February 17, 2018, 09:09:36 PM

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Messages - Yora

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I wasn't thinking about Last Jedi, but the new movies are certainly great example of this surprise twist fad I was referring to.

I was thinking about Game of Thrones, though. I  only know about it second hand, but it seems like a series that has build itself into a position where it's impossible to come up with an ending that isn't disapointing.

Your analysis is spot on, imho. We need to be disciplined in our language, and you use the two terms 'twist' and 'surprise' in just such a way, but I'd like to see more terms brought into service.

A twist is when something is ... twisted. I think it's best applied to aspects of the plot: the context of the struggle; the stakes; the repercussions of inaction, success, or failure; etc.
Some years ago there was a very successful videogame called Knights of the Old Republic, whose still very high reputation comes largely from it's amazing twist two thirds into the story. I recently played it again after 10 years or so and looked closer at the story, only to realize that this supposed twist is not a twist at all. It doesn't change your understanding of what has happened so far in the story, and neither does it really change what the characters had been planning to do all along from that point. It's comes as a surprise and there were two weak clues before, but it really is mostly a random information dropped on the audience that does not actually twist anything.

In case you don't mind about learning the weak twist of a 15 year old game:
Spoiler for Hiden:
it is revelaed that the hero is not actually some random soldier with no meaningful backstory but the old master of the current Dark Lord whose memory got erased and replaced with some generic background just in case the Jedi need to retrain the hero in the Force to stop his still surviving apprentice. Nice idea, but it has actually no impact at all on what that hero did so far and goes on doing later.

So I now got an actual super rough idea for a story of book length and a pretty clear image of the kind of world it takes place in and what kinds of things the characters will run into. Among which are a lot of gods of the land and nature spirits that have a very extensive degree of control over the environment and climate, as well as priests, witches, and sorcerers who are trying to wrestle at least some of that control from them. Then there's also prominent naturally occuring objects and places of great magical powers. It's all going to be very magic heavy and mystical.

And yet, at  the same time, I find myself having absolutely no desire to really hammer out any specifics for how magic actually works. Where the energies come from, how it's controlled, how people learn to access it, how it affects things, and all that kind of stuff. It's not like I've made a deliberate choice to keep these things unexplained to the audience. I just really don't want to do this part of work. I've done it a couple of times in the past and I think it came out really well, but this time I just think about it and thing ...bleh.

I kind of feel like this is something that is going to be important and necessary. Something that I will need for a story with these central elements. But I am also feeling very unsure whether I just got tired of hammering out magic systems, or if my intuition is telling me that it's not appropriate to do so this time.  :P

Somehow I got the impression that storytelling in recent years has maybe been putting too much emphasis on surprising twists. There are a couple of really good ones, both now and from earlier, but a lot of fantasy fiction seems to be build around the expectation of an amazing revelation at the end of the story. The Sixth Sense was great and I love "I am your father", but these are both cases in which the real surprise is that there's a revelation at all. It wasn't like the whole plot was set up to make the audience wonder about the answer to a central question and then blow them away with something more amazing than they expected. That's a path I think is really hard to follow and pull off successfully.

When you tell the audience to get ready for a big amazing reveal and leave them in anticipation for 10 years, it's probably impossible to deliver anything that satisfies those expectations. This is a struggle I rather want to not fight at all, even though these days it probably will be the default expectation of most readers when you first release something and they don't yet know that this is not the way you write.

But I also feel that a story has to have a grand finale and there needs to be some kind of payoff at the end. Which becomes a bit more difficult when everyone is already expecting that the hero will kill the villain and get the girl in the last chapter. "Can the hero succeed" doesn't seem like a viable alternative to make the readers anticipating an ending with a nice payoff.

How else could a plot be approached to give it an ending that is exciting and makes the reader feel that their building anticipation had been worth it. I am quite fascinated by the idea of stories that deal with failures, setbacks, and limitations and with making protagonists more interesting by not having everything fall nicely into their lap at the end. From that, one potential approach to tension and eventually payoff that comes to my mind is to make the readers wonder how much losses the heroes will suffer until the end and how much they will end up having to pay for their victory. Like when the heroes decide to assault a stronghold in chapter 16 and you're dreading which nine out of the ten characters will still be around in chapter 24 and how many hands and eyes they will have together. But you can't really sacrifice one or two relevant characters every significant confrontation, so this approach would still need some further refining.

Writers' Corner / Re: Working with symbolic imagery
« on: February 14, 2018, 09:32:34 PM »
Stone crumbles, plants just keep growing back.
Roots are the fingers of crushing fists, reducing buildings to dust.

I already raised the idea of Nature themed fantasy a while back. The challenge with all of this is that these themes and imagery are not really plot related, but I'm spending some time every day on what can be done with it.
I'm quite supportive of the claim that "there are no natural disasters". Devastation is the result of people lacking the ability to deal with rapidly changing conditions. (Haiti and the Dominican Republic are on the same island, yet one is close to a ruined waste while the other is doing just fine.) Simply putting people in situations of (super)natural changes and reacting in conflicting ways might perhaps be enough to get a couple of characters fighting in front of a plant and weather heavy background.

Writers' Corner / Re: Fantasy word choice funtime
« on: February 14, 2018, 10:33:17 AM »
It wouldn't bother me at all. The only words that throw me out of a story are words with very obvious ties to our cultures, or major anachronisms when it comes to the world's technology.

Like references to trains in a world that doesn't have them.

Ooh! A touch, a veritable touch! Too bad JRRT isnt alive for you to feel your thrust.
What are you talking about?

@The Gem Cutter , there’s an infamous passage in The Hobbit where the narrative voice compares a sound to a train whistle. It’s often cited as a careless anachronism. Alternativ, some have said that it was okay because the narrator is not necessarily in that timeline.

I took Ryan’s comment as referring to that instance.
From what I remember, the whole narration of the Hobbit is very contemporary throughout the whole book. That's not a slipup but intentional design.

Writers' Corner / Re: Location Description: How much is to much?
« on: February 14, 2018, 06:09:38 AM »
I would say, as little as possible, unless you’re really really good at it. To Nora’s point, people read for characters in interesting situations interacting with an interesting world. You have to gauge your own style, passion, and talent to know how much to emphasize for each. But you can’t have story without characters in conflict. Really, everything else is sugar on top.
I quite like it when the story takes place in really fantastic environments and not just the generic English forest or castle, so having the locations of scenes well described is something I want to see. However, at the same time the flow of action must not come to a halt because of excessive exposition of any kind, so these two concerns have to be balanced. I think The Lord of the Rings can get away with a lot of descriptions because the pacing of the action is consistently very slow. When you get a lengthy paragraph describing a place, it does not feel disruptive but fits nicely in the flow of the overall story.
One really good rule of thumb I've read from some critics of RPG books is that any space given to description needs to tell the reader things that are not obvious. Don't describe things that are just as one would expect them to be by default if they were not described at all. Descriptions are the most efficient when they describe the things that add actually new information for the reader.

Writers' Corner / Re: Working with symbolic imagery
« on: February 13, 2018, 09:06:25 PM »
A couple other thoughts occur. Once you have a "world symbolism" you can watch for "counter-symbols" as it were. If trees and water inform the world, then perhaps metal and fire can symbolism destruction or disruption or just plain alien-ness.
Fire and iron are the first counterparts that immediately come to mind. But bad industry against good nature is a binary pair that's been used a lot of time. Not that trees are an original motif to begin with. (I probably wouldn't use it I didn't had an idea to use it in a new perspective. Actual nature without technology is horrible and terrifying.) But there's also another approach than going with the culturally establlished pairs. To people for who trees and water are essential, the really unsettling thoughts would be absence  of trees and absence of water. Dry, barren rocks would make for a great motif for negative expressions.

I thought some more on how I could use the imagery of  trees and water to create a more pronounced mystical aspect than what is found in most fanntasy. I originally got this whole idea from the imagery of fire and ash, which is of course a symbol for creation and decay. Again something that has been done plenty of times and I've long been intrigued by a blurring of present and past and an apparent absence of future. Trees can make a great symbol for persistence and durability. Of course, determined humans have long been able to clear huge areas of trees when they put their minds to it, but unless you really clear a patch of land of all vegetation that green stuff just keeps coming back very quickly. A full tree takes some time to grow, but unless you constantly fight it back, plants will cover up everything. Trees also age very  slowly and can live very long. As a symbol, trees can be regarded as eternal.
Water is also interesting in this context because it exists in a constant cycle between clouds, rains, and rivers, that is always active but also keeps going forever. Yet  while it's doing so it's slowly reshaping the whole surface of the world. Of all the elements and natural forces, I think water represents the passage of time the best. But a cyclical passage of time without start or end point.

Writers' Corner / Re: Starting close to the end
« on: February 13, 2018, 05:55:17 AM »
Doesn't that one still end up as 10 doorstoppers?

Writers' Corner / Working with symbolic imagery
« on: February 11, 2018, 08:55:48 AM »
I've recently been playing the Dark Souls games a lot, which are quite well known for their intricate worldbuilding. And one thing that keeps striking me as something that looks really interesting for writing is the constant and consistent use of repeated symbolic motives. Almost all of the magic and supernatural stuff in that world either takes the form of, or is described in terms of fire, ash, and bone. It's a world in which fire is the original creative source, but as every fire it eventually burns out leaving only ash. And without the creative energy of fire, people are starting to become undead, which is where the bone imagery comes from.
These images of fire, ash, and bone are absolutely eveywhere. Whenever someone talks about the power of the gods or the human spirit, it's done in fire based terminology. And there are lots of magic bones, ash, and coals that retain some of the divine energy, as well as plenty of magic spells described as projecting the power of the sun. It may seem a bit overdone, but I think it actually works really well. (They also made another game called Bloodborne which has everything themed around blood, eyes, and werewolves.)

I don't remember such an approach being used in other works of fantasy to such an extend. Fire and ice occasionally as a dualism, but without the whole theological and cosmological framework that covers the setting as a whole.

I've been thinking about how I could try something similar with the world I am working on, and two visual themes came almost immediately to my mind. Trees and water. And on second thought, there are so many things you can talk about in tree metaphors. The first thing that I think of as a gardener is structure. A solid trunk that connects roots that are firmly anchored in the ground with a wide spanning canopy that consists of endlesly differentiating branches. Trees also take nutrients and water from the earth and sunlight from the sky, to create life between the two. Wood is also a material that is both solid and flexible and can easily be shaped, and before steel and plastic was the main material from which people made almost anything. Trees also have fruits, which in Europe have been very essential to supplement a grain based diet. And there is so much symbolism you can tap into with the image of fruits.
And it also helps that I base the world somewhat on northeast Europe, where trees have long had a very central role in religious imagery and symbolism. I also like architecture for fantastic places that is very vertical, like towers and very high colums. These can easily be described in tree based terminology.

Water is also quite cool. I used to think of it as the most boring of the elements, but I've come to regard it as the most interesting in it's symbolism. Water is the source of life, and also a symbol of purity, with it being the primary cleaning agent throughout all history. Yet at the same time, water can be incredibly powerful and also destructive. Storms feel so much worse when it also rains, and you have of course all the flooding. Water can swallow up land in very short time and sweep things away to be gone forever. In northern European culture, water is also a gateway to the underworld. Swampy ponds with deep black bottoms are passages to the world of spirits, and the surface of the ocean sits on top of an endless, cold, black abyss that can swallow everything and make it literally vanish from the face of the earth forever. And in a setting focused on costal areas and ship travel, this is something that people are dealing with on an everyday basis.

I also really like fog. It is obscuring and also confusing, but is also associated with illusions and in extension also premonitions. And in a setting based on cold coastal swamplands it's something you can add to scenes all the time and it's something that people would believably make regular use of in metaphors.

I think this is a really cool approach to come up with a religious terminology that people in a setting are using to make sense of the world around them, and it can also be used to add a consistent feel to natural magic instead of scientific human created systems of categorization.

Writers' Corner / Re: Fantasy word choice funtime
« on: February 09, 2018, 05:57:15 AM »
In a lot of situations it would innclude a visit to an important religious site, in which case the entire thing could be called a pilgrimage.

I am still working on this.

As always, I don't have anything like an outline yet, but I did refine a more sharper concept for it. I studied anthropology for four years and now train as a gardener, and that does provide some perhaps unique perspectives. From anthroplogy I learned that everything we consider socially and culturally normal is what is professionally called "human constructs". It's arbitrary and we just grew up with the understanding that it's normal, but it could also be anything else and we still would consider it the obvious right way to do things. There is no right and wrong, just what you've always assumed to be correct.
My insight in the everyday realities of the global industry of growing and selling flowers and vegetables exposed that the entire concept of nature and natural ways in Western culture is a completely made up fiction that arises from the population almost entirely isolating itself from the wilderness. What we consider forests in Central Europe are really highly cultivated tree plantations. Your average apple tree is a Frankensteinian abomination and a genetic freak. And has beem since long before anyone even thought of genetic manipulation. That whole idea of nature being beautiful and peaceful is just an illusion. Most natural places seen by people are artificial creations that have been highly altered so that they look pretty and peaceful if you stay in them only for a few hours or days before returning to urban areas.

Completely unrelated (at least conciously), I've been long very fascinated with the idea of a paralel Spiritworld that is actually more Real than the world perceived by people. And while dabbling around with the idea and how I could incorporate (human made) religion into that, I came up with the concept that the world has a naturally wild and chaotic state in which people are just some animal in the middle of the food chain, but human cult activities create artificial regions of relative stability and security for human populations. Civilization is entirely confined to these regions "protected" by tempels and sorcerer kings. People know about the dangerous wilderness, but it's a place that is somewhere out there, far away from here.

Now my idea is to write about exposing the ilussionary nature of the world that people believe they live in and confronting them with the reality of how little separates them from what they consider the Other. Their reality is extremely fragile and when it starts showing cracks they are at first unable to handle the things they thought nonexistent in their perceived world. It's a bit Lovecraftian, but the true horror of reality is not multidimensional tentacle monsters but simply the global forest and the weather. And unlike the despair of Lovecraft, the emotional core lies in coming to terms with this new reality and going forward with new purpose. While the opposition consists of characters who are trying to make the world fit their desired reality instead of remaking themselves to fit it.

I see a lot of potential for great creepiness and compelling villains with this.

Writers' Corner / Re: Starting close to the end
« on: January 31, 2018, 08:25:02 PM »
I was thinking about spreading it out over a great length. Not start with a fight, but with the protagonist being on his way to the place where he knows he will find the antagonist. Then he can go through preparations. Have encounters with the antagonist in circumstances that prevent them from having their final fight right that moment.

Which makes me think about Once Upon a Time in the West. It's a really long movie (though with amazingly slow pacing) and starts with Harmonica having tracked down Frank. There's still over two hours of movie before he confronts him. What the movie does is to interweave it with a murder mystery and a conspiracy. As the plot develops, the murder is revealed to have been supposed to be the final move in a bigger game, which also makes it another case of a long story of which only the last chapter is shown.
And of course, the movie is all about the end of the Wild West but also came close to the very end of the Italo-Western genre.

I also have a vague memory of something similar appearing in some noir movies. (And in many ways, Italo-Westerns are Noir-Westerns.) Characters who knew each other come together again but it turns out that their relationships were already over and now they just tried to use each other. Though I can't think of any specific case.

Writers' Corner / Re: Fantasy word choice funtime
« on: January 31, 2018, 08:06:26 PM »
For philosophical reasons I don't want to use the word Evil. Evil implies that there is some factual dualism of Good and Evil, which I specifically want to avoid. But sometimes, you still just have monsters or places that seemingly desire nothing but to kill and cause suffering. Is there another word that could get this across?

The closest related words I can think of as description are cruel and hateful, but Hateful Forest just doesn't have quite the snappy ring to it.  ;)

Writers' Corner / Re: Starting close to the end
« on: January 31, 2018, 06:11:17 PM »
The vague image I have in mind are something like two characters with a long shared history, whose details are not really important, and one of them has finally caught up to the other to have their final confrontation. Or of a group of people who had a lot of adventures or a long career together, and the story starts just when everything goes to hell and then eventually ends in total disaster.
Something very roughly like that that comes to my mind are the Hellboy comics. Hellboy and friends have been fighting the supernatural together for 50 years when the story starts. It's a long running series and probably wasn't planned like that, and it has various stories that turn out to be more aditional side content. But the main story that is visible in hindsight really has the first adventure be the marking point of the beginning of the end.

This feels like something that could potentially be very interesting. But also probably really quite difficult. Nothing I'd want to try my hand at, but I find it a fascinating possibility.

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