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It happens to all of us (writers that is), our minds overload with ideas, jamming our train of thought and skewing our writing course.

Which means, that sometimes you just have to stop, download your brain and keep going.

Yes, download, as in downloading files from/to a computer or server.

Happened to me last week. I was gong through a bit of writer’s block. No, this time around I wasn’t bullying my characters into doing something they didn’t want to do. Instead a set of ideas bubbled up from the ether and into conscious foreground. A figure stood at the mouth of a dark alley, fedora shielding him from the pouring rain and at my feet laid a dead body. Everything was in black and white except for the bright red stain of blood in the corpse’s chest.

I looked at the figure and he said “My name is John Malone, Psychic Detective.”

How can you say no to a guy with a smoking automatic on one hand?

I sure wasn’t going to try.

So the downloading began.

How exactly did I do that? Did I invent a neural interface so that my thoughts would be converted to Ones and Zeroes and travel from my squishy brain to the desktop’s hard drive.

Of course not.

Pen and paper. Lists, time-lines, notes. That’s what I’m talking about. Now, I am not to just start writing the moment an idea seizes me. I don’t keep a notebook under my pillow. I let my thoughts marinate in the deep fryer of my mind for awhile. Sometimes they disintegrate in the slop or retreat back to the ether, but this character just wouldn’t go away.

“My name is John Malone, Psychic Detective.”

Notes, yes notes:

Setting: Grant City, U.S.A. Midwestern City, Alternate Earth, 1920s-1930s.The Great War lasted until 1920 and ended with the occupation of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Anatolia (modern day Turkey). Revolution spreads throughout the world. European Empires bankrupt. Prohibition becomes the law of the land, gangland violence and racial tensions are on the rise.

Main Character: John Malone-Psychic Detective. Psychic powers are all variations of empathy. Also suffers from an extreme form of colorblindness.

Influences: Comic Books, Crime Stories, Early 20th American History, Film Noir, The Dresden Files

Genres: Diesel Punk, Short Story, Alternate History, Science-Fiction, Comic Books (Watchmen and Sin City).

And so on. By writing it down I can clear my mind and refocus on my current WIP. I can also tell if it’s just a straight shot in the dark or something I can work with at some later time. Think of it as a bit of mental (not as in crazy mind you, although…) Spring Cleaning.

Rubbish out, clean air and useful thought patterns in.

At least I hope so. 😉

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Final reminder that the “Behind the Headlines” Blogfest kicks off tomorrow, April 5. Can’t wait to read what you wrote.

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And now for some music by Chicane-Saltwater:

This is my entry for the February’s Fight Scene BlogFest.

Enjoy!

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The afternoon sun beat down on Hadrian’s exposed skin. The harsh light glinted of the naked steel of his sword. The roar of the crowd washed over him. He was their favorite, their champion. He ignored it all by counting the clanks as the portcullis rose before him. Each metallic bank of the hidden wheels counting down to the engagement. Each one bringing him closer to the fight.

Clank

“If you want her, you will have to buy her,” said the jealous lover.

Clank

“Five hundred talents at least, my boy.  Enough to make your dreams come true,” exclaimed his manager.

Clank

“Yes, I will leave with you, where ever you want to go my love. Beyond the mountains where the summer’s are cool and the winter’s quite,” said the woman he loved.

Clank

“Not this time. This time you will meet your match. My beast will feast on your bones,” exclaimed the exultant rival.

Clank

“Make it a fight for the ages, and your debt to me will be repaid in full,” said the petulant Duke.

Clank

All the reasons why he was here. One way or another this would be his last fight. Hadrian walked into the arena. He felt the sand between the toes of his sandals. The Duke sat high above him across the oval, surrounded by guards and war wizards. His girth a product of his opulence. He kept the bread and gave his people circuses instead.

And for the last ten years, Hadrian was the main attraction.

No wind blew this summer day. The red main of horse hair on top of the gladiator’s round helm lay limp.  Droplets of sweat came down his arms racing down highways of nicks, muscle and cuts. He reached the center of the arena and bowed to the Duke. The fat man smiled back and raised his hand in salute. The motion quieted the crowed. The Duke stood from his bejeweled chair. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor and pleasure to present to you the Champion of our glorious city, Hadrian the Unconquered!”

The crowd exploded in wild adulation. Hadrian raised his arms, punching the air with steel sword and bronze shield.  “In this most glorious of days, the day our our city’s birth, Hadrian has consented to face his most dangerous foe. A great beast of the North, a Lyndwyrm!”

A hush descended upon the crowd. Once slaves battled beasts but gladiators fought other men. The Church tried to outlaw the games but they only managed to “reform” them. Gladiators rarely fought to the death and fighting animals was rare. Fighting such a dangerous beast could very well mean Hadrian’s death, and they did not want to see that. Not their beloved champion. But Hadrian bowed once again to the Duke and when he raised his head he gave the crowd a wide smile a smile that hid the fear that consumed his thoughts. Faint cries of “No” turned to screams of adulation.

The Duke smiled in turn. “Let the match begin!”

A panel slid open on the arena floor. A gigantic worm slithered from within the bowels of the arena with lighting speed. It’s beaked head raised to the heavens. It gave a ear splitting screech. Hadrian stared his at the dun colored, slime covered opponent.  “Not the brightest idea you ever had,” he said at loud.

The beast turned down toward Hadrian. It’s beak like maw split open, spitting twin streams of viscous liquid that met in mid air. The gladiator raised his shield in time to block the attack, but saw in horror as the sun came though the wholes left by the corrosive spittle.  He dropped the disintegrating shield just in time to see the wyrm descend upon him. He rolled to his left. The razor beak snapped in the air, spraying sand everywhere.

Hadrian stood with a kick stand, just to be battered by the powerful stroke of the wyrm head. The strike sent him flying against the masonry wall of the arena.  Hadrian shook his head, trying to clear his clouded vision before the wyrm’s beak snapped him in two. He danced around the wyrm, using his size to stay under the wyrm body. But his attacks had little effect. The combination of the slime and the beast thick hide turned body piercing stabs into glancing blows.  He drew thick, putrid smelling blood where the sand clung to the underside, neutralizing the ooze. Yet each strike only made the lyndwyrm angrier. Hadrian ducked and weaved careful not to slip in the trail of slime left by the wyrm. He ran until he reach the wall beneath the Duke’s seat. The wyrm charged him. At the last second Hadrian moved out of the way. The stadium shook with the impact. The beast reared it’s head, then spit anew. A pair of war wizards gesticulated wildly over a burning brazier. Columns of fire intercepted the acid raining down on the crowd.  A guard stepped forward, crossbow in hand. The Duke glanced at him. The guard stepped back but kept the crossbow at the ready.

Hadrian traced the slime path way back to the wooden door from which the wyrm entered the arena.  Once he felt wood underneath his feet, he angled his sword to catch the sunlight. The reflection shone on the wyrm’s black eyes. Enraged it dove down on Hadria. He rolled to his right. The worm struck the door, destroying it in a shower of splinters. It thrashed in sheer desperation. Hadrian crouched nearby waiting his chance. As the beast liberated it’s head, Hadrian slashed at the exposed eye. The dark eyeball exploded on contact with Hadrian blade.  The beak missed Hadrian’s head by mere inches.  Hadrian moved back and forth, taunting the creature by darting away at the edge of its damaged vision. It came down, again and again until Hadrian saw his opening. On the last attack, he rolled on his back and the jumped, holding his sword in an overhead two handed strike. This time the blade sunk deep into the wyrm’s head. The creature tried to pry his tormentor by shaking its head from side to side. Hadrian held on as much as he could. Then he slid down on the wyrm’s back.  He landed with a thud on the ground, covered in blood, sand and slime. He turned in time to see the lyndwyrm collapse in a heap a feet away.

He calmly walked to the beast, retrieved his sword and raised it defiantly. The crowd went wild. “Hadrian! Hadrian! Hadrian!”

Every bone in his body ached, but he had won. He would miss the adulation and the excitement, but not the fear.

Undefeated.

Unconquered.

And for the first time in ten long years, unchained and unafraid.

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Well that’s my entry. I hope you like it.

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!

Some writers write without titles. Titles seem something you slap on your manuscript after the fact. As you have guessed (by the title of this post) I don’t work that way.

Well, usually….

But not this time.

My current WIP is going well, as in, I’m writing it, but it doesn’t have a tittle. I really don’t know what exactly this WIP is. Among the possibilities are:

  • A novel. A single manuscript from beginning to end.
  • A short story. It begins and ends as one.
  • A short story collection/serial.
  • A (gasp) book trilogy.
  • The seed of a NaNo.

Whatever it is (or will be) it has not title.

OK, I have a title, of sorts.

Age of Iron

An alternate history/fantasy “work” based on the European Dark Ages (500 CE-1000 CE).

But…it sounds so generic, so much of a ripoff. Yes, I know, you can’t copyright titles, but still, doesn’t feel right.

I done the research.

I’m working on the world building.

I have a good idea of the general plot points.

It feels like a gone diving without checking how much air is in my tanks. I’m all for discovery writing but I need a clear starting point just in case I get lost. That navigational point that allows me to navigate the unknown waters of imagination. A beacon in the dark night of creation. Up the proverbial creek without the proverbial paddle.

So, what am I to do?

And because you actually read through an entire post full of wangst here is a video to make all better:

There are three paths to rule creation (and by rule I mean the rules, planks and other staples that support the internal logic of any work of speculative fiction):

  1. Strict Construction: The writers has a rule for everything and for everything a rule.
  2. Fudge it/Fuzzy Logic: The writer sets the rules as the situation demands it.
  3. Thou Shall Not: The writer concentrates on the outer edges of the rules, that is, on those things that CAN NOT BE DONE within the setting/universe.

The first option is one that many a Tolkien/RPG fan takes as the de facto way of building a backdrop for their upcoming epic fantasy story. Worked well for Tolkien, but many a would be writer ends up catching world building addiction/disease and never reach he first page of the first draft.

Others, after spending many hours pouring over every detail of the rules that govern their universe then feel the overwhelming urge to write paragraph after paragraph describing said rules with slavish devotion. Exposition without action is telling not showing. Then you have the writer that gets stuck somewhere on late Act 2 and finds that the reason they are stuck is because either a) the rules don’t cover this particular situation or b) according to the same rules, well, the plot is screwed.

End result: the Ass Pull. Yes, it is as ugly and for the reader, as painful as it sounds.

Strict Construction is a style of world building you work your way into after many a trial and error, unless you are Brandon Sanderson, or Tolkien, or a game designer. What about discovery writers? Discovery writers (like me) don’t have the time, patience (or skill) to engineer everything before hand (no outlines).

So we tend to fix rules after the fact, hence the term Fudge It/Fuzzy Logic. Rules pop up as needed. Great for the writer on the go, but can be murder on consistency. The rule you set in stone in page 14 can bite you in the butt on page 214. Can lead to anything from Fridge Logic to You Fail Logic Forever, especially when you’re trying to apply the Rule of Cool and instead the reader thinks you’re pulling everything from between your butt cheeks (see previous scatological link above).

Solution: Write everything down!

A rule is a rule, is A RULE!

Unless the rule is that vampires sparkle in sunlight.

I know where you live. Don’t make me come to your home and slap you in public.

Ahem.

Where was I?

Last but not least: Thou Shall Not or there are no rules but these rules, conveniently packaged in a stone tablet and numbered 1-10.  This method means that everything goes, and I do mean everything EXCEPT anything in the list.  Gives the writer a wide latitude but can turn some people off plus can end up with a Deus Ex Machina (a A$$ Pull on steroids with frosting on top). No limits means very little in the way of internal logic. Fortunately the same solution that applies to #2 applies here as well.

Of course, you can make a story around breaking said rules, or having the characters work their way around them. Now that could make for some interesting reading. If done right, of course.

Just remember: NO SPARKLING! Thank you!

And now for the video of the day:

Years ago I thought up an epic saga, two thousand years in the future with vast star ship armadas, legions of mechanized soldiers and double dealing noble houses. I spent many an hour writing the back story, going so far as creating a “Encyclopedia Galactica”.

So where is this great story of mine?

In a drawer somewhere?

Perhaps a lost computer file?

I wish.

It remains all in my head. I wrote a paragraph at most only to annihilate it with the dreaded backspace button.  Yes, I fell victim to the bane of oh so many would be speculative fiction writers, world building disease.

Although, truth be told, it is not really a disease, per say, but an addiction. What really happens is that writer’s get addicted to the act of world (or universe) creation.  There is always something new to create; a race(s), country, time line, key characters, monsters, magic items, technology, etc.

I have three ways of breaking the cycle of addiction to this God-like power:

  1. Forget about world building and just write the story. The story’s universe will be come to life as you write.
  2. Mine what you already have.
  3. Look for work where world building skills are useful.

That is what I did for my second novel. True, I did cheat by placing it in a near-future setting and borrowing heavily from history (both real and mythological). Yet I had to create organizations, magic, demons and the like.

So I did a bit of world building, but only so much. I’m not a outline writer, instead what I do is I scribble a few notes to set my “universe” boundaries. I ask myself a few questions about the scope (planetary, star system, galaxy), technology (giant robots, magitech, steampunk) and characters. These form the outer edges of the canvas I will work with, as well as the basic palette of colors. As I write the story I take notes of the stuff that comes up, expand where needed (research, research and when in doubt research some more). That way I kept writing and ended up with a complete work that included a fair amount of back story.

The second strategy is to mine what you already have. As Howard Tayler suggest in the latest episode of Writing Excuses podcast, write a story about the people already in your outline.  Somebody had to create the fabulous Sword of Unbending Truth, defend the Pass of No Return or assault Garesh VI, right? You don’t have to write a whole novel around them, but a short story would do. It also shifts the focus from telling (world building) to showing (writing a story). At the very least you are creating a living framework for your universe, one that will hone your skills as a writer and may even be publishable in their own right. Not all 600 page books are made up of one story,  many are omnibuses/anthologies.

This brings me to my third point; you might not be a writer…of novels. Your talent may well lie in creating fertile fields for others to explore. You might still write in your universe, but that doesn’t mean your the only one that has to. You can share your idea with your writer’s group or get a job with a gaming company (paper/pencil or computer). They are always looking for the next “campaign setting” to serve as the basis for an existing or new franchise.

Just look at the many books already published in pre-existing franchises. Most of them are based on RPGs, comic books or other preexisting works. George Lucas created Star Wars, but dozens of writers have worked on the Expanded Universe. Same thing with D&D (all versions), World of Warcraft, Star Trek, and so on.  Just look at the Dragonlance series of books.

Whatever approach you decide to take the key is to be productive. World building is necessary, but it should not stop you from doing actual writing. At some point you have to stop telling me about the genealogy of the great kings of Adtmadar and start showing me who they are and why should I care about them. That means more than a dissertation or a time line. It means characters, dialogue, plot and action.

It’s the difference between a house and a home.

A house it’s a structure. Nothing more, nothing less.

A home is place that people live in.  A place that has meaning and consequences.

Time to turn your house into a home.