3rd Draft Madness

Hello humans.

I’m currently sitting in a one-bedroom apartment where I’ll be spending X amount of days getting started on the 3rd draft of my novel. I was very lucky to have this getaway opportunity because a change of scenery usually helps me focus on the task at hand (I did a similar trip last year for those who don’t know –  read about it here).

My novel was sent out to a total of seven beta-readers at the start of November but I lost two of them on the way (for various reasons). Four people have now read the whole book and given me their thoughts, and the last one will be done in the near future (no stress buddy if you’re reading this). Regardless, I now feel I have enough meat on the bone to get things underway. The general opinon seems to be I’ve written an exciting fantasy novel that hopefully brings something fresh to the table. The book is not without its faults, obviously, so now I’m sorting through all their comments so I can adress the most glaring issues the novel faces.

But let’s back up a bit first and see how we got here.

Writing the 1st draft was relatively easy compared to this stage of the process (which is kinda crazy because it was by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever done). You have this story you want to tell and you write it. It doesn’t matter how shitty it is, your sole focus is to get the words on the paper. There are no shortcuts or nothing. You write, sacrifice sleep/other hobbies/social life then you write some more.

The 2nd draft was a joyful experience, let me tell ya. You take that dirty 1st draft of yours and you force it into the shower, scrub off the dirt and then you dress it up in fancy clothes. Spray some perfume on it for the final touches and voilá! You have something that’s actually presentable to others.

Which brings us to the 3rd fucking draft…

giphy

The challenge at this stage is to balance my own vision for the book versus the feedback from the betas. If more than one person adressed something as a problem it’s pretty clear that particular issue indeed is a problem. But then I have those cases where only one person mentioned something bothering them… do I attempt to fix that or should I leave it be? And then we have the avalanche effect of things… If I change something there it means I must also change that and so on. Yeah… there you have it.

Well, there’s only one way to go and that’s forward. Wish me luck!

Rob J. Hayes Guest Post!

Today we’re honored in having author Rob J. Hayes show up here on the blog 🙂

***

The Art of Writing a Heist

My It Takes a Thief… series of books follows a couple of thieves as they blend into high society and perform complex heists to steal off with the loot, preferably without getting caught.

I’ve done some pretty extensive research to get ready for the task of writing heists. It was grueling. I had to sit through films like Ocean’s Eleven, the Italian Job, Heat, Fast and the Furious 5 (say what you want about the franchise but the fifth installment is definitely a heist film). I read a few books such as The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. I also did a bit of research into real life heists. The more deeply I delved, the more I realized that writing heists was gonna be hard work.

Structure

Now any good heist consists of two parts: you have the planning and you have the job. Sometimes the planning section will come first and sometimes the two run together. Both options have their ups and downs but most of it boils down to tension.

If the plan is explained from the beginning the audience already know the big drama moments, where the plan is likely to fail. The anticipation of whether it will or won’t during those moments is what keeps them on the edge of their seats.

If the plan is told concurrently with the execution of the plan it keeps the audience in the dark, splitting the heist up into sections. This keeps the audience guessing, wondering where the job is gonna go next.

I opted for the second approach, to tell the planning and the job at the same time. I did this because both It Takes a Thief… books open on a heist and I didn’t want them to open on twenty pages of planning with no action. Structure wise this means that the first chapter in each book is split into a planning stage that takes place in the past (denoted by italics), and an execution stage that takes place in the present.

The Reveals

You don’t want to give away all the details in the planning stage unless things are going to go monumentally wrong. If the execution is going to go to plan for the most part, it’s best to keep details light. As my major heists are located at the beginning of each book I use the time to give a few details of how the heist should go and then also give time to character building. There’s a lot of witty dialogue between the characters in those sections that sets up relationships and history, and gives a good bit of insight into who the characters are.

If the heist is going to go wrong at every turn, leaving the drama to how the characters recover from the mistakes, then it’s best to give a lot of time over to reveals in the planning stage so the audience can see just how badly the job is going.

The Crew

Every heist needs an interesting crew to perform it. Some crews can be massive like Ocean’s Eleven, or some can be relatively small like my own books. It’s important to have specialists. You don’t want every character able to perform every part of the heist. Why? Because it helps to add tension when things go wrong. For example let’s look at Shaobo Qin’s character, Yen, in Ocean’s Eleven (the 2001 version). When Yen is injured before the job, it adds tension because no one else is able to take his place and do his part of the job. It still all relies on him despite his injury so the audience is left knowing that there’s a good chance it could all fail.

Specializing your crew becomes a lot harder with fewer members. It Takes a Thief to Catch a Sunrise has a crew of just two for most of the book. This means that both members of the crew need to have a broad range of skills, many of which will be interchangeable. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible though. I gave my male protagonist, Jacques, a knowledge of alchemy and a much more acrobatic flair. I gave my female protagonist, Isabel, more of an acting background allowing her to blend in better. Isabel also happens to be the calm anchor to the duo while Jacques is more wild and given to panic when things go wrong.

The Loot

It’s strange to say it, but the loot is probably the least important bit of the heist. Whether it’s cold cash or an artifact of unspeakable value, the biggest part of the loot is that it gives the crew a reason to be where they are and performing the heist. The location of the loot is important, the logistics of how the crew will secure the loot is important, even how the crew is going to sell the loot is important. But the loot itself isn’t important. Writing a good heist really isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey.

Are there any great heist books or films you like? Let us know in the comments.

***

rob

Bio: Hailing from all over England; north, south, and everything in between, Rob J. Hayes is the author of the dark fantasy series The Ties that Bind and also the steampunk caper series It Takes a Thief… He’s also an avid card gamer, reader of books, watcher of things, and player of video games.

The second book in the It Takes a Thief… series, It Takes a Thief to Start a Fire, is available October 25th from Amazon. You can find out more at www.robjhayes.co.uk.

Let’s Talk About Diversity

This post will be a bit all over the place but bear with me.

I have lived in Sweden for 27 years. I wasn’t born in this country and me and my family came here as immigrants – staying in a refugee accommodation for the first couple of years.

That was a long time ago now, and by all measures I am considered Swedish, but I have never *really* felt like it. The reason for that is quite simple: I don’t look Swedish. If I would stand next to a blonde and blue-eyed friend of mine and ask a stranger to point out the immigrant, it wouldn’t exactly be a challenge for them. There is nothing in my appearance that differentiate me from the thousands of new immigrants arriving in Sweden. I look like them and they look like me.

I have argued about this with friends over the years, with them saying I’m just as Swedish as them, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. It never has and it most likely never will. That’s fine. I love Sweden and that’s it. This is my home.

I want to talk about how important diversity is to myself as an immigrant living in the West. We can all agree that being Arab after 9/11 pretty much sucks. Even if you’ve never been taken to interrogation rooms at airports (I have) or been “randomly searched” (I have) you can understand where I’m coming from. Being Arab right now means you’re the villain in this narrative. Back in the day is was the communists and Russia, now it’s people from the Middle East.

Growing up, like most kids, I looked for role models. Nothing weird about that. But it kinda matters for someone like me, a minority, to find someone I can relate too, right? White people don’t have to think about this much because the majority of of western media has white actors/actresses. It’s a whole different story for someone like me.

Do you guys remember the movie “The Mummy” from 1999? The movie itself doesn’t matter that much, but what matters is this guy:

oded_fehr-_-ardeth_bay

This character is called Ardeth Bay and he was awesome. I was eleven when the movie came out and I remember telling my friends that Ardeth Bay was my people. We both had dark hair and brown eyes, and the symbols on his face reminded me of Arabic.
I felt proud seeing him being a badass along with the main protagonist, fighting to stop evil.

I loved wrestling growing up. Like, really loved it. It was something me and my brother shared as a hobby and we never missed it on TV.

XXX WARRIOR.JPG A
The Ultimate Warrior

ironsheik3_original

The Iron Sheik

The Ultimate Warrior was our favorite wrestler. Someone we hated was the Iron Sheik. We hated him because that’s what the WWF (world wrestling foundation) wanted us to do. The crowd always booed when he entered and he bashed America, making him the villain. His rivalry with Hulk Hogan is one of the most famous rivalries in wrestling history.

Good vs Bad.

East vs West.

I didn’t want to be associated with the Iron Sheik. I absolutely hated him. Watching an old VHS tape, a friend asked me if we came from the same country, and I remember getting really upset, saying I had nothing in common with him.

The reason I’m writing about all of this is that I shared a picture on Twitter a couple of days ago and here’s the deal: there’s a new Spiderman movie coming out next year. Peter Parker (Spiderman) has a girlfriend called Mary Jane. In the comics she’s white, but now it’s rumored that actress Zendaya Coleman will play the part.

The problem? Zendaya is of mixed heritage (African-American Father & white mother).

People are outraged over this – white people, to be exact. Look at this picture:

img_2418

What is the fucking problem? It drives me crazy. Mary Jane was introduced in 1965 (full appearance 1966). OF COURSE she was a white character. That was the standard. If Mary Jane would have been a colored character, that would have meant Marvel Comics taking a political stance. A character is not their skin color. It literally makes no difference whatsoever for the story. Mary Jane’s role was to be Peter Parker’s girlfriend, giving him a more substantial personal life and challenging him as an alpha female. By casting Zendaya as Mary Jane, people of color and mixed heritage might get a character they can look up to as well in this white-dominated Hollywood.

What’s Next & Editing Update #2

How’s it going crazy people?

Firstly, I want to say I’m sorry for not posting anything on the blog in a while. As some of you know, I have recently left my work at Starbreeze – the company where I’ve worked for the last two years. These last couple of months have been really hard. I’m not gonna lie and say otherwise. I’m also not gonna go into detail of what exactly happened. The only thing that matters is that it’s over and I’m happy. I learnt a lot about myself in the process and in the end justice prevailed.

giphy

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

I have a solid financial situation so I’m not in desperate need to find a new workplace. What I will do is to focus on my novel and treat it just as I have before – like a real profession, but this time I will work as many hours as I possibly can on it, instead of the 2,5 hours I was limited to on weekdays. In the meantime I will see what jobs are available in the gaming industry, but with the caveat that I’ll be looking for projects where the creativity comes first, not the politics. I’m not gonna waste any time working on something just for money (that might be selfish, but you know what? YOLO).

So what’s the status of my novel?

I’m deep in editing-mode. I have discovered that I enjoy doing a really thorough editing pass; which means going line-by-line. I scribbled down hundreds of notes of stuff I wanted to change while I wrote the 1st draft. That will be taken care of now. This method is slower than others, that’s for sure, but in the end I will have a MUCH better 2nd draft.

I have mentioned before that I’ve worked as a project manager, and I use the same mindset when working on the book. The way I completed the 1st draft was by giving myself deadlines and minimum word count I needed to achieve every day. I also had a 10K word document where I had outlined the whole story (a synopsis for each chapter).

So here’s the plan for the coming months:

  1. I will spend the rest of August and September to finish the 2nd draft. I can easily accomplish this if I sit my ass down and work 8 hours a day.
  2. When the 2nd draft is done I will send it out to my lovely beta-readers (seriously, thank you guys in advance). I will give them around one month to read the script and send me their feedback.
  3. With the collected feedback from the beta-readers, I will then start working on the 3rd draft and make the necessary changes needed.
  4. The 3rd draft will then be sent to my editor Tim Marquitz ((www.http://dominioneditorial.com) over in the states  who will basically rip me a new asshole and tell me everything about the book sucks. He will give the script a complete edit (language & grammar, story, pacing etc) and help me make it the best book it can be.
  5. Based on Tim’s feedback, I will then work on putting together a 4th draft. That might be a bit back and forth, but the goal is to have a version that is ready for submission (I’ll talk more about this another time) by the end of the year.
  6. Time to hunt me one of those legendary Poke… Agents that everyone is talking about. If you want to be traditionally published you’ll need an agent, so that comes next.

Phew. That’s a lot of steps, right? Did anyone think it’s easy to write a book? You’d think writing the thing would be the hard part, but nope, now the real works begin. Well, challenge accepted.

End note: I’ll make sure to update the blog on a more regular basis and talk about whatever random shit I feel like. That will most likely be books, video games, movies and so on. And of course, I will be updating you all on how the novel is coming along. If anyone has any questions just hit me up below in the comment section or use Twitter or Facebook.

 

 

The Making Of Kelli “Sydney” King

Kelli King, also known as “Sydney” is a PAYDAY 2 character that was released earlier this week. She is the second character I have worked on since I took on the role of Game Writer for the game.

Jimmy was the first character, but as he was the result of a collaboration with the Hardcore Henry movie (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3072482), he wasn’t designed by us at Starbreeze; and instead, I got to read the script of the movie and watch some uncut footage (this was before the movie had premiered) to try and get a sense of Jimmy’s personality. Based on the reception from the community and my colleagues, it seems as if I succeeded which makes me very happy 🙂

On to Sydney then.

So, Sydney is the first original playable character I created for PAYDAY 2.
The guidelines I received from upper management was that we were to introduce an Australian female heister portrayed by Georgia Van Cuylenburg. That left me a lot of room to come up with what kind of person I wanted her to be.

The first thing that came to mind was that I wanted her to be crazy, on the verge of mental. A person who fully embodied the life of a criminal and who basked in the chaos she created. I wanted her to be young and ambitious, with a clear goal in mind that she wanted to leave her mark in history as one of the greatest criminals to have ever lived. To achieve this, she would have to team up with the PAYDAY gang, because let’s face it, no one does it better than them.

As always when I come up with a character (regardless of medium), I get an image in my head of how they look. One of the awesome things about working at Starbreeze is that I have the opportunity to work with amazing concept artists who takes what I have in mind and bringing them to life. Sydney’s hair was the first thing I imagined when I started working on the character. I wanted her to have a fiery red mohawk and a more thrashed outfit that would capture her wild and chaotic spirit.

The picture below is the result of the first briefing I gave Joakim, who’s an absolutely amazing artist (http://joakimericsson.se/?page_id=1058).

sydney version 1 (2)

I was happy with this iteration, to be honest, the only thing I would have wanted was more yellow in her clothing, a yellow tie for instance. I think it would have looked great and symbolized the element of a fiery spirit even stronger. But, remember, I am not the Art Director at Starbreeze, so at this point I left the appearance to the professionals and began working on her backstory. They had gotten enough ideas from me that they could run with it.

The art team worked a bit back and forth, and had her more “punk” than I had imagined, but I was still very happy with the result when they showed it to me. She looked mean and cool and crazy at the same time, which was the goal from the start. Below is a picture of her final appearance and how she looks in the game today. I think this style is more fitting to the PAYDAY gang and that they did a great job 🙂

sydney_export

For her backstory, I wanted her to be a wild spirit from a young age. I didn’t want a traumatic experience to have shaped her into what she is today; rather I wanted her to have such a strong personality that “regular” life was never an option for her. She was simply born to spread chaos and disobey the rules of society. As she grew up, she realized that the life of crime was her destiny, and would ultimately be her only way to gain fame for the one thing she was good at.

When I started writing her voice lines, I talked a lot with Georgia (the actress portraying her, who’s an Australian herself) about using different curse words and lingo that would make her feel authentic. That part was very important for me to get right, because I know we have a large group of Australians playing the game.

That’s all for this time, but I’ve posted her complete backstory below for those interested in reading and learning more about Kelli “Sydney” King. If you guys have any further questions, just hit me up on Twitter and I’ll get back to you 🙂
————————————————————————–

Kelli “Sydney” King

Biographical Information

Name: Kelli King

Aliases: Sydney

Affiliation(s): The PAYDAY Gang, The Dingos

Age: 24

Nationality: Australian

Language: English

City of birth: Melbourne

Family: Peter King (father), Kelly King (mother)

Hair color: Dyed blue

Eye color: Hazel

Ethnicity: Caucasian

Portrayed by: Georgia Van Cuylenburg

Voiced by: Georgia Van Cuylenburg

Description

Kelli “Sydney” King is an Australian former gang member, and the fifteenth character for PAYDAY 2.

Background

Kelli King grew up in Melbourne, Australia and was a rowdy child right from the get go. She would suddenly have outbursts of anger, usually ending with violence of some sorts. Her parents tried everything to make her “normal”, but nothing worked – Sydney was simply not like other children.

Kelli grew up hating all kinds of rules and authority. She couldn’t stand it when someone told her she wasn’t allowed to do something. This behavior grew worse and she was eventually kicked out of school. Her parents grew more desperate and threatened to institutionalize her, so she ran away from home

and ended up joining a criminal gang called the “Dingos”.

The Dingos consisted of troubled youths, all with an appetite for violence and disobedience – but no one was crazier than Kelli which she often displayed by pushing her limits to the extreme, always looking for the bigger rush.

She ran with the Dingos for several years, robbing stores and fighting other gangs. That kept her satisfied for a while, but after some time she was starting to get bored. It wasn’t extreme enough. And while some of the other Dingos would maybe decide to leave the criminal life behind someday, Kelli knew she could never do that. She would never fit in to society and be like everyone else.

As she became older her anger and hatred was directed more towards the system itself, and that’s why she decided the Dingos alone couldn’t satisfy her needs anymore. She wanted to take it to the next level and challenge the perception of how life was supposed to be lived.

It was around this time that she one day stumbled upon a news article talking about an infamous group of criminals called the PAYDAY gang. Kelli realized that this group of criminals were living the life she wanted, and not only that; they were getting the fame and recognition she had started to crave.
She wanted a piece of that fame.

With that in mind, she left everything behind and traveled to America in pursuit of her new goal which was to join the PAYDAY gang. To accomplish this, she knew she had to prove herself to them. She was going to have to do something extreme…

Washington seemed to be where they operated from, so when Kelli arrived she got herself a small apartment, a police radio to monitor the PAYDAY gang’s activity and the weapons and explosives needed to pull her plan off.

The time finally came when she decided to crash an ongoing bank heist executed by the PAYDAY gang. Out of nowhere she showed up and attempted to steal their loot. The element of surprise mixed with an array of explosives got her the edge she needed.

The officers at the scene were just as confused as the PAYDAY gang seemed to be, which resulted in a wild west-shootout between the three parties. In the end, Kelli succeeded to escape with a bag of cash, which she had barely managed to secure.

The days after, she waited in her apartment. She knew it would only be a question of time before the PAYDAY gang would retaliate. She’d read that they had gone after a certain Hector Morales and executed him for double-crossing them. They were not going to let her get away with what she’d done.

In the mean time, she felt a moment of acknowledgment as she saw that her stunt was headlining the papers and various news reports. This could be her future if her plan worked out the way she was hoping.

A mysterious voice suddenly took control over her police radio. The man speaking claimed to be Bain, the infamous individual in charge of Crime.Net. He casually stated the address she was located at and warned her to not try anything stupid. “I respect your spirit, miss King,” he said and Kelli gasped as she heard him mention her surname.
“You are good, but you’re not that good. You made it personal by attacking us, and the gang isn’t too happy about that. I don’t blame them. You lack real experience but you have balls – I’ll give you that. I’m guessing that was the purpose of your little stunt? To show you could play in the big leagues?”

Before she could react, the door came crashing down and several guns were pointed in her face.

It was the PAYDAY gang.

“Right on cue,” Bain continued. “You wanted our attention? You got it.”

Kelli nodded and smiled

It was time the world learned the name of Kelli ‘Sydney’ King.

 

 

Writing For PAYDAY 2

The people have spoken!

For this blog post I asked my twitter followers what subject they wanted me to write about. I gave them three alternatives.

  1. Novel edit update #2
  2. Writing for PAYDAY 2
  3. What’s the novel about?

And as the title suggests, writing for PAYDAY 2 was the winner.

PayDay-2-Coming-to-Retail-on-PS3-and-Xbox-360-in-August-2013

Some of you may know that I was actually a Producer at Starbreeze/OVERKILL before I started working as a Writer, and thus I worked very closely with the people running the whole company  (both from a business and creative aspect). I believe this has given me strong edge for my current work on PAYDAY 2, because I know what kind of things motived the creators of OVERKILL when they made Payday: The Heist back in 2011.

The sequel, PAYDAY 2 was released in 2013 and is still wildly popular. We have a huge amount of players and fans, and that close relationship with the PAYDAY community is definitely one of the coolest things about my job.

As a creator, I would–naturally–have loved to be a part of PAYDAY right from the get go; setting the tone and theme of the game, but that’s not the case. I simply have to do the work to the best of my ability, while respecting the IP (intellectual Property) as we go forward. One of the challenges for me as a Writer on PAYDAY 2 is that there’s been a few different people before me doing the writing and setting the “voice” of characters.

The new characters I have helped bring to life are rather easy ones, because I have helped mold them into what they are, from start to finish (a certain Australian heister might be one of these). I have written their backstory and I know them very well. When I have to write lines for Bain for instance, I have to try and capture the voice of a very established character, and be true to who he is. For instance, Bain does not remotely swear as much as the other people in the game, and I have to remind myself of that constantly when I write his lines, otherwise the fans of the game (and my colleges) would react negatively to that change of voice. One of the first thing I did when I started as a Writer on PAYDAY 2, was to create a “project bible” where I collected all the lore of both games, and also made bios for all existing characters. This is very handy for me, because I can always reference things if I’m uncertain about something.

So what is it I actually do on a day-to-day basis? It’s too much to break down thoroughly, but I can try and give you the bigger picture.

Firstly, we have the heisters – the playable characters of PAYDAY 2. We are always looking to create more unique individuals from all parts of the world and these characters need a written backstory that can be shared with the team, so everyone understands the vision we’re going for. We have a lot of voice-lines in PAYDAY 2, and they need to be written and revised before it’s time for the actors to go into recording.

Secondly, we have all the new levels we make for the game – these require a large amount of written voice-lines and, sometimes, we introduce new minor characters as well, filling a special function for one specific heist. Borisfrom the PAYDAY 2: Goat Simulator DLC is one of these characters, and most recently, the Reapers, the Russian special forces we created for the PAYDAY 2: Hardcore Henry Packs DLC.

Up until a few weeks ago I was writing all text for PAYDAY 2, but we recently hired a copy editor that now works with the marketing team. His focus is on the text for websites and promotion material, giving me more time to focus on in-game related things.

Lastly, we have the FBI Files feature, descriptions for masks and weapons, Contact Database text and so on. Smaller things that still requires some time.

If you guys have any questions or anything, just leave a comment and I’ll reply.

Have a good Sunday! 🙂

MELTDOWN-WALLPAPER