the kind of ‘on fire’ I want my life to be. I want to live my dream while showing others that they too can live theirs. Too often have I seen other creators struggling with their insecurities, trapped by the thought that they will never be able to live that dream.

The fear that they will never be good enough.

The fear that all of their work is inferior, not worthy of attention.

The crippling pain of knowing their gift will never amount to anything. (which is a lie)

Everyone has a dream. Everyone has a desire to create something to make the world better. And I could geek out about this for HOURS.

That is why I want to create a podcast so I can share my passion and knowledge. I also want to help others share their passion and knowledge.  And I do plan on creating this podcast. I have some work to do to get things ready, but it will be happening sometime this year.

Because I am tired of waiting. I am ready to live my life.

Are you with me?

Dragon Age Appreciation

Since I started replaying Dragon Age Inquisition, I have been on a full-blown Dragon Age kick.

Mass Effect may have sparked my interest in game writing, but Dragon Age is what cemented it. I have always had a thing for fantasy worlds. I mean, I practically grew up on the Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter. I love worlds that have magic in them.

When I started playing Dragon Age: Origins, I had no idea what I was getting into. I knew it was a medieval fantasy world, there was something to do with Grey Wardens and darkspawn, and the world had magic. I knew nothing about the story or the tone. My roommate at the time knew slightly more than I did, even though she never played it before.

When it came time for both of us to start a new game, it was an easy choice. I had my PS3, she had her PC. With very little foreknowledge and nothing else to do, we dove right in.

By the time the intro was done I was absolutely hooked. It hit this sort of sweet spot both story and gameplay-wise that I didn’t even know I had. The more I learned about the game (from playing and from researching), the more I loved it.

The craftsmanship

Fun fact that I learned around the time I was playing DA2. The team that made Dragon Age spent 3 years crafting the backstory and the lore of the world before spending another 3 years developing the actual game.

And you can tell.

From the very beginning, you are immersed in this vast, open world that is embroiled in conflict, both social and physical. The decisions you make quickly begin to affect your story as you are recruited into the Grey Wardens. The level of detail when it comes to worldbuilding is astounding.

Throughout the three games, you keep learning more and more about the world, the people, and politics. You get to see life in Thedas from different viewpoints, and the NPCs surrounding you treat you differently based on your background and your race.

The complexity

As I said before, this world is intricate. From the start, there is a lot going on, the world is in chaos, and it is up to you to fix it.

Basically, when BioWare created this series, they were looking to create something dark and full of difficult decisions. They did a FANTASTIC job of this. I can’t count how many times I sat, staring at the TV for a full fifteen minutes, trying to figure out what I wanted to do.

Dragon Age 2 was especially good at this. It was a much smaller scale than the other two games. You weren’t trying to save the world, just save your family. The conflict still feels very large and real (and complicated) and you are smack in the middle of all of it. That’s not even counting the number of times I made inhuman shrieking noises when faced with some of those choices. It kills me every time and I love it.

Dragon Age Inquisition ups the ante even more, with you fixing the known world. You have to be very careful with your choices, else Thedas end up more screwed up than it started. And it started with a massive explosion descending the world into chaos.

Don’t even get me started on the Trespasser DLC.

The community

So, the Dragon Age fan community is ABSOLUTELY amazing. Any time I meet another fan, we become instant friends. I know people who could spend hours and hours discussing every aspect of the lore. We also have countless content creators both on YouTube and Archive of Our Own as well as cosplayers, graphic designers, streamers, and more.

Needless to say, the community that formed around this game is vast. Almost as vast as the open worlds of Dragon Age Inquisition. And it is only going to continue to grow as we introduce our friends to the game. Heck, this game has even inspired several women to become game developers.

These fans are dedicated too. The entire community exploded after BioWare released a minute-long teaser trailer for Dragon Age 4. It may not be coming out until 2021, but we are more than willing to wait.

Because we are Wardens, we are Champions, and we led the Inquisition.

We are ready for whatever comes next.

My Dreams for 2019

2018 was an…interesting year for most people. Very little went as I had planned it, so I had to do a lot of learning on the fly and adapting to uncertain situations.

I’m not going to lie, it was tough. It all worked out, though.

I can say with confidence that I am in a better place now than I was when I graduated. I have a good, stable job. I’ve made a lot of connections. I have learned a lot about business, entrepreneurship, and life in general. I honed my writing skills by delving into game writing and completing NaNoWriMo (for the first time in 7 years).

Now I am looking to the new year. And I have plans.

First off, I want to publish blog posts more consistently. I was going pretty steady for a while, but sometimes I get busy and it throws me off. I want to be more intentional about my posting. I want to start working on posts earlier, so that not only will they be done on time but they will be done well.

I also want to write more games. While most of my focus will be dedicated to my work with the writing team for Fallout Cascadia (relatively new project), I want to work on some ideas of my own. Most of these will be simple little games, but they will be good practice. Given my desire to one day work for BioWare as a game writer, I should probably get started somewhere.

Another goal is to finish the first draft of my novel. After NaNoWriMo, I realized that while I had learned a lot about the world and the characters, what I had written was a giant mess. I learned a lot about the world and the characters, but the flow needed a lot of work. I started rewriting it about a week ago and have almost hit 1,000 words. I want to have this draft done by the end of the year.

During Thanksgiving break, I got an idea for a project that I fully intend to pursue in 2019. I want to help authors with their social media marketing, both for themselves and their novels. Whether this ends up being on a purely freelance thing or grows into something more, I’m going to do it. I am still working out some of the details, but once I’m ready to roll I will definitely be sharing it.

I know that I have said before that I would be doing a podcast. Truth is, I still very much want to do one, I just haven’t decided how/what I want to do it on yet. I have a few ideas I am playing around with. I am hoping to have one of them ready to launch sometime this year.

There are a few other things I want to do as well. I want to get better at pixel art to the point where I can create animations. I want to try my hand at graphic design. I want to teach myself how to play piano on the keyboard we for some reason bought a few years ago and never used.

For me, 2019 is going to be a year of opportunity and growth. A year to try new things. A year to chase old dreams.

Whatever this year throws at me, I intend to live life to the fullest.  

What about you?

Analyzing the Story of Uncharted 3

About a month ago I finished replaying the Uncharted series for the 3rd time (1st time streaming). They are still by far some of my favorite games. I had an absolute blast sharing them with people.

One of the questions that kept coming up is “which Uncharted game is your favorite?”

The answer to that one is easy. The 2nd one, Among Thieves. The way the story is framed in the beginning grabs your attention and the rivalry between Drake and Flynn was very well done, with Chloe as their go-between. The villain was dynamic and intimidating. It was great.

A Thief’s End (Uncharted 4) is a close second, being the absolute PERFECT way to end the story. The story of two brothers working together to finish their mother’s greatest work, intertwined with a tale of obsession and the destruction it can create.

Then there is the first one, Drake’s Fortune, that started it all. It did a fantastic job of introducing us to the main cast of characters. The treasure was one whose name everyone is familiar with, the villains had interesting personalities, and the twist was very cleverly crafted. Without its success, the others might not have existed.

The third game, Drake’s Deception, is the least favored of the games. The story was not as strong and some of the animations felt a little weird (but that happens sometimes). It was not a bad game, it just was not as good as the rest of the series.

I have been thinking about it for some time now and after my last playthrough, I have a few ideas on how to bolster the story in a way that would improve the overall experience.

The name is Drake, Nathan Drake.

This game definitely has a James Bond vibe to it. I mean, it starts in a very British bar brawl and some super sneaky tricky spy stuff. The villains, Marlowe and Talbott, are supposedly members of a secret spy organization that has been in existence since the time of Sir Francis Drake.

There wasn’t much talk about the organization itself, though. I would love to have focused more on that aspect. What is their purpose? How did they know about Sir Francis Drake’s mission to find the Lost City of Ubar? How did they know there would be something there worth finding? Why do they want it?

It sometimes felt like they were leaning too hard into the James Bond vibe while neglecting some of what makes Uncharted unique. Nate is not a secret agent. He is an explorer, an archaeologist, a historian, and, most importantly, a thief. He makes mistakes. He makes bad puns. He is goofy. I feel like we didn’t get to see as much of that, but that could just be me.

There was also not as much focus on the history and lore surrounding the lost city and treasure itself. The game focused more on the competition with Marlowe and less on what they were hunting for. That could have played a part in why people did not get as invested in the story as they did with the other games. 

Who is Marlowe?

Marlowe, Marlowe, Marlowe. Where do we even begin?

She is very enigmatic, very British, and very lacking in a background. We catch a glimpse of her relationship with Sully in the flashbacks to how Sully met Drake. There is no explanation as to why she needed Sully to help her get the ring, why she wanted it, or even how she and Sully know each other. Throughout the entire game, Sully doesn’t tell us anything about her that we didn’t already know, even though it was pretty clear he knew her well given their embrace during the flashback. We also learn that she knows about Nate and how Sully took him in. Yet we are given very little information on her.

We also have Talbott, who is her second in command and obviously very attached to her, given his anger at her death (spoilers). That is all we know about him and their connection.

I want to know more about their position in the organization as well as their connection. I want to know why they have been sent on what is basically a wild goose chase. What are they hoping to accomplish?

If the ring fits

We know that Drake and Elena were together. They both have rings. They are obviously not together anymore.

I have two questions about this. Were they married or engaged? Some people may say it was married because he had a ring, but sometimes the guy gets an engagement ring as well.

Second, what did Drake do?! Things are definitely tense between Drake and Elena. He screwed things up somehow. We don’t know how long it has been since they broke up. I just want to know what happened!

All in all, it was not a bad game. The puzzles were fun and challenging. The scene with the plane was a lot of fun to play through. The Lost City of Ubar was absolutely gorgeous. And the ending was satisfying as we see Drake and Elena reunited once more. I just wanted more of the story and the culture and the mythos surrounding the lost city and the treasure.

I really did enjoy this game and I absolutely love the series. Analyzing the stories is a great though exercise and a good way to study story structure.

N7 and the Impact of Mass Effect

Happy (belated) N7 Day everyone!

In case you haven’t noticed, I am a bit of a BioWare fan. Especially Mass Effect. It was the first game series I ever played on my PS3. Can you blame me?

The love started long before that, though. My sophomore year roommate introduced me to the series. In fact, our bonding time included me knitting dishcloths (for Christmas presents) while watching her play Mass Effect. We made it almost all the way through all three games.

It wasn’t until I first played the games for myself that I was hooked. And man did I get hooked.

The music. The storytelling. The characters. The world. It drew me in. Enthralled me.

It was then that I decided that I wanted to write for BioWare. Playing through Dragon Age sealed the deal (more on that later).

I think one of the things I loved the most about it was the power of choice. I got to control the character. I got to control their personality, their morals, how they interacted with the world around them. I was Commander Shepard, and the crew of the Normandy was my family.

I wasn’t just going through the motions of playing a game, I was deeply invested. Even though I had already seen most of it, playing through it myself added more depth and meaning to the experience.

It was my first time ever being able to design my character and choose their backstory. The death of Jenkins hit me hard, as did Nihlus. I wanted to save them, but I couldn’t.

I felt a sense of validation when Garrus offered to help me take down Saren. Then Wrex offered to join after I took down Fist.

I was so nervous that I wouldn’t be able to get to Tali in time, and so relieved when I realized she was going to be okay.

I will never forget the sense of pride and accomplishment when I was made the first human Spectre.

The rest of the journey was a whirlwind of discovery and bonding with my crewmembers (especially Kaidan). Helping Garrus and Wrex right a few wrongs from their past further secured my feelings of friendship towards them. My heart stopped beating for a few seconds during the standoff on Virmire before I was able to get Wrex to stand down.

I will forever regret not being able to save both crewmembers on Virmire.

The second game was even better, with a wider diversity of characters and worlds to explore. Working for the Illusive Man felt a little weird, but the rest of the crew became family. There was a thrill that went through me when they revealed the Normandy SR2 (still does every time). It was tough, though, having to deal with the loss of two years. So much had changed.

The crew I gathered for the suicide mission soon became a second family, populated partly by old friends from the first game. The world became so much bigger.  

When we went through the Omega 4 relay, I could not take my eyes off of the screen. I hoped and prayed that I had not missed any of the upgrades needed to protect my crew, and I breathed a sigh of relief when everyone came out unharmed.

That entire mission was intense and satisfying. Though nothing was as satisfying as telling off the Illusive Man.

The third game was filled with heartbreak. I hated leaving Earth and cannot listen to that song without getting emotional. The whole process of building up the army and uniting the entire universe was tough, but oh so rewarding.

Having to play through Tuchanka and then going immediately to save the Citadel nearly left me in tears. How am I supposed to process the death of Thane when I am still getting over Mordin, who literally just died?

Then there is Thessia. I had no idea what was coming. I never made it this far watching my roommate. The pain in Shepard’s voice….

Don’t get me started on the Citadel DLC.

Long story short, this series was rich with ups and downs and events that I will never forget. That is thanks to the story and how it was told.

The story didn’t control me. I controlled the story. At least to an extent.

This was really powerful. It forced me to think hard about the situation, about what I would do. The game forced me to live with the consequences of my actions.

I honestly think this game made me a better person. It has made me more open-minded, more accepting of those who are different than me. It has also helped me form fast friendships with some really cool people.

The story of the game itself is kind of fascinating as well. BioWare had already published a few successful games, Jade Empire and Neverwinter Nights. They were basking in the spotlight after the success of Star Wars: The Old Republic (a great game). So they decided to take the leap and make something new. An IP that was 100% their own.

That is how Mass Effect was born. Since then a massive fan community has grown around it. It has helped people through depression, through loss, through very stressful times in college *cough cough*.

I also know for a fact that I am not the only woman inspired to become a game dev by these games. I was talking with a former TellTale game dev who is currently working on a new game with Mike Laidlaw, The Waylanders RPG, and she mentioned that she too was inspired by these games. Most of her friends were too.

This leap of faith has had an impact beyond anything the devs at BioWare could ever have expected. Today, people all over the world are celebrating this franchise and what it means to them. People whose lives have been changed for the better. People who have gathered into communities, who have come together to make a difference.

Mass Effect first released in 2007. Now it has a total of 4 games and a huge, devoted fan community.

It’s been one hell of a ride.

The best.