477. About Storytelling: Comic Relief

Always be comic in a tragedy. What the deuce else can you do?

~ G.K. Chesterton

The Internet is buzzing over Luke Cage, the latest Marvel superhero show from Netflix. I’ve watched only a few episodes, but it’s pretty good so far, with compelling drama, solid acting, a funky soundtrack—and thank heaven, a sense of humor.

Fun so far!

In art, as in life, humor is invaluable. Shakespeare understood this. He wrote a lot of comedies, and even his tragedies have gleams of humor. Romeo and Juliet is full of dirty jokes, and Hamlet has the funny gravedigger. (I don’t even like Shakespeare’s plays, but that scene from Hamlet makes me smile.) William Shakespeare is widely regarded as a master storyteller, and comic relief is a key part of his stories.

Comic relief is a storytelling technique in which humorous moments, characters, or dialogue are included in an otherwise dark or serious story. The purpose of comic relief is generally to relieve tension, softening stories that might otherwise be unpleasant or unpalatable.

(Comedies can’t have comic relief because they’re already comical. Comic relief describes not a comical tone, but a break from a serious one. Incidentally, if tragedies have comic relief, shouldn’t comedies have tragic relief? Just wondering.)

When Netflix began making shows about Marvel superheroes, it began with Daredevil, an outstanding series that I totally lovedDaredevil used comic relief very effectively. It’s a dark show. Its heroes (and, unexpectedly, its villains) wrestle with guilt, rage, self-doubt, and other inner demons. A lot of people die violently. Corruption runs rampant. Heck, there’s even a lot of literal darkness.

Tons of fun!

Fortunately, the darker elements of Daredevil are kept in check by comic relief. My favorite character, Foggy Nelson, brings sarcasm, cheerful pessimism, and warm humanity to a fairly angsty cast of characters. One of the villain’s advisers, Leland Owlsley, reacts to everything with a perfect mixture of snark and grumpiness. Even Daredevil’s mentor, a ruthless killer named Stick, speaks with a dry, sardonic sense of humor. There’s just enough humor (and humanity) in Daredevil to make the darkness and tragedy palatable.

Then came Jessica Jones, Netflix’s follow-up to Daredevil, and lo, it was painfully bleak. Without going into details—believe me, they aren’t pleasant—it’s a show about violence, abuse, betrayal, addiction, and toxic relationships, with some rape metaphors thrown in for good measure. The entire show hinges on the protagonist’s abusive relationship with a super-powered sadist. Yeah. Nasty stuff.

The thing is that Jessica Jones is actually an artistic, thoughtful, well-written, well-acted drama. It’s just painful to watch. There’s nothing to brighten the gloom or ease the tension. (David Tennant is in it, and he’s awesome, but his character is a cruel, rapey, mind-controlling stalker, so… yeah, that doesn’t help.) None of the characters are likable, and there’s no comic relief. Wait, no, I recall one joke. I think it might be repeated once. That’s it. Jessica Jones is thirteen episodes of misery.

No fun at all.

I’ve seen the first season of Daredevil twice. I will never watch Jessica Jones again. The hope and humor in Daredevil make the darker bits bearable. Jessica Jones is all darker bits.

So far, Luke Cage, which follows the events of Jessica Jones, has been really good. There aren’t as many quips as in Daredevil—man, do I ever miss Foggy Nelson—but the characters in Luke Cage at least have a sense of humor, and it makes a world of difference.

Not every tragedy needs comic relief. I can’t help but think of Shūsaku Endō, who wrote such terrific novels as Silence and The Samurai. There’s no humor in these books, and they’re more powerful for it.

Comic relief isn’t an absolute necessity, but it’s often helpful. Stories are told to edify, sure, but also to entertain… and who doesn’t appreciate a laugh?

474. Adam’s Story: The Lore

For anyone new to Adam’s story, here’s an introduction.

Today we take a look at the lore and mythos underlying my story project. Let’s start at the beginning—the very beginning. There’s a lot of fictional history and made-up legends here, so brace yourself!

Lance Eliot finds himself stranded in the kingdom of Guardia, which lies upon the equator of a world called Gea. The origins of this fantastical place are shrouded in uncertainty. Only legends and fragments of history have survived, preserved in folktales and the sacred writings of the Vigil, Guardia’s predominant religion.

Over time, Lance learns more about the lore and history of Gea. (That’s pronounced “HEY-uh,” by the way.) Its recorded history goes back only centuries; beyond that, only myths and religious accounts remain.

According to the scriptures of the Vigilant religion, there exists a being of infinite wisdom and power known as El. (The Vigil ascribes further titles to him, such as El Enthroned and He Who Is.) El created many worlds in many universes, and Gea was one of these worlds. It doesn’t exist in the same universe as our Earth, but in one connected to it—a sister universe, so to speak.

Looking good, sis!

Gea follows our laws of physics, with the addition of a metaphysical force known as aer. This natural energy pervades everything. (It’s similar to our own concept of qi, and to a lesser extent of magic; Lance speculates these may represent a distorted understanding of aer.) Gifted individuals known as aerists can channel aer to perform supernatural feats. These include sending or summoning objects—or people, as Lance learns the hard way—from one universe to another.

The people of Gea are not indigenous to it, or even to its universe! An ancient event known as the World-storm transported thousands of people to Gea from past ages of Earth. (This might accounts for some of the missing people across our own history.) These interplanetary castaways were the ancestors of Gea’s people, and gleams of our own cultures and languages can still be seen in theirs.

The cause of the World-storm is not known. The Vigil claims it was a miracle by which El brought new life to Gea. Secular scholars theorize irregular movements of aer or cosmic rifts between universes. Whatever its cause, the World-storm left Gea with a faint connection to Earth, to which we, here on Earth, remain mostly oblivious. However, some of Gea’s realities are echoed in the mythologies of Earth, such as dragons and other monsters.

Here there be dragons.

The writings of the Vigilant religion, known collectively as the Book of El, yield no further insight on the creation of Gea or the cause of the World-storm; after these early chapters, its history leaps forward centuries to the founding of the kingdom of Guardia, whose history is mostly corroborated by other texts. The only clues about the intervening dark ages come from myths and legends of dubious historical accuracy.

An ancient myth claims Gea, among all other worlds, was created for a unique purpose: Gea is a divinely-appointed vessel, a cosmic container for… something.

Over centuries, many questioned the nature of that which is allegedly hidden deep within Gea. Poets, prophets, and philosophers speculated, but to no avail. Some claimed Gea contains a treasure of immeasurable worth, or a cache of heavenly wisdom. Others, less optimistic, believed Gea is not a vessel for treasure, but a prison for some powerful demon or devastating catastrophe. Theories abound, but there are no answers.

Other myths tell stories of the dark ages of Gea, filling its blank pages with legends and fairy tales. One such myth claims that a race of celestial creatures ruled Gea long before the World-storm brought human beings to the planet. Ruins dot the landscape of Guardia, predating the World-storm, but nobody is sure of their origin.

Who built these? I didn’t build these. Did you build these?

The Vigil emphasizes the importance of guarding Gea, especially Guardia, from harm, hence the religion’s name. According to the Vigil, El entrusted the kingdom to the gods or archangels known as the Twelve Seraphs. These divine servants are honored in Guardia with shrines and festivals; each Seraph is considered the patron of specific groups, in the manner of patron saints here on Earth.

Guardian folk tales often represent the Twelve Seraphs and their dealings with mortals. Of particular interest to Lance are the stories of Dove Thistle-head, a folk hero who supposedly planted gardens and groves all over Guardia, and outsmarted even the Seraphs in her quest to help Guardia’s people.

Lance is skeptical of Guardia’s myths and religious writings, but remains interested in them. Who knows? There might be some truth in them somewhere. In the end, it hardly matters—Lance has bigger things to worry about!

470. Adam’s Story: The Characters

For anyone new to Adam’s story, here’s an introduction.

Here’s a look at the five most important characters in my story project, with GLORIOUS CONCEPT ART by the talented Sabina K! (There’s also a bonus picture from JK Riki!) I’ve been excited for this post for a really long time, and today is the day I finally get to share it with you. Here we go!

Lance (TMTF version)

Lance Santiago Eliot is a college student in the little town of Crossroads, Indiana. His plans to go home for Christmas are rudely interrupted by a journey to a strange new place: the kingdom of Guardia, a land of magic and monsters, teetering on the brink of war. Lance isn’t exactly pleased by this unexpected adventure. He isn’t a hero. He’s a timid guy who hates shaving, plays video games, and loves coffee—a beverage that doesn’t seem to exist in this other universe. The sooner he can go home, the better… but getting home might be harder than he expects.

Fun fact: Lance Eliot is Ecuadorian American, and fluent in both English and Spanish. He uses Spanish mostly for cursing, though.

Eisen (TMTF version)

To all appearances, Eisen is a former military leader living out his retirement in the luxurious heights of Faurum, the Golden City of Guardia. Lance knows better: Eisen is actually the Chairman of the Guardian Peace Committee, a group plotting the overthrow of Guardia’s king. Eisen claims it’s the only way to prevent all-out war, but Lance isn’t convinced. After all, Eisen gave the order that brought Lance to Guardia, so Lance has a hard time trusting him. Eisen prides himself on his neat appearance, dressing in the old-fashioned suits and uniforms of his military days despite the warm climate. Although he smiles constantly, he seems more polite than sincere.

Fun fact: Eisen always wears dark glasses, even indoors. He claims they prevent his chronic headaches. They give him a slightly sinister appearance.

Note for veteran readers: Eisen replaces the Kana character from previous versions of Lance Eliot’s story.

Maia (TMTF version)

Maia is an aerist: a person born with the ability to channel aer, a cosmic energy Lance defines as “basically magic.” Maia is technically an aerist in training, but she’s getting there, really! She’s already mastered Linguamancy, the discipline of tongues, and she’s working really hard on Vocomancy, the discipline of summoning. I mean, she summoned Lance to Guardia all the way from Crossroads, Indiana! (She was actually under orders to summon Lancelot, the legendary knight of Camelot, but got Lance Eliot instead. Whoops!) Maia is upbeat, friendly, and easily excited, but seems to have a hard time taking anything seriously.

Fun fact: Despite her childlike personality, Maia is exceptionally intelligent and well-read. Her interests range from contemporary fashion to ancient lore and history.

Tsurugi (TMTF version)

When Lance leaves Faurum, Tsurugi accompanies him as an escort. Lance is both intrigued and irritated by this silent soldier. What mysteries lie behind that blank face and those shifty eyes? Lance’s speculations are soon interrupted by ugly facts: Tsurugi is a war criminal working for Eisen as an alternative to execution. Tsurugi seems tired, even broken, yet hasn’t lost his edge—his military prowess is legendary. Lance suspects there’s more to his story, but Tsurugi isn’t talking.

Fun fact: Tsurugi wears a military uniform with one unusual addition: a red bandana, which he often wears around his face. The bright color is very poor camouflage for a soldier, but Lance knows better than to question it.

Paz (TMTF version)

Paz is a professional gambler, and she’s eerily good at it. She travels alone, making money in pubs and saloons all over Guardia, and hitting the road before anyone can ask too many questions. When asked why she never seems to lose, she insists she’s “just lucky.” Experience has taught Paz to act tough around strangers. In good company, however, she’s friendly and kindhearted. Paz has mastered many survival skills, including self-defense, but doesn’t have much schooling. After all, if you’re lucky enough to profit from every hand of cards and roll of the dice, do you really need a formal education?

Fun fact: Paz has picked up all kinds of hobbies to keep herself entertained on her solitary travels. In addition to cards for solitaire, she always has a book or two in her pack; when she finishes one book, she trades it for another in the next town she visits. Paz also carves trinkets and figurines out of wood. Since wood is neither expensive nor hard to find, woodcarving is the perfect hobby for a traveler!

Note for veteran readers: Paz replaces the Regis character from previous versions of Lance Eliot’s story.

Courtesy of JK Riki, here’s a bonus picture of Paz:

Paz alt (TMTF version)

That’s all for today! My next post in this series may cover the story’s lore or geography, or maybe some of its less important characters. I’ll work on it.

Thanks for reading!

(Before concluding, I want to thank Sabina and JK once again for their time, patience, and amazing talent. Working with each of you was a pleasure and a privilege. Thank you!)

Gritty or Glittery?

In the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of gritty media: books, films, and video games characterized by darkness, angst, violence, and square-jawed men brooding over inner conflicts. From Wolverine to Walter White, we’ve seen plenty of angsty characters on the large and small screens. Books—even young adult literature—feature people killing (and dying!) in all sorts of creative ways. The video game industry continues making games with guns, gore, and roughly one in every five words of dialogue being the f-bomb.

Angst! Darkness! Square jaws!

Angst! Darkness! Square jaws!

Why is gritty media popular? That’s a tough question to answer. I suppose there’s some truth to the darkness and violence in these media, and it resonates with people. We all feel sadness, discouragement, and anger. Some face depression, abuse, self-destructive impulses, or equally “gritty” problems.

Finally, gritty media often seems mature, sophisticated, or “grown-up.” All of this begs the question: Is it?

While gritty media has become more popular in past years, there are still plenty of lighthearted books, films, and video games: “glittery” media, so to speak.

Light! Smiles! Goofy braces!

Light! Smiles! Goofy braces!

Throughout history, comedy has nearly always taken a backseat to tragedy. Shakespeare’s most famous plays are his tragedies; Mark Twain’s cynical Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is celebrated over his cheerfuller books; P.G. Wodehouse’s clever comedies are largely eclipsed by the gloomy writings of his contemporaries. It seems humor and optimism can’t be taken seriously.

While there are certainly good things to say for gritty narratives, I don’t believe grittier is necessarily better. A purpose of art is to reflect or represent truth; the truth is that life isn’t always gloomy. A Farewell to Arms or The Things They Carried may be brilliant depictions of the horrors of war, but peace is no less real than violence. I think it’s absurd to suppose, say, Anne of Green Gables is necessarily an inferior book because it reflects joy and sentiment instead of pain and despair.

In the end, it’s a mistake to judge the quality of a thing by whether it’s gritty or glittery, tragic or comic, cynical or optimistic. That said, I would love to see people take glittery media more seriously. Can we study humorists like P.G. Wodehouse or James Thurber more widely in schools? I’m sure students wouldn’t mind putting down The Lord of the Flies. Can we have fewer gritty superhero movies and have more like Marvel’s quirky Guardians of the Galaxy? We could use a break from gloom and doom.

The world is an awfully dark place, but there’s a little light left. Some stories remember that, and I think they’re worth taking seriously.


This post was originally published on October 24, 2014. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5!

465. The Five-Step Writing Conference

I recently attended a professional writing conference. It was… well, it was a lot of things. I’ll outline my experience at the conference in five steps.

1. Early Misgivings

I hit the road a few days ago. My car, Eliezer, is dependable but dilapidated—after all, you can’t spell trusty without rusty. Eliezer lacks such vain frills as air conditioning. I call it a car, but it’s more like an oven on wheels. Thus it was a hot, disheveled Adam who arrived at the conference, sweating like a traveler in the mighty Kalahari, and having second thoughts.

Kalahari

Artist interpretation of writing conference weather.

I should also mention that my jeans kept creeping stealthily toward my ankles. This utterly baffled me. These jeans had previously fit me just fine, and their tag claimed they were my size. They insisted nonetheless on their downward trajectory. I found myself frequently hitching up my jeans until I was able to change into another pair in the privacy of my room.

The conference was held on the campus of a university. It gave me repeated flashbacks to my own college career, which began with severe depression and ended with existential dread. Speaking of which….

2. Crushing Despair

As I attended the conference’s early sessions—which were excellent, by the way—I slid slowly but inexorably into depression, guilt, hopelessness, and acute social anxiety.

This really surprised me. I suffer from chronic depression, as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve followed my blog for more than five minutes, but it usually comes and goes gradually. At the writing conference, it crushed me with the steady force of a steamroller. I was also surprised by the social anxiety. I’m an introvert, but I can usually deal with social events.

The guilt and hopelessness were worst of all.

Depressed Adam

Artist interpretation of depressed Adam. (In case you were wondering, I didn’t actually make faces like this at the writing conference… I don’t think.)

I was surrounded by people with serious aspirations of professional writing, and people who actually write professionally. By comparison, I’m half a writer. I know a few things about writing as a craft, but hardly anything about writing as a profession.

In those early sessions of the conference, with their unfiltered insights into a tough and competitive industry, my bravado and optimism were quick to evaporate. I felt seriously out of my depth. I felt like a fraud.

3. Redeeming Peace

As a pragmatic (and sadly skeptical) follower of Christ, my faith leans more toward intellect than emotion. I don’t often have those moments of raw emotion sometimes called “religious experiences,” and I talk about them still less often, but halfway through the conference, I found one.

Having retreated to my room (which I had formally christened the Introvert Cave), I switched on the air conditioner, sat on the bed, and prayed. I told God that as I held on to faith in him, I had to believe he had brought me to that conference for a reason. I asked him to help me find it, and to see him at work.

I immediately felt a profound peace—a sudden, absolute conviction that everything was going to be okay. This peace carried me through the rest of the day, redeeming it, and giving me a little hope.

4. Shower Misadventures

The showers at the conference deserve a mention. They were lined up along a hallway in a communal bathroom, and guarded from the public eye only by flimsy and ill-fitted curtains. After a long day in the summer sun, I really needed a rinse. I had no choice. Casting off my misgivings, I cast off my clothes. I would not be conquered by a public shower.

I immediately ran into another problem. It was my old enemy, the Tiny Hotel Soap.

My old enemy

We meet again.

Have you ever stayed in a hotel and tried washing yourself with those itty-bitty bars of soap? It’s impossible. The Tiny Hotel Soap provided at the conference was roughly the size and shape of a saltine cracker, with the density of carbon steel. I tried to work up a lather with the Tiny Hotel Soap. It would have been easier to work up a lather with a soap-sized slab of sculpted marble.

I finally concluded my shower, only to realize I had forgotten my towel. (Forgive me, Douglas Adams.) It was a wet and abashed Adam who sneaked back to his room. It was a good thing God had given me peace, or that shower may just have broken me.

5. Caffeinated Resignation

I blundered through the rest of the conference with a kind of resigned determination, fueled by coffee. I learned a lot, actually, and took pages of notes. I also hung out with an old friend, a fellow blogger, and a couple of nice ladies from Argentina, so that was cool.

In the end, the writing conference made me seriously question my vague pretensions of someday being a professional writer. It would be a radical shift, and would take tons of hard work and research for no guaranteed payoff. If I ever make that plunge, I’ll have to go all in.

The conference also reminded me that there are so many other dedicated writers out there, many of whom are admirably ambitious, successful, and gifted. I must keep a healthy sense of perspective. I am, to echo Gandalf, only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!

Gandalf

When in doubt, quote Tolkien or Doctor Who.

A speaker at the conference made a good point: “A hobbyist writes for himself. A professional writes for his audience.” I’m a hobbyist. I write for fun, and God only knows whether that will ever change. If it does, I now have a slightly clearer idea of what to expect. If it doesn’t, I now have some idea of what I’m missing.

Either way, it’s nice to know.

I never tire of quoting the good Doctor from Doctor Who. (My readers probably tire of it, but I don’t.) As he might have put it, while the conference itself was excellent, my experiences there were a pile of good things and bad things. The good things didn’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things didn’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.

And the conference definitely added to my pile of good things.

464. Something Bookish This Way Comes

I’m attending a writing conference today. At this very moment, I’m probably scribbling notes, clutching a half-empty bottle of overpriced coffee, and being awkward and self-conscious. Such is the lot of introverts at social events.

Seriously, though, I’m excited to attend this conference. In preparation, I read Networking with Penguins, and also bought a lot of coffee. (I consider it an investment in my future as a writer.) I hope to learn more about marketing, social media strategy, book proposals, and all the other stuff I should have known before publishing a book.

After the conference, my family and I will spend a week on vacation. We plan to travel, visit friends and relatives, and eat many doughnuts. It will be glorious.

I should be able to connect to the Internet on our vacation, so regular blog updates shall continue. (If I take any more long breaks from the blog, I shan’t be able to finish it by the end of this year as I’ve planned.) Today’s post is a short one since I have to finish vacation preparations, but I’ll conclude with a sneak peek at a future post.

The next Adam’s Story post shall introduce the characters in my story project. I’m really excited, guys. Now that the preliminary stuff is out of the way, I can begin to explore some of the project’s other concepts, such as reworked characters.

I leave you with an early glance at the worried, whiskered face of Lance Eliot.

Lance Eliot early concept

I’m sure my own expression at today’s conference will be equally uncertain and wary. Fortunately, unlike Lance Eliot, I’ll have the moral support of coffee, so that’s something!

462. About Storytelling: Subverting Expectations

Not long ago, I began playing a little game titled Recettear: An Item’s Shop’s Tale, and promptly decided it may be the best thing in the universe.

I exaggerate, but Recettear is delightful all the same. It’s set in a standard fantasy world of monsters, swords, and magic, with one important twist: the player doesn’t control an adventurer. The player controls a shopkeeper: a sweet, chipper girl named Recette who must pay off her absent father’s debts. Recette’s motto: “Capitalism, ho!”

Capitalism, ho!

Capitalism has never been cuter.

Fantasy games have always had shops. They’re a ubiquitous feature in the manner of inns, dungeons, and bosses. Gamers accept them without thinking. Heck, off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single fantasy game that doesn’t have some kind of shop.

Recettear turns the cliché of the fantasy-game shop on its head. This time around, the player isn’t fighting to save the world—he’s fighting to make that next debt payment. A player can’t just waltz into dungeons; she must hire an adventurer to keep her safe while she searches for items to sell. Recettear shows the behind-the-scenes struggles of keeping a fantasy-game shop open for business, providing a twist on a well-worn trope.

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale represents a brilliant creative tactic: subverting expectations.

After a certain number of stories, we begin to see patterns. The good guys win. Things end badly for the villain. Depending on the story’s tone, either romance happens, or it doesn’t—either way, we can usually see it coming. If Sean Bean is in a movie, his character probably dies. We expect these things. We figure out that stories usually work a certain way.

It’s neat, then, when stories come along that work differently.

Consider, for example, how Disney’s Frozen handles the love-at-first-sight cliché. In many previous Disney films, the guy and the girl fall in love hilariously fast. I mean, seriously, the prince in Cinderella decides to marry the eponymous heroine before he even knows her name. They dance for one scene, and then he wants to get married. It’s actually kinda creepy.

Love is an open door, I guess

Will you marry me? Oh, and what’s your name?

Frozen is different. (Spoilers ahead, in case anyone cares.) The movie sets up the love-at-first-sight cliché between Princess Anna and her crush, Prince Hans. Shortly after meeting, they decided to get married. I mean, they sing a cute song and everything. When they share the news, however, they’re met with incredulity and derision. “You can’t marry a man you just met,” declares Anna’s sister flatly. Later on in the film, Kristoff reacts in pretty much the same way.

When I watched Frozen, I wasn’t expecting the movie—a Disney movie about princesses, mind you—to mock the love-at-first-sight cliché. But it did. And it was refreshing, funny, and simply delightful to see.

Let’s look at a more literary example: Father Brown, the mystery-solving priest from the stories by G.K. Chesterton. Detectives in fiction are often marked by certain characteristics, which are best exemplified in Sherlock Holmes, the most famous detective of all: intelligence, logic, curiosity, emotional distance, and a strong sense of justice.

Father Brown subverts practically all of these.

Father Brown (alt)

He isn’t your garden-variety sleuth.

He’s a perfect foil to Sherlock Holmes—the Anti-Holmes, if you will. Holmes is tall, thin, emotionless, and just. His brilliance is painfully obvious. By contrast, Father Brown is short, stout, deeply empathetic, and merciful. His intelligence is belied by his humility and simpleminded manner. Holmes solves mysteries by careful reasoning; Father Brown solves them by common sense and an intuitive understanding of human nature. Holmes kills his greatest enemy; Father Brown redeems and befriends his own archnemesis.

Everyone expects Holmes to be brilliant. In a charming subversion, everyone dismisses Father Brown as a superstitious simpleton, which makes it all the more satisfying when he apologetically solves the mystery right under their noses. It’s another terrific subversion of audience expectations, and it makes for great reading.

We’ve all come to expect certain things from fiction. How exciting when fiction gives us things we don’t expect!

460. Adam’s Story: The Premise

For anyone new to Adam’s story, here’s an introduction.

We begin with the basics today. The finer points of story planning really ought to wait until I’ve said a thing or two about my story’s fundamental premise.

Here we go.

Alone

Death! What a cheerful way to start a story.

Lance Eliot is dying, and he’s not terribly happy about it. Death is unexpectedly complicated. (Seriously, have you ever tried it? The legal paperwork is horrendous.) As he resignedly puts his affairs in order, Lance sits down to write a memoir of his adventures. He doesn’t expect anyone to believe it, but his story deserves to be told, and he’ll tell it if it’s the last thing he does… which it probably will be. Man, death is a nuisance.

This is his story.

Long before his death, Lance Eliot is a college student in the little town of Crossroads, Indiana. He’s eager to go home for Christmas break, but one thing stands in his way. He must confront a professor nicknamed the Skeleton—a gaunt, ill-tempered instructor of literary criticism—and plead for a passing grade in his class.

After a torturous discussion of Dante’s Inferno, Lance escapes the Skeleton, staggers to the nearest coffee shop, and buys a drink. Then, with no warning whatsoever, he disappears from Crossroads and reappears in a strange new world. Lance is lost and alone. Worst of all, when he vanished, he left behind his drink.

Spiritual coffee

Never mind Lance dying. Losing his coffee is the real tragedy here.

Lance eventually learns that he was transported to this unfamiliar world by an arcane power called aer… or as he puts it, “basically magic.” He’s now stranded in the kingdom of Guardia, a tropical nation tucked between two vast empires. Its society is antiquated, but not primitive; Lance later compares it to the Renaissance.

In some ways, Guadia seems too fantastical to be true. Aer, that mystical power, is channeled by a gifted few known as aerists. Stories abound of El Enthroned, the Greater God, and of his servants, the Twelve Seraphs. Dragons exist, apparently. Lance is skeptical, and not exactly pleased. “I’m stranded in a fantasy novel,” he grumbles. “Great.”

His mood only worsens when he learns why he was brought to Guardia. The kingdom stands upon the brink of annihilation. A young aerist, eager to help, tried to summon Lancelot, the legendary knight of Camelot… but got Lance Eliot instead. It’s hard to say who’s more upset: Lance Eliot, or the people who got him instead of the hero they wanted.

Now trapped in Guardia, Lance must face many trials to find a way home, and he’ll have to do it all without coffee. Even if he manages to get back to Crossroads, he’ll still have to face the Skeleton. Lance would frankly rather face the dragons.

Thus begins begins the story of Lance Eliot, which is also kind of my story. I did name this series of blog posts Adam’s Story for a reason, y’know. The next post in the series will probably focus on the setting or characters. We’ll see.

Thanks for reading!

458. The Initial Stage of Writing: 5 Ways to Improve Your Skills

Today’s post was written by Alyssa Johnson, a blogger and freelance writer who stands by this credo: “No matter who you are, no matter what you did, no matter where you’ve come from, you can always change, become a better version of yourself.” You can find more from Alyssa here!

Guest post image

Firstly, it should be noted that strong writing skills come only from practice. Nobody is born as a great writer so it will take time to advance your skills in writing. We all have different reasons to start thinking about improving our writing skills. It can be related to your work or business, your classes in university or just your self-confidence.

Writing is an inseparable part of our lives! You can see this through your everyday doings: sending emails to friends or relatives, responding to official business letters, leaving notes on the mirror for a loved one or just writing papers for university classes.

So here are five simple and fun ways to become a well-skilled writer:

5. Your own space is your comfort zone

It’s easy to understand: the place where you write should be within your comfort zone! Just find it! And be sure that everyone you know has such a piece of paradise where she or he feels safe. For some people, it’s a quiet and clean spot, while others need music or a TV playing in the background. The first step is finding a cozy corner where you can put your thoughts on paper.

4. Find your muse

We all know that “Muse” is a specific source of admiration that inspires writers to create their masterpieces. Even the ancient Greeks told us the “Muse” could have different forms and definitions. The writer can find it in his daily life, in the world full of inspiration—cafes with dozens of people, trains coming and going every minute in the subway, and even reading a newsfeed on Instagram can bring a wonderful idea. You have to be prepared  to see all the small details around you. Don’t miss your own “Muse”!

3. Just pick a topic

You should start practicing every day to turn writing into a habit. It means that writing becomes natural and even something you look forward to. This gives a rise for such questions as “Where can I take a topic?” The answer you may know—write about things you do, things you hear or see, even about your cat’s favorite spot. You will never create exciting stories if you never try.

2. Your friend is your best editor

Why do we need friends? Of course, to have a look at our writing! Just kidding! Our friends are those who can sit for hours listening to mistakes we have made. Is it any different to put our thoughts on paper and give it to them to read? Having another set of eyes makes finding errors which you missed easier.

1. Online help

We live in the age of the Internet. Anytime, anywhere and anything you want you can find on the web, so it can be very useful for those who want to improve their writing. A lot of people use the Internet in search of information. Businessmen try to find samples of official email letters, students research college essays or even housewives share their recipes for apple pies on forums. For many writers, the biggest problem is grammar. So don’t be afraid to use online grammar tools to help you answer grammar questions when they come up!  Additionally, there are a lot of forums and blogs for writers where you can find a soul mate or real professional to discuss issues.

454. Adam’s Story: Introduction

A new series of posts begins today. As this blog stumbles doggedly toward its final post, I’m planning my next big personal project. I want to rewrite a story. I speak, of course, of the Lance Eliot saga: a trilogy of fantasies, and a dream I’ve chased for more than a decade. At this point, I have no delusions of grandeur, fame, or literary excellence. I just want to get the damned thing written.

Sooner or later, every creative person reaches a point at which he just wants to scream and shake things—preferably sharp, pointy things. (Art by JK Riki.)

A while back, when I wondered whether to discuss my story here, nobody raised any objections, so here we are. I’m not sure how often I’ll publish posts about the Lance Eliot saga, but they won’t take over TMTF or anything. This blog’s regularly scheduled nonsense shall continue!

I’ve decided to title this series Adam’s Story. I considered longer titles, like Adam’s Story Project, and more specific ones, like The Lance Eliot Saga, but settled on a title that’s short, sweet, and personal. After all, Adam’s Story refers to more than a story I want to write. It is also my story, the story of Adam, who has spent (or misspent; the jury’s still out) an alarming number of hours making up stories about a guy named Lance Eliot.

I’m actually really excited to write about the Lance Eliot saga, for at least five reasons.

  1. It will let me work on two things—this blog and story planning—at the same time, and with the same effort. How efficient!
  2. It will provide, I hope, a smooth transition from writing a blog to writing the story itself.
  3. It will force me to be a bit more disciplined. I can’t write about an aspect of the story until I’ve made sufficient progress in planning it, so I won’t be able to skip steps or cut corners!
  4. It will allow me to express my enthusiasm for the Lance Eliot saga, and to spread awareness of it. Every bit helps!
  5. It will allow me to share some of my ideas. Even if I’m not able to finish the Lance Eliot saga, at least I will have gotten some of its details out of my head.

I’m currently rereading the latest version of the story’s first part, the one I published a few years ago, and it… needs a lot of work. Heck, it needs a lot of work.

This is a picture of me throwing away the torn-up pieces of my story’s published version. Hold on, my mistake, it’s actually that version’s cover. How… apropos.

The new version won’t be anything special, but I hope to make it much better than previous ones.

Will I publish my story? I don’t know. I haven’t planned that far ahead. I’ve stopped calling the Lance Eliot saga “my book project,” and begun referring to it as “my story project.” I should probably write it before I think about publication, and I should probably plan it before I start writing.

As I plan the Lance Eliot saga, each post in the Adam’s Story series shall focus on an aspect of it. Relax, there won’t be any huge spoilers here. That said, there will be small spoilers, but nothing past the story’s earlier chapters.

Here are some of my ideas for posts about my fantasy and its world.

Story

I have to lay out the basics at some point, right? There won’t be any massive reveals here: just the early stuff!

Characters

There’s obviously a character named Lance Eliot. This post shall share a few more.

Setting

The setting is changing from previous versions of the story. I hope to make it more unique, with more details from personal experiences, and fewer generic fantasy elements. (There shall still be dragons, though. I can’t bring myself to leave them out.) The geography is changing a bit, too.

Goodbye, old setting. We hardly knew ye.

I guess this means my dad and I will need to make a new map. It’s a good thing he’s a patient man.

Politics

Earlier versions of the story didn’t really delve into politics. I want to change that. The simplistic political scene of earlier drafts shall be replaced with a tenser situation, finding such diverse inspirations as the Cold War, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Final Fantasy XII. Lance Eliot’s story shall be an adventure, not a political thriller, but I’m excited to give it some political background.

Lore

Like the story’s politics, its lore shall be more nuanced this time around. In The Lord of the Rings and his other fantasies, J.R.R. Tolkien imagined the God of Christianity in a fantastical context. I plan to do the same, taking cues from the later Old Testament, and borrowing ideas from Greco-Roman mythology and the Legend of Zelda series.

Aer

I really struggled with the concept of magic as I wrote earlier versions of the Lance Eliot saga. At first, I fought to reconcile magic with a Christian worldview, and I think I’ve figured out that part. Now my struggle is to invent a kind of magic that isn’t too vague, generic, or unbelievable. The magic in my story isn’t actually called by that name; for now, I’m calling it aer. What is it? Why aer? You’ll just have to wait and see.

Literary criticism

Yep, this is a theme of my story… but not really. Literary criticism, for all its usefulness, can be a bit silly. Nah, its purpose in my story is to lead to something else… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Dante’s Divine Comedy

I plan for my story’s three parts to parallel, however loosely, the three parts of the Divine Comedy. The first part of my story shall borrow from Dante’s Inferno, and it’s going to be a hell of a ride. (Alternatively: It’s going to be a damned good time. I can’t resist these puns, guys. I’m so sorry.)

I may cover more aspects of the story; I don’t know. Today’s post covers pretty much everything I have planned for now.

That said, this story won’t plan itself, so I’d better get back to it.