Saturday, March 30, 2019

Full Picture vs Moving Image - writing tip

Today I re-read my Bleach Fanfiction "Nature of Power." It is an A.U. where Orihime became Rukia's substitute instead of Ichigo. Switching the focus from Orihime to Ichigo reorients the focus and details of every scene. Even though I was adapting a story that someone else had written, a lot of original content was necessary. This is particularly true during Uryu's introduction because Orihime is a friendly and empathetic girl who wants to join forces with him and is already spending time with him in the schools' Craft Club. Not to sound immodest but I impressed myself.

I think I did a good job bringing Orihime's Cloudcuckoolander humor into the narration and her interactions with others, such as Rukia. I also liked how I wrote the combat scenes, but most of all when Orihime fights the Menos Grade that appeared during the hunting duel that Uryu starts in cannon. Again, I don't mean to brag, but I started smiling at the combat tension, foreshadowing, and interweaving the canon element of Uryu's grandfather wanting Shinigami and Quincy to work together with my AU's idea that Orihime was building a superhero team. It was then that I had a realization.

I wasn't focusing on scenery. I wasn't writing about the landscape or the weather, and there was only a little about character expressions and appearances. It was all about emotion, action and motivation. The scenes were quick. I wasn't "painting the full picture" as has been my focus . I wrote this fanfiction long before that. At the time my thinking was "anyone whose going to read an anime AU fanfiction will already know what everything looks like" so there was no need. That led to the second realization.

If one is going to "paint the full picture" then one has to paint a picture. That is, they will create a static image. That's the definition of a picture. Yes, there are ways to suggest movement and action etc. within a literal picture but when using a "picture" as a metaphor for writing.....the analogy gets away you.

I realized that it could lead to describing something "as it is". That is a motionless scene. It is a static image.

As I wrote this, I thought about manga. Specifically, Mahou Sensei Negima, because I happened to be re-reading the eight omnibus today as well. It has this splash page that shows Ostia from a high distance. It is a two page spread and separate from the story's narrative. This is what I am talking about. You have the static image of Ostia ("New Ostia" technically) and then action of the narrative. They are separate so they don't interfere with each other. More generally, there's the practice of "establishment panels" that show the reader (or viewer) the setting so future panels can focus on characters and actions.

This sets the stage. It is a necessary step but an info dump of the environment can bog things down just like an info dump of magical mechanics. Scenic detail and action description; it will be a balancing act.. Like a video is composed of quickly moving pictures, I need to include both. As I write in the future, I will keep this in mind.

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Using Backstories to Enchance a Narrative

Just this week, my Dungeons and Dragons group shared our character's personal backstories. This was huge. For me at least; backstories add more to my enjoyment of the campaign than anything short of the Dungeon Master's narrative for the campaign. Now I feel like I can better connect to the  characters of the other players and we can better play as the characters themselves instead of like remotely operating them.

It is a more direct experience. It is a more immersive experience. Finally, it opens the possibility of those backstories influencing the events of the campaign, thus leading to a more unique experience.  All these things can be used to enhance a novel as well as a tabletop game.

For instance, I decided that my character didn't like high elves (despite being one himself) because of something in his backstory. This flavored the party's encounter with some high elves that were in trouble. It is something that got the group talking about the subject and led to a fun event that connected with something from a previous session.
As part of the same encounter, another player did something purely because that is how their character, with their backstory, would act. This turned out to be the key to something that could enable our party to move forward with a particular task. I am still thinking about how my character can make use of that event in the coming session.

All of this happened because our players put thought into their backstories. Without this, our characters would be stats on sheets. At best, amnesiac heroes who popped into existence one day and started marching. It would still be fun to play, don't get me wrong (I know some people are more interested in power gaming) but it would be less fun to read about.

If a hero has a history with a villain, be it anything from former friend to forgotten victim to arch enemy, then their conflict has more emotional heft. Likewise, if two party members have a history prior to the campaign (or the current campaign for that matter) then they can parlay that into discussion, battle tactics and story decisions.

I have another example from a different source. It is, in fact, what inspired me to write this blog article.

Every time I watch the beginning of a Black Clover episode, I smile. "All seemed lost until a lone mage stepped forward and took up the fight", this solemn narration accompanied by visual of the original Wizard King in his famous battle is nothing short of classical fantasy awesome. Say what you will about the manga's originality but it is amazing in how it uses its backstory.

This backstory sets the tone for each episode and the story as a whole. It is an epic that involves grand heroes fighting against overwhelming odds. It is encapsulates what Asta and Yuno, our principal characters, aspire to be. It says a lot by saying little. All these enhance the story that unfolds in each episode.

For without it, fewer things would make sense. Asta's drive to become the Wizard King would have less weight because the audience wouldn't know what it was, and without the demon, there would be no sense of how important such a role is. More broadly, it says this is going to be a heroic fantasy and promises battles of might and magic.

This is why creating a backstory is part of my process when I create new characters. I want to know who they were by learning where they come from. I want to know how they gained their skills and what events formed the personality they have at the start of the story.

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Medieval Military Technology - read for fun

Medieval Military Technology is another one of the college books that I kept. I find it a useful resource for novel writing.

Interestingly, it is more than just Europe's medieval period. Each section, be it Armor, Weapons, Fortifications, or Warships, goes all the way back to pre-history. Then it goes through the classical periods in Egypt, Greece and Rome. Presumably, this is for contrast. How these things change and how they stay the same is one of the book's themes. I am grateful for this addition.

Because of it there is more useful information here for elements that appear in the Medieval Fantasy genre. Every kind of martial weapon from the period has a little section devoted to it; construction, use, artistic representation etc.. The evolution of fortifications is particularly interesting to me: motte and bailey style military forts to tower keeps to castle complexes and then to fortified residences. The book's scope goes all the way to defenses against gun powder cannons.

There are also many illustrations to go with the written descriptions of whatever piece of technology the author is writing about. It is helpful to visualize and understand.

In regards to historian debate, there is a mixture here. Some sections, such as the one about mounted shock combat and the stirrup are just DeVries consolidating all the theories and the criticism of those theories up to the time of the book's publication. There is little, that I can see, of the author's personal view on the subject. In other sections, like the effectiveness of the Roman fortifications during the 4th century barbarian invasions, Devries is quite insistent that the walls, ditches etc. did exactly what they were supposed to do and that the "barbarians" who settled within them afterward knew perfectly well how to build their own but only maintained the already excellently built and positioned Roman walls.

This will indeed be a useful resource going forwards.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Medieval Military Technology" an A+

Click here for my next book review (for fun): Mahou Sensei Negima omnibus #8

Click here for my previous book review (a request): The Counterfeit Count

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Counterfeit Count - answering review request

Armen Pogharian asked me to read his novel "Counterfeit Count". It is a sequel to "Poisoned Princess" but it was delightful how stand-alone it is. I will examine Plot, Character and Polish, and then assign a grade.

This one is like the Final Exam from Hell. Adara is in the final stages of her Warder training (basically black ops for the kingdom of Eridan) when her final test, one of stealth, stumbles into a conspiracy where a failing grade will lead to her death. Without her mentor and few resources, she needs to unravel the conspiracy before it can reach its goal.

There are other viewpoints involved but what I like about this book is how it is used. There are two others, Toran (Adara's fellow Warder) and Geren (her mentor). Toran's viewpoint is basically meeting up with her at the city where the plot takes place, at which point their viewpoints merge. Geren's viewpoints are few and far between, to add useful information to the reader's perspective as well dramatic irony. In other words, the multiple viewpoints do not compete for space and instead blend well.

There's also an exclusive scene or two with the villains, but one of them is the prologue to set up the plot in the first place.

While the previous story was a Quest narrative, this one is conspiracy/mystery thing. The heroes need to find the real count and figure out the evil plan so they can thwart it. It's like the same players but different D&D module. Which creates a different sort of fun with the same sort of charm. There's even a scene where the quartermaster (so to speak) of the Warden's is explaining the range of a mission critical ranged weapon.

I like the ending. It is both complete and incomplete. It's like The Adventure Continues but diving immediately into the details of that adventure; no pause between them.


There is a lot of Adara this time. In the previous story, she didn't have the skills for such a quest but here she puts her new training to good use. There's also more of her backstory and personal traits. Little details like her favorite tea blend fill in characterization. Then there's her sneaky and spying and deducing stuff.

As for Toran, the protagonist of the previous story, he seems to be a lot more worried about Adara than the other warders.

The villain isn't going to win any prizes for depth or sympathy or magnificence etc. He's rather flat as an ambitious and ruthless individual but I'd hardly call that a fault. The wider context of villainy and conflict is plenty interesting.


It looks good, technically speaking.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Counterfeit Count" an A+

This has been a free review request. The author requested an honest review so I provided one.

Click here for my next book review: Medieval Military Technology

Click here for my previous book review: Stolen Magic

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, March 2, 2019

D&D is a unique experience

For the last several weeks I've been going to regular Dungeons and Dragons sessions at a local café. I must say it has been a blast.

Normally I only have my own mind and imagination for writing stories. I control all the characters, the setting, and the story. When I read or play a game, it is the opposite; no control over anything. The books are obviously set in stone at publishing and video games offer minor choices or a designated branching point but that is largely the illusion of choice. Tabletop gaming has an in-between that I find most appealing. I control one character, the other players control theirs and the Dungeon Master controls everything else.

I don't know what the other players will do or how they will act. It is a surprise to me. Obviously, being a live game, there are no revisions (as far as I know, DMs aren't supposed to allow mulligans). It is just straight-forward communal story building with no looking back. Beyond the unique experience itself (aside from similar tabletop role playing games, of course) the sessions themselves are unique.

After we completed a scenario, our DM told us that he had run this particular one three times so far, including ours, and our solution to it was unique. The task was to find a certain town that was the HQ for mysterious happenings in the area. Our party staked out a known agent of this town and followed a messenger. We might not have succeeded if one of our members didn't happen to be able to fly. A different group, said our DM, had a different solution. They asked a wizard (who our group met as well) to cast a divination spell on a medallion originating at the town (that our group found as well) and worked out its location based on what that spell revealed. A third group just wanted to visit all of the towns in the area and stumbled across the one relevant to this scenario. Not knowing of its significance, they wanted to get in just because the town guards wouldn't let them in.

In our most recent session, we had a thrilling battle in the course of the current story arc. It started because none of us thought to guard a vital asset. I was seriously scared we were going to lose it and then we'd have to deal with the consequences. No "Game Over - try again" screen. We would have to deal with the consequences of our failure. Related to this, my character failed an acrobatics check and took enough falling damage to fall unconscious. I was one failed death save from rolling a new character because I'm not sure the party could afford to cast Raise Dead. Fortunately, one of them saved me before that happened.

Because of that, I could continue developing this character. I've spent the last week thinking about a particular combo I could do that would help the party as a whole while also playing to my character's background. It uses the character's class skill set in a way that I haven't taken advantage of yet. I'm looking forward to the next session.

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).