Archive for the ‘The Writing Process’ Category

I’m taking a slight departure from last week’s blog on Horror (which I plan to continue, but want to finish the non-fiction book I am currently reading and want to use as the basis of that blog) and approach a different subject.

Horses.

Horses and nightmares aren’t exactly two completely different things (night-“mare” anyone) but that’s not what this post is about.

Along with joining many others in Holly Lisle’s Summer of Fiction Writing, I am continuing to work on her How to Write a Novel course (yeah, I know, I already wrote a novel but there’s plenty more to learn. AND: Disclaimer: if you purchase it through that link, I will be compensated as I am an affiliate). The subject of that novel happens to be a character I’d already established (and one of my favorites), Ennid the Havoc. If you haven’t met him, you can do so via Amazon or Smashwords. He’s a mash-up kind of character in a mash-up kind of world: a fantasy version of MMA fighting, horses, angels-versus-demons-on-human-world-battlegrounds, pirates. Ennid’s got an uneasy alliance with his world, his past, but enjoys the simple things like good food and the company of his not-so-simple horse, K’zirra.

For this novel, I decided to dive into his near-past and gave him a scene in which he finds himself washed ashore, after he gets swept off of the deck of a seagoing vessel, stranded on the proverbial deserted island*. My original plan had him discovering the remains of a settlement and something very unsettling they left behind.

Then the horse showed up.

Galloping (literaturelly?) onto the shore, this magnificent golden stallion shows up and starts tossing his mane and his attitude right at Ennid. So it got me to wondering — this idea of the horse seemed so left field. Where did it come from?

Once I thought about it, not so left field. Apparently, somewhere in the back of my brain, a memory bloomed in full color after I’d had all of my words on the page. The Black Stallion. (Movie, not the book, although I did read that later in my childhood.) So that scene and the thought of a guy and a horse on a distant shore with no one but each other for company and possibly survival. There are, however, plenty of differences; Ennid isn’t a teen, the horse isn’t black (truth be told, the golden stallion’s not even a –but, wait, that would be a SPOILER) and there’s a whole different threat going on than just having to survive on the island.

Now, for you “horse purists” out there, I will warn you that you won’t find an “accurate” portrayal of a real horse in the stories, so you can save yourself the keystrokes and the electrons of sending hate mail. Sometimes my horses behave horse-like, but other times not at all like the normal equine creatures. This is completely intentional. My inspiration for K’zirra, and subsequently the golden stallion that has no name as yet, came from my love for the Ranyhyn of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. There are “normal” horses in the world, but the Ranyhyn are very special. Aside from being tied to the Earthpower of The Land in those stories, these horses possess a kind of prescience that allows them to know when their chosen rider will call them, and they respond long before the call and show up exactly when their rider calls them, even if they were hundreds of miles away. If anyone has played The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, you will understand when I say that I think Roach is a Ranyhyn, hehehe.

I hadn’t ever planned for there to be a horse in this story about Ennid, other than for a brief mention for other-story-foreshadowing purposes, but this stallion was demanding I do something with him. And he was right.

Hey you writers: have you ever had something come up while you were in that writing zone that seemed so disconnected from what was already on your page or in your plan that turned out to be better than expected?

 

*Which is actually a DESERTED island, as there was something there at one time, as opposed to the “deserted” island in which no living thing had been and established anything in order to desert it. And also as opposed to a desert island, since there’s plenty of foliage and swamp-age and all kinds of things that are pretty opposite from the concept of what a ‘desert’ is.

In preparation for a project I have been wanting to write, I have delved into good articles and books on the subject of Horror. As in, “what makes horror ‘horror’?” Obviously, there’s a lot of debate on the subject, and elements that some say are absolutely integral to some aren’t even mentioned by others. But horror isn’t all subjective.

What I found was 1) on a personal level, it’s easy to find something horrifying but difficult to quantify why, and 2) we all have different fears so that fear we tap into for our writing may not be shared by another (think “public speaking”).

The only way I was going to write anything meaningful on the subject would be to relate it to myself. What do I fear and how can I make that palpable? These are aspects, not one defining element of Horror, but when taken as a whole comprise a terrifying situation. I’ll be going over a few different aspects over several posts, so welcome, and enjoy the ride.

Utter helplessness.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that we’ve all experienced utter helplessness at some point in our lives, either over our own selves or for others. You hear it all the time from parents when their children are sick or dying, “I felt so helpless.” There are people whose entire lives are there to help others: think first responders, military, doctors, etc. When faced with a situation where none of the skills or tools that they can employ will do a damn thing… that kind of dread of utter helplessness. In horror when you set the “monster” up as being impervious to the tools and weapons we have, give it a desire to keep going, to not stop, to churn up everything in its path and nothing has any effect on it… Horror. Yup.

Normalcy Eroded.

Every one of us has an expectation of normalcy in our lives, be it a routine, the people we encounter. But what would happen if that gentle little old man passed you with a smile, and that grin was filled with shiny black pointed teeth. Or the attractive soccer mom who leans closer to you and whispers, “Privileged one, the prince of darkness will fill your womb.” You might question your own sanity – did you see what you really thought you saw? Hear what you thought heard? And when you ask the soccer mom what she said she denies she said anything at all? Those moments of unsettling encounters, very brief, almost dismissible by you and rationalization by some third party you trust over what you REALLY saw or heard… until it’s too late, of course, and instead of little hints of it here and there, a full-blown invasion of the supernatural and normalcy-killers spilling over into our world.

Smallness.

This ties in somewhat with the utter helplessness as above, as it describes that sense of the “what can one person do?” mentality. H. P. Lovecraft’s works sometimes hit on the idea that man senses his miniscule existence in the vastness of space, which crushes him into death or insanity.

Unknown-Unknowable.

Another realm belonging to Lovecraftian fiction, the fear of the unknown, and encounters with the unknowable result in much the same – insanity and/or death. Brushes with alien, supernatural, looking into forbidden books of knowledge. This is really what makes a horror story that much better, when the entity causing all the chaos remains an unknown quantity. When you give it a face, it tends to go to the side of unintentional humor (Freddy Krueger and Chucky come to mind. I never thought they were all that scary to begin with, and over the decades they look more and more ridiculous. I did have a lot of fun watching them at sleepovers and laughing my head off). Keep something totally in the dark all the time, and you keep it in the realm of the psychological. Not so easy to walk away from that horror.

Lovecraft Horror

Oh, there’s so much more to go on this, and I will continue next week. Until then, is there anything you have discovered to be an essential element of horror?

If you’re just joining me, you should know that I started blogging about my quick-starter world-building process a few weeks ago. You can go back and start here. Or, if you just wanted to read about the culture aspect, start here.

Like I stated above, we went over a quick and dirty culture build, starting with the building blocks: values/fears.

Once you’ve established that, this next step is pretty simple.

Let’s say you wanted your world to have a pantheon, or gods/spirits to worship.

Where would they look for them? In their values and fears.

A deity or deities can arise from each of the values, or one can encompass all of them. A single deity can be dichotomous – instilling values and fears.

Let’s look at the Romans: They valued many, many things, of course, and had dozens if not hundreds of deities of lesser or greater status, but for the sake of this article I am going to point out only a few.

The Romans possessed the greatest military force of its time. Ask any Roman in his day, and he might add that their avid worship of Mars (where we get the term “martial” of course) had as much to do with their prowess as did their physical conditioning, discipline and tactics. In any martial society, a way to replenish the population was absolutely necessary, so they venerated several deities presiding over different aspects (fertility, virility, pregnancy, sex, conception…). Feeding a population was also of utmost importance, so any deity related to the fertility of the land (Ceres as one of them, and she also held ground over life and death and rebirth of nature, and sacred law, and… you get it).

Fears can be leveraged in your culture, especially by people who are cunning enough to trick the people into thinking that whatever it is that they fear can be avoided, such as with sacrifices of people and treasures.

What if you don’t want supernatural beings acknowledged at all? How about that?

There are cultures that venerate or vilify actual historical figures (sometimes even alongside supernatural beings, imagine that! Ha!) Think of America’s Founding Fathers – George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere among others – who embodied values of strength, resilience, and the idea that men should be free. There’s the opposite, those who are infamous like Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin. But there could be a smaller villain in your culture, something like:

“Now you young’uns, don’t you go traipsing off up to that old cabin at wood edge yonder. That there’s the gateway on to Hell itself, old Shakey Jake butchering them youngfolk gone creeping up there and putting his curse on all round it. That’s why nothing grows in fifty paces all around. And it don’t matter he’s been dead for nigh on a century – if’n he’s done sold his soul so’s he can walk the earth again.”

You get the idea.

Sometimes you can even reach a serendipity – where you have a value that some venerate and others vilify (like Hitler who was adored by some seriously misguided people), and this is beyond awesome for you as a writer, because it means that there’s conflict! Conflict is at the heart of every story, and if you can build that into your very culture, then you can easily insert it into your characters’ lives and give them somewhere to “go” in the story’s arc.

So, what kind of values did you come up with, and how are you using them?

World-building – yes, we’re still on that subject. This is the World-builders Anonymous. If you’re just tuning in, check them out from the first post HERE.

Tackling Culture.

Alright, not so much “tackling” as “touching on”. Like trying to drink the lake through a straw. Pucker up, and hope you don’t get a mouthful of fetid water. And it’s much, much deeper than you think.

In many stories, culture is HUGELY important. Even if your characters don’t go up against it directly, the culture in which they are brought up is going to influence just about everything they do, be it in protection/defense of their culture, or in spite of, or even against.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Imagine a character brought up in a safe, secure mansion whose practical world experience doesn’t go beyond the opulent, manicured courtyard of the home. His careful parents, mindful of their wonderful child, have sequestered him in their luxurious home and shower him with gifts and tutors and just about anything tangible he could want. His only other means of travel is through books. A character could remain there and be happy in that environment, only there’s no conflict in it, and the culture of security/luxury/protection is window-dressing to some other conflict presented in a story. Or it’s just a damn boring story where nothing happens (and yes, there are too many of those out there).

OR…

This kid could have it all but still feel like he’s missing out. He wants to travel, to see the real world (or at least what he thinks is the real world) through his own eyes, as he’s tired of all the servants following him around making him learn math and science and take baths. That’s creating all kinds of conflict, as he’s at odds with the culture he knows, and seeks to escape it somehow.

There’s also a place for a good-culture-threatened. Say we take the first character that has their world of security and opulence and is suddenly wrenched from it, or it’s destroyed outright. They’re going to fight to get it back. They might be turned into a slave, or have inherited debt and now can’t just live in their accustomed culture but work for it, which is a new thing.

In both cases, the culture creates a workable conflict for stories.

The great news is that culture doesn’t have to be developed deeply for it to be useful in your world-building and in the creation of conflicts. After all, how many of us can describe in detail our own cultures? Yet we still live in them, or in spite of them.

Let’s say you really don’t have anything else planned just yet, no characters, no language. Culture is an easy one to start with. Why? Because it’s really based on a concept of values and/or fears.

So you ask yourself: what three things (physical/concrete things or concepts) does your culture value/fear the most? Note: this is not generally what the character values most. We’ll get to that.

In the example above, I used SAFETY/SECURITY, LUXURY, CHILDREN.

In this culture, since Safety/Security is important to them (and we will expand “them” to mean the whole society, not this one family, for the sake of the example) and so they will have spent resources to develop a place for themselves that is safe and secure. Possibly by means of an efficient, large security force, either a military or police (depending on where/who they perceive the most threat is coming from). They may even have very restrictive laws, if the idea of “liberty” isn’t very high in their value system, which is doesn’t seem to be considering how sequestered they keep their child. They live in luxury, which could mean that they were either producing something of extreme value, were shrewd traders or they used that military/police force to seize the resources of others to fuel their lifestyles. And their children are kept behind closed doors, in protected spaces, given anything they want (generally not a good thing, the kind of treatment that turns kids into entitled snowflake monsters).

This could end up being a very dystopian culture, and definitely one where the kid not only dreams of getting out, but of finding a way to change it or escape from it to go where he wants to go and do what he wants to do. And you can see on each level what kind of fight he’s going to have – his parents, for one, who’ve “sacrificed” for him. The society itself, which strains to protect children, especially from themselves.

Whew! That’s a lot of ground already covered and I haven’t even started. But to get you started, try to come up with those three concepts and you can start building around that. Next week, we’ll take those three concepts and build something else that may be vital for your world: a pantheon.

So, tell me below what you came up with for your concepts and the conflicts you can build.

 

This week I wanted to take a step back from the craft of worldbuilding and look at one of my favorite examples of what it can do for any story. I present: The Elder Scrolls.

The game series just celebrated its 25th anniversary and has gone through 6 full-blown, stand-alone games, some games not numbered in that timeline, various mobile device spin-offs and one huge MMO, there has been a LOT of development. If you’ve read my other blog posts, I may have mentioned that Morrowind, by far, is still my favorite, and that game came out in 2002, so only 8 years of development had been completed at that time, but…

According to Todd Howard (director and head producer at Bethesda Softworks), Patrick Stewart said, upon receiving the reference for the game’s character Emperor Uriel Septim VII: “I got the notes… Never in my life doing any role have I gotten such detailed notes and I loved it.”

First, let me clarify “development” here, as anyone who works with computer systems/games/etc. realizes this word really means to build up the game by creating its functionality, its mechanics, etc. In the case of the Elder Scrolls, it wasn’t just development in this sense, but also a real creation of new things, with ways every piece interacts in the world.

In ESIII: Morrowind, they really knocked the ball out of the park with Alchemy. To make the skill interesting, there had to be ingredients. Ingredients come from varied sources, and this is where the worldbuilding got interesting—they created (intentionally or not) a kind of ecology to support the harvestables within the world. A lot of plants and fungi exist around the massive province of Vvardenfell, with parts to pick that have certain beneficial or detracting effects when eaten or put into potions. But there are also creatures, not to kill just because they attack you (as just about everything does in most of these games) but to gather their parts as ingredients as well. ESIV: Oblivion and ESV: Skyrim would continue this practice, and Skyrim introduced Blacksmithing which enabled the player to build and furnish their own houses, further using the harvestable ingredients. But it goes beyond that. Plants weren’t just ever-present. Players had to find them (which was a major quest in Oblivion and in Skyrim) in their native or preferred habitat, or sometimes in pots around the area of the world which each game covers.

And that’s just the biology.

Its history is rich as well. There are a massive number of in-game books, and just stopping to read some of them not only confers skill points but also a great deal of history and culture developed for the game. Fiction is represented by stories like A Dance in Fire and Poison Song, both of which span multiple volumes. Non-Fiction includes topics like The Real Barenziah, Buoyant Armigers: The Swords of Vivec, The Oblivion Crisis, written, of course, after Oblivion. There are even books of riddles (Red Book of Riddles, Yellow Book of Riddles) and children’s books were introduced in Elder Scrolls Online (Brave Little Shalk). There’s also one tongue-in-cheek book, ABCs for Barbarians. You can check out an overview of them here. One of my personal favorites is the Lusty Argonian Maid, not for its content but for the way in which it’s been inserted into the world. At the time of Morrowind, it was supposedly written by Crassus Curio, a pretty colorful Imperial aligned with House Hlaalu. It was apparently a coveted classic by the time of Skyrim (reference cave of books), but in ESO is claimed to have been a much older work (implying that Curio took the story as his own, as the events of ESO is 800 years before he lived – not to mention that the people of Tamriel’s minds haven’t gotten any cleaner in the 1000+ years, hehehehe).

Let’s not forget some other cultural aspects – whole pantheons of gods and god-like beings were created to be worshipped, shunned, fought over, like the Nine Divines and the Daedra, the latter of which lend their dark shapes to the already very surreal landscape of Vvardenfell. The characters names illustrate the differences in their cultures, with Argonian names such as “Scales-Like-Gold” or Orc names, Gruf gro-Bargh or Hurna gra-Rohk, denoting male and female respectively. Imperials have befittingly Roman-sounding names (like Crassus Curio mentioned above, or Caius Cosades – the developers must have had a thing about using the initials CC to make the weird old guys in the game…). There’s even astrology with its own system (which has sadly gone by the wayside after Oblivion), from which your character can pick the star under which they are born, be they Steed, or the Tower.

I could go on. Really, I could. But you should experience the games for themselves, since most if not all are still available in one way or the other (GOG.com, or Steam, with tons of mods for them on Nexus). Or read here, if you’re not really a gamer, but still want to get the experience of an expansive world.

Last week, I admitted that I am a full-blown world-building junkie. That post included my influences and some of the more valuable references I like to use (although I am always looking for more, so if you know of any, please let me–and my readers–know!). You can check it out here.

This week, I want to go over what I usually use as my “second step” to building the world: names.

To create names, you need LANGUAGE.

Just as much as building worlds, I love languages. I speak several well, and can read/translate a few more, so the next step was actually building one of my own. What I USED to do was just create a vocabulary, and used Excel spreadsheets to make dictionaries (I may even still have some of those, although that was several computer-hardware-iterations ago). I don’t recall exactly how I got to use the class I use now, but I somehow think it was tied into Karen Traviss’ research on her novels about the Mandalorians (what Boba Fett is supposed to be) and creating a language for the Mandalorians. If not, I apologize, but sending you on the proverbial wild-goose-chase is not what I intended. However I managed to get there, I found Holly Lisle’s Create a Language Clinic to be an awesome resource for going even deeper into language creation. (Disclaimer: if you click on that link and end up purchasing a copy of the clinic for yourself, I will get some compensated. But I recommend it even if you navigate away and find it on your own!).

So why all that fuss, you may ask?

Well, before I start giving anything on my map a name, I like to have the “available” characters (sounds) of the language in place. It keeps it pretty consistent, like a real place, which is essential to lending it any kind of credibility.

You know, unlike this unpronounceable garbage:

Mister Mxyzptlk

So I don’t end up with something like that, I work through some of the basic exercises until I get the sounds, consonant clusters, and eliminate at least one vowel from “availability”. I don’t go in neck-deep unless I just want to build a language. I don’t need–and don’t recommend– Tolkien-esque language creation. (But I recommend The Silmarillion if you want to see what a master at work.) Then I create a bunch of syllables from those words, and using the pool of syllables, start to build words and conventions for the language, kind of like the way “burg” in German denotes a town/city of some sort. Holly’s clinic (see link and disclaimer above) walks you through this. (That’s only the beginning of her book on creating a language. She takes you thoroughly through everything you ever loved (or hated) about English grammar classes in school.)

Does it preclude me from creating poetic names? Not at all – I just “translate” them. One example is that for one novel I have written (first draft, percolating in the background while I am working through the “How to Write a Novel” class), I had a place I called “Hummingbird Ridge” on my pre-language go-around. After I created the language that would include/refer to that region, I gave it a name in the language that the culture interpreted as “bee-bird ridge”. So while I wasn’t sure if I even wanted a hummingbird-type creature in my story to make it a reference, I ended up not only with the name for a creature that was essentially the same, but also a reason for it to have been named that. You can blame that on my muse.

I also like to refer to existing cultures to get a “feel” for their language and its construct, and also its concepts. But that, my friends, is a subject for next week’s blog.

So what references have you encountered? Maybe you threw a dart at a world map to get an idea for how a language would sound, or spun and globe and stopped it with a jab of the index finger? Maybe you just did a random search on Google or Bing or whatever search engine you prefer and ended up in a very weird spot.

Let us know below!

Hello, my name is T. R. Neff, and I am a world building junkie. Yes, I admit it, and I am happy to say that I am far from being the only one.

I started early in life, too. I loved those maps in the front of the fantasy novels in my brothers’ book collections. I drew my own maps and landscapes from those places (some of which were good, some of them pretty terrible and thankfully no longer extant). As I got a little older I was drawn to the tables in the Dungeons & Dragons books—the ones that helped to create worlds and environments on the fly. Thus comes my first reference:

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons World Builder’s Guidebook.

  1. This was one of those seminal works that helped dungeon masters create entire worlds for their campaigns. While I did play the game (you know, before computer role-playing games, where you had to use pencil, paper, dice and a whole lotta imagination!), my main interest was on the dozens of tables that helped to create randomization of continents, of geography, of cities/towns/hamlets, etc. There was even a table that helped figure the likelihood of certain fantasy-game staple professions inhabiting a city. Included with it was a pad of different kind of blank maps on which you could draw the entire world or focus in on regions. Many of these were hex maps, which any old-school role-playing enthusiast recognizes as the very best way of calculating distances for your traveling heroes. (The AD&D Boxed set had some really nice maps with clear acetate hex-map overlays for figuring travel, and was a marvelous tool for those who wanted a “clean” map but still needed a way to calculate if the hero could really reach Jemia from Roscor in less than a day…)

Why random? After all, we authors create worlds, right? Well, sometimes when we create them we conform them to all the things we know and like, and don’t let anything get too brutal for the characters we create. If we introduce tables like this, we can create a world of adversity that our characters have to deal with. We can pit them against unknowns, and see how they react. After all, that IS “character”.

 

 

Not content to settle for just the entire world that was possible from using the WBG, I remember coming across this gem:

ARES Magazine – Article on New Worlds of the Solar System

It was a series of tables for the Star Frontiers science fiction role-playing games that helped create solar systems on the fly. I used them constantly to create not only the world (using the above book) but put it in a whole system that could have things like eclipses and conjunctions and even some weird things like binary stars or twin planets. The systems could tell you how many planets and of what approximate size would be the most realistic for the types of star or stars. Water, weather, even life/technology levels could be randomized from the tables, although for most of my worlds I didn’t bother with the last several, especially if it was a fantasy world. The article was thoroughly indespensible for my worlds in space, and dictated the rather “difficult” planet in one of my stories yet to be published (set in the same universe as Clones Are People Two).

I think I even have the magazine somewhere around here, but if you could get yourself a copy, or if the article is available legally online for free, it’s worth taking a peek the next time you want to create a solar system for the world your characters are inhabiting.

 

And now, one of my new favorites, Holly Lisle’s Create a World Clinic (No Picture)

(Disclaimer: I am not an affiliate of Holly Lisle’s work, and particularly love this book. If you click on the link above and end up purchasing a copy for yourself, I will be compensated).

I don’t always agree with Holly[1], but here in World Building I discovered by reading her work that we are very much alike. As any other world-building junkie knows, and she points out, there’s an inherent danger in overbuilding (if you’re doing it for writing. If you do it as a hobby, build to your heart’s content!)

Why?

A) We –yes, I absolutely include myself here– never start writing because there’s always more world to create before we start.

B) It’s stealing time from writing other things we should be writing (like any other geek-thick hobby) and

C) We want to use EVERYTHING we create, somehow.

I won’t go into detail with my favorite part of the clinic, but if you purchase a copy for yourself I am sure you will guess what it is. THAT exercise alone was worth the price for me, and helped me have a whole lot of fun world-building but keeping it THIN enough to not let it impede the writing process.

WHEW! That’s a lot for me on world-building, and it turns out I have even more to say. But it will have to wait until next week… Hope to see you again!

 

[1] If you find yourself agreeing with any mortal being all of the time, you risk becoming a sycophant of the major ass-kissing variety, and you cease to be you because you start conforming to whatever you think THEY want you to be. I am NOT saying that Holly does this, as she absolutely does NOT and is the furthest thing from being a sycophant/conformist/ass-kisser, and one of the major reasons I respect her even if our opinions on a few things aren’t even close to being similar.

My favorite “weather event” – lightning!!!!! From Physics World

…but it could certainly help.

Here in the Mid-Atlantic region, we’ve been getting battered by storms of late (though thankfully not nearly so bad as the Northwest or out west in general. There as even snow in Vegas! So much for me moving there to get away from it.).

That got me thinking about weather as it pertains to fiction. Weather is one of those things we may not necessarily think about as obstacles or conflicts but can be extremely useful to the writer. Take your daily commute, for example. You have your routes, you know the traffic and the peculiarities of that particular way to go. Introduce a “weather event” and a simple trip that takes you 15 minutes now becomes an hour-long expedition. Ice coats the road, sending drivers slipping and sliding every which way, and that snaky road you just love to coast down in better conditions now becomes a threat to your life–that drop off of one side becomes all too apparent, and that little bit of guard rail isn’t exactly a bastion against disaster. Snow or rain comes down in blankets that keep you from seeing more than a foot in front of your windshield, erasing the cars, downed trees and every landmark. Suddenly, your normal drive becomes less-than-familiar. A threat, even.

Sometimes, the weather is a major plot device, like the cyclone in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum. Who could imagine Dorothy’s grand entrance into the magical world of Oz by just falling asleep and waking up? That dramatic, threatening cyclone needed to rip her house from its foundation and plunk her down in the middle of Munchkin Country. Many a romance has driven two people together by finding the lone cabin in the woods to wait out the storm. And what good ghost story around the campfire didn’t begin with “It was a dark and stormy night…”, making the chase through the woods all the more precarious when the hapless teens try to escape the Hatchet Killer.

How can you use this in your fiction?

Using weather that makes sense for the setting/genre, introduce it to spice up a scene that needs more tension:

The car’s tire blew out, so now your character has to change a tire. In the rain. With only mud beneath the car that won’t support a jack. And her ex-husband is somewhere out there, driving around looking for her. She might have to abandon the car, having to walk who knows how far without an umbrella, getting soaked to the bone. When she shows up at the only house on that lonely stretch of road, covered in mud and dripping all over the carpet, the farmer’s wife is going to be less inclined to help the poor soul than to wonder what she’s doing out there in the middle of the night.

A bolt of lightning could fry the electronics in his little puddle jumper, forcing the pilot to land in some pretty remote area of the Amazon jungle and have to fight through man-hungry jaguars and fierce tribesmen to get to the missionary outpost and deliver the medications before everyone ends up dead from some virulence sweeping through the natives and missionaries alike.

The squad missed meeting up with the convoy, and have to hoof it across the desert to reach their base, surrounded by hostile actors that could be occupying every town on the way just waiting to take them out, and the untried lieutenant must lead his men across the unforgiving land while a haboob bears down on their position.

Already dangerously remote, the lonely station falls under the deadly blanket of a blizzard that sweeps in and cuts off all communication and air rescue, leaving the scientists to deal with the isolation–and with the alien creature among them, taking them out one by one (okay, okay, that’s kinda based on Who Goes There? but you get the picture).

It doesn’t even have to be “real”. What about in a fantasy setting?

Without warning, a psychic storm broke out over the floating isles, threatening to plunge the landmasses into the abyss and robbing every one of its mages–the only ones capable of keeping them buoyant in the storm–of their abilities, and the only one who is immune to the storm’s fury is holed up in a crystal prison a thousand miles away.

So what is your favorite scene in a work of fiction that leans heavily on weather for its conflict? Or can you think of a scene in any work of fiction that could have been made better, in the context of the work, by introducing some kind of weather event?

As anyone possessing a modicum of Google-fu knows, the internet is chock full of grand stories in the news, true and false.

For the writer, it doesn’t really matter which way they bend, as they can be great fodder for story ideas.

Take the Mandela Effect, for instance. Some people think of it as a real phenomenon that proves there’s some kind of alternate reality or time-travel-past-manipulation. Examples include the titular Nelson Mandela, with many people swearing he died in prison in the 80’s instead of in 2013, even to the point of recalling funeral footage. Another example is the Publisher’s Clearing House spokesman, Ed McMahon. Only he wasn’t their spokesman–he worked for American Family Publishers. There are a lot of movie quotes, using lines from everything from the Alice in Wonderland classic to, ironically enough, The Matrix (although personally I think that’s less of a false memory effect than on perpetuating the quote incorrectly and the incorrect version becoming more famous–i.e., better remembered–than the original. Couple that with a spoiled snowflake’s spending more time concocting a reason why the whole of reality is screwed up rather than simply admitting they were wrong and you end up with a pseudo-science they can point to any time they screw something up).

For authors, though, that hardly matters. It’s the thought that counts, and we always think it’s more fun to speculate on what could be the cause of what, at first glance, seems like strange phenomena. And then tuck that cause into a well-written story that makes the odd entirely plausible. Because that’s what we really want–not the truth, when we are reading fiction, but a plausible truth, a fantasy-that-could-be-real.

So, have you experienced any Mandela Effects?

 

Setting the Right Tone

Posted: January 16, 2019 in The Writing Process

Years ago (longer ago than I want to admit in such a public forum) in grade school, my classmates and I were given assignments to write articles in the manner of the news, the “who-what-when-where-why-how”. We generally stated the facts although some of us given to florid language would pick a particular verb or noun that was “weighted”, and we got marks off for painting a bias into our “reporting.”

Take the following three sentences, for instance:

The group of people approached the courthouse.

The mob descended on the courthouse.

The protestors gathered in front of the courthouse.

 

They all three state the same facts, some more specific than the other, but some also more charged than others. The first one is pretty neutral, and fairly bland. While it may be vague, it is at least factual–there were people, of whatever affiliation or purpose–who went to the courthouse. The second one is decidedly negative, insinuating that the people aren’t just a group but a mass of people upset with something (the “mob” aspect)who are descending or overwhelming the courthouse. The third could be positive or negative depending on your view of recent “protestors”* exercising their First Amendment rights. The latter two definitely lend their own bent to the situation, and the author’s opinions of the occurrence are as clear as what occurred. Possibly even clearer.

It IS a sad state of affairs that creative writers can take a few lessons from the very “journalists” who were supposed to just report the news without adding their own colors, but it is what it is. Wise folks learn whatever they can from whomever, whether they agree with them 100%** of the time or not. In this case, learn that the entire tone of a piece can be changed with the substitution of the right words. If you’re writing horror, you’re going to pick from a decidedly different list of adjectives than if you are describing a scene in a romance, even if, say, both scenes took place in a castle, or a cave, or an abandoned house. This is even more true for the first-person narration, where the author is telling the story through the character’s head–their feelings, their emotions should color every scene, giving us a sense of not only what is going on but how they feel about it.

Let’s take that idea of an abandoned

“We entered the empty house. Boards creaked when we stepped on them. Our footsteps echoed. We moved into the shadows. We went further into the house.”

“We crept into the abandoned mansion. Boards creaked and squealed beneath every footstep, the oil-slick shadows swallowing the echos. We pressed on, deeper and deeper.”

“We slipped into the neglected chateau, wary of the boards creaking and revealing our presence beneath every step. We slid into the embracing shadows the way we slid into each others’ arms, deeper and deeper.”

 

These sentences aren’t going to win any awards, but which one would you guess belongs in a horror story?

Which in a romance novel?

And which in the first draft revision purge bin?

Sound off below, and let me see your Tone in action!

 

 

*Many of which I would call a “mob” considering their aims were less to make an important point for justice and more for wanton destruction to homes and property owned by people who have nothing to do with whatever the protestors are “protesting”. And, yes, that’s my opinion. I’m a creative writer, not a journalist.

**Anyone who surrounds themselves with people who only agree with each other 100% of the time or shout down/drive out those who do not agree are guilty of that aspect of fascism where any ideas other than those holding the reins are suppressed. It can be as large as global/governments or as small as a group of people who are supposed to be respectful of each others’ opinions. That’s the real reason behind the First Amendment to give everyone a voice in the discussion, and to bring to light unpopular thoughts. Unfortunately, we are slipping away from  any kind of tact or civility in our discourse…