Poetry Day: Casualties of the Morning Drive

Duck Hunt from Nintendo Meme

(This always annoyed me when I had a long commute.  After a while, my mind would start picking on various story ideas.  I’d still be focusing on the road, of course, but I would think about these things at red lights.  Most times, I got to work and had to rush into things with no chance to write anything down.  This was always worse than losing dreams that were good ideas.)

As I focus on the task at hand

I hear my voices wander

Whispering of growing dreams

That are rising from my edges

Words rippling across my mind

I must not hold them tight

Or I will forget my place

I can merely hope they last

Until I can stop the car

And write them for infinity

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7 Tips to Writing an Isekai Story

Reincarnated as a Slime

Isekai can be tricky even though it looks easy.  People think it’s only about having someone transported to another world and leave it at that.  Makes sense since this means the main character acts as an avatar for the audience.  Still, there are plenty of ways to screw this up, especially now that the subgenre is oversaturated.  What can you do to avoid the common pitfalls?

  1. You really need to show what the main character was like in their old life.  It doesn’t have to be immediately or at once.  This can be information that is doled out in pieces when the character has a memory or concept triggered.  Ignoring their previous life eliminates an essential dimension and weakens the fact that they are a stranger in an alien world.  It doesn’t really feel like they’ve been removed from an old life anymore because the reader has no knowledge of it.
  2. The greatest danger is the overpowered main character.  Typically, the transported person has greater abilities and knowledge than the locals.  They’re not so much a chosen one, but are special.  With fantasy, this tends to come out as incredible magic and powers that dwarf everyone else.  They become Superman on steroids because authors don’t always remember to add a weakness.  You need to introduce a feasible threat at some point.  If they’re wrecking all adversaries for the entire story then it’s an empty power fantasy.  For example, Rimiru in ‘Reincarnated as a Slime’ was defeating everyone with increasing ease.  Then, he ran into an anime that nearly killed him because they negated his strengths.  This revived the tension and changed him from an unstoppable protagonist to one who needs to grow.
  3. Being transported to a different world doesn’t mean the main character changes their personality.  They may do this over time, but they don’t appear and then immediately become someone new.  Part of the story is that they are their old selves and need to grow into a new version to survive.  Some will see it as a clean slate and try to be someone new at the start.  This makes sense, but it shouldn’t be a perfect change and the older habits need to be maintained for some time.  Otherwise, what’s the point of writing an isekai when you can do the same with a confused protagonist from that same world?
  4. Not every transported character needs to be catnip to the locals.  They may be curiosities if their origins are known.  It gets ridiculous when every named character ends up wanting to marry, kiss, hug, or bed the hero.  This happens a lot with absolutely no explanation other than ‘this guy/girl is now cool’.
  5. Even if the hero knows about the world before being transported, you should surprise them.  They might not know the exact physics of the world or the cultures even if it’s based on media in their world.  Think about how we’re told to write a story using only the exciting parts of our characters’ lives.  If we were dropped into any of these worlds, we wouldn’t know about anything that was deemed unimportant.  Daily life events, holidays that did not happen in the story, unessential historical events, and cultural traditions are only some of what can be thrown at the hero.
  6. If the character’s cellphone is going to still work in this other world, please explain how it still has a signal and doesn’t run out of battery power.  I know this one is specific, but I’ve noticed at least two Isekai that involve smartphones.  I only watched one of them, which I didn’t like.  It was the main one either.  Still, I couldn’t figure out how the character was in this medieval setting for two years and his phone still had power and a signal.  In fact, explain how any modern technology continues to work for an extended period of time.
  7. You don’t have to decide at the beginning if the character wants to go back home or not.  Of course, this doesn’t matter if they died and woke up in the new world, which implies that they’re stuck.  If that’s not the case then you can play with both possibilities.  Any person who wakes up in a new world may want to explore, especially if it’s one they recognize from various media.  The desire to go back home may need to be triggered by a sense of that this isn’t a game or fiction.  So, focus on world and character building instead of the finale for a bit.  You can always change from one to the other as well.
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Story Development and Execution Part 11: Mid-Level Self-Editing

Ciao, SEers. Today is part eleven of the series, and we’re continuing with self-editing. We’ve reached the mid-level revision. By now, you should …

Story Development and Execution Part 11: Mid-Level Self-Editing
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Guest – Staci Troilo Discusses The Haunting of Chatham Hollow #newbook

I am so pleased to be hosting a fellow Story Empire author today. Staci is here to talk about the book she and Mae Clair have collaborated on that …

Guest – Staci Troilo Discusses The Haunting of Chatham Hollow #newbook
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Teaser Tuesday: Do I Hide My Quirks?

Yahoo Image Search

This part comes from the ‘Author Section’.  Many times, we try to hide who we really are and put on a mask as an author.  Makes sense, especially if we want to separate it from the other parts of our life.  Though, it can be exhausting and some quirks may turn up.  This touches on that urge to either hide or reveal your true self.  Enjoy.

Do I Hide My Quirks?

Much like revealing your inspiration, you will find that you have to put yourself in the spotlight at times. The days of the secretive author churning out books without having to leave their house are long gone. At least for new authors, because you can do that once you become rich and famous. They call you eccentric instead of anti-social at that point. Some might find this part of the path fairly harrowing since you don’t have characters to hide behind. It’s exposing your own life and personality to strangers, which doesn’t mean you share everything about yourself. There is a limit, especially if you have friends and family who don’t want to be part of the public persona. Instead, you have to focus on yourself and that means your quirks and habits can come into play. I’m sure we all ‘love’ doing that.

What do I mean by quirks?

I mean the small things that are unique to you. Favorite foods, hobbies, favorite shows, and author rituals would fall into this category. For example, I talk a lot about pizza because it’s my favorite food. Seriously, it’s delicious and you can choose from tons of toppings. Has all four food groups and I don’t care if that system has changed. Readers and other authors who interact with me have made a connection between myself and pizza.

Does it help to sell books? I don’t know. It does help the other side of promoting, which is creating your brand. Hate to say it, but you are part of your product and that means all of you. This is scary for many of us because we expected to put our books into the public eye. It doesn’t always cross a new author’s mind that they have to go along with their creation. If it helps, this part of the trade gets easier as you progress because you get a feel for yourself and how people will react to your personality.

Of course, you can create a fake persona with a pen name. This is fine and common because it protects your real life from scrutiny. Yet, you still may need to come up with some quirks for this image to make it more realistic. This can be harder than you imagine because it requires that you keep your story straight. If you hate coffee and the pen name is fueled by it then you have to be careful. One negative reaction to coffee and people may start to wonder. Audiences love exposing the real author behind pen names. It’s a game of Hide & Seek with one person hiding and being fairly unaware they are being hunted.

A way to stay in the right mindset is to keep your persona simple and as close to reality as possible. It can be an altered version of you or an exact copy with a different name. Whatever makes you comfortable about stepping out from behind your book and proving that you aren’t a cunning Artificial Intelligence trying to break into the publishing industry.

Your greatest tool in promoting and revealing yourself on your own terms is social media, which is a double-edged sword. The sword is also on fire and has been cursed to either heal or hurt depending on how it’s feeling at the time. As we all know, whatever you put on the Internet will stay there and may affect your books. After all, you are trying to make yourself approachable and worthy of a reader’s attention. You don’t want to come off as a person that one wouldn’t want to meet in a well-lit alley.

If done correctly, you will make connections with readers and authors. This creates a support network every author needs to help promote their books. With a new release, you can announce it beforehand and get volunteers to help as well as early sales. If you are writing a series, you can get a handful of readers who will continue through every book and leave reviews every time. This grants you a solid core of loyal fans who can bring attention to your stories and act as an unofficial promotional team. Having other authors as readers can also lead to hosting announcements for each other, which means a mixing of audiences. Both authors benefit from that type of connection.

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What is an Isekai?

Google Image Search

The graphic pretty much does the job.  Isekai is the term used when we’re talking about anime and manga.  Yet, this isn’t exclusive to those genres.  In fact, the concept of a person from one world being transported to another is fairly common.  We usually call them by their general genre, but the following would be Isekai:

  • Tron (Science Fiction)
  • Jumanji (Action Adventure)
  • Wizard of Oz (Fantasy)
  • Alice in Wonderland (Fantasy)
  • Chronicles of Narnia (Legendary Fantasy)

As you can see, the concept of Isekai isn’t new or exclusive to anime.  Though, I don’t think it’s ever been given an official subcategory that stuck like this one.  So, what are the cornerstones of this concept?

It’s fairly simple because it only requires that a person from one world (usually Earth) is transported to another world.  It’s typically a magical world, but you also see it done with high tech or mundane worlds.  The whole point is that a person is dropped into a foreign land and has to survive.  Sometimes, they’re trying to get home and other times they’re simply finding a niche with no urge to return.  I’ve seen a lot of Isekai start off the person dying on Earth and being transported in that instant to a new world.  Also getting drawn into a video game and becoming your avatar.  Regardless of the method, you have a person going to a different world.

Before you start pointing at time traveling, there’s a big difference.  Time traveling is when a person is sent from the present to either the future or, usually, the past of their own world.  They have knowledge of their surroundings to some extent, which makes it easier for them to learn.  Isekai has them transported to an entirely different world where they don’t know the cultures and histories.  Even when a character is transferred into a game that they know, it becomes clear that things don’t work the same way.  NPC’s have personalities instead of stock phrases, damage is real, new abilities are found, and the ‘rules’ are more flexible.  So, the transported character has to go through a learning curve even if they’re the most powerful being in the world.

That’s a current trend in Isekai that I want to touch on.  ‘That Time I Was Reincarnated as a Slime’, ‘Overlord’, and ‘How Not to Summon a Demon Lord’ are all stories where the main character is insanely powerful.  I actually gave up on ‘Overlord’ because I got tired of the way battles had no tension.  The issue here was that the main character had powers that nobody in he went up against could challenge and there weren’t any attempts to really put him in danger.  ‘Reincarnated’ almost had the same issue, but enemies were introduced to give the main character some trouble.  Also, personality is important because an overpowered character with flaws works better than one who seems to be perfect in every way.  ‘Overlord’ guy acts like the arrogant, gloating villain type with only an inner voice of awkwardness that doesn’t effect his actions that often.  ‘Reincarnated’ guy has made mistakes and visibly freaks out, so the power level can be undermined by a flawed mind. It’s hard to avoid that trap with Isekai too because a cornerstone is that the transported character is more powerful and special.

One criticism of this subgenre is that it’s entirely about a power fantasy.  A reason for this is a trend of it being merged with harem plots.  This would be that a male with limited or no social skills gets transported to this new world.  They end up gathering allies who are all attractive women that develop crushes on the hero.  ‘How Not to Summon a Demon Lord’ descended into this issue fairly quickly, which I found frustrating.  The story turns into an analogy for males who are ‘losers’ in our world becoming desirable gods in these lands of magic.  So, the stories appeal to incel culture even if that wasn’t the intended audience.  It ends up feeding that mentality, which creates a lot of controversy.  More so than a standard harem story like ‘Love Hina’ where the male character is surrounded by beautiful women who are attracted to him.  Probably because slavery and other unsavory aspects get added to the Isekai harem as well as the hero rarely having any qualms about indulging in this activity.

So, what are your thoughts on this subgenre?  Ever watch or read an Isekai without realizing it?

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Ambiance and Writing

Hey, SE Readers. Joan with you on this September morning. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re only three days away from the beginning of autumn—my…

Ambiance and Writing
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The Smallest Ratite: The Kiwi

As promised, here is the 5th ratite, which is a family of flightless birds.  Unlike the emu, ostrich, rhea, and cassowary, the kiwi is small.  Some are no bigger than a domestic chicken.  They are also endangered, so there are breeding programs and this site to help protect them:

Save the Kiwi

Only 5-10% of kiwi chicks survive into adulthood due to the introduction of predators such as dogs.  The biggest threat are stoats (type of weasel) because they go after the chicks, who won’t be too large for them until they are 1-1.5 years old.  Habitat destruction is another factor because it can lead to chicks getting killed in accidents.  It can also reduce the population to the point where incest begins.  All of this can lower a population’s chick survival to less than 5%.  This is why people are trying to take action, but it’s definitely an uphill battle.  Thankfully, there are a lot of protected areas since this is the symbol of New Zealand.  This makes the predators the bigger of the two threats.

So, what are kiwis?  They are small birds that can’t fly and are genetically closer to the extinct elephant bird than the moa.  This is odd because kiwis live in New Zealand like the moa while the elephant bird was from Malagasy. They are nocturnal, so they have very small eyes and depend very little on their sense of sight.  Kiwis work more off noise, scent, and touch, so blind ones function as well as others.

The strangest thing about kiwis is that their eggs can weight up to a quarter of its body mass.  This means it has the largest egg of all birds in terms of body/egg proportions.  A comparison I saw online was a human giving birth to a fully grown four-year-old.  This means they lay one egg at a time and around 6 per year.  It takes about 30 days for the female to lay the egg too.  Nobody is sure about this adaptation either.  The two theories I found are:

  • A holdover from when kiwis were larger.
  • The large egg means the chick is born with enough development to run away from aerial predators.  It has also eaten enough in the egg to survive for 1-2 weeks without needing much more food.  This doesn’t help against the introduced land predators, but it does allow them to hide from birds of prey for extended periods of time.

Let’s get to the fun pictures and videos.  We have 5 species and all of them are from New Zealand.

Great Spotted Kiwi

Little Spotted Kiwi

North Island Brown Kiwi

Okarito Brown Kiwi

Southern Brown Kiwi

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Goal Post: The First Full Week of School

I need this weekend to rest.

My head is spinning so much that I’m not really sure where to begin.  Some stuff I can’t talk about because it connects to the drama.  Was it better this week?  Yes, but not by much due to the actions of other people.  This left me tired by the end of every day, so I didn’t get much in the way of writing done.

Actually, I didn’t get any writing done after Sunday and I think I only got one section completed.  Darwin & the Avenging Elf is going to go into October because weekdays aren’t being friendly.  Weekends are rough too because of errands and events.  I always forget the holidays around this time of year.  With 12 sections left, I might be able to get 7-8 done this coming week. That sounds really good, but it’s the ideal.  So, I’m looking more at 6 if I’m lucky.  Guess we’ll just see what happens.

That isn’t to say that my week wasn’t eventful.  It was the first full week of school, so there was a lot to do.  Had a lot of fun working with the students.  I helped with homecoming last Saturday, which ended up being a 9 hour thing because I kept helping.  That’s a big reason I didn’t get a lot done last weekend, but it was worth it.  First time it’s happened since before Covid, so it had a lot of energy.  Course, it also had a lot of sun, which drained me pretty nicely.

There’s another thing that happened, but I think I’m going to hold off a bit.  For some reason, I feel like I should wait until a specific date down the road.  That mystery aside, the event was a little crazy because of my own stupidity.  Almost made a big mistake because I wasn’t thinking things through.  Still feeling like a fool about it too.  I added to this idiocy by getting a triple scoop hot fudge sundae from Baskin Robbins . . . at 10 PM.  Wolfing that down and then trying to go to bed resulted in a terrible night of sleep.  The ensuing nights weren’t much better due to stress, which is why I’m exhausted.

I’m resting up this weekend.  My son and I have haircuts later today then I promised him video game time.  Going for a walk tomorrow morning before lunch and then he has something with his mom.  I should be able to get some writing done during that period, but we’ll see how I’m feeling.  Beyond those events, I really don’t have a lot more planned for the weekend. The week had so much going on that I just needed a quiet, low energy period.

Only other thing I’ve been doing is watching TV.  Finished Season 5 of ‘Cobra Kai’ and I really liked it.  Started off slow, but the last episode definitely made up for the minimal action.  Good amount of character growth too.  I finished Season 4 of ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ last night.  Still funny, so I’m glad I got into it.  Not sure what to tackle next, but I’m leaning towards Season 3 of ‘Harley Quinn’.  Looks like everything I’m watching has only 10 episodes each.  So, I should probably think further ahead, but I haven’t checked my lists in a while.

There really isn’t much else to talk about.  Last week was mostly work and helping my son with schoolwork.  The evenings were resting up for another round, so I didn’t even expect to get any writing done.  Made some progress on November and December posts, which is a victory.  I’ll be trying to get further along on those this weekend if I’m not able to do book writing.  I doubt I’ll be able to tackle the next Darwin book before January too, so I’ll handle whatever else I can get to.  This is always a readjustment part of the year.  Not that I’m in a rush since I don’t know when I’ll ever publish again.

Goals of the week:

  1. Time with son.
  2. Write more Darwin & the Avenging Elf
  3. November posts
  4. Meet the Teacher night
  5. Read more ‘Demon Slayer’
  6. Puzzle time
  7. Sleep better
  8. Important meetings
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Leading from the Front

(Kind of strange that Nelson Mandela had a quote on leading from the back and another on leading from the front.  Makes me think at least one is fake.)

Now, these are the generals that we tend to see in fantasy stories.  At least when combat is actually going on.  They may be standing around a table and talking for the most part, but they eventually step onto the battlefield.  Unless they’re killed by a traitor or there isn’t a military battle involved in the story.  Either way, these heavily armored figures are typically some kind of a decorated knight.  It doesn’t surprise anybody when they show that they earned their rank.

Unlike the ones who lead from the back, physical abilities are a big factor in how effective this character is.  They aren’t directing armies from a vantage point, but are in the thick of the battle.  Orders are still shouted when they’re needed, but this general is the point of a spear instead of the hand wielding the weapon.  So, they have a preoccupation with staying alive and can’t think of much more.  Considering what every other solider is doing would get one killed here.  They can only examine their surroundings after powering through the enemies, which requires strength, speed, endurance, and combat skill.

This isn’t to say this type of general is an idiot and intelligence doesn’t matter.  They work off a different mindset where one doesn’t have a lot of time to adjust.  Experience and a flexible mind are necessary to change strategies in the heat of battle while continuing to stay alive.  One could say that wisdom and instinct are more important for this role than knowledge and intelligence.  After all, a warrior wouldn’t make it to the rank of general if they lacked the sense to survive all previous battles.

Risk analysis is another difference because the previous category would have enough time to think hard about this topic.  While this general would consider it at the start, they wouldn’t be able to change in the same way once the battle begins.  A change reported to or noticed by one leading from the back can be considered carefully before a decision is made.  The delivery of the information would be fairly quick as well.  When leading from the front, it isn’t easy to be told about a change in the battle and the general won’t notice events going on far from their area.  So, there will be a delay, which could result in a rash decision.  This is one of the risks that this type of leader takes.

The tradeoff would be a higher morale.  Psychologically, one can see how soldiers will fight harder and with more ferocity if their general is in the same level of danger.  I think this is the philosophy of Alexander the Great, but I’m not sure.  The point is that the soldiers see that their leader wouldn’t have them do anything that they weren’t willing to do.  This creates respect, so they will fight hard to protect their leader and show that they are worthy of such treatment.  Much of this will stem from how a culture perceives strength and strategy, but there is an emotional boost that comes from this type of leader.

Now, how can one who leads from the front handle giving orders?  That’s another aspect of being in the front and fostering high morale.  Soldiers, especially those who have been given ranks, need to be trusted to handle situations in their area.  The general is fighting on their own and giving orders when possible, but there has to be some personal responsibility as well.  If the battle shifts, a lieutenant far away will need to makes decisions while also sending a message to the general.  Trust and understanding are essential to this because they need to know what their leader would want.  At the same time, they would need to have some individuality to remain flexible.  It’s a difficult balance to create in a character.

Between the two, I would saying a general who leads from the front is the more entertaining category.  We get to throw them into action and there’s less of a risk of the readers getting bored.  They can function very well as a main character because of this benefit.  Authors can also fall into a trap of making them the only competent soldier and forgetting that generals work with an army.  Strategies are ignored and the general simply charges in to do everything on their own.  In reality, they still need to be team players and work with their men, who they should trust.  If not, you have a leader who doesn’t treat their people well and will probably be betrayed.  A viable option, but the hubris/egotism of a leader causing their downfall is fairly common.

So, what do you think of those who lead from the front?

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