Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

9 April, 2012

Did I Mention I’m Insane?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Continuing on the topic of world building, I’m going to give you a little insight into my demented mind. I think world building is just fun, something I occasionally do with no intention of using the world in any sort of story. That’s not the demented bit, I think that’s pretty common for humans in general, whether or not everyone’s conscious of it. No, the demented bit is where I, on occasion, spend hours and hours thinking of tiny and insignificant details that no-one will ever hear about, just because I’m a perfectionist idiot who doesn’t think my imaginary world is worthy of that label if I can’t draw you its star charts.

As an example, I’ll show you a bit of one of my conworlds (that’s constructed world for the uninitiated. This is the Internet, of course it’s a thing). I’m going to use the one I made to play Dungeons & Dragons in, and a world built for a game is of course different from one built for use in prose in some ways, but my madness shines through nonetheless. If you’ve read the D&D 4th edition books, you’ll recognise elements of the base setting here, as this world is based on that, with my own embellishments and changes wherever I felt like it. It is based on 4th edition, but rules elements aren’t really reflected in the world itself, so I think I’ll keep it if I ever move on to a different edition. I haven’t actually used it much in play, though. This is part of the dementia, I have spent more time by far planning this world than using it.

Here, look at this map I made. It’s not finished, and yet I’m showing it to you; a big step for me. The idea is that this is a map made by a character in the world, an academic who drew together various sources to make one big map of all the known world. Yeah. It’s not even an accurate map, I put in errors that this imaginary guy made!  And I’ll probably never even use it! Folly!

A map of the Middle World

Click to embiggen further.

As I said, it’s not finished. A couple of the months are missing symbols, I’m not really happy with the World Axis model, the map itself needs some work, and the constellation map is still pretty blank. Also, I think I might have messed up the order of the constellations of the ecliptic. That is not a joke, this is the sort of thing I spend time thinking about. I’ll give you a moment to pity me.

Actually, don’t, it’s not really warranted. I’m having fun, in my own weird way. I’ve spent quite some time thinking about how all the elements on this map fit together, which bits were owned by whom at what time, and how it all adds up now. Maybe if I finish this map, I’d feel driven enough to run a game in this world that focused on exploration, Age of Sail-style. The map isn’t the main product of this conworlding (yeah, it’s a verb too) of course – I have a by now rather sizeable wiki document detailing various parts of it, and a ludicrously complicated Calc spreadsheet which converts dates between the four calendar systems I’ve thought up. Yes, four calendar systems. Solar, lunar, mathematical and Mesoamerican-style. I did warn you this was an insight into my madness. I don’t dare show you the spreadsheet, it’s a mess of a thing which I’ve basically hacked away at until it did the thing I wanted it to, without ever fully understanding why, and I’m sure anyone who’s good with that sort of thing would point and laugh. I can tell you with some surety, however, that the 20th of Morad, 9651 in the Iounian calendar, is the equivalent of the 17th of Ronníad, 9893 in the Sehaninian calendar, 22/1/9893 in the Dark calendar and 5 rain, 17 hammer, 149 in the Imperial calendar. Geeks, bow before your king!

I think that’s sufficient exposure to my mind for now. It’s good to let some air in, now and then.

2 April, 2012

Ramblings on How to Play God

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

So, one thing I think the Myst series does very well is world building.

No, don’t go away! I’m not really making this into a Myst blog. This post is about world building in general, I’m just using Myst as a starting point, since that’s where my train of thought started in the first place.

When it comes to fiction, regardless of medium, my preferences tend to run towards what is nicely called speculative fiction, or more commonly science fiction and fantasy, or maybe even more commonly nerd stuff. A pretty common feature for this type of fiction is that it is set in a world which differs from our own. Sometimes it is an entirely different one, like in Narnia or A Song of Ice and Fire, sometimes it’s in a hidden one within our own, like in Harry Potter or The Dresden Files, but in either case it is something new and unknown. Since it is something the audience is unfamiliar with, the manner in which it is explained is important. My own fiction writing has languished lately, but when I do brush the dust of it I will end up writing in the same genre, and so I occasionally spend some time thinking of the best way to build and convey a fantasy world.

In fiction set in our own world, the writer can proceed on the assumption that everyone knows at the very least the basics of it. People will know what China is, and where Canada lies relative to Mexico, and roughly how much a dollar is worth, and how the Cold War caused international tension that still exists. No explanation is necessary, and so the writer can simply mention whatever he choses and move on. I think one of the most interesting approaches in fantasy writing is to proceed in the same way, as if the world was indeed familiar to the reader.

Since I started with Myst as an example, let me continue with that for a moment. As I’ve mentioned before, Myst is all about dropping you into its world and then refusing to explain anything, leaving you to figure it out for yourself. It is the epitome of showing, not telling. Have a look at the intro to Myst itself, it’s only about forty seconds long.

That’s all the context the game gives you. A figure fall through a crack, with a book. The figure disappears, and the book keeps falling through a star field, while a voice narrates that he realised the book would survive, contrary to his expectation. The book lands. That’s it. Next, it opens, the player falls through it, and finds him- or herself on a wooden dock on a weird island, with no clear objective.

But even though nothing is explained, everything has an explanation. This is the key bit, in my opinion. You don’t need to, as a player, understand exactly what happens in this intro. Indeed, Myst gives no explanation of it even at the end; to fully understand what happened in that sequence you must also play through Riven and read The Book of Atrus.  Further light on the event is shed in Uru, but even now it remains one of the central mysteries of the series – and one which will probably never really be explained.

Of course, this is a game series. It is one thing to drop an unexplained ruin in an interactive game, another thing entirely to convey it in prose. In prose, the imagined assumption of shared knowledge can get a bit much at times. If handled poorly, you just get a bunch of names with no reference point and it’s just off-putting. Sometimes it’s worth it to soldier through those dense sections until you do orient yourself – Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth-series of books spring to mind as an example of this – but more often than not I’ll not have the patience.

I think the key is to have a large knowledge of the world you’ve built, and then dole it out very gradually. Not with explanation, but with gradual exposure. I think you could make up a world as you go along, but the coherence and plausibility of it increases when it is all consistent and thought-through. In the work itself, the larger world should be implicit, but behind the scenes it should be explicit. None of this is revolutionary, I think; it is merely my stance in this. Of course, taken too far, you end up with hopeless perfectionism, and an inability to proceed without excessive details. That’s where I tend to end up.

19 January, 2012

The Smell Doesn’t Really Matter

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Naming things is hard. As I am writing this, I am trying to think of a new name for this site, something to go on the top banner to trumpet the identity of this little blog. I am finding it difficult. By the time this post is published, I suppose I will have chosen one, displayed right at the top of this very page, so the suspense is ruined from the start, but perhaps the process will be interesting even so.

In its previous incarnation, the blog was simply called Obdormio.com, the domain name filling the role of title. That is a common practice, but in this case I think it was more a matter of me giving up on finding a proper title than anything else. As the new site rises from the ashes of the old, the domain name stays the same – it is a good enough name for me; it uses the handle I have employed on the Internet for many years, and the site is still all about whatever I’m thinking of – but I should like a new title for it. And finding one is hard.

I’ve never been good at naming things, I always worry that the name doesn’t say enough or too much – or the wrong thing entirely. The plain fact of the matter is that Juliet was full of crap – there’s a lot of stuff in a name. It sets the tone right away, and I suppose part of the difficulty in choosing one is that I am not entirely certain what the tone will be here yet. The problem is, I want it all. I want it to be humorous, with some silly nonsense to make people chuckle. I want it to be serious, where I can write about issues I am thinking about. I want it to be informal, entertaining, fictional, real and personal. Is there a name that can incorporate all that? Well, yes, “blog” can do it, but it seems a bit generic.

Title Suggestion: The Blog

And hubristic.

I am somewhat enamoured with big and obscure words, so perhaps I could try to dig up some sort of forgotten word from the Phrontistery with a meaning relating to speaking or writing or rambling.

Title Suggestion: Somniloquence

Possibly even relating cleverly to my chosen handle.

Since I have chosen a visual theme that emulates magazines or newspapers, perhaps I should go with a title that emulated that as well? Content ripped straight from the headlines of my head!

Title Suggestion: The Internal Chronicle

Something like this, but better.

I have toyed with the idea of using a longer phrase, though it does carry the danger of making it hard to remember, or hard to relate to the content. Or worse, just lame.

Title Suggestion: Sufficiently accurate for poetry

"Stealing Babbage's words and making them way more pretentious!"

I just don’t know. Of these, I think I like “Somniloquence” best, but even that doesn’t feel quite right. The perfectionist in me is probably the main barrier to just picking one, I’m afraid. It’s not even as though I can’t change it if I feel like it – the domain name stays the same, after all.

Well, dear future reader, as noted at the start, you already know what I ended up picking. Future people get all the perks. I’ve still got no idea. Naming things is hard.

16 January, 2012

I Am Not a Blogger: A Blank Slate

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

I am not a blogger, by nature. This, I have deduced from my previous attempts to keep a blog going. It just doesn’t come naturally to me, keeping a regular schedule, updating again and again. While I do enjoy writing, there is a drive, deeply ingrained in me, not to force something for the sake of production.

It’s not a good thing, I think. Forcing production will, of course, result in some duds, but on the whole I think it would do me good to write something regularly – both from a writing and a time management point of view. Improving prose is a good thing. Managing time enough to do it is also a good thing. I have always disliked the Da Vinci quote about there being sufficient time for those who make use of it, because I always feel that time is not sufficient. Unable to fault the premise of the quote, I am left with the fact that I just plain suck at managing my time, something I should seek to rectify. Apparently, Da Vinci also said, “I have wasted my hours,” a much more heartening quote on one level as it puts me in good company – but a second look brings me down to Earth again as it means Da Vinci managed to waste his hours a lot more productively than I.

But back to the point: I am not a blogger, or rather, not blogger material. I don’t have a specific topic – TV reviews, for instance –  in mind to give this thing a focus. I don’t mingle with famous people, and know very little in the form of gossip. I have no particular qualifications setting me up as someone giving informed opinions on a subject. Or, I suppose a case could be made that I should be able to speak with some authority on the subject of revenge tragedy in comics, but I certainly don’t feel like an expert. The thesis got a middling grade, in any case. Looking back on it now, only half a year on, there are already many things I would do differently in it had I the chance, but I don’t really spend much effort on that line of thought.

This is another deeply ingrained conviction, a healthier one this time. I firmly belive that there is little point in dwelling on things you can’t do anything about, and the past falls firmly into this category. I just do not see the point in worrying about something beyond my own ability to affect. That’s not to say that I never do, of course, but I try not to, and I think I am happier for it. The Serenity Prayer does sum it all up quite nicely, I think: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. What cannot be changed, past mistakes among them, should not unduly disturb the present.

But isn’t this whole post dwelling on past failures, failures of time management, commitment, and writing? Yes, and no. Not allowing the past to disturb you isn’t the same as not learning from it. And that, I suppose, is the point of this whole thing, in addition to forcing production – it is a resolution to change and do better. Is it a New Year’s resolution? Not really, though I suppose the arrival of a new year helps kick start this sort of stock taking. Let’s call that one a maybe.

I’ve cleared away the old nonsense from this site, making room for new things. I am not a blogger, but I am resolving to try to become one. Regular production of text, on a schedule of some sorts. Public shame should I falter. And what is all this blogging going to be about? I have no idea. Probably a lot more stream of conciousness rambling like this, to be honest. Hopefully I’ll find a few actual topics to bite into in between the duds. You have to write a lot of shit to get to the gold, the wisdom goes, so if I keep going long enough, I’m sure something will come of it.

I have wasted my hours. I will probably waste many more. But going forwards, I’ll see if I can’t save a few of them.

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