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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:

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!

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:

Or ancient weapons as status symbols in fiction and mythology. The short answer is that Asskicking equals Authority but there a bit more to it, of course. I’ll talk about a few of these weapons, their history and how they can apply to your next work of speculative fiction.

1. Swords:

From Excalibur to Lightsabers, swords rule supreme in fantasy and science fiction. Part of it comes from the strange mixing of anime, D&D and Star Wars, but these sources simply barrow from earlier mythology. Almost every mythic arc known to man has at least one sword of legend Roland had Durandal, Japanese Hero Emperor’s had Kusanagi, the Persians had Shamshir-e Zomorrodnegar and so on.

Swords appeared in the bronze age as the first true weapons. It has always been associated with elite warriors for multiple reasons. The first is cost. Other weapons do not require as much metal, time or expertise to craft. The second is skill. While other weapons cost less  swords are wasted on anyone not properly trained to use them.

Their status grew  (ironically enough) as firearms made them obsolete on the battlefield. Calvary men (successors to the mounted knight) still used them until the onset of WW1 as did the Samurai (who traded their mounts and composite bows for katanas) until the Meiji/Restoration period.  Swords also became linked to dueling in Europe and Japan as well as symbols of authority. Only noblemen/gentlemen could afford to carry and train in the use of the rapier family of swords and in Japan only Samurais could carry the two blades as a symbol of their authority. Which such a rich history connecting swords to figures of authority is no wonder that they remain the number one weapon of choice in speculative fiction

2. Spears

While the sword goes hand in hand with nobility and authority, the spear predates it by several thousand years and it reaffirmed itself over on the battlefield even as guns broke the back of  the sword. Spears were popular for a variety of reasons. Made mostly of wood they were cheap to make. Almost anyone could wield one (pointy end toward enemy) and it served as  a melee weapon as well as a projectile.  Plus it doubled (and it some cases) tripled the reach of the wielder.  As an added bonus they could be set against a mounted charge. Horses maybe animals but they don’t like to rush into obstacles (thanks to their I’m-not-that-stupid gene), they must be trained to do so.

Several mythic figures have favored the spear above the mighty sword, among them the Celtic hero Cú Cuchulain (the foot launched gut wrenching Gaé Bulg),  Odin (Gungnir), and the Spear of Destiny (or Holy Lance/Spear of Longinus).

War being the ultimate social Darwinian experiment (with ever predictable results) that while the spear started as an adaptation of a primitive hunting tool it dominated the battlefield in the hands of elite warriors such as the Spartans (of 300/Thermopylae fame) and the Swiss mercenaries (who still survive as the famed Swiss Guard of Rome).  The sword may be the weapon of nobility but the humble spear was the weapon of choice for the hardened combat veteran.

3. Axes, Clubs, Daggers and Hammers:

I put these three distinct weapons together because they have one thing in common,weapons that double as tools.  Stone axes and clubs separated the  hairless apes from their ancestors. Not only could they wield multipurpose tools but manufacture them as well.

Axes were the first tool created to shape the landscape which also served as a handy weapon in case of an emergency. Feeling trees gave man a source of fuel, arable land and building materials. Didn’t take much to time or energy to master an axe and it’s combination of weight and broad blade meant that while not as precise as sword where ever it hits it would hurt.  Minoan priest’s used the double headed axe (labrys) as a religious symbol.  You can thank the Vikings and the Saxons for the image of the axe wielding barbarian.

Clubs maybe have being the first improvised weapon, but gave way to a wide variety of blunt instruments from the basic polished bone to the modern police baton. Heracles was famed for carrying a club which he used to slay the Nemean Lion. Smaller clubs were easy to use and pack quiet a punch due to the relative speed of impact. They can also ignore armor, as the concussive force transmits directly from the armor surface to the body withing (with perhaps the added bonus of metal plate armor breaking and slashing the skin beneath, ouch).

Daggers are the direct ancestors of the sword and are still in use.  A good all around tool for skinning, eating and killing. Although seen as the preferred choice of the assassin due to it’s small size, it has also served as a back up weapon for soldiers since the dawn of time. Knights would pummel their opponents with swords and then deliver the killing blow with a swift knife thrust to the eye or neck. The lowly dagger did what the gun could not by putting the spear out of business as a practical weapon of war and turning the musket into the Swiss army knife of the battlefield (short spear with the bayonet, plus firearm and club).

Hammers are close cousins of both the club and the axe. Another entrenching tool that served as a weapon on the battlefield. Thor swore by mighty Mjolnir. Although not as glamorous as the sword or feared as the dagger or axe it still proved a potent weapon in its own right.  Due to their construction they could deliver even more force than a club/mace and with a pick like back drag an armored opponent to the ground and serve as a dagger to attack weak points.

As you can see there more to weapons than just the slash and hack of a blade. Next time you’re thinking about arming fantasy army think beyond the sword.

I decided to switch dates (and titles) from Teaser Tuesday to Flash Fiction Fridays to reflect the fact that these shorts are not teasers in the traditional sense.  Besides this stories are based on copyrighted material, so they won’t see the light of day otherwise.  I hope you enjoy them:

A murder of crows circled over the ship as it made its way to port of Alhaster. They were a dark portent of what was to come, or so Jaymes thought. Nightmare visions of undead armies marching across the central Flanaess consumed his dreams. If everything the Archmage Tenser told him was true, and the evidence he presented was hard to refute, thousands of souls could fall to Kyuss worm ridden undead. How exactly could he stop all of this, he did not know but he would do his utmost.

As soon as the ship dropped anchor a man with a giant sword strapped to his back walked up the gangplank. “Ahoy Captain! Is Jaymes Feywind aboard?”

Jaymes look askance at the boarder. He fitted the description Tenser gave him of Kane but he had to be careful. The Bandit Kingdoms were not know for their hospitality. Jaymes removed his blasting rod from his belt ring and secreted it among the folds of his cloak. “Aye! And who you may be?” he shouted back.

“Good, Kane be mine name.” He turned to the crew “We leave immediately!” the newcomer hollered back.

“The Hell we will!” shouted Captain Bans. “This here is my ship and it comes and goes and I see fit. You better have a good reason other than a big mouth to order it around!”

Kane drew level with the Captain. He was a head taller than the ship’s master. “My Captain, I need your vessel for speedy travel.” He leaned into the Captain and in a carrying whisper added “And my coin speaks louder than my mouth.”

The two fell into negotiations while the rest of the deck crew watched with anticipation. After a few minutes Bans turned around and bellowed “Turn her about! We sail!” The crew set off to their tasks.

Kane stood in front of Jaymes and shook his hand. “So you’re an elf?”

Jaymes noticed Kane features and saw that the other was not exactly an elf, not that he cared either way. “That I am.”

“I see no sword or mace on you, unless you count that wooden stick your trying to hide in your robes as a weapon of some sort.” Kane laughed.

“A bit more useful than a sword, at least when it comes to spells” Jaymes replied with a impish grin.

“Really? A wizard then. I traveled with one of those once, that is until the fool decided to jump through a strange portal. Never knew what happened to him. A bit arrogant if you asked me.”

Which Jaymes did not, although he was not surprised by Kane’s words. Elven folk had a well earned reputation in the Flanaess for arrogance especially when it came to their half-elven brethren. “And what happened to the rest of your company?”

Kane looked down. “A misunderstanding. Stupid fools tried to have me kicked out of the ship they took. Mind you, I could have taken the lot with a swing of my sword. Besides that canoe was not fit to travel the waters deep. I doubt any of them made it ashore.”

“Hope this ship is made of sterner stuff” Jaymes replied.

But they would not be able to find out. On the second day of the voyage, storm clouds gathered on the horizon. Captain Bans stood his ground “I will not send my ship into that storm!” he yelled.

“I’ll double your payment” Kane said.

“And what will I do with the gold if fishes are devouring my rotting innards.  You want to go there, then you will have to swim.”

Jaymes thought about swimming an unknown distance through a ranging tempest. But failure was not an option. “Time to take the plunge.”

“Don’t worry wizard, if you drown, I’ll make sure to drag your carcass to shore and give you a proper burial” boasted Kane.

“Says the man wearing heavy armor plus has a oversize sword strapped to his back” Jaymes replied. “Captain, please take us as close as you dare, we will do the rest” Jaymes said to Bans.

“That’s crazy, that is! No one can survive that!” he said.

“That’s for us to worry about!” This time Kane he put his height advantage over Bans to good use.

“Very well. On your heads it is.”

——

All copyrights belong to their respective holders. D&D, the Greyhawk Campaign Setting and all related copyrights belong to Wizards of the Coast (WotC).

Another Tuesday, another story, (of sorts). I’m thinking of switching to Friday’s so I don’t crowd Amy’s stuff (please go check it out, it’s pretty good stuff). Maybe call it Flash Fiction Fridays. I don’t know, will see.

But now we rejoin our friend Jaymes somewhere in the Free City of Greyhawk, the Geml of the Flanaess:

—-

The Shady Dragon Inn was full, as usual, for this time of night. Pipe smoke, stale ale and nervous gossip roiled the air.  Strange happenings, strange even for the City of Thieves, had occurred in the past months. Rumors of kidnappings, attacks on trade caravans and Iuzian attempt to desecrate Rigby’s grave were just the tip of the iceberg.  The disappearance of two important people, Loris Raknian  and the chief priest of the Heirnonean order in Greyhawk merged with the raw nervous energy coming from the masses gathering around the temple of St. Cuthbert to mourn Rigby’s death.

This meant little to Jaymes, who found himself short on coin. Hopefully an old friend would come through with an good offer.

“A pence for your thoughts young man” said a man passing by Jaymes table.

“Your coin, your questions, although I really got nothing to say” quipped Jaymes as he looked up from his drink.

The other gave him a lopsided grin. Peralay sat down and ordered a round for both of them. “How about work then?”

“If you got something worth doing, speak.”

“Aren’t we a grouch this night?”

“No money and no Home will do that to you.”

“If you do this for me you could have both.” Jaymes stared back at his interlocutor and waited. “A friend of a friend is looking for men of skill. Evil is afoot.” Peralay’s tone betrayed no irony.

Jayme’s reply brimmed with it “Evil is always afoot in this world of ours. Got any particular person or thing in mind?”

“My friend has the specifics, but suffice it to say that what happened at Rigby’s funeral and Raknian’s disappearance are related, that much I know to be true. If you want further proof, you can stop by the hamlet of Diamond Lake on your way to meet our friend in Magepoint. Ask around and see what we are up against.”

“Work is fine, but you know what I really want” Jaymes said.

“Yes. Help us and we will do whatever we can to open the Ways for you.” He tossed a small pouch on the tabletop. It crashed with the sound of coins. Jaymes took it.

“That should cover your expenses. Time is of the essence.” With those words Peralay stood up and disappeared into the Inn’s noisy crowd.

—–

All copyrights belong to their respective holders. D&D, the Greyhawk Campaign Setting and all related copyrights belong to Wizards of the Coast (WotC).

Another Teaser Tuesday post. I’ll guess I will have to stop riding Amy’s coattails and create something original for a change, since I am not really teasing existing works but crafting new ones for this feature.

Anyway, this is part of another D&D character back story. I like making them, they are good practice and keep me writing. I hope you like them too.

Jaymes walked anxiously among the towering pines of the Welkwood. He could feel the change in the air. Something called to his blood, he knew what it was, Home. The Land and the Queen’s Fairy Mysteries were one and his blood ran with said power, infused with the ancient pacts of time immemorial. Once Elves ruled the pathways between worlds, not longer. That power had faded with the eons.

In most of his race that is.

An arrow cut through the air and landed at Jaymes feet snapping him from his revelry. A voice from above cried out “Brother, turn back. You are not welcomed here.” He heard the sadness in the voice that belonged to a man he once called brother, one Cirdan Tasardur. “Turn back Súrion.  The Ways are close to you my friend.”

Jaymes shouted back “By what right do you  deny me the Way home Cirdan?”

A tall figure, wearing gleaming maille, landed a few feet in front of him. Blue eyes look down at him from between wisps of obsidian hair. “By the same right that allows you to change your name and defy the will of our Queen. The Ways are closed.”

Jaymes pulled a scroll from his pouch. “I returned as instructed and I present to his Majesty my qualifications and heraldry. By the laws of the Land I demand access to the Ways so that I may return Home.”

Cirdan looked at his friend with tired, sad eyes “Your family has lost their position, your actions run contrary to the wishes of the Fey Court, you know that your request will be denied. Has the impatience of humanity infected your soul as well?”

“I ask. You deliver” Jaymes replied.

“Very well.” Cirdan called out to the members of his patrol “We will set up camp. Calmacil, takes this note and deliver it post haste. We will wait here for you.”

The younger elf looked puzzled by his leader instructions but obeyed. The other rangers set up camp. Tári, a golden hair lass approached Jaymes with an offer of food. “Thank you Tári, how are your parents?”

She blushed, as she always did in his presence since he first spoke to her in Master Amroth class. “Doing well. Father wishes to join  the pilgrims in their journey to the Isles.”

Taken aback Jaymes chewed on the strip of venison. “He will not take the Gate?”

“No.” Her voice lowered to a whisper “Divisions among the clerics are spreading. Something stirs in their divination. They are starting to question—“

“Tári! How about a song!” shouted another member of the patrol. Jaymes had also know Fëanor from childhood and apparently a century of life had not changed his loutish ways.

“Why should she bother, your ears can’t tell the difference between her dulcet tones and a boar’s grunts” Jaymes shouted back.

The others laughed. Cirdan smirked, casting a sidelong glance at Jaymes.

“His ears are not that bad, once he remembers to clean them” Tári added with a wide grin of her own.

Fëanor eyes gleamed with anger. He opened his mouth to speak but saw Jaymes hand rest casually over his dagger.

“I am sure the rest of us will certainly appreciate a song or two, if you do not mind Tári” Cirdan said.

“Here, here!” echoed the others.

“Very well! If you insist Captain.”

A pang of jealousy hit Jaymes in the gut. Was there something between Cirdan and Tári? Fëanor’s barbed smirk showed Jaymes that he had read his expression like a book.

Tári stood in front of the fire and began to sing:

There’s a coldness in the air
but i don’t care….

Travelling somewhere
could be anywhere
there’s a coldness in the air
but i don’t care
we drift deeper
life goes on
we drift deeper
into the sound

Travelling somewhere
could be anywhere
there’s a coldness in the air
yeah but i don’t care
we drift deeper into the song
life goes on
we drift deeper into the sound
feeling strong

so bring it on so bring it onnnn
we drift deeper into the song
life goes on
we drift deeper into the sound
feeling strong
so bring it on so bring it onnnn
we drift deeper……..

we drift deeper life goes on
we drift deeper drift deeper
we drift deeper into the song
life goes on
we drift deeper into the sound
feeling strong
so bring it on so bring it onnnn
we drift deeper into the song
life goes on
we drift deeper into the sound
feeling strong
so bring it on so bring it onnnn

Jaymes joined the clapping of the others as she finished. The night passed without further incident. On the morning of the third day the runner returned bearing two scroll cases. He saluted the Captain, spoke a few words in his ear and then handed the tubes . One bore the Royal Seal, the second the Súrion family seal. Jaymes opened the first. As Cirdan had predicted, his request to enter Celene had been denied, yet again. He tried to open the second but it he could not break the seal. An inscription on the rim of the lid read:

This will not open until the appointed time and place.

Jaymes recognized his father’s handwriting and the runes that covered the bronze tube spoke of powerful warding magic. He would have to wait for the appropriate time and place to open it, whatever that may be.

Cirdan approached him. He extended a hand “Good luck in your path Jaymes, I hope that the Ways are opened to you when you return. Until then we will wait.”

He shook the offered hand “Thank you old friend. Take care.”

He waved at the rest of the patrol as it took the trees. The last thing he saw over his shoulder was a swish of golden hair. He heard a distant, lilting tune that lifted his spirits as he made his way back to the lands of Men.

Here is the video for the song included above.

All rights belong to their respective holders. I do not own or claim rights over D&D, The World of Greyhawk campaign/game setting or associated material.

What is a transitional scene?

A transitional scene is one that helps the reader with the process of suspension of disbelief. By that I mean it is a scene (or scenes) that moves the focus from the familiar to the fantastic.

It is easy for an author to believe that his audience will accept his words at face value, especially if he writes for an audience accustomed to dragons,spaceships and vampires. But that does not mean that the readers will accept anything that is thrown at them. The key is to earn their trust by easing them into the more implausible aspects of your work.

Therefore a transitional scene must have the following characteristics:

  1. The scene must be grounded in the familiar.
  2. It must offer a logical transition from the familiar to the absurd.
  3. Must show a principal character (although not the main character).
  4. It must occur early on, although it does not have to be the opening scene (I prefer to open with them, btw).

Lets look at a two examples, both taken from the Harry Potter series. All of the books in the series share two scenes (with some variations), one in the Dursley’s home and the other at King Cross station. Each one shows exactly what a transitional scene is all about.

Each story starts inside the Dursley’s suburban home in Little Wiggin, Surrey (UK). While you may never have seen a British suburban home (they look more like long apartment tracks than their more widely spaced North American counterparts) you will recognize the exterior of carefully manicured lawns (or gardens as they like to call it), an interior full of modern apliances, etc.

It is mundane, every day stuff. It is the realm of the familiar. Of course things don’t stay that way for long. Somebody (or something) sets things in motion that reveal that there is more to this little average home. A house elf might pop up, or owls carriying strange missive might fly through the window, even the fake electric fireplace might exploded all of the sudden.

The second scene starts off at King Crossing in London. Every year Harry takes the train from London to Hogwarts. Along the way chocolate frogs come alive, wizards walk out of their picture’s and spells are cast. By the time the scarlet train reaches the Hogsmeade station, the reader knows that they are not longer in Kansas (yep, that is another great transitional scene).

Both of these scenes place the reader in familiar territory, a place that does not require any effort by him (or her) to accept as it is. But as the scene develops the reader receives an introduction to more fantastical elements of the story.  The character or characters observe these changes along side the reader.

There are two ways of doing this. The first one may have the character(s) static while the scenery changes around them, as it often happens in the Dursley home or they can travel from Point A (the mundane location) to Point B (the fantastic location). Either way, once the reader accepts the premise of the mundane it is easy to then introduce the more fantastic elements. This can be done all at once, but a more careful aproach is prefered, as it allows the the reader to digest the changes and extend their supension of disbelief without snapping it.

The introduction of these fantastical elements must follow a sense of internal logic. In fact, one of the things that transitional scenes do is set up the rules for the narrative. Done well and the reader will have no problem accepting them.

The transitional should be centered around a principal character, if not the main character, for no other reason that readers care about people (or their equivalents) not things. It also creates a connection in the readers mind with the character. If the character reacts in a way that the readers expects to the situation, then it makes it easier to create that bond.

Finally the transitional scene has to happen in the first act (if you follow the three act structure that is). It doesn’t have to be the FIRST scene, although I try to start off with it, but it must come early enough that allows the reader to create the bridge between the world they know and the world the writer has created for them. At some point the writer must “ground” his story in the familiar before sailing off to lands unknown.

Here is an example of a great transitional scene, this time from The Matrix:

So, the Big Bad has set up shop in the entropic Kingdom of Doom and now his armies march across the plains to enslave all of mankind.

Wait, what?

Where did all these guys came from?

And why are they marching across the plains to enslave all that is good?

What is their motivation?

The Answer: because Evil Lies in the Heart of Men!

Let me count the ways:

  1. Fear: Now the obvious way fear works as a motivator is that the minions would be afraid of their leader. But what if they are afraid of something or someone else? A neighboring country, a minority (or majority) within their own borders, a race of people (or in fantasy/sci-fi a species). Their leader could promise them that he will lead them over victory against their oppressors (real or imagined) if they follow him.
  2. Greed: Until fairly recently conquering armies got to plunder their enemies territory. Soldiers shared in the booty of coin, art and slaves. Going on campaign might be worth it for a poor peasant if the rewards merit them.
  3. Tribal loyalties: Us vs. Them. Morality may be defined not acts but by who is doing them (and who is in the receiving end of said acts). If the target is anyone not part of the group/tribe then they do not deserve the same consideration as members of the tribe. You shall not kill or steal from your clansmen, but that would not stop you from doing the same to others who are not within that select group.
  4. Ideology/Philosophy/Religion: People show a willingness to lower their cognitive dissonance in the service of  metal constructs such as an ideology/philosophy/religion. What they would normally recoil from doing by themselves they are ready to do in the service of a set of beliefs. They are willing to accept and support acts that would repulse them if directed at them. Works well when mixed with a charismatic leader who exploits fear and tribal loyalties.
  5. Vengeance/Playing the Victim: A variant of fear induced loyalty. The core of the villain’s army is made of people who have being historically abused, butchered or regularly invaded and enslaved. They got good reasons to be pissed and now the bad guy (at least to us) promises them a chance at revenge. Can generally lead to an endless cycle of violence where the acts of one side set offs a chain reaction of victimization/revenge, especially when you add a strong dose of tribalism.
  6. Altruism/Utopia/Golden Age: Tends to be a variant or the logical result of following a given set of beliefs. The world as the followers of the villain see it is lost, there is no hope except to wipe the slate clean and start all over again. Yes, a few misguided souls will protest, but the greater good demands unwavering action in the face of existential moral decay. Questions are not allowed. They are at best unwanted distractions and at worse a base betrayal of the Truth that awaits at the end of the journey. Hallowed are the Ori!
  7. Conscription: Service is the law, citizen! Worked for armies and navies for centuries. Still used by some military forces (child soldiers are common among rebel groups in parts of the world, mostly Africa). Even the U.S. has the selective service. Simply put, it is the LAW. The sovereign has the right to assemble an army for the defense of the realm and we all know that the best defense is a good offense. The Romans complemented their forces with auxiliaries from recently conquered lands and the Turks created an elite military force made up of slaves. Add a promise of treasure from conquered territories and you got yourself an army.

This is not an exhaustive list (by far) but it should give you a hosts of real world/logical reasons why would anyone follow/commit acts that are by definition EVIL. Better than “the pay is good” or “I was just made that way”.

That’s all for now.

(H/T To Marian, Again 😀 )

Dwarfs, Elves,  Vampires, oh my! On a recent post (and many more after that) on the NaNo forums the subject of “cuddly” vampires (a la Twilight) came up. The poster said that he didn’t like the recent fad of turning vampires from monstrous blood suckers to tortured goth heroes. I responded that the vampires in my NaNo project were anything but “cuddly”.  If anything they are conniving, manipulative, psychopaths driven by a demonic urge to rape, murder and destroy.  As far from the romantic (in the modern sense of the word,  one which would cause the likes of  Lord Byron, Tennyson or Blake to spit if they heard what passes for romantic these days) vision of the tortured yet irresistibly attractive vampire heroically fighting the urge to drink virgin blood while dating the only virgin left in town as you can get.

This got me thinking about the endless parade of writers that from the beginning of time felt compelled to take familiar character types (the stoic Dwarf, the ethereal Elf or the Vampiric blood sucking terrors of the night) and change them in some way. Of course these archetypes are variations on earlier forms defined by modern writers such as Stoker and Tolkien. The idea behind the manipulation is to take the familiar and turn into something new (if not unique). Problem is that you can only make so many changes before you end up with something unrecognizable and lose whatever advantage the use of the original gave you in the first place.

I don’t frown on the practice as I have done a bit of archetype twisting in my day (about a month or so back). Yet it pains me when I see author after author fail so miserably at it. While the author might think that his improvements are “cool” the end results are trite, cosmetic and downright disappointing. The reader is left wondering why the author engaged in the exercise in the first place. So I came up with a few tips that will (hopefully) help my fellow nascent writers to avoid the obstacles on the road from the familiar to the memorable.

First a few questions. Honest answers to these questions will yield the best results:

  1. Why did you choose a particular archetype?
  2. Do you know/understand the history behind the archetype?
  3. Are you changing the archetype for purely arbitrary reasons,  that is, you think it would be cool to have rhinos on submarines?
  4. Or have you always hated the archetype in question and think you can do better?
  5. Is there more to the these changes than simply creating a anti-archetype? Are you doing this because you’re in a contrarian  mood?
  6. What is the role of the archetype in the story; accidental, background, or central to the narrative?
  7. Would your narrative goals be better served by abandoning the archetype all together?

Like I said before, familiarity is what drives many an author to choose a given archetype. This is especially true of modern fantasy and science fiction books, in all their variations. Both the author and the reader know the archetype and feel comfortable with it.  No need to create an entire elven language (unless you’re Tolkien) or describe how a vampire’s gaze overwhelms it’s victims senses. Just drop the dwarfs down the nearest mine shaft and concentrate on writing that exciting battle scene where the stalwart defenders of the underground realm battle the incoming goblinoid hordes. But we already read Lord of the Rings (OK, I saw the movies, tried reading the Hobbit and fell asleep on the their page)  so we want something more than the fall of  Moria. So the author introduces a few changes into the dwarf archetype. His dwarfs are not the dour hammer swingers of Tolkien’s lore but singing sensations to rival he likes of Elvis (Costello or Crespo). The attacking goblins go from an unorganized rabble to a disciplined army that fights for duty and honor.

But in order for these changes to stick an understanding of the archetypes in question is a must. You don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of western European mythology, but understanding the history behind the myth will help you preserve enough of the archetype so that it remains recognizable to the reader.

Questions 3-5 deal with the particular reasons for the changes in a given archetype. Many a writer makes cosmetic changes based on what their DMs allowed on the gaming table while playing D&D. They go for what they think would be “cool”.  But just reversing the archetype role or characteristics is not good enough. Doing things just to be contrarian or different is  a waste of time. Might as well slap a goatee on the character’s chin and call it a day.

Which brings us to question #6, the role of the archetype in your story. Cosmetic changes are great, if you are coding a video game. A player will notice something out of the ordinary, gawk at it for a second or two and be on his way to kill the boss monster. Same thing in your book if its something that lies at the bottom of page 267 where a secondary character explains why the main character should never go to beyond the Impassable Peaks of Doom (which we know that the MC will, in fact pass with some difficulty). Things change as the archetype(s) inch their way to center stage. Without a solid explanation the reader is apt to question why is the handsome yet ravenous vampire zipping from frozen packets of goat’s blood instead of dinning on warm blood of his seventeen year old date with the body of a SI swimsuit edition cover girl. Solid answers to questions 1-5 will (hopefully) prevent the local bookstore from shipping back boxes of your latest offering to the publisher.  You need reasons why the character does not fit the mold, answers that go beyond “Well I think vampires are seriously misunderstood creatures”. These reasons should have a direct connection to the story so that it lends depth to the character and through him to the narrative.

Last but not least, could you do better without relying on the archetype? Creating a new alien race that does not read like a Vulcan on steroids is hard, yet if the changes are drastic enough as to erase the fundamentals of an archetype, I suggest you abandon it all together. Go with something else. Something that fits your vision and the needs of the story. A knight that uses a gun is not really a knight, he is a gunfighter. Go with that instead.

I hope that the above helps you in some way. I can’t wait to read how the goblins barely won the battle against the singing dwarfs yet earned their respect by their honorable behavior in battle.

Until then….