Sunday, December 26, 2004

Miscellany Redux

I haven't written anything here for nearly a week. I must be winding down the last days of the year, much like a lot of other people are. The next thing I know, it'll be time for another one of those Disclaimers...

Turns out that it really was a virus that hit the Anino Entertainment web site. Interestingly enough, it's a worm that specifically attacks phpbb discussion boards. Part of me wishes that I could get a sample of the virus to see exactly how it spreads, while the other parts of me just slap the first guy silly and tell it to shut up.

In the meantime, I'm looking around for samples of comic scripts. I've got a couple of plots in mind for one, but in order to write something within the field, I've got to look over a format and see what I can play around with. I wonder how far I can take the exaggeration technique. I wonder if the "rule of three" still works. I wonder if the significance of the writer will survive amidst the more noticeable art.

With regards to that last point, it's not that I don't have much confidence in my abilities. It's just that I know some pretty amazing artists...

That reminds me. I still need to rework that Metrian story. I've had Antaria on hiatus for a little too long. If I don't flesh it out soon, I'll never get around to it. And no one likes a hanging story, much less a hanging setting.

The trouble is that, despite the fact that Blogger's eaten my original piece, I think I've already mentally moved on. I've got something about Antarian mercenaries on the burner at this time, and I'm wondering if I should set it aside first. These decisions are never easy.

Someone's already asked me why I don't seem to be doing anything with my writing, even though it seems mildly interesting at least. I suppose I should be asking myself that, here on the cusp of a new year. Come to think of it, it would make a nice New Year's resolution...

Of course I've got to survive two more days of work first. And in my line of work, December isn't the time of year when you can sit back and watch the holidays go by. In my line of work, December happens to be the time of year when all the alarms are sounding, the workers are escaping through the emergency hatch, and Scotty is yelling into a communicator shouting his trademark "She's giving me all she's got, Captain! She canna hold on much longer!"

Okay, I'm rambling now. Time to stop before I lose it - my sanity, and your attention.

Hopefully I'll be able to have at least one more thing up before the curtains finally close on dear old 2004.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Hackers have apparently been hitting pretty close to home lately.

The Tantra online game is currently down, having suffered through a number of violations incurred by various individuals within its game. I would imagine that bots and packets would normally cause little or no damage to these online worlds, but in Tantra's case, the violations were particularly damning - they succeeded in breaking the economy of the virtual world. (Or so the Inquirer report says.)

The Anino Entertainment website is also down, although it looks like the work of a script kiddie in this case. The violation appears typical of a lot of website defacements, although I can't resist pointing out that the hacker's grammar appears to be a lot better than that of others I've seen. Interestingly enough, I haven't been able to google for anything regarding Anino's intruder, which , along with the grammar point, raises the possibility that this might be his first outing.

There's an odd contrast between the two incidents, mind you. I can resolve the Tantra issue with the fact that there are people out there who are naturally curious, and who use their free time checking to see if they can crack one aspect of these systems or another. In a way, I don't see it as any more different than my unwholesome attraction towards games. But I can't really see a good motivation behind disabling the Anino Entertainment site. The act of bypassing server security should be relatively easy for hackers now; Why would defacing a site be considered a major achievement for anyone other than a newbie?

On the other hand, saying that hackers deface sites for the intellectual satisfaction is like saying that people read the bible because it has a nice story - it's simply an illogical explanation. I'm inclined to believe that, if a non-newbie hacker defaces a site, it's more for the purpose rather than for the intellectual stimulation. I believe that these people deface sites because they have some sort of grudge against the local administrators, and that doing so is the best way of sticking it to them while remaining relatively anonymous in the process.

So the Anino site probably got hit by a grudger or a newbie. How odd.

I wonder how Anino's faring. They're probably pulling their backups together, grumbling all the while. It'll probably take them a few minutes (or a few days, depending on how good their organization is), and then they'll get back to normal operations after increasing the security a bit. Defacing a site makes a bit of a statement, yes, but nowadays it should be relatively easy to fix.

Exactly what Tantra's going to do is another matter altogether. I would imagine that the administrators should have already accepted by now that the hackers are a part of the game. In a sense, it's the game behind the scenes - while you're busy trying to get those last few points of experience needed to advance a level, some corporate watcher out there is trying to pinpoint the location of a couple of particularly nasty scammers. You can take a few of them out, but you can't stop the tide. Much like the Internet at large.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Why Aren't I Playing Scrabble Well?

Sacha Chua's recently posted the results of our most recent Scrabble game on her blog. It's the one where I lost to her by a measly 28 points.

What it doesn't say, though, is the fact that I've dropped two earlier games to her, the most significant win margin being a nasty 260 points. (She's pretty good at the game, yes.) And in an earlier game today against another skilled player, I bit the dust about 50 points behind my erstwhile opponent.

I find that odd, somehow. I'm a writer - aren't I supposed to be good with words?

I've already mentioned a few possible explanations during my games with Sacha: I'm less likely to challenge words based on the fact that I've seen and used quite a lot of them in my time, and I'm more likely to place words on the board that usually won't be found in the standard Scrabble dictionaries. (The very first word I ever placed, "Skirge", was promptly challenged and removed... not a good sign, if you ask me.)

That, and I seem to get too many vowels. But that's besides the point at the moment.

If there's anything I've noticed, there's a marked difference between my play style and that of my opponents'. I have a habit of finding words of five letters or more in my tiles, and tend to place those on the board. Sacha (as well as quite a few others, it seems) makes a lot of short words each turn by appending two or three letters alongside an existing row. Where I'm scoring 12 or 15 points a shot, they're getting 20 or more.

It could explain why I'm losing my games, I think. All the colored squares on the Scrabble board cluster together, yes, but almost never on the same row or column. The more I look at it, the more I see that placing a long word would obviously score less on average than placing a short entry that registers multiple words. Long words usually hit only one colored square. Multiple short words can easily hit two or more, jacking up the resulting score.

I've also realized that I tend to run into problems when my opponent is clustering his words together - the resulting mixture leaves me little room for which to connect my longer entries. I've been forced to discard potential seven-letter words more than once merely because I couldn't find a place to put them. And even if I do manage to place a long word, it gives my opponent an easy opening for her own entries.

Interestingly enough, I have to conclude that, in order to improve my Scrabble, I have to set aside my intuition for long words and concentrate on identifying the shorter words that can mesh with others of their kind. That'll have to include knowing which words actually exist (like "ti" and "qat"), and which don't (like "ut").

It's strange, how I've been playing this game for decades and yet never got around to looking at it from a more strategic angle.

If you're around the website, do head for the Scrabble boards and see if 'wintermarch' is around. I'll be happy to oblige you with a game.

Just don't beat me by 3000 points or something. That would really damage my ego.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Creative Advertisement

I found a mention of a contest in Dominique Cimafranca's blog the other day, and I figured it was worth a shot. I don't have much of an interest in wallpaper - a desktop's a desktop, after all - but I do love the occasional competition. That, and it asked a very good question: What is the most creative way to advertise within an online videogame?

My succeeding reply is given below. You decide if it's a good idea or not.


I only have one suggestion here, as I'm aware that a lot of the common marketing ideas will be raised.

My current assumption is that advertising in an online game has two pitfalls: First, that most users have a negative impression of Internet ads, considering them as being nothing but spam and pop-ups. Second, that atmosphere is a major consideration in some online games, and that simply introducing product placement in those games will merely result in blatant anachronism and public outcry.

In other words, a gamer who sees a 7-Up ad during a World of Warcraft game or notices a Star Wars Galaxies NPC walking around wearing a McDonalds signboard is more likely to leave the game than he is to even think about buying the advertised product.

I figure, therefore, that subtlety is the key to advertising within an online game.

Online games are still games. Their players still live in the real world, and will of course make natural, regular references to it. Why else would the Clarity spell in Everquest be nicknamed "Crack"? For what other reason would a specific type of player character be called a "Tank"? Game slang like this spreads quickly, is used for significant periods of time, and becomes familiar to a good number of players.

As a result, I would like to raise the possibility of companies recruiting players to spread game slang that references their own products. Imagine players being 'hired' to refer to the act of using a healing potion as "Miller Time", or of slimming down one's inventory as "doing the Subway diet". Companies can perform market research into a significant online gaming population, and can invest in good catchphrases this way.

If this sounds like a corporate sponsorship scenario, then that's because, in a way, it is. The main difference lies in the subtlety of the product promotion: If you plaster a blatant product ad on a gamer's screen or have a player walk around with a corporate logo plastered all over their weapons and armor, you're obviously more likely to get a negative response. But if you find a way to get your product to be part of the online gaming experience instead, then the players are a lot more likely to embrace it.

The best part, of course, is that the arrangement benefits all three parties: The players get paid for playing, the corporate sponsors enjoy effective product promotion for low costs and get new insights about the online communities, and the online games continue to gain profits without having to worry about customer complaints.

Advertisement doesn't have to be a loud and obnoxious endeavor. Sometimes subtlety rules, after all.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Rules of the Game

I like to think of a blog as a personal journal. Given the "weblog" context, though, it's a journal that a lot of people across the Net can potentially watch. But I still like to think of it as a personal journal.

That said, there are some lines I draw with this blog. I try not to express any personal angst, I try not to stick my nose into political and social commentary, and I try not to seriously offend anybody with lowdown, underhanded techniques.

I suspect that my instinct towards reader-friendliness is what gets those lines drawn and redrawn. Writing a story is as much an effort to keep the reader's attention as much as it is to express a good plot idea, after all. That's really the common thread between any endeavor that gets you to write for audiences.

Some of the more astute readers, of course, may point out that no one may actually be reading these posts, but I figure it's best to make sure.

I believe that you've all got problems enough, and I'm perfectly willing to listen to them. No sense in burdening you further with mine.

I believe that everybody's got the right to his or her own political and social opinion, and I'm not going to foist mine off on anybody just because I happen to be on some sort of mood swing. If I want to be heard, then I'll be heard. But if otherwise, then no.

And although I'm not sure that "lowdown, underhanded techniques" encompasses, you can bet that I believe that this blog should be worth the time and effort you invest in reading it. You may think it's serious, you may think it's funny, but at least you still read.

Kampai, everybody.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Motley Crew

I've always figured that the secret to creating an effective cast of characters involves two things:

First, each character has to be unique, and consequently fleshed out in a logical and realistic manner. If readers are going to be stuck with the same group of people for a number of pages, they need to be able to relate to these characters in one way or another. Some characters are distinct in terms of height, weight, build or age. Some characters speak only certain languages, or in marked accents. Some characters have certain personality quirks, or physical enhancements, or physical limitations. Loading up on these differences basically ensures that the characters don't end up looking like a bunch of clones.

Second, the interaction between characters has to be played up without necessarily affecting the story itself. This might be seen as a corollary for character uniqueness, yes, but where uniqueness helps characters stand on their own, interaction allows the reader to see just where the characters stand with respect to each other. Character interaction also helps keep the storyline plausible - after all, there's got to be some reason why certain characters stick together, or why certain characters fly at each others' throats.

Generally, the more important the characters are to the storyline, the more important these tenets tend to be. Readers will probably look upon the supporting cast with various levels of interest, but they'll definitely end up putting the main characters under intense scrutiny.

I'll delve into an example from Antaria. Let's assume that we've got three mercenaries that appear as characters in the story.

If the three mercenaries only appear in a single scene, then I think we can safely ignore the rules here. In fact, the audience just has to know that they're mercenaries. Accordingly, they'd be known as First Mercenary, Second Mercenary and Third Mercenary in the closing credits. Heck, if they don't even get to chew scenery all that much, then we can even hold off on the "mercenary" label.

If they have non-prominent supporting roles, then a bit of description can come in. We can say, for example, that they're two males and one female. We can say that they're dressed in the leather armor that indicates that they're experienced mercenaries, or that they're difficult negotiators. We can even name them, say... Artrem, Roth, and Vién, although that's not really necessary.

If they're prominent supporting characters, then we'll have to start showing how they walk, talk, and otherwise schmooze with each other, although we can choose to leave out the finer details. Artrem acts as the group's scout and backup man, can spot inconsistencies from a mile away, and is handy with a crossbow. Roth holds the nickname "Bonecrusher", walks seven feet tall, and always speaks in the third person. Vién plays the smooth talker, takes more than her fair share of anything, and fights ferociously with two swords.

If they're main characters, then we can turn up the level of detail significantly. Artrem and Vién used to sleep with each other till their recent falling-out, and while Artrem would rather forget about the relationship completely, Vién takes a perverse delight in rubbing his nose in it. Roth tends to gravitate to advice from the others because he thinks that they're a lot smarter than him, although he's got a bit of a moral center and won't enter any needless fights. Vién thinks of Roth as something of her toy, and is not above ordering him around on seemingly innocent tasks.

The farther we go up the ladder, the more work that needs to be put into these characters. It takes a bit of a while to get just the right balance for each level of character usage, of course. If anything, though, as long as such efforts end up gaining the reader's attention, then crafting character detail should remain a worthwhile endeavor.

Monday, December 13, 2004


Leafed through the prequel as well as the first two issues of Nautilus Comics's Cast last Wednesday. I had the good fortune to stumble across Ramon de Veyra that evening, and, bless his heart, he told me that there was something interesting going on in the nearby Powerbooks branch. I ended up leaving the comic's launch party with the three issues in hand, my wallet a good two hundred pesos lighter.

I'll admit that I'm more of a written fiction person than I am a graphic novel person. That said, however, I pick up a few of the more interesting comics every now and then (Brian Michael Bendis's Powers has a place in my collection of odds and ends), have a few of them on my "buy" list (like Alan Moore and Len Wein's Watchmen), and go through some of the local publications (as with Cast). Given my experiences with Anino Entertainment's Anito, I'm more than happy to support any of the local endeavors as long as they're creatively sound.

Cast follows the times and tribulations of a group of high school students from two different schools (hooray for gender exclusivity) as they prepare for a massive stage performance. One character's nervous over the fact that he's one of the main characters in his first stage play, and that he's the 'new kid' in an in-crowd of accomplished stage performers. One character's recently reeling from a bad breakup. One character's got problems outside school, perhaps even outside the play itself. There are the Catholic priests and nuns who run everything with a cautious eye. There's the artiste, caricature-like director who throws the most vile insults this side of Michael Moore.

I think that a personal review of Cast at this point would be pointless. I believe that the story is still in its developing stages, and I would prefer to see how it all (ahem) plays out before I give a marked opinion on it. Fortunately for Nautilus Comics, this means that I'll most likely be picking up the next few issues as I find them.

Jaime Bautista, the writer of the series, happens to be from my high school alma mater, and I can see more than a few similarities between the comic and the 1997 stage performance that my exclusive boys' school and the exclusive girls' school across the street put on together. I've still got the program for that performance, mind you, and I got deja vu when I went through it afterwards. Back then I was too busy competing in the local Math contests to involve myself with the play, but it's not hard to imagine what Bautista was going through, and how he was able to translate his experiences into the comic.

In hindsight, I seem to have been reading a lot of comics lately. I figure that writing for a comic is a heck of a lot different than writing a short story, but maybe I can give it a try someday.

Watch this space, everyone. I'll put up a review for Cast as soon as I have one.

Thursday, December 09, 2004


theswanlake's comment from "Daggers of the Mind", below:

Wow, it's amazing to read your blog! You have a very nice one! I always admire people who can write very well... because that is what I want to become.

"Write very well"? Hah.

I'm just another hack, making his way in the world. No, wait, I'm not just a hack - I'm a hack with a blog. That should put me about three degrees lower than usual, I think.

In order to write well, I think that one has to recognize two things: First, you have to learn to read and recognize what others write. Second, no matter what masterpieces you manage to get your hands on and read, you have to realize that you can write stuff that's a lot better than what those hacks can come up with.

The first one is easy. The second one tends to be difficult, because it's easy to be deluded into the position that there are a lot of better writers out there.

I read Stephen King, but to me, he's a hack. His characters curse too much. His stories sometimes cross the line from believable to rip-snorting-out-of-touch-with-reality. I think I can do better than him.

I read J.R.R. Tolkien, but to me, he's a hack. His narration is ancient and sawdust-dry. I fall asleep reading his books, no matter how good the movies might have turned out. I think I can do better than him.

I read and love Terry Pratchett, but to me - ultimately - he's a hack. He stretches things a bit too far sometimes, pushing the limits of fantasy to try to fit technology yet not quite succeeding. And even he can't quite rescue the more boring settings. I think I can do better than him.

So I'm a hack. I'll admit it freely, and for your own good.

"Write very well"? Hah. I'm just a hack.

And I think you can do better than me. :)

Daggers of the Mind

Usually stories are complacent. You give them the "baa-ram-ewe" password and then lead them around the corral all you want, making sure to tell them how nice they were afterwards.

Every now and then, though, a story's going to go rogue, and usually in extreme fashion. These are the stories that feel that their time has come, and that they're going to see themselves in writing no matter what.

I have no idea what happened in the last three hours. I just know that my mind started wandering in the middle of work, and that all of a sudden, I had the story sitting in front of me. Not to mention almost half the workday wasted doing something that I hardly even remember.

Sometimes, when people ask me how I write, I describe it as a sort of madness. It's a dazedness that consumes me and gets me waking up next to some of the most interesting stories I've ever read, wondering where the time went. Sometimes I even wonder whether I'm actually the one writing these, or if it's some alternate personality who looks to take over my soul one day. God help me if that ever happens.

At the moment, I'm reading the new story, wondering if it'll be worth posting here. Perhaps it is, and perhaps it's not, but for the moment it might be best to let it stew for a while. Maybe I'll just sleep on it or something.

Monday, December 06, 2004


Feh. Blogger just did it again. This time it was a very nice reflection on using description to flesh out fictional characters. That's another piece of good writing that I'm never going to see again.

I can draw a number of unfavorable comparisons here, chief among them being the tyrannical editor, the harsh critic, and the ubiquitous Big Brother. However, for some reason, I'm reminded of Peter Parker's editor, J. Jonah Jameson. And that's even if, for all his bluster, J. Jonah never really rejected any of Peter's Spider-Man photos.


What does "ubiquitous" mean, anyway?

Ubiquitous (yoo'bikwitus)
adj. Being present everywhere at once.

Geez. These things probably burn themselves into my subconscious or something. It feels weird using a word and then realizing later on that you have no real idea as to the context the word should have been used in the first place.

Maybe that's why Blogger hates me at this point in time.

For now, though, I'm going to sit back and see if their tech support can explain the matter. It's not as though I'm willing to keep writing stuff that Blogger will just throw away, after all.

Pale Shadows


Thirty seconds after I finally complete the Metrian story and publish it, Blogger gives me a serious error message. Maybe something went wrong with the main server. Maybe a connection got severed somewhere. Maybe the system just didn't like my writing.

Whatever the case, I found that I had lost the draft in the mad rush that followed. Left in its place was a pale shadow of an outline that I had long since tightened and glossed over.


I'm never going to be able to get that story again. I've released all the pent-up effort that was supposed to have gone into its creation, and it's now nothing more than a memory in the back of my mind. It's probably floating around somewhere in the virtual world, wondering what to make of its new-found freedom.

I guess there's nothing much left to do but to try for another one. At least I can console myself with the fact that I can most likely make this one better.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Disclaimer: December 2004

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Of course, if you try to take credit for my stuff, then I'll still be on you like a bag of bricks.

The issue of plagiarism of Internet writings has hit a little close to home recently; Seems that some young punk with more snot than brains decided to rip off one of the better blog writers for a Philosophy assignment.

We're here to put our thoughts down on virtual paper, people - we're not portable copy-and-paste sources for your homework. Believe me, you're all perfectly capable of writing circles around us, should you invest enough time and effort into the matter.

For the moment, I'm just going to sit here and seethe. The kid'll get his someday.

Of course, if it was my stuff that he had taken, I'd be putting on the brass knuckles right now...

Friday, December 03, 2004

Antaria: Untitled

The old woman raises her face. "He is here."

"Who is here, wise one?" the young woman asks.

"Him," the old woman replies. "The everlasting."

"So soon?" the young woman says, surprised. "Surely he would not return from the void so early."

"Times have changed, child," the old woman says. "The time of reckoning draws near, and when it comes, all of them shall be needed."

"I feel it," the young woman says, shivering in the stale air. "I feel it... everywhere. As though it were death itself."

"No," the old woman cautions, "not death. Death is a familiar. Death knows not good, nor evil; not order, nor chaos."

"Then how could it be, wise one?"

The old woman pauses in thought. "Death knows no allegiance, but trails in this one's wake. And although those other than us may fear death now," she whispers, "they would soon wish that death had taken them long before."

Above them, the twilight darkens into night.


Old story, this one. I've hit a bit of a snag with the Metrian fiction, and I thought I'd put this up for the moment. It describes the Thanatai very well, but I was considering writing a relatively longer story for them.

In the meantime, do hold on. I'll have this finished as soon as I can...

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Antaria: Amalthea, Illustrated

It appears that the "Amalthea" fiction inspired an illustration, and a darn fine one at that.

From David:

Looks like David's vision of Thorngarde Keep's facade was right on the money. And I love the shading.

If you're interested in more of David's art, he's at . Yes, he's really good, in case you're one of the few people who haven't noticed.

I owe Faye Tan credit for the creation of Amalthea, by the way. If you're reading this, Faye, thank you very much.

Friday, November 26, 2004

The Archie Method


The comics may seem corny to me now, yes, but I did get at least one valuable lesson from Archie.

A little background first: You'd think that, after thousands of stories spanning almost sixty years, the writers would eventually run out of plots for the comics.

Well, in a way, they do. Usually the changing times fuel quite a few plots (you couldn't write a story about Archie and the Internet back in 1957, for example), and lately they've created a few new characters (Sassy Thrasher, to name one), but every now and then the writers just get stumped. What happens then?

It turns out that they have a technique for when that happens. When a writer can't think up a story, he simply takes any two characters who don't normally hang out with each other - say, Veronica and Jughead - and puts them together. The unlikely association invariably churns up something from the depths of the imagination.

Admit it - the notion of Veronica and Jughead being involved in the same story is a curious idea. What would each of them have to do with the other? How does each of them react to the situation? How and why does Archie show up in the episode, if he ever does in the first place?

Questions that inspire answers that inspire questions that inspire answers.

Imagination has an odd habit of tying any two things together, I suppose. What results is usually some sort of creative plot handling. You can have a finite number of concepts, yes, but if you start working with combinations of those concepts, then the number of possibilities become well-nigh infinite.

Very, very nice method.

Very, very nice.


There are a few publications floating around that are essentially predecessors to hardcore reading; that is to say, these books induce people to read in copious amounts. My sister would probably testify that the Sweet Valley Twins series is one of these, but I'm inclined to point out the old Choose Your Own Adventure series, as well as the Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew books.

Of these publications, the Archie Comics series is probably the only one that spans the generational gap. I read them, my parents and elders read them, and chances are good that if I ever settle down and have a few kids, then they're going to be reading them as well. Nevertheless, although I believe that every reader out there is bound to have been enchanted by Archie comics at some point in their lives, the books do start to get corny if you read them for too long.

That's not a bad thing, though. In fact, that's the whole point. Archie comics (and its counterparts) get you fixated on a reading habit. It's a little like smoking in that, if you stop reading, you'll probably end up looking for something that can replace them. At the point where you think you've outgrown Dan DeCarlo, Edward Packard or Carolyn Keene, that's when you start exploring J.K. Rowling, Sidney Sheldon, or Judith McNaught. Take it a little farther, and you're in J.R.R. Tolkien, Michael Crichton, and Danielle Steele territory.*

Admit it, everyone. You owe your reading habits to these books.

That is, even if they do seem corny now that you've grown up.

* Yes, Ankh-Morpork fans, Terry Pratchett's in there somewhere, too. It's just that he defies categorization for me. If all the authors in the world ran a circus together, then Pratchett would be the guy with the accordion and the monkey. Not that I have anything against accordions, mind you. I just say this because monkeys are creepy.


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Heading Up

Yup, it took me this long to recover.

And to think I'm heading back to the gym tonight.


Moving on...

Finally, the local Oliver's Super Sandwiches has updated its reading material. Among the selections is an issue of Time Magazine whose main articles involve the rebirth of cultural Shanghai and the media partisanship of the recent US elections. Among the topics covered by the latter feature: The use of blogs as a means of political promotion and argument.

It appears that the notion of blogging has gotten a lot more respect as of late. The more popular blogs, I must point out, pull in thousands of readers. The writers of such blogs therefore usually find themselves in a position that influences a significant part of the Internet population. I wouldn't be surprised if I found that they devote good time and effort towards raising or maintaining the quality of their articles as a result.

In the end, we're all happy. The crowds get some quality articles to read, the writers get the attention they so sorely crave, and the general media gets an informal forum discussing current events and points of view.

It's odd, seeing how a concept that's little more than an online journal can be elevated into one of the great motivators for both personal opinion and social awareness.

But that's good, right?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

It Only Hurts When I Type

Still aching from my recent visit to the gym.

I haven't done any serious exercise in four years, so I suppose it stands to reason that I've accumulated a ton of flab, and that some of the unused muscle groups have atrophied in that period of time.

And to think that I've got three more months of this. I'd better look good when everything's over.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Cinderella Story

It was a veritable Cinderella story.

Young student and her mom travel from Manila to Brisbane for an international scholastic competition. Along the way, they get absolutely no support from the Philippine government, and they get robbed of their passports and money by a fellow Filipino. Despite facing these and other potentially overwhelming circumstances, she wins the competition over stronger opponents from more-developed countries, and returns home tired but happy.

Events like these aren't kept secret for long, of course. What little fanfare she receives eventually becomes a significant torrent of public attention. Readers across the nation celebrate her victory. Well-wishers send their congratulations. Representatives slam the government's indifference towards their ordeal.

Indeed, it was a veritable Cinderella story.

But then, as with all Cinderella stories, the clock finally struck midnight.

Last week, Faye San Juan and her mother admitted that the entire story was untrue. There was no victory. There was no scholastic competition. There was no trip to Brisbane, and there was no person who stole their documents and money. The only thing that was true was that there was no government support - and naturally, that was because the contest and its representation did not exist.

Why would they do such a thing? Why would they lie to a public that revels in any success of the Philippines against the rest of the world?

"We lied because no one loved us," they said.

Many reasons told in a long litany of sobs. Faye's father leaving them for another woman, and the depression that followed. They felt they had to do something that got peoples' attention. They felt that they had to do something that would get back at him for what he did.

So they made up a story. A Cinderella story. A story where dreams came true, even for a little while.



I don't presume to pass judgement on them, and I'll be damned if I do so right now. I'm neither judge, jury, executioner, nor handsome Prince Charming. I'm just a writer.

Earlier today, alongside the news of the hoax, I received word that the Ateneo de Manila University team just bagged second place in the recently-concluded ACM ICTC Regionals.

I had a bit of a personal stake in this, as did a lot of other Computer Science alumni. The department asked us for donations that would send the team to the contest, after all. And, up until the dying moments of the contest, it was almost certain that we were going to come home empty-handed.

So why am I not happy that we won?

Because it was a long shot. It was one of the longest of long shots. It was a story where the underdog won. It was a story where the seeming losers became winners.

In other words, it was an almost perfect Cinderella story.

Sitting in the darkness in front of a glowing monitor, I wonder how much I really know about everything.

Who was on the team that took second place? I don't know.

What does ACM ICTC stand for? I don't know.

What was the contest about? I don't know.


I don't know anything about them. I don't know anything about what they did, and I don't know anything about how they won.

All I know is that they won second place, and that it was the unlikeliest of victories.

All I knew was that Faye San Juan won an international scholastic competition, and that it was against overwhelming odds.

How can I trust what they tell me now?

All I can think of now are the Cinderella stories... the ones where the dreams come true, right up until the clock strikes midnight, and the last glass slipper falls.

With all this in mind, I offer my congratulations and best wishes to the Ateneo team. I marvel at their achievement, and I smile when I tell people the good news.

I only wish that I can be more sincere about it.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The Vonnegut-Dangerfield Scenario

One of my favorite anecdotes involves American novelist Kurt Vonnegut and American stand-up comic Rodney Dangerfield. It outlines one of the first lessons I learned about writing and literary criticism, and it came from a very unexpected source.

You see, Rodney Dangerfield once starred in this 1980s movie called "Back to School". There, he played Thornton Melon, a grown-up rich kid who decides to return to college in order to get the degree that he missed the first time he was there. Early on in the movie, Thornton thinks that, just because he's rich, he can breeze through everything with minimal effort.

Assigned to write a paper on Kurt Vonnegut, Thornton takes the easy way out and hires Kurt Vonnegut himself to write the paper.

The next thing we know, Thornton's teacher is handing back the paper, and it's got a huge "F" scribbled in the margin. "Whoever wrote this paper," she declares to a surprised Thornton, "knew absolutely nothing about Kurt Vonnegut."


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

One More Flip of the Coin

Oh, irony, irony, irony.

After extolling the virtues of extensive preparation for writing a short story (namely, six installments of "The Writing Process"), I plan out and write one in less than 30 minutes and get rave reviews from a little circle of novice writers.

I'd be happy right now if it weren't for the fact that I'm puzzled as to what went right. A hastily-written short story isn't supposed to be all that good, especially when I'm the one writing it.

Add to that the fact that I was supposed to write a sex scene into the short story (something that I've never done before), and I find myself really wondering about what went right.

Short story follows. Post your comments if you will. I need them.





"You all right?"


Long silence. Soft movement.

"We don't do it much anymore, do we?"



Sharp breath. "Why not?"

"I don't know. Are you seeing someone else?"

"No. Are you seeing someone else?"

Gentle probing. "Not really."

Fast breaths.

"You didn't... say no."

"I didn't?"

"You said, 'not really'."

Lips to neck. Skin against skin. "Yeah. So."

"So what?"

"So... I asked her already."

Stop. Pregnant pause.


Slow motion. "Yeah. Seriously."

"She said yes?"

"She said yes."

"Oh, God."


Long silence.

"I, ah..."


Thought. Glance into each others' eyes.

"Oh, God."

"Yeah, well..."

"God. I... I... I think..."


"It's not... the same. Not... anymore."

Rustle of cloth.

"Look, I'm sorry."

Rumpled shirt against naked breasts. "Don't be."

"It's just that, you know..."


Hands through sleeves.

"I... I don't know."

Gentle smile. "It was fun while it lasted."


Forlorn expression. Hand caresses the cheek.

"I won't forget."

Long sigh. "Yeah."



Frozen. Shoes half-picked up. "No."


"It'll never work."

Head nods. Understanding smile.

Lightest of kisses.

"I'll be seeing you."


"Maybe in our dreams."


Light from the open door. Slender form silhouetted in light and shadow.

One last look before the light goes out.


Tuesday, November 09, 2004


n. Outlying darkness.

From the Late Latin ob- ("in front"), from the Latin ob- ("dusk"); and the Latin -tenebrae ("darkness").

Thought Process

Been trolling around quite a few blogs on the Net lately (Work? What's that?), and I've noticed quite a few things.

First off, I have no idea what the word "troll" (the verb) means. I use it under a context that implies aimless wandering, but I suspect that it has a more negative meaning associated with the use of the term "troll" in internet chatrooms and discussion forums.

Interestingly enough, "Deck the Halls" has a single line that goes "Troll the ancient Yuletide carol", so maybe it has something to do with singing? I'm not really sure about that.

I know I have a slight reputation either for using words in the wrong context, or for making up words entirely from scratch, so it's definitely not beyond me to use "troll" in an incorrect manner. I'd look it up, only I'm a little lazy at the moment.

Second, most of the blogs I've read recently seem to be full of angst. Admittedly, it's difficult for me to define angst, but for the moment I can tell you that it's a pent-up emotional response to unexpressed rage, despair, or simply life in general. You generally know it when you see it.

I would say that blogs are therapeutic in this way if it weren't for the fact that I'm not exactly sure if it's healthy to release angst. I'm sure that it's definitely not healthy for any of the listeners, though - too much exposure to angst will have you questioning your own life and happiness.

Come to think of it, writing one's thoughts down might not be the best thing to do when one is feeling particularly angsty. Sooner or later - presumably once you've recovered - you're bound to read them again, and when that happens... bam, you're full of angst again. Better to write them down on paper and then burn the paper.

I'm not feeling lazy anymore, so I guess I'll look up "troll" now.



...I guess I was right on both sides. It legitimately means both "to sing loudly" and "to move around".

It appears that, if you go around making up new meanings for words, you're probably going to get something correct sooner or later.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Antaria: Profile: Gallos

Gallos, Grandmaster of the Masquers

Gallos is only the third person to wear the mantle of the Masquer Grandmaster, and is perhaps the most mysterious of all influential personages in Antaria.

As with all Masquer Grandmasters, he was secretly chosen for the position by his predecessor, the ineffectual Hyde Pathwarden. Upon Pathwarden's death, the Masquer Court of Truth and Lies was surprised by the arrival of an unknown young man claiming the leader's legacy.

Gallos wore a mask then... he continues wearing masks even now, almost twenty years after his ascension. Some claim that he wears them for days at a time; No one has claimed to know what his face looks like underneath.

Despite the mystery surrounding Gallos and his masks, none can dispute the fact that he is one of the greater leaders of contemporary times. A veritable storehouse of secrets lies at his disposal, brought to him by a network of spies and information-gatherers. Gallos does not merely hold massive amounts of influence; He knows when to use it, where to use it, and exactly how much of it to use. Gallos is well aware that the stability of the continent depends on a balance of internal politics, and is not above reprimanding even Masquers who play their games in too rough a fashion.

The Masquers themselves may be illusionists and deceivers, but Gallos's political arsenal goes far beyond mere secrets and lies. He may be quite literally the most dangerous man on the continent.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Antaria: The Masquers

The Masquers are the youngest of the mage classes in Antaria. Their domain lies in illusion and deception, and many an unsuspecting, unfortunate person has found themselves the focus of their complex plots. While the Masquers would normally be reviled for such doings, however, they have found a fine niche in Antarian society by offering their services to those willing to accept them.

Illusion, after all, exists to fool the common observer... and what better use for the Masquer magics than to enhance beauty? As a result, the vast majority of handsome nobles and attactive heiresses owe much to the illusionists. In addition, deception has its own uses... because of their mastery of face and feature, the Masquers have the ability to infiltrate virtually every house, every palace, and every guild in Antaria.

The Masquers have consequently amassed large amounts of inside knowledge in such a small amount of time, and adding to this are the many favors they carry with most or all of the high-ranked personages who care to keep up their appearances. Few trust them for their deception, and yet many come to them for their wanton needs. It is an irony that the Masquers revel in.

Deep inside the Masquers' private courts, falsehood is only part of the great game that they play. Despite their skill with illusion, the one other thing that the Masquers truly understand is how to shatter resolve and part the veils... for they find the true self to be delicious indeed.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Disclaimer: November 2004

Another month, another disclaimer. This is kind of fun, in a way. You get to cut loose and come up with the most creative threats you can manage. In a way, it's like the Bush-Kerry debates. :)

This site chronicles the concepts, musings and wastebasket rakings of Sean Uy. All items here are entirely original except where noted. By reading through this weblog, you agree not to claim any items from this site as yours. In return, Sean agrees to give credit where credit is due, and to remove any offensive or derogatory content from the site upon submission of valid argument via e-mail.

If you are found to believe otherwise, you get to meet my lawyer. Believe me, you don't want to meet my lawyer. Your lawyer may wear glasses and have a nice briefcase, but my lawyer is bald, sounds a lot like Mike Myers, and only just recently made a clone of himself, which he shall call... ... ...Mini-Me.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Antaria: Lies

Dusk descended upon Lorendheim, the last vestiges of sunlight falling upon the city. The Fist and Blade tavern sat between the marketplaces and the slums, patiently awaiting patrons both respectable and not-so-respectable.

The man lowered his hood slightly, obscuring his face to the point where his eyes could not be seen, yet not to a level where the Galenic patrols would become immediately suspicious of him. Calmly he stepped past the waning crowds and into the tavern.

The Fist and Blade was unusually sedate at this time. A number of early regulars sat at their tables discussing the day's events. Tough-looking mercenaries lounged in the farthest tables, perhaps negotiating for work or taking leave off their most recent jobs. In a corner of the room, the tavern owner and two of his massive hires were in the process of 'convincing' a young man about paying his overdue tab.

The hooded man walked towards a table near the center of the room, where a short, reed-thin man sat waiting for him.

"Lord Berris," the thin-looking man said.

The hooded man nodded. "You are Tydings, then, I presume."

"Yes," Tydings said. "Please, sit."

The hooded man pulled up an ancient chair. "You must forgive me if I do not remove my cloak, Tydings. This is hardly an appropriate place."

"Certainly not," Tydings answered, "for a noble such as you are."

There was a moment of silence between the two men.

"I'm very disappointed in you, Tydings," Berris finally said.

"Not as much as I am in you, Lord Berris. Let's cut the formalities, shall we? How much is my silence worth to you?"

"You know perfectly well that I would not partake of such... beastly acts."

"Oh, I know more than you think, Lord Berris," Tydings said with a nervous smile.

Berris straightened, although he still refused to lift the hood. "Your allegations are not true," he said.

"If they were not true," Tydings said, "then why would you have agreed to our little meeting in the first place? Surely a noble would not worry himself over mere rumors of his... extreme liking for little boys."

Berris clenched his fists.

"And even if you manage to hold the trust of the other nobles," Tydings said, "the rumor will still be there, twisting its way into the hearts of all who know you. I am certain that you know that words are infinitely powerful in this way, Lord Berris."

"This is extortion, Tydings."

"I am just a simple man making a simple profit, Lord Berris. The question would be whether or not you would be willing to pay."

Lord Berris glowered from underneath his hood. Then, grudgingly, he pulled a small bag from his belt and tossed it on the table.

Tydings opened the bag slightly and glanced at the contents in the fading light. "Diamonds," he said in a satisfied tone. "I was expecting gold crowns, but I must say that you are an interesting person to deal with, Lord Berris."

Berris merely scowled at him. "I've paid you, you blasted thief. Now never darken my sight again."

Tydings slowly stood up. "It's been a pleasure doing business with you, Lord Berris." The reed-thin man glanced around to make sure that no one was watching, then casually sauntered out the door.

Berris continued to sit at the table, tapping his fingers in a steady rhythm. He turned his head slowly, glancing at the tavern owner. The barman caught the noble's eye, gesturing slightly towards the back of the tavern.

Berris got up, nudging past the other patrons and walking in the direction that the barman indicated. There was a small door at the back of the tavern - a door that Berris opened into a private room with a large table. The Fist and Blade catered to many different clients, after all.

A stately-looking man sat at the table, his robes cut and trimmed with the expensive linings that only the rich could afford. "How did it go?" he asked.

"Quite well, Lord Berris," the first Berris said, pulling the hood back and removing his cloak.

The second Berris paused, staring into a face so well-defined that it could have been his identical twin. "Aran's light," he whistled, "you Masquers are as skilled as they say you are."

The first Berris laughed, and it was a strange-sounding laugh that had no trace of Berris's voice at all. On the contrary, anyone hearing the laugh would have sworn that it belonged to a woman.

As the true Berris watched from his seat, the features of the first Berris shifted and melted, until only the form of a slightly shorter, more handsome woman were revealed.

Berris shuddered. "That is truly a discomforting sight, Lady Lorelei," he said.

"That's what most people say," Lorelei answered, shaking her head to free her long, wavy hair.

"You met the blackmailer, then?"

"Tydings? Of course, Lord Berris," Lorelei said.


"He knows nothing," Lorelei said. "He has the faintest of suspicions, but in reality has nothing to work with. He made everything up."

"Yes," Berris said, "but an accusation such as his would stain the honor of any noble."

Lorelei nodded. "I gave him the diamonds, and the fool was as smitten with them as I expected."

"They're... not real, I expect?"

"Naturally, Lord Berris. I wouldn't give the man a copper coin. The bag, however, is enchanted. Your should be able to track him down at your leisure."

"Excellent, Lady Lorelei. Your skill is as paramount as your beauty."

"Thank you, Lord Berris," Lorelei said, hiding her smile with one hand.

Berris slid a small bag across the table. "A gratuity," he said, "for services rendered."

"You have my thanks, Lord Berris, but I could not accept your... charity."

A confused look appeared on Berris's face. "Surely there is something I can offer you as thanks..."

Lorelei smiled. "Of course there is, Lord Berris."

"Then name your price," Berris said, "and I shall gladly pay."

"Well," Lorelei said in a slow, seductive voice, "there's the matter of your... activities."

Berris stared at her. "What... activites?"

"I can read your mind, Lord Berris," Lorelei said, staring intently at him. "You do like children a lot, don't you?"

Berris's face blanched. "I... don't know what you're talking about."

"Especially little boys?"

"That's not true," Berris said nervously. "You found that out yourself."

"I found out that Tydings didn't have a shred of evidence to work with," Lorelei said, "but judging from the thoughts going through your mind at the moment, he must have had many, many occasions to observe you."

Berris said nothing, although his forehead was wet with the coldness of sweat.

Lorelei laughed. "Be still, Lord Berris. Your secret is safe with me."

Berris did not relax. His fingers dug into the crevices of the wooden table.

"As long as you are amenable to future favors, of course," Lorelei said, "then I guarantee you, Lord Berris, that your secret will remain safe with me."

Thursday, October 28, 2004

How Long Does It Take to Write a Short Story?

It depends.

I'm not one of those writers skilled enough to pound out bestselling novels at whim, so I most certainly can't say that it's easy.

The short answer is, "one or two hours". I sit down, I write, I edit, and I leave. This assumes that I've gathered enough material for the story before I even turn on the computer, as well as a number of other things (e.g. my train of thought doesn't get interrupted, my Windows XP cooperates, and certain combinations of stars and planets align.)

Yes, I write my short stories on a computer. Notebooks tend to take up a good amount of storage space after a time, after all.

The idea takes up most of my attention, though.

I get ideas all the time, and I can't put them all down on paper (or on Microsoft Word, as the case may be). So I hold them in my head and let them ferment. Sometimes I fill out holes in the plot. Sometimes I marry other wandering concepts to the main idea. Sometimes I pluck out one of these abstract thoughts and just let it die.

Sometimes I just forget. When this happens, it's as though the ideas never were. All I'm left with is a fleeting thought of "I thought of something interesting a couple of minutes ago, but it's gone now."

Retrieving lost ideas seems like such a futile effort to me, so I usually don't bother. If an idea is forgotten, then I invariably feel that it probably wasn't worth remembering in the first place. When I try to ferment them, they laugh and escape into the confines of the outer world. That's gratitude for you.

On average, an idea stays in my head for about three or four weeks, after which it gets written into a story and I decide whether or not it was really worth my time. I've only "force-developed" a story - added plot and setting elements to it in a wholly conscious manner - once, and that was because I was running late on a deadline. The story turned out well, but the experience was one that I would rather not repeat.

I don't use outlines. Once the story's on paper, it's on paper. I'm no longer its writer - I'm just another reader. I can't afford to waste a perfectly good short story on a mere summary of plot points and end twists - if I'm supposed to write a story, I'm supposed to write a story.

The drafts usually take a short time. Usually I get it on the first try.

If the draft doesn't take, I usually start over. Another one or two hours of writing time, but only if I either want to make the story work, or if I have a sadistic editor on my back.

So... how long does it take to write a short story?


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Writing Process 6: Regeneration

Dark Fate (Rich-text format)

And there's the final version, as submitted for the Ficathon. By starting at a point when the story was reaching its climax, I ended up avoiding my previous problems regarding the long exposition time.

I made some reference to the previous drafts when writing this, most notably stealing a few lines from the third draft. Good writing should never go to waste, I suppose.

Nishi disappeared from this draft, but halfway through the beginning I realized that I needed a third supporting name, and thus came up with Tetsu on the fly. I'd call him a new supporting character, only he starts out dead already, so I guess he doesn't really count. A similar fate happened to Seiki, although at least she gets quite a few references here.

The bandit's (technically Goro's) death could have been written a little better. I mean, all that happens is that Kazuo runs him through with a sword within the space of a couple of paragraphs. On the other hand, I didn't want to write an extended fight scene because I was afraid that it would have shifted the atmosphere around too much.

The same doesn't hold true about the oni, though. I figure that it would have been best to let a reader imagine what the demon was and what it looked like, rather than strain the atmosphere by adding a few more descriptions. I also wanted the story to end there, emphasizing the fact that Kazuo had effectively failed, and coinciding the end of the story with what looked to be the end of his life.

Learned quite a few things from this one, and I'll be sure to put them into effect the next time a Ficathon rolls around. Maybe by then I'll be able to analyze exactly what makes L5R fiction, L5R fiction.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Writing Process 5: Paradigm Shift

Ficathon, fourth draft (Rich-text file)
Ficathon, fifth draft (Rich-text file)

The more astute observers will note that my fourth draft looks almost exactly the same as my second draft. At that point, I believed that it was still possible to salvage the earlier versions by making alterations to the general atmosphere.

The fourth draft went as far as to directly record Kazuo's perceptions of the box, giving the reader an idea that whatever was in the box would eventually be important to the story. The added atmosphere didn't seem to change the story's quality, though, and I found myself still stuck at exactly the same point I encountered in the earlier drafts.

So when the time for the fifth draft rolled around, I figured that, if I was going to go for a change in atmosphere, I was going to try taking it to the extreme. I shifted gears and set the story in a more modern-world L5R setting as opposed to a medieval-Japanese-like universe.

It seemed to work for a while - what interested me was the fact that Kazuo's personally seemed to come out in the course of the draft. The fact that the package had now been replaced by a sixteen-wheeler cargo truck being driven by a non-union driver was icing on the cake. There's just something that feels good about converting aspects of fantsy literature into other worlds in this way.

Nishi (a bit player in the original drafts) became an interesting character to write, mostly because his mannerisms came out very well. He didn't make it past this draft, unfortunately, but I'll probably see if I can write him into some other story in the future. A samurai trucker is too weird a concept to waste. :)

Around the time I hit page three of the fifth draft, I realized that I hadn't even gotten to the main story yet. I went back, read through the long expository introduction, and decided to speed things up a little. So at that precise moment in the middle of the story, Kazuo, Seiki and Nishi run into the abandoned car that's blocking the road.

The doubts were creeping into my mind already, though. If I wanted to write a short story, why would I bother spending three pages on exposition, only to dive into the climactic ending all too suddenly? The quickest solution to this, of course, was to cut some of the opening story, but I respected the character conversations too much to touch it.

The final straw came when I did a wordcount. Of the recommended 500- to 2000-word limit, the exposition alone took up over a thousand words. Too much for my taste, and it was obvious that I was spending waaaaay too much time on the story setup.

For the next draft, then, the goals were pretty clear. I wanted to shorten the exposition to such a point where the climax would take up most of the reader's attention, and yet not cut it so hard that one wouldn't flow smoothly into the other.

As with a number of measures I take with rewrites, I took it to the extreme:

What if the story started near the ending?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Writing Process 4: Flipping the Coin

Ficathon, third draft (Rich-text file)

The notion of making the story more interesting for the reader started with another what-if question - "What if I told the story from the bandits' point of view?"

It felt like an odd idea, since most L5R fiction is centered heavily on the actual samurai class. On the other hand, I believed that telling an L5R story from a non-samurai point of view would stand a good chance of getting people's attention because of this, so I ran with the idea.

The story was written according to the bare bones of the original plot I sketched out, but I produced no preparation for the names and personalities involved. In a sense, it was a play-it-by-ear story where I just got the characters together and watched them act naturally.

The result was a fairly long draft that had some nice story development and even better lines of conversation. There's just this satisfying feeling about writing dialogue between two people from totally different backgrounds.

While it was fun writing the loudmouthed bandit lord Goro and the surly ronin shugenja Wataru, I noticed early on that the story was running a tad longer than I would have liked. Most of the story is focused on character development for Goro and Wataru, with the unopened box in the background - and it was taking me too long to get to the box.

Granted, it sounds okay at first - choosing not to focus on the box beforehand makes it all the more a surprise once the oni comes out in the end. The problem is that such a story places a lot of emphasis on timing. Cutting to the big climax too suddenly makes the ending abrupt, perhaps even deus ex machina-type.

For the uninitiated, a deus ex machina setup is the equivalent of a literary cop-out. The phrase describes a scenario where a story raises multiple plot points and loose ends, and then resolves everything using a single development that is totally unrelated to everything so far. Any story with a lot of exciting events that resolves them by saying "...and it was all a dream", for example, is a deus ex machina setup.

See? Reading this blog is educational.

Aside from the timing issue, my other big problem with the draft was that I didn't know what should have happened once the captive samurai escaped and Goro and Wataru went along with opening the box. Telling the story at that point felt as though it were highly unplausible, especially considering that the samurai had to be both badly wounded and fighting sheer numbers of bandits at the same time.

That, and the fact that, by telling the story from Goro's point of view, I feared that it may have compromised the original story seed. I anticipated the audience reading about a samurai who runs across an unexpected form of danger, and I didn't think they deserved to get a naive, sadistic bandit who gets into something that he shouldn't have gotten into in the first place.

The story had some nice lines, though, and I could salvage a few. Regretfully, I had to set the rest of the draft aside and go back down to earth.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Writing Process 3: Weather Conditions

Ficathon, first draft (Rich-text file)
Ficathon, second draft (Rich-text file)

The first two works mirror each other because the second one is merely a simple rewrite. Sometimes, when I feel that a story just isn't going as well as I like, I just save the file, put it aside, and reach for a brand new document.

With short stories, I usually don't get too attached to the characters. That, in addition to the fact that I was probably going to kill off most of them anyway, didn't get me thinking seriously about the names. I just plucked some stuff from an online book of Japanese names, and I tweaked from there.

I was basing this off L5R traditions, though, so all the samurai had to be of the Shiba family, and all the shugenja (magic-users) had to be of the Isawa and Asako families. (L5R players, do note - they're the only noble families who would probably pull off something as foolhardy as trapping and transporting an oni.)

Kazuo's name was constant throughout the process, but his female companion went through a bit of development. At first she was a fellow samurai named Shina, the name quickly discarded once I realized that "Shiba Shina" sounded pretty stupid. She then became Natsumi (also discarded because it kept reminding me of the "You're Under Arrest" anime), and finally Seiki.

Right away the italics appeared to play a distinct role in the story. In these drafts, I needed them to represent the oni's whispers to Kazuo and his companions. In a sense, all of them are tired, haggard and sleepless because they have to be constantly on their guard from the voices in their heads.

For the first draft, the voice-in-the-head angle was pretty vague - it's easy to read it and assume that maybe Kazuo's just the sort who talks to himself. In a sense, I was planning an ending where Kazuo wakes up from the bandit attack and realizes - to his horror - that the voice that's been whispering to him is gone.

When the first draft didn't gel, however, I assumed that it was because the pace was slow and boring. In order to pick it up a bit, I made the voice a lot more obvious in its intentions, altering the atmosphere but keeping the possibility of the ending I originally planned. In the second draft, the reader should most likely pick up on the fact that something's amiss early on.

The trouble was that the second draft ran into the same problem as the first - I didn't feel that it held my interest well enough to get me moving past the first few paragraphs. Having a clear setting is nice and all, but the key to establishing good setting is that you shouldn't bore people by doing so.

Knowing that, I walked into the third draft with an express purpose in mind - to make the general setting and story significantly more interesting.

Monday, October 18, 2004

The Writing Process 2: Skeletons (Closet and Otherwise)

Out of the two seeds given, only the first one fired up my imagination to some extent.

"While guarding a caravan for his lord, a samurai is faced with an unexpected form of danger."

Danger? What kind of danger are we talking about here?

If you're a samurai guarding a caravan, you have a number of obvious threats to deal with. Bandits would probably be number one on the list. If you're slogging through foreign territory, you'd probably be watching for enemy patrols. And in the twisted world of L5R, there's always the chance that you'll run into a monstrous oni (big, nasty demon) or somesuch.

All of them are hardly "unexpected" forms of danger. So the first major question I ended up asking myself was, if you're a samurai guarding a caravan, where would you least expect the threat to come from?

And the first answer that came to mind was, "the package". But how in the world could the contents of your caravan be a threat? And to that, my sadistic mind answered, "Because it carries something dangerous inside it. Something that the box is supposed to contain. Something with huge, ravening teeth."

So the samurai in the story is guarding a caravan tasked to deliver a box... a box that contains a captured oni. There's the threat right there.

How to make it unexpected, then? Maybe the box looks like an ordinary box. That should be safe enough to assume, because if you've captured an oni, then you don't want to panic the entire countryside or draw attention to yourselves in the process. Of course, any samurai tasked with such a duty would be required to know what the box contains, only the sheer beauty of the idea was that the reader didn't have to know what was inside until the closing moments of the story. Unexpected, indeed.

So you have a samurai guarding a caravan, and he's doing his job with a particular degree of vigilance. Bandits suddenly attack the caravan, slaughtering the samurai's party but leaving him alive for some reason. The bandit leader laughs at the samurai's desperate attempts to convince him not to open the box. And when the package is finally opened despite all the samurai's efforts, it is revealed to contain a powerful oni, much to the horror and final understanding of the reader.

Little details now. The samurai has doubts about his current position (he's transporting an oni, after all), but his loyalty to his lord suppresses any instinct he has to fear the creature inside. The party is composed of both samurai and shugenja (magic-users), because only shugenja can make sure that the oni is contained. The box is enchanted with a set of magical wards for added security. The oni may be stuck in the box, but his whispers for freedom are still heard by the samurai and his friends, and they must constantly watch each other for signs that any of them may be corrupted by the oni's wishes.

Good skeleton there. The next step was to actually start writing the story.

The Writing Process 1: Slave to the Draft

I've just come off of a small ficathon, and to be honest, it wasn't one of my better experiences.

For anyone who's not familiar with the concept of a ficathon, here's a brief summary of mine:

To start with, a bunch of writers first get together and sign up for the pseudo-contest, with each writer submitting two separate story seeds. The story seeds are then shuffled up, with each participant getting back two seeds that he or she did not originally provide.

Each writer is then given one month to write a short piece of fiction - say, five hundred to two thousand words - centering around one of the two story seeds. If the writer can combine both seeds into one story, then so much the better - in fact, it testifies to the writer's skill and ability.

As the ficathon was based off an fan fiction list for the Legend of the Five Rings game, all submissions had to be based on the Legend of the Five Rings universe.

Over the course of a month, I plowed through no less than six separate drafts for a story before finally completing the last one and sending it in. I figure that, by discussing these drafts, I should be able to gain some form of insight to the writing process that I follow - perhaps find some avenue of improvement for future writings.

In the meantime, though, I'll leave you with the story seeds I received:

1. While guarding a caravan for his lord, a samurai is faced with an unexpected form of danger.
2. Stung by a lover's betrayal, a samurai plans an appropriate revenge.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Plot Machine

I'm starting to think that I don't work well with external plots. I don't seem to work very well whenever a source outside my own mind prompts me to write.

Writing a story has always been sort of a "what-if" to me. I like exploring scenarios that people don't normally explore. I like fleshing out characters that people normally don't give a second glance. I like engaging in plot twists so hard that they make you scream in both pain and pleasure.

What I don't understand is why external plots don't seem to fire my imagination as much. I mean, no matter how mundane an idea is, you're supposed to be able to salvage something from it. What more when it comes to ideas that were made for writing in the first place?

How very odd. I suppose that this is probably why I wouldn't make for a good journalist or features writer.

A better question would be whether I'm really not suited to external plots, or if I'm just not used to writing stories from them. The problem, of course, would be that I wouldn't know if I would be merely wasting my time with future exercises or not.

On the other hand, it's not as though I can think up the "what-if" plots at a regular rate.

Ooog. I have definitely got to get my act together sometime.

Been a While

Writing something for the Rice Paper Society's annual ficathon, so I've been busy.

To be honest, I'm not even finished yet. I've gone through three drafts of exactly the same story, and I can't seem to get it right. None of them satisfy me.

I suppose that, once all this is finished, I can put up my drafts online so that I can demonstrate the thought process that I follow whenever I write. Maybe somebody can refine the technique (if one even exists, that is - sometimes I get the feeling that I'm playing all this by ear).

That reminds me... I owe the Masquers a story for the Antaria line. They'll have to be a little more patient, but they'll get their time in the spotlight eventually.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Antaria: History and Remembrance

Almost nothing is known of Antarian history before the fall of the Obsidian Empire. Prior to its collapse, it is said that the Empire dominated the entire continent from sea to sea, stopping only at the borders of the Tajik Wastes to the southwest. Nothing else is known about the Empire, however, although its destruction was apparently so cataclysmic that it left the majority of the lands in ruins. Speculation has it that an arcane disaster of epic proportions was the primary cause, but there is simply no evidence to support such wild theories.

In any event, the fall of the Obsidian Empire changed Antaria significantly. The survivors of the cataclysm were forced to band together to survive the harsh seasons that followed, and it is from these survivors that the nations of Antaria were formed.

Most survivors gathered around the ruins of the Obsidian Empire's capital city, eventually building a multifaceted culture around the area. This massive settlement eventually grew into the kingdom of Lorendheim, the oldest of the nations of Antaria, and a meeting point for many of the continent's personages.

Southeast of Lorendheim, the matriarchical kingdom of Allandria was founded by a group of former refugees. Exactly why the Allandrians were formed as a matriarchy is unknown, but scholars have suspected that it was due to a distinct loss of male leadership in the events prior to the fall of the Obsidian Empire.

The former slaves of the Empire, freed from their bonds of servitude by the Cataclysm, travelled due east to the edge of the continent. Their experience with work and toil were well suited to the harsh environments there, and the nation of Vanarum was established as a result.

Within the next four hundred years, two more nations were established. Two hundred years after the Empire's fall, a major noble seceded from the houses of Lorendheim, claiming a sizable patch of land bordering the northern sea. By the time Lorendheim was able to react to the secession, the noble was able to call in a long list of political favors from the other houses and nations across the continent, effectively preventing a massive conflict. The new nation was named Hadrian, and its subjects became learned in the ways of diplomacy and negotiation.

Finally, roughly eighty years before present time, a bloody war between Allandria and Vanarum resulted in the creation of a small buffer state between the two nations. Both nations populated the state with retired veterans of the war, who initiated the creation of monasteries across the area. The many sites for contemplation were highly ideal for religious travels, and thus the state of Kun was born.

For the most part, the Tajik tribes continued to settle along the Tajik Wastes in the southwest, and maintain their lives there still.

Finally, with the continent reclaimed, all dutiful explorers have since turned their eyes towards the north, where the sea frothes and churns. The wide open sea here is a malevolent force that takes ships in and never gives them back - it has come to be known as "The Maw" by many sailors. Even the Lesser Maw - the stretch of sea that runs along the Antaria coastline - is an unruly sort, and many Antarians find it difficult enough to master that which is closer to home.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Phone Booth

You know the movie. It's the one with Colin Farrell, Forrest Whittaker, and Keifer Sutherland's voice.

Saw it last weekend on Star Movies, and most definitely did not like it.

I suppose I have to give it props for the plot and atmosphere. Those are top-notch, and would make for an excellent short story. It's just too bad that "Phone Booth" is a movie.

I wrestled with the opinion for about a half-hour after the film ended. Part of me was screaming that the movie was most certainly not a good movie, while the other part was asking me that, well, if you don't think it was a good movie, why did you bother watching it all the way up to the end?

I could answer the simplest part of that question, at least: I watched it till the end because I wanted to see what happened next. I watched it till the end because I wanted to see how the situation was going to be resolved. I watched it till the end because I wanted to take a look at a fantastic situation that could easily become reality under the most unexpected of circumstances.

Heck, I watched it because it had a good story. By definition, any plot idea that leaves the listener asking "so what happened next?" is bound to be a good plot idea.

I can imagine the pitch:

"Imagine that you're standing in the middle of New York on a normal day. The cars are passing by. The people are walking past you without a hint of attention. The hookers are languidly yawning against the entrance to their nearby strip joint.

"There's a public phone next to you. It rings.

"You're the person nearest to the phone. No one approaches it to answer. The phone keeps ringing.

"Finally curiosity gets the better of you, and you answer the phone.

"There's someone on the other line. He has a deep, raspy voice, almost seductive in quality. He says he knows you. He tells you a few things, not the least of which are fairly uncomfortable to hear.

"You tell him that you think it's all just some sick joke. Maybe somebody decided to play a trick on you. Maybe the guy just mistook you for someone else. Maybe there's a hidden camera somewhere.

"The man tells you your full name. And your wife's name. Your job. The address of your office. Your age, birthdate, height, weight and social security number. The name of the girl you're banging on the side, and the last time you snuck into a motel with her.

"He tells you that he has a gun, and that all he wants is for you to keep him company on the phone.

"And when you say that you don't believe him, you hear the casing of a telescopic rifle and the sound of a single gunshot."


Sounds good, right? It's clearly a "so what happens next?" plot.

Unfortunately, that's all there is to it.

Movies are, on average, one-and-a-half hours long. That's quite a bit of attention span that each movie has to coax out of its viewers, and that's why story is important. It keeps the viewers in their seats.

Story, unfortunately, has little bearing on whether or not the experience is enjoyable. That's what things like comedy routines, heavy drama, action sequences, and special effects are for. A good story will grab the ball and bring it downcourt for the beautiful assist, but it's ultimately the level of audience empathy that tries to make the winning shot.

Did I empathize with the movie? No.

The movie doesn't really go to great pains in order to flesh out its characters and settings. We don't see what kind of a person Colin Farrell's character normally is; We only see him as he plays out the events of the story. We don't know what kind of life he's leading, or why he's able to have an affair while claiming that he still loves his wife. We don't see why the voice at the other end of the phone is doing all this to torture him.

It feels as though the movie is supposed to scare its viewers - I mean, we could just as easily answer a mysterious phone call in the middle of the street to find a deep, raspy, almost seductive voice on the other end. And yet I never felt a twinge of fear from considering the possibility afterwards.

A movie with no allowance for empathy is much like a press conference without an open forum or audience participation - you certainly want to know what's going on, but you don't want to simply swallow what they tell you and leave it at that.

That's "Phone Booth" for me. It's got a nice plot and atmosphere, yes, but it turned out to be unsatisfying. I think that, like all movies, it was supposed to give a "that-was-a-cool-movie" reaction; It instead gave me a "that-was-ninety-minutes-of-my-life-wasted-watching-this-movie reaction".

Interestingly enough, I think it would make for a good short story. Short stories place much less emphasis on empathy, particularly because they're too short for the reader to form much of an emotional attachment with the characters. A story with a good plotline but little in the way of effects could still work, and in some cases might even work spectacularly.

But, alas, it isn't a short story. Too bad, everyone. It might have been real good.

Amazing how fate plays these things out.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Disclaimer: October 2004

Time to renew the disclaimer a bit. I doubt that anyone's going to check the archives for previous versions of this.

(Ahem.) Everything here is the property of Sean Uy, writings, ideas and whatnot. You will not steal anything from this weblog. You will not claim that anything from this weblog is your personal property. Everything discussed within this weblog is either an express idea from the twisted mind of Sean, or a topic from somewhere out in the wilds of the human information network. You view this weblog with respect and acknowledgement for the legal rights of Sean, just as Sean reserves the right to control the contents of his own weblog.

Eat your veggies, everyone.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Antaria: Profile: Satine Whitestone

Satine Whitestone, Grandmaster of the Galenics

A young woman in her early twenties, Satine is one of the youngest leaders ever to lead the Galenics. She has helmed the organization for two years now, and has performed admirably despite her relative inexperience in leadership.

Satine was originally the finest student of the master healer Wyr Solaceheart, becoming a full-fledged healer herself once her former mentor became Grandmaster. She was elected to her current position upon Wyr's death, after her husband - the knight commander Astaruc Whitestone - refused the honor.

While Satine still has little or no experience regarding some aspects of her position, she is in the process of learning them from her circle of advisors, among which sit the greatest leaders the order has ever produced. Her patience and generosity are nearly infinite, as is her willingness to simply listen to people - after all, these were the reasons why the Galenics chose her to lead them in the first place.

If Satine would have a flaw in her delicate nature, it would be that she is unable to bring herself to harm anyone or anything. Her indecision has stalemated a number of issues when she simply could not bring herself to slight any of the affected parties. Fortunately, the other ranking Galenics are not as deeply benevolent as she, and such issues are yet settled after a time.

In a way, Satine is the living embodiment of the Galenic Orders - beautiful, admirable, honorable, and in some ways too self-sacrificial for her own good.

Safe Words

The concept of "Safe Words" is sourced from sadomasochistic sex and bondage practices. Because of the nature of its sessions, it is possible for one or more of the participants to construe, say, cries of pain or pleas for release, as being part of the act. "Safe words" are therefore implemented in order to let the participants know whether or not the session is threatening the safety or comfort of the people involved. The word "Lobster", I hear, is a fair example of a "safe word".

Why do I mention this? No particular reason.

I don't engage in such acts, if you're curious enough to ask. I just heard about the concept somewhere, and found it to be a nice example of how each subculture can have its own viewpoints and practices. It seems that even sadomasochistic sex gets handled in a responsible manner after all.

The more I think about it, the more I consider the fact that the concept of "safe words" translates into other organizations and subcultures. The espionage game uses "safe words" ("code words"?), for example, which agents could use to send a variety of signals or messages. Some modern e-mail systems screen for "safe words" (present in legitimate company mail) in order to lessen their users' chances of receiving spam. And I imagine that people involved in the performance arts have their own "safe words" to act as simple cues, or subtle indicators of security.

How interesting it is that we have imposed such a degree of organization on such aspects of our lives. But then again, it's very telling of how far we can mature in any given field.


Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Perils of the Pre-Job

I found this posted on the Anino Entertainment forums earlier today:

I am a senior game programmer. I am available from Monday - Wed, 12 - 6 PM. Thursday - Sat, 9-1 PM. I wish to receive 60K for my salary and renumeration, ok lang kahit walang medical benefits at SSS. Assembly, C, and C++ ang forte ko. My cellphone number is 0919XXXXXXX. pls txt me kung interested kayo. I am willing to work in Alabang but I would prefer to work here in my lab kung gusto ninyo puntahan ninyo ang laboratoryo ko hehhehehe. Sige hintayin ko text ninyo.

Odd message, really.

I've interviewed people for open positions before, and what most applicants don't know is that a lot can be read about them even before the face-to-face meeting. People will make some of the darndest mistakes - some applicants will claim fluency in English in an error-filled cover letter; some applicants will plagiarize the company's own works in their portfolio.

Now, while I'm not saying that this person has committed such heinous acts, I must point out that he's already made a number of mistakes in this first missive. Whether or not Anino Entertainment calls him on this is another issue entirely, though.

1. 60K - Sixty thousand pesos a month is a pretty large amount for the local companies, much less a young company that has had only two game releases. I simply don't think that this is a realistic amount here, even for a senior programmer. Obnoxiously high salary requests like these will only get your name thrown out in the first batch of cuts, Medical/SSS or no Medical/SSS.

2. Workplace - Employees who work at home (or the 'lab', in this case) are usually a risk for a company, since these employees cannot be supervised effectively. There are too many communication problems with such an arrangement, and there's no way to guarantee that the employee will actually be working during his 'pay hours'. A company will not take pains to arrange this for an applicant whose degree of skill is unknown to them.

3. Forums post - A company's HR representatives may or may not access their own online forums - what motive would they have for doing so? It would have been a lot better to send a proper application form or resume directly to the company. For that matter, even if an HR representative would be browsing the forums, anything less than an actual resume probably wouldn't get their attention.

4. Schedule - A nominal point, but I'd wonder why this person would be free on MWF afternoons and TTS mornings - that's not a normal office schedule unless one works in something like a call center. But if that's the case, then what makes this person a "senior game programmer"? For that matter, considering that Anino Entertainment has released the only large-scale Filipino-made PC game so far, how can this person be a "senior game programmer"?

I remember having a client who was looking for someone who could do the voice-over for their new commercial. After a quick screening process, they called us to mention that they had gotten someone who had been in Miss Saigon. Having the script and all materials ready by then, we agreed on a date for which the recording could be done.

Whoever he was, he performed horribly. All the parties involved came back greatly irritated from that recording session, and eventually it was found that, although the voice-over "talent" had certainly been involved with Miss Saigon, he had done so as part of the Stage Crew.

Watch those resumes, everyone. They're more telling than you think they are.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Antaria: The Galenics

Among all the mages in Antaria, none are loved and respected as much as the Galenics. As the scions of healing and purification, many are drawn to their sense of responsibility and selflessness. Over the course of several centuries, the Galenics have parlayed these services into favors and influence, and are always in high standing with the majority of the Antarian population. Farmer, merchant, craftsman and king alike all look up to the Galenics.

The sphere of influence that the Galenics control has led them to form multiple associations within their order. Most Galenics are healers under the Order of the Guiding Light, with many acting as priests of the Aranist faith. Under the self-proclaimed duty of protecting the weak and helpless, Galenic knights of the Order of the Holy Sword keep order alongside each kingdom's guardsmen. And the special agents of the Galenic Inquisition are everywhere, seeking out and neutralizing any darker threats.

Whether or not the Galenics see fit to use their influence is a question best left to the current circumstances. Sometimes the Galenics pull their strings to the point of breaking, and for this they are seen as snobbish and elitist. Sometimes the Galenics lean against their vows of humility and neutrality, and for this they are seen as sycophant lapdogs. Despite this, however, one matter is plainly evident, and that is that the Galenics can do no wrong in the eyes of the people as long as they do not betray their trust.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Antaria: Scars

Sister Lyonai looked up. There seemed to be a slight commotion near the front of the tent.

She continued bandaging the leg of the ten-year-old boy she was treating - he needed her attention more, at the moment. When she was finished, she watched the boy hobble off the bench, then turned and found herself looking at a set of glimmering white armor.

Only it wasn't white - it was spotted with blood in a few places.

The owner of the armor removed his helmet with one hand, and Sister Lyonai could see at once that he was a young man of less than twenty years. Judging from the make of the armor, the young man could only have been a knight for a few seasons.

"Healer," the young man said, "I request your service."

Sister Lyonai could now see that most of the blood on the armor was gathered around a single spot on his upper left arm. "What happened?" she asked.

"Drunkards causing a disturbance near the Wyrm's Roar tavern," the young man answered. "One of them had a sword."

"I see," Sister Lyonai said, eyeing the young man critically. "If you would just step back and await your turn, good sir, I would gladly lend you my arts."

The young man looked back at her, making no move as he did so. "Why not now?"

"Others await their treatments, good sir," Sister Lyonai said patiently, "You are but the third."

"Yet I am here now," the young man answered. "Why do you choose not to service my wound before you would service these peasants?"

"All men injure themselves the same way, good sir, whether noble or peasant."

"Nevertheless, Sister," the young man replied, "I have received mine in the line of duty. It is a duty that these peasants' concerns would never match."

Sister Lyonai put the rest of the bandages down gently. "May I ask your name, sir knight?"


"Your name," Sister Lyonai repeated, without a hint of impatience in her voice.

"Gavin," the young man said, "My name is Gavin."

"Very well, Lord Gavin," Sister Lyonai said. "Do you know this man?" she asked, gesturing to a man in a leather jerkin nearby.

Gavin studied the peasant, making careful note of the dirt that stained the man's hands. "I can't say that I do," he said finally.

"This man is a farmer," Sister Lyonai said, "One who plows the fields. His friends brought him here this morning because he injured himself scything the wheat for this year's harvest." She gestured towards the long scar, half-healed, that ran along the man's leg.

"Now," Sister Lyonai said, gesturing towards a young woman whose right hand was heavily bandaged, "Do you know this woman?"

"No," Gavin said.

"This woman is a cook and scullery-maid at the palace. She accidentally cut herself preparing the midday meal and managed to make it here before the wound became too serious."

"But what do they have to do with the fact that you refuse to lend me your services?"

Sister Lyonai took a deep breath. "You keep the streets safe, good sir. That is where you have received your scars. But this man toils in the King's lands to make sure that none in Lorendheim go hungry, and that is where he has gained his scars. This woman slaves in her kitchens for the sake of many others, and that is where her scars lie.

"We all have our scars, sir Gavin," Sister Lyonai said. "Yet no matter where they come from, they are still the same scars."

The knight considered this for a moment. He did not appear to be entirely convinced.

Finally, he turned, and, shifting his injured arm around a bit, began moving to make way for the next person. He felt a soft tap on his shoulder plate, and turned to see Sister Lyonai holding up a piece of cloth.

"Keep this pressed to the wound while you wait your turn, sir Gavin," Sister Lyonai said. "It will help stanch the bleeding and make sure that you do not feel too unconfortable."

Gavin smiled. "I thought you would have placed the peasants before me."

"Yes," Sister Lyonai said simply, "But I have a duty to you as well, sir knight, just as I do to them."

And she smiled.