Fantasist's Scroll

Fun, Fiction and Strange Things from the Desk of the Fantasist.

5/16/2017

Magical Maps

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Monkey which is mid-afternoon.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Autogenerated fantasy landscapes feel like randomly programmed dreams.

I wouldn’t really call myself a writer any more, since I don’t really write regularly, outside of emails at work and these weekly desperate blog posts. But, I was once, and when I was, I would obsess over what fantasy writers and fans call “world building”. In fact, eventually, that obsession took over all my time and energy and became my primary excuse for not writing. Still, I find it hard to let go of the idea that if I’m writing a fantasy story and don’t know where people are, or are from, or are going, that I can’t relax into telling their story. I know I’m not alone.
So, that leaves a writer with a couple of choices; steal someone else’s setting, or make your own.
I’m not a big fan of stealing, or even borrowing, someone else’s fantasy setting, because there’s always the possibility that you may need to pay royalties one day, if your new work sells. Or, that other author, or their estate, may squash your work altogether. It’s been known to happen. So, then, your other option is to build your own.
Personally, I’ve always loved the maps that come with my favorite fantasy stories. And, when I tried to write, I often would spend inordinate amounts of time trying to draw my own.
Now, though, there are other options. The one I’m sharing with my faithful readers this week is Uncharted Atlas. It’s a Twitterbot that automagically generates a pretty random fantasy map every hour. Yeah, a new fantasy world every hour. And some of these maps are pretty damn good! You can read some notes by the developer, Martin O’Leary, at his website about both how the maps were generated and how the names for the maps were generated. Also, that page explaining the code includes an interactive, step-by-step example of generating a map. It gives you a bit more control over what the final map looks like and is a great way to waste a few minutes on a Friday.

Okay, so this isn’t likely to really fix any writer’s block issues, or even jump start my own writing, but, hey, it IS a great way to waste a little time on a Friday!

5/12/2017

Character Records

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Keeping your dramatis personae straight can be a chore.

Back in the day, when I played Dungeons and Dragons, my favorite part of the game was creating characters. I know, it’s weird, but, there it is. I don’t know what it was about filling out the forms, either the ones we created or the fancy pre-printed ones you could buy, that used to entertain me so, but it did. It’s funny, because I don’t like filling out other kinds of forms, but I do still get nostalgic about character record sheets. Years later, when computers became an essential part of role-playing games, there were even programs that did most of that work for you. I enjoyed them, too, even though I had stopped playing years before. There’s something about codifying and quantifying an imaginary character that just appeals to me, I guess.
That odd propensity carries over a bit into figuring out characters for fiction. Though, I have to admit, I tend to do more character generation than actual story-telling, too. It’s a bad habit, I suppose, but one I’m happy to encourage in others.
And, that brings me to the links I’m sharing with you, dear readers, this week.
First, there’s the Character Chart from Rebecca Sinclair. It’s a good, complete informational form to fill out so that you can get to know your characters in detail. Even if you never use them in your story, knowing the details of a character makes them feel more real to you, and your readers. A better version, in my opinion, of that chart, is the downloadable, fillable character chart, which takes that questionaire and makes it a fillable PDF form. It’s pretty excellent.
And, since a character’s starting equipment was always one of the most important, and fun, things to work out, I whipped up the Random Fantasy Pocket “Liter” Generator and, for more modern settings, the Random Daily Carry Generator. These also feed into some of my favorite kinds of stories, wherein the protagonist finds themselves in the thick of the action, in media res, if you will, and only has what they’re carrying on them at the moment to survive their adventure.
And, finally, the oddball link. This is really meant, I think, for genealogists, but if you’re writing a sweeping epic and need to keep track of an extended family, the Family Echo family tree creator is a nifty free tool to help you out. If you want to save your trees, you need to make an account, but the hassle may just be worth it to keep track of your fictional family.

So, there you have it. A somewhat random collection of writing links for your Friday fun. And forgive me if that doesn’t work for you, but my wife and I are closing on our mortgage refinance today, so I’m a little distracted.
Enjoy your weekend and I’ll see you next week!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

4/28/2017

A Vulgar Tongue

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Language is the key to culture, real or imagined.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am a dyed-in-the-wool geek. I mean, totally hardcore. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons in the Seventh Grade and did, on and off, through college. I still, to this day, have a significant bookshelf of roleplaying games, including some D&D books. These days, I don’t have time to play, and the books are mostly there for theoretical inspiration, if I can ever get writing again. But, way back in the dark ages, before the internet, I had a subscription to Dragon Magazine, which was the official D&D magazine. It was there that I was first exposed to invented languages. Later, as I read more and after the internet became a thing, I discovered a community of like-minded weirdos who created languages, too. “Conlangs”, we called them, short for “constructed languages”. Some of the most famous are Klingon, Dothraki, and Tolkien’s famous Sindarin, more popularly known as “Elvish”, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of them now.
Most of the results of my peculiar hobby, or “secret vice”, as Tolkien called it, are safely tucked away where no one will ever see them. Though, I did setup a page of resources and links over at my fantastic fiction site, Fantasist.net. I had some tools there that got so popular, they were crashing my webhost’s servers, so I had to take them down. I’d always meant to get back to porting them to a new, more stable and less resource-intensive programming language, but I never did. Now, though, there are so many people sharing things like this, and better than the stuff I made, that I don’t really feel bad about it. And, new tools for creating languages from the ether are springing up all the time.

Recently, someone shared a tool on the newsgroup I’m part of for conlanging, CONLANG-L, that raised quite a ruckus. It was originally shared by Boing Boing, and I saw it there, too. It’s a web-based language generation tool called Vulgar. The page I’ve linked to there is the “free demo”, but that will gin up a pretty decent start for a language, especially if, like me, you’re not a linguist. There are a surprising number of options, if you want to take advantage of them, and even more if you’re willing to cough up $19.95 for the downloadable version. That downloadable version still runs in your web browser, by the way, so there’s not any compatibility issues between Windows, Macintosh or Linux. Now, of course, this isn’t going to get you a fantastic artificial language, but, if you’re a starving fantasy author who wants to whip up something that sounds reasonably okay with a very little effort, this isn’t a terrible start. For me, it’s fun, but probably not more than an amusing toy to play with on a quiet Friday morning.
And, based on the frenzied reactions on that conlang email list, my sharing it and saying that it’s not bad, will irritate some folks. Which is a different kind of fun.

Either way, go, try it and have fun. And enjoy your weekend!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words

11/25/2016

It’s Not Magic

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning.
The moon is Waning Crescent

It’s an illusion!

At least, that’s what Doug Henning would say.
Hey, look, it’s been a rough month.  What with the elections, the holiday and NaNoWriMo, you’ve had a lot going on.  I mean, a lot.
No matter who you wanted to win the Presidential Elections this year, the campaign has been brutal.  And, frankly, I think the next four years are going to be chaotic, challenging and a little frightening for a lot of us.  Then, there’s the stress of the Thanksgiving holiday.  I mean, c’mon, dinner with the family is never easy, is it?  And, finally, if you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month, you’ve been churning out words as fast as you can, racing to that deadline.
And, by the way, if you are doing NaNoWriMo then you should be getting near the end of your novel.  I don’t mean to panic you, but there’s really only a couple of days left.  Less than a week, actually.

So, no matter what’s been going on, you deserve a little break.  A chance to just veg out a little and sit like a stupid lump and stare at something cool.  Good news!  I’ve got just the thing!  Ten optical illusions that will blow your mind over at the Huffington Post.  Seriously, these are pretty cool and a great way to let your brain slip into neutral for a little bit so you can recharge before getting back to that big project of yours, NaNoWriMo manuscript or whatever you might be working on.

Go ahead and take a break.  It’s a holiday and you deserve it!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

11/18/2016

The Inevitable Writer’s Block

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this month, you should be about two thirds done with your novel.

If you’re not, don’t worry about it! And, either way, it seems like a good week to talk about writer’s block.
Now, assuming that you’ve been writing this whole time, the most common forms of writer’s block, namely not having an idea and not using the habit of writing to actually put words on the page, are not your problem. Maybe, you’ve gotten somewhere in the middle and your genius story seems to have stalled. Or, maybe you got to a blind alley and realized that your story took a wrong turn 1,500 words ago. It happens.
Either way, try to remember this is all about getting the words out and on paper. And, if that’s not enough to get you going again, head over to Gizmodo and check out their advice on The 10 Types of Writer’s Block and How To Overcome Them. Not all of it will apply, obviously, but I’d lay odds that at least one of those ten types of writer’s block will at least come close to applying to you. Naturally, I think the advice will help, too. And, in fact, I encourage you to read all the advice, because something that doesn’t seem like it applies to your frustration may end up being what knocks you loose and starts you writing again.

Another helpful resource that can help you get through a block is your fellow NaNoWriMo writers. You can connect with hundreds of people who are also participating in NaNoWriMo in the NaNoWriMo Forums. The people there can be incredibly supportive and helpful and they may need a break from their writing at this point, too.

Again, the most important thing is to get your rough draft out this month. After you get the thing written, you can take a break and come back to edit it into shape. Don’t worry about that now. Just worry about getting your first draft written.
So, go, read as much as you need to to get past your block, then get back to writing!

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words.

11/11/2016

Writers, Talking

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this month, you should be roughly a third of the way through and might need a bit of a break.

If you aren’t participating in National Novel Writing Month, that’s okay.  It’s still Friday and maybe you just need a break.  Either way, I think I’ve got you covered this week.  At least, I’ve got you covered if you like science-fiction, famous authors, and cranky discussions about literature and marketing.  It also helps if you like Studs Terkel or Gene Wolfe or Issac Asimov or Harlan Ellison.  Why?  Because the link I have for you has all those things in it, all those writers talking about literature, science-fiction, and the state of the world.  In 1982.  More than 30 years ago, but it’s all still quite relevant.
So, for whatever your reason, take a break and head over to the Observation Deck at Kinja and watch/listen to these brilliant men talk about some of the most interesting things in the universe.

Enjoy!
Then get back to writing and I’ll see you next week!

This post originally appeared on Diary of a Network Geek!

11/4/2016

Writing Advice

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

And encouragement!

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this month, you should be four days into your book today. But, maybe you’re cocky and are really just going to get started tonight after work. Either way, you can still do it! Fantastically prolific authors, especially some of the more well-known pulp writers, churned out books in very short amounts of time. For instance, Michael Moorcock, creator of the infamous Elric series of books, is rather infamous for regularly cranking out books in as little as three days. Yes, he had to do it by a formula, but, honestly, considering what he created, is that so bad? And, more importantly, do you want to know how he did it? Then hop over and read How To Write A Book In Three Days: Lessons from Michael Moorcock over at Wet Asphalt.
Basically, he uses the same formula that Lester Dent used to great effect writing, among others, the Doc Savage series. Basically, he breaks up the work into four parts and then breaks that down into smaller parts, each designed to ratchet up the tension at every step of the way. Moorcock takes Dent’s formula and stretches it a bit, taking it from a story formula to a book formula. Either way, it sure worked for them. Between the two of them, those guys cranked out a hundreds of books, so, say what you will about the formula, but it seems to be effective.
Also, if you decide to use one of the tools I shared last week, Scrivener, you can download a Scrivener template specifically designed around the Lester Dent Master Formula. It’s worth a look for Scrivener users!

And, if you’re already writing and just need some encouragement to keep going, or get some momentum built up, you can check out some slightly harsh, but funny advice from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds.

This post originally appeared on Diary of a Network Geek.

10/28/2016

Actual Writing Tools

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Now, you’ve got your setting, characters and story, so all you have to do is write it. Easy, right?

Okay, maybe not so much, but still totally doable, so don’t despair.
This week I’m going to talk exclusively about tools to do the actual writing with.  There are a lot of fancy software packages for this out there and what you choose to use is a personal choice based on who you are and how you write.  That said, let me share some of the more popular programs and tools to go with them.  First off, I would imagine a majority of people use Microsoft Word, because they have it available to them.  It’s not a bad way to go, actually, because you’re probably already familiar with it via school or work, so it won’t get in the way.  If you go with Word, William Shunn has some free, downloadable templates that will let you get started with a pretty standard manuscript format.  If you like Word, but don’t want to pay Microsoft for it, check out Libre Office instead.  It’s a free, open source alternative to Microsoft Office and it includes a very good replacement for Word called Writer.  And, I even have a basic manuscript template you can download and use for Libre Office Writer, also free.
If you want to get fancier, there are a lot of alternatives, but Scrivener is specifically written for fiction writers and is often offered at a discount to people attempting NaNoWriMo.  And, while I have absolutely nothing against the creator of Scrivener, there is a free, open source alternative called Plume Creator.  I don’t have any real experience with either of these, but I always favor the free, open source alternatives whenever possible.

For myself, while I used to mostly work in whatever word processing package I was currently using, I’ve gone to pretty much only using straight text.  I made that change for a number of reasons, but I was heavily influenced by an email exchange I had with Steven Brust about his writing tools.  I was surprised to find out that he wrote exclusively in emacs.  I found out after a bit of digging around that he’s not the only one.  Vernor Vinge, a brilliant science fiction author, also uses emacs to write his fiction, though it’s less surprising to me since he also teaches computer science at the collegiate level.  So, now, while I’m still working on the actual text, I just use my favorite text editor, which in my case is the same tool I use to write Perl code and edit server scripts and web pages, UEStudio, which is an extension of UltraEdit, a tool familiar to serious programmers.  Incidentally, keeping everything in straight text with out any formatting not only limits distractions, but makes for the most compatibility between systems, which, ultimately, is why I decided to make that change.

So, now, finally, you should have all the characters, setting, plot ideas and writing tools you need to get started with National Novel Writing Month.


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