Archive for the ‘fantasy’ Category

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I Am Artist, Hear Me Congratulate Self!

March 25, 2009

I was reading up on RaceFail09 earlier today, and I started following links and Google hits and somehow it got me to Alas, a Blog, which got me to Aaru Tuesday, and somewhere along the way I found the Bechdel Rule and the Miller Test and a great rant decrying the fact that a straight white guy is seen as the default hero in our fiction. It was one of those pieces where it doesn’t say things you haven’t heard or don’t already know, but says it in a way that forces me to acknowledge the truth in a way I hadn’t before.

And I realized that my book, which I have so carefully constructed for the better part of a year, fails on the basic level of not being about a straight white guy who swoops in to save the queers from the problems they can’t solve for themselves. For extra bonus points, I made the murderous bigotry merely the backdrop for my hero’s emotional journey, and his sidekicks facilitators for the same.

And furthermore, I realized that this manuscript, as currently constructed cannot be saved. But that’s okay, because I was already dreaming of the sequel, and I’ve now decided to toss Disposable Heroes and move straight to what was origonally the followup effort.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the new idea, because that would easily spawn 10 pages of self-indugent shit, but I will say that it is much better for allowing the plot and action to flow naturally from the character relations, and that I’ve basically given up trying to pretend that my favorate characters are not in some way self-insertions.

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Self-Education

February 24, 2009

I’m working on this short story featuring Lydia, a supporting character from Disposable Heroes, the manuscript I’m working on. Lydia originally started as little more than a piece of furniture; the book opens with a funeral, and what’s a funeral without a grieving widow? So Lydia’s at the funeral, and Zack (the protagonist) tries to talk to her and she bitches him out for getting her husband killed. From that start, she caught my imagination and started percolating in the back of my mind.

From very early on in the creative process, I had in mind this idea that in the sequel, Zack would be a minor supporting character, and that I wanted one of the minor characters from the first book to take center stage. Lydia was an obvious candidate for this treatment, so I started developing her in earnest.

As part of this process, I wrote a couple vignettes to help find her voice, and then I started work on a full short story about her. I wasn’t looking for an educational experience here, I was just messing around with a character I liked.

In the vignettes I had written her from Zack’s perspective. But when I sat down to write the short story, I wanted to do it from her perspective. And I did, and she stopped being Lydia, or at least the Lydia that I wanted her to be. Her insecurities, such as they are, were more prominent than I wanted them. Her lack of professionalism was glaring rather than hinted. Her aristocratic arrogance proved to be less effective the more it was shown, which is a problem because her notions of class are some of the primary ideas she uses to make sense of the world. It was also hard to let the reader see clearly what she looked like to the people around her: a young, ambitious officer with bags of charm, a fondness for theatricality, and a preference for spending her spare time alone. From the inside, she’s much less interesting, much less dynamic. Her actions lose their edge of unpredictability and surprise.

I’ve done this kind of split between what a character feels and what the show to the world before; Zack’s character is built on this, so I know it can be done. What makes Zack interesting to me is that we see, in detail, the contradiction between the face he shows the world and what’s happening inside him. But what makes Lydia interesting is that we get the idea that her persona is a mask, but we don’t know what she’s hiding.

When she’s the viewpoint character, all the things she tries to keep hidden from the world show up. I could go the route of simply not mentioning these things, there’s a danger of getting too cute with the smoke and mirrors there, and the readers may feel manipulated if I am obviously keeping things from them. Or, they may feel that she is too much the cipher, that I play her cards too close to the vest for her to be a compelling viewpoint character.

For her to work as a viewpoint character, I’d have to strip out most of her interiority, and describe the action as a camera would see it. Not coincidentally, I’m rewriting the story as a screenplay. I may go back and try to write it as “screen prose,” if that makes sense.

While I was struggling with this, I was confronting some of these issues for the first time. And I was learning in the process. I didn’t mean to, honest. I hadn’t sat down and figured out why Lydia interested me until I grappled with why she wasn’t working. So I taught myself how to analyze characters better, and now I’m a stronger writer. And I did this simply through practice and reflection. It’s fun when that happens.

Another example: Lydia and her mother have a big fight about Lydia’s decision to join the Army. I had this bit of dialogue I’d conceived of before I sat down to write out the scene, two short sentences that carried all the weight of their hypocrisy and were crucial to understanding Lydia’s motivations and emotional journey. But when I wrote out their fight the first time, I couldn’t find a place to insert these two lines. The flow of their dialogue happened so quickly and so strongly that it seemed like they were moving the scene along without me. I re-read the section over and over, and eventually I realized that I hadn’t been making a distinction between Lydia reacting to what her mother said and Lydia making an affirmative statement that moved the conversation along and forced her mother to react in turn (In this context, even ignoring the last thing the other person said is a reaction that carries meaning). Once I realized that, I understood that I could choose which character had the “initiative” and was directing the flow of the conversation, and then it was a simple matter of making room for what I wanted the characters to say.

It is very satisfying to get to a point where your skills are advanced enough that you can improve them yourself, without outside guidance. I don’t read books or articles about writing anymore, because they all tell me things I’ve seen before. I’m not a master by any definition, but now the best teacher for me is the work itself. It’s all very Zen.

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Dilemma!

December 22, 2007
I’ve finally started to write in my book again, but I’ve come up against a sticky problem. A lot of the prose seems dead and pointless, like I’m just going through the motions, and normally I’d be fine with that because this is a first draft after all. But I’m concerned that if I keep writing bland pages, I’ll either get frustrated and give up, or I will come to accept bland pages as acceptable even during the edit process because I can’t see any way to spice them up.

So I’m considering rewriting what I’ve got so far with the present-tense, to see if that helps things. The present tense is nice because it naturally lends itself to active sentences, and if used well can be very fun to read.

The problem is that I was already planning to use the present tense as a way to distinguish a dream sequence that will be coming up in a few chapters. I thought it would be nice to use it as a way to cue the reader in to the fact that the events of that scene take place outside of the regular timeline in a dream. But if the whole book is written in present tense, then I lose that. I suppose I could just make the dream sequence past-tense, but I don’t think the contrast would work as well that way.

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That’s Cthulhu.

December 5, 2007

Lyrics © 2000 by Terence Chua
(to the tune of “That’s Amore” by Harry Warren & Jack Brooks, as sung by Dean Martin)

When there’s blood in the sky
And the end times are nigh
That’s Cthulhu!

To consume us at last
In one final repast
Here’s Cthulhu!

    Oh what fun
    Cthulhu fhtagn
    Cthulhu fhtagn

    All will chant as he rises

    Sing with glee
    Tekeli-li
    Tekeli-li

    In our cultish disguises

When the seas start to boil
And there’s trouble and toil
Blame Cthulhu!

Serve the world on a bun
There’s just nowhere to run
Anymore

Now the stars are aligned
There’s no time even for one last
Boo-hoo

Now he’s here – quake with fear
Make the way clear for the
Great Cthulhu!

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Okay, Listen Up People

November 16, 2007

You know what? No more zombies. None. They’re played out. They’re overexposed. They’re starting to smell a bit ripe.

Living Dead, it’s been fun, we had a few laughs, it was a nice little Renaissance of dead things, but the party is over, and you guys need to leave. “Zombie” currently nets 35.6 million hits on Google. Benjamin Franklin gets 4.5. I’ll ask you to read that again: Benjamin fucking Franklin, the man who practically pulled the United States out of his ass, gets less than 13% as many Google hits as zombies.

Entire webrings are dedicated to zombie survival, most of which simply repeat everything all the other zombie survival sites are saying. A man named Max Brooks was smart enough to jot most of this down and have it published, which earned him a lot of undying goreboy (a fanboy of gore) devotion and the delusion that he was a good writer. He quickly followed up by inflicting a book called World War Z on us, and I haven’t been able to look at the Borders sci-fi/fantasy section without feeling a little whisper of profound and eternal disappointment since.

There is so much zombie fiction out there these days that it has started to be viewed as its own genre. But that can’t possibly be right, because calling a collection of works taken together a genre implies that there is both variation and commonality within the group. But there is nothing new coming out of Zombietown these days.

So stop. Stop the fucking zombie train, I want to get off.

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The Muggles Would Win

September 8, 2007

I once got into an argument with a friend of mine as to who would win an all out war between the wizarding community and a muggle population that was fully aware of its presence (if not its location) and in a genocidal mood. He seemed to think that magic would put the muggles at an extreme disadvantage.

This is of course, utter horseshit.

In a one-to-one showdown, it is really a matter of context when deciding if a muggle or a wizard would walk away the victor. It is repeatedly and heavily emphasized that much of a wizard’s defensive capability is reliant on his ability to divine (in some cases more literally than others) what his opponent intends to do before he does it. For instance, learning to cast spells and curses without speaking an incantation aloud is considered an essential skill for higher-level magic dueling. This would tend to support the notion that if a muggle manages to get the drop on a wizard with some kind of ingenious muggle killamajig that doesn’t require the user to speak his intention out loud to use—for instance, a gun—then the wizard is pretty much screwed. This goes double for wizards who don’t know how to read minds, as they cannot predict the intent to pull the trigger until the bullet is in the air and thus have no time to put up a shield, and triple for wizards who don’t know quite what a gun looks like. And if the wizard is being hunted by a sniper, well there’s no contest.

On the other hand, if the wizard or witch knows combat is imminent he or can put up a shield before the shooting begins, or if he survives the first instants of a fight and realizes he is loosing he can always retreat halfway across the world more or less instantly. There is also the fearsome array of firepower available to magic users that mean more or less all of them carry around a six-pack’s worth of whoop ass in a single convenient can. These abilities are not to be scoffed at, and used properly could be quite dangerous.

Assuming of course that the witch or wizard isn’t vastly outnumbered, is facing his or her opponent face to face, knows that there is going to be a fight before the first bullets fly, and is talented enough to erect and maintain a durable shield while simultaneously dealing out reasonably dangerous retaliation.

And that’s just the one-on-one scenario.

Harry Potter is one of 5 male Gryffindors in his class year at Hogwarts. There is nothing in the text that indicates this is abnormal. If we assume that the same or very similar is likely true of the female Gryffindors of Harry’s age, and that Harry’s class year is not particularly smaller or larger than normal, that gives us roughly 70 Gryffindors. All indications are that the students of Hogwarts are evenly distributed among the 4 Houses, which gives us approximately 280 students. Hogwarts is the only school of witchcraft and wizardry in the UK, and no mention is ever made of home schooling, so if it occurs among the wizarding community it must be a fringe practice. There is no mention of a recent baby boom or any major “empty” generations of very low population, so this is likely not an unusual number of students to be attending Hogwarts. Perhaps the first Voldemort war caused sufficient casualties to reduce the magical population to such an extent that school attendance for the subsequent decade and a half or so would be noticeably down, but if so nobody ever mentions this, which would be pretty odd when you consider everyone from a magical family would have had to have lost at least one family member to the war for this to be the case. In fact, Voldemort’s second campaign is marked by an aversion to mass casualties among the pure-blood segment of the population, with Voldemort preferring intimidation, coercion, and mind control to enforce his bigotry on others. So we can safely say that the student population of Hogwarts during Harry’s school career is more or less representative, numbers-wise at least. And we can further say that the portion of the magical community that is too young to attend Hogwarts (that is, between the ages of 0 and 10 or 11) is unlikely to be much more than half-again as many as are currently enrolled in any given year, or about 420 children. So the underage magical community in the UK is approximately 700 individuals, and that’s being generous and including all the muggle-borns as well. Using some very rough math based on calculating the percentage of the population of the city I used to live in that is comprised of students enrolled in its public school system, I arrived at a portion of about 17.5%, or about 5 and a half adults for every student. This of course fails to take into account any number of demographic peculiarities, so let’s be generous and give all the students at Hogwarts 7 adult counterparts, if for no other reason than 7 is a meaningful number in the series. That’s still less than 5,000 witches and wizards.

There are 60 million muggles in the UK. That means that it is likely that no more than 00.0083% of Britons have any magical ability whatsoever.

This completely lopsided demographic is not depicted as being the result of British witches and wizards being unusually scarce. Also it should be noted that we only ever hear of two other wizarding schools, one of which seems to serve all of Eastern Europe all by itself, and that Voldemort—who is only concerned with conquering the British magical government—is described as a threat to the entire wizarding world, it could be argued that the British either have an unusually large population of wizards and witches, or that their population is in some way particularly important (or equally likely, JK Rowling is simply Anglo-centric). So again for the sake of generosity, let us assume that the British demographics are—despite the circumstantial evidence to the contrary—not remarkable, and that .0083% of the world’s population are magic users. That gives us a bit more than half a million witches and wizards living in a world populated by 6.6 billion muggles.

Now is a convenient time to mention that muggles spend a great deal of time and energy on building and maintaining militaries, almost all of which commonly field enough soldiers that 200 heavily armed men is considered a small deployment, while witches and wizards don’t seem to go to war often enough to warrant anything more than a police force that has such a small presence that Harry doesn’t learn of it until he’s a 3-year veteran of the magic world and which needs to be augmented by upstanding citizens in times of crisis. Likewise, there doesn’t seem to be much thought in the wizarding community on how to protect against nerve gas, shrapnel, napalm, or any of the other methods of mass-scale death that muggles are so fond of.

And all of which goes to prove my initial point that started this argument so long ago that the Statute of Secrecy wasn’t about things being “easier” or more “convenient” for all involved if the witches and wizards hid from the muggles; it was about the magical community’s very justified fear of total annihilation at the hands of a muggle community that could become unified and enraged at any moment for any reason from justified outrage of at a “prank” (wizard and witches seem to find aggravated assault and attempted murder funny) or simple xenophobia and the fear of power.