dinsdag 30 oktober 2012

Halloween? Hello Folklore

With Halloween coming up, what better manner to start off with a new blog post than with the subject of folkloric traditions in novels, world-building and so on?
Whereas a lot of people see Halloween as a repulsive commercial feast brought over by American multinationals, the origins lie in the early pagan rituals which were subsequently inherited by the Christians as the day before All Saints to appease to the new converts.

"The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane" by John Quido
Adding folklore, other stories throughout your own, for world-building or other purposes, means adding flavour to your atmosphere. It can be a break from the story, to deepen a location, custom, day of the year for your characters or can function as an important plot point. Is it a poem recited by a bard about some location, is it a symbol characters make before going on a great adventure, is it the reason for a truce and maybe the end of a great war? Who knows, but folklore can be .

The most important thing before you start designing folklore is knowing your own. For people wanting to read up on the world's folklore, I suggest checking out http://worldoftales.com/ which contains a lot of folk tales, fairy tales and fables from all over the world. For more specific stories from your neighbourhood, the library or older people are your main source of information of course.

If your story is set in the real world or a different version of our world, keep in mind that folklore is publicly available and you can use it in your project freely (as long as you don't claim to have invented it). For those that want to write their own, try studying "real" folklore to get a feel for the writing style and meanings therein. Folklore can range from superstition to a construction of complex and multi-layered meanings.

maandag 20 augustus 2012

Proofreading and editing, waterproof ideas?

With a relatively large part of my first draft finished, I was thinking of having others read it for me. Now the obvious problem with that is: who will read it for you? It's obvious that you yourself might be all passionate about your work but you might as well encounter many problems in the department of convincing others to read a work in progress. More precisely, a work in progress they must read attentively and scan for error and incoherency. So we've come on the terrain of proofreading and editing. Whereas these terms may seem relatively close in meaning, they are not the same.

Proofreading is the reading of a text to spot errors of a technical nature. Grammar mistakes, double words, wrong punctuation and so on.
Editing is the reading of the text on a more narrative basis. You try to find incoherency in dialogue, events, flaws in character build-up. All for the benefit of the quality of the story itself.
Prooffreading, finding the errors in other people's texts.
The problem, however, is where to find those people motivated enough to read your unfinished material. Obvious resource #1 friends and family
Friends and family will most likely comply to reading your story, unless they politely decline of course (be prepared for this). Understand as well that people might be a bit hesitant to tell you the full truth because they don't want to hurt you. An unfinished story is a very personal thing after all.

Source #2 professional companies
Professional proofreaders are abundant. http://www.proof-reading.com/ for example. It's not too expensive and you're assured of quality. A lot of universities have their own proofreading facilities as well.

Source #3 teachers and students of languages
Very close to #2 but if you have personal relationships with these people, things get easier. When you're still a school-goer you can simply ask your teacher to do it for you in his/her spare time. Just hope you're on good footing with that person though.

Source #4 writing communities
Examples such as http://www.nanowrimo.org/ and other writing communities are full of people writing, interested in writing and readers. You can try to find people here if you need a proofreader/editor. Be cautious about throwing your story out in the open though. Read up about copyright before spilling the beans.

woensdag 8 augustus 2012

Good kingdoms, evil empires...or was there more?

People who have read/played traditional fantasy or sci-fi know it. Kingdoms are good, empires are evil.
In this post I won't talk about the good/evil differences but more about why they're always kingdoms and  empires. There are a plethora of state structures out there and nowadays the classic kingdoms and empires have faded into history so I just want to point out this possibility to innovate on the classic concept.

Dictatorship being shared, very common in popular media it seems.

I'll simply explain some of the political systems used in my projects as used besides the traditional kingdoms and empires.
Firstly there's the mayoralty. Adhered by two of the nations in the worlds, they are a lot like democracy with one exception. The ruler of the nation is the ruler of the capital city. In one case this is because the capital city is one of the only notable cities of the nation left, in the other because the historical evolution demanded as such (including a rebellion, hanging of the previous ruling monarch and so on). The mayoralty can be democratic or not.

Secondly there's the stratocracy. While it may seem something fit for a dictatorship, there is a difference. The army is in charge, but a stratocracy is not necessarily a dictatorship. While the nation in my project is stratocratic, having evolved from a global war, they are very close to a democracy, electing their leaders every set amount of years. These then preside mostly over the nation from the central office in the capital.

Thirdly, the plutocracy. The wealthier a person, the greater his/her influence. Applied in the desert cities where treasure is everything and many go out to try their fortune. It can often be combined with almost any other state form (for example, wealthy people get more votes) but in my novel I kept it as pure as possible.

I have several other forms of government used in my writing and often they are slight variations of existing structures as well. I won't elaborate any further though to prevent a too lengthy posting as well as too much spoiling. For those who do wish to read up on the existing forms of government I recommend the cia factbook, which has a very complete list as well as a list of countries and their state form. Also useful when designing your nations, ethnic groups and history.

While good kingdoms and evil empires may seem an obvious thing in some video games, it is worthwhile to study the newest trends:
Though indeed I am our Emperor’s son, I am no prince. Archadia’s Emperor is freely chosen by Her people. I am but an elected official and nothing more. -Vayne Solidor, Final Fantasy XII, Square-Enix
Empire or democracy? Play the game itself and you might doubt your choice. Politics are becoming more and more prominent in the later games and who knows what the next trend might be?

woensdag 1 augustus 2012

Questlines: The Pilgrimage of Linh

The past few days I've been working on the so-called "Questlines" section of my story. I named them like that because of the existing rpg-project that can implement them very well. "Questlines" is the bundle of stories running simultaneously with the main story. The most important reason I made this bundle was to flesh out the worlds of my novel. It's highly unlikely for the main hero to be present in all the major events of his time, but nevertheless they can have their impact on his journey. The hero hears of the other questlines occurring, may see parts of them, but is not the main player in them. They're not sideplots in that they are not resolved or sometimes only mentioned or hinted to once.

Famous examples of authors who did this are mostly found in the fantasy literature. Tolkien (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) and Martin (A song of Ice and Fire). Especially in the case of Tolkien who is famous for his stacks of notes and border writings. He speaks of lands that are barely treated in his novels, but those who are familiar with his Legendarium (all the gathered work of Tolkien) will know there's a lot more to it than his major novels.

The entirety of Middle-Earth of which maybe a small part is treated in detail
An example of this in my own Questlines bundle is the 'pilgrimage of Linh' of the nomads on the smaller continent, looking for their sacred origin. They may seem oblivious to the greater turmoil in their world, but as a people they have different priorities. To them it doesn't matter if the world is destroyed, it is just something that happens. These nomads have a great relativity over them, a certain peace that is running out in the rest of the world. It frustrates the people who do think it's important to no end, but the nomads aren't moved by that. In my novel, these frustrations are dealt with, but not the entire sacred journey and the things that are dealt with on the way there. (though I might make a short-story from it some time)

As such I do want to show that I place a great deal of care into building up the background of my novel and I do hope other writers will do the same, because I always find it nice to find a sizeable background in the stories I read and write. Without compromising the main story with redundant information of course.

donderdag 26 juli 2012

The end?

The title might frighten some of the readers but this isn't the end of the blog; more an article about novel/script endings. Endings come in all shapes and sizes, from the sugar-sweet fairy tale ending to the mindrape endings that leave you puzzled and confused for days.

A lot of authors tend to write the ending before they actually start on their novel. This allows them to keep the story coherent and build up towards a certain point. A famous example of such author is JK Rowling who wrote her novel series' ending before her first book.

It always is
In my own Otherworld Tales series I've written lay-outs for several endings, both good ones and bad ones, as I'm still unsure about which ending I'll use. The most important reason for this is that a story grows and matures while it is being written and I need to be able to select the ending that will eventually fit the general tone of the novel itself.

But why did I write multiple endings? You ask.
An ending of your novel is not necessarily the end of your novel universe. The characters may live on and their lives are a series of endings. An ending just marks the end of one story and the beginning of the next. Stated as such, endings are not definite things. They have to fit into a whole by themselves and need to make sense. The events building up to it and the events flowing forth from it that aren't described in the novel. The end is at hand! you see the man in the street proclaim and this is true. It always is, because every moment ends with a new one and every moment in your novel is an important one, but more so your last one.

dinsdag 17 juli 2012

(anti)climax, over the top or not?

I'm nearing the climax of the war now in my novel. The epic moment where everything changes for good. But what are climaxes actually? Do you have to put a climax in your writing and what's an anticlimax then?

So is the certain point in which who we believe to be the big bad is finally defeated and several new problems arise in the wake of the war the climax? Or is it at the end during the final confrontation? That point in your book where everything changes and everyone's at a loss or when everything comes together? I found this neat picture on the net that decides to explain it for you.
Well that makes sense right? Something that looks like it's taken right out of a literary textbook. Apparently, for a climax, tension builds up to the climax and for an anticlimax the story gets duller and duller. Whatever Piramidal is supposed to tell you I don't even know, maybe the fun part is in the middle of the book. What we have here is the stereotyped image of what people believe is the structure of stories. As if tension is something that can be drawn in a curve. Tension is not a subtle play in a person's mind, but a graph...or was it the other way around.
When writing a story, I personally don't experience the urge to build up neatly along a graph and tell my reader when the peak has been reached. Some novels don't even have tension and are still masterpieces of their own. Can someone tell me where the climax of Paradise Lost is? Or are we just reading it for the beautifully constructed narrative? What I'm trying to tell you is that your novel doesn't necessarily need a climax or anticlimax. The story by itself should be compelling enough to keep the reader's attention and it won't get better just because you carefully planned out your tension levels.

The death of Caesar in Shakespeare's play about Caesar is obviously a climax example as wikipedia kindly states, right? (it does look very dramatic, I admit)

donderdag 12 juli 2012

About genres and why they're a tad useless

Not too long ago someone asked me "What's your novel about?" and I replied with my usual summary line. "So it's fantasy?" No, not quite. Science Fantasy is a term that's closer to what my novel is about, but I suppose every writer has that feeling a bit. Your novel is more than just those words of the genres. Others should read the book before they could ever possibly understand what it's actually about. Stories are so much more than just what their genre implies. Personally I find this the best approach to novel writing. Write your novel first, then let others fight over what genre it is, because I find writing my novel rewarding enough. If you want to know it, my novel is Science Fantasy, with a bit of alternate history, some snuffs of romance, a good dose of folklore, drama and warfare involved and a tinge of psychological horror. It also has politics, moral, who of you already skipped to the next paragraph?

Genres date from the first written forms in ancient times where Plato and Aristotle classified the written text into three forms (poetry, drama and prose). These three forms became more complex over time and developed into our current system of having a myriad of styles, forms, etcetera as the need arose.
A lot of aspiring authors want to know what genre they write in. Google 'novel genre' and you'll soon find the many websites that 'help' determine which genre you have. Personally, however, I believe it's not the task of the author to determine the genre of your novel; the reader does. The writer who believed his novel to be in the historical fiction department may suddenly find his book in all the romance bookshelves.

So genres aren't solid, not over time nor through your audience. Then what does a writer do at all concerning genres? Nothing. That's right, nothing at all until you're getting published. Then you just ask your proofreaders for help in categorizing your novel so you send your novel to the right publishers. Beyond that the writer's concern is writing.