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Monthly Archives: January 2010

I came across the Fight Scene BlogFest on Random Writings (hi Carol!) which lead me to Crimso Ink post. The goal is to write and post a fight scene of reasonable length as part of the BlogFest. Since I written about fight scenes before, I thought I give it a try.

Here are the rules:

1) In the next 2 weeks, write a blog post about the Fight Scene Blogfest to spread the word! Why? Because it wouldn’t be very fun if no one knew about it. Duh.

2) Post a link to your blog in the McLinky at the bottom of this post so we can all jump to your blog and devour your Fight Scene!

3) Tweet about it if thou hast a twitter. Remember to use the brand new hashtag: #FSBlogfest
4) Not a story writer? Find your favorite movie/tv/book fight scene. The one that had you on the edge of your seat and wincing when a blow landed.

You should go to the original post (link above the rules) to enter your blog into the McLinky widget. The BlogFest kicks off on February 1st.

Good luck!

And now another AMV from my favorite anime- Samurai Champloo, which happens to have great samurai fight scenes too!

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I just finished Elantris by Brandon Sanderson, one of the contributors to Writing Excuses podcast (an excellent resources for writers).  The story centers around the actions of three characters: Raoden, Crown Prince of Arelon, Sarene, Princess of Teod and future wife to Raoden and Hrathen, gyorn (high priest) of the Empire of Fjordell in the city of Kae, the capital of Arelon. The city in turn exists in the shadow of the ruins of Elantris, an ancient city of the godlike Elantrians who fell from grace a decade before. What happened to Elantris then and how that affects the future of Arelon are at the key to the stopping a religious empire bent on word domination.

By faith or by fire.

I won’t do a formal review as I don’t know what that is exactly. I’ll simply lists relevant points about the story and how they apply to writing (specially speculative fiction).

Strong Points:

  • Excellent characterizations: Strong characters you care about. No one is completely good or completely evil, but credible in their actions, word view and emotional states. You care what happens to the characters and the outcome of the actions.
  • Character Driven Story: Although it seems at first to be plot driven due to situations out of the characters control (mainly the Reod and the Dateline), what really propels the characters is their actions and interactions.  Each one of the three principal characters works with what they have at hand, many times at cross purposes. It is the mingling and colliding of these purposes that drives the story forward.
  • World building crafted into the plot: Instead of large blocks of obfuscating text the world bulding is subtly worked into the plot, in fact figuring out how the magic of the world works is key to the plot. You catch on quickly to the political, social and magical aspects of the Elantris universe and yearn to learn more about them. For someone who is known for his extensive magic rules and world building, Sanderson managed to write it in with a deft and light touch.
  • Not your standard fantasy setting: Yet it feels both real and fantastic at the same time. Flawless internal consistency and logic through out. The world feels unique in its modernity yet still has enough of the fantasy/medieval tropes to keep it within the genre it explores.
  • Great use of the Multiple 3rd Person Close POV:  Creates a nice back and forth between the view, expectations and actions of each faction from their perspective character. Enough is revealed to maintain logical consistency without ruining the future twists and turns in the story, even if some of them are predictable.

Weak Points:

  • Hook but no Line: The story starts with an intriguing hook, but the line behind it doesn’t seem to tug hard enough or with enough pressure to pull the reader along. The reason is that their is not enough tension in the narrative line because the stakes while described at extremely high remain distant. It is not until the stakes became immediate that the pace of the story picks up  tremendous speed and excitement.
  • Fantastic Name Confusion: The story has very little in the way of fantastic animals or objects, but the characters names can become confusing (except for principal characters). With some many minor yet important characters, losing track of who’s who happens from time to time. Much frustration ensues.

Well that is all I have to say about Elantris. Overall a good first novel, a strong entry in the fantasy genre and if you can go past the somewhat slow beginning, a rewarding narrative overall.

Oh boy, I’m going straight to Hell, hand me that hand basket, okay, thanks!

Which just show you that writing about religion is hard. That’s why most speculative fiction writers, especially in the fantasy genre/sub-genres avoid it, at least when it comes to Abrahamic religions (it seems Wicca and other forms or paganism are fair game).

The reasons are multiple:

  • The writer doesn’t want to offend anyone.
  • The writer doesn’t want his book to be a dissertation on his religious beliefs.
  • The writer fears that he will get it wrong.
  • Most writers, even if they are agnostic or atheist still come from a religious background (mostly the above Abrahamic religions or sects/cults there in) and unconsciously anthropomorphize the Supreme Deity (God with a capital G for those keeping score t home).

My problem is that, considering the modern concept of what is God (yes, the capital G-man) makes him (or it) to be omniscient and omnipotent, ergo any but the most vague descriptions of the Almighty himself (does not include discussions on the theological/historical/social aspects of religion by the way) will fit the bill. If you turn Him into a character, then he is not longer, well, Him but a lesser copy, thus not worthy of having the title, unless you’re writing in the post-modern tradition of the “Jerk-God” (yes, with a capital…oh never mind).

So what is a writer to do?

  1. Polytheism: Although many fantasy stories are written in a High Middle Ages milieu (knights, stone castles, feudalism) the write creates a cosmology full of gods and goddesses. Most of these act like a combination of Anglo-Saxon, Nordic, or Greco-Roman pantheons, although it is not uncommon for these deities to have “churches”, “clerics” and other attributes of modern Christian (especially Catholicism) sects. Common in D&D and works inspired by it and previous authors, such as Robert E. Howard.
  2. Henotheism/Molotraism: Other gods exist but the story/characters focus on worshiping one above the others, either because it is the patron deity of a city, culture or nation or simply the belief that others are not worthy of worship. Does not preclude the existence of other deities, only the preference/worthiness of these vis-a-vis the chief deity. May be a step toward monotheism. In Urban Fantasy (American Gods by Neil Gaiman or DC Vertigo’s Lucifer) it serves as an explanation of why the old gods have faded from the world but not disappeared completely.  Also serves to establish that all myths are true.
  3. Distant God:  Deux Ex Machina, God is in the machine or at least he is IT, everything, the All or the supreme architect. He exists but for some reason he is either preoccupied with running the universe or he is everyone/everything and can not be reduced to one person/thing. Basically a cop out by the writer, as in “yeah, it’s there, I just don’t want to talk about it”. The world now belongs to Man and does not need a powerful deity mucking about and interfering with free will.
  4. The Absent/Uncaring/Malicious Deity: God has either moved on with creation, doesn’t care what happens to its creation or set up the whole thing as a great cosmic joke. Mostly a take that against organized religion (think Dogma or for that matter, anything by the late, great George Carlin). Many of these stories pit humanity against demons or the Devil, and the most it can expect from the Powers That Be are a few angels here or there and they may not be good guys or may not even know where their boss is. Supernatural is a great example of this.
  5. Christianity by Allegory: This comes in two forms, Christianity (or the chosen Abrahamic tradition) By Any Other Name or a Thickly Veiled Allegory with symbolic stand-ins for modern religion of the writers choice. The first is common in many computer RPGs like World of Warcraft. You have priest, churches, paladins and priests, and the worship a stand in for God (called The Light or some such). The second may use elements of other mythos or modern analogs to retell biblical stories or the like. C.S. Lewis was a master of this. Yes, the Lion was Jesus.

So, there you have it. Pick your poison. And if you end downstairs before I do, please save me a seat!

And to make sure I get there in style, here is a double dose of Eddie Izzard:

In the spirit of full, honest and complete disclosure, I am a liberal.

Why did I just write that?

Because it informs my worldview and by extension my writing. So does my religion or lack thereof (I am an agnostic).

Anyone that thinks that you can write anything without a trace of bias is deluding themselves. And Speculative Fiction is riddle with great stories written by authors that showcase their religious, philosophical and political views.

Heinlein

H.G. Wells

C.S. Lewis

Rod Serling

George Orwell

These are but a few of the authors who have used speculative fiction to explore and engage their readers along political, religious or philosophical lines. There is something about creating your own world universe that allows the author too expand on his views, mainly because said world works under the rules he created for it, thus it is malleable to his worldview. When done well the author engages in a thoughtful conversation with his audience, one that allows the audience to question the material and engage in their own quest for understanding.  When done poorly, the reader feels like the author dropped an anvil on his head while screaming “I’m right! I’m right! I am always motherfucking right, you ignorant turd!” in his face.

So, what is an author to do?

  1. Be upfront about your positions: You don’t need to repeat them every chance you get, but being upfront about them means that you are not disrespecting your audience with some stealth morality lesson or political view.
  2. Somebody, somewhere will disagree: Specially on the interwebs. It’s the nature of the beast. Know how to separate the genuine concerns/critiques from those that use your work as a straw man for their views.
  3. Do the research: If you don’t want to sound like a doofus talking about the evils of Capitalism/Communism/Evangelism etc, do the research, specially if your mocking/criticism those views.
  4. Don’t let your bias get in the way of the story: Story first, second and always. Let the story reflect it’s own values. Write the story, and let the readers figure it out.

Whether you want it or not, and whether you admit it or not, your writing is a reflection of who you are and that means that your views will seep in. It’s the nature of the beast.

Modern stories, especially in the speculative fiction of the local book store avoid ambition like the plaque

OK, let me rephrase that. In modern stories ambition is seen as a flaw rather than a boon. For example, many a changeling story (you know the ones were the ordinary kid turns out to be a prince, champion or wizard) has ambition at the core of the heroes motivation, mostly the ambition to escape their current circumstances into a better (and more fascinating) world.

After all ambition, by definition, is not necessarily bad. In fact we celebrate it all the time, in celebrities and businessmen,  that is until they succumb to it and then it becomes a moral about how power and greed corrupts the human soul. Since ambition is usually tied with power it has become synonymous with greed even though it is technically not so. So much so that as in the examples above, ambition must be disguised in someway, most commonly as the opposite, that is, the hero doesn’t really want the power but has no choice but to take it, even though he tends to enjoy at least some of the perks that come with it (like Quidditch!).

If ambition, by itself, is not inherently evil, how can a hero be motivated by it in a good way? It depends on what the hero wants, how he goes about obtaining it and what does he do with it once he has it. Mostly the “it” is power, that is the ability to do something. It could be political, wealth or status. The prince might fight to gain the throne out of a sense of duty not only to his murdered father but also to his people, who need a leader. A wizard may quest for a powerful artifact to stop an ancient evil or an industrialist may search for wealth so that he can change the system from within.

Their is always a risk that the hero may be corrupted as ambition morphs into greed or arrogance. The hero is dancing at the edge of the moral abyss risking it all. He may find that what he search for is ultimately futile or useless (but not in a deux machina sort of way, that is you find the ultimate artifact of power and it loses said power the moment he uses it against the ultimate evil)  or that he, at some point, might have to walk away from power for the greater good or learn to use said power wisely.

If used right ambition can be a powerful and deep motivation for the hero.