Discussion in 'Fluff and Stories' started by spawning of Bob, Apr 10, 2015.
Writing like that doesn't help much if you aren't specific of what your difficulty is.
Story Plans 1 - Character Mapping
I was planning to shut up in this thread for a while because I have a stifling voice. I sound too much like an authority even when I am just making stuff up (which is practically all the time)
But since you asked so nicely... The following is a tool that might help if you want to plan a story around a character arc.
Spoiler: boring background
This tool is adapted from a process I used to help a number of people understand their professional relationships and the context of their work within a huge organisation (80000 staff) - because they needed to update their role descriptions to be semi-competively reevaluated, and I was one of the original authors of the evaluation framework. Believe me, I have paid for my sins.
I would put the employee in a circle on a whiteboard and put a blob for every internal / external organisational unit they had contact with, as well as their boss, their subordinates of different professions (as groups), students, volunteers, whatever. All of the blobs around the outside would have an arrow towards the employee and an arrow towards the blob. The employee to boss arrow would say "influences" or "informs" The boss to employee arrow would say "directs" or "delegates". The employee to student arrow would say "teaches" and "evaluates". AT the end of the process the employee would understand how their skill (which they could understand and describe readily) impacted the organization (which they generally couldn't describe). I helped several people up to the correct pay grade by doing this - There is a lot of difference to having a role description which says "I do stuff" compared with one that says "I do stuff which influences organisation wide strategic policy makers"
Anyhoo. If you have a story of more than 500 words, it helps to have a plan. If it is a long and tangled story you need a plan.
If you have a story based around a single character this tool helps to put all the necessary steps in order and to define the changing relationships with other characters (even if your character is static, other ones will need to change - even if all they do is learn to fear your hero. These relationships will define the mood and content of your dialogue.
Important idea: Exposition tells the reader what they should know and see. Dialogue and relationships tell the reader how they should feel.
OK. I have an attached PDF file with a character map for "Blinqi the Almost Blind Skinky" (Daughter of Bob's suggestion) - check out the file now.
Some things to note:
I used a lot more words on this map than I needed (just for clarity). I have a paper notebook which is full of scrawl like this.
Blinqi's arc lists all the steps I think he needs to go through to get to "ever after"
Everyone with a link has the steps of their relationship growth with Blinki mapped out.
The most important relationship (with Narqi) gets three arrows.
Note that Blinki has NO direct relationship with General Zod (and the hypothetical Slann) Zod is Priest Narqi's little problem, not Blinqi's
If the enemy boss was a talky one, he might rate a box of his own. Blinqi is such a minor player that he wouldn't get a link, but the Boss might link to General Zod or the Slann therefore the Boss is almost irrelevant to a story which is about Blinqi. He can be dealt with by exposition rather than characterization.
I have an unspecified character that I will need. I won't waste time planning a role for him at this point. As I write the first sections, I am sure that a background person of some kind will pop up. I will define his role then, BUT because his entire function is sympathetic ear, the best he can hope for arc-wise is to die in a futile manner. This crops up a lot on L-O for some reason.
If you have a very long ensemble story you could map every major player in this way, but personally, I would map each pairing in my head and then use an Xcel spreadsheet - which goes like the 'Strength vs Toughness - To Wound' matrix from the BRB - where character x intersects character y is where I would jot the sequence of relationship growth.
Edit: A harsh environment, a calendar event or an absent god could also be "characters" - My chameleon's innocent little shadow was characterized in "the betrayer" and the lava fields and volcano could have been mapped as character influences as well. (Edit - added)
If you go no further than a main character map as above it will help you with sequencing of plot points.
Narqi has to be frustrated with Blinki BEFORE Zod deploys them together just for laughs.
The steg needs to accept Blinqi AFTER he has hopelessly lost all confidence and possibly AFTER the battle starts (otherwise Blinqi would have less need to fear messing up in the heat of battle - a twenty ton buddy is confidence boosting)
I would love to see a spoileriffic map of the relationship between Slanputin's Tintua and the skink high priest, Monotaal in this. Those two will never be buddies, but they will need to spark together at some point - the ensuing conflagration could save a city or burn it.
Here is a picture of Blinqi later in his career:
So, I had a lot to say about the last few topics. Unfortunately, I'm indolent and inconscient (hey thesaurus!) enough that I didn't actually get around to posting them in time before the conversation moved on/they got lost in my brain fog. Here's a few late replies however.
1: Chekhov's Checklist
I think that's reductive. I certainly don't rate Hemmingway among my favourite authors (my current top dog is J.G. Ballard), but I do like how a lot of what he told was left unsaid, implied, or conveyed through innuendo. His Iceberg Theory (aka "Beige Prose" or the "Theory of Omission") sits well with my idea of how I approach telling the audience how my character's feel, about their thought processes, and about adopting a non-absolute approach to telling back-story (I don't believe someone's history should ever be 100% explained, only what's relevant and only if that when it can be implied effectively). Of course, this needs skill to pull off and doesn't always effectively deal with the story's demands. Sometimes you really need to lay out a plot piece clearly for the audience as you build up the story.
Yes and no (which probably means I agree overall with what you said). Whilst we're working within the mayincatec trope by simply writing fluff pieces on the Lizardmen, I can't help but feel cautious about pushing the culture under the "human sacrifices, ziggaruts, and snake-gods" motif typical of the fantasy/sci-fi treatment of mesoamerican cultures. They were highly regionally diverse civilisations and I would wish this could be better reflected in the fluff. The argument against that is the rigid caste system espoused by the Lizardmen which could work against diversity. This concern probably comes from my visiting different locations first hand in South America which was really eye-opening, so there's some influence from personal bias here.
I think in-prose it's easy to avoid addressing the reader directly. I read this point as if the author was talking about the narrator being conversational with the audience, so "breaking the fourth wall". For example, the TV show "House of Cards"does this quite well. Most of the first-person stories I've read (which is less than third person, as I'm not its biggest fan) tend to avoid doing so, with insight given to the audience through conversation, internal dialogue, as a diary etc. Soliloquy is the only technique I can think of that straddles this boundary, or perhaps an in-universe address to an in-universe reader (as you would expect from a diary of sorts) acting as a proxy for the reader (i.e. you).
Post-modern shenanigans come in when the non-narrative universe is acknowledged in some way, with "breaking the fourth" wall being a common method. This could be the main character addressing the reader directly, removed from the observations and actions of everyone else in the story. 'House of Leaves' by Mark Z. Danielewski is probably one of the best examples of a post-modern book - there are (arguably) four narrators, two of which at least appear to address the reader directly. However it really takes things further by having the book reflect the ongoings in the story. I don't want to spoil things too much - it's definitely worth a read- but there's one point where characters are in a maze and the paragraphs just go all over the page to reflect this.
I'm not sure how much commenting on the writing during the process can be considered post-modern (an argument for philosophers) but I don't think that's what the author meant in his article.
2: Character Mapping
Feel free to do similar for me ;p
Thanks Bob, I found this very helpful. My character maps so far have been trammeled by trying to design them within a linear format to mirror the progression in the story (somewhat similar to this but with more chapter detail, although its somewhat harder to do without the benefit of retrospect). Because not all future events and chapters have been planned this was proving to be very difficult. Your non-linear nodal approach looks much more effective.
Heee, thanks for the plug I could show you but I'd hate to spoil anything. One spoiler I can say is that they'll end up in a Bretonnian Cafe somewhere, laughing about the whole thing as best-of-friends.
Story Plans 2 - Plot Mapping
So, I have a vague idea of the key characters from my character mapping of Blinqi. Obviously I have one or two ideas about the plot because I have his planned arc Now I want to organize my cast so that the correct players are on stage (or not on stage) at the appropriate times.
I am going to start with the assumption that time runs forwards and the order of events in Blinqi's history lead from one to the next. However, I am not bound to historical order with the story telling. If his spawning is depicted at all, it can be in flash back. His early career can be in flashback too, or can be alluded to in a conversation by third party characters (eg "How did Blinqi go in training this morning" "He was useless. Again. He can't do anything right." - I just saved myself a training montage and the key points of he gets training and he is consistently useless were expressed in two lines. - efficient.)
I can write bits of his history and never write about them at all - they still help me to know where the characters are coming from even if the scene never gets written.
I will tell you the entire plot now to help you interpret the map.
Blinqi is spawned able to see magic but not normal light. He is assigned to some minor stegadon handling role because he has no normal skink combat ability. His Boss hates him. There is a battle with a baddy who has neutralised all magic attacks against him, and is darn near invulnerable to mundane attacks due to swirling winds of magic. LM are going to lose big time until Blinqi actually hits something with the giant bow. It looks like luck, but it is his gift of sight that allows this. At the big after-party he is given respect and becomes a troglodon riding skink oracle - his gift of magic sight now has a use.
Plot Map Key
Locations and events run across the top of the columns
characters and brief physical descriptions are on the left side of the rows.
if a character must be in a location for an event I have shaded that cell. I put a Y for yes (needed) or a ? (maybe needed) in the cell. If they need to be present somewhere in the scene (because they are physically there, even if not doing or saying anything at the time )but don't need to do anything in that cell it is blank. If they have some plot heavy lifting to do in that cell, I give them some quick notes.
Have a look at the map now (attached PDF) Then come back to discussion.
You'll note that I broke the battle down into more phases than you would think I needed. Battles are big confusing things - breaking the battle into individual beats (treat them like new camera angles) really helps you to not confuse the reader when you go to write it down. With my battle map in mind, I can confidently show what each character is doing in an order that flows logically to the battle resolution. I could have mapped the battle geographically too (centre field, left flank, behind the lines, in the sky etc)
In the course of mapping I've all but decided to do without the nameless buddy - he is there for 2 minor scenes and he can be replaced by internal monologue or other players. In the meantime, the Slann who doesn't even need to speak until the after party NEEDS to be seen early so I can use him to drive the point that Blinqi sees magic people as well as magic items. Zod appears unnecessarily early for the same reason.
If I had got to scene 8 and then discovered I needed the regular giant bow user to say something or that him hitting something was so unrealistic that I needed to define him as a ballistic skill god, I would go back to the map pop him into 2 earlier scenes (steg pit and training) so that he would not be an unheralded character in scene 8. (like the old man from scene 24). I don't want to, because he would either be a carbon copy of Marqi, or a sympathetic character when i need Blinqi to feel alone. Of course I could kill him, but that takes me in other directions. Dilemmas, Dilemmas but they are ones I can deal with in planning so that I don't write scene 8 and then discover I need to rewrite scene 3 which is already published.
The scene "early warning / battle plans made" Even though this is a story about Blinqi - he has no reason to be present for that little scene. It can still be about him if Zod or Narqi mentions him, or mentions unreliable elements in the army and how that makes them feel. We will find out more about their attitudes to Blinqi in a 4 line discussion without him present than we would in the last 3 chapters where they might say and do things but not reveal their thoughts in public.
I hope I get to write this story one day because it fills existing LM weirdness (giant bow innacuracy, trogodon uselessness, oracles who channel but don't cast magic. If someone else wants to run with it or modify it, please do so with my blessing.
Now, here is a funny thing: The plot and characters are defined. The theme and tone are not. This story could be told in myriad ways.
The Old Ones have got it sorted. Go destiny!
Search for the hero inside yourself
We are all important parts of a big machine / happy family that makes dead daemons
played for laughs
It is one irrelevant victory in a dark and hopeless war - the evil had been held back, but only temporarily. There is only war.
protagonist is angry at situation
protagonist is depressed by situation
secondary characters accept new Blinqi
secondary characters fear / reject new Blinqi
lots of death and maiming
everyone is back and happy for chapter 2.
This was a linear story with one main character. I didn't need to plot map it with a matrix.
However, this 2nd PDF is the plan for books 2 and 3 of the "From the Ashes of the Empire Trilogy - massively compressed to obliterate spoilers. I needed a map big time. You will need to zoom to max to see anything at all.
35ish named characters or character groups on the rows (eg Emperor Magnus, the Hochland Chicken Wrasslers)
45ish specific locations head the columns. Just the locations. Some of those locations have 15+ plot events in them - Altdorf is a big place.
Grey boxes are characters I need in that location at that time. If you look to the right you will see light blue, pink and green shaded blocks. These are three parallel story threads - simultaneous occurrences in three sets of locations. There are no character overlaps between the three blocks, because I split my teams up again. The very heavily shaded 2 columns at the end are for the final battle where everything comes together, and then the happy ending
I have got a critical location in the middle of one thread that I have no idea how to write (I have already used up all the possible variations of Khorne, Slaanesh, Tzeentch, Nurgle and Beastmen) but I am relaxed about just going past that location and writing everything that happens after those events. I can come back to it any time. I can even post everything up to that point on LO and then ask for suggestions. Why can I confidently come back to it? Because I already know who goes into the location, who comes out and in what shape (including 2 new critical but completely undeveloped medium important characters).
A detailed plan is a great cure for writers block if you want to write a long narrative. If I am stuck in the doldrums in book one or don't have access to a computer for a week, I can go and write (on paper) some awesomely cool dialogue between two characters who I know will need to have a particular conversation in Middenheim in two books time (it is the most awesomely cool dramatic scene I have ever written. I can't wait to get there for real.)
If you want a plan, these are two models I have found useful. Character maps are great for short stories upwards. A matrix can help to get the sequencing right for stuff that follows multiple character / story paths.
Does anyone else have some tools that are less cumbersome?
@Scalenex, I know you use another way of planning individual chapters. Not sure what you do for lots of connected sections. I've seen you maintain at least 4 simultaneous plot threads in New Alliances.
@Slanputin, Lord Xhaltan has separate plot lines which haven't been simultaneous yet. Tying those together at one single critical moment might be tricky. My strategy is to have all my plot lines end at the same location (viewed from different perspectives)
@Kcibrihp-Esurc, I am almost scared to ask, but with so many plot lines... Do you just sit down and write? Or do you have a structure / unifying plan in mind before you start? Please don't yell at me
@spawning of Bob I come up with the main stuffs of the plot, then write, and other things creep in as I write, Then I edit to make more attachable to the later stories.
Well I use New Alliances as my reference then
Well I start with a basic idea.
So I thought, sounds good. IronJaw was a fan and I want to keep my fans happy. Now that I sent Preylot, Belrikt, and Tal-Lat to the Southlands this gives me an opportunity to have recurring characters.
If you haven't read New Alliances yet, this example of story construction will be spoilerific.
First I brainstorm.
I thought Dwarfs and Lizardmen against the Skaven would be hardly sporting. Especially since I believe realistically the Southlands would not be a major stronghold, so I wanted to give the Skaven an ally. Since Deamonic conflict defined my three recurring Lizardmen, I figured I'd use them. Also I had mentioned Locklirist of the Hated Lash twice in previous stories and he never appeared on screen. I figured he'd be vengeful against Belrikt and Co. for messing up his invasion plot. Also he hated Lizardmen anyway.
So I figured the Skaven holdings in the Southlands would be pretty sparse, being that it's on the edge of the world and right on the doorstep of a bunch of Lizardmen that while they don't have the personal grudge against the Skaven that Lustrians do, they do have golden plaques that tell them sacrificing Skaven en masse is pleasing to Sotek. So I figured Skaven would go to the Southlands if they are so worried about their own kind knifing them that they flee to a far away dangerous place. Ostracized Skaven from accross the world form Clan Ostrel. Since they all are on the outs of Skaven society at large, by Skaven standards, they are tight knight. I developed characters from there.
I got the Lizardmen main characters and I already established that the Klodorex alliance of Slann is at least moderately interested in aiding the Prodigal races. That's good.
Dwarfs don't have a lot to come up with. Very ancient hold, isolated from mainstream Dwarf society for a long time. I figured they wouldn't have any gunpowder or steam power, but they'd have decent rune knowledge compared to the northern Dwarfs. Why not make the main protagonist a rune lord to drive that home.
After figuring out those kind of of details in a broad sense, I think about death. Who do I definitely want to live and who do I definitely want to die. Certain deaths (or near-deaths) will define the central drama. Then I look at my supporting cast and figure who could die. Since I essentially have four protagonists than means I needed a large stable of sacrificial lions or at least potential sacrificial lions. I had to establish named Lizardmen, Skaven, and Dwarfs to die or nearly die. Even Kalai could qualify as a daemonic sacrificial lion to demonstrate that the villains (the Lizardmen) were playing for keeps.
Now that I have the basic idea in my head, but then it’s time to write down a bare bones outline of things the story must have in a particular order
The following was half in my head, half short hand but I expanded it so you can all read it.
-Lizardmen get mission to help Dwarfs
-Lizardmen mobilize army
-Lizardmen reach Dwarfs
-Lizardmen parley with Dwarfs
-Lizardmen fight alongside Dwarfs
-Fight has ups and downs
-Lizardmen celebrate victory/commiserate the dead with Dwarfs
-Dwarfs recognize something is threatening them
-Dwarfs identify threat as Skaven
-Dwarfs fight Skaven.
-Fight has ups and downs
-Conflict is resolved
-Skaven discover Dwarfs
-Skaven make plan to destroy Dwarfs
-Skaven get interrupted by Lizardmen, forced to improvise
-Fight has ups and downs
-Conflict is resolved
-Skaven and/or Daemons contact the other party
-Skaven rebuff Daemonic offer of help
-Lizardmen army makes Skaven desperate, reconsider
-Fight has ups and downs
-Skaven-Daemon Alliance breaks down
Details (the fun part)
-Establish Stroln as well-meaning but inept academic type
-Establish Stroln as comic relief
-Belrikt endangers the mission with his stupidity
-Establish Stroln’s sad death, redeeming his mistakes, and causing survivor’s guilt for Belrikt.
-Establish that the Lizardmen have magic to overcome language barriers
-Establish that Daemons have to overcome language barriers
-Establish that it works across several languages and translation is perfect
-Belrikt uses this to trick Daemon into revealing his true intention to the Skaven by transitioning from Saurian to Queekish midsentence
-Hint this to the readers with double speak
-Skaven demonstrate double speak early and often
-Then Belrikt and Locklirist show a little bit of double speak when speaking in Queekish
-Belrikt starts talking to Locklirist in Saurian-English and moves to Queekish-English mid conversation
The Dervish of Despair is tricked into fighting the Rat Ogres
-Establish that the Dervish of Despair and the Rat Ogres exist and who and what they are.
-Establish the Dervish of Despair and the Rat Ogres and strong entities
-Establish that a leader would use them reluctantly
-Establish that the Dervish will single-mindedly pursue its quarry and that the Rat Ogres will attack everything near them, even supposed allies
-In order to lure one into the other, Belrikt has to have a legitate reason to know where at least one of them is, so I need to establish that one of these forces is somewhat contained in a known location.
-Belrikt has to decide standing and fighting is out of the question
-Belrikt lures the Dervish into the Rat Ogres
-Belrikt and Preylot take out the wounded victor.
Belrikt the beast man
-Remind readers that Belrikt is a beast caste Skink
-Demonstrate leadership and animal empathy by having Belrikt deal with an animal problem while the army is marching
-Have Belrikt get angry when the Skaven use tortured reptilian beasts of war.
-Establish the patriarchical system of male-female relations that typifies the Under-Empire
-Establish that Kreela is a member of a rarified female fighting group of the Skaven
-Establish her relationship with Neekit, establishing her as a loyal and competent ally
-Establish Kreela’s kickass credentials with a sacrificial lion.
-When the Skaven lose their main objective, have Kreela obtain a secondary objective. This illustrates that Kreela a) survived, b) is a force to be reckoned with and c) Clan Ostrel is beaten but not broken.
-Establish clan Ostrel’s history
-Establish Neekit’s ability to use carrots and not just sticks
-Establish Neekit’s ability to adapt under pressure
-Have Neekit constantly self assure himself as he switches from generous leader to harsh one, cowardly to brave and back and forth all the while praising himself on his balance
-Drive it home with two-faced political speech
(Belrikt, Locklirist, and Hodiri all had similar leadership unfolding arcs)
-Recap daemon’s side of events of Divided We Fall
-Locklirist conscripts Nurgle allies
-Establish mechanics of tempermental dangerous rift between worlds
-Locklirist talks to Januscol (I was looking for a reason to use Januscol for quite some time) to advance his scheme
-Locklirist moves his advanced party through with Januscol’s advice
-Neekit widens the rift
-Locklirist and his main army enter
-Conflict is resolved
-Locklirits plans his revenge (again)
-Belrikt gets three doses of potions
-Belrikt uses them in a dramatic fashion throughout the story, then they are gone
(repeat for every major tool or minion of every major character) This is important so you don’t say “I’ve been carrying a potion of super strength all this time!” or “Why did Locklirist begin with just a bunch of Nurglings?” though not all items need to be lost.
Continuity with Divided We Fall nostalgia (order less important here)
-Reintroduce Preylot and Belrikt
-Recap the Slann’s goal to aid the Prodigal races
-Mention Tal-Lat since he is still alive.
-Recap Locklirist’s and Korshalork’s relationship with each other and the Lizardmen since it’s unreasonable to expect readers to remember such minor characters
-Make sure that someone could read New Alliances with a fresh view, but a returning viewer can see the continuation
-Have Belrikt take a seemingly unnecessary risk to save a Kroxigor’s life due to loyalty/survivors guilt for his dead friends Nal and Tay.
Southlands and Dwarfs pave the way for a friendship
-Belrikt gets mission to aid Dwarfs
-Belrikt comes to the Dwarfs aid
-Dwarfs reluctantly accept aid
-Share triumphs and losses
-Battle side by side
-Drink and eat side-by-side, hilarity ensues
-Foundation of long term trust established.
What is Missing?
I realized that I didn’t have a lot of Dwarf subplots, so I decided to run with the fact that the Slann accidentally wrecked havoc on the Dwarfs. Stroln needed something to mess up on so he could spill the beans there, but I wanted to end up with a happy ending, so it goes like this.
-Have Stroln accidentally spill the beans on the important Lizardmen secret
-Establish a distraction, so Hodiri can’t deal with it immediately (turned out the distraction was Kalai but I didn’t know this in the planning phase.
-Hodiri decides to keep quiet about the Slann’s screwup because they indirectly endangered his hold then indirectly saved it. This required me to retroactively establish that Hodiri is still recognizable Dwarven but I needed to establish that he does not follow the letter of traditions when it goes against the spirit, in this case the spirit being the general welfare of his hold.
I composed a plan using a mixture of the techniques used above, all of which were very helpful. Assuming I stick to the plan I should have at least 23 chapters.
How long is too long for a fluff forum piece?*
*Speaking of curtailed stories, when does the next story competition start?
Mahrlect! I forgot to bug Arli about this. I guess I'll use my Story Theme I have been sitting on.
@Slanputin. Contest is now up and running.
I'm guessing the one I'm doing now will be approx 50000 words and 20 chapters - but I'm happy for chapters to range up to 3500 words. Longer than that and I would try to break it into 2 consecutive OR 2 with other chapter in between to give the impression of passage of time.
As for the too long...
Just write the thing - I'll appreciate it. And better to get the story out at its own pace than shoehorn it in to an arbitrary length. If there are dire pacing or extraneous detail problems, that is what rewrites are for (however, with your stuff, I can't detect padding - everything feels important). If for some reason someone is reading this who hasn't started Lord Xhaltan's story, gaze on Slanputin's excellent use of language to paint a very "visually appealing" story scape. The plot is bubbling along nicely, too.
Things that come out as a long serial either collect interest or it fades - depends on how engaging the story is, how many replies bump the thread up and probably whether a new wargaming system has been released that week. I used to obsessively follow viewcounts. Now I just obsessively follow Likes.
Personally, I have decided to adopt the model of put out serial - Do a redraft - and then a block release (easier to read a block on a rainy day or to post up on another forum), probably just before I start to serialize the next thing.
The test for how long is too long as a block release will come with Scalenex's "Verrick's Saga" Which must be ? half done by now? When that sucker drops it is going to feel like a nintendo game - Level after level with a bigger boss each time. How on earth will Scaly introduce enough characters for Verrick to have ANY friends left at the end? (Although that isn't a concern if Verrick dies and I win my dollar back)
Awh, thanks for the plug
I think the most important thing to remember is that you're also writing for yourself: it's the reason I started writing in the first place, and if you sacrifice too much that it becomes a chore you're doing something wrong.
Question: do minority voices (e.g., female, non-white, homosexual, etc.) suffer greater discrimination in fantasy works generally and in amateur fluff writing; are they under-represented? Perhaps somewhat futile when thought of in respect to this forum given that we write about sexless, gender-less lizards (which removes a point for drama ), but it's definitely something I'm quite aware of.
I don't know about amateurs, but my understanding is that in general fan fiction writers are mostly female and this leads to high number of female protagonists. Warhammer Fantasy is an exception since pretty 100% of our writers are WH players or former players and 90% (at least) of that pool is male.
You can slice discrimination in a lot of ways. First off, do fantasy writers include women and minorities in non-flattering ways? Yes. Games Workshop had a Warhammer Fantasy race they quickly stopped publishing about and swept under the rug. Savage pygmy humans in the Southlands. The Blonde eternally young, savage, and somehow body shaven Amazons of the Lustria are not exactly an empowering image of femininity.
Generally unflattering caricatures of women and minorities are getting less and less common in fantasy writing. What is more common is that minorities and women are not portrayed poorly, they are simply not present. Some of it subconscious bias since most fantasy writers are white males. There are non-racist or at least non-overtly racist reasons to exclude minorities. If you are building a fictional setting based on Medieval Europe than most/all of the characters will be white. Because medieval Europe was mostly white, so a minority would look somewhat odd.
Then there is Fantastic Racism. Sometimes this is used to put a reasonable metaphor that maturely examines a real-world problem by telling an interesting fantasy story. Sometimes, this is used to have an alien or monstrous race that vaguely resembles a race the writer is prejudiced against. Such as George Lucas, over and over again.
If you play up the token minorities good qualities too much, you might have a Magical Negro, Magical Asian, or Magical Native American, and it might offend. Or it might seem cool if well done. You can also blend this with Fantastic racism. A human with a Skink mentor that invokes aspects of a Magic Native American. I mean fantasy worlds have a better justification for magical characters than most.
Without making the token minority perfect. You can have a racial version of the Smurfette Principle. All of the Smurfs are defined by their profession or their predominant personality trait. Smurfette is the only Smurf without a name based on what said Smurf does. Her name is based on what she is. Racial minorities often fall into that category. If the first thing you have to describe a character is "Well he's black," that's not a good sign.
Assuming you want to tell a story about racial tensions between Humans with Elves, Orcs, and all the rest, would any Human care whether someone's skin was darker or lighter than them? The Steam Punk setting Shadowrun has prejudice over meta-human type overshadow traditional racism. A prejudiced white human in Shadowrun is more likely to be okay with a black human but nervous around a white orc and they certainly aren't going to be happy with a white human ghoul. Then again, maybe the racist human does prefer white Elves over black humans.
While there is a desire to have interesting realistic inter-species, inter-nation, and inter-race relations, you need to ask yourself what story you are trying to tell? If you want to tell a story about some simple conflict that is not race based you need to ask yourself if adding racial identities and accompanying issues will enhance the story or distract from it. It's perfectly acceptable to tell a story about Lizardmen fighting Skaven and have a Fantastic Racism sublplot of the Sauri and Skinks not getting along while doing it, but it might not be necessary. Now if you want a story world where the Humans and Elves hate each other and the Humans and Elves have tension between light and dark skinned members, then you better be planning a story about prejudice. Because if you include both Fantastic Racism and real world racism then you shouldn't make your goal about something else. That's too much to keep track of.
Finally on race in fantasy I'm going to add that in writing if you don't explicitly say what someone's race is, the reader can put in whatever they want.
Well I'm tired of typing. I'll spew about thoughts of women in fantasy later, maybe.
I may just post inflammatory literary topics just to mine the links Scalenex includes in his spew
Are you saying sexless, gender-less lizards aren't minorities? I thought I was being PC all this time
Warning: Opinions May Vary!. This is also just spew - I wrote it earlier then didn't want to be first poster. I'll probably change my mind later after discussion (thereby proving that discussion is valid)
I think pre 15th century you were far more likely to be at war with the next city state over than giant space frogs, or the Chinese for that matter. Fantasy spices things up by having exotic enemies and allies as allegories for how inclusive the author thinks he is, or how xenophobic. This makes for a very easy black / white, good / evil, us / them, elf / orc dichotomy which greatly simplifies the story. Contrast this with Game of Thrones where nobody is particularly good or likeable. And they are all white. Even the undead ones are white. And it is complicated. A bit.
a) Author needs audience to identify with characters. Therefore chooses stereotype / trope. Doomed Brother Ahoy.
b) Dealing with a complicated / divisive issue in a story which isn't about that complicated / divisive issue will polarise readers. Safer to avoid. The exception is where I am deliberately spotlighting cross-species cross-dressing as a valid lifestyle choice. This is of course high art and if you don't understand, it is because you aren't intellectual enough.
c) Sci Fi, of course, has a long and glorious history of examining social mores (thank you Kirk and Uhura), but it annoys me when shows (Doctor Who) seemingly constantly bring up lifestyle choices (80 year old lesbian couple trapped in a traffic jam) as if they are trying to shock or titillate the audience. We've got the TV news for that and it adds nothing to the story.
"which removes a point for drama "
a) I think the differences between characters aren't a big drama point. The reaction between characters over their differences is the big one. Sometimes big reactions over seemingly minor differences say a lot more than reactions to big things. ("you worship the wrong God. I will kill you." - boring. VS "You are my own flesh and blood, only slightly cuter. I will kill you." - That is a character who I would like to understand.
b) Genderless lizards might forgo some character arcs, but they are well placed to observe some of the weirdness of biological urges or to be able to separate the threads of what is love, what is obligation and what is politics. (They understand the latter two, therefore any irrationality must be loin driven)
This brings up an interesting point in how literature, and media in general, approaches the inclusion of social groups often under-represented in story-telling. To an extent, I agree Bob - there are three easy ways to classify this. It's probably reductive, but I classify it as thus:
a) The Smurfette, as mentioned by Scalenex, whose character is defined by established tropes, and where the characters is explicitly the focus of plot-lines which revolves around that trait. This is not necessarily 'bad' as building off stereotypes helps the audience to quickly identify with the character, however if done crudely and ignorantly it can easily become something offensive. Using Bob's example above, the Smurfette version of a homosexual can be seen in All Gays Are Promiscuous, Depraved Homosexual, or Sissy Villain (not necessarily gay, however male femininity is often conflated with homosexuality so it was worth mentioning), or even in a arguably more sympathetic light which can be similarly crude, such as Manly Gay, or Bury Your Gays.
b) The pandering to diversity, whereby, for whatever reason, the show contrives the inclusion of characters and story-lines explicitly focused on a minority figure regardless of its relevance to the plot. This could be the result of many on-going backdoor discussions: broadening appeal, invoking current events, enlivening the plot, or purely cosmetic reasons. I've seen this done well - for example, invoking current events where a show deftly handles a contemporary issue within the context of its characters; these often add nothing to story progression and character development is often contained within this particular incident often lading it to being stand-alone episodes, nevertheless it is can be an interesting and evocative take on an issue. Bob, I suspect your problem with that Doctor Who episode is part of this trope, and one of the poor manifestations of it. This leads me too..
c) The mundanisation of the minority within greater society. This avoids building characters around the label of their minority, but integrates it within their character. It can never be mentioned explicitly in the story but still act as a driver for a character's actions, or it could be used as character-arc where the character experiences something from their own unique perspective (e.g. gay guy breaks up with his boyfriend; Lizardman needs to spend more time in the sun to build up his energy levels; the Elf can get more piercings on her ears) i.e. things that don't take on a whole aspect of themselves, but are nevertheless integral to how the character behaves. Again, using the Doctor Who example, explicitly referring to your wife as "my wife" or detailing odd specifics of your marriage just to stress the lesbian nature of the marriage comes off as an unnatural way to talk and thus awkward and unnecessary - the characters could still be lesbian, but dealt with as any other character. Hints at their relationship could be background elements, subtle keys, or even just general affection you'd expect from any other couple without the necessary focus.
I don't think certain subcultures should be excluded, more handled with a finesse that doesn't rely on heavy-handed stereotypes or flag-waving. Unless, of course, the story calls for it.
Bringing it back to the point, I think the Fantasy writer really needs to consider the reasoning behind the inclusion of the specifics - does the story call for racial tension between a white and a black Elf? Does the Dawrf's character develop by talking about its homosexual nature? Should the author include any reference to race, sexuality, gender etc. at all save for making it easier for the reader to follow?* I used obvious allegories in the last three questions, but whilst Fantasy (and Sci Fi) can prove an interesting petri dishes to play with society, I think it also offers a great way to extend similar social principles but different conflicts to stories. For example, discrimination between different magic users, or the caste prestige helping the Saurus advance further than the similarly skilled Skink etc. The conflict is relatable but the story more fantastical.
Anyway, that's my spew. Hopefully our our spew-confluence will produce something interesting
*This is another discussion point I want to come onto later, "How Descriptive Should You Be Of Your Characters".
Fine topic, but tradition dictates we don't move on to a new topic until the thread has been silent for at least a week.
More on women in fantasy. Female characters are rarer than male characters because most story is about combat. And men are the expendable gender. In a biological sense, ten women and one man can produce children ten times faster than ten men and one woman. Most fantasy worlds (and the historical eras they were based on) have lots of violent war. For the survival of society, men need to take the front lines. This gets exacerbated when you factor in what people usually gloss over. Before the modern era, death by childbirth was a lot more common. That means women are even less expendable. Even today the attitude remains despite the fact that 90% of the world's population could go drop dead and humanity (in the aggregate) would be fine.
Almost every non-human race in WHF has this ramped up. Elves and Dwarves are less fertile than Humans, so they have to be more protective of their females. Skaven males are born more often than females. Females can produce whole litters and males die in droves. Everyone is expendable in Skaven society but the only time I ever remember Skaven breeders dying in droves was when a Dwarven Slayer found a breeding pit in Thanqol. Orcs and Goblins reproduce from spores. This was done (I think) so GW writers don't have to go into the moral implications of the Empire killing Goblin women and children in response to Waaghs.
That's not to say you can't have a women fighters. The Spartans trained their wives to fight. They realized that their wives were vulnerable if they all left to go to war. This repeats often across eras and cultures. Fiction and non-fiction.
Men fight to defend (themselves, their family, their friends, their homeland, their ideals)
Men fight for personal gain (glory, wealth)
Men fight for vengeance
Men fight for pleasure (sadism, adrenaline rush)
Almost every story example of women fighting is defense, nearly always of their family or adopted family though they aren't averse to defending their country or ideals. Prominent real life examples include Joan of Arc and Boudica. Prominent fictional examples include Moulan and Sarah Conner. Vengeance is a distant second and it usually is vengeance for wronged family members, the bride from Kill Bill and again Boudica qualify for this. I defy you to come up with a non-villainous example where a female fighter is motivated strongly by thrill of battle or personal gain. It's not easy to come up with non-villainous examples of female fighters not defending themselves or their loved ones. No one questions that James Bond is a badass who fights for his country but Marvel's Black Widow needs a tragic backstory which bleeds into vengeance territory.
Going back to the fantasy writer's checklist. It's jarring to include a female character just be a damsel in distress and it's jarring to include a female character whose sole purpose is to be a mouthpiece for feminist ideals, either as a postive role model or one of these.
I have less wisdom on female characters. When I started out writing in junior high I wrote my female characters almost the same as male characters. I included them because they make up half of the human race, I figured a setting wasn't believable without at least 25% female characters. Androgynous female characters interchangeable with the males don't really enhance storytelling. Not using femininity as an aspect of a female character is just as bad as Smurfetting a character where they are only defined by being female.
Just make sure if you are using a female character in a role traditionally held by males in an historical or quasi-historical setting that you have an in-universe justification for making them female. What I mean by in-universe. Making a Dwarf squadron commander female because you the author want to balance the gender numbers or demonstrate your egalitarianism is not an inverse reason. If you have a Dwarf squadron commander because you want to demonstrate that the Dwarf's train their women to fight to protect their holds because they need all available hands to defend themselves, then that is an in-universe reason.
Tis why I included it as a footnote (of sorts)
I agree with this to an extent - in populations with high mortality rates the capacity to reproduce is a valuable commodity, however this is often dealt with by an increase in birth-rates rather than the conservation of the female population. The exception are usually found in tribal settings with low populations, but even then there are plenty of examples where women take on the main responsibilities of hunting. Increases in average life expectancy are quickly followed by decreases in the number of children born per household and come post-industrial eras, where life expectancy increases sharply, the value of having large families decreases due to greater chance of survival in the children. Large families were typically the product of ensuring family longevity and, more often in lower-economic subsistence classes, ensuring there were providers for the household. I can see the argument for keeping women away from the front-lines as a method of preserving the nation/race, however such reasoning isn't the sole argument nor, from what I've read, is it the prime reason for the historical absence of female fighters. As I've said, the approach to surviving eras of high mortality rates was to have many offspring, not necessarily to preserve women - I'd be careful of conflating the two concepts.
I'd argue that the prime reason for preventing woman from fighting was born out of a male-dominated society where socio-cultural values determined one's place. A persistent thought is that woman have a greater determination to birth and raise children, having been famously denoted as "the fairer sex" - i.e. weaker and more sensitive. Whilst biologically men have greater average mass, as stated above, woman have actively been the hunters and warriors in tribal situations. Their historical exclusion from the front-line (a generlisation, but true for most western civilizations) would appear to be a social phenomenon; a product of environmental influences within the society at large. Examples are rife focusing on the submission of woman to men in past civilizations and, considering the honorific status fighting for your nation/race/city has for many of those civilizations, it's unsurprising that woman would be excluded from war.
My main point here is that that, focusing on the biological reason of child bearers seems less of an argument for the inclusion of female fighters in comparison to the significance of social standards. Bringing this to fantasy writing means that the inclusion of women in warfare broadens the reasoning behind their ex/inclusion - on the one hand, you could have civilizations where woman are kept out of warfare for the purposes of childbearing (the Skaven being an extreme example of this), or a patriarchal system (Game of Thrones), however at the other end you could also have a civilization where social development has led to women being comprising the main fighting force, you just need to take female-dominated hunter tribes mentioned above along a logical developmental route where this is preserved.
You don't see much of the latter in fantasy literature however, and if they are women are often overtly sexualised (out of literature, just looking at the miniature ranges out their the main 'variety' of female models they tend to have ample bosoms and bare flesh) and/or defined by their relationships with men. This is often true for female heroes, as you say Scalenex:
This is most likely the result of the development of human society where much of the history of western civilization has been mostly patriarchal, and this is reflected in the stories we tell - them being the product of years of storytelling tradition under male-dominated societies. This is also a result of the fact that, relative to gender equality generally throughout human history, we're still in relatively new grounds for female independence. Indeed, currently woman comprise the majority of the poorest and uneducated percentile globally.
I like this approach, and I agree with the error in disregarding femininity when writing about female characters. However, I'd be careful about treating what is feminine as a homogeneous or patronising trait - too many male writers (and this is especially true among younger writers) exaggerate traditionally feminine traits (painful memories of Metroid fan fiction is now coming back >.< ).
Girls are different. (Not inferior). Physiologically and psycho-socially. This is barely relevant in society because boys are different too - there is massive variability within genders and major overlap between them in all matters that don't directly relate to reproduction and lactation.
Dispute that if you will.
Writing for women by male nerds. Any other tips?
I heard an interview with an author recently who has his wife vet all his female characters for authenticity. male readers couldn't spot / didn't care about the character's internal dialogue being a little off. Female readers could (and presumably did). He was writing contemporary crime drama, I think, so he needed a society with women in it and they had to ring true.
I am actually quite happy to wrote for my planned future female characters because I acknowledge that they are all paper thin stereotypes anyway ( just like my other characters). That doesn't stop them from being vital dramatic players. If I can flesh them out ten percent more than that, I will be pretty happy. (Two of them are actually quite complicated. The other is vapid. Sorry, she can't help being Bretonnian)
Oh sure, my argument wasn't about their difference but their representation. From what I've read, and as you've suggested Bob, is that the differences within genders are more significant than those between genders. People are complex, as is their position in society - something which varies geographically and thus influences the exposure of women to war-time conflict (in the role of soldiers at least). As Scalenex stated, women tend to be thrust into defensive roles when I think the reality is, again, far more complex.
As far writing for women by male nerds, when you don't have a suitably patient enough wife/female friend to check their authenticity,I think it's good practice is to acknowledge that you're going to be writing them with a personal bias and then try and curtail the amount that you rely on patronsing tropes that could result in a female caricature rather than a person. An exercise in metacoginition as it were.
As to what determines a patronising trope? Well.....it's always going to be grey and some tropes can form good foundations for interesting characters, however there are many obvious tropes which have been overdone in literature, although I consider Smurfetting, Women Are Delicate, Men Act, Women Are, Disposable Women, and Neutral Female ( the latter is a general annoyance that has always irked me so couldn't leave it out!) to be particular ones to avoid. Subverting/dedonstructing these tropes, or the host of characteristics typically associated with women, may be a better way to approach when developing female characters.Of course, pushing a feminist agenda may result in improbable characteristics/situations in an attempt to appear progressive - all characters must naturally fit into your narrative and in the end must always be there to develop the story. You don't want to start suffocating the audience with ideology (flashbacks to reading Atlas Shrugged...)
-Jack Nicholson, As Good as It Gets (1997)
(dodges flying shoe)
The best part of that scene. If he said anything else, he could have swept her off her feet.
As Good as it Gets along with Groundhog Day are probably two of the greatest romantic comedies ever made, but that's neither here nor there. The last thing this long thread needs is a discussion on movies.