Tag Archives: Final Fantasy

#My5: Genesis of the Tower of Bones series #amwriting

 

Today’s post is part of a project begun by author K.M. Alexander, called My5. It’s hard to narrow it down to only five, but here, in no particular order are five major influences that helped shape my career as a writer.

Number One: I’m a gamer. I’ve always been a reader, so when I discovered the Super Nintendo and Final Fantasy style RPGs, I found an activity that had the ability to suck me in and keep me as enthralled as my favorite books could. I’m just going to come out and say it—I play both PC and console-based RPG video games, sometimes to excess. Me and my old beater PlayStations 2 and 3 are best friends.

My epic fantasy series, Tower of Bones, got its start in life back in 2009 as the storyline for an old-school style RPG computer game that was intended to be built using RPG Maker XP, but for various reasons, it never got built. But, I had the story and the maps I had drawn, so three years later, I managed to pull a novel, Mountains of the Moon, out of my hat. This prequel to Tower of Bones was sprung from the original idea I’d had of what would make a great storyline for an epic RPG, if only I could entice Square-Enix to build it.

Number Two: I’m a huge Fritz Lieber fan. My first completed novel, written long ago in a galaxy far, far away, began with the idea of writing a book Fritz might write if he were still alive (and if he had consumed several hallucinogenic mushrooms). I had just finished re-reading my collection of Fritz Lieber tales, and had Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser on the brain. These two characters are scoundrels, living in a decadent world where a lack of scruples a requirement for survival.

What I actually produced had no resemblance to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and was nothing like anything Fritz would have written, but within the uneven plot and frequently overblown dialogue, it had the bones of a good story. Eventually, the shreds of that manuscript spawned the novel featuring one of my favorite characters, Huw the Bard, and I have good old Fritz to thank for him. That proto novel also spawned Billy Ninefingers, which has entered the editing process and will be published in August 2017. Huw makes an appearance toward the end of Billy’s tale.

Number Three: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny was a watershed book for me as a reader. In what can only be described as a genius move, Zelazny introduces the concept of the Trickster as the hero-antihero. Originally conceived as a serial for F&SF in 1971, it was published in book form that same year by Walker and Company. Lester del Rey was unimpressed with this tale, but I read this book to shreds. What I loved about this book was the typical Zelazny mystique—many questions abound regarding Shadowjack, and answers come at a slow pace, just information enough to keep you interested, and be warned: not all your questions will be answered. Even the ending is a question.

Jack is an awesome character. He is good, and he is bad. He has deep compassion and can be moved to do great deeds that benefit all of humanity at the cost of his own life. Conversely, he can be the smallest, meanest man over a tiny little slight to his ego, capable of inflicting great cruelty. He abuses his powers, and also uses them for good.

In this book, Zelazny fully realized the concept of “shadow.” It is neither light nor dark, and it is not here or there. It is all of those and none of them. Thus the unanswered questions. What Zelazny did in this less well-known of his books is create a story in which the reader decides what is true.

Number Four: I gravitate to tales written with guts and substance. Give me the Flawed Hero over the Bland Prince any day. Tad Williams is an author who absolutely understands the craft of writing brilliant, deep prose and creates compelling characters who aren’t exactly squeaky clean. He knows what makes epic fantasy EPIC. There is just the slightest hint of the rebellious indie in his work, which makes his work a little wild.

I became a confirmed fan of epic fantasy in 1988 when I first entered this world of Osten Ard and the books of Tad Williams. The Dragon Bone Chair blew me away.  Each character was deserving of a novel, and the diverse races whose cultures were so clearly shown fascinated me. The arrogance some members of each race have with regard to their innate superiority struck me as illustrating a fundamental truth about the real world.

Number Five: George Saunders is famous for his short stories. He has the ability to get inside each of his characters’ heads, showing them sharply as unique individuals. They aren’t always nice, and certainly not always moral as I see morality, but Saunders portrays them with such vivid strokes that you feel as if you understand their reasoning.

For me, the most powerful short story I have ever read was in Saunders’ collection of short stories, The Tenth of December,  “Escape from Spiderhead.”  This sci-fi tale has an almost Vonnegut-like flavor. It is a stark journey into the depths to which we humans are capable of sinking in the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Where does punishment end and inhumanity begin? This story lays bare concepts regarding our view of crime and punishment that are difficult, but which are important to consider. The scenario is exaggerated, as it is set in a future world, but it exposes the callous view society has regarding criminals and what punishment they might deserve.


So those are #My5,  the “tip of the iceberg” of the authors and ideas that influenced the creation of the Tower of Bones series, and also Huw The Bard. This strange collection of books, and video games has profoundly influenced my concept of story and shaped what I write, at least in my fevered mind if not in the execution.

I’m not alone in detailing #My5! I have joined many other authors who have written their #My5. If you choose to participate, go to K. M. Alexander’s post and follow the instructions at the bottom of the page. You can find some awesome articles by following the links below. Each article is really intriguing – it never ceases to amaze me how diverse and unique we authors are, and yet how similar.

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Elements of a story: Identifying your protagonist

War_of_the_FlowersGreat plots drive great stories, but the best stories start with a character that really moved me. The trouble is, when we first begin to write a story, one character leads to another and soon, each character is vying to tell your their own story. It’s sort of like a family gathering, where they all talk at once, and you love them all.

This makes writing a true stand-alone book difficult. Tad Williams managed to do just that in 2003 with The War of the Flowers.  Theo Vilmos is a thirty-year-old lead singer in a marginally successful rock band. Fearing he is past his prime, he seeks refuge in a remote cabin in the woods. There, he reads a memoir written by a (perhaps) dead relative. This relative claimed he had visited the magical world of Faerie. A series of strange events occurs and before Theo knows it, he too is drawn into a place that is both strange and yet familiar to him, revealing the truth about many things that had always puzzled him.

war_flowersWilliams had another great character to draw on in his little fairy, Applecore, but he kept it contained in one wonderful novel detailing Theo Vilmos’ adventures rather than going too far afield and having to serialize it. This is a model we lesser-known fantasy authors might want to take a closer look at and somehow revive: the stand-alone novel.

We might have a great story in our head, and we may have an awesome cast of characters dying to leap onto the page, but until we know who the hero is, we have no story. From the first page to the last, Tad Williams knew who his hero was in The War of the Flowers, and it’s clear that he never doubted it was Theo Vilmos.

Sometimes  identifying just whose emotional and physical journey you will be following is easier said than done. When faced with a pantheon of great characters, ask yourself these questions (listed here in no particular order):

  • Who among these people has the most to lose?
  • Which character do you find the most interesting?
  • Who’s personal story inspired this tale in the first place?
  • Who will be best suited to taking full advantage of all this plot’s possibilities?

Dragonbone_ChairFrom my point of view, one of the best fantasy series of all time is Tad Williams’  epic, three-volume masterpiece, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. It opens with volume one, The Dragonbone Chair. This is a very different tale than The War of the Flowers, much larger, and encompassing several entire cultures on the edge of disaster.

In this opening volume, Tad had many great characters to draw on, all of whom had strong stories. Indeed, there is a large cast of characters with incredible possibilities, but as a reader I liked that he managed to tell their stories without losing sight of the original story that sparked the series in the first place.

The fact that Williams was able to weave the many threads of such a large cast of characters into one enthralling story and still leave (Seoman) Simon Snowlock as the main protagonist with a gripping story-line  is amazing.

Green_Angel_Tower_P1Yet in this series, Tad Williams does just that. He could have written it as the story of Prince JosuaPrincess Miriamele, Binabik the Troll, or even the Norn prince, Jiriki. They are each compelling characters, with deep, intriguing back-stories, and any of them would have been an awesome protagonist.

Each and every one of the many characters in this series was strong enough to warrant a book of their own, but Simon the kitchen boy remains the central character, and the other story-lines are detailed but remain subordinate to his, fleshing it out and defining his ultimate fate, driving the plot to the final denouement, and the cataclysmic events in Green Angel Tower.

To_Green_Angel_TowerThis juggling act, this ability to not become sidetracked by your wonderful side-characters while telling their story is critical to the progression of your plot. It’s excruciatingly easy to become so enthralled with the story-line of a minor player that you derail your novel in the first draft.

I’m a gamer and I play Final Fantasy type RPGs. I adore side-quests, and I love a little back-story to flesh out whatever tale I’m reading, but just like in a game, the protagonist and the core plot has to stay in motion. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn has a lot of side-quests, and a lot of back-story, but despite the opportunities for derailment, it is propelled irresistibly toward the final catastrophic event, and does it in three admittedly large books.

A_Memory_of_Light_cover (1)As much as I adored the Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan seemed to fall into the trap of loving all his characters too much, and wanting to tell each of their truly epic stories in the one series–and it couldn’t be done without aggravating his fans.

Consider this: although it was originally planned as a six-book series, The Wheel of Time grew to encompass fourteen volumes, a prequel novel, and a companion book.  Jordan began writing the first volume, The Eye of the World, in 1984. It was published in January 1990. With Jordan’s death on 16 September 2007, the conclusion of the series was in question, but Brandon Sanderson stepped in and did a masterful job of taking Jordan’s incredible mass of notes and background, along with the rough draft and finished the series’ final three installments.

Stone_of_FarewellIt occasionally happens that you have chosen a protagonist, but another character suddenly seems to have a more intriguing way about him. It is up to you to make a decision–who will be the central character? If, after all is said and done, a different character than the one you originally thought was the protagonist comes to the fore, you must go back and rewrite your beginning to to reflect that.

Deciding who that protagonist will be is a matter of knowing which character has the most opportunity to take full advantage of all the possibilities. The other characters serve only to propel him/her to the final conflict.

Sometimes, as in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, that character is the 14 year old kitchen boy on the verge of manhood, and not the battle-hardened prince with the tragic history.

 

 

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Final Fantasy XV and Unremembered Things

225px-Ff12castI’m just going to come out and say it–I play console-based RPG video games, and I love it. I am still playing Final Fantasy XII, and finding new things to love about it.

I’m not a huge fan of first-person-shooter games, because I prefer swords and magic,  although I do like a good story-line with well-developed characters. That’s why I am a true Final Fantasy Fanatic–the stories are intricate and compelling, and the characters are multifaceted and strike a chord in the player’s psyche.

So I am quite intrigued by the upcoming release of Final Fantasy XV. Off the top, it looks a bit reminiscent of Final Fantasy VIII in that there are many elements of the first-person shooter in it, and the characters appear to be more real-world.

One of the things that interests me about this upcoming game is the dynamic weather system, with transient effects such as rain affecting things such as the characters’ clothing. In Final Fantasy XII, the  changing weather is an integral part of the game, and the type of creatures encountered changes when the weather does.

FF_XV_screenshotAnother element that intrigues me is Time: a day-and-night time system will affect the appearance of monsters on the world map. One in-game day equates to one hour real-time, and characters who do not sleep have decreased combat ability. Just like in the watershed RPG Final Fantasy VI, camping during the night is necessary for characters to maintain combat performance and level up. The cool thing here is that experience points earned in battle during the day are converted into new levels during camping periods. Camps form a safe haven during exploration, and cooking in them using ingredients from both towns and the wilds grants character bonuses. I expect that no time will be wasted by actually cooking, but I like the notion that the characters must adhere to real-world constraints, or become sickly.

The gamers’ website, VG24-7 released some screen-shots of the action on their  Monday, Jan . 26, 2015 blogpost , and I like the look of this thing. It will be released for PlayStation 4, which I currently do not own, and it may push me to get one.

5squallAs you can imagine, I normally go more for sword and sorcery games, but I adored Final Fantasy VIII, in which the main character, Squall Leonhart, used a gun-sword, and the characters were set in a more real-world type of society. You have to admit, that is an awesome concept for a weapon. Even I would never have thought that one up!

>>>—<<<

Since we are talking about new releases, and my other passion is books, Rachel Tsoumbakos has a new book that will be coming out soon, and it looks as awesome as her previous books. It’s called Unremembered Things, and I must admit that title has me quite intrigued. For an excerpt and a chance to enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway of some pretty awesome prizes, check out  Carlie M.A. Cullen‘s blog today! But wow! What a cover:

unremembered_things_cover_for_kindle

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My Writing Process Blog Tour

extra small caricature of connie  by street artist Stacey Denton

Today I am embarking on the  “My Writing Process” blog tour! In this blog relay, each author discusses his or her writing process and then passes the baton to three other authors. Last week, my good friend Lisa Koosis, passed the baton to me. Lisa is amazingly creative, as you will see when you click on the link to her blog, Writing on Thin Ice.  Please, do visit her blog, where you can read more about her exciting projects and her own writing process.

So, here goes…

1. What am I working on?

I am working on the third and final book in the TOWER OF BONES series, winding up Edwin’s story. This book has been very tough to write, because it keeps spawning new books! I can frequently be heard shouting, “NO! We must finish this book before we embark on a new one!”

I really do want Edwin Farmer’s story to be a 3-book trilogy.

*cough* Robert Jordan…Wheel of Time …fifteen books in the trilogy*cough*

There will be more books set in this world, I feel certain of it, but I intend to make each a stand alone book.  I love each of the characters so much in this tale, it’s hard to keep on task—but my self-imposed deadline is to have it ready for the editor by August. 

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? Why do I write what I do?

First of all, I write from the point of view of a gamer—I am a freak for the great Final Fantasy PS2 and PS3 console games—Final Fantasy VII, VII, X/X2 and XII are among the great classics in gaming. I haven’t invested in a PS4, and I may not, as I haven’t had much time to play lately, and wasn’t impressed with 2010’s FFXIII.

I know what I love about those games, and want to inject that into my books. I want the action, the romance, and the drama of a full throttle action/adventure and I want it set in a sweeping landscape, with my characters beset by nearly insurmountable challenges. Magic must have limits and no character can have unlimited power. Those limitations are what drive the action, because the characters have to struggle to overcome them. The power of the story is in the struggle. The final redemption must be worth the struggle!

3. How does my writing process work? 

That’s where I went off the rails on this final installment in this particular series—I didn’t stick to my usual process, which was clearly outlined. But I had so many sudden brainstorms, I went way off track. Normally, when I first have the idea to write a book, I visualize it as the walkthrough for an RPG game.

I spend days writing down the ideas as they come to me, obsessively building the outline, the shell of the story. I make personnel files, descriptions of environments, designing the political and religious systems, creating the rules for magic, and drawing maps. Each world is unique, and I want to know what I am writing about.

I write the beginning and the end, and key action vignettes, fitting them into the framework of my outline.

Once I have that all done, I start at the beginning, and write, connecting the dots between the vignettes. When all the dots are connected, I have a book—albeit a raw rough draft of a book. I set it aside, as it is in desperate need of a complete rewrite, but I can’t do that until I can see it through unbiased eyes.

The second draft goes to Irene Roth Luvaul, who helps me shape it into a submission-ready manuscript. Then it will go to Carlie M.A. Cullen at Eagle Eye Editors. My work is linear, with a specific goal or “quest” and many obstacles in the way of achieving those goals. Some will live, and some will fall by the way—my task is to make it an emotionally gripping journey for the reader.

 

NEXT WEEK

Stay tuned for the next part of the relay as I pass the baton to three talented writers, who I have the good fortune of working with at Myrddin Publishing Group. Next Monday (May 12) they will answer the same set of questions, so please stop by their blogs to read more about their projects and their own writing processes.

 

Dark Places Front Large (1)Shaun Allan, Author of Sin and Dark Places

http://flipandcatch.blogspot.com

A creator of many prize winning short stories and poems, Shaun Allan has written for more years than he would perhaps care to remember. Having once run an online poetry and prose magazine, he has appeared on Sky television to debate, against a major literary agent, the pros and cons of internet publishing as opposed to the more traditional method. Many of his personal experiences and memories are woven into the point of view and sense of humour of Sin, the main character in his best-selling novel of the same name, although he can’t, at this point, teleport.

A writer of multiple genres, including horror, humour and children’s fiction, Shaun goes where the Muse takes him – even if that is kicking and screaming.

Shaun lives with his one partner, two daughters, three cats and four fish!  Oh and a dog.

 

1 CP Night Watchman coverAllison Deluca, Author of The Crown Phoenix Series

http://AlisonDeluca.Blogspot.com

Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.

Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

 

 

 

 

Swartz_After Ilium_FrontCvr_200dpi_3inStephen Swartz, Author of After Illium, The Dream Land Trilogy, and A Beautiful Chill

http://stephenswartz.blogspot.com

Stephen Swartz grew up in Kansas City where he was an avid reader of science-fiction and quickly began emulating his favorite authors. Since then, Stephen studied music in college and, like many writers, worked at a wide range of jobs: from French fry guy to soldier, to IRS clerk to TV station writer, before heading to Japan for several years of teaching English. Now Stephen is a Professor of English at a university in Oklahoma, where he teaches many kinds of writing. He still can be found obsessively writing his latest manuscript, usually late at night. He has only robot cats.

 

 

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16 bit Inspiration

Final-Fantasy-VI-final-fantasy-vi-24610210-800-600Final Fantasy VI, originally released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in America as Final Fantasy III,  was one of my favorite games ever–I had it for both the SNES and the Playstation.

(From Wikipedia) “The action takes place on a large, unnamed world. During the course of the game, its geography and landscape change due to various developments in the game’s plot. During the first half of the game, the world is divided into three major continents and referred to as the World of Balance. The northern continent is punctuated by a series of mountain ranges and contains many of the locations accessible to the player. Most of the southern continent has been taken over by the Empire, while the eastern continent is home to a large patch of land called the Veldt where monsters from all over the world can be found. Halfway through the game, the world’s geographical layout is altered, resulting in its three large continents splitting into several islands of various size situated around a larger continent at their center. This altered layout of the game’s locations is referred to as the World of Ruin.

final-fantasy-vi-20060509061309295“In contrast to the medieval settings featured in previous Final Fantasy titles, Final Fantasy VI is set in a steampunk environment. The structure of society parallels that of the latter half of the 19th century, with opera and the fine arts serving as recurring motifs throughout the game, and a level of technology comparable to that of the Second Industrial Revolution. 

“Railroads and steamships are in use, and a coal mining operation is run in the northern town of Narshe. Additionally, several examples of modern engineering and weaponry (such as a chainsaw, drill and automatic crossbow) have been developed in the Kingdom of Figaro. However, communication systems have not reached significant levels of development, with letters sent by way of carrier pigeon serving as the most common means of long-distance communication.”

I loved that game!  I played it and beat it four times, and still to this day love it.  One of the things I loved the most about it is the sheer, unabashed love of FUN that the creators injected into it.

Final_Fantasy_VI_Opera_by_Saint_KaedeThere is a wonderful scene that takes place in an Opera House, complete with an entire opera, that is performed during a 12 minute race to save Terra from a demented octopus intent on killing her. The opera can be seen and heard here via YouTube, in its full glory.  In the original game, the music was performed on a midi and was really good, but the original composer has since released fully orchestrated versions of all the music he composed for the Final Fantasy empire at Square/Enix over the years, up to Final Fantasy IX.

distant worldsThe music of these games attracts me as much as the incredible story-lines and great artwork.  The primary composer of music for the main series was Nobuo Uematsu, who single-handedly composed the soundtracks for the first nine games. I just recently purchased Distant Worlds, his 2007 compilation of the work he did for the franchise, and it is part of what I listen to when writing.

There is something so evocative about his music, it helps me concentrate.

And so, today I leave you with another YouTube example of Uematsu’s work, Love Grows, from The epic Final Fantasy VIII, featuring the enigmatic Squall Leonhart as the reluctant hero.  Great stories, awesome side-quests–those early Final Fantasy games couldn’t be beaten for sheer entertainment value.

I am still playing Final Fantasy XII on the PS2, perhaps not obsessively, but still enjoying it. I have Final Fantasy XIII for my PS3 – but I have to admit that I am unable to get completely into it. The story-line seems awesome, and the graphics are gorgeous, but I can’t seem to get too far into it.

Perhaps I’ve grown up a bit, and have my own fantasies to write.

667px-PlayStation_3_Logo_neu.svg

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