Writing prologues

Inspired by some discussions on a writing forum.

Prologues can work, but I feel they’re very much overused. For them to work, they need to be something from the history of the main character in the story (which is probably better handled when it becomes relevant to the story rather than as a prologue), or obviously something that doesn’t include the main characters of the story, and the events have to become important later. The prologues I hate are included solely because the writer isn’t good enough to build the exposition into the story, or they’re back story with some interesting characters who I expect to be part of the main story and then they disappear at the end of the prologue.

Good examples of prologues, for example, would be many of Clive Cussler’s books where the prologue is usually years in the past, it clearly doesn’t involve the main characters of the novel, it will become important later if not the driving force for the plot, and it’s an interesting story in its own right. Bad examples would be many of the unpublished novels I’ve critiqued over the last few years.

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Guild Wars 2 Beta

So far I haven’t had much time to play in the Guild Wars 2 Beta this weekend; between Createspace and my Canadian citizenship application (a topic for another time) I don’t have much time to spare.

Necro And His Pet
Guild Wars 2 Charr Necro

So far it’s proven fun and runs well on my laptop with a 2.27GHz i5 and an Nvidia GT330M graphics card. One nice feature is that it optionally renders screenshots at a much higher resolution than the game normally uses, so the quality is much better. The graphics are pretty good, while still retaining obvious similarities to the original game. However, I suspect some features either haven’t been implemented or have been disabled for performance reasons (the screenshots, for example, don’t show any player shadows).

In a few hours play I only saw one crash, and no other obvious bugs, so it seems fairly polished but not perfect. Only three of the five races seem to be implemented, so clearly there’s more work to do there.

While they’ve improved the quest mechanic in some respects it’s not as revolutionary as it sounded; you still get quests, but they’re less the ‘kill a dozen rabbits and bring me their ears’ and more ‘stop the bandits who are stealing things from the farm’. Which is better, but I found that often I would arrive in the middle of such an event and not really know what I was supposed to be doing.

Guild Wars 2 Human Elementalist

This was particularly true in the initial tutorial area where half the time I wasn’t really sure of what was going on. The game would tell me to go somewhere and then the gates closed as I got there, and was that my fault or did I just not get there fast enough, or…? Who knows.

Overall it’s a very different game to Guild Wars. In some respects that’s better, but we’ll have to see how hard some of the early events become when the newbie zones thin out and there aren’t twenty players in each event any more.

Is this done?

So Tartarus is finally off to Createspace to be reviewed. What a pain that was.

Eventually I had to give up on uploading Word files and just export it to a PDF, which Createspace actually imported with all the relevant formatting.

For the cover, I used Gimp.

  1. Download the .PNG template from Createspace
  2. Create a transparent version of the template (create an a layer mask from the greyscale version of the image and then adjust levels).
  3. Put the transparent template as a layer above the background colour, then build the rest of the cover on top. That way you ensure that you won’t be putting anything where it shouldn’t go.
  4. Temporarily disable the template layer and export the image as a TIFF file.
  5. Use ‘tiff2pdf’ to convert the TIFF file to a 300DPI PDF file using zip compression. Then upload it.
Createspace cover. Remember to remove the template layer before uploading!

In a few days I should find out whether that actually works!

Createspace formatting

What a pain. I believe I’m finally getting this nonsense sorted out. Here’s what I had to do:

After the intro text, add a manual page break which also resets the page number to 1 and switches to a ‘first page of chapter style’ which has the page number as a footer but no header.

Add a ‘successive pages of chapter’ style which is the same as the first page but with the header. Make that the follow-on style for the first page.

Of course Libre Office lets you use a hierarchy of styles for paragraph styles but not for page styles… because… no, makes no sense to me either. So if you change any of these styles you then have to manually change the others to match. Stupid.

And, of course, that doesn’t work when exported to Createspace. It seems to use the first style exclusively for the whole of a chapter and ignore the style change. Now I’m trying to export as PDF and see if that works any better.

Createspace is a huge pain

I’ve been trying to create a document for Createspace, because I still have a Nanowrimo discount coupon that expires at the end of the month.

You’d think it would be easy, wouldn’t you? I mean, Createspace have templates, I have text, I should just be able to cut and paste it into the template and upload it and it would be done.

But no. Firstly, the Createspace template is incompatible with Createspace. It includes fonts that Createspace doesn’t support, so any document created with the template is rejected. Good one, Createspace.

But it’s worse than that. I try to copy and paste all the text from the original document to the new one and… as well as the text it copies over all the page formatting. How stupid is that? I have a document formatted the way it’s supposed to be formatted, I want to just copy the damn text, and you’d think that should be the easiest thing in the world. Why do program designers think that when I copy and paste text I want to copy all the other associated crap and not… just the damn text? This isn’t just a problem with word processors, 99% of the time when I copy and paste text from a random web page into an email, I just want the text, yet it’s also copying over font and other formatting information that I then have to waste time removing.

I’ve no idea how I’m going to fix this, but pretty soon I’ll have spent more time trying to work around stupid word processor design choices than I did writing the document in the first place. Why should I have to spend an age investigating how page styles work in order to just copy and paste from one document format to another? It’s insane.

On a related note, I started going through the page styles in Libre Office to delete them in the hope that it might fix the problem. But lo! Not only do I have to delete them one at a time rather than shift+click to select them all, but then it puts up a dialogue box asking if I really, really want to delete them, and then it doesn’t delete it. So I have about twenty styles to delete and for each one I have to select delete twice and click OK twice. If I haven’t gone mad by the end of this process I’ll be amazed.

Aliens

This something I posted elsewhere as a response to a comment on a discussion about aliens which mentioned that the distances between stars in the galaxy is very large and difficult to cross.

The real problem is that the distances within a galaxy are too short.

We pretty much know how to travel between stars at 1-10% of the speed of light. There’s probably a few centuries of detailed engineering work to get from here to there, but the physics works and doesn’t require impossible amounts of energy. At the high end of the scale we can colonise the entire galaxy in a million years, at the low end in ten million.

So if expansionist technological societies typically evolve more than ten million years apart, the first one will take over the galaxy before the second has a chance to evolve.

Someone has to be first, and right now it looks like that’s us; if someone else was out there and even a few tens of thousand years ahead of us we should be able to see evidence of their existence from here. I could quite imagine that they have evolved and then wiped themselves out or gone introverted rather than spread across the galaxy, but that makes them just a footnote in galactic history.

We can see oddities in other galaxies which could be signs of engineering on a massive scale. But intergalactic travel at even 10% of the speed of light would take a very long time.

RAID Woes

After performing a full copy of all the data from the failing disk to the good one, I see I have 33 bad blocks on that disk; so it’s worse than I thought. Fortunately it only affects a few game installer files which are out of date anyway, so the important data is safe.

Still, now I have two RAIDs with one disk each, I’ll have to get a new disk in to replace the bad one and hopefully that will solve this problem for a couple of years.