Choosing which inspiration to follow

Sorry about the delay, I’ve been having computer trouble.

So, you’ve been either actively trying for ideas, or have had a few pop up unexpectedly. Go you! Now, which do you actually pursue?

First, write all your ideas down. Preferably someplace that won’t be lost and that you’ll look at again. I don’t care how memorable you think that idea is, write it down. Or type it up, it doesn’t matter. The annuls of literature are full of works lost because the idea was forgotten. Besides, even if you decide not to pursue an idea right away, it might be viable for later.

Some time ago, mostly by accident, I ended up with inspiration for two very different stories in course of a few days. Both were sparked by conversation with family members. The first idea came up when I was reading a writing book called ‘Writing the Paranormal Novel’, which I highly recommend. Reading the section on vampires, it suggested adding some variety to the old cliches, including different occupations. I distinctly remember it bringing up the idea of a vampire accountant. I read the part to my brother and we brainstormed a little. He suggested a vampire surfer. I argued that vampires traditionally do very poorly with water, and salt is a universal deterrent against things that go bump in the night. Then suddenly, I had a plot. A rising star in the competitive surfer world is infected and can no longer surf. His inability to give up his dream leads for him and his friends to uncover two separate conspiracies. I’d give more details, but the book isn’t finished yet.

A day or two later, I was eating out with my mom and sister. My sister was reading fanfiction on her phone and was reading a Transformers/How to Train your Dragon crossover. I haven’t read it myself, but I believe that the dragons were actually transformers that changed into cars. I said, somewhat sarcastically, that I thought they changed into motorcycles. Bam, plot. A ‘How to Train your Dragon’ AU (Alternate Universe, for those not into fanfiction), where they are a biker gang, either motorcycles or motorbikes. Hiccup wants to join, but is considered too much of a geek. Maybe his dad says no, too. Anyway, Hiccup might not be athletic, but he has an intuitive understanding of machinery. He finds a broken Night Fury bike, probably in a junk yard, and fixes it up. Maybe the gears are stripped so he calls it Toothless. C’mon, ‘Night Fury’ would be an awesome name for a bike.

Two premises come up with rather suddenly. One I am pursuing, the other, I probably never will. Why? A number of reasons.

Interest: The vampire surfer one interests me in a way the dragon bike doesn’t. My favorite part of ‘How to Train your Dragon’ is the dragons. I have no interest in bikes.

Time: I only have so much time and creative energy. Both those premises would involve quite a bit of research as I know very little about surfing or bikes. I cannot currently put that much effort into a fanfic. I can barely put it into an original work

I’m not knocking fanfics. I’ve written them in the past and am still reading them. Some are as good or better than the works they’re based on. But that isn’t where I want to dedicate my energy at this time.

Also, while the dragon bike one is clearly going to go in a different direction than the movie, it’s still not quite mine in a way that the vampire surfer idea is.

If anyone wants to use the dragon bike premise and write it, perhaps put their own spin on it, it’s up for grabs. Just let me know. I’d like to read it.

I have a Tumblr account now. It’s still pretty new, not a whole lot on it, but feel free to check it out. Just ignore my posts about having issues, I figured most of those out by now. So far I’ve got an original poem, a little extra-canonical scene from the Hyde Chronicles (no spoilers), some cool nature and animal shots, and why my cat is not a help when trying yoga. More to come. My cat isn’t a help when writing this blog either, he kept coming and sitting on my chest so I can’t see my screen.

How do you chose what ideas to follow?

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Character Development: Fears, Phobias, and Superstitions

This year’s Ravencon was their thirteenth time meeting. As such, they had a few panels on thirteen and the superstitions involved. I was on one, and did some research into triskaidekaphobia, or, fear of the number thirteen. It’s actually pretty fascinating really. Did you know that no one really knows why Friday the thirteenth is considered unlucky? Or why thirteen is considered an unlucky number at all? In some Spanish speaking countries, it’s Tuesday the thirteenth that’s a problem, while in Italy thirteen is generally considered a lucky number, but Friday the seventeenth is unlucky.

But what really struck me was the list of famous people with triskaidekaphobia, particularly Arnold Schoenberg, a prominent composer, who literally died probably because of his phobia. He became sick and depressed when an astrologer warned him that a particular year was dangerous because the digits of his age (76) added up to thirteen. As Friday the thirteenth came around (as it does at least once a year, and can up to three times in a year), he spent the day sick and depressed, dying fifteen minutes before midnight. He was also born on the thirteenth. Evidently no one told him that Friday the thirteenth was supposed to be lucky for those born that day. I read that when I was doing research on superstitions some years ago.

It got me thinking. Everyone has fears, many of us have at least one or two phobias of varying degrees, and most of us have a superstition or two. What do your characters have? Is it plot relevant?

Liska, from the Moonlit Memories series, has a phobia of dogs. For good reason, since dogs can tell her looks don’t match her scent and usually act aggressively towards her. It isn’t a paralyzing phobia, but she will definitely go out of her way to avoid them. Violet, from the Hyde Chronicles, hasn’t been given a specific phobia, but she is also of a more nervous disposition than Liska. She also might be developing a phobia of the stairs in the library, or as she refers to them, ‘the stairs of doom’. Another story involved an actress who was extremely superstitious, to the point of being easily manipulated by the belief that she had been given something for luck.

Fears don’t have to be rational. I have a phobia of cockroaches. Actually, it may be less of a phobia, and more of a deep abiding disgust. I know that roaches aren’t dangerous, but I get sick and squirmy when they are around, and have at times forced someone else to kill a particularly large one so I didn’t have to get close. Is that a rational fear? Not really. Am I going to get over it? Probably not. I don’t even like looking at a picture. Same with needles. Perhaps a slightly more rational fear. It doesn’t help that I apparently have bad veins. Last time I needed an IV, it took three times to get it right. The time before that, it took five. Ick.

Having a phobia does not actually measure courage or the absence of it. Even the bravest of people can have a phobia, perhaps of something harmless. Maybe your volunteer fireman has a phobia of birds. I get into conversations with people about their pets, and I can’t count how many people told me they don’t like cats. Most said they were too sneaky. Both my sisters are arachnophobic. I’ve been doing research into Social Anxiety Disorder, for a character that has selective mutism. That doesn’t mean that character is a coward, just that she gets easily flustered in social situations, to the point of having trouble talking.

While the character’s fear doesn’t have to be rational, there has to be some form of exposure. I can’t have a phobia of wolves if I have never seen or heard of a wolf or dog. It is possible to have a phobia of something that doesn’t exist, but they have to at least heard of it. Like zombies. They don’t exist, but there are people who take the idea very seriously. I have a problem with creepy dolls because of a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode I saw at a very young age. I know that toys don’t come alive, but generally can’t watch movies where that is part of the plot. At least, not anything scarier than ‘Toy Story’.

What does your character’s phobia mean for your character? Is it something they will have to overcome? Is it something that will last through multiple installments? For example, Indiana Jones will probably never lose his fear of snakes. Who knows about your characters fears and superstitions and is that going to be a problem for your character? Sometimes, even people trying to help can cause problems.

If your world is different from ours, than the possibilities for phobias can be different too. Is fear of dragons a phobia, or does that count as justified caution? Probably depends on how deep that fear goes. How does your character deal with their fear? Do they face it, fight it, run from it? Exposure therapy can help with a phobia, but that doesn’t mean that being thrown in the deep end is necessarily going to help. Sometimes when it’s sink or swim, you sink.

Anyone want to share their fears?

Vocabulary and Word Choices Part Two

I’m sorry I’m late with this post.

I tried, so hard to write this, and it just wouldn’t come. Getting sick didn’t help, being busy didn’t help, and inertia definitely didn’t help. Maybe the subject didn’t help either.

Regionalism, slang, jargon, and dialect. What do they all have in common? Answer, they can make your work harder to read, but add a layer of realism to your story if used properly.

Most people don’t speak as if they are being spied on by their English teacher and their conversation will be graded. Well, we do in certain circumstances, but not most. When we are applying for a job interview, when we are meeting some important person that we want to impress, etc.; then you may talk like you will be graded. And perhaps you should. But with family, with friends, during casual encounters, there is a more relaxed air.

Regionalism is word and syntax choices that that differ from one area to another. For this discussion, it’s basically the same as dialect. People do not talk the same from one part of the country to the other. It gets even more interesting when you add in other countries. Is that carbonated beverage soda, pop, or coke, regardless of what kind of drink it is? What do you call a hooded sweatshirt? Did you know that it’s actually a ‘bunny hug‘ in Saskatchewan? What is a jumper; a sweater or a sleeveless dress? Where your from influences your word choice. And it will influence your characters’ word choices. It gets really fun when you need to portray a character from an area that you aren’t from.

I’m actually going through my books and doing minor editing for reasons I’ll explain later. In the ‘Moonlit Memories’ series, the main character, Liska is British-Japanese who is trying to pass herself off as British. I am American. Which meant that I didn’t always know the right terms to use. While I’m not bothering with British spelling except once when it was something Liska wrote, I do often try to use British terms. Some of which I’ve had to change. I had her refer to her solicitor when I meant barrister as I didn’t realize that solicitors were solely for civil matters. I referred to her cell phone, not realizing that British were more likely to refer to it as a mobile. I switched most references from cell to mobile, but left a few, because, hey, she’s currently in America, she’d probably pick up a little of the vocabulary. Honestly, there are probably others I’m missing, but hopefully nothing major.

Research is absolutely essential, and if at all possible, finding someone who is actually from that area to check your work. But, how far do you go?

There isn’t a cut and dried answer, but my preference is enough for flavor, but not to the point where it is difficult to understand. If you need to include a glossary, you’ve probably gone too far. And be very careful about using phonetic spelling to illustrate an accent. It can come off as condescending or even racist depending on how you are using it. Not to mention, it can be very hard to read. Fun little quiz here should show you what I mean. (I would have done better if I could actually spell, and if my computer didn’t keep freezing up.)

That said, some things are easier to get away with than others. Even the most educated can get a little lazy with their speech and slip in a ‘gonna’ or ‘wanna’ or ‘kinda’. Which is more slang than regionalism.

So let’s move on to slang, which is closely related to jargon. Both involve a specialized vocabulary that makes sense to a select group of people and may or may not make sense to outsiders. Slang becomes dated much faster than jargon. The slang of today is not the same as the slang of twenty years ago, or even five years ago. Honestly, unless a slang term has been around for at least five years, there’s a chance that it will no longer be used by the time your story comes out. Odds are even worse if it’s a book. Don’t look to me for slang, I didn’t understand it when I was in high school. But I know it mutates and changes, sometimes even becoming the opposite of what it used to mean. Go figure. When I was in high school, we used the term ‘cool beans’ a lot. I have no idea where it came from or why beans are considered cool, but it’s something I only hear on rare occasions now, and usually only by people who are in their mid-twenties or up. That said, ‘cool’ has been in use for decades, and will likely be continued to be used for some time. But we don’t usually refer to people as being a ‘good egg’ anymore. Watch a movie that’s a few decades old, listen to the way they talk. Language evolves, and it is evolving faster than ever. How many people would have known what an emoji was ten years ago? I know I referred to them as emoticons. But now, ’emoji’ is everywhere, even becoming Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2015.

Jargon is the terms that go with any specialized knowledge. Be it a sport, a hobby, a career, or what have you, people have ways to simply and easily refer to what they need to discuss. I work for Walmart. My job is not difficult, but I still have at least half a dozen to a dozen terms of jargon I use on a daily basis. Do you know what a CSM is? How about a PLU? We are required to do zoning and red lining when we aren’t helping customers. And of course there’s the magic scanny thing. (My term. You may be more familiar with ‘hand scanner’.) When do you use jargon in your work? Ideally, when the character would, and try to make it as self-explanatory as possible. Example:

“What’s the PLU for bananas?” Avery looked up from the counter she was zoning to keep clean and clear of reshop.

“4011,” She answered. “It’s on the sticker.”

“Have you seen a CSM?” another cashier asked.

“No, I haven’t seen a manager in a while.”

Yes, the writing is boring. I wasn’t going for very exciting. And if I were trying to do this for real, I would probably try to have some explanation for reshop, and fill in that CSM stands for customer service manager. But I think the average reader could guess both of those. And while I don’t explain exactly what a PLU is, you know it is a number that refers to bananas and is on the sticker. I’m not sure exactly what PLU stands for, but it is a universal (at least in this country) code for produce. Any time you buy bananas, there is a little 4011 on the sticker somewhere. Take a look.

Remember, the same person can use different levels of vocabulary even in the same sentence. Here’s one I’ve used before. “‘Fishies’ is an inherently fun word to say.” I’ve also referred, on a regular basis to the ‘magic scan-y thing’. And I have a degree in English! (Of course, I also blame all the technical issues on gremlins, but I’m weird.)

So have some fun, consider your word choices. It’ll be fun. More importantly, it can add depth to your writing.

While I fell behind in most of my online presence, I did keep up my Full Moon Festivities. Check it out, I posted a poem, a board of moon garden pictures, and a board of moon art.

There will be news posted tomorrow. (Or in the morning, or afternoon). I need some sleep and this post and been delayed long enough.

 

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.

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.