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Re: Nonhuman peoples Elves are a particularly difficult case. Personally, I love them. But lots of people hate them and when they give reasons for that, I entirely agree with them. Those characterizations they describe annoy me to hell and back as well, as they are just awful and should be called out. Elves are great if you don't turn them into melancholic, immortal tree-huggers who are superior and everything, and the writer describes them in a way that makes it very clear the reader should be totally loving them.
I certainly won't turn them into such carricatures, but I am under the impression that lots of people wouldn't even give the story a single glance if they know there are elves that play a big role. It they had green skin and a different name, those same people would probably be perfectly happy with them.
Same thing applies to gnomes, but they so rarely get the treatment of writer gushing that even the passionate gnome haters (who really just hate kenders, and for good reasons) won't be turned away by their presence.

October 08, 2014, 10:37:05 PM
Re: Nonhuman peoples I got another thought on the subject on using nonhumans, particularly elves, dwarves, and orcs.

Even though there is commonly strong opposition to "humans with pointy ears", I think the main reason we see them so often is because they have basically become public domain cultures. You can't just take a human culture someone invented and put them into your own work without being called out for just copying it, but you can do that with the generic nonhuman races. And that's why wood elves, high elves, dark elves, dwarves, and orcs always seem to be so very similar in every setting without major changes in their culture. What people really like about the races is their culture!
And when you look at fantasy settings, there are huge numbers of cultures that really are just straight Vikings, Mongols, Aztecs, and Japanese. Amazons also fall into this category, being both a human culture (though mostly fictional) and fictional race. The choice to have wood elves in your setting is the same choice as having vikings.

If faced with the question of having a human culture that lives in the forest and is good at archery, or making them elves, the real thing to ask yourself is whether you want to explain the entire culture to your audience from scratch, or if want to start with some common archetypes and only explain what your personal take on it changes. Making the nonhuman characters think and act nonhuman isn't really the point. Using a generic fantasy race is simply a shortcut.

And I think this explains to me why I want to have wood elves in my setting: I like this culture and think I could make a better version of it than I've seen from other writers. And understanding that should make it really easier for me to use elves much more effectively in my stories.

October 17, 2014, 08:08:51 PM
Re: Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions I pretty much by accident discovered the Kormak series by William King. The story The Guardian of the Dawn and the book Stealer of Flesh are on his website. I've read the first two stories so far, and they are mostly quite good. He directly mentions Howard, Moorcock, Leiber, and Smith, so he is clearly seeing himself as writing specifically in the Sword & Sorcery genre. While based on the stories so far, the elements are clearly there, I am so far missing the passion and exciting action I am expecting to see. The action scenes have been few and very brief, and Kormak tends to be almost a bit whiny about how hard and depressing his lot as a fighter of evil is. This might be n influence from grimdark, though I think Elric wasn't immune to that either.

I'll still clearly be reading the other three stories from Stealer of Flesh, but I'll wait until I've finished those before I decide about getting more of the books or not. I do recommend taking a look at them, though. I think aside from my genre expectations, King is writing quite well.

December 02, 2014, 09:25:33 PM
Experiences with worldbuilding Worldbuilding is always an interesting subject. The most common advice given to writers seems to be "don't overdo it, it's wasted time and will be annoying if you put it all into your story when you have too much". Which of course is very much true and writers should look out not to prepare too much background information that will never get used or put too much of that information into a story that is not necessary for the plot.

However, this does not really help at all with the questions how you actually do prepare a good world for your stories. So let's talk about that.

My own background is primarily from roleplaying games, where I have prepared worlds for my players to play in for years. But since I started getting interested in writing literature, one of the first things I noticed is that worldbuilding for stories is much, much easier and requires way less work. One of the biggest mistakes that people regularly make when creating worlds for games, but probably is much less common among writers, is to make a world first with no real plan how they want to use it later. That's a very bad approach that regularly creates bland and completely interchangeable worlds. I highly recommend tailoring your world specifically to the needs of the specific stories you want to tell. And that means first to make descisions about genre, atmosphere, "visual style", and overarching themes. Do you want to make something more heroic or epic in style? Will it be early modern, medieval, ancient, or even prehistoric? Do you want to evoke a familiarity with Europe or Asia? Maybe Africa or America, or something that doesn't resemble any specific place on Earth at all (more on that later*). Do you want to stay local or visit many different places? Do you want the option to hop around all over the world with episodic stories, or follow a single route in a heroes journey?

All these things determine what parts of the world you will actually have to develop. They also can make a difference for how you will create certain things, which is why you need to make these descisions right at the beginning. If you later change your mind or leave the descision for a later time, some of the things you have created might end up useless and redundant. And one thing that is important to understand is that you can't simply change any element on a whim later one. Once an image of something has taken hold in your mind it persists, and you will try to keep them that way even when you realize their current form isn't really ideal for your needs. You set out to replace them and then still end up creating basically the same thing again. Another factor are interpedencencis. Worldbuildig that seems really solid and satisfying comes from all the elements of the world being connected and building on each other. When you work out these five kingdoms and create their shared history over the past 1000 years and then later decide you actually rather have six, there is a good chance that it will show. The new one just won't have the same connections, you can see the seams. Same thing when you remove  certain element. If you decide at a later point you actually don't want to have any desert nomads and make the land they inhabited completely dead, all the fortresses on the desert edge seem rather pointless and why is there a big trade city on a road that is a dead end? Why are the locals influenced heavily by that culture on the other side of the uncrossable desert and where did they get those mercenaries who saved them against their neighboring enemy when the war had seemed already lost?

These examples are all things that can be fixed later. But it will probably never get as good as it would have been if everything had grown together side by side instead of one after the other. And it's additional work that could have been used on other things.

One thing that new worldbuilders for roleplaying games need constantly reminded of is that they only need to create details that will directly affect their audience in some way. Same thing with literature, except that the audience in that case are the point of view characters. If you want to write about politics and life at court, you need to do preparatory work on the structure of the government. This will almost certainly become vital for the story. You also need to create characters to fill many of the jobs at the court. If the story is about explorers of old ruins, all you might need is some clerk who hires them to find something for his boss. Who this boss actually is might be completely irrelevant for your plot, and he might never even get a name. If you want to write about some thieves in the slums who won't get involved with politics, the only parts of government that might be interesting are the magistrate, the judge, and the captain of the guard. Who rules the city or country and how government works could be left blank and doesn't have to come up in the story at all.
If you already know your work will be limited to a single country or city, you don't have to worry about how long distance transportation works. If you want to write something episodic where the protagonists end up in all kinds of different places you will only know about once you start thinking about a new plot for a story, this information might be quite handy. If they are going to Neustadt by ship and you already established that Neustadt is a port town in previous stories, readers will notice and the world seems more real.
And this is the big advantage of writing literature over writing for games: You have a very high degree of certainty knowing which places your characters will go to and what circles of society they will interact with. This allows you to scratch a huge amount of possible items of the worldbuilding to-do list.

*One thought on creating completely original worlds: It can be done, but there is a huge and invaluable advantage of repurposing places from Earths history. It allows you to just give a few key details about a culture or landscape and the readers imagination can fill in all the blanks with details they remember from the source that inspired you. Even though you say very little, the readers still see complex and detailed societies and locations.
Personally I prefer not to rely too heavily on this and not have any Vikings and Mongols in my world that only have a slightly different name. A great little trick to be both original and recognizable is to take a culture and put it into a quite different environment, or two blend two different cultures together. A great example of the later I've seen in the videogame series Warcraft. The Night Elves, apart from being elves, combine Scandinavian with Japanese elements. The result doesn't resemble either. In the world I am working on there is one human culture that is Chinese who used to live like Scythians but now transformed their society into Swedes.
Common fantasy races like elves and dwarves have become so well known with fantasy readers that they work just the same as archetypes than Vikings or Egyptians. While these are fictional, you can use them as well to mine for elements for your cultures. I have a race of little green men with large ears who are druids and alchemists but also build fortresses and mines like dwarves.

I'd be very interested to hear what kinds of worlds you have created for your works and what experiences you have made with them.

February 17, 2015, 10:20:24 PM
Re: Fantasy-Faction Writing Group
Spoiler for Hiden:

February 20, 2015, 09:23:58 PM
Fantasy Memes and silly stuff (about books) from the internet Based on the one with Kermit.

Here is a blank to make your own.

February 23, 2015, 07:40:58 PM
Korgoth of Barbaria: The best Sword & Sorcery movie ever made Korgoth of Barbaria is a 23 minute long cartoon that was made as a pitch for a series. Even though the series was never made, it's still a wonderful short movie. It's either a ridiculously silly parody of Sword & Sorcery, or a honest attempt to take the genre to its fullest extremes. Probably it's both.

Either way, I think it's just wonderful, whichever way you look at it. Obviously it's full of extreme cartoon violence, almost nudity, and jokes that are highly inappropriate for audiences of all ages. And of course very Metal!!! \m/

March 01, 2015, 06:24:39 PM
Re: Fantasy Memes and silly stuff about books from the internet
March 11, 2015, 11:50:43 AM
Re: Fantasy Memes and silly stuff about books from the internet What? Not everyone instantly recognizes Lovecrafts incredibly photogenic face?

Are you going to tell me not everyone has read all his famous stories?  :D

March 11, 2015, 01:44:29 PM
We are not using the Z-Word A while ago I was reading a post about writers of fantasy worlds having to define how they are using the terms Good and Evil. (It was in the context of roleplaying games, but since their worldbuilding tends to be a lot more extensive than for most novels and they also have the audience/players adding their own characters to the world, so these people tend to spend a lot more thought on things that literature writers often don't think about.) And knowing a bit or two about Asian philosophy, I made the descision that there is no Evil in my stories. There is violence, brutality, exploitation, and crime, which is punished by law and almost universally despised, with the people who engage in them being hated and considered terrible. But there is no concept of Evil as in western thought. It's not a transgression against a unversal law or order, but simply something that people consider bad and unacceptable.
And that got me thinking how a story or series of stories can be given its own distinctive character by deciding what words and concepts don't exist in their worlds. Even longer back, I also remember reading an article about a writer saying he doesn't use the word "damn" in his story because in that world there is no damnation that could await people. And it does not make sense in a Legend of Zelda game when a character says "Gee, it sure is boring around here", because "Gee" is Jesus. Selectively not using word is probably something that readers are very unlikely to actively notice unless they are specifically looking out for it. But I think a great number of readers will at least sense it unconscously. So I've been thinking some more on other words I don't want to use in my writing.

Zombie: The original Z-word. In the world I am using there are the corpses of the dead which get animated by magic and wander around attacking the living. But these are not created by some kind of plague or being altered by a wizard, but are possessed by evil hostile spirits. They can be mostly intact or nothing more than skeletons or anything in between. While not terribly smart or displaying any real motivations, they still think. They are still very much like zombies, but they are also quite different from the common movie-zombie. Also, a zombie is something the readers know and are familiar with, and within the world of the story the walking dead are so rare that almost no character will ever have encountered them. If I call them zombies, the readers will think the protagonist thinks of them as zombies and therefore assume these are not really anything to worry about for an experienced hero. If the protagonist is surprised and does not quite know what he's dealing with, then the reader should feel the same and that just won't happen if they are described as zombies.
Hell, hellish: Something can not look hellish, like Hell, or like from hell if there is no place called Hell and the people in the stories have no concept of such a place.
Ghost: Still not entirely certain about this, but I think I want to avoid using the word ghost. Those are those white glowing souls of the dead with unfinished business they have to complete before they can depart. In a world that is highly animistic, the default world for an incorporeal being would be "spirit". In case the spirit is actually a dead person, I prefer the words Shade or Wraith. Like the zombies, it keeps readers a bit uncertain what exactly it is.
Soul: Like Evil, the word soul comes with a lot of preconcieved bagage. If the life energy of a person is not immortal and going to remain what it is in some form of afterlife, the term soul seems misleading to me.
Sin: Another word that really works only in a christian context. The best analogue in an animistic world would be taboo.
Wizard: I never use the term wizard. It always reminds me too much of scholars with libraries of arcane tomes and magic wands. Since that's not in any way similar to what these people are in my stories, I always call them sorcerers or witches or something like that.
Fire!: This is admitedly pendantery. But arrows and catapults are not fired::)

Do you have any words you consciously avoid to use in a story?

March 15, 2015, 01:29:45 PM