Dissecting Fiction: R.J. Crane shows us MMORPG Game Mechanics DO NOT Work in Fiction (Part 1)

Today’s dissecting fiction article is inspired by Defender: The Sanctuary Series, Volume One by Robert J. Crane. SPOILERS to follow. You have been warned.

Obligatory nice words regarding Robert J. Crane and his book, Defender
Crane is a fine writer. He’s the only new author I’ve read so far that gave me reason to pause and make a few new entries into my notebook. He definitely has the writing chops and his dialogue flows naturally amongst characters with just enough wit to occasionally put a smile on your face without making the story a pathetic farce. I found Defender to be an enjoyable read. But then again, I’m no stranger to the MMORPG.

For those of you who, like me, have spent countless hours in front of your keyboards in those glorified chat rooms we call MMORPGs, I have no doubt in my mind that you will find the Sanctuary series by R.J. Crane highly enjoyable.

Appealing to a very special kind of gamer
Ah, the massively multiplayer online role-playing game, how many hours of my life have I wasted on you? Who am I kidding, it was worth every minute. Defender did a really good job of bringing a smile to my face as I recalled the long hours I’ve spent in games like Everquest and Asheron’s Call. Unfortunately this is where the allure of the novel will end for most people.

The soul sucking principles of game design
Mr. Crane’s fictional world is built over skinner-box game mechanics that are designed with the sole purpose of making people play a game more. These principles of game design will suck the very life out of your fiction and will not appeal to readers who are expecting to have a vested emotionally interest in your work. They deprive the author of some very important literary techniques and plot motivation all writers must lean on to varying degrees. Techniques and motivations that are as synonymous to writing as corruption is to Southern politics.

This sucking the life out of the fiction is highlighted dramatically very early on in Defender when our noble protagonist, Cyrus, and his new found guild, Sanctuary, decide to raid a goblin city. For me, the whole sequence of events played out exactly like the raids on the Crushbone Orcs in Greater Faydark (Everquest) did when a bunch of low levels would bite off more than they could chew and rush the throne room. To put it in a way everyone reading this can understand, Cyrus and Sanctuary got their arses handed to them on a silver platter.

Hey guys, I’m the Emperor. You lot just have a little sit down and rest over there right next to that group from LOLZUSUK Guild. You get your turn to rape me right after them.

Now it’s been a while since I’ve played an MMORPG and when I first read through this dramatic sequence of events I found myself a little impressed with Robert J. Crane’s boldness. Unless you’re a natural mass-murdering fukhead, it takes a serious amount of cojones to kill off so many likable characters so soon after their introduction. I couldn’t help being a little impressed as I wondered what literary dexterity Mr. Crane would perform to get through it. It really had my academic hemisphere percolating.

Enter the classic MMORPG skinner-box goto
I had forgotten about the resurrection spell. The classic MMORPG goto to keep players playing long after they’ve done something totally idiotic and should rightly be dead. That’s right, the entire guild (except for one, which we’ll get to in a bit) gets brought back to life.

Ugh! I suddenly lost all interest in the characters. I just could not find it in me to care about them anymore. All these characters, who just several pages before had me intrigued and captivated, became one dimensional pawns on a chess board helmed by Class C players. What’s important to note here is these are adventurers seeking fame, glory and fortune.

adventurer noun
1. A person who enjoys taking risks

I’m no expert, but I can’t help think that death, in general, is a pretty big fucking risk. Death as a writer’s tool is HUGE. Would Old Yeller have the same impact on you if the local veterinarian could wave a magic wand and resurrect the rabid dog? Why would you even consider depriving yourself of the most powerful tool you have as a writer to pull on your reader’s emotional heartstrings with?

Thank you for reading and please come back tomorrow for part two.

Dissecting Fiction Disclaimer: These are my opinions and I am not claiming to be an expert. I have, like many of you, read a lot of books and my discernments in this series are based on what I would and would not do and what feels “right” to me. You may feel differently. You may do things differently. And it’s very possible I could be more wrong regarding these insights than Bush & Cheney were about Iraq. The purpose of this series is to make us ponder more deeply the meaning of every single word we write, the repercussions of every plot decision we make and how those choices ripple out through the rest of the manuscript.

Use it in a Sentence: fusty

Check out this article for the rules to my TDCS writing exercise.

The winner of the second run of Use it in a Sentence is non other than subject117, a friend of ours from the PreGameLobby website (a great place to go if you’re looking for other adult gamers to game with) and Xbox Live. Stanley wants you all to visit subject117 at his jgwrites blog where he shares his written word with the world. In fact, Stanley commands you do it!

Today’s word comes from Dictionary.com’s 2/26/14 word of the day and this time I have my own entry… I probably should edit it more but seeing as Stanley says I’m not allowed to win my own contests and I haven’t posted an article in over a week… Yeah, it is what it is.

fusty adjective (FUSH-tee) [2/26/14]
1. old fashioned or out-of-date, as architecture, furnishings, or the like.
2. having as tale smell; moldy; musty.
3. stubbornly conservative or old-fashioned; fogyish.

The brownstone sat between two modern buildings just off 5th avenue on 52nd street. It’s ornate trimmings, large weathered bricks and bay windows were at odds with the sleek modern lines trapping the dated structure. The door opened slightly and a gentle and wrinkled face peeked out while dust motes played in the halo of interior light reflecting off her white hair adding a living fusty aesthetic to the building’s character.

You thought I was going to go with the third definition didn’t ya?

Dissecting Fiction: Writing an Epic Tale? (Part 2)

Welcome to part two of my Dissecting Fiction article in which we examine Death’s Hand, a novel by SM Reine.


Let’s talk about plot for a moment.
Such a tale that spans more than one novel really needs to be plotted out in advance. No author could keep such a massive undertaking squared in their head. Every author needs a book of plots or two on their shelf. I have two: 20 Master Plots (and how to build them), and Steal this Plot: A Writer’s Guide to Story Structure and Plagiarism. Both copies have seen better days and I never write without one sitting open in front of me, right next to my Visual Dictionary and Flip Dictionary.

Here’s the thing about tackling an epic tale that beginning authors may not think about, not only does each novel of your epic tale need a plot but the saga needs a plot as well. If you are writing a trilogy that would equate to four separate plots. The plots of books 1-3 and the plot of the entire saga itself. I won’t even go into all the sub-plots you’ll have to contend with, that’s a topic far beyond the scope of this article.

Plot is a topic I could rattle on about forever. I just wanted to touch on it here because I think this is were SM Reine fell short the most. She either didn’t plot out her story at all, plotted too little, or developed the plot as she went along. Epic tales require epic thinking and epic planning.

A note regarding world building.
Trying to be unique is all fine and dandy, but if you’re going to come up with your own terminology and definitions and stray from convention in a vain effort to “not be like everyone else” (which isn’t as bad as the intellectual elite and literary snobs out there would have you believe,) for the love of God and all that is holy; throw a glossary of terms into the book somewhere. Preferably at the beginning so we know what the hell you are talking about.

There’s a reason Gary Gygax didn’t call Orcs, Bonafarts, when he put together Dungeons & Dragons. Because the type of person that would play D&D is also the very same type of person that would read Lord of the Rings. And even Tolkien drew from the fables of old to create his world. Familiarity in this respect eases your pain as a writer. It saves you from unnecessary explanations and details. And if you do stray from convention a glossary of terms gives readers a place to go when you accidentally confuse the reader with the story. Even the most careful reader can gloss over (or even forget) the carefully laid out scene in which you explained it all.

This is another reason why I feel this story would have been better served as two distinct books that started at the beginning. The first book could have continued the explosive intrigue of the first chapter and served as a much better vessel in which to explain more thoroughly the world in which our protagonist is living and ease the reader into it with a more memorable experience.

One more quick note, pick a name and stick to it.
Naming conventions in writing is a huge topic worthy of an entire book. I come from the Stan Lee School of Character Naming. Peter Parker. Pepper Potts. Sue Storm. Ben Grimm… Though we know Stan Lee did this because he has a shitty memory and this method was easier for him to remember who was who in the massive universe he built inside his head, I prefer to keep the names simple so the reader doesn’t have to pause to figure it out. For the most part SM Reine does the same, she just complicates things in other ways.

SM Reine has a bad habit of naming the same character two or more different names. She does this with the main antagonist quite a bit; Death’s Hand, Vedae som matisa name that gets further confused and somewhat lost at times because the author is also using Latin (or is it Greek?) when the protagonist is casting her spells. It gets worse when Death’s Hand/Verae som matis takes over the body of the protagonist’s friend and becomes James as well… I get what she was trying to do, which was to infer that (despite the protagonist’s friend not being the same person before Death’s Hand took over his body) to the protagonist James was still there somewhere behind the control of Vedae som matis… All I could think in the final epic battle was ‘okay, who the f*!k is fighting who?

In closing.
I’ll restate my firm belief that SM Reine has great potential and talent, but the next book I’ll read of hers will be something more recent to see if her writing has improved any with practice. The mistakes she makes in Death’s Hand are born out of the rush to finish the story, of not enough edits, and possibly a failure to plot the entire epic tale out before tackling it in the editing process. Careless but understandable mistakes that inexperienced authors need to watch for, which is why I feel aspiring authors need to read this book… And it was a good book.

Dissecting Fiction Disclaimer: These are my opinions and I am not claiming to be an expert. I have, like many of you, read a lot of books and my discernments in this series are based on what I would and would not do and what feels “right” to me. You may feel differently. You may do things differently. And it’s very possible I could be more wrong regarding these insights than Bush & Cheney were about Iraq. The purpose of this series is to make us ponder more deeply the meaning of every single word we write, the repercussions of every plot decision we make and how those choices ripple out through the rest of the manuscript.

Dissecting Fiction: Writing an Epic Tale? (Part 1)

I mentioned previously how I’ve been leaving quite a few books unfinished of late, and how I’ve been searching for new authors offering free books to try and rope me in with. I was perusing my log of the books I’ve actually finished and noticed there is a severe lack of female authors on the list. I assure you all this was by no means a conscious misogynistic effort on my part. More of an oversight. Considering this, I limited my search for new authors to ones of the female persuasion.

Enter SM Reine. Finally, after weeks of pure drudgery, I was able to get through an entire book. And what I discovered is a first novel every aspiring author should read. I should note that I wrote the first draft of this article as a review of Death’s Hand, but after a few edits I thought it would be a better fit with my Dissecting Fiction series.


A quick note about the spoilers: If you are planning on reading Death’s Hand as an academic exercise to learn from then the spoilers in this article will help recognize the areas I feel the author fell short on. However, Death’s Hand is a good enough book to just sit back and enjoy.  I would suggest saving this article for when you have finished the novel.

Death’s Hand is the first book in a series similar to Dresdon Files/Lost Girl type offshoots. A sub-world of magic, demons, witches and such which the muggles always seem impervious to. In that respect we aren’t seeing anything different than we have before. It’s a niche. You either like this sort of thing or you don’t. I happen to like it.

Let me start by saying SM Reine has talent and definite potential. As I stated before, I was able to read the novel from beginning to end, but not without a few hick-ups in between. I’m not sure if this was the first book she has written asfor some odd reasonit’s hard to get a definitive published date in the world of digital publishing, but it does read like someone’s first book. In some places it even reads like a first draft.

Even so, compared to the rest of the self-publishing authorship out there, it’s worth a read. Mostly so new authors can see the pitfalls of rushing into such an epic undertaking of a story that will span more than one book. Let’s start with her literary technique.

Writing is about passion.
SM Reine has a much better grasp of the English language than most of the digital publishing authors clogging up the channels to your potential fans. But there are sentences in which I thought, she could have written that better. It was a little frustrating to see so much potential and talent not being utilized to its fullest. SM Reine states on her web site that she writes 2,000 to 10,000 words a day which would suggest she may be a victim of the corporate America quantity over quality paradigm.

It seems at times as though not enough thought is being put into each and every sentence. SM Reine needs to slow down a little. This isn’t Fox News, you’re not trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. You’re creating art, a passion that you want your reader to connect to and feel. In SM Reine I see a passion for her fable, but little passion for the story or the art of storytelling. I see the passion and fervor of the rush to get it all down before the muse leaves or is forgotten, but the passion to nurture it into something more before unleashing its splendor on the world is lacking. This lack of extra care and nurturing with her words creates situations in which strong characters become tepid because she leans on adverbs instead of strong verbs. Characters don’t DO something, they tentatively do something.

SM Reine is a solid writer but a little more attention to detail would make her a strong one.

The back and forth of it all.
Back in December of 2013 I talked about how much I hate dream sequences in stories. The only thing I despise slightly less are back-flashes. Occasionally, a story (if masterfully implemented) can handle a quick back-flash or two. But if you have more than five in a novel you have to consider the possibility you have two distinct stories to tell.

And thus we have the main problem with Death’s Hand. We are jumping around in time so much in a manner that is so poorly implemented and structured it’s disorientating. At one point I was forced to reread several pages because the author had back-flashed without any clear indication of having done so. One minute we’re in some suburban setting fighting some demon, then a few pages later we are in some jungle somewhere with some new people fighting some other demon and apparently had been so for the past three pages. Even after I reread the passages I was still unable to discern the precise moment in time we started the back-flash.

There’s on old wise writer’s adage about starting your story as close to the end as possible, and maybe that’s what SM Reine was trying to do here. However, the story would have been better served if told in two separate parts rather than one part with a ton of back-flashes.

Doing so would have given the author more time to set the story up and give the characters (and world) a much needed deeper background and therefore a more solid connection to the reader. This is very important when you are beginning such an epic tale that will last more than one book. Slow and easy wins this race. The sad thing is once I got the gist of the background story SM Reine was telling I felt like, noI KNEWit would have been a much better story to kick off the franchise with. Especially considering the opening chapter was quite good. Now that I think about it, the opening chapter was probably written last.

Thank you for reading and please come back tomorrow for part two.

Dissecting Fiction Disclaimer: These are my opinions and I am not claiming to be an expert. I have, like many of you, read a lot of books and my discernments in this series are based on what I would and would not do and what feels “right” to me. You may feel differently. You may do things differently. And it’s very possible I could be more wrong regarding these insights than Bush & Cheney were about Iraq. The purpose of this series is to make us ponder more deeply the meaning of every single word we write, the repercussions of every plot decision we make and how those choices ripple out through the rest of the manuscript.

Use it in a Sentence: frisson

Check out this article for the rules to my TDCS writing exercise.

The winner of our first run of Use it in a Sentence is malteserinhk. Mostly because he’s the only one that submitted an entry! Stanley appreciates and thanks you for your participation Malteser.

GillianAndersonToday’s word doesn’t come from Dictionary.com, but from an interview Gillian Anderson had on Huffington Post. I wasn’t a huge Gillian Anderson fanboy during the run of the X-Files, but these days? VA VA VA VOOM!

frisson noun (free’soN)
1. An almost pleasurable sensation of fright

“There is an attraction. There might even be more than an attraction, but it’s not going to happen. And it’s that frisson that has made it interesting in the series and continues to make it interesting.” ~ Anderson on the possibility of a relationship with X-Files co-star David Duchovny.

Yeah, I’ve got nothing here. Gillian for the win?

Let’s not make this easy for her, peeps. Put your entries in the comments section.

And Now for Something Completely Different…

A Bohemian parody for gamers.
Amazingly, they didn’t butcher the song one bit.

Check out more from Pat the NES Punk on YouTube.

It’s how you treat those you consider beneath you…

You see how that dog was shaking? That’s the fear of people and the ugly talons of loneliness that rip into you because of that fear.

I’ve seen a lot in my 44 years on this planet.
I’ve been middle class and I’ve been dirt poor.
I’ve lived in comfortable surroundings and I’ve been homeless.
I’ve felt the euphoria of a full stomach and the despair of an empty one.
I’ve been both the disappointed and the one who disappoints.
I’ve felt the pain of friendships gone bad and the joy of solitude.
And I’ve felt the despondency of seclusion and the bliss of finding one’s soul mate.

Out of all my life experiences, nothing was worse than not having any place to go. Not having any family to lean on. No friends to rely on. No pack to walk with. No one to trust.

An empty stomach pains your body, but these conditions destroy your mind. Your psyche. The very being of your existence.

In such a state, one abandons all hope. And without hope, we die. Inside and out, we die.

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Long Live the Hayride!

Check out more from HayrideTV on YouTube.

Dissecting Fiction: Brent Weeks Masters the Thought.

I mentioned once before how I keep a notebook in which I copy skillful snippets of writing I find from the authors I read. I thought I would do a series of articles highlighting some interesting techniques authors use to dazzle us. Today’s example comes from author Brent Weeks. It’s from the first book, The Way of Shadows, of his Night Angel Trilogy.

I have this fear of unnecessary repetition when writing. I’m always looking for it when I edit, and nothing is repeated more in a fiction novel than the words ‘he/she said’ and ‘he/she thought’. How often is it okay to repeat these phrases in your parable without sounding like an utter fool dribbling nonsense?

Lets look at how well Brent Weeks handles this on page 15 of the SFBC copy of Night Angel A Trilogy.

Durzo Blint pulled himself on top of the small estate’s wall and watched the guard pass. The perfect guard, Durzo thought: a bit slow, lacking imagination, and dutiful. He took his thirty-nine steps, stopped at the corner, planted his halberd, scratched his stomach under his gambeson, checked all directions, then walked on.

Thirty-five. Thirty-six. Durzo slipped out of the man’s shadow and eased himself over the edge of the walkway. He held on by his fingertips.

Weeks only states once that Durzo thought. Subsequent thinking by the character is simply handled by contextual implication and italics. What fascinates me about this piece of writing is Weeks continues this even after a long break of narrative action. Our intrepid protagonist takes two paragraphs slithering through the shadows to get closer to his prey before we are enlightened to his thoughts once again.

The wetboy slid into the room, using his Talent to soften the sound of his footsteps on the hardwood floor.

Curious. A quick glance confirmed that the general hadn’t just come for a nocturnal conjugal visit. They actually shared the room. Perhaps he was even poorer than people thought.

What’s important to note here is the entire previous paragraph is what Durzo is thinking and yet Weeks doesn’t need to tell us that he is thinking. He simply implies it with the italicized first word, goes on to describe what Durzo is thinking and then reminds us that Durzo was thinking in the next paragraph with an action that serves to break up the monotony of Durzo thinking.

Durzo’s brow furrowed under his mask. It was a detail he didn’t need to know. He drew the poisoner’s knife and walked toward the bed. She’d never feel a thing.

He stopped. The woman was turned toward the disturbed covers. She’d been sleeping close to her husband before he got up. Not on the far side of the bed, the way a women merely doing her marital duties would.

It was a love match. After her murder, Aleine Gunder had planned to offer the general a quick remarriage to a rich noble women. But this general, who’d married a lowborn women for love, would react quite differently to his wife’s murder than a man who’d married for ambition.

The idiot. The prince was so consumed with ambition that he thought everyone else was, too. The wetboy sheathed the knife and stepped into the hall. He still had to know where the general stood. Immediately.

One simple word, a thought, in italics along with three succinct sentences tells us much more about the strength and conviction of Durzo’s character than all the preceding narrative combined. We aren’t dealing with any mere assassin here. And yet the impact of that one simple word in italics with its three succinct sentences in tow would be lessened if not for the preceding paragraphs.

What helps Weeks accomplish this is simple consistency and slight repetition. The repetition being in the occasional italicized thoughts that not only serve to emphasize certain convictions Durzo has, but also act as a sort of road sign for the reader to know he/she is leaving the action for a moment to return to Durzo’s thoughts. Consistency in that during the entire process we always remain inside Durzo’s head and the author never attempts anything different to get us from action to thought.

It’s a crescendo of narrative genius if you ask me.


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