anachronauts 01: Partial Rough Draft (Edited)

19 06 2009

It’s up here.

For those of you unfamiliar with my writing process, I post rough drafts as work in progress to the web. I gather feedback here in the blog, I use that feedback to streamline and polish, to work out the oddities. Then next time I update the draft, I post here again, and the process repeats. Once the draft’s done, I collect final comments, do a final editing pass for word choice and flow, and the chapter’s in the bag. On to the next one.

It’s a very living process, very much direct and interactive with you guys. If you like the story, I welcome your help in getting it off and running to a good start. Be aware that any suggestions you make legally are donated to me for free use without your own copyright claim, though. And in the end, I have to go with Artist’s Original Vision, if I disagree with a suggestion because I feel it’d go against my intentions with a piece.

Okay, that said… enjoy, and lemme know what you think. Thanks!

EDIT: The overall theme of comments so far is “I’m confused” and “It’s too fast”. Problem is, it’s fast and perplexing by design, to tease you with mystery and action and not provide the answers up front. Still, they’re legitimate concerns, and I think I have a solution — introductory diary entries by the Witch for both sections, which couch them in some context, and give them a framework to hang from. Not to give away the answers in advance, but to point out where and when each thing happens, and why.

I’ll have that draft up later today, when I have some time to work on it, and will start a new blog post — but keep sending Teh Feedbacks, because I’ll still be taking them into account in my next revisions.

EDIT #2: Since the content I’ve added is minimal… just the diary entries at the top of each section… I’ll keep this feedback thread open rather than start a new one. I’ll do a new blog post when I have a genuine whole section to add to the mix. Anyway, changes are now posted.

EDIT #3: Really not happy with the diary-context framework. It’s too heavy handed, makes things TOO obvious. I’m asking someone to cold-read it without those introductory bits… someone who hasn’t read the world doc or any previous drafts. If they can follow it, if they don’t give up, then I’ll nix them and just… I dunno. Accept that some people will be turned off by the mystery factor. I don’t wanna dumb it down to the point where it insults the audience. This is SUPPOSED to be a bewildering mashup.

EDIT #4: Alright, cold read was a smashing success. Even someone a bit fatigued after a day of work and distracted could follow it, following extremely minor tweaks. I’ll remove the diary bits and good riddance. LAST edit from me, honest — the next update will be a full blown additional scene update. I swear my drafting process is smoother than this, usually… I just wanted to make sure I got this right out of the gate.

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35 responses

19 06 2009
aj_hyena

I got through most of the Dryad and stopped. I think too much is happening too fast. I would stop the first “chapter” at the Dryad’s appearance, then the second one picks up from there.
I do think the Dryad is an excellent bit of writing though. :)

19 06 2009
cmdr_zoom

And then the Reavers Ogres mash the village flat, exactly as warned/foretold.
Not a bad intro. Definite shades of FO3, which I happen to be playing again at the moment.

19 06 2009
raigne

Not much else to say about the intro vignette. The action sequences read much better to me, and the parts that made me pause for a moment to go, “Wait, what?” are much clearer.
The new stuff is awesome. I can’t wait to read more.
Apart from minor grammar/spelling things (which I will leave out for now. since you’re doing two passes instead of one, you’ll probably catch them anyway) I saw only one thing that may need tweaking:
It was on the road to the Washington Memorial — not that the path got many tourists, but the ones who were willing to brave the trip to see what was level of that great city usually were adventuresome sorts, willing to tell and/or make up stories for the local barkeep.
It may just have been me, but I was tripping over the words in the sentence a couple of times, and the second part of it seems like a run-on sentence fragment the way it’s appended to the first part. “It was on the road to the Washinton Memorial” is alreadya complete sentence. I’d suggest breaking them up, and the rewording to turn the second part into a full sentence of its own should take care of the stumbling-over-the-words thing.
I can’t wait for the next part, so I can learn more about the Quest. :D
Also, it’s really exciting to be able to read roughs like this and talk to you about them. I am going back to school for English in the fall because I want to be a copy editor. Once I get a job in the industry, I’m going to be reviled by authors everywhere. :x

19 06 2009
pyromaniac_ks

Pedantry:
“Shaking his head, Edgar returned to the counter to fetch two bears and a soda pop from the fountain.”

19 06 2009
raigne

I saw four or five of them, in addition to that one. Now I’m wondering if I should just have listed them.

19 06 2009
shachihoko

First time really looking at any of this. Now I want to see a lot more. ^^
As for critiquing …
– People have already pointed out some typos (although “bears” instead of “beers” was the only one which leapt out at me).
– The cascade of developments during the initial scene had me going “okay, this is what kind of setting? O.o” in a manner of which I approve, but it did make things a little tricky to follow – not counting the mute highwaymen, that was about half a dozen characters in rapid succession, and if the characters hadn’t been as distinct as they are, that would’ve led to confusion.
– The current stopping point might make a good “end of episode” mark, although that depends a little bit on whether you want each episode to be a complete story in its own right as well as being part of a larger, still-integrated work. As it is, things are at a pretty good cliffhanger … but we have no idea who the four “heroes” were in the first section, if they were in the Olney bar at all.
Regarding the setting: I like, but I would really love to see the history laid out somewhat more clearly within the story. Not as an infodump, mind you – there’s enough of that already in laying out the present day. Weaving the necessary background into the story, considering the nature of the world, is going to be a tricky balancing act.
(Truth be told, I think this could be awesome as an RPG setting … ^^ I consider that a good thing – it’s a world I’d love to explore in a gaming context.)

19 06 2009
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

With my writing style, I only insert breaks (in this case, a horizontal line made of the series logo) when the actual location of the scene changes. I don’t do it just to punctuate action. If I break that style just for this incident it’d be a bit odd.

19 06 2009
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Actually, I use grammar and spellcheckers as I go — but they don’t always catch everything, particularly if the word is technically spelled right but isn’t the right word to use. So feel free to feedback on that so I can tune it up.
Thanks for the flow suggestion. I’ll look at that part next time I revise.

19 06 2009
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Well, maybe he WAS retrieving a pair of godless killing machines. c.c;;

19 06 2009
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

I was hoping it’d be clear the three heroes are definitely the three characters we’re shown to; one is referred to by name (Scout), the pointy hatted witch is clearly both pointy hatted witches, and while she doesn’t have much of a role at the bar the other one has white hair in each. I guess I could reenforce it by saying this is the point where their stories begin at the start of Edgar’s arrival.
The bewilderment factor is partially intentional — I wanted to open with a bang, rather than easing into it, where you’re not sure what genre you’re reading. Story facts will filter in as we go, but there’s no way to fit more in here without it being obvious exposition. Give it time. Answers are coming.

19 06 2009
tozetre

“We will have your three least interesting drinks.”
XD
I really like it, which isn’t a surprise. The description of the dead-eyed-boy, though, feels a little more… he sounds emo rather than dead-souled in his dialogue. And you might want to mention his being “ferally scawny” in the earlier description, because with the bartender’s descriptions of kung fu flicks, it creates the image of a fit young man kicking ass. Just toss in a “gaunt” or “half-starving” or something? I dunno.
Anyway, great stuff! Keep it up. b^_^d

19 06 2009
jengagne

Can’t blame you for putting in your suggestions-donated warning above… particularly when people sometimes post anonymously, never to return.
Now, off to read!

19 06 2009
gracefuldawn

There’s a javascript program out there that uses some clever placement of normal letters and extended language characters to let you type “upside down” if you want to put those in plain text instead of an image.
http://www.sevenwires.com/play/UpsideDownLetters.html
ǝʇɐɯıuɐ ǝʇɐɯıuɐ ǝʇɐɯıuɐ
Still reading, but enjoying what I’m reading so far :)

19 06 2009
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

I used that originally, but some folks said their browsers couldn’t display the characters. Still, I like that better than GIF text, so I may reverse that decision and to heck with older browsers. I put the “spells” into Dreamweaver library items so I could change them at any time, easy peasy.

19 06 2009
raigne

Okay, then here are the ones I caught on my read-through:

“Those ones would always come back with something interesting, either gear from a dead city, an Fae artifact, or at least a tale of barely getting out alive.”
I got a real good luck at them from above. They were marching in a perfect grid formation! Ogres don’t DO that!
“Will your surrender to custody for the time being, until I can at least sort out what to do with you?”

Guess it was just three more.
Something I paused at on my first read through, but brain wasn’t functioning enough to pinpoint what made me double-take.
“Despite being a ferally scrawny boy, he had plenty of strength to restrain a witch of equal years to him.”
Ferally sounds like fairly in my head. I’m not sure if ferally is a word. Feral is already an adjective. (Not that I have a problem with made up words, but I don’t know how you feel about them so I thought I’d point it out.) The way the sentence is written, both words look like they are modifying boy. If they are, there should be a comma between them. If ferally is modifying scrawny (as in scrawny like a feral animal, emaciated, wirey, etc.), you may want to find a different way to phrase it. Without that pause, it still sounds like fairly, but the pause only fits if it’s describing the boy himself.
And some things I picked out on the second read through:
“So, when a group of travelers of Mysterious Origin show up at the Olney Tavern (…) Edgar knows he’s got his work cut out for him and the rewards will be great indeed.”
You jumped from past tense to present tense. The sentence immediately after it, in the same paragraph, is past tense again.
“the third figure, wider and distinctly more grumpy than the others stated.”
Should have a comma after “others”, to mark the end of the parenthetical phrase, or it seems like you’re saying that the others had stated he was wide and grumpy.

19 06 2009
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

*jots down notes* Rightyo. All that will be addressed in the next draft release, after I’ve had some dinner. Thanks a bunch!

19 06 2009
cmdr_zoom

For what it’s worth, I didn’t have any problems with the funny characters (running Firefox 3) or, for that matter, figuring who was who or what was happening before. As a result of the latter, the new draft feels almost over explicated now… in particular, the intro removes any sense of surprise when the other characters enter the action.

19 06 2009
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Hm. What if I chuck the diary entries, then? Maybe just adding in the names will be enough, since they peg down the characters. Then if I find ways to work the names into the second section (but not obtusely; I doubt I can get Emily’s in, just Una’s) that may do it.
It’s hard to tell what I should do here, when I have several people saying it’s bewildering, and several saying it’s just fine. Err on the side of caution and insult the intelligence of those who catch on quick, or err on the side of mystery and lose a reader before they’ve even finished scene one?

20 06 2009
raigne

I wonder if people who are confused are actually turned off that much by the confusion though.
I didn’t see anything wrong with it, and I know I do not always catch on quick. The opening was never so complex to me that I couldn’t figure out what was going on. You introduce a large number of characters in rapid succession, but apart from the things that I thought needed ironing out in the last thread, I understood who each of them were right away.
I kind of attribute the difference in opinion not to the opening being too complex, but more to readers’ tastes. Some people like a slow opening, building up to the kind of scene you start with, and others want to jump right into the action. It’s possible this just isn’t the kind of story they’d choose off a bookshelf, but are reading because it’s *your* story. Kind of how all of Neal Stephenson’s work does not appeal to most readers. Most readers like only some of it, and differ on which parts they liked and which they didn’t. Stephen King’s another good example. A lot of people love The Dark Tower and don’t really care for his horror stuff. Some people like the earlier horror stuff but not the later stuff, his short stories but not his novels, the oddball stuff that doesn’t fit in either fantasy or horror, the stuff written only under his pen name… I have met very few people who like all of it indiscriminately.

20 06 2009
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Yeah. I’m gonna chalk this up to taste — or a sort of litmus test. The sort of reader who can stick with it through a rapid, mysterious intro are the sort who will stick with it throughout. I can live with that.
I’ve made one final editing pass, to remove the diary-based context intros, do some minor tweaks. That’s it. Next update will have, y’know, some NEW scenes.

20 06 2009
jengagne

Reread — Lira said she didn’t initially realize what you meant; she could see the crazy characters after all.

20 06 2009
raigne

It wasn’t in the same place that she said she couldn’t see them though. I almost missed it. She mentioned it in the thread about the logo.

20 06 2009
Anonymous

I’m loving it. It’s great to see you writing stories again: can’t wait to finish the first chapter!
Onto a few niggling concerns:
-the spell words were pretty clever but also obvious. Depends on where you wanna take it, but you might want something a little more arcane (harhar) if you want it be more mysterious.
-“Surrender? To the likes of you?!” seemed a little too clever, for my tastes.
-“it’s usually time to use the pants lavatory.” seemed a bit more crass than what I’m used to from you
-I can see where you were going with Emily’s monologue (specifically, her attempts to get the dryad to stand down, with the meekness followed by, “I demand parley, damnit!”,) but it seems a bit stilted and forced to me. You’ve pulled off the archetype well in the past, so I know you can do better.
Niggles aside, it was pretty damn awesome =) Looking forward to seeing the rest of it!

20 06 2009
Anonymous

Oh, and I forgot to add that I love the in medias res aspect of the opener, and wouldn’t have it any other way

20 06 2009
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

They’re a bit obvious, but that’s fine. I think the font twist and the descriptive prose around them describing them as words that are not words, etc will couch them in enough mystique. The only other option was some silly made-up language or faux latin, and I felt that was too cliche. Screwing with the word orientation was more novel.
I love those two lines too much to drop them, afraid. Clever meta bits are kind of my thing.
I MIGHT rework Emily’s speech a bit, depending on how the next scene reads. I always need a dialogue or two to really figure out a character. But so far her voice to me is one of well-intentioned bossiness and grumpiness… someone who wears her frustration on her sleeve over the injustices of the world and the stupidity of others.

20 06 2009
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Well, I can always replace them again with GIF text if I gotta. Let’s see how this plays out across browsers first, though. Fortunately I built my authoring system with flexibility in mind, so making the change is a 15 minute affair no matter how much story I’ve already written. (Coders plan ahead!)

20 06 2009
raigne

Artifact of converting to names:
“Emily, If I drop my shields,”

20 06 2009
lirazel

To clarify: I am seeing a bunch of squares and odd-looking “u” thingies for the spell. I can see the Anachronauts logo fine. I thought that’s what was the thing I couldn’t see.
“Older browsers” shouldn’t include IE 6… lots of companies still use it as their primary browser, since most of their business support programs use it. (Oracle, for instance, has NOT moved to Vista, IE7, or any of the Office 2007 programs. That’s 84,000 people.) If you are like me, you keep your home computer and your work computer in a similar configuration, so as not to run into issues.

20 06 2009
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Drat. Okay, so it’s more widespread than I thought. Even my own office uses IE6.
Okay, I’ll throw the switch and go back to GIFtext.

20 06 2009
raigne

What was it about the script that you liked better than the image? Was it just the ease of playing with markup to change it and having the library items, or was it something about the font itself?

20 06 2009
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Using an actual font meant that the… I don’t know the terminology, here… dippy-down parts of the letters dippy-downed properly. Things like p and y and q fall below the baseline for the font, see? With GIF text I don’t get that. If there’s a stem like that, it’ll push the entire word up. You don’t see it much with ǝʇɐɯıuɐ, but try out sɹǝʇʇǝ1 11ɐʇ ɟo sʇo1 ɥʇıʍ spɹoʍ.

20 06 2009
raigne

A little bit of CSS to shove the image back down again should fix that. If you’re concerned about it messing up the kerning between the lines, you can use CSS to fix that too, as long as you’re cropping the white space around the words as close as possible. Just give the margin-bottom a negative value, and it’ll make the elements around it ignore it in terms of page flow.

20 06 2009
raigne

Also the terminology for the dippy-down parts of the words are called descenders, and the parts that rise above the meanline, or x-height (like the stem on an “h”) are called ascenders.
Not correcting or lecturing you, but I’m a typography geek, so I am in a position to be able to give you the information and hope it’s not irritating. I know most people do not find type to be as fascinating as I do. :x

20 06 2009
raigne

And after that… it’s not kerning, it’s leading. The space between lines. Kerning’s the space between letters. I fail.

21 06 2009
kamalloy

Have only skimmed the post-initial scene parts so far, but the mention of Olney made me grin. A lot.

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