Thursday, October 19, 2017

Enemy at Blood River ~血の川にいる敵~ [Part IV]

Previous: Enemy at Blood River (Part III)
Next: Enemy at Blood River (Part V)

[Part IV]

Once again, Kikuta Mai arrived at the hidden village as a captive. Only now, she wasn't there to help.

She was there to suffer.

With only a moth-eaten gray robe to wear, Mai had been stuffed in a cramped cage in the corner of the village. The punishment house sat lower than the other buildings so that it would partially flood if it rained hard enough. Prisoners deserved pain, after all.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Robert E. Howard Stories You May Not Have Read Yet (But Should)

While many of us here are hard at work making new material, hoping to entertain our audiences, it's worth taking a moment to look back at our predecessors. Many of us known, and love, Robert E. Howard. We've read his Conan tales, his Kull of Atlantis stories, and even his Bran Mac Morn and Solomon Kane yarns. That is not all he's done in the realm of pulp adventures, and there's a pair of books--the last two collections--that you ought to pick up and read when you can:

El Borak and Other Desert AdventuresSword Woman and Other Historical Adventures

These aren't as widely talked about as Howard's other heroes, so it's important to do the digging and read this stuff. The man's output was prolific, and his heroes--no matter the milieu--always had the same core to them that made them endearing across the generations. El Borak and Dark Agnes (the heroes on the covers) are no different. Snatch up a copy in print if you can, or if it's at your local library, because this is one reading experience that isn't quite the same in electronic format.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

INVINCIBLE Part Seven: Zhang Wudi

Zhang ran.

Arms pumping, chest heaving, he propelled himself down the road that led to Sujiang’s northern gate. Fire and smoke erupted in the city, rising above the walls. Bodies lay piled by the road by the dozens. Civilians streamed past him, carrying children and valuables in their arms. He kept running, brushing past everyone in his path.


Zhang halted. Five Shenwujun stood at the gate, guiding civilians through. Sergeant Ouyang waved at him. Zhang doubled over, gasping for breath.

“Ensign, you look terrible.”

Pain pulsed through his feet. His legs trembled. He breathed hard and deep, forcing fresh air into blazing lungs.

“Been worse,” Zhang muttered. “Got any water?”

Ouyang tossed him a calabash. Zhang drained it. It wasn’t much, but it helped.

“Thank you,” Zhang said. “What’s the situation?”

Enemy at Blood River ~血の川にいる敵~ [Part III]

Previous: Enemy at Blood River (Part II)
Next: Enemy at Blood River (Part IV)

[Part III]

With Mai and Sana on the battlefield, Hanoba turned the tide of the war. Foot soldiers fell to Mai's forceful thrusts. Cavalry crumbled before Sana's gusts of wind. Enemy generals lost their lives to Hiroshi in the dead of night. What remained of Hanoba's army braved storms of arrows to carve out victory after victory.

Yet however many Rinié invaders Mai and Sana sent to the next world, Hiroshi did not trust them to assault the enemy stronghold at Akagawa.

Mai and Sana relaxed in a hot spring; mere days ago, the town had been under firm Rinié control. The two women basked in the warm waters as steam floated around them.

"What's wrong with the general? Doesn't he want to win?" Mai asked, referring to Hiroshi.

"Remember that we're from Bai-an and we wield magic. He suspects Bai-an's hand in this -- I'm sure of it," Sana answered.

"And he's not sure which side Bai-an is on."

"That's it."

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Getting Started: Writing Your Antagonist

It's no secret that actors love playing the villain. Many state that the villain is the most interesting character in the story, so they get to use most of their acting skills in delivering the performance. They're not wrong.

Of the two characters that are load-bearing pillars in narrative construction, the antagonist has to be consistently engaging and interesting while being repellent to all people of good character. If you don't have this in your antagonist, you have a simple deuteragonist instead. (This is not a bad thing; it merely requires that you take the time to reconsider your story's narrative and revise it to fit your goals.)

Put simply, a good antagonist is both charismatic and wrong. He has to be charismatic because he needs to capture the attention of the audience and hold it firmly- that's charisma. He has to be wrong--morally most of all--because otherwise why is the protagonist opposing him? (We'll get into Protagonist-v-Deuteragonist narratives another time; this is "Getting Started" not "Refining Your Craft")

Put a good deal of thought into your antagonist's plan. Most old-school adventure tales where an antagonist is the source of conflict revolves around the protagonist seeking to stop the antagonist from getting what he wants. The reason is that what the antagonist wants is wrong--immoral--somehow.

Go figure out what that is, and the odds of your narrative falling into place goes up dramatically. From that point, it's down to figuring out when and how the protagonist intervenes; that's your inciting incident, most of the time, and if that turns out to not work, then you can walk your story via revision to where that point actually is incrementally.

Then remember that your antagonist needs to be present throughout the story's narrative, literally or by proxy, so that your protagonist has good reason to be the hero in your story. Even when neither Vader nor Palpatine are on the scene, their presence is felt in the Original Trilogy. Even when the protagonist has to deal with secondary villains, that presence is felt. ("We've got deal with this now so we can get back to dealing with the real threat!")

There's plenty more, and more specific, advice on just that sort of thing around. We're not a shy bunch here, so I am certain that those of my friends and allies who already have articles and posts on writing an entertaining and believable antagonist will post the links in the comments below for your benefit. In the meantime, go review your favorite antagonists and see how they work in their stories; you can't go wrong by stealing what works and making it your own.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

INVINCIBLE Part Six: Yaomo

Leaving the monks at the temple, Zhang donned his arms and set off again. Again he marched at a man-killing pace, consuming qi to keep himself going. But this time, every so often, he paused to massage his callused feet and check for injuries. He hadn’t healed completely from his last march, and if he pushed himself too hard he could fracture the long bones of his feet. During mealtimes, he stopped completely, making simple meals of boiled rice porridge, salted pork and nearby fruits. Even Shenwujun had their limits.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Pulp Tabletop: Mage: The Ascension

I don't write much about my tabletop adventures, but this is worth sharing.

I'm currently in a Mage: The Ascension campaign set in 1934 San Francisco. Vampire gangsters, speakeasies, ethnic stereotype Irish cops, the works.

The group is a Wu Lung (Chinese mystic tradition) bouncer from Chinatown, a crazy Verbena (earthy, folk magic) cat lady who talks to ghosts, a Cult of Ecstasy (wizards that seek sensation) nightclub singer/alcoholic, an Akashic (another Eastern tradition) ninja exile, a Hermetic (European rite wizards) bartender, and my guy: Harry Vincent, Wealthy Man About Town. And Euthanatos vigilante.The Euthanatoi are death mages, insofar as the cycle of entropy and rebirth is concerned.