Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Things that make me feel old

Here's one: watching my kids play games and watch videos on the computer.

I remember when I was little, my mother sometimes took me to her office, where she let me sit in front of her computer and play with it. She introduced me to this exciting new game they had, where you could type words onto a screen... and then press keys to move up and down in the document! And INSERT lines! And DELETE lines! She told me it was a "FULL-SCREEN EDITOR"! An amazing innovation in text editing!

Well. Consider that at home, we didn't have a computer, not even a terminal with a screen. We had one of those teletype machines, where everything was printed out onto a scroll of paper. What was it, about 300 baud? That's 300 bits per second. Bits! I remember playing (I think it was this) Kingdom and ending up with a printout of my game, recording all the poor peasants dying of starvation due to my mismanagement and so forth. It was way more fun than Hunt the Wumpus. Later, when one of my parents brought home a VT100, that was, like, so cool.

But I did like typewriters, too. We had an old manual typewriter that my parents let me have. I used to type pages of random gibberish on it. I'm still typing random gibberish today, so some things haven't changed. I wasn't as enterprising as my mother and her siblings, who used her family's typewriter to forge excuse notes back in the day. (That was more impressive since it was a mechanical Chinese typewriter. I don't even know how that works. Really complicated, apparently, as the teachers didn't think children would know how to use one.)

My mother must have had some affinity for "high tech", as even though she was a literature major, when she got out of school she found a job with IBM. That was in the days before people had things like "computer science". The old days when she could introduce a simple binary insertion sort on some database (I think it was) and have it be a vast improvement in efficiency! I don't know what was in the code before she changed it: maybe the sort where you compare the new element to every single old element until you find the right place to put it? The old days where she was able to find jobs easily because she could write code in assembly language. The old days where she could bluff her way into working for NASA ("yes, I know trigonometry") and quickly learn what she needed to know.

By 1980, I got a chance to play ADVENT on my parents' workplace computer. Probably some grad student introduced me to it. Wow. This was so much more fun than a text editor. (Yeah. You can see how being distracted by computer games has been a problem for me since forever.) And since this was before you could look up walkthroughs for everything on the Internet, when I got stuck, I printed out the source code for the game. It was in FORTRAN. I didn't know FORTRAN. D'oh! Still, you could more or less figure it out from all the text strings in the code.

But nowadays the kids walk around with 2 or 4 or 8 or (this year) 16 gigabytes of storage in their backpacks, and that's the cheap flash drive they use for their schoolwork.

*dodders back inside and sighs*

Well, that's my reminiscence of the day. (Aka my warmup for my NaNo, which is nothing to do with any of this, but at least I'm getting practice typing words again.)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Last weekend before Halloween. And NaNoWriMo!

Moar Pumpkins! Woot. I now have enough pumpkins for Halloween.

So. What about enough plot for NaNoWriMo?


I think I know where I want this story to end. I'm dragging in character E as a diversion. E will be the standard Wicked Prince. The father of the orphans.

It seems to be a Thing, in Chinese fantasy, that people will adopt orphans to train up as their loyal weapons. The orphans will owe their foster parent their lives, and give them their filial devotion. (The ones who don't get killed off early.) Sometimes the adopter will be super-evil, sometimes just run of the mill evil, sometimes neutral, and once in awhile even a good person. Sometimes the orphan will have one foster parent who loves them and one foster parent who ends up hating them. Sometimes the orphan siblings will fall out as one of them rebels against the wickedness of the foster parent.

So what is this to do with my plot? B will be tracking down one of these orphans, B2, who is the last survivor of the tribe that used to worship B. B2 will be my sacrificial lamb this year. Or is that too obvious? There will be some connection between C and B2. Remember that C was one of those orphans too, or nearly. Possibly his parents sold him when he was a toddler.

I say fantasy, but these things aren't as far-fetched as all that. Even in my family, things like that have happened (adopted children, being sold a boy servant by a poor family, having a girl passed off as a boy, long-lost offspring turning up unexpectedly, etc.) Even the traditional healer types exist, and people claim to be able to manipulate their (and your) "qi". Although the fellow who claimed to be able to do it over the phone must have thought everyone was truly gullible!

There we are then.

A few more days before the WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! begins.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

One more week to plan?


November is almost upon us.

I have been writing down some notes and the beginnings of an outline. Nothing too original or shocking. It starts with character A. A will be introduced as a caravan guard. A respectable career for a martial artist in this setting (as opposed to being a brigand or a gangster). Associated with character A are fellow guards A2, A3, and A4. And then the Bandits (group 1) and then the other Bandits (group 2). And then the wife, baby, and brother of character A2. Character A will of course also have a Secret Family Power, that A hardly ever uses because it's so EEEEEEVIL. But I still need to make up a name for it. Not only do characters need names, so do their various martial arts and mystical powers. Bah, humbug.

I suddenly realized I need some kind of antagonists. To start with, we have the Bandits (group 1 and group 2). Then we have A2, who made a deal with the Bandits (group 2). But A2 dies well within the introductory chapters. So then what? Time for another group of antagonists! I don't have a name for them, either. ARRRGH! Wait, yes I do: I'm calling them the "Godless Mountain Anti-God Sect". So we have character D1, a monk, who shows up on the scene to save A's life. This is so we can use the time-honored wuxia trope of "my savior is also my enemy! Oh noes!"

D1 leaves. Time passes. A is hired by character B2. B2 lasts for a chapter or two, then dies. A barely escapes. It's an attack by the GMAGS! (Honestly, I'm not making up ridiculously long names just to inflate my word count. They just seem long because I've forgotten too many words and am left with only simple words to string together to form names.) Then we go into the whole "on the run from strong enemies and nearly dying, but by some lucky chance managing to survive" cliche. But no one is jumping or falling off any cliffs today. So there! Anyway, D1 bites the dust.

That means it's time for the really nasty and despicable member of the GMAGS, D1's elder D2. Tremble at the awesome power of D2! Fear the D2!

No no no no no. Wait. We have B and C to introduce first. Except C will only appear in this one chapter before morphing into C', the "Ugly" form of C. C being "Immortal Beauty Phoenix Heart." Can you be any more vain?

Yeah. I'll think about it some more. There must be some kind of ending I can aim for. Probably a chapter where A, B, and C almost die. C comes to terms with the new B and stops being their enemy. D2 gets killed. A, B, and C get married and... no wait, they don't. They swear brotherhood and ride off into the sunset together to meet their next adventure, having become the kinder, gentler version of the GMAGS.

What A, B, and C have in common is that they are all three hybrids: half-human, half-demon/god. If one half-breed is a popular cliche, just think how much more fun it is with three of them!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Names and pronouns, oh my

Halfway through October and I still don't have names for my characters for this year's NaNo. I need a name to mark off a bit of mental space for each character. Calling them "A", "B", and "C" is annoying me. I need names! Names! First I need to name them, then I need to figure out if/how I should translate them. Blah. These are (Chinese-based) fantasy characters whose names are supposed to mean something, but also just sound like names and not words as such. If I use literal "translations", it sticks out too much in English and looks silly. If I just use random syllables, the meaning is lost. If I make up an entire fictional language and include a dictionary in the back, that's just ridiculous and more than I'm willing to do. I'll probably end up compromising.

For example, character A's surname will just be "Lyo", and then in the dialogue someone might remark that "'Lyo' has a knife in it" (as the literal meaning of "Lyo" would have to do with killing, and the written word would use the knife radical). I'll use English words for their personal name, familiar name, and official nickname. That way the relationship between, say, "Winter's Green" and "Summer's Green" will be more clear, in that they are siblings in the same generation and have a shared element in their names. "Brother Winter" (or "Sister Winter") would be the familiar form. "Sword from the Snow, Lyo Winter's Green" would be the official nickname. But I can't imagine someone actually calling you "Winter's Green". "Winter's Green, it's time for supper!" "Winter's Green, thief, we hates you forever!" Um. No. Maybe I should just say "WG". Everyone can just be referred to by their initials, as a translation convention.

Which is all well and fine, but then I have character B, who needs at least seven names: one for the old scholar whose body it is, one for the scholar's pen name, one for the scholar's nickname, one for the inhabiting spirit's personal/binding name, one for the inhabiting spirit's honor name, one for the inhabiting spirit's title/temple name, and one for the inhabiting spirit's nickname. Character C needs an original childhood name, a theatre name, a slave name, a name in her Immortal Beauty form, a name for his disguised form, and a nickname.

And that's just the three main characters.

And then there's the problem of the pronouns. Is there any way to make this sound natural and also reflect the "original" language? In the setting for this year's NaNo, people distinguish between singular and plural, but not by gender. Humans, animals, inanimate objects, etc. are all referred to by the same third person singular pronoun. I thought about making up a word (or using one of the ones other people have proposed), but nothing really sounded right to me. I think I'll just use "it". "It" does have the advantage of already being a third person singular pronoun in English. While a bit awkward to be calling humans "it", I'm sure I'll get used to it.

What about plural second person? I suppose I'll have to get along without it, or use "you all".

What about the respectful form of the second person pronoun? Bah. English doesn't have that familiar/formal distinction anymore, which is annoying. "Thou" should be the familiar form, but nowadays most people don't hear it that way. If I have everyone calling each other "thou" and only use "you" in special cases, that will just sound strange.

In any case, status neutral "I" and "you" would not be used as much as in English. There would be "I" meaning "I who am under your command", "I" meaning "your slave", "I" meaning "your (the emperor's) servant", "I" meaning "I who am your student/apprentice/disciple", "I" used as the polite form towards strangers of (probably) equal or higher social status. For each case there would be the corresponding form of "you". I suppose I'll just use nouns in those cases. People refer to themselves and the person they are talking to in the third person. But I refuse to go into all that "this one" nonsense. ("This one is Lyo Winter's Green": arrrgh! No. Bad enough with the awkward name.)

Then what about first person plural? There is the "we" which means "myself and the group I am associated with and speaking for" in addition to a generic "we". Hmm. "We all"?



Must come up with a set soon. Where is my random names file? Bah.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Nano 2014 playlist...

...aka "any excuse to buy random music downloads off Amazon.com"

Well, it's October. So next month is November. Which is NaNoWriMo. Which means I should hack out some characters, plots, settings, etc. etc. etc.

But no. Instead I hear a random bit of music on the radio and think "ha ha ha ha ha! That's such a hilarious concerto. Man, that's way more dramatic than my NaNo plot so far." So my first selection this year is Paganini's first violin concerto (and the second concerto, which came on the same album). I downloaded this version:

with Salvatore Accardo. It's an older recording but still my favorite out of the different ones I listened to before buying. Anyway, it starts out so dramatically... it reminds me of an opera... Carl Maria von Weber and Rossini came to my mind... and goes on and on for three minutes, promising some kind of grand entrance (trumpets and all): a god or emperor or something. And then... and then... it's a violin! Yep, all that build-up, and all we get is a violin!? You have got to be kidding me! But the violin just totally pwns. Mwah ha ha ha! But then it does keep going and going and going. I admit to getting bored around the 15 minute mark. Luckily there's only about five more minutes and then we're into the second movement. Again, here we are with the operatic melodrama. This is the super-emo bit where the violin wails and struts about the stage singing about its doomed love affair. Or something. (I have no idea what Paganini was thinking. This is me pretending it's the music for my novel.) Finally we have the last movement: wow, so cute! It's so totally violin-y in a way that only someone like Paganini would write. Adorably non-singable. The second concerto is pretty fun, too. The third movement ("La Campanella") with the little bell is probably the most famous bit. (Cool enough to be borrowed and elaborated by other composers, just like his Caprice No. 24).

Which is all very well and good, but to avoid dying of a violin overdose, I have as my second pick the soundtrack from "Ashes of Time". The only (legal) download I could find was the "Redux" version:

Actually I bought it ages ago, but I haven't listened to it in awhile. Just like the Paganini pieces, the Ashes of Time music turned out to be so awesome that it was borrowed for a bunch of completely unrelated movies/TV series. I know of at least three that I personally watched. It's a little distracting if you remember where the music came from, but you get used to it. The emotional bits are still the emotional bits, even when the story is a different story.

And then we jump back in time to some Vivaldi (Trevor Pinnock leading the English Concert, playing on period instruments):

A massive album. Actually, I only bought the Vivaldi A minor Violin Concerto (RV 356), aka "the one that all the Suzuki students play" (yes, the radio announcer actually said that). And it's so true. My son (not a Suzuki student, but using the Suzuki books) is currently playing this piece, which is why I bought the download. Simon Standage, such a speed demon! (My son was terribly impressed with the third movement.) It is a totally compelling concerto. How can anyone resist? I had to steal the violin from my son and play it myself! His little sister had to steal the music book and try to play it too! And "accidentally" memorize it (at least the opening). Aieee! Back in the day, I was never officially assigned this piece, so I had to sneak out and buy a copy for myself and secretly play it!

Well, we'll see how far this playlist gets me this year.

Now, about the novel planning... umm... uhh... yeah. I'll do that. Honest. I am. I will. I have. Riiiight...