Worldbuilding 101: Holidays Part Two

You guys are awesome. I don’t know if last week’s blog resonated with a lot of readers or you were taking pity on an insecure writer (I’m hoping for the first, but I’ll take the second.) but I got more likes faster than any previous post.

You may also be behind the upswing on my Pinterest account. Still didn’t sell any books on kindle, but I remain hopeful.

So, holidays, part two. The problem with putting this off two weeks is I can no longer remember what it was I wanted to say. Hopefully I can remember and put in some good points anyway.

When is your holiday? Is it by the solar calendar, the lunar calendar, always the same day of the week? Christmas is by the solar calendar. It is always December twenty-fifth. Easter is reckoned by the lunar calendar, because Passover is by the lunar calendar. It is also always on the same day of the week (Sunday), like American Thanksgiving is always on the fourth Thursday in November. In Canada, it’s on the second Monday in October.

I can see the Weres using the lunar calendar more commonly, and perhaps the vampires wish to avoid the solar calendar as well. Do races that interact with each other more start using other calendars?

Perhaps your races use another calendar entirely? In Knightfall, there is brief mention of a Yeti holiday, First Winter’s Night which begins the Festival of Ice. Winter is declared to begin when the ice is thick enough to support the full weight of an adult yeti. But no one knows when that will be ahead of time. Also in Knightfall, Violet wishes a goblin RA a happy Mid-year’s day on New Year’s Eve, because the goblin New Year is sometime in June, based on goblin constellations. So, a stellar calendar. Maybe your holiday revolves around a blooming of a plant or the return of a migratory bird or animal.

How is time measured? Without a moon, we may not have months as we know them and it would be harder to differentiate the beginning and end of the year.

Holidays can be heavily linked to the values of the culture. Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? Because as a society we are supposed to be grateful and honor our parents and ancestors. Some holidays are made up for commercial reasons. Does anyone really think there is a good reason behind National Ice Cream month other than to sell more ice cream? (I originally used National Pancake day and National doughnut day, but apparently there are reasons behind them.)

Most religions have a day they consider more sacred than others. Most Christians (other than Seventh Day Adventists) have Sunday as a day of rest. Most Jews (and the Seventh Day Adventists) consider Saturday the Sabbath. The Muslims consider Friday a holy day. This is essentially a minor holiday each week. If you are inventing a religion for your race, a weekly holy day is not a bad consideration.

When does the holiday begin? Is it at midnight? At dawn? At sundown the night before? How old is your holiday? You may not think that matters, but it does. What a holiday is meant to be is not always closely related to what it becomes after some decades of time. Memorial Day is supposed to be a time to remember those who have fallen in battle. It was originally observed by decorating the graves of soldiers (and by some partisan speeches and bickering). But it has been turned into a three day weekend which is often celebrated by cookouts. I don’t believe I did anything last Memorial Day. I’m not passing judgement, but I think we can all admit the holiday changed over the years. The further a holiday is from the original founding, the more likely that the meaning and way of celebrating has changed.

Have fun making up your own holidays and celebrating the upcoming ones!

A little note, I’ve made Hyde University pins. You can see them and read about the development of the Hyde University crest on Facebook.

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Impostor Syndrome and Writer’s Envy

Sorry about being late posting this week. Yesterday was supposed to be spent catching up on my NaNoWriMo word count, and I didn’t really succeed on that either. I also appolgize for changing the topic I had planned. I still plan to do a Holidays Part Two (probably next week), but wanted to cover an issue (two, really) that I’m struggling with a bit right now.

First off, Impostor Syndrome. The feeling that you are actually a failure, and sooner or later, everyone is going to catch on. It’s actually extremely common, and ironically, it becomes more common the more successful you become.

I’m working on a new book, and the plot simply isn’t coming. I don’t know what I’m going to write. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I definitely don’t know if I’m going to finish fifty thousand word this November. I’ve been okay with rewriting, but have had a hard time coming up with anything new for almost a year. Maybe my creativity has run out…

No, it hasn’t. And I know it. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling that way sometimes. Doesn’t stop me from wondering what right do I have to advise other writers. Doesn’t stop me from wondering why I even bother to write.

But I know why I write. Because I can’t not write. Sure, times will happen when I have a dry spell, maybe even a long one. But I’ve been there before, and that time will pass. I will come up with new ideas, and while the book I’m working on (Book three of the Moonlit Memories series) may not be written this month, it will get written.

Which comes to the other part. Will it be any good? Will people want to read it? What right do I have to convince people to spend their hard-earned money on my books? Is my writing good enough?

I re-read my work, and I see the flaws. I see the stupid typos and mistakes that somehow made it through despite the story being checked by three different people. I see the factual mistakes I made despite checking for the truth. I see the lousy sentences, the places where the plot is thin, where the characters don’t act like they should. I read the story I’m currently working on and it’s lousy in parts.

But it’s a first draft. All first drafts are lousy. It’s the nature of first drafts. There are a small, infinitesimal number of people who can write a good first draft, but most of us, are re-writers. If we get a good finished product, does it really matter if it was draft one or draft fifty-one?

I know that I am not the best writer in the entire world, because there is no such thing. Your favorite writers are not my favorite writers, and writing is subjective anyway. By the same quality, I’m not the worst writer in the world.

I believe that I am a good writer. I know that there are others who like my writing. It is my hope that someday there will be a lot more people who enjoy my writing. Will I suffer from Impostor Syndrome in the future? Undoubtedly.  But in my case, knowing that others, even ones as famous as Maya Angelou  and Neil Gaiman (Do read the Neil Gaimon link, it’s great!) suffered from it too, helps.  Hopefully it helps you too.

In a weird irony, I think Impostor Syndrome is linked to Writer’s Envy. Basically, the other side of the same coin. “I’m a better writer than …. Why are they so successful and I’m still struggling?” Or, “I deserve this award more than…” Or, “How did so and so sell ten thousand copies of their book, and I only sold three thousand? Or none.”

It takes a certain amount of arrogance to be a writer. To assume that others will actually want to read your thoughts, your stories. We have to assume that our work is worth reading.

And the cool thing is, it is! Your work does have worth, and no matter how good or bad your writing is, there will be people who love it. And there will be people who hate it. Because you can’t please everybody. And there is no guaranteed way to please the majority either.

But it can be hard sometimes, comparing yourself to others. Wondering why they get success and you don’t. I’m running a sale on Secrets of the Moon Fox on kindle, ($0.99 right now). It’s been going on for almost a week and the sale ends tomorrow. It hasn’t sold a single copy yet. Despite my advertising it here, Facebook, and Pinterest. I’ve had two new books come out, and so far, neither have sold a single copy. I don’t think I need to tell you how discouraging that is.

But it is not because I am a lousy writer. People who read my books seem to enjoy them. I get likes on these blog posts. I know I can write.

It’s because I am an obscure writer. So I continue. The only way to succeed is through continuing until I am less obscure. But only I can determine what success is for me. And if I continue to compare myself to others (“I’m not successful until I’ve sold as many copies as …”), then I will only make myself miserable. And that kind of comparison has the tendency to move the goal posts. First we have to sell two stories like John did, then, when we do that, we have to get at least as positive a review as Susan did, then we have to sell a book like Luke did…

Remember, we’re all writers. We’re all a little crazy in our own way, and while our work is just as worthy to be read as someone else’s, that someone else’s work is just as worthy to be read as yours. The writing world is big enough for all of us.

 

P.S. You could make me deliriously happy by buying a book, or even just reading them in the Kindle lending library. First chapter of Secrets of the Moon Fox is available for free online here, for those who like to try before they buy. I am also made happy by likes and comments on my blog posts, likes and comments on Facebook, and saves on Pinterest. And I love positive reviews. Basically, any interaction makes me happy.

First Lines

I think almost every author will agree with me when I say that first lines can be the hardest thing to write. I can’t count how many times I’ve wanted to start a story, known what I wanted to say, and just stared at the empty document because I couldn’t figure out how to begin.

Unfortunately, first lines are also vital. A brilliant first line hooks the reader, leaving them wanting more. An okay first line at least leads them to read the second, hopefully the third… and so on.

I believe that pressure is one of the things that leads to the trouble of coming up with the first line. We look at brilliant first lines from famous books, and feel self-conscious, trying to come up with one just as good.

Honestly, I think some first lines are considered good because of what story they are from. Take the opening line of ‘Moby Dick’, “Call me Ishmael.” Definitely iconic, but I think that ‘Moby Dick’ made the line iconic, rather than the line making ‘Moby Dick’ a classic. Other stories, the first line is undeniably good. I remember reading a book where the first page left me wishing I had written it. Ironically enough, I still haven’t finished reading the book, meaning a great opening is not the end all and be all of catching a reader’s attention.

What makes a good first line? The ideal first line gives a small sense of situation, place, and/or character, while raising questions in the reader. The first line must make the reader want to read the second. Modern readers don’t have the patience to read a few chapters before the story gets good. You have to have them by the end of the first page.

Your story doesn’t have to start with a bang. No one has to get shot, or murdered. Nothing has to be stolen. The ancient gods don’t have to rise up against mortals or the space shuttles flee a dying earth on the first page. You can start with that, if that’s how the story demands to be written. But there are a few caveats.

When you write a story, you are entering in an implied contract with the reader. You are telling the reader that your story is worth the money spent buying it, and the time spent reading it. To be fair, you have to let your reader know what kind of story they are getting into as quickly as possible. A tender love story should not start with a brutal murder. A thriller romance on the other hand, can. However exciting your opening is, you have to top it later. A high tension opening should lead to a high tension book. Not that the tension won’t relax in places, but the tension should remain high and even increase.  Other genres expect a slower build. Some romances, literary fiction, etc. won’t expect, or even want a high impact beginning. Fantasy and Sci-Fi are more versatile. Good stories of both genres have been written with high tension beginnings or lower tension beginnings.

Two, keep in mind that we don’t know these characters yet. Even if this is a series, consider that some readers may not have read any previous stories. This could be their introduction. Putting a character in danger only works so well if the reader hasn’t had time to care about them yet. No, putting them in danger won’t make a reader care. Yes, we all feel something when we see the baby stroller start to roll into traffic, but it won’t be nearly as much as we feel if you show us first the parents, who had struggled to have a child for years, and are so overjoyed to finally have one, even as they grieve that the doctors say they can never have another. That, and unless you are writing a very dark story, we all know that the baby will be fine. TV Tropes calls it ‘Infant Immortality’. (possible NSFW language). If you are writing a story that dark, I recommend letting the readers know before something happens to the baby.

Back to openings. With all this pressure, how do we ever begin? Well, one exercise I enjoy doing is to open a blank document and writing ten sentences that could begin a story. Don’t hold back, don’t censure yourself. Don’t even worry if they don’t make sense. Don’t limit your genre either. It’s actually surprising the way a story can twist. The same sentence can lead to a comedy, a tragedy, or even more.

After I’ve written my sentences, I like to pick one and see what kind of story it leads to. Sometimes I find that my first sentence doesn’t remain my first sentence, and that’s fine too. Others, I haven’t written, but I hope to someday because I really want to know where they go.

One sentence I came up with was I don’t bleed anymore. I’ve written a story with that, almost two. The first version, which I enjoyed, was a rather pulpy style monologue of a woman transformed into something who was confronting her killer. The first paragraph went like this:

I don’t bleed anymore. Never thought I would miss it either. I do though. Not so much the blood itself. But what it means. When I bled, I was human. I breathed. I felt pain. I don’t do those things anymore. I don’t know what I am, either.

Personally, I think that’s a decent opening. Possibly better than the opening in the second draft, which focused more on a man who woke up in the middle of the night to find something that accused him of killing her. The first paragraph went like this:

Jacob Reaves woke up and stared at the ceiling through bleary eyes. It was a few minutes before he was able to think past the headache, and nasty taste in his mouth to realize the slightly familiar ceiling wasn’t his bedroom ceiling. Shuttering his eyes, he reached out with a leg. Yup, he’d passed out on the couch. Again.

Maybe you think the second opening is better, I don’t know. Actually, I would love to know which opening you prefer. So, why did I change it? Because I believe the second version of the story is better. The reader finds out more about the characters for one. Not everything is left to the reader’s imagination. That said, I am still fond of the first version. Perhaps someday I’ll put together a collection of short stories and include it as a bonus.

Other sentences I haven’t done anything with, but am curious to see what will happen. This is the story of how I drove to work and ended up three states away with an angry possum in the back seat. Or how about: I decided to quit chocolate the day the emus robbed the store. Personally, I really want to know how those are connected. Then there’s Helios bridled his horses, wondering again if it was time to retire. I don’t think that’s a retelling of the formation of the Milky Way, but I suppose it might be.

There are others, but that’s not the point. The point is that this exercise can give you a starting point. A way to play creatively. This exercise can also be done as a group. Maybe have everyone write three to five sentences and pass them to someone else. That person has to pick one and use it as a starting point for a story.

Most of all, remember that with writing, anything can change up until it’s published. Just start. You can come up with the perfect gem later.

Inspiration in research

First of all, I would like to apologize for being so late to post this. I might have been able to post last week, but the internet service was not the most reliable, and I was busy visiting with family I hadn’t seen in years. I don’t have nearly as good an excuse for not posting yesterday, but I was a little under the weather. Hope everyone else had a good Easter.

I’m taking at least a small break on the World building articles, though I’m sure I’ll be back to them later. Today, I wanted to talk about research and how finding out new information can inspire your creativity to think in other directions.

You probably don’t need me to tell you to do research. After all, everyone says that. But what should you be researching? If I want to put vampires in my stories, where do I start? I could start with famous vampire stories, say Bram Stoker’s Dracula or more modern stories like Twilight. I could do that. But that’s not a good place to start. For one, while Dracula is in the public domain, Twilight is not. Also, while Twilight has a huge fan base, it is very controversial on certain points (particularly the ‘sparkling vampire) and has a huge hate base too. I am not getting involved in that, so we’ll stick to the neutral facts. It has sold a lot of copies, and if your story is too close to Stephanie Meyer’s, she can sue you. I’m not saying you can’t read them, but you may find it more worthwhile to read up on the original vampire legends.

It’s common knowledge that in some vampire legends, the vampire can be repelled by garlic. That was an old home remedy. But so were branches of wild rose or hawthorn. Also common was spilling containers of rice, or a small seed like millet or poppy with the belief that a vampire that came across them would be compelled to not move on until it had counted each grain. I don’t recall ever coming across obsessive compulsive vampires in fiction before, unless you want to include the Count from Sesame Street.

There are also claims that when a werewolf died, he became a vampire. One could become a werewolf by a frightening number of ways. Drinking rain water that rested in a wolf’s paw print; wearing the skin of a wolf (though it was usually at least a little more complicated than that), using a magic salve, or even sleeping outside at the wrong time. Most of the original legends did not include contagion through bite or scratch.

So, I can almost hear some of you thinking. “What does it matter what the original legends were? My readers are more familiar with the modern tales.” And you are probably right. However, if you can’t come up with something fresh and original, then you probably won’t have much in the way of readers. I am certainly not saying to take one of the more obscure legends and claim it’s your own, but there’s no reason you can’t use them, or come up with something inspired by them. For example, why not have a vampire obsessed with counting things, and struggling to hide his vampire-ness when he has to avoid his love’s rose garden? You start with legend (counting, repelled by wild rose) and adapt it (unable to get past a rose garden).

Okay, you science fiction types have been waiting patiently. How do you find inspiration in research. Probably not by going back to old legends. Well, probably not. You may enjoy reading them anyway. But you can find all sorts of inspiration when you do research. Technology is moving faster and faster all the time. Odds are, that is what inspires you. Three dimensional printing, which never fails to remind me of Star Trek’s replicators, will likely change the world within a few decades. I’m sure you have your favorite technologies and ideas for them.

Inspiration comes from everywhere. Just keep your mind open.

 

On another note, Indian SF has accepted one of my stories, Bethany’s Bliss, for their April/May issue. I am told the new issue will be posted on May 1st. Hope you all check them out.