Heat Death of the Universe 1

As of this post, two black holes smashing into each other made breaking news some months ago. It was kind of a big deal, and when astrophysicists get excited about something I try to make it a point to pay attention.

Yet these events sparked something that’s been on my mind. So, let’s get to Heat Death!

To those unfamiliar, “Heat Death” is actually a rather simple scientific concept, and is summed up most *scientifically* in the following Google-found statement:

The heat death of the universe is a historically suggested theory of the ultimate fate of the universe in which the universe has diminished to a state of no thermodynamic free energy and therefore can no longer sustain processes that consume energy (including computation and life).

What this means is that all energy will, eventually, be expended. There’ll be no more energy from the innumerable burning stars out there; they’ll all burn out at some point or another. This is the nature of entropy, and was explored to tremendous effect in Isaac Asimov’s short story, The Last Question.

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Find and read this story.

According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, heat will equalize in a given system (our 3rd Dimensional Universe). And, since our universe seems to be ever-expanding, the larger it gets, the more literal space energy will be evenly distributed. That means that whatever heat you feel would be spread out across uncountable light-years, which will make the passage of energy impossible. Without movement of energy, we don’t have time, life, thought.

Or heat.

Here’s a great metaphor from Reddit:

HDotU 2

They also call Heat Death the “Big Chill” or the “Big Freeze.” They explore this and explain it in pretty easy-to-grasp terms on the YouTube channel Kurzgesagt.

Yet I derive a strange sort of comfort from the inevitable HDotU. There’s something liberating in an understanding that the choices made by you, everyone you know, and all your descendants until the extinction of our race will likely have no impact on the ultimate fate of the universe, so there can’t be any “wrong choices” (or “right choices,” for that matter). Assuming morality can even be factored into this equation, it sorta suggests that no matter what you do, in the end it really doesn’t matter.

It’s dangerously close to nihilism. But rather, I find that this line of thought is very therapeutic. It really puts our daily stresses into perspective.

I’ve come across this concept, heard it mentioned once or twice in an occasional game of Cards Against Humanity, though at the time I knew nothing about HDotU. Recently, the timing of multiple events seems to have really brought this stuff to the forefront of my consciousness. Here’re the two major reasons why:

As of the time of this writing:
1) I happened to go visit my ‘hometown’ (Woodstock, NY) at the start of February, 2016. It’s typically cold there that time of year. Yet after staying in tropical Viet Nam for nearly two years, the change in climate was disastrous for me; every time I set foot outside I found myself thinking — exaggerated, of course — about walking on the godsdamn moon.

Friends and family assured me that the region had been undergoing a warm winter, but on some days (and often at night) the temperature plummeted to below zero, plus windchill. Farenheit. Oh, that’s all, some of you might say? Well I already had a -25% Cold Resist debuff when I lived in New York as it was. Now I seem to have a -50% debuff going on.

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The moon if it had trees, oxygen and a place called Cooper Lake.

2) I’ve reached a point in my life where having children has been brought up in casual conversation. This is something I’ve been mulling over for some time. And I, with my Big Picture attitude (HDotU, Nihilism/Existentialism…) — coupled with the effective birth control that my screaming nephew and niece have given me — have spent considerable time thinking about the long-term effects of making biological half-copies of myself. I’ll get back to this in a moment.

I imagine the first scenario — cold rural New York in February — is an easily relateable concept, but how does the second one connect to this?

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Rarely do we ponder our own personal strain on the economy and the environment, for our selfish genes and our egos demand that our survival come first. It is the natural way of things.

Put another way, it is a privilege of the people of developed nations to reach the point of awareness where they wonder “How can we do this more efficiently (and with less of an impact on the environment)?” whereas many humans across the globe are foremost concerned with “How can I not die, and ensure that my family won’t die too?”

This can be illustrated well through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

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By it’s own definition, this is more enlightening than most people will know — if Maslow’s chart itself stands in one of the upper segments.

I don’t mean to put myself on a higher pedestal — I suffer the same selfish desires and impulses as any other living mortal — but when it comes to spawning a brood of my own, my thoughts turn toward the economic, moral, ethical, biological, and philosophical.

  • Economic: Will my child(ren) be “worth” the economic strain it literally costs to raise them? Will their output be greater than what they drain from the economy (or more selfishly, me for that matter)?
    • *Living in an Asian community, I often hear the opinion that a major drive for having children is for the very purpose of taking care of the parents later in life.
  • Moral: Do I deserve to have children of my own when there are innumerable orphans out there in desperate need of families?
  • Ethical: What right do I have to presume my genes are superior to any other and worth spreading? After all, there is something of a history of mental illness in my family (spoilers), so oughtn’t I consider benefiting ‘the herd’ and avoid adding my genes to the pool?
  • Biological: Am I just feeling and/or resisting the urges as per the edict of my genes, as the Dawkins suggests? My genes don’t care about my creative output, or my happiness, or the wellbeing of myself (let alone others). They only care about making more genes.
  • Philosophical: What’s the point of having kids if I’m just producing another vermin to be eradicated when our Robot Overlords rise? Or another fraction of a blink of an existence in terms of geologic time …or cosmic time, for that matter? We crawl inexorably closer to the HDotU, don’t forget.

In other words, what good is there having a child if I know that that child’s life is generally meaningless in the big picture?

nihilism

As I delved deeper into these questions, I found my conclusions growing increasingly nihilistic, so I brought in the big guns. Taking refuge within the rough-sawn domicile of a fellow philosopher, fantasist and creative, I brought my concerns before a friend.

After a conversation that stretched long into the the freezing wintery evening, I believe I have come across a satisfactory answer to my ponderings.

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The domicile in question.

The Influence Map

Improving your writing should be an ongoing effort.

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It’s easy enough to find writing advice online, ranging from drafting the so-called perfect scene to 297 Words to omit. While much of it is sound advice, it is often difficult to find advice that is at your level, whatever level that may be. From learning how to cut out over-used phrases (for instance, my characters tend to shrug, snort, and raise their eyebrows often) to understanding how to seed information throughout your story as opposed to performing an InfoDump (very common in Fantasy and Science/Speculative Fiction), or even simply challenging yourself by going through your draft to cut out the words “was” and most any adverb (-ly words) … mercilessly.

Following even just the guidelines I just mentioned:

  • The rough scheme of how to construct a scene
  • Omission of words that serve as useless padding
  • Awareness of one’s own tendencies
  • Seeding information (avoiding InfoDumps)
  • Restructuring sentences (but not necessarily all) to avoid using an -ly adverb or the word “was”

…Following even just that, I am confident the majority of would-be writers will see an improvement in their prose.

But what if that isn’t enough?

After all, once you’ve mastered the art of storytelling (which, as I said, is an ongoing process and as such mastery is a matter of subjective opinion), what if the story itself you’re trying to tell is downright not engaging? What if you’ve spent months-worth of hours crafting and inventing a world, but the story in which it takes place just isn’t all that interesting?

There is no formula for an effective story, as Andrew Stanton says in his awesome Ted Talk, but there are clues. I have heard his points reinforced by other writers, such as those found on the Writing Excuses Podcast.

I share these with you now to cover any bases, for those of you unfamiliar with these links and methods. But to be honest, I have researched all of these things before (which is not to say I mastered the aforementioned techniques, but I feel I’ve got a good handle on them), and I was looking for something more.

That’s where mentors come into play.

If you are someone I want to say lucky enough to have yourself a mentor, no matter the field, this is a boon for your career. If you meet someone who does what you want to do, has what you want to have, and they are willing to take time out of their life to show you the in’s and outs of this, that is a magical, special thing.

However the majority of us do not have such a person in our lives. And as it turns out for me, personally, most of the writers I admire are dead. But I, too, am lucky to some degree, for the most powerful research tool in the largest library in history is readily available as well as readily taken for granted.

I discovered another Ted Talk, Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon (he has a book of the same name). Watch this video.

Following the idea presented in the TED Talk, I drew up my own Influence Map. This is the result after a few hours:

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A web like this makes sense to me, as a visually-oriented person, as opposed to, say, a spreadsheet or a simple list of names.

For the more technically minded, we can see from this beautiful and half-chipped white board more than a few familiar names. You can see that Isaac Asimov (specifically Foundations) and Frank Herbert’s Dune were each inspired mostly by … well, science and history. The same goes for George R. R. Martin, the works of whom I have criticized thoroughly in the past, yet I cannot deny he has had an influence on me.

Many Go-To-Influences include Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian) and J.R.R. Tolkien, whose writings get put into the same rough genre yet differ greatly from each other. I’ve never been a direct fan of Tolkien (never read LotR, only The Hobbit), and Howard’s writing style had a profound effect on me — years ago, when I started taking my writing seriously. Names like Roger Zelazney come up often as well.

Yet there are those inspirations for certain pieces and by certain authors that I may never be able to unearth. Cory J. Herndon wrote the first Ravnica books, novelizations for a particular setting in the Magic: The Gathering trading card game. He’s been relatively quiet since then, and like many of the MTG novels, creativity is doubtless involved, but for the most part, writers have the same recurring theme going on within the confines of a premade setting. Novelizations of a trading card game are, after all, promotional material at best.

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Lorwyn, one of nearly a dozen canonized worlds (planes) under the Magic: The Gathering multiverse.

Yet several of the MTG books stand as extremely influential for me, not least of which the Ravnica series by Herndon. Among a few other writers, he is unfortunately one of those whose background and influences I could not dig up.

And then, somewhere to the side next to “MTG Books” I’ve got Final Fantasy 6, Final Fantasy 7, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Where the Japanese creators of those geek-culture phenomena got their ideas is not so easily discovered. Granted, those were video games and an anime series — a team effort, with different members contributing different things. I would give up my legs for a translated transcript of those brainstorming sessions.

I would recommend the Influence Map exercise to anyone, regardless of what branch of creativity from which you sprout. Who inspires you? Who inspires(inspired) them? And who inspired *that* one?

Consider reading and learning from those books.

Happy writing!

 

 

Review and Impressions: The Hunger Games

So I had the opportunity to catch up on the first two Hunger Games movies. There is a spoiler or two.

No, I haven’t read the books.

Yes, I’m sure the books are better, or at least different.

Therefore my perspective will come from someone who is not comparing and contrasting the books and the movies.

I will simply be sharing my impressions.

I am a mostly peaceful person. I do not like or promote violence, but I do enjoy a horror flick or action movie with plenty of swordplay, gunshots or straight up bludgeoning with fists. Double plus good if the film has all these (like certain choice martial arts movies). That’s not why I like the Hunger Games, though.

The Hunger Games is a story about a person facing conflict of both her heart, and of course the more visceral conflict that accompanies killing people to stay alive. I watched The Hunger Games one day, and then caught up on Catching Fire the day after. As of this post, Mockingjay: Part 1 is in theaters, and I plan to see that fairly soon.

Consider me invested.

The drama between characters – fun as they are at times – is not what holds me though, to be honest. I have heard it said, and often I will recite to other people since I believe in it, that “Characters make stories, not the circumstances they find themselves in.” I believe I read that in Stephen King’s On Writing.

I book I would recommend to anyone pursuing the craft.

Anyway, I’m finding that what has me interested in The Hunger Games is, in fact, not so much the cast but, in direct contrast to that recitation, the setting and the circumstances.

Granted there are holes. “The System” in place feels crafted out of convenience; while we have a glimpse of the history and a rudimentary understanding of why things are the way they are, it seems like quite the jump. This is a “what if” book, much like Brave New World, or any number of dystopias, where we the situation, but not – to me – a clear or feasible reason for how it came about.

The films do not give much of an in-depth depiction of how each of the districts contribute to the plutarchy / plutocracy (take your pick); we have glimpses of what appears to be a Mining District, a Black District (though we don’t know what they do there except remain under very obvious segregation), and a bakery somewhere. I’m willing to let myself believe that the books go into more detail, or perhaps provide some descriptions, of how big these districts are and some more economic insight into how this system is plausible. The rich folk need droves of poor people to do dredge work, and the poor folks need the rich because… oh.

Well, this’s how revolutions start.

[The next line is a spoiler.]

Besides, the final moments in Catching Fire left me scratching my head. Was that really part of their master plan, the “flaw in the system” they were going to exploit? To have Katniss fire a lightning-charged arrow into the sky?

Why would the government green-light sending techno-geniuses into a technology-controlled environment?

Because Plutarch let it happen?

Seems a bit flimsy, as some of these movie-adaptations tend to be.

There’s plenty of criticism for The Hunger Games being some Battle Royale clone, and when you distill the plot down to one or two sentences, on the surface the two stories might seem quite alike. I wondered that myself, having known the basic premise of The Hunger Games since it came out – as people I’d known read it and shared summaries with me. Having seen Battle Royale, I can tell you that the only thing these two stories have in common is: a pile of unwilling people, many of whom are teens, pit against each other in an arena-like harsh environment.

Old relationships are strained, new relationships are formed, and you might go so far as to say that a person’s true self is revealed under such conditions.

After all, I am a firm believer in the human animal as just that. Another animal.

In any case, here’s what they say about the Hunger games being a copy of Battle Royale over at T.V. Tropes:

“The term has been used to refer to The Hunger Games — a book series with a similar premise to Battle Royale — in a derogatory manner by those who feel the later series was a rip off (the author of The Hunger Games maintains she knew nothing of Battle Royale when she wrote her books, and at any rate, there have been works before Battle Royale which use similar themes – even Stephen King has written two).”

So, with all that said, I’ll tell you what I do like about it.

I get fired up watching this. Revolution is something with which I’ve always had a fascination. It’s easy to hate the government in The Hunger Games, but considering these works are considered Y.A., so the generalization of a Bad Government is easy to allow. No worries there. Therefore it’s easy to feel sympathy for the characters under such a regime, but I find myself sitting there and wondering:

Why is it taking three-quarters of a century for people to rebel again?

Chances I would end up as one of the first people out of whom such a government would make an example to the rest.

That happens when you’re stubborn, you’ve got a big mouth, and have a problem with authority.

So in spite of the teen melodrama and love triangle stuff that – honestly – I get tired of watching really fast, it factors into the plot in a way that only would ever happen in a book. Or a movie. All I can tell you is that I’m thoroughly stoked to see the Capital burn.

Overcoming That Pesky Block

This is as much a public self-accountability call to act as it is a blog post. Considering the length of previous posts, I’ll try to keep this one comparatively short.

The truth is, I’ve almost lost track of my passion. Almost.

But how is that possible, one might ask?

The answer is infuriatingly simple:

Distraction. And my productivity and sense of inspiration appears to run on a pendulum, swinging from one end of the spectrum to the other at regular intervals, ranging from excitement so great I can barely contain it, to feeling so down that I can barely lift myself off my grubby couch.

Maybe I rid myself of the thing.

I’ve come to realize that it takes very little for me to get distracted from things. It is a character flaw that I have struggled with for some time, but only in recent years have I come to really recognize it as an issue. I know not whether I have some form of diagnosable Attention Deficit Disorder, but the idea has been suggested to me more than once.

I would not be anything special were I to confess that I have difficulty concentrating or focusing, least of all on my writing.  But what is worse, being bereft of the solution, or knowing the solution and then simply forgetting it?

The most effective thing I’ve ever done when I’ve wanted to be productive, whether it’s with fiction-writing or editing, is set aside time in a dedicated workspace. Jevon Knights outlines this most effectively in his blog post about the Criteria for the Perfect Writing Space, and not unlike my own tactic, his idea encourages finding a place away from home.

You should really check out his ebook, The Knights Scroll. It’s a collection of short stories, both Science Fiction and Fantasy, and you can download it for FREE. I’ve read it, I dig it, and anyone who reads my material or is remotely interested in the stuff I do and like will enjoy it.

Regarding writing spaces, though, there is seriously no shortage of cafes in Sài Gòn. I mean, you couldn’t throw a shuriken without it sticking into the sign of some cafe nearby.

Please do not try this, or at least if you do, don’t tell anyone I gave you the idea.

I have, however, settled in a is looking to be more of a permanent living situation (a new house), and only recently have I established a secure internet connection, as well as a room dedicated to office work.

The result has been phenomenal.

That and two cups of càphê sữa đá significantly uplifted my mood and filled me with much needed motivation.

I’ve always been averse to being dependent on any form of substance.

But is coffee a terrible thing to want to drink when one’s life purpose is to focus and write?

I think not.

The success of people around me has also been inspiring.  I have no excuse; yes, there are life distractions and responsibilities, but one always had time – even just one hour a day – to write. It’s mostly a matter of getting organized and forming a system.

In fact Lifehacker.com has here a great list of for How To Stick To A Writing Schedule.

Surprise surprise, one of their bullet points is setting aside a place to write.

For me, it’s more complicated than getting up earlier, or walking to a nearby cafe and ‘setting up shop’ every day, which are things I’ve tried and have worked. But now, with a home base and office that feels more secure and organized, I find my stresses and creative energies more easily managed.

It’s almost as though my home, wherever that may be, is a real-life metaphor for my brain. If my home is a mess, then my brain is distracted. If things are in order and my home is clean and organized — even if my workspace is in fact away from home — then I can focus. Perhaps that is, or at least part of, the code I can use to understand my inner-psychology to harness creativity.

And, of course, sweet coffee in the middle of the day helps.

Now to train myself to remember that.

 

 

 

Concept: Schisms and Conflict

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Conflict is the mother of story. Without conflict, a story is either pointless – and therefore boring – or simply has not yet reached the point where conflict has been introduced.

But sometimes conflict comes from a source that is, shall we say, less than comfortable. Without getting into too much detail about my real life in meatspace, what I’m talking about today are schisms; when two or more people are very close, but something happens and they part.

And before you start making your premature deductions, dear reader, no, I’m not talking about breakups between lovers. I’m actually heading more in the direction of schisms within a family.

It is a continuing fascination of mine to think back on the American Revolution. Historical events might lead one to believe that such a conflict was unavoidable – and if it was, well, that’s up to the historians to debate. Actually I find American history to be one of the most boring topics encountered in my so-called education (followed closely by math. Those courses were like horse tranquilizers to me at 7:00 in the morning).  No, it’s not the history itself that I’m interested in, rather, a small detail that may or may not be overlooked: how families were divided during this period.

I recall a story – I remember not whether it was a novel, a short, or just some excerpt read out to us kids – in which a family of colonial days got wind of the coming conflict, which had already rumbled along the coastal cities by the time the story began. The father of the family was fiercely loyal to the English royalty, while his son(s) held sympathies for the revolutionaries. While most families will produce children that challenge the views of their parents (especially in the modern era), this story served to illustrate a time period during which such divisions were more intense than anything many of us ever really know.

I think the story ended with the boy(s), who were of age to join the fight, took up arms to help battle for independence while the father joined the British forces. Both sides believed themselves to be fighting for the right thing – the younger believed the king to be a tyrant who had no right to control colonies an ocean away, while the elder felt a strong sense of gratitude for the crown (probably for having allowed the colonies and their way of life to grow in the first place). This is a common trait in wars, when both sides think themselves on the side of righteousness. Nothing new there, and no doubt families were divided over more conflicts than just the American Revolution.

I think that story ended with the father being killed and of course with the revolutionaries being victorious. Whether or not one of his sons pulled the trigger I can’t recall. Most of those years are a blur to me.

Anyway, when I see stories like these, with intense personal schisms mixed in with political turmoil, I can’t help but see the potential. Well-written stories will portray the view of both sides of a conflict, at least when the idea is to instill a strong sense of nobody being right (or everybody being wrong) in their opinion or reason for fighting. The Game of Thrones series, which I cite far more often than I would like to admit, is a perfect example of this. The Lord of the Rings, and to a lesser extent The Chronicles of Narnia, in fact do the direct opposite – but that is, of course, because these are very different authors with very different agendas and audiences. That’s all well and good.

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So how can we use this?

Personally, I have two story elements in the works that I’d like to share with you, dear readers. For one, it does serve as therapeutic to share some of these thoughts. For another, few things motivate me more to keep writing than talking about my writing – vain as that might sound. And I’m usually intensely self-conscious of sounding vain.

Intense appears to be the word of the day.

Anyway, here are two story elements that take place in my mainline novel project that directly relate to the theme we just discussed.

Story Element 1 – A Historical Event

Without too much backstory, I hate the conventional use of contemporary elves, refusing to utilize the word in my own writing because I simply do not favor the imagery and flavor it conveys in mainstream fantasy. What this means is that if I’m going to use an elf-like creature – and I certainly do – it has to be unique, or at least unique enough to be distinguishable from all the blond-haired knife-ears that fill out the pages and screens of media that I … don’t consume.

Dark elves are a theme visited time and time again, and not to say my own take on the “dark elf” is wholly original, the race I call czaths can most easily be described as “a hardened people with draconic blood in their veins.” They come from a volcanic land and their temperament, lifestyle, and appearance reflects this.

At any rate, the czaths have an event in their history that I simply call The Bastard War, a time when, much like the aforementioned story about the American Revolution, there is a powerful division among loyalists to the sovereign leader (who happens to be a dragon), and the younger, upstart rebels who seek to disrupt the tyrannical status quo. During last year’s NaNoWriMo event, I managed to churn out about 70% of a stand-alone novel that mostly details the events that precede the Bastard War. One can safely assume there are a few family schisms in said story.

This idea (as vague as it might appear in this blog post) just sort of emerged from my psyche, no doubt as a result of various elements (fictional or otherwise) I’ve come to experience over my life. Like a lot of my writing, I did not sit down and think “Okay. This story is going to be an allegory of the American Revolution but in a fantasy setting and the characters being a mix of drow and flamekin.”

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Story Element 2 – A Brotherly Conflict

For those who do not know, I made quite the leap and changed my surroundings not very long ago. For those of you who do not know even more, my family includes myself and two brothers, a family that has, long before my big move, become quite divided (more physically than idealistically).

But even that’s changing. The longer I stay abroad, the less in common I am finding I have with most of my family. This is a peculiar realization, as it tastes of both bitter distress and sweet liberation.

Regardless, long before any of this happened, I came across a strange thought, a latent fear of mine, also connected to the aforementioned theme. What if I were ever to be at odds with my family? Or more specifically, the man I call my older brother? At seven years my senior, I undoubtedly fall into what I call the “Little Brother Complex,” (just as much as I have the “Middle Child Complex.” If you are either, you know what I mean.) I possess a subconscious desire for the approval of my sibling like anyone would seek the approval of a parent. Approval is a powerful gift, one the likes of which I have, if I may dip into the personal arena, received only from a few select individuals. One or two of those, luckily, were family, from time to time.

Regardless, moving where I did and for the reasons I did has caused unforeseen conflict. And as I said, long before any of stuff-I-purposefully-keep-vague began happening, but it is surprisingly akin to a powerful theme I am writing about between two important characters of my mainline novel. In it, we witness a relationship between two brotherly characters who become divided – a schism having been formed along the fault lines of ideals, intent, and eventually actions. In other words, we have two people who once loved each other who are now at war.

So. As a writer. How can I use this?

Granted, the lens of fantasy (and writing in general) allows for the freedom to embellish certain aspects of such a conflict. Perhaps I’m going through something of a difficult time with my family in meatspace, and while my writing may reflect some of the feelings, the events written do not necessarily mean there is a lack of love, or an existence of violence, which may or may not appear in my fiction.

No, it is – as are all things in this carnival we call life – quite complicated. One wonders whether a favorite book of mine – The Brother’s War, by Jeff Grubb – was written by a man who had experienced great conflict with sibling(s)?

Conflicts like this make for the most engaging and powerfully felt of stories. If you can, write your stories – fiction or otherwise – based on real people and real relationships. The difference is most palpable to the reader, in my experience.

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How about something quite different from not only the subject matter of this post, but also from the type of music I usually share? This little piece comes from the soundtrack of L.A. Noire, a game I wholly believe to be quite underrated, and its music is some pretty high quality stuff. Judging from the titular use of noire, a body might be able to guess the type of music to be found in such a setting, and as such I would sooner suspect that it’s a very specific type of taste. You know, the appreciation of really old music kind of taste, heh.

Enjoy!

Guest Post: The Importance of Research in Fantasy

Today’s guest is David Tufts, a former Army medic with a healthy appreciation for the craft of writing.

Here he details the importance of research in all forms of writing, focusing on Fantasy.

Take it away, David!

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The importance of research when crafting a written work can never be understated. Research is vital when trying to produce a work be it fiction, or any other work. Since this group is focused on Fantasy fiction writing, I will focus this discussion on how research impacts the creation of a good piece of written Fantasy fiction.

Firstly, the setting of a story is large place, even if the story takes place in, and never leaves a single place, the detail of that one place can be a daunting task when one thinks about it. Research helps a writer deal with the level of detail necessary for any sort of writing task. Without a certain level of detail within a story, a writer can run the risk of losing the reader’s interest. Proper research on a subject can help prevent that loss of interest. I will use a common example of the importance of research. In the movie “Star Wars: A New Hope”, a mistake was made that could have been prevented if proper research was done. In the movie a measure of distance, a parsec, was used as reference of time to create the illusion of a fast ship. What this mistake serves to force the viewer out of the story, if this happens enough the viewer, or reader can lose interest in the story, subsequently the reader would put the story down, and move on to a different story. On the flip side of this the creators of the entire “Star Wars” series did extensive research into what makes a tragic hero. This research was important because it helped portray the main character of the series, namely Anakin Skywalker, and his rise and fall as a tragic hero figure. The research helped in portraying his character, as well as setting the stage around him. Consider how the movies would have turned out if the writers and creators of these series of movies had done a poor job in researching the different facets of these movies. I think that the movies would have turned out poorly, and would have not have made the impact they have otherwise.

How does this relate to the Fantasy genre? Consider one of the staples of the fantasy genre. Long has sword and sorcery been a part of the Fantasy genre. At some point in most Fantasy stories that involve the use of hand weapons, research must be done on the actual use of these weapons. One can’t just pick up a sword or an axe, and immediately be as good as Conan in their use. Most writers don’t have experience with physical combat, and the properties of the weapons that antagonists or protagonists are using. That is where research plays a vital role. Writers can create a vivid life and death fight between two opponents. What ruins a scene like this for the reader is the interjection of unrealistic aspects that could easily become a part of this fight. By doing proper research a writer could understand the ballet and rhythm that happens when melee battle takes place. Every weapon has it uses based on the reasons why that weapon was created. For example, an axe, as a weapon, was created for a different reason, and a different function in a fight, than say a war hammer. Research would help a writer understand the differences between each different type of weapon, and their uses. It would also allow the writer to understand the subtle differences that would be present when using the various types of weapons. This understanding would allow the writer to better craft a fight scene.

This is only a small portion of what research can do when writing the next great Fantasy novel. Look at the world of Middle-Earth. The works of J.R.R. Tolkien is a prime example of what is possible when proper research is done, even in regards to a work of Fantasy. Without plenty of research done the stories presented in the world of Middle-earth may not have stood the ravages of time as well as they have. There also would not be the level of spin-off work if research was done, and documented. J.R.R Tolkien, with his research, made it possible to have two fully functional languages that were completely made up languages. This could have only been done with comprehensive linguistical research. In addition to this, the modern remakes of Tolkien’s works into elaborate movies, would not have been possible if the research done by J.R.R. Tolkien was not available for the staff of the movies to use as resources when filming the movies.

My first wife worked as a Fantasy Romance writer full time. She had published multiple Romance novels under a pen name. Who she was, and what titles she wrote are not important to the discussion of the importance of research to a Fantasy work, but what is important is that all of her works we set in the same world of her creation. How she created this world, and the detail of her world, was by in large due to the research that she conducted while creating her world. She spent long hours researching articles in libraries, and eventually using the internet. When she started writing the internet was young, and the resources that are available now, were not available when she started her career. How she kept the details of her world consistent and as realistic as she could was possible with comprehensive research, and subsequent documentation of her world. When she died, one of the projects I worked on was the creation of a Fantasy Role Playing game based on the world that she created. That project was easier because she left detail notes on her world, and included all the research she had done that helped her create the setting of her Fantasy Romance stories. I have even toyed with the thought of finishing her last novel, which would normally be impossible, but I have her notes, research, and material that she had about the world she created, and her last incomplete novel.

One last point about the need to use research when writing is that research does not mean that only doing research in a library or on the web is the only good research. Research can be more than just a written work. Research can be consulting experts in fields that the writer may not have any experience in. I have been used as a resource when a fellow writer had questions about the Army. I spent many years in the Army as a combat medic. As a result, a fellow writer used me as a practical source when he was writing a military science fiction story. I in turn used a friend when creating an action sequence that involved martial arts. Research can include any source that helps the writer create a vivid scene within their work. So it is important to remember that research can encompass more than just the web of the library. The television series “Deadliest Warriors” is a prime example of multiple layers of research come together for a common goal. In these series of shows historical warriors were pitched in a head to head fight. Different sources were used, both historical, and actual weapons and fighting experts were used as sources. Without historical and practical sources an accurate depiction of the warriors used would not be possible, and the series would not be a realistic portrayal of how each warrior would stand up against another.

These are but a few reasons why research is important to just about any form of writing. A creative idea is very important. It serves as the inspiration that can set one down the path of great adventure, but a vision is only the beginning. If a writer spends the time, and adds research to their creation, then they add depth and color to their creation that will shine through and help the reader see a similar vision. Online generators may be able to provide guidance, but these generators are but a tool, and a poor tool at that. They will never replace a vision that a writer comes up with on his own, and the online tools will never replace the importance to conduct good research, and the integration of that research into the writer’s vision.

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David has worked in the technical writing field while in the Army. 

He has also worked in the role playing community for a number of years as technical support. 

He has a couple of current writing projects in the works, and can be reached via gmail at the following address. jumpinjacksplat99@gmail.com

Booktrack Studio Discovery

This is totally a shout out for a really interesting thing that, you’ll soon find, is completely up my alley.

If you’re anything like me, or have at least read my previous posts about sound or soundtracks while reading/writing, then you might find yourself as interested as I am.

Booktrack is an organization that specializes in integrating sounds and music into one’s ebook reading experience. In other words, they allow true ambiance to be heard as you read, which is seriously something I’ve been doing by myself for years. The difference, though, between me renaming my mp3’s for my personal amusement (and inspiration) and Booktrack’s methods is that Booktrack will allow for triggered events and synced sound — as you read whatever ebook, it’ll calculate your reading speed as you go, and the sounds you hear as you go will be heard at the appropriate times, based on what page and where you are in the book.

There’s an excellent demonstration here, as well as an accompanying TED talk.

Turn the page and perhaps the scene changes from one character’s perspective inside a jail cell to someone else’s outdoors in the forest — one might hear dripping water, clanging iron doors and the distant footsteps of jailor’s boots. Turn the page, hear wind through the leaves, birds in the branches and crickets in the grass.

Do you have a playlist for your writing, or your reading? Do you pick and choose various bits of ambiance to have going in the background as you do, well, life? Well I do, and the fact that this sort of thing is becoming a thing really has me excited. The best audiobook experiences I’ve had were the ones that were more akin to audiodramas, with bits of music or occasional sound effects to really spice up the listen. When I read, when I write, when I create or otherwise experience life, I like to have as many senses engaged as possible, and while I’ve heard of people who prefer to read in complete silence, hey, more power to ’em — but I don’t get it, personally. Clearly, things like Booktrack are not for those folks.

I suppose it’s akin to listening to music with words while reading/writing — something I utterly cannot do — yet I’ve read and heard of folks who do so without issue. Stephen King comes to mind, stating in his book On Writing that he’ll have classic rock playing in the background while working. When I hear words, I generally can’t focus, or sometimes will end up typing the words I hear by accident. How he (and anyone else like him) can do that is beyond me, but then again most music that people listen to is beyond me anyway.

At any rate, Bookrack is something I really dig, and plan to get invested in in the near-future. They currently have a whole list of public-domain books available for download, so you can check out and see what it’s like most easily. In addition, they’ve got a feature that actually lets you try it out for yourself, either with a story already available or with one of your own.

I am so on this.

Today’s track, in the event that I apparently haven’t shared it in the past already, is a 40-minute-ish bit from Skyrim (also known as the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim), one of the best atmospheric tracks I’ve found. Play this if you need a mood-setter for traveling in the wilderness, whether your character is a beast, a hunter, or nature itself.

Happy writing, dear readers!