Friday, October 27, 2017

Making the Setting: The Villains of the Piece (Part One)

This post follows on from this post I did a few weeks ago. Since that post, there's been one change worthy of noting here: the agreed-upon title is "Archduke", not "Duke"; the former is for the head of the house, while the latter is for the heads of the vassal families immediately under him as well as that of the heir apparent.

There's a thread running through this setting from the ancient past to the far future: the consequences of Genesis 6. The angels that went AWOL on God because the local women were too hot to resist never repented of their errors. Instead, they lied about it, doubled-down, and projected their failings on to others. In the time immediately before the Coming of the Azure Flames, these angels returned to the world and renewed the very activities that got them imprisoned in the first place. It is due to their actions that an otherwise flawless plan by the other notable bunch of fallen angels to do their Pinky & The Brain impression failed so dramatically and unleashed the worst of the Nephilim--the demon Legion--upon the world (in the form of a zombie apocalypse). (Lew's not happy about that.)

During these times, some peoples took the promises of false gods and other saviors and escaped certain death in exchange for loyal service; many of these were also of that same bunch of fallen angels, playing those roles, aiming to establish herds of their own to play with as they wish. The more far-sighted and capable of them took their herds off-world, establishing Conveniently Human Aliens for Mankind to encounter once Earth got sorted and going to the stars once more became a viable course of action.

What does this do?

  • A single point of origin for Evil.
  • A single point of origin for "non-humans": they're corrupted Men. (Hybrids, if you will.)
  • A believable explanation for other setting elements: a lack of AI (too easily possessed, as they are soulless egos), why undeath is a bad thing (it's not really you, but a specific demon running your body like a corpse-puppet; think like you're playing one in a game), Full-Conversion Cyborgs require the blessing of the Church (too close to death), a taboo on the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (part practical and part dogma; irradiated land can't be settled, and "Steward of Creation" dogma applied on the stellar scale)
  • A Big Bad you can punch in the face, good and hard, like Superman can do to Darkseid. Even if you can't truly destroy them, you can beat the crap out of them and put them down for a long time. (And I haven't decided if true death is beyond a protagonist to do or not, yet; this is just for necessary reader morale purposes.) If Tolkien can do this with Morgoth and Sauron, I can do this sort of thing too.

The fundamental thread here is that of violating taboos in the name of some seaming good because the consequences cannot be seen, or if seen then accepted. Fear, pride, envy- all common elements in tales where these guys have a presence, even when not literally present. Same as it ever was, but concrete in forms that the Fall From Eden is not to a lot of people. From here, we can branch off into other themes and motifs.

Friday, October 20, 2017

On The Books: "Fanfiction to Pro Fiction"

Dragon-Award winner and nominee Brian Niemeier presented a new episode of "On The Books" this past Wednesday. He has on author Lucas Flint, and they spent the episode talking about the transition from writing fan fiction as a hobby to writing professionally as a fiction writer.

Those who wish to make that transition will find it easier to do so now than at any time previously. While the necessary requirement to develop professional-grade skills at writing still exist, and the increasing need to develop related skills in marketing and book development (editing, etc.) are complicating things, once you have something to put to market you are able to do so without needing a publisher thanks to Amazon (and others).

This is not to be dismissed lightly. Every time I talk about forking Star Wars (or, as Seth MacFarlane has done, Star Trek), that's a clear signal that there is an opportunity for fan writers who are ready and able to make that jump waiting to be seized and exploited.

I can't say that there's a similar rise in opportunities for doing Work For Hire on those franchises you write fan fiction about, as I'm not as tuned into the Work For Hire scene, but if you're willing to play the Hired Gun game then have at it. Just don't get an ego about it, like Karen Traviss did; it's rumored (which means "Some blather on the Internet", so don't get your hackles up) that the new Star Wars canon change of Jango and Boba Fett to be merely pretenders to being Mandalorean is to undo that damage.

What I can say is that this is a fantastic time to be a professional writer, be it of fiction or non-fiction or both, due to that lack of gatekeepers choosing winners and losers for any reason other than commercial viability. (Looking at you, Big 5.) For any of you looking to make your writing pay some bills, making that leap is easier now than ever before. Even if it just covers what you spend on groceries or the water bill, you're already ahead of the game and success as a professional writer. Go for it, and don't be shy; you'll find friends and allies along the way willing and able to help you succeed.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Hired Guns and Intellectual Property

Let's talk about the problem that Lucasfilm has with Darth Vader.

Like Boba Fett, Darth Vader has become a meme-infused character due to fan enthusiasm born of his depictions in the Original Trilogy of films. In the first film, he was just a heavy for the film's actual villain: Grand Moff Tarkin. Aside from interactions with Obi-Wan Kenobi, he didn't exhibit the character that fans came to love from him yet. That arrived with The Empire Strikes Back, and his humanization came with Return of the Jedi.

The Expanded Universe is mostly to blame for turning Darth Vader into the meme monster that he's become, which fueled (and got fueled by) the Prequel Trilogy. Early on George Lucas hired people to write stories to expand the property, and stories featuring Darth Vader became and remained very popular due to audience demand. The result is what we've seen (post-Disney buyout) with the Darth Vader comics, where the Ascended Fans who went professional and now write as hired guns for Lucasfilm or one of its licensees give up the version of Vader that Rogue One summarized so succinctly in that now-famous sequence at the very end of the film.

I'm talking about this because, if you are at all serious about paying bills by writing fiction, then you're going to consider taking Work For Hire contracts. That's you as a hired gun, and you're not only following the orders of the paymaster, you're also using their material to do your work. You are using your skills as a creator to produce product that the paymaster owns, and (by default) get no residuals after the fact; if you do your part, you get paid and have something to point to for future Work For Hire contracts.

Yet you are on the hook, so far as the audience cares, for anything in that book. Just as R.A. Salvatore about having a moon dropped on Chewbacca in Vector Prime. It's one thing to get flak over something that is utterly yours. It's something else to get it when all you did was follow another's orders, which is what you're doing when you're writing Darth Vader.

The other problem comes from your hired gun status also. Be it writing a novel, a script, or whatever you're not the shot-caller; you have some wigging room, but you're still just someone else's tool used to make their vision happen. Sometimes that means you get stuck facilitating something that doesn't make narrative sense because it's good for business (such as all the Vader and Fett stuff), and it becomes your job to make it work as they intend- to use your creative skills to trouble-shoot their problem.

If you get a reasonable liason representing the property owner, this can be mostly painless; by all accounts, Christie Golden's relationship with Blizzard Entertainment was fantastic (she's now on the payroll as an employee) and Timothy Zahn continues to have a good one with Lucasfilm. Likewise, poor ones can be disastrous; bail as soon as you can and never go back.

So, if you get an opportunity to get hired to write sanctioned fan-fic for a property, don't turn it down out of hand; it worked well for Jon del Arroz, Jeff Grubb, Timothy Zahn, Richard Knack, R.A. Salvatore, and many others- Walter B. Gibson being the most successful example. Take the bad experiences as the cautions that they are, and watch for the red flags. Writer Beware, but Fortune Favors The Bold.

Friday, October 6, 2017

On The Books: "How To Polish Your Prose" w/ Brian Neimeier

There's not much for me to add here. You can listen to this over your lunch break, so find a quiet-enough niche and so do. Brian goes over common misconceptions of what makes a story readable and relatable to the audience. In short, that literary fiction bullshit you learned at University is wrong. If you actually want your writing to let you pay bills, buy you stuff, or put gas into the tank then that means writing prose that Just Fucking Works. Less Fine Dining bullshit, More Denny's solid food service.