December 22, 2011

The Goings-on

Here Be Monsters, like any super villain empire, or league of super heroes, wants global domination. The power to shape the world to its every whim. It’s pretty simple. That sums it up. I guess I should “reassure” you that our whims are art heavy and involve speculative fiction. Whether that places us in the super villain or hero category is debatable. If this version of the future makes your brain itch then stop reading now, or please continue so we might win you over.

To enact our plans will take hard work. Dedication as seemingly intense as you can find here or here These folks also seem hard at it

We’re impressed by the number of submissions we’ve received in support of our cause, currently issue 6. You have all been sending us so much, it’s amazing.

A couple of questions come up rather frequently. Many of you want to know about genre and length. Is x number of words too short? What kind of genre are you looking for, or similarly is a story about x where x happens at location x ok? These are the two most popular types of questions. We like both types of questions. So thanks! I’ll try to clarify somewhat here. They’re good questions.

First, when it comes to length we are allowing up to 10000 words. That is quite a lot for most anthologies from what I gather. It sets us apart (I like to think, it’s one of the many things). Of course, the shorter the stories the more writers we can include and the greater variety we can provide the readers.

Is it possible to have fiction that is too short? Yes. Is it determined by word count? My opinion: most often not… well within reason. There are some very entertaining stories that are spectacularly short. They can stir a thought, entertain us, or make us question ideas, or ideals. If they do this in 750 words or 1500, for example then they aren’t too short. A good length for me is determined by whether the story tells the story it has to tell in a way that makes me want to read it.

Second… genre… please don’t feel constrained by it. We all have our preferences, but they are just preferences. We can read stories from our preferred genres that we don’t like, just as we can read stories from genres we generally turn to last and be pleasantly surprized. So it may not be about genre, but we do enjoy strange. When in doubt, try us.

December 14, 2011

Writing in Boxes

A couple of weeks ago I discussed our collaborative writing project that we did over the summer. That was one of the two writing projects I started during the publishing break. The other one was building a portfolio for video game writing.

Now, this is a separate field in a lot of ways, and not something that the other HBM authors dip their toes into, so this whole post is basically a tangent. But, for me, it's been a really interesting journey learning about the writing that goes into a game.

First off, the craft of video game writing is incredibly young. It's juvenile in every sense of the word. It was hard for me to pin down how it works, or even when it is needed. Many games don't have writers in the traditional sense. Some games don't have (or need) writing at all. Tetris doesn't even have a story, and it certainly wouldn't be better if it did. Shadow of the Colossus (one of my favourites and an important work when it comes to story in games) does most of its story-telling through action and not writing. RPGs like Bioware's Dragon Age are bursting with writing, with text or dialogue making up huge portions of its 40+ hour play time. All this to say, video game writing can mean a lot of different things.

And the professional advice that I got matched with that. Other writers in the industry said that an aspiring writer should learn to have breadth and show that in their work. So, while my first few ideas revolved around stories that I would love to see in games, I later tried to do stories for games I wouldn't even enjoy. Or writing pieces that have nothing to do with story. So different from my fiction, where if I'm not liking the story that I'm writing, it won't get finished. I also learned some great exercises that felt a lot like the prompt-based writing that started Here Be Monsters. "Write 100 variations on 'I've been shot'" was always one of my favourites. After a few simple versions, I started looking at it like micro-fiction. They may be a bit elaborate but I think "I'll miss the birds on the pond the most" or "So I fall, as she prophesied, to a heathen's bullet" are a lot more fun than the usual barks you hear in shooting games.

I'm really excited about games and where they're going, so this was fun for me. But I found myself butting up against a lot of walls when doing the writing. There are the limitations of technology and scope. More constraining however, are the limitations in content. Games, by and large, have had a narrow field of stories. They are mostly about direct, violent conflict with another group or character. Literature teachers tell us not confuse the concepts of "hero" and "protagonist" but games have almost never made that distinction. And this isn't even taking into account the glut of remakes and sequels that makes the summer movie blockbusters look like a parade of film-fest darlings. It was so ingrained in me that I found myself looking back at a lot of pieces and thinking "isn't that just like the game x?"

So, I restarted. After a couple of months of work, I've taken a couple of pieces from the original eight or so and left the rest. Now I'm looking for more ways to tell stories in the rhythm and language that games use. Like, weaving a story for key units in a strategy game. Anyone who plays these gets attached to that one plucky pack of soldiers that have been with you since you started your campaign in Italy/Japan/Tatooine. Many games even have mechanics to reflect this, so I was looking to reinforce the feelings that already exist with dynamic story. I would also love to work on an adventure/mystery game. They're not as popular as they once were, but the ones that are made are often gems. Plus, you can add something to the traditional whodunit -- in text, a mystery can only end in one way (the one that is written) -- In a game, it's possible to have endings where the mystery remains, a lie stands as truth, or the real truth is revealed. The story can accommodate all of those.

I still have a lot to learn in this area, but I can see the potential there. I plan to keep going with game writing until I figure out how to make it feel as good as my fiction writing.

Thanks for reading this. If you'd like to hear more about it, I'll happily talk ad nauseam with you in the comments. Otherwise, look for more posts from HBM next week. And if you haven't seen our microfiction yet, please check it out.

December 8, 2011

Writing In Your Second Language

It's been about four years now since I started writing in English.  I mean in a serious way.  I had of course written in English before: for school, for work, or to write love letters to my English wife.  But about four years ago, I decided to start writing fiction in the language of Shakespeare and Stephen King, as opposed to that of Molière and Daniel Pennac.

I have, occasionally, been asked why.  And also pourquoi.

The first answer is: to make tons of money.  This is working out splendidly *coughs in hand*.

The second answer is: I'm not sure.

The third answer is: I've had a fascination with the English language for a long time.  I think it began with a great English teacher, in high school, who would take us to the park to read poetry out loud, analyze Leonard Cohen's work, and tell us about how he'd moved from Ontario to Montreal because you could buy beer at the corner store in Quebec. That's when I realized English was beautiful.  And that I would never move to Ontario.

As I started to explore English, its strange spelling, unfathomable pronunciation and wonderful music, what I discovered was that writing in my second language freed me from constraints I hadn't even realized I'd felt.  Whereas in French I'd been obsessed with sounding literary and deep, in English I could concentrate without guilt on doing what really interested me in writing: telling stories.  And so what if it didn't sound quite so deep?  After all, it was only my second language, so this was just for fun, right?

That's what I've been doing ever since.  Having fun.

December 1, 2011

Strategies for Writing: Super Vague and Hard to Do

First, Expozine happened in Montreal last weekend. I hope people made it out to see some of the great things people are doing!

Down to “business”. I’d like to talk about stories. Many elements can help create a good story, for example, interesting character development, conflict, intricate plot, or simply an emotional atmosphere. Sometimes you get all of these and more. Other times it’s just one that carries the weight. Then there are the bad stories, but hey, so much is also subjective.

A writer’s ability to be creative can influence all of these elements. Creativity may be a mix of experience and talent. What do you think? Is it more one than the other? Regardless, I think it also benefits from process. For example, everyone knows brainstorming. It’s basic. You can brainstorm at the beginning, but also as you go around specific elements.

I like to bring together random ideas or elements and think, what if…. What I bring together can be concepts or objects. The fun is in playing with these things to see how they can fit together as a piece of a story, or in some cases it can be in seeing what stories may be possible. So you could toy with: bad ideas as a commodity and a merchant; cloning to allow for physical immortality and a secret society; or octopi and human gene splicing…

When I have an idea or a combination of ideas I try to imagine what could happen if I slip the ideas into different situations. I never stop at my first situation. Often even my original ideas change. It’s a rather deliberate pursuit beyond the first idea and situation. The idea and situation become interwoven and changes in one often mean changes in the other. Whatever I have in mind I don’t hold it too tight. The whole process is fluid and things never happen as I plan them… they happen as I write them (… and again when I revise).

Layering is important for me. I start with something simple, but add to it. I’m looking for strangeness. Whether I achieve what I want is always debatable. Especially, because I don’t know what I want until I have it.

What I’ve mentioned here is just a piece of what goes through my head, but even that was hard to put into words. How accurate is it? Honestly, probably, not very. Mostly, because it leaves out the whole thing I do with peanut butter, balloons and parking meters.

Following us on FB helps you know when we’re looking for submissions (which we are doing now!), and when we’re launching. Do that if you want. Thanks for the submissions so far. They’re great. We’re looking forward to the ones yet to come!