Monday, January 5, 2015

"Oak and Thunder" part 3 - Tone Deaf?

I've had a bit of a break from work on OaT. (a couple of months. I've done concept art and illustration, both set in Glorantha in the meantime. Lots of cool stuff I won't be able to show for quite some time, sadly.)

I still thought about it a lot, but haven't done any writing or drawing. The reason is simple - I realized I didn't know enough to be making it properly.

Yesterday I finished "Language of the Night", a book of essays by Ursula Le Guin.
(a great book by the way, I really recommend it. It's not a light read and not all the essays are equally interesting, but it's worth buying a used copy even.)
It named an issue in my current script for Oak and Thunder and in other works of art where I noticed it, but couldn't quite name it before - inconsistency of tone.

In my case, I didn't realize I was writing two or three different projects into one, not quite knowing what exactly it was I wanted to achieve.
And then it dawned on me - I want to play it straight. All that I appreciate about Tolkien's writing, about old fairytales and heroic epics - the style, the language, the "setting", I want to do that.

Not a clever twist, not a play on the themes! Everything these days is (seems to me) a mashup of genres, a spin on something, a cliche or a trope reversal. It's cynical, ironic or goofily nonsensical.

I've been playing Dragon Age Inquisition and it's a great example of tonal dissonance (in more ways than one) - the overarching narrative is written straight - epic and classically heroic, while many of the dialogs and banter are contrastingly mundane and out-of-place "current". I'm not at all asking for ye olde speak, especially in American-voiced games it always sounds silly. Just more of a vocabulary and topical consistency.
The game uses well-tested and familiar ways to tell its story, set up its characters etc., but the world and characters themselves (the gameplay as well at times) don't always fit, don't mesh, the gears grind.
I cringed when SPOILER FOR DA:I

in a moment of desperation and disorder, everyone started to sing. They sang to get their spirits up, to unite, to honor the player as their savior. And I'm angry at myself I cringed, because that was a moment which the game attempted to play straight, without Sera laughing, making silly faces and throwing innuendos around, without penis jokes, or talk about "riding the Bull". And I recognize it was partly my fault I couldn't take it seriously. /SPOILER

The Witcher series, for instance, tried to play with tone on purpose, the contrast is there to say something, not as a jarring byproduct.

It's mainly a writing challenge, I'll definitely need help with this. Reading through the long script I wrote, it's too much like people talking on Facebook, or at best roleplaying on a forum. That's the English I know, the one I speak and write online. But it's not the right tone. I can't have Wala and Wape making pop culture references to each other, or drawing cat memes with their enemies' blood.
(those are the current up to date versions of the main characters' names, btw. I'm learning a lot about proto-languages)
I don't mean to write entirely straight, humorless and dry, a boring saga of head-chopping murder heroes! There need to be light and funny parts just as there need to be serious and dark parts, a balance. But I need to strive for a unity of language and themes. Tolkien is a big inspiration in this aspect, a wrong word in the wrong place is just wrong, there's no way around it.
Finding the right words! How easy! :)

I also realized I didn't quite have the characters yet. I know what they do throughout the story, sure. I mostly know what they look and dress like, but I don't fully know what they "are", I can't see their faces and their emotions.

A solution, for now, is to focus on research for the big story and script and draw up short stories. Quick ones, with minimum of writing, just to get a feel for the tone, where I want to go with characters and the art style. (I already have two stories reworked, an action one and a...different one.)
Research is also back on track, I'm reading a lot about religion and linguistincs. Definitely discovering more of the themes and philosophy than every day details about the life in that place and time.

I hope everyone had good holidays! All the best in the new year, friends!

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