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Re: Bridgeburner at 500... sign of OCD?
Have goggled at the strange and brilliant mind that is @Yora. (Yes, that's goggled, not googled.)
Thanks. That's a nice thing to say.  ;D

March 16, 2015, 04:27:41 PM
Re: Scene & Chapter Length I think you're approaching it from the wrong direction. A story is as long as it takes to tell all the important things. Adding unnecessary scenes to inflate the word count generally reduces the quality of the stroy rather than improving it.
March 16, 2015, 06:07:50 PM
Magic treasures Long before I even started to consider serious fiction writing, I've been running roleplaying games for years. And in most games, things like magic swords, magic boots, and flying carpets are a pretty big deal. And when you look at many classic "proto-fantasy" stories and the Lord of the Rings, magic items are everywhere. Every halfway decent god or hero had two or three magic items he acquired over his many adventures by stealing them from villains he defeated.

I am not terribly well read in contemporary fantasy books, but it seems to me that magic items are almost absent these days. And in the Sword & Sorcery of Howard and Leiber they appear to be almost nonexistent. (Moorcock being an exception here, with a prominent magic sword being almost a character in its own right.)

Like monsters, I like magic items, as unfashionable they may be right now. But unlike monsters, I don't really see how I would include magic items in my stories. So this made me thought that it might be an interesting topic to talk about. Just to share some thoughts and preferences and see what other people are thinking about it.

It's not that I can't get magic items to fit into the world, but that with all my characters and villains, I just don't see any actual use for them. A normal sword, a normal armor is good enough; as is a normal rope with a grappling hook and you can sneak around just fine without boots of sneakiness or an obscuring cloak.
The one point where I really do like "magic items" is when it comes to alchemy. Potions, poisons, smoke bombs and the like are wonderful stuff. These are quite different from regular magic items in two ways: They can be made by craftsmen and may only be borderline magical, and they are also used up once you use them. After that, you need to get new ones if you want to use them again. Which, again, isn't that particularly difficult as they are relatively easy to make.
But I think it's not primarily the "mundanity" of potions and bombs that makes them so much more interesting to me, but rather that they actively do something in a noticable way that makes a lot of difference. Take our default example for half of all fantasy discussions: Frodo Baggins. Frodo has a lot of magic items. A magic sword, magic armor, a magic cloak, a magic light, and of course a magic ring. The armors special ability comes into play only once in the entire story, when Frodo gets hit by a troll. But everything Frodo did was "not die". His sword is a magic sword, but its most interesting ability is not that it's super durable, super sharp, and super harmful to monsters or anything like that, but that it glows when orcs are nearby. That this magic item of orc detection is shaped like a sword is really just coincidence that doesn't actually affect its usefulness. The one time Frodo uses his magic stuff actively is his light. And this is not the item that makes him fight harder, survive longer, and hide better, but the one item that he turns on and aims at an enemy. It's a much more interesting weapon than his sword really.
And that's what I like about alchemical items. Any time a character uses one, you really see something dramatic happen. In a story, you probably wouldn't mention a character taking a sip from a magic potion to heal some bruises and small cuts. Healing potions are for when the character would die without it. Smoke bombs, flash powder, liguid fire, and metal eating acid are things that really change the situation a lot. A potion that protects against fire or cold allows a character to survive in otherwise deadly conditions. They don't just improve the odds, they enable the character to do completely new things he couldn't normally do.

Those few ideas I have for genuinely enchanted items go into a similar direction. A magic lantern that shows the way to a magically hidden place for example, or a magic gem that glows in the dark. These are also items that you turn on when you need them to do their thing, but don't keep running the whole time. I think making a magic item being active makes it a lot more interesting than the item just being sligtly better manufactured than mundane gear.

March 17, 2015, 06:33:20 PM
Universe Sandbox This is probably the grestest game I've ever seen.

Also possibly the nerdiest thing ever made. And I absolutely NEED it! Going to wait for Universe Sandbox 2 that will run on Linux, though.

It allows you to mess around with everything in the solar system or make your own systems from scratch. See what would happen if the Sun was bigger or smaller, or if there were two suns. Take away Jupiter or replace it with a brown dwarf. Or build your own Nibiru and throw it right at Earth! It even works on galaxy scale and you can make whole galaxies crash into each other.

This seems like the perfect tool to figure out how you could have an Earth-like planet in a system with six stars (they really exist), and it probably could answer how the sky would like from a planet near the center of the Galaxy or in the Magellanic Clouds.
All things that would most people in the world and history not would not even understand as a question, and that perhaps nobody else needed to know before. But I do, and this looks really great.  ;D

March 17, 2015, 10:12:20 PM
Re: Real life experiences and non-fiction sources for better worldbuilding On the subject of colonialism and post-colonial relationships: Germany is an interesting case, because Germany never really got into the whole colony business. (Not for any ulterior reasons, they really wanted to, but were so terrible at it that everything was already taken by the time they figured out how it worked.) There was Tanzania, Cameroon, and Namibia (the least densly populated country in the world), but that was pretty much it. Cameroon went to France after World War I and so the entire decoloniation process and post-colonial relationship is a thing between Cameroon and France with Germany not really being involved.
An interesting result from this situation is that Germany has a very good reputation throughout Asia. The countries of Asia all have difficult pasts and complicated relationships with all the major European powers, except for Germany. (Don't really know about Africa, but I believe it's simlar there.) This put Germany into the unique position of being able to provide all the modern European know-how and technology but without the difficult historical baggage that comes with the other European countries. Within Europe, Germany in the first half of the 20th century is clearly the bad guy. But to the people outside of Europe none of that really mattered and Germany was pretty much the nicest European power to have business with. That Germany did not participate in any military opperations outside of Europe until 2002 also helped a lot (and even since then, the German presence in Afghanistan is limited to the region that predominantly welcomed the western troops as allies against their internal enemies, so they are not seen as invaders).

I think this is a very interesting option to consider in geo-political worldbuilding. A "villainous" country is mostly a country that does bad things to you. If they help you against the people who are doing bad things to you, it usually doesn't matter much what they are doing to their enemies. Especially in a fantasy setting, where people get few first-hand accounts of things that happen in other parts of the world.

March 18, 2015, 02:01:04 PM
Re: Real life experiences and non-fiction sources for better worldbuilding
I think Germany is a very interesting nation to look at from this kind of perspective. To some people (thankfully a diminishing number of people), Germany is still closely linked with Nazism and still has all the baggage that comes with that particular era.
It's mostly England.  ;)

Well, actually, it's only England. The one country that got the least affected by German war crimes and never got invaded or occupied  ::)

I am always very amazed how quickly Germany was able to make peace with all the other neighboring countries in Europe, especially France and Poland. France and Germany had been fierce enemies for over a thousand years, and then all of a sudden they became best friends in a matter of two or three decades. And even in Poland, the country that probably suffered the most from centuries of German military agression, people seem to have made peace with the current population of Germany. Even while some of the occupaying soldiers are still alive. I can only remember one single case of anti-German polemic in Poland in the past 20 years, and that was a mud slinging contest between a German and a Polish tabloid paper, which I believe actually have the same owner.

Edit to add: just read an article from 2004 in a major English newspaper, which I will not dignify by posting here, titled "Sorry, but the Germans must never be allowed to forget their evil past". Just... wow. Apparently Germans are evil, and English people are saintly. No mention whatsoever of anything that England has been reponsible for in the past. This kind of thing is exactly why I despise nationalism and patriotism.
Yeah, England is really the only place in the world I am aware of where Nazi polemics are still en vogue. And even that is changing. I think during the football world cup five years ago (which was in Germany) I've read a couple of articles on English news sites where lots of interviewed people from England were saying that it's really quite embarassing when people still do that and that it makes England look terrible. So I am not really that concerned about it.

Which again, can be an interesting element of worldbuilding. A recent example I've come across is in the Mass Effect games, where the humans and the Turians had a really violent and costly war 30 years ago before the allies of the Turians negotiated a peace, and now the humans are even joining that alliance. Many older soldiers still have reservations about the other species, but mostly the two groups are now their closest allies with which they actually have the most in common. (Though of course, neither side did invade the enemy homeworlds and occupied them or engaged in any genocidal activities.)

Strangely enough, the Americans are sometimes really good at that. Germany and Japan both became very important allies very quickly after having been bombed to rubble by the American forces. (The fact that Germany and Japan both started the fighting and were clearly to blame for it probably was an important factor, though.)

Dealing with a terrible past and post-war national identity in Germany is a pretty unique case, as far as I can tell. We don't need English newspapers to tell us that not to sweep it under the rug and forgett about it. It's a huge part of modern german identity which actually borders on self-flagellation. There is a certain sense of superiority coming from the fact that we are pretty much the only nation in world history that does not in any way attempt to downplay crimes in the past (which of course pretty much none of the currently living people had any part in). We can point at the Japanese, Americans, and Russians and berate them about admiting their past, as we now have the moral high ground, having done even worse things and fully admiting to them.
But at the same time, there is also the widespread view that Germans have a certain responsibility: The German people made a terrible mistake and after decades of debating and reconsidering, we now have an understanding what happened and why and that it could happen to anyone at any time, with which comes a duty to speak up any time someone else might start to go down that same terrible road. Which of course can come off as quite obnoxious, especially to people in other countries who don't actually know how much time German society still spends on educating following generations and trying to repair some of the damage.
Of course, Germans are now extremely anti-patriotic. Anything that has even a hint of patriotism is automatically suspicious. Black-Red-Gold flags during football tournaments don't count. Black-Red-Gold are out team colors, they do not represent and identification with the state.  :D
However, this topic is so incredibly complex that I don't recommend to anyone to try to go there with fictional nations.  ;)

March 18, 2015, 04:46:57 PM
Re: Real life experiences and non-fiction sources for better worldbuilding
I was reading a blog post written by someone who travels for a living, staying in places for three months to a year and immersing himself in their culture - he mentioned that one of the cultural quirks of Germany is that everyone is very honest to each other, which could be a part of why as a country you've faced up to the past while others like to pretend it didn't happen. It's one of the things that makes Germany appeal to us should we ever want to move country again (which is quite likely) :P
I think that's a much older thing and (mostly) independent from any post-war developments. A lot of cultures throughout the world practice "politeness judo", where there are lots of customs and social norms that govern how you present oppinions in a socially acceptable way. Germany, and I think that extends to Scandinavia as well, does not really have that. If you can say something in four words, it's usually socially acceptible to say it in four words, and when you want to be extra polite you say it with six. Germans generally see no reason to say it in 16 or 24 words. Not for any real reason, but simply because that's what we're used to. In other cultures all the native speakers know exactly what the other person means as well, because everyone knows the conventions of the language with which you insult someone with only nice words.
Problems happen when you have two people talking to each other who are not used to the same conventions, and it's often something that is not a big part of language classes. Germans easily get annoyed by people from other countries who always change their oppinions and don't do the things they said they would do. Because we Germans don't get the idea that someone is refusing your request without using the word "no". The other way round, Germans often seem pretty rude, since we always skip the pleasantries and don't show any concern for the other persons feelings or dignity.
These things about language tend to be very subtle and even if you know about them it doesn't mean you know how to do them right. It's not uncommon for people from cultures that use a lot of politeness in their native language to turn down the politeness from 80% all the way down to 0%, even though actually Germans are comfortable with 20%. And 0% is still regarded as unacceptibly rude.  :D

March 18, 2015, 06:31:20 PM
Re: Experiences with worldbuilding Here is a quick tip from me: When you write down a note for an idea you have, also write down what inspired that idea.

I just found a two months old note that just says "underground lizard men". I know what that means. But I really can't remember why I would ever have thought that would be something I would want to add to my world.

March 19, 2015, 09:10:15 PM
Re: How much did you write today? I just leave this here...  :D

Spoiler for Hiden:

March 21, 2015, 06:52:06 PM
Re: Experiences with worldbuilding I could have sworn we've been talking about this before not too long ago, but I can't find anything in the other recent threads. I think I touched upon it a bit in the monster thread.

But one aspect of worldbuilding I am feeling very uncertain about is maintaining the separation between what is normal and what is extraordinary. I am generally completely behind the statement "when everything is special, nothing is special", and that believable fantasy is grounded in fantasy. If your world is too wondrous and magical, then the creatures and events that are meant to be horrifying and amazing are feeling much less unusual and unexpected. If the characters are supposed to react to something with terror or awe in a believable way to the audience, there needs to be a clear contrast between the normal and the extraordinary.
Some writers take this to the extreme and do pseudo-historical fantasy, set in real places and times of our world and adding only the monster or sorcerer which the story is about. Minimum fantasy for maximum contrast.

But thing is, I like my drastically different worlds that are very different planets compared to Earth. I want forests of giant mushrooms and characters riding on winged, feathered dinosaurs, getting invited to an audience with a serpent queen and wearing armor made from giant spiders. Or in other words, I love Morrowind;) But also Barsoom and Athas.

But I also want truly horrific monsters and amazing discoveries. I want to eat the cake and have it too. However, to be "grounded in reality", the world does not exactly have to be identical to Earth. What is needed is a strong contrast between the normal and the extraordinary. Making it Earth-like is an easy way to tell the audience what is normal and what the characters in the story would consider normal. But if you can make your fictional element feel familiar and mundane, you still can get the contrast to the truly extraordinary.

God example would be Moria in The Lord of the Rings. Orcs and trolls are not real, and neither are talking eagles, elves, dwarves, or wizards. Barrow-wights and ring-wraiths are certainly not normal, but they are still familiar. They fit into expectations we have about the world. And then you get to the watcher in the water, which really doesn't. The wights and wraiths are ancient mortal kings that have turned evil. But a huge nameless tentacle thing? That doesn't fit with the image of the world at all. And a while later we of course get the balrog who is a completely different story alltogether. A dark lord in his castle and his undead servants might be very dangerous, but they are still of this world we've gotten used to. The balrog certainly is not. We don't really know what it is. But Gandalf knows. And he terrified by it and really doesn't think anyone else should know. That is some real contrast.

I think an even better example is from Princess Mononoke. The world of that movie is actually pretty magical, with the hero riding on a stag, meeting giant talking animal spirits, and seeing lots of nice little forests spirits. And when we still meet those animal and forest spirits, they are magical moments in which the hero is impressed and the audience in awe. But the hero makes it clear with his reaction that this might be something special, it's also something that is expected and fits into what he considers to be normal. It's just something that most people don't get to see close up. The leader of the people who are fighting the animal spirits is equally unimpressed. They may be minor deities, but if you have good weapons and don't panic, they can be killed and their land taken. The common soldiers panic a lot, but still get the job done with guidance from their fearless leader. The main characters make it clear that spirits may be magical and very powerful, but they are normal. And then you get to the really awesome later parts of the movie where shit gets real! Or to be precise, very unreal! As long as the spirits act according to the rules, the main characters are mostly in control. But once the rules no longer apply, things get just terrifying. It is very clear that everything turns as extraordinary as it gets with barely any trace of normality left.

And on the pretty extreme side of highly fictional worlds, there's the season 1 finale of Avatar. It's a world in which there are no normal animals and absolutely anything that moves that is not a human is entirely made up. And even though it's an American show, the style for all the human cultures is very Asian. And of course there seems to be like 10% of all people having magic powers and all of the protagonist are exceptionally powerful in their magic powers. This is a fantasy world that is very far removed from reality. Yet in the last episode of that season, the natural order of things gets completely shaken up. (Actually in a way very similar to Princess Mononoke.) Fictional animals and spirits are everyday stuff, but this is a whole different story altogether.

So yeah, giant mushroom forests and flying dinosaurs are no reason why you can't have a strong contrast between what is normal and what is extraordinary. What techniques do you have as a writer to make your story more grounded and also feel more weird when something is supposed to be unnatural? One thing I want to try later in the story I am working one is to have a strong shift in voice and vocabulary. The way I describe environments, creatures, and people is based on the perception of the character the story is currently following. If he considers something ordinary and barely worth mentioning, I use words that reflect that and drop only short mentions of the things without going into much detail and giving them much thought. Then when the character steps into the cave where the monster has its lair, I want to make a strong shift, using a more esoteric and fanciful vocabulary, describing all sights and sounds in great detail, and using adjectives that indicate emotions. Some eight-legged beast of burden might simply "stink", while the hunchbacked old witch would be surrounded by "a terrible stench resembling rotten meat and much more unspeakable things". As much as I love Lovecraft and Howard, I think they both are not really doing that. With Lovecraft everything is dreary and corrupted right from the start, and Howard has Conan go down into ancient crypts without a second thought.

Another thing I noticed myself doing is that all my fictional animals are mammals or reptiles, while all the unnatural creatures are giant insects and worms. Like the one I linked.  ;D

March 26, 2015, 10:37:41 PM