Friday, February 27, 2015

Why setting is important

1. It helps set the mood. A proper setting helps to prepare the reader for what emotions will occur within the scene.
2. It hints at what could happen. You wouldn't expect to see a snowstorm in the desert. Your setting will play a role in what can and cannot happen during the story.
3. It can become a central character in your story. If your setting is intriguing enough, it can become just as important a character as your main character.
4. It can become a challenge for your characters to overcome. A difficult setting can make for interesting situations for the characters to face.
5. It can decide what story you have to tell. Sometimes by deciding what your setting will be, ideas for potential stories will fill your mind.
6. It shapes the rest of the story. Is your story set in a cramped spaceship lost in space? Or is it in a bustling city full of thousands of people? Whatever story you want to tell, there is a setting which will fit it just right.
7. It can cause conflict between your characters. Placing your characters in a situation that threatens their ability to work together can be very entertaining.
8. It helps decide what cultural and technological things will be in your story. If your story is set in the old west, then you probably won't find a computer. Always remember what would be acceptable for your chosen setting, and if you're going to have something unusual for that setting, have an explanation for it.
9. Settings shape your characters. If your main character has lived his entire life in a desert, then he would probably be overwhelmed at seeing the ocean for the first time. Remember where your character comes from, and how that place is different from where he will find himself during the story.
10. A stable setting can provide an anchor. When the plot escalates and the characters and readers are feeling the pressure, a solid setting can give them something comforting to latch onto.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pizza delivery, part VII

Rule one when lost in the forest: stay where you are.
I'd love to follow that rule, but there's one problem. Whatever scared off the killer rabbit is coming closer.
Ever since that ear-piercing shriek, this part of the forest has been quiet, as if all the other creatures are afraid to be noticed.
Turning, I scanned the trees. Whatever could silence the forest's constant wailing was something I wanted to avoid. The quarterstaff in my hand seemed a vain comfort. I should be delivering pizzas, not facing mythical creatures.
Something shifted to my left, and I jerked toward it.
"Just a branch swaying." I whispered, releasing a breath. Another branch rustled, a faint trail of smoke flitting away from it. Hands tightening around my quarterstaff, I watched the smoke. It twisted through the trees, shifting constantly from one direction to another regardless of the wind.
I stepped back, something crunching beneath my shoe.
The smoke paused.
Though it  had no eyes, no form at all, I was sure it was looking at me.
With the same surety, I knew that turning my back on this thing would be a mistake.
Taking another step back, my heart raced as the smoke moved with me. It didn't come any closer, but neither did it lose ground as I continued backward. My hands trembled, palms growing slick with sweat as this backward journey continued. So long as I kept the smoke in my sight, it stayed the same distance from me.
Then I tripped.
Back smacking the ground, I coughed. Looking up, I couldn't see the smoke. I scrambled to my feet and twisted around.
And saw the smoke.
Billowing a foot from my face.
"Al- alright, you're a quick one." I gripped the strap of my delivery bag, realizing that in my haste to get up, I'd dropped my quarterstaff.
I took a careful step back, eyes watering as the smoke's scent filled my nose. A dying flame mixed with fresh blood. Not a pleasant scent, not at all.
"If I had a breath mint, I'd give it to you." Despite the chills coursing through me, I had to keep talking. If I didn't talk, the urge to turn and run would win.
And I'd probably die.
Happy thought.
"You seem to be a patient cloud of smoke. I'm not really that interesting, though, so you should go find something else to follow." I shifted my grip, bringing the main body of the delivery bag up between myself and the smoke. "That yellow rabbit could entertain you. It wanted to kill me too."
The smoke dropped a little, and I hurried back. "Ho- how about we talk about pizza? That's my job, delivering pizzas. At least, that was my job. Brend says that time moves similarly in both our worlds, so I'll probably not have my job at the pizzeria by time I get back."
I stumbled over something, and the smoke drifted closer. It's dark gray form caressed the corner of the delivery bag, inches from my fingers.
"Pizza is delicious! Far tastier then me. They've got a crust, tomato sauce, cheese, and a variety of toppings. Meat, veggies, whatever you like." I shifted my hand away from the smoke, taking hold of the bag's flap. Fingers tightening around the edge of the flap, a crazy idea struck.
"Whenever I deliver pizzas, they go in the delivery bag. Like this!" Ripping open the flap, I jerked forward with the bag.
The smoke slid through the opening, the tail of it sliding across my fingers.
A blistering cold bit through my fingers, coiling around my fingers in a freezing ache that remained as the tail of smoke disappeared into the bag.
Slapping the flap shut and pressing my frozen fingers against the velcro strap, my teeth chattered.
A slow, agonizing minute passed.
The smoke stayed in the bag.
And the fingers of my right hand remained unnaturally cold.
Shaking, I jumped as a wail broke the silence.
Whatever the smoke was, the forest seemed to think it was gone.
Which meant I should get moving.
Walking forward, I looked for my quarterstaff.
Finding it, I picked it up and looked down at my delivery bag.
The smoke still hadn't come out, but that didn't mean it wouldn't.
The smart thing would be to leave it here.
If I left my delivery bag, I'd lose one of the only connections I had to my world.
I can't let it go.
Scary smoke or no, the delivery bag was part of who I was now.
"Besides," I glanced down and hesitantly set a hand on the bag as I walked forward. "If I run into another killer rabbit, letting out the smoke might give me time to get away."
Either that, or the smoke would kill me.
Probably best to think positive.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Relaxing activities

1. Getting a massage. Whatever type of massage it is, most often it will end with you feeling better.
2. Reading a book. Reading is fun, and there is a large variety of subjects that can be chosen from. So no matter how you're feeling, there can be a book to fit that mood.
3. Listening to soft music. Instrumental pieces can be quite relaxing.
4. Petting an animal. Stroking a hand through a cat's fur can have a wonderful calming affect.
5. Eating comfort food. There is a reason eating familiar foods help to calm us, and a dish that may help you to relax might not work for someone else.
6. Wrapping up in a blanket. Blankets can be really soft and warm, both of which can be key to relaxing.
7. Going for a walk. Taking time to walk around and look at the things you normally don't notice can be nice.
8. Spending time with the people you love.
9. Sleeping. Sleep is great, and is certainly relaxing.
10. Swimming. On a hot summer day, swimming can be an excellent way to relax.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pizza delivery, part VI

The forest is creepy.
Not in the mildly unsettling way of a dark hallway after having watched a horror movie.
This forest is more like an unlit alley in the bad part of town, that ends in a huge block wall, and upon turning to backtrack you find a rabid wolf about to lunge.
The trail is barely visible, and the wailing that came from creatures just out of sight make it impossible to relax. With only a week of practice with my quarterstaff, I'm not liking my odds for surviving this place. Not when Callan's band have already fought off a pack of wolves, a serpent larger then me, and a cockatrice.
On the positive side, my cooking has been improved by enlisting Brend's knowledge of the local flora. Sabre-muskrat stew has never tasted less muddy.
"Hold," Callan's voice was soft as he raised a hand. The members of his band were tense, all straining to hear whatever had caught his attention.
Try as I might, I couldn't hear anything but the constant wailing. There was a rustle of movement from ahead, and a creature burst from the undergrowth.
A cute, yellow rabbit with a spiraling black horn rising from its forehead.
I released a sigh, lowering my quarterstaff. I knew rabbits, and they were harmless.
More rustling, and others of this odd species popped out from our right and behind.
Seven little yellow rabbits, strangely unafraid of us.
"Too many." Lorcan never took his eyes off the closest rabbit as he spoke. Callan grunted.
"Al'mi'raj are immune to magic, that's what makes their horns so valuable." Gripping his staff with trembling hands, the wizard's face was ashen.
I frowned. "They're just rabbits."
Then the rabbits attacked.
Devlin, who had been teaching me how to use the quarterstaff, let out a scream as three of the rabbit struck him with their horns.
Chaos descended.
During the frenzy, one of the rabbits attacked me. It was fast, so so fast. I could barely get my quarterstaff positioned to block its horn before it changed its attack. Images of what happened to Devlin circled my mind, and all that mattered was keeping that horn away from me.
Block, stumble away, and block again.
The rabbit never let up, the fervor in its eyes growing with each strike.
An ear-piercing shriek filled the air, and the rabbit froze.
Then it turned, and fled into the thick foliage.
Far thicker then it should have been...
Jerking around, ominous trees loomed at every side.
Callan's band was gone.
Because I'd left the path.

Friday, February 13, 2015

To have a charged battery

1. So that you don't lose your work. It is a horrible thing to have your device battery die while in the middle of a project, and then realize that you didn't save your work.
2. So the children can remain entertained. During a long trip, you don't want to hear that the batteries in your children's entertainment have died. (At least, not unless they also brought a book.)
3. So you can remain in contact. A fully charged phone battery allows you to stay in contact with family and friends no matter where you are.
4. In case of emergencies. A power outage is not the best time to discover that the batteries in your flashlight are dead.
5. During a long trip. When preparing for a trip, it is a good idea to check that everything you'll be using has working batteries, especially if some of those things don't have easily replaceable batteries.
6. So that you can tell time. It is frustrating to look down at your watch and realize that the battery has died.
7. So you don't need to rush. When working on a dying battery, it is easy to rush so much that you make mistakes. When the battery is fully charged, you can take time to make sure everything is just right.
8. So that you can enjoy things. It is annoying to be in the middle of an audiobook or movie, and then have the battery die.
9. As a backup. If you have a backup set of batteries, then you don't need to worry as much when the first pair dies.
10. So that you can go about your day. If you have something important that you use each day, like hearing aids, then it is important to make sure that the batteries are always charged.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Pizza delivery, part V

On the third day after leaving the village, I couldn't stand by anymore.
Striding over to where Lorcan was getting out his cooking supplies, I caught the quiet man's attention.
"Would you mind if I made the meal tonight?" I asked. Lorcan frowned, and I almost took back my words. He was a large man, and far more dangerous then I'd ever be. But after having eaten stringy sabre-muskrat with different flavorings of dirt for every meal since arriving in this world, I wanted a change.
"Give the laddy a chance." Callan said, slapping a hand onto Lorcan's shoulder with a laugh. Lorcan's frown deepened, but he passed over the cooking supplies.
As the two men walked away, I looked at what food I had to work with. Two freshly killed sabre-muskrats, but also some flour and what looked like potatoes. Lorcan didn't have any seasonings that I could find, except for salt.
I wasn't as good at skinning sabre-muskrats as Callan's band, but had learned how to do it my first day in this world. Once the meat was cut into separate pieces, I cleaned my knife and cut the potatoes into thin slices. Grinding a few of the red chili flake packets that I found in the delivery bag, I added it to some flour, a little salt, and water to make a batter.
Moving to the campfire, I positioned the pan and dropped some fat from a sabre-muskrat in. Lorcan sat on the other side of the fire, watching. Once the fat had melted down, I put in the pieces of meat, which immediately began sizzling.
Though I was just a delivery boy, I enjoyed cooking. However, I usually didn't cook for anyone but myself. I wasn't a professional chef, and there were many others who could cook better then me.
At least, back home there were.
Here, the only tasty meal  had seen were the pizzas I delivered that first day.
"That is interesting," Brend said as I finished the meat and put in the potatoes, "why cut them so thin?"
"They're called chips." I said, then frowned at Callan as he leaned toward the finished meat. "Just wait a moment."
When the chips were crispy, I lightly seasoned them with salt. Catching Lorcan's gaze, I nodded. The quiet man stood and selected a piece of fried sabre-muskrat, then some chips. He ate slowly, face unreadable.
"Well, Lorcan?" Callan asked. None of others had taken any food yet, waiting to see what their cook would say.
Swallowing, Lorcan looked at Callan. "It's good."
Callan grinned, and the band descended on the food. I claimed a piece, and though it didn't have as much of a mud taste as the other meals I'd had here, I decided that sabre-muskrat would not be added to my list of favorite meats anytime soon.
When everyone had finished eating, Callan looked at Lorcan. "What do you think?"
Lorcan gave a slow nod.
"That settles it." Turning to me, Callan motioned at the cooking supplies. "Congratulations Alex, you're our new cook."

Friday, February 6, 2015

Thoughts to have when buying a house

1. Have it inspected. The cost of having a home inspection could save you a lot of trouble and money down the road.
2. Look at your options. The first place you see might seem absolutely amazing, but don't say yes just yet. Check out other options to make sure that you can get what you want. If after looking around you find yourself drawn back to the first house, then go for it.
3. What do you need in a home? Now, make a list of things that you would like in a home. While looking at your options, remember that your first list of needs should have a higher priority then the list of wants.
4. Don't be afraid of DIY projects. There are a lot of things that you could do to make a house your own. If you have the knowledge and skills to do something well, then don't be afraid to do it.
5. Know when to hire professionals. There are things which are best left to specialists. Electrical, plumbing, or anything that could be a costly repair shouldn't be tackled on your own.
6. Where is it located? The places you frequent should be kept in mind while looking at all houses. It wouldn't be good to fall in love with a place that is so far from your usual haunts that the commute becomes a hassle.
7. Have a cushion. Whenever making an investment like buying a house, it's best not to spend all of the allotted funds at once. Keep some to the side to use on unexpected expenses, so that you don't need to dip into your savings.
8. Be open to different styles. You might be set on a certain style home, or even an older home. But if you give other possibilities a chance, then you might be pleasantly surprised.
9. When purchasing a house, be aware of the surroundings. Is there a busy highway? Do the neighbors have long parties on weekends? Is there anything in the area of your potential house that you don't like?
10. Does it welcome pets? Having the space for and being allowed to have pets is important to know when looking at possible houses.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Pizza delivery, part IV

Apparently sabre-muskrats aren't only pests, but a staple food in these parts.
Fighting back nausea, I lifted another spoonful of the soup. The stringy meat floating in the brown liquid tasted like mud. But Callan's band was eating it, and the villagers were watching us.
So I stuck the spoon in my mouth and wished I had eaten some of the pizza this afternoon.
Brend had used a spell to gather all of the slain sabre-muskrats, and Callan's band had carried them to this village. Even I had carried some. The villagers eagerly accepted the creatures, and the band had been invited to stay for the celebration. I'd learned that bands like Callan's were called on whenever the sabre-muskrat population grew too large, and then the culled creatures were utilized by the locals.
Meat, hide, claws and teeth, all parts of the sabre-muskrat were used.
After having tasted what supposedly passed as soup in this world, I now knew why they loved pizza.
"So what do you think, laddy?" Callan plopped down beside me, spearing what could have been a roll with his knife. I'd almost broken a tooth trying to eat one of those.
"The locals are... interesting." I set my bowl on the table and smiled as some of the village girls quickly looked away from me, giggling.
"Ah, don't mind them. None of these people have ever seen a delivery boy, except on pizza boxes." Callan winked and bit a chuck out of his roll. It didn't surprise me he could chew something that was rock hard.
"How long will we stay here?" I asked. I wasn't eager to find out what a wraith was, but I didn't want the two months I'd already have to spend here to become any longer.
"Once we gather some supplies, we'll be off." Callan tapped the hilt of his knife, studying me. "Do you have a weapon?"
"Not unless a cell phone counts." Seeing his blank stare, I sighed and shook my head. "No, I don't."
"Then that'll be our first priority." Standing, Callan looked around and gave a warbling whistle. After a moment, Brend walked out of the dancing crowd.
"What is it?" The apprentice wizard asked. Callan jerked his head toward me.
"See that Alex gets a good weapon."
Brend nodded, and Callan walked away. I watched him go, then turned to the young wizard. "Where are we supposed to get a weapon when the entire village is celebrating?"
Smiling, he offered me a hand. "Just follow me, Mister Alex." Taking the offered hand, I stood. Brend lead me away from the village square to the outskirts, then stopped.
"Stand there." Brend pointed, and I moved to a the center of a clear patch of ground. The wizard drew a large circle around me with his staff, mumbling all the while.
I was starting to get tired of his mumbling.
The moment he completed the circle, it flashed a blue-green. The world outside the circle became hazy. Ghostly images of many different weapons appeared within the haze, and Brend turned to me. "What kind of weapon do you prefer?"
"I've never used one." Looking at the ghostly weapons, I wasn't even sure if I could use one. All of my experience with weapons came from watching movies. Brend tapped his fingers against his staff.
"Then look around, see if anything draws your attention."
Shrugging, I walked around the inner edge of the circle. In the haze, I saw swords of different sizes, bows, a spear, and other weapons I couldn't name. Though some were interesting, nothing stood out. Didn't most weapons take years of practice? Frowning, I paused after having made two laps around the circle.
I didn't know what type of weapon would best suit me, so I would just pick something. Taking a breath, I looked down at the blue-green line. I walked, watching that line curve until it flickered. Closing my eyes, I brought my hand up and pointed.
"That one."
"Are you sure?" Brend's voice sounded almost surprised, and I opened my eyes.
Out in the haze, a quarterstaff had solidified. Made of a pale yellow wood and capped with iron, it looked like an over-sized rolling pin.
"Yes." I could work with a rolling pin. Plus, it could double as a walking stick.
"Very well." Brend moved next to me, mumbling again as he lifted his staff. The quarterstaff floated into the circle, along with a short knife and a leather vest similar to the one he wore. Pulling a handful of coins from a pouch on his belt, the wizard tossed them into the haze. The circle flashed once, and then the world was normal again.
I caught the quarterstaff and other items as they dropped out of the air at me, and looked at Brend.
"What was that?"
"The wizard's haze. If another wizard has something you're looking for, it appears in the haze. If they accept your offer, then the objects will appear when the spell concludes. If they decline, what you offered is returned." Brend leaned against his staff and motioned at the knife and vest. "A knife is a useful tool to have, and Callan would want you to have at least some armor."
I placed the knife and vest in my delivery bag, then studied the quarterstaff. It was heavier then I'd expected, but felt good in my hands. Hopefully I wouldn't need to use it.
"Let's head back to the party." I said, and Brend nodded. As I followed him, the quarterstaff's quiet thump against the ground eased my nerves.
I would get home. I had to.