Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The State of Me

So it's been a while since I did a general update, and I thought I'd take a moment to give you all a look into my world... No, wait! Don't run! I swear I don't bite.

Damn.

Okay, for you few who are left... ;-)

I'm spending the last of August catching up after my brain-deadness. It's amazing how much can pile up when you're not looking! I think it's going well, I've gotten some crits done, managed a few blog posts and am slowly catching up on my blog reading, too!

In September, I'm doing a short story blitz. I want to get as many finished before October as possible. So, there's no word count goal, just a list of stories that need work. They all need different amounts of work, of course, so I just want to finish the next stage of their own individual evolutions. I don't know how many finished stories I'll have by the end, but at least there will be progress. So, if all goes absolutely perfectly in September (it won't) by the end I'll have:

A second draft of Fated ready for crit.
A second draft of Sings the Distant Heart ready for crit.
A second draft of Glass and Steel ready for crit.
A completed first draft of The Dusty Dove.
A completed first draft of Blood Home.
A completed first draft of Guidance.
And a completed first draft of Impetus (working title).

So... Yeah, we'll see how that goes! I don't really expect to get all of that done, but I want to have a list of projects so that I can just dive in and start blitzing. I think I'm actually going to start with Blood Home, because I had this fantastic flash of the final scene when I was trying to go to sleep, complete with dialogue. You gotta love that!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Already Abuzz With NaNoWriMo

August is coming quickly to a close (yay!) and already my various internet hangouts are starting to talk about November. Ah, November, that lovely time of the year when many of my writer friends go completely crazy and decide to write a whole novel first draft in thirty days. I'm proud to count myself among the crazies, because NaNoWriMo is just plain fantastic.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month which is held in November every year. The point, as I mentioned, is to write 50,000 words in just thirty days. For many people, this is a whole novel (or, at least, the first draft of one). For me, it's about half a novel, or maybe a third of a novel, if I'm feeling particularly inspired (I love the big, fat fantasy novels!), but generally my goal is to write a whole first draft.

It's two months away and already people are talking about it, planning for it, hooking up with other people who are participating this year, and debating whether it's a good idea or not. So, I thought I'd do a little post about why I love NaNo, and why I will absolutely be there! (I'm MarySipe on the boards, BTW!)

So many writers have trouble gagging their inner editor, that little voice in the back of your head that tells you that your grammar sucks, your plot is ridiculous, your characters are thoroughly unlikeable and you'll never amount to anything. There are times when it's good to have that little voice in your ear, pushing you forward just so you can prove it wrong and then go "HA!" But when you're writing a first draft, that's the last little voice you need. Because first drafts are never, ever perfect. Maybe somewhere out there is a writer who nails it that first time through, but it's definitely not me. And, in all likelihood, speaking strictly by percentages, it's not you, either.

A first draft is just that, a draft, and the first of many (or at least a few) for most writers. It takes thought to get the words just right, and time and hindsight to cut out the unimportant, clunky or just plan bad bits. A good book doesn't happen overnight. Hell, even bad books -- really bad books -- don't happen overnight for most of us. And having that internal voice telling you that every word you manage to type is wrong can be crippling, paralyzing, and very disheartening. Partly that's because you know it's right. Sometimes the plot is ridiculous, or the characters are unlikeable, or your grammar does suck. But all of that can be fixed and that's the part we so often lose sight of. You can't edit what isn't on the page, though. You can't fix what isn't there in some form.

That's where NaNo comes in. With only 30 days to get those 50,000 words, you barely have time to eat, sleep, bathe and breathe, so there's not much left over for doubting yourself. Getting the words becomes the only consideration, and you've got a forum full of thousands of people rooting for you. People who will cheerfully tell you to stop thinking and starting writing, damn it!

So, while NaNo may not be for every writer, I highly encourage you to give it a try. Hell, the worst that can happen is that you won't write 50,000 words. How will that be different from most other months? :-D

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Worldbuilding: Extreme Environments

Generally, worldbuilding creates worlds that are at least somewhat like our own. Not always, but for the most part. They have sunlight like our own, climates and weather like our own, etc. That's not a bad thing; it often provides a somewhat neutral backdrop for the exploration of a culture or cultures. However, not all backdrops have to be neutral, and sometimes it's worth it to stretch those worldbuilding brain cells and come up with something... extreme.

Extreme environments can include any number of things, from worlds in which volcanic activity has continued long enough for sentient species to evolve within them, to worlds with far more sunlight than our own, to worlds scoured by high winds, constant winters or trembling ground. Under these types of conditions plants, animals and sentients would all have to evolve differently. They would be much less like the life forms we see every day.

Take a volcanic world, for example. Even assuming the dust and smoke would block out a lot of the light, perhaps even all of it, that doesn't mean that the world has to be lifeless. There are plenty of life forms in our own world which don't require sunlight. Chemosynthetic life derives energy through chemical means and lives in places that would be toxic to any other form of life. From the hot vents to the cold seeps, these life forms feed on hydrogen sulfide or methane that has dissolved in the water. It's even quite possible that life on Earth evolved from such life forms and extremophile bacteria.

What kind of life would a world like that have? How would it cope? Breathing smoke and chemical-filled air's probably rough, but perhaps life there has a means of filtering out the harmful elements? Or, at least, the elements harmful to them. You also have to consider where they get the chemicals that they convert to energy. Are they bound to certain locations -- their volcanoes -- or can they travel between them? How do they deal with the heat? And, most importantly, how does all of this translate onto the page? What does it mean for your characters and how to do you communicate something so different to the reader?

The volcanic example is probably one of the more extreme ones. There are less all-encompassing ways to create variant environments. Consider a planet that's tide locked, spinning at a rate that keeps one side dark and the other light. Or a planet with a thin atmosphere on which the wind constantly blows. Or a world with seasons that stretch on for centuries. While some of these ideas have been done, how you use them is what makes the world unique. These extreme environments present problems and problems force you to think of solutions. They fire up your creativity and make you consider your worldbuilding from new angles.

High winds keep plants small, close to the ground where they can find some shelter. Winds also produce storms, from tornadoes to sandstorms, and more depending on the other climatic features. Moisture levels and high/low pressure zones become a big consideration. Life forms may or may not be very different, depending on how they evolve to deal with the problems caused by a constant high wind. Remember that while vision is the dominant sense for humans (as a species), hearing is also a major consideration, and any species with hearing as a dominant sense is going to be different.

The point is to take the "problems" inherent to such a world and devise solutions, consider it from the angle of the life living there. Even if you never wind up using your extreme environments, they make excellent thought exercises.


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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Culture Creation: Entertainment

When I'm creating a culture, I like to ask myself what they do for entertainment. I think that it speaks volumes about a people, and yet it's heavily culturally influenced, which makes it an excellent step for getting inside the characters' heads, and the cultures' mindset.

You have to consider what the culture values. Storytelling is the sharing of an experience. The stories that a culture tells unite them, create a common reference and language, and often either foster a sense of belonging or a sense of alienation. So, in knowing what stories the culture tells, you begin to understand what the culture values.

Are their stories filled with underdogs who triumph despite the odds? Or are their stories filled with heroes/ines that would have fallen flat on their faces if not for love? Or perhaps they tell about the triumph of their culture over another? Each of these says different things about the basic perspective and mindset of the people within the culture. Stories are told at a young age, they begin to sink in and inform the ideals in childhood, and we all know how hard those childhood lessons are to shake!

Storytelling isn't the only means of entertainment, however. What other forms do their entertainments take? Are they an old, somewhat extravagant culture with access to a lot of different types of entertainment? Or are they a ritualized culture with set means of entertainment? Some cultures like opera while others like prefer sporting events and competitive games. Are your characters more likely to go to a play or to find themselves in the middle of a tournament? Are these different entertainments meant for different levels of society?

Gambling is another entertainment to consider, and one which can be particularly divided by class. The upper class may have established clubs, while the lower classes gather in a back alley around a couple of chickens. While the club may be the perfect place for you character to gather information about the upper classes, they're probably a lot more likely to learn about some things in the back alley.

Music is another big consideration, and one that can add a lot of variety to a culture. Don't think about the bard in the tavern; think about the soldiers around the campfire, or the quartet employed for a ball. Think about your average farmer and their family, on the long drive to the market. I know I always like music on a road trip! Do they sing? Is what they sing inherently different? Do the soldiers around the campfire sing about the wars their people have won? Or do they sing about home? Do the farmers sing about their daily lives, or do they sing about adventure and far off places?

There are also entertainments (of all sorts) which aren't always legal. Gambling may be one of those, but fantasy cultures don't have to conform to our culture's values, and many wouldn't. Whether your culture is more permissive or less so can communicate a lot to the reader. If they allow things like gambling, drug-use or prostitution, but outlaw the singing of certain songs or ban certain books or plays, they must consider the ideas in those songs, books or plays more dangerous. Why is that? What does it say about your culture?

How well does your culture deal with satire? Not just the government, but the people themselves? What would be considered "subversive" or "deviant" entertainment? When the rebels, rabble-rousers, and misfits go out with their friends, when they gather together just to be among like minds, what do they do for entertainment?

And consider also that most cultures have something that is theirs, some form of entertainment that is almost synonymous with the culture, even if it's practiced to some degree in other places. Are your characters more likely to walk through the market and see a puppet show or to hear rabble-rousers holding court in the public squares? Where do your characters go when they have time to waste? Where do they go when they're out with their friends?


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Thursday, August 11, 2011

General Update

I am tremendously late with posts. Between general brain dead-ness and a sinus infection, pretty much all the words I can muster are going toward articles right now. I'm terribly behind on everything, but the stuff with deadlines gets top priority. Hopefully, I'll have something (semi) interesting to post about come this weekend, but we'll see how it goes!