Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bloggery update

Just a note to let people know I'm still alive. I started a new job (yay) waving a sign (not-so-yay), so I've not had quite as much gumption to get up and write as I had previous. Still, I have ideas and bubbly thoughts stewing, so I'm not going anywhere.

Anyhoo. I don't have a topic in mind aside from updating, though lately I've had Serial Killers and the True Fey on the brain. I might do some setting work for that as a next poject after the Tale of The Exile is likely to be an urban fantasy heavily based on the RPG Changeling: The Lost. It seemed like a fun idea.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Seeds of a Character: Naros Miir, Part 2

In my last post, I began looking at the seeds that formed the character Naros Miir, which was also an exploration of how the city of Miir got its start. Today I look at how those ideas grew and changed to become the character you see today.

Summer, 2005: I decide to run a game set in Miir. Not only do I run this game on Shards, I also work out some ideas to run Miir in my Sunday night D&D group as a Ravenloft setting. Neither of these games goes very far. The Shards game stalls because getting a group of people on a chat-based client to meet regularly is like herding cats, so only a few things ever develop there. The Ravenloft game never gets past the character creation stage...instead, I wind up returning to the previous setting I was already running, my Rise of the Fallen campaign world.

However, the work I did for these stillborn games turn into canon for Miir. It was this period where I codified the Six Noble Houses, came up with several character ideas I'd use later, and develop the idea of Le Cirque d'Aberrations, the nightmare carnival where people are mutilated on stage for the pleasure of the gentry. There were no Caliban yet--that idea would develop thanks to the Ravenloft book (and later, the True20 RPG).

This was when I firmed up much of Miir's history.
The city was founded originally as a military garrison that guarded one of the very few navigable paths through the nearby mountains. When huge veins of gold, iron, and silver were discovered in the mountains after a giant earthquake, the town swelled in population. Within just a few short months, the place was a city, blessed with a mineral fortune and a chokehold on an important trade route. Since it was on the border of the kingdom's holdings, the Royalty couldn't keep close tabs on it, much as it wanted to, and the city grew into a seedy den of vice, scum, and villainy. And it was powerful. One of the nobles of the city, Naros Miir, desired to gain power over the city, from which he could build an empire, carving a claim from the weak monarchy. To do this, he needed support. He needed to control the city before he could rule an empire. And for that, he turned to Graumm.
 Naros Miir was, at this point, a ghost in the machine. He was the remnants of the mind of the first ruler of the city, who had built a device to control people's emotions by storing them and then playing the emotions back later. This device imprinted Naros' consciousness on it and became sentient. It began to manipulate the city's rulers through the emotion machine into creating policies that would ensure a steady stream of "food" for it through constant conflict and repression. This created a climate of intrigue and brutality that kept the machine fed, but limited its ability to create the empire it's ambitions demanded.

In these drafts, Naros Miir was an avatar of the Heart, an image projected by the machine to interact with normal people. The Shadows were manifested illusions that the heart generated to scare, mislead, and confuse the population, along with monsters that the Heart attracted to the city in order to breed fear of the darkness.

Sometime in 2006: I'm contacted by one Benjamin Midget, who runs a small company called Brushfire Press. He's recruiting authors for a bold experiment in collaborative worldbuilding called The World of Aldora. I love doing worldbuilding, so I checkout the site and create an author page. I decide to use Miir as my contribution to the Aldora project, and post a lot of my information from Shards and from the failed Ravenloft backstory. I take care to fit what I've written into the framework provided. I write a short story called "Alone in the Dark" about a thief being sentenced to spend seven nights fending off The Shadows.

Other writers on the site begin collaborating. A couple of authors take the stuff I've written about Miir and run with it, introducing excellent concepts. I chat and brainstorm with other writers, building ideas, sharpening concepts.

One of the major ideas I take from this is the concept of the Arani. The fey in Aldora are tied to certain natural objects. The fey get powers from this object, but are tied to it. If it gets destroyed or irrevocably altered somehow, the fairies tied to it die. I love this idea so much I incorporate it into the Miir mythos. Now the Heart of Miir is a corrupted Arani, and the Shadows become Shadow Fey, independent beings linked to the heart, drawing power from it. As I'm expanding "Alone in the Dark" into a full novella, I decide to use the Naros Miir ghost as the main antagonist. He changes from being an avatar of the heart to being a Shadow Fey, created from the Heart and based on the sentience within it but with his own independent existence and agenda. He is the first among equals in the Shadow Fey hierarchy, the incarnation of the city's first ruler and personification of Miir's nobility.

"Alone in the Dark" is what eventually becomes the First Night of The Tale of The Exile. In my first draft, Naros was more of an antagonist, and Gaven eventually got pulled into a fight with him. This didn't really work all that well. Naros had always existed as kind of a tricky mentor type, the Obi Wan with his own agenda. This is what Naros became in the rewrite.

2009: I lose my job as a delivery driver. One of the writers I chatted with regularly, C.A. Webster, contacts me and we get to chatting. Neither of us has had much to do with Aldora recently, but we talk about writing and editing and all sorts of stuff. One of the writing exercises I do is pull out a character and have C.A. question them, then let the character answer. This back-and-forth helps me develop my characters in spades, and strengthens their voice. Naros comes out quite frequently. This is about the time I start seriously rewriting "The Tale of the Exile" into a true novel. Naros' voice grows stronger and stronger.

2011: I'm just doing some research for a blog post, searching for songs on YouTube to match up with links on the soundtrack entry. While listening to a David Bowie song that has some random David Bowie clips, when all at once an image flow by. I search the webs for that image, do a little Photoshopping, and watch Naros appear. Here's the image for you all:

Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm a man of wealth and taste.

Hello there, Naros. Nice to see you in the flesh.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Seeds of a Character: Naros Miir, Part 1

Writers often get asked where they get their ideas from. This is not an easy question to answer, because the ideas that a writer uses often percolate and bounce between various forms before settling. Some ideas come to fruition quickly. Others simmer for years before finding expression, and then get shaped over time.

Naros Miir, the founder of the city that bears his name, is one of those long-running ideas that grew over time. I'm going to take a trip back through memory lane and try to piece together the bits that fashioned him. Be warned...this might be a bit like a magician explaining how his tricks are performed. I hope I don't disillusion you too much.

Sometime in 1997-1998: I'm getting ready for work early in the morning, so this was a summer job (since I was still in high school). I have MTV turned on and this is before it stopped playing music videos entirely but after it started relegating all the rock videos to the buttcrack-of-dawn timeslots. On comes the video for Nine Inch Nails "The Perfect Drug." This is my first exposure to NIN. I like it a lot. I watch for the song again so I can figure out what the song is called, who it's by, and where I can find it. I buy Lost Highway Soundtrack on cassette tape. This song gets a lot of play on my tape deck. The image of Trent Reznor in full goth mode is an image that sticks with me. The seed has been planted.

December 1998: The New Years issue of InQuest Gamer magazine, issue #45, arrives. You can see the eye-catching cover right above. I used to play a lot of Magic: The Gathering, so InQuest was useful to me as an MTG mag. However, by this time I was starting what would be a long relationship with roleplaying games, and InQuest also had a lot of RPG material in it at the time.

One of the columns is called "Legends." It's a column devoted to presenting ideas of places, objects, and people for use in RPGs. All of these articles include stats for use in various games, as well as a mock-up Magic: The Gathering card. This month's Legends has a picture of what looks like a building eating a person. The title of the article is "The Necropolis of Miir."

The article describes a genius loci--a living place. In this case, the Necropolis is a tower in the center of a city that was built by a sorcerer named Naros. The tower became sentient and has ruled in Naros' name ever since it ate the sorcerer's mind. Using rules and decrees it had the city built around it in three concentric rings with the nobles close to the center and the slums on the outskirts.

This is where the idea for Miir caught and held my attention. This is where I was first introduced to Naros. I didn't know at the time that the name had been borrowed from Jack Vance's Tales of a Dying Earth series--I'd learn that much later. It was this seed that grew into the Miir you see in The Tale of The Exile. But there were several more seeds to go.

Six months later: Another InQuest magazine brought a "Legends" column on Gruamm's Cathedral. The Order of Gruamm was a corrupt church that built an emotion battery into their cathedral. The idea was to store and playback emotions as a way of influencing the flock. However, the clerics of the cathedral found themselves addicted to the emotions they gathered, vicariously experiencing the feelings they stole. They needed their fix, so the priests were taking ever more risks influencing the flock to convert more members. They were also building new cathedrals in other cities to gain converts.

This would eventually provide me with the idea for the Heart of Miir, though that would come much later. Several years, in fact.

In between 2004 and 2005: By this time I'm in college and frequenting a roleplaying chat site called Shards. I decide to create a horror setting, and use the half-remembered InQuest articles as a basis for the seat of a family of vampires known as the Kajes that I've been playing on the site. The first posts I have set in Miir take place in February of 2004. The initial description is filled with cliched and overwrought language that I thought was really good at the time, talking about a city where the shadows occasionally ate people. Here's an example:
Miir, the City of Shadow, is aptly named. The great city lies nestled against the Black Mountains, a treacherous range of sharp and jagged peaks. The city follows suit, with monolithic Noble Houses extending like claws above the wretched huts and hovels of the commoners who live below. Great, spidery shadows fall everywhere here, and many folk, though they never speak of it, believe that things live in those shadows, and that, if one is unlucky, one would be swallowed up and never seen again.

 If this seems familiar, it's because I didn't modify the language much when I had Miir make the jump from Shards to Aldora. It was during this time that I developed the concepts of The Shadows, the Noble houses (not yet this point I didn't even know how many there were), Miir's location as a mountainous desert city, the ruler being named Damien many things. If the InQuest articles were the seeds of my city, Shards was where it sprouted.

I can even give you the exact point at which Naros Miir, in his current incarnation, was born. I have the chat logs.

[10:58 PM 12/20/2004] Damien Kaje (Narration) - "It's a sad sight to see, isn't it, madam?" says a cultured voice from behind her, breaking her reverie. "All this dust and nothing. It isn't what I intended for the place."

[11:05 PM 12/20/2004] Lady of Tears - Visibly tenses for a moment, but it melts away.. The sudden sound after all this disturbing sights could make anyone a bit on the edge, even though she found such normal logic as that to be cowardly thinking. " Indeed it is.." Closing her eyes to focus on her composure for the time, before they open and gaze toward his feet. " What else would you expect of it, Kaje? Everything has it's prices.."

[11:09 PM 12/20/2004] Damien Kaje (Narration) - whoever the figure before her is, it certainly isn't Kaje. Oh, he has the same sharp cast to his features, the same long, shiny raven-black hair, and the same sense of pride and confidence the vampire exudes, but where Kaje is large and chiseled, like a block of cold marble, this man is softer and more delicate, more like porcelain. And, of course, Kaje isn't transparent. He chuckles. "Funny. That's what I told the vampire, when he first came here. He didn't listen to me, either."
[11:15 PM 12/20/2004] Lady of Tears - Eyes shift lightly, the curiosity almost overriding her sense of judgment on what could be a very delicate situation.. " And.. Who, exactly, are you if I may be so bold, Sir?.." Canting her head, assuming it was a noble who spoke, but would look toward this new arrival as it it were a peasant until further notice of this individual..

[11:17 PM 12/20/2004] Damien Kaje (Narration) - He bows. "My lady, I am Lord Naros Miir, First Master of the Tower." he smirks a little at himself, as if thinking of some obscure joke that only he found funny. "Or what's left of him, at any rate."

 This was the first appearance of the character that would develop into Gaven's nemesis. Naros Miir was originally just a projection of the sentient Heart of Miir, and the Shadows were originally just nebulous extensions of the Heart's will. The Shadows were just shadows that ate people, and Naros was a ghost. This would develop quite a lot later on during the next stage of Miir's development.

I'll get to that next time I post.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

On Chapter Epigraphs

A witty saying proves nothing.

An epigraph is a phrase, quote, or poem set at the beginning of a document or component. They're those pithy little sayings you find at the start of chapters or sections in a lot of sci-fi/fantasy works. They can serve as a preface, a summary, counterpoint, or just set the mood. There's two types of epigraph: ones from the real world, and ones pulled from the fictional universe the work is set in.

When I first started collecting my Tale Of The Exile tweets and formatting them into chapters, I used a lot of epigraphs as prefaces, scouring the web for quotes I thought would work well to set the theme of the chapters. I started doing this with just random witty quotes, then moved on to hunting specific songs to quote when I moved into the third night. It wasn't long after this that I decided to do away with epigraphs altogether. Here's why:
  • It takes a lot of effort to find a good quote. This is creative work, and entertaining, but it really doesn't help write the story. Trying to find good quotes to sum up or set the mood for Gaven's story takes time away from writing the story itself. It's an empty calorie kind of creative exercise. I didn't start looking for quotes until I had finished the first and second nights, so I didn't notice how much it was bogging me down until I had to do it for the third night. This is partly what lead me to stop.
  • The quotes were entertaining, but didn't add much to the story. Mostly they acted as summations for the chapters I was writing. I suppose if I were writing epigraphs from whole cloth, as pieces of metafiction about the world of Aldora, that might be different, but the epigraphs I used were bits of the real world intruding on my story. I shouldn't be making summaries of the chapters...I should let the chapters speak for themselves.
  • In some cases, the epigraphs were spoilers.  Along with setting a mood, the quotes sometimes revealed bits about the chapter ahead. I tried to avoid this as much as possible, but a spoiler is a spoiler. I recently read "Mistborn: The Hero of Ages," which also used a lot of epigraphs. I decided to read all the epigraphs first. Big mistake. Most of them were only counterpoints to the chapters, but some near the end lead to major, major spoilers. Someone reading my work the same way might decide to read the epigraphs I put in all at once before starting in on the chapters themselves, and in the process learn things that they shouldn't. That's always an issue with skipping ahead...epigraphs just make the unintentional spoilerage much easier.
  • Some of the epigraphs were getting really long. As I mentioned in my soundtrack post, I chose a lot of songs for specific reasons. I decided to use lyrics from those songs as epigraphs, but to get the context right I had to use several lines from each song. This started to get out of hand. I found myself tempted to quote half of some songs, just to get the right context for the quote. This was too much fucking work for something that was just supposed to be a bit of fun.
  • The epigraphs were breaking the fourth wall a bit. Gaven's story is told in first person, and it's being told as if the reader has a direct link to his mind while he's experiencing things. I chose to write the story this way to help with immersion (which is why it's done in the present tense, as well). The epigraphs are not helpful in preserving this immersion. They're bits of out-of-context text that you either read, or skip, but either way they aren't part of Gaven's experience. This would be true even if I were manufacturing world-specific epigraphs. Each epigraph jerks people out of the story just a little bit and reminds them that they're reading a story, not experiencing it. I decided to minimize this, and took them out of later drafts.
I don't hate epigraphs. I still plan to use them. However, I'm going to put them at the start of each Night instead of each chapter, where there are natural breaks in the story and I'm expecting the reader to break and digest what they've read. I don't think I'll be doing chapter epigraphs again in this book. The next book, which I believe will have multiple viewpoints, might be able to have more epigraphs in it.