The Unfinished Swan Demo

Imagine a game where the whole world is a white, amorphous vacuum. The only way you know where you’re going is to fill in the white void with black ink, revealing your surroundings in stark black-and-white contrast.

It’s E3 time in LA. That means more of the glitz and glam we’ve come to associate with new game demos. The big titles get most of the attention, as usual. Oftentimes I end up yawning at the wash, rinse, repeat cycle of popular games that revolve around a grizzled man with a big gun. I’m much more intrigued by the creative and innovative titles that are showcased at E3, and today I stumbled upon a gem: The Unfinished Swan.

The developer of the game is a tiny studio known as Giant Sparrow that grew out of some prototype projects at the University of Southern California. They’re based right here in Santa Monica, and I like the cut of their jib. These kids got moxie, I tell ya! This is a beautiful concept with a stunning story. Kind of reminds me of the Myst days. Watch the full E3 video interview/demo below.

From their website:

The Unfinished Swan is a game about exploring the unknown.

The player is a young boy chasing after a swan who has wandered off into a surreal, unfinished kingdom. The game begins in a completely white space where players can throw paint to splatter their surroundings and reveal the world around them.

Writing the boring parts

I’m working on my new novel. This was once a task I delighted in for hours every day as I put the major ideas together and carefully sculpted a story out of the random pictures in my head. But nowadays, the novel is just something I poke at when I can find time between work, cleaning, and enjoying the company of good friends (which every writer should take time to do – good times equals good stories). I used to be able to kick out 1000 words in every daily sitting; can’t do it now though. I’m lucky to get 3000 words done in a week. But it’s not just because of lack of time. There’s something else I’ve found about writing that makes it hard for the words to flow: now that the major ideas are all figured out, I’ve got to do the work of connecting the damn things.

I like to call it writing the “tendons of a story”. Anatomically speaking, tendons are the tissue that connect muscle to bone. Figuratively speaking, story tendons serve to connect the meaty parts that do all work to a larger framework. When I first dive into a story, I see the main “scenes” vividly in my head. These scenes are the core of the story – the big, bulging muscles that do all the heavy lifting involved in creating memorable stories. The scenes can be placed anywhere in the flow of the novel: beginning, middle, or end. I derive great pleasure from writing them.

But then the time comes to connect all those awesome-yet-disparate scenes into something that is coherent and flowing. That’s when the writing slows down. The story muscles are the parts you fall in love with while you write them. The connective tissue, however, is a chore. These literary tendons come in many forms: it could be fleshing out a locale in a scene, or spending time elaborating on how characters move from one location to another. It’s all extremely important stuff, but in the end it’s not as interesting to write as the juicy bits these passages link to.

I’ve found there is no trick for making these sections easier for me to write. When I wrote my fantasy novel, The Ninth Order, I even had to take a break for a couple of weeks to recharge my creative batteries. This is time consuming, thought-intensive work. But it’s important to make sure that these linking sections are always interesting to the reader who, unlike me, doesn’t know what’s coming next and how fantastic it is so I’ve got to keep their attention all the way through. My most successful technique is one of avoidance: I strive to make these “tendons” anything but mundane. If the characters have to travel from exotic locale to another (a common task in fantasy novels), I never make the trip simple. Trips are great opportunities to do world building and cleverly infodump descriptions of the world in great detail. It’s also a great chance to have your characters do what most people do on long trips: talk. Travel chat can provide an interesting look into the minds of your characters. Another handy tool in the writer’s arsenal is the ever-useful side-quest, which video games have made very good use of for years. A good side-quest can provide a temporary break from the main action and allow the author to explore some ideas that wouldn’t fit into the story otherwise (come to think of it, I may write a whole post on side-quests later). But the problem here is that side-quests are little stories of their own, and they require a whole different storytelling effort, and more restless nights spent

It takes time to write a good book. That’s especially true when ordinary life keeps interfering with the fantastic imaginary worlds the author is trying to create. And writing isn’t all ice cream and candy; oftentimes the process is torturous, and it’s easy to get tempted away from the desk by more fun activities. This is work, folks. And like all work, it’s not always fun. But the best writers find ways to keep their own boredom, frustration, and fatigue out of their stories, and the readers never know the pain involved in producing their favorite passages.