Monday, August 29, 2016
Gather ‘round folks, we’ve got a special guest today: a good friend of mine by the name of Bryce, who’s self-published the first book in his trilogy, and is preparing to release the second one with a few weeks. Let’s chat, shall we?
Hey Bryce, and welcome to Story Forger! Tell us a tidbit or two about yourself, if you don’t mind.
Hey Aidan, thanks for having me. Let's see...interesting facts... I'm 17 years old, am homeschooled, and play baseball. (Hopefully these are interesting....)
You're currently published, if I'm correct. Mind telling us what the published book is about?
Yes, that's correct. My first book is titled Claervont Captive, and is a story about a young squire who joins in a rebellion against the throne. Throughout the course of the book, Michal, the main character, learns the meaning of loyalty, and must determine whose side he's really on.
Did anything inspire this project? If so, what was it?
Ever since I was young, I've always loved the medieval era, and when I began writing, I knew that I wanted my first book to be a medieval fantasy. Specific books such as Lord of the Rings and the Chiveis Trilogy (by Brian Litfin) influenced me greatly. Some elements of the story were also drawn from Shakespeare, and the biblical story of Paul's conversion.
I know your second book is close to publication, so tell us a little about that, too. When will it be available?
The second book picks up a few years after the end of the first, but for the sake of spoilers that's all I can say at the time. However, I plan to publish it by the end of August.
Because variety is good, what sort of things do you do besides writing?
I love to play sports, and I play baseball on a homeschool high school team in my hometown. I also enjoy to read (though you might've guessed that), as well as the occasional archery session.
Who is your favorite fictional character (feel free to list a top three or something)?
Oh boy... That's a toughie. I'll have to go with probably either
1) Artemis Fowl. I know, I know, these books aren't medieval fantasy. But they're still amazing and the title character is brilliant and extremely likable.
2) Achan from Jill Williamson's Blood of Kings series. He's an extremely relatable character who struggles with very real things, and his development throughout the story was rewarding to see.
Do you have any advice for the readers (now is your chance to impress on our young minds your opinions)?
Always be aware when you're reading. Try to get more out of each book than simply a good read (though admittedly it can sometimes be hard). Think about the story's theme, and the author's purpose in writing it. Sometimes this analysis can a) deepen your appreciation for the book, or b ) (and equally as important) tip you off about issues in the messages being sent. Authors have a lot of power with their words, and as readers it's important that we realize that.
Finally, how many fish would be your friends if you were a fish?
If I were a fish, I'd be in one of those massive schools with like 10,000 other fish. It'd be one great big party.
Thank you for stopping by today! Well, before you leave, is there any way the readers can connect with you and/or your writings?
Thank you for hosting me! It's been fun.
I'm working on building my website at the moment, but for now my books are available here: www.lulu.com/spotlight/TheClaervontChronicles
People are also free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org if they have any other questions.
All right, everyone, that’s Bryce in less than six hundred words (because, you know, that’s all there is to know about him). As he said, you can find his books here, and the second one will be out soon!
Friday, August 26, 2016
Last week, I talked about magic in stories (not to be confused with the magic of stories, which in many ways is much more powerful… but I digress). Today, I’d like to continue the thought series and consider this:
Which is better; a structured magic system or a free-form magic?
I’m not going to decide for you, although I’ve already decided for myself. Shoving the structured side of my brain aside, I’m going to do my best to present the pros and cons of both in a short post (short because college classes have started up and yeah).
The Power of Rules
We’re artists; each and every one of us. Rules don’t become us: we hate the idea of rules, of boundaries, of someone saying “no you can’t do that; it’s not art”. Instead, we strive to strip our lives of all rules and borders and become real.
At the same time, however, a few simple rules can create a lot of strength, very quickly.
I think that the strongest pro regarding a structured magic system is that your forced to creatively find ways for your hero to use the magic against the villain. In short, defining your magic system and saying “it can do this, but not this, and only a little of this” forces you to choose the better option, the option that follows the weak one. You avoid Deus ex Machina because you and your reader know the boundaries, and know that there will be no cheating. It’s impossible to pull out magic and say “it can do this now” whenever convenient to you. Instead, you have to create. You have to apply critical thought to your magic and use your problem-solving skills.
Structured magic doesn’t necessarily have exact, lengthy rules. It’s simply saying something like “my magic has these specific spells and no others, and each spell does this”. You create closure.
To use an example, my recently finished Agram Awakens has four intertwined magic systems. They all involve these cubes (which have different names in pretty much every country). They are the source of the magic [marking my system at as an exterior magic], and are used by people.
I’ll keep this simple and say: there are four basic physical properties that your average joe can manipulate with these cubes. One of these is the idea of “temperature”. A person can mentally use the cube to “move” heat [energy] from one place to another, create “pockets” of heat and cool (excess energy, the lack of energy). A practical use: pulling energy out of the surrounding air to create a warm “bubble” in the middle of a blizzard.
The other’s I’ve labeled as: light, sound, and welding (magnetism). I don’t have time to explain in detail, but that’s it.
That’s all most everyone can use the cubes for. The other three “magic systems” are related to how a person and their cube are “related” to each other, and I don’t have time to explain.
I don’t spell out everything the magic system can do. But I give it boundaries: the magic system can’t mess with gravity and so forth, unless the user gets really creative with the welding/magnetism aspect.
I don’t have time to go over cons, so we’ll skip to the pro of a free-form magic system.
Most free-form magic systems are found in the “odd” fantasy novels, or in urban fantasy/mythology novels. One of the best examples is Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. These books are bizarre, as a best description of them. At every turn there’s a new element, a new snippet of something Otherly, something quite unlike our world.
What makes it free-form? The reader never knows the rules. There is no limit to what Alice will meet, what she finds when she looks in the teacups or around the bush. Is it a smoking caterpillar? Is it a jabberwocky? Is it a piece of soap you can eat so you change size? Is it an ocean of tears?
Why not… all of them?
The best thing about a free-form magic system is that your reader can find anything. Their imagination is allowed complete freedom, as is yours. You can expose your reader to a true sense of wonder: “what’s out there?”
I also mentioned urban fantasy/urban mythology, and I’d like to take a moment to address that with a simple title: Percy Jackson and the Olympians. These books by Rick Riordan are full of magic and wonder, none of which seems to be ultra-constrained by rules. There are a few, making it a sort of middle-road magic, but in general, it’s free-form.
And people love it.
So which one is better?
I guess I can’t tell you the answer, because there isn’t an answer beyond this: write the one that works best for you. Some amazing writers, like Brandon Sanderson, J. R. R. Tolkien, and more wrote immense and powerfully crafted structured magic systems. And other amazing writers, like Lewis Carroll and Rick Riordan and C. S. Lewis wrote similarly immense and powerfully crafted free-form magic systems.
The point isn’t to choose one over the other, it’s to write one particular style well. Avoid the pitfalls of either kind (Dues ex Machina for free-form, info-dumps explaining the rules in structured), and write the magic well.
I’ll address that in a couple weeks.
Monday, August 22, 2016
Life is tough.
Sometimes, the things in life are even tougher. Whatever it may be – whether it’s something of your creation like a novel or a painting or even a chair or something out of your control – it can be hard to deal with the stuff in your life. Maybe it’s a person you care about, but they don’t care about you. Or maybe it’s a novel you’ve invested days and days and tears and sweat into. Only to find it’s not worth it.
A poem you wanted to turn out beautiful, only to find it’s meaningless.
A friendship you cherished, only to watch it fade away.
Relationships you treasured – gone.
Art you created – soured.
We all have these things in life; these pieces of baggage. None of us expected to pick these things up along the way. None of us wanted to. It’s a never ending struggle to put those carpetbags and suitcases of baggage down and not pick them back up again.
The process is often impossible to complete. We’ll put it down, start to walk away. Except somehow, that piece of baggage is only a few steps behind, no matter how long or how fast we move away from it. Over and over and over, we’ll glance over our shoulders and see it sitting there. Waiting. A rough-textured carpetbag with leering handles and large, ugly button-eyes.
“Pick me up,” it hisses.
And we do.
As many times as we throw it down, we pick it up again. We strive and we strive and we strive to leave it behind. It results in more tears than the creation of it did.
How do we let go?
It’s harder than the stories will tell you. Sure, that character can just waltz away into the sunset, leaving their cares behind. Sure, she can run to the mountains, build herself a snow castle and never look back. They let it go.
You know what?
That’s not how life works.
It takes a lot more time and effort.
You have to be willing to fight it, to spend hours wrestling with that piece of baggage. With yourself. Part of you doesn’t want to let that friendship die. It was a nice friendship, with memories of laughter and smiles and even good tears. You don’t want to let it go, to find a new friend. No one can replace that particular friend, not even. Not even now that they’re gone.
That story idea is wonderful. You’ve treasured it ever since it came to you as a vaguely shaped infant story, with hardly a character or plot to its name. Each day you nurtured it and taught it to grow and become larger and larger and-
Now you’ve realized… it’s not worth it. It’s not a good story: it’s cliché, the characters are real, the plot is non-existent, the setting is borrowed from a childhood memory of a television show. But you don’t want to release it, to turn your back and forget. No story can replace this one, it’s unique and it’s yours.
A constant struggle.
When the dust settles, one of two things will happen:
--- Perhaps the carpetbag will lay at your feet, handles twisted into a sneer, button-eyes staring into your soul.
“Pick me up,” it hisses.
And you do.
Your hands slip around the harsh, grating handles, and you lift. It’s heavier than before, weighted down by the struggle and the tears and the regret. But you heave it up and stagger on.
--- But what if?
“Pick me up,” it hisses.
And you walk away?
The carpetbag sits there, dust swirling in the air all around. And slowly, slowly… it fades. Fades to nothingness in your past.
No, there will never be a friendship or relationship just like the one you had. Not ever. But there will be others. You can create new friendships, you can meet new people who will love you just as those other people once had.
No, there will never be a story idea just like that one. Not ever. But there will be others. You’ll find a new story, one with brighter characters, a more wonderful plot, a more delightful setting. It will enrapture you akin to the first one. And this time you will write it well.
All it took?
It’s not always good, to walk away. You can hurt people, hurt yourself by doing that. Sometimes, however… sometimes it’s okay.
Sometimes it’s necessary.
And always – always – there is light on the horizon.