Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Doki Doki Literature Club

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 8, 2017

I played Doki Doki Literature Club near the end of October. This game was not what I expected. Oh, I know it was kind of a fourth-wall breaking horror story masquerading as a dating sim / visual novel. That’s why I got it. But as they say, it’s all about the journey, not the destination, and Doki Doki Literature Club takes you on a pretty twisted little trip.

For one thing, it’s a game you don’t play once. When you get to the “end” of the game and go back to the main menu, things have changed. The game … or a character in the game… is playing you. It’s going outside the box, and you’ll have to go outside the box to “win” (or… fully complete) the game… at which point, there is no more re-playing the game without a full reinstall.

The core story sounds like a staple of manga, anime, and dating sims. You select a name and play a kid  in High School who gets roped into a school club by the girl next door. While your character isn’t much of a reader, there are three cute girls in the club, and so there’s opportunity for friendship and maybe more. The cast is kind of predictable… there’s the mature introvert intellectual, the girl who prefers cuteness and light, the slacker girl-next-door, and the driven, ambitious club president. While you are there, you may learn a bit about writing, poetry, and literature. You’ll write poetry (kind of), possibly to impress the available young lady of your choice. You may get the chance to spend extra time with one of the characters of your choice preparing for a club fair day at the school.

But what you soon discover is that the girls have layers, and much deeper motivations behind their surface personalities. These underlying motivations can get cranked up to eleven as a full disorder because of your presence, or because somebody the ulterior motives has their finger on the dial, and the results will be deadly. Graphic and deadly.

Game Over, Try Again. Only this is permadeath, and the dead character has now been written out of the game. Except… whoever wrote them out of the game isn’t very good at it, or only has access to the data files, because they do a poor job of it. So their mod ends up looking glitchy, like the game is full of bugs as it replays around the missing character. The second play-through is different in more ways than that. The feeling is that someone is re-writing the game in real-time to force you into a certain set of decisions.

The game is dark. It explores obsessive character traits and personality disorders. It subverts tropes. Some imagery and story may be disturbing. But in the end… it’s a darkly clever little horror story. Or… is it? There are several different endings, and some only come about on subsequent play-throughs.

Best of all, it’s free (although you can support it through a donation or buying the fan-pack). You can get it on Steam, or direct through their website.


Filed Under: Adventure Games, Free Games, Indie Horror Games - Comments: Read the First Comment

Four Steps to NaNoWriMo Success So Far

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 7, 2017

My word count is going to the novel rather than the blog, so I apologize. It has also been a surprisingly busy couple of weeks.

A little under a week into NaNoWriMo, and I’ve added about 15,000 words to the novel. This is possibly my most productive week ever. It probably helps that we finished binging Stranger Things 2 on Halloween, so that hasn’t been a temptation. (It was great BTW).

Tonight, before midnight, I expect to add at least 1000 more words to the total to finish out the week. So we’re talking around 2200 words per day. Not quite “Pulp Speed,” but nice.  There have been a couple of nights when I have been REALLY tired when I wrote, and while that has caused me to have some really funky ideas when I found myself dozing off at the keyboard, I’m not looking forward to editing what I wrote. While it’s not stream-of-consciousness or anything like that, it has included some extraneous details or some baffling sentence structures. Then again, I sometimes write that when I’m fully awake and alert, so who knows?

I had about 55K words left to finish the novel when the the month began (I’m shooting for around 80k total length). However, I am also expecting to get edits back on the first novel within a couple of weeks, so the more I can front-load the writing, the better.

A few things that have worked better for me so far this time around:

#1 – Following Rachel Aaron’s “2K to 10K” concept, I take a few minutes at the beginning of a session or before a sprint to map out in my head what is going to be happening in what I’m about to write. Sometimes this is easy, because I’m just going off my outline and I haven’t deviated too far from it yet. Sometimes this doesn’t happen, and I end up discovery writing a bit (which is usually slower but leads to some very interesting places), but I still have to have a good start point and some general goals for what is supposed to be happening.

#2 – I do writing sprints. It’s how things get done. It’s hard to say, “I’m going to write for three hours straight” and just go for it. But going for 30 minutes with a ten minute break afterwards? That’s easy. It usually doesn’t take me too long to get “into the zone,” either, surprisingly. Maybe five minutes. It also proved to be a really great way to measure development time. I find that I can generally write between 450 – 750 words in a 30-minute sprint, generally centering on around 600 words. That’s pretty measurable. I know about what it will take to write 2K words per night (about 4 sprints, or 3 sprints plus some non-sprint writing time), or to finish a chapter. And I can actually try different processes to try and improve my averages.

#3 – I found a night-owl writing partner. I have a writer friend who keeps kind of the same freaky schedule I do, and we just use an online chat to talk about what we are doing, cheer each other on, pace each other, and do our sprints together. It’s motivating, both to get started (“Hey, let’s quit fiddling around and start SPRINTING!”) and to keep going for ONE MORE SPRINT.

#4 – Tying these all together is the idea of schedule. I’ve got hours that I work. Breaks between the sprints are critical, but only so far as they make the sprints work. I find the hours that work for me in my schedule, which may be a little scattered (especially on weekends), but those are work hours. Treating them that way means helps reduce the temptation to do other things.

Anyway, these steps, plus having a day job that is only half as insane as it was last year, plus having another years’ worth of experience under my belt, probably all contributed to having a solid start this time around. The real trick is sustaining it, improving on it, and making it more of a long-term habit. I’ve got a lot of really cool games and stories to write, yet, so I really need to be efficient!

(The cover is from StoryHack #1, in which you can find my story, “Retrieving Abe”)

Filed Under: Writing - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

Rocksmith Goal – Achieved. Next Goal?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 3, 2017

In October, I set a goal to get good enough to play “Don’t Fear the Reaper” on guitar. I’m using Rocksmith Remastered, and it’s an old Rocksmith 1 (2012) song with a mix of parts (“Alternate Lead” in Remastered). October got a little crazy, so I didn’t put in quite as much time as I’d like, but I internally set my goal at being able to hit 95% success at full difficulty. To me, that means I’ve got the song more-or-less down and can keep up, but I’ve still got a ways to go to master it.

I’m happy to report that I hit my goal. Barely, but I hit it. I’m not consistent (I range from 92% to 95%), my timing could use work, I don’t have the whole song memorized, I don’t nail all of the string bends perfectly, there’s a relatively simple riff that I still have trouble playing at speed, etc., etc., etc. But I can play the whole song in Score Attack without a strike (which happens if you make too many mistakes in one section), hit an x50 multiplier, and hey, I’m #8 in the whole world on the leaderboard! (We will pretend not to notice that there are only 10 people on the entire leaderboard for this easily-forgotten arrangement for a song that’s only available as DLC to –I think– owners of the original game).

For me, that feels like a milestone. I’ve had the song in my library for a long time. It was one of the first songs I really tried to play, and I fell woefully short back then. I was not ready to tackle it. Not that it’s a super-hard song or anything. There are plenty of harder songs in the library.  I just didn’t have the muscle memory and the speed. I quit in frustration, assumed it was beyond my abilities, and forgot about really practicing it.

This time around, I realized there was nothing really outside my capabilities in it anymore, but I still had to overcome a mental block about it being “too hard” from my efforts almost four years ago. I had to spend some time in the riff repeater mode playing the same section over and over and gradually increasing the speed. It was interesting how some of the sections I could nail easily at 96% of full speed, but collapsed on at 97%.

Anyway, I’ll be giving it a break for a while … not a complete break, just a break from trying to practice it several times a day. I haven’t decided which one I’m going to try to improve on next. It’s just nice to feel I’m making progress.

Filed Under: General, Guitar Games - Comments: Read the First Comment

Local Authors & You, and NaNoWriMo Begins!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 1, 2017

I’ll be at the Local Authors & You event this Saturday (November 4) at the Viridian Event Center from 1-5 PM. I’ll be offering the “short version” of my workshop on Writing Pulp for Fun & Profit at some point during the day, and otherwise I’ll be hanging out in the authors area signing books and chatting with people.

If you are reasonably local to the Salt Lake valley, this is a good opportunity to check out some of the local talent and books available. I know that in my case, I’ve been surprised to find out that a book I already knew was written by a local author. But since the holiday season is rapidly approaching, I think it’s a really cool way to discover great new books you may not have heard of, and be able to get them signed by the author, and offer them as gifts as friends. Well, and getting a copy for yourself, of course.

I’m actually down to just a couple of copies of the pictured anthologies. Shame on me. I’ll have a handful of copies of Cirsova 4 and StoryHack 0, but when those are gone, they’ll be gone. I’ll have several copies of Mirages & Speculations, StoryHack 1, and Cirsova 5 available.

Yeah, all of those last ones were published this year. I’m not kidding on the pitch for the Pulp Fictions stuff. Actually, StoryHack 0 was published this year too, and Cirsova 4 only came out less than a year ago. It’s been a busy year, and I’m not nearly as prolific as many authors I know.

Also – as a reminder – NaNoWriMo begins today. Can you get that novel written in a single month? Get cracking!

I’m going for it. My first novel is being published by Immortal Works Press, and is due to be released in March. I’m working on the sequel. My goal is to have the draft completed in November, and since I have a little over 50,000 words left, I’m using NaNoWriMo to help me push myself to completion. Then I can begin the next book in the series!

Filed Under: Books, Events - Comments: Comments are off for this article

Quick Take: Extinct

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 27, 2017

My family has thoroughly enjoyed Extinct, a streaming TV show available from BYUTV.org (the makers of Studio C, Granite Flats, etc.) or at Extinct.tv. It’s a post-apocalyptic science fiction show with a really unusual premise. The human race has been wiped out by an alien invasion. But a portion of the population, at the last months, had copies of their DNA and brain-states made by unknown outsiders. And now, hundreds of years later, after the invaders have gone, the human race is being restored… re-created from this copied data.

Sort of like restoring from a save point.

But… and there’s always a “but”…  it’s more complicated than that. Hopefully I’m not spoiling anything because it’s all stuff revealed in the first few minutes of episode 1… but they aren’t the first. In fact, our original three heroes are fairly late the party, and there are other re-constructed humans out there who have been infected by “skin-riders” – parasites with a hive-mind that enslave their human hosts.

That’s just the basics from the first few minutes. The world is fantastically more complex and interesting. Our initial heroes are people out of time, people from the 21st century thrust into an alien world that was once their own, with relationships with others that aren’t exactly where they left off. In fact, questions of identity are a core element of the first season (so far). Is a human just the sum of their physical body plus their memories? What about what happened to the person after the last “brain state” was captured? What about the relationship of two people who have had “brain states” taken from different points in their past relationship? What about a human who is controlled by a parasitic entity?

Even the alien entities aren’t entirely who they seem. The ones intent on restoring the human race are not infallible, and the hive-mind is not as unified as they claim. There are quite a few twists and bends throughout the season, and I hope they can sustain that through many seasons to come. This is quality science fiction.

The show features several veterans of the Utah film and TV industry, starring Jake Stormoen (from Arrowstorm’s Mythica series) and Jaclyn Hales (of Unicorn City). Melanie Stone (also of Mythica) makes an appearance in one of the available episodes. Dan Wells is one of the writers for the series.

It’s free to watch. You don’t have to subscribe at all to view the episodes, but they do tack on an ad at the beginning of the show. There are currently 8 episodes (each just under an hour long) of the first season available to watch. The final episodes will drop in a couple of weeks.


Filed Under: Geek Life, Impressions - Comments: Comments are off for this article

Divinity: Original Sin 2 vs. Ultima 7…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 26, 2017

I’m pretty sure one of the reasons I’m such a fan of the Divinity series (particularly the latest Divinity: Original Sin games) is that Larian Studios – and in particular founder and designer Swen Vincke – uses Ultima 7 as their inspiration. Ultima 7 (both parts) has been at or near the top of my list of favorite RPGs since the release of The Black Gate back when I was still in school.

There is so much broken or weird with it that it’s amazing so many gamers feel the same way. I’ve replayed it at least part-way many times since then, and if you are looking to find fault, there’s plenty. But somehow, at least back in 1992, the game transcended all of that.

In some ways, it’s kind of like one’s first kiss. Or first anything. It was memorable because it had nothing to compare it to. Or supposedly it’s memorable. I actually don’t remember my first kiss. Maybe I was too much of a playah as a teenager. To my first-kiss-girl: If you are reading this, I’m really sorry. And I totally messed up my analogy, too. Dang it. Where was I? Oh, well…  By today’s standards, Ultima 7 seems quaint and kind of a mess. But at the time, it was perhaps the greatest demonstration of Origin’s motto, “We Create Worlds.”

But as an article in PC Gamer this week notes… it’s pretty much impossible to live up to that legacy. You could make Ultima 7 today with amazing modern graphics and none of the bugs, and it still wouldn’t compare with its previous incarnation. But I’m very, very glad there are game developers out there, like Larian, that are doing their best to build on that legacy.

PC Gamer: RPGs may never top Ultima 7, but Divinity: Original Sin 2 comes close

Filed Under: Retro - Comments: Read the First Comment

On my way through the fire and flames in a fried-out Kombi on a Saturday night…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 25, 2017

Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock. That was when many gamers first heard the song “Through the Fire and Flames” by DragonForce. But it wasn’t just the hearing… no. During the credits after “beating” the game, this blistering 200 beats-per-minute song appeared with the chart, and was thereafter unlocked as a bonus song. It was clearly in a difficulty tier all by itself, and getting into the 90% range on expert difficulty became a badge of honor and a sign of true Guitar Hero mastery.

Well, that was ten years ago, almost to the day of the North American release. I liked the song, because it was technical challenge of insane levels, and because DragonForce was keeping shred alive. Not to mention drawing inspiration from fantasy and video games. While I didn’t put them in the same category as true shredding virtuosos (like John Petrucci, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, etc.), they made up for it with sheer balls-out speed and spectacle.

The song also came out for Rock Band III, and was available for Pro Mode. I was one of the (apparently few) people with a Squier Pro Guitar controller, so it was pretty close to playing the real thing… minus key elements like string bends, vibrato, harmonics, slides, etc. However, I’d lost a bit of interest in the game by then (even after spending all that money on the guitar!), and I knew that I was nowhere the skill level I needed to give it a serious attempt. So I think I tried playing it at an easy skill level a few times, and that was it.

Anyway, once I discovered Rocksmith, and got serious about using it as a training tool and “digital songbook,” DragonForce has been on my shortlist for DLC. Ubisoft has been whittling away on that list for a while, mostly through singles but occasionally with full packs devoted to a long-awaited (for me) artist. Finally, this week, DragonForce can be taken off the list. Oh, the band has several other songs I’d like to see in Rocksmith, sure. But Through the Fire and Flames is finally an official download. Huzzah! And it’s every bit as insane as expected. And eight frickin’ minutes long. Even the rhythm part (which seems much more within my realm of capability) is a bit of an endurance test at that length.

Fortunately, the entire pack (Variety Pack XII for Rocksmith Remastered) is pretty awesome. Besides TtFaF, it has Men at Work’s “Down Under” (2012 version), Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fitghting”, and Rusted Root’s “Send Me On My Way.” Through the Fire and Flames and Down Under have additional alternate lead parts. These all seem like fun songs, and I’ve made some pretty good progress getting the main lead guitar part down on Down Under.

So – for fun – Elison Cruz takes on BOTH guitar parts in his playthrough of Through the Fire and Flames for The Riff Repeater. My hands hurt just watching him. I think this is now the hardest song available in Rocksmith Remastered, and it is absolutely one of the fastest and most note-dense. However, in a library of well over a thousand songs, there are a bunch of ’em that give it a run for its money.

And here’s the official trailer / sampler of the whole pack:

Have fun!


Filed Under: Guitar Games - Comments: Comments are off for this article

Getting Ready for National Novel Writing Month 2017

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 23, 2017

November is “National Novel Writing Month” (NaNoWriMo, and yes, it’s a weird abbreviation). It’s the month for aspiring and amateur authors to kick their butts in gear and getting that draft done on that novel. (The professionals–the ones who make at least part of their living through writing–live it every month of the year.)

So what’s the point? If you know other people who are participating, it can be pretty motivating to try and pace each other. Having a visual graph to show progress over time is also a good motivating factor. The 30-day time horizon can help people get over the mental hurdle… it feels temporary and therefore achievable. Going after a specific goal is valuable.

Now, here’s the thing: The draft that comes out of NaNoWriMo is probably not a masterpiece. I’ve heard critics blast NaNoWriMo for producing thousands of manuscripts of unpublishable garbage. Yeah. So what? That’s like criticizing someone trying to lose 50 pounds for wanting to spend the evening at the gym. They won’t hit their goal in one night, but they’ll be that much further along. The resulting draft might not even be worth polishing up, but it’s good practice. Practice, goal-setting, establishing the work habit, accomplishment, and getting over the mental hurdle of “someday” are much more important than the actual manuscript that comes out at the end of the month. IMO, nobody should wait for November to get started. However… if it’s a useful tool to kickstart your productivity, then take advantage of it.

Last year was my first time attempting it, and I did not “win.” It was a psycho month, and I only produced about 42,000 words instead of 50k. But that’s okay. My novel was about 90k words in length anyway, so even hitting the goal would have gotten me only a little over halfway anyway. However, it was motivating, and I felt that especially in light of the difficulty of the month, it helped me realize what I could do. While I’ve written plenty of shorter stories, it was time to actually complete a novel (I have several horrible half-finished manuscripts sitting on my hard drive). It also established a pretty good habit, so that I was able to keep the same average pace in December and finish the novel.

The resulting manuscript was… well, “unpublishable” in the same sense that most first drafts are. In between writing several short stories, I spent the next few months cleaning it up and polishing it. I submitted it to a publisher, and the acquisitions editor thought it was good enough to accept for publication… with yet more work (which I’m in the middle of now). We’re on track for a March release. So…  HEY, it does work!

I’ve already started on the sequel, and I’ll be spending NaNoWriMo finishing it up… plus maybe a short story or two besides, if I hit my goals (a little higher than the base NaNo goals, silly me…).

Over at StoryBundle, they do have their annual NaNo Writing Tools Bundle. I haven’t read any of these books yet, and I confess the list doesn’t seem as strong as previous years, but it may be valuable for you if you are going to tackle it in November.

So I should ask… who else is planning on participating?

Filed Under: Events, Writing - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

Released: Crystal King

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 20, 2017

My long-time friend, coworker, and collaborator John M. Olsen has just released his debut fantasy novel, Crystal King. It’s a story of intrigue and survival with an intriguing magic system.

An army has overrun and destroyed the royal council and much of the kingdom of Riland’s leadership. Now, Gavin Stoutheart’s father the baron is missing, along with Gavin’s brother the heir- both presumed dead. After tormenting his instructors and father for years with his rebellious antics, Gavin must step up to lead his people as they flee before an invading army, one that can outpace his motley collection of castle staff, peasants, and children. Gavin’s only hope for survival is the forbidden animal magic wielded by his closest friends combined with his gift for strategy as he searches for allies along their trail.

Will it be enough to keep them alive as they desperately trek through a fractured, leaderless kingdom? For the army of human and animal predators will show no mercy.

You can grab it now through Amazon:

Crystal King by John M. Olsen

If you want a taste of it… the publisher (Immortal Works) has released a free audio book of his short story, Crystal Servants, narrated by Zach Bjorge. If you’d prefer to read it, the short story is available for free at Instafreebie (sign-up for the mailing list required), and for a very low price at Smashwords and at Amazon.



Filed Under: Books - Comments: Read the First Comment

Daggerfall Ported to Unity, Playable from Start to Finish

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 19, 2017

I didn’t think I’d see this one finished (or get this close to finished) when I heard about it YEARS ago. But… it’s happening. Slowly but surely. Some fools have ported Daggerfall into Unity.  I love that we have fools of this caliber in our world. It’s not completely done yet-most notably the magic system is incomplete-but it is now completely playable.

The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall in Unity – Now playable start to end!

It’s important to note that at its heart, this is a pure port. Except for higher resolution, better lighting, and running on modern machines without DOSBOX, when it’s complete it’ll just be Daggerfall. You’ll even have to download the original game (which is free) from Bethesda in order to play. However, it’ll also be far easier to modify. The mods have already been flowing, including everything from higher-quality textures & materials to multiplayer support.

Not bad for a 20-year-old game and a group of dedicated fans and developers!


Filed Under: Game Announcements, Retro - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

Watch the Giant Robot Duel

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 18, 2017

My wife laughed at me as I giggled and geeked out over this thing. What can I say? I’ve been a fan of mecha fighting games and anime for a long time. Seeing one for real… even knowing full well the limitations of reality… was awesome. If you missed it, you can catch the long-awaited battle between Suidobashi’s Mecha and TWO of MegaBot’s piloted giant robots on YouTube:

As a side note, I have all kinds of respect for the people who were able to put this together… from just figuring out the logistics for this battle, down to the nuts and bolts of designing a real-world mecha. Thanks for letting me live in a world where this is a thing. 🙂

Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: Read the First Comment

The Real-Life Giant Mecha Battle… TONIGHT

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 17, 2017

The duel between the two piloted giant robot companies was more than a year overdue. But finally, in an abandoned steel mill in Japan, the battle was joined. Unfortunately, citing safety concerns, they couldn’t do it in front of a large, live audience. When mechas are shooting projectiles capable of doing damage to several tons of machinery,  you probably don’t want bleachers of spectators on the other side.

But… tonight the battle is televised. The outcome has been kept secret. But what has been revealed / implied is that:

#1 – There are some competitive “rodeo” type events first, as the giant mecha show what they can do in real life. Cool guided missiles are probably not part of this.

#2 – The Megabots team spent a bunch of time making sure their cockpit could survive a hit from a projectile weapon. So hopefully this means there’s a phase where the mechs shoot at each other.

#3 – Melee combat is a required part of the combat. And in the teaser, Suidobashi’s “Kuratas” mecha cracks the canopy glass of the Megabots’ Eagle Prime with a blow. Heh, heh… 🙂

#4 – Nobody died. That’s a good thing.

Information on how to watch this:

Watch as MegaBots, Inc. (team USA) and Suidobashi Heavy Industry (team Japan) go head-to-head in the world’s first Giant Robot Duel, 2 years in the making! Watch as internally-piloted robots that weigh up to 12 tons, stand 16 feet tall, and cost upwards of $2.5M each go HEAD-TO-HEAD in an epic battle straight out of science fiction.

The battle will be broadcast on the official MegaBots Twitch channel (http://twitch.tv/megabotsinc), starting at 7PM Pacific Time on October 17th, 2017, and will be posted to Facebook and YouTube immediately afterwards.

I’ll be watching this. I’ve been waiting for something like this since I saw my first episode of Robotech, or played my first game of Battletech. 🙂

Filed Under: Events, Geek Life - Comments: Comments are off for this article

Writing: Word Count and Why Does It Matter?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 13, 2017

When you are talking about works of fiction, authors and editors often refer to word count. Why does the number of words matter? As a reader, I really don’t care. I’m not counting.

Naturally, when you are taking things to print, page count matters, because that directly impacts the cost of production. In the digital book world, it’s a little fuzzier, but it’s still a thing. As a reader, that impacts me as well, especially when I’m deciding between diving into a massive Brandon Sanderson tome or a thin little indie urban fantasy. A word count can be a proxy for page count (somewhere around 300 words to the page), although that’s nuanced as well. As David Farland has explained on a few occasions, from a publisher’s or typesetter’s perspective a character count is a far more useful metric. For estimating page count, they assume a “word” is six character spaces (often five letters plus a space). While I won’t argue with him, I think that the ease of obtaining the word count from word processing software is making the “incorrect” method more popular among newer editors and publishers.

Many editors charge by the word. This is a useful proxy for the amount of work that is necessary, although again… not all words are created equal, not all editing jobs are equal. Some authors may need more work done on 10,000 words than others would need in 30,000.

Back in the pulp days, things got pretty loose for a while in definitions. The magazines advertised novels, novellas, novelettes (with several different spellings of the word), serial novels, and short stories (not to mention poetry) without clear-cut definitions about what constituted what. I’ve read “novels” contained in old pulps that were probably not much more than 10,000 words. While there’s still not a clear-cut definition, many places use the definitions established by the SFWA, which they use for the purpose of awards categorization. Their definitions are:

  • Up to 7500 words: Short Story
  • 7500 – 17,499 words: Novelette
  • 17,500 – 39,999 words: Novella
  • 40,000 words or more: Novel

That’s all well and good for the purpose of award categories. In modern practice, novelettes and novellas tend to be harder sells than they were back in the pulp era. So it’s tougher to get them published, but on the plus side, there’s less competition for those award categories!

However, this isn’t just categorization for the sake of awards. The size will also impact how the story is structured, number of major characters, subplots, try/fail cycles, etc. Obviously (I hope), a short story isn’t just a really condensed novel. A novella and a novelette aren’t quite such different beasts (especially if you are talking about a long novelette and a short novella), but those sizes will impact the kind of stories that get told.

It doesn’t end there. The SFWA designations were kind of a product of the mid-20th century publishing industry, but things are changing all the time. Flash fiction has enjoyed a huge increase in popularity, carving out a niche for itself at the bottom of the short story range. NaNoWriMo has established 50,000 words as their size for a novel (“about the length of The Great Gatsby“). I’ve often seen 8000 words as the upper limit for a short story. So we can add a few more categories here:

  • 100 words (or less): Microfiction
  • 101 words  – 1000 words: Flash Fiction
  • 110,000+ words: Epic novel

For most competitions or open fiction calls, the submission guidelines rule the word count. If they say, “We want short stories of up to 5000 words,” then a 7400-word story is going to have a tough time even getting looked at, let alone accepted, even though it’s still technically a “short story.” However, some submission guidelines are a bit more loose. They may express a preference, or suggest that there’s less room for larger works like novellas. And while they might not be looking for flash fiction or really short stories (like in the 2500-word range), maybe an editor is coming in a tiny bit short one month, and that 2500 word story is exactly what they need.

For invitations to anthologies, it may also be pretty loose. An editor may say they are interested in flash fiction or short stories, or say they’d be open to something novelette-sized. In the latter case, if I have found myself threatening to go over the suggested word count in spite of my best efforts, I may talk to the editor (since it was an invitation) and see if it’s okay. Even if they aren’t paying you by the word, they may have page counts they have to work within, and you do NOT want to surprise them with something twice the size that they expected. That does not lead to happiness or repeat invitations.

And speaking of expectations, when you start getting into novels, the audiences have different expectations for approximate size, too. Genre and age category makes a huge difference. A novel for middle-grade readers might actually be less than 40,000 words, and that’s okay. But try and sell a 40,000 word novel to an adult Epic Fantasy audience, and they are likely to feel ripped off. Anything less than 100,000 words might feel too small for them. Reedsy has a good post about this on their blog, called How Many Words in a Novel?

If you are a first-time author submitting a novel to publisher, your best bet is to stay inside the size guidelines for your audience and genre. If you are an established author or an indie self-publishing your novel, then there will probably be a bit more flexibility. It’s still not wise to go too far outside the bounds unless you are taking your established audience with you. J K Rowling could only have made Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at over 250,000 words because she’d sold a zillion copies of Harry Potter and the Philosophers (Sorcerer’s) Stone at under 80,000 words. It probably didn’t hurt that she ramped up the word count on the intervening books leading to Order of the Phoenix, too.

Editing costs, print costs, audience and publisher expectations, the kind of story being told, publication plans (and pricing), genre, and audience expectations are all factors to be considered when answering the question of “how big should this story be?” And the answer is usually measured in word count. It’s fuzzy, and there are no perfect answers. The industry is changing constantly, which means the best answer today might be the worst answer tomorrow.

At least it’s not boring.

(Incidentally, this blog post is nearly 1100 words long, including this sentence).

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Burning Bright by Melissa McShane Wins the Diamond Quill Award

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 12, 2017

A little over a year ago, I reviewed Burning Bright by Melissa McShane. This is still (so far) my favorite book by her, although there are two more books in the series (Wondering Sight and Abounding Might) which are near the top of my very large To Read pile.

The best way to describe the book (the series, really) is a Regency Superhero story. The cover for this one is especially amusing because it’s not exactly subtle, but at first glance at a thumbnail you might think, “Regency Romance.” Truth be told, it has that element. But… if you note that the ship is on fire, and she’s got flames encircling her hand, then you might get a better idea of what the story is really about. It’s adventure on the high seas with pirates and super-powered heroes and villains changing the nature of the conflict. Wild and fun stuff!

Anyway, I’m pleased to note that I am not alone in gushing over the book. It’s proven to be a big seller on Amazon, has garnered over 250 overwhelmingly positive reviews, has been featured in a book bundle, and has otherwise proven that my tastes aren’t that weird after all. Last weekend, at the Fall Conference for the League of Utah Writers (now to be officially rebranded as the “Quills Conference” to recognize its more regional / national growth and the awards), Burning Bright won the Diamond Quill award. That is the highest honor of the Quill / LUW awards, awarded to the best book in all categories. There are some seriously talented, award-winning authors who compete for these awards, so this is quite an honor.

Anyway, I wanted to publicly offer a big congratulations to Melissa on the well-deserved award, and remind people that if you find yourself in the mood for some alternate-history Regency era action and adventure with superpowers and a touch of romance… well, Melissa is owning that category. Check these books out!

Filed Under: Books - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

Quick Take: VR Dungeon Knight

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 11, 2017

I saw a game pop up on my list called “VR Dungeon Knight.” I was tempted to ignore it, because it was still early access. But the more I read, the more I realized that it could have been subtitled, “A Game Made for Jay Barnson.” A VR dungeon crawl with procedurally-generated levels? With cooperative multiplayer? Oh, my…

My first impressions in the tutorial weren’t all that exciting. It was kind of silly, actually. I accidentally dropped my weapon on the ground. I didn’t know what purpose climbing vines would be (still don’t, actually).

My first impressions once I passed the tutorial were MUCH better. I mean, it’s VR. You are frickin’ *IN* a dungeon, exploring and fighting monsters!!! And you could do it with friends in cooperative multiplayer! Wow! This is the game I’ve waited for since my very first D&D game on my 12th birthday.  The dungeon was a little cartoony, but creepy. The darkness down the hall was… very dark. Then I saw the two little dots appear in the darkness, and realized they were the eyes of the creature reflecting the light near where I stood. It charged. I fired at it with my flintlock pistol, then swung at it with my sword, killing it. Another orc charged forward, and I desperately shot and stabbed. It, too, fell to my weapons. I explored a bit more, but then I had to call it a night.

My second impressions–actually being able to complete a dungeon–are a little more tempered. I discovered the hall where you could pay to become a class, which gives you bonuses of various kinds. That seems cool. I don’t have a very large play area in my office, so I generally do stand-in-place playing, but I was able to get around fine. I mostly used teleportation to get around (which works well). I still get a little sick using the locomotion system, but with only occasional use I was still able to play for full session.

The exploration covers the basics… wander around a dungeon, find the keys that let you progress, kill the monsters, occasionally find little treasures. The treasure system works a little differently. While you can find things to pick up and use during play, the main reward seems to be a bunch of random weapon upgrades that you unlock. I’m still not sure what leveling up actually MEANS when that happens in the dungeon, but it does happen.

The procedural level generation includes vertical elements (yay!), but it is somewhat limited in the use of room templates. That’s expanding regularly, at least. Hey, I put up with it back in the Daggerfall days just fine… 🙂  I would prefer more interactive elements inside the dungeons… while just moving around and killing monsters and picking up the (rare) key or grabbing treasure is cool, I would love to see more interactions. And, well… no load times between rooms.

But while my list of preferences could go on forever, I’m still having fun delving through dungeons and smacking orcs around in VR.

There is a ton of potential here, and the game is still in early access (yes, I know. I still have a bad taste in my mouth from some “early access” games, and these days that seems like the only kind of new indie games). So… YMMV, and I am looking forward to playing some more and seeing how it evolves. This is still largely a solo indie project here, so I don’t expect massive updates to happen quickly. But while it might be far from perfect, it’s still an example of what I wanted from VR in the first place.

Filed Under: Impressions, Virtual Reality - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

Here comes another new pulp-style magazine!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 10, 2017

What? Another pulp-style magazine is starting up? I’m giddy!

Tales from the Magician’s Skull (a magazine of all new swords & sorcery fiction in the classic pulp style)

The first issue already has content. I have zero involvement–I learned about this the first day of its campaign. It’s being produced by Goodman Games, a role-playing game company known for classic play style. Yeah, I know, a game company going into fiction… it’s unheard of… 🙂 They are even including sections at the end of each story translating elements into game terms.

The first few updates have illustrated their cred and their sources, and I have to say… I approve. They seem to be inspired by the same stories that inspire me, and more. I wasn’t familiar with Harold Lamb, a predecessor to Robert E. Howard, with a sample of his writing. I like it. Goodman Games has been at this for about 16 years, so I’m personally not too worried about their ability to deliver. It looks like the first issue is almost ready to go, and scheduled for the end of the near, and the next issue will be out in the summer. As always, with crowdfunding, your mileage and risk tolerance may vary. I’m just excited that the whole “pulp aesthetic” thing continues to gain traction.

This is the kind of fiction that excites me. Action, adventure, optimism, clarity, and an emphasis on entertainment. I’m excited to see their take on things.

Filed Under: Pulp - Comments: Comments are off for this article

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