Progress on Six Months

I’m still working on my sequel to Swan HIll, a novella-length twine game called Six Months. I’ve been working on it now for about six months off and on. (Ha!) My recent move to Los Angeles has left me pretty isolated, without a lot of things to do or people to hang out with IRL– so I’ve had a lot of time to work on this project. So I’m charging ahead!

I’ve got the feel and direction of the experience nailed down, I think. Six Months is a murder mystery, but it’s not a solveable murder puzzle. There’s no inventory, no clues to pick up. You see, the joy I get from reading detective novels has never been in the solving of the mystery or the revelation of the killer, or anything like that– I like detective novels because they’re often great character studies (of the detective). I want this game to be more like that.

The main character in the tale is the asshole duke brother from Swan Hill. Before I wrote Swan Hill I was actually writing a story in which Simon played a major role and his brother Robert, the Chancellor wizard guy, was only a background figure– so I’ve had Simon in my head for much longer than I had the protagonist of Swan Hill. Simon’s a bit of a fucked-up guy. He’s very much at home in his duchy, where he’s been in charge of everything for years– but he’s heavily reliant on his family and on the privileges he gets from being the biggest fish in that little pond. When he heads to the city to solve this crime, he has to figure out how to handle himself alone for the first time in his adult life– which is hilarious, because he’s around 40 years old.

Six Months focuses on a ridiculously risky situation Simon puts himself in after an emotional reaction to a relative’s murder. Instead of letting the young, incompetent king and his grasping military policemen handle the investigation, Simon invokes an old-school rite that gives him jurisdiction– so long as he successfully finds and personally kills the perpetrator within six months.

My focus in college was medieval and early modern Europe. During this time, extensive urbanization changed the way people related to their superiors, inferiors, and governments– specifically with regards to the amount of casual violence between individuals, and between individuals and the state. Simon’s problems in Six Months were written with these changes in mind. Although these fictional “six month pledges” are still legal in his country, nobody does them anymore. Culture has changed, but the law hasn’t, and powerful people like Simon still have access to legally murderous acts of revenge. Simon’s friends and family often argue that he shouldn’t have ever made this vow, and while playing as Simon, you may find that you agree.

So Simon has to figure out how to resolve this oath without completely destroying himself and his family. Would it be better to deliberately fail the oath? To accuse the wrong person? To solve the case properly and do the duty everyone expects from him? Because his case is so public, he risks causing harm to various suspected minority groups in the kingdom if he encourages the military police to pursue them. And on top of this, his family has a certain ‘history’ with both of the major groups that may have been responsible for the murder.

Add to this the enormous unresolved emotional baggage Simon had with the murdered person, and you’ve got a mystery that’s less about finding and punishing the evildoer and more about “how do I fix all of this while feeling the least like shit?”

In order for the audience to feel like this is a worthwhile tale sitting through, they’ll have to desperately want to see the solution to Simon’s problems. They’ll have to want him to not feel like shit! To this end, I’ve reduced his assholery. He also spends a lot of time in “fish out of water mode,” so that I’ll have excuses for explaining things to the reader. I feel like this is a big contrast to most of the standard “gritty fantasy” fiction that people read today. In stories like Game of Thrones, we expect to see clever characters brilliantly tricking one another in the gilded, got-your-shit-together halls of cackling political genius. But in Six Months, for reasons both mechanical and thematic, you’re gonna be piloting a guy who does NOT have his shit together AT ALL. (I sometimes worry that too many of the characters in this story have too little of their shit together!)

Anyway, that’s where my brain is on this story so far. If you like slow-burning low-key mystery stuff, and if you have great sympathy with people who don’t have their shit together, you’ll probably like this story a lot.

For a different view on where my head is right now, here are the kind of books I was reading immediately before drafting out the first outlines for this story. They all influenced me in different ways while I was figuring out what kind of story I wanted to tell. I wish I had a list of all those early modern europe urban history books I read in college, but I don’t, sorry. 😦

  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John LeCarre
  • The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell
  • Shriek by Jeff Vandermeer
  • Good Bye To All That by Robert Graves

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