Towards a New Project

I need to start writing long fiction again.

Each chapter of Occulted that I wrote took all week to write. I’d come home and write about 300 to 500 hundred words in an hour, and that would be my entertainment for the night. And once I was doing this for a while, The House Apart was starting to get popular. And since I stopped, the bars haven’t been nearly as high.

But I can’t just throw something out there. I tried that with my microfiction serial, and it didn’t quite feel right. Of course, I came up with the Veridity universe with very little planning aforethought. That might have been the main problem with that thing.

I think I might need to look at something that’s been rolling around in my head for a while. Something that I already have an idea for the mood and the theme. Now’s a bit of an awkward time for me to start on a huge writing project, however. Wish me luck.

Disclosure

Earlier this week, I did something strange. I made a distinction between the author revealing things about the characters of the story, and revealing things about the world they inhabit. But the characters should be shaped the world they inhabit, it’s history, geography, and culture should reveal themselves through their actions. Their shouldn’t be any difference between using the characters to disclose the world and having the characters disclose themselves.

Except that fictional worlds are inherently incomplete.

I do not mean that imagined universes are unfinished; I mean that they have parts missing. Even if the author has a few firm concepts in mind, these concepts are always underconstrained, there are empty spaces where they should link to other things. In the real world, these empty spaces would be filled with things the author would have no knowledge of, but that’s not possible with a fictional one. The end result is that author must find themselves deciding things, sometimes during writing, even when those things involve the basic laws of physics.

This is how the story the author chooses to tell shapes the world of their story, and not the other way around.

World Building and Narrative Structure

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how narrative structure, how what kinds of scenes and narrative beats are used to create meaning for the audience, affects and constrains what kind of magic and superpowers a story can have. Obviously, different kinds of stories need different kinds of magic systems. The distinction I want to consider for the moment is between rule-based systems that bring the focus of the story onto the world and society as a whole, and “one person, one power” systems where each individual has their own idiosyncratic power set, which focus on the interactions between characters.

By rule-based systems, I mean magic systems where the rules hold for all users of a magic. What magician A does is basically the same thing as what magician B does, either can explain anything the other does, and you can even take the magic system and give it an encyclopedia entry of it’s own. Think of the ‘Ars Arcanum’ bits and the end of Brandon Sanderson’s books. Because there are many users of the same magic, experimenting with it and finding their own applications for it, these systems pull the narrative focus outward, with the characters being the camera by which the world is revealed to the audience. The question these systems bring up is “how does magic fit into this world, and how is society built around the fact of its existence?”

“One person, one power” systems work like a superhero comic. Each user has their own magic, the magic is never mentioned apart from the user, and if you see the power in an encyclopedia, it’s in the entry of the user. These systems pull the narrative inward, away from the world and towards the characters themselves, and their interactions with each other. These questions don’t make the viewer ask how society deals with magic, but rather, it make them ask, “What do the characters do with their powers?”

The story the author is telling determines how the magic system acts. If the author starts out with a “one person, one power” system but keeps going into the history and cultures of the world, their going to find themselves explaining how the powers interact with each other and how the underlying rules link together. Conversely, a story that starts out by laying out the rules of magic and then goes on to focus on characters interactions, including violent interactions, is going to have an extraordinary number of exceptions to those rules. There are times when these are exactly what the author is going for. Sometimes you want to write a story about how seemingly unrelated phenomena are deeply linked to each other. Sometimes you want to tell a story about the limits of human knowledge and shattering all preconceived limits. But if you know that your medium or publishing house is going to push you to on style or the other, you should be aware of that.

Vampires and Lycanthropes

The connection between vampires and werewolves is an accident of history.

Way back in the early days of cinema – the 30’s and 40’s – Universal Studios made a several horror movies, such as Dracula and The Wolf Man. As time went on, Universal made more movies, some of them involving characters from previous ones. Sometimes characters from different series met, in an early example of a cinematic universe.

This early cinematic universe is the reason vampires and werewolves are linked in the popular imagination. However, looking at a list of movies that are considered to be a part of the franchise, I’m not seeing much particular interaction between werewolves and vampires in them. But there are other reasons for the two creatures to be linked.

An element that The Wolf Man introduced into the myth of the werewolf was transmission. The story of The Wolf Man is the story of a man that was bitten by a monster and realizing that he was turning into a monster himself, making it an early example of personal horror. This is similar to how vampires are said to reproduce, an element introduced in the novel by Bram Stoker.

Another thing that was in the novel was Dracula’s ability to turn into a wolf. This wasn’t something Stoker made up; vampires turning into wolves was an element in then contemporary Eastern European folklore, with the vrykolakas of Greece being a notable example. But the thing is, Dracula had a host of magical powers, and his literary descendants have followed suit. So much so, that some works postulate multiple species of vampire, each with their own unique power set, with only the theme of parasitism to unite them.

This parasitism is inherently horrific. Vampires have a need to feed on – and harm – other sentient beings. Even if a writer jumps through the hoops to sanitize vampires, such that they only need a mouthful of blood every few weeks, or even capable of living entirely off of animal blood, the fact that they drink blood from puncture wounds is still a bit creepy. It also gives them a reason to hide their existence from normal people, their natural victims, in much the same way a disease benefits from being asymptomatic.

Werewolves, meanwhile, are defined by their ability to turn into a wolf. Unlike parasitism, this is not naturally horrific. If a man can turn into a wolf at will, painlessly, and keep his mind while he is a wolf, most people would be comfortable calling him a werewolf, even though there’s nothing horrifying about his condition. This is the root difference between werewolves and vampires.

An effect of this difference is in trying to justify why each species would justify trying to hide their existences. As I stated, vampires naturally benefit from trying to hide themselves, in the same way a virus benefits from hiding themselves. Even in worlds where the supernatural is taken for granted, it’s still easy to believe that vampires would try to maintain a fiction that they shouldn’t be.

Werewolves, meanwhile, have the opposite incentive. While it’s understandable that the less dangerous kind of werewolf might go along with someone else’s masquerade, the kind that takes after The Wolf Man wouldn’t. They have every reason to tell people about their condition, so that people know to avoid them on the night of the full moon.

All that said, while vampires and werewolves are held together by historical contingency, I will continue to gleefully use that connection in my work.

Creative Listlessness

I’ve been low on ideas lately. At least, low on ideas that I can turn into art and stories. I guess I could go looking for some semi-bad stuff, the kind of entertainment that’s good enough to keep you watching, but also bad enough that I can have ideas on how to fix it.

But there’s another problem. I just don’t have the same drive to get on here and write something like I used to. Part of this is that my life has changed over the three years I’ve been doing this site. Another is that the fever for creation seems to have broken. But there’s nothing to do but to try to power through it.

Minor League Writing

Fan fiction is the minor league of writing.

There is nothing wrong with this. Fan fiction is simply an easy way to release a writer’s creative impulse. While a writer working in their own universe has to worry about staying consistent with themselves, to worry about if what they decide to write is consistent with what they decided to write. The writer of an original work is ever wondering if their decision fit together, or if they need to go back and grind things down a bit more, never quite sure if their current arbitrary decisions work with their previous arbitrary decisions.

In fanfiction, however, there’s something external to the writer, the original story, that let’s them aim at something. In all probability, not everyone will agree if the author is actually hitting the target. Somebody’s read of a character will be different, or they’ll think that the author’s explanation of how a particular event or superpower doesn’t quite work with canon. But reaching for a consensus with their readers is something every author has to deal with, and the fact that fan fiction has some pre-accepted premises makes thing easier.

Of course, if fanfics are the minor leagues, what I’m doing is a team with no connection to formal leagues at all. Fan fiction in a living fandom injects the writer into an audience of thousands, where they are both producer and reader, communally working on their individual story. I, meanwhile, am writing essays for less then two hundred people, who are mostly here for the poetry, anyway. (WordPress is good for hosting poetry.)

That’s not to say that I want to write fanfiction. I have no interest working is somebody else’s sandbox. But I do wonder if my work would be more fruitful, if I could make more connections if I posted my work elsewhere. Unfortunately, I have no idea where I could post original stories, and I’m not sure I want my pictures to be divorced from their contacts, like they would be if I posted them on an art website.

Ah well, it’s something to think about.

The Consistories and the Episcopate

This is something I wrote in Holo AI. I selected the metadata (tags, expected length, year) and typed in the memory and author’s note, then I let the program run and selected which ever output I thought was most interesting. I’m posting this because it is appropriate to show you something I wrote using a text predictor, and because it is a good example of what you can expect from such a program, including how liable it is to go off in an unexpected direction.

I am also, of course, publishing the tags, memory, and author’s note along with the main writing. I do this so that you can have some idea about what effect each parameter has on the output. In particular, I refer to how the fantasy tag seems to have been completely drown out by the combination of the religion tag and the writing year being set to 1957.


Genre tags: religion 0.85; fantasy 0.50; political-philosophy 0.64

Document length: 10,000 tokens

Publication year: 1957

Memory:

There is a great conflict within the Apostolic Church, between those who believe that responsibility of guiding the faithful should rest with the bishops, who each can trace their line of ordination back to the original Twelve, and those who believe that that responsibility should lie with the consistories, the councils whose members are chosen among the congregations.

Author’s note:

The author will describe the conflict between the episcopals and the consistorials, while expressing sympathy for both sides.

Output:

But I must turn my attention to the danger which is posed by our lack of clarity.

The church’s present membership, if we allow for the clergy, is almost one hundred thousand; but many people doubt that we are as large.

Yet this does not have to be so. Our growth may be greater than any statistics show. In order to understand why, we must take a brief look at the state of our members.

Let us say first that our membership is declining. In ten years, there were seven million members, but by five years ago, that number had fallen to six and a half million. Why? This decline may be explained as follows:

First, many of the new members were attracted by the search for greater peace in society. They came to the church with this idealistic hope, but once they found themselves there, the idea was not so appealing. There are many persons who find the Church’s teaching too abstract, and do not like the fact that it is not practical. So they leave, often without regret; for they feel that their efforts at social improvement have been wasted. It is not difficult to understand why.

The world of today has few problems which cannot be solved by human effort; and when a person comes to the church because he wishes to have a share in solving these problems, he may be disappointed if he does not find the answers here. Many churches were founded on such an idea. We do not need to look far back in history to see that this is a common source of dissatisfaction among the faithful.

Another cause of defections is a kind of intellectual laziness which we often encounter in our members. Here again, one can go back in time to find its origins. The spirit of our fathers was a simple, God-loving, peaceful people. They accepted the church as something higher than themselves; but they also felt that the church must teach them how to live better, and give them the tools to accomplish that task. This is why they used to say, “I believe but I must know.”

It is understandable that people who have had the faith of the saints should feel this way. When a saint dies, he does not leave behind a complicated, longed-for, earthly inheritance. He leaves his knowledge in the hands of others, so that it may be passed on to those who come after him. And it is these successors who use this knowledge for the good of mankind. Therefore, a man does not lose anything by believing; for he still has the benefit of the heritage of the saints, even if the priests are unable to explain it to him.

But there is another reason for the decline of our membership. It is not only that we are losing the best of our members, but that we are also gaining a number of undesirable elements. Our attitude toward the world of today is a sad example of this. The main aim of the church should be to maintain the purity and the peace of Christ. But the world has become full of strife. Instead of the ideal of harmony, we have the chaos of war and struggle. We, the children of the Church, are not responsible for this state of affairs. But, alas, we cannot keep ourselves aloof from it, either. Our members are surrounded by the world.

One does not have to travel far to see the signs of this. There are the people who think that peace and harmony are possible, and so they try to bring these things about. Yet, there is no end to the difficulties of achieving it. What would it take to change the world? They do not know. And yet they talk about peace and harmony all the time. Then there are others who fight and quarrel. They do not agree on what is right or wrong; they do not even know what is true and false. But they attack each other with vicious words, and make their situation worse. In our own country, we find that the world of today has been transformed into a battlefield of words. There are those who advocate freedom, and there are those who do not want to hear of it. There are some who wish to stay at home, and those who would like to go out and meet the world. Thus, there are those who preach a theory of life which has already gone beyond the church, and there are those who simply want to continue as they are.

How can a person whose mind is bent in one direction seek guidance in the church? How can a person whose eyes are blinded by something outside the church find an answer within its walls?

This is not the first such problem in the church. There have been many times in the past when the faithful have asked themselves questions like these. But in the early days of the Church, these problems were solved, because the original Twelve and the Apostles were the real guides. They were chosen by the Holy Spirit and their knowledge was confirmed by miracles. But as the years passed, the apostles died, and their successors could not be so easily verified.


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Viridity Post-Mortem

I wasn’t feeling it when I was writing Viridity.

Maybe it was just that making things completely on the fly isn’t my style. With Occulted, I was dealing with concepts and characters that had been running around in my head for quite some time. But even as I write that, I realize that wasn’t the case. I invented Kayleigh because I needed her for a story that I was changing as I wrote it. Making things up during creation isn’t something I have a problem with.

Another possibility is that my problems were because I wasn’t sure where I wanted the story to go. The entire concept of the Viridity project was that I would just start writing with the possibility that I wouldn’t stop for years. However, I have written things like that before. I had thought that the reason I couldn’t finish them was that I didn’t have a deadline that other people knew about, and therefore, I would disappoint anyone if I failed to keep it, but now I’m not so sure.

This is something that bears thinking on.


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Tactical Depth, or Fight-as-story

One day, while I was wandering around the internet, I came across a comment about Bleach having bad psychology.

Wrestling psychology, that is. I don’t think that’s the proper term for what that person was talking about, outside of the context of semi-improvised fight scenes performed in front of a live audience. In works of fiction that a first written, or drawn, or otherwise made and only then presented to an audience, the term I would use is something like ‘tactical depth.’ However, the overall sense of what he was talking about was the fight itself being a kind of story, with it’s own exposition, plot development, twists, and climax.

As an example, let’s consider a wrestling match between an average-sized but athletic man, and a freakishly huge giant. For exposition, we begin with the average-sized man facing off against the giant, and getting some offense in, which the giant doesn’t seem to care about. As the plot develops, the smaller man continues his attacks where he can, as he dodges around his opponent’s, which begins to frustrate the giant. This frustration is born out in the twist, where the smaller man uses the big man’s own momentum to throw his opponent over his shoulders. This twist, in turn, sets up the climax, where the smaller man flips the giant into the turnbuckle, and the pain of the impact paralyzes him long enough for his opponent to get the win.

That’s a basic example of how these things work. In contrast, most fights in Bleach end with the winner suddenly powering up, or revealing that they have an ability that’s perfect for the situation they’re in. In other words, the exact tactics that the fighters use have little to no bearing on how the fight plays out. The tactics of the wrestlers in the example above, in contrast, made up the entirety of the story. Hence, tactical depth – a form of storytelling in which the tactics used actually matter.

I enjoy writing tactically deep fights. However, this comes with costs, chiefly that I need a fairly good idea about what the fighters can do, what their abilities are and what the limits on those abilities are. But as an upshot, my fight scenes can be memorable in and of themselves, and not have to rely on the character’s backstories to get the audience engaged. And I enjoy thinking about my character’s abilities, anyway.


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On Taking Breaks

Even though it isn’t getting the response I wanted, I still want to give Viridity a proper ending. When I started the writing, I had an idea of starting to write a serial story without much forethought as to where it would go and how long it would actually be, which could have been potentially forever. I had also planned on taking a break every four installments, which brings me to here.

I had been thinking about a subject to write on for several weeks, but now that I’m here, I find that all I can write about is writing essays as a break. It’s mostly that I don’t want to awkwardly segue into another subject after starting with one topic. This does mean that I can save what else I was thinking of for another essay, however.

Viridity is an experiment. An experiment to see if I could do an indefinitely long serial with almost no prep work. I find myself having trouble getting enthusiastic about writing the next chapter, which is usually a sign that I’m doing something wrong and need to throw something out. I can’t throw anything away until I’ve done work, though.

I think I just have to spend sometime clearing my head; to spend a few days with the things that inspire me to write, without the distractions I’ve been looking at lately. I could think about the things that have been distracting me, but I don’t think this is the place for me complaining about people using the word ‘identity’ to much, or to talk about how capitalism doesn’t exist.


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