Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Thoughts On War In the Real World

Memorial Day was yesterday. I spent it working, but I did some thinking.

I am not necessarily an isolationist so much as I am anti-war. I have an opposition to just about every war that is waged, and my personal view is that if you must go to war, you take the war and all its fury right to the root of the conflict. In most wars that America wages, the root of the conflict is usually the oppressor or dictator. For my Mormon readers, I would direct you to the first book of Nephi, when Nephi killed Laban. It was better that one man should die than the entire nation fall into sin under his example. Likewise, I would postulate that by finishing a war at the start, most likely through the assassination of the oppressor or dictator in question, a great many lives would be saved from torment and eventual death in a drawn-out campaign.

War has a debilitating and blinding effect on those who are waging it: each side views the other as 'the bad guys'. The citizens of a nation tend to view the opposing nation itself as the enemy. The fact that the 'enemy' is just like us escapes us during wartime; it is a subconscious, psychological armor we don to prevent us from feeling empathy for the suffering of the other side. We never speak of how their mothers cook dinners for their children, how their families send their sons and brothers off to war, and we never attend the funerals of every soldier slain by our side. I can assure you that with America's level of technological advances, every nation pitted against us will bury more soldiers than we will ever have to.

As far as history goes, war is necessary. The suffering caused by war promotes philosophical growth, and the fear that results from vulnerability provides the motivation for technological innovation. If it were not so, we would not be where we are now. Much of our technology and philosophical learnings nowadays are drawn from the years of war.

As a pastime, war games are entertaining. I am a great fan of strategy and conquering, as my siblings will tell you should you ask them to play a game of Risk or chess. In writing, war can be controlled. You can determine which elements to show your reader, whether or not you will portray it realistically, and decide whether or not you will humanize the forces opposing your protagonist. War, in novels, can be neat and tidy if you so desire it, and most writers do desire it that way.

But in reality, war is a thing no sane person would engage in. It takes a tremendous toll on economy and on the generations required to participate. War, in every sense, is a void; the void of the dead missing among the living; the void of a grave accepting a casket; a void into which resources, both human and economic, are poured, in the hope of forcing change or ideology on others. As to the justification for war, nothing short of self-defense against a life-threatening attack warrants going to war. Yet even this can be taken too far; the Iraq War, a fool's war if there ever was one, was a war fought over something that was not there.

This morning I wrote a poem while reflecting on the futility of war. It states, in not more than three lines, that war has been since the days of kings, and in spite of our technological and philosophical advances, will continue to be. In all of our human history, two things never change: love and war.

The rich pay the poor to fight their war,
And the widows weep while the children sleep,
Forever dreaming of a better tomorrow. . .

A tomorrow, I may add, that never seems to come. To close today's post, I leave you all with an excerpt from Heartless, a book I'm writing and will hopefully find time to finish.

M looked down. "I can't afford to let myself into battle, Bella. My power isn't something to bandy around."

Bella took him at his word and continued to watch the soldiers below. After a moment, Bella turned back to M. "M? How does soldiers killing each other fix the world's problems?"

Ayae stopped editing verse in her head and looked down at M. "That's a good question." she said, asking for an answer without saying as much. M, looking at Bella, was at a loss for an answer.

M blinked and looked away, to the horizon. Why was it that children always had the most difficult questions?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Make War, Not Love!

Star Wars memes!

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So this post's topic is on conflict. Very important! Conflict is what drives a story and hopefully carries it through to its conclusion. Every story contains conflict, and necessarily so. Nobody likes reading a story about how everything goes perfectly and is just fine.

There are several types of conflict that can drive a story, but what is most essential is that there is always a conflict. In this post, I'll detail for you some of the different kinds of conflict seen in stories.

1. Good vs. Evil

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Yeah, I think it's going to be a Star Wars post.

Good vs. evil is, as mentioned a couple of posts back, is the most common conflict seen in most known stories. It's the form of story that everyone likes to read: good, moral people struggling against powerful bad guys seeking power, world domination, whatever. The theme of good vs. evil is popular and often used because it's simple; readers can easily invest in the characters, and with the bad guy, they can often keep him/her at a comfortable arm's distance and assign him the vague evil aura.*

*I make these statements assuming that the writer's skill is such that he can draw empathy with his audience.

Books like Harry Potter and movies like Star Wars make the distinction between good and evil very clear. In Star Wars, the Sith were seeking galactic domination (surprise, surprise). In Harry Potter, Voldemort's like the Hitler of the magical world, with his supremacist ideology and devout followers. 

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2. I Really, Really Want Something

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Inception. Best movie in existence. No really, it is.

When it's not a matter of good vs. evil, it's a matter of someone really wanting something that's hard to get. This is the case with Inception, where there isn't precisely good vs. evil, but rather the main character vs things getting in the way of what he wants.

Inception was an excellent movie, which considering the popularity of stories without a good-evil conflict, is saying something. It was excellent because it had a premise that wasn't so far removed from reality, it addressed concepts and ideas that a lot of people were familiar with (dream within a dream, waking with the sensation of falling), and had characters that were real and believable. All of this created a story that could suspend our disbelief quite well. And then there's the fact that Inception accomplished what few movies nowadays can accomplish - it brought a truly original premise to the silver screen and set fire to the imaginations of the masses.

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But I've gotten sidetracked. To wrap up, Inception was an awesome movie without the stereotypical good vs evil theme. It was awesome because the conflict was something that others could connect to, and it was strong and encompassing enough to drive the action and link the different story threads of the disparate characters together.

3. Do It For Love!

Love, the great motivator!

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. . .let the Twilight bashing begin.

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Actually, I might just use memes for this section of the post. Here's my favorite romance novel method:

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For those of us that watch The Office:

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And finally, this is how I have, and probably will for the rest of eternity, spend my Valentine's Days:

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I'm such a killjoy when it comes to love. Now for the promised Twilight bashing.

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And fact:

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That being said, I leave you all to your Mondays. May the meme be with you.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Location, Location

Alright, I've been busy these last few months with college, and I've neglected my writing blog. If any of you were hinging your budding writing careers on that, I'm sorry. However, school was the higher priority. Now that it's summer and I'm looking for a job, I have a lot more time on my hands, and it's back to blogging. If you have any suggestions for subjects I should cover in the summer, let me know in the comments below.

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It is the scene where your story takes place, a montage of locations and areas into which the characters venture at least once. Setting is the world of the story, the fabric through which the characters sift in search of their goals. As one of the basic elements of writing, setting is vitally important to any story.

It may surprise you, but there's a lot to setting. There are certain components that always crop up in novels, constants that are vital to the story. We'll run through a list of the basics that make up the setting in a novel, and how they affect the story.

1. There's No Place Like Home

In most stories, there's a certain place that the main cast of characters call home, a place they always return to. It can be an actual home, a base, a headquarters, a ship they're traveling on, but whatever it is, it's the thing they always return to. They have emotional and physical ties to the place, so they always go back there.

One example of the home area of a setting can be found in Fablehaven, where the grandparents' house is the area that the main characters frequently return to, and spend a lot of time there. In dangerous situations, the house is a safe place (at least in the first three books; I think the place gets thrashed a few times in the later books) that the characters can go to and find refuge. It also serves a prep and launch pad into more dangerous areas of the story.

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The Atlantean ship Destiny from Stargate Universe. (It's a wee bit bigger than it looks, trust me)

Another example of the home area can be found in sci-fi shows like Stargate Universe and pretty much all of the canonical Star Trek series. In these shows, the home area is the ship the cast is traveling on. This setup is unique because it allows the cast and characters to go looking for trouble without leaving the safety of their home areas. The audience naturally gets familiar with the ship itself, since the characters' day to day interactions take place in them. And in an area like this, characters that would normally avoid each other in real life are forced to interact with each other, since you can only get so far from a person on a ship traveling through space.

2. "One Does Not Simply Walk Into Mordor"

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Don't ask me how long I spent looking for this.

In most stories, you also have, for lack of a better term, 'Mordor places': the region where the bad guy/bad guys call home or headquarters or whatever. Because, let's face it, even bad guys get the longing for home every now and then. 

Mordor places are generally places one simply cannot walk into (unless, of course, you are the bad guy). They're filled with booby traps and ferocious beasts and the mounted heads of heroes that were defeated by the bad guy. There's also this perception that all sorts of dark, mysterious secrets abound in a villain's evil lair. Whether or not these perceptions are true is irrelevant, since the purpose of Mordor places is to present a challenge to the heroes and offer them an environment that isn't cozy and warm. Mordor places also make for a nice change of scene.

3. Detail

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Consider this description:

There were several items on the table, not the least of which was a bowl of fruit, and for some reason, Christmas ribbon stored in a mason jar. Sunlight streaked through the window, falling across a worn spray bottle on the edge of the table; a placemat hung limply over the corner of the table, a set of retainers and a glass keeping it from slipping all the way off. 

The same paragraph, without description:

There were several items on the table: a bowl of fruit, a mason jar, a spray bottle, retainers, a placemat, a glass. Sun was coming through the window.

I get daily prompts from a writing website, and today's advice was that when you write a setting, you could almost imagine it as a person. Settings, after all, do have personalities, and often reflect the people that inhabit them. Mordor obviously reflects Sauron and evil in general; it's a wasteland of blackened rock and poisonous air. Lothlorien had an enchanting and mysterious air because it was home to the elves. The Shire was pleasant and lively because it was an idyllic place with people far removed from the reality of war and darkness.

So all told, setting is important. Nuffsaid.

And your weekly dose of Twilight-bashing. . .

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I never got what the deal was with Naruto, but I guess killing rogue ninjas is cool. I'd definitely stick with anime over Twilight (unless it was Twilight anime).

Additionally, I would like to add that I'm cowriting a fantasy story blog with a fellow blogger of mine named Silver Sico (Silversico? silversico? silverSico? It's some combination of silver and sico). Feel free to check it out; it updates every Monday and Thursday. The website address is below: 

UPDATE: I stand corrected. They have Twilight anime. Take me now, Lord. This sphere has grown too cruel.