Operation: A Novel Diet

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Earlier last month I developed something of a strategy for plugging through my creative writing endeavors.  As of now, that largely consists of my seventh and most probable novel attempt to date: ‘Doubting Puppet’.  But, between my own lack of discipline, direction, and motive, I was running behind on my prose work.  As such, in a stroke of inspiration both brilliant and asinine, I created a “Diet” that demanded my attention as an aspiring author.  It came to me one night while I was trying to sleep (the darnedest and most frequent time for these things) and I started making rules/conditions, which I would then apply to my life a couple days later.

The basic premise: I can only eat as many calories one day as the number of words I wrote the day before.

Don’t misunderstand the intention of this idea.  I like food.  My goal is to eat food.  Therefore, calling this a “diet” isn’t completely accurate, but for now that’s its moniker.  The goal is to write more, at the cost of food.  And, with a few modifications along the way, it has worked.  My average prior to 02/16, when I started the diet, was roughly 400 words.  As you can see, it’s jumped tremendously.

02/14 – 857 words
02/15 – 232 words (+Editing in preparation)
02/16 – 1400 words approx. (Begin Operation)
02/17 – 1500 words approx.
02/18 – 1200 words approx.
02/19 – 187 words (Inhibited by work)
02/20 – 1,124 words
02/21 – 2,446 words
02/22 – 800 words
02/23 – 1,840 words
02/24 – 1,430 words
02/25 – 600 words approx (Inhibited by work)
02/26 – 650 words approx (Inhibited by work)
02/27 – 2,200 words approx.
02/28 – 750 words approx.
03/01 – 1,519 words
03/02 – (Forgot to record, but approximately 800 words)
03/03 – 2,250 words
03/04 – 1,124 words
03/05 – 0 words (Inhibited by work, birthday, and surprise friend)
03/06 – 0 words (Inhibited by work)

I went into the operation with a fully realized expectation that this was just a prototype.  As such, near the beginning I wasn’t as strict on myself.  I needed to leave room for the idea to adapt and flesh itself out.  Here are the conditions that have come out of that:

  1. If I work out for at least 30 minutes on one day, I may add 300 calories to my count for the next day.  This number does not change if I work out more than 30 minutes, yet I want a solid workout, so I am encouraged to not waste time in the gym.
  2. The calorie count doesn’t apply to a couple select drinks.  Water, Milk and Orange Juice (because screw the system, I love orange juice) do not subtract from the calorie count, while things like soda, energy drinks, and other high-sugar juices might.  This was established since the beginning.
  3. Regarding condiments.  Because you cannot accurately judge the calorie count of condiments (or say, a chopped pepper) these, in small amounts, will not detract from the calorie count.  If there are large sums of either of these, then use your best judgment.  I’m not going to break this down into a science, since the focus is supposed to be on writing more, not wasting time counting every little calorie.
  4. On a more complicated level, calorie counts may be stockpiled or ‘saved’ in a bank (I document these things).  Say I have a friend coming from out of town.  We’re probably going to be hanging out a lot and eating out a few times.  Not a whole lot of writing is likely to get done, and eating out means a lot of calories.  At the end of a day, if I have unspent calories on my quota, I may choose to put them into this bank for later use.  Also, as a contingency, the bank STARTS with a 1,000 calorie deposit at the beginning of the diet (this concept was added after a week of prototyping).  This is intended for emergencies when you aren’t able to get any writing done on any day.  From testing the diet personally, I’ve also determined that it is wise to dedicate all or at least half of the first day into the bank as well, since you’re almost certain to run into complications and it will provide extra buffering for later.
  5. As general principle, and for raw simplicity, the daily diet routine works on a strict 00:00-00:00 time standard.  That means my calorie count for the day starts at midnight and ends when midnight comes again.  Anything left over is put into the bank, and any words written after midnight transfer to the next day’s calorie count.

Because of a sudden spike in work hours and a rogue friend coming to visit without much warning, I have not gotten much writing done the last couple of days.  That’s okay.  That’s what the bank is for, even if I’m expecting to be bankrupt by the end of the day tomorrow.  Again, this is largely experimental and subject to further modification, but I do feel mildly brilliant for coming up with it.  Because I try to eat healthy, this has kept my diet regulated and has snuffed out overindulgence, while keeping me future oriented.  As with any commitment, it requires dedication.  The diet isn’t overly strict, so it doesn’t feel like there’s much backlash or negativity associated with it.  If anything, the program has made life a little more interesting and exciting.  Plus, if things go according to plan, Doubting Puppet will be done before long.  So that’s cool.

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The Project

I wrote my usual short story for this week’s update, but I liked it enough that I’m going to hold off on posting it until after I’ve put the bad boy through a short-story competition.  As such, I’m just going to share about a project that me and my friend Michael have been working on since early July.  Something that I will unceremoniously dub “The Project”, for the sake of this post.

I don’t know about him, but it’s on my bucket-list to help make a videogame.  I didn’t think that meant I’d be spearheading one.  Mind you, we aren’t doing this completely from scratch, but pretty close.  We both purchased a wonderful program called RPG Maker during the Steam Summer sale, and since the purchase have set off on what we know is going to be a long and hard journey to complete a videogame.  The purchase was especially appropriate because we both love traditional JRPG-style games (that is, Japanese Role-Playing Games. Think early Final Fantasy, Golden Sun, and Pokemon).  Michael is the chief executive whatever and head programmer of the Project, while I am the head scriptwriter.  We both do some of everything, though.  I leave a lot of the technical computer-program-y stuff to him, because I’d have a better chance of chucking a baseball into orbit than understanding most of that jargon.  Anyways, here is the basic lore and premise of our game:

“Sixty generations past, in response to the corruption and evil of the world since its birth, a terrible creature known as The Almighty materialized to “reinitialize” or reset the world, wiping it of its crime.  However, when peril was at its worst, there were eight beings that believed in the good of humanity and sought to prove to the Almighty that humans were not hopeless.  Rejecting their campaign, The Almighty continued to sew a path of destruction.  Realizing that the only way to preserve humanity was to take action themselves, these eight heroes waged war with the Almighty and struck him/it down.  They were heralded as saviors and penned in history books as the “Prides” for millennia to come.  However, though The Almighty was beaten, it was not destroyed.  His spirit fragmented into several separate entities, which lie dormant across the planet.  Over time, some have awakened and caused trouble for humanity, causing wars, disastrous natural phenomena, resurrecting the dead, and more.  But time and again they would be put to rest.

Now a dark dawn is approaching.  A few of the Fragments are already awake and wreaking havoc, while rumor tells the others shall not rest much longer.  In a time where humanity is strained with discord, failed loyalty, betrayal, and every matter of crime, there seems to be no uniting force that can oppose all of the Fragments or stop them from polymerizing and forming a new Almighty to end the world.”

Of course, that’s only a brief history, which is cheap and easy to make.  As for the actual plot of the game, we have some wonderful things in development and already possess a solid three hours of gameplay.  Hiro, our protagonist, has been incredibly fun to write (sarcastic, witty characters usually are) and his relationship and influence on others is inspired.  We have had many hurdles already, most of them on my end and most of them relating to my ineptitude with technology.  Alas, we are still trekking on, expanding our world, refining our battle system, crafting a story that is turning out much better than originally expected, and enjoying it along the way.  I find myself growing quite fond of our cast, regardless of how ignorant, remorseless, or psychotic some of them might be. 🙂

We have no intentions of selling the game, as we are amateurs doing this for kicks, but when it’s completed we will likely put it on Steam or some other related site for free.  I’m going to post periodic updates on our progress, so hopefully at least some of you will be interested in following along.  Heading out, I shall depart with a couple of my favorite in-game quotes.

Baldur:  “I cannot be destroyed.  Not by you, nor by your friends.  Congratulations, you have done what humans are best known for doing.  You have failed.”

Taiyo: “Catch you later!” *Explodes*
Jade: “Did…did she just explode?”
Hiro: “Yes…I think she did.”
Jade: “That’s what I thought.”
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Her Name Was Clementine

I recently had the opportunity to acquaint myself with a wonderful little girl named Clementine.  We didn’t have much time together, but what little we did share was a blessing.  Clem is only eight years old and spent her entire life growing up in rural Georgia.  Both smart and reliable, she thought school was a cinch.  Instead of doing what other children do nowadays like play with dolls or watch television, Clem instead chose to act out fantastic make-believe stories from her tree-house.  She had a pet hamster that she told me on one occasion got out of its cage and ate half a box of cookies by the time she found it the next morning.  Clementine is earnest, considerate, playful, and she’s sincerely loved by both of her parents.

When I met her she was wearing a baseball cap given to her by her father as a birthday present.  This seemed to be the most important thing in the world to her.  I wish I could tell you every small detail about Clem, but I will save you the time and afford you the opportunity to find out for yourself.  You see, Clementine isn’t real.  Clem is a character from Telltale Studio’s “The Walking Dead”.  Not the television series that appears on AMC, mind you, though both crop up from the same graphic novel series.  What’s more, this adaptation of The Walking Dead is a videogame.

That last statement would be a turnoff to some, but I plead that you stay and listen a while.  Since starting college four years ago, I haven’t really had much time for videogames, but I do still play a little bit.  Until college, that was just about my only hobby, so I have had my share of experience with the activity.  But here I am, one week after having completed this ‘game’ called The Walking Dead, and I feel almost obligated to share something.  The following four days after completing the game, nearly 80 percent of my thoughts had been held captive by this little girl, and her relationship with a man named Lee Everett, who acts as her guardian.  This has never happened before.  Never have I been so emotionally enraptured by characters from any story, let alone a videogame.  One might consider this obscene, perhaps a little ridiculous, but I am in a position where I am inclined to share about this.  I feel responsible to do so.

IF YOU HAVE ANY FUTURE INTEREST IN PLAYING THIS GAME, PLEASE STOP NOW AS THERE WILL BE SPOILERS

I must lead by saying that no words I share with you will be able to do any sort of justice to the authentic and sympathetic nature of this game.  In TWD, you play as the aforementioned ‘Lee Everett’, a man convicted of murdering a state senator who held an affair with his wife.  Lee (or, rather, you) was on his way to prison when things went haywire.  To save on the details, shortly after this, you become injured and find yourself in the care of a little girl that was hiding in the upstairs of her house, alone.  This is Clementine.

From there you begin to bond with her.  People come, people go, and the sort of grim adversity you would expect to find in a realistic zombie story sets a dark and melancholic tone for your world.  All the while, you are trying to help Clem find her parents, who were out of town when the Walkers cropped up.  The story forces you to make stressful psychological decisions, usually on only a couple seconds of notice.  There’s one dilemma I remember well.  Your party is short on food, and it’s on your shoulders which three of the eight or nine people in your group get to eat that day.  You know how hard it is to choose people over one another, knowing that everybody is observing and will change their opinion of you accordingly?  Even with unreal characters?  It’s quite tough.

What’s more, Clementine is always watching, always looking to you as a model for behavior.  Clem sees whenever you choose to spare a life or take it, she modifies her language depending on the words you say, to an extent she adopts your mindset, and so much more.  On top of this, she remembers it.  When the party wants to take food from an abandoned vehicle, she demonstrates that she feels it is wrong and that somebody might still come back for it.  You then have to choose whether you care about what she has to say or not, and because I couldn’t bear to do wrong before her or convince her that we weren’t stealing, I stood off to the side with her, holding her hand while everybody else scavenged the vehicle.

I am empathetic by nature.  For many years I have also aspired to be a father, and have entertained many dreams where that has come to pass.  Looking at Lee and Clementine in this world, I became deeply absorbed into their relationship.  As Lee, I’m a man that has murdered and deserve very little sympathy, despite the underlying causes of my actions.  My reasons do not matter.  I did this.  When my route to the prison was diverted and I was left alone, without family or friends, I found a bundle of innocence worth protecting.  She was not my daughter, and I was not her father, yet somehow we cared for each other in such a way.  I could not lie to her, I could not hurt her.  And in the end, I never had to tell her that I loved her, because I’d spent our entire time together showing her.

Clementine is a child, with childish naivety, (like when curiosity drove her to lick a cow’s salt-lick), but she’s not a fool.  Clem is not snobby, she is patient, she’s not oblivious, she is intelligent.  She knows that most consider me a bad man and that I’ve hurt people before, but she does not hold that against me.  Clem tries to understand me, and ultimately trusts me.  How could I undermine that by being anything other than the best I can be in a world that doesn’t expect you to be merciful or kind?

The final scene of the game is so powerful and emotionally connected on a personal level that I’m not even going to try and speak of it here.  But the implications of it were enough to jostle me awake in the morning and keep me up at night for days after.

If even just a little bit, Clem and Lee changed my life.  I can love a little better, now.  I owe it to them to be inspired by their boldness and compassion.  This might seem kind of unfair, but should I ever have a daughter (Lord willing), I would be a terribly blessed soul if she was half as wonderful as Clementine.  My heart has been further tempered to share a father’s love, and to not withdraw it from others just because they might not be my natural-born family.  When things are that bad for somebody, things like genealogies and biology don’t matter, just sharing yourself and doing all that you can to protect them are what matter.  Maybe a tired notion, but only if we let it be so.  I still believe in the strength of humanity and our potential to add up to something greater than ourselves.  So, Telltale, thank you for sharing with me the lives of these characters and letting me take part in their story.  I recommend that any inspiring father play this game, or anybody that enjoys an immersing, compelling story.  Thanks for listening.

I’m going to miss you, Clementine.