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January 18, 2016

D.O.X. is Dead #9: Coolness and Drive

Wait.  Who is writing this?

Such a lust for page views…WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO?

Oh, wait.  It’s me.  I’m writing this -- post #666, as it so happens.  So let’s make it special, shall we?

Welcome back to D.O.X. is Dead, a feature which I assume nobody even remembers!  In which case, consider this informal Season 2 as much a continuation of it as it is a fresh start.  Will people buy in this time?  We’ll see.  But for now?  Let’s have a quick explanation.

As I’ve said many times before, my goal is to become a writing hero -- and as tantalizing it would be to reach those lofty heights by complaining about Final Fantasy, my ambitions go just a wee bit farther than that.  I need to put out some fiction of my own if I want to earn the title.  To that end, I wrote my own story, and a lengthy one at that: Dead over Two, a tale of ghosts and guardians locked in a struggle to lay claim to planet Earth.  If only it were that simple; drastic edits over time made Dead over Two into the weakest form of the story.  As a result of countless changes -- to chapters, events, characters, and more -- the story eventually got rebranded into D.O.X.  It spanned seven books, weighed in at more than 500,000 words, and…never even got off the ground.

Time well spent, to be sure. 

It sounds like I’m being sarcastic, but in all honesty I’m not.  I basically had to burn D.O.X. to the ground (metaphorically; I do still have the files saved somewhere), but it’s not as if the story was entirely unusable.  So I did what any normal person would do and started over.  The plot is basically the same, but the elements that comprise it are dramatically different. 

It’s a denser, heavier story with greater focus and cohesion; whether it’s the characters, the events, or the world at large, everything is geared toward a certain conclusion in-universe and out of it.  In-universe, the mission is to have these characters face their despair in “the city of broken dreams”, and survive with their lives and hopes intact.  In the real world?  The goal of this new story -- of the newly-christened Dead on Prime -- is to go from a bunch of files on a computer to the tale that’ll bring the hype to the masses.

So for those keeping score?  Dead over Two (or V1, if you prefer) is the original entry, and the proverbial rough draft.  D.O.X. (V2) is the edited version that, while still stronger, wasn’t quite strong enough to make it to the hilltop.  Now Dead on Prime (V3) is here, and barring some minor changes it’s going to be the one that starts my true journey as a writing hero.  At least I hope so; I don’t think I’ve got it in me to make V4.  I mean I could, I guess, but not without offering up the rest of my sanity as tribute.  Also, I need to play Yakuza 4 and the rest of the games in my backlog.

In an ideal world, Dead on Prime would be on the road to bookstores as I type this.  But it’s not.  The submission process is unbearably slow; it’s not uncommon for me to wait for weeks, and even months, before I see anything…well, besides the automated response I get to confirm I sent the email in the first place.  And when I do get a response?  There’s nothing substantive to them besides a polite rejection.  “Sorry, but this isn’t right for us”, more often than not -- though one agent had the guts to say “I’m not interested”.

So is it because my story’s not good enough?  Am I not skilled enough as a writer?  Am I catering to the wrong demographic, or trying to win over the wrong agents?  Feedback has been less than helpful (read: virtually nonexistent), so as I’ve said before, it’s a guessing game where I have to figure out if it’s a problem with them, Dead on Prime, or me.  It’s, uh, not exactly good for the self-esteem.

I haven’t given up on the story, but it has made me reconsider the circumstances.  I don’t think it’s another situation where I need to start over, but if there was ever a time to mull over the details, this is it.  What do I need to do to grab readers by the neck and drag them into my world? 

My immediate answer would be characters; characters create opportunities, after all, so surely they’re going to be the pull more than anything else.  They’re the reason I’m writing.  So by that logic, the question that needs to be answered is simple: “Why would anyone ever care about my characters?”  That’s what I intend to find out with Season 2.

Now go.  Let the feature come back to life. 

Okay, now it’s back to life.  So let’s introduce our hero once again: The New Line Ace, Arc Siegel.

Alright, so who is this guy?
He’s the main character of Dead on Prime.  Under normal circumstances, he’d be a freshman at Leibniz High in his home of New Line City; problem is, his school inexplicably turned into a disaster zone overnight.  That’s the public perception, at least.  To Arc, it looks as if the campus’ expanse has turned into a haunted graveyard, albeit one swarmed with metaphysical numbers. 

Eager to solve the mystery, Arc begins his search of New Line City -- not only to figure out what’s going on and why, but to answer the questions that orbit it.  His theory?  The school’s destruction is tied to his “awesome power” to relive the deaths of people in the city whenever he goes to sleep -- and more pressingly, the sudden suicide of a happy-go-lucky peer.  In all fairness, he’s not far off the mark.

No, really.  Who is this guy?
That’s the start of Arc’s mission (before it all goes straight to hell, in more ways than one), but as a character?  Don’t let the “emo fringe” fool you; he’s not the type to wallow in self-pity.  He puts on airs of being cold and aloof to most, but it doesn’t take much to reveal that he’s a sarcasm-spouting joker with a tongue as sharp as a carving knife.  He’s always ready to fire off a biting quip, but there’s more to him than just acting like he’s too cool for (his destroyed) school.  His guile and wit have been well-documented, even if it’s led him into some nasty situations -- and encounters with nastier foes.

But what makes Arc who he is -- as a character and as a person -- is that underneath that cool and sardonic exterior beats a passionate heart.  He knows what he wants, and what he wants to do; despite the dangers, he presses onward so that he can figure out what’s going on.  Why?  Plenty of reasons.  Some are better than others, but he’s got a certain mantra in mind that he tries to follow every day: “Know everything, regret nothing.  That’s my way of life.” 

Arc takes his shit seriously.  He’s still a troublemaker and a smart-aleck, but it’s his drive that defines him more than anything else.  The world isn’t the way he wants it to be, so he tries to fix it.  Or, on a smaller scale, there are things that he can’t figure out; naturally, he tries to figure them out.  No one’s forced him to start his journey, and no one gave him any special support at the start.  Barring some skill as a street fighter (albeit with an extreme lean toward being a fragile speedster), he doesn’t have any special powers to see him through to the end.  That’s kind of a problem, because he takes on guys with special powers before the end of chapter 3.  And he meets a dimension-hopping serial killer before the end of chapter 1.

He’ll be put through his paces, is what I’m trying to say here.

Bold words, but is he any good?
It’s hard to know for sure.  I’ve gotten some really good responses from people before about Arc, but in the long run I have no idea how he’ll turn out.  Having seen rejections before, I can’t help but wonder if he’s a hero anyone would want to get behind -- for a number of reasons.  Put in the simplest terms, I think I might have shot myself in the foot by creating Arc.

He’s a character that predates Cross-Up by a good margin, but he has yet to appear in the header despite being my proverbial front-liner.  Why is that?  Well, I’ve been thinking, and I’ve realized something: Arc wasn’t the sort of character I ever really wanted to create.  Of the ten characters I do want to put out there someday, Arc isn’t one of them; he came later, and was intended to be the one to get my foot in the door to the writing world.  I wasn’t ready to put my dream guys out there, so he was going to act as a buffer.  Or, alternatively, he was going to be someone more…acceptable.

I guess you could call him “a hero to surpass Metal Gear Batman.”

My main guy -- the first of the ten -- is the key piece of my dream project.  In his current form, he’s basically Captain America fused with Shingo Yabuki (personality-wise).  Given that we’re more or less in an age where people could care less about straight-shooting heroes, it seemed fitting to create a character that was cool, calm, and collected.  Not bright, but dark.  Not goofy, but serious.  Not earnest, but cynical.  Basically, Arc started out as the antithesis to everything I stand for and believe in -- and even if he’s been through changes over the years, he still has the basic DNA inside him.

By the same token, I wonder if there’s something Gary Stu-ish about Arc.  I’ve run him through a couple of tests (like this one) and he checks out okay; still, I’m concerned.  He’s really smart!  He’s a good fighter!  He’s brave!  He’s the hero!  It’s not immediate in the first chapter that he’s got a LOT of weaknesses as a person, so in terms of first impressions?  It looks like he’s just plain better than everyone else -- stronger and wiser, and nobler to boot.  I’ll probably need to take a look at the first chapter (at the very least) again and adjust; if the starting few pages can’t hook someone, the thousands of pages that follow might as well be worthless.

Okay, so why should anyone care?
So you remember what I said about Arc being someone more acceptable?  You know, someone more suited for the era and cultural zeitgeist?  That’s half-true. 

Admittedly, I don’t know how well someone like him fits into the standard mold people expect -- if not demand -- of their leads nowadays.  He’s not so far gone that he’s swimming in the dense, stinking morass of grim and gritty “heroes”, but for those that want cooler, serious characters?  They’ll probably be sated.  On the other hand, the thing about Arc is that he’s something of an anti-character for all the vices of modern-day storytelling. 

He isn’t a chosen one; he chooses to get involved in New Line’s problems, and becomes a proactive, would-be problem solver despite A) no one asking it of him and B) being WAY out of his element.  Like I said, before the end of the third chapter he goes up against guys with powers.  Before the halfway point, he’s fighting off Chozo Ghosts.  Before the end of act one, he comes face-to-face with that serial killer -- and to say it’s a losing battle would be an understatement the size of a galaxy.  Essentially, it’s like expecting a toddler to beat a tiger.  And that’s not even the worst Dead on Prime has to offer.

If Arc is a cut above normal humans (or characters), then it’s because he has to be; normal people wouldn’t stand a chance against what he faces by story’s end.  It’s not just because of the creepy-crawlies or space-time shenanigans that take root in New Line City.  They’re a part of it, sure, but what’s important is that these obstacles, physical or otherwise, force upon the cast (and humanity at large) a struggle against the impossible.  It becomes blatantly obvious before the halfway point that Arc and the others are playing catch-up against a foe that’s technically already won; notably, there’s a countdown that starts at the end of chapter 1, and announces that there are “3 days left”.  What that entails, I won’t say exactly.  But things go from bad to worse, at the very least.

In a lot of ways, you could say that the true enemy isn’t [VILLAIN REDACTED], but an idea.  An emotion.  In this case, it’s despair -- as one would expect from “the city of broken dreams”.  The events, setting, and characters themselves all contribute to that sense of emotional malaise and hopelessness.  As the story’s hero, it’s Arc’s duty to fight against that; he wouldn’t be able to if he was just some dumb kid plucked from suburbia to embark on a quest that he doesn’t have ownership of.  He’s the architect of his own fortune, and believes that with skill, wit, and passion, he can solve any problem.

But that’s a problem in itself, because…holy shit, Arc is not cut out for being the savior.

Let’s ignore the fact that Arc is short, weak, effectively powerless, and is about as tough as the average paper towel.  Hell, let’s pretend that the events of the story never happen, and New Line’s “ace” went about his normal life.  If that happened, then Arc would still be a seriously messed-up individual, only without the extreme circumstances to expose those faults or the opportunity to start correcting them.  One of his core issues is that his passion and desires aren’t congruous with what he can actually do to fulfill them -- meaning that he’s boxed in just as badly as the people he derides on a regular basis.  Speaking of people, there’s a reason why he’ll treat all but a scant few like nuisances.  It’s not the best reason, but it’s one that makes sense to him.

That’s the crux of Arc’s failings, I suppose.  He has a reason for everything he does, but they’re all built on shambles and shaky ground.  I don’t want to go into grave detail, because it would mean exposing all of the spoilers; with that said, it becomes plainly obvious that Arc is more flawed than everyone around him.  Underneath the confidence (or bluster, if you prefer), he’s an incredibly sad and maybe even pitiable person.  His line of reasoning is built on concepts and absolutes that he can’t begin to fulfill, and couldn’t even if he had ultra-super powers.  In terms of the plot, Arc may not be the most powerful of the cast, but he ends up becoming a core pillar of support and strength -- the heart of the team that pushes them forward.  That’s a problem when said heart is no stronger than the others…and in a lot of ways is weaker by default.

Again, I’m trying not to spoil anything here, but I’ll say this.  First off?  Arc’s involvement (in the long run) either doesn’t change anything, or it actively makes things worse.  Second?  Arc is hollow.  In what capacity, I won’t say -- but for a guy who wants the truth, he sure is a great big mass of lies.  Already a demon, even.

What a demon.

I had my concerns about Arc -- and in all honesty, I still do.  But he’s the main character of Dead on Prime for a reason: he defines, and is defined by, the story in a way no one else ever could.  He has just enough positive traits to make him interesting from the outset; plus, he only gets better as the story progresses and he’s forced to become more than an ace or a joker.  He’ll go to some dark places over the course of the story (literally, in more than one instance), but the tradeoff is that he’ll come out stronger for it.

Arc may not be one of my original heroes, but he’s become one over the course of his story’s development.  He fights for what he believes in, and with every last ounce of his strength.  He’ll draw a line to the answers he seeks, and use it to take back his stolen future.  In the face of overwhelming, endless despair, he’ll stand strong and become the final hope.

Why?  Simple.  Because that’s his way of life.

And that’s about all I’ve got for now.  The fight’s not won yet, but I think a character like Arc at least gives me a shot.  Still, he’s just one piece of the puzzle -- one member of the core cast of eight.  How do the others fare?  Are they any good, or do they need to go back to the rough draft?  I guess we’ll find out, because we’re going straight down the list with these guys.

Tune in next time when I go over the number-two character…but first, one more dank Metal Gear reference for the road.  As of writing, I SERIOUSLY haven’t played enough of it.  That needs to change, but the pain of an infinite backlog is unmistakable. 


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