Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fantasy Writing Tips

A major part of this project will be spent constructing ideas through writing as well as drawing. A 'fantasy world' tends to evoke images of knights in armour, beautiful elves, mischievous goblins and heroes with some kind of an important quest. I'd like to avoid all of these and other widely recognised fantasy cliches.

The prospect of creating an entire alternative world that seems believable is fairly daunting as I haven't done any focussed creative writing in a long time, and I haven't really done any research into how to do it well. It's something I've always loved the idea of, and I wrote a lot of stories as a kid, but it's just never been something I've considered as one of my main creative pursuits. I hope this project will finally be a chance to stretch my imagination and use these skills, and see if it's something I could do more in the future.

I've done a little research and I'm aware there's many things I need to think about in great detail if I want to create a world that is compelling, consistent and unique; similarly there are many aspects of a character that need to be considered in order for them to be relatable and interesting. There's countless online tutorials, guides, tips, generators, prompters, etc. that can be a source of guidance and inspiration in doing this.

Creating good characters 

It is generally agreed that entirely 'good' heroes and entirely 'evil' villains are dull. Characters are what drives a plot, not vice-versa, and therefore they need to be complex. It's important to consider every aspect of your character, even if it isn't explicitly stated in a narrative, as it will still inform the writing and designing process and allow the character to 'write their own story'. You can make a character interesting by giving them exaggerated qualities, but they shouldn't fall into the trap of being one-dimensional, e.g. being "the funny one", "the smart one" etc. Although characters can have these traits, it's important to expand upon them. Asking as many questions as you can think of about a character's past, upbringing, appearance, habits, likes, dislikes etc. and the reasons for these develops them and helps us to understand them.

A useful way to think about personalities that differ from your own is to look into astrological signs and personality types. For example:

Regardless of how accurate astrological signs may or may not be, they do offer an interesting array of character ideas.

There's also the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which measures "psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions." We took the test a while back in college to discover more about ourselves and how it might effect my work. For example my personality type indicator is 'INFP' (although I think this has probably changed since then) There are pages of lengthy descriptions of the INFP indicator on the web that go into great detail of both the positive and negative aspects of this type of person, like here.

The wide range of possible indicators that exist again offers insights into the many different ways a person can perceive the world, and can help inspire ways of creating diverse character traits. A list can be found here.

Motivations and development

Powerful stories are driven by primal emotions: love, hate, jealousy, revenge, lust. Combinations of these create intriguing internal conflicts and greatly enhance drama. It's also important that over time the motivations of a character (therefore the plot) leads them to grow and change in some way - the most widespread examples being the coming-of-age story of a protagonist finding strength and their place in the world. A character can also redeem themselves and become more 'good', or decline into evil, the development of which can be the base of a very compelling story (though, again, it's important to avoid too many cliches). The development of a character often happens as a result of the choices they make, as when we are faced with difficult choices we often discover our 'true' selves, and this can go on to have long-lasting effects in life.

Although creating a fantasy story opens up almost endless opportunities for creating bizarre, unique creatures and characters, the story will fall flat if people find the protagonist they are following dull. It's important for them to be many-layered, and to have these layers slowly unravel as the story goes on and they are faced with complex dilemmas, leading them to question themselves and their choices. These are the things that make them tangible, emotional and interesting.

Creating a world

The most important part of writing a fantasy world is for it to be consistent: there needs to be a set of some sort of rules of the world which the characters and their actions remain true to.

Magic is often a driving force behind many fantasy stories, and comes in many forms: witches and wizards, magical jewels, sacrificing to gods, scrolls and incantations... The source of the magic, who wields it, what non-magic users do to compensate, and how they treat magic users, etc. are all crucial aspects to think about.

I feel I'd like magic to be something fairly obscure and difficult to attain in my world; something that there used to be in abundance, but has since faded (similar to how it is presented in Game of Thrones). This opens up possibilities for thinking about the ways in which people would try to make up for the loss of magic. I think this would fit in rather well with the more 'gritty' tone of my world. I'd also like for it to be something that is only evoked through the creation of an artefact, for example through the particularly skilled way of writing a symbol or weaving a tapestry. This way it isn't something innate to someone from birth, and it isn't something which can be done by anyone: it is, above anything else, a craft. This way it isn't something that is widespread without really questioned, but a skill which takes time to develop.

Details play a very important role in creating a consistent fantasy reality. The details of the technology, clothing, weapons, architecture, etc. should all make sense and have some sort of reasoning behind them that follows the world's rules. It's important to take reference from real-world history to gain an understanding of how our technology works and has evolved, so that we can decide on a level of technology that would fit in with the world we're trying to create. A lot of fantasy takes place in a Middle Ages-type world where the majority of tools are rather basic and crude. This is reflected in the lifestyle of the citizens, in what they wear, what they eat, and how society is structured.

I know I'd prefer for my world to be without modern-day type technology, but at the same time I'd like to avoid the typical Medieval influences. I need to think a lot more about the reasons behind why and the overall history of the world that has influenced this.  In the more developed parts of my world, such as the larger cities, I'd like there to be a more unique aesthetic that combines influences from different eras of our world (whilst still making sense). I will define and design this further in future posts.

A list of tropes can be found here:
Reading through the most common tropes and plot devices can help the writing process as you can think of ways to subvert them into something original and fresher.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Responsive Brief - Ideas and Feedback

For our new brief we have a lot of control over we want to do. We will be creating our own project and writing a document explaining how our creation(s) would be transmedia. 

For my project I thought about working in 3D for digital modelling, but after some thinking I've decided to focus on creating character and conceptual art, as this is what I really want to develop. I think this project is a great opportunity to focus my attention on learning all aspects of creating conceptual illustrations, from studying the methods of painters/illustrators from history to examining the digital painting techniques of modern concept artists.

Here's a presentation I made to explain my intentions and show the 'mood' and atmosphere I'm going for.

I think it's important when creating concept art to look beyond the work of other concept artists. Examining illustrations and paintings from different eras shows an interesting range of aesthetics and styles, helps to inspire a variety of approaches and prevents you from just rehashing old ideas.

I am particularly inspired by the work of artists who worked in the 'golden age of illustration' (from the 1880s until after WW1). Artists like Arthur Rackham, Howard Pyle, Frank E Schoonover and Kay Nielsen all have distinct approaches to depicting people and environments in a manner which evokes a narrative and 'mood'.  

In terms of creating new races, I'd like to avoid those which are most commonly associated with the genre, like elves, dwarves, etc. I also want to avoid the warrior/race/ranger character tropes. There will be no clear good/evil characters, but each race will have characters with their own strengths and flaws. 

Although I think some of the races I create will be very similar to humans in many ways, I'd also like to work on less typically 'human-shaped' ones and consider a range of animal references. I'd like to think a lot about each race's unique history and culture, and also their biology and how it has been effected by their environment.

The environment, as I'm thinking now, will not be based on any particular era of Earth. There will be a mix of medieval-style settlements, but also large cities with some form of advanced technology. I'm thinking that there will be a presence of magic but it has largely diminished over time, and the people have reacted to this by attempting to create their own alternatives.

The target audience for this fantasy story/game would be young adult/adult (late teens to mid-20s). I want it to be quite dark and have an almost 'post-apocalyptic' fantasy vibe, and to explore more mature themes including power, morality and loyalty, yet the sprawling fantasy world should still be quite escapist and enchanting to audiences.


In our group feedback it was suggested I look into mythology of different cultures, such as Japanese, to gain inspiration for interesting characters and stories. It was noted that on my character inspiration page they all looked fairly intimidating, and that the world looks like it will be quite gritty. This helped me to realise I want to push the bleak, gritty 'feel' to show that this is a flawed world just like Earth.

I mentioned creating a map to show the world, and I got some positive feedback for that so I'd definitely like to work on this. It will help to establish the world and how different areas have effected each other.

It was asked what era that this world is based on, and that it looks similar to Skyrim. I need to think more about the level of technology and the political/social situations and make sure that, even if it's not based specifically on a time on Earth, it remains logical and consistent.

It was also suggested I work in different mediums, such as paint, to show a variety of approaches and colouring styles. I'd like to work on a painting but I don't really know anything about it on a technical level, as I've focussed a lot more on digital art. I will probably end up only creating digital-based artwork for the final pieces as it's a lot easier and makes it possible to edit/move sections of a painting without having to re-draw it.

Monday, April 15, 2013

My failed CoP practical...

For the practical aspect of context of practice, I thought about creating a game engine-based gallery where aspects of games would be placed into a different, 'high-art' setting in an attempt to encourage rethinking their status as an art form.

Due to time restraints I haven't managed to achieve this. I have a rough block-out of the structure, but there are no textures, content, sounds, etc.

However through writing my essay I have gained some more knowledge on the debate of games as art and of high/low culture. I've become aware that it is problematic for the majority of commercial games - which I'd thought about putting in this gallery - to be art, because they are not created with that in mind. Games that continually repeat tropes of genres are the equivalent of cinematic blockbusters - enjoyable in their own right, and often filled with visual splendours, but lacking depth. 

Art evokes a different response, whether that's the 'sublime' aesthetic experience written about in philosophy, or the contemplative response to challenging contemporary conceptual pieces.

The majority of games however are created to entertain and fulfil the desires of the player. Certain games are said to be art for their compelling stories, but often the narrative has little to do with the gameplay and more to do with pre-rendered cut-scenes or dialogue, which although effective make it difficult to classify as 'games as art'. 

Ludology claims that games should be viewed as an autonomous cultural form, and not interpreted as an extension of painting, film or literature. It should be understood as structural play. This again is difficult to translate into my gallery idea as I'd have to incorporate some way for the in-game player to experience the game within a game... which is beyond my capabilities.

I'd presumed that games should be appreciated in this gallery context for their visuals, which is why I originally considered putting screenshots in there - but this is actually very superficial and doesn't begin to understand how they can be seen as a valid art form. 

I've also become more aware of how artists do actually use the medium of games and the gallery setting to express 'high art' ideas, so in many ways my idea doesn't really achieve much as it already exists. The mediums of art today are so amalgamated and postmodern that it's no wonder games have been used to this effect. 

In light of discovering just how broad this whole discussion is, I'm not actually sure how I'd manage to translate it succinctly into a practical product. I like the idea of creating a game that focusses more on the act of playing than on meaning-making, but again I lack the knowledge of how to do this. 

Nevertheless it's been an eye-opening journey!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Pop Culture Writing Task

A few notes on this that I'm aware of:
- I think I've used too many quotes
- I used the word 'media' far too many times
- I'm not sure if I clearly triangulated an argument
- I referred to extra sources outside the two stated in the task
- I wrote too much! 

This essay aims to investigate Walter Benjamin's theory as written in his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Production (1936) in relation to contemporary video games in an increasingly transmedia and digitised post-modern world, looking in particular at the technologically-produced figure of Lara Croft. The digital icon's immense popularity has coincided with a shift in understandings of how consumers experience modern media, raising the question of whether or not she possesses the 'aura' that Benjamin describes.