The Storium Kickstarter Is Live

For the past year or so, I’ve been working with Protagonist Labs to build the beginnings of a new online storytelling game called Storium.

With Storium, players devise stories and explore fictional worlds through those stories. It’s part story game and part writing game, fused together with lessons learned from asynchronous multiplayer, board games, roleplaying games, play-by-post games, online RP and fan-fic writing, built into a new web-based experience. It’s imaginative play in a new context.

Today, Protagonist launched the Storium funding campaign on Kickstarter!

We’ve gathered phenomenal writers and designers to help us build myriad worlds for players to explore and expand through play. To pay those creators and fund their worlds, Protagonist has looked to Kickstarter. So, after a year of working without pay on the project, Protagonist is opening up our beta phase to Kickstarter backers and seeking support to fuel development in exciting new directions.

We hope people will connect and play through Storium for years to come. The project aims to expand to reflect and support a new culture of play with a site that’s not just fun but fulfilling. This is the start of something.

Imitating to Learn

As you can see in the sidebar, I’m working once again on a novel. It’s a simple thing — a good one, I think, but one in which I’m comfortable making a lot of mistakes and learning to correct them. This is the book I’m grinding away at to earn experience points so I can level up and be good enough to write the story that I thought might be my debut novel … but won’t be. Instead, I hope this one shall be my first published novel, maybe the beginning of a series. I’ve  wanted to be a novelist since I was young.

Writing this novel, though, I find that a lot of my doubts are based on how other writers might write the stuff that I’m writing. The action scenes and the exposition are especially areas where I find myself cracking open some books I admire and studying how others might write this duel or that bit of swordplay. (Dialogue, though, I’m very comfortable with.) I’ve got my characters and my story about where I want it … but not the voice for this novel. Not yet.

Imitation is one way to learn, of course. It helps us get solid ground underneath us. It can help get that first draft realized. But it’s also something to outgrow.

The nature of this story is that references and allusions to other works in the genre — adventure and fantasy — are not only fitting but, on some level, probably inevitable. The genes of some precursor stories are in this one and I’m not afraid of that. And yet it’s vital that this be my story, my telling, my world and characters.

Still, I’ve caught myself more than a few times rewriting with a dangerous doubt in mind: “This isn’t how some other writer would do it.” Which is a kind of bullshit. I’m not that other writer and, whoever they are, their books are taken care of. I’m not ghostwriting, here, pretending to be me. I’m me.

Creation is risky. What if I end up being the only person in the world who wants to read not this story … but this story told in this way? I’ve outlined my tale and gotten to know these characters, but what if I write that story just plain wrong enough to blow the whole opportunity?

Then that’s the way that goes. Simply put, there’s no way around it. Write again. Write the next one. Fail better.

It’s okay to lean on the lessons learned while drafting, I think, but the finished novel’s got to stand up by itself. It has to eventually be okay that I write the way that I write — and that you write the way you write — because that’s where the lightning strikes.

As I hear Horace put it:

Pindarum quisquis studet æmulari,
Iule ceratis ope Dædalea
Nititur pennis, vitreo daturus
Nomina ponto.

“He who studies to imitate the poet Pindar, O Julius, relies on artificial wings fastened on with wax, and is sure to give his name to a glassy sea.” — Carmina, IV, 2, 1.

Man of Steel in Motion

Spoilers follow.

At first, I dug around some of my favorite sites for writing about movies, looking for examples of the critics writing about what doesn’t work in Man of Steel. By now, though, you’ve probably heard, read, or thought all those things, too. Simply put, the mayhem and destruction in the film may be too much. Superman’s actions either cause or allow too much damage to be wrought on the people of Kansas and Metropolis, many have said, and I agree with that. The climactic action of Man of Steel is too costly in human life even for a mythic yet novice Superman.

(That director Zack Snyder wanted it that way is telling. It’s a choice, and a choice he’s allowed to make as the painter of a Superman story, but it doesn’t work for me.)

That ending doesn’t undo everything I liked about the movie, however, and I liked rather a lot of it. The whole first hour of the film crafts bold, beautiful worlds on Krypton and Earth. It is earnest to the point of being pulpy, even cheesy, and I am fine with that. My favorite parts of this movie are when Superman talks with humans, including that final scene in the Daily Planet offices.

This incarnation of General Zod may be my favorite version of the character. He’s crazed from the get-go, dangerous and devoted and fanatical to his cause. His trajectory through the picture is the real propulsive force and the reason why the movie is so hyperactively violent. Thanks to Michael Shannon, especially, I felt like this was his picture — scary and bombastic because of his villainy.

That’s sort of a shame for what amounts to our reintroduction to Superman, I think. I think Henry Cavill is a terrific Superman. At once modest and powerful, doubting but driven, his relationships with his human and alien fathers is well handled by the actors of Clark. I’m eager to see another Cavill performance in the cape.

And that’s the best thing about Man of Steel for me. This is a deeply cinematic vision for the character and his world, building on stuff we already know about Superman and remixing it in ways to give the stories the right pace and style for the movies. I love that Lois Lane won’t spend the franchise trying to figure out who Superman is — we’re only likely to get a handful of stories with these characters before another reboot, so some of the tales that worked in the serialized comics won’t play as well here. I’m excited to see the Clark/Lois dynamic in the next film, thanks to this one.

Above all, though, the Kryptonian action of this movie — from Jor-El to Zod’s cadre to Kal-El — is all about motion. We get some strong visual portraits of Superman that would work in the comics, like that shot of him in the custody of soldiers, his hands bound. But we also get moments that work best in motion, like the casual breaking of those handcuffs and the use of Superman’s cape throughout. The shifting snow and pebbles before he takes flight might not play on the page like they do in the theater. That’s good stuff.

This movie doesn’t feel like it’s meant to be the core depiction of the character. This story plays with what we know and expect, fitting into the larger mythology of Superman in a way that I think is right for a reboot in an age when comics and movies and television are all interacting with each other in new ways. This isn’t a definitive Superman, this is a distinctly theatrical vision.

Here, moving images reign. The comics’ tableaus and heroically statuesque visuals rule a different realm. Let each form do what it does best.

For me, the cinematic Steve Rogers of Chris Evans and Marvel Studios is still my preferred superheroic do-gooder (and I’m very excited to see Captain America develop further on screen in The Winter Solider), but I have room in my roster for this new Superman, too. Here’s hoping the next movie adventure of the Man of Steel learns a lot from this first one, though.

Addenda:

Hans Zimmer’s score worked so well in the movie, for me, that I went and bought it right after. Alas, it doesn’t work outside the film as well, for me, but some of its key motifs remain really powerful.

I dug the amount of sci-fi flavor in this film (though I’d like to see this Superman foil a bank robbery, too). This galaxy makes me a little afraid of what might come to threaten Earth next, which makes me feel like Superman’s role as our world’s galactic protector is nicely underlined.

Someday maybe I’ll get to pitch my sci-fi vision for a futuristic Superman miniseries or story. I have just one good Superman story I’d like to tell.

Denial is the Supermeh

Look at me, at my blog, at my life and work and self-identity, and it may surprise you to learn that I feel like a fake geek. It’s because I have something to hide. I liked Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — I almost certainly liked it more than many geeks or nerds will say they did — and you know what? Fuck you for making me feel bad about it.

This isn’t about seriously disavowing serious topics for serious reasons. This about denying the existence of sequels you didn’t like. This is about the ultimate dismissal of an artist’s work because you don’t want to process it. Vanity. Pretend a food doesn’t exist because you’re allergic — not because you don’t like it or don’t know how to chew it.

This is like saying “meh” on a grand scale. John Hodgman described meh as “the essence of blinkered Internet malcontentism. And a rejection of joy.” As Hodgman put it, “It’s part of the toxic Internet art of constant callous one upsmanship.”

Denial is the supermeh.

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Odyssey in the Wild

Odyssey: Journey and Change

Odyssey: Journey and Change

Odyssey, my story game of journeys and ever-changing characters, is now available for sale at DriveThruRPG.

I honed this game through multiple playtests after realizing it was a great fit for burgeoning writers. We’ve played it quite a bit at the Shared Worlds writing camp, where I’m an Assistant Director. I’m pretty happy with how this game turned out.

You can play Odyssey in any setting, with any characters, usually in just a few hours. It plays best with 3–6 players, a small bit of prep at the table, and no GM per se.

Have at it and let me know what you think?

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