Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Creating My Own Crown Through Stolen Gemstones

This - and any subsequent - blog post is going to be a bit interesting to write. My "E" key on my netbook decided it doesn't like working that well anymore. So I have to consciously press on that key while I only need to barely tap the rest of them. YAY!

Not sure if my father-in-law can fix the key when he eventually fixes the computer's internal battery, but I would feel so bad if he put all this effort in to reviving this thing only for me to have to buy a tablet or something anyway because one of the most crucial keys stopped working. Thus is my life...

So this is an open warning that - while I'll try REALLY hard to pay extra special attention while editing - my posts may have an increased amount of missed-E typos. Also, I may rage a bit in them, depending on how annoying this issue becomes to me.

On a happier note, I've done some writing. It's not the half-hour or 250 words a day I talked about last week, but it's still a major advancement for me.

As you may recall, I'm working on the painfully slow process of converting Hubby's X-Men forum roleplaying game - which I discovered is called a Play-By-Post game - in to an original comic. The trick was to figure out how to keep the essence of the mostly-original story the game created, while also erasing any connection to X-Men and Marvel Comics. This meant that I wanted to not have "straight conversions" of things like Xavier's school for the mutants; which also houses the mutant combat team The X-Men.

It was a struggle to think of another place to house all of our characters. I wanted them to remain teenagers, and to still be together in one central location. However, having mutants - or "Glitches" in my tale - all going to a school designed just for them was essentially just me re-naming the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters and pretending it was original. I thought about having it be a segregation issue; it wasn't a school these kids could opt to go to, it was one they HAD to go to since they weren't allowed in public schools any longer. I'm honestly still playing around with this idea since a large portion of the created characters were from the East Coast anyway.

It's also not terribly crucial that Willow be Californian, or that Ripley be a surfer. Hubby almost never really touches upon the surfing all that much, and so he could be really in to some sort of East Coast water sport; like kayaking or something. The other characters that would have some sort of regional significance could have a personal tie-in with the school principal, and that would explain the idea of them moving/sending their kid to that school instead of the "Glitch-Only" school in their area.

The only real curious thing would be why international students would come to the school. It's not essential that these students stay international; they could be first-generation Americans with the character's original home country be where their immigrant parents are from. I just don't want to mess with the character builds too much, though.

Anyway, a few months ago Ali Luke suggested that the school is actually an orphanage with an attached school. I feel like this might still be the winning concept. This would explain why kids would come from all over; the headmistress travels to try to find kids abandoned after their families realize they're Glitches. This half-way house is their home, but it is also their school; teaching both the same education as regular schooling, but also teaching the kids how to master their power and not despair at the hatred they currently have to face.

This concept allows so much conflict to naturally occur in the environment alone: segregation, hatred, fear, bigotry, abandonment, human inequality, etc. It's essentially the next step when it comes to fighting for equality. First it was abolishing slavery, then equal rights for women, and then racial equality. While we're still struggling with the racial equality thing, the biggest issue is for gay rights. Fast forward about 10yrs and it could be this near-future tale of mutants being the outcasts and second-class citizens of society.

There's also another fantastic dynamic and conflict embedded in the half-way house idea. Not every character in the comic will be an orphan. Some are there as if it were a boarding house; there is no other place where Glitches can train their powers and learn how to change how humans see them. No other place fighting for equality for these outsiders. So you have teens dealing with abandonment issues - or grieving their Glitch parents being killed through hate crimes - and intermixed with them are kids who are well-loved, safe, and doted upon by their parents.

All of this isn't really important to talk about right now, though. I already figured this out around the beginning of summer. After struggling with the hurdle of "where does this story take place so it's not a blatant X-Men rip-off," I had another roadblock: the Danger Room. For those that don't really know too much about X-Men, the Danger Room is a training facility on the Xavier grounds. It was originally a giant room with actual obstacles built in; things like motorized walls that slam closed or rings that catch fire or guns that fire stunning lasers. After the X-Men helped an alien race, the elder species gifted their Earthling allies with some of their advanced technology. Professor Charles Xavier used some of this technology to renovate the Danger Room. That way it had both the physical elements as well as holographic additions to help simulate any imaginable scenario - even ones that could occur on another planet.

It is this suped-up Danger Room that most fans know, and the type we use in the X-Future game. In order to avoid my orphanage feeling like Xavier's school again, I debated ignoring the Danger Room. However, the room has proven a pivotal setting for some of the key plot points in X-Future; plot points I want to try to recreate in the comic reboot.

So the battle I was facing over the summer was me trying to figure out alternate ways to have those scenes still occur in the comic reboot, but without actually using the Danger Room. Most of them I was able to figure out, but two were still too entangled in the holographic aspect of the Danger Room to really have it be any other setting. So, to my dismay, I had to figure out how to re-do the Danger Room for my story so that it wasn't blatantly the same training facility from X-Men.

Well, Friday night I finally figured it out. Break the room back down in to its two components: holograms and physical obstacles. Two different training settings instead of one that uses both environments married together. The one room - the one that is a throw back to the original Danger Room - has millions of tiny tiles across the ceiling and floor that can extend in order to build nearly any physical environment the Glitches wish to train on. Yes, this would essentially mean the floor and ceiling each need to be about 10ft thick to house the tiles when they're flush against the surfaces, and there are still some structural elements that can't be built this way, but it's a start. I'll figure out the rest later.

As for the two scenes dependent on holograms? I actually thought about an episode of Batman Beyond entitled "Hooked Up". In the episode they introduce a new virtual reality experience where you float in a giant orb; fully immersing you in to the fantasy.
So I thought, "Why not do something like that?"

Now the issue would be avoiding blatant thievery from Batman Beyond. So I tapped in to a writing article I stumbled upon about five years ago. One written by the great Holly Lisle: How to (Legally and Ethically) Steal Ideas. Honestly, I had forgotten where I had found the article when I tried to use it as advice for the writers I beta-read for, because of this I was sort of paraphrasing it over the last three years or so. It's not entirely accurate, but it still has the essence of Holly's article: "All writers are thieves; stealing from each other by way of inspiration. The trick is to be a smart thief. Don't steal the full crown, just your favorite gem from it. It will be easier to pass it off as a new item then."

My point is, I decided to make my own "crown" - the holographic device crucial for at least Devon's plot line - by "stealing gems" from a bunch of other "jewelry". The base was the VR orb from Batman Beyond. Then I added in the training aspect of the Danger Room. I also threw in the connectivity of the device from an episode of American Dad. In "The Vacation Goo" the family finds out that all of their vacations were staged. They were drugged and then placed inside goo-tanks that allowed them to all share the same virtual reality simulation; also allowing each other to interact.
American Dad goo
I loved this idea, that way the Glitches can still train together in these VR spheres by having it be essentially a Co-Op online game.

Then there was the scene where Chayse pushes himself in the Danger Room; the other reason I really wanted a holographic element for the comic. For this part I tapped in to Ender's Game. There was a plot device known as the Mind Game. This was a game the psychologists in Battle School gave to the students as a way of secretly monitoring and analyzing the thinking and emotions of the children. The game had a very advanced, learning AI that was borderline sentient; much like the Danger Room's actual sentient, alien-technology AI that became the villain Danger. My version of this VR simulator would be just like the learning AI from both X-Men and Ender's Game; it would customize games and training scenarios based on the person playing them: their power-set, their intelligence, their current mental state, etc.

I just needed to throw in one last gemstone; one from another book-turned-movie: Divergent.

I have to admit that I have yet to read the series, but after watching the movie I had to steal its VR simulator as well. For those who don't know, citizens in this dystopia all go through a simulation that presents them with a problem. The way they solve the problem showcases what element of society they value most; and therefore helps them determine which faction they wish to put themselves in for the rest of their lives. Do they value strength and saving the weak; are they brave? Do they use intelligence and science to solve the problem? Is helping others and living altruistically most important? Are they peace-loving and prefer to work the land? Is the most important thing to be honest?

Well, at least the one faction uses the same technology to determine what you are most afraid of in order to help you conquer your fears. This is the part I want inserted in to my "crown". Along with the learning AI from Ender's Game - building scenarios based on your mental state when you log in - it will also purposely tap in to the player's greatest fears and - at least, perceived - weaknesses. So, not only would Chayse be pushing himself harder than the computer program would already be doing so given his mental state, it would also present him with a scenario based on his greatest fear: Failing to the point where Glitches are now being hunted to extinction.

Alright! So I have my "crown" all built. There's so many components from other sources that it's not a full thieving, but it will also still feel "familiar" to the readers; drawing them in from these other fandoms.

Now, to figure out why an orphanage for Glitches would find the need for these advanced training facilities - let alone how they pay for, house, or power them - if not to train an elite "X-Men-like" combat team. I need to stay away from that, because it will throw me right back in to the "this is just the poor-man's X-Men" problem.

On the plus side, though, not only is another major roadblock out of my way, but in the process of figuring out my version of the Danger Room I also came up with an original background character credited with building both rooms; as well as tasked to maintain them. Geoffrey Wilkins, AKA "Fidget". We all know how fantastic I am at naming things, so his codename might be reworked. Right now though, it feels fitting. He fidgets with electronics and technology, plus he himself is a bit of a fidgeter; never able to stay still for too long. He follows the typical techie-trope of finding computers easier to communicate with than humans, and so he's a bit reclusive as well. He only really has true human interaction with one of the faculty members. I'm not sure who said member is quite yet, but I'm possibly leaning towards my rework of Kitty Pryde, due to her maternal nature that drove her to build the half-way house in the first place. Maybe Fidget was the first orphan she took in?

I'm also struggling on his actual physical appearance. I know how he stands, moves, dresses, and even a bit of how he talks. Yet, I don't know what his hair, eye, or even skin color is. I feel like the cast of both X-Future and my comic reboot is mostly Caucasian; understandable since the players are White, and it's almost natural for us to all create characters of similar race as ourselves. However, I want a bit more diversity in the comic, and so I kind of want to switch it up a little bit at least with the background characters.

That, in and of itself, is a bit of a snag. I feel like having an Asian that is great with technology would sound stereotypical, but at the same time I don't want to avoid him being Asian for that reason either. When I first thought up Fidget I saw him as a lanky, freckled redhead. The problem there is that the "awkward redhead nerd" seems a bit Trope-y too, so I'm again on the fence. Don't want to fall in to a trope, but don't want to avoid that look JUST to avoid the trope. Then again, having him be a freckled redhead would also keep him Caucasian, and therefore screw up my initial thought of trying to diversify.... Originally - before even coming up with Fidget himself - I was going to just rework the X-Men character Forge, so maybe I should keep him Native American? That will have to be figured out more.

So, as per usual, one roadblock passed, only to discover there are now about a dozen more I have to swerve around. Fantastic.

Well, thus is the way of progress, I guess.

What about you guys? Did you have any writing progress this week? Let me know in the comments.

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