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It’s been a while since I’ve published anything here. I’ve been busy, with life and with finishing my story, as well as updating the official website, sage-eyes.com. In order to consolidate, I’m moving this blog over there. It has a lot of information about the book I’m writing and about me. I will still be coming up with blog posts, hopefully with more frequency, and hope you check it out and comment!  Also, my book has a trailer, take a look!

Hope to see you at sage-eyes.com! Thanks for everything!

 

Romance stories have to have two characters fall in love, and almost always end up happy together. Science Fiction has to obey the laws of physics to an extent, and go off of what we already know about science. Mysteries have some crime, usually a murder, that has to be solved. Fantasy can transport people to new worlds, or change the rules in this one at a whim. Of all these genres, fantasy has the most potential to be creative and break any conventions.

So why is it that so often, it doesn’t?

Don’t get me wrong; fantasy is my favorite genre, because when someone gets it right, they get it right. But in much of mainstream fiction, the genre has become so overloaded with tropes and cliches that it has become formulaic, so much so that it invites parody. Fantasy has become, for the most part, too set in to its own ruts to escape them.

Why? Because it’s easier.

It’s easier to take ideas from the past and modify them a bit than come up with something completely original. Hence the Tolkien clones that followed his work, especially in the seventies and eighties. The Twilight clones that still plague us today. The Dungeons and Dragons based books where characters take on definite classes and become stereotypes.

It’s easier to take some vague idea of Europe in the middle ages and transplant your elves, dwarves, orcs, and fairies there. Or take the modern world and transplant vampires and werewolves here. Easier than creating a world all of its own, with its own rules, own environments, own gravity and other million differences it would exhibit from our earth.

Sometimes, though, creativity can flourish even within these overused ideas. As a graphic designer, I’ve learned that working within a set of defined parameters is better than working with no guidelines whatsoever: in the case of the latter, you spend most of your time just trying to decide on a direction to go with. So some storytellers, not wanting to reinvent the genre, but feeling they have some story to tell, to add to the genre, might use stock creatures, like elves and orcs, or stock environments, like King Arthur’s England, or stock plot devices, like powerful artifacts that can change the destiny of the land. That’s fine, within limits, as long as something new to the genre of fantasy is contributed: a new, memorable character, an interesting storyline, a dynamic relationship between characters. The problem happens when it draws so much on what has been done before that it becomes unoriginal, or incomprehensible to an outsider who hasn’t had the same background as the creator.

So I’m not saying fantasy has to be unique every single time in every single aspect. There is some draw to stories with familiar elements. Take Harry Potter for example. Magic wands, dark lords, dragons and elves. But J. K. Rowling put them together as background to a story that was even more important to her: going to school and growing up. Whether you’re a fan or not, it did create a story that drew many people in.

So how can we inject more creativity into the genre?

Some suggest moving away from the loaded tropes that plague fantasy. Instead of elves, create your own species that doesn’t look like humans with pointy ears. Instead of reciting spells, magic comes from knowing the secrets of the wind. Instead of some farm boy fighting a dark lord, two armies, both with good intentions, go to war over knowledge of power that could destroy them both.

But you can go too far with this, as well. I once read a book about twins, and one of them died, going to the afterlife, where he, as a spirit, moved around through pure will, and everything there depended on how strong your will was. Points for tackling a difficult and original idea, but I had no frame of reference and it eventually became meaningless and lost any credibility. Humans almost always exist in fantasy and science fiction because we relate better to them than to other creatures like dragons or rabbits. So going totally out there to something we can’t consistently imagine will turn most people off, even if it is completely creative.

Other people want to inject creativity into fantasy by borrowing from the existing, but change it up and do it in a new way. Again, there are advantages and pitfalls to this method. The issue is finding a balance.

As I’ve researched ancient beliefs, myths, and stories, I have found that even back then, people weren’t as creative as I once thought. The Greeks, with their rich myths, didn’t really create great monsters. They just combined two or more animals, or an animal and a human, and had their monster. Centaurs, satyrs, griffins, chimeras. In fact, many monsters are just combinations of what have been seen in real life. Giant spiders, men that turn into wolves or bats. Another common theme was having spirits of nature that had a human form, but could transform into water, or a fox, or a tree. Over and over again, they’re just slight variations of the same thing. But like I’ve said, coming up with something new is pretty hard.

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The worst offenders are probably elves and dwarves. In many stories, they’re the same as humans, except dwarves are smaller and tougher, while elves have pointy ears and live a long time. They are shallow creations. Yet I believe that one can have success with them, if taking them on with a fresh approach, putting a lot of thought into how they function as a society, function physiologically, how they think, what they value, and so on. If you’re not going to add anything new to them, you might as well just throw them out and focus on humans. And putting them in, but under different names, still doesn’t count.

If elves and dwarves are the worst offenders, vampires and werewolves come in a close second, thanks to Twilight. Stephanie Meyer did try to make her vampires different, like giving them shiny skin, not turning them into bats, making them sexy, and things like that, and had her success, whether it was truly creative or not. The problem came with so many other vampire stories afterwards.

Aliens-Vulcan

Science fiction falls into the same lack of creativity oftimes. Star Trek is the classic example of a galaxy full of intelligent beings who all look like humans, except for some minor differences in their faces. If my mission was to boldly explore new worlds, I would be pretty disappointed to find everyone looking like me.

Fantasy video games sometimes create creatures that only exist to torment the player, that could have no existence outside of battling the hero, and whose names are cliched phrases.

In essence, this a call for authors, programmers, and dreamers to revive the genre of fantasy with creativity. Those of you who are creative, contribute, despite the market being full of tired reused ideas. Even if publishers are too afraid of something radical, self publishing is now a viable method of getting your ideas out there, despite some extra work it might take to make your work known. Tolkien never meant for his work to be copied so extensively. He just created the world of middle earth to tell his stories. So let’s not let baggage from other fantasy storytellers get in the way of telling ours.

Earth Afire (The First Formic War, #2)Earth Afire by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book, along with Earth Unaware, is an interesting read, but not so much for the characters, but for the situation. It is interesting reading about plausible technological advancements and their usage, like mining asteriods for metal in deep space. Some of the technology isn’t as believable as other, like the gravity laser that can disrupt the gravity of any object, like a planet. Mini Death Star, right there. But none of the ships can go faster than the speed of light, including the aliens, so that’s a refreshing change from a lot of science fiction. It begins with a family of deep space miners who see the alien vessel coming to earth and want to warn people about it, but because of technology limits as well as bloated bureaucracies, plus the radiation the alien ship emits, no one gets the message until the aliens are nearly there, and no one believes it until the aliens actually do come. Once they do come and start invading, no one can agree with each other and it just becomes a big mess, which the aliens take advantage of, to an extent. It’s like politics today. The characters didn’t really feel strong to me, just representative of different factions on Earth, trying to cooperate for a common goal. My biggest complaint would be about the aliens, the formics, or better known as the buggers by those who have read the Ender books. There wasn’t much description of them, but I was hoping for something more original. Basically, they are ant men, who swarm in hordes but don’t seem to be that smart, despite advanced technology. The comic book versions don’t get props for original design, either. But the book still makes an interesting read, especially since Ender’s Game is coming out as a movie soon.

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Foundation (Foundation, #1)Foundation by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I once read that tbe only genre that can get away with not having rounded characters is science fiction. This book tries that philosophy, but doesn’t get away with it, in my opinion. Hari Seldon could be called the main character, as his presence is felt throughout the book, and he’s the only one who lasts more than a few pages, but even he’s gone early on in the book, as this covers hundreds of years of history with a short story covering every crisis. The premise is that Hari can tell the future analyzing the flows of the greater population, although not individuals, and foresees that the galactic empire is going to fall and descend into barbarianism. If a group of people follow his plans and build a research center at the far end of the galaxy, that fall would take 1000 years instead of 30000. He then records himself for every crisis that will happen, to give future generations the answer they need to survive. Interesting idea, but as each generation goes by, I find myself caring less about the new characters that keep popping up and don’t bother keeping track of them. Plus, there were some strange ideas about the technology. For example, these supposed ‘barbarians’ still have faster than light travel (FTL), but they lose nuclear power. It seems like FTL is more advanced than nuclear power, since, well, we have access to the latter now and not the former. Aside from all of these issues, everytime I read the Galactic Empire, Emperor Palpatine came to mind. The good ideas deal with combining economics, politics, and religion into science fiction, instead of relying so much on gadgets. I know many people like this series, but I could never get into it much.

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In this technologically advanced society we live in, where science rules and anything coming close to magic belief is ridiculed, including religion to an extent, why hasn’t fantasy gone the way of the Western, to a niche group of loyal readers but rejected by the mainstream? Why have movies like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings ranked in millions while the recent Lone Ranger failed to impress (aside from quality issues)? Why is fantasy a viable genre in books, video games, and movies (albeit limited in that last regard)?
I may not have all the answers, but I do have some ideas. First of all, people need something to believe in. So with religion being derided on all sides, or people disenchanted with it, many turn to make believe magic, because really, science doesn’t give a lot of comfort. Science doesn’t tell you what happens to you when you die, except that your body decomposes. Science doesn’t tell you whether there is an ultimate being looking out for you; it can’t even tell you if there is life out there or not beyond our planet. You can’t pray to science or believe that science cares whether things will work out in the end. But what does this have to do at all with fantasy? You may ask. Fantasy books can’t give me that comfort. World of Warcraft doesn’t tell me what happens when I die. I can’t use the Force to get revenge on the kids who pick on me at school. Well, there was one guy where I worked before who talked about all the nerdy things, especially Star Wars, as if they were real. He even asked once the guy who trained me what the difference between the Force and other religions were, to which he got the response, “No matter how much I believe it is real, it can’t be. It was made up by a guy named George Lucas for entertainment purposes, and he doesn’t even believe in it.” That incident got me thinking. In no way do I advocate being like that guy who was kind of deluded, although even he knew that Star Wars wasn’t real. But it served him just the same, filling some need of his to believe in something guiding the universe. The truth is, fantasy often introduces religious ideas that would never be accepted in any other form, but in fantasy, it can be integrated into the subconscious while the conscious mind dismisses it as entertainment, something made up. So while someone might not have organized religion in their life, they might believe subconsciously in some ideas like there is a guiding force, which gives them reassurance.
Secondly, fantasy usually calls back to simpler days, when there weren’t so many people, when technology didn’t complicate things. People didn’t have to worry about 20000 pages of Obamacare that no one’s read all the way, they didn’t have to worry about getting likes on Facebook and Twitter, they didn’t have to worry about navigating health insurance, car insurance, mortgages, credit card debt, remembering passwords, identity theft, software skills, and confusing government forms. Now, obviously things weren’t all great back in the day. There were repression, caste systems, tyranny, wars, diseases without cures, few rights, unsanitary conditions, and overall poor living conditions. But the romantic part of us believes in a world where the peasant can take up a sword and save the world. Where he can find true love with a princess. Where good triumphs over evil. These things that we see in fantasy that we don’t in the real world.
Finally, fantasy allows us to use imagination in a way that would be mocked in other genres. Worlds where people fly on dragons, or can fly by their own willpower. Where flowers grow to be a hundred feet tall. Where other creatures besides humans interact with us. Where the world doesn’t have to be a ball spinning around the sun, but can be flat on a turtle’s back. Fantasy takes us back to our childhood, where things didn’t have an explanation, but that didn’t keep us from exploring them. The world was wonderful, exciting, new. Not drab and gray like we so often see it now.
And the world needs more people who can see and enjoy it with child-like wonder. Image

Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)Inferno by Dan Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book follows the same pattern as Dan Brown’s other Robert Langdon books: Robert Langdon has to solve some mystery and stop some bad guy, who loves to play scavenger hunt with old Christian artwork, who have hidden meanings, and for some reason, there’s a time limit, there’s a girl he has to explain everything to, and there’s a betrayal. Robert Langdon wakes up in Florence, doesn’t know how he got there, and people are trying to kill him. He has a mini projector that shows a painting, The Map of Hell, based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, and from some changes in that, he goes off looking for more paintings and artworks. This book, he’s accompanied by another beautiful girl, since he can’t keep a relationship from the other books. This girl is Sienna, who supposedly has an IQ of 208, making her smarter than Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, but she sure doesn’t seem like it. Robert is always showing her up with his knowledge, and she basically follows him, figuring out a few things along the way but mostly serving as way for Robert to show how smart and awesome he is. Despite all Brown’s talk in the Da Vinci Code about the sacred feminine and the Catholic church repressing females, his characters seem kind of misogynistic as well. The enemy of the book is a genius billionaire man who realizes the world is overpopulated and the population has to be reduced to 4 billion, or else we’ll run out of resources and all die, and he decides to take manners into his own hands. He likes to quote the Divine Comedy, but the work itself doesn’t really fit in with anything, just as imagery of people dying and suffering. It’s not like the Da Vinci Code where the works of art supposedly suggest that Jesus had a wife and children, not that I really believe that’s what Leonardo, who lived 1500 years after Christ, was trying to say. SPOILER ALERT: (view spoiler)[The whole scavenger hunt in Inferno is a total waste, as the plague had already been released and nothing Robert Langdon does has any effect on the plague, and the people he’s running from are on his side. (hide spoiler)] Despite the thriller part of this book, which feels kind of forced, especially once the revelations at the end come in, it eventually disappoints, not really offering what I think is a realistic solution to the problem of overpopulation. In the end, these books feel like hyper fast tours of different musuems and artwork in a certain place, ie: France, Washington, and Italy. The plots and quests for knowledge feel forced and pointless after getting to the end, but the journey to the end is gripping and interesting, and there is some educational material, mixed with conspiracy theories. Fun, but not to be taken seriously.

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ImageWorld building
One of the most important parts of any story is the setting. A book set in modern New York should feel a lot different than ancient China. A movie set in South Africa should look a lot different than one set on Coruscant. Middle Earth, while based somewhat on medieval Europe, is still much different than Europe was. Our world helps define us, culturally and individually. Living in freezing Russia will make a different person out of you than sunny Hawaii. Making a work of fiction based in the real world needs to have some accurate details and feel of what the setting it based from, otherwise it will feel fake. This can take a lot of research, which can be hard to make sure there is no mistakes. Fantasy and science fiction writers have a different, but just as hard, challenge, in creating a world for the setting. Making up a world, whether an alternate earth or a different planet, is called world building. There are different levels of world building. Some use settings that haven’t been thought through very well, or a generic setting, like a pseudo-medieval setting so commonly used in fantasy. Others make changes to their worlds, making it something foreign to us. Science fiction often does this, with worlds covered in volcanos or with lower gravity. Unfortunately, many of these don’t follow through. If you make a world significantly different than ours, especially in science fiction, which should be based somewhat in science. One interesting book, What if the Earth had Two Moons? is a good reference for scientifically based worlds. It also makes you realize that little changes in one thing would make big changes on the world’s lifeforms. So the more foreign the world, the more needs to be taken into account. The best worlds built take elements of our world, make some changes, and explore those changes to their logical end. One of the best examples I’ve seen is The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson. His world, among other things, has terrible storms that often thrash the world. The plant life there has adapted to these storms, able to retract into the ground when the storms pass by. But in an area where the storms don’t hit, blocked by mountains, grass grows normally. The details of this world are consistent and make sense.
One place where worlds need to be created completely from scratch, even if based on our world, is in video games. The programmers usually can’t rely on vague words to represent their world; it needs to be programmed down to each detail. They need to make it consistent and follow the internal rules. Often, realism isn’t the main objective, so any rules can be applied, as long as they stay consistent. Strange settings are most accepted in video games than any other medium: books, movies, and TV, all are held to a higher standard of realism than video games, which allows developers to be truly creative. Part of this came from the technical limitations of early games. Why could Mario only go around in two dimensions? Why couldn’t he walk around the bottomless pits instead of jumping over them? We all know it was because the graphic capabilities for 3D weren’t available. These limitations influenced the later games that were in 3D, and made them something that wouldn’t have existed without it. Where else can you find an italian plumber, created by Japanese programmers, who runs and jumps in a 2D world, eats mushrooms to grow, shrinks or dies when someone touches him, jumps on walking mushrooms and turtles to flatten them, throws said turtle shells that act like hockey pucks, travels through big green pipes that sometimes are home to giant mandating plants, and can kill enemies by shooting fireballs after eating a flower, always jumping over bottomless pits and breaking bricks with his head, and sometimes calling in his brother to help rescue the princess who was kidnapped by a giant turtle with hair and spikes? You won’t find that in any movie (an attempt was made to bring this world to the big screen, but tried to use other logic, like evolution and dinosaurs and everything. If you haven’t seen it, consider yourself blessed).
Basically, as far as world building goes, the details, well thought out, are the most important. But the world needs to be built up naturally. Infodumping at the beginning of any story is a big turn off, especially if the main characters are citizens of that world, since anything different that happens will seem as natural to them as nature appears to us. Little explanations over the course of the story can build up a world in the audience’s mind better than a big explanation at the beginning. There are many aspects of creating a world, from the physical environment to the cultural divides. It all needs to be thought through, but probably the best part to begin is the physical environment as cultures will be formed in reaction to it. I’ll probably talk more on some of these aspects in later posts. Remember, there’s almost nothing more interesting than a well realized world that affects everything in the story.

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