Friday, November 25, 2016

A Fragment From The End of Time

I have no idea where this is going, or where it's been, so I'm putting it here for now until I do.

Here I am, falling through the sky, as if a meteor striking the Earth. Below is a great battle for the ages, the culmination of the greatest war in the history of Mankind. It's not looking good at the moment, but I see the enemy clearly before me. I see my allies, struggling to hold the line against the tide. The mightiest heroes, vilest villains, wielding powers terrible and sublime while deploying wondrous weapons unseen in ages and undreamed of before now, are in that decisive moment where all is decided.

I ride neither steed nor vehicle. I wear no armor. I've shaped the very forces of nature to be my shield, turning the certain incineration of reentry into my firey aegis. My presence cannot go unnoticed by those below, and already I hear chatter confirming so. I know that the heroes below sense that this brilliant meteor is me coming home at last.

It began with a girl, a mugging, and a back-alley brawl. Then breakthroughs in technology, the revelation of alien life, the rise of a new heroic age, adventures only dreamed of as a boy made real as a man, and then war and victory and death. Now, at the end of all things, I come home one last time.

The sparks flying away from me are my tears of joy burnt away. I am come home, and I bring victory with me, for behind me is the host of the honored dead, and this is Ragnarok. Ours is the final impact. Flee, me friends, and let us finish the drive. Leave it to us! We'll let none survive.

The Magician as a Dramatic Persona

The magician is not, traditionally, treated as a heroic character. It is rarely treated as a protagonist, and then often as the lead in a tragedy (e.g. Faust, Prospero). In the realm of fantasy, this held true; Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone is a tragic character. Heroic magicians are often secondary characters, companions and mentors to a warrior protagonist. In terms of popular culture this wasn't really broken until, once again, George Lucas brought us his Star Wars trilogy that showed us the journey of Luke Skywalker from innocent farmboy to ascendant Jedi Knight (and therefore a warrior magician). Even so, Luke was not truly a heroic magician until Return of the Jedi.

However, in the years between 1983 (Jedi) and 1999 (The Phantom Menace) a sea-change occurred in the culture. From where I sit it is (again) driven by gaming primarily and by Dungeons & Dragons in particular, taking the pulp fiction influences and moving them to a very different medium of entertainment where the sensibilities and motivations are something else.

Players--gamers--aren't keen to conform to dramatic sensibilities as a class. They are far more aligned with technicians than dramatists, and as such they will discard notions that interfere with their desire and pursuit of excellence in order to defeat and overcome the challenges put to them by the game. In terms of tabletop RPGs, playing a magician (until recently) was playing on hard mode; big payoff if you made it, but you had it rough for quite a while until your power ramped up, and even then one wrong move or run of bad luck and you were done.

Coming back into dramatic media, this would (in time) rehabilitate the magician into a suitable heroic protagonist because it had a proven path of character development and a ready-made pattern for plot development. In short, the gamers showed the dramatists where the heroic drama in such a character rested.

Don't think so? Start looking at the fantasy published in the wake of Dungeons & Dragons. While the big successes, even through the 80s, still held to the old tropes you could see their gradual shedding and changing. Now? Especially with the rise of paranormal romance as a genre, and the continuing influence of Star Wars through its Expanded Universe, a heroic magician protagonist is hardly unusual. Rowling's Potter was the moment that the dam burst, and in its wake many imitators followed. Comic properties began getting adapted, to varying degrees of success. (e.g. Constantine) Doctor Strange, therefore, is a comicbook example who was ahead of his time- and his time is now.

Yes, expect more in the future, and especially more high-profile ones. (Warner Brothers should have a Zatanna movie in the talking and pitching stage right about now, and the Shazam film hits this territory while presenting a Superman-style character.) Until another significant cultural shift occurs, this will increasingly be a thing.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Characterization: Another Perspective

I hang out online with a bunch of folks, one of whom is Oliver Campbell (Rabbit in the Road, The Twisted World Verse One: The Dusk Harbinger). While in his Twitch channel the other night, he started talking about character and motivation. I wish I had recorded it.

It's hardly difficult to find books, articles, blogs, etc. on the importance of motivation in creating and conveying believable characters. It's something else to hear it taught the way he did, while playing The Binding of Issac: Rebirth, that other night.

He talked through exercises. Imagine a dude with asthma; how does that change how he things, acts, and what he worries about? This meant that you work your way into seeing things from that other individual's perspective- one that is NOT your own. Using that knowledge, you put words down that bring forth this character on the page and from the interaction of perspectives with circumstances you soon find narratives writing themselves. Once you know what motivates a character, figuring out how and why they do what they do is easy. That's how you get the narratives writing themselves, leaving only the details to has out. Knowing his perspective brings you into knowledge of that motivation.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Embrace The Wiki as a Marketing Tool

It's well-known that writers of speculative fiction, especially those exhibiting secondary worlds for their stories, take an iceberg approach to such things. They write down so many notes about things regarding the world that the lore so generated often becomes an selling point to itself; the enduring allure of Tolkien's Middle-Earth is the most famous example, but there are other examples in all the major genres- and not just written forms (e.g. Star Wars).

We no longer need to either file those papers away to be revealed never, or only long after the books that came from them have become some form of classic. We have the means, here and now, to make those papers part of an ongoing marketing effort that helps to sell not only new books in the series but also that increasingly-larger backlist of previous books. Wikis are that means.

The successful launch of Infogalactic shows that you can use the wiki technology without letting every last motherfucker on the planet having access to it. You can lock it down, and only put out what you want; the rest just get to read it. This is a way to allow you to make use of what you do with your world-building as a means of promoting yourself, your brand, your works, and those of your collaborators while you finish work on the manuscripts that you do this world-building for.

I'm going to give this a go in the near future, once I generate enough material to merit the work of putting one up. When I do, I'll put out a call for help because it'll be new to me and I could use a hand or two.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Importance of Settling Your Story

BlizzCon 2016 is this weekend, and while I'm getting all hyped about all things Blizzard I have NOT doffed my storyteller hat. The folks at Blizzard Entertainment get a lot of shit, some of it deserved, but they're also showing that they get their genres and the medium they're working within when using those genres.

Alas, the Virtual Ticket doesn't televise the tie-in product panels, because aside from some promo reel stuff about it you're not getting info about what I find to be a major positive development: the production and publication of the Warcraft setting bible, World of Warcraft: Chronicles. The first volume (on sale now

Yes, there's a follow-up coming, which I regard as a good thing for now, but that's not the point. The point is that the mess of inconsistencies behind the Warcraft property is finally getting cleaned up, and this revised bible is the foundation for future development of that property. This is what I mean by "settling your story": know how your fictional setting works, down to the nuts and bolts. My experience with doing this is that stories suggest themselves emergently just from letting the setting operate without interference. There's going to be points of conflict, and conflict is the basis for all drama, so rather than force it just let it be and work out your stories when the lawful conditions permit them.

That's it. Not hard. Just play through your postulates to their conclusions, and you'll get all the story fodder you will ever use.