Saturday, 31 July 2004

Past and Future

Okay, here's an entry I've been promising myself that I'd write sooner or later. The history of Sailor Moon 4200 — and a bit about its future.

(It's fantastically presumptuous of me to think that anyone will actually care about this. But then, this whole blog is fantastically presumptuous in the first place, so I may as well be hung for a sheep as for a goat.)

Let's see. The initial idea for the story came while I was still writing my second-ever fanfic, a Ranma ½ story called "Autumn and Spring". (A story which, not to be egotistical or anything, was voted a "best story of month" award, and came in fifth place for the year.)

The basic idea was very simple: What if Crystal Tokyo didn't last as long as everyone seems to think it will? Or, as the SM4200 home page has it: "Nobody ever dreamed that the Crystal Millennium would fall so soon ..."

Think about it ... the usual premise is that, once Crystal Tokyo is founded (and apart from the Black Moon incident), it's all happily-ever-after for the SM crew. Well, what if it wasn't?

Almost immediately, I had a mental image of a distant future, where Crystal Tokyo has fallen; and now, centuries later, it's time for everything to start all over again. That mental image, as it turned out, was ... pretty much completely unlike the story turned out. (As I recall, it was a very rustic, countryside setting, studded with buildings that looked vaguely like bee-hives. I don't really know why. That was the picture in my head, though.)

Anyway, I realised almost immediately that the senshi of this new era would be a mix of old ones, reborn yet again, and some new faces. I didn't think about that; it just seemed an obvious necessity, to tie it back to the original.

A word about Bendis. I wanted two moon cats, and one of them was going to be an original; the other a new face, young, inexperienced, and of mixed blood. (Bendis's ancestry was hinted at, right back in the prelude.) I picked the female to be the new one simply because I thought it'd be more fun to write a young, inexperienced female moon cat than a young, inexperienced male one. In retrospect I'm not sure why that'd be the case, but that was my thinking. And that was why Luna died and Artemis survived. Sad but true.

("Bendis" was a Thracian moon goddess, usually associated by the Greeks with Artemis. In early chapters I kept on having characters puzzled by the name, in the hope that readers would ask me what it meant. But nobody ever did.)

Anway. Once "Autumn and Spring" was finished, I wrote the prelude chapter, pretty much without planning anything. (This is a technique I often use when starting a new story: beginning with a vague idea of what the story is about and where it's headed, just start writing. Then stop and plan the story out. I find it helpful in that the initial writing firms out the picture of a world in my head, and it's easier to plot things out with that in place.)

The prelude, by the way, came in two flavours. "Autumn and Spring" had been a fairly grim story, and I wanted SM4200 to be lighter. So I decided that the best way to ensure this would be to write it in script format.

Yes, that's what I said. Script format.

There was a certain logic in this. It's quite difficult to get tense and angsty in script format, I find. In fact, much later when I actually did write stories in script format, I found this a major headache when I actually needed the story to get darker.

In any case, I wrote most of the prelude in script format. The ending refused to come together properly, so I tried rewriting it in prose. That worked better, and prose it's been ever since (the "Queen Serenity" interlude excepted). I still have the original script prelude, though; I may post it someday as an omake.

And then, with the prelude posted on the FFML and everything, I plotted the whole story out. I started a "world guide" file with notes on the main characters, who the big baddie was, what happened during the Fall, and so forth. This was very sparse at first, but after a couple of days I had a reasonable idea of the back-story, at least. Most of the new characters started out as just names; details were generally slow to emerge. (I didn't realise that Suzue was a member of the Church of Serenity, which is absolutely key to her character, until I was about to begin the chapter in which she appears.)

Some interesting points emerged by pure serendipity. I picked the year 4200 as, well, a handy round number. And the year of the Fall, 3478, was simply random. So, when I came to write chapter 9 and worked out how old Queen Serenity would be at the time, I was as surprised as anyone to realise that she'd be turning 1500. And even more surprised to realise that Itsuko, in the year 4200, is 2222 years old.

As for plotting the story itself ... I had a good idea of how the story would end; it was just a matter of filling in details. I decided that 21 chapters seemed like a reasonable length, so I simply wrote the numbers 1 to 21 down on a bit of paper, and started writing in plot points as they occurred to me, shuffling them around until they made sense. My complete initial outline consisted of one to three lines per chapter.

As an example, this is the original outline for chapter 7: "Introduce Suzue, who becomes Uranus." And chapter 8: "Iku becomes Mars. Miyo’s secret revealed to her family; she is disowned and moves into the Olympus." And chapter 9: "First combined meeting of all Senshi. Itsuko reveals herself to everyone. Itsuko tries to train Iku." (The last bit got shunted forward to chapter 10, obviously.)

Naturally, as the story progressed the outline grew denser. A lot of sub-plots in current chapters were never dreamed of at the outset; and as points emerge, they get integrated into the whole. The outline as it exists today is a considerably more detailed document, full of notes for upcoming scenes, and sometimes, fully-written dialogue. It's still sparse in points (I have only 4 sentences of notes for chapter 17) but will only get more complete as I go. And the ending I originally planned is still on track; the details have changed, but the substance remains.

As for the future ... well, the basic plot-line is all laid down. I have detailed notes on the very last scene of chapter 21. And the coda is fully written (it's a short segment that takes place 20 years or so after the main story).

I'll get there ... in the end.

SM4200: Here and Now

A week since I posted, and not a lot to show for it. The chapter stands at 25127 words and I'm probably going to throw some of that away.

I'm working on the "big fight scene", and so far, little that I've written is gelling. It's flat and uninteresting. A lot of the trouble is that, besides there needing to be a combat scene here, I have no particular plans for the scene. My visualisation of what happens is so nebulous that it's almost impossible to get anything done at all.

(I said there "needs" to be a fight scene. Two reasons. One is that there simply hasn't been one for a while; while there was technically an attack in chapter 10, it was only mentioned, not described. Also, there is an important plot point to be established around the combat, though not in the combat itself.)

Meanwhile ... it's five PM on a glorious, sunny Saturday — sunny but cold; it's mid-Winter here — and I've been out for most of the day. We'll see if I get anything done this evening. :)

Saturday, 24 July 2004

Saturday's progress

Now at 24576 words. I've written more than it sounds, though, because I've finished a scene or two off, which let me remove a lot of working notes from the in-progress chapter.

Not a lot of progress in the last few days, but I haven't been able to get any writing done for three of them. Plus, I just received a new batch of anime DVDs from Amazon, which may also prove distracting...

Tuesday, 20 July 2004

Frustration is ...

... Bringing a scene to a satisfying, cathartic stopping-point — and then realising that you can't stop there, because there's a fair bit more that needs to be covered in the scene. Dang. :)

Progress—chapter 11 is up to 24174 words.

Saturday, 17 July 2004

Slow and unsteady

Been a couple of days since I posted. If you're reading this ... sorry. :)

It's a cold, wet day in Wellington. Late evening, and it's pouring outside. I had to go out this afternoon to do the grocery shopping and I didn't enjoy it at all. :( Even worse, I had a phone call from a friend later, to tell me that I'd manged to miss the new Studio Ghibli film, "The Cat Returns," which is being shown at the local film festival. Apparently it was very good. Drat! There's only one more showing of the film -- on Monday afternoon -- and I'll be at the dentist at the time. Double drat!

(Speaking of Ghibli ... I notice that there's a trailer for Hayao Miyazaki's new film, "Howl's Moving Castle," online. Looks rather interesting. I had to go back and re-read the book after watching the trailer. Time well spent.)

Meanwhile ... SM4200. The Suzue/Itsuko scene is done, at least. It came out longer than I expected (most of my scenes do), and there may be a jarring note or two to tidy up on revision, but the meat of the scene will stand, I think.

Thursday, 15 July 2004


I've been on leave from work for nearly two weeks now (just needed a break) — little to do all day, so you'd think I'd be able to get some decent writing time in. Not working out that way, alas. I spent most of today, for example, finishing off the last two books of Garth Nix's "Old Kingdom" trilogy. Very good books, incidentally; well worth reading. The sort I can sit down with and get totally lost in, for hours on end.

I am getting a little writing done, though. Currently deep into a scene with Itsuko and Suzue, continuing their argument from last chapter. I spent most of yesterday trying to describe Usagi from Rei's point of view. Not sure how well it came off, but it seemed okay at the time! When I go back and look at it again after posting this, I'll probably see it differently (I usually do) and have to rewrite it. Just one of the reasons I write so slowly; every day starts off with rewriting what I wrote yesterday ...

(No doubt this is an appallingly bad writing habit. Hard one to break though; and in any case, the next-day's perspective often gives me a much better insight into a scene. Plus, since everything's been rewritten several times by the time it's posted, it's usually fairly well polished.)

Still to do in chapter 11:

  • The rest of the Itsuko/Suzue conversation. Not much left to do on this.

  • A big combat scene. (It's been a while since I did one.) The intro to this is written; now I just need to fill in the action. It's a vitrimorph attack in a mall, and I have nothing whatsoever planned, so it'll all be off the top of my head. Well, we'll see how it comes out.

  • A couple of dream sequences. One of these is written, but got ripped out again into the "discarded scenes" file. I may be able to salvage parts of it.

  • A family confrontation for Miyo.

  • The resolution to 'S' Division's discovery of Itsuko's identity. I may end up cutting this off and leaving it as another cliff-hanger (since my outline for chapter 12 is still fairly sketchy). Not sure of the cut-off point, though.

I should probably add an entry here, sometime, about the "discarded scenes" file I mentioned. Some interesting stuff in there. Also some just plain odd stuff!

Wednesday, 14 July 2004

Recent Updates

Don't know if anybody noticed, but I recently posted an update to chapter 10. The changes were very minor, so I didn't show it as updated in the table of contents, but even so...

For what it's worth, basically the changes were to remove the John Biles/Wombat references. They may have been amusing—I'm of two minds about that—but I was always slightly uneasy about them. So instead of sentencing Iku to be nibbled to death by wombats, Dhiti now sentences her to walk the plank. Trivial, right?

This wasn't the first time I've quietly changed story elements. The first time, I think, was over Miyo's brothers, Ichiyo and Fujimaro. Initially Fujimaro was the elder. Then I found out that "Ichiyo" means, more or less, "number 1 son"—so I quietly switched the two. Serves me right for just picking names from a big list, instead of researching them properly.

Updates planned ...

At some point I need to go back and do another general review of the early chapters of SM4200, to clean up some of the more painful bits. For example:

  • Find a new title for chapter 2 and probably chapter 1 as well (the existing ones being fairly silly).
  • Revise the 'P' Division encounter in chapter 3. It comes off looking like most of the police are either Church of Serenity members, or just plain lunatics. (Only one of them was meant to be a CoS member. The rest is simply bad writing.)
  • Eliminate some of the worst examples of purple prose and/or outright melodrama, in chapter 9 and others.

My priority right now is to get chapter 11 done, but the rest needs to be looked at someday.

Tuesday, 13 July 2004

To start with ...

Hello, if you're reading this!

Yes, SM4200 is still alive. It's somewhat catatonic at times, but I am -- and have been for some time -- working on chapter 11. There are currently 22690 words done (say 131K) and I'd guess it's about 70-80% complete.

This doesn't mean you can expect to see the next chapter very soon. My writing speed has never been fast, and it hasn't improved any over the years. (There's more to it than that ... but perhaps that's a subject for another post.) I've been taking a couple of weeks' leave, during which I had hoped to polish the thing off, but it hasn't worked out that way. I've been too busy, well, being on leave.

The chapter's reached a point where I should, perhaps, consider posting a teaser or preview or whatever, as I've done before. That hasn't always worked out so well, of course! The teaser for chapter 9 ended up not being in chapter 9 at all (the scene got shunted forward to chapter 10).

At least I posted the "interlude" segment recently. That was, well, eccentric, but at least it shows the story isn't dead. (And I did manage to work in one actual main-story plot point, though only a couple of people seem to have spotted it.)

Enough for now. I'm not sure that I'm even going to keep this blog going, but we'll see how it works out.