On Writing - Topic - Inspiration
October 13, 2014
I was reading a thread on reddit where someone was asking who to make the races of the campaign world they created feel unique, as all his ideas kept feeling recycled from other stories. I gave some tips on making the history of your world first, and then try to shape your races from those historical events. But something occurred to me while I was putting my post together.
I love fantasy. I basically learned to read from old TSR forgotten realms novels, which was bread and butter elves, dwarves, orcs, halflings, etc. You couldn't throw a stone without hitting a demi-human race. They had long storied histories and age old conflicts. They paid homage to folklore, and Lord of the Rings.
However, it didn't occur to me until I finished writing that reply, that I hadn't really placed any within the World of Grey. At least, not on the main continent on which Fallen Throne takes place. There are different races of humans, and the Dark Fey are the closest to another civilization, but they are still monsters at best. No dwarven warriors, elven archers, smallfolk thieves. It was never even a topic I discussed or plotted out.
There's nothing wrong with fantasy races. I spent plenty of my formative years pretending to be them while rolling dice across the floor in grade school. But I felt like the story I wanted to tell did not need them. It was already a tale full of interesting individuals, magic and adventure. I did not need to add depth or complexity for complexity's sake.
Whether you're writing age old tales or science fiction of tomorrow, make sure to think about what adding a particular race brings to your tale. Don't think you need to add it because that's what all fantasy novels do. Just make sure it feels natural, and that they are there because they are meant to be there, not because you feel they're supposed to be there.
September 22, 2014
World of Grey has been a setting I've been working on for a while. Previously, I talked about how it was originally a game idea, then became a D&D campaign before eventually becoming a novel.
The story has also changed a lot as well. Originally it was much more in spirit with The Lord of the Rings. There was a powerful witch, Sortia, who lost a bracelet, that a boy unearthed in a long forgotten tomb close to his village. Sortia had foot soldiers she sent after the bracelet, the boy met friends and adventurers who had a vested interest in keeping the bracelet out of her hands, and adventure ensued. It was a lot of fun, and even made for an interesting game, but I just don't think I had my heart into it entirely.
When I sat down to start writing it as a story, I just wasn't compelled by the characters. I wasn't interested In the backstory, and it just kept feeling too Tolkien. In hindsight I think the movies had just come out and intentional or not, it was heavily influencing my ideas.
In the end it was too black and white for what I wanted to do. The World of Grey is meant to be exactly that. Shades of morality. Fallen Throne has a bit of a black and white feel to it, but a lot of it is the setup to a larger tale. I'm hoping to explore the character's motivations and thoughts more in future adventures. The other problem with my original idea was that there was only one conflict. Sortia. Once that was resolved, the story was over. Whereas in Fallen Throne, Geddon is just a pawn in a larger game.
What I learned from this was two parts. That your first idea probably won't be your best idea, and that it's okay to throw away ideas if they don't light your world on fire after rounding them out a bit. It's okay to invest time into something that you ultimately set aside. You'll do that a lot in the creative process. But none of it's a waste. Each bit of work will take you closer to the idea you do want to get behind, and nurture.
It took a lot of bad ideas to get to Fallen Throne.
September 15, 2014
Before 'World of Grey' was the book series I am writing, it was to be the interactive world I was going to create in Neverwinter Nights. I had spent many months writing character profiles, scripting dialogue exchanges, and creating adventure paths. For those not in the know, Neverwinter Nights was a computer game where you could create your own adventures using tools that came with the game. Unfortunately, I never quite took to the coding aspect of the game, and the project came to a halt before it ever got off the ground.
I kept all the resources I had created though, and wanted to keep it around for a future project. I even tried it as a campaign for a game of dungeons and dragons, but quickly realized that players do not follow script like your written characters do, so that plan was scrapped as well. I did get a few more characters to flavor the setting, as I made people up as needed for the party to talk to, and a few points of interest as well as they travelled around, off course from where I wanted the story to go. But fun times none the less.
I briefly tried a few submissions to get it made into an animated series, but had no artistic talent to speak of, and everyone wanted a picture, or storyboard. I had taken a scriptwriting class in college, and used what I had learned there to turn my ideas into a five page script, but I had nothing else. Plus I didn't even know if I was submitting my project to the right venues, or if this kind of approach even worked.
In hindsight, writing a book was the last thing I tried, but it was probably the approach I was best prepared for. I had always loved writing, had taken courses for it in both high school and college, and had impressed teachers to the degree that they always said I should pursue it more. It only took eight years and a few failed attempts to bring me back to it.
And writing the book came more naturally than any of the previous mediums I tried to tackle. Well, I'd say 95% of it anyway. Khristian and Jenner's adventure in Arcturus took as long to write as the rest of the book did. I actually skipped it initially and wrote the end.
But when I was done, I felt really good about it. Even if it never gets major success, it was a journey worth taking, and I feel better about myself for having taken it. Sometimes that the best part of the journey.
September 10, 2014
I hope this can be one of the least controversial discussions of the topic. There is religion in Grey. But before I get too far into it, I wanted to give a little insight to myself.
I was raised a rebellious catholic, attended a private grade school, went through with confirmation to please my grandparents, chose Porthos as my confirmation name, and years later, I now go back and forth between atheism and agnosticism.
What I have discovered through all those years, is that what is important is belief. I don't care whether you believe in God, Buddha, your friends, your family, your significant other, your children, mother nature, the greek pantheon, yourself, science, or unicorns. As long as it isn't hurting you or other people, and it gets you through the difficult times in your life, that's all that matters. Having something to believe in can get you through the toughest of times, when all seems dark. A belief should bring light.
Now, on to Grey. Worship in Grey is mainly split by the main countries; Ramza, Arcturus, M'lan and Ouran. Now while I speak in generalizations, remember, they are just that. There is always spillover.
Ramza has had a strong resurgence in belief in the One God. Worshipped centuries ago, then having fallen out of favor, the religion is finding it's feet again. The One God is responsible for all creation, and believes in truth, unity and understanding. A war has never been fought in his or her name. Often portrayed as a male, Roland's recent pilgrimage has him preaching that the One God is in fact a she. Seeing as how someone gifted him with the sword he carries and the powers he wields, it is an oft discussed topic of debate.
Arcturuns worship nature, living close with the land. This has produced some of the most benevolent, and vicious, splinter cults in all of grey. People embrace harmony, while others survival. Science, while used for its health benefits, is viewed more of a byproduct of nature. Many Arcturuns are mindful of how others treat the wilderness, and are careful to make sure it is treated with respect. They are the people most likely to invoke the earth when given offense, or to correct a foreigners misdeeds.
M'lan is a land of many deities. Worship is a central part of their lives, the empire ruled by the Seti, A high priestess. Religion governs daily life, job security, marriage, and even the dispersal of children within families. Religion has an answer for any question a Lanese citizen might have. This is not as stifling as it might sound. Because the pantheon is so diverse, so are the scriptures of each god or goddess, resulting in both strict and lax rules, as the situations dictate.
Lastly is Ouran, which has no religious structure in place. Ouran is a land of science and discovery through and through. Ouran citizens love facts and research, always finding better ways to grow a crop, write a book, give a speech, or prolong a life. Most of the great marvels built or manufactured in grey came from a mind that spent a fair share of time in Ouran. That's not to say the occasional scientist doesn't offer a little prayer to a god of luck or goddess of destiny. After all, they're having a hard time disproving religion exists.
So there you have it. Not too deep. Not too preachy. Just a splash of beliefs that the inhabitants of Grey look to.
August 20, 2014
I want to talk of fireballs and ice storms and lightning bolts. Animated corpses, teleportation and incantation. I am a lover of all things magical. The very first novel I can remember reading was about a girl who could literally absorb magic out of the air and throw it back in a fiery stream of death.
I remember when I sat down to watch 'The Fellowship of the Ring' that I was surprised by the lack of flashy magic. I thought surely, in the land of dwarves and elves and goblins, that magic would drip from the scenery like rain on an overcast day. But I learned something else. Tolkien made magic precious. When you saw it, it was something special, or made a point, or was wrapped in a concept grounded in the believable. Tolkien was already telling a fantastic adventure. He didn't need to create something that might detract from the story.
When I thought about writing a novel, I always imagined I would have skies the limit when it came to magic. Mighty wizards would topple buildings, throw the elements around like it was effortless, and the very earth would tremble. But I realized that while it might make for edge of your seat entertainment, that wasn't a story.
I realized I wanted to make magic special too, and not put it everywhere. When Roland brings forth his sword, it's obvious it's one of a kind. Colette is a being of magic, and she is a force to be reckoned with. But magic can be a very simple thing as well, as Mao shows everyone. And I think the story is richer for it. I don't want magic to detract from a story, but help build it.
In the end, this isn't to detract from you using magic in your own story, but just make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Make it part of your world, and make it special.
August 11, 2014
More often than not, a story has three parts. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Sometimes they are told in that order, and sometimes not. What's important when writing, is that you don't need to stick to the same order.
When I wrote Fallen Throne, I had some very solid visuals in my head. The fire at the R.A.T. The fight on the coach. The battle at Hallon's Hold. Umbrunzwe's daring escape from the castle. I had these set pieces cemented in my head. I didn't have every bit that connected these moments together planned out. And what I learned was that it was okay.
I never had writer's block when I wrote Fallen Throne, and that's because I let myself jump around in the story. If I got to a moment where I wasn't positive what the characters should be doing next, I skipped ahead a few pages and told the next thing I knew they were doing for sure. Then a few days later, I'd come back to where I was stumped. Often times, the act of writing ahead helped clear up the earlier problem. I would make a decision I could use to help pave the way in the past.
I'd say the single most important thing I took away from writing Fallen Throne was never stop writing. If ever I was confused, or frustrated, I would write about something easy. I'd write up descriptions of characters, or add to the encyclopedia, or maybe compose a poem or song for the world. I would always craft something.
Another important step, and this will sound a tad cliché, but setting goals is important. If you're a bit intimidated by goals, it's okay to start small. When I first started writing Fallen Throne, I told myself, three pages a day. After a week I told myself five pages a day. By a month in, I was sailing steady at ten pages a day. On a good day, those ten pages came in an hour. Sometimes it took two. But you have to stick with it. Sometimes this means missing a TV show (I didn't have a cable box that recorded shows) or cutting out some video games, or not eating out for the Nth time that week.
Writing is a commitment like any other. Even if you love your commitments, you still have to devote time to them when sometimes you might want to be doing something else. That doesn't mean you're not a good writer. Everyone likes to do different things, and only a few special individuals can do the same task day in and day out.
Get committed to your writing craft, and you have the first major obstacle behind you.
August 6, 2014
This is more of a pep talk than a tool, but everyone can use a pep talk from time to time. I call this topic the Right Time, but in actuality, I feel it's a myth.
I've been writing for years. Decades even. I can recall at a young age punching away on my mom's typewriter. I can faintly recall the smell of whiteout and ink. I think I was 7 or 8 at the time, writing about the adventures kids in grade school were having. I spent many years writing short stories, all the way up through my college days. But while I often thought about it, I never took a crack at a full blown novel.
I always said I was waiting for the right time. I'll have more time to write in college. I'll have more time when this semester's over. I'll have more time once this project is done. I'll have more time once I move out. Once I find a better job.
These sound like excuses, but I honestly believed them at the time. I thought there'd me some magical moment that felt right for writing my story. Maybe some people have these moments, but I realized that I wasn't going to. I had to make my moment.
I'm telling you this because, if you are one of those people waiting for the right moment, you're missing it. I'm not saying Fallen Throne would of taken the world by storm instantly had I written it ten years earlier, but I feel like there was a period where publishing houses took more risks on first time writers. When book stores were flourishing. And I missed it. And that's on me. And now that I've written my story, I know that there was no magical time that made the story just flow. During the year I wrote Fallen Throne, I worked full time, moved, and had my appendix removed, among other things. I still made time to write. You have to make your right time.
So if you are waiting to write your story. If you're waiting for your life to be less busy. Don't. Write it right now. Start today. You're never going to get that magical free time in the ideal spot to start your story. Start writing it now. The journey will take longer than you think. You have to make the time to do it.
August 4, 2014
Today's topic isn't a tool per se. I wanted to talk about inspiration. Ideas can come from anything. Sometimes I think your best ideas can come from subjects completely unrelated to the theme or subjects you are writing about. Today I want to talk about some inspiration for a few of the main characters in Fallen Throne.
While I don't make as much time to watch anime today as I did years ago, I still enjoy the medium. I feel like I get to see genres and topics that, as a primary viewer of western television, I don't get exposure to regularly. One show I enjoyed early on was a show called Fullmetal Panic. Not to be confused with Full Metal Alchemist, which is another great show in it's own way.
Fullmetal Panic is about a straight-laced soldier who is sent to protect a girl with mysterious powers. He's serious, no-nonsense and loyal to a fault, while the girl can be a bit silly, gets tired of his over-protectiveness, and is generally a lways giving hima hard time. The interaction of the two characters always intrigued me, and I loved the relationship between the two.
When I sat down to sculpt Khristian and Aerika, I thought a lot about Sousuke and Kaname. I didn't copy their looks, or the settings, or anything else. I just would think to myself, what would they do, to help guide decisions that Khristian and Aerika make. I think Khristian is a little more relaxed than Sousuke, and I think Aerika is a little more naïve than Kaname. Even, saying this, I don't know that anyone would notice the similarities. But it helped flesh the characters out, and when the two make it through something together, it makes me smile.
The other two characters I want to talk about are Havelin and Umbrunzwe. For years, before I even considered writing a story, I was a Kevin Smith fan. Mallrats is probably my favorite. It was the first place I got to meet the inseparable duo of Jay and Silent Bob. Partners in crime, the ying to his yang.
I knew when I sat down to start Fallen Throne, that I absolutely wanted some comic relief. I'd read too many Terry Pratchett books. Now Havelin and Umbrunzwe are a lot more capable when it comes to survival at the end of a blade. Umbrunzwe is by far the most accomplished combatant of all the main characters in Fallen Throne, maybe Roland and Colette running a close second. And I don't think Jay is the poet and musician that Havelin is. But when Havelin and Umbrunzwe chide each other and play around, I have these two notorious drifters in mind, and it brings a smile to my face.
May you find inspiration and write characters that are always bringing smiles to your face.
August 1, 2014
Today is another topic about keeping track of all your ideas. And it's easier today than ever. I use an iPad for it, but whatever you have available to you works; tablet, smartphone, hand recorder, notebook. Basically, have something with you at all times that you can use to jot down ideas.
But Mr. Porthos, you say, if it's really a good idea, how could it possibly slip my mind. Well, unless it's an idea so good that it spawns its own story, there's a good chance you can forget it. I've probably forgotten more good ideas than I want to remember. Good ideas don't come when it's convenient. They come during movies, in the shower, while grocery shopping, playing games, shooting the breeze with friends, and even in your sleep.
You have that good idea, and the next thing you know, there's a loud explosion on screen, you run out of hot water, collide with another shopper, get yelled at for stalling on your turn, laugh at a joke, or wake up, and the idea is quickly pushed aside. And you missed it. You might remember it, or parts of it, or that you had a good idea, but you might forget it to.
It's not worth losing your ideas. Get it down as soon as you have it, or grab your recording device and say it if you need to keep a hand on the steering wheel. Don't tell yourself you'll remember it later. Do it right now. In fact, if you had a good idea just now, stop reading this and jot down your idea. No, seriously, stop, the lines of text you're reading will wait.
Are we good? Alright. Once you have the idea, you can always flesh it out later. Maybe it works for your story now. Maybe it works for a different story five years from now. But you have it. That's the important part. I don't believe there are many bad ideas, but just ideas married to the wrong concepts.
Until next time, may all your ideas come when you want them to. (but they won't!)