Nowhere Island University’s Second Anniversary

So, it’s been two years. Two years since this became a thing. I’m not going to say that this is the serial that changed everything, or will change everything. Honestly, if you go solely by numbers, NIU should have changed nothing. However, numbers lie a hell of a lot.

For instance, my life has been changed. Whether for better or worse, its hard to to say. I mean, I’ve only been doing this for two years. I can say that thanks in part to the internet, and thanks in part to whoever is reading my little ramblings, I am living my dream of being a world famous author. (Ok, definitely not famous, but people all over the world are reading this, and thinking about it gives me this wonderful mix of sheer panic and joy.)

Seriously, though, I would like to take this time to thank some people. I should probably start off with the people who I see every day: my family. Mom, Dad, you could have kicked me out of the house when I dropped out of college. Instead, you gave me free room and board while I job-searched (way too little,) wrote, and played way too many computer games. Without you, none of this would have been possible. Also, to my sister. You did not even have to dignify my scribblings with a response, as is your ancient sisterly right/duty. Instead, you would look them over and do minor editing and critiquing. I, and the readers, owe you a big thanks.

To the guys at Spacebattles, you are the first. You read this story there despite the fact I have no idea how to organize it properly there. I’m sorry I’m not as quick at responding to comments now. Most of that has to do with changing email accounts and work.

To the people who read this on Royal Road, you guys actually gave me one of my biggest readership boosts. On March 31st last year, I was having a birthday party. Me, my dad, and my friend, were sitting around playing games or something, and I just kept occasionally watching the numbers on my WordPress site go up and up. You are seriously all amazing. Special mention to J0nno who found my story first, and Blaise Corvin who talks to me on Twitter.

Also, I’d like to give a shout out to the people who gave me encouragement on the Web Fiction Guide forums. You guys rock. Especially Chris, who keeps things running. Having “learned” some programming (and even with the finger quotes, I use that term very loosely,) I can guess what a massive effort it takes to keep a review aggregator, a forum, and a serial ranking system running. You da man. Also, to anyone from there who linked to my story, you guys are also pretty cool yourselves. Again, special mention to the guys who keep me company on Twitter every once in a while, PsychoGecko and Matthans.

Finally, to everyone who has donated to my Patreon and allowed me to make a profit. To everyone who has clicked on that link that should be on the bottom of every one of the WordPress site’s pages to vote for me on Top Web Fiction but for some reason isn’t because I’m an idiot. To the people who have shared me with friends, both prompted by me and of your own volition. To those of you who have left something positive for me in the comments. You have done something beautiful and good. You’ve found a lesser-known artist you enjoy and instead of keeping him to yourself and enjoyed his work for free, you’ve supported him. Thank you.

In closing, I’m sure I’ve forgotten some people. Sorry. If you politely remind me, I’m sure I can squeeze you in. In the meantime, thank you.

Post Mortem: NIU Book 4, Edit 1

So, this arc wasn’t as exciting as the last one, was it? Not much really happened for the vast majority of it, apart from a few weapons being designed. In fact, things were going so Goddamned slowly I decided to change the serial’s entire structure to avoid what I perceived brings this and Book 2 down into a giant mass of boring.

Goals

One of the points of this whole post-mortem thing is to learn from my mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes in Book 4. This mostly had to do with pacing. In fact, it was so bad I had to change the point of this arc halfway through.

Another thing, the reason this arc seemed so directionless was that, well, I did not really have very many goals.

Set Up Nathan the Weapons Designer

Well, I did this. I did this, and I’m not sure people found the obviously rushed pace of  enjoyable. There’s a reason for it, but I’m not sure how many people cared. I do know that at least two people did, and they commented on it with various suggestions. I liked that part.

Make something happen, for the love of God!

So, I have been hearing some criticism of how nothing was happening. So, I accelerated the sequence of events. Originally, The Architect was supposed to reveal himself next arc. That wasn’t going to work in any way. Why? Because everything falls apart whenever I have to spend time on daily life at NIU. I won’t make that mistake a third time.

Community Response

Community response was mixed. This is the first section in which I’ve generated a bad review on any platform. While there has been an uptick in comments on all platforms, that still feels bad.

Metrics

The Good

I do think that I have some good comedy bits. For instance, Timothy finding out May was into hip-hop and how he tries to use that to win her over.

Nari and May have an interesting relationship, I think. I like how Nari is sort of id unleashed: as long as she’s making things, she can be happy. May is the Super Ego. She spends more time thinking about the potential ways the creations of Olympus Inc. can be used inappropriately than anyone else.

The Bad

In case you didn’t realize it, I try to have a set amount of words as a minimum. That, and the fact that I didn’t have a clear goal made this arc somewhat painful. Next time, I hope we get some more direction.

I hope I can do better next time.

The Future

Ok, I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m not sure if I can do side stories every month. I am falling behind on my backlog and only have four. It can’t go on, no matter how much I’d like to do them.

Articles and AMAs

Ok, so in this post, I’m going to mention two things, one past but indicative of the future, the other definitely in the future. All of these are good things for me, but might be distracting for NIU. Hopefully, I can manage all of these.

The first thing is I have written an article for someone else, and decided I liked it. On the one hand, it was somewhat time-consuming and wasn’t exactly my best work (my article on Greenlight was much better.) To top it off, there was no real traffic boost from that. On the other, it was fun. It also made me think about the way I write.

Therefore, I’ve already got plans to do this again. I’ve already got another idea for an article for Bitch Flicks, and maybe I can submit something to The Escapist as well. Hell, with the Escapist, I might actually get paid!

More importantly, if you’re on Reddit, I’m doing an AMA on r/Fantasy. It will be on June 6th. For those of you who don’t have Reddit, I’ll post a link on my next update and also mention it on my Twitter when it’s up.

UPDATE: The AMA is now up. I will answer questions until Reddit necros it.

Greenlight is broken

In case you missed it, this happened. You might be able to see my comment, if it hasn’t already been buried. Since it wasn’t under one of my usual usernames, I’ll post it here.

What. The. Fuck. Steam… you are a pile of trash. You botched Greenlight and now the actual developers putting FUCKING HONEST TO GOD EFFORT into their work now have to try and get through metric tons of bullshit like THIS. Well fucking done. And you know what really gets me? People actually thought Greenlight was too restrictive. Someone at the Penny Arcade Report (yeah, remember when that was a thing?) actually was called out when he said that $100 was a good idea. People thought that was too restrictive! It boggles my mind that no one, either on the internet in general or at Valve could realize how much of a cesspit setting the bar to entry so low could result in. But that’s nothing compared to how staggeringly stupid your refusal to fix this is. Valve, fix your fucking shit.

Valve used to have some quality control. When it was gatekeeping Steam, I’m betting that they, and the lucky few Indies on at the time, made a lot more money on the sales because if you were a smaller game and on Steam, everyone knew that someone at Valve had personally vouched for you.

But Valve realized they couldn’t get every exceptional game on Steam. So they made Greenlight. The first I can remember ever hearing about it was, as I mentioned before, on The Penny Arcade Report. (Seriously, remember that? I barely did.) It was an article, I believe by Ben Kuchera, about how he was apologizing for defending the $100-entrance fee for Greenlight. I don’t remember whether or not being glad he apologized or having concerns about it being so low, but I was intrigued. Around 2012, when Greenlight was announced, I was still mostly only playing Triple-A games. I was curious to see what these unknowns would bring me.

It turns out, for a not insignificant percentage of the time, utter shit. If you go into the Steam Greenlight page, you’ll see Gif titles, badly lit horror games, and the kind of art that makes you think your friend in middle school is so cool but would be laughed out of any professional setting. Oh, and this. At the time of writing, Gabe Clicker (ugh, typing that makes me want to vomit) is on the second page of Greenlight. This isn’t the first time that’s happened, by the way.

Pretty early on, only a fucking year later, we started to see some problems. TotalBiscuit had his his video first impressions of a game taken down. This game called Day One: Gary’s Incident. It went through Greenlight, and in a somewhat suspect manner.

This was not an isolated incident. If you check out Youtuber Jim Sterling’s channel, you will find that his Jimpressions and Early Access Jimpressions playlists are mostly full of the utter crap that comes into and out of Greenlight. Then, there’s his Best of Greenlight Trailers and the unaffiliated Twitter account, GreenLightZ: Gold.

Even more disturbing are how companies like Digital Homicide, digpex games, Killjoy Games, and many more manipulate steam.These developers use vote rigging to get their shitty products on Steam and the moronic idea that developers should monitor their own Steam Community Hubs to suppress criticism.

However, my biggest complaint is Paint Dry Simulator. Not because its a bad game, no. In fact, I actually have respect for how the developer’s true goal: to show how exploitable Steam is. Seriously, read that link. It’s an interesting story of how someone whom I suspect might be a teenager was able to literally get a game with trading cards onto Steam via exploiting a glitch in the system. These are tools that have been around before Greenlight, and I have to wonder if Ruby really was the first to discover this glitch. Still, good on him/her (I don’t know this person’s age or gender) for reporting the glitch to Valve.

Funnily enough, when doing some background reading, I noticed that according to the Wikipedia article, the last it mentioned was that in 2013, Valve wanted to expand on the number of approved games. Also, it had only greenlit a hundred games on their one-year anniversary. Thankfully, they’re slowing down. Yet in total, they’ve apparently approved over four thousand games in the past four years. Greenlight could be great, but its drowning in shit.

Post Mortem: NIU Book 3, Edit 1

So, wow, this is over. We may or may not be halfway done with this thing I’ve called Nowhere Island University. That’s kind of crazy, right?

Speaking of crazy, wasn’t this volume pretty crazy? The Dragon’s Teeth are, if you haven’t guessed, going to be very important. I’m not sure how much I should give away, but Nate’s right about the Dragon’s Teeth.

In other news, I also started posting on Royal Road. That boosted stats by a significant margin from last time. That is really cool.

Anyway, what matters is that The North Korean Affair is over. Like the last two times, we have killed it. Now let’s go poke around the corpse. For science.

Goals

The point of a post mortem is to make me think about my own work. I have a lot of respect for good reviewers, especially the Channel Awesome crowd and several former and current Escapist people. However, I know that no person who reads NIU on its own can fully know what I want.

Therefore, I talk about my goals so people are more likely to judge my work by my standards, as well their own.

Introduce The Dragon’s Teeth

Now, The Dragon’s Teeth are important to the story. They will leave North Korea, and it will be big. I can’t say exactly how big it will be yet, but it will be the second biggest event in the entire story. To give you an idea of how big they are, I’m not sure I’ve made them intimidating enough.

That being said, I’m not sure I want them to be too intimidating. After all, Nathan (and the audience) has to have a reason to believe that the Dragon’s Teeth can be defeated. Otherwise, Nathan’s insistence that they can be defeated looks unreasonable.

Finally, I needed to give them a bit of character. The Dragon’s Teeth can’t just be just some nameless, faceless, unknowable force. They need a personality and a goal. And so, since they have several different “services” (Ninjas, Picts, Legionaries and Berserkers… so far) I decided to give each branch a different personality. The only problem is that I hadn’t really been given a good opportunity to introduce them as I want them to have a sense of mystery.

Still, I’m very happy at the way the Dragon’s Teeth came out. They are a very threatening force and an intriguing mystery. At this point, that’s all they really need to be.

Explain NIU’s Politics

This is why I need to make my goals more defined. I give a bit of a hint at how things work, but not much. I do think that I’m showing that there are some tensions, but I didn’t really go in deep as I wanted.

Still, there’s time for me to get more in-depth. I guess that will come next volume.

No New Characters!

The goal was to only introduce characters that would be killed off in short order. Instead, I gained two more. More on them later.

Community Response

Between volume one and two, there doesn’t seem to be that much of an uptick in interest from WFG or Spacebattles. Still, I’ve been getting a massive increase in views. Why? Well, that’s because I’ve started posting on Royal Road.

So, that’s three places I’m posting. When I’m done with NIU, for the sake of my own sanity, I think I might cut down on the places I post. Having to only update one site will allow me to focus on only moderating one place, save time posting, and consolidate the fanbase. Until then, I plan on NIU being in all three places.

Back to Royal Road. In his very detailed review, j0nn0 mentioned that he felt the story felt too fast-paced (Note: he had gone from RRL to the WordPress site, so he had read from the beginning through most of Volume 3 for his review.) Weirdly enough, this is the exact opposite problem I had with Volume 2. In my opinion, reading through that was an interminable slog.

This is not to suggest j0nn0 is wrong. In fact, this is to say that his disagreement is actually very helpful (and you should totally check out Trending News (According to the Narrator).) In the next volume, there’s going to be a lot of time spent at NIU, just like in Volume 2. That was deliberately set up to give a break to the story, and let the readers rest. Yet people still think the entire story is too fast-paced? That is something I need to fix.

Metrics

Now, for those of you who don’t know, this section is something I usually keep for my fellow WFG writers. If you have no interest in this, feel free to skip.

The first thing I’d like to report, while Patreon funding has remained relatively the same, views and visitors have grown.If you’ll recall from last time, you’ll remember that there was not a single month over four thousand views and eight hundred visitors. That has changed.

 

Views and Visitors 2
Views/visitors per month as of 5/10/2016

I find it curious that the two big jumps have happened in the spring. I’d be curious to see if this happens again. I’d also be curious to see if, like last year, traffic peaks around July and goes into a slump that bottoms out in the winter.

As to referrers, I had a lot of luck with Royal Road. I believe my first post on that site went up in March. Most of the views from that month came when I set up the RRL page.

Plus, in April, I found out how useful r/noveltranslations can be. One post referred sixty-five visitors to me in a single night. The next day was my best ever, with 1,812 views and 205 visitors. Subsequent postings have had… less positive results. I’m going to have to play around with when I post there to get the optimal number of views.

The Good

There’s a lot to like here, at least from my point of view. Partly because this arc has been more focused. Every action is in pursuit of a goal: in this case, getting home. Yeah, in the last arc, that goes out the window, but at that point, it helps brings things to a close.

Also, I think I like how several of the characters are starting to completely lose it. Nate, just like planned, is starting to become a bit obsessed. Combined with his burgeoning alcoholism and a few incidents of near-homicidal rage, it should be interesting when he gets to a certain point of his development. Also not helping Nate is the fact that so far, his risks have paid off.

John and Kyle, meanwhile, are much more sensible. They want to get out. Both have their reasons (I’ll get to Kyle’s in a bit) and they are very good. Yet they still have things keeping them in the game.

There’s also some pretty nice fight scenes. With the cool opportunities that the Dragon’s Teeth and locations present and the squishiness of our heroes, it actually would be hard to make a boring fight scene. Ironically, though, the best comes at the very end against the South Korean police. I’ll have to make Nate confront that at some point.

All in all, I’m reasonably happy at how this volume has turned out. Are there problems? Well, yes. On that note, let’s take a journey over to…

The Bad

Now, before I begin, let me just say that a lot of these problems are more like time bombs. These are mostly characterizations that might draw criticisms later down the line. One in particular could be so bad I get hit from two very different groups of people.

Joseph’s characterization, however, is just bad. He is pretty much two different characters. This would be ok if he just underwent an arc like, y’know, an actual character. Instead, he randomly changes personalities at least once. Shame, he could have been interesting. At least I was planning on killing him anyway.

The next potentially bad character I have is Nari. Now, I like Nari. The problem is that she’s a nine-year-old girl hanging out with hardened commandos. My fear is she becomes what is commonly known as a scrappy. Maybe its an unreasonable fear, but I don’t want people to think she’s useless. On the contrary, I want them to think she’s useful… maybe a little too useful.

However, the most potentially headache-inducing character I have at the moment is Kyle. Kyle, in this arc, revealed himself to be trans. Now, transsexual people, as I’m sure a few of you are aware, are a touchy subject. That makes them a very interesting subject. It also means I have to get a trans character right if I want to avoid certain kinds of backlash. The thing is, I’ve already made Kyle say something that kind of demands clarification.

Still, I think I’ve done very well. Its just… I’ve given myself a bit of a challenge, that’s all.

The Future

Now, things are going to have to calm down for a bit. There’s a storm coming, and its going to be a big one. Most of you have a partial idea of what I mean. Some of the more perceptive of you might have caught a hint of what is coming after that. There is also a third big thing that I want to touch on soon.

Still, every storm has its calm. Most of the next volume should be that: calm. Yes, outside NIU, things are going to be going pretty sour, but on the titular Pacific island, it will be pretty much business as normal for an arc or two. Then everything will go to hell.

Some people, needless to say, will realize that bad things are going to happen. Nathan, obviously, being one of them. They will be in a desperate race to get the world ready for what they think is coming.

Also, I’m thinking of potentially reworking my Patreon setup. Royal Road, from what I can see, doesn’t approve of donation bonuses. Also, donations have been pretty steady for several months. Maybe offering  more content to Patrons could boost subscribership, but I’m not sure.

I Find Your Lack of Vision Disturbing

NOTE: I am assuming you have watched every Star Wars movie ever. If you haven’t watched them, especially The Force Awakens, do so now. I’ll wait. Also, the reason I am slowly starting to hate The Force Awakens might very well be the reason you love it.

Today, January 24th, 2016, I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the second time. The first time I watched it, I was happy to see it. I believed, at the time, it was a good Star Wars movie… yet something was off. Now, I have a good idea.

Thanks to a certain group (it rhymes with “tamer plate,”) I can already hear everyone drawing battle lines, preparing arguments why Rey is or isn’t a Mary Sue. If it were just that, I could live with it. After all, Star Wars has never had the best character development. Yet what some people dislike about Rey is symptomatic of a bigger problem.

Now, let us do the unthinkable (even if you edge towards the Saint John’s Whippets side of the political spectrum like I do, trust me, it’ll be fun!) and put ourselves in the position of the Tater Laters. When they say “Rey is a Mary Sue,” there are as many definitions as there are people who use the term, rendering it almost meaningless. However, there are three common definitions. The first is a blatant self-insert character. Since JJ Abrams is not a girl from the UK, this definition seems doubtful. The second definition is a character that is unnaturally skilled and/or annoyingly perfect.

If we use this definition, Star Wars has a grand tradition of Mary Sues and their male equivalent, Gary Stus. They’re called the Skywalker family. In Episode One, Anakin had only flow pod-racers, but was somehow able to fly a Naboo figther well enough to destroy the droid control ship and in Episode Four, Luke was again able to fly a craft he was unfamiliar with and destroyed the Death Star. The explanation? Natural piloting skills, controls similar to craft they were familiar with, and that giant handwave known as The Force.

Rey has a similar issue. She’s supernaturally good not only at piloting, but also at repairing things. There are skills she has that we are supposed to infer how she picks up. There are also times when she is an unreasonably fast learner or more than a little lucky. And, honestly, I could forgive it… if she were the only one.

You see, not only are we expected to believe that Rey is instantly able to instantly learn how to pilot any craft and fix any machine, but that Finn can also learn how to shoot two different types of turrets under intense pressure and is able to hold his own with an unfamiliar weapon (Luke and Anakin’s lightsaber) against two experienced opponents (a dark Jedi who has mastered The Force and a weirdly competent storm trooper.) We are also expected that Poe could survive a TIE Fighter crash, trek through Jaaku’s desert surface, obtain a ship, and somehow make it to the Rebel, sorry, Resistance base and delivers his report. Not only that, but he’s able to beat a Jedi with more raw power than Anakin, a highly trained storm trooper and the two best smugglers in the galaxy… all without a scratch.

Again, I could even forgive all of that… if entire factions didn’t do this. Seriously, The Empire, I mean, The First Order have a giant laser beam that can shoot from sectors away and destroy multiple planets at once. It is powered by sucking all the energy from a nearby star and storing it inside a planet. The Resistance is somehow able to tell how it works and guess what its weakness is just by looking at a scan from a single recon mission. Finn is able to tell them where that weakness was located because he happened to have been assigned there. Still, speaking as someone who will defend the prequel trilogy, I could forgive this except for one thing.

Before I tell you that final thing, I want to share with you the third common definition of a Mary Sue: a character that is a black hole. The laws of the movie/book/comic/whatever will bend around this character. This is why people see a Mary Sue as the ultimate of bad writing.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is unique in that the plot bends, tears, and distorts around the desire to re-create the previous films. Every plot beat mimics part of the original movies. First, we have a tall, ominous bad guy with a distorted voice and a creepy mask try and intercept information vital to a group of plucky freedom fighters (A New Hope.) That information gets put in a droid who travels across a desert and runs into our hero (A New Hope.) Our hero meets a dashing, yet cowardly and self-interested stranger who helps her take the droid offworld to the secret freedom fighter base (A New Hope.) Along the way, our hero gets captured by creepy mask dude (think either like Princess Leia in A New Hope or like Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back.) Place we’ve never seen before gets wiped out (A New Hope.) Lovable coward decides to save the day, which involves destroying superweapon (A New Hope.) Superweapon is protected by shield which needs to be destroyed. Destruction of shield comes down to the wire. (Return of the Jedi.) Creepy mask dude tries to turn hero and fails (Empire Strikes Back.) Bad guy turns out to be whiny emo douche with daddy issues (literally every scene with Anakin in the Prequels.) He also kills elderly mentor figure (A New Hope.) Film ends on a cliffhanger and a main character heavily injured (Empire Strikes Back.)

Even more damning, for all intents and purposes, it still is the Rebelion versus the Empire. Starkiller Base’s purpose isn’t just to create drama, no. Its entire purpose is to reset the balance of power to how it was in A New Hope. Yet, for some reason, the plot tried to disguise it by changing the name of The Rebel Alliance to The Resistance and the Galactic Empire to The First Order. As a result, the destruction of multiple planets feels hollow and empty.

(By the way, asides from JJ Abrams wanting to make A New Hope again, was there any reason to just have The New Republic simply fight the First Order? Couldn’t we at least pretend things had progressed? Right now, it looks like everything that happened in the Original Trilogy was completely pointless.)

In other words, someone could marathon the original trilogy and get the exact same plot points. Say what you will about the Prequels, at least they were different. They showed you things you had never seen. They made the galaxy feel bigger. More importantly, they didn’t lift character arcs and plot points to create a Frankenstein’s monster of meh.

You see, I’m not a fan of Star Wars because I want to see the same thing over and over. I’m a fan of Star Wars because up until this point its kept showing me new stuff. New vehicles, new technology, new ideas. In fact, I would have to say that the movies pale in comparison to the Expanded Universe. That makes this even harder to swallow because the Expanded Universe (X-Wing Rogue Squadron, Tales of the Jedi, Republic Commando, Dark Empire, Galaxy of Fear, and so much more) was what I grew up on, and even the worst of these usually had something new to offer. This movie, on the other hand, is cannibalizing the past for spare parts.

Of course, that’s just me. If you love The Force Awakens, more power to you. Its got the cool effects and imitates the style of the originals, but with better acting. However, do you really want to spend ten bucks or your regional equivalent for something that’s dedicated to showing you something you’ve already seen?

Reddit Report #2: #RobotLivesMatter

Welcome to the second edition of Reddit Roundup! More stuff from Reddit that you might want to check out.

 

  • [UNTITLED]. APotter12. r/WritingPrompts post. As someone who is writing something that’s going to run for quite a while, I like how APotter12 is able to weave together so many  Star Wars expanded universe references in one post. Oh, and before I forget FUCK YOU DISNEY, YOU RUINED THE STAR WARS EU! THIS NEW MOVIE BETTER BE GOOD!
  • Robert. Jumbotronshrimp. r/DestructiveReaders post. An example of potential brought down by shortness and technical errors. Only 2 and 1/4 pages long, but the ideas brought up by it are entrancing to say the least. Why did Robert choose to work in an office? Who made him? How would he have dealt with what he had just done? Sadly, these questions never get explored.

The Reddit Report #1: Monocled Lemurs

So, in an effort to force myself to read more, I have decided to make a by-weekly effort to find good, promising, or educationally bad stories submitted on various subreddits.

This will (hopefully) be a bi-weekly feature. Why bi-weekly? Because that’s how often r/Writing has its weekly self-promotion thread. The submissions this week might be a little light, as I just got the idea to do it today. The basic format is going to be a list, with the title of the story submitted first, the link to where it was submitted, then the author’s username. Anyway, hope you like my first picks!

  • Able Archer. bigjo66. r/Writing Critique post. Quite good, just needs a bit of work. The introductory chapter is somewhat text-scrolly and the important bits could have easily been worked into the first chapter, but that is balanced out by the real chapter one. This looks to be a competent detective story in a post-apocalyptic UK. I can’t wait for the next installment.
  • Sequential Chaos. Nick_Eleniak. r/Writing Critique post. I’m conflicted about this one. There’s a lot of stuff wrong with it. Gramatical errors, spelling mistakes, several bizzare shifts without warning… But then there’s a lemur with a monocle, which is amazing. Anyway, the moral of the story is always give your work a once-over before posting.
  • How to Cause Your Very Own Apocalypse, Chapter 1. NimbusArchon. r/Writing Critique post. The one actual web serial.  If you like 80’s camp and names like Radiation Hawk, this is the story for you. However, if that vintage of cheese is not for you, or if you’re looking for something more serious, give it a pass.

Anyway, those are my picks for the week so far. Hope you guys enjoy.

Post Mortem: NIU Book 2 Edit 1

And now, here it is. The end of Book 2. It doesn’t seem as big a deal as the ending of Book 1. Mostly because I learned quite a bit more from Book 1 than I ever did from Book 2. If you remember from last time, this is where I reflect back on what went right, what went wrong, and how to make sure I do more of the former and less of the later.

One thing is that I have noticed about the period I have spent writing Book 2 is that while I’ve gotten a bit better and I’ve gotten significantly more viewers, not much has changed. I haven’t increased Patreon funding, the TV Tropes page hasn’t gotten any bigger, and the plot hasn’t really gone that much farther. Of these three concerns, the one that I’m going to be talking about the most is the awful pacing in this book.

Also, I think I need to write down the goals for a book in order to do some preplanning and refer to them constantly. I haven’t got a lot done in relation to my goals. I need to do more preplanning. I need to focus on my goals more.

So, now that I have killed this beast, let us poke around the corpse to see what we can learn… Hopefully we get some very nice answers.

Goals

As I said before, I need to focus more on goals. First step is to write them down before I start the book, instead of guessing them after I finished the book. Then, while writing, I can go back and check to see what I need to work on. That might help.

Further the Meta Plot

The problem with this book is that it does little to further the main story and it only has its own story at the very end. The problem with building up to the end of the entire series in this book is how early on it is and the fact that very little in this book has anything to do with what comes next.

This makes placing any clues to the end awkward. In fact, if you were wondering what the hell Track 17 is about, then here’s your answer. Honestly, that might be one of the clunkiest things I’ve ever written. Yes, it’s atmospheric, but everything suddenly gets hijacked by two characters that seem like obscure extras to talk about things we won’t see for at least another book. As any freshman media studies student will tell you, that isn’t good pacing.

On the other hand, we do meet three of the four people who are going to be far more important to the plot than Killer as well as get some hints as to what’s going to be in the next book. The only one of these three people who I think you can figure out on your own is NIU’s president and founder, Anthony Newton-Howell. Honestly, I think his introduction rivals even Ulfric’s.

Talk About Life at NIU Post-Hell Semester

Originally, these would be two different goals. Talking about the effects of Hell Semester and get a look at what the characters do in their free time. However, as I was writing this, I realized that these were the same thing. The kind of wounds that Nate and his friends gained from Hell Semester are the kind that stay with you every second, and May can’t really heal them, no matter how much she wants to.

There actually is some nice hints that some of the main characters are fraying at the seems. Nate’s having trouble sleeping and reacts poorly even to fake gunfire. Eliza has a complete meltdown in Track 18, and back in Track 1 she suggests that she’s been having guilt issues since long before Hell Semester. However, I’m not sure how much I’ve talked about what John’s doing. That’s something I really should get on.

It isn’t all depression, PTSD and guilt, though. There are some bits of fun, like going to a party and the fact that two characters are already having a romance! Characters are even interacting without Nate being a driving force, though that is kind of the theme. I hope to get some more of this done soon.

Make Certain Characters Less One-Dimensional

If you go all the way back to the first WFG review I ever recieved, you’ll find that one of the author’s few complaints was how one of the characters (Richard Forrest Taylor) was exceedingly one-dimensional.

Now, when an author notices a complaint about their work that really sticks with them, they must first ask themself “Is this critic right about it being there? Are they right about it being something that’s bad enough to fix?” Now, one-dimensional characters are not a terrible thing, but I honestly decided I wanted Richard to be more.

That led to the twist of him and Kyle, someone I had very few plans for initially, to become double-agents for NIU. However, with Richard, I’m not sure I gave him much of an excuse. I mean, yeah, his parents ordered a hit on his sister in the side story he shares with Jen, but that feels kind of thin to me, especially as he’s still a racist.

Kyle, on the other hand… Kyle’s fun to write. First off, he’s an excellent double-agent, but he really cares about the people he works with. He also can’t seem to get a break. Unlike Nathan, he knew people coming in. Those people ended up dying horrible deaths in Hell Semester and the few who did survive would end up dying fighting Nazis. I actually really want to do a side story from his perspective.

Community Response

Like the previous book, I’ve experienced a mostly positive reaction from the few people who have come across NIU. I’ve also got better at analyzing comments for what I’ve done right and for what I’ve done wrong (for instance, I should describe characters more often.)

Firstly, I’ve learned quite a bit about what characters people like and dislike. I’m glad to see that I’ve got everyone significantly turned against NIU now. That’s quite fun. Also, people are starting to chose favorite characters which is pretty cool.

Some have requested information on other characters such as Valkyrie. Rest assured, Valkyrie will be mentioned again, and new types of Parahumans will be introduced. I’ve also been told that there aren’t that many Hispanic characters in English-language sci-fi. As penance for killing one of my Hispanic characters off, I plan to give the other one more screen time and maybe introduce another.

All this points to a strong sign that I’ve developed an actual audience, instead of just somehow attracting a swarm of bots. Now, the next step is to get a community where readers actually talk to each other. So far, strangely enough, that has been more effective on Spacebattles.

I say it’s strange because, much as I like it, Spacebattles is only friendly if you’ve been reading since the beginning. If a reader starts right now, they’d have to read around a hundred and forty thousand words in order to comment, and that number is only increasing, with the goal being by at least two thousand words per week. This isn’t even counting side stories which increases the total word count by another sixty thousand.

On the WordPress sites (both the NIU site and my author blog,) the comments are pretty much dead. It might be easier for people to comment without having to read literally every single word, but not many have taken advantage of this.

Metrics

Nowhere Island University and my blog have both grown a huge amount. In its first month of existence, the NIU WordPress got fifty-five views and twenty-two visitors. Nowadays, I consider myself unlucky if I get that in a single day. This section will be mostly for my fellow serial writers, so if metrics and stats bore you, you can just skip ahead.

Views

 

 

First off, we have views. For those of you who don’t know, views are how many times various things on the site have been looked at. As you can see, there’s been a little bit of a dip recently.  Most of that is because this is a snapshot taken three quarters of the way through November. It still isn’t looking that good, but I think I heard someone say November isn’t that good for views. There is also the chance that it will turn around.

Visitors 1

Then there are visitors (how many different individuals actually came to the site.) If you didn’t know any better, or didn’t notice the different numbers on the right side, you might think that it was the same graph. Oddly enough, the month I had the most views was not the month I actually spent money ($20 dollars, to be precise) to buy some advertisments on r/Fantasy.

Now, my numbers aren’t really anything spectacular. However, I am a new writer with no credibility whatsoever, so it is to be expected. But what I need to know is can I expect improvement? The answer is maybe.

Link data 1

This is a pie chart showing the statistically significant referers to Nowhere Island University as of 11/18/2015. For our purposes, that means ten or more people referred.

By far the biggest referrer is Web Fiction Guide. I decided to lump in Top Web Fiction and the WFG Forums as well, because they are pretty much the same entity. This tells me that most of the people who come to read Nowhere Island University are already familiar with web serials, which means my audience is mostly drawn from a tiny pool. Another web serial called Rumorblock, while helpful, also draws from this same pool.

WordPress tools are what I decided to call things like the WordPress dashboard. This means that a few of my readers are also WordPress users. Big shock. Twitter and Facebook probably just mean that some people follow my Twitter account or the NIU Facebook page. The problem is there is really no way to tell if that is the case.

Then there’s Reddit and TV Tropes. Almost everything on those, I know for a fact that I posted myself. The Reddit hits are almost entirely from making use of the r/Fantasy and r/Writing self-promotion posts. The TV Tropes page was created by me. But they are working. My take? When people other than me start updating the TV Tropes page and posting links to Nowhere Island University on Reddit, that will be a sign that I’ve succeeded and can stop having to post something every other week on self-promotion threads.

The Good

When I went over Book 1, I discovered a huge amount of flubs. Understandable, as I wasn’t that diligent at proofreading. Now, though, I have a beta reader! A beta reader who is getting tired of my shit, but a beta reader nonetheless. (Seriously, thanks sis! School is tough enough.)

I also think I am developing my characterization skills. There are subtle touches to a bunch of characters. I’m actually happy at some small moments, and a few big ones like Eliza’s whiskey-induced meltdown a few chapters before the end.

The Bad

Oh God… the pacing! The pace is sooo sloooowwww. Maybe it needed it, though. Let me explain.

If you remember last time, I mentioned something about wanting to be Wildbow. What I didn’t say is that one of the few things I don’t like about his work is that he doesn’t ever slow down. While this accounts for the addicting nature of his work, I feel that slowing down at some points allows people to get to know the characters better.

However, I think I may have overdone it this book. I focused on nothing, and then The Grenzefrontier just pop up out of nowhere eighteen or nineteen chapters in and (spoilers) are going to fuck off out of the plot except for a few cameos to make way for a bigger threat that will curb-stomp pretty much everyone else.

Then there’s Richard’s motivation. If you don’t read his side story, his allegiances come kind of out of left field. If you do read it, a good chunk of his motivation is because I fridged his sister. The goal of his turn was to make him into a complex (but not exactly likable) character, not just add another cliche to the pile. Hopefully it balances out, but I kind of want to do something to fix this.

Anyway, that was the bad. You may think I forgot something or am being overly harsh on myself. That’s fine if you think that. These two sections are more for my own benefit than anyone else.

Now, here’s to a larger Good section and a smaller Bad section next time. For now, let us move on to The Future.

The Future

Now, there is good news and bad news. Since the bad news ties in directly to what I was talking about earlier, I’m going to go with that first.

People in this story are going to die. There is a war coming and in war it is inevitable that people will die. There are several problems. First off, we all like characters. Hell, I really like a few of them. That makes it hard to choose which ones to kill off.

Then there’s the fact that I’ve deliberately made my cast of characters diverse. Despite the fact that I’m a white, cis-gender male, there aren’t that many characters that meet that requirement. That means I really need to be careful with how my characters end.

The good news is that Book Three is going to be much faster-paced. If you’ll remember in Tracks 21 and 22, people mention a clone army called The Dragon’s Teeth. I don’t want to give too much away, but they’re going to be a huge threat.

Also, I have some ideas for side stories. I’ve noticed that a lot of side stories so far have are about how characters have come to join NIU. I have a few ideas for some side-stories. For instance, how did Kyle get involved in a sting operation overseen by The President himself? Can the captured Nazis who cooperate really join the school? And what is Ulfric’s deal?

Of course, there are a few ideas I have for side stories that don’t fall into that category. For instance, I wan to make a story about how superhero agencies operate in this world. Plus, I have several ideas for Halloween side stories (such as how Eric found out that magic exists and Psychics that can talk to the dead.)

And… honestly, I think that’s it for today. As always, you can vote for Nowhere Island University on Top Web Fiction and give me money on Patreon if you so desire. Also, thank you for your support. This has been quite an experience for me so far and would have probably quit if not for the support I’ve gotten. Book Two will complete on Wednesday, the 25th. See you then!