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The Importance of Research, Experience, and Goofing Off

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Warning: Copious Personal Anecdote ahead. If hearing about another person’s life causes you indigestion or chronic migraine then please consult your nearest doctor. Otherwise enjoy.

Research is integral to the writing process. How else would we figure out:

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How one should prepare for a trip through dangerous locales, (like Central Europe.)

Or

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Fascinating facts about exotic animals.

Or

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How to get the FBI to come to your house.
(I swear officer, I’m a writer not a murderer!)

As frustrating as it may seem at times, research always proves to be a boon. Sometimes learning what you don’t know can be just what one needs to get themselves out of a rut. A while back I learned the joy of this discovery and brought it up whenever possible.

During one such conversation, a friend of mine said. “I’ve written a book already so I know how much research I need.” Knowing he was feeding me a question, I bit the hook and asked “how much?” He smirked and what he said next haunts me to this day.

“None at all,” he said with a smile. “I don’t need to research anything. It’s my world, and therefore it’s my rules. So what if it doesn’t make sense, it makes sense to me.”

As someone who stays up at ungodly hours, cycling through random Wikipedia pages for any scrap of information, you could guess my general reaction. After much frustrated stuttering he raised his hand to defend himself.

“Well, maybe not research in the regular sense. See, I watch a lot of movies. I play videogames all the time, and I often spend hours and hours doodling.”

I smirked at him and said, “sounds like procrastination to me.”

He shrugged and replied, “Maybe so. But it helps me write.”

We then changed the subject but what he said nagged in the back of my mind. How in the Seven Hells could someone procrastinate and still have the wherewithal to churn out a story? It bothered me to no end, so much so that I couldn’t bring myself to write. So I put on one of my favorite movies which I won’t mention here*.

During the movie, the protagonist is being chased by a terrible beast. Mid-flight, they and a friend rush into a thorny forest where they hope to elude their attacker. The assailant peeks in, hoping to catch a glimpse of its prey and tries to get at the protagonists through the holes in their defense.

As I watched this scene I remember I wrote a similar scene in my story. The more I saw, the more I realized I wrote this scene almost word for word.

That’s when it clicked: Yes my friend was procrastinating, but the way he did it gave him fuel to write his stories. And if what we enjoyed could be used to create, then what we did could do the same as well.

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A friend of mine “researching” what it’s like to have a mustache.

Silly as the above picture makes it sound, sometimes little things like this can make or break a story. Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) once said that watching a guy paint a store window helped him write (full information here. It’s a good one).

I know writers tend to be an introverted bunch so this last bit of advice may seem a bit overwhelming. However, if you go outside and try something new, you’ll always be richer for the experience.

Research comes in many forms and I think it’s worth a try to do any of the three. If you have trouble with research, I say start with looking up stuff you think is cool. If you don’t like watching movies or procrastinating then set aside your work for all of five minutes and goof off. If you’re not comfortable with trying new things then try something you like in a different manner and you may end up surprising yourself.

So go out and research, for the only wrong way is to not do it at all.

So how do you all like to research? Do you have something that always gives you a muse? Does a particular type freak you out to the core? Is there something you would like to try? Let me know in the comments. Otherwise, have a nice day.

(*The movie is The Land Before Time)

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Posted by on June 7, 2013 in Advice, On Writng, Uncategorized

 

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The Campfire: A Scene from my Story.

Since I always talk about writing, I feel I should probably put some of my stuff up here from time to time. Here is a scene from a project I’m currently working on. It was written a while back but it remains one of my favorites since it marks a time when I finally sat down and wrote something.

All the background you need: the protagonists’ name is Alaric. The story is Fantasy set in a world I made up. It is written in first person. This section is 8 pages long on Microsoft Word.

The Campfire

A cold chill woke me from my sleep. I reached around for another layer of bed sheets only to feel the rough stitching on my sleeping bag. Sighing, I sat up and let out a soft groan so as not to wake my companions. Three weeks ago I was separated from Sir Rorand en route to my destiny. Three weeks ago I was captured by marauders and flung into this constant battle with the wilderness. “Three weeks” I mumbled, “and I still can’t keep myself warm at night.”

A soft humming, as though someone were practicing scales, caught my attention. I knew this voice did not belong to Yakov, whose last attempt at singing nearly killed us, nor did it belong to Lady Jayshra, whom was still asleep. As I rubbed the blur from my eyes I realized the campfire was lit, and Lady Iselle was tending the flames. I noticed she held a charred wand, most likely burnt from the spell she used to light the fire. “What I wouldn’t give to use magic like that.” I chortled. Even if it meant becoming a Clar’na.

Another cold wind pierced my skin, losing my mind of the desire for slumber. Knowing I had nothing better to do I slid on my boots and started towards my companion. I called her name, but she did not answer. I called once more, and louder, but she still did not answer. I let out a groan and decided less subtlety was needed.

“Iselle” I said as I placed my hand on her shoulder.

This time I caught her attention, but instead of ‘hello’ I was greeted with a shriek. She swung around to face me but became tangled in her white and blue robes. She then fell over, a loud thump signaling she hit the ground. “A thousand pardons Clar’na Iselle” I said as I rushed to her.

Her blue eyes twisted in anger at the sight of me. She pursed her lips and slapped my hand away. “Spearhead!” she said, emphasizing the spear in my nickname, “Don’t startle me like that again!” Too tired to argue I swallowed my pride and ignored the insult.

As she stood up I noticed she dropped her headdress, revealing her short, shoulder length hair. To my astonishment it was a dark shade of indigo. At first I thought it was fake, a wig or pigment dye of some kind, and yet as the wind blew I saw that every strand was attached to her head. I knew all Naman women had bright hair, but something about Iselle’s was beyond understanding. She snapped her fingers at me to catch my attention.

“Sorry. It’s just the first time I’ve ever seen your hair.”

She reached for her head and ran her fingers along the top. Her eyes widened as she felt her hair, and I feared she was going to shriek once more. Her face turned bright red as she turned me away.

“My headdress! Where is my headdress?” she said as I heard her gloved hands rustle through the dimly lit grass. I turned around to help look but was commanded to stay put as she picked it up.

“I know a Clar’na is to be modest in the presence of men, but is this truly necessary?” I asked. She sat back down and jerked her hat back on, grunting as she did so.

“Hah” she laughed, “You’re hardly a man. And for your uncivilized Ecnecian brain yes, it IS necessary.”

Knowing it was safe I turned, only to see her sitting on the log with her nose in the air. As soon as I sat next to her she stood up and faced me, though her eyes dared not meet with mine. I sighed, knowing a lecture would soon follow.

“In Namudios, a Clar’na is not to show her hair, for her hair is a blessing by the Goddess. Its basic decency you know. Even your Sentines understand that much, despite their savage mountain people ways.” By “their” I knew she meant “my”, but I decided not to comment. Hoping to keep the conversation civil responded with another question.

“I thought that only applied during church” I asked, throwing a piece of wood in the fire. I braced myself for a cutting remark, a contrary opinion, anything to say that would suggest that she had the moral and intellectual high ground.

“I…” she began. “Where did you read that?” she asked.

“Um… in the library back home?” I responded. Had I not been so caught off guard I’m sure I would have said something smarter. Instead I blurted the first thing that came to mind, and by her blank stare I could tell it was a stupid statement.

“A library? In the mountain lands? Surely you’re telling tales” she said, her voice shaking from disbelief.

“No, no we have libraries in Ecneics.” I said.

That should be enough.

“In my province we have a massive library that contains almost every book ever written. I once read through the Tome of Namudios.”

Withea burn me! Why did I just say that?

“In the third chapter of The Conduct, it read that a Clar’na need only wear a headdress during ceremony or mass.”

Shut up you imbecile! Why dig yourself deeper?

“I thought it applied to all Clar’na…. in… the… parish…”

I turned and was greeted by her chilling glare. I realized she had a wand, and with it she could end my life. Father always told me talking too much would be my end, and now I feared he would be right. Closing my eyes, I braced for the worst.

“W-well done Spearhead” I heard her say.

I turned to see her face and saw her lips rise into a smile. My jaw dropped a little as she chuckled. In her laughter I could not help but follow her eyes. For once they lacked the spite or pride, and showed only joy. It’s a good look for her, I thought, allowing myself to chuckle as well.

“Well done Spearhead. You’re not as ignorant as your people, it seems.” she said, her eyes and body facing me for the first time since I met her a week ago. Though I was angered by her “compliment” I chose to brush it off once more. Not wanting to ruin this moment I gathered my wits and cleared my throat.

“Well everyone back home reads. You’d be surprised just how many books are used daily. I had to search the restricted area to find your country’s Holy Tome.”

“How did you get into the restricted section?” she asked.

Despite the fire before me a cold chill crawled up my spine. I realized I had not told her I was a Crowned Heir, or that I even had a life before travelling. I could tell she wanted answers, yet for once I had no desire to give.

“Actually,” she asked, “I’m more impressed libraries still exist in Ecneics. I thought you Spearheads burned them down when Chaler III came to power.” Her statement caused me to laugh.  

“You don’t honestly believe…” I started, holding back my tears as I laughed. I realized she wasn’t laughing and, looking back, I realized the sincerity of her question.

“Chaler III lived one hundred years ago, and he was only one noble.” I said, composing myself.

“The Ecnecian Nobles believed he was mentally ill and never followed through on his plans. In fact my hometown has a library, free for public use.” A look of disbelief came across her face as I finished. She then looked at the fire and let out another chuckle.

“Wow, I never knew mountain folk could value knowledge. My whole life we were taught the savage Ecnecian Spearheads were in a constant state of barbarism” She said.

“Namudios is more ignorant of the world outside than Ecneics it seems.”

Burn me twice! Why did I say that?

Her eyes twisted in anger, yet before she emoted her body stopped. She then sighed and shook her head.

“I deserve that I suppose,” she said. I did not reply, content that I had not been burned alive.

“Spearhead,” she said without any malice in her voice, “What made you want to learn about my people?”

Burn me thrice! This girl can’t stop asking questions! I was able to get away with learning foreign religions back home but only because I kept quiet about the ordeal. I had no desire to betray the comfort of silence, and yet… her eyes seemed to beg for an answer.

My mind teetered between two extremes: do I tell her and risk my country’s secrecy or do I ignore it and risk losing her respect? The more I debated the more my father’s words bit at my mind.

“You don’t have to tell me everything. It’s not like I’ve told you much either” she said her eager eyes drooping toward the fire. All at once my anxiety disappeared, yet the look in her eyes still made my heart sink.

“I just figured you had a reason to do so. It’s not like I ever tried to learn Ecnecian folklore,” she spoke slowly, yet I could feel the weight of her words.

I then realized she was just like me. So far from home, out in a world she never saw before now. If anything we were two of a kind, two souls of similar make-up but in separate bodies. There was no way I could avoid it now.

“Sentinel Verick, once told me” I began “that Withea blessed us with wisdom and understanding” I paused for a moment to see if she was still listening. When I looked down to her I could see I had her full attention.

“I don’t like conflict, so I always felt the best way to create peace, no matter how bitter, was to learn why the other person thought that way.”

Iselle leaned forward, eyes squinting in what was either skepticism or anger.

“Are you saying that by learning about our religion you want to make peace with our country?” she asked. This time I could feel my face turn red as the blood rushed to my face.

“N-nothing that grand” I stammered. “I just thought that if I ever met a Naman I’d like to have more than cross words with them. Is that so much to ask?”

I turned to her, and for the first time my eyes met hers.

We sat in silence, yet I felt as though we were peering into one another’s soul. I don’t know what she saw in mine, but in her eyes I felt a lingering sorrow, a familiar anxiety, and the shared desire to return home. I was entranced as our eyes stayed still, and the pristine colors in her iris made a deep ocean blue. I then realized I was but an inch from her face so I turned away.

“You’re a strange individual… Alaric.” She said. I nearly choked at the sound of my name, yet I maintained my composure. Suddenly I felt better, though I was still too embarrassed to look at her.

“Well… What’s so strange about wanting to understand people” I broke off pieces of the log and threw them into the fire. Her gloved hand stayed mine.

“That’s not what I mean,” she said. Her hand left mine as she clasped them together and held them up to her head. She then raised her index finger and motioned a circle around her forehead, mouth and chest. I realized she was praying, but for what I did not know.

Iselle stood up and smiled. “Thank you for enlightening me tonight” she said. As she walked away I felt as though I had forgotten something. I looked at her headdress and recalled what I wanted to know.

“Lady Iselle” I called. She turned without hesitation. “I meant to ask, why don’t you show your hair more often?” Her face turned red once more.

Bah! How many times must Withea burn me tonight?

“I’m,” her voice trembled, “I’m different.”

Without another word she walked over to her tent. In the orange light of the campfire and the blue light of the moon I sat alone, wondering what she meant by “different.” Another cold chill broke my concentration so I decided to return to bed and think on it some other time.

So yeah, that’s my piece. Not the greatest but I enjoy it all the same. Any Criticisms? Comments? Concerns? When all is said and done I hope to talk more about the world in which these characters live. Until then I hope you have a good day, and that you enjoyed reading this.

 
 

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Magic and Sanderson’s Two Laws

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When I was a child I loved watching Illusionists. One in particular came to the National Date Festival near my home. Every year he put on a show and never failed to amaze me with his tricks. One year (more specifically when I was 16) I gained the courage to talk to him. I told him I spent years watching his tricks and they never grew old. He smiled and thanked me for my patronage, to which I asked:

“How do you make your tricks seem so real?”

To which he responded

“True magic makes you believe it’s real, instead of tricking you into not seeing how it works.”

Back to the plot,

Magic is a narrative tool. On the basest level it allows a protagonist to kill an enemy with a fireball instead of cutting them in half. On a grander scale it can be deeply ingrained in your world’s machinations. In the hands of a master, magic can be narrative device that gives your story a flavor unique to your writing. However, when used poorly, it becomes a Deus Ex Machina.

For those who worry about becoming the latter, I’d look no further than Brandon Sanderson’s “Laws of Magic,” which can be found for free here on wikipedia.

In essence, his Two Laws talk about the practicality of magic in a story. With these guidelines, Sanderson hopes to present magic in a way that is both believable  and exciting. The First Law says that magic comes in two flavors:

The First is called “Hard Magic,” which has rules and restrictions that the audience understands. This turns magic into a science which can be fascinating in how the character’s apply it to their daily lives. It assures the audience and author that there are no unwelcome surprises but at the same time means the author has to truly understand their magic before presenting it. Examples of Hard Magic in stories include Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, or Alchemy in the series Fullmetal Alchemist.

The Second is called “Soft Magic,” or magic that has vague and undefined rules. This allows for a greater sense of wonder to be attained for the reader, but the ability to solve problems without resorting to Deus Ex Machina decreases. Examples of “Soft Magic” in stories includes Harry Potter or “Bending” in Avatar: The Last Airbender.

I’m not here to say that either one is better than the other, but rather the trick is to find what works for you. If you’re still having trouble with making a good system of magic then look no further than Sanderson’s Second Law.

In essence, the Second Law can be summed up as: Limits > Power. One of my favorite examples of this is in Paolo Bacigalupi’s short story The Alchemist. In that world magic can do anything, from healing the terminally ill to causing the sun to set early. However, everytime magic is used, thorny bristles rise up and grow in proportional size to the magic being used. This doesn’t seem like such a trade off until it overtakes farmland, eats away at houses, and releases pollen in the air that causes diseases not even magic can cure. The catharsis of the story begins when the protagonist want’s to find a way to use magic without causing these Spike Weeds to grow. It’s a good example to me because, like the various methods of fuel in the real world, magic in this world causes environmental problems when overused.

I hope this has helped you all with your magic making. Keep in mind, these are merely guidelines, not rules that make or break stories completely. When working on my short stories I find i’m a fan of writing Soft Magic, even though I know exactly how it works. Next time i’ll post an excerpt from a project I’ve been bandying about, but for now i’ll leave it be

So what kind of magic rules do you like most? Do you think all magic should come with limitations? Any particular examples you like?

 
 

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Genre Fiction Commentary – Originality in Fantasy

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Wanna hear a joke? Well since you’re here I guess you’re at least willing to humor me.

So a Fantasy author sits down to plan his first big novel. He smiles, pen in hand, and leans back in his chair.

“Man,” he says with an excited grin, “The best thing about fantasy is that I can make it anything I want. Could be based on any culture in any place from any time. Could be a mix of places and times, or something newly invented by me. Yup, there is literally nothing out of bounds here.”

He looks at his page for about ten seconds. As the pen hits the paper he says “Let’s go with Medieval England!

Now, back to the plot!

Fantasy is a fun genre. It allows us to explore countless worlds and go places only imagination can take us. It challenges us to take the first step into the unknown in the same way (insert protagonist here) does. It can be epic in scale, it can be personal. In this world of infinite possibilities the only thing it can’t be is predictable.

And yet it is.

Story time: When pitching my Senior Project to a friend I told her it was a Fantasy Drama. I was elated when she gasped, wide eyed, at the possibilities my story could bring. The she asked me, “Oh! Is the protagonist some hunky knight trying to save a princess from a dragon in a castle?” Whether she was condescending or not I’ll never know, but I do know that her question left a bad taste in my mouth.

More so than the sheer “wrongness” of her summary, what vexed me the most about our interaction was how quick she was to assume my story could be fit into such a cut-and-paste explanation. And yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized her simple query was quite valid.

Fantasy, for all its possibilities, is in a ghetto as of late. When Fantasy enthusiasts are portrayed, they often are depicted as some variation of this:
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And while i’m all for people loving what they love, I can’t stand the notion that the things I love are so simply caricatured and defined. Like a bad joke, Fantasy gets stereotyped and often made as a joke for those who enjoy it. I mean, why else would they have to make “Adult Covers” of Harry Potter?

https://i0.wp.com/static1.businessinsider.com/image/4e1acf40cadcbb1751280000-400-300/separate-book-covers-were-created-to-get-more-adults-on-board-in-addition-to-children.jpg
See Subject A ^

And yet, I suppose it’s time to ask ourselves: are we, Fantasy fans, partially responsible for this stereotyping? Do we write and read only books in that familiar Medieval England setting, not deigning to step out into the world of more original works of fiction? I’ll admit I too stick to the conventions of fantasy more than I should, and for that I feel as though I am partially responsible for this mess.

So what is to be done? Well, that begins with originality.

Originality, as it’s appropriately named, can breathe new life into even the most dying of tropes. After Airplane came out, no one took Disaster Movies, but when Independence Day came out the genre suddenly became enjoyable once more. Soon afterward we had a flood of disaster movies like Dante’s Peak and Titanic, both of which were enjoyable additions to the genre.

Innovation can revive interest and understanding but that only comes when one has the guts to try something on their own. George R.R. Martin in particular uses the Medieval England setting for his Song of Ice and Fire series. However, rather than focus on the Dragons and Chivalry tropes that have been done to death he focuses on the politics and problems such a society brings. It’s his willingness to try something entirely of his own invention that made Game of Thrones such a hit, and is why Fantasy is seen in a much more appropriate light now than it was ten years ago.

As Winston Churchill once said “Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.” The same can be said of any genre, and while conventions exist for a reason, it is a major disservice to both the reader and the writer to stick to them in fear of the unknown.

Be like the protagonist of your story and dare to step into the unmarked territory, and be unafraid for the lessons that brought you to the Journey’s threshold will serve you well.

Sorry for the long post. I’ll be sure to keep my thoughts more concise next time.
Do you all have a favorite genre of your own? Do you ever feel like stories in said genre are stagnate? How would you overcome them? Any experiences in doing so?

If not, then farewell, until next time. Keep on trekking.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2013 in Fantasy, Uncategorized

 

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First Contact – Hello from Zach

Hey everyone, this is Write-Minded Razo, a blog managed by a recent college grad with a degree in English Writing.

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Typically I introduce myself to internet strangers by talking about my life and things I love. Seeing as I have an About page for that I suppose that won’t be entirely necessary. Still I feel it would be a complete waste of my reader’s time if all I did was ramble in circles about things I do or don’t want to do.

So let’s start afresh shall we? Ahem.

Writing is my passion. I know the phrase “X is my passion” get thrown around a lot but for me I can honestly say this is completely true. Last night I awoke about  2 in the morning simply to write down a sentence that came to me in my sleep. Nothing gets me going on a conversation like writing techniques or story telling. You could call it an obsession of sorts, but it hasn’t caused too many problems with my outside life. However, like a good book or a recent, mindblowing experience, writing is always at the forefront of my mind.

So that’s where this blog comes in. A friend of mine, who runs the blog emilyramos.wordpress.com, told me I should set this up as an online journal with which to share my ideas. She was but one person who encouraged me to make this blog, and as such I feel i’d be doing a great disservice to myself if I didn’t engage the writing community in some way. So that’s where we are now.

Now, i’m not conceited enough to think my ideas and thoughts are a godsend to the writing community (i’ve met enough of those people to know that). I am but one writer with opinions, thoughts, stories, and feelings in a sea of people. However, if my thoughts could inspire more people to pursue their passion, or intrigue others enough to learn more about this life, then I will be content.

I hope this was a satisfactory introduction. I will update every Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday with my thoughts, hopes, dreams, and ideas. I hope it is as beneficial to you all as it is to me.

In closing: thank you for checking out my blog. I hope you stick around for the adventure.

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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