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May 2006 Archives

May 4, 2006

More on the "King Groy" rewrite

I'm now getting into the meat and the guts of the rewrite of the final unpublished Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan story. The rewrite involves the following:

  • Figure out the major and minor internal plot points (the external plot points are very simple to do: The political status quo is resolved, Duke Henry and Duchess Guðrún know and trust the Rogues, and Jodoque has met Kel and joined the gang). I now want to go back in time to slap the 1996 version of me around for allowing all the interesting plot points to happen off-stage.
  • Get rid of pointless goings-on to make more space for the interesting events to happen on-stage. This is easy; there are about six pages in the middle that can be scrapped entirely - that's over two weeks worth of updates at the current schedule, not that I intend to stick to that schedule.
  • Replace most of the actual mechanism for the resolution of the story, reducing complexity and reliance on magic. This may involve killing several of my darlings from the story, including, for those of you who have read it, the Object-Oriented Magic bit and the transformations.
  • Add stronger motivation for the villains' actions, and add suspense by putting more at stake for the Rogues.
  • Write some extra scenes in which we actually get to see Jodoque as a jester. Because he's been doing bugger-all of that since joining the gang, and yet the readers are to believe that he is a jester. This Will Not Do.

It's going pretty fast now, but writing actual scenes will take a couple more days. Once I get to that, I expect it will be very easy.

Runner's high and powerpop

I've been running in a club setting for three months straight now, and I continue to be amazed at the ways it affects me. Initially, I would veg out after a training, unable to do much of anything at all. After a few weeks, I started giving myself simple chores to do, such as taking out the trash. Slowly, I started doing more stuff in the hours between training and bedtime.
Last Monday, I wasn't exhausted from the training at all. This was only partly due to my progress as a runner; there had been an event the Saturday before so the training was a bit lighter than usual. There was also a new trainer being shown the ropes. In any case, when Sidsel suggested going to Vera to see The New Pornographers, I checked out a song sample on their website, and agreed to go.
Little did I know that I was not only not exhausted — I was high! Throughout the show, I was flying. The New Pornographers, at least in concert, have a high-octane, driving rock rhythm section with a very strong classic rock feel, so it was right up my alley. The poppy tunes, with vocal leads being shared by a guy whose stage persona looked vaguely like Bryan Adams in his good days - before hogging the charts for months on end with the schmaltzy Everything I Do I Do It For You - and a (new) girl with a cute, high voice and matching stage persona, made it even better. I bought their latest CD, Twin Cinema but haven't sat down to listen to it from beginning to end; I just plunked the whole lot onto my hard drive to be played in random rotation with the rest of my collection. What I've heard indicates that they're a lot less rocky on disc — isn't that always the way? Some bands just need to put out live albums.
I still don't know how much my judgement of the concert was affected by the runner's high, but I do know that lately I've been a lot more positive about things, and better able to enjoy myself. I may feel like shit on the day after a training, and Tuesday was no exception, but the overall trend is up. Plus, people are beginning to notice that I look different.
One thing's for sure, that buzz I got on Monday beat all drugs I've tried, ever. Not that I have that much experience in that area, but getting drunk or (bleagh) stoned just doesn't compare.

May 6, 2006

Loituma memage

Ever since I first saw the Finnish group Värttinä live at a local festival in 1994-ish, I've had these periodic outbursts of listening to Finnish and other Scandinavian music. I've got several compilations of the stuff as well as albums by Värttinä, Hedningarna, Annbjørg Lien and my long-term favorite of the bunch, Gjallarhorn. *)
Looks like I'll be in for another burst of Scando-mania, because one band that I was familiar with from the Northside compilations (which are a good starting point as they are, in their own words, cheaper than food), Loituma, have recently gone viral. Everyone and their dog is linking to either the live performance of "Levan Polkaa" or the Loop from the song used in an animation of an anime character twirling a leek. It makes about as much sense as the O RLY owl, but at least it has a very catchy tune.
Can't find any Loituma on iTunes, alas. They're pretty good. Note the bass voice in the leek-twirling version going "Pol-ka, pol-ka" throughout. I prefer looking at the singers at work, though.

*) I also like a range of Scandinavian rock and metal groups. There are more of those around than ever and they're often a lot more interesting than their Anglo-American counterparts. I'd ask what they put in the water up there if I didn't already know that the answer was "vodka".

May 7, 2006

The Girl in The Fireplace (with spoilers)

When the new season started, reviews on Behind the Sofa were mixed, skewing towards the negative. Now, after The Girl In The Fireplace, the Who-related Livejournals have got in on the backlash as well.

I for one thought Stephen Moffat and Euros Lyn delivered the goods. Yes, there were dodgy moments - it's Doctor Who! The aliens are going to have the weapons that are most likely to stop them right in the middle of their control center. No, it wasn't up there with the very best of the previous season. Most of the previous season wasn't up there with the very best of the previous season. But we got another tightly-directed, no-filler episode with suspense, humour and great visuals, most of which made narrative sense.

A lot of the criticism focused on the Doctor's apparent decision to leave the companions behind to save the Madame de Pompadour. I think it's been established by now, as part of the new character, that the 10th Doctor's ethical compass is broken*), but even if that weren't the case, it wouldn't be him abandoning his friends to save one person, it would be him sacrificing his own life and that of the companions, who know the risk involved, to maintain the integrity of all of Earth's timeline past the 1720s. It's at the very least defensible, and the Doctor would be in a position to weigh the consequences better than anyone else.
It's probably in the nature of fan communities to turn against that which they are fans of. But if it goes on I'll just leave those communities behind.

*) In The Christmas Invasion, the Prime Minister's decision to blow up the aliens is, given what we know about them, the best course of action for Earth and for any of the worlds these barbarians might visit next. It's a decision the PM doesn't take lightly and it's likely to be a blight on her soul for the rest of her life, but the Doctor's reaction doesn't make sense. Even Mahatma Gandhi would have pushed the red button on those guys. In New Earth the Doctor happens to be in the right, but only because the entire scenario is skewed in favour of him being right. Without the clones turning out to be sentient after all, the entire ethical basis for his position collapses under his feet. In both cases, the Doctor takes his visceral disgust with the actions of other people for sound moral judgment.

May 8, 2006

Showing the horses how it's done (not)

One of the best things about running is going out in the fields and having the core part of your training somewhere where horses graze. Horses, while not exactly bright, are very interested in what goes on around them, so they'll have a look and then when they see running going on, they'll also start running. It's a fantastic thing to look at, very different from watching them run while they have riders. They always look like they're having a great time with it, and their movements are graceful and effortless, unlike those of most human runners.
Lambs will also get in on the fun and games. Fully-grown sheep always look like they haaaaate being sheep, but the ones that are only a few days old know how to have a good time. So you'll get horses running gracefully in one field, lambs dashing to and fro in little groups in another, mature sheep looking at the lambs worrying if they'll catch scrapie, maybe a few frogs croaking in the ditches - perfect. Absolutely perfect.

May 9, 2006

"King Groy" rewrite update

I have now killed more babies than King Herod. Just about all my pet set pieces from the original are gone, crushed under the heels of plot and characterisation. This is, on the whole, a good thing, and new set piece scenes will grow organically out of the plot and the characters.
Adam Cuerden, of this blog and the webcomic Dangerous and Fluffy is now well-established as the guy who gets to proofread every word of script even in its rawest versions. Since he is currently demolishing the execrable Hogwarts Exposed Harry Potter fanfic on the fan community The HMS STFU (and has already dealt with the far worse Rose Potter series), he knows how to deal with leg-gnawingly awful stuff and should be able to handle the worst that I can throw at him.
I have progressed to the bit where the Rogues are in the dungeon - a variant of that sequence was in the original but just about every detail has been changed including the specific groupings of who has and hasn't been jailed. I have tried to give all sequences more of a sense of location as I've been trying to do since 2002 with the web-era storylines. In doing so, I have cannibalised the abbey setting from the unpublished story Beards which I no longer have any intention of putting online.
I've hit upon the first bit where some offline research was necessary. Rather than recycle my old ideas about inns, I've been trying to find some information on what medieval inns were actually like. Google and Wikipedia were unhelpful, so I went to the library and scanned the history section for social histories of travel and hospitality. I found little, but there was one book with a good chapter on inns in the Early Modern Era which I can sort of extrapolate from. The writer made the point that inns should not look third-worldish - that while the appearance of backwardness creeps in quickly in manufacturing once one goes back beyond the Industrial Revolution (and by the way, I know quite a few people who would disagree with that), the service industry in historical times would be similar to that in our own time. This basically means that while there may be lower standards of food, hygiene and service, or not, depending on the exact time and location, there would be the recognition that food, hygiene and service distinguish good inns from bad ones. No comical "everyone sleeps in the same bed and swills dinner from a trough" then. Suits me quite well, actually.

May 13, 2006

Downtime overnight

I just read on the Xepher forums that PHP/MySQL on the server had been down for several hours while I was sleeping. This means that in all likelihood, the Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan comic wasn't working, although it may actually have reverted temporarily to the Movable Type-based version, which builds an index.html file. Apologies for the downtime, if you noticed any.

Update: It looks like the changes to the database settings have caused the titles and possibly all the typed text within episodes to be presented as ASCII characters instead of the Unicode encoding they need to be. I've alerted Xepher to this.
Now's as good a time as any to link to an article Pete Ashton linked to a while ago: The Absolute Minimum Every Software Developer Absolutely, Positively Must Know About Unicode and Character Sets (No Excuses!). If you're a software developer, learn this. If you're the customer of a software developer, have someone carve this into a baseball or cricket bat, the better to bludgeon your developer with if they get it wrong. Please.

May 14, 2006

Rise of the Cybermen

In the year since I became a Doctor Who fan I've developed some strong preferences. I've come to regard Jon Pertwee's foppish Doctor as a low point in the series' history, and persuading me to watch another Colin Baker-era episode will take some work. I love Tom Baker's Doctor and the quality of the writing and direction that most of that period's work has. I never want to see Davros again and I don't see the big deal about the Master. Daleks can work if done well but when done badly, they're absolutely crap. Cybermen, on the other hand, have been consistently crap in every episode I've seen that they appeared in. Some of these have been fine despite the appearance of blokes in silver suits; Tomb of the Cybermen is very enjoyable for its playing-off of the characters and Earthshock is made worthwhile by the steadfast heroism of Peter Davison's Doctor, the least quirky incarnation but the most righteous one. But even in those episodes, believing that the wooden actors in silver suits were some sort of great menace to anyone took not just willing suspension of disbelief but an active effort of the imagination to pretend that what the acting, costumes and special effects technology couldn't deliver was in fact there on the screen.
So are the new Cybermen any better?
First off, and this is something that continuity enthusiasts and those who do like the original Cybermen will be relieved to hear, the paralell-Earth Cybermen are not the originals. "It's happening again" says the Doctor, as if Cybermen are an idea that turns up in every universe or on every world some time. A repeated meme. But for the purposes of writing and conceptualising them, a fresh start.
Ironically, "Rise of the Cybermen" has more of an old-Who feel to it than any episode of the new series so far. It's slower than the previous few episodes. It's tense, relying on horrors unseen for effect. It's directed by Who veteran Graeme Harper. There's a classic-style crippled, megalomaniac villain (but in keeping with the theme of the new series, he is a man who plays God with human life and intends to extend his own natural life-span by unethical means). And it's the first half of a two-parter. Only in the last five minutes are the tin blokes fully revealed. That means there were 40 minutes that were designed to be rubbish-free, and it shows. In those 40 minutes, we get a fair amount of exposition setting up a rather complex parallel-universe situation, and a good look at a large cast of characters including the members of an underground resistance cell, parellel versions of Rose's parents, a second Mickey and the President of Great Britain, who looked a bit like Colin Powell.
The greater length and slower pace help a lot. Recent episodes have been criticised for going too fast and lacking breathing room. Happily, this one did not have that problem. Nor was the breathing room filled with needless exposition. Everything we needed to know was presented in dramatically meaningful sequences. I am now sold on the idea that, as long as they're given good scripts, two-parters should occur more often.
I'm not yet sold on the tin dudes I've been avoiding talking about in the previous two paragraphs. They look sort of slick and there's a menace to their stomping, military gait, but they're, well, it always boils down to zombies in this series doesn't it? Zombies, zombies, zombies, is all I hear. These are even after brains. They're soulless drones that exist to turn others into drones just like themselves, with no initiative or will of their own. Not even a proper hive-mind like Star Trek's Borg (themselves very derivative of the original Cybermen, but, at least in their original form, better-executed. Why did everything in Trek have to get watered down and wimped out, by the way?). But after only five minutes of screen time, it's too early to tell.
Rise of the Cybermen has at least left me wanting to see more. But with a script, direction and special effects like this one, the Cybermen themselves could be made of Playmobil for all I care.

Another "King Groy" update

A slight change from my original plan: I'm now going to stagger the writing work a bit. I will develop the first half or so of the story into a drawable script with page and panel divisions, so I have something to draw while working on the second half. This allows me to take some cues from where the art takes me, and makes scheduling the work easier. I expect to start drawing it in June. "King Groy" will be about as long as Guðrún was. That story didn't have a typed script at all, so I expect I'll be able to keep things organised and making sense throughout the project.
In the latest revisions, the material I kept from the original version from 1997 has been cut and shrunk and filled out again with new material. I'm looking for economy of action, something which was very lacking in the original.
Adam is settling into his role as script editor very well. He gets to see everything I write and often when I'm stuck with something I'll just blather at him in IRC. If he comes up with an suggestion I consider it; if not, I'll often think of something myself. He has a preference for low farce that I don't always want to indulge, but he is good at picking out bits that don't work, and he's especially good at pointing at unnecessary exposition.
Adam's influence opens one rather wriggly can of worms. For the original version, Geir Strøm performed a similar function. I didn't involve him as early in the process as I did with Adam (if I had, the story would have ended up being better and I would not have had to do this rewrite at all), but I did ask him for help when I'd written myself into a corner. The good suggestions he provided me with then earned him a co-writing credit for Koningsdrama, but it looks like all his contributions will be gone in King Groy. So Geir pulls the short straw. And here I am still not working on getting the Chronicles of the Witch Queen site running again. Nevertheless, I still want to acknowledge his work on the original. I'm not quite sure how to do that but I'll think of something.

Continue reading "Another "King Groy" update" »

May 17, 2006

It's not always a good high

Running this evening has really messed me up. Almost two hours past the end of the training, I'm still not experiencing any of the euphoria I felt after the trainings of the past few weeks. In fact, I'm not even particularly hungry, which is unusual. Normally I spend the rest of the evening wolfing down food.

I overdid it. I was still somewhat sore from Monday's rather extensive uphill/downhill exercises (carried out on the footpath at Zernike Science Park), and I'd eaten a little more than I should have beforehand. It didn't help that we got another uphill/downhill training again on the same footpath, albeit one that prioritised endurance a little more than Monday's exercise. I got continuing pain in the calves, intestinal cramps, and quite a bit of nausea towards the end of the training, although that's alright now.

A couple days' rest should do me good. Actually, now that I'm writing this, I'm becoming a bit more coherent and focused, signs that I'm less knackered. But the fact that I'm still not very hungry is not good at all.

May 18, 2006

Dear everyone on the Internet

The adjective form of "camp" is "camp", not "campy". It is not derived from the noun "camp" or at least not in the usual way. In fact, there isn't really a noun form of the word unless you mean a bunch of tents. "Nounized" forms of the word occur only very rarely, usually to allow speakers more readily to define or comment on the phenomenon. As "camp" is undefinable, this is a pointless activity that should be discouraged. Use the correct adjective and forget you've ever heard the noun used.

(Triggered by use of the wrong adjective form on the blog under Dominic Deegan, but could have been triggered by a million other occurrences.)

Dear everyone on the Internet and quite a few people in book publishing who really ought to know better

That introductory bit in the front of a book that an author or publisher typically invites someone else to write is called a "foreword" not a "forward". If you get a book in the mail and then send the package on to someone else, that's a forward, from the verb "to forward". A foreword, by contrast, is a word, or rather a lot of words, that comes/come before the main bit. It's not that difficult.

Yes, I'm cranky today. If you had spent the day fighting Paint Shop Pro, you'd be cranky too.

(Triggered by Comixpedia where I do actually have an account, possibly two, that I could use to comment, but I haven't been able to log in there in months.)

May 19, 2006

Blogplug: LGFWatch on the Hirsi Ali affair

Like Martin Wisse, I've been greatly enjoying the Hirsi Ali affair. My take on it is similar to Martin's, although I am a little more sympathetic to Ayaan Hirsi Ali herself: I believe her heart was always in the right place, she was sincere in her struggle for the emancipation of women in Muslim countries and women immigrants from those countries, and she deserves better than to become the American Enterprise Institute's token black, feminist liberal. I do think her choice of the AEI leaves one with the impression that she's a lot less smart than she's made out to be, but then again I don't think she ever had much of a grasp on any issues other than the one she's closely associated with.
Rita Verdonk, on the other hand, has once again proven that instead of the steadfast maintainer of strict rules that her followers see in her, she's weak, incompetent and flip-flopping. She was against Hirsi Ali's citizenship before she was for it, then against it again, and now that Prime Minister Balkenende has told her to be for it, she's for it again. You heard that right: Balkenende of all people gave the so-called Iron Lady a big ol' smackdown. I'm respecting him a little more already. Praise the Lord and pass the popcorn.
I do wonder when all those other VVD parliamentarians and ministers who knew in 2002 that Hirsi Ali didn't have a valid Dutch citizenship will resign.

If you're living abroad, don't speak Dutch and want factual, accurate reporting on the whole affair, you could do a lot worse than to go to LGF watch for coverage and translations from the Dutch media. While their use of the facts as a club to beat Little Green Footballs and its rabid commentariat over the head with gets a bit old... ah, who am I kidding. That never gets old. In any case, LGFWatch, with the help of its correspondents, presents a reasonably accurate picture of the circumstances surrounding Hirsi Ali and Verdonk, as well as a good critique of the misrepresentations in certain right-wing blogs.
Relevant links:
Breaking News
How stupid are lizards?
We get mail
Oh Dear...
The Verdonk Files
Free Speech, Dutch Style

May 20, 2006

Stephen Moffat on Rise of the Cybermen

I haven't seen this forum exchange sourced properly, but the excerpt is too good not to quote in full:

Other poster: "he gave us a 1980's retread [referring to Tom MacRae's 'Rise of the Cybermen']."

Steven Moffat: "What are you TALKING ABOUT you mad, mewling fool??

If that episode had shown up in the 80s (or the 70s, or the 60s) we'd all have fainted of joy on the spot! Whump! All of us! Every fan in the country - gurgle, whump, living room floor. Medical experts would've been flown in from all around the world! "My God," they'd have cried, "every geek in Britain is unconscious!! Quick, let's pull their pants over their heads and draw moustaches on them!"

The Elder Statesmen of Fandom, in their vast and mighty Council Chamber (in Mum's bedroom), would
actually have EXPLODED!! Into CLOUDS OF VAPOUR!!! Every breath taken in the whole wide world wide would have contained a measurable quantity of IAN LEVINE!!

And here you are, you lot, and you don't even know you're born. Some of us had to go to school the Monday after the Giant Rat!! No, REALLY! Think about that! Added ten years to my virginity, that did, Giant Rat Monday! Oh, I haven't forgotten!

Kids today!

Sheesh!"

I'm actually hearing Moffat's opening salvo in the voice of Tom Baker. Probably posted somewhere on Outpost Gallifrey.

Suomi Perkele!

Just when you thought it was turning into the Warsaw Pact Song Contest, Finnish entrants Lordi win the Eurovision Song Contest. They... don't look a bit like Värttinä:
Lordi's ideal-son-in-law type frontman.

I've been told this is Finland's first win, but if they just send Finntroll next year they'll have their second victory in the bag soon enough.

The clean-cut instrumentalists

Monster band has Finland fretting over face it shows - International Herald Tribune backgrounder

May 21, 2006

The Age of Steel (spoilers)

Another episode, another long series of whinges from the fandom. Mind you, without having read anything hidden behind livejournal cuts so far, I can see why people might feel this episode didn't work for them. "They got their emotions back and then everything exploded" is a cheesy, hackneyed, overused way to end an episode. And the cyber-ized John Lumic in his cyber-ized wheelchair was the biggest, most dreadful ham in the series so far. The saving grace of the actor's performance so far was that it was free of "Muahaha" moments, so it was a bit of a disappointment to watch him in his metal suit going "NOOOOOOOO!" and getting out of his cyber-chair to give chase, culminating with him climbing up a rope ladder after our heroes. In short, the big finale, the sequence that this episode and the previous one had been building up to, sucked. Hoo boy, did it ever. Almost as much as the get-out-of-the-cliffhanger cop-out at the start, but let's just chalked that up to being a tribute old Who.
That was the bad news. Now for the good. The epilogue was moving enough to wash down the suck with, and before the bit that sucked, we got 30-odd minutes of tense build-up, a nightmarish sequence in which the Cybermen rounded up the citizenry and took them to the even more nightmarish cyber-factory to be "upgraded". Wonderful stuff, neatly backed up by the unescapable stomping sound of the Cybermen's robotic, martial gait. The horror of alternate-Jackie Tyler's conversion into a Cyberman was well-done, and even the bit with the emotion inhibitor being broken in one individual Cyberman worked well, transparent Deus Ex Machina that it was. It was only when they all started running around like headless chickens and holding their heads in Am-dram despair that the whole thing went from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The trailer for the next episode suggests that we're getting more suck next week. I hope I'm wrong.

May 23, 2006

[Adam Cuerden (a.k.a. Einar)] Web Comic Problems

Growth of power. It's a particular problem for any long-running comic or story, and really shouldn't be: We should be glad that the heroes are moving up in the world a bit. However, not when the protagonist starts always having the perfect power for a situation.

EXAMPLE COMIC:
The local grouchy wizard isn't particularly powerful, but has enough talent to be able to eke out a living helping villagers with their petty problems. He'd probably take it better if half the men weren't always asking for spells to enlarge their manhood. After a while as a gag comic, the writer decides to add a bit more plot, and so begins to add more quirky, eccentric characters to the mix: relatives, friends, and a romantic interest for our wizard, all of which have flaws that keep them as underdogs. The wizard's magic, low-level as it is, begins to find a certain amount of use in helping and protecting his friends.

So far, so good. It's an interesting story, and if the characters are good, it'll be fun to read. However, problems could well arise...

These side adventures lead the author in a new direction, and, having played out the village, he conspires to have the wizard thrown out of it.

Actually, this may be a very good idea. Forcing your characters to uproot allows new plots: We can see how the wizard struggles without his source of income. However, all is not well if, despite the repeated references to our wizard being poor, we never see him work or get paid again.

The plots begin getting more complex, and so the wizard's power "has" to increase to let him battle the new challenges. His magic begins becoming rather more impressive and far more useful with little explanation why.

...No, no, no. You CAN make him more powerful, but have to make it fairly. Either let him study to prepare for a challenge or other "fair" way of increasing power, let him learn to use his old power more effectively [e.g. whereas before it took him quite a lot of time to prepare a large sphere of silence to allow the group to slip into hostile territory, now he just puts it on the soles of their shoes and the hinges of ny doors they come across.], or have all this practice slightly increase his power. If the only way to resolve the plot is to give one or more of your characters a rather major and unprecedented new power, then:

A. You need to think of another way of resolving the plot,

B. They're going to fail, then. Institute damage limitation by them with what power they have, and start a new plot to deal with the consequences of that failure,

or

C. Set things up in advance. Well in advance and subtly: The readers can see an undisguised McGuffin a mile off. (It is, of course, acceptable to surprise the reader, so long as theey can go back and see the hints.)

However... there's more problems ahead for our heroes...

In an exciting plot, an important and well-liked secondary character manages to overcome a major weakness that was almost defining to his character due to how much it limited him.

Well... yes. That could be a good plot, and done well, I'll be cheering for him. However, it becomes a major problem if this leads to flawscrubbing: The removal of all weaknesses from a character. By all means, let this open up new pathways for him, allow him to do new things he couldn't before - but leave him some flaws and things he can't do.

Also, realise it's going to take him some time to get used to his new freedom: He may well keep thinking he has the weakness, and use the techniques he developed to work around it for some time. Indeed, there could be further problems: I didn't have the glasses I needed whilst growing up until I had been rather badly nearsighted for some time. Even now, over a decade later, I have to think about it to pay much attention to the more distant scenery that always used to be blurry, and tend to walk paying attention mostly to the ground 15' in front of me until hazards like roads mean I have to look up and look around.

The wizard begins to get more and more powerful, and the secondary cast become more and more dependant on him.

Ooh. Bad. Bad bad bad! No character should be the centre of a universe.

The rest of the secondary characters are either flawscrubbed or disappear from the comic. Everything now centres around the hero or the most important secondary character, the villains now become either very powerful politician types or demons and other superbeings themselves, with the loss of all grey areas, and any plot snippet generally runs as follows:

Character tries to do thing himself, manages to some extent, then calls on the now godly main character to finish things off.

By the time it reaches this stage, the comic is unsalvagable. Don't make your character godly. It's never a good idea.

Here are some things to avoid:

1. "The Chosen One": Suddenly, your ordinary character is the only one that can save the world, and he'll need to work hard to get the incredible amount of power he needs to save it. It's that last clause that causes the problem. This storyline is going to ramp your character up to cosmic power, able to save the world from the worst threats. So... what now? The world's in trouble EVERY BLOODY WEEK? I mean, bet with all that power any plot with anything less'd be a sinch. Also, you've just pushed one character far above all the others, demoting them from his equals or near-equals into groupies.

Please don't go on to raise each secondary character to cosmic power in turn. That's just painful.

2. The stupid weakness: He may be all-powerful, but the colour yellow makes him useless. Er, unless he tries really hard to overcome it. ...I'd say that noone'd be quite that stupid and transparent about their false-dramatic plot device, except that it exists. This just changes "The solution to every secondary character's problem is the hero" to "Almost every storyline culminates in the hero either making a great effort and overcoming his weakness briefly, or the secondary characters coming along and pulling the weakness away so he can finish up." Please don't make your plot arcs all identical.

3. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away: Whilst he has any power he should need, it's immediately forgotten about after the story. Again, results in every plotline being the same: Everyone mucks about, then the hero manifests the ideal power to save the day.

4. And the angel came unto Joseph, and said unto him, "UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT B A SELECT START" Possibly the worst of all: The character has some sort of mystical experience or meets a supernatural being, and suddenly gets one or more new talents. Only time this works is when the information given is really MINOR, e.g. the location of a keyhole, or if your name is Diana Wynne Jones (who seems to be able to take anything that's normally a hallmark of an awful story and somehow find the hidden potential in it to make pure gold).

This might *JUST* work for languages, as, let's face it, it's no stupider than any other way heroes commonly learn them. And, of course, if the character is a robot or automata, this might be more valid, as long as you don't go overboard.

In short, by all means, let your characters grow more powerful, but let us see their struggles to become it. We'll cheer all the more when they finally get a bit of recognition. But don't go too far: You'll either force all your stories to be samey, sap out the life of everyone but your protagonist, create a rampaging Gary-Stu out of what used to be a rather interesting character, or, most likely, all three.

Remember: everyone likes the underdog. If you want to keep them the underdog, don't try and kid us by saying that one character is demonstratably the most powerful person on the planet, but he still has all these problems because.... er... Well, because he stupidly doesn't use his powers expept where plot convenient, I guess.

Meta-meta-fanfic

Last week, Adam and I wrote what is referred to in fannish circles as a sporking, essentially a written MSTK-ing, of a chapter from the Harry Potter fanfic Hogwarts Exposed for an online community dedicated to that sort of thing. Besides being unbelievably awful,Hogwarts Exposed, noticeable for being based not just on the original Harry Potter stories (indeed it has very little connection with them at all) but on two other fanfics, from which it cribs backstory points about the defeat of Voldemort and Harry's fifth and sixth years at Hogwarts, which presumably weren't available to the HE writer when he was working on it. This makes HE a meta-fanfic.
Because Adam and I wrote our response in character, Adam as the cast of a webcomic he is writing, and me as the main cast of Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan, and because the process got way out of hand —the chapter is quoted nearly in full but the quotations make up only a small part of the finished product— the finished product reads more like a freestyle Role Playing Game than a point by point mocking of a bad fanfiction. I suppose that makes it a meta-meta fanfic. And one in which I let my own characters go out of character for the sake of some cheap gags. Ah well.
Why did we do this? For my part, I'd seen Adam and other writers doing these things before and it seemed like a fun writing exercise, and possibly a way of making the time wasted rubbernecking at Hogwarts Exposed worthwhile, so I thought I'd have a go. All chapters had already been assigned but Adam was willing to share. It's quite a lot of work, actually.
While we're on the subject of fanfics and the canon they're supposedly based on, Andrew Rilstone has something to say about the source material for The Da Vinci Code: the HMS Jesus/Mary Magdalene won't sail, based on what the Gospels actually have to say about Mary Magdalene, which is very little.
Andrew, in case you hadn't seen me wittering on about his writing before, is always a good read and one of very few bloggers who write about Christianity, from a Christian (C of E) perspective without coming across as some deranged fundamentalist.

I am probably going to regret posting this late in the evening after a long working day. Apologies in advance for any lapses in grammar, style or comprehensibility; I'll edit out the worst faults in the morning when my head is clearer.

May 25, 2006

Work update

I've applied for a day job. If I get it, it will mean a further slowdown of production on Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan, but a massive improvement in living standards for me. Which I need, right now.
What it won't affect is the quality of the work. I've done some of my best comics while working full-time at a day job and spending two hours a day commuting, and some appalling work when I had nothing to do but write and draw ROCR.

The Guðrún remasters are now part of the Chronicles of the Witch Queen project. That means newly-remastered pages will first be shown on that site, instead of continuing from where I left off last time I tried to remaster Guðrún (the last remastered page was this one).

Chronicles of the Witch Queen will resume real soon now. Pages are uploaded and scheduled. Two storylines will run simultaneously: one on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; one on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Expect a full announcement, or rather a barrage of announcements, a day or so before the series start.

The new/old Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan story King Groy is still being written. I haven't actually worked on it all week, but that's because I needed some time off from it so I could look at it afresh afterwards. Almost ready to continue, and if I don't get the day job, I'll start drawing it in the first week of June. I still won't commit to picking a date for the serialisation to start, though.

I'll be meeting with the editors at Hello You! on June 1. We'll discuss plans and concepts for the next season, so it would be good if I came up with some before then. Or at least decide on whether I'll be able to write another 10 episodes of Gang of 4. But I have felt that way every year since I started working for Hello You! and I've come up with the goods every time. Eventually.

The transcription effort plods along quite nicely, now at a rate of three or four a day. Over 1100 comics are now transcribed, and I've noticed that people are using the search functionality more. Most of the work is done by me, but that's OK. I'm grateful for every bit of assistance that I get.

Mithandir has added some updates to WillowCMS to cope with the ever-increasing flood of comment spam. These have reduced the problem to what it was a month ago, but I fear in the future more far-reaching measures will be needed. That's being worked on, simply because Mith needs content-based filtering on his own site, which is getting spammed by zombie networks. I've got a few spam-fighting ideas floating around in my head myself, based on my loose analysis of the spam that makes it through the existing filters, but at this point these ideas are pretty half-baked so I won't bother you with them.

May 26, 2006

Damn! Pre-empted by Apple

I'd been thinking about something along these lines, although I'd come to it from the opposite direction: rather than adapting music selection to your workout, I was considering adapting my workouts to my music selection. After all, the default running order on an album is often very formulaic: heavy metal, for example, albums typically start with a fast track (though long, slow keyboard intros are also common, but these are often developed into up-tempo tracks anyway) followed by fairly predictable tempo changes, with longer, slower pieces at the two-thirds point before picking up the pace again. A lot of my favorite metal LPs from the 1970s and 1980s are just under 40 minutes wrong, which is a good length for running if you play something else during your warming-up. It should be possible to design a "Running With Metal" type workout that allows you to exercise various aspects of running while also letting you listen to the record in the order the artists intended. Other genres would also work, though not necessarily for running.

But I like the way Apple wants to do this too. Let the iPod push me to my limits.

May 28, 2006

The Idiot's Lantern

"The Idiot's Lantern" didn't suck as much as I expected it would. In fact I found it rather entertaining. The idea of an alien intelligence taking over the world through a familiar object in every home, while not original, works. But... we've seen it before in the past two series, and this particular instance of it wasn't the best. I don't quite know why, to be honest. The script was mostly clever, allowing space for a subplot but keeping that secondary, just for once, to following our heroes as they got on with the job of saving the world. The subplot itself, with its social realism, was a bit pat, but not distractingly so, although the teenaged boy character's long monologue made me cringe a little. The 1950s setting looked good, the direction was strong and we finally got to see Rose acting like something other than a complete idiot again. Good to have you back, Rose, now let's not let that annoying emo pod-person take over your brain again. But something about it left me a bit meh.

Verdict: Good, but I get the feeling the creators are running out of new ideas.

Next week: Attack of the Chthulhus, God help me. I just might find something else to do next Saturday.

[Adam Cuerden:] Lost in Translation

Arrgh. Why can't anyone ever seem to do a half-decent translation of anything set to music? Some examples:


Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, Heard in performance in Edinburgh:

"You must forgive and forget; I love you forever more!"

(Inevitably turning into, thanks to unthinking repetition into part of the music with different phrasing: You must forgive - and forget I love you forever more)


Arthur Sullivan's "Festival" Te Deum

"To Thee Seraphim and Cherumbim continually cry"

...To which I can only think "God must have a headache from all that continuous crying."

"When thou tookest upon Thee to deliver Man, Thou didst not abhor the Virgin womb"

....Because everyone knows that most abhor virgin wombs. Most men, except perverts, only want sex with skanky hos.

Lots of bad translations in here, but I'll skip onwards for now.


"Oh come all ye faithful", Verse 2:

"God of Gods Lord of Lords Lo, he abhors not the Virgin womb Very God! Born but not begotten Oh come let us adore him..."

...First off, the meter's all off. You have to slur almost every accented syllable over two or more notes. Secondly: "Very God"?!?!, "God of Gods"?! So there's other gods now?!?! Not abhoring virgin wombs again? and that awkward "Born but not begotten"?


J.S.Bach, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring":

"Thou shalt ever lead Thine own, Soaring, dying round Thy throne"

What? So souls are Heavenly Moths, and God the Celestial Candle?


...Really, if you're going to translate, DO A DECENT JOB OF IT.

May 29, 2006

Playlist politics

I have a problem.

My MP3 playlist contains both Beatles and Stones songs. It contains a large amount of classic rock, signifying cool to the Baby Boomer generation, but also a decent selection of more recent material - enough 1980s pop to warm the cockles of the hearts of those in my own generation as well as the post-ironic hipsters whose favourite bands now all steal from that stuff. There's a shout-out to racial diversity in the form of music made by such unmistakeably black people as Solomon Burke and Bettye Lavette, and a socially-conscious chord is struck with the prominent inclusion of the latest Neil Young album. My Last.FM graphs show a nearly perfect power distribution, indicating that I have both strong preferences, signifying an ability to make clear, decisive choices, and wide-ranging tastes as evidenced by the length of that long, long tail, signalling a mind that's open to new ideas. Deep in the bowels of that long tail are indy rock acts such as the Flaming Lips, who you have to like to have any credibility whatsoever. Speaking of flaming, Queen, Rufus Wainwright and, to a lesser extent, Kate Bush, are included to capture the all-important gay demographic. Even the token amount of classical music in there, itself a transparant ploy to hint to cultural traditionalists that I am more refined and serious than I let on, is carefully massaged to create an impression of balance: work by the unescapably brilliant but politically incorrect Richard Wagner is off-set by the inclusion of a symphony by the Jewish-born composer Gustav Mahler.

In a sane world, this would not be a problem. People would recognise that my musical preferences are largely the result of my personal history, mixing in preferences I acquired as a teenager with whatever I came across in adulthood. But we don't live in a sane world, we live in a world where a person's iPod playlist is something people like Jacob Weinsberg write blitheringly stupid articles about. Next thing you know, some op-ed writer will pipe up saying I look fetching in a yellow pantsuit.

A quick reminder of why there are no comments on the blog

What Tom Coates describes here also happened to me when I upgraded to Movable Type 3.14 late in 2004.

When they try and login, the server basically falls over completely. A forced restart, and I hold my breath a little. When it comes back, they dig into the logs and it becomes immediately obvious to them what's going on. Hundreds – thousands – of requests every minute for a file called mt-comments.cgi – the part of Movable Type that deals with incoming comments to my weblog. My entire site has been quite directly, and clearly spammed to death.

Every once in a while I consider bringing back comments on Waffle, possibly after upgrading to a newer version of Movable Type. Then I think "Naaah." I didn't get too many anyway, and restoring the feature would require quite a lot of work up-front and also bring along with it an ongoing responsibility to maintain it - keeping it functional and spam-free. Life's too short.

WillowCMS, on which the comic's archive runs, has comments, and seems to be holding up well under the onslaught of spamming attempts. But should it buckle under, I don't think I would wait very long to cut my losses and switch off comments.

Courtly Manners now free

I had originally intended to wait until all the other Chronicles of the Witch Queen comics were done, but what with the delays and the slow schedule the next two stories will eventually be serialised at (real soon now, my pretties), that would take forever. So I made the changes today: Courtly Manners and Courtly Manners 2: The Unicorn Race are now free for everyone to read. These were the last of my comics that were behind a subscription wall, so I can now write off the subscription model as something that, on the whole, hasn't worked for me.
Now all I need to do is restore the epic poetry they used to come with...

Continue reading "Courtly Manners now free" »

May 30, 2006

Made in Japan... sort of

I'm no Dream Theater fan, no matter how often they show up in recommendations lists based on "People who like the stuff you like also like...". I can't get into them; for all their musical virtuosity, their sound leaves me cold. But given better material to play, they can be rather good:


(Can't see the video?)

If they released the full set as an album I just might buy it. (Via)

May 31, 2006

Resting the muscles

Today marks the start of a week off from running. It just so happens that next weekend is the pentecostal holidays which mean that neither the club nor the Loopschool Groningen are giving any trainings, but I also need to take some time out. I feel like I have plateaued, although if I think about it rationally, I probably haven't. I'm keeping up with the best runners among the crowd that joined at the same time as I did, and I can tell from doing the strength exercises week after week that I'm getting stronger, but it doesn't feel as well as it should. Also, several muscles in my leg are sore and a bit stiff. A week off will make them very happy. So, anyone for a beer this weekend?
It is natural for this sort of plateauing to happen. I expect that by next Wednesday I'll be chomping at the bit again. Actually, I'll probably get a bit twitchy by Monday, but part of the discipline of doing any sport is making yourself stick with the plan. Time out is what I've prescribed for myself, so time out is what I'll have.

Missing ROCR episode restored

While working on the Guðrún remasters today, I discovered that an episode was missing from the existing archive. It must have been missing for a long time, because it wasn't on the Modern Tales archives either - this means it was probably lost in the move to Modern Tales in 2002. Fortunately, I found it on my hard drive so I could restore it to its proper place in the current archives. It's the comic for December 12, 2000, and the chapter it's part of runs just a bit more smoothly with it included.

Who knows what other errors lurk undiscovered in those vast archives? One shudders to think.

About May 2006

This page contains all entries posted to Waffle in May 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2006 is the previous archive.

June 2006 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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