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Well, this was not suppose to happen, but it did.

The book launched a rebellion and won!

A bit of explaining is in order.

Originally SuD was meant to be 3rd person close. At least that was the plan. But no plan survives contact with the paper. I thought that was what I did when I wrote it under the feverish pitch of NaNo ’08. That’s what I thought.

Boy was I wrong!

Apparently my writing voice knows better, because it went all 3rd person omniscient on me. Oh, I thought I could fix it in the re-write, at least that’s what I kept writing on the margins with my Pilot G-2 0.7 (Red).

Did I mention that I was wrong about that?

Sorry, must have forgotten about that.

To recap, I WAS WRONG!

So eighty pages in I gave up and embrace what was already there. Might as well run with it, because it works.

Now the MC is a bit of the strong, silent and homicidal type. That I can fix. More emotion, more clarity, same amount of heroic bloodshed should do it.

But the weird thing is, that even with all the back and forth (between me and my writing voice)  about the POV, the more I read the story, the more I like it. Weird, ain’t it?

——-

And now for some Dash Berlin- Man on the Run:

Querying still in effect.

In other news, I’m 3-3 on SuD Alpha stage. Now, granted two of the people that read it are friends of mine, but they are also consumers of speculative fiction, which means they are the target audience for the book. Now all I got to do is type up the second part and start the second draft/re-write/revision, which considering that this book doesn’t require as many changes as the first, it should be easier.

Things that I need to work on:

  • Grammar: Always.
  • World Building: Vampires are out, Nephilim are in. Also, clarify some background points without drowning the story in exposition.
  • Work on the MC: He comes out as a bit cold and uncaring. He is stoic, but he needs to work on his empathy. Mind you being a veteran of three wars can zap that out of you, but still….
  • Plot flow problems: Minor ones, but ones that if they are not fixed will cause some major Wall Banger moments.

And whatever else pops up as a I go over it again. But for now I’ll take the good news, thank you very  much!

——

A week ago I met a friend of mine for coffee. We talked about life, politics and eventually, writing. I explained the premise of SuD and how it was based on multiple philosophical, religious and cultural references from Enoch to Cervantes. When we got to the part of the “vampires” he stopped me. “Demonkin? Interesting stuff with the Hunger, but why not call them Nephilim?”

And you know what? He had point.

I called them vampires for a lack of a better term, even though they did not fit the mold (deconstruction or not). These guys are not vamps. Leeches of human society, yes, but not vamps. So I went back over the research material (in the web, yes I know) and I found the following:

1It happened after the sons of men had multiplied in those days, that daughters were born to them, elegant and beautiful.

2And when the angels, (3) the sons of heaven, beheld them, they became enamoured of them, saying to each other, Come, let us select for ourselves wives from the progeny of men, and let us beget children.

10Then they took wives, each choosing for himself; whom they began to approach, and with whom they cohabited; teaching them sorcery, incantations, and the dividing of roots and trees.

11And the women conceiving brought forth giants, (7)

12Whose stature was each three hundred cubits. These devoured all which the labor of men produced; until it became impossible to feed them;

13When they turned themselves against men, in order to devour them;

14And began to injure birds, beasts, reptiles, and fishes, to eat their flesh one after another, (8) and to drink their blood.

Okay, so that last bit is vampiric. But they are a) sons and daughters of fallen angels (demons), b) grew to great stature (size, power, wealth), c)born out of lust, d) devourer and destroyer of all things upon the Earth.

Yep, why twist an existing archetype beyond recognition (shame on me for breaking one of my own rules) when another exits that fits even better with the themes in the book?

Which goes too show you, oh gentle reader, that a little perspective is a good thing. Writing is a solitary process, but finding someone you trust to take a peek can and does help. It may be just a name change, but it’s the difference between an awkward term that doesn’t fit and one that embraces the theme(s) central to the narrative.

As that same friend was fond of telling me, “Life is in the details. Because life is made of little details.”

And now for some music:

Cartography (in Greek chartis = map and graphein = write) is the study and practice of making geographical maps. Combining science, aesthetics, and technique, cartography builds on the premise that reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively.

I suck at drawing. I suck so bad that if I draw a stick figure, it looks at me and gives me the finger. So when it comes to maps I am no good.

But why are maps important in speculative fiction?

Because they tell you the shape of the world/universe you created.

I mean, yes you can always do the old “Here be dragons” bit. That works fine when you’re on your first draft. All you need is a starting location and then you go from there. However, if you want to inject a sense of realism into your story (or at least create a logically consistent framework of reference) you need to start pinning down where everything is.

For example, your story begins in a charming village at the edge of a pine forest. That village could be anywhere. Then the Big Bad shows up and razes it to the ground. Now the hero has to pick himself from the ground, grab his father’s old (yet surprisingly non-rusty) sword and hunt down the murderer?

So where does he go?

To the Mile High mountains in search of one of the Big Bag’s henchman so beat some info- I mean question him on the where about of his master?

Go to the local lord’s castle and ask for help in his quest?

Perhaps go to the nearby city and warn them about the approaching army of darkness?

Go down into the bowels of a ruined temple and search for the Masterful Sword of Awesome Ass Whooping?

So where is it?

A three day ride to the south, across the Chasm of Doomed Idiots or over the Mountains of Nosebleed?

A gentle five week cruise across the Hell-O-Spont?

You can make it up as you go along, relying of massive amounts of handwavium to stave off the equally massive headache of graph paper that awaits you.

You might even pull it off.

So why bother with maps?

It’s a good way to keep everything straight. Think of a map as graphic note taking. As you build your narrative you build the map(s) which tells you where everything is in relation to everything else.

But that assumes that  your building your world as you write. Many a world builder starts big and works his way down. Or you can borrow from the “real world” (or existing fantasy worlds) and simply change/drop names of towns, cities and regions to your heart content.

Whatever your approach you should avoid the patchwork map syndrome. Yes, your world has magic or sufficiently advanced technology, still no need to be that lazy. High enough mountains will create rain shadows, the planet’s rotation will cause changes in temperature (and seasonal changes), rivers always flow to the ocean, etc.  Not only thus this gives you ye ole taste of realism (yummy!) but can give you ideas that expand your setting, characters and cultures. While the the debate between Nature and Nurture will outlast us all, no one can dismiss the impact the environment has on human (or alien) culture, so getting your maps right and by extension the geography, climate and other factors can really enhance your world as well as the readers experiences in it.

Now where did I leave that graph paper?

And because I never get tired of the anime, here your video of the day:

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:

I noticed that some authors post  “trailers” for their latest release (like movie trailers) on their websites consisting mostly of stock images done to music. Which makes me wonder about a few things:

  • Media Rights: If you’re using music, pictures or even video from other sources how much do their rights conflict with your own.
  • Effectiveness: Do people really buy books based on these?
  • Sources: Connected to media rights. I mean where do you get the music and pictures from anyway? Public domain or do you commission them, and at what cost?

I mean fans make their own trailers for movies, video games (from simple rip/edit jobs to full fledged machinima) and even create their own stories using game software, but can you extend that to books as well?

What do you think?

Are they worth it or just a waste of time?

Here is an example of World of Warcraft inspired machinima so you can see what I’m talking about:

(Oops! I posted the same video twice! Doh! Here is a different one.)

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).

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:

Were in:

The first villain (MC) meet(s) is the weakest, and the last is the strongest. In theory, as the heroes get strong enough to defeat their current enemy, a new enemy will emerge that forces them to reach another skill level.

A very common trope found at the heart of most comic books, action based TV series, RPGs and games (with a level system).  Serves as a plot extender of sorts. If you met the final Boss in the first chapter then it would be a short story not a novel.

From the villain point of you sending his strongest henchman to finish off the hero (if he even knows that he exists) might not be the logical first choice. First off if a disposable minion can do the job, why not send them, especially if they have a good track record. Also it would be easy to follow the trail back from the henchman back to the Big Boss, especially if the henchman is captured and made to talk.

For the writer the Algorithm of Evil helps in several ways:

  • Keeps the Big Boss hidden until it is time to reveal him
  • Allows the hero to grow through experience without the villain suffering from villain decay
  • Keeps the fights interesting. After all if the hero gets to strong compared to his rivals then they offer no challenge to him and the tension slacks to nothing.
  • Allows for a bit of detective work on the part of the heroes/MC(s). They have to go through the low(er) level mooks just to figure out who the Big Boss is.

When done right it proves the old adage that there is “always someone stronger”. Of course you may end up with something like Bleach or Dragon Ball type anime were an endless parade of more insanely powerful enemies come along to fight the already insanely godlike heroes (also common in certain high powered superhero comics like Superman).

I found myself doing the exact same thing in SuD but hopefully I avoided the pitfalls by:

  • Teaming up the MC with other heroes. Thus while the hero does get stronger, he certainly can’t fight all the bad guys by himself.
  • Brain over brawn: Both heroes and villains use more than raw muscle to survive. In fact the villains prefer not to get their hands dirty unless they can help it and the hero will certainly use other means to achieve his goals if they are at hand. Even within a fight sequence, the hero tends to use tactics and strength in equal measure.
  • Even mooks can hurt you. Just because you can dispatch a horde of X type of opponents doesn’t mean that they are still not a risk. If they score a hit or two, the hero will get hurt.

Well, I hope that I can navigate the waters of this trope safely and end up with a fun story at the end.

H/T to Marian for introducing me to the TV Tropes Wiki which served as an inspiration for this post.

Nancy Hightower over at her blog asked her readers about their definitions of  urban fantasy. Since SuD  fits the genre I decided to reprint my answer(s) here.

Urban fantasy (I prefer the term contemporary fantasy) is  a fantasy themed story (magic, monsters, quests, etc.) in a contemporary setting. BTW, a lot of the non-fluff Mall/Valley Girl YA stuff falls into this category. All Urban fantasy that I have read (and I’m writing right now) has several of the following elements:

1)World in the Shadows: Magic and monsters co-exists with technology but it resides in the dark places, such as alleyways, basements, backrooms, abandoned buildings.

2)Hidden in Plain Sight: This world co-exist with ours but either because it’s denizens (or the government or some other organization) work hard to hide it or we are blinded by our disbelief it is hard to see it for what it is.

3) The Hero Has a Gift: From the simple gift of Sight (the  ability to see the Shadow World) to wielding reality altering powers, he or she has the POWER. BTW, the POWER happens to be the source of all of the MCs problems. Hey vamp princess, not so sexy now with that stake stuck between your…well you know….eveil twins! 😀

4)The Setting: Urban really means “contemporary”, guns, computers, the police, modern communications. Chicago’s only listed Wizard packs a staff and a .38 caliber.

5)Black & White with a lot of Grey in between: You have your Good guys, your Bad guys and your Innocents. Except that the Good guys bend and break the rules, the Bad guys are not entirely nihilistic and the Innocent, how Innocent is the Hooker with the Heart of Gold, really? It is also a grimy environment and most of the dirt is moral.

6)Whatever the season Red is always in style: And by Red I mean blood, gore, and the like. Border-line horror story, except that the MC gets to kick back even harder.

7) Language and Sex: These are the elements that separate Urban Fantasy from their creepy crawly YA counterparts. People use the word fuck (shit too, as in “Ah shit!” or “Holy Shit!” or “The Shit Hit the Fan!”) a lot, and they mean it. Strip bars, prostitution, and a good roll in the hay (or three) with the local Vampire Prince are not out of the question.

That’s all I can come up with right now.