Friday, July 15, 2016

Hiatus until August 5

This blog will be going on hiatus until August 5, as I take care of some delightful life developments.

This space filler is here for happy reasons.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Monsieur Scaley Fang McLeatherskin, the Sneak

If you're ever in a horror movie, avoid the long grass.
Yes, even if the creatures you see appear harmless and cute.
In practically every horror monster movie I've seen, the monster has snuck up on side characters and then devoured them. It's one of the tropes of the genre, a monster eating a redshirt to show how awful the monster is.

Sure, sometimes the sneaking occurs in a city, or in the halls of a spaceship, or in a forest, or in long grass, or the halls of an old mansion. Sometimes it ends with a chase. But it always ends in a snack for Monsieur Scaley Fang McLeatherskin. (Or Madame if there's a sequel; Monsieur can't lay eggs, after all!)

Have you ever written or read or seen a version of this trope that feels entirely different and new? What made it unique?

Would a monster movie without this trope have as much impact, or are there other ways to create monster horror without having the monster kill a redshirt character?

Friday, July 1, 2016

Timelines--do you use them?

When watching CSI shows, they usually have a murderboard, with a timeline that gets filled in as the investigators discover more info about the victim's last days.

It's interesting to watch, but also reminds me of making timelines for my writing. When lots of things are going on at once, I find it helpful to make a timeline to keep track of what's happening, when. I even make them for pre-story events, which is useful for keeping track of birthdays, how old characters were when certain things happened, etc. I tend to be more a pantser, which makes it even more important to be able to see when things happen, so I don't cross storylines by accident. But even when plotting it's a useful way to keep dates straight.

When you're planning stories, do you ever make timelines?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Fantasy friendships

Friendship: When in sickness and in health, in D&D and in moving heavy furniture up and down stairs, in feasts and in cold pizza, in love and in heartbreak, we promise to stay by certain people and cheer them on.

Pictured: A loyal sidekick
Shared laughter, shared confidences, and shared experiences build the foundation of most friendships. Sometimes it feels like friendship takes second ship to romance in a lot of modern stories, but it's a theme that still shows up regularly. Where would Frodo be without Samwise, or Wilbur without Charlotte, or Cimorene without Kazul, or Kaylee without Inara? 

What are some of the best friendships in the science fiction and fantasy stories you've enjoyed? 

Friday, June 24, 2016

What's your best travel story?

Maybe my best travel story is the time my friends and I, in high school, set off to the beach (in the era before any of us had GPSs, let alone smart phones), and wound up turning a 3-hour straight drive into a 9-hour tour through the middle of South Carolina due to missing a few exits.

Or perhaps it was the trip to the International Youth League Conference in Prague (for which my brother and I did an impressive amount of local scholarship-gathering, me a senior in high school and he in college), wherein, accompanied by an international coterie of college-age students and following a couple of trips to pubs, my brother's roommate had been dared to knock on the first door in the girl's dorm and propose. Poor guy; to save his life from my big brother's wrath, I'm afraid I had to break his heart by turning him down. Also, my own roommate and the entirety of the coterie may have roused the hall with their laughter.

There was also the Thanksgiving at the beach in which we adopted one of my friends for the holiday. She and I decided to try the hot tub, but after having been joined by a rather creepy old man in the indoor one, relocated to the outdoor hot tub. As it was in the low 40sF, Creepy Guy did not attempt to follow. After warming up in the hot tub, we sprinted across the icy sand to plunge into the winter ocean water, and fled, shrieking, back to the hot tub. Several times.

Beautiful city, beautiful island,
and a wonderful trip, friendly
cults and all!
Or there was the time when, on a visit to my fiance's parents in Taiwan, they decided to take us to a new nearby temple over Chinese New Year. They'd thought it was very impressive-looking Buddhist temple, and taking me to experience some local culture was the perfect excuse to check it out. Oh boy, were they mortified when the giant laughing Buddha temple turned out to be a cult! We still laugh about it together. Although as the cult was devoted to happiness and members were required to cultivate friendliness, it was actually quite the fun tour for me!

What's your favorite travel story/misadventure?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Modern Travel and Fantasy

The world is a big place. But it isn't.

Airplanes make journeys that would be impossible a hundred years ago in under a day. Unless there's a huge layover, in which case it may take a couple of days.

Communication is instant. Unless the Internet is out or a message isn't delivered or you're out of signal, in which case, it isn't.

In a lot of books and stories, the same kinds of problems can be seen as plot devices: the struggle to light the beacons in Lord of the Rings (movie, not the book), for example, is a case of broken communications. Or the messenger gets shot. Or the signal crystals break.

Can you imagine a Star Trek where none of the ships could exceed the speed of light? The universe is big, but it also isn't. What if there were a time delay in communications? (Actually, didn't this happen in a couple of episodes...?)

A lot of this is simply that travel time is inconvenient. Nobody wants to spend sixteen hours on a layover, not unless the entire story takes place during the layover. But how do our modern travel experiences affect our fiction ones? We've taken out much of the waiting time in our fantasy and science fiction stories, most of the time during which little to nothing happens for characters, and not just in the "and then time passed" sense: if it interrupts the journey, more often than not, the characters themselves often just don't experience it. This creates a lack of downtime for the characters, which isn't unlike the "always-on" mentality of today's world. A lot of the older stories make reference to months and years passing, but it seems less common in modern works.

There are some exceptions, such as Dust (the one about the ship wherein many generations have passed on the ship), but for the most part it's rare to give characters downtime.

On the other hand, communication problems? They're everywhere. What was the last you story read written in the last ten years where the communication system worked reliably for the entire story?

How else has our modern life affected our fiction?

Friday, June 10, 2016

International Foods

If there's one thing people love, it's food.

An article on BBC mentions that no diet consists entirely of native foods, that is, foods whose origins were from that area. When people encounter new food crops, they have, historically, been quick to pick up the new flavors and absorb them into their diet as possible.
Ramen is delicious. Especially the kind you don't
find in a bag or a cup.

It's not something I see addressed very often in fantasy stories, this exchange of food staples. Sometimes the spice trade is referred to, but that exotic tomato, the strange new thing called a chili,  that lovable potato, none of which were ever seen in European diets until after the Columbian Exchange?

One of the joys of travel is trying new foods and discovering different flavors. Sometimes I rather wish stories made a bigger deal of that, on the hero's journey, some kind of recipe they could take home with them, like pizza.

On the other hand it's not usually a critical element to the story, so perhaps it's better to leave it out and cut out the unnecessary tangent. Won't stop me from wanting to try new foods when I travel, though!

What foods would you miss the most if you could only eat things native to your area? And what foreign-originating foods could you just not live without?