Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Normally I don’t post on Mondays, but I really wanted to get this one out, for two reasons. The first one is this:

Holly Lisle’s How To Write a Novel class is discounted for one week only (1 APR-8 APR 2019). After that week, the price goes up and doesn’t come down, nor does she offer sales later on. If you buy now, you get a rough cut of the class, but any updates are forever FREE afterward. I’ve used her classes before, am working my way through this one now, and love the way she teaches. It’s practical with real exercises, not that theory/feely/zen stuff pushed by a lot of so-called writers. If you were considering taking a class like this, do it now. Disclaimer: I recommend it because I use it, but if you click the link below and purchase the class I will get some compensation.

How to Write a Novel – by Holly Lisle

 

The second reason is ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE.

Last week, the Elder Scrolls series of games turned 25. Now, I am old enough to remember when Arena came out, even though I didn’t have my computer with me at the time to play it (I was on active duty then, far from home). Of course the cover of Computer Gaming World garnered a LOT of attention for the title. I wonder why…I’m guessing that at least one of my brothers still has his copy.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary, Bethesda released a free copy of Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Game of the Year Edition. I couldn’t have been more ecstatic. While I still have my old copy that I got when it was on the shelves(!!!), some of the younger members of my family who also love the Elder Scrolls (Skyrim) were able to download it.

See? I even have my well-worn, tabbed copy of the strategy guide, which I dug out in order to play it through again.

Also free was Elder Scrolls Online this weekend, so I decided to take the plunge (so to speak) and see what all the fuss was about.

I was underwhelmed.

Now, Morrowind is still my absolute favorite of all of the titles. When it was released, I picked it up thinking, “Hey, this will be fun.” I installed this little gem not expecting anything more than to be entertained with a new RPG.

No words can describe how it blew me away. The first beats of Jeremy Soule’s magnificent somber, soulful theme tugged at me like no other music for a video game had, capturing the essence of the character’s experiences and the otherworldliness of the setting (and still gives me the shivers – it’s far better than Oblivion’s “marching” version and Skyrim’s “war-chant” variation).

Then I got to see the world – floored again. No trees, all mushrooms! I’m something of a novice mycologist (a “fun-gal”, if you will). Virtually all of the creatures are reptilian (and probably another reason the Dunmer so easily turn Argonians into slaves, thinking them of little higher thinking capacity than their kagouti or guar “cousins”). It was true fantasy, a weird, impossible world that no other game, let alone a first-person role-playing-game got close to emulating. The bizarre architecture where the Imperial Forts are the ones that feel very out of place, the crazy, twisting Telvanni towers, the volcanic ashen lands. Swamps, mines with “glass” and “ebony”. You could LEVITATE – that’s right. Levitate. And you had to, in those towers, but if you were good at enchanting you could add it to anything (you could also do it with the tool…) and cross the whole of Vvardenfel from the air. Just watch out for those face-munching cliff racers. Even Bethesda couldn’t recreate that novel weirdness until the Shivering Isles expansion of Oblivion. The caves under the north in Skyrim start to head that way again, the glowing fungi world with the crimson Nirnroot (it’s name escapes me at the moment). We get a real dose – a real tease, actually – with the Dragonborn expansion and a trip to Solstheim, where some of the fallout from trouble at the Red Mountain made its way over to the Nord-occupied island.

And the story! You could, of course, play it any way you liked, but if you go through the main storyline, it feels like you’re experiencing a novel. Humble beginnings, a child born at a certain time of uncertain parents, to discover, and prove, and manifest as the true hero of the story. (Don’t even get to do that in Oblivion, as Martin is the hero and you’re just a tagalong, and in Skyrim, well, everyone is more annoying–oooh, Dragonborn!– than that Arena superfan from Oblivion).

In short (or long, as the case here), Morrowind is an almost insurmountable masterpiece.

I went into ESO with one major goal – wanting to experience Vvardenfell the way I experienced it all those years ago. Boy, was I disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong–the world of ESO is STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL (no, I am not apologizing for all caps). But it is compressed. Like a Reader’s Digest version of MW’s Vvardenfell. And it’s not just my memory expanding on me, because I did a quick play-through of getting to Caius Cosades just to test against it, in case it was my old age. Getting from Seyda Neen to Balmora was a trek, and a dangerous one at that. At any moment, one of those horrid little kwama foragers could jump out at you, or a cliff racer swoop in ready to eat your face. There was real danger, real tension that the trip you were making might be your last, before it even begun. Unless you decided to hop in a Silt Strider and make the trip more safely. In ESO it was like, “Head on the path north from Seyda Neen and… oh, there’s Balmora. Um… yay.” Same for Vivec City. And, if along the way, an alit or nix hound happened to attack you, well, dozens of heroes would just by you and hack/slash, no more critter. Yay. Not. There was a heavy dose of isolation in Morrowind that made the world so wonderful. I get that the Vvardenfell of MW was the entire game, and this one is part of a much larger world, but compressing an already-extant world into a peanut shell ruined that part for me.

You get to experience it fresh, clean. Not the case with ESO, where everyone is a hero, running around with incongruous names, on mounts that don’t look like they belong in the universe of Elder Scrolls let alone on Vvardenfell (with the exception of the guars, who are awesome looking mounts!). All followed by a bunch of nonsensical pets, which only adds to the off-putting impression. To be “fair”, Bethesda seemed to get away from what made their games awesome with each iteration after MW.

In MW, you get to slowly unravel your part in the world. There’s a cryptic dream warning from someone you only much later learn is Azura. In ESO, you get slammed with the knowledge that a Daedric Prince is using you. In MW, you don’t get to meet Vivec until much later in the game. In ESO, you’re chatting like pals after a few short jaunts here and there to serve him (at least there’s the satisfaction that, in MW, you get to end the god-poseur. Gratifying).

The other thing that really bothered me was the “prettification” of the characters. I LOVE character creation, especially when there are a whole bunch of sliders to really tweak the look and make them unique. Morrowind had none of that – you selected a race, a gender, a hairstyle and a face. Oblivion had the sliders, but everyone looked like bloated ticks, no matter what you tweaked (I heard that there were mods that improved the look but I never used them). Skyrim did it right and did it wrong – lots of sliders, but the man races all looked alike as did the mer races. I couldn’t tell a Bosmer from an Altmer, despite them being unmistakable in the previous titles. At least in Skyrim, every last one of them looked like they had a hard life, which is realistic. In ESO, everyone is a supermodel version of themselves. Sure, there are some scars and bits of other physical detractors you can add but the orc females are like idealized elves with green skin paint and stick-in tusks. It’s laughable. As if someone ugly can’t possibly be heroic.

And before you accuse me of being a hater, first, shut it. This is my opinion, and I am fully aware that ESO is meant to attract the lowest-common-denominator paying players, and builds in the mass appeal with all of the ridiculous things that people who used to flock to WoW and other games like it are expecting. Players that just hack and slash in the world ruin the FEEL that made that world wonderful in the first place. Was it fun? Yes, but not in any way that made Morrowind wonderful, or even Oblivion or Skyrim great games. I think I will stick with single-player games.

Now, I am just waiting for Bethesda to recognize that Morrowind is such a masterpiece that all it really needs is a new-graphics/physics overhaul, with maybe a few tweaks to bring the character/inventory interface up to speed. Oh, wait, Bethesda’s not, but someone else is… TESRenewal.com

Hurry up, guys. This gal’s getting old!

Hello, my name is T. R. Neff, and I am a world building junkie. Yes, I admit it, and I am happy to say that I am far from being the only one.

I started early in life, too. I loved those maps in the front of the fantasy novels in my brothers’ book collections. I drew my own maps and landscapes from those places (some of which were good, some of them pretty terrible and thankfully no longer extant). As I got a little older I was drawn to the tables in the Dungeons & Dragons books—the ones that helped to create worlds and environments on the fly. Thus comes my first reference:

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons World Builder’s Guidebook.

  1. This was one of those seminal works that helped dungeon masters create entire worlds for their campaigns. While I did play the game (you know, before computer role-playing games, where you had to use pencil, paper, dice and a whole lotta imagination!), my main interest was on the dozens of tables that helped to create randomization of continents, of geography, of cities/towns/hamlets, etc. There was even a table that helped figure the likelihood of certain fantasy-game staple professions inhabiting a city. Included with it was a pad of different kind of blank maps on which you could draw the entire world or focus in on regions. Many of these were hex maps, which any old-school role-playing enthusiast recognizes as the very best way of calculating distances for your traveling heroes. (The AD&D Boxed set had some really nice maps with clear acetate hex-map overlays for figuring travel, and was a marvelous tool for those who wanted a “clean” map but still needed a way to calculate if the hero could really reach Jemia from Roscor in less than a day…)

Why random? After all, we authors create worlds, right? Well, sometimes when we create them we conform them to all the things we know and like, and don’t let anything get too brutal for the characters we create. If we introduce tables like this, we can create a world of adversity that our characters have to deal with. We can pit them against unknowns, and see how they react. After all, that IS “character”.

 

 

Not content to settle for just the entire world that was possible from using the WBG, I remember coming across this gem:

ARES Magazine – Article on New Worlds of the Solar System

It was a series of tables for the Star Frontiers science fiction role-playing games that helped create solar systems on the fly. I used them constantly to create not only the world (using the above book) but put it in a whole system that could have things like eclipses and conjunctions and even some weird things like binary stars or twin planets. The systems could tell you how many planets and of what approximate size would be the most realistic for the types of star or stars. Water, weather, even life/technology levels could be randomized from the tables, although for most of my worlds I didn’t bother with the last several, especially if it was a fantasy world. The article was thoroughly indespensible for my worlds in space, and dictated the rather “difficult” planet in one of my stories yet to be published (set in the same universe as Clones Are People Two).

I think I even have the magazine somewhere around here, but if you could get yourself a copy, or if the article is available legally online for free, it’s worth taking a peek the next time you want to create a solar system for the world your characters are inhabiting.

 

And now, one of my new favorites, Holly Lisle’s Create a World Clinic (No Picture)

(Disclaimer: I am not an affiliate of Holly Lisle’s work, and particularly love this book. If you click on the link above and end up purchasing a copy for yourself, I will be compensated).

I don’t always agree with Holly[1], but here in World Building I discovered by reading her work that we are very much alike. As any other world-building junkie knows, and she points out, there’s an inherent danger in overbuilding (if you’re doing it for writing. If you do it as a hobby, build to your heart’s content!)

Why?

A) We –yes, I absolutely include myself here– never start writing because there’s always more world to create before we start.

B) It’s stealing time from writing other things we should be writing (like any other geek-thick hobby) and

C) We want to use EVERYTHING we create, somehow.

I won’t go into detail with my favorite part of the clinic, but if you purchase a copy for yourself I am sure you will guess what it is. THAT exercise alone was worth the price for me, and helped me have a whole lot of fun world-building but keeping it THIN enough to not let it impede the writing process.

WHEW! That’s a lot for me on world-building, and it turns out I have even more to say. But it will have to wait until next week… Hope to see you again!

 

[1] If you find yourself agreeing with any mortal being all of the time, you risk becoming a sycophant of the major ass-kissing variety, and you cease to be you because you start conforming to whatever you think THEY want you to be. I am NOT saying that Holly does this, as she absolutely does NOT and is the furthest thing from being a sycophant/conformist/ass-kisser, and one of the major reasons I respect her even if our opinions on a few things aren’t even close to being similar.

Perhaps you need to set a tone for a scene that’s a  little dark, a little hopeless. Maybe your characters are starting to feel each others’ chemistry, and you find yourself trying to write something subtle and seductive. Or is it a case of writer’s block, where nothing seems to stimulate your fingertips into their keyboard dance and light up the page?

How can you get there with a little help from your friends? In this case, make music your friend. But just how can they help?

Songs and music influence mood. Picking the right songs can get you into the right groove for whatever scene you happen to be writing.  Years ago when I was still in grade school (more years than I would prefer to admit), I played a computer game on my Commodore 64 called Wasteland. It was fantastic but, like many other games of its age, it lacked something that is so ubiquitous in games now you would miss it if it wasn’t there–a soundtrack. So I made my own: Alice in Chains’ Facelift, Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine and that gem-of-a-lifetime Pink Floyd’s The Wall. To this day, I can listen to The Wall and instead of seeing the movie (which is fantastic in its own right), I am right back there with my Desert Rangers in the warhead-riddled American Southwest.

Consequently, when I started writing my novel, Umbra: A Post-Apocalyptic Mystery, I turned back to my Wasteland staples and found the same gritty, dark influence I needed for certain scenes. That’s not to say I didn’t turn toward more modern music, and that was when I tripped over a serendipitous find.

Have you ever listened to a song that struck so close to the mark that you would swear the musician crawled into your head and took your own thoughts and feelings to turn into a song? That happened with the same novel, Umbra, when I was finishing up the revision. I’d already named my main character ‘Vera’ after the (real-life) woman in the Pink Floyd song from The Wall * (she’d been ‘Vera’ through about ten iterations of the lone woman in a post-apoc world until she finally emerged as the mystery-solving protagonist in Umbra), when I saw there was another song with the same name by Ebba Forsberg. I couldn’t believe how much the song’s theme hit on the same themes and happenings my character was going through. That impetus really helped me finish my revision and get it out there, and Forsberg’s song became Vera’s theme.

Sometimes the lyrics themselves can inspire the story. I have an as-yet-unpublished science fiction romance based on Cinderella-meets-Enemy Mine, which all stemmed from two dancing-themed songs: Celine Dion’s Refuse to Dance and macabre humor of Heads We’re Dancing written by the brilliant, quirky Kate Bush. (Apparently, Pink Floyd held some sway over Kate Bush too. I just looked up the wiki on her post-nuclear song Breathing and it says she cites The Wall as an influence! David Gilmour also did some production on her album The Kick Inside). The Omen-Eyes short story collection and The Opal Necklace (in revision) had Dead Can Dance and Lisa Gerard as their soundtrack. For the SHARC collection (also in revision), I listened to a lot of electronica, dubstep and Imogen Heap. For the current draft of my new Ennid the Havoc story, I discovered Thrice’s The Alchemy Index (particularly Volume II, covering the element Water).

Whatever your writing dilemma, try listening to some tunes to spur your creativity or set your mind at the right tone.

*There are quite a few Pink Floyd and popular culture references in my novel. I’d love to know which ones you found, so post them here (with spoiler alerts where necessary).

Or… How the Internet Killed the Intended Plot.

 

Every author, no matter if they write for profit or pleasure, faces that dreaded inky, seemingly-infinite darkness known as ‘Writer’s Block.’ We are under a great deal to come up with something new, something novel (pun intended) or we risk losing our readers for good. The pressure has only increased with the advent of self-publishing and everyone getting in on the game, on top of the literal millions of other things out there they could be reading besides fiction off of an e-book reader. Worse still are the forums.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Forums are a great place for readers to go gush about the latest book they read in a series, possibly winning over new readers for the author by word of mouth.

The problem is in the speculation.

And, yes, I was guilty of this at one time until I realized the potential damage it could cause. (This was not for A Song of Ice and Fire*, although I have my theories there, I keep them to myself and hope to be surprised by what happens in future books**…IF Martin ever gets them out).

That damage is this: So much speculation could rob the author of the plot.

Let’s show instead of tell, and use a ridiculous scenario of a couple of rabid ASOIAF fans on a forum with a fictional Sixth Book ending:

BILL: Ohmigosh, I got so mad when I read that end! I thought we were going to learn about Jon Snow’s parentage and then *poof*.

SAMMY: Yeah, man. I have my ideas about it, and wanted to see if I was right. See, I think Jon’s Snow’s mom is actually his “sister” Sansa who was sent back into the past and impregnated by the then-younger Hound!

DAN: Nah, that’s silly! I think his dad is actually Mance and Osha and…

 

Need I go on? And it’s not about the theories being “far out there” – it’s about them being out there at all. Now say Martin comes along, and he had an idea very similar to Sammy’s that involved some kind of weird time travel injected into the plot and he stumbled onto this particular threadnow… now he could face a myriad of problems.

#1:  Someone else already thought about it, and posted it, and it could look like Martin was ripping off the idea. If he publishes with this, yeah, it may make the poster feel good by affirming his theory, but it could open up Martin to accusations of theft/plagiarism/laziness/hackishness/etc.

#2:  Someone already thought of the idea and now Martin is forced to come up with something even more novel, which means that it will take that much longer.

There’s also the danger of fan fiction, which any author of the basis of the fan fiction should avoid reading at all costs. (Is that a litmus test for having “made it”, when others spend their own time doing horrible, unmentionable things to/between your characters?)

So, not cool for the author any way around. Now, most of us don’t have nearly the following for our worlds and characters that would engender the hours of thought put into what we think is going to happen, or think has happened and are waiting for it to be affirmed. Don’t get me wrong–guessing what happens is part of the fun, and shows that an author did a great job of creating an immersive world where the readers like us get so involved in the lives of completely fictional characters. It’s just that it can cause a lot of problems for the author when they are broadcast on so public and pervasive a forum as many of them devoted to such works as ASOIAF. Readers, please remember that if you really love the author and want them to keep writing, be kind.

 

Have you had theories about characters/plots of popular series and divulged them in a public forum? Did they pan out, or were your dreams for Heroine X and Hero Y getting together dashed beyond all hope? Please share only wins/losses, no speculations on as-yet-unresolved plot points.

 

*For the curious, my theories about plot were regarding Star Wars characters in their Knights of the Old Republic, not ASOIAF. But, like I said, I do have my theories about Jon Snow’s parentage…

**AND NO, I have not watched the series beyond Season 2. Maybe I will get to the rest of it, someday…

***Note: I don’t have secret access into his mind, so maybe he isn’t even suffering from this dilemma, and I just gave him another “out” for why his books take him so long to get out there. But he COULD be facing these dilemmas.

In case you wanted an update, I’m working through several revisions of differing genres, and one new novel in the Ennid the Havoc universe, but unfortunately I have no dates on them. Sign up for my newsletter and I will send updates, and you might even get a chance to do some beta reading.

Two weeks ago I brought up several stories which I call my favorites, and that naturally brought me to the idea of influence. You hear the phrases bandied about often by any creative types–“I consider such-and-such my greatest influence”, as in “As a composer, I find Mozart and John Williams to be my greatest influences” for an example, or directors cite earlier movies that formed their interest in the silver screen.

Certainly, as a writer, I count many, many authors and stories among my influences. All writers generally do–after all, that initial exposure to tales that transport us to other worlds or realities far from our own personal experiences engender the desire in some readers to craft our own. Fredrik Pohl, Harlan Ellison, Harry Harrison, John Haldeman, Doyle, Tolkien, Lewis, Shakespeare etc. all count high on my list of literary inspirations.

But… what about other influences, such as music? Take my first example, with music above. I frequently listen to music while writing, matching the mood/tone with whatever I am trying to write. Umbra (and all of its previous iterations) came flying from my fingertips with an ample dose of Alice in Chains, early Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden pounding in my ears. For my darker fantasy stories like “The Falconer and the Wolf“, one of my favorite bands to get me in the right atmosphere is Dead Can Dance. When sketching notes for The Light of Liberty, I turned to Barry Phillips and his version of “The World Turned Upside Down” along with other American Colonial period tunes.

Are there any more? Of course there are. Many people have incorporated their likes and hobbies into their writing. Some cozy mysteries, for example, are based around knitting. My character Ennid the Havoc and his escapades are influenced by my love of MMA (that’s Mixed Martial Arts for those not yet initiated into its primal awesomeness). My interest in genetics features heavily in Clones are People Two. Even if the things we like aren’t at the forfront, we sometimes insert it in small ways. I love goats (Casey, from Umbra), I think rhinos are awesome and I smith silver (both of which will appear in The Opal Necklace, release date TBD) and I’ve an interest in raptors and falconry.

It’s all very simple–EVERYTHING can be an influence on our creativity, and EVERYTHING should be. It’s from these somewhat disparate ideas and influences that some of our richest “juices” flow.

 

 

Clones are People Two The Opal Necklace

 

CLONES ARE PEOPLE TWO is on the virtual shelves, at least on Smashwords and Amazon.  Others will be added shortly.

Now that CLONES is out, I have another story which I’ve been planning for NaNoWriMo.  It’s the same basic premise as the novel I had done two years ago for that same organization, but a lot more thought has gone into it, and a whole other subplot which necessitates a major re-write.  I also am planning to have this thing published some time early next year so I can get started on the second Umbra novel.  Please note that this is a “working cover” for The Opal Necklace.

Ennid BotB Cover

Ennid the Havoc in “The Belly of the Beast” – available in multiple formats for your reading pleasure!

Amazon (.MOBI)

Smashwords (Everything Else)

Working on one of my stories much longer than I anticipated, but that dreaded black hole called revision has sucked some of my wordcount into its impossible-to-break grasp.

BUT…

(And anyone who reads knows that the interesting twists come after the word “but”)

I have been working on the blurb. It’s a nice little tool –sorry if the title of this post threw you off– to really hone the story down to its essence.

So I present to you the blurb for your reading pleasure, and certainly, for your tidbits of sage advice:

The world quaked in chaos. Landbound kingdoms waged war over the precious few resources found among the small continents and scattered islands. Pirate fleets swarmed the oceans, pillaging trade vessels and sinking one another as they vied to command the waters. Powers angelic and demonic performed their dances martial just beyond the veil of human sight.

Ennid the Havoc couldn’t care less about any of that.

Three things drove him onward – his mare, his next meal, and his next match. In that order.

He roamed from town to town, sampling the wares and finding someone brave enough to challenge him for the thrill of the fight (and a share of the purse). But when a couple of kids knock him from the saddle and steal K’zirra (that’s the mare), he follows them to a town lacking not only coin enough to buy her back, but nary a young man to fight.

In fact, no young men at all walked among them.

Only when an exotic woman invites Ennid into her world and tasks him with retrieving a rare gemstone does he hope to earn his fortune, buy back his horse and leave the town.

But first… first he must face the Beast.

Oh, and I have updated the cover, again…

Ennid BotB Cover

So… go for it!

Short post here.

Working on The Adventures of Ennid the Havoc: Belly of the Beast. I anticipate unleashing the Beast early next month. I’m also trying to run it through the Smashwords wringer in order to release it to as many platforms as possible for all of my readers.

Back to the keyboard…

So I recently had the question posed regarding my inspiration. Now I could take the shortcut and say that so many things inspire me that I can’t list them all. This is partially true – one, because if I sat and listed all those things, I would be wasting time better sort writing and two, I do mind-mapping when looking for ideas, and it hardy looks like a list by the time I’m done with it. Heck, sometimes it doesn’t seem useful at all, the ideas being very disparate ones. Occasionally, though, some of those weird things start tying themselves together in a rather novel (pun intended) fashion. The latest, as an example: (okay, not necessarily the latest, since “he” has been bothering me for a few years) I like fantasy stories, I love Monty Python, I love the video game Diablo (since the first one, and no, I am not a milkmaid), I love MMA. How could these come together? Ennid is how. Years ago I came up with an idea for a Diablo-based story (can’t even call it fan fiction since it never got beyond the idea) but it faltered and fell back into the idea box. Years later, I get hooked on watching UFC (except for Joe Rogan. Cannot stand that guy, and Dana White should just find someone else for Goldberg to flirt with). One if the things I simply love about MMA fights is that, more often than not, I get to witness a brutal, primal beatdown between two alpha males who look like they’re about ready to kill each other, but as soon as it’s over, they shake and hug and congratulate one another. I’d like to believe that all of them are really good guys in and out of the octagon (especially you, Clay Guida!). That inspired me to create a tough guy with a gentle heart who gets himself into trouble more often than not because he isn’t willing to take the easy way out of his problems by bashing heads in. Instead, he’s got to use his brains and heart before his brawn. And, of course, he’s a sucker for a woman in trouble, which is where most of his trouble starts. There’s a lot of story around Ennid to play with, and I think I’m going to have a lot of fun going back to his world from time to time.