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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

On NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo (or Nation Novel Writing Month) is an annual event where people the world over decide to write 50,000 words for some form of literary project in a single month.  For those of you that don't know, 50,000 is quite a lot.  Most novels are at LEAST that much.  My last novel was 80k words.  The final papers I had to write for my literature classes in University ranged from 2k to 10k words.  Point being, for most people who have full or even part time jobs and can't devote their day to writing, this can be a very daunting task.  To reach the goal, one needs to hit about 1700 words per day.  I've been aiming for 2000.  Some days I get there, some days I don't, some days I go over.  I still have a job, and other projects, and I still need time to unwind and just listen to music or read.  Still, I've managed to keep up so far, and it's the most consecutive, productive writing I've done since mid-2011.  

So, why?  Why is this a popular thing, and why have I (and other writer friends) been so gosh-darned productive during this time, when we bemoan things like writer's block and drag our feet the rest of the year?

Well, to put it simply, because other people are doing it, and it's a thing.  

There's nothing to stop me from filling in fake numbers every day and uploading an old, already finished manuscript into the verifying software NaNo has on it;s website.  But that would be cheating.  Worse, it would be cheating at writing, which is such a huge sin, it makes what Adam & Eve did look trivial by comparison.  But really, it would be cheating myself.

Writing is, despite what people may say, hard.  There is a great satisfaction to be had in completing a written work, even if it's a very messy first draft.  NaNo helps with that, giving the writers little tidbits and motivational posts from famous authors like Neil Gaiman, and you can hear success stories from people who turned their NaNo manuscripts into real, traditionally published books and sell them.

It's a lot easier to write when you have a deadline, even if the deadline is self-enforced.  If you're a writer, you'll stick to it, because if you don't, you'll feel bad.  That sounds a bit silly, but it's true.  I was sick all last week, and still had to work.  I came home every day wanting nothing else but the embrace of my bed, but I couldn't until I'd pushed out those 2000 words.  Knowing that counter was up on NaNo, waiting for me, and knowing that I would feel like a proper bastard if I didn't update it, kept me at the keyboard.  

And look, I even managed to update my poor, neglected blog in the midst of the whole thing.  

If this is the first you're hearing of NaNo and want to join, it's a bit late now.  you'd have to be a real masochist to sign up at this point (and produce more than 5000 words per day.  Yikes), but if you're into the idea, I suggest you join up next year.  I'm really not a part of the NaNo community, but it's nice just knowing it's there, and that thousands of other crazy folks like you are scattered across the world doing the same thing.

If you wanna check it out, here you go:

Good luck to all the other saps out there,  9 days to go!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Paragon is Dead. Long Live Paragon.

As you may have guessed from previous entries, I play video games.  Not ALL the time (I have a job, and hobbies like that writing thing, and books), but quite a bit.  I've only ever played one MMORPG though (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), and that was City of Heroes.  CoH was unique in that it was the first MMO to break the typical mold of fantasy or sci-fi.  It was the first superhero MMO that let you design your very own superhero (and eventually, supervillains), and its character creation was second to none.  Eventually a couple other superhero MMOs came out: Chapions Online and DC Universe Online.  

CO was okay, and had an excellent character creator, but godawful voice acting, and kind of boring gameplay.  DCUO had amazing production values, but an absolutely abysmal user interface, and very limited character creation.  So CoH was always my fave.  I met a great bunch of people on there, got to know them in real life, and we were buddies for years.  then one of them passed away and we fell apart, but I always thought about him and smiled when I played CoH.

One of my favorite authors, Jim Butcher (of The Dresden Files) played CoH.  The game was the first and only MMO to allow players to make their own story arcs, to write the dialogue and design the missions and share them online.  It was one of the things that inspired me to write The Steam Punk, and served as one way to stay connected with my other friends in the States when I moved to Korea.  On more than one occasion, I used the character creator to design characters I was writing about to cement their appearance in my head.

CoH was rich with the usual superhero mythology of secret government organizations, mythical galaxy eating gods, robot armies, trans-dimensional aliens, and so on.  I think I probably know more about the universe of CoH than I do about Marvel.  

But a few days ago, an announcement was made that the plug was being pulled by NCSoft, the game's Korean-based backer.  It's not terribly surprising, but it is a bummer.  The game was pretty old, getting close to a decade.  Very few MMOs last half that long, and CoH had a good run.  I'm still sad to see it go though.  It was and will always be my first MMO, and one of the best.  

I'll miss Paragon City and Atlas Park, Grandville and the towering statue of Lord Recluse, Pocket D and all the funny role-players, and everything else.  Thanks for all the ideas and fun you gave me.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Writer's Workshop: Weak and Empty Words

I'm gonna actually talk about the nuts-and-bolts of writing now.  Like, the specific minute details of words and so on that most people don't even realize exist.  We'll start by looking at some truly weak and useless words that have very little, if any, place in your writing.

Remember Yoda in "The Empire Strikes Back," how he said "Do, or do not; there is no try."  Well there isn't much place for "Seemed."  Something is or isn't.  The only time you should be using this word is if your characters themselves are unsure, and really, you can think of better ways to convey this than "seemed."  "Seemed" also encourages telling as opposed to showing.  Which is also bad.  Duh.  Look here:

"She seemed happy."
"She smiled and laughed."

The second sentence is more effective at conveying an emotion and doesn't tell us the information, but shows us.

I recently had somebody point this out to me in something I wrote and noted it as a "filler" word, which was true.  Various is a vague word and usually goes along with other vague words.  Like "Various things," or "Various ideas," and so on.  Those words are empty and don't provide the reader with anything meaty.

"He carried a sack full of various bits of junk."
"He carried a sack full of broken clock parts, empty cans, and rusty nails."

The second sentence gives more detail and maybe we can actually learn something from it.  He's got all metal stuff!  what's he doing with all that metal?  Whatever he's doing, it's a lot more informative than just saying "junk."

This goes for all tenses of the verb.  If you have to tell the reader how something felt (whether it's a physical sensation or an emotional one), that's a bad thing.  You're telling, not showing.  Don't do that!  Stop it!  Bad writer, no biscuit.

"The iron felt hot."
"The iron glowed a dull red and he jerked his hand away as the heat bit his fingers."

Yeah that second one is longer, but it sure sounds a lot nicer!  I know Shakespeare said "Brevity is the soul of wit," but it's okay to indulge a little.  you're not writing print for a newspaper, you're writing a story.  Spruce it up a bit.

Lord knows there's loads more, but three is enough for today.  Those three are pretty big and show up a lot.  And yes, I use these too.  I'm just another poor sinner.  But I also try and keep my eye out for them and get rid of them when and where I can, and I encourage you to do the same.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"The Steam Punk" or, "I wrote a book, guess what genre it is?"

Well, I wrote a book.  Actually I've written three books, and have written enough other things to qualify for another 3-4 books, but this is the first book I've written, had edited, got a cover for, and put up for sale.  I'm pretty proud of it, and I think it's a bit of all right.  I also think you should maybe check it out and give it a read.  

And just in case you're wondering, yes, it does adhere to the stuff I just talked about in my last two posts.  It's got steam, it's got punk; it's got magic and monsters and mecha-tanks and all sorts of other fun stuff as well.  It also has a pretty entertaining story and characters, if I may say so.

Right now it's only available on Kindle, but you can get a Kindle app for iPad, and soon it'll be available on Nook and in printed format.  

You can find it -> HERE <-

I'd like to thank my friends and family for all their amazing support, and you, Reader.  You make it worthwhile.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Genre Talk: Letting Off Some Steampunk

We've covered the "steam" half of the equation, so let's move onto the second half...

NUMBER TWO: What's the "-Punk"?

The "-punk" suffix is a lot more widely used than the "steam" prefix.  Last time I mentioned things like cyberpunk, splatterpunk, and others.  The "-punk" suffix connects them all.  But what does it mean?  Well, what's a punk?  What do you think of when somebody says that word?  I think of somebody in a NiN shirt with the sleeves ripped off, sporting a spiky hairdo dyed some outrageous neon color(s) with a nose-stud, one of those metal hopes inserted into the earlobe that stretches it out, with a thin silver chain connecting the two.  I also think of this fine, upstanding citizen saying something like "Fuck the pigs," or flipping off a member of the student council.

Some of you might think of Bart Simpson, or a guy on a motorcycle, or a tomboyish woman in a bar playing pool, or who knows what.  But whatever your image, it's likely to have at least one thing in common: someone who defies societal norms.  That's a fancy way of saying "Somebody who doesn't give a shit what you think."

The "-punk" suffix indicates some form of rebellion (whether literal, cultural, sexual, etc).  Somebody is unhappy with the status quo and they are going to actively change it, or just live their life in defiance of it.  Punk characters exist on the fringes of society, away from polite, "normal" people.  They are the ones who rock the boat just by showing up.

And like the punky characters in a -punk book, the story itself will be something of a punk (is "punk" starting to sound funny yet?  Like if you say "spoon" over and over again and it stops sounding like a real word?  Bear with me).  A -punk story should be about these outlier characters engaged in some form of outlier behavior.  Are they inciting a revolution against the government?  Are they starting a new fashion trend that most people find totally unacceptable?  Are they merely trying to find a place for themselves in a society that is unwelcoming or even hostile?  All those are good -punk stories.  

Last time I talked about Perdido Street Station by China Mieville, and now I'm gonna do it again!  Remember that scientist, Isaac Grimnebulin, and how he was pursuing a new type of energy source?  That was the "steam"; here's the "punk": the rest of Isaac's colleagues, and indeed, the whole academic world, think Isaac's new energy source is a pipe dream, and they don't really like associating with him.  Isaac's a rebel scientist doing things his own way.  He turned his back on proper academia years ago and now does things the way he wants to do them, and screw those stuffy profs at the university.

Pretty much every major character in PSS is like that: a bohemian artist ostracized from the rest of her species, rogue treasure hunters, a reporter for an underground and anti-government newspaper, and so on. What so many would-be steampunk books miss out on is the -punk aspect.  Plenty of steam, but not so much punk.  You gotta have both!  It's not all about the technology and whatnot, it's about the characters and the world and the story too.  

Next time, I'll have a surprise for you.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Genre Talk: Letting Off Some Steampunk

Steampunk is something that not a lot of people are familiar with.  It's grown in notoriety over the past several years, but it's still kind of on the borders of social awareness.  There are a lot of things that have steampunk elements  but aren't really steampunk.  So let's start with breaking that word into its two main components.

NUMBER ONE: What's the "Steam"?

Steampunk, real steampunk, is a lot like cyberpunk.  Both deal heavily with the use or pursuit or discovery of some new technology.  In cyberpunk, it's something, well, cybernetic or in cyberspace or something like that.  Think Blade Runner by Ridley Scott or Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson.  Except in steampunk, it's steam-based technology or something similar.  There's a sub-genre of steampunk called "gaslamp fantasy" that focuses more on supernatural elements and less on tech, and was made to differentiate from steampunk.

So what's this look like in an actual steampunk story?  I'm going to be pointing to one of my all-time favorite steampunk books as an example: Perdido Street Station by China Mieville.  In PSS, there's a professor named Isaac Grimnebulin, and through much of the book, he's pursuing a new energy source he refers to as "crisis energy," and how to harness this and make a sort of crisis engine to put it to use. This search leads into the main problem of the book that involves some very nasty critters I may have mentioned before.

The Difference Engine by William Gibson is all about Victorian Era Britain after Charles Babbage invents a mechanical computer.  The story follows several characters as they pursue computer punch cards, or pieces of technology.

The movie Steamboy revolves around the creation of and the pursuit to find and utilize a "steam sphere," a powerful source of energy.  Scientists and military men and spies are all after this piece of steam technology for their own ends.  

What so many current steampunk works forget is the technology.  They just slap gears on top hats and corsets and call it good.  Steampunk is becoming less of a specific sub-genre of sci-fi and fantasy and more of a catch-all term for an aesthetic.  I've heard people describe something as "Looking steampunky."  Which is fine when you're just applying the term to somebody in a costume or something, but it's sort of lame to do it for literature that doesn't really fit the criteria for a real steampunk story.

I realize that's kind of splitting hairs, but steampunk's a genre I like, and it's annoying to see something labeled as such when it isn't.

Next time we'll be look at the "Punk" half of this equation.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

On Story Similarities & Differences

You've heard of The Hunger Games by now.  It was the top-performing movie in America for a while, and has made hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide.  Before it was a movie, it was an international bestseller.  If you haven't heard of it, well then you're probably with those same people I mentioned in my last post who haven't heard of e-books.  


The Hunger Games is a pretty damn good book (the sequels I didn't care for as much, but the first one is very solid).  However, some people are saying it's copying something else.  That Suzanne Collins ripped off another story.  The original in question is the Japanese book, Battle Royale.  It also went on to become a film, and a manga (Japanese comic book).  So is that true?  Did Ms. Collins rip off a somewhat obscure piece of Japanese literature and cheat here way to author superstardom?

Uh, no.

Here is what BR  and HG have in common:

In the future, a dystopian government forces its youth to compete in a massive death match while filming it as reality TV.

Anything beyond that is different.  The motivations of the characters, the world, the history, how the story feels, it's all very, very different.  Battle Royale is a much more brutal, unforgiving, cruel story.  Hunger Games is a lot less grim.  Katniss Everdeen is absolutely nothing like Shuya Nanahara.   Despite Battle Royale being the more vicious of the two books, Katniss is a much more jaded, calculating protagonist.  Shuya is borderline idiotic with how naive he can get.  

But maybe you're thinking the basic idea is still too close for comfort.  Well, the books are very close in their main idea of kids killing kids for TV.  No argument there.  So let's look at some other, similar ideas that are pulling double duty.

In the future, a utopian society exists, but its citizens must take pills that curb their emotions and desires, or be killed by the ruling government.

That's from the classic novel The Giver, and the action movie Equilibrium with Christian Bale.  The former mainly focuses on the growing relationship between a boy and an old man and the power of memory, while the latter is about a guy with gun kung-fu taking down the government with bullets and ninja swords.

Have another:

A social outcast and misfit becomes so upset by the growing crime in his neighborhood, that he becomes a super hero and takes down the mafia.

The films Blankman and Kick-Ass have that as their driving idea.  The former is a goofball comedy while the latter is a deconstruction of the genre that gets kinda dark.

One more.  Can you do one more?  Sure you can. 

Several strangers fall asleep, then wake up together to find that the world around them has drastically changed.  They must contend with each other, some freaky monsters, and time itself, or they'll all die.

And that gem of an idea is from The Langoliers, a novella and mini-series by Stephen King, and King of Thorn, a manga and animated film.  The first one is King's usual horror story style, while the second features quite a bit more action and features more monsters.

This is, by no means, encouragement to go rip off a popular idea.  But don't hamstring yourself because something similar exists, or freak out because you get a little deja vu when reading a new book.  There are no new ideas under the sun, but that doesn't mean you can't take an old idea and make it like new with your own unique perspective, characters, viewpoints, and style.