mellon chloe and the infinite sadness

17 09 2010

Normally when I write out my drafts, I rarely have a need to go back in and make any major changes. I do extensive preplanning for every story, and then use those plans to improvise the fine details. It’s worked well for me… with two exceptions.

One is Scout, in the original First Age series. I’d finalized those stories, then on the read-through prior to publishing the paperback version, I realized I’d made a serious error — I kept referring to him as feral and dangerous, but he never exhibits anything other than cool control over himself. So, I had to make a LOT of retcon revisions to the first chapters, to ramp up the tension he was feeling, the pull between his animalistic side and his need for self control. The end result? A more consistent and believable character, a steady progression from wild animal to dutiful soldier by the time he asserts himself in a04.

The second is Chloe, who was introduced in sa02, and is now a full cast member in London’s Fog.

In sa02, she was included mostly as a plot coupon. I knew her role, I knew her destiny, but her personality was another matter entirely. All I had for her was "I think I’m part of some grand scheme of things!" which isn’t really enough to build off of. In lf01, all she had was "Hey, I do too belong here! You’re a jerk!" which is a good initial stumbling block, but again, not enough to build off of.

So, for the Friday update, I’ve gone back and changed a lot of her dialogue and internal narration to help express a more solid character. It’s time to meet New Chloe. Behind the cut, you’ll find comparisons of Old and New text, so you can see the process behind the change (and not have to re-read everything).

Also, I’d like to point out the awesome "Join the Anachronauts Team" challenge I posted earlier this week. All you have to do to participate is talk up the story to your friends or on an online social network, and in thanks, I’ll write a ministory starring you in my little world. I’ve got one for StorytellerSJK posted now, as an example. Wouldn’t you enjoy having one of your own? And yes, promotional efforts you made prior to this offer being made available count too! Just follow the instructions on the page and claim your reward.

second age 02 – bargains

OLD: “Because it’s fake,” the girl said. “A real vampire would tear your jugular out and leave behind a dried out corpse. Real vampires don’t sparkle.”

NEW: “Because it’s fake,” the girl said. “A real vampire would probably tear your jugular out and leave behind a dried out corpse. Real vampires don’t sparkle.”

This is an incredibly minor edit, but I felt it was needed to soften her blunt dismissal of vampires as being nothing more than irredeemable monsters. “New” Chloe is more empathic and more willing to see things as they are… which means she would be more likely to believe vampires are dangerous rather than purely romantic figures, but wouldn’t make any absolutist assumptions about their morality. (PS: No, vampires still don’t exist in anachronauts.)

OLD: She considered the book, which had been lowered to her lap… and closed it, setting it aside with a shrug. “I’ve read it three times already. Whatever. I’m Chloe, and you don’t look very much like Rick Deckard.”

NEW: She considered the book, which had been lowered to her lap… and closed it, setting it aside with a shrug. “I’ve read it three times already. Don’t worry about it. I’m Chloe, and you don’t look very much like Rick Deckard.”

More softening of language. Chloe wants to reassure Benny that he’s not annoying her, that he isn’t unwelcome. Instead of a bored and snarky dismissal (“Whatever”) of the situation, she makes sure he understands that the interruption is perfectly okay (“Don’t worry about it.”)

Next. Benny suggests that Twilight was written to help naive girls become vampire chow…

OLD:“I’d always suspected as much,” Chloe spoke. She was smiling, now. A strange expression, on a face seemingly painted to be permanently depressed. The goth-from-a-kit look wasn’t suiting her, not anymore. If it ever did.

NEW:“I’d always wondered if that was true,” Chloe spoke. She was smiling, now. A strange expression, on a face seemingly painted to be permanently depressed. The goth-from-a-kit look wasn’t suiting her, not at the moment, as she enjoyed a conversation few other people could have enjoyed.

‘Suspected’ implies paranoia, that everything is horrible because of a vast conspiracy, when New Chloe’s more of a realist. True, she still thinks everything is horrible, but simply because that’s how the world is, not because of dark forces aligning against you. By “wondering if that was true” it’s a passing fancy, not affirmation of some secret belief.

The “wasn’t suiting her, if it ever did” isn’t going to work with New Chloe. The goth/emo look has an expressive purpose now, and isn’t just a disguise to hide behind. We’ll have more on that later in lf02.

OLD: “My point is, you’ve taunted, teased, run away, and now sucked me into whatever mess you’re in! …granted I was stupid enough to follow you, but I’m in this now, and… and I think I’ve got a right to some answers!”

NEW: “My point is, you’ve taunted, teased, run away, and now sucked me into whatever mess you’re in! …granted I was stupid enough to follow you, but I’m in this now, and… and I think I’ve got a right to some answers! –look, maybe… maybe I can help you, if you’re in trouble. I’m not afraid of you.”

It’s a common vocal gimmick for me to follow up an angry/excited statement with a dash, and then the character trying to bring things down a peg and talk sense. New Chloe isn’t just miffed that she’s out of the loop, she’s empathic, and knows something’s wrong here beyond just what this stranger IS. She offers her assistance, despite not knowing what’s going on, which helps dilute the petulant “I wanna knoooow” angle a little, too.

OLD: “I… okay. All my life I thought I was… meant to be part of something bigger. Something above all this, this world,” she said, with a gesture around her.

NEW: “I… okay. All my life I thought there was… something bigger. Something above all this, this world,” she said, with a gesture around her.

While she has Ye Destinye, I don’t think her emphasis right out of the gate should be “I’m special!”. Way too Sue. It’s important enough that she feels there’s more going on under the surface than her people (Eastusaians) are comfortable with. Being able to see the world as it is instead of as people wish it was is going to be a major aspect to New Chloe.

london’s fog 01 – alliances

OLD: “I requested the assignment, thanks,” Chloe said, narrowing her eyes. “I can do the accent. My ancestors were from across the pond. And… I have to go there. I’ve got a pull to it, a need to go. Petersen respects my weird little instincts. They’ve helped us track down and contain a lot of the mess your boss left behind in Los Angeles, you know.”

NEW: “I requested the assignment, thanks,” Chloe said, narrowing her eyes. “I can do the accent. My ancestors were from across the pond. And… I have to go there. Eastusa needs help, as it’s feeling like I’m the one to lend a hand.”

“Looking like, you mean?”

“Feeling like. …I get… look, it’s hard to explain. Feelings. Weird little instincts that say where I’m needed, what has to be done to avoid suffering. It’s how I’ve been able to keep the toys your old boss left behind from blowing us all up, out west. Now those feelings are telling me I should be heading out east. FAR out east. Petersen’s agreed that I need to be there.”

I rewrote most of the thing. This expands and explains what’s going on, how it relates to her plausibly sixth sense. It also softens things up a little so “the mess your boss left behind” is less of an accusation aimed at Benny.

OLD: All alone. Just her, the great hall, and the robot butler.

At least HE was comforting. Jeeves had done his finest to make her feel at home…

NEW: All alone. Just her, the great hall, and the robot butler.

Chloe was used to being alone, of course. She’d typically been a moody and sullen little girl, as if something about this world was perpetually depressing. Melancholy kids didn’t make a lot of friends, except with other melancholy kids, and without any of her tiny social circle around at the moment, a mechanical manservant would have to do.

Granted, his presence WAS comforting. Jeeves had done his finest to make her feel at home…

Inserted some background in there. We don’t have many chances to see melancholy Chloe, since the series started with a bang, so I wanted to get some mentions in there. We’ll see more of it later.

OLD: Chloe was arguably useful now — not just some college dropout, some shiftless basement dweller worrying her parents with the dark makeup and the spooky music and the tendency to make preachers at church nervous. She was legitimate. Sort of. And now… she was on a mission to save the nation from an enemy far stronger than they.

Her. The college dropout. The basement dweller. Can’t shoot a gun, can’t cast a spell, can’t swing a sword, can’t do anything except have weird feelings. Canary-in-a-coal-mine Chloe.

NEW: Chloe was no stranger to community service, mind. She was the gloomiest Girl Scout ever, quietly collecting merit badges for helping the elderly and the homeless. But even back then, she was largely an anonymous guardian angel; just another moody and sullen basement dweller worrying her parents with the dark makeup and the spooky music and the tendency to make preachers at church nervous.

ATF work was a step up in intensity, but to in the end, it was the same thing as being a scout. Lend a hand where you can. Whatever needed to be done to make the harsh world a bit less harsh. Even if it meant going overseas on a mission to save the nation from an enemy far stronger than they.

Her. The gated community suburbanite. The basement dweller. Can’t shoot a gun, can’t cast a spell, can’t swing a sword, can’t do anything except work in a soup kitchen. Oh, and have weeeeeird feeeeeelings. Canary-in-a-coal-mine Chloe.

Massive rewrite here. I decided in my rethink that it’s not like this is the first time Chloe’s done anything to help someone in need… the counterpoint to her “The world is a horrible place” viewpoint is “I should do what I can to make it less horrible, even if it’s still generally horrible.” A shiftless loser wouldn’t get involved with the men in black, but a quiet helper certainly would. (And she’s not a college dropout. She’s likely a sociology major with an eye towards doing non-profit social work.) (And the ‘wwweeeeird feeelings’ thing is to make fun at the Troi-like aspect of it. I was starting to take that bit too seriously.)

Now. A lot of this is “tell, not show,” but the key problem is that as noted we’ve had no time for Chloe to show. I think this is where the ‘bread for the beggar’ scene in lf02 is going to be critical. It’s the first real action she’s taken beyond getting annoyed at Benny. We’ll be seeing more of her actions that back up the tells we’re getting here as the story goes on.

For instance, in this massive edit, when Benny asks why Chloe wanted to come along…

OLD: “Yes. No. I mean, both. I mean…” she began… before letting out an exasperated little sigh. “I don’t know. It’s the right thing to do, okay? I just know it. I just know a lot of things, and right now, I know I need to go to England.”

“France. You mean France. That’s where the enemy’s shipyard is, that’s where we’re headed, after a few stopovers…”

“Yeah, of course, I mean that. Okay. I’ll admit… I’m not much in a fight, like Jesse. I’m not a genius like Gilbert. I’m not made of metal. And I can’t track down and obtain a 3/18 Stovington Squaretooth in under a minute. …I’m useless. By any sane definition, I don’t belong here.”

Benny frowned. “Hey. No, you’re not… look, you’re not useless…”

“If I’ve got a use, the universe hasn’t pointed it out yet,” she said. “But I’m here, now. I’m supposed to be here. You’ve just got to… I don’t know… take it on faith.”

NEW: “Yes. No. I mean, both. I mean…” she began… before letting out an exasperated little sigh. “It’s a lot of things. I told you I had a feeling this is where I need to be. But it’s not like I wouldn’t have come if not for that thing tugging me here. If this doesn’t work… if we screw it up… that means war. A stupid war, a horrible war, that really had no business happening in the first place.”

“Take it from someone who habitually arms both sides. Stupid, horrible wars happen all the time, and not much you can do to stop that.”

“Yeah, well… maybe I can help stop this one,” Chloe suggested. “One less war, one less terrible thing in this world for people to suffer through. I’ll admit… I’m not much in a fight, like Jesse. I’m not a genius like Gilbert. I’m not made of metal. And I can’t track down and obtain a 3/18 Stovington Squaretooth in under a minute. …I’m useless. By any sane definition, I don’t belong here.”

Benny frowned. “Hey. No, you’re not… look, you’re not useless…”

“Boxing up old clothes for homeless Fae war veterans isn’t a valued skill for an insurgency group,” she said. “But… I’m here, now, for what that’s worth. I’m supposed to be here. You’ve just got to… I don’t know… take it on faith.”

This adds a TON of new material, and changes Chloe’s reasoning from “I’m destined!” to “I’m destined, but there’s more to it than that, I just want to help.” It retains the general worry she has that she’s useless in this situation, which is important, considering she’s with three absolute badasses and she’s got nothing to her credit yet.

I don’t want Chloe to be the annoying little magical girl who has no purpose and no place and no personality, but is somehow incredibly important just because we say she is. She has to have motivation. She has to have depth. By giving her a selfless nature combined with a melancholy that drives her to help others, it adds some depth to her “I’m out of my depth” hook. A desperate need to be helpful even when she’s helpless.

I did have to drop a mention of France to fit in the new flow of dialogue, but it’s a minor drop.

london’s fog 02 – tribes

This chapter had less of Chloe (so far…) and needed far less work, because by this point I already had a good idea for who she is. The key was the bread and the beggar. Nobody else on the cast would’ve lifted a finger here, much less chased the kid down on foot in order to offer him some bread. Benny wouldn’t give a damn, Jesse wouldn’t give a damn (and was far too distracted) and while Gilbert is a nice guy, he’d have simply shook his head sadly and moved on to his own concerns rather than go completely out of his way in this situation.

But Chloe, who has a long history of trying to make the world a less depressing place, would jump right in with both feet and completely ignore common sense in the process.

I did make some minor tweaks…

OLD: “Awww, shoot,” she mumbled, looking into the non-bready abyss (which failed to look back).

NEW: “Sigh,” she sighed, looking into the non-bready abyss (which failed to look back).

This one’s mostly for gag value, but a sigh is more suited to her than a watered down curse.

OLD: “Doesn’t matter, anyway,” Chloe grumbled, tossing the basket aside. “It’s empty.”

NEW: “Doesn’t matter, anyway,” Chloe said, her arm carrying basket slumping slightly despite its lack of weight. “It’s empty.”

Again, less emphasis on frustration and spite and more on depression. Chloe should be reserving her anger for Benny; the world is what it is.

Lastly, this wasn’t changed, but I feel I should point out the flashback of President Petersen…

You’ve got a good heart. Good instincts to match. I could’ve sent a combat specialist like the four-stars wanted, but instead, I’m sending you. It’s going to be a weird world out there, Chloe; Pandora wasn’t kind to any of us, the visiting team or the home team. You’re going out there to make peace. Peace by compulsion if need be — peace by example if possible. I trust you to do what you can for the victims of Pandora. We’re all its victims, after all.

This is where I decided what Chloe should be. This paragraph wasn’t in my planning notes for the chapter, it happened very spontaneously… the concept that “we are all victims of Pandora” felt very appropriate, and very fitting for Chloe. The world is not what it’s supposed to be, and everybody transplanted here was uprooted and dumped into a by-design war zone.

Everything the anachronauts do is, ultimately, an attempt to stabilize the world and bring about peace despite the intentions of Pandora to make us kill each other. Petersen sees that, and Chloe sees that, and that’s what she’s going to do her best to do. In the end, she will play an integral part in that.

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13 responses

17 09 2010
jengagne

That should be “basket-carrying arm”, not “arm carrying basket.” But anyway…
These are subtle shifts but I can see why you made them. And given her newly-reedited drive to help out, combined with knowing she’s outclassed by the people she’s with… I can see why she would suddenly take off after a kid with a basket of bread. It feels like it comes naturally to the character now.
After all, something SHE can do presented itself. Something really trivial in the grand scheme, and perhaps foolish to run off like that, but I can see her going for it as a sort of opportunity regardless. (well, an opportunity AND just plain wanting to help.)

17 09 2010
jengagne

P.S.: I was amused by the StorytellerSJK ficlet (drabble? But drabbles are supposedly EXACTLY 100 words). Where’d you get the Hulk part of it, something he suggested/requested?

17 09 2010
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Will fix der typoen. (I’m also planning to go in and smooth out word choice/grammar a bit for a few of these. Some are clunky.)
And that’s exactly what I was trying to convey — that she’s proactive in terms of making the world a less horrible place. She saw an opportunity to do just that, something within the scope of her limited abilities, and jumped for it where none of the other characters would’ve.
One downside to all this is that it’s gonna change the climax of this particular chapter. Back to the drawing board…

17 09 2010
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

No, but I visited the blog he wanted me to link to and saw it was mostly about comic book reviews and news. He requested an Orbital. The rest wrote itself.

18 09 2010
lucilleliu

New Chloe seems softer than old Chloe, but it works for consitancy’s sake.

18 09 2010
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Which is what I was going for. Jesse’s serious and a hardass, Benny’s wacky and a hardass, Gilbert’s wacky and nice, so serious and nice rounds things out.

18 09 2010
pyromaniac_ks


I think I see an improvement to the D&D alignment system in the works!

20 09 2010
eyeless1

I’m a little concerned it’s too rounded out, to the point that it seems odd for President Petersen to pick her over someone who’d, you know, actually be useful in a guerrilla strike force. Petersen can’t possibly think this is a diplomatic mission, as one of the team members is a traitor who would likely be summarily executed if he is caught by the British authorities. This is a sabotage mission, and you don’t send the Girl Scout with stormtrooper aim on a sabotage mission.
So, we’re faced with the knowledge that Petersen is very unusual for an American President: he’d have to be, to deliberately spend political capital to go against his generals’ recommendations in order to make what, on its face, is a very tactically unwise decision.
The only way I can see him not being overridden is if Chloe’s performance in Los Angeles (and elsewhere) was very impressive indeed. Sure, she saved them from activating the Mister’s MacGuffin, though how would anyone ever find out that the MacGuffin she told them not to poke at was dangerous, if they indeed listened to her and stayed away from it? Where did she get the cred to be listened to, unless there were at least a few times when they didn’t listen to her and something bad happened?
It just rings a bit hollow. Even if she were Councilar Troi reborn, and a hero besides, I still have my doubts that such a person would make the cut to be part of a guerrilla squad, even by a President who would have to be almost suicidally pacifist. You have a team of four people who have to turn the tide against an overwhelming invading army, and for one of them you choose a soldier who “Can’t shoot a gun?” Someone with zero combat usefulness? Because you believe that you need to send someone peaceful to set a good example, as part of your guerrilla sabotage squad?

20 09 2010
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

In this case:
1. Petersen is very much genre aware and an idealist. It’s what’s allowed him to work closely with Emily instead of applying more caution. (Although he did insist on making sure their army was ready to go if her team fails.) He knows that the small team of disalike scrappies will have better chance of succeeding than a military commando unit.
2. He knows that the team is going to largely be untrustworthy and dangerous types like Benny and Jesse, as well as a guy who’s got a bone to pick with his former homeland. Without someone capable of lowering the tension and helping them see reason, that’s a volatile combination.
3. He also has better knowledge of Chloe’s genealogy than anyone else in the series.
It’s a bit thin, I’ll admit. But practicality has to give way to drama, sometimes. And Petersen’s just crazy enough to agree with that. He takes risks based on the people involved, rather than strictly evaluating the situation at hand. It’s why he took an agent with a few reprimands and sent her to Mexico, for instance.

21 09 2010
eyeless1

I guess what’s really bugging me is that, for a group with a decidedly combat-oriented goal, there is precious little combat capability. Benny’s combat role seems, so far, to be limited to bravely running away; Gil and J33-VES are entirely melee-focused, at least in the sense that neither owns or operates a gun or ranged weapon, Jesse is pretty melee-focused as well, and Chloe apparently can’t fire a gun to save her life. This is decidedly a step down from both previous Anachronauts teams in terms of firepower (Una at least had her laser pistol, even if she rarely fired it), even though the goal here is more aggressive.
There’s so little combat capability in this combat team it begs the question of why they didn’t add a fifth person to the team, one with some combat experience, at least to act as a bodyguard for the ones who can’t or don’t fight, someone preferably with some sort of ranged weapon. It makes me wonder if Chloe should have some sniper training or something, or at least basic target shooting experience.

21 09 2010
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

I guess I could add it (or just remove the “can’t use a gun” line) to improve surface credibility, but honestly, it’s not going to come into play. Notice Una didn’t actually shoot at much of anyone during the entire first age run, other than at a tea tray. Most action scenes in anachronauts boil down to fast, furious, and over in moments. My favorite being when Emily and Scout try to take down the talking plant in a05, and it floors them both in less than a second.
Also, this is an insurgency group, not an assault group. If they have to resort to fighting they’re boned, since they’re five people and England’s got an army. Combat skill won’t save the day. They have to work smart, not fight.

22 09 2010
eyeless1

That is a good point, and I’m being a bit pedantic even bringing this up. It just seems odd to me that what is essentially a commando team consists entirely of pacifists and melee attackers; I’d probably be making the same comment about a D&D team. :)

23 09 2010
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Look at it this way.
Benny: Rogue
Jesse: Twinked out frontline Fighter-Mage
Jeeves: Fighter
Gilbert: Mage
Chloe: Cleric
Think of it in terms of roles. Benny sneaks around being a nuisance while Jesse and Jeeves go ballistic on the frontline. Gilbert uses Math to control the battlefield tactically. And Chloe…….. well. You’ll see.

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