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!

 

 

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Fear Of The Finish Line

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Not long ago, I had a strange epiphany-like moment. It happened when I was mulling over precisely why it was that I haven’t been writing fiction like I used to.

In the not-so-distant past, I eagerly strode out of my home to one of a myriad of cafes within walking distance and would sit down for hours at a time, drafting, editing and scrivenizing raw prose. Sometimes it was arduous, and sometimes it flowed like a cluster of frog eggs from your adolescent hand during a hot summer’s day.

How’s that for a visual?

So naturally, life distractions happen. Every writer’s bane is the internet itself, for all its usefulness. I have YouTube channels I like to follow that release daily content, all manner of websites full of interesting articles, and of course Wikipedia. Perhaps worst of all is Facebook, the ultimate time sink.

In case it may interest you, I’ve recently restarted using an app for Google Chrome called StayFocusdUsing this deceptively nifty little extension, you can limit how long you browse certain webpages. If you’re anything like me, and you easily lose track of time while browsing or “doing research,” it’s a great tool to help limit the internetical meandering.

By the way, no one gives me anything for this little endorsement.

Anyway, throw in any excuse with which you are most familiar. I have responsibilities, I don’t have enough time, I have a boy/girlfriend, I have appointments, deadlines, — whatever. It’s easy to fall into the trap of telling one’s self these things, as though to excuse one’s self from actually working on one’s personal projects. The world is full of distracting things.

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Turns out I had the time, and still do, occasionally, have an extra hour or two between busy-ness and business. Granted, I have been monumentally distracted, but had I focus, I could turn those spare moments into productive writing time. I will gladly and freely admit that I am a fundamentally lazy person, but have endeavored to change my behavior to become more productive.

It has worked. Over the course of the last few years, I’ve effectively turned myself into the type of person that gets extremely antsy and anxious if I’m idle for too long. I’ve got more projects in my life now than I know how to complete. As far as writing is concerned, this includes:

A short story for my writer group, the Sky Writers, a short story for Masque & Spectacle (Vietnam Edition), any number of whimsical blog posts, and, of course, the all-consuming, all-powerful novel project.

The truth is I have had the time to work on any number of these. Energy, on the other hand, is arguable. Willpower has waned. So I’ve been getting very introspective, repeatedly asking myself the fundamental question: Why?

I, like many writers, think we need (or possibly delude ourselves into thinking we need) to be in the right state of mind in order for our time to be conducive to creativity. In other words, lots of us just sit around and wait for inspiration to strike us, which I’ve come to believe is most certainly the wrong way to do things. I hear it all the time, and the result is always the same: they aren’t actually writing anything.

Steven King, a man I cite often here, is a notoriously prolific writer, and in the book I cite just as often (if not more so) than the man himself, On Writing, King makes it clear that you can’t wait for the muse; you have to train your muse to know where to find you. That means making the habit of setting aside time, honoring it, and sitting in front of a notebook or a screen with a pen in your hand or a keyboard under your fingers. Make it habit. Personally, I like to have a cup of ice coffee nearby.

Elizabeth Gilbert makes a counter-intuitive point to the idea of “your elusive creative genius” in her TED talk. This is among the top TED Talks that have left the greatest impression on me.

So even while knowing these things (even though I haven’t been putting them in practice quite as often as I would like, or would otherwise have you think, considering the preachy nature of this blog post), I still found myself asking the question: Why?

Then it hit me.

I think I am afraid of completing the novel.

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Bear in mind that, once finished, this would be my first, and were I to buckle down and write the last damn final chapters, the manuscript could be completed in something like a week or two. You would think that with the end in sight, I would be rushing to the finish line, but as it happens, I think I discovered an unexpected hurdle.

You see, I’ve been working on this thing for years. It’s conception first came about like the result of a prom night gone wrong, and about as long ago. That’d put the earliest bits of development around ten years before this post — but I’ve only recently taken my writing seriously as of about two or three years ago. Before then, my stories and ideas were but musings of an idle mind. Since then, the writings have taken on various incarnations; the novel I started is far different than the novel that will be finished, as it has been scratched and started anew several times.

In fact, almost nothing in common with the original story remains, except a slight sense of familiarity. It’s like an old computer you’ve had for ages, but you’ve gone about upgrading the hardware and software over the years. At which point does it, or did it ever, cease to be the same computer you started with?

The point of all this is this:

I discovered in myself that I might have actually fallen in love with the romantic ideal of “working on a novel,” rather than actually finishing it.

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The project has been in development for so long that more than once I’ve actually lost sight of the end! I mean sure, as per the reassurances of my writer-peers, I can and will always get involved in the next book.

Like I said, there’s a series planned. Standalone fantasy books are an excellent gulp of fresh-air, but that’s not what this particular story arc is.

The problem isn’t inspiration, or a lack of time, or even being in the dark about what will happen next in the manuscript. Usually what it comes down to is forcing myself to a place where the muse will find me: in a cafe somewhere, wearing giant headphones and with one or two drained coffee cups nearby, my laptop open and my notebook at hand.

I’m in fact emulating that as I put the final touches on this post.

Swallowing that strange thing that I can only describe as a fear of finishing.

Have you ever reached the finale of a game you’ve loved? Or a T.V. series? Or even a sequence of books or movies? There is always this sense of emptiness afterward. I’ve felt this after turning the last page of a few books, but in fact I’ve felt it strongest at the end of an anime or a classic JRPG of old.

Some of the most influential games for me were Final Fantasy 6, Final Fantasy 7, Chrono Trigger. Mario RPG was one of the greats, as well. Each of these games I had beaten several times, but the first time I saw the credits roll, I sat and gazed at all the foreign names, letting the magnitude of my experience sink in.

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I can even remember a sense of depression after seeing the credit rolls halt, and reading a final “~FIN” or “The End” or “Thank you for playing.”

And writing about this has actually inspired me to dig up and start a new one. I haven’t played a JRPG in years; perhaps it’s time I see what all the hallabaloo is about Earthbound.

It ended. It was really over. Sometimes there would be looping music. Sometimes dead silence. Always stillness.

Now what?

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Substitute the word “book” with “RPG” and it rings just as true.

 

Every now and then, I regain the encouragement or wherewithal I need to remember my purpose. I swear, half the things I write about on this blog are about why I’m having trouble writing and what I do in an attempt to combat that. But I wonder how many others ever have felt this same anxiety?

The truth is that once I am completed with one novel project, there will always be another one to write, whether it’s a sequel or a separate piece.

It’s just merely a matter of getting over myself in order to write the blasted thing.

Funny how we are our own worst critics, our biggest hurdles, and our own only hope.

Do let me know whether you’ve experienced anything like this in the comments.

~~~

This post’s music comes from an OverClocked Remix of Final Fantasy’s Prelude, a part of the Balance and Ruin Remix Album for Final Fantasy 6. It never fails to remind me of my dreams as a writer.

Stranger In A Strange Land

In recent months, I’ve felt both mad inspiration and discouraging slumps. Last week I talked about an instance where I overcame a bout of Writer’s Block. I like to imagine every post on the matter – gathered from every writer, everywhere – as a crumpled piece of paper, all occupying a single place on the internet. A massive slosh to which every writer and blogger contributes.

Advice on how to get over writer’s block, memes making comedic light of it, how I overcame it, how you can too. Systems, apps, substances.

And I certainly don’t claim to be different. More than once I’ve written a blog post consisting of little more than a “Why I Can’t Write Anything,” topic. But the visual makes things a little more fun.

At any rate, today’s topic will actually concern my work-in-the-making, which I almost never talk about for a variety of reasons. Most of those reasons are variations of 1) being vainly and arrogantly afraid that someone’ll copy + paste my stuff [I’ll share everything in the future, when it’s finished] and 2) it takes so much backstory just to get the blog-reader up to speed on what the hell I’m talking about that I don’t bother.

I have, however, gone into some detail in the past.

It’s hard to celebrate the inspiration for a conspiracy surrounding an organization that spans over multiple worlds…

Or the excitement I feel when I make a connection between characters from different countries and cities…

And even the deep lore behind a weapon the likes of which I’d spent years sitting around thinking up the story behind…

…when next-to-no-one has read a page of your work.

I’m not complaining about that, though. I’m just into sharing a bit of inspiration through an experience, and how it will be directly affecting my work.

My novel would fall into the category of Fantasy (big surprise, considering the title of the blog), though precisely which type of fantasy is as much up to you people, when it’s released, as it is mine as I write it. Suffice it to say there’s magic, lots of myriad peoples and creatures, the worlds in which the stories take place are anything but shallow.

For the first novel, still in progress – but so close I can clicheically taste it — I have multiple character perspectives. This is nothing special on its own, most writers can (and should) be able to do this. I showed the rough scheme for my chapter layout some time ago, though it’s in fact changed a little since then.

The “Radh Arc,” that is, the string of chapters telling the story from the perspective of the character named Radh, closes on a peaceful note with an air of tension of tension that is at last ebbing (or is it?). The character is settling in a new environment, in a new town, surrounded by new people, and he is thoroughly out of place. A veteran war hero posing as a civilian in a small-but-busy quarry town several days away from the nearest city. People would look at him strangely, as there are aspects of his appearance that make him stand out. I’ll give you a hint as to why.

He isn’t human. Not technically.

The character is visibly different from the locals, which is something I had conceived and written about many years ago. Which means the idea was put to paper during a time when I had virtually no experience in what I was trying to convey.

Turns out the Flux Capacitor Effect happened again — the pieces to a puzzle were there, clear and in plain sight, and it took but a simple thought to arrange them in a certain order so as to be assembled into inspiration.

I think it hit me in the shower.

I’m currently living in a situation where people stare at me. All the time. My physical appearance is so different from that of the millions of locals around me that most of the time, I am regarded with a sort of distant trying-not-to-stare attitude (though pretty often a lot of folks here in the outskirts of Sai Gon don’t even try to hide it). I’m basically a freak for choosing to live here, though my favorite term is being viewed “as some sort of strange animal that has escaped from a zoo.”

Most of the time I’m the one without the camera.

It’s almost like some really weird, subconscious, self-fulfilling prophecy. I originally wrote about a character moving into a new environment more than ten years ago, and now that I’ve rewritten the scenes multiple times, my life has also somehow taken enough turns to lead me into a situation perfect for writing this section of the novel from experience. It also seems oddly coincidental that I’ve reached this exact point in the 3.0 revision around the time in my life where I find myself essentially transplanted into an alien environment.

So the mantra: As a writer, how can I use this?

Living here, I’ve come to realize that on a constant basis — and I do not mean daily, no, I truly mean constant for as long as I am seen in public — I am being judged and assumptions are being made.

Sure sure, we’re all being judged at any given moment by our family, our peers, and especially strangers, but has someone ever assumed you were rich because of the sound of your voice? That you’re ignorant because of the color of your eyes? Or the amount of hair on your arms is directly proportional to how masculine you are (true story)?

Hairy arms aside, I’ve found one of the biggest adjustments I’ve had to deal with here was how utterly out of place I look.

Psychologically, I’m fine. People looking at me funny is nothing all that new, actually, though the reasons have changed, and this direct exposure to peoples’ assumptions about my attitude, hygiene, standards, personal wealth, religious beliefs, politeness and even how I dress, is all chalked up to me just being some foreigner.

In other words, while I endeavor to be as respectful as I can, for all practical purposes no matter what I do, the majority of people I interact with, or who at least see me, will assume I am the way I am simply because I’m not one of them.

Only a select few in my close circle know that I’m a weirdo back in America, too.

All this translates into the conclusion of the “Radh Arc” chapters, and while I’m happy to share and celebrate my little joy here (because if I don’t, who will?), but also send a bit of encouragement.

You’d be surprised what inspiration, or missing puzzle pieces (I tend to think those two concepts are interchangeable), are right under your nose, or right around the corner.

~~~

Today’s music piece comes from Diablo 2, a popular Blizzard game from a decade ago. More specifically, the track comes from its expansion, Lord of Destruction, and this “cold music” is the ambience for a mountainous barbarian town.

Whenever I listen to this track, I am not only taken back to days when I used to play the game, but also to a point in the novel that, I’ve always felt, this track expressed perfectly. One can almost hear the sound of snow falling as the calm of this track paints a picture of a stoic, isolated town, warm hearths within and cold darkness beyond the wall. There is a not-so-far-off tension in these instrumentals, setting the stage for some serious action in the near future of the people.

Inspiration: The Grudge

This is not so much a review of the movie The Grudge as it’s about a topic sparked by its theme.

So The Grudge is a movie from 2004, based on a Japanese horror film of the same name (called “Ju-On” from 2002). I forget exactly when I first saw it, probably a year or two after, as I did not watch it in a theater, and I’m thoroughly glad I didn’t.

Granted, this image is from the Grudge 2, but you get the idea.

Granted, this image is from the Grudge 2, but you get the idea. Most of the images online are a bit too gruesome than I’d prefer to have posted here.

Once, I swore I would never watch that movie again. As of this writing, I only just saw it a second time, with someone new, who insisted we watch ‘the scariest movie I knew.’

God dammit.

The Grudge follows a number of tropes in common with the ever-popular title “The Ring” also from 2002 (“Ringu,” 1998, in Japan). In this humble writer’s opinion, the American versions are significantly scarier, as they retain the psychological horror aspect as found in the original Japanese versions, but with the added American flavor of jump-scare emphasis.

If you haven’t heard of any of these pieces, or are largely unfamiliar with the J-Horror genre of psychological horror movies, I don’t know how to prepare you better than to say: Beware. For many people around the world, this kind of stuff is really bloody frightening.

The common theme among nearly all of these sorts of movies – not only J-Horror, but K-Horror (Korean) as well, and throughout a much of East and South-East Asian cinema, is a paranormal manifestation the likes of which probably everyone in the world would recognize on sight.

I’m talking about what the Japanese call a yūrei, what the Koreans call a gwisin, what the Vietnamese call a ma. You know, ghosts. And, just like the word “ghost” in English can mean a number of things, these are all generic categories. What I’m talking about, though, is a specific type.

The vengeful, Long-Haired Ghost.

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And yet, oddly beautiful. Or am I just a freak?

They’re quite iconic, and almost never pleasant. They’re most commonly spirits of dead folks who have been wronged, and are generally hateful of anyone or anything that interacts with them, or the places/objects they haunt. This, at least, is the common thread linking the majority of these films, and some of us can’t get enough of it.

I went through a phase once, a couple years back, where I watched I watched a Korean ghost movie almost every night – at least once every couple of days – over the course of a few months. This resulted in my seeing shadows in the corners of my eyes during the day for many months after the fact.

Oh yes, those were good times, working in a health food store only to whip your head around to make sure there wasn’t some pale, bloody phantasm creepily herky-jerky-ing its way down the vitamin aisle.

Most of the time it’s been nothing.

But there were some horrendous nightmares that come every now and then. Heck, I still get them sometimes – things I’d actually prefer not to describe at present – so yeah, on that note, let’s talk about why this stuff is awesome.

For one thing, I’ve actually grown braver about a multitude of things. Or perhaps a little desensitized – is there a difference? Certainly, the line between bravery and stupidity is notoriously thin, but then again so is the line between confidence and actual ability. At any rate, the point is that I’ve been able to explore topics and media that in the past I might have otherwise been averse to exploring. Fear is something that interests me, and not only with the Long-Haired Ghosts, but other creepy things, but with other things creepy and terrifying.

As I’ve said once or twice before, things that are creepy are scary.  Just ask H.R. Giger. Man, do I love linking that VSauce video.

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Five Night’s At Freddy’s, one of the most horrifying games I’ve ever seen. As of this post it’s pretty new, too, check it out.

This has, in fact, benefited my writing as well as my outlook on life.

The Long-Haired Ghost is something I’ve found to be repulsive and inspiring. While not directly appearing in my fiction, it has, like I said, allowed me to discover other things – and write about other things – that one might normally find difficult to entertain, or write. On the other hand, situations, creatures, or scenes that might be considered horrific by many are fairly normal to me.

Re: desensitization/bravery. I feel that as a writer, this valuable.

Besides, seeing The Grudge for the second time did raise the hairs on my arms and back of my neck, but it wasn’t quite as scary.

My guest freaked out readily enough, though, so mission accomplished.

~~~

Today’s track is brought to you by A Tale of Two Sisters, a K-Horror that stands as one of my favorites. I’ve seen the movie twice – once, alone, during that phase earlier mentioned, and once with another person and it was significantly less scary…

The soundtrack is actually, in this humble writer’s opinion, much more delightful than the movie itself, though I’ll never forget the initial emotions evoked by my first viewing. Truth is, my mind paints a slightly different picture whenever I hear this music, and the picture in my head is better than the picture on film. Be that as it may, check out the soundtrack, if not the movie, and see what ideas appear upon the paper before you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cilantro

Apparently there is a growing body of research regarding the apparent nastiness of cilantro in certain people. To a number of folk – and I have no means of providing numbers here, except that the number is growing – cilantro tastes like soap. Or, at least, has a nasty bitterness to it. It’s apparently a genetic thing.

Perhaps the research is over, and as usual, I’m late to the party in discovering this, but I first learned about this whole concept while listening to the Stuff You Should Know podcast many months ago. I can’t remember which episode, but you ought to check them out if you dig trivia.

But this aversion to cilantro got me thinking. You know, about food, about life, about changes, and heck, yes, even about writing.

Cilantro is the Spanish name for coriander, also known as Chinese parsley or dhania – and no doubt you’ve encountered it at some point in your life. It’s nearly indistinguishable from regular parsley – especially when it’s a little wilted, or cooked in a dish – and can be found in a variety of Hispanic and Asian dishes.

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Courtesy of BetterRecipes.com

Normally I wouldn’t care for this sort of thing. I’m not what people would call a foodie, though I do love my guacamole, but still, this blog doesn’t really concern itself with food.

Except when it does. As typical as human behavior as it gets, I went and did some reading on cilantro only after having experienced this phenomena myself. I was at a friend’s house in Brooklyn, and she brought a variety of groceries home from a local market, among them a huge bundle of cilantro. Seeing this, I was seized with the memory of the above-mentioned podcast, and decided to put myself to the test. After all, I’d seen these things in grocery stores all the time, but herbalism is so off my personal radar that I confess I never really had the opportunity – or drive – to experiment. Having expressed my current goal to those present, I went about chewing a few freshly washed leaves.

They tasted awful.

And not only awful, but familiar – I remember tasting this, in the past, in what I considered to be the worst guacamole made. There could be something to this.

So it was that I found myself quite possibly in yet another minority category. But what has this experience to do with writing?

The question all writers must face: How can I use this?

Well, the way I see it, food is one of the most distinct cultural traits to be found. I think it’s a safe bet that there’re two major factors that go into identifying a culture: the language they speak and the food they eat. Sure, things like music, art, customs, how they treat their women, economy … all those are distinguishing things, but on a foundational level, you can really tell a lot about a person – a culture – by the food they eat and how their language works.

Cilantro is positively adored by millions of people around the world. Some cultures use it often and frequently. But what if there existed cultures that utterly despised the stuff? Traditional cultures, as might be applicable to a fantasy setting, I mean. I’m aware there exist modern communities (arguably a ‘culture’) of cilantro haters, such as might be found at imaginatively-named websites like this.

I’m not talking about something like in the movies Signs or The War of the Worlds, where extraterrestrial creatures are found to be susceptible to things we as humans count as commonplace. I’m not talking about a race of dog-people that will die if they eat a bit of chocolate, as might be readily consumed by any human culture.

I’m thinking more for the sake of variety. There’re plenty of foods on this planet that an American might find disgusting, and visa versa, but most of that food is still edible. It’s for cultural reasons, the way you were raised. It’s all in your head. You may not like the taste of cornsilk tea because it’s weird and different, but you can still at least drink the stuff.

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Those couple of weeks in South Korea had me tasting some of the most unusual things I’ve ever had in my life, but corn silk tea was among the most memorable.

I think description of food and flavor is an excellent opportunity for enriching your world when writing, whether it’s Fantasy, Science Fiction, or what-have-you. Creating your own exotic spices and dishes is one thing, but consider also the reactions that “normal” characters would have to these things, or how “others” would react to the so-called normal stuff. Cilantro is just one herb – imagine what else we might discover in our own world that is scientifically repulsive to certain people?

Imagine what certain groups of people, or even non-human races, might find physically incapable of considering edible? Genetic predispositions toward certain foods is in fact nothing unusual; we consume sweets because our brain, through the tongue, tells us that it’s a source of easily gathered energy. Fatty stuff is so satisfying because our brains tell us that fats are great sources of long-term energy.

Similarly, repulsion towards smells, such as that of decaying flesh, are like ringing dinner bells to animals like vultures and flies. To us humans, that stench is repulsive for a reason: dead things love company, so steer clear.

If you don’t know already, go ahead and do yourself a favor and try eating some cilantro. See if you’re among the majority of people who love the stuff, or like me, find it to be pretty much abhorrent. Whether there’s a genetic reason for this remains to be seen, but taking this idea and expanding it to one’s writing could serve to enrich your worlds. Give it a shot!

~~~

Today’s track is from a recently discovered OST, and packaged with it you’ll get a quick impression of the movie Gravity (2013).

In short, I dug it. I did not have the opportunity to see it in the big theaters, as it was reputedly made to be seen, but even while watching it at home I found myself engaged and interested – despite hearing some sort of spoiler long ago. In terms of scientific accuracy, well, okay, I’m aware there were some flaws. Niel Degrasse Tyson is quoted as saying the movie should have been called Angular Momentum and not Gravity, heh. But he confesses to enjoying the movie; and so did I.

When you consume a story, there is a need for characters to grow and change. This is especially noticed in its absence, such as the book Ready Player One, in which the protagonist hardly changes at all. In Gravity, the protagonist goes through growth, and coupled with the action – and not to mention the delightful and appropriate soundtrack – I rate the movie as most definitely worth seeing.

 

 

 

Guest Post: We Are All On An Epic Adventure

Today’s Post is by Sarah Queen, a fellow fantasy enthusiast. You can find her on Twitter by the handle @SarahAnneDroid. Take it away, Sarah!

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Fantasy get’s a bad rap. We’ve all heard it before; the antisocial ones, trying to escape reality. Why lose oneself in worlds and societies that do not even exist? Well for me, it was often to find myself.

I have always been vexed with the need to know “why?” Why am I even here? Why bother? Why are we trying so hard? Why does it hurt so much?

Let’s face it; most of us do not have stimulating lives propelling us into all our hopes and dreams. Life is hard. Learning from life is even harder. Even a relatively good life: driving in traffic, working at a day job, grocery shopping, doing laundry and trying to get to bed in time to wake up early and do it all again tomorrow. It’s difficult to recognize purpose in the routine.

Yet do we breathe in and out just to eat that next meal, sleep and wake until one day we stop? I think the answer to that question lies in the fact that we would ask it at all. So if I desire more than the life of my five senses and daily routines, obviously there is a more I am yearning for. A more I have recognized and I’m missing it.

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Life is a bizarrely multifaceted experience that I believe we’ve hardly scratched the surface of.   Art in all its forms communicates these aspects from one soul to another. The way my heart stirs at the sight of the swirling, vibrant colors of a magnificent painting. The emotion forced to swell at the insistent tide of a beautiful melody! The call to action, like tides of a raging storm, my soul demands of me as I read the story of injustice!

If we were simply meant to eat, sleep, and breathe these other stirrings would not exist. They would have no place. They would make no sense. But, see, they do exist. And they move me with a power that I could not explain simply from within the confines of my own daily experience. So I turn to fantasy fiction.

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I think if all paintings were only of real people and places our imaginations would be stunted and our ambitions dim. But painting the abstract dreamscape communicates something I’ve only experienced inwardly. Things I have explored and learned from through the fantastical epics of others. And I think there is a reason we relate so strongly to these stories.

Donald Miller, author of “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years,” explored the idea that there is a reason we relate to the basic aspects of the storyline. That we are ourselves the main character of our own story, and like any good plot, the main character wants something, and must overcome difficulty to get it.

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Sci-fi and fantasy fiction helped me put to words the struggles that seemed far larger than my daily routine. The feeling of being small and simple in a world of powerful forces that I feel in no way capable of impacting, yet if evil goes unchallenged it will rise to defeat us all: Bilbo and Frodo, Atreyu, Richard Cypher, Lucy Pevensie, Harry Potter, Arthur Dent, Luke Skywalker. These characters helped me to recognize that everyone feels small and simple. Everyone is faced with the decision to fight for what is good and helpful, or to succumb to fear and side with evil and take from others at a rate that would harm them.

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Fantasy worlds, societies, technologies; these also pull us into thinking in ways that we have not yet experienced. They make it possible to learn, and grow; to walk a mile in those proverbial shoes without actually getting the blisters. After all, every possibility that still lies only in our future is technically science fiction.

I grew up watching Star Trek: TNG (Captain Picard is my hero). I loved the idea of a convenient computer system they always had access to, which held the sum of human knowledge, a plethora of personal recordings and experiences, and made it very easy for them to stay in constant communication with one another. If one needed to learn about any subject they simply called it up from this wealth of readily available information. They even had convenient little handheld devices that would feed this information directly to wherever they needed it. Sounds familiar now, doesn’t it. But not then. This was decades before smart phones and tablets when the internet was really in its infancy, bulkily slugging along behind us.

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Fantasy fiction provided us with a vehicle to explore all the layers of life and its possibilities. To explain in vibrant color the dreams we dream. To experience new and foreign concepts in a way that is not captured by our day to day settings. I don’t think fantasy will change the world. But I do think it changes people. And that can change the world.

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For more from Sarah, check out musical projects she has partaken in at The Droids and Seventh Epic.

Not to mention her Twitter handle, @SarahAnneDroid

Sound Off: Spectrums of Mana

Today will be a post not about writing itself, but rather a shout-out to some inspiration fuel I’ve recently discovered.

People familiar with my earlier posts might have gleaned hints of my gaming background – particularly my soft spot for a number of SNES-era 16-bit RPG’s. I’m painfully aware of the nostalgia factor in regards to many of them, but among the things that has stood against the test of time would be the soundtracks to a number of these beauties.

Secret of Mana is no exception. An earlier Square (not Square-Enix!) game from 1993 – a year earlier than some of the world’s most renowned titles in gaming. The composer for Secret of Mana was one Hiroki Kikuta, who has been thankfully busy, and this humble blogger would not be alone in praising his music. Numerous Overclocked ReMixes can be found, and not all of them are from Secret of Mana.

However, Spectrums of Mana, another arranged ReMix album of the Secret of Mana soundtrack, does not fly the OCReMix Banner, but was in fact brought to my attention by OCReMix itself. Twitter is a lovely tool.

So Spectrums is divided by three discs, and is free for download. I wish I had known of this project earlier, but better a couple months late than never. Each disc is divided by theme, or mood, which really is up my alley as a mood-listener. Disc 1, War, comprised of the fighting and conflict tracks, features heavy rock and powermetal influences. Disc 2, Peace, features the tracks that brought the mood of mystical settings and the wilderness, featuring slower, orchestral tempos. The final Disc, Spirit, is comprised of tracks that bring zest to this game – the upbeat tunes from towns, action scenes, and rather important story moments.

Perhaps having a pre-existing attachment to the original game and/or soundtrack creates a bond stronger than the average listener, but if you’re a fan of melody, this is something for you. I recommend it for anyone – especially writers – in search of an independent album made up of indie artists and musicians who, evidently, poured sweat and blood into their passion to make this.

It would be unfair of me to pick a favorite track, but I already did. It’s called Solum from Disc 2, a remix of arguably my favorite videogame theme.

And trust me, there are a lot.

This is a slower piece, for a scene in the game that is nothing short of sacred.

Happy writing, dear readers! Are there any mood-setting music you prefer for when you’re writing? I’d love to hear about them.