Tag Archives: Writing

Plot-a-Day: Genetic Engineering

Lugh’s comment on The Evil of Eugenics plot-a-day inspired me to write up a plot-a-day for Genetic Engineering. Lugh basically suggested that wizards created monsters in genetic experiments as a weapon against an undead horde, which is a nice and modern take on the origin of those creatures.

Genetic Engineering is really a staple of fiction by now. It usually goes horribly wrong, unleashing monsters or designer plagues on mankind. The sort of story you would associate with Genetic Engineering roots in Frankenstein and encompasses a lot of Post-Apocalyptic fiction; at the high end an unstoppable virus has become a popular alternative to global thermonuclear war for the purpose of destroying Earth to allow for such a setting or story.

Ignoring the total destruction of human society – which is usually a setting choice rather than a plot device – Genetic Engineering can be used in many ways in your adventures or stories.

  • The evil villain is breeding an army of unstoppable mutants – usable in (almost) any campaign and setting. The player characters need to stop him from unleashing that army. Perhaps the villain is already using some of his creations to terrorize the nation or to assassinate politicians that stand in his way. Even the Aliens movie franchise could be seen as a variation of this idea (and indeed, Alien Resurrection picks up on that theme).
  • Genetically engineered plants and creatures often feature in the colonization of other planets; realistically, Mars could be terraformed with their help. And you know what may happen next, of course – the plants used begin to mutate, the animals go crazy, and some may even develop intelligence. Depending on your setting this could result in anything from man-eating insects to a full exotic and alien ecosystem. Jungles on Mars! But that is setting. The players may have to investigate why colonists in an outlaying mining town disappear, and then find a way to exterminate the smart bugs, or they may even have to protect the new Martian ecosystems from an evil Colonial Authority that attempts to eradicate the “mistake”.
  • A lone mutant runs rampant in a city, and the PCs have to stop him.
  • Genetically-modified humans are patented and used as a slave labor force by an evil corporation.
  • According to urban legend, Stalin wanted to breed  human-ape crossbreeds to be used as soldiers. While there seems to have been little to this, at least one Russian scientist was conducting experiments to that end. No matter what the purpose, such experiments pass as unethical by today’s standards, and the PCs might have to look into a scientist who is doing follow-up experiments of the same nature. Or it could lead to a Planet of the Apes scenario.
  • In general, genetically-modified pets may go on a rampage.
  • A corporation on a distant colony world / in a dystopian future controls the world’s grain because it genetically engineered it in such a way that it is not viable after the first generation. Each year, the farmers have to buy new grain from said corporation which is abusing this monopoly more and more. The antagonists need to step in and end this injustice once and for all.
  • Genetic engineering is usually portrayed as “evil”, but it doesn’t need to be. A good, easy twist would be to offer a genetically engineered vaccine that is the only thing that can save mankind from a mutated plague; or a certain type of genetically modified grain that could solve a famine. If the producer of these is then less than clean – say, they also use their products for “evil” things – that sort of plot could offer a good amount of conflict of interests.
  • To cover another cliche: It’s not people who are behind the genetic experiments, it’s aliens. This can easily become zany, too, if you combine it with any sort of whacky conspiracy theory. Then twist it around and set it in a High Fantasy world.

There are surely countless other ideas, but that’s what I can come up with for now.

Idol’s idols

“I was going to write like James Branch Cabell, which would have taken a lot of doing. Before that, I was going to write like Rafael Sabatini, and like Talbot Munday, and like Rider Haggard, and even, God help us, like Edgar Rice Burroughs. …  Eventually I decided to write like H. Beam Piper, only a little better. I am still trying.”

H. Beam Piper, The double:bill Symposium interview

NaNoWriMo 2009 "Won"

It’s done, one day ahead of schedule – I “won” NaNoWriMo 2009.

NaNoWriMo 2009 Winner

This year, it was particularly hard. Not only do I have a new job which kept me quite occupied, I also did not have any furniture at home, having just moved into a new apartment. Like last year, I encountered mental resistance to the project after some time, and just like last year I asked myself, “why the hell am I doing this?”

I am doing this, of course, to teach myself to be “creative” to a schedule. I did a better job of this than last year. I wrote on fewer days of the month than last year, and got much more done on those days. And while I did not complete the story yet, I am quite close.

What made all the difference is that I followed one of the lessons learned from last year: This time I created an outline ahead of time. Some adjustments were necessary, as I moved the story form one of my worlds to another, but these were relatively minor. I did not complete the story yet, but I am very close; another 2-3 days will get me there so unlike last year, I will get to “The End”. It’s still a crappy story, so unless I edit it into something fairly nice I won’t be posting it. 😉

I am not sure whether I will do NaNoWriMo 2010, but unless some other big project interferes, I probably will. I’ll try to take some days off of work next year, though: If I have an outline and write every day, I should be able to easily complete a story in the 30 days.

Outlining and new world map

Lately, Ive been working on the outline for my Arnâron writing project. I’m behind schedule with the writing, but after my NaNoWriMo experience I really want to nail down the outline before I write even a single line of actual story. I guess there’s no real hurry anyway. I’m on chapter 7 of 12 for my revised outline, the other 5 chapters are basically still bullet point lists.

In addition, I have been working on Thraeton, which is one of my many worlds, and intimately tied to Terra and Arnâron. Specifically, I have been working on its world map. Currently, it looks like so:

Thraeton - Plate Tectonics

One thing noteworthy about this is that I am using Google Earth for visualization. If you ever build a world, give this method a try; the .kml files are well documented and easy to craft.

Thraeton in Google Earth

You can load the current WIP of Thraeton into Google Earth using this .kml file. Enjoy!

The City of Saint Brendan Sneak Peek

Here’s a little bit of a bonus and post scriptum for NaNoWriMo. I didn’t just design a fallout shelter, I also sketched out a city.

Saint Brendan, so named after St. Brendan the Navigator, is a large city located in the US State of Acadia. The city rose to prominence as a trade port after the discovery of the Northwest Passage and benefited greatly from the increase in trade with East Asia after the World War. It is New England’s largest city, with over six million people living in the metropolitan area. This makes Saint Brendan the fifth-largest urban conglomeration in the United States, before the Delaware Valley but less populated than the Dallas-Fort-Worth Metroplex.

Major industries are transportation, financial, and high tech. A large military presence secures the strategic location.

Destroyed Saint Brendan

Saint Brendan is an amalgamation of San Francisco, New York, and a few other cities. I decided to use a fictional city for several reasons:

  1. I don’t know New York personally, having never been there, and certainly do not know any other major US city intimately either. Potential readers would likely be more familiar with the setting than I and that is a problem. Using a fictional city frees me from the risk of making gross errors when describing the location.
  2. A fictional city gives me the freedom to arrange locations and other facts in a manner convenient to the story’s needs.
  3. It’s a great way to tell the reader “dude, this is not YOUR world“.
  4. I enjoy world-building. Duh!

I am a firm believer in recycling material, so expect Saint Brendan to pop up again in more detailed form.

To blog or not to blog fiction…

First off, a happy 2009 to all of you. I hope that you all had fun celebrating the advent of the new year, and that it will be a successful year for you.

I have worked on outlining that serialized fiction set in Arnâron I talked about last month, and I think I am fairly happy with the outline. It’s not gonna be the next bestseller, but for my purposes – advancing the world Arnâron – it will suffice. However, there’s one thing I have been mulling over that you guys might be able to give me an opinion on:

If and when I write these episodes, and if I and my “guinea pig” (I think the more correct term is “beta reader”) then think they are not totally terrible, what do I do with them?

Intuitively, I thought that I should just put them on the blog, but this is not really a fiction blog. Besides that would give them a sort of finality and I couldn’t go back and fix broken things. On the other hand, I do not really want to bury them in my document repository. Critique, feedback, and open development are Good Things. So what should I do with them?

Decisions, decisions!

NaNoWriMo 2008 Post-Mortem

NaNoWriMo 2008 is – for all practical purposes – over, and I reached the goal: Write at least fifty thousand words by the end of November.

Back in September, when I first considered signing up for NaNoWriMo, I was really not sure whether I should. So was the effort worth it? Let’s review.

What went right

* I was able to stick to the schedule. I wrote the required average of 1667 words per day, every day, and exceeded it on almost all days. Consequently, I reached the target ahead of schedule. I proved that I can produce text, that I can force myself to write even when I really, really do not feel like it.
* I was able to shut off the “inner critic”. I did this by telling myself that editing comes later, and it worked. I edited the text a few times, once to remove a mistake I had made, and I back-tracked several times to add more text to support things I wrote about later in the story. I did not delete text, I did not get bogged down in permanent editing mode.
* I liked my basic premise and characters. While quality was not a goal of NaNoWriMo, and I will not claim that what I wrote is worth reading, I certainly enjoyed working out the problems my characters faced.
* I built the world. I created a map and various support material for the story. The map, especially, proved to be invaluable; without it I would never have noticed a show-stopped problem with my plot resolution.
* I had fun. Well, sort of – it got harder the further I progressed. But, yes, over all, it was fun.

What went wrong

* I did not outline enough. I had a rough plan and ideas for the novel, and a fairly detailed outline for the first third or so. Based on my experience I will say that complete, proper outlining is absolutely essential for smooth writing.
* I wrote too late at night. Sometimes this was by necessity, other times because I got distracted by other things. On some days I wrote until I literally fell asleep at the keyboard. Bad idea, don’t try this one kids.
* I did not complete the novel. I was not able to complete the novel to “The End” so far, and while I am determined to finish it, it is highly unlikely that I will manage this in November.

Lessons learned

* Build characters and the world. Have a sound design for your characters and world, including the overarching conflict, the themes, thematic subjects, premises, and so on. Without conflict, you have no story. Without interesting characters, nobody will care. Without a consistent world, things will fall apart and you will run into contradictions.
* Outline. Outline, outline, outline. “Just do it.” Writing a complete outline from start to finish needs to be done before you start on your first draft. The outline is not set in stone, but it needs to deal with all main questions, and, most importantly, bring the story to a resolution.
* Write consistently. The temptation to take time off must be resisted. I know from previous experience that, if I set something aside for n days, I will almost certainly set it aside for n+1 days. Ad infinitum. Distractions, such as competing hobbies, should be put aside until after the daily writing session – consider it a reward for hard work.
* I need sugar to work. This is an unfortunate discovery: I need sugar in some form, for example soda, or I will not be productive at all. I am not sure if anybody can relate to this, but when I had no sugar I was unable to write, or at least wrote very, very slowly. With enough “fuel”, I was able to write much faster. Part of this may be that the sugar offset my tiredness, but I am fairly convinced that this is also at least in part a body chemistry thing.
* I have more respect for professional writers than ever. I always knew writing was hard work, but I now know first hand!

So I learned a lot, and had some fun – the experience was totally worth it!

Will I do NaNoWriMo again, say, next year? I honestly can’t say – I rarely can plan a year ahead. I think it would be interesting to see how following the lessons from this year might change the experience. We’ll have to wait and see.

What did you guys learn from NaNoWriMo? Did I miss any lessons, what is the most important thing you take with you after NaNoWriMo? Will you go for it in ’09? And… “Was it good for you?”

NaNoWriMo 2008, Day #18

Word count: 45012 (+2128 from day 17). (However, see below for a problem with this!)

Uneventful evening. Made the 45k milestone. There’s pretty much no way I will conclude the story by 50,000. Wrote a lot of dialog / exposition today. Now that they have the necessary information, my protagonists will soon set out on their quest to save the world™.

Wordcount as of 2008-11-18

I did note that I work better when I have a certain minimum intake of sugars. Which is really not cool, but it is something I should keep in min for the future.

In more general NaNoWriMo news (ha, I thought I’d never include that again!), they brought their word count tool online for testing. Interestingly enough, it counts only 43678 words when I paste my work into it – 1334 words less than what OpenOffice counts. I am not too concerned over this (although it is good to know now rather than on the 30th…).

It was reported to be a bug with OpenOffice. I verified it, and indeed found the issue already filed at OpenOffice.org. That’s quite annoying, but since I used the “broken” word count, I’ll probably continue to do so as there is no way I can correct the counts of the previous days. Since NaNoWriMo verifies to the correct count anyway, I’ll just have to make sure to have a good many words more than I need. Considering how much I still need to write that should hardly be a problem.

If any of you do use OpenOffice you should definitely check if this problem affects you.

NaNoWriMo 2008, Day #17

Word count: 42884 (+2338 from day 16).

Today’s writing session was much smoother again. The word count is still fairly low – I only wrote 2338 words – but at least I did not sit in front of the OpenOffice file torturing my brain for hours. Incidentally, my average is 2522.6 words per day.

My protagonists are out of harm’s way for now. They are about to receive a lot of information on what really happened; that will be tomorrow’s contribution to the novel, and will probably be one of the easiest sections to write.

Wordcount as of 2008-11-17

I am getting very close to 50,000 now. I can almost smell victory…

No real insights or “in other news” today. Sorry 🙂