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Messages - NO1SY

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What are the things that make us feel that a piece of literature is a classic? What is the feeling of reading a classic or modern classic? After a bit of a Sci-Fi audiobook marathon this summer, I think I’m beginning to get a slight grasp on that feeling, which I would describe as a sense that what I am reading/listening to/watching is profound.

There are a couple of series I want to comment on here that helped me learn a bit about how to aim for profundity in writing and inspired me to write this ramble, but some honourable mentions would also be: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien; Dune by Frank Herbert; and The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, just to cover the inspirational bases.

Earlier this summer I listened to the Dogs of War duology, followed by the Children of Time trilogy, both written by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky is one of the most profoundly speculative authors I imagine that I will ever read (and also ridiculously prolific). I felt this when I finished Bear Head with its presentation of populist politicking, and even more so when I put down Children of Memory, concluding a delightful and confronting journey of identity and bridging understandings between different species, and AI, across the universe.

Likewise, last week I finished Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos, which was a meandering, messily paced, wonderfully prosaic, almost (probably) masterpiece. I began to notice a few similarities between the two series in terms of what gave me that feeling that I was reading something profound or cemented as a classic.

Firstly, the characters in these books were iconic (alive, well-realised and overflowing with character) and recurring. It is impressive to me that Tchaikovsky is able to accomplish this with characters who are literal spiders, but he does. In his case, I would say that he takes certain character traits quite close to the edge of caricature - not immersion breaking, but a punchy way to semi-shortcut to memorability. Simmons’ characters are generally more reserved, save for Martin Silenus, but the main characters from the first two books have the advantage of essentially a whole, one book-long (ambling but never sluggish) prologue, whereby their individual stories in the lead-up to their pilgrimage are played out, giving readers a lot of time to get to know them with a great level of depth. But then that is not to say that the characters who do not get the same time commitment lack depth or make less of an impression. Simmons’ descriptive excellence brings everyone vividly to life, and once again their character shines through their dialogue, thoughts and actions - Meina Gladstone and Paul Dure are particular stand-outs.

Next is a case of world-building and its presentation to the reader. Pretty much all of the books I have mentioned so far are journeys through fantastic worlds, whereby the setting is basically a character unto itself. The journeying is as important as, if not more than, the destination, and, in at least the case of the Hyperion Cantos, you feel as though you yourself have explored the entire galaxy by the end, having taken in all of the sights, smells, sounds, flora and fauna, cities and spacedocks, cathedrals and ruins and digital realms. But you are left with a sense that these universes are both so deep and so expansive that what we learn as readers is a fraction of a fraction of what there truly is to know. But this remaining mystery and ambiguity is a great thing. It keeps the awe-inspiring awesome, the mysticism mystifying, the depths of the unknown both exciting and foreboding. The Shrike is great for this. Several questions about it are answered by the end of the series, yet it remains decently shrouded, enough that it never loses its lustre as both an impending boogeyman and mysterious extra main character. This air of mystery also helps to veil it as a convenient plot device from time to time. It’s a difficult balance to hold back explanations, so that in the end you understand just enough that it is not unsatisfying and confusing, and you have not explained away the sense of magic and wonder - to show what lies just beneath the water’s surface, to give an impression of what is their on the way down, but never actually seeing through to the ocean floor. The approach would work really well for any eldritch creatures, god-like beings, hidden realms, strange physics, fears of the unknown etc.

Lastly, these stories are explorations of fascinating and/or relatable questions, often exaggerated by the “what if” Sci-Fi settings, whereby a dialogue with the readers is presented through the characters’ stories, and a conclusion is reached in that narrative, without it necessarily being presented as THE correct answer. The character may state whether it is right or not, but in the author-reader dialogue it should come across as more of a “do you agree? or “what do you think?”. Tchaikovsky asks us to consider how we as people should approach life if the simulation theory were true, wrestle with issues of identity and imposter syndrome, ponder the difficulties and possibilities of first contact and the implications of sharing qualia between different perceptions of the universe. In Hyperion and The Rise of Hyperion by Simmons, I especially enjoyed Sol Weintraub’s grappling with Abraham’s Dilemma, which was like the dramatisation of a rabbinic commentary from the Talmud. Gladstone’s political manoeuvring also felt very weighty with the implications that her final choices presented. And the next two books present a cautionary tale about the faith of the pious being abusable and hijackable by malicious actors when they offer some sort of affirmation of beliefs, explore philosophies of progress, evolution and personhood, and ask us to confront our own mortality and make the most of it in whatever form that takes.

Or, it seems, that the only thing you really have to do to sound profound is to write a few short poems and stick them in your story…

MR Pub / Re: Manga Raiders Happy Hour Podcast
« on: September 05, 2023, 03:00:23 PM »
Eyyyy good to hear from you Midsummer :biggrin:

Check them out here (or on the podcast apps), it’s all very professional!

MR Pub / Re: Chit Chat 2023
« on: August 18, 2023, 05:16:29 PM »
”The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.”

Just do what you can my dude, progress as much as you can, and try to find satisfaction in the improvement you do make. Realise your expectations of yourself have to be reasonable…

Develop Your Story / Re: Romantic story - stuck on resolution
« on: August 17, 2023, 05:34:22 AM »
I’m definitely no expert on Romance stories, and the others have provided decent suggestions for you, but I think I may have spotted something else. I believe that the Heroine deserves a bit of agency in this situation.

The Heroine could confront the Hero for essentially being dense: that he has finally found love again and won’t let himself act on it and just be happy in a new way. She may love him but she doesn’t owe him to stick around while he wallows in grief and self pity or some twisted form of self righteousness. Or maybe she can’t stick around and hurt herself while she waits for him to never reciprocate, so she decides she has to just walk away and move on for herself.

Afterwards the Hero has a choice on whether or not he has to grow and realise that only a vindictive partner would wish that he would never be with anyone else ever again once they are gone. And it is possible to always have love for the person lost whilst finding love with someone else, it’s just about disentangling the emotions so that one can still miss a lost loved one AND be emotionally available and invested in someone else. So his promise is essentially not a requirement for his happiness, nor something he has to feel guilt over breaking (or maybe he can feel guilty about it at first, then work through it) - it’s value as a promise is all self-imposed.

This all could offer another instance of drama and a dilemma to overcome in the story. The Hero is essentially in the process of losing someone he loves for a second time, and he will have to work out how to stop that, internally and to win her back. It also provides the Heroine agency in her own love life, expecting the Hero to be worthy of her affection and love and it not just being a given.

On the other hand, if being alone for the rest of his life is truly “what he wants”, and somehow genuinely makes him happy, then I suppose you could let the story be a sort of romantic tragedy instead, whereby the Hero is satisfied in his solitude and the Heroine either has to move on or is stuck never really being able to. I do warn that this may not be all that satisfying for the readers though, and would generally not be considered as good character growth in the part of the Hero…

Develop Your Story / Re: Soul Instinct
« on: August 16, 2023, 07:11:56 AM »
So STAP prevents the chemistry and physics underlying gunpowder and high energy explosives? Ok!

And I think I’m not 100% sure about the “time travel” relating to the soul thing… what I’m hearing is that people have a “body soul” and a “free soul”, and, upon death, the free soul continues into an afterlife but the body soul remains but is essentially “switched off”. The free soul seems to be something like the near complete consciousness of the person, whereas the body soul is more the instinctive and reactive parts of a person, or like the imprint of the person’s free soul on the body. Then Night Soul comes along, randomly picks a lingering body soul (from a specific point in time and geographical location) to apply to a modern person, and then that person receives those stored instincts and must train to fully hone them. Is that right? Where is the “time travel” in this? I suppose it would be “relative time travel for the body soul, but that is only because of the discontinuity in its “experience” if it could be called that…

In general, I’m not saying that you absolutely have to straighten this all out - I have read manga with much looser logic than this that were still ok to read. Your idea certainly feels like a manga story concept too. Mostly I’m just curious.

General Discussion / Re: Quantity vs. Quality
« on: August 15, 2023, 12:33:00 PM »
Sounds reasonable that if one reads mostly ongoing stories, then one won’t have a large pool of experiences and knowledge to draw on for how to write a good ending oneself, because it’s just not something one is seeing enough of to learn from.

Obviously this isn’t the be all and end all… look at terrible anime-original endings or the ending to GoT…

I’ve been thinking a fair bit recently about the commercialisation of creative pursuits, because I feel like we might be reaching a breaking point regarding unfinished and feature incomplete, and live service, products in the video game industry from AAA developers and publishers. The necessity to endlessly maximise growth year on year and return a profit to investors seems to be an irreconcilable incentive that clashes with the fundamentals of creative and artistic endeavours for both the creators and the consumers. They can essentially sell the husk of a product once, and then use it as a platform or scaffold to endlessly sell trite and vapid “content” that no one is particularly ever satisfied by. This to me is a case study in quantity over quality, and it’s become so pervasive and exhausting that now we are seeing consumer support swing much more in favour of complete, non-predatory, high-quality games from independent studios or talented developers under hands-off publishers, who do not have this same clash of incentives.

So, all this to say that, now is probably a good time in the general consumer market to focus on quality over quantity, and what path does quantity even lead you down creatively anyway?

I suppose this raises such a question: absent the warped market incentives, what are the benefits of prioritising quantity over quality? I can imagine a couple of reasons, although I don’t know if I’d apply them to final products…
- as a creative, prioritising quantity allows you to explore a wider range and variety of ideas, which can help with motivation, if not necessarily great for actually seeing something through to a finished product
- more output = more practice and potentially faster development, although then I may argue that bad practice may be worse than no/less practice…
- more quantity could mean more drafts of the same work, meaning that you could be making constant incremental progress towards an actual finished project, but this requires focus, discipline and management to remain working on the same piece over and over without losing motivation or interest, and the ability to see when the project reaches a good enough state to ship.

Develop Your Story / Re: Soul Instinct
« on: August 15, 2023, 11:40:38 AM »
So, rather than “time travel” it sounds like something more akin to the Animus from Assassin’s Creed?

I think that the main question I and the others have for you is: What are the “jobs” in the year 2354 that require Sumis’ Night Soul programme? Basically why is it even a thing?

Based on the targeted era, it sounds as if all of the jobs are combat-based? So I’m assuming that Night Soul is used to instantly train someone to an expert level in medieval disciplines (like a knowledge download in The Matrix, bleedthrough in Assassin’s Creed, or “Understandings” in Children of Time).

There also still appear to be guns around in this post-WMD world, no? So would we really see warfare and more general violent acts regress so far that Samurai and Ninja techniques would become relevant again? I imagine that the combat landscape would end up closer to the 19th Century wars or maybe even World War I - eras when swords were falling out of favour.

Just some questions that might be worth ironing out while you write.

I do somewhat like the fight for the soul type angle - it could be a good opportunity to explore clashing moralities. Samurai were generally not the romanticised versions we read or watch in our favourite stories. What would happen if one were to merge with a soul who is horribly classist or a bully?

General Manga writer discussions / The Best Romance I Have Read
« on: August 11, 2023, 05:18:10 AM »

The Wax and Wayne trilogy by Brandon Sanderson may not be the first series that springs to mind when you think of a case study in “romance”. They are not, after all, romance novels. But for me, possibly the best part of this second trilogy of books in the Mistborn series - more than the expanded magic systems, or the worldbuilding for a new era in the saga, or learning what became of the old characters - was the writing of the romance involving the main character Waxillium Ladrian. Yeah, I almost wouldn’t believe me either…

I almost cannot remember the last time I felt engaged by or interested in the romantic elements of a story. The manga “Basilisk” springs to mind, maybe bits of The Wheel of Time, but not much else. And then I was blindsided by the Wax and Wayne Trilogy.

Spoiler warning for Mistborn Era 2

Long story short, the main character Wax enters into an entirely political (and literally contractual) engagement with Steris Harms - a stern, wooden, unapproving, transactional and generally unromantic person - but after the hints of a love triangle with the “cousin” Mirasi Colms, and then Wax rescuing Steris after a kidnapping, we are treated to the story of two disparate characters learning more and more about each other, learning each other’s strengths and working with their faults, leaning on one another in moments of hardship and shoring up each other’s gaps, coming to care for and then truly love one another. It is potentially one of the most wonderful romantic progressions that I have had the pleasure to experience in all of fantasy literature.

It very rarely felt idealised - at the start, there was no “love at first sight”, there was a clash of cultures, and there was friction caused by Wax choosing duty over a love interest with more immediate potential in Mirasi - not until they had settled into one another by the final book, and the growth felt natural and justified over the course of the story. From the first sparks of acceptance and affection at the end of book one, to the impactful moment where Steris is the consoling, steady shoulder for Wax at the end of the second, to the cuteness of the pair when they are searching through house finance ledgers together in their train car, the growth of their romance complimented the growth and development of the characters individually too. It never felt just obligatory or tacked on, and in fact was an enhancement to the complete story to have this kind of romantic sub-plot contextualising the inclusion of Steris as a full-fledged character and supporting the development of Wax from Lawman into politician and family man.

And so, I am encouraged, and I hope you all will be too, to find more varied and interesting ways of exploring romance as an enhancement in Sci-Fi and Fantasy storytelling, such as is achieved in this series of books.

What are some other examples of exceptionally well written/presented romance, or romance that bucks the trends in popular media, that have given you inspiration for your writing?

General Discussion / Re: Quantity vs. Quality
« on: August 11, 2023, 04:37:23 AM »
^^ Now if only Hollywood, Netflix and Disney could realize that...

General Discussion / Re: Quantity vs. Quality
« on: August 10, 2023, 11:19:11 AM »
It's interesting to weigh this from the creator side (and I definitely can't cast judgement since it took me 2 years to write a 6 chapter short story...), but I also think it is equally important and interesting to consider the consumer side. For me, this comes down to a few things:

There is SO much material out there now. A whole lot more than 18 years ago when I started reading manga. And the bar has been set in a lot of cases for the quality of the stories being told and the art on display. With the time pressures of adult life, and all the different forms of media vying for my attention, as a consumer I am going to gravitate towards the best experiences on offer and avoid feeling like I'm wasting my time with lower quality experiences. So to even get a foot in the door as an artist/creator for me, you have to meet a threshold of quality (if I'm being honest, usually a 4+ rating on amazon from over 100 reviews...:sure:)

On top of this, I mostly avoid incomplete works nowadays - be it manga and books, anime and tv, or video-games. If I cannot receive a complete story-arc or experience, I won't engage. Keeping up with single-chapter releases of 20 different manga series was too much and too slow to have a good experience reading. Even if it is being churned out thick and fast every week, it is honestly just a better experience to receive a bulk release of a complete story arc that can be read all in one go. In the same vein, I won't watch tv series until the entire series has released; if I know a book series has an incomplete story arc then I won't start it until I have the full collection; and I've put down live service video-games like Warframe and Guild Wars 2.

The latter was very instructive in this sense - they are decent games, but spread very thin and never "finished", so don't even come close to comparing to the experiences I've been having more recently in more concise and fully delivered games. In this way, I now experience a greater variety of much better experiences - similar to how I would now prefer to read several shorter, really well done stories over one longer worse presented one. More of one thing does not always equal more, in this sense.

Develop Your Story / Re: Is my story direction okay?
« on: March 08, 2023, 07:38:48 PM »
First off, it's nice to see a fairly in depth plan, but more importantly, I think, is that you've put some thought into a couple of themes that you want to explore with your story. I am finding that themes may be the best driving force when actually writing a story, as they give figuratively 'tangible' goals for what needs to be portrayed in a chapter or arc. I don't think the structure and context themes give when planning and writing is appreciated enough.

That all being said, I'm a little worried about the angle at which you are looking at the combinations of the Ashi/Shion ship of Theseus and the "hero for the wrong reasons" theme, only because, from what you've written about here, it seems result in Ashi not developing (although this may be because you only lay out one scenario and have plans for him that you have not yet explained). The typical character arc to explore these themes would be to have Ashi start as a complete self interested character that doesn't even bother trying to emulate Shion because he knows he can't, but then gradually learns to be heroic in his own right somehow. Another angle for this could be The Batman: Dark Knight antihero approach, where Ashi is not the hero that the world wants, but he's the one that they have and maybe need. If I'm being honest though, I don't even know if Ashi is required as a character, because at the moment Raine seems to explore the themes you lay out for Ashi already... this relegates Ashi to the role of the exposition character as a stand in for the readers, which is fine I guess...

Aside from this, I am also of the opinion that the magic girls are maybe too powerful individually to be entirely compelling. If you end up agreeing at all, you already have a baked in solution that doesn't require major re-working of your idea: You have laid out how when the magics cooperate, they have a multiplicative effect on their power. Hence, when Shion wields all six magics together, he becomes supremely powerful. However, when the magics split, they become much weaker by themselves. Only through cooperation can they achieve powerful effects again.

As it is, I read the "Raine is trying to blow up the sun and kill everyone" line and kinda felt it was ridiculous... Moreover, it comes across as petulant to the point of evil, which I thought you wanted to avoid?

That said, I do like the idea that each Arcana is unintentionally destroying the world, each in their own way, just by existing without care for having great power. More like they are forces of nature. The issue with this at the moment is that I don't see ideas/plotlines for resolving and preventing these apocalypses in the current plan. For a case study of this being done well, in my opinion, maybe check out the plot surrounding the character Mikoto (The Red King) from K Project.

At a glance, it seems like everything would be more cohesive if all of the girls were compelled to hunt all of the 10000 demons, even if they hate that compulsion, and their indiscriminate use of their power towards that goal is slowly destroying the world around them. The antagonism of the girls, and that antagonsim of the demons seem a little too disparate at the moment. You don't seem to want to go for a pokemon-style Ashi's gotta catch them all approach to Vaccuuming their powers to deal with a demon of the week though, so I'm almost left wondering what the point of having the demons in the story is at all? In my opinion a more refined focus is usually better.

So if we were to go the other way, with the girls becoming the primary antagonists, another question I have is: with all of them ending up so self interested and unruly, why haven't they taken over their own regions and started ruling over everything themselves? Something that is missing from this outline (quite surprisingly) is world-building. I could imagine Memento sitting on a skull throne in a Necropolis kingdom. Hera being doted on by serfs like Cleopatra. Agyros at the head of some fight club or horde. Darkstar as archmagus of a cult or order of arcanas. There just isn't much world around them all yet and it makes it hard to imagine the context of their current existence and, more importantly, the stakes of the story. At the moment, the Arcanas seem to be clashing with each other in a bit of a vaccuum, and it makes it kind of hard to care about the outcomes.

I don't want you to feel that this is all overly negative... these are just off-the-cuff critiques and my opinions/questions meant to offer you some food for thought. Despite waifus really not being my thing, I think that you have some good ideas to work with here, a pretty solid premise, and you definitely are thinking things through with a decent level of depth. I also recommend just sitting down and actually writing some story at this point so you can get a first draft done. Planning can be good but it only gets you so far, and sometimes it's not a good enough representation of the actual story experience to be able to get effective feedback.

Good luck :)

Music / Re: What are you listening to
« on: March 06, 2023, 05:19:56 PM »
Hooooo boy I have been waaaay too busy these last few weeks... But about a month ago I finally had the pleasure of seeing Katatonia (one of my all time favourite bands) live at the O2 Forum Kentish Town in London, supported by SOM and Solstafir. It was phenomenal! I had such a great time and both Solstafir and Katatonia were particularly fantastic! It was also really cool to see such a mix of people in the crowd: old and young, goths and normies, prog nerds in flannel and metalheads with denim tops covered in band logo patches.

Katatonia / Solstafir

Anyways, since then, Katatonia's return, in some respects, to a more goth-rocky sound reminded me of another band that I hadn't listened to in a while, and it has got me listening to them pretty much every day at the moment:

Unto Others play a really cool combination of goth-rock and post-punk, interlaced with some classic heavy metal elements. To me they are basically a more modern and slightly heavier version of The Clash (something I did not know I needed in my life, but am glad I found!). I think their albums and EPs are best approached in reverse order for new listeners though, as they have tipped more towards the post-punk over the heavy metal recently and it is more immediately approachable.

"Strength II - Deep Cuts - EP"
A really nice, short and sweet EP that kinda displays a bit of everything that the band does. I really love the first 3 tracks in particular - 2 that are quite post punk, and 1 that still hits on that classic heavy metal vibe, and all nicely catchy.


This full-length album is beautifully eclectic beneath the consistent goth-rock aesthetic. The opener is blistering and punchy, and "No Children Laughing Now" and "Just a Matter of Time" bring in some of that heavy metal sound. "Downtown", "Little Bird", "Why", "Summer Lightning" and "Instinct" are all even more melodic, but bring varied tempos and styles. "Strength" may even be considered progressive, doing really cool stuff with vocal layering and rounds. Such a cool record.

This was their first full-length and it is absolutely killer! The classic heavy metal elements are much more prominent on this record than their follow up, primarily in the guitar composition and drumming. Once again the songs still feel wonderfully varied. Another banger to open, followed up by the very anthemic "Jackie". "Don't waste your time" helps offer a thoughtful reprieve in between the two fun tracks "Cosmic Overdrive" and "Give Me to the Night". "The Blade and the Will" has an awesome dual guitar lick. "Dragon..." once again verges on progressive and "It'll Be Over..." is beautifully solemn. But it is the epic title track and album closer "Mana" that really steals the show for me.

"Don't Waste Your Time - EP"
Lastly we have Unto Others' debut EP. The vocals are a touch more raw, but the production on this thing is insane for a debut EP! "By Way of Kingdom", "Time Crushes All", and "I Feel Nothing" lead really nicely into the full-length Mana, although they feel less goth-rock and even more heavy metal - which is not necessarily a bad thing as they feel quite unique in the whole discography, and definitely kick ass!

Fantastic band and super glad I was reminded to check them out again :)

break Room / Re: What is the post length limit you can make in a topic?
« on: February 13, 2023, 07:36:18 AM »
Without meaning to plug my own work, this is an example to illustrate what Op is suggesting. I think you can use the “Quote” button to have a look at how the links are formatted in the post if you want.

break Room / Re: What is the post length limit you can make in a topic?
« on: February 12, 2023, 08:00:52 AM »
Spoiler tabs do not change the character limit (in fact, they use up characters).

MR Pub / Re: Chit Chat 2023
« on: February 02, 2023, 01:34:17 PM »
Best of luck Slammy! Honestly, planning your time with some sort of calendar or timetable and forcing yourself to stick to it is just about the only way I know to get through lack of motivation. And also forcing yourself to write or draw in that time even if the inspiration is really not there. It's usually always better to have something on the page by the end than nothing at all - it's also much more useful later on to come back to and rework things, as opposed to starting from scratch. Set yourself some very reasonable and achievable goals to complete in the immediate, short and long term - think of some specifics about what you want to learn or what you want to improve, and make sure that you are working towards those things.

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