It’s Boxing Day where I’m at. I hope anyone reading this had, or is having, a great holiday. See you next week.
This past week, I sold one story and received a request for edits on another.
While that is pretty cool, I thought this might be a good opportunity to talk vaguely about editing.
There is no guarantee that I will sell that second story, but they seemed to like most of it. They had some problems with the flow of the story and how it would work for their particular venue. I agree with them. I hadn’t written it with them in mind, but for the way they work, there is a better configuration for this story.
I don’t know how other writers approach editing words, but I have done a lot of video and image editing, so it may come as no surprise, I work in a similar way with text. I like to take big chunks of story and reposition them on the page as if it were an editing timeline. Then I might pick individual words, phrases, or lines from one spot and move them to another, just to see how they would fit. I float paragraphs into gaps I have made and polish over the seams. That’s just the way my brain works now. It has spent far too much time dealing with the visual side of storytelling and if I can provide it with a metaphor it understands, dealing with language goes much smoother.
It was very heavily implied in the request for edits that some writers might not want to change anything about their stories. I get that, but my brain is also extremely used to making changes and revisions based on client requests. It’s practically my default state. Making the first thing is difficult, but making changes is conceptually so much simpler for me. Again, this is absolutely from the point of view of someone who has been a commercial artist for decades at this point.
Just like anyone, there are things I value in my stories, places where I won’t compromise, but I don’t think it’s out of some sort of quest for artistic purity. I always want to make whatever I’m working on better. If the suggestion or criticism could make the image or animation or story I’m working on better, I will almost always want to do that. If it breaks something core to the story, or changes it in a way that isn’t making it better, I think I would be more inclined to dig my heels in.
I don’t think that ‘going back to the drawing board’ is a thing that exists. People have too many internal biases and preconceptions. Once they see one version of a thing, erasing that and starting over truly fresh is not possible. That first experience will continue through the entire process. As will the second and third. Even if the final result doesn’t resemble the initial idea, there is no escaping it. The only real way to edit anything is by moving forward through the process. Every change and revision, even deleting something, is forward movement. Not because that sounds like good motivational poster fodder, but because the past impacts the future. What you did before, what you saw before, what you wrote or read before, will change the ultimate result of your work.
All of this is the long way of saying, I sort of like editing. It’s like having a lot of clay to work with and only during the editing process do you start to define forms and clarify details. And it works with my brain better than coming up with the initial ideas.
I’ll stop writing this and go back to editing.
Let's talk about stealing. Stealing ideas. It’s what I do. If you write or code or make art or create anything, you probably steal too.
I have written here several times about stealing game ideas from past games I have played. Writing is no different.
When I write, I steal.
I have probably read several hundred comic books, honestly, it could be thousands. Comic books, movies, and TV shows. More than anything else, these are the ideas I mine to fill my stories. Usually not the good stories either. I’m not going to write my version of that one amazing Twilight Zone episode. I excavate the mine of the ones that could have been. The attempts that were partially successful. The seeds of ideas that never were.
Almost every story I have written starts out with me trying to finish a story that never was. Some bit of a comic that I thought was interesting, but never explored. Some part of an anime that would have gone in a totally different direction had the creators tried to adhere to some sort of realism. I mean, I’m glad they didn’t. I watched whatever anime it happened to be so that I could see giant robots or punch wizards battle, but what a story it would be if they had just followed that other interesting thread.
This is what I like to steal. Those ideas barely motioned toward and abandoned. What would happen if those stories were told fully.
By the time I finish a story, that original seed of an idea is barely recognizable. Sometimes it has been excised completely. Maybe there would be a few other people who know where the original idea came from, but most of them are so thoroughly modified by the end that it would be pretty difficult to puzzle it out.
I have a suspicion that this is how a lot of writers work. There have been a solid handful of excellent stories I have read recently that I could pretty easily point to what inspired them. That I could identify what they stole from didn’t make the stories worse. In fact, sometimes it made them better. More relatable. More grounded.
Everyone does the armchair quarterback routine when they see or read something that doesn’t quite live up to the seed idea. Something that could have been a little better if the creator had only done that one thing that you thought of.
While that probably isn’t entirely true, I think this is the place that a lot of writers come from. What would I do if this was my story. The difference between writers and non-writers is only that the first group actually try it out. They write their version. They tell the story they way they would, even if the core idea is stolen from something else.
So this is my direct endorsement for anyone reading this to go out and steal. Was there a bit of an old Star Trek or Columbo episode that you wish they had fleshed out? Write that story. Is there a bit of a comic or game or radio play that you can’t shake, but no one else ever seems to care about it? Write that story. Run down that thread.
If you don’t make the thing that you want to see, it’s unlikely anyone else will. They are too busy stealing from some little bit of story they can’t let go. Go out and steal something for yourself.
Best Games - Pitfall II : Lost Caverns
1984 was a weird year for video games in North America. Atari was the dominant player in the industry by an extremely wide margin, and they were absolutely failing. Arcades were still popular, but some of the shine was coming off. Games were changing, becoming more complex. The hobby wasn’t for everyone anymore. It was less accessible. Less inviting. Pong was a distant memory, and even Pac-Man had fallen out of fashion. Nintendo had already sold millions of Famicom consoles, and they hadn’t even released outside of Japan. Home computers had never been more popular. The industry was simultaneously dead, dying, or poised to become the most lucrative entertainment industry in the world, depending on who you asked.
As it turns out, it was the last one.
Game developers never stopped. For all the talk of a market crash around this time, the innovation and creation of new video game experiences just kept rolling.
Pitfall! Had been a real technical and artistic achievement. The Atari VCS wasn’t exactly known for beautiful games. If a few blocks could move their way around a TV screen, that was achievement enough. If you went looking for legitimately pretty Atari VCS games, it might just be Pitfall! and River Raid.
Pitfall! was a fairly simple game. Almost a proof of concept. A little stick man could be made to run across the screen in either direction dodging traps and jumping over obstacles. It was an adventure, in as far as it contained all the trappings of adventures. Dangerous pits, deadly creatures, swinging on a vine. Ultimately, though, there is no real adventure in the game. Just a series of procedurally generated screens for you to move through.
Pitfall II is astounding for the time and a technical marvel for the platform. A year before Super Mario Bros. Pitfall II presented a true adventure. A game that reveals itself over many attempts and failures. The opening few screens of Pitfall II are unlike anything else on the Atari VCS. It teaches you how to play. How to explore. How the game will unfold. You will have to take risks. You will have setbacks, but those will teach you what to do on the next run.
There are checkpoints that you will return to over and over. Reaching a new checkpoint is extremely satisfying. It’s similar to finding a bonfire in a souls game. You now have an anchor, but you know that the next leg of the adventure will only grow more difficult.
Pitfall II is an adventure game. Maybe one of the first. As you play through the game, attempting to retrieve some lost treasure while rescuing your niece and pet mountain lion, you will engage in an amazing variety of adventurey type activities. Every time you come across a new mechanic or a clever new environmental puzzle, it will be surprising and ingenious. All of this on a tiny Atari VCS cartridge.
Because of when it was released, during the decline of Atari and right before the rise of Nintendo, Pitfall II is a game that was destined to be lost. It was ported to other machines, but never with the same magic. Something about the stark block color images and clean, precise gameplay make Pitfall II rise above almost all other games of it’s era.
If you haven’t played it, and you probably haven’t, you should give Pitfall II a try. It’s one of the best games.