Transferring Qualia

Qualia is a word used to refer to those experiences that can’t be described. Things like the taste of sweet, or the feeling of pain. There’s a cliche about describing blue to a blind man, and although that blind man might be able to understand blue as being similar to a high-pitched sound spread out across a surface, that’s not the same as actually seeing it, is it?

Out of these primitive experiences, much more complex ones can be built. From the sounds of the human voice, comes the ability to understand words. From the taste of sweet and the ability to understand words, comes the sensation of sitting down with your family for dinner. And from the multitude of meals and trips and just time spent together, comes the emotion of love.

I have long fantasized about people being able to experience these complex qualia directly. I have wished for a kind of mystical process by which people can feel what it’s like to be another person. To see the world with the eyes of another, and to understand that what they see isn’t always what is actually happening.

I once met a man that could not visualize his imagination. At least, it would explain why he couldn’t do math in his head if he couldn’t. It’s actually not that unusual. I myself seem to only half-visualize things, with vast chunks of the picture missing and I only realize this when I go to draw it. And these people with no visual imagination? They frequently grow up assuming that people talking about seeing things in their heads are speaking in metaphors.

The scope of human experience is huge. One human can be an existence incomprehensible to another human. I wish that there was a way to make the chasm disappear. But the best that I can do now is to write fiction, and to try to describe with words what cannot be described with words.

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.

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.

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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Thoughts on the Aura Field, Part V: On Sorcery

I wrote this series of essays in order to figure out how I wanted ritual spells in Occulted to work. Before I started it, I understood that I want rituals to be a method of manipulating auras that didn’t belong to the caster. Beyond that, however, I had difficulty deciding how to square the basic process with three qualities that I want the rituals to have: that sorcery be flexible, personal, and non-arbitrary.

By flexible, I mean that I wanted sorcery to be a way for an Occ to do things that they were not born capable of. This would explain how someone could gain new superpowers over the course of their life, and allow the characters to do things more complicated that what their powers directly allowed, by trading time and study for ease. However, this conflicted with sorcery being personal.

Personal sorcery means that each exact spell is unique to the caster. Despite the flexibility I want out of sorcery, I’m not entirely comfortable letting the characters leave their inspiration behind entirely for it. That is to say, I want the mummy-girl’s rituals to invoke the Egyptian gods, the vampire-girl’s rituals to require blood, and the Frankenstein-girl’s rituals involve lightning and surgery. However, most systems with personal spells are arbitrary.

What I mean by arbitrary can best be explained by example. In the tabletop role-playing game Mage: the Ascension, mages cast their spells by performing rituals that might only have meaning to them. The actual actions taken during the ritual are, in fact, unnecessary, and it’s only the fact that the mage is unaware of the true nature of reality that makes them seem like they are. While I’m given to understand that there are real-life traditions that only require the ritual to be meaningful to the caster, that’s just not how I want my magic system to work.

I didn’t expect Jessica’s feeding to provide a key. Somewhere along this line, I decided that my vampires needed to drink blood because their aura’s could only affect the aura of blood. Similarly, a ritualist does not make signs and sounds because they are meaningful to her, but because her aura resonates with the aura’s of the signs and sounds. By creating a web of auras, it is possible to create a large variety of effects, despite the fact that they all share the same root. This will provide a framework for ritual spells in Occulted as I move forward, although it seems that the aura field didn’t come up much in an essay named after the concept.

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On the Writing of Tries

The word “essay” comes from the French word essayer – to try. An essay, therefore, is a piece of writing where the author tries to do something. This can be an attempt to convince the reader, a pontification on some subject, or trying to connect two thoughts in the author’s head.

An essay can be of any length, from a few paragraphs to several books, such as Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Incerto. The shorter essay is more common, because a multi-book essay can take several years to write. Shorter essays can also be written in between sessions of writing a longer one.

I enjoy writing tries where I try to connect various ideas that are going around in my head. Sometimes, I feel like the proper way to give shapes to my thoughts about somethings is to write a story, which would be a narrative essay. I also believe that somethings would need a layer of fiction on top of the pontification. Not really a story, just an in-universe explanation of things, with out-of-universe implications.

I have several possible essays I could write. However, I feel that some of them my be too long to be written in a single week. I will write short essays between sessions of writing longer essays. I will work on the longer essays every week, and use the short essays to ensure that there is something here every week.

I suppose this could be considered a gift, from me to you. Happy holidays.

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