A brief life update and some Alternate History.

So, first a brief note.

Due to my experience driving with a permit for three years, I know everything there is to know about driving… right? I certainly didn’t think so… which was good. Because I killed a street sign today.

My mom was directing me as to where exactly to turn, but since neither of us was sure which road that happened to be, I got the message a little late and murdered the stop sign with my car. It put up a good fight, though- it ripped off my driver’s side mirror and shattered the driver’s side window. Also, you can now see the inside door handle from the outside. My knowledge of automotives may be limited, but I’m pretty sure that’s a bad thing.

Anyway, I’m fine, my mom’s fine, my car is… doing okay. I’ll need to vacuum out all the glass tomorrow…

And now, for a bit of random Alternate History that’s been trying to pound its’ way out of my head for a few weeks.

Point in time: the 1980s.

1806: Thomas Wedgewood creates the world’s first photograph.
1843: Scottish mechanic Alexander Bain creates the Fax Machine (predating the bicycle, telegraph, internal combustion engine, and the potato famine, among other things).
1983. Viewtron is created by Norman Morrison in Florida. Later renamed the ‘World Wide Web’.

Dueling sticks around until about the 19th century, but the Victorian Era’s ‘Gentelman’s Code’ of sorts keeps It going. However, it takes on a small connotation: In most duels, your honor is diminished if you actually kill the guy to win. So duels to first blood are more common than death duels. Dueling is identified with fencing throughout the 20th century.
In fact, having a duel aboard an airship placed into an Urban Fantasy novel being written by an inhabitant of this Alternate Timeline (ATL) would be pretty much the same as putting in a paintball battle, tennis match, or political debate- not very jarring.

Also, the Hindenburg Disaster never happened, and gas production stabilized after WWI

Notes of Cliff
So: Due to the earlier photography, we’ve pictures of the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812 (among other things). We’ve fax machines and never had a telegraph. We’ve printers, we’ve scanners, and we’ve the internet.
We also have zeppelins. And dueling. And motorcycles.

Culture and Fashion
When invited out to a social event, one often brings several changes of clothes, and they often change part or all of an outfit during the evening.
Eclectic outfits are even more popular- Cyndi Lauper? Pssssh. Too mundane. Add some bright dye and some hair gel; a pair of mechanics’ goggles; a leather jacket or crop top for guys and some rolled up jeans, or really loose high-waisted pants and pretty much any shirt for girls; you’re golden.
So, in other words, while this may or may not happen in this ATL… picture a charity fundraiser. Cindi Lauper and Michael Jackson are dueling for fun and charity on a zeppelin. MJ is wearing goggles on his forehead, and CL has bright blue hair with green highlights. Paul McCartney is singing in the background, and at least twelve crowd-members are videotaping it so they can upload the cassette to the Web.

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Writing and Worldbuilding- thoughts on heroes, magic, and fantasy races.

So. I feel like I should give my readers (if there are any of you; I wouldn’t know, nobody ever comments) more than just glimpses of my everyday life.

So here are some writing tips and such-like.

WRITING

Keeping Characters Active

1. Does the hero ever do anything the other characters couldn’t, simply because s/he is the hero?

Or, in other words, do you ever write a scene purely for the hero to do something that they didn’t even need to be there for? Something that gave the hero themselves no character development at all?

If the answer is yes, you might want to try writing the scene without the hero. Both the scene and your hero will likely be better off for it.

2. Can you write [pick a character] out of the book?

In other words, how hard would it be for you to write out that person- do they ever actually do anything, or do they stand on the sidelines and watch others act?

If it’s fairly simple to erase the character from the story, then- while this may sound harsh- you might want to do just that.

If you prefer to keep the character, you might consider rewriting other scenes you’ve already written, in order to keep the character doing things.

WORLDBUILDING

Magic Systems

Magic can be a bit of a tricky subject, and there are people who’ve written far better essays on this topic than I could. Brandon Sanderson comes to mind.

However, one thing I can say is that Magic needs to be believable. That may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s true. That doesn’t mean it has to be believable in our world; just that it needs to follow its’ own laws and have predictable effects.

A given magic system might function off the principles of chaos, but it should comply to its’ internal laws just as well as a system that is based on order. Even if a character can’t predict the effect of a spell by the words or gestures or plants or glyphs or whatever used to cast it, it should at least be possible for them to do so.

Now, you don’t need to write out the rules in your story- in fact, it often works better if you let the reader (and, sometimes, the characters) figure the rules out for themselves. However, if you do write out the rules… keep a few back. That will let you do unexpected things with your magic system when necessary, but things that nonetheless follow the laws. It willmake your magic systems more believable, and a lot more fun to read.

Races/Species/Peoples

Whatever you call them, your world might include a multitude of sentients beyond humans. Whether the setting is sci-fi or fantasy- either way, you want some believability, right?

In fantasy, there are a few ‘stock’ peoples- Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Half-elves, Orks. Some people add subraces (night elves, bright elves, light elves, wood elves, blood elves, etcetera etcetera ad nauseum). And, while there are still a lot of avenues that can be explored with these ‘traditional’ races… I’m going to leave them alone for a bit and dig farther back.

Landvaettir. Ever hear of them? They’re Old Norse nature spirits, protectors of the land. Their territory could range from as small as a certain boulder, to a chunk of the country. Try looking them up- you might get some ideas.

The Faeries? Think of Victorian-era tales, with a dash of older legends. Are your Fae the Elvish type? Perhaps amoral, aloof beings, who have little understanding of mortals? Or perhaps you go the Eastern route, and your Fai are Kitsune, Tengu, and Kappas.

And then, of course, you can make up your own.

Catfolk? Maybe a bit overdone, but there’s potential- it’s all in the depiction. Perhaos their ears are at the sides of the head, instead of the top?

How about a race that seems like humans, but has small antlers, like branches jutting from their foreheads? What might you do with them?

A dark-skinned race with golden eyes and feathers for hair?

A small, gnomelike people… with four arms?

Whatever your races are, be certain to think about their place in the world. They don’t just exist; they have a history, and their interactions, among themselves and other peoples, have shaped the path of their world.

Phew. A little longer than I’d planned… anyway, I hope I gave you some good ideas.

Alternate History

Alternate History has more in common with alternate zoology than just the first half of the name. History is like a living organism; it’s a system, and each change, no matter how small, changes the world around it. Thus, you cannot simply create an idea by saying, “In this world, it’s 2011, but the Roman Empire never fell.” Sure, it’s a good starting point; but you can’t just write a nonfiction story and change governmental titles. If the Roman Empire had not fallen (and you would have to do some research to figure out how its’ fall was prevented), civilization would be utterly different. Religion, technology, architecture, political structure… you have to know how everything fits together in order to create a functioning historical ‘ecology’.
Another example is- say the world really had superheroes (and, by extension, supervillains). Did supers just appear in the modern era- if so, why? If not (as is the case in Marvel and DC)- why is world civilization so similar to our own? Would not superheroes change the world, much as an earlier development of the tank or discovery of DNA would have? In primitive times, Supers would be regarded as deities! So if they are to have been around for a long time, you will have to either remake world civilization to compensate- not an easy task- or figure out how to fit them in without overly disrupting the pattern of world development.
Just a couple of examples, both of which I elaborated too far on. Apologies; enjoy your worldbuilding.

Alternate Zoology

What he has done with both AFTER MAN and THE NEW DINOSAURS is so exciting that I feel it deserves a special name of its own: Alternative Zoology. -Desmond Morris, in the introduction to Dougal Dixon’s ‘The New Dinosaurs’

Alternate Zoology is a rather difficult subject to work with. It starts by saying, “How would this creature be different if it filled this niche, as well as or instead of its’ own?”

But the person working on something like this, especially if this zoology is for some alien planet, must be careful that their creatures make sense. On another planet, one must answer the questions, what does this creature eat? What eats it?

For example, look at the world of Pandora, from Avatar. The creatures of the world were designed by a team of biologists and zoologists, to fit into the ecosystem and atmospheric conditions of the world, such as lower gravity, which enables large creatures with six legs- a feature that no vertebrate on Earth has ever had.

Another example of successful Alternate Zoology is that done by Dougal Dixon, who, in two different books, predicted changes in animals if humans disappeared, and changes in dinosaurs if they had not gone extinct. The first can be found here: http://www.sivatherium.narod.ru/library/Dixon/main_en.htm

The second, here: http://www.sivatherium.narod.ru/library/Dixon_2/00_en.htm#fore

These two books are some of the best AZ I have ever seen. Take a look.

 

Useful things adventurers forget

I was thinking about the more realistic side of adventuring, whether in fantasy or otherwise, and came up with this:

A List of Items that Adventurers Need but Oft Forget, in no particular order.

 

1. Wax plugs, to protect against harpies, sirens, and your companion’s snoring.

2. Small rocks, to cause distractions.

3. A deck of cards, because some unscrupulous gamblers mark their decks. You may wish to follow suit. Pun intended.

4. Map/scroll case- many an adventurer has lost his way when his map fell apart.

5. Comb and hair pins: useful when you have long hair. Also, many hair pins can function as lockpicks in a pinch.

6. Sewing needle and thread- those sword cuts in your cloak won’t heal like you do. Also useful for stitching large wounds when you’re out of healing.

7. Bowl and utensils- eating with your hands isn’t all it’s romanticized to be. Besides, ever try eating stew with your fingers?

8. Soap. Seriously. Monsters tend to have good senses of smell, and you don’t want the dragon to scent you before you even start.

9. Two sets of clothes, for similar reasons to the above.

10. Writing kit. This way, you can sketch a map of a dungeon or a picture of a puzzle for further reference.

11. Crowbar. Club, Door-opener… the fighter’s lockpick.

 

If you have any more, feel free to comment.

Writing Battle Scenes

While description is a good thing, too much description in any scene can cause the reader to become bored. Battle scenes should have even less description. Here’s an example of a battle scene:

Edmund faced off against his opponent. With a cry, they charged towards each other over the rough, dusty ground. Edmund drew his sharp, well-cared-for knife from its delicately tooled leather sheath at his hip, and the opponent took his battered knife from its’ own sheath of similar appearance to Edmund’s, but with black leather. The two reached each-other and began to duel. Edmund’s knife glanced off his opponent’s knife, causing a clinking sound, and the opponent retaliated. Their knives glinted and glittered reflectively in the bright sunlight.

See how much the description takes away from the action? Battle scenes are best written with short, staccato sentences, to convey the frenzied pace. Here’s the same event, but without unnecessary description.

Edmund charged his opponent. Drawing their blades, the two entered into a frenzied snickersnee. Knives flashed in the sun.

Much better!