On Writing

  • Building Grey: Religion

    September 10, 2014

    I hope this can be one of the least controversial discussions of the topic. There is religion in Grey. But before I get too far into it, I wanted to give a little insight to myself.

    I was raised a rebellious catholic, attended a private grade school, went through with confirmation to please my grandparents, chose Porthos as my confirmation name, and years later, I now go back and forth between atheism and agnosticism.

    What I have discovered through all those years, is that what is important is belief. I don't care whether you believe in God, Buddha, your friends, your family, your significant other, your children, mother nature, the greek pantheon, yourself, science, or unicorns. As long as it isn't hurting you or other people, and it gets you through the difficult times in your life, that's all that matters. Having something to believe in can get you through the toughest of times, when all seems dark. A belief should bring light.

    Now, on to Grey. Worship in Grey is mainly split by the main countries; Ramza, Arcturus, M'lan and Ouran. Now while I speak in generalizations, remember, they are just that. There is always spillover.

    Ramza has had a strong resurgence in belief in the One God. Worshipped centuries ago, then having fallen out of favor, the religion is finding it's feet again. The One God is responsible for all creation, and believes in truth, unity and understanding. A war has never been fought in his or her name. Often portrayed as a male, Roland's recent pilgrimage has him preaching that the One God is in fact a she. Seeing as how someone gifted him with the sword he carries and the powers he wields, it is an oft discussed topic of debate.

    Arcturuns worship nature, living close with the land. This has produced some of the most benevolent, and vicious, splinter cults in all of grey. People embrace harmony, while others survival. Science, while used for its health benefits, is viewed more of a byproduct of nature. Many Arcturuns are mindful of how others treat the wilderness, and are careful to make sure it is treated with respect. They are the people most likely to invoke the earth when given offense, or to correct a foreigners misdeeds.

    M'lan is a land of many deities. Worship is a central part of their lives, the empire ruled by the Seti, A high priestess. Religion governs daily life, job security, marriage, and even the dispersal of children within families. Religion has an answer for any question a Lanese citizen might have. This is not as stifling as it might sound. Because the pantheon is so diverse, so are the scriptures of each god or goddess, resulting in both strict and lax rules, as the situations dictate.

    Lastly is Ouran, which has no religious structure in place. Ouran is a land of science and discovery through and through. Ouran citizens love facts and research, always finding better ways to grow a crop, write a book, give a speech, or prolong a life. Most of the great marvels built or manufactured in grey came from a mind that spent a fair share of time in Ouran. That's not to say the occasional scientist doesn't offer a little prayer to a god of luck or goddess of destiny. After all, they're having a hard time disproving religion exists.

    So there you have it. Not too deep. Not too preachy. Just a splash of beliefs that the inhabitants of Grey look to.

  • Character Study: Dark Fey

    September 8, 2014

    While not an individual, the Dark Fey play a very important role as the antagonists of Hallon’s Hold. For many years, the Dark Fey engaged in a reign of terror for those that traveled between Balthwell and Caulment. A couple days journey by horse, and even longer on foot, many a caravan took it’s life in its hands, hoping they wouldn’t see the diminutive monsters as they huddled tightly around the campfire

    In the early days, fires kept them at bay, as they feared the hot flames. Some say that wherever the creatures hail from, fire is anathema to them, and it sears the skin right off like melting butter. But the fey realized they had strength in numbers, and so they learned to seek the flame, knowing a warm meal and valuables were waiting by the fire. Over the course of a few years, risk turned to suicide, as even the most heavily armored transport and guard retinue came under attack, the Dark Fey growing more and more bold.

    They are also a resilient lot. Their recent defeat may have sent them back to their burrows licking their wounds, but unless true effort is put forth by the residents of the hold, they will be back. Hallon would need to organize hunting parties to venture out into the hills surrounding the hold and root out any nests or broods. But the mountains are vast, and the holes dug deep, and the weather is not made for the likes of men.

  • Character Study: Umbrunzwe

    September 5, 2014

    Umbrunzwe is the youngest sibling of seven from the port city of Shil'meh located in the M'lan empire. He was raised in a large family that included his mother, father, his dad's father, his mother's mother and father, and six older sisters.

    All six of his sisters trained to be priestesses for the varying religions scatted across the Lanese pantheon. Holy texts littered his home and Umbrunzwe was well read from an early age. Thinking to follow in the footsteps of his siblings, Umbrunzwe read over many of the gods and goddesses his people venerated.

    He eventually found one whose teachings he felt strongly about. However, it was not one of his people, but of the northerners, known simply as, The One God. However, The One God was not worshipped anywhere widely known in M'lan, seen more as a folk tale. Aware that their son would not get the attention and knowledge he wanted in M'lan, his parents paid to send him to a monastery in Ramza where the One God was worshipped.

    It was there were Umbrunzwe found understanding and enlightenment, and trained his body and soul in the teachings of the monastery. To prove his devotion, it was here where he undertook a vow of silence. Hoping to let his actions speak louder than his words, Umbrunzwe left the monastery after many years to spread the word of the One God. He found his task more difficult than planned. People outside the monastery were very impatient, especially so towards a man who could not speak. They had little time for his acts, skits or pantomimes.

    Ever the optimist, Umbrunzwe travelled from place to place, town to town, spreading the One God's faith as best he could. It was at one of these small villages, where an act he was putting on was mistaken as an attempt at shoplifting, and Umbrunzwe found himself behind bars in the constabulary.

    It was there he met a bard named Havelin, who shared his love of theatrics, and also seemed to have a knack for understanding the signals and sentiments of the mute Umbrunzwe.

    Days later, released from jail, the two travelled together. Working as a team, the two were able to make a bit of a name for themselves, spinning tales and offering teachings, balancing Havelin's bawdy nature with the solemn praises of Umbrunzwe.

  • Building Grey: Passive Voice

    September 3, 2014

    Today's topic is a bit more subjective than most. A lot of the topics I cut about are usually pretty cut and dry. Or they are optional, aimed at improving some aspect of writing or creating a story if you're unsure what to do.

    When I say I want to talk about language, I mean basic english, not the fantasy languages you might create. I might talk about that at some point, but I'm not sure I feel I even have a tight enough grasp to venture there. Yet.

    What I want to talk about today are some basic concepts. First is using the active voice when writing. Using an active voice generally makes everything clearer to the reader. Somebody does something to someone. I hit your car. He slammed on the brakes. Everyone went to the hospital.

    Passive voice would be something like. Your car was hit by me. The brakes were slammed on by him. The hospital is where everyone went. It can sound a bit awkward. It also requires the use of more words, cluttering up your message.

    This is not to say you should only use active voice, but be conscious of how much you fall back on passive voice.

  • Character Study: Havelin the Charitable

    September 1, 2014

    Havelin is in his early 30’s, stands nearly 6’2”, and lanky with a bit of a belly paunch from too many beers. He has long wavy blonde hair and a curly mustache, with lightly tanned skin and grey eyes.

    Havelin is a man of simple tastes. Having grown up in the streets of Caulment, he set out at a young age to see the world. He left a bit earlier than many, and quickly realized he had no means to make a living on the road. He joined for a time with a traveling carnival that toured the more civilized regions of Arcturus.

    There he fell for the great Sophine D'chamant, a bard of renown who was as skilled spinning a tale as she was strumming a harp. It was love at first sight, for both the music and the maiden. While he couldn't charm her like he wanted, Sophine saw an aptitude in Havelin for telling tales, even if they weren't of the kind of content Sophine was used to.

    Eventually Havelin parted ways with the troupe. He made his way to Ouran, where he studied magic and song composition. None of the magic took, but he learned a great deal about melody. The uptight and proper nature of Ouran citizens disagreed with him, however, and soon he found himself on the road again.

    Now he had the knowledge of many of the countries best tales, and a lute under his shoulder. He tried his trade on the street, but found that the temperament of his tales was usually not to the liking of the law. He soon found himself on the run, from city to city, his sinful wit at odds with the wholesome beliefs of the tiny villages he made his way through. His pilfering wandering fingers did not help matters.

    One day he found himself sharing a cell with a quiet, contemplative man who would help reshape his world, and still is to this day. Umbrunzwe saw in Havelin the great spinner of tales that Havelin wanted to be. Havelin learned from Umbrunzwe the art of physical comedy, and the two became fast friends, though Havelin was quite unaware that the vigor Umbrunzwe displayed was but his personal way of worshipping his religion.

    They traveled together for many years, learning to understand one another, and finding new ways to deliver truth and comedy to the masses.

  • Building Grey: Editing, Part 2

    August 29, 2014

    Let the editing continue! Last time I talked about taking a break, letting yourself forget about your work so you can look at it with new eyes, and cutting parts that add nothing to your story.

    Another easy way to self edit, after having removed yourself from your work for a while is to read it out loud. I'm always amazed how many little phrases and details my mind autocorrects for me when I read silently. I also feel this is the best way to pick up little pieces that computer checks miss. Most computers can tell you when you misspell a word, but it rarely tells you when you happen to type 'of' in place of 'off', 'on' in place of 'one', 'the' for 'then' and so on. When you read it out loud, you notice a lot more about the structure of your text.

    And it's an easy way to tell if some bits of conversation sound natural or not. If I have long stretches of dialogue that go back and forth, I actually like to copy it and read it with a friend to see if the rhythm and cadence of the conversation sounds right.

    Another important part of editing is getting someone's eyes other than your own on the work. It helps if that person is a competent english major, or at least likes the genre of the book you're writing. But at the bare minimum, someone who doesn't have the whole story mapped out in their head and knows all the backstory. At one point I had Khristian talk to Roland as if they had already met, not realizing that I had skipped that bit earlier, and only going off the memory that I had planned to have them meet.

    A good editor can pinpoint all your loose ends and phantom encounters, which, the longer you spend working on your book, the greater the chances of you adding them are. Especially if you take a few months off here and there because you need a break, or life happens.

    The last part to mention is, all the above being noted, you don't need to listen to everything your editor tells you. Plot holes, yes, character tone, not necessarily. Make sure you're still telling the story you want to tell.

  • Character Study: Fatima Zhe

    August 27, 2014

    Fatima is only with us for a brief time. She is brought in from Jenner's acting troupe to train Aerika in the finer points of swordplay, tumbling and acrobatics. She's a diminutive woman in her early 40s, and hails from the southern wild Isle region of Ouran.

    Fatima spent her youth training at Tamino's School of Flickering Lights, but had to leave early to help her family tending fields at her home in the Wild Isles. A terrible monsoon claimed the lives of her family, and she left Ouran shortly thereafter, not wishing to continue the family business.

    She had a difficult time finding employment in Ramza, where she couldn't find an employer who wanted both her skill set and her moral code. While leaving a restaurant one evening in Caulment, Fatima dispatched a group of street thugs with relative ease who thought her an easy mark. This was observed by one of the actors at the R.A.T., who was highly entertained by Fatima's fighting style.

    Word of Fatima eventually reached Jenner, who had her audition for a play he was bringing to his theatre, and after putting the competition to shame, kept her on as a full time actor. This pleased Fatima, who never loved combat as much as she loved the workout it provided.

    Through the years, she eventually retired from the stage and stayed on as a trainer for newly hired acrobats and entertainers in Jenner's employ.

  • Building Grey: Editing, Part 1

    August 25, 2014

    This will have a little overlap with pacing, but editing is so much more. It's correct sentence structure, using grammar correctly, making sure points of interest and plot elements are cohesive, and can affect the general mood of the story overall.

    Fallen Throne was a much longer story in its first pass. Almost twice as long in fact. I wrote about everything. There were tons of little side stories, characters talked at length about morality and religion, pages would be devoted to describing a walk from one place to another. Suffice to say, there was a lot of rambling.

    When I first started writing Fallen Throne, I told myself I wanted it to be epic. I loved the 1,000+ page classics. I used to judge the value of a movie by its run time. And when I was finished writing, I reveled in the page count I had created. And no one wanted to read it. I wanted to get some friends' opinions of it, but they were daunted by the page count. And when I had originally shopped it around to publishers and agents, they all balked at the length, saying it should be split into separate books.

    I kind of learned a one-two punch in that, I had a terrible time cutting anything out. Everything felt important. What I would realize later is that I was too close to the material. I'd finished writing it weeks ago, and was still filling out entries in the encyclopedia. I may have sent submissions out before it was finished, because I saw what the return times were like.

    In any event, it wasn't until I got away from the book for a bit, and came back to it, that I felt confidant editing it. For we it was almost a year. When I came back, it was painfully obvious what needed cut. There was so much, for lack of a better phrase, self-indulgence. I thought to myself ‟What was I thinking when I wrote this?” when I went back over a lot of the sections. Swaths were cut. Whole chapters disappeared. In most cases, if you can remove an entire chapter from your book and nothing would be missing, it's probably something you can cut.

    I tightened it up on the micro level too. Shortening sentences, changing tense, hundreds upon hundreds of little corrections that made for a better read.

    There's more editing I want to talk about, but I realize I've already spent lots of text on cutting a manuscript down to size, so I'll save the rest for the next time.

  • Character Study: Ripalst Mansion Males

    August 22, 2014

    So last time I talked about the women in Jenner’s life. Now I'm going to shed some light on the men. That would be none other than Carrensby Hornuldo, Gregory Knightsmith, and the man, the myth, the legend, Azt’ze.

    These men are cornerstones in Jenner’s life as much as anyone else. Carrensby was Mrs. Fensworth’s first hire when the family moved to Caulment. He is a gentleman through and through, has an eye for detail, and keeps a calm head at all times, being less emotionally invested than Madeline is, but caring all the same. Carrensby is a few years younger than Madeline, and takes great pride in his work, so much so he likes to brag a bit to his friends about it when he takes off for a drink at his favorite bar.

    Gregory and Jenner have been friends for a little over a decade, when Gregory came upon the man in the streets of Caulment, fighting a losing battle with his horse. Gregory let the untrained animal know who was boss, and then proceeded to calm the horse. He said he had never seen such a poor equestrian, and that he needed to learn Jenner the proper ways of the horse. And they have become close friends since.

    And then, the wise old Azt’ze. He has been employed by the Ripalst family in some manner longer than either Jenner or his mother can remember. Bought as a slave from the M’lan empire Azt’ze was treated as family. His skill in the kitchen gave him quite the reputation around Balthwell and the northern parts of Ramza. Azt’ze loved working around their kitchens so much that he asked to stay on when Jenner’s grandmother, Bea, moved in with some friends and told Azt’ze he was free to do as he pleased. He’s old, even by M’lan standards, and is always ready with a warm story and hearth for visitors in the mansion.

  • Building Grey: Magic

    August 20, 2014

    I want to talk of fireballs and ice storms and lightning bolts. Animated corpses, teleportation and incantation. I am a lover of all things magical. The very first novel I can remember reading was about a girl who could literally absorb magic out of the air and throw it back in a fiery stream of death.

    I remember when I sat down to watch 'The Fellowship of the Ring' that I was surprised by the lack of flashy magic. I thought surely, in the land of dwarves and elves and goblins, that magic would drip from the scenery like rain on an overcast day. But I learned something else. Tolkien made magic precious. When you saw it, it was something special, or made a point, or was wrapped in a concept grounded in the believable. Tolkien was already telling a fantastic adventure. He didn't need to create something that might detract from the story.

    When I thought about writing a novel, I always imagined I would have skies the limit when it came to magic. Mighty wizards would topple buildings, throw the elements around like it was effortless, and the very earth would tremble. But I realized that while it might make for edge of your seat entertainment, that wasn't a story.

    I realized I wanted to make magic special too, and not put it everywhere. When Roland brings forth his sword, it's obvious it's one of a kind. Colette is a being of magic, and she is a force to be reckoned with. But magic can be a very simple thing as well, as Mao shows everyone. And I think the story is richer for it. I don't want magic to detract from a story, but help build it.

    In the end, this isn't to detract from you using magic in your own story, but just make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Make it part of your world, and make it special.

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