Thursday, August 29, 2013

Magic's Impact on the Economy

Magic impacts every economy it exists in.  Can it be traded tangibly?  Can it be sold as a service?  Is there a small amount, pushing the value high?  Has so much magic entered the market that inflation has occurred?  These are all questions you should at least consider in the back of your head.

There are plenty of examples to be given on this subject.  If magic is rare, expensive, and potent, the richest of the rich will stay wealthy and increase in power.  If magic plays a large role in the lower classes, the economy will likely level off considerably.  If magic is used widely, everyone benefits, not unlike modern medicine.  The list goes on.

A wizardly court is a great asset for any country.  Not only are they key in defense, they can boost production as well.  The nobles will likely monopolize magic use, but the plebeians may work less while producing more.  In most cases, they'll stay poor, especially if feudalism or something similar is the political system in the country.  Communism has a low chance of springing up.

Magic based around the poorest, such as farmers with enchanted plows or miners with gold-finding instincts, throws the economy for a loop.  The chances of a communist system developing are fundamentally much higher.  Again, everyone benefits, they just start from the bottom and move up.  Few works meet this example, to my knowledge.

If anyone can cast a spell, you've essentially created modern technology.  The economy is objectively better than it would be without magic.  Beyond that, much is the same.  The Prince is rich.  The pauper is poor.  Both are cooler than usual.

Politics have overwhelming effects on the equation.  In most fantasy stories, feudalism is used as the base, so I took it as a given.

Don't include magic in any work without giving thought to how it impacts the world you're writing.  If you fail to do so, your in-world economy will lose credibility very quickly.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Some Observations I Made While Reading My College English Textbook

(I'm counting this as a literary criticism, even though it's a stretch.)

1.   They assert that prewriting/brainstorming is necessary.  Discovery writers out there (Stephen King, for one) would strongly disagree.  Various levels of outlining should be experimented with to find your optimum amount.

2.   They tell us to read into the title, non-text, author bio, etc. before reading.  Some of that information can twist our perception of the written work.  It may work for some people, but for me reading everything in order allows for the best digestion of the material.

3.   They recommend that we identify the writer's main point.  Yet sometimes the main point cannot be discovered until the end.  If you try to identify the point earlier, you may cloud the true meaning.

4.   They state that "All writers are obsessed with language".  Have they ever heard of translucent prose?

5.   They write with far too much confidence.

6.   They hinted at irritations from reading academic papers.  I think they knew they were annoying people.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday 13 (The God I Love)

This story is the mixture of two prompts.  The first here.  The second here.

     No one ever said it was easy to love a god.  Especially not the god of destruction.
     I walked into my hubby’s shrine the other day to a shocker.  And trust me, few things shock me anymore.  There have been several times when I thought I was lost only to learn that the shrine had been blown up while I was gone. 
     “Honey,” I said, my jaw on the floor.
     “What is it, sweetie?” he boomed from upstairs.
     I rolled me tongue around my lips a few times.  “I see you were busy while I was shopping.  How exactly did that happen?”
     “Did what happen?”  His voice was calm.  And dumb.  Mostly the latter.
     “Why don’t you come down here a minute?”
     “Fine.  We’re out of clay pigeons, by the way.  The live ones are running low too.”  He walked down the marble staircase at the right side of the room.  His guise was more human than usual.  Only eight feet tall with seventy centimeter biceps, give or take.  “What’s up?”
     I pointed at the altar, but kept my gaze locked on his eyes, trying to give him chills.  He didn’t bite.
     “Oh,” he said, scratching his shoulder blade with one massive paw of a hand.  “I must have forgotten to take it off before I incinerated my offering.”
     “Why can’t you just be like the other gods and let your worshippers burn their own sacrifices?”  I scoffed.  “I could have fallen in love with the god of pottery, or trees, or even indoor plumbing, but it had to be this guy.  Lero, god of breaking things.”
     “I can get it replaced.”
     “No, Lero, this time you can’t.  There is only one Eiffel Tower, and you promised the French you’d give it back.”
     I drove the heel of my palm into my forehead and strode off to the wine cellar.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Magical Resolutions: Brandon Sanderson's First Law of Magic

Brandon Sanderson's First Law of Magic states that "an author's ability to solve conflict with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic".  In essence, that means readers will enjoy magic-driven resolutions more if they were done in accordance with rules of the magic system set up throughout the story.  These rules can be either loose or constricting, depending upon the story; they should be there one way or the other if the story is to be well-written.  Established rules are, generally speaking, not to be tampered with.  As Brandon said in his essay on the law "If we simply let ourselves develop new rules every time our characters are in danger, we will end up creating fiction that is not only unfulfilling and unexciting, but just plain bad".

Having loose rules in your fantasy typically makes the magic "soft".  Just enough is established about the magic that whatever the conflict is in the story, magic cannot solve it easily.  Few situations are worse than bringing an archmage to the final battle where he has every opportunity in the world to kill the bad guy, yet doesn't for no apparent reason.  A nice way to play it is to have magic cause conflict.  An antagonist with Gandalf-like abilities fighting against everymen is a far better story than its reverse.  In that case, you must still make it plausible for the protagonist(s) to survive.  "Soft" systems preserve the wonder of fantasy.

"Hard" magic systems tend to have constricting rules.  Magic in those stories can only do a set number of things.  Mr. Sanderson prefers to write "hard" systems.  If a problem arises, you can tell right from the start whether magic will help and how far that assistance will go.  In a good story, trying to solve a problem with magic will backfire on occasion and rarely have an overwhelming effect.  You still have to make such fails in the try/fail cycle make sense, don't forget.  Such systems rely on the other abilities of characters, e.g., their wit and wisdom, to use the magic properly.  When Hermione Granger thought to make a polyjuice potion in the second Harry Potter book, she showed intellect that trumped what others had to offer.  Such a solution to the problem required as much effort as was needed to keep the resolution satisfying.  It even led to unwanted side-effects (as noted previously).  It wasn't the only possibility; it just so happens that it was the chosen method of problem-solving.  "Softer" systems suffer from magic being so easy to come by that when characters try, they succeed.  A decent struggle, if not several tense failures, leads to far better reading.  Using magic to create flavor and intricacies to your story is the purpose of "hard" magic.

Brandon considers magic to be just another tool in his characters' tool box.  Don't refuse a character magic simply because it's useful.  A sword has many valuable uses; its power is limited.  Magic can often be used in the same way.  If you try to cut a ghoul in half and it doesn't work, using a spell as Plan-B with equal odds of success (at least in the characters' minds) is fine.  Keeping the total power of magic in check with the total power of other things in your world allows for a cool, even playing field.  Brandon Sanderson's Second Law of Magic follows up on that concept.  As long as a fighter in your party and a wizard in your party (although that's quite cliche) are equally powerful, conflicts may be solved by either or both of them.  Either system can achieve this equilibrium if done well.

When the climax of a work of fantasy strikes, the effects cascading upon its readers are highly influenced by how well they understood the situation.  Was magic a reasonable solution (assuming it was used in one way or another)?  Could the resolution have happened sooner or arrived later due to it?  Were there other options that had similar chances of success without the use of magic?  Readers who feel the characters acted in ways consistent with their characters, using magic in a wondrous, heart-quickening tension-peak will close the book beaming almost guaranteed.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bloody Signorina

"Bloody Signorina" by Joseph D'Agnese appeared in the September 2013 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  It really confused me at first.  That's not a great quality in short fiction.

There are two character sets in this story.  One only appears in about two scenes, neither of which I cared much about.  I'm guessing D'Agnese included them (a pair of cops) because he felt there had to be cops in a story to be published by AHMM (eh...that might be true).  The other character set was okay.  The protagonist was an anti-hero, which I suppose is refreshing, but the whole anti-hero thing didn't make 100% sense.  She had a semi-interesting arc.  Her voice was supplemented with Italian words, a feature that was cool in some ways and annoying in others.  The characters weren't so bad that they ruined the story, even if they were sub-par.

I give the setting a good score because it wasn't overbearing and it was foreign without being too foreign.  This story is set in Italy.  Some of the confusion I had was whether America or Italy was the setting.  It took me two pages to figure it out.  That may have been my fault, however.

There was plot in this story, sure, but not much of one.  The most shocking aspect cut away at the end, leaving a more shrouded problem to get the more pronounced resolution.  I was somewhat disappointed.

Overall, I give this story an 80%.  It wasn't as bad as I may have made it sound.  The writing itself was actually very good.  My time wasn't wasted.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday 11 (No Lita Fairytale)

(Note: If you don't get the title, you haven't listened to enough Vanessa Carlton.)

     No matter what they say about happily-ever-afters, fairytales are always tragedies.  I learned that yesterday.
*     *     *
     My tray felt heavy with a scoop of lasagna and the biggest apple I’d ever seen.  The lunch line had been short today, thank the Lord, but the room was packed with people who had gone through before I got there.  Only two tables weren’t maxed out at eight.
     Option one was dismissed without a second thought.  Seven self-centered football players talking about angle-tackling?  Nope.  The lunchroom advisor, Miss Greene, must have gone to the restroom or something, because she wasn’t hovering over the table as usual.
     Option two set my heart to thumping.  One of the popular girls must have been out sick, because there was an empty seat right beside Lita Stevens from my French class.  Worth a try, I thought.
     “Do you mind if I sit here?” I asked no one in particular at the table.
     One of the senior girls cocked her head to the side.  She glanced around the room.  “I guess,” she said.
     I sat down and cast a sideways glance at Lita.  Her eyes were pink and puffy.  She took a sip of mineral water, then wiped away a tear. 
     “What’s wrong?” I asked, my voice small.  My face went hot.
     “Her date to the dance last night showed her up,” said the senior.
     I shifted a hand close to Lita’s.  My jaw dropped as she grasped it.  Her head turned toward me, two wounded amber irises focusing.  She smiled just a little.
     “I’m sorry,” I said.  Her hand felt soft.
     A deep voice intoned behind me.  “What are you doing, chump?”
     I twisted to see Roger Clemons, the biggest bully in the sophomore class, holding his tray with one hand, the other on Lita’s far shoulder.  Lita looked at him with a grimace.  “You never picked me up last night, jerk-off.”
     “I’m sorry, babe,” he said.  “I had to help put out a brush fire.  The call came as I was getting in my car to get you.”
     Lita let go of my hand.  “Oh.”  She got up and hugged him.  “I just wish you would have told me sooner.  I forgive you, Roggy.”
     My throat tightened as I got up to try my luck at the jock table.  If I’m lucky, I thought, they won’t even notice I’m there.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Political Issue

I'm going to streamline things a little today because in reality I'm at football camp right now.  "A Political Issue" is a short story by Janice Law that appeared in the September 2013 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  As with most stories from AHMM, I liked it.

Characters: interesting; a little odd, but quirky isn't too bad a character trait; motivations are tough to decipher.

Setting: a little bland, but it didn't need to be great for this story to work.

Plot: because of those iffy motivations, I'm not sure if the story should have happened in the first place; as it was, I would have liked more Act II before Act III.

Overall: Not bad; 88%

Sunday, August 11, 2013


This 100-worder is based on a true story.

     Why did I do that?  I was stupid.  Thump.  Now my head hurts too.  Funny, my fist feels fine.  I smile slightly.
     The walk down to the office is rather tedious.  I’m fine with that.  I want the time.  I’d rather delay being scoffed at by Principal Roberts.  Boy can he tell you off.  Not that I’d really know.  I’m a first-timer.
     Beside me is the person that knows my situation best, Gregory Orwell.  There’s a little mark on his right cheek.  I think you can figure out how he got that.  Well, it’s time.  I trudge into the office.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Learning Curves

Do you like your learning curves steep or shallow?  I like a slightly above-middling curve.  Pretty much every story has a learning curve, but the degree of curve and time taken before the curve flattens varies greatly from story to story.  Let me break it down a little further, in case you're confused (I almost confused myself).

As you read, you're constantly learning new things about the story you're reading.  They can be mundane, like the names of the characters or the color of the kidnapper's car.  Or they can be fantastical, like the gravitational force on a fictional planet or how many heads a Ingoosariofus has.  Either way you're learning.  To avoid confusing readers, writers need to gain skill in developing reasonable learning curves.  In short, a learning curve is a measurement of the number of things learned by readers over a duration.  It isn't a one-to-one ration, however; fantastical elements steepen the learning curve far more than mundane.

In a literary story, the learning curve tends to be very shallow (assuming the reader recognizes the real-world setting).  Most things to be learned are small and mundane.  Fantasy and sci-fi stories typically have the steepest curve.  If the tome has a prologue, some readers will put down the book because they know they're about to be hit with hundreds of years' worth of history and an explanation of the magic system.  (Or so they think.  The most talented writers know better.)  A mysteries' curve depends upon how smart the reader is.  If they pick up on the clues, the curve appears to be steeper than if they read cluelessly (poor word choice, but I'll leave it because it's kind of funny).  When Sherlock explains everything at the end, the learning curve actually surges upward, causing a shallow curve from the first two-thirds to turn into a hill in the final third.  Mysteries are actually non-typical in having much learning curve at all in Act III (or whatever you'd like to call it).

In many stories the learning curve goes almost flat toward the middle.  The reader should feel familiar in the world by that point, even if it seemed crazy and whimsical to begin with.  That is, if it's done well.  The curve has a little resurgence at the very end if there's a "character aha moment".  In that case, it's perfectly fine when executed passably.

What kind of curves do you like reading (and/or writing) the most?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

IWSG---I'm A Minor

This is my first post for Alex J. Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group.  From Mr. Cavanaugh's blog: "Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!"  Today I will be venting my insecurities in being a minor (recently turned 16) in this industry.

Google, which is normally extremely helpful, does very little to help me research contract laws.  I understand that in the U.S. contracts are not binding to minors, but most sites don't go into detail in how to get around that.  I haven't sold a story yet, but when I do I'm most likely going to have to query and see how I should go about having my parents co-sign/sign/whatever the process is.  At that point I believe they have the right to simply reject my work if they want to.  That's a stressful dilemma.  

Also in being a minor, I'm very keen on withholding information about myself, which I assume distances people from my blog.  If you really wanted to, I guess you could deduce certain information from Google Analytics.  This community appears safe enough, yet I'm not willing to take any unnecessary risks.  For a while I didn't even admit on my blog that I was a minor.

It's easy to not take young writers seriously.  I hardly take my fellow young writers seriously sometimes.  There's just something there, a lack of professional air or inexperience that makes me take everything with a grain of salt until they've proven that they are competent writers.  If I, as a 16-year-old, do this to my peers, how do adults regard my blog when they learn how young I am?

Well, that's about all I have.  Any advice/questions/similar feelings/whatever you feel like mentioning?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Mr. Monster

I read Mr. Monster in two days.  I can't recall ever reading a book anywhere near this length in two days.  That's saying something.

John Cleaver is one of the better characters in contemporary fiction.  He has a picture of himself that is sometimes unreliable, which is fairly unique from what I've read.  He considers himself a sociopath, even though he's shown that he can handle himself better than most "normal" people.  His relationship with Brooke was really fun to read.  She isn't the best character, but the connection between her and John is what really mattered in this book.  Her idea of fun leads to a few boring pages (you have to read it to understand).  I could live with it.  Lauren was a good character this time around, definitely better than in I Am Not A Serial Killer.  The rest of the characters ranged from passable to good.  The main antagonist didn't wow me as much as I would have liked.  Still, a solid cast, especially for YA.

Nothing changed from I Am Not A Serial Killer setting-wise.  "The setting satisfied the novel's needs, no more, no less.  I didn't get quite as much of a "lived in" feel as I should have gotten.  However, it never bothered me while I was reading."

This novel was paced well for the first 200 pages.  The last 100 were a little disappointing because they basically consisted of a strung-out climax and falling action (part of which I disliked).  I can't complain too much though.  Overall the plot could have been a little stronger.

After much deliberation, I've settled on a rating of 94%.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday 10 (The Life of a Sentinel)

This originally appeared as a comment on 1000th.monkey's post here.

     It was nearly morning. The blood strewn across my lawn was newly dampened by the dew, having dried in the heat of last afternoon. I didn't have the heart to dispose of the body at the time. The bogle looked remarkably like a child, worse a mortified child, in its pre-mortem guise. Its camouflage dissipated with the first rays of dawn.
     I looked down at the beast, its three heads with six eyes all rolled to white. Slashes marred every limb. Its trunk displayed the killing gash, an oozing hole between two ribs.
     I gripped the collar of its makeshift garment. The cloth, stitched together with waxy strands of sinew, slipped from my grasp several times before I managed a solid hold. Several hundred paces stood between me and the cesspool. I sighed.
     "Such is the life of a sentinel," I thought. "Danger, gore, and on occasion a meal when the land baron is feeling generous."

Friday, August 2, 2013

Oops...Have A Poem To Make Up For My Ignorance

I just now realized that I never posted yesterday.  Football conditioning practice threw me off somehow.  To make up for it in a completely unrelated way, I'll post a poem I wrote a while back.

Lovely lady so fair,
You make it hard to bare,
Not stopping to stare,
At your golden locks of hair.

Your manner is so fine,
Demeanor simply divine,
Would it be crossing the line,
To ask of us to dine?