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.