The Unintentionally Helpful Villain, Vol. 09 – Volunteers

Diary Entry #0170

Mine power sizzles and crackles with a terrible itch to be used. But I mustn’t allow myself any distraction for the chase grows ever closer and more heated. Strange, this heat; unnatural, even. Almost does it remind me of…but no, it cannot be.

Great challenges did we overcome since the foul princeling’s attack on mine men. The fire within their spirits did suffer greatly from the loss of a quarter of our companions. Blight come upon this kingdom!

…I would be much remiss to deny mine own sorrow at their loss. These Librarians are much like an extended family, if mine memories play no tricks upon me — they grumble and moan as each morn and eve comes to pass, and they eat all of mine carefully prepared food only to demand more, and they can make trolls explode with their mental prowess (a fact of which I am very proud).

What kind of Ruler would enjoy burying his relatives?

Well, the Prince that attacked me, that much has been made manifest.

Diary Entry #0171

A villager of this here kingdom, one that heard mine wonderful monologue from yonder day before today, has been following ever since, slinking around. I shall force him into mine aura of truthfulness so that he admits to me his role — be he a spy, I shall cut him unto ribbons and make of him a stew for mine hounds.

Amongst other important tasks today, I have made hounds from clay. It has proven a most curious enterprise. I do believe one ate a Librarian.

Oh, well.

Diary Entry #0172

The Librarian who was eaten is alive.

What wonderful news.

The hounds of clay have turned to non-hounds of clay, and the man I considered might be a spy has ‘volunteered’. I was not aware of this wonderful notion until he brought it up and explained it to me in great detail; now that he has, I plan on forcing every single one of the residents of the next village, town, city or — to the hells with it — an entire country, to volunteer unto mine armed forces.

I have created new hounds of clay, and have added bread to the recipe. My Prime Librarian, Sven, nearly received a heart attack when he realized what I had done with all our supplies of bread.

He is young, and knows little of evocation spells, and he will learn with experience.

Besides, it works with meatballs.

Diary Entry #0175

We have arrived in the town of Kresh. I can sense Her nearby, perhaps watching me from some hidden spot even now. It is time I face my wife.

Ex. Ex-wife.

 

Next Time: We reach the tenth Volume in our illustrious tale! Crazy stuff goes down! Dialogues! Madness! Insanity! And so much more!

 

 

 

Writing Advice: Research is important

Research has the dubious distinction of being an insanely interesting part of writing…as well as an occasionally tedious task that everyone would much rather shove for another point in time.

Researching is a bit like going down a street whose exit is just ahead, but somehow, you keep getting sidetracked by the litany of architectural marvels on the sides of that street. What I mean to explain with this inept metaphor is that finding information on any given subject is easy, in our Information Age; however,

it’s not difficult at all to go further and further into connected topics, which –while fascinating– will usually end up as little more than backstory. That’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination; what it is, is dangerous. Dangerous in that, having all this knowledge tempts you to put it all inside your book–and when you do that, you detract from your story. Flooding readers with historically accurate information (if you’re writing fantasy, for example) might very well create a feeling of authenticity but it will also make for a dull read; fantasy fans are not into the genre for that.

Putting too much research pulls the reader out because your book ends up reading like a technical manual. Use your research-derived knowledge to create the illusion of reality but don’t bog the action and the characters down in minutiae. Too little research in your work makes you seem like you’ve no clue what you’re writing about; too much slows your writing down to a crawl; it’s all about finding balance! Beta readers are helpful in that aspect; point your questions towards how the world you’re building feels — does it lack realism? Does the momentum suffer because of too much details and the like?

Science fiction is more dependent on research, especially some of its subgenres, for obvious reasons. Follow the link if you’d like to know more about those.

 

This is another shorter piece of Writing Advice, but it’s one I thought I might as well cover; research is important and shouldn’t be ignored just because it’s occasionally annoying!

 

Writing Advice: Humor

Humor is one of the fundamental ingredients in any story. From horror to drama to epic fantasy – no matter the genre, there’s always time to lighten up the tension with a healthy dose of humor!

Humor can be a genre in itself, as well – Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett are two masters who use sci-fi and fantasy, respectively, in order to showcase brilliant wit and insight about human nature.

They don’t use slapstick comedy, opting instead for dialogue-based and narrative humor. What I mean by narrative humor is

The humor I enjoy is the kind that surprises me. That’s the kind of humor that I tend to write — I take situations that should be familiar to my readers (tropes, clichés and so on and so forth), and I spin them around in a way that is clever, bizarre or even outrageous.

Write what you find funny, write what makes you laugh. Then check it and double-check it; don’t underestimate the power of analysis. Having someone read your writing later and weighing that person’s reaction is a sure way to discover whether something is funny. If you’ve got a few loyal readers– even better!

For those of you who prefer everything neat and tidy, you might like Scott Adams’ six elements of humor:

  • Cute
  • Cruel
  • Naughty
  • Recognizable
  • Bizarre
  • Clever

These elements can offer a lot of information, but they won’t magically help in crunching out tomes upon tomes of humorous writing. They very much aid analysis, however. Here’s a simple piece of advice on writing them!

Set your complicated jokes up early on, lay a strong foundation and build them up. That way, the payback is all the sweeter!

And don’t forget — always, always, always surprise your audience!

Saturday Night Gaming: Critiques and Wolfenstein: The New Order

Whenever I begin writing a video critique or review for a game, I spend some time considering how to go about it. This blog post will look at the reasons behind my choices and plan for the (as of yet) unfinished critique; if you enjoy talk about gaming, you might enjoy it, and if you don’t — stay tuned for our regularly scheduled programming!

Wolfenstein: The New Order is not too complicated a narrative by any stretch of the imagination. Id Software’s writing team took a whole bunch of chapters from Philip K. Dick’s “The Man on The High Castle,” and — to the joy of everyone involved — succeeded in creating a tense world that makes you more than enthusiastic enough to shoot all the Nazis you find!

There’s a love story going on in the background too, and it’s done well — but that’s all narrative. When talking about a first person shooter, the story has to take a backseat to the gameplay; what matters most is gunplay, enemy variety, map/level design and what I’d like to refer to as the sheer bloody level of AWESOME that a game can provide the player.

For a ‘narrative’ guy like myself, putting an accent on the mechanics of a game first is a difficult task, occasionally. Two things help; the first is, realizing that the mechanics are in fact complemented by the story, and the second — recognizing when that happens.

Otherwise simple actions, mechanically, become much more meaningful when the narrative dictates that they be so — stabbing a Nazi grunt will not remain in your memory but daggering the lover of a hated adversary most certainly will, for example. That’s the kind of synergy between gameplay and

Another aspect I am looking at has to do with the boss battles. These are often some of the most memorable parts of a game; either for the best reasons…or for the worst. While I’m not going to go ahead and critique those here — I’m saving that up for the video review — I’ll let it slip that Wolfenstein’s boss encounters leave much to be desired. I judge at boss battles according to how ‘gimmick’-y they are; the more freedom one such encounter gives the players on how to tackle the gigantic metal monster — the better. For brilliant boss battles that packed one hell of a punch in an FPS game, look no further than 2016’s Doom, developed by the same studio as Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Id Software took notes, I think.

The most important questions, when preparing any sort of long-form critique about a video game have to do with the genre and how the game performs compared to the average expectations and performances of other representatives of that genre. Follow each thread, observe how the game does, and its weaknesses and strengths become evident enough.

The rest is…only words.

 

Writing Advice: Plot Twists

The thing about plot twists? Never do them!

Hey, don’t leave that, I was making a point! Badly!

The best plot twists in books I’ve read often have to do with the author asking himself, “How best can I make this character suffer?” Think on this question, think on it really hard; whatever the answer ends up being…do that! You’re bound to produce a river of tears from your faithful fans; it’s all about the art of making your characters’ lives as miserable as can be!

Twist your readers’ expectations, and they’ll come back for more time and time again. How you do that is a broader topic that I’ll look at in more detail sooner or later, but it has to do with taking well-established elements in your world, and using them in ways inventive enough that very few would ever figure out before the fact. Subvert expectations.

Plot twists differ in scope — there are awe-inspiring, world-shattering events that can change the entire way something is viewed; and then there’s those smaller, personal tragedies that play out between characters on an entirely different level.

Make sure not to diminish the impact of your plot twists. That most often happens with sheer overuse or with trite and convoluted twists that do not follow the rules you’ve set up. Plot twists that don’t follow the law as you’ve written it risk turning into deus ex machina devices; and we all know how warmly those are received nowadays.

 

That’s what I reckon on the subject of Plot Twists! If you enjoyed this piece, feel free to follow me; I’d also enjoy discussing anything of interest in the comments below!

Writing Advice: Avoiding the Beginner’s Mistakes Vol. 1

I write this post fully aware of thе fact that I am, myself, little more than a beginner in the writer’s craft. My position as what equates to hobbyist writer does have the benefit to allow me a fresher perspective; I still struggle with these mistakes, and believe me, having them pointed out, actively searching for them helps.

  • Point-of-view problems are the worst.
    You know this one guy at the street corner? Beer in hand, long beard, constantly changes the pitch of his voice, the style of his speech, the whole bloody persona? You don’t want your writing to be like that guy. Point of view demands tight control. There shouldn’t be any ‘head hopping’ – the practice of switching point-of-view characters within a single scene.
    Allow me to reiterate on this before you claw my eyes out and feed on my brain! There shouldn’t be any ‘head hopping’ that’s done badly. If you’re about to change your PoV character, make sure that the readers know it, and are prepared. Give them a warning, a break in the scene; anything’s better than pulling your reader sout of one character’s head and unceremoniously tossing them into the character against him.
    I like to use double-line space breaks when I switch PoV. The chapter break is probably the best-known way to switch Point-of-view and it has been used in such epics as Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, and many, many others.
    I’ve gone as far as to change PoVs in the middle of a scene and it worked quite well! It’s all about making the switch feel natural and not forced.
  • Filtering is the anti-Christ.
    I hate filtering. I hate it, and I loathe it, and it boggled nearly all my writing in English when I first began. For those of you who don’t know what they are, filters are unnecessary words that separate the reader from the story’s action. They come between the reader’s experience and the character’s point of view.
    These include but are not limited to: ‘to see,’ ‘to hear,’ ‘to think,’ ‘to wonder,’ to realize, ‘ to feel’ ‘to decide’… you’ve picked up on the logic behind filters by now. Now, for an example:
    With Filter: “He thought that her movements were akin to a panther’s, fluid and graceful, and unmistakably predatory.”
    Without Filter: “Her movements were fluid and graceful, and unmistakably predatory.”
  • Predictability is an awful, terrible, no-good thing.
    What is that they say about your enemies? Always keep them guessing!
    What’s that? They don’t say that about your mortal enemies where you’re from?
    Moving on… Predictable stories are boring, even if they’re written supremely well. Surprises breathe life into a story the way nothing else does. Always aim to leave your readers speechless, and your characters — out of balance. Sure, things may be going well for a while, even amazingly so; but if everything goes as you’d expect all the time, the story becomes stale. Change is the drive of good storytelling.
  • Go with the (scene) flow.
    Awkward scene-to-scene transitions are a blight upon the land! Or, at the very least, upon the story you’re trying to tell. This ties into the Point-of-view debate, and steals a few of its points: ineptly transitioning from one scene to another might break the immersion of your readers and leave them no more than an angry mob, intent on ripping you head to toes.
    Okay, that last thing might not happen but the risk of losing a reader is very real.
    I struggle with the problem, myself. The key to solving it is practice, practice, practice!

Here’s where I draw the line for today; but not to worry, if you enjoyed this piece of writing advice, there’s more to come over the coming weeks! Meanwhile, Happy Fourth of July!

 

 

 

Sunday Flirt Vol. 04

Another Sunday passes as the hour of exam judgement falls ever nearer.

On that note…Sundays are for avoiding responsibility! Avoiding responsibility and flirting with fantasy characters! And here’s this week of fun fantasy pick-up lines’n’banter.

  • “You’re complicated AND extremely thick, aren’t you?”
    *This works best for books, but also for…*
  • “Honey, don’t say that…This spell does wonders for your breasts!”
  • “I’d never throw the wedding band you gave me in a volcano, not like that ungrateful hobbit.”
  • “Are you a famous scholar? Because I would love to get schooled by you!”
  • “I can see why you’re named Soulcatcher – you’ve certainly caught my soul!

Gosh, these become more and more desperate every week. I really need to get out more.

Writing Advice: The Basics of Sci-Fi

To take some liberty with a quote by the great Philip K. Dick, fantasy is about things that are conceivably impossible, whereas science fictions is all about the conceivably possible. Both genres are about writing, discovering and experiencing new things, but science fiction takes on these three objectives with a different toolset; it is ideas that drive sci-fi.

Science Fiction originated as a didactic genre — meaning that many of the earlier SF books sought to instill certain moral standards in readers and to instruct them; indeed, one such example can be seen in the face of Frank Herbert’s Dune, which has been hailed as the single greatest work of literature to popularize the disastrous effects and fallout of climate change.

Where didacticism is one side of the coin of early SF works, the other is optimism. Take a look at Jules Verne – a true visionary and a champion of technological advancement, whose works have undoubtedly transcended dry page and ink and the world of imagination, and have become reality. Tales of wonders made flesh; such is the power of science fiction.

Sci-fi has come a long way since the publishing of Verne and Huxley, Orwell and even Bradburry… although, I admit, the point I’m about to make easily allows a place for both 1984 and Fahrenheit 451.

What point, you ask? Science fiction has moved past it’s didactic origins, Filip answers gladly, and has become a far more reflective genre. A genre steeped in the issues our modern world faces or could face in the near-future. Not only that, but it is a genre that takes on these issues bravely and attempts to tackle them, to offer solutions,

If, at this point, you’re furrowing your brows and trying to figure out where your favorite sci-fi series fits in all of this, you may relax and read further!

While I believe that the explanation above can help towards defining where current SF stands, there are many subgenres that either don’t concern themselves with reflection, or do it in an off-hand, secondary way. Let’s take a cursory look at those, shall we?

  • Space Opera: I view this particular subgenre as a bridge between science fiction and fantasy; like fantasy, it is the journey, the adventure that is most important. Science takes the back-seat and while it still plays part, it’s far from realistic.
    Examples such as Star Wars, Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, and the (fairly campy) Warhammer 40k universe well display the tendency of the subgenre to start off with science and introduce a variety of mystical elements later down the line.
  • Hard SF is the antithesis of Space Opera. The science has to be correct, it has to be serious, and it is most often the genre in which actual scientists write. If you want to write in that one – know your science, people! Arthur C. Clarke is probably the most well-known of the Hard SF writers, and I do believe that Stephen Baxter is also in that particular clubhouse. It’s a restrictive subgenre because of the sheer amount of knowledge necessary, and the fact that people who read hard SF will call you out on your bullshit, if you try to write unprepared.
  • Cyberpunk…is awesome. I’ll admit that I have barely read anything in that subgenre, for which I am very sorry; I have, however, played a number of different cyberpunk video games, and the themes are often very similar. Cyberpunk stories take place in the near-future, at a point in time when governments are no longer relevant and corporations hold the true power. The line between man and machine (or technology as a whole), is blurred and the genre has a lot in common with Dystopian Sci-fi.

This is where I’ll wrap up, but before I do…one last piece of advise.

There is greater continuity within sci-fi. To write in the genre, you need a better understanding of those authors that have come before you, than you’d need with fantasy or crime novels, for example. Whether that is owed to the fact that ideas in sci-fi are built and reiterated upon, I can only speculate but it is true, regardless. The message can be distilled to: “Read more Science Fiction!”

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this short look at the basics of science fiction, please click the Follow button and maybe leave a comment. I’d love to discuss this topic further — and indeed, plan on doing so next Tuesday!

The featured image is not mine, it was taken from the site ‘project-nerd.com’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Advice: Consistency

Laziness is the enemy of every aspiring writer.

Take me, for example: I almost didn’t write today’s entry; I’m too busy, I’ve done so much today, I’m so exhausted, it’s four in the bloody morning.

Excuses, excuses. Don’t listen to those.

Pick up the pen. Press the keys on your keyboard.

Write.

Consistency is much more important than inspiration; not a popular opinion, but a true one nonetheless. Inspiration strikes, but it does so rarely – and as beautiful as those moments are, they are short, ephemeral.

No, give me consistency. Consistency I can count on.

With consistency, I learn something new every day.

But let us not forget that consistency has another meaning, as well. Just an important one–if not more so!

Consistency in writing makes–or breaks–your readers’ immersion, the barriers between your story, the meaning you put into it, and the reader’s perception and acceptance to it. Look at any book that changes tone every several chapters, and you will discover a mess that’s unpleasant to read and difficult to comprehend. If you can’t write consistently, edit to that effect; but under no circumstance should you leave your work inconsistent.

Be consistent in your writing habits, dear children, and be consistent in your writing, also!