Category Archives: Writing

My NaNoWriMo Pep Talk

How long has it been? I’ve been between jobs, in and out of financial trouble, invited to join a band, and recently left a temp job that left me working every day for almost a month, and yet I’m still out here in the ether, writing and being the underdog (even if it hasn’t left much time for either of my blogs).

I hope NaNoWriMo is going well for the participants. I’m taking a short break in today’s writing to shout out to everyone and wish you the best of luck as we wade through week two. I’m not much of a pep talker, but I’ll say this. If you can take the time to read this, you can take the time to write. (Hell, I should take my own advice here.)

I know that there’s always something going on, and there’s never enough time to do it, so I just want you all to know that outside of NaNo, I do most of my writing between Midnight and 2:30 AM, even if I have to get up at 6:30 the next day. Make the most of your time, and when in doubt sit down and play some Donkey Kong. Writing is like Donkey Kong. You are the villain, throwing barrels into your hero’s path to his goal. Be like the great Kong, and withhold your hero’s desire until he/she has truly earned it.

~Underdog

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Time for the Writing Confessional…

… or those times I ventured beyond the clear blue waters.

As someone who enjoys writing, I’ve come across the need to include characters. Sure a portrait of a landscape can tell a thousand words, maybe more, but even then, the place becomes a sort of character in its own right, not that I want to elaborate on that until I can process the thought there. It’s a spur of the moment comparison, you see, and if I rambled off like this every time I made such a comment, I’d never get anything done.

Anyway, back to characters. Confession 1:

With writing characters, I often find the need to venture beyond the male gender. Sure, I know what it’s like to be a guy, and most people say write what you know, but unless I’m writing pre-women’s rights war novels (and I’m not) there’s going to be some facet of female presence. So now I have to get in a woman’s head. Where can I draw on for that? Fortunately I have friends and family for that on very different ends of the spectrum. I know the fluffy pink girls, the power hungry and manipulative kind, the ones that snap under pressure, the tomboys, gamers, etc… So, I think I can write these people. Sure those are generalizations, but I feel that aside from anatomical and certain mental instincts, we’re mostly the same. I know girls who want sex more than their boyfriends, and guys who can have deep philosophical conversations. They exist.

What’s the confession? I still feel that my female characters aren’t quite up to snuff, and I’m never sure how to ask for advice. Truth be told, I don’t know any female writers very well, and this is tough to just ask a friend, since friends like to be supportive.

Confession 2:

LGBT characters exist, just like people. In fact, in today’s societies, particularly those with more tendencies to equality, they are becoming more and more common. In games, movies, TV, etc… The characters exist. I admit that I’ve never tried my hand at much of it, but I have written a small number of homosexual characters in my time, drawing as much as I could from those I’ve met in their respective lifestyles.

My one big mistake? To be honest, I’ve barely done the plight justice. (Though I’ve never tried my hand at writing the T side of the LGBT) A lot of times, it’s sort of just accepted, partly because of how I view society. On another end, I have written the character that has to hide their feelings from the general public, and dealt with the fallout of being found out, but it’s all just sort of worked out. I feel like I can’t do them the right justice, but again, from the people I’ve met, I find it hard to see them as anything other than normal people with different tastes, like everyone else.

Conclusion:

I’m leaving this for the readers to judge, but I’m wondering if I’m doing the characters in these confessions more or less justice this way. The plights and understandings in their entirety are beyond me, I admit. However, in that same breath, I have to consider that such equalities are desired by these very different people. In writing them the way I do, perhaps it’s more justice to the cause that someone can put the plights and differences out of mind. Perhaps, in regards to the second confession, it would take a more center stage in a character’s life depending on the story.

I just wanted to put these thoughts out there, and maybe see if anyone has some confessions of their own to air out.

Time for the Writing Confessional


The Writer’s Job – The Jaded Perspective

As much as I enjoy writing, and video games, and music, movies, etc… the problem I have with media is that it’s very repetitive. There are only so many ways to portray characters, because despite how unique we are as human beings, it always seems as though we only have a few characters. The way they interact is how the story is made. So, besides the job to tell a story, and to give out the best story we can, we have the added job of trying to tell a story in a fresh new way. The band 3 has a song called All that Remains that has a line “The same old story, but the names have all been changed,” that hits very close to home when I write.

While I’m sure the world is filled with amazing writers, I can’t help but worry if I can pass the test of telling a story in a new way, or to come up with that new character. As opposed to my usual thoughts and support, this is my off my chest moment for the day. It’s short, but I needed to say it. Thanks for reading!


Divination and Your World

How many fantasy books start with a Prophecy? I capitalized prophecy, because it is always the prophecy. It’s something about the future that has been divined and set in motion, and will happen. Sure others have been made, but there’s one that is central to the fate of the world. That seems to be the kind we are most familiar with at any rate, unless you played something like D&D or in my case the many D&D based games such as Neverwinter Nights and Icewind Dale, etc… In those games, divination allows us to see some aspect of the near future, or some sort of method to locate things and people based on some connection. These great prophets are usually killed or maybe they survived, but no one took them seriously, or whatever. So what’s my point?

To be honest, I suppose I just wanted to talk about divination to some extent. It’s an interesting plot device to be sure, but in what ways can it be used?

I guess I’ll start by pointing out the Alex Verus novels. (Book 4 is coming out in August and I can’t wait!) In the series, the main character is a magic user, but his only power is over divination. He can see into the future indefinitely, but the problem is that there is no guaranteed future. Thus he has to work everything out based on probability, and which are the more likely futures, and even those can be wrong. Has it been done before? Maybe. I couldn’t say for certain, but I can say that it is a refreshing look at Divination.

Divination – late 14c., from Old French divination (13c.), from Latin divinationem (nominative divinatio) “the power of foreseeing, prediction,” noun of action from past participle stem of divinare, literally “to be inspired by a god” – The Online Etymology Dictonary

In the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, and I would assume the sister series Novels of the Malazan Empire (by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont respectively), there is an interesting form of Tarot in the Dragon Decks. It’s a set of cards, and there’s a specific way to reading the cards. Only a few people are gifted enough to actually read them, and in the first book there are a couple of characters who can. When the Dragon Decks come out, it effectively predicts a chunk of the upcoming story, but it’s always vague, and you have to guess which characters correspond to which cards to figure it all out. Even if you have some idea, it doesn’t mean it’ll go the way you think. Card reading has always been a skill of interpretation after all, as I’ve learned first hand with actual Tarot decks.

The funny thing about divination and especially Tarot decks is how much you have to interpret, especially if you don’t know the person(s) you are reading very well. See, someone close to me is into the witchy crowd (not an I can throw fire at you kind, but a pagan, choose your gods and worship them kind) and has been doing Tarot and getting readings for some time. I’m not a part of that crowd. I used to do Tarot for fun with regular playing cards as a kid, and they convinced me to get a real deck once. Now, as a warning, I’m only as insane as a fantasy writer should be. Personal feelings aside, whatever I type after this, take it as you will.

As a personal experience, it’s interesting when you get into these witchcraft shops. Not because of the odd things for sale, but because there is a different energy there. I ended up sitting there for more than 20 minutes after deciding to buy a deck. You’re supposed to look at them, and choose one that’s right for you, based on the feeling you get from it. It turns out the deck I chose says something about me, because I ended up with a deck that brings a positive outlook to even the worst situations, much like myself. My second deck came as a purchase after three trips back to this store with friends, and picking it up each time before putting it down. I was encouraged to consider the deck, because I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It wasn’t a replacement to the first one, because it had a different feel, as odd as it sounds. Turns out this deck reflects a different part of me. Unlike a traditional deck which has meanings with the cards, and the image often says much, this one was much more the opposite. The meanings behind each card are small phrases, and I’ve found the deck to be a bit of a wise-ass on the occasions I have used it, going so far as having it talk back to me in the cards I pull. Another interesting fact is that neither deck had a reverse meaning, so there’s only one vague light to look at the cards in.

Why would I bring this up? Well, because it’s a step in a good direction. Yeah sure, there are any number of stories with talking implements, or skulls and swords with personalities, however, how many people can say the universe actually has a good sense of humor with inanimate objects? I suppose there isn’t a lesson in here as much as an inspirational takeaway: The universe is weird.

Keep Writing!

~ Underdog


Overcoming a personal wall…

I have to admit that it took the blog post of a clever author to smack me out of my box so I could get around the writer’s block in my way. Just in case, I thought I’d share it with everyone. Normally, I’d make notes and summarize, but this is fantastic read for writers, and I think I couldn’t do it justice.

But, but, but – WHY does magic have to make sense?

Keep up, and feel free to share thoughts and comments on whether or not you feel magic needs rules or not!


Reality as a Tool

I think the past few months have been a real eye opener for me. While I may not be quite as active of a blogger as I was due to real life obligations, I’m still learning, and itching to talk about it. Maybe not itching. I don’t like itching. How about hungry. Hungry’s better. After all, who doesn’t like to eat something? Imagine this as a therapeutic snack or something. Anyway! Before I side track myself further with the realization I ate a doughnut for breakfast and haven’t eaten since…

Desires! That’s what this post is really about! That one thing your character must obtain! Sure we have dreams and passions and goals, but the real need for something is, as I’m discovering, much more of a gut reaction than one of the heart. See, on top of my life, I’m looking for a job so I can stabilize my life. Right now, I’m underpaid, overworked, and barely squeaking past on student loans and gas money with my paychecks. It doesn’t leave much for a whole lot else, and my nerdy habits that let me relieve stress begin to get affected.

See, I don’t just want a new job. I need a new job. Every time I walk into work, I feel it in my gut. The intense dislike of being the office bitch, as I duly call myself to anyone out of a professional setting. My most recent promotion, with no increase in pay, is the boss’ taxi service for whenever he drops his car off to get worked on. I don’t just need a new job. My life depends on me getting a new job. I cannot continue to work in an environment with an “evolving job description” that changes to suit the boss’ needs, but not my own. Thus I’m doing everything in my power to get this new job, regardless of how difficult it is.

I admit that I’m young, but I don’t think I quite understood the drive needed for a protagonist until the last couple of months, and even then I’m sure that I’ve still missed something in it, but it’s a start.


Dark and weird for being weird, or because life is actually kind of like that?

Okay, so maybe it has been a while, and maybe I have been slipping quite a bit since NaNo in the daily struggle to pay off student loans and find a better job so that I can actually begin to live my life. Admission is the first step though, right? Right?

So what am I going to ramble on about today? Today, I’m turning my focus towards a video game series. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re back after all this time, barely a word in about why, and you aren’t even talking about writing? Well, yes and no. Today, I’m thinking about characters, and the types of people that exist in the world – any world actually. So the series I’m on about is Drakengard, and I thought of this post after a discussion with a friend of mine on the series. What makes the characters so interesting that I’m devoting a post to them? It’s the twisted reality of terrible people that comes with the games that I enjoyed the most.

Before I start, I will side track with this. The most recent Tomb Raider was criticized over a possible rape scene. You had to solve a quick-time event, or else you would be attacked. When released, it turns out that Lara Croft was only going to be strangled to death, but apparently the lead up screams violation. Of course some games are more verbal about it, with American McGee’s Alice, having a much darker twist than appearance in the narrative, but again, nothing is shown. Games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age from Bioware have been letting people explore sex as a part of their characters and story, straight and otherwise, but things are cut – understandably so – in order for the releases to get the go ahead. So, my point is that as games, and as the American culture catches up with modern times, we are seeing these things come in that we normally wouldn’t be able to touch not so long ago. I actually approve of this growth in our culture, as much as some people won’t, because if it shows up in one form of media, or entertainment, then we can handle it in more mainstream cultures, and actually begin to approach these topics more rationally than just vilifying the whole matter and ending it at that (not that rape doesn’t deserve to  be vilified). Anyone who watches the news in the US will probably have heard about the Supreme Court being faced with legal questions about gay marriage, for example. As a society, the younger and modern generations are quickly accepting it and promoting the acceptance, and as it reaches the mainstream of our culture, we have seen it in video games, and television, as more than a joke.

So, where was I? Drakengard. In particular, I want to bring up the first one, because the second does not have the same cast of unique characters as the first, and is actually infinitely more tame by comparison. Also, the first, which was released in the US in 2004 was also heavily censored due to the way the characters were portrayed. What could possibly get most of the cast censored? Where shall we begin?

Let’s start with the main character, a man chasing his best friend who kidnapped his sister because he was in love with her, though she held no feelings for him. In fact, Furiae, the sister, was in love (not familial love) with her brother, which leads to a rather confusing suicide when the US version had the information cut. The main character is actually a man essentially on a violent rampage through the game, sacrificing his voice to gain a dragon as an ally so that he can wipe out the neighboring country, where his sister was taken to.

Then we have several allies who, although play minor parts, are almost as equally if not more twisted. The most tame is Seere, a young boy who cannot age. He’s 6 years old, and while his possessed twin sister (also 6) is the main villain of the story, he is faced with having to help bring her to justice (which ranges from imprisonment and beatings to her death depending on the ending you watch). Next we have Leonard, who is a cowardly monk that wanted to kill himself because he blamed himself for his Order’s deaths. The part cut out about him? He’s a pedophile. Finally, there is Arioch, the Elf who’s family was murdered by the country the main character is after. It drove her mad, and her sacrifice was her ability to have children for power, which is probably a good thing, because the madness made her enjoy killing and eating children.

While I can’t say the characters earn a ton of sympathy, I have to applaud the creators for daring to put these people in their games. While the subjects are still very much a taboo, as people, we can’t deny that these types of people exist, and in all honesty, I think it brings the dark world to life, albeit in a really, really twisted manner.

So why did I say series? Drakengard 2 touches on something I hadn’t seen except in Ursula LeGuin’s The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. People are locked up in poor areas, forced to starve and labor after the events of the first Drakengard for the prosperity of others, and lo and behold, our villainess  from the first, no longer possessed, is now attempting to be a hero and save them. Like in LeGuin’s story though, as long these people are locked away and suffering, the world continues in peace and prosperity.

Nier. Nier doesn’t have the title name of the series, but is actually a result of a different ending of the first Drakengard, originally seen as a gag ending that sent the hero, Caim, to our world. The real Earth falls apart as a result of magic coming into play. The game could easily stand on its own as a title by itself, which is why it is kept separate, yet within the universe. The character I want to bring up here though, is Kaine, a woman, also possessed, with a slightly different lower anatomy, resembling that of our male hero.

While I cannot discount that maybe the creators are a bit crazy, I have to appreciate the themes within the games. They may be twisted, dark, sickening, and I can be uncomfortable as hell talking about them, especially on an open forum like a blog, but I have to appreciate them. I appreciate them, not because I think they should be mainstream, or acceptable (Again definitely not rape or pedophilia. I’m sure you believe me, but I feel I should emphasize it.), but because some of these things exist. It’s a part of the real world that we generally try to tune out, and as someone who enjoys writing, and creating worlds, and as there are others who feel the same way about it, we need to understand that they can and do exist. There’s no such thing as a perfect world, and I felt the need to point out that life can be sick, and twisted, and terrible, and by recognizing it, we can build better worlds for it, and not just put these themes in for shock value, or to create enemies that will be hated instantly. After all, the characters I described were all meant to be liked as heroes of their stories, despite showing deep scars of humanity.

I’m sorry this was a bit of a wall of text. I know I described some very dark themes and how they are important to recognize, and that this topic might not be right for everyone. However, I think touching on them is a good basis for some interesting discussion, and I am genuinely curious, if you think my appreciation crosses the line, and that I’m crazy, or if there’s some merit to what I’ve said.


Contest: Ninth Letter Arts

There’s a contest over at Ninth Letter Arts. The winner will receive $1000 and be published in their Fall/Winter issue. There’s a $17 entry fee, and you can submit to the Fiction, Creative Non-Fiction, Poetry, and Translated categories. Good luck to any participants!


What makes a character relatable?

This has been said over and over again, a thousand times, and without cessation. Flaws make a character relatable. Funny enough, for myself, it’s not a word in WordPress’ dictionary. However, I digress. (A fancy word for, but that’s not related to the topic, though I’m sure you know that.) What kind of flaws are we talking about though? Are there other ways to make someone relatable? The answers? Everything and yes.

Part of me wants to tackle the second question first, but we’re sticking to flaws. An example from one of my projects (being slowly reworked because I realized how terribly I started it) is that we have a hero. The magic of the world is built in an old language, called runes. Different runes do different things, and yadda yadda, the hero is considered a master. However, he admits to himself, that he really isn’t, and he cheated to get there. How many people cheat on exams? Lie? Everyone (Or so we tell ourselves… Maybe?). At the least you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t done one or the other. He’s also forced to take on an apprentice, and I say forced, because he’s rebelling against the system he’s a part of. We all try to be different and unique in our own ways (usually). The short of it is that he’s only around because he’s considered a master, and if people knew the truth, he’d be out and/or dead, and while he wants to redeem himself, he’s not in a position too, and so we have someone caught in a lie that’s out of control.

Other ways to relate are basically journal entries from characters, getting really into their heads and plainly spelling out on the page the way they think. It’s not the greatest method, but in certain quantities and forms, it’s a powerful way for us to understand the inner workings of tough characters.

The third, and I hate this way, is to have a character so plain, that they can be easily replaced with yourself (Bella from Twilight). While it does make a character relatable, it’s also a way to bring the story quality down.

Then there’s hypocrisies. These are a favorite, because when done well, they really shine through in a character. Say you have a misogynist (sorry ladies), who also follows a code of chivalry. Sure he doesn’t like women, but he will go out of his way to save and/or help them if he can. It can be something simple too, like they hate rice, unless it’s pork fried rice. Super religious and marries an atheist. Hates working out, but continues to go out of habit. These things make a character.

The final one I want to point out, isn’t just flaws, but fears. Fear of heights, spiders, crowds, closed spaces, clowns, etc. makes people relatable on some level. Someone out there can relate to your character at a primal, self preserving level, even if it’s due to xanthophobia (look it up).

I don’t want to conclude this, so I’m leaving it open to more examples and ways for the rest of you.


Expanding your Writing Horizon

While sickness and deadlines don’t make for a good blog revival, they do make for a good build up of wanting to write and get back to this. Once again, I’m confronted with the what though. I admit I haven’t devoted as much time to writing as I’d like lately, but I would like to bring up an interesting topic, and one that might not be seen as normal. Some people read books all of their lives and decide they want to write. Some want to be the next top journalist and travel the world getting the next big scoop. Poets and musicians bring words and rhythm together, and anyone who has worked an office job has written enough letters to want to hang themselves. That might be an exaggeration. Marketers and advertisers write scripts and witty one-liners, while comedians bring jokes to the acting stage shared by screen play/play writers. I admit that when I first began looking for writing jobs, I turned to the risky video game industry, where the quality has gotten poor, budgets high, and I hoped to help bring a diamond out of the dirty coal mine a hobby of mine had become.

Needless to say, I’m not there yet, but the thought does bring up something interesting, that at times I’m embarrassed to admit. One of the best story-telling genres is the role-playing games one. I’m not talking, create your character in Skyrim and bash enemies with scripted quests in a huge open world, but in a way I am. I’m confusing myself here, but I tend to write these posts without much planning, just an idea and a keyboard. I’m talking role-playing in general. No, not in bed, or in Skyrim, but something almost as simple. Table-top, written story, etc. This is actually how I got into writing, if by an accident involving an outdated computer and my gaming habits. (This is that embarrassing thing.) Two of my favorite sites, which I’ll post at the end for anyone wanting to make an attempt at it, had me writing stories with other people. One in a preset world constantly changing to players’ actions, and another where we’d make our own worlds.

The reason I bring this up is because there is little more challenging, than not being able to control all of the responses. You have to get to know your characters really well when another player replies, because say your character flirts with theirs. You expect a return, or a rejection. What if the player decides they pull a knife on you instead? Are you prepared for that? Are any of your characters? Role-playing takes time though, a reason why I like the sites I mentioned, was that it wasn’t table top, and I could spend anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours, depending on my available time and available players, and do it at my own rate.

Thus, I offer the suggestion that everyone should give it a try, and see what it’s like to really get to know a character, and improve your style. For poets, maybe you want a bard to share your verses with the world and kill two birds with one stone? For fiction writers, you can find some like-minded people to help with your own world, just by playing in a similar one. Who am I to ask people to take more time out of their lives though? Just a humble worker with an ego big enough to think he can change the world with words.

Fantasy Role – for anything and everything

Battlemaster – for light fantasy, medieval game-play, a splash of intrigue, and politics in a ready made world. Be an adventurer, a noble, start a guild, work your way up to ruler, or lead the armies of your country. (Warning: This is an actual game.)

Whatever you do, keep writing.

~Underdog