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Monthly Archives: September 2009

Almost didn’t make it, but here is a sneak peek at something I’m working on right now. This is not game related, at least not in its current form, although it has its roots in some very vague campaign ideas from yesteryear.

I hope you enjoy it and I welcome your input.

——

Maximilian looked down at the valley before him. Thousands of campfires as far as the eye could see. He walked down from the summit of the hill that overlooked the plane. Groups of warriors huddled around each fire. They worse many types of armor from leather, to bronze and even steel and were armed with bows, swords and shields. Some turned toward him. The long distance stares betrayed centuries of war and suffering.

He spotted an opening in one of the circles and sat on a log. His hands reached toward the flames seeking the some comfort from the cold night’s air. A voice spoke from across the undulating waves of heat that emanated from the embers.

“Hail brother, it has been awhile,” said the man. His features were gaunt as if he had not eaten in days. His black eyes reflected the glow from the fire.

“Hello Airell,” Maximilian said.

“So Bevan, or should I call you Maximilian?”

“You can call me whatever you want.”

“You did the right thing.”

“Did I? You,” Maximilian wrung his hands, “called me brother and I…” Maximilian averted his eyes.

“Killed me. Better by the hand of my blood brother than the enemies and if you had not done so neither you nor I would be here right now.”

“You are a shade.”

Airell looked around at the faces of the others sitting in the circle, “We are all shades. All those who take up the spear know that this is their fate. That is why you swore never to take it again. But you did, and here we are.”

One by one, the men and women around the campfire looked up into the moonless sky. “The stars are aligning brother,” Airell said. He pointed upwards with a long skeletal finger, “Fate beckons.”

Maximilian looked up to the sky. He saw the familiar constellations: the Tree, the Chariot, the Hunter, the Dragon, and the Warrior. Their arrangement caught his eye. They seemed to be grouped in a circle around the center of the sky. Each one had a corresponding star, separate but also equidistant from each other.

All but one.

“Stars and omens, is that why am here?”

“You are here because the play has already begun Bevan. Almost all the players are on stage and the second act is about to begin.”

Maximilian stood. His voiced boomed across the valley attracting the stares of the others, “No! I make my own destiny.”

“The play will go on, with or without you Bevan. Your choice is simple, actor or choir, player or spectator.”

A dense fog rolled across the valley swallowing the soldiers within it. Their voices drifted back across the ether, “The choice has been made, the spear taken.”

“There are but two ways to end this now, at least for you. Yield the spear by blood or face death itself,” Airell said.

“What? Face death itself, what d you mean?”

But the fog obliterated his sight and he received no answer.

——-

And now for a blast from the recent past-Fable by Robert Miles:

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You heard about “raising the stakes” in your work.

But what are “the stakes” or should I say, what is AT “stake”?

Usually in speculative fiction it’s stuff like a life, a kingdom, a nation, a planet, the galaxy, the Universe, the whole of Existence. It’s what on the table and the reason why the characters do what they are doing. But the object itself is meaningless, it is the value that the author/character/reader give it that matter.

Stakes are like money in that money only has value relevant to what it gets you (what you can acquire with it) and the work you put in to get the money in the first place.

So what do the “stakes” need to acquire this “value”?

1)The stakes are real. Something that it’s quantifiable and observable. It’s hard to care when you don’t understand what your fighting for.

2)The stakes always rise. If you think the stakes are high on page 1 wait until you get to page 321. I mean it’s defeats the purpose of raising the stakes if they already reached their limit. Otherwise the character(s) (and the reader) will call it quits have way through. Thinks are always worse than you can imagine.

3)The stakes are personal. It’s always personal. Ties in with the stakes being real. There is got to be a reason why the character is willing to sit on the table and drop a wager. He may need the money to buy old grandpa’s farm from the bank before they foreclose or his waiting for the fellow who is drinking at the bar to let his guard down so he can drill him one on the head. What that bastard did to his sister won’t go unpunished.

4)The stakes are always constant. Seems to contradict #2 but if the stakes diminish, so does the overall tension that pushes the story forward. Not that the characters should not catch a break once in awhile, but it’s only a break before the story goes on overdrive.

5) The stakes demand sacrifice. Blood, money, life, it’s what your betting and there is always a chance that you are going to lose. You might think it’s a chew in, but it ain’t and before the day (and the story) is through you will lose some to win all. It’s the way the game is played.  Without the possibility of loss, the stakes are meaningless.

So that’s all I got to say about it. Now ladies and gents, the game is on.

By way of a visual explanation here is a short game trailer that will illustrate the above. Enjoy!

(Note: See if you can identify two of the voices in it.)

I like prophecies (at least in fiction). They make for great story telling frames. They are an easy way to establish The Call to Adventure. Nothings beats a prophecy when it comes to raising the stakes. It’s not just a master less mercenary saving the snooty daughter of the local lord from the monster of the week.

Oh no!

Now it’s the whole kingdom that’s at stake.

Tempt Fate if you dare.

Become a plaything of the Gods.

Having a tough time believing that the local yokel is destined to save the Galaxy from the Overlord of all that is Eveil? Just check the prophecy, second stanza, third line. Aren’t you the man Man not born out of a Woman (whatever the hell that means)? Great! Now grab the shiny sword your father buried in that big honking rock in the backyard and off you go!

Sounds perfect, got prophecy will have fantasy blockbuster.

Or not.

Wait…

What?

Like I said, prophecies are great but there are so many ways to screw them up.

Let me counts ways:

The Forgotten Prophecy. The one you see early on in the story and completely disappears until the second to last paragraph of the book. If it’s that important you would think it would exert some pull on the characters who know about it. Otherwise why mention it.

The Retconned Prophecy, or the I happen to have prophecy that explains what otherwise defies the internal logic of the book. You know the type that crops up on page 315. Mr. Exposition every illogical twist and turn based on the prophecy and the reader is supposed to accept his explanation without question.  It’s the speculative fiction version of in-story CYA (coughBSGcoughbushitcoughsomemore), especially when he knows how baldy he screwed up the internal consistency of the narrative.

The Detail Free Prophecy. Everybody keeps talking about THE PROPHECY but NOBODY bothers to tell the hero or for that matter the reader what does it say let alone how it fits the story.

The Nonsense Prophecy.  Look it, we got a prophecy! And after reading it backwards and forwards it means absolutely nothing.  Bring Balance to the Force my left nut! Now, prophecies, by definition, are nebulous things, but c’mon!

The Pulled it out of my Rear Prophecy. The writer started with a few verses of the prophecy and it was good. Then he wanted to do something else, so he needed more prophetic words to justify that. And then some  more because he just sign a 6-book deal and now he needs to write more prophetic sounding crap because the reason the hero is doing the whole save the Universe bit is because Fate told him so. Now everything he does has been foretold and it will ALWAYS fit with whatever he does or fails to do.

The Ripped from the Ancient Headlines Prophecy.  I need a prophetic verse, stat! Oh, here is one:

O ye men who dwell in the streets of broad Lacedaemon!
Either your glorious town shall be sacked by the children of Perseus,
Or, in exchange, must all through the whole Laconian country
Mourn for the loss of a king, descendant of great Heracles

Nobody with access to a computer and Google will figure that one out. Yeah, right. Now if your novel is an alternate history work, or some such, this would make a great shout out to the King of Sparta. Otherwise it’s pretty flimsy.

As cool as prophecies might be, they are not a cure all for what ails your story. So be careful how you use them, if you use them at all.

And now for another Nostromo AMV. Enjoy!

And NaNo which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It starts on November 1st. But what exactly is it? I’ll let the folks over at their About page explain:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

A great way to kick start the inner author and put the inner editor on ice, at least for a month. Depending on your past writing experience (as well as daily time allotments) 50K words may seem to little or too much. But the idea is to write, just write.

This year’s entry will be a Dark (Age) Fantasy, although like many works in this sub-genre it flirts with historical accuracy (it actually pinches it in the bum and gives it the old bedroom eyes, but still).

So what are you waiting for? Gear up for NaNo ’09 and make this year the year of writing dangerously.

And now for a bit of Nostromo for your enjoyment:

According to an online personality quiz for fantasy writers I am:

Congratulations! You are High-Brow, Peaceful, Traditional and Cynical! These concepts are defined below.

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin is definitely one of the most celebrated science fiction and fantasy writers of all times. Her most famous fantasy work to date is the Earthsea suite of novels and short stories, in which Le Guin created not only one of the most believable societies in fantasy fiction, but also managed to describe a school for wizards almost three decades before Harry Potter. Although often categorized as written for young adults, these books have entertained and challenged readers of all ages since their publication.

Le Guin is no stranger to literary experiments (see for example Always Coming Home(1985)), but much of her story-telling is quite traditional. In fact, she makes a point of returning to older forms of story-telling, which, at her best, enables her to create something akin to myth. One shouldn’t confuse myth with faerytale, though. Nothing is ever simplified in Le Guin’s world, as she relentlessly explores ethical problems and the moral choices that her characters must make, as must we all. While being one of those writers who will allow you to escape to imaginary worlds, she is also one who will prompt you to return to your actual life, perhaps a little wiser than you used to be.

You are also a lot like Susan Cooper.

If you want some action, try Michael Moorcock.

If you’d like a challenge, try your exact opposite, C S Lewis.

Your score

This is how to interpret your score: Your attitudes have been measured on four different scales, called 1) High-Brow vs. Low-Brow, 2) Violent vs. Peaceful, 3) Experimental vs. Traditional and 4) Cynical vs. Romantic. Imagine that when you were born, you were in a state of innocence, a tabula rasa who would have scored zero on each scale. Since then, a number of circumstances (including genetical, cultural and environmental factors) have pushed you towards either end of these scales. If you’re at 45 or -45 you would be almost entirely cynical, low-brow or whatever. The closer to zero you are, the less extreme your attitude. However, you should always be more of either (eg more romantic than cynical). Please note that even though High-Brow, Violent, Experimental and Cynical have positive numbers (1 through 45) and their opposites negative numbers (-1 through -45), this doesn’t mean that either quality is better. All attitudes have their positive and negative sides, as explained below.

High-Brow vs. Low-Brow

You received 13 points, making you more High-Brow than Low-Brow. Being high-browed in this context refers to being more fascinated with the sort of art that critics and scholars tend to favour, rather than the best-selling kind. At their best, high-brows are cultured, able to appreciate the finer nuances of literature and not content with simplifications. At their worst they are, well, snobs.

Violent vs. Peaceful

You received -7 points, making you more Peaceful than Violent.  This scale is a measurement of a) if you are tolerant to violence in fiction and b) whether you see violence as a means that can be used to achieve a good end. If you aren’t, and you don’t, then you are peaceful as defined here. At their best, peaceful people are the ones who encourage dialogue and understanding as a means of solving conflicts. At their worst, they are standing passively by as they or third parties are hurt by less scrupulous individuals.

Experimental vs. Traditional

You received -19 points, making you more Traditional than Experimental. Your position on this scale indicates if you’re more likely to seek out the new and unexpected or if you are more comfortable with the familiar, especially in regards to culture. Note that traditional as defined here does not equal conservative, in the political sense. At their best, traditional people don’t change winning concepts, favouring storytelling over empty poses. At their worst, they are somewhat narrow-minded.

Cynical vs. Romantic

You received 17 points, making you more Cynical than Romantic. Your position on this scale indicates if you are more likely to be wary, suspicious and skeptical to people around you and the world at large, or if you are more likely to believe in grand schemes, happy endings and the basic goodness of humankind. It is by far the most vaguely defined scale, which is why you’ll find the sentence “you are also a lot like x” above. If you feel that your position on this scale is wrong, then you are probably more like author x. At their best, cynical people are able to see through lies and spot crucial flaws in plans and schemes. At their worst, they are overly negative, bringing everybody else down.

It’s thorough to say the least. But I have to disagree with the peaceful part.

Thank you Amy!