Worldbuilding 101: Holidays

Since tomorrow is Halloween, this seems like an appropriate time to mention holidays. Holidays are intrical to our culture, and always have been. I see no reason for that to change, or for it not to be the case for non-human sentients. While you can ignore them completely, they can also add a fascinating layer to your stories.

Holidays are, at their heart, community affairs. Even private holidays, like birthdays and anniversaries, are usually celebrated with a group, at very least family. Some holidays are major holidays. Whether you celebrate it or not, you know that Christmas is December 25. That happens to be the only day of the year my current job isn’t open. But on the other hand, without looking it up, I can’t tell you even what month ‘National Secretary’s Day‘ is. Apparently that’s in April in this country (and is a little more complex than I realized). Is your holiday one that affects the entire community, or one that is mostly ignored?

That can change depending on location. No one cares here whether or not I wear green (or orange, since I’m Protestant and green is supposed to represent Catholics) for St. Patrick’s Day. It seemed like a bigger deal when I lived up in Pennsylvania and Delaware. And I’m told (though it’s probably exaggerated) that wearing the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood on that day in Ireland can be a good way to get hurt. When I lived in Russia, December 25th wasn’t a holiday at all. Under communism, Christmas was banned, and the holiday moved to New Year‘s. People have new year’s trees, Grandfather Frost gives out new year’s presents, etc. They do have a Christmas, which is January 7th, and that is purely a religious holiday, and generally a quiet one. Meanwhile, International Women’s day (March 8th) is a big deal over there, and it is customary to give flowers to women of your acquaintance. In the States, most people probably don’t know when that is.

Is your holiday historical, religious, or tradition? Do people get off work and school? Or is it mostly just another day? How is your holiday celebrated? Food is an important part of most holidays, either the partaking of or abstaining from. In the United States, we celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks, but not other holidays for the most part. In Russia, almost every holiday was celebrated with fireworks. We would stand on our balcony and see over a dozen different displays.

How do you come up with holidays? Pretty easily. Look at what’s celebrated around the world. Most cultures have a day for remembering the dead (often, but not always, in the fall), a day for renewal and rebirth in the spring, a day for the founding of their nation or people group, a day for their leader or leaders (President’s day here, other places may celebrate the birthday of the current ruler), and at least one community gift giving festival. Your story involves a colony of humans on Mars? What about colony founding day? Or the birthday of the first leader? Your main characters are a community of Elves? Probably a few nature based holidays.

Different people celebrate holidays differently. The way my family celebrates Christmas is different from anyone else I’ve heard. Your family traditions are not the same as another’s. Different groups (racial, ethnic, or religious) will probably celebrate different holidays. Can minorities celebrate their holidays openly?

Okay, but what if you want to write a darker story? No feel good holidays here. Well, holidays have their darker side too, don’t they? Any holiday that involves drinking runs the risk of drunkenness and the assorted chaos that goes with it. Stress goes up during the holidays, as does domestic violence. Those who have lost loved ones find holidays particularly hard. And what if your holiday has a darker side built in? Who says that the vampires don’t have a few humans kept in stock for Bloodletting Day?

Holidays are what you make them. Enjoy.

Book note. Nightmare’s Revenge, the sequel to Secrets of the Moon Fox comes out tomorrow. Check it out. Warning, this is one case where you really do have to read the first book first. More information to come. Check out my Facebook and Pinterest accounts. I’ve got excerpts up and random quotes from my books. It’s fun.

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Creating a Story Bible

There’s a common adage that a story is like an iceberg. What the reader sees is only ninety percent of what the writer knows. While that is more a rule of thumb than an absolute rule of writing, there is a fair amount of truth to it too. Not everything you dream up is going to make it into the story, or at least, it shouldn’t. I know I certainly don’t want to read three hundred pages of backstory to let me know the current political climate of your world. There’s a good chance I wouldn’t be interested in three pages of political backstory unless you can make it interesting and important to the story.

But you as the writer, need that information. And no matter how much you claim you won’t forget it, you will forget certain details. That is why it is important to write down what you want to remember. I can’t count how many times I’ve looked through old notes of stories of mine and been, ‘Huh, I had forgotten I planned that.’ Sometimes it was semi-absorbed anyway, sometimes it wasn’t.

That is what a story bible is for. What is a story bible? Essentially, it’s your notes. All the work that goes into your story. This is where you keep the master record of everything from how you spell a character’s name, to their bios, to maps, and how the world works. All the info you came up with, and what you need to know to write your story. What your research has found, and maybe where you got it from. A bible is particularly necessary if you are writing a series, a television series, and/or writing a collaboration with others.

Why should you keep a story bible? Isn’t is a lot of unnecessary work? It’s not like anyone else will read it anyway, right? It is work, I won’t lie. But I argue that it is both useful and necessary work. I tend to brainstorm while making notes. I come up with ideas on where to take the story, and how to give the story more depth. Re-reading through notes can sometimes help with writer’s block. It’s also useful to double-check small details like eye color, hair color, etc. without having to search through your story. Particularly if you are writing a follow up book or story.

Will anyone else read it? Well, that’s up to you. If you become popular enough, people might actually be interested in your notes. And while you probably won’t share your bible wholesale, you can put some of your notes and snippets on your website or Facebook page. Maybe even Twitter. It could be a useful bonus for your fans, or a way to get people interested in your works.

What format should this bible take? Should each story or series have its own bible? What about short stories? How long should they be?

That is very much up to you. I’m very disorganized, and frequently just open a new word document and start freewriting. Sometimes I write in notebooks or journals. (I strongly recommend making a point of carrying around a notebook. I have a nice pocket sized one.) But that’s why I’ll find my notes years later and be surprised at the differences. It’s something I need to work on especially since I have times I have to check multiple files to find the information I’m looking for. Other people are much more organized and have sections for characters, plot, world, etc.

Length? As long as it needs to be to work for you. While it isn’t uncommon for a comprehensive bible to be longer than the book it is for, that also isn’t necessary. Though the further your story is from reality, the more notes you’ll need, and the longer your bible is likely to be. Longer stories will require more extensive notes than shorter ones. While you may not wish to make separate bibles for each work, I do recommend separating stories into different sections unless they are connected.

However you take your notes, be they electronic or paper, make certain to safeguard them. Have backups. Some years ago, my computer was stolen from me. Due to various computer problems, I had gotten into the habit of emailing my completed stories to myself. But I lost all my notes. Well over a hundred pages of it. It was a severe blow, and I still haven’t made up for it

I’m almost reluctant to include this, but I feel it’s only fair. When searching for a link to a good definition for story bible, I found this blog post which covers this topic, probably better than I did. In my defense, I did write this post before I found the one I just linked to.

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.