Excuses

by David Meadows 17. November 2016 23:55

Strikeforce chapter 12 has gone completely out of control.

It was supposed to have a short epilogue teasing the next chapter. Then the epilogue turned into a huge space battle that's taken me all night to write.

All I'm saying is, if I don't post a new chapter tomorrow it's not my fault.

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Week 23

by David Meadows 11. November 2016 20:07

This week I celebrate two milestones:

First, the site has exceeded 100 pages of content. Only 316 pages on my "to do" list now...

Second, with issue 12, the Heroes story reaches the end of its (arbitrarily decided) first volume, and a thematic turning point: the team's (I use the term loosely) first full adventure without their mentor, Don, and their growing acceptance of their role in the world.

This issue took a long time to write. I was doing fine until the last few pages. There I was, thinking the issue was about Fred, when I suddenly realised it was equally about James. (It's a constant problem with James: he's always pushing himself to the front of anything that's going on.) This stymied me for a while and I spent quite some time rewriting the last few pages to make them say what I wanted them to say. I then needed extra pages to make the ending work (and it still feels a bit rushed). You may have noticed that every issue of Heroes has been 22 pages long. There's no real need for this. It's a traditional length for comic books, but they do vary. And on the Web, I have no real constraints at all. I could use any number of pages I want to make the story work, as I have this month. But I like the discipline of keeping to the 22-page limit, so I'll keep this as a one-time variation.

Here are some stats for this arbitrary volume: 

12 issues
270 "comic" pages (my printed archive runs to 498 pages of text but I'm very generous with white space)
1,262 panels (that's 1,274 pieces of non-art, including covers)
67,073 words

This last figure is interesting: if Heroes was a regular book, it wouldn't even make a short novel. Yet I feel that I've told a lot of story in those words. Which supports my original thesis: a comic-book script is a very good format for a lazy writer.

Elsewhere, there isn't much more to this week's update. The Electron bio page got pushed back to next week, for reasons I can't quite remember (it's written but it's not in this update for some reason). So all you get for for your money is a rather pointless timeline of 2323, and an even more pointless entry on the Museum of Antiquities (honestly, I'm not even sure why I wrote this). 

The most interest new page is probably the history of troll rock -- yes, my universe has its own music genre. How cool is that? Troll rock (and its associated subculture) will crop up fairly often in the story, so it seemed worth talking about it.

Next update will be next Friday, as usual. 

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From Game to Story

by David Meadows 9. November 2016 22:19

(Number 6 in an occasional series. See sidebar for the others.)

I've described how this story started life as a game, and the steps I went through to create that game. But how did the game then become a story?

The game generates a lot of paperwork. Everything I plan to happen has to be documented, and that then has to be re-written to reflect what actually happened after the plan meets the players. At some point, I thought it would be fun to re-write it in story form rather than a dry history of "X went to Y and met Z", and that's how this web site came into being.

There are a few problems in making a role-playing game session into a work of prose fiction. For a start, game sessions aren't neat and tidy the way stories are. Players don't always follow my plots, either through pig-headedness or because they've missed some vital clue that I thought would be more obvious than it was. They go in the wrong direction. They explore the wrong things, say stupid things to the wrong people, and generally just act like a force of choas blundering through my plots.

Fiction writers talk about things called "story beats", which are the key moments that logically advance the story: X happens then Y happens then Z happens ... if these things don't happen in the right order (and with the right amount of dramatic pacing between them) then the story either makes no sense or feels flat.

Naturally, players excel at doing X followed by P, Q, F, skipping Y entirely, and blundering on to Z. It's just ... not dramatically satisfying. Oh, it's satisfying to play, but that's because the players are actively invoved. It's terrible to read afterwards. Even if it makes sense, the pacing is terrible.

So when I write the story I ... "adapt" it. Think about a Hollywood movie "based on a true story". There's no way the true story was as neat as the story shown in the film, but the screenwriter has "tidied it up" to make it feel dramatic while (hopefully) keeping the key factual elements intact. That's exactly what I do in going from game to story.

Go right back to Chapter 1 of Strikeforce. The big fight at the Institute for Temporal Studies? Didn't happen quite like that. Oh, it happened mostly like that, but it wasn't as streamlined, it was more dragged out. Electron's player tried numerous futile tactics against Killervolt, for example, and I don't think there was a moment of epiphany when he and Avatar switched targets, he just won through a lucky dice roll. I took liberties to change the fight from a challenging game to an interesting story.

I am also writing scenes that never actually occurred during the game. In a gaming session, the only events we play out are the ones that players' characters directly interact with. So when Strikeforce chapter 9 opens with two pages of various villains and other non-player characters interacting in the ballroom of the Haley Hotel, none of that happened "in play". The gameplay started when Strikeforce heard of the raid and reacted to it. But in my plan for the game, I had the villains doing those things -- I had to plan their actions, even if the players wouldn't see those actions, because the players would see the results of those actions and it all needed to make sense for them. So I have all these extra non-game events documented because they are actually a vital part of the plot, and I am writing them out when I think they will make the story more clear or more interesting for the reader.

The other thing to bear in mind is that I'm writing Strikeforce chapters nearly 30 years after we played those game sessions. I have notes of what happened, but I didn't record what words the players put into the mouths of their characters (it would be an impossible task). Even if I had, players improvising dialogue on the spot will rarely come out with the sort of carefully-planned, polished prose that a novel needs to have.

So I am completely inventing the dialogue when I write the story now. But I'm inventing it based on years spent with those players and those characters. I know the characters so well, I know how they speak. The characters probably didn't say those specific words at those specific times, but they could have and probably should have. I am confident that everyone in my story is speaking "in character", as far as my writing skills allow. This also extends to characters' thoughts, which would almost never be expressed in a playing session but I can extrapolate from my knowledge of how a player portrays his character's personality and motivations. So where a character's thoughts would add to the story, I'll make them up.

So, that's it really. What you're reading is not a 100% accurate transcript of what actually happened in the game. You're reading a "dramatisation" based on a "true story". And I hope it's suitably entertaining. If it isn't, that's my failure as a writer, because I know the game sessions are entertaining. Well, if they weren't the players wouldn't have been coming back every week for 30 years.

Would they?

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Coming soon...

by David Meadows 6. November 2016 19:27

I currently have a list of 639 potential cross-references to 300 pages which will eventually need to be written. Seems like the best way to tackle the problem is to write the pages that are pointed to from the most different places (on the assumption that these must be important if they're mentioned a lot).

So as of now, here are the most popular items:

Row Labels Count of REFERENCES
James 12
Electron 10
Scorpio 10
Jerome 10
Chi-Yun 9
Nightflyer 9
Don 8
Luey 7

Complicating things is the fact that several of these characters have big revelations in upcoming storylines, and I don't want to preempt them by doing a bio that will be either incomplete or have to undergo major changes very soon.

So it looks like the characters I will be doing over the next few weeks are Electron, Nightflyer, Don and Luey. In that order.

Just in case you were wondering.

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Week 22

by David Meadows 5. November 2016 19:04

Strikeforce have discovered that their team-mate Black Swan is in the clutches of their arch-nemesis, the Warscout.

They currently have no idea where to look.

'No idea' is normal for Strikeforce.

Yes, the Swansong storyline reaches its conclusion in Strikeforce chapter 11.

This is complemented by a biography of Black Swan herself -- but you won't want to read this until after you read the story!

Also new this week is an article on Don's customised, armoured recreational vehicle.

And there's a timeline of 2013 which documents several minor events that have been referenced in various stories.

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This is not America

by David Meadows 1. November 2016 20:28

It's important for any writer to research his story, of course. So when I decided to set this story in America, I did extensive research on American culture, society, and geography.

Or, to be specific, I watched a lot of TV.

This setting is not the real America. I have absolutely no idea what the real America is like. The setting I am using is an America filtered through Hollywood. So you might find it looks a little weird and functions a little unrealistically.

This shouldn't actually matter. After all, I'm creating a fantasy. The stage that the characters move across may be loosely based on the real world, but it is definitely not the real world. It is close enough to be understandable, I hope, and it functions as logically as the real world, I hope (not that there's very much logic in the way the real world functions anyway). But in the fine detail, things may get a bit wonky.

I'm armed with a Rand McNally road atlas, a comprehensive encyclopaedia, (with, I admit, a slight British bias), an Internet connection (of dubious real value), and a handful of American friends I can ask if something is really crucial. Everything else I draw from TV, movies, and of course American comic books.

If you need a rationalisation of why something isn't working right, I wave my hand and pronounce that the history of my universe deviated in at least some ways from the history we are familiar with.

So I'm not really going to apologise for anything. But, as always, I'm happy to get feedback on what went wrong.

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Same stuff, different day...

by David Meadows 31. October 2016 20:13

This week's update might be Saturday instead of Friday.

No reason. It just might be.

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Week 21

by David Meadows 28. October 2016 21:25

New this week: Heroes issue 11. The last thing Don said when he cut the team loose at the end of last issue was "keep a low profile". Do you think they listened to him? Here's a hint: the title of this issue, Low Profile, is entirely ironic.

The new factual article this week is an overdue look at the technical specifications of the Strikeforce Teleport system.

There's a new timeline for 1995, and with it I'm starting a new policy of including events that haven't yet been referenced in the main stories. So they won't mean much to you at the moment, but think of them as teasers of stories yet to be told.

You'll notice that the timeline formatting is a bit wonky for some events, but it's not major so fixing it is quite low down my to-do list. I have been reformatting the Who's Who entries, though, as the old format was overly fussy and not in keeping with the rest of the site's design. I haven't redone all the pages yet, but I'm working on it.

And that's probably it. Come back next week for the conclusion of the Swan Song storyline...

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Week 20

by David Meadows 21. October 2016 18:55

The Strikeforce story is back on track! This week you will find part one of the cleverly named (well, I think so) "Swan Song" storyline. Just why does Black Swan keep missing team meetings? The answers are in Strikeforce chapter 10!

Not much else this week. There are a few timeline updates in the History section, and there's a new article devoted to the Penal Colony on Titan.

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Just arrived...

by David Meadows 20. October 2016 13:24

Amazing that there are any of these left in the world in mint condition...

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About this blog

The Heroes Universe is an ongoing work of fiction, conceived and chiefly plotted by David Meadows, with help from a group of friends, over a 30-year period.

I am slowly documenting the Universe on this web site.

This blog is a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of that history.

If you're new here, the series of posts listed below will explain what it's all about. I hope...

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