Musings

[Blog] Babel

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Languages fascinate me. English, of course, holds a special place in my heart, both for its myriad quirks and the fact that it’s my own native language, but my interest reaches a bit beyond that. By which I mean that I’m an amateur, wanna-be polyglot, and proud of it. I’ve picked up a fair amount of Spanish, thanks to living in California and a near obsession with keeping up my streak over on Duolingo. I gained some ability with Armenian during my grand adventure there last year. I’ve dabbled with German enough to realize that it’s both really hard and really cool.

I love the way different languages express the same idea, and the way that each one is going to slightly change the way you see that idea. I love the way it causes you to look closer at something you’ve always taken for granted, or the way it makes you think about the idioms you use every day. I’m intrigued by the gap between words and concepts, and the different way different peoples bridge it. So it should come as no surprise that I’d love to get to the point where I can write a decent story in more than one language.

Come to think of it, some of this can probably be traced back to my high school Latin teacher. I wasn’t the best student in his classes, and at the time I was far too frustrated with being forced to learn a language to realize that I actually enjoyed them, but there was one final project he assigned that I loved, even at the time: we had to choose a fiction book and translate a chapter from English to Latin. And he let me choose the first chapter of Mossflower by Brian Jacques.

Like I said above, different languages make you look at things in a new way, and finding the best way to translate it forces you to get down to the nitty-gritty details of meaning that you might otherwise gloss over. I’m not sure how good my translation was at the end (and honestly, I was in tenth grade, and only a middling Latin student, so I have my doubts), but it was fun. And while I’m putting more weight on it now than it earned then, if a high school student stumbling through as direct a translation as she could manage could affect the way she read a children’s book, how much better could it be if she actually gets good enough to do it on purpose?

Musings

[Blog] Resistance is Futile

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One of my favorite tropes for fantasy or sci-fi stories is when the big bad has a penchant for assimilating its enemies. Well. I say favorite, but it might be more accurate to say that I find it to be thoroughly compelling and a great way to raise the stakes– it being a fate worse than death, and all that. Something about collectives of cyborgs bent on galactic conquest or races of giant AI spaceships intent on harvesting all organic life just gets under my skin and does a great job of making me root for their ultimate demise.

Borg_cube
Resistance is futile.

Oddly enough, my feelings regarding zombies and vampires aren’t as strong, which leads me to suspect that what unsettles me the most is the fact that their victims end up helping them realize their schemes of total conquest, not so much the loss of humanity of each individual victim. Dying’s bad enough, but if I could avoid joining the dark side and trying to kill my friends and doom the world in the process, that would be much preferred.

And given how effective these sorts of villains can be, it’s probably no surprise that I’m trying to do the same thing with my villain for The Seven. The obvious problem with this being that I have a very distinct idea in my head of the feelings I want these creatures to evoke, and I don’t think I’m quite there yet. I want them to create a feeling of dread in the people that have to fight them, and I want that feeling to go beyond just fear for their own survival. And if I want that feeling in the characters to be believable, they need to evoke that feeling in the readers as well.

Forgive the musings of the author neck-deep in worldbuilding questions. Or, if it strikes your fancy, ask me more! It’s harder to stick with the silly ideas when I have to explain them out loud.

 

Updates

[Update] March 2018

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Hey everyone!

Just checking in with a quick update for March! February saw two new short stories, one a sci-fi one-shot about the trouble that can arise when a small and mischievous girl starts running around a space station (click here to read Aruri), and the other a new Tanner and Miranda adventure, this time telling the story of their first job together on the colony planet Verdant (click here to read The Verdant Wildlife). If you’ve got a moment, give them a read and tell me what you think! I’d love to hear from you.

Now that I’m (finally!) getting back into the swing of regular writing, this month should see another couple of new stories with the first going up next week, so keep an eye out for those. Also! While I have you here, what sort of story are you interested in seeing more of? Fantasy? Science fiction? A more in-depth look at the world from a previous story? Let me know!

Until next time!
~ Faith

Musings

[Blog] A Good Reread

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I like books. If you’re here, I suspect you have at least a passing fancy for them as well, which means we’ve already got something in common. I imagine it also means you are familiar with the phrase “so many books, so little time”, and you may have even, in passing, considered having it engraved on your headstone. Or perhaps not.

What I mean to say is that we understand in our bones that we will never be able to read everything there is to read, because there’s just not enough hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the month, etc. There’s not even enough time to read everything that you would enjoy reading, as evidenced by massive stacks of books and an outsized to-read list on Goodreads (or in your head or wherever you keep it).

And then, to add to the trouble, there’s the books you want read again. For me, those are the ones that get neglected the most, because when I start looking for my next book to read, I automatically go to the stacks of books I haven’t yet read.

I can’t speak to it’s efficacy, but I’ve tried to get around the problem by just reading more books at once. I used to try to stick to one or two at a time, one fiction and one non-fiction, just to keep things simple. I don’t remember exactly when I started breaking that rule, but once I started it’s been getting worse and worse, and right now there’s a stack of books almost a foot high on my bedside table.

I see no problem here...
My bedside table.

The thing is, some books need to be reread. You’ll catch things you didn’t see the first time through, that you couldn’t have seen the first time through. Aspects of certain characters will suddenly make more sense. Foreshadowing will be that much more foreboding. Themes and symbolism will become that much clearer, and their arguments will be that much more potent.

Or, to put it another way, you’ll enjoy it even more the second time around.

All this is probably coming to mind right now thanks to the fact that I just finished my second read-through of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising (which if you haven’t read, I would highly recommend and suggest you follow it up with the rest of the series), and I noticed so many things that I didn’t see at all when I read it the first time. Heck, it even woke up my sleepy inner English major, and when I finished I had at least three ideas for short essays.

But I digress. Regardless of your feelings, if any, for the aforementioned book, the fact remains that there is great benefit in rereading. I don’t know about you, but that’s something I forget a little too often.

Musings

[Blog] Writing, Writing, Rewriting

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When I was in junior high, I distinctly remember having a conversation with one of my friends in which we expressed our doubts on whether or not all the famous authors we were studying really meant to infuse their works with all the themes and symbolism that our lit teachers said they did. If I remember correctly, we admitted that at least some of the structuring was done on purpose, but we figured that it had far more to do with the author wanting to write a good story than to make any particular point. Looking back, my only defense is that we were very young and very foolish, and we both grew a great deal wiser in the years that followed. It turns out there’s an awful lot that thirteen year olds (and the rest of us) don’t know, despite their opinion to the contrary.

That being said, I think (hope?) that I had formed that particular belief in part because of a faulty understanding of the way the vast majority of people write good stories– specifically, I had not yet realized that “all good writing is rewriting”. On that first run through a story, whether it’s a vignette or something novel-length or longer, there’s only so much crafting that can be done as you drag the words onto the page and pin them there in something roughly approximating what you had in mind in the first place. Hopefully, you have some idea of the point you want to make, but most of us are going to have to edit, coax, and generally manipulate the words for even longer than it took to write them in the first place if we want them to say everything we want them to. And, of course, some of the things I’ve written that I’m happiest with are the ones I stumbled on and realized after the fact that they worked better than anything else I’d tried, but if it weren’t for rewriting I doubt I’d ever have recognized them.

That being said, it’s entirely possible to get stuck in a neverending editing process. Or, worse, it’s easy to start the editing process prematurely, before the whole rough form of the story has made it onto the page. I won’t deny that restarting before reaching the end is occasionally helpful, but more often it seems to just be a good way to get stuck rewriting the same thousand words in a vain attempt to make them perfect. Nine times out of ten, the parts that actually need retooling will only become obvious once you’ve gotten to the end.

Musings

[Blog] The Book’s Not Always Better Than the Movie

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A few years ago, one of my friends introduced me to Mass Effect, and it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the game. The characters, the setting, the adventures– the hours I spent as Commander Shepard proved incredibly fun and as deeply inspiring as any of my other favorite stories. And some of that is because of the way the story was told.

Different mediums have different strengths and work better for certain stories than others. It’s why the movie adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, as entertaining and as grand as they are when shown on the big screen, will never have the same depth as Tolkien’s written masterpieces: there’s just not enough time, even in the twelve hours that make up the extended editions, to do justice to the depth and history of Middle Earth. What’s more, trying to match it word for word would have resulted in films that sprawled even more and probably wouldn’t have been half so enjoyable.

Now, before you start reaching for your torches and your pitchforks, I’m not saying that the movies were flawless adaptations. Any number of characters were changed in ways that made them so much less than they were in the books (Faramir, anyone?) without adding something back in exchange to the structure or the pace of the movie. However, even if all the characters had been spot on and true to who they are in the books, the films would still have been missing something of what made the books as wonderful as they are.

It goes both ways, too: some stories work better as a movie than as a book. Take The Princess Bride, for example. While we get more details about pretty much everything throughout the course of the novel, the story itself profits from the quicker pace and the tighter structure of a film, and I’m inclined to argue that that’s what made it the classic it is today. Of course, I’d still recommend reading the book if you get the chance, but that goes without saying. The fact remains that the movie is the reason we’re all saying the lines along with Inigo in the gif below.

Bringing all this back around to video games, it’s fascinating to see how this “new” medium stacks up against the ones we’re more used to. The biggest difference, I think, is how we interact with the story being told, and vice versa. In a book or a movie, we have a far more passive role. The story will go the way it always goes, regardless of what we do. The only way we can change what happens is by stopping, and really, that only delays it. The words have still been written, the scenes have still been filmed, and no matter how hard we throw the book against the wall or how loud we yell at the screen, what will happen will happen. In video games, that’s not necessarily the case.

Going back to Mass Effect, the game forces the player to make different choices along the way that tie in with the general morality that each Shepard develops. Regardless of the path chosen, the story will progress through the same events. However, the tone of the story will feel entirely different depending on whether you play more as a hero or an anti-hero. In one, the story is that of an epic space opera with great heroes and steep odds. In the other, it’s a gritty space marine tale, where even the best people are deeply flawed and broken.

And what’s more, because you are the one making the decisions throughout the game, you feel each one more deeply than you would if you were just watching or reading about the hero making those choices on their own. When you have to press a button to confirm that you really do want Shepard to do something, it immerses you even more deeply in the story. It makes you think about the actions taken just that much more, and that’s the greatest strength of any story.

Fiction (Excerpts)

[Teaser] The Seven

SEVEN

The traveler sat on a stool near the fire, one hand wrapped around a mug of strong drink, the other tapping idly at his knee. His too-green eyes glinted in the half dark. Almost half of the village’s inhabitants sat around him, some in chairs, others—children, mostly—made do with the floor. All told, it seemed he had the attention of more than twenty people. He cleared his throat and began.

“The sun is down and the moon is dark and new.” His voice was low, and there was a rumble to it like a cat’s purr. “This is the time to tell tales of monsters.”

A shiver ran through his audience, and anticipation held the room in perfect silence. The traveler basked in it.

“But what sort of story should I tell? You’ve already heard about wyrms and dragons, giant, scaly beasts that snatch and devour. And you probably know about the kelpies and other creatures like them, the ones that seem so lovely until they destroy the hapless person who is lured too close. Perhaps I could tell you about giant wolves or bears that have stalked roadways and forests and slain a hundred men despite the best efforts of brave and mighty hunters.”

The youngest members of his audience, a brother and sister, shivered. Even the adults sat in rapt attention and let themselves feel frightened.

“Or… I could weave a story about a thing even more terrible than these. A thing that might have once been man, a thing that brings death and terror in its wake, a thing that fears no simple bow or blade.”

He paused. His eyes flitted across the room, over all the faces watching him. He took a breath and slowly filled his lungs. And when the tension reached its apex, he finally spoke again.

“I could tell you of the Rehk.”

Murmurs worked their way through the room. The gathered audience looked away and lowered their eyes. The storyteller’s spell wavered and broke, and nothing remained but a lopsided quiet.

An old man coughed and cleared his throat. “Tell us a different story, traveler. We don’t tell the Rehk’s tales here.”

Musings

[Blog] Place Magic

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When thinking about the most important aspects of a story, the first things that come to mind are plot and character– the things that happen and who makes them happen. And to some extent, that’s entirely true. The characters we meet in a piece of fiction and the journeys we take with them are what make our favorite stories so compelling. But perhaps there’s a third part that is just as important to a good story: the setting.

It’s entirely possible that this is common knowledge, and I’m just a little late to the game. Even so, I think it’s fair to say that we tend to focus a bit more on the two elements that I mentioned first. Stories are retold in different settings all the time– think Shakespeare’s plays– and, at least when we like how it turns out, we don’t have any problem saying that it’s still the same story. As long as the plot and the characters remain the same, it’s easy to say that the story is fundamentally the same.

Of course, the fact that so many of the Bard’s plays have been retold and given a different location in time or space serves as evidence that the setting is a large part of what makes each particular story what it is. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be any point in changing it in the first place. When Hamlet’s tragedy plays out in a modern day setting as opposed to medieval Denmark, different aspects stand out. One might expect to encounter a ghost in a drafty castle, but if that same ghost stalks the halls of a twentieth century military base he might seem a little more out of place, and even though the characters will ultimately react in more or less the same way in a faithful retelling, the incongruity draws our attention.

That’s a specific example, but the point holds true: a story might tell how a scrappy hero rises from nothing and fights to topple an oppressive dystopia, but if the story is set in a fantasy world with swords and magic, it would have a different theme than if the events played out on a space station in the distant future. The first describes what we are capable of doing to each other. The second makes a similar point, but also makes sure that we know that it’s not something relegated to a barbarous past.