An update on StoryMechs

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IMG_0909You may have noticed that things have been quiet on the StoryMechs front since we completed our first adventure under the new brand. I thought it would be good to give you a little update.

For those who haven’t been involved, StoryMechs is a project run by myself and Mr Mook, which provides adventure narratives that can be shaped by multiple users through a ‘play-by-crowd’ format. The project used to be called Tweet RPG, and has been running since 2011.

Why have things gone quiet? The answer is simple: life. One of the big realisations we’ve had about running StoryMechs is that it’s a hobby and we’re happy with that. We’ve tried to take a business-like approach to it, but have ended up setting unobtainable goals which require too much from us.

Don’t get me wrong, we want to have a level of professionalism with the project. It won’t be worth playing if the quality isn’t there. However, neither of us wants to compromise all the other stuff in life – family, friends, church, employment, voluntary work, etc – to make this happen. It isn’t worth it.

Don’t worry, we will be bringing you more awesome adventures to shape with friends online. In fact, we have one almost fully prepped and ready to go. However, we have some format changes to implement, and those things take time. Right now, both of us have other things to focus on.

We plan to take a more relaxed approach to StoryMechs than we have done, working it into the rest of our priorities in a realistic way. I have benefitted massively from turning my attention away from it for a while, as I’ve had time to work on Resolutions, my short story collection.

Keep a look out for news on the next adventure, we hope to get back on this in the Autumn. Thanks for all your support.

Happy adventures!

 

Reposted: Beyond Thought – short story

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This short story was previously posted on my old blog. It will be included in my Resolutions collection, and is the starting point for my novel idea.

It was a dull wispy morning, the gantries of Neo London draped with fog. The towering angular structures grew out of the misty depths below and disappeared into the clouds above. Kale scuffed her way along the suspended pathway, fiddling with her burgundy blazer, her short brown hair still wet from her hasty shower. Although the gantries were full of people on their way to work or school, she walked alone, like every morning. Her younger brother and sister would dart off in a different direction once the children had left the apartment building. They didn’t want to be seen with their reject sibling.

Kale stood patiently at the crossing bridge, waiting for the air traffic to divert and the platforms to link. She didn’t want to arrive at school any quicker than she needed to. She noticed a man in a formal grey suit also waiting at the crossing. He stood as far away from the girl as he possibly could, pretending she wasn’t there and yet clearly aware of her presence. As the platforms hovered together and bridged the immeasurable drop with a magnetic click, he strode away as quickly as he could. She could tell he was afraid, repulsed by her emptiness. You didn’t need to be a psychic to work that out.

. . .

“How are you progressing with the task, Kale?”

Miss Warner smiled as she made the enquiry, but that only made her appear more patronising.

“Um… OK, I guess.”

Kale turned her work book around for the youthful dark-haired teacher to see. The young girl was one of the two children seated in the non-psi area at the back of the classroom. The normal children sometimes got spooked by the ‘dead-heads’. The empty psychic space where thoughts and feelings should flow made them nervous, especially the chipped kids, afraid their implants would break if they got too close, sending them back into the mental darkness that was normal life for Kale. She didn’t know why she didn’t just work in a different room. Probably because that would be too much like segregation, and this, well, this was nothing like segregation at all.

“I have identified some mistakes,” said Miss Warner, overly formal. The spoken language that teachers like her had to learn was so rigid, so lifeless and cold. “I have marked them with a circle. Please try to identify and rectify the errors.”

Kale nodded. Miss Warner turned and walked back to the front of the class, soundlessly communicating with the psychic majority. Kale could tell when they were talking psychically. The movement of their eyes, the turn of their heads, lots of little clues they didn’t realise they were giving away.

Sitting a couple of desks away from Kale was Derek Middler, a spotty little boy, the only other non-psi student in the classroom. Despite their shared affliction, she always kept her distance from the scowling youth. He was troubled and volatile, like many non-psi children could be, feeling paranoid and threatened. Not someone you wanted to be associated with.

“They’re talking about us,” Derek muttered.

Heads turned. Kale wished she could sink through the floor with embarrassment.

“You got something to say?” Derek challenged. He jumped up from his seat aggressively. Some of the students shrank back. Others grinned mockingly.

“Don’t laugh at me!”

“Please calm down, Derek,” said Miss Warner evenly.

She’ll be summoning the hall attendants, thought Kale. Derek wasn’t going to calm down.

“Shut up!”

The wiry boy pushed his desk over, books and pens clattering to the ground. Two hall attendants entered the room. They walked straight up to Derek, faces emotionless, and grabbed the boy, who struggled against them, yelling and screaming. They dragged him out of the room, his rage echoing away down the corridor.

Kale looked down at her book, her face flushed with shame, knowing that all the remaining occupants of the room were scrutinising her. If not with their eyes, then with their minds.

When are you going to snap? they questioned.

When are you going lose it?

. . .

The family sat around the table, plates of hearty home-cooked food in front of each member. Kale ate slowly, chewing each mouthful with a deliberately sluggish pace. They might not try to converse with her if they think her mouth is full. She assumed her mother, father and siblings were talking together; her mother hadn’t awkwardly broken the silence for a few minutes.

“Molly was just saying she might apply for kinetics next semester,” said Kale’s mother out of the blue.

“Oh, OK,” replied Kale, thinking about how fun it would be avoid the objects her younger sister would send flying at her with the power of her mind.

Her mother often did this, tried to act as interpretor; a guilty attempt to make her other child feel included. She only saw pity when she looked into her mother’s eyes, a pity that outweighed love.

“Your father is taking the day off on Friday. We are all going to the holo-pool together.”

“That sounds cool,” the young girl replied unconvincingly. Her mother frowned.

“I think they have adequate heating.”

“No, I mean… forget it.” None of them were used to speaking, they’d lost the natural ability. Kale had learnt from old films and songs, conversing with herself, re-enacting scenes, playing all the characters.

Molly laughed. Kale knew this was aimed at her. Whenever her brother or sister poked fun at her, they always laughed out loud so she would know they were laughing at her. Their father gave them a stern look. Kale ignored them. She had risen to their baiting in the past, responding to their hollow chuckles with white hot anger. Over time she had learnt to block it out.

. . .

“Goodnight Kale.” Her mother turned out the light. She didn’t kiss her daughter at bedtime anymore. She didn’t need to with her other children, they could feel her love in their minds. She had forgotten, trying so hard to stop Kale from feeling different. As the young girl rolled over under the covers she longed for her mother’s touch, those soft arms encircling her in a simple hug. She began to cry, sobbing as quietly as she could. The loneliness didn’t always sting this badly, but some days she couldn’t help but feel crushed under the weight of the isolation, feeling like the only person who hadn’t been told a secret. She reached over to her bedside table and picked up her ear pieces, slotting them in comfortably.

Ray Charles, ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’.

The voices surrounded her, soothing her. She imagined she was part of the ensemble, singing the refrain in perfect harmony.

To be a part of something.

That was all she desired.

Starting my new novel draft

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The pen has hit the page! Or rather the finger has hit the screen (I’m finding myself doing a lot of writing on my phone at the mo). I’ve been planning an idea for a novel draft, and recently I decided to jump in and start producing some content.

With my previous abortive attempts at novel writing, my mistake has been to neglect the planning. With one idea, I managed to get 26,000 words done before stalling completely, but sadly I couldn’t salvage much of that work because there were giant cracks in the concept. With my current attempt, I’m using the A Novel Idea iOS app as a planning aid, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a tool help structure and store their writing ideas.

My current novel idea originated from a screenwriting piece from my second year at university, a scene lifted from one of my old novel concepts about psychic superheroes being hunted down by an evil autocratic government in a dystopian future. The feedback was that the writing was fine, but the concept was basically The Matrix with the serial numbers filed off.

However, all was not lost, as I had a bit of an epiphany. The story would be so much more interesting if I flipped things around. The protagonist should be a normal human in a world where everyone is psychic. Working with this concept, I wrote my short story Beyond Thought, which fleshes out the world and characters that could become central to my novel draft. I plan to include Beyond Thought in my Resolutions collection, but I will also repost it on here.

I have done a lot of structure planning for the novel, but I still have a lot of elements to peg down. However, I decided that I should start getting some words out rather than over-emphasise the planning and never start writing. The approach I’m going to try is non-chronological writing, that is, taking scenes out of the structure and treating them as individual short stories. This will make things feel more manageable, and also play to my strengths as a short story writer.

I’ll keep you updated with my progress, and I’ll have the Beyond Thought short story on here to give you a taste of what’s to come.

I let it happen – an allegorical short story

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He got me as soon as I woke up this morning. I felt the cold hard metal grasping around my wrist, clamping shut with an ominous click. There I stayed, locked down and unable to move. That’s one of his best tricks. Once he’s got the first manacle on one of your limbs, you’ve hardly got time to stop all the others closing over your skin.

The chains rasped as they ran against themselves, then pulled taut against me, yanking me out of the bed and onto the floor. My head struck the carpet with a dull thud, the force jolting down my spine.

He stood over me, leering down with that familiar hungry grin. Striding toward the door, he dragged me from the room, my skin scrapping against the doorframe. Along the landing he dragged me, then tossed me unceremoniously down the stairs, my elbows and knees striking the steps, cracks of pain filtering through my body.

That’s how the rest of the day continued. I was on my feet for the most part, stumbling to keep up as the chains pulled on my limbs. Sometimes I didn’t follow fast enough, or tried to take a different direction, but that was when I found myself flat on my back or sprawling forwards, the metal digging mercilessly into my skin, reminding me who was in charge. By the end of the day, as I got back under the sheets, my body was a mess of throbbing bruises and open wounds.

How did it happen? I let it happen. I can blame circumstance, my nature, or others around me, but that isn’t true. I can say that it has been such a long time since he last caught me that this was inevitably going to happen, but that doesn’t cut it.

The question is this: how did he get so close to be able to trap me? He’s a sneak, I’ll admit that; crawling and creeping, lurking in the shadows. The answer: I allowed him to get close. An inch closer, then another inch, and then all of a sudden he’s standing over me in the dark and I’ve lost control.

This morning, I’m ready. I was preparing my battle plan before I let myself succumb to the sweet mist of sleep.

As my eyes open and my faculties return, the shrill tone of the alarm having pierced my slumber, I don’t give him a moment to take the advantage. I’m up in a flash, bulling him across the room, my shoulder catching him under his chest and slamming him into the wall. Always fight back. If you don’t fight back, you haven’t a hope.

He isn’t done. He’s never done. As long as I live he’ll have a reason to keep trying. Razor talons dig into my back, cutting into my resolve. We tumble to the floor, wrestling against each other, limbs locked in opposition. He’s so strong and I’m so weak. So what do I do?

It’s time to summon the power. With a deep breath, letting peace spread throughout me, I ignore the thrashing of my enemy and let myself be consumed. As the power flows through me, I’m like a dry stream suddenly energised by fresh water rushing into the channel. Immortal truths awaken within me, reminding me who I am.

I rise. I stand up, a fist gripped around his neck. He struggles fruitlessly against the power, but I won’t give in. I lift him up, staring into his face. He recoils away; he doesn’t want me to see him as he is, because then it’s clear to see how ugly and undesirable he is.

I release my grip, dropping him to the floor in a crumpled heap. Surely I’m going to finish him off, you’re thinking. The truth is, he’s going to follow me throughout my life, and I can’t kill him off. Once we were one, he and I. We were bound together in an unholy bond, a parasitical relationship where I fed and nurtured him within my skin. However, in a moment of pure brilliance and glory, the bond was broken and he was dragged out of me kicking and screaming. He’ll keep trying to trap me, but he can’t get back in. Even if I falter and lose the fight, the battle is already won and these are his death throes.

This isn’t enough. I’ve won this time but he’ll be back, with different tactics and new ways to exploit my weaknesses. I’ve got to train, gain strength through knowing the truth, go on the offensive, never be content. You can do this too. Get the power, and fight.

Romans 7:21-25:

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Prayer: Lord, I want to give you praise because you are greater than any power in this world, physical or spiritual. I’m sorry that I go back to the old dead ways of my sinful nature. Thank you Jesus Christ, for breaking the bond by becoming the sacrifice to pay for sin, once and for all. Holy Spirit, renew your power within me, and supply me with God’s wisdom and strength so I may fight and prevail.