The Fictorians

Archive for the ‘World-building’ Category

Hot Fun in the Summertime

3 June 2014 | 2 Comments » | fictorians

Guy Anthony De Marco

A guest post by Guy Anthony De Marco

As the summer approaches, there are more items and events that will be tugging on your availability. Full-time writers with several years of discipline under their belt have an easier time saying “no” to joining in on the fun when there’s a deadline looming, but what about the part-timers or those who just made the jump to full-timer?

First off, let’s have a quick discussion about writing. It’s a career or, for some, a creative outlet. In order to write about characters, one has to experience life. Locking yourself in a basement is not only bad for your health (think radon and rickets), but it may lead to a regression in your ability to write realistic characters. Plan your day so you can go out and have some fun and still have time to write your daily word count. Depriving yourself of social intercourse, fresh air, sunlight, and fun may lead to resentment towards your writing, with symptoms including writer’s block and a lack of enthusiasm for writing in general.

With that said, here’s three ways to combine writing and having fun social interactions.

1. Take your current characters with you.

No, don’t smuggle your expensive Macbook Air to the beach. Make a mental list or, if needed, take a couple of index cards with you concerning upcoming interactions between your characters. For example, you have four fighters that are going to a rough neighborhood to stay at a particular inn. How can they interact without sounding like genetic clones?

With these characters in mind, listen to the people around you on the beach. There should be plenty of conversations you can tap into, and having a bunch of people wearing as little as possible tends to lead to a lot of bravado and one-upsmanship. Listen to how they joke around, how they (hopefully) good-naturedly poke fun at each other. Listen to the words they choose, the cadence of their voices, and look at the expressions on their faces. You can get a solid idea how to make your characters sound like different people (and not just projections of you saying the same things in the same manner for all four characters.)

Once you’ve heard enough, move on to the next scene with your characters and find someone who can help expand that scene into something wonderful.

 2. What’s that smell?

Hopefully, that funny smell isn’t you.

Scents are interesting things. They can trigger the strangest memories, or they can make you think of faraway places. Unfortunately, too few people use the sense of smell in their writing because they’re so dependent on visual descriptions.

For this example, let us assume you’re walking to a nice restaurant in New York City to meet a friend. There are plenty of scents surrounding you, and these smells can help your worldbuilding become “real” to your audience. Since it’s summer in Brooklyn, you may smell the boiling hot dogs and the bite of fresh sauerkraut from a cart on the corner, which makes your tummy rumble. Passing by an old Italian delicatessen can fill your nose with spicy dill pickles floating in a wooden barrel and the oily goodness of a Genoa salami getting sliced thin for the customer at the counter. Add in a bit of spicy brown mustard for a fresh pastrami sandwich being assembled by the daughter of the owner and you increase your pace because your hunger has just kicked into high gear.

Continuing on, your lungs get filled with a cool, moist smell of water evaporating off of the asphalt. The firemen have opened up one of the fire hydrants to flush out the water system, and you can hear the laughter of several dozen kids of many ethnicities, all playing together in the spray without a care in the world. Nearby, the lady who has a small fragrant rose garden next to her brownstone smiles at you, so you stop to request a rose to give to your friend. She obliges, and adds in a gardenia from the window-box by her kitchen window. Your friend will certainly appreciate the gesture. Perhaps this will be the day you confess you’ve been crazy about your friend for years.

Two scenes, two sets of smells that evoke memories and emotions in your readers.

 3. Shadows and Light

This can be a fun game to play, and I do it all the time. I try to imagine what someone else sees and feels. If I’m sitting in my car at a long stoplight in Denver, I try to look around and notice what’s really going on, paying attention to the things that are normally ignored as extraneous background clutter. For example, last week I watched a couple have an argument on the sidewalk at a bus stop. I picked one of them and tried to imagine everything they saw from their perspective. I couldn’t hear their words, so I came up with a reason for the argument. Because he was carrying two bags from a local supermarket, I scripted that they ran into an old flame of hers in one of the aisles. He didn’t like how she lit up when she saw him, and he’s now feeling that he’s not good enough for her. She wasn’t saying much back to him, so I imagined her tapping her foot, holding in a lot of the anger she’s feeling about how he conducts himself around other women. Finally she blurts out the way he’s feeling is exactly how she feels when she catches him staring at a younger woman’s figure. Perhaps it’s a breakthrough for the couple, or perhaps it’s the end of the relationship, all because they decided to go to the store for some chips and salsa.

At the next light, I notice someone waiting for the signal to turn green in the opposite lane. They’re languidly sliding their gaze over everything, yet not actually seeing what they’re looking at. I imagine the elderly driver looking into my car and notice I’m watching her. It’s fun to imagine someone else peering at you, and trying to figure out how they perceive you. Perhaps she gets startled that someone is watching her, wondering if that big scary-looking man is a criminal searching for someone to rob. Or perhaps I remind her of a friend of her ex-husband, and that triggers a flood of memories and emotions.

 4. It’s Your Turn

Don’t assume that because you’re not sitting in front of a keyboard that you’re not writing. The tough part of being an author involves working things out in your head. Physically poking keys with your fingers is the final process of dumping your brain-story into a medium that other folks can read and enjoy. You can do a lot of your “writing” while getting out in the world, talking to people besides yourself and the television, and avoiding rickets and writers block.

Guy Anthony De Marco Bio:
Guy Anthony De Marco is a speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® finalist; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia, GuyAndTonya.com, and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com

Islandia – A Utopian Love Story

15 May 2014 | Comments Off | Ace Jordyn

Masterful in its attention to detail and a very human story, Islandia is a quiet classic – quiet in that it hasn’t garnered the publicity that many classics have, but a classic because its story and writing endure. Considered utopian literature, Islandia is a pre-industrial civilization which respects women and that confronts early twentieth century colonialism. However, it’s much more than a commentary on political and economic realities in the early 1900’s, it is world building at its best – of not only the geography, social, economic and political structures, but of a society and its heart. The depth of its world building has been compared to Tolkien.

IslandiaJohn Lang is hired as the American Consul at the behest of his uncle and other parties, with the expectation that he will promote their economic aspirations and will convince Islandia to end its isolation. Excited to reunite with an Islandian friend he made in college, Lang is still shocked to find himself in an agrarian, low-tech world. As he learns about this strange new world, he learns about himself and finds himself at odds with his mission, his values and his heart. Lang’s struggle is best summed up in a review on Goodreads by Terry:

‘Lang finds himself divided, a part of him struggling to be a good consul, loyal to his home and profession with the ulterior motive that his success at winning his country’s desires will also bring him his own personal ones, though at the cost of all that his closest Islandian friends hold dear; and so an even stronger part of himself fights against his own ‘better’ judgement and all concepts of what is realistic or pragmatic in the name of a beautiful ideal that will mean the end of his own personal hopes and dreams.’

Islandia was a world imagined by Wright since his childhood. He never shared it with anyone and he had written thousands of pages about the place and its people. Upon his untimely death, his wife taught herself to type and created a 2,000 page novel. Their daughter edited it to 1,000 pages and it was first published in 1942.

This novel is not an action adventure with a fast paced plot and some readers may find the initial story set up a little slow. Neither does it fit into the modern romance genre. It is a captivating drama which draws the reader into a world so completely that one longs to visit it. Thus, it is more than a utopian exercise on the values of the industrial society, its politics and impact on its people – it is a story about personal values and understanding one’s and another’s heart. Perhaps that’s why this novel has so quietly endured.

It is also a tribute of love to a man who so fully imagined and lived this world. Had it not been for the love and dedication of his wife and daughter, this poignant society which so richly understands itself, would never have been realized so that we too may experience it.

For all these reasons Islandia has so quietly endured and become a classic. On so many levels it is a Utopian Love Story – about falling in and out of love with one’s family, oneself, another, one’s country and with a world so different from the one we know. Islandians would tell you that there are four words to express love: amia – love of friends, alia – love of place and family land and lineage, ania – desire for marriage and commitment, and apia – sexual attraction. These are indeed, utopian concepts of the heart.

The Aliens Have Left the Building

30 April 2014 | Comments Off | Colette

NA cover_jimmy gibbs1I hope everyone had fun with our themes this month. “Two aliens walked into a bar…” has certainly turned out some interesting pieces. Same prompt, yet every single person wrote with different voice, pov, concepts, and the list goes on. The most wonderful thing about pov, in my opinion, is that every perspective is different. It’s those differences that keep the stories interesting.

I’ve been amazed this month, as I’ve come down to the final wire with publishing my first novel, at how much my personal perspectives on publishing have changed. Formatting isn’t so hard, but formatting to the acceptance of multiple retailers is a near-nightmare. Kobo and Ingram Spark were easier than expected, while Smashwords and B&N had some unexpected curves in the road. Amazon was easiest, as expected. Getting a venue for a launch party…no sweat. Getting the word out and getting everything ready, way more time-consuming than I thought. I could go on, but you get the idea. Perspectives change in life and so should the perspectives of our characters. In my newly released novel, Noble Ark, the main protagonist hates all aliens, is head over heels for the handsome man in her life, and thinks she knows the goals that matter most. As circumstances challenge her beliefs, her perspective changes, and she grows as a person. We’ve all experienced this in some way, and we continue to do so on a daily/monthly/yearly basis. We must make sure our characters resonate with that same experience–a changing perspective.

We’ve received some great tips in that regard from our Fictorians as they covered topics like: multiple pov, YA, scene-setting, controlling characters, secondary charactersvoice, showing through pov, unfamiliar pov, extraordinary characters, fan etiquette, author-to-fan etiquette, and we’d like to welcome our newest Fictorians member, Kim May, and thank her for fabulous information about selling to small bookstores.

I’d like to also make a special shout out of thanks to our amazing guests this month. Such variety!

Randy McCharles runs some of the conventions we love: How do they choose their guests? Find out.

The librarian perspective was shared by Shelley Reddy.

How does a book review show up on NPR? Ann Cummins knows all about it.

Heidi Berthiaume and Victoria Morris joined forces to explain the essential role of the Book Babe.

Ever wondered about those elusive publishers and editors with the magazines?Joseph Thompson, publisher of Isotropic Fiction, talked to us about the editing, rejection, and acceptance process.

Author of the Ronan Trilogy, Travis Heermann, took us into the reasons to love all types and sources of literature.

The talented Suzanne Helmigh agreed to give us an inside look at the artist’s point of view, telling us,”An artist only needs three things.

And hanker up a down-home accent, y’all, while you read Guy de Marco’s post about how to understand the crazy stuff we write (and when not to write it).

Now I will close by saying, all of the aliens, in all their varied states, have left the building. Time to shut down the glittering disco ball, turn off the lights, and go home for a good night’s sleep. Join us next month (tomorrow) as Gregory D. Little introduces the hidden gems of the publishing world.

Writing Who You’re Not

11 April 2014 | Comments Off | mary

Two aliens walked into a bar. “Greetings, Earthling,” they said to the bartender. “Take us to your leader!”

That was the point where Dar’xyl threw the book across the room. “Human authors can’t write us worth scrap!”
#

While I was studying for my Master’s degree in English, I sat through several classroom arguments to the effect of, “This (male) author can’t write realistic female characters; this (female) author fetishizes gay men when she writes; this (Black) author shouldn’t write a book about Native Americans; no, wait, it’s okay when this Black author writes about Native Americans, but not when these White authors do.” I left these classes wondering if I dared ever write about anyone who came from a culture, ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation or any background and experience different from my own.

If I only wrote characters rooted in my own personal experience, all the people in my stories would be female, white, under 40, Canadian, and of German, English or Jewish heritage. There would be no Asian people, no transgender people, no Muslim people, no elderly people, and no men. The setting would always be late-twentieth or early-twenty-first century, Planet Earth.

I wouldn’t want to write in this world. It’s got no relation to the world around me—it doesn’t feel real—and I’ve yet to think of a compelling and logical reason why it would be peopled only with characters whose experiences parallel my own. In order to write a realistic, compelling world, you’ll probably have to create at least a few characters whose experiences are rooted in backgrounds you don’t share (unless you’re writing about, for example, an isolated village in China where everyone is probably Chinese; or a colony where a plague has killed all the men; or another scenario where minimal diversity is a critical component of the setting).

On the other hand, it’s one thing to make your character a different faith, gender, age or ethnicity, but another thing to write such a person realistically. Oftentimes authors, sometimes unconsciously, fall into stereotypes when they try to write from a different point of view. Take some time to do some research and understand what experiences, attitudes, and cultural values might shape such a person’s thinking and worldview. Choose carefully what story you want to tell – is it a story best told by someone with personal experience? For example, I’m comfortable writing a story with a gay male lead, but I’m not comfortable writing a story about what it’s like to be a gay man in modern Canada.

Also understand that just because two characters come from the same religion/ethnic background/culture/etc., doesn’t mean their worldviews are going to be the same. Losing an arm, for example, will be a different experience for the rich person who buys a cutting-edge prosthetic limb than it will be for the poor thief who now has to make a living with just one hand. Being Black is going to be a different experience for the Black kid who’s the only Black person in her entire high school than it is for the Black kid who grows up surrounded by a community – and that community’s experience will differ depending on if it’s in 1990s Nova Scotia or 1960s Alabama. Being Christian can run the gamut from Mother Teresa to the Westboro Baptist Church, and so on.

The best weapon in the writer’s arsenal is the ability to imagine and empathize with another’s point of view. This was a challenge to me in a recent short story in which the main character is a religious leader, but his own belief is best described as agnostic. I was tired of – yes, a stereotype, in which every character who is a religious leader is always either highly devout, or else utterly corrupt. I wanted to create a character who wrestles with his faith, who tries to fulfill the duties of his job despite deep personal misgivings.

I’ve always been a strongly religious person, so I had to imagine: what experiences made this person an atheist in his youth? What experiences made him suspect that there might be a God after all? Why did he choose his current faith over all the others? Why is he still unsure that his God is real? Writing this character helped me imagine an experience different from any I’ve ever had myself.

This is one of the great powers of fiction: the ability to make the reader understand, empathize, and see the world through different eyes—to experience what it’s like to be someone else. Sometimes that “someone else” is a person of a different gender, ethnicity, faith, age…the list goes on. This power challenges the writer to provide a view that doesn’t simply reinforce cultural stereotypes. And even though the story might be fiction, the understanding of how that point of view feels from inside, can linger long after the story is over.

*If you’re curious – you can meet Shaman Pasharan, Sigil of the Silver Future, in the upcoming EDGE anthology Tesseracts 18: Wrestling with Gods, in a story entitled “Burnt Offerings.”

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