Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Reading List

Well I've just come from The Art of Manliness and their reading list, so I was inspired to put together my own. I haven't tried to rank them. This list is more of books that people actually read, not just say they've read.

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein - pro- military
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman - anti-military
Old Man's War by John Scalzi - third view of war
With Fire and Sword by Henyrk Sienkiewicz - 19th century adventure novel
1984 by George Orwell - brutal dictatorship
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley - dictatorship of comfort and free sex
Catch-22 - by Joseph Heller -anti-military and founded a new phrase
The Curse of Chalion - Lois McMaster Bujold - what it really means to do God's will
Dune by Frank Herbert - Messiah in space
Double Star by Robert Heinlein - doing your duty although it erases you.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy - human nature, and some comments on war
A Princess of Mars - by Edgar Rice Burroughs - honor, courage, rip-roaring adventure.
Tuf Voyaging - George R R Martin - for some reason, Haviland Tuf appeals to me.
Callahan's Cross Time Saloon - by Spider Robinson. Shared pain decreases.
Day of the Triffids by John Wynham - end of the world via biological warfare.
Huckleberry Finn - by Mark Twain
The Hobbit - J RR Tolkien - of course
Lord of the Rings - J R R Tolkien - natch.
Macbeth - Shakespeare - murder, treason, guilt!
Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card - kids are smarter than adults
A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Enge
Dracula - Bram Stoker
Startide Rising - David Brin
Have Space Suit - Will Travel by Robert Heinlein
Hyperion by Dan Simmons - kind of have to read the sequel Fall of Hyperion also
Watership Down - Robert Adams

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hero or Protagonist?

I've wondered on whether to use the term hero or protagonist when talking about writing. Both have their upsides and downsides.

Hero is the older term. Its short, four letters, I'm done. But it traditionally indicates a male character. The term also tends to connotate a character with few faults. With the modern fixation on "three dimensional" characters, or even worse "gritty and edgy" characters, hero just seems old fashioned and past its prime.

Protagonist? Too long, and my fingers hate typing it. Its just damn pretentious, like my main character has a dark past doing something awful, like "selling drugs disguised as a nun". Or he stands on windswept crags, staring into dark thundering clouds, spending forty two long pages pondering the meaning of life, the universe and everything.

I've decided to use the word "toon", from "cartoon". Toon is used by many MMORPG players to refer to their characters in the game. It seems to have come from World of Warcraft, inspired by the cartoon like artwork perhaps, but may be older.

Oh, but am I writing cartoons? Those aren't realistic at all! Well, when you get right down to it, most fiction is about unrealistic people or situations. The audience, whether readers or viewers, generally want something extraordinary. More action, more drama, more comedy than in real life. All fiction is about the out of the ordinary. A story about an engineer who goes to work, comes home, reads novels, goes to movies with friends, works out twice a week and goes to church once a month will never get published. If the same character stumbles across a plot to assassinate the president, or discovers vampires living next door, or "falls into a wormhole and the next moment is fighting Sleestak halfway across the galaxy", well thats sellable copy.

And in the 21st century its not enough to have extraordinary circumstances. Your character has to have some dark past. Its just not enough to fight fundamentalist christians bent on assasinating the great progressive hope, the protagonist (I swear it takes me a full sixty seconds to type that fricking word) must also be a former drug dealer, or committed atrocities as a mercenary in Iraq, or something "gritty and edgy". All in the name of 'three dimensionality'.

Of course, most people just aren't like that. Most of us are pretty two dimensional. Most of us will not dangle upside down from a high rise trying to disarm a nuclear bomb while struggling with the DTs because we're an addict who picked the wrong day to give up heroin.

The word toon reminds us what we write is not normal. Our audience wants more than normal and its our job to give it to them. If we don't, the reader will move to some one who will.

Reference: Orson Scott Card in his book on characters points out that fictional characters are not normal. I think Dwight Swain does too in his "Techniques for the selling writer", but can't recall. The quote about Sleestak is from an episode of Castle, I don't know which one.


So I'm stuck at a particular part in my novel, not sure how to move the plot forward. I finally decided to apply the principle "when you don't know what to do, make your toon's life more difficult."

That gives me a general direction to go, but specifically how to proceed still stumps me. Do I need to work out how the hero will escape from this first? Or just toss him towards the river of man eating crocodiles and hope I can write the escape when the time comes? Decisions decisions.

Quantum Entanglement

When you hear about quantum entanglement, its discussed as a bizarre principle of physics where a photon or particle here can be affected by poking its entangled partner over there, and then the article generally continues on about new computer chips or even teleportation. In the real world, quantum entanglement is the principal Blizzard uses to ensure Barren's chat is the same across all servers.