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More on Writing: Show vs. Tell

(Also now this journal comes with English style title capitalisation.)

While I was writing the FMAB fan fiction, I ran across the current set phrase "show, don't tell" once again.

I've probably mentioned earlier that I'm not very good at describing stuff. I rather draw, though I'm not good at expressing my ideas through drawings either. Either way, "showing" is effectively describing. Therefore, most of the stuff I write is mostly "telling", I guess.

There is another thing about "showing" that bugs me, and it's that very often, when I read guides and such about how to "show" rather than "tell", the only thing I see in those guides is that "showing" conveys different information than "telling". They create different scenes. And of course I have more problems with the scenes that "show".

When the scene is "shown", I have a hard time staying with the text and understanding what's going on. If I'm not told what a particular thing means, it starts just seeming nonsensical to me. The author (and many readers) might understand the tone of voice of a character whose line is written in a certain way, but I'm likely to miss it. And so I'll end up clueless as to the character's state of mind. Now, if I was TOLD exactly what the character's state of mind is, no problem. I might be bad at imagining certain emotions, but it's definitely easier to read exactly what it's supposed to be than to try to find and guess what parts show it.

Maybe it's just me, though. That doesn't make me less frustrated with writing that routinely frustrates me with what I often perceive as non sequiturs. Therefore, I hope that more writings BOTH "showed" AND "told"! At least I'm trying to aim for both showing and telling in my writings from now on.
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More Pathfinder: Serpent's Skull

After the campaign I wrote about in this post ended, we started another with the same players. The new campaign was another of Paizo's adventure paths, Serpent's Skull. I did something unheard of: I decided to try playing a character with a high charisma.

My character was Malje, a descendant of evil racist colonialist nobles. And yes, this meant that she was a racist colonialist noble too. Not evil though. She was an oracle, a spontaneous divine caster who was haunted by mischievous spirits.

As I suspected, I had trouble playing the high charisma. Malje wasn't supposed to be as quiet as I played her, and a lot of chances passed by as I waited for a suitable spot to speak. Also, one of the other characters was supposed to be Malje's servant and I just didn't know how to play that. I think there was a lot of wasted potential there. I considered many times that I should just switch characters and make one that I'd have an easier and funner time playing. I probably tried too much with her.

Nevertheless, despite the troubles, Malje had some good moments and at least one of the other players seemed to really like her.

When the characters were at level 12, we ran across an awful gigantic worm that spit acid and ended up killing Malje. To be honest, the worm would have probably killed all of them but our huge damage dealer Mogashi hit it so hard that it decided to flee. Mogashi could have healed Malje before she died, but he ran after the worm in a rage. Our healer Kuros could have easily raised Malje within one round or so of her death, but he was too far away. Also, I was okay with her dying, so she died.

Of course, at level 12, there are plenty of options for bringing back a dead character. If you know Finnish, read what happened in Malje's character sheet (the chatlog at the end). Briefly in English: She didn't have a will, so Kuros casted speak with dead and asked whether she wanted to come back. He got no answer, so he wouldn't raise her. The reason why she didn't answer was that she truly believed that she couldn't die. I had decided that pretty early in the campaign because her healing saved the others many times, plus she was an oracle of bones (death). And of course a person with a wisdom of 8 would never die! I didn't immediately know what this would mean if she died, but by that time it was clear. She could not answer questions about her death because she wouldn't be dead. She went to the place where chaotic neutral people go after death and was most likely recruited by some powerful entity to fight in some wars in the afterlife.

My next character was something a lot more traditional for me: Teak, an elven skillmonkey archer-fighter with charisma 8 and ridiculous CMD. Teak is an actual Pathfinder and isn't afraid of the numerous sewers under cities.

I don't think I'll be playing a character with a charisma higher than 14 again.
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Of writing and Fullmetal Alchemist

Last December I ran across the new anime of Fullmetal Alchemist, called Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. I watched it and thought it was awesome. Because I'm not a very good reviewer, I'll just say that I enjoyed it and that the characters' faces were refreshingly recognisable. I also read some of the manga.

There was one thing in particular that I liked: Envy. I suspect I like it so much because of its looks, because its personality is pretty much just awful. Awful personality usually prevents me from liking a character, but obviously not this time. I liked it so much that besides the end of December, the whole Christmas vacation along with January and February wooshed by while I thought of little but it and the series. And that's not all: I was so inspired that I wrote Forged in Ice, a fan fiction story. And drew pictures (best one here), but that was easy to see coming.

This time I didn't just rush head in to the writing but wanted to actually make something readable. Therefore, one of the first things I decided before I started writing seriously was how the story would end. My decision kept and the story ended the way I intended.

Naturally, there were other problems that I still couldn't solve. One of them was the lack of plot. I thought I had a plot that was enough, but as I kept writing, it never started looking like a plot as far as I can tell. I had at least one subplot that I could and probably should have developed more, but I found that I didn't want to write so much about it. The first four chapters felt both rushed and like they were getting nowhere.

Nevertheless, I'm rather happy about how the writing process went and how the story turned out. Neither was all that good, but I think I developed my writing abilities!

I had about five or six chapters written when I decided to start publishing it. I decided that I would update the story weekly, in a regular manner, because I could. I had a buffer of chapters all through the publishing period. Needless to say, I still edited the chapters before I published them, some just a little, but I also reordered them and so on. My first update day was a Monday, but I forgot to add the second or third chapter on a Monday, so I changed it to be a Tuesday. I updated the story from 2012-01-16 to 2012-05-08.

The worst threat to the schedule happened when I was inspired by a review and started writing more stuff to the last chapter under a week before its publication time. I ended up writing so much that I could make another chapter (most of that happened right on the day when I was supposed to publish it) so I just took the new material, made a new penultimate chapter out of it and published the last chapter the next week.

The story turned out to be just over 50000 words long, even without the wordy author note section at the end of one chapter. It was like a NaNoWriMo spread over several months, and obviously with better editing, because I can't not edit.

I managed to decide how a story would end before I started writing it! And I finished it! Success!

Would anyone like to hear more about the writing process? I'd probably post them as comments to this post, or maybe in a new post.
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Pathfinder campaign complete!

I began playing my first Pathfinder campaign a bit over a year and a half ago. I made a post about it too. To summarise, we started with the old Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 ruleset (or maybe "3.6", with what we knew of Pathfinder), but changed to Pathfinder as soon as the core rulebook came out. The campaign was Rise of the Runelords, a complete adventure path, and we just recently finished it.

I'm not very good at describing or reviewing things. The short version is that it was awesome.

Since the GM asked for it, I'll list some highlights from the campaign. (SPOILER warning! If you're pretty sure you'll play this campaign in the future, I advise you to not read the next bits.)
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I've realized something about swearing and can put it in words now.
This past year, I've started noticing how swearing just gradually got more inconvenient, extraneous and juvenile. I can't say what kind of swearer I've been and while I've let out my share of profanities, I do know that I've almost never used the strongest swearwords Finnish has. I definitely used to think that swearing was cool and totally acceptable in certain situations even though I didn't actually swear quite that much myself.
Of course I don't think swearing should be banned, but I've come to notice that when people swear, most often it just isn't doing anything for them except making them seem less amicable, approachable, trustworthy and mature. When I see or hear someone swearing, these questions pop into my mind:
1) What's that supposed to signify?
2) Is that really the only way to express feelings, and what warrants such feelings anyway?
3) Is anyone going to get offended? (Well, the purpose of swearwords and profanity IS to offend or express pain or surprise.)
4) Why does the swearer want to offend?
I suppose there are more questions to be asked but those were the most concise and clear ones of which I thought.
I've gotten pretty tired of swearing and wish other people would give it a rest too. It still has its place, but ideally people would think about what their swearing signifies and save it for the hopefully not-that-frequent situations that can somehow benefit from swearing. Nowadays too many swearing situations just invoke the aforementioned feelings of immaturity and unapproachability in me.

In other news: As some may know, it is NaNoWriMo time. This year, I'm not doing an actual novel, but an alternative: 30 characters in 30 days. My characters are here if anyone wants to see.
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On Avatar and its review

I went to watch Avatar today. It was a movie about how humans come to exploit blue humanoids called navi on their home planet Pandora. I liked it, and while I admit it could've been done a little better, it was quite fine as it was. For once I thought 3 h 45 min wasn't enough to tell the story (though, granted, I mostly wanted more technobabble about how things work).

An issue of more discussion would be another review I read – after seeing the movie. It was in Aamulehti (Finnish morning newspaper) and said how "digitally produced images that are estranged from realism feel just as natural to the young people who've spent their youths at the computer as real, comforting people's faces in films feel to the older people". That statement felt wrong to me, but I don't think I can say much more about it without some actual research. I like both real faces and the digital ones, though of course the situation depends. If something is supposed to be very alien and non-humanoid but still has to be played by a human, it just doesn't work. And humans don't have to be digitally rendered. Anyway, I'm probably just missing something from that review statement.

I got stuck on the mention about realism, though. Whatever I've read and heard, everybody always says how we young ones should realize that movies and such are FICTION. They are NOT REAL (and you can't just shoot people like that). Well, to me, that's been pretty obvious. Then suddenly, in comes how movies, and especially sci-fi ones, are supposedly allegories of the present day. That was really emphasized in the Avatar review in Aamulehti. So who's saying what's real now? That all fictional but still allegory probably makes sense, but mostly it just feels like cheating to me at this point.
I'm not really getting why all/most/best sci-fi should be allegories of present day anyway. I do understand it's a way of telling the story in another way than it happened in real life, but... I'm just not really seeing the point in emphasizing sci-fi's allegoriness. It could be done in a regular, non-sci-fi film just as well, even if differently, I bet.

Yet another thing was how close game-making and movie-making have become. The reasoning was that they're both just coding on the computer. WTF? I don't even know that much about 3D stuff, but I'm pretty sure they still need humans for body movements, though they can just record that and then use it endlessly. The story, plot, dialogue and such need to be discussed among people; I don't think those plot generators work quite that well yet. An artist has to draw stuff for the coders, because even though I'm a coder and an artist, that doesn't mean every other coder is. And I don't even do computer generated stuff like that.
Okay, rant done. It was still a quite good movie. Maybe less Hollywood would've been nice. I'm just not sure.
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D&D battle

I was sitting here adjusting the character sheet of a character of mine, thought about some D&D battles and was reminded of one of the greatest battles I took part in.

There was a group of four adventurers, mine being a gnome rogue/wizard, and we went into a big room in the dungeon. Monsters attacked from the ceiling and though we killed all but one, a skull that fireballed a lot, one of us died and we had to flee. The cleric remained there to fight and was killed. The two remaining ones were my character and a wizard, and after the wizard was done renewing spells, we went back there.

The skull felled the wizard as well, and then my character, desperate, grappled the skull. Now, the skull was either tiny or diminutive, and my character was small, so it was a battle of really tiny and negative grapple modifiers. Eventually, though, it was clear enough that the skull wouldn't be able to get away. Then I had my character just smash the skull against the floor, at which point we suddenly stopped rolling the dice and the GM said something along "You smash the skull to fucking tiny pieces. You won!"

It was awesome, though I'm not entirely sure why.
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(no subject)

I like role-playing games. I first heard about them when the mother of my friend mentioned them to me when I was 12 or something. At that time, I got the idea that it was like acting or holding a presentation (I couldn't find a good translation for the word "esiintyä") and was not thrilled at all. She could have been talking about LARP, too. Therefore, I thought role-playing wasn't what I would want to do.

Five or six years later I was reintroduced to role-playing in an online community where there were a number of play-by-post games. I was first reluctant to try even them, but once I did, I found that this was something I really liked to do. Role-playing for me is being part of an interactive story.
From the play-by-post games, after some initial blunders and overachieving, I got the impression that I'm a fairly decent role-player. I still have a few problems when playing online as well, two biggest ones (as far as I can tell) of them being that my choice of characters is probably somewhat one-sided (because I really, really like speedy and nimble characters and because I don't know how to play women and men or find playing them too forced) and that I'm an obsessive conflict-solver.

On my second year in university, I finally found the role-playing club of the university and got involved in real-life RPGs. Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, of course. Like in general real life, I suffered from excess shyness and nervousness, but I tried to overcome them. It went pretty well with the first game group I was in. We were all new players and though the group wasn't exactly tightly knit together and there were issues, I still think it's at least one of the best games I ever played.
The first game died and I then got involved with another group. They were, at least from my point of view, hardcore gamers and practiced really heavy optimization and munchkins. Still, despite all that optimization, they could role-play as well. Their games went very fast and I had and still have a lot of trouble keeping up. For the most time, I don't keep up and just concentrate on listening what the others do – that is fun as well; I can most often enjoy watching a game as much as playing, though in RPGs the point is to take part... so I wish I would get a chance, but inexplicably, most times when I try to talk, someone else immediately talks over me or no one listens to me. Does that sound bad? I'm so used to it that I barely care.

After playing with the hardcore group for quite a while, I found it was a breeze to play a simple tiny Living Greyhawk module. Maybe it was because of the tininess, though, since the later LG modules weren't as breezy. They were easier than before, but I felt that my actual role-playing had suffered – not much, since I hadn't exactly been a good real-life role-player before, but anyway. I still find role-playing in real life rather difficult for me. I suppose it's mostly because I fear I'll screw everything up and because of my conflict-solving nature.

When it comes to screwing up and solving conflict, my character in my first The Shadow of Yesterday game was extraordinary. Lynx was very uncivilized and tended to cause problems wherever he (the other players decided he was a boy) went. I'm not sure if I caused as much trouble with Lynx as he could or should have, but it was still plenty, and he certainly didn't solve anything, at least directly. After a good, trouble-filled day, Lynx went to bed and left the other characters to clean up after him. It was a nice change of a character, but I don't know if I would like playing characters that only cause trouble. I suppose it would be good to find the so-called golden middle and play a character who causes and fixes trouble in approximately equal amounts.

I've also been playing Vampire the Masquerade lately. It's a pretty good game, but I'm just not that wild about the idea of vampires. Kind of dull. However, the real problem in it is that I don't quite know how to play it and that it's damn scary to do anything. Everything seems so lethal. I also most often don't know at all what to do, and the GM said that passing notes is important and expected but I can't really bring myself to do that either. What should I pass a note about? If I use this way to gain valuable information, will it come back to bite? (My reactive answer is "YES. HARD. ALWAYS." so I don't do it.)

It feels like I didn't say anything new here. Maybe I should list some solutions to my problems.
1) Being less shy and nervous. (Yeah, right. I'd be a millionaire if there was a solution to that.)
2) Trying NOT to solve problems at least when there isn't an immediate danger to the character.
3) Trying to play a character that isn't Speedy McFastFast. But... what to play then? I dislike spellcasters a lot (especially those who need to prepare spells) and brute strength sounds rather boring. Also charismatic characters are still a bit on the hard side. Then again, a social character is probably a fairly sure way to create and solve conflict in equal amounts. Maybe I will try a social character next time.

I think I'm done for now.
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Movie critic

I'm a really lousy movie critic. When I go see a movie and later try to tell what I thought of it, I can either say "it was good/great" or spew a very long essay about it. I've never actually written an essay, because it feels like writing that would be too toilsome, so I'm not entirely sure that I could do it. This same thing probably applies to books as well.

Do I ever think that a movie is bad? No, not really. There are two exceptions, two movies that I think are crap. One is Gladiator. I hated it passionately, only because I expected something different when I saw it. That is the SOLE reason for my hating the movie. Otherwise I imagine it was quite a great movie. The other crappy movie was some "artistic" and "psychological" (probably?) movie about black people. I have no clue why I watched it, but I suppose I thought that the movie didn't make sense, so I waited it to make some and was disappointed. I have no clue what its name was, but it was like an amalgam of several completely unrelated scenes, and there was a scene in it where aliens came to earth and ordered all "black" people to come to their spaceship. It ended with a scene of a nasty argument between a romantically involved pair who then shot each other.

All other movies are good. There are some well-done things in them, but no movie is perfect and I'm not able to expect perfection. Every movie has bad points and good points and people don't agree on which points are good and which bad, which means that any view on a movie is very subjective.
Is there something that everyone can agree is good or bad? Maybe. Bad acting is one example, but I prove that wrong, since I can't most often tell when acting is bad and therefore bad acting doesn't affect my movie experience. I think that I've been getting better at it lately, though.

I suspect that the reason why I end up thinking all movies are good is because I expect very little of them, or expect appropriate things of them. I remember watching the movies "UHF" and "Dungeons & Dragons" (which are said to be awful) and, well, I thought they were okay. "UHF" was good for a comedy and "Dungeons & Dragons" could have been a lot better, but it only sucked if one expected it to be awesome.

The best movie I ever watched was Terminator, because I was 12 when I first saw it.
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Farewell, the American way

...No, not really. I couldn't make such a long post about it.

My dad has been complaining about the way farewells and goodbyes are portrayed in American movies. I have to say I agree. Americans fuss over it, obsess over it and generally just make it a much bigger thing than it really should be.

Farewell scenes last for ages, and they mostly induce feelings of inconvenience in me. And the drama if someone dies... if it's during an action scene, there's always time to make a big deal about the death, defying all logic of self-preservation. Even the enemies secretly stop coming for a while.

A funeral is usually onerously long and people hold long, uncomfortable speeches.

What is the point in making those scenes so long and/or unrealistic? There are better ways to convey the significance of the death/leaving. Still, I don't think it's bad to make farewell scenes the American way, but I'm getting a bit tired of it and dislike it.

I really liked how a death was handled in a Swedish film Ronja Rövardotter. A character noticed that the dying character was dead and then started screaming about it, but the dying character turned out to be faking. The dying character then waited until all the others had gathered around him, said something along "so long" and died. A bit later the other characters were shown to be a little depressed. And that was it.

So, a question for the Americans or otherwise culturally gifted: Where are the roots of Americans' obsession with farewells? Why does it take so long?