Wednesday, December 21, 2011
- Confucius, 551-479 BC
To a certain extent, the attainment of wisdom is life's overarching endeavor. Wisdom in this sense entails understanding: of the world, of oneself, and of the relationships that lie between. Such understanding can be obtained through pure cogitation, which, as Confucius intimates, is the most elemental approach, as abstraction gives rise to abstraction. Thought paves the way for comprehension. The flow from one to the other requires no conversion from one form to another - both are constructs of cognition, built of the same brick and mortar.
Imitation, which involves the close study of the means, or path, by which a result is obtained, focuses on modality - which, if mastered, will yield a functionally equivalent result, independent of whether the actor fully appreciates the means or the end. Perfect imitation can, potentially, be achieved by sheer rote, and in this way, prove to be the easiest means of attainment. It entails a transition from process to object, from movement to destination. A transition occurs from the former to the latter, but it is a natural progression, fluid in its unfurling.
Experience is by far the most immediate method, for it depends on the filter of physicality. If reflection is a top-down approach to wisdom, experience is bottom-up: it is a latticework of particulars that form a skein of understanding by virtue of their interrelationships. But each point of the lattice is hard-won, paid for with wages of time, effort, pain, and conflict. And many such points are required.
Fiction, both the reading and writing of it, shares with life the attainment of wisdom as its ultimate end. But its function, and the means by which it allows us to attain it, is an interesting hybrid of the three paths considered by Confucius. Fiction is by its very nature a kind of directed abstraction, of cogitation distilled by the lens of the narrative structure. Yet the use of that structure is to a certain extent an inevitable pantomime of the processes and modes used by generations of storytellers. There is room enough for innovation and novelty, but certain core structures and dictates must be observed - or at least comprehended. Only by comprehending them can the storyteller then subvert or break them to positive effect.
And yet what is fiction but a simulacrum of experience? It allows the reader - and even the author - to live countless other lifetimes, sharing in both vicarious joys and sufferings, yet also reaping the points of wisdom plotted by those would-be experiences. It begins with the forms of abstraction, utilizes the tools of imitation, yet yields the result of experience - which, in the end, is the shared goal of all three paths.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Presently 1/3 of the way through The Warrior-Prophet, the middle act of the trilogy. Will delve into deeper analysis when the trilogy is complete.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Saturday, December 10, 2011
My goal now is to reestablish the biweekly posting schedule for my blogs, and to turn back to the half-penned doujinshi that I had to abandon midstream in November. I've been studying and practicing to improve my illustration skills, so there may be an inevitable amount of clean up to be done on existing pages before new material starts to flow, but I'm hoping to have the doujin rolled out by the new year.
I'm also looking to complete final revisions on the short story I drafted a couple of days before NaNo 2009, hopefully in time to submit the story to the Writers of the Future contest before this quarter's deadline. The last time I submitted to WotF was back in 2005, and someone had bothered to write "Send more soon!" on the form rejection letter. Six years hardly counts as "soon," but I suppose "eventually" is closer to that mark than "never."
Finally, I'll be updating the Natty Words page with a Portfolio section that will offer some samples of my illustration efforts, as soon as I have some fit for display.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
One of the things I like the most about SF/fantasy is that the milieu is entirely your own creation; you can draw inspiration from wherever it suits you, and needed have to worry about how things correspond to the real world - except, of course, thematically or by analogy. It can be a daunting level of freedom for writers who are used to the familiar confines of fiction set in the "real" world (which inevitable evokes only enough real world verisimilitude as the story itself needs), but on the other side of the coin, that freedom can also be something of a crutch. Being forced to mesh things together with real world timelines, places, events, and people makes for a unique challenge for a speculative fiction writer like me, and the nature of the task requires that some pre-writing research and notetaking be done.
Among the various topics my research has me reading through: the Sengoku Era in Japan; the historical city of Alexandria; European warfare in the Middle Ages; and a question the answer for which continues to elude me - what is the difference between the terms Hebrew, Israelite, and Jew?
Also, some flights of pure fancy that I made over ten years ago also appear to have important milieu-based ramifications on my present line of research. In the short story, I gave the protagonist the last name "Temani," which at the time I only knew meant "from the south." My recent research has uncovered that being from "Teman," one of the larger and more characteristic cities of the country of Edom, would strongly predisposition a Jewish character as being one of the Temanim, or Yemenite Jews, a specific subset of Jewish people with a colorful and unique history. A history which includes an aversion to naming their children after the biblical Ezra, which comes awfully close to the given name of my protagonist, at least as I had named him in the short story. Whether that means I'll be giving him a different name, or whether that contradiction is a story-worthy complication remains to be seen, but I'll be working out the particulars as I continue my background research and start developing plot outlines.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
I've been putting the principles of Tuesday's APAD revisited post to good use this week, and have about 4 pages left (and a new character to design) for the rough draft of my 30-page debut doujinshi. The goal is to have it published online before the month's end, and as long as I don't encounter any problems with the manga software I'm using, I think I'm on track to meet that deadline.
If you haven't tried APAD yet on your longterm project, go ahead and give it a go. Tell me what's holding you back - or, if you've given it a try, how the technique worked for you.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
This can often be easier said than done. A penchant for procrastination is, I've found, something that almost everyone is born with. Whether it's a term paper for a class, an article to be published in a scholarly journal, a short story, or an illustration, often times the hardest part about getting work done is getting yourself to sit down and actually plod your way through it. The good folks at Writing Excuses offered the term "BICHOK" as advice for the itinerant writer: Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard.
My approach adapts the same principle to some of the progress benchmarks that writers like Stephen King swear by. APAD, or a page a day, espouses an incremental approach to completing your creative (or even non-creative) undertaking, by 1) breaking it up into per-day-sized pieces and 2) most importantly, taking on each of those pieces day after day until the work is complete.
My original APAD post was intended as a call to action, but ironically, that post would be the last on the Nexus for almost a year! Hardly practicing what I preached, as far as blogging goes. Since then, I've tried to separate the Nexus's overly ambitious topic coverage into more clearly delineated niches, with Fictional Matters inheriting the posts focusing on writing and the creative arts. I wanted to repeat that call to action, but this time couple it with an overt commitment on my part. It has been my goal this month to begin providing new content on Fictional Matters, Watches to Wear, and Goods to Buy every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and to continue those scheduled updates into November, even as I take on NaNoWriMo 2011.
If you have large projects to write like a thesis paper or novel, a book or anthology to edit, or (the current occupant of my creative desk space) a comic book to pen, using the principle of APAD can help you to make it more manageable and to position yourself to make steady progress by minimizing the opportunities to procrastinate. Give APAD a try, and if you do, be sure to tell me how it works for you by leaving a comment below. Whether it works or fails, I'm interested in learning how it goes!
Saturday, October 8, 2011
This week's post in preparation for NaNoWriMo 2011 looks at the steps that come immediately after you've found an idea for a story. How do you turn an idea into a story spanning 50,000+ words?
In many ways, developing an idea into a full-fledged story is a lot like the basic gameplay of the Katamari Damacy video game series. Your idea is like the titular katamari - a magic ball that can adhere to particular things (namely, smaller objects) and add them to its mass, growing each time it picks up a new object. The things that will stick to your idea are directly related to it, and you can begin in a number of places.
If you're like me, you could begin with characters. Who is your protagonist? What is their backstory? What are their goals and desires? Who - or what - will oppose them in their quest to fulfill those goals? As you round out your main character, other characters, plot developments, etc. may pop up in the process. You can aggregate your original idea with as many characters and as much depth as you like - whatever amount makes you feel comfortable with your prospective cast of dramatis personae.
Other well-known science fiction and fantasy writers are worldbuilders. Like them, your idea might start with an intriguing premise and develop of the ramifications that it would have on the world in which it exists. What if special magic users could derive specific abilities from ingesting and "burning" different kinds of metals? This milieu premise is the starting point for Brandon Sanderson's bestselling Mistborn series. What if a desert landscape covered an entire planet? Welcome to the starting point for Frank Herbert's Dune.
Or you can take the tiger by the tail and delve right into plot. What has to happen in order for your idea to work? What could happen in spite of all that?
This katamari-like process of info aggregation is primarily to get you comfortable and more familiar with the story-wide implications of your idea. Your cast of characters, milieu, or plot could completely change - and often enough does - once you actually delve into writing your first draft in November, so don't be too concerned about getting every detail right at this point. Give yourself permission to explore, to make mistakes, fix them, and keep going. Odds are you'll find yourself having fun along the way. And here's a secret from a past NaNoWriMoer: once you're comfortable enough with your story idea, the fun you've had in aggregating it is only a pale reflection of the fun you'll experience actually writing the story. So no matter what, the best is yet to come.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
|Having added an apostrophe to its title (and logo!?), Working'!! is back for its second season.|
Continuing the titling convention used in the second season of K-On! (aka "K-On!!" - the two exclamation points referring to it being the second season), Working!! (in which the first season already included the two exclamation points) recently began its second season under the name "Working'!!" - and yes, the apostrophe is not a typo.
Watching the first episode of the new season was a bit of a challenge for me, as the fansub group have upgraded their offerings to 10-bit video encoding, which even the latest version of VLC (1.1.11) does not yet support, displaying only a blank green screen of sadness where the video should be. Updating to the latest CCCP codec set and opening the video with Media Player Classic fixed the problem for me. The increase in the depth of visual quality between the encodes I'd in the previous season, which was presumably 8-bit, and this one is striking, as even backgrounds seemed to pop with definition and character:
|I'll admit it: the depth of detail on the candy display here made my jaw drop the first time I saw it.|
The story picks up pretty much where it left off in the first season, following the employees at the Wagnaria western-style restaurant as their eccentricities complicate their working lives. If you're new to the series, the second season isn't where you'll want to begin watching, as many of the character's behaviors may seem inexplicable without the benefit of background exposition. If you're a veteran of season one, though, watching the new season is very much like returning to school - and a familiar lineup of friends and acquaintances - after a summer break.
|The girls and surrounds of Wagnaria look especially sharp in 10-bit video.|
Part of the reason this entry is a "Fictional Review" as opposed to a "Stories That Matter" review is because it isn't really the story that matters in slice-of-life works. And though the characters themselves can gain a strong following, I think it ultimately is the work's ability to evoke a familiar milieu and distill it down to its most essential elements that makes this genre work as a form of storytelling. K-On!! evokes the high school milieu, in particular the notion of a small group of close friends united by common interests (a common and ubiquitous trope in real life) and intensifies the experience through the rich interactions of members of the KeiOn Bu. Likewise, Working'!! evokes the milieu of part-time working and the relationships a person builds with his or her coworkers, and magnifies those elements through the potentially over-the-top yet endearing qualities and behaviors of the Wagnaria staff.
Though I'm a dyed-in-the-wool anime and manga otaku, what intrigues me the most about a fictional work like Working'!! is how it shows that there can be more to storytelling than the traditional and overarching motivators of conflict and pain. While I would still maintain that conflict and pain are essential parts of storytelling, and that even slice-of-life works like Working'!! cannot succeed without including a little bit of both, what this series demonstrates is that there are other methods of building a report with an audience. It shows that the palette of colors that a fiction creator has at his or her disposal is larger and more varied than depicted by traditional viewpoints. Mastering the techniques that underlie the slice-of-life genre is essential not just to aspiring anime makers or manga artists, but to anyone looking to deepen the emotional impact of the stories they create.
What do you think of Working'!!, the slice-of-life genre, or the role that familiarity or identification plays in storytelling? Feel free to voice your thoughts in the comments below.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
NaNoWriMo stands for “National Novel Writing Month.” It began in 1999, when founder Chris Baty and a group of likeminded friends first pegged November as the month in question and set out to pen 50,000 words in 30 days. As of last year, according to the NaNoWriMo.org website, over 200,000 people participated and 30,000 of them completed 50,000 or more words by the November 30th deadline.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
- Fictional Tips: These posts will feature techniques, advice, and thoughts on the craft of storytelling. For most of my storytelling life, my medium of choice has been the written word, in the form of novel-length and short fiction. I have also dabbled in illustrations, and have been working for the past month on my first fan-made comic, or doujinshi. As a result, most practical tips will center on writing and drawing. Tips focusing on the philosophy of the craft, however, will draw examples and inspiration from all media.
- Fictional Tools: This series will feature the tools of the storyteller's trade, such as pens, pencils, keyboards, drawing tablets, and creation-oriented software and apps.
- Stories That Matter: These posts will review stories that constitute special achievements in the storytelling art and, in doing so, offer a great experience for storytellers and non-storytellers alike.
- National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) Series: These posts will highlight what NaNoWriMo is, what steps you can take to get ready for it, and tips for succeeding in writing 50,000+ words of story in 30 days. I've been a NaNoWriMo participant — and, knock on wood, perennial "winner" — since 2008, when I succeeding in reaching 50,000 words by November 30th despite being in the midst of the fall semester of my third year of law school. This special series will feature posts on a more frequent basis in the months of October, leading up to NaNoWriMo, and November, the actual Novel Writing Month in question.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
My History with Keyboards & Keyboard Review #001: Filco Majestouch-2 Linear R Limited Edition Tenkeyless FKBN87MR/EB2
The remaining 11 keyboards were gone by the next day.
My hope in purchasing this Cherry Red keyboard was to find a middle ground between the smoothness of the linear Blacks (which was my favorite Cherry keyswitch) with the lightness of the tactile Browns. This was the general description of the Reds on geekhack, so I felt fairly confident that I'd finally found the best of both worlds in this keyboard.
Now, as I type this review on it, I can say that I have.
The "Limited Edition" keyboard came with the red WASD keys, while I had a spare red ESC from my other Filcos. The keys depress with the same light touch that are the hallmark of the more well-known and widely used Cherry Browns (also used, for example, in the Kinesis Advantage Keyboard), but without the tactile "hump" in the resistance curve that I personally find detracting. Within an hour of switching to it, typing has become more natural to me as it has on any of the myriad keyboards I've used before.
I've yet to use this 'board for gaming purposes, but as I tend to be a button masher, I suspect that the Black linears are still king in that department for me. Nevertheless, I feel quite confident that I've finally found the keyboard I've been looking for these past three years. As a writer and editor, the keyboard really is the definitive tool of my trade, and having one that suits my typing style so well makes every task that much more enjoyable.
I've only managed to work my way through one and a half of them so far, but the mistakes literally leap out at me from the pages. This could be either a good or bad thing. Maybe it means I've gotten much better in the last five years; or maybe it means I was crap then, and I'm still crap (though of a slightly lesser magnitude) now. I'm prepared to reserve judgment on that determination. But what surprises me is how clearly I can see the gem hidden within each story--a kernel of cathartic truth (for it is truth that the storyteller seeks to share, though every word from his mouth and character on the page is, by the very nature of fiction, a clever lie) that could serve to animate a story, the way the soul can be said to animate a human being--and the sense of excitement I feel at the prospect of nurturing those kernels into a new form, one hopefully more true to them than my previous attempts have been. In both cases, it's been so long since I'd written the stories that I had completely forgotten about their kernels, so it's almost as if they are care packages that I'd given to myself, more than half a decade ago.
Monday, March 21, 2011
A post by Lynn Flewelling (author of The Nightrunner Series and The Tamir Triad, both of which will receive their own fictional reviews in the future) on her blog Talk in the Shadows first alerted me to the BBC's modern reboot of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's great detective. Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, and 221B Baker Street are no strangers to either film or television, but the creators of Sherlock endeavored something that previous incarnations dared not to: shed the Victorian trappings of the original books--in which the milieu often plays as vivid a part as Conan Doyle's inventive plots--for more contemporary surrounds. The result could have degenerated into a flimsy pastiche with familiar names pasted onto characters so disfigured by the "update" as to bear little more than passing resemblance to their origins. Instead, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (of Doctor Who fame) reinvigorate Conan Doyle's signature duo by seamlessly transplanting them into the midst of 21st-century London.
Heightening the writers' strong script and plotlines are Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, respectively. Martin Freeman has made a career of playing the everyman, from Tim Canterbury in The Office to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's Arthur Dent, and he plays Dr. Watson's straight-man role masterfully. At the same time, Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes manages to evoke every eccentricity of the original without the benefit of the man's trademark deerstalker cap, capecoat, or pipe. Together they possess a strong chemistry that evokes precisely the kind of quirky friendship that underscored Conan Doyle's stories. Highly recommended for anyone in need of a good story, whether a fan of the original or not.
Available at Amazon.com in a two-disc Series One DVD or Blu-Ray set.