28 Jun 2013

Subject 13 Issue 26 - Extracurricular Investigation

[As always, reader discretion advised.  Nasty swears.]

"Break it up already," Nasty said.  She shook her head at the sight of Somei and Christine trying to wrestle.  "Have either of you ever fought?"

The two girls separated from each other.  "Does kindergarten count?" Somei asked.

"No," Nasty snapped.  Of course they don't know.  Pampered bitches wouldn't know what a real smack feels like.

27 Jun 2013

Subject 13 #25 - Commentary

By this time, I believe I had taken a course to help improve my writing.  I had long since left the job from hell, so I wasn't needing an outlet for work frustration.  Both elements led to a broader story, one where Nasty isn't in as much control as before.

One of the elements discussed in the course was grabbing the reader's attention.  Lead off with something that makes the reader want to keep reading, to find out what is going on and why.  Thus, the fight between Christine and Somei, with the added feature of a jump cut, something that books can only get by a page break.  After the first paragraph, it's the revelation of what is going on, except, I don't have Nasty around.  It is her title, so she should be there.

The next major revelation is Nasty is there, up in the rafters.  The skirt is now officially a running gag.  It's all rehearsal for a school play by the Drama Club.  Back in Issue 24, Cynthia invited Nasty's help in the club.  Now we find out part of what she wants.  Part of it is to help run the technical elements; not everyone can or even wants to be on stage.  The other part is to assist Cynthia.  At this point, it's to be honest about what she sees.  What she sees, though, isn't pretty.

Nasty also shows her more down-to-Earth side; she doesn't put up with superstition.  For those who aren't aware, Macbeth is allegedly cursed, with bad things happening to anyone who says the name of the play while working on it, up to and including death.  The appropriate way to refer to Macbeth is to call it "The Scottish Play".  Nasty, from her reaction, has already had to study the play.  The scene ends with Nasty agreeing to help Christine and Somei make the fight look good without killing themselves, and a hint at what's to come at the football game, the one at the stadium the Pyro Twins want to burn down.

That evening, Nasty decides to investigate on her own.  Her own thoughts are starting to side with the Pyro Twins; Nasty's had enough of Fieldson and her dual life and it hasn't been a week. But, she's a hero, she must thwart evil, even if she understands why the evil-doers are doing the evil.

The motorcycle Nasty rides is now, officially, the Peregrine-cycle, at least for the purposes of the commentary and any wiki I might create for the series.  It's a nod to the Adam West /Batman/ series.  Peregrine's costume is also suitable for the weather; one idea I did keep in mind for Nasty's stint as a sidekick was that her costumes wouldn't be stripper-iffic.  Power Girl can get away with a boob-window; her costume probably can't withstand as much as her own skin.  Nasty, however, isn't bulletproof.  She needs a costume that can protect her as much as possible, from stray bullets to road rash.  The idea gets explored more in Crossover, a novel-length story featuring Nasty and two other supers from the S13-verse that I hope to get published at some point.

The issue winds up with a chase and a classic comic fight.  Subject 13 is, at its core, a superhero story.  Certain elements need to appear from time to time, such as costumed crooks being defeated by the heroine.  Nasty does the work in her own fashion, which means threats and a reliance on swearing.  It's an element that needed to be dealt with.  First, I was done with the job from hell, as I mentioned above.  I wasn't feeling the need to launch a verbal nuclear first f-strike with callers; they were long gone.  Second, professional heroes have an image to uphold, especially when one is the sidekick to a premier level hero.

Fortunately, Anne makes for a decent mentor.  She knows that there's more to Jessica than she's being told.  She knows that Jessica is just a teenager, one that is rough around the edges.  Anne's willing to give second chances.  She wants an effort from Jessica, not just platitudes and excuses.

The end with the Consortium team shows that the alties involved in the chase weren't just random.  It's a small twist, enough to show the audience that they're still around and working.

Tomorrow, the pressure is on to find Cinder and Ember.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Lost in Translation looks at Man of Steel.
Coming soon, more NaNo prep work, more Traveller, and other insights.

23 Jun 2013

Fun With Traveller - The Darrian Wanderer

Previously, in preparation a potential NaNoWriMo work set in the Spinward Marches, I created Philomena, an Imperial lawyer, and Spencer, a detatched Imperial Scout.  Spencer has access to a Scout/Courier, which still needs an engineer.  Spencer can handle the astrogation and piloting.  Philomena qualified as a back-up pilot thanks to her time in the Imperial Navy, and can man the ship's gunnery turret.  But neither are engineers.

21 Jun 2013

Subject 13 Issue 25 - Stake Out

[As always with Subject 13, a mature language warning.]

The two girls grappled, trying to push each other to the ground.  Bystanders stood back, watching the battle, avoiding being caught up in it.  One of the girls, a tall brunette, threw a wild punch over the head of her opponent, a Vietnamese girl who easily ducked.  The tinier girl rushed the brunette, catching her off balance and bowled her to the ground.  They landed with a thud and a crack.  The brunette winced with pain and clutched her elbow.

20 Jun 2013

Subject 13 #24 - Commentary

Again, please read the issue before continuing.

A cold Rochester morning.  Nasty is not a morning person.  The school uniform isn't helping.  Rusty sympathizes, at least when it comes to weather and the skirts.  Nasty now just has to learn to relax, despite being an escapee from some mad scientist's lair.  Have to feel for Rusty; she's trying to be friends with the new girl without realizing that there's a load of issues being hidden from her sight.

Clubs weren't a big deal when I went to high school.  They existed, but they weren't mandatory.  That lack of mandatory-ness meant that when I found something to join, I didn't feel the need to reject it out of hand.  For Nasty, though, and based on what I've read on the Internet and what I've seen in fiction (thus, taking everything with a heaping spoonful of skepticism), Fieldson requires club membership of its students.  Nasty isn't worried; she's there to find the Pyro Twins before the week is up and then she's gone.  But, undercover, she can't just say she's leaving soon.  Crash course on police work.

The skirt.  Go back to last week's commentary and see the difference between what Nasty's skirt is and what she thinks it is.  See also why I'm writing the series instead of drawing.  The hemline is higher than Nasty prefers.  Rusty, again, sympathizes, having worn the uniform far longer.

The art teacher really isn't based on a teacher I had.  The one I had in grades 7 and 8 was more known for drinking.  When he retired and the art room cleaned up at the end of the school year, many a bottle got pulled out of cabinets.  Sure, the bottles were used for class and they weren't all wine bottles, but people speculated.  I never took art in high school; the course conflicted with music, IIRC.  Ms Funke just sort of... happened.  She's not quite there, but she knows her art.  A force of nature, really.

The lack of permission slips let me get Cynthia alone with Nasty.  There's a definite difference between the two girls.  Nasty's language is laced with obscenities and she's not afraid to let loose with a cluster f-bomb.  Cynthia, though, while not swearing, has a far sharper tongue, one that she has used to cut other girls down with.  And then comes the offer that Nasty can't refuse.  Cynthia has a decent read on the new girl, noticing that Nasty isn't trying to push her way into an existing clique, and that could be useful.  In return, Nasty gets an in with her main suspects.

Tomorrow, crime continues even when a sidekick is on a mission.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Lost in Translation looks at The Guns of Navarone.
Coming soon, more Traveller fun and more NaNo 2013 prep.

16 Jun 2013

Creating Characters I - Where Do They Start?

I've talked a bit about where some character ideas come from in previous NaNo Prep 2013 and Subject 13 commentary posts, but now it's time for a bit of depth.

There are a few ways where I get a story idea.  One is by taking an existing idea and twisting it somehow.  Another way is a character idea pops into my head, mostly fleshed out already and needing tweaking.  A third is looking at a genre and working out a general story idea that fits or plays with the basics.

Working backwards on the above list,
The genre story.
Typically, I'll look at the genre first, then fill in the needed roles with characters.  The MSTing crew back in my Shadowrun intro began this way.  A typical group of runners in the game needs a magician, a hacker, some muscle, and a getaway driver.  I don't state it outright in the story - I was using it to establish characterization for a larger story - but, hopefully, it could be inferred that Treehugger is the getaway driver, that Charles is the muscle, that Numbers is the hacker, and that Oswald is the magician.  Other stories I've worked on were similar; a group of magical girls, with personalities painted with broad strokes at first, then nuances brought in.  The central magical girl was friendly, easy to get along with, empathic, everything needed to pull her team together.  Her younger sister was more impatient, not willing to sit still when something happened.  The best friend was a shy athlete.  The reluctant magical girl was an ambitious workaholic, whose rival was flirtatious.  The sixth magical girl was the opposite of the workaholic; fun-loving and easily distractable.  The Traveller story I'm working on has ship-based needs to fill - a pilot, an astrogator, a gunner, an engineer.

However, just filling the role isn't enough.  The characters do need to feel real when the story gets read.  The first chapter needs to establish the characters, but they need development.  Thus, with the Shadowrun group, I wrote the MSTing, with each person in character somehow, whether it was in the interview or in commentary.  Numbers managed to present a professional side and a personal side she shares with her comrades while Oswald displayed cynicism and a sardonic wit.  With the magical girls, the broad strokes needed nuance.  Each girl got a family, a back story, that either explained her behaviour or gave her something to rebel against.  With the Traveller crew, I will need to write out some vignettes to flesh things out before I tackle the main story.

Character-Based Story
With a character-based story, the characters come to mind first.  Usually, the story revolves around one central character, though a small group of two or three are possible.  In this case, the character is mostly formed in my head already.  Small details, like setting and plot, can be coaxed from the characters.  A previous NaNoWriMo work started with a pair of characters, Bronya and Morwenna, who were supposed to be in a medieval fantasy until they complained, then showed me in a chase involving flying cars, magic spells, and Bronya getting ready to leap from one car to another while holding on to a katana.

The medieval part got dropped.

Granted, this is an unusual method of creating a character.  It probably flies in the face of the usual advice given to writers.  But, it works.  Mostly.  Sure, their story isn't completed, but that's because I didn't work out the entire plot.  It is not because I didn't know what Bronya and Morwenna would do.  This was a case where, no matter what I gave them, they'd know what they'd do, even if it was to tell me that they didn't like the idea.  Their supporting cast grew out from them as I added details of family, of past lovers, of types of magic.  Whatever happened in the plot, though, I knew what the reaction would be and why, because of how well-formed they were when they approached me.

Twisting an Existing Idea
Creating characters for stories that come from exploring an existing idea and what previous works missed is similar to the genre work, above.  Roles already exist and just need populating; typically, the role already has a personality type defined for it.  All I need to do is drop in a character and tweak as needed.  With the twist, though, sometimes the pre-existing personality type needs to be altered.  If, in a space opera, I have a brash smuggler with a technically inclined co-pilot, I might change the brashness to something more sober.  The co-pilot may pick up some of the impulsiveness to drive the plot, but not the same degree as the smuggler's original archetype.

One idea I have, which will be more fully fleshed out in a future NaNo Prep 2013 entry, is a spy thriller crossed with urban fantasy.  It's a two-for-one twist.  First, the spy thriller, along the lines of James Bond and Jason Bourne.  A lone spy saving Western civilization from the predations of the villain-du-jour.  In the 60s, the villains were the Soviets.  Today, it's a toss up between terrorists, hackers, organzied crime, or a mobster hacker funding terrorists.  The second twist is on the urban fantasy side.  Urban fantasy covers a wide range, from Jim Butcher's film noir Dresden Files to Jennifer Estep's supernatural assassin to Linda Poitevan's police procedural to Joss Whedon's high school vampire slayer.  The setting is the modern world, with the supernatural lurking out of sight, much like the classic spies in fiction.  I know I'll need three characters already, my spy lead, most likely British or American, my supernatural lead, and my supernatural villain.  The spy is the most critical, being the character that readers will follow into the supernatural world.  The catch now is to play with expectations.  Will the spy be a spiritual descendant of Bond and Bourne?  Will there be Q-style gadgets and vehicles, or do I go in a more realistic manner?  Right now, the idea is for a more down-to-earth approach, with the agent having backup as seen in the hunt for Jason Bourne in the Bourne movies, but with some flair tossed in.  Meanwhile, the supernatural lead is Jack, because, in his words, "Everyone trusts a Jack."

I don't trust him already.

Coming soon, naming characters.

14 Jun 2013

Subject 13 Issue 24 - Art Class

[Quick reminder: Nasty's language can be crude.  Reader discretion advised.]

Nasty paced in the lobby.  She crossed the length of the lobby in three quick, angry strides before having to turn back around.  Morning light crept in through the front doors, forcing Nasty to shield her eyes on the return half of her journey through the foyer.

A dim shape blocked the sun off Nasty below her waist.  Nasty peered through the sunlight, trying to make out who drove the newly arrived car.  With a snort of frustration, she left the apartment.  Shit, it's cold.  Damn uniform's not fucking warm enough for this weather.  A blast of cold wind ruffled Nasty's coat.

The passenger door opened.  "Quick, get in," Rusty said.

13 Jun 2013

Subject 13 #23 - Commentary

As always, please read the issue before continuing.

Oh, the fun of an assumed name.  Nasty should have thought through the implications of being a "Jessica", including nicknames.  Being someone else takes effort; old habits, like responding to one's proper name, are ingrained and learning to respond to the new name takes time before it's natural.  Given that it's her first day at Fieldson, and she's coming in at a later grade than the other girls, Nasty has good reason to not be ready to have a nickname bestowed upon her.  Jane (Rusty) and Mary-Elizabeth (Stormie) received theirs as freshmen.

Nasty completely misread Ms Landry's attention.  Landry wasn't expecting one of her girls to be as proficient in a kitchen as Nasty; the typical Fieldson girl doesn't make dinner regularly.  Nasty, though, does; sometimes Maria doesn't get home until late, sometimes she doesn't have the energy from working, sometimes Nasty just gets annoyed and decides to do things on her own.

A little more background on Nasty's home life slipped through.  Nasty doesn't know who her father is.  Back in Issue 13, the Consortium's file on Nasty had her father listed as unknown.  It's a bit of a sore spot for Nasty, more for the feeling of embarrassment when the question comes up than for anything else.  She has seen "normal" families, though her best friend Renata has gone through a few parental divorces and can relate.*  Maria has never been married, but doesn't go long without male companionship.  Nasty has issues.

But, Nasty has great news for Anne.  Those twin girls she hated right away are the Pyro Twins!  Oops, can't act without proof.  The police need more to work on than, "Peregrine hates them."  Hey, Nasty's first undercover mission.  She's still learning the ropes.  And part of the ropes is having a place to live.under her assumed name.  A nice posh apartment, where Jessica live with her non-existent parents.  A place of Nasty's own, just like she mentioned to Rennie back in Issue 6.  You'd think I'd planned that.

Nasty also finally gets to ditch her hated uniform and dress in a comfortable pair of jeans.  The pictures below should help with what Nasty is going through.

Nasty's skirt, the reality

First, you can now see why Subject 13 is written.  Second, while the skirt is short, it still falls mid-thigh.  While it does show off Nasty's legs, the skirt is not revealing.  Nasty just needs to learn how to sit like a proper lady, which is the school's intent.  Jessica should know; Nasty, however, is far more tomboyish than her new identity.  Which reminds me, at some point, I'll need to have Nasty willingly wearing a skirt, more to show that it's the uniform she's uncomfortable with, not the skirt itself.

Nasty's skirt, her perception.

And here's what Nasty thinks she's wearing.  Again, art by me, showing why I write.  I've established in several issues that Nasty has body image issues and doesn't like being the centre of attention because of her looks.  Her feeling is that the skirt is too revealing, especially her butt.  Nasty's preferred clothing is a comfortable t-shirt or sweater with a pair of jeans.  If she wears a skirt, the hemline is at least at her knees.

Finally, a switch back to the Consortium team, the same three people mentioned back in the commentary for Issue 18.  The Subjects sent have some personality conflicts, which was already set up previously.  Subject 12 (John) makes it clear of his opinion of women.  Subject 5 (LaShawna) disagrees with the attitude.  Not helping are the Pyro Twins, who, of course, the Consortium already has files for.  Not necessarily subjects; Cinder and Ember are too unpredictable to bother recruiting.

Tomorrow, Nasty deals with teachers and gets closer to the twins.
Saturday, over at Fan To Pro MuseHack, the Addams Family.
Did you know Fan To Pro evolved?  Check out why!
Coming soon, Traveller fun, NaNo 2013 prep work, and thoughts on character creation.

* Since it won't likely come up, Rennie's mother has remarried twice while her father has remarried once.

7 Jun 2013

Subject 13 Issue 23 - Settling In

[Nasty tends to swear.  A lot.  Reader discretion recommended.]

Nasty finished scrubbing the stove in the Home Ec room.  Behind her, she heard Sylvie putting away dishes and Stormie wiping the table.  The other stations in the room had similar activity happening.  Nasty slipped off her apron and rolled it into a ball.  The last bell of the day rang.  Finally, Nasty thought.  She looked at the clock.  Anne should be here soon.

6 Jun 2013

Subject 13 #22 - Commentary

As always, please read the issue before continuing.

Nasty gets to return to school, this time at an exclusive school for girls in Rochester.  But, before I get started with the meat of the issue...  Anne's assumed surname, for the sake of Nasty's undercover work.  The issue was written prior to August of 2001, when The Princess Diaries was released to theatres.  I may have heard ads and made the subconscious connection between "Anne" and "Hathaway".  May.  Who knew the actress would go on to be popular?

Naming coincidences aside, Anne and Nasty now get to pose as mother and daughter.  Nasty is now about three levels deep in secret ID.  The school uniform becomes another annoyance for Nasty; she feels exposed in a short skirt.  It's not that Nasty hates skirts.  It's been established, through her actions and thoughts, that she doesn't like how her body looks.  Nasty also doesn't like feeling exposed, in part in rebellion from her mother.  Back at Seward in New York, Nasty took the pants option with her school uniform.  The option doesn't exist for her at her new school.

Nasty's preference for small groups appears as well.  Rusty, Jessica's new best friend, has to work hard at drawing more than one word from the new girl, even with the new girl knowing she has to be friendly.  Nasty's new classmates get introductions, both with full names and with nicknames.  Note that Nasty compares both her old schools.  With the grand entrance of Cynthia and Emily, Nasty believes she has her suspects.  She just needs proof, thus the arc that has begun.  Will Cynthia and Emily make a mistake that reveals them as the villainous pyro twins, Cinder and Ember?  Can Nasty catch them before they start setting the world on fire?  Later issues have the answer.

The final scene has Nasty finishing her Phys. Ed. class and meeting her new friend for lunch.  Rusty, naturally, wants to get to know Jessica a little more.  The new girl could be interesting, could be dull.  Once Rusty has gone to get her lunch, Nasty starts realizing how much she doesn't really fit in; a brown bag lunch that she made when everyone else buys lunch is a huge factor, especially when a school is targeted for the upper income parents.  The enormity of what is happening finally gets through Nasty's outer shell.

Tomorrow, Nasty continues her investigation to find the Pyro Twins.
Saturday, at Fan To Pro, unofficial adaptations under new names.
Coming soon, more NaNo Prep, more Traveller.