in which Kris spends a lot of time talking about races. Fantasy races.

Kris here,

I’ve been doing some thinking-about-but-not-actually-doing writing lately (52 stories in 52 weeks HOW?!) and I’ve been lightly re-designing that world of mine Tina made her story in previously. Which is fine, except she’s already written a story – so I’m stepping through my own minefield of consistency demanding my own creation to change, but stay consistent with what’s already been written. Phew. And don’t pretend a single one of you isn’t thinking “haha you definitely screwed something up.” Yeah I know it, that’s fine though. Designing the world and the history is my forte, it’s the sitting down to plot that I’m not really fabulous at.

Let’s stay on track here. I do some light outlining or thinking oftentimes while either listening to a podcast (which is highly distracting), or just listening to music without words to bog me down. While thinking about races to use in the world a lot, and I mean A LOT, of people have some strong opinions on what kind of beings you use to populate a world you’re crafting up for yourself. I don’t know if any of you have strolled down that path, but let me tell you: it’s a rivalry. Not mine, I mean. But one nonetheless. When making flora and fauna to throw around – probably in attempt at murdering your main character somehow – I don’t actually see any pushback as far as I can tell. Throughout all my podcasts and researching the answers to different kinds of problems though, I’ve definitely seen some clear lines drawn in the sand.

“Hey guys, I’m building a story around a guy who has superpowers and there’s a flower grown at the castle that actually shoots laser beams like cyclops from x-men and if it detects superpowers like in the protagonist, it’ll CALL DOWN LIGHTNING AND SET THE CASTLE ON FIRE TO PREVENT ESCAPE” and everyone around is like “oh yeah man that sounds pretty good, I like the bit about fire you added in there.”

The problem seems to revolve specifically around just the sentient things, and more specifically, anything they have to put themselves into the minds of. Protagonist, supporting characters, antagonist, kings, street sweepers – whatever, doesn’t matter.

“Hey guys look at my protagonist is a human but I made his best friend a dwarf see and they grew up because the dwarf’s dad is a master blacksmith and adopted the MC when he was a street urchin so they’re like brothers!” and you’re going to run into one of three people.

*disclaimer: listen, I know there are billions of people in the world and it’s likely there are mixed opinions or even more varied contrasting types that I’m not including in my three. You’re very special to me and I don’t mean to slight you, but these three are blankets I’m casting over the fantasy community because nobody is going to read my segment on how you’ll meet one of sixteen thousand people. Not even me!

-continuing-
So one of three people. You’ve got the humans camp – “oohhh maaaan I’m so sick of all these fantasy races, they’re so bland and boring – bunch of tropes and idiot ideas to deuce ex machina your way into not having to think about relationships and junk. Just use humans! Jeez you’re one of them, what are you, ASHAMED!” I don’t want to take any sides here since I don’t really have a horse in this race, but I think this is my least favorite position. This is actually a position I’ve heard several of my favorite authors make too – why complicate the story with extra details for your readers to memorize when you can simplify the world as much as possible and focus more on the individual characters themselves. The towns, kingdoms, relationships, a sufficiently complex world shouldn’t really need fairies and elves to attract interest.

The second group you’ll run in to is the crowd who’s actually super excited about classical fantasy races. A lot of arguments I’ve seen in this realm are actually happy to include all the classics in a story, but really aren’t interested in non-human protagonists. It’s probably something to do with empathy and trying to fit your head into something you aren’t. I get that, it can be tricky to suspend your disbelief when there isn’t enough familiar material to ground yourself with. There’s actually a second “net” I’m going to cast over this group too – there are a lot of people who are just so freaking bored of humans that they refuse to include them, or they do so in the most minimalistic way. Honestly, I was this type in my early teens – I played all kinds of those tabletop games, but I can’t think of a single time I wanted to play a human. They were so boring and mundane, can’t even see in the dark. Useless! I think the draw in classical fantasy is primarily that a lot of the tedious groundwork is already fleshed out, so you can spend less time balancing your people and more time finding ways they can just rampage around accidentally murdering things off. Most writers seem to want to splice their own flavor to make the races unique, but it’s always only to an extent where the reader can identify quickly and easily.

The third set is of course those people who prefer fantasy, but you have to make it up yourself. No cheating using pre-fabricated races and worlds and the like. The first group (humans only) actually have a section hiding in it of people who will demand humans only, but if you have to do fantasy, then at least make up your own stuff. There are some pretty good reasons to do this too – more creative license to do what you want without people calling you out for breaking the standards. You can also have a bit of fun as a writer doing this too: you need to name an ugly, evil race of stupid jerk monsters and you have a terrible co-worker who think is a stupid jerk? Well it looks like you got yourself a name and a description! This can be a challenging sort of adventure to set out on though, since nobody is familiar with anything in your story in this case – this means you’ll need to concisely elaborate on descriptions and cultures in sneaky ways (lengthy descriptions are demanding on our attention spans) as well as somehow force the reader into taking your protagonists side in order to really feel what you want them to. If writing weren’t challenging in some ways though, I have a feeling a lot fewer of us would decide to bother.

I think there are definite merits and detriments to whatever you choose, otherwise there would be a lot more uniformity in the writing community. That would make everything a lot more boring though. There’s no way I could motivate myself to read the 80th book in a row in the same genre with the same races and the same timeline. I would probably… well I don’t know, but it would be bad! I don’t really want to list out the pros and cons since this is getting really long anyway, but maybe I’ll throw it together in the future. I just have to decide if I want to make it about an elf, a human, or a race of super intelligent rats with wolverine claws and a penchant for vengeance.

In which Kris supports supporting characters

 

Kris here,

Tina’s been pressuring me to write some stuff recently because she thinks I’m “lazy” even though playing Minecraft is technically writing I’m just saying. We’ve also had Zack down for a few weeks to visit, and between hanging out with the kids, working and keeping the house tidy, I’ve done basically zero writing in the last six weeks. So she’s probably right. Tina also recently said “hey Kris there’s this thing where a bunch of people want to write 52 short stories in 52 weeks let’s go!” and I spit my coffee all over myself. A short story a week?!

So I’ve been setting the backbones for a bunch of short stories recently and in doing so, I notice my protagonists generally seem to be non-heroic or not the main character if you will. It’s a bit interesting so I actually got sidetracked for a while just looking at other stories to see if it’s just because that’s what I’ve read or if I’m subconsciously modeling my writing after someone, but I don’t think so. I’ve got the world I started out of boredom about a year ago that’s stuck with me because I love it (and my wife wrote a 60,000 word novel in it that she almost finished because she doesn’t care about my mental well-being) so naturally my stories are based there – but even when I’m thinking of other ideas, the only type of story that I write the main character as the important person is in horror stories. Nobody is going to be scared if you write:

“and then she received a phone call. It was the police! They said her *related person* was in a car accident and there were ghostly scrapes on the car door!”

That’s..not spooky.

Well maybe those types of stories aren’t interesting and that’s why nobody writes them, but I know I can’t be the only one! I’m thinking of famous big sellers like The Hunger Games (face of a revolution) or Harry Potter (he killed the bad guy as a baby AND an adult); but also the lesser known books too, like one I’ve mentioned previously the Enchanted Forest series (smart princess who’s amazing.) I know a lot of protagonists start as the underdog and then are the hero by the end, but that counts too. I added a story a month or two ago about an innkeeper who was assailed by a bad wizard dude – he’s just a dude trying to get by, then the two magic dudes come fight it out in his inn and burn it to the ground. By the end of the story, he’s still just an innkeeper.

I probably won’t ever make a full-length project out of a supporting character – it would be incredibly frustrating. Even in the story I just mentioned, I was thinking “maybe I should write about this wizard he seems awesome” – I think this sort of thing would be good only as supporting stories or something to tease an audience about how super great the main character for your actual novel is going to be. Each time I set up a short story, it’s a side-person: a kid who needs help with a curse seeking out a witch doctor, an innkeeper getting dragged into an evil wizard plot. This probably stems from the fact that writers are usually notorious for only worldbuilding as much as they actually have to, so I’m always finishing up books like “No! Go back to the swamp why were the snakes on fire! Teell meee!” I’m pretty drawn into side details and background information and I think side-characters are a good way to explore these without detracting from some grand quest to save the world.

Oh man, I got distracted again, there’s no way I’m going to be able to fit 52 short stories in 52 weeks DO THESE PEOPLE NOT HAVE CHILDREN!

Self Instruction

bite-size todo lists!

Kris here,

Recently I’ve been struggling with giving Nikolai instructions around the house. On one hand, he’s a bright guy and can usually pick up things like “hey Nik  go upstairs and grab the heating pad next to mom’s side of the bed” without any problems. On the other hand…he struggles a bit when the instructions start getting modular. “Hey Nik, go ahead and clean out your room by putting all the toys in their crates and then pick up your garbage, and then once you’re done you should be good to put the laundry in the hamper and feed Sting.” He tries hard, but I’m relatively sure I’d forget that even faster than him.

I’ve also found myself trying to follow these vague mental outlines I set up for my own schedule and it usually flops onto my face like an old, angry Durian fruit. I’ve been investigating myself and my methods and I’ve found that just writing up a quick instructional is a huge focusing tool and it’s like a 20 second project. Want to get the downstairs clean? Numbered list:

  1. Trash
  2. Toys
  3. Dog Toys
  4. The toys that were dragged downstairs while I was picking up dog toys
  5. The dog toys that were dragged out while I was picking up human toys

You get the idea – just structure your next hour or something and things seem to get done a lot faster than they normally would. While writing up a brief checklist recently I thought of that hilarious writing exercise we all do as kids where someone says ‘write out instructions for an alien who’s never been to earth but who has a translator to explain the English words’ – anybody remember that? The skits were hilarious,

“put your shoes on and then cross the strings, fold one side over the other and make a loop” *person places shoe on top of his foot, winds up the laces like a madhouse*

I’ve noticed this helping my communication skills with some of my peers as well – I work in a technical environment and sometimes I get questions from people who might go outside or something during their off-time. Sometimes I accidentally jump into rocket science explanations and let them stare at me for a while until they just pull up google and say “okay thanks, one more time but real slow.” Getting your brain to break tasks into micro-transactions  is like my goal post from a while back but in a micro-scale – apparently I’m really bad at translating my advice from different scales until months later.

Anyone who finds themselves running out of time should give it a shot – next time you look a project in the eye, spend 60 seconds on a rough-but-concise outline and follow it. No really follow it, you don’t get to stray from instructions just because they’re yours! You might just find that investing 45 seconds before starting saves you a bunch of time later, and you can whip up that chocolate cake you’ve been craving.

Some Light Reading

In which Kris describes his latest distraction to help you, too, not get housework done.

Kris here,

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of light novels. For those of you who don’t know what they are, they’re basically just really small novels which glow much brighter than regular novels. I kid I kid. Essentially, authors from different countries – the ones I’m reading are fairly exclusively Korean with a few others sprinkled in – write books or novels online and release a chapter at a time. I’m not actually fluent in Korean, so I seek out the cool guys who are and that translate them into English for the rest of us crazies. Tina’s been reading them too, and while we both read a few before just recently, it was actually our roommate who turned us on to the site we use that makes it super easy to find more.

Because of the translation, the wording can be a bit silly but I honestly think that’s part of its charm. The language used is often a bit more crude than the stories I’m used to reading – but again, part of the charm. I’m an adult I can say heck whenever I want to as long as my wife is asleep okay.

In case anyone out there is like me and enjoys reading hilarious stories that go a bit overboard with the overpowered protagonist, I’ll list a few I’m reading offhand.
(Also the site we use to find them: http://www.novelupdates.com/)

Everyone Else is a Returnee: http://www.novelupdates.com/series/everyone-else-is-a-returnee/
Easily the most hilarious story I’m reading at this time. The main character has been alone his whole life, almost like he’s invisible to everyone around him. One day God sends everyone on Earth to other planets to get acclimated to mana except him, since his loner ability is so strong God couldn’t even find him. He’s stranded a bit longer than expected and ends up mastering most skills available on Earth before they get back and has to take care of them all because dangit can’t everyone just stay saved for a minute!

Seoul Station’s Necromancer: http://www.novelupdates.com/series/seoul-stations-necromancer/
I’ve always been a huge fan of Necromancers in say, video and tabletop games that I play and I never actually knew I was missing out in reading about them too. This story is about a guy who finally made it back to Earth after 20 years of fighting for survival on another planet as a necromancer. The main character and a lot of the supporting characters are pretty 1-dimensional, but they’re also hilarious and I’m not here for character developement I really just want this guy to raise ten thousand skeletons to wash over his enemies like an undead tsunami

Master Hunter K: http://www.novelupdates.com/series/master-hunter-k/
Humanity is put through a series of progressively more difficult 5 and 10 man raids in which they have to kill a bunch of monsters and a boss-type monster. The main character here is the last of humanity and finally dies only to be awakened in the past immediately before everyone was pulled into the raids. I’ll admit that I probably like this story because I’m a huge fan of video games and I like sometimes reading about a guy just murderating the heck out of everything.

I definitely realize these stories aren’t for everyone. I’ve been studying a few different languages for quite some time and it definitely helps me forgive the little mistakes usually mixed in to the translations and understand different nuances used. They’re also a lot different from a lot of western stories in that in some of these stories, the protagonist just dominates the battlefields and is a force of nature whipping through his enemies like a greased steak knife. Sometimes though, I find I really like to pick something up knowing the main character is about to lay the smack down on some jerk monsters and probably set them on fire.

 

Alas, the wait for these chapters to be translated and released is horrendous and I’m THIS close to learning Korean so I don’t have to wait anymore (plus they make like $35 a chapter holy cow!)

Happy Birthday!

Kris here,

Tina thought she was being hilarious and posted like a 2 sentence blog earlier about it being her birthday but c’mon now, we gotta do more than that. Even though she did, I can’t just right out put a number to my wife’s age, but I can hint that it’s somewhere roughly exactly at the square root of 30². It feels like we just started dating and we’ve already been married for about 64 years now – look at us during Christmastime in Oklahoma City when we were just kids. How adorable!

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You can really tell a lot from this picture. Tina loves holidays, I love taking glamorous selfies, and dignified is my best pose. Also I think that little girl in the background was being attacked by wild turkeys or something but she’s probably fine.

Tina is an amazing wife and an amazing friend to share my life with. She and I have been on some hilarious adventures together

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and she’s a master craftsman

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One time she even befriended the ghost of a Pikachu

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She’s a woman of many talents, and I don’t think there’s anything she can’t do if she puts her mind to it. Everyone be sure to take a moment to wish Tina a happy 19th-ish birthday and we’ll get you some more Izzy updates in a couple of days.

 

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The Grumpy Penguin

Kris here,

So some time ago while we were all hanging around and I was probably doing some manly dad things, like grilling outdoors or twisting off tight jar lids or something, when I had the bright idea “Hey Nik and I should write a story!” So I then said aloud “Hey Nik and I should write a story!”

Tina was totally down with this on account of it not including any work on her part, but Nikolai was apparently heartbroken. Do you know how long he’d waited to play with those toys? It might’ve been watching his tablet too but let’s go with the toys thing. He was yelling and crying and calling 911 and generally just making a ruckus that I don’t think was necessarily apt for the situation. So, of course, I sat down and started writing the story about him, out loud, while writing everything to paper. He gradually grew less and less fussy and started laughing because I’m the best and we all learned something at the end (dad had to google because he was making outlandish allegations that nobody was sure of.)

Right after we’d finished writing it down to paper, Nik and I read the story to Tina as a whole instead of the broken sentences I used while I was actually writing it down. Tina did that thing she does where she’s the best and there were suddenly illustrations! And now we have a brief and amusing story that still gets told before bed from time to time – we thought we’d post it on our blog here, in case anyone else was able to make their toddler giggle at the antics of The Grumpy Penguin.

Grumpy001Grumpy002Grumpy003Grumpy004Grumpy005Grumpy006Grumpy007Grumpy008Grumpy009Grumpy010Grumpy011Grumpy012Grumpy013Grumpy014Grumpy015

In which Kris does some idea… borrowing

Kris here,

Don’t tell my wife, but I’m super jealous she gets her own segment on our site with an acronym and everything. So in my own creative way, I’ve decided to…well copy her exactly. We’re married so it’s basically my idea already anyway right? I’ve decided to name my segment… let’s see “Kris’s really awesome project,” K.R.A-. Waaait a second. Let’s just call it a work in progress.

This week I’d like to discuss a small book series I read hundreds of years ago when I was just a lad, The Enchanted Forest chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede. A series of 4 books that are each pretty small, only 2-300 pages each, but is by far a favorite series of mine to be re-read at least every 2-3 years in its entirety. I’m relatively sure Patricia Wrede single-handedly sparked my interest in both humor and reading when I was about 7 or 8. The target audience here is definitely children to young adults but..well listen, don’t pretend you didn’t expect it knowing who’s writing the blog okay.

The series revolves around the Enchanted Forest in a world of her own, but with multiple (and hilarious) references to fairy tales that were pretty prevalent while I was growing up. I don’t want to spell the books out and ruin the fun or spoil it for anyone Googling the series, although to be honest, I think after 27 years your right to spoiler warnings is dissolved come on now.

Cimorene the princess would love to learn Latin, sword fighting and magic, but since she’s a princess, she gets to learn dancing and manners and embroidery. After running away to ask a dragon to capture her, she lives a good life chasing off princes and melting wizards with her dragon Kazul who likes having someone around to clean and make cherry’s jubilee. Some story happens and she goes on an adventure meeting a witch who keeps everything very clean and has a painted sign indicating that she’ll have none of your nonsense, a king of the Enchanted Forest and a poor dwarf who keeps spinning straw into gold in return for firstborns unless their parents can discover his name. Only no one ever guesses his name, so he keeps accumulating children, he even changed his name to Herman to be easier to guess and moved way out away from civilization but they keep finding him.

In short, if you ever get the chance – read these books. They’re relatively short, they’re light-hearted and the characters are hilarious and I love them. I’ve also read these to Nik as bedtime stories and hopefully one day…he’ll forget and I can read them to him again.