The Dark Souls of Exposition

Exposition is the worst. Nobody likes to read it, nobody likes to write it. And it comes as a basic requirement for nearly all storytelling. It sucks. I don’t know a single author who wouldn’t give their right arm just to make it all go away. But because we writerly folks care, we write it anyway. We write and rewrite; we pray that through our sweat and tears, our own exposition might not be so noticeable; we study our heroes and try to emulate them; we read blog posts by people we’ve never met; all in search of some elixir that will make it slightly less horrible. We want our readers to love the stories we tell, but we know that boring exposition is toxic to that.

I’m afraid I do not have much of a miracle elixir. If I did, I’d probably be using it in my stories instead of writing this think piece. What I do have is a critical perspective, and today I’m turning that perspective to a video game — a first for me, if you’ll believe it. But it’s a game I love dearly and a game whose solution to the problem of exposition is both utterly strange and powerfully potent.

I’m writing, of course, about Dark Souls.

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Pun vs Double Entendre

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a pun and a double entendre? I have, and I'm here to share with you just how it is they differ.

A pun is a word with two meanings. Crucially, the two meanings must be immediately obvious for the word to be a pun. The double meaning is plain to see and almost always crucial to understanding the sentence.

A double entendre is like unto it. Whereas the pun is obvious, the double entendre is subtle. The double meaning of the double entendre is obscured to the point of invisibility.

Sound pedantic? Well, that's language for you.

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Getting Things Done and Getting Them Good Enough

This is a short thought on deadlines.

Some people respond well to deadlines. It's what motivates them to do the thing, and it's what keeps them from getting lazy and complacent in their pursuits. 

I am not one of those people. 

I am motivated by the final product. As far as my brain is concerned, it doesn't matter when the product is due so long as it's interesting. If I believe in it, I'll sell my soul for it, day one. Deadlines haven't so much motivated me to work as they have consistently gotten in the way. I've never had an arbitrarily decided deadline that didn't leave me feeling frustrated when I parted with a project. "There's so much I could still do," I've often complained, "So much left before it's even close to being done." And as someone who has had the opportunity to take a small number of projects to that magic "done" point, I don't believe that that's an unattainable goal. There's a difference between done and perfect. Done is when you know you've given it everything you can give. I don't care about perfection. I just want it to be done.

Nevertheless, I still think it's important to have deadlines for when you'll consider something good enough... for now. 

I ran into that with my app Ibsen (then Draugr), back in March. It was clear to me at the time that developing everything I wanted for that app was going to be a herculean affair far beyond any of my existing abilities. But I needed it to be useable quickly so I could finish writing the pilot episode for Elda's Song. I gave myself a timeframe of about two weeks to develop everything I absolutely *needed* to start writing -- which in my mind was autocomplete, RTF export, and Dropbox syncing. I wrote horrible, awful code during those two weeks that, had it ever been publicly released, would have put me to shame. But at the end of those two weeks I had moved all of my scriptwriting to Ibsen and I was absolutely loving it. The product wasn't done by any means, but it was good enough for what I needed then.

I'm running into that again with a number of projects that I'm dedicating myself to now. I'm just not smart enough, talented enough, of caffeinated enough to get it all to where I think it deserves to be. And the clock is ticking for when I won't be able to give those projects anything more.

I said at the beginning this was about deadlines. Really this was about rethinking what role deadlines have in my life. It's not about giving a date for when something will be done. It's about setting a date for when I'll be ready to move onto something else.

Even if that means publishing when I only have 500 words.

Podcast Analytics on Squarespace

It's been a while since I last wrote about podcasting so it's time for some followup. I recently took inventory of my Brotherhood subscriber numbers across both Squarespace and Podtrac and discovered a pleasant, if somewhat overdue, surprised:

Nearly all of the subscribers that Squarespace had been reporting for the past few months are gone. Perhaps I should be sad, but since those numbers were for an RSS feed I've never shared with anyone, I can't help but feel relieved. That's the closest I think I'll be getting to a "Congratulations on correctly diagnosing the system, Dylan! Here's a sticker and some ice cream." Meanwhile, my Podtrac numbers have steadily grown 200% their original size since I began paying attention.

This has prompted me to think a little more deeply about Brotherhood and other potential future podcasts. In some ways, these numbers are reassuring. In others, well, I'm more than a little worried.

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How to Start a Musical Cue

Think back for a moment. When was the last time you had a good laugh – the kind that made you think, “Oh yes, that's where my ribs are,” or the kind for which the word “hysterical”, a word otherwise reserved for victims of extreme emotional trauma, was invented? What was it that made you laugh? What was the joke?

Let's be honest: it probably wasn't that funny, and your friends probably weren't that impressed when you told it to them.

Starting a musical cue is a lot like trying to repeat a side-splitting joke: it almost doesn't matter whether the joke is actually good or not as long as you get the timing right. I speak from experience, both as someone who writes and as someone who appreciates music that is tied to narrative. If you want your musical accompaniment to sound like laugher and joy, and not a play by play description of your night out with the lads, there are only two ways to enter a scene.

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The Art of the Reveal

As a storyteller, nothing feels more exhilarating than dropping an unexpected revelation on your audience that you know they didn't see coming. You can see it on their faces, with their eyes wide and their mouths agape and with Greg in the back suddenly standing up straight for the first time all day. It's what we live for, as both storyteller and listener. If you've never had a chance to drop a reveal in front of a live audience, you're missing out.

But the reveal is a tricky note to play. It's like the high note of the Star-Spangled Banner: nail it and you're a god, miss it and you're just a poseur wanna-be. Nobody wants to feel like a poseur, but the allure of the reveal is so great that even bad writers can't resist it's pull.

I'm going to ignore the fact that this might include me.

But you know who does the reveal absolutely right, every time? J. K. Rowling. I'm not saying this because her books have particularly good reveals (although I personally think they do). I'm saying that because her reveals all rewarded rereading. And if your audience cares enough to reread what you wrote, nothing says “I got you covered” quite like a rewarding second round. If you've ever reread Harry Potter, you'll know exactly what I mean. If you haven't, allow me to fill you in.

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Film Scores Are Different

Film scoring feels a lot like swimming with shoes on. I like shoes. I need shoes. They make it easier for me to walk and run and do all sorts of fun things. Shoes are great. Swimming with shoes is not so great.

The shoes in this instance are the habits I've developed over roughly 15 years of songwriting. When writing a song, the hardest part is almost always the beginning. Once I know the chord progression and overall structure, the writing process becomes a fairly simple mathematical exercise. Writing that way helped me compose over 100 songs just during my busy days in high school. 

But film scores are different. Every time I jump into a scoring session I intuitively assume that if I can figure out the chord structure of the first few beats, then I'll be able to extrapolate the rest of the cue and still be home in time for dinner. You just can't do that with a score. For one thing, where songs are typically organized into sections like ABA and ABAB, scores don't -- and indeed can't -- have any rigidly defined structure. That's because narratives, the indulgent and rhapsodic beatniks that scores are meant to accompany, aren't structured into neatly timed units of bars, measures, and beats. Instead, a beat in a narrative is given the freedom of lasting anywhere from a second on to the end of eternity. Ultimately, whether we like it or not, the score must be subservient to the timing and rhythm of the narrative. 

The principle holds the same for radio-plays which is why I'm writing this now. 

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