Bookmark fun: Nautical links

Monday, January 31, 2011

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For those of you writing fantasy involving boats and sailing, here are some links I found while researching for a short story I never finished. I got distracted by some other story. (Yes, I get Shiny New Story Syndrome pretty bad sometimes.)

Not sure what that nautical term means or looking for a suitable word to describe something on a ship? Check out The Phrontistery. They have a word list of nautical terms.

Wikipedia also has a glossary of nautical terms.

Marine Waypoints has a glossary and more. Their database has blogs, articles, a directory, books, news, photos, and the current tides and weather.

Ever wondered about the history of the astrolabe? The Multimedia Catalogue has a page about them featuring the planispheric, the universal, and the Rojas universal astrolabes. If you click the glossary link up at the top, you can find other science related terms, not just nautical terms and equipment. The few I've read through are well written. Some of them even have pictures.

Hope you find these helpful at some point even if you don't need them right now. Enjoy!

Filk Friday: Pillar of Hell--A Challenger Tribute

Friday, January 28, 2011

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Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion. I won't sit here and discuss all the whys and wherefores when these are better than anything I could write on the subject: Challenger Disaster: A Closer Look at the Challenger Disaster and Its Aftermath from About.com and Davinder Mahal's explanation of the physics involved in the tragedy, complete with diagrams. I'd even suggest the wiki article, if only for its look at the cultural aftermath. (Did you know that Punky Brewster incorporated it into the show?)

Considering all the issues facing NASA lately and what they have and haven't done in the past quarter century, I think Michael Longcor's song is still relevant. No sign yet of that moonbase or those crewed missions to Mars. While I was too young at the time to remember the tragedy with Longcor's intensity, I do remember "the day that the Challenger died." Here is Pillar of Hell, one of the songs on Lovers, Heroes, and Rogues, currently available at Firebird Arts.

Brainstorming Plot

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

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As I've been hashing out the plot for one of my novels, I came to the realization that coming up with plot for my characters is much like thinking up hooks for roleplaying games, both table-top and live-action. Having worked with larping plot teams and tried a little Game Mastering myself for D&D, I've been looking at some of the things GMs and plot teams do to and for the Player Characters (PCs).

It might be something weather related or an ancient trap or a goal to accomplish. Some things might last a single game session while others cover multi-session arcs. But everything is to give the characters/PCs something to do and get involved in--if they weren't already. Because after all, characters create a fair amount of plot themselves by their choices and interactions with other characters.

The Dungeon Master's Guide version 3.5 has a chapter on creating adventures for the PCs. My favorite part is the list: One Hundred Adventure Ideas, on pages 44-45. I needed ideas for things to have happen to my two main characters on their way to the first set piece I have in mind. Well, there's a hundred ideas right there to start with.

A few of my favorites from the list:

#6. A caravan of important goods is about to leave for a trip through a dangerous area.
(I used the caravan idea plus some bandits as inspiration for a couple chapters-worth of events. Even worked it into the primary arc.)
#42. A haunted tower is reputed to be filled with treasure.
#58. An evil tyrant outlaws nonofficially sanctioned magic use.
#81. An innocent man, about to be hanged, pleads for someone to help him. (a common hook)
#97. Someone in town is a werewolf. (The new Red Riding Hood movie comes to mind here.)

From larping:

1. Giant ants are wandering through the woods.

2. Packs of wolves are hunting for food.

3. A woman begs adventurers to save her husband from captivity by a pack of fishmen.

4. Dark dwarf women are out trying to snare husbands.
5. The king arranges a tourney and will be awarding prizes.
6. A rediscovered old mine is filled with monsters and pockets of hazardous gas.


Having a list of plot hooks and ideas is useful for the times when thinking of "what to have happen next" has you pounding your empty head on the keyboard. (Fingers go on the keys, not your head.) Since I don't currently have permission to reprint the D&D list in entirety to share with you, and it's only a start anyway, why don't we build our own shared list of seed ideas?

Post your plot hooks in the comments below, as many as you want/think of. Don't worry if they are genre specific. (see examples below) They can be ideas you've used in your writing or from books you've read. Let's see how many we can collect over this next month. I'll post weekly reminders until the beginning of March when I'll share the compiled list. Get your friends to join in.

Here are some examples of my own to get us started:

Astronauts discover a crashed ship on the Moon.
Fairies cause problems at a christening.

A woodcutter is trapped under some deadfall.

Someone is injured and gets wound-fever.

Aliens munch on an old truck.

The Tower at Stony Wood

Monday, January 24, 2011

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From the jacket flap of The Tower at Stony Wood:
During the wedding festivities of the king, Cyan Dag, a knight of Gloinmere, is sought out by a mysterious bard and told a terrifying tale: that the king has married a false queen--a lie cloaked in ancient and powerful sorcery. Spurred on by his steadfast honor and loyalty, Cyan departs on a dangerous quest to rescue the real queen from her tower prison, to prevent war, and to awaken magic in a land that has lost its way...

To be honest, when Cyan got his quest from the Bard of Skye, he was only asked to rescue the true queen. The false queen tried to warn him off by saying that if the true queen ever left her tower, she would die. That if she ever even looked at the world directly rather than through her enchanted mirror, she would die. So there was no way he could save her. But Cyan fought the false queen's sorcery to swear he'd find a way. Ill-prepared, he set out on his journey.

However, once he is on his way, we are promptly introduced to Melanthos, a baker's daughter in the land of Skye, and then Thayne Ysse, the oldest surviving son of the lord who had once ruled the North Islands.

Thayne's addition is more clear as to why he'd been added; he wants to find a way to take back the islands from the king of Yves, Cyan's king. A dragon and its hoard would be potent resources to that goal. His path crosses with Cyan's fairly early in the journey, so that the knight has more impetus to complete his quest quickly in order to return in time to save his king's life again. But Melanthos, in her tower with an ensorceled mirror of her own and the compulsion to embroider what she sees in it, is more passive, an observer. She is later joined by her mother who is stranger and becomes even more absorbed by the mirror than Melanthos. I often found myself questioning their importance to the story, especially since I couldn't remember how it ended. (I read it several years ago.)

Cyan tries hard to find the tower with the true lady of Skye. He faces setback after setback from being waylaid in the woods, to nearly being killed by Thayne, to finding a few wrong towers. But he persists in his quest even though his heart quails that he will ever succeed. Ultimately, the book is about his quest. It just turns out that there was more to his quest than he'd been told. Melanthos and her mother and Thayne were a part of that. Everything had a reason.

The Tower at Stony Wood is not an easy read. It's like one of those old fables rich in description and ancient magics. However, convoluted and meandering as the plot seemed, it was all carefully planned from the beginning. I thought it really paid off. I still don't want to read it all that often, but it is well worth reading every so often just to study the crafting. I recommend that you read it at least once to study the way she fit the story arcs together and builds her world. Just have patience. It's worth it.

Filk Friday: The Gods Are Not Crazy

Friday, January 21, 2011

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I do love a good Leslie Fish song, and this is one of them. The Gods Are Not Crazy is a silly tribute to the Greek pantheon and Charles Fort, a dedicated researcher into anomalous phenomena. When strange things are happening like rain in the sunshine or frogs crawling from giant hailstones, have no fear; "the Gods are not crazy, they're higher than kites."

The Ranger's Apprentice

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

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It's been awhile since I did any book reviews, even though I've read three terrific books over the past few weeks. The pixies demanded that I tell you about one of them today, so I'm picking the one I whooshed through yesterday.

The first book of the Ranger's Apprentice series: The Ruins of Gorlan was a lot of fun. John Flanagan kicks it off with big baddie Morgarath making plans to revenge his defeat 15 years earlier. It's clear from his thoughts that it was a good thing for the kingdom that he'd been defeated. He's not a nice guy. Morgarath plays little direct role in the first book, but it was important to show that he's preparing to make his move by sending his allies to take out some of those personally responsible for his defeat.

Most of this book is about Will's apprenticeship to Ranger Halt, a member of a secretive group with a very important role. They spy around the kingdom searching for information to keep the kingdom safe, sometimes even dealing with a problem directly. Without them, Morgarath would have succeeded in his goal to kill the young King Duncan and usurp rulership over Araluen.

Woven around Will's training and becoming involved in the overall plot is the subplot involving Will's long-standing issues with one of his fellow castle wards, Horace, primarily because Will is the smallest of their age group and the only one with no paternal name. Horace teases him whenever they get together. He thinks he's superior because he's big and strong and Will wasn't accepted into Battleschool to train as a knight.

Their animosity erupts into an outright fight during Harvest Day, despite their friends' attempts to smooth things over. Not even Alyss, who was apprenticed to become a kingdom diplomat, could prevent it. That combined with the intense bullying Horace was facing from three of the second-year warrior apprentices made me concerned for what Horace was going to do and become, especially with his potential clearly shown by Flanagan's skillful use of omniscient POV. I didn't like how Horace treated Will, but I liked him well enough that I didn't want him going bad. I won't tell you what happens, but I will admit to crowing with delight over how the issue with the bullies was resolved. It was perfectly satisfying, built out of changes both boys had made in themselves and with each other. Ranger Halt's role certainly helped, too. Muha muhaha.

All in all, this is a wonderful MG book. It's suitable for the 10+ age level and something I will enjoy reading with my son when he's a few years older. I know I would have enjoyed it when I was a tween, and the theme with improving social skills put it high on my recommendation list. It might be a little obvious in spots, but for the targeted readership, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's well worth buying for the story, the themes, and the wonderful example of how to use omniscient POV.

Adding flavor with slang

Monday, January 17, 2011

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Making dialogue distinct between characters is sometimes tricky. You want your primary and secondary characters to have their own way of talking. Sometimes you want a whole group to have a way of talking that is different from those outside the group, such as a street gang or a culture new to one of the characters.

Slang is one of the ways to enhance dialogue without resorting to a great deal of dialect phonetics. Now some dialect words have become common enough that they are easily translated like "Whatcha gonna do?" But sometimes it can be confusing. To suggest dialect without writing as much out, make use of a few easy-to-understand phonetical words and a scattering of slang words and phrases.

When choosing slang, don't dump everything in that you know. It can be too much, and you may not understand the terms as well as you think you do. Be selective. Some terms might be common to a group, while others can be specific to a character.

If you want to add flavor with slang or just understand popular terms better, check out this great resource: The Slang Dictionary. You can search through general slang or go to one of the specific categories like the Lexicon of Thieves' Cant. They also have links to some other specialized dictionary sites such as the Urban Dictionary and 60's Slang.

Filk Friday: Never Split the Party

Friday, January 14, 2011

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Now that I have internet, alertness (I was so tired past couple days), and time again, I'm here to give you this week's filk video. Even though the lyrics are slanted toward fantasy roleplaying games, the title Never Split the Party is one of those rules that many stories across genres break whenever they can.

Sometimes characters have a good reason to split up. Maybe someone kidnapped a few of them, a rockslide interrupted a tricky crossing, they had a big fight amongst themselves, they are doing a pincher type move on the bad guys, or something like that. But sometimes characters seem to think they should split up for the sake of splitting up. Why? I don't know. They're usually the ones movie goers and readers are yelling at to stay together for better safety.

I'm sure you can think of a few movies and books where it didn't make sense why the characters would think it was wiser to break up an already small group into ones and/or twos to go off in opposite directions. It's one reason I can't sit through horror movies. I don't like fear for fear's sake, and I think 90% of the characters are idiots for doing things like splitting up just because the author wanted them to.

Don't be one of those authors.

If they need to go in different directions, give your characters valid reasons to go off on their own built out of what has been happening and based on their personalities. Your goal may be to increase tension because some thing from Dimension X is stalking them, but if the characters have no valid reason to split up, it turns into major cheese instead of real worry.

This video makes great use of pop culture, utilizing clips from LotR, The Mummy movies, Avatar: Last Airbender (anime), Dresden Files, and The Road to El Dorado. Jonathon as the sneaky rogue makes me giggle every time. He did keep wandering off to find the treasure in the Mummy movies. Enjoy!

Filk Friday: Hero of Canton from "Jaynestown"

Friday, January 7, 2011

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It's been an odd week , so I haven't gotten around to mentioning my planned theme for the next few weeks. Since I spend most of my time on fantasy topics, I thought I'd spread some fan love to SF, since the SF stories I do enjoy, I enjoy as much as the fantasy ones; there's just fewer SF stories I can sink myself into.

One of the series that sucked me in is Firefly. (If you couldn't already tell by my gleeful choice in Wednesday's video) Characters, setting, everything about it felt fresh, or in this case, dust and engine fumes. It is a space western after all. The first episode I saw was "Train Heist." Even though I knew nothing about the actors, characters, setting, or themes, just the combination of an old fashioned train heist combined with space ships made me stop flipping channels and watch to the end. After that, I deliberately tuned in to find out what they'd do next.

One of the middle episodes, "Jaynestown," took the crew to an out of the way planet to deliver a bunch of cows. But when they got there, Jayne remembered that he'd been there before for a robbery that went bad, prior to joining the rest of them. Expecting trouble, they were all surprised to find a statue in Jayne's honor. He was the Hero of Canton with a song and everything. The townsfolk believed that the strewn money from the robbery had been him distributing it to them on purpose, a modern day sort of Robin Hood, even though it had been an accident. You should watch the episode for the contrasts between normal character traits and trying to live up to the hype of a different view. Jayne surprised himself the most.

Here is Adam Baldwin, who played Jayne on the show, singing "his" song: The Hero of Canton. He even wears Jayne's hat. You can really tell how much he enjoyed the character, especially when you see his grin at the end.

Castle's Costume

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

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My son is sick today, so I thought I'd just post a little bit of video fun: a snippet from Castle, one of my favorite tv shows. This is one of the best Firefly references Nathan Fillion got to do, about 5 years after Firefly got canceled.

Ninja fun for the new year

Monday, January 3, 2011

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I thought I'd start the year off with something fun. In browsing my Fun Things folder on my bookmark list, I rediscovered Deadly Accurate Search, the ninja way to search the internet. You can imagine the big grin on my face and the gasp of shock as I went, "How could I have forgotten something so cool?"

In keeping with the goal of sharing something fun, that's what I typed in the search bar: fun. Here's my favorite link: The Bored Ninja, an archive of "fun, interesting, and cool stuff on the internet." It has videos, games, and pictures. The Trustworthiness of Beards, Shark Face Paint, and Snow-Jabba-the-Hut are three of my favorites. Ms. Shark would probably enjoy that second one.

Have a wonderful beginning to 2011!