Friday, December 31, 2010

On Being An Architect: Floorplans

Well, I thought I should finally bite the bullet and finish mapping out Rosentia Island. I have the basic overview done. I know the climate. I know what the name of the two big piers are (Shipperman's and Fisherman's Pier - inventive, I know). I know where the manor house sits. Now it's just a point of actually sitting down and sorting out the manor plan and BOY is it enough to do my head in.

It's surprisingly painstaking to set up a proper map. This manor has about 80 rooms in it. The above stairs sections was fairly easy after checking out a number of Victorian floorplans for Great Houses but the below-stairs section is ... well, there's a lot of rooms and a lot of needs and everytime I think I've got it down I've got to re-draw it.

I've also found photo-representatives of each of the rooms (which took me some time) and a brief description / name so that I can keep my facts straight later on. And all of this for something that only takes place in the first half of the novel (though if it turns into a series, there'll be at least one whole novel based on this and I can re-use the basic designs if not the room descriptions).

It's turned into about 10 pages and counting and I'm already tired of it. On the plus side, the floorplan and some of the stranger rooms have really pointed out plot possibilities so it's not all hard work and no play.

So, how far have you gone to set things out for your novel? And have any of you built 3D models (by the way, Sims 2 is really good for laying out normal houses or regular mansions)?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Magocratic Houses

Well, my main country in the fantasy world I've created functions a little differently. Around 90 years ago, there was a major rebellion against the old aristocracy that was orchestrated by Audorian sorcerers once they were outlawed for their unnatural ways. The Audorians made the whole thing possible but not without help from four other distinct power blocs. After the dust settled, each power bloc formed a mercantile / quasi-hereditary House that would jointly rule the new country. Each House is obviously flavored by the particular backgrounds it came from but each house is branching out into different livery companies and many members are either originally from other Houses or from particularly talented or rich merchants or the spontaneously magical (sorcerers from non-magical lineage) so there's both less differences between the houses and more differences within the houses than one might first suspect.

House Rosentia: They were an old aristocratic family of hidden sorcery who supported the revolution against their noble brethren. Through their skilled betrayals, either by butchery, assassination, or simple espionage, they substantially weakened the old noble families. Due to their treacherous backgrounds, and many scandalous rumors of dark fiends in their lineages, they aren't trusted. However, they're high levels of fertility and the fact that any child born to a Rosentia will be magical has led to them being prize husbands and wives. Many other Houses quite greedily wish to have a Rosentia marry into their ranks (unfortunately, the special fertility stops after the first generation born outside of House Rosentia). House Rosentia has capitalized on the exoticism of their blue blood and their frequently strange appearance, and if they are not artists themselves, they often sponsor some of the best artists - from architects to dancers, painters to writers.

House Ansalon: A naval House who are now renowned for their chemists, alchemists, and sorcerer-researchers. This house is comprised of several prominent naval families who were captains of the old aristocratic fleet before they consolidated their power and helped launch a coup against the old nobles. They are now heavily involved in naval merchantmen and control many water routes as well as shipbuilding and seafaring guilds. They make most of their money in the spice trade. Many of their members are actually descended from pirates, privateers and even the fisherman trades, who were either capable enough or rich enough to be recognised as a member of this noble mercantile class.

House Delevon: Once upon a time these were a secret society of witches and hunters, some of which had the spark of sorcery, who used to creep around behind the nobility's backs and remove curses, slay monsters, and generally protect the general populace. The old nobility had little care for the outback towns and villages ... they were far too focused on their own stilted entertainments. When House Delevon saw an opportunity to seize power for themselves and orchestra change, they have taken it. Unfortunately, they still have to deal with the fiendish House Rosentia whom they would have preferred to see exterminated. Nowadays, they are more often hired for their abilities firsthand and have a huge network of witches and alchemists to call upon rather than be involved in most guild activities (other than, for example, wards). They are also quite skilled at dealing with sidhe, procuring magical artefacts from the Ihlander salt plains, and coaxing Places That Aren't into cooperating with the Realms interests.

House Carrington: The original mercantile class of nouveau rich that were never treated with the respect and dignity they had dreamed of under the old aristocracy. Really, they largely provided the financial and diplomatic backing. They gained a lot of power and prestige in facilitating legal debates, ensuring trade networks went as undisrupted as possible, and keeping the administrative machinery running even during a revolution. There were hitches but House Carrington maintains that it could have been a lot worse. These were the old bankers, lawyers, and budding professionals, such as physicians, alchemists and scientists.

House Audor: These are the remnants of an old sorcerous college that was brutally attacked and massacred by the old aristocracy. They came together and, utilising their most subtle magics, inspired a shock wave of revolutionary sentiment that took the nobility by suprise. They are academics first and foremost and where the old aristocrats awarded careful adherence to noble birthright, etiquette and carefully outlined hierarchy, the Audorians have an appreciation for intellect, rigorous scientific method (what they consider to be rigorous scientific method, of course, is not the same as what modern science would consider it to be), and a meritocratic hierarchy that is dependent on so many factors (intellect, publications, breakthroughs, magical talent, lineage, personal achievements, charisma) that determining one's position in the scale of things is really quite convoluted.

So there you have it, a look at the magocratic houses in brief.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Natural Disasters - Favorites and a link

Since it's the week over Christmas, I'm not going to fulfill my Review / Research cycle. I'll start that again in the New Year. In the meantime, a cool research site is Australian Geoscience. If anyone is curious about Australian natural disasters, their commonality, and historical examples, well, take a look. If not, no biggie. Just comment with what your favorite natural disaster is. Whether by favourite you mean 'most frightening', 'most awe-inspiring', or any other 'most' you care to apply.

My favorite are tornadoes and cyclones. I keep dreaming of those. It's one of the few natural disasters that you can follow and watch.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Inspiration for House Rosentia

If my book is ever published, you will understand. It is one of the noble / mercantile Houses, the more eccentric and, some would say, monstrous houses in The Butterfly Lady. It also happens to be the one that Jason Arneil, the protagonist in The Butterfly Lady, has to deal with the most. In fact, he lives on Rosentia Island. Of course, thus far he hasn't seen much of their true eccentricities but this is just a back water place.

The inspiration is the music clip for the White Stripes' song - Blue Orchid.

Merry Christmas

Sorry I didn't do the review as promised but it's Christmas time and I've been busy shopping for presents, decorating my cubicle, and other such matters of vital importance. Hehe, the girl in the cubicle across from mine brought in genuine lucerne for her baby-in-the-manger display. But yes, Merry Christmas to all! Try not to over-eat (tummy grumbles do not a fun Christmas make) or over-drink (save that for New Years) but do make sure to bust out of your diet tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fallacious Arguments Part 2

Now for Part 2 of Fallacious Research we’ll take a look at different methods of appealing to your audience through various tricks of words that can sometimes sound so reasonable. Also remember, fallacious arguments don’t just exist in dialogue. They can also occur inside someone’s own mind as a convenient method of justifying certain behavior.

First, we’ll start with circular causes and consequences. This is a fun one. This is where you claim that the consequence of the phenomenon is claimed to be its root cause. “The boy was poor and hungry because he was a thief.” Far more logical than the boy stealing food and other odds and ends because he’s poor and hungry, right? Well, we can always prove it by cherry picking. We’ll point out a few individual cases or data that support our argument – a man who lost his job because he was a compulsive thief, for example – and ignore all evidence to the contrary, even if there is more of it. Well, we could also throw in some Misleading Vividness and describe this one man, this incorrigible thief, in such glowing detail that – despite being an exceptional occurrence, it appears to be such a problem that people forget that this is just one man.

Ahh, but let’s say the members on the opposite team are giving me a really good counter-argument that might even sway me - thus destroying all my justifications for owning a mansion while homeless kids are arrested for stealing pears (oversimplification and exaggeration, did you catch it?). I could demand negative proof – instead of offering evidence that thievery causes poverty, I could instead demand that they prove the opposite, thus making my own position look like the generic one that they must disprove. If they do manage to bring their evidence to bear, I can then Move the Goalpost or Raise the Bar by dismissing their evidence because it doesn’t prove that poverty is the leading cause of antisocial behavior.

If they satisfactorily counter-argue, perhaps by successfully arguing that the goal posts were moved too far or that we were getting off-topic, I could try to win by giving Proof by verbosity and simply give them an argument far too complex and verbose to be truly dealt with and keep bombarding them with multi-layered questions that they can’t hope to answer. If they manage to get close to answering it, I’ll sprinkle a few Red Herrings around to distract the audience by introducing a separate argument that I believe will be easier to win. Such as how people today are so coddled they expect to be babied.

Better yet, I can instead take one of their phrases out of context and argue that or even attack the person instead of keeping to the argument. “Isn’t it true that YOU once stole a lolly from the teacher’s desk and YOU weren’t even poor!” I could even poison the well by beginning with a few details about any shoplifting they, or someone they know (if I’m going with Guilt by Association instead), did in their childhood before we get into the argument proper so that everything they say may be discredited or ridiculed due to past indiscretions.

Finally, if all else fails, we could go with a Sentimental Fallacy. It would be more pleasant if thieves became poor, and not the other way around; therefore it ought to be that way; therefore it is that way. This fallacy can also lead to the Fair World Hypothesis: If the world is fair, then people get what they deserve, therefore poor people deserve to be poor, therefore they have no right to steal, regardless of if it is a basic foodstuff or a Porsche.

And wow! I’ve still got enough research for a Part 3 which will include the various “appeal to’s….” After that, who knows?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Comparative Ethnography: Conferences

By the way, an ethnography is an attempt to capture an outsider's perspective of an event and help other people feel like they're there, or at least, help them imagine what it would be like to be there. It's different from a story as there is generally no narrative. In fact, the role is to be evocative while trying to reduce bias - which is the complete opposite of a story which is meant to have quite a strong Point-of-View bias. So please don't judge my writing talents on the basis of my ethnography talents! It's more an exercise in converting modern life to my fantasy world.


People filled the cavernous lobby, milling about a table covered in name badges or queueing for the coffee machine and the juice taps. Then, as if by some unspoken agreement, people started trickling into the main room to take their seats. They sat in pairs or small groups, leaving polite gaps between strangers where possible. The loud mumble of four hundred people talking is stilled when the event coordinator steps up onto the black platform at the front of the room, and gives a welcoming speech.

One by one, the speakers come up to the lectern to showcase their wisdom, flanked by projection screens that show powerpoint slides, web-sites and YouTube videos. In the quiet moments between their speeches, chinking glassware can be heard from the kitchens and distant voices are carried through the gaps between the walls and the high ceilings.

The speakers vary in presentation talent. One woman’s head bobs like a nervous bird as she attempts to both read her speech and gaze out into the crowd. One man spends more time reading the speech than looking at the crowd and yet his speech reading is less obvious because his movements are slow and steady and so it feels like a conversation. Another woman manages to do her speech without recourse to any notes that aren't already up on her powerpoint slide. Yet each has some interesting fact or story to share with the audience.

*****The Realms*****

A wide variety of people clutter the narrow cobblestone streets beside one of the smaller amphitheatres in the city. Most wear representations of their Noble House membership, or allegiance, with badges, symbols on their clothing, with even a few guild members wearing full livery uniforms in the colours of the noble house. The sky is clear, with a few shreds of clouds, and the temperature is quite hot and dry. A few people complain about being under the sun on such a day, only to be refuted by an aging gentleman who states drily that the principles of open communication and visibility to the people demand that such congresses occur outside the walls of any building.

Finally, the gates are opened and people begin to shuffle in. First go the nobility, wearing a few proud but subtle tokens of their House Membership, and they assemble in the front rows of the auditorium. They do not all sit with members of their own House, instead, many of them go to sit with members of allied Houses. Then go the invitees who were expressly invited to attend and they are allowed to sit where they will but most go to sit just behind the nobles' row. Finally, the gatesmen, who have counted each who have entered, tally up the numbers and figure out how many seats remain. Then they allow the uninvited who, if they are lucky (or unlucky, depending upon one's view), might even find a vacant seat beside a nobleman if one of the nobles could not attend.

Conversation is loud and boisterous until a gong silences all. The speaker stands in a perfectly designed space, surrounded by stone designed to provide the acoustics necessary, and also with great skill projects his or her voice. A little magical aid goes a long way here and often a minor noble will add volume to the words of the more important speakers so that all can hear it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Links of Value

Here's a few more blog links that I think are very useful. One of them describes how Culture Isn't Uniform and this is a very important issue to bear in mind when creating fantasy worlds. There are sub-cultures and there are sub-sub-cultures and then there are the smaller groups within. An elf shouldn't be any more of an Elf than I am a Human. I'm a Human, a Female Human, a Human raised in a single parent family, a Gamer Human, a LARPer Human, a Writer Human, a Blogger, an office worker, a local government worker, a White Person, an Australian, etc. Thus you couldn't just label me Australian or even White Australian, though I'll have something in common with them. Heck, my friends and I might even have more in common with a group of Japanese Australian gamers than we do with generic White Australians.

So bear that in mind when writing up your elves. Rich or poor, noble or beggar, rural or urban, or anywhere in between, remember that one's dominant culture or sub-cultural groups are only a part of the equation.

On the other hand, there is a blog post about
Raising the Stakes which is a really good one to take a look at while editing. She even grades the stakes which is really helpful to me as I should really go and check out my book to make sure the stakes are getting harder as the novel goes on.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fallacious Arguments Part 1

Well, since I’m about to embark on some political debate and speech-making in my novel, today’s research topic involves Fallacies. These are often found in arguments where, rather than a person providing evidence and debates in a rational and open-minded manner, they use tricks in conversation to win. These fallacies don’t just work in speeches, though, they also can be in operation in a person’s own mind and can underline certain contradictory beliefs that don’t make much sense to anyone who bothers to scrutinize them.

First, let’s discuss the straw man defense. This is particularly useful when I have to win an argument with someone who has more evidence, a better case, or is simply better spoken than I am. Instead of tackling the issue at hand, I create an argument for them (the straw man) that is superficially similar but fundamentally different and then argue against that. So if a woman gives a well-researched argument that starting school an hour later (and letting youths sleep in an extra hour) improves student grades because their body clocks are wired to get up later and stay up later, I could use a straw man defense against her in a number of ways.

For example, I could re-construct her argument by misrepresenting her position. “Oh, so students should be allowed to stay up as late as they want?”

I could quote her words out of context that change the meaning of the words. “As you said, ‘teenagers just don’t go to bed early enough’, so why don’t we focus on getting youths to do just that?” This could also count as an oversimplification of her argument. Yes, teenagers aren’t going to bed early enough but the research in this example has just suggested that their body clocks keep them from doing just that. This counter-argument over-simplifies the matter so that I don’t have to argue with evidence involving body clocks.

Rather than argue with the expert, I could publicly argue with someone who is terrible at debating and then quickly refute that person’s poor arguments, therefore undermining the credibility of the studies without ever clashing with the expert.

The slippery slope argument is another fallacious argument as it states that even a very small change will inevitably lead to a series of increasingly greater changes that will end in some significant impact. It ignores the possibility of middle ground or even that the first step will also be the last step. “If we let teenagers sleep in an extra hour, what then? Soon the School Board will let them sleep in to midday and then where will we be?”

Or I could appeal to a probability that simply because it might happen, then it certainly must happen. “Allowing teenagers to sleep in will make them stay up later at night.” Or the Is-Ought fallacious argument where something is claimed to be better one way because it is that way. “Since the school day has always started at 9 o’clock, then it ought to start at 9 o’clock.” Related to this is the Naturalistic fallacy where goodness and rightness is the same as how pleasant or popular something is. “Every other school starts at 9 o’clock so ours should as well.” I could Appeal to ridicule by making the other person’s argument seem flawed by presenting their argument in a ridiculous light. “Oh, let’s let them sleep in because it’s such hard work getting to sleep, is it? Oh, I’m sure it must be the hardest work any teenager even indulges in!”

If you’re like me, I’m sure you can think of dozens of fun ways these fallacies can be used to frustrate more logically-minded characters, entrap characters in faulty thinking, or confuse an antagonist. They can also be used for humorous effect and thus can be handy dialogue tools, especially since we tend to use them so much in our day to day lives.

So that’s it for Part 1 of Fallacious Research. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Research Is Hard

I'm trying to prepare for tomorrow by doing research into techniques of arguments and conversation as well as the instruments of power and regulation (reading Foucault to see his views on that). It's hard going to find any books here that boil it all down enough in an easy-to-read and understand manner. Hmm, hopefully I'll have better luck when it comes down to the actual research article writing bit.

Friday, December 10, 2010

How to use Irony and Yay! I got a present!

Well, I was going to save this link to a really awesome article called How To Push The Envelope on a really neat blog called Hypothetically Speaking but then she gave me an Award so I'll push this link up on the queue. This article was really handy for me because in my novel, still not sure whether to try to get it published as The Butterfly Lady or Curse of the Rose, I need to embed a lot of comparisons and contrasts into a whole House-load of characters.

A quote from Erica in her article:

"Weeds" and "Dexter" are both smash hits from Showtime. Both shows have developed enormous cult followings because they have mastered the art of IRONY. The beauty is that the irony lies in the main characters themselves.

Nicely written and very evocative. Take a look to see if this very clever character technique that Erica has unearthed can work for you as well. This article is so good that if I ever find another one of Erica's unearthed character techniques again, I am so doing a full post on it. (Oh, and by the way, how absolutely beautiful is her Blog? I mean, really! She puts me to shame.)

Now onto the bribery that caused me to do this blog post now, rather than try to lure more people to the page with a review on Joe Abercrombie. Erica gave me a Blog Award! My very first. *bows* Feel free to throw flowers up on the stage. *bows*

There it is! Not sure what to do with it other than bask in its radiance and smirk with new found arrogance. Oh well, radiance and smirking works for me any day of the week.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Book Analysis Thursday: Best Served Cold - Joe Abercrombie

Some schools of thought say that you should select a theme when writing a novel and build on it. Joe Abercrombie took to that piece of advice with gusto. Best Served Cold showcases a few solid themes and pulls every iota of plot out of them. The themes that I identified were: Are mercy and cowardice the same? Can revenge ever solve anything or will vengeance be doomed to spark more vengeance?

As a tragedy, this novel is incredibly fascinating as it picks apart the brutality of blood feuds, the futility of politics as old mistakes are repeated, the spreading corruption where hate and pain breed more of the same, and the psychological strains caused by such issues. The novel pits the characters against each other in a seemingly impossible paradox: loyalty is rewarded with suspicion which causes retaliation which leads to vengeance, hate, and the loss of a loyal comrade; while disloyalty can also lead back to vengeance, albeit on a straighter path. If you aren't suspicious enough, you will likely be betrayed, but suspicion itself can lead to treachery.

His characters are complex and driven and the book is a good read simply to see how a drunkard, a Master Poisoner, a Poisoner's assistant, a torturer, an ex-convict murderer, a mercenary, and a soldier all manage to justify their actions. Each believes that their own values are right and, though they may sometimes feel uncertain, and their world views can be shaken, generally they continue to justify their own actions as they stumble along. Often by forcing their expectations of the world adapt to the actions they are forced to undertake. One of the characters does this more than the others and its his terrible slide into tragic monster that really sets this book apart from most others. By helping us understand these people through their thought patterns and complexity, Joe Abercrombie engenders our sympathy simply through fascination. The characters truly are morbid specimens to watch.

Joe Abercrombie also manages to create a female mercenary character who is bitter and vindictive (yet sympathetic), who is actually comfortable in a masculine world (by ignoring masculine / feminine norms rather than railing against the feminine), and who is tough without being boring. There are enough subtle nuances, enough nods to the fact that she is a woman in a man's world, to keep her from just being a bloke with long hair and a girly name (well, sorta girly - Monza Murcatto isn't all that feminine in my book). Nor is she that stereotypical, groan-worthy, eye-roll-inducing macho bull-busting warrior women.

In truth, I think part of the trick was to make her rather nonchalant about a lot of things. Sex and violence are just part of the daily living. Women and men are evaluated as to their use to her. She keeps a tight lid on her feelings but they're certainly still there and when they do rise up and overwhelm her they do it in a way that is uniquely her. They manifest, generally, in physical terms with exhaustion, hunger for drugs, and palpable feelings reminiscent of barely restrained panic (trembling, weakness) rather than weeping or ranting.

This novel is quite unremittingly dark and bleak (which admittedly does fit the subject matter) and the ending left me dissatisfied because of it (which admittedly also fits with the theme - vengeance never brings satisfaction). The fight scenes were superbly described (as were the rather explicit sex scenes) but after awhile I grew bored with the fight scenes. They were too many, and went on for too long, for my tastes at least. Still, his skill in writing them is admirable.

The only other issue I had is a note of caution regarding pacing. Towards the end, the pace moved me so quickly that I started skim reading all the fighting / descriptions, etc. in my desperation to find out what happened next. This ended up reducing my satisfaction as I started stepping out of the scene and more into reader mode. Yes, it's a naughty habit of mine but it is a good point. If the tension goes up too high, you're going to have to write everything at a very quick and brief pace or else the reader will start skipping along.

So, in summary, read Best Served Cold to learn how to write a believable female soldier / warrior; explicit sex scenes; intense fight scenes; novels written solidly around a theme; well-described locations; and believable justifications for atrocities.

For those who have read this novel, what did you think? What techniques did you get out of it?

Oh, and feel free to review my review. Is this method of analysis useful to you? Is it too broad? Too vague? Should I pick one technique in particular and analyse that?

I'm always open to suggestions.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Social Media Advice

Picture Link.

This is some information I gathered on social media from the 2010 Volunteer Congress: Marketing Volunteers: Are we Selling the Unsellable? I thought I'd share it with you all. If you don't agree with it, that's fine. People do things differently and these are just industry recommendations from advertisers, marketers and radio personalities, not authors.

Social media is great to start conversations with a new audience so build the conversation, make it easy to get involved, ask some questions, and develop a web presence by being memorable and interesting. Listen to the conversation (on your blog and in others) so you can understand their thoughts, feelings, and the communication styles. Remember that people come to your social media site with a ‘What’s in it for ME?’ mentality. They want to know why they should spend valuable time and energy on learning more about you. Social media should generally be targeted so keep your writing blog separated from your personal blog unless you're sure that your audience will be interested in both.

Be willing to surrender control to your customers, to invest time, accept that your words may be misunderstood, be cautious when debating with critics (if you do it at all), and its generally a good idea to be polite and respectful toward your audience (though you can be irreverent towards your topics).

For those published authors who want to sell more books with their blog: Remember that selling is listening and problem solving. People buy from the people they like. It’s a recommendation economy and this is seen most clearly with blogs and Facebook where people can see your connections at a glance and choose to become connected themselves. Social media is a good opportunity to let your happy customers do the marketing for you. So remember, “At the heart of any worthwhile sale is a great conversation!”

What are the important things to consider in social media?

Challenges. (Why are you doing this? Why shouldn’t you be doing this? What are you worried about?)
Content. (Do I have enough? How long can I maintain this particular schedule? What would be a more feasible schedule? How can I improve, or increase, my content? What sort of content will I be putting out there? Plan ahead with your content, set standards, and stick to them.)
Communication. (What is the social etiquette expected in this medium? What sort of regularity can people expect from me? What sort of person do I wish to be and how can I reflect this through my communication styles?)
Connection / Conversation. (Don’t be afraid to make connections, build rapport, and get to know the people on your social media sites.)
Collaboration. (Remember, social media is about participation and not consumption. Social media sites are a collaborative effort. Surrender control – within limits – and understand that others are making a contribution whenever they comment or respond)
Conversion. (Be Fresh! Be Unexpected! Be fun! Be irreverent at times! Be provocative - but not too provocative. Have an idea! The more memorable you are, the more likely they are to become regular followers, but make sure you’re memorable for all the right reasons and not because of your rants about the underprivileged and how they should stop complaining.)


Put some thought into your public persona. People will start to develop a sense of who you are from how you speak and they will feel more comfortable if you respond in a consistent manner. What image do you want people to have of you? Do you want to appear to be an intellectual, a sophisticated academic, a laidback friend, or a motherly voice of reason? Do you want to be that critical person who says what everyone else is thinking with style and flair?

And remember, technology and the internet are a strategy, not a solution. If you want to be a writer, you must write.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Adding Structure to Chaos

Been awhile, huh? I've gone from posting super-frequently to rarely at all. A big part of this is that I took a holiday from all things writing (and, well, editing) but if I'm going to blog, I might as well do it seriously. So, since going to the Marketing Volunteering conference in Adelaide, and listening to their explanations and advice on the whole social media thing, I've done some thinking and defined a few things.

The purpose of this blog: To put all my research, revelations, lists, and links all in one place for later perusal AND helping out the writers of the world by giving them access to it all.

The Blog Me: I'm going for intellectual but easy for most to understand. So, basically, I'm hoping to come across as funny but smart. I also hope I can tackle some of the harder issues in a sensitive enough way because some of my research will be on some not so nice matters.

The Schedule: This is the bit I'm not a huge fan of but I might as well give it a go. I schedule everything else. Why not my blog? I'm not going to plan to do up a bunch of how-to-write toolkit articles (I will do them on occasion but I won't schedule them in) because there are other blogs that are better at it than me (The Other Side Of The Story) and there is no point retreading old ground.

So my schedule will include:

Tuesdays: A short research article on an emotion, issue, historical matter, or psychological problem that is both interesting and relevant to either my own work or writing in general.

Alternating Thursdays: One Thursday, I'll do a review. (Mostly novels but I may also review the storytelling techniques used by certain videogames and movies). The other Thursday, I'll do a brief ethnography (i.e. 200 - 250 words describing the feeling of working in a library) that I will then fantographise (my own random made-up word) to see what a similar setting would look like in my fantasy world. Consider it an exercise in stretching my fantasy brain and turning the mundane into something from another world.

I may do other articles as well. Updates on my writing. Interesting musings. Sudden ephiphanies. But they're not going on the schedule. These two things are. What do you guys think? Would you tune in for that? And what other themes could I put on my schedule?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Knowing Places

I've noticed more and more how much I don't really notice. I always used to have my head stuck in a book. It's only this year that I've actually started looking around me and I have noticed so much more. The way the bark peels from the trees in late Spring. The different amounts of birds. The many types of gardens and homes. I've also started doing a bit of minor research (mostly Wikipedia and Google) into some of the local areas. I've examined Google Earth views of my home city and tried to wrap my head around where everything is.

I live in what would be to Americans (and most other countries), a large country town, but which is a capital city in Australia. I've always considered it just the same old few streets but, really, when I look at it now I see so much more. There is so much you can learn about your home town or city. So many places that you won't see if you just whizz by in a car.

I've walked through Rundle Mall and paid attention to what I heard or smelled rather than what I saw. I've travelled the O'Bahn and noted how the River Torrens grows more shallow or deeper depending on the season, temperature, and recent rainfall. I've even noticed how what was green grass and weeds in winter became clover in early spring and is now this yellow reed-weeds that just blankets everything. How even the grasses seem to have died and it's not even all that hot or dry just yet! I've noticed how dark it gets and how quickly in winter and how much better it is in spring when I can get home and its still daylight.

I've noticed all kinds of things. These all help me as a writer and as a person. We spend so much time trying to figure out the right adjective or metaphor to describe something we've never seen, that we don't bother looking around us to take inspiration from things we can experience.

So, as a writing exercise, learn to look around you. You can learn so much more that way.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mood and Other Links

This post gives us a number of really simple and easy subtle techniques for drawing readers into the mood rather than slapping them over the face with a 'Be scared now, this is scary, look at me signposting the scariness'.

Glorious Breaks & Sea-Faring Links

Well, I took a month off all things to do with writing. Critique Circle, this blog, editing, and everything in between. I brushed up on my oral storytelling skills through some rousing games of World of Darkness and now I'm back with a vengeance. I've got my story chapters all printed out and I'm going over them with a lead pencil.

First chapter required quite a lot of editing. Dozens of word changes per paragraph. *sigh* Next chapter has only a few dribs and drabs here and there. That first chapter is SUCH a pain but I guess that's what I get for writing in a three-year-old's perspective, especially when so much needs to be established in those few pages. You try portraying a non-medieval fantasyland through the eyes of a traumatised three-year-old in a servant's bedroom in the basement of a manor.... Oh well, it's certainly flexing my creative muscle. I have no excuse to info dump the answers, after all.

Of course, I have the distinct feeling that it's difficult to establish a non-European/non-medieval fantasyland no matter what your protagonist is. I mean, not unless you've writing a Japanese samurai-style fantasyland. Regrettably pants and frock coats and clock towers haven't put the point across well enough. I might need to underline kettle-drums, rapiers, and canons.... Sure, my fantasyland isn't really Napoleanic but it is, at the very least, closer to the 1700s than it is to the 1100s so it would still be a definite step up.

I wonder how many other authors find it difficult to help the reader realize that this isn't a medieval 'verse.

Oh, and also, a neat link for those tired of hard biscuit and weavils:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tough Guide to Fantasyland ... I've got it!

Just a short post of me congratulating myself on finally having a copy of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland in my hands. Here's hoping that none of my books qualify too closely. I'm also taking a look to see if there's anything in there that could be spun into something interesting. I mean, if 'guy gets shot to death' can be spun into thousands of wonderful crime novels (mm, I love crime ... gotta get back into reading fiction) then why can't fantasy tropes? Well, we'll see.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

De-Toxing the Easy Way

Well, rather than succumb to one complicated diet or de-tox plan or another I decided to do something simple. My birthday weekend was a binge of energy drinks, snack foods, and the odd glass of alcohol so I figured I should probably do something to de-tox. So, preferring the simple way, and having noticed how 'meh' I've been feeling of late, I cut out the refined sugar.

Basically, no cordial, no chocolates, no cakes, no energy drinks, no lollies. This is my fifth day. My one failure was a yohurt-iced muesli bar so I'm doing pretty well. Especially since it was a Zombie Walk on Saturday that I went to that involved eating in the city for lunch (6-inch subway) and dinner (chicken burger at a yiros shop). Everyone else pretty much went to KFC so I think I did well. Later on, there was a close brush when the girl giving us a lift wanted to take us to a chocolate-based cafe where she was going to shout us food. Then we went to an On-The-Run petrol station where they picked up a very large cream-filled cake-thing for us all to share (me and my fiance resisted the urge).

This week, there has also either been a cake or biscuits in the lunch room at work every day of the week. Can you believe that? Normally I'm lucky if it happens once. This week it's every day! I've also been drinking 2 - 4 cups of water a day.

Funnily enough, other than massive cravings (destroyed by eating mangoes - they sure hit that sugar button) and a mild yet persistent headache on Day 2, I've felt better than before. While my poor sleeping habits ensure I'm sleepy each morning and I still laze in bed for 20 minutes post-alarm (don't worry, I set my alarm expecting that), that's still a 50% reduction in lazing-in time AND when I finally do get up I feel awake. I'm not even nodding off at my desk come 3.00PM like I used to.

So it appears to be working ... the trouble is that this isn't the intense de-tox that makes your body fit and fighting and ready for another onslaught. This is the sort of subtle de-tox that only really provides long-term benefits as part of a life-style change.

Gee, I'm glad it's fruit season in Australia because I sure have a sweet tooth!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Skilling Up Your Storytelling Skills

Well, we've all read up on how to improve your skills through reading how-to-write books and blogs, attending conferences, and interviewing writers. At least, odds are that if you're reading my blog, you have. I've also mentioned how you can improve your storytelling skills through general research, training and observation (such as going bush walking can improve your descriptive techniques as well as be inspirational).

Of course, there are other options. What about all those storytelling hobbies out there? What about sitting around a campfire and coming up with improvised horror stories? You can keep track of your skill by watching how a real live audience reacts to you. Doing theatre sports or acting classes can also assist by making you more aware of the role of body language amongst other things.

Also, why not try your hand at a pen-and-paper roleplaying game either as a player (where you create and control a single character complete with personality and goals) or as the Game Master / Storyteller / Dungeon Master (where you create and control the world, antagonists, and any character that isn't controlled by a player)? Sure, these games can be played as dice-rolling extravaganzas to the tune of 'lightning bolt' and 'magic missile' where the players simply use statistical number crunching to win against the enemy. Generally, however, they are played as excursions into other worlds, with players throwing themselves into the skins of their characters, and GMs developing story lines in an interactive universe. We all know what it's like when a protagonist in a novel has a mind of its own. What about having four that really do?

The benefits of doing this is that you can see first-hand which plot lines capture interest and which fall flat. A session of roleplay also generally covers more ground than a session of writing, which means that you can practice plotting on a faster level, and you certainly gain a lot of skills at description and dialogue. If your description is too long or your dialogue too unrealistic, you'll soon know about it. You can have games about solving crimes, exploring fantasy worlds (great to assist with your world building), dealing with horrible monsters, or hunting ghosts. Pretty much any type of genre has a market for it (except for Romance - that could just get plain weird between friends).

Also, it's a lot of fun and can give any budding writer the audience s/he craves. Just beware: No plot survives contact with players. A player's mind doesn't function the ways that ours does and they will always come up with some unexpected route to solve an obstacle.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Nanowrimo Plan

Well, I've been knocking my head against the brick wall that is editing The Butterfly Lady and reached a crisis point of: This book is so OMG boring I just can't stand reading it another second all I see is issues bwahhh! So I'm thinking I may have over-edited it. I may have over-read it. I may, in short, after six months, need to take a step back, have a sit down, draw a few deep breaths, and GO DO SOMETHING ELSE FOR A CHANGE.

So I've figured I'll throw my hat into the Nanowrimo ring. I'll do a bit more editing/writing to get the novel to the new ending that I think it needs and I'll take October to do that. Then in November I'm going to totally take a look around and start seeing other novels.

I'm currently tossing up between:

An Inquirer (think police detective meets KGB) in a fantasy-land city starts investigating a simple homicide and ends up caught between a war between two Noble Houses.


A Librarian whose role it is to gather, remember, and teach information in the largely illiterate lands of the Ihlander Salt Plains (think post-apocalyptic fantasy land) tries to keep peace between warring tribes of orcs, deal with raiders, and discover why a mysterious oasis has re-appeared and what happened to its original inhabitants.

So ... Fantasyland Conspiracy plot or Fantasyland Post-Apocalyptic Mystery.

Hmm... Any thoughts? And is anyone else doing Nanowrimo?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Good Books, Pretty Books, Pretty Pretty Books

Yay! Went into the library and found Beyond the Shadows (Brent Weeks) and Dancing on the Head of a Pin (Thomas E. Sniegoski). I've read the first book in the Brent Weeks trilogy. The later just has a really awesome cover and blurb. Either way, I'm excited. Now all I need to do is get a hold of Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb (I'm halfway through it but had to return it because someone else had it booked) and I'll be in for a very happy week of bussing. Anyone else reading any very good books?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Law Enforcement

In my country, we have the law separated into the Legislative (law and policy makers), Executive (police officers, government officials, and other such people who enforce the law), and the Judiciary (those who judge breaches of the law and decide punishments). In the Realms, the government is split into the Legislative/Executive and the Executive/Judiciary. Basically, the ruling class (consisting of members of the five Noble Houses who have sorceress lineage) are both administrators and law-makers.

The Law Enforcement side of it combines the Executive and the Judiciary. It's split into two levels. You have the Watchmen who wander the streets, keep an eye and ear to the ground, and are basically city guard who promote law and order on the streets. Then, separate to these people, are the Inquirers and Auditors (derogatively referred to as 'Grey Coats'), who investigate crimes ranging from murder to sabotage to conspiracies to treason (depending on their rank / designation). The Inquirers and Auditors are two sides of the Department of Justice. Basically, Inquirers investigate most crimes and Auditors oversee their duties and fulfill the role of judge of crimes brought before them (as well as investigating certain high-profile fraud, treason, and other such cases).

Yeah, there's room for bias there, which the Audorian Queen has attempted to deal with by creating special schools for the Department of Justice. When likely candidates are identified from the school children they are transferred to that school and their parents paid a certain yearly amount called an honorarium. Since the year 23, schooling has been mandatory for children below the age of 14 in any area with a local school - hence why apprenticeships are illegal for anyone below the age of 14 - so there's an increasing pool of candidates. Nobles are barred from entry in the Department of Justice to keep them free of corruption. The schools are basically brainwashing academies that turn children into analytical officers of the Realms. Corrupt officials in the Department of Justice are all charged with treason, by the way, and their names become mud.

Sounds cool, huh? When I'm done editing The Butterfly Lady I'm going to write a novel from the point of view of one such Inquirer in the service of the Realms.

So, have you decided what your country's Law Enforcement Agencies look like?

Thank You To My ADHD

I know this is going to seem like a strange blog post but I feel moved to post it anyway. A few years ago, my mother told me that I was once diagnosed with ADHD. Now it caused me trouble as a kid (though I didn't know I had it) as I was a motor mouth with no sense of time (or direction, but that's another story) and I was so busy thinking a million-miles-an-hour that I found it hard to make friends as I spent too much time thinking about what I would say next. I once had to stick a post-it note in high school to my forehead to remember that mum had put a bottle of Coke in the freeze to quick-cool it and I had to get it out after an hour.

Very forgetful.

Fast forward and almost every one of my skills are due to learning to cope with what others might label a disorder. I'm sure I got off lightly. I don't believe my ADHD was very severe so I don't blame anyone who found only trouble from it and I'm certainly not saying that I'm awesome for being able to learn to cope with ADHD.

What I'm saying is that my ADHD was awesome for me. My thoughts fluttering a million miles an hour taught me how to let my thoughts soar. My low boredom threshold taught me to daydream constantly in any dull moment or analyse the surroundings or jot down notes for novels or think about all the things I had to remember to do and what order to do them in and how best to get them done. I learned to cope with my scatterbrained nature by doing up lists which show me what I've done and what I've yet to do and where my planning fell down and where it can be improved.

I've also learned to pay more attention to other people. Sometime I find it hard to stay 'in' the conversation but I do put a lot of thought in and around conversational times about what someone said and how they said it and how they reacted. I've become a lot more conscious of how I present myself and my words. My psychology degree mixed with my ADHD-fueled analytical time mixed with my novel-writing / role-playing / improvised theatre mind to help me figure out how other people interacted and why and how best to approach people. It also helped me to sit back during my daydream-times and take some perspective and think about personal philosophies like:

Never make a promise you can't keep.
Never offer something you aren't willing to give.
Never get caught up in an argument (as opposed to healthy debate) if you can help it. Antagonism benefits nobody.

Since I can't turn my mind off, I can't simply pretend that social gaffes didn't happen. I sit there and I think about it and I figure out how to do it better. I think about who I've seen that did it successfully. I think about what I could do or should do. And when I'm not thinking, daydreaming, or analysing, I'm reading and that opens my mind to further viewpoints and perspectives, both in non-fiction and fiction.

My ADHD has also given me the need to swap between tasks to keep my mind refreshed and on-task and while I'm not a great multi-tasker (I'm not great at doing multiple things at once), I am pretty good at task-swapping successfully and this often cuts down on procrastination and the slow-down that often comes from keeping with the same task for too long.

So yes, thank you to my ADHD. You have provided me with the energy to think, the drive to spend my time doing / thinking, and the need to find ways to regulate my time to keep myself on track - skills that have led me to becoming the imaginative, analytical, efficient, and inventive person I am today.

I am who I am and I am happy with that.

My Measures of Time

Well, I've been asked to elaborate on my date system so I thought I might as well do it here in case anyone else is interested. Basically, Year 0 is the Year of the Magocratic Revolution when the sorcerors who had been banished 22 years before hand from Audor Towers (the only place sorcerers were allowed - and even then it was a small, dinky island) drew together the merchant class, naval class, monster hunters, and even an aristocratic turn-coat family to overthrow the old ruling class.

On an aside, there were many reasons behind the revolution: the merchants and bankers were often richer than the nobility but there was little upward mobility and debts on the nobility were sometimes forgiven by the King; vital technology like the printing press was repressed despite its use in surrounding countries due to fears of the peasant-folk getting uppity and that made them a backwater nation with increasing fears of invasion; the nobility were keen to spend freely on themselves but public works were neglected; the serf system was horribly out-dated compared to more progressive surrounding societies; charismatic sorcerers can do a lot with a few enchantments; and an idealistic vision whereby those blessed by the Gods to wield magic could protect the common man (what better divine mandate can you get!).

The country considered itself reborn at the Year of the Revolution. To denote time, years since the revolution are dated with a simple number, i.e. 92, while years prior to the revelation are depicted with a '-' sign, i.e. -92 would be 92 years before the revolution. I just wanted something a little different from using initials to denote passage of time or the other habit of simply having time go forward from some unknown start point (though that might be interesting in a fantasy society living in 9203 because that's how long the civilization has existed). So yes, woo! My dating system.

As for other areas of time, my world has clocks in it so that makes judging time by minutes and seconds easier though I need to reduce the usage of that in nautical and very rustic areas (that probably judge time by bells). The clockwork mechanisms are getting highly refined due to technology imported from Chiang Khang and thus you can get grandfather clocks. Still haven't decided on whether they have pocket watches. I'll need to research that one's timeline and then consider whether I want that to be invented during the course of my various books set in that world.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Adverbs could be signalling much more. They could be little red flags that here's a chance for you to develop your characters / scenes more so instead of just pressing the delete key, look at them as a reminder to deepen the scene. TheOtherSideOfTheStory explains!

A quote from a fun blog: Sometimes you just got to tell the reader something to get it across. But when you are forced to, do it with humor :"Rev. Smug was never a man to let his religion get in the way of his love life." So true. Go to
Writing In the Crosshairs to find out more.

Methods of developing unpredictable storylines, surprising your reader, and a bunch of questions to help you do so can be found at
TheOtherSideOfTheStory while another article at that same place will tell you about how to find the action and up the stakes in your novel.

Flights of Fantasy have a post on Swords in Fantasy. Many different types of swords are described, from sentient ones, to ones with different powers, and how the post author just loves all these different uses for swords in fantasy. It's an interesting and fun read.

TalkToYoUniverse have a post on details in fiction. This blog post contains one of those lines that really sums up what I've been trying to say with my posts on descriptions: ''confound the easy expectations and your world will start to pop." It's not only good because contrasts and contradictions catch the eye (try saying that one three times fast) but also because it makes the viewpoint character feel more real. I would notice the CEO's nose ring or chunky gemstone bracelet before I notice his Armani suit, after all. In a public library, I would notice the Warhammer 40k terrain set up in the Youth section (complete with a number of Warhammer 40k books in center stage) before I would notice the other book shelves. Therefore it makes more sense when the character does, too.

A few more useful links from TheOtherSideOfTheStory (a blog which I heart more and more and which is increasingly convincing me to hunt down the Shifters trilogy that she has written) involve
how to strengthen POV through description (an area critters always bug me about), describing movement through sound alone (very cool way of looking at it), describing emotion within the POV (to help the readers feel inside the character's head - another issue of mine), and a post on describing what the reader's don't assume.

Message From My Ideal Reader

As my targeted audience is, well, really it's me. Yep, I'm egotistical to write a novel based on me as the most marvellous audience of all! So I figured that I, as a reader, should write a message to me, as a writer, so that I can figure out just what I want in a novel. I'd suggest you all do the same (and if you do, link me to your blog post through the Comments section).

"What do I want? I want the world. Your world. I want to explore its strange lands and see places I've never visited before - whether that's a New York urinal or a mystical glen. I don't just want to read a word that says I'm there. I want to feel like I've been there, like a tourist who can recount the wonders they've seen, and that means I need to see, hear, and, hell, smell that urinal or mystical glen. I want you to make me think and feel.
I want you to stretch my understanding and help me see the world from a different perspective. Not constantly. That would make my brain hurt. But once or twice in ways that fit with the mentality of the host body I'm riding (also known as the protagonist).
I demand some dose of the strange in the books I read, whether this be an assumption turned on its head (a really cantankerous witness to a homicide telling off the police about how they trampled his hydrangeas rather than a timid or helpful witness) or bizarre sub-dimensions and hell-pockets that barely match our reality. I don't want too much strangeness, though, not outside of a short story. Hell-pockets are all well and good but they're better if they imitate the familiar but just don't quite make it.
Mostly, I want to play the voyeur in an unfamiliar place. I want to root about in someone else's dirty laundry (lots of neat gossipable secrets and issues between characters, please), see what their homes look like, find out what they think about people, and see what certain situations (natural disasters, wars, divorces) are like without having to go through them (and yet somehow feeling like I almost did). I also like seeing someone else being dragged through the mud of tragedy but ultimately I'd like some hope with my horror, thanks."

So that's me. Guess I haven't really simplified things for myself, have I?

Damned demanding Ideal Reader!

Editors Anonymous

Well, I just realized a week ago that I've been editing for 6 months, going through Critique Groups, yadda yadda yadda, only to find that I haven't ended my novel with the ending. I've ended it with the pre-ending. I'm not all that surprised as I hate endings. Always have. The Butterfly Lady is the first novel that I've actually ended even with a pre-ending ending. So what I need to do, as my novel is already 100,000 and I'd rather not stretch to 120,000 even though it's a Fantasy novel, is delete from the beginning and perhaps a sub-plot from the middle, to make room for the ending. Especially as the ending is going to be at least 20,000 words. Possibly more. Possibly 40,000 words. So even if I delete 20% of the work, I'll still be pushing that 120,000 word mark which I promised myself I wouldn't.

So, in short, Editing =

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Local Government Meetings

Well, we had a big department meeting and other than sharing what each section has been doing, we also brought in wedding photos to put up on the whiteboard, told tragicomedic wedding stories, and had a paper plane competition. There were awards for Best Plane, Worst Plane, and Best-Looking Plane. I got the Best-Looking Plane award (despite having written an inspirational piece as an incentive to the plane that said: 'Fly well or I'll burn you). Our Deputy CEO decided to demonstrate to all of us the value of innovation (which was the Corporate Value we were working on that day) by scrunching up his plane into a ball and tossing it. It did go furthest but he was disqualified as it didn't look like a plane at all.

Other office antics include a girl wearing a party hat as her Do-Not-Disturb sign, a team leader using ticker tape to let us know that when she closes the door assume its a crime scene and don't disturb, a walk-around-with-balloons-tied-to-your-feet and try to pop the other person's while strolling around (I'd hate to do the Risk Assessment on that one), and other merry antics.

Also, our watercooler conversations actually take place at the printer when random people meet up to beg the Printer Gods for our paperwork.

So yes, for those writing office scenes and meetings but haven't worked in one ... life isn't always as boring as we expect it to be. Always find someone to ask if you can.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Meeting Differences

Well, it's funny how becoming a writer can really hone your perceptions. Or perhaps, being perceptive can really hone your writer-ness. I've been working in local government for awhile and have gotten used to the 'official meets shenanigans'-style that fills those meetings. There's a general leveling process in the local government meetings where I've been where people test the waters with humor and speaking their minds and the senior management encourages this ... to a point. While the bawdier meetings tend to be with people of the same, or similar levels, such as middle-management and their staff - and especially when its with the team leader and their staff - humor and free-spokenness also dominate in meetings with senior management and lower staff. Sure, people do censor themselves but not to the same extent as one might expect.

So then I attended a meeting filled with social workers, teachers, and nutritionists and found it to be quite different. Where we might have a fifteen-minute brain storming session scheduled, they took an hour and made sure that everyone spoke their piece. They spoke quieter, were much more politically correct, oozed politeness and gentleness, and used the sort of clarification and giving of alternatives structures that a psychologist would be proud of. In other words, they went out of their way to be inoffensive and inclusive. Their body language was kept more open and there were so many 'mm-hmms' to show they were listening / interested / agreeing that at times it felt like a meditation session.

While I have ridiculed their style a little, in truth there are many benefits to it in terms of inclusiveness. It was just that after dealing with a particular type of meeting style for so long, their version made me feel a little uncomfortable because it highlighted so many differences in communication and meeting styles. Here I was thinking that the local government forums and meetings had a good style, and here's a whole other group also having a good, but very different, style.

It just makes me want to go sit in on a business meeting and see if they're different again! Of course, maybe it just depends on the industry more than anything. If I sit in on a business meeting of a range of pen-pushers and policy-makers, it may well be the same (The Office's generally silliness ain't far off in my book - though luckily we don't have similar managers, ours are quite clever and nice to boot). Whereas if I sat in on bankers and accounters, or marketers and PR people, or the entertainment industry, it might be different again!

Do any of you have interesting meeting or business-style contrast stories to give?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Three Good Posts

So, to make up for my week-long absence, here's another post. This one is a lazy one. I'm just going to direct you to other blogs that were pretty good this week. Then I may point out a few more good points from The Good Book for Speculative Fiction writers. Also know as The Writer's Digest Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy (the one by Orson Scott Card and the editors of the Writer's Digest). Maybe. Or I'll save that for another post if this one gets too long.

If I seem a little excitable, that's because I finally got a contract signed that I've been waiting on for awhile and it feels so good to be underway at work! Woo hoo! I've been working on it for a fortnight.

So, without further ado or distractions (oh look, a cubicle!), here's some decent blog posts:

Flights of Fantasy have a post on Swords in Fantasy. Many different types of swords are described, from sentient ones, to ones with different powers, and how the post author just loves all these different uses for swords in fantasy. It's an interesting and fun read.

TalkToYoUniverse have a post on details in fiction. This blog post contains one of those lines that really sums up what I've been trying to say with my posts on descriptions: ''confound the easy expectations and your world will start to pop." It's not only good because contrasts and contradictions catch the eye (try saying that one three times fast) but also because it makes the viewpoint character feel more real. I would notice the CEO's nose ring or chunky gemstone bracelet before I notice his Armani suit, after all. In a public library, I would notice the Warhammer 40k terrain set up in the Youth section (complete with a number of Warhammer 40k books in center stage) before I would notice the other book shelves. Therefore it makes more sense when the character does, too.
The Other Side of the Story have a post about why your novel died. It's also pretty handy for interpreting what your critters actually meant and what you should be asking yourself. Take a look at the long list of questions and thought-provoking statement designed to help you figure out why you stopped wanting to write that story.

Hmm, think this post is long enough. I'll save up the bits of advice from that wonderful Good Book for the next thrilling installment of: ON WRITING!

Learning Is Great Fun!

Well, I did my Senior First Aid certificate yesterday with St. John's and I must admit that it was a lot of fun. It also identified a few things that horrify me (objects embedded in the hands / eyes and anything to do with burns mostly). I got to relive my old Youth Theatre days by pretending to be an elderly man with a bad injury who was delirious with shock and I got to bandage people up.

Other than the improvised theatre practice, it also taught me something about learning. Anything you learn can potentially be useful to you as a writer. My First Aid lesson let me know a bit better how the body works and how it recovers. It identified a few urban myths. The new facts also inspired me to think about the level of health education and knowledge in my fantasy world. It also made me think about certain symptoms of injuries that are rarely touched on (bonk that man on the head to make him unconscious and that means he not only has concussion but there's a possibility that his position might make his tongue muscle relax and block his airway - meaning he suffocates to death).

So, not only is learning fun and useful for the original reasons (i.e. now I can do first aid!) but it also helped me as a writer. And this is also why I like my long bus trips to work, and working out of the back of a library, so many opportunities to borrow a book to learn something new. Fictional works teach me about techniques and perspectives (it makes sense that someone might view it like that - I never thought of that!) Non-fiction helps fill me up full of facts that might suggest new ideas, plug up plot holes, and simply get more educated.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Writer's Digest Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy

I have found very few how-to-write books purely on fantasy and few of those have been as useful to me and as inspiring as this one. It even breaks down the rules of some of those medieval institutions upon which so many fantasy novels rely - manoralism, feudalism, etc. A very cool read.

Thus quototh the book: 'In fantasy, more than in any other form of fiction, the reader must feel transported to the world being created, while at the same time readily comprehending what it is he is experiencing. When an otherworldly character is introduced, the reader must be made to see the differences, but must recognise the similarities as well. Dtails ground the story's larger images and keep the reader engaged'.

I thoroughly recommend this work.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Too Many Bits of Paper

Well, as I world build, culture build, identify and develop characters, possible plot arcs, develop possible plot arcs into sub-plots and plot-points, further refine such sub-plots and plot-points into a series of instances, re-develop characters in line with current thinking, strengthen culture, jot down points of history, consider architectural norms, draw maps, jot down notes for revision of prior chapters in Book 1 I find myself in a sea of paper.

Post-It notes, loose sheets, loose sheets in plastic sleeves, random notes, precisely laid out notes, computer documents, printed documents, notes on pads, lengthy detail on pads, detailed write ups of notes in a booklet with the cover ripped off... I'm sure the answer to what I seek is around here somewhere but where? It's enough to make me want to rip out my own hair!

How do I file it? I try to gather it up, but if I print it too early, then I'll just need to re-print it. I can file it in my physical folder but what about the soft copies on the computer? Where do they go? What about the sub-sections? How do I divide it up to make it easier to access? How do I rememebr what I've written down, i.e. with characters? In short, what do I do?

Anyone else been there?

Architecture: Blends Through The Years

Here's something about world building that I've never really consciously considered until reading this lovely TalkToYoUniverse blog: The architecture of a city changes over time, yes? But it doesn't just change whole-sale. No one takes out an eraser and says: 'Well, we're a bit over Gothic architecture, let's just pull it all down and start again'.

No, they just build new houses in the newer styles. Thus you can get a crumbling old Roman-era fort surrounded by, I dunno, wattle-and-daub houses with a Gothic-era church sat in the middle of the whole town*.

Sometimes they renovate older buildings, perhaps leaving the gargoyles, but replacing the Gothic windows with ultramodern tilted, computerised windows that adjust the darkness gradient depending on how much light should be let in (an extreme example, but I'm hyped up on sugar so there you go). More often they'll renovate the interior, or part of the building (especially if it's been damaged by fire or the elements) than the whole thing. Buildings in the midst of renovations would be interesting to see in Fantasy as would buildings that are very old and aren't up to code and might dump the inhabitants through three floors into the basement if they're not careful.

Sometimes they'll just build on top of / over the older construction. The blog post mentions a Roman construction underneath a small, ancient church, that can be found inside a bigger, more modern church! Sometimes it won't be that obvious. Sometimes it's only when the owners decide to open up that painted shut door, delve into the basement, renovate the property, that they locate old rooms and basements and sub-basements from where the building had been build on other buildings or rooms pasted over.

So yes, have a think about the next time you're designing a place, whether in Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Contemporary fiction, and think about just how likely it is that all the buildings in that village, town, or city look the same!

*This is based on examples to make you think. I haven't researched the architecture here and cannot vouch for the authenticity of these buildings sitting side by side! These are really, really, really not examples of my researcher credibility...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A fantasy variant of Hitchcock's description of suspense vs. surprise

The difference between surprise and suspense taken from a quote by Hitchcock and transformed into a Fantasy example by yours truly.

Let’s imagine that a rather perfectionist wizard is sitting in the dining room of his tower, playing with both his children and his familiar, and then, when the grandfather clock by the window fails to chime at the stroke of midnight, he goes over to a take a look. Let us assume that there is an assassin behind the curtains near the clock … suddenly he leaps out and slits the wizard’s throat before leaping out the window. The audience is surprised, but before that surprise, they have only seen a very ordinary scene without any significance.

Let us instead look at a suspense scene. The assassin is behind the curtain and the audience is aware of this because they have seen the assassin sneak behind it. They have also seen the assassin stop the clock from making a noise at midnight because the murder is to take place at midnight and up on the wall is the clock that is perfectly visible and it’s 11:45. In the first scene we have given the reader 15 seconds of surprise. In the second scene we have given them fifteen minutes of suspense.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Writing Exercise: List your Themes

One thing that I've noticed in my novel is that there are a lot of themes and sub-texts that are rolling about. I suppose that's because it's more of a character study than a plotted piece. I mean, there's a conspiracy bouncing around, but it's the characters that matter the most. So I decided to jot down a short list of themes and then round out what sort of things have happened / could happen / will happen that would fit under it. I won't include the Happen List here as it has a lot of spoilers in it for my *fingers-crossed* someday-published works, but themes are:

Loyalty to Family / Friends vs. Loyalty to Self
Trust vs. Paranoia
Broken Promises
Reconciliation v.s. Burning Bridges
Corrupted Families
Divided Loyalties
Struggle for Self-Worth
Family / Friend Obligation v.s. Personal Happiness
Hope v.s. Despair / Hope & Horror
Sanity v.s. Dissolution of the Self

And that's just to name a few. What are some of the themes in your stories?

How To Develop One's Voice

Well, there's a really cool quote in this blog by Katie Ganshurt. Basically, she was given advice by her agent to strengthen her Voice in Chapter 1 so that it sparkled as well as it did in the Prologue. She queried how she was supposed to do that.... Her agent suggested that she read the Prologue out loud, feel the mood, the pacing, the cadence, and then try to write Chapter 1 in a similar style. Very good advice. Now I just need to figure out which one of my chapters is a good enough example of my Voice.