Collaborative Writing, Authoring, Writer’s Block

June 16, 2010 at 10:13 pm (Making Sense of Things) (, , , , , , )

I have, just today, realized just how challenging my recent endeavor has become. The project is the story of an alternate earth, called Verdanus, which is in a binary orbit with another planet, Tertius. I attempt to explore several layers of conflict in this sci-fi setting by approaching the world from the perspectives of a myriad characters. The original idea was joint project between myself and Rohit Kumar, and I have expanded upon it greatly.

The story was originally created as a basis for a massive collaborative writing project on a roleplaying website, but the project and audience did not mesh. I have recently revitalized the project on Eric Martindale’s roleplaying website, RolePlayGateway.com. His innovative Roleplay Tab bit of user interface has allowed for any writer to create a comprehensive collaborative writing project, and I took advantage of it for Verdanus and Tertius: War of the World.

When the project failed in its original location during the summer of 2009, I moved the content to Ficly.com. Ficly allows for any author to add a sequel or a prequel to any story, so long as they maintain a 1024 character limit. A paperback page is about 350 words, while 1024 characters is about 175. The drive to make each ficlet both interesting and informative pushes authors to use those 1024 characters to their utmost potential, making stories both more concise and funner to read. The website also promotes collaboration, though this project, there tagged with ‘Elysium‘ for reference, has not been subject to sequels or prequels. Ficly’s Kevin Lawver has taken an interest in my Ficly Tree suggestion, which would better show the relationships that sequels and prequels share.

I have also recently taken full advantage of WordPress.com to house an archive or the project and make it more accessible to those that might follow me on Facebook or Twitter. However, Verdanus on WordPress alone would eventually smash me into writer’s block, killing the project altogether. The Ficly version has the potential to inject the project with other’s ideas, but has by now too large a barrier to entry (even though I’ve tried my best to provide ample hooks and entry points) to ward of stagnation. The 1024 character limit does help, forcing me to remember an overflow of ideas from each ficlet for later. On the other hand, the RolePlayGateway version has picked up several other writers who are eager to ‘play in the sandbox’ and thereby give me new ideas, as well as drive me to give responses to their content.

The challenge is as follows. The project exists as entirely my own writing, and as the combined writing of myself and others. Every new bit of content that I add thus needs to work for both versions, and that is becoming increasingly difficult. I cannot directly respond to another writer’s content, as I have neither invited them to replicate their work on my other versions, nor do I feel comfortable copying it over (except for the microstory Promotion for the Sous which Rohit Kumar composed, and I included with his permission). So my content has to be dynamic enough to be interpreted both as a continuation of my unbroken story, and a continuation of the story influenced by other writers. I first realized the challenge factor of this with a microstory which can be found on RolePlayGateway in Verdanus and Tertius, Ficly (Out in the Open), and my Verdanus blog (Out in the Open).

I wonder how long I can keep up? I’ve yet to read some new content by others on the RolePlayGateway version, so I may have to start focusing on those tendrils of the story that have so far gone untouched.

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Failed Gambits and Backup Plans

May 15, 2009 at 11:58 pm (Making Sense of Things) (, , , , )

Backstory: every summer, my best friend and I start a project on RPGFO. To give a brief history, here is what we have so far joinly accomplished in our leisure time:

2006 – started the nation of Frenelia in Isis, a persistent world; created the classesRoleplay Creation and Maintenance in the Academy

2007 – created (with Vorlikesh) Kel’Amnir, another persistent world; took over administrative duties of the Academy and taught several classes

2008 – forced an Academy overhaul and created the Library and other resources

One thing that we tried to do in 2008 was to revamp Isis, the persistent world. It had died (as such projects often do when not carefully monitored), and everyone seemed to not want to clean the slate and start fresh. After much discussion and using me as a bouncing board, my friend came up with a modest proposal. It received mixed reviews, but ultimately fell through due to low popular vote. Everyone fights change. Isis ended up undergoing minor changes which fixed nothing, and proceeded to die. Again. It was like kicking a dead horse.

Now we come to 2009, where we just tried to create a completely new way of world building – via media. Instead of linear first person roleplays defining the world, we wanted to have the world defined through speeches, newspaper articles, and various other forms of popular media. Unfortunately, as many times before (including the 2008 Isis gambit described above) we at first received mixed reviews, and then a final flop: the idea was too ambitious, too different, and thus did not strike many people’s fancy.

But this time we had a backup plan! Namely, the very same modest proposal, but this time it followed a gambit that was far more ambitious and different! We effectively raised the bar for acceptable change by proposing an apparently unacceptable change.

Moral of the story is that if you want a gambit to succeed, preface it with something far more outlandish, and push it as far forward as you can. When it fails, introduce the gambit itself as your backup plan. Unless it too is outlandish, you are far more likely to succeed than if you went in cold. Otherwise, you’ll have to do what we did, and wait a year before you can come back with your original idea.

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Communication, Confidentiality, and Open-Ended Prompting

October 8, 2008 at 10:57 pm (Making Sense of Things) (, , , , , , , )

I have recently been accepted into SAA training at my college. SAA stands for Sexual Assault Advisor – a confidential peer that a sexual assault survivor can speak to and get information from (regarding various legal and college related processes). When I started this blog I thought, for the very first time, about the repercussions of not having grown up with any sort of religion (and thereby not having any morals and ethics hard coded into my childhood). Some time back in middle school I had developed an uncanny habit of stealing – breaking into lockers at the YMCA and extracting cash. When I was finally caught I received a brutal non-physical release of anger from my parents, in the form of the grandiose maxim “imagine if you were in their shoes”. I most certainly do not want anyone stealing from me, and that episode is the first time that I distinctly remember using my imagination. (Everyone uses their imagination, but how often is that memorable?)

So I wondered, when I wrote the first entries of this blog, about what ethics and morals and humanism and whatnot meant to me. And I honestly couldn’t say. One of my “proposed” theological models is the queue of souls, lining up for their turn on Earth to experience it, feel it, sense it. And death on Earth is non-permanent: the soul simply lines back up and gets another creature the next time around. However, given sentience, a soul in a human can lose its spot in the queue permanently (“burn in hell for all eternity”) by ruining this sensory Earth for others (for example through deforestation, genocide, rape, murder, etc). So by my model, we should all strive to make the world a better place (for our soul and others, the next time around the queue).

Let me add a caveat here. I don’t “believe” in this theological model. That is illogical, and “quantity” of total souls comes into question among many contradictions and incongruities. Still, just as (some) stories of the Bible are useful for illustrating socially acceptable and unacceptable behavior, so does this model loosely dictate some “rules” to live by.

Despite providing this model as a reason to be “good”, I reflected and did not find myself actually doing anything “good”. What kind of humanist was I, preaching (or at least accepting) humanism as a way of life, but not actively promoting it through my actions? To alleviate my internal conflict, I applied for SafeWalk and SAA. Safewalk sends teams of two out, from 10pm-2am, to walk any caller between any two locations on and around campus, to promote safety and security. In large part, to prevent violent assaults (and unwanted attention from passing drunk students). SAA then is a program to help survivors of sexual assaults (rapes) come to terms with their lives, accept the event, and move past it.

Communication (starting with body language) is the very first element of being an SAA. Poor posture, tension, or an overtly laid-back attitude can all break a survivor’s confidence and prevent the session from being at all effective. Then there is confidentiality – while I can describe the methods used by the SAAs, I obviously cannot disclose the details of any particular case. Confidentiality helps maintain the integrity of the SAA program, and keeps survivors willing to call us for help. If their confidence in our confidentiality was lost then they would not seek our help (and would be less likely to receive help from elsewhere).

And last is the mode of conversation: open-ended prompting. I wrote an article on Play-by-post forum-based dueling for the Role Play Academy, and started it with Open-Ended Prompting. The premise there was to keep the duel going by giving that person something they had to respond to, and open-ended prompts in SAA conversation are no different: to make a session productive, the SAA needs to keep the survivor talking (or at least able to talk, as pauses in conversation are not only allowed by are encouraged when necessary). To keep the conversation going, the answers to questions need to be long but possible to recall (rather than requiring analysis). As such, yes-or-no questions are a bust due to their one word answers (great for ending a conversation, but not necessarily on a good or useful note). But also “why” questions are a taboo. Questions that start with “why” require active analytical commitment to respond to. As the survivor is likely preoccupied with overwhelming emotions (rage, terror, hate, disgust, etc), requesting that they take a moment to analyze the situation objectively and answer your “why” questions is both selfish and unlikely to be successful.

It is one thing to speak on a subject; it is a whole ‘nother to do. It is easy to say that we should all be supportive of each other, so as to make the world a better place. I’m not saying that I’m now making the world a better place, but I think that I’m en route to figuring out how I would go about doing so. Baby steps.

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Incentives, Fear, and Organized Mindrot

September 29, 2008 at 4:55 pm (Wrongs of the World) (, , , , , )

The most painful part of my daily routine is my laziness to do the things that I should do, like go to class and do assignments and prepare for tests. I have no incentives to do these things, nor any fears of not doing these things, but I still do, however, accomplish them, most of the time. While not doing them will create problems with my tuition, I do not consider this when the question of being diligent or slacking off comes up. Many parents, however, egg their children on with fears (You’ll be working at McDonalds for the rest of you life!) or with incentives (Do your homework and you can play with your friends!).

This is okay, but only because children, until some uncertain age, are not self aware. They cannot draw those extended conclusions themselves (that studying should eventually lead to a larger salary and better quality of life), nor can they fully comprehend these conclusions even if parents tried their hardest to explain. So incentives and instilled fears are an acceptable substitute for understanding and logic, for children.

What is NOT acceptable is when these children grow up and are still self-unaware! Adults who need to be scared by Hell or induced with Heaven just to be moral and ethical people most certainly skipped a necessary step in their adaptation to adulthood.

I run a Roleplaying Academy at RPGFO, and a few months back I abolished the old “class” system for a new tutoring based system. Graduation from the old classes was “rewarded” with a medal that appeared beneath the avatar on every one of that user’s posts on the forum. My new system did not, because there were no distinct classes and because I did not feel that learning required any more sugar on top. Well, just recently I got a very determined, perhaps socially challenged member coming out and saying that he wanted those old and no longer attainable medals, and simply would not accept that the medals were abolished in part because knowledge is the greatest reward for learning (and that public flaunting thereof is socially stupid).

Similarly, it seems that the greatest reward for being a good/ethical person is knowing that you either contributed to making the world a better place or that you helped slow the worsening of the world. If you want to be self-centric, then your good deeds hopefully inspired more good deeds from others in a chain-reaction of goodness, which will eventually ripple back to you (and make your life better). The incentive of a deity’s favor (or the fear of a deity’s disfavor) based on the presence or lack of ethics in a person’s daily life seem like childish sugar coating to me. And you know what too much sugar leads to, right? Rotten teeth. By indoctrinating people into religion before their mental development can take hold, organized religions are eliminating the need for asking questions and finding answers: the religion becomes a necessary crutch that dictates that individual’s actions and prevents that individual from forming their own opinions.

Incentives and instilled fears rot the mind just as much as sugary treats rot the teeth. Induced and fearful individuals then depend on, and often expect, incentives in other facets of their lives, meaning that the person is willing to give only when he/she gets something back as well (or give to cancel out something they don’t want to get, like hell for all eternity). Why not be unimpeded by incentives and be willing to give just for the good of it? Increase the net goodness without looking for personal benefits? Incentives make me sad on the inside. Dropping off religion and leaving just the doing good thing is called humanism… which needs no indoctrination from birth, has no set of laws or code of conduct, makes no promises of heaven nor any threats of hell, and has a huge support network of just about anyone and everyone who bothers with websites like Richard Dawkins Forums (and there are a LOT of us that do)! If the point of organized religion is to promote ethics (read: humanism) then simply learning about humanism is a better method of getting that point across. If organized religion has any other agenda, then that agenda is most certainly NOT within the bounds of an ethical organization. Organized religion is obsolete in our day and age, and we would all do better without incentives and instilled fears, at least in adulthood. After all, we eventually give up the notion that Santa Clause, Saint Nicholas, Ded Moroz, and others are just our father dressed up in a funky coat with a stick or strap on beard acting to demonstrate a kid’s story. So why do so many people keep believing in God and Satan and all that, well after they have graduated from childhood?

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Permeating Life with Physics

September 28, 2008 at 11:41 pm (Making Sense of Things) (, , , , , )

Really, it applies to logic, reason, math, science in general: I like it when things make sense, even when I suspend my disbelief. Recently I’ve found the drawback to this in watching movies. Unless the movie has incredible watching value (or book reading value), small logical and scientific incongruities greatly reduce my dels.

An aside on dels: dels are the units of deliciousness. They are subjective but absolute. They are real and extend in both direction from zero, and in my experience they have always been integers. I used to use several unit scales (including sogs and zombs) but have since abandoned all but the dels. However, deliciousness implies enjoyment (for me personally, of course), so I have no qualms with extending dels to apply to non-foodstuff quantities (and qualities). Dels were originated jointly with Brad and Tim, as a logical progression from the units of confidence (inches, apparently). A story for another day.

Regardless, I find only able to suspend my disbelief so far: I can make an assumption, but I expect the rest of the world, namely the world within that movie, to also adopt that assumption. I feel that too often movies with false assumptions don’t carry them through far enough but rather only so far as it is convenient for them.

I am a roleplayer (play-by-post), and so I frequently find myself playing surreal characters in fictionalized worlds filled with magic and other such irrealities. A few weeks back, when I started spending some time in the Role Play Gateway chat, I stumbled onto a conversation about the nature of magic. Well, “anti-magic”. Roleplaying worlds get pretty crazy, and I thought that it was highly impressive that these roleplayers were recreationally discussing and rationalizing how this anti-magic (and magic) worked, in that particular world. I put forth a couple of my ideas there but have since reworked it into a thicker discussion on RPG Forums Online in their debate section. While I’ve pushed for the debate section to get brought back after a year’s absence, we haven’t had very much success in starting it back up. Still, I watched Eagle Eye last night and remembered this. Hopefully by sharing I will get some insights (or debunks!) on the nature of magic in a general sense.

The Nature of Magic from a Physics Standpoint

I am a Physics Major, so when it comes down to magic I sometimes have serious thoughts and discussions, regarding magic. I don’t believe in magic, but I most certainly suspend my disbelief when it comes to roleplaying and books and movies. But I still feel like this ethereal concept should have a set of real world laws governing it.

A fairly recent discussion I had with some members of RPGateway in chat started from the premise of Anti-Magic (AM) Guns. What, you might ask, is an AM gun? Well, it isn’t really a gun, but rather an AM Generator which creates an AM Field (AMF). Great! What does an AMF do?

Based on the premise of “anti-magic” one would expect that an AMF would dissipate magic, similarly to how mesh armor might dissipate striking force. Going from that analogy, the force is still applied despite the dissipation, so in an AMF, magic would still act in some way, just not in the intended way. Perhaps there is an ambient magic density (much like there is humidity), and an AMF dissipates magic to increase the ambient magic density.

So, working off of that, we have some sort of AMF. Since it is a field, it would have to work via an inverse square law, like gravity or electromagnetism, which gives me a chance to make more parallels. Magic can be used to add energy to things, but in many different ways. Not only can you use magic to shoot a fireball or heat up a pot or make light, but magic can be used to move and lift things. While the first set involves electromagnetic radiation, the second involves adding gravitational potential energy. So magic isn’t photons or electrons or mass, but something new. More importantly, magic can take energy away like making ice, and it can also teleport things as per summoning rituals.

So, in the spirit of physics, matter and energy (photons) need to have conversion potentials to a whole new particle, which I will call the robeon as per the quote “Aight, I put on my robe and wizard hat.” So we have the robeon, but is it a particle, or a wave? Does magic have mass? Physics has determined that most of the universe is actually composed of dark matter (22% of the universe) and dark energy (74% of the universe), with normal matter and energy, namely us, taking up way less than 4%. So, for the sake of using what we’ve got, I’m going to say that the robeon is the main wave-particle of dark energy. (This is a GREAT place to disagree with me, btw.)

So, robeons are dark energy: what does that explain, if anything? Well, the way I see it, this conserves energy in the universe. Dark energy, which we can’t perceive, is converted into regular energy via field manipulation, or regular energy dissipates into dark energy, producing such effects as water to ice, or a “darkness” spell. But, what does field manipulation mean?

Have we all read His Dark Materials? This is a great mode of explaining “field manipulations”, because I’m going to go so far as to equate dark energy to dust in that sense, with dark energy drawn to people and sentient beings in general. For the majority of cases, mages are old, and most “wizards” or “gifted people” come into their powers come adulthood, which is also when dust becomes heavily drawn to humans in His Dark Materials.

At this point I am going to stop, even though I surely have much farther to go. What can you do in this topic? Well, help me work out this theory. What doesn’t make sense to you, or in general? What isn’t developed yet, or where might this theory produce contradictions? You are welcome to build on it, or provide counterexamples and contradictions, or alternative theories. When given contradictions, I will do my best to work the theory to fix them. Or, if someone dropped a contradiction, you are welcome to try your own hand at fixing the theory. So, thoughts?

Since then I had some insights and theorized on a new particle, the haton (also from “Aight, I put on my robe and wizard hat.”). However, I’ve also forgotten those insights, but if you decide to take this further then please, feel free to employ robeons, hatons, and whatever other particles make sense to you. After all, all great theoretical physicists have each invented at least one particle!*

*According to Lincoln Wolfenstein, a particle physicist and (ex-)professor at Carnegie Mellon.

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