Is This The Will of Steins Gate?

With long working weeks and plenty of life admin to take care of on those rare days off, I often feel like I just don’t have enough time to do everything I want to do. I’m sure most working folk feel exactly the same. How exactly do you make the most of your free time? Do you spend it all mulling over what you might do with it, or do you just take the bull by the horns and bust into whatever comes first?

I’m 32, work full time, and enjoy a number of time-consuming hobbies that really don’t leave much room for one another.

I want to carry on writing the novel I am working on (45 chapters in ~220000 words so far). There are literally hundreds of unplayed games from the NES to the PS4 on my shelves, gathering dust as they wait for the one I’m currently playing to be finished (some are still sealed). There is a whole Scotland out there that I want to chart on my terms. I like to read, and spend all of my train journeys with my head in a Kindle. I’ve recently discovered an interest in photography, even if I only have a phone and a basic digital camera to work with. I’m getting married next year and am very excited about planning everything with my wife-to-be. There is often something I’d like to write about on here, too.

Seins_Gate

Recently I played game on the PS Vita called Steins;Gate, a visual novel that tells the tale of Okabe Rintaro and his friends who manage to invent a time machine. For a man with little time on his hands, this game appealed. Okabe-kun did the kind of things that a wannabe time-traveller should really seek to avoid: he changed the past, frequently. The game sees you (as Okabe), change so much that he pushes himself further and further from his original world line, into a universe where the city he lives in is changed, where one of his friends is now a girl instead a guy, where his best friend’s fate is all but decided, and where he falls in love with a girl who by rights shouldn’t even be alive.

This game was incredible. So incredible that upon recollection the 25hrs I spent playing it seem to be both spread over weeks of play, and simultaneously compacted into mere minutes of joy. Some chapters felt like they took too long (because I wanted to see what happened next), but on the whole the game just didn’t last long enough. It is a rare thing to find a game that you wish would last forever, that you could inhabit forever. Almost as soon as the final credits began to roll I started to miss the characters. I wanted to time travel back myself and start over, meet everyone anew (or at least pretend that I didn’t know them). I wanted to experience Okabe’s change from irritating fool into stalwart hero just one more time, but feel that amazement without the knowledge it would come. That’s impossible now, I’ve played the game. I can never have that same feeling again.

I really can’t think of a time before that a game has had that affect on me. And this game is largely a series of still images that asks you to tap X to proceed through them, and occasionally answer your phone.

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This was nearly two months ago. I haven’t played a game since. Poor Geralt of Rivia remains languishing in Skellige after 48hrs of wondrous gameplay, hoping against hope that I’ll take control of him once again and finally rescue Ciri. I thought that I loved The Witcher III, seriously thought that it was one of those games that I wouldn’t be able to put down until the credits rolled. It has been put down.

Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold turned up this week. The Etrian Odyssey series has been one where I’ve rabidly played through each release. All I’ve done is look at the box, then place it on the shelf.

I never thought that a game would have such an effect on me that it would kill gaming for an unknown period of time (I’m assuming it will all come back to me at some point in the near future, I still have preorders waiting!). But what Steins;Gate has done for me is free up a little bit of my time for exploration. Since seeing Okabe travel his last (as far as I know), and watching the platinum trophy chime in, I have contemplated playing a game many a time. However, almost as soon as that urge to play something begins to grow, I find myself putting on my walking boots and heading outside. It’s like I don’t even want to play a game again, even when some subconscious part of me tries to force it on me.

Instead, I’ve managed to explore a great deal of Scotland in the time I would normally have spent lounging about in front of a TV. Most of my travels have been local, but I have uncovered lots of places that had hitherto been hidden by woods or overgrown paths I had never previously thought to venture down.

I found a disused pier at a place called Braefoot after wandering through a wood nearby my house. I was almost trampled by two fleeing deer that saw fit to run in my direction, then sat down on the concrete jetty whilst the lazy River Forth lapped against my feet and sun slipped below the horizon. Then I walked back through the same woods in darkness, with no idea what was watching me that time. In the last few weeks I’ve also managed to make my way to Oban, climbed Schiehallion and Falkland Hill, and wandered around the distinctly creepy (in an 80’s fantasy film way) woods of Cullaloe.

Over the Bay

Cullaloe Wood Schiehallion Cairn Colour Ganavan Sands 2 McCaig's Tower

All of this done in what can amount to no more than four days off, because I finished a game so brilliant that it has me purposefully avoiding games for fear that whatever I play next will be nothing more than a pale and shallow imitation of the fun I have come to expect from games. I sit down at my laptop and my untouched library of Steam games beckon. Instead I end up writing more than I had previously, or work on touching up some photographs I’ve taken.

So that is what Steins;Gate did. It may have killed gaming for me (even if only temporarily), but it seems to have unlocked an ability to take hold of every other hobby I enjoy, and get as much out of it as possible. Steins;Gate has released me from the Friday night troubles of deciding what to do with the next day off. It has made me ponder less and do more. I was going to write a proper review for the game but in the end I decided that the effect it has had on my spare time after finishing it was review enough.

I would certainly recommend to anyone that they should play Steins;Gate, but just be very aware of the profound effect that it may have on you. I’ve passed the game over to two other people since finishing it and can confirm that I am not alone in feeling that empty, hollow sensation that comes after it.

If you are the kind of person that always feels like they have far too much that they want to do, then Steins;Gate is the game for you. Ironic that a game about time travel has freed up so much time for me…

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Why do we procrastinate so much…

I had a whole Saturday to write, but I spent the first half of it with my sketchbook instead. I wanted to try and draw a draft of what I wanted my book cover to look like, and while the following is generally what I wanted, I think I’m going to have to redesign the text “bricks”: they look a little childish, and I’m supposed to be 32! I know what they say of course, but I’m not sure it is all that obvious to anyone else. I think the idea will work, if I spend a little more time on it. The shadow of Wil Havelock worked out well, and the scene looks fairly dusky as well.

This wall was partly inspiration. It is just next to my house. Much of the landscape in my story is organised between such walls, not big enough to make you feel towered over, but high enough that you’re forever wondering what lies over the top:

Inspiration

My sketch turned out like this (two versions, not sure which I prefer – they both look pretty amateur regardless!):Cover tests Cover tests_edited_1

The name is “Bleakendom Slumbers”, in case you couldn’t work it out. In the end I’ve split my story into at least two. The following part will be called “Bleakendom Roused” and I’m planning on a similar type of cover, only the shadow in that one will be of the antagonist in the sunrise.

Anyway. It’s 1630, I can probably get eight hours of writing in before bed. If only I didn’t have work tomorrow!

Daylight!

Wow, it’s been nearly three months since I had a chance to write! Usually an absence of that length might suggest I’d given up here, forgotten it, or even stopped writing! None of those things happened, I was just very busy at work. I’d been on nights for seven months, and for the last three of them I was there more time than I was at home – not necessarily a bad thing (I love my job), but it left little time for anything other than work.

So, it’s somewhat strange to be marvelling at all of this daylight just a couple of days past the Winter Solstice, aka the shortest day of the year. It’s been a busy few days, catching up on sorting out Christmas, getting back to writing my story (poor Wil, he’s been waiting at the bottom of a cliff since October), and playing a few games.

I’ll be heading to John O’Groats soon, to enjoy the rest of my year in the remote, desolate north of Scotland. No doubt it will rain, as it usually does when I’m off work! I wouldn’t mind a snowflake or two though.

Hope anyone who passes by has a great Christmas and New Year! Maybe at some point next year I’ll finish the first part of my story!

100,000

I just recently hit 100,000 words in the story I’m writing! This felt like quite the milestone, and the 100,000th word also came at point where the story begins to fully branch out between the journeys of three groups of characters.

My concern is that I am not yet halfway through my planned story, and I have huge doubts over anybody wanting such a vast story from a first time author. I’ve started looking at self publishing, though really the story was something I just wanted to do. If anybody actually enjoys it, that would be great. I feel that there is a huge amount of editing ahead of me, but I’ve decided to make these large edits after a fully complete first draft (not editing as I go, which has been slowing me down considerably). I think that  I need to be at that stage before I can kill my darlings. At this point everything feels like it is necessary, if I removed parts I’d be left with confusing sections where the reader has no idea where the characters have been. I’ve altered chapters to fit different characters though.

I’ve also managed to write a considerable plan for a sequel, and have loads of plot points for a collection of smaller stories,  set both before and after my main tale…

A Week of Walking

In a rare break from work, I managed to get a week off so that I could explore another area of Scotland that I’ve not had much experience with so far – Perthshire and surrounding area.

We rented a place in Kenmore for the week, which became a base of operations. Despite being fairly central though, there was also lots to do in and around Kenmore (if you like walking ‘n’ stuff). The village borders Loch Tay, which provides a serene backdrop when walking through the village as it dominates all views to the west. Surrounding the north and south sides are tall hills and the Tay River valley to the east – there isn’t a boring direction to look in.

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One of the first things we did was explore Drummond Hill, the northern ridge around Kenmore. The walk was almost continually an ascent, and while the hill isn’t too high at around 450m, it is a climb that is spread across a great distance and with the promise of the ancient fort of Casteal MacTuathal for those who are willing to keep going and traverse the lesser trodden paths into the depths of the hill. Well, of course I was willing! We followed some excellently hewn waystones that were dotted throughout the walk that sent you in the general direction of the ruin, the best of which was the one that asks you to trek off the beaten path and into a thickly wooded section of the hill, carpeted with brown needles from the pines. The soft underlay made progress silent, almost eerily so. Once out of the pines, the faint path winds upwards and along the remainder of the hill to the fort. We didn’t see another person at all on the walk, and the loneliness only added to the sense of discovery as we stumbled upon the hill fort among the trees. The dog and I clambered up onto a rock and were able to overlook the Tay valley to the west, in a scene that felt not too dissimilar to a 16-bit JRPG character of old overlooking a cliff.

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We spent a bit of time just taking in the views from the height before beginning the descent, woof leading the way. Perhaps it was just one of many woods and forests of Scotland, but this hill felt special, so much so that it has given me great food for thought on the lay of land of Brittlewood, in a chapter of my story that I hope to soon be writing.

The trip didn’t just involve Kenmore though, we also travelled to nearby Weem and Castle Menzies (which gave me some excellent inspiration for my story), and further afield to the Cairngorm National Park and also the loneliest station – Rannoch Station. Around this area, the long drive also allowed us to take in the sights of Lochs Rannoch and Tummel, the majestic Queen’s View, Schiehallion, and all manner of fairytale forests and hills. We were also under 20 miles from Glencoe at the station, and the remaining distance can only be made up on foot: a challenge that I would very much like to try if I ever find anybody else willing to do it with me! I was quite surprised to find the roads to be of great quality, making for one of the most enjoyable drives I have ever had, and one that I would certainly like to do again sometime soon.

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Each day consisted of at least ten miles of walking, which felt like a fair amount given the intense heat of some days. Still, I ate and drank well on top of this and seem to have put on 5lbs…

Scotland is certainly inspiring. Some people may just see a lot of green and blue, but to me everywhere feels unique and different, and there is so much left to explore. I’ve not travelled further north than Inverness yet, and only dabbled in the isles. Each new place inspires me further with my writing, despite my story being set in an ancient and abandoned built up land! I also stumbled across Eluvium whilst walking, which has given me a nice array of new albums to listen to while writing.

On the last day, I took a trip into Aberfeldy and fell foul to the gift shops – I ended up buying a rather nice olive wood chess set, some ridiculously expensive chocolate, and a 650 page guide to all 282 munros of Scotland. Sad to say I’ve only climbed a few so far…

A Sixth is Done!

With me working a night shift at the moment, finding the time to write has become somewhat easier, and probably explains why I have been able to write so much recently. With nothing to really do in terms of interacting with humans on the “days” off, I’ve been able to spend most of my time writing, whereas I had made very little progress beyond notes in the first six months of the year.

So, I’ve outlined six parts to the story I am writing. It may end up being more, or less by the time it is done, but for now it seems about right. I have just finished part one, and have even dared to send it out to four people to read, all of whom have very different perspectives and experience with this kind of story. I’m currently wondering how much I’ll need to rewrite…

Part one contains the prologue and the following ten chapters. It introduces a few characters, though while my plan was to have just the one protagonist, I’ve grown kinda fond of the old Butler to my main character Wil, and so now I’ve been working in a side story of sorts so that I can return to him throughout the novel – I couldn’t help but constantly think about the effect that Wil would have on his home of Stonewall after he had left. He had quite the responsibility there in his future and now he is gone, unable to fulfill that position.

Anyway, Wil has now left Stonewall, after taking what he took to be a legit route out, though it turned out to be an untrodden and dangerous route that could easily have seen him meet his end. The actual route out, as cryptically hinted at by his Butler, remains locked and unused. Wil is now walking streets that have remained untouched for decades, and is already finding out just how difficult travelling through them can after two days – he is currently lying collapsed and exhausted in a narrow back alley, after running from a member of local fauna. He hasn’t had a drink in two days, and he is about to discover what claustrophobia is. It is night time and he has no light source, and daren’t turn back for fear of bumping into the creature that drove him to his current location.

Lower Stonewall

Angle is a bit wrong on the left rooftop, but it was just a sketch to draw some inspiration from…

I’m not quite sure just how long or short this story will be. So far it seems to be around 80 standard novel pages, which I had intended to probably be half of that. I don’t want to make something too long, but neither do I want to make it so brief that it doesn’t leave a lasting impression.

The Spindle

Hello,

Thought I’d post a pic that looks like a child drew it. However, I drew it. A 31-year-old… soz.

It was really just a quick sketch so that I can build up an image in my mind of how the antagonist of my book would fit in with the world around him.

The main character knows it only as “The Spindle”, which is what he calls it upon seeing it stand up with its back to him just over midway through the book. It has another name but that’s something that will be revealed later on in the story, and would be somewhat spoilerific (not that I mind spoilers – feel free to tell me about the latest GoT finale!).

It stands around twice the height of a man, and resembles a stick insect crossed with a person. The face is inspired by Japanese Noh Masks, and every one of these creatures will have a face that resembles such a mask. I wanted to use these masks because I think they are bloody terrifying. They can have a serene expression, yet that expression to me feels like something that would remain the same whether it was casually talking with you, or disemboweling you…

ImageIt is bipedal, but also happy to scuttle around on the four arms that extend from the torso, holding the legs over it’s back, looking like some kind of malnourished scorpion as it goes.

While it is the primary antagonist of the story, there are many other creatures that Wil comes across during his travels. Some mundane, others slight twists on the real, and some plain hideous little beasties. This guy up top? I dreamt about him, and I did not like the way he crouched down to see me one bit.

As for the writing, I’m currently writing the fourth chapter and prologue, as I almost made the two into one chapter. Now I’m planning on referring to the conclusion of the prologue as an almost casual aside in chapter four. The effect is a little like seeing Vincent die in Pulp Fiction, but obviously not as hard hitting…

Opening

Opening

I’ve taken my first steps in going from story skeleton, to actually writing the thing. As mentioned before, it is being written between my laptop and an ancient looking journal that I picked up. It feels somewhat strange to be taking these ideas and bullet points and giving them flesh. I have to admit, it was somewhat scary to begin! All this groundwork leading up to a point that I might not like the result of. Anybody else felt like that writing something? It’s a feeling that is akin to that of starting to add colour to a fantastic pencil-drawn picture, haha.

I was still quite pleased at how smoothly the first chapter went though, and how I feel good to move straight into the next one. Guess I’ll need to find some people to read over it so that I can find out if it just sounds good to me.

 

The feeling of eyes…

I’ve spent a good deal of time writing my novel recently. Well, rather than writing the actual novel I’ve been putting together the structure, weaving plot points together and giving the protagonist more things to do during the flow. I’ve created some more characters, and fleshed out the lay of the land in which the story takes place. Now, the land I’ve laid out is somewhat larger than what the story takes place in, so now I feel that I have a rich enough background to make it feel like there are other areas to explore outside this story (indeed, I have several short stories in mind now, of which small parts feature in the main event).

It’s been good fun and I’ve really enjoyed spending evenings doing it. I hope my girlfriend isn’t feeling too left out…

I’m not sure if anybody who reads this has written any kind of novel before, but I’ve taken what might be some weird steps in getting a feel for the main character. First up, I bought a handmade leather, cotton paged notebook that looks rather medieval. This is because there are many diary entries in the story and I felt that writing them in what I imagined my character to be writing them in would inspire me further. It’s worked so far!

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(small spoiler of my story there, too)

The next thing I did began this week. There is a part of my book where the protagonist gets lost in a thick forest which is nestled between walls. The place is dark, packed together and claustrophobic, and I really wanted to get into the mindset of being in that situation, even down to the part where I’m pretty damn scared!

There is a forest not too far from me called Devilla. Already, the name conjures up ideas of the underworld and strange goings on (though the name itself simply means”bad land”), and the forest has a history involving witches, executions, unmarked graves, ruins, stone circles and the like. And the best part? It is also a place where there have been several sightings of not one, but two large cats!

[Tangent alert]

Now, I have been lucky enough to see a wild large cat, a black panther in fact, while on holiday in Holland when I was around 15 years old. We had been walking in the national park known as De Hoge Veluwe and on one of the days we had left the main pathways and my dad decided to enter the forest by car down a dirt track that was probably just for the local rangers to drive down. The straight trail was flanked by tall bracken and thick trees, though spread out enough that plenty of light reached below the canopy. We left the car and began a short walk. As we crested a slope, my brother and I saw a large shape walking ahead of us, away from us. It was about as high as the bracken and we could see the way its shoulder blades came up sharply with each step it took. My dad was instantly on the camera to try and zoom in to see it, and the noise we made clearly caught its ears. The panther stopped in its tracks and turned around to look at us. We were at least 50 feet away from it, neither us nor the beast moved for a few moments. Then, the panther made the decision to head in to the bracken, where it was more than likely making good an escape! However, being alone in a forest with a large carnivorous predator that we never expected to see filled us with untold dread. We assumed that the animal would be circling around us and that sometime soon one of us would be the recipient of 200 pounds of feline on our shoulders. My dad started walking back, while my brother and I kept an eye behind us, but not more than 30 seconds into our getaway, a jeep came speeding towards us and two rangers jumped out carrying rifles. They shouted some dutch at us, so I have no idea what was being said, but my Dad made it clear that we were being ushered out of the area. We made it back to the car and carried on our holiday, though ever watchful of the brush for the sight of the black panther.

[Tangent over]

So, with that story in mind, you can probably understand that while I was absolutely fascinated, knowing that perhaps there is a large cat stalking me fills with absolute terror! I spent the whole of last night reading up on the sightings, and the accounts given by those that had allegedly come face to face with one or two of the animals. Needless to say, I was feeling some good fear at this point and I went to bed firmly believing that I’d be leaving that forest well alone.

This morning I went to Devilla on my own in search of the stone circles. Obviously I made it out alive, as I’m writing this, but the experience was great and has given me buckets of inspiration for my story!

The whole forest was incredibly quiet once I’d moved away from the road. The wide path gave me a good view of what lay ahead, but was also flanked by thick pines on my left, and a slightly more spread out mixture of trees on the right. I had a quick warm up walking around the smaller location at the beginning of the forested area (the only marked path in the forest) and had a pretty nice time walking around the small, completely still loch I came upon. I got a few photos in, left the path to find a ruined wall and then rejoined the larger path that delved deeper into the forest.

ImageImageAs I walked I was getting pretty warm. Despite the rubbish start to the day, the heat was rising and I had to stop to take off my coat and stuff it in my bag. At that point, as I knelt down, a large snap came from within the forest to my left. Now of course this was probably a tree leaning in the wind, maybe a deer being startled, or some smaller bird or animal, maybe even an unseen walker deeper within the trees. However, throughout this walk I had been completely preoccupied with the idea that I might have a large, furry predator stalking me. At this point, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was now being watched, which will probably sound very silly to anyone reading this but was exactly the feeling I had wanted to instill in myself.

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I forced myself to go further, as I’d only walked a couple of miles by this point. I checked the map, which suggested that the stone circle was somewhere around the middle of the forested section to my left. Just where the snap came from! In all honesty, trying to find what is probably a small landmark in a large, densely populated forest was never going to be an easy task. I pressed on through the trees, taking care with my steps as the ground was littered with sticks and twigs and I was now actively trying to make as little sound as possible. I realised I wasn’t breathing as much, my heart was pounding considerably and I had no idea where these stones were. After what was probably no more than ten/fifteen minutes walking off the beaten track, I came upon a tree that looked to have been bent in an impossible way. Well, out went the thought of panthers and in came those of trolls! Seriously, have you seen Trollhunter? Check this tree out:

ImageWell, that was about enough for me. I was suitably unnerved and had some good prompts for how to start writing, so I stuck in my earphones, switched on Jon Hopkin’s Monsters soundtrack and started heading in the direction that I believed to be the quickest one to an intended path. No surprises here, it actually was the quickest route and I was back in the relative safety of the open path within a few minutes. Unfortunately for myself, I had left my iPod on shuffle and so rather than get the next song of that glorious soundtrack as I had intended, I got the menu music from Limbo (the indie game).

That made for an atmospheric escape.

Well, I didn’t find the stone circle, which was a bit disappointing. But the photo I took of the reflection in the loch piqued my brother’s interest enough for him to want to pay a visit to Devilla himself! It is a well known fact that panthers are never as scary when there are two of you, so maybe I’ll suggest finding the stones and perhaps the ruins then!

Next weekend, all being well, I’ll be heading back to the Hidden Valley of Glencoe with some friends from work. Mostly for more inspiration and secondly because I can see into the future and know that my free weekends are soon to be numbered thanks to masses of work.

 

I’ll get back to writing my story, currently I have 52 chapters planned, 25000 words of notes on places, plot points and characters, and I think sometime soon I’ll be ready to write the first chapter proper!

 

Story Progress

A little update on the story I am working on.

My recent trips around Scotland have proved very inspirational indeed, despite my story being set almost entirely within a vast walled city, post an apparent apocalypse. The desolate nature of many of my trips has certainly helped in creating a tone I want to incorporate within my story.

It hasn’t just been Scotland though, there have been some very diverse inspirations for what I’m trying to accomplish now that I think about it, such as the manga “Blame!”, Mervyn Peake’s “Gormenghast”, various films and games that focus heavily on one or two characters (Monsters, Dredd, Dark Souls…) and also a whole host of music – often instrumental. Furthermore, I don’t know if it is the cheese I’ve been eating lately, but I have had some pretty messed up dreams which have proved a rich source for character ideas. The antagonist of my tale somewhat resembles a Japanese Slenderman crossed with a stick insect – 10ft tall, vaguely human in design though stretched impossibly, fours arms and two legs but traverses on the hands, preferring to keep the feet held aloft and hanging over the spine, not unlike a scorpion. I dreamt that, so I’ll probably be seeking counselling at some point soon 🙂

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months piecing together ideas and plot points rather than diving straight into trying to write something (which I did with my last story idea and ruined it as a result…). However, this weekend I’ve managed to outline and name 35 chapters, plus a prologue and epilogue. The skeleton is taking shape. It really doesn’t begin much like my first post anymore (that *was* written on a whim on Christmas day) and I think I’m nearly ready to start writing some chapters properly!

Also, if you like spoilers, I’ve some critiques of Shin Megami Tensei IV and Dark Souls II planned to add to this blog sometime!