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.

A Linguistic Nightmare?

When the idea of the modern and current Empyraeum was set out, it came with a nagging problem; Latin never came to dominate because Rome never rose in the vacuum left by Alexander’s death and Ptolemy’s failed legacy in Egypt.


Citizens of the Empyraeum, even in its current state would not speak a language we’d recognise. Latin languages wouldn’t exist. Turns of speech and even complex words would be quite different.


We touch on this is first acknowledging the rise of koiné in the invasion of Persia and hints toward what we called the argot or emerging conlang of the Empyraen army; the result of one hundred different cultures and armies melding into a whole. Some would learn the koiné, others would speak a pidgin of their native tongue and koiné, others would make up an odd mixture of both. By osmosis, an argot started to spread, even Neshaa and Kalliades started to converse in it.


Following formal foundation of the Empyraeum in Alexandria, the argot was formalised as ESG or Empyraen Standard Greek.


Early stages of its use can be found in the stories of the Collections and inside the Novellas. Place names and little terms and insults were replaced, just to give an idea of how different the world of the Empyraeum is.
After much thought and linguistic play, we decided more was needed and below, we introduce you to a particular flavour of ESG, that spoken in Lúndún, the capital of Brytton, where much if the action of Book One “A Flame Undying” will take place.


What we consider Great Britain was never invaded by Rome, the Vikings, the Saxons. The Welsh and Gaelic tongues common in 4th Century BC remained the mother tongue of the common people who learned ESG later on, at school or for work. Also London of our world is known for its unique slangs and argots, as is Britain as a whole so our Bryttons will, of course, add and adapt words to their preference. Elements of Irish, Scots, and Welsh mix with the ancient Greek and, often, the two blend together;


Common Empyraen insults and slang of Lúndún Town


Kop = idiot/stupid Ease/Easy-G = ESG Myrt = slapper of either gender, a person of adaptable morality Moik = untrustworthy Kora = *uck Kopra = s*it Koraka = *ucker Kúna = bitch/dog Glàm = falsely flashy Laik = wimp, little bitch Proko = arse kisser Chalk = wiseguy, smartass, sort of a compliment of the backhanded type Myx = stubborn person Gràs = stinky Pòra = p*ssy, invaliant person Tod = overweight fellow, slang for aristocracy/the rich Pánastás = rebels, commonly known as Pans Hèg = boss or leader Kos = military unit or group The Choir = slang for the Keepers, Union Police Savs = Alexander Loyalists Savmor = The Kalshodar, considered a myth Gowl = clumsy person Gomb = trick, trap, ambush Felci = a fart, often used for an unfocused person Cach = crap, worthless Twm = jumped up officer, often pronounced ‘Tim’ Man = undecided, indefinite reply…”Man a well” means, ‘why not?’ or ‘might as well’ Pilli = Day dreamer, head in the clouds Clats = fight, violent disagreement Soomp! = Brilliant! Excellent! Cool! Sometimes simply “Soom” Lemb = Embarrassingly Stupid Moog = bad/dangerous Cleka = informant, grass, traitor Gaida = arse, annoying person. “On the Gaid” – messing around, fooling with someone. Skatagam = A Charlie-Fox, or complete and messy failure militarily Melit = one who favours DIY intimacy; an objectionable individual Och = multiuse term that can mean almost anything depending on context. “Gaid och” means ‘**ck it’. “Och soom” means indescribably amazing. “Och man” means ‘give me a minute to think about this’. “Och Aye” can mean anything depending on the speaker’s tone of voice. Tevo = a sneak or thief Gamina = multiuse word of emphasis meaning anything between ‘darn, ‘curses’,’**ck’, ‘**cking’ etc. Kàton = negative situation. “Dwin a lig gamina katon…” means ‘I’m in serious effing trouble here…’ Lig = a bit, a small amount. Often used ironically. Mor/Maw = big or large. Serious. Dwin = I am . “Dwin Pan, drae sior” is a common rebel greeting.
More may be coming as time allows but, for now, enjoy playing with speaking like a Lúndolix using the clues I have scattered around.

Hegemony Concept Alkemas Neshaa

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.


#Hegemony #Dracograth, #Persian; #Neshaa #Zoroastrian #alanjfisher #digitalart #bookseries #writingcommunity #bookart #booksecrets #Kalshodar #concept #conceptart #bookseries #characterart #characterconcept@LaurieGoulding

Art of the Storyteller – Lockdown Day 15

 

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.

Documenters of Insanity

“A writer is simply the documenter of his own insanity” Unknown
 
A fiction writer is many things, it would seem but what really?
 
I was reading this article today and I wondered….well now, maybe that explains a lot;
 
 
I have spent a significant portion of my life with several of my imaginary friends and, not only have I done this but I have documented it. Not only have I documented it but I am trying to present it in appealing fashion so that people will pay me for the pleasure of gawking at my insanity. I enjoy this activity and call myself writer, author, among other things.
 
“What do you do in your spare time?” People ask me
“I invent people and have conversations with them in my head and then I write it down” they usually start making excuses and backing away right about this time. This may be a not altogether conventional description of a writer’s trade but it is not inaccurate really.Think about it. At this moment in time I have…around 9 people in my head about whom I think regularly, whom I place in situations and generate dialogue for, with whom I, in fact, have conversations effectively. A lot  of the time we keep these conversations between ourselves and they never make it to the page; either because I forget about them, am distracted or, when I sit down at my keyboard with the complete intention of writing down that cracker of a dialogue from earlier down something strange happens…I start to write and it turns into something completely and utterly different. My neat little scene, my snappy chatty, my situationette turn into something completely different! I sit down wanting to write how x met z and talked about y but then w comes in and murders x and falls in love with z and y did this every happen????!!
 
I think Poe put it best “I am a writer therefore I am not sane.”
 
Therefore I ask you this question and, honest answers only please, on a stamped and self addressed postcard. Do we create our characters or were they always there, inside our heads? Do we create stories or are we the medium by which the story writes itself? Are we really crazy or are scientists just jealous b*st*ards because they don’t do anything original?
 
I open the floor to comments and questions!
 

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.