4 Reasons I Look Weird Things Up When I’m Writing

writing_research_fantasy
Ever typed into Google search “how does poison effect the body?” or “where can you stab someone so it won’t kill them, and preferably they can get over it in ten minutes and get in another fight, but will injure them and make them lose lots of blood?” . . . then you might be a writer.

I find myself on some weird internet pages. I’ve spent hours reading forms where people argue about what ancient weaponry was the most efficient so I can outfit various armies accordingly (turns out, swords aren’t all that great. But the English Longbow – just ask a weaponry fanboy/girl about it). I also end up reading about herbs all the time, which ones heal or kill or have some mystical connection. And of course, there’s tons of searches on injuries, wilderness survival, battle tactics, how long a wound bleeds for . . . Lots of poison. I seem to like that one.

Anyways, searching Pinterest and Google Images showed me that I’m not alone. Many writers look at their internet history and think “how come the government isn’t knocking on my door yet?” Of course, everything I look up is . . .well, out of style. I can’t imagine how mystery writers’ search histories look, or thrillers. That’s got to include government building layouts and different sniper rifle types. Not a good combination.

Anyways, here’s 4 reasons I spend the time looking stuff up that I normally wouldn’t.

1.) Ignoring over Ignorance: If I add a detail like not pulling an arrow out, but leaving it in to keep the bleeding down, then it shows that I have done the research and that I’m choosing which laws to follow and which to suspend because the worlds I write in don’t follow the same laws. So when said character gets back up and fights without much recovery time in the middle readers are more willing to suspend disbelief because I showed I know what was realistic, which makes the non-realistic an active choice for the story’s sake.

2.) Character versus Author Knowledge: I have NO clue how to heal an arrow injury. But, if I add in a few details that I research on the internet (and you always have to get answers from more than one source), then it will seem like my character, who’s supposed to be a healer, does know how to heal an arrow wound.

3.) Staying in the Story: Thanks to all my research, I know that cupping your hand on the bottom of a gun is an incorrect way to hold it. I read magna all the time where these sharp-shooters hold the gun wrong (not to pick on magna, but I don’t watch many action movies). At best, I feel smug for knowing something someone else didn’t, at worst, it rips me from the story and/or I can’t take the character seriously (which goes back to reason #2).

4.) Believability: Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it or if I should just make it all up. What herb cures headaches, well Mudrootikus of course! But I think I put in the effort that I do for believability. Sure, my characters can have magic battles and fight despite injuries that would, in real-life, take them out for months. But if you’re world is too strange, there’s nothing to anchor the reader (unless that’s what you’re trying to do). Adding a bit of realism goes a long way.

So even if it seems like a waste of time at times, or it seems weird, I think looking up those facts is worthwhile. What stuff do you find yourself researching? Did I miss any reasons you spend time researching for your stories?

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Fantasy Music: Attack On Titan

Attack_On_Titan_Fantasy_MusicElven forests, fairy tales, and magic wishes are all parts of some of fantasy’s best. Finding fantasy-esque music for that’s easy, just look up Enya and all the related artists.

But what about fantasies with blood-thirsty monsters, desolate wastelands, and bleak outcomes. Fantasy-esque music for that isn’t as easy to come by.

Here’s the second addition of my fantasy music recommendations… and trust me, it doesn’t get more epic than this.

Attack on Titan (or its Japanese name, Shingeki no Kyojin) is a popular anime and magna both inside and outside of Japan. To summarize it in one sentence: Titan top the food chain and humanity struggles to fight back. It’s frantic, brutal, and badass. And so is the anime’s soundtrack.

Composed and produced by the amazing Hiroyuki Sawano (also responsible for Blue Exorcist‘s and Kill la Kill‘s soundtracks), this soundtrack shouldn’t get passed up by, well, anyone really. But if you’re writing a gritty, desperate, or badass fantasy story, you might want to check this out. Or, you know, even fairy tales have their fight scenes.

You can’t, as far as I know, buy a physical copy of this OST in America. But, you can buy the complete soundtrack iTunes or Spotify and (some of them, many happily extended) on Youtube.

Here’s the track list and a brief description of the songs. (NOTE: as these song names were originally named in Japanese, there are a few different variations on the names).

1. Attack ON Titan (epic, great for fighting or intense scenes)
2. The Reluctant Heroes (a rock song  with lyrics perfect for a dystopian world)
3. Eye-Water (a pretty, emotional song)
4. Body Motion (epic and frantic)
5. Counter Attack Mankind (a mood-setter at 1st, getting ready song that gets more epic)
6. Army Attack (sort of like track #5, but less frantic)
7. Vogel Im Kafig (an emotional one, pretty enough for the Elven woods even)
8. DOA (a fast-paced rock song, great for fight scenes)
9. Titan’s Attack (listen to this while the enemy is advancing)
10. E. M. A. (intense, frantic, epic, great for a desperate fight)
11. Annihilate Female Titan (if you liked tracks 5 and 6, check this one out)
12. Bauklotze (another rock song, more emotional, but without losing the epic feel)
13. Everyday Life (a personal favorite, lots of cool sounds, perfect for village music)
14. XL-TT (possibly the most epic song on the soundtrack)
15. Call Your Name (an emotional song with depressing lyrics, but still epic)
16. Omake Pfadlib (pretty and emotional, piano-centric song)

Also, I HIGHLY recommend the anime’s two opening songs by Linked Horizon, called “Guren no Yumiya” and “Jiyuu no Tsubasa.” The closeing songs are nice too, but I love these two songs so much Linked Horizon is in my top 50 played artists on Lastfm.com based on those two songs alone.

What do you guys think? I think, if I write the word “epic” one more time, I might throw-up, but there isn’t a more perfect word to describe this soundtrack.

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What Does “Active” Character Really Mean?

Active_Character_Writing_Plotting_Stories

Which one would you want to read more about?

A: A villain enters the room, their sword drawn. Our hero is cornered. The villain attacks, the hero pulls out his/her weapon and fights back.

B: A villain enters the room, their sword drawn. Our hero notices the villain entered, draws their weapon and attacks.

Which “hero” is more interesting? I’ll bet you picked option “B.” I did.

Hero b is more active than hero a, and it’s human nature to prefer someone who takes action. But hero b is still reacting.

To be honest, it’s difficult to think of a situation where a non-villain is 100% active, not reacting against something an antagonist did. An example I’ve heard cited often is Indiana Jones in the first scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The audience sees him go after the treasure without having any reason other than his own motivation. I haven’t seen the movie in some time, so I can’t recall it’s explained later that he’s reacting to something, but, for those first few scenes, he’s a 100% active character.

But even some of the most beloved characters react. Breaking Bad’s Walter White reacted against his lower-middle class lifestyle, getting cancer, his wife’s pregnancy, and who knows what else when he decided to cook meth. Fullmetal Alchemist’s Roy Mustang decided he wanted to rule Amestris after participating in the tragedy that was the Ishvalan war. While most would label these character’s as active, and most of what they do in their respective tales is whatever gets them closer to their goal (within reason, for Roy at least), they still reacted.

So, how is this any different than a superhero that doesn’t come out to play unless the villain does something first?

Well, because Walter, Roy, and hero b were active in their reacting. While unnamed superhero (I truly don’t have any particular one in my head) and hero a were reactive to the point you feel that without a villain, it would be a story about them going to school or work or something.

And I think there’s the difference. Even without villains, Walter and Roy (well, debatable that Walter himself is a villain, but that’s another argument) would do something. They both have goals they work towards. The antagonists and everything else thrown in their way just makes the trip more interesting.

To take it to a scene-by-scene level, we’ll go back to the example. Hero A and Hero B are reacting to something another character did. However, Hero A takes very little action. They literally don’t do anything until they have their choice is die or lift the sword. Hero A sees something bad happens and decides to act against it rather than react. While, for the sake of simplicity, I made Hero B choose a standard action, to fight back, what if a Hero C decided to join the villain or spy or to escape later. What if Hero D is a merchant and distracts the villain with some ridiculous sales pitch then throw salt into the villain’s eyes. What if Hero E decides to surrender into enemy hands or runs away from the fight. All of these are actions a character could take and all are more interesting than Hero A’s choice to stand there, even Hero B’s fairly standard reaction is still more interesting and could become more so with more detail (are they a good fighter or bad, do they use a sword or axe, did they do it in defense of their own life, money, someone else’s life?). It tells the reader a lot more about the character and makes them seem more alive because they are not acting like a prop moved whenever the plot pushes them, but something alive because they take an action and prove they have a mind of their own.

And I think that’s what it comes down too. Characters seem more alive when they take actions because it seems like there is thought behind what they did. So, even if reacting to something, as long as they are reacting with an action and look like they’re making a decision, you’re probably set. But I wouldn’t use this as a crutch. Do your best to make your characters active, but you don’t have to kill yourself over it. Just make sure your characters are making decisions when they still have options other than fight or die and that the character would have a story, even if an antagonist never showed up.

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Back From Break

Hello!

It’s been about two weeks since I’ve posted because . . .

I’ve been editing my sister’s story! Yep. It’s over 400 pages and I was too frightened to read the word count, so I didn’t. (Thankfully, one of my edits (and something she asked about) was cutting the story off sooner. Which, I highly preferred, and not because of the length . . . well, not just because of the length).

After that, I got distracted by a new idea. Usually, a story sits in my head for years before I start writing it, but this one is about two months old, and I’m ready to write it. Part of the reason is I finally managed to keep a story scaled down (less characters, less countries, less multiple plots). It’s a nice feeling to have a story go from a basic idea to plotted and ready to write in two months. I should try this more often. I’ll give more details about it as I go along.

Oh, also, I decided yesterday that I get to read A Wise Man’s Fear when I finish the first draft. That way, when I’m writing and thinking “I wonder what’s trending on Twitter,” I can also think “When I finish this, I get to read A Wise Man’s Fear.” At least, that’s the plan.

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World Build What You Love

world_building_writing_editingI remember sitting down and world-building for the first time. I was probably around 10, sitting at the kitchen table with my crayons and paper and drawing Magical Horse world. By the time I could work Microsoft Word, I used clip-art boxes to make different rooms for various building’s layouts. Eventually, I upgraded to creating magic words and phrases inside notebooks.

It doesn’t surprise me that I started with maps and words. It shouldn’t surprise you either. I did it because Tolkien did it. I first saw Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring when I was about 9. And for a long time, he was the only fantasy author I knew. So it’s no surprise that my worlds needed to include the same thing his world did: maps and language.

Well, I’m here to tell you to ignore that.

When you’re world building, flesh out what’s important to the story and what you’re passionate about. Tolkien loved languages, so his stories are full of them. I love literature, art, music, religion, and gender roles, so my worlds are full of those. I might address that there’s different languages to add realism, but I don’t bother developing them because it doesn’t interest me. Any language I invented would be as uninspired as I felt about creating it. And it would show.

I’m not saying to ignore it if you’re not passionate about it. If you think a map helps your story, then add it! I usually do. Fill your world with the detail and cultural aspects needed to bring it to life and tell your story. Just don’t feel like you have to spend tons of time on language and maps because Tolkien did, or any aspect because some other author did. Dig deep in what interests you, because if you’re passionate, it will show and your readers will be passionate too.

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On Writing: Humanity & Reading

On Writing is a new series I’m starting on quotes that capture some aspect of reading, writing, or fantasy in general. Hopefully, this collection of quotes grows and can function as inspiration and helpful hints, because no one understands writing better than writers!

I’m starting it with a quote from Hermann Hesse.

Hermann Hesse

I think this quote captures why the magic of reading in an intelligent instead of whimsical way. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with whimsical, but this one stands out because he throughly explains his argument while maintaining a poetic feel.

What do you think of this quote?

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Pinterest, Ployvore, and Staying Focused

pinterest polyvore and staying focused

No, this isn’t a post about how I’m always distracted by Polyvore and Pinterest when I’m supposed to write. Actually, they keep me on task.

If you don’t know what Pinterest is, I wonder how you know what WordPress is. But just in case, it’s a social media site where people “re-pin” whatever they want onto one of their boards. In the end, you have a collection of DIY projects, dragon pictures, or whatever you can find.

Polyvore is image-focused like Pinterest or Instagram. However, it’s more about fashion and does more than just collect pictures as you can create your own by layering one picture over the next and highlighting an outfit, creating a scene, or whatever you want.

I use these websites to help me:
-Create tone
-Get rough idea of my fantasy cultures
-Character/relationship boards

 It helps not only create, but to avoid burnout and writer’s block. When I see the boards, I am re-energized to write. It’s also helpful if you have to take a week or longer break between writing sessions because it will trigger memories.

I do have to put a warning on this though. It’s easy to spend TOO much time crafting boards. Then it becomes counter-productive. Just do what’s helpful for you.

Are there any sites you use the same way I use Pinterest and Polyvore? What ways do you Pinterest and Polyvore?

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