Monster Hunter Nation

Iron Fist Rates a Solid Meh.

I finished streaming Iron Fist last night. It didn’t outright suck, but of the four Netflix Marvel shows I put it fourth. In order of my personal enjoyment I rank them Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and then Iron Fist.

I don’t usually review Hollywood stuff, mostly because it isn’t a good idea to insult the work of people you are trying to sell things too. But what really started this blog post was I saw one of those Facebook posts where it was You Have Been Kidnapped, The Characters From The Last TV Show You Watched Must Save You… And mine was Iron Fist, so I realized I was pretty much doomed. (Mike Kupari got Brock Sampson, the lucky bastard).

So then my Writer Brain started picking apart why I didn’t enjoy it.  So I’m trying to put all of this in a story telling context.

There’s going to be spoilers. Lots and lots of spoilers.

All of the other Netflix shows embraced their roots. Daredevil was a straight up super hero story. I liked Jessica Jones more once I realized it was actually a detective show with super powers in it, rather than a super hero show.  Problem there was JJ came 2nd after a really enjoyable super hero show, which gave me certain expectations.  Luke Cage went for the same vibe as the Blaxploitation movies of the 70s that inspired the comic and pulled it off.

You’d think Iron Fist would embrace the awesome mystical Kung Fu angle. The comic was the answer to cheesy mystical Kung Fu adventure movies of the same era they picked Luke Cage out of. Dude, it’s Powerman and Iron Fist.  Iron Fist got there eventually, but it felt like it did so only grudgingly.  The vibe felt off.

The first couple of episodes there was almost no mystical kung fu action. Yes, I know they were trying to build up to that, but it isn’t like people tuning into the 4th super hero show in a shared universe are going to be taken by surprise when there are super powers in it. Instead it was this slow thing about how these rude business people wouldn’t just accept the random shoeless hobo off the streets of NYC as the heir to their mega corporation. Go figure.

Next, the main characters need to be entertaining. These are shows literally named after the main character. That main character needs to carry the show.

Daredevil, solid job. Pros, the actor did a great job. You feel like you really get to know Matt Murdock. Cons, I don’t like the repetitive emo weepiness about maybe having to kill somebody every other episode.  (because really, you beat people unconscious by bashing them repeatedly with batons then hurling them down a flight of stairs yet no mooks ever die?).   But that emo attitude came from the original source material, so that’s more of a writing pet peeve of mine than something actually wrong with the show.

Luke Cage, the dude exhudes cool. He’s Luke Motherf’ing Cage, and he owns it.  They play him true to the character.

Jessica Jones… To be fair, they also stayed true to the character, only the character was an alcoholic with a laundry list of personal issues. Which is fine, but also cuts into my enjoyment for the same reason I can only give you the name of a couple of Stephen King protagonists.  But if you’re going for noir detective stuff, whatever, I get why they did it.

The important thing is the character makes sense, feels like an actual person, and their actions make sense as things that character would actually do in that context.

But Iron Fist, oh man. That dude was all over the board. I can’t blame the actor, this is the only thing I think I’ve ever seen him in, so I don’t know how good an actor he actually is. I don’t know how much of this character was on the actor not playing the character in a way that made sense, or if they just wrote the character in a way that didn’t make sense.

On one hand, they’ve got him doing this optimistic innocent thing to the point to stupidity. Only I AM THE IRON FIST he insists a couple times per episode, and then he’s struggling with boundless rage. He’s supposed to have won this super big deal title by doing some mystical thing with a dragon, which all of the other badass warrior monks couldn’t do, but then he’s getting suckered and duped like a naïve clown.

He’s simultaneously supposed to be super competent and a complete idiot. He’s supposed to be this wise Zen master, and then he’s having a teenage freak out. None of those are right or wrong, and you can have an awesome character be either, but pick a direction and run already. Yes, you can have a character be really good at one thing, yet flawed in another, but those things need to feel right. Hell, I wrote Ashok, who is the walking embodiment of clueless murder machine, but as long as actions make sense in context of who they are, you’re good.

Danny Rand, not so much. “I am this super naïve innocent hobo philosopher-BOUNDLESS RAGE-now I just want to be a normal boy—NO I AM THE IRON FIST BUT I DON’T WANT TO DO IRON FIST STUFF RIGHT NOW. Wait I am once again easily befuddled. BUT YOU WILL DIE FOR THE MURDER OF MY PARENTS. Only I don’t want to actually kill you but you will pay for your crimes. Only we can’t involve the police because that will just make it worse. And I say that even though I do not know how this ‘society’ of yours works because I was raised in a monastery-WHERE THEY BEAT ME WITH STICKS.”

At one point he fights a Drunken Master (yay!), only Danny loses his crap and nearly beats the guy to death, and then he’s all conflicted and weepy about it. Make up your mind already. THE HAND MUST DIE-Oh no I hurt a ninja and now I am sad!

Frank Castle would have just shot everybody to death and wrapped this story up in two episodes, tops.

I’m not saying you can’t have a character with mood swings, or they’re a hypocrite, or whatever, but you need skill to pull it off. This felt more like the actor wasn’t getting consistent direction. BE MORE CONFLICTED! YOU ARE NOT ACTING HARD ENOUGH!

I realize part of this is because of the nature of the story, they need the heroes to do stupid things to make the plot go on longer, so they don’t wrap it up in too few episodes (and all of the Marvel Netflix shows have suffered from this).  This is also why they introduce stupid subplots, but I’ll get to that.

Yes, a dude who has been raised by warrior monks in mystical kung fu land is going to be naïve in certain ways. But naiveté isn’t a switch you can just flip on and off when necessary to advance the plot. I HAVE BEEN TAUGHT TO HATE AND DISTRUST THE HAND! Oh good, I was literally brought back from the dead by the Hand. THEN YOU ARE MY BEST FRIEND.

They weren’t just inconsistent on the character’s nature, they were inconsistent on his Kung Fu powers. On one hand, dude can fight twenty people at one time, no problem. But also gets his ass sucker punched and worked over by a corporate mercenary.  I HAVE LOST MY CHI-oh wait, it’s back-NOW IT IS GONE AGAIN.  Half way through the season his mystical mentor (a ghost? Astral projection? A figment of his memories? Beats me) shows up to walk him through one fight challenge, but then if he turned up again to help him through any other challenges, I must have gotten bored by then and been surfing my phone so I missed it.

So that’s our protagonist, what about our antagonist?  Having a strong bad guy is really important.

Daredevil, holy crap, Kingpin was amazing. The biggest flaw, if you can call it that, is that Vincent D’Onofrio stole the show. He was more interesting than Daredevil. Dude was menacing, smart, super deadly, but also flawed. Excellent bad guy.

Jessica Jones, same thing. Killgrave stole the show. He had one of the strongest powers in the Marvel universe, yet was the ickiest, skeeziest, slimiest bastard with it. Even people who didn’t like JJ all admit that Richard Hammond’s performance was—wait… I was just informed that was David Tennant. Never mind. But anyways, great bad guy.

This was the weakest part of Luke Cage. Cottonmouth was the cooler bad guy by far, but then they killed him off and brought in Diamondback, who wasn’t nearly as interesting (and the costume at the end was just goofy). And Shades should have been given some sort of power where he could actually fight Cage. That was a waste.

But Iron Fist? Ugh… I couldn’t tell you a thing about Bokudo. He shows up ¾ of the way through the series, does some stuff, and nobody cares. Madam Gao was cool, but underutilized, then captured in a stupid way and stuck in a box at the mercy of the boring Bokudo.

Speaking of the stupid capture… They flew to China. And then filmed everything in some abandoned warehouses that could have been anywhere. If you’re going to have a cool bit where you travel out of the country to a new and interesting location, actually use the location somehow. For as underutilized as the supposed Chinese setting was, they could have just as easily said Gao was at some abandoned warehouses in New Jersey. And then at least it would have made sense why Claire went with them.

But I haven’t even gotten to all the multitude of problems with side characters yet.

So you go to the Hands secret base in China, on their home turf… and there are just a couple of guards with swords. And a homeless bum outside who conveniently speaks English to give you handy plot advice? And you kidnap a Hand leader from their home turf, and at no point in time does the Hand intercept Danny Rand’s private jet which just happens to be sitting at a Chinese airport. I’m supposed to believe these magical ninjas have infiltrated every hospital and police department in New York City, but don’t have any friends in the Chinese government around their home base?

In Daredevil season 2, the Hand is mysterious, menacing, and straight up evil. They’re shadow ninjas who can move without sound and come back from the dead who are digging a tunnel to hell or something. In Iron Fist, they’re a youth outreach program and a summer camp.

I guess Harold was supposed to be the real big bad guy, but compared to unkillable shadow warriors, dispatched without issue in the 2nd to last episode, who cares. Yawn.  What’s Harold’s power? He’s mean and crazy? You kill him and he comes back from the dead later? In a fight against a dude who has a fist which explodes walls?  That end fight made no sense. Why is Danny having to struggle here. It’s anticlimactic.

If you’re going to use Harold as your finale, make it so when he comes back from the grave, he does so with eerie kung-fu mystical evil powers. Have Bokudo or Gao say something about this violation of evil chi being an abomination, which in super hero terms equals bad ass fight scene. What a waste.

Now, side characters. The weakest part of all the Marvel Netflix shows, because everybody hates Foggy.

I think the reason we get into these meandering subplots for side characters is that they’re trying to stretch the shows out a few more episodes. I would have liked JJ a whole lot more if they’d chopped it down to fit in fewer episodes, because there was a whole lot of nothing in the middle.  I don’t really care about blonde reporter lady’s career or relationship problems.

Iron Fist is the worst. It’s like they looked at how Foggy is the least popular character in the universe, said challenge accepted, and gave us Joy and Ward. I can see how those characters were necessary for this plot, but the show is called Iron Fist, not Ward’s Struggle With Drug Addiction. Danny Rand was inconsistently written, but the supporting cast’s motivations didn’t make a lick of sense.

Coleen Wing the Love Interest. So Danny the shoeless hobo runs into a woman putting up ads for her dojo in the park. They hook up (ladies love shoeless hobos). Okay, fine. But then there’s the subplot where she goes to underground fighting rings to beat the ever living shit out of men who look like Owen Z. Pitt, two at a time… And at that point I’m thinking to myself, either she has the power of Joss Whedon’s Waif-Fu writing upon her, or she’s got some sort of mystical fighting background too. Except wouldn’t that be strangely convenient in a city of 8 million people if the one other woman who’s got mystical kung fu powers just happened to bump into Danny.

And it turns out she’s Hand… Because what are the odds?  Come on, writers. At least throw us a bone about destiny or mystical kung-fu guiding their paths together, or something.  Coleen also carries a samurai sword into battle but doesn’t want to kill anybody… A friggin’ sword. Not exactly my first choice for a less lethal weapon.

Speaking of long odds, Coleen is also Claire’s kung-fu teacher.

Now, I like the character of Claire Temple (it helps that Rosario Dawson is hot). She’s the obvious set up for the Defenders, and how all these super powered people know each other.  Only the way Iron Fist used her was ass backwards as everything else they did.

In order to have Claire (previously established as a nurse who doesn’t want her super powered friends to kill people) inexplicably tag along on our upcoming kung-fustravaganza, Coleen says something about how she’s a surprisingly quick learner.  Which is why after a short amount of training, Claire is able to Tiger Claw fight against Hand Ninjas who’ve been training their entire lives in an organization where failure means getting brain stabbed.

And you guys thought I was joking when I wrote about Kung-Fu Panda Syndrome in Tom Stranger.

So Claire goes with them all the way to China to capture Madam Gao… At no point does she say, you know, since I watched a group of elite shadow warriors murder their way through an entire hospital and now we’re going to their home turf, I know a guy who is indestructible, a lady who can throw cars, and a blind Catholic ninja, maybe we should invite them. But we can’t have that, because the Defenders isn’t until next year, and this is Danny’s chance to shine (albeit poorly).

Claire’s arc in Iron Fist makes zero sense. Having her stich Danny up, offer some advice, and then get the hell out of the way makes more sense for what’s already been established about her character. Nope. Now everybody is kung-fu fighting.

And poor Davos. Now that dude should have been the Iron Fist. He knows it. Danny knows it. The audience knows it. Deep down the writers know it too (come to think of it, if that actor can do a variety of accents he might make a good Lorenzo though).

The final kung-fu showdown isn’t between Danny and bad guys, it is between him and Davos, and it is mostly Danny being petulant and threatening to explode his non-super powered best friend’s skull, because his friend had the audacity to tell him he should be doing the job he signed up to do, instead of screwing around in America.

Now for some other pet peeves, the Rand business subplots, where Danny is telling the board that they are going to sell drugs at cost because principle… Derp. Just derp.  And then this drug company never developed another drug ever again. The end.

Also, I’m a writer, not an actor or a fight choreographer, so I might be getting out of my lane here, but it seemed like the fight scenes in Daredevil were way better. Which is sad since this is supposed to be the martial arts show. I think Coleen actually got more fight scenes, which makes me suspect that actress is actually better at performing cool looking martial arts, while most of Danny’s flipping around action scenes were actually done by a stunt man with a dyed Bob Ross wig. But I have no actual idea if that’s true.

Overall, I was let down. I had high hopes for Iron Fist. He’s actually a pretty neat character in the comics. After the initial controversy when the SJWs were pitching a fit about cultural appropriation because they’d chosen a white actor to play a white character, I was hoping it would be excellent just to spite them.

I’ve heard that the Defenders is being directed/produced by the same guy who did Daredevil, which gives me hope. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But the most important thing is that they don’t screw up The Punisher.

The name of volume 1 of my short fiction compilation is Target Rich Environment

Back at the end of February I put up a blog post asking for suggestions for the title of my short fiction collection. 

The winner was Target Rich Environment, which was suggested by Logan Guthmiller.

There were a ton of good ones. Thanks everybody.

And if you aren’t familiar with this project, Baen is publishing two collections of my short fiction. I don’t know the release date yet, but Volume One will be called Target Rich Environment, and it will include the following stories:

Tanya: Princess of the Elves

Dead Waits Dreaming

Sweothi City

The Bridge

Detroit Christmas

Murder on the Orient Elite

Father’s Day

Destiny of a Bullet

Bubba Shackleford’s Professional Monster Killers

Blood on the Water

The Losing Side

The Great Sea Beast

Force Multiplier

The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent

A snippet from my story in Forged in Blood

Forged in Blood is an anthology set in Michael Z. Williamson’s Freehold universe. The stories go from ancient history to the distant future. I love when I get to write samurai.


Here is the description:



From the distant past to the far future, those who carry the sword rack up commendations for bravery. They are men and women who, like the swords they carry, have been forged in blood. These are their stories.

In medieval Japan, a surly ronin is called upon to defend a village against a thieving tax collector who soon finds out it’s not wise to anger an old, tired man. In the ugliest fighting in the Pacific Theater, an American sergeant and a Japanese lieutenant must face each other, and themselves. A former US Marine chooses sides with outnumbered Indonesian refugees against an invading army from Java. When her lover is stolen by death, a sergeant fighting on a far-flung world vows vengeance that will become legendary. And, when a planet fragments in violent chaos, seven Freeholders volunteer to help protect another nation’s embassy against a horde.

Featuring all-new stories by Michael Z. Williamson, Larry Correia, Tom Kratman, Tony Daniel, Micahel Massa, Peter Grant, John F. Holmes, and many more.

Here is the intro to mine.





When you hit a man with a sword, it can go clean or ugly. A clean hit and you barely even feel the impact. Oh, your opponent feels it. Trust me. But for the swordsman, your blade travels through skin and muscle as if it is parting water. Arms can come right off. Legs are tougher, but a good strike will cut clear to the bone and leave them crippled. A katana will shear a rib like paper, and their guts will fall out like a butchered pig. Then with a snap of the wrist the blade has returned and the swordsman is prepared to strike again. Simple. Effective. Clean. I’ll spare you all the flowery talk the perfumed sensei spout about rhythm and footwork that inevitably make killing sound like a formal court dance, but when you do everything just right, I swear to you that I’ve killed men so smoothly that their heads have remained sitting upon their necks long enough to blink twice before falling off.

However, an ugly hit, means you pulled it wrong, or he moved unexpectedly, the littlest things, a slight change in angle, a tiny bit of hesitation, upon impact you feel that pop in your wrists, and then your sword is stuck in their bone, they’re screaming in your face, flinging blood everywhere, and you have to practically wrestle your steel out of them. Whatever bone you struck is a splintered mess, usually the meat is dangling off in ghastly strips. Some men will take that as a sign to lie down and die, but a dedicated samurai will take that ugly hit and still try to take you with him, just because in principle if a samurai is dying, then damn it, he shouldn’t have to do it alone. It can be a very nasty affair.

The tax collector died very ugly.

I only wanted to be left alone.


Kanemori was sitting by the stove, absorbing the warmth, debating over whether it was too early in the afternoon to get drunk, when there was a great commotion in his yard. Someone was calling his name. It wouldn’t be the first time in his long life that someone with a grudge had turned up looking for him, but this sounded like a girl. He rose and peeked out one of the gaps in the wall that he’d been meaning to repair, to see that it was the village headman’s daughter trudging through the snow with determination.

“Go away!” he shouted.

“Kanemori! The village needs your help.”

The headman always wanted his help with something, the lazy bastard. A tree fell on old lady Haru’s hut. Or Den’s ox is stuck in the river. Or please save us from these bandits, Kanemori-sama! And then he’d have to go saw wood, or pull on a stupid ox, or cut down some pathetic bandit rabble. He knew it was usually just the headman trying to be social, but it was a waste of his time. He didn’t belong to the village. He’d simply had the misfortune of building his shack near it.

“What now?” He bellowed through the wall.

“The new Kura-Bugyo is going to execute my father!”

“What did your imbecile father do to make the tax collector angry this time?”

“The last official was honest, but the officials this year are corrupt. They take more than they’re supposed to. They take the Lord’s share, and then they take more to sell for themselves! Father refused to give up the last of our stores. If we do we’ll perish during the winter.”

Of course the officials were corrupt. That’s what officials were for.

The girl was about ten, but already bossy enough to be a magistrate. When she reached the shack she began pounding on his door. “Let me in, Kanemori!”

“Go away.”

“No! I will stay out here and cry until I freeze to death! Your lack of mercy will cause my angry ghost to haunt you forever. And then you will feel very sorry!”

Kanemori sighed. Peasants were stupid and stubborn. He opened the door. “What do you expect me to do about it?”

“You are samurai! Make them stop.”

“Oh?” He looked around his humble shack theatrically. “Do I look like Oda Nobunaga to you? I am without clan, status, or even basic dignity. Officials aren’t going to listen to me. Do you think I moved to the frozen north because I am so popular?”

“You are the worst samurai ever!”


In defense of the clumsy butchery that passed for a battle against the corrupt tax collector and his men, my soldiering days were over. It had been many seasons since I’d last time I had to hit a man with a sword, so I was rusty. When your joints ache every morning, the last thing you want to do is practice your forms, so my daily training consisted of the minimum a retired swordsman must do in order to avoid feeling guilty. Why do more? I had no Lord to command me, no general to bark orders at me—The only person who’d done so recently was my second wife, and I’d buried her two winters ago—and if I spent all my energy swinging a sword who was going to feed all these damnable chickens?

It isn’t that peasants can’t fight. It is that they’re too tired from working all day to learn to fight. A long time ago some clever sort figured that out, traded his hoe for a sword, started bossing around the local farmers, said you give me food and in exchange I’ll protect you from assholes who will kill you, but if you don’t, I’ll kill you myself, and the samurai class was born. From then on, by accident of one’s birth it determined if you’d be well fed until you got stabbed to death, or hungry and laboring, until you starved… Or got stabbed to death.

Spare me the history lectures. I actually do know where samurai come from. I was born buke. I slept through the finest history lessons in Kyoto. You would not know it to look at me now, but I was once a promising young warrior. It was said that handsome Hatsu Kanemori was a scholar, a poet, and the veritable pride of my clan, and high ranking officials were lining up to offer me marriages to their daughters… until one day I finally told my Lord I was sick of his shit. Then I promptly ran away before he could decorate his castle wall with my head.

Now, the life of a ronin is a different sort of thing entirely. Samurai live well, but they’re expected to die on behalf of their Lord. Ronin live slightly better than dogs, and are expected to die on behalf of whichever lord scraped up enough coin to hire us. Being a wave man retains all of the joys of getting stabbed to death, but with the added enticement of being as miserable and hungry as a peasant, up until when you get stabbed to death.

But at least you are your own boss.


Here are all the contributors. One nifty thing is the stories go in order, so my character is descended from the one Zach Hill wrote, and Mike Massa’s story follows mine, but jumping forward a few hundred years, and so on. It’s a pretty cool premise. 
Zachary Hill
Larry Correia
Michael Massa
John F. Holmes
Rob Reed
Dale Flowers
Tom Kratman
Leo Champion
Peter Grant
Christopher L. Smith
Jason Cordova
Tony Daniel
Kacey Ezell
Michael Z. Williamson

Ask Correia 18: World Building

The Ask Correia posts are what happen when somebody asks me a writing related question, and my answer gets so big that it turns into a blog post. In this case I recently announced two new collaborative projects, and how I was working on building two different worlds at the same time, and people asked if I had a method for that. (I’m also teaching a 4 hour master class at FyreCon on this topic, so I’d better!)

I love designing new worlds. I’ve done some where I take our existing world and twist it somehow, others that are alternative history, and some that are just scratch built. So here is a peak behind the scenes of how I create new fictional settings.  Note, as usual there is no such thing as Rules of Writing, and anybody who tells you there is only One True Path is full of crap and probably doesn’t sell many books, because for every rule they cite I can probably find a bestseller who breaks it. These ideas are just the way I do things, but you can do it differently, the only important thing is that your readers like the results.

Sometimes you have a story in need of a place to set it, and other times you’ve got a setting you want to write about, but don’t know what story to tell in it. Me personally, I’m almost always a Story First kind of guy. Usually I think of the story I want to tell and then I go about building the world that best facilitates me telling that story.

If you have an awesome idea for a setting, but don’t know what to do with it, that’s fine. In that case go through the world and see what features appeal to you. Then start imagining what kind of people would live there, and what kind of conflicts they would get into. A strong setting is going to suggest stories. That’s why some IPs have amazing staying power and turn into shared worlds with lots of different authors coming up with things to do there. Build an interesting enough setting and you’ll never lack for ideas for what to do in it.

Always Be Asking

Since I usually start with a basic plot idea, the first thing I do is think about what does my world need to have/allow for me to write this? Some are pretty obvious. Monster Hunter is our world but supernatural stuff exists in secret. Others ideas require something more complicated. For Son of the Black Sword I needed to figure out a world with brutal caste systems, where the low born are basically property.

Take those must haves, and then ask yourself if that’s how things have to work here, what else would change? Always be asking yourself how are those required things going to affect other things?  This doesn’t just make your setting stronger, but it supplies you with tons of great new story ideas.

For the last week I’ve been going back and forth with John Brown about our upcoming sci-fi project. When I’m collaborating my methods are basically the same as when I come up with worlds myself, only I’ve got an extra brain to work with.

We had an existing basic plot idea that we’d come up with at LTUE based on all the sci-fi things my son thought were cool (giant robots, giant alien monsters, space fights, bandits). That really basic skeleton was what we started with, but then we needed to fill in the blanks.

We started with the basic premise of pirates who steal giant robots… Why? Well, there’s got to be a market for these things. Why can’t people just buy them? Gun… er… I mean ROBOT control. Okay, cool. Interesting complication. What kind of people would still want to get their hands on giant fighting robots even though it could draw the ire of the authorities? Well, just like real life there’s lots of different reasons people want illegal weapons now, from basic self-protection to overthrowing governments. Tons of different directions you could take that, but since we’re writing about people who could be “good guys”, let’s go with the self-defense angle.  What are you defending yourself from that you would require an illegal, and very expensive, battle robot?  Obviously something you can’t just shoot with a regular gun… ergo GIANT MONSTERS.

Which brings us to another important element of world design:


When presented with a few options for how to accomplish something, pick the awesome one. Pick the one that makes your story more entertaining. Pick the one that you are the most excited to write about, because when an author is having fun writing it, that’ll come through the page and the readers will feel that excitement. It’s all about contagious enthusiasm.

Grimnoir used dirigibles because I wanted to have cool dirigible fights. That was it. However, then I had to tweak the rules in a way so that their use made sense and felt organic and true to the world. I had to look at why they lost to heavier than air craft in real life, and then add something which would have kept them competitive.

You can’t just have something awesome that doesn’t make sense because that’s going to kick readers right out of the story. Remember, the goal is immersion. You want the reader to lose track of time. When you screw something up like that the immersion is broken, they’re reminded that this isn’t real, it’s just a book. You have just failed that reader.

Your cool idea still needs to fit somehow. It needs to be organic to the story. If you introduce some super awesome plot element, but it feels like it is shoehorned in there, simply because it is groovy, unless you are writing a story that is purposefully silly (anything can happen in Tom Stranger for example) readers are going to get annoyed. Annoyed readers don’t buy the rest of your stuff.

TV shows and movies can get away with this more because they move at a different pace than a book, and by the time the watcher’s brain is processing the giant plot hole they just saw, the movie has already moved onto the next scene or distracting visual treat. Books move at a different pace, and the way most people read, their brains are still processing the information they just read while they are reading the next part. Nonsensical things are far more jarring in written form.

In the Force Awakens, they’ve got a planet sized weapon that sucks in a star (apparently then they drive that planet to the next star?) and shoots it across the galaxy (at a wacky velocity that is still dramatically visible) but it is all covered in an energy shield that you have to be going light speed to go through (why not just accelerate an old freighter to light speed and obliterate Star Killer?) so they fly the Millennium Falcon through the shield and shut down light speed manually before hitting the surface…

Oh man. If I put that in a book I’d never hear the end of it. But for most watchers at the time they aren’t going to catch all that in time to break their immersion. Even the clever audience members are going to note that stupid bit, but they are going to stay in the theater because they’re already watching the next cool visual. Sure, they’ll start picking it apart during the drive home from the theater, but during the movie they just shut up and enjoyed their awesome.

Writers can’t do that. That’s why books about movies have to make more sense and provide more context and information than the movie they are adapting. You screw up a book and the reader gets the effects as soon as the words are processed. They sigh and put the book down for a moment.  You lost them. Enjoyment squashed. If they come back it will be with some reluctance. Author fail.

One handy cheat, if you want to have some cool piece of tech or magic thing, write that scene from the PoV of somebody who doesn’t know how that item works, just that it does. A space marine on a ship isn’t going to know how the FTL drive works. Space ship go fast. It is what it is. Hell, we all drive cars yet most of us couldn’t explain the details of how the internal combustion engine works. On some things, you don’t need to overthink them. If it isn’t stupid and it feels organic to the setting, the reader will give you a pass. Basically anything that fits in context, the readers aren’t going to stress. Anything that feels broken or stupid is going to bug them.

Back to asking questions.

For our plot, we needed giant battle mechs fighting giant monsters, but let’s think through the problems with walkers. Why would a mech be preferred over something simple, cheap, and low profile like a tank? That suggested use on terrain that would favor that kind of weapon system over something that drove, hovered, or flew, which led directly to designing the nature of our planet. Answering that question led to an interesting setting and a cool visual.

Now you don’t need to provide a doctoral thesis and annotated bibliography explaining how every cool thing works (unless you are writing Hard SF and your readers are into that), but it just has to feel like it makes sense in the context of the story. There is always going to be one nitpicky bastard who is going to complain about everything, but that guy complains even when he’s wrong and the author got all the science right. Screw that guy. Nobody likes him in real life either.

We’ve got mechs going down to this planet to protect people from giant monsters, why? What is worth it down there?  Our original thought was they were mining something valuable… Okay, but that raises the same question as in the movie Avatar how come the humans didn’t just tow over an asteroid and kill all the annoying smurf people and their pterodactyls, then mine the unobtanium unmolested once the dust settles? So that gave us another kind of cool idea why that wouldn’t work, and our miners turned into harvesters.

We needed far flung human colonies. That required space travel between star systems. How does mankind travel? There are a few common methods that get used over and over in sci-fi. What are the pros and cons of using that method? What story problems does that method introduce? We decided to go with the common trope of gates, but the biggest reason we picked that one was that we were writing about criminal smugglers, and having choke points which could be controlled by government officials added interesting story complications, which led to the idea of having illicit criminal gates and creative work-arounds.

The space travel questions led to questions of history and what would need to happen between our world right now, and this world in the future, for us to get to where they are. Of course this process led to even more cool ideas we could exploit later.

John posted the following on Facebook the other day:  An insight into how Larry Correia develops story ideas. No hand wringing or stress. Just “send me your cool ideas,” “what would be cooler between these ideas,” “hey, this would be fun,” and “what would we need to do to make this awesome thing work and still be believable.” I’m having a blast thinking through the ideas and responding back and forth. This is the good part of writing.

I hadn’t really thought about this too much before he posted that, but yeah, that’s pretty much it.

Every question you ask yourself gives you a chance to come up with something better. It helps pick apart potential flaws and weak spots. If you really really can’t think of a way to stick in some specific cool idea, that’s fine, save that thing for something else. Writers should always be writing, and there is no such thing as a wasted idea. All of your cool stuff will get used eventually.

The fantasy project that I recently outlined with Steve Diamond started out as a story that the two of us pitched for an existing IP. In that case we had a fleshed out world to work with, and two creative types looked at it, and thought, damn, it would be really cool to tell a story from the perspective of this specific group of people which hasn’t been told before. So we outlined that happening and came up with a really neat story, and pitched it. When that project dried up, Steve and I were left with this really cool plot, but it was set in a world that we could no longer use.

But it’s like I said, you keep writing and there are no wasted ideas. The same plot can be used in a variety of settings (Red Harvest turned into Yojimbo which turned into Fistful of Dollars which turned into Last Man Standing). Years later when my publisher asked if I had any other collaborations in mind, Steve and I pulled out that old outline and dusted it off. We had an awesome plot and characters, and now we just needed to build a world to fit it.

We started out by tossing everything we could no longer use. Anything that originated in this other IP was not ours. Obviously that left some pretty big holes, so the discussion turned to how to fill those in. And this is where it gets exciting.

I’ve done quite a bit of writing now in other people’s IPs, a few novels, and a ton of short fiction. It is fun to play in somebody else’s sandbox but it can also be a challenge because you are so limited in certain specific ways, and by the rules that the original creators have established. They’ve got a road map already. When you’re creating your own stuff you are a trail blazing off roader cutting a new path in your 4×4.

We went off in some crazy new directions. Steve and I did the same thing John and I did. We looked at what we needed, and then we started filling in those holes, and asking lots and lots of questions. Every decision has repercussions. Nothing exists in a vacuum. And a few days later we had something new, interesting, unique, and most importantly, really cool.

Using Cultural Analogs

You see this all the time in fantasy, where NotEngland is fighting against NotFrance, but the NotVikings invade, and the NotMongol Horde comes riding across the plains. Cultural analogs are super common. As much as critics like to get all huffy and bitchy about that, there’s nothing inherently wrong with borrowing from familiar real world cultures. As long as it is entertaining you can get away with it.

On the plus side it establishes some fundamentals with the reader easily. You’ve got longbow archers with English sounding names fighting knights with French names, it paints a quick picture. They’ve read a hundred books and seen a dozen movies like that already. Readers are going to subconsciously assume that everything which isn’t pointed out as being different is probably the same as what they’re already expecting. Those are their defaults.

On the downside, it’s been done a million times. But the reason something gets done a million times is because it works. This is a competitive business, so if you’re doing something familiar then you need to make yours stand out somehow (I’d recommend being excellent). If you use a cultural analog which isn’t as familiar for your audience, it is unique, but it may require a bit more work to set the stage. It still creates a visual waypoint, but the audience just might not have as much groundwork laid. There aren’t as many epic fantasies about NotIndia as there are about NotEngland, but people get the idea.

Now critics are going to bitch no matter what you do. If you have a western basis to your fantasy you will be called tired and clichéd (and probably racist) and if you use a non-western basis then you are guilty of cultural appropriation. So as usual, just tell the critics to kiss your ass and get back to writing. Nobody really gives a crap what they think anyway.

Personally, I like borrowing from all sorts of different places. It keeps things interesting, unique, but familiar enough that the reader can concentrate on the important stuff, being entertained rather than being lost.

Another possibility is just making up something entirely unique and original, not based on any Earth culture at all. You are free to do whatever you want. There’s no reference for the readers, so you’ll need to do a good job painting them a picture. Just don’t get so clever with making up new stuff that the readers get confused and lost, adrift on a sea of made up words. If you’re going to write something dense and confusing, where the reader can’t get a bearing, you’d better be one damned compelling wordsmith to keep their interest.

Nuts and Bolts

When you’re creating something from scratch, you’ve got to think through how it all fits together in a way that makes sense. I’m talking things like resources, society, and economics.

I’ve often seen the book Guns, Germs, and Steel recommended in these discussions for authors to get ideas about world building. It’s a pretty good read about the clash of cultures and their relative advantages/disadvantages. (it has been years, and I don’t recall what now, but I disagreed with some of his conclusions, however it was a way better read than most dry anthropology books).

Geography matters a lot. When building a society realize that people are a product of their environment. Think about things like weather and distances.

If you’ve got a world without electricity, that is going to cause some issues. If you can’t refrigerate food, eating is a whole lot different. Horses don’t work like fleshy motorcycles. If you’ve got magic, if it is common, how is it going to change your world. You can’t have super common easy to use magic that can do all sorts of miraculous stuff, and it not have some repercussions. The commonality of cell phones has made it a lot tougher for horror writers now than in the 80s. Whether you are introducing magic or new technology, it’s going to do something to your world. If everybody can cast Create Light Level 1, it really sucks to be a candle maker.

Think about what your people have got to work with. If you’ve got a little tiny poor country, it isn’t going to field ten thousand armored knights. That’s a giant resource suck. On the other hand, if you’ve got Star Trek style replicators that can just make whatever you want, whenever you want it, then that’s going to cause all sorts of other complications. When you can push a button and get free stuff, people’s motivations change. So don’t introduce crap you can’t deal with.

In Grimnoir I needed healing magic, mostly so I could have some truly brutal action sequences, and do it in a manner that the main characters could be back in action in time to narrate the next scene. To keep it from granting everybody functional immortality I had to put in some limitations. I made healers scarce. But just like real life, when a resource is scarce but with high demand, prices rise. So in Grimnoir healers are worth their weight in gold, literally (or in the case of statist countries like the Imperium, you are worth your weight in not being tortured and having all your loved ones executed).

In Son of the Black Sword I’ve got a magic system based on two scarce resources. One is super powerful, but it is being used up and it is not renewable. The other is renewable, but since it is extracted from the body parts of dead demons, good luck getting it. So in this book magic isn’t just about Hey Look at This Cool Thing I Can Do, it’s also a measure of wealth and political capital. Having black steel becomes a big friggin’ deal. It’s like how a country gets more respect in international affairs if they’ve got nukes. There’s a whole underground black market economy for magic users.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I don’t remember which famous sci-fi author said it, but if you’re writing what’s basically a rabbit, you don’t need to describe a rabbit, hops like a rabbit, has ears like a rabbit, and then call it a Fleerp. It’s just a friggin’ rabbit.

Also, sticking the word “Space” in front of normal things doesn’t suddenly make it sci-fi. To use an infamous example, if you refer to a Space Diaper, but you’re just talking about a diaper, that’s lame.

The more you stray from assumptions that readers default to, the more likely you are to confuse/lose them. So stray all you want, but try to keep it useful. Don’t switch expected norms up for pointless reasons. If you don’t specifically say everybody has three legs, readers are going to assume people still have two. Every time you rename some normal thing, that’s one more thing that a reader is going to have to keep track of. It’s like some of the classic sci-fi where they were super excited to rattle off the names of a bunch of high tech inventions the characters were using, but most readers just got bored and skimmed until the plot started progressing again.

When you do change things up, try and provide some context so the reader can figure out what’s going on. Son of the Black Sword doesn’t use western military ranks, like sergeant, lieutenant, etc. Because the military structure is based on historical India crossed with Thailand. So when I refer to somebody as a Nayak or a Risaldar, somewhere near that I need to provide clues that’s his rank, and at least what his relative standing is compared to the characters he’s interacting with.

Some of the coolest parts of world building are the little things. Pay attention to things like what the people eat, how they dress, what do they do for fun, what music they listen to, etc. The stuff that doesn’t pertain directly to your plot you aren’t going to dwell on, but it’s those little things that flesh your characters out, give the place some depth, and make it feel like people actually live there.

I recently watched the Ghost in the Shell movie. I liked it quite a bit. I only had one real complaint about the world building. On all the sweeping establishing shots of the big city, with the giant holograms, it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel lived in. But when they got down to the gritty street level, or the apartment blocks, or the cemetery, then it felt organic, it felt like a real place. Your book is the same way, big and glossy is cool and all, but it’s the little things that make it feel a real place someone could visit.

You Need To Know Everything but the Reader Doesn’t

This is a very important point. As the master of this new universe you need to know how everything works. Why is this thing here? Who are these weird people? Why did that big thing happen? But you don’t need to tell the reader all that unless it matters for this one particular story you are telling.

One problem writers run into is that we over explain. We’re so very proud of this nifty world that we made up that we want to show the readers ALL OF IT RIGHT NOW. This leads to things like boring info dumps or odd digressions into pointless boring subplots. Note the recurring theme there is boring. You can get away with damned near anything in a book as long as you aren’t boring.

Most readers aren’t stupid. You don’t need to hold their hand and over explain stuff, plus that will quickly annoy all the smart readers who are now bored. If the nitty gritty details are important for some reason, then explain away, or if those details are unique or entertaining to explain (that describes most of Cryptonomicon) have fun. But for most things, just let stuff happen and the readers will figure it out.

As a retired accountant who loves econ and finance, I spent a bunch of time figuring out how the economy of Lok works, but you see almost none of that in Son of the Black Sword. I might think that stuff is fascinating, but I know most of my readers don’t read Thomas Sowell for kicks and giggles. My job is to write about a bad ass super swordsman fantasy version of Judge Dredd turning into a fantasy version of George Washington, not to dwell on how the paper currency of the Banker sub-caste is the worker caste’s greatest weapon in great house politics.

But the important thing is I know that, so anytime I’m writing a scene where that behind the scene stuff is involved, it stays consistent. And who knows, maybe at some point that subplot might be explored in a way that’s interesting.

Try not to overwhelm people with too much information at once. Especially if you are working with naming conventions that are odd. In Son of the Black Sword most of the people and place names are Indian, southeast Asian, or east African in origin, so they’re not easily remembered by western readers. I try not to dump twenty of them on the reader on page one, because they aren’t going to remember who is who, and too much info and readers start to skim. Introduce a couple at a time and give people a chance to remember who is who.

Don’t blow all your cool stuff at once. Sometimes you know exactly how something works, but there isn’t a good place to get into it. I knew exactly who Agent Franks was, but there wasn’t a good spot in the first book to get into that, so I teased it a tiny bit, made the readers curious, and then revealed (part of) his identity in the 2nd book. And I had so much unrevealed backstory built in that eventually he got his own book.

I get a lot of comments from people who are impressed when I reveal something I teased a few books earlier. That’s really not that big of a deal, it’s just about being patient enough to save something for when it has the maximum impact.

How Much is too Much?

World build enough that you are confident to start writing the actual story. You can always go back and fix things later. It’s too much when you are postponing actual work in order to do something that you consider more fun.

I get the same question about research or plotting, usually from somebody who has been making notes about the same project for the last four or five years without actually producing any fiction. These people love that stuff, hate the actual writing part. If you are procrastinating the writing to keep world building, then it’s too much.

Quit screwing around. You aren’t creating an RPG supplement. You don’t need to make a loot table for every dungeon on your planet. At some point you need to put your happy ass in front of the keyboard and write the friggin’ story.

Have Fun

The most important thing about world building is that the author and the readers have a good time. So go make up some awesome stuff and GET PAID!

Behind the Scenes of Me Filming Gun Stories

I was in Denver yesterday filming for Joe Mantegna’s Gun Stories on the Outdoor Channel. I was on last season, and apparently people liked me so they invited me back. Most experts they use on TV shows are Serious Experts, and I’m more of Not Very Serious Expert. 🙂

Before that though I got to sit down with Michael Bane and do this interview which was posted live to the Outdoor Channel’s page.

I had a lot of fun. The other writer they’ve got on the show is Stephen Hunter, who is a really super nice guy, and a living legend. Yes. His Earl Swagger books are the reason why Earl Harbinger is named Earl.

So if you’ve got the Outdoor Channel, check it out.