Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Research Report!

Is it weird that the exclamation point is not sarcastic?  Well, something about big writing projects excites me.

They also bring out my opportunistic side.  I decided the minute I heard about this assignment to go the sneaky way and do my paper on something that I'll need to research anyways for my writing. After a bit of waffling, I've decided to research something that I'm going to need in multiple stories: the Knights Templar.

For one, the Order of the Dark Storm from Quasiland is a mysterious Order of knights that I decided would be based on the Knights Templar. Evan Squall, one such Dark Storm Knight (haha get it? Ach, I'll shut up), is a pretty important character and his Order has a major role in the story.

For another, one of the few characters in "Iris" that I still like was a Knight Templar before he got killed in the Inquisition (that's actually not a spoiler). I'm still in the midst of reevaluating "Iris," so I don't know how important this guy will be, but I would like him and his friend (a Tuareg, another topic I was thinking of researching) to be more prominent.

Right now I'm working on my research report proposal.  How do I explain my rationale for choosing this without revealing my ulterior motives?

Today's "listen-repeatedly" song is "The Ballad of Mona Lisa" by Panic! At The Disco.  Video is full of steampunk murder-mystery overdramaticness, which is why I usually just have it on in the background as I work.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Usefulness

I know nothing about farming or agriculture, so it's a good thing I found this article about the agricultural year.

Where did I find it?  Strange Horizons, "a weekly online magazine of science fiction, fantasy, science fact, opinion, art, and reviews." Not sure if I have the time to go searching through their archives, since the sheer volume of their content kind of intimidates me, but it looks to have some useful stuff.

Found this funny essay about heroic fantasy mistakes on another site that I may take a closer look at later on.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Excerpt

The Mind Butcher was just one of the monikers that Oyvind Linden had picked up in his eighteen years of life. He’d had it since he was eight, when he used mind magic against some classmates who’d angered him and drove them completely insane. The Linden family had picked up and moved – moved into the house next to the house where lived Phaedra Kale, a friend of Mrs. Linden since childhood, and Andreas’ mother.

Despite their mothers’ closeness, Andreas and Oyvind had never talked much. Andreas usually was not shy, but Oyvind – or Vin, as he preferred to be called – was four years older, tall, and intimidating even without the stories that flew around about him.

Honestly, Andreas wasn’t sure if Vin was entirely sane. He had carved a number of symbols into the trees of his backyard and fence; he had painted a mural of the Archimen Volcano on his bedroom wall; he had a photo of his cat Prospero eating a mouse as the background of his phone and as his desktop; and he never, ever had any expression. But he did come in handy sometimes.

Such as when robbers broke into the pharmacy downstairs and Andreas was the only one home. When he heard the splintering of the front door, he had run to his room, opened the window, and rapped urgently on Vin’s. It took all of three panicked, half-formed sentences for Vin to get the message and clamber across the space between their windows.

It took all of two minutes for the screaming to start.

--

This is a snippet from a short story I'm using to test drive various ideas I have for my "settingless" story.  I don't think I want it to be quite as modern as this, but I may keep some of the details.

"Mind Butcher" is a nickname I've had hanging around in my idea box since last year, but it has no permanent home yet. I've tried sticking it on various people but it never seems to fit well. I'm still not sure if Oyvind will bear it any better than the others.  We shall see.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What happened to Iris?

Hey, remember that story that I was super-excited to start about the flower spirits and the afterlife and that other stuff?  What's the deal with it now?

Short answer: It's on hiatus.

Long answer: It's on hiatus, indefinitely.

Several reasons exist for this. First of all, revising Project Utopia comes first. However, if that was the only reason, I would still be chipping away at Iris when I didn't feel like working on ProjU. But from the start I had my concerns about Iris. Why did I ignore these concerns? I was so buoyed by my recent success, of finishing a novel-length story, that I thought, rashly, that I could finish anything.

And I had - have - many reasons for thinking that this story, like ProjU, could "make it." It's a story the first idea for which I developed in sixth grade, and so if the idea didn't seem ludicrous after three years it obviously had some staying power. It has more overt fantasy elements than ProjU, and fantasy will be my favorite genre for always. I have relatively detailed worldbuilding notes outlining the ways in which magic can be used. The cast is far more manageable than ProjU's.

Ahh. The cast.

That's the root of the problem, I think. Hang around enough writer websites and sooner or later they'll say something like "characters are most important" or "you're going to be living with these people for a while, so you've got to find them interesting" or "people are the heart of your story." It was Patricia C. Wrede's post about it that made me realize what exactly was wrong with Iris.

I wrote about the characters of "Iris" in an earlier post, back when I was still full of hope about this project. "I like most of the characters" - yeah, but does that mean I can write them?

Irina Rybakova, a strong-willed, determined woman who saw too much injustice in her life to tolerate it in her death. She's completely awesome, but I can't write someone like that convincingly. It's intimidating, because I'm not like her and the falseness should steam off the computer screen.

Farrokh's basic personality is like mine, which sends up a big red flag for me that he's not a character who has "settled" yet. And what do I know of the perspective of a banker who's actually an iris spirit who was a rider of the Persian messenger service before he died?

Chen Weizhuang: this kid does not have a personality and I'm not sure I care enough to give him one.

Suzanna Vanessa Hane: I think writing her would be fun, actually. She is a white supremacist jerk with great musical talent who just wants to be left alone, not because she is shy but because she doesn't like people. Since she had to act like a proper Southern belle when she was alive she snapped the other way after she died and acts really, really abrasive.

Iris Teichmann used to be the main character, with the iris spirits as antagonists. But I despised the idea of having a plucky-preteen-girl-who-goes-on-adventures-and-doesn't-actually-do-anything as my protagonist, so I made her an insecure nerd who wants to make friends and live happily. To my dismay, the plan backfired and I still can't stand her. I thought that giving her a random love interest guy would draw out her jealousy and uncertainty, which would make her more interesting by chiaroscuro. This plan sort of worked because it was a vehicle for her to interact with the power stones, but other than that it has no bearing on the plot, which I don't like.

I made up two characters, Aurelio and Rasim, who are on Irina's side and feed her information about the Land of Flowers. I like them, but I feel as though giving them more face time would be a digression.

The antagonists now are the King and Queen of Flowers, and I don't get them at all. This is not good: I like to understand the "bad guys." For ProjU, I get Conflagra. I get her personality, her motivations, her regrets, her relationships. But these guys? Fff no. They are cardboard cutouts pretending to be characters. If I replaced them with a huge bureacracy, nothing would be lost.

And it's not like characters are the only things that are preventing me from embracing this story. What's the point? Rebellion! Yeah. How do you write a rebellion? The increases of tension, the boiling point, the - the - what? Do I have to write huge battle scenes?

Or what if that isn't it? After all, if characters are the point of the story, then the battles aren't important. Irina is the head of the rebellion, of course, but her struggle is more for ideological reasons. And if Iris is the m.c., then that gets even more troublesome. She's a seventh grader - why should she care about wars in a world she doesn't even know exists?

Despite all this, I'm not quite ready to write "Iris" off as a failure. I think that I will be able to give it life, eventually, but before that I need to reexamine it at its core and change it so that it actually matters to me. Because beauty is only skin deep, but for a story to succeed it must have a soul.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fettered

She was fixing her hair in the tuba when the door to the band room opened and a soldier walked in. “I need Miss Amedea Lewis,” he told the teacher.

The hair pin slipped from between her fingers and she stooped down to scoop it up as the teacher said, “Well, all right. Amy - ?”

“Yeah,” she said, and stood. She looked at the soldier – it was Captain Pars, or Captain Pa, as all the other soldiers called him, and his expression was inscrutable as ever. “Should I bring all my stuff?”

Captain Pa nodded and stepped back to stand against the wall as she put away her trombone and shoved folders into her bag. He said nothing as they walked out to the wagon, and the silence was starting to irritate her.

“What’s this about?” she asked. “They don’t need me at the border, do they?”

“No,” he said, and that was it. Amy gritted her teeth but didn’t push the issue. She ran a hand along the horse’s back, jumped into the cart, and stared out at the undulating fields as the wagon bumped along over the roads until it reached the long, low building that the soldiers used as their base. A few people waved at her and she waved back, but Captain Pa was walking so quickly into the building that she had to jog to keep up.

He finally stopped in front of a nondescript wooden door. “In here, please,” he said. “You can come out whenever you feel like you’re done.”

“All right,” she said, and pushed open the door.

A voice drawled, “I was wondering when they’d bring you in here.”

It was a plain room with a table and two chairs. Sitting in one of them was a boy with messy brown-black hair and a wide, if slightly sheepish, grin. When Amy didn’t say anything for a few moments, he sighed grandly and said, “What, you’re not happy to see me?”

Amy regained her voice. “I’d be a lot happier, Thaddeus, if you weren’t here.” She put down her bag and took the seat opposite him.

Thaddeus pulled a face. “Now that’s just cruel, Amy.”

“I don’t mean not here as in dead. I mean not here as in not here – you know, not being held in custody by the soldiers?” She frowned at him. His smile faded and he lowered his eyes to an indistinct point somewhere in the vicinity of her feet. After a pause, Amy added, in a colder tone, “You promised not to get into any more trouble.”

“Well –”

“What did they bring you in for?”

His eyes flickered up to her face to gauge her expression and then dropped again. “Look, let me say first that it was only natural, that guy had it all coming to him, and in my opinion he deserved even more than what he got –”

“Get to the point.”

Thaddeus sighed. “I beat up Konrad Lancaster.” He looked up at her again and said, in a slightly pleading tone, “Come on, Amy, you know what a disgusting little slime that guy is, he sent people to rough up your brother, you can’t –”

“How badly did you beat him up?”

“Barely conscious.”

At this she swore loudly. The legs of Thaddeus’ chair scraped against the floor and he backed away. “Amy –”

“How stupid are you?” she said. Her voice was controlled now, but her fingers were digging into the table so that the wood warped under the pressure. “You know what we are, Thaddeus, you know how much people want to have any excuse to lock us up. You can’t go around doing such dumb, moronic –” A piece of the table came away in her hand and she flung it from her.

“Yeah,” said Thaddeus. “Because we’re dangerous.” He punctuated the bitter sarcasm of this last word by looking up again, as if daring her to challenge him.

“Well,” Amy said, looking back at him, “people think we’re dangerous, at any rate. Can’t you be more careful? You know what the consequences could be –”

“But Lancaster’s like us too!” said Thaddeus.

“Yeah, and that’s the only reason you’re here and not in a cell!” Amy beat her fist against the table and the gold-and-silver bracelet there clunked dully against the wood. “What did he do, anyways, that made you lose your judgment so badly?”

“He was insulting you.”

Amy’s mouth dropped open, but then she shook her head. “Hell, Thaddeus, I’m grateful that you’re defending my honor, but you can’t do that from a jail cell.”

Thaddeus’ face was mutinous. Amy sighed. “I’d ask you to promise not to do things like this, but your word doesn’t seem to be worth much to you.” He was biting the inside of his mouth, like he always did when he was feeling ashamed, and Amy could only hope that his shame would prove stronger than his impulsiveness. “Just try to keep out of trouble, will you?”

He was opening his mouth to reply, but she wasn’t waiting. Amy got up, tucked in the chair with unneeded force, and swung her bag over one shoulder. As she strode out into the hallway, she didn’t look back.

Outside, Captain Pa was waiting by the exit. He looked at her evenly for a moment, then away, and stood aside to let her onto the wagon.

Amy didn’t get onto the cart immediately. Then, she said, “He doesn’t listen to me.” She was gritting her teeth again and her shoulders were tense. “He never does.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Captain Pa sounded like he meant it, but his face remained impassive.

She threw her bag into the cart and clambered in. “There’s only one person he would listen to,” she said, holding onto the edge of the bench so hard that it might have crumbled in her hands like the table, “and she’s been missing for over a year.”

--

No, I don't know who the last "she" is either. That depends on what the setting for this story ends up being.

I wrote this as a way to test out a setting which is for the most part contemporary, but rural, and with soldiers instead of normal police. Originally Amy and Thaddeus were going to be "monsters," but I thought that racism against supernatural species isn't something I can make interesting. So instead there will be something about them, and Lancaster, that makes people mistrust them. I might have them be former child soldiers - hence Amy's question about being needed at the border.

Hm.  I might actually run with this setting.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Revising ProjU, part VII

Since it's near the start of the month, it seems to be a good time for an update about my progress on ProjU (which reminds me - I need to back up my files). Since my last ProjU update, I've finished three scenes. It doesn't sound like much, especially because they weren't very long scenes, but I'm just happy that I'm able to fit in actual writing when I have schoolwork and various other things cluttering up my time.

Thank heavens I've sorted out the big timeline issues. I still have a few logistical things to iron out: the timeline is split into two basic groups, before-voyage and voyage. As things stand, there is a thirty-day gap between them, which I must rectify by having them meet in the middle. But that shouldn't be insanely difficult...though the presence of the Harvest Festival may cause me a few headaches.

The scene I'm working on right now is the first Bayerisch scene after their capture. My issue right now is one of personnel. With the method of kidnap, the original scene makes no sense. Thankfully, the unnamed people had barely any impact on the plot, so they won't be difficult to cull from the rest of the story.

So what have I learned? That talking scenes are easy to write but hard to read. That it's easy to exaggerate character traits. That arguments are hard to write believably. That quasi-anecdotes are way more fun that straight-up descriptions in introducing a character. That it's getting easier to ignore the urge to infodump, especially with regards to physical descriptions.

Also, that "Police Bells and Church Sirens," by Nephew, is my new "song I listen to for twenty minutes straight." Weird talking house video and all. What makes it doubly funny for me is that I have a character called Soren who would find it hilarious.