creativity, easy map-making, fantasy maps, fantasy world-building, map-making, map-making software, photoshop, photoshop tutorial, sci-fi world-building, world building, world building maps, world building school, writing
This is a quick post to share a couple of fabulous links for my fellow world-building enthusiasts, especially those who are artistically challenged – like me.
I’ve been re-working an older story of mine for a couple of months now, a kind of Sci-Fi Fantasy hybrid, and I’m learning for the first time what a monumental task it can be to build a credible, vibrant new world/universe without getting bogged down in the details (read frustrated because my brain hurts trying to make it make sense). It’s a wee bit daunting.
Wait, no, that’s an understatement – it’s fucking hard as hell, and yet, I’m loving every goddamned, painful minute of it!
Growing up as a child in the 70’s and 80’s, I experienced the rise of technology via the first HP touchscreen personal computer, complete with plotter—a printer that used little felt pens to create pictures and text documents (of course, we just used it to input our birthdays for a unique, colourful spiral-gram). My most enduring memory of that computer, is when my dad brought it to my grade three class for show and tell. We still have the thank-you card my class made for him, which is pretty cool.
My father worked in the technology business, so we had all the firsts: first Macintosh, first ColecoVision game system, first Motorola cell phone that was ridiculously huge, the first VHS player, followed by the laser disk player. Needless to say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I turned into a hardcore techie. Currently, I have an iPhone, iPad, Macbook, iMac, and Kindle. My husband is just as bad.
However, like so many people these days, I’m starting to resent it all — big time. With the intrusive nature of email, text messaging, and 24/7 internet access, there is no such thing as down time, and it’s become sensory overload. There is rarely a moment when my laptop doesn’t have several windows open, along with at least a dozen Safari tabs. Oh sure, it’s not being forced on us, and it’s a conscious choice to use all these gadgets, but really, it’s become a daily habit that’s hard to moderate because it is necessary. Very few people can manage to live off the grid. It’s just not realistic, and I wouldn’t want to do it full-time.
So, if I set aside the questionable odds of actually accomplishing this monumental task, it turns out creating the history and mythology for a fictional race of beings is an unexpected treat. How liberating it is to let the deeper, philosophical me run wild with impunity. Continue reading
I admit, I’ve not been what you’d call a fan of experimental literature, but I may be revising my opinion. I recently discovered Italo Calvino through some of his excerpts, and was pleasantly surprised to find I loved all of his pieces. I didn’t hesitate to purchase two of his books, and will review them when I’m finished.
One excerpt from his novel “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller” was the first to hook me, but “The Flash” was my favourite. I found it a simple allegorical illustration of how it feels to have an epiphany about the difference between the superficial reality our Ego can perceive, and those brief glimpses of the true reality free of all physical limits like time and space. It’s an illustration nearly everyone can relate to, and describes those moments of clarity we can find through dreams and meditation. In those timeless moments between sleep and wakefulness, dreams can provide instant and perfect clarity through emotion without using any language at all, and yet no matter how hard we fight to hold onto it, that understanding is fleeting, fading back into our subconscious when we’re fully awake.
Traditionally, I’ve found heavy literature hard to read because it’s not easily digestible, and I always end up reading it two or three times at least while trying to tease out more meaning. Calvino’s stories however, offer fascinating examples of how a writer can define and show us new ways to understand the ultimate Universal Truths we all recognize, despite being told through the extremely narrow lens of the authors’ experience. Personally, I think it requires a lot of thought on the part of the reader to try and find what’s relatable, and then use those understandings as a kind of Rosetta stone to extrapolate what everything else means. Calvino is intriguing because I would say he writes equal parts Philosophy and Literature, but I don’t consider it storytelling, which makes sense because I don’t sense he wants to tell us a story so much as show us a path to deeper truths through the mundane fog of triviality.
If you haven’t heard of Calvino, or read any of his work, then try the excerpts in the links above. Great stuff!
abstract imagery, concrete imagery, concrete images, concrete vs. abstract, Fiction I, grammar, poetry, show don't tell, showing vs. telling, UCLA Writer's workshop, writing, writing classes, writing exercise
A few days ago I wrote a review of the Poetry class I recently finished, and may have complained mentioned how it was my least favourite thus far on my journey to literary greatness. However, as my next class begins on character building, I am starting to feel quite grateful I slogged through the pain of poetry because all that focus on using imagery to convey emotion, setting, and character, is about to pay off BIG TIME…I hope.
When I say “studying poetry” by the way, I don’t mean the rhythm and metre part of it, though that skill is definitely worth exploring in its own right (which I might do another time). No, I’m referring to the use of concrete vs. abstract imagery. Don’t laugh, but it was a tough concept for me to get though my wee brain, and I was frustrated the first few assignments. It becomes easier though, if you can pay close attention your descriptive choices as you’re writing and revising. Just ask yourself Continue reading
My faith in the short story genre has been renewed, and not a moment too soon. After reading all the stories in the Best American Short Stories 2012 for a course, I was beginning to think my dismay and cynicism for this genre was becoming pathological.
Not so! This is an absolutely wonderful, and amazing story! A wickedly decadent journey where the reader gets to indulge in the guilty pleasures of watching a cold calculating plot for revenge unfold with clever precision. In creating a main character like Verna, it’s extremely easy to slip into stereotypes, tropes, and eye rolling cliche. However, there isn’t so much as a hint of any literary faux pas, on the contrary, this story shines as an example of how literature can be impressive, brilliant and thoroughly enjoyable. Ms. Atwood does a masterful job of stripping away the feminine mystique and replacing it with compelling complexity. She lets the mask of normality slip bit by bit, slowly hinting at Verna’s broken past, callousness, and questionable moral compass, so that when we get a taste of the depth of narcissicm and sociopathy, it’s a confirmation of a suspicion not a shock that feels jarring or unearned.
Wow, I could go on and on about this one, but I don’t want to write too many spoilers. Trust me, seek this one out. It’s a short story but one that makes me wish it had been a full length novel.
A while ago The Cheeky One had an epiphany. Last year I downloaded a bunch of free audio/video lectures on various subjects via iTunes-U, and some were from the most prestigious Universities and Professors in the world. All of them were the highest quality, so…hmm…I thought quietly to myself; there must be some about writing!
I was pleased to find there are, but not nearly as many I hoped or in the standard campus lecture format. There were however, several audio sessions from the UK Open University, presented as a series of topic specific interviews with accomplished writers from several genres and forms, some even quite famous.
Every week or so I pick a new one to download and listen to, some are an hour long some only a few minutes, but all give me new perspectives and tips to think about. Lots of food for thought!
Yesterday’s REALLY got the ol’ hamsters turning, and my little wheel is still spinning. It was from The Open University: Creative Writing – Audio series, Number 9. Alan Ayckbourn as Director on Developing the Idea.
Now, I was getting ready for work, putting on my war paint, and nearly skipped past number 9 once I realized he was talking about playwriting, but I’m so glad he managed to grab me right away because what he says about writing dialogue is fantastic. I got all giddy and nearly stabbed my eye with the mascara wand…I’m not even kidding.
See, I never would have thought about it that way before, but what he says is true. When you’re writing dialogue for an actor, you must let the actor interpret and convey the meaning of it, otherwise he’s just reciting lines, he’s not acting. As Mr. Ayckbourn explains so brilliantly, in scripts, what you don’t say is just as important as what you do say. I’m going to stop paraphrasing him now, because I’m gonna do a shitty job of explaining further. You’ll be much better off listening to the interview because it’s brilliant stuff and so simple if one takes the time to analyze it. For me it was AH HA! So it’s just another form of Show, Don’t Tell! Yes! I’m gettin’ it!
So…I spent my entire commute to work mulling this over, and I could easily visualize how it works in plays and how it has to work a bit differently in fiction. It’s totally obvious of course that in a play all the emotion, actions, the showing is done visually by actors, and that’s what draws us in. In fiction however, what you don’t say is just as important but in a different way. The author draws the reader in by providing him/her the opportunity to clearly visualize what the character is feeling. The author must describe emotions, actions, by “showing” the character’s pauses, body language, tone of voice, etc., instead of “telling” by using adjectives and adverbs. Whether it’s a book or play, we must craft the dialogue as a part of, or an enhancement of, the character’s self-expression; it must never interfere with or overshadow it.
Mr. Ayckbourn’s presentation of such a simple yet vital technique will change how I approach dialogue writing from now on. Each time I write for a character, I’m going to step back and visualize being a fictional fly on the wall watching it unfold. Is it natural? Are the characters staying true to the human tendency to hold a part of themselves back? Have I let the character’s actions show the reader what he/she is feeling, perceiving, and thinking? Is the reader able to hear the dialogue as though listening in on a conversation? What a great addition to my writer’s toolbox!
Ok..ok…I’ll quit the rambling now because I’d much rather you run off to download these excellent lectures. Wonderful stuff, and FREE!!
Writers use language to paint a picture, spark ideas, and evoke emotions, hoping to enrapture their readers and feeling enormous pride when they succeed, often after struggling for days or weeks to find just the right word or turn of phrase. However, every now and then something comes along to remind us there are times when no words could ever adequately describe the intricacies of human emotion…sometimes we just need to feel it.
For me, watching this clip was one of those moments. Enjoy.