Posts Tagged ‘world building’

Celebrations and Character Development

March 18, 2019

The middle of March is a huge celebration time for me. It starts on 3.14, Pi Day. The next day is the Ides of March, and although I don’t often commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar, I do make note of it. March 16 is St. Urho’s Day, in honor of the made-up saint who chased either the grasshoppers or the frogs out of Finland (depending on which fictional hagiography you read). I’m Irish enough to get a kick out of St. Patrick’s Day. The week ends off today, March 18, which is my father’s birthday.

George Longshore

My dad would have been 86 today. It is also what would have been my parents’ 64th wedding anniversary. Dad always said he got married on his birthday so he would never forget his anniversary. Knowing my father, I’m pretty sure the sun would go cold before he would forget that date because he was devoted to my mother. Although Dad passed away in 2000, he is still an important figure in my life.

That brings me to the prompt I gave to a group of writers. I told them to create their own holiday as an exercise in world-building. As I watched them scribble away, it suddenly dawned on me that how we observe our holidays creates the world we carry with us. I mark my father’s birthday with joy for the time we had him. As a person, this realization is empowering; as a writer, it’s a tool. How do your characters approach the holidays? Do they create their own celebrations for the fun of it, or as a coping mechanism to get them through dark days? Do they refuse to celebrate anything at all, and why? Asking these questions might open a whole new understanding of who your characters are, and why they fight you on the page.

Luck and wisdom!

A View of the World

January 7, 2019

My father, brother, and son are left-handed. I never realized how useful that would be to me until I started writing science fiction. There’s nothing like having your own view of the world turned on its axis to start the world-building process. A simple experiment will illustrate: try brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand (I’ve done it a few times, and have yet to get through an entire session). Now incorporate what you experienced into a story set on an alien planet, and you’re the one who has to adapt.

My mother burned her right hand as a child, and learned to do some things left-handed. I watched her, and also learned to do some things with my left hand. Neither she nor I are entirely ambidextrous, but I like to try using my left hand for some tasks, especially when I’m thinking about a new world for one of my stories. Get out of your comfort zone on purpose – that’s where the creativity starts.

Luck and wisdom!

Cookie Valhalla

December 24, 2018

Thanks, Walt, for the delicious cookies!

One of my writing groups is mixed genre, and I’m the only sci fi writer. They’ve asked before how I write about a world that doesn’t exist, and I’ve never felt I’ve given them a good explanation. The short answer is you take something you know and push it in another direction. My group likes long answers. Luckily, I was talking to a friend about where fantastic bakers might go when their Final Timers ring, and the term Cookie Valhalla popped in my head. “Self,” I said, “this is your opening.” My next attempt at explaining world building will begin with imagining my favorite people joyfully baking amazing food, doing battle with perfect puff pastry, and ending in an orgy of eating the weapons on the battlefield. How’s that for building a world, eh?

Luck and wisdom!

Why Novelists Need Research

November 12, 2018

I still use my Encyclopaedia Britannica for quick research. Although I write science fiction, I want my human characters to be grounded in reality. Even my alien worlds and characters benefit from references to what we know (or think we know). Then an on-going project showed me just how valuable research is for novelists.

My husband and I are writing biographies of our families. Since just about everyone was a tinkerer or maker, he thought including a section on tools would be useful. Last week he started cataloging all the cameras we had inherited, and he decided to research each model. He wanted to know when it was produced (to narrow down when our family member might have bought it), how popular it was, what special features it had, anything that would help him understand why the camera was prized enough to make its way to us.

While doing this research, he remembered a narrow, pocket-size camera his father once owned. He discovered that it was marketed as a compact, convenient camera for families to use, but it was picked up by both the U.S. and Soviet spy community because it was easy to conceal and the optics were superb.

When I heard this story, I thought of building a story on the undiscovered spy in an otherwise normal family. Yes, the story has been told before, but that doesn’t mean I can’t use the plot, and now I have a tool – Ian’s camera – to use as a prompt.

That is the fun of research. You never know where it could lead you, what story it could inspire, or where that story could take you.

Me and my camera, a long time ago

Luck and wisdom!

Normal Life for Me and My Characters

November 5, 2018

I vacuumed for the first time since hurting my ankle. While not exactly an earth-shattering event, it was a milestone for me. Cleaning isn’t my favorite activity, but once I didn’t have the strength or stability to push around the vacuum cleaner I became obsessed with recovering enough to do so, to get back to a normal life.

That got me thinking about character development, and what my characters might latch onto when they feel out of their element. I can imagine my plucky, unconventional heroine looking forward to doing her laundry when she returns to Earth from her interstellar explorations. Her sidekick and potential boyfriend might think running an errand for his mother would mean he is really home. These scenes may never appear in the novel, but that’s okay. If I know that the character feels untethered because part of her past is no longer relevant (even a chore she always hated), it will help me understand how she might react in the scene. Building a character, like keeping house, is all about what happens when no one is looking.

Luck and wisdom!

The Nature of Language

October 1, 2018

I talk with my hands. Okay, as I’ve never mastered American Sign Language and don’t use my personal, private hand signals with any consistency it is more accurate to say I flail with my hands. No amount of magical thinking will ever give meaning to my movements.

These are not words

That begs the question of the nature of language, and how I can use it to add more depth to my characters. If I create a multi-lingual character, will he combine languages when he is stressed? If I create an extraterrestrial who speaks with colored light, will she spell words in the air when she learns English? My aliens in The Chenille Ultimatum use poetry for their prophetic messages – what would a species that speaks with dance use for prophecy, or stand-up comedy? Although my finger waves and wrist curls only make sense to me, in my writing they can speak with grace and eloquence.

Luck and wisdom!

World-Building Through Cheese

September 17, 2018

Cheesehenge

The local paper ran an article about cheese not being the source of all evil for anyone worrying about cardiovascular issues. My inner cheese-hound yipped and yapped and chased its tail, because I adore cheese but there is a history of heart disease on both sides of the family. While rescuing my recipes for cheeseballs, cheese sauces, fondues, savory pastries, souffles, and quiches from the dusty corners of the cookbook shelf, I thought of how I’ve used food in my sci fi stories. Ann Anastasio and I have featured food in each book of the Chenille series. We’ve also made a subplot out of Earth foods that are similar to products on our imaginary planet, Schtatik. Reading the article about cheese reminded me of all the nutrition advice I’ve followed only to be told later that the studies were wrong, which illustrated a hole in my world-building. When I think of what my aliens might eat, I’ve always envisioned their diets as an ideal, or bound by ritual. I don’t think I’ve ever given my aliens a chance to cheat on their diets, or indulge in comfort food, or visit the junk food aisle in their groceries. I’ve never even considered what their groceries would look like. Ever. From now on, however, I’m going to spend a little time imagining what my aliens think they should eat as well as what they do eat, and why it matters. World-building through cheese – yeah, that’s a thing now.

Inspiration Prompt #3

July 9, 2018

Gizmos are great

I love gizmos like the item pictured above. This one has a compass, magnifying glass, ruler, straight edge, curved edge, and long cord for hanging around your neck or on a pack. What kind of person would need such a multi-tasker? What kind of person would think of cramming so many tools into one small object? When I start building worlds for my science fiction stories, I have to create the tool as well as the society that makes it, and I often start with things available here, but not ones that I normally use. Your prompt is to imagine a tool your character would need, using the item above as a starting point, and build the world of your story around it.