World Building 101 — Story Drivers

World Building 101 -- Story Drivers

Once you’ve finished asking yourself the major questions I mentioned in last week’s post, you’re in a fairly good place to start working on writing the story in your world. That said, though, before you get into writing too far, you will want to take a few minutes — maybe even an hour — to think about what events drive your story.

Yes, yes, there’s all kinds of cool things happening in your story. Otherwise, it’d be about as interesting as watching paint dry or grass grow. Still, all of these things that are going on in your story — battles, wars, arranged marriages, kidnapping, OMGEXPLOSIONS, whatever — all have their origins in things that happened before the story begins. Your characters will probably make references to historical or mythological events that are part and parcel of their culture but may not mean anything to the reader unless you take a second to explain it. You’ll want to develop these things well and have the shorthand references down before you have your characters do things like swear that they should pull a Seostaz* and claim the hill in the name of Zara**.

Robert Jordan was awesome at doing this with Mat Cauthon. After Mat went through the doorway in Rhuidean, he started making all kinds of references that even scholars in Randland wouldn’t have gotten. However, Jordan could weave those and the explanations into his story in a way few others can do — myself included — without data dumping.


If you get this reference, you are awesome

So, what do you do? Well, instead of having your characters say something like “This is another Antietam” and then going into a long explanation about what the Battle of Antietam was, try having them say “I feel like the Spartans at Thermopylae,” “But they won, didn’t they?” “Nope.” That right there tells your readers that the character feels like the underdog in a fight who did well enough that another character (unless that character is a moron) would think they won. No need to go into the whole history of Greece and Persia. Just a quick explanation that covers the high points.

You do want to be careful, though, when coming up with cultural references, historical events, and mythological references that you don’t find yourself going down too many rabbit holes. I generally keep to a rule of five — no more than five of each. If I find myself needing more than that, I know that I need to spend a lot more time building the history because I’m writing a story that spans at least five hundred years. Now, there are times you do want to do that. One of my sci-fi series I’m working on here and there is set 10,000 years in our future. I do have to develop a full history for that filled with wars, societies, religions, scientific advances, Dark Ages, and more. That’s not because every detail I sketch out in my backstory is going to come up but it is because I need to have all of this down cold so I can explain why two different groups diverged as much as they did.

Next week we’ll talk about the very basic universals found in religion, politics, and economics and why studying human history can help you develop a workable world.

— G.K.

*Made this up. No clue what it means.
**Ditto the above.

World Building 101

World Building 101

In light of a semi-serious comment I made on Facebook earlier about my latest stories tending to build worlds where humans don’t exist, I thought that this would be a great time to start posting about world building in general. I’ve been told that my world building and alt-history worlds tends to be my strongest suit as a writer. I also read a lot of fiction that attempts various world building schemes and are not as successful as they could be if they used methods akin to what I do without much thought.

So, what is world building? Well, I’m sure that there’s some fancy-ass dictionary term defining it but I tend to ignore that crap. World building, to me, means building a world to work the way you need it to in order to tell an interesting story. In order to do this, though, you have to sit down and ask yourself a few questions before you start writing. Below are some of the first questions you should consider.

Yes, you'll do a lot of work the reader never sees. This is why writers are masochists. Deal with it.

  1. Sci-fi, hard sci-fi, fantasy, or a mix of them?
  2. Is your story about a far-future civilization? Is it about an advanced race of mortals (notice I don’t say “humanoids”) who have technology most of us haven’t even imagined in our wildest dreams? If so, then your world building will be a lot different than someone who is planning a story set in a world with only a pre-Industrial technological level.

  3. What is my opening salvo?
  4. Are you writing about a group of plucky young mortals who are going to overthrow an oppressive system? Are you writing about a planet about to be destroyed? Is your world about to undergo a major war between Good and Evil? All of these will have very different backstories to give rise to the current history in your setting. You’ll have to think about where the oppressive system came from or what is going to cause planetary destruction (and it’s harder to destroy a planet than you think). What defines “Good” and “Evil” in your world and why?

  5. Will I be relying on or avoiding deus ex machina?
  6. Some stories simply will not work without a deus ex solution. That doesn’t make them bad stories — hell, look at Doctor Who! — but it does mean that if you take away the deus ex, the story fails. Most writers tend to avoid relying on such things and get irritated when their worlds’ internal logic won’t let them get to the particular point Q they need to be at without a deus ex machina. Writers who find themselves painted into that particular corner need to go back and examine the foundations of their world. Usually, if you hit that point, you’ve done something silly such as assume that your world and your mortals must follow Earth and human logic.

    COME AT ME, BRO

    That’s crap. I’m working on a story about quasi-sixth dimensional mortals. Sure, they have humanoid bodies but they also have senses humanity couldn’t dream itself up ever because humanity can’t visualize a tesseract without getting a collective nosebleed. Their technology and the ways in which they interact and interface with it resemble ours almost not at all. They also don’t follow our human logic. Why should they? They are not bloody human! Instead, I’m making their society internally consistent with itself. Sure, they have emotions, goals, and ambitions that us poor quasi-fourth humans can sympathize and empathize with. Still, they ain’t human.

  7. What is magic like in my world?
  8. Yes, you do ask yourself this even if you’re writing the hardest of the hard science fiction. Technology is magic that works within our laws of physics. If you doubt that, consider for a moment what would happen to the poor sod who fell into a wormhole that spit him out in 1387 AD London and who happened to have a flashlight with him. Yep — he’d be considered a witch because, even though a flashlight is technology (and rather simple tech at that), it’s magic to someone from seven centuries ago.

Once you’ve asked and answered these questions, you’re ready for some of the more advanced stuff such as considering your world’s mythos, its history, societies, economics (and yes, even a world that would give Marx a hard-on has economics), climate, weather patterns, and the rest. We’ll get into those things next week, though, because otherwise I’ll be here until March writing this post.

Don't build another Earth. Earth v1.0 sucked balls.

Do you have any questions or see anything I missed? If so, hit me up here or on Facebook and I’ll see what I can do!

— G.K.

Book Review: Nick Cole’s Ctrl Alt Revolt!

Book Review: Nick Cole's Ctrl Alt Revolt!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ve heard of this book. If you haven’t, then all I can say is

This book is awesome. It’s so good that I have a hard time really believing that the publisher dropped it because some snot-nosed editorial intern felt squicky about how AIs might consider elective abortion. I mean, that part is such a tiny part of the story and it’s more like the “straw that broke the camel’s back” when added with all of the other things AIs find to be evidence that humans don’t play well with others that I just shake my head over it.

I’ll confess, I spent most of the book rooting for the AIs. They were so logical, rational, and dispassionate. The people in the story, on the other hand, made me wonder how some of them managed to tie their shoes without strangling themselves. Oh, they were well-written and I liked them, yes, but with me, logic wins out over humanity. Still, Nick Cole does a great job of making everyone (and everything) accessible.

At any rate, the story moves well and is very believable. The characters (yes, even the humans) are interesting and multi-dimensional. The society is a bit dystopian and the ending felt a bit too pat for my tastes but, overall, it wasn’t bad enough to detract from the story. Factor in that the book has a high re-readability score and you’ve got something that is worth every penny.

I give this book four-and-a-half rainbow farting zebricorns out of five. It’s that good. You can see more of his books (The End of the World As We Knew It is on my review list) over at Nick Cole’s Books.

— G.K.

Saturday Review: CyberStorm

Saturday Review: CyberStorm

This one came up on my Kindle Unlimited list so I decided to give it a try. Matthew Mather’s CyberStorm is an interesting look at how a few friends struggle to cope with the miscommunication, the misdirection, and the problems that come when the fragile nature of our current system are exploited, causing the entire thing to crash. It also deals with the individual perspective of living through the CyberStorm and what it means for people and how it would impact day-to-day life in New York City.

Overall, it’s a good book. The pacing is okay. However, the characters are a bit flat. Chuck is the uni-dimensional envisioning of a doomsday prepper from the point of view of an urbanite who has never really sat down and actually spoken with one for more than a few hours. The philosophies and the way Mather tries to resolve them are believable conversations (shouting matches between the characters, really) but do little to advance the characters’ development and frequently seem to be just another way of putting down Chuck (and non-North Easterners in general). I did like the interplay with the main character (Mike) and Richard via Mike’s wife (who is the least likable character in the book). However, the vegan couple and the scenes involving them were just…pointless. Vegans would die very quickly if they clung to their veganism during a cyberstorm and the “side step” used the final time they’re encountered is pure sophistry.

I liked how the second half of the book ran with the establishing of a mesh-net, the real-life individual consequences of the “fog of war” phenomenon and the whole “misleading vividness” played out regarding what Mike thinks he sees during his first trip for help. I also like how the person who wound up being the Big Hero wasn’t one of the central characters of the story or a big player in the universe to begin with.

   

Three and a half rainbow farting zebricorns. CyberStorm is a good cyberthriller but it’s not A Canticle for Leibowitz

— G.K.

Fanfic Friday — Star Trek Voyager: Inosculation Updated!

Fanfic Friday — Star Trek Voyager: Inosculation Updated!

Okay, so, I may have been just the teensiest bit busy last week and kind of forgot to hit the “publish” button on the last chapter of this story. Not to worry — that just means you all get a double dose this week. So, be not sad and don’t waste any replicator rations — there’s plenty of booze and beverages to go around while you settle in to read the latest two chapters of Star Trek Voyager: Inosculation!

Yeah, I revisited the transwarp flight thing. I didn’t redo the whole episode — just some bits of it (and it’s a multi-chapter work) that are interesting. So, you don’t have to worry about a bunch of rehashed dialogue. I learned a lot from Adrift and Alayne’s Story. But, things are progressing and it’s going to be interesting so go get your read on.

I’m going to be moving my Friday Review entry to Saturday from here on out so check back tomorrow for that.

— G.K.

The State of Fandom and the Hugos: Category Error

The State of Fandom and the Hugos: Category Error

I mentioned this monster post in a comment at Sarah Hoyt’s this weekend. Here it is. Grab something to drink because this one’s a doozy, mes amis.

So, the Hugo voting period ended and the winners will be announced soon. There’s been the predictable resurgence in Puppy-related topics recently with the mainstream press parroting the press releases from Tor et alia to the effect that the Puppies and those of us who think they have a point are evil, racist, sexist, homophobic, hateful people who want to build new Dachaus and gulags in order to ensure that only white heterosexual men can own property while the rest of the world is enslaved to them. Those of us who know better, of course, just roll our eyes and wonder why we’re always the ones being accused of planning to build the concentration camps and gulags while the ideologues the Puppy-kickers uphold as being morally superior seem to be the ones who manage to actually have such things turn up in their back yards.

…but I digress.

For decades, there have been award ceremonies that attempt to showcase “the best” works in a genre. The Hugos, once upon a time, (arguably) were the premiere award for science fiction works. However, back in the days when the Hugo was a worthwhile award, the voting pool for the award was much larger, making it much less susceptible to industry or pool capture. WorldCon attendance would have been much higher as well and overall membership (even non-attending) would have been higher. But, over time, the publishing industry captured WorldCon and the Hugos which turned them from a fan award into a marketing stunt.

Don’t get me wrong — the bylaws and the rules are clear. No, what happened is very subtle. It probably started back in the late 1970s to mid 1980s at the earliest, early 1990s at the latest. The houses themselves were being taken over by liberal art majors who, having grown up steeped in the mythos of “the men who took down Nixon,” came into the publishing world with the same zeal to change the world instead of to help find great stories that people wanted to buy. Factor in the rage many of them had felt throughout the 1980s over Reagan’s cowboy diplomacy, his Brandenburg Gate speech where he had the audacity to demand that the morally superior USSR tear down the Berlin Wall, the cognitive dissonance that they felt when the Eastern Bloc collapsed and the USSR voted itself out of existence…and these were hammers desperately in search of a nail. The publishing world was just that nail.

They honed in on science fiction and fantasy specifically because it was future-oriented. Also, because it didn’t require a lot of experience in scholarship or other fields already (try getting into biographies or academic publishing with just a degree in English). Ideologically, they’d already begun taking over a lot of other places — schools, colleges, the art world, film, television, music — so publishing was just the next step.

Now, this wasn’t some organized take over with a great conspiracy where a secret cabal issued diktats — I’m not a tin-foil hatter. It was a long-term underlying trend that was baked into socialism and progressive philosophy.

So, once they’d gotten into the top spots of the big houses like Tor and the fantasy/sci-fi imprints of the other big six, they started making it difficult for anyone outside of their social circles to work there which slowly ensured that agents pushing authors whose politics differed would go nowhere. The stories became homogenized as well, following a set formula with characters that were uniform, uni-dimensional, predictable, and uninteresting. Readers revolted and stopped attending the conventions. But the publishers kept going to the conventions and kept sending their star authors (which dragged out some fans) which led to…the conventions being captured.

Which is what happened to WorldCon and the Hugos. The Hugos aren’t a fan award these days. They haven’t been for the better part of nearly thirty years now. They’re a publisher award because it’s been the publishers who were controlling the voter pool because the voter pool was less than 1000 people. Of course they were in political lockstep and of course they were pissed off when Correia and the rest of us Puppies came in and proved it.

But now on to the real problem. That’s right everyone — 700 words to get to the point of the post. We’ve been accused of destroying the Hugos and we’ve accused the others of destroying them. However, the real problem is CATEGORY ERROR — we’ve never really defined what the problem is. Oh, we think we have. We’ve intuitively got a grasp of what it is. We agree that there is a problem. But have we defined it? No. Not so much.


Category Error — having stated or defined a problem so poorly that it becomes impossible to solve that problem, through dialectic or any other means. Also, not quite as cool as Loki’s Wager but still a good excuse to run a graphic with Tom Hiddleston, yo

So, what is the actual problem? The actual problem is that what the Hugos were created to recognize no longer exists. Back when the Hugos and WorldCon first started, an avid reader could go through every sci-fi book published in a year. But these days, “science fiction” is a massive genre that has spawned dozens of child/sub genres. It’s the same story in the fantasy world. And the publishers and the folks who captured the Hugos over the past few decades represent a tiny sliver of the fanbase and readership — the sliver that aspire more towards the once academic, avant-garde literary-chic style of writing. This group is also incredibly active and activist which is why they have a tendency to take over many other conventions and force out groups they dislike (which is why the Honey Badger Brigade got shut out and nearly arrested for showing up at Calgary Comic Con).

The WorldCon/Hugo by-laws make it very difficult to change and recognize the new reality and…well…doing so would cost the publishers and the lit-chic folks their powerbase. Therefore, if those of us on the Puppy-side want to really fix this and have an award that is meaningful, durable, not subject to capture by one group or another, and represents the best works without showing the divide between works that sell well and works that win awards that the Hugos have shown in recent years, then we have our work cut out for us. The first thing we have to do is actually start defining stuff. I’ll expand on this further in later entries but for now, here are some of the child-genres I’ve noticed in science fiction and fantasy that we should consider:

Science Fiction:
Space Opera
Dystopian
Cyber
Military
Zombie Apocalypse
Superhero
Hard sci-fi
-Physics
-Chemistry
-Biology
-Astronomy
-Space Exploration
Post-Apocalyptic
Medical
Literary
Expanded Canon
-Star Trek novels
-Star Wars novels
-Halo book
-StarCraft books
-Halflife books
-Dune novels
-Doctor Who novles
-The X-Files books
-Batman comics
-Marvel: The Avengers comics

Fantasy:
High Fantasy
Epic Fantasy
Swords-and-Sorcery
Nordic
Shamanistic
Native American
Medieval
Urban
Dark
Surreal
Dystopian
Superhero
Romance
Literary
Expanded Canon
-Warcraft novels
-World of Warcraft novels
-Diablo novels
-Legend of Zelda comics
-Thor: The Dark World comics
-Doctor Who novels

Look, the simple fact of the matter is that our genres are growing and this is a good thing. We need to define the child/sub genres and start expanding awards to include them. And, we may need to give up on the idea of there ever being a single “best science fiction for the year” award ever again. It’s become a bit like trying to decide which vehicle is the best for a given year these days. Yes, some are objectively better than others but when you’ve got so many doing so many different things… it’s difficult to say “this is the best OVERALL” without actually defining what in the name of Issac Asimov you’re talking about.

Category error, guys. Let’s start fixing it, shall we?

— G.K.

Fanfic Friday — Star Trek Voyager: Inosculation Updated!

Fanfic Friday -- Star Trek Voyager: Inosculation Updated!

Happy Friday, everyone. The latest chapter of Star Trek Voyager: Inosculation is up for your reading pleasure. Things are moving forward and we learn a bit more about T’Loran’s past and much fun is had. Okay, not so much “fun” but “setting up things” because yay for exposition.

Anyhow, I have some other work to clear out of the way so go on and get your read on!

— G.K.

Zombie Apocalypse Readers Rejoice: Risen Ash Updated!

Zombie Apocalypse Readers Rejoice: Risen Ash Updated!

It’s Thursday, all, which means that it’s time for a little zombie apocalypse goodness with an update to Risen Ash. Serious discussions are taking place at the CDC involving paranoia, where to find information, and if people can be trusted. Shit is starting to get real, y’all, and eventually it’s all going to come to a head. But, for now, there’s work to be done so go read and find out…

As always, don’t forget that you can back me on Patreon or support my writing habit by getting a membership here today!

— G.K.

Epic Fantasy: The Search for the Seven Scepters Updated!

Epic Fantasy: The Search for the Seven Scepters Updated!

Epic fantasy fans, rejoice; The Search for the Seven Scepters has been updated. This week’s chapter finally sees our brothers reunited and Blade is there, too! Also, a very fun pledge gets made that gives the story both its title and its purpose. And, we learn a bit more about why Blade is so resistant to taking the throne and about her family and her family dynamics. The next few chapters will reveal even more as well as picking up the action a good bit so stay tuned!

As always, don’t forget that you can back me on Patreon or support my writing habit by getting a membership here today!

— G.K.

Politics and Television

Politics and Television

Or “Why G.K. Didn’t Watch The Debate.”

Oh dear Lord, we’re going into another active phase of the perpetual election cycle, aren’t we? Last week we got to see the spectacle that was the GOP debate and, while I didn’t watch it live because I knew that, even with it being on Fox with supposedly “friendly” moderators, the talking-heads weren’t going to be able to resist their chance to ham it up for the cameras and that the entire thing was going to be more about ginning up the ratings for the sponsors than it was going to be about the candidates actually, you know, talking about the issues and debating different approaches following set logical rules and avoiding logical fallacies such as strawman, reductio ad absurdum, tu quoque, ad hominem, appeals to (false) authority, special pleading, No True Scotsman, post hoc, and more while presenting actual evidence and solid reasoning for their beliefs or policy.

Can you tell I’m a bit of a throwback and a cynic? Television has ruined a lot of things and debate, argumentation, and critical thinking are among those things. It’s a great medium for entertainment and it can be used for education, yes, and story-telling. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not one of those who thinks that television is completely evil and has no redeeming qualities. I enjoy it — I have an active Netflix account and I’ve got Criminal Minds playing in the background. But, when it comes to journalism, television is the worst medium that could be used. It doesn’t allow for truly in-depth coverage, cross-referencing, citation of sources, or deep thought. Newspapers are the best medium for daily coverage and bi-weekly or monthly magazines are great for bigger events or more thorough coverage of events or technical issues. Radio can be a passable medium so long as the moderators and the debate format are agreed to in advance and the topics are adhered to. Television, however, will never make a good medium for political debates or journalism.

Why? Because it’s commercial. And, that’s good for entertainment. Hell, it’s great. It means that businesses and consumers are free to reward shows and sponsors and channels that entertain them or tell stories they like or support or whatever without having to directly own the studios or airwaves or whatever. There’s no real need for government intervention, censorship, or anything like that other than “truth in advertising” laws (you can’t advertise that your wooden spoon is actually made out of marble) and possibly some kind of daytime/child-safety advertising laws (you can’t run alcohol ads or other adult ads during certain hours or on channels aimed at children — not that most marketers would sell or buy there anyway because it’d be stupid). However, it’s an undeniable fact that you don’t piss off your sponsors and you don’t piss off your core audience. Just look at GamerGate. Intel pulled their ads from Gawker when Gawker’s articles pissed off a sizable portion of the GamerGate audience and they threatened to boycott Intel. And that kind of pressure is fine for entertainment shows and even educational shows. But it is not fine for journalism. It leads to worries about offending the corporate sponsors or the consumers which leads to spin, blacking-out of stories, and a focus on feel-good stories or the promotion of news items in a way that is guaranteed to keep the money-spigot opened.

Another reason television is a terrible medium for journalism is because it’s a visual format which leads to people judging based on appearances instead of based on the actual argument. Have you ever noticed that all of the news anchors are good-looking? And that none of them are terribly intelligent or creative? If they were trapped in the middle of a desert, they’d be screwed. Hell, if they were knee-deep in a river, they’d die of thirst. They went to fancy universities, yes, but that means nothing. Unless they graduated from CalTech, Standford (with a degree in hard sciences), or MIT, it’s worthless. These people were hired for their ability to look good on camera and read from a teleprompter or from cuecards. They were not hired for their ability to think critically, reason, ask difficult questions, or for their finely-tuned bullshit detectors.

A final reason television is the worst medium for journalism is because of its shallowness. Television is a very shallow, very short-form medium. Since it’s so visual and auditory, it’s easy to get overstimulated which makes it difficult for long-term memory to be engaged (which is why visual tricks and cut-aways can be used to deceive so easily — see below). The set-time format makes it impossible for any topic to be covered in real depth and the inability for there to be hard, permanent reference points for citations or notes makes cross-referencing difficult, if not impossible. Add in the general passivity it requires of the audience and it’s just a terrible medium for something as serious as news journalism and political debates.

There are other reasons television is a terrible medium for serious topics — it’s untrustworthy because it can be deceptively edited without the viewer being aware of it at all and, unless there are other recordings made, there’s no way to prove it (and there are never other recordings because of technical and legal reasons — no sound studio is going to let an interview subject bring in his own film crew and sound crew because not only will that cause phase cancellation issues, energy, and temperature issues but it sets them up for liability and insurance nightmares. The studio and journalists also won’t go for it because then they won’t have the sole copyright, there will be a plethora of distribution issues, and it would force them to be too damned honest).

Television — great for entertainment but a terrible way to receive information and select our leaders. Just FYI.

— G.K.

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