Criticism is a vital part of literature, and for that matter most fields. Active, reasoned critiques help identify weaknesses and strengths, provide multiple interpretations and perspectives on disparate matters, and foster improvement, perhaps more than anything else. They are just as essential to individuals; critical feedback is immensely helpful to improving oneself in any number of aspects, whether that's a specific ability, or more generally. It is something that we are encouraged to actively seek out in order to understand how our work and how we are perceived and received by others. Unfortunately, it is also something that I struggle with receiving.
The point at which I'm driving is this: most depictions of people walking from place to place in fantasy books are terribly unrealistic. For a start, very rarely do they carry any gear with them, though they often are described as preparing gear, or having gear. But how are they carrying it? Where are the sore shoulders and sweaty backs and the sense of being about the float away when you finally take off your pack at the end of the day? Then they proceed to cover thirty miles in a day, and are promptly ready to get up and do it again the following day.
I remember having several English teachers, especially early in my schooling, who spent a great deal of time talking about how important a good opening line is. As they likely did for many of you, they called this opening line a “hook,” and explained how the entire fate of the universe, or at least my essay, rests on having a “hook,” a first line that will draw readers in and make them desperately excited to learn more about what I have to say on such fascinating topics as Lyme’s disease, Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home, or the intelligence of dolphins.
Over the past few months, I've been slowly making my way through the extensive historical archives of the Peanuts comic strip, starting all the way back at its inception in 1950. I don't usually get a lot out of comics, graphic novels, and other, similar forms - my patience and interpretive abilities for these visual media are only somewhat higher than my abilities to create in such media - but Peanuts was enough a part of my childhood that I am enjoying reading through them all from beginning to end. This rather esoteric project began from a random curiosity about how the strip originated, and while I continued with it in part because I was enjoying them, and out of curiosity, it also became something of a writing exercise.
One wonders what other common facts about everyday life we tend to ignore because of how seamlessly our technology helps us overcome those difficulties. Since most fantasy stories take place in pre-industrial settings that would not have most of these kinds of aides, it is worth considering working these kinds of facts of the human condition into stories.
In any book, the author must introduce the characters, the situation, and the basic elements of the setting, but in fantasy and science fiction you might have a viewpoint character in the first chapter who isn't even human, living on a planet that isn't even in this universe. The very laws of physics might be different, never mind the differences in culture, history, civilization, and everything that goes along with that: systems of measurement, idioms, naming conventions, philosophical principles, mathematics, science...speculative fiction strives to introduce and immerse a reader in a world that might be completely different from that with which we are familiar.
As I was writing several of the scenes in the later episodes of Blood Magic's first season, I was struggling to describe what, exactly, Prime Wezzix and Borivat do all day. Specifically, I had a discussion in episode eight about Merolate's budget. As I was writing it, I was trying to make it realistic, but I found myself wondering what a budget for a nation-state at a level roughly comparable to Italy in the thirteenth or fourteenth century might reasonably include.
This post is primarily intended as an educational one, to discuss some of the terminology and thought-processes involved in materials science, but it was inspired by world-building considerations. As you may recall, if you've been following along with what I've been reading (and my regular book reviews), I recently read a book called The Substance of Civilization, which detailed how the materials to which our species has had access have shaped the course of cultural evolution over the past ten thousand years. It prompted me to think in more detail about choice of materials and construction techniques in world-building.
I admit that I've never participated in NaNoWriMo, despite it being one of the most popular events for the past several years for aspiring writers. The goal of it is to help people establish a writing habit, so it's not that I don't support the mission. In fact, I post writing prompts here on the site precisely because I want to encourage people to write more. And the idea of basically free-writing a short novel in the course of a month isn't a bad one. As unreasonable as it might sound, writing fifty thousand words in a month is not all that much of a stretch, if you're willing to make a routine out of it.
Creative writing, or the speculative fiction genre, has long leveraged something called the MICE quotient. I first came across this when I was reading an Orson Scott Card book on how to write science fiction and fantasy (I think it was even titled How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy). The premise is that stories in the speculative fiction genre can be broadly binned as having one or more of four, primary drivers: milieu, idea, character, and event. Although most good stories will incorporate multiple of these components, with different ones emphasized at different times, there is usually one that drives the story forward.