What is a Wordsmith, Anyway?

Rii the Wordsmith. I always thought it had a nice ring to it. But what is a wordsmith, anyway?

A smith, dictionary defined, is one who works with metals. A blacksmith would be the guy who makes stuff out of iron and steel and whatnot. And then there’s the goldsmith, who works in gold, usually artful sorts of things. There’s not really such a thing as a leathersmith, or a silksmith, or a plasticsmith. I suppose, if you play Kingdom of Loathing, there’s meatsmithing, but otherwise that’s nonsense. Smithing seems limited to metal.

So why wordsmith?

Words aren’t so different from ore and metal bars. Language can be raw, or it can be refined. One could argue that language is more useful when it’s refined, since it can better express what is desired. Certainly, language is far prettier when refined. And words are weapons, or tools, or protection, or glamor. Words cut as well as any sword. Words can defend against such attacks as plate mail defends against the sword. Words build up others, build up nations, inspire others to action, and destroy.

Language is malleable. The meanings of words are, too, as words are bent into puns and double entendres.

And language is a craft.

Picking just the right word to complete a sentence is like picking just the right jewel to affix into the gold piece, the necklace or crown or earring. Such skill takes knowledge and an eye for beauty…or maybe an ear, in the case of words.

Why wordsmith? Because when I write, I pound out words into sentences. When I polish up, I grind off unneeded words that fly away like little metal shavings. When I put in the finishing touches, I take care with my word choice.  And when I’m done, I’m exhausted.

My first draft, and even my second draft, may not be perfect in prose. But then, if a smith were to provide his own ore, the first step would be to procure said ore, unrefined and ugly. That’s the first draft. The second step would be to refine the ore – but a gold bar is not a beautiful work of art; it’s still, in effect, a raw resource. That’s the second draft. Subsequent drafts, those are the art: pulling the gold into wire, shaping the wire, melding the wire into something of beauty, setting in gems…wordsmithing is an editing skill, primarily.

So what is a Wordsmith? Perhaps not one from whom words flow perfectly on the first try…but by the finished copy, there are no words out of place.

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Why I Made An Oath Against the Undead

It was when I was around eight or so, and it was the kind of oath that a vampire slayer might make against vampires. I mean, I’d still totally use zombies and crap in a story. I just hate them.

Undeath and evil are – or at least were, before we all apparently decided vampires and zombies are awesome and misunderstood and we all like them – closely related. Likely this is because undeath goes against nature. Dead things should stay dead.

But that’s where it gets sticky. I was explaining that dead things should stay dead and that’s why I don’t like zombies to a classmate one time – college, for frame of reference – and he pointed out that he once died for a handful of minutes in a motorcycle accident. Should he have stayed dead?

I don’t really know how to answer that question, but a part of me grumbles that it’s different. I mean, if he didn’t stay dead after a few minutes, then was he ever really totally dead in the first place? Even if he flatlined and was technically dead, and he saw heaven or whatever, if he comes back, was he really dead? I don’t know how to address that but he’s clearly not a zombie so whatever.

But there’s the other aspect that makes undeath sticky. There are people who would argue I worship a zombie (to which I indignantly reply that if you’re going to spew blasphemies, at least get them straight: He’d be a lich, thank you, what with His ability to bring back other dead and immense powers, and His returning was done by Himself. Lich. But seriously, don’t call my god a zombie OR a lich, that’s super incredibly rude and not at all funny.)  See, Christ is different from a zombie because He wasn’t brought back in undeath, He was resurrected, which is again different! (You can argue if you want, but then you’re being pedantic.)

But then…resurrection, less horrible and creepy than undeath or not, is still a matter of dead things not being dead anymore. So what’s really my beef with the undead?

Well, undeath feels like cheating to me, honestly. Cheating in, often, the most lame possible way ever. Because it’s a way of things not being defeated. Look, once you’ve been defeated and killed, you are done. You don’t get to come back! That’s bullcrap!

Aw come the frick on! How many times must I kill you?

But that’s not all, no. The undead creature I hate the most is the vampire, and that’s because vampires have had more and more powers pressed onto them as society and writers alike have decided to romanticize them – the guy comes back bigger, and badder. Except with vampires, we’re now at the point (or were, depending on who you hang out with) where vampires are basically humans but cooler in every way. I mean, sure, there’s that whole have to drink blood thing, but it’s easy to make loopholes around that. Starting with the fact that it can be sorta glossed over, I mean, vampires are immortal so it’s not like they ACTUALLY have to eat, right? (groan.) Or, like, animal blood works too, sure. Oh, also vampires get super speed and strength. For no particular reason, I mean, vampires are just cool, okay? Better than humans! Also even though a vampire is literally a dead person, who keeps the appearances of the original human they were except maybe more gaunt and definitely more pale, they’re often gorgeous. Do you know how much sense that makes? Frick, guys, we’re not talking about blood-sucking elves here!

VAMPIRES ARE LITERALLY DEAD PEOPLE. THEY ARE, IN ACTUALITY, CORPSES. To like them is NECROPHILIA. They are walking cadavers! They are stiffs that aren’t so stiff!

Ew no Buffy stop look if you don’t want to kill him that’s fine but- eeew stop no aw friggun not Spike too what is WRONG with you?

STOP ROMANTICIZING THEM!

Anyway it’s just stupid and cheap and mary-sue-ish to me. What, you die and come back way, way stronger? No. That’s cheating in the lowest, most pathetic way.

Look, I’m not saying don’t write vampires. I intend to include my own vampire mythos in my own stories. But don’t romanticize them, for the love of anything capable of loving! And also stop making them elves – remembering that elves are basically humans but better in every conceivable way. If you die, that’s a bad thing. Death is bad. Bad! So there have to be legitimate consequences. Cadavers aren’t pretty, for one thing, and if they get strength, there has to be a cost somewhere. And I’m still going to hate them, even if they’re a “good guy”, because I hate the undead.

Equivalent exchange, guys.

I have varying degrees of accepting other undead, but I’d still kill them all. Because they’re undead, and it’s an abomination against nature, a cheat, and dead things should stay dead.

Liches – these are usually sorcerers who seal their soul in a phylactery and then convert themselves to a skeletal being who are immortal and regenerate from their phylactery if destroyed. The only way to kill a lich is to destroy the phylactery, and then the lich. Or maybe the other way around, if you can do it quickly enough. Some mythos have destruction of the phylactery sufficient. Liches usually do this to themselves on purpose, so defeating them the first time around is as a lich. But then there’s almost always the matter of finding the #*$% phylactery and defeating them again. And again. That’s, uuurgh, so obnoxious! I hate it! (You are totally allowed to use this plot device. I just hate it and want to kill it for exps.)

You know, Voldemort is basically a lich with multiple phylacteries.

Zombies – nowadays we want to show zombies as friendly and funny as much as mindless monsters. But to me, a zombie is a cruel and wrongful desecration of a person’s body, using it as a weapon without their permission. Sure, some zombies retain their personality – but those zombies are jokes. And I’d still kill them for xp.

Banshees – These might have been alive once, or maybe they were just always dead, vagrant souls announcing death. Either way, wandering spirits don’t belong on the mortal plane so off you go!

Other Undead – see these get more obscure and people know them less. Revenants, wights, ghouls (if that’s not a synonym for zombie to you), constructs, etc…and they tend to have more interesting and or complex origins. But they’re still undead, still shouldn’t exist.

So I made an oath against the undead because once you’re dead, you’re done playing, you don’t get to come back, we don’t need to defeat you again, because it’s an abomination against nature. But hey, I’m also not really for murder or rape or other terrible crimes either. I’d get rid of all of those if I could. And yet, I’d also still put them in books.

Just do us a favor and don’t make it a cheap trick to bring things back to life, and please don’t make vampires blood-sucking elves who get sunburned easily.

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I LIVE!

Sorry about last week, guys. Between the lack of a computer, severe depression, and a baby who just keeps growing which apparently means one small nap a day instead of two hour-long ones is fine, it got to be Tuesday and I realized I hadn’t posted. And then I kept thinking I should figure out a way to post, even if it meant using my phone, to at least say, sorry I didn’t post. But then I didn’t. Sorry!

Anyway, today my computer replacement arrived. It’s a tablet hybrid. Its name is Pandemonium. I asked a friend what I should name it and it quickly became clear that there was no other option but to name it Pandemonium. (Why a tablet? Reasons!)

Anyway I plan on doing something to make up for last week. That something will be posts. Right now, I’m still dealing with setting everything up on Pandemonium, and also a baby who thinks that my giving a tiny device attention instead of her tiny person is criminal, so I’ll be making a proper post later. I’ll also post later in the week. The post, as inspired by the title of this post, will be on why I made an oath against the undead when I was eight or so. I hate the undead, guys. I hate them.

Thanks for continuing to read even though I missed last week! I appreciate you all beyond measure.

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The “True Name” Magic System And Why I Hate It

This isn’t like “why I don’t like female villains“. I seriously hate the “true name” system of magic.

The history of a name magic system, I believe, comes from old fairytales and styles of magic where if you knew something’s name, you had power over it. This idea has cropped up in a lot of modern works, too – I mean, it was in Dr. McNinja, Fruits Basket, Runescape (if you know a demon’s name…), World of Darkness Changelings…as a traditional style of magic, I’m okay with the idea that names have power, and that if you know something’s name you have power over it.

The “true name” system is a liiittle different because, see, there’s some sort of True Language – very often Elvish which that alone is enough to piss me off – and you have to use the [/waves hands mystically] Trooooo naaaaaaame in order to actually do magic. So basically, it’s exactly like the idea that names have power, except you now also have to learn a foreign language – but only the nouns of that language, not like, any other types of words, or grammar, or cool idioms, no – and also some sort of stupid big deal about the MC’s and other important character’s true names. Gag.

This tag is a bad idea in any name-magic systems.

Look, I get that making up a language is even harder than learning a real one (or a real fake one like Tolkien Elvish or Klingon) but you can’t half-try either of those. Well, actually you CAN half-try making up a language, but you’re going to need more than several handfuls of nouns as [/waves hands mystically] troooooo naaaaaames to show any respect for language.

Some of the problems I have with the true name magic system include:

Elvish. If your True Language is Elvish, I hate you for it. Not only does it grind on me to have elves be these super mystical pretty better than humans in every way awesome unicorn farts people – seriously? It’s so boring! Stop it! STOOOOP IIIIIT! I don’t CARE that it (arguably) worked for Tolkien! You’re not Tolkien! – not only do I hate the continuation of pristine elvish people but I hate the idea that the elven language is Best Language. One language is not better than another, okay? It’s not.

LOOK AT US! WE’RE BETTER THAN HUMANS IN EVERY WAY!!!!11!!

Oh, sure, you can argue English is a horrible language and I’ll agree with you! I’ll happily say that I like Japanese way better. All the sound units are basically always pronounced the same, there are very few irregular conjugations and stuff, I think it sounds really, really pretty…and yet I’m still typing in English, speak English, and a fairly grand portion of the world speaks, even if in addition to a different language primary or otherwise, English. And I definitely wouldn’t call Japanese the True Language and make it more mystical than English because that makes the Japanese automatically more mystical and that’s actually totally racist to do. Now apply to elves versus humans. Of course we don’t care about elvish racism but…that’s a root of why it feels so obnoxious to me. The biggest reason is still that whole mystical pretty better than us in every way bullcrap.

Also! If Elvish is the True Language, that should mean something along the lines of it being the FIRST language. Like Latin. Which means that unless there was isolation, most other languages should be branching off of it. Including the language of the humans. It should be like Itallian, French, and Spanish. Also please note that no one speaks Latin anymore. It’s a dead language. That might be indicative of where your Elvish should be.

Say the humans were cut off from the elves. The elves had Elvish and the humans had…er, Fantasylandian. But that means that Elvish and Fantasylandian are both base languages so why is Elvish the True Language? That’s just favoring the elves for no good reason. Knock it off.

Speaking of Latin – that’s another common possibility for the True Language. First of all, see above. Why are other languages – heck, like Albanian? – not the True Language? (Albanian is its own language that isn’t derived from any other.)

Second of all, that makes a weird collision with the tradition/fad of making latin/bastard latin magical.

Come on, you know what I mean when I say “bastard latin”.

Still has the same deally where it’s just the freaking name system but you have to learn [/half-hearted hand waving] true names first. You know that memorization is the lowest form of intelligence, right? In that case I’d rather see “Twas brilig, and all the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe” than “Latinus Fakicus!” (Yeah, I know I probably messed up Bandersnatch, sorry).

But okay, say I’m just being whiny and picky about languages.

What about the MC and other character’s true name?

HOW THE HECK does the MC or ANYONE get a true name? I know the idea is that everything has a true name but like, think how languages and names work. If I am born in America, I don’t have a Japanese name. You could argue that my Japanese name is with a dash after it – romanized Rii – but all that is really is the…er…Japanese-ification of my totally English name, the way they would pronounce it. It isn’t some mystical name that some magical language gave to me on my birth. It’s just my name all over again (and suddenly Rii the Wordsmith all makes sense, right?)

If this language itself is magical and assigns what would HAVE to be a totally unique name to every sentient being to be born ever – which is insane already, do you hear me? Insane! – how are you supposed to find out what it is, anyway? Is there some mystical guru who can find out for you? Why? How? Don’t answer those. It’s stupid. Can you meditate and find it? Don’t care. That’s stupid. And again, how did you get the name? Who picked it? How is it chosen? Is there a god somewhere giving everything a unique name? Do you have to talk to him to find out what your name is? If it’s so dangerous and precious, why would he tell you? More importantly, how would you ever find out anyone else’s true name?

Don’t go the opposite way and have a people who DON’T have names as that’s also ridiculous. It’s convenient and for clarity! I think there might have actually been people who didn’t bother much with names but unless you know a LOT about them, don’t try to pull it off. Especially if your target audience is, say, American or any other peoples that need names.

The original idea, as I understand it, is that knowledge is power, and that names are important.

If I know your name, I can call you and you know I am talking to you. I can refer to you when talking to someone else and they know who I mean much more easily than if I try to describe you, which might not work at all. All of your deeds are attached to your name. Your name, in a way, contains who you are. Of course that’s powerful! But some weird random other name that even I freaking didn’t know until I quested for it – how is that name supposed to have any power over me? No one knows me by that mysterious name. It’s just powerful because it’s magical? That…doesn’t make any sense.

I get that it adds a layer of protection because names ARE so convenient. We use names all the time! It’s a LOT easier for the creepy evil shade to learn your true name when it’s just your freaking name and then you’re just screwed. But adding this nonsensical mystical layer of protection is WEAK. It’s just an excuse, for you and the hero, to be more careless. Honestly, if your character lives in a world of Name Magic, he or she ought to know to be careful with their name in the first place, oughtn’t they? And their friends too, not just calling it out?

If you want to do the name system, that’s cool. It really is. Renovating tradition all the way! But please, please for the love of Satan’s second cousin, don’t do the True Name system. The name system was good enough all on its own.

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Unstable Villains

So, Antman. I liked the movie, and it made me want to write about unstable villains because the movie’s main villain was unstable, and he was well done. (Incidentally, this is one case where a supervillain caused a super hero.)

One hard part in doing unstable villains is motive; it goes back to the fact that neither insanity nor evil is a motive. Instability isn’t a motive either. Where the instability should come into play is in making bad decisions. This can be in choice of motive, but more likely and importantly, in execution of achieving that motive. If the villain wants to gain fame, he will perhaps think that dangerous and foolhardly plans, like kidnapping a celebrity and “convincing” them to include them in their show, if they want a pie they gotta go rob a bakery, are good ideas. Or, if robbing a place, the villain may use way more explosive power than necessary because they didn’t bother to think through the consequences or risks of the actions.

[SPOILER]In Darren’s case, moments of true instability are like when he’s fighting Scott in the helicopter, just firing his lasers away. It doesn’t occur to him there are several allies he might hit – or if it does occur to him, he doesn’t care. Ditto on severely damaging the helicopter itself, which he’s currently in and needs to, y’know, not crash. Although when it does, he’s fine. His pilots, which he shot because he wasn’t worrying about them as he tried to destroy Antman, were not fine. But what does that matter? He’s unstable.

Also, it would take an unstable individual to trust Hydra. I mean, come on! Hydra are bad guys! To trust them, when you don’t believe in their ideology, is incredibly foolish…but they accomplished Darren’s goal of getting money and quickly spreading his technology, not to mention sticking it to Pym.[/SPOILER]

Nothing like a group of villains that just keep springing back like a rat infestation. You think you got rid of them and…nope!

However, the biggest problem is in that poor decision making – that makes it easy for the villain to destroy himself. And as I’ve said before, that’s terrible for your story and your hero.

Which is why I liked Antman. Because they used the trope of Introduce The Forbidden Thing at the beginning of the film, the thing you should never do, and then to end the final conflict, and completed the trope with Do The Thing. (I don’t feel bad about not tagging this as a spoiler; if you don’t know that as soon as the guy says “Never ever do this ever ever ever,” it’s going to happen before the end of the movie, you should.) That means that the defeat of Yellow Jacket – Darren – was all on Scott. Darren didn’t defeat himself. He did a lot of crazy unsafe stuff, but he was still smart – he still played the chess game with Pym, he wasn’t easy to take down. The defeat was based on the skills of the protagonists.

If you want your unstable villain to be scary, use the instability as a danger factor – and only a danger factor. Of course, I’m not opposed to the Portal Boss Defeat – you can’t defeat GLaDOS or Wheatly with just your portal gun. You have to use your brains and their bombs to stun them and then remove – or add – nodes. In other words, they do give you a necessary tool to defeat them: the bombs. In Wheatly’s case, you have to get the colorful sludges, too. There’s still puzzle work on your part.

Wheatly counts as an unstable villain since he was purposefully made to make bad decisions…and those bad decisions are going to kill you. But then, the part where he kills you is…less deadly, if you move quickly, because of those same poor decisions. Yet, that’s used for comedic effect, so it’s fine.

And that’s the difference – if the unstable villain is laughing maniacally and zapping a laser without discretion, and the hero sees a mirror and some big thing hanging by a single support and tricks the villain into zapping the mirror, bouncing the laser, severing the support, and dropping the weight onto themselves, it’s still not exactly the villain defeating themselves. The hero still had to do something. Several things, actually – angle the mirror to hit the support (or know it was angled correctly), get the villain to actually aim at him, have great dexterity, enough to manage to dodge the laser, and keep the villain from realizing what the plan was (although that’s usually not hard with someone unstable.)

When you have an unstable villain, likely there is going to be some give on their part of making defeat easier for the hero due to bad decisions, but be very careful on just how much give there is, and always make up for the poor decisions allowing the villain’s defeat with several extra doses of danger. Someone who doesn’t care about the consequences will do much more to strike out at the hero – and if the hero isn’t okay with collateral damage, that can make an unstable villain all the worse.

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Now It Has A Title

Hey minions, my computer is having serious issues where it frequently and randomly turns off. It’s not a power or overheating issue. Likely it’s a something physical is seriously broken issue. I can’t buy a new one any time soon, and I’m typing this on my phone. I can’t do a full article on my phone, it’d be way too obnoxious. I’ll use a different computer tomorrow to do my article – I just saw Antman and it’ll be on unstable villains so look forward to that.

Thanks for your understanding. Also your understanding that this doesn’t currently have a title because my phone didn’t want to open the keyboard for it.

Okay. Now that my husband brought home his work Mac for me to do blog posts on, I can edit this and give it a title. I’m a PC gal, by the way, so you understand that I’m not a happy camper to be using a Mac. Look, even if you LIKE Macs, you should understand that it’s not a matter of which is better, it’s a matter of preference, and you can sympathize that I’m as unhappy using this computer as you would be using a PC. No argument necessary.

What’s that? You think next time I should just go to the library or some other public place with computers? Well, given the fact I did, in fact, manage not to eat my daughter, and she’s only 10 months old, it’s just not going to work out well for me. I’d spend all my time there entertaining her best case scenario.

It’ll be a little rough for a little while but eventually I’ll get something worked out.

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HEAT TRAPS!

I did this one, and then inked it in black sharpie. I made the mistake of using a fat-tipped one. But then it didn’t matter because it got lost when I went to scan it today. So I made a new one. But then I forgot to color the little guy in the sign black, and color the skeleton charred. Otherwise, though, I like this one better than the original one I did. Wish I had a good inking pen that wasn’t sepia-colored though. It was supposed to be a black pen!

Anyway, I present:

HEAT TRAP

As usual, you will have to click it for full size.
(This one is slightly less well-tied to the “normal” PSA – it’s, “If it’s too hot for you without shoes, it’s too hot for your dog.”)

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Mail Bombs

Sorry it’s late, friends – I had an unexpected visit from a couple of friends from out of state. Like, seriously, I heard a knock at the door, was not expecting anyone, and bam, two of my friends from out of state. It was a little distracting.

Which brings us to mail bombs.  Because they asked my husband for our address to surprise me, and said they were sending me a gift. And my husband has the teensiest bit of OCD which is based entirely in obsessing that something bad is going to happen to me. So despite the fact he knows my friends love me, and he worked in the post office for a few weeks and knows sending a mail bomb is incredibly difficult nowadays, when he texted me about getting a package and I was too busy being delighted at unexpected guests to reply, he started to worry that they had sent me a mail bomb.

Remember, he can recognize this obsession is ridiculous and still believe it because that’s OCD.

Anyway it got me thinking about mail bombs and villains sending them. The thing about a mail bomb is that it’s an unexpected surprise of an unpleasant sort. When the hero gets it, they probably have no reason to expect it’s a bomb and will likely just open it. And the thing about bombs is that if you’re holding it when it explodes, there’s really no chance of you making it out of that alive. You’re blown up. Game over.

Really, that should be the case with all bombs in general, supernatural powers aside.

A parceled bomb? Boom. The end.

The thing about bombs is that they’re a cheap shot, which of course your villain would use. Especially a mail bomb surprise.

The thing about a cheap shot is that they’re quite hard to justify a hero’s escape, and the best way to keep your hero alive is to avoid putting him up against things like bombs altogether. However, if it was possible for your villain to do some simple mail bomb and he didn’t, you get the “why didn’t they just shoot Voldemort” kind of problem.

How It Should Have Ended thought he should have been shot, too.

How It Should Have Ended thought he should have been shot, too.

Why didn’t the villain just, y’know, blow up the hero, or otherwise take the cheap shot? Like I mentioned, it’s actually really hard to mail something like a bomb to someone nowadays so if you’re writing modern fiction, it’s not like a mail bomb is a super viable solution that you’d have to worry about. But watch for obvious solutions you’re ignoring because you can’t figure out how your hero survives them. That just makes your villain weak, which makes your hero weak.

If your villain can kill off your hero easily, he needs to do it. And if you can’t afford to kill your hero, you need to come up with a good reason why either your hero survives or an excellent reason why your villain doesn’t try to take the cheap shot. It is possible that your villain could just have a higher moral standard than that, or be psychotic enough to prefer a proper game of cat and mouse.

This guy (Rubicante, Final Fantasy IV) heals you before battle because he wants to fight you at your full strength. He’s weirdly a gentleman that way – it’s not even a hundred percent about his proper battle prowess against yours, it’s in part about being considerate before he kills you.

You don’t ever want your readers or critics wondering, “Well why didn’t he just ____?” I mean, that’s the big thing with LOTR.

You know what I’m talking about. “Why didn’t they just have the eagles fly the ring?”

So look out for an easier way and make sure you have a viable reason as to why either hero or villain didn’t just take it. Especially villains with a cheap shot.

And maybe if it’s just far too easy for your villain to kill your hero…your hero needs to be killed and someone else must rise up or take over. Kill your darlings, Stephen King said – killing the main hero is a unique enough of an occurrence that it could be worth your while to try…and it could be that it’s just what your story needs.

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