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Thread: The AARland Gazette

  1. #101
    In the eye of the beholder by frogbeastegg

    The Beautiful People

    I sat down last night and began to read ‘A game of thrones’ by George R. R. Martin, or more accurately re-read. As I reached the description of Tyrion I stopped and began to think. How many other books with an ugly main character have I read? The answer was not many.

    From there I changed the question slightly; how many books have I read with beautiful main characters? The answer was something I had always suspected but never put into coherent thought before, perhaps because I really do not like it. Almost every book has main characters described as beautiful. In many books the heroes are beautiful, the good but unimportant people are pretty, the villains are either ugly or equally beautiful. You know what? I really, really do hate that.

    If you go out into the world around you and look at the people you will find most of them actually fall under the label of pretty. Pretty, in the froggy lexicon, is that girl who looks average until she smiles, that man who gains a certain brooding something if he frowns. Pretty people could only be accused of being beautiful by someone who loves them; love tends to do funny things to your eye sight.

    Moving down a notch there are some genuinely ugly people out there, to greater or lesser extents. They never quite look good, even if they smile or whatever it lacks that certain something that makes a pretty person suddenly become more eye catching.

    In the opposite direction we have the beautiful people. They really do not make up much of the population, probably about the same amount as the ugly people.

    So with that kind of split why do most books revolve around beautiful people with the occasional ugly one and a handful of forgettable pretty ones? To me it has always smacked partly of cliché and partly of a weak attempt to make the main characters stand out. Think of Hero A, a square jawed, blue eyed, blond hero in his shining armour wading through a horde of appreciative peasants he has just saved. He stands out. Now swap him for Hero B, an average looking chap with armour that looks as if it might have a practical purpose and suddenly he begins to blend in. As a writer you don’t really want your main characters to blend in with the background, they need to stand out somehow. I consider making them drop dead gorgeous to be the easy way out.

    At this point I’ll make a slight side trip and say that if a character stands out solely because he does not quite fit into his world then it is a bad thing. Blending in can also mean that your character fits into his world as if he belongs there. It’s quite obvious if you think about it, but it sometimes seems as if many published authors do not give it a whit of consideration.

    Hero B can be made to stand out through his personality and actions. He will also stand out because you focus on him; he will receive more detail and attention than the other similar looking people wandering about in the background. Sometimes at the beginning of a story it can be fun to have your hero wandering around looking like a bystander until the brown stuff hits the fan and suddenly he steps forward and reveals himself to be the hero. It’s a small twist; often the audience expect to be introduced to the hero via this unassuming character.

    It is easy to say Heroine A is the most beautiful thing Hero B has ever seen; it is not so easy to build Heroine A into a personality Hero B would love. Beauty only goes skin deep, and I find that is about as deep as the beautiful character’s personality usually goes. Describing a character as beautiful takes a couple of lines and no real thought. Building a complex, functioning character takes much more time and space; it also requires a lot more consideration.

    When it comes to love would you rather tell a story where things grow out of what your characters are, or one where they look at each other and instantly fall in love because of looks? Which would you rather read? Part of my long standing hatred for any story involving love stems from this persistent insistence on love at first sight based solely on how the characters look. Lust at first sight really would be a better description; excuse me while I am snooty and say that many of the authors I have read need to invest in a dictionary and look ‘love’ and ‘lust’ up. I really don’t care if people want to write about lust at first sight as long as they give it the correct name.

    It is perfectly alright, I hasten to add, if characters end up attracted to each other because of looks and then fall for each other based on something more concrete. It’s just I am so sick of encountering Princess Wow, the most beautiful woman in the universe and Prince Gosh the most handsome man ever to have lived meeting and falling in love with each other’s delicately chiselled features and living oh so happily ever after without ever finding anything to like or dislike about each other. Sadly I find the necessary development often does not take place.

    If you think of people you yourself have loved and then try to sum up just what you love you will more than likely find in the end it is more about them as a person than they way they looked. There will be elements of appearance in there (“Those arm muscles :sigh:”) but many more intangible things (“The way he always made me laugh.”). This kind of balance is needed in fiction too, and without it I have a very hard time believing any supposed love story.

    Now before those of you who have read my stories accuse me of hypocrisy yes I have written a few beautiful characters. The tally is rather interesting. I had Culad; he was handsome because his in-game CK portrait was one of the better looking ones, likewise Margaret. If it had been my choice then they would more than likely have been pretty; in the book version I am currently writing they are. Elen was beautiful because the story required it. I hated her without exception even though she did have more depth than the average puddle. Now I have Fulk; his good looks come from several sources including a broken nose which has set slightly crooked. Being handsome suits him and it suits the plot, and not in the cliché ‘handsome chap falls for plain girl’ way.

    One of my pet peeves in this already peeve inducing subject is authors who insist on having beautiful characters who don’t even meet the standards of their time. For heaven’s sake do a bit of research and get it right! For example the medieval ideal of feminine beauty was a tall, willowy woman with blue eyes, golden hair and creamy white skin. Your character can be as beautiful as anything but if she hasn’t got blonde hair the vast majority of the medieval populace will be saying “She is quite pretty, but such a shame about the hair. If it were golden she would be truly breathtaking.” Now if your character is in another country aside from medieval England then her dark hair may go down better; Wales, for example, didn’t have a thing against dark hair.

    Then as now not everyone agreed with the universal standard of beauty but you should bear in mind that the universal standard is supposedly the average viewpoint, and also not many people like to go against the crowd and state they like something generally viewed as disastrous. Characters might secretly like the much maligned dark hair but do they have the strength of will to tell people? Some will, but many will not and they will agree with everyone else publicly while privately thinking otherwise.

    Research! Make your characters fit their world in looks, description of looks and judgement of looks as well as areas such as clothing!

    I’m going to end this short article now by saying something which is so incredibly obvious I almost feel as if I am insulting anyone reading this. Look at the real world, what is in it and how it works. Now incorporate that into your writing. It is so amazingly obvious, but out of the many thousands of fictional books I have read in my life only a handful of them really do get that right.

    People are grey, not black and white. “Good and bad and in-between” as some quote I barely recall goes, but unlike the original meaning of the quote that should describe each and every character individually, not the collective cast.

    The same also applies to looks: a handful of beautiful people, a handful of ugly people and a whole lot of pretty ones. Real world proportions mixed according to your setting. Heroes can be ugly, villains can be forgettable in appearance, it is very possible to have a love interest who is nothing more than pretty, or even ugly.

    To her world Eleanor is plain. To Fulk when she frowns, smiles or gets that ‘I am going to murder you!’ gleam in her eye she is beautiful. Eleanor is one of the pretty people.

  2. #102
    Hurricane Sergeant of Arms Amric's Avatar
    Europa Universalis 3

    Join Date
    May 2003
    Indiana, United States
    The Eye of the Hurricane<Amric>

    Random Thoughts

    I’ve struggle for over a month to write about battle formations. Guess what? I wrote 10 pages on it. I reread it, and it’s awful. Complete drivel. Bored me completely silly. I tossed it away and I’ve decided to give up on the whole idea. Why? Because it was so dry burnt toast is more pliable and enjoyable. I made a promise and I couldn’t deliver.

    So I decided to forget trying. I’ll g in a different direction. I’ll write about whatever passes through my brain. Battle formation! Stop! I’ve tried that and it sucked rotten eggs. Battle scenes! Nope, not going there either. There are brilliant examples of such all over the forums by a huge group of talented writers. ‘Nuff said.

    How about this? The British Empire was huge, yet no English monarch ever seemed to style themselves Emperor or Empress. Why is that? The Spanish royalty did it at times. So did Austria. The Kaiser of Germany styled himself an Emperor. The Tsars of Russia were Imperial. As were China and Japan. The Mughal Empire. The list goes on. But why not the monarchy of England.

    I don’t know the true answer to this, and I wonder if anyone does know a definitive answer. I DO know that while the empire had a strong central government, it ran the empire very decentralized. Let me explain. The colonial governors had a great deal of power. The central government might set tax rates for tea, stamps, et al, but the governors could and DID tax other things. They were the voice and will of the monarch.

    Does that meant he monarch knew everything his governors were doing? Of course not! Many of them lined their pockets using their ‘special’ taxes that the king might know nothing about. It’s not like the king could physically travel to every colonial outpost. That’s why there were governors. They had English law and made up their own laws specific to the territory they governed. Which didn’t always jibe with a colony ‘next door’.

    So how did the English manage to hold together such a vast empire? The king would turn a blind eye toward a governor’s avarice as long as that governor ensured English supremacy and protected English interests and kept the native relatively peaceful. He could steal the crown blind as long as he sent the taxes the king required. Any other tax monies were slipped quietly into the governor’s personal coffers.

    Being a colonial governor was lucrative. Beats being a modern politician all hollow. Even the most corrupt modern politician would take an entire life time to amass the fortune a colonial governor gathered in just a few years.

    Does this mean those governors were incompetent? Not at all. Some most assuredly were, but they would move on in a few years and a new man would come in a clean up the mess and have things running smoothly. Believe me, he was collecting money to his sticky fingers.

    So why did England have a strong central government and yet have a decentralized empire? They had little choice. The sheer staggering distance from England made a decentralized empire the only logical choice in the end.

    Unlike Austria who had all their territory right together, England’s was scattered around the globe. The further into Siberia you get from Moscow the more decentralized the government became. The distance from distant Irkusk to Moscow is immense. It took weeks even by TRAIN to get to Moscow.

    The Spaniards tried to be more ‘hands on’ in the central and south American possessions. Which paralyzed their governors when unexpected issues came into play. They would have to wait for specific instructions from the Home Office. Why do you thinkt he Spanish Empire crumbled so quickly compared to England’s?

    So what have we learned? It IS possible to have a strong central government and yet have a decentralized empire. Now a decentralized empire can more easily withstand an incompetent monarch. A strong centralized government with a centralized empire falls pretty to incompetent leadership? Disaster for that empire! Spain again serves as a prime example of what will happen to a strong centralized empire controlled by a moron. Or a succession of morons.

    England had her share of incompetent monarchs, but by having a decentralized empire it could survive their stupidity. The American Revolution can be laid right at the feet of the colonial governors and the English central government. America was the closest of England’s possessions. When the governors began screwing up the central government stepped in and made things even worse. The English lost the US. Believe me, they DID learn their lesson! The central government stopped directly interfering with the governors, other than to replace them. The empire ran much more smoothly when the central government stopping trying to micromanage everything.

    But let’s not forget discipline. The British army and navy were supremely disciplined and considered the best in the world for quite some time. Russia didn’t defeat Napoleon. Winter and his own pride did that. Austria couldn’t do it. Neither could Prussia. We won’t discuss the Spanish. It was the British who truly ultimately beat Napoleon. The English navy was supreme on the waves. The English under Wellington beat Napoleon.

    It was England that imprisoned him. Nobody else could do it. Only William the Conqueror managed to take all of England after the fall of Rome. The Angles didn’t do it. Neither did the Saxons. Intermarrying made it happen eventually. But it was the Normans that did it. The Spanish Armada tried, and failed. Had the Spanish army actually LANDED in England there was little the English could have done.

    The English army at the time couldn’t have stopped the Spanish. As good as the English army eventually became it has always been the navy that has protected England. Even Hitler shelved the idea of invading England. Its armies would have destroyed English organized resistance quickly. But it was the NAVY Hitler feared. He knew he couldn’t cross the English Channel without destroying the Home Fleet. Which Germany wasn’t capable of doing.

    But that is the whole point. Nobody REALLY wanted to tangle with English naval supremacy. That supremacy was so daunting that no other power truly felt capable of wresting England’s colonies from her. Other than the Japanese in WWII. THEY did it. But they also proved that England’s thin red line was just that. THIN. IF Japan had not bombed Pearl Harbor there is a justifiable argument that the US might not have entered the war. No US involvement meant England was very unlikely to regain her lost Asian colonies.

    Japan also proved that a strong army and navy can quickly over extend itself. Once they forced the US into the war they were doomed. Their idea was to completely destroy the US Pacific Fleet. They failed. They did come tantalizingly close, but as Truman proved close only counts in horseshoes, grenades, and atomic bombs.

    The US was called the Arsenal of Freedom for a reason. At the time the US could out produce virtually the world in every category. Japan knew it. Germany knew it. Italy knew it. So did England and Russia. Without US production and help Russia would have fallen to Germany. Without US aid, England would have starved to death due to the stranglehold the German U-boats had on English commercial shipping.

    Would England have been conquered? No. Submitting to being a German protectorate? Very likely. WWII was the proof that the US was the new naval master of the seas. A mastery it has never relinquished.


    He with the best toys always wins. Tell the French that after Dien Ben Phu. Tell the English that after the Revolution. Tell the Soviets that after Afghanistan. Tell the Germans that after WWII. The Germans had the highest technological army in the world at the time. What happened? Russian cannon fodder slowed down the German advance enough for General Winter to come into play. Hordes of Sherman Tanks was another. The Sherman Tank was a piece of crap even compared to a Soviet T-72. The Soviet tanks had VERY thick armor. As thick as a Tiger Tank. The Sherman Tank was a death trap.

    But the US sent waves of them until they swamped German defenses. The German army was beaten by numbers, not by technology. Don’t get me wrong, all things considered I would really like technology.

    But if all I had was a stick I’ll use that. Some places are very unfriendly to high technology. Tanks don’t work well in swamps. Falling into a pit tends to make them rather useless as well. Sharpen that stick and now I’ve got a spear. Swamp that tank and it has a severely limited range of operations.

    You can avoid a tank that is trapped. A grounded jet is virtually useless. A grenade launcher without grenades is just a big metal stick. A rifle with bullets is a stick. Hard to sharpen a rifle. Or a grenade launcher. Now a fellow with a sharp stick is not encumbered with many pounds of useless equipment. He can travel relatively quickly and lightly.

    A sharp stick can kill you as well as a 9mm parabellum. But you can always run out of bullets. Oops, I broke my stick in that fellow’s throat. No problem! I’ll just pick up another stick. Bingo! Fresh weapon! Not even sticky with coagulated blood yet.

    Hey, that stick can kill food too! Spear a fish. Or a hare. Or even a deer. An empty rifle can’t kill a fish. Nor with throwing it at a hare be all that effective. You aren’t near quiet enough o sneak up on a deer and club it to death with that empty rifle. Hm, rifle boy is going to get mighty hungry when his rations run out.

    Let’s not forget how many times Peter Ebbesen has destroyed his enemies when out teched. Care to count? Me either. Let’s just say it’s a staggering amount. Sheer numbers of savages can roll right over a much higher tech group if they don’t mind mind-blowing losses. A man can ably carry so many bullets. Then they are gone. Finding a new stick is EASY!

    Let’s remember might Rome. Conquered Britain. But couldn’t pacify the Picts. The Picts were so fierce and dangerous that Rome built a WALL to keep them penned up away from civilized Britain. Or the Germanic tribes that slaughtered what was it? TWO Roman legions? Rome was more technological advanced and far more disciplined.

    Didn’t make a bit of difference. Terrain and a willingness to accept staggering losses can make up for a tech disadvantage. Now before Valdemar swoops down and asks what all this has to do with writing, I’ll tell you. It’s about the nebulous concepts the game presents us as players. As a writer? A little more difficult to explain. But basically if a person better understands certain concepts and ideas the better that person can explain to his or her readers what is happening.

    Think about it. You march into native held lands with your swords, cavalry, archers and get your head handed to you. A technologically inferior people just kicked your tail. How could that happen? Steel rusts quick in a rain forest. Cavalry does very poorly in mountains, hills, and swamps. Wet bowstrings are bad. Overconfidence or sheer leadership incompetence can also be a factor.

    Lack of knowledge about the lay of the land is another factor. Being outnumbered by a huge margin is another. Those good old boys with sticks and rocks defended their lands and your troops’ corpses will fertilize the land. Or their bones will bleach in the unyielding sun of the desert. But your vaunted forces were beat by savages.

    Or you just annihilated them due to tech advantage. You used your tactical skills and superior fire power to destroy troublesome natives. Or you swept in on a peaceful people and obliterated them to make sure no ‘dirty’ savages could possibly bother your ‘clean’ civilized colonists.

    So how does lower tech beat higher tech on the sea? Didn’t Captain Cook get whacked by Hawaiians who came out late at night in dug out canoes and swarmed over his ship and killed him. IF it wasn’t him it had to have been some other fellow some natives did just that to.

    So how do oar powered galleys defeat a sail powered warship carrying cannon? They could swarm it, accepting losses and overwhelm it when they boarded it. Or they could just RAM it. Sailing ships don’t carry a ram for a reason. Sailing ships can’t back up! Galleys can.

    I’ll tell you something. Coming up eventually in my Baltic Tribes story I have to fight the German Kingdom. I had built a few warships and a bunch of galleys. I sent my warships to guard the way into the Baltic. The germans showed up and obliterated my fleet. I was devastated and horrified. I thought I was dead meat. The Germans had troop ships with them. I was certain that they were going to land in my capitol province which was totally undefended.

    I was in deep trouble. Or so I thought. But those same Germans ran into my galleys. I watched, figuring I was going to see my galleys go to the bottom as well. Guess what? Those cocky Germans ran into a buzz saw. My galleys destroyed the German fleet. I was SAVED! I had forgotten that galleys tend to do better than warships in the Baltic and Med early in the game. Even though I was lower in naval tech, I chewed up their fancy warships and spit them out.

    Want to know something. I might just pit a few galleys against a cannon sailing ship. Why? Because a galley is FAR more maneuverable. It can turn sharper, spin on it’s axis and back up. Makes them hard to hit. Cannon take awhile to reload. Far longer than archers, or even a crossbow.

    A galley or a group of galleys could easily beat a single sailing ship outfitted with cannon. If the galleys have at least a 3-1 numbers advantage. I don’t’ see why they couldn’t defeat any number of warships up to the point of 1800. Saying this, I haven’t actually TRIED this, and that 3-1 advantage might have to be adjusted upward sharply. But I still believe it is possible.

    These are just brief examples of ways a technologically inferior people can defeat a tech superior foe. Now if that tech superior foe also outnumbers you, then you are almost certainly doomed. UNLESS that some foe is embroiled in a war that is a higher priority for them or the distance between you is rather large.

    The American colonies didn’t really have the population of England. Or the tech that England had. But 3000 miles separated them. Now that is a HUGE distance. Plus their bitter enemy France was right across the channel waiting for England to slip. They also were stretched thin defending what they already had. So much so that they brought in Hessens to try and pacify the colonies.

    Didn’t work. Technologically superior. Numerically superior. Yet that 3000 miles made a HUGE difference. That numerical superiority didn’t mean much when they are limited to how many troops they can bring over at any one time when the sailing time is a couple of months and you only have so many ships. France also helped, but in the end the colonists would have won without help.

    Why? Even though the war was very costly for the colonists, it was FAR more expensive for England. Prosecuting a war is expensive. Doing so over a vast distance is even more expensive. Trade with America was disrupted. The French were also disrupting trade for England wherever they could. The war had become very unpopular in Britain. The feeling was that if those ingrates across the pond don’t want to be part of the British Empire than they could rot alone.

    Remember, the English won far more military victories than they lost to the colonists. But wars are very expensive. If you can’t hope to recoup your losses than even if you win, you lose. But this is another way a tech disadvantaged nation can win. Outlast your enemy until he gives up.

    There is no shame in retreating before a superior foe. It’s smart. Only a fool says stand and fight to the last man. Or a complete madman. Retreating allows you the opportunity to fight another day. Standing and fighting when you have no chance to win is stupid.

    In reality troops can be hard to replace. In the game if you have a low manpower pool it is better to save what you can when you can. Exchange territory for time if you need to, unless you are literally with your back against the wall and nowhere else to go. Then you might as well fight. The game doesn’t give you the option to let that army surrender. Which is kind of a bummer, but that is the way it goes.

    So you had better watch out for that fellow with the stick. He might be sneaking up behind you right this minute!

  3. #103
    Maestro Director's Avatar
    For the MotherlandHearts of Iron IIIHeir to the ThroneEuropa Universalis III: In NomineEU3 Napoleon's Ambition
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    Aug 2002
    York PA
    Filthy Humans (Director)

    ‘Filth, Disease and Beauty’

    I just got through reading Frogbeastegg’s piece on beautiful people, and I’m both intrigued and moved to carry on her thoughts a little farther. By the way, FBE, if we’re ever in the same city I’ll set aside a day just to have the privilege of conversing with you (and the drinks are on me). Being able to see things that everyone else sees but to also see them as exceptional and unusual – what you might call the perception of an artist – is all too rare.

    The part of your article that caused me ‘furiously to think’ was when you began to wonder why heroes (and sometimes villains) were so often depicted as beautiful, and I think I may have some insights about that, or at least as to what ‘beautiful’ means.

    There is a famous quote (which I can’t find just now on Google, so bear with me if I remember it incorrectly) from a college chemistry text. It lists the estimated date at which fermentation and alcohol were discovered, and then the much later invention of soap. ‘Men,’ the author concludes, ‘had much rather be drunk than clean.’ How dirty is the human animal? Consider that there is a louse so specialized it lives only in human hair.

    The biggest injustice we do to History is to clean it up, but clean and sanitize it we do. You won’t find grime, disease and filth in many period novels or movies, nor will you encounter characters wearing dirty clothes or in need of a bath or a shave. Until the modern era, life was dirty, people were unclean and the mortality rate was astronomical. Just to repeat one often-cited fact, in the American Civil War disease caused more casualties than combat by a wide margin. Accounts of city life in the medieval and renaissance eras show us that the cities were ripe little heaps of garbage, manure and filth of all sorts, infested with rats and flies and vermin of all kinds. Castle privies left the outside walls streaked with urine and manure. Horse and animal dung was literally caked in the streets; those cattle, pigs and sheep driven in to market left behind their manure, blood and offal. Tanneries collected vats of rotting urine. Garbage was dumped from windows into the street, where an occasional rainstorm might clump it in a reeking mass in the channel at the center of the street… if the city was advanced enough to have such a drainage ditch at all. Even Venice was plagued by the pollution of her lagoons, and so much alcohol was consumed because it was far safer to drink beer or wine than water. There is sound reasoning behind the common assumption that the countryside is healthier than the city.

    Remember that peasants often slept with or near their animals, especially in winter. The epidemic diseases that slaughtered the humans of the New World all originally crossed over from animals, including smallpox and measles. A modern example of this is AIDS, which comes to humans via consumption of infected, improperly-cooked monkey meat.

    It would have been almost impossible to find good clean water anywhere near a human settlement, given that the runoff from the sewers and privies would eventually find its way into the ground water. Minute traces of human or animal waste could lead to cholera or typhoid fever. If infected waste got into the cisterns or wells – and it would unless unusual care were taken – then cholera and typhoid could rip through a community with ghastly results. Without refrigeration and preservatives, food rotted but was commonly eaten anyway, leaving open the gate to all sorts of food-poisonings. Spices were valued not only as preservatives but for their ability to disguise food that had turned, and an entire cuisine of rich sauces arose in France partly as a way to disguise bad meat. There were epidemics of insanity including visions and manic, unstoppable dancing that possibly came from fungi on grain – sort of a medieval LSD trip that afflicted whole towns at once.

    And in many areas a shortage of firewood meant that fires were stoked with dried manure – even cooking fires. Just picture that roast turning on the spit over a smoking dried-horse-dung fire… or better yet, don’t. Human feces were used to manure crops, which meant a risk of contamination while spreading the manure as well as from eating the crops or drinking from water down-hill from the field. One theory about the prohibition on eating pork, common to Judaism and Islam, is that pigs were rife with diseases that were easily communicable to humans… not surprising since pigs were given garbage and human and animal feces to eat.

    Men stank. Baths were scarce, much more so than in the era of the Roman Empire, whose vast communal baths kept the citizenry clean. Bathing required a fair quantity of water, preferably heated, and soap. To heat that water you needed a large tub, repeated trips to the well, a quantity of wood or other fuel… and soap was an uncommon, expensive luxury that didn’t lather or clean very well. This lack of bathing meant that men – and women – literally stank, and their clogged pores made acne, blackheads and zits abundant. Their hair was greasy and sometimes matted. Lice and fleas were so common as to pass without mention, and clothes were (by our standards) rarely washed or changed. Bedding was commonly changed twice a year, by which time it was teeming with wildlife.

    Toothbrushes and toothpaste are a recent invention, the first mass-produced model dating from England in the 1780’s. So dental caries was rampant, rotten and broken teeth the norm and bad breath was foul beyond anything we know today. Dental repair was unknown outside of the pulling of abcessed teeth. Medical care was almost nonexistent by our standards, and a physician was as likely to kill a patient as to help him. Infections were often lethal in the absence of antibiotics, and the only way to deal with severe damage to a hand, foot, arm or leg was amputation. Tapeworm, ringworm and their cousins were everywhere; blindness often followed from an eye infection.

    What about the nobility? They might have bathed more often than the commoners, or they might not. Certainly they were no strangers to fleas and lice, as the heavy toll of the Black Death (carried by infected fleas) shows us. Perfume, after all, was invented to cover up the reek of French nobles who rarely bathed, and wigs became fashionable so that one’s own hair could be cropped.

    Slow improvements in public health and sanitation were made over the centuries, with the benefits accruing first and most to the rich and noble. Bathing was – if not common – no longer despised, and mass-production of textiles made it possible for people to own more than one set of clothes. But even in the 18th and 19th centuries, garbage, manure and disease were common elements of human life and today they are not nearly rare enough.

    A beautiful person, male or female, would be one who was clean. A person who did not, literally, stink and whose skin wasn’t covered in welts, acne, rashes and zits would be beautiful. A person with a reasonably full set of teeth would be beautiful. A person without a harelip, twisted arm or leg or other birth defect would be beautiful. A person whose hair was washed and brushed, a male whose beard and moustache were clean, would be beautiful. A face without pockmarks and warts and portwine birthmarks would be beautiful. As much as fine clothes and perfumes, ‘simple’ cleanliness, personal hygiene and grooming would have defined beauty.

    As with other advances, improvements in sanitation and medical practice came from military necessity. The horrendous wastage of human life of the Napoleonic Wars, Crimean War and American Civil War made generals aware that they could achieve a manpower advantage over their enemies by keeping more of the ill and wounded alive. Rigid enforcement of camp hygiene, clean water, proper food preparation and decent clothing vastly reduced mortality rates, and the soldiers carried these habits back into their civilian lives. World War I may have been the first war since Roman times whose combat casualties outnumbered those from disease.

    The climb up from the Dark Ages has been marked at every step by incremental improvements in sanitation, but filth, disease and bad sanitation are still with us.

  4. #104
    Hurricane Sergeant of Arms Amric's Avatar
    Europa Universalis 3

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    May 2003
    Indiana, United States
    The Eye of the Hurricane<Amric>

    More Random Thoughts

    After reading last issue’s stellar articles by Frogbeastegg and Director it made me do some hard thinking. Not that Coz’s article didn’t make me think, but not in the same way. So what did I think about? How history has been ‘sanitized’ by the powers that be. Who are these powers? They are legion and nameless. For it I knew their names I would castigate them severely. Why?

    Because many people don’t realize just how hard and in some ways unpleasant life was way back when. The average lifespan was only 40 years. Anyone who lived longer than that was considered truly aged. Hygiene was very poor as was sanitation. Director went into this somewhat in his article when he responded to Frogbeastegg’s article on pretty people.

    Both of them made excellent points. But I’m going to take it even further. Why? Because I can, of course. Pretty people dominate in books and movies for a reason. Sales. Book sales and movie ticket sales. Books used to depict ugly people. Look at Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. Originally the Comte de Monte Cristo was a relatively handsome man who was scarred while in prison. Yet in movies he is dashing and handsome.

    Frankenstein’s monster was ugly. But he is a monster. Dracula is depicted as ugly in his vampiric aspect. Yet how many handsome vampires are there in the movies? Scads of them! Napoleon by all accounts was short and had a pock marked face. Yet in movies he is depicted as handsome and far taller than he was in real life. Trust me, the bantam rooster didn’t get women because he was good looking. He got them because he was POWERFUL. In the past women would allow themselves to be seduced by the power of men. They still do to this day, to an extent.

    I don’t care what anyone says, Bill Gates is NOT a good looking man. Prince Charles of Britain is NOT good looking. Although to HIS credit, Camilla Parker Bowles is ugly as sin, far more than he deserves. Love is blind, and generally stupid. His case is the exception that proves the rule. Genghis Khan is another was a stubby ugly fellow. Yet he is depicted as tall and handsome.

    Does anyone NOT realize that steppe horses are TINY? A six foot plus man would look ridiculous on such a horse. It’s like putting Andre the Giant on a 15 hands high horse. His feet would still be on the ground! God forbid Hollyweird actually depicting historical figures accurately! It might possibly turn off a few potential ticket buyers. Can’ have that now, can we?

    Many of the new writers have been influenced by movies and therefore most of the their characters are pretty. It used to be that black hats were bad guys and the white hats were good guys. Now it’s a grey world. Not that this is necessarily bad. Because the world truly is grey. People who seem horrible might actually be a very nice person. A mean nasty person might be very generous.

    Take Bobby Knight, the former head coach of Indiana University basketball. A foul mouthed oaf who was mean and nasty to seemingly everyone he met. Yet he gave and raised many millions of dollars for quite a few charitable organizations. It just goes to show you that a person can be difficult to quantify. Therefore it is a grey world.

    The Hunchback, while ugly, was a remarkably beautiful person inside. Most people never bothered to get to know him. His physical appearance put them off and they missed out, in my opinion. But then, it was only a book, wasn’t it?

    The pretty people seem to run the world. But without the normal, or ugly people, the world the pretty people live in couldn’t exist. The ugly people make the pretty world possible. It’s the ugly people who really run things. They are the people behind the scenes that the pretty tend to ignore or treat as servants. It’s the ugly that makes sure the pretty have enough to eat, a place to sleep, clothes to war, etc.

    But let us look a little harder at some of these pretty people. How many STARTED off pretty? How many of them had artificial help to become pretty? In the EUII and earlier time frames, cosmetics could make one pretty. Cosmetics have been around since at least ancient Egypt. Perfumes have been around just as long.

    People credit the French for perfume, but amphora from ancient Egypt have been found with residue of ancient perfumes! So we have cosmetics and perfumes to make on pretty. Generally only the well to do could afford such on a ongoing basis. Director mentioned powder wigs. Yet another way to make oneself look good. Believe it or not, WOMEN wore wigs back then as well. Some, anyway. When henna rise or other things could no longer hide grey hair, well to do women would have human hair wigs created in the various styles of the day. Most people don’t know that little tidbit of information.

    The pretty generally don’t want the great unwashed masses to learn of, or acquire, the secrets of the pretty. The pretty will go to extraordinary measures to protect their secrets. Don’t believe me? Look it up. I’m not kidding about this. So in our time frame the pretty were powerful<meaning EUII>. There were powerful ugly people, but a pretty person generally was plucked out of a crowd by powerful people, pretty or ugly.

    Let’s face facts. People are generally NICER to the pretty. The ugly are generally treated nowhere near as well as the pretty. The pretty are coddled and protected. The ugly are worked brutally hard and shunned as much as possible. The pretty attend parties. The plain work at those parties. The ugly are not to be within sight of the guests. It might interfere with digestions.

    Frogbeastegg mentions that washing from a bowl is possible. She’s right! It can be done. Director also makes a point when he mentions that refuse, feces, urine, and so forth are nearly everywhere. He’s also very correct. He mentions that few people drank water very often due to contamination issues. Not that people of the time really understood this, but they understood that drinking water could make you sick.

    Frogbeastegg also has mentioned that the Catholic Church proscribed against bathing too often. Neither she nor I can exactly remember why the church did that. At least at the time I first wrote this anyway. By the time of this seeing the light of day this question might have been answered. I do know the issues Director mentioned in his article about sanitation are very true for the period. Even today sanitation in Europe can be a struggle. Pipes in Europe are VERY old. In quite a few places you cannot put toilet paper in the toilet and flush it because it will stop up the pipes!

    The pipes for delivering clean water are also VERY old. There is a really good reason why bottled and purified water was developed in Europe FIRST! That water coming out of those pipes isn’t generally fit for human consumption apparently. They don’t usually use ice in water or soft drinks and look askance at Americans who want ice.

    I have a very good friend who traveled to Europe a while back. She told me she had a very difficult time getting ice cubes for drinks. Had I made the connection then I would have told her WHY Europeans don’t really do ice. It’s because it isn’t made from bottled water, but regular ordinary tap water! Now before I get a lot of angry protests from Europeans I want to say that I am sure that is NOT endemic to all of Europe. But she mentioned France, parts of southern Germany, and northern Italy specifically.

    So how does this tie in? The modern information is just to help illustrate the point of sanitation and cleanliness. I am NOT saying Europeans are dirty. I am saying that when people live somewhere long enough sanitation issue are bound to crop up. It would cost a STAGGERING amount to replace all that piping. My friend told me that the water would always come sealed in a bottle to the table. The ice in a glass. Knowing what I do, I’m surprised she didn’t become ill.

    There is a reason that very old adage ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’! Because the father would bathe first, then the mother, then each child descending in age to the youngest. By which time the water is likely to be nearly black! No wonder the child mortality rate was so high! Poor sanitation coupled with poor hygiene makes things difficult doesn’t it?

    Soap. Director mentioned it. How is soap made back then? Believe it or not fat from beasts would be rendered down over a fire. Usually pig fat. Then mixed with ashes before being poured into wooden or stone molds to cool and harden. It was a greasy, soft product and as Director mentioned quite harsh. Making soap wasn’t all that terribly difficult but it was very time consuming.

    That soap, after hardening in the molds, would be set aside to ‘cure’ for usually at least 2 weeks to a month. Sometimes even longer! So you can see the problem. Plus rendering fat is smelly. I don’t mean breaking wind smelly. I mean decayed body lying in a hot room for a month smelly. A god awful stench that only the truly iron stomached could endure. Much soap would be made near the area of the tanneries.

    Moving on to candles. Why? Rendering fat reminded me that candles were made of tallow. IE, fat. This would create an aroma when the candle was used. It produced a flickering light. Steady candlelight didn’t happen until the middle to late 1700’s. Why? Because until someone realized that twisting the wick created a steady burning light with minimal flickering.

    Flickering lights made reading in poor light or darkness difficult. It caused head aches. Try it and discover I’m telling you a fact. I won’t lie to you. I’ve tried it and it sucks. Remember this when you describe candlelight. Or torches, which snap and pop as well as flicker a bit. Not as bad as candle for there is a slight twist to torches of the time. This will allow you to depict scenes using candles and torches accurately.

    Firelight obviously flickers as well. It does not produce a steady flicker free light, but it is the primary source of heat by wood being on fire. But Director mentioned dung also be used as well as for cooking as well. Nomads and people in regions with little to no wood had few viable alternatives. Places under extended siege would eventually be forced to do so as well. Burnt dung for cooking sounds horrible. But it was urban areas that suffered most from disease and plagues. Nomads and those in the hinterlands suffered far less from that.

    Saying that, I personally wouldn’t want to eat food cooked over flames created from dried dung. Dried peat I could deal with. Yes, dried peat is also something used for heat and cooking. The Scots, Irish, and the modern area of Belgium the people did that. The Scots still use peat for fuel to create some of the best scotch. Believe it, it’s very GOOD scotch. Unlike dung, dried peat won’t contaminate one’s food. Which to me is a HUGE advantage

    But going back to dried dung. Once dried, when it burns it doesn’t give off a horrible odor like you’d expect. Oh, there is some, but nowhere near as bad as one would anticipate. Also saying such it might not contaminate like one would think. Or the Mongols would probably have been to sickly to conquer such a huge portion of the planet. Of course they might have adapted to their environment so that such didn’t affect them. I have no desire to experiment, thank you.

    Sanitation. Modern man expects a garbage hauling service to take your refuse to a dump. This is a relatively recent innovation folks. I’m not certain there was any trash service up to the point of 1820. Please feel free to point out my error if I am incorrect. Though I mean WIDESPREAD trash service, not one town or city.

    So any time prior to that didn’t have a trash haul service. Hence garbage in the streets and alleys. Remember, ancient cities would build upwards. When the debris got high enough they’d rebuild right on top of the stuff. That’s something Director didn’t mention. He’s probably aware of it, but might have thought it wasn’t germane to the topic. I bring it up because the new foundation of the city is garbage. Many cities eventually were on a great hill because of centuries of building on top of their garbage.

    Let’s focus on urban areas for the moment. Cities were very crowded, with people packed in cheek to jowl. Director mentioned Rome having multi story housing. Tenement housing or ‘apartments’ were more common than you think. Only the well to do or wealthy would have an individual house or manse. Even shop keepers generally lived above or behind their stores with their families. Tanneries also had the family living there as well.

    Those who didn’t own their own business or were wealthy lived in tenements. Why? For a variety of reasons. Space inside a city is at a premium. Once you ran out of space you have really three choices. Build upward, downward, or outward. Generally upward and outward were the choices. Upward until it was impossible to do any more and then outward.

    Why would they do this? Because once you reach the city’s outer wall you have nowhere else to go. Except beyond the protection of that very wall. Eventually the upward expansion would be forced to stop. Then homes and businesses would crop up as close to the outside of that wall as they could. As time went on the expansion would creep further outward. Once enough people whined about not having a wall to protect them the government would build another wall to encompass the new area.

    Now the old wall in that area might be knocked down, or it might be kept. A new ‘quarter’ could be born. I‘m sure some of you have cities that have an ‘old’ town and a ‘new’ town. Or a Jewish quarter, or so forth. Now you can understand why. The sectioned off areas became known for certain thigns. Like the Tannery District. The Gold Corner, Silver Street, Blacksmith Alley. The list can go on and on. Tanners tended to stick together, just as other groups did.

    So you could have a Jewelers Row sandwiched between Silver Street and Gold Corner. Certain trades worked naturally together and would congregate near each other. Wheras the Tanneries were always relegated to the least desirable section of the city. If fishing was an industry there as well, then you can be CERTAIN the tanneries were nearby. It wasn’t that they were natural partners, other than smell. Which is why they were placed near each other. You’d find the slaughterhouses nearby as well. Smelly stuff goes all in one location. Packed together as close as possible. Generally near WATER!

    You got it! Sanitation rears its ugly head. Yet another reason why water supplies weren’t very clean. The poorest people lived in and near those areas. The wealthy lived as far away as possible! Even today housing in industrial areas is far cheaper than elsewhere. The poor of today live there. Think about it. Today to yesteryear, the poor always live in the least desirable areas.

    If a undesirable area for some reason becomes coveted you can be sure those poor will be forced to move elsewhere and those tenements destroyed to make room for whatever is going to replace them. The modern slumlord can only dream of the kind of things their ancestors could do in those days. True fire traps. Think of the fires of Paris and London. Unbelievable amounts of people died. Those tenements were not only fire traps but were really held together with spit and a promise. A tenement collapsing wasn’t entirely unusual either.

    No laws prevented landlords from taking every possible advantage and short cut. Believe me, they used them all! A place with the worst sanitary conditions in the city. The place where rampant diseases and plagues almost always started was the poorest sections of the city and then spreading like wild fire throughout the city.

    Believe it or not, cattle breeders, slaughterhouse workers, and to a lesser extent tanners and their respective families would be relatively immune to small pox. Why? Because they were generally exposed to cow pox and were then immune to small pox. Except those family members, generally the youngest who had not yet been exposed to cow pox. Nobody was immune to the Black Plague. Period.

    Disease and plagues mostly hit urban city dwellers. It was a rare plague that reached rural areas. Why? There wasn’t a heavy concentration of people in the rural areas. Therefore if it hit a family it might spread to one or two more families and then stop. Simply because those people had nobody else to expose the plague to, and it would die out. It’s really that simple.

    People didn’t travel in those days. A man could literally be born and die within a ten mile area. Unless he was wealthy or in the army he didn’t travel. Rulers didn’t want people moving around much. This of course does not apply to nomadic peoples. For nomads it was move or die. Grazing for horses and other livestock would be gone and it would be time to move on. Or you were following the buffalo in North America or the Reindeer in upper Scandinavia. For those peoples it was a matter of sticking with their food source or dying. It was their way of life.

    Those same ‘primitives’ or ‘savages’ as the ‘civilized’ Europeans styled them, died in droves when those same Europeans brought their diseases with them. Or purposely gave small pox infected blankets to them to kill them off for whatever reason came into their heads. Which was usually to take the land. It almost always is about the land. Whether it is due to natural resources or just more places to put an expanding population it always comes down to the land.

    Director mentioned ‘channels’ in the center of the streets. This was more by accident then design. Traffic would wear away the center until a ‘channel’ would be formed. Traffic stops going there when the effluvium starts going there. Some progressive cities ‘might’ have built channels intentionally, but mostly ti was purely by accident. Yet such channels bred bacteria and were breeding grounds for flies and mosquitoes, notorious for spreading disease.

    Remember those ‘channels’ were basically a long thin ‘pool’ that bred disease spreading insects. Usually during the hottest months of the summer was when disease and plague would erupt. Oddly enough, fierce rainstorms tended to break the plague/disease cycle and the city would tremble with relief. Winter generally was not a time for plague, and disease. Germs didn’t like the cold. Flu and colds don’t count. Don’t ask.

    So as you can see, sanitation is extremely important and that it didn’t really exist. And pretty people are depicted more because that is what the Holly weird powers believe the general public wants to see. Don’t fall into that trap. History is dirty. We write about history. Even if it is fictional. Write about pretty people and clean people and cities if you wish. Or throw some grit and grime in there!

    Finally, why did I post this early? Because I can! Actually being a senior editaar ought to have some kind privledges...Plus I have been sitting on this article for almost two weeks....I couldn't wait anymore to post it!

  5. #105
    “We don’t need to see your identification” by frogbeastegg

    A case of stolen identity

    Two weeks ago precisely I was feeling quite chuffed with myself; my latest article had turned out reasonably and people seemed to like it. The feeling lasted for a day or two, until I took a walk in the forest (it’s a nice forest with pretty trees, flowers, fluffy little animals and so on) and encountered this little blue creature with a white hat and trousers. It called itself a smurf. Here is a picture:

    Adorable, isn’t it? It’s a life sized picture too.

    Anyway, so this smurf suddenly says, “Oi! You missed a bit in your article!”

    I stopped walking and said, “I beg your pardon?” No, actually if I’m honest I just stared gormlessly, and let me tell you when a frog stares gormlessly it really does look quite stupid. It’s the big amphibian eyes.

    The smurf grinned (you know everyone thinks they are harmless vegetarians, but this one had an omnivore’s teeth complete with those little fangs which can look quite creepy if you smile correctly. This smurf didn’t quite manage to look like a hungry wolf, but I knew it could if it tried.) and said, “You missed a bit – people want beautiful characters because they like to think they’re beautiful themselves. Beautiful protagonists help fuel this illusion. A book’s a kind of fantasy, if you like. You’re the hero; you do amazing things and have amazing skills, why should you look mundane or ugly while being amazing?”

    At this point I think I was staring rather suspiciously at this smurf. “Yes, I know that,” I informed the smurf tartly. “But you see I never do that, so it’s all very theoretical. I was writing from my point of view about how I think it works; theory from other people, which I don’t really believe in anyway, has no place there.”

    The smurf leaned back against a tree and crossed its arms in a lazy pose that I didn’t quite like. “So tell everyone that!” it said. The creature sounded as if it had just discovered electric lighting and was doing the world a favour by telling me about it. At this point I began wondering if it was possible for a smurf’s noggin to explode if it got too big-headed.

    “I really don’t want to do a discussion on theory, especially not theory I don’t much like.” I tried to look very firm and decisive there, very. Problem is it’s hard for cute little frogs do look firm and decisive, it’s kind of like a kitten or something – do you ever see any cute little critter look firm and decisive? No, sadly not. I blame this inbuilt lack of being able to look firm and decisive for what happened next.

    The smurf just shrugged its shoulders, apparently oblivious to my firm resolve. “So tell everyone that instead.”

    “I don’t want to – I prefer writing fiction to articles.”

    “So?” The smurf got tired of propping the tree up and sat down on a nearby mushroom instead. “For an article called ‘eye of the beholder’ it’s a damned big gap.” It smiled mischievously and suggested, “Maybe you should rename it to ‘partially-sighted eye of the beholder’?”

    I didn’t like that, I mean really who would? Partially-sighted eye of the beholder, bah! “Look here,” I said, trying to be both firm and polite, “I didn’t want to include it and I had my reasons for that.”

    The smurf got tired of propping the tree up and seated itself on a nearby mushroom instead. “Yeah, maybe but who cares? Take a walk on the wild side – write the theory and say why you don’t like it.”

    I sighed. This creature was impossible, infuriating too. “I don’t want to.”

    “Bet you can’t do it,” suggested the smurf offhandedly.

    “I can, I just don’t want to,” I returned heatedly. “I write without bothering about rules or theory – I just put down what I want, along with what I think I need. That means I’m really no good at explaining how to write or anything like that.”

    I realised I had just stuck my webbed foot in his trap when he grinned, this time resembling a wolf. “Either you can do it or you can’t, which is it? If you can do it then go get on with it.”

    “Now look here-” The smurf began clucking like a chicken. That was too much – this frog is no coward! “Alright,” I said, blazing with righteous indignation. “Fine. So be it. I’ll do it.”

    The smurf stopped impersonating poultry and laughed, a high pitched, squeaky kind of laugh. “I knew it! I’ll read it when you publish it.” It hopped down off its mushroom and shuffled its feet a bit. “Got any chocolate?” it asked hopefully. “Only smurfs need chocolate to survive and there’s been this terrible shortage and I’m starving to death. Reckon I’ve only got a few days left before I keel over.” It clutched its heart and fell over onto the forest floor with both eyes shut. One eye cracked open, gleaming with hope.

    I had heard about smurfs and chocolate; they are addicted to the stuff and can quite happily eat a small mountain of it every day. This smurf was lying – they don’t need it to survive; it was trying to tug my heartstrings. I had a small bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk in my pocket; this could get dangerous. Smurfs will do anything for chocolate. The other eye opened and the smurf leapt up. “You have, you have got some! I knew it, yay! Hurrah! Gimme chocolate! Purleeese?” It was doing the old big puppy dog eyes trick and looking so cute I wanted to retch.

    At this point I took the only sensible option: I hurled the chocolate as far as I could in one direction and began running in the other. I made it home safely and I’m never going near that forest again.

    And that ends the freaky interlude cataloguing the gist of an email conversation I had with someone. It’s amazing what fun you can have with on-line nicknames. The real smurf is considerably nicer and less snotty :waves to smurfy and sends some chocolate over:

    Anywho, over to the real point of this, now I’ve had my fun in consolation for the boring bit ahead. Beautiful protagonists. Again. Yay. :looks rather unenthusiastic:

    We are back to the frog scale/terminology of beauty here, not Amric’s slightly different version. So, to recap it goes ugly, pretty, beautiful. Most people really fall into pretty.

    Yes, well supposedly the average person likes to believe they are beautiful. When they put themselves in the shoes of someone else they like that person to be beautiful as well; it maintains the illusion. Therefore it is easier to ‘bond’ with a beautiful character. Not only can you be a youthful, sword wielding hero in shining armour but you can be handsome and get all the girls too.

    Er, where to begin? Ok, I have never brought this idea. I don’t consider myself beautiful, nor do I really care. In the froggy’s mind I catalogue like so: beautiful in the eyes of my boyfriend, somewhere between pretty and ugly to everyone else, depending on whether you like that tall, slender, pale, blonde, blue eyed type thing.

    I just said I don’t catalogue myself, so why have I got this set of standards? Simple, because people keep on telling me, over and over and over. It’s a learned thing and nothing at all to do with me viewing myself. As far as I’m concerned I am just me, whatever that is. It’s everyone else who wants to categorise me. I don’t care; I just let them get on with it and dutifully return the correct responses when they decide to tell me once again how they view me. Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder they are all correct.

    As I don’t really care about beauty I don’t mind ‘being’ an ugly or plain character. If I am honest beautiful characters actually bother me slightly, making it harder to ‘be’ them. Why do they bother me? Because they are so often shallow with no real character depth. They also tend to fall into two stereotypes, “Beautiful, dumb damsel” and “Beautiful, scheming bitch” for female characters. Male characters tend to be “Handsome, wonderful hero” or “Scheming, dashing villain”. Excuse me while I say BORING!!

    You will have noticed how I keep putting ‘bond’, ‘be’ and the like in inverted commas, suggesting I don’t really buy into that idea either. I don’t. When I read or write I am never any of the characters in the story; I am always a spectator, a third party, an entity hovering over the character’s shoulders and reading their minds.

    Going to a slightly different angle, if you insist on putting yourself in a characters skin so you ‘are’ them what on earth happens when the character says something you wouldn’t, or does something you wouldn’t? What happens if the character is of the opposite sex? Surely you would keep being kicked out of their skin? Even looking through my own stories less than 10% of what the characters say and do are things I would say or do. Even with my own characters in my own world in my own story it is impossible for me to meld with any of the characters, to do anything other than observe.

    If a character needs to be like me, or needs to behave in a way that I would like to (the fantasy thing) then I doubt I would have got on with any of the characters I have met in the thousands of books I’ve read.

    In some ways I’m an easy frog, and as I say I don’t really give much thought to technicalities or mechanics. I just write, or read. I give it as much thought as I do breathing or walking. I have never found I need to think about it; it’s kind of instinctive. If I do need to think it is because something is wrong, and I spot those errors in an instinctive kind of way too, at least when writing. When reading errors tend to leap out and punch me in the face. Ouch.

    This instinctiveness leaves me in a terrible position when discussing subjects like this, because it is like trying to explain how to breathe. “Well, first you kind of do … er, something which makes your chest inflate … and then you … um, well … breathe?” I do wonder from time to time why I am even bothering to try and discuss writing; I think it had something to do with being Shanghaied over in the gazette feedback thread …

    Anyway, I’ll keep soldiering on in the hopes I make some sense and don’t lose or confuse everyone.

    All I ask from a character is that they are realistic, that grey I was talking about before. Good and bad and in-between, all in one person. Beyond that I don’t care what they look like, what sex they are, what they do, or all that. I can quite happily follow a character doing things I personally consider unacceptable in real life, medieval people acting according to their medieval standards, or Roman people, or Renaissance people – you get the picture.

    Yes, ok I admit I am a real stickler for out of character moments; I tend to be very unforgiving of them. I also hate that jarring I mentioned ages ago in my article on writing for a predominantly male audience. Finally if a character starts acting in an anachronistic way it bugs me; medieval people should use medieval type morals and standards. But ask yourselves, should a good writer be doing those things anyway? No, at least I don’t think so.

    So for me beauty has sod all to do with anything when identifying with characters, if you’ll pardon my bluntness. I find it hard to believe it has much to do with it for anyone, bearing in mind those problems I mentioned earlier about being booted out of the character’s skin.

    I think that just about covers the general point about beauty raised in those emails, but this froggy has a memory like a sieve. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had forgotten half of it, or gone off partly in the wrong direction. If I have I expect to get another addendum at the bottom of my next smurfy email

    Now for a second identification related discussion, this one inspired by that aforementioned boyfriend of mine. For all his redeeming qualities my dear boyfriend (who has landed himself the nickname of ‘goldfish’) does have this one habit which makes me feel like breaking out a nice, large knife and telling him if he does it again he’s going to lose something he values. What does he do? Well, readers of my Eleanor story might be thinking at this point, “Hmmm, knife, threatening … I wonder, is this froggy Eleanor in disguise?”

    NO! Yes, this is my second point and the reason my poor, dear goldfish tends to find himself being glared at by a frog. Why oh why do people assume that if you write something you have to ‘be’ one of the characters yourself?

    I am not Eleanor, nor Fulk, or Trempwick, or William, or the other William, or Elen, or Culad, or Margaret, or Donchad, or Fionnghualla, or Nuala, or Miss Trampard, or Eddard Newbie, or … well, you get the picture. I am none of my characters. Certain characters have a trait or two in common with me, and occasionally one of them will say something I would say. This is as far as the resemblance ever truly goes. The rest is coincidence of the most trivial kind, like having blue eyes.

    Why does my goldfish keep risking life and limb to say “You know what? I think you’re this Eleanor.”? God alone knows – he hasn’t even read the story. He has heard bits of it and he has based his assumption on those bits. When I say bits I mean those vague details like “She has this glare …” At that point goldfish starts grinning at me and saying, “You know what, I think you’re this Eleanor – you’re glaring at me right now!” :sigh: The world is full of people who glare.

    Why does he do this? Why does anyone assume a writer is at least one of their characters? Well, my goldfish does it to annoy me. You know sometimes I do worry about his sanity …

    Ahem, back to a more useful arena for this discussion. If you look in most interviews with published authors you will see they are asked if they based their characters off anyone they know, or if they ‘are’ one of their characters. Most of the authors I have seen deny basing their characters on anyone, and those who do often admit to small details like a name or a haircut rather than larger details like personality.

    I find that generally this assumption seems to be fuelled by the idea that a writer cannot imagine a set of fully functional characters without including bits of themselves in the mix, kind of like a legend I barely remember involving creating golems from clay and a bit of blood.

    Why people decide this is the case I truly have no idea. I find it far easier to create a new character from scratch than to write myself in any form. Even that comedy version of me back in the intro was hard work, far harder than writing any of my own, original characters. Don’t ask me how I create my characters, or even to give advice on creating them – I truly have no idea how I do it.

    I definitely feel that using yourself as a framework for your characters is a kind of self-defeating short cut. If you can’t create great characters from scratch when you start writing (and realistically who can?) you will get no better if you lean on crutches instead of practising without them.

    The second reason appears to be the assumption that writers are egotistical and can’t resist including themselves in their work, because after all the story is the writer’s deepest, darkest fantasy. If this particular double whammy is true then I think I need locking up in an insane asylum right now! Anyone who has a fantasy like my stories needs urgent therapy.

    My plots come solely from something I think sounds interesting, and beyond my own rough outline they tend to fill themselves in. I do the board brush strokes and the detail handles itself. Note that interesting just means, well, interesting. Cooking is interesting, does that mean I want to be a piece of broccoli? :hides in concrete bunker to stay safe from joke replies to that:

    Egotistical? Me? I’m just a little cute frog thing who is just growing accustomed to the idea that she can actually write decent fiction after all. I actually spent most of my life being told I can’t write and have nothing interesting to say, and I believed it. In some ways I still do.

    The third reason is coincidence, as I mentioned earlier. Loads of people have blue eyes, or are tall, or glare, or argue, or whatever. Unless the writer avoids an entire eye colour, an entire hair colour, an entire batch of common mannerisms (including things like blinking), an entire height group, an entire skin colour, and an entire bunch of skills there will be some resemblance between creator and character. If you make sure none of your characters have even the slightest bit in common with you then you will miss out an awful lot. People love to read too much into this, way too much.

    I suppose before I exit stage right I should add a small bit about inspiration. I think it is perfectly alright to be inspired by something or someone real, as long as you don’t do a carbon copy of them. I was inspired by the smurf and frog bit earlier; neither character is a carbon copy of the real people behind that conversation. The resemblance is just enough that the two of us could spot it and laugh about it, but anyone else would overlook it.

    The smurf and the frog are maybe 40% real, the rest is my own addition for the sake of plot (that bit had a plot!? News to me!), comedy and convenience. I wouldn’t like to do this again; 40% is waaaay too much. Inspiration is all very well, but it just doesn’t suit me and how I work. I’ll stick to entirely original creations.

  6. #106
    GunslingAAR coz1's Avatar
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    The GenAARal Idea (coz1)

    The Perfect Post: A Concept

    The perfect there such a thing? I’m not sure there can be a sure answer to that question as one post may be better than another to one person while both posts will be just equally as effective to another. Some like them shorter and some like them longer. Further, I do not recall seeing a “Perfect Post Possible with Practice” or “Perfect Posts For Dummies” at the local bookstore or even in our own esteemed librAARy.

    So, what am I on about? Well, I got to thinking that some posts read better than others, in my opinion. As I started to think about why, a few things began to crystallize in my mind as to why. Now granted, this may not be the same for everyone, and certainly the things that I think make a specific post work may not do likewise for another type of AAR. The ones I have in mind are for work that centers around a narrative over time, whether that be for 400 years or only 40.

    The first thing that springs to mind is the idea of continuity. We’ve seen the character sheets that Lord Durham was kind enough to supply. Well, that action is done to make sure that the characters from post to post do not contradict themselves by a later action. If John Smith has red hair on page four, then he must still have at least shades of that red on page 100, unless the writAAR has explained why he does not.

    Likewise for the story as a whole – places, things, events need to be presented with a sense of conformity. If you describe the city of Paris one way in chapter one, then it must remain thusly for the remainder of the story unless there is some reason explained for why it is not. Further with motivations, and not just of the characters but of the author as well. If you come to the story with an eye towards a certain idea, then it should remain part and parcel of the rest of the story.

    I don’t want to get off on too long a screed about such (and in fact the topic may well make for an AARticle itself), but there was something in theatre we called a unified concept. This meant that before production ever started, the director and his designers set down and decided what the play and/or author was trying to say, decided on a main concept and then made sure that every single design, direction and everything else involved with the production adhered to this same concept. It would seem natural to apply this same theory to the work one does when writing a book, story or poem.

    To take this a step further, each post could or may contain a certain through-line, something that sets it apart as a story unto itself yet remains as part of the structure on the whole. Often some of the best works are the ones that each post provides its own tiny story. Granted, everything that happens in said post should pertain to a part of the larger storyline being presented, but that it also follows the same guidelines of a well-written story, i.e. protagonist, antagonist, story arch, etc. These may end up being presented by a series of posts, but often times I find them happening in just one.

    This of course leads me to discuss length of post. What is a proper length? Should one try and make their posts as readAAR friendly as possible, or should the author write out such posts as they work best for the story? I think a middle way can be found here. I know that some people are put off by longer posts, as they can be difficult to digest in one sitting, especially as many are reading during their lunch break or at an odd moment when they are able to get away from the certain grind in life. But at the same time, others are put off by small, paragraph length posts unless several of them are bunched together.

    Using the above idea of a through-action for each post, then it leads to the idea that longer may be better, but only if that length accomplishes what the author needs accomplished. There is no reason to go on and on about something that is really not central to the tale. This does not mean that detailed description is not a plus, but it also does not mean using it just to us it. I call that self-indulgent and many times it is this area that can be cut when trying to prune a post.

    But on the shorter end of the stick, it can be difficult to present much of anything in a simple paragraph, unless this sets up something about to happen later, a mindset of a central character, or perhaps a one and out overview of the rest of the world. But ask yourself – is this something that can be accomplished as part of another longer post? Does this overview need to be presented at all? Can I divulge the motivations for character A by some conversation that is part of the previous or a future post rather than have them milling about for a few seconds thinking to themselves?

    I know some are fond of the diary entry mode and it is a form I like. However, I find the most effective diary entry posts to be ones that followed the diary for a few weeks or months rather than simply providing one entry in a post and then moving on. However, do not get me wrong. Sometimes these shorter posts are effective. I know one writAAR that occasionally has a main character write letters home to his wife and I find these letters to be quite effective presented alone without any other action occurring in the same post. It’s a fine line, but again, it comes down to thinking about what each post should accomplish to move your story along.

    Overall, you are trying to move your story along using small steps, most times in a very “serial” type atmosphere. It is this very “serial” nature that leads me to believe that each post should present a smaller story in and amongst the larger picture. Each post should provide a snapshot, if you will, of the over-arching story. Any and every action, word spoken or unspoken, and situation presented should be provided in order to increase awareness of certain characters, ideally for later in the work or to explain a previous action, and/or to suggest to the readAAR why certain motivations are there.

    So, how to do this, that is the question. Well, I can only offer you my own work methods and hope that they are worthy enough to qualify for a working model. I start by choosing a scene, deciding which characters should be involved in order to move a plot forward. If you have several plots going, then you choose a certain one to address. Once I have this firmly in my head, and after giving it much thought as to how to present it in order to move my plot forward, I take my characters through the actions I chose to put them in. Usually I let them work out of it themselves rather than trying to force words down their throat, but by the end of the post, I expect both my characters and the audience to be moved in attitude, and perhaps in emotion.

    I try not to present any extraneous information that has no bearing on the plot, nor do I present any character that does not play a role in the larger picture. If they appear in my story, then they will be involved to color another main character either in action or emotion later in the work. Events that do not lend themselves to the big picture are cut. There is no need to explain why a territory converted unless it falls into the larger scheme, though often times you can find a way to make it do just that. But it takes some thought and creativity.

    The best way to accomplish the above is by outlining the story from start to finish if you are able to, or at least play far enough ahead so that you have a solid idea of where you want to go with the tale. If you have the basic outline, then it is quite easy to figure out which posts need to do what. Let’s say you have war going on. You might split this war into three posts, using the first to set up the initial steps of the war, the middle to focus on a specific instant in time that can provide the readAAR with a microcosm of the war as a whole, and then perhaps the ending of the war. Much like chess, you have your opening moves, the battle in the middle and then the endgame. This is certainly not a perfect model, but a helpful way to suggest how you might approach your writing.

    As stated, each post should be presented with the larger story in mind. The length of the post should be dictated by what needs to be addressed at any one time to advance your story and it’s characters along. Using an overall concept allows the author to be mindful of that at each step of the way, making sure to present only that which gives the readAAR the information they need to invest in your characters, either in a good way or in a bad way, and to let them know what is going on in the story and why. If done properly, the readAAR knows why the princess is loathe to marry, or why the King needs that heir so very much.

    It is so very easy to fall into a position in which the AAR has taken you over rather than the other way around. I think this happens primarily because the full story arch was not thought out or known at the start of writing. Yes, it can be fun seeing where a story can take you as the writAAR, but be careful if it approaches taking you off a very steep cliff. If you use some of the above, or at least be mindful of it, you might be able to steer that tale right back on track and avoid that pitfall.

    Don’t think of this AARticle as a “must” type of guideline, but rather as a “helpful hints” type. And I imagine that many of the ideas presented here might work just as well in any other type of work. But ask yourself, what are we trying to accomplish here? Why do we spend so much of our time writing works for others to read on this forum? I think we all have ideas that we could be or are writAARs of some talent. We view this place as a type of open forum writAARs workshop. Not to suggest that this is all it is, but it can be viewed as such if you wish it to be. By reading other works and gaining feedback on your own, a writAAR is then able to apply these ideas to their own work and hopefully gain a wider understanding of the craft of writing and perhaps grow as a result. And recognize that every post cannot be perfect, but if you think about such things, you might find more being close to perfect and thus creating a truly engaging story.

    As a side note, I have recently thought about a perhaps fun little workshop we might all attempt. The thought came from reviewing the old Anthology of Treasures thread. This thread, if you are not aware of it, had people presenting their best post, as chosen by the author. Director ran it for a while and it seemed a success. But as I read through them, I wondered why some were picked. Obviously the author had something in mind when they wrote them and perhaps thought they had been successful.

    I thought it might be interesting for us to begin a new project somewhat along those lines, but throwing in a little of the Guess-the-Author type critique. Perhaps there is not enough interest or available material that people are willing to provide, and if so, maybe this could be a SolAARium project. But what I had in mind was that every week, someone would present a post from one of their AARs and explain both the background and what the post was supposed to accomplish. The author would discuss what needed to happen and why and then after he/she was through, the rest of us would chime in to suggest if they were successful or not, offer helpful hints as to how it might have been done differently, if not better, and/or discuss the relative structural success if it was an effective post.

    We would have to make sure to be polite, though we have little trouble with that, but I thought it might provide an interesting look at how others approach the above and give the larger readAARship an archive to search through when they were attempting the same thing. If there is interest in such a project, speak up about it in the Gazette feedback thread. If enough interest is shown, we can split the discussion out into its thread and go from there. In the end, whatever we do, even if it’s simply discussion of the above AARticle, will hopefully give the general writing public a better sense of how to structure and present each post so as to maximize the effectiveness of the story they are writing, and surely bring them new readAARs if they are successful since nothing brings in new readAARs faster than a series of truly well-written and outstanding posts. Until then, simply think “concept.”

  7. #107
    Covert Mastermind Demi Moderator Secret Master's Avatar
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    What’s love got to do with it?

    There are some things in this world that make it worthwhile to constantly engage in conspiracies aimed at world domination: free magazine subscriptions, fancy clothes, a nice car, and a nice villa somewhere in Spain. However, perhaps the greatest and most satisfying thing I will do when I and my fellow members of the Illuminati take over the world will be to eliminate all of the crappy, nonsensical, and worthless love stories that exist, whether in print, on film, or in music.

    If that sounds like a petty thing for future rulers of the world to fantasize about, you have either been brainwashed by Hollywood and recording studios, or you have been living in a cave.

    Stories and songs about love are one of those precious few constants throughout every culture. They vary widely, but there is not a single culture that exists, or has existed, that did not have some sort of “love” literature. Such literature has existed since before writing and was integral to the formation of oral literary traditions.

    It’s just too bad that what we do with love stories now is nothing short of literary castration.

    Hollywood and musical love stories these days tend to work with a standard formula for creating love stories. It is a formula that is does something worse than cater to the lowest common denominator. It actually dumbs people down to a new low in common denominators.*

    But this doesn’t mean that we, as folks writing AARs, have to give in to that evil. There is nothing stopping us from actually creating love stories that have some merit. Not only that, but perhaps they will make our readers want to do something besides retch. Let’s look at some guidelines for creating love stories.

    1) Do you really need a love story?: This is a crucial question, one which needs a positive answer. As I am sure Coz, LD, and numerous other luminaries around here will say, you shouldn’t be writing unnecessary plots anyway. If you are just writing something to no real purpose, then you should not be doing it. This goes double for love stories. Ask yourself whether your character needs a love interest AND whether a plot surrounding that interest is warranted. Just because a character needs a spouse does not mean we need a love story. This is where Hollywood is worst in its presentation of such stories. In 99% of movies produced, you can bet there will be a love interest as part of the plot. Is it needed? No. It’s there to gain ticket sales, and it stinks. Thus, make sure you really need a love story before writing in to the story.

    2)Don’t be realistic, be reasonable: This may sound odd, but don’t write “realistic” love stories. Realistic love stories are boring and uninteresting. Why? Because realistic love stories always start sounding just like the gossip-ridden sagas of your friends and co-workers. A realistic love story includes elements that make it mediocre. Instead, create reasonable love stories. A reasonable love story is based off the characteristics of the characters in question and gets its energy from them. A reasonable love story aims for some sort of greatness in the story and lets the characters work towards it. Romeo and Juliet is not realistic. It takes place in too short of a period of time, and it assumes that several things go wrong at coincidentally poor times (Romeo’s slaughter of Juliet’s relative, a failed message delivery, and poorly timed suicide that almost coincides with Juliet’s awakening). It is, however, a reasonable love story. Romeo is the sort of guy who would probably kill himself in a fit of passion upon seeing his apparently dead Juliet. And for her part, we can expect the young Juliet to decide her world is over when she wakes up to find Romeo dead and then truly kill herself. Greatness is achieved in this play by being reasonable and not realistic. The fact that move makers and directors of theater companies continue to screw this story up indicates how little they understand the script in front of them. It’s even worse for imitations of this story.

    3) Differentiate between types of romance: Not every love story will include actual love. In fact, if there is such a thing as “true love”, it is pretty damn rare. Most love stories will revolve around other kinds of romance: infatuation, lust, friendship, and insincere seduction. Infatuation is what most people are really feeling when they say they are “in love.” They are just really high on brain chemicals and hormones, and it clouds their judgment. Infatuation has a tendency to drive people to act insane, but the condition is not terminal. You can expect your audience to believe you when you have characters being infatuated who finally realize the error of their ways and move on with their lives. Infatuation tends to afflict younger characters, but older folks can feel it too. In fact, there’s nothing to reinvigorate an “old” character like infatuation. Lust is also something that crops up in potential love stories. Instead of the two characters loving each other, they just really want to hop in the sack and roll around for a few days. The difference between lust and infatuation is that someone who is infatuated may feel bad for having lustful thoughts about their “pure” love, while someone in the middle of a lust situation will indulge such fantasies to their ultimate conclusion. Lust stories can often serve fun purposes (the comic potential is limitless if you think about it), but you could create a tragic story around lust just as easily as infatuation. Friendship is another type of love story. Now by friendship I don’t mean the much hated “Let’s be friends” line. I mean a story that revolves around a very close friendship. Think I’m crazy? Think again. A close friendship that is the center of a story will operate much like a love story, minus all the grotesque angst and whatnot. As love stories are about characters who have relationships, friendship stories are a subset of that type of writing. In fact, many of the same rules apply, for you can just as easily create a disgusting friendship story as you can with a love story. Another type of love story is the insincere seduction. This is a love story in name only: the object of the seduction thinks they are in a love story, but we know better. An insincere love story is really a story of conquest, much like a story about militarily annexing Lorraine is a story of conquest. The weapons are different, but in both cases someone is going to wake up one day feeling very violated.

    4) Work for the ending: Hollywood movies and love songs tend to let people off the hook for working hard. They seem to make it appear that love is easy; it’s not. In fact, you are doing your readers a disservice if you let your characters just get a happy ending without earning it. This is similar to the dreaded dues ex machina, but it is better hidden. Many of us have been conditioned to think that people in love deserve a happy ending. Nothing is further from the truth. People in love deserve only one thing: hard work and stern obstacles. If your characters are in some kind of love, make them sweat from all the hard work they are going to need to do. Just like in a regular story, there needs to be conflict, and if the lovers don’t triumph over their obstacles, then they are doomed. On the other hand, if they can triumph over their obstacles, then they have earned their happy ending. For those wondering, this is also how you make love stories interesting. You don’t lay on the pathos thick; you lay on the conflict as thick as possible.

    5) Avoid sex and cuteness: No, I am not about to rant about the prevalence of sex in media. Instead, and I am going to beg you to not include details unnecessary to the story. I know I covered this elsewhere, but these two things deserve special attention. Sometimes, we think we need sex or cuteness to sell a plot or sell a relationship. The truth is that we don’t need them to do so. If a couple is married and producing children, then we know they are having sex. You don’t have to tell us; we know where babies come from. And if a couple is infatuated with one another, then we know they will be doing all sort of cute things with one another (funny faces, silly sayings, etc.). Don’t waste our time with demonstrations of such things. On the other hand, if there is a problem in the relationship, you can surprise us by making it apparent during what would normally be a spicy scene in the bedroom. Ditto for cuteness. If it’s not forwarding the plot or telling us about characters, don’t bother with it. Save the sex and cuteness for porn and Sesame Street.

    6) Remember that people are stupid: While I would normally love to cynically imply that most human beings are as intelligent as cooked cabbage (It’s fun. Try it sometime.), in this case I mean to remind you of something broader. In most love stories, people will not be acting rationally. This is a recipe for ludicrous behavior; thus, you should exploit it for all it’s worth. There is both comic and tragic potential for the irrational behavior of people in love stories: comic because we can laugh at them, tragic because we can see disaster looming on the horizon. You should never have characters in love who area always making good decisions and doing everything right. This neutralizes most of the potential for character development in a love story. On the other hand, when your characters doing strange and absurd things, it will hold reader interest and give you literary ammunition to fire.

    These tips should make it easier to actually go about the ugly business of writing a love story. And it is an ugly business, for if it wasn’t ugly, then why write about it? All’s fair in love and war, and both can be interesting if only written properly. Otherwise, you will end up with readers who are disgusted and an offer to write the script to the next 30 million dollar Hollywood production. I wouldn’t wish either calamity upon any of our AAR writers.

    Just remember, you didn’t hear it from me. This article doesn’t exist, and neither do I.

    *For once, I’m not using hyperbole to make a joke. I actually know people who think their love lives should be like the ones in movies. They are not happy people.

  8. #108
    Wizzaard Estonianzulu's Avatar
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    Faar Away (Estonianzulu

    Toiling upward in the night.

    “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”

    And so spoke Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet. Not a very upbeat view of teamwork this man had. Its sort of the antithesis of what we are all taught, that you can achieve greatness if you work together. It’s the symbol of the American dream, greatness through individuality. And it is how most people take on AAR’s.

    There are both ups and downs to the solo-AAR. I’ll go into that later. But we can also look at the teamwork AAR’s. Really, if you so wanted, you could divide the AAR into one of four species. The omnipresent and rapidly breading solo AAR is the first. The second is the multiplayer AAR. The MPAAR is a more rare occurrence than the solo AAR, but far more common than the other two. The third is an interactive AAR, one in which all people play part of a nation. The final breed is the all but extinct Play by email AAR.

    So, I will go through each and examine some ups and downs, and then because I feel like being philosophical I will give a conclusion.

    1. The Lone wolf, who rides alone…

    The single player AAR. I don’t know a single writaar who hasn’t done one. It is, without a doubt, the easiest to do. You can sit down and crank out an AAR without anything but a keyboard and access to the forum. (Sure, it helps if you play the game and take notes, but how would we know?) So, it is not a surprise that this is the most common AAR around. Really the single player AAR is a dynamic idea. A duel edged blade one could say.

    The obvious benefits are countless. You have three big ones though. I’ll go through each. The first is the time and facility. In a unique project like an AAR, one person will do it faster than a group. You can sit and play a game of Europa Universalis, take notes, and write up an AAR all within a month. Double the number of people writing and you double that time. You have to consult, arrange, and communicate. By yourself you don’t.

    The second major plus to a single player AAR compared to the teamwork games is reliability. AAR’s fail all the time. Be it because of disinterest, crashes or artistic roadblocks. Something in our lives gets in the way, and the AAR becomes lost. It is a tragic but always present phenom in the world of AAR’s. It happens, nothing can be done about it. But, it will, if logic is to be followed, happen twice as often in a game with two people as with one. Two games, twice the chance of failure. With a solo AAR, the chances are diminished. Plus, the guilt of failing others, which a writaar will get if he fails to complete a teamwork AAR, does not happen with a solo game. So, they are less likely to not come back after failure on their own.
    The final major plus is consistency. This one is also the weakest of the three. A good writer can keep a steady idea through a long story. Not all of us can, but I’m going to generalize from here on out. One person can develop a theme, a tone, and a common story and propel it through his AAR. It is a great deal more difficult to do this with other people. A single author can develop a detailed plot, set up surprises, twists and develop characters. He can establish concepts, which follow the story along the line. But, unless both authors think on the same line, two people can’t. So teamwork AAR’s turn into more complicated, patchwork stories. Themes, tones and stories become more convoluted and complicated. Everyone has their own idea; their own plan and often they are contradictory.

    So, now to the teamwork.

    2. Where facts are few…

    Experts are many. So, we move into the realm of mutli-writaar AAR’s. I described three earlier, now I will go into a bit more depth.

    The first is the straight-up multiplayer AAR. Lots of people, one game. We’ve got your standard every nation for itself, battle of the powers multiplayer AAR. Goods and bads about this one are plain. The Good, it is deep. You, as a readaar, get the chance to view one war, one battle, from different angles. The writaar can see the thirty years war from all sides, rather than just the one you would see in a regular AAR. It can be interesting to investigate the reasons behind actions, especially wars.

    The problem however, is that multiplayer AAR’s are more often then not general and broad. The stories aren’t heavy on character, or plot. They are simple AAR’s, either history book style, or details on rulers. It doesn’t get into too much depth. Usually multiplayer AAR’s are not long narratives, or deep stories. They can be fun, and entertaining, but they are not emotional literary tales.

    The second is the interactive. An AAR where everyone gets a voice. One player starts the game, and invites others to come along and have input. Sometimes it is in the form of a council of advisors, or a diet. Anyway it goes writaars get the chance to shape the AAR, as they read. It can be an interesting experience. Players get the chance to be a part of the story. The upside, nothing draws in an audience, like being and active participant. You will have people who check your AAR everyday. It will be a limited audience, but a devoted one.

    The downside, I’ve never seen one finish. Be they Japan, the United States or Germany, it doesn’t matter. Those games just don’t seem to get finished. It’s a depressingly common trend, interactive games fail. Why? Because it’s a lot to ask. This is the style which involves the most time, effort and cooperation. Time, because it takes days, even weeks for the actual player to do anything, because the writaars get to argue over every event. Effort, because everyone needs to contribute. And finally cooperation. Each person has to work with all the other writaars to get through the story. If one fails, the AAR fails.

    The final style is one that has gone extinct. PBEM’s don’t occur all that often with the advent of successful and stable online games. They are the most unstable, slowest and least reliable. So, we are going to drop that one and move on.

    Whats left

    There you have it. Solo or multi, take it as you will. There are some other alternatives, the most famous of which would be the Free Company. It does not apply, because it’s not an actual game. But heck, that’s a story for a different day.

    It’s a struggle, it really is. To reach greatness on ones own is an accomplishment. But in the world of the AAR, sometimes it can be tougher to work as a team. Imagine that in the world of sports, the AAR is golf. Sometimes you get a whole in one partner, and other times you land in the rough. And more often than not, you play alone.

  9. #109
    Hurricane Sergeant of Arms Amric's Avatar
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    The Eye of the Hurricane<Amric>

    How Did They Live?

    Upon reflection there was more I wanted to say about life in the middle ages. Or medieval period. However you want to say it. All the way into the Renaissance as well. Everyone knows that as time went on technological and artistic progress grew by leaps and bounds. Construction technology flowered to the point of building ever more complex castles, soaring cathedrals, and more complex city planning. Artistic I think I will leave that part to a real expert. Of course there was military technology such as gunpowder weapons and ever more sophisticated naval vessels.

    What didn’t really start improving until the mid 1700’s was how the common people lived. Oh, there were improvements, no doubt about it, but it was very slight compared to other things. You must realize that most rulers were autocratic monarchs during that period. They didn’t truly care about how their people lived as long as the taxes were paid. Renovations to a capitol were to impress foreign visitors. If there was an amazing side benefit for the commoner it was not usually by design, but a happy accident.

    Nice cobblestone streets were not for the benefit of the common person. It was to show off to foreigners that the nation was wealthy enough to afford such luxury. The side benefit was that muddy streets were now a thing of the past. Which meant visitors wouldn’t get as befouled by mud, whether it be shoes, boots, dresses, or pantaloons. This also benefiting the commoners was never a consideration.

    Those fancy marble facings on buildings weren’t to make the city beautiful for the populace but again to awe visitors to the city. Wow! Marble buildings! Think of how much that had to of cost! What a wealthy and powerful nation this must be, for only a wealthy and powerful country can afford to spend cash on such rather than on a strong army and navy!

    Wow! Sidewalks! What luxury! It wasn’t for the commons. It was again a show of status. The side benefit was to lower street congestion so that wagons and horses, carriages and carts could travel easier without fighting foot traffic. It helped commerce. This, while not the original intent, was certainly appreciated by the merchants. Soldiers would march in those streets, not the general public. Saying thus, why wouldn’t rulers do such on principle for their people? Because the commoner was a taxed bit of cannon fodder. Rulers had to worry about nobles plotting.

    If the commons rose up, the army would crush them. It was far trickier jus whacking nobles willy nilly. It caused other nobles to resent that monarch and start wondering if they would be next. A rebellion by a load of nobles was far more feared than a revolt by the commons. The nobles had money. Lest we forget, they also tended to have their own personal armies as well. Now that makes things a bit more dicey for the ruler. Unarmed rabble can be slaughtered easily by knights and cavalry. Well trained and armed men opposing the king’s army was not something to be happy about. No ruler truly welcomed civil war with the nobility. The commons just didn’t count.

    As discussed earlier the commons could be mowed down with knights or cavalry while the nobility had their own troops. Now before people cite a whole passel of successful common revolts and rebellions let me answer that very issue. Yes, there were such successful rebellions by the commoners. But for every successful one there were a hundred that failed. Let’s go through how such could be successful, shall we?

    One is with money and training from a foreign power or even a noble of the realm. IF it is kept a close guarded conspiracy until they are ready the chances of success are more enhanced than with a spontaneous revolt with no planning, weapons and men capable of fighting well against an armed foe. That is definitely possible and did get attempted on more than one occasion historically. Liable to cause a war as well if the forei9gn power’s involvement is discovered before the revolt develops fully.

    Another is that the army is away at war and there just aren’t sufficient troops to quash the early revolt. Nothing keeps a cause going strong like early success against your foe. The longer a rebellion lasts the harder it is to crush. Not impossible, just more difficult. As time goes on those rebels become more skilled at war and will also gain more recruits the more successful they become. The army or some kind of troops better get involved soon or the country is going to lose a province or more to a newly created nation. How many of us have seen in the game England splinter with new nations such as the Puritans, York, and Lancashire appearing?

    The further away a rebellious province is from the main nation, the more likely it is to be successful. Unless it is a border province next to that nation’s greatest enemy. Which is not to suggest that such a revolt is doomed to fail. It can succeed, but it is a bit more difficult. The province might instead choose to joint he enemy nation to enjoy more and better protection than trying for complete independence.

    Yet another possibility for a successful revolt is during a general civil war. Such a war is sheer chaos. Numerous provinces are in rebellion and the central government just might not have enough money or troops to come out on top everywhere. Empires fall, and new nations arise, or old one re emerge. This has happened throughout history and nations still rise and fall to this day, some splitting apart.

    For yet another example it might be that some of the military will rebel and refuse to fight their own people who are in revolt. In this instance the crown has to find another unit to fight the rebels. Or hire foreign mercenaries to crush that rebellion. Which might or might not work. It might cause some of the national army to rebel and help the common revolt because they don’t like foreigners getting involved.

    There are other examples, but I believe you get the general idea. I’ve also drifted off topic. Again! I have t a really bad habit of doing that, don’t I? I originally was talking about how people lived int hat era. Shall we go back to that? Yes, I believe we should!

    City dwellers were dependent on local markets for produce, meats, and so forth. Now when I say market I do not mean like the local supermarket. Think more like a bazaar or an outdoor farmer’s market with vendors hawking their wares and haggling over price. No cash registers or scanning devices of course. No baggers or grocery carts.

    Better bring a basket to carry your purchases if you are common. Haggling with farmers over produce, eggs, and meat. Usually only for that day’s meals. Remember, no refrigerators, freezers, or root cellars for most city dwellers. So many women would be out shopping every morning for the food to be used during that day.

    So morning is a very busy time for the markets. Oddly enough so was evening. Why? The poorer folks shopped then. The market was pretty well picked over the best stuff long gone. Prices were much lower for the inferior produce and nearly rancid stringy meats left. Odds weren’t good on any eggs being left. No modern person living in a ‘first’ world nation can EVER understand the hunger and poverty that was VERY endemic to the city dwellers of that time. Harsh winters could cause mass starvation in cities when farmers could not get there to sell produce that they kept in their own root cellars, or eggs and met. Remember, those city dwellers are completely dependent on farmers bringing in their food.

    War would also case great hardship to the commons in a city. Besieged cities are starving cities. The wealthy hoarded their food. There is a reason when besieged cities fall that you didn’t see horses, or cats…or dogs…or rats. If it is made of meat, it will get eaten. T here have always been rumors of cannibalism from some historically long sieges. Did such really happen? Probably. Was it widespread throughout an entire city? Probably not.

    The upcoming holiday season reminds me about mistletoe. Mistletoe predates Christianity. It was used by pagans during the winter solstice in ceremonies to welcome the return of the sun. Yes, they knew when the days would start lengthening again. In fact it was an embrace, not a kiss which was the beginning of the use of mistletoe. Kissing took over later when Christians snatched the practice from the pagans and started hanging it above doorways. Now that is an improvement I can really back whole heartedly. Now back on topic, once more.

    Believe it or not the rural poor lived better than the urban poor. They could grow their own food and ‘preserve’ it in root cellars and storage facilities far better than the urban poor. Those who lived near streams, rivers, ponds and lakes that would freeze could use the ice from winter to help keep a underground root cellar ‘cool’ in the warmer months. Not really a viable option for the urban poor. Having food without depending on others is a HUGE advantage for the rural poor over the urban poor.

    Yes, like pictured in some paintings and movies, the rural poor could live in thatch roofed hovels that had dirt floors. But they weren’t living on top of each other as neighbors like the urban poor. Which meant they were generally less susceptible to plagues than urban dwellers. They were also generally cleaner than the urban poor. With that creek nearby or a well to draw water from the bathing was far easier than in urban areas. Rural areas also tended to have cleaner water. Farmers didn’t give their live stock dirty water. They knew better. That pig sty is invariably downstream or far away from the water sources. If animals can sicken from befouled water, so can people. Farmers know this. Urban dwellers were unable to be so lucky. They had to get their water from wherever they could.

    Urban poor had cheap wooden flooring. It wasn’t for their convenience or enjoyment. Dirt floors couldn’t be done in multistory buildings. Plus those floors helped keep the building together! Have I emphasized the typical shoddy construction of the multistory housing for the poor enough? I hope so.

    People in the US are used to indoor plumbing and multiple bathrooms. What they fail to truly comprehend is that such is a relatively new innovation. Not toilet facilities of course. Just look at the centuries of feces and urine that coat the outer walls of castles. They had holes in the floor to do their business. But there was no toilet paper. Didn’t exist. I’ll be damned if I know what they used prior to toilet paper being made. I’ve heard of leaves, but what about in winter? Or pages from the Sears catalog. But that wasn’t an option back then. Was it handfuls of frigid snow? Couldn’t have been corn cobs. Corn was unknown to the Europeans until they discovered America. So what did they use? I shudder to think that they would just drop trou, do it, and then pull those trousers or skirts back on without wiping.

    But the alternative is only marginally better. Wiping with a hand and THEN pulling up their trousers or rearranging their skirts. It’s not like hand washing was all that common back then. I used to dream as a teen how cool it would be to go back in time and live during those times. The older I got the far less attractive that dream became. I now have NO desire to do such. EVER! I must have toilet paper. I could live without other thigns, but people will die before I live without toilet paper.

    You can be sure that there was no bathroom in each apartment/flat in those buildings for the poor. In fact it wasn’t until much later that a bathroom would be put in. One per floor if they were lucky. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were one per every few floors. Think I’m kidding? Some hotels in Europe STILL only have bathrooms 1 to an entire floor! Americans are spoiled.

    We’ll throw a fit if a home doesn’t have at least two bathrooms. Even the poorest dwellings in America have at least one bathroom. When I mean dwelling I mean single family home. Watch Spiderman 2 and see that there are STILL some places in New York City that have a bathroom 1 to a floor. Americans, as a people, just can’t believe and rarely understand what life was truly like back then. I’m an American. I an only understand in a vicarious way how life was like back then. My life has been FAR more comfortable than a fifteenth century man’s. I know Frogbeastegg has had a lot of trouble accepting this concept. I understand that. I can assure you she isn’t the only one. There are more of you out there, but she has been one fo the few to speak out. I commend her for that. As I told her, I also have some trouble with how life really was back then. To a point. But even as a modern American I had a reference to a time not that long ago that was not that far removed from the fifteenth century. I didn’t live at that time of course, but I had family who lived during the last years of the nineteenth century and I got to speak to them as a young boy. I was very lucky. My family tends to live for a very long time.

    I had the opportunity to spend summers with my great grandparents. Both of whom were born in the 1890’s. Back in the 1970’s they were both still alive. I have always had a fascination with history. I learned a LOT from my great grandfather about how life was back in those days. He was my living breathing history book. Beginning at a time where running water still wasn’t all that prevalent, especially in rural areas. Where horses were still a primary form of traveling. Railroads had only been around for forty or fifty years and were still generally steam powered.

    Know what the biggest difference between the 19th century and the 15th? Steam power and guns. Steam heat was still very new. But no indoor plumbing really except in the big cities in the 19th century. No central air or heat. Cooking was still done over a fire, even if it was a wood or coal fired stove. Homes were better built, yes. A 19th century man dropped into the 15th century would do better than a 21st century man dropped into the 15th century.

    By that same token, a 15th century man could be dropped into the 19th and if he was a farmer he would likely do very well there. Ploughs weren’t a massive deal different. Iron or steel shod, yes. But some animal was pulling that plough. No tractors. So he would still do relatively well. Vice versa for that 19th century man. My great grandfather was a font of information. To a young lad who took flush toilets, electric power, and automobiles for granted it was a fascinating series of lessons about life in the ‘olden’ days. The same boy who thought nothing of pulling a Pepsi out of the fridge. Buckling up in the back seat of a Plymouth Scamp automobile. We take such today for granted.

    Yet such would be magical to both a 15th and a 19th century man. My great grandfather would have been just as amazed by personal computers. Ti is all in what you know and are used to, really. Foreign visitors to America are surprised at the sheer volume of products available. But every one I’ve ever talked to in person all mentioned that it seemed soulless. They like the small family businesses that are far more usual in Europe. They also are truly amazed at the wide open spaces in the US…..the sheer distances between one place and another.

    Life was slower back in those days versus today. People in America eat on the run and are always on the go. Europeans tend to eat far more home cooked from scratch meals than Americans do. The more processed the lifestyle the less time there is to spend with one’s family in America. Rush, rush, gobble your low fat incredibly high salt food alone and get that six hours of sleep if you are lucky. Those with children tend to give them prepackaged dinners and then later perhaps eat with their spouse. Or alone if not involved with someone.

    I can remember as a child my mother cooking a meal and the entire family sitting down to dinner together. Every night. It was usually the only meal we sat down together as a family. I’d make my own breakfast. Lunch at school. Weekends were much the same. Except during summer. That is when my grandparents would visit for the summer. LOTS of home cooked meals and lots of variety. Hog heaven. I would actually GAIN weight in the summer in spite of the hours of playing and activities.

    This happened in the 1980’s. Not really all that long ago. Now as a married man who works very long hours I cannot remember the last time I had a home cooked meal from scratch and not something prepackaged. Oh, yeah…a couple of years ago when >I< made it. I just don’t have the time.

    Back in the days of yore meals HAD to be made from scratch. Families made time to be together and ate together usually for every meal. Family meant something more then than it does now. At least for Americans. Europeans still know how to spend time with their families. So do Mexicans and South Americans. It is the US where we seem to have forgotten that.

    People in those days knew each other better than we know each other today. How much do you really know about your neighbor that you may have lived next to for the past 10 years? I can tell you that back then you knew a LOT about your neighbors. You lived not that far from them and likely you would be related to them, or you would be at some point.

    The history of the world is a variegated tapestry woven of struggle, agony, suffering, joy, glory, and the tiny little details of having a single egg for breakfast or barley soup for dinner. TI is said that the devil is in the details. Well perhaps. But it might be just as true when it is said history is dirty, gritty, bloody, and can be downright ugly but amidst all that is the glory of the human condition. We as civilized people would rather forget the ugly details of what life was like in the past. We see our shiny cars and wonderful plasma televisions that show our favorite sports teams and don’t want to think of the awesome strain to get to this point in history.

    Let me say this….how many of you own cell phones, PDA’s, pagers, or something similar? How many of you check your email more than once a day? Or talk on your regular home phone or cell phone numerous times a day? Watch the news at least once a week? Don’t bother to answer. You are on this forum, which means you do all of the above. You are in touch. You are connected to the outside world. Available.

    Not back then. A ten mile distance is nothing now. Back then it would take all day to travel that distance. No newspapers until much later. No phones. No way to dispense information and news rapidly. News was just as interesting to people then as it is to us now. The news about the death of a king might actually take a few years to circulate completely through a nation. Nowadays we know some drunken moron 3000 miles away drove into a tree and killed himself. Information flows like water now whereas back then it flowed slowly like sap in a tree during winter north of the 38th parallel. News and information traveled so slowly that some monarch’s would create their own courier service just so that information from the front lines in war would reach them in a relatively timely manner. Say in a few weeks, rather than months.

    Time was different back then. People haven’t truly changed that much, but technology has and how we live has certainly changed. You don’t see thatched houses in Europe anymore. Let alone America. You can still find those mud and wattle huts in third world nations. Look at that National Geographic about such places. You look at those pictures and you aren’t that far off from 15th century living. Yet we in our steel and concrete buildings can look down at our past ancestors because we live so much better.

    Or is that 15th century man looking up at us and sneering at us in the 21st century with our indoor plumbing, central air and heating, fridges and stoves and microwaves and think we are soft and weak? I don’t know that a 15th century man could ever truly adapt to 21st century living conditions, but he could be just as happy with a plot of land and tools to work it like he did in his day. He’ll probably make a fortune selling organic produce.

    A 21st century man is likely to die quickly in the 15th century. I don’t care if you are a survivalist who was a marine for 20 years. You’ll die. Conditions are FAR more primitive than anything you can truly imagine. Any handy dandy techie tools that require power will be USELESS to you.

    People in the 15th century weren’t fond of new things and new ideas and concepts. A 21st century fellow will be odd. Strange. What humans don’t understand they tend to destroy. Speak English in 15th century France and you’ll be lucky to live for long. Speak 15th century French in 21st century America and eventually someone will get a French speaker to come in and puzzle out what you are babbling about.

    Life was hard back then. 40 was considered old age. Compared to now where people live routinely into their 90’s. The urban poor of today have soup kitchens and other charities to help them. Back in the 15th century there weren’t such things. Not really. If you have no place to live in the 21st century there are shelters. In the 15th century you were relegated to alleys and the streets. No charitable shelters for you.

    Is today better than then? I think so. But then I am a spoiled, soft American. But without those ancestors I wouldn’t be sitting here in my leather executive chair typing this article on my computer. Their lives regardless of how squalid, dirty, smelly, and plain awful compared to outs today still have immense value. It was from them that we eventually became us.

  10. #110
    Hurricane Sergeant of Arms Amric's Avatar
    Europa Universalis 3

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    May 2003
    Indiana, United States
    The Eye of the Hurricane<Amric>

    The History of Christmas

    The history of Christmas dates back over 4000 years. Many of our Christmas traditions were celebrated centuries before the Christ child was born. The 12 days of Christmas, the bright fires, the yule log, the giving of gifts, carnivals (parades) with floats, carolers who sing while going from house to house, the holiday feasts, and the church processions can all be traced back to the early Mesopotamians.

    Many of these traditions began with the Mesopotamian celebration of New Years. The Mesopotamians believed in many gods, and as their chief god - Marduk. Each year as winter arrived it was believed that Marduk would do battle with the monsters of chaos. To assist Marduk in his struggle the Mesopotamians held a festival for the New Year. This was Zagmuk, the New Year's festival that lasted for 12 days.

    The Mesopotamian king would return to the temple of Marduk and swear his faithfulness to the god. The traditions called for the king to die at the end of the year and to return with Marduk to battle at his side.

    To spare their king, the Mesopotamians used the idea of a "mock" king. A criminal was chosen and dressed in royal clothes. He was given all the respect and privileges of a real king. At the end of the celebration the "mock" king was stripped of the royal clothes and slain, sparing the life of the real king.

    The Persians and the Babylonians celebrated a similar festival called the Sacaea. Part of that celebration included the exchanging of places, the slaves would become the masters and the masters were to obey.
    Early Europeans believed in evil spirits, witches, ghosts and trolls. As the Winter Solstice approached, with its long cold nights and short days, many people feared the sun would not return. Special rituals and celebrations were held to welcome back the sun.

    In Scandinavia during the winter months the sun would disappear for many days. After thirty-five days scouts would be sent to the mountain tops to look for the return of the sun. When the first light was seen the scouts would return with the good news. A great festival would be held, called the Yuletide, and a special feast would be served around a fire burning with the Yule log. Great bonfires would also be lit to celebrate the return of the sun. In some areas people would tie apples to branches of trees to remind themselves that spring and summer would return.

    The ancient Greeks held a festival similar to that of the Zagmuk/Sacaea festivals to assist their god Kronos who would battle the god Zeus and his Titans.

    The Roman's celebrated their god Saturn. Their festival was called Saturnalia which began the middle of December and ended January 1st. With cries of "Jo Saturnalia!" the celebration would include masquerades in the streets, big festive meals, visiting friends, and the exchange of good-luck gifts called Strenae (lucky fruits).

    The Romans decked their halls with garlands of laurel and green trees lit with candles. Again the masters and slaves would exchange places.
    "Jo Saturnalia!" was a fun and festive time for the Romans, but the Christians though it an abomination to honor the pagan god. The early Christians wanted to keep the birthday of their Christ child a solemn and religious holiday, not one of cheer and merriment as was the pagan Saturnalia.

    But as Christianity spread they were alarmed by the continuing celebration of pagan customs and Saturnalia among their converts. At first the Church forbade this kind of celebration. But it was to no avail. Eventually it was decided that the celebration would be tamed and made into a celebration fit for the Christian Son of God.

    Some legends claim that the Christian "Christmas" celebration was invented to compete against the pagan celebrations of December. The 25th was not only sacred to the Romans but also the Persians whose religion Mithraism was one of Christianity's main rivals at that time. The Church eventually was successful in taking the merriment, lights, and gifts from the Saturanilia festival and bringing them to the celebration of Christmas.

    The exact day of the Christ child's birth has never been pinpointed. Traditions say that it has been celebrated since the year 98 AD. In 137 AD the Bishop of Rome ordered the birthday of the Christ Child celebrated as a solemn feast. In 350 AD another Bishop of Rome, Julius I, chose December 25th as the observance of Christmas.

    Before Christianity the Swedish people celebrated "midvinterblot" at winter solstice. It simply means "mid-winter-blood", and featured both animal and human sacrifice. This tradition took place at certain cult places, and basically every old Swedish church is built on such a place. The pagan tradition was finally abandoned around 1200 AD, due to the missionaries’ persistence. (Of course they were sacrificed too, by the Vikings, in the beginning.)

    Midvinterblot paid tribute to the local gods, appealing to them to let go of the winter's grip. The winters in Scandinavia are dark and grim, and these were the days before central heating. And the Gods were powerful. Until this day Thursday is named after the war god Thor. Friday after Freja (fertility) It is interesting to note that to this day the Swedish name for Christmas is Jul (Yule), and the Jul gnome has a more important role than Christmas father or the Christ child. You don't kill those pagan traditions easily. The old Viking religion with Thor and his friends is still practiced by some people, somewhat less bloodily.

    In Italy, La Befana, a kindly witch, rides a broomstick down the chimney to deliver toys into the stockings of Italian children. The legends say that Befana was sweeping her floors when the three Wise Men stopped and asked her to come to see the Baby Jesus. "No," she said, "I am too busy." Later, she changed her mind but it was too late to catch up with the three Wise Men. So, to this day, she goes out on January 5th and searching for the Holy Child, leaving gifts for the "holy child" in each household.

    To celebrate the New Year in Tibet, Buddhist monks create elaborate yak-butter sculptures depicting a different story or fable each year. The sculptures reach 30 feet high and are lit with special butter lamps. Awards are given for the best butter sculptures.

    The ancient traditions of Pakistan pre-date the Christian era. During winter solstice, an ancient demigod returns to collect prayers and deliver them to Dezao, the supreme being. During this celebration women and girls are purified by taking ritual baths. The men pour water over their heads while they hold up bread. Then the men and boys are purified with water and must not sit on chairs until evening when goat's blood is sprinkled on their faces. Following this purification, a great festival begins, with singing, dancing, bonfires, and feasting on goat tripe and other delicacies.

    Legend has it that the shepherds rejoiced when they learned of the birth of Christ and they waved their hooked staffs about and played Ganna. This is the origin of the game called Ganna that is traditionally played on Christmas Day (January 7 -- the older date of Christmas) by all the men and boys in Ethiopia.

    This humorous tradition was documented in 1851 in a London Newspaper. In Devonshire, England, on Twelfth Night (January 7), the farmers get their weapons and go to their apple orchard. Selecting the oldest tree, they form a circle and chant:

    Here's to thee, old apple tree
    Whence thou mayst bud and whence thou mayst blow
    And whence thou mayst bear apples enow:
    Hats full, caps full,
    Bushels, bushels, sacks full,
    And my pockets full too!
    Huzza! Huzza!

    The men drink cider, make merry, and fire their weapons (charged only with powder) at the tree. They return to the home and are denied entrance no matter what the weather by the women indoors. When one of the men guesses the name of the roast that is being prepared for them, all are let in. The one who guessed the roast is named "King for the Evening" and presides over the party until the wee hours.

    This unusual event takes place in Oaxaca, Mexico on December 23 each year. It dates to the mid-nineteenth century and commemorates the introduction of the radish by the Spanish colonists. Radishes in this region grow to the size of yams but are not the rounded shape we usually see. They are twisted and distorted by growing in the rocky soil. These unusual shapes are exploited as local artisans carve them into elaborate scenes from the Bible, from history, and from the Aztec legends. Cash prizes are awarded and the evening culminates with a spectacular fireworks display.

    This is a Buddhist celebration held on December 8 each year throughout Japan. It is a tradition that has been carried on since at least 400 AD. Once only observed by tailors and dressmakers, today anyone who sews participates. A special shrine is made for the needles containing offerings of food and scissors and thimbles. A pan of tofu (soybean curd) is the center of the shrine and all the broken and bent needles are inserted into it. As the needles go into the tofu, the sewer recites a special prayer in thanks for its fine service over the year. The needles find their final resting place at sea, as devotees everywhere wrap their tofu in paper and launch them out to sea.

    The Celtic culture of the British Isles revered all green plants, but particularly mistletoe and holly. These were important symbols of fertility and were used for decorating their homes and altars.

    New Christmas customs appeared in the Middle Ages. The most prominent contribution was the carol, which by the 14th century had become associated with the religious observance of the birth of Christ.

    In Italy, a tradition developed for re-enacting the birth of Christ and the construction of scenes of the nativity. This is said to have been introduced by Saint Francis as part of his efforts to bring spiritual knowledge to the laity.

    Saints Days have also contributed to our Christmas celebrations. A prominent figure in today's Christmas is Saint Nicholas who for centuries has been honored on December 6th. He was one of the forerunners of Santa Claus.
    Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold, there came wise men form the east to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he that is born Kind of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him."

    When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, "In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet, ‘And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judea, art not the least among the princes of Judea: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.’"

    Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, "Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also."
    When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

    When they saw the star, they rejoiced and exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him; and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
    And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream saying, ""rise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him."

    When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt.

    First of all, we need to establish from the beginning that December 25th is in all probability not the date of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

    The year of the Christian Nativity must be ascertained by historical and chronological research, since there is no certain and harmonious tradition on the subject. The "Anno Domini" dating system, which was introduced by the Roman abbot Dionysius Exiguus, in the sixth century, and came into general use two years later, during the reign of Charlemagne, puts the Nativity Dec. 25, 754 Anno Urbis, that is, after the founding of the city of Rome. Nearly all chronologers agree that this is wrong by at least four years. Christ was born 750 AU (or 4 BCE) if not earlier. According to Matthew 2:1 (comp. Luke 1:5, 26), Christ was born "in the days of King Herod" I, "the Great," who died, according to Josephus, at Jericho, 750 AU, just before Passover. This date has been verified by the astronomical calculation of the eclipse of the moon, which took place March 13, 750 AU, a few days before Herod's death.

    Allowing two months or more for the events between the birth of Christ and the murder of the Innocents by Herod, the Nativity must be put back at least to February or January, 750 AU (or 4 BCE), if not earlier.
    So why do we celebrate it on December 25th?

    December 25th occurs about the time of the Winter Solistice, the shortest day of the year. The shortening days were taken as a sign that the Sun was getting weaker. After the Solistice, the days begin to get longer ...... and pagan peoples thought that was an indication that the Sun was getting stronger.

    Thus, the Winter Solistice became the "birthday" of several gods: Attis, Frey, Thor, Dionysus, Osiris, Adonis, Mithra, Tammuz, Cernunnos and so forth. It is a "solar holiday," marking the time that the sun becomes apparently stronger day by day.

    Mithra, by the way, was born on December 25, of a virgin. His birth was witnessed by shepherds and magicians [magi]. Mithra raised the dead and healed the sick and cast out demons. He returned to heaven at the spring equinox and before doing so had a last supper with his 12 disciples (representing the 12 signs of the zodiac), eating mizd, a piece of bread marked with a cross (an almost universal symbol of the sun). Any of that sound familiar?

    We also have a Jewish festival near that date: Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights (another solar reference) which occurs on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, approximately in December by the Roman calendar, and the Zoroastrian Yalda, the celebration of the victory of good over evil.

    The Christian holiday was not always celebrated on December 25th, however.
    For the first three hundred years of the current era, there was no festivity of the birth of Jesus. Some churches celebrated Jesus' birthday in the spring time and some celebrated it on January 6 (Epiphany).

    Early in the fourth century, the Roman church decreed that December 25 would henceforth be recognized as the birthday of Christ. The Eastern churches refused to accept Christmas until 375 C.E., and the churches in Jerusalem rejected the December 25 date until the seventh century.
    There are still some Eastern Rite churches that continue to celebrate the Epiphany date.

    The Pilgrims outlawed Christmas. They also refused to use the 1611 King James Bible!

    The Winter Solistice was the season of a major celebration of fertility in ancient Rome called "Saturnalia" starting on December 17th. This honored the "good old days" when the god Saturn ruled a supposed "Golden Age", and there were no masters and no slaves, and everything was easy. Thus, it became a reversal-holiday, when the masters served the slaves, and a slave was chosen to temporarily rule the household. The Romans were civilized enough to not kill him afterwards, as seems to be the custom with such holidays in more primitive cultures.

    They also exchanged presents, were allowed to gamble in public, and in general had a good time. It was the greatest holiday of the year.

    It should come as no surprise then that the Christian Church co-opted this seasonal holiday, celebrated by the city that ruled the world -and- celebrated by Christianity's major competitor (Mithraism). It was simply a very astute political move.

    St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople at the end of the fourth century wrote: "On this day also the Birthday of Christ was lately fixed at Rome in order that while the heathen were busy with their profane ceremonies, the Christians might perform their sacred rites undisturbed. They call this (December 25th), the Birthday of the Invincible One (Mithra); but who is as invincible as the Lord? They call it the Birthday of the Solar Disk, but Christ is the Sun of Righteousness."

    This custom of the "Feast of Fools" was continued in medieval Western Europe, with a "Lord of Misrule," mummers doing traditional plays, feasting with a boar's head, games, dancing and other such merriment. This could last for more than just Christmas Day, going on until at least Epiphany (January 6th) in many cases ..... these are our "Twelve Days of Christmas."
    Christmas even started out controversially in North America. Reverend Rel Davis writes:

    The festival of Christmas has always been a controversial one in Christianity. The Puritans banned Christmas altogether and during the Cromwellian period in England, anyone celebrating Christmas was jailed for heresy. Probably the most hated of all Puritan laws was the one abolishing Christmas and probably led to popular acceptance of royalty (nb: the Restoration) -- at least the King allowed the masses to celebrate Yule!

    In America, Christmas was generally outlawed until the end of the last century. In Boston, up to 1870, anyone missing work on Christmas Day would be fired. Factory owners customarily required employees to come to work at 5 a.m. on Christmas -- to insure they wouldn't have time to go to church that day. And any student who failed to go to school on December 25 would be expelled. Only the arrival of large numbers of Irish and northern European immigrants brought acceptance of Christmas in this country.

    Christmas did not even begin to be a legal holiday anywhere in the United States until very late in the nineteenth century CE, with Alabama being the first state to make it so.

    Now let's look at some Christmas customs:
    The name "Yule" is not derived from Chaldaean, as some would have you believe,, but rather from the Old Norse "Jol" or "Jul" thru Anglo-Saxon "Geol" to Middle English "Yule." It means "Winter Solstice," or "Christmas." It is found in the Germanic languages, but not in the Romance languages like French, Spanish and Italian, who have names for Christmas that mean closer to "The Birthday" than anything else. There is, of course, no connection linguistically between Chaldaean and the Germanic languages .... or with the Romance languages either, for that matter.

    I have also heard some folks thundering against the use of the abbreviation "Xmas" as being "against Jesus." Frankly, nothing could be more absurd. This usage derives from a common medieval abbreviation for "Christ" using a Cross rather than the name. This was most common in signatures, and thus you would see a signature of "Xtoph" rather than "Kristoph." It is simply an abbreviation, and nothing more.

    The name "Christmas" derives, of course, from Middle English "Cristes mæsse" or "Christ's Mass," that is, the Roman church's standard ritual celebration. This alone, being Roman Catholic, seems to render it suspect in the minds of many hard-core Protestants .... though they seem to forget that at the time Middle English was spoken, the Roman Catholic Church was pretty much the only game in town.

    The night before, Christmas Eve, was called "Modranect" or "Modranecht" by the Germanic pagan peoples (this seems to be Old English / Anglo-Saxon, and apparently means "Mother's Night"). This is obviously in honor of the Mother Goddess who bore the solar Child of Promise.

    The Magi, or the Three Wise Men: The "Magi" were, in antiquity, priests of Zoroastrianism ..... and reputed to be expert Magi-cians (see the derivation of the word there?) and astrologers. Mithraism is associated with Zoroastrianism much like Christianity stems from Judaism. The "Three Kings" bits are a later interpolation, and there may very well be a "Triple God" aspect slipping in here from folk-memory, too.

    The Yule Log is pretty obvious. Sympathetic magic, with its rule of "As in Heaven, so on Earth" (a re-stating of the more usual wording of 'As above, so below") means that to have a blazing fire on earth would encourage the sun to grow stronger. Therefore, the Winter Solstice is a "fire festival," with bonfires and Yule logs being lit to "help" the sun grow stronger between then and Midsummer. It also served a more practical purpose of warming up the home during a cold night in which many people stayed awake for much longer than they usually did.

    Mistletoe is an old Celtic symbol of regeneration and eternal life. The Romans valued it as a symbol of peace and this eventually led to its usage as one of the common symbols of Christmas. Kissing under mistletoe was a Roman custom, due to its' being regarded as a symbol of fertility.

    We also find the mistletoe figuring in the Norse story of Balder, and in medieval legend as the wood from which the Cross was made .... which legend was probably derived from the Balder story, as it was a twig of mistletoe that killed him.

    It was considered a protection against evil, the devil, and witchcraft ..... and, when laid on the altar of a church (as done as late as the 18th Century CE at York cathedral in England) signified a sort of general amnesty.
    Many primitive societies, such as the Ainu of Japan and the Wallas of West Africa also regarded the mistletoe with veneration.

    During the "Druid craze" (an interest in alleged "Druidic customs," mostly entirely spurious) of the 18th and early 19th Century CE the Church began to distrust mistletoe as a "pagan" plant and banned it from the churches. This is curious in view of the old legends that the plant was the wood used for the Cross, the "sanctae crucius lignum," called the "l'herbe de la croix" in France. Supposedly it was once a strong tree, but its use for the Cross degraded it.
    It became fashionable in England to have your very own mini-Stonehenge in your garden, and one fellow with more money than sense even hired a white-bearded man to play the part of a Druid priest and come out of a fake cave occasionally and gibber at the wealthy man's guests.

    The Chronological History of the Christmas Tree

    St. Boniface Story

    Why do we have a decorated Christmas Tree? In the 7th century a monk from Crediton, Devonshire, went to Germany to teach the Word of God. He did many good works there, and spent much time in Thuringia, an area which was to become the cradle of the Christmas Decoration Industry.

    Legend has it that he used the triangular shape of the Fir Tree to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The converted people began to revere the Fir tree as God's Tree, as they had previously revered the Oak. By the 12th century it was being hung, upside-down, from ceilings at Christmastime in Central Europe, as a symbol of Christianity.

    The first decorated tree was at Riga in Latvia, in 1510. In the early 16th century, Martin Luther is said to have decorated a small Christmas Tree with candles, to show his children how the stars twinkled through the dark night.

    In the mid 16th century, Christmas markets were set up in German towns, to provide everything from gifts, food and more practical things such as a knife grinder to sharpen the knife to carve the Christmas Goose! At these fairs, bakers made shaped gingerbreads and wax ornaments for people to buy as souvenirs of the fair, and take home to hang on their Christmas Trees.

    The best record we have is that of a visitor to Strasbourg in 1601. He records a tree decorated with "wafers and golden sugar-twists (Barleysugar) and paper flowers of all colors". The early trees were biblically symbolic of the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden. The many food items were symbols of Plenty, the flowers, originally only red (for Knowledge) and White (for Innocence).

    Tinsel was invented in Germany around 1610. At that time real silver was used, and machines were invented which pulled the silver out into the wafer thin strips for tinsel. Silver was durable, but tarnished quickly, especially with candlelight. Attempts were made to use a mixture of lead and tin, but this was heavy and tended to break under its own weight so was not so practical. So silver was used for tinsel right up to the mid-20th century.

    The Christmas Tree first came to England with the Georgian Kings who came from Germany. At this time also, German Merchants living in England decorated their homes with a Christmas Tree. The British public was not fond of the German Monarchy, so did not copy the fashions at Court, which is why the Christmas Tree did not establish in Britain at that time. A few families did have Christmas trees however, probably more from the influence of their German neighbors than from the Royal Court.

    In 1846, the popular Royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were illustrated in the Illustrated London News. They were standing with their children around a Christmas Tree. Unlike the previous Royal family, Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at Court immediately became fashionable - not only in Britain, but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society. The English Christmas Tree had arrived!

    Decorations were still of a 'home-made' variety. Young Ladies spent hours at Christmas Crafts, quilling snowflakes and stars, sewing little pouches for secret gifts and paper baskets with sugared almonds in them. Small bead decorations, fine drawn out silver tinsel came from Germany together with beautiful Angels to sit at the top of the tree. Candles were often placed into wooden hoops for safety.

    In 1850's Lauscha began to produce fancy shaped glass bead garlands for the trees, and short garlands made from necklace 'bugles' and beads. These were readily available in Germany but not produced in sufficient quantities to export to Britain. The Rauschgoldengel was a common sight. Literally, 'Tingled-angel', bought from the Thuringian Christmas markets, and dressed in pure gilded tin.
    The 1860's English Tree had become more innovative than the delicate trees of earlier decades. Small toys were popularly hung on the branches, but still most gifts were placed on the table under the tree.

    Around this time, the Christmas tree was spreading into other parts of Europe. The Mediterranean countries were not too interested in the tree, preferring to display only a Crèche scene. Italy had a wooden triangle platform tree called as 'CEPPO'. This had a Crèche scene as well as decorations.

    The German tree was beginning to suffer from mass destruction! It had become the fashion to lop off the tip off a large tree to use as a Christmas Tree, which prevented the tree from growing further. Statutes were made to prevent people having more than one tree.

    Just as the first trees introduced into Britain did not immediately take off, the early trees introduced into America by the Hessian soldiers were not recorded in any particular quantity. The Pennsylvanian German settlements had community trees as early as 1747.

    America being so large, tended to have 'pockets' of customs relating to the immigrants who had settled in a particular area and it was not until the communications really got going in the 19th century that such customs began to spread. Thus references to decorated trees in America before about the middle of the 19th century are very rare.

    By the 1870's, Glass ornaments were being imported into Britain from Lauscha, in Thuringia. It became a status symbol to have glass ornaments on the tree, the more one had, the better ones status! Still many home-made things were seen. The Empire was growing, and the popular tree topper was the Nation's Flag, sometimes there were flags of the Empire and flags of the allied countries. Trees got very patriotic.

    They were imported into America around 1880, where they were sold through stores such as FW Woolworth. They were quickly followed by American patents for electric lights (1882), and metal hooks for safer hanging of decorations onto the trees (1892)

    The 1880's saw a rise of the Aesthetic Movement. At this time Christmas Trees became a glorious hotchpotch of everything one could cram on; or by complete contrast the aesthetic trees which were delicately balanced trees, with delicate colors, shapes and style. they also grew to floor standing trees. The limited availability of decorations in earlier decades had kept trees by necessity to, usually table trees. Now with decorations as well as crafts more popular than ever, there was no excuse. Still a status symbol, the larger the tree - the more affluent the family which sported it.

    The High Victorian of the 1890's was a child's joy to behold! As tall as the room, and crammed with glitter and tinsel and toys galore. Even the 'middle classes' managed to over-decorate their trees. It was a case of 'anything goes'. Everything that could possibly go on a tree went onto it.

    By 1900 themed trees were popular. A color theme set in ribbons or balls, a topical idea such as an Oriental Tree, or an Egyptian Tree. They were to be the last of the great Christmas Trees for some time. With the death of Victoria in 1901, the Nation went into mourning and fine trees were not really in evidence until the nostalgia of the Dickensian fashion of the 1930's.

    In America, Christmas Trees were introduced into several pockets - the German Hessian Soldiers took their tree customs in the 18th century. In Texas, Cattle Barons from Britain took their customs in the 19th century, and the East Coast Society copied the English Court tree customs.

    Settlers from all over Europe took their customs also in the 19th century. Decorations were not easy to find in the shanty towns of the West, and people began to make their own decorations. Tin was pierced to create lights and lanterns to hold candles which could shine through the holes. Decorations of all kinds were cutout, stitched and glued. The General Stores were hunting grounds for old magazines with pictures, rolls of Cotton Batting (Cotton Wool), and tinsel, which was occasionally sent from Germany or brought in from the Eastern States. The Paper 'Putz' or Christmas Crib was a popular feature under the tree, especially in the Moravian Dutch communities which settled in Pennsylvania.

    After Queen Victoria died, the country went into mourning, and the tree somehow died with her for a while in many homes. While some families and community groups still had large tinsel strewn trees, many opted for the more convenient table top tree. These were available in a variety of sizes, and the artificial tree, particularly the Goose Feather Tree, became popular. These were originally invented in the 1880's in Germany, to combat some of the damage being done to Fir trees in the name of Christmas.

    In America, the Addis Brush Company created the first brush trees, using the same machinery which made their toilet brushes! These had an advantage over the feather tree in that they would take heavier decorations.

    After 1918, because of licensing and export problems, Germany was not able to export its decorations easily. The market was quickly taken up by Japan and America, especially in Christmas Tree lights.
    Britain's Tom Smith Cracker Company which has exported Christmas goods for over three decades, began to manufacture trees themselves for a short while.

    In the 1930's there was a revival of Dickensian nostalgia, particularly in Britain. Christmas cards all sported Crinoline ladies with muffs and bonnets popular in the 1840's. Christmas Trees became large, and real again, and were decorated with many bells, balls and tinsels, and with a beautiful golden haired angel at the top. But wartime England put a stop to many of these trees. It was forbidden to cut trees down for decoration, and with so many raids, many people preferred to keep their most precious heirloom Christmas tree decorations carefully stored away in metal boxes, and decorated only a small tabletop tree with home-made decorations, which could be taken down into the shelters for a little Christmas cheer, when the air-raid sirens went.
    Large trees were erected however in public places to give moral to the people at this time.

    Postwar Britain saw a revival of the nostalgic again. People needed the security of Christmas, which is so unchanging in a changing world, as one of the symbols to set them back on their feet. Trees were as large as people could afford. Many poorer families still used the tabletop Goose feather trees, Americas Addis Brush Trees were being imported into Britain, and these became immensely popular for a time. But the favourites were still real trees. The popular decorations were all produced by a British manufacturer, Swanbrand. and sold by FW Woolworth in Britain.

    Translucent plastic lock together shapes, Honeycomb paper Angels, 'glow-in the -dark icicles; also Polish glass balls and birds In South Wales, where real trees were often difficult to find in the rural areas, Holly Bushes were decorated.

    The mid-1960's saw another change. A new world was on the horizon, and modernist ideas were everywhere. Silver aluminum trees were imported from America. The 'Silver Pine' tree, patented in the 1950's, was designed to have a revolving light source under it, with colored gelatin 'windows’, which allowed the light to shine in different shades as it revolved under the tree. No decorations were needed for this tree.

    Decorations became sparse. Glass balls and lametta created an 'elegant' modern tree. Of course, many families ignored fashion and carried on putting their own well loved decorations on their trees!

    America made a return to Victorian nostalgia in the 1970's, and it was a good decade later that Britain followed the fashion. At first this was a refreshing look, and manufacturers realizing the potential created more and more fantastic decorations. Some American companies specialized in antique replicas, actually finding the original makers in Europe to recreate wonderful glass ornaments, real silver tinsels and pressed foil 'Dresdens'.

    Real Christmas Trees were popular, but many housewives preferred the convenience of the authentic looking artificial trees which were being manufactured. If your room was big enough, you could have a 14 foot artificial Spruce right there in your living room, without a single dropped needle - and so good that it fooled everyone at first glance. There are even pine scented sprays to put on the tree for that 'real tree smell'!
    The late 1990's tree has taken the Victorian idea, but with new themes and conceptual designs. The Starry Starry Night Tree, The Twilight Tree, The Snow Queen Tree.....

    All in all there is a tremendous amount of information about Christmas. Perhaps this will help those of us who like to write about this time of year in our stories by being a bit more accurate for the particular time frame we are writing in.

    Happy Holidays to all!

  11. #111
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    Relationships, the Sequel

    True to the purpose of good feedback, stnylan challenged me with some interesting questions after my last article on love. He asked about love for that which is non-human and close friendships. As I was unable to completely answer his questions in a swift manner, I decided to think on it and do another article. And it’s a good thing, too, because a friend of mine reminded me that both of these are important subjects.

    First, let us have a quick discussion on love and the non-human. Literature is replete with examples of love and the non-human. Pet owners often talk about how they “love” their pets, and how their pets “love” them back. While I don’t have time to write an exhaustive philosophical treatise on the nature of love, it is a simpler matter to discuss the writing of such things. The simple rule is that the more a non-human object in a story is personified, the better chance of their being a love story being written about it successfully. If a character is very fond of their pet, for example, the story will make more sense if the animal is written about in a way that seems to give it human qualities. If the pet “smiles” to its master after the master says something witty, that’s personification and therefore it gives some personhood to the animal. The same can be done with spirits, weather, computers, cars, cellular phones, and so forth. The same can also be said of hate. Characters can only truly despise that which they think of in terms of personhood.

    This is important when you have characters that have a deep love or hatred for intangible things like nationality or the divine. Patriots are often thought of as “loving” their country, while zealots talk about their “love” for the divine. For this to be believable, they have to, at some level, think of their object of love as having qualities of personhood; however, for it to be good writing, there has to be more than just believability. Were our readers raised in other centuries, this wouldn’t be hard to do; but for our post-modern AAR reader, I think the key lies in less talk and more action. Talk is cheap, but actions, especially those performed in mundane life, speak loudly to those who read here. If you are writing a patriot or a zealot, focus on their actions, not just important ones, but the small details. How a character behaves when he wakes up in the morning is telling, just as when she eats dinner. Does your zealot discuss theology over lunch? Does your patriot scold those who have their nation’s flag flying, but in disrepair? These are the things that will make it something less than the stereotype when you write.

    Turning to the subject of close friendships, stnylan reminded me that in our culture (and by “our” culture, I refer to the US and the UK. I have no idea what other parts of the world this applies to), it is difficult to separate close friendships from sexuality. Or, to put it in even more technical jargon, love is inseparable from sex, regardless of anything else. While I suspect we may have Freud to thank for this, it is quite clearly something far newer than, say, the invention of the novel. This is certainly a foreign concept to Shakespeare. His plays are filled with close friendships between men and between women that are not the least bit sexual*. Yet, if there is one universal comment made about the Lord of the Rings movies, it is that Sam and Frodo seem fairly gay. They have a friendship very similar to the close male friendships in Shakespeare, but some people do not see it as just a friendship. Part of this I blame on Elijah Woods’ acting (its not that he’s bad, just not quite as good as I would have liked), but the vast majority is cultural. The result of this is that it is damn hard to write about close friendships between characters, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, without sex getting read into the picture by your reader.

    How do we get around this? That’s a tough question, one which I do not have all the answers to. One solution is something I have made liberal use of with two of my male characters who are good friends. I call it the “Machismo Maneuver.” Basically, what you do is have the two men in question engage in a number of macho pastimes. You also make sure that they are married with children and/or have a long string of female lovers. My characters have shared many close moments with one another (they’ve been friends for several decades now), but I don’t think I have left even a suggestion in the text that they have sexual feelings for one another. They don’t have time, since they are too busy wooing ladies, fighting wars, drinking wine, arranging coups by accident, playing cards, and finally just being crotchety in their old age. Oh, and they reorganized the military just for fun in their spare time.

    But does this really work? So far, my readers seem to buy it. But if it was subjected to a wider audience, I am sure it would not convince everybody. I bet some would see all of their machismo as a front for repressed feelings.

    At this point, I wish I could pull examples from the great stories of the past to provide additional examples, but they don’t help, as this is a new problem. Milton just assumes you won’t think he’s gay when he writes pastoral poems in honor of dead male friends. Shakespeare ends his comedies in marriage, which suffices for him that his characters are heterosexuals who have close friendships, while his sonnets seem to be more concerned with the cruelness of the lady than anything else. Dickens and Hardy have some strange folks in their novels, but if there was a suggestion of homoeroticism in the close friendships their novels sometimes contain, I don’t think they would have managed to be published. Conrad and Melville? Well, their characters are so dysfunctional or in dysfunctional situations that the “close” friendships are usually warped and twisted in some way unrelated to sexuality.

    In the end, the best way to handle this is to probably just ignore it. If the reader wishes to read into your work something that is not there, just accept it and move on. Most folks around here are better educated than your average movie watcher, so you have some leeway in your writing. Just remember that if you do include some ambiguous elements in a friendship, they will be picked up on and commented on. If you don’t want sexual ambiguity in your close friendships, its up to you to keep it out.

    I considered writing a longer article, but Thomas Shadwell ** wants me to pet him. He is a close friend of mine. He is also a three month old kitten. I tend to personify him in several ways, most of them involving silliness and conspiracy theories (let’s be honest, who doesn’t think their cat is conspiring against them?). Maybe he is not really a close friend of mine, as he is just an animal. But we shall see.

    Just remember, you didn’t hear it from me. This article doesn’t exist, and neither do I.

    *Some scholars will tell you otherwise, as they will point out the gender-bending that takes place in some of the comedies. My favorite comedy, Twelfth Night, has a good bit of both. However, a deeper reading of the all plays suggests that Shakespeare, whatever his personal feelings about sexuality are, had bigger fish to fry than just giving his characters mild pangs of homoeroticism.

    ** Bonus points to the first one to identify who his namesake is. And if you can figure out why I named him that, you are truly brilliant.

  12. #112
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    The Gift of Paradox

    Well, it’s that time of year when shopping seems to increase and time somehow vanishes. There is a full month between the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas; however, it seems to disappear in less than two weeks. Of course, I have been put down with a series of colds since the weather started getting chillier, but at least something positive came out of that time.

    As some of you may know, I recently purchased a new computer. As I started putting all of my old files and games on the new machine, I inevitably came to my copies of EUII and Crusader Kings. Of course, what kind of fan would I be if I did not fire them up a bit and make sure they worked? And boy did they!

    First up came EUII. I played a game as the Big White Blob as I had never played them before, and figured it had been a while and I was on a new patch – why not try something easy? It was a great game with everything going along fine until France somehow took a province that sat next to Poland and the next thing I know I have big BLUE blobs on either side of my growing empire. Needless to say, that game did not get finished.

    Instead, I loaded up Crusader Kings once more. I had only played a game or two when it first came out and I was eager to try the latest patches and see what that did for the game’s playability. I must say, the folks working on CK improvements have done a fantastic job. I chose to play the Duke of Brandenburg and it was by the skin of my teeth that I somehow made it to the 15th century.

    I started messing around with the Baltic pagans, being careful not to let the German King get too much of my desired land, and ended up with a fairly sizable Duchy owning most of northern Germany by the time the Golden Horde arrived. I made the mistake of declaring war on them when they attacked one of my vassals. I tried my best to avoid their large armies and instead tried to mop up territory behind them. Let’s just say the best plans never hold together in the face of the enemy.

    All I know is that they had taken most of my land and left me in a little bubble in Mecklenburg when the game crashed. When I got back into the game, their capital had moved to the province right above me so I attacked. When I won, the rest of their armies disappeared. Oh how my neighbors had fun at my expense, taking all the land that had once belonged to me. But the joke was on them. I spent the next 200 years retaking my land, dumping the King of Germany as my liege and building up for 1419 when I would continue the game as an export into EUII. By the time I finished, the Golden Horde had swallowed most of central and western Europe and had splintered into two (since I changed their inheritance to gavelkind.)

    And yes, my exported game was fantastic. Brandenburg/Prussia was stronger than ever before. I did not conquer the world, but role-played through to the finish in 1819. I had conquered Austria and most of France. Spain had never formed since the Iberian Peninsula was owned by the Muslim Seville. The south of North America and the north of South America were colonies, as were Australia, South Africa, southern India and Taiwan.

    What’s the point of relating my games with you? Well, it was like having brand new games. Here we are at Christmas and I felt like I had already received two wonderful gifts. And I could not help but think, as I played each of the games, “Hey, there’s a story here.” In fact, there were a whole lot of stories. I began thinking that I could split them up into separate AARs – one for each king, or something. It’s an idea I want to talk about a little bit later, but I confess that I have not yet played a Paradox game, since I started writing AARs, that I did not start wondering what kind of story it might be.

    I am sure many of you know what I mean. You start thinking, “man, I wished I had started taking notes earlier,” or you start watching some other country around you and notice that something happened that would fit perfectly with something that just happened to you – “that would make for a great post!”

    I guess what I am on about may be my love for these games and this forum. It’s that time of year when one reflects upon what they have done in the previous year and what they plan on doing in the future. For me, I have watched this forum centralize and begin turning into one large area full of talented writers, curious readers, intelligent posters and fun, interesting individuals. There is a reason why I spend so much time around here.

    I have also watched many of you take this experience we call the Gazette into your hearts and minds over the past several months, and I cannot tell you how much I and the other participants appreciate that support and enjoyment. When Alexandru pitched the idea to me, I admit to being skeptical. Is this something that might catch on? Do people really care what we have to say? How will this assist forum community and cohesiveness? But through much hard work on many people’s part, it has become a staple of the area and it is only because you folks keep reading it and some really well-read and talented writers joined in to include material.

    Allow me to speak for my fellow columnists and editAARs and say thank you one and all. Thank you from the columnists for reading, and thank you from the editAARs for joining in the fun. I hope that 2005 will see many others come in and join our circle. There is always room and I am sure, never enough words to describe, explain, question, look forward, look back or just plain look.

    I had a few things I wanted to accomplish with this column. One was to share my reintroduction to some fine games. One was to look at the past year and say thank you. And one was to look forward. Other than the above, I have no immediate thoughts on where our humble forum might be one year from now. But I know that one year ago, I was lurking around here and wondering if I should come back out of the shadows. It seems that my decision to do so was the wise one and I have had a blast spending time with you since then. I have completed an AAR and am trying very hard to get inspiration back for my current one. I have assisted in starting the gazette, which is an extension of assisting in forum community and togetherness. And I have read countless tales – wonderful, funny, surprising, exciting and extremely worth it!

    The reason I stay part of this group is out of enjoyment for both the product and the people. I do not see that changing any time soon. Thank you for welcoming us once again, thank you for giving me such enjoyment over the past year, and thank you to Paradox for creating some truly fascinating and certainly addictive games. I hope everyone has a safe and pleasurable season, and I look forward to seeing where we go in the next year. I expect next year’s year-end AARticle to be just as fun to write.

    Now where is that Santa Claus? If he had hired wlaks instead of reindeer, he wouldn’t have these slowness problems. I hear wlaks have been known to fly at speeds unheard of by scientists...though I have never seen one, and hope not to. Of course, that is if you believe in the mythical creature…

  13. #113
    Maestro Director's Avatar
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    The King’s Musike

    I had thought to dash off a short primer on music of the EU2 period, but I find that the material is so broad – and the subject so pervasive – that a series of short articles may be in order.

    To begin, let’s talk about the musicians who made the music.

    In the Crusader Kings and early EU2 period, music was made almost entirely by amateurs. Save for the traveling minstrel of ‘courtly love’ fame, there were few establishments that could afford to pay a permanent musician, let alone a group. So there might be a master of a cathedral choir who presided over a collection of people who sang for pleasure, or students who sang as part of their education. The master himself was looked upon as no more or less than a carpenter, cook or huntsman – a sort of technician who wrote the music and performed the music on demand.

    This was the norm for Europe. Our knowledge of the rest of the world is less comprehensive, but music in India and China seems to have largely developed in the same fashion: there were peasant songs, aristocratic music (frequently featuring an instrument) and some music of a religious nature. Music in Europe was shortly to undergo fundamental change in the way it was conceived, produced and consumed while music in the rest of the world remained more or less unchanged.

    What first distinguished the music of Europe was its quantity. Retained by a church (as was Bach for most of his life) or by a noble family (Haydn) or royal court (Handel), the music master was responsible for making new – or new seeming – music on a daily basis. There were a lot of church services in a week’s time, and a full mass demanded a full measure of music. In addition, every state dinner, marriage, military victory or important visit demanded music. Particularly as the royal courts attempted to keep their nobles dancing attendance on the king, entertainments multiplied and the demand for music multiplied also.

    Some composers were famed for their skill at improvisation – Bach was primarily known in his own lifetime for his skill at the keyboard and for his powers of improvisation – and this doubtless helped fill the demand. Armed with little more than a melodic idea and the form the piece must take, solo performers (like organists) could create the music on the spot, and if it was particularly interesting they might write it down later. Comparatively little of this torrent of music has come down to us; the time required to set it down coupled with the cost of paper, ink and quills ensured that. There are many anecdotes from this period of musicians being able to recreate other artists’ entire performances from memory. Only the more impressive or significant music was deemed worthy of notation; bear that in mind when you think of the hundreds of compositions of Bach, Scarlatti, Telemann and Vivaldi.

    In addition to composition and performance, the music master was responsible for training and rehearsing any additional musicians who were required as well as training the children of the nobility and the wealthy. In his spare time, a music master might be called as a consultant by churches that were purchasing a new organ, or even allowed to do al little traveling. Music masters would initially sing or play a lead instrument, leading a group by example. Later, as performing groups grew relentlessly larger, the position of conductor was created. The first conductors used a wooden staff to pound on the floor; Lully, the conductor at the court of France died of gangrene after stamping his staff on his foot. The descendant of that staff is the slender baton wielded by modern conductors.

    As population and wealth increased in Europe, so the panoply of a court grew. Aristocrats must have coaches and coachmen, fine horses and parks and rich clothing… and musicians. While it varied from ruler to ruler and from place to place, there grew up a sort of musical armament race as nobles vied to emulate or outdo their peers and betters.

    As Haydn was the last of the great ‘retainer’ musicians, being kept by the Hungarian Esterhazy family all his life, Mozart marked a middle stage. He was heavily dependant on royal and noble commissions and favors, but made some money writing works for sale. He also earned some coin in the time-honored fashion of taking on students, but he was not well regarded as a teacher and was heavily burdened by debts. Mozart’s era also marks the decline of church patronization; his sacred works are very fine (the Requiem is a masterpiece, yet was commissioned by a nobleman and not a church) but his secular symphonies and operas are equally or better appreciated.

    Within two generations we pass from the noble-supported Haydn through the semi-independent Mozart and arrive at Beethoven. He was the first musician to really make an entirely independent entrepreneurial living from music, free from fealty to church and state. He was also a notorious self-promoter who frequently sold ‘exclusive’ rights to his works to multiple publishers. Also, he almost single-handedly invented the idea of the tempermental artist who lived and worked for art’s sake – by inspiration – rather than on demand.

    As a passing note, let me remark on the large number of nobles and kings who, by virtue of this early instruction, became composers and performers in their own right. One strains to find a march by Bach, but Frederick the Great of Prussia wrote several, supposedly including the melody for ‘Torgau’. Instruction in music was thought essential for noble children, female and male. One interesting phenomenon was the number of nobles who would commission works and then pass them off as their own work. This is how and why Mozart received the mysterious commission for the ‘Requiem’. While I am at a loss to point out any royal painters or sculptors, there was almost no aristocrat (or well-to-do wanna-be) who did not make music.

    How then was the music made?

    Over the span of EU2 we would see ensembles grow steadily in size and firm up into definite orchestrations. In the beginning, music would be made solo, or in small ensembles of four to eight. Where written notation existed, the parts were written out without care for instrumentation – a quartet might consist of any four voices and/or instruments that were handy and any part could be taken by any voice or instrument.

    I’ll talk later about the revolution from monophonic chant to polyphony, melody and harmony. Suffice to say that music progressed from the Gregorian chant of the 1300’s to a fuller and richer sound, with a melodic idea buttressed by harmonic lines. And vocal music was revolutionized by Italian ‘bel canto’ singing. Earlier music would sound harsh and nasal to our ears (‘Falalalan’!), but ‘bel canto’ emphasized vowels and an open, resonant sound. This ‘beautiful singing’ completely replaced the previous style.

    St Marks Cathedral in Venice was particularly famous for the practice of staging separate choirs in the lobes of its clover-leaf design, achieving a magnificent stereophonic effect in the music of the Gabrielis. Air-powered organs began to appear in cathedrals, and rapidly gained in number of pipes and in volume. (Especially so after Bach’s great work, the tempered system, which I’ll talk about later). String instruments achieved early-on a high level of quality – think Amati and Stradivarius – and were favored as instruments because they were easy to tune and re-tune. They never gained much favor for sacred or military music, perhaps because they did not possess the ethereal beauty of a choir or the volume of an organ (just my own opinion there).

    Woodwind and brass instruments were slower to progress, for technical reasons that I’ll cover another time. Likewise, early keyboard instruments were limited in their size, range and power; a harpsichord can fill a drawing room, but not a cathedral. The piano (short for piano-forte, the first keyboard instrument that could play soft and loud notes at the same time) was only beginning its development in the time of Mozart and Beethoven. Bach’s chief claim to musical leadership in his own time stemmed from his system of tempering the different scales (‘The Well-Tempered Klavier’). I’ll talk about this another time, but it really revolutionized and regulated the keyboard, woodwind and brass families.

    As composers grew more ambitious, ‘permanent’ choirs, instrumental ensembles and finally orchestras were established. Partly this was because there was no amplification; if you wanted to fill a larger hall, or achieve a louder effect, you needed more musicians. And partly it grew from composers using more ‘colors’ of the musical palette – single and double reed woodwinds, high and low brass voices, stringed instruments of different sizes and range, specialty percussion chimes and bells and kettledrums – and on and on. For the most part, these new orchestras were staffed by ‘semi-professionals’ who had ‘real’ jobs and played as a diversion or for supplemental income. There would be a few full-time employees, valued for their virtuoso talents, but most musicians were ‘temps’. And, indeed, the situation isn’t so different today, as there are relatively few musicians who make their entire income from classical music.

    While there would always have been the country, or peasant, music, it was at first looked down upon. Musicians took their lead from the monasteries and then from the high church music of the cathedrals. But as wealth increased and the middle-class began to grow, casual entertainment – friends gathering at a tavern to play and sing for a few hours recreation – gave way to more formal settings. There began to be common music halls and elegant opera houses, with touring virtuosos and musicians hired to accompany actors in the theater.

    The great increase in production of music and the growing spirit of nationalism led to the music of the country-folk being co-opted into secular music. Quoted at first for novelty value, it was not long before entire folk songs were primped, tweaked and orchestrated within an inch of their lives.

    As a final thought, the influence of Turkish military bands on western music was substantial. Spreading from Austria (and from France after Napoleon’s time in Egypt), the use of cymbals, bass drums and tympani (tunable or kettledrums) transformed western marches.

    Recommended Reading: There’s some fine writing going on in the Hearts of Iron forum these days, and you’re missing a lot if you aren’t checking them out. In particular, I’ve been taken with Mettermrck’s ‘The United States: 'Advantages without Obligations', and I give it a strong recommendation.

    Mettermrck says, "In a sense, writing my AAR is a medium for improving my own skills and accomplishing two goals at once: promoting the enjoyment spent in playing a great game, and learning how to tell a good story. My U.S. HOI AAR has been a lot of fun and a learning experience for me, both from the writing itself and the indepth comments I receive from the readers. The HOI community produces a variety of excellent work, from dramatic narrative such as Yogi's ‘Master of Fu Manchu’ or excellent alternate history epics such as Allenby's ’British Interests, British Honour, and British Obligations’ and Cthulhu's ’The Third Empire’. The medium of the 1930s and the events in and around World War 2 lend themselves to large-scale tales in a grand global setting."
    Last edited by Director; 03-01-2005 at 06:06. Reason: remove sig

  14. #114
    GunslingAAR coz1's Avatar
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    We Are All Warmongers

    I hold that we are all warmongers. I have made the suggestion before, and though it may get quiet smiles of agreement, no one has ever truly come out and said, “You know what? You are right.” Of course, how often does one hear that? Not as much as I would like, that’s for sure.

    The point came back to me the other day as I was reading through a popular conservative weblog. One of the posters suggested that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was a conservative book and asked the others how pacifists could find something to appreciate about a story that involves a classical good vs. evil plot, and in some respects glorifies war and involves all the issues that are derived from it, such as honor, courage, sacrifice and the like. Now let us look past what seems an obvious point – that the story of LOTR is written in such a way as to forget politics and appreciate it simply for the pure genius of it.

    Instead, I began to think of the elements of the story that tend to parallel current times and wondered how many of those opposed to actions in the world today still found similar actions in the book exciting. The reason for this query stemmed directly from a thought I have had before in regards to this forum.

    Though we have members from all over the world, and thus of all political persuasions, I find it interesting that most of us still at least consider what it would take to conquer the entire world. How many threads have you seen devoted to world conquering? How many AARs have followed in the revered path of one Peter Ebbesen and his WCfD class?

    Now understand that I have no intention of concerning myself with any specific politics involved with our members. Only that even the most renowned pacifist that plays this game has either gone on or read voraciously a world-conquering spree. I think most of us are fairly educated in history and thus understand, to a point, the battles and wars of the past. Some have spent a lifetime reading and studying methods of war, figures of war and certainly great conquests of history – Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, etc. But how many people step back and think what that would mean in reality once they have subjugated the known world?

    Granted, it’s only a game, but that is my point. Much like LOTR, these games allow the player to do things that they would (most likely) never attempt in real life. Of course, how could they in that all the action is taking place in the past? But the act itself – going to war, the killing of troops, the pillaging of the province – these things are looked at as horrors today (as they rightly are in many cases) yet are still done by every player of the game.

    So then you say, “OK. But it’s done in the game because that is how it was done in the past.” But what of these world conquest games? And even further, let me ask you this. How many times have you been at the peace table and pushed that peace proposal as far as you could? How many times did you accept that peace offer that gave you far more than you deserved? How many times have you used the turbo-annexation exploit? And let us not even get into the “science” behind surviving badboy wars.

    All of the above are actions that would be considered taboo, and of course this is reflected in game by use of those very same badboy points. Yet they are also actions that I would be willing to bet we have all carried out at some point in our gaming experience without much thought of the morality behind it. When was the last time you read an AAR devoted entirely to peaceful actions like discovery and establishment? Have you ever seen an AAR written from a great bankers perspective rather than a general, king or duke? No, the vast majority of AARs are about territory taken, if anything else.

    Now there are many AARs that deal on a more specific level, and thus do not spend as much time on the wars that make up their game, but that game played was made up of several attempts to grab more territory for the player. In fact, most games played require that you gain extra territory. One cannot survive in EUII without that second province. You make far less money in all of the games if you do not expand. Even if you are role-playing, there will be moments that you find your role to be that of a warrior and thus make war to said character’s heart is content.

    And in the writing, there is surely a distinction to be made by those that surround their game with a plot, and thus tend to bring some of the moralizations of war out in the text, and those that portray the game play itself, and thus tend to focus almost exclusively on the conquering aspect. Nor do either of these take into account the surely numerous readers who request such conquests with each post – “Take it to the Turks!” or “Surely you won’t let the Pope get away with that. Show him who’s boss.” I imagine you recognize these directives.

    Understand that I make no value judgments with this AARticle. It is simply an observation that I find curious. How many people that wrote world conquering AARs were actually pacifists in real life? That is an interesting question to me. How many people that think war is wrong still play this game with much joy and much war? That also fascinates me.

    I am fairly sure that there are people of that nature inhabiting this forum. I would venture to guess that some of those are sitting right next to you at the bAAR as you read this AARticle. Not being a pacifist myself, I cannot answer these questions. But I can suggest what I think part of the answer may be. We (and I mean all of us) live vicariously through these games. No, I don’t mean your life would be incomplete without them, though some may argue the point. But that when we strap on that grey imminence helmet, our blood begins to flow and brain begins to fill with the likes of Frederick the Great and Napoleon.

    We wish to be great leaders as we have read about in the past. We struggle to study them and portray them in our stories, and in many ways it is easier because we have tried to get into their heads as we attempt to steer countries through that rocky road of history, no matter how long the game.

    Furthermore, let us go back and ponder the question of the pundit I mentioned at the beginning as it relates here. I think that people of all types can appreciate LOTR not just for its prose and style, but for its content, and do so easily. We are fascinated by powerful figures. We like to see a story of good and evil, regardless of how we prefer such stories to end. We enjoy rooting for the underdog, regardless of what that figure must do to survive and win.

    And yes, just maybe, we have a much easier time appreciating and becoming emotionally involved with times of war, their causes, their battles and their results because we know that it is only fantasy and not real. That reality would spoil it for us and place us back in the here and now – a time and place I would venture to say many of us attempt to leave when we play these games and write our stories.

    For this columnist, it strikes an ironic tone, but one that is easily understood. I do not tend to play my games as warmongers. I prefer a much more slow, patient build. But that does not mean that there is no war, violence or death in my games or stories. After all – how true to life would it be without it? Which begs the question, I suppose – will there ever be a time without it? My simple answer would be no. I cannot see that time. And in that case, we shall always have it as part of our work here if we wish to be true to life and believable. Further, what fun could be had sitting around and doing nothing for 400 years? But there-in lies the paradox (no pun intended) – even if we wish for such peaceful times, we recognize that they do not make for dramatic games or stories, sad as that may be for the potential future of the world. In that respect, I still maintain – we are all warmongers. All right class – discuss.

    * * *

    On a side note, you might stop by the AARland bAAR and take a look at this post. It's a pledge to donate to the Red Cross for every AAR recommended there. It's only a small gesture for the folks dealing with much death and destruction right now, but I figured it might also assist in bumping up the recs in the bAAR at the same time. So head over there and tell us what you are reading and why. And if you want - match my pledge. The more the merrier, and more to the point - the more people donating, the more money we raise.

  15. #115
    Maestro Director's Avatar
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    Sweet Music

    The atomic structure of music is vibration. These vibrations were sorted into tones, and the number of tones depended on the region and culture. Chinese and Indian music use many tones, some scarcely sounding different to the Western ear. European music eventually settled on thirteen. Which is really eight, and eighty-eight. Wait, let me explain…

    The common piano keyboard will give us a point of reference; the keys are named after letters of the alphabet. Why this is no-one really knows; a likely explanation is that they had to be referred to somehow and letters were more convenient than numbers or names. (I’m not going to get into solfeggio; look it up). The cycle is only eight letters long, repeating as needed: ABCDEFG ABCDEFG and so on. How do eight letters make thirteen tones? Between some of the white keys on the piano keyboard (which has eighty-eight keys) are smaller black keys. These represent a half-step between the two white keys and are called the flat (coming down) or sharp (going up) of the letter. This gives us thirteen half steps: A Bb B C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab and A. Why is A counted twice? And why is there no half-step between E and F or B and C? Those are good questions for which no-one really knows the answer. In all likelihood, common practice separated out the notes that early composers found most pleasant, and notation (and explanation) came much later. Oh, the little ‘b’ means flat, and the number sign ‘#’ means sharp. Eb means half a step down from E; D# is half a step up from D and both names point to the same note.

    So a composer just selects some of these notes, jumbles them around and has a melody, right? No… not until Schoernberg’s tone rows in the early 20th century, anyway, but we’re not going to talk about that.

    Originally, these 13 tones were arranged in modes and given Greek names like Dorian, Lydian and Mixo-Lydian. Which whole and half-steps you used determined which mode you were playing, but over time all but two of the modes fell out of use. The two survivors came to be called major and minor, and the set of notes came to be called a scale. C major scale uses all the white notes on the piano (CDEFGABC with half-steps between E and F, B and C). Every major scale uses the same order of whole and half-steps (WWHWWWH); the only difference is which note you start – and end – upon. Minor scales have a sadder, more plaintive air, and they use a different order of whole and half-steps. C minor scale would be CDEbFGAbBbC (WHWWHWW). Notice that both major and minor have 5 whole steps and 2 half – the only difference is in the order they occur.

    Why? Well… a small group of composers probably selected out the forms and scales they liked best and used them. Common use and practice likely did the rest, and this small subset of all of the possible combinations came to be the common toolkit for later composers. So we call these groups major or minor scales, and we name the scale (or key) from the starting note of the scale. CDEFGABC is the C major scale; a melody that uses those notes is said to be in the key of C major.

    In early medieval times, the ruling idea of Western music was polyphony – multiple melodic lines at the same time. This eventually gave way to a single melodic line, sometimes heavily ornamented, and complimentary counter-melodies. Much of Baroque music is concerned with ornamentation of melodic lines, and with variation on a melodic theme. In fugues, the melody can be used in its original form, extended (every note lengthened – thin of the Pachelbel Canon, if you know it), inverted or reversed, and in any combination – or all combinations – at the same time.

    Where Bach’s Baroque period was ornamented, virtuosic and given to complex structures, the following Classical period of Mozart emphasized simpler melodies, harmonization of the melody and less complicated musical structures. Sacred music declined in importance, fugue became a forgotten art, and symphonies and opera were the rage. Most of the history of Western music since that time has been the story of the pendulum swing between greater (Wagner) and lesser (Mendellsohn) ornamentation and complexity. And, of course, continuously increasing use of dissonance, which is another subject and won’t be talked about this time.

    What made the proliferation of music possible – the single change that most allowed music to escape the cathedral and the lord’s salon for the opera house and symphony hall – is a very early adoption of a set of standards.

    You see, what actually produces the characteristic sound of an instrument – what makes a clarinet sound like a human voice but not identical to it, what differentiates an organ from a bell playing the same pitch – is the overtones that are enhanced or suppressed by the instrument. Whether human vocal cords, a woodwind’s reed or a brass-player’s lips, the vibrating element that produces the original, basic note is only part of the story. Without overtones, all music would be as pure and colorless as early synthesizers. As a note is sounded, overtones resonate at higher (and some lower, but not as many) frequencies. Hitting the ‘A’ key on a piano sounds a note at 440 vibrations per second (hertz), but it also produces weaker overtones at 880 and 1320 hertz – and at intermediate points such as 660, 1100 and so forth. Which of these are allowed to sound and which are damped determines the timber (‘color’) of the instrument.

    These overtones depend on many things – whether the instrument is flesh, wood, brass or silver, for example, and the length of the tube, and the shape of the tube. The French Horn has a mellow, muted sound compared to the trumpet, and this is because the Horn is twice as long as the trumpet but the tubing is no wider. Trombones have a brighter sound than a euphonium or baritone horn; the trumpet is cylindrical – the same size from mouthpiece to the flare of the bell – while the euphonium grows steadily larger from mouthpiece to bell. The woody, reedy clarinet tone – and the pure, silvery tone of the flute – are due in large part to the instrument’s material.

    And these essential overtones are what finally provoked the crisis.

    Without going into the mathematics (which you can look up easily through Google or any text on musical theory), let us simply say that there was a lack of a musical standard. The note ‘A’ on our modern keyboard is fixed at 440 hertz; in medieval and renaissance times, it might vary up to 120 hertz one way or the other from that point. This meant that an organ tuned to, say, A=400, would not be compatible with a trumpet built for A=440. Just bang down two adjacent keys on the piano and you’ll see what a dissonance this produces. Stringed instruments and voices were more tunable and not so inconvenienced, which is one of the reasons they were adopted early and brass and woodwinds came later.

    Brass and woodwind instruments work by lowering a basic pitch. The open horn sounds a note; depressing a piston (trumpet) or extending a slide (trombone) routes air down a longer tube; covering a hole in a flute, clarinet or sax with a finger or pad effectively lengthens the horn. The problem is that this deepens the pitch by a fraction of the original note, not by a set number of vibrations per second; a clarinet whose basic tone is Bb and playing a D will produce a slightly different pitch from an organ pipe D. In effect, it makes notes relative to one particular instrument and not fixed, and it is a common problem for the organ (and piano and harpsichord) also, because it turns out that those whole and half steps are also relative. For technical reasons having to do with the mathematical derivation of how many hertz make up a particular tone – remember the overtones? – you actually would need multiple organ pipes or keyboard strings for each note. One for C in the key of C, one for C in the key of Db, one for… well, you get the idea. So mostly what they did was use a single pipe or string that more or less produced the correct note. If you’ve ever heard an unreconstructed medieval or renaissance organ, the effect is somewhat ‘out of tune’ by modern standards.

    All of this was barely tolerable for a church organ playing by itself or with a choir, but it was utterly unacceptable for groups of instruments as might play in a music hall or opera house. Brass players took to carrying loop after loop of tubing that they would literally use to rebuild their instrument if any key change was required; woodwind players were scarcely acceptable.

    What gave? Everything. While the idea was not original to Bach, he was one of the most influential advocates of ‘tempering’ notes – of establishing a fixed pitch for one A, and a fixed and non-relative pitch for every other key on the keyboard. That meant that the ‘true’ whole and half-steps between notes would all be adjusted slightly, and the end result – not achieved until many years later – was that every instrument in the world produces exactly the same A, and every instrument makes the exact same (actually slightly wrong) note for B, C and so forth. To fix the problem, the musicians of the West actually decided to make every note consistently wrong.

    This of course didn’t completely fix the problem. All trombone players know that their slide has to be adjusted somewhat in or out to make a note in tune; all trumpet players learn how to use the first and third valve tuning slides. Every woodwind player learns to ‘bend’ notes a little up or down by embouchure or half-holing; every flutist knows to roll in or out as pitch requires. But it fixed the problem well enough – it standardized the error – and made the orchestra, the opera and all large ensembles possible.

    For ‘Recommended Reading’ this time I want to move beyond the forum and offer you a few periodicals. First is the ‘Military History Quarterly’, written by professional historians for a popular audience. The current issue includes articles on the Texas Rangers, Ambrose Bierce in the Civil War, the last hours of WW I, the Duke of Alba and the Spanish Road, Britain’s Sepoy Army, Belisarius and Narses and the Ostrogoths, the Egyptian offensive across the Suez in 1973, and Sheridan and Burnside in the Franco-Prussian War. This is a simply fantastic publication, findable on the magazine rack at most large American bookstores like Books-A-Million or Barnes & Noble.

    Also worth of mention is the venerable Strategy & Tactics magazine, now past its 200th issue and still going strong. Finding it in a bookstore is a little harder, but a subscription can be had if you check on-line.

    History Magazine has been doing an on-going series of articles, profiling a different decade in each issue. The copy I have close to hand covers 1700-1709 with side articles on coffeehouses, the development of locks, and the short history of rollercoasters.

    From this current edition of MHQ is a little four-page article on mounted musicians. In it I found the following little gems:

    Trumpeters were limited to cavalry units (2 per company) and were accompanied by drums, usually kettledrums in the Turkish style of two small drums (tuned to different pitches) per man. The infantry made do with fifes, bagpipes and drums with a catgut or metal snare across the bottom. Cavalry trumpeters were used as aides-de-camp, messengers and, if necessary, emissaries to the enemy as well as signalers.

    From the Turks came the practice of having unit bands play during a battle, the fierceness of the engagement dictating the rapidity and loudness of the music. This practice – along with Turkish kettledrums, bass drum and cymbals – spread through Austria to France and finally to Britain, with Henry VIII asking for kettledrums ‘after the Hungarian manner’. (Yes, I know I talked about this last time, but I found the some of the same data in this article).

    One last little tidbit, not from the above article: Military bands were usually placed at the head of a column of troops. For this reason, military horns were sometimes designed with the bell turned over the shoulder so the men behind could hear better, or they were enlarged and made louder, as was the bagpipe. This is also the rationale for the saxophone – it was invented (by Adolph Saxe) for use in military bands, to provide a woodwind voice that could play at the same loud volume as a brass instrument. It uses the same key system as a clarinet or flute and is probably a little easier to play; common to French musicians, it was brought home to the US by veterans of WW I and became a common sight in swing, jazz and dance bands. Since the symphony orchestra had adopted a fixed instrumentation a century before, and since saxes were considered vulgar, loud and common, they were never added to the ‘classical’ orchestra.
    Last edited by Director; 03-01-2005 at 06:04. Reason: graphic

  16. #116
    GunslingAAR coz1's Avatar
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    And Now…Your AARland Gazette

    If you are reading this AARticle right now, then you most likely already know about the AARland Gazette. But for the benefit of some who might stumble upon this for the first time without reading anything else found here, allow me to start by giving a brief overview of who and what we are.

    The AARland Gazette is an opinion journal, more or less. Our columnists write on many subjects, but they all have one thing in common. They deal with subjects related to AARs. It has never mattered how, exactly. Just that they pertain to what we do around here. Initially, we had the hope of assisting the forum as it went through a centralization phase. Victoria was new, Hearts of Iron was living in its own area separate from the EU games and Crusader Kings was due to come out in the very near future.

    We hoped that by placing our words where everyone could read them, we might be able to touch on subjects important to all of the games and everyone writing or reading AARs, regardless of what they played or wrote about. We hoped that by doing this, we would help create a central forum that all of the different gamers went to as they went about reading or writing the works created here.

    I tend to think that was a success. But as time has moved on, so too have some of our columnists and even editAARs. One founder, Alexandru H., finished college and is now working to start his life in the business world. Another of the founding editAARs has since found his real life imposing too strongly on the efforts I am sure he would like to contribute here. We have had a brilliant series of columnists since the inception of the Gazette provide many informative, engaging and even thought provoking AARticles. But now we need more.

    The major reason for this AARticle today is to make it known what we would like to see going forward. Our Gazette is at a crossroads. The initial purpose for its creation is largely completed. There are some who still do not utilize this main area (and if you know anyone that does not, you might direct them here. They are missing some integral things related to AARland.) But the vast majority of folks around here at least stop by to see what is going on in this area of the forum.

    We, the editAARs, have greatly enjoyed this time as a voice of the forum. But it is time we take stock in what lies ahead. What can we expect of this venture going forward? What do we wish it to be?

    I know that Director and I (the only holdover editAARs) would very much like to see it continue in its current form. We have found the every other week format to be just about perfect with the right compliment of columnists. And the nature of the work done is top notch. From editorials about the forum itself all the way to “how to” AARticles, we feel that the Gazette has provided knowledge and thought for people to use at their whim. We hope it has been of use, and we know that it has been enjoyed.

    But with the loss of two editAARs and the lack of current columnists, we fear that there may not be any further room for our endeavors. Director and I alone simply cannot provide sufficient material to make it worthwhile. Nor would we wish to become such an “elite” establishment. This Gazette was never meant to be any such thing. I have tried to stress from the very beginning that this is not for a certain clique to write for. We have wanted, and want now, more voices from you – the AAR writAAR and readAAR.

    The ideal would see people write not just one column, but several. It is never expected that any columnist provide material every issue, but we wish to see a writer establish a column that they could come back to anytime they feel they have something further to say. We have had some success with this as well. Estonianzulu has written a couple of great AARticles, stretched out over the course of this Gazette’s life. Frogbeastegg has lent her intelligence to a number of more recent AARticles that certainly provided not just a refreshing new voice but a female one at that. And Secret Master and stnylan have produced a number of outstanding pieces that have helped make this gazette what it is.

    What Director and I would love to see are more people doing the exact same thing. Many of the individuals I singled out above simply cannot produce something every other week. It is hard enough for Director and me to do that. But an AARticle once a month, or every two issues has made it work thus far. And I see no reason why it cannot continue to do so if there are others interested in doing the same. And now, I imagine, you are asking - What are we looking for?

    Well, just about anything really. MacRaith produced a series that remains one of the more popular of the Gazette AARticles and that was on screenshots. But any subject is fair game. The Gazette rules section roughly outlines the kinds of work that we are looking for:

    The AARticles may consist of a topic related to reading, writing or general observations on AARs – their state, trends, volume, uses and techniques. We also encourage interviews, reviews, AAR historical research and writAAR biographies.

    That just about sums it up and encompasses everything nicely. But if you are interested, choose something that is fun to write and you think the general public might want to read about or know. The best way to do that is to find a topic that you want to read about and know.

    It has also been mentioned to me that, in some respects, the Gazette and Gazette Feedback thread have taken the place of the SolAARium. We have not meant this to be, and I surely do not wish to destroy that great effort, but it does seem that much of the topics and perhaps even further conversation has moved from that thread to this one. If you enjoyed posting in there, then I imagine you might have something to say here.

    Further, if you wish to talk about the state of the forum, the state of a game’s AARs - anything - it’s all pretty much fair game. And if you ever have a question what is and is not, Director and I are more than happy to discuss it with you. But we need to hear from you to do that.

    Perhaps some have a fear that they are not up to the caliber of writing that our previous and current slate of columnists seems to have reached. If that is your worry, then put it out of your mind. Granted, we would like well thought out material, but I know for certain that there are far more writAARs on this forum than those writing for this gazette, and the vast majority of them are just as fine at putting two words together as we are. Give it a shot - you never know.

    Point is – don’t let the intimidation get to you. If you did that, you would never have started your AAR in the first place since we know just how intimidating this forum can be for new folks. But writing for the Gazette can present many opportunities that can assist in alleviating that feeling. Your name obviously becomes more known. Perhaps people like what you write here and decide to visit your AAR. Your input in the Gazette, if anything, allows you to have a more vocal input in the goings on of the forum. And your two cents is quite worth it to the rest of us, I can assure you.

    I am asking that people give the idea of writing for the Gazette further thought. We want you to come aboard, we want you to share your voice and we want to read what you have to say. We want the Gazette to truly be a forum project and not just one of a few people. We want…

    And there in lies the problem. We cannot make it so. I cannot force anyone to join up. I can try to find words that might make you want to (how am I doing?) but that’s as far as I can go. I do know that without more voices, and without more material, we will cease to be. And I can live with that. But not without a push to try and fix what needs to be fixed.

    So think about it, AARland. Think about what you might have to say. Think about joining our ranks and telling AARland what you are thinking. I, for one, think that would be fantastic. I would very much like to see this project continue and continue stronger than it is now. And if you really enjoy it, and keep dipping back into the well, who knows – you might even make editAAR. Goodness knows that would help take some of the pressure off Director and myself. But if you like what you read here, then please consider becoming a part of it. Because after all – it is YOUR AARland Gazette.

    * * *
    And to follow up with the sidenote from the last issue, I would like to thank everyone for their efforts in the bAAR with recommendations. So far we have raised close to $100 total to go towards disaster relief. But the deadline is not until noon, so if you have not yet made a recommendation there, make sure to stop by and get that money total higher. There are some good people out in the world that need it right now and they can use your help. Thanks again.

  17. #117
    Frog’s Eye View by frogbeastegg

    Ruler Breaker

    I wonder … I wonder if ignorance of the rules is any defence for breaking them? Clearly this depends on what kind of rules and what kind of breakage. Obviously I am not referring to rules about running in your local swimming pool. I am talking about writing rules, and not the spelling and grammar rule (everybody chant together, “I before E except after C”) type. If ignorance is no defence I think I should start passing a bucket around to collect for my bail fund and lawyer’s fees. Please give generously; the English Language Police have a very hefty file full of my crimes and only the best of lawyers stands a chance of getting me off the hook.

    This is going to be a very interesting article, I think. Why? Because I have no idea what these rules are. Weeee! Roll up, roll up, ladies and gentlemen. Come see a clumsy blindfolded frog navigate a big obstacle course while trying to sound intelligent. Only £1 entrance fee and kiddies get in for half price.

    These rules, I know they come in two varieties: written and unwritten. I know that they are all supposed to help a writer avoid the same old errors and mistakes. They are frequently mentioned and referred to, at least in my experience. Also generally in my experience those speaking of the rules expect you to know what they are and so very often won’t explain. Some don’t have the time to explain. Sometimes the opportunity to get an explanation is not there. Sometimes they say that if you do not already know the rules then you do not, and never will, need to know them. Presumably some mystical bunch of people in robes will turn up in the middle of the night and explain it all to you shortly before making you write a 500 word short story in your own blood and welcoming you to the brotherhood. No men in robes, no potential to be a writer.

    It’s not just those fancy rules which have some kind of … aura of mystique about them. I find that the technical doodads of writing, things such as the technical names for the assorted perspectives you can write from and exactly what they consist of, are also easy to hear about but incredibly hard to learn about. Even simple things like the technical names for parts of the story are hard to come by. The main character is the protagonist; the main villain the antagonist. You do not want to know how long, and how much trouble, it took me to find that out.

    It all seems so simple when you know, but when you are not privy to such inside information it is anything but. Much of the very basic stuff I feet I should have been taught at school. Alas, we were too busy doing MacBeth, dragging the damned play out over half a year for the seventh time in my short little life. I assume we never learned such basic things about how our language works in fiction for the same reasons we were never taught grammar; it would be too useful.

    Over the years I have tried many different approaches to get an explanation of any of these rules and technicalities. I’ve had very little success, and most of that precious success has come from :ahem: whining in one of my story topics on a different forum and looking pathetic in response to a comment on my rule breaking. Very occasionally, in my more cynical moments, I wonder if the people speaking of the rules and technicalities have any idea what they are; I wonder if they won’t explain because they can’t explain.

    The rules and technicalities are so gosh darned protected and sacred (or made up ) that even when they are being mentioned it’s very difficult to get any good feel for what they are about. The sum of my froggy knowledge runs thusly:

    1. Thou shalt not change from one perspective to another, (where perspective is third person omniscient or similar). (This is my most recent discovery, about a week old)

    2. Thou shalt not confuse thy audience by doing :trails off into a barely audible mumbling:

    3. Never include any scene, or even line of writing, that feels pointless. Everything shalt have a purpose or thundery bolts shall smite thee mightily.

    Erm … that’s it. Let’s work down the tiny little list from a frog’s eye view.

    How can a person reasonably be expected to stick to a certain writing viewpoint when they have no idea what they are, how many there are, or even what they are called? Yes, a certain amount can be picked up by observation and reading. Go grab a copy of Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy and you can easily work out that it is written with a first person viewpoint. W00t (as the 3l1t3 script kiddies say). But that isn’t enough, or so I have found. There are nice taglines added to that to tell whether the view is all seeing or not. Omniscient and … er, other fancy names. Miss that tag off the end and you can swing from one kind of first person view to another without even knowing what you are doing.

    Without the fancy names and a good description it is (or so I find) incredibly hard to extricate more than a general viewpoint from a book. I can get first person or third person. That is all. I don’t know enough to pick up the rest and give it names. I notice that Author A will write their third person in a more general way than Author B, but is that a personal style thing, a story thing, or a technical thing?

    It was a strange moment a few days ago when I got told off for swapping my :looks it up in her topic because the concept is still so new she can’t remember the names: third person semi-omniscient to a third person omniscient POV. I am afraid I stared at my nice monitor and dumbly said, “What?”

    Oh, sure I easily managed to take the names to pieces to get an understanding of the general gist. Omniscient = all seeing, semi-omniscient = not all seeing. Third person, told from an exterior view rather than an ‘in head’ one.

    Mind if I bung in a quick explanation of how I know what third person/first person is? I learned it from games. That’s right – computer games. First person shooter, third person platformer. That kind of thing.

    But … in the end I had no idea what this person was talking about with his comment. What is a third person semi-omniscient view? What does it look like? How does it work? Was is specific to it? Yes, I could go and look at my usual writing and get some idea, but I always find a brief, technical rundown followed by a short example by someone else is best. That way it is much harder to grab the wrong idea and take it out of the shop. Fortunately in this case my whinging got me a set of examples by email; my first notable success at finding out at these rules.

    For the record I knew the scene which drew this comment was wrong somehow, but my reasons were based on gut instinct, a general dislike for the way I’d had to hurry the scene out, and a disturbing knowledge of my own inexperience at this type of scene. It had nothing to do with swapping from one viewpoint style to another. I didn’t even think the change was big enough to boot me from one style to another.

    You know … I can, with just a few minutes thought, think of several ways and reasons to abruptly change this perspective in a story. They are all too much for me to explain decently but I’m confident with a bit more work, mostly on plot and character, I could get a story which swaps from first to third and generally stomps all over this rule with big boots going and working quite nicely. A few minutes work and I already see this unwritten rule as … confining.

    Hmm … think of something overlooking all, seeing all with a nice omniscient third person view … then zooming in to inhabit the mind of a character in first person semi-omniscient … then back out again … and onwards …With the right plot and characters that could really work.

    Enough on that; let’s move to number 2. Yes, isn’t it useful? Don’t do [we won’t say, so neeeer!! :sticks tongue out:] because it is bad. Well, thanks a bunch for that delightful advice. Don’t do [something]. I’ll be sure to stick to that at all times. It must be a real art form to speak of rules like this, mentioning them but not really saying what they are.

    Number 3. This is the only form I have ever seen it in and I have seen it quite a few times. Because the explanation and detail is missing it’s a pain; I have seen some conversation around it though, and that is like hearing one half of a telephone conversation. It always manages to imply, as does the mystical conversation surrounding it, that if a scene has no clear purpose to the reader then it should be gone. The same applies to every sentence, even every word. Each and every word should have some obvious purpose. If four words will work then do not use five.

    Come on think about this – cut everything down to the bare minimum and make everything obvious and important. Blergh. It is clearly apparent that something is missing here; the other half of that telephone conversation must put a whole new spin on this because no one in their right mind will write like this. Take it to the exaggerated but logical end and that murder mystery becomes “Mr. Grumbold was stabbed to death. The butler did it. He wanted more money.”

    It is possible to wander slightly away from the nice half overheard conversation type explanation and discussion of this rule and get something a bit better. Everything in the story should have a purpose in some way, be it to advance the plot, show off the characters or just to make a joke. Scenes can appear pointless or out of place only to be revealed (much) later as something vital. A line of dialogue can go from trivial to revealing with later knowledge. That is fine. It is also wrong; I find some scenes other people class as pointless do indeed have a point and vice versa. Worked like this the rule is impossible; it comes down to taste.

    I used to be very bothered by my lack of knowledge of these rules and technicalities. I don’t care any more. I don’t know the fancy names for the viewpoints I write from, nor do I know exactly what makes them one kind of viewpoint instead of another. I find it incredibly hard to care. I have managed for nearly a year without knowing this. I write how I want, and how I need; the story is everything. I don’t know that I can’t do X or else I will swap viewpoints, and so I can and will do X if I feel the need. I don’t know that is wrong, and anyway I feel that as long as it works it is not wrong. If something serves the story and does not upset the apple cart how can it be wrong? The problem with my viewpoint swap was that it didn’t quite work. I don’t care that it broke this rule; I care that it didn’t quite work. The apple cart got a damaged wheel.

    I stumbled across a forum near the start of this week. It was mostly for people to discuss books but there was one area for people to ask questions and share knowledge about writing. I saw people asking things like “How many pages should my book be?” “Do I have to use chapters?” and other really, really basic questions. Beginners desperately seeking advice from more knowledgeable people. They wanted, for the most part, rules. They wanted to be told, “Go do this and nothing can go wrong.”

    So the frog’s advice? For what very little it is worth, here it is. Get your spelling right. Get your grammar right. Do the rest as you see fit. If it’s a good story and you manage to write it in a skilful way then it will work; you don’t need rules to tell you what to do. In the end it doesn’t matter if you call the main character your protagonist, the hero, the chief good guy, or even ‘that chappy who does all the good stuff’. Writing by rules is painting by numbers. Fussing about technical names is calling a spade a portable hand held flat bladed excavation device. As long as you get the foundations (spelling and grammar, the plot and general idea) right then the rest is very flexible. Do what you feel is right; rules can’t really help you and will probably hinder you.

    I said skilful; skill does not come from rules. Skill comes from plenty of hard practise, and plenty of reading other people's work. Skill comes from looking back at your own work and seeing what works and what does not, learning and then moving on to use that new knowledge. Skill comes from trying and failing, watching your story crumble to ashes. Skill comes from looking back at scenes you wish you could tear to bits and do over because you have learned so much in the time since you wrote it. There are no short cuts, and in the end I think that is what people want rules for writing to be; shortcuts.

    PS: Funny thing is now I have ceased to care about these rules I seem to have stumbled across a couple of people willing to explain a little more about them.

    [/yet more froggy rambling]

  18. #118
    The Fuehrer of the Dance Mettermrck's Avatar
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    HOI and the AAR by Mettermrck

    Hearts of Literacy

    This is simply a brief essay on Hearts of Iron and some of the attributes involved in writing the After-Action Report about its gameplay. A game of short duration (in years) involving mass worldwide combat, it means that a story of intense action, epic scope, and operational detail is made possible when writing about events that occur in this World War II grand strategy game.

    HOI lends itself well to a narrative form of AAR partly due to the shorter range of time encompassed by this game. From 1936 to 1948, a player will experience at most twelve years of gameplay and thus can concentrate on the smaller details as it progresses. Compared to almost four hundred years in EU2 and CK, and just over seventy-five in Victoria, a writer can indulge in a slower pace of description, concentrating on details that would cause an AAR in other games to become difficult to finish and massive in scope – though not outside the realm of possibility.

    In comparison to EU2 and even more so than CK, HOI has a greater complexity in areas such as research, government, and unit types. This means, from a writing standpoint, that the armies themselves, their composition and their tech levels, can have a greater prominence in the AAR story. Yet HOI is also the time of democracy (fascism and communism), and less so of the monarchy, which pervades the other games. Typically, the author is taking the point of view of an entire government rather than a royal dynasty. Instead of the long-term evolution of characters and a particular royal House, HOI typically comes down to a government’s involvement in a single world war. Of course, a player’s imagination can easily surmount their constraints and the variety of AARs for each of these games is practically limitless.

    As the most modern game yet made by Paradox, the events of the HOI era are fresher and more recent, thus more ingrained in the psyche of today’s generation, many of whose grandparents experienced this time period first-hand. With only sixty years having passed the HOI era, source material is more readily available, which also adds to the amount of historically accurate information that can be employed in a story. In addition, the gameplay itself can be enhanced by descriptions of politics, culture, science, and other fields which, while not in the game itself, can place the events and battles in their proper historical context. Yet, it also adds a great responsibility to the writer, in deciding what should be included and what must be left out. Availability of sources also incurs an obligation to make sure the information is accurate. Whereas for the time period of earlier games, the player can and sometimes have to assume much, it is difficult for the HOI author to overlook a point of technology, culture, or other aspect simply because they are usually well-documented.

    The HOI AAR community has a diverse array of stories that have been told or are in progress now, from military campaigns such as those laid out in Amona’s Deep in Enemy Country to epic stories such as The Yogi’s German opus, Where The Iron Crosses Grow. They can range from literary dramas – Prufock451’s To Stand Against the Night, which reads almost like a novella with its vivid charcters, to a touch of time-traveling science fiction – TC Pilot’s Chronlogical Influences, a story of how a man and a woman from the future alter the destiny of the Soviet Union. As each AAR is written, new concepts and techniques are constantly tried out and the next writer strives to improve upon, or to forge bold new methods of telling a story about this game. Want comedy? Try Rustican’s German Risk AAR. Even The Great War is portrayed in Allenby’s masterpiece, 1914-1924: British Interests, Honours, and Obligations. Alternate history is another popular genre…see Lord British’s At the Gates of Paris, or cthulhu’s The Third Empire.

    And not only is literature represented. Visual artistry is also on display with the evolution of the descriptive screenshot and two excellent graphic AARs, 2Coat’s Pictorial History, and Wolfhound’s comic PostcAARds. More excellent AARs than can possibly be listed here reflect a dynamic group of writers simply finding pleasure in talking about a game they enjoy, using the medium of the story. In this respect, HOI maintains similarity with the other AAR communities, in that it is a community of diversity, consistently finding new ways to tell of similar deeds.
    Last edited by Mettermrck; 18-01-2005 at 01:49.

  19. #119
    Maestro Director's Avatar
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    Notes: (Director)
    If You Build It They Will Come

    Several issues ago, I raised the question of whether the OscAAR awards were useful, viable and practical. Since that time, despite some arguments in favor and against, I think the issue has been decided: the OscAARs (in the sense of the original EU award) are no more. To be sure they persist in other regions of AARland but I believe this is a conditional thing: if these forums experience the expansion and turnover that the EU2 forum has undergone, their awards must also pass away.

    As a consequence, I suspect the OscAARs were allowed to lapse from practical reasons as much as from any reckoning of their value. Running the award is a job, as modding the forum, maintaining the libraries and writing for the Gazette are jobs. Each of these tasks was invented or taken over by volunteers, and if the stock of volunteers should lapse, the jobs won’t be done. None of this work is essential for the forum to function, and in a broader sense the forum doesn’t need to function. AARland, no matter how much we enjoy it, is a generous gift from Paradox, who hopes that happy, enthusiastic games will buy more Paradox games and encourage their friends, neighbors and even complete strangers to do likewise.

    So the OscAARs ceased, in one way, because the award was a nuisance to run. But I think there was something larger at play, possibly several somethings. And in my self-apointed role as raker of muck, mongerer of scandal and rouser of the rabble, I’d like to talk about that.

    The recent interminable round of awards (fronds, spheres, nude men dipped in gold paint and dozens more) make it clear that, whatever their original purpose, film awards have devolved into trophies that are useful as advertising. Don’t think so? Quick – name the Oscar-Winners for Best Picture in the last five years! Still, these awards not only continue but proliferate, driven by their own industry of tape-mailings, PR campaigns for awards and positioning the film’s release date for advantage at award time. This all goes on despite the obvious fact that (peoples’ choice awards included) most of the people who vote don’t watch all the nominated films.

    The college football season that is just-now completed is another example. Which team gets into which bowl game depends on an array of factors, including a coaches’ poll whose members admit that many don’t watch other teams’ games (coaches who can vote in that poll frequently allow an assistant to cast the vote), a sports writers’ poll whose members admit that they don’t watch many of the games, and computer polls that are distrusted because their results don’t agree with the polls of coaches and sportswriters who don’t watch the games!

    So, congratulations, AARlanders! Faced with a flawed awards system whose nominees were mostly unread by the voters, you had the honesty, integrity and courage to simply let the award lapse. I mean that praise sincerely. I think it was the right, honorable and rational thing to do, so you will understand my amazement that we actually did it. If people were paying money for AARs we’d have been stuck with seventeen unending award shows for categories unfathomable. ‘Best Use of an Adverb Pre-sixteenth Century’, perhaps, or ‘Best Description of the Background for a Fight-scene in the Pre-Gunpowder Era, Western-Hemisphere’, or ‘Bloodiest Stabbing of a Secondary-But-Much-Loved Female Character, Non-European’. From this, mercifully, we are saved.

    With that behind us, let us take now another look at the idea of awards. Ideally, an award given to a writer should possess three qualities: 1) Sincerity – meaning it should come from people who are able to tell quality work from bad and who are themselves disinterested parties who do not benefit from a vote, 2) Standard – the award should be given to works that meet a consistent quality (whether that is ‘of this quality’ or ‘highest in quality during a period of time’), and 3) Purpose – the award should encourage the author, and other authors, to strive to improve their work so as to win.

    In the months since we began debating the nature and structure of awards, we have not agreed as a community on what an award should be, how it should be run and what its relation to the old OscAARs should be. So I’ll give you my personal take on this. Sherman, set the wayback machine to August of 2002 and let’s take a look at the forum.

    EU2 is just about the only game in town, Lord Durham, Peter Ebbesen, MrT and Secret Master are riding high, and some stupid newbie has decided that everyone is having so much fun that he’d like to play this game, too. (This would be me, in case anyone is in doubt). Let’s leave aside the fact that I had little experience playing the game and no experience in posting, and no actual writing experience. I mean, how hard could it be, right? It looked like such fun!

    Funny story #1: I wrote to MrT, asking how to get started. He responded with a somewhat-weary, all-too-FAQ (to him) explanation of how to develop characters, chart a plot and use game events to narrative advantage. Thanks, I replied, but I’ve already written the whole AAR, I just don’t know how to go about posting it…

    Funny story #2: MrT sent me a guide to posting and ‘As the Spirit Moves Me’ was launched. Initial responses were kind but everyone seemed puzzled by where I was going and how I intended to get there when I killed off my protagonist in the first post. MrT offered to read some of what I had already written and give me some constructive criticism. So I emailed him a couple of hundred pages(!) Nothing was heard from Toronto but a startled ‘What the hell have I gotten myself into now!’ Soon after that he lost the sight in one eye (which isn’t funny) but did eventually get his sight back (which is great) and quit writing for EU2 (which is terrible). So you can blame all of MrT’s problems on me, I suppose… The moral, of course, is to be careful when offering help to newbies.

    So what do we have here? The title is designed to catch the eye; the first post sets out the parameters of the game. It is dated 6/9/2002, 5:31 AM. Then there are some background emails to set the stage, and Chapter One follows.

    Then what? A posting from MrT on the same day at 9:31 AM. And a posting from Wasa at 9:44 AM. Postings from rich-love at 10:03 AM, Patric123 at 11:03 AM, Bismarck at 1:11 PM, then postings from Storey and Sytass. I was so excited! People were reading! (It was a different era then; there weren’t as many AARs and people went out of their way to read and comment, even if the writer was a newbie who didn’t write very well.) Later on I got a comment from Lord Durham and I thought I was a very fine fellow, indeed.

    Folks, these responses welcomed me, encouraged me and made me want to write non-stop. If people were actually going to read and comment, then I had to get busy and make sure my writing was worthy of their time. I won an award that day, the only one that has had any meaningful impact on my authorial aspirations. I found out I was very, very grateful to have readers. I practically purr when I get a comment, now, and I am flattered when someone comments in a way that shows they have been following closely. Make no mistake, this is why I write.

    That immediate, encouraging (if puzzled) feedback made me continue to write even when I no longer received it. My experience here has been a fortunate one, and I am grateful to all of you. So it pains me to say that I’ve become a hypocrite, and it pains me more to have to say publicly that I’m not sure that’s going to change. It is no comfort to me that I have, in my hypocrisy, plenty of company.

    The day is gone when we (or even super-human MrT, who must never have slept) can read a fraction of what goes on in these forums. That flood of literature is getting worse, not better, and the fact that the overall quality seems to be rising is another curse. Why? Because if the writer has some ability and the story has some quality, you’re going to want to read it… and as better writers and better stories seem to make for increasing length, stories take longer to read… and eventually we are all overwhelmed. Myself included; once Victoria and HoI started producing great AARs I realized I was never going to be able to keep up. I’m a hypocrite because I have benefited from the help and attention of others, but I find it harder and harder to pay the debt I owe, to ‘pay forward’ by reading and commenting in the works of others.

    All this is to say in a roundabout way what I will sum up here: any meaningful award we can give is attention and praise; whether it is a comment in an AAR or a more public OscAAR. In the end it is all attention and praise, but it takes hard work and dedication from us as readers to give this award.

    Through reading and commenting on the work of others we pay back the debt we owe to the people who read our work, who commented and encouraged our little sparks to believe they could be a flame. We are all alike in this; newbies need your encouragement, and crusty old veterans do, too. Trust me on this - no matter how many responses a post received, adding your own comment is an award that will be treasured.

    This is the way we pay the debt, this is the best way we honor those who came before us and befriended us. You must – I must – we all must make the time to read the work and to encourage the workers. It is not a question of whether we shall have an OscAAR award, or who shall win it. It is a question of whether we shall have authors, whether we shall have readers, and whether we shall have a forum of any kind in which to debate the subject.

    ‘If you build it, they will come,’ has become a self-evident assertion, reduced to a cliché. I ask you to turn it on its head and look at the application of the reverse: if we do not read these AARs, we shall in time have none to read. And then we shall need no awards, at all.

  20. #120
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    Recommended Reading (coz1)

    The United States: 'Advantages without Obligations' by Mettermrck

    A Bleak New Future; Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

    Recently, after much recommendation, I finally sat down and read through Mettermrck’s magnificent and utterly depressing The United States: ‘Advantages without Obligations.’ Why it took me so long, I cannot say. Time and the need to keep current on other works is a possible excuse. But now I know what I have been missing out on for these past many months. I can only say it was my loss then, but my ultimate gain now. I hope, after reading this review, it will be yours as well if you have not yet read it. You simply must. So let’s look at the AAR, shall we?


    The premise behind this Hearts of Iron AAR is relatively simple. The United States stays out of the historical World War II for various reasons, though not out of an isolationist stance, per se. I don’t think it gives anything away to say that, but I cannot say more because that will ruin it for you. Let’s just say this AAR takes the history we know and turns it on its head. From alternate outcomes in the Presidential elections from 1936 through 1952, to various alternate wars that we read the U.S. getting into over that time, we are truly presented with an alternate universe that is none too pleasing. It makes one wish for the real history of the last 70 years, with its warts and all. This alternate history that Mettermrck brings to us is certainly not a happy one.


    The format is also pretty simple. He uses a history style to tell his story, with lots of pretty pictures and very helpful maps, including the brilliant electoral maps he brings to the election posts. The updates are divided into chapters dealing with the goings on in the world, and he makes it very easy to understand by breaking up domestic, military and foreign issues into their own sections. Further, he uses a special font that makes it look very professional indeed.


    I cannot discuss the plot in any depth, but suffice it to say, it revolves around the alternate path of his United States of America. Though he does not go into much intimate depth of the characters included, in that he does not move into narrative and have them conversing, he certainly spends enough time on each major figure as he lays out what they are doing in the story and why.

    You have most of the major political and military characters that one would expect from this time period (and from all over the globe.) And you also have some that were well known but tend to make more of an impact on this tale. Without giving their roles away, let’s just say that Charles Lindbergh, Leon Trotsky and William Randolph Hearst play a much larger role in this story than they did historically throughout this period of history, and there are more where they came from. To know why, you simply must read the AAR.


    If there are mistakes, I saw very few. Each post is meticulously written and corrected for typos as well as I could ever expect. There are a few “lost” words that occur when one is writing furiously as he did over the last five months or so, but nothing that keeps one from understanding what is happening in the story. As well, the written word never read so easily as it does in this AAR. Though it has amassed up to 89 pages of 25 posts each by this point, you will be surprised at how quickly it takes to read through the whole thing. If you are worried about a massive time commitment, then fear not. I doubt it will take you more than three days to read it from start to finish (which it has not quite reached actually. More on that in a moment.)


    Here we have one of the great pleasures of this work. Mettermrck has utilized wonderful historical photographs of the period to give the reader an idea of who is being discussed and where the action is taking place. As well, there are many fancy pictures of weaponry and the like for the World War II enthusiast, whether you like tanks, airplanes or a navy.

    As well, he presents plenty of screen shots to assist in describing the action. Not enough to over-do it, but enough to give the reader a visual idea of what is going on. And to top that off, he includes the many nifty electoral maps I mentioned above, complete with the red/blue divide we are all used to here in the US, and with a few special alterations. Again, read it to find out what I mean.

    Factual Accuracy

    Hmmm. Not really sure this applies, as such, to this AAR. Mettermrck certainly did his research on this baby, including mapping out each Presidential election from 1936 through 1952, electoral votes, popular vote and all. He knows his weaponry and has certainly done his work to understand the historical figures involved in this alternate world.

    If I had any niggle at all, it would be that a few times, he forgot what he might have suggested earlier, though the only instance of this I can think of was an election that started with Joe Kennedy, Jr. listed as a Republican and then ending as a Democrat without any explanation. But really, that is more a continuity issue that anything else, as there are plenty of breaks with established history to explain the entire thing. Besides – if that is the only potential mistake here, then he has a pretty good “won/loss” ratio. You might quibble with some of the roles he puts people in, but he does a masterful job explaining why they are there and leaves enough room for the audience to imagine the rest.

    This leads me to another outstanding feature of this work – the discussion. If at any time he took a path that seemed suspect, his readers were right there to talk about it. This AAR has to be the most followed and/or anticipated work of the past year. Nor have I ever seen as much discussion on historical outcomes, and ahistorical outcomes, as this piece of work. One of the reasons that the AAR has so many pages to it comes down to the immense discussion about the world that had been created. There was certainly no lack of opinion over what had occurred, and an immense amount of fascinating discourse over the months as to what it meant for the future, if it was possible at all, and why that was the case.

    In fact, there was such a following, and complete understanding of the world created by Mettermrck, that many of his fans began writing in guest appearances that provided a more intimate look at the situations provided by Mettermrck’s splendid outline, a word that really fails to describe this AAR but works for this point. They had been such avid readers, and studied his world, that they were easily able to place themselves inside one of the historical situations and extrapolate what that meant in a more story format. One could almost say, people were writing alternate fiction ABOUT alternate fiction. You don’t see that often, or at least I don’t.


    OK, here is where I am behind the curve, as it were. I do not own Hearts of Iron, so I obviously do not understand the specific actions in the game or the dynamics of the choices one makes. I do know that Mettermrck spent a good deal of time creating special events to make his story more realistic and different, ranging from US elections, international dealings and power structures among the European, Asian and American geopolitical players.

    It is quite possibly the most role played AAR I have ever seen. In much of the initial action, I started to ask myself, “What the hell is he doing? Did he just fire THAT guy?” But then I realized he did so on purpose, as it was part of the world he was creating. He did not play this game to win as much as he played it to seem both realistic and entertaining, both to himself as the player and writer and for us as the reader. A tremendous undertaking and all the more enjoyable for that effort.


    Before concluding, I must also mention his seemingly excellent grasp on geo-politics and US politics. There can be plenty of question about the outcome – Would that have happened? Would he have won that election? Would that action really have led to this other action? But because of his understanding of these things most, if not all, are just as easily accepted because they could have easily happened.

    Further, as mentioned, the discussion that evolved from his alternate world (a certainly bleak one as suggested by the title of this review) left many questions unanswered. This is not to suggest that it left the reader lacking. It is to suggest that it left the reader thinking. Not only did this assist him in the writing, which he freely admits, but it certainly added to the enjoyment of this reader. I cannot think of another AAR that made me think as much as this one did. What would be the outcome of this world that he created? What would this country look like today? Or the world? This AAR does not just beg those questions…it demands those questions.

    And I suggested above that it is not over, but only in that he has promised a few more posts to look into these questions and possibilities. The actual gameplay portion is over, enough for me to review it at any rate. But there is still time to read it through and get into what I am sure will be a great discussion following his final “epilogues.”

    From the in depth manner in which it is written to the pure amount and level of discussion it carried with it, this AAR is a perfect example of the quality of AAR capable of being written in this forum. There were fans enjoying this AAR that usually do not venture to the more in-depth works. There were fans of this AAR that usually only appreciate the story driven narratives. In short, there were simply fans of this work…and in droves. This must indicate, and rightly so, that this work is as near to a masterpiece as one can get in AARland. I rank it among my absolute favorites and I have read quite a few.

    For that work to come out near the end of this past year, it means that quality has not suffered to the extent that some might assume, and that HoI is really beginning to strike off on it’s own as an exemplar of the form. I don’t mean to suggest that we are not seeing this quality elsewhere, but that if some of you are not paying attention to the work being done there…well, you are simply missing out. I can only wonder what will happen in HoI2, though I have some ideas that I will share in another AARticle sometime.

    To conclude, you must seek out this AAR if you have not read it. Do not be scared by it’s length. Consider it a treat to invest your time with it, because a treat it is to be sure. To slightly adjust the title of this work to fit my review – The United States: ‘Advantages without Obligations’ is not an obligation, but it surely is an advantage – for you and frankly, for this forum as a whole. Hats off to you, Mettermrck. A truly great read!

    Mettermrck Responds:

    I'm definitely humbled by it. Thanks for taking the time to write such an in-depth study of my story. Note: I'll take a look at the Joe Kennedy bit. Leave it in your review, as I have no shame in being considered 'human'. But I'll try to find that switch in parties.

    One thing about the AAR is, the many threads expanded as the story went on, and oftentimes I felt I wasn't doing justice to side-stories I might have hinted at. Many times, readers would request more info on a point or country, and I would do my best with paragraph or sentence, but I knew I was missing out on some things. Occupied Germany was a particularly favorite request, and one I hope to explore more in the epilogues.

    The Link
    The United States: 'Advantages without Obligations'

    Further Recommended Reading

    Not only was I able to read through Mettermrck's splendid work recently, but I also had the pleasure of catching up with Catknight's excellent Resurrection: Rebirth of the United States. Detailing the rise of the United States from a disasterous early American Revolution, he weaves characters in and out and includes intrigue, love affairs, political machinations and all else in the work. It's a must to read.

    Catknight says: It's hard to pick just one AAR from all the great ones out there. I can think of at least three I'd recommend off the top of my head. If people find they like 'Resurrect,' then I think they'll love VIVE L'EMPEREUR! Glory of the Eagles by TreizeV, which is one of the best novel/story like AARs out there now. It follows two brothers from the French Revolution through (now) 1810, with well detailed characters, beautifully rendered battles, and well written 'period' speech. It's a large read on its 27th page, but well worth it.
    Last edited by coz1; 30-01-2005 at 21:32.

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