Critical Commentary: Chapter One.

Bloody first chapters, such tricky things… Oh! Hello there! I see you’ve found your way to my blog, are you lost? No matter, while your here, allow me to talk your ear off, I mean, entertain you for a moment! Alright tomfoolery aside, welcome to the first Critical commentary, focused on my novel Second Draft, I’m not sure how much we will end up talking about specifics of the Novel but I thought that we would talk about first chapters, the trouble that I’ve encountered writing this one and some of things I’ve attempted to do, to address them.

The first thing to consider, is perhaps the most important part of any novel, the ‘hook’ or more broadly put, how do you get people to keep reading, rather than put your book back on the shelf. While a clumsy attempt at humour, the opening sentence of this blog post, is kinda how it feels to construct the first paragraph or if you’re lucky chapter of a novel. There are many different ways to grab peoples attention, and being blunt, people like different things, there is no guarantee even if you construct a compelling opening, that it will be compelling to everyone who picks it up. In fact the only guarantee you have, is that this will not be true. Genre, while not always applicable, or as one dimensional as book shops would have you believe, is a sales tool. Used to guide people towards your book and those deemed similar to it. But being grouped with other novels people may have enjoyed is not enough in and of itself, if you’re lucky, people will take a look at a blurb or first paragraph or so and decided based on this. At least that’s what every author or lesson I’ve ever had on the subject has told me and that’s a lot of pressure.

Knowing that you have so little time to invest people in something that you have spent countless hours on is daunting and finding the right way to start can be considered starting a race without stumbling. This presented me with a problem, I wanted to do a lot in my opening, introduce major characters, grab a readers interest and set up for a progression in plot and characters. Not to mention introduce the world in which my Novel is set in a way that attracts interest without falling into the infamous ‘info dump’. As such the first question I had to answer when restructuring the Novel, was how do I improve the opening. Well that involved working out the problems I had with the previous draft, which were as follows.

Firstly that although the opening had impact it forced my two Main characters into the role of a reluctant hero very quickly. Leaving little to no space to build up connections and relationships or indeed explore their place in the world before drastically shifting it. Although I am not writing a tragedy, something that has always stuck with me is that in Greek Tragedy (classical) or Tragedy in general it is much more effective if you build a character to great heights before sending them hurtling down to earth.
The second was that the plot seemed to progress far too quickly. It was almost like the novel itself had been influenced by my own desire to see the end. To be honest most first drafts are like that which is why I tend to refer to them as brain vomit. I wanted to make things seem believable. Their needed to be more resistance or motivation for characters to go through the story as I wanted them too and as such I needed them to build a more concrete prior relationship.

With these two primary objectives in mind, the obvious conclusion was to spend more time building the world and relationships. But, having a slow build up to a novel isn’t likely to grab a readers attention, there are some memorable first lines in fantasy such as ‘in a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit’ or something to that effect. But times and audiences have changed and the slow pace of The Lord of the Rings is the reason I most commonly hear cited for not wanted to read them. In many ways I believe cinema and the birth of films has changed a lot about how people like to process literature but that’s a speculation of mine and would be worth a post in and of itself. How then did I decide to reconcile these two aims. To solve this problem I went into the background world of my novel.

Given the criminal nature of the main character Kite, on whom the opening chapter was focused, the secondary protagonist to be introduced later. I figured that a run in with law enforcement on her way to conduct business, would not only give me the tension and ability to grab a readers attention out of the gate. but to slow the chapter down afterwards as I introduce some other characters and begin to flesh out the world and characters that readers will see more of. Then they were off, as I often find the case, writing action and introducing the characters as they move straight into an action sequence, was a lot easier than what followed. Small details and bits of lore worked in throughout the chase are one thing. Lots of body movement, limited time for talk. But entering the final part of the chapter which is essentially a long conversation was more challenging.

I talked earlier about wanting to avoid info dumps, easy enough to do during an action scene, but when writing a conversation, fraught with tension. It becomes necessary to consider what information, is, well, necessary. For a start the characters have limited time and are not each privy to all the information the others may have. A history lesson wouldn’t fit well into a business conversation. Oh and one more thing, how not to make a conversation dull. I know that the information contained is needed to make the story make sense and I don’t think I’ve spent too long laboriously explaining unimportant things. Perhaps it is just a part of taking time to try and craft dialogue, that makes it feel like it drags. Struggling to write it probably had that effect.

I’ve mentioned trying to avoid unnecessary dialogue and avoid dumping information that wasn’t needed on the reader. The other thing I tried to make the passage which was heavy on dialogue interesting, was to give details about characters and their expressions or movements. A fairly standard thing to do in any novel, but something I have in the past overlooked or ignored. Here I wanted to sow the seeds for a consistent personality for all the characters involved and hope as I go through the novel and write further chapters that I can use these tells to create convincing protagonists and side characters alike.

Well, that’s all for this one, struggling to give an opening a good hook and difficulty writing dialogue and creating lifelike characters. I hope that what I have done in the first chapter to tackle these issues, such as placing action at the start and making sure to avoid unnecessary info while attempting to add depth to my characters will pay off in the long run but I guess only time will tell.

Shieldbroski Out!

Streaming: Critical Commentary week one.

Streaming League of Legends: The roller coaster ride.

Alrighty! Here we are, I am penning what is the first of the commentaries since the post announcing the schedule I hope to stick to. In that blog post I speculated that the problem I would encounter trying to be constructively critical of my streams. This largely owing to the fact that numbers and stats that are easily accumulated could be misleading. So, I’ve decided this week to focus on League of Legends, the game I have streamed the most since I resumed streaming in August of last year.

To give anyone new to me and my channel a little bit of context to my experience with league, I have been playing since Season Two and actively engaged with following the professional scenes in EU, NA, and Korea, dabbling in the Chinese league to keep up with my favourite teams. It’s safe to say that I have loved the game and invested countless hours into it. Sometimes seeking to improve, other times just to unwind and lose myself in games for a while. For years, my favourite form of broadcast entertainment has been the professional leagues, almost completely phasing out television and movies to the disappointment of my friends. I thought that I’d experienced the vast majority of what the game had to offer as a viewer and a player. However, as I made the transition into streaming, along with tackling familiar obstacles, I found myself squaring up against entirely new hurdles.

Right, now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s address the obvious bugbear that most players and even fans of other games are familiar with where league is concerned. The community. It is no secret that competition, whether video games, sport, board game or really any other form of competitive activity can and often does bring out the very best and worst in people. Competition can drive us, rewarding successes with dopamine rushes and feelings of achievement but it can also be crushing and perpetuate negativity and even lead to hostile behaviour. As such toxicity is not unique to league and I am inclined to believe it gets a somewhat inflated reputation for it as I have experienced similar levels of toxicity in the majority of competitive video games I have played.

Even for people that just play the game in their spare time toxicity can create problems. In the first place nobody likes to lose, let alone endure insults or the blame of people they have been teamed with. I’ve sat there many times fuming at the nerve of players daring to say the loss of a game was exclusively my fault, or been deeply upset (yes I have emotions) by people telling me to go kill myself, get cancer, or any other unpleasant thing they could think of. It wasn’t pleasant and would often lead to me going to play other games or even throwing myself back into the fray unfocused and perpetuating the cycle by playing worse and inviting the toxicity to tea. While this is something I have always struggled with in regards to League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, Dota, Overwatch, you name it, I’d gotten pretty good at blowing off steam by swearing profusely, playing other games etc. What I was not prepared for was how broadcasting the game would change my experience of it, both the highs and the lows in equal measure.

So lets briefly touch on something that I consider to be a core tenant of my stream. I want my stream to be a fun, relaxed environment. Why, cause I want people watching to have a good time and that’s the kind of stream I enjoy. League can make that almost impossible for me as some games, honestly just make me feel miserable. It doesn’t even have to be losses. A player flaming, a game in which I feel like I messed up repeatedly for example can lead to a negative attitude towards my play or the game that I have a hard time shaking. The simple reality for me is that the game has its ups and downs and can elicit a wide range of reactions, and as a person I have a habit of fixating on my own mistakes and getting inside my own head. Something that doesn’t help in league where confidence and PMA (positive mental attitude) can be so crucial.

As this is a critical commentary I want to move away from talking about the game and how it can effect me. Largely because that deserves to be post in itself and I have limited words to construct this piece. I want now to look at what I have done to try and create a consistent broadcast and how effective they have been, as well as looking at things I hope will make a difference in future.

The first and most notable change I have made is switching the type of game I play from Ranked, to Normal. This may not sound like a big change, I’m still playing the same map, largely the same champions and toxic players and bad performances by yours truly can still create a negative spiral that impacts my broadcasts. It is, in fact a massive change. As a naturally competitive person, I’m harsh on myself for errors and seek to excel in whatever game I am playing at any given time. (Regardless of level or my actual abilities.) A good example of this is Starcraft Two, I love watching SC2, observing the best in the world go head to head. From this I have gained some understanding of what works, what doesn’t, how I should respond to certain scenarios etc. But when I play SC2 I get incredibly frustrated, cause no matter how hard I try, I see thousands of things that I should be doing better and can’t. This attitude doesn’t change, but there is a level of prestige which comes from attaining certain ranks, ranks which act as a measure (accurately or inaccurately) of my skill as a player. And that, is where the ranked system digs its claws in deep. If I play a normal game, my rank doesn’t change, I don’t lose internet points, I just lost a bout. It sucks but it is easier to move on from, than coming away from League at the end of a day having demoted with the attitude that “today sucked” and pushing myself to stay up later and play more games in an effort to claw that back.

I think most people can see that this would suck, but undergoing this in front of an audience, becoming more and more frustrated. Feeling that you are wasting your time cause you are just making things worse, that hit harder. The change to normal games alleviated some of the things that were leading frankly to self loathing and disappointment that I was experiencing on stream, that was affecting my ability to create the kind of environment I strive to. This in turn led to another important realisation. That although some people do want to watch higher level players, I, at this moment in time had to make a choice, did I focus on my level of play or my stream. This was a question I wrestled with for quite some time. In the end I decided that trying to level up my stream, came at the price of levelling up my play. If I wanted to truly improve at league, with the pace I wanted. I would have to remove it from my streaming schedule and honestly potentially stop streaming to create the space for that kind of improvement.

Consciously making this decision turned from Atlas, to a man with no excuse for bad posture. All joking aside however it allowed me to tell myself that it was okay I didn’t play at 100% because, talking to chat, making jokes and providing good commentary, was all more important to me, than winning the game. It was a huge weight off of my shoulders and although it hasn’t completely removed my problems with falling into negative moods or struggling to cope with loss streaks it has allowed me a different outlet. Instead of constantly trying 110% to win and getting mad when I couldn’t, I am now more able to discuss why we are falling behind, make jokes and use chat as a way to get out of that negative headspace and focus on the broadcast. It is still difficult but taking away unnecessary pressure and accepting my limitations as a person has helped a great deal.

S0, I am going to go over my set maximum words here but I want to lay out a few of the other things I am trying to do to make improvements so I can discuss them at greater length in a future commentary or separate blog post. The first is to stay hydrated and make sure that I eat. Streaming an average of five hours per day means that I can often find myself low on energy just because I am not fuelling myself appropriately.
The second is to try and work gentle exercise into a daily regiment, taking short walks when health allows etc.
Thirdly, I want to make sure that I don’t play league for too long in any one sitting. This is something that I have been working on already trying to stream two games every day. A few hours of league and then something else. In doing this I can try to make sure that I bring my best focus to playing and to broadcasting league.

Alright, lengthy post done. There have been steps made but there are many more to follow. I hope you’ve enjoyed this commentary, such as it is. If you have any thoughts, experiences or suggestions on how to make streaming League or competitive games easier, feel free to drop me a comment below!

Shieldbroski out.

A long overdue Critical Commentary:

Hello again… Yes… It has been a while, I hope that this piece finds any and all who read it, in good health and fine spirits. Devoid of the unhappy thoughts that have been my constant nighttime companions of late. To those that know me, it will be no surprise, that the pains in my stomach that have prevented me working and the prolonged and so far uninformative period of medical investigation that has followed. Exacerbated pre-existing discontent with the progress I was making on projects I had begun at university and hoped to finish, within a year or two. This discontent, in partnership with the near constant discomfort and pain combined with isolation both due to health and coronavirus, has led to a rise in my depressive moods. I bring this up not out of any desire to seek pity, but to stay true to the exercise I have begun here. It occurs to me that now might be a good time to explain the purpose of this piece.

Somewhat selfishly dear reader, though you may, and indeed I hope you do find the contents to be of interest to you. That is not the primary purpose of this piece, and will not be the primary purpose of any subsequent entries in this series of Critical Commentaries. So what am I defining a critical commentary as, well for the majority of people I suppose a Journal of Self Reflection might be a more familiar term. Why not use that term then? I hear your hypothetical voices quick to query! And fret not for there is, I hope a satisfactory explanation to that question, I shall be quick to type. There are two main reasons for straying away from this form.
The first is a minor technicality. The term self reflection itself. When I think of self reflection although I feel a degree of objectivity is required, I’ve always felt the outcome to have been influenced by excuses. Clouding potential progress with disappointment in what has not been achieved. Perhaps I’ve always been doing it wrong but there we are.
The second is that the form of the critical commentary was a part of University Assessments when I did my MA and BA in creative writing. With every piece of work, we would submit a critical self commentary. The objective of this was to assess the process, discuss decisions and evaluate what we may have done differently. It wasn’t, however tempting an excuse to say well this didn’t work and sell your work short, in fact the opposite was true. It was there to show recognition of successes and things that didn’t work out so well and then discuss a better way forward for future attempts at the project. In short, I have always found it to be a constructive exercise. One focused on moving forward, learning from and taking mistakes as fuel towards future successes. (Cliched I know, but forgive me, it is 5:41 am and I’ve always been prone to romantic sentiment.)

So with that out of the way I want to begin to lay out the projects which I will likely use these blog posts to evaluate. The first and perhaps most core to my life is that of my writing. The second and important in its own right, is that of my Twitch channel. Any other projects such as a game I seek to improve in, or smaller projects will likely find themselves in this category as well. But in order to evaluate results one must first set a goal and so I will use the remainder of this largely introductory post to lay out my intent or set goals.

So why my novel? Cause I want to finish it, duh. For a long time I have lacked the structure created by a university environment without deadlines, fellow writers and tutors on hand to bounce ideas off of. I hope that by implementing these weekly commentaries on my progress I can hold myself accountable and in doing so make more significant progress than I have seen in many months. As such I will be setting, what I hope to be achievable targets every week and striving to meet them. The purpose of this commentary will then be to ascertain whether or not these goals have been met. As well as to look at what worked, what hurdles I encountered and how I dealt with them, as well as any problems I feel were unresolved. This will not only serve hopefully as a stimuli to productivity but as as a record that I can go back and review when planning future edits or redrafts of the novel.

As for Twitch I find this one a little bit more difficult to define, set word counts or easily quantifiable chapters to use as goals don’t exist in this domain. Follower counts and subscribers are an indicator of performance but an unreliable one, a raid could lead to several follows in a day and then a drought for a few weeks. No, for this the criteria for success will have to be somewhat more nebulous. I believe these will more likely be focused on ideas around stream content, do I feel that I provided good commentary this week, if not, why not, what stopped me, how do I address that. Do I feel that a new game is lending itself to my strengths? That sort of thing. However beyond that I plan to try and create more for my channel: community nights, collaborations with other streamers, using social media to promote my stream more effectively etc, so expect to see these things discussed as well.

So that, as they say is that, I’ve done it, typed the blog post, signed myself up for the long haul. Two reflective blog posts a week minimum + the twitch streams and work on my novel. But I have to admit that work on the novel will be slow probably a chapter and a discussion of a chapter per week. To be frank, my health is not good, I struggle to move around too much and even sitting upright for long periods of time can be exhausting. However, I hope that by doing this, and taking these steps I can do more to help myself in my current situation than just take medication and wait… and perhaps in doing so regain some of the parts of myself that have slipped away over the past year.

So to recap my goals are as follows:

One 1000-1500 word critical self commentary on my twitch channel.
One chapter of my Novel draft.
One 1000-1500 word critical commentary on my progress.

Expect to hear from me soon.
Shieldbroski out.

Why I’ve found writing a script useful:

As I mentioned in the last update I’ve been writing a Sitcom script for a university assessment. Whilst something I am brand new to, I have found that it has improved my writing for other projects and helped with writers block. As such I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on why I’ve found it helpful. Continue reading “Why I’ve found writing a script useful:”

Writing Update: Re-structuring

Progress:

In my last post I talked about the editing process and what I would be doing to improve my first draft. ┬áHaving done a good chunk of reading, collating feedback and re-writing over the last couple of days I thought I’d update you all on my progress. So far I’ve learned a few important things. Continue reading “Writing Update: Re-structuring”

Writing Update:First drafts

I’ve just completed my first draft for my dissertation with a little over a month to go to the deadline. I’ll be honest, I’m more excited about the project now than when I sat down to write it. Usually I don’t have this problem with my creative projects; I sit down hammer out whatever it is that is in my head and then when the novel or short story is finished I run away from it until it’s time to edit. Continue reading “Writing Update:First drafts”

Writing Update:

So those of you that follow what I post regularly will have noticed that I fell off the grid for a week or so. That’s because I’m in the process of moving house, managing a university assessment and working. I should build some more time in to create content but honestly haven’t felt able to. So given that I can’t sleep at 4am with a full day of moving furniture tomorrow I thought I’d give you all a quick update. Continue reading “Writing Update:”

Writing Journal: Dissertation

To be honest although I’ve had two months to get on with my dissertation I must somewhat unhappily admit that I haven’t done nearly as much work on it as I wanted to. Life got in the way. Continue reading “Writing Journal: Dissertation”

Writing Journal: Module Assessment

For a module entitled Contemporary Writing, I wanted to do something a little different. Play with some of the themes the ‘Contemporary’ texts I was reading for my course had highlighted

In the last update I gave you a brief overview of what I was working on and my plans for a module assessment. My plan for the module being to write something focused on experiences of the Trojan war. This is no longer the case. Continue reading “Writing Journal: Module Assessment”