Intense injury

Jonas and Whitney are tricked into $20,000 of debt to Alphonse Bronson, and Alphonse takes the opportunity to inflict Jonas with a terrifying injury.

I mentioned here that Man VS Horse is inspired by Stephen King’s Misery and an anime called Kaiji: The Ultimate SurvivorIn these stories the characters lose fingers, get needles under their nails, and have their legs chopped up. Man VS Horse hits all those marks, or at least threatens to.

Alphonse is inspired by Kazuya Hyoudou, one of the bad guys in Kaiji. Kazuya revels in setting up macabre gambles in order to prove his perverse worldview. We learn his perspective is warped by a childhood memory of his mother, and also his father is a dickhead, too. Kazuya tries to explode peoples’ heads and drop Kaiji off a building.

I used to get nervous about torture in fiction, and still do. Do you remember in The Princess Bride, Wesley gets strapped into a thing that makes him scream? That creeped me out as a kid, even though I think it was sorta played for laughs. Even today, stories about catastrophic injury give me the heebie-jeebies, but now I’m sometimes morbidly curious, too. Everyone can relate to the fear of harm, and that makes it an ancient staple of fiction.

I try to make it quick. Needle under nail, gunshot, boom. Most of Jonas’ running-troubles worsen gradually over time: thirst, hunger, a blister, fatigue. I hope the sudden loss of a finger caught you off-guard even though I warned you at the beginning of the chapter.

I promise Jonas will win the race and keep his legs, but without this scene, I think the threat could come across as hollow. I want readers to believe Jonas might lose his legs, even if everyone knows it’ll be okay because it’s just a story.

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Timing

By mile 70, it’s getting dark and spooky.

This is a bit of an issue, because by my own reckoning, it’s only about four or five in the afternoon. When Jonas was around mile 31, Kevin was just waking up at 10:00 AM. According to this website the sun shouldn’t finish setting for another hour or so, at least.

Lemme show you a quick spreadsheet: the first column is the mile number, then the next column is Jonas’ time on that mile, then the total time elapsed since the start of the race, then Jonas’ average pace thus far. The last column shows the current time, based on Kevin’s alarm at 10 AM, in red.

spreadsheet.pngI’m not stressing about the realism of the race’s chronology right now. By changing the time in the red box, I can adjust the whole column at once. Maybe Kevin sets his alarm for 11 AM, or noon. It’ll be whatever makes sense when all’s said and done.

I’ve watched some documentaries about ultra-marathons, and it seems the races normally begin early in the morning, before sunrise. So the beginning of the race is about right, but I don’t mind changing it a little.

I’ve also made a little elevation map. So far it doesn’t look too ridiculous.

elevation.png

See you next time!

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PS. The first time I wrote this, Georgie Masawa was a Tarahumara, from a South-American tribe of natural runners providing campfire-legends for ultra-racers. I think the running community at large first learned of Tarahumara from the book Born to Run.

This draft, Georgie is more mysterious and the Tarahumara are only briefly mentioned. For me to use a real tribe would require, like, research, man, and could come across as exploitative. I think Georgie’s more meaningful when he’s more abstract.

Race Map

Jonas is behind the horse again. Bummer.

I made a little map of Alphonse’s estate. By my reckoning the Bronson Estate must be about a million acres—the size of Rhode Island—which is ridiculous, but not too ridiculous.

The race started and will end at the front gate, where Kevin, Whitney, and Hermes were held up. Then every ten miles, there’s a fork in the trail. Whoever gets to the fork first gets to choose which direction the race goes. There’s are mountains around mile 10-20, 25-30, and 60-70.

The green inner wheel is the service road Kevin and Hermes are driving on, which meets the trails every ten miles.

I hesitate to make this more detailed. I think a map of a fictional setting is only helpful insomuch as it empowers the story. Being too precise would just limit my ability to hand-wave inconsistencies away (or change things later, if I have cool ideas). There’s no canonical map, just this sorta abstract one.

See you next time!

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The Halfway Mark

Jonas the ultramarathon-runner has finished fifty miles in about seven hours. Apparently the record for a fifty-miler is just under five hours, which boggles my mind. I’ve taken about as long to run about half the distance, and it kicked the crap outta me.

Jonas is supposed to be an elite runner, so I don’t think his accomplishments thus far are too much of a stretch for a fictional story, but the second half of this hundred-mile-run will take him much longer. The last fifty miles of the race should make the bulk of the book.

So far, each ten-mile-section has taken 2,000-3,000 words, so the text is about 12,000 words. I had hoped this story would be around 60,000 words, on the lower-end of a young-adult thriller, but it seems like it’ll end up around 30-40,000 words, more of a novella.

The text should balloon after this not just because Jonas is getting fatigued, but also because more people are entering the story. The story started with just Jonas and Alphonse. Now we’ve learned more about their backstories, families, and friends, so there are plenty of characters to bounce off each-other. Social-media-guru Kevin will eventually get crowds of news organizations involved. As more people spectate, more complicated scenarios will demand more text.

Just like Whitney says the last six miles of a marathon are as hard as the first twenty, the half-way point of the race isn’t necessarily halfway through the narrative.

In fact, I think the story has just started with the introduction of Georgie Masawa. We finally understand Alphonse’s goal in hosting this run: he wants to defeat Jonas to emulate and surpass his father.

Meanwhile Jonas is in way over his head pursuing his own goals: he wants to win back Whitney, and he has his own personal beef with the Bronsons. This hundred-mile run is years of tension coming to a head.

See you next time!

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Water Backpacks

This time in Man VS Horse, billionaire Alphonse reveals that if broke ultramarathoner Jonas loses this hundred-mile-race against a horse, Alphonse will take his legs in retribution. Hoo boy.

Anyway, I keep mentioning ‘three-liter water-backpacks.’ I figured I’d explain what I meant.

CamelBak Hydrobak 0.8L Backpack | Backcountry.com

This is a Camelbak; maybe you’re seen or used one before. It’s basically a slim backpack with a balloon inside you fill with water (or soda, or wine, or whatever, if you’re adventurous). Some Camelbaks hold one liter, others hold up to four. Mine holds two liters of water, and it’s really a lifesaver. When I used to plan twenty-mile runs, I had to consider where all the local water-fountains were so I could hydrate. A Camelbak freed me to run basically anywhere.

I’ve never run far enough to justify refilling my Camelbak mid-run, but Jonas drank about a liter per ten miles. If he can’t meet his crew soon, he’ll be in trouble.

Cross your fingers!

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Cartoonish Villainy

The bad guy in Man VS Horse is eccentric billionaire Alphonse Bronson. Alphonse is cartoonishly evil.

We see Alphonse twirl his mustache at the end of the first ten miles, when he gives Jonas false hope before choosing the harder trail. Then we see Alphonse’s childhood, when his father teaches questionable lessons about winning and losing and business. After another ten miles, we see Alphonse make bets on disabled kids running in a charity race. In this chapter we see the almost hilarious extent of his wickedness: he shows his father a horrible competition where the losing horses are processed into glue.

I’m not sure how much of a horse actually goes into glue, but it doesn’t matter. The feasibility of a horse-to-glue pipeline isn’t important. What’s important is that the image of turning horses into glue is potent. Horses are romantic animals. If you’ve ever seen a horse in person you know they’re sorta smelly and not that bright, but in stories, horses are beautiful majestic creatures. Ponies and unicorns are staple cutesy icons. Processing them into glue is exactly the laughably heinous act I’d expect from the Snidely Whiplash type.

And that’s good. Storytelling is the place for such abstract symbology. In real life, bad guys are usually more subtly devious. Alphonse will be more up-front in his disregard for the value of nature and living things.

I want to compare how Alphonse treats horses to how he treats humans. He’s willing to gamble on racehorses, and even turn the losers into glue. Given the chance, he gambles on disabled children and has no sympathy for the defeated. Humans and horses are both living beings, but it’s socially acceptable to make horses perform labor without pay. Humans expect a certain standard of living, and aren’t satisfied with just a barn to sleep in and alfalfa to eat. Yet, the way Alphonse treats horses is unnecessarily cruel, and he’s not much more kind to humans—his morality will decay over time. The way Alphonse gradually treats humans more and more like he treats horses highlights the inhumanity of treating any animal poorly.

I’ve heard you can get an impression of someone’s character by seeing how they treat the wait-staff at a restaurant. Someone who’s nice to you but rude to whoever takes their drink-order isn’t a nice person. Similarly, Alphonse’s treatment of horses is emblematic of his fundamentally twisted worldview. Although that worldview manifests more clearly when he processes horses into glue, it affects his every action, and he’ll get worse at hiding it.

Let’s see how bad this gets.

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Running and Memory

If you can’t tell from this story I’m writing, I like running. It’s a uniquely human activity; no other animal runs quite like us. We’re good at it, too—depending on who you ask, humans might have evolved to run prey to death. In Man VS Horse I want to make readers feel the mental states and thought-processes behind running a hundred miles, based on my own experience running marathons and reading about ultra-marathoners.

Stories need characters. It might seem difficult to squeeze a character out of a purely physical challenge like racing against a horse, but thankfully, there’s a huge mental component to running. You might think the biggest bottleneck is strength or endurance, but even if you know you’re capable of running twenty miles, getting out of bed to do so is still tricky. Jonas’ train of thought during the run will be a window into his character and a source of conflict throughout the narrative.

When I’m running, my train of thought goes in weird directions, and I want Jonas to show that. For the first ten miles, Alphonse kept Jonas company, but now that Alphonse has taken the lead, Jonas is left alone with his mind.

I take advantage of this to introduce the reader to Whitney, Jonas’ running partner and ghostwriter. If you’re sensitive to spoilers, close your eyes: Whitney will show up later, around mile 50, I think. Introducing her now lets me set the stage for her arrival.

I think Jonas reminiscing about Whitney is an accurate portrayal of the running mindset. I often find myself recalling the past during long runs. It’s a chance for me to review and reinterpret my history. A long run is the perfect opportunity to reduce a character to their base elements.

I also play dumb games with myself on long runs, like Jonas explaining modern items to a caveman. If you’ve got a dumb endurance-sport mental-game, let me know! I’d love to hear.

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Story Structure

A race has a beginning and an end. A story has a beginning and an end. But races are linear—you go step by step. Stories might loop around and have flashbacks and other chronological anomalies.

My first idea for Man VS Horse would have been more like a race. We’d start at the starting line and end at the finish. We’d learn about our characters’ backstories through dialog or narration during the race. I even wanted the length of the text for each mile of the race to reflect the protagonist’s mile-times: a ten-minute mile would take a page, while a five-minute mile would take half a page, and a twenty-minute mile would take two pages. I still like this idea. I know movies bother me when a character says, “the bomb’s going off in ten seconds!” and you count to thirty before they defuse it with a second left.

But while restrictions can breed creativity, those rules produced something subpar. I’m glad I tried it, but this time I’ll allow myself some more creative liberty.

Longer miles will still take up more text, I hope; I think that should have an effect on the reader, making them exhausted alongside our protagonist.

But I’ll allow myself some flashbacks at the end of every ten miles. If our billionaire is going to claim the protagonist’s legs, we gotta explore his history and figure out why he thinks that’s a remotely reasonable option.

You’ll notice in commentaries I’ll often call the characters ‘the billionare’ or ‘the protagonist.’ I haven’t settled on names for the characters yet. I just chose ‘Alphonse’ and ‘Jonas’ because they came to mind. Maybe I’ll get attached to those names and decide to keep them, or change them to something more thematic. This is a living document; I reread and make edits every so often.

I hope you have fun reading!

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Notes to the future (plus a video about Black Mirror)

This chapter is a little short; I just started graduate school, and on top of that I’m having fun experimenting with video-editing, so I’m beginning to move on from this project.

But I’ve had a lot of fun with The Minotaur’s Board-Game, and I don’t think I’ll be done even after I post the last chapter two Fridays from now. I like the world I’ve made, but I think my exploration of it leaves something to be desired. Maybe a year later I’ll revisit this project and spruce it up a bit.

That’s the good thing about having a website instead of publishing a book. I can always change stuff. It’s a living document. It’s only public because I enjoy sharing my stories with anyone who wants to read them.

So let’s leave some notes for myself in the future. What needs to be spruced up in The Minotaur’s Board-Game?

The beginning needs expansion. I’m in such a rush to introduce core concepts, and just get on with the story, that Homer wins his first table-war the day after meeting Aria. I can convey my world to the reader in a clearer, more compelling, but still compact way. What if Aria put Homer to work on her farm, and they bonded a little over board-games?  Aria could explain table-war to Homer and the reader. Then Homer’s first victory is more plausible, and the bond between Homer and Aria presented in this chapter is more convincing.

Also, I think Homer should get along more with the sphinx. Minotaurs haunt labyrinths; sphinxs propose riddles; they gotta buddy up. In the current draft Homer beats the sphinx at table-war and that’s that. Maybe Homer should run into the desert to console the sphinx on her loss.

I like Homer the minotaur proposing to Aria the human in marriage. The reader has watched Homer’s whole existence on the surface, so obviously he doesn’t know much about marriage. He can’t know that humans don’t marry beasts. But this book has a theme of accepting beasts; is Aria just closed-minded? Their platonic relationship is probably more fitting.

I started this project focusing on the snowflake method, in which a story is built up in phases. It only makes sense to return later to fill in the gaps, and it bodes well that I’m eager to do so. If I have fun writing it, maybe someone will like reading it.

But that’ll have to wait. After The Minotaur’s Board-Game, I’ll be focusing on graduate school and occasional YouTube videos. I’m having a lot of fun making videos about my favorite shows like Kaiji the Ultimate Survivor. It’s a new kind of content I’d like to practice on; I figure people are more willing to watch a ten-minute YouTube video than read ten-thousand words on my website.

Speaking of, here’s my latest video on Thinskter! Karl Pilkington describes Black Mirror episodes. Maybe next time I’ll discuss a dataset I’m studying about witch trials?

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I made a YouTube video!

I figure nobody reads anymore, so I’d might as well board a sinking ship and make videos about anime on YouTube. I embedded the video below, but first I’d might as well talk a little about the chapter of The Minotaur’s Board-Game I posted today.

When Aria breaks Homer’s heart, Homer runs into the wild wastes and finds an entrance to (exit from?) a labyrinth. We’ve been warned minotaurs get homesick, but Homer’s commitment to stay on the surface and defeat the dwarfs redoubles when he sees that dwarfs have killed some minotaurs for their heads.

Homer wins a table-war against the dwarven machine, but loses the next round. For the first time ever, gnomes award a commander more than five points when the dwarven machine’s victory earns nine.

Awarding points is a great knob for me to twist, as a writer. What I mean is, it’s easy to replace nine points with eight points, if I decide I need to. I strongly believe no how much planning a writer does, the act of writing is just making things up as you go; if I notice something doesn’t make sense, I can go back and change it. Nothing is written in stone, and having gnomes award points makes the story quite pliable.

I also like the reveal that gnomes and dwarfs used to be the same race. There’s a lot of baggage in using classic creatures like elves, dwarfs, gnomes, and all that, because in many fantasy stories, these races are essentially copy-pasted, but I’ve tried to shake things up. Giving dwarfs and gnomes a peculiar, entwined history makes them stand out in a world of Lord-of-the-Rings knockoffs.

So anyway, here’s that video. It’s about Kaiji: The Ultimate Survivor, an anime about a guy who gambles his limbs. Spoilers!

 

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