Wow, this one is super overdue. Sorry guys! For anyone new to my rambles—I try to do them for major topics that bother me and one for each book I write. In a lot of ways they help me reflect on the adventures of being an author. It feels nice to sit down and sum up everything that happened. Maybe it interests others to see some of the ‘behind the scenes’ that happen as I’m writing—or how I felt in general.
So, before I get too far—anyone interested in hearing about something I don’t cover; feel free to comment below! Otherwise, time to talk about the mess that was Book 4.
I’ll start by outlining my major points…
- The Writing Timeline
- Issues and Flaws
- The Unexpected Journey
- Grant’s transformation into the hero
The Writing Timeline
I essentially wrapped up book 3 right at the end of 2015. Book 4 started where I wanted it to but the manner of getting there took a few left turns along the way. Why? Because as a writer, I wanted to address a few different tropes I see done in VR LitRPG (that’ll be issues and flaws below) while still moving toward the end of my series.
In terms of face rolling the keyboard, book 4 took me about five months. That includes plotting, actual writing, posting, etc. The drafted outline had pieces set up in book 1, 2, and really glommed together in book 3. I’d written a few starter chapters prior to closing book 3 out at the end of the year. By the time I’d finished with book 3 of Continue Online—I really, really knew where Book 4 would end up. That is, bringing stuff back to the beginning and pulling back all these characters I’d set up. Moving into the end game, etc.
I’d also completely and utterly paused Royal Scales in order to better focus. Which – I’ve prepped like 10 more chapters of book 4 to post eventually but I’m not in the right frame of mind to finish draft. My first beta reader was not impressed. I’d also started dabbling in my other works, The Fiasco, and Fragments of Aeon—both works that are still ‘works in progress’ as of this post. I also worked to put out more chapters of the now defunct First RE: Guards because I *love* the setting for this series and wanted to keep exploring it.
To sum up; my general level of output has never really changed. It just switched gears with the New Year as I started through the second half of this main series.
At the time of writing Book 4, I didn’t really know what LitRPG was but other people were getting all hyped up about the genre. This means that Facebook groups were picking up members, gathering lists of writers in the genre, and so on. All while my head stayed buried in the sand with RRL and my own site’s feedback on the continuing story. Why? Because people started dropping off with Book 3 because of [Insert Whatever Reason]. I watched the numbers—and expected it to be the worst book in the series on Amazon—which it is based on the court of public opinion.
Then there was the fact that slightly before starting book 4, my wife found out she was pregnant with our now four-month-old baby girl (that’s how long I’ve put off this ramble). So that happened. I started getting at least a little bit more involved with the community outside of my own immediate pages / site / story portion. Before we delve into the next portions, I will freely admit that there were a lot more lessons learned with writing book 4 and publications of book 2 during this timeframe. We’ll touch on some of this—while trying to be vaguely concise. I swear these rambles always get off point. It’s like herding cats…
Only it’s my own brain. /bangsheadontable or #WriterProblems
Issues and Flaws
Now, I refuse to name names. I never want to—for lack of a more tactful way to be blunt—shit where I eat. The LitRPG group is small and some of them may find my words one day. This portion isn’t intended as an attack (That was an earlier ramble on author professionalism).
Here are the flaws I see commonly…
- The virtual world is somehow controlling real world economy
- The virtual world is okay with murdering dumb newbies and stealing their gear, raping their women folk, and enslaving players to do all the shit gathering
- The virtual world is full of amoral murderers who like killing towns and every puppy ever for luls
So, enter the ‘Continue Online’ prison system. Which makes sense; exiting book three leaves Grant with a trail of dead bodies, key figures lost, and a king resurrected. There are punishments for actions taken. Plus, I got to finally, finally tie back to the [King’s Taste Tester] trial event and show how the Voices set him up a narrative that had real world impact; one that tied into events in book 2 and 3. As a brief AH-HA, if Grant had ‘succeeded’ as his Taste Tester event through to the good ending, the king’s death would have been blamed on another figure.
Which brings up the fourth common flaw…
- Retconning done wrong
I’ll talk about this one first since it may have thrown people off. Retcons are defined as such; “1. (in a film, television series, or other fictional work) a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events, typically used to facilitate a dramatic plot shift or account for an inconsistency”
It’s super common. I’ve tried hard with Continue Online never to yank too much out of the either. Nearly everything that happens in the series has been hinted at or set up from the get go. It’s only the finer details or perspective that shifts. We’re not completely overhauling it like a bad time travel fiction that lets a player go back into the past to change an entire species backstory…(which I’ve seen done in a LitRPG—because time travel in a virtual MMO makes sense—among other novels)
So, doing it wrong is when something fundamental with the ‘setting’ is altered. In this case I wanted to show how the game simply applied an existing scenario to a new person based on unique tests from the Voices to ‘Ultimate Edition’ players. These tests are applied to all sorts of players, such as Viper—one of the other Ultimate Edition users we’re introduced to. Along with Mister Stone who acts as Grant’s lawyer. Shazam—Lia Kingsley in real life is the same way. Each of them is given tests by the Voices (which we see from the Voice side in book 5!)—and those tests both define future challenges and impact the world in minor ways. Retconning should never be world altering—but scenario adapting. There’s only so much content ‘unique’ to go around in a virtual MMO (which is another pet peeve; but I bypass that entire logic stream under the guise of Ultimate Edition users being separate from normal rabble).
The first three points all tied together and are often used in conjunction, badly. I’ll be talking about them all at once due to my short attention span. Let’s start here; Virtual world impacting real currency to the point of creating a slave caste should never, ever, ever be allowed as a plot device. I disagree with it as an basis for a few reasons. The same reasons I disagree with the other two over used plot devices. Why? First—for the simple reason that such a system makes no sense from a consumer point of view. Maybe for the 1%—but no AAA game is designed for the 1%, ever. These games are designed with mass appeal in mind, looking for as much ROI as possible. They often use a technology platform that someone else has designed.
- Group 1 designs the game
- Group A designs the immersion platform but want more money
- Group A gets Group 2, 3, and 4 to use their platform and bring more content
In reality it’s even more complicated than that—since AAA games are often entire teams working on different aspects such as 3D modeling, programming, etc. Even if we assume in the future than an AI can do most of it—rarely will the person making the hardware ever limit it to one ‘game’ designer or ‘software’ designer. Not when they can get 10 more games of equal quality and get 5x more money from hardware sales. The money-making math does not lend itself to one game dominating the market (Which is part of why I did Advance Online, there are other games, there are other people who don’t want fantasy—etc.)
I’m foaming a bit because this gets me heated. The trope makes for plot tension but is illogical and ruins immersion. One company will not stranglehold the market more than say—Amazon does already. And Amazon doesn’t even own the market so much as connect producers and consumers (their entire business model focuses on that, get people stuff they want, take a cut).
So when someone plays a game to earn real money, it won’t be any bigger than say Diablo 3’s Real Money Marketplace, or the eBay market for Diablo 2 items, or MMO Gold Spammers fighting each other for sales. There’s going to be cross over, but it won’t cripple everyone in reality enough to make obvious slaves—only a percentage of people. The same ones who have impulse control problems and gamble everything away. Otherwise people would fucking riot and burn down the building. Or at the least start throwing shipments of ARCs into the harbor screaming ‘no gameplay without marketplace balance’ or something. Whatever applies.
Here’s how that part connects to the other two. Crimes—which in reality are typically something that hurts another person in some obvious manner—are not something people would willingly put up with. Take a look at the current MMO setup. WoW (being the most popular) has divided into PvE (Player versus environment) and PvP (player versus player) servers. This is done so that people who don’t want to be stabbed by other players can still enjoy the game (thusly giving Blizzard money) without suffering. It’s worse when the LitRPG assumes players feel pain without their say so—like that’s just normal in a game. It adds tension at the cost of realism. These stories would almost be better off transporting people to a different world with a video game interface… because it makes about as much sense.
Here’s my final wall of text on this front.
Let’s assume someone did generate an open world game technology where you could sink your entire mind into it and live. Let’s also assume you’re not worried about bedsores (Thank you Mirror World for addressing physical rehab after long immersion)—it still makes no sense for people to choose that sort of electronic life if there’s any job in the real world that doesn’t cause them pain. Playing a video game to earn money with the risk of being stabbed and feeling like you’re being stabbed is illogical. I can see someone flipping Hal Pal units their large washer shaped hamburgers then going home to virtual reality porn. I can’t see them sitting in a game world and subjecting themselves to a world where rapist and murderers are constantly searching for weak newbies.
Not for more than say, a few hours a day for catharsis anyway. I mean, I’d play a game where I could PvP hardcore convicts and feel pleased when they got squished, you know, assuming they didn’t pin me down with soap ropes and put it to me.
The Unexpected Journeys
Alright, back to a friendly topic—my own failures (and not other writers glaring logic flaws). I mean, I have enough of my own gaps and ‘lessons learned’
So Grant goes to player prison. We see the punishment system, which is really just about earning resources for the offended party and being set up to die a few times and lose character points. Both of which feel very game like in terms of solutions—in a world where ‘Locals’ want to see punishments. That meant when I dragged in NPCs, they needed to feel like the players were getting worked over to keep the ‘immersion’ factor of the world in line.
So we have the king, whose father to the two daughters at work in book 2. We have him talk about the loss of Commander Queenshand / Strongarm. Those had to feel real. We see other players in the prison serving out their terms in ‘jail’ where they calmly read a book on the internet as the game ticks out their sentence.
All of these things are designed to say that violating laws has a time sink—so I had to create the entire system around it in such a way that it made sense from a game perspective. Redemption points and the Convince Brand were almost spur of the moment ways to make this work. I loved how they turned out because the first half of the book felt gritty to me—which I think prison should. In my head I had a kind of ‘Condemned’ vibe—which is a good game series if you’ve never played it.
But Grant—had tools that he didn’t have before. He had popped his VR PvP (Player versus player) cherry in book 2. He’d gone further in book 3. In this book he was defining the line of where he stood—what he was willing to do when adapting to this sort of altered reality. Super, super, super important stuff to the over plot—which is simply this; what kind of person is Grant at his core? What kind of person will he become if pushed?
Then I needed to move things forward. The over plot had been all set up in my mind. All the pieces were there (And indeed, have been for ages)—but someone needed to pull the trigger. Miz Riley was that person. Someone who believed that a machine bringing the dead back to life was a violation of everything she held dear. It was bad for business, it was bad for morality, it would end in lawsuits—and it happened on her watch. But a machine that could predict the future would have known, right? Which is why at the end of book 3 we see the Jester and a few other ‘darker’ Voices setting up a contingency—then making sure that person and Grant ended up together as a test. Everything being done is designed to measure their Ultimate Edition users.
I’ll leave it there if you haven’t read book five—but I believe the opening to book 4—the commencement where we’re recapping what’s happened and how it’s measure really illustrates the multiple issues going on in the background.
This bleeds quickly into my final point.
Grant’s transformation into the hero
In book 4 I was finally able to write the definitive turning point—there are a lot along the way—but this one cinched it. He had a purpose to fight for that he hadn’t completely glommed onto in book 1. One that he’d questioned himself about in book 2. One that he worked toward but still debated what he would give to realize in book 3.
That is to say; Xin. His fiancée existed—and she is the center of everything Grant’s story is about. Not a helpless damsel by any means—but that which makes him work. Now that she was alive in as real a sense as he could ever hope for—he gets to complete his transformation. There’s a line in chapter… I dunno—chapter something. Where he says something along the lines of “I finally felt like a fucking hero” to himself—as he fights the big old [World Eater] monster.
That point—which I wrote it earlier in the book than I wanted—needed to happen. This shows him fighting the big bad dangerous monster to save someone; as himself. Not as an old hero everyone already idolized. Not as an imp trying to off its master—as any demon would. Not as a robot part of the collective. But as this character he identified with first; Hermes the Messenger of the Voices. That’s huge.
I feel like I’ve understated it so we’ll try another route.
Grant stood up for the values he’s defined as himself. He chooses to face the long odds stacked against him because the alternative is an avalanche that will take those who matter away forever. That is a hero—and he realizes that he’s changed from the broken man he’d been trapped as. This point is where Grant’s budding transformation blooms. It only took 3 books too long for some people.
In the heroes journey concept—this sort of powerful moment is where the character has turned around also signals the closing arc to the story. I swear this wasn’t intentional—but the first half of book 4 really is the ‘atonement’ phase – where he’s trying to work off the depth earned from his transformation moment during book 3 (being reunited with Xin). The connections aren’t perfect—but they’re there.
As a result, I also hated this moment because here is where I really felt the ending of an epic (even if it’s only epic to me). Everything from there felt almost downhill as I struggled to keep tension in the storyline. Then there was the stopping point for this book. I needed book 4 to end on a positive note—a happy memory that still hinted at potentially dark set of final challenges. Grant and Xin being married was a perfect way to do that—building to something he’d been mourning the loss of since book 1, and really sealing his commitment to this virtual recreation of the woman he loves.
I believe all these moments together, meeting the people he’d seen along the way while presenting a new side of himself really brought the storyline along nicely.
Now, I’ve rambled for half a chapter about stuff—magical pretty stuff. I’m not even sure I covered all the issues and tribulations. There were problems with editing book one, changes to my writing to make backend editing easier, figuring out covers, morning sickness for the wife, a shift change at work, training a new person—and all this stuff that threw me off.
Yet, the book got finished—and I was happy with how it ended. Then there was book five…
But we’ll talk about that one next year.
Got questions or comments? Drop ‘em below!