Archive for August, 2009

…poking around in old files on an old computer.

I ran across two short stories I write many, many years ago, one sci-fi, one fantasy. As it happens both came out of games I used to play.

I’m going to rewrite them both now that my writing has improved a little and hope to have them posted up for all to see in the next week or two.

Dark Sun Returns

Posted: August 15, 2009 in General
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Many years ago, I came across a campaign setting for AD&D 2nd ED called Dark Sun. It was my first foray into non-traditional fantasy and I fell in love with the setting; a dark, gritty world where an apocalyptic war of magic had left most of the world a desert wasteland, countless races wiped out and the remnants huddled in a few city-states ruled over by tyrannical immortal sorcerer-kings where life was short and brutal, slavery was the norm and the characters often were forced into the gladiator pits.

This is what the world of Athas looks like;

Dark Sun

Dark Sun

Well, it is back. Or will be next year when it is updated for 4E.

Dark Sun Cover

The Dark Sun setting had a big influence on the world of my writings. Before it was a fairly standard clichéd fantasy world. Afterwards I began to rework it until it has reached its current form today, which is a world of vast tracks of inhospitable deserts, with civilisation clinging to the edges along the coasts. Nowhere near quite as inhospitable as Athas, but not your normal world either.

Also, the current Nhaqosa story being worked on, Echoes of Dark Reflections, has some definite Athasian elements too it. I suppose we could all it a tribute to Athas.

Over the last few days, in addition to working on the rough draft of Tears of the Mountain, I have also been making progress on the next short story in the Nhaqosa collection, called Echoes of Dark Reflections.

The rough draft is getting close to the end, but do date it has turned out a bit darker than other stories. The Nhaqosa setting was always the most brutal of them, but other events in Echoes of Dark Reflections seem to be making it grittier. Whether that will survive to the final draft remains to be seen.

The story hasn’t quite been finished yet, and I’m trying to make up my mind about something before doing so. Nhaqosa is accompanied by a merry band of mercenaries, around two dozen in total. Most however remain unnamed and only around three have received any real attention in the stories to date.

I’m trying to decide what to do with them. I could kill most of them off so only a handful remain, but this is likely to have a big impact on Nhaqosa given he sees them as family. The other is in each story focus on one or two of them and then cycle them into the background again. The nature of the stories is that there would always be deaths, it’d just be more pronounced in the former option, and it would be the way I’d go if I was truly evil.

I have in the past had a tendency to want to write the whole story in one go no plotting, no rough drafts, just the finished story. It is kind of a bad way of going about things and can explain why so little in the past ever got finished.

Even today when I am actively writing rough drafts, I still tend to try and put too much detail in, rather than just getting the gist of the story down, though it is improving.

The new method I am trying seems to be helping, plotting the story out first and then doing rough drafts from that. They really are rough when looking at them, with scant details. One scene as an exampled has a couple of people entering a room to meet a man. Pretty much all that is written is that they enter and the man is sitting behind a table. No descriptions of the room or the man, nothing about what is on the table or what is is made of, of light sources or anything like that. All that can be worried about later, once the rough draft is completed.

It doesn’t mean though that nothing much is happening. Yesterday I took one of the plot points off the board and started working on it.

The plot point comprised of just 16 words;

-Leave Adranatti.
-Head north through farms and jungles.
-Marassi and Logawa argue.
-Reach pass through mountains.

Somehow from that I wrote 1500 words of very rough draft. Large parts of a two day trip were glossed over, descriptions were exceedingly minimal, conversations were curtailed, yet it came out to 1500 words and included new plot details I hadn’t considered earlier. When it comes around time for a rewrite of it I’ve got no idea how long it will turn out to be. Not bad for a 16 word plot point.

Not sure if it is because of the new way of plotting the story, but I’ve found I’m starting to jump around the plot writing a bit. A scene plays through my mind so I grab the note for it off the plotting board and write it up then stick the note back on.

May require a bit of modifying later on when I catch back up to that scene, but this way at least I don’t forget the ideas as I have them.

I spent a large chunk of yesterday in finishing up the plotting of Tears of the Mountain and now have a cork-board covered with notes, mostly in order. There are still a couple of scenes that need to be slotted in somewhere, but all the plot details are now written up in note form.

First time I have done anything like it; hopefully it will help when it comes to working on the rough draft, which is the next step that needs completing.

Probably closer to two weeks actually. Since I finished off Gifts and Sacrifices I haven’t had as much time to write as I’d like. Very little in fact. Some of it was various events conspiring against me, and some has been generally laziness.

Not that I haven’t done nothing, just very little. I think I have the plot for Tears of the Mountain pretty much sorted and have done a bit more on getting the plot all written out, plus a bit of work on the rough draft, but not a huge amount.

This week hopefully I can get back into the swing of things again, doing more work on the rough draft and hopefully some more short story work. Got a few of them floating around in half done states that I should try and finish up soon.

On other news, I seem to be doing reasonable well over at Smashwords on overall views, bouncing around between #15 and #17 for most viewed author over the last 30 days for over a week now and up to #21 for over the last 90 days, and close to 700 downloads between the 11 offerings there.

Keep An Eye On The Clocks

Posted: August 7, 2009 in General
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Just a minor, quirky little thing of interest – keep an eye on the clocks today at 12:34 and 56 seconds.

Why?

Well, at least for those of us who follow a dd/mm/yy dating system at that precise moment it will be 12:34:56 7/8/9.

I have finally finished off the editing and proof-reading (I hope) of Gifts and Sacrifices, which I had previously been referring to as The Gift, and have posted it up in the Pure Escapism collection. At 15,500 words, it is the longest of the short stories posted to date, and may even be considered a short novella.

It tells the story of Halir when he was young and still a trooper, and of the battle of Shiath Atavah, where the course of his life changed to head towards becoming a professor, historian and explorer. Events that take place in it also tie in with Tears of the Mountain.

It is also the first attempt at writing a proper set piece large scale battle in the gunpowder fantasy time period, exploring how magic and monsters fit in with the whole thing.

Today sees the last part of working through the Fantasy Writing Clichés to Avoid list from Obsidian Bookshelf.

Magic, Too Cheesy
Fireballs shoot from one’s hands!
When I started I was guilty of this with over-the-top cheesy magic. I got over that phase though when I grew up. The magic that exists now is of the much more subtle variety and fairly limited; not as limited as in Lord of the Rings, but not all powerful either. Some people can speak with animals or see through their senses or even accomplish some limited shape-changing. Others can control the growth of plants. Healing is limited, being little more than speeding up the natural regeneration of the body; you can’t heal what is lost or destroyed. There is some limited control of storms and weather, though it is notoriously easy for getting out of control. The most common types of magic are mind-work; reading and detecting thought, misdirection, causing fear and panic and similar things.

Prologues.
Please, God, don’t give us an event that happens 50 years before the action.
Ah, prologues. What fantasy doesn’t seem to use them? I know I did. All. The. Time. I’ve since stopped. I rarely use them nowadays, instead just getting on with the story. If an event in the past is relevant, it can be worked in tot he story as I go along.

Races.
Elves, Dwarves, and especially Orcs can drop the property values in your neighbourhood!
Very guilty in the past. I had them all. In fact I had so many different creatures and races it was a menagerie.
Orcs were the first to go, replaced by a semi-nomadic, horse-riding race of herdsmen who are called hobgoblins by most.
Elves. I hate elves now days with a burning, burning hatred. They are so clichéd, so over used that it is sickening. When I initially used them they were your stock-standard elves. Over time they changed into something rather different, but eventually my hatred of elves got the better of me. Parts of their culture went to the hobgoblins, and what remained was an evil race that was something like a cross between a vampire and a wight.
I had always been a fan of dwarves, so they had to make an appearance. As I progressed they became more and more formidable until they were probably too powerful. Now days they don’t look much like conventional dwarves and tend to keep to the deep deserts where they work at task beyond the ken of most.
Most other races got axed as well over time, with only a few surviving. Others include minotaurs, a race of insectoid-men who live in the arid lands and some fairly unique dragons. There are a couple of others (giants and trolls) whom may still make the cut.

Telling Instead of Showing
Let us readers draw our own conclusions.
I think we all starting our writing with this problem, but as we improve we get past it. Well at least I hope I have.

Viewpoints, Too Many
They all start sounding alike!
While I often have a number of characters, I think I do try and follow this with only a few main characters, with the odd occasional viewpoint from one of the others. I’ll have to go back over old writing and see how I actually do do it.

Villains, Two-Dimensional
Why DO they want to destroy the world?
I don’t do Dark Lords any more. There are no overtly evil nations or races. Villains aren’t out to destroy the world – after all they live in it as well. Mostly they are after power and the heroes just happen to be in the way. Or in one case, the villain is simply trying to recover his baby daughter the heroes abducted.

And that concludes the list of clichés to avoid, for now. I will now have to find some other topics to post worthy of discussion.