Feathered Dinosaurs: Vigilance and Room for Artistic License

I’m going to say this right up front: We have found dinosaurs with feathers. That’s a confirmed fact. Small carnivores make up most of the species with this particular trait. Velociraptor had quill knobs on its arm bones, which served as points where long feathers attached. Microraptor had four fully developed wings. Others were covered in what looks like a downy covering, possibly for insulation. There’s even a medium-sized Tyrannosaur with down on its hide (although I think T. rex in particular has been found to have scales instead, and any addition of feathers is pure speculation).

But as I look over the blogosphere and hear the words of fellow dinosaur fanatics, there arises a hysterical cry that scaly theropods (carnivorous dinosaurs), especially raptors, should be tarred and…well, feathered. Fictional treatments of dinosaurs in books, movies, and TV shows are practically burned in effigy if a small carnivore shows up naked (scaly). Tyrannosaurs and allosaurs and abelisaurs can be tolerated without down or full feathers, but God help you if there’s a Deinonychus or Ornitholestes that isn’t fuzzy.

Notice that I said fictional. As in, stories told for entertainment, which are often known for fudging scientific accuracy. That should be expected and understood, even when the creators try to be accurate. This gets you about as far as saying “You can’t hear explosions in space!” We already know that. Now are you going to sit down and watch Star Wars, or do I have to ask you to leave?

I kid you not, one unpleasant man insisted to me that the scaly Velociraptors of Jurassic Park were “abominations” even though their only crime is being outdated. Let’s get something straight, Jurassic Park was released in 1993, at which point any feathered raptors were speculative. The quill knobs on this species’s arms were examined in a paper published in 2007. Call me nuts, but “abomination” doesn’t quite fit.

Yes, he’s a real menace to scientific accuracy. You can see it in those knowledge-hating eyes.

To make matters worse, I’ve seen these self-important, melodramatic bloggers getting upset about episodes of Doctor Who and Terra Nova because they do have feathered dinosaurs, but they’re not “feathery enough.” Why count your blessings when movies and TV shows aren’t furthering your cause as hard as you want them to?

Allow a little artistic license. Come on, people know they’re not looking at real dinosaurs. The Doctor isn’t riding a real Triceratops, and Stephen Lang isn’t shooting an actual Carnotaurus. By all means, correct a museum display that shows a Deinonychus without a scrap of feathers on its skin, because that’s meant to be a scientifically accurate reconstruction. But even then, don’t lose your temper. That’s just childish.

And for the love of everything sacred and holy, stop telling me that dinosaurs had “denser” feather coatings than modern birds. That’s a little hard to establish when you point to feathers on (gasp) a dinosaur’s ankles. And when all you’ve got with dinosaurs is feather impressions in the rock…how do you know the coating was denser than on birds? This is pseudoscience at its finest, folks.

Bloggers and paleontologists, listen. I know you’re tired. You’re tired of people whining “Don’t take away my scaly raptors and replace them with foofy little peacocks with teeth!” I know you’re tired of creationists insisting that Microraptor was nothing more than a weird bird (I don’t even know that much anatomy, and even I can tell you that’s false). I know you specialize in the cutting edge discoveries of dinosaur paleontology, and a lack of feathers can be aggravating.

Nevertheless, seeing this aggravation bleeding out into long-winded rants about how important feathered dinosaurs are can get very tiresome. A raptor without feathers may be scientifically inaccurate, but it’s not a threat to scientific literacy. It’s just outdated. Don’t try saying “feathered dinosaurs are more beautiful,” either, because beauty is subjective, and some people just find a scaly raptor more badass. Too bad. Just because you have the benefit of scientific evidence doesn’t mean you can be a jerk to someone who likes scaly raptors better.

Yeah, that’s pretty cool. Image taken from Wired Magazine.

Eventually the public will come around and find feathered raptors “cool.” Don’t expect that to happen anytime soon, however, when you’re doing more whining than they are.

UPDATE: I would also like to point out, just for the heck of it, that many of the same anatomical features on Microraptor that identify it as a dinosaur (lack of a beak, teeth set into the jawbone, large antorbital fenestra, etc.) are traits shared by Archaeopteryx. For this reason, I place Archaeopteryx within the Dinosauria, rather than call it a full-fledged bird.

ADDITIONAL UPDATE: I think it’s more likely a given theropod was feathered if it was in a colder climate, such as the Antarctic Cryolophosaurus, Canadian Ornithomimids, or the Mongolian Tyrannosaur Yutyrannus. In warmer climates, they might simply not need them.

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Worldbuilding — Magic — Types of Magic-Workers

I’m doing another Wolfglen Legacy worldbuilding post here, again regarding the magic-system. Mostly this is meant to be a quick-and-dirty guide to some of the different types of magically talented people (which are a small segment of the population, according to my post on the system of magic in my world). If I develop any other types of magic-workers, I will add them on in another post.

As always, criticism or suggestions are welcome. Hope you enjoy it!

BASIC INFO

Theoretically, it’s possible for a given magic-worker to do most or all of these things, but their expenditure of energy is usually enormous outside of their specialty. A seer, for instance, can spend hardly any effort in seeing what’s ahead of her on the road for dozens of miles, but could break into a sweat if she uses her powers to lift a large book several feet into the air.

As said in the last post on my magic system, active spells cannot directly affect living tissue, apart from the magic-user’s own body (although the spell’s physical effects can affect others, and elixirs and certain objects already imbued with magic can have an effect). Different cultures and languages will have different names for these varying ranks.

A magic-worker’s strengths and proclivities are largely dictated by his or her physical environment during the magic’s formative stages. If there is a lot of combat or destruction around them during that time — anything from the rending of bodies to earthquakes to the demolition of houses — their magic is more likely to be violent and destructive in nature. Or if they get little sleep and use their eyes more actively than most (reading, hunting, picking out faces in a crowd, etc.), they are more likely to become a seer. If there is much water around them, they’ll have a greater sensitivity to controlling water. And so on.

VARIOUS TYPES

Seer ~ Can transfer the sense of sight from their eyes to their seer’s gem, a transparent stone about 9 inches long and made of diamond, smooth and shaped like a flattened egg. They can then hover and guide this stone a great distance from their body; some of the strongest seers have been known to send their stones almost a hundred miles away and could still call it back. The farther the stone goes, the weaker their sight through it. If the stone is broken or goes too far while their sight is still attached to it, they will go permanently blind.

“Warrior” ~ Loosely defined, someone with magic that is immediately practical for causing destruction on the battlefield, and who has been appointed to do so. Typically, this means they specialize in spells involving explosions, heat, or shockwaves.

Carrimva ~ Magic-workers who can change the color of an object without using pigment, even though they are often nicknamed “painters” or “dyers.”

Witch ~ Any magic-worker who has cast spells through a pitch diamond (a Founder crystal altered from its original state). This process permanently alters the way magic pours through their body and mind, making their spells harsher and harder to control.

Hilnarra ~ Someone who can sculpt, fracture, or otherwise alter the structure of a solid physical substance. They are often renowned artists and craftsmen, especially when they focus on glass, wood, metal, ceramic, or stone. Ice, dead bones, and leather are also popular materials for them to use.

Conduit ~ A magic-worker who can turn themselves into a channel for magic to flow from one place to another, rather than turning it into physical energy. The most common use of this talent is putting energy into crystals that are depleted and can be recharged, or to imbue mundane objects with magic for a spell.

SUPPLEMENTAL NOTE: THE SARNOUTHAN SOCIETY OF MAGIC-WORKERS

Sarnoutha is the country where the first book takes place, and like in most developed nations, its magic-workers have their own institution. Through some donations and a lot of private funding, the Society takes care of its members’ education and training. Its members are divided into seven ranks based on ability. From least to greatest:

Fledgling

Conjurer

Druid

Magician

Wizard

Summoner

Warlock

“The Hobbit” – Second Trailer

My day has gotten off to a tremendous start, thanks in part to this astounding new trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I am sitting here, grinning ear-to-ear.

Even if I was worried about Jackson expanding his two movies into three (which I’m not), those worries would be completely dead by now. I am thrilled at the promise and quality on display here. See you at the midnight showing!

The Everwind Times: A Newspaper for Another World

Author and friend Janden Daniel Hale (a pen name for Dan Donche) has begun promoting his dark science fiction series Everwind in a lot of unique ways online. There are the posts on Facebook and the interviews a lot of authors do, but I like his unique style in using spoken word and graphic design to build up a deeper online picture. So far he has a few short stories published on Amazon here and here, but there is a lot more to his world than that (you can read another short story for free here).

I’m posting about him here to show you one of the ways he is promoting his series: a newspaper chronicling events in his intricately built and detailed fictional world. The Everwind Times is a refreshing, creative way to immerse readers, generate interest, and show you more of the gritty, harsh setting Hale has created. The fascinating articles include topics like “1 in 3 Eggs Sold Are Bad – Here’s How to Tell Them Apart” and “String of Murders Linked to Cursed Deck of Arcanum Cards.” If you’re a worldbuilding nut like me, this is one site that is especially worthy of your attention.

Even if dark sci-fi isn’t your thing, I recommend giving it a look, especially if you’re a writer fixing to do some promotion on your own. Marketing is an area where more authors than ever before are taking the reins. The internet (and physical promotional objects, from coasters to pens) has taken this marketing in a lot of strange but exciting directions. Maybe it will give you some ideas as well.

Are there any neat strategies like this that you’re using to promote your work? Are they more physical promotional tools like paperweights, decorated coffee mugs, or T-shirts? Or are you using the many available tools online to pique peoples’ curiosity?

What Are Your Goals as a Writer?

No real advice or musings here. Rather, this is a post of inquiry. I’d like to hear from my readers who are also writers. Specifically, I’d love to know, what keeps you going? Do you dangle a carrot before you that encourages you to keep typing, revising, submitting, or even thinking? Heck, it doesn’t have to be a writing-related goal.

It seems we all need incentive of one form or another. For myself, I have an agent expecting the full novel whenever I can send it to her. So, I have sworn off on watching certain movies until the book is finally revised and sent off (if you’re wondering, the movies are The Hunger Games, The Avengers, and even the beloved John Carter).

So, how about you? Any goals you want to try speeding along by giving yourself a reward at the finish line?

Characters Need to Feel the Burn

…whether by real fire, a horrible boss who’s always on his case, or a gallon of coffee in his lap.

One of the lessons I’ve been learning and applying recently in fiction writing is that characters (especially main characters) should suffer in some way, throughout the story. They cannot only have fun as the tale goes through its motions, and they cannot be given everything they want, certainly not at the moment they want it — where’s the drama in ordering a cup of coffee and getting it without incident?

And they can’t always shrug it off when they aren’t getting their way. If nothing is important to them, why would the reader think it important? Protagonists need to be hit where it hurts, because then the reader is more invested in their story. Pain breeds empathy, and the more your reader can connect with your character, the better.

To demonstrate, I will link to a hysterically funny clip from the Robot Chicken Star Wars parody, about Emperor Palpatine’s visit to the second Death Star. All copyrights and such belong to Adult Swim, Robot Chicken, Cartoon Network, etc. Go check it out.

Are you back? All right. That should start to give you a general idea of what happens to characters worth reading about: throughout the story, things keep happening that get in their way. Whether it’s from external conflict or their inner flaws and fears, characters’ journeys should not be easy.

Keep the pressure on your character by having new tortures thrown at them, or else one half of the novel will rivet your eyes to the page, and the other half will drag you, bored, through cold and dull mud. Readers want to read about people triumphing over adversity, not going for a pleasant stroll in the countryside without drama or danger.

Of course, there are many ways to make someone suffer, and different people should encounter adversity in various ways. Depending on the effect and the kind of story you’re telling, your character doesn’t need to be in constant pain or terror. It seems less than honest when the character (and reader) gets no chance at all to breathe and gather their thoughts. It varies, and you might have to trust your instinct a little. Tristan Thorn got to relax, smile, and take in the scenery quite a bit in Stardust, and Buttercup and Westley had many tender moments together in The Princess Bride, with episodes of adventure and peril in between. On the other hand, Arya Stark hardly ever catches a breather from trauma and tragedy in Game of Thrones, and Kvothe in Name of the Wind similarly has a devil of a time navigating a city or a magical academy on his own initiative.

Even if they win in the end, your beloved characters should get a rough ride. Now for the real challenge: to try applying that in my own work….

Villains, Punishment, and Fiction

Electric Chair photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

I decided to offer some thoughts closely related to another recent post, about how we view evil and punishment in fiction. Generally we are fine with the bad guy getting what he deserves, except in cases when the villain wins for the purposes of the story and the character development. But there is an opinion I’ve seen floating around pockets of the blogosphere that looks at punishment itself as if it is barbarism, even when a fictional character gets his just desserts.

Everyone’s still reeling from the massacre in Aurora, CO. My prayers go to the families and friends of all the victims. I can’t imagine how hard it will be for them to find comfort and acceptance in the face of this indescribable horror. It’s heartbreaking when we hear of another shooting. We have a hard time contemplating the kind of acidic evil it takes to point a gun at a crowd and shoot indiscriminately, a jolt of recoil ending the life of someone’s daughter or son. We recognize a need for the perpetrator to face justice because of their actions.

I have seen and heard of many dark things, and still I cannot picture the kind of monstrous transformation I would have to go through before I did something similar to what James Holmes did. Make no mistake: all of us are capable of such evil. All too often I underestimate the darkness that resides in my heart and think I couldn’t possibly become James Holmes or Charles Manson.

It’s not a question of “Can I?” but “Will I?” There but for the grace of God go I, as the saying goes. Even though we have a conscience and can choose good, the potential for evil is always there. It’s not restricted to sociopaths, the mentally disturbed, or people who subscribe to a different worldview. The key lies with human choice.

And since I think good fiction is true to life, I believe we should integrate that understanding into fiction — the realization that tremendous evil can come from anyone. Maybe that realization is why the notion of punishing others makes some people squeamish. Almost no one wants punishment for a crime to catch up with them, after all. By nature, punishment is rough, hard, and always should be treated as a somber affair. Some people are so perturbed by punishment, they start talking as if it shouldn’t even be delivered.

Even with fictional villains, some don’t like the idea of a villain receiving it. I won’t name names, but I know of three or four specific people (though I am sure there are many others) who have a sneering disdain for “good vs. evil” stories when good curb-stomps evil. As if these stories were crafted to appeal to people with anger management issues. They prefer stories where the ideals of forgiveness and mercy are always going to have the last say; good triumphs over evil by mercy, or diplomatic talk, or using something abstract but attractive (like beauty or decency) to entice someone away from dark intentions. They’re very emotionally disturbed every time the side of good throws a fist.

Or a hammer. I just had to use this photo again.

They think beauty can save the world. They can’t imagine a version of the Joker who isn’t just misunderstood and won’t be wiled away from his anarchy by the right painting or poem. Every bad guy becomes Darth Vader, bad on the outside but with a good streak on the inside that will surely enlighten them in the right circumstances.

To their mind, seeking punishment makes you a vengeful, vindictive, even cruel individual. Even when you honestly look for justice and not petty revenge, they can’t tell the difference. Most likely, a lot of these people don’t know what it really means to be the victim of true evil, never knowing what the need for justice tastes like to someone who has been beaten into the ground. I don’t know what it tastes like, either. I haven’t had to face that kind of darkness just yet. But there is more to punishment than getting even.

This romanticized view of human nature, that evil men surely will listen to diplomacy and kindness, crumbles away when we look at the implacable evils in the real world. I can already hear Alfred Pennyworth’s speech from The Dark Knight:

“Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

That’s why punishment is needed. That’s why it has a vital place in fiction. Because some men and women can’t be talked out of their depravity and injustice, and will not seek forgiveness. We should forgive them anyway, but forgiveness is not antithetical to ensuring they are punished.

Of course, not every story needs or benefits from villains. Some have their focus elsewhere. Sometimes it is best to show a villain mercy, or gently lead them away from their evil. And sometimes when there is a villain, they get away with everything. We need those stories as well, of course. But we also need to keep seeing villains punished in some stories, to remind us of the need to punish them in real life. If we keep saying “Oh, how sad,” at every single tragedy, and silence the inner cry for a penalty for a senseless and evil act, we will inevitably look for solutions to human evil in the wrong place.

Again, the need for punishment arises out of human choice. Mercy and forgiveness form a beautiful language, one I wish everyone understood and spoke. But some people refuse to learn it.