Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z is for Zealots

Every world needs a few crazies.  You can call them whatever you want.  I'm calling them zealots because it's Z day.  Zealots are people who are incredibly invested and enthusiastic about something (or who belong to a certain sect of Judaism like Judas Iscariot).

What are your zealots zealous about?  How does that help to define your world?  I think you can say a lot about a world just by depicting a people who are zealous about something in that world.

Y is for Ymir Caroc

(Note: I'm several minutes late.  I know.  The funny thing is, I'm done with college for the semester now, so I really haven't got an excuse.)

Ymir Caroc is a father of four young children, all girls.  Their ages are fifteen, twelve, six, and one.  Ymir works fifty-five hour weeks to support his family, but he spends all of his remaining time with them.

Liana is the oldest.  She does ballet and recently picked up the violin.  Ymir thinks she is the most talented dancer in the world, even if she does stumble from time to time.

Nina is next.  Her talents haven't fully blossomed yet, but she really enjoys reading.  Ymir used to read to her every night.  Now, Nina reads to him.

Beatrice is in Kindergarten.  She likes to paint, though her arms aren't quite steady yet.  Ymir often draws animals for her to color in.

Debra is still just a toddler.  She was born ten weeks early, and she has stayed fairly small.  Ymir sits with her in his rocking chair for at least a half hour every day and reads her passages from the Bible, even though she can't understand them just yet.

Ymir is in love with life, his wife, and his kids.  He regrets very little.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for Xabi

Little is known of Xabi.  So little in fact that his surname has only been hinted at in whispers.  Over one hundred hits have been attributed to the silent assassin.

All of Xabi's targets have been shot through the heart with the round of a different gun.  Each hole is in the same spot.  Dead center.

There have been rumors that Xabi will not stop until he has killed with every gun of the modern age.  It may be true.  A checklist was recovered from the scene of a double murder three months ago.  Two of the check marks were fresh.  They were drawn in the targets' blood.  Some eyewitness accounts claim that the list was a plant, but that testimony has been put into question.

Xabi's career has stretched eleven years as of last Wednesday.  We are sure that we shall catch him before he strikes again.  Do not worry.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W is for Wesley Duncan

Wesley Duncan is a senior at King High School in Atlanta, Georgia.  He enjoys playing soccer and pretending to play the guitar.  His best friends are Tommy and Frieda.  They want to start a motorcycle gang once they all get their licenses.

Wesley is a very average student.  He is good at history, but most of his other grades are C's.  It doesn't matter much to him.  He wants to work in his family's bar for a while, then possibly open his own.

As graduation approaches, Wesley is getting restless.  He knows that he won't see most of his classmates very often after they get their diplomas.  He wonders what they think of him, if he has made a lasting impression on them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V is for Viral

You can define a world pretty well but what news hits the masses.  What goes viral in your world?

There are many ways you can go about planting a viral seed to world-build.  You could start a story off with a character learning the viral topic.  Perhaps he or she is the first.  Perhaps the last.  Perhaps he or she is just very heavily impacted by the news.  Maybe the viral seed is spoken in whispers throughout the kingdom.  Your protagonist could be a gossiping merchant spreading the news around.

For more modern settings, what goes viral may have little bearing on the world.  In older settings, I think that the world-building can be great.  Are the kings affairs common knowledge?  Has a bard from the east become so renowned that he is cherished in a neighboring state?  There are many possibilities.

Monday, April 25, 2016

U is for Uplift

To make a future world more interesting, consider uplifting some animals.  Uplifting tends to move a story away from hard SF, though it would be interesting to see a story attempting to dive into the science of uplifting (the theoretical science).

One of the more visible examples of uplifted animals in SF comes from The Planet of the Apes and its franchise.  In this case, uplifted apes are used to generate horror and to examine humanity from a distance.  Uplifted animals can be included in stories for a variety of reasons.

Coolness is also an important factor to uplifting.  Sentient elephants?  Cool!  The many effects of uplifting might be difficult to keep track of, but that just allows for a more flavorful world.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

T is for Tiny Things

Don't forget about the tiny things that fill out your world.  I don't just mean the ants and the lice; the "tiny things" are all those little pieces of description that make your world come to life.

Sometimes describing just one specific thing can create new details.  Give one sword a unique history and readers will assume, if there isn't a reason for them not to, that many of the other weapons featured have unique histories too.  This builds up your world without having to waste a ton of description.

While the big over-arching elements of a story are very important, don't forget about the tiny things.

Friday, April 22, 2016

S is for Silence

The title of this post is a little misleading.  I don't mean to talk about silence.  I want to talk about what you hear when you are silent.

A lot can go on in a story.  The action and dialogue often motor on at at least a decent clip.  But paired with scenes are sequels, and paired with sound should be (from time to time) silence.

You can learn a lot from what you hear when you are silent.  The wind.  Running water.  The buzzing in your ears.  Every setting will have different sounds.  Why not build your world by listening through the silence to what calls out?

I love the sound in stories, but I can appreciate silence too.  Maybe there should be just a little more of it.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

R is for Reptiles

I'm really stretching for these post topics.  This semester of college is just about over.  I'm a little tired.  Anyway, reptiles.  You don't see a whole lot of them in SF/F/H stories.  Why?

Europe is the default template for most fantasy stories written currently, at least in the U.S.  In sci-fi it can be a little more spread out.  I don't read much horror.  Other than dragons, there aren't many reptiles out and about it common settings.  I think adding some in could allow for some cool world-building.

One of the biggest things I've noticed during my fifteen trips to Walt Disney World has been the tiny lizards.  They are everywhere.  They're a little creepy, but kinda cool.  I guess Florida's climate is warmer than those found in most spec fic stories.  If a small lizard were described in a story, I would probably think immediately of Floridian weather if other conditions were not specified.  That could allow for very fast world-building.

There are so many little things you can do to avoid info-dumps and add flavor to your story.  Adding some reptiles might be one of them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q is for Quarters

Coins exist in just about any economy.  Some sci-fi settings might be too advanced for coins, at least in some areas, but most fantasy settings would do well to include coins.  If there aren't coins, there should be a really awesome substitute.

The images on coins can be great for world-building.  Is there a ruler depicted?  Does the coin harken back to an earlier time, like Charlemagne's coins?  Is there a symbol rather than a face like during the reign of Louis IX of France?  You can make a major comment about your world with just a one-sentence descripton of a coin's surface.

The materials and types of coins are also important.  Are there quarters, nickels, dimes, pennies, half-dollars, and dollar pieces?  Are there pieces of eight?  Platinums, golds, silvers, and coppers?  What does the material and type of the coinage say about the area in which it was minted?  Maybe an area has a lot of gold but very little silver so that silver coins are worth more than gold coins.  Then that silver pitcher in the King's palace seems a lot more important.

For a quick and easy world-building tool that can jingle in your pockets, look no further than coinage.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

P is for Pucks

When was the last time you saw a story that featured an ice rink sport, such as hockey?  I don't know that I've ever read such a tale.  I think it could be very interesting to create an ice-based sport for a secondary-world.

It seems natural that ice sports would develop in any world eventually.  I suppose extinction could come first, but the possibility would be there on just about any planet supporting humanoids.  They wouldn't necessarily use pucks; they could.

Plenty of secondary-world settings have Earth foliage, so why not just have hockey exist in a secondary-world?  I can see how it would be a little jarring, but I don't know that it would break a story.  It's an idea at least.

Monday, April 18, 2016

O is for Orchards

There's something mystical and serene about orchards.  They provide an immediate emotional resonance.  When an orchard is well-tended, the sun passes through the trees in beams and keeps the whole area lit beneath the swaying emerald leaves.  When left to rot, the sun evades the decay, and crushed fruit and compost litters the orchard floor.

Orchards are underutilized in storytelling.  If you want to evoke a feeling of wonder or a feeling of despair, set a scene in an orchard.  There are plenty of wondrous settings, and swamps or mires are often used for despair, but the orchard can be used with a sense of originality.

I believe a scene in The Sum of All Men took place in an orchard.  That's about the only scene I can think of set in an orchard.  I'm not really sure why.  Orchards are cool.  Then again, the only orchard I ever remember writing about was for a little writing exercise in 8th grade.  It's definitely on my list though, after deciding to write this.  Maybe I'll use it in my Playwriting class next semester.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Game Plan

I'm going to write my final blog post for Intro to Professional Writing now so that I won't have to double up during the week with an A-to-Z Challenge post.  I'd just like to give an overview of what I've decided to work on for my digital portfolio (for the time being).

Rather than trying to tackle ten pieces, I've decided to go down to six.  If an employer really wants to know a lot about me, he or she can read through my hundreds of blog posts.  Three nonfiction pieces and three fiction pieces should be enough for the portfolio.

Because I like novellas, novellas are in between short stories and novels for length, and the story I choose to review should probably be read again before I rewrite the review for it, I have decided to use my review of The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson in my portfolio.  I will consider my original review but rewrite the review based upon a second reading of the award-winning novella.

For my "On Writing" post I have decided on the second post of my "Quotes" posts.  Unlike some of my other Writing posts, it doesn't go into a writing concept, but I think the post clearly demonstrates my ability to analyze stories and recognize literary magic.

I will indeed include one fantasy story, one sci-fi story, and one horror story in my portfolio.  For fantasy, I'll be using "Lost Love and Nightprowlers."  It will need some large revisions, but it is a story that I have worked on for three years now and, despite posting it to my blog some time back, I think it can be made into a great story.  There are some romance elements in this story that should hint at my abilities in that genre as well.  In sci-fi, I have selected my Flash Frenzy submission "The Last Photo of Humanity."  The psychological element is great, I think, and there is a clear blend of sci-fi and horror.  For horror, I have just now decided upon my Flash Friday submission "Two For Hell."  I really like the style that I used, and I believe this story to be my most terrifying.

To exhibit my ability to work in a group, I have decided to include my proposal as my final portfolio piece (though the actual order I will present the pieces in may be different).  I can't guarantee everything in the proposal is 100% realistic, but I do think that the proposal demonstrates my current knowledge of the publishing industry and my ability to come up with an idea for a novel.

The first three of these pieces will take substantial work.  My latter two fiction pieces will likely stay fairly similar to their original forms, but will definitely get some clean-up.  I would like to preserve the group dynamic of my proposal by keeping the parts my partner wrote fairly close to their "handed-in" form.  The proposal will still need some revisions, I'm sure.  With these six pieces in polished form, I feel confident that my portfolio will be striking.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

N is for Night Darts

Night darts are small, black birds that come out at night and divebomb sleeping animals.  They travel at speeds up to twenty miles per hour.  The average length of the male is three to four inches.  Females are four to five inches long.  Both genders weigh several ounces.

Humans are often afraid of night darts, though very few attacks have been reported.  Legend has it that an ancient King was killed when one gouged out his eye, but few believe the tale.

Night darts live almost exclusively in forests.  One variety will occasionally occupy swamps, but only during certain parts of the year.

Friday, April 15, 2016

M is for Mara Vitalli

Mara Vitalli chose to not go to university.  When she was younger, she had wanted to be a marine biologist, or perhaps a doctor, but throughout high school she decided that biology wasn't for her.  Her teacher was great, and she got good grades, but the material just didn't interest her at the earlier levels.  She decided that she liked people more than animals and shifted toward publicity because of an internship she snagged her senior year.  When she was offered a job straight out of high school as a full-time publicity assistant, she stole the opportunity.

Mara has worked for her publicity organization for eight years.  During that time, she has worked for dozens of minor celebrities and a few political figures.  She does not regret skipping over college life for the opportunity.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Two More Weeks of Labor

(Note: This is not an A-to-Z Challenge post.  I posted for today a short while ago.)

My last assignment for this semester is the digital portfolio due on the 28th.  Prior to that, I have a list of exams and other assignments to handle.  The very first thing on my list of things to do is to decide what piece I want to bring in tomorrow to be work-shopped.  I need to get on that.

I have decided (for now) to have four categories of pieces in my portfolio (subject to change): Reviews, On Writing (I'm totally stealing Stephen King's book title), Fiction, and In-House Professional Writing.  I will have three reviews (a short story review, a novella review, and a novel review), two short essays on writing, three stories (one horror, one fantasy, and one sci-fi), and my proposal and press release from the class.  Ten pieces might be too much for the portfolio though.  I will have to figure out if that is permissible or not.  I could always cut it down to four and just use a novella review, one essay on writing, a short story, and either the proposal or the press release.  Or I could go with a number in between four and ten.

The largest piece of work I have before me in the next two weeks (other than the portfolio) is a 6-8 page research paper for my Intro to Medieval Art course that is due in class by next Thursday.  I have my introductory paragraph done and a good bit of research conducted.  I still need to research more and actually write the paper though.  That'll probably take at least six hours of work.  Hopefully I'll get a lot of work done this weekend so that I can send the draft to my professor for feedback (as she offered to everyone in the class).  I think the paper will turn out well, and my grade in that class is quite good, so I'm not drastically worried about it, though I will be if I don't have it finished by the end of Sunday.

L is for Lyrics

Lyrics can be a great way of world-building your novel.  Think "Over the Misty Mountains Cold."  You can use lyrics to both develop your world and the characters who write the lyrics.

Lyrics can stand alone or they can be accompanied by music.  When writing secondary-world stories, choosing a music system can be tricky.  Do you want to use real-world instruments or invent your own?  If you use real-world instruments, you have to make sure it would make sense for each instrument to exist within the rough time period and technological age of the story.  If you invent your own, you still need to fit the instruments to other technologies and have to consider why the invented instruments were invented, what kinds of music they are used for, etc.

I personally enjoy a good lyric in a story.  Whether it be a performed lyric or a more poetic lyric, lyrics are able to develop worlds like few other devices.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

K is for Kings

Everyone likes kings except for the subjects of the kings (usually).  Monarchies are just plain interesting.  The dynamic between king and kingdom, king and subject, king and rival kingdom is sophisticated and drawing.

Typically kings only appear in fantasy, and perhaps alternate history, out of the speculative genres.  I think that it would be interesting to see more kings (and queens) in other genres.  Kings (and queens) in space?  Sounds awesome.

When using a monarchy, pay close attention to the impact of such a government on a country.  The social system in the country does not have to be feudal, though it often is.  Taking a king and planting him at the top of a Congress could make for a very interesting system (like England had historically, sort of).

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

J is for Jamming

Jamming is a magical technique used to prevent another mage from using magic.  It is a feature in many magic systems.  The concept aids any magic system by creating a limitation for it, as discussed in Sanderson's Second Law.  When jamming is added to a system, very powerful magics can be present without as much worry of them becoming too strong for the setting to conceivably handle.

Sometimes certain mages are only able to jam.  Other times all mages can both jam and perform typical spells (or whatever).  Both are valid approaches.

If you would like to make a magic system more interesting and balanced, try adding jamming.  It has been used by such authors as Brian McClellan to great effect.

Monday, April 11, 2016

I is for Iris Domingo

Iris Domingo is a Broadway performer.  She loves the lights.  She adores the glamor.  The work isn't always steady, but when she isn't performing she has some time to discover new things about herself.

In her spare time, Iris enjoys assembling model planes.  She and her brother used to put their allowance money together every few months to buy a model that they would build together.  He died in a collapsed building at 20.  He had been a firefighter.  Iris has been haunted by fire ever since.

When Iris' brother's widow and niece were left homeless after a tornado ravaged their town, Iris took them in.  She sees her little brother in her niece's pale hazel eyes.  Tomorrow she has decided to ask her if she wants to build a plane with her. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

H is for Half-Mage

Half-mages are either the strongest or the weakest people of a civilization.  To be a half-mage is to have either all of the strengths of a normal mage or all of the weaknesses.

One does not typically know that he or she is a half-mage until puberty.  At that point, either powers emerge or weaknesses become apparent.

It has been common throughout the centuries to send weakness half-mages on dangerous missions or have them fight each other to the death.  Power half-mages have typically been used as long-range soldiers, or in some cases front-line commanders with a considerable bodyguard.

Friday, April 8, 2016

G is for Georg Honsen

Georg Honsen was born in the Great River Ülm.  From the cold waters he emerged, crying as a lion.  Or so he always told his friends.  The strength did not last long, as Georg developed into a sickly young boy.  He was unable to attend school with the other children of the town.  His uncle tutored him in letters, numbers, and his fields of astronomy and biology, as well as the history and literature he was familiar with.

Adolescence brought some reprieve for Georg, allowing him to venture out for frequent nights sleeping under the stars.  He conducted experiments on dead animals he found and began diagramming their structures.  At the age of 23, Georg wrote a book titled Maps of the Dead and of the Stars.  In it, he claimed a correlation between the stars and those animals living on the Earth.

Georg received some acclaim for his later works in biology and astronomy, but never achieved what he felt was a definitive explanation for why he felt the two fields were so very connected.  He died at the age of 53 on a voyage to the southern glaciers.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

F is for Fight Night

Boxing is king in the Eastern Reaches.  Boxers wrap their fists with strips of cloth with the ends dipped in ether.  Strikes must be made below the collarbone and above the waist.  Most towns in the Eastern Reaches have at least one league.

Matches between boxers of neighboring towns are fought frequently, often on open ground between the settlements.  The greatest boxers from each town may travel for fights attended by such important people as the Empress herself and her sons.  These matches usually take place in palace courtyards.

"Fight Night" in the Eastern Reaches is the fourth night of each week.  These fights are separate from the league bouts and formal matches.  They are fights of honor, duels fought to submission.  Among men, it is encouraged for disagreements to be settled with a Fight Night fight.  Duels of any other form are punishable by fierce lashings.  Among women, Fight Night fights may be approved by local leaders, but in these fights strikes must be made below the ribs and above the hips.  These fights are rarely allowed for those of child-bearing age who are married.  Fights between men and women are virtually unheard of.

Hey, Look, I'm Actually Being a Good Little Blogger

(Note: This is not an A-to-Z Challenge post.  My post for today will likely go up shortly after this one.)

As I mentioned in my last Professional Writing blog post, I'm participating in the A-to-Z Challenge this month.  So far I have posted five times and received eleven comments.  Most of the comments have been the result of my usual blogging strategy, which is to comment on other blogs.  I've been pretty good, commenting on a few blog posts each day (except maybe one day).  The time of day that I've posted at has slipped, but hasn't fallen to the last hour of the day at all.

I've liked my posts so far.  My theme for the Challenge, as I've mentioned before, is world-building elements and character bios.  Two of my posts have been bios.  My first post was about a magic system and my "C" and "D" posts were focused on bizarre world-building elements of a setting I haven't actually written anything in.

In other news, my partner and I have completed our proposal for class.  I think it turned out really well.  I can't guarantee a press would actually use our plan exactly, but I do think it's plausible.  It was fun making the details up.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

E is for Eleanor Barca

Eleanor Barca does not consider herself strong-willed.  She is simply rational.  She has turned down seven suitors in her twenty years of life, most of them in the last three years (one of them when she was eight).  None of these men had ever asked her about the scar on her face running just below her left eye.  They were charming and they knew their classical literature, but none of them cared about what matters to her most.

Every morning before she wakes up from her slumber, Eleanor saves her mother again.  They are dreams, but they feel so real that her scar burns anew each time.  Her mother wakes her up with a damp cloth and a kiss on the cheek.

Eleanor has decided that until she finds a man who asks her about her scar, she will never consider marriage.  She has time.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

D is for Ducks Galore

Teeutterland is not free of problems itself.  About ten years ago, some illegal immigrants brought in invasive ducks.  The ducks multiplied quickly.  Within six years nearly every body of fresh water in Teeutterland was infested with the invasive birds.

In order to curb the duck population, the President of Teeutterland imported foxes from Seltzershire.  Unfortunately, the foxes preferred every aquatic creature in Teeutterland over the ducks.  The duck population has been declining, but the invasive fox population has exploded.

Lowered fish populations have resulted in many of the fishermen of Teeutterland converting their skills to fox trapping.  Teeutterland has benefitted from increased fur exports, but current fashions to the south have shifted away from furs in recent months.

Monday, April 4, 2016

C is for Coconut Catastrophe

In the kingdom of Seltzershire, there is a coconut catastrophe.  Every few months or so one of the barons is assassinated, and the method of assassination is always the same.  The assassin puts chemical lime in a coconut and the baron drinks it all up, resulting in death.

Coconuts are one of the most prominent wares in the black market of Seltzershire.  Not native to the kingdom but prominent in the nations to the south, eating coconuts has become a huge fad among the nobility of Seltzershire in recent years.  The coconut trade is not strictly prohibited, but a trade contract between Seltzershire and the republic of Teeutterland requires all legal coconut imports to come from Teeutterland.  Unfortunately, the quality of Teeutterland's coconuts is alarmingly low.  Merchants consume a large quantity of Teeutterland coconuts, but the nobility purchase all of their coconuts on the black market.

This catastrophe has enflamed to such a degree that many members of the nobility have been forced to allow their food-and-beverage-tasters to drink the milk of their coconuts.  A new religion has sprung up within the community of these tasters dedicated to coconut milk.  Some barons consume the flesh of multiple coconuts per day, and so several in the taster community have been elevated to the status of demi-god within their religion.  Proponents believe that it is only through the drinking of coconut milk that one may earn salvation and that the great coconut god has compelled these assassins to kill with lime in coconuts because they do not deserve salvation.

Teeutterland has heard reports of this mysterious new religion.  Resulting investigations have broken open the black market of coconuts in Seltzershire.  Teeutterland has threatened war if these illicit coconuts do not cease flowing into the kingdom.  Fearing the end of their supply of "pure" coconut milk (as Teeutterland's coconuts are a disgrace to the coconut god), proponents of the coconut religion have formed into a small army of ferocious fighters, hidden in their masters' fortresses, awaiting the day Teeutterland invades so that they may spill blood in the name of their god.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

B is for Bernard Cousteau

Bernard Cousteau is a plain man on the surface.  When he isn't wearing his royal blue military uniform he is wearing royal blue civilian clothing.  He loves his country and has pride in his military service.  He is a member of the Queen's Own Rifles.  His natural ability in metal magic is limited, but he is able to sharpen his aim after consuming the right powders.  Bernard has a tendency to keep his body so rigid that it almost appears that he is floating along during a march.  This has earned him the nickname "Wisp" from the ancillaries of l'Akos in his unit.  Bernard was born in a small village in south-eastern Glas, the son of two prominent merchants.  His military service began at age fifteen after an apprenticeship with a gunsmith whom Bernard quotes constantly.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A is for Aroma Magic

About a year or so ago I tried to write a flash fic using an aroma-based magic system.  I called it "Aromagic."  The story kind of flopped after 163 words, so I put the fragment in a folder I called "Seeds" and let it sit there.  I don't intend to use this story as it is, so I'll post the first paragraph here so that you can get a glimpse of how the magic is supposed to work.

Magenta edged along the cavern wall, crouching as far as she could without crawling. At the next branching of the tunnel, she pulled a small stone from the pouch at her hip. The reaction lasted only a few seconds. It changed the stone from gray to pale blue, then broke it in half. The air held only mild aromagic here, yet a good sniff would have sent anyone without Magenta’s gift to the hospital.

The idea here essentially is that aromagic exists in certain places naturally.  This form of magic can kill those who aren't gifted with the ability to withstand it.  Special stones can be used to detect aromagic and to negate its powers.  The aromagic can be used for such actions as creating undead soldiers and encouraging plants to grow.

I could always use the concept of "aroma magic" in a different way than I have described here, but I think this tiny set of parameters that I have set should work well with the system.  Hopefully some day I will finish a story using aromagic.