Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Excerpt - TVB: "The Duel"

Zaelor broke into a dead sprint toward the intruder as they wrestled to free their shirt from the arrow. That wasn’t quite so easy, however, since it looked like they was wearing a leather breastplate beneath the shirt, which the arrow had penetrated easily at this range.
The intruder heard Zaelor's footfalls and spun. Zaelor could see the white of their eyes through the eye slits in their mask, wide with a moment of fear like a cornered beast. They knew. They weren’t going to free the leather armor in time.
Zaelor nocked another arrow as he ran, drew, annnnnnnnd--slid to a halt right before he crashed into the intruder. Zaelor held the arrow tip against their throat.
He couldn’t resist a grin. “Hello. How about we try this again?”
He didn’t keep his gaze off their mask, but his peripheral vision caught motion below. He shifted the bow ever so slightly, releasing the arrow just to the left of the intruder's neck while he knocked their hand aside with his bow. A knife fell from their hand to the forest floor.
“Now, no more kniv--” he began, reaching up to jam his bow against their throat this time--until he realized the intruder wasn’t there any more. Their armor and loose green shirt were hanging uselessly from the tree, pinned now by his two arrows. The armor had ripped just enough to--
A knife blade rested against his neck as an arm hooked from behind him, under his arm and behind his neck. The intruder held him rather securely. They knew their stuff.
But so did he.
“Come on now, we're both rational adul--” Mid-sentence, Zaelor kicked his heel up into his assailant. He heard them grunt, and the intruder's grip loosened just enough to give him an opening.
Zaelor reached up with his open right hand and grabbed the intruder's knife-hand. As he stepped forward and to the left, he held on and spun on his heel, twisting the wrist painfully. Now he faced them, and they were growling in pain and buckling naturally to take pressure off their wrist. Despite their best attempt, the knife fell out of the intruder's hand.
Now Zaelor could see that in addition to their plethora of knives, the intruder also had two shortswords in scabbards on their belt. My, my. You’re more of a walking armory than me.
Also, apparently he wasn’t applying enough pressure to their wrist, because they were reaching across their body to unsheath one of the shortswords with their free left hand.
Zaelor sighed as he tweaked the intruder's wrist a little further down, but he could see with his peripheral it was too little, too late. The intruder had already started the motion of loosening the blade. Zaelor was about to get sliced in the stomach if he didn’t move.
And considering all he had right now was a strung bow and no arrow in his other hand, he was going to be in trouble if that happened.

----
[Excerpt from The Victor's Blade; all content subject to change.]

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

My Experiment: Making a Modern Antihero, Pt. 2

WARNING: This post will include some scenes containing blood and violence. Reader discretion advised.


My antihero Cassius was a brutal and probably insane man--somebody nobody would want to be or be around.

"Quellus 'The Bone-Breaker' Karth" is how he introduces himself to the party, using an over-the-top fake name with an equally ridiculous backstory to match. Why? Just because he loves messing with people by mixing lies with truth, so they'd never know what's real and what's not.

One thing that's true is that he's not a nice guy. Before the roleplay's very first mission has ended, Cassius manages to carelessly insult every party member, threaten the life of a hapless passerby, and intimidate the planetary governor. When a man he's interrogating is sniped while hanging from his grip, Cassius doesn't even flinch.
Cassius coolly drops what few remains from the formerly-living body he’d had in his hand and then wipes the blood off his chin. He then flicks off his helmet, a sour look on his face as he rubs his finger in his ear. 
He's temporarily deafened, but hardly shaken by the murder that just happened right in front of him. This sort life of graphic violence is not only par for the course; he gets a sick sort of pleasure out of it.
"All right, laddos. I hate to waste time, so I'll forego the 'Surrender in the name of the Imperium' bit and just tell you to say your prayers, 'cause you're interfering with an official investigation. Looking forward to popping you fulla holes!"
Cassius falls into a maniacal fit of laughter.
Initially, I was thinking Cassius had always had violent tendencies that were only exacerbated by his pursuit of power. But a friend of mine and fellow player had other ideas.

What started as a harmless joke--"Cassius turns out to be Elias's father"--became fact for the two of us players. It seemed too perfect an opportunity to pass up. So much of their stories perfectly aligned.

Cassius had left behind his family years ago when he'd been carted off to prison. Elias had never known his father. They just so happened to be the perfect ages to be father and son (especially unusual since he happened to be my very first fifty-something roleplay character). Even the game itself seemed to want Cassius and Elias to be related: the Dark Heresy rules dictate that each character roll on a table for a randomly-selected useless item; some pointless trinket that's supposed to be of some personal worth to that character. Elias happened to get an empty book of matches. Cassius just so happened to be a smoker.

So we decided. Our characters were totally father and son--whether the Game Master agreed or not. But I had no idea how this would transform Cassius as we played.

Of course I knew that interacting with his own son was going to soften him a bit. He wasn't going to be constantly berating the only person left that he loved. But because of Elias and my friend's input, Cassius began to transform from a violent monster into a human being.

The first turning point is when Elias begins to open up to Cassius about his past.
Cassius just laughs as he slaps his palm against the roof structure of the truck. He slams the door shut with a firm tug. "By the God-Emperor, boy, I'd have avoided a galaxy's worth of trouble if I'd been as world-weary n' suspicion-fed as you. What'd your parents do, run cult-rings in between moonin' local enforcers?"
"...My lineage has nothing to do with it."
Elias Valkner whispers to Cassius, "Between you and I, my previous occupation would have to be the source for my strong sense of intuition."
"...I can only assume that if it were an ability stemming from my parents, it would certainly have come from my mother.
"Considering a strong sense of intuition like that might've kept my father out of prison."
Those simple words transform this mission for Cassius. This is no longer a mission that got Cassius out of prison. There could be so much more going on here, Cassius finally realizes. Could this possibly be the son he hasn't seen for nearly a decade? Whether it's true or not, in Cassius's mind, it changes everything.

Elias's presence opens Cassius up. It unlocks a long-forgotten ability to care for a world outside himself, which is something he hasn't experienced for many, many years. Suddenly, life isn't just about him any more. The entire center of his universe has been shifted. That's why later, when Elias confides in him and confesses that he's little more than a monster in the eyes of the government, Cassius doesn't just laugh and brush him off.
"Regardless of our actions, we Psykers are monsters at birth..."
Elias Valkner tries his best to hide his face from sight.
"I really appreciate that you're willing to help me, despite this fact.
"Best that monsters keep travel in packs, I suppose.
"Keeps us safer, yeah?"
Elias Valkner tries his hardest to hide the fact that he's tearing up slightly.
Cassius doesn't look at the boy, but his smile is gone. He stares at the opposite wall of the alley in silence for a while.
"Zed-eight-nine-three-two-zed-seven-four-four. Cassius Faustus Naevius," he begins in a gravely, low voice. "Former Adeptus Arbites. Tried, convicted, and sentenced to serve twelve life sentences on Ferroxian."
He glances at Elias. "I haven't had a pack to run with in some time..."
Elias is in sore need of protection, being not only a Psyker (a sort of magician looked down on by society), but one that has hidden from the government's required Psyker training; he's not only a fugitive, he's also a criminal and viewed as a threat to society. Cassius begins to go out of his way to provide that protection. He keeps Elias's secret. He shields Elias from one of their own party members (who would quickly kill Elias if she found out who she was). He's willing to subvert their commanding officer's own men if it means keeping Elias safe.

Elias also reminds Cassius that he wasn't always the man he is today. In a move that totally took me by surprise, my friend proceeded to paint a picture of who Cassius was long before his fall--before violence took over his life--before power allured him away--back when he was a hero. Back when he sought power not only for himself, but also for the other everyday people who their society took for granted.
"He did what he had to do, but he was a man of the people as much as he was a man of the Imperium.
"I heard all about this man, a true hero. Risking life and limb to protect those who needed it from those who intended to do them wrong.
"I couldn't believe it. But the more places I visited, the more I heard...
"[O]ne family had your picture in their home... They said this was a man who protected their daughter from some seedy men on her way home one evening. They were adamant that he didn't deserve his sentence."
Despite all this, Cassius hasn't mutated into a totally different character. He may have been considered a hero at one point, but he is and always has been a flawed and broken human being. Currently, he is still a brutal man, and he isn't about to change overnight. He hasn't hung up his harsh tongue, and he still bickers sullenly with Elias when the occasion arises. And even though there were mixed reasons for why he betrayed the Imperium, Cassius acknowledges that they were for the wrong reasons.

Elias tries to point out that one of the reasons Cassius received such a harsh prison sentence was because Cassius had tried to hide Elias from the Imperium. Cassius hadn't wanted his son to suffer the often deadly Imperial Psyker training program, so he'd sent his wife and son away before he'd finally been caught for his corruption and arrested. But Cassius isn't going to let himself off the hook.
[T]his whole place is nowhere a kid should grow up. Without his father. His bum father who was so obsessed with power he threw aside his wife and son... and then just let revenge burn him up to the core. Because he'd given up, was tired of trying, was sick of... playing their games under their thumb. Thought he'd take the pain to them for once. Lost himself, lost his soul in those pits...
"I wondered... what'd happened to you... I guess I was tryin' not to think about the pain. Maybe that was part of why the revenge, all the planning and plotting, felt so good. Anything to stop worrying about what'd happen to you both. I told myself you were safe. It was okay. You'd stay hunkered down and no one would know you were tied to one of the most wanted [men] in that sector. You'd be fine.
"Just my way of avoiding the grave I'd dug."
His motives weren't pure, as much as Elias wants to paint them to be. But Cassius has changed. Even this admission, this raw moment with Elias is enough to prove it.

I had designed Cassius to be a pathological liar--to mess with people, keep them from ever knowing what was true about him. He went by any number of fake names and constantly told obviously exaggerated stories of his exploits. But now he'd been forced to bare his soul, this man that I thought would never be truly frank with anyone.

And maybe it's these possibilities for redemption that draw so many people to antiheroes. Maybe this is the reason why so many readers love reading them, and why so many writers love writing them. Because even though they've fallen prey to their inner beasts... antiheroes also have the capacity to crawl back to a place where they're human again.

Sometimes it just takes one other person to nudge them in the right direction.

---
All Elias dialogue courtesy of Sir Fortune. Used with permission.

Warhammer 40K, Dark Heresy, and all related terms are the property of Games Workshop Limited. If you're at all interested in their roleplaying games or tabletop board games, I highly recommend giving their website a looksie.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

My Experiment: Making a Modern Antihero, Pt. 1

Last week I talked about how I wanted to expand my writing abilities by dabbling in moral dilemmas and creating antihero characters. Although it was fun throwing tricky situations at my otherwise squeaky-clean heroes, I wanted to take it further. I wanted to go darker.

This was mostly due to the fact that my friends would tease me all the time about never being able to make a villain. I'd since proven them wrong with characters like Seris and Marcus Foraza (members of a supervillain organization and psychopaths if ever there were some), but I'd never really explored making a truly human character--someone just as much gray as black and white. Someone who was a mixed bag of good and bad traits.

As it turned out, the perfect opportunity strolled my way when one of my friends announced he'd be running a Warhammer 40K Dark Heresy roleplaying campaign.

For those of you unfamiliar, Warhammer 40K prides themselves on being as "grim-dark" as they come. It's a science fiction setting in which a human Empire lords over much of the known universe. The Empire is mired in millennia of bureaucracy and religious institutions to keep the populace in line. With the Dark Heresy roleplaying game, the mysterious Inquisition is front and center, ever on their quest to wipe out heresy and rebellion against the God-Emperor.

So I knew this was the perfect platform to launch my new antihero.

I really wanted to stretch myself, so as I said last Thursday, I wanted to make a character nobody would want to be--or be around. How far could I go before nobody in my party would like this character? Would I even be able to handle playing a character so corrupt?

I decided that Cassius was going to be a dirty cop, a corrupt official whose thirst for power had finally caught up with him. He was a product but not a victim of the oppressive government. He sought power to obtain freedom, yes... but he had no qualms about doing horrible things to get that freedom.

He was a violent man even long before the "fall" that would land him in prison. Though he didn't lay a hand on his wife or son, he gained a sick pleasure out of brutalizing the criminals he worked so hard to hunt down. Some would think he teetered on the edge of sadism.

But tracking criminals and bringing them to justice wasn't enough for him. Cassius was sick of his family being cogs in the endless Imperial machine. So he began pulling strings, offering bribes, making threats--anything he needed to make connections and rise through the ranks. He wasn't alone, of course; nothing this ambitious could be obtained by one man. He had a partner... but it was this one man he trusted the most who would prove to be his downfall.

At some point, his partner betrayed him. Cassius didn't care why; he didn't try to understand. All he cared about was making the man suffer for backstabbing him.

His partner sold him out, told the authorities all the things Cassius had convinced him to do and painted himself as the victim. Cassius naturally received the far harsher sentence. And while he toiled away on the toxic prison world, he bided his time.

He made more connections. He subdued himself to hear all the whispered secrets he'd need to eventually build a hidden empire of power even within prison, among the other inmates. The prison underworld had a king, but everyone knew who the real man with power was--Cassius. They called him "The Regent." And they knew it was only a matter of time before he took over.

But what he wanted more than a crown of refuse was his revenge. And with his newfound power, many years later, Cassius finally enacted his vengeance. He made his former partner suffer every kind of calamity imaginable... and then Cassius killed him.

When Cassius began the roleplay, he had already enacted his vengeance. There was no revenge plot to follow. He'd already gone through his arc. And now, when his life felt a strange vacuum of purpose, he was recruited by the Inquisition and taken out of the prison to become a new kind of hunting dog.

Cassius was loud and brazen and downright offensive to the rest of the party members. He was regularly talking down to the men and flirting with women (all except the cybernetic "Tech-Priest"; he wasn't into gadgets and actually had some respect for her calculated efficiency). He immediately took charge of the investigation, whether the others wanted him to or not.

He was the kind of person I can't stand. And yet I didn't get tired of him. I didn't hate him. I didn't throw my arms up in the air and go, "Nope, that's it. I can't play this character any more."

And while the other player's characters certainly didn't like him... they didn't despise him, either. They were actually more than willing to let him lead many of the missions, and one in fact actually found he could relate to Cassius--being branded an enemy of the Imperium and possessing power that the government considered dangerous.

Now admittedly, I'm not sure how much of a success this experiment has been; mostly because more recently, Cassius has been becoming more of a relatable character and less of a horrible person. But the really interesting thing is, that wasn't even my doing. It wasn't as if I started to make him more of a likable person because I couldn't stand him or because I was slipping into my old habits. What actually started altering Cassius's character... was another player.

---
Dying for answers? I know, right? I was dying to give them, too. Check out part two here.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What is an Antihero?

Well, time for me to rip up my English degree once more.

I've gotta admit it: I wasn't even aware there was a difference in definitions of an "antihero" until I researched for this blog post.

I thought all antiheroes were dark and deeply-flawed characters, "people you didn't want to be," as Extra Credits put it. But apparently the definition of antiheroes changes over time (Portnow and Floyd, "The Antihero - Can Games Create Antiheroes?"). That makes sense... if you realize what the core definition of an antihero is.

I discovered today that, quite simply, an antihero is a hero that doesn't have typical heroic traits (LiteraryDevices Editors, "Anti-Hero"). This means that the definition of antihero changes depending on whatever the current archetypical hero looks like.

In classical history (think wayyyy back, like to the ancient Greeks), a typical hero was "a dashing, confident, stoic, intelligent, highly capable fighter and commander with few, if any, flaws and even fewer real weaknesses." (Anybody else thinking of Odysseus at this point? Oh good. Not just me.) By contrast, "the antihero [was] plagued by self-doubt" or any number of other weaknesses ("Classical Anti-Hero").

The antihero had flaws. The classical hero did not.

I'm ashamed that even after all those years of literature classes, I didn't know better. (I probably forgot, because I'm sure they went over something like that...)

This all goes back to my discussion two weeks ago about protagonist morality and character flaws (or lack thereof). Morally-good characters like Captain America and Superman are remnants of a time that hearkened back to the classical period definition of a hero: someone morally good, a role-model, someone the audience could (and should) look up to (Portnow and Floyd, "The Antihero"). The fact that we have some people defending characters like this makes me wonder if in the near future we'll be seeing a reemergence of morally-good heroes to rebel against the current antihero model--but that's another topic for another day.

Obviously, the antihero has changed dramatically since the classical time period. In fact, the definition of the antihero has changed so much so soon (TV Tropes even claims the modern antihero has been called the "Nineties Anti-Hero" ["Classical Anti-Hero"]) that you can't find its current definition in places like the Encyclopædia Britannica or other high-brow sources. You need to go somewhere more modern, more "hip," more "in-touch" (I think "hip" was out of style even when I was growing up in the 90's...)--places like TV Tropes or Extra Credits. Extra Credits defines the modern antihero like I did: someone riddled with angst, angry, brooding, dangerous to be around, and probably self-destructive ("The Antihero").

Well, I gotta admit I've spent far more time writing "classical" antiheroes than modern ones. I like my characters with flaws, but they've more or less retained squeaky-clean records. They were the wide-eyed, innocent dreamers who would stand up for what was right simply because it was right.

But that has started to get a little stale for me to write. Not to mention, I worried that readers would find it hard to relate to characters that are still kind of... perfect. I worried my heroes' flaws weren't strong enough or their struggles not dark or "real" or relatable enough.

I've since started dipping my toes into some harsher issues to grow myself as a writer. After all, it's my job to depict reality--even through fiction, even by exploring reality's darker moments. I couldn't really do that well if I can only create two-dimensional protagonists and evil-for-evil's-sake villains.

I started a few years ago by toying with some moral dilemmas. The Titans Together roleplay was a great playroom for that. How did I edge my paragon good characters into the morally gray? Well, what would happen if a character fell in love with a long-time friend... who he knew was happy in a serious relationship? Or what would happen if a paragon good character--who had been taught by the Justice League not to kill--decided to take up a gun because she believed they were no longer fighting crime, but rather waging war in self-defense?

It sounds kind of sadistic, but... I did have a lot more fun with those scenarios than when I kept my protagonists squeaky-clean. More importantly, I felt that my stories really were better because of it. Go figure--I was improving as a writer just by letting my characters be a little more, well... human.

So, recently, I decided to take it a step further. I really wanted to challenge myself, so I was determined to make an "Extra Credits-type" antihero: a character nobody would want to be. I wanted to see if I could write a character who had done terrible things for the wrong reasons and see if anybody (including me) could stand him as a hero. In short, I wanted to take the antihero to its extreme.

That's how Cassius was born.

...But more on him here. ;)


---
Works Cited:
  • "Anti-Hero." TV Tropes. N.p., 8 June 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016.
  • "Classical Anti-Hero." TV Tropes. N.p., 16 May 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016.
  • Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Antihero." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. LiteraryDevices Editors. “Anti-Hero.” LiteraryDevices.net. 2013. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
  • Portnow, James, and Daniel Floyd. "The Antihero - Can Games Create Antiheroes?" YouTube. YouTube, 25 Nov. 2015. Web. 11 Aug. 2016.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Let's Play-by-Play: Umineko Opening - REPOST

[This was a post I originally wrote for Diving Deeper and, since I'm merging the blogs, I wanted to make sure it didn't get lost in the shuffle. I'll still be posting new content tomorrow. But if you haven't gotten a chance to read this one yet, hope you enjoy!]

Hey all! I'm still working on polishing my review and analysis formats, but I thought it'd be fun to start off Diving Deeper as informally and nerd...ily? as I could: by doing a play-by-play of my read-/playthrough of the visual novel Umineko.

For those of you unfamiliar, a visual novel is something like a cross between a graphic novel and a video game. It's mostly reading with visuals and some voice acting, but many have options to choose from throughout the game. Think of it as the modern rendition of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book.

Although a friend of mine has told me a little bit of the Umineko storyline, I'm walking into this almost completely blind. This is also going to be my first extended experience with a visual novel. The only other one I've ever started was Steins;Gate (and I didn't get far in it--didn't want to spoil the anime adaptation for my family if they happened to walk in while I was playing).

Well, this probably won't end horribly! Let's go.

Menu screen. The gentle lapping of water and call of seagulls. There's a blurry building of some sort in the background; I'm assuming that's our upcoming locale of interest. Let's find out.

A bell tolls, and the game begins. I'm introduced to some game mechanics, including a TIPS MODE, which looks like it'll keep updated biographies of the cast. Looking at the preview of the GUI, it looks like I might need the help. I'm notoriously bad at keeping large casts straight.

A portrait of a young lady in garb that looks 1800's and a disclaimer that this is a fictional story. Then I'm introduced to a portly old man with a mustache. Music is sad, tragic. I'm getting a bad feeling already...

Apparently it's my doc. I'm here because I'm struggling with alcohol. Again. There's two men in the room with us, but I can't see them. Another physician in the room is examining his own patient, and a servant surveys the whole scene. What kind of doctor has a servant in the examining room?

My mistake. Looks like I'm not the alcoholic, after all. A stately-dressed man with white hair--looks like as old as the doc--is the drinker in question. Apparently the two have known each other a while.  This patient is Kinzo. The drink is getting to Kinzo, and not even the medicine will be able to help soon.

The doc is Nanjo, and Genji is I assume Kinzo's servant as Kinzo requests another (watered-down) drink.

Yep. Genji is the servant, a butler. He serves his master a glass as requested, despite the doc's orders. Looks like this is a house-call.

The family doc's not too happy, but there's nothing Nanjo can do. Now the room fills with a sweet smell... They mentioned it before, but I didn't think it was important until now. When they add the word "poisonous" to the word "aroma," I start to take notice.

I've been told this is a murder mystery story.

Kinzo and Nanjo go back and forth. They're old pals and yet neither heeds the other's warnings--Kinzo continuing to drink, and Nanjo making foolish moves in their games of chess. It seems this drinking is justified as a little revenge in Kinzo's mind. Kinzo proclaims that he wouldn't die without medicine, but he would if his drink were taken away. Is he immortal or something? I think I heard there's something supernatural about this story...

The drink is green, like snake venom.

Kinzo asks how long he's got left. Nanjo only replies not long.

They're currently playing a game of chess. Nanjo uses it as a visual tool to explain himself. Kinzo's close to checkmate, but hasn't won yet. They'd make a few moves each time Nanjo came to visit, but Nanjo believes that Kinzo won't live to end the game.

Nanjo mentions a will, and Kinzo seems less than enthused. Sounds like he has family issues. Golddigger family issues.

A suggestion by Nanjo that a will isn't just for material possessions, but instructions on how the deceased's "will" should be carried out... interesting. A mention of regrets Kinzo might mention, or unfinished business. Now I'm intrigued.

But Ushiromiya Kinzo has nothing to say or leave to his family. Apparently he's a man of his own making. He has no intention of leaving his "foolish children" any of his money or prestige.

He doesn't care to be buried... "Those were the terms of the contract I made with the witch!" Supernatural, indeed. "When I die," Kinzo says, "everything will be lost!"

He suddenly slumps over. It looks like he'd been possessed by a demon and then exorcised. Weak. Dead?

Not dead. Not yet, anyway. He has a single regret. There's something he can't leave undone. Nanjo says he should write it down. That way, even his descendants can accomplish it if he couldn't.

But Kinzo angrily insists he has to do it while alive. He'll be devoured by demons when he dies, erased from existence. No afterlife for him. No RIP. Even if he could write it down, he wants to see Beatrice's smiling face. The witch, I believe.

She's resisted him, whatever that means. He wants to see her one more time.

OH NAW THAT'S TOO META STAHP GAME. He's calling out to her, saying she's invisible, but that she's here and she's listening to everything he's saying. I DUN WANNA BE NO WITCH BRUH.

Black screen. Opening credits!

Wow. That was interesting.

Fanciful music. Anime characters. Somebody's crying. It's gonna be a good game.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Big Update: Merging With Diving Deeper and Other News

Hey everyone! There's some big changes coming to the Fiction and Fantasy blog.

I know some of you have been to my offshoot blog, Diving Deeper, and have been asking about when I'll begin posting there in earnest. But since I haven't been advertising it much, I also know there may be many of you who aren't familiar with it.

Diving Deeper is the second blog I began to complement Fiction and Fantasy. While Fiction and Fantasy was created specifically as a platform for me to discuss my own stories or thoughts about life, Diving Deeper was going to be more of a review/analysis of other people's stories.

However, starting next week, I'm going to be merging these two blogs together.

What does that mean?

Fiction and Fantasy is going to still have posts about my writing projects, process, and philosophy. But you can also expect to see some brand-new kinds of content. Here's some of the new content you can expect to see:

Character Studies

Analyzing characters' good and bad points, why they work together with other members of the cast, what makes them interesting or entertaining--even typing their personalities!

Mixed Reviews

Discussing stories I've had mixed feelings about, exploring their strengths and weaknesses. Each will end with a discussion about additional options I would have loved to see the writers explore. (I've actually been exploring the possibility of posting these both as blog posts as well as audio/podcasts. Comment if you're interested in this idea!)

Why This Title Is Amazing

Okay, I admit. This is gonna be my gush time. Some of my favorite stories and what exactly I love most about them--and why you might enjoy them, too.

Top 10's/Bottom 10's

Flash-Posts listing some of my favorites (or not-so-favorites!)

In Addition...

Fiction and Fantasy is also going to be going through some major changes all on its own, apart from the merge.

I'll be temporarily going down to one blog post a week over the next few weeks as I adjust to my new schedule. While I'll be shooting for Wednesday updates, the day of the week may or may not change depending on my schedule.

I'd like to emphasize that as of right now, this is a temporary change. Especially with the new kinds of content I have planned, I want to return to twice-a-week updates as soon as I've adjusted to my new schedule. However, this job may or may not prove to be more stressful than I'm currently anticipating, so once-a-week updates may have to be the new norm.

Finally, you may also see more Flash-Posts over the weeks to come in addition to the weekly post to make up for having one fewer post throughout the week.

I sincerely apologize for the lack of content, but I'm hoping that the new variety of entertaining reviews, interesting character analyses, and fun Flash-posts will more than make up for it over the weeks to come!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

More Story Ideas!

I am an organization freak.

If you don't believe that by now, here's another piece of evidence for you: I have a document on my computer solely to list and categorize all my story ideas. This ranges from the big novels I have planned to multi-book series to one-off ideas that are nothing more than a single image or concept.

Because I've been focusing on The Victor's Blade over the past few years, I haven't really given this doc much attention or thought lately. So it was kind of fun to skim through it the other day and remind myself of all these future projects I've got, just waiting to be written.

Curious? Well, I'm not one for spoilers, but... I guess a sneak peek couldn't hurt.

[All content subject to change:]


The Castle

A dark castle looms in the distant mountains, just barely visible through the forest mists from the quaint village. People say the castle and surrounding mountains are haunted, forbidden, the ruin of some long-forgotten kingdom. But the stories are nothing to daunt the adventurous and foolhardy Ævran. The boy regularly explores the forest, trying to find a way up the mountains to get to the castle high above. When he stumbles across mysterious riders making their way through the forest toward the castle one dark night, Ævran redoubles his efforts.

But once he climbs his way to the castle, he finds more than he bargained for. The castle isn't quite a derelict ruin yet, and within its halls still linger a cold fighting force and a colder, crueler master.

Ævran struggles to escape the castle, but during his search, he discovers he isn't the only prisoner here...

The Clan


Ethaeril was going to be a knight. That's what his mother told him. It was about all he knew about himself, since his father died before he was born and his mother only survived long enough to send him away to a castle to apprentice.

There weren't any relatives to ask. No obscure family members left alive, either. His only relative, an uncle he thought he might have met once, died shortly after he turned fifteen.

In fact, that was the year when everything changed. Because that was also the year the king died.

On a dark and rainy night, a soaked stranger arrives at the castle, saying he's come to take Ethaeril away. Of course Ethaeril's lord isn't happy and demands to know what the stranger's business is about and who he is.

"I am Baron Naevius," the nobleman explains calmly. "And Ethaeril is to be crowned the new king."

One of the few remaining descendants left of a dying dynasty, Ethaeril is thrust into a dangerous game of warring factions, generation-long rivalries, and cunning politics.

His most vocal opposition is a fraction of the family some call "The Clan." Anger and sore from years of being snubbed by their royal family members, The Clan is determined to finally take their place on the throne. They are the true heirs.

They will make sure the whole kingdom knows it.

The Contract

When Jaku is tricked into signing a contract with a witch, he finds himself bereft of his beloved Aiyin and his soul. Now bound to serve the witch for eternity, Jaku slowly begins to lose himself as the witch's power takes hold.

Aiyin is their last hope, but her own life hangs in the balance. Trapped between life and death, can she find the strength to rescue both herself and Jaku?

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Wanna read about more of my projects in progress?

Many apologies for the lack of photos in my most recent posts. The new site I've been using for photo hosting has not been playing nicely with Blogger (what a shocker). Looks like I'm going to have to go hunting for yet another hosting site...

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The English Language Needs a Bigger Dictionary

We need more words in English.


This probably seems like a stupid thing to argue for when the Oxford Dictionary says that the English language has something like 250,000 words as it is, but bear with me a moment.

The fact is that our language has a lot of gaps that need filling. Ancient Greek had at least three words (that I know of) to talk about love. And each one of those filled a necessary "niche" that our word love has to multitask in order to fill. For instance, phileo is friendship love. That's totally different from eros, which is romantic love. I personally think this lack of differentiating words for love causes a good deal of problems in the world today, but I'll save that soapbox for another time.

Why don't we adopt more words from other languages to make up for these gaps? After all, English is a mutt language. We have a long history of adopting words from many other languages (boomerang and kangaroo from Aborigines in Australia, tortilla from Mexican Spanish, bouquet and bureau from France, etc.). We even do it in the academic world, often borrowing from German words and phrases: bildungsroman, angst, etc.

One of my biggest complaints about the limitations ("language gaps") of the English language is that we don't even have a lot of words to describe many of our key five senses. Oh, we have plenty of words that describe how something looks. Colors, shapes, movement are all covered in this area. We have lots of words (although not nearly as many) for how something sounds.

But how many words do we have for how something feels? Or smells?

In my opinion, scent is one of the most criminally underrated senses in the written English language. Now, I understand. Scents are much harder to describe using words than sights are. But scents are important. I actually wrote an essay about this for the English 210 (Advanced Essay Writing) course I took back at my Alma Mater.

Although I'm cringing at my old self-important style, the essay still brings up a lot of good points as to how important the sense of scent is in writing, and how sad it is how few words we have to describe it.

[Excerpts from "The Hidden Beauty in Scented Words":]

Think of the words that are used for smells, such as aroma and perfume. Each one slowly rolls off the tongue... It is incredible that just a few syllables can describe a scent and describe it so well. We almost begin to salivate when we hear the word aroma. The word perfume wafts about our noses in a heady cloud... Pungent, redolent, and fragrant all end with a snapping t, a nod to the strong scents that can only be described by such precise words...

[S]cented words’ beauty lies in their novelty and their ability to describe. How little now one sees the scented words of pungent and aroma! Yet these words are so exact! Their connotations are clear, their sound is melodious, and their meaning is easily understood.

Think of times the warm aroma of Thanksgiving dinner floated throughout your household. The scent of turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberries was enough to make you salivate. Or how delicious was it as a child to race outside during summer vacation and fill your lungs with a whiff of the pungent scent of freshly-cut grass clippings? How often have people passed by perfumed candles in shopping malls, and how often have they stopped, just for a moment, to enjoy the candles’ sharp smell? Yet, were it not for the beautiful words that describe these many varied scents, how could we enjoy memories of these odors through writing? How else could authors so vividly remind us of the savory smell of baking bread or the fragrance of an apple blossom?

How boring would descriptions of odors be if they could only be described in terms of their visible objects! How drab would a composition on scents read if its lines ran something like “the smell of the wind from the south… the smell of the salty sea… the smell of the earth after a rain… the smell of, the smell of, the smell of…”! With each phrase, only the dull word “smell” itself can conjure up the scent in our minds. Without the beautiful scented words, the author would have to make the reader work for every scent. To reproduce any smell in their mind, the reader would have to connect the visual image with the scent that accompanies it. What tedious work! How boring to have only one word that connects to so many scented sensations! Without these beautiful and vital words of smell, readers would have far more work to do, and writers would have far less interesting words to write.

Words should bring to mind a picture, a sensation, or a memory. Words that do this well are good words; they are descriptive and beautiful words. Words that do not evoke a clear image, a sharp sensation, or a vivid memory, are worthless. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but beauty is not confined to the visual world so many are slaves to today. Too many authors ignore the other senses that humankind uses to experience beauty. The soft [warm] touch of sunlight, the uplifting tones of a piano, the taste of a delicacy, and the richness of perfume—all are beautiful experiences; all are examples of beauty. However, so many of these beauties are taken for granted. Touch and taste are forgotten. Sound is used in onomatopoeia, but hardly much else. Smell, so difficult to put into words, is often ignored.

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Photo by PDPics. Originally posted on Pixabay.com.