Monthly Archives: April 2012

Writing Problems #2

Standard

Welcome back to “WritingProblemsSomewhat-Weekly”! This time, I’ll address the fantasy writer’s favourite tool: magic! Yep, I know this is all fantasy-heavy here. But since this is my primary genre, that won’t change any time soon; but most of this can be useful when writing in any genre, really…

 

~ ~ ~

 

“It’s magic, it can do anything! or Why you shouldn’t say that. Ever.

 

The problem:
So you have your characters, your setting, and a vague plot outline at the ready. Yet suddenly, you realise that this outline isn’t enough. Something is still missing. And after a few minutes, hours or days of thinking, re-thinking and freaking out, you decided that your story needs something to spice it up a little. One natural solution is: magic. You add a little spell here, send some summoned spirits to the rescue fifty pages later, and then, at the very peak of suspense – well, that’s the point when you realise that you could just scratch the last twenty-seven chapters because, with one snap of his fingers, the Big Baddie could have blown away your heroes and established his Evil Empire of Doom right at the beginning of the story. Shit happens.

 

The solution:
To prevent yourself from becoming increasingly frustrated with your story, your apparently brainless Big Bad, and magic itself, you shouldn’t dive headlong into the realm of sorcery and devil worship, as our friends from certain catholic movements like to put it. If you are writing a story that involves magic, you should include a magic system in your planning. Yes, planning is a good thing. Some of us might be able to just run along with the flow of the story, but at some point, we all wish we could refer to notes and background info of some kind…
Anyway, back to topic! Apart from some character sheets (if you have more that one or two MCs), a story outline and a world map (one made with paint or your little brother’s crayons is totally sufficient, by the way), when writing Sword&Sorcery, add a basic outline of your magic system. It doesn’t need to be a fancy Excel document describing every possible spell, its effects and counter-spells. You just need to know the basics of how your magic works.

 

Some questions you should/could answer are:
-Does it lean more towards “spell-casting” or “mind-magic”?
-If you answered “spell-casting”, how do magicians do that? Do they need words, hand movements, certain ingredients (think hex bags, Supernatural style), or a combination thereof?
-Where does your “magic energy” come from? Does your magician fuel his spells all by himself, or can he pull the energy from an outside source?
-Can everyone learn magic, or do you have to be born a witch or wizard?
-Speaking of that, how do you learn it? Can you teach yourself, or do you need a teacher or go to a school?
-What exactly does your magic affect? Elements, nature, your magician’s environment in general? Or the living cell, your magician’s body, anything that is somehow alive? Or both? And what’s the difference?
-Some examples of use occur frequently in fantasy stories: environment manipulation, illusions, healing. It can’t hurt to know how these basic branches of magic work. When healing: Does your magician actively mend the body, or does he just speed up the healing process (meaning that if the injured person is too weak or the wound too bad, even magic doesn’t help)? Do illusions affect the conscious mind (read: the brain), or does that mean your magician creates the image of whatever he wants his opponent to see? Just write down the relevant branch of magic and what it does basically do. And of course, refer to this info every now and then as to not screw up your system, forcing you to start over again.

 

You might not need to answer all of the above questions. If magic only plays a minor role in your world and isn’t crucial to the plot, you can skip some of them. But if magic is a major plot point in your story, you might want to set up a firm system. If you know for yourself what is possible and what is not, you can implement the magic aspect much more easily into your plot and make its use a lot more plausible.
And always remember: If your MCs can do it, your Big Bad can probably do it, too! If Gandalf had been able to torch Sauron’s ring with a snap of his fingers, would Sauron (also a former wizard) himself have bothered hanging out at Barad Dûr as a giant eyeball? Probably not. If Harry Potter had been able to turn Voldemort to dust the first time he’d met him, Voldemort would have succeeded with killing infant Harry in the first place. I encountered this problem the first time I attempted to write a novel. Eighty pages in, I had no choice but let the Big Bad’s henchmen kill off my whole group of MCs. Doing anything else would have resulted in an utterly ridiculous plot-hole. Learn from my fail.
So set up some rules and stick to them. Of course these are your rules,and thus are not set in stone. If you feel the need to change them to improve your plot, do it. Just be consistent. No-one likes willy-nilly magic systems…

 

 

-Ricarda

Writing Problems #1

Standard

So, there is this beautiful Tumblr, and yesterday’s blog entry, and they kind of inspired me to piece together my very own writer’s manual. Which isn’t a manual for writers, but for writers… err… well, you get the idea. Hopefully. I think I need some coffee now.

During my (and since I’m officially published, I can call it that^^) work as a writer, I frequently encounter the countless obstacles and banana skins of writing fiction. Well, it’s not always fiction, but most of the time, so the focus will be on that. The general idea is to collect all kinds problems, record them and provide you, my dear readers, with possible solutions. I can’t guarantee they will always work, or even most of the time. But they are options you can try, and even if it doesn’t help, writers are a creative bunch of people – maybe you find your own solution and care to share it with the world? Or maybe you have some trouble while writing you own story and need some advice? Well, actually, in this case I’d also recommend you visit the NaNoWriMo forums; people there are amazing. But don’t be afraid to ask, I’ll try my best to help.

I’ll categorise them under “Writing Problems”, so the articles are easy to find. And I’ll probably write them just in English for now; maybe translate them later, but that’s a very big maybe here. I’m a horribly lazy person, I know…

 

~~~

 

So, now for the very first issue of “WritingProblemsWeekly” (or monthly; or whenever I manage to write something, really):

 

 

“A wild CHARACTER appeared!” or How To Deal With Fiction Tramps

 

Problem:

So, you just met the most brilliant character. Well-developed, with a nice set of skills, outside matching the inside, a decent name (this one’s always the hardest…), and not even the slightest hint of Mary Sue or Gary Stu. BUT there’s one major problem: You have no idea where to put them. No world, no society, not even a house where they could hang out for while. Basically, you just invented a fiction tramp.

The solution:

Here’s what I do to avoid having countless characters running around without purpose. Obviously, the easiest solution would be to delete them. Erase them from existence. BUT, crazy writers that we are, we just can’t. Somehow, such characters have a way to get to us, to take hold in our hearts and never let go. Which makes it also hard to kill them off for the sake of the story, but I’ll write about that another time. So, even if we manage to mentally kill at least some of them, there are still those who refuse to leave and who need a home. And it’s up to us to find them one.

Now it comes in handy if you’ve moved around a couple times already. You know how that works: You either decide on a city/area/planet, or circumstances pick it for you, like work/university/your parents. Now you go there and look for houses or flats. You inspect two or three or twenty different possible homesteads, walk around the rooms, try to figure out if you’d like to live there. Finally you find a place you like and stay.

Now we try replacing “homesteads” with “countries” and “rooms” with “cities” in the last sentence and start afresh. And that’s exactly what you will do with your homeless characters. If neither you nor they know where they belong, they might need to look around a little first. Let them stay in other stories for a while. Maybe as secondary characters you could scratch from a second draft if necessary. Maybe as passers-by who just exchange a few words with your main characters (a.k.a. “MCs”). Let them have cameos as actors in a TV show your MCs watch. Or just make up some random scenes with the stubborn tramps, see what happens. You’ll think of something. You’re a writer, after all. And maybe it takes only a few tries to find out where your beloved characters belong.

If you tried the above and still didn’t succeed after a reasonable amount of time (how long that would be is entirely up to you, of course), but refuse to abandon your characters, you could try… let’s call it my personal method.

When I moved out to go to university, it was already too late to apply for a dorm room; you see, in my course of studies, we had to take a test first, so it took them a week or two longer to notify us than the rest of the students. Which meant that pretty much all flats I could afford where already taken. Not to mention rooms in shared flats. So I was forced to take the only option left, a tiny, one-room-flat with a kitchen barely big enough for one person and not enough space for a decent dining table in the main room (well, there would be, if I sacrificed my exercise bike and the flatscreen with the gaming consoles – which is never gonna happen!). It’s small, the walls have a dozen layers of paint stuck to them and the floor looks always dirty, no matter how hard I scrub. But I had to move in, so what the hell. I made myself comfortable.

And this is option B for your characters. Take them, put them in the next best world you have (and preferably like, too), and just tell them “It’s this one or none at all for you!”. If you spend some time on helping them adjust, make themselves at home, it might just be that they find the place to not be so bad at all.

Now what are you waiting for? Fly, fly away and write!

-Ricarda

Writing tip of the day

Standard

Today, while discussing- …scratch that; while randomly musing about a magazine project we are doing this semester, we got assigned a rather fun little task: Walk around campus and go look for story ideas. Or poems. Or ask the empty schnapps bottle on the front lawn how it got there. Do whatever you like, just come back with a story.

So a classmate and I set off, wandering the area, and looked for stories. Within ten minutes, we found: said empty schnapps bottle, a tree that looks like it’s seriously mutated over the years, random clutter other people had lost, a naked cyclops (statue) and a makeshift “seesaw of the apocalypse”. I have no idea how I thought of the last one. And frankly, I don’t care. It’s cool. And cool things are cool. *stops pathetically impersonating Matt Smith*

Well, much to my surprise, this short walk was a) amazingly entertaining, and b) it actually gave me some story ideas.

So, if you’re suffering from writer’s block, grab a friend/relative/your talking dog and go for a walk. Talk about all and sundry, be silly, talk nonsense, make it a contest to spot the weirdest thing lying or standing around (be it statues, lost things or people), and don’t try to force it. It’ll work just fine. And if you come back with just some vague ideas and nothing concrete, at least you will have had some fun with a friend.

Maybe that’s all you need to cure your writer’s block :)

 

 

-Ricarda

This is just random…

Standard

Does anybody else feel like the weather is on acid right now? I mean, how else do you explain a miniature blizzard followed by 30 minutes of brightest sunshine, then another drop in temperature of about 8-10 degrees (Celsius, that is) accompanied by some heavy rain, after that some more sun and then another ten-minute snow storm?

…no-one? Well, never mind…

 

And another random thing: Writing anecdote time :)

When I was in tenth grade (I was… 16?), I was writing a short story during social studies. Nice teacher + boring class = lots of talk about weather, cake, the newspaper (everything but politics…), teacher’s model career when she was young etc. etc. So I was writing, and I usually took great care that nobody could read it, as many writers I know do, actually. This time, I apparently wasn’t paying enough attention, so a classmate right next to me grabbed the first page and was halfway through it before I noticed. She finished it and passed it on. At that very moment, I was thinking about strangling her, but she was one of the few people at school I actually liked, so no strangling. Dammit. While the first page was passed around in class, she urged me to show her the rest. So I finished the last page and handed it to her. The damage was done, anyway.

When both pages had been handed to at least five other people, I got them back, along with grins,  raised eyebrows and several thumbs up. They actually liked it.

Moral of the story? Writers, take heart and show your stuff to other people. Most of the time, what you write isn’t nearly as bad as you think. Even if it’s a super-cheesy sorta-love story you wrote during social studies.

I mean, I still hate showing anyone a first draft, but it got a lot easier to show them the second, third or seventh one…

 

-Ricarda

 

€dit: So, I failed “60 day/60k” … 40,253. Dammit. So close… at least for me :S