Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The story so far...

When I was still drafting the structure of this story, I had one objective in mind: I wanted to make it as long as a normal episode of Umineko. I didn't really have much confidence that I could pull it off; after all, my previous work (Witches & Woodlands) has barely 75000 words, including tea party and yonkoma. So, in other words, in spite of how long I've been working on it, I only wrote half as much text as what R07 usually writes for one of his releases.
This time I wanted to make it longer. While quality is still what matters the most in writing, quantity is not something that should be completely underestimated, and, as a novelist, I think it's important to improve the word count output. This was a challenge to me, a way to test my skills. In Witches & Woodlands I wanted to see if I could avoid descriptions completely by taking full advantage of the visual novel medium. This time I decided to do the opposite and to be as much descriptive as possible.
So now that I have reached the half-way mark, after a prologue and four chapters, how did I fare? According to my expectations, I should have written at least 75000 words by now. Well... the actual number is quite different. Not counting the repeated names at the start of each dialog, the current word count is: 153347. So, basically... I have already reached my objective, and I'm only half-way through... Translated in characters, that's 846289. You can find the character counts of Umineko episodes here for the sake of comparison.
To be honest, I find it hard to believe this, it doesn't feel like that much happened, at least I don't feel it that way, but you can't argue with numbers. This however brings me to the conclusion that I probably overdid it, I wrote too much! This was supposed to be a mystery novel (sort of), not an epic fantasy!
So well... I wanted to take this chance to hear the impressions of whoever is following this story. I don't even know how many of you there are. I think you must be at least 20, but it's hard to tell. For Witches & Woodlands I can simply look at the exact number of downloads (by the way, it's almost 1200! Thanks to everyone that advertised and reviewed it!), but the pageviews feed of this blog isn't really that reliable.
I consider Witch of Truth in "alpha" stage. Something this complex really shouldn't be published so carelessly, a single error could completely mess up the whole story, but... I'm doing my best, and so far there shouldn't be any relevant problem. And yet there are already so many things that I have changed from my original plan. One of the reasons it took so long for Chapter 4 to be written is that I had to completely rethink the whole confrontation with Kuon. I realized that if I did it according to the plan, I would have abused too much of a certain plot gimmick. It's just too convenient for the detective to be at the right time and place to find a relevant clue. I did it in Chapter 2 and there's still one in Chapter 4, I had to fix that somehow. I think it's acceptable now, but if I did more, I would have pushed it way too far.
So I spent several days studying the appropriate chess moves, but it was even more difficult to come up with the right arguments and counter-arguments. I've been stuck for at least two or three days. I couldn't come up with something that wouldn't make either Kuon or Erika look like a total idiot. In the end I'm glad that I didn't give up, because if I used the first few ideas I had, it would have been quite lame.
So I say, but that's just my perspective, I don't know what you actually think. Maybe some of you still think that was lame... If that's so, I apologize, that's the best I could do, at least know that I really tried.
Changing argument a bit, I think that by now you should have a reached a relatively good grasp of what kind of "mystery" this is. One of the most used tricks to hide relevant hints and therefore give a hard time to the sleuths is to add "noise" to the picture. Witch of Truth makes abundant use of that, but if it was just a series of pointless red herrings it wouldn't be nice. Instead I tried to make it so that even "noise" has a meaning, or rather, it's only "noise" if you care about the murder case and nothing else. Alongside the murder mystery there are a lot of other minor mysteries, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are pointless. Erika is having as much "fun" at solving them as she has at piecing together the truth about the crime. There is obviously one character that is hiding the fact that he or she is a murderer, but the others are still hiding something. As Erika said, rather than a single puzzle you have several puzzles, and the respective pieces are all mixed together. Almost everything is a hint, but it could be a hint about something completely unrelated to the murder. Anyway my advice, if you want to enjoy this work to the fullest, is to not focus on the murder alone; there is a lot to reason about and solve. If you think something is odd or out of place, there's probably a reason. I say "probably" because I can't be 100% I didn't mess up anything, but really, at the end everything should make perfect sense. Even the idle chat between Dlanor and Erika are not completely devoid of any purpose.
I think I have said it before, but I'll repeat it: every single mystery of this story is meant to be solvable. I won't say that I intend to respect all the 20 Dine rules, though, those are way too limiting. No literary dilly-dallying? I think I have already broken that one. But there shouldn't be anything unfair or lame, and, by the way, there never was any rule that you should be able to understand everything from the first chapter. Don't worry, you'll know when you are supposed to have already understood who is the murderer.
It probably won't be that hard, my main concern is that you will end up thinking that this isn't a particularly exceptional case. Well... objectively it isn't. When you compare this story to the gameboards in Umineko, there's really a huge difference. The murder cases in R07's work are meant to be entertaining challenges, and there are several of them. Truly there isn't a murder mystery with a higher body count. That's certainly outstanding, but there's the problem that it's hard to come up with a good reason for someone to perform such a flamboyant serial murder. Whether R07 actually managed to provide a satisfying reason or not, was certainly the object of quite a lot of debates on animesuki.
For my story I really wanted to show something more "realistic", something that a real person would logically do in our real world, the price is that there isn't really anything as crazy as what you've seen in Umineko. This might be a downer for some, but I intend to compensate with other factors.
In fact, the best part should come now. If you enjoyed the first four chapters, and if I do everything right, you should enjoy the next four a lot more. I still haven't shown you the parts that made me think: "yes, this is really a story that I want to write". So far there wasn't really anything exceptional, at least in my opinion. It makes me wonder even more if I really had to write this much to reach my purpose...
This week I won't be writing anything else, there are a few things that I want to catch up with, and I am preparing a little "surprise". I should be able to finish it by Saturday. Don't worry though, I don't want you to get the wrong idea that I'm abandoning this project or anything, this will still be my main focus.
So, well... let me know your general impressions, that might be useful for me to understand if I'm doing something wrong, or if I need to do some adjustment. However don't make me any questions! I won't answer, he he...


  1. I have to thank you a lot for your effort. Really, this is very fun to read, everything is well though and I just enjoy both the old characters and the new. BTW I promoted your fic in TvTropes so it has more views.

  2. I just stumbled on this about 2 weeks ago, clicked on the story on an idle whim, and ended up reading the entire thing.

    Overall I enjoyed the entire thing immensely. You've got a great grasp on Erika's character, have woven an intricate and interesting mystery, and most things so far have been foreshadowed to some extent, etc. I've dabbled a bit in trying to write Umineko styled mystery before, and it's tough!

    If your story had one weakness, I'd have to say it was the prologue. It felt like a distressingly generic high-school anime, (Which I realize was exactly the point) and dragged on a bit too long. The prologue did an excellent job at setting up the situations, the plot, the characters, the clues and the possible culprits, but even so halfway through I found myself starting to skim text, and only continued forward due the promise of Erika. :3

    Other than that, some typos, odd grammatical structures, technical stuff. It seems to have gotten less common as the story progressed (Or I got worse at noticing it, but still). It's stuff that can easily be fixed on re-examination.

    Whether you should retroactively edit episodic media is always a tough question. The process of writing is the process of re-writing, and all stories are generally improved with additional polish. But if changes are significant, your readers can feel cheated if you were to say, add in a significant clue to a chapter they've already read. My suggestion is to just continuously note the changes that you want / need to be made, but not actually upload them until you have a finished product you can release all at once. Until then, chapter a week ho!

    Anyway, keep up the great work! I'm looking forward to the next chapter, and things to come.

  3. I also think you are doing an excellent work so far and look forward to the second half! I enjoy searching for hints, developing some theories and then following the reasonings of Erika to see if they match my own. There is a good balance between 'hidden hints' and hints Erika just mentions outright for the reader to keep in mind, so the reader is always thinking and engaged in the story.

    Although i have to admit that my current murder theory and some other puzzle solutions are not really based on hints (this might change as more about the other characters is revealed in the story). Instead I take a metalogic approach similar to Erika in Witches and Woodlands when she claimed the ancient dragon at the beginning could not possibly be real because it would mess up the game balance. As another example for metalogic, in the purple truth riddle in Umineko Ep. 8 one could reason out the murderers even before the necessary facts were presented just by noticing that somebody was purposely showing these murders to Ange. And what other purpose could this step have had if the culprit revelation would not result in the most cruel resolution possible for her, thus making the suspects pretty clear?

    Therefore each time you present something, I can't help but think "What is the most cruel way this could be exposed by Erika? What would the truth have to be so she can leave the school a burning ground of crying kids and shattered dreams?". I'm not sure if you intended this line of reasoning with your work, but at least it is pretty fun :)

    It also worked pretty well with Kubota, for whom being exposed as an Otaku is certainly the worst possible outcome considering his personality and goals.

    I'm therefore closely watching Sumomo, since her being the culprit would utterly devastate Oda, who after all had a pretty prominent role with much exposure in the beginning of the story and therefore would easily get the reader to sympathize with him (btw he kind of reminded me of Battler, so I was surprised he faded more and more into the background as the story progressed and didn't turn out to be a major protagonist).

    However there are many possible dark hidden secrets with this ample set of shady characters (for example I first thought Nagaoka wanted to frame the "bad" student Oda to protect a murderous "good" student; now i suspect him a little of having had sexual relations with students and being blackmailed although there is no real evidence for that; but he is such an unlikeable character the revelation by Erika just hast to hit him HARD..).

    Anyways, guessing those dark secrets before they are revealed is part of the fun of this story for me. And so I'm patiently waiting, because i'm sure every single one will be revealed, and i'm sure they will be revealed in the cruelest way possible without a moment of considering if this would even be necessary or not, because as long as they are the truth this is reason enough.
    Just by having the character Erika Furudo appear in a story, this level of reasoning should be possible for the reader.... don't you think so, everyone?