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Fictional Discipline





Updated: 2015-09-16T13:41:15.138-04:00

 



Yes, Indeed

2008-06-25T13:03:32.602-04:00

Dear Friends,

Why do you look for the living among the dead?




Just kidding! I don't have a messiah complex.




But I do have a new website.




Check it out.




Later!




http://www.stanmanx.com




(I'll be checking comments here for a while, though, so let me know if you have viewing/commenting issues)



Get Smart, the movie

2008-06-24T14:02:35.664-04:00

Don't leave! Also, don't punch me in the nose! Movies are fine, really!

I recently saw Get Smart, and while I don't have the patience to write a real review, I will say that it's awesome (also, frikkin sweet). However, the point of this blog isn't so much to talk about how great it was, but to analyze one of the things that worked, which can be applied to fiction writing in general.

I'm referring to the character of Maxwell Smart. He underscores the failure of all other writers to produce a believable highly-trained-yet-inept main character. Think of any movie starring a cop/spy/CEO/coach who is incapable of doing his job, but due to a series of coincidences and a whole lotta heart, he is able to save the day and get the girl. These movies are typically comedies, and we typically forgive the writers for this because we don't know any better.

The key to Max's success as a character is that he is not inept. Far from it! He's meticulous, fluent in Russian, a good shot, a quick thinker, and generally has good people skills. Additionally, he is accident prone, a little too detail-oriented at times, and sometimes says or does the wrong thing, but for reasons that make sense on some level.

In other words, he's a pretty well-rounded character whose more hilarious aspects are played up for the sake of comedy. The laughter comes from thinking, "This guy is highly trained! How can he do that?", rather than the typical, "Wow, that guy is not even qualified for the insane levels of responsibility he has! He would never even be in that position in the real world!"

See the difference? In Max's case, the audience believes his character earned his position, and the tension comes from seeing character flaws in action. In other comedies in this vein, the source of tension is the audience's disbelief that "that idiot" ever got to "where he's at." Overall, I think Maxwell Smart is more successful.

But hey, that's just me...



A mess of descriptions

2008-06-23T14:48:03.321-04:00

The desk itself was wobbly, which enhanced the aura of disarray. It wasn't just the half-empty box of allergy meds or the assorted papers that had piled up over the course of weeks. The pens were sticking out at different angles, and some were in upside-down. He had two pairs of glasses -- the one that gave him headaches, and the one that took them away -- one of which was balanced precariously on the edge of the desk.


----

Speaking of headaches, I've got a killer one.



9 minutes

2008-06-20T13:25:12.918-04:00

I need to say something, and I have to say it fast. There isn't much time! I've just discovered that I drive through some kind of wormhole or cross-dimensional transit whatsit during my commute to work, and the recent rainstorms and power outages have caused it shift slightly -- it only spans the southbound half of the road! This is a problem! What if I'm already home when I get home? Where the hell am I supposed to park? But I can't very well drive north in the southbound lane during rush hour, because that could very well be fatal, and if I die in this universe, who is going to tell my wife?

Four minutes! This communique will be disrupted and possibly disappear from existence so you need to act now! For only twelve payments of fourteen ninety five you can get me the hell out of here! I'm stuck in a world where



which is why I think a few minutes a day is better, in the long run, than several hours once a week. Well, looks like lunch is over. Take care!



no visuals

2008-06-19T22:27:47.871-04:00

My great grandparents lived in a mobile home park off some busy highway or another. There was a small playground across from their house -- I remember there was a slide and some swings, and maybe one of those things that you spin around on until the earth rotates in reverse. A short walk in the opposite direction led to a pool. If I sit still and close my eyes, I can feel the water caress my face, taste the chlorine on my hands as I give in to the nailbiting urge, already deeply rooted in my six year old psyche. When I climb out, the cement is both rough and slippery beneath my feet, and if I move too quickly, someone cautions me not to run. It's hard -- I really want to jump back in.

I can't remember the layout of the pool.

Traffic roared like a home game arena. It wasn't noticeable from the pool, but we could see the cars from the playground. The smell of baking blacktop was ever-present in the summer, like the noise of the traffic. It was comforting. It was a part of who my great grandparents were.

At some point they moved out of the park and into a house with my aunt. I was getting older, starting to see them less. My aunt got married and moved away; my great grandparents moved into an assisted living facility. I occasionally joined my mom when she went to see them, but even at sixteen it's hard to understand the impermanence of life. They died while I was studying music in Memphis. It was very difficult to hurt, which left me feeling guilty. The people I got most excited to see as a child were gone, and I couldn't even cry at the news.

I work in an office on some busy highway or another. As I step outside to walk to my car, the smell of baking blacktop and the roar of traffic hit me. I stop and close my eyes; fragments of memories swirl around me, whispering, laughing. A lump forms in my throat and I run to my car and nearly drop my keys as I'm getting in. I scroll through the list of contacts I never call until I reach my wife's name. She picks up; my breathing evens out. I let her know I'm on my way.



Awesome

2008-06-18T13:28:14.854-04:00

I made a couple tweaks around this here blog. The most obvious one is the totally flippin sweet banner, courtesy of my frikkin awesome wife. Seriously. She rocks.

The other one is that I changed the bullet image. Flowers? No thanks. It's now a circle, also courtesy of my wife because I am that lazy.
  • check
  • it
  • out
I'm pretty pleased. I always liked the colors of this theme, but it came with too many frills and laces for my liking. Now I like it much more.

I also put in some writing time last night. Not too much, but enough to get the proverbial ball rolling. That's always exciting. Normally when I'm working on a story, I just start writing and see what happens, then go back and rewrite it several times. That process kind of blows with longer works because starting from scratch leads to trashing everything and making something completely different. For this one, I decided to try starting with a plot outline to see if a clear sense of direction helps keep me focused. I think part of the reason my longer stuff tends to fall to pieces is because I reach a point where I don't know what to do, and therefore do nothing. Not the best approach. Maybe this approach will help. Maybe not. We'll see.



Variations on "The Blank Page"

2008-06-17T12:07:45.105-04:00

Anyone who has ever attempted to maintain a regular writing schedule has written and expounded on the following sentence:
I'm sitting at my desk, staring at the blank computer screen, wishing I could think of something to write.
It's a good standby because it inevitably leads to something, even if that something is just "more writing." I've seen introspective pieces about writer's block, fantastic alien abduction stories, and bizarre stream-of-consciousness....experiments. Complaining about being unable to write can lead to wonderful places.

Unfortunately, complaining about not having time to write just leads to procrastination. Maybe. I guess my complaining has all been verbal, rather than written, which is undoubtedly the problem. Here are some interesting facts about my activities in the last month or so:
  • Close to 100 hours of Pokemon
  • Probably 20 hours of Lego Star Wars
  • Watching assorted movies and TV shows on an almost nightly basis
  • Complaining about how I never write, never exercise, and never read (for recreation or for learning)
Yeah, I really don't have time to write. I just have time to screw around and let my dreams die. It requires a whole lot less effort, anyway.

My main problem, really, is that I don't make the effort at home. Instead, I try to write while I'm at work (like I am now, actually). I start a new post and stare at the empty text field. Then someone says something funny, and I get distracted. Then I eat food. Then I work and try to cram thoughts in while queries are running. It's not the right environment. So I sit here, not knowing what to write, with an empty text field in front of me, cursor blinking like a silent metronome of judgment.... and so on. And look where it has led! There are words.



Writing for Marketing

2008-06-12T14:20:44.655-04:00

I wrote marketing copy at my company for a while. It was kind of off and on, and they recently hired someone else who is going to be taking over (thankfully). A more scholarly person would draw comparisons between writing fiction and writing to sell stuff, but all I have to say is that in both cases you are making stuff up.

The experience was kind of eye-opening for me. At first I was excited about learning a new technique, and how to think from a different perspective. But it got old. Especially when I was writing glowing praises for a piece of software that is as bugged as the Nixon-era White House. Most especially when I learned that a customer had already been using said software for over a year.

The boss man is a smart guy. He knows stuff. He also has a tendency to assume his employees know nothing, so meetings with him last forever. In those meetings, he spent a lot of time talking about how placing restraints on the creative process allows for more potent creativity from the writer -- something I have long believed, on account of everything I've read and written. But he also wanted to come up with a Detailed Marketing Copy Writing and Editing Super Good Stuff Process so that a person with no knowledge of our software could write the same calibur marketing documents that I could (note: I'm involved in design and testing, so I know our software pretty well). This is where I start to smell something funny.

I'm going to assume that anyone reading this is somewhat familiar with the hero's journey. I think it's a wonderful outline for an epic tale. However, I think it takes more than just that outline to craft a good story. A writer needs to approach the hero's journey with unique characters, different settings, and an assortment of devices to set it apart from every other hero's journey. So why not create a more specific hero's journey template? It could include all of the stock characters you need, all of the locations, and even the conversations that need to happen. Excellent! What happens after someone writes that story? Do we just keep writing the same one over and over, and just change the names?

That was pretty much what my experience with marketing copy was, only I spent far, far more time creating outlines and templates for writing pieces than I did actually writing them. It was ridiculous.

And the boss actually made a comment at one point about how marketing writing was useful, unlike fiction or something you write "for yourself." Sure thing. Deception in the name of filling someone else's pockets. I'm not sure how that's useful, since people will be pretty pissed off when our programs crash and halt their productivity.



For the sake of accountability

2008-06-10T08:43:50.209-04:00

OpenOffice tells me I just put 688 words toward a new story. It's one that I have many pages of ideas on, but no actual story. Well, now it's 688 words of story. I'm pumped. It's so worth being frickin exhausted at work all day tomorrow.

But that's a boring entry, so I'll leave a little something called "Things I Would Say versus Things I Wish I Had the Stones to Say."

The Line: "Well, it's not that we don't want to let you work from home regularly to reduce your gas expenses, it's just that we need to think about the kind of precedent it will set with other employees and how to address it before we can move forward."
What I Would/Did Say: "I understand. There has to be a real reason for it, otherwise people might get upset and bitter."
What I Wish I Had the Stones to Say: "Your existing precedent is that you don't care about any of your employees until they try to quit, at which point you realize the company is doomed without them and agree to let them work from home. So, yeah, you need to figure out how to spin that so people don't mistakenly believe you have their best interests in mind."

Sorry there isn't really a punchline in there. People do this sort of thing all the time (obviously myself included), and it's interesting to see how two completely different characters can exist as pieces of the same mind. I guess I look at it as a lesson that creating unique voices isn't as difficult as it can seem at the outset, because sometimes all it takes is a different degree of restraint to make the leap from polite guy to mister road rage.



diurnal nocturnal

2008-06-06T15:18:34.125-04:00

He sat on the edge of the ruined high rise and looked over the tangle of trees and assorted flora that twisted through the city.

Just gotta make dawn. The pale glow on the horizon made his head spin. He planted his hands on the edge of the building and took a breath.

"You look like hell." His dead brother appeared next to him.

"It's the curse."

"I think it's the number of days you've gone without sleep."

"I'll sleep at dawn."

"You really should get some rest." It was his mother now, who, as far as he knew, was still living out west.

"At dawn." He forced his chin up and his eyes wide (once more alone). The cool air briefly soothed the itching.

He'd become aware of the curse on his third day without sleep. Something overtime behind schedule a pressing project at work it was a long time ago how's she doing He had been working on something and forgot to sleep. When his boss came to tell him to take a day off and get some sleep, a tiny worm had jumped in his ear and taken control of his brain. A coworker passed by a moment later and two worms leapt from the bossworm into the other guy's brain.

He fled. But he knew the worm was inside his head saying sleep rest one moment close your eyes just relax SHUT UP He didn't want to risk letting the wiggly bastard gain control so he resolved to stay awake until

"Why dawn?" Deadbrother again.

"The curse will die."

"How can a curse die?"

"It's a..." he wiggled his index finger "thing."

"Worm?"

"Yeah."

Deadbrother shrugged. "You plan on fixing up the city or something?"

"Huh?"

"Look at this place, all overgrown. You got a plan?"

"Find survivors, I guess."

"You're not worried about getting another" Deadbrother drew circles around his ear with his finger "thing?"

He was silent for a moment. "I bet I'm immune now."

"Let's hope."

He watched the vines wind their way among the trees and up the buildings. This would be a hard fight long fight tough fight since the living would likely be cursed.

The sun peered over the edge of the world, growing taller and wider under his gaze. Come on come one come on

When it was halfway up, it stopped. After a moment, it began to sink, taking it's warmth and light and hope with it. "What the hell!" The sky grew dark again.

He jumped to his feet and shook his fist. "Get your ass out here, you bastard!"

Slowly, deliberately, a glowing middle finger rose above the horizon.



Policy and Process

2008-06-05T11:46:44.637-04:00

Effective immediately, all blog posts are subject to the new Blog Entry Efficiency Protocol. All employees are required to submit a mind dump of the elements of a successful blog entry, which will be revised until it has reached the point of maximum effectiveness. This is to ensure that all blog entries are held to the same standard and never need to be revised or rewritten in the future. This part of the process will require several hundred hours up front, but will save thousands of hours in perpetuity.

Once the necessary elements of a blog have been identified, our copywriter will begin drafting a template in MS Word which all blog posts will adhere to. This template will be passed around to all bloggers, as well as several non-bloggers, to get a varied and myopic perspective which will result in a theoretically sound blog format. This will make it possible for anyone, including people who have absolutely no knowledge of what our company is about, to write effective and communicative blog entries in a minimal amount of time and with little effort.

Each employee will be required to generate and respond to 20-40 base questions that deal with the essence of blogging, the blog template, and the ways in which the blog template will improve our overall blogging experience. After this, final adjustments will be made to the template and the productive part of the blogging process can begin.

A pre-entry entry will be required before composing a standard entry. This pre-entry is to be written in MS Word and will act as a mind dump and will serve to describe the purpose of the individual blog entry. The idea is that this pre-entry will enable the writer to to lay the groundwork for a solid blog entry. The official blog entry is also to be done in MS Word and emailed to two or three colleagues for final review before it can be posted online.

If you have any questions, please speak with someone in human resources.



Let's Try This Again

2008-06-04T23:04:00.141-04:00

This is me identifying a problem and attempting a solution.Today a buddy of mine found out I have a blog. I mentioned that I don't write in it very often, and he said, "Aren't you a writer?"While blogging isn't my primary interest when it comes to writing, it has proven to be a good exercise for me, so I've been thinking about why I don't write a little something every day. I came to two conclusions:1. Having two blogs provides me with too wide of a focus, causing me to be perpetually overwhelmed by the number of things I could possibly write about, rendering me motionless2. This particular blog, while I've been doing more and more with it, still has too narrow of a focusWell, the first step is obvious - axe the other blog. I figure I'll use it when I need to be juvenile, or perhaps just wait until I have a purpose in mind for another blog. Anyone who read it will notice that it's now private. I know this is a sad day, but I promise you'll get over it.Next, I had to identify what the problem was with this blog. It really wasn't that hard. When I first started it, I was basically just trying to reinterpret the concepts we were talking about in my advanced fiction class. The idea was that if I could explain them to someone else, then I had a pretty good handle on them. A couple of things have happened since then:1. I graduated from college.2. I started working full-time at my company, which involved a transition from programming to technical writing and marketing copy. The boss-man is obsessed with base questions, procedure writeups, and excessive amounts of useless writing, and is also constantly saying, "The best way to learn something is to prepare to teach it," with this look on his face that says, "I know for a fact that this thought has never occurred to you." I leave it to you, dear reader, to imagine how that might affect my attitude toward this blog.This blog no longer serves the purpose it was designed for, so I've been sort of floating in limbo, throwing things up as they "felt right", and not really knowing what the hell was going on here. No more! (That phrase needs to trigger an image of a dirty peasant standing on a soapbox, surrounded by dirtier peasants, giving a huge pep talk about how they're going to ambush the local lord's guard as they escort him to his summer beach house, where he plans to carry on with the duke's wife if you know what I mean, and throw off their shackles and long-stick-things-they-use-to-carry-two-buckets-of-water and make a new life for themselves). No more! This blog is not going to be a place where I yammer about disciplined writing and theory anymore. From now on, it's a place where I live the disciplined approach to writing. I'm going to start posting. I'm going to screw with my schedule and figure out how I can post every day. It might not be good writing. It might not even reach mediocrity. But damn it I am going to practice Howard Taylor's BIC HOK technique if it kills me. Why? Because bitching about how much I hate my job doesn't bring me any closer to publication. Actually writing does.I know, it sounds far-fetched, but I think I'm on to something.[...]



Apparently it WAS a good idea...

2008-05-13T12:10:38.073-04:00

I found something via Penny Arcade today -- Ommatidia, a site where a guy writes 101-word stories every day. Like the silly person I am, I immediately became jealous, because I had a similar idea a few weeks ago, and here's a guy who has been doing it since 2003. "So much for that," I thought.

But that's a dumb thought. So some guy has a daily writing blog. That's awesome! Why should that I mean I can't do it? Because I wasn't the first to think of it? That's a horrible way to operate. Imagine what would happen if every person refused to do something that had been done before. There would be no new stories, no books, no movies, no music, nothing.

The kicker is that my idea really isn't the same as his. Sure, I'd shoot for daily, and definitely in a blog format. But mine would have been different. I wouldn't have wanted one-shot deals; I would have preferred a running story. I would be more lax with my word count, too: he chooses to limit himself to 101 words. I would be more lax and keep it "around 300". It would still be mine, not my attempt to steal his.

That being said, a daily writing blog isn't next on my list. I do have something in the works, and I do intend for it to be online, but I'm not ready to share yet. If I talk too much, I'll never actually act. And I want to act. I also have a lot of prepwork to do, but it's moving, and I'm hoping to launch this summer. I'm excited.

How about you? Do you ever find yourself wanting to trash a project because someone already did something like it?



Holy Crap, Reading is Awesome

2008-05-07T14:31:41.467-04:00

So I haven't posted in a while. Oops...

I had a pretty amazing experience last week. It was almost like fulfilling a prophecy, since it was repeatedly foretold by writing professors and the guides by professional writers.

Let's travel back in time first. The class that sparked my desire to write was Children's Lit, back when I was still at the community college. I stayed in touch with the professor, even volunteered on his campaign when he ran for state representative. About two years ago, he loaned me a book called "The Pooh Perplex", and I don't think I've seen him since.

My wife and I just moved last month. We live pretty close to this guy, and I figured it would be inexcusable of me not to try and get in touch with him, so I shot him an email. I also decided it was time to read "The Pooh Perplex."

Between Children's Lit and Pooh, I took a few classes, attended groups, and read a bit about the writing process. One thing that kept coming up was, "Read!" For a while, I was reading quite a bit, but once classes ended and my job started, it got harder and harder to make time. My book queue is marginally smaller than it was a year ago, which is kind of depressing. It's not that I don't want to read, it's that I tend to relegate reading to the bottom of the priority list.

I was still trying to be a writer, though, and despite the fact that I identified several weaknesses in my writing, and that I knew a little field research was in order to correct those weaknesses, I continued to put off reading. So, imagine my surprise when, one day after reading half of The Pooh Perplex, I cranked out a really good start to something. Seriously. It was good. I liked it. I have no idea if I'll do anything with it, but I was impressed at the quality. My subconscious had stolen some things from the book and incorporated it with my existing style, and the result was pleasing. I haven't looked at the beginning since that day, so I'll probably think it sucks when I do, but I'm feeling pretty good right now.

Bottom line: Listen to the writers who tell you to keep reading. It really does make a difference.



Writing Excuses (dot com)

2008-03-27T10:38:59.624-04:00

A couple of months ago, the creator of one of my favorite webcomics launched a website, with two guys I had never heard of, called Writing Excuses. I finally got around to listening to the podcasts yesterday, and I highly recommend checking them out.

It's basically just three guys sitting around and talking about writing, only the three guys happen to be a successful webcartoonist, a guy who received an offer for his first horror novel, and the guy who is going to finish The Wheel of Time. They make fifteen-minute podcasts to discuss an aspect of the craft. Each of them has a unique style, so the listener is presented with multiple approaches to the act of writing being discussed. I learned quite a bit (possibly more than I did in college, getting a degree in writing) from listening to them, and was able to scratch out a few notes to myself on how to improve the story I'm working on.

I'll give an example. I believe it was in Episode 6: Flaws vs Handicaps where a question came up of how to make a flawed character. This is something I've struggled with, because I always feel like I'm at one of the extremes -- either my character is flawless, or completely useless. Even when I think I've done an okay job in that area, sometimes I still think I have a boring person to read. There were two concepts in the podcast that jumped out at me:

1. A flaw is something you overcome; a handicap is not.
2. To know what flaws to give your character, figure out what the conflict is, and give your character the flaw that will make him lose that conflict.

In regards to 1, I immediately thought of an error I made when I hit the reset button on my novel. I decided that, in order to make him more interesting, I would give Gabriel chronic health problems, and make him bitter because of that. Then, once I started writing his interactions with his sister, I thought, "Well, she's really kind to him, so he wouldn't grow up angry." The result was an un-flawed character with a handicap. By taking away his bitterness toward life, I removed the only thing that could potentially serve to mark his growth as a person.

As for 2, this concept was like being handed a solid gold key to good storytelling. In retrospect, it should have been obvious. What makes a conflict compelling? When you think the main character could actually fail. The best flaw to give a character is the one that could potentially spell doom for him and/or everything he holds dear. Is the conflict a final showdown with the bad guy? A common flaw is to let the desire for revenge cloud judgment. A negotiation with a hostile foreign leader? Make the person racist. It makes so much more sense now than when professors kept repeated, "Flawed characters are interesting. Flawed characters are interesting. Flawed characters are interesting."

I'm a better writer for having listened to these guys. Go check out Writing Excuses and report back with what you've learned!



Arthur C. Clarke

2008-03-19T12:14:38.825-04:00

Arthur C. Clarke died. I don't consider myself a rabid fan of his (I haven't even read 2001), but I own one of his books. I still haven't even read the whole thing, which makes me feel weird for saying he has had an enormous impact on my imagination and the way I approach writing.

My first encounter with Mr. Clarke's writing was a story called "The Nine Billion Names of God". It was in one of my lit textbooks, though it was not assigned reading for the class. I was flipping through the book to get to the forgettable classic I was required to read that night and the title caught my eye. The author's name looked familiar, but I didn't know where I'd seen it before. I decided to give the story a go.

Obviously I wouldn't be writing this if I hadn't been mesmerized. The story was short, but the characters all had the kind of depth that lit professors gush over. On top of that, and probably the reason it wasn't included in my class, the events that took place were a few levels beyond ordinary. This wasn't another politically-charged story about a guy who experiences the same things I go through every day -- this was an exploration of our assumptions about reality, played out in some unnamed mountains, with an unspecified religious order and a couple technicians from a computer company. It was different from the drivel that is force-fed to English majors. It was fresh. I wanted more.

Of course, school being what it is, I soon found myself swimming in papers and readings and forgot about the concept of "leisure reading." It was more or less an accident that I stumbled upon the massive tome of Clarke stories. As I said before, I haven't read the entire book. The thing is huge, and I had some other things I wanted to read -- things that fit more neatly in my backpack. What I did read, though, was amazing. It's been over a year now... I hope I can find that book when I move.



What the H are you doing, Stan?

2008-03-06T13:18:59.224-05:00

My last blog entries seemed like a long time ago, so I think I need to explain why I'm still a writer despite my apparent lack of...you know, writing.

Obviously I've been doing some brainstorming exercises on here, to kind of showcase my writing process. It's kind of misleading, though, because my standard process doesn't involve my blog, so I'm already straying from the norm. You could say this is another type of process for me.

That is still happening. Usually I push words around for a week or more before posting them. The result is typically a long blog -- but I prefer that to a two-line piece. I also like to have things slightly polished before presenting them. Yes, the result is a less-than-genuine mind dump, but it's way more fun for me.

I do need to confess to some downtime, but I got over that. I started drawing again. I intend to take a story I started in one of my college classes and adapt it to the comic medium... if I can increase my art skills. I want to do this because it will force me to think about backgrounds and setting and all of that, which is typically weak in my writing. The goal is to go way outside my normal mode of operation and force myself to think in different ways. I hope it works. I've begun laying out the structure of that story, and I'll begin some sort of scripting in the next few weeks.

I put Gabriel down for a nap and sent what I have to a few people to read over. I'd rather rewrite this chunk than finish the whole story and have to rewrite everything at once. Then, yesterday, I started having ideas for where that story should go. It should go without saying that those got written down. People are taking their sweet time getting back to me, so I may end up pressing on soon anyway.

Anyway, the point is that I'm still writing -- just not always in my blog!



Mrs. Man X to Join Sven!

2008-02-28T21:08:38.771-05:00

Yes, yes, the rumors are true! My lovely wife has decided to throw her hat into Sven's ring and write one of the stories I've been bugging her to write for the last year or so! This is good, because I'm going to be way to freakin busy to participate this time around.

Pop over to her blog and nag her!



Building the Stage: Nuravol and Soravol

2008-02-22T09:20:43.916-05:00

All right, we've got Vilhelm the Nuravol, Olwen the Vesna, and Nathanael the Soravol. We know that the Nuravol and the Soravol are rival tribes with ancient history in common, and we know that each has a "mirror" tribe on a higher plane -- the Hild and the Vesna. We also know that Nathanael was raised as a Nuravol, and that he is gone. Vilhelm and Olwen are looking for him.

There needs to be more. Well, okay, some people might think this is enough to start, and that's fine. But I live for this stuff, so I want to write some ancient history for these people.

Since this writing exercise is being contained on this blog, I'm going to keep things small and manageable, with room for expansion if I ever decide to develop things further. History begins shortly after the world is utterly devastated. A few groups of people survived, but they wound up isolated. The people in this story all live in the middle of a ring of mountains. Anyone who climbs the mountains and looks outward will see nothing but devastation, so there is no reason to try exploring. Enough time has passed that no one remembers that life used to exist in the outside world.

Inside this ring of mountains is a forest and a lake. A river runs into and out of the lake, from the northern mountains to the southern ones. For the first several generations after the crisis, the people who lived in this area were able to live peacefully. They cleared out some of the trees for farmland, built homes, and looked to the future. Eventually, economic classes developed -- people with money on the top, people with skills on the bottom. While it wasn't ideal, most people accepted it as life.

Then there was a long drought. The river grew weak and the lake level dropped. The rich hoarded water, even hiring guards to patrol the river and prevent others from drinking. Everyone else suffered. Before long, there was an uprising, and after a bloody conflict, everyone had water again. Things were relatively stable until the drought ended, when the unifying desire for free water became irrelevant and different people had different ideas of how to run things. Thus the Nuravol and the Soravol are born.

Not bad so far. The next question, of course, is where the Vesna and the Hild came from. I'll save that for another time.



Random Name #3

2008-02-15T21:39:22.642-05:00

For the record, I decided a few things about this character in advance of picking a name:This character has some connection to Vilhelm. I'm leaning toward "last surviving family," but I'm open to other possibilities.This character disappeared from Vilhelm's life, and he is searching for this person.For Vilhelm, locating this character means accepting guidance from Olwen.Olwen has a vested interest in the two characters reunion. I don't feel like figuring that out at the moment, though.This character will be a sharp contrast to Vilhelm -- where he is strong, this person is frail; Vilhelm prefers to fight evil, this person prefers to nurture good; and so on. Seriously, it would be so boring if they were both Lawful Good!I'm going to run the random generator at BehindtheName for both a male name and a female name, and... well, basically just pick the cooler sounding one.Hmm.... we have VENUS and ŚWIĘTOPEŁK (Polish form of SVYATOPOLK). Not entirely digging the results... The female name gives me the first woman James Bond sleeps with, who probably gets killed 30 minutes in (it also gets that Bananarama song stuck in my head...er, what?!). The male name is cool but a tad unwieldy, but I really like the meaning -- "bright folk."That led to me cheating and getting sidetracked. I thought "bright folk" would be great for another race, so I started looking for names that had "bright" in their meaning. Long story short, I took "Nuray" and "Sorin" and came up with the Nuravol and Soravol -- two tribes or factions that split from a single group long ago. Perhaps in a different story...Now it's several days after my initial search, and I still don't have my third character. My wife has given me permission to look for a new name, so here goes...Name: NathanaelMeaning: "God has given" (Hebrew)The website mentions a guy named Nathanael in the Bible. I looked him up and discovered "in [him] there was nothing false." Awesome. We have an honest and upstanding guy to work with. That makes sense, being that I just now decided he is best friends with Vilhelm (I think their names are too different linguistically to make sense as brothers).How did they meet? Suppose Vilhelm is a Soravol and Nathanael is a Nuravol. Nathanael was transplanted as a child (perhaps even an infant), either because his parents were killed and he was taken, or he was abandoned in an area where the Soravol might find him. In either case, he was raised as a Soraval, but was frequently mistreated because (obviously) he looked like a Nuravol. We already established that Vilhelm has a tendency toward protecting the weak, so it was only a matter of time before he witnessed several people beating on Nathanael and came to his aid. Blah blah blah they became friends and then one day Nathanael was gone.Olwen wants them reunited because she wants to guide them both to the higher plane and grant them supernatural abilities. The Vesna have their own tribe, and she believes that a Soravol and Nuravol working together would be able to turn that battle in the Vesna's favor.By the way, the female name that popped up when I got Nathanael was "Hildegard," so...Race: The HildMeaning: BattleFor now, anyway. The Hild exist parallel to the Soravol, while the Vesna exist parallel to the Nuravol. I'm not sure if I'd say they are allied, or just that their existences seem to line up nicely in a mystical sort of way, but that's not important now because I'm building a foundation.The Hild are warriors. I don't mean to imply that they are "the bad guys" or anything like that, just that [...]



Random Name #2: Vesna

2008-02-12T09:14:17.670-05:00

Ok, I've started some extra-curricular projects that are going to be eating up all of my free time. What that means for this blog is a whole bunch of silly updates involving random names from BehindtheName (which I still highly recommend).

So what's with the V theme? That's twice in a row I get a name that starts with the same letter. Oh well.

Name: Vesna
Meaning: "messenger" in Slavic. Name of the goddess of spring.

Hold the phone! A long time ago, I wanted a name for a race of immortals, but couldn't dig up anything satisfactory. Perhaps I'll use Vesna (or a modified form of it) to refer to them. That makes for a really boring blog, though... but I don't want to get attached to a character if I want the name to be associated with a concept. Hmm...

Name: Olwen

Meaning: "white footprint" (Welsh)

This name also comes with attached mythology. Sweet! Here we go:

Name: Olwen the Vesna; Olwen of the Vesna; the Vesna, Olwen

So we've identified a race of beings, and named one of those beings. Great! We don't actually know anything yet.

Let's start with the Vesna. We have "messenger", "goddess", and "spring" to start with. My mind always runs to "angel" from "messenger," so we'll say that Vesna are capable of interacting with two different planes of existence. Does that sound cool? I think it does. How about "spring"? That's the time of year that stuff comes to life, so perhaps their presence brings life and/or healing. Maybe grass or flowers grow where they walk. Whatever. I'll leave that as a placeholder for now and come back to it later. I will say that I don't want it to be something they control, just something that naturally occurs in their presence.

How about Olwen? "White footprint." Great! It sounds like it goes with the healing thing. What else is significant in this? White footprints would be pretty conspicuous, almost like they were leading somewhere. That means she could be a guide of some sort, or maybe a teacher (to go along with the "messenger" concept). Footprint implies that she is always walking, so she has no home.

Wanderer, healer, guide, messenger... people may follow her for a time, but her name is singular, so she is generally alone. She is always searching for someone to deliver a message or to take them somewhere. My mind keeps going to an "angel of death" kind of place with this, but I'm not entirely sure of that. Perhaps she can guide mortals into the supernatural realm. That will require further development of the duality of the universe, but I don't think that's such a horrible place to start. The next question would be how to take that idea and make it fresh. Perhaps next time...




Character: Vilhelm

2008-01-29T11:37:33.664-05:00

Okay, I'm going to try something new today. Maybe it will rock, maybe not.

I went over to BehindtheName and used their random name generator to give me a name. With the meaning of the name as a starting point, I'm going to attempt to create a character. I went into this with no preconceived ideas of what kind of character I wanted. If this ends up sucking, blame Elen, since she sparked the thought process that led here.

Name: Vilhelm
Meaning: derived from wil "will, desire" and helm "helmet, protection"
Implications for the character:
- always wearing a helmet or hat
- intrusively defensive of others (think of awkward sitcom situations)
- not many friends, on account of that being a bad strategy for self-defense
- hell, he could play a "defensive" position on a sports team, if he ends up in a story that would have sports. otherwise, he could make armor or something.
Appearance:
- needs to be physically strong
- descriptive language should have some sort of defensive undertones when possible (i.e. "towered above his enemies", or "brought the wall of hurt down upon this suckah")
- can't be pale - needs to look like he's been outside
- if he wears a hat, a beard should hide his face. If we wears a helmet, the beard is optional. I guess a hood is an alternative to either, because hoods are badass
- scars
- frowns often
Background:
- primary parental-figure needs to exemplify self-sacrifice in a way that he isn't quite imitating
- perhaps he feels guilt for the eventual downfall/failure of said parent-figure

...and there we go - a first stage character sketch. It's pretty generic, obviously, but I think it's a pretty solid foundation to build a more nuanced character on.

From here, I think the next step is choosing a setting for mister Vilhelm, as that will help me nail down the details of his life. But that's for later. In the meantime, he can act as the writing equivalent of a coloring book page -- feel free to supply your own colors to suit your own fancy!




What to Write

2008-01-25T13:24:41.115-05:00

I've been kicking this post around for a while, and I'm never really sure what it is I want to say with it. Bear with me while I ramble.My degree is in English with a specialization in Writing. Here's a brief summary of what I learned in school that I didn't also learn from Stephen King's On Writing:Literary fiction is better than genre fictionPeople who write genre fiction are hacksLiterary writers never wrote bad stories, and if you dislike something, it's your faultOkay, so that's a cynical assessment (I'll give a fair one someday), but that seemed to be the prevailing attitude among people who liked the canon. You were of sub-par intelligence if you liked Harry Potter, and doubly so if you disliked Shakespeare. Granted, most of this came from students because none of the professors actually bothered to read anything that wasn't pre-approved by Conclave of Literary Overlords (again, a cynical statement -- I'm about as fair and balanced as FoxNews today), but it was a horrible atmosphere for us fantasy writers.Anyway, in the two creative writing classes I took, we were told not to write genre fiction. The intro professor was actually lenient about this, since we were keeping up a journal of daily writings -- I was able to write a fantasy story because she got to see all of my notes and was able to understand the world. There were no exceptions in the advanced class, but rather than complain about it, I threw myself into it and wrote some pretty good stuff. It was the first time I had taken any of my attempts at "literary" fiction beyond a first draft, and I found that I enjoyed it quite a bit.But then, somehow, I started morphing into one of those elitist assholes who writes because he "has something to say." I started channeling all of the hurt and frustration gathered between 1996 and 2004 and aiming it at all of the churches and churchgoers who caused it. It was a slow process, and the stories were decently well-written at first, but as things progressed, I became angrier and more heavy-handed, to the point where my wife actually told me to stop writing those stories and go back to fantasy.It was a sobering moment for me. I had been telling myself I could write a great critique of Americanized Christianity in the form of loosely interconnected short stories -- in short, I had ceased writing because I loved telling stories in order to use stories as a weapon. Malevolent and didactic, I had completely forsaken what drew me toward writing in the first place.Which sort of gets to why I'm writing this blog. Sometimes people like to pretend they have two options: Doing what they love, or selling out. I think that's a completely fictitious dichotomy, but that's not even the point. My struggle was between two types of writing I was passionate about -- one that allowed me to be stretch my imagination, and one that allowed me to make a point. Both were fueled by my love for writing, but one was clearly capable of leading me astray.The question, then, is how to decide the "what" and the "how" of the writing, and how to avoid using fiction as a glorified blog. I don't have an answer to that yet, because I haven't tried leaving fantasy in a few months. The idea scares me. I don't want to become an angry person in order to write, and I certainly don't want to become one of those beatniks with "something to say." If I'm going to write, I want it to be because I like writing, not yelling.[...]



A Taste of WIP

2008-01-19T15:09:29.009-05:00

Alright, then, here's a chunk of the current WIP, as promised. I've conveniently made it available as a rich text file and as a PDF. Enjoy!

In other news, I'm thinking of abandoning Blogger. I've also noticed that all the cool kids use Wordpress. Any thoughts?




Fear and Apprehension

2008-01-18T10:53:02.858-05:00

Over a month ago I said that I would actually post something I had written. I'll try and make good on that over lunch today, provided I don't freak out and think it's utterly worthless like the stereotypical writer has a tendency to do. I'm actually going to get my whining and insecurity out of the way now: Even after I make corrections to the part I'm going to post, I won't consider it "as good as it could be" and will likely go through another five revisions before I decide to leave it alone... blah blah blah etc whine complain.

In this instance, most of my insecurity is due to the fact that I use this blog to talk about the act of writing -- what I've learned about it and would like to share. My horrible, dark secret is that I don't follow all of my advice (at that moment, all of the writers in the room rolled their eyes) and I certainly don't write good first drafts (and, grinning, shook their heads). In my head, I know writers get this, but I still harbor the irrational fear that when I serve up the pudding, I'll be mocked for not having the cup of proof that is supposed to be in there (or, in some cases, substituting said proof with two cups of BS).

Anyway, coming up at some point today will be a snippet from my work in progress, which still doesn't have a title. It might be modified slightly to make sense as a short story, or I might just leave things as they are and see what happens. Who knows.