Monday, September 30, 2013

World Building Basics: Animals, Fauna, and Creature.

Have you ever seen Star Wars?

My favorite scene in the entire "trilogy" takes place in a Mos Eisley cantina in a New Hope. It took me a few years to understand why and that particular reason is what today's lesson  be about.

Every universe needs what I can "inactives." These consist of living things that are present in the narrative but don't have any speaking lines. The cantina scene in Mos Eisley demonstrates the sheer overwhelming diversity of the locale, filled with creatures from other worlds. This conveys to the reader specifically, "look at thus world, but also see how it is just one of many worlds spanning the cosmos." The characters of your story in this context are no longer players in a drama without consequence. People, things, civilizations are on the line.

Plants are the first element of supplying the world with indigenous life. Because plant life in any ecosystem is the foundation of the entire chain of being, it is important to get plants dialed in and completed in concept. Little details like a character picking up a flower, or seeing a tree sway in the wind helps ground the character in a world. Also show how that particular character effects the world. If a ship crash-lands on an alien planet then describe the wood splintered trees in the wake of the crash. Another thing too is to have descriptions of how the plants interact with local wildlife. Obviously all stories are different. But this concept is as true as a story set on another planet as it is a story set in New York City. The trees in Central Park or the hanging gardens off the fire escapes are good details to consider to help bring the narrative alive.

Creatures and Animals are not the same thing. So if you were wondering in the title was a typo it wasn't! The distinction lies between one being sentient and the other not. Stories need marketplaces, civic buildings, roads, and theaters to convince the reader that the characters or protagonist aren't the  only inhabitants of the city. Non-intractable characters contextualize the character into a society of individuals. Animals, likewise elevate the characters of your book into special positions. Animals don't have responsibilities or duties or stakes in the plot, but because they are there they enhance the importance of the main character and his/her actions that move the story along.

I hope to expand on the lesson into other categories soon. For now though take into consideration these hints and tips, and I promise that you will see an improvement in your narrative.



SW

Friday, September 27, 2013

You Might Be a Winner!

Today's blog title describes how I feel.

I should of had this posted earlier today but I recently changed shifts at my day job. Though I am typically more invested in keeping a routine consistent, I dropped the ball. It's my fault. Business as usual.

It's not often that I feel compelled to pat myself on the back. (I do it to keep up with the "self -loathing" author chic.) This week's short story though got me really excited. Pure narrative genesis is one of those things that just doesn't happen. Somehow I achieved this Wednesday morning and I am still riding the momentum. (Look for opportunities like this when you are creating content and just ride it out. It will always work out for the better.) In the story, Laufey and his friends have just started off on their journey to find this gold. The primary antagonist-like figure has been introduced and Geira isn't on board with the journey. I wanted to lighten things up with some stories and give an opportunity for the reader to get to know the characters that will populated this tale. As you might have expected Geira's tale is very conservative and traditional. This style of narrative will change for each character and I am intrigued with what may happen with it.

"You Might be a Winner." It's such a cliff hanger of a statement. It suggests that good fortune is imminent but entirely speculated. Right now I feel like things in my life are moving around. Nothing lateral has occurred in my moving. I'm not making more money, or subject to momentary windfalls, I just feel like things are gaining traction. I struggle to be a cautious optimist, so I default to cynicism. Today though I find myself without anything to feel really cynical about. I just hope the momentum endures.

Last Saturday I had an meeting about my upcoming book's design layout. I think it went well. A lot of ideas were kicked around so I'm hoping that in the coming months I can get a first cover page design up here. This Monday though my artist for the graphic novel that I am going to be doing will be driving down for a concept meeting at my house. Finally, all these little characters that I have in my head will be able to gain some concrete features. (By features I mean, hands, feet, and faces. They need those.) Now that my wife has gotten a job working at a publishing company based out of Australia, I hope to gain a better understanding of the potential markets that I haven't thought about reaching yet. I am crossing my fingers that I can create characters that are compelling but also very versatile and with depth. These are all givens. As authors we want "compelling" characters. Yet, to a certain degree, one must glean exactly what "compelling" means. Compelling for a certain group is not so for some, etc, etc.

So things are good on my end. I'm looking forward to another productive week.



SW

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Laufey's Treasure - Chapter 7

The following is my new short story series entitled "Laufey's Treasure." It is an action adventure series featuring minor characters from my upcoming novel in their own lighthearted journey. I hope you enjoy, it and be sure to catch my previous short story featured in the same universe called "The Adventures of Reynard Olfsson." 

Chapter 7

Geira approached the fire, standing at the edge of the embers and tossed in a copper coin. Before anyone began a story, there had to be tribute. It was an old tradition, and from where it came no one rightly knew. Watching her do the ritual caused a panic in Laufey. Padding his pockets, there were no coins to be had. Looking over at Anke, he nudged the boy. Anke stirred and gave Laufey an accusatory stare. Laufey begged for a copper as innocently as he could until Anke relented and gave him one. Holding the sliver of currency Laufey felt content once more. 

The way Geira told her stories reminded Laufey of the older ones, and how they told tales. Giera was a follower of the old ways in all things except faith. She sauntered around the fire until she found her spot and sat down cross-legged. She generated a construct shaped like a poker and prodded the coals. 

"Once there was a craftsman that lived deep in the woods. His trade was in exotic items and trinkets. Some said that he was a half-breed, and that long ago him mother had lain with a dwarf, for he was very good at what he did. He was so good that one day whilst he was at the market place in the forest glen that he charmed a lady with his skill. She was very beautiful, the woman. Her hair was like white gold, spun by the elves of the forgotten realms. It was not long until the man found himself infatuated with her, and decided to marry her.

"On their wedding night the craftsman finds out that she is a goddess, none other than Eir, handmaiden to Frigg (who is betrothed to Odin High-Father). She hid her true identity from him out of fear, for she knew the gods would disapprove of their courtship, yet her love for the man was so strong that she did not care any longer what consequences they would incur. The man was at a loss for words then. He felt a deep fear in his heart, but he knew what was right. He would stand beside her, for it was the right thing to do.

"One day, Frigg was walking the halls of Valhalla going about her business. When she called for Eir to come to her aid, the young handmaiden was nowhere to be found. Perplexed and annoyed by this she sent her step-son Thor to find the girl. After much searching in all the halls of Asgard, Hugin the raven of Odin came to him.

"'What you seek lies in the land of Midgard, in the Vale of the Deep Wood. She has married a common man and no longer seeks the company of her brethren.'

"Hearing this Thor became very angry and rode the lightning down to Midgard, landing in the glen outside of the craftsman's home. Eir and her husband were already waiting for him, standing side by side.

"'What is the meaning of this blasphemy, a mortal willingly consorting with Gods?'

"Bravely the craftsman stepped forward and answered the thunder god, looking him in the eye.

"'Eir is my love, my heart, my being, and I will not give her up.'

"'Oh?' Thor replied. 'Then I will destroy you.'

"The man thought about this for a little while. It was not an ideal outcome in the least. As Thor charged his hammer with the power of thunder and lightning, the craftsman called out to him his wager.

"'If I can craft a bow, one better than any bow you have ever used, you will accept me as an equal. If I fail I will submit to your destruction. Give me no more than three years and I will do this.'

"Thor held back his hammer, intrigued with the idea, and let the man go to work.

"It was three years later, then, that the Son of Odin returned to the Craftsman and saw before him a bow made of the finest Yew tree, inlaid with gold and silver knots. For a moment even the god was impressed with the work of the craftsman. When he looked closely however, there was no drawstring, nor quiver of arrows, and the Thunder God suddenly became very angry.

"'What is the meaning of this?'" He bellowed. 'This is no bow!'

"The Craftsman nodded in agreement but raised his hand in clarification.

"'Now that the bow is finished I must now make the drawstring,' the craftsman said. 'It will be made from the gut of the strongest troll in the land, but the troll only comes around every 10 years. Sadly his time above ground has passed and I must wait for his return once more.'

"Now Thor liked the idea of his bow to be crafted from the entrails of his foes, so he relented in his anger. The Son of Odin agreed then to meet once more in ten years, but not before having a pleasant dinner and meeting the three boys Eir had borne with the craftsman.

"Ten years later, excited to finally use his bow, Thor returned yet again to find the Craftsman stringing the bow in the glen outside his workshop. Notching an arrow, he drew it back and fired a bolt at an oak tree. Thor heard the splitting of timber and bark erupt from the glen and saw the terrible destruction the arrow made upon the tree.

"Thor emerged from the shadows of the glen impressed. It was indeed a fine bow, but would it be enough for him to stave the Craftsman's destruction? Thor looked back to the cottage door and saw Eir, still as youthful as she was ten years before, standing in the doorway with her arms around a young man, her oldest son.

"'So you have made my bow,' he said, 'Now may I determine if it is worth your life?'

"The Craftsman considered Thor's words a moment and approached the Thunder God bravely.

"'It may be concluded that this is indeed a fine bow, that it can fire the bolts of men and rend a thousand foes in a single shot.'

"Thor nodded in agreement.

"'But,' continued the Craftsman, 'This is still no bow for a god. I have yet to make arrows of my own, those of which will be greater than any before it made by the hands of Man.'

"Thor by now had gotten wind of the man's schemes. Even he was not that dense. Yet, out of respect for the man's talents at forging weapons he heard the Craftsman's words.

"'There is a wood unlike any other, deep in the forest called Ghost Birch, where a solitary tree has grown since the beginning of the world. Its branches are slender, but stronger than iron, and the arrows it makes will weigh lighter than a goose feather. From this tree I will make six arrows, each taking seven years to harvest, for the tree would otherwise die. After 42 years I will have for you a quiver of arrows the likes of which no waking mortal has, nor every will, see in the age of Man.'

"Thor laughed at the Craftsman, impressed by his cunning, and turned to walk away.

"'Very well, mortal,' Thor replied, 'Perhaps then I will finally have my bow.'

"So the years passed, the Craftsman aging with his sons as Eir remained youthful. All of the years he remained faithful to her, still hunting for her, even into his twilight years. Occasionally he used the bow intended for Thor, but found the bursting properties of the bow too much for human game.

"After 42 years, Thor came to the Crasftsman's cottage in the wood, but did not find him in the glen. So stepping into the cottage, Thor beheld the man on his deathbed readying himself for the great sleep. Eir and her children silently regarded the god, and looked to the corner where a bow stood upright with a quiver set beside it. Thor walked over to the bow, picking it up and feeling it in his hands. True to the Craftsman's words, the arrows were lighter than any material he had felt, even lighter than the steel of dark elves. Grabbing the things that the man had promised, Thor shrugged his shoulders and prepared to leave the cottage when the old man sat himself up in bed. Thor turned back to face the man and was pricked by curiosity.

"'What was your aim, mortal? That you would give me this in exchange for love?'

"The Craftsman smiled and sank back into bed, closing his eyes forever."  

Monday, September 23, 2013

World Building Basics: Accents

Last week we dealt with how to create a convincing social fabric during the world building process.

What we are dealing with this week concerns accents, an extension of social fabric!

Accents are one of those things that many writers struggle with. I can say that because I myself struggle with accents. Creating a convincing accent is not so much an exercise in creativity but also diligence, because your characters must commit to their voicing for the duration of the book. Cultivating these accents is tough work, but I've prepared a few things to consider when creating accents that can help give more cohesion to your universe.

International Considerations

Before when we were talking about social fabric, I tried to emphasize that different classes or demographics of the community will determine how your society develops. Accents are another means of distinguishing those classes from one another. When creating an accent it must make sense in the context of the world that has been created. England alone has over 25 dialects of British English, and that's not including Ireland, Scotland, or Wales. These differences have arisen over time because of the incredible diversity and historical history of England from the Romans up to the Norman invasion in 1066. If you choose to have accents in your story, they represent a cosmopolitan history.

Class Distinctions

Accents as I mentioned before can emphasize the distance between upper and lower classes. How your characters speak will determine this. In England, a journeyman's accent is vastly different than a politician. The way a lower class person speaks in your book should showcase the corruption of the language of the parent culture. This reflects a lackadaisical attitude or a lack of education. For Example, I will create two dialects, one high, one low, and you will compare them.

Low:
"Stripped, battle weary, the men fought as hard as they did m'lord, with pryde and honor."
High:
"Naked and hardened by war, the platoon stood their ground, brave and worthy of commendation." 
The low accent is characteristic of a class that is not the reigning power. The diction is much simpler with words lacking in syllabic complexity. Slang usage like "M'lord" shows a corruption of "My lord" and the use of the archaic spelling "pryde" infers that the usage is more traditional and older. The high dialect distinguishes itself from the low here by using words that are more cosmopolitan, illustrating an awareness of international community, a mark of maturity and developed national identity ("platoon" and "commendation"). Also the pacing at the beginning of the sentence shows a more developed thought contained in the sentence and illustrates a better command of grammar.

Developing Consistency

Absolutely critical to creating a homespun accent in your book is demonstrating consistency in the accent. If you create a character who drops the "h" in their speech (pronouncing "Hat" as "at"), that character must continue to do so throughout the length of the book. This may seem a bit of a no brainer, but doing this over the course of 500 pages is incredibly difficult. My best advice on how to make this work is research the dialect you want to employ in your book. After you have cultivated your own dialect or thoroughly looked over an existing one, take note of the rules of speech. Using the silent "h" rule above, every time your character speaks, employ the rule. As long as you approach this analytically, you will remain consistent.

Wikipedia actually has a lot of resources on dialects that I found exceedingly helpful in building the dialects for my book. I would definitely consider taking a look at their list of English dialects especially for their thoroughness.



SW

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hindsight

I had a conversation with my Best Man this morning that encouraged me a lot. I've arrived at a point of my life where it's not the grand things that get me thinking. Every day, some little, innocuous event transpires and with it I gain clarity.

We primarily talked about God, his role in our lives, and wedding things. He's getting married, my Best Man, to his lovely fiance. Their story is charming in the old world sense. They met each other and were very happy with one another until they broke up unexpectedly a few yeas ago. Everyone was surprised, including myself. It was totally bizarre, had you had known them. It was only after he returned from a year long missionary expedition in Ecuador that he, and her likewise, had a sit down and realized that they really had something. Now, six months later, they are getting married. Go figure.

I lament the short comings that I suffer regularly. Lately things have been hard. My wife and I don't make enough money to afford food on a regular basis, and things are slow as far as my progress. Yet,  as I look back on how things have transpired, I see God's hand moving me towards something. I don't know what it is to be honest, but it's something bigger than my own personal expectations. I kind of hope that whatever happens that it lead me towards a better place in writing, or a career in something that I'm good at.

Even if you are not Christian, I don't think that we are above operating sans fate as a species. Things happen and progress as they do in a uniformly for most people, and I believe that even in the presence of great trial and tribulations that hindsight always proves 20/20. That phrase is used pejoratively, as if there is this naivete that blinds us of the hopeless randomness that life is. I think that in the midst of a problem we can only see what's before our eyes, as we react ala "fight or flight." After all is said and done, our eyes look back and go, "Oh, that's where it was all going." It's a shame that we can't, in the midst of struggles, go, "I hope this leads to new opportunities."

And that's kind of the way that I perceive what is happening for me. Things are developing, sometimes slower than usual, but they are. This weekend me, my artist, and my designer are having another Google Hangout to discuss my book. This time we will be taking a look at design sketches. I am holding out for a really positive discussion. As far as building an audience for the thing, I am being transitioned to the morning shift at my work, which will allow me to meet with groups of local writers down here in San Diego. I only found out about this last week so good for me, I guess. I'm trying to look ahead.

I've got some good articles coming up on Sequart pretty soon. Keep your eyes peeled for those!

Have a great weekend.




SW 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Laufey's Treasure - Chapter 6

The following is my new short story series entitled "Laufey's Treasure." It is an action adventure series featuring minor characters from my upcoming novel in their own lighthearted journey. I hope you enjoy, it and be sure to catch my previous short story featured in the same universe called "The Adventures of Reynard Olfsson." 

Chapter 6

Between Håfo and Gaun was a stretch of rolling hills that weaved through the pass. Thousands of years ago the ice had carved the hills, pulverizing stone and ore with the might of the slow and steady glacier flow.  But the ice was gone now, replaced by grassy slopes where the muskox came down from the mountains to feed in the spring. It would not last for long. Laufey had grown used to the eternal winters. Many of the travelers that came to his village told stories of lands far to the south, places where it never snowed. He knew this of course. He knew about the world and how large it was. But to see it, that was another matter. He had never seen a desert before, but he knew that they must be a wonderful sight to behold. 

They made good time, landing the crest of the upper fjell above Håfo as the sun began to fade. Laufey looked back into the valley, covered in sweat and heaved a sigh of exhaustion. After 10 hours they had made it, and he felt oddly proud of himself for doing so. In the distance he saw Geira come around the bend, holding in her arms a pile of dry firewood. "She's rather industrious" he thought. Turning around, he saw the others lying down on the earth, beaten with fatigue. Ragna and Amma sat next to each other counting their supplies. Next to them Anke was schooling the triplets in a game of cards. 

"So, if one of you looses, do all of you feel shameful?" Anke said, smiling. 

"No," Kaun said. "Everyone thinks that."

"It's not true," Kaupi chimed in. "I think that we only feel each other's pain."

"No we don't," Keli said, shoving Kaupi. "Don't be an idiot!" 

Kaun chuckled to himself, nodding. He placed the next card down. It was a flush, and with it the collective moan of the other players emerged. 

"Now, who's shameful?" Kaun said. "I should be locked away for how I abuse you all."

Laufey smiled, amused by their fun and looked back at Giera. She had been watching him, for she turned her face away at the very last moment. When she neared him he folded his arms, and tried to appear impressed. 

"Find everything alright?" He said. 

"No," she answered defiantly, "We should have never come up here."

Laufey felt his shoulder brush up against hers for a moment. Turning back, he followed beside her, keeping in step. She made no attempt to hurry. 

"Are you talking about this shadow man? Is that why we shouldn't have come?" Geira didn't say anything, but her silence was uncomfortable. "Or are you just paranoid that something bad will happen?"

Giera stopped. She turned to him with hard eyes and gritted her teeth together. He nearly expected her to drop the firewood, but below them the ground was still damp from the rain they had a few weeks prior. She knew better, even when she was mad.

"I'm here because I don't want anyone to get hurt. I know that you, your sis' and mine are mostly grownups, but I still have to take care of the others that don't know what they are doing. To you this is just another stupid adventure, but to me I'm trying to take care of them. So sod off."

"Hey," Laufey cut in, catching her arm, "I care about these kids, honest. Why are you so serious all the time? Why can't you have fun. That some kid died while you are kilometers away lying sick in a bed is not your fault."

"Well, if you say so." she replied sarcastically. Giera pulled her arm away from Laufey indignantly. "Thanks for that..." Laufey didn't say any more. He walked up with her next to the pit where the fire would be. Limply, Giera let the bushel of sticks fall out of her arms and stepped aside. Watching her saunter over to his sister and Amma, Laufey frowned.

"What the hell was that about?" he thought. 

Extending his hand towards the fire, his construct interface cycled on and ignited the firewood. 

"Did anyone bring meat?" he said looking at the rest of them. 

"I did!" Amma said, enthused. "Father packed this whole thing for us." She glanced at Geira, who covertly smiled momentarily. Laufey occasionally wondered if the two amicably shared a sibling's friendship. Giera didn't seem one to bicker with her brothers and sisters, but she kept to herself. In fact he wasn't entirely certain that he had ever seen them speak to each other in public. As the meat was passed over into Geira's hands and into a skillet held by Anke, Keli's head perked up.

"Oh! What kind is it?" He said. 

Fumbling with the empty package, Amma found a piece of script and read aloud.

"Venison and berries. That does sound lovely!" 

"Stir them around then," Ragna said in a hearty voice. "We're hungry."

"I know some good stories," Kaupi said looking among them, hopefully. Next to him Kaun shook his head.

"No," he said with finality. "Nope. My stories are the best."

"Ugh," Ragna sighed. "Are you two really doing this?" 

"Oh, don't mind them," Anke said reaching behind him to put away the cards. "They do this all the time at school." 

"Maybe we should have ourselves a little game," Laufey said. He looked over the whole group and held his hand over the fire. In the flickering light he stood over the fire and tossed in a piece of firewood.

"Tell us a story, and the winner gets that sausage." The others looked back at him surprised. His hand hovered over the skillet as the meat sizzled. When a fleck of grease leaped up out of the pan, Laufey pulled his hand away wincing.

"Fuaaaaaah! Damn my eyes..."

An uproar of laughter rose from the fire pit, as Laufey eyed them spitefully. Geira leaned up against Ragna in tears and Amma blushed, covering her mouth. Kaun sat vigilantly eying the sausage, paying no mind to the laughter. When they had finished mocking him, Laufey held his hands close to the fire for warmth, this time a little back from the flame. Anke patted him on the shoulder, patronizingly.


"Hey," he said calmly, "Don't let it go to you head." 

"Oh, shut it," Laufey retorted. 

They sat there for a while in relative silence, meditatively gazing into the fire. As they did this Geira stood up, cycling on her construct bracelet, and stood before them awkwardly.

"Well," she said looking up into the hard light projection, "I think I'll take the first try."




Monday, September 16, 2013

World Building Basics: Weaving Social Fabric

Last week we began the World Building Basics series establishing the importance of creating a diverse political system. Politics, if enmeshed with the primary narrative, will breathe much needed immediacy and urgency into your works. This is because real people, with real problems, experience government politics everyday. Having a realistic government process in your story makes the tale relevant.

Today we will talk about social fabric, and why having a fleshed out public order is important in your story. For those of you that don't know, what I mean by social fabric is specifically the awareness of social order, of hierarchy, class, and world customs. Every tale should have an awareness of class distinction and stratification. There should be in your tale, those who are homeless, those who are merchants or local businessmen, as well as higher class individuals in society like politicians, lords, or moguls. We see ourselves as individuals in a social ecosystem. Just like our own lives, your characters should be aware that they are poor, or rich, or doing just enough to survive.

Welfare, Well-assured?

Starting at the beginning, what do we know about social fabric? A basic approach can establish the dichotomy between rich and poor. How that translates into the book could be reflected in a poor district or a wealthy district, but those are the most superficial ways one can express social fabric. I encourage you to think of more nuanced approaches to this issue. What I do, usually is I think about our own world. For instance, older more conservative Koreans harbor feelings of bitterness for the Japanese that conquered them during World War 2, and this was because the invading forces imposed Japanese customs, names, and emperor worship on the Korean citizens and non-combatants. Here the social fabric was totalitarian, and it created for the Koreans a traumatic experience that changed the course of their country. In your book, having an awareness of more complicated issues then adds to the depth of your tale. What if you had a story with a society somewhat like our own? There are little rivalries, class distinctions everywhere. If you own an Iphone or an Android, there are subtle class distinctions there. If you shop, or buy certain products, or have a certain religion, you will be recognized as being set apart. How you want to express these nuances in your social fabric will determine the plot of your book. 

In the Details

Social fabric doesn't only consider class warfare. Think about everything else. Think about clothing, regional dialects, pets, customs, ethnicity, philosophy, dance, art, etc. These details overwhelm us whenever we visit different countries. Often we feel like we have entered into an alien world, even if the parent culture is similar to our own. I visited Norway recently, and went to a very isolated region of the Sognefjord. Even understanding and speaking Norwegian I felt out of place. I can remember many of the details that I found strange to me when visiting. Most of them were very unremarkable differences. For instance, I thought it was bizarre how clean the buses were for public transportation. Also there was hardly any litter on the side of the roads, but everywhere were abandoned lodges that were built hundreds of years ago by fur trappers. If your world is exotic, and takes place in a fantasy universe, consider creating a profession and having traces of that profession littering the world. It could be something as simple as iron working, and everywhere the protagonist goes he/she will see an abandoned forge. You could also get more complex and have large religious buildings, ruined and standing in solitary locales, waiting to be discovered.

Make it Worth it

So far I haven't given you really any step by step means of approaching this. I've done this intentionally, because I want to impress upon you that a social fabric is only as diverse as you make it. When developing a social fabric for your world, you can either emphasize it's importance or diminish it. The key thing however is this. Always link your social fabric to the plot. One of my biggest pet peeves is discovering that certain details in the narrative that were meticulously described have no bearing on the plot whatsoever. It drives me nuts! It's Tarantino Syndrome. Why do I need to listen to a 40 minute opening dialogue, only to see all those characters die in the following scene? Inglorious Bastards for instance features an entire cast that is utterly useless. They don't do anything, except thwart others that are trying to do exactly what they are trying to do. 

I recommend a book series called The Kingkiller Chronicle for the reason that the main protagonist is dropped into a world that is meticulously structured and described. Each detail in the story is completely integrated with the plot. Everything fits, and at no point in the story have I felt force fed superfluous information. I highly recommend it!



SW


Friday, September 13, 2013

On Getting Old

Generally I try to have these things come out earlier in the day but this morning I was on a hike with my friend Mark, a local aspiring physician's assistant. Having a friend in the medical field is a real blessing, so when my legs started hurting he was able to diagnose my symptoms as a bio-mechanical problem. So now I am icing my IT band, and eating a yogurt parfait.

I am now 25, which is that age when your body's indestructible qualities wane. Now, silver bullets, garlic, and a whole manner of folk remedies can disable me, and let's just say the fear of God has been put in me for better or worse. It's incredible to imagine that only 4 years ago I was jogging 10 miles a week. Now I can't run longer than 20 minutes without my legs completely ceasing up. I bike still, but according to Mark it doesn't strengthen my gluteus medius, so I need to supplement my biking with something else, otherwise I am favoring certain muscle groups. It's a shame. The endorphin high after a jog is markedly different than biking I've noticed. I suspect it's to mask the pain that running naturally creates in the body. The catharsis of smashing the soles of your feet against concrete is numbing and blissful once all is said and done. It's extremely enjoyable.

As I get older I hope that I will retain my athleticism. My parents are either in their 60s or steadily approaching and are in top shape for their age demographic. With them, the issues are still there, yet they soldier through it, slowly modifying their regimens to accommodate for new injuries and limitations. It's important to be physically healthy especially when you have kids. One of the greatest tragedies of modern parenting is the supremacy of mixed media and internet connectivity which dopes our society into a sluggish state of complacency. I believe that an outgoing parent models for a child that it is important to disengage and roam the Old Real every so often. But then again, what do I know, right?

All that to say, with age comes opportunities. Right now feedback is coming in from my book. So far so good. I have mixed and positive feedback primarily, nothing particularly negative thus far. I also had a meeting with my designer and artist over Google Hangout. It went well and we got tons of good work done. We are going to reconvene soon to come back with more ideas. Cross your fingers! Also, I'm feeling pretty good about my graphic novel now. The introductory steps in defining characters is always a battle for me, not because it's a difficult task necessarily but because I don't know how the character should interact with the plot this early on. I've approximated the voice of my main character, which is great, as well as his chief antagonist. Also the supporting characters are coming out a little. Aim for that diversity and you won't regret any of the hours of time you spent trying to figure out what beard would look best on your protagonist. It's savory upon completion.

The new series on world building I am just in love with. On Monday we discuss the aspect of "social fabrics" in world building. Stay tuned on Monday for details!



SW

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Laufey's Treasure - Chapter 5

The following is my new short story series entitled "Laufey's Treasure." It is an action adventure series featuring minor characters from my upcoming novel in their own lighthearted journey. I hope you enjoy, it and be sure to catch my previous short story featured in the same universe called "The Adventures of Reynard Olfsson." 

Chapter 5

Their journey had begun, and not a moment too late. Laufey knew as well as Geira did that they would need time to set up camp near the base of Mount Foot. They had first to pass through Sol and then hike northward through Håfo. That leg alone would take 4 hours to complete. Though Gaun seemed close, open spaces in Luafey's land were deceptive. So he continually reminded himself that the situation at hand was his doing. Were anything bad to happen, it would be his head.

Sol proved easy enough to march through. Laufey felt an intimate connection with the town. Though it was a den of sin and trickery, he knew his way around the entire settlement, even the places where the children would go to hide when they were mad at their parents. There wasn't much there to run away from home to. There were lots of dogs. He knew that. But after dark the place was horrible, foul, and dingy, no place for a child.

Cresting the ridge of the valley  Laufey turned onto the road that would take them to Gaun. It was large and wide, much more so than the other streets. Long ago, his father told him, this place was much more busy, a place of hustle and bustle. There were more autos then and this was where they traveled. They were uncommon now, but a few still existed here and there. Laufey preferred horses personally. He felt the connection with the earth more intimately while on them. An auto was great, but he missed too much of the world in them.

"So why did you help us?" Laufey said to Geira. He glanced over at her and saw that she took time to think about it.

"You were about to go camping without the consent of the adults. After what happened last year, I would of felt personally responsible if something bad came along and hurt you." She was very serious when she said this, with a distance in her eyes. Laufey knew well about the incident. Giera had not gone that year. She was sick and everyone told her to get some rest. Then, when one of the children never returned, she blamed herself for it. She could of led them right that time, and the guilt of her absence took its toll.

"You don't think I'm not old enough to help us if something bad happened?" Laufey said with a smile. "Amma, my sister, and myself are nearly grownups ourselves."

"So?" She glanced back at Laufey, looking convinced. "I know what killed that kid. It was no bear if that's what you're thinking."

Laufey sighed, gazing off at the peak of Mount Foot in the distance. He thought about what other ways a child could perish out here. Aside from the cold he supposed that the unfortunate kid fell off a rock, and onto more rocks, and met his end quickly.

"Why don't you enlighten me then?" Laufey said in a low voice.

"There's a man," Geira said, "a shadow man. I know he's out here. I saw him once, a long time ago. I could smell him a kilometer away. He was trapping a bear when I saw him. He knew that I was watching him. He faceed me and his eyes burned into mine. He was evil. Very old evil. Two ravens circled around him, like the old god of this land."

Laufey felt cold suddenly, and very uncomfortable. He looked back at the others that blithely trailed behind him, feeling a twinge of regret prick his conscience. Demons were common in Norge, for the land was home to a tradition of mystics for some time. Geira next to him fixed her gaze to the ground and continued her pace.

"When we make camp we need to pray. He won't come then. That's what I have been doing all morning. Somewhere out there he's watching us."

"Don't worry," Laufey said, mustering a smile. "I and my sister will protect each other." He placed a comforting hand on Geira's shoulder. Embarrassed, Geira kept still, but Laufey saw her blush.

Let's just be careful," he added.

Geira nodded her head in agreement and kept pace. They ascended the hill, and entered the hillside. As they did, the fog began to roll in.



SW

Monday, September 9, 2013

World Building Basics: Getting Political

Politics are very real to people. They aren't to me, but I know those people who can't shut up about it. Most of my friends are Libertarians, which I suppose stems from the need to be an "exotic" conservative. I am more of a pessemistic Christian Socialist, but I have been present for their long winded debates predicated on a universal hatred for the common man. Then again I think the Justice League should be free. The role of man in society dominates their lives. So how do we get this energy and passion into our stories? Funny you should ask...

Getting Political

Politics may not be the crown jewel in world building, but it's up there. Creating a socially political environment in your story should be brainstormed before you actually start the story. What the politics of the world manifest as will influence the character, but it will also make the story more real to the reader. Imagine why there are so many WW2 buffs out there and you will understand this concept. Our grandparents were deeply affected by political changes in the mid 20th century, and what the state decided immediately changed the way the people lived their lives. Today that isn't the case, as technology has proliferated our society. Creating a world without a social net (fishing net I mean), the characters will not be held back from experiencing lives affected by politics. It'll also add a "drama factor" to your book. Like Orwell's 1984 we will know the sufferings of the common man, in the throes of unavoidable change.

Bipartisan

Setting up a political system in your book starts with creating a party system. It doesn't matter how many you create. What matters is that there is more than one. Each party must me unique and not just a regurgitation of the same principals. What makes a political party unique are their stances and individuality. If you consider how hot political debates are in this country, one can only imagine what it could be like were there more parties. In a two party system there will be fierce competition and backbiting, just like it is in this country. In three party system there will be a progressive party, a conservative party, and a minority faction with aggressive tendencies. Were you to have a party system greater than four, be prepared to lose clarity of social divisions. In these worlds you would probably be dealing with a Galactic Senate situation ala Star Wars. Consider that the Star Wars Expanded Universe is an unfolding drama on Micro and Macro scales. There is the Galactic, big picture drama developing on Coruscant and the smaller conflicts fueled by passionate in fighting across the worlds. Politics is all about scope, and if there is too much going on, you will be lost and  so will the reader.

Execution

How to construct a functioning political milieu in entirely up to you, but I will offer some advice of what factors to consider. One thing that I have noticed is that class disparity has existed throughout the course of Human history and will continue to do so unless something "cataclysmic" happens. What this disparity produces in an unskilled proletariat, a much smaller specialized class, and a tiny ruling class. Older forms of government thrive off of conceptions that the lower classes are too stupid to rule themselves, and hence a Monarchy derived from political consolidation of the upper tiers of society is born. The Divine Right of Kingship is a religious permutation of this concept, except the power to rule is chosen by the divine hands of fate. If your classes are more spread out and there are narrower gaps between the class distinctions in your story then you could be more democratic. Democracy creates strife and tension by having many people of the same caliber existing side by side in political union. Civil wars are common in Democracy, and birth factions and groups of people bound by some common principal. Because Democracy predicates it's operating beliefs on the inclusion of the common man into the political decisions of the larger nation, I would recommend your story be centered around a younger protagonist that is grappling with their identity within this world. Democratic unions are interesting because it places the burden of performance on the individual to carry their weight in society. Also, characters can be lost in translation, forgotten, marginalized by the larger social network that develops in the political climate. Older societies will operate with a group mindset (a struggle for the kingdom's fate) and modern societies will showcase the inner spiritual conflicts of the protagonist.

In Sum

Politics determine your story's development and social schemes. Work on developing a diversified political realm before you venture out and work on the rest of the book. Don't brush this off! A good story understands the nuances and complications society can place on the protagonist/everyman. Focus on how many parties, or factions, will constitute your world. Understand that the amount of parties presented to the reader will determine the political environment and how the characters will operate in society. The form of government you ultimately land on will have an impact on the characters, and how they conceive of their existence. Monolithic institutions like a Monarchy or an Empire will drive nation focused narratives. Democratic institutions will produce people focused narratives, and contemplate the individuals that compose society.

As always, take your time. Make it count for something. The world depends on it!

Friday, September 6, 2013

10 Second Stories

I love it when I gain traction. Generally life is a string of instances where spinning wheels furiously gives birth to momentary bursts of movement. This week I covered some ground here and there.

My designer for my book recommended that I build a repertoire of short stories for the purpose of submission. Even though the Wednesday slot on this blog is reserved for works of fiction, actually sitting down and saying, "I'm going to write a short story" is incredibly intensive. Sometimes I think that short stories are passed off as these "narratives on training wheels." It's a good way of conceiving exactly what these stories could amount to, but these are compacted worlds. I've read short stories by Ray Bradbury and every time I come away with a sense of awe. These tales can't be longer than maybe 10 to 15 pages in the mass media print market, but they are cohesive. When you read them they stand alone, and that effect is extremely difficult to achieve.

So here are some of the short stories that I've begun working on, I'll give you the titles for now. Maybe you'll see them in a short fiction digest someday.

The Four Horsemen

Seven Deadly Sins

Homeless Magi

Calling Maintenance

I've tried to come up with stories that work on conventional themes and tropes so that they could be familiar to the reader. However I'm deciding to twist some of the details around, and turn them on their heads. What I love about Neil Gaiman and other comic book writers, is that they have these very powerful imaginations, but limit their changes made to the conventional story to one or two things. Usually if you read a short story from Neil Gaiman, or a comic book by Grant Morrison, one element will deviate from the otherwise normal and mundane narrative structure. One of my favorite short stories I heard by Neil Gaiman was Chivalry, a story about a woman who finds the Holy Grail at a Salvation Army store and afterwards is courted by Galaad Knight of the Round Table. It follows the beats of the "unwanted guest" scenario, but the subtle difference is that Galaad is this chivalrous gentleman who is very helpful. We expect as readers to encounter the stereotypical encounter where the woman is then pestered by the unwanted guest, but instead has her lawn manicured by a knight in shinning armor. In similar fashion my plan is to change these stories around in subtle ways, and try to find an angle that hasn't been done before. After all, it's good to be novel in a world full of tired out ideas.

Think of them as "10 Second Stories." If it takes longer than ten seconds to explain what your story is about, start over. Try it out sometime!



SW


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Laufey's Treasure - Chapter 4

The following is my new short story series entitled "Laufey's Treasure." It is an action adventure series featuring minor characters from my upcoming novel in their own lighthearted journey. I hope you enjoy, it and be sure to catch my previous short story featured in the same universe called "The Adventures of Reynard Olfsson." 

Chapter 4

Indeed, 4 days later they were off, much to Laufey's surprise. Getting the grown-ups to approve their journey was what he dreaded most. Specifically, it was the reason why he didn't wan't Geira in the first place. She was all rules and regulations, incapable of having a good time. When she did have a good time, usually no one else did either.

Collecting the children proved difficult, who's guardians sent them off with guarded looks and mild suspicion. It was an odd time of year to go on an outing. Not because of the snow fall, mind you. It was just a bizarre time to go. The children's retreat, at least before they cancelled it, was a springtime affair. By now it was the peak of summer. Most children in the settlement had begun to collect firewood with their own parents. Getting a head start on the wintertime was the focus this time of year, for it was coming soon.

Anke burst out of his house. Shouting could be heard on the inside. By the looks of his downcast face, Laufey didn't want to know what was happening inside. When they had walked down the hill for a little while, Laufey finally glanced at his friend for a moment. Silently, he wrapped his arm around his friend's neck and wrestled him over. Anke couldn't help but smile again.

"Oh good," Ragna said sarcastically folding her arms, "your boat hasn't sunk yet."

Laufey raised his head, scrunching his face up indignantly.

"Excuse me? I like my boat. You know dad gave it to me. So you're only talking about his too."

Ragna raised her eyebrow.

"...and it's a shame you don't clean it more often."

Beside them the triplets fidgeted. Kaupi and Keli impatiently rocked back and forth. When Kaun noticed, he shoved them to stop.

"So the treasure," he said looking at the ground. "is it in Gaun? Or is it just near the mountain."

Laufey shrugged.

"Hell if I know."

Suddenly Ragna shoved him, with a reprimanding stare.

"Language!"

"Yeah, yeah. Whatever," Laufey muttered, kneeling down to untie the boat. Geira, who had distracted herself up to this point with studying the map, walked forward and into the boat, taking a seat at the front.

"Come on," she said, "It will take about 8 hours to hike Mt. Foot from Sol. We need time to set up camp before dark." She paused a moment, then shot a penetrating glance at Laufey. "But I'm sure you knew that?"

"Jesus. Okay, everyone into the boat."

"On a roll today aren't you?" Ragna said, stepping past. Carefully she grabbed the side of the boat and stepped in, placing her way all to the back. Laufey nodded and looked back at Anke, frowning.

"Coming, Anke?"

The sullen child looked up, then back at the ground silently.

"If you would rather stay, we understand," Ragna said in a compassionate voice. Anke refused however, shaking his head stubbornly.

"No," he said finally. "It's fine. I'm fine."

Laufey looked then to the triplets holding the ropes of the boat in his hand.

"Now, or never again, chums." Kaupi and Keli nodded in unison, and moved forward. As they walked past him, Kaun approached Laufey, craning his neck to see Laufey face to face.

"If you find any treasure, you have to tithe ten percent," he said sternly. Laufey stifled a laugh when he heard this. Placing his hand on Kaun shoulder.

"You are my tithe, now get wise and sit by your brothers."

After they entered the skiff, Laufey undid the final harnesses. With the ropes in his hands that secured the boat, he stood up then and thought for a moment. Something was missing, and he couldn't figure it out, not for the life of him. He looked back at the boat pensively, feeling rather ill at ease. Then he felt someone tap his shoulder from behind.

Amma stood there, dressed in hiking pants and shoes, wearing a rough, weathered jacket. Laufey felt himself immediately blush. He never pictured her as the adventurous type. Scouring his memory in that instance he could only think of a handful of occasions where she had not worn a dress. He had only heard about it from Ragna at the dinner table. Hearing it then he likened to peering momentarily into another world. It was populated by things that made no sense, like a bright and cheerful Anke and a kind, supporting older sister. Seeing it for himself, Laufey liked what he saw.

"I am soo very sorry," she said with a pained look on her face. "My father wanted to pack me up with everything I needed."

"That's... uh, well. I think, I, uh..."

"Come on Amma. You broke my brother. Take a seat here, huh?" She tapped an open spot next to her on the starboard side.

Looking down at the ropes in his hands, Laufey smiled.

"Finally," he said.
  

Monday, September 2, 2013

World Building: An introduction

I've written about world building in the past, but my heart never got into it. Recently It's been impressed upon me by my betters to give advice on things that I feel passionate about. Sounds like a no-brainer right? It's not as easy as you might think. Writing a blog is an exercise in humility as much as it is in patience. You want to write about things that people like to generate traffic flow. You want the fame today, not tomorrow, but it must be remembered that building  audiences is a slow process. Lately I've come to the conclusion that people can tell when you force things out. Creating under a burden reads phony. Taking the time this Labor Day weekend I created a new curriculum based on the things that I especially enjoy consulting on. So I hope in the next few weeks you will enjoy the material and be inclined to share it around.


So you want to be (a) god? 

Whether it be literary or cinema cannon, we collectively experience the effects of successful/unsuccessful immersion experiences. Movies like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings contain well crafted universes.These are places that people can be, live and breathe, walk and talk. If you've ever seen a bad move, part of the reason why they are terrible is the innate sense of betrayal when viewing them. The world is not real, and the viewer feels let down because he/she is being offered a something that is counterfeit. Creating a world is like being a god. It is an exercise in being "divine." The reason why I use this analogy is because the world bust be self sustained, without subject to "holy encounters" and "miracles." (This is a euphemism for events or occurrences in the book that clash with principal iconography.) Being aware of this helps the author to remember that their world has rules, customs, qualities, and dynamics that need to be adhered to. A good example then would be including common slang in Star Wars. Notice how the whole series has it's own native slang. Most of the time we are viewers placed outside of those references. Unless we were acquainted with expanded universe knowledge, a "Nerf Herder" would be a meaningless reference. Yet, the fact that such an idea was written into Star Wars makes the content as a whole that much more convincing, because these people have their own diction and phrases. Were Han Solo to grab Lando Calrissian by the cuff of his shirt and say, "I'm gonna' beat your ass you lying douche!" It would pull us out from the universe. The moral here is, keep a lid on your "miracles" and keep the universe self contained.

"What planet am I on?"

Following the thread of the previous section I will break down the components that we will discuss through the next few weeks. Every well crafted universe can be developed to be convincing so long as certain aspects be taken into account. Obviously, my list isn't exhaustive. What I am going to do however is create a list featuring certain aspects that can potentially be overlooked in the writing process. Including them will not only enhance the credibility of your work but give a reason for people to come back and speculate about the inner workings of your universe. Here are a few of the parameters that I have in mind:
  • Politics
  • Social fabric
  • Accents
  • Animals, fauna, and creature
  • Architecture
  • In-group/out-group
I'll break these down later but consider the list for now. Every movie that you have loved with a huge universe at it's disposal has included at least some of these elements. They are minor traits that enhance the detail of the universe. Politics show that the people who live in your world have values. Social fabric is how society is arranged and what customs they have. Accents show the diversity of your population. Animals, Fauna, and creature concepts give the unique flavor to the world you are creating. Focusing on Architecture shows that the people study their space and conceive of themselves as living in a spatial reality. Lastly, in-group/out-group dynamics will show the effects of racism/classism, which is universal to all cultures. Sadly a world without them is a world that is wholly unrealistic. 

Think on this for now. We will have a thorough treatment on the subject of world building over the next few weeks. Tell your friends! Stay updated! Keep learning!



SW