Monday, May 27, 2013

A Whole New World...

Whether we are painting a picture or writing a tale, we must always consider the World.  When I say "World", I mean the whole World - land and sea; climate and atmosphere; plant and animal; past, present and future.  Everything.  We tend to take much of our world for granted. 
No... this isn't leading to a rant of how we need to become one with the environment and kiss a few trees;  though, I know many of us would benefit from a day "outdoors".
I would like to talk about the World that exists within our creations.  Where does your character live?  What is the weather like?  How does society function?  Is it modern?  Ancient?  Alien?  If we were to visit your World - would we be considered gods or demons or even simpletons?
Much of a story's foundation can be found in the created World.  In fact, the World could be considered a character within itself.  You will obviously hold to facts and avoid creative license if you are writing a strict, facts-only, non-fiction tale.  Biographies, historical accounts and specific events exist in the real, "concrete" world.  Ah... but fiction is in a whole different ballgame.
Oh, sure.  You can create a story in the World you know from everyday experience.  Writers do this all the time.  Look at authors like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, or Laurell K Hamilton.  Real states.  Real towns.  References to local establishments and landmarks.  Even details to the societal structures, mannerisms, and language quirks.  The World of the stories are replicas of our real world... but there's a twist.
A fiction author has the freedom to add, augment, and even warp the real world.  Vampires, werewolves, psychos, aliens and supernatural powers are common tools.  Influences greater than anything we would ever encounter are added to our normal little world.  Disasters and trials to test the human race. Why?
Simple:  To explore the human condition.  Stephen King was shown time and again how people may react to extreme conditions.  The World was quite normal in King's tales until he adds a simple conflict - a crazy dog, a bullied girl, a possessed car, a plague, etc.  Suddenly the World evolves.  People react differently - the rules have changed.  The story can go as far as the author wishes. 
Most writers are smart enough to stretch the World without "breaking" it.  Readers can accept some pretty wild concepts, but they have to make sense.  Some examples of "stretching" your World and what is needed to avoid breaking it:
First, we must ask "What is Magic?"  Often we think of Magic as chants and spells and potions.  Witches, wizards, sorcerers and mages.  For your story, this may be true and that is just fine.  Truth is, Magic can be whatever your want it to be so long as there is a system of explanation. 
Your readers don't need exact details (though some will ask), but they need some basis of reality.  Where does the Magic come from?  Is it used by many or few? What are the Magic's  limits?  How does a person gain Magic?  How to lose it?  Most important, is it really Magic or a misconception?
My friend, Ryan Carver, is a self-proclaimed "Hobbyist Illusionist".  He spends much of his time studying the Art of Magic Tricks.  When I asked him what he thought of real Magic, he said:
"Magic is simply an art of demonstrating the impossible.  Well... impossible for those who are watching you.  Can you imagine how amazed the people of the 14th century would have been if we could show them something as simple as a cigarette lighter?  Ha!  They'd probably use the same lighter burn us at the stake!"
Superpowers are great!  Everyone has dreamed at some point of being a superhero.  Being able to fly or shoot fire or become invisible... oh, so many powers to choose from.  You will want to make sure you create an explanation as to why people have powers.  Mutants?  Science?  Alien?
When using powers you must include an anti-power - a weakness.  If your character is immortal, invincible, strong, fast, can fly and is happy... your readers won't believe it.  Stan Lee is known worldwide for his Superheroes.  The Heroes aren't remembered for their powers;  instead, they are remembered for their normalness.  We can relate to a Hero who has personal issues.  Sad as it is, happy and content characters are unbelievable.
~Aliens & Non-Humans~
Biggest mistake a writer can make is creating an Alien without considering its origin.  You should consider the Alien's World.  Climate, gravity, plant life.  How long is a day?  What sort of government exists there?  Was is a peaceful society?  Would we exploit them?  Was it a militant world?  Are the visiting Aliens invaders or refugees?
What makes them different from us... or more importantly, you must consider what makes the Aliens similar to Humans.  Gene Roddenberry demonstrated the effectiveness of Humanizing the Aliens not only in Star Trek, but also Andromeda and Earth: Final Conflict.  There might be some differences of appearance and surely different customs, but what makes them like Humans?  Do they fall in love?  Do they care for others?  Do the mourn the dead?  Do they feel jealousy, hatred, greed, lust, sadness, joy, contentment?  As always... what are their weaknesses?
There are many different places I could go from here, so I'll stop and continue in a future installment. 
Happy Creating!
'Til Paths Meet Again...

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Technical Difficulties

Ouch!  Now that was a painful span of time between blog entries.  I couldn't log into any of my usual accounts and had to spend the last few months trying to convince web technicians that I am indeed ME!  Such a royal pain in the... *deep breath*

Ah... so this would be a fine time to discuss the tools of the trade.  (Might as well turn these lemons into potpourri.)

The most common means of writing these days is through the computer.  It is wonderful!  We can adjust the format to fit an intended feel.  The software will correct our spelling.  With the internet, you have an endless source of information references at your fingertips. Pick and choose fonts, insert pictures and even create an e-book to be easily sent to friends, family... even some publishers.

Fact is, I love writing on the computer.  The computer makes life so simple during the fabrication process.  I say "fabrication" because the computer does just that:  it facilitates the creation of a final product.  What the computer won't do is write the story for you.

The story you tell comes from within yourself and often you may find ideas, plots or character developments emerging at times that using the computer is impossible.  (Example:  I drive a semi-truck an average of 10hrs per day.  That's 10hrs of staring the road, listening to the radio and entertaining my own thoughts.  I can't very well pull over every time I have a good idea and yet I know I won't remember everything come the end of the day.). So, let's talk about tools that can help your writing no matter your situation:

1).  Pens & Pocket Notepads - never be without one!  Or several, even.  You could be on break at work, walking through a mall or having a really inspirational moment in the restroom when an idea hits.  Don't Lose That Idea!  Write it down!  You might decide later that it wasn't so great, but it might also be the shining gem that defines your story.  Even the ideas that don't work for your current tale are useful.  Keep them - for those ideas may be of use in future writings.

2).  Voice Recorder - hands-free note taking.  You could be driving or out for a jog when inspiration attacks.  Being able to record a message to be written down later can save a lot of frustration.  Now, don't run out and buy some fancy recorder.  No need to spend money on something you already have.  Chances are that many of you are reading this from a smart phone.  Go to your App Store.  You will find several free recording applications that work perfectly.  Remember:  you are recording story ideas... not dictating the closing argument for a murder trial.  It doesn't have to me perfect.

3).  Camera - take the inspiration with you.  Perhaps it's a sunset or a rusty old car or a flower growing through a sidewalk that sparked an idea.  Take a picture.  Take a few pictures.  Again, your phone is your friend.  It's true when they say a picture can speak a thousand words.  Problem is:  you probably don't have time to stand there and write those words.  Snap a picture, take it with you and write about it in the comfort of your own home.

These are three simple tools that can help you to collect writing ideas.  They can also help you to bring story issues with you.  When sitting at your computer writing, you may find you have hit a wall in the story.  You know where you want the story to go but can't find a good way to get there.  Grab your notepad and make a note - this is the issue, this is what must be achieved and this is the page where the problem sits.  Now move on.

Continue your writing at the point you wanted to reach.  Your notepad won't forget where your problem was and it might remind you at a later date.  You may also find that the problem is solved through further writing and that precious notepad will tell you where to go and fill in the gap.

In closing, I just want to say:  Every idea is golden.  No matter how epic or minor - no matter if it is currently relevant or goes unused - save every creative thought.  Those ideas are part of you and may prove to be the heart of your tale.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Motivation to Care...

Have you ever read a story or watched a show on television and during certain scenes you find yourself thinking: "Why would anyone act this way? This is ridiculous!"

Well, you are not alone. It isn’t because you are missing some vital point or that the characters are just too deep for you to understand. Most times, it is nothing more than the author failing to create a convincing character or story.

An important part of writing is to create a character your readers can relate to and place your cast in situations that make sense.

I know… this sounds like a major obstacle and seems to infringe upon creative license.

Why should I be forced to tailor my writing around the readers? If they don’t get it, then they aren’t the right type of reader for my form of creativity.”

I’m not talking about changing your story content… just how you are planning telling it. You can write a story about an orphan girl who trains a monkey how to fly a hot air balloon in Alaska… the trick is making your readers care.

One of my favorite tools for writing is Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
*read more about Abraham Maslow
If you are already familiar with the Hierarchy of Needs, then thank you for visiting and hope to see you next time!  For everyone else, here is how this simple pyramid can help you and your writing.
We start at the bottom and work our way towards the top.  Without the basic (lower) needs getting met, you cannot move forward.
Physiological Needs:  These are the most basic.  Food, Shelter, Breathing, Warmth, etc.  Those simple items we all need just to live. 

We see the physiological needs being the focus in a lot of writing.  It is something everyone can relate to:  if we don't find food soon, we will die - or - we are running out of air and we will die if we don't reach the ocean surface. 

Most important factor to remember at this level:  We need it or we die!

Safety Needs:  Simply put: Security.  Holding on to the things we have.  You can go basic as to protect your body, food or shelter.  You can also go as far as protecting a job or your family and even health.  You will also find that a person will risk their safety to fulfill the physical needs (Fisherman braving harsh seas to bring home food,  man will fight wolf to have cave during blizzard).

Safety needs often go hand-in-hand with Physiological needs.  As readers, Safety is something everyone deals with:  what will I do if they close the factory?  What if someone tries to break into my house?  It is getting late... maybe I should make sure the kids are "really" at their friends house.

Safety factor:  I have this, I need this, I need to keep this.

Now Physiological and Safety are easy to understand and sit well with the readers.  You don't need to explain why these things are important. 

The next three aren't so primal and require alot more skill in writing to actually make people care:

Social Needs:  Love and Belonging.  Friends, Family, Intimacy.  Need I say more?

You can find examples of the Social level at any time by simply tuning your television to Lifetime or Hallmark.  Social needs are the breeding ground of romance, drama, teen fiction, after-school specials, and non-stop sitcoms.  Hugs, kissing, loving... good stuff and many readers.  (note: also, there are many writers riding the love-train).

Social factor:  I need someone to love.  I need a place to belong.

Esteem Needs:  Yes, self-esteem up here.  Here you will also find Confidence, Respect of/by Others, and Achievement.

This is also where you find self-worth. This area usually requires a lot of extra writing to explain why it is important for Jeff to win the science fair - or - why should I care if Tanya finally stands up to her mother?  You must explain why this is important.

Esteem factor:  I need you to accept me and respect who I am.

Self-actualization:  Problem Solving, Creativity, Morality.  This is where you reach your potential.  A goal of personal ideology being met.  Being who you wish to be.

This is also a point where a character would find that inner purpose ... a meaning or reason to their actions.  Religion or artistic fruition being a common focus in writing.

Self-actualization factor:  This is who I am and what I am meant to do.

Now, this is in no way a complete and in depth look at character motivations.  This is only a brief look at a tool I have found to be quite handy.  I hope this has been of some assistance. 

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