Monthly Archives: February 2015

3 Recommendations for Finding Inspiration

I don’t actually believe in writer’s block. If the words don’t flow, there’s a good chance you are just bored with your project and you need to either a) figure out how to inject more energy into said project, or b) put the project aside and start something new. However, I do think that blockage of creativity can sometimes be caused by mental fatigue or a lack of inspiration. In this case, I have a list of recommendations that have always helped me get back into my groove

Exercise
In general, most creative types I know (myself included) are not very physically active. We like to read books, watch movies, and sink into indoor hobbies. However, I cannot stress enough how often I’ve felt mentally fatigued, gone out for a run, and felt 100% ready for more writing. There’s been a lot of research into the mental benefits of exercise. The American Psychological Association says here that exercise boosts mood and fights depression. The little mental boost you get from a game of tennis or bike ride might be just what you need to get through your creative slump. So, if you’re having trouble writing a scene or have been struggling with a project for a while, I suggest getting out and doing a favorite activity. It doesn’t have to be running. A nice nature hike or walk in the park could work, or anything else, really. Just as long as you get your body working.

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An inspiring view from an inspiring hike.

Art
Inspiration can come from many different places, including other forms of art. When I’m stuck on a story, sometimes I find sketching a character or a location can help me find that source of energy I’m lacking. If you haven’t explored art outside of your own writing, give it a try. You don’t have to be good as long as you stay relaxed. If drawing or painting doesn’t work for you, try more three-dimensional forms, like clay. If you can’t get into your own art enough to feel relaxed, try going to a gallery or looking at other people’s work online. Deviantart can be a great resource for finding fantasy or science fiction artists. Also, many reputable museums have online galleries which are FREE to access, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We shouldn’t forget poetry either. Sometimes the images or word sounds a poem produces are perfect creative fuel for getting back into your novel. So, if you’re not sure what art form will be the most inspiring for you, experiment and see what happens.

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A quick sketch I did a few years ago of a character’s room . Drawing scenes like this help me better understand my characters and get my creative juices flowing.

 

Music
I’ve already explained on this blog how I find music inspiring. Sometimes I can write to it, sometimes I can’t. However, I always find a story popping into my brain when a song plays. I find classical music gets me going the best, but everyone is different. If you don’t own a lot of music or want to explore other artists/musicians, try finding playlists on YouTube or Pandora of your preferred genre. If you’re looking to set a specific mood, 8tracks.com has a pretty nifty set up where you can input a variety of search terms and find user-made playlists. Live music can even be better, so look for concerts in your area or clubs/restaurants/coffee shops that host live musicians.

I hope these three recommendations for battling mental fatigue and finding inspiration are helpful. Do you guys have any tried and true mental boosters to help you write?

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Two Approaches to Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding is one of my favorite aspects of storytelling. Whether the story is fantasy, science fiction, or some dystopian future, a great world design can make or break a story’s credibility and inspire countless future stories. In celebration of this marvelous act of creation, I’m going to share two basic approaches to start building your new world.

But first, let’s discuss what worldbuilding actually means.

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Sometimes I like to start my world building by sketching . Here’s a building I sketched for one of my older stories.

Define: Worldbuilding
Worldbuilding is the creation of an imaginary setting, whether it be a small town or an entire universe. These imaginary worlds should have internal logic based on geography, history, biology, and so forth. They can be used for fictional novels, video games, tv shows, movies, and pretty much any other story-based media form. The best created worlds serve the story, enriching the setting of the characters and plot but not overwhelming them.

There are many aspects of a world you can latch onto when starting your story. However, I’ve found that there are two basic but reliable approaches to starting the worldbuilding process.

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This is Ofrina, an early map of a continent I created. I used political map because I was trying to decide the country borders.

Top Down Approach
A fairly common approach to worldbuilding is what I like to call the top down approach. The concept is simple: you start with the details of the world you want to build, and then work backwards, figuring out the world’s history and so forth to support the end product you want. For instance, say I wanted to tell a story where my main character was a member of a tribe of blue-skinned people. To build a world to support this idea, I’d need to work backwards, and ask myself questions about how this group of people came to exist. Are they the only blue-skinned people in this world? Were they created by a higher being, or did they evolve? From these questions, I can start to branch off these few details I know and create a fully realized world.

The top down approach has its positives and negatives. It works well because it allows for a clear picture of the end product. In this way, it’s easier to not forget the story and be overwhelmed by the immensity of an imagined world. It helps with early character creation, too. However, if the creator doesn’t have a clear understanding of what the world should look like when they start, the top down approach might cause more problems than it solves. If I change my mind and make my blue-skinned people have the ability to fly, I might have to go back to the drawing board. So, for people without a clear picture of what sort of world they want their story to be set in, it’s better to start with the bottom up approach.

The Bottom Up Approach
The bottom up approach begins with the very foundation of the world you’re going to create. Basically, you start with creating a world (earth-like or not) to serve as your canvas. To this, you add geography. What does your world look like? Also, it’s a good idea to decide how the sciences play out in your world. Some storytellers are happy saying that physics, biology, chemistry, and so on are just like earth’s. That is just fine. However, if you want to play around with those, feel free. Just make sure you research things so they stay internally logical. If you want to build a world where photosynthesis doesn’t exist, you better know what photosynthesis is and why it’s important for plants. Now is also a good time to decide if your world has some special aspect, such as magic or a unique energy source.

Once you have your foundation, it’s time to add the people/life forms that inhabit this world. How does this environment affect them? It’s probably not a homogeneous group (and if it is homogeneous, you better have a darn good reason why), so adding various cultural makeups is a good idea. From here, it’s a matter of figuring out details like language, politics, history, and so on before refining the final product to fit your story. It’s important to keep that internal logic you spent so much time crafting, but you also want to make sure you leave room for your story. Hopefully a this point your imagination is firing on all cylinders, and you’ve found a great source of conflict or a really interesting idea for a main character.

So, how do you guys feel about worldbuilding? I’m considering writing a second post with finer details about what we need to think about when we build a world, like infrastructure and political systems. Would that interest people?

P.S. Sorry I missed last week’s post. My husband and I were a bit under the weather, and also I’ve been trying to finish my latest draft of Footfall.

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Three Book Recommendations for a New Year

Recently, a friend asked me if I had any good book recommendations. My brain started to shut down as I was left to wonder: “Books? What are books? Can I read? I have no idea.”

So, now that I have the time, and I’m not in “deer in headlights” mode, I happily offer the following three book recommendations to said friend and anyone else.

Contemporary Fiction: Americanah

americanahAmericanah, written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is a gorgeous story about two young people, Ifemelu and Obinze, as they journey away from their homeland (Nigeria) and each other. The story, told in limited third person perspective, switches between both character’s lives as they fall in love, grow frustrated with their country’s economic problems, and seek to find better choices in foreign lands. The book then follows them back to Nigeria as they look at their old home with new perspectives.

This book is really honest about a lot of things, sometimes brutally so. Race is a big topic, especially comparing the American understanding of race and how that differs from the UK and Nigeria. The characters also struggle with the concepts surrounding immigration, mental health, love, friendship, personal growth, and politics. However, while honest, the book never strays away from offering something to be learned about these difficult topics. I haven’t read anything like this book before, which makes me want to recommend it all the more.

Fantasy: The Slow Regard of Silent Things

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If you haven’t read The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, may I humbly suggest you do, even if only to lead up to my actual recommendation, The Slow Regard of Silent Things. However, while it’s predecessors do provide some context and background information, The Slow Regard of Silent Things can be read on its own.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is not a long read, clocking in at a whopping 150 pages. However, it’s a wonderful book that almost feels more like poetry than prose. This is the story of Auri, her daily life, and how she sees the world. She’s a little broken and a little sad. She’s also fierce and filled with a deeply held belief on how the world should work. Rothfuss wrote her with a loving sort of tenderness that makes me admire him immensely. I will warn you that there’s no dialog in this book, and one of the most engaging scenes surrounds the process of soap making. However, I hope this only peaks your interest, because books like this don’t get published very often.

Literature: Moby Dick

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Moby Dick by Herman Melville is my favorite book in the whole world, and you should read it.

It’s hard to actually describe what Moby Dick is about. At one point, it’s about the whaling industry. In another, it’s about the friendship between an American white man and a Mauri from New Zealand who may or may not be a cannibal. There’s also a man named Ahab who happens to be obsessed with a whale, and a whale who is vaguely indifferent to that tiny human’s obsession. There’s a lot about whales in general.  There are chapters of encyclopedia-like entries of whale types and biology.

This book is long and it’s not tightly structured. The story meanders here and there, sometimes forgetting all about what is probably the main plot. The chapters are named silly things like “Stubb and Flask kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk over Him”, “Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales”, and “Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, and the True Pictures of Whaling Scenes.” However, I will say this: I felt more while reading this book than I think I have from reading any other book in my life. It made me shout out loud in joy. It made me cry. It made me passionately invested in the lives of sailors with ridiculous names like Starbuck, Stubb, Flask, and Queequeg. After reading this book, I felt hope for the future of humanity. I should probably write a post about just this one book. I’ll finish by saying Moby Dick is brilliant and is most likely the best book written in the English language.

So, do you guys have any book recommendations for me? I always like to add more books to my reading list.

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