New Blog Hosting!

I’ve decided to move over to Squarespace, so you’ll find my newest post over there. Here’s a clickthrough link to take you to my newest post on my new site: bmkstories.squarespace.com

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Back On Track

Now that I’m pretty much over my cold, I thought I’d get things back on track here.

Originally, my goal was to blog 3 times a week this year. For busy weeks or when I have lots of ideas, this works well. I hope to continue this pattern but may cut back on personal posts on Mondays if I haven’t had much going on, such as when I was sick this last week. I still expect to focus on writing and books on Wednesdays and after a rather difficult Friday series in March about favorites, I think I’ll stick to focusing on self-improvement topics for my Friday article series.

I’d also like to announce that I’m hoping to soon move this blog to its own domain. After looking over the costs and options, I may be going with Squarespace because it offers a lot of ease of use, support, and ecommerce options for the low monthly price. Once I’ve finalized the decision, you’ll be sure to hear about it.

Don’t Let Time Choose For You

Sometimes a certain line or idea from something will just stick with you. For me, it’s been this line from The Stanley Parable: “Don’t Let Time Choose For You.”

The line comes up during an intense moment in the game, offering you to follow a very strange request (in terms of how you interact with the game). It’s easy to ignore and continue playing on like normal to a more regular ending for that particular path. It only takes a few seconds of indecision for the choice to be gone.

Don’t let time choose for you. It’s a powerful moment in the game, but the implications of the line and the idea behind it go so much deeper. It’s easy to see how often I’ve let time choose for me.

Each day, there’s always certain things left undone. There’s only so much that can be done in a day, but often I leave time to choose for me as I wander between tasks instead of choosing how to deliberately use my time. It’s relaxing to live this way, but might be more rewarding to choose the opposite. It’s something I’ve struggled with for a long while.

But that’s just the small picture. Time often chooses even some of our biggest choices. It’s easy to go along with what is considered the right choice for certain times in life. Many go to college right after high school. I did, but I sometimes wonder if it was the best choice. It’s hard to say for sure. When we’re young, we often waste time because we don’t know what our choices are or which really would mean the most to us. When we’re older, we sell our time for money and try to manage with the scraps that are left over at the end of the day or weekend.

It’s not something to stress over, but just something to think about. Are we choosing where we put our time or are we letting time choose for us?

Building Settings

Some of the most memorable fantasy and science fiction stories in books and movies often seem off-putting at first. They have amazing worlds and characters and let those worlds come to life by not holding the audience’s hand too much.

I bring this up because I’ve been watching Firefly lately. The show offers a very simple introductory explanation that’s part of the start of each episode and then leaves it up to figure out the rest from there. I feel it’s an excellent example of a strange setting done right. At first, the strange mix of almost western-style imagery with space stuff was a bit jarring to me. It’s not what’s normally done, but I understood the basics enough to want to try and understand it. And once they started to expand the setting, it was very easy to get sucked into it and love it.

Firefly also does a great job at establishing the setting through characters’ commentary on how they feel about places rather than using any dry exposition. If they’re going to one of the alliance worlds, then the characters mention what they might like to see or what might be a problem. It gives a good snapshot of the culture, mindset, and interests of the characters while providing the worldbuilding the audience needs to understand what’s going on.

As I’ve read through slush piles, it’s usually easy to see how good an author is at worldbuilding within the first few pages. Novices will usually divide description and character up, or sacrifice one for the other. More intermediate writers will start to get a few things right but usually have the pacing off on how they introduce new elements. Great writers will draw you in with something fascinating by blending both together seamlessly.

You know when you’re reading a great writer by how at home they can make you feel in a strange world, even from the start.

Timpanogos Gem and Mineral Show

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In the last year or so, I’ve been rekindling my old love of rocks, minerals, and geology and the perfect place to find tools, inspiration, and advice is with other rockhounds at events like the Timpanogos Gem and Mineral Show.

They had a big selection of all sorts of fun things to buy and look at. I knew I needed a good guidebook to take with me, because a lot of rockhounding locations are remote and away from even cell phone reception. At the same place, I also noticed a nice rockhounding pick and decided to grab that.

The rest of the time I spent talking to a few people about rocks in Utah and looking around for fun rocks to spend the rest of my limited budget on. In the end I settled on a nice quartz cluster (because I’ve always loved the clarity and nice crystalline structure of quartz), some metallic-sprayed quartz pieces, and then some smaller specimens of malachite and olivine (I might not be remembering that last one correctly).

It’s rare for me to wish I could buy so many things. I know if I had enough money to not care about costs, I would definitely have taken home so many more. There were so many beautiful fossils and minerals. I’d also love to figure out more ways to polish, cut, and otherwise shape the rocks and minerals I already have, but starting into those aspects of this hobby takes a lot of time and money. For now, I just had to admire the beautiful works of others.

Minerals are a great reminder of how beautiful nature can be. Within the greater chaos of geology, you have molecules crystallizing into these beautiful forms and colors. With my new book and pick, I hope to go dig some more up myself in the next few months.

Favorite Characters

I’m still trying to catch up to where I should be on this blog and I’m nearly there. I’ve been staggering new posts so you don’t get more than one in a day, so here’s the post that should have appeared last Friday.

Sometimes there are characters that are more memorable than the stories they were in. Often the stories aren’t bad, but it’s the characters that stand out. Here’s a few of my favorites.

Temeraire the dragon from His Majesty’s Dragon is the main reason I continued reading that series. Most the other characters are quite traditional or frustrating in their own ways, but Temeraire is always inquisitive, forward-thinking, and loveable. He’s smart enough to see beyond traditions and conventions, and it’s often a pity when he can’t convince others to do the same. Still, he has a lot of the traditional dragon quirks, such as loving to gather valuable things. The fun and most the humor of the entire series comes so much from his character.

One of my favorite archetypes for characters is the mentor and mastermind and Ovan from .Hack//Roots definitely fits both. He manages to always have a sense of coolness and mystery. Not only is he a guide and inspiration to the main character, but he’s also a master planner who know far more than he tells anyone, even while he slowly gives them the hints and clues to lead them to what he ultimately wants. It would spoil a lot to reveal what his true plan, intention, and story are, but it’s quite shocking to both the characters in-world and audience watching and leaves you thinking about it for a while. Other notable characters from the .Hack series include Hermit and Haseo, but I don’t want to spend all of this post talking about one series.

Going back to older works, I definitely love Gandalf from Tolkien’s works. He’s another great example of the mentor and planner archetypes. When he needs to be, he’s hands on and in the battle or there to give advice, but he also knows it’s important to let the other characters grow and learn. He’s a very big player in the world of middle earth, but even with all his skill and knowledge, he often has to rely on others that he’s been guiding along.

I can’t think of too many others off the top of my head. Kirito and Asuna from Sword Art Online are both great characters during the parts of the show that have good writing and character development (Season 1 part 1 and Season 2 part 2). It feels like you really get to grow and feel what these two feel during the series, from the intensity and despair of the darker moments and battles to the joy and fun of the simple happy times.

For me, interesting characters leave a feeling or lesson in your mind long after the book or show is over. They feel like teachers and friends that come alive in ways even beyond where the plot or world they’re in leads them. They’re the sort of characters you love to reread for inspiration and quotes long after you’ve finished reading their stories.

Scope In Fiction

I just finished listening to the audiobook of A Game of Thrones and loved it. George R.R. Martin does a great job at making an expansive cast of characters that feel very real, but he does an even better job that feels logistically real at least on the surface. I don’t have the time or knowledge to examine the more in depth logistics of it all, but if you’re going to write a larger story, it’s important to have this level of detail.

I’ve seen the concept discussed several times in various places. I’m not sure if logistical realism is the best name for it. Tolkien described it more as something along the lines of the distant mountains. You need to not only develop the immediate setting, but you need background such as places, lore, or history that are more expansive than the slice of the world your plot and characters lead the readers through.

Essentially, you need your world to feel like a place that functions beyond the immediacy of the plot and characters. A Game of Thrones does a great job at making even minor or one-time characters feel like real people. If they’re poor and ignorant, then they’ll have superstitions or ideas to fit that. If they’re rich and noble, then they’ll be more in line with that. There’s also a lot of actions and events that are mentioned as happening in far off places. It all comes together to make everything feel more real to the reader.

Politics and social aspects of the world also help build up this illusion of reality. If for example, someone does a sudden hostile takeover of another town, then there should be rebellion, guerilla tactics, and more, not just a passive acceptance of the new leader (something I’ve seen done poorly at least once).

When trying to develop an expansive setting, it’s helpful to ask a few basic questions. What do different groups of people believe or feel and why? What are the superstitions, legends, or other lore? Is there a strong belief in them or do people doubt them? What other powers, kingdoms, countries, etc. are near where your plot is taking place and how might they affect it? What events might be taking place elsewhere in the world that could have small or large effects on the plot and setting?

Just remember Tolkien’s principle of the distant mountains. You need to fill up the setting to the horizon, but not beyond that. It’s good to develop your world but bad to spend too long on worldbuilding and not long enough on writing.

As with any writing, it pays off to think beyond the surface level. A shallow story will feel like a bad stage drama that exists only in that moment, while a great story with depth will come alive in many ways beyond the main characters and plots.