Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Field Manual Kris: What's Getting Written

I'll level with you guys; I'm a bit burnt out. Having problems with the internet at work is a convenient excuse, but even before NaNoWriMo, my ability to sustain this blog the way I have just isn't there. I've taken a couple of emotional blows lately and I'm getting to the end of this streak where I just pretend that I'm going to get back to school and getting around to where I forsake it forever until I'm an obnoxious fifty-year old or I just go back and finish the fight. I'll keep putting stuff out, but it'll probably be MWF for a while until I get a better long-term plan going.

Everything after this is incoherent rambling.

I'm reading Robert E. Howard, which is a trip. He wrote the series of short stories that becomes the Conan the Barbarian mythos (Yes, he apparenlty knew Lovecraft, now fuck off about that forever unless you can--right now--give me detailed reviews of five Lovecraft works and why they're relevant beyond being a mechanism to relieve hipster nerds from their money. In fact, fuck off about Lovecraft altogether unless you can do that.). I think Conan is pretty fundamental geek reading, and I've actually picked up a collection of Howard's Conan works, along Asimov's Foundation, LeGuin's, A Wizard of Earthsea, and Hadleman's Forever War, because fuck it, my next series of reviews will aquaint me (and thusly, you) with the fundamentals of nerd literature.

It's not right that I don't do a full ten, and to that end I'm also eyeing Ender's Game, Downbelow Station, Dragonlance (yes, that dragonlance) and 2001.Also considering a quick reread of A Fire Upon The Deep, because hive-mind wolf packs are awesome.

Yes, by the end, I may even be permitted to talk about Lovecraft (though it's not bloodly likely).

Oh, right, but I was talking about how Robert Howard's work was trippy. Not a pyschodelic, jump-dolphins-ate-the-script-so-make-something-up-last-Episode-of-The-Prisoner trippy, but just strange to read about and to read. According to a number of people Howard is a great writer. His work is "highly charged" and "fast and furious and girm". Ignoring quotes from the cover of his collected works, it has at the very least stood the test of time. However, upon reading "The Phoenix on the Sword," "The Frost-Giant's Daughter," "The God in the Bowl," "The Tower of the Elephant," and "The Scarlet Citadel," I have noticed several things about Howard's Conan stories.

I That shit is economical. Seriously, "The Phoenix on the Sword" uses broad charicatures to give us all six antagonists in two pages. There's a side story about a ring; that shit totally pays off. It seems contrived, but then there's not too much room for being cutesy and sparse with your Checkov's Guns.

II Conan does not impress me much. He's great at killing. Alright, he's bad-ass at killing, but he's just sort of 'meh' at everything else. Somehow, I expected more. But I'll admit that his less-than-badass qualities do make him a more grounded character.

III A magical guy will solve everything. This is pretty common.

IV These villains certainly like to exposit. I mean, they tell you what's going on, but they might as well have a sign up when they're telling you.

V That magical guy was a dream...or was he? He wasn't.

VI Don't be black, fat, or even a little gay. Seriously.

VII Wizards are assholes. Always. Even the good ones are 50% scary and 100% asshole.

VIII There is a well-formed universe here and its heavens are populated by some freaky shit. If you read this before learning Lovecraft and Howard were contemporaries, the subsequent revelation of that fact will not faze you in the slightest.

IX Conan is awesome, but far from omnipotent. He gets his ass kicked sometimes. At very specific times. See point number II.

X Yeah, it's pretty good.

It's especially good because what I'm doing for National Novel Writing Month is creating a series of short stories with similar characters that develops over time. If I aim larger, will get bogged down with trying to connect everything and keep it going, I'd much rather work on making each event I want to cover into something self contained. It reduces my perfectionist overhead while still succeeding at making the pieces of a larger story that I can edit into something more cohesive later. Of course, with the Conan stories actually being economically told short stories that are part of a larger connected universe, it's very helpful for me to look at Howard as a model to see how he does it, even if "how he does it" consists of Exposition, one line to describe a character, exposition, character openly says his motivations, fighting, bad guy dies.

I'll add the magical dudes in post.

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