Posted in Exercises

Exercise: Finding Imagery

I’m one of those people that constantly change the wallpaper on my computer so it’s probably not surprising I find the phrase ‘a picture’s worth a thousand words’ to be true. Even less surprising, pictures can spawn some fantastic ideas, and since we’re inundated with images in modern times, there’s a simple exercise for when you need a little help inspiring a story or working out a mood.

I’ve seen them referred to as mood boards and story boards, but the idea is the same: collect pictures that match your story. These could be pictures of settings you want to include, or symbolic representations of themes. There are also a number of different ways to do this.

General Story: Grab images that inspire ideas for the story. These might be pictures of your characters, landscape and building shots. Collect them together and see what sort of mood they all incorporate. This can help expose underlying tones in the story elements.

Setting: If you have settings you want to include, search for pictures that give you clear details of what it looks like. Think of what kind of place you’re looking for like an abandoned building, a ballroom, a hiking trail and collect the ones you like the best for your story. This can help you describe that location later.

Character: Just as above, look for pictures that match your characters. If you want, you can take this a step further and make a collection for each character. Don’t just look for faces though, also look for things you can include for interests and personality quirks. This helps you get an overview of your character for development beyond just basic description.


Long Prompt No. 18

Long Prompt (18)

You catch a group of teens burying something in your backyard. They beg you not to dig it up.

As always I’d love to see any responses you come up with! Please feel free to share.

Posted in blogging, writing

On Not Judging Myself

I think it’s safe to say that every writer on the planet has had a moment where they’ve faced internal judgement. That might be a case of ‘why can’t I write like Big Author’ or a case of ‘my writing is awful’. Internal judgement is a lot like self-doubt in that it crops up repeatedly, and that it comes up again and again. They’re little moments that make us feel like giving up.

Earlier this week I had one of those moments where I faced down that internal judgement, wondering why I couldn’t write as many books as some of the authors I admired. I’ve written one so far but a lot of the writers I look up to have fix, six, and even twenty or more books written. Some of them earned multi-book deals from their first book. Others make their living from writing.

Here’s the flip side of that: That’s not every single writer. It’s not every single author. And very few of those with multiple books or a sustainable writing income are at the start of their writing career. They’ve been working to get to that point for years.

Which is where I have to pull up a mirror and face the fact that the people I’m comparing myself too aren’t me.

The fact of the matter is that no, I haven’t written a multitude of books–yet. No, writing doesn’t provide a steady income, never mind being my primary means of living–yet. That yet is the keyword there. Getting to that point takes work. A lot of work. Writing is a long-term road trip.

The people I keep comparing myself to aren’t at the same point in that road trip. They may not even be taking the same route, or have the same end destination. I can’t compare myself to them because while yes, we’re all writing, we’re not all doing so in the same manner.

Since I can’t compare myself to others, the only person left to compare myself to is myself. Admittedly, that’s a dangerous thing to do. Most of the writing I have is very much still in the draft stage. Some of them have so many plot holes they’re like a sieve. They have enough grammatical errors they could be considered some sort of disordered dictionary. My word count alternates between ridiculous fillers to needing at least at least another twenty words per paragraph–all on the same page.

On the one hand, comparing my own writing to itself is problematic, because the writing isn’t technically ‘good’.

Here’s the thing: it’s a draft. The only reason I know what ‘good’ writing looks like is because I’ve read hundreds of books. Books that have been edited and re-edited before my eyes ever saw them. If I’m comparing my early writing with the writing that is again, at a different point, it’s still comparing myself to someone else.

On the other hand, comparing my writing is the best thing, because at least I know what sort of work I have to do. My worst writing is still writing, and that’s at least a step ahead of not-having-written. If I can get a step ahead of not-having-written then I can get ahead of every other problem later.

Maybe this draft doesn’t live up to my expectations. I can fix it later.

Maybe this section is just boring me. I can skip ahead and fix it later.

Maybe my writing skills just aren’t high enough to reach my vision. I can improve those skills by writing more.

Maybe this idea sounds too much like someone else’s idea. Every ‘new idea’ is just a remix of an old idea.

Maybe there’s too many other writers writing. If they can get published, so can I.

Part of not letting that internal judgement get to me is in answering all of the the things I judge myself for with a little bit of compassion and logic. I may not have a dozen books written–but there’s also nothing to say I won’t eventually have that many written. I may not have a perfect draft–but it’s only a draft.


Posted in worldbuilding, writing

Worldbuilding Introduction

Worldbuilding is a huge part of writing genres like fantasy and science fiction. It’s also a large part of games, both tabletop and video. Whether it’s a sprawling other-worldly planet like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, or something as simple as a hidden layer of magic in a real city, worldbuilding is the key to your fictional setting.

If you ask ‘what is worldbuilding’ the answer is pretty simple and straightforward. Worldbuilding is building any fictional setting regardless of size. That makes it a core component of fantasy and sci-fi. It pops up plenty in other genres too, usually in smaller doses.

Depending on how deep you go, worldbuilding can be expansive and large enough to cover entire tomes on its own. How much you need can be dependent on both how much you want to explore your world, and the requirements of your story. Aside from what the world looks like physically, there are also cultural aspects to consider and cover. Daily life is another aspect that can be affected–your characters won’t have to run an errand specifically to get gas if they’re traveling around by horse, but they will have a lot more daily chore requirements.

Because of the amount that can go into worldbuilding, I’m kicking off an ongoing series. Today I’m starting by looking at the different ways of building a world.

There are a lot of ways of building a world. Random Generation is one way and can be useful to provide a basic structure. Generators can be found for everything from city layouts to political maps. Although this takes out a lot of the work of coming up with names and the picky details, it is random so it can and will contradict itself in some places, which is something to be on the lookout for. If continuity isn’t a concern but time is, random generation is extremely useful.

Questionnaires are another method. The internet is full of question lists to help you figure out what your world is doing and give you an idea of things you may have overlooked. These can get extremely detailed and are really thought provoking in some cases (have you ever thought about what happens to the waste your fictional people produce?), but answering those questions can also be time consuming, both on writing the answers down and on researching examples to see how it works in the real-world. If you need fully-customized answers and have the time to make sure everything works nicely together, this is a fantastic method for building a detailed world.

Expansion is my favorite method, and sort of a middle-ground between generation and questionnaires. By starting with one level (be that a kingdom or a tiny shop somewhere) and building on the general idea, you end up ‘nesting’ locations. The tiny shop is located in this little town, which is located in this region, which is part of this kingdom and so on and so forth. Name each level as you go through it (Sam’s Shop of Contraband Sales for example), and work out the general idea of what it’s for and what it does before moving up or down the level as needed. This gives you a general overview of the world as a whole. It’s less time-consuming than questionnaires while maintaining continuity, but it’s not as detailed.

Of course, there’s also nothing to stop you from blending all three methods together. If you need an idea to start, a randomly generated town or city can give you a good base for expansion. If you have a general overview of the world but need more details, filling out a questionnaire or two is a good way to go.