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Topics - Yora

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Writers' Corner / Fantasy material from Northeast Europe
« on: December 04, 2017, 07:24:36 PM »
I've stepped back from my barbarian treasure hunters on dinosaurs idea for the time being and instead aim for something that is more in line with the kinds of stories I actually read and watch the most. Which would basically be Noir in a fantasy world.

And somewhat to my own surprise, I am actually warming up to the idea of setting it in a world that draws its main influences for culture and environment from the various lands around the Baltic Sea in northeast Europe (Germany, Poland, the Baltics, Russia, Finland). I always liked the idea of doing something based on my local culture and Noir might be the one solitary thing for which our tepid drabness is actually an asset.  :D You could reasonably describe it as Vikings without all the cool stuff, but the Byzantine and Mongol influences from the south and east spice it up in ways that most people have never encountered before.

Thing is, even as a local with great interest in the subject, I don't really know that much about the historic and mythological elements from the region that would make for good fantasy material. Scandinavian and British material is so much more known and accessible. But that's also been done a thousand times (in this case certainly literally) and I am looking for more stuff that might perhaps just unconsciously a baltic atmosphere.

The one mythological creature that I know which I think is really a genuinely local thing are the necks, in their countless different spellings. Necks appear as young women swimming in lakes and river. They lure people to them who then find a sad end by drowning.
The baltic basin is a vast expanse of sand deposited and spread out flat by the glaciers of the Ice Ages, which makes the whole region very swampy and full of ponds and small rivers. And there is always something sinister about black bottomed ponds and they were often used to send sacrifices into the underworld.

A curious side effect of these swamps is that they are often completely lacking in oxygen which makes decay and corrosion more or less impossible. Corpses can be extremely well preserved for thousands of years and still appear very life-like.  There are a few in the British Isles, but it really seems to be a phenomenon primarily of the Baltic region. Bog wights totally have to be a thing.  ;)

Sadly I don't really have much more than that. Do you have any ideas for other local references I could draw from?

I've got this idea for a somewhat Dark Fantasy leaning world where most common people are living relatively safe lives and are not usually threatened by supernatural horrors that lurk in the dark corners of the world, but their security comes with some not so pleasant side effects. Now the simple way to do this is to have their leaders do some unspeakable horrors in secret, but I don't really want to go in the "desparate ends justify desparate means" direction. That's too bleak for me.
Instead, there is already an interesting conflict that comes with the situation in reality. Civilization is a great thing to protect against violence and secure the supply of food (though not foolproof), but it also comes with the price of having to pay taxes and the many having to follow the orders of the few. In non-civilized cultures, society is generally much more egalitarian and people have less work and fewer duties, but life is also much more volatile with calamities striking more often and more severely, as the mutually supporting networks are much smaller. There's even a theory that many non-civilized cultures at the borders of great civilizations were not simply lagging behind in development, but were actively seeking isolation to escape taxes and conscription. Civilization is not automatically always better than the alternative, and there are many good reasons against it that had many people in history chose to avoid it.
The famous Germanic uprising under Armenius against the Roman was because of the Germans having to deal with this choice. They defeated the Romans and drove them out, but later murdered their leader because they lost access to many goods and services they had started to rely on.

It's an interesting conflict to begin with, and with just the kind of ambiguity that I really like. But I want to do it with a big addition of magic. The world is full of often very dangerous spirits, but somehow a handful of small empires emerged that managed to keep their lands supernaturally secure. People in the towns and village deligently perform rites at the temple and have the proper runes of protection on their houses and boats, and for most of the time they are not getting any trouble from spirits. Meanwhile the clans that live in the wilderness beyond the imperial borders are under a regular threat of supernatural calamities, but they have good reasons why they chose to accept this part of their life and refuse to seek the means with which the empires protect themselves.

The big question I am facing now is: What means? What is going on in the empires that their people consider a good price to pay but the barbarians see as unacceptable?
I really like the idea that the imperial citizens don't really know much about the supernatural. They know that their religion protects them from very bad things happening, but they don't really understand what the threat is and how their religions keep them safe. Within the empires, real understanding of the supernatural is limited to small groups that have to deal with magical threats because of this knowledge, while for the barbarian tribes it's part of everyday life. To really make this work, I think the civilized method to guard against spirits has to be something that wouldn't make the people rise up in revolt if they would learn about it. It needs to be something that could be seen as acceptible enough or as too much depending on an individual's cultural upbringing.

This feels like a pretty tall order to fill, but I think if I can get this to work there would be a really interesting setting with lots of story potential to be had. Any ideas, even vague or partial, in what direction I could take this?

Writers' Corner / Well, this didn't work... Starting over older and wiser
« on: November 08, 2017, 07:04:40 PM »
After three months of very much fruitless tinkering with an old semi-abandoned concept I have come to the realization that my original idea is inherently flawed and simply doesn't work.
I went into this with a whole bunch of ideas for a setting that I find fascinating, aesthetically inviting, and overall a place that I consider my ideal fantasy world. While at the same time all the books, movies, comics, and videogames that really inspire me to do something creative and make something that is amazing are all of a completely different style that doesn't have any overlap with such a setting. My vision for a setting is pretty, but it doesn't really provide any foundation for the subjects and themes that I care for in a story. With that in mind it doesn't feel at all surprising that I was never able to really come up with a plot for my character and my setting. My ideal character needs to be forced into dark adventures by circumstances while my ideal setting lets characters express themselves at their own prefered pace. I don't see how the two could be working together and since you can't have a story without characters doing things, I think I will have to create a new setting that is much more actively intrusive. Pretty much back to square one there.

Have you run in situations where you realized something that you really liked just didn't work for writing a good story? Have you gained any valuable insights for it that are good lessons for the future?

Writers' Corner / What are we going to do tonight, Brain?
« on: October 26, 2017, 08:18:21 PM »
The same thing we are doing every night, Pinky. Try to save the world!

I've been struggling seemingly for ages with the matter of of picking an external goal and conflict to write a story around. When I start thinking about what motivates characters in other great stories to go on dangerous adventures, it usually tends to come down to some variant of saving the world as the heroes know it. If the villains don't threaten to destroy or take over the world, then they try to destroy or take over the kingdom. Or they already did and the heroes try to reverse it.

It's tried and true, but it's also an endlessly used cliche.

When I can think of stories that are not about saving the world, it's usually that the heroes want to become rich. Which I don't think is really that much better.

Aside from saving the world and getting rich, what else is there that could motivate fantasy heroes to go on dangerous adventures where people are trying to kill them?

My own dabblings in fantasy writings always fail when it comes to picking a basic goal that the protagonists are trying to accomplish. It always seems to me that it's usually stopping an evil tyrant from making the world horrible. Though that's of course not true. How would you summarize the premises of fantasy books that you like?

The Lord of the Rings: Frodo has to throw the ring into Mount Doom while an evil army of orcs is trying to conquer the world.

The City of Dreaming Books: The protagonist inherits a manuscript that appears to be the greatest text ever written and goes on a journey to a crazy city of book stores and libraries to discover the identity of the unknown author.

Elric: The last emperor of Melnibone leaves his throne behind to go on a quest to learn if there is any higher reason for his inner torments and the looming collapse of the world before it is swallowed up by the primordial chaos.

Hellboy: A demon who was raised by humans tries to resist a primordial evil force that repeatedly wants him to bring about the end of the world.

The Desert of Souls: A guard captain and a scholar have to chase thiefs that have stolen an artifact that can unleash a great evil to clear their names and prevent the destruction of the kingdom.

Bloodstone: A sorcerer finds an old ring that he recognizes as the key to taking control over an incredible source of power and manipulates warring lords to help him get access to it.

Fantasy Movies, Comic Books & Video Games / Legacy of Kain
« on: October 15, 2017, 06:59:13 PM »
Man, what an awesome series.

Back in the Playstation 2 era, Legacy of Kain was one of the coolest fantasy series around. While on a technical basis the games were not really that remarkable (or even that good), the characters, setting, and story just rocked. A dark fantasy, superhero supervillain, cosmic, time-travel conspiracy. Populated entirely by badasses.  8)
The intro of the second game is still considered to be a timeless classic by fans.

With the story pretty well wrapped up and the property owners defunct, adding any more games to the series seems more than impractical. But I would really love to see someone picking up the idea of a dark fantasy evil demigod civil war series again. It's so over the top, but also one of the most metal things ever done in games.  ;D

A lot of people, particularly journalists, critics, and publishers, often seem to throw fantasy and science fiction into the same box, to the point that SFF is an established acronym.
But I regularly find that very strange. I love fantasy and can appreciate almost all types of it. I'm not an urban fantasy fan in general, but I loved watching Buffy. But when it comes to sci-fi I am very much limited to "noir with a few gadgets" and "Lovecraft in Space". And they never inspire me to create something of that type myself the way fantasy does. To me they really don't feel similar in meaninful ways.

What they clearly have in common is creatures that don't really exist and people doing things that are impossible with magic or fictional tehnology. Except for slasher movies, all horror falls in one of these two categories and you can say with certainty that this trait sets them both apart from all other fiction. But it seems to be a very low common denominator for me. Stylistically I don't really see any overlap between the two and they feel like very different beasts.

Is it exceedingly common for fans of one to be fans of the other so that it makes eonomical sense to distribute them through the same channels? Or are there other good reasons to lump them together?

Writers' Corner / Extraordinary things in a fantastical world
« on: October 05, 2017, 08:39:54 PM »
There are a lot of amazing things in fiction, in particular adventure and horror fiction, that seem like great additions to fantasy stories but are based on the characters encountering things that go against the assumed rules of reality. Magic and monsters tend to be amazing when they show up unexpectedly. When you try to adapt such images into fantasy, you run into an obvious problem. When the whole world is fantasy, what makes some fictional things more amazing or horrifying than others? Especially when you have fictional creaturs and magic as part of regular peoples' everyday life.

A simple example would be zombies. What makes a zombie more horrifying and frightful abomination than an orc? They will kill you the same way and zombies are probably even a less dangerous threat being slower and really stupid. But one of them is a man while the other is supposed to be a nightmarish violation of nature.

One common solution is to make the regular life in a fantasy world as expected and as close to the popular image of medieval life as possible. It works really well, but then you end up with another very generic looking world. A 14th century England looking world. Which has its merits, but do we really need more of those? What other methods might writers use to create a separation of the "fictional ordinary" and the truly alien and weird?

Writers' Corner / Seeking enlightenment and why you can't have it
« on: October 03, 2017, 08:41:34 PM »
There appears to be a good amount of truth to all stories being about conflicts. In the most simple form it's a protagonist and an antagonist wanting the same thing and fighting over who gets it. Or one of them wants to destroy it and the other preserve it.
But a very interesting alternative approach I've seen is that conflict is a protagonist wanting something and there is something that prevents him from having it. What I like so much about it is that it lets you make stories that don't conclude by the protagonist overpowering the antagonist in literal ot symbolic battle. You can also have that, but also a lot more.

However, this turns out to be easier said than done, particularly when the goal gets more abstract.

The idea I am currently working on is about a protagonist who ventures out into the unknown to encounter dangerous supernatural things and beings because she hopes that seeing and experiencing parts of reality that are usually outside of people's perception will bring her wisdom and enlightenment. A great nonviolent goal that is an amazing setup to write about incredible things and places.

But the next question is: Why can't she have it?
The immediate and obvious answer it that supernatural things are hard to find. But I don't see much of an interesting story in describing a long and uneventful search. The real story starts when she finds it, or at least feels that she is getting close.
Another answer is that the reality is just too confusing to understand and she learns nothing from it. While this is a potentially great idea for a single story, my aim is to make it a series of adventures that lead to increasing understanding.

I have two practical sources of conflict, but I don't feel like I'm fully there with them:
The first is competition from other treasure hunters and sorcerers who seek magical things for their own selfish reasons and see her as a pawn to be exploited or a threat to their goals. However, as I see the character, she would have little reasons to not simply run and leave them to their things. ("It belongs into a museum" just won't work here.) Great as an immediate conflict for scenes, but not for longer arcs.
The other is that she is getting into places and close to creatures that are very dangerous and she doesn't have the power to simply endure what is thrown at her. Simply destroying obstacles and defeating hostile creatures doesn't seem appropriate for the themes and her motivations. She is not out to claim trophies to "behold god", so to speak. I think it's great as a source for moments of internal conflict about deciding whether to risk pushing forward or to be prudent and leave while she still can (which is one of the major themes I have in mind). But again I don't quite feel that this can carry a whole story.

I really, really like this idea for a character arc and the more I tinker with it the more I believe that I really have something here with huge potential and that is genuinely new. I've been stuck like this many times befor but I always got through it and each time it looks more promising. So I hope maybe some of you have ideas on how to go about this or simply thoughts that come to mind on it.

Writers' Corner / What makes a good opening?
« on: October 03, 2017, 01:06:35 PM »
Not just the first scene but prolog, first, second, or third chapter. The first 50 pages is often given as a benchmark for when a book should have sold its readers on what is lying ahead and if it's worth for them to go through the whole thing.

Execution is always everything, but generally speaking, what kind of things should one try to get put into the first couple of scenes of a book and what things have a tendency to get in the way at this point?

Writers' Corner / War between the gods
« on: September 25, 2017, 06:49:59 PM »
Just an early idea I am exploring:  In the world that I have created, people are very small in the big picture of the world and spirits are powerful, feared, and amazing, but also alien and removed. I like small stories but also moments when the vastness of the cosmos and the inadequacy of the perception and understanding of people are revealed.

So I got this idea that there are great conflicts between gods. Conflicts in which people are only a footnote and that they don't understand. (Gods are not really interested in small mortals and worshipping them is mostly pointless.) Most fights between the gods take place in spheres of reality that people don't perceive, but sometimes it includes the natural world. Thinderstorm, earthquakes, and volcanic erruptions can indeed be side effects of titanic battles, but sometimes the gods may actually physically appear in the environment. And then things get pretty much appcalyptic. (There's a nice scene similar to this in Elric, or the stone giants playin during a storm in The Hobbit.) People can not actively interfere with those battles, but I think they make an awesome backdrop for some mortals on mortals action scenes. They are gods so battles can go for days.

One interesting idea is that people might to attempt to benefit from them as well. Deliberately seeking out places where battes happened or will soon be happening. (Makes me think of playing STALKER.) I really like the idea. I wonder what other directions I could take it.

Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Looking for low tech weird magical worlds
« on: September 24, 2017, 07:08:13 PM »
Unlike pretty much everyone else here, I am always in need of more stuff to read. But it always seems to me that the kind of books I would want to read is really rare.

What I really want to read is something with a lot of strange magic and weird monsters but not set in an urbanized and highly advanced society. It always seems to me that all the weird worlds are industrialized magi-tech world and all the low tech societies are standard European.
Does anyone have anything to recommend? The only thing I can think of are Conan and Elric, and I've already read those. I could also do with even more strange magic than those two.

Writers' Corner / Things you created for your worlds
« on: September 24, 2017, 12:14:13 PM »
I just came across a piece of advice that fantasy worlds should have as much detail as possible. Which I do not agree with.  There is only so much information you can communicate to an audience and I find much more use in focusing on a few details that become highly characteristic for the world and distinguish it from others. Tolkien had his languages and Martin has his coats of arms, which are often praised as great craftsmanship, but I would never consider dealing with those in my world. Which got me wondering what kind of details other peoples are creating to give characte to the worlds of their stories. What stuff do you create that you think will be useful to bring the world alive on the page?

I just created six herbal druugs that are commonly used for various purposes. It's a plant dominated world with a mystically inclined population, so I'm quite facinated by adding some "alchemical warfare".  :D

I also made a short list of standard substances to bind and harm spirits. (The usual, mostly: Iron, salt, jade, obsidian.)

General Discussion / Favorite movie or TV lines
« on: September 21, 2017, 05:34:27 PM »
There are some really great lines in movies, and occasionally TV. Not just words that sound smart, but that have a great delivery and become some of the biggest moments in the film. Which ones would you rank among the best?

"It's too bad she won't live. But then again, who does?" Blade Runner

"I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit.'s the only way to be sure." Aliens

"Will I still be myself?" "Your desire to remain as you are is what ultimately limits you." Ghost in the Shell

"If it bleeds, we can kill it." Predator

"Great warrior? Wars not make one great." The Empire Strikes Back

Fantasy Movies, Comic Books & Video Games / Neo-Noir
« on: September 16, 2017, 05:34:12 PM »
I was thinking about works of fiction that really left an impact on me both in regards to plot and characters but also mood. And I now realized that most of them could really fall under the lable of Neo-Noir with a bit of stretching.

What's the difference between Noir and Neo Noir? Noir was made up to the 60s and Neo-Noir from the 80s forward. And that's about it. Nothing really changed when Noir came back other than color film now being standard.

The first works I really loved in this style are Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. Which are of course cyberpunk, but what is cyberpunk other than Noir with futuristic elements? Inception is one of my favorite movies ever (second only to The Empire Strikes Back, which thinking about it now has a lot of Noir influences scattered everywhere). And I love the atmosphere in Drive.
And only today I realized that the videogame Mirror's Edge is actually full on undiluted Neo-Noir. Visually the game is almost entirely glaringly white with garishly bright colored highlights, but I always found it to be the most depressingly distopian place I've ever seen. And, if you accept this bit of a stretch, there's also the game Mass Effect 2 and the Witcher books that have the Noir aesthetic all over them.

It's a style that is dominating my favorite works of fiction and it seems like a great thread to go searching for more great stories that I have not known about yet.
Anyone having recommendations?

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