In which Kris reads children’s books

Kris here,

It’s been a while since I talked about something I liked reading instead of rambling on about writing every week. I figured this week I’d talk about The Ranger’s Apprentice. This is actually a pretty recent series as far as stuff I’ve read goes – I read it a few years ago, but it was just published less than 20 years ago! Okay it’s not that new, but a lot of the books I like to revisit frequently were all written in the 70’s, 80’s and..well the 1800’s. I’m into older stories you could say.

The Ranger’s Apprentice I believe has a target demographic of something like 9-14 year olds, so I actually just read the first book to make sure it was alright for my then 6 year old and whether I could keep it around to read Nik at bedtime. Five or six books into the series and I’m thinkin’ “wow this is pretty good” – as evidenced by the fact that it took me about 3 days to read each book. The writing is surprisingly easy to digest for something written for such a young age; to be fair, when I was 10 I read Animorphs, Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe and Dragonlance. So I guess kids aren’t as bad at reading as all that.

I don’t want to spoil the actual story here, they’re relatively short and easy to pick up, but it’s essentially a coming-of-age tale of a young orphan named Will who got picked up as a …Ranger’s Apprentice. And he’s all like “pfsh no way!” and then later he’s like “This is amazing!” Honestly the main character is relatively likeable, but is by far one of my least favorite characters. I don’t hate the guy, I just like all the others better. Especially Halt, which is the “Ranger” part of the series title. He’s a rough guy who knows how and when to help, and he fills in my need to have a badass dude who can stand up to the evil guys while the smaller good guys are still doing jumping jacks or whatever so they don’t get stomped.

The series romps through a few topics I wasn’t really expecting to see – befriending bullies, beating drug addiction and killing a guy with a longbow arrow through the face, but were written in a way that I’m definitely adding them to the stuff-to-read-Nik list. Check out the first book if you have a few days to read a fun story, I can honestly say my copies are chopped up between physical books and e-books (self-control, what?!) so it’s available in whatever form you need.

Also the wiki says Mr Flanagan originally wrote the story as a way to get his own child into reading – I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but I’m 110% down with that.

(the first book is here)

ruins_of_gorlan
Source: Link

Tina chiming in here,

According to my research, The books have been slated to become a movie and started production in fall of 2016. I have not heard anything new but here is the New York Times article with more information if you want! (Link)

In which Kris ends things

Kris here,

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately practicing writing short ideas in a concise format. See, I’ve got about a billion ideas in my head just like everybody else, and I can start them off pretty dang well. We’re talking ideas for days here. But I’ve been tripping up around the 50-60% mark on the whole actually having a plot thing. I’m like oh man this is fantastic my main character is A BOSS! And Tina’s like “but Kris what’s he bossly doing” and I’m like “well look he just set a landslide on fire and threw it at an army” and she’s like “oh yeah. Okay but why did he do that?” So of course because it’s an ARMY hello!? But what’s it doing, why’s my guy caught up in it? PSH! Who cares we need more fire in here! “How does it end?” Uhh well I suppose he just, I don’t know he wins a medal and lives in a castle.

Okay that’s not a real life example but I feel it’s exaggeratory enough to get the point across. I have to combat my lack of forward progress or my actual weak point in writing: Ending. The. Story. These things ramble on forever, like holy cow man put a lid on it already! I get exhausted reading through my own notes a week later. This is a problem of course – if you can’t read your own work, who else is going to put out the effort? So I did what any rational adult in my place would do and I just Googled around for like an hour looking for an easy way out.

Ugh, turns out there’s no easy way out. Well there might be, but the people with those secrets are greedy. All the advice I found regarding “How to end my goddang story” revolved around things like “5 ways to end your story. Number 7 will wig you out!” There’s probably a lot of good info out there, but my attention span is basically a knock knock joke and sometimes it’s easier done than said.

I ended up devising a cool practice to help me out. Yeah you guessed it – I just wrote a bunch of endings. I got a (basically) brand new notebook and a pen, and I wrote a brief concept and wrote a plot and ending immediately. Okay, the first try was ten pages long. That’s why it’s practice! I’ve got another few 8-10 page ideas thrown around in various places – I haven’t actually kept them together, that would be silly. The last few days I’ve actually managed to piece together a few one or two page ideas in an outline-able format. This might seem like a trivial issue to both accomplished- and non-writers, but remember: nobody reads stories for the beginning. I’ve never chatted up a fellow reader like “boy this book sure started out amazing. I’m going to spread the word, but just about the first 50 pages!” No way- they’re doing this for that sweet endorphine rush at the end. You gotta nail that bit.

There are probably quite a few authors and writers hanging out here thinking to themselves “Wow this guy is really dumb. I write 100 pages a day, it’s pretty easy.” I totally agree, kudos to your monstrous efforts on the 100 page thing, that’s really good. Lots of people I talk to personally or threads I read through on writing forums are all about how to move a story forward, or I wrote my character into a corner – how do I get out of this?

Try it out sometime – spitting out 300 pages of book into 5 pages is fast, you can write and re-write 20 times with various changes or whatever you want in any writing style that fits your theme. Mine usually don’t include names – the last one I wrote had a main character named “Kid,” supported by two characters named “bro” and “ninja” and the antagonists were “bastardlord” and “gloriousleader.” Of course they were fleeing from the country of THIS to the country of THAT. The important thing isn’t the details of these (hopefully throwaway) stories, it’s the practice you get in resolving those fine details.

Remember, names aren’t important, backstories giving your protagonist reasons to throw flaming landslides at people are important.

When Kris wants to write.

Hey ya’ll, Tina here kinda. Kris didn’t get time to edit or refine his post this week because of the madness of his first born child starting Kindergarten and all the craziness that happens with that. So, I am here to copy paste what he sent to me and leave it in it’s raw weird format for you all to enjoy. A little peek behind the curtains if you will. He wrote this story as a warmup before diving into writing on his main project. So without further ado. The children’s story of the Tiny Cute Puppy.

(Kris here – I changed a few words here and there, but I didn’t edit too much since I think Tina did a great job separating the word soup I’d sent her in the first place. Hopefully this story makes you giggle as much as I did writing it!)

One day there was a cute tiny puppy dog. But this dog had a secret. He was actually very, very big! He just told everyone he was tiny to make them feel big too and so everyone would think he were adorable. After all, tiny animals are adorable.

Then one day he met a grumpy frog. The frog was like “hey! You’re not tiny!”

The Cute, tiny puppy dog was taken aback. No one had seen through his ruse before, but he didn’t want the frog to give him away.

“What do you mean?” Asked the tiny cute puppy, “I’m obviously adorable, everyone says so. You don’t have to be mean to me because I’m adorable, you could just pet my ears. Or scratch my belly!” The puppy rolled over onto his back, his tongue lolling out to one side and his legs fervently pawing the air, this was a classic act. No one could resist!

“Oy! I’m not about to say you aren’t an adorable puppy after all ‘at rollin’ about young one, but you’re the biggest dog I’ve ever seen. I think you’re the biggest animal I’ve ever seen. I bet you could arm wrestle an elephant and come out on top.”

The frog was definitely weakened by the adorb-attack executed perfectly by the puppy, but it was too wise to be goaded by his cute words. “Tell ye’ wot  wee tyke,” continued the frog, “you tell everyone around town the real truth about your size and I’ll bet they’ll all rub yer’ belly without even thinkin’ twice about it.”

The frog gave the tiny cute puppy a pat on his upside down head and hippity hopped off to scratch some sick beats at the local dubstep club. This really vexed the poor puppy.

“But if I tell everyone the truth…will they really like me?” His curiosity was piqued, he had to know.

The tiny cute puppy bounded toward the house of his best friend Smooth Jazz Pincushion. This was of course his stage name, for Smooth Jazz was a saxophone player on Thursdays when the dubstep club was donated to aspiring jazz musicians as a romping ground to get together. Cute tiny puppy rocked the seismometers all over town as he leapt to a stop just outside Smooth Jazz’s hole.

“Hey Pincushion, are you home!” Tiny cute puppy waited and waited, he knew he had to have patience when visiting Smooth Jazz in case he was in the middle of a set.

He was dedicated to his craft and would keep playing until he perfected the song he was working on. Thankfully, Cute Tiny Puppy only had to wait about an hour before Jazz waddled out of his hole. Tiny Cute Puppy came here because he thought if anyone could identify an adorable puppy, it would be an adorable hedgehog.

“Hey Pincushion, whatchya workin’ on today?” Puppy knew to be polite if he wanted his friends to feel important. And he wanted Pincushion to feel important so he would be sure to give him an answer right away.

“Well today’s piece was a little number I picked up from an old bloke from back in the day. Very popular, very popular, you probably have a shelf dedicated to him at home even. Goes by the name of Ol’ Satchmo. My dear fellow what brings you to my home today.”

Tiny cute puppy was puzzled momentarily thinking about his record shelves, but came back to himself quickly.

“Hey Pincushion, I heard ’round about the pond that I would actually still be adorable if I were really big. Do you think I’d be a cute puppy if I were big?”

Knocking over  several municipal buildings in the process, Tiny cute puppy let his body crash to the earth, sending plumes of dust into the air with a shockwave.

“Hmm, well that’s an awfully good question cute, tiny puppy. I couldn’t imagine you big since you’re so snuggly and cuddly as a tiny puppy, but let’s have a look at you anyway.” Smooth Jazz disappeared inside his hole for a few seconds and reappeared wearing some reading specs. He backed up several city blocks waving his thumb in front of him and looking at Cute Tiny Puppy making all kinds of hmms and umms. Finally, he came back to puppy with his answer.

“Cute Tiny Puppy, I do believe I’ve accidentally discovered that you’re really huge. Like freakishly gigantic. Irresponsible for you to live in the city at that size even. I’m not sure how we missed it, quite an amusing oversight if you ask me. We’ll have to change your name!”

Tiny Cute Puppy was sad, he liked his name. “Aww really, what would you suggest?” Asked tiny cute puppy.

“I have just the thing don’t you worry.” Pincushion disappeared once more into his hedgehog hole to retrieve something.

This time puppy could hear the odd sound of a huge bellows being activated just as a giant blaze shot out of Smooth Jazz’s rooftop. Following were the echoing clangs of a hammer ringing throughout the tunnels, sounding like it came from everywhere at once. Finally, puppy heard the loudest sizzling sound he’d ever heard in his life. After several more minutes of beeping and mechanical grinding, Pincushion appeared in a great big excavator, tirelessly moving dirt to make the entranceway to his tunnel at least 3 times bigger than it had been moments ago.

Cautiously, the puppy asked “Hey Smooth Jazz, what’s the machinery for? I thought you were just picking out a name.”

Pincushion responded briefly before disappearing once more into the cave. “Oh puppy, sorry for the wait, I got distracted on the way to my library. I forgot I’d made a forge in this place a few weeks ago and I’ve been dying to try it out. I even had some sheet metal on the floor so I used it to make a splendid new nametag for you. Here try it out!”

Pincushion came back out with a nametag so big, he had to tie a team of horses to it just to get it out the front door.

“Thanks guys,” he waved the team of equestrians back across the street to their own homes.

With that, Cute Tiny Puppy laid on the ground so Smooth Jazz could fix the nametag to his collar. When he rose back up, he could see his new name.

“Gigantor Adorable Labrador? That’s a great name!” Shouted formerly Cute Tiny puppy.

“That it is my fine friend. That. It. Is.”

 

The End

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!)