Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: October 2009

 

All-Hallows Eve.

I’m not a big fan of Halloween. I don’t hate it, but like St. Valentine’s I consider it an over hyped holiday. I think one of the reasons why I am not particularly fond of this day is the insistence on fear. I don’t like scary movies. I don’t go to the theater or play a game to be scared.  Fear is an unpleasant emotion I could do without unless absolutely necessary.

That doesn’t mean I avoid stories of things that go bump in the night.

Oh no….

But I like my stories where the hero(s) get to bump back.

Less horror and more urban fantasy. For every vampire a vampire slayer, for every demon a demon hunter.

I liked Jaws, and Aliens. Not only were they proper horror movies (never show the monster in the trailer) but the heroes get to fight back. They are not reduced to screaming, running piles of human flesh waiting for their killer to strike them down at their whim. They fight back. They win the day. At a cost, but they win.

Rippley blasted the nasty xenomorph through an airlock.

The shark got blown to smithereens with a well place rifle shot.

Fake blood and gore cheapens real life horrors. Reality is far scarier than anything dreamed up by Hollywood, and far more shocking.

Give the heroes a chance to win and win their bitter-sweet day in the sun.

Commune with the spirits of the dead, draw comfort from those that have come before and confront those that stand between you and your future.

Now that is a story I can sink my teeth into.

And now for some music from Orbital:

 

Advertisements

I posted my NaNo 09 soundtrack last night but I remembered that I haven’t done the same for SuD.  This soundtrack reflects a few things, among them the story anime/manga background mixed with the madness of a world gone mad. I hope you like it.

Note on listing format: Song Title-Track Note (if any)-Artist.

  1. Storm TMMix/Intro and Main Theme: Yoshida Brothers
  2. Kodo Inside the Sun Remix/Alternate Intro: Yoshida Brothers
  3. Ain’t talking about dub: Apollo 440
  4. Badboys
  5. We Didn’t Start the Fire: Billy Joel
  6. Keep Hope Alive:  The Crystal Method
  7. Let the Bodies Hit the Floor/Fight Music:  Drowning Pool
  8. Crazy: Gnarls Barkely
  9. Precious: Depeche Mode
  10. Crazy/A Soldier’s Memory: Seal
  11. Pistolero/Enter the Gunman: Juno Reactor
  12. The Box: Orbital
  13. Fire Starter: Prodigy
  14. Welcome to the Jungle/Ride into Chicago: Guns N’ Roses
  15. Paint it Black/Sparks of Sex and Fire: Rolling Stones
  16. Hotel California/Hell Freezes Over version: The Eagles
  17. 99 Problems vs. One Step Closer/Battle of Basra: Jay-Z & Linkin Park
  18. The Show Must Go On/Funeral for the Fallen: Queen
  19. Breaking the Habit: Linkin Park
  20. No Heaven/Fire Dancer’s Intro: DJ Champion
  21. Welcome to the Black Parade/End Credits: My Chemical Romance

The songs are not in order, but I hope they give you a sense of the overall theme. And before I forget, here is a video for you as well.

Enjoy!

Just a quick update of sorts. Since I switched from fantasy to sci-fi as the basis for this year’s NaNo, I thought it fitting to switch to my sci-fi blog for the rest of the month (which won’t be long as I will be out of commission during  next week starting on Monday).

I hope to see you there soon.

Now that switched from Fantasy to Science Fiction, I need an idea that breaches the divide. Well, I don’t have to have a smooth transition between topics, but it’s best if I try.

Luckily one thing that many a Science Fiction story shares with Fantasy is the Feudal System.

Our descendants in the far future will recognize what a pain in the ass democracy is and will choose to live under the benevolent hand of interplanetary royalty.

Of course everything is better with a princess, or two (thank you Disney!)

It allows to transfer all the Ye Olde Tropes from Yore to the far future. Much easier for a writer to deal with one Evil Chancellor as opposed to thousand of scummy, faceless politicians arguing in whatever governing body lies at a center of a galactic democracy.

It also explains why you have a Galactic Empire, although more often than not said Empire rises from the ashes of an earlier Republic. Then again, depending on the author the current system might be better, worse or about the same as its predecessor.

Then again interplanetary kingdom of sorts, whether controlling a single planet, system, sector or galaxy is a recognition that space is really, really, oh so really fucking big! In order to control a galaxy wide Empire you would need to be able to travel/communicate at multiples of the speed of light. Therefore breaking down the known universe into more manageable chunks under the control of military officials (spoils system) or members of your family (system of the spoiled) makes more sense than spending years on the space telephone while traveling around the galaxy checking up on millions (if not billions) of your subjects.

Finally, royalty tropes, whether a long time ago and/or in a place far, far away (in Star Wars you get both with loads of of Princesses and Lords to boot) appeal to a time in our lives when our parents where the absolute (benevolent ?) rulers over us and knew better. It also stimulates the authoritarian/totalitarian node in our brain. After all, a successful king/emperor is just a dictator/conqueror who managed to transfer not only acquire political power but also transmit said power to his descendants and that is not that far away from our own experience.

And now to show you a bit of the Feudal Future:

Write what you know….

Or write what you like.

But what if I’m not comfortable with what I know or like?

I like fantasy and I know a bit about Medieval European history, so it seemed like a good idea.

Except I was not comfortable with it.

I love reading it and playing fantasy theme games (computer and tabletop).

But my real comfort zone exists somewhere between Today and Some Time in the Future.

With guns, politics, intrigue and travel (I like to put my characters on the road as soon as possible).

Doesn’t require a lot of world building or language manipulation (Ye Olde English gives me a headache).

So for now fantasy remains distant, while urban fantasy and science fiction are comfortable and easy.

So what (or where) is your comfort zone?

Oh boy!

Yep, I think I’m about to change directions. I am not giving up on NaNo, at least not yet, but I am throwing the idea of a fantasy WIP away and reviving an old idea of mine. How old? How about decades in the making? At least 10 maybe 15 years old.

It’s not first time it happens. Last summer (08) I thought I had the perfect idea for NaNo (mecha-based sci-fi) only to abandon it for Sturm und Drang (urban fantasy) . What sounded like a great idea months ago now has come undone.

It never gelled properly in my, which is where I do most of my organizing and planning. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made.

Then a single image struck me.

A young man walking down rain slick stone stairs.

That was image I could use. But that meant abandoning a recent story for a older one, one waiting to be rescued from the muck of half-forgotten memories.

It seems after a long time, its time has come.

And this is what inspired it:

Race and ethnicity in fantasy settings/books basically boils down to the the old Good vs. Evil divide that we see in Tolkien/D&D inspired works.

One one hand you have the good races: Humans, Elves, Dwarves.

In the other hand you have the evil races: Orcs, Goblins,Trolls, ect.

Some stories even have exact evil counterparts for good races (especially those based on D&D) such as Light Elves vs. Dark Elves. Some authors like to subvert this by having a few characters distance themselves from the “norm” thus proving that not everyone in an entire race can be evil yet still maintaining the fiction that allows a convenient target(s) for the heroes to slaughter at will without any moral or personal repercussions. After all destroying evil is always a good thing, right?

As you probably guessed by now, I don’t like to go the simplistic route. Since my story is based on Dark Age Europe I like to play with this concept a bit. Yes you have good and evil, but no faceless evil races. In fact prejudice plays a big role in how each ethnic/social group views the other.

Akrosians/Republicans view the new nations of the Nordlands as barbarians. Both of these groups have reached a level of homogeneity which encourages this view of outsiders. In fact the word barbarian originally meant outsider with the twist that these foreigners were inferior to those who gave them the epitaph because they did not share the same culture or language as those who considered themselves civilized. The irony of course is that due to the destruction of Western Roman Empire the term change to mean “an individual reference to a brutal, cruel, warlike, insensitive person.” Yet to the modern observer the Roman gladiatorial games and their justice system looks as barbarous as the destruction brought by the Germanic invasions.

Things look different in the Nordlands where the distinction are largely on ethnic/religious lines. Due to the recent fall of Empire and transformation into the (New) Republic you have a mix and match of people living in former Imperial territory.

The rulers are, for the most part members of the military leadership that lead the tribes from beyond the “Three Rivers” and into Imperial territory. Funded by Republican silver they serve as a buffer between it (the Republic) and further barbarian invasions. They claimed vast kingdoms loosely allied with the Republic. While they are the ruling elite, their power is largely military and they lack the administrative skills or money to sustain these kingdoms intact. They seek to appeased the newly conquered by adopting Imperial ways and costumes and converting to the new religion of the Nine.  Yet they retain their language and legal traditions.

The vast middle class is made up of assimilated (to the former Imperial ethnic identity) locals. While the lack military power, they still have money and a strong connection to the the Republic and by extension the Church. They are the equivalent to the Romanized Gauls. These are the people the new rulers want to accommodate because they still retain much of the wealth and they outnumber their conquerors. These former Imperial citizens support the new regimes in exchange for protection.

The lower class is made up of disenfranchised farmers, former slaves and isolated groups that retain some of the customs from the time before the Imperial conquest. To the new Church they are seen as threat undermining their vision of the cosmos, especially the shamans/druids that lead these groups. They have called on the new rulers to persecute them with varying degrees of success.

A fourth and fifth group include the Elves and Dwarves. The Elves that live within the Republic borders (i.e. the Peninsula) have integrated into that culture as have the Dwarves, although this last group numbers are small and their origins are shrouded in mystery. On the other hand Elves living in the Nordlands have turned xenophobic. They now hide from the rest of the world.

As you can see, this is a world where your ethnic loyalties determine who you consider a friend or foe  (with individual exceptions, of course).

In fact this might be a typical scene in my book.

And now for some music:

nano_09_blk_participant_100x100_1.png

I was going to write about something else, and the draft is on this blog post folder, but  I decided to “borrow” a meme from Bejamin Solah about NaNo:

When and how did you find about NaNoWriMo? How did it go?

I heard of it a couple of years ago from a gaming/RPG forum I’m a member of. I tried to participate a few times but I would always quit before it even started.

How many times have you done NaNoWriMo?’

Once, last year (2008).

How many times have you won? If you haven’t won, what was your best result?

I won last year, by something like 39 words. So I’m 1:1 when it comes to NaNo.

How did it go last year?

Stressful. I tried to write at least 2,000 words a day, but kept falling behind.  The stress can be terrific, but it is also a great motivator. Once I was done I realized that I had only about a third to half of the story done so after a short break I continued to write and finished the first draft in February of this year (2009).

Where do you write and with what do you write?

I write whenever and wherever I can. Pen and legal pad (white). Although for NaNo I usually do it as a series of blog posts which remain in draft form (wordpress rules) which then I cut and paste to Word.

How do you find time to write?

You got to make the time. I usually work an hour or so before my bedtime. Knock out a few hundred to thousand words and then hit the hay.

Are your partners, friends and allies or enemies?

I keep most of my writing to myself. Most of my online friends are allies, but the people around me hardly know what I’m working on.

What are your strengths and what do you use to help you get to the end?

Excitement, Stress, Dedication and Caffeine, although do to resent events I’ve abandoned the last one.  Of all of those factors, excitement is what keeps me going. Once I’m into a story I like to see it through to the end.  That and the more I write the (hopefully) better I get.

What are your weaknesses, obstacles, and challenges that hinder you from finishing?

Laziness and an obsession with perfection. Self-motivation is hard to come by sometimes and also I’m a stickler for internal consistency. I hate getting “lost” not knowing where to go next in the story. Mind you I do not outline as that simply kills the whole writing experience for me, but I do write notes while I write, which helps me keep track of things (characters, locations, plot points).

Do you plot/outline/plan or do you write by the seat of your pants? How much do you plot or how unprepared are you?

I don’t do outlines. Writing an outline feels like I already wrote the story, but without any of the important parts. I do brainstorm about genre, title and the like. I write down a few basic notes and go from there. Everything else happens at the point of the pen or the tip of the fingers as I write.

Do you participate in the real life community, go to write ins and meets ups in your area?

No, I don’t know any NaNo groups so I don’t participate. Besides I think that would make it even more stressful that it already is.  I like to focus my energies on my story.

What are your writing aids? Special snacks, music, totems, reward or punishments?

I set up a themed songlist to play on my iPod or computer while I write, that’s about it. Failure is punishment enough.

Well those are my answers to the meme. I hope you enjoyed them.

I already talked about the villain in fantasy, but what about the heroes?

Instead of focusing on the types of heroes I’ll talk about motivation(s). They come in different flavors, such as:

  1. Honor & Duty
  2. Can’t Fight Fate
  3. It’s Personal
  4. For the Greater Good

Honor and Duty means that it is the heroes job to be, well, heroic (or at least he thinks he is). Whether he is the Captain of the City Watch or the Crown Prince the hero call to adventure comes in the way of legal, familial or societal duty. Pretty mundane as motivations go and to the modern reader it may sound a bit thin but at least it gives a hero a reason to be in the story and a day job. Useful when you have a band of heroes and you need to inject some purpose to a secondary character.

Other heroes get their call via stone tablet or star sign. A long time ago (or last week on a Tuesday afternoon) somebody, somewhere predicted that The Chosen On will rise from the gibbering masses too save the day. Easy way to start your story. If anyone asks just show them the highlighted text. Usually the story then revolves around one of two things: can the hero live up to the hype (prophecy) or is that thing they said about him so many years ago is even worth listening too. Averted, subverted and play straight so many times, I’ve lost count.

Then there is the Mel Gibson favorite for when the hero refuses the call, make…it…personal! The villain razed the heroes village to the ground, killed his parents and kidnapped his significant other. Oh hells no! It’s on! Leads the hero onto a roaring rampage of revenge with the added bonus that the hero has nothing to hold him back.

And last but not least you have the true hero, the one that does what needs to be done, for the greater good. Restore Peace to the Land, usher an gleaming Utopia, that sort of thing. The hero is the epitome of altruism. Could be the way he was raised or that he is a fervent believer in a philosophy/religion that encourages that kind of thought. Paragons of absolute virtue seem a tad outdated in the cynical world we live in, but there is nothing stopping the author from playing up the darker side of this motivation.

So there you have it. Four common heroic motivations. I hope you found them useful.

Every story needs them, and in fantasy tales they come in two varieties:

The Complete Monster variety with no redeeming qualities who serve as the very definition of all things evil and destroyer of worlds (yes, plural, he/she/it/they is THAT evil).

or

The lying, scheming, conniving usurper type out to pervert, despoil and corrupt all that is good in the world from within.

If you want a foe that your heroes can slay without a second thought go with #1, but if you’re looking for some court intrigue and delicious backstabbing, #2 is the way to go.

Plot driven stories prefer the first option as well. You don’t have to worry about the motivations of the Big Bad who is a murdering fount of madness. Of course you have to be careful that you don’t stumble over unfortunate implications if your evil race shares too many cultural markers with real world religion or ethnicity.Easily avoided by making them monstrous or outerworldy.

Character driven stories rely on #2 because the villain’s motivation(s) lie at the heart of the conflict. The heroes must play a cat and mouse game to uncover the plotters plans before it is too late.

Of course the evil prince might turn into a complete monster once he gets the throne and the unspeakable horror might have a few words to say after all.

Plus, you can have both in the same story. Either #1 plays the Dragon to #2 or #2 plays the role of the inside man for #1. The evil mastermind has someone to do their dirty work for them (and someone to blame if things go wrong) while the Unspeakable Horror has an agent on the inside easing their path to victory.

The specifics are left to each author, of course. But whatever Big Bad shows up will shape the character of your story. After all, it is the challenge that the Heroes must overcome.

Here is a trailer from Dragon Age to show you what I mean by Unspeakable Horror. Enjoy! 😀