Friday, September 30, 2011

The color of fantasy

I found this quote by George R.R. Martin the other day and really loved it:

"The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as
dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic
moment before we wake.

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with
gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and
olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red
meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the
end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a
parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient
stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of
Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller
when they finally come true?

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong
spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in
fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that
one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow
hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of
They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle
Earth. "

— George R.R. Martin

This expresses well why I love Fantasy so much and (I believe) the thing that non-fantasy readers don't understand. The biggest thing I hear them say is that "Fantasy is just a bunch of make believe. It's not real."

No. It's not real. And that's why I love it. It's not how the world is, it's how it should be. How it could be. Not necessarily the dragons and elves (though that would be cool). It's the courage and the love and the chance for anyone to make a difference. Those are the things that should be. Just because theses stories have wizards and magic doesn't make their meaning any less important.

Like G.K. Chesterton said:

“Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons
exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Hope you all have a happy Friday and a great weekend!

Picture from SXC.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Point: Mastering swordsmanship alone

We've all seen or read the stories. An unskilled Hero must learn how to fight. So he seeks out the master swordsman/Kung fu/Jedi/whatever and finds him cloistered away in the mountains/remote temple/far off planet. Once the Hero finds them and proves that he would make a worthy student, the master teaches him and he return to kick the antagonist’s butt. I can't say about the Jedi, but I know for swordsmanship (and just about any martial art) it isn't as simple as that.

Yes, training directly with a master is one of the best ways to learn, but it's only part of the equation. Someone who trains only with his master would be better then an untrained opponent, but he wouldn't be as good as you would think.

Just because you can spar with and perhaps even beat one master doesn't mean you can beat everyone who isn't as skilled as that master. Real fighting isn't like levels in a video game. There are hundreds of fighting styles and ways people use them. That is why it is important, even necessary, to spar with as many opponents as possible.

If you're opponent knows one trick that you don't then that could give them the upper hand. There's no way for any one person to know all the different forms of fencing. That is why a fencer’s best tool is adaptability. If you can read your opponent and adapt to them, you have a huge advantage.

Back when I was still sport fencing I started going to a saber class. Our club was small and before I started coming there had only been one gal in the class. She had been fencing for a while and could go toe to toe with our coach and, if not beat him, at least make him work for his win.

Then I come along. I've never done saber before. At the time I only had limited experience with foil. Since I had such limited experience my body signals were all over the place. She thought I was feinting an attack when I was just shifting my grip on this new, unfamiliar weapon. One of the first times she came in for an attack I parried and thwak got her right in the side of the head. We were both surprised I got that shot in. She came in for another attack in the same spot, parry, thwak again. It took her several more tries before she found the right counter to my attack.

But why did my attack land in the first place? She was better then me. Much better. But she had only sparred with our coach. She was trying to fence me like she fenced him, expecting me to make a cretin counter attack or fall for a cretin feint. If I had been a better fencer, I might have, she was very skilled in that, but since I wasn't good, I didn't know exactly what to do, so I just did whatever. I was random. That is very hard to fight unless you can quickly adapt.

You can't learn to adapt without having a wide range of opponents to practice on. You can't learn that alone.

Picture from SXC.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Creativity feeds creativity

Last Friday I ran across a post by Ava Jae "Can you lose the ability to write?" I like what she says and to a point I do agree with her solution of pushing through and just do it. She writes:

"If you really want to write, if you really want to see your dreams come
true, you have to go out there and do it yourself. Fulfilled dreams don’t just
land on some lucky person’s lap—they’re chased down and snatched up by the ones
who aren’t afraid to put in the extra work and won’t stop until they see them

I agree that you need to go out and chase down your dreams. If I waited for inspiration to strike me before I started, my writing sessions would be few and far between. You have to have the self control and dedication to sit down and write.

That said, when I get stuck in a rut, or am having difficulties with a story, I find there are some things I need to do that don't necessarily involve pushing through with the writing.

Without fail, every time I come to a dry spot it's because my creative well is empty. I've been working on this novel so long I haven't had time to read a book just for enjoyment or watch my favorite movie again (I've already seen it before, why do I need to watch it again?). The only books I do read are on the craft of writing, or something about the publishing industry (there's a cheery read for you). I don't have time to have fun. I need to write, but nothing is coming.

Is writing always fun?


But when I hit the point where none of what I was writing was fun, I realized that I had lost sight of why I really wanted to be a writer in the first place (Hint: it wasn't for the tweed suit, smoldering cigarette and half drunk bottle of wine... well, maybe the wine ;) ). I started writing because there was something about it that I love. Something that caught my eye and drew me in.
I started writing for the magic. That part of the writing that resonates deep within your soul. That connects with you. I see this in my favorite books and movies. The part that makes me cry. Makes me believe in true love. Opens my eyes to the world around me. Shows me the darkest parts of my own soul. Those are stories that I come back to and watch again and again. Because, even after seeing them a hundred times, I still feel that connection.

So what does this have to do with "writers block" (or whatever you want to call it)? The only way I've been able to break out of that staleness is to reconnect with things that inspire me. Not just stories. I love working in my garden. Watching my finches flutter and squabble over the bath when I put it in. Walking the dog on the back roads where there's nothing but bushes and squirrels to bother me. All theses things are important to filling that well. All of them. And sometimes we have to allow ourselves to indulge in them. That why I love Lani Diane Rich's classes and podcast so much. Those are the things she talks about and teaches. How to love the magic of your story.

Now here's the hard part. Having the self-knowledge to know when you've filled your well and should get back to work. Sometimes it's hard to tell if you need just a little more time or if you've moved on to stalling or have some kind of fear of finishing. Only you can decide that. You have to know yourself. Know what you love. Know what you fear. Know what you are and what you want to be.

It's hard. But no one ever said it would be easy.

So to come full circle, once your well is full you need to push and force yourself to find the time and write. I love how Ava put it:

"Don’t have the time? Make time. No one else is going to do it for

And at the same time, force yourself to make time to do things that you enjoy. Writers have a tendency to feel guilty if they spend three hours looking for just the right songs for the soundtrack of your story or gluing little pictures onto a piece of mat board to make a collage. It's not waisted time. You're thinking about your story. You really are working. Then when you go to write, that creativity that you have been 'indulging' in will feed the creativity of your writing.

One thing flows into the other, we just have to keep the current moving.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Scrivy love

I love the things that I love. And since I love them, I shall tell you about them.

This week: Scrivener for Windows.

I'd heard about Scrivener from other writing friends before, but since I don't have a Mac (and don't plan on getting one) I didn't bother looking at it. Then I heard that they were making a version for Windows. I was still sceptical. I haven't been all that into writing programs. I've been using a plane old Word doc for years. But last month a new story idea hit me, one that will need more organization then others I've done. So I decided to check out this new Scrivener thingy.

OMG. It is so cool.

Not only does it have all the standard scene and chapter file organization (nothing particularly special there), but it has a way to split the screen so you can view two files at the same time (actually you can split it in a number of different ways). My favorite use for this feature is to have the top part the text I'm working on and the bottom to show pictures of the place holders I have chosen for each character (if you don't know what I'm talking about check out this post). So I'm essentially looking at the characters as I'm writing about them. Very cool feature that I didn't expect, but am really enjoying.

Another thing I like is the ability to see the manuscript in broken up scenes or as one long document. This is reminiscent of my single Word doc days, but it's much easier to rearrange scenes (drag and drop).

The cork board feature is cool, seeing the scene descriptions on little cards on the screen. I doubt I will use it that much. If I do write out scene cards I like to feel them and touch them and pin them on a board by hand. That's just me. If I weren't so neurotic about it, the ones on the screen would probably work just fine.

Scrivener also has a full screen mode with all kinds of adjustments (width of the typing space, opacity of the background, size of the text, etc.) That's nice when I want to block everything else out and type. There's also a setting that keeps the text your typing in the middle of the page so you're not looking at the bottom. I like that for typing new stuff, but not for editing because as soon as you type something it snaps it to the middle of the page. The text moving around like that I find a little disorienting, but it's not the big of an issue because I can just exit full screen and it doesn't do that.

Over all, really cool program and I'm still playing with all the buttons to see what else it can do. This is just the beta version that I have, but I haven't run into any problems with it yet. They are going to have the beta version up until September 30th. So if you want to try it out you better get over there.

I don't know when I will be for sale, but as soon as it is, I'm buying it! And as an added bonus they're giving a 50% discount to those who won NaNoWriMo last year (which I did ^_^).

Picture from SXC.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I have buttons! (and they can crow)

I recently got a pair of Button Quail, probably the cutest little birds out there. At first I thought I had two females, but recently one of them has started making a strange warbling kind of crow. So I'm really not sure now.

In honor of my little cuties and because it's Monday (seriously, everyone can use a dose of cute on Monday). I found this clip of a group of little Quail crowing.

Enjoy and good luck surviving Monday.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Point: Bloody Sheath

I love Brandon Sanderson. I really do. But a scene in Warbreaker where one of the characters sheathes a bloody sword seriously made me twitch. All though I may give him the benefit of the doubt, because it was a bad guy who did it. Maybe Sanderson did it on purpose, because only a really bad guy would treat their sword like that....

Or maybe I'm the only one who noticed.

I have scene the same sort of thing from other books as well (but of course none of those books were as awesome as Sanderson's). The victorious hero will be standing above the bad guy's slain minions, bloody sword in hand. The battle is over so the hero takes his bloody sword and sheathes it. Now, before I start screaming and ranting, lets think about this. You have a sword that is covered in blood. A piece of metal covered in a liquid. Moisture is the enemy of metal. Dirt and debris on the blade will scratch it. Getting a scratch on your blade in the middle of battle is one thing, marking up your blade because you're too lazy to take proper care of it is another. Something as small as the oil from a finger print can leave rust marks.

If you want to take good and proper care of your sword (The sword that, by the way, your life will depend on in the middle of a battle) clean it off! My sword master wipes down his blades with 3 in 1, but the first step is to get all the blood and dirt off.

Keep my eye from twitching, have your characters clean their blades!