Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NaNo: Day Thirty


I'm done! Born of This Soil came in at a little under 130K. I already have some notes on what to do in the revisions (which will just have to wait for another day, because I'm done!) and I'm really happy with it. Maybe it's just the post NaNo euphoria, but I think it's one of the best first drafts I've written. Some of it's a blur, so it's a bit hard to tell. I know that it needs work, but I just don't care right now. :D

Congratulations to everyone who participated this year! Whether or not you made it to 50K (and there may still be some time left, depending where you are!) you wrote and that's just fantastic!

All right. I'm done abusing the exclamation point for now. Promise. ;)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #3

This applies equally to science fiction. Often, the cultures in science fiction are based on something we've seen before. As humans, we reach to the past to imagine the future. The Romulans are Romans, the Klingons are Vikings, and while they both surpass this limited categorization, their basis is in the past. We often create species based on what we know can exist, because it does exist or has existed in some form. If we are not aware of historical women, and their roles in history, we fail to imagine them in the future.

3) Extraordinary women are rare in history, so there isn't much to base them on. Women didn't go on quests or fight battles.

Totally untrue. While the roles of women in history are often less documented, there have always been women involved. Their roles may be different--in a variety of ways dependent on the era and culture in which they lived--but I fail to see how that makes them less important or compelling. They give themselves in marriage to ensure the peace of their nation (too many to name), they scheme and twist and sometimes murder to get their sons or husbands on “men-only” thrones (also too many to name), they lead revolts against enemy armies to revenge rape and the killing of their neighbors (Boudicca), and they struggle to overthrow ancient religious traditions (Nefertiti). How is any of that in any way less worthy of story time than the historical deeds of men?

The women of Greece, Egypt, the Celts, and even medieval Europe (to name just a few) often found themselves fighting, leading battles or defending their villages, towns and cities. The Scythian/Sarmatian/Sauromatian women might as well have been born on horseback with a bow and full quiver. They weren't even allowed to marry until they'd killed in battle.

Also, historically speaking, medieval women went off to the Crusades just as men did until around 1096. After that, they usually stayed behind when men went off to war, but were expected to be able to defend their homes and take care of the day to day running of estates, counties and entire nations. There are many historical accounts of women who fended off sieges, led war parties, or came to power at this time. This was, after all, a time when one's home was as likely to be attacked as one's war party. The fall of the Roman Empire left a void into which many warlords galloped and the menfolk were, quite often, dead or away.

When the church was the highest authority both men and women made pilgrimages to holy sites. Before that in "pagan" times women were often the ones sent to holy sites, especially if it was a goddess who needed to be appeased. And then there's the Elysian Mysteries, which drew people from all over the ancient Mediterranean world, men and women both, on a quest. How is being a priestess of Bast or a Delphic oracle a less powerful position than what men have held? The oracle of Delphi practically controlled the politicians of ancient Greece.

Even if these were “rare roles” for women (they weren't), why should we only portray "typical" women? The male heroes are almost always 'exceptional' in some way. Why shouldn't it be so for the women as well? And if they are going against the gender roles of your society why sacrifice the extra depth that adds to the story? That should add to the character, and yet so often we see it only subtracting because authors don't run with it, not because it can't be run with.

Last Excuse | Next Excuse

Friday, November 26, 2010

Armies & Tactics: Cavalry (pt 2)

Light Cavalry

Light cavalry was used to scout, provide defensive screening and engage in skirmishes, as well as pursuing fleeing enemies and carrying messages. They used lighter, faster horses which were not armored, and wore little to no armor themselves. Light cavalry troops were archers, but they often carried other weapons as well, from swords and daggers to maces and poleaxes.

One of the Parthian's favorite tactics was to have the light cavalry ride in on an army, raining down arrows. They would then pretend to retreat and the enemy would follow. The Parthian horsearchers would turn around and fire arrows at their pursuers. This technique came to be called the "Parthian shot." In some cultures (Samaritan, Scythian) women were common among the light cavalry and archers. The tattooed Scythian women were particularly noted for their status as warriors.

Later, in 15th century Hungary, light cavalry troops were also used to infiltrate behind enemy lines, capture supply trains and hold or destroy important intersections or roads. As the weaponry of the time changed, the light cavalry went from archers to riflemen. Under Napoleon, the light cavalry was organized into small units that could easily be broken down into smaller units for use as pickets and scouts. The light cavalry often rode at the forefront of the army and along its flanks, acting as scouts to make sure that the main body of their army was not surprised.

Medium Cavalry

In the Middle Ages it was a common for knights to fight by using their horses to gain position on the field and then send their horses away while they fought on foot. This was especially done when the heavy cavalry's charge was rendered ineffective by the terrain. However, the heavy armor had to be lightened to allow for this flexibility, and thus the medium cavalry or "mounted infantry."

The ability to fight both while mounted and while on foot offered advantages in mobility and versatility. Though armored, the soldiers could still move freely and they had their horses to help them get inside the enemy's ranks. Fully armored heavy cavalry began to disappear as guns became more common on the battlefield and the more lightly armed and flexible medium cavalry rose to prominence in Europe and America.

Leading us to the Dragoons of the 18th century. These medium cavalry troops fought with pistols in addition to sabers. They were trained with the sword and were capable of fighting from horseback, or on foot.

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For Further Reading:

Cataphracts and Clibanarii of the Ancient World

Parthian Army

Cavalry Weapons and Organization
Hungarian Renaissance Warfare

Cavalry Tactics and Combat during the Napoleonic Wars

Napoleonic Cavalry

Dragoon Soldier - Historical Background

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Interestingly, while researching cavalry, I was most reminded of the character of Beka Cavish from Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner books. Beka and her fellows are a great example of light cavalry. What are you favorite examples of the use of cavalry in fiction?

Heavy Cavalry

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NaNo: Day Twenty Four

I broke 90K. I was hoping the story wouldn't get much beyond that, but we'll see. I don't know if I can close it all up before 100K, but I've decide to just let the story be however long it's going to be.

I've got 12 plot points to cover and I'm going need to pick up the pace, but I still hope to be able to get everything done in time. I may have to work on it this weekend, but that's a small enough price to pay for a finished first draft in a month!

The next bout of writing should go quickly enough. One chapter will probably cover both plot points (one of which may get cut in revisions anyway since it's not nearly as major after the changes that took place), and the next couple of days after that should both require one chapter. Then things get sticky. The last six plot points are all wrapping up the major conflict of the story, so they may take more than three chapters.

Still, I'm having fun, even if some days feel like pulling teeth! They're fun teeth to pull. Hmm, that just doesn't sound right, does it? Oh, well, I'm too tired to come up with something better! :D

Sunday, November 21, 2010

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #2

This is mostly a fantasy excuse, although I have seen it pop up in science fiction when the writer is looking to modernize, for instance, the Roman Empire or some other monolithic civilization. So, if you're thinking science fiction, just replace "magic and dragons" with "FTL and spaceships." :D

2) I want my book to be historically accurate, but with magic and dragons.

For starters, women in history led diverse lives, but we'll discuss the real roles of women in history later. Let's just take this excuse as “I want to maintain realism in my setting.” While I fully support the building of a full and complete world in which things like flora, fauna, resources, political motivations and the role of gender is taken into account, fantasy written to historical specifications isn't fantasy. It's historical fiction. The attitudes about gender need not be the same. Chaos theory dictates that adding even a single dragon into a world should create a ripple of changes (many of them unpredictable just from knowledge of the catalyst) throughout the world's history, and therefore its society, and its attitudes as well.

A created world that is 'medieval Europe' with magic and dragons should look different in many ways from our own medieval Europe, because all the years before also had to include that magic and those dragons and that changes things. It can't help but change things. The entire evolution of the planet, the various species and the cultures have to be different, because there was magic, and dragons.

Even if you want to use gender roles that are accurate to a historic setting--and do your research on what those gender roles are, because you might get a surprise--that is no reason to cut out female POVs. If anything it's a reason to add them. In a society where gender roles for men and women are distinct and separate, not showing the female perspective fails to show a full and complete view of the culture. The men in your story cannot have the same experience as the women have, because the gender roles are distinct and different. By excluding women from the story, you eliminate the experience of a full half of the population. Why would you ever do that? Why would you lessen the depth and realism of a culture you worked so hard to create?

And, as to science fiction: It's all well and good to say you want to explore the ways in which the Roman Empire managed to dominate for so long, or see their culture's decline in a setting that helps a modern person understand them. But you're not going to be able to do that without the Roman women.

Last Excuse | Next Excuse

Friday, November 19, 2010

Armies & Tactics: Cavalry

(Split into two posts due to length. I'll cover light and medium cavalry next Friday and put a link in this post.)

The first cavalry troops date back to the Parthian army around the 6th century BC. It seems to have sprung up first among the nomadic cultures who spent much of their time on horseback, such as the Scythians. It is after the 6th century that cavalry troops began to replace chariots, although the change didn't come overnight. The Parthians used two types, with which you're probably at least a little familiar: light cavalry and heavy cavalry. Medium cavalry came into use later and was often used as mounted infantry. Throughout the ages and between cultures, the purpose of these troops has been much the same, offering similar advantages and disadvantages.

Heavy Cavalry

Even from Parthian times the heavy cavalry was heavily armored. The Parthian cataphracts were armored from head to toe in metal scales or plates and supplemented with chain. The horses, too, were armored. Some completely covered in armor like their riders, while others were only armored over the front parts of their bodies.

The cataphracts were the Parthian's answer to the hoplites and the phalanx formation. Because troops locked their shields when they were fired upon, they were left open to assault. The cataphracts would ride in, forcing them to break formation and picking them off with a long lance called konto. Our image of the classical medieval knight actually has ancient roots.

In terms of weapons, the heavy cavalry troops often wielded two-handed lances, without shields. They also often carried swords, maces or axes and some wielded one-handed lances so that they could also carry a shield.

One of the main differences between the medieval heavy cavalry and the ancient heavy cavalry was actually the stirrup. The cataphracts didn't have them, and so they were a lot less balanced and secure when it came to melee battle. They avoided it whenever possible because their heavy armor made them an easy target if they were knocked from their horse.

The heavy cavalry, of all eras but especially in Parthian times, needed two things: level ground and archers. The archers forced the infantry to shield themselves or scatter, and without archers the cataphracts became much less effective. And, because they were so heavy, they needed flat ground to build up the momentum of the charge. Because of this generals about to engage heavy cavalry sought inclined ground, the upward charge rendering the heavy cavalry less effective or entirely useless.

The armor used by heavy cavalry was expensive and required frequent maintenance, and like the medieval knights, the ancient heavy cavalry troops were often the upper classes of their societies. They would be required to provide their own horses, weapons and armor. In contrast, in Napoleonic France, the lancers of the heavy cavalry were largely green troops, mounted on horses that were lacking in training, but led by a very experienced and skilled senior officer.

Against the Parthian cataphracts, the Romans often ordered their own, lighter cavalry not to engage directly, leading the cataphracts to chase them about and tiring both the soldiers and the horses that had to carry such heavy armor. Once they were tired, they were easier to defeat.

However, a cavalry charge at the right time could cause quite a lot of damage, and could even turn the battle. Heavy cavalry would often be held back until the right moment presented itself. Then they would charge. The effect wasn't just physical; the charge of heavy cavalry has a psychological component as well. Consider the difference in size between yourself and a large horse. Then imagine a tight line of them charging at you bearing metal-clad soldiers carrying sharp lances, while battle cries and the pounding of kettle drums filled the air. I know I'd wet myself.

The heavy cavalry were shock troops. Meant to ride down on a weakened army and smash them to bits.

Light & Medium Cavalry

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NaNo: Day Seventeen

Well, we're more than halfway into November and I have backed up my work (several times). I hope y'all have backed yours up, too! Just imagine losing all those words to a random glitch. *shudder* I'm trying to get into the habit of backing things up every night. I lost 5,000 words of edited material earlier this year and I do not want that to happen again, even if some of it did come out better in the second edit.

Because I've already hit the 50k of the NaNo challenge, (71,783 and counting!) now I'm just working on resolving all the plot lines I've opened up. I hope (pray, beg) that I don't have to use more than 90k to do that. I tend to add to drafts more than I take away--although, I can already think of at least one scene that's coming out entirely during revisions--so I want to keep this first draft as compact as possible. We'll see how that goes! :D

In blog news, I've added a previously published short story, as well as an excerpt from another story, and a deleted scene from another. If you're interested, you can check them out here, or go through the Stories & Excerpts link listed in the sidebar.

And now I have to sleep. I've been sick all day and I'm about to fall over. But I leave you with some questions: How's your NaNo going? How much do you love your characters? Are you ahead, behind or right on track? Got backup?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #1

Women in fantasy and science fiction is a topic close to my heart, so I wanted to talk about it. While some genres/sub genres are rife with female characters, others are pretty lacking. Often, I find the scarcity of women in some books surprising, or I want to hear more about female characters and they don't get mentioned again, let alone get a view point. And I've heard writers make excuses for why they don't write more women, or don't give women point of view roles in their books.

Each of the following excuses are things that I have heard (often more than a few times) and so I thought I would go through them, give my thoughts, and ask you for yours. However, this post did get pretty long, so I'm going to cut it into parts (1 excuse per post) so that y'all don't have to read an essay, but I'll include links to later posts, for those who want to read the whole list. I'll be posting these every Sunday, until I run out of excuses. ;)

1) Too many authors put in women just to have them and because of this they're not well-rounded characters.

Isn't that the fault of the author for failing to round out the character? Just because the author needs to learn to write well-rounded, realistic female characters doesn't mean the female characters aren't needed. Sometimes, there are logical reasons for women not to appear in the story (the story takes place entirely in a monastery or men's prison, for example), but most of the time the lack of women is unrealistic and limiting to the story, cutting out a whole viewpoint that could be used to deepen the setting and a reader's view of the other characters. This is only more relevant if the roles of women and men are different in the society.

The solution here is easy: if you write a female character, write her as a character. Don't keep thinking “Girls, girls, what are girls like?” Instead, think “Where did she come from? Where is she going? And what will she risk in order to get there?” If you don't like female characters that are uncomplicated and shallowly characterized, great! Don't write them that way.

What do you think? Are women under-represented in the genres you read? What do you think the reasons for that are?

Next Excuse

Thursday, November 11, 2010

NaNo: Day Eleven

Muahahahaha! I have broken 50K! I'm still not done, since my goal is a finished first draft, but I've hit a major mile marker. I'm about halfway through the story, although hopefully the next plot points won't take up so many words. I was only aiming for 75K, but it'll probably take 80-90K to finish the first draft. Then I'll get to the editing, but I'm not going to think about that right now. Especially since I'm not sure that what I've already written makes sense. *winces*

How about you guys? Are you NaNoing? How's it going?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

To Excerpt or Not To Excerpt?

I’ve been thinking about putting excerpts up, perhaps posting a free story or two here, but I didn’t know much about the practice so I decided to do some research. There wasn’t as much material out there as I thought there would be, but I did find some different points of view. I thought I’d share them with you.

Basically, there’s the No Excerpts camp:

Be (Slightly) Afraid of Posting Your Work Online by Chuck Sambuchino

And the Pro Excerpts camp:

Stop Being Afraid of Posting Your Work Online by Jane Friedman

And then there are the writers, who also seem somewhat divided on the topic.

My thoughts are these: I think it’s very unlikely someone is going to find my blog and say “Oh, look, an under-published writer! I can totally swipe this stuff.” While it is possible something I post will spark off an idea for some other writer, so what? That’s not stealing my work, it’s inspiration. Even if they take an element of my plot, what they write will be completely different from what I have written. No two writers ever develop an idea in the same way, especially when it’s just a small thing from an excerpt or synopsis that’s going to be turned into a novel. If their book is better than mine, it may get published before mine. If mine is good, it will get published as well. How many times have you read fantasy novels that had similar concepts?

Now, stealing my entire plot is another matter. However, I don’t see how anyone could, just from posted excerpts. Maybe, it’s slightly more likely if I post a synopsis, but even that would only talk about the book in broad concepts, there’s not room enough for details.

Besides, I don’t want to stop sharing my work with other writers. I love discussing writing, plots, stories, characters, etc. with both readers and writers. It’s fun and inspiring and challenging, and frankly, I just don’t get enough of it. It’s how writers grow.

I discuss my stories (and post chapters and stories) at my critique group (Critique Circle, it’s in my links) and I discuss my NaNo novel and post excerpts of that in the NaNo forums. I love doing those things, and they’re just as likely (which is to say, in my opinion, pretty unlikely) to expose my writing to someone who lifts an idea, or a concept. Ideas aren’t copyrightable for a reason. They’re a dime a dozen and everyone writes them differently.

I am pro excerpt. :D What about you guys?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

New Look

So, I changed things up a bit around here and I'd love to hear what you guys think of the new look! :D

I haven't NaNoed in a few days, but that was my plan. The fiance works like crazy during the week, so the weekend is the only time we get together. I'm willing to write some more words during the week if it means having my weekends free-ish. But look for me to burn up the word count this coming week! I'm rested, revved, and ready to go.

In the absence of NaNo, I have managed to send out five submissions, including one piece I wrote just this weekend. It's a flash piece, but one that bit me hard and wanted to get out. Other than that, I hung out with the fiance and scritched the cats. All in all, a great weekend.

How about you guys? What did you do this weekend?

Friday, November 5, 2010

NaNo: Day Five (Plotting, Pacing and Character)

So, five days in and I’ve made it to over 27,000 words! I’m proud of myself for keeping up the pace and sticking to it and I’m enjoying the way the story’s unfolding. All the plotting I did beforehand is making it very easy to stay on track. I know what each scene needs, even if I did underestimate the length of some scenes.

Which has gotten me thinking about scene planning. When it comes to figuring out where a scene should go, you have to consider things like foreshadowing, the order of events, pacing, character introductions and setting introduction. You have to introduce magic before it’s used for anything important, each character needs to get an introduction of some sort, and events have to line up so that everybody has the knowledge they need for the scene to play out. Pacing requires that scenes are long enough to feel important and to involve the reader, without being so long that they become tedious, repetitive or bring the story to a halt.

A writer needs to balance these elements in each and every scene. But how do you do that? Well, chronological events are easy enough—unless you’re not writing a chronological story, but that’s another post entirely—you just put the scenes in the order they would have to happen for the story to come to its conclusion. But there are always events that aren’t defined by the chronological order in which they happen. They could happen at various points in the story and while the story would play out differently because of it, the overall plot wouldn’t change. Such as characters meeting one another, which is my topic for today.

Story events can take a completely different path if the characters come together at the beginning of the book, or if they meet farther in. This is especially true if they both have a piece of the plot, but not the whole of it. Their working together early in the book means they both have a wider knowledge from the start, they have access to more information from the start, and they have one another to depend on for back up or support.

But what happens if their meeting is delayed? If they don’t meet each other early on and they don’t have that missing piece of knowledge and they’re not seeing the whole picture? Well, it makes it harder for the characters, which often makes it more interesting for the reader. A character overcoming deficits and challenges is integral to most stories, right? And the character will eventually have that big moment of revelation when they discover what they’ve been overlooking all this time, made larger because of the wait.

If there’s a romantic theme, the characters should probably meet as soon as possible, but what about in non-romantic fantasy? Most of the time, characters meet up quickly and then go about their business, but delaying those meetings could be a way to add tension and drama to a plot. If both the characters have a POV, and the reader knows what they both know, they’ll be routing for the two of them to meet up (to cooperate or fight it out) so that the puzzle can be completed. I think it would be even more interesting if the reader didn’t know how it would provide a solution, but was still clued into the fact that it would.

There are some risks, of course. If you draw the “when will they meet” tension out too long, it loses its power and becomes boring or even frustrating. Each character needs a firm arch of their own to pull it off, too, since they’ll be moving through some of the story without the other character to play off of. Their plot trajectory may need some thought, since you have to keep them from finding out information as well as plan out the information they do learn.

But I think it would provide a good reason why character A doesn’t know about this or that. Character B knows, but isn’t around to tell them. That lets the reader know as well, but forces Character A to act in whatever way is appropriate without that knowledge.

Often, I find that I have the characters meet at the first possible opportunity, but that’s not necessarily what’s best for the book. Obviously, it’s not possible or desirable to delay all the character meetings until the middle of the book. But, mixing in a few key delayed character meetings can create interesting twists and turns that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I’ll be paying a lot more attention character meetings in the future.

Monday, November 1, 2010

NaNo: Day One

Well, my first NaNo writing session is over and I've done a respectable 5,552 words. I want to build up a buffer in the first few days, but I'm also hoping to keep up this pace. I'm aiming for 75k, instead of 50k, which means I need at least 3,750 a day.

So far, I'm enjoying Born of This Soil. I had fun writing the first chapter and most of the second and I think they're interesting. I'm having fun with the characters and I hope they're coming across well.

So far I've written Beshauna's first POV and Jenra's and I've introduced Gregor and Serrace, as well as some minor characters. I've started a few plots and sub-plots and hinted at a few others, although they'll need further development before they come to the foreground.

All and all, it's time for me to go to bed. :D