In the Brainholes: creepy dreams, Mass Effect, stories

ellen page

I’m still feeling out the format for this blog, but I’m taking a lot of inspiration from the work Chuck Wendig does over at terribleminds.com. He has several days of the week where he hits specific blog categories — Fridays he usually throws down a writing prompt, for example. Thursdays are usually interviews. Seems like a good idea.

“In the Brainholes” is my current experiment for Friday blog posts. I’m envisioning it as a rundown of the stuff that’s been on my mind throughout the week. Plus I think I’m going to throw a writing prompt/weekend fiction challenge at the end (and shamelessly steal from Chuck). For the time being, until I decide I don’t like this idea anymore.

So away we go.

This Week, In Weird Dreams I Had

I tend to dream in movies and short stories. Often there are some really cool elements (usually horror) that I pull inspiration from for fiction. There was this one where child Ellen Page (I dunno why — good casting director in my brain that night, I guess) lived across the street from dream me, and was from a town that had been ravaged by some kind of monster plague. The dream had Ellen taking us (being me and my sister and others who were monster fodder) to some kind of destroyed police station, where we faced the monster.

The monster, by the way, was invisible.

But a few interesting elements remain in my mind if most of it is gone. The “child vanguard” idea, in particular, is something I’ve absorbed and am using in a (quickly evolving) Slenderman-inspired script to which I’ve been slowly adding. A troubled kid, damaged by the events, searching for help — and also creepy and detached in a way that Page has really mastered in some of her films, which is why I think she appeared in that role — resonated with me from that dream pretty deeply. Add to that a sinister element of the child’s potential involvement with said monster. Lots of horror movies include creepy children, but they’re usually just evil. Damaged people, and in particular damaged children, I find a great deal more worrying.

One more thing on dreams: a number of my dreams this week that I can remember had me running — or fleeing, more aptly — and this always gets me tooling on the nature of dreams and the biochemistry involved. If you’ve never read up on how dreams work, do it. (Side note: I feel like there was a Radio Lab episode about this but I can’t seem to find it. Anyway, on dreams, you should listen to this Radio Lab episode and this Radio Lab episode.) But the gist is, your body produces chemicals to put you to sleep. It also produces chemicals to stop your stupid brain from scaring the living hell out of you and making you accidentally run off a cliff or punch your dog or whatever while you’re dreaming.

So your brain secretes chemicals that shut your dumb ass down. It actually paralyzes you during REM sleep. This is why your legs never seem to work right in nightmares when a xenomorph is closing in or you’re running late for a test or an appointment that could ruin your life. It’s your brain’s physical awareness of the fact that your legs are unresponsive. When you have one of those twitchy freak-outs in the middle of the night, where your leg kicks or something, it generally means your chemicals aren’t quite proportional or you fell into REM too quickly.

This results in sleep disorders, too. If you’ve ever woken up and been fully aware but unable to move — and maybe even hallucinated — scientists think it’s because of these paralytic brain chemicals.

Anyway. I don’t know what to do with all that, and perhaps that’s more common a bit of knowledge than I expect. Maybe I should stop writing down blog ideas when I wake up in the middle of the night.

Speaking of that Slenderman Script

As soon as I started that, look what happened:

Not the exact same, but it seems like Slenderman was the original inspiration from which this movie has riffed. End product feels like it’s fairly distinct, however, so maybe what I’ve started writing isn’t a waste of time. Worth noting: my end script will not be about Slenderman, but the elements that freak me out the most are going to mold what it becomes.

mass effect 3 leviathan 1

Mass Effect 3’s ‘Leviathan’

I spend a lot of time with video games as storytelling devices, both in and out of my professional work, and Mass Effect is a story that has concerned me for years — this year more than any other, because it has been a huge part of my work at Game Front. This week, a new portion of the story was added to the game in the form of a downloadable content pack called “Leviathan.” I reviewed it.

In the interest of refraining from spoiling anything, I won’t talk too much about the story. I will say that the additional world-building Leviathan brings to the greater Mass Effect universe is almost a little puzzling to me. It fills in a strange gap in the backstory of the game (revealing some of the origins of the synthetic alien monsters, the Reapers, that play villains in the series) that doesn’t really reveal any backstory at all. I wonder how the story looks from BioWare’s perspective, as they’re filling in these gaps. Was this a story constructed because of the desire to sell the experience, or was this a chunk of story they’ve been sitting on, planning to find a place to use it later on? I have a feeling it’s the former.

I’m tempted to make a broader generalization here: Sometimes, you should let your story live. Or die, as it were. Leave it alone. Stop building onto it. Stop filling in backstory. Maybe let those unknowable things remain unknowable. The trouble with Leviathan is that, if the ending of Mass Effect 3 hadn’t completely turned the Darth Vader-like Reapers into the equivalent of sniveling, useless Anakin Skywalkers, Leviathan made sure to finish the job. If you’re going to rob your world of its mystique, come up with an awesome way to do it. Leviathan kind of feels like the simplest conception of the Reaper backstory that could have been constructed. Simple isn’t bad, but Leviathan is almost a foregone conclusion. It felt like backstory invented to bolster information BioWare created for its ending and added to for its Extended Cut. It doesn’t really feel organic to the story and might have been better either left out, or more greatly expanded.

However, Telltale’s The Walking Dead is an amazing game with phenomenal writing. I’m thinking Game of the Year contender. I’ll talk about it at length sometime in the future. Working on a review of the third of five episodes for Game Front now. Play it if you haven’t.

Finally, a Long Weekend of Fiction

Something I’ve been hoping to do as soon as I could make the time for it is go back through the half-formed projects I hadn’t finished when we dropped everything to start working on So You Created a Wormhole and which have been further put off because of the requirements of staying alive. Tooling around in my head is a zombie idea I’ve been wondering if I could pull off, but mostly I just have horror on my mind right now.

So here’s a horror prompt. I’ll see if I can’t whip up something based on this and post it next Friday. Anybody else interested can do the same and leave it in the comments. My fave gets a super-exclusive autographed galley copy of So You Created a Wormhole.

Here’s your prompt:

“Snapping awake, she’s oppressed by the intense darkness of the room. Slowly, a shadow unfolds itself in the corner.”

Make it your first line.

Update: Let’s keep it to sub-2,000 words for time considerations, seeing as I gotta read anything anyone decides to write.

Top image property of Lionsgate. Leviathan image property of Electronic Arts.

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