Tag Archives: writing advice

46 – Story Research

Daystar and Alexander discuss the common necessities of research for writing fiction.

Co-hosted by Alexander Wales

With thanks to Tim Yarbrough for the Intro/Outro music, G.A.T.O Must Be Respected

Links

Vulgar, language generator useful for consistency in made up languages: https://www.vulgarlang.com/

Google Translate, for real languages: https://translate.google.com/

Etymology Online, for word origins: https://www.etymonline.com/

Google N-gram viewer, for historical usage patterns: https://books.google.com/ngrams

WolframAlpha, for math and physics: https://www.wolframalpha.com/

Wikipedia, orders of magnitude for physics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Orders_of_magnitude

Timestamps

0:30 A Stable of Experts

12:49 Inspirational Research

19:15 Spot Research

45 – Writing as a Skill (Guest: Kuiper)

Daystar and Alexander are joined by professional game writer Kuiper to discuss writing as a skill, or rather a set of skills, and the ways people can improve them.

Kuiper’s various work can be found on his site.

Co-hosted by Alexander Wales

With thanks to Tim Yarbrough for the Intro/Outro music, G.A.T.O Must Be Respected

Links

Brandon Sanderson lecture on description and and viewpoint.

Timestamps

1:19 Writing as a skill

21:03 What improves writing?

24:20 Don’t grow attached to your ideas

32:45 Skilling up one at a time

45:36 Sticking with or abandoning

50:25 Other ways to improve writing.

44 – Worldbuilding II (Guest: Erratic Errata)

Guest writer Erratic Errata joins Daystar and Alexander to discuss more aspects of world building, particularly in his serial A Practical Guide to Evil.

Co-hosted by Alexander Wales

With thanks to Tim Yarbrough for the Intro/Outro music, G.A.T.O Must Be Respected

Links

A Practical Guide to Evil by Erratic Errata

Stronghold Builders Guidebook

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge (Book 1: A Fire Upon the Deep)

A Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (Book 1: The Name of the Wind)

Anita Blake by Laurell K. Hamilton

Timestamps

1:36 Planet of Hats

12:01 Societal Axioms

20:02 Reconstructing Tropes

26:24 Playing with Narrative

35:38 Worldbuilding Differences

44:10 Free Will and Deities

50:10 Video game inspiration

55:47 A Practical Guide to Evil Q&A

41 – Worldbuilding: Second Order Effects

Daystar and Alexander discuss worldbuilding, and why considering second-order effects is so important to making it rational, and can help in finding or fleshing out good plots.

Co-hosted by Alexander Wales

With thanks to Tim Yarbrough for the Intro/Outro music, G.A.T.O Must Be Respected

Links

Asterisk War Sucks

Timestamps

2:50 Battle School concept

6:46 Inadequate Equilibria As Story Elements

22:55 Shadows of the Limelight

28:22 Consequence of the Consequence

37:20 Aesop Exacerbation

41:14 Confronting Civilizational Inadequacy

Alexander’s Book Recommendation

My recommendation for this week is The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson, starting with “The Way of Kings.” Sanderson is a rather prolific author, and this is his epic fantasy series, with thick, doorstopper books, dozens of viewpoint characters, and a larger scale than he’s worked on before.

I feel like worldbuilding, and specifically, second-order worldbuilding, has always been one of Sanderson’s strong points. The world of Roshar is dominated by immense, rock-hurling storms that move from east to west, which has all sorts of interesting first order effects, like the best places to build cities being in the lee of a mountain or cliff, and architecture being suited specifically to defend against heavy winds from one side. The second order effects are in trade, travel, the organization of civilizations, and the prominence of cities. Because the highstorms grow weaker as they move across Roshar, the vegetation and plantlife is affected, and the civilizations that live within them are adapted to different conditions.

If you want to give it a listen instead of a read, you can go to Audible and get a free book credit when you start a trial, and by using that link you can help support the show!

40 – Review: The Prestige


Daystar and Alexander review the movie The Prestige, and explore what made it such a well constructed, perhaps even rational, work of fiction.

Co-hosted by Alexander Wales

With thanks to Tim Yarbrough for the Intro/Outro music, G.A.T.O Must Be Respected

Links

The Prestige

Primer

Timestamps

2:24 Summary + Was it Rational?

16:30 Foreshadowing

21:34 Clashing Ideologies

25:22 Noticing Confusion

30:25 Magic and Storytelling

45:40 Repeat Viewings

39 – Children in Fiction

Daystar and Alexander discuss children in fiction, including what makes them realistic and why reactions to them can vary so widely.

Co-hosted by Alexander Wales

With thanks to Tim Yarbrough for the Intro/Outro music, G.A.T.O Must Be Respected

Links

Stranger Things

IT by Stephen King

Dark Wizard of Donkirk by Alexander Wales

Time Stamps

0:31 Advantages of child protagonists

4:43 “Children don’t act like that.”

16:00 Keeping smart/mature children children

20:37 Evergreen methods

26:40 Predictive Processing and “Wonder”

34:33 Pokemon: The Origin of Species

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Hey everyone, this week I’m recommending IT, by Stephen King. While the movie that was recently released was a well made adaptation, it’s impossible for any single movie, or even pair of movies, to capture the world and characters of the book, which is about 450 thousands words long, almost half the length of the Harry Potter series. The reason I’m recommending it this week is because IT is like few other books in capturing the feeling of being children: the friendship, the fear, the tragedy, the lack of control, the imagination, all of it.

There’s also an evil shapeshifting clown monster, of course, an eldritch avatar of fear that is nearly as iconic as any horror monsters out there, but that’s not where I would say the heart and soul of the story is: for me that has always been the characters. The children in IT can at times be caricatures, but they’re caricatures in the ways that kids can be caricatures, still developing who they are as people by committing to one dimension at at time while you watch the other two grow. And seeing them all do this together, to fight an unspeakable evil that only they can face, is fantastically done.

As a rational work, IT is middle of the road: a lot of the monster’s true mechanics are left vague, and what “magic” there is in the story is the wild and unexamined kind. But there are great explanations for why it’s up to the kids to deal with this instead of getting adults involved, and the characters do their best to understand their mercurial enemy and strategize against it without the gifts of particularly high intelligence or rationalist techniques. Mistakes feel organic and understandable, and there’s little if any Idiot Ball holding.

Some content warnings: the book does include a lot of grotesquery, in the forms of gory deaths, including of children. There’s also a sex scene near the end that squiks a lot of people out for understandable reasons. Overall though, I think IT is one of Stephen King’s best works, and the first piece of fiction I think of when I think of writing realistic children. The second, incidentally, is also by Stephen King, a much shorter non-horror novella called The Body, which was adapted into the movie Stand By Me and can be found in the book Different Seasons.

Both can be found at Audible, and if you don’t already have an account, you can sign up for a trial and get a free book at http://www.audibletrial.com/rational

Thanks for listening!

Review: The Last Jedi (Spoilerrific)

There was so much wrong with this movie that I’m having trouble deciding if it was or worse than the last one. On reflection I can think of only a handful of scenes I really enjoyed:

1) Rose’s introduction where she meets Fin. Her switch from star-struck to professional was great.

2) Luke’s confrontation with Kylo and overall fakeout. It was the perfect rollercoaster of emotions, from anticipation to shock to confusion to suspicion to elated confirmation.

3) The slicer (or whatever they called him)’s “betrayal”: it was nice to see a mercenary really act like a mercenary and not end up siding with the good guys. I actually look forward to his character in the third movie. I suspect he will end up being good eventually, but would be happy to be surprised.

4) Corny as it was, the caretakers on the island made me laugh, particularly when Rey sliced the rocks and knocked away their cart. Something about their resigned body language was perfectly humorous to me.

5) Yoda’s conversation with Luke was good, and I particularly liked his remark about the ancient texts being rather dry and basic compared to what modern Jedi have learned and could teach.

6) Music overall was great, as usual. Not even the prequels could drag down the score for these films.

7) The lightsaber battle with Kylo and Rey, and their subsequent conversation, was good. Kylo’s goals were subversive and persuasive enough to actually make me think Rey would side with him, which would have cemented the movie as the spiritual successor to Empire’s “bad ending.” Pretty disappointed that didn’t turn out to be the case.

8) The movie at various points seems self-aware of the criticism the first movie got, like Snoke asking Kylo to take off his “ridiculous” helmet. Unfortunately, it did not take this self-awareness into any actually constructive directions…

With that I’ll get to my list of things I disliked, which are far, far greater. I’ll try to summarize to the really important stuff in plot or character missteps:

1) The intro for Rose was subsequently ruined by the two of them finishing each other’s sentences about how the ship was tracked through hyperspace, as if such a unique and shocking thing to everyone else would be immediately apparent to two people at once, neither of which I’ve been given any reason to believe have a thorough understanding of the mechanics or physics involved. I would have been more okay with it if she had figured it out herself, but it still bothers me how quickly this idea was introduced, solved, and never actually explained in any way. Is tracking through hyperspace something everyone will know how to do, now? Won’t that fundamentally change the very nature of warfare in the Star Wars universe? I know the heroes have more pressing matters to address, but like the hyperspace-into-planet-‘s-atmosphere trick in the last movie, I’ve seen this kind of playing fast-and-loose with the rules of the universe inevitably end up coming back to bite writers, and I don’t have any reason to suspect future Star Wars will avoid the plot holes that will arise from things like this.

2) The entire plotline with the ship chase bothered me, not the least because its conflict came from stupidity-through-miscommunication, the lowest level of idiot-ball holding. The lady who took over after Leia made my brain feel like it was melting. I want heroes to make mistakes and suffer consequences, but I have trouble rooting for people who make mistakes as basic as “don’t tell a hotheaded and charismatic underling that I have a plan” and then “don’t tell him the plan even while they’re holding me at gunpoint while staging a coup.” Poe is an idiot, but he’s an idiot within the narrowly acceptable confines of his character archetype and potential arc for growth. The lady with the pink hair was actively immersion breaking to me, in part because she kept getting talked up as some great commander.

3) Let’s talk more about that chase. A whole fleet is chasing 3 ships in a straight line for hours because they somehow can stay just out of range, and not once does the New Order call for reinforcements from elsewhere to jump into the system and cut them off? Again, they were chasing them for hours. Is that all the ships they have in the New Order? Fuck, why not just have a couple of them jump forward, then turn around and jump back just ahead of the Resistance ships? This whole plotline was mind-mindbogglingly stupid and the fact that it got through writing, editing, and shooting without someone in charge going “Hey, are our villains just colossally dumb? Like too stupid to be believably threatening?” makes me mark this movie as Prequel levels of mismanaged.

4) Speaking of which, no one anywhere in the Star Wars universe above the age of 10 should be surprised by someone using hyper-speed as a weapon, if that’s a thing that people can actually get away with doing, let alone anyone in a military, let alone someone in charge of one. For Hux to be made aware that they were charging their hyperspace engines, then choose to ignore the ship turning toward them until it was too late was utterly immersion breaking. When the villains remain dumb-as-doorknobs throughout the movie, something I was hoping would change after they got their asses handed to them so badly in the last movie, I have trouble taking any threats or heroics seriously. Why is Hux still in charge of ANYTHING at this point? He has made terrible calls during pretty much every single job he’s been given: if there was something specific from him that made their plan to destroy the New Republic planets a success, it was never shown. If Snoke wasn’t dead I would suspect him of being a Jedi plant who’s trying to bring down the First Order from within by keeping some bumbling idiot in charge of its military. The scene of the ship being destroyed was amazing, and showing it in silence was a great choice by the director, but seeing villains be so easily made fools of makes it hard for me to remain interested in a movie.

5) I’m dissatisfied with Han’s dice remaining just long enough for Kylo to find them, as it happened after Luke faded away. Then again, we just saw Yoda return as a spirit yet again and CALL LIGHTNING FROM THE SKY WTF YODA MAYBE YOU COULD HAVE HELPED OUT ON ENDOR WITH SOME OF THAT SHIT so who knows what powers Luke will retain as a spirit and whether he maintained the illusion/construct purposefully to mess with Kylo.

6) Fin’s role in these movies still continues to disappoint and irritate me. Part of it is remaining from the first movie, his character could have been SO MUCH MORE, he could have been an actual storm trooper who had his stomach turned from violence/The Empire after years of slaughter and losing his friend, but no, that was just some random guy who put blood on his helmet, it was Fin’s first mission apparently, he was a JANITOR before then, and so he’s morally in the clear and doesn’t have to have any interesting character arcs other than that of being a coward, which has yet to have any actual impact on the story, especially since Rose stopped him from sacrificing himself with an utterly nonsensical line about “saving what we love” rather than “destroying what we hate” which irritated me even more because they should totally have been captured or killed after crashing a few meters away from an advancing Imperial armada, but whatever, I’ve already harped on the bad guys being laughably incompetent.

7) Goddammit I can’t believe they actually brought Phasma back after throwing her into a trash chute on a planet that exploded less than an hour (?) later, and she STILL accomplished nothing of any importance whatsoever. How she even got out of the trash chute in the last movie, knew to get off planet, and managed to do so in time will forever remain a mystery, unless maybe they bring her back from pointless death yet again. It irritates me all over again that apparently her armor is the only set ever made to actually do something, and they gave it to a coward who capitulated as soon as someone stuck a gun to her head, a gun whose blasts would RICOCHET OFF IF THEY’D SHOT HER ANYWAY APPARENTLY ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME ARRGHIWIFIAOAIWOAWQEI-

*coughs*

Anyway…

8) The casino scene was soulless. Felt like I was watching the prequels again. Not everything in Star Wars has to be grungy, but the aesops were so forced and heavy handed and the setting was just really underutilized. Also the movie seemed to treat it like some great victory when they “saved” the animals, even though they would all surely quickly be returned, but… they left the slave children behind. What made this a good decision? The whole thing felt like empty window dressing. Same goes for the high speed chase and eventual rescue by BB-8 and the slicer.

9) BB-8 incapacitating guards by shooting coins at them, then piloting an AT-ST, makes me once again wonder why droids aren’t regularly doing more in this universe. I’m pretty sure he has a higher kill-count than any of the heroes do at this point, just from on-screen effectiveness anyway. Again I was reminded of the prequels, watching Jar-Jar save the day through slapstick. BB-8 is at least doing things intentionally, but if I’m supposed to take him seriously as an action hero, I don’t understand why no one else in the movie is doing so. Hell it was an enemy droid that spotted them! How did BB-8 get away and why was he not immediately deactivated for re-programming? Did they want to torture him too?

There’s more I can say of substance and a lot more I could say that were just minor irritations, but I’m going to limit myself to just one nitpick, since it was truly distracting:

10) Rey’s makeup. She’s on a practically deserted island trying to learn how to be a Jedi but she has time for lipstick and eyeliner? Did she have such obvious makeup in the last movie? I don’t remember it, but there’s nothing in her past as a scrappy desert-scavenger to demonstrate where and why she acquired and learned to use makeup.

I’m probably going to end up ranting about this more at some point and adding to this list. But those are the things most immediately irritating to me right now.

38 – The Medium of Prose Fiction

Daystar and Alexander discuss the unique aspects of the various mediums of prose fiction, and how new technologies introduce new opportunities and challenges.

Co-hosted by Alexander Wales

With thanks to Tim Yarbrough for the Intro/Outro music, G.A.T.O Must Be Respected

Links

The Northern Caves by nostalgebraist

House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski

The Dionaea House

Homestuck

Dogs of Future Past

Timestamps

5:03 Technological limitations

11:01 Conventions

16:45 New Media

19:27 Music

24:45 Subjectivity

31:45 Mediumception