Friday, October 8, 2010

VCon Report, Day 3

Sunday was the last day of the con, which meant that the time I didn't spend in panels was spent rushing around trying to get all the last-minute stuff done that I wanted to do. Fortunately, I succeeded.


Playing in Someone Else's Sandbox - Also known as "writing in other people's worlds". Not the greatest panel in terms of useful information, but certainly interesting. One of the panelists was double-booked so sent a girl who'd written and published in her universe in her place. She's seventeen! And Cherie Priest was also there, and talked at length about her work on a series that … doesn't seem to be disclosed yet, so I'll keep mum. But it was very interesting to get a behind the scenes look at the process.

How to Write a Fight Scene (Especially If You Don't Know How to Fight) - Four authors, four martial artists (some overlap) talked about writing good fight scenes—what you need to know, what you can fudge, how much detail is too much. Fascinating. I took lots of notes.

  • Fights should be communication between characters. It's not about the fighting. Each character needs to learn something or show something to the readers, or both. The way they fight, react, and prepare says a lot about who they are as a person.
  • You do need to know a little bit about the weapons in the fight, but you don't need experience wielding one. For instance, how many sharp edges does it have? Can you club people with it as well as cut or stab them? How heavy is it?
  • Developments in forging technology created developments in weapons technology. We didn't get longswords until we had steel, because previous metals were too soft to hold the length. 
  • Also be aware of culture when choosing weapons. Rapiers showed up when sword fights moved off the battlefield and the swords were adapted for civilian use.
  • You know the sshing sound swords make when they're unsheathed in movies? They don't make that sound in reality—unless you've got a special scabbard made for performance use.
  • Functional, practical martial arts are scientific, not mystical. The goal is to kill the other person before they kill you. Martial arts have to be very quick, very efficient, and immediately successful on the battlefield. You don't have time to stab someone twice when other people are coming at you.
  • Fights are fast. Seconds fast, if the fighters are skilled.
  • Pommels exist to balance the weight of the sword, cap the blade so the wielder doesn't get cut, and to hit people with. In that order.
  • Women who are injured get more psychological damage than men. I suspect this is part of our culture(s) and that societies that don't value female appearances at all will have different reactions. You have to ask yourself what the fighter values about their body. As it stands, women react badly to having their face damaged, and men react to having their hands or arms injured (because that's what holds the weapon, and the weapon's intrinsic to a warrior's identity). Also, women who are used to fights don't have the same reaction as women who aren't. They'll react like a man, or close.
  • Calluses are important to protect hands from wear (from sword hilts, guns, whatever). No callus? You'll bleed from those wear points. Building a callus? Blood blisters.
  • The smell and feel of opponents can throw you off in a fight. Blood especially will unless you're used to it, but so will sweat, bad breath, other odors.
  • Blood is slippery. So is sweat. A man who's gushing blood will be very hard to get a grip on.
  • It doesn't take much to hurt or kill someone, therefore combat is very high stakes and you want the advantage before you attack. You want to be absolutely sure of that advantage.
  • Fights are chaotic and unpredictable. Luck is a big factor.
  • Good fighters know how to deal with errors. Bad or inexperienced fighters, not so much.
  • In combat, you fall to the level of your training. You don't excel beyond your practice sessions.
  • When in doubt, be vague.
  • Don't go into detail about the moves involved. Fights are fast. You can't write them lyrically, or lecture to your readers. 
Academie Duello Demonstration - I mentioned Academie Duello in my last post, for their bartitsu demo. On Sunday, they gave a swordplay demo for an hour and a half, which was at least equally awesome, if not moreso. Short swords, longswords, rapiers, rapiers and daggers, with students showing the moves, engaging in fights at speed, and the head of the school giving explanations and history as they went along. 
  • Everyone who invented metallurgy invented swords.
  • Thrusts developed when armour was more easily pierced than sliced. 
  • Longswords are very good at being versatile and portable. You can do a lot with a longsword better than you can do with other swords. Gripping the blade in one hand and using it as a rod, for instance.
  • Longswords ring when they hit each other the right way.
  • Bucklers are more flexible for attacks than kite shields. You can manipulate them easier and still cover the important bits of your body.
  • Kite shields developed to protect knights on the battlefield, because they're good at blocking arrows. They're tough to fight around, though, because they block so much arm movement.
  • In the beginning, formal duels could be with anything, not just swords, but longer weapons tended to win because they gave you the advantage.
Robert Picardo talk - VCon totally lucked out with this, because Robert Picardo happened to be landing at the Vancouver Airport Sunday afternoon, and the con hotel wasn't very far away. (Robert Picardo is, of course, the Doctor on ST: Voyager and Woolsey in the Stargate franchise.) He was very friendly and personable, teasing several people good-naturedly, and he delivered unto us spoilers I'm not going to talk about. I'm not a Star Trek or Stargate fan, though I like the shows and love the Doctor, and went because I knew I'd kick myself if I didn't.

History is My Playground - This was another panel that wandered off-topic but stayed interesting. It was about using historical facts and research in writing, and wandered into discussions of 19th-century feminism and historical medicine. The biggest thing for writers was a point (made from the audience) that not everyone in a given era would think the way the documents suggest. There would've been progressive feminists and atheists in the Middle Ages, for instance.

Promotion in the Age of Twitter - Interesting, though if you're as much into new media as I think most of my readers are, there wasn't much to glean. Basically, when tweeting (or blogging, or facebooking), you need to give people reasons to participate in the discussion, to visit your blog/account/site, and to care about you. Don't be constantly in people's faces, selling your stuff. Spend most of your time just being you—talking about what interests you, what you're thinking, what you're learning about. People want to connect to a person, and constant ads don't give them a person to talk to.

Closing Ceremonies - There were opening ceremonies too, but they were short—"Welcome!" The closing ceremonies were longer, because the Guests of Honour needed thanking as did the volunteers and organizers, and then there were traditional, humourous awards to hand out, and then there was a charity auction. The awards were maybe a little long, and the auction was a little disappointing in terms of what things sold for. I bid on a gift certificate and got it. I didn't bid on what I didn't want, but I was tempted to, just to raise prices.

After-Party - Surprisingly fun. I sat around for four hours, nibbling and sipping, and chatting with the girl and guy I'd chatted with throughout the con, as well as other people who wandered in and out of our areas. Lots of different conversation topics, none of them dull. I left with their contact info, and they mine. Hopefully something comes of that. Also acquired two books (free), one which will round out a series I've been collecting, and another which adds to one of my Own The Canon collections.

Other highlights: Got through the con with minimal hunger and sleep deprivation. Finally took the time to look at one of the dealer tables and saw that he had actual historical artifacts! That had come out of the ground! Buckles and coins and buttons and such-like. I didn't buy, but it was fun to browse.

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