Do You Want to Build A Language?

Hello, Readers! This is Tyler again. As Rii is still focusing her alternate endeavors, I want to take this opportunity to do some more blog posts on conlanging.

In my posts last week, I mentioned that creating a good conlang is staggeringly difficult. So I want to give you some tips to aide you if you decide to undertake creating a language.

Where do you begin when inventing a language? I like to take a bottom up approach, starting with the sounds of the language and building up words and grammar from there. If you’ve studied any foreign language, you will probably have an idea that not every language has every sound possible for a human to make. For example, English does not have the German ue, whereas German does not have the English w. It’s not too hard to add sounds from languages other than your own, because they’re exciting and new and who doesn’t love that? But sometimes it can be almost torturous to exclude sounds that we are familiar with. How can you exclude something so basic as say an ‘m’? You can’t have the word ‘malevolent’ without an ‘m’, and is that really the kind of language we want to live in?

There is a good reason (beyond making it more natural) to kill your darlings and omit sounds from your language. Take Parseltongue from Harry Potter. It is supposed to be a language used to speak with snakes. If you listen to the examples we have in the movies you’ll notice that there are a lot of s’s and sh’s as well as a lot of vowels which are made without moving your jaw much. It is missing pretty much any sound that requires lips (like p and b). The overall effect is that it sounds like we would imagine a snake speaking because it has a very hiss-like quality to it. That effect is achieved largely through the choice of sounds available to the language. If you’re trying to write a stereotypical orcish language you might decide to use a lot of hard sounds like p, b, d, and g and have relatively few vowels. The IPA reference chart can be a very useful tool in your attempt to choose the sounds which can give your language the right feel.

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Although it does take a bit of time to learn what all the symbols mean.

Another thing to consider is what combinations of sound are allowed, and what sounds aren’t. Consider “brick”. I’m sure you know that “brick” is an English word, although “br” is not a sound combination in other languages. Likewise, “blick” which isn’t an English word, could be. It shouldn’t sound so weird to you that you couldn’t imagine it meaning something, regardless of whether or not it does now. “Bnick”, on the other hand, is not an English word, and doesn’t look or sound like it could be. “Bn” is not a valid English combination. So once you’ve chosen the sounds available to your language, choose some combinations that aren’t allowed.

You can begin to see why creating a good conlang is so hard. We’ve had to make a lot of choices so far, and we haven’t even started coming up with words yet!

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When Conlanging is the Best

In the last post I talked about conlang cons. Let me now tell you some of the benefits of conlanging.
First off, creating a conlang can be loads of fun. You can get really creative and do some really interesting things when creating a language. Is there some part of your native language that you hate? You can fix that problem in your conlang. Want to sneak in little inside jokes into the language? Go ahead. Make the name of your most hated high school teacher a swear word. Maybe it’s just because I’m a huge nerd, but conlanging is one of my favorite hobbies.

Not only can it be fun for you, but there are segments of the readership that will have loads of fun learning your language if it is well made and fleshed out. I knew someone who was fluent in Quenya and they would take their notes for class in the elven language. As I mentioned before, people have translated Hamlet into Klingon. Beyond just giving them ways to continue to love your story when they are done reading, you can also hide little gems in your story for the readers dedicated enough to learn the language. Maybe your villain reveals part of their plot in their native language because they know the heroes can’t speak their language and it gives them joy to mock them. Maybe a character’s name has symbolic meaning that is only clear if you understand the language. These little rewards for dedicated readers really helps the readers feel like you care about them, which helps build your following.
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Also stuff like this.

Okay, okay, we’ll more on to more practical reasons now.

Conlanging does wonders for worldbuilding. Have you ever watched a movie and thought “Wow, it sure is convenient that everyone here speaks the same language”? I know I have. Some books get around this by having universal translators but this seems like a bit of a cop out to me. I mean, showing that there are different languages on your world (and even more importantly in your galaxy if you’re doing sci-fi) makes it feel leaps and bounds more real. I might be off by one or two, but there are about a majillion languages on Earth. It always breaks my suspension of disbelief when a whole planet somehow just has one. It might be a small break, but it can separate a good story from a great story.

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Sometimes the translator is in fish-form. Although satires kind of get a free pass.

Another way conlanging’s benefit to worldbuilding can be astronomical is in making you really think about the history and cultures behind your story. English is a frankenstein’s monster of a language because of the history of England. The differences between Gheg and Tosk Albanian are mainly due to the fact that the Romans deported a large portion of the population to Tuscany for several centuries and when their descendants returned their Albanian had been influenced much more by Latin than those who remained behind. Have you ever thought about how “village” and “villain” look so similar? That is not by accident. Villain was originally a term for the bumpkins in the country. Since the people in the cities presumed them backwards and violent it had a negative connotation. And now that the original prejudice has at least diminished the two words are mostly disconnected in our societal consciousness, but villain has retained its negative meaning. Thinking about nuances like that forces you to examine your cultures and histories and ask why do they speak the way they do. Maybe they have no concept (and hence no word) for sarcasm, but ten different words for traitor because they’ve had a lot of political intrigue in their past. Maybe their geography means they have many different words for different types of rocks and sand, but very few words for water. You can learn a lot about a people from their language. And even if no one notices those linguistic quirks, you still benefit from critically examining the culture and history of your story.

So should you have a conlang in your story? That is, of course, up to you. Weigh the pros and cons and see if it’s worth the immense effort for your story.

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When Conlanging is the Worst

Hello, Readers! Tyler here again, and this time I want to talk a little bit about conlanging.

Conlang is short for constructed language. In other words, a conlang is any language intentionally constructed to convey meaning rather than “natural” languages that have evolved over time. English, Spanish, German, Albanian, Japanese, these are all natural languages. No one sat down and said “Well, Bob, I think we should invent English to communicate with one another.” English kind of just happened.

This is not the same thing as, say, Klingon. Klingon didn’t just come into being over time as people learned to associate certain combinations of  sounds to certain concepts. Klingon was constructed for the purpose of being an alien language in Star Trek.

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And it is so well developed that it is possible to translate entire books into it.

There are lots of conlangs out there, and while some of them were developed for “serious” “real world” use, like Esperanto and Lojban, I want to focus more on languages like Klingon, Sindarin, Quenya, Dothraki, and Atlantean which were created for works of fiction. Why did the authors decide to go through the trouble of making up a whole new language? And what things should you consider when deciding whether or not to add a conlang to your story?

 

Let’s start with the arguments against using a conlang. The first one, and I cannot stress this enough, is that creating a (quality) conlang is really, really hard. Sure, you can throw a bunch of made-up words together and just throw them onto the page and not think about it any more. I suppose that would probably be okay if the conlang is only supposed to show up once or twice and there isn’t much to “translate” into the conlang. But if it is going to be used as frequently as Klingon or Sindarin that probably won’t cut it. Because most of the benefits of a good conlang are a result of the hard work required to make it good. In some cases it might simply not be worth it. Sometimes it would just be better to mention that the character is speaking a different language and leave it at that.

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Because if you’re going to make the effort, you can’t go halfway. You will have readers who will put in the effort to learn your conlang. And if it doesn’t make sense, if it’s clear that you just threw some sounds together and slapped it on the page it will pull those readers out of the story. You will lose that reader’s trust and they will probably think twice before picking up any of your work again. And thanks to the internet, some of their frustration might lead others to not pick up your book.

But say that doesn’t bother you. Or maybe you take great effort and make the perfect, unassailable conlang. Either way there are still potential problems with adding a conlang to your story. I call this problem the Tolkien effect. When Rii and I were reading LotR together we ended up skipping large sections of the text. I can handle little pieces of a language that I don’t know but… when you have whole poems and songs that occur (seemingly) every other page I just lose interest. And when you have paragraph after paragraph of Gimli explaining that this mountain is called such and such by men, and such and such by elves, but the dwarves call it such and such and the mountain next to it is called such and such by men and such and such by elves but such and such by dwarves and the mountain next to that is called…. man it makes me cringe just remembering it. Sure, there are LotR fans who love it. But there’s a reason why the Kingdom of Loathing (which satires everything) makes mention of a “fantasy storybook that reads like the Bible” and the PC also skips all the songs. It’s rarely a good thing when you make your reader want to skip part of your book out of boredom. Finding that sweet spot between “why did you even bother to come up with this if you’re not going to use it” and “I GET IT, YOU INVENTED A COOL LANGUAGE” can be terribly difficult.

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“Alright, so you made a cool language, stop rubbing our noses in it.”

So, in summary, incorporating a conlang into your story well is dauntingly difficult. A lot of the time it only serves as a diversion at best and a major distraction at worst for your readers. But there must be benefits too, right? If it’s so difficult, why would so many authors and creators do it? Let’s discuss that tomorrow.

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All it Takes is One Bad Day

Hello again, Readers! This is Tyler. Today I want to talk about the (uncomfortably) thin line between heroes and villains.

The Killing Joke is one of the most popular and acclaimed of all Batman comics (and if my facebook feed is to be believed one of the most hated of Batman animated movies). The plot of the comic revolves around the Joker attempting to prove something to the world: that all that separates us from him is one bad day. One bad day could turn any one of us into the Joker.

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And who can blame him for thinking that when all it took was losing his hair to create the other biggest villain around DC?

I find this to be an interesting and fascinating idea. I tend to think of myself as a (mostly) good person (and really, who doesn’t?). But could I be pushed over the edge to become evil? Is there some combination of circumstances that would drive me to crime? I would like to think that the answer to that is “no”, but… What would I be willing to do if my wife or daughter were in danger? If a terrorist told me to push a button that would detonate a bomb and kill millions or else he would put a bullet in Rii’s head, if I am painfully honest with myself I’m not 100% certain that I wouldn’t.

There are countless examples in our society of people, good people, who turned to crime when they felt they had no other options left. What that meant, what pushed them that far, was at least slightly different for each person. But there was a point where they lost that moral battle. They experienced the Joker’s bad day.

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He was a Jedi, until he had some bad dreams and stuff.

 Now, I don’t think that the Joker was ultimately right. I think that there are people who could be run through hell and back and not give in. But I think that the Joker was much more right than anyone is really prepared to accept.

Take, for example, Superman. He is the quintessential boyscout. He is the embodiment of all that is good in the American experience, often even more so than Captain America. This is why so many Superman fans are unhappy with the Man of Steel Superman. We see Superman as an incorruptible good, the perfect counter to the Joker’s hypothesis.

Except that he’s not. In the two part Justice League episode titled “A Better World” we see an alternate reality version of Superman who is pushed beyond his limits. Lex Luthor is elected President of the United States and manages to kill the Flash. When Superman confronts Luthor, Luthor says that Superman has been his greatest accomplice. At any time, the Man of Steel could have killed Luthor and ended his evil schemes, but instead he just kept throwing Lex in jail knowing that it was only a matter of time before he escaped to continue his plots. The Flashes death was Superman’s fault for not truly stopping Luthor a long time ago. Faced with this argument and filled with rage over the death of his friend, Superman kills Luthor and goes on to change the Justice League into the Justice Lords, a totalitarian group that turns the world into a 1984 style dystopia in the name of stopping crime. Superman definitely becomes the bad guy.

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And everyone else follows suit. But I mean Superman is pretty terrifying so he could sure make a bad day for someone else, so I’m not surprised.

Now, our timeline Superman and the Justice League stop the Justice Lords, and it’s implied that this Superman wouldn’t do the same thing. But really, the only reason for that is that he isn’t put in the same situation. Superman himself admits that he can see how his alternate reality self came to the decisions he did. It was not some other Superman who turned evil. It was our Superman, put through a sufficiently bad day.

Point to any fallen hero type villain and you can trace what it was that was enough to push them over the edge. For Anakin Skywalker it was the Jedi deciding to kill the one man he thought could save his wife. For Harvey Dent in The dark Knight it is the death of Rachel in what seemed like a pointless and cruel whim of fate (helped along by a little prodding from the Joker). For Sauruman the White the dawning fear that Sauron could not be defeated caused him to turn to evil to try to survive.

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If you can’t beat them, join them as creepily as possible.

There are two interesting questions to be asked here. The first is this: if (nearly) anyone can be pushed to evil by circumstances bad enough, how accountable are your villains for their actions? How much of the blame is on the villain, and how much is on the circumstances that pushed them to be who they are?

But the more important question, I feel, is what would it take to topple your heroes? Whenever you write a story with a hero, ask yourself what it would take to drive them over the edge. What is their bad day? Of course, your answer might be “they couldn’t fall”. I suppose that’s possible. But it’s also less likely and, frankly, makes for a much less interesting character. Because if you know what could push your character over the edge, if you know where that thin line between hero and villain lies, you can push your hero as close to that line as possible and watch the wonderful, complex stories that can result. Much more interesting to me than the boyscout who can do no wrong is the hero who confronts their dark side and comes out on top. It makes them feel much more real, and ultimately more heroic. If you aren’t tempted it’s easy to do what’s right. I want to see a hero who could fall make the decisions and choices that will let them continue to stand.

Even if you decide not to push your hero that far, the knowledge you gain about them in thinking about how you would do it will help you to be able to write them better. And that is always a good thing.
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Viva la Revolution!

Hey minions!

A member of my writing group shared this article with us: 10 Lessons from Real Life Revolutions that Fictional Dystopias Ignore. It was a pretty good read, so I’d thought I’d share it, especially since that’s the genre of the day.

That said, I wanted to add my own two bits: one, remember to brush up on The Human Predicament before you write about an overhaul of the government.

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“I’m talking about an overhaul of the system. Putting the power in…different hands.”

If you’re too lazy to do so, lemmie sum up for you: the more things change, the more they stay the same. You kick out one corrupt government, and another one moves in. You remember The Hunger Games? You know how Pres. Snow was an evil douchebag and he was totally corrupt? And for those of you who read the books, you know how wannabe Pres. Coin was equally corrupt and honestly just as much a douchebag in a different way? Yeah. You kill Snow, you get Coin. Or you shoot Coin and trample Snow and hope your world is slightly less craptastic, whatever. Either way you see in history that it’s only a matter of time before we rinse, wash, and repeat. I guess that’s just how humans are.

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Though killing both evil presidential candidates is not always an option.

You also gotta remember – and this always bears repeating so I’m saying it even though it’s #9 on the link I posted – that just killing a figurehead isn’t going to do the trick. You think you kill the evil overlord and it’s over? He had, what, an entire evil empire? You think that just goes away when you kill the top guy? Hah.

Not that slaying the evil overlord isn’t a fancy way to end a book, but don’t leave off like everything is better when it’s not.

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Even if you did fight Emperor Ghestal – the guy falling off the cliff – you’d STILL have Kefka. But he did the job for you.

Finally, if you’re only writing a dystopia because they’re the soup de jour…you miiight want to look up what experts have to say about writing a soup de jour book in the middle of its popularity – usually, at least what I’ve heard, it’s “don’t” because it’ll be out of chic by the time you get it to market, so just a heads-up there. You can look to the vampire fad as an example. My own personal belief is that if you’re doing it because it’s Your Book, the One You Want to Write, then hey, write it. Vampire sci-fi dystopia that will be out of style tomorrow but is your passion – well, it’s gonna have your soul in it, right? So it’s still worth writing. But I also am not the person to take marketing advice from (what I said at the beginning of the paragraph is parroted from other people, not my personal advice) so y’know, maybe if you write something with all your love and passion, it’ll be turned away for being out of style…but it’s still my belief that you should write what you love to write, what’s in your heart trying to burst out. And maybe if you take the time to write a dystopia well with all these bits that always get ignored, you’ll stick out enough it won’t matter that there’s a million other dystopias out there, or if they’re even still the genre of the day.

A note – October is also Inktober – it’s like NaNo, where you ink a picture every day. I’m more a writer than an artist (though I can draw fairly well) so it’s something I’d normally ignore…but there’s a comic about mental illnesses that I keep thinking about and thinking about and feeling like I should really actually draw it. This means that I’m not planning on writing posts in October. I’ll see if Tyler can post some, but I’m going to put all my focus into making this comic.

Thanks for your support. Good luck bringing down the castle!

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A Toddler Is Not A Villain: Tyrants

A toddler is not a villain, even if they are a tyrant.

But just like babies, a toddler suffers from lack of development. It’s a little different; my kid is starting to know right from wrong, even with our communication barriers. She gets into trouble and does things she knows she’s not supposed to do – but sometimes, I tell her not to do something and I don’t think she understands I mean to never, ever do it, like stand in the bottom kitchen drawer to get at things on the kitchen counter.

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Or anything that has drawers for that matter.

And of course there are tantrums. I gotta say I have it pretty good since my kid doesn’t throw them super often and actually not for particularly long…but she’s also not quite two yet, and I am starting to see an increase in frequency, so I guess we’ll see. The thing about tantrums is that they’re not really so much an action of evil or anything as an unbridled expression of big emotions.

When my kid is “naughty” – does something we both know she knows she’s not supposed to – I understand that she is just starting to learn about actions and consequences, cause and effect. She’s not supposed to Do The Thing, but why, what does that mean? This is new. She gets a pass, morally, for misbehaving – she’s not a villain when she does something she knows is wrong because her motivation for doing it anyway neglects a full understanding of “wrong” and “consequences” and is driven by curiosity. That’s an innocent intention, not an evil one, even if it can have evil results.

When my kid throws a tantrum, she doesn’t know any better how to express her emotions. But even when an adult throws a tantrum, it’s pretty much the same thing. It’s just unrefined behavior. It’s unpleasant, but not the makings of a villain. Heck, even I have drama queen tantrums sometimes. I’ll bet you know people who do that too.

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Or have seen them on TV.

But the tyrant thing…My whole life is often centered on that kid. I’m like her servant, her handmaid – well, you’ve heard all the things a mom does a million times I’m sure. I don’t get to stay as late as I’d like because I have to go home and put the kid to bed. I have a tough time enjoying flow in writing because my kid interrupts me. She needs me to feed her RIGHT NOW. To change her RIGHT THIS SECOND. To hold her RIGHT NOW. To read her this book, get her X thing, go with her to X place, go on a walk, call grandma! Right now. If I don’t, she’ll cry. (Maybe. She’s a good kid.) Sure, I can say, “Tough break, kid!” and I often do, but she’s a tyrant who still often runs my life.

And tyrants are always evil, right?

But…my kid is just almost two. An almost two year old can only do so much to take care of herself – sure, she can find food sometimes, if I didn’t put the bag of cheerios out of reach, but she’s got nothing on hygiene or much in basic survival skills – she thinks a knife is a fun toy and doesn’t really know how to not get hit by a car. She’s a tyrant because she has to be to get enough attention to survive.

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Never leave the bag of cheerios in her reach.

It’s not even an age thing. When you’re a caretaker, it’s a hard job, and the people who depend on you react differently to being dependent. Someone who had major surgery might be a tyrant, or any other kind of patient, or the infirm and elderly or disabled. Sometimes they might not mean to be, or they might be reacting to how much they hate being dependent or another factor.

And that brings up an interesting point – how evil is someone who should know better but doesn’t?  How evil is someone who is mostly a product of their upbringing? And at what point does a tyrant become evil?

That last question – that’s a good one to ask, since there are things we hold as synonymous with evil, that aren’t actually, and we really need to stop viewing it that way if for no other reason than, as artists, it gives us more range with which to work. If you assume a tyrant is always evil, you have made a Villain Box. Saying tyranny is always bad is a moral judgement, not an objective fact. It’s not necessarily a bad call – it’s one I’d generally agree with – but parsing the two allows you diversity. Likewise, is a tyrant always an evil person? I think the answer depends on how strongly correlated evil acts and motive of all sorts are to you. If it’s not black and white, then the answer could be no.

I don’t watch Game of Thrones* but I hear that this kid

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behaves an awful lot like a tyrannical little toddler. Buuut I also hear that he’s one of the most hated villains. If he behaves like a toddler and my kid behaves like a toddler, but only one of the two tyrants is really a villain…

Yeah. Motivation counts for a lot. The more you develop, the more you ought to know, the more complex your motivation becomes. When you know better, you’re supposed to do better. Sometimes what “do better” means is confusing, and that’s how you get the gray tyrants. But it’s just more to say that evil acts alone do not a villain make.

* Please don’t try to convince me I’d like it. I wouldn’t. Why?

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Let’s just say reasons.

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Gonna Be So Pop-ular

Hey, Readers. This is Tyler again. Sorry for the delayed post. I volunteered to write the post so Rii could focus on more important writing stuff (like her WIP). I then proceeded to flounder at finding a topic and failed to deliver the post in time for it to go out on Monday like it’s supposed to.

I failed my overlord. In most stories, this would mean my head wouldn’t remain connected to the rest of my body for long. It’s a trope that we see over and over again, so often as to be a bit cliche. And I get why it exists. The overlord is soooooo evil that they don’t care about the lives of their minions, and even the slightest failure must be punished swiftly brutally to scare the troops into perfection.

Really, this is a symptom of a larger villain trope. More often than not, villains are social outcasts. They’re angry loners who scare away anyone and everyone that might want to get close. They don’t understand the power of friendship, etc, etc, mind-numbing etc. They are often completely unequipped to interact with others outside of intimidation and threats. And all too often the only exceptions to this are calculated exceptions.

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Exhibit A

These sorts of villains can play the social game. They can play it to perfection, molding people like clay between their fingers. They can schmooze with the rich people and inspire the masses. They can turn aside their bitterest enemies with just the right words and smiles. But make no mistake: it is just a game to them. Get them alone and they feel the same way as any other villain does. People are beneath them. People are tools to be used when useful and discarded as soon as they are no longer necessary. Lex Luthor has as much disdain for, well pretty much everybody, as Voldemort has for Muggles. He’s just better at hiding it.

A rare treat indeed is the villain who actually cares about people. This villain goes to parties not to (or at least not exclusively to) advance some scheme of theirs, but because they genuinely like to hang out with others in a social setting. This villain gives their minions a raise because they want them to have better lives. People flock to this villain because they genuinely care and work to improve their lives. This is the villain that people cheer, that makes people question if the heroes stopping their scheme can even really be called heroes. Isn’t that villain much more terrifying than the one who flips out and kills his minions at the drop of the hat?

If it seems hard for you to wrap your head around someone who can simultaneously be so genuinely nice and caring and also the most evil person on the block, remember that people come in almost every flavor under the sun. Villains are people too. Many villains hide behind the “making the world better” mantra, but they really are only using it to justify the desire they already had to rule. But what if your villain does genuinely undertake what they are doing because they want to make the world a better place and don’t see any other way.

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Notice he doesn’t say, “I need to rule the world…boy it sure is a mess! Yeah, that’s a good angle. People can get behind that!”

Tropes are tropes for a reason. But maybe you can try to make a villain who really is a good person outside of their villainy and see what kind of story they have to tell. I bet you’d be pleasantly surprised.

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Neuter Your Story

Hello all – today’s post is late because it was labor day. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Anyway I have another writing exercise for you born out of a mistake I made. There was a contest on a website that included writing. I thought about just drawing something because I’m a big scardy-cat when it comes to entering a writing contest (I’ve entered scores of art contests so it doesn’t even bother me when I don’t win now, I just depend on the fact that I won’t and am pleasantly surprised when I somehow get 3rd place) but on recognizing that I’m a big scardy-cat, I decided it was time to push myself to do something scary with writing. I mean if I can’t even enter a stupid contest with a stupid story I whipped up for it, how can I ever get myself to query? (Because they’re somehow totally different in my head, that’s how.)

So I look at the story requirements. They’re pretty open – 5,000 words on the theme of an  adventure set in the website’s world. I come up with the idea to write a story about kids playing a pretend adventure in the park and become attached to it, especially as it’s adorable and fun to write slipping in and out of reality fluidly, with gems like a character about to “fall off a cliff” and one of the others yells they’ll save her, pause, realize she never came up with a character name, wait for her to calmly make one up, and then proceed to “save” her. It was cute and fun to write and I was so proud of myself when I managed to stay well below the 5k word limit. I was only like 3.8k or something.

I finish, I send it to Tyler and to my mom to proofread, they both like it and give me some suggestions, I implement what I wanna, and go to submit it…

only to realize that it’s a 5,000 CHARACTER limit, not word.

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Really, I should have realized that for this circumstance, 5k words would have been insanely high. I even had thought, “Wow, 5k is generous…” on seeing the limit.

It’s only a few days before the deadline. I mean granted it’d only been like two weeks when they announced the contest but still. I panic. Should I just come up with a new story? But I feel less than confident to come up with an idea I liked as much, and writing the original short story had already been like pulling teeth for me. No. I’m in love with this cute kid idea.

So I abridge it. I have to axe so many of my favorite parts. I have to axe a whole character, the one who pauses the game of make-believe to make up a name, and also retcons things about her character when they become inconvenient. I have to axe the zombie kid literally losing her arm when she pretends it was bitten off by a monster (Yes, I don’t like zombies, but they’re a legit race in the website’s world, and I was trying to be diverse. Also they’re pretty different from “undead” the way I hate them) and I have to cut out half the locations they visit. No matter how hard I try to re-write it, the whole story is clipped. It would probably be anyway, even if I wrote a different story. It’s insanely difficult for me to write something THAT short when I’ve just figured out short stories.

You know what the real kicker is? All the submissions for all the categories come in and writing has like fifty million submissions and art had like, I don’t know, two dozen or something. And I DID have a pretty cool art idea that I’m fairly certain I could have pulled off.

Anyway I spent a couple days angsting about having to neuter my story and then I let it go. Participating had been an exercise in forcing me out of my comfort zone and practicing writing something short; I hadn’t expected to win, even if I really hoped I might. But it wound up being something more than those two things.

I had to do an exercise in cutting straight to the marrow of the story. Through the meat and fat and straight to the bone and then past that too. I had to find the barest functional elements of what I wanted to tell. I had to kill so, so many darlings. I thought I’d mostly mastered killing my darlings but this was difficult for me, so apparently, there are still other kinds of darlings with which I struggle.

I can honestly say I think the first story I wrote was better. I mean, the whole point of my meat analogy is that the meat is the part you want to keep. When you have a skeleton, you have to put some meat on it. Skeleton’s just an outline. (Then what’s the marrow? errr…)

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But it did get me to see what parts of the story I really cared about, what characters were really necessary. The work was reminiscent of my long labors on procuring the perfect elevator pitch for my WIP. How do you boil a whole book down into a sentence or two?

I also struggle with my novels with a scene that drags. There are many reasons a scene will drag – in my case, it’s often just because I’m long-winded and/or became bored writing the scene but wasn’t sure how to stop writing it. An exercise in neutering it would help me, I think, either just fix it in the first place or figure out what the actually important parts are and just write those.

I suppose proper outlining beforehand would work just as well if not better for saving time. But some of us suck at that, or can’t figure out how to go from a careful outline to the concise, efficient version of the scene or chapter. And for said person (like me), this allows me to do it backwards and hopefully the anatomy lesson (I should let this metaphor die but it’s too late now) will help me just outline better next time.

If nothing else, I think practice in writing a scene and then writing a scene more concisely is a worthwhile practice.

P.S. Don’t worry too much about me seeing as how Tyler’s been writing a lot of guest posts lately – it just means I’m working on my WIP and stupid things like these.

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I Wear the Black Hat

Hi, Readers. Tyler here again.

I recently read a book called I Wear the Black Hat by Chuck Klosterman. In the book, Klosterman examines what it means to be a villain, or more specifically, how do we as society decide who will go down in history as a villain. It was a very entertaining and thought provoking read, and if you wouldn’t mind the language I would definitely recommend reading it.

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The central premise of the book is that “the villain is the person who knows the most, but cares the least.” He makes a very good argument for this, and for the most part I agree with him. But I would add one caveat to the end of his definition: the villain is the person who knows the most, but cares the least about what society says they should care about.

Take Voldemort from Harry Potter. With the (possible) exception of Albus Dumbledore, no one in the series knows more about magic than Tom Riddle. From horcruxes to hallows to dueling skills (the one actual duel we really see him fight is against Dumbledore, who is only really able to stall for time even though he is using the unbeatable Elder Wand) to all of the many curses and magical traps that protect his horcruxes, Voldemort has shown that he knows what he’s doing when magic is involved. He also knows a great deal about people and how to manipulate them into following him. And he does care the least… about what society says he should care about.

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Like unrealistic standards of beauty. You rock that lack of nose.

He doesn’t hesitate to kill people. He has no problems with wantonly using magic to oppress those less powerful than himself. He has no concept of love or friendship. He just doesn’t care.

Except that he does. He cares immensely. He cares about power. He cares about immortality. He cares more about those things than most people care about anything. But he is the villain because he doesn’t care about what society says he should.

Let’s look at another example: Kayaba Akihiko from Sword Art Online. He is a genius. He single-handedly designed the Full Dive technology that made games like Sword Art possible. He was so integral to the design of SAO that he knew the game inside and out, so well that Kirito realizes he can’t use sword skills to beat him because he designed the sword skills. Of all the people in Aincrad, he definitely knows the most. And he cares the least about the lives of others. Even the murderers in Laughing Coffin can’t hold a candle to Kayaba’s death count. He is a mass murderer who was responsible for the death of 4000, and to the end he feels no remorse about that. He just doesn’t care. But he does care deeply about Aincrad and VR worlds in general. Everything he does shows that. Everything he does is because of that.

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Awesome plot twists are always cooler when people die over them.

For the most part, villains don’t do what they do because they’re evil.
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No matter what Flash thinks

They have a reason for what they do. And it has to be something they care about deeply or else they wouldn’t go to the trouble. Being a villain is, for the most part, a hard, thankless job. So they have to be the kind of people who care the most about what they hold dear, while simultaneously not caring about the things society says they should.

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Vying with Readers’ Imaginations

Hello, readers. It’s Tyler (Rii’s husband; I’ve done enough of these guest posts that I figure I might as well start using my own name) again.

A few months ago I was reading a post where the author was explaining what disappointed them about the Star Wars prequels. What set this post apart for me from the myriad other diatribes against the prequels was one specific point that the author made that I had never heard before. He pointed to the scene from A New Hope where Obiwan takes Luke to his home and gives him Anakin’s lightsaber. It is here that we get the first (and if I remember correctly only) refernce to the Clone Wars in the original trilogy. The thing is, the name is essentially all we get. We are told that there was a conflict called the Clone Wars in which Anakin fought, and that’s about it. And since there was next to no detail given about this conflict, the author of the article had filled in the details with his imagination as a child. Knowing that Anakin was a Jedi Knight, he envisioned a war of Jedi clones. Just take a moment and imagine that. Entire battlefields of Jedi fighting with lightsabers and the force.

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This, but TWO ENTIRE ARMIES.

That is a mental image that is so awesome it borders on undeniable.

Instead we got this:

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The author of the article was understandably let down.

The thing is, when I read this person’s account of the disappointment that the clones were not Jedi and that they were fighting droids (instead of more Jedi), I thought about how we got the war that we actually got in the prequels. Of course the Sith (who were behind the creation of the clone army) wouldn’t want their clones to be force users. Their modus operandi is to try to get rid of all force users beyond the two Sith. A Jedi army would be completely antithetical to what they were trying to do. However, making clones of a Mandalorian, the go to Jedi killers, that makes sense. The clone army makes perfect sense in the context of the story that was being told.

All that reasoning, however, does precisely nothing to mitigate my disappointment that the Clone War was not a war between armies of Jedi clones now that the idea’s been presented to me. I want to see that story told, and will now add its absence to the list of things that will always disappoint me about the prequels. And this is after the fact. I can only imagine how much stronger my disappointment would be if I already had this headcanon of the Clone Wars for years before the new movies came out.

And this is perhaps the central problem of doing prequels. Your audience will have filled in the information they don’t have with something that is so awesome to them that it is nigh impossible for you to top it. That’s why I don’t think fans would actually appreciate the Marauders book/movie that they keep asking for. As fans of Harry Potter, we have envisioned what Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs were like at school, and anything that J.K. Rowling writes about that time period is bound to produce dissonance with that vision to the point of disappointment. To be clear, I’m not saying that I don’t think that fans could enjoy it, but I am saying that they would not enjoy it as much as they think they would. Because their headcanons  would be contradicted and nobody likes to be told they are wrong about something that is so important to them.
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There’s SO MUCH fan art and fan theory about the Marauders; a movie couldn’t encompass it all, even the parts that do all fit together. (This piece is found at atalienart.tumblr.com)

This really is an extension of what Stephen King talks about in On Writing. He says (and this is certainly an oversimplification) that the unseen monster is always scarier than the monster that you show the reader, because the reader will fill in a more personalized terror that will seem worse than whatever you end up showing them. To put it in terms of what I’m saying here, as soon as you prompt the audience to fill in something you haven’t shown them, you make it very hard to live up to what they expect.

So what do you do if you want to write a prequel? What do you do if you want to leave out information to be revealed later? I have two suggestions.

There is another Harry Potter prequel that is being released soon: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I personally think that this movie will be much better received than a Mauraders movie would be, for the simple reason that I don’t think a single reader has ever wondered about the adventures of Newt Scamander. It’s something we hadn’t thought about before the movies were announced, so we don’t have any preconceived headcanon in jeopardy. We’re free to enjoy this entirely new story. So if you really want to write a prequel maybe you can try to pick something that fans won’t have thought about but that would make an interesting story. Pick a Newt Scamander.

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My second suggestion is to leave LOTS of careful breadcrumbs. The more carefully hidden clues you give the audience, the softer the blow when they are told they’re wrong. Part of the problem with the Clone Wars example is that we had no information about it. There was nothing we could point to after the fact and say “Oh, I see how they told me before hand that this is what it was. I just missed this information in my original analysis.” Not only does this make it easier to accept something besides what we have always thought, but it gives the original work a lot more lasting appeal. Going back through the whole Mistborn trilogy after finishing The Hero of Ages gives the books a whole new feel as you can see all the evidence that seems inconsequential except in hindsight. So leave as many cleverly hidden breadcrumbs as you can. Of course, this obviously only works if you had the prequels envisioned beforehand.

In the end, vying with the audience’s imagination is all about the balancing act.
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