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.
In these trying times, a little doubt and anxiety of only natural, as is fear. Your greatest asset, though, is your passion and your belief in the fact that you are writing the greatest story ever told….You will get through this, you are enough, you are going to do this; I believe in you.
The Chronicles of Enoch is going to be a true Epic. It will have a cast of at least fifty (if not more) and will cover a period of approximately eight thousand years. That, in itself, is quite the challenging proposition. When you add a conspiracy or several, complex plots involving the military, the police forces, several religions, experimental science, and secret government projects….well, we are not even sure if there is a Kansas to be in any more, although we are sort of familiar with Kansas as a concept…
Let me give you a list of some of the topics we have covered so far;
The Hebrew Talmud
Sumerian tablets and carvings
Doggerland and other antedeluvian lands
Every conspiracy theory on Atlantis and lost continents
Fluid dynamics, thermal dynamics, and high pressure fluid dynamics inversions
Astronomy, especially regarding the Moon and Mars
Terraforming and how it could happen
Micro-electronics and experimental electronic theory
Every religion which has ever existed
The titular Books of Enoch and other Apocrypha
Jewish exorcism rites
Aviation history, space flight, experimental space technology, and theoretical physics
The Atlanta and Georgia State Police Force and SWAT Division
Child psychology and criminal psychology
ASD and Aspergers syndrome
Eurasian and North American mythology
Ballistics, sniper theory and practises, bullet manufacture
Chemistry and materials science
Esoteric lore from several sources
Misha of Jewish scripture and questionable sources
Almost every conspiracy theory I could find (except flat Earth because even the ancients weren’t stupid)
I actually stopped because I don’t want to overwhelm you. There is a lot more and I am only on the first book of a five-volume series.
On Appearing the Expert
If there is one person who does this well, it was Michael Crichton, he truly did an amazing job of appearing to be an overnight expert on his subject matter. Whether it was genetics and dinosaurs, aviation and accident investigation, law enforcement, or ancient arabian literature and viking migration and culture, Michael’s books communicated a confident knowledge on the subject. One could read his books and not only enjoy the story but actually learn something. That is a rare talent and he remains sorely missed.
He was a remarkably intelligent man but he did not become an actual expert on every topic he wrote so convincingly about, he researched and made use of actual experts instead, which proves just how intelligent he was.
I think it is important, when setting your writing in real places, referencing real groups of people, places, and lore, it is important to give a sense of authenticity, a flavour of truth to your work. This, I feel, is vital in drawing your reader into to your story. There is that famous saying about ‘the best lies/legends contain a grain of truth’ and your story needs, I feel, to contain at least enough grains to quarter fill a small salf shaker or enough rice to set a fried egg on.
What about science fiction, you may ask? Good question.
I refer you to the Illium/Olympus series by Dan Simmons. He had a curious idea; combine the Trojan War with the science fiction of a terraformed Mars, involve actual Greek gods who were in fact posthuman superbeings, genetically enhanced humans, killer robots, advanced benevolent robots, Shakespearean monsters, and Lovecraftian gods. He added real theoretical science as well as decent historical research into the books and made them rather interesting indeed, while still keeping the fantasy and sci-fi elements alive.
My point is, research is king (or queen, or elected official) of writing; you need to add elements of reality into your unreality in order to draw people in. Even if they are not experts in the field, it is going to draw them in if done well.
Doing It Well..
In today’s world, research is no longer as challenging as it once was. I remember the good old days of researching my now-abandoned first novel in my teens. You had to go to a library and first find the section of the library your book might be in, then you had to find one which suited your need, take it back because it was no good, come back overloaded with others, then spend hours leafing through them for the information you wanted before getting distracted by something interesting you found along the way. Do not get me started on microfiche archives either!
Today, you have Google. With the few strokes of the keys, you have access to everything, even Wikipedia…
There are a few problems with that. The old addage of “if it wasn’t true they wouldn’t let them put it on there” is not, necessarily, true. For some sites yet but Wikipedia is publically editable. of course, they curate it now, but we have seem a few worrying and a number of hilarious results of such editing. They catch it eventually, I should know, my backlinks lasted a week…
So; you have to be careful in what information you use, myou need trusted sources such as academic ones or verifiable sources of information when it comes to scientific or academic stuff, as well as historical events. Accuracy is key because trust me, you will encounter that one person who will pull you up on a fact and you can be sure that they will leave a review about it.
Spend the time, is my advice, check your facts and, check them again. You’ll be amazed by the results. I know it’s hard but, until we are famous, we can’t court experts to interview or hire researchers to do it for us. I keep telling you that this job is no even remotely easy, do I not…
Of The Dumping of Information
Don’t do it. That’s the best advice I can give for you to follow. Dumping information is never good and dropping a pile of facts and figures on the reader’s lap is going to make them feel like they are reading a text book. I know you spent a long time researching it, built some impressive knowledge and thorough notes on the subject and, if you follow my upcoming advice, may use a tiny fraction of it directly but it will matter when you retain rather than lose readers.
Use natural-sounding dialogue. Think Star Trek without the eleven syllable words and pseudo-science speak. Two colleagues just chatting about things such colleagues would naturally discuss under the circumtances. Look it how it sounds, how it flows and if it feels natural. Practise it with a friend and see how it falls off the tongue.
Short bits of internal dialogue. Again, watch the flow, fragment it with thoughts, feelings, or actions to break up what we call a WOT (wall of text). Think how you think and, if it’s nothing close to that, then change it. You might be surprised to discover that most people don’t think in paragraphs, some do but most think in short sentences. A whole page of thoughts is a definite no-no.
Exposition in easy to digest pieces. Ideally mix with the above, by way of short and concise explanation. Think of PBS or BB2 (or your local equivalent channel) science programs. They keep their facts short and to the point and intersperse music and action pieces. I recommend you do the same. Attention spans these days really are not what they used to be. I had to figure out a similar balance when dealing with Dr. Webb’s pieces in the ACARI facility in New Mexico and Asmodeus’ musings on the ICARUS program in Darkness Within as well as Kalshodar phsysiology in the Hegemony drafts.
It is all about practise, I’m afraid. It doesn’t come completely naturally and we have all suffered the consequences. Use the comparison to science and nature programs, it really does work if you visualise David Attenborough, Neil Degrasse Tyson, or Morgan Freeman speaking out your chunks of dialogue among the whistful nature shots and fancy special effects. If it sounds boring in Mr. Freeman’s voice, then you must fix it because next to nothing sounds boring with that voice; he could (British reference) read the Saturday football (not soccer) results and you’d actually enjoy it (American readers, enjoy the video below, I give you two minutes before you scream and run out of the room….)
So, Why Research so Much?
I’ve used this one before and I use it again.
WETA Workshop, the special effects company behind such blockbusters as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Bladerunner 2049, and District 9 are on record saying that there is a massive chunk of the props, details, and details they created in those movies that 90% of viewers will not even notice, consciously at least. Subconsciously though, it helps draw them into a fully realised world and immerse themselves in it because every item on every elf is a little different, because no orc’s armour is the same, or because Deckard sees adverts in the right kind of Japanese or Chinese everywhere.
It’s about the atmosphere it creates, how the nuggests you drop show that you know a lot more than that but chose, chose mark you, to keep them for another time. I work in Customer Service in a rather manic industry (online gambling) and have learned tone of voice and implied confidence go an aweful long way in inspiring confidence in the person on the other end of the phone. I am not a sports fan, I hate horses, and am blaise about football but I can make it sound like I know what I’m talking about because I’ve researched and trained myself to recognise key phrases in conversation. My customers think I’m just like them (I don’t gamble) and therefore trust my judgement and what I tell tell them. Remember popular business maxim?
“It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”
To continue from my previous point, people will trust somebody who sounds like they know what they’re talking about before they will trust someone who sounds uncertain. You could be giving them completely accurate information but it you do not sound confident, they’ll listen to the tone not the words. They ask for a manager and you put them on, the manager says exactly what you did but because they said it confidently and identified as a manager, the customer accepts it, humans eh?
If you mention a few juicy facts, handle their delivery well, make your characters sound natural as they speak, think, or experience them, then your reader feels confident that you know your setting and your job. They enter your world willingly and relax into the story. Anything that jars against the expectations you gave them will shatter their confidence and ruin their experience.
If you research well, have digested it, and somewhat understood it, this will be obvious in your writing because you will drop the right fact or comment right where it belongs. I had a scientist character of mine deliver a brief keynote speech on a certain topic to see how it flowed. It didn’t appear in any of the books and it won’t. The speech is mentioned in passing here and there, and a brief excerpt or two show up but the entire 20-minute speech itself (together with a Q&A session at the end) is buried in the texture of the story.
If you do not know it, learn. If you find the facts, look again. if your facts clash, keep looking. You are building a world so contrary opinions are going to exist however, make your facts solid before you use them.
Do not infodump or include overy-lengthy expositions that stop the story dead and advance it not at all. Think of Morgan Freeman narrating and do not, just do not make Morgan say something boring. He fought hard for that reputation, try not to ruin it for him.
Use what you have learned, digest it, and (using a popular revision techmnique) rewrite it in your own words to show that you understood it. Do not paste directly from your source or repeat verbatim unless what you’re adding is an actual quote or there is a very valid reason to do so.
Use what you have learned and your ability to paraphrase it to sound confident and reassure your customer that not only have they chosen well and selected an author who did their research but one who knows their trade and can be trusted to deliver. Don’t be lazy, we readers can spot it in an instant.
Remember when we were readers before we were authors. Remember what you love and hate in books you have read and try not to repeat any of the things you, yourself, hate. Respect the reader enough to ensure that they will not part with their cash for anything less than your very best work.
Respect them and they will see it and they, in turn, will respect you.
I found myself recently asking this very question and I was actually a shade concerned when I did. Now, I had known I was on a time-limit to get the PRELUDES of Enoch out and ‘live’ as it were. I’d known I had to get them uploaded before the events I predicted (not by magical powers, incidentally, by observation, deduction and experience) came to pass, before I could be accused of simply plagarising reality rather than creating it as I’m supposed to.
UPDATE; I was going to write a scene where Lucifer, working with Penumael, formulates a plan to discredit his puppet, Krampus (mimicking the President), using the outbreak of a disease. He was going to step in as the hero, exposing the intentional mismanagement and inadequacies of the former and take over in a suitably muscular and efficient fashion. Then I decided that this is probably what is going to actually going to happen before I reach that part of the book…also, considering recent events, it would be in rather bad taste…
But a writer cannot copy stuff that’s already happened, right?
I’d like you to stop for a moment and roll that question around in your head a few times; savour it, consider it and taste it well. It’s a stupid question isn’t it? Not a completely, throw someone out of the window stupid but, perhaps, more of a badly worded one. Plagarism. It is a word we have all dreaded since we started writing, back at school. It means we didn’t do the work or, at least, people think that. It means we stole what someone else created and took a shortcut. It means not only did we do that but we got caught and, as anyone who watches the news these days knows, getting caught is the really important part. If they don’t catch you, then it never happened!
Well, perhaps that is true….
A small nugget of interesting here. The Preludes of Enoch have been called, by some, a little prophetic.
Well fill me with radon, connect me to a battery and call me a lightbulb!
Can it be true? Well it certainly wasn’t intentional as such. I may have chosen to satirise, lambast and make light of a certain man who lives, shall we say, in a house of a shade produced by the reflection of almost all colors. That big one in America they make such a big deal about living in for 4-8 year periods! I may have objected to several aspects of him and thought to humourously present them in the PRELUDES. I may also have used certain events related to said fine gentlemen and statesman to illustrate key points Asmodeus was making and provided both examples and contrasts for he and Julian to talk about.
Shock. Horror. Fire. Fear. Foes. Awake. I just ‘borrowed’ from somewhere else right there. Anyone have an idea where?
Ten bonus points to the first correct guess. No I am NOT a prophet of any kind who sees the future. I may look toward the future an awful lot but I tend to not go further than either the coming Friday or my next payday (the one where I get money, not that lovely peanut thing I praise America for inventing). I have written some speculative fiction and wanted to make sure He-Who-Is-Named-After-British-Slang-for-a-fart didn’t self-destruct before I got the stories on the internet! Now of course I may gain some enemies from this course of action but who ever said it was a writer’s job to be popular with the establishment? I may even gain some nice letters on White House stationary. I may well do.
If you ask me, I might even admit to loving the idea of that prospect… How can I write a series of books which have, as one of their background themes, the actual end of everything without at least referencing the real world events which might well bring about such an apocalypse about before I am actually able to get the darn series finished?
The truth is stranger than fiction, they say and I often feel like I’m playing catch up with the real world! I’m not actually sure what I’d do in those circumstances. Probably look for a chisel and nice quiet cave to carve in…isn’t that something a prophet or at least a hermit would do? They ask.
Now, wouldn’t a prophet actually deny being a prophet just in case his prophecies go wonky and people blame him for that? Look at that dead French bloke! Someone claiming to be a prophet these days would be considered nuttier than a squirrel banquet.
Soooo, a real prophet would pretend not to be one in order to throw people off and have them not call him or her a nutter, right? So he said….ohhhh! Winky, winky, eh? EH?
Now, let’s move towards shall we say, the meat (sorry non-carnivores) of the proposal. This is one I see a lot of questions about and also insecurities from many in reference to. People ask me what they should write about for one. They ask me ‘I saw a story which was very similar to mine but I didn’t copy them’, they ask about fan-fic, about conforming to popular genres and tropes. “How to be original, how to be original, how to be original!” Goes the cry. “When it appears to have been done before?”. Easy answer to that one. Do it anyway.
There are truly no original ideas left, none. There may well be several unique interpretations, combinations and representations though. Every storyline is recycled. Every event, trope or situation already used. Some genres thrive on such predictable repetition, others really don’t. If you put your heart, your soul and, more importantly, your honest commitment into it, you’ll create something unique.
How many times has the mousy, overlooked and badly-treated young person shockingly turned out to be the only being capable of supposedly changing the world for the better and saving whatever species that individual belongs to from a variety of terrible things. Four or five allies will dramatically die along the way and many moments of self-discovery will take place but the Evil One will be destroyed and peace/prosperity/a New Order will result. The Chosen One will either fade into the shadows modestly or have an important role in the new government.
Sometimes there is even a twist when said Chosen One realises that the Just Change they fought for isn’t and the New Boss they trusted is just like the Old Boss; so they unexpectedly rebel against the New Boss in a dramatic finale never meant to be resolved.
Don’t write the sequel, please, let it hang!
Take a moment to make a list of just how many books, book series and movies I have just described the basic storylines of. Take ten, go for a snack, smoke, whatever you fancy but make sure you can write while you’re doing it ok? Now go over your list and count the entries. Multiply it by your birth year, add the number of times you were scared by the neighbour’s dog as a child (be honest) and divide the result by the sum of your list minus your birthday. I know what your answer is going to be, I know it exactly.
More of my secret hidden prophet abilities coming into play… Your answer was an awful lot, quite a few or lots. Maybe even loads and loads if you’re ambitious or old. I am truly amazing, right? Thank you, thank you, I know! Thank you.
Joking aside, almost every popular fantasy, YA, Sci-Fi and possibly romance book ever written, right? All those popular movies that start with a weak, ugly, overlooked or maltreated fellow/fellowess who develops godlike powers and…all that other stuff happens.
Most food is made of the same basic ingredients but the number of dishes which can be made from it are truly many! Same with writing. Look at the one with that young bespecktacled fellow who finds out he can do magic and even go to school for it and compare it to the young blonde fellow who harvested dew on a desert planet with two suns. One fights a snake faced fellow with an insecurity complex and the other an asthmatic bloke in a robot suit. Both win (oh crap! Spoiler alert, sorry!) and make their respective lands better places for almost everyone who lives there.
Except most of the ones who fought with or agreed with the bad guy…but we don’t talk about them really, do we? The point is this; people watched the movies, bought the books, became nerds for the story and mythology and so on. Nobody crossed their arms and harumphed about how like that other movie they’d seen the other occasion it was. Well, maybe there was one. There’s always one isn’t there? Are you ready? Here he is;
You can just feel that aura of the easily impressed one, can’t you? That is, indeed, the face of a man well-pleased with his entertainment choices! Or maybe not.
How would you guys describe his expression? He’s probably upset because that thing he automatically hates because young people like it made more money than he can even imagine how to fantasise about while being sure to be accurately representing it in the correct denominations and the right amounts thereof.
We just broke the poor fellow’s brain! He’ll be alright, he’s just gone for a quick lie down, after which he’ll find his box of blue biros, yellow legal pad and the contents of his wallet; currently some old receipts, an expired voucher or two and exactly $17 and 45 cents in mixed currency. Fifty bonus points for telling me what this fellow, let’s call him Earl, has in his wallet. What is the most likely or best combination of bills and coins for a man of Earl’s age and demeanour? What else is hiding in there that he forgot about? See what we’ve just done? We made Earl a person. We invented a character!
He is a stereotype but people like those, especially if you make them funny enough. Think about all the angry old man characters you have read about and seen in movies for a few minutes…they all turned out to be big softies in the end don’t they? Not Earl; Earl is an asshole and will never change.
Only kidding, Earl is decent enough really. Your story might have been done before, in it’s essence. It may have been done more times that Earl has itemised the contents of his wallet since he retired, twelve years ago.
More times than he has saluted the flag in his eighty-five years of life. More times even than he has complained about his left leg in winter. He nearly lost it to shrapnel and actually counts his blessings often. Same as he counts his shoes when he puts them on as well as the fact that he still possesses a foot to place inside each.
Motivations and backstory right there, see? If you wish to develop this budding Earl, I gift him to you. Treat him nicely and please don’t kill him off thoughtlessly, he served and was wounded for his country with honour.
He’s actually not a bad old sort when you get to know him. He loves pistachio nuts and if you bring him some of those or, better yet ice-cream in that flavour, he will regail you with many a stirring tale of his own! Brew him coffee with a pinch of salt in it and he will bless you as a brother. OK, let’s allow Earl his rest for now, we could pass all day learning about him.
Best to leave him with his calculations and his list. He’s going to spend a good few hours on this one! Quite the perfectionist, this fellow. Funny how that happens, right? We don’t so much invent as discover some characters. I have been surprised at least once by how some of them turned out!
Someone wrote a story very like yours before. A lot of someones in fact. Did they have your characters, your setting, your skills and your humour though? Take Earl, I described him one way, you might detail other traits he has that I missed. He’ll still be the same man, only described from different points of view. Just like that man whose skin-tone is often compared to both a fruit and a colour at the same time. Some see him as a hero and great man, the unifier of their land and saviour of their way of life. To sensible and intelligent people, though, he is an idiot.
Ok, joking again, I can’t help it! Every writer tells their own story, I can’t get upset because it’s not the same as mine. In fact, in retrospect, I should be grateful that it is not, right? See how it works now? That’s right, you already knew, you just hadn’t realised it yet.
Off you go, I look forward to seeing you on the shelves. Well, your book at least. If I see you on some shelves I might consider you a little strange, perhaps. Go and write it, I challenge you. Just be nice and respectful to Earl, OK?
“At the heart of every legend there is a grain of truth”
– Michael Scott
In Frank Herbert’s Dune, the gifted hero of the tale used his military skills, natural leadership, and participated in the legends seeded by the order of manipulators to whom his mother belonged. He won and ousted the current Emperor of the Galaxy, marrying his daughter and ending all conflict…or so he thought. We later discover that the religiously inclined people he had helped achieve freedom decided to found a church upon his deeds, make him the living Messiah and launch a jihad throughout the galaxy in his name. In dispair, he walks out into the desert, apparently never to return.
Paul Atreides was fighting for revenge and recruited the Freman to his cause by listening to his mother’s advice to play along with the legend. As it happens, he exceeds the expectation but that is anothe matter. What is important is that the truth is soon overshadowed by the Legend and, once those directly involved in real events are gone, nobody is left to say “that did not happen” so people are free to believe the more exciting version.
This is a manifestation of the phenomena we like to call “Storyteller Syndrome” or, in simple terms, storyteller’s exaggerating or, more accurately outright lying in order to draw their audience in better.
Let’s compare the following two versions as an example;
A large and violent man, while engaging in his normal activities of reaving and raiding, kidnaps a woman who was held prisoner by his latest ‘clients’. I turns out that she is the princess or somewhere or other and had, in fact been kidnapped by a rival of the king’s. The king is an old man and the princess his only heir so marrying her would grant her father’s rival the kingdom. Our hero realised that she is going to be worth a great deal of money so does not do anything that could reduce the reward as he normally would under such circumstances. Of course, our villian learns of this and makes numerous attempts to recapture his bride and murder our hero but, being a man of action and quite well versed in the art of murder, our hero prevails every time. Arriving at the king’s castle, our hero confronts the villain, who snuck in and tried to murder the king, but is stopped by the hero because that’d mean he could kiss his money goodbye. The king, though grateful, is quite old and rather crazy. The kindgom is also rather poor so he marries his daughter off to our hero and has the villain executed; killing two birds with one stone. Having heard that the king’s advisors are planning to do away with him after the wedding, our hero murders the king, seizes the throne and traumatises the princess. He goes on to lead a brutal campaign against the holdings of the rival. The princess dies less than a year later of a broken heart during childbirth.
Son of the Gods of the mountains, a noble barbarian exile is sent by his father, the God Muklebuckle to save the princess from a terrible wizard who infiltrated the kingdom and enchanted Lord Flafflefarst of Overhereia. The noble hero defeats a band of evil monsters guarding the princess and rescues her, carrying her off into the forest for her safety. The wizard hears of this and sends beasts, monsters, and demons after the hero but he defeats them all, with a little bit of help from the gods, of course. During the journey, the princess falls in love with the hero’s noble spirit and rather rugged good looks. Upon arriving at the castle, the hero engages in terrible battle with the wizard who is actually O’Deer’Jhez’Uz the dragon demon whom he barely defeats and almost dies, but love saves him at the last minute as the princess swears to marry him if he lives. Her father, unfortunately, perishes in the melee. Our hero marries the princess and, in honour of his departed father, leads the army to cleanse the land of Overheria and Rhihttheretu of demons and magicians. Lots of people die but the end of the world is avoided and the gods are happy…probably…
Of course, history does either tend to be written by the victors or to flatter them and ensure the writer retains the ability to continue writing…and breathing, of course.
History and Myth
We are pretty much certain these days that a great many of the old stories are not accurate representations of events. We are less credulous as a society than people once were, blame it on knowledge. Back when many of the older stories were written, great swathes of the world were unexplored, unknown, and undocumented. Monsters could live there because nobody could say for sure that they did not.
People had few other forms of entertainment so liked to tell and be told stories on dark winter nights. Their lives were also quite short and brutal in earlier times; ordinary people had rather unfulfilling lives or constant work and few prospects. Hearing tales of a common man going on adventures and eventually becoming king was bound to go down well, give them something to dream about.
That’s the purpose of stories, really, isn’t it? To give people something to believe in outside of the humdrum of normal existence. That the good people will triumph over the evil, that common people can do uncommon things, that there is a sense of justice to the world. Each era has it’s fashions in stories; in medieval times, the common man getting one over on the aristocracy or the church was popular. In today’s time, the unregarded individual, who is often persecuted for being different is found to be different because of a previously undiscovered heritage which makes them uniquely suited to save the world and gain romantic affirmation.
Stories are a way of escaping our everyday lives; they always have been and they always will be; they are about finding sense and meaning in a world where such things are in short supply. We like to believe that these things can happen because if they can’t, then what’s the point?
The Persistence of Belief
Heroes of the Ancient Greek, Roman and similar eras were the action movie stars of their day. The gods were both the stars and vilains, depending on who the hero was. It was like a great series where you never know what’s going to happen next, who’ll form an alliance with whom, who’d get jealous of which other god, who’d father or mother a demi-god to commit heroic or villainous acts next. It was like that rather popular fictional series involving dragons everyone liked.
The grand an heroic heroes of the scrolls were the embodiments of justice, fairness, and nobility that everyone could aspire to and admire. The villains were everything the people disliked at the time or those on charge disapproved of. Often subtle stabs at those in power found their way into them. They had to be subtle in those days because the reaction from an those in charge rarely would be. Critics? Oh dear, I’d rather get figuratively stabbed in the heart than actually…
These days we look for more depth because ideals and paragons are no longer our thing. We still like the justice and reason behind everything parts. Our world, in spite of the vast increase in knowledge and education, still hasn’t found where Truth and Justice live. Governments are still filled with egotistical liars, the poor still suffer more than they should, life is much unfairer than it needs to be, the status quo see-saw tends to be much heavier at one end than it is on the other.
It is no coincidence that the majority of villains we see suffering a variety of dramatic deaths in movies are mega-rich people of highly questionable morals and an enjoyment for taking over the world by killing all the poor folks. The hero is usually a working – middleclass nobody who gets an unexpected chance to restore the balance and take out the rich guy that makes their life unfair and miserable.
Yet, as much as our fiction appears to be making the rich pay for their crimes and suchlike, we desperately want to join them also. Billionaires coming down from their high eeries to notice a much-ignored nobody and make them rich too is quite a common theme also. It seems like quite a lot of people are not happy with their position is society and are seeking all kinds of ways to get out.
The truth is not as important as the dream. Nobody feeling in need of a cheering up picks up a history book or looks for a documentary on famous dynasties, well some people might but fewer in number than those that won’t.
We all like to believe that the world can be fair, that a reward awaits those who live well and are good, that there are heroes out there somewhere, opposing the evil we see in everything. We like to think that people will get what they deserve, especially if it isn’t good. We like to believe that fairytale love exisits and will come to sweep us off of our feet. We like to believe we could be attractive, powerful, in control, and decisive.
We read about it because we can escape for a while from reality and dip our toes into the fantastical and truly believe that if it can happen to them, then maybe it can happen to us one day too.
‘Can it be possible for a thing to be too perfect?’ asked Fulgrim. ‘Surely everything that is beautiful and noble is the product of reason and calculation.’ ‘Great art isn’t about reason, it’s about what comes from the heart’ said Ostian. ‘You can work with all the technical perfection in the galaxy, but if there is no passion, then it is a wasted effort.’ ‘There is such a thing as perfection’, snapped Fulgrim, ‘and our purpose for living is to find that perfection and show it forth. Everything that limits us we have to put aside.’ Fulgrim, Graham NcNeill
There is a phrase I am seeing more and more often on social media today. It seems like a somewhat good phrase, it seems useful as perhaps a measure but a measure against whom?
“I am not good enough”, “I want to be good enough”, “you are good enough”; many variations thereof. It means you are either striving to, can easily arrive at, or have achieved some degree of minimum measure. Who is it though, that decides the measure? What is good enough?
I don’t want to be good enough, to me that sounds like admitting defeat…
The Pursuit of Perfection
It has often been said that the goal is everything is to achieve perfection, that one can do it. Our friend Fulgrim, in Graham’s excellent fall from grace biopic (or ‘Fulgrim goes down to Georgia’ as I’ve jokingly called it), devotes his life to achieving perfection in all things, he cannot accept the idea that he, with his mental, physical, and genetic advantages cannot achieve perfection.
We will stop there so that we don’t ruin a good story for one and because we have other points to make. We will come back to this one later, though.
Let us explore what ‘Good Enough’ means, shall we? The Oxford English Dictionary tells us;
Adequate. Satisfactory. It feels like we have just passed a test and been awarded a gold star by some unseen authority. It feels like we received a participation trophy. It sounds like ‘Just OK’, think about that, do you want to produce an adequate, OK, mediocre piece of art or do you want to produce a great piece of art?
Now, the pursuit of perfection is all well and good but completely impossible to attain in a mortal lifetime. One can chase it, one can seek and fight for it but one must hold firm in one’s mind that to think one could ever actually be perfect in any way is inviting madness to settle themselves into the spare room and start going through the fridge.
Perfection is a moving target, the closer you get to it, the further away it moves. To think that you can catch it would be an exhausting and frustrating affair. It would also mean asking our friend insanity to sign a lease and start moving their stuff in permanently. Fulgrim fell because of this one of those famous – ah – fatal failures; pride.
In the Name of Love
What’s an obscure musical reference in the name of love? Our Irish friends had a rather valid point, though, in that excellent song. If you now have the guitar solo stuck in your head, you are very much welcome.
Pride is not, necessarily, a bad thing as long as you know when to let it go. This is either a skill you learn, or a quality you have; I haven’t decided what I think yet.
Pride, as regulars of my comments and blog know, is something I place great store in when it comes to our work. I have discussed with many of the ‘let the editors fix the bad grammar and spelling’ or the ‘language is constantly evolving so those old rules of grammar and spelling don’t necessarily apply because they’re changing’ brigade or similar groupings.
One must have pride in one’s work, pride to produce the very best that one is capable of. Equally, one would be, therefore, ashamed if people were to see my work as anything close to inferior. I pulled 9 books from Amazon and other outlets because they needed to be polished and they truly weren’t.
Let me use an example, for those of you who have children or intend to. Would you take your children outside in dirty clothes, dirty faces, and uncombed hair? Why not? You love your children unconditionally and, to you, they are beautiful even when covered with spew at 5am. Other people will just accept them as they are and anyone that judges you is a nasty individual who doesn’t understand.
There is a reason that we have whole websites dedicated to people who have a very ‘come as you are’ attitude to late night shopping at stores such as Walmart. I would at least make a half-hearted effort to look mid-way presentable under those circumstances even if I didn’t feel like it.
Some people might call that caving to social pressure but I call it pride. You see, those that know me are very much aware that I really have no interest in what other people think about me; I don’t follow the latest fashions, I wear clothes I’m comfortable in or that were thoughtful gifts. I style my hair as I like it, I go to work and do my job then go home. I owe nothing to nobody except my wife, family, and close friends.
My work does not follow trend or fashion either. I write what I want to write, in a style I’m good at writing in. I’m also going to make damn sure that my writing goes out into the world as well-presented – with its face washed and hair nicely combed – as I can make it.
The Quest For Excellence
It is said that, if you aim for perfection, you will at least reach excellence. Just because perfection is unachievable, there is no reason not to try, right? Now, many are confused by the dichotomy; why put all that effort into trying to achieve something you know you cannot ever hope to reach? While, you hasten to add, tempering your pride whilst also taking it in your work?
Well, nobody ever said that this was going to easy, did they? Let me try and explain how I see it;
Take pride in the quality of your work. It’s your work and therefore your responsibility. You cannot count on other people to do your job for you.
At the same time, do not let pride blind you; you might think your work is perfect or reaching perfection when it is actually a mess of clashing chaos Slaanesh would be proud of. Accept and listen to feedback because you’re too close to see flaws. Accept constructive criticism.
It is a careful balancing act to be a writer; you do have to practise, we have to develop, and you have to make mistakes. You are learning not what is right in general but right for you as you develop your own style.
Have the pride to know when your work is good and be able to tell the difference between constructive criticism and simple sabotage on your confidence. If you have sufficient pride in your work, you have the ability to recognise when it can be improved.
If you aim for perfection, you will at least approach excellence. Know, however, when to stop; you can ruin a good scene or piece of art by over-improving or over-editing. I’ve ruined many portraits of Sable by trying to refine this feature or that. He ended up looking like an angry old man!
So; what does that mean? It means that this is a far from easy job that you learn as you go along. That is where ‘good enough’ comes from. If you focus on achieving perfection as your only goal, you will never finish because everything will have a flaw or two. I have re-read scenes I have written and gone on to self-publish the book they are in. I see flaws, better ways to say things, another way to take a thread, ways to make the jokes funnier but I have to leave them alone.
Remember every lesson you learn and apply it to your next book or piece of art. What I would call my first generation character portraits were, to me, quite good when I produced them. They were good enough for the purpose I had given them. They filled empty spaces on The Chronicles of Enoch generation one website. They gave people ideas of concepts.
But, I later decided, they could be better, they didn’t quite fulfil my vision. I could do better, and that’s the secret I’m leading you towards here.
You can be as Good as you Allow Yourself to Be.
Here it is, why “good enough” should never be; first or maybe second drafts might be good enough but you can do better.
Generation One of The Chronicles of Enoch Character Portraits were good enough but the current generation are much better. In some cases, the alterations were minor and nobody but me would notice them but they made the end result better. On other occasions, the old portrait was scrapped and a new one produced. The Stranger, oddly enough, had the most redesigns. The posture, attitude, background, and appearance of ‘him’ now perfectly represents ‘his’ character. The new Lucifer pleases me immensely, that expression and posture of barely suppressed rage and veiled threat sums him up rather well.
The hard part is learning when you can improve and when you need to start again as well as when you need to leave well alone. That is why most successful or famous writers recommend at least three full self-edits on a manuscript after first draft. I had a series of chats with Ian Irvine, a very successful sci-fi fantasy author and he does four or five quite often. His reasoning is this; yes, the publisher’s editors will fix things but he is obliged – by his own internal code – to send them the very best version of his work that he is capable of.
Editors are for fixing basic grammar and the odd spelling mistake or few that you missed. They are not for continuity errors, character flaws, plot holes, or for fixing a badly put together story. Your job as to give the editor as little work to do as possible. Might sound counter-productive if you’re paying them yourself and they charge by the page or by the word, right?
Wrong. If there is a lot to fix, then they might miss stuff because it gets lost in the mess. If you have fewer errors, they can pay those better attention and be more adequately focussed on how to fix them well. Also, said editor will like you and maybe start to offer you discounts as time goes by. Do not forget, many editors are readers, some of them are writers, and all of them have contacts they can put a good word to about you.
Also, be aware, there are agents on twitter and they watch…don’t you Jo?
Simply put, you need a combination of pride, humility, integrity, and grit to be a successful writer. You need to make sure that the world at large sees the very best version of everything you produce and you need to make sure you do everything in your power to make that so.
You might think that the “grammar police” on Facebook and Twitter are a pain but they are actually good practise. If you try to get out of the habit of allowing spelling and grammar mistakes unnecessary place in your ‘professional’ social media posts, you might allow them to wander innocently into your work.
You see, achieving excellence in anything is about discipline and, ask any former soldier, that discipline will, once you’ve got it, leak into every single aspect of your life. It won’t be something you can turn on and off on demand, it will become a part of your character.
Oddly enough, agents are not looking for the number of followers you have, the number of books you have self-published or the number of fans your work may have. They are looking for discipline. You see, when an agent offers you a contract, they are making an investment. An investment of money, of time, and of their reputation and they are making it in you.
They want to see that discipline I mentioned because, if they are to get long-term return on their investment, they need that, to be sure you’ll keep producing. The publishing houses, too, are looking for the same and want to hear the agent tell them about you in those terms. They are going to be giving you money based on future sales of your book, they would like to know they will recoup at least that much, that they can rely on you when necessary.
Take Neil Gaiman, for example, the man is rarely at home. He is always on the go, touring by himself or with Amanda and the kids, promoting, selling, show-running, getting involved. I can guarantee you that there are days that he doesn’t want to do it (and I think occasionally having a problem committing to my 1 blog post a day goal) but he has that pride and that disciple and he does it. Look how he almost died of flu in Australia but kept going. He is not alone.
Being a successful author of the kind you want to be does not mean having all the time in the world to relax and write, not always. Some successful writers are busier than you can imagine but, it will pay off. Look at Stephen King, he’s done all of that and now he’s relaxing, watching Netflix, and making snarky yet entertaining comments on Twitter (I love you really, Steve).
If you want to be Steve, you have to work like Neil and observe his work ethic. There’s a reason my emails to people like Anne Rice got the ‘too busy to answer you’ reply (though Miss Anne did it in such a lovely way and you can tell she wrote it herself which counts for something) when you send them an excerpt or hello request; they really are too busy! Their schedules would make a great many of you cry, believe me.
So; Integrity (be honest with yourself and as critical of your output as you need to be in order to assure your best possible work), Discipline (to make and stick to goals, to push yourself when you don’t feel like it or feel ‘writer’s block’ exculpating itself into either your mind or vocabulary), Focus (on what is important and on what to improve and when to stop), Honesty (with yourself and everyone you deal with), Excellence (never stop chasing it, not ever).
That is, indeed, it, although it is a process and that is why your will never achieve perfection. You can keeping improving and maybe catch a sight of it through the bushes and try to sneak up on it before it sees you but that time is much hard work away.