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Topics - NinjaRaptor

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Writers' Corner / Is the trope of evil monstrous humanoids problematic?
« on: November 19, 2017, 10:59:43 PM »
I don't necessarily intend to discourage people from writing stories about evil orcs, goblins, lizardpeople, demons, etc. threatening human civilization if those truly are the stories in their hearts. But I've come not to care for that trope personally. The core idea seems to be that the forces of evil must necessarily look monstrous, ugly, or otherwise unattractive (by conventional human standards). In other words, subhuman.

The reason I'm bothered by this is that, historically, a lot of the evil that people have done to each other has been motivated by the perception that the victims were the subhuman ones. Very often, denigrating those people's natural beauty has come hand in hand with this dehumanization. For example, look at Jim Crow portrayals of African-Americans, or Nazi portrayals of Jews. They always make the subjects look hideous in addition to threatening.

Of course, orcs etc. aren't actually supposed to be Homo sapiens, let alone representative of any real ethnic group. But since they're traditionally depicted as monstrous in appearance as well as behavior, couldn't that reinforce the prejudicial link between evil and ugliness? Because, ironically, a lot of very real evil has been driven by that belief.

Writers' Corner / "Murky middle" problem with outlining a story
« on: September 18, 2017, 07:37:53 PM »
Several weeks ago I hatched a concept and a few characters for a fantasy adventure story I would write. The setting drew influence from ancient African and Asian cultures, with the main conflict pitting an Egyptian- and Chinese-based civilization against one another.

The protagonist was going to be a warrior princess from the Egyptian-style culture, who was quite anxious about following her father's footsteps as Pharaoh and had a tendency to neglect her studies in favor of sports such as hunting or chariot-racing. The antagonist, on the other hand, was the Chinese-style culture's vengeful emperor, whose father died in a battle with the pseudo-Egyptians. What he wanted to do was steal a magic staff from the protagonist's country and use it as a weapon to conquer and enslave her people, and the protagonist's goal was to retrieve it.

When outlining the story, I ran into a sort of "murky middle" problem. I had some idea how the story would begin and end, but the middle act remained nebulous. All I knew was that it had something to do with the warrior princess heroine traveling from her country to the antagonist's. Oh, and she had as her companions a rambunctious little brother and a nerdy inventor who had the hots for her. Subplots involving these other two characters might fill in some of the blank spots, but the heroine needed an arc to pull her through as well.

I would very much appreciate suggestions on how to get myself unstuck here. Also, has anyone else encountered this kind of "murky middle" situation?

This is something that had bedeviled me for some time now. I see the three most important axes of storytelling as being setting, characters, and plot, but I am not sure which of these aspects I should work on first when planning a story. They all seem to be intertwined with each other to the point where each influences the other two. Setting can shape characters, and characters in turn can shape the plot. However, you also need characters that are suitable for the plot you design, and what you put in the setting can be affected both by the story and the characters that drive it. So it ends up being a chicken-and-egg dilemma.

Personally, I find settings and characters easier to brainstorm than plots, and part of me wants to go with those instincts. The other part of me doesn't want to catch world-builder's disease or create characters that don't suit the plot very well. So what are your recommendations?

So I self-published an anthology of my short speculative fiction on Amazon.com for the Kindle:

Dinosaurs & Dames
This is a self-published anthology of short stories by amateur writer Brandon S. Pilcher. By and large, they are action-packed speculative-fiction tales featuring dinosaurs and other savage beasts, fierce female warriors and huntresses, and African cultural influences. So if you like adventure, strong heroines, prehistoric wildlife, and non-Western settings, these are the stories for you.

Writers' Corner / Writing YA for teenage boys
« on: December 14, 2016, 03:03:28 AM »
My parents got me "Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies" for my birthday tonight. My mom believes that most of the fiction I write would appeal most of all to teenage boys, so she thinks a book about writing YA would be helpful for my career. As thankful as I am for the present, I'm not so sure I want to specialize in YA fiction at this point.

See, the reason my fiction would probably appeal to teenage boys is because it has elements that aren't supposed to be found in YA, namely violent action and sexy leading ladies. I certainly loved that sort of subject matter when I was a teenage boy, and I imagine most other teenage boys would have similar tastes. On the other hand, since YA fiction is supposed to have teenage protagonists, you can't really involve them in such "adult" situations even if they actually do appeal to teen boys. For example, although many teen boys would be thrilled by the opportunity to "score" with a beautiful woman, having a teen hero do so would creep out a lot of readers since teenagers are supposed to be under the age of consent.

Mind you, I'm sure you could write YA fiction appealing to teenage boys that doesn't involve sex or violence. But since I actually do like that sort of thing, would it be possible to write something as YA if it did feature it?

I suppose this question's answer could depend on the project, but I'm mulling over which would work better as a general approach for my writing. Most of the time, I use third person limited since that seems to be what reviewers prefer, but I have considered practicing with an omniscient perspective due to one issue that keeps bothering me.

As a writer, I like describing my characters so that the reader has some idea what they look like. I have a lot of stories with non-Western settings in which people who don't look European predominate, and I worry that omitting descriptions of racial characteristics will perpetuate the "white is default" problem. On the other hand, describing your PoV characters in a "limited" PoV is considered taboo due to the presumption that characters wouldn't think about their own appearance most of the time. Personally, I disagree with this opinion---I see third person limited more like a camera following the character rather than looking straight through their eyes, so you still get a view of the character themselves---but so many reviewers have adopted it that I'm tired of hearing it altogether. If I were to adopt a broader omniscient point of view, I would skirt the problem entirely.

On the other hand, I've read that an omniscient point of view shouldn't get too close to any of the characters and their feelings or else you risk "head-hopping"---that is, confusing the reader by switching between multiple points of view within a scene. Thing is, while I can see why switching between too many viewpoints within one scene can be confusing, I actually do think getting closer to at least one character's point of view can give the writing more emotional power.

So basically I feel like I have to choose between a point of view that (conventional wisdom maintains) is too limited for what I want to do, and a less popular point of view that is supposed to be distant from the characters. Is there an alternative option, or should I choose between these two?

Writers' Corner / A story about abortion
« on: February 29, 2016, 02:16:16 PM »
For the most part I'm dumping a story idea here, but I know it deals with a subject that's touchy to many people out there.

Spoiler for Hiden:
This story takes place in a pseudo-prehistoric world inspired by old cavepeople-and-dinosaurs movies like One Million Years BC and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. I have a young woman named Samba who has just entered pregnancy out of wedlock. She conceived the child through an albino man she took pity on, incurring the wrath of her "formal" husband who would assault and kill the other guy. After she killed him in turn during that struggle, Samba got driven out of her village to fend for herself in the dinosaur-haunted jungle. But once a dinosaur attacks her, a three-woman band of huntresses rescues her and debates adopting her into their "sisterhood". Their de facto leader, Katomba, feels compassion for the exiled Samba and lets her in, but her friends feel a pregnant woman would be too much of a burden to care for and suggest Samba abort her pregnancy. She refuses.

The story's big theme is Samba's effort to earn the huntresses' sisterly support even as her pregnancy encumbers them. In the end, she decides they matter more to her than a fetus conceived out of wedlock and aborts it. They'll use it as bait for a predatory dinosaur that has been terrorizing them.

As a dude who can never get pregnant, I may be biased in my opinion, but I never got why unborn fetuses inspired so much sentimentality in people. Babies are cute once they're born, yes, but before a certain point the fetus is just an outgrowth of the woman's body much like a fingernail or hair follicle. I fail to see why it's entitled to more rights than the cows we butcher for our burgers all the time (and I say that as a fan of burgers). Furthermore, childbirth sounds like one of the most unpleasant "natural" experiences I can imagine any human being going through, so I don't blame women who don't want to endure that pain.

With that aside, what are your thoughts on my concept and how it deals with the theme of abortion?

Fantasy Art / Fan Art / NinjaRaptor's Art Thread Redux
« on: February 16, 2016, 06:09:27 PM »
I had an earlier art thread in this forum a few years back under the username Taharqa, but apparently you're discouraged from posting in thread over 120 days old. So instead I'll just create a new thread with updated work.

I'll start with a Youtube video showcasing my best stuff so far:

Some more recent output:

Narmer the Founding Pharaoh of Egypt

The Emancipator

The Thunder Rolls

Egyptian Valentine

You can find more on my Wordpress blog.

Writers' Corner / Writing a TV Pilot Treatment for a Fantasy Series
« on: February 12, 2016, 09:59:34 PM »
So as part of a school assignment, I've written up the bare bones of a pilot treatment for a hypothetical cartoon series aimed at girls under age 12. It's about a young warrior queen named Ikaba who rules a jungle civilization loosely drawing from Central African cultural influences. The show will have her go on adventures with her rambunctious little brother Kengo, and they'll face perils like dinosaurs and other jungle beasts, poachers, renegade cultists, and maybe an overseas imperialist or two.

In my pilot I have the following information:

* Logline summarizing the show.

* List of major characters with paragraph bios.

* Setting information.

* An abbreviated act-by-act summary of a hypothetical pilot episode.

So are there other parts that I could add to the pilot treatment in case I want to take it beyond school to an actual TV studios. For example, should I add information on my ideal target demographic (little girls) and the medium (2D animation)? Advice would be particularly welcome from people who know a thing or two about televised showbiz.

What are your thoughts on mixing together cultural influences from different time periods as well as different places when world-building?

For instance, in my art I sometimes like to mix elements of ancient Egyptian and modern African-American cultures, and I'd like to write a setting like that someday. Problem is, some people apparently see the juxtaposition of modern and historical elements in a fantasy story to be anachronistic. For example, if I had fantasy Egyptians talking with the vocabulary and grammar of modern African-American dialects, they might see that dialogue as breaking their immersion. That might be a fair point for strict historical fiction (although seriously, having ancient Egyptians speak English would be inaccurate in the first place), but I'm not sure this criticism would apply to a fantasy setting that doesn't necessarily work by our rule. Do you find that mixing the modern with the ancient or medieval is jarring to you as a reader or writer?

Writers' Corner / Continental religions?
« on: October 18, 2015, 07:49:30 PM »
So I've had this idea gestating in my head about a world with several continent-wide religions. That is to say, each of its major continents has one major religion shared by all its various cultures. Or, more accurately, all the people on each continent share certain beliefs about their religions' supreme creator deity. There is still substantial cultural and national diversity within each continent, but what their belief systems share in common can be traced back to a continent-wide cultural substratum far back in the ancient past.

So without further ado, here are the continentally based religions I've got so far.

Faith of the Sun --- These people venerate the Sun as a motherly supreme goddess who gave birth to all existence. Since they all have very dark skin and tightly curled hair, they regard themselves as the Sun's most cherished race and thereby the leading stewards of her world. Divine monarchy is the preferred system of government among the Sun's followers, with the kings and queens expected to nurture and protect their subjects to the best of their ability in exchange for sumptuous royal burials.

Faith of the Moon --- These bronze-skinned people with hooked noses and dark wavy hair inhabit a predominantly desert continent with scorching daytime heat, so they regard the cooler gaze of the Moon at night as a merciful respite. In their view, the Moon is a fatherly and hospitable male deity who comforts his faithful, whereas the Sun is a wrathful demoness who punishes sin and disbelief. Oligarchic councils of priests, assisted by hereditary warrior "princes", are the traditional form of government among the Moon's disciples.

Faith of the Sea --- The followers of the Sea have moderately dark skin and curly black hair, and occupy an archipelago of dry subtropical islands on which they build their marble cities. Fishing and overseas commerce are critical to their economy, so the most important god in their religion is the Sea whom they portray as a capricious goddess. Though the Sea's temper (as manifested by storms, tsunamis, and sea monsters) is to be feared, her faithful believe regular veneration and sacrifices can please her or at least buy off her wrath. On the other hand, in order to avoid provoking the Sea as much as possible, her followers have declared hubris and disbelief to be capital crimes.

Faith of the Icefather --- They have white skin, blond or red hair depending on nationality, and strong stocky builds in adaptation to the frigid northern continent they live in. In their religion, the being they called the Icefather dwells in a grand hall deep within the polar glaciers. For the most part the Icefather is an appropriately cold and distant figure, providing no warmth or comfort to his followers even as they eke out their traditional hunter-gatherer existence. Yet if one shows strong resolve and honor in life, or dies with bravery in combat or childbirth, the Icefather will develop respect for their spirit and house it within his hall. In addition to the Icefather, the northerners believe in lesser spirits whom their witches can harness for magic and healing.

Faith of the Fire Maiden --- The people who venerate the Fire Maiden have light brown skin, epicanthic folds that give their eyes a narrow appearance, and straight black hair. Though their homeland has a predominantly temperate climate, with deciduous forests and grassy prairies, the winters can grow cold and snowy enough that Fire's heat would make a comfortable blessing. In addition, the larger empires and feudal kingdoms on this continent have found the Maiden's gift useful for developing their unique gunpowder technology, including weaponry. The Fire Maiden is believed to dwell within the volcanoes than run along the continent's subtropical southern coast, and she can have a capricious temper much like the Sea.

Faith of the Rainbow Cobra --- Though the Rainbow Cobra's followers have dark skin like those of the Sun, their hair has a wavy rather than tightly curled texture. Some live in cities with elaborate stone masonry along their continent's humid tropical coast, whereas others are nomads foraging in the semi-arid interior. But all trust their maternal Rainbow Cobra to water the land with annual rains. Though they consider her an essentially benevolent goddess much like the Sun, the Rainbow Cobra's faithful know that offending her will be punished with drought or hurricanes depending on season. In keeping with their serpentine image of the goddess, all these people respect cobras and other snakes to the point of building whole temples to house them.

Links, Competitions and 'Stuff' / The Brandon Zone
« on: August 12, 2015, 01:37:42 AM »
I have a new personal website up on the Internet:

The Brandon Zone

It has a small sampling of my artwork and fantasy writing on display; more will be added over time. I hope this is the right place to promote my site!

A couple of months ago on another fantasy writing forum, I got harassed by a couple of upstart "Social Justice Warrior" trolls in my personal art thread. They both claimed my artwork's portrayals of African female characters was racist and offensive, despite being white women themselves, and that I had a "social responsibility" to stop drawing what I loved and cater to their pseudo-feminist agenda. When I lashed back at them, I got banned for "insulting their sexuality" (since I had mocked one of the trolls' tendency to appropriate unorthodox sexual and psychological identities like so many kids do these days). I'd been a highly respected contributor to that community for four years, far longer than either of those brats, so I'm still bitter that they got to shove me out of it.

The experience was yet another reminder of a debate I've wrestled with for some time even before this incident. I generally believe creators, including writers as well as visual artists, should enjoy the freedom to create whatever they wanted as part of their freedom of speech. Other people do have the right to criticize creations they don't like, but the creators in turn have the right to disregard that negative feedback if it goes against their vision.

Unfortunately both of these punks who had picked a fight with me went further than criticism and straight-out told me, in their manipulatively belligerent tone, to stop creating what I was passionate about because it affronted their narrow, tumblr-esque idea of social responsibility. They represent a larger pattern in certain political circles where self-styled culture critics vilify creators for not satisfying their restrictive ideas of morality, often through the manipulation of people's sense of empathy. If you portray this or that group in a way the critics don't approve---even if the group itself doesn't take offense for the most part---they will smear your character.

In most circumstances I would advise dismissing trolls like these and continuing producing what you love. You'll inevitably offend some cretin out there no matter what you do. But what are you to do in situations where you can't simply block their accounts and delete their harassment?

And what are your thoughts on social responsibility as it relates to creative fields like writing?

Writers' Corner / Re-inventing (the history of) the wheel
« on: June 21, 2015, 08:59:57 PM »
So this is a story idea I hatched in my head this morning. It's probably more historical fiction than fantasy, but it is humorous and works with a revisionist premise. What if the wheel as we know it was actually invented by prehistoric Australians---only to have the credit stolen from them?

I open with this Australian bloke Toba running from an angry Megalania (giant relative of goannas and Komodo dragons). His life is saved when a brave young sheila named Pengana sends a boulder rolling after the big lizard, but at the same time his sense of manhood is embarrassed by having a woman rescue him. Pengana, who is taking care of her crafty peg-legged brother Mokee, explains that rolling boulders has proven an effective technique for bringing down larger prey.

Toba, who wants to help his new family (thereby earning his manly pride back), suggests they use one regular boulder (and maybe a second one) instead of looking for a different rock each time. The axle, which Mokee produces with his woodworking skills, links two boulders contributed by Toba and Pengana respectively. To make the task of slotting the axle through the stones easier, they are both hewn into disc shapes so the axle has less rock to go through.

Later, when our heroes are showing off their new invention at a local corroboree gathering, some other Australians suggest they could use a pair of wheeled axles as support for a basket that could carry a load of natural resources (e.g. bauxite, gold, or marsupial skins). They are supplying these to a visiting Sumerian merchant who offers them bronze weapons and other Afro-Eurasian goods in exchange. After seeing the Australians dragging along their makeshift cart, the Sumerian suggests they could realize even fuller potential by having livestock pull it instead. He promises them wealth beyond their wildest dreams if they hand the cart over for him to take back to Sumer.

Spoiler for Hiden:
It turns out that the Sumerian merchant's true intention was to claim the invention as his own, setting up a whole Mesopotamian industry around the manufacture of carts. To fleece his pockets even more, he decides to sue the Australians for "copyright infringement" (since they have made more basket-carts for their own use). And since the Australians don't have written dates for their technology, they can't simply rebut the Sumerian's slander and expect the civilized world to take their word for it. So how are they going to dismiss his lawsuit?

Anyway, what are your thoughts on my scenario for the wheel's invention? Do you think it possible that it could develop from a primitive hunting technique?

Writers' Corner / Need help making a character interesting
« on: October 24, 2013, 02:15:17 AM »
I've had this main character concept bubbling in my head for several years, but I've never succeeded in bringing her to life in any story longer than a couple of vignettes. I'm starting to worry that she might be too boring to warrant a big story around her. If that's the case, I would appreciate advice on how to make her more interesting so I can generate more story ideas for her.

Here's some concept art for this character:

My heroine's name has undergone countless revisions over the years, but as of now I call her Nefrusobek. She is the young matriarch of a mighty civilization that mixes elements of Egyptian, Nubian, and sub-Saharan African cultures. She inherited the throne from her father whom she holds in very high regard and perceives as a role model for her own rule. Her major goal in life is to care for her people and protect them as if they were her own children. In addition she also wants to appease the gods whom she regards as her relatives.

Nefrusobek has a compassionate and generous personality, but she suffers from arrogance as befits a divine monarch. She believes she is always right and does not tolerate questioning or dissent from her officials. Nor does she tolerate rebellion against what she regards as the order of the universe. In addition she regards her culture as naturally superior to foreign ones, which she tends to treat with patronizing condescension. However, she favors peace most of the time and will not start wars without justification. As a black woman, she does not take kindly to racial insults from foreigners.

Though Nefrusobek takes pride in her beauty, she is reluctant to take on a male consort, as she has found that most suitors take interest only in her looks, wealth, and prestige. On the other hand most of her female subjects keep their distance from her, though she does have positive relations with most of her sisters and cousins. Whenever Nefrusobek gets a break from her regal duties, she likes to listen to her court musicians, dance, read papyrus literature, and write her own poetry.

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