c.e. taillefer

September 30, 2016

Get your mind into the gutter: Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics

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If you’re into comics even the least little bit, chances are good the name Scott McCloud has crossed your radar. He’s better known for his comics about comics rather than the franchises he’s worked on, and for good reason – Understanding Comics is something I’d consider required reading for anyone working in a creative field.

Of particular interest to me is the concept of the “gutter” – the liminal space in comics (and arguably, in writing and games as well, and films and TV to a lesser extent) where the reader supplies the details of events between panels/sentences/scenes.

"Now you die!"

“I may have drawn an axe being raised in this example, but I’m not the one who let it drop, or decided how hard the blow, or who screamed, or why. That, dear reader, was your special crime, each of you committing it in your own style.”

This focus on reader participation in Understanding Comics began to highlight the ways in which I exploit similar stylistic choices in my chosen mediums of short and novel-length fiction, and games.  For example, from “Haven of the Waveless Sea”, where Fandral Staghelm relives the death of his son:

   “Again.”
       The meaty rip, the buzzing song, the sound of hope dying.
In fact, once I noticed it, I couldn’t stop noticing how often I used a similar “fade to black” style – as a cover for my own inexperience with elves being torn-apart by giant insect lords, or to give reuniting characters some privacy, a la William Goldman but also to poke fun at the reader’s own sense of imagination. All it takes is the narrator stating, “you can imagine the rest” after the beginning of a gory or erotic scene to get the readers actually thinking about it. (Don’t think of the pink elephant!) It’s a great way to pretend you’re a better writer than you are, since the readers are going to imagine whatever suits them best. It’s also one of the reasons why, a friend pointed out, that good tweets work so well as comic strips: they both make effective use to of the gutter to be funny or scary or poignant.
On the other hand, like any stylistic choice, it can be too often relied on.  One of the storytelling experiments I hope to use in my current Twine project is to write the whole story, regardless of how nonsensical or unreal it may seem, to get at the heart of a personal experience through the nitty gritty details. If the goal of a game is to promote both empathy and the sense of helplessness inherent in being trapped in an abusive relationship, going through the painful details with a fine tooth comb seems to be far more effective than letting the reader imagine for themselves, particularly if the project’s intent is to break down stereotypical media portrayals of abusive relationships.
In particular, I’m thinking of the ending of Watchmen by Alan Moore.  How much of a double gut punch is it for Ozymandias to admit his plan was already completed before the heroes ever arrived to stop him, and then to show, in explicit, bloody detail, what that plan entailed?  Moore’s goal was to play on tropes and stereotypes of superhero comics, and it’s effective both in thumbing its nose at the big Villain monologue (quite literally, Adrian says “I’m not some republic serial villain”!) and the amount of destruction that many superheroes cause in the process of saving the world. (Age of Ultron/Civil War in the Marvel cinematic universe tries this also, to lukewarm effect.) Moore’s got an explicit vision to sell in Watchmen, and sets it up via the non-linear transitions, where the reader can partake in their own version of Adrian’s plan before being exposed to the reality.
December 20, 2011

Blizzard Contest 2011 Winners!

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Early yesterday morning, Blizzard announced the official winners of the 2011 Writing Contest!

Winner:

“The Exit” by Danny McAleese

Finalists (in alphabetical order):

“Anatomy of Demons” by David Patterson
“Daughter of Lordaeron” by Marika Kermode
“Echo of Pride” by Martin Arthur Paul Wilson
“Reforged” by Anthony Dickson
“The Future of Lordaeron” by Tyler F.M. Edwards
“The Heavier Burden” by Erica Cargle
“The Stranger” by Walter Handloser
Honourable Mentions
“Ashes over Stormwind” by Ryan K. Stansifer
“Blood and Thunder” by Alex Boston
“Haven of the Windless Sea” by Celine Taillefer
“Iron Lady Down” by Joe Trela
“Isn’t Falstad Dead?” by Ian Casteen Bates
“A Mage’s Honor” by Geoffrey Walano
“Mending and Renewal” by James C. Reuss
“Pawned” by Ivan Carvalho
“Purity” by Tim Marrero
“The Short Happy Lives of the Southern Barrens Sapper Corps” by Nicholas Lampros
“Warrior’s Hands” by Allison Utterback
I’ll admit, there’s not much in the title of the winning entry to go on: it could easily be a WoW, Diablo or Starcraft, but if the past two winners are any indication, it will be excellent. On the forums, CM Daxxari said the following:

By way of explanation, our story contests inevitably prompt the innocent inquiry, “Can I post my story on my website?” This intonation regularly results in an altercation featuring a flurry of agitation, speculation, admonition, and inevitable degeneration into contention, to which it is my intention to add an adjudication which I hope will ease future consternation:

The stories can be posted, as long as they’re not used to directly generate revenue.

So, an author could use their story as part of a writing portfolio or post it on their website, and that would be fine so long as it isn’t used to generate income.

So if you submitted a story to the Writing Contest and would like it linked here, let me know! At the moment, any of the stories I’m aware of that have been posted have been linked above.

Congratulations to all the winner’s this year!

August 16, 2011

So many girls in here, where do I begin?

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The 2011 Blizzard Writing Contest has come around again, just in time for the weather to cool off enough to make writing on a coffee shop patio appealing.  There’s a number of things I’m hoping to see from entries, this year, but more than anything, I want to see awesome stories about awesome women.  I can’t hug every cat write every story, but there are plenty of women in the Blizzard lore that deserve face time by dedicated writers.

Heavy Hitters: These are the big name players, women who’ve already had their stories touched on in official books and lore.  They’re characters most people are likely to know and interested to read about.

i) Sylvanas Windrunner: we know who she is, where she came from, how she became the Banshee Queen.  What’s it like being Sylvanas without the Lich King?  How does she feel being cheated of vengeance at Icecrown Citadel?  Her experimentations with the plague, with the valkyr, and butting heads with Garrosh are all interesting depths to plumb.

ii) Jaina Proudmoore: is getting her own book via Christie Golden! Very exciting.  But in the meantime, there’s plenty to Jaina that can still be touched upon.  Studying in Dalaran, the only thing she really wanted to do.  The death of her father, and the role she played in it.  Keeping the human survivors of Lordaeron together while fleeing to Kalimdor.

iii) Tyrande Whisperwind: again, we got a glimpse of her recently in “Seeds of Faith”, but she shares billing with Malfurion.  She was the one, not the humans, who sent the ships to Gilneas’ aid.  She dealt with Fandral’s insolence for years and years.  When the Shen’dralar came out of their exile prior to the Cataclysm, she accepted them back, allowing them to teach arcane magics to the young night elves.

Other (but no less interesting) NPCS:


i) Sassy Hardwrench: okay, I am gnome/dwarf to the core.  But when Cata came out, I couldn’t resist rolling a goblin priest to experience the new starting zones.  Thrall? Trade Prince Jerkwad?  Snooze.  Sassy Hardwrench? NEW BFF FOR LIFE. She’s tough as nails, stands by your toon, and after losing everything by standing by your character, still manages to create a town named after herself in STV.  Sassy is no. 1 for my choice of women characters worth writing about.

ii) Maiev Shadowsong, Sayanna Stormrunner and the Wardens: With the Shadow Warden presence in the Molten Front, it’s as good a time as any to tackle the Wardens, particularly in light of their charge escaping.  How does Sayanna deal with that failure in light of a hero like Maiev who didn’t rest until she had recaptured or killed her own prisoner?

iii) Mylune: Come on, does this really even need explanation?

iv) Lorna Crowley: She’s a gun-toting, dog-training badass with a flower in her hair who becomes commander of the liberation movement for Gilneas.  She’s so badass she escapes both becoming Forsaken and Worgen.  Honorable mention and equal badassitude to Gwen Armstead, as well.

v) Stormcaller Mylra: this was a great expansion for dwarves and dwarven women – if you’re not a Bronzebeard, anyway.  Mylra’s one of the Earthen Ring shaman who helps you suss out what the deal is with the Twilight Hammer in Deepholm, and helps you fight an old god minion in Twilight Highlands.  She doesn’t hesitate to do what’s needed.

vi) Fanny Thundermar: Another Wildhammer dwarf woman, Fanny’s a prize catch for eligible bachelors due to her connections. But actually, she’s also a wicked fighter, and a woman who knows what she wants in a partner.  Plus, think of all the hilarious puns you can work in to shock UK and Aussie readers.

vii) Blood Raven: I’m deviating a bit from WoW lore because a) Diablo is fine too! and b) given my kajillion restarts of DII, I fought her more times than I’d like to admit.  Did you know she’s meant to be the corrupted form of the rogue NPC from Diablo?  The demon Andariel corrupted her and a number of her sisters after a trip to Tristram (nothing good ever happens there.)  Between her and Kashya, there’s lots of story fodder.

The Obvious Choice:


i) Your NPC: The greatest thing about writing in the Warcraft lore – and really, any of the Blizzard IPs – is that you have your own blank slate to work with.  Your character has performed all sorts of tasks, from mundane to heroic.  There’s surely a million stories to be told from them alone.

To all entrants in the Blizzard Writing Contest, good luck. Don’t ever doubt, don’t ever stop writing.