Musings on the Craft of Writing

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Immersive-Relevant Realism

Hi all.

So life (and writing) have kept me from writing here for a good long time, as you can see.  Anyway, I haven’t died, and I’m still hammering away at the keys.

Here I am posting an old (old) essay I wrote when I was developing my own Role Playing Game System.  It has some applicability to writing, so… here we go.

The quotes herein are from Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories.

                                                                                                                                                                  

(Part I)

“Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make.” p.54

People have asked me countless times over the years of my system’s development, “why bother making a system with a strong emphasis on realism?”  Those who comprehend the issue the least will say “It’s fantasy!  Why are you even discussing “realism”?  These people believe that the phrase “realistic fantasy” is a contradiction in terms.  This comes from a misunderstanding of what we mean by ‘fantasy.’  ‘Fantasy’ here does not mean unrealistic or unreasonable, rather “different” or “alternate.”

tolkien-on-fairy-stories.jpg

To others more versed in current role playing trends, however, the issue is not that confused.  Various RPG creators have made systems with realism in mind.  The trend is even extending itself into computer RPGs (consumers seeking physics engines, character necessities like eating and sleeping, and psychologically “real” people).

However, a realistic system is not justifiable just for realism’s sake.  Who really cares about the minutia of average running speeds, the actual time required to reload a crossbow, or that a shield is a far better defense than mere parrying when the participants want to role play epic heroes?  Rather, it’s what (properly applied) realism facilitates that makes it worthwhile—Immersion.  A gaming world closely aligned to the real one (in relevant categories and methods) strengthens the potential relational depth between the players and their characters, and the world that those characters inhabit.

I do not assert (necessarily) that the more closely aligned the game world is to the real one the deeper the immersion.  It is not a 1:1 correlation.  It’s quite possible to have a realistic gaming world (where a wealth of research has produced perfect harmony with the facts of our world) with no deeper immersion than in a wildly uninformed one.   A world with accurate details does not by itself draw in an audience into the tale inside that world.  Only a quality tale (with mature participants allowing that tale to flourish) can generate immersion.  But even a great tale with excellent participants (more…)


►Preserving the Otherworld – (Contaminants to the Fantasy genre)

We who love fiction share a mixed appetite for varying levels of drama, conflict, intrigue, mystery, action, etc. But why do some of us love Dark Age Fantasy in particular? I think that on the deepest level we choose the Fantasy genre for a specific reason—to step into the “Otherworld,” a premodern, open world that is radically different from our own world. And it’s not simply to have a “different” world than ours—if that were the case then any other genre would do just as well (especially sci-fi).

Fantasy-lovers want a particular feeling—the feeling of mystical, Dark Age Otherness. The typical pictures are some mixture of King Arthur’s Camelot and Tolkien’s Middle Earth, filled with endless forests, dangerous caverns and mystical glades. We want the magic of that old mythology brought to life over and over in the Fantasy tales we read.

Of course, our reading pallets vary on what triggers distaste, but I also think it’s not completely subjective. Some of us hate spicy foods, some love it, but we all pretty much agree that some foods do not belong together. We may love pizza or peanut-butter or oatmeal, but we don’t throw them together in a blender to consume them. We can at least agree that genres should maintain some boundaries, else the very meaning of ‘genre’ falls apart.

And here is my problem with some (especially contemporary) Fantasy—Modernic contamination.

Dark Age Fantasy is much more than simply a primitive technological status. What turns me off as a reader is a Fantasy tale that feels like the world is filled with a million LARPers/SCA members instead of people and societies of this desired Otherworld. They are (hopefully) lacking guns and cars, but the anachronisms do not stop with tools and toys.  Other jarring anachronisms include Fantasy characters who possess our modern psychology and worldview.

Ghosts, spirits, witches, curses and gods should be unquestionably real and dangerous to these people. Fantasy characters should never deconstruct religion or gods; characters in these worlds may be terrified (or even hate) these supernatural elements and creatures, but never sit back in their philosopher’s chair and explain a culture’s “mythological inheritance.”  Skepticism (and atheism) should be alien to these worlds. These characters should feel awe and reverence with the creatures of faerie.

A Fantasy world should feel vast, and largely unexplored. Most importantly, it should feel untamed. The world should not be cleanly mapped out, hex-by-hex. Knowing the world in this detail shrinks it, diminishing its mystery and magic.

And speaking of magic… This is a major toothache. Characters in Fantasy worlds should never take magic lightly. Magic should never be equated with science. Magic isn’t just about the effect it brings. A spell that gives light is not just a substitute for a flashlight.  A spell that wounds someone is not just the counterpart to a gun.  Scrying is not radar detection. The point of a Fantasy setting is to generate this feeling of the Fantasy-Other. Science & modern technology gives us measurements and equations; magic is the tapping into the ineffable—the realm of the faerie. Magic is bound up with mystery and (sometimes) the divine.

So how did these contaminations become common? While it could simply be the passage of time with such a large number of Fantasy authors writing now as opposed to 30 years ago, I think that a huge Fantasy-breaking influence has come from RPGs (and CRPGs) where there is no attempt at generating/preserving the feeling of the Fanasty Otherworld. [This is also a loss to the Fantasy RPG community, who, albeit to a lesser degree than in literature, could pursue this Otherworld-feeling in their gaming sessions.]  Some Fantasy writers (and the readers who buy their books) grew up playing C/RPGs, and do not feel the pull of the old otherworldliness.  In fact, they may have no idea what this entire post is about.

Perhaps, as King wrote, “the world has moved on,” and the days of this “true Fantasy” are ending. I hope not. I know that trends move all over the spectrum. But I think it would be an incredibly large loss if the spirit of Fantasy was lost in the morass of modernity.


Alternate -Me-

Hi, all.

Here’s the other half of me, where I write philosophy (and other clutter in my head).  I published my first philosophy book yesterday.  Please enjoy and comment.

https://quagmiresoftruth.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/and-the-truth-shall-make-you-flee/

E-version cover

Thanks,

Daniel


After Life Complete

Hi all,

I’m happy to announce the release of this edition of After Life.  It’s now available in both paperback and e-book versions.

I’ve also created a new website (containing sales links) which you can see here: danielionson.com

Thanks and enjoy,

Daniel

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►Cover Art for After Life

Hi all,

Here’s the new cover art for the new edition of After Life.  I’m thrilled with it.

promo-version-low rez

 

Art by John Madison: https://www.facebook.com/MadisonArt

 

~~Daniel


►Not Quite Dead

Sorry for the long cricket-chorus. Life decided to rearrange itself under me. Things are still unsettled, but I’ve made progress nonetheless.: I’m ~80% done on draft one of my new novel. My first novel, After Life, has been re-reedited and gets republished within 2 weeks, even printed this time. Also, I’m finishing up work on a new website.

 

That’s all,

Daniel


►Guest Post by Graeme Brown, Fantasy Writer

graeme

While my own life is caught in the fecal-flinging whirlwind of having to move, I decided to host a few guest posts.  This is Graeme Brown, a Fantasy author (more…)


►Wine and Roses

Good 1st Drafts are like good 1st Dates: Brimming with excitement, blinding to imperfections.


►The Golden Path

Discouragement for a writer is crushing, paralyzing.  If we don’t believe in our work many will falter, regardless of the strength of our skill and the project.  A writer’s morale is vital for, just like an army, if it believes it is defeated… it is.

But there is another demon at work in a writer’s life, one that generates the opposite emotional reaction: Delusion.  We can (more…)


►Writing on Both Sides of the Brain

This is one of the first books I read on novel-writing, and it saved me.

I’d always been a tyrant with myself as I wrote, slicing into each section, paragraph and sentence as I typed it on the page. I was driving in circles.  Henriette Klauser’s book helped free me from that habit.

Klauser

^^^^^^^^^^^^

It’s true that unrefined creativity (more…)


►Eavesdropping on a Pubbing Argument

The discussions I’m linking to are long (so long that I printed them off), but for all of us interested in the publishing industry (especially we who are torn about whether we should self-pub or go to the traditional houses), this is well worth our time.

I’ll break it its three main chronological parts:

1) Steve Zacharius (owner of (more…)


►Your Vault is Your Hope

As I’ve said before, being a novel-writer is a lot like pushing Sisyphus’ stone.  We work for months or years on each draft, spend serious cash seeking help to perfect it, and then repeat that process until we believe that manuscript is perfect.  Most do this for the hope of becoming paid, full-time authors.

But intermittently, we writers are smacked with the reality that we’ve been digging in the mines for years… for nothing.  Playing the odds, the vast majority of us will either make a pittance (more…)


►Typing ≠ Writing

typists type

So true.

It feels so good to “actually be ‘writing’” the story.  Although it may sound strange, a danger is hiding here, for the emotional highs we get from “finishing” sections/chapters/books can sometimes hinder the creative process.  We have to be careful to consistently step back, get to the window and stare.

We should repeat this practice throughout the entirety of our projects.  Milling over our stories before, during and after the keyboarding is vital to writing a great novel. Keep musing, charting, planning,  critiquing and, of course, typing.  Novel writing is the sum of those parts.

~Daniel


►Story Structure or, “What I learned from the Three Little Pigs”

When we love a story, when a book stays with us for days (or decades) we know that it “works.”  What we mean by that is that the story fulfilled specific desires (based on the genre/tone of that novel).  But how does one story work and another fail?

Of course there’s always some subjectivity on the matter, but overall we do seem to share a “communal objectivity” about a tale either soaring or flopping. Tastes vary, but we still recognize the difference (more…)


[Reblog] Top 10 Tips for Writers.

An excellent list from Jacqui Murray for writers to keep in mind.  (Actually, the whole site contains great advice for us.)

~Daniel


►Happy Birthday, JRRT

Thanks for making medieval Fantasy a living genre, Tollers.  If there’s an afterlife, I hope you’re enjoying the Shire.

Young Tollers

 

~Daniel


►Deer in the Spotlight

Graeme Brown is a Fantasy author in Canada, and he asked about my life as a writer.  If your boredom has reached Mount Everest proportions, go check it out HERE.

Thanks,

~Daniel


►To the Purveyors of 50 Shades of Twilit Shit

Got this jolt from Blake today in a coffee house…

Degrade first the Arts if you’d Mankind Degrade.
Hire Idiots to Paint with cold light & hot shade:
Give high Price for the worst, leave the best in disgrace,
And with Labours of Ignorance fill every place.

-William Blake

(I’ve nothing to add.)

~Daniel


►Sisyphus’ Pen

Want to get rich quick?  Be famous with a life of ease?  Then being an author is a terrible move for you.

    ~~What the outsider think the writer's life is like...

~~What the outsiders think the writer’s life is like…

Virtually all of the money which makes it into a writer’s pocket goes to a tiny fraction of the authors.  For every Stephen King and John Grisham out there, there are thousands of (more…)


[Reblog]- Five Mistakes Killing Self-Published Authors

I have only posted about Self-pubbing once, wherein I talk about the downside to the “Revolution.”  This post by Kristen Lamb is well-considered and well-written.  I encourage all Indie-pubbers out here to read it.

~Daniel


►PSA (for Krampus Day)

My gift to you for Krampus Day… Backup all the data that you care about keeping onto a cloud storage.

I’m an IT Pro for a University, and every couple of months we see a laptop-crytear-smeared student lamenting the loss (more…)


►My Secret, Dark Superpower

(It’s dark because it’s buried under a bunch of junk in the garage.)

OK, I guess the secret’s out now… I do have a superpower.  Thanks a lot, Lois Lane– I mean, Vicki Vale– I mean, Skiffy & Fanty for blowing my cover. The-Tick1

≡ –> Daniel’s Superpower

Enjoy,

Me

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►My Novel-Writing Methodology: The Actual Writing

After I have done all that I listed here I finally get to sit down at the keyboard and start typing it.

1)      I am sure to have a “sacred space” for my writing without distractions.  I write in my basement where there is (by design) no Network connection.  (I even went out a few years ago and bought a used laptop with a broken wireless adapter for this purpose.)  I also set the mood for my writing.

2)      I lay out my scene list from my pre-drafting work and start typing.  I have a master folder on each computer wherein I put a folder for that day’s work.  I make a different Word doc for each chapter.    (more…)


►Started Tapping the Keyboard

Happy to have set my brain on fire this weekend.  I have, after 9 weeks of planning a series (a septology), begun Draft One of book one.

This septology is an epic (I loathe how this word has been kidnapped by the equivalent of neo-valley-girls) dark medieval Fantasy series.  I’m hoping that my skills as an author have improved to the point (more…)