Friday, September 2, 2016

A tough question, or a brief story on how I started writing BNAA

All right, folks. Tough question time.

If you weren't aware, I have a bit of an interest in writing fiction. I don't write much (fiction or non-fiction) these days, but from time to time I come up with some ideas for a story that I /really/ want to put into words and share. My goal - at least, once I settled on one - was to come up with a story that appeals to me and carries emotional weight; ideally I'd like to come up with a situation that builds up to something where the reader bawls like they were at a Pixar movie, and then delivers something tense while it builds a climax and moves on to a heartwarming finale. Yeah, I know, cheesy, right? But my experience tells me that the stories that stay with you the most do something along those lines, as long as the execution's great and the story and/or characters are solid.

More on that later.

Around 2010, I came across a series of stories known as the Super Smash Bros. Brawl (SSBB) Case Files [link if I can find it], written by someone known as ShadowKnux. It was a crossover series of Smash and Ace Attorney, and it was written like a game script - in fact, originally, it was posted in a playable "audience follows along" form on a forum. Basically, Phoenix and Maya go around assorted Nintendo locales and solve murder mysteries, meeting characters from all sorts of Nintendo games (most of which were in Brawl), gathering evidence and testimony, and of course duking it out with Edgeworth in court to find the culprit and save an innocent client from being found guilty.

The story that stuck out in my mind the most was themed around Pokemon. Mewtwo took part in it, and he played a sort of mentor role to yet another accused - Ness - and was willing to sabotage his own defense to prevent Ness from being tried for murder. (Phoenix ends up saving them both, natch.) I really don't remember what the true inspiration was, but I liked the idea of Ace Attorney-style courtroom tales set in Pokemon locales with Pokemon characters - and decided to try my hand with writing a case, even doing it in the same script style that SSBB Case Files was using. I called it "Brendan Namron: Ace Attorney" after the title character, chosen because he was also the male player character from Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, which were my favorite Pokemon games at the time.

The first case was ... pretty lame, to be honest, but it got my feet wet and I felt pretty good about it. I even shared it on a message board, and posted it there using the same "play along" style SSBBCF used. I also shared it with a good friend over ... was it IRC or Google Talk? and did more-or-less the same play-along thing. We had actually been doing that with SSBBCF - I would paste the text into the chat and he'd supply the answers when the "game" asked for one. I even made up press text when he pressed a statement that had no text from the original author, so it was good practice and probably contributed to my desire to write my own case. In both places, the story seemed to be met with positive responses - what few there were - and I felt encouraged to write a second case. I wanted to make it bigger, and I certainly wanted to make it better; the first case was completely amateurish and ridiculous in the way the trial played out, and mostly served as a warm-up. But I wrote an ending to it that was supposed to set up the theme - because I wanted to try and make a complete four-case story out of it, and now I was confident that I could do so.

Things kinda went downhill.

I had a good chunk of text written by the time I started posting the first case to the message board, but I was hungry for feedback and spent a lot of time posting it, and it didn't take long to catch up. After that, my momentum took a nosedive, and on top of that I wrote such a horrendously sloppy section that the board's admin called me out on it. (I scrapped it and rewrote most of that part, and the admin seemed to enjoy the new version.) I came to a near-complete halt when I hit the final trial, because I was struggling with a lot of things about it - not the least of which included how to lead-in to the final trial day, as well as how to *end the case*. (Endings really are hard.) I think I scrapped about a dozen versions of the lead-in before I allowed myself to continue.

I still mostly write sequentially. B cannot happen until A has, and consequently I have a lot of trouble planning. Which also means I mostly write by the seat of my pants, and other than some vague idea of what I want to convey or make happen, I don't know in advance what *will* happen. This usually makes for fun writing until I remember that I'm writing a /murder mystery/ - one that's supposed to be in the style of a solvable visual novel, at that - and *everything* has to make consistent sense or suspension of disbelief goes out the window.

So yeah, I think case 2 ended up taking me over a year to finish, and by then interest had died down greatly. Still, I wasn't giving up, so I set to work on case 3.

Except I had no idea what case 3 was going to be about for several months. I had no idea what the /overarching story/ was going to be about.

On top of that, I got this idea into my head that people just *really* hate reading script formats, and that that was probably why BNAA wasn't getting much feedback. So I eventually took it upon myself to write case 3 in prose, telling myself it would be good writing practice anyway.

I was still writing without much direction in mind, but as I tossed idea after idea, I started drifting to case 4 and what I wanted to do with that. I eventually settled on incorporating some tension between Brendan and his father, Norman, since many fan theories involving the Norman from the video games do the same thing. I went through a ton of tweaks on the idea, and currently I have a pretty good concept formed of how the relationship between Brendan and Norman is supposed to go throughout case 4 - kickstarted by a plot twist that I want to reveal right at the end of case 3.

... actually, wait, no. I did pick a murder mystery to go with for case 3, but I only had the "day of the crime" stuff nailed down and I just wanted to get something going. A scene not two far into the case's story involves a conversation between Phoenix and Brendan (Phoenix being one of Brendan's assistants) about his dad. Brendan sums up for Phoenix why he dislikes his father, and in this canon it's due to a misunderstanding over a competition victory.

Over the years, I took that and fleshed it out in my notes.

But I didn't flesh out case 3's mystery nearly as well. I wanted a Pokemon to be the murder - since it was a human in the first two cases - and I didn't want to scrap and start the case over because I'd already gotten a lot done and I didn't know how else to approach this - and starting over would almost certainly kill my momentum, I thought. I wanted to get something /out there/ before interest died completely, because to be honest, I crave feedback. Positive validation. Wooooo. (This is the part where I try to persuade you to leave a comment, but I guess I shouldn't bother.)

And I just. Kept. Getting. Stuck.

So as I write this, I've had this /one story/ in development for /six years/ and counting, and it's not looking like I can finish it any time soon. I don't know if I'll /ever/ finish it, despite currently sitting on the *last trial* of case 3, desperately trying to tie everything in the case together so I can move on to the damned plot twist and start *really* working on case 4, because *that's* the part of the story I really want to show everyone and the part where I've had so many ideas come and go it's ridiculous and I need to breathe. Inhale. Exhale.

So this is the question, folks. Hopefully some of the above made sense. Is it time to move on?

Case 3 has been fermenting for five years. Chances are case 4 will take about as long, no matter what I convince myself of otherwise. Somewhere along the line, I lost interest in actually *writing* the thing, even if I continued to have ideas for it and felt eager to show them to people. Indeed, I did try to show my notes to two people, and I got basially nothing in response. I don't know if they ever cared about BNAA, but they certainly don't seem to now. And why should they? It's clearly going nowhere, for starters, and if they want to get their Ace Attorney or Pokemon fix, they can just *play the games* and find stories of infinitely better quality than what I'm producing.

I tell myself I really want to finish this. I tell myself that I have too good an idea for a father-son relationship story to let it die. I tell myself that *someone* else wants to see how this thing ends, even if it's just one person.

I just don't know if I can write any more.