Relatable Characters – Earthbound Series

Storytellers try a number of methods to help endear characters to their audience: tragic backstory to tug at heartstrings, diversifying the cast to appeal to a wider range of experience, creating quirks and tics to make a character as immediately unique as possible. Sometimes the attempts can go a little overboard.

Did I mention “radical costuming”?
(I’ve never played this game. Does this dude just really love pizza, or…?)

Here’s a pro tip: if your characters express a sense of humanity, triumph, and fallibility, the audience will relate regardless of other influencing factors.

Still, there’s something to be said for character attributes that quickly grab the audience’s attention. Sometimes they can be the gateway to a deeper emotional bond. But how do you create such quirks in a way that doesn’t seem forced or against the natural flow of the story?

I know EXACTLY the games that can help us solve that question:

*obsession intensifies*

The Mother/Earthbound series’ goal, from the beginning, was to experiment telling a story through the video game medium. For me to compare Mother 1 Earthbound Beginnings to other RPG stories released around the same time would be a little above my pay grade (because yo, I don’t get paid for this), but whatever the case, Itoi knew how to endear his characters to players in an environment that complimented the quirks.

Since the games take place in the “real world”, there’s already some familiarity when we recruit and interact with the cast. This helps set the stage for when we meet what might be considered underwhelming characters, compared to the epic casts of other JRPGs. Your first teammate in Earthbound Beginnings wasn’t some noble warrior sporting a sweet set of armor; it was a nerd with thick glasses hiding in a trash can at his school.

But this is great, because we immediately have a reason to root for this kid: I mean, who HASN’T dealt with bullies in their life? And instead of just getting fed a character bio, we connect with Lloyd through quirks related to his current struggles.

(Remember when we covered character introductions in detail? Man, that was such a great time.)

The trend continues into Earthbound, where your party diversifies beyond the confines of America Eagleland and includes individuals from overseas. (Jeff is totally British, and you can’t convince me otherwise.) A foreign character like Poo, for example, brings a cool, mystical (and highly stereotyped – Earthbound is shameless) dynamic to the cast, which may not necessarily make him relatable, but he nevertheless garners audience interest.

Sometimes the enigmatic draws our emotions through a desire to know more, eh? Poo could also be perceived as a foil to the rest of the party, who – while boss in their own right – don’t exactly exude the same mysterious dignity.

This in particular brings out Ness’s more relatable aspects, such as his tendency toward homesickness. Despite being the game’s hero, he has this childlike fallibility set in stark contrast to Poo’s calm aloofness. While the game doesn’t reveal much through character dialogue, it does an excellent job allowing the player to project their own feelings through the cast. I’d wager more of us know what it’s like to be the homesick little boy than what it’s like to be the serious, dashing prince.

These character traits never feel forced, either. Many are in fact subtly integrated into the battle system itself (Ness thinking of his mom’s steak and missing a turn; Ninten from Beginnings seizing up with an asthma attack). Mixed with the inherent weirdness of the games’ world, the quirks fit seamlessly and allow the audience to connect on their own terms.

…But wait, you might be saying (or not saying, if you’re absolutely lost by this point): What about the cast of Mother 3? Well, have I got a TREAT for you! That party will be receiving an entire post devoted to them in two weeks’ time! Aren’t you EXCITED? (Pretend to be excited.)

…I seem to be developing a trend of dedicating whole months to this series. It’s like they’re my favorite games, or something.

 

The Mother/Earthbound series is the property of Nintendo & Shigesato Itoi. You can purchase both Earthbound Beginnings and Earthbound to play via the Wii U Virtual Console.

Men of My (Literal) Dreams Part II

1.Tall, rail-thin guy with oval glasses and a light-haired army cut. He lived in a cabin out in the mountains with his seven younger siblings. I guess we were affianced, because at one point he told me: “I’m so happy we’re getting married. Oh, hey, will you wash the dishes and babysit all my much younger brothers and sisters while I go out for a walk? K thx bye.” Apparently dream self has not had an equal rights movement.

2. Older dude in his fifties who could best be described as a snake oil salesman with some kind of religious bent. At first I was cordial with him and thought he was an all right sort, just a bit smarmy. That was before he decided I should be his bride and help him make money through a televangelism career. Then things took a Pride and Prejudice turn, and I went all Lizzy Bennett on him and was like, “I would never wed such an odious man.” Fortunately for him, Mary Bennett still thought he was quite a catch.

3. Ewan McGregor as a Russian prince (I’m just as baffled as you are). I was apparently in the role of a princess cursed with constant starvation, so his gesture of affection toward me was ordering a pizza. FINALLY, a dream guy who understands!

Want to read about my other dreamy studs? Click here.

The Believable Romance – Plague Knight & Mona

Remember when I said Shovel Knight and Shield Knight were the ultimate pinnacle of romance? Well…

plague-knight1

…I may have been somewhat mistaken.

Don’t get me wrong: Shovel and Shield still rule the epic romance, but Plague Knight and Mona demonstrate an equally important love story – the one where two people actually like each other.

Do you know what relationship cliché I hate nearly as much as the over-sexualized romance?  The relationship where the couple suffers from “sexual tension”. They fight like dogs, they continually express their hatred for everything the other person stands for, yet for some ludicrous reason they have the hots for each other something fierce.

(The only couple who’s excused from this cliché is Beatrice and Benedict from Much Ado About Nothing, because that play is amazing, so shut up okay.)

This love trope uses heightened emotions to create the illusion that sparks are flying. And I mean, it does work. The trope wouldn’t be so widespread if it didn’t. But I sometimes feel like in this instance, maybe fantasy should reflect reality a little more accurately. We need more lovers who would logically have an attraction – and who know how to keep it interesting (because let’s be honest: the reason we love sexual tension is because there’s always some excitement going on).

(…That last bit was not meant to be dirty. Get your head out of the gutter.)

This Valentine’s week, let’s study the love between Plague Knight and Mona. They’re a couple of alchemists with a diabolical bent, so already they have a foundation of common interests. This means that from the start you won’t see them mocking each other for their profession and hobbies; in fact, they’ve learned to collaborate and use a combined intellect.

When they converse, it’s friendly and casual (unless Plague Knight’s getting all shy with his affections). They share jokes, they show concern for the other’s well-being. And say whaaaaaaat? They actually compliment each other?

Not to say they don’t have their misunderstandings – I mean, the whole plot is centered around Plague Knight’s misguided belief that Mona won’t fall for him – but their relationship isn’t built on misunderstandings like it is for many a tension couple. In fact, Plague Knight even tries to rectify an error in communication at one crucial moment, but is foiled by a clichéd plot turn.

Oh no, the love interest left? I bet our crazy plan to become all-powerful will bring her back!

This camaraderie sets the foundation for Plague Knight and Mona’s romantic feelings, since we can already see that they get along and hold respect for each other. There’s nothing I ship more than plausibility in a couple.

You see, it isn’t the overused plot turns of the story that sell me on their relationship – not the whole “stuck lever” scene or the climactic misunderstanding that leads to Plague Knight finally admitting his goal to win Mona…

Steamy!

It’s the fact that we see their positive communication the whole way through the game. They genuinely enjoy each other’s company. This makes the more clichéd points of the story sweeter than they’d otherwise be.

And let me just tell you: the dance subplot makes the sparks fly waaaaaaaaay hotter than any ol’ sexually-charged argument would. In fact, to end this post, I’m just going to give you the game’s closing scene. Go on. Let it fill you with the Valentine’s spirit.

 

Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows is the property of Yacht Club Games. There are many ways to play this game.

A Bachelorette Reflects on Growth

I endeavor not to post frequently about my singleness, because it’s only a slice on the pie chart of who I am. Still, it IS the month of romance, and I’ve recently had some thoughts brewing related to my current “relationship status”.

There are many who use Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to be thankful for all forms of love: not just eros, but also phileo, agape, and storge. This is a beautiful treatment of the holiday, but I confess I’m not one of those types. Nor am I the type who mopes by a vase of wilted roses on Feb. 14th, mourning like my love life needs a vigil. I typically celebrate friends and family at random (I’m even bad at birthdays…); and if I get lonely, it can’t be pegged to a predictable day.

To me, Valentine’s is just a holiday I can’t observe. I don’t mean that pitiably, but only in the sense that it doesn’t mean a great deal to me. It’s off the table, in a sense. I haven’t ever been in a mutually romantic relationship; I don’t think I could tell you what it looks like. I could tell you how I’ve seen married friends behave, but me personally? A solid blank.

can tell you that in the years I’ve been single, I certainly haven’t missed out on God’s intention to shape me closer to His image. I’ve had to surrender expectations to Him out of white-knuckled hands; I’ve ground my teeth in anxious trials of patience; I’ve been bowed out of my stubbornness to accept a new attitude of humility.

So, basically, a lot of the same character growth married people have probably had to experience. Just without, you know, the bedroom benefits.

*remembers that her parents are reading this*

ANYWAY, MY POINT BEING – It’s God’s design to mold us through our circumstances, be that in a relationship with a spouse, or adapting to a life lived solo. We are humans living in imperfect flesh; it’s our choice to be made holy by our Creator or not, wherever we happen to find ourselves.

In the past years, I’ve already seen MUCH change in my own perspective. Where I used to rail at God for circumstances, thinking He should snap his fingers and change them, I now approach Him as my Comforter. If I go through a time feeling lonely, I’ve learned to say, “God, I’m grieving right now. I miss someone I don’t even know. You are steady, though. Please lead me through this.”

I’ve come to concede that this time living single has raised my level of trust in Jehovah and made me seek Him as a very real presence in my life. Would I have experienced that if marriage had been thrown my way? I’m not one to assume the outcome of alternate realities. I only know that ten years ago, I knew God on a mostly head level, and now He completely fills my heart.

I still learn. Everyday, whatever I miss or don’t miss in relationships. Even this Valentine’s, I’m sure Christ will use the time to pull on my soul. His love is the point no matter how you celebrate, right?

Immersion in Papers, Please

Ah, the cold white of winter. A season for staying indoors with a warm drink and cozy story. The time of year when a young gamer’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of…

…fictional Communist regimes*.

*If you think this post’s gonna get political, you’re on the wrong blog, son.

Papers, Please takes place in GLORIOUS Arstotska, which has just reopened its borders to residents, immigrants, workers, and refugees – provided they bring the proper documentation. You play the role of a checkpoint officer and must sift through the barrage of mandated paperwork as person after person files through your line.

You encounter everyone from the kind to the quirky to the downright rude and nasty. At the end of each day, you receive a meager paycheck and head home to a crowded apartment where you must decide whether your family can afford its heat or food…or not.

Now, there are plenty of books which pull off excellent realism and immersion through word choice and atmosphere. But I’d like to take a moment to make a considerably geeky argument: Some stories are just better told through video games. There’s a degree of involvement, high-intensity, and personal risk that makes stories shine in a virtual setting.

Papers, Please is an excellent example of what a game can do in this venue. I don’t pretend to understand socialist life perfectly after playing it, but I will say it did more to engage me than any other similarly-themed story has done. And the way I think it succeeds in this, is because the game mechanics demand personal control.

The first-person viewpoint of the game does two things: 1) It offers upfront interaction with a society under oppression; 2) It drives the protagonist’s personal struggles powerfully home.

For the first point, I think most poignantly of the moment when Arstotska’s government requires all “suspicious” persons to undergo a scanning process, which strips them nude (or down to their underwear if you choose to censor the game for modesty). While it may be a government mandate that requires the strip-search, you are personally responsible for forcing them through this demeaning procedure. You must swallow the guilt when an innocent person is robbed of their privacy.

…And sometimes the not-so-innocent. I smell contraband!

The second point is the bread and butter of the game, though. From the start you’re expected to complete transactions flawlessly, but at the same time you’re only paid per properly-handled immigrant. When you work accurately but slowly, you bring home pittance to your family and have nothing left after paying the rent. The stress of your work load then mounts that much more – PARTICULARLY when the checkpoint begins to require MORE documentation to double-check.

And as your weeks on the job progress, you become so buried in vetting papers you don’t even catch acts of terrorism happening right outside your booth.

This is the ability of a video game’s story. Through actions completed in gameplay you become so bound to the life of your lead character that you can feel what he must be feeling. The anxiety of earning a piddling paycheck. The mix of tedium and stress working with the unpredictable public. The shock of encountering violence on a regular basis.

Believe me, I’m a lover and proponent of books, but there’s rarely been a piece of literature that’s given me this deep of an experience. It’s a different realm of storytelling altogether and in some ways can’t be compared to other mediums. (I know this blog is all about learning writing skills from video games, but shh.)

So hey, while you stay in from the cold, feel free to pick up a controller as well as a book. Winter’s a great time for enjoying all manner of stories, right? *pours a cup of tea and calls in another immigrant*

 

Papers, Please is the property of Lucas Pope. You can purchase it to play via Steam.

Writing Shenanigans – An Update

The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to reassess one’s goals. Since I’ve founded this blog and gotten involved with Geeks Under Grace, writing has pretty much consumed my life.

…I mean, however much of a life I had to begin with. #bachelorlifestyle

The writing bug has bitten so deeply, I want to jot down ALL THE THINGS – but there’s only so many hours to a day, and much of my fiction writing goes by the wayside in favor of meeting post deadlines. Hnnnnngh…

Something had to give, so I went back to my planner – just kidding, I don’t have a planner – I went deep inside the dark recesses of my mind and looked at what REALLY mattered to me.

So, day job, food, and sleep still being complete necessities, I decided to give up…the Grab-Bag post. Meaning there will only be three updates on this blog per month, giving me a little more breathing room to work on GuG and fiction. Considering the bevy of ideas I have for video game and faith posts, it was the practical solution. (I’m gonna run out of plant babies to talk about eventually, people. Come on.)

I’ve got one more Grab-Bag scheduled for February, so I’ll let that one play out. I’m sure none of this really changes your life, but I want to keep my twelve loyal readers in the loop.

And perhaps…maybe…you can expect to see a little fiction snippet now and then. 🙂

Don’t Take it So Seriously – Super Mario RPG

No one’s perfect, not even our most admired storytellers. If human beings can’t even get their own lives in order, what makes you think they’ll be able to flawlessly organize alternate realities? So next time you run across a plot hole in your favorite book or movie, cut the creator a little slack and – I dunno – clean that room in your house you’ve been neglecting. REMOVE THE PLANK IN YOUR OWN EYE FIRST, NITPICKER.

*cough* But still – no one likes a story with obvious plot neglect. It’s like driving over a road where sewage maintenance didn’t bother to cover the manholes. Fortunately, there ARE ways you can help your audience overlook *minor* suspensions of disbelief:

  1. Craft your world and story as thoroughly as possible.
  2. Rely on solid characters.
  3. Inject humor. Like, a lot of humor.

If you ask me, nothing covereth over a multitude of plot sins like a healthy dose of levity. Think about it: if you aren’t taking yourself seriously, your audience gets the message that this isn’t something that requires their heavy scrutiny, either. Case in point:

Now, Super Mario RPG has a GREAT story. It’s simple and straightforward, but still sweetly emotional with a sense of wonder. It’s by no means riddled with plot holes, but if I’m being straight with you, it wouldn’t have HALF its greatness if you took away the humor. Honestly, it’d be weird if such a bright, colorful game didn’t poke a little fun at itself.

If you feel obligated to critique Mario RPG‘s finer literary points, you’ll find loads of well-milked tropes. Stars and wishes, dolls coming alive, royalty that needs rescuing, the “obviously adopted kid doesn’t know he’s adopted” storyline…

I mean, you don’t have to look further than a Disney movie to find these clichés and more, yet Super Mario RPG can still hold its own. It finds originality in its heart and in its humor. Sure, you spend part of the game rescuing Princess Peach Toadstool for the zillionth time, but you can excuse the overdone plot point because this man-child with a totem pole face and zero understanding of normal social customs has kidnapped her with plans to marry her.

The hilarious scenarios continue through the whole story: Bowser fussing about losing his castle, a cake coming to life and attacking the party. a team of evil-doers based blatantly off of the Power Rangers. Not to mention the countless classic fourth wall-breaking one-liners peppered throughout the dialogue.

Thank you, Ted Woolsey.

The Mario RPGs have continued the tradition of humor to great success with both the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series. (I just don’t have much to say about them because my partiality remains trapped in the mid-90’s.) Considering the plump plumber’s longevity in this gaming genre, the approach must work pretty well.

Clichés abound in every story ever told. Sometimes the old adage applies: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” At times it’s better not to avoid the clichés, but to make the clichés work for you. Learn to laugh at them, and your audience will laugh with you.

 

Super Mario RPG is the property of Nintendo/Square-Enix. You can purchase it for your own enjoyment through the Wii  and Wii U Virtual Console.

Through Darkness to the Light

At my work, I sometimes host a StarLab program, at the start of which I make a speech on the etiquette expected from attendees while they huddle inside the dome. It’s a great big inflatable semi-circle of synthetic fabric, easily torn by rough-housing or a careless shoe. Also key: the dome must stay inflated through a constantly-running fan, and if the entrance tube is held open too long, the air rapidly escapes.

The littler children frequently freeze on first entering the tube. It’s pitch black for the first few feet, and that’s a long way for tiny legs to crawl without light. The problem here is, when you hold up the line, you hold the entrance open, which causes the dome to deflate. So I give the wee ones (and their parents) a pep talk before we head in:

“Now, it’s going to be a little dark when you get inside the tunnel, but I need you to keep going so others can come inside, too. As soon as you round the corner, you’ll see the light of the projector and be in the nice open space of the dome.”

After doing this spiel roughly four times in a row, the symbolism dawned on me. It probably helped that during this particular hosting of the StarLab, I was in the throes of medical trouble and about to start a somewhat worrying rehabilitation process. I thought about that dark tube and couldn’t fault the children for crying while they were led through it. I’d had my own share of fits when faced with personal darkness.

But God gives His own reassurance: “The dark part is brief. I need you to keep going, because in time you’ll see My light is up ahead.” My own corny interpretation, I’ll grant you – and maybe clichéd. But I will add that it’s never quite what we think when we round the corner and emerge on the other side.

In the StarLab dome, there’s only enough illumination to find your seat. Just two pinprick lightbulbs on either side of the projector. No blinding flash, no angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus in assurance that you’ve finally made it out all right. (That’d probably frighten the little ones even more, come to think.) All that greets you is a glimmer – not striking but steady. Enough to bring comfort after a frightening journey.

The children always forget the darkness as soon as the stars spread around the dome. How funny that it takes so little to reassure them. I suppose that’s the sort of appreciation time spent in pitch black will teach you. I’d like to have that sort of faith, too.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:5

The Element of Surprise – Killing the Lead in Chrono Trigger

[Currently listening to: Lost Odyssey OST. Branching out in a desire for more Uematsu.]

A new year brings with it an air of the unexpected. Much as we try to prepare for whatever life throws at us, most times it flat out slaps us in the face with a fish when we’re not looking.

It’s a good idea to pull out the face-slapping fish in your writing too (in moderation, you understand. Your readers don’t want to smell all briny). The plot is going as predicted, and then – WHAM! – what just happened? The characters are in disarray, your emotions are rocked, and you can’t see any way this sudden twist will be resolved.

Some authors pull this trick far too often – so that what used to be unexpected becomes predictable. Others shy away from it altogether, which can be fine depending on the genre and goal of the author. But if you’ve decided your story needs a bit of a jolt, let me just tell you –

Chrono Trigger can show you how it’s done. ‘Cause that game killed off its lead.

Let’s preface this bold move a bit, just to strengthen its poignancy: Back in the 90’s, JRPGs were hitting the big time. Final Fantasy IV and VI  were quick sensations (though under different numbers at the time) boasting characters of distinct goals and struggles. Titles like Earthbound and Secret of Mana were developing their own fan followings with unique world-building and atmosphere. A year after Chrono Trigger‘s release even Mario would get in on the RPG game and leave an unforgettable experience of his own.

That’s not even mentioning the RPGs released on the Sega systems, or numerous titles that never made it across seas to the states. Truly, it was a decade for Role Plays, and the stage was set for Chrono Trigger to be the pinnacle of them all.

Aside from the Final Fantasies, most RPGs adhered to the “silent protagonist” trope: the game’s lead character would never speak, and if he needed to get a point across he would either pantomime or rely on other characters to emote for him.

Crono, leading teen of Chrono Trigger, kept true to the “silent protagonist” tradition. He could look shocked, happy, serious, or thoughtful – but never spoke a word. (Well, aside from one particular ending.) At the point of CT‘s release, RPG fans would know the drill by now. Crono was simply a device to move the player and the plot forward; he was the mainstay and common denominator that allowed interactions to occur among other, more three-dimensional characters. Nothing ever happened to the silent protagonist.

And then, three-quarters into the game, Squaresoft rocked the boat. Crono stood his ground too early against Lavos, the story’s ultimate menace, and was blown to pieces. The mainstay of the game was gone.

It wasn’t any sort of quick gimmick, either. The other members of your party wake up the following morning, and Crono is still dead. You watch them come to grips with this reality and sort out their emotions. You take control of the party and walk them outside the tent into an uncertain world. For at least an hour of gameplay you don’t even have the opportunity to change Crono’s fate. What’s more, you don’t even have to finish the game with him alive.

This was unprecedented in the gaming world, and would (I’d argue) still be considered a bold move today. Chrono Trigger dared to explore a question JRPGs hadn’t yet asked: what happens when the main character dies? How do the others in the team carry on? How does it affect the trajectory of the story? And I think that’s the true purpose behind surprising your audience. If you create any plot twist just for the sake of shock value, you’ve missed the point entirely. The unexpected should serve the impact of the story, not meet some “I can’t believe that just happened” quota.

In real life, surprises can seem to have no bearing or meaning on the ultimate scope of our days. (And that’s a Faith post waiting to happen right there.) In fiction, however, we’re given the opportunity to create structure and a message through plot twists. If you think you need a dash of the unexpected in your story, don’t forget that it needs to matter in its own right.

Because even if those silent protagonists never speak, they can still make a strong statement for the story.

 

Chrono Trigger is the property of Square-Enix. There are many ways you can purchase and enjoy this game.

Fifth Week Fiction – A Sneak Peek

I had an idea to post some personal fiction that was appropriately “cozy” for this time of year, but searching through my work brought up…very little. In fact, it mostly resulted in me saying, “Whoa, that needs to be fixed. And that. And that… And I definitely don’t write that way anymore…”

So you know what that means: ALL ABOARD THE FAN FICTION TRAIN! I decided I might give a little peek at my year-long project after all. It’s the Christmas present you never always wanted!

No preamble for you. The only thing I’ll tell you is that, yes, this is in script format.



The Cast

For Part I, in Alphabetical Order

Dodo: Valentina’s slow-witted and subservient henchbird. Looks like a giant black toucan with a metal helmet. Never speaks. He hates working for Valentina but is too dumb/lazy to quit.

The Fireworks Mole: A humble fellow who’s traveled far to sell his fireworks. He’s the first visitor Nimbus Land has seen in many years. Wears green overalls and a green cap; keeps his clawed feet and hands exposed.

Garro: The royal sculptor of Nimbus Land. He sculpts and gilds statues for the King and Queen and is also their close friend. Has a green curl of hair on his forehead and wears typical Nimbus garb: a fez, work vest, and parachute pants. (Hammer time!) He narrates Part I.

King Nimbus: The kindly, if excitable, ruler of Nimbus Land. He enjoys collecting birds, autographs, and statues and is exuberantly playful – if sometimes long-winded. He wears a pyjama set in blue and purple stripes, and has a gold medallion around his neck. His hair curl and mustache are brown.

Queen Nimbus: The calmer monarch; she is sensible and generous and keeps the King in check if he rambles. Can be the more emotional one when grieved. She wears a white head cover with gold embroidery, a pink sari and green wrap that covers her arms and hands. Her hair curl is magenta.

Valentina: The palace castellan (in charge of the workers, though she doesn’t often do her job). She plots to overthrow the King and Queen and rule Nimbus Land. She is not a Nimbusan. Wears a white dress with a slit up one side, and her bust is…voluptuous. Her hair is a parrot. Don’t question it.

[lol, free image ’cause I don’t got art skillz]
[Travel to Nimbus Land]

Open with running shot of LAND’S END & BEAN VALLEY. It’s midday. The camera pans over the sea cove, beaches, cliffs, up into Bean Valley’s vines. A quarter through the shot, Garro as narrator begins to speak:

NARRATOR (GARRO)

If you are any sort of traveler, chances are you have at one time or another determined to visit the end of the world. Perhaps you’ve already been. If so, you’ve likely seen the cliffs looking out to the sea, or the sleeping volcano near the cape, or Bean Valley with all its vines climbing into a blinding bright sky.

The shot slows as it swivels through BEAN VALLEY. you can see the ocean off the cliffs glinting in the sun.

NARRATOR (GARRO)

Yes, these are wondrous sights, it’s true. And I’m supposing you took in these sights, breathed the air of adventure, and then…

[Scene cuts to black]

NARRATOR (GARRO)

…promptly turned yourself around and went back home. (pause) My friend, don’t you know that there’s more when you travel…up?

Cut back to BEAN VALLEY. Camera soars upward, weaving through corkscrew vines of all colors. The running shot moves faster and faster until it bursts through thick, fluffy cumulous clouds.

NARRATOR (GARRO)

(enthusiastic) THIS, my friend, is Nimbus Land! See what all those travelers have missed for years and years?

Pan over NIMBUS LAND: shows homes made from the vines poking through the clouds. There is a palace at the east end of the kingdom. It’s a middle-east inspired building with rounded turrets, and the vines seem to grow all through it. The palace itself is a mix of white marble and pink stone.

[The citizens of Nimbus Land are cloud people, and everyone is nice and plump and smiling.]

NARRATOR (GARRO)

We’ve been STARVING for guests. It’s not easy, you know, being so far out of sight and never getting a chance to really host someone.

Enter the MARKET AREA of Nimbus Land, where shopkeepers and the hotel proprietor bustle about. The shops show off colorful garments, bright accessories, and art creations.

NARRATOR (GARRO)

We’re a social people, us Nimbusans. It’s a shame no one can find us, since we’re famed for being extraordinarily hospitable. But I suppose I can understand: it’s a hard climb from Bean Valley, and we don’t have many ways of announcing ourselves to everyone living Below.

[Nimbusans busy themselves at the market]

NARRATOR (GARRO)

Of course, there was that time the mole found us. We thought maybe that would open the way for more visitors, but after the baby Prince… Well. This certainly isn’t the time for me to talk tragedy with you.

What would you like to see first? The market? Maybe our five-star hotel and accommodations? Wait—of course you want a tour of the palace. King and Queen Nimbus still keep it open, after all, and despite the melancholy air it’s as beaut—

Hm? No tours, you say? Oh, you want to know what I mean about melancholy and tragedy.

Transition to GARRO’S WORKSHOP. There are gold statues on display everywhere—on the floor, on shelves, half-made on a stage at the back of the room. Garro stands by his gold vat; he’s in the middle of gilding a statue.

GARRO

(sighs and shakes his head) Well, it’s a long story, and it’ll only demoralize you before you’ve had a chance to enjoy our kingdom. Are you sure you want to begin that way?

(Garro looks deliberately into camera, then shrugs and looks away sadly.)

I guess I won’t change your mind. Ah, who knows? Maybe sharing the story will help us with the grief at the King and Queen’s loss.

[Scene gradually fades.]

GARRO

Let’s see…I think maybe it’s best to start our story…

 

[Valentina Deserves Attention]

Close up of Valentina’s face. Her wide mouth is pursed, and her eyes shift left to right. The parrot hangs glumly on her head.

GARRO

…here.

The shot zooms out and shows Valentina sitting in the Nimbus Palace THRONE ROOM. She’s stretched across the royal settee and has a martini glass dangling in her right hand. The throne room has rose walls. The floor is lapis lazuli. The tail ends of vines have crept through the room’s open windows, and birds are perched in them everywhere. Stairs lead from the settee down to the hallway door.

[Valentina languishes over the settee’s armrest.]

VALENTINA

So much that needs to be changed! Where do I start? More curtains over those windows. Think of the awful sun rash I’d get on my flawless skin! All along those stairs…

(She waves toward the hall door)

…I’d put rows of statues that reflect my lustrous beauty. In fact, why just by the stairs? Let’s fill the palace with them. But most importantly—

[Valentina’s thin but heavily-glossed lips twitch as one of the birds in the room chirrups happily.]

VALENTINA

(speaks through gritted teeth) MOST IMPORTANTLY I’ll throw out all these BEASTLY twittering noisemakers! It’s enough to give me a headache! Birds are meant to serve, not sing.

[Valentina holds her martini glass up for a drink, discovers it’s empty except for an olive rolling around the bottom. She reaches her other arm back and brings her knuckles down on Dodo, who is slumped behind the settee. Valentina hits his beak with a crunch, and Dodo stumbles back on impact.]

VALENTINA

Lunking idiot! It’s your job to keep this full. Now…FILL IT!

[Dodo pours drink from a shaker into Valentina’s glass.]

VALENTINA

It’s enough to drive an illustriously beautiful person mad, not receiving the attention one deserves. Or the riches. Or the authority. It’s almost as flummoxing as having a vapid feather-covered lard ball as your henchman.

[Dodo bristles, but knows better than to retaliate. He screws the cap back on the martini shaker.]

VALENTINA

(sighs) I could just stage a coup. It’d be easy enough fooling these gullible cotton-heads. But I’d have to risk…angering them. (Her eyes widen.) And it’s not a good idea to anger them… GUH!

[Valentina flings her head dramatically against the settee. Her parrot hair squawks.]

VALENTINA

If only take-overs were as simple as your marble-sized brain seems to be, Dodo.

[There’s a sound of footsteps approaching the throne room door. The guards outside greet someone.]

VALENTINA

(panicking, downs her drink and shoves the glass toward Dodo) The King and Queen! I thought they wouldn’t be back for at least another hour! Dodo! You cranial cavity, get out of the room!

(Dodo scuttles down the stairs.)

No, not through the door, idiot; use the windows!

[Valentina shoves Dodo toward the closest window. She gives him four good heaves before his bulk finally squeezes through, and he flaps away clumsily.]

VALENTINA

(whips around as the door opens, prepares to greet the King and Queen) Majesties, I took the liberty to prepare the hall for recei – Oh! Garro! My, how…relieving to see you standing there.

[Garro stands just inside the throne room door. He appears to be puzzled at finding Valentina here.]

GARRO

Oh, Valentina. You weren’t who I expected to see. The King and Queen are out, I’m guessing? It’s not really receiving time yet, I suppose…

VALENTINA

(sugary-sweet) Garro, pardon me if I’m speaking out of line, but with the…dazzling work you do for the King and Queen, shouldn’t they be more considerate and punctual when you come to deliver your statues?

GARRO

(laughs) What a bizarre thing to say, Valentina! I have no deliveries today. I was looking for their Majesties so I could inform them – Oh! (suddenly VERY eager) I should tell YOU! Valentina! You won’t believe this: we have a VISITOR from Below! Isn’t that wonderful? It’s probably been decades since our last one! And he’s right here, ready to be introduced!

VALENTINA

(looking over Garro’s shoulder) ‘Right here’…where?

GARRO

Why, behind me where I just came…through…the door.

[Garro turns around and realizes he’s entered alone.]

GARRO

Oh dear. I seem to have lost him.

 

[The Mole Meets Royalty]

Panning through a hallway in NIMBUS PALACE. The scene design looks very much the same as it did in the throne room. The Mole appears as he turns into the hall. He wanders around and looks very lost.

GARRO (as NARRATOR)

Yes, It’s true what they say: a Nimbusan would forget his own face if it wasn’t stuck to his fluff. But I hope you don’t blame me. I promise you we pride ourselves on our hospitality. It’s just that…with so few guests to entertain, our hospitality can get a little rusty. And we might accidentally LOSE our guests.

[The mole approaches a couple tending to the birds in the hall. It’s the King and Queen, but the mole hasn’t realized this yet.]

MOLE

(slightly exasperated) Beg pardon, are y’all workers in this palace? Call me lost as a carrot in a crowd of potatoes, but I just got no clue where I’ve gotten myself.

[King and Queen Nimbus turn to greet the mole. The King is holding a light blue bird.]

KING NIMBUS

I say! You’re certainly an unfamiliar face. I don’t think I’ve seen you before. Need a bit of direction, do you?

MOLE

(scratches under his cap) Well, see now, I come from a place where our mazes are all underground, so this cloud stuff’s got me all dizzy and confused…

[King Nimbus turns excitedly to the Queen]

KING NIMBUS

Do you hear that? He’s someone from Below! I can’t think how long it’s been since we’ve had such a visit. (leans conspiratorially closer to the mole) Might I have your autograph?

[The mole blinks back, stupefied.]

QUEEN NIMBUS

(patiently) Perhaps we should try to help him first, dear. (She turns to the mole.) Where do you need to go?

MOLE

Eh…well, I came fixin’ to speak with Their Majesties about an enterprise of mine, and that statue-makin’ fella said he’d right take me to the throne room. But I lost sight of ‘im ‘bout ten turns back, and I got not even the faintest where I should look nex—

[He takes in the crowns that rest on both King and Queen Nimbus’s heads. His mouth widens.]

MOLE

(hushed) Cake my nails in dirt an’ call it a manicure. (He flattens himself to the floor in an exaggerated bow.) Your most illustrious…er … magnificent… SUPERLATIVE rulers. Thousand pardons; I had no idea this hall would lead me bargin’ in on your Worships all rude-like. Don’t take no offense at my manners, just an earthy mole like m’self—

KING NIMBUS

(interrupting) Offense? I say, you’re being a tad excessive, don’t you think?

[The mole peeks up from his supine position.]

MOLE

Beg…beg pardon?

QUEEN NIMBUS

No need, dear. Nothing wrong with having a pleasant conversation, after all. Now, what’s this enterprise you wanted to show us?


TO BE CONTINUED…

(P.S. Formatting in WordPress is evil.)