Category Archives: Quincy Allen

World of Warcraft: The Fiction Addiction

My name is Quincy Allen, and it’s been three days since my last login. Okay, okay, so that’s a lie. I logged in last night, but I won’t apologize for it.

Now that I’ve outed myself as one of those “lamentable” adults who dabble in MMOs, let me tell you why. Like a lot of writers, writing is not my only gig. I’m a tech-writer by day, operate a small but growing book design business by night, and do my writing in the wee hours as time permits. That means that I need to decompress from time to time. Slaying damn near any mob that gets in my way is a perfect way to accomplish it.

What can I say? It’s better than going Postal. Some people play golf. Some watch sports. I’m currently working my way towards the Pinnacle of Storms in order to slay Lei Shen who threatens all of Pandaria. Lei Shen’s power derives from ancient Titan technology, and the Titans were a race of elder gods who deemed the life of Azeroth unfit to breathe.

Over my dead body.

World of Warcraft has been a perfect environment to let off steam for someone who appreciates good storytelling and kilometers-thick back-story. WoW arguably has the most exhaustive canon of any game out there, and it creation goes all the way back to the game’s incept in 1994 in the form of Orcs and Humans. From those meager origins, a worlds-spanning history going back over 10,000 years has been born.

In many respects, that’s what has kept me playing WoW. There’s an almost never-ending sense of discovery as the main storyline unfolds for the players, and there are hundreds if not thousands of side-stories woven throughout the environment to keep someone like me intrigued.

There’s a lesson for all writers in what Blizzard has accomplished with their flagship product. History. If you’re writing contemporary fiction, then your history is written for you, and you can draw from that. If you’re writing alternate history, fantasy, or even future sci-fi, then you should do at least some work in creating your own canon. I can give one example that I use in the novel I just wrapped up.

It’s steampunk fantasy fiction set in the Old West. A half-clockwork gunslinger with magic-imbued mechanical limbs must protect a 15th century vampiress from being sacrificed to raise a demon army. Simple enough, but the obvious question is, where the hell did the magic come from?

That part wasn’t as simple. I wanted to make the presence of magic in the Old West at least plausible in my head, so I had to alter history. Granted, this tidbit of data isn’t explained in the series I’m referring to, but it is revealed in another series I’ve started, which takes place in the same universe. Essentially, I had to assassinate a 13th century Pope in order to have magic exist in the Victorian era.

Having done so opens up a wealth of possibilities in my writing and gives my rather critical notion of plausibility a leg up. Basically, I can believe in my own “invention” and build upon it as I see fit with cultures, characters, and histories that all have that single changed moment in history as their foundation. All roads lead to Rome, as they say.

This is a technique I recommend for all writers. While your story takes place “now,” you should have a strong understanding of “what came before.” Not only will this make your story richer, it will give you virtually limitless destinations that all have the same look and feel, because they all derive from the same point of origin.

If you’re writing the fantastic, then take some time to sketch out the timeline around your story. Know what’s going on in your world and have at least a moderate understanding of its history. Empowered with this knowledge, you’ll find that the depth of your storytelling increases by a factor of, and the creation of both sidelines and spin-offs is that much easier to write.




P.S. If you run on Kil’Jaeden, keep an eye out for a DK named Moondawg.


Halo: The Success of Story

I’ve played the first three Halo installments and still consider it to be the best video game I’ve ever experienced. I must admit that I had to hang up my blasters when time management became a challenge, but there are times when I consider breaking out the old Xbox and “blasting me some Covenant troops.”

There’s a reason I still remember Halo fondly. It’s the same reason that the franchise is still going strong, but it may not be the reason you’re thinking of.

I remember watching an infomercial for Halo 2 back in 2004. One of the developers at Bungie Studios said something that has stuck with me ever since. What he said was true, but I’m going to caveat the hell out of it to make a point about the success of the Halo franchise.

Basically, this techno-weenie (an incredible gifted one, I might add) said that if you can make 30 seconds of combat be fun over and over again in a video game, you basically have a winner. He couldn’t have been more right. If you look around you’ll find plenty of examples for this little business model, including Counterstrike, Aliens vs. Predator, and WoW to name just a few. But Halo is the bar in both popularity and raw monetary revenues that virtually all other video game companies strive for.

Most people would just say it’s an epically awesome first-person-shooter, and they’d be right. However, something set Halo apart—something intrinsic to the game that turned it into a multi-billion-dollar franchise still going strong after nearly fourteen years.

Story and character.

Halo is set upon a galactic stage of epic scale, with first humanity and then all sentient life cast in the balance should our hero fail in his objectives. What’s more, players really get a sense of tremendous scope as the storyline unfolds. There are fantastic, deep-space cut-scenes, incredibly detailed starships, and brilliantly created alien settings that literally suck you into the story before you know what’s happened to you. And it is upon this stage that players experience a truly fantastic story. It’s what they call in the literary world are real “page turner.”

In a nutshell, Covenant troops are doing their best to wipe out humanity as part of a religious crusade, and it takes almost no time at all for gamers to become totally immersed in the conflict. The protagonist is Master Chief, a cybernetically enhanced and fully armored soldier, who must almost single-handedly stop them. The Master Chief dashes, tumbles, leaps, or flies from one firefight to the next… over and over again.

That’s what the techno-weenie was referring too. There’s an assortment of wicked-cool weapons and uber-awesome vehicles. The basic action of the game is fairly straightforward, but never gets old.

If the game had been left at just that, it would have been very successful, but as far as I’m concerned, Bungie took the whole thing to the next level. They did it not with CGI or harder levels or even any sense of “leveling” the Master Chief. They did what I wish all game design companies would incorporate. They created a story that rivals any epic sci-fi novel I’ve ever read.

To begin with, there’s a sense of discovery built into the storyline that appeals to what must be nearly the hundredth percentile of gaming geekdom. Behind all the action—behind the Covenant and traversing the galaxy—are the Halo rings. It’s this sense of mystery that makes Halo a step above other gaming storylines. Not only must Master Chief beat up on the Covenant—which is tons of fun, by the way—he must discover what Halo rings are, what they’re for, who built them, and why.

Which leads us to The Flood.

Bungie didn’t stop with just shooting Covenant. They decided to throw a real monkey-wrench into the works. The Flood is an alien, zombie-like life form that, if loosed upon humanity, could wipe us out indiscriminately. In just one cut-scene, the whole story takes remarkable sci-fi action and adds a horror element that ups the stakes considerably. Tension just oozes from the three-way antagonism inherent in the Halo universe.

That’s a huge part of why this game has been so successful. Bungie (and later Microsoft) has consistently upped the tension and scale of the story. There’s always something new—something exciting or horrific—just around the next corner.


This is what good storytelling is all about—constantly upping the stakes and making it all plausible as you go along. And the Halo franchise does just that… in spades.

The last caveat worth mentioning here, and it’s a big one, is the characterizations within the story. For starters, the Master Chief is an exceptional protagonist for the story. He’s the nearly indestructible super-hero whose vulnerabilities leave just enough risk to keep things interesting. He’s the stoic, lone-gunman in space, who must face insurmountable odds over and over again out of a sense of duty. I mean, who doesn’t love the honor-bound hero who has no interest in monetary gains?

But Master Chief isn’t alone. He’s assisted by Cortana, a rather voluptuous AI who rides shotgun and scopes out some of the more technical bits of conflict that the Master Chief must face. However, she does serve one other critical function of a more literary nature. She’s easy-access to the deep back-story of the Halo universe, something that every good tale needs. Through her, the Master Chief discovers a lot of what’s going on behind the scenes. She is both his “right hand” and the “investigator” portion of the story. Cortana allows gamers gets quick info dumps about the history and scale of the universe that Bungie continues to expand upon, and does so without wrenching the player out of the storyline.

Again, GENIUS.

In Halo 2, Bungie even upped their game from a characterization perspective. They made the “first person perspective” not only that of the Master Chief, but also a renegade Covenant soldier who is committed to bringing down the Covenant leadership. In one fell swoop, they increased the level of storytelling, created a “sympathetic villain,” and expanded the scope of who and what the person behind the game controls experiences.

Bungie got literally everything right with this game. The nailed the action part, which hasn’t really changed much in the past 14 years, and created a compelling, intriguing and multi-perspective set of characters that make for hour after hour after hour of fantastic gaming experience.

The story, hands down, has some of the very best tools and tricks that keep readers/gamers interested. We are taught from the get-go that there’s always just a little bit more to learn. We come to expect these new discoveries, and thus far we haven’t been let down.

That is why the Halo franchise continues to be best in breed.

The success of Halo is something each and every writer should take notes from. Play this game, from start to finish. Pay attention to story and characterization. Watch how the chapters are laid out and how the designers/writers keep upping their game to keep you riveted to the couch and the controller in your hands.

And when you’ve done all that, apply it to your writing. If you do, you’ll be writing better stories with better characters. More importantly, readers will want to turn those pages till the wee hours of the morning to get to the end… and buy the next installment.

You’ve Got the Wrong Hero

Since college I’ve been fascinated by culture and society (yes, they’re two different things), as well as the humans who engender both. Granted, it wasn’t fascination enough to get a degree in, but there was interest nonetheless. How each one of us perceives and, ultimately, judges others  matters greatly upon the culture in which we were raised. Those we consider our heroes and villains are similarly shaped by our cultural influences.

I feel compelled to mention that I’m about to throw you a curveball or two, so watch out.

In Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained a young slave seeks a reckoning from slave owners and bigots alike as gateway to reuniting with his beloved. Django kills just about every white man depicted in the film, and American as well as international audiences cheered the hero on to the tune of $465 million in worldwide box office sales. Django Unchained  is, to date, Tarantino’s highest grossing film.

I think it’s safe to say that as Americans we embrace journeys of  the enslaved slipping their bonds and exacting retribution against their enslavers. We’re sort of hardwired for it in part because of our own cultural heritage. We refer to that heritage affectionately as the American Revolution. The British at the time, however, considered it a less-than-convenient and very costly insurrection.

Perspective is everything, and I think it’s also safe to say that American audiences of today have a heightened sense of guilt-yes, I used that word-regarding the treatment of African Americans from the time of this nation’s incept all the way to modern day. There has  been and continues to be a struggle towards both acknowledging and even correcting the treatment of minorities throughout our own past.

But consider this: how well would Tarantino’s Oscar-winning screenplay have been received in 1952? Without a doubt it never would have seen the light of day, and it’s writer probably would have been plopped down squarely in front of a McCarthy trial. I think it’s important to point out here that in March of 2004, Dave Chappelle filmed a sketch where the black “Time Haters” return to the 19th century and shoot a white slave owner holding a whip. The episode was censored, and in the DVD collection sold later, Chappelle lamented, “Apparently shooting a slave master isn’t funny to anybody but me and Neil-if I could I’d do it every episode!” That was only nine years ago.

Cultural perspective. It waxes and wanes like a storm-tossed shoreline.

Now let me describe a screenplay that is actually quite similar to Tarantino’s but which most audiences interpreted as being its exact opposite. I’ll give you a few clues.  The film was released in 1982 and is still considered by many as a science fiction classic. In this screenplay an Officer of the Law is retained to hunt down and execute four super-human rebels who are loose in the city and murdering law  abiding citizens. The officer is generally considered to  be both the protagonist and the hero of the film.  By the end of it the Officer is victorious and all four murderers are dead. And yes, this screenplay is very similar to Django Unchained.

BladeRunnerPosterThe film was Blade Runner.

Confused yet?

What I find interesting is that I have yet to discuss this subject with anyone who didn’t consider Rick Deckard-the Officer of the Law-to be both protagonist and hero. Sure, most people get teary-eyed as Roy Batty gives his famous monologue and dies (after saving the life of his would-be executioner, I might add), but audiences almost universally heralded Deckard as the hero doing the job that had to be done. He’s even rewarded with his own slave girl, namely, Rachel.

Now let me give you my interpretation of the script Ridley Scott wrote. Four slaves created to obey without question and then dutifully die must struggle against insurmountable odds to shatter their bonds. In it they endeavor to find and kill those people responsible for their enslavement as bread crumbs to tracking down their creator and slave master. Their goal is to either achieve the freedom and longevity that has been systematically denied them or put an end to their creator and the cycle of slavery.

Sounds a lot different when I put it that way, doesn’t it?

But that’s not what most people walk away from Blade Runner thinking, is it? Audiences were delighted to see Deckard driving off through the mountains with Rachel, and sure, as a replicant we get a sense of “achieving freedom” for her. I won’t go into the fact that Deckard was, actually, a replicant created to hunt down and kill his fellow slaves. That’s an entirely different diatribe, and one which Scott has admitted to in recent years.

What’s important here is that the hero of Blade Runner is Roy Batty, and the underlying goal inherent in the storyline is his struggle to free his fellow slaves and keep his loved one, Pris, from dying.

How is that so different from Django Unchained?

The answer is, it’s not. But we didn’t look at it that way in 1982, and most still don’t. I had a debate only a few months ago with a writer who insisted that Roy was the villain. He pointed out that Roy was killing people just going about their jobs, killing people who didn’t have any deliberate intention of creating slaves. They were just creating replicants, right? Even just  parts of replicants, like their eyes. That makes Roy the bad guy, right? And retirement wasn’t murder, it was the elimination of defective property that was a danger to society.

Yet here we were rooting for Django and not for Roy.

This all boils down to not only who we consider to be us, but who we also consider to be them. Our cultural and societal perspective is practically built upon a foundation of us versus them. That too is hardwired into our consciousness.

So, allow me to suggest that you break out or track down a copy of Blade Runner and watch it with a different perspective. Go into it with the notion that Roy, Pris, Zhora and Leon are slaves, that they are living souls willing to fight for the little bit of freedom and happiness that we all take for granted. And, ironically, consider the implications of another slave–that we identify with–had been created for the sole purpose of hunting them down one-by-one and killing them for the threat to society that they were.

You may walk away with a different take on the movie, particularly now that you’ve (hopefully) seen Django Unchained.

And once you’ve done that, apply it all to your own writing from this day forth.

Celtic Mythos – Inroad to a Bigger Universe

Quincy 2

A guest post by Quincy Allen.

When I was in my teens I discovered Celtic mythos through the works of Kenneth C. Flint. Specifically, I picked up the first paperback edition of The Riders of the Sidhe and quickly became enamored. I tore through it, and the sequel, and the third installment as soon as they were released. Along the way I started digging into Celtic legend and developed a taste for something very different (and even taboo) in the environment that spawned me (see my previous post “Seeking Wisdom and Import from Bastions of the Banal,” for some back story there).

As a child I was interested in pretty much three things beyond sci-fi: dinosaurs, astronomy, and Greek mythology. Let’s just say that in the house where I grew up an active religious revolution was being waged (it was the 70’s after all), and I had to find data-fodder for that revolution-wherever I could.

Those three topics were the only ones that didn’t brush up against “things taboo,” but they did offer a fairly logical young mind the means by which to debate literal interpretations of your favorite, Western staple of theology. They were considered “meat and taters” to white suburbia rather than heresy, so traditional censorship didn’t occur. This essentially made Flint’s work a sort of “forbidden fruit,” and I sure as hell ate that apple… and the core… and the stem.

What appealed to me most about Flint’s series-and the Celtic legends of the Tuatha Dé Dannan and Fomorians- was that it offered a sense of grandeur to the notion of “old gods,” and they were gods that pre-dated the New Testament. Additionally, like so many other ancient mythologies, they were wiped out almost completely by the Roman Empire. I must admit that I found some appeal in the Celtic mythos for just that reason.

Like virtually all mythologies, there was a strong sense of good versus evil. However, unlike what I had been previously exposed to, there was an absence of “specific moral behaviors” and a broader exploration of seeking freedom in the face of oppression. This had great appeal to that young, logical, and increasingly egalitarian mind. It set me down paths of investigation into Norse mythos and that of the American Indians. In later years I explored ancient Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese mythos, realizing that the world and its rich history was exponentially larger than the meat and taters I was raised with. I had irrevocably developed a taste for international cuisine when it came to reading.

And then I discovered The Many Colored Land by Julian May.

I can only guess what paths led her to creating that rich, vibrant series. But the net result was that she took the Celtic mythos and dropped it smack dab in the middle of some of the best sci-fi I’ve ever read. Without delving too deeply into the story, metapsychic humans of the future find a gateway to six-million years into the past. There they discover two alien races-exiles from another world-which are the source legends for the Tuatha Dé Dannan and the Fomorians.

These “elder” gods, both good and evil, became contemporary figures to me, and the heroes destined to fight tyranny were people with whom I could relate. I suspect that at least some of my penchant for questioning authority stems from and was fed by this series. I suppose that’s part of the reason why I loved Flint’s series but kept rereading May’s year after year. The Many Colored Land, set me in her world with a context that related to modern precepts, whereas The Riders of the Sidhe felt more like reading ancient legend. Both are wonderful explorations, but May’s felt more experiential rather than Flint’s historical.

Either way, there is something to be said for knowing and writing about the myriad mythologies that abound in human culture. It is perhaps a bit ironic that in the final analysis, we are left with the thought, “Nihil sub sole novum,” which translates as, “There is nothing new under the sun.” I’m sure you’ve heard it, and you can find it in Ecclesiastes, a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Koheleth. The trick is taking what was old and making it read as if it’s fresh. Flint did it. May did it, and the rest of us should to strive similarly.

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 Quincy Allen has been published in multiple anthologies, online and print magazines, as well as in one omnibus. His steampunk version of Steampelstiltskin is under contract with Fairy Punk Studios, and he’s written for the Internet radio show RadioSteam. His novel Chemical Burn-a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Writers Association Colorado Gold Writing Contest-was first published in June 2012, and has been picked up by Fantastic Journeys Publishing. His new novel, Jake Lasater and the Blood Curse of Atheon, will be on sale this summer, and he’s writing an off-world steampunk-esque novel called Paragon. You can follow his ongoing exploits on Facebook and at his website.