Posted in Exercises, General

On Listening

Most people would probably refer to it as ‘eavesdropping’ but frankly, that sounds a little rude. Overhearing might be a little bit nicer, but if we’re going for honesty, listening in to other people’s conversations is rude. As a writer, it’s one of the best places to find ideas, both for stories and characters.

Out-of-context snippets are filled with questions, largely because of the lack of context. When you don’t have any information on a conversation besides one piece, it can ignite a lot of questions. When you need something to spark idea however, the almost nonsensical things you overhear provides a lot of good sparks and probably more than a little fuel.

I make it a habit to keep a notebook with me. Usually it’s just a small one I carry in my purse so I can jot notes down (usually right alongside my shopping list). Notebooks being what they are however, they do eventually get filled, and I finally got around to transferring most of the notes in my previous one to the computer, which is what brought up today’s post. Sometimes the best way to find an idea is to listen.

Overall, I have about two hundred lines so far.  Some of my favorites:

  • “What’s she up to today, besides basking in her own glory?”
  • “The frozen broccoli is only for emergencies.”
  • “He strikes me as a decent fellow for a penguin.”
  • “You do not have a good selection of funeral attire.”
  • “Well I had her veil so they knew not to shoot me.”
  • “My blood pressure disagrees.”
  • “Tell Santa I don’t give a damn what he says.”

As an exercise: The next time you’re out in public, listen to the conversations around you. Don’t intrude on them, but take note of interesting lines. Without the context of the original conversation, what lines and snippets inspire new stories?


One Word Prompt: Mystic


This week’s one word prompt is Mystic. As always you’re welcome to share! I’d love to see any responses you come up with.

Posted in Stories

Short Story: Beauty

Magazines scattered across the bed, each one meticulously circled for the best tips, the best products, the best looks. The desk had been overtaken by every possible product—face masks, toners, eye creams, lip liners, glosses, mascara, shadows, highlighters and bronzers, all of it painting a rainbow of color from neutral to neon.

Sarah sat in the middle of her rug, staring at her open closet door and at the myriad shoes lining the shelf below overcrowded hangers.

This was beautiful, she was told. Beauty was having the best looks, the smoothest skin, the shiniest hair. Beauty was being someone who knew the fashion trends, who knew how to coordinate outfits.

Beauty was a lot of work and it offered nothing but emptiness as she stared at it.

The front door opened with a rattle and faint creak. “Honey?” Her mother’s voice cut through the quiet of the house.

“In my room,” she called.

The moments that followed were noisy. Her mother’s keys were set on the side table, clinking together. The thud of shoes being kicked off into the front closet. A clatter of something else being set down.

When her mother did appear in her doorway, it was with a soft smile and bright eyes. There was no color on her perfectly shaped lips. She’d pinned her dark tresses back in a practical, simple bun which left messy strands dangling on the one side. The blue scrubs of her hospital uniform made her figure almost blocky.

“Everything okay?” Gentleness touched her tone.

“Yeah,” Sarah answered and tried to smile.

Her mother sighed and came in, carefully moving the magazines up so she could sit without destroying the order they’d been in. At last she inhaled. “Did you talk to your father?”

“Yeah,” Sarah answered. “He and Mary are going to Italy. They won’t be back until after my party. He said he’d send me a present.”

Silence filled the room before her mother inhaled. “Well, what are you going to ask him for?”

“I don’t know,” she said and shifted so she could lean against her mother’s legs. One hand came down to stroke Sarah’s hair; dark and voluminous as her mother’s. “I was just thinking about it. I don’t really need anything.”

“Then don’t ask for what you need, ask him for something you want.”

What she wanted was for her father to be there for once. For him to spend time with her, rather than sending her another gift from some exotic location.

What she wanted was to be pretty enough to get him to pay attention.

“I don’t know what I want,” she murmured.

Her mother laughed and bent forward, kissing the top of her head. “Well think on it,” she said. “In the meantime, you need to eat. You only get pretty when you take care of your body, and that means dinner. How about Chinese?”

Sarah thought about it. “Can we have sloppy joes instead?”

“Sure, if you don’t mind making a salad to go with it.”

“Okay, but let put my stuff away.”

Her mother laughed and stood up. “It does look a little demolished in here. Just meet me in the kitchen.”

She wanted to be beautiful.

Beautiful just like her mother.

Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Building a Magic System

Being a fantasy writer, one of the biggest parts of building a world often includes creating a magic system. Personally it’s also one of my favorite parts. Writing in itself is a kind of magic, but where my ability to make things happen is limited to what happens on the page, the limits are entirely set by the rules of your world.

Any magic system needs to hit three points: the rules, the limits and the costs. Magic in itself can very well take any form you please, be that the wand-waving spells in Harry Potter, to elemental prowess from Avatar and even into psionic powers such as in Matilda. Regardless of the form, those three points dictate how magic works.

Rules define what magic is. This includes the form it takes, what the power source is and who can have it. This also covers any laws or regulations you may have. Consider things like if there are uses of magic that might be illegal, or if magic is outlawed entirely, if there are ways of using it legally. When determining a power source also consider if there’s a way to measure how strong magic is, and what the difference in power levels might be. As you figure out who can and can’t have magic, also look at when magic most commonly expresses itself; after all you may not want a toddler with the ability to demolish buildings.

Limits are self-explanatory. What can magic do and what can’t it do? It also helps to know what happens when someone attempts to push passed the limits of what can be accomplished with magic.

Costs of magic splits between physical cost and material cost. Physical cost includes energy, willpower or even lifespan. Once you’ve determined what a magic user pays to physically activate their magic, consider if they can push the cost off onto someone or something else. This may cross over into material cost: what does your character need to direct it? This may include things like well-known spell ingredients eye of newt, the magic wand and books. For systems that require learning, this is another part of cost: what it takes to gain magic. Keep in mind as well that not every system has a material cost.

Addressing the rules, limits and costs of your magic system gives you a framework to build specific details from such as spells, rituals and magical items. It can also open up new questions as you flesh out the system, helping you solidify and diversify magic in your world.