Recently, I stumbled across the Mastodon hashtag #WritingWonders, a series of short questions by Alina Leonova, Branwen OShea, and Amelia Kayne. It’s an excuse for writers to share fun facts about your story, and see how other writers tackled the same topics.
On a whim, I decided to join in for the month of May, answering questions about the story and backstory of Run 3. Here are all 31 of my answers in one place.
Note: the questions often refer to a main character (“MC”), side character, and antagonist. Run 3 doesn’t have clearly-defined roles like that, but for this month I decided to treat the Runner as the main character, the Skater as the side character, and the Angel as the antagonist.
May 1: Intro Day. Share 3 fun facts about your favorite side character.
Fact about the present: of the main cast, the Skater is the one who most enjoys the game-like nature of the Tunnels. The moment-to-moment experience of timing his jumps, sticking the perfect landing, and replaying the same level over and over to find ever more optimal routes. In other words, he’s the one most invested in the core game loop. For comparison, the Runner is more into the meta loop of exploring and completing her map, and the Angel only cares about the meta meta loop: getting out of this place.
Fact about the past: the Skater will tell you that he’s awful at STEM, though in reality, his grades were just mediocre. He just has bad memories of the class laughing when he got an answer wrong, overriding the facts of the matter.
Fact about the future: the Tunnels are merely the start. The Skater intends to become a Planet-famous gymnast, capable of turning any obstacle course into a spectacle of color and motion.
May 2: What is your favorite side character’s relationship to the MC? Do they get along?
(Clarification: I don’t actually have favorite characters, the Skater is just one who’s had a side role so far.)
The Skater and Runner get along just fine, thanks for asking. I guess they got off to a bit of a rocky start when the Skater bowled the Runner over and made her drop her map and stayed only long enough to help retrieve it before skating off. He was just very excited about this new environment. And he did stay to help!
Later on (not shown yet), they start a friendly game where each tries to “prove” the superiority of their means of locomotion, by finding a level they can cross that the other can’t. Basically it’s an excuse to hang out and practice obstacles.
From the Runner’s perspective, the Skater is one of the least stressful characters to be around. Everyone else asks tough questions, or is abrasive, or otherwise requires mental effort. The Skater only requires physical effort (usually).
May 3: What is the criminal justice system like in your world?
If you’re accused of a crime, the outcome depends largely on where (and whether) it goes to court. Some courts have a reputation for favoring businesses, others are said to be harsh to everyone, etc.
Punishments vary wildly depending on the whim of the judge. You might pay a fine, lose your job, lose your name, get banned from a city, or get something akin to an RFID implant warning people about what you did. Imprisonment is only considered for repeat offenders.
Appeals go straight to the High Court, which almost always rejects them. For those lucky(?) accepted appeals, the Lawyer makes a point to air both sides’ dirty laundry for the world to see.
If you don’t trust the courts, you can hire a mercenary (often a ninja) instead. Careful: most ninjas do their own investigation before enacting their subtle and barely-legal vigilante justice. If they decide you’re wrong, good luck tracking them down for a refund!
The character limit kept me from going into detail on some things, like what I meant by “dirty laundry.” @Ninpan commented that “The lawyer sounds like a bit of a twat,” so I figured I’d give the Lawyer a chance to explain himself.
As a representative of the High Court, I have sworn to uphold not merely the letter of the law, but the concept of justice itself. This requires the utmost transparency.
I ask you, could a jury deliver justice with only some of the facts? Could you negotiate a fair settlement if either side kept secrets?
No, you most certainly could not. Thus, all facts relevant to the case must be brought to light, including details about the character of those involved.
And yes, concluded cases must be disclosed to the public, to help them fully understand the jury’s decision. Justice requires vindication; if the public were allowed to believe the High Court had made a mistake, the case’s winner would be denied vindication.
May 4: MC POV: What is your occupation? Do you like your job? Why/why not?
I liked my job.
Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy cartography, but I can’t enjoy doing it as a job. Not since everyone decided to put me on a pedestal.
At last count, four people hurt themselves by trusting my maps too much. Including my own brother! I’ve added five errors to school curricula that I know of. And I upset the Pastafarian Church that one time, but we worked that out.
I love the process of map-making. The challenge of exploring and documenting things. Distilling places and concepts down into the simplest useful representation. Figuring out which details I can omit, and which ones people need to recognize the shape of the map.
I love using my own maps. The pure satisfaction of seeing how simple tasks become once I have maps for them.
I do like making other people’s lives easier. If only that didn’t come with so much risk…
(The Runner abdicated her job years ago.)
May 5: What scents and sounds can be found in your MC’s workplace?
In her very first workplace, as few sounds as possible.
Not that you can ever truly achieve silence. You can pad the walls and turn off the music, but there’s still the ticking of a clock, the hum of a ventilation fan, the scratching of a stylus, the shrrpt of a paper cutter, and so on.
There are also smells of paints and dyes, new and old books, the faintest waft of fresh air from the ventilation, and if you’re lucky, the aroma of fresh baked goods.
Near one door, you might make out the hum of a heating element or the bubbling of a chemical solution. From the crack in the door might waft the scent of acids and bases, experimental polymers, rusted metal, and more.
Sometimes, there would be the squeak of that door opening, followed by a quiet conversation lasting minutes or hours. Or rarely, a not-so-quiet argument, about topics such as if it’s appropriate to disassemble your father’s clock to make the ticking stop.
Following one such argument, the building was very nearly silent for a time. No notes being written on paper, no chemical solutions boiling, no ticking, no fan. Just one set of footfalls on soft carpet.
This silence was broken briefly, first by a girl’s voice, then by a boy’s.
“Well maybe I’ll just find somewhere else to live.”
“Could you, please? That’d benefit us both.”
This may have been followed by a grunt of frustration from the girl (having failed to get the response she wanted), but no one can prove such a thing happened.
After another, shorter, period of silence, sounds of packing began. Shifting boxes, zippers opening and closing, stacks of items falling over, and the occasional exclamation of delight at the discovery of a lost possession. Several hours later, a faint buzz and the smell of ozone trailed a vehicle leaving the premises, and silence reigned once more.
The Cartographer’s second workplace featured instrumental music and the smell of the sea.
Credit where credit is due: some of my descriptions were heavily inspired by Betsy Lee’s Calamity Observes: The Silence.
May 5 fan art
Original post by imanoutlawontherun includes the full-size image
Disclaimer: fan art always involves the artist’s personal interpretations. I featured it here (with permission) because I like it, not to confirm or deny that these interpretations are canon.
May 6: If your opening scene had a theme song, what would it be?
Since my story is a video game, it already has a soundtrack! Here’s what plays in the first level of each game.
May 7: What does your MC look like? Share art, pics (face claims), and/or mood boards.
May 8: Describe your MC’s laugh.
The Runner is pretty restrained, so it’s rare to hear more than a sensible chuckle from her.
There are a small number of things that can make her totally break down laughing, and it’s never the sort of thing that you (or she) would expect. When it happens, it comes out as a kind of wheezing guffaw, generally accompanied by a few gasped-out words, an attempt to get herself under control, and then at least one relapse.
She finds this totally embarrassing, and tries not to let it happen.
May 9: MC POV: When was the last time you laughed? Why?
The other day the Student and I spent a while hanging out, and she asked if I thought humans could really exist.
If you haven’t heard of humans, they come from these old pop sci-fi stories, which describe them as tall, hairy, reddish-brown aliens. Usually with a bunch more strange traits and abilities.
So I said yeah, almost anything could exist, as long as you leave out the blatantly supernatural stuff. Super strength and speed could come from advanced biology. Future vision and water breathing, probably not.
When I mentioned these examples, the Student immediately pulled up a story on her e-reader. Apparently, not only does the protagonist use some kind of precognition for danger, not only do they dive into a lake for protection, they claim their body contains over 50% water. So the two of us shared a laugh at the absurdity of the writing.
…Hey, if you specifically wanted a joke, you should have said so.
May 10: How much humor is there in your story? Share a funny snippet if you want!
I never focus on writing jokes. Sometimes I have a silly idea and decide to write it in, but rarely as just a joke. There always has to be some character development or plot progression or something, so that if other people don’t find it as amusing as I do, they can still enjoy the story.
Beyond that, I think this ties back to the lack of confidence I mentioned in my earlier writing.
For instance, early in the story, the Duplicator accuses the Runner of stealing a planet. I think this is a funny concept, but instead of exploring it, I had the Runner shut the idea down.
Maybe it’s still a funny scene, but less so than I think it could be. Also a bit out of character for the Runner. Nowadays she never passes up a teaching opportunity.
As an experiment, I want to try rewriting the scene.
Bad news: our planet is missing! It’s gone, like *poof*!
Oh, uh, yeah.
Just “yeah”? [narrows eye] Did you already know about this?
It left us behind the moment we landed. You didn’t watch it go?
I watched- uh, never mind that.
What do you mean it left us behind? Planets don’t just leave!
Hear me out. [pulls out map]
The Planet orbits quite a bit faster than these tunnels, putting it somewhere ahead of us, in this range. [drags the image of the Planet back and forth]
Hmm, I see. Wait, how are you moving the Planet?
[gasps dramatically] It was you! You stole our planet using that map!
How could you, you fiend! My wife lives there!
Hah, I wish maps could do that.
…No I don’t.
Is it funny now? I don’t know, but I do prefer it to the old version:
Duplicator: The Planet is gone!
So? It’ll come back.
How do you know? *gasp* It was you! It was you! You stole the Planet! That’s how you know!
I think I’ll ignore that entirely. Now help me map out this next area.
So… Where’d you put the Planet? I promise not to tell.
You still think I “stole” it? Think. Why else might a planet move?
I’m going to find another tunnel to map out. Catch up once you realize the Planet orbits faster than us.
I know brevity is the soul of wit, but I think that version did a disservice to both characters by not giving either of them a chance to explain themselves.
May 11: Does your MC laugh or cry more in the story?
I’ve talked before about how I designed the game first and wrote the story around it. And the game is a straightforward (pun intended) platforming challenge. One of the most common questions before I started writing the story was “what are the character running from?” Since I was feeling contrary, I decided the answer was nothing: they were running to something, and weren’t in danger.
This led to a story that… well, it isn’t lighthearted exactly, but it certainly isn’t dark. It’s just a story about a group of aliens exploring a very strange location. No time to be sad*, there are mysteries to solve!
*Not true, there’s almost nothing but time. And while some of the others might be going through some stuff, the Runner is enjoying the break from the hustle and bustle.
May 12: Do you think your story will make your readers cry at some point?
There are sad scenes that I could write, yes. Some characters have sad/difficult backstories, for instance. The question is, will the story ever call for exploring those events? I intentionally haven’t decided yet.
I’ve found I enjoy writing most when I’m not 100% sure where it’ll end up. Which might be why it’s so hard for me to finish the plot: I already planned out events that will happen, so I find those scenes less fun to work on.
Besides that, I inadvertently ended up with a lot of children in my audience, and I have to keep them in mind. I’m still going to write what I want, but I also have to be careful how I present that writing.
As an example, if part of the story featured animal abuse, that might not make it into the main game. I might instead release it as a spinoff story with appropriate warnings.
May 13: Share a description of a secondary character.
Run 3 isn’t exactly a written work, but if it was, this would be the Skater’s first chronological appearance:
The inside of the square blue tunnel was silent by the time the Runner touched down. It appeared everyone had already left.
No, check that. An adolescent sat alone in the corner, his arms full of broken red and white items, and a look of intense concentration on his face. His athletic build and sun-bleached skin suggested a great deal of time spent outdoors.
The boy grumbled in frustration as he attempted to shove a dented wheel into what looked like the bottom of a boot.
“I can hold something for you,” the Runner offered.
“I saa, I gah hiss,” he retorted, trying not to drop the additional pieces held in his mouth. He tossed the wheel into the air, flipped the boot over for a better angle, then deftly re-caught it.
The Runner decided to leave him to it for the moment.
The Skater is next seen doing this:
May 14: MC POV: Have you ever broken anyone’s heart?
Oh absolutely. Celebrities get lots of attention, but we can’t possibly date everyone who asks, much less commit to long-term relationships. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve had to turn down.
You’d think by now I’d know a good strategy to turn someone down, but nope. Everyone takes it differently. If you give a reason, some people take it as a challenge: fix this thing and try again. If you give no reason, some people take that as an invitation to keep trying.
Stepping back from the public eye helped a lot, but it still happens. I mean, consider this. Of the eight people here, three either asked me out or mentioned having feelings for me.
Oh don’t worry, I got used to it long ago. Feelings happen.
The Runner is too polite to name names, so I guess I’ll just have to post this here instead.
Angel: / (asked out, mentioned feelings)
Gentleman: (asked out, likely for political reasons)
Student: (mentioned feelings)
May 15: Is your MC good at romantic relationships?
May 16: Is your MC good at relationships in general?
She spent a large portion of her life as a celebrity, and it takes time to relearn how to talk to people as equals. Fortunately, the Sailor has plenty of good advice on the topic. Unfortunately, theory is not practice.
I guess it could be telling that she’s in no rush to head back home. If she’d made close friends back home, wouldn’t her priority be to get back to them?
(The answer is no. Friends can wait; there’s advanced technology to discover and a galaxy to explore!)
But it’s also true that she’s made closer friendships out here than she had back home. This is partially a consequence of being stuck with only a few people to talk to, and partially thanks to having more practice.
May 17: Secondary character POV: do you trust the MC? Why / why not?
Why wouldn’t I trust the Runner? She’s cool.
Stole the- Are you kidding?! She didn’t steal the Planet! That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, and I say some pretty stupid things, let me tell you.
Nope, she never tried to take my stuff. Your son did, though. Yes, I can tell.
…Are we done here? Can I be excused?
What’s wrong with going where she says? She has the map, I like exploring.
Why would she set a trap? How would she set a trap?
Hah! I could get out of that easy. That’s barely even a trap.
Yeah well, I guess I’m just awesome then.
Enough, ok? She’s not like that, and I got stuff to do. Bye!
No I don’t know who she was talking to. Maybe she was thinking out loud. Who even cares?
Yeah no way, that’s not her style. I’m leaving now, ok? Ok.
…Do you mind?
…Oh. I guess?
Fine, jeez, I’ll ask her about the Government! Bye.
Astute readers will have noticed that the Skater didn’t exactly go into detail. Part of that was the fact that his unnamed conversation partner was being antagonistic, but there’s at least one reason that he’s just not going to admit out loud.
A big reason he trusts the Runner so much is he used to smuggle her maps into exams to cheat. They always provided good answers in an easy-to-understand format, so he came to rely on them. And, dare I say it, trust them. So by extension, he trusts the person behind the maps.
May 18: Do many people find your MC attractive?
Yep. Especially back in the day, when she was on top of her game as the Cartographer. She had poise, confidence, energy, and a rotation of fancy outfits. This all fueled the hype surrounding her, and the hype in turn drove her to refine her performances. (Like how some real-world video essayists turn each essay into a small theatrical performance, complete with costumes and sets.)
She had a lot of fans, and when you have a lot of fans, some of them are likely to be *~admirers~*.
In her mind, it was all meant to educate and inspire people. Showmanship helped emphasize important points. Printing maps/diagrams on her outfits could pique people’s curiosity in new subjects (at the expense of temporarily staining her skin underneath). Maintaining a large following meant there would be a whole community willing to put effort into learning from her.
May 19: If they knew who you were, would your MC save your life?
But she’d have some choice words for me afterwards, and she’d demand concessions in exchange. She even has a way to hold me to it: she’s keeping secrets that would mess up the plot if revealed.
Fortunately for the plot, this scenario seems unlikely to happen.
May 20: Do illicit substances play any role in your story?
Illicit substances? No. Characters eating substances not meant for consumption because the warning label was printed in an alien language? Yes.
But it’s fine, he received medical attention and made a full recovery. (Where “full recovery” means “no more deluded than he was before.”)
May 21: MC POV: If you had to give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Hmm. Only one piece of advice?
Well, I could say “find a better work-life balance.” That would’ve saved past me a fair bit of grief.
But you know, I pulled through, and even learned from it. If I only get to send one message, do I really want to spend it on undoing that?
Instead, what if I sent advance warning of a disaster? “On Calming 35, double-check the coupling between cars 26 and 27 of the City Circuit Train.” That single tip would have saved hundreds of person-hours of cleanup.
No, even better: “Tell the Factory workers to scan for ozone pockets before rerouting any rivers.” Or I could sound the alarm about the raid that destroyed the First City.
Sorry, I have a habit of turning personal questions into optimization problems. Given actual time travel, I’d try to save the First City, but if that doesn’t fit the spirit of the game, then I’ll go with avoiding burnout.
This was the longest I’ve spent on any #WritingWonders question, specifically because the Runner needed to mention a date, and I had never spent the time to nail down a calendar system.
Several hours later, I finally have one, complete with number of days/weeks/months in a year and day/month names. The first part was tricky because math, the second was tricky because names.
Based on my already-established naming conventions, each day/month name must be a descriptive noun. With that explained, here are the months:
(Fingers crossed that I did enough research, and I didn’t get Calming and Weathering backwards…)
May 22: Do you prefer writing the first or last chapters?
I was going to say “first,” but then I realized the answer is probably “neither.”
Most of my plots start in medias res, skipping the scene-setting and exposition. Also, zero out of three major plotlines have an ending written yet.
In other words: what happened before a scene is a secret, and what happens afterwards is also a secret. Or sometimes it’s a puzzle rather than a secret, something you can figure out if you pay attention to the right details. I enjoy writing bite-size mysteries; not much else to it.
May 23: If you switched places with the MC, would you survive the story?
Depends if I could get a farm going before running out of rations my body is capable of digesting. I’ve previously stated that such rations exist, but I don’t know how many there would realistically be.
Thing is, I barely know anything about farming, and I know even less about hydroponics. There might be a guide somewhere, if I could find it among all the odds and ends. Even then, I’d say my chances are slim.
This despite everyone else being (more or less) friendly towards me. Friendly and not in any danger themselves, but they’d have to watch the first alien they ever met slowly dehydrate and/or starve. (“Care and feeding of alien beings” was sadly not part of their school curriculum.)
Wait a minute, I know all the spoilers. There is a way I could cheat the system and almost assuredly survive, though it wouldn’t be particularly fun.
May 24: Secondary character POV: What was the best thing the MC has done for you?
She helped me realize it’s ok not to be good at school, you can still be good at other things.
Everything got so much better when I realized I didn’t have to spend the rest of my life sitting still and crunching numbers and writing essays.
May 25: Does your antagonist have a favorite food or drink?
Yes he does, but beyond that I think I have to pass on this one, sorry. I haven’t done enough research and I haven’t nailed down enough details about their metabolism.
Like, I could say he’s a fan of spicy foods, but I couldn’t tell you what chemicals or substances make food taste spicy to them. (Because it isn’t necessarily capsaicin.)
May 26: Does the media or public opinion play a role in your story?
Not at the moment. At least, not directly. The cast is on their own, far away from the media and the public.
That said, several of the characters are driven by hopes of becoming popular, changing public opinion, or righting wrongs. (Almost typed “writing wrongs.” No, that’s my job.) So though society is far away, it indirectly plays a role.
Here are the characters most concerned with the media and/or public opinion:
The Runner’s biggest question in this story is “what lies beyond the Wormhole?” Her second-biggest question is “should the public find out about it?” After all, someone went to some lengths to keep it secret.
The Skater wants to be a famous athlete. He sees this as a chance to catch up to the competition, by practicing on obstacle courses they don’t have access to yet.
The Duplicator wants to shine a light on the Government’s wrongdoings. He sees this as the biggest Government cover-up ever.
The Gentleman is almost completely driven by the idea that success is the best revenge. He sees this as a unique opportunity to accrue wealth, influence, and incredible technology.
May 27: What genre of music best fits your current WIP?
The game’s soundtrack, written about a decade ago, is full of high-intensity techno*. It fits the action gameplay quite nicely, but the story has started to go a different direction. Nowadays I write more about learning, searching, interpersonal conflicts, secret-keeping, self-doubt… All kinds of things besides action.
*Or something electronic, at least. I can’t always tell the difference between these genres.
If I were to expand the soundtrack, I’d still want electronic music for consistency, but I’d want a wider range of moods.
May 28: Secondary character POV: What was the worst thing the MC has done to you?
Trying to parent us. Like, what’s even the point of running away from home if all the adults are gonna keep telling us to eat healthy, go to sleep, and play nice?
What if I DO want to be like the kids in the stories? What then? Besides, fairy tales aren’t scientific. There’s no such thing as “turning into strong wild garbage” or “going to the Never Land where you can never grow up.” They made it all up to scare you, and I’m not fooled.
…So yeah, that’s about the worst thing I can think of to say about the Runner. That she and the other adults look out for me.
The Runner isn’t even the one who brings up the stories. She brings up actual scientific reasons to do things. Stuff like the Circadian Cycle. I just wish she wouldn’t try so hard to explain it to me. She should know I’m just going to zone out!
(I had to toss in a Clickhole reference, sorry.)
May 29: What type of government exists in your story?
The Government is an institution that records, interprets, and enforces the definitions of words. These codified definitions are known as “laws.” The Government’s various branches each have an official definition of what they are and what they do.
For instance, the Courts are defined as enacting justice, and since that’s in its definition, that’s its mandate. Additionally, the definition of “court” spells out how a court case is handled, mentioning the judge, jury, procedures, etc. And each of those things have their own definitions, and so on.
Similarly, the definition of each public office includes a mechanism for electing or appointing officials, and the definition of “law” includes mechanisms for creating and updating laws.
Since the Government is defined as enforcing definitions, it does so. The end result is something like a representative democracy, except with a bunch of extra steps.
Law enforcement is defined as keeping track of the official definitions of words and resolving definitional disputes. Law enforcement, naturally, tends to attract people passionate about language and linguistics. This passion gives them a reputation for being willing to fight you (and each other (especially each other)) over definitions. Academics, am I right?
Additionally, they issue regular reports on the changing use of language. The Government uses these reports to help determine if and when legal definitions are out of sync with common usage, and therefore ought to be updated.
Note that most crimes count as “definitional disputes.” For instance, if you own a piece of property, that item’s official name reflects the fact that it belongs to you. Thus, theft counts as disputing the item’s definition, so by default law enforcement will give it back to you, unless the thief can disprove the definition.
Oh, speaking of which, names are definitions too. That’s why the Government is so picky about names, and why you have to prove to them that your name accurately describes you. Your name is effectively a small law unto itself, and they take that seriously.
Fortunately, it (supposedly) isn’t that hard to change names. Just complete the name change form and the subsequent verification/renaming process. Unfortunately for anyone in a hurry, it isn’t just a name change form. A better term might be identity change form, since it’s full of questions about gender, profession, identifying item(s), and more. All of this data then becomes the Government’s official definition of you, and people you meet will be able to intuit that it’s accurate.
(For those keeping count, stealing someone’s identifying item is two crimes. One for violating the definition of the item as belonging to the person, and another for violating the definition of the person as possessing the item.)
May 30: What colors do you associate with your WIP? Why?
Mostly, none. The story frequently shifts between locations, and each location has a different color.
I do associate colors with characters, though. Brown for the Runner’s map, red for the Student’s backpack, green for the Child’s balloon, yellow for the Angel’s halo ring, etc.
I do associate red with the plot thread involving the Student, because the location is red and so is her backpack.
May 31: Does anyone that your antagonist trusts try to rein them in?
Does anyone try to rein the Angel in? Absolutely.
Are there people the Angel trusts? Certainly.
Does anyone the Angel trusts try to rein him in? Rarely, if ever.
His friends all egg each other on, challenging each other to accomplish ever-greater pranks and feats of engineering (in the vein of MIT “hacks”).
Meanwhile his mentor is very busy, and would only step in in extreme cases. I guess the Angel reins himself in to avoid his mentor’s ire, but that’s mostly “stay on the media’s good side and don’t break anything important,” not “treat people with kindness and respect.”