On Notebooks, Ideas and Sloth

Massive Bear Wall(tm) follows (well, not too bad, slightly under 2k words). The wordpress import thing did not work, sadly. Looks like manual importation is necessary. Importation is apparently a word. Wow.

What follows is a strange, convoluted rant about how I experience writing.

Short version:

Do I have one of those artist notebook idea scribblers? No, much to the denigration of my writer cred.

Where do I get my ideas? Random encounter mechanic.

Sloth? Lazy son of a bitch.

Long version:

Currently I am on summer vacation, and my life is so slow and languid, the days quite literally melt into each other. Sometimes I go to bed at midnight, sometimes at 8am. Sometimes I sleep for twelve hours straight, sometimes only a four hour nap over a 48 hour period.

It doesn’t help that I completely mix up my meals either. For example, I have had blueberry bagels with cream cheese, eggs and delightful breakfast sausage for dinner.

I game, I write, I watch movies and read stuff, blow my mind with Isaac Asimov short stories, then finish up with daydreaming about evil overlord tactics. Then I ponder what life is like from the perspective of a potato.

I only work two or three shifts a week, which leaves me a lot of time to do stuff by myself. Which means I pretty much never leave my computer.

I have no need of a notebook to scritch things down on, as I’m always a keyboard shortcut and one or two mouseclicks away from a blank screen awaiting text input.

Second, my actual method of coming up with ideas is quite ponderous. When I think of something, I think “that’s kinda neat” and then branch out from there. I never, ever forget the general theme or purpose of any idea I think of, because I spend literally hours brooding on each and every one of them.

But this is just general themes. Not specific words, not specific turns of phrase or ways to word things. I think in sweeping directions, of general places to turn and explore with the characters I have.

Things like:

He thirsted, though he knew not what would quench it. The Legion showed him.

He hungered, though he knew not what would sate it. The Legion showed him.

He lusted, though he knew not what for. The Legion showed him.

I do not actually think of any of this before actually writing it down.

Instead, I have a resto shaman, named Goraxxus. I am leveling with a buddy who’s tanking on his warrior. We chain run dungeons. This leaves me literally hours and hours where I am playing the game on autopilot, and so my mind wanders.

Things that I barely qualify as ideas begin to form and coalesce. Fragments of things, little things, start to come together.

Picture a puzzle. Thousands of fragmented, broken pieces that provide no coherency on their own. But you poke them. You prod them. They start to clump together in ways you simply cannot predict.

This isn’t a gradual process either. It isn’t a slow shift. It’s sudden. Immediate. I’m not even aware that I’m prodding things, this is all just idly happening.

One second I’d be all “Goraxxus, huh. Orc. I only picked this name because I wanted to make Jaraxxus themed macros. Burning Legion.”

The very next second, the character of Goraxxus is fully formed. His origins on Draenor, the tragedy of his betrayal, his dalliance with the draenei, his role as a warlock, his continuous quest to seek death. All of that simply appears with no input whatsoever on my end.

Then comes the aforementioned brooding.

The initial Goraxxus story? That was the result of easily ten to twelve hours of solid rumination. Of that, the majority of it was merely aimless pondering.

Once I have an idea, I look at this thing, and I question it. Now, I begin to manually poke it and prod it.

There aren’t really any details yet, you see. At this point, all these ideas and themes are not in words yet. They do not exist as I typed them just a moment ago. They are nebulous, but they exist. A hazy existence I haven’t defined yet.

And so I define it. But I am not creating it, as it is already created. I am defining something that already exists, so that I can communicate it effectively, or at least attempt to.

Consider the word “elephant”. You know immediately the animal I am referring to, all the details about it.

That is what a story idea comes to me as. I start with loose things. A huge formless sack of grey texture. A levitating tusk, perhaps a loose eyeball growing around it. An umbrella stand shaped like a foot.

Then, in a split second, all those loose variables come together and I behold the elephant, in all its glory. But it has no name. There are no words to describe what it is that stands before me. There are no words, because I have not yet created the words.

This is what the brooding accomplishes. I take the idea of that elephant, and I bring it to the written world. It already has shape, I transcribe it. Its form is pure, perfect, I try and translate that without marring it. I look at it, call it elephant, attaching meaning to the word, and then try to express that meaning to others.

But what about employment? I have a job, and it is not a difficult one. It requires little to no thought. Any ideas I have there I can freely brood upon for hours without impacting my performance at all.

The only time I would ever lose an idea is when I’m raiding or PvPing content that requires my attention. In such cases, however, my brain is too occupied to come up with ideas anyway, so it is a moot point.

Even a story as simple as True Hunter is the product of hours of idle thinking, before I sit down and simply begin to write. I almost always feel drained after the first draft. It is similar to giving birth, in the meta sense. The labor is over. Here it is, before me, somehow totally separate from my mind, yet completely a part of me, for better or worse.

A story in its infancy is malleable and weak. It cannot stand on its own without me to help it along. It poops itself and cannot even feed itself. Alone, it would wither and die without even a whimper.

Then I “raise” it. I prune things, add things, change sentence structure or wording here and there. It becomes more defined, becoming more solid than the squishy thing covered in blood that first emerged.

Then it hits the petulant teenager stage. It is now fully defined, ready to move on and it doesn’t really give a shit if I think its ready. It is at that point I really only have two choices. Let it make its own decisions, and hope you made few enough mistakes that it can stand on its own and be an enjoyable story. Or you burn the whole thing down and start over.

Basically, a matured story can’t really be changed. Minor tweaks, very minor tweaks, sure, but any big changes? Not possible. At such a point, the story must be destroyed. Any good elements can be preserved and used in a new (hopefully better) story. Cannibalize what parts I can, delete the rest.

Secretly I hope I never have to do the latter. Secretly I love them all, I am proud of them all. The ones I consign to the flames, I never truly forget. They haunt me, a continuous reminder of my failings, never ceasing to remind me that even with all the love and care I can bestow, sometimes… sometimes I create an abomination.

And that’s what writing is like!

In a roundabout way, this is also why I racechanged from troll to blood elf. It took multiple abortions before I realized the following: I absolutely, positively, could not produce quality work starring Euripedes the Troll Mage. It was impossible.

The reason was ludicrously simple, though it evaded me for some time. Euripedes the Troll Mage was not a character I could write fiction about. Euripedes the Troll Mage was created in an era where I did not create “characters”, I created avatars through which I interacted with the game world.

Euripedes the Troll Mage was, in short, an extension of me. Rather than playing a character within a separate world, Euripedes was little more than a glove I put on to interact with World of Warcraft.

I could not tell stories about such a thing. It wasn’t possible. It was like trying to tell stories about my left hand, where prior to this, I had never thought of my left hand as anything other than a body part.

Sure, I loved story lines and enjoyed Bioware games. Things like KOTOR, NWN, I played all those. But I did not create characters for those games. I did not create, say, Umbrage Thalogen the human paladin and save the city of Neverwinter. I created an avatar, named him Poodles the Unstoppable, and then I, via my avatar, saved the city of Neverwinter (sort of).

It took until my sixth playthrough (give or take five or six playthroughs) for this thought process to shift.

I stopped treating my avatars as gloves I put on when I played a game. I started treating them as characters. I gave them names. I bestowed upon them personalities and even rudimentary back stories beforehand. Then, I made decisions in game according to those personality traits and strictly adhered to them.

I used to play games by just doing random shit according to what I thought would be fun. This is no longer true when I play, truly play, story driven games. I mean, yeah, I’ll fire up Dragon Age and dick around doing random shit. But that’s just dicking around.

When I say truly play, I mean I sit down, follow the quest lines, clock five or six hours a session, usually far, far more than that, and actually immerse myself within a character and act accordingly.

This has extended to every game I play. As long as there is a modicum of story telling, I play a character, not an avatar. Even a game is gleefully ludicrous as Saints Row, I stick to a given character concept (even of that concept is hyperviolent psychopath, it is still a legit character).

I even act this way in D&D, much to the frustration of my fellow party members. Playing a Paladin who takes feats and prepares spells that do nothing but increase my damage output when the party has no cleric? THE DRAMA.

However, I could not extend this to Euripedes the Troll Mage. I could not take my glove, draw a face on it and invent a personality for it. It could not be done, and believe me I tried many times, and failed miserably every time.

This left me two options. Give up, or burn it down and rebuild from the ashes.

A quick visit to the armory will confirm I chose the phoenix option. Euripedes the Troll Mage, my glove, was torched. Euripedes the Blood Elf Mage, an actual character, complete with personality traits and disorders, was reborn from that destruction.

Now, I can tell stories.

Well, I could before, but now they won’t suck. As bad. Hopefully.

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9 Responses to On Notebooks, Ideas and Sloth

  1. That whole phoenix thing has been very tempting of late…

    • Euripedes says:

      Do it! You probably won’t regret it.
      It is a lot like taking a refreshing shower after… well, something that would make a shower feel really fantastic. Not showering for three days, intense labour leading to sweatiness, what have you.
      A delightful feeling of newness, though it must wear off sooner or later.
      Still hasn’t for me, several weeks into elfness.

  2. Delerius says:

    Euripedes promised me a story about his left hand.

  3. Torumin says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. Seeing how other people think and approach certain situations is very interesting!

    And does that mean we’ll see a story of Euripedes the Blood Elf Mage somewhat soon? 😀

  4. Chrisss16 says:

    Before we see any story on Euripedes the Blood Elf Mage, your readers request a story on your left hand. Nay, they demand it. Your left hand must be the protagonist in a piece of written fiction.
    Get to it!

    That said, most of your work so far has been excellent, and believe me when I say I can relate to your method of coming up with new ideas. The trouble for me is that I forget them far too often, and far too quickly, and many excellent ideas I have never come to fruition.

    • Euripedes says:

      Bah! That is preposterous! A story about my left hand?

      I suppose it could be done, but do you realize how hard it would be to not make continual masturbation references? Gah! They wouldn’t even be intentional (see “hard” a sentence back).

      Hmm. Might be easier if it was about more than my left hand…

  5. SpiritusRex says:

    Nah, not the hand; but, rather, the glove. A glove is something new to me and kind of perverse in a “I’ve never tried that” kind of way. Aye, would like to hear about the glove itself :p

  6. Jujee says:

    I am sure you also write non-WoW fiction…no?

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