Star of Ashor paperback is live!

Hey everyone, it has been quite a while, but at long last, the Star of Ashor physical paperback is available for purchase on Amazon.

Any of the main Amazon affiliates, (ca , .co.uk, .jp ) have the book as well, and the regional price reflects the price in USD.

Those of you who were itching for a chance at the paperback no longer have to wait. Go ahead and give it an order and please make sure to leave a review of the book. Whether it is scathing criticism or not, I hope it can help me understand where I have succeeded or perhaps failed, to craft an interesting narrative for you.

You can find the amazon store link here, or on the “Get My Copy” page in the Star of Ashor menu above!

World Building Master Concept: Culture (Part 3)

When we explored the creation of cultures last time we used a template to describe a culture in order to allow us to determine some things about it. Culture is a complex topic, and analyzing it in a simple manner is often impossible. What the templates allow us to do however is establish a baseline, forcing us to define some aspects which allow us to expand as creative writers, upon them at a later time.

It is often hard, or even impossible to anticipate the ramifications of a single cultural decision that we make as a writer or creator: sometimes the implications of some cultural choice are too broad for a single person to understand. Nothing we make as writers is going to be perfect out of the gate, and we need to refine it.

We talked in the initial master concept article on culture about how culture and conflict resolution are tied together. We talked in our second concept article about how we can make some guesses at a new fictional culture using templates to provide us with a jumping off point.

Today, we are going to be exploring the idea of taking a culture we have created and using character examples to determine how it should shape the way we present an individual who is a member of the culture, their thought process, choices and goals.

We will do our best to understand how to put characters into our worlds that are believable representations of the culture we create and what it means for them and the world itself. Additionally, we are going to be taking on the idea of the culturally outcast character and I will do my best to show why I think it is a requirement that we first understand how a culture affects the individual, before we can properly flesh out the ‘outcast’ archetype.

When we first started into culture, one of the things I asserted was that “The reaction and response to a conflict is the greater driving force in how its consequences are felt, than the original conflict itself.” In other words, how people react to a problem is actually more important in a majority of cases, than what the problem actually was.

If every problem one experiences is met with hysteric consternation, then the outcome of every problem may be quite a bit more dire than if the reaction was more subdued. Conversely, a subdued reaction to a truly catastrophic challenge, may result in a lack of precaution, amplifying the original problem beyond containable levels.

The way that conflict is treated is at its core a combination of factors, but one of those factors is certainly the education and cultural background of the individual reacting.

The way that conflict is treated is at its core a combination of factors, but one of those factors is certainly the education and cultural background of the individual reacting. When that individual is an important leader, an influential figure, or perhaps a uniquely gifted outcast, their reaction can have extremely far reaching consequences for many more people than themselves. This is one of the reasons that it is so important that we writers understand the impacts of this cultural background: We tend to write stories about the people who are not the norm, whose ability or influence exceeds the average. Thus, their reactions to conflict will almost always impact the world around them to a greater degree than average.

A Comparison Of Single Trait Cultures

Let’s explore some extreme examples of culture as a point of illustrating just how drastic these impacts can be. We will use some easy to understand cultures that we will distill down to one real trait for the sake of simplicity.

One of these cultures we will call the punchers, whose real cultural trait revolves around fighting whatever problem they experience in an attempt to overpower it through brute force.

The contrast to these will be the huggers, who are bent on caring and loving regardless of the problem being faced and will go out of their way to minimize the use of force for any problem they encounter.

Now, lets take two leaders, of equal social status, the King of the huggers and the King of the punchers. To illustrate just how wildly different these cultures might be, we will put both of these people into a hypothetical scenario in which alien space craft are spotted landing in a remote part of their national territory. The knowledge has gone public and people are nervous because they do not know what to make of the aliens. Both kings are asked to take control of the situation.

Based on what I know of punchers due to their singular defining trait as a culture, the puncher kings learning and teaching would encourage him to be strong, try to dominate the problem and perhaps, defeat the aliens preemptively. He and his people might view the aliens with suspicion or distrust because they are an unknown that cannot be controlled and thus, adopt a hostile stance in order to pre-empt potential aggression.

Conversely the hugger king might decide that he will send diplomats or envoys to the aliens, offering them friendship and cooperation. The hugger king would most certainly not be interested in hurting the aliens and would almost certainly attempt to negotiate and communicate.

At a glance, this sounds very simple, but it is when we explore the ramifications of these choices under various circumstances, that we can start to see just how come the culture of a character has such a drastic effect on their behaviors.

Let’s explore some hypothetical meetings now, given what we know about the two kings we have already described and the stances they might take toward the arriving aliens. First, let’s take a look at what might happen if the alien culture mirrored the puncher mentality:

  • If the aliens are just like the Punchers, and the Puncher King’s forces meet them, it is likely there will be some kind of fighting breaking out relatively soon. They might assume that the cadre of tanks and soldiers coming to greet them are hostile and thus, blow them up with a deathray before they have to fight.

    Perhaps this prompts an escalation from the Puncher King, who decides to launch a large bomb at the alien landing site. Soon, all out war breaks out between the aliens and the punchers.
  • If the aliens are just like the Huggers however, and the puncher King’s forces come in aggressively, the aliens may be shocked, caught off guard and offer easy prey to the King’s forces.

    Perhaps, despite their advanced technology, the aliens suffer a catastrophic loss because in their learning and understanding, they have never truly considered that some people as aggressive as the punchers could exist and wish to dominate them. Perhaps the aliens are forced to leave the planet and write it off forever.

Now let’s look at what might be possible if the Hugger King meets the aliens:

  • If the aliens are just like the punchers and the Hugger King’s forces show up, the aliens may be emboldened by these volunteer slaves and soon the Hugger King’s nation or planet is seen by the aliens as a good place to get some manual labor for the next giant asteroid mining project the aliens are planning in the nearby star system.

    The Hugger population, unable, or unwilling to defend itself, falls prey to the Puncher style aliens rather quickly because they lacked any sort of cultural capacity for retaliating.
  • If the aliens are just like the Huggers and meet the Hugger king’s forces, it probably would not take long for both sides to push to communicate and soon, the aliens and their advanced technology have begun to spread around the world.

    The advanced Hugger aliens and the Hugger king are seen as heroes because of the way they met together and cooperated without any kind of coercion.

On their faces, any of these scenarios offers a potentially interesting story on its own, but the real meat of these conflicts starts to become apparent when we start exploring cultures that are more complicated than the single trait Puncher and Hugger cultures.

Fictional Cultures Should Be Deep And Meaningful

One of the reasons the templates from part two presented the conflict resolution factors as opposing philosophies was to help allow us as creators, to use the template answers as ways to see where these points of conflict might happen.

The above examples might apply for example, only to the Force vs Negotiation aspect of the template we visited last time. If we looked over the Strength vs Friendship aspect of the template however, we can see that there are additional factors that will influence the way any two cultures could meet.

Perhaps the culture of the Huggers is actually very aggressive in trying to enforce its ideas of peace love and unity on others. Perhaps the Puncher culture values strength and courage so much that they avoid conflict entirely with people they consider like minded.

When we add more dimensions to the culture, we can see how even things we might not have thought of at first, become options for how and why conflicts might occur. Importantly, we can also find reasons for cooperation where we previously could not find any, the making of unlikely alliances of friendships.

In my own Novel, Star of Ashor, one point of difference between two of the dominant cultures presented is the difference in how they view artificial augmentation of the body and prosthetics.

The culture of the Hil’Raigh and Kul’Raigh people under the Hil’Raigh Federation takes a dim view of the practice or artificial augmentation, considering it un-natural. This is engrained so much into the people in their society that the idea of seeing someone with obviously artificial eyes is out of the ordinary and that seeing someone with something like an obvious prosthetic arm would be near unheard of.

By contrast, they are quite fond of genetic engineering themselves from birth, and so, while they seemingly reject augmentation, they also engage in a prolific amount of tinkering, ranging from customizing aspects of their body, to repairing entire limbs. Some outside observer might claim that his too, is on par with artificial augmentation, but because of the culture, it is the norm to them.

This stands in stark contrast to the NovaCore, the other culture heavily featured in the book. They tend not to have much of a problem with artificial augmentation, but have deeper ethical questions about the realities of genetic engineering as practiced by the Hil’Raigh, especially in the areas related to the engineering embryos and unborn children for optimal traits.

If characters from these different cultures were to discuss the topic of genetic engineering, it might generate conflict between them, not because each of the characters came to strong conclusions as an individual beforehand, but more so because each side had developed its own opinions and feelings based on the common wisdom in the culture from which they came.

While this may be a small factor in the overall cultural fabric of either side, one might begin to understand how it could affect the outcome of events if the topic of augmentation or genetic engineering was very important to particular characters in a story.

When we realize that the topic of Genetic Engineering is perhaps only a tiny fraction of a person’s core belief, we can start to see how the layers of behavior and thought that are applied to the individual by the cultural background they carry, can become quite meaningful in the way they interact with the world around them. These effects cannot be ignored in proper fictional writing.

What It Means To Be A Member

It should be clear by now, that there are a number of things that culture defines for the characters we create. The individual in our writing and creations is always going to be at least, in part, a product of circumstance, and cultures have a huge impact on the way that circumstances play out for a particular person.

When we look at people around us or in fiction, we can start to see that each is a member of groups, cultures, that define the norms and attitudes of the individual on a broader scale. Those who fit into a particular group have behaviors that fall in line with what is expected within that group, while those who do not, must usually find a new group to fit into instead.

Thus, as we explore the impact of culture on storytelling, we must at the core, understand how it affects the singular person first. Nowhere is this more clear than when we are dealing with “The Outcast” archetype.

When we think of fiction, the story of an outcast is not all that uncommon. The outcast is often a good character to focus on because they are not the average, and thus, more interesting to the observer. The mundane is often overlooked, and the personal motivations and reasoning, the conflicts between the outcast and the culture they are surrounded by, often serve as a good vehicle for creating tension, drama, and even moving the plot of a narrative forward.

There is a fatal pitfall however, in telling the story of the outcast, one that is often fallen into by writers and creators who have not taken into account, the culture in which their outcast resides. Usually this can be identified by the ‘Because I said So’ trap.

Because I Said so, Doesn’t make it so

“But T,” I hear you say, “Isn’t creative freedom paramount? Why should the creator’s desires have to be held back. If they want to tell an outcast story, they should be able to.”

Yes, reader, You are right, creative freedom is the pinnacle of art, However, not all art is created equal. This is especially true in fiction and story telling.

If you’ve explored my character design basics, series, you know that I am big on ‘consistency’ or rather, trying to make the motivations or actions of characters line up with what makes sense in the world they live in.

Now that we are talking about culture, we can talk about how this concept matters so much more than we covered before. The reason that the culture matters when all is said and done is explicitly because it defines what is, and is not, consistent with the supposed motivations of a character.

The reason that the culture matters when all is said and done is explicitly because it defines what is, and is not, consistent with the supposed motivations of a character.

Truly consistent characters, and excellent story telling do not exceed the bounds of what is plausible given the facts. When it comes to character behavior, culture is one of the strong influencers of motivation. As we know from previous discussion, motivation is key to making character action feel believable.

My assertion today, is that those who want to tackle the narrative of the outcast, must first understand the norm. If you cannot understand what is normal for a fictional culture, and accurately describe or define it, then you cannot hope to explain why your character is an outcast of that culture, no matter how hard you try to convince me.

If a culture’s defining trait, as defined thus far in a narrative, is that blue skin is required, and your character indeed, has blue skin, then no claim that ‘the character is totally an outcast’ will stick, no matter how much the people in the story speak about it, or think about it.

Perhaps, the character is just being bullied, but even then, the responsibility still rests on the creator to describe how, or why, this is bullying, and thus, they must understand the culture anyway. Remember, cultures other than your own will not look at bullying the same way as you do. A tribal culture built around strength and endurance will probably ignore fist fighting among the youth, as they might see it as a character building exercise, while a culture similar to a modernized earth might see this as an unacceptable behavior.

The takeaway should be simple; When characters who are entirely average, and just happen to be the main character, are labeled as an outcast, there is an expectation from the reader that the author present to them, why exactly they are outcast.

This is simply not possible if one does not understand a culture well enough to pin down what exactly their OC is doing so differently from the rest. Regardless of what is creating your outcast, you must always understand the culture that made them outcast. There is no escape from the need to understand fictional culture when creating worlds and narratives even if you label your caste as outsiders.

Culture Is a Strong Asset In Storytelling

In knowing how cultures shape the individual, we are better prepared for every part of our storytelling. We can better understand how our characters will act, react and behave, and by extension, better understand how entire communities, nations and governments, composed of these individuals will act.

When we neglect to define, or explore the impact of culture on our narratives we are eliminating the chance that our creation can be of high quality. Those works of fiction which take the time to make these explorations will always have a stronger foundation than those who do not.

Important to remember however, is that simply exploring the culture is not enough. We must actually apply the culture to the narratives and characters we create or we will not be able to produce the richness we hope to create.

Only by understanding our fictional cultures can we hope to understand what makes our people tick, what sets them apart, or makes them a conforming member of society. In order to create the best narratives, we must truly be anthropologists, ambassadors for our fictional cultures. We must be able to show the cultures we create in ways that explain and provide context for our narratives. They need to be important interwoven considerations when we write and plan, never an afterthought that we attempt to hastily assemble after the fact, to make our reskinned elves feel “new and exciting” compared to the other reskinned elves we passed one narrative back.

Take the time to explore your fictional cultures, and then when writing, you’ll be able to apply them and enhance your narrative beyond what others who did not, can achieve.

Now that we’ve explored culture in fiction, I will have to plan the next article because my outline for all of this is way out of date by now. With the release of Star of Ashor’s paperback and the recent world events, things in the outline took an interesting, prophetic sort of turn. Thus, I need some time to rearrange some of my article ideas.

If you have a particular topic burning a hole in your head, let me know and maybe we can explore something related to it in an upcoming article.

Star of Ashor Proof update

Star of Ashor proof is looking good, I am reading through the book again in the proof form to double check my formatting and fix any last errors.

The first proof I got had some formatting errors that were definitely going to require reprinting (including a manufacturing defect) so I got a second proof.

There is something quite satisfying about reading a book in your hand that you wrote!

-T

Star of Ashor Paperback in the pipe

Good news today.

I have ordered the first proof copy for Star of Ashor’s print on demand paperback from Amazon.com’s kindle direct publishing.

I had to redo the manuscript in Microsoft Word to make it work properly; the manuscript I had made in Libre Office was simply not cutting it, and Libre Office lacks the features required to make a truly high quality manuscript.

If there is interest I can go over some of the things I had to do to export the manuscript, since it was not as straight forward as I’d have liked. Nevertheless, it was not too painful once I started to understand the workings of Word in that workflow.

The software pipeline I have found for self publishing is something of an effective, if, cobbled together chain; No single program has all of the features needed to do the job alone. I may go over the software that I use for writing and publishing at some point later but for now, know that the paperback proof is on its way and those interested in obtaining a physical copy of my work will be able to do so soon.

It’s been a long road thus far, but there is still no end in sight to it. Hopefully it will lead us somewhere exciting.

-T

World Building Master Concept: Culture (Part 2)

Last time we took a look at the Master Concept of Culture, we got an overview of the Think, Feel, Act model for approaching fictional cultures, which allows us to apply the three key areas; Thought Process, Social Norms and Conflict Resolution.

Today we are going to explore the ways this model affects how two fictional cultures may develop

A Simple Cultural Template

When we want to apply the Think, Feel, Act, model to a culture, it is sometimes hard to directly infer the impact of the stated facts about a culture we are creating. Sometimes, the implications of a particular social policy are very clear, but sometimes they carry with them a hidden impact that may not be immediately apparent.

As in our own cultures here on Earth, there are plenty of things that, to an outside observer have a very compartmentalized impact. On closer inspection many of these compartmentalized influences are much wider spread and important in their implications than initially assumed. This template aims to help answer some questions about how the culture we want to create will actually implement the Think, Feel, Act model of culture.

The template takes the form of a series of priorities and simple questions, which when answered, will help us flesh out how the culture will begin to grow. Remember, you will likely need to have some idea in your head about potential cultures before you can effectively answer some of these questions. As with any world building, there is a required level of improvisation in this sort of work.

Think: The founders

The founders of the culture are largely responsible for the ideas that shape a culture. Thus we will use founding ideas to represent the Think portion of our culture. For the founders we will look at Nature, Danger and Survival. These are simplified names meant to help us remember some questions about the founding.

These questions about the founding are more about the environment and factors largely beyond the control of the founders, This is by design. By placing the founders in a reactive situation, we can explore the logic and reasoning in their responses.

Nature
What was the environment in which the founders existed?

Danger
What was the biggest challenge faced by the founders?

Survival
What idea or action did the founders use to confront this challenge?

Feel: The Enclave

The first settlement of the culture was likely smaller or less established than the current hub. Perhaps the original settlement grew and became what it is today. In order to answer the questions about social norms, let’s envision the Cultural Capital or, Enclave, of this culture.

Questions about the cultural center will not focus on the explicit norms themselves, but instead how the knowledge of the founders has propagated through society (Tradition) , how the culture has dealt with disruptive individuals (Disruption) and how the society approaches obligations (Community).

For the Enclave we will select from different options, rather than the mostly free-form answers of the founding. Try and select among the options that best fit your founding ideals.

Tradition
By what method is knowledge passed from the old to the young?

  • Public Schooling (Learning from Generalists)
  • Tutoring and Apprenticeships (Learning from experts)
  • Familial Tradition (Learning in the home)

Disruption
What is the method for punishing people who are significant disruptions to society?

  • Executing (The culture really does not tolerate disruption)
  • Exile (They kick out undesirables)
  • Penalty (Law codes have to handle this on a case by case basis)

Community
How does the society expect individuals to act toward itself and other members?

  • Communal (Work for the needs of many over the needs of few)
  • Balanced (Work for the greater good sometimes, other times for person’s in group)
  • For me and mine (Work for a person’s own in group)

Act: Conflict Crystallized

Every culture inevitably comes into conflict with another at some point. The Act portion of the template is designed to help us find out how this conflict might have (or still might) occur.

For the purposes of this segment of the template, we will explore some opposing attributes of the conflict resolution factors of the culture we have created. When doing this we will want to keep in mind both the founding questions and the questions about the cultural center we have envisioned

Conflict Resolution Factors

(Rate from 0 to 10. 0 being 100% of the left trait, 10 being 100% of the right trait)

0


Force

Strength

Loyalty

Matter of Fact

Widespread


–Method–

–Tool–

–Appeal–

–Honesty–

–Aggression–

10


Negotiation

Friendship

Honor

Intrigue

Measured

Example Culture: The NovaCore

Now that we have explored a template for creating a culture using think feel and act, let’s look at how an important culture from the Star of Ashor novel would look under the template.

After we fill out our template, we will explore the implications of answering some questions in certain ways. Below, we can find the template in an abbreviated form. Refer to the above for the broader context of the questions.

Think

Nature: What was the environment in which the founders existed?
The founders of the NovaCore was founded on a remote habitable world far from the home of the species of its founders. The planet was seen as harsh but livable, with vast resource wealth for exploitation

Danger: What was the biggest challenge faced by the founders?
The biggest challenge of the environment in which the founders existed was ensuring proper supply lines from home during the founding. They feared the rekindling of conflicts on their homeworld that could disrupt this balance.

Survival: What idea or action did the founders use to confront this challenge?
The NovaCore aimed to become self sufficient and ind pendant as quickly as was possible. Thus, the NovaCore military forces who spearheaded the expedition rapidly expanded their training to all people. As a result, everyone in the NovaCore became well trained and disciplined in survival and war-fighting to hedge against possible conflicts

Feel

Tradition
By what method is knowledge passed from the old to the young?

Public Schooling (Learning from Generalists)

Disruption
What is the method for punishing people who are significant disruptions to society?

Penalty (Law codes have to handle this on a case by case basis)

Community
How does the society expect individuals to act toward itself and other members?

Communal (Work for the needs of many over the needs of few)

Act

Conflict Resolution Factors

0


Force

Strength

Loyalty

Matter of Fact

Widespread


–6->

<-4–

<-2–

–6->

–7->

10


Negotiation

Friendship

Honor

Intrigue

Measured

The Breakdown

Now that we have the NovaCore’s Template defined above we can get an idea about the NovaCore culture, from founding to modern day. Though this is an existing culture, the process is similar for any culture: the creator must come up with reasons as to why things are the way they are.

This step is a very important followup for the template, perhaps more important than the template itself. This is where we really answer questions, just like we do during our world building techniques.

The founding answers from the template above, as free form short answers are self explaining to a large degree. Therefore I will focus my explanations on the rationale of the subsequent answers. Keep in mind that I am exploring a culture who operates a nation with essentially a single culture. The society of the NovaCore largely focuses on its own culture above others. As a result of this, some of my descriptions make heavy references to the NovaCore as a nation. This may not be a proper approach for every culture, as not every culture is also a national power. I also tried to add interesting “edge cases” that I felt were implied by these answers as a way of showing just how broadly impactful each of the answers to these questions can be.

Why public schools?

As a highly coherent group, who have always had a need for shared common knowledge and experience, a public educational system was a requirement for the NovaCore. It provides them with education in both survival skills needed from the days of the founding, to the modern cultural glues and norms that all the rest of the citizens will be expecting themselves. The culture itself is expected to help educate the rest of its members and this extends to the mindset of all knowledge sharing.

  • Military Schools and academies are common due to a confluence of public education and a military based culture.
  • Innovation is a work of public ownership, everyone who can is welcome to innovate for the common good. This is thanks to a communal culture and a strong emphasis on knowledge sharing from people to others in the education system

Why penalties?

During the original days of the NovaCore it was clear that kicking people out of the fledgling colony was dangerous. Everyone was needed to contribute. As a result, even when someone was penalized, their effort was still captured for the greater good in some way except in the most extreme of cases. This also meshed well with existing legalistic systems that were carried from the founding culture of the NovaCore’s founders.

  • Criminals are required to work to support society and themselves regardless of offense.
  • Rehabilitation is an important part of the NovaCore justice system due to the emphasized value on retaining the individual contributor.

Why communal?

The natural evolution of the shared survival mindset made the NovaCore a very communal culture. The people of the NovaCore shared a common need, and, being so heavily tied to the military nature of it’s founding, the NovaCore culture also instilled this military discipline and brotherhood into its own members.

  • NovaCore tend to demonstrate a high social cohesion even to strangers due to a strong sense of shared values
  • People who consistently fall outside the norm are often given chances to find ways to contribute because of a confluence of communal culture and the desire not to discard useful contributors. By embracing the shared values of the culture, the NovaCore try to embrace each other as well.

Force vs Negotiation

Because of its relatively young age and size compared to other powers, the NovaCore prefers resolving conflicts before they occur if possible. As a militaristic society, the duty to participate in conflict is extremely broad and far reaching. Therefore, public pressure to negotiate is also high, since people want to avoid fighting. Internally, NovaCore rely on their shared loyalty and communal mindset to try and resolve conflicts with negotiation first.

  • Because of their already strong connection to legal codes, negotiation laws and protections are important to NovaCore.
  • Penalties for senseless / needless violence are severe in the NovaCore to prevent the improper wasting of resources.

Strength vs Friendship

The NovaCore tries to keep a strong posture as opposed to relying on friends for support. This stems from its beginnings as a frontier colony as much as it does from the heavy military influence in its daily business. This need is balanced internally by the fact that strong cooperation and loyalty to one another are cornerstones of the culture as well. Thus, in daily life, strength and friendship are closely balanced in this culture and as potential avenues for conflict resolution.

  • NovaCore allies are rarer due to their focus on standing strong without help, but they are a strong ally themselves as a result.
  • Because of a strong loyalty to their in group, NovaCore tend to make strong friendship bonds once the initial barriers to friendship are overcome.

Lovalty vs Honor

The NovaCore culture is expected to adhere to itself and be loyal to itself. This means that loyalty to one’s own in group is quite likely to influence how and when conflicts are resolved. Rather than doing what is always considered the moral imperative at any cost, a NovaCore is expected to weigh that against the needs of the whole.

  • NovaCore tend to pursue the safety and well being of their own culture over others, even when others may think it morally ambiguous.
  • Novacore try to be honorable to those they are loyal to, as a way of showing their loyalty to each other.

Matter of Fact vs Intrigue

Being a relatively small power in the galaxy, the NovaCore employs asymmetric techniques as a matter of course. They are not above ambushes, covert plans or secret operations and will often prefer these options if they believe it is lest costly to their own interests than direct open warfare. Even during wartime, standard operations will be heavily backed by secret and covert actions. NovaCore tend not to be dishonest with each other due to the strong emphasis on loyalty however.

  • NovaCore want to ensure they can win in a fight, but that desire is tempered when interacting with each other because of a strong shared and communal loyalty.
  • NovaCore tend to have a large covert operations contingent when dealing with external powers or cultures

Widespread vs Measured

The NovaCore has no interest in causing undue or broad damage to most of its opponents, thus, too, do its people feel the same way. Whatever method a NovaCore uses to resolve a conflict is typically designed to resolve it without causing too much additional damage. But once pushed to conflict, strength would be employed judiciously and quickly

  • Surgical precision and measured response work well with the NovaCore tendency toward covert conflict resolution. This could easily cause them grief with their neighbors.
  • Avoiding a large collateral damage to personal conflicts is a preferred strategy for a culture whose communal and shared values are such an important part of daily life

Culture and conflict moving forward

One can see from the above that there are implications still left unlisted by the above rationale and explanations. It is possible to explore any of these particular aspects and, especially when viewing it along with the others, come to more new conclusions about how NovaCore society may work or evolve.

It should also be clear that not all questions in our template have direct and straightforward answers. In some cases, there can be a rationale that provides for an answer one might not expect for a given situation. Whether it is in how the NovaCore deal with people who do not conform in a communal society, or how they view honor and loyalty, I think it is apparent that there is plenty of room for creative exercise when applying this sort of template to a fictional culture.

While one can explore a bit more about NovaCore culture in the Codex on this site, or in the Star of Ashor Novel we will use the template created here as a springboard toward future building on the idea of culture.

Our next master concept article on culture will get to one of the most important aspects of culture in showing how culture provides a context for conflict between broad populations, nations, and even characters. We will explore how culture can be an important factor, or sometimes, a defining cornerstone of conflict in fiction, and how we can improve our handling of culture as a tool for good world building and storytelling.

World Building Master Concept: Culture (Part 1)

One of the most important parts of a good fictional narrative is that we feel characters and the worlds they inhabit are significant, grounded in their own logic. They need to have a context for what is done, and what is said.

Perhaps the strongest tool for providing this context is one that is all around us everyday, something that we are all participants in. Everyone on earth is influenced by and influences in turn, the culture in which they are immersed.

Today’s article will explore what role culture has to play in the art of world building and why it is so important. Once those claims are explored, we will then talk about how culture can shape the various styles of world building that we have previously explored in the World Building Basics series.

This master concept is somewhat long, so we will cover it in multiple parts. First, we will look at why culture is so important as a world building tool, and then, in the following article, we will explore examples of how to use it for world building.

Culture is a contextual cornerstone

One of the biggest reasons culture is such a powerful tool in writing fiction is that it is one way in which the context of actions by people is provided. This is because culture tends to provide a framework in which a person’s behavior is framed.

Some behaviors are shunned, some are encouraged. Some thought processes are more common, and some are not. Culture has an effect on everything in the life of an individual, from the the language they speak to the things they say within that language. It has an effect on the foods they choose to consume, the music they choose to listen to and the entertainment they find enjoyable. Nowhere is this simple truth more clear than on our own planet Earth.

Every human being is contextualized in part, by the culture in which they are immersed and because of this, the way they behave and think is put into context by their culture. People from different countries tend to hold different value systems and place emphasis on certain social or personal actions with a priority that strongly varies by the culture of those involved. This sort of dynamic world is something that tends to drive change, cause conflict or sometimes, spur cooperation.

Because of how dynamic culture makes humanity, so to, does it have a strong affect on the realities faced by our fictional worlds and the characters within them.

Because of how dynamic culture makes humanity, so to, does it have a strong affect on the realities faced by our fictional worlds and the characters within them. When we consider culture for fiction, we should consider it as a tool to add the same kind of believable, substantial context to our fiction, as it does to our daily lives.

Culture creates the context of life

As mentioned, culture creates a strong context for our actions. But why does it do this?

To me, culture changes some key things about us that strongly influence the way we live. It does so in at very least, three key ways. I distill culture’s impact into these three categories specifically for the ability to use these concepts in fiction. They are as follows: Thought Process, Societal Norms, Conflict Resolution.

Thought process

Through repeated action, humans tend to train our minds to learn patterns that allow us to more efficiently execute a task in the future. This learning process, over time, quite literally shapes the way we think. When our culture teaches us to value certain concepts over others, we tend to develop thought processes which prioritize those values as well.

This process goes beyond actions alone, but gets to the fundamental of who a person is. It shapes them from a deep level and modifies the way the world appears to them. Because of this change to the way someone’s thoughts are modified by culture, it becomes an extremely important tool for world building and storytelling at large.

Thought process is the most fundamental of the three concepts as it happens before all of the others.

Social norms

Another way that culture should affect a world or it’s people lies in the way that culture essentially determines what is and what is not normal or standard. Culture establishes this baseline, and while it may move or change over time, even the way it must be moved is directly impacted by the culture in question.

Because fiction tends to tell the interesting story about the situation that is beyond normal in some way, culture will therefore have something to say about what goes on or why.

It is not just plot, but character choices and interactions with each other that are largely determined by these norms. When one character performs an action it may produce wildly varying results based on what the cultures of the observers are. At a fundamental level these norms have a strong impact on how our world is built.

Societal norms arise from the way people think and, therefore, tend to act. Thus societal norms follow thought process.

Conflict Resolution

One of the key ways our culture influences us is that it has a direct impact on what we come into conflict with, and perhaps more importantly, how we choose to resolve those conflicts.

Often times it is the reaction and response to a conflict that is the greater driving force in how its consequences are felt, than the original conflict itself.

Often times it is the reaction and response to a conflict that is the greater driving force in how its consequences are felt, than the original conflict itself. Because culture has such a strong influence over these attributes of any given individual, it has a massive impact on the way stories are told and the way plots are shaped. It should be obvious then, that culture’s effects on conflict resolution have a very important role to play in fiction.

Conflict resolution is listed last here as the conflicts generally arise in response to thought process. Macroscopic conflicts often result from conflicting societal norms. Thus, a culture’s method of conflict resolution is tested.

Think, Feel, Act

The above trio of concepts is a set of things that I shorten to ‘Think, Feel, Act’

Thought process corresponds to the way people Think, Societal or Social norms, influence how people Feel about any given thing that they see, and how people Act to resolve conflict rounds out the trio.

Whether we are world building in a character or conflict centered capacity, or even in a world centric way, we need to understand the impact of this trio of concepts on every individual that is going to be shaping our world build.

Exceptions which are rules, are not exceptions

One of the important parts of culture when writing is that when we make choices about a culture and the way it influences people, we remain consistent. As I emphasized in the world building basics series we have to try and keep consistency when world building or our setting and narrative start to weaken considerably.

Further, when developing characters, consistent and believable adherence to the world we create in our world building, can be the difference between an annoying character who stands out for the wrong reasons, and a compelling addition to the narrative.

If one has a culture of violent warriors for example, a character who resolves their conflicts peacefully, or does not want to fight is immediately out of the ordinary.

It would not be a stretch to say that such a character would likely face some severe discrimination or dissatisfaction from members of their own culture for such stances or behaviors. This brings us to an important rules for writing when it comes to culture:

  • Do not create a culture whose norms you are not willing to uphold in your work.
  • If you make a ubiquitous exception for a rule, it is not a rule anymore.
  • Every exception to a cultural rule has consequences, no matter how small.

If you constantly break the norms that your cultures establish in your own fiction, you will actively damage the work as a whole.

The culture of a large, unstoppable empire who enslaves its enemies is imposing when one considers how scary being attacked by this empire would be for those who cannot escape. It is far less imposing if every member of the empire whom the creator reveals to the reader is actually someone who plans to liberate all the captive slaves that their family owns and treats them with love, respect and compassion.

That is not to say that there cannot be propaganda or misinformation that has shaped the surrounding people’s views of this empire, but remember that you, the writer, define what is the true nature of the imperial culture. If you define it as brutal and slave holding, you cannot also make it made of sympathizers too. In that case the sympathizers are the culture instead, and the narrative about brutal slaveholders being the prevailing culture no longer seems realistic or believable.

If you are making a culture that has strong views about sexual or gender roles for example, you cannot simply have the main character be outside of the norms for these roles without some kind of consequence to the way the story is shaped or the way the surrounding culture perceives them.

If you feel completely averse to a particular cultural concept or idea, it is best to use the tried and true world building methods we have outlined previously, to find an alternative: Ask Questions and explore the implications of their answers.

Creating a world build does not mean you are immersed in the beliefs held by individuals you are writing about anymore than a historian who studies history is a follower of whomever they are studying.

If however, you find a concept or idea too difficult to adhere to when creating a culture because it makes you uncomfortable, the answer is simple: Do not include it. Find a different way to solve the problem.

Culture Creation

In the next article on the culture master concept, we will take what we have explored here and try to see how it can shape our various world building techniques. By doing so, it is my hope that you will be empowered to leverage rich cultural histories in your world building.

While building a culture inside our world builds follows most of the same question and answer concepts we are familiar with, the collections of ideas that go into a particular culture have lasting and strong impacts on any build and we owe it to ourselves as creators to better understand how to apply culture to our fiction.

Stay tuned for the next article in the series!

Star of Ashor Amazon Ebook Release Pending!

Well, it has been a long road, one I am ready to hit a milestone in but one I am extremely nervous about. There are so many hoops to jump through with setting up your stuff for electronic sale that sometimes it feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Today I am hopeful to announce that my Amazon Kindle edition of Star of Ashor is under review for digital distribution on Amazon.com. I know that this is something almost anyone with some time and will power can accomplish these days, but for me it feels like a milestone is in the making anyway.

To celebrate, I decided to put the cover art that will grace the digital edition of Star of Ashor here on the blog so you can take a look at it.

I am excited and nervous for the next steps moving forward, I have had a hard time with staying motivated through all of these extra parts.

I hope as many people as can, will be able to discover this story. I know that I am an independent author, but I have real faith in this story and its characters. I am confident that those who read it will enjoy it almost as much as I did writing it!

Once we get some of this under way, the rest of the gears should start turning again. What does that mean for you? Well simply put, it means the Codex will start running again, and the Writing Blog entries will resume as well. Stay tuned for more updates and links to the Star of Ashor Amazon listing.

-T

Setting up with online merchants

Update today,

I’ve been working hard on getting all of the behind the scenes stuff going to set up the first of the merchant accounts I need to make. There is a lot of extra work in setting up for the sale of e-books that must be done in order to make it all possible.

To be honest, this part is harder for me than actually writing books. I am much more interested in the writing part personally.

This extra stuff however, is necessary so it is something that I will be taking care of. Some of it just takes time and if I try to take all of it on at once it gets a bit overwhelming.

I will be starting up again with the codex entries again soon, but the writing blogs themselves will still be waiting till all of this is worked out.

I will probably make a post or two on the “extras” i had to do past the writing stage because it could be useful information to people planning to write their own stuff.

-T

Book Artwork

HI all,

Temporarily not doing writing blog because I’m focusing on doing the cover art for Star of Ashor! I will be posting the update of the cover art image soon so keep your eyes peeled.

The next writing blog entries will probably start once I get Star of Ashor onto some digital storefronts. I estimate this could take a couple weeks to accomplish. Until then, the regular writing blog and codex might be more sparse.

-T

The Tier 4 Jump: Up-tiering (Part 3)

Welcome to the final part of this character creation and up-tiering workshop. Last time we discussed the idea of the character personality and the importance of finding a way to give life to the characters we create. We went over some of the ways in which we put effort into the character growth process to improve our character to Tier 3 from Tier 2.

Leveraging the Interview style of character building, we were able to take our existing character and start to add depth and personality to them. While the interview style is not the only way to bring a character toward Tier 3 from the previous, it is an effective one.

One part of our process that we have kept in our heads for most of the time we’ve been building, is the idea of using an existing world. This is something we discussed most heavily in part 1 of this workshop series.

When we use an existing world we give ourselves a big advantage in many ways, for building characters that feel grounded and believable, but it is important to note that just because we are putting those characters into a more fleshed out setting, we are not gaining an uninhibited superpower of creation.

Quite the contrary, when building in an existing world we are actually constraining ourselves more than we are freeing ourselves. At first this sounds counter-intuitive, but in this article I will explain why this is so very important for raising our character’s tier beyond Tier 3, and also, why it is that we want this constraint.

Context Matters

When a character is created we tend to view them as a blank slate, and as we build them up, they start to take the form that we, the creator are choosing. However, one thing that differs for us versus our creations are the simple and unavoidable realities of life.

As human beings our unique experiences and challenges shape the way we view the world and they impact who we are, how we think and what we decide to do with the time we have been given to live.

When we talk about characters however, we tend to envision them with a timelessness that allows them to be whatever we dream them to be.

If we examine our own lives, this is actually counter to how we experience life and the events around us. When we approach our characters in this vacuum of timelessness, they tend to feel like they may lack depth and nuance. This does not mean that they are bad characters per se, but it can speak to the fact that they may have need of more growth in order to provide the strength to be a narrative focus in the future. This is one of the things that separates Tier 3 characters from Tier 4 characters.

So how do we avoid putting characters into a vacuum of timelessness? How do we make them feel like they are living breathing parts of a narrative?

Simple, we let them live life in the world that’s been created.

Context provides strength under plot scrutiny

The concept of a character living life may sound odd to the uninitiated, but bare with me. As I mentioned in the character tiers article, there comes a point where character’s need to start having the context of a world to feel strong in a narrative. This key concept was called ‘Plot scrutiny’

When a character is resilient under plot scrutiny, they do not generate disjointed reactions from an audience where a lesser character likely would. When they are strong under plot scrutiny, they tend to carry the importance of a narrative with them and the gravity of events within that narrative feels stronger to the reader than it otherwise would.

A character who is strong under plot scrutiny is not only strong themselves, but makes the entire narrative stronger too, providing much needed glue to established world building.

A character who is strong under plot scrutiny is not only strong themselves, but makes the entire narrative stronger too, providing much needed glue to established world building.

Conversely a character who is weak under plot scrutiny tends to act as a solvent on the glue of an otherwise coherent story or world. They cause cracks to appear and they make other, stronger characters and their world, look weaker than they are.

This concept can sometimes be seen in media. If you have ever watched a show, read a book or played a game, there’s a chance you’ve seen or met one character who just felt ‘off’ for some reason in the context of everything else. While it is hard to objectively define what makes a character fail plot scrutiny, when we notice it, it’s almost impossible to ignore.

Generating characters who pass plot scrutiny is therefore, one of the key cornerstones of character building and indeed, is one of the steps which is required for a Tier 3 character to be classed as Tier 4.

Let’s take our created character, Kelem ‘Black Viper’ Shae’Lun from the previous two articles in this series and explore how we ensure that his character has a context to allow this growth and help him pass plot scrutiny

Apply the world to the character

In order to let our character have life and feel believable, it is important to understand what form that life is going to take. With every character design it may take a different form. For today’s article we are going to focus on the process of creating a ‘backstory’ that allows us to integrate knowledge of our existing world into the design choices we have thus far made.

As I mentioned in prior articles there are sometimes points at which our design choices such as a personality trait or physical characteristic, conflict with a backstory. Resolving these conflicts is essential and we will discuss how to do so after we come up with a backstory at all.

The creation of a good backstory can be one of the hardest parts of the character creation process, but also provides a much needed insight.

It is made easier, when we have existing information about our character and the Tier 2 and Tier 3 steps of our building have provided some much needed pointers to that end.

I am going to re-iterate both the Tier 2 and Tier 3 lists of qualities and traits we came up with below, and after that we will see how these are actually useful signposts in creating a backstory.

  • Physical / Aesthetic
    • Hil’Raigh, Male
    • Looks unassuming for a Hil’Raigh military role
    • Longer hair
    • Light red/orange hair
    • Facial hair
    • Often seen wearing a hat of some kind
  • Personality & Background
    • Formerly part of a national (Akal’Maru) naval special operations division
    • Single, unmarried
    • Loves to barbecue
    • Likes zero gravity sports
    • Likes oil painting
    • Cynical
    • Macabre sense of humor
    • Largely Calm, aggressive when provoked
    • Goes by his “code name” with most people
  • Knowledge & Skill
    • Trained in many hand to hand combat styles
    • Knows how to use weaponry from all over the galaxy
    • Expert marksman
    • Knows how to operate many types of vehicles.
    • Licensed pilot
  • Mental Traits
    • Has an obvious feeling of brotherhood with other members of the Federation military.
    • Has seen some things he does not like to relive and that affects his outlook.
    • Is a bit closed off to strangers, despite being cordial to them.
    • A driven person who chases his goals.
    • Has some strong opinions on the way the Federation uses its military and force as a whole
    • Sympathetic to the Hil’Raigh colonies and the challenges they face.
    • Is largely un-phased by cultural norms
    • Problem Solver
    • Leader
    • Doesn’t like Corsairs and other pirates
    • A bit blunt
  • Weaknesses
    • Prone to self isolation
    • Dealing with some past traumas from combat experiences
    • Sometimes chases his own goals to the exclusion of others needs and desires
    • Sometimes bluntness causes trouble in his world
    • Has a hard time making new friends outside of military focused individuals
    • Dismissive of some people’s struggles or problems

Now that we have our character’s traits and abilities spelled out for us, we can start to take a look at some of the things we need to cover in this character’s backstory. Starting at a high level, we weave these lists into a narrative tapestry. Because we conducted an interview with our character already, I will also refer to that section for helping direction in the outline of our backstory.

Before I start blocking out any backstory though, I want to look at some key things that should happen in the backstory for Kelem. This step can take some time, don’t let it feel daunting. Anytime you come up with a new idea for ‘something that should happen’ you can put it down as a bullet point. It is good to order these chronologically if you can. After some close inspection of the lists, and the interview questions, I came up with the following important plot points. These should be the biggest takeaways from the backstory.

  • Kelem is an Akal’Maru Citizen
  • Kelem joined the special forces of his national military when he was younger
  • Kelem has had a number of combat encounters with pirates in his service life
  • Kelem founds Shae’Lun as a Private military corporation
  • Shae’Lun fights with more pirates and helps with frontier law and order
  • Shae’Lun fights in war with NovaCore
  • Kelem keeps an active role in his company dealing with the aftermath of the NovaCore armistice

These plot points make up the bulk of what we want to accomplish, but as you can note here, there is more that we have established about our character than has been put into these plot points.

Using the above as a guide, let’s refine that outline and give it depth. Below is the result of me combining more of the above information about Kelem, with the simple list I just created.

For our mutual benefit, I will include which list section that each of these sub-points was drawn from. This should help give you an idea of how I am engaging this process.

Important to note is that I also will tag some information with “World Knowledge”. World knowledge is information that is gained through knowing and understanding the world as it already exists. Use it to your advantage when telling backstories too.

  • Kelem is an Akal’Maru Citizen
    • When he was younger, Kelem was reasonably athletic, but especially loved zero gravity sports (Personality & Background) because they did not rely on a massive physique (Physical &Aesthetic)
    • Having an outlet for his energy when he was at a more volatile age, helped him develop a calmer more collected personality under stresses (P & B)
  • Kelem joined the special forces of his national military when he was younger
    • He was able to join the special forces because his driven goal chasing attitude (Mental Traits), combined with his problem solving nature, helped him stand out (Mental Traits).
    • Kelem showed exceptional promise as a marksman through his training (Knowledge & Skill)
    • Because of the nature of his secretive work life, Kelem never really found the desire to seek for romance (P & B) and his goal oriented attitude and focus on work made him have difficulty during the few times he tried (Weaknesses)
  • Kelem has had a number of combat encounters with pirates in his service life and eventually leaves military service
    • Seeing combat action tended to make Kelem more macabre in his humor (P & B)
    • Earns the moniker ‘Black Viper’ on early combat mission (P & B) and starts to develop a strong respect for colonial militias and their membership. He becomes an advocate for colonial protection (MT)
    • Kelem is eventually promoted to leadership (MT) for his role in combating pirates, whom he grew to hate (MT) and problems on the Hil’Raigh Frontier (Interview)
    • Kelem is involved in difficult combat operations that, over time, give him a somewhat cynical outlook on the life he’s asked to lead (P & B), this is exacerbated by a particularly rough campaign in which he loses some comrades (Weaknesses)
    • Kelem learns more combative hand to hand styles to prevent previous tragedy from striking again (P & B) and takes up oil painting as a theraputic method (P & B) but the scars remain and he remains somewhat isolated (W)
    • Kelem certifies with a very large number of weapons and undergoes pilot training for many types of non combat vehicles for deployment, landing and transport (K & S)
    • Quits the service eventually (P & B) (MT)
  • Kelem founds Shae’Lun as a Private military corporation
    • Driven to found Shae’Lun after several years because of his expertise, some connections and the brotherhood he has with military minded former service members (W)
    • Gives Shae’Lun goals in line with righting some of what he believed were wrongs with the military command structure he was a part of before (MT) but he is a blunt leader and that causes trouble sometimes (MT) (W)
  • Shae’Lun fights with more pirates and helps with frontier law and order
    • Kelem’s hatred of pirates draws him into a leading role with Shae’Luns campaigns on the frontier for a long time (Improvised)
  • Shae’Lun fights in war with NovaCore
    • Shae’Lun eventually fights with the NovaCore (Interview) as a strong supplement to Akal’Maru naval forces (World Knowledge)
  • Kelem keeps an active role in his company dealing with the aftermath of the NovaCore armistice
    • The rise of the corsairs and Shae’Lun’s dealings with them (IVW) shoves the Shae’Lun corporation to the forefront of public consciousness for quite a while (WK)
    • Losses faced by Shae’Lun weigh heavily on Kelem’s heart (MT), he decides to bring Shae’Lun into the arms business to provide customized solutions for the unique problems facing Shae’Lun’s operators (IVW)
    • Meeting a large variety of operators from various backgrounds and cultures helps temper Kelem’s cynicism and he starts to focus it more on large political and cultural establishments (MT)
    • Kelem decides to bring back the barbecue tradition (P & B) of his deceased military superiors used to like doing for his team and establishes local chapter barbecues as a regular event for Shae’Lun employees and operators (Improvised new idea)

For the sake of brevity, today’s article will not feature a written backstory for Kelem, (That will probably come later as a codex entry, maybe in the short form) but it should be reasonably clear from the above that not only is our character stronger having gone through this process, he feels like an involved part of the world we’ve created while simultaneously becoming more fleshed out and well understood.

Even going through the process thus far has helped me, the creator come up with an understanding of this character that I previously lacked, and almost all of it was from knowledge and understanding placed into our character up till now.

I also hope it is clear that the above benefited greatly from the fact that we kept our character grounded from the earliest days of creation. This design choice helped ensure that our character retains world continuity even now but that is not always the case. In some settings we may not have control over all of the world and it may drive character and world into conflict. If this occurs, you must either world build, or change your character.

Respecting creation

When you cannot reconcile your characters design or backstory with the existing world, it is tempting to homebrew an exception to the norm. While this works in the short term sometimes, it almost always causes challenges later.

If you are working with a group of friends or a smaller insular community that agrees upon the changes, then it might fly, but if you are integrating into someone else’s largely understood intellectual property with say, a fan character or a character for a role playing game, then you are going to have a harder time convincing everyone you deal with to accept those changes.

Even when you are working with your own world, be very careful to consider the impact that creating an exception for this character could have.

Even when you are working with your own world, be very careful to consider the impact that creating an exception for this character could have. Ask yourself if it will undermine some key point of your world or destroy the credibility of a story you plan to tell later, or perhaps, have already told.

Respect for your own world and the creation you have built up is just as important as respect for the work which others have made. (Respect does not mean unfounded or baseless pride and immunity to criticism however) Do not make changes to your world lightly for the sake of a single character.

When you gain more experience with design and narrative, you will find chances to make these exceptions in a more organic and sensible way that enhances rather than detracts from plot, world continuity and story telling. When used sparingly, these exceptions can be powerful boosts to a character and story, but do not overdo it.

Onward to greater heights, if you want

With the strengthening of Kelem’s character through putting narrative weight behind him, and adding real world context to him, we can safely put him on the path to Tier 4 now. allowing him to move forward and expand as a character.

From this point forward, most of the growth for Kelem’s character is going to have to come from active story telling. The creator of any character has to spend the time to walk in their shoes and bring them through their challenges and triumphs in order to create the emotional gravitas that is required to move beyond.

Tier 4 is both a starting point and for some characters, a position of station keeping where they can effectively contribute and help a story move along without damaging the narrative integrity to which they are contributing. Keep in mind that not every character must be reaching higher tiers but the options is always there at Tier 4.

Now that we have explored the creation of a character in an existing world, and showed how to use and apply the Character Tier system to them, we are going to pivot back to some more world building articles going forward. We will explore concepts that help enhance the world builds we do by exploring “World Building Master concepts”.

In that series we will cover more detailed topics like how to use religions or spirituality and faith in world building, How to better understand international and internal politics facing our fantastical worlds and how to utilize and build cultures which interact with and influence all of the above. I hope you enjoyed this series and I hope you are looking forward to more character design in the future!