"Corcoran’s fantasy debut is equal parts thrilling and ridiculous. [...] Readers will look forward to the sequel."

September 20, 2019

Poem: Writer's Block


First of all, let me apologize for not posting on Wednesday, and secondly, for this not being the follow up video game post. I've been swamped with work and other obligations and haven't been able to focus on putting together coherent ideas. Also, there is a current discussion in the gaming community (namely, must games have an easy mode if they are story-focused?) that I think I ought to address in my post. That being said, the poor little post hasn't been written yet. In the meantime, please enjoy this poem I wrote a few months back.


Writer’s Block

September 5, 2019

Video Games as Textual, Audiovisual, Spatial Storytelling


Video games are worth your while and are a unique form of storytelling. Games combine the best aspects of books, movies, and comics, while offering one other element, which we’ll get to later. First, let’s talk about games’ use of textual, audiovisual, and spatial storytelling.


Text and Subtext

Like a book, many games use text to tell their story. Older games rarely had voice acting, instead having each character’s words written or typed out on the screen. Games that now have voice acting still usually reserve it for cutscenes and use text for the majority of encounters in the game. This is somewhat equivalent to a comic’s use of speech balloons.

Some games, however, use text in a way unique from comics or books, and that is by using it in the descriptions of creatures and items. Okami is but one example of this; each time you fight an enemy, a description of it is added to your bestiary. These descriptions reveal new information that the player wouldn’t know simply from fighting each creature: that’s not just a flying fish, but the soul of a drowned woman; that electric mirror was struck by lightning, became a tsukumogami, and holds some of the theatrical feelings of it’s former owner; that scarecrow monster is the physical embodiment of loneliness felt in wintery lands. Although these descriptions don’t affect the main storyline, they add to the player's understanding of the world of the game. Similar encyclopedic items are found in other games, such as Pokemon’s Pokédex or Breath of the Wild's Sheikah Slate camera.

Certain games rely more heavily, if not entirely, on such descriptions to tell their story. Dark Souls is a hands-off game that gives players only the barest minimum information: in order to light the First Flame and stop everyone from going undead, ring two bells, fight four guys, get their souls and dump them into the Flame. That’s it. Not a lot to go on, and if that were it, I can’t see Darks Souls ever having become as popular as it is (especially considering how punishingly difficult it is). But beneath the surface lies a trail of breadcrumbs to follow; in the descriptions of each article of clothing, piece of armor, or weapon lie an intricate story and world building. If the player takes the time to pay attention to what is said, what items look like, and how they are described and then connects the dots, they are rewarded with a totally fleshed out story. Before I watched my brother play Dark Souls (It’s way too hard for me to play myself), I thought I hated dark fantasy, but Dark Souls sold me on it, and it did that with its subtle yet complex storytelling technique.


Art Style and Sound Effects

Games utilize visuals and sound in a way similar to movies, in that they present their story with specific camera angles and blocking (in cutscenes, at least) and use recurring theme music and sound effects. Games do, however, tend to be more stylized than movies. In terms of visuals, this was originally due to technological limitations; that is, graphics had to be simple because arcade machines and game cartridges didn’t have the capacity to handle more complicated data. Nowadays, the visual style of a game is a deliberate choice on the part of the developers.

As an aside, more realistic or better graphics do not necessarily equate to a better art style, in that “real” is not actually a style. There’s nothing wrong with games that choose realism, but I personally prefer those that present something more intentional: the painted scroll look of Okami, whose story is based on folklore; the lanky griminess of Dark Souls, which has themes of death and a world passing away; or the neon, middle-school-skater aesthetic of Splatoon, a paint-ball/skatepark simulator. Choosing a particular style and color scheme for a game can affect the way the player feels about it. Should they be scared, or amped up? Should it seem serious, or goofy and silly? Should the game feel artificial or realistic? Maybe it should be even more real than real, as in the detailed sci-fi sets of Halo and Destiny? These are things that good game developers ask and answer in the form of visual storytelling.

As far as the use of sound, the most stylized aspect of it is non-diegetic sound effects and the use of theme music. For non-diegetic sounds, I mean sounds that are meant to alert the player to something, but that are not part of the world of the game: the sound in the Metal Gear games that happens when someone notices Snake sneaking around, the beeping in Zelda games, and so on. Though such sounds function as alerts to the players, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them part of storytelling.

Music, on the other hand, absolutely serves the story. Games use recurring musical themes for specific characters  and situations. Ace Attorney, for example, uses the “Turnabout Sisters” theme for Mia and Maya, while other themes specify which phase of a trial you're in: cross-examination, a dangerous situation or new revelation, or the final confrontation with the guilty party. Many game series have music that span all games such as the Halo Theme, The Legend of Zelda Theme, and Zelda’s Lullaby. When these play, not only does the player get a sense of the import of whatever’s happening in that particular scene, but also feels connected to something larger, something that spans decades (in the real world) or even centuries (in the story setting). Music like this creates cohesion and immersion, and is a huge part of the emotional impact of games.


Two- and Three-Dimensional Space

While comics use two-dimensional space, in the form of panels and pages, games can use two- or use three-dimensional space. Side-scrollers (those games that feature the characters in profile, moving more or less left and right), top-down games (where the players views all action as if they were seeing it from above) and other such games generally use space either to simply let the character more from one location to another (whether that is from one event to another, to different random encounters or battle scenes, or even just the beginning of the level to its end), or as a way to introduce puzzles.

While oftentimes games include puzzles to make the games more challenging, certain games incorporate them into the story. Ghost Trick’s gameplay consists of building Rube Goldberg machines in order to save people from being killed, but that's because the main character is a ghost who can only possess and manipulate objects. A three-dimensional version of this is Portal, where the premise of the game is that you find yourself in a rather shady laboratory that is running tests using a gun that can shoot portals, allowing you to teleport around the test chambers. The gameplay involves strategy and puzzle-solving skills, and the in-game setting literally involves the same thing (incidentally, while Portal would be a fun puzzle game on it’s own, the audio from GlaDos, the AI who runs the test, is what makes that game an unforgettable classic!). While comics require that the artist use space to tell their story, games like Ghost Trick and Portal require the player to utilize and interact with the space in order to become a part of the world and advance the plot.

Since we’re talking about three-dimensional games, which obviously include puzzles and getting from point A to B, I’ll mention that games have the addition of a sense of distance. That is, you might be able to see a volcano on the horizon, or know on your map where the next town lies, but you actually have to take the time to journey there. Thus, many a game includes a quest element. You, the player, take a journey and spend time in the spacethe worldof the game. Not only do many games require you to complete a quest, many allow you to go off the beaten path, in the form of side quests, exploration, and choices.

But this post is getting long, and I have a lot to say regarding how that exploration and choice factors into what makes games truly unique. For now, I think I have shown that video games are worthwhile. Next time, dear readers—and gamers—I’ll share more thoughts on video games and why they are a totally unique form of storytelling.

August 22, 2019

Comics as Visual, Spatial Storytelling


Comics are worth your while, and are a unique form of storytelling. We've already discussed books as verbal storytelling and movies as audiovisual temporal storytelling, so what of comics? Comics—which includes comic books, graphic novels, webcomics, manga, and even comic strips—employ semi-verbal, visual, and spatial storytelling. 


A Way with Words

Like movies and plays, comics don't rely on words to tell their story. In fact, there are graphic novels out there that use no language at all. They are still semi-verbal, however, because the vast majority of them include words in the form of dialogue—usually in white balloons—narration, sound effects, and other uses of text.


August 7, 2019

Movies and Plays as Audiovisual, Temporal Storytelling

Movies and plays are worth your while, and are a unique form of storytelling (Yes, that is almost exactly how I opened my last post; this is a series, after all!). Now, theoretically, I should talk about these two mediums separately, as they have some major differences. I could even do another post about TV shows as a sequential form of movies, but I think "serial storytelling" will have to be a topic for the far future. I believe, however, that these two mediums have much more in common than they have different.

Movies and playsincluding musicals and TV shows as welluse semi-verbal, visual, temporal, and auditory storytelling.

July 24, 2019

Books as Verbal Storytelling



Drink tea, read books, be happy.
Books are worth your while, and are a unique form of storytelling. I probably don't have to convince most of you of that, since you're probably following this blog as someone familiar with The Styx Trilogy or my short stories. Also, I'd wager that most people think that books are important. But what makes them unique? Why read—or write—a book instead of watching a movie or playing a video game?

Lets begin with the basics. Books—and I'm going to include novels, book series, and even short stories under this umbrella—use verbal storytelling. They are the only medium to be completely without a visual component. This means that the author must choose his words carefully in order to convey what the characters, scenes, or actions look like to the audience. At the same time, there is a natural disconnect between what the author sees in his mind's eye and what the reader will imagine. This is a good thing. Each reader will have a somewhat unique experience of the book, while still getting most of what the author intended.

July 10, 2019

Reader Viewer Gamer Spy


Ok, maybe not that last one, but anyway...

If you've hung around this blog long enough, you've likely noticed that I tend to talk about "stories" more often than books, and that I use games, manga, and movies as well as written works to discuss writing concepts. This is because I think all those stories, in whatever medium, have something interesting to say, or something worth examining. Yet there exists no decent word for a person such as myself, a lover of stories, if you will.

June 25, 2019

The Obligatory Strong Female Character Post


What constitutes a "strong female character" (or SFC for short). As a person on the internet, I’m obligated to weigh in on this. Everybody’s doing it! But what do we mean by “strong”? Is a strong person the same as a strong character? And do we need more SFCs in fiction?

June 10, 2019

Libraries Are a Writer's Best Friend


There are a lot of resources out there for writers, from helpful websites to books to workshops, but the oddly overlooked one, in this day and age, is libraries. I'll chock this up to people assuming they can find everything they need on the internet (which, to be fair, is mostly true) or to thinking that libraries and physical books are passé (which is blatantly false). Sadly, many writers—who, if they do well, will have their books in libraries someday—don't understand how much libraries can offer them, for free.

May 28, 2019

MacGuffins Matter


If you know what a MacGuffin is, you're probably thinking that they actually don't matter in the slightest and that I'm full of nonsense. If you don't know what a MacGuffin is, here's a definition from Merriam-Websteran object, event, or character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance. The most famous example is the Maltese Falcon, in the film of the same name. It sets the plot in motion, in that every character wants the statue for himself, but lacks intrinsic value in that "the Maltese Falcon" could be swapped out for the treasure of your choice: the Abyssinian Monkey, the Peruvian Chinchilla, the MacGuffian Beast.

May 15, 2019

Writing Q & A #3


For this Q & A, I combined two short "Asks" from my Tumblr. Feel free to use these questions, as well as those from the first two Q & As, in your own blogging, fellow writers!


Poetry Questions

Q: Do you tend to focus more on word play or imagery in your poems?
A: I do a little of both. Although I like stark, clear images, I tend to write about abstract concepts, which don't always lend themselves to imagery. I'm actually not that into metaphors, but I love using wordplay to create connections between unlike concepts instead.