“Hymn to Breaking Strain” by Julia Ecklar and Leslie Fish
The careful textbooks measure: “Let all who build beware!
The load, the shock, the pressure material can bear.”
So when the buckled girder lets down the grinding span
The blame of loss or murder, is laid upon the man
Not on the steel– the man!
But in our daily dealing with stone and steel, we find
the gods have no such feeling of justice toward mankind!
To no such gauge they make us, for no laid course prepare.
In time they overtake us with loads we cannot bear
Too merciless to bear
The prudent textbooks give it in tables at the end:
The stress that shears a rivet, or makes a tie-bar bend
What traffic wrecks macadam, what concrete should endure
But we poor sons of Adam, have no such literature
To warn us or make sure
We hold all Earth to plunder, all time and space as well
Too wonder-stale to wonder at each new miracle
’til in the mid-illusion of Godhood ‘neath our hand
Falls multiple confusion on all we did or planned
The mighty works we planned
We only in creation! How much luckier the bridge and rail!
Abide the twin damnation: to fail, and know we’ve failed!
Yet we– by which sole token we know we once were gods–
Take shame in being broken, however great the odds!
The burden or the odds
Oh, Veiled and Secret Power Whose Paths We Seek in Vain,
Be with us in our hour of overthrow and pain!
That we– by which sure token we know Thy ways are true–
In spite of being broken
–Or because of being broken?–
Rise up and build anew!
Stand up and build anew!
Weird thing about listening to the characters when I write, is that what I think the characters are going to do at the beginning, and what they actually do when they get there, are often completely different. In the current book, I’ve just hit 34,000 words and finally put into words a scene that I have been writing in my head for three years– a scene which is one of the major touchstones of the book for me. I’m pleased with the scene, and overall quite pleased with the book, but I am also faced with a problem, which is that the plot is off from my outline by about 33°. My intended next chapter… totally doesn’t make sense any more.
So, loathe as I am to do it, I need to stop my forward momentum and go back to the macro-level outlining stage and re-think the back half of the book. I didn’t want to be doing any story surgery on that big a level until I had completed the first draft, because I’m sure I will find more things that need doing on the way, but I also can’t complete the first draft in its current state because I have no idea what’s going to happen.
On the other hand, this can be a great opportunity to come up with a much better ending. If I take the first half plot as it has come out as my starting point and ask the characters, “What do you do now?” instead of trying to figure out a way to wrangle the story back to the outline I already had, hopefully the new ending will be stronger, more satisfying, and truer to the characters.
It’s just, y’know, more work for me. 😛 *shakes his fist at an uncooperative muse*
Greg shook his hand in the air. “Guh, you wouldn’t think stirring cookie dough would hurt so much.”
“Worry not!” said Brigid, shoving her finger into the bowl and pulling it out covered in dough and chocolate chips. “Your sacrifice shall not have been in vain!” She greedily gulped down her prize.
“You shouldn’t eat raw cookie dough!” said Greg. “You could get sick from it!”
“No I couldn’t,” said Brigid. “It’s never actually happened to anyone in the history of ever.”
“Of course it has,” said Greg. “There’s the well-known case of Silas Gunderson. In 1874, he was making cookies to comfort himself after having accidentally slashed his arm open on a sewer grate while trying to fend off the diseased rats who chewed off two of the fingers on his left hand. Took one bite of raw cookie dough, and dropped dead on the spot.”
“What?” said Brigid. “That’s stupid. Even if you hadn’t just made that up on the spot, all that would mean was that he died while eating raw cookie dough, not from eating raw cookie dough.”
“Well, yes, but still. Better safe than sorry, don’t you think?”
“No, I so don’t,” said Brigid, scooping out another dollop with a large spoon.
For the past two weeks, when not sending off job applications, most of my time has been spent writing another novel. I had intended to hold off until November and do it as a NaNoWriMo project, but for whatever reason the book said, “NOAP, you will write me NOW!” and so I have been. As of last night, I hit 20,000-ish words at the end of chapter seven, and I’m taking a “creative recharge and look back at the progress so far break” today before attacking chapter eight.
I have to say, I am very pleased with how the book is coming along, and as far as this story is concerned, it’s about damn time. This story started out as a nugget of my Arclight Adventures comic project, then morphed into my Coventry idea, then emerged as its own thing, then got shelved, then informed the creation of Rough Housing, then got shelved again, and now has finally re-asserted itself with forcefulness that will not be denied. Verity and Tanya want their story to be told, and they want it to be told in the right way, dammit! And when characters yell at me that loudly, well, I’d be a fool not to listen. The book is coming fast, and solid, and fun, but also with a lot more depth and texture to it than I expected. As I tweeted last night, I think this is going to be my best book yet, and this is the one I finally feel is a good candidate for publication.
The revamped Brigid and Greg novel is another good candidate, actually, and I may put that into the NaNoWriMo slot if this book is finished by then. That one would probably have been finished by now if the house sale hadn’t knocked me out of my groove.
A major factor in this level-up of my writing craft has been Scrivener, which has turned building an outline/story structure from a horrendous pain into an absolute joy. For both the B&G book and the new one, I have started with five notecards:
- Act One: Setup
- Act Two: Conflict
- Act Three: Rising Action
- Act Four: Catastrophe/Falling Action
- Act Five: Denouement
Drilling down from each of these, I put in 4-6 more notecards with major story beats. On each of the story beat notecards, I then drill down and put 3-5 short scene summaries– not even whole sentences, just things like “Brigid and Isadora argue”. That whole process takes me a few days, and by the time I’m done I have a nice and solid skeleton to start hanging my story on. From there, it’s just writing out each scene as described in the summary, usually in a 500-1,500 word chunk, of which I can write around three on a “normal” working day and more on a really good day. Just looking at the math, you can see what happens: four scenes of 1,000 words each make a 4,000 word chapter; five chapters of 4,000 words each make a 20,000 word act; four acts of 20,000 words, plus a denouement that’s probably one or two chapters tops, make an 80,000-90,000 word novel.
(Of course, nothing ever goes completely to plan. In the current story, in order to twist the emotional knife on a particular scene, I decided to elevate something that was basically speed bump in my outline into a major catastrophe, which in turn made complications that had to be coped with, but which had not been factored into the original plan. Using Scrivener, that was relatively easy to fix, basically by just shoving in some more notecards for new scenes or chapter. Since it’s just shoving little pieces around at the outlining level, it doesn’t feel like major plot surgery.)
Anyway, I think that with this book, I will actually be making the transition from perennial dabbler to true professional novelist. Not just because of the quality of this piece, but because I now feel like I have the tools and the experience to repeat the performance. I can now confidently build a novel-length story, and I know both what I want out of the process and what the process will need out of me to pull it off. And honestly, I think that when I actually finish something my writing is as good as anybody’s out there.
Building an audience, translating these books into earning a living, and all that stuff, is something else I will need to tackle, of course, as is integrating all of this with my desire to keep Suburban Jungle alive. But those are all topics for another day.
Okay, okay, it’s not a monster writeup. But it has a monster in it, and it’s Monday. So deal with it!
Commission for Miertam, possibly the start of a new series, of Twilight learning all about monsters… the hard way. This episode’s entry is that adorable little six-legged tentacular light-warping critter, the displacer beast. Fluttershy, of course, thinks it’s adorable… and clearly Twilight is speechless with admiration!
Such a weird-honkin’ monster and one of my favorites, even if I rarely actually use them. 😀 Inspired originally by “Voyage of the Space Beagle” by A. E. van Vogt if my memory serves correctly, modified slightly and now immortalized by Dungeons and Dragons. Aside from its devious nature, the displacer beast has a permanent illusion of being some distance from its actual body. I never really thought that would actually be that confusing until I started drawing this, but now I can totally see it.
On an artistic note, for this pic I decided to do a piece that used the pony character models but drawn in my own style rather than trying to simply mimic the MLPFIM style. Whattya think?
Sometime a while back I happened upon some articles about worldbuilding with the Monster Manual, and I’ve been doing some thinking about it on my own since then, particularly in regards to the “normal people” of a D&D world.
Somewhere lost in the dim mists of the edition wars, there was an interesting article about the balance of 3.x, and how DCs, skill ranks, and ability scores all worked perfectly to simulate a realistic setting if you assumed that almost every person in the average D&D world is an NPC classed character of level 1-5 or so with ability scores ranging from 8-12. Even the paltry 1d4 damage of a dagger is deadly if you only have 4 hit points, and on that scale is the 5d6 damage of a fireball any more dangerous than the 2d6+3 battleaxe of an orc? Not really. To a low-level 3.x NPC, anything that has a positive attack bonus is likely to kill them with one or two shots.
With that discussion in mind, I started looking at the NPC stat blocks in the 5E Monster Manual to see what I could deduce about the “normal” population. Here’s what I found.
- Still sucks to be the 99%. Commoners (CR 0) have 10s across the board, 4 hit points, and a +2 proficiency bonus (but no proficiencies). Racial bonuses and any training you wish to give them will make the biggest difference– a racial stat bump and proficiency in a given skill will get them all the way up to the dizzying heights of +3 at something.
- Constabulary/soldiery quality varies widely. A Guard (CR 1/8) is almost three times as durable as a commoner, with 11 hit points and of course armor that makes them very difficult for the unwashed rabble to hit in the first place– but they are positively outclassed by the Thug (CR 1/2), whose 32 hit points and multiattack with their mace put the guard in big danger if the thug manages to win initiative. The guard still outclasses the Tribal Warrior (CR 1/8) by virtue solely of their better gear, but all three of them look like amateurs compared to the Veteran (CR 3) or the Knight (CR 3). The Gladiator (CR 5) is probably the scariest “normal” opponent, with a sturdy AC 16, 112(!) hit points, and three attacks.
- As I am a gentleman, sirrah, I beg of you, “Not to the face.” The Noble (CR 1/8) is fragile, with a mere 9 hp and only his parry to protect him. Even surrounded by guards a noble is well-advised to surrender to the Bandit Captain (CR 2) solo, with his three attacks and 65 hit points, much less one who’s surrounded by, y’know, his Bandits (CR 1/8), who are akin to tribal warriors in ferocity. Knights by comparison are much more fearsome, being well protected (AC 18), durable (hp 52), and can probably take the Bandit Captain one-on-one plus is a better leader.
- No, Mr. Bond, you are only CR 1. The Spy (CR 1) is roughly on par with a 2nd or 3rd level rogue, quite dangerous even to the Thug if they can get in a sneak attack or two, but not much danger to the Veteran in a straight-up fight. The Scout (CR 1/2) is tougher than a Guard or a Bandit but not by much.
- Using magic is cheating! Spellcasters weird the CR system. The Mage (CR 6) is a 9th level wizard, with 12 AC, 40 hit points, and one cone of cold, making it a glass cannon. The Priest (CL 2) is a 5th level cleric, and the Druid (CR 2) is a 4th level druid. 5E calculates CR almost entirely as a factor of hit points and damage output assuming a solo encounter, so the fragile mage and the not-really-a-combat-specialist priest end up being fairly low on the CR totem pole for the amount of impact they can have as part of a well-crafted team. But then we look at the Archmage (CR 12), who is an 18th level wizard. These crazy-powerful reshapers-of-the-universe who can stop time or grant a wish still don’t rate as powerful as a single storm giant because they “only” have 99 hit points and can only fire off cone of cold three times.
So when you look at these figures for the “baseline” populace, you start to see some trends. First off, hit points are all over the map. An assassin going after the king might have to be able to kill someone with 9 hit points, 52 hit points, or more depending on if that king is a mighty warrior or a feeble aristocrat. Still, it would appear that most members of the “normal” populace have about 5-30 hit points, which means that they’d fare wildly differently against a goblin’s knife but roast equally in the breath weapon of an adult dragon. It’s only when you get to the most battle-hardened NPCs (the Bandit Captain, the Gladiator, the Knight, the Veteran) that facing that kind of threat becomes even feasible, much less having any chance of success.
It also means that an NPC “adventuring party” consisting of a Veteran (fighter), Spy (rogue), Mage (wizard), and Priest (cleric) would be a “hard” encounter for a party of four 8th level PCs and “deadly” for anything lower. If we assume “hard” to be roughly where groups come into parity, that puts a generic group of adventurers solidly in the “heroes of the realm” tier.
If you look at skill levels as measured by proficiency, most skilled experts have about a +3 to +5 with their most tricked-out ability, and somewhere around +1 with everything else due to their ability scores. Few NPCs have saving throws to speak of, maybe a +2 or +3 with their best ability. A few outliers buck these trends, having +6 or up to +10 with one or two things.
Thus, an “average” person in 5E has something like AC 13, 20 hp, +5 with their best skill and +1 with any others, +3 to their best saving throw and +1 with the rest, and can do somewhere around 10 points of damage in a round of combat with their primary attack. In an average-person-vs-average-person fight, whichever one wins initiative and makes better use of situational advantages will probably defeat the other in 2-4 rounds, probably getting fairly beat up themselves in the process.
It also means that player characters start outclassing “average” people somewhere around 3rd level probably… which is just about right.