Wednesday, March 28, 2007

One sweep down

Manuscript swept once for spelling errors and other glaring language errors. I still have the rewriting ahead of me though. Anyway, with the scheduled tasks done I'll be able to dedicate more time to my writing, or editing if you prefer.

Locally weather has taken a turn for the better. By that I mean that we're breaking all temperature records since they started documenting temperature during the 19th century. And one can feel it. Apart from freezing nights the weather outdoors resembles late April rather than Mars.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The joys of a working laptop

Marvellous timing. Less than two days left until an exam I need to attend, and after that I can spend more time with my writing. And I've got a working laptop. That's truly good news for me.

Did I say I'm satisfied?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tag, you're it.

Or something like that.

It would seem I've been targeted by some pretty harmless version of the old chain letters. As usual it involves exponential growth, which obviously invalidates the entire concept pretty soon.

Well, as it's aimed at increasing traffic to blogs, why not?

Write six peculiar facts about yourself, send the message on to six bloggers and link back, preferably to the post in question and dive for cover. Ok, the last part isn't actually part of the concept, but it seems to be a good move.

I was targeted by a Swedish fellow writer, so I'll keep it within the family so to say. The poor sods are as follows:

Hello Mag, you're it, as are Gab, Cat, Hud and Kon (yes I know you prefer Neko). Now there's a strange way of counting to six, but as you can see I have problems with nametags using more than three letters. *grin*

As for peculiarities of mine:

1) I can conveniently forget how to count to six, as seen above.
2) Five by six. Always five by six. Play V:TES or fail to understand.
3) Chats to the left. I guess that takes using Firefox to get.
4) I don't write in my native tongue.
5) I outline but seldom keep to the outline
6) Plot is king. Repeat after me: plot is king. And you really need to be a writer to understand why that is something peculiar.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Trying out the new cards

I tried a few of the new cards during our weekly pub game. One construction worked exceedingly well. Not saying I made a particularly well designed deck, but the cards came as needed and in the end I fielded a juggernaut.

Other games saw my decks crushed, which is as it should be. Still, it looks promising for this little expansion.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Fun Pre-release

The Sword of Caine mini expansion promises to be a fun addition to the game I favour. It's yet another step in the direction of promoting the combat aspect of the game, something I'm only happy to see.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Reading "good" literature

And it was boring beyond belief.

I've been consuming the kind of literature that receives accolades but few readers. Depressed characters committed to depressing actions in a depressing environment struggle through a bleak everyday reality where they are too cowardly to openly express their political agenda. I guess it's supposed to be a realistic description of the small man's indignation over an unfair world, but most of all it's a realistic admission of being guilty of all and every prejudice concerning literary fiction.

Am I ranting? Of course I am.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Critting while waiting

Well, that's what I do now that everyday duties are cleared.

Being unable pick a seat without finding AC has been a stunt, but critting I can do from home. Even though giving crits is part of the writing process for me it doesn't require the undisturbed double hour or so. Said double hour is not an option with a small daughter wreaking havoc in the home if unchecked.

Well, this was rambling, I know. I just hate the absence of a decent laptop.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

And even more on breaking the law

This time I will look at the local law. By this I mean the law as it is seen by the local population. Again social norms and taboos are included in the concept of law. Please bear in mind that in this context a law that forbids adult men from drinking water between Friday sundown and Saturday morning is not outlandish by any means. It's a local law.

Again we can divide the law into categories.

Formal laws that most everyone agree are good.

Informal laws considered good.

Formal laws mostly considered oppressive (bad).

Informal laws a large minority consider oppressive (bad).

In fiction your 'good guys' break the first two at great risk of being ostracised by the reader. Well, that might seem like a strange word, but if a reader drops the book never to read it again and tells anyone listening that it is a bad read said book just lost a few readers. And rumours do grow wings.

The problem here lies in making two things clear to the reader. One I have touched upon earlier, namely that the reader needs to know why and when a local (fictional) law differs from the reader's local law. The second is a compelling reason to continue to read about a 'hero' committing such a crime.

Villains are more or less assumed to either break the first two kinds of laws or at least to adhere to the latter two rigidly. At least if we as writers want the easy way out.

A 'hero' breaking the latter two usually gives the reader a feeling of the good fight against injustice. Again we are talking simple stereotypes.

The maybe all too easy solution is to have the last two types of laws mirror outdated and cruel laws from history. A possibly more dangerous trap is when the law broken belong to group 1 or 2 in the fictional world but in 3 or 4 in the world of the reader. All too often the story falls flat or becomes inconsistent.

I will most probably return to this topic or a similar one later, but this article should be the last of its kind for a while.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

More on the abstraction of breaking the law

I'll continue my thoughts about breaking the law. This time I'll concentrate on the concept of law and what it translates into when we write speculative fiction. Remember that I include unwritten rules of society in the concept of law. By this definition you break a law when you refuse to accept a handshake in today's western world.

First of all, the law isn't what you and I think it is, and it's just what we think it is. How do we combine these two contrary statements? I'll try by giving a couple of examples.

Beating a small child to death. That violates the law. Even in cultures where small children have been left to die of exposure the active action of killing the child seems to have been abhorrent. In the cases where a formal law has allowed for such an action literature still presents the deed as a violation of a greater law. In other words the formal law becomes unlawful. Most of us would agree on that the act is unlawful no matter what culture we belong to.

Eating food of a certain type. Here we enter the realm of cultural differences. Here I chose to lump together culture and religion for the sake of simplicity. We're usually aware of the existence of those rules, and quite a few of us adhere to one or more of these. The age at which an individual can safely be introduced to the two most basic aspects of life is another such example. Procreation and death.

Having a specific haircut or clothes of a certain color. Sleeping with your feet to the east. Reading books after sunset. Immersing yourself in water on Saturdays. Some of these examples have been clear violations of existing laws and others I simply made up.

We could call the first group, of which I gave only one example, is the universal law. A generic human law that is shared by all cultures. The second group are laws we can understand. We have them but they do not, or vice versa. The third is the collection that simply seem strange and outlandish.

It's important to understand that the second and third group are really the same. What seems peculiar to us is natural or at least understandable for those familiar with it. The opposite also applies.

That opposite is what we tend to handle when we write speculative fiction. Equality between the sexes or ethnic origins, democracy, freedom of speech and somewhat equal laws for all people are all perfect examples of outrageous and dangerous concepts. Thus they are all a clear breach of the law. Or at least could be. "God told me so in my dreams," gets you behind bars today in the western world, but would have been a perfectly sensible reason for a massacre in another setting.

Perfectly sensible means that the character breaking the law can't expect much understanding from the society where that law has been violated. Perfectly sensible also means that the perpetrator should normally feels a sense of wrong unless that person already is at odds with that aspect of society. Perfectly sensible means perfectly sensible now, where now is the time when the law was broken.

Laws aren't written in stone. In fact a surprising number of laws change in the course of a single generation. As humans are humans there's no reason all laws should stay the same for thousands of years.

Well, I think I'll leave the topic for now. There will be reasons to return to it again.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The abstraction of breaking the law

I don't think I'll finish this piece of rambling in one go, but that really only gives me a perfect reason to write more here.

The title really highlights the topic. The law is abstract, but we tend to see the act of breaking the law as something concrete. This is in itself an interesting topic, but not one I'll cover here. I'll focus on the concept of the abstract and the law and the genre I write in -- Science Fiction / Fantasy.

By law I mean any legal framework that is accepted as law. It may be conventions, social norms, fear of persecution or the kind of written law we westerners take for granted these days. Thus breaking the law may not have any formal effects, but the offender might become ostracized anyway. It is the law as far as a general feeling of something bad happening if you break it.

I also have to point out that laws differ. We know that. We may not agree with a different set of laws elsewhere, but we still accept that they are laws there, at least given the wider definition of law I used above.

This is not about right or wrong laws. Try to keep this in mind. You don't need to approve of a legal system to accept that it is in place. Might makes right is one legal system that most of us would frown upon, but it is still a legal system that has been widely used, and arguably is still commonly used.

When writing SFF we need to remind ourselves of this. We create worlds populated with people, and those people live in a context. You may want to call it culture, and you would be correct in doing so. A culture have restrictions as well as opportunities. Those restrictions could be grouped under the term of law as used here. As a writer I'm obliged to provide my reader with a law that the reader can understand. Not like, not accept but understand.

Comes the abstraction of breaking the law. A character takes an action, or refuses to take an action, and thus breaks the law. This would only create a realistic situation if that law happened to be something the reader can relate to. By relate to I mean in terms of what the law is. If the act doesn't offend a social sensitivity the reader would recognize then no law is broken. Beat up a small child; we can relate to that. Commit burglary; again we can see why it would be a bad thing to do. Recite a poem; now we enter into the shadow zone, but we still know of repressive places where it could be unwise. Take a bath between noon and sundown; and we definitely stepped into the area that is marked with white on the map. We can't relate and the abstraction no longer does its work.

What doesn't feel like breaking the law can't be breaking the law. Something will remain lacking in the emotional communication between writer and reader unless this is rectified. Unless the reader has been given a reason to accept that in the alternate reality where the story takes place this is the law, then acting against it will be either a non-event or, possibly even worse, an obvious choice that requires no afterthought.

If I as the writer fail to convene the law to the reader in a convincing way then that law has no foundation in the story, and breaking the law has no real place in the story. How many times haven't we read a story that is based on a character breaking the law for the better good? How many times have we read a story where that character feels honestly bad about doing what we automatically assume is good?

I'll return later with more ways to make breaking the law an act of abstraction.