Empyraeum Videoblog Episode 5 : Development/Evolution

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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’.
  7. 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.
  8. 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;

  1. Bloodstar; a universe envisioned in my teens which ended up bearing quite the remarkable resemblence to Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Empyraeum Videoblog Episode 4 : Characterisation

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.


Character Journey


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.


Conclusion


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.

Empyraeum Videoblog Episode Three : Setting

“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.


The Shaping


There is some debate over this one. Does story shape setting or does setting shape story?

Yes.

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!

Empyraeum – Videoblog Episode 6 : Exposition

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?

The Iceberg


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.

The Balance.


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”


to


“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.

Empyraeum Video Blog Episode Four : Characterisation

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.

Character Journey


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.


Conclusion


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.

Blog Episode Two – Contextual Setting

Featured

So; you have created characters, you have a story, you have background, you have built a world and all of its rules, this is excellent. This is shiny and good, it has sparkle!
When one is thinking of making something beautiful out of whatever one discovers in the bottom drawer, one needs not only imagination and purpose, one normally needs some kind of glue or other to make all of the pieces come together and, as it were, unify.


Back in the days when Scratchy was still young, the tribes of Eire would, at times, need to communicate from afar and in secret. They would find highly reflective stones or would polish bits of metal and try to direct the light of the sun onto them. Using a code, they would flash a simple message to their compatriots. In later times, I heard about some war in distant Ippon over trade, the natives of an island under Navajo protection has been inconvenienced and the trade deal had become much less voluntary than they would have liked. In order to keep their movements and tactics over telelegon secret, they spoke to one another in the old language of their ancestors, a tongue even the most applied Ipponese intelligence officer could not know.


Eventually, like all codes will be, it was cracked but they found that the messages made no sense. Now, the Ipponese should have – with their own very lyrical and at times metaphorical language, have thought about this but they did not.


They lacked the context, in this case the cultural context that shaped the way Na-Dene is spoken and how it describes certain things, events, and even people; its slang and idioms. The Navajo has invented layered encryption and their innovation became the new standard across both the Empyraeum and beyond.
There is a valuable lesson in this.


How many hours, weeks, and days have you spent writing, rewriting, developing characters, creating art for them, perfecting, researching, rewriting again, refining….and so on until you knew the inside of each character’s head and their ‘life’ perhaps better even than your own?

Shiny indeed.


Now, we all know the dangers and the pitfalls of a new author’s path; we know the silly rules and the concensus opinions on commas, adverbs, and so forth. We have also heard of that of which we must not speak; the infomation dump. If you are writing an academic essay, research paper, text book, a book for Dwarves, or are being paid by the word, info dumps are fine and shiny. If you are, however, not writing one of these effulgent items, then it is not always so welcome. It is, in fact, mostly considered dull and boring.
So, that takes the polish off the gemstone doesn’t it? Now what?
Context, my friends, context.


How does one do that o-wise and be-bereted one? Simple.


How do human babies (the less we talk about goblin babies the better) learn what you people disgustingly call their milk tongue? By hearing it, by repeating it, by praticising it…by speaking!


Ah, you wise and shiny goblin, you cry! You’e talking about dialogue aren’t you? Yes. Yes, I am talking about dialogue, among other things. We have mentioned before a movie made by a certain Antipodean (from the Land of Dream) bearded fellow who did not even try to represent goblins in a good light. Yet he did something beautiful. In his movie he made sure every last possible detail was covered, every weapon, piece of armour, even personal items and imperfectations were present if not conciously seen. He told a story in silence which provided both belief and context.


I digress not at all by mentioning Patchy’s fine works at this point. He is good at that, building consistency and context into his work. He makes many things standard, and many things unique, as is needed. He will standardise armour types so it is clear that Kalshodar armour, Dracograth armour, and even epibatoi armour comes from the same place. You can see that all Empyraen vehicles were made by the same factories. Yet you can see how different characters have personalised their gear, how they carry different items, wear different badges, and so forth. That tells a small story about them.


You as writer today have so many places to drop your context and have people look and enjoy; you have social media, websites, blogs such as this, my fine audio-visoohaahl work, Patchy’s masterpieces, even Scratchy’s sneaky little bits and pieces he scatters around for as youse to find. Your world is not nly needing to be just inside a book any more. In fact, eBooks are opening you all kinds of new doors now!


Back to how they speak though, right? Yes, yes indeedy-pie, sir/madam/other/none!
The idea behind ESG started simple. Change a few names, alter a few ideas and linguisic constructs, give a feel for a different world in simple little casual exchanges of no apparent consequence. Then it got bigger, as these things often do. But the idea remains the same. A little causal ‘overheard’ conversation, a throwaway comment, a far-speaker in the background, a newspaper article the character reads while waiting for something important to happen. All these things give data, provide background, give context without interrupting the flow of the story. Not only that, but they feel natural in way no info dump ever can.


See, here is Sham, our good mate, doing regular people stuff as regular people do. Good old Sham, he does things like we do, we like Sham! We like Sham so we listen to what he has to say…see where the rat is running here? Towards the shine because rats are clever little bleeders.


Your job is not just to make the shine but to lead your readers towards it like a boss rat with his pack, see? Does you find the rat and force food down his gob til he chokes or does you leave some good quality victs out somewhere for him to find so that up he comes to snaffle ’em and….BANG!…he’s inna trap? Right! You leads, you doesn’t force. You drops crumbs for him to follow but you leaves the real shiny stuff for the trap, right?


Now you get it! Same as with your readers, you drops lilli hints and clues along the way to keep ’em sniffing but you leaves the real shine for them to find for themselves and think ‘what a clever little fellow am I, what with all this shine what is mine!’ right before – BANG! – you got ’em…
And, yes, me letting me ‘inner goblin’ slip out, as it were, was also me giving you some sniff and context.

Researching On Such a Scale

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;
 
  1. The Hebrew Talmud
  2. Kabbalah
  3. Sumerian tablets and carvings
  4. Doggerland and other antedeluvian lands
  5. Every conspiracy theory on Atlantis and lost continents
  6. Fluid dynamics, thermal dynamics, and high pressure fluid dynamics inversions
  7. Astronomy, especially regarding the Moon and Mars
  8. Terraforming and how it could happen
  9. Micro-electronics and experimental electronic theory
  10. Every religion which has ever existed
  11. The titular Books of Enoch and other Apocrypha
  12. Jewish exorcism rites
  13. Aviation history, space flight, experimental space technology, and theoretical physics
  14. The Atlanta and Georgia State Police Force and SWAT Division
  15. Child psychology and criminal psychology
  16. ASD and Aspergers syndrome
  17. Eurasian and North American mythology
  18. Ballistics, sniper theory and practises, bullet manufacture
  19. Chemistry and materials science
  20. Esoteric lore from several sources
  21. Misha of Jewish scripture and questionable sources
  22. 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.
 
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
 
Conclusion
 
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.

When Truth and Fiction Collide

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?

Legends Made Truth

“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;
 
 
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
 
Conclusion
 
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.