Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

Worldbuilding and Fantasy Counterpart Cultures March 16, 2012

Filed under: Books,Writing — katblogger @ 7:32 PM
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As I mentioned last post, my newest project is a fantasy book. A lot of fantasy books just recycle the same tired tropes. The Chosen One receives a call for help and travels on an epic quest with their doomed mentor (a prophecy may or may not be involved) to save the kingdom from an evil overlord. Sound familiar? That plotline can apply to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or Eragon, and that’s only scratching the surface. They can be done well, but I’m sick of them, so in this project I seek to overturn – subvert, to use TVtropes terminology – a bunch of them.

) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons”]A very common stereotype in fantasy books is the setting. I swear, whether you’re in a parallel dimension Earth, a completely made up story, or in the distant future, everyone seems to be stuck on medieval Europe. Sword fights abound, knights in shining armor rescue damsels in distress, and the culture, food, and typical clothing reflect medieval European norms (or what we think they were.) The rest of the world might as well not exist.

To counter this, I made sure that the two cultures explored in my book aren’t English at all. One is almost perfectly like rural Afghanistan – surprisingly so. I had a rough idea of what I wanted, started researching the country, and they matched. The other is  a bit like pre-industrial Russia.

When you’re building an entire world, you have to consider a LOT. That’s why so many people make it a carbon copy of the cultures they already know. If you’re trying to adapt a culture you’re less familiar with – or invent an entirely new one – it takes a lot of work.

How much work? If you’re curious, or interested in building your own new universe, check out Yuffie’s extremely helpful guide on Wattpad:

Taking an anthropology course, visiting other countries, or just reading a lot will also help. So what are you waiting for? Happy world building.


What Am I Reading? 2/27/12 February 27, 2012

Filed under: Books — katblogger @ 8:37 PM
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I can’t believe it took me this long to get around to reading this book, honestly. I love Terry Pratchett, and I enjoyed the one book I’ve read by Neil Gaiman. I also had no clue that this was originally written in 1990 – from the buzz it recently generated, I assumed it was a much more recent creation.

What’s the book about? It’s 1990s England, and all hell is about to break loose. Literally. The Antichrist has been born, which heralds the coming Apocalypse. Angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley aren’t too pleased about this. They’ve spent the last 6000-odd years living on Earth and aren’t keen to see it destroyed. So they decide to find the Antichrist and stop him. Witchhunters Sergeant Shadwell and Newt Pulsifer (armed with sadly antiquated technology) are on a similar mission. Unfortunately, due to a mix-up at the hospital, the Antichrist appears to have been misplaced…

The book is hilarious and irreverent (usually hilariously irreverent) as you can expect from the two authors. It also makes a few clever comments on the nature of good and evil without really getting preachy about it. Half the jokes probably flew over my head because I’m not British, but I enjoyed it anyway. I’d definitely recommend this book.

(Ironically, looking at the official book summary, I used a few of the same phrases. Odd. Perhaps it means something.)


Back on Moral High Ground February 23, 2012

Filed under: Books — katblogger @ 6:01 PM
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I generally have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the world of technology. I don’t like it, and it definitely doesn’t like me. Two days ago, I forced myself to go around taking pictures for the school newspaper. The button worked, it made a clicking sound… but when I got back, we discovered that the camera hadn’t taken any pictures. No one could fix it either. Whether caused by bad luck or my propensity for accidentally destroying electronics, this is really quite typical.

So naturally, I am a staunch defender of printed books even as e-readers seem ready to wipe them out of existence. “Real books are solid,” I argue. “You can smell them, turn their pages, write in the margins, have your favorite author sign them… they’re better.”

To which e-reader defenders respond with a list of impressive statistics. E-readers hold more books, take up less space, and – the final winning point – they’re better for the environment.

This final argument always made me sulk. I’m all for the environment, and I was aware that my love for paper books meant cutting down more trees. I just couldn’t make those two opinions align.

Then I really started thinking about it. I’d always taken it for granted that e-readers were better, environmentally speaking. But once I considered things more, it became a lot less clear.

Both products  need to be manufactured. However, I’m willing to bet that books take a lot less in terms of machinery needed, energy used, and raw materials/waste produced. Books are paper, ink, covers, and binding. E-readers have screens, casing, electronics, and all sorts of crazy gadgets these days.

The make-up of both products was the most interesting to me. Books are primarily paper. There are other ingredients, yes, but the majority of their mass is made out of paper. Paper is recyclable, and it can be renewed by planting more trees. Books, once they’re in the trash, will break down fairly quickly.

On the other hand, e-readers contain plastics, glass, rubber, and electronics. I’m sure there’s more stuffed inside as well. Any metal used is non-renewable. You can’t magic more ores into existence. The use of plastic is another concern. *puts on HL Chemistry nerd hat* Because of the nature of the bonds in plastic polymers, plastics never break down. Ever. Even if the earth was vaporized, some of that vapor would be plastic molecules, all their atoms securely in place. Think about that for a moment. Every piece of plastic ever made will and always will exist somewhere. Do we really want to keep making more?

That’s not even mentioning the electricity that constantly is needed to power the e-reader.  Plus, they need batteries – a nemesis of the natural world, full of acid and other fun stuff.

Finally, I looked it up. According to the Sierra Club, the e-reader is less environmentally friendly unless you’re buying over 23 books a year. Another source said that you must read 100 books (that you otherwise would have bought) on an e-reader before things break even.

Everyone agrees that there’s one definite winner in environmentally friendly reading: the library. Hundreds of people can share the same book, and there’s no damaging technology involved.

Either way, the environmental debate isn’t as clear as you might think, and I can go on reading my paper books with a clear conscience.


Revisiting the Childhood Bookshelf February 18, 2012

Filed under: Books — katblogger @ 7:54 PM

Remember your favorite book when you were a kid? (If you were like me, a better question is ‘remember your favorite books when you were a kid?’). When was the last time you read them? Years ago, maybe. Do you ever miss them?

Some children’s books only work for children. You’ll go back and realize that they’re poorly written, patronizing, full of plot holes, whatever. They were fun when you were a kid, but you’ve moved on now.

However, some books are timeless. Like the wonderful comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, both adults and children can find entertainment and meaning in them. Some ‘kid’s’ books ought to be picked up every few years and revisited. That’s what I’m doing now.

I went through Andrew Clement’s sweet – if unrealistic – books, and then revisited the always fun Borrowers series by Mary Norton. If you haven’t read these… read them. Seriously. It’ll give you a fun new perspective on the world, and Homily is always good for a laugh. I’m currently rereading the Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry, another must-read filled with humor and a lot of heart. (The first one will probably make you cry.) Next on my list is the complete works of Roald Dahl, who manages to be hilarious and irreverent all at once. You think the film version of Willy Wonka is nuts? You should meet the one that stabs Vermicious Knids in the butt and composes poetry about it on the spot.

Just reading a childhood favorite makes me remember a happier, more innocent time. Plus, a lot of these books are still great for adults too. Try revisiting an old friend. You might be pleasantly surprised.


What am I Reading? 08/01/11 August 1, 2011

Filed under: Books — katblogger @ 9:21 PM
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Frequently dirty but always hilarious, this is a book in the series my mother forbade me to read when I was younger. She seems resigned to the fact that, at my age, she really can’t bar me from consuming everything paper-based in the house. There are moments of literal laugh out loud craziness, especially when a certain two hundred pound ex prostitute is involved. Of course, this time an almost Battle Royale group seems to be involved…


What am I Reading? 6/13 (Plus an Announcement) June 13, 2011

Filed under: Books — katblogger @ 12:06 PM
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Summary: Nineteen year old cab driver Ed Kennedy is nobody – until he stops a bank robbery. Suddenly, someone’s noticed him, because they send him a playing card in the mail. The card, the ace of diamonds, has three addresses written on it. At each address is a mission for Ed to make someone’s life a little bit better. The only questions are: who is sending the cards, and why?

Thoughts: I liked this book… until the end, which made me go ‘Huh’. But other than that,  I liked the message. Still, I prefer Zusak’s other book, The Book Thief.

And now for the announcement. The glorious scholarship search of matched me up with a contest from Create Real Impact. The idea: do some piece of art (writing, video, music, image) to convince people not to text and drive.

Being a writer, I went with the creative writing option. Most people submitted their entry through google docs or by creating a new blog for just that entry. Since I have no idea what google docs is and think creating a new blog for one post is a waste (and very confusing for anyone who just happens upon it) I’m posting my entry here. Lucky you.

I’ll admit, it’s not my best (or favorite) piece of writing ever. It’s meant to dissuade people, which means it’s a heck of a downer. When my next post appears – in its one thousand word glory – feel free to skip it over. Otherwise, I’m not responsible for any scarring that may occur.


What am I Reading: 06/06 June 6, 2011

Filed under: Books — katblogger @ 5:23 PM
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Summary: Characters from our fairy tales have migrated from their worlds to ours, living in secret. The author took bits and pieces of stories to make a decidedly unconventional narrative.

Thoughts: Not usually the kind of book I’d pick up, but it was for our library reading club and it was actually pretty interesting. It follows the same idea as Percy Jackson, really – take old stories and throw them into a modern setting. Bo Peep as an assassin – who’d have thought?