Han shot first!

Posted by on Apr 13, 2013 in Progress Report

Shoot first, or forever hold your piece.

This week I’ve not been doing as much writing as normal, so today’s update is a shorter one. Easter holidays, family, accompanying jobs around the house and various other things have necessarily taken priority over the writing. On the good side though, I’ve managed to do some work on Elite:Reclamation and I’m pleased to report that I’m at 24,273 words, against a target of 24,000. I should be back to normal next week.

I’ve also introduced the third major character, pretty much the villain of the piece. I’ve written a scene with a fairly graphic piece of violence, which is new territory for me. I hope I’ve done it justice.

This raises an interesting point which was debated on the forums and also on Lave Radio; at what level should these stories (and the game itself) be pitched?

The point’s been made, a number of times, that the Elite audience is pretty mature (in age at least!). Most folks are likely to be in their 30s and 40s. With this in mind, the tone of the books arguably should aim at this market segment, favouring books with a measure of strong language, violence and sex as ‘allowed’ for the plot, even if they’re not used as part of the story.

Others have sounded a warning note advising that the game needs to bring in fresh blood and that younger players have to be considered too.  A ‘rating’ for Elite:Dangerous has yet to be defined, but it would seem unlikely for the game to be much more than a ‘12’ on the PEGI scale, perhaps a 15. Should the stories likewise ‘tone back’ to accommodate this?

Then there is the context. My story, for instance, is set out on the Frontier, where things are, let’s be honest, a bit brutal. Frontier justice is harsh and quickly dispensed. In many places the law is decided by who wins the argument, or who has the biggest gun. Out here, folks are not likely to be characters out of Pride and Prejudice. If someone breaks your arm or sticks a knife in you during a fight, blood, guts and swearing is the result.

The Elite universe is not clean and sanitised like Star Trek, where humanity has bettered itself before heading out to the stars, typically taking the moral higher ground in most of its adventures. If anything it’s more anarchic than Star Wars, potentially more complex and nuanced than that of Firefly.

For realisms sake, lengthy bar-room brawls are out. You win or you lose quickly in a fight, with one side or other incurring some unpleasant injuries. You don’t dance around trading punches and rolling around until your shirt rips. You use whatever is to hand to immobilise your opponent as fast as possible. Firefights are equally quick. People who know how to use guns don’t generally miss all that often. Ammunition is limited. There won’t be blazing exchanges of bullets with unfeasibly large magazines.

Dan Dowd? Dead.

I’d expect the baser tendencies of humanity to play out in these places too. Folks will lie, cheat and steal. Men and women will use whatever assets they have to get ahead, with all that entails. Shoot first and ask questions later isn’t just a cliché, it’s a survival tactic.

My inclination is to be true to the context I’m writing in. This is the frontier; it will get a bit messy. I’m not a fan of gratuitous sex, violence or profanity in books or films, but there will be some because of the nature of where I’m writing. Realism trumps the other considerations. My challenge is to make sure it’s appropriate to the story and not over or under cooked.

In my previous Oolite stories, the characters have already encountered some of these situations already. Rebecca was tortured in Incursio, Jim shot in Mutabilis. There was an allusion to a sex scene, though it wasn’t described. I promised from the outset that Elite:Reclamation would have a darker tone than the Oolite saga. There has certainly been a measure of violence thus far. I expect this story to rate at least a ‘15’ and possibly and ‘18’ – not that books get rated!

So – over to you. What are your thoughts on this issue? Are you looking for a squeaky clean space adventure in the manner of Star Trek or a gritty violence fest like Alien? Should I aim at a demographic, or just write the ******* story?

See you next week.

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    16 Comments

  1. Just write the ****** story, looking forward to it.

  2. Make in as gritty as you realistically can and should as long as it suits the story. What you describe is that the story needs it to set the tone, by all means do it!

    What/who would Hannibal Lecter be without the brain eating scene?

  3. Sensitivity to the community is one thing, Drew, but you have to stay true to both the setting and your own artistic integrity. I think your gut instincts are on point: keep it real – not white-washed or over-saturated Technicolor.

    Besides, as you say, books do not get rated, so feel free to have a great time slapping your characters around. I know I will. 🙂

  4. Yep, as long as the scene serves the story, and I know you don’t do ‘gratuitous’, so just write it and see.

    — Giles.

  5. Yes, I too think you need to be true to the story, which is an adult theme for an adult audience. If that means it’s an ’18’ so be it. I certainly wouldn’t want the sanitised ‘PG’ version! As you say the game may be a different matter, but gritty realism is what the books deserve.

  6. I feel you should make it realistic and not worry about the younger readers. This is not the official Dark Wheel book that all players are expected to read, it is one of several add on books (probably the best!) that players can buy. There will probably be a range of styles of Elite books and you should be true to what you feel.

  7. ‘Then they did it on the table top, violently’

    I don’t see under 12’s being particularly interested in reading any fiction let alone the manual. BUT if its done well and essential to the plot, some of your characters should keep their clothes on.

    Freedom to create is key, if its appropriate put it in.. Truth is truth.

  8. I’d say make it as graphic as the particular scene needs.

    If I read the novelization of Saw I’d expect a large amount of graphic detail about torture. If I saw the film of 50 Shades of Grey I’d expect to see plenty of sex (I’ve not read it but it’s the gist I get 🙂 ).

    With your story being set on the frontier of the Elite: Dangerous universe I’d expect to see elements of conflict, evidence of hardship, and some of the darker aspects of humanity. Maybe even some spacecraft too!

    Be true to the story and any ‘heavy’ scenes will fit.

    Looking forward to it.

  9. Second vote for “just write the ****** story!” — and looking very much forward to it! 🙂

    (also .. I’m very encouraged seeing your thoughts on elite vs. star trek, star wars, etc, great stuff! keep it up Drew!)

  10. I think unless you are writing a book specifically aimed at a demographic (i.e. young adult fiction), you should not censor your writing.

    If the story should have a steamy sex scene and you are comfortable writing it, then stick it in (so to speak!).

    If someone gets their arm blown off in a battle, describe the sinews, bones and muscles being ripped asunder. If in zero G you could have very interesting descriptions of arteries pumping blood droplets, like quivering bubbles into the ship’s atmosphere.

    If people are talking and they would swear, then they should swear (I actually think the taboo words should be unique to the Elite universe, as swearing has changed pretty drastically over the last thousand years, so I see no reason to think humans will use the same terms we use today in the distant future.

    Anyway, having said all that, just write the flinking story! 😉

  11. A gritty realism along the lines of what you have suggested certainly would fit in my imagining of the Elite universe. Write the story as you see it, Drew, and damn the horses. As one of the future readers I’m looking forward to the wild ride ahead. To pinch a phrase that I think you may have seen once or twice 😉 – Write on, Commander!

  12. Two points here.

    The statement “I’m not a fan of gratuitous sex, violence or profanity in books or films, but there will be some because of the nature of where I’m writing” is a bit of a concern to me in this context, because it sounds as if that part will be a bit experimental and so it might be perceived as an artificial add-on. Like others have commented: If it fits the story, go for it. If it’s to no real avail, I’m undecided. Of course I will and have to trust you as the writer here 😉

    Re the level of detail: Well, you hinted at the usual fights being over quickly anyway. So for most of the graphical violence scenes I’d expect it quick and hefty. Possibly comparable to the movie “The Cube”? Since I personally prefer sex over violence (who doesn’t?), if there’s a choice, I’d rather have less of the former and more of the latter in terms of quantity, length and depth. Again, it has to fit. I have trouble imagining a nymphomaniac in space where the first encounter between two people is by a blip on the radar. But surely the story writers (game and books) have more imagination than I do *g*

    It’ll all be fine…

  13. I think that your consideration to place realism above all else in the story is crucial for its success. As you mentioned, books don’t get rated so feel free to use include/exclude whatever you see fit. Yes, the book should appeal to a younger audience too but it shouldn’t sacrifice its realism or drift away from its core fan base demographic.

    From what you have alluded to in all of your updates, your writing style seems (for me at least) to strike a really good balance in terms of the inclusion of violence, sex and strong language.

    In summary, absolutely make the story gritty and realistic since Star Trek (especially The Next Generation series) was very clean/sterile which sometimes lessened its appeal.

    Keep up the great work Drew. Thanks.

  14. Gritty and realistic it will be, as much as is necessary. Co-ordinates reconfirmed, destination set. Engaging hyperspace drive…

  15. Considering most 14 year old’s have now watched films with Violence in them that years ago would have been rated 18, and for that matter they’ve probably witnessed said sex and violence just on Soaps alone, And playing Sim this-that-or-the-other and all the FPS games, With some even having a portrayal of back street sex/rape occurring. I say write it as YOU feel it should be written. If the author enjoys is, sure enough we’ll enjoy it.

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