Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Laufey's Treasure - Chapter 12

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 12

"That's a story," she said proudly, folding her arms.

"Aye," Kaun said, glancing at Anke. "Good story, wasn't it?"

Anke looked over, his eyes heavy with sleep. He nodded, releasing a yawn, and covered his mouth with the back of his hand. 

"I liked my story," he murmured, "I liked it because it actually happened. All of yours are fibs."

Laufey expressed his shock at the statement, mouth agape. The others were only vaguely challenged by Anke's accusation, but kept to themselves. Ragna leaned forwards, kindling the dying embers of the campfire. Sparks weaved up through the cold night air, dancing in the moonlight above. 

"I like fibs," Kaun said. "They make the world a brighter place."

"How so?" Laufey said looking over at Kaun, interested.

"We can tell ourselves what we want to hear," Kaun said proudly. 

"You would say that," Anke scoffed. "The shepherd's son has a tale for us. I can't wait..."

The intense disdain in his voice caused Laufey to stir. He knew Anke's spirit. It troubled him to see Anke so hurt, his soul soured. Laufey grabbed Anke's shoulder firmly and massaged a large knot out of the boy's back. Anke did not stop him, he just closed his eyes. 

"Maybe if you just relaxed once in a while you'd be able to get along with us," Laufey said. 

"I recall saying something like that to you," Ragna chimed in, laying a peice of firewood across the embers. "That was me, what you just said."

"Isn't he better for it?" Kaun said. A moment later Laufey reached around an knocked him upside the head. Rubbing his head, Kaun flashed a defiant look in his eyes.

"Don't look at me," Laufey said in a stern voice. "Keep talking, and see what happens."

Kaun looked between them all, wearing a decided expression. He leaned over the fire and warmed his hands then leaned back into the evening air.

"It all starts the same way," Kaun began, his voice slow and even. "A dog, a man, and a woman..." 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Character Foundations: Descriptions

So last week we talked about character sketching. Hopefully by now you've had a chance to practice building your characters based off that information. If you haven't, I would take a second look.

The thing about foundations is that they are the basis and blueprints for the entire project going forward. Having a recognizable character is imperative, otherwise your story will be populated by subtly varying clones. No one wants that.

After sketching a character we move on to the general character description. There are two philosophies to proceed with concerning the character description. I will touch on both of them.

Show me...

Authors create successful and memorable characters for their books all the time, but why are they successful? Well, we know that their silhouette is memorable; each character we experience is unique and different. What about their description though? A good description focuses on how a personality relates to visual appearance. The Scottish, ginger-esque, appearance has personal associations with a feisty demeanor. Note that these are expectations based off of stereotypes. Occasionally, however, we must rely on these expectations. Not all dark, brooding characters have black or brunette hair, but we sort of expect them to. How these visual details, like sunken eyes, or a cleft chin integrate themselves in with the personalities of your characters is important, and at least worth considering.

Tell me...

Now there are some authors (myself included) that don't describe characters in their book. What they do is tell you about the character and allow the reader to create an image of a character in their minds that fits what they are reading. This is by no means an "easier" way to building characters. It takes years of experience or a special knack to describe characters this way. Probable character traits can be determined either through how the character reacts to situations or what they say. A character that skirts responsibility and is lethargic could he construed as lazy, or fat. Likewise, a character could be ambitious, vocally outspoken, and industrious. I could imagine these characters having a powerful physical presence, or their sleeves rolled up. Either way, its up to you, and both models are fitting.


I'm kind of in a rush this morning, but later this afternoon I will write descriptions to help aid you in understanding either of these philosophies. I hope this was helpful!




SW

Friday, October 25, 2013

N.G.A.P

 "Not Good Around People."

I'm very leery-eyed when it comes to my social life. Being a writer may be the cause of it, maybe. Spending hours inside being afraid of the sun and the "kids on skateboards" feeds my paranoia like prunes feed a Floridian snowbird. Sitting at a computer, writing, doing what I'm doing now, it's solitary work. God help me when I have kids.

Believe it or not, I used to be very social. I still am, depending on the context. I went to Comic-Con this year and didn't panic vomit on people! That's good right? Networking makes the terrors go away. But if I'm mingling at a church gathering I feel like I want to curl up and live in the ground forever. At my weekly gathering (which sounds rather ominous), there I stood with a beer in one hand and a bratwurst in the other standing around a gaggle of guys talking shop and felt really out of place. This is strange too because I was buzzed and my inhibitions for small talk were exponentially lowered, but lo, there I was, staring into my cup with nothing to say. There was a time when I was better at small talk. Now I just glare, unintentionally. I've actually been told this, mind you.

Maybe I'm just not good around people? I swear, I'm not trying to be that "author who doesn't like talking to the kind folks at home" kind of guy.

Maybe the reason why I'm spilling my guts, though, is that I am slowly approaching this event horizon that will finally put me into contact with real life forever. The only alternative is eating paste and playing Dungeons and Dragons with three large-breasted men. One of the most important things about being an author is having an audience. I love what I do and love creating stories, but without someone to hear them I feel like I have schizophrenia. I have a surly WW2 marine, a bi-sexual art student, an Irish drunk, and a subterranean lizard man all stuck in my head. They get very loud and very unruly without their daily purgings.

I have been charged by my designer to go outside, into that terrible, suffocating fresh air and experience other writers midst intimate colloquiums where the word "vagina" is as common as they are terrifying. The idea of sitting in a room with people who are perpetually 20 pages in to their upcoming vampire romance is unsettling to me. It's not that I hate their lack of productivity. I've met a few of these kinds of people and they are really nice and well meaning. Nevertheless, I must entertain their pleasure centers and cultivate their interest in my craft in order for me to thrive as a novelist.

I have a few short stories that could be great ice breakers, but then that puts me in an odd position of, "Hey. Don't steal my shit, lest I beat you within inches of your life with the Chicago Manual of Style 16th Edition." Being unknown helps in the beginning, but eventually you have to start thinking like a paranoid, pill popping, mental patient. Maybe I'm just not good with people though? Nah...

It's important to get out there and meet new people. I know that many of my favorite authors spent loads of time just writing material in reams and reams of various journals and serials. Has it gotten easier? Maybe. Chances are, if you are here, you were looking for pornography. Trust me, I am quite handsome. Maybe I should go bi-vocational?

Were I to offer you some advice on the meaning of being an author, I would say this:

Authors are fleshly creatures that need social contact to survive, so get out and contact your local newspaper, or editors directory, or poetry circle for that much needed support. I learned it rather late, but better late than never.

Hit the jump for more!



SW

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Laufey's Treasure - Chapter 11

"Well then," Laufey said, looking between them by the fire, "looks to me that I am the victor." Slowly he reached forward to grab the sausage cooking in the pan.

"Wait now," Kaun objected. "Why do you get it? Who says you won the wager?"

Laufey held back his hand a moment. It was a reasonable problem. He was just hungry. The story was good enough. Anke's was simply filler. Geira above all was the best so far, but she said nothing. Her eyes met his as he thought, they were low and presumptive. For a moment Laufey felt guilty, just a moment.

"I thought we weren't finished with the stories yet?" Amma said confused. "Kaun still has to tell his story. I haven't yet either..."

Laufey suddenly felt himself blushing and nervously looked the other way, which happened to be at Geira. For a moment Geira looked perplexed, but slowly her expression changed to dismay then frustration. Laufey shook his head. "Oh. There you go. Now you've done it," he thought.

"I just thought we could go to sleep," Laufey admitted. He did feel tired actually. "We have another 10 kilometers tomorrow before we reach Gaun."

"I still think I have enough in me for a story," Kaun said beside his brothers. Keli and Kaupi nodded quickly after in agreement.

Amma sighed feeling her head with the back of her hand.

"It's awfully late," she said, "and I feel a bit warm I think." She looked up at the rest of them, smiling weakly. "I think I will turn in."

Beside her Ragna rubbed her back with a gentle expression on her face.

"Why don't you get some rest," she said in a pleasant voice. Amma got up then and walked over to the collection of tents behind the fire. After she had laid down Ragna turned to her brother with a malicious grin folded her arms.

"So I can't tell my story then? You think you'll be bored to death?"

"No," Laufey said, his reply a long, tired admission, "that's not what I meant."

"Then maybe I'll tell a real story then."

"Ugh! Fine, say your stupid little story," said Laufey quickly. Ragna's eyes glinted in the fire victoriously. Straightening up she presided over the flames and began her story.

"There are not many who remember the first game at the arena in Vøma. It was a long time ago, but one can still watch the construct reels in the archives at Sog. Among all the strongest of the warriors that first played, one if them was the fiercest. His name was Tyrnaogh.

"From the far reaches of the North Sea, all the way to the coasts of the simple lands, he was known for his triumphs, so when the first coaches gathered together to make their teams, each of them fought over him, but only The Black won him.

"He succeeded well at his craft. The games were much more brutal then. There were no construct rifle dampeners, nor were there period rests. It was a race to the bitter end. After 10 seasons despite his age he was still winning and none knew why.

"It was at this point that the teams gathered a council and asked themselves what Tyrnaogh did to win his battles. Some said that he prayed to the god of Thunder, others said he had sold his soul for strength, but among them was one voice, a solitary one. He was a pruned old fellow that shook when he spoke.

"'Trynaogh is not who you think him to be. He is not a man of flesh and blood but something else entirely, a relic of the old world that has long departed. I tell you the truth when I say this: he is a machine-man.'

"Each of them looked at one another.

"'Surely this man is insane, said one of the younger players.'

"'How can you say that,' retorted another. 'The man does not bleed.'

"'Then I will expose him,' an up and coming star player called out. She bravely looked at them all, her eyes strong and wise.

"So that night the players of The Black invited Tyrnaogh to the tavern to drink. Tyrnaogh surely came, but he did not drink a single cup of beer, for he said his stomach was unruly that night. But as they talked among one another, the young player watched him.

"'I don't think we've met?' She said coyly sitting close to him at a table. 'Can I ask you a question?'

Tyrnaogh did love women though and kindly let the young player in to be close to him.

"'And what kind of question is it?' He said stroking her thigh. She looked at him and smiled.

"'If Odin-All-Father did indeed make the heavens and everything in them, what he can do is beyond all possibility.'

"Tyrnaogh nodded, smiling, and leaned in close to her,

"'That is what they say,' Tyrnaogh admitted.

"'Then could the All Father create a pig so  strong that he himself could not kill it?'

"Tyrnaogh laughed and began to think aloud.

"'That's a mind teaser, that one. Well that... Is... What do... I. I. I..."

"And he kept on speaking. His words trailing out of his mouth nonsensically, and they all watched him closely until purple blood began to seep from his eyes, mouth, and nose. Then, nothing. Tyrnaogh was dead.

"Speechless they watched the young player in awe, their mouths agape.

"'How did you do that,' one of them said prodding poor Tyrnaogh's body.

"'I destroyed his mind,' she said simply.

"'I know that,' one of them replied. 'But how did you know?'

"Slowly she beckoned them toward her and opened up her arm, and inside it, she glowed brightly in the dim light of the tavern.

"'I know what I know,' she said. 'And he was the last of us.'




Monday, October 21, 2013

Character Foundations: The Silhouette

It's taken nearly 4 drafts of an entire novel before I established the mannerisms and habits of my main character in my upcoming book. I wish I had thought about the challenge I was undertaking before I began, because maybe I could have found who my leading protagonist was a little sooner. I don't believe for a second that the formulas I'm going to give you over the next few weeks would have made my job less difficult. Life experience creates good characters. Nevertheless there are aspects to character development that are critical, and finding a way to mold a character consistently over a large volume of pages is both an art and a procedure. This first lesson deals with Character Sketching. This stage involves creating archetypes and roles for each character. Artists do something similar before sitting down to create concept art for new projects. They arrive on what is called a Silhouette for the character. This is what I will be primarily speaking on today.

Every silhouette starts with a grey bubble. The grey bubble is negative space, and creates an aura for the character. The more iconic a character is, like Bugs Bunny or Popeye, the more distinct their silhouette is. In writing, creating characters involves the same thing.

The difference between a good writer and a bad one involves the silhouettes they create for their character. Good characters are immediately recognizable. They jump off the page, and communicate their voice to the reader as soon as they speak. Why? What allows them to do this so well?

I believe the answer to this lies in the adherence to archetypes. The villains have accents in Disney films, or they are Nazis in Spielberg pictures, but these models are not based on archetypes, but stereotypes. A writer could write a book featuring Nazis but what they are actually writing about is an interpretation of a historical perception of Germans. The same goes for Disney villains, which are just racial stereotypes, and are relied upon for their memorable and familiar traits. These are poor ways to creating a silhouette. What this process should begin with is an archetype.

Now certainly archetypes can be cliche in their own way. The Byronic villain, like Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, is typically jaded and self-destructive. Their own unbridled passions ruin and end friendships and partnerships. This character at it's inception was very appealing and groundbreaking, but by the end of the Romantic period there were many Heathcliffs, and they were all terrible and being the original one. What made the original Heathcliff who he was lied in Emily Brontë's ability to take an existing archetype and make it unique.

Getting Started

Building your character begins with choosing between Hero, or Villain. While one could argue an anti-hero is a category in and of itself, the power of the anti-hero derives from the conceptual framework of the Hero and Villain molds. They just teeter between one another and it gets old. They are predictable. Heros and Villains are predetermined, yes, but they also have tremendous freedom. Think of it like Classical music. Classical music operates on a multitude of regimented rules and tonal regulations, yet there is so much variety and beauty to the classical repertoire. The reason for this is that famous composers accept the limitations of their art while simultaneously deconstructing the approaches to satisfying these expectations to their sound and style. Just like these genres of music, the Hero and the Villain are expectations waiting to be thwarted.

The Villain

Villains don't need to be evil. Likewise, they don't need to be unfair either. They can be role models, soldiers, or struggling pianists. Your character as a villain already is immediately recognizable because he is in opposition to the hero, but the villain can also be passionate about why he/she struggles. Villains do what they do because they are motivated to do something for themselves or for a greater cause they envision themselves to be apart of. Lex Luthor for instance is the nietzschean Superman, a human who have evolved beyond average potential into the what he is now. He hates Superman because the big blue boyscout, as long as he is alive, will always outshine him and make him lesser than what he is. In the words of Grant Morrison via Luthor, even with all our strength and intelligence and intuition, as long as Superman is living and breathing, the man will be a parody of himself. You can't be mad at Luthor for feeling this way, but he is still the villain because he is in opposition to Superman.


The Hero

Rooting for the underdog, the aspiring artist or musician, has always been trendy. The Hero likewise is a difficult archetype to make interesting. The Anti-hero role was developed for this specific difficulty, and it as all but ruined the way storytelling works. Anti-heroes arrive at no resolution other than the insistence that the human race has fallen from grace, and is now mired in cynicism. The Hero to surmount this challenge must then become something more than he/she is to endure. I like Billy Batson from the SHAZAM! comic books because to me he is what a real hero is. Billy's origin story revolves around his being orphaned at a young age, and despite all odds he maintains his good nature, eventually being rewarded for his good heart by the wizard Shazam with the powers of Captain Marvel. Billy must call on the power of someone greater every time he gains his powers. In doing so, he becomes something more when he becomes Captain Marvel, the World's Mightiest Mortal. Billy is the Hero, but his life is far from perfect. He is constantly betrayed and hurt by those around him. He even wishes deep down to stamp out the bullies in his life through lethal force, but he doesn't. The Hero doesn't need to be perfect by any means. They need to, at the end of the day, lift their heads up and do the right thing, selflessly.

You can play with these archetypes as I mentioned before. It is your role as a writer to create a character that fulfills his/her purpose in your story. They need to be immediately recognizable. This can be done through their choice in apparel, or their physical build, but most importantly a character's silhouette is founded on their heart and their role in the narrative. Everything else is fluff.  

Remember that.



SW




Sunday, October 20, 2013

MyGoalBook (iOS) - A Review

I don't usually do this, but occasionally I investigate the productivity market. I like to see what's out there and see what others do to provide tools and means of improving personal productivity. The developers of MyGoalBook, an iOS app developed to help facilitate a regimen of goal achievement, approached me earlier this month to overview their software and give feedback on the app. I suspect that this may happen again so for consistency I will base my reviews on a 4 point system and give my final grade based on a weighted average.

Overview:

MyGoalBook is an app on the ever expanding iOS market founded on the intentions of helping normal people attain a greater proficiency for managing tasks and achieving small goals (and I suspect large ones as well). The software is guided by the principal of the Laws of Attraction, a philosophy developed in the early 20th century associated by the New Thought Movement. The fundamental praxis of the philosophy suggests that thought precedes movement, that by thinking something and holding the expectation that the desired outcome will occur, the chances of the outcome actually happening is increased. The philosophy is motivated by a pantheistic view of spirituality that dictates the divine being fused with all sum total aspects of life. In relation to the app itself, I doubt the mechanisms that the app operates by are truly appreciated. It seems to be there simply for the "wow" factor, and I'm not sure that people are going to truly investigate it. This is probably for the better, considering that the New Thought Movement has been widely panned by philosophers and physicists alike for its shaky foundations and improbable premises.

That being said, this aspect of the app is largely hidden away in a sprawling info section that is 6 panels long (including a 7th for feedback and support).

Functionality: 

Generally the app functions as a surrogate program for Apple's iOS embedded Reminders app, only with an enhanced focus on visual feedback to build familiarity with the goals the user is attempting to achieve. One simply presses "Create Goal," titles it, describes it, and inputs a "Next Step" to help consolidate and make the goal concrete from the get go. The app requires that the user set a date for the suspected goal completion. This seems to strain the atmosphere MyGoalBook is attempting to build, offering a rather structured approach to setting goals. Apple's Reminders app is simple and yet powerful, giving freedom to the user to dertermine what goals to complete and when, without the restrictions of a mandatory completion date. However without the visual associations to goal making that MyGoalBook pushes, often Apple's Reminders app can feel lucid and too fluid for more drawn out and sophisticated goals. Regardless, once the Goal is completed in MyGoalBook, the completed event is pushed to a "Completed Goals" tab, which offers an array of positive visual reinforcement for completing the goal. Also it helps that the user can share their goal setting intentions with others via social media redirects to Facebook and Twitter.

Rating: 3.0 

Presentation: 

I am under the assumption that MyGoalBook is still in beta or in development and that what I received was a developer's build. If that is correct then please disregard the following section. If not, well...

It's a very ugly app, which seems odd given that the driving philosophy that undergirds the program is associated with the New Age movement. I would have assumed the developers to be rather art savvy, but not so with MyGoalBook. There are only 4 backgrounds to choose from in the "Settings" toolbar built into the app, all of them severely clashing with the overall design of the app. The font selections tool, is an odd choice to implement, given that each text option, other than Georgia, severely clashes with the design philosophy of the app. These are not settings that should be changeable. What these options communicate to me is a profound neglect on behalf of the developers to come up with an attractive shell appearance for the app. I've not even brought the general layout of the app into consideration either. Though the bottom tab conveniently locates all essential functions of app, the most critical aspect of the program, the "Completed Goals" tab presents the hallmark of your achievement enshrined in a stretched, circa 1997 "completed" graphic splayed across the Goal description. I mentioned earlier that using visuals to motivate the user to completing the goal by making it tangible was a strength the app displayed. It is unfortunate then that the picture, which can be ported from the Camera Roll or taken from an embedded camera inside the app, appeared distorted on the page (stretched lengthwise or by width depending on the orientation). I am using an iPhone 5 mind you. So it would make sense that the app isn't optimized for the iPhone 5 screen just yet. Considering however that the iPhone 5 has been out for a year, this again makes the developers appear lazy.

Rating: 1.0

Execution: 

One of the most important aspects of productivity software in any form is clearly defining the intentions of the software. If the software is supposed to assist in making budgets more manageable, then the software should communicate this aspect through function and form. MyGoalBook, to me at least, conveys to me that I can use this software to set goals for myself. This is a good thing, and I'm glad that this software can convey this. However what is missing is the "why" of goal setting. The info tab that conveys the mission statement of the app is rather vague. Why am I setting this goal? Why is it important that I do? MyGoalBook is broadly focused but misses the opportunity to refine exactly what the goals are being set for. Everyone has aspirations to do something big or small. These goals however generally fall into specific categories. Setting goals associated with physical health, financial stability, job finding, home repair, these are much more concrete and allow the user to really lock into their goals with intention. Self actualization is a good reason to improve oneself, but having a reason to self actualize helps. Here I just don't see why I should care about setting goals.

Rating: 2.5


In conclusion I think that MyGoalBook is a strong first effort from an aspiring company that desires their customers to take control of their lives through realistic, day by day approaches to setting personal benchmarks. It's a shame then to see that what functionally works in the app is so bogged down by horrible design and awkward execution.

Total Score:  2.1 of 4.0

Friday, October 18, 2013

Keeping the Faith

When you hit a milestone, the little things that kept you going change a bit. It's funny what a promotion or a wedding or a funeral can do to a person. Recently I was upgraded to the morning shift at work. It's nice to be able to work and get all your "day job" duties out of the way. Strangely I find it a lot like being in High School, only the stoners that I work with now can be themselves. 

It's been about a year and a half since I've had a regular shift that gave me the nights off. You don't think about it often, but those things called sunsets? Wow. Speechless. You forget the little things like going out on dates and seeing movies and eating at a regular hour. Funny thing is that I now have it, and absolutely hate it. 

Alas, those are the breaks of the day job, I guess. It's always the people that make them bearable, and if you are working 40 hours a week on a team that has no idea what teamwork is then everything falls apart. I'm almost positive that you (reader) would chose to work with people you loved, over people you hated any day of the week. I reserve my judgement and assume that I am correct in thinking this.  



I have started work on the 4th (and hopefully final) draft of my manuscript. I got a lot of great feedback from a few lucky so-and-so's that took a read to it. My job now is to refine the diction and thin out some of the long winded moments. So far I am feeling really good about the project. 

The greatest hurdle is separating the voices and making the characters distinguishable. (That was quite a process in and of itself.) I came up with a nifty way to do it that I wanted to share with you though. I started by drawing up a list with all my main characters and then began to cast them as if the book was now a film. The result, I found, was that when I am imagining an actor in my head speaking it's a tremendous help to understanding the dialogue flowing between the characters. It's a subtle bonus as well to hear Russel Crowe reading your lines, but that's besides the point.



It's a constant battle though to understand what the final edits actually are. It's so tempting to simply go back and rewrite large portions of dialogue and description, but I've come to accept my old writing. The result of combining new dialogue with my older descriptions makes for an interesting read so far. I am holding out hope that the trend continues. 

The graphic novel is still saving space in my brain, but I am trying to crank out the book first. I should have more information on that once my artist resumes his work on it. We have sketches though! I love concept sketching...

I'll have more for you soon otherwise. Stay in touch! If you like what you see you can follow me on twitter @EyesOfFjolne 



SW

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Laufey's Treasure - Chapter 10

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 10

"I beat him fair and square. The troll wasn't too happy about it. He reclined against his chair underneath the shade of the tent awning and pouted a moment.

"'Never works,' he said grumpily. 'I figured you for a bad rhymer. Dol, dee dumb old me.'

"The monster shook his head. His eyes were tired, and slowly he got up and started walking away. It was pitiful to watch him. So, holding the construct map tightly in my grasp I called out to him. 

"'Creature,' I said. 'Tell me a story. I'll pay you with a gold piece if the tellin's good. What say you?'

"He didn't say much at first, maybe yawned, but that was it. I knew he was trying to figure me out. I could tell by the way he looked at me. He was so intense, and focused. Then, he finally came back to his seat, saw the gold piece I had laid out in the palm of my hand and he leaned back proudly.

"'You're a nice fella,' he said. 'Charitabul and kind t' your elders.' 

"He leaned into me real close. I could smell his breath. It was awful, like putrefied fish.

"'My stories are worth far more than a gold piece.' He smiled at me expectantly. 'There are a few of my yarns worth tha' kind o' salt. 

"'And what makes you think that I can't offer you more for a better tale?' I said. Quickly I jerked my hand away from him, the one that had the money. This time he frowned.

"'Fine then,' he said. 'You want a tale? I'll give you a tale. Ever hear of the Last Age? If you haven't then shut up! I want to tell it brand new. A tale's no good if you've heard it twice.

"Still I shook my head. There were many stories and theories, what may or may not have happened. Each entailed when mankind came out once more from the rubble, to start over. I remembered most of them being told to me by my father. The troll was old though, maybe even old enough to remember what it was like before.

"'Alright,' I said, keeping my eye on him, 'lets hear it.'

"'Ah, well then. It'll be a good one you'll see.' He stretched out his hand over the display and an colorful window came up out of the fabric of the table. It was a construct, his memories entwined. I saw a world filled with people, choked by them. The world was different, one of crisis, or fear. It was difficult to tell which. I saw great, golden construct signs, larger than I had ever thought possible, sustained far above the earth like halos, shining down from the heavens. Above it all was one brooding like a crimson star."

"'That one,' he said pointing to it with a hairy finger. 'Yeah, that's 'im alright. I forgot his name, bloody marvelous man.'

"'Who was he?' I asked. The troll snarled, wiping his nose disgruntled.

"'e was the future. Everything we could've hoped for. He did things that none of us thought possible. Then, just like that, all gone.' The troll made a motion with his hands, leveling out the fabric and changing the scene. I saw then a man up close, the one the beast was referring to. He looked tired, worn away by time. At his side was a creature, human, but not. Whatever it was, it was too perfect, like a god. It was his guardian, his protector.

"'Destroyed the world 'e did,' the Troll said, shaking his head sadly. 'Did so much for it, and eventually it got to 'im I guess. Funny that a man with so much power would hate having so much of it.'

"'What was his power?' I asked, looking up at the troll. The beast shrugged. He had not forgotten, no, he simply had blotted it out of his mind like a painful memory too great to endure.

"'Who knows. 'e was my father. I was the sparkle in 'is eye. Once I was a weapon, or meant to be. When it all happened we were freed and set upon the Earth. Didn't know what to do then, all of us. Some of us died in indecision. Some killed for food, ate humans, ugh...' The creature made a sour expression. 'Many of us watched, like me. We watched it all burn. After a 'undred, two 'undred years, they all forgot about us, made legends about what we were. Funny thing, that. I'm as human as you.'

"Grinning proudly, the creature poked me hard in the chest. It hurt, only a little though. Nodding at nothing, just staring off with dead eyes, he paused then looked back at me.

"'Keep your money,' the troll said finally getting up once more, this time never to return. 'I'm out of stories today. Come back again, if you wish.'

"I heard my father call me in the distance then, faintly. I knew it was him. I knew I should go but something burned in me. I had to know.

"'Creature,' I said. 'What is your name?'

"Slowly the troll looked back, his eyes eerily glowing in the darkness.

"'Magnus," he said, treasuring the syllables.

"'It's Magnus.'    

  

Monday, October 14, 2013

World Building Basics: In-group/Out-group

This is the last of our series on world building. I particularly left this one to the end for a particular reason, so be prepared. It'll be heavy!


I think that the final component to a story, what really makes it click, lies in implementing some form of class conflict in the greater narrative. If you are bent on making a world functional and realistic, be prepared to get your hands dirty. The real world is full of evil people, specifically those that malign and hurt others out of cruelty and bigotry. To make a world convincing, some elements of these humanitarian crimes must be wielded. My objective today is to show you how this is executed. Keep in mind that this is all done to emphasize realism. I think sometimes we can mistake "gritty" for "realism," in that by taking a story and making it dark and brooding one can create something resonant and powerful. This isn't our objective here. Two hundred years ago Jews were persecuted all over Europe by hateful denizens of all walks of life. To gloss over the fact that it happened is one thing, but to forget it entirely is another. Your book needs to remind people of the Human Experience, the good, the bad, and the atrocious.

Psychologists have done lots of work on in-group/out-group research and during my time at UCSB I was able to glean a few of their case studies that were made available to us students while we were taking our courses. One study stands out to me. I forget the name, but the premise follows this logic: take a randomly selected group of kids of varying ethnicity and pit them against another group and watch them develop discriminatory patterns based on their social grouping. The studies show that we naturally develop cultural associations by labeling others. This is the perpetrator of racism and classism and bigotry of all shades.

I suggested earlier that social fabric creates the cultural milieu that your story takes place in. In-group/out-group dynamics will be worn over this social fabric like a pin. Remember that racism and classicism are garnishes, one of many aspects of a sprawling world. Don't overkill the bigotry. It will just come off as campy. Allow the reader to fill in the blanks and visualize this culture as one built on the backs of the many. How specific you are and who becomes the object of your bigotry will temper your world.

Name calling, and other incendiary phrases should be articulated with care. Obviously if a character in your book is discriminated against, based off of an external characteristic perhaps, the derogatory language needs to have weight and personally injure the characters that these insults are leveraged against. Just saying, "go home black skinned humanoid," isn't enough. These insults need to be commentaries of their own, which slander various aspects of the lower orders.

This discrimination should carry over to the setting as well. I'm sure you have all seen a film where there are poor slums and rich areas blended together. Los Angeles is one of these places. It should be clear then that the places where these people live are associated with strife and difficulty. Often the slums serve as symbols of oppression. They are the cages that imprison undesirable minorities and sequester them away from society. A demoralizing structure of power will break down the facade that these places are simply creations in the author's imagination. What's more is that their oppressors are placing the poor there to remind them of the permanence of the class disparity. Playing around with this idea has worked for me thus far. Always remember one thing though: This takes quite a long time to research and develop.

I have some more I could add but will leave it to you to give me feedback on the lesson, what you thought, etc.

I realize though in retrospect that this article didn't post correctly on Monday. Sorry about that. You know how it is, computers.



SW

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Wedding For A Good Friend

Usually I post longwinded blogs about my life every friday. Today my attention is elsewhere, believe it or not. My good, and dearest friend Matt is getting married to his beautiful fiancé Allison. I am a groomsman in this affair mind you, so I am busy as shit helping them plan and get their things in order for the big day.

Yesterday we did a great bachelor party, all organized by my artist for my upcoming graphic novel, Phil Kiner. An evening replete with fondu, hipster cafes, and luxury rental minivans, it was a blast.

Today we do the rest of the stuff. Dress rehearsals, a dinner, and the final night. Should pan out nicely. God is good, yeah?

I love you all! Stay tuned for next week. I've got a lot of good material ready to share.



SW

   

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Laufey's Treasure - Chapter 9

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 9

"'And the man was young again?'" Kaun repeated aloud. His face was soured, completely robbed of satisfaction.

"Jesus Christ, Anke. That ending's awful!" he continued. 

"Hold on now," Laufey said holding up his hand, "Kaun, really? You are unbelievable!"

Kaun shrunk a little and looked away remorsefully.

"Apologize," Amma said, looking uncomfortably cross, "what an awful thing to say to somebody."

"I didn't like it, that's all." Kaun mumbled innocently.

"I didn't like it either," Laufey retorted swiftly,  "but you just don't say things like that."

"Hey," began Anke, looking up at Laufey.

"Not now," they all said at once, looking at Anke.

"It sounded like he made up most of it," continued Kaun. "Where was the rising action, the plot, the characterization?"

"I admit it was a bit bland," murmured Amma with a nod.

"Well If you know so much about stories," said Kaun, sounding indignant, "then why don't you tell one, a good one."

They all looked around one another pensively, Laufey on guard against all of them. Anke just sank in his seat, mortified with embarrassment. Laufey saw this and felt sorry for his friend. He did recall volunteering the boy only a handful of minutes ago. So after another long pause between the rest of them in the silence of the night, Laufey felt brave once more and thought of a tale he had heard growing up. It was his favorite tale to tell, and rather appropriate.

"Fine," Laufey said. "I'll tell you a good one."


"I met a troll once. People say that trolls are stupid but that isn't true at all. Some are stupid, maybe most of them, but a handful you can talk with. I've heard people say that they are only of habit to live under bridges, but that also isn't true. I met this one in a town up north.

"I was with my dad, going on a trip to visit relatives. The journey was long and difficult, but we were both strong, me and him. Nothing could wear us down, not even a blizzard.

"We came into the town and he was the first thing I saw, the troll I mean. He was a big bastard, probably 7 to 9 feet tall. He wasn't incredibly ugly, but he was definitely a troll. His face was covered in hair, just like they say in the books. He was running a stand vending trinkets, the kind that no one cares about. But I had to look. I love trinkets of all kinds.

"When my father was stolen away by his uncle I sneaked off and found the troll. He was humming a little tune: 'Dee dol dum dum deedilly doo dum dum what do they call the greatest one?' I didn't care much for it. Trolls smart or stupid aren't the greatest of singers.

"When I approached the table he looked at me and said in a low throaty voice, 'Three guesses, one prize. Try your luck little man?'

"His wares were something else. There was a construct wand braided with gold and silver. It looked incredible, probably a vintage one from way back. Next to it was this here construct map, and beside that was a dagger. They didn't sound like much, but one of them I hold now in my hand and is the subject of our quest..."

"Hold on," Kaun objected. "Why would you tell us that one of the prizes was your map there? Now we know the end of the story!"

Laufey smiled proudly and sat up tall gazing at them through the flames. 

"Oh really?" he said. "Be patient preacher-born, I haven't even gotten started yet..."

"Yeah, you would tell this story," Ragna said sarcastically. "Sheesh..."

Laufey looked at them both and folded both his arms. 

"No, this story isn't mine exactly."

Hearing this, they all leaned in with cautious curiosity painted on their faces, even Geira.

"It's the troll's story," Laufey said, smugly, and took a bite out of his sausage. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

World Building Basics: Architecture

I have taken a lot of classes on history and culture in my time as a student. So, I find it remarkable that the topic of architecture has been passed over, if not subtly marginalized for the sake of other topics. The way I look at it, culture is important, but the places that contain culture (ie. buildings and civic structures) are just as important, serving to emphasize worth and importance of what is inside these structures. I will state here that I am not an architecture student, but I know what the "building" does in the narrative.

It all begins with the atmosphere you are trying to convey. Obviously a story set in the apocalypse will feature many myriads of burnt, scarred structures, but what about a story set in modern day America? There are three dynamics here to consider.

Mood

The mood of a narrative can be expressed in many ways. Speaking characters, artwork, and settings all are explicit outlets for sharing the mood of the story with the reader. Architecture is more implicit. Buildings don't speak in stories but there can be subtle cues written in to the descriptions of buildings to help emphasize a certain characteristic of your story. Understand that I am not referring to sentences like, "The lonely house perched itself high above the treeline, obscured by the misty mountain air." This description focuses on the placement of the house, it's setting. The building instead should make a statement about the people that live inside it. What does the house smell like? How many people live inside it? What about the structure aides the perception that those who live there are snobby or pretentious? Here's an example:

"The grand patio's high walls obscured Main Street, allowing only those of lesser privileged classes to peer through the iron gates to observe the doings of Lord Wesley."

The description here brings the reader's attention to the reclusive and sectarian atmosphere provided by Lord Wesley's manor home. By adding little details like the placement of a fence outside of a populated area or the high walls encasing the patio the reader is aware that Lord Wesley's is exclusive and reserved. This is a place that entertains guests, but only in the context of special occasions.

Style

For period setting stories considering the style of architecture is very important. When I researched my own novel I spent a while looking at homes in Norway. I was interested in their structure, the wood that was used for their construction, as well as how buildings were designed to help reduce damage against the elements. This is all rather technical but I actually found that researching helped me find some creative ways of integrating how the buildings were designed into the plot. For instance, almost every home in the rural areas of Norway have basements. This is to insure that the ground water below the structure doesn't freeze and cause damage to the home's foundation. Also a lot of the wood is chemically treated to resist the harsh weather conditions brought on by the snowy months. Newer homes in Norway are less susceptible to these kinds of hazards but older homes still find a vulnerability. Likewise, if a narrative took place in the Middle East, there would need to be elements of the story that help emphasize how the style of architecture matches the environment the story takes place in. Think about it like that perhaps.

Space

Depending on whether or not the story takes place in a densely populated environment or an isolated wilderness, your story can emphasize the depth and space that the setting has to offer by the architecture of your structures. Large cities generally have many tight spaces and narrow streets which serve to maximize what little space the citizens have left to develop on. The sense of pressure and claustrophobia brought on by these constrictions feeds the state of mind of the characters. I found that studying architecture in the 80s was really interesting because it was during the era that some of the most ugly buildings were made. It wasn't intentional mind you. The architects back then were more utilitarian. The structure served to carry out a function, not have anything innately special about it. It wasn't until the late 90s and early 2000s that this changed and structures once more were designed to be aesthetically pleasing.

Isolated structures should convey open, unoccupied terrain to make the characters feel small. A large open tundra with a single solitary hut or circle of homes on a ridge shows the reader how massive and threatening the depth of your world is. Generally the buildings in open environments can be ornate if they are apart of a larger group of buildings, but less is better in this particular setting. A barren cabin emphasizes the open expanses of unoccupied land. If there are useful objects in a cabin they should be immediately useful to the protagonist. Consider that next time and it will definitely make your story more interesting during the during their out tings.




SW 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Creation Addict

Character concept brainstorming is one of my favorite things to do. This past Monday I got the chance to do that with my artist Phil Kiner. My mind was totally blown by what we came up with. After making some headway we parted ways, but soon we are due for another brainstorming session.

Right now I am in the phase of writing scripts. The process is slow going, but methodical. I'd prefer to write a story properly the first time, but that's never the case. I'll write an issue or two, develop the character and then return to older scripts to retool the language and make it match the feel of later characterization. It's rather embarrassing to go back and read the old captions. Why, at that moment, did I believe she/he would sound like that? Where was my mind when I choreographed this fight sequence? Why did I leave this in when it's just filler? Etc, etc, etc.

Seeing the process on paper is different. It's hard to describe why the experience is so exhilarating to me. Watching something that weighs nothing and it made of nothing come to live in physical space is incredible. Every line has a personality. Every shadow displaces the page, giving it space and depth. I wonder sometimes how much Batman weighs in real life. Coming up with an answer is as difficult as you'd imagine. Understanding that a fictional character weighs nothing, yet still affects you is harder still. They aren't real. It's the ink that makes us believe otherwise.

So while I was creating the characters I had these expectations of what they would look like. I never thought twice about what Phil interpreted. He seemed to be familiar with these characters already. It's a good thing that we have affinity in our vision. When working with him however, there were moments where I was surprised at the way he developed my descriptions. I wasn't sure about some of his choices at first. It wasn't until after I became acclimated with them that I realized that I was dealing with real (fake) people. These were autonomous creatures that operated outside of my control. I felt rather relieved by my lack of control, actually.

So now it's back to the drawing board. I've had to go and organize my life around a bit. I am writing this on Thursday around 6pm. Actually preparing a post before you schedule it to be published is odd for me. I always wrote them the day of, mostly to challenge myself. Good thing it did! Now I can write with that backbone of experience in advance. One of the bonuses of working the morning shift now.

Life is alright. I can feel it!




SW

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Laufey's Treasure - Chapter 8

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 8

"Oh," Amma sighed pleasantly, "What a lovely story."

"Eww!" Keli cried, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

"Oh stop it." Laufey chided the boy and saw Geira indifferent to the boy's criticism. "You'll hurt the girl's feelings." He added quickly. Suddenly Geira twitched and flashed an agitated glace at him.

"I think I speak for all of us when I say that it was pretty good," Kaun said after a moment of silence. "My brother is stupid. He doesn't like girls yet." This roused a chuckle in Amma, covering her mouth politely. Meanwhile, Keli was red as a berry. Before he could attack his brother. Anke shifted in his seat, suddenly alert and looked around him. 

"This place freaks me out," he grunted, "Why are we not staying in a town again?"

"What?" Laufey said, "'fraid of trolls?"

"You want a good story, I'll tell you a good story," Kaun said proudly, looking between Anke and Laufey. 

"I bet it's a ghost story," Giera said dispassionately. When Kaun suddenly frowned, lowering his head, Giera sighed impatiently.

"Why am I not surprised..."

Laufey saw the group decay before his eyes. It worried him, the bad morale. He actually quite enjoyed Geira's story, though he wasn't prepared for the romantic ending. No, he didn't like much like the romantic tales. She had always struck him as the contemplative one. No doubt, somewhere in her was a romantic bone. 

"You tell the tale next, Anke," said Laufey. 

The child's eyes looked back at his confused. Laufey nudged him.

"I know you have a good one, eh?" he said once more. 

Anke nodded gravely. He was shy, Laufey reckoned.    

"Okay," he said with finality, "a story, right. Okay."

Stretching out his hands over the fire, Anke warmed him hands then clapped them together dramatically. Then, he gazed into the fire.

"Many years ago my dad heard of a man who wandered the land. He told me he was tall, thin, not at all likable or the hero someone would think about. There wasn't much to him... But he was nice. Tall people generally are pretty nice, especially him.

"One day my father told me a story about him.

"Long ago there were these people who wanted to live forever. Everyone wants to live forever. That's what my dad told me. So to make them live forever the people made a medicine that would do it. When it was finished they looked at each other, afraid to speak until the shortest of them said proudly, 'Well... we can't just stand here.'

"That what they did for a while, but then one of them had an idea.

"'Let's grow someone -- they could do that then-- and give them the medicine. Maybe then we could try it out.' 

"The people did it eventually. You know, grow someone? It took a long time. But when they finally gave the medicine to their person they grew, that person died. It made them really sad to see this, so they tried again, and again, and again. Some of the people got mad though. They wondered if what the other people were doing was wrong. After all, it seemed mean to the people they grew. When the others didn't care the first people went away and never came back.

"After so many years of trying, the people who stayed finally made the Tall man, and he was good. He was strong and handsome, even though he was tall and skinny-- people don't always need big muscles to be handsome. But when they came to the tall, skinny man to give him the medicine, he said no, and that made the other people very angry.

"'I am alive,' he said. 'I deserve to choose for myself!' 

"But the people wouldn't let the man leave.

"'You are going to make us live forever,' they said. 'Why do you care? You don't know who you are.'

"But the Tall man did. He knew who he was. It made him sad that they didn't care about him.

"After many hours they walked away, feeling frustrated, but the Tall man knew that they would be back, and then he would die. So, one day, he escaped. They looked for him for days, but they couldn't find him. The Tall man was proud of himself, he told my dad. He had found freedom. As the years went on, they never came back. He was still alive, but somewhere he knew they were dying. 

"So one day the Tall man was walking, and he saw an old beggar by the road. He gave the beggar some money, because he was nice, and sat down next to the old man to keep him company.

"'It's a nice day,' the old man said. The Tall man agreed. 'I never thought I'd see you again.

"When the Tall man heard this he turned to face the beggar and saw the head doctor he knew all those years ago, the short one. He was all wrinkly and old looking, like my Farfar used to be. The Tall man wasn't sure what to do though. He just blinked and nodded slowly. 

"'Why did we do it,' the old man continued slowly. 'I don't know. I forgot why. Life just passed me by.'

"'Really?' The Tall man looked over at the beggar. He saw his bony arms, his spotted face and pruned face. He felt sorry for the man. 

"'Who wants to live forever, huh? Tck! It's foolish. I thought so much about trying to live longer that I forgot that I was already alive.'

"The Tall man nodded. He hadn't thought of it like that. In fact he hadn't realized that so much time had passed. He didn't look anything like the man too, which was strange. He never took the medicine. 

"'Maybe it's time to sleep now,' said the old man. Out of his jacket he took out a dirty vial. It was the same one that the Tall man once saw all those years ago. It was the one with the medicine in it. The stuff that would make them always young, forever and ever. 

"The Tall man wanted to do something but he could not. The old man took the medicine and sighed. He relaxed and passed off into a deep sleep. Sitting up the Tall man looked down on the doctor. He felt the tears come out and wet his cheeks. Before he left he felt it was right to stay a little while longer and gave the man a hug. It felt good. Letting go of the old man the, Tall man smiled. He smiled because he was glad.

"The doctor looked young again.