Sunday, 27 August 2017

Sunday (final day) at Worldcon 75

On my last day at Worldcon 75 there were only three panels I wanted to attend, which was good because I was getting even more tired than earlier in the weekend. Afterwards I rested, did a bit of blog writing, met for one last time with some of the Writing Excuses Retreat members, and went to bed early to get ready for my 3am (Helsinki time) wakeup to start my 26 hours of travel homewards (arriving in Kingston at 10pm Eastern, 5am Helsinki).

11:00 Systems of Magical Healing with Robin Hobb, Jo Lindsay Walton, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Mark Tompkins, and Debra Jess. The major theme of this session was that magical healing has to have some cost, and that typical zero-cost healing in games is “stupid” in stories. Costs that were mentioned:
  • Draining life energy from the landscape or other people
  • Headaches, dehydration, even injury, from overuse
  • Costing fatigue like exercise does
  • The healer keeps part of healed injury or diseases
  • Healing one part of the body takes something from other parts.
  • Healing can only be done with special resources by specific people, as with athelas in Lord of the Rings. Someone noted that the mere fragrance of athelas was refreshing, and that Frodo never completely healed.
  • The shrink-and-heal-internally solution of Fantastic Voyage and Innerspace.
  • Deep medical knowledge and diagnosis is necessary to avoid harm.
Some suggestions from the audience
  • The healer or the healed must spend some time as an animal. Someone suggested a puppy healer would enthusiastically try to heal everybody, whereas a cat would say “it’s your own fault for getting hurt” and walk away.
  • Healers loses some of their lifespan
  • For a very dark form, transfer injury to criminals (or perhaps volunteers); this was used in the Quality of Mercy episode of Babylon 5.
  • Healing might require singing (I think someone said this was part of Anglo-Saxon lore).
Someone wondered how our experience of real-world healthcare might affect stories, raising the issues of whether healing is scarce and who has access to it. There would be huge demands on the few healers to spend all their time and energy in healing; if a child could heal they would need protection against exploitation. On the flip side, some healing might no longer be necessary if there is common knowledge of things like the effects of hygiene.

In myths some healing is inexplicably powerful, such as Arthur’s scabbard’s ability to heal any injury. Vamprism “heals” old age at great cost.

One book was recommended:

12:00 Writing Fight Scenes That Work with Ian McDonald, Elizabeth Bear, Jack Campbell, i. Simes, and Sebastien de Castell. Bear almost immediately said that point of view solves everything to do with fight scenes; you need to take into account motivations, people’s actions, and reactions afterwards. For a story fight, something must change. Action alone isn’t sufficient and can even be boring; don’t try to use it just for entertainment value.

Blow-by-blow detail isn’t the subjective experience since much of a fight is reflex, especially hand-to-hand; there is a bit more room for calculation given the distance at which one uses swords. Try to be in the fighter’s PoV, reporting how the body is feeling. In the heat of the moment it is very hard to count bullets. A big fight (which I assume meant many-on-many combat) can be longer.

What starts the fight? There have to be stakes; for example, in a modern bar fight, the winner is often who is most willing to go to Emergency; the actual fight is usually brief. There two sides have diametrically opposing views, for example holding territory versus taking it. In Guns of Navaronne the issue is to protect a ship. There can be subtle nuances; in the fight between Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black in The Princess Bride the two ought to be friends, and we don’t want either to die. Dominance and survival are two key motivations.

The reader has to care who wins, and it has to look hard to win, or there is no tension.

Fighting in stories often has rules of conduct; if the bad guy breaks them he has to lose, and the good guy needs to be justified. The Geneva Conventions are rules for war. Rules are desirable to those they advantage. Physics gives other rules; if you can just hyperjump away there is no fight; I was reminded of Jerry Pournelle’s “Alderson Drive”, where hyperjumps could only happen at specific points in space, which forced ships into one place to fight.

14:00 Writing about Plants, Landscapes, and Nature with Anthony Eichenlaub, J.S. Meresmaa, Eric Scott Fischl. The initial part talked about settings in general. One speaker didn’t like the “setting is a character” meme; it’s something else because it has no character arc. Descriptions can be practical, but can be also set the tone. What are the daily and seasonal challenges in a setting? What senses other than visual are evoked?

Setting can help establish a character’s personality; one speaker mentioned using descriptions of lawns, and another mentioned how someone curses at brambles. Non-nature settings deal with similar issues: Lyndon Johnson would establish dominance by sitting in a higher chair with visitors sitting on a low couch.

If a region is unfamiliar, you need to do a lot of research. There’s an incredibly detailed survey of different soil types around the United States. One author was tripped up in that the bioluminescent species in one place was fireflies and in another was glowworms. Describing the diversity of a forest is very hard, as is some type of landscape you haven’t experienced. Another resource: Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants; it has no pictures but you can google the plant names. The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart describes plants used to make alcohol.

A few recommendations: