Kuzzter

A Thread for Writers to talk about Writing

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There is a LOT of great stuff going on in Fanworks and Mission Reports now, with some new stories and some continuing ones. Some are all text, some are text and screenshots, and there are at least two graphic novels. I've had some good conversations with other writers in PMs and thought it would be nice to have a thread where we can talk about things like characterization, canon/fanon, plotting, tone, things to avoid, etc, etc.

If I may be so bold, I propose a few ground rules to start:

 

  • All of the Forum and Community rules apply. They apply VERY much.
  • Don't criticize another writer's work unless asked to--and then, only criticize those aspects about which the writer asked for help.
  • When criticizing, above all be constructive. "You did this wrong, this is how you should do it." is not helpful. "When you did this, I had this reaction, which I'm not sure you intended. If you intended the reader to have this OTHER reaction, you might try doing it in this way." -- that might be. But...
  • If you asked for criticism--take it. Try not to argue with the critiquer. Is he wrong for feeling what he felt when he read your work? Maybe, but he did feel it, and writing is about the reader's perception more than the author's intent. Find the kernel of truth in the critique and do your best to learn from it. If you get angry about a criticism--stop posting, make peace by PM, move on.
  • Let's not post drafts of works-in-progress for commentary on this thread. I was thinking this one could be more about general topics and idea sharing.

 

Interest? Ideas? Other directions for the thread? Thanks all.

Edited by Kuzzter

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Very good tips for aspiring writers in this forum.

Something I might add is that it takes a lot of time and effort for most people to develop a good writing style. A good writing style, in my book (heh, heh, :P), is defined by consistency above all, as well as the use of proper structure, and a unique twist that becomes apparent with practice in writing.

One day, one day I will come back to you... http://forum.kerbalspaceprogram.com/threads/112822-MechJeb-A-KSP-Short-Story-(Chapter-V)

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Great idea and I totally agree with that first sentence!

Quite happy for folks to pull out bits of First Flight for discussion points and examples, whether they be good examples or bad.

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KSK, I would be very surprised if someone could fault First Flight! But I also don't mind my own writing being pulled up, provided that your not going to complain about a random typo!

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Very good tips for aspiring writers in this forum.

Something I might add is that it takes a lot of time and effort for most people to develop a good writing style. A good writing style, in my book (heh, heh, :P), is defined by consistency above all, as well as the use of proper structure, and a unique twist that becomes apparent with practice in writing.V)

Quite so--especially since we are all working with the same source material, and in many cases the same stock characters and basic situations. I find it very interesting how each of us approaches characterization of the Big Four. SQUAD gives us their jobs and some personality information based on how they act in-game, and the writer fills in the rest. How?

One of the basic rules of writing is "show, don't tell." In other words, don't say to the reader "Jeb is a nut", write a situation where Jeb does something nutty. Endersmens used a very nice technique recently where each of the four was asked the same question, and their four responses gave each orangesuit a quick personality sketch. My initial characterization a of the four are more spread out, but I did consciously try to hit the reader with each character's basic personality from the start. The first page Jeb appears, he interrupts Gene's launch sequence with "T Z spacebar". Later on I gave Jeb some scenes to add depth. Over Duna he quotes a Robert Frost poem, and a lot of scenes go into the differences between his and Val's approach to flying.

So maybe this is a good discussion point: what do you do in your stories to establish the "core" Jeb character, and what do you do to make him "your" unique Jeb?

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In my stories, Jeb isn't nutty, he's very impulsive (As there haven't been any manned missions yet, his character hasn't been explored much, besides, I wanted to introduce other kerbals that aren't part of canon first.) So, for example, on EVA he may decide to stay outside longer than planned because Kerbin is so beautiful, but he will go in when his life support begins to run low.

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So maybe this is a good discussion point: what do you do in your stories to establish the "core" Jeb character, and what do you do to make him "your" unique Jeb?

The way I've described Jeb, he's not crazy. He's more of a thrill-seeker, brave, cool-headed, though with small blips of insecurity with newer things. This excerpt sets him (and Gene, to some extent) up in my story.

"Okay, mission control is giving the green light on all main and sub systems. Launch expected in the next ten minutes." This time it was a very familliar voice, through his helmet's intercom. Jeb cracked a small smile.

"Kraken, Gene, what happened to the good ol' days when you just lit the BACC whenever you felt like it?" Jeb heard Gene chuckle softly into the mic.

"It's not our fault. These new Mun vessels are giving us hell in the engineering department; we really don't have the funds we need to do it properly. We need to test each one thoroughly before flight to make sure it's not going to fall apart at the seams." Jeb crossed his arms, understanding but still not satisfied. "But still," Gene continued, "This isn't your average ship anyway. She's a multistage, highly specialized, and extremely sensitive piece of work."

"Oh, it's a piece of work, all right," he muttered, nearly under his breath. He'd seen the haphazard way the engineers had welded the tanks together this time around, the secondhand bolts they used. It was almost a miracle that the crawler had brought it to the pad in one piece.

And now he was sitting in it, waiting for a controlled explosion to take place. It was his job, and he loved it.

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The way I've described Jeb, he's not crazy. He's more of a thrill-seeker, brave, cool-headed, though with small blips of insecurity with newer things. This excerpt sets him (and Gene, to some extent) up in my story.

I like that approach. As Val said it in my book, "He's not the 'idiot savant' people say he is. He might not even be an idiot." Jeb prefers to hide his depth and the hard work he puts in, and is content to appear to be surviving by blind luck--only Val (whose character is all about leadership in my stories) really understands what Jeb is like beneath the surface.

I think that giving any "power" character some insecurity is a good idea, and having Jeb be insecure about new things is a good choice that doesn't conflict with the canonical badS-erry :)

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Good place to start! Not least because most - although certainly not all -of the KSP stories that I've really enjoyed, present Jeb as a deeper or more rounded character than the straightforward 'thrillseeker' forum meme.

'My' Jeb is a fairly mixed character. For sure he's a nerves-of-steel kerbonaut when he needs to be, but he's also a leader, a visionary and - to a lesser extent - a businessman. Underpinning that is a darker, more cynical core which he mostly keeps hidden (unless he's seriously in his cups) but does tend to emerge as a fairly hefty chip on his shoulder about certain things.

Or that's how I see him anyhow. In my writing, he started as a leader and, yes, a thrillseeker:

And as for Jeb, he had never given up, despite all the difficulties, frustrations and exploded prototypes. He'd kept them going, with his permanent grin and irrepressible enthusiasm, even as the other members of the Kerbin Interplanetary Society had gradually drifted away. It helped that the grin hid a surprisingly competent engineer...
"Shutdown and booster separation confirmed, Jeb. We figure you should top out at around thirty to thirty five thousand metres."

"Thanks, Luco. Not bad for a first flight, not bad at all! Looks like I won that bet with the Bobcat too - he reckoned we'd get to twenty five thousand at best!"

But the first sight of his homeworld from high altitude reminds him of why he's really there:

Geneney blinked. He'd never heard Jeb sound like that before. Almost awestruck.

"What is it, Jeb?"

"It's Kerbin… just Kerbin. Only not quite and all of it at once. And the sky - it's full of more stars than you can believe. Greens and blues and brilliant white clouds and then black and stars."

"You're not making any sense, Jeb."

"No, no I don't think I am. You're gonna have to see this for yourself, Genie."

Incidentally - that first line is rather clunky and an example of telling not showing. But I digress. :)

As the space program develops I bring in more snippets showing 'Jeb the leader' and 'Jeb the businessman.' The darker aspects of his character are shown later on, usually as retrospective pieces, relayed by Jeb himself or one of his close friends.

Edited by KSK

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Well this looks like an interesting read to keep subbed. Tho I appear to be the odd man out in not having written anything about Jeb :sealed:

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Incidentally - that first line is rather clunky and an example of telling not showing. But I digress.

I don't think that line is clunky at all, the reader can't be expected to know what Jeb is like all the time (As has been mentioned, not many of us portray Jeb as a complete idiot), the line convoys how unusual it is to see Jeb like that, and how impressive the sight is outside of the capsule.

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Good place to start! Not least because most - although certainly not all -of the KSP stories that I've really enjoyed, present Jeb as a deeper or more rounded character than the straightforward 'thrillseeker' forum meme.

Agree completely, and I like how you've shown his growth. I find the 'business' angle a particularly unique take. It gives him a lot of depth, more than I am going to do since I am writing mostly comedy and find it really useful to stick a bit closer to the archetypes :)

Growth in characters is REALLY important. If the story doesn't change each character somehow, then well what was the point of the story? I've tried to show the growth in little scenes (like Lisa jetpacking over Eve for the science) but of course am really using the Interludes to drive it home. For Jeb I'm not having him change so much as I am trying to make the reader's understanding of him grow as the story progresses. As KSK mentioned, a really good way to do that is through others' observations of him, like Val is doing in her "ship's log" scene in D:OB! a few pages ago.

Well this looks like an interesting read to keep subbed. Tho I appear to be the odd man out in not having written anything about Jeb :sealed:

Please, jump right in anyway! Jeb is a good place to start because he's a "stock" character in both senses of the word. Everybody kind of knows him, so the game for the writer is to not contradict Jeb's basic character while adding unique depth. But it's even harder, and potentially more rewarding, to characterize a whitesuit.

So--what tricks and techniques do you all use to make characters other than KSC staff and "core four" jump out of the screen and grab your readers?

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Please, jump right in anyway! Jeb is a good place to start because he's a "stock" character in both senses of the word. Everybody kind of knows him, so the game for the writer is to not contradict Jeb's basic character while adding unique depth. But it's even harder, and potentially more rewarding, to characterize a whitesuit.

So--what tricks and techniques do you all use to make characters other than KSC staff and "core four" jump out of the screen and grab your readers?

I start with the two base stats, but for me, Stupidity actually means Impulsiveness (because a stupid scientist just makes to sense!) That gives me some form of character to work with, and tells me where the kerbal will naturally want to be (Luddo and Tilotte were my most confident whitesuits, so they became Wernhers personal assistant and the head of Propulsion, respectively.) Other attributes I decide as I go along, making sure to try and keep diversity going (Hadcas is a little socially inept, most defiantly not a morning.... kerbal, and is incredibly stubborn.)

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Hi, there!

I've been thinking about doing a comic-book style story for a long time now, but never starded it for fear that I wouldn't have time to keep posting. Kuzzter's stories (which I absolutely love), though, have made me thing about it again. I was planning on building the "pages" on Photoshop, but his solution (using Powerpoint) seems quicker and more practical.

I was wondering what other tips you folks may have for creating KSP-themed comics. I'd like particularly to hear from Kuzzter, but if anyone else who did a KSP comic themselves have any advice it would be most welcome. What are your "tricks" to make things easier while putting together a story? Which image hosting service do you think it's the most adequate for this?

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I've started work on a military series, War of the Kerbs. A war between SAP-C And KMK is going to break out, and havoc is imminent! Here it is!

Fact: I was originally gonna name the enemy company KMC (Kerbal Militia Corps) But then I realized people may think I meant Kerbal Minds Corps. Hope you all like my thing!

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I was wondering what other tips you folks may have for creating KSP-themed comics. I'd like particularly to hear from Kuzzter, but if anyone else who did a KSP comic themselves have any advice it would be most welcome. What are your "tricks" to make things easier while putting together a story? Which image hosting service do you think it's the most adequate for this?

I can think of a couple to start:

--screenshots are free, take more than you think you need especially to capture Kerbal reactions. For certain scenes you may want the same shot with and without background--I often do F1-F2-F1-F2 real quick.

--mix up your shots. Some interior, some exterior, some 'portrait' views of the crew

--edit down and say more with less; one of the most difficult things is knowing what NOT to show to keep the story moving.

--vary your image size, layout and position. Make each page look fresh.

--think about how the reader's eye is going to travel from one part of the page to the next. Guide the eye where you want it to go.

--use quicksaves in case you didn't get the shot you want and have to do it over again

--keep powerpoint pages open to store images and constructions you might use again (for example, I have Walt's "Forum screen" stored at the end of the active file so I can just edit it when i want to use it)

--I use Imgur to host images and export from powerpoint to .png, it's really pretty easy

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I start with the two base stats, but for me, Stupidity actually means Impulsiveness (because a stupid scientist just makes to sense!) That gives me some form of character to work with, and tells me where the kerbal will naturally want to be (Luddo and Tilotte were my most confident whitesuits, so they became Wernhers personal assistant and the head of Propulsion, respectively.) Other attributes I decide as I go along, making sure to try and keep diversity going (Hadcas is a little socially inept, most defiantly not a morning.... kerbal, and is incredibly stubborn.)

Those are good ideas. Diversity among the whitesuits is key--I find I need to give each one a "hook" for easy identification so that the reader can get familiar with and care about them. You should be able to sketch each character, whitesuit or orange, in one sentence, e.g.: "Dilsby is a relatively inexperienced officer who tries not to let his own self-doubt interfere with the enormous responsibilities of command."

- - - Updated - - -

Kuzz, what do you think of the start?

Are you asking for a critique? Be careful what you wish for :) Anyway, you'll have to let me get back to you on that. Three new D:OB! pages going up shortly!

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Agree completely, and I like how you've shown his growth. I find the 'business' angle a particularly unique take. It gives him a lot of depth, more than I am going to do since I am writing mostly comedy and find it really useful to stick a bit closer to the archetypes :)

Growth in characters is REALLY important. If the story doesn't change each character somehow, then well what was the point of the story? I've tried to show the growth in little scenes (like Lisa jetpacking over Eve for the science) but of course am really using the Interludes to drive it home. For Jeb I'm not having him change so much as I am trying to make the reader's understanding of him grow as the story progresses. As KSK mentioned, a really good way to do that is through others' observations of him, like Val is doing in her "ship's log" scene in D:OB! a few pages ago.

Thanks! And yes - I can definitely see how a strong archetype is useful for comedy since they can be exaggerated or subverted as you need.

Well this looks like an interesting read to keep subbed. Tho I appear to be the odd man out in not having written anything about Jeb. :sealed:

Who needs Jeb when you've got Chadvey! He's a great character and I know which one I'd place a bet on in an arm-wrestling contest. :) Plus - what Kuzzter said about whitesuits.

So--what tricks and techniques do you all use to make characters other than KSC staff and "core four" jump out of the screen and grab your readers?

Oof - that's a tough one. I do have some techniques although truth be told I didn't consciously sit down and apply them to my writing, they just sort of evolved as the story went along. I'm also slightly spoiled in First Flight in that I have the length and breadth of story to work them. Making characters 'pop' in a short story - now that's a real trick. I'm guessing that one way of doing it is to put in a quick character sketch with a hook of the kind Kuzzter mentioned but without clubbing your readers over the head with a This Is The Character Sketch part. Very much looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with for this.

With that said:

Take your characters out of the Space Centre and see how they react and interact in a different setting. As an example, I wrote a chapter where some of the key characters (not all of them Core Four) had a meeting in a bar. It turned out to be a really useful setting because I got to: explore actual kerbal snacks and drinks, sketch out some details of kerbal buildings: add a non-space program character and at least hint at some history between him and the main characters, which in turn gave some sense of how the developing space program was seen from the outside.

Have utterly non-space program characters. Explore what kerbal life is like if you're not a kerbonaut or member of the KSC staff. It's one way of getting some diversity in and I definitely agree with MinimumSky5 about the importance of diversity.

Pay some attention to different roles. Sure, the kerbonauts tend to be an important focus but what about the folks in the trenches at Mission Control (if you're running with a Mission Control)? What about the engineers? The janitor? Outside of the space program there's even more scope.

It's the small things. I imagine this is way more difficult in a short story setting but a longer piece gives you room to add an unexpected quirk or two to a character, or simply to put in the odd detail about their past, or what they get up to when they're not building rockets. I guess this all ties back to the ideas of character growth or seeing the same character from slightly different angles.

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Have utterly non-space program characters. Explore what kerbal life is like if you're not a kerbonaut or member of the KSC staff. It's one way of getting some diversity in and I definitely agree with MinimumSky5 about the importance of diversity.

Pay some attention to different roles. Sure, the kerbonauts tend to be an important focus but what about the folks in the trenches at Mission Control (if you're running with a Mission Control)? What about the engineers? The janitor? Outside of the space program there's even more scope.

That's a really great point, something I rarely do--of course it might not fit my model, after all how often do you see someone who isn't Starfleet show up on the Enterprise (and how well does it actually work when they do--looking at YOU, first season Wesley Crusher!) But yes, snacks for thought :)

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Another thing I do with the characters, is I keep a list of them at the bottom of my master copy of the story, and I frequently check it to make sure that nobody is being missed out, and that I remember who works with who!

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And here's a general critique for the Sharkman's new story!

Part 1: Shots fired.

Macford: Are these things really Kermanitarian supplies? They kinda look like missiles to me.

Janina: Pfft, no, why would we be taking them to a military base if they were Kermanitarian supplies? Plus, like you said, they're missiles.

Macford: Yeah, we're gonna be drivin' up north for a few days to the base and then back, thank squad they gave us this sleeping cabin.

Janina: Yeah, I know, right? We're gonna be stuck driving this dumb tractor for days, maybe even weeks!

http://i.imgur.com/mooxPGh.jpg

Macford: Just keep driving just keep driving...

*PEW*

Janina: What was that?

Macford: I have no clue...?

Good efficiency in the opening, establishing who these kerbs are and sort of what they're doing. For additional efficiency you could even strike most of Janina's line "Yeah I know, right?" since Macford has already said they're going to be driving for days. You don't need much development with these two, since well they're going to die. And I like the cartoony "PEW" sound.

---------------------------------------

???: Si, keep in bushes, you must keep El stealtho.

???: Si, copy, I no shoot until El targeto get closer.

???: Si, affirmative.

---------------------------------------

Ok, this is where I think you might want to dial it back a bit. Your bad guys sound like Speedy Gonzales, and that is not usually a good thing. I would be extremely careful with characterizations that could be seen as making fun of other cultures or races. IMO some foreign non-English words and sentence structure is OK, "dialected" English can be dangerous ground.

[section snipped, but lots more of 'los badguys'.]

Wreckage was searched and recovered, no signs of Janine, and all that was left of Macford was his arms, legs and head, most likely a direct hit to his chest.

--------------------------------------------

Recovered bullets and bulletholes suggest the ammunition used to ruthlessly murder Janina, Macford and the Missi-Kermanitarian supply tractor was of the type ØÑÂÿðýøѠmeaning the enemy must have originated from the Anapse district. Further investigation pending.

--------------------------------------------

So, who's saying this part? If it's an unnamed narrator his/her character isn't clearly defined. It sounds like the author's direct voice. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but you did put the reader into a world with dialog, pictures, etc. and then snapped out of that mode and into "hey everyone, here's what happened". It's kind of like you stopped telling the story. You could have had other characters find the wreckage, or had someone present a report to whoever is in charge of that side, or whatever.

Anyway--if all you want to do here is put a basic narrative framework to make shooting up some vehicles even more fun, then by all means rock on. If you want to tell a story, well... I think you need to tell the story. :) But I would DEFINITELY dial back the caricatured bad guys un poquito.

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Something I might add is that it takes a lot of time and effort for most people to develop a good writing style.

Writers are a bit like broccoli. . .they pick up the flavor of whatever they're cooked in. If you want to develop your own style, you need to read, read, read. That's where all the tricks and quirks of a writing style really come from. Pour words into your brain from a bunch of different authors, mix with your own ideas, and then stir.​ :)

One of the basic rules of writing is "show, don't tell."

Like everything else though, it is possible to take this too far. Sometimes "tell" is okay, if only for the sake of brevity. "Here dear reader, I'm going to just hand you this one. Hold onto it, you may need it later."

So maybe this is a good discussion point: what do you do in your stories to establish the "core" Jeb character, and what do you do to make him "your" unique Jeb?

My story is a serious one, and while there is humor (or at least, sometimes I think I'm funny. ;) ) I've tried to remove a lot of the "crazy, goofy kerbals" that comes along with the stock archetypes. The core of my Jeb character is "confidence to a fault". He's not crazy, far from it, but self doubt is something that just doesn't exist for him. He's the kind of person that can "fake it till they make it" in anything they put their hands to, and if he wasn't so preoccupied with flying, he might make for the perfect con man. My Jeb is not a leader, so much as people tend to end up following him, whether they want to or not. Charming and personable, the safety and well being of the people around him is usually his second thought, not his first.

So--what tricks and techniques do you all use to make characters other than KSC staff and "core four" jump out of the screen and grab your readers?

I limit their numbers.

The one thing about writing a story is that you really can't just drop a character. Once you invest them in the reader's mind, you really need to carry them all the way through the story. By nature, most stories involving KSP will eventually focus on a smallish group far away from home, even if only briefly. That gets a lot harder if you have dozens of characters sitting at home, begging for page time. Kerbal names tend to make this even worse-- they all start to look the same after a while. I try to keep the names as recognizable as I can, to the point of not recruiting a kerbal if they have a name too close to someone else already on the roster. And I keep their numbers down.

Using a bit character as an observer to flesh out a main character is all well and good, but if you spend too much time with that bit character the reader will want to know what happened to them, and that will take page time all the way through the story. And after a while, you find that you have too many characters and none of them can breathe. It is not necessary to name everything​ walking around on two legs. :)

I was wondering what other tips you folks may have for creating KSP-themed comics.

I'm not going to be any use on the "comics" end of things, but I did run into something when it comes to working with screenshots that might be helpful.

I have a lot of screenshots that are fairly dark (in the, "dim light" sense of the word). I like them. . .star fields are very pretty. But the thing about the human eye is that it is designed to see contrasts. On a black background, everything is fine, but move that picture over to the forum, and that white background messes things up. The eye adjusts to the white, and suddenly you lose a lot of definition in the picture.

I've had some luck adding a dark gray border to "low light" screenshots-- your mileage may vary. :)

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