Friday, July 8, 2016

Story News: Five Magic Spindles

Five Magic Spindles will be out on July 22.  I am terribly excited, and I hope you are too!  One of the other anthology authors, Rachel Kovaciny, has been hosting a series of interviews with the authors on her blog, Hamlette's Soliloquy.  Check out and look for her posts from June 2, June 9, June 16, and June 23. 
We've all had a chance to go through the book's galleys, and the influencer readers have now received their e-copies of the book.  Ironically, the influencer readers see the final version before we authors do!  (I'm really curious to know who ultimately won a certain grammar battle in my story... The editors and I went back and forth about a particular verb form several times.  They kept changing it to a perfect tense form, I kept changing it back to a past progressive.  The funny thing is, the first few times I thought "Oh, I must have made a mistake," and changed it without realizing that I was reverting to my original text!)

Having other people read my story closely and edit it has been a very interesting experience.  We've mostly disagreed about punctuation.  Apparently, my understanding of the common comma is stuck in the 1800s (Edgeworth, Dickens, Burney, Trollope).  I use commas in every possible spot.  The Rooglewood editors get rid of commas in every possible spot.  Ah, well.  It could be worse.  They could have wanted to mess with my semicolons...

I devoured the other stories within about 48 hours of receiving the galleys.  I enjoyed all of them.  Rachel created one of my favorite characters and narrator voices in Man on a Buckskin Horse.  Michelle Pennington really impressed me with her confident writing.  Ashley Stangl created a world and a culture I need to hear more about in Out of the Tomb.  And Grace Mullins wrote the story that made me laugh the most and that I will most enjoy reading to my young relatives (fans of Patricia Wrede and Christopher Healy, rejoice!).

Fighting to Write Fight Scenes

Fight scenes are some of the hardest things to write.  I think that there are two main reasons for this.  First, we often don’t really know how fights work (How many real brawls or cavalry skirmishes have you been in?  Go ahead, count them up), either in general (because we are relatively peaceful people) or in particular (because which of us really knows the details of how a sea battle between the Egyptians and the Carthaginians would go?).

Second, if we do know how a certain kind of fight would work, we find that describing a real fight in writing results in something incredibly boring.  You wouldn’t think it, would you?  I’ll give you two quick examples.  These aren’t in nice flowing prose, but you should get the idea.

Real Western Gun Battle
Gunman #1 *shouts something from his position behind a stand of mesquite which Gunman #2 can’t hear*
Gunman #2: Raaarr!  *shoots and misses from his spot in a shallow ditch*
Gunman #1 *shoots twice and misses*
Gunman #2 *gun misfires*
(Wait several minutes while both men frantically reload their guns.)
Gunman #2 *shouts something impolite, successfully shoots mesquite bush*
Gunman #1 *shoots and misses*
(After about three hours of occasional shooting, Gunman #1 realizes that he is running low on ammunition.  He begins to creep away from his mesquite bush.  Fifteen minutes later, Gunman #2 becomes suspicious of the fact that Gunman #1 isn’t shooting any more.  He begins creeping toward the mesquite bush.  Ten minutes later, Gunman #2 realizes that Gunman #1 isn’t behind the bush anymore.  He now must decide whether Gunman #1 has run off, in which case it is safe to stand up, or whether his opponent has just moved and is waiting for him to stand up so that he can be more easily shot.  Meanwhile, Gunman #1 is hiking down an arroyo, looking for his horse, which was spooked by all the shooting.)

Real Medieval Sword Fight
Knight #1 *attacks with sword; attack is blocked*
Knight #2 *steps back*
Knight #1 *attacks, is blocked*
Knight #2 *attacks, blade glances off Knight #1’s armor*
Knight #1 *shoves Knight #2 with shield*
Knight #2 *attacks, too weakly to do damage*
(repeat sequence ad nauseum)

The point is, real fights contain long stretches of repetitive, ineffective, and not very interesting actions.  If you are writing a comedy, you may be able to use this circumstance to good effect (read some of Gerald Morris’ Knights’ Tales or Squire’s Tale books), but if not, you will probably not want to write action scenes which reflect the sheer exhausting tedium of most fights.

What are some things you can do to make your fight scenes more interesting?

  •  Set the action in an interesting and well-described setting, with which your characters can interact during the fight.
  • Choose less-standard weapons for some of your fighters.  Consider the differences between the ways different weapons are used.
  • Give each of your fighters a distinctive fighting style and fighting strategy.  What weapon or weapon combination to they prefer?  If they fight unarmed, are they boxers, wrestlers, karate masters?  Are they aggressive or defensive?  Do they prefer to keep enemies at a distance or to get in close?  Are they willing to kill an opponent, or not?  Once you decide on a fighter’s strategy, let them keep fighting that way even when it’s not the wisest strategy they could use.  Fighting can be part of your characters’ character development!
  • If a fighter is wounded, it should affect the way that he fights.  (I know, this seems obvious.)
  • Consider having your character fight multiple opponents.  This is usually more interesting.
  •  If you are writing about a large-scale battle, consider modelling it on a real battle.  Some scifi authors transpose old cavalry battles to space, with good effect! 
  • Learn how real fights work.  If you are interested in pre-modern warfare (before one-person guns), find a local Society of Creative Anachronism or Dagorhir chapter to fight with.  Civil War Reenactment and other reenactment groups can also be a big help.  There is no substitute for actually swinging a broadsword.  (Also, it’s fun!)  If you are interested in unarmed fighting, try boxing, wrestling, karate, what have you (or make friends with people who fight this way).
  •  Learn about arms and armor.  There are many weapons and styles of fighting which are specific to particular regions and times.  Even if you’re writing fantasy set in your own world, real arms and armor can be inspiring.  Think through the metallurgy of your world, as this will determine what kinds of metal weapons your characters can make.  Some metals won’t hold an edge, for example, or can’t be beaten too thin.
Do you have other suggestions?  Leave a comment below!

Building a Fantasy Language 3: Last Names

Names are an important part of any language.  What kinds of names do people have?  Are they named for plants, animals, places, ancestors?  Do you give your children names that mean nice things, or names that make them sound unattractive (to ward off elves and other child-stealing creatures)?  Do children get middle names, and if so, are these always the names of their mothers or fathers?

Names can be very simple (“John”) or very complex (“Edward Valsey Raymonds-son d’Auburn-et-Champagne”).  One part of the name that tends to only appear in societies with centralized bureaucracies for tax collection is the last name (a.k.a. the family name or surname).  People who live in rural villages often feel no need for formal family names; they make do with informal descriptions that can change from day to day (So John may be referred to as John Robertson, John Baker, Big John, Ruddy John, Emily’s John, John of Lockhaven…).  This is one reason why few people other than aristocrats had formal last names during or before the Medieval period.  It’s only when outside officials turned up wanting to know who exactly owned that meadow that many of our ancestors were assigned formal last names.

Informal “last names”—A speaker may use any last name to describe someone that will help his listener to identify the person.  A given individual may have many “last names,” and his children may or may not have some of the same ones.

Formal last names – A given individual is assigned a single last name, often due to official pressure, and his children will inherit it.

For those of us in America, it can be hard to remember that our last names mean something.  We may not speak the language that our last names come from, or may simply have forgotten the significance of the names.  Our names often feel like collections of random, maybe nice-sounding syllables.  This impacts the way that we create names for story characters.  We give them names that don’t mean anything—thereby losing a wonderful opportunity to think about the language and culture of the people we’re creating!

Classes of Last Names

There are four main classes of last names (as well as many minor ones).

1. Patronymics (Father’s name).  Thomas, the son of Daniel, might be referred to as Thomas Danielson.  If he is Scottish, he may be Thomas MacDaniel; if Irish, he may be Thomas O’Daniel.  In the Middle East, he could be Thomas ben Daniel or bar Daniel.  Different languages have different ways of showing “son of” in last names.  Some languages also use matronymics (the mother’s name), especially for daughters. Aristocrats may use multiple patronymics (for example, both the father’s name and the grandfather’s name).

(Informal)                           Daniel Michael-son


                                            Thomas Daniel-son

                                            Peter Thomas-son                           Census takers arrive!

(Formal)                               Paul Thomasson


                                           Michael Thomasson

2. Place Names.  The lower classes were often named for the town or village where they were born.  Aristocrats were named for their important land-holdings.  So Emile, who holds the town of Metteneye in France, will be Emile d’Metteneye.  John, born in Lockhaven, will be John of Lockhaven—or John of the Millrace, John of the Forest, John of the White Hill, John of Sixth Street.  Place names can be pretty descriptive!  Thus in English we have John Stone-bridge, John White-ford, John Hampton (Hemp-town), John Hill-man, John Braid-wood.

3. Occupation Names.  Many last names refer to people’s occupations.  Think about names like Smith, Baker, Chandler, Farr(i)er, Wagoner, Knight, Bishop, Farmer, Lord, Chamberlain, Freeman, Cook, Gardiner, Carter, Parsons, Carpenter.  We have lots of these—many of them in languages others than English, so that we don’t recognize them anymore.  Names like Knightman, Ladyman referred to the servant of the knight or lady, not the knights and ladies themselves.

4. Adjectival Names.  Many last names describe someone’s physical appearance.  Back in the day, names like Eric the Red (Haired) and John the Tall and Patrick Left-handed and Bob the Sad and Arthur Crook-leg were very common.  Some of these survive in English: Moody, Peart, Sadd, Stout, Quick, Slight, Beard, Suckling, Ambler, Little, Blythe, Handy, Savage, Bachelor, Curtis (courteous), and so on.

5. Minor classes of last names include names of days or holidays (St. Thomas for the Feast of St. Thomas, Christmas, Easter, Munday, etc.); names of animals and plants like Oliphant, Tannenbaum, Drake, Bird, Rose, Nightingale; numbers like Twentyman; kinship terms like Eames (uncle), Cosens, Neves (nephew); names of virtues and vices like Love, Bliss; names of money like Pennyfarthing, Shilling, Pfennig; oath and curse forms like Godbehere and Purdue (par Dieu); names formed from an imperative verb and a noun like Dogood, Shakespeare, Ben(d)bow, Dolittle, Cutbush, Horniblow, She(a)rlock, Gotokirke, and Golightly; and probably many more!