Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Story Waiting to Happen: Hestium (Full Article)

Originally posted at the Virtual Writers, June 5 2015.

It seems only fitting that Hestium should be my choice for the launch of Virtual Writers’ new blog, as it is one of the richest locations for the creation of stories and characters I have ever visited. I first read about Hestium at Honour McMillan’s blog in her post Hestium, Another Tiny Gem in Second Life. Advised that it was a quarter of a sim, I dropped by to do a bit of research and see if there was enough material to use for this monthly column. I immediately realized that Hestium takes the same approach as I do with stories. Start with a question. “Who lives here? That is for you to discover. There are clues to be found”. Who can resist such a challenge?

The whole place took me by surprise. Except for a small plot that is marked private, this rather small area feels like a whole sim. The space is cleverly utilised, and – as we walk around and discover hidden secrets – many ideas for stories come to mind.

In preparing for this column I usually spend quite a bit of time on location. I try to understand the sim from the point of view of its creator. “Wander around and find the stories – they are yours to make and to keep”.

A story is made of many different elements; however, when the characters are powerful, alive, compelling, endearing, obnoxious, or absolutely hateful, magic happens – and Hestium is very particular in the way it offers ideas for characters. We are encouraged to explore every little detail to create the “who” in our story.

While enthusiastically living and breathing Hestium – imagining the life of the explorer with her travel trophies, the apothecary and the artist, even the vendor by the archway – I totally missed the opportunity to write a column about them. As so often happens in Second Life®, the sim began to change to welcome new imaginary residents.

So, without further ado, join me on this journey. Let’s find those new residents who recently decided to make Hestium their home. I’m sure that, when you visit the sim yourself, you’ll find these and many more.

“Welcome to Hestium. Please explore – open doors, enter the village houses, look under the beds and open chests.”

No writer would be able to resist permission to go anywhere and discover clues! Writers are inquisitive by nature. And if you add the question “Who lives here?”, the scenario is set.

I rarely give you a long transcript of the notecards provided by the creators of the sims we visit, however,Boudicca Amat’s words are the best presentation and I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything better!

“What is Hestium? 

It’s a place of refuge for its inhabitants. (…) Who are these people? That is for you to discover. Their homes hold clues to who they might be – sometimes in plain view, sometimes hidden away. Why are they in Hestium? That too is for you to decide. You create their stories. (…)”

On to meeting the characters!

Standing before the first house I come across, waiting to see if there is anyone at home, I notice that this is, most likely, the house of someone who has traveled through the Far East. There is an elegant blend of Chinese objects. The mixture of colors is attention-grabbing, red being one of the strongest.

A cat is sound asleep in front of the fireplace. By its side, I notice a table with a glass top. Visible is a list of guests, probably a page from a registry book. I think that this character will be a retired owner of a hotel in China. There he acquired an exquisite taste in art and elegance.

I venture onto the top floor, a bedroom decorated with beautiful objects brought back with him, a synthesis of sorts of everything he went through, the good and the bad.

I think our character is getting ready to write his biography; a desk and a chair in the corner of the bedroom announce many hours of personal recollections poured onto the page. Outside, in a veranda full of wonderful roses, a wooden chair faces east (how fitting). He comes here to sit and dream.

Before I leave, curiously enough, I notice there is a bird cage in the room, however its door is open and the bird is outside, free. This could tell us a lot about our character.

Choosing characters’ names is more often than not a very personal matter, so I’ll leave their naming to you.

The next house I come across is decorated in a Western antique style, a few Victorian elements standing out. In blacks and grays, it deeply contrasts with the previous one.

A French bulldog stands guard and quickly decides I am friendly enough to allow in. He has probably barked a few commands to his sibling on the upper floor, because I am completely ignored by him; he’s too busy out in the veranda, scrutinizing the horizon, waiting for his owner.

I think this house belongs to a woman. There is a feminine touch in the bedroom, whites and soft pinks, a boudoir and what seems to be a hat box.

As I climb up to the second floor… Oh! Interesting. A piano, mirrors and ballet barres. A ballerina. I don’t think I’ve ever suggested a ballerina as a character before. Let’s see. While I pretend to play the piano (yes, it’s a very generous piano), listening to a string of songs, imagining our ballerina practicing endless motions of repeated movements, always aiming for perfection, I imagine she is at the peak of her career.

When I come back downstairs, my eyes stumble across… How could I have missed it? There’s a white swan on the mantelpiece!

This is what fascinates me about Hestium. Every single detail counts and at each turn, you understand that everything has a purpose.

On to the next house which is slightly more modern in style. A cello leans languidly against a chair. While I play Bach (yes, this cello is also extremely generous), I notice some artwork on the wall. I think we might have a few ideas here both for the story and for the title of our story, dear fellow writer. The quote belongs to Mick Jagger. “Lose your dreams and you might lose your mind.”

Perhaps this is the home of a disillusioned musician, or conductor? Although there are a few feminine elements upstairs, flowers in fragile porcelain tea cups and a vanity mirror with enough light to brighten the darkest of days (and this could be symbolic of the character’s state of mind; his need to be a star again, to feel he’s back in the spotlight), I think this is mostly a masculine setting. The d├ęcor and the furniture have very straight lines and everything seems to have been chosen for efficacy, rather than elegance, although, that there is an artistic feeling to many of the objects in the house.

As I come back to the living-room/studio, I notice the photos on the wall. I am not sure, but I could swear they are from Portugal. Perhaps this conductor is an expatriate?

Right across from the conductor’s house, is the home of an inventor; the steampunk work bench is a dead giveaway. Perhaps he’s a bit of a nutcase and astronomy is high in his interests. He has a whole filing cabinet with the most outrageous inventions; I imagine that most of them are fascinating calculations and machinations on how to travel through space.

As I observe the room, I notice that one of the contraptions has something written on it, a message perhaps. It’s rather difficult to read, but I can just about decipher “I am not what you call a civilized man…”. Then further down, “I do not therefore obey its laws and I desire you never to allude to them before me again.” Oh… Well… It does sound slightly dangerous. Could the inventor have a secret? Something from his past?

I tip-toe upstairs, hoping he won’t catch me. The apparently peaceful bedroom, the birds chirping in the balcony, is invaded by the sounds of a train. At first, I think it’s the tiny train on a shelf that is doing that, however, I quickly realize that there’s another floor above; the sound is coming from a miniature train table. This is where our inventor hides away, in this loft. But from what? His wife’s criticisms that he’s always daydreaming? Or from the conductor who holds a growing grudge against him? Could it be the noise or… something significantly more serious? The beginning of a story is paved by questions and more questions!

Finally, I come across the Cat and Mouse Pub. This is where the whole village gathers, I’d say Mondays and Wednesdays (hint, hint; Boudicca, the owner, has a reading event on these days).

The village meets for a lot of chatting and a bit of an argument, too. The retired hotel owner may be nostalgic, but he is perhaps infatuated with the ballerina who only has eyes for her job. The orchestra conductor is also infatuated with the ballerina and he hates the hotel owner, however he has bigger problems with his neighbor, the inventor. The inventor, well, he’s a dreamer and he might be the one asking a very serious question one day, as everyone sits by the fireplace. “What makes a person beautiful?” (click the Chatterbox on the table for other ideas).

This is only a small fraction of what you might find at Hestium. The parcel is packed with such a rich array of details that you could sit here for several months and come up with a story each month without having to ponder too much about it!

My suggestion is to pay attention to every single object, to its location, to its size and color. Each one is an invaluable source of inspiration.

Ah! And remember that “Flintlocks, cudgels, daggers and swords [are] to be handed to the innkeeper for safe-keeping” commands a leaflet on the notice board. Also, no fakirs are allowed. No wonder!

I must say that I seriously doubt I have given enough justice to Hestium and to Boudicca’s creativity. Beyond the houses and the pub, there is much more to visit and draw inspiration from, I assure you. I particularly enjoy the slice of sand with a view to an island, the mystical stone circle and a mysteriously alluring door, half open and hidden in the forest, an entry from another world filled with the characters’ stories, or a passageway to so many new stories, because… there’s a story waiting to happen at Hestium.


A Story Waiting to Happen is a series of monthly articles about sims in the virtual world of Second Life®. The goal is to trigger ideas for new stories, new characters and new settings. If you write a story prompted by the following post, do consider leaving it in the comments or a link to it. Thank you.

Disclaimer: Virtual Writers and I are in no way affiliated with any shop located in the sims featured in this column, nor do we intend to promote them.


Note: One of the characteristics of Second Life is the fact that it's constantly and rapidly changing. Sims come and go; others look quite different, as time goes by. Do take that into consideration when using the links provided.




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