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Topics - Yora

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General Discussion / Cool Monster Pictures
« on: September 10, 2017, 08:38:25 PM »
Because I was just sharing this picture with someone.

I think we should all agree that any photos of actual freakish animals should go into clearly labled spoiler boxes, for all our collective mental wellbeing.  ;)

Just a thought I had while hammering out the relevant established facts about the world for my current idea.
I think the best reason to have some worldbuilding nailed down in advance is as an aid to achieve consistency through the actual stories with what can happen and can't happen. But aside from a very simple magic system and the nature of spirits, there isn't really much in the way of special mechanisms regarding technology, rules of politics, economy, or warfare.
But what I actually have a lot more of are choices that I made for things that I don't want to ever appear or happen. For example, city states never last for more than three or four centuries and nobody ever manages to establish empires. There are no physical or divine laws that enforce this and in theory they could happen in the future. But they never have so far and I will never write about it happening. There also is no large scale clearing of forests or building of roads.
It's similar to most fantasy worlds having the implicit law that nobody builds guns, even though the metalworking needed is seen everywhere and the ingredients for powder are easily available.

It seems to me that such (usually implicit) rules don't help with establishing consistency of plot, but rather consistency of tone.
Have you done anything similar when decifing how the worlds for your stories are working, or rather behaving?

Writers' Corner / Quick and dirty violence
« on: September 03, 2017, 04:58:57 PM »
By which I don't mean hastily cobbled together. Instead I am thinking of action scenes that are over in a just a few lines but hit with a lot of force. I'm always somewhat unhappy with the pretty casual approach to lethal violence in fantasy and many of my favorite action scenes from movies come from films that have very few moments of violence in them. I think it would be cool to attempt something similar in writing.

I think the key to making it work is to have a lot of tension. If it is a protagonist who is suffering harm, I think you can probably get away with just have the violence come out of nowhere and have it be a shocking surprise. The interesting part is the aftermath that follows.
Looking at great scenes from many more "highbrow" action movies, it seems to me that usually there's a pretty long buildup in advance. The excitement of the fight or murder comes not from what is actually happening during the action, but the anticipation that someone is almost certainly to die and you don't know who it will be. Just watched an analysis of a scene that has a 13 minute buildup for 9 seconds of action. That might be a bit of overkill, but you get the idea.

Any ideas or examples of how such a thing could be done well in writing?

Writers' Corner / World Bibles
« on: August 29, 2017, 10:20:09 PM »
My writing efforts started with exactly what all pieces of advice tell you never to do: Wanting to show off a really cool world.
Since then I also found ideas for stories that are a great match for a setting of my imaginatioj that I really want to tell. And I went on to rebuild the world around the specific needs of these stories. But the world is still a huge component and the one that really ties the various story ideas together. So care and detail, and maintaining consistency is really important.

Which brings me to World Bibles. (I think the term originally comes from Star Trek or Babylon 5.) They are obviously really important for collaborative works with multiple writers to maintain consistency. But when you have a really world heavy setting for books, it can also be a useful thing when you're writing alone.

When do you think is it a good idea to make that additional effort? If you end up needing one, it is obviously better if you started with it right at the start and keep it regularly updated instead of going through all the material an hunting for all the small pieces. But I think that in a lot of cases it might not really be necessary or any use to create a lot of detail about the world in advance.

For what kind of works would you think it is useful to create a catalog (of whatever scale) of the major elements of the world in advance?

Originality. That dreaded haunt of the crative arts.

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."
"All great stories have already been told."
"All art is derivative."
"Seen it."

I've been thinking a bit about it before my vacation and was reminded of it again by the Cliches thread. It's an interesting subject.
I start this thread as a very open prompt to a discussion. Does originality matter? How much does it matter? And what is originalitiy anway?

I think that the core of the issue lies in that there are really two different aspects to any story. The content, and it's meaning. And my believe is that pretty much any statements about every story already having been told is really about the content side only. There are only so many things that characters can do and things that can happen. And in regard to Fantasy in specific, there are only so many ways that magic can work or that you can make a monster. You can't really tell a story without building it from the same pieces that everyone else is using.
At least for fiction, I would support that all art is indeed derivative. I believe that storytelling evolved from giving accounts of actual events and then embelishing them for dramatic effect. And sooner or later (probably sooner) you got people telling stories that never happened at all from reusing the best parts of previous stories. You wouldn't be able to invent the adventure genre from nothing without falling back on accounts of actual noteworthy experiences.
Using dragons doesn't make a work unoriginal. Using battles doesn't make it unoriginal. Having orcs, swords, fire throwing wizards, evil chancelors, black knights, or princesses doesn't make it unoriginal. Something being "another version of X" does not constitute a valid argument for the lack of quality in my view. A story that is made up from elements that we don't see appearing in the same story very often might give the appearance of it being "fresh", but it's by no means any more original than something set in a version of medieval England with wizards, elves, and dwarves and is about stopping a dark lord from conquering the world.

Where originality matters is in regard to meanings. The Hero's Journey may be a standard plot, but there is infinite variety in what meaning you can give to all the events, how one thing affects another, what characters think about them, and how they react to them. I believe that this is what makes a story actually new and original. I think that a story becomes relevant when the author provides a new and original interpretation on those constantly repeating elements.
Maybe you think that a princess waiting to be rescued and not learning to be a skilled warrior can still have a meaningful life and is worthy of respect. Or that a slave boy can grow over the course of an adventure and find more confidence and still be a slave at the end. Or that a heroic and popular knight might end up being shaken by a life of war and not get over it. At the risk of getting totally mushy, everyone has a unique perspective on things which enables them to tell stories that nobody else could tell. And when they are presented in a sufficiently refined and polished way, we tend to be very much interesting by such different views on what should happen next in a story with a familiar setup, at least as long as those views don't repulse us. And when you start a story with a set of  ideas that is different from the set of other writers and keep building on those initial impulses, the resulting story will be one that has not been told before in this way.

When I think about ideas for stories, there are all kinds of challenges I very quickly find myself facing. But doubt that it's a story that people already know has never been one of them.

Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / That Southern Thing...
« on: August 26, 2017, 02:06:21 PM »
Fantasy of the late 20th century is massively influenced by Tolkien, who was deliberately drawing heavily on "that Northern Thing" of germanic, gaelic, and finnish mythology. When that term was used to describe Tolkienian fantasy, it was contrasted with "the Southern Thing": The ancient myths and history of the Mediterranean Sea region. (Today, you could also argue that there's an Eastern Thing in fantasy works.)
I find it quite plausible to make these two broad categories of stylistic influences on fantasy worlds, even though they don't cover anywhere near to all existing fantasy worlds. Perhaps not even half of them. But I was wondering what popular fantasy books there are that show strong traces of Greko-Roman culture?

The first one that comes to my mind is Robert Howards Hyborian Age of Conan. There are Scandinavian lands in the North and African lands in the South, but they get little mention and are visited in only one or two stories each, to my knowledge. The majority of action takes place in the lands of the very Greko-Roman Hyborians, Egyptian Stygians, and vaguely Iranian-Turkic peoeple of "the East".

I've read a lot of writing advice for fantasy and also in general over the last years, and while watching a critique of contemporary film making I realized that I don't remember ever seeing any mention of perhaps the most important thing when it comes to above mediocre writing.
Writing advice never seems to never even mention the aspects of expressing ideas and communicating ideas. It's always technical stuff about structure and the basics of worldbuilding. In the video I watched the creator talked about having had several conversations with aspiring film makers who apparently had never really thought about expressing ideas until he asked them how it plays into their plans and visions.

Is this something that is taken as that granted that it's not worth mentioniong, something that is usually not considered relevant, or is it something that has simply been forgotten in the world of aspiring fantasy writers?

Writers' Corner / The Force is strong with this one
« on: August 14, 2017, 10:04:07 PM »
I am warming up for another effort at writing some fantasy in a type of world that I wish I could read about. Though I spend the last two years working on RPG material and not at all on story, I realized how much my perception of fantasy worlds is shaped by games that made their world grow around mechanics that are fun for playing.
Not only did this help me in understanding how my concepts of adventures and plots had been keeping me from finding stories worth writing, it also made me see clearer how much more room I really have in comceptualizing magic in a way that best supports the kinds of interactions with the supernatural that most fascinate and entertain me.

While me plan is still to write about Bronze Age elves and beastmen riding dinosaurs and sneaking through the halls of fey castles, I want to work with a completely new magic system. One that doesn't really much fit the image of what comes to mind at the term "magic system".

My main idea is that Magic constitutes the entire sphere of supernatural influences on the ordinary world. But what is noticably absent from this is any explicit form of "spellcasting". Words or gestures can not control supernatural forces, nor do sorcerer, witches, and shamans have any internal reserves of magical energy they can release. Instead their magic craft consists of knowing the right ways to talk with spirits, how to interpret signs and visions, and the right substances and preparations to restrain and coerce spirits. This seems easy and straightforward enough.

But there is another aspect that I want to include, on which I am much less certain how to deal with it in practice. I want for important characters to have a certain special Heroic Quality. Significantly hightened reflexes and resilience and an ability to escape dangers and defy odds.

Exhibit A: Indiana Jones. He is not presented as a great shoter or fencer, nor as particularly athletic or tough. But against all odds he survives, pushes on, and eventually perseveres.

In other settings this could be described as a charater being destined for greatness, blessed by the spirits, or favored by the gods. But for the world I am envisioning, I see it as important that this power does not come from an outside source beyond the characters' control, but is something that grows with "exercise". By being daring and taking risks and persevering against great obstacles, characters can grow to heroic proportions, even if they are lacking in much explicit skills. A lack of personal destiny or a greater divine plan are quite central to the kind of philosophy I want to create stories around.
However, I don't want this to be merely implied, but to make it an explicit element of the world and an important part of the cultures of its people. I want other characters to recognize this quality in heroes and to treat them differently because of it.

My biggest problem with this is how to find terms for it so characters could discuss it. Are there any words in the English language that would lend itself to be included in such a vocabulary? I'd prefer to avoid the use of completely made up names.

And are there any similar elements in existing fiction? There's of course the Force in Star Wars and chi in wuxia, but these regularly take the outward expression of something like magic spells, like making characters fly through the air, act with superhuman speed or accuracy, or disable opponents.

I can say with confidence that I am not well read in contemporary fantasy in any way. But I recently noticed that in pretty much all the older classics I tend to read, there are very few cases in which you would say a sorcerer is casting a spell. There is no saying of magic words and then a beam shots out of their fingers or wands and then does something to the target that is being hit.

Yet when I look at contemporary writing advice for fantasy, magic systems appear to be a pretty popular topic. With examples having a considerable number of cases of select your target and release your magic power.

Is that actually common or even the predominant approach to magic in current fantasy? Or are these more like prominent exceptions that get talked about because they are easy to grasp in clearly defined terms?

Writers' Corner / Risky ideas that might not go well with readers
« on: August 12, 2017, 04:15:33 PM »
While I think that originality is overrated, stories need to avoid being predictable to be interesting. If everything plays out just the way as it is expected for a story of its type, there is little to discover or look forward to.

But narrative conventions didn't come randomly from nowhere. They became conventions because they worked and still remain working. When you do something that is unconventional, it should be a carefully made decision and not just a whim. But when it does work out, it can often be a big boost for the work.

I'm curious to hear about what ideas others have had for making stories fresh and compelling by doing something differently than would commonly be expected.

A big one that I've always found very fascinating is the whole field of defeat. And I am not talking about the regular end of Act 2 setback, but the protagonist actually failing to accomplish what was pursued throughout the whole story. Both the situations of dealing with defeat and the protagonist giving up the goal are really fascinating things that appear to be pretty much completely absent in americanized Western adventure fiction. A hero giving up is just unthinkable.
I think to make this work, there needs to be a distinction between the plot and the protagonist's story. To make defeat in the plot work out in a satisfying way, it still needs to end in a proper resolution for the character. Instead of just petering out at the end of the story, the protagonist has to make a deliberate choice to turn away from the plot to get a better personal outcome. As in the classic closing line "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." It's still reaching an end through agency. Or alternatively, if the protagonist gets completely lost and doesn't learn anything or make any personal growth, it needs to be the result of the character's own mistakes and errors that led to this outcome, instead of random outside influences.

Another idea that I think could be really fun, but which I think readers would appreciate even less, is to have secondary characters simply disappear while off screen without the protagonists or the readers ever knowing what happened to them. There's a big confusing action scene, characters get separated, and the protagonist never hears of them again. That seems like a very plausible scenario for most kinds of worlds that fantasy stories tend to be set in.
I think that perhaps this would be a bit more satisfying to readers if those characters are not simply never mentioned again, but when the protagonist or at least the narrator brings them up some more before writing them down as missing in action. Just to avoid the likely feeling that the author forgot about the character and didn't remember to pick that story branch up again. But would that be enough? This still seems like something that could make you really unpopular.

I am putting this here, but the question is not strictly limited to books.

I was just thinking about nonhumans in fantasy and I think they are not actually that common outside of elves, dwarves, orcs,and giants.

Only two examples come to mind immediately.The videogame series Dragon Age has the qunari (technically kossith, not all of them are qunari and other people can join them), who are tall gray humanoids with horns and build like fridges. Their uniqueness comes mostly from their culture, which is some kind of extreme buddhist-communism that discourages individuality and has everyone identify themselves through their occupation.
The other one are the thri-kreen from the roleplaying game world Dark Sun who are big, tireless four-armed insect men. Not sure if there's much real characterization and culture behind them than that, but they certainly stand out?

A minor example would be the Winged Men from Elric, but in the stories I've read they barely appear and don't seem any different from humans,except that they have wings.

Can you think of other examples from fantasy books, or other fantasy works?

Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / The Alchemists of Loom by Elise Kova
« on: December 11, 2016, 06:44:36 PM »
Just saw this at Black Gate:


Her vengeance. His vision.
Ari lost everything she once loved when the Five Guilds’ resistance fell to the Dragon King. Now, she uses her unparalleled gift for clockwork machinery in tandem with notoriously unscrupulous morals to contribute to a thriving underground organ market. There isn’t a place on Loom that is secure from the engineer-turned-thief, and her magical talents are sold to the highest bidder as long as the job defies their Dragon oppressors.
Cvareh would do anything to see his sister usurp the Dragon King and sit on the throne. His family’s house has endured the shame of being the lowest rung in the Dragons’ society for far too long. The Alchemist Guild, down on Loom, may just hold the key to putting his kin in power, if Cvareh can get to them before the Dragon King’s assassins.
When Ari stumbles upon a wounded Cvareh, she sees an opportunity to slaughter an enemy and make a profit off his corpse. But the Dragon sees an opportunity to navigate Loom with the best person to get him where he wants to go.
He offers her the one thing Ari can’t refuse: A wish of her greatest desire, if she brings him to the Alchemists of Loom.

It will be out next month. They've send out a lot of copies for reviewers and it already has a good number of reviews on goodreads, which are overwhelmingly positive.

Normally this would check all my Don't Care boxes: Magical technicians, rebellion, assassins...
But I find myself very intrigued. This setup looks quite promising for interesting character development. And it smells like a lot of action, which is always fine with me. 8)

Writers' Corner / What magic can and can't do
« on: December 11, 2016, 03:40:46 PM »
I am currently revising my ideas for magic, which got me back to rethinking what kind of things I want magic to be able to do and which things it can't do.

What kind of effects and abilities do you like being put into the magic of a world, or do you like kept out? How can either decision make for more interesting stories?

Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Recommend me fun adventures
« on: December 05, 2016, 03:46:33 PM »
I got nothing to read!

The kind of fantasy I want to read seems to be not at all what people are writing and buying. What I want are good old fun and exciting adventure tales. Exotic places, fantastic creatures, swashbuckling action, and some exhilarating fun. All the books that I can ever find seem to be either huge epics about people being relatively uneventfully at home a lot or stuff packed full with bleakness and cruelty.
Where has the fun gone?!

There's a couple of good movies like that. Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean. Isn't there anything like that as books? The only ones I know are Conan from the 30s and Fafhrd and Gray Mouser from the 60s.

Tome of the Undergates tried something like that but it really didn't work for me. There's some fun Star Wars and Forgotten Realms books, but I've already read lots of them and would like to see some different takes on it. Anything out there that can be recommended?

Writers' Corner / When does world information become crammed and excessive
« on: November 23, 2016, 08:53:04 AM »
People frequently advise to not dwell too much on background information about the world to the point that it bloats the story with too much unnecessary stuff that doesn't really impact the plot. Which is more than reasonable.

But there are also some works in which showing the world is a major part of their whole appeal, like Borrough's Barsoom books or the Hyperborea stories by Clark Ashton Smith. I really like the idea of stories that are primarily explorations of fantastic places and character stories only second, but that comes with a considerable risk of excessive infodumping.

Are there any basic recommendations on presenting a lot of detail about the world while avoiding the story being burried by it? How much is too much and when is it appropriate to go into great detail and when not?

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