Perhaps one of the most prevalent topics we find on writer/writing fora online these days, aside from Imposter Syndrome missives, is that of being asked whether one is a “pantser” or “plotter” in one’s approach to ones writing style.
Does one, as it were, fly by the seat of one’s pants and improvise as one goes along with no firm structure decided as one writes or does one spend more time laying out detailed roadmaps, flow charts, character sheets, and so forth with a detailed and unassailably planned plot?
Quite the polemic subject, I can tell you! However I raise one point which I think is valid; since when did writers or artists in general conform to ‘standards’ or let themselves be placed into boxes? Artists are, by definition, nonconformist in their natures, that is what makes one an artist; one does not think about or see the world as everyone else does. Of course, this brings up the famous bugbear, with whom I get along not at all well; the Writers Rules! I think having a set of cast-iron rules for writers is about as practical as expecting all sides of the American political spectrum to be civil to one another for longer than five minutes…anyway, I digress (again).
Let us think about this for a moment; are you one, either, both, or neither? I volunteer that I am quite the impulsive type. Let me outline (haha) my manner of doing things;
The Fisher Method
I do have, in my mind’s eye, the place I want to get to. I know how it ends and am, perhaps, writing backwards, explaining how my characters arrived that that conclusion. Like one of those movies that starts at the end and then, in the rest of the movie, makes sense of that titillating scene. Only I write my final chapter and seal it away forever.
I have an idea of the structure, the general characters, how they think and who they are. I know about the society they live in, the world they occupy, and the enemies or challenges they will face. In other words I have the bare bones.
I like to create artworks of my charactersm as well as some key scenes in the story, some of you like them and have told me so, for which I thank you very much! This gives me an idea of what my character looks like, how they stand, what they wear, of their general mein and expressions. I also like to hide little clues to torment present or future fans with in these artworks.
I learned early on that the best way to develop a character and get into their skin is through the medium of short stories. Put them in situations that are different to those they’ll face in the main novel. Develop their backstory and let them play to see what they’ll do. In Empyraeum, these experiments became rather popular by themselves.
By dint of the things you learn in the previous two steps, your story map has probably changed just a little bit. Maybe you have added more characters. Maybe a previously unimportant character is more prominent. Maybe, like I did, you realise that themes and ideas uncovered in the shorts require further exploration.
A story is a living, breathing , thing. It is given life through you and through the imagination of everyone that reads it. Just as your charaters must evolve and develop through the course of the story, so too must your story have some ‘growing room’.
Keep your website or blog as a Central Lore Repository this is what the readers will use to refer to the lore and background later and become familiar with it now. In there modern times, your website is the public face of your world or universe.
Be aware, during edit phases, of any information that may need some ret-conning. This is why making sure the lore on your website is always up to date so you can refer to it as you edit.
What Does That Mean, Now? That means that I don’t think you need to be one or the other. I think an adaptive and fluid attitude to writing is what keeps both you and your readers engaged. I mean, if you are not surprised or engaged, how can you expect them to be?
I have said I am rather impulsive when it comes to storytelling and, while it does make for a good yarn or three, it actually requires a lot more discipline than you would think. Most people think that those writers of a more trouserly persuasion are too impulsive, unfoccussed, and more akin to mad scientists than writers (add A to B, shake in some F, and see if we live or change shape). Instead it involves iron focus, deep lore, awareness of the whole shape of your dynamic universe, and an awful lot of spare bits you may or may not use.
I think this latter part is very handy to have because, if you hit a wall (any but the 4th) and cannot get past it, cometh forth the left-overs! It may surprise many, looking at Empyraeum as it is today, to know that it was made of three or four reconstituated left-over projects I just could not get to work on their own, that something was missing. These were;
Bloodstar; a universe envisioned in my teens which ended up bearing quite the remarkable resemblence to Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe
Trinity; Gabriel and Sham’s world of mysterious angel/demon/human creatures of uncertain origin. Part of that (including Gabriel, Unity, and Sham) was brought over in to Empyraeum, the rest was folded into The Chronicles of Enoch.
Untitled Work: Hidden from public for centuries; a secret society made up of Alexander’s former elite soldiers, emerges into the modern world announcing his return.
Embodied Saga: Short stories detailing a strange series of natural disasters which reveals mankind’s secret noospheric connection to their own demise.
I have added a lot more and chopped off a few things that I may well find useful later. There is some lore I am wavering over the use of. I brought the Ghorkai back after some hesitation. I might bring back a couple of other fantasy inspired races too; Empyraeum has grown into such a complex universe that I may well have to rely on fans to create an Expanded Universe because I seriously don’t know if I can write as much as could be written.
Of course, having fans who want to write expanded universe works is my dream and I’ll be sure to help and guide anyone that wants to get involved in that once the main trilogy is finished.
Some people say plot and setting are more important than characterisation because the former shapes the latter anyway. Others say character drives everything. Of course, both capms are correct because it completely depends on what kind of story you are writing. Is it plot-driven tale of epic proportions with a cast of way too many to pay sufficient attention to or a character-driven oddyssey where the choices and deveolopment of one person drive everything else? It can be both but that, my friends, is incredibly hard to achieve well.
The Empyraeum Cycle started off as a collection of such character-driven story arcs; first person short stories in the the Collections and tales riven predominantly by one character or another (though mainly from a third person perspective) in the the Novellas. The Empyraeum Trilogy of novels is going to be set in third person and will, as you may well have seen, have quite the cast of characters. Of course, there will be some characters who complete their own version of the famous “Hero’s Journey” throughout; Sean Ollimur, the mysterious Kat, Gabriel, and some others, together with their vast supporting cast. This is what makes Empyraeum such an ambitious project; it is aiming to be a part of the Space Opera genre, as well as something quite different; combining ancient history, sci-fi, myth, magic. and cyberpunk together with another influence or few. Those that have paid attention to artworks we have released can see many of those influences already.
Of course your character is expected to set out on a journey as part of the story, to leave behing their comfortable life – either willingly or unwillingly – to discover a new one along the way, as well as discovering a thing or two about themselves in the process. This is, of course, something we like to call character development. As humans in our regular lives, I doubt any of us is exactly the
same person we were in our teens. As life progresses and we experience, as well as learn, new things, we see the world differently and, whether we realise it or not, it changes us. I will use a personal example here; when my wife and I met, I had just come out of a period of incomparible difficulty and chaos I had allowed into my life; I was a nervous and insecure person in many ways. Over time I slowed down and, with her pregnancy and the birth of our daughters, my wife claims I underwent an incredible transformation. A positive one, of course, into a steady, calm, and decisive person who was afraid of nothing, at least n the surface. Now she doesn’t know I used to be like this decades ago and simply, thanks to her love and support, managed to recover my old self back, with a positive change or two thrown in.
There is a lesson in this; not all change is new. Your character can experience trauma and recover a part of themselves they had thought forever lost. Not all backward motion is bad. A character must change, though, for a major character that remains changless from their first appearance to their last is a two-dimensional one. This should be avoided unless said character is a Lesson.
A what? A Lesson. Let us say that Main Character is resisting a change they must undertake, a decision they must make, a direction theu must travel in in order to achieve their goal. Two-dimensional character does not change and suffers some mishap – either a permanent or temporary one – and serves a wake-up call to the Main Character; often taking the required step in order to honour the noble sacrifice – or stubborn stupidity – of said character.
A Warning to New Writers
Neither race nor gender defines a character. There is much pressure these days towards inclusivity. One must have a racially, sexually, and community diverse cast in your works. Must one? In my opinion, only if it fits.
In the Chronicles of Enoch, the cast is delightfully diverse because of the worlds it is set in. Ancient Eastern civilisations, lost lands, modern-day Atlanta and Albuquerque, to name just a few. Atlanta, for example, is one of the most ethnically diverse cities I have visited and lived near; East Asians of all kinds, Indians (from India) and Pakistanis, Jamaicans, Latins of all kinds, African Americans of infinite variety…it was impossible not to represent that diversity among my cast there.
In Empyraeum, the core cast, as it were, are more monoethnic; proto-Greeks mostly with a character or two thrown in. However, anyone that has spent any length of time in the London of our world must surely know that the Lùndùn of the Empyraeum is going to be rather similar, especially once it effectively becomes the capital of first the Union and then resistance against the same. It’s only to be expected that a taste of London be found in Empyraean Lùndùn.
Now, none of my more ‘diverse’ characters started out as any particular race of belief. Acora the Kalshodar leader of the Sons of Nemesis just seemed to suit the race he took on in the artworks of him; his developing character seemed to demand it. Paxxi, the nonbinary trans augmented hacker character, just seemed to fit their chosen identity. Commander Soong appeared to develop his own personality and background.
You see, the Empyraeum was founded on the idea of diversity, in its way, because Alexander never tried to impose Greek views of the world upon those nations he conquered. In fact he even adopted Persian and Babylonian customs himself and recruited people from those nations into his army. It stands to reason that he would not change that philosophy as he began to found the Empyraeum. In fact, in deveoloping ESG or Empyraen Standard Greek, we intentionally chose diverse linguistic influences from both extremes of the Empyraeum as some of the dominant ones in order to represent that.
My point? If the colour, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender of a character has nothing to do witrh their role in the story or development thereof, why include it? In many works, some such things are implied but never directly told. Anne Rice’s vampires are said to be bisexual but she has never directly said it. In the Chronicles of Enoch, there is talk about Asmodeus and Julian’s relationship but, I assure you, I will never go into depth on that because it doesn’t affect their story (and what some of your have imagined is quite impossible anyway). In Empyraeum, Paxxi’s identity is mentioned but they go on to be somewhat dismissive of it themselves and assert that it really is not something they think about a lot, people respect it anyway.
The danger for those thinking inclusivity is mandatory is making a character of one archetype or another just to tick a box and creating a potentially harmful stereotype or obvious insert as a result; a character who behaves as they always did and not how someone of their ethnicity, community, or identity would; that there is no reflection of that aspect of their character anywhere in their behaviour or such behaviour is forced and artificial.
That will hurt the cause far more than the lack of such a character might
. Giving them Free Rein
I have often joked about this myself, often at length. That saying we writers have that characters appear to write themselves sometimes. Asmodeus started off as a boss-mobster-monster in the prologue and a single chapter and a half before dying later on as a plot device. Sham was a generic Mentor-to-The-Chosen-One character in the abandoned Trinity series. Both came to dominate their respective series and, I have chuckled, appear to have rebelled against their creator. In actuality, I do so love the trickster type character; the heroic anti-hero type who at times does the wrong things for the right reason; one that will do the things the heroes cannot but which need to be done.
I do enjoy getting inside the head of the complex manipulator who genuinely thinks that he is doing the right thing even though, on occasion, his best plans aft gan aglen! His motivations are always the most interesting and intriguing. Both Sham and Asmodeus as good people, deep down (though you have to dig a lot deeper with Asmodeus), and doing what they think is the only possible way to help those they care about.
The fact is that Sham and Asmodeus are extreme examples of the Free Rein Principle (patent pending) but they are also excellent illustrations of it. Their characters and the story itself needed them and their previously planned roles expanded to fit the need; enhancing the story rather significantly. Let your character be what your story needs them to be, is the lesson in that.
Sham became Indian because it suited him, Asmodeus became ethnically indefinable because that’s who he is; a powerfully chameleonic personality.
Let your character be who she, she, it, or they need and ‘want’ to be; not who you or the nebulous ‘they’ of the internet think they should be.
As you have seen, characterisation is often the hardest part of the art of writing. Who your character is, what they are, their thoughts and motivations, will actually shape the story around them. At times, they will shape the story and at others, it will shape them. All of our previous episodes and ‘lessons’ also come into play here because the fabric; the context of your world and your story are important because the ‘rules’ you have built into it will influence what your character can do and, therefore, how they can change. The influences and crises that will push this change will also be controlled by the environment in which they find themselves.
In short, you must realise that both story, plot, and character may well change one another unexpectedly. A challenging situation one character finds themselves in has multiple ways out of it and you had, previously. chosen route A. However, as your character develops, you realise that this course of action does not suit the character at all; in fact route B doesn’t either, only route C does. Route C, however, leads to unexpected developments in the story and some retrospective editing on your part. As annoying as this might be, I think it’s more important to be true to the character then to your original outline. right? It makes the story feel more organic and natural as it were.
“The only constants you can rely on are death and change…”
So said a wise person who has since experienced at least one of those things, probably both at this point. People only tend to quote you a lot once you’re no longer around to say “No! That is not what I meant!” have you noticed that?
Change, though, it the one thing that most people appear to hate with a passion. One needs simply to take a look at social media today to see that. People tend to like a constant, steady progression of events they are comfortable with and can easily predict. Consider this, one of my favourite quotes;
‘People like to be told what they already know. Remember that. They get uncomfortable when you tell them new things. New things…well, new things aren’t what they expect. They like to know that, say, a dog will bite a man. That is what dogs do. They don’t want to know that a man bites a dog, because the world is not supposed to happen like that. In short, what people think they want is news, but what they really crave is olds.’
– The Truth, Terry Pratchett
Why do you think that an endless progression of the same kinds of story never loses popularity? I watch, at times from boredom, a certain kind of late night movie on a certain kind of TV channel. They are painfully predicatable. Girl moves to new town or returns to old town. Girl has painful past and hates everybody male. Person she hates the most she falls in love with. Joy and albino pigeons prevail. Or man and woman have perfect marriage. Odd stranger appears. Stranger fame from past and oddly convenient events send either them or one member of the marriage on unrealistic murder spree which helps innocent party meet love of life. It’s boredom, OK? I’ve finised work for the day and I have the falsely optimistic hope that this one will break the mould! My wife laughs and refuses to watch them with me because I faultlessly predict the outcome before it happens, I’m missing my market here, I could write these things! I don’t ned you intelligent people! I’m off to make my fortune recycling overused tat, farewell!
Still here? Good, because I could never do that. I feel the purpose of great writing, the kind that stands the test of time, lies not in recycling the same predictable storylines in a slightly different setting. No, it lies in taking the unexpected direction. OK, we have themes which get reused, ideas and archetypes, those are there to stay. We’ll discuss those later on, in an episode or two. What is the difference? Themes can be used to misdirect as well as be slavishly followed, themes can be useful tools. Aaron Debimski-Bowden is excellent at this; presenting a hero, showing us his or her journey, only to bring it crashing down around them in the end. Graham McNeill is skilled at this too. People escape reality through fiction, they have newspapers and television to tell them the same old tales over and over again. Fiction and, I have noticed, especially science fiction, exists to challenge people. Sci-Fi has always been about pushing boundaries, going beyond the mundane, and exploring possibilities. Fantasy can be, too, but the genre has gotten quite tropy recently; full of what I call the ‘Pig-Farmer Prince’ type of thing, or the ‘Rise of Mary-Sues’. You know the kind, absolutely untrained around average person meets mentor, mentor reveals part of truth and trains them, they surpass mentor. Mentor dies or almost dies in battle with big bad (whch big bad survives and escapes from) and truth of average person is dramatically revealed. Average person is now nigh invincible and big bad’s defeat is only a matter of time and a lt of needless exposition and exploration of minor character arcs. Ok, not all sci-fi is immune from this either and we all like a bit of tropy here and there, don’t we? I’ve done a few of them myself, don’t think I’m hating on the stories that do this. In essence you write the story you want to write, not the story you think everyone wants to read.
There is some debate over this one. Does story shape setting or does setting shape story?
The answer is a little bit of both. This links back to our Consistency and Context topic from the last episode. You are building a world and a world has rules, many of which may well have to be broken throughout the course of the story, just to keep things interesting. Conflict – either that which the character creates or has inflicted upon them – is essential to moving a story along, after all. To my mind, though, the conflict and change inherent to it must be consistent with the rest of the world. It must be possible for such events to happen and not appear to be just thrown in for drama’s sake. It’s not a surprise if it doesn’t break a rule or two but it is not done well if you have have not been able to use the ‘tides’ of the world to foreshadow the coming tsunami either.
Back in Shakespeare’s time, he built his heroes with a ‘fatal flaw’, an element to the character which their experiences in the world had built into them. This flaw would cause the hero’s tragic fate in the end and it was foreshadowed throughout the tale. Just as the characters can have their ‘fatal flaws’ so too can the world itself. It can have personality, it can have moods and humours. In fact, the world is just another character you create. Like any other character, it reachs to and acts upon other characers and, if you write well, each is changed by the other. We know all about character development, don’t we? We know it is essential to a good story to have some kind of believable character development but what is it that makes that development believable? Your world does; the rules, laws, and norms of your world determine what is and is not possible. Everything you have written up that point contributes to your world and, if you’ve done it well, your readers will both feel that world and feel they are a part of it. The last thing you want them to do if fling your book at the wall with a cry or curse word because you pulled a surprise ‘twist’ out of your behind that doesn’t fit the world.
Look. Batman (from the original TV series) was always captured and placed in a needlessly elaborate trap. He would appear doomed but remember that he had just invented just the thing to escape with AND remembered to put it on his utility belt that morning. Terrible and tropy but it fit the world it took place in, people expected it and were disappointed if it were absent. The A-Team, always captured and locked up together in a location with all the raw materials and tools they’d need to create their manner of escape. We watched to see what outlandish contraption they’d build next.
If your world has smiling, indefinably ethnic old monks in it who may or may no have learned a secret yeti trick, their sudden return from certain death might be unexpected but not hated. You cannot have your character do something which your world has established is impossible without first saying why it is impossible and hinting at this one time maybe, so I have heard from a friend of a friend of a bloke I met in the pub, that it may well have been possible.
You can change what is classified as normal within the boundaries of your world as long as you make it consistent and constant within that world. You can have a world where men bite dogs habitually as long as you make it consistent and believable.
Most importantly of all, don’t be afraid to leave questions unanswered because the real world is quite literally full of those. Leaving a few gaps for the readers to fill with their own imagination is actually a great strategy because this invests them even further in your world. Why? If they start imagining answers to questions they have encountered about your world and inventing answers to said questions, then they believe in your world.
They believe in it and they understand it which means you did your job well!
Exposition; there is the rub, though in the absence of a question. Just how much is too much? That is the actual question.
I have seen this discussed, weighted, challenged and justified over and over on various groups and fora; it is called info-dumping, the Wall of Text…it is called many things and much advice about avoiding it to be found but none seem to answer the most important question for the apprentice author, for the journeyperson; how does one avoid doing it?
It is easy to do – I raise my hand in guilty associatin, I have done it – to be in the heat and passion of a scene, and to go off in detail about the background to a particular event, place, relationship, etc. It is likely that you have spent a lot of time, effort, and heart in creating your world and are justifiably proud of it, I know I am. You want to show how great it is to your readers and have them enjoy it as much as you do, I completely understand. I still have this awful habit at the moment of steering unrelated conversations to my writing, or dropping anecdotes about characters into relevent situations, it is causing both friends and family to “assume the expression” with me often.
Admit it; you know which expression I am referring to!
You are in love with your world, it’s like your child because you created it, you nurtured its early stages, you developed and taught it tricks and gave it direction. It is a part of you and you are right to be proud about that. Thing is, not everyone sees it that way.
Somebody giving one of my artworks a like does not know that it took anywhere between 3 hours and 3 days to create that, to tease and massage it into an acceptable shape. In fact a large proportion of viewers will not even see the finer details I agonised for hours over getting just right. But it looks pretty and conveys a feeling or three, so they click a button and move on, maybe even pass a moment held in its grip.
Equally, they have no idea how much time you spent deciding how to spell the word for sandwich in your work, how you spent sleepless nights debating whether your main character was a Steve, a Bob, or a Mark and why. They will never know the level of research that goes into inventing a whole language and its associated grammatical structure, or the layout of a space station, the configuration of armour, weapons, insignia….they just think we plucked it out of the air in our clever writerly fashion.
But, to quote a famous Spaniard; “Are they entertained?” That’s the goal isn’t it?
You all know the image; big chunk of frozen water, floating in the sea, most people don’t see that the bit we see is really small compared to the bit that we don’t. I read a quote somewhere from one of the effects crew in the Lord of the Rings movies. He said that they have a team of dozens, hundres maybe, of people designing everything from swords and armour, down to door knobs, the buckles on a belt, chairs, paintings in the background, cutlery and plates, etc. How many of you noticed anything special about the mugs the hobbits drank beer from, do you recall its look and feel? Nope. Someone put a lot of thought into that. Did you see the titles of the books in Elrond’s study? Probably not, but someone painstaking thought about each and every title.
Why, you might ask (if you didn’t please keep up), would they do that? Ahhh…now that is the right question.
Your goal, as a writer, is to have a stranger pick up your book and read it from cover to cover without being forced in any fashion, to enjoy it and, ideally, want to do so again with your next volume. We want to tell them a story they will never forget and have them hankering for more.
We need to draw them in and show them how much more beautiful our iceberg is, seeing as it afloat in a sea of icebergs. We must let them see that its penguin passengers are worthy of a look, that its unique algal blooms are quite stunning, and that, underneath the water, there is a frozen alien spaceship/ancient artefact/frozen caveman etc. waiting to be discovered if only they take the chance to stop their journey and look.
So, how much iceberg to show, just what do you display in order that your reader not only picks your one frozen leviathan from the hundreds bobbing in the ocean but stays upon in and is interested enough to find the secret door into its very heart?
You want them to be interested in, immersed in, and draw to your world. You want them to feel it so that they understand your characters’ struggles, the story itself, and why what happens actually happens. You want them to imagine and feel a part of it, even if they are only an observer. You want them to know what it feels like to be inside the skin of your characters, to see the world through their eyes and empathise with them.
There, my friends, is the key. Nobody will care about your character unless you can make them feel empathy towards said character, to identify and become invested in them. How do they do that?
Well, empathy means to imagine oneself in the situation of another. This requires a reciprocal relationship of sorts. The empathiser must find something in the empathee with which they can identify, a shared experience, even if it is a vague one such as shared humanity or a childhood experience. Shared humanity. Is your character a living, breathing, being in their eyes?
Here it comes. Dropping avalanches of information at a key moment of connection, as your reader tentatively explores the inner slopes of your iceberg and approaches the location of the hidden door might just sweep them off in the ocean to to eaten by orcas and leapard seals. Or accidentally stabbed by a narwal.
You have to give enough that they understand the character but not so much that they become lost or disinterested, losing the excitement of the moment. Compare these two examples;
“Well, you know, Steve did his thing, you know the thing with his whatsit? Well he was doing that when that thing with the cats happened and he remembered that other things and cried. So sad man”
“Brave Stephen considered his party trick – the one he had perfected at the age of seven and which much amused his friends. You recall? It was the one involving ferrets? Twenty-five years ago ferrets were outlawed as pets and most were exterminated, it was the smell, you see, many people were offended and there were riots, I think. Ferrets though/ Such wonderful and loyal creatures, easy to train, to share the affection and loyalty of. Quite, quite intelligent little fellows too! Why, I knew a man who had taught his ferret to… One such rioter, by the name of Marcus, he came from Greece or somewhere and was 25 years old at the time. He did this thing during a demonstration, his mother had taught it to him as a child and he remembered it fondly because she had died when he was a child and had few memories of her now. That may have been what caused Marcus to join the rebellion and, through the centuries that have passed since, inspire so many – “
See? In the latter, thread of excitement is lost completely and the eyes are becoming heavy as narrator drones on about ferrets and other unrelated things. These things might, in your mind, be of vital importance to the story and, thus, essential for the reader to know but how better to tell them?
Well, most, people wil tell you that dialogue is the trick and they are right, to quite the degree, but as you have seen above, that doesn’t always work. The sharper among you will notice that, indeed, neither example is correct because while the latter gives too much information, the former gives too little even though, most importantly, the former feels much more like a natural conversation.
I gave two extremes intentionally but felt the need to demonstrate an important point. How do we avoid movie trailer voice or insurance commercal conversations? How do we convey enough information while keeping the flow natural?
“So, we were talking about last week and Steve started to do that thing -“
“The one with the ferrets? Oh god, really?”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “Really.”
“That’ll get him arrested by the Pickers that will.” eyes dart around on conditioned reflex.
“Listen, I told him”
“Remember Greek Marcus, right?” she barely managed to suppress a snort. “Remember Greek Marcus.” voice low and solemn.”
Scraff! What did he say?”
He said those ferrets are all he’s got since…well, since, you know…” he ran a trembling hand over three days of growth. “Since it all went to sh-“
“Yeah…” she cut him off with a sharp gesture, suppressing a shudder. “Who can forget? Steve least of all..”
A little better right? Could be polished a bit as I made that up on the fly but you see the idea, a good starting point for a first draft. we’re invested in Steve, he has a tragedy somewhere that his friends are worried about and takes refuge in ferret tricks, it’s his way of coping. Maybe we want to know more about Steve now. Maybe we want to know what happened to him and why is friends appear frightened.
Like our iceberg, events and time reveal more or less about it. Our characters do not enter the story the same as when they exit or complete it. They develop, as they experience events or learn new information. Just as we do not reveal everything about our character and what is going to happen to them all at once, we should not with our world either. Not in the book, at least.
Publishing in the Information Age
We all know how much the world of publishing has changed since our literary heroes started out. Whether your hero author is dead, well established, or a Name, their journey was quite different to ours. We are both incredibly fortunate to have this new world and stymied by it at times. Let us consider the elements, as it were, of our information rich world as an author;
Self Publishing; the only barrier to getting published and having our book available to readers is actually finishing it. Of course, this is amazing, one can become a published author overnight! Of course, there are pitfalls and we have discussed those before and will come back to them in the next chapter.
Social media; One can establish a presence on a number of different platforms, or a combination thereof. We will discuss strategy in later chapters.
Author and Book Websites; they are (relatively) cheap to set up, host, and buy a domain name for these days; you can have everything for $20-$30 a month or even less. You can include all kinds of information there and this I will come back to shortly.
Author Blog(s); often an integral part of a website but can be an entirely seperate entity, depending on preference.
How does that connect to the topic at hand, I hear you ask. I believe it does because we have something those that proceeded us did not. We have the ability to do all our detailed expositioning seperate to our book, and, if we are really smart (and have the time to do it right) can actually blend all of that information into the ebook version of our work quite seemlessly. Amazon have a service, for example, called X-Ray which allows you to build a database of hyperinked words and terms into your ebook file so that the reader has simply to click on said hyperlink to learn more…you can turn your ebook into a truly interactive experience and allow the reader to choose how much they want to know. This is a very handy tool I encourage those with ebooks on Amazon to look into.
Next we have our website. as you know, the Empyraeum Enkyklopaedeia is a growing source of information for readers, as is the website as a whole. I encourage you to consider the same with your work. These days, everyone is looking for a website and will, if you do it right, spend a good portion of time studying it. Maybe this is a personal preference but I find myself these days, when reading a good fantasy or scifi book, having a browser window open to a good information source on that book and, when I come across an interesting term in the narrative, I find a relevent entry to learn more, often distracting myself away from the story entirely for a good 10 minutes!
Now, established series, authors, and IP’s have people to manage these vast volumes of information, to summarise and create great content but you, my friends, have not that luxury yet. It is, as the saying goes, on you.
The next chapter of this videoblog series will touch directly on these aspects of an author’s world in much more detail but I hope I’ve given you a few things to think about for today.
Alkemas Neshaa; The Persian, The Zoroastrian, the Dracograth.
Neshaa joined Alexander’s campaign at Susan, during the Night of One Thousand Weddings. Neshaa himself remained unwed that night. He was one of the first to become Dracograth, together with Kalliades, Korae, Lysander, and the acerbic Iapetus.
Neshaa is an odd choice for a soldier, he is a devoted Zoroastrian and, thus, a pacifist. He explains it;
“protecting one’s friends and the innocent from evil is the ultimate Good Work. To stay passive while ubiquitous men and their works flourish serve Ahiriham more than any act of justifiable violence…”
Neshaa is also the only man in History who has not only sermonised (cheeked, according to Kalliades) to a dragon and lived to tell the take upon he also won Her respect and love.
Though chalk and cheese to all appearances, he and Kalliades are the deepest of friends. They stand guard together, laugh together, play jokes on the other Dracograth together, and enjoy Lupernikes’ famous lamb stew together, usually in the company of their fellow ‘conspirators’ (though they only conspire to make sure first Alexander’s ‘malady’ then his disappearance are kept secret).
They have many adventures in Korae’s company before reuniting with first Lupernikes tgen Alexander and Sham on The Dragon’s Crown in a far-flung corner of the galaxy. Sham greeting him,as, always, as “that big ginger dreamer” and received a joyous hug in reply.
Marcos Lupernikes; Spartan deserter, vagabond, general , Kalshodar, punisher of the guilty…
Once, he was known simply as Marcos the Spartan but dramatic events one day changed that. He picked up the name “Lupernikes” or “The Victory of Wolves” that day in what would be one day called Nepal. The army had been camped on a frozen plain for months while Alexander did gods know what inside the mountain. Big armies get restless when they’re inactive; with no enemies to fight, they look for action closer to home.
By this time, Alexander’s army was made up of Macedonians, future Greeks, Persians, Sogdianians, Scythians, Indians, various Asians along with thousands of “camp followers” (suppliers, wives, children, artisans, entertainment)…division was already very much present. Some of the younger soldiers formed gangs of the kind often found in less salubrious neighbourhoods. The “little wolves” ran various extortion schemes, petty theft, prostitution rings, protection rackets…the usual. They were tolerates until they crossed into murder and rape…
They raped young prostitutes and then viciously murdered them and Lupernikes got to hear about it. Their leader was a cocksure little pup; full of vim, verve, and fancy Athenian ideas. He felt he was owed something. He felt his band were fighting oppression and his little pack would be instrumental in liberation Greece from the Macedonian Tyrant. He gave such a speech as Lupernikes sat in judgement.
Lupernikes, who was going to whip them all and them hang them had another idea…he told the assembled army thusly;
“You are big bad wolves chasing away the dogs, eh lads? Biting the hand that feeds and maintains you too? See, rape is rape and bullshit is bullshit, lads, no matter how you season the dish. You little dogs are no threat to Alexander or, by extension to me! Call yourselves wolves? Bollocks. Wolves don’t yap, wolves watch, wait, and when the time’s right, they do. Little dogs yap. You say me letting you off, as you’re certain I will – in the spirit irresistible fellowship and all that – will be the victory of your wolves, right? Right. Only, see, there is no victory of the wolves, there is only me. Geld them. Chain them in the yard for the night and any little pup yaps, end the lot of them, clear?”
So he became the big bad wolf that are the balls of the guilty or The Victory of Wolves from then on because army humour is rarely sophisticated. As a loconic Spartan, we think Lupernikes liked the titles.
Lupernikes here, in his excellent 3D model, holds Wolf-breaker, his imfamous black sword that is longer than most men. Note how his armour varies little from that of his fellow Kalshodar. This probably shows his laconic spirit as well as his practicality. A soldier is a soldier no matter his titles. Achilles dressed like his men, so does Lupernikes.
The Dracograth, the First Made, The Three-Hundred, The Fire-Born… It does not matter what they are called, these golden armoured giants are rightly feared. They are Alexander’s Royal Guard and did not, to a man, give up hope in finding him again. Roaming bands if Dracograth searched the galaxy for 1500 years for any trace of their Lord…finally it was them that found him.
Standing 9 feet tall, the Dracograth are powerfully built, but do not let their size fool you; Neshaa was able to slaughter close to 30 professionals in under a minute using only his speed and the Dracograth’s signature “spear”. This massive bardiche-like weapon is longer than a man and weights about the same as one, an ordinary human could not lift it without help. Yet in a Dracograth’s hands, it appears as light as a fencing foil as it the fiery runes on its surface blaze trails through the air. The instantly recognisable helmet can seal in a vacuum or hostile environment but, the rest of the time it is often joked that the Dracgrath recognise one another by the shape of their lips…
The model we created was, in part, inspired by a very famous classical fantasy painting. The idea was to bring over elements of my original Dracograth artwork and modernise it significantly while keeping clear baroque and fantasy elements. I also thought it important to give the Dracograth armour elements in common with their cousins, the Kalshodar. A consistency as it were. The more observant among you will notice in this model, as much as my #Kalshodar and #Lupernikes models, I avoided the common sci-fi fantasy trope of overindividualising armour. Lupernikes’ armour is the same as that of a line Kalshodar with minor touches. The Dracograth can only be told apart “by the shape of their lips” when on duty. I feel this is more faithful to the idea of a functional army.
You tell me. 9 times out of 10, one spots a sergeant by their stripes of their demeanour, not a stark difference in their uniform. Individual soldiers carry a different loadout, their armour has different repairs visible and, in the case of Alexander’s army, the patterns of runes covering their armour are unique enough for the trained eye to notice.
Two 3D models of a Kalshodar Kasha or sergeant. He is armed with a “growler” (Manticora LAR) rifle and his original dwarf-made sword. His armour and sword are aglow with powerful runes making up a large part of his defensive reflex field. Dragon designs are clearly endemic. Also shown, of of the mysterious and tragic One Hundred, his armour whitened in mourning. The pure black and silver colour scheme of the ancient Kalshodar has developed into a more practical look for a Modern age; the main surfaces are darkened or bright silver with some golden or black details.
The stature and power of a Kalshodar warrior is well represented in this model which exudes menace and clearly demonstrates his superior size.
Deciding on the look of the modern Kalshodar after the fantasy-inspired ancient armours you have already seen was a challenge. As you can see, elements of the original suits remain but they’re sleeker with more of a future soldier aesthetic. Their heritage, however, remains present; the ancient flaming sword paired with an ultra-modem rifle is a very intentional design choice.
More is to come seeing as the first three Hegemony Collections were quietly re-released over last weekend.
The “Manticora” LAR (Linear Accelerator Rifle) is the favoured distance weapon of mainline Kalshodar in combat.
Using technology recovered from the cache on the Moon, the Manticora crystallises and accelerates projectiles of an exotic metallic allow at hypersonic speeds, similar to a compact rail-gun. The Manticora gets its name from the distinctive “growl-bark” sound it makes when operating and firing.
Its projectiles are both very dense and sharp, though they tend to fragment upon penetration, causing significant (usually dramatic) trauma to an unarmoured enemy.
One canister, as you see mounted in front of the trigger, is good for around 200 shots and can provide a good rate of fire at 45 shots per minute, one shot every 3-4 seconds. This slower rate of fire is best suited to squad based covering fire scenarios and accuracy is vital. The rifle’ s targeting systems are slaved directly to his armoured internal HUD.
Concept artwork for the “modern” Kalshodar of the upcoming Hegemony Trilogy. More specifically, this helmet belongs to one of The Hundred, survivors of a horrible tragedy who painted their normally black and silver armour white as a sign of mourning.
This concept aims to capture both the ancient origins of the Kalshodar and their evolution into modern times. Dwarves are a practical race and, I think, the idea of improving the old when there’s no need to throw it out, would appeal to their nature.
The menacing air of the Kalshodar faceplate took work and I didn’t want to overdo it because these are, afterall, the good guys.
More to come soon, I promise, because The Hegemony series has been seriously ignored of late. #alanjfisher #writerscommunity #writerscommunity #writingcommunity #bookseries #bookart #booksecrets #hegemony