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What Makes a Fictional World?

The beauty of writing speculative fiction is that anything is possible. Magic. Time Travel. World peace… (is it too cynical to think that the two formers are more possible in our real world than the latter? #writerprobs #historyteacherprobs) …and, while working in a world that will be shaped by your hand means the possibilities are endless, it also means that you have to play god, and literally build a world from scratch.

How the hell do you do that? Simple. And, lo, on the seventh day, god researched!

Writers research, period. Authenticity is key, regardless of whether you are writing realistic or fantasy driven fiction. While authors writing crime drama need to understand the mechanics of police procedure and writers of historical fiction need to understand the protocols of social status and gender, they both have the luxury of using anecdotal and empirical evidence to help them write authentically. Spec writers… well, we just make shit up, right?

Wrong. Well… kinda wrong. Wrongish.

You cannot just create matter from nothing. All cells come from previous cells. As too, with speculative fiction; you don’t just create something from nothing. The facets of the real world serve as our inspiration for fantasy worlds. The conflict that develops in fantasy setting may be fueled by metaphysical, magical, or technological issues, but it all stems from issues we encounter as real world people. Any fan of Star Trek: the Original Series will tell you that what made the show so amazing was its ability to take real world, contemporary issues and work them into a science fiction context. Species were based on cultures of Earth, albeit some were done in woefully poor and racist taste. Religious, ethical, political, ecological, cultural, and economic issues were not limited to human beings — they impacted species across the universe.

If there is one universal truth, it is that sentient beings, no matter how utopian and peaceful their society is, will always have shit to fight about. And that brings me back to my point: some aspects of the real world are universal to any society. If you want to build a fictional world, you have to start with a foundation, a template, and customize from there.

“If you’ve done your due diligence when building your fictional world, it will bleed into your writing without any great effort on your part.”

So, what makes a world? Here is the basic structure of any society, regardless of time period, culture, or race.

  • Setting
  • Political & Economic system
  • Shared cultural beliefs
  • Science & Technology

Setting

The variables of setting are very important to your world, and can either structure your world, or limit the possibilities. One of the most important ways to show authenticity is to make sure that the setting reflects every other aspect of your society.

  • Geography — What resources are available in this region? How do the people regulate resources, and does that create conflict? Do the seasons change? Are their multiple environments in one land, or is it all the same? Do the people adapt to the environment, or do they adapt the environment to meet their needs through modification and technology? What kind of flora and fauna live in the environment, and how does that impact the people?
  • Time Period — What freedoms do people have, and what limitations? For lack of better words (because as a historian, my brain throws up red flags and sees these words as ethnocentric), how “barbaric” , “primitive”, “advanced”, or “civilized” are the people? What constitutes the difference between the meaning of these words in their world? Are people treated differently based on race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other minority qualifiers? What changes has your world seen over its existence? Who has power, why, and has that changed? What historical events have shaped the world currently?
  • Science — What is technology to your people, meaning any device that makes life simpler? Do magic/paranormal/metaphysical components exist in this world? What is the difference between science and magic and religion, and does that distinction cause conflict?

Political & Economic Systems

What kind of political system(s) exist in the world, and how are they organized? Who created them? Have they always existed? What is considered to be the responsibility of the government, and of the individual? How are children educated, if at all? What is considered a well-rounded education? What are the laws, who created them, why, and how are they enforced?

It’s easy to overlook, but a nation’s government and economy are intrinsically linked. The attitudes towards making money, public services, and other ethics about business will impact how governments make laws, protect their people, and provide services. What kind of economy exists in your world? Who controls it? What kinds of goods are made, and what kinds of services are offered? Does the environment and resources play a role in that? What jobs are available?

“If there is one universal truth, it is that sentient beings, no matter how utopian and peaceful their society is, will always have shit to fight about.”

Shared Cultural Beliefs

What unites the people of this world? What do they eat? What do they believe? How do they dress? What is sacred and blasphemous to them? What language do they speak? What are the customs and traditions in this world? What happens when parts of this culture are changed/forgotten/ignored, and does that cause conflict? Are multiple cultures fighting for resources/rights/autonomy, or do they live in harmony? How does the culture impact class, gender, age, and what expectations are held for those qualifiers? How has history played a role in the development of the culture(s)?

Science & Technology

A huge misconception modern humans have when it comes to technology is that it has to be digital, futuristic, world of tomorrow kind of stuff. But, from the historical perspective, technology is really anything that has made life easier. Many people would automatically jumped to the progress made my weapons and tools, but it gets even more simple than that. We may be spoiled with our personal pocket computers, but at one point, all those things a cell phone or tablet does, were distinct forms of technology. Printed books, brought about by the printing press, were an incredibly advanced tech in the Middle Ages. Pencils were cutting edge shit. A writing system in general changed to world, drawing the line between recorded history and pre-history, forever dividing us civilized people from those primitive savages. With this idea in mind, think about everything that makes your life safe, comfortable, and simple. Now, examine what the people in your world would need to feel the same way?

  • How do people communicate?
  • How to they move goods and people?
  • How do they fight?
  • How do they farm?
  • How do they learn and discover?
  • How do they heal?
  • How do they play and relax?
  • How do they record information?

Even if not directly important to or acknowledged in the story, these are the bare minimum elements of the world that should be addressed. The reader doesn’t need to know all of the details, especially if it will amount to endless pages of backstory and context, or if it’s irrelevant to the basic plot. But, as a writer, these are things that need to be considered to have a fleshed out understanding of how your characters will act, react, view, and function in their world. If you’ve done your due diligence when building your fictional world, it will bleed into your writing without any great effort on your part. You will be able to avoid heavy-handed exposition and your readers will appreciate the opportunity to fill in some of the blanks themselves.

“You cannot just create matter from nothing. All cells come from previous cells. As too, with speculative fiction; you don’t just create something from nothing.”

Remember too, that when you are building your world, the real world is full of inspiration for the elements you need to make it seem authentic. That requires research. Good research- not a cursory skimming of a Wiki page. All of us at IndiePen Ink know just how complex and time consuming proper research can be. Lucky for you, our strife has turned into your benefit, as it has inspired us to create a truly helpful research resource for writers unlike any other: The Research-a-Torium. A writers reference source that can guide you to online resources and services, as well as services and titles you can find at you own local library. Thanks to the tireless work of our Lady of the eLibrary, Caitlin, we expect to be opening the doors by the end of July.

COMING SOON TO AN INTERNET NEAR YOU!

Start working out those worlds now, and when you get stuck, come see Caitlin in the Research-a-Torium for a world of resources guaranteed to inspire.

Write on young savior,

Drink Ink Inkademy News On the Horizon Research-a-torium Story Slayers

On the Horizon

It’s been a busy year here at IndiePen Ink. It’s hard to believe, but the website launched only three and a half months ago, on February 14th, and we’ve since penned a dozen editorial articles and debuted our first podcast, Story Slayers, and our web show, Drink Ink. We’ve also beta tested the first workshop that will be offered through a new feature called Inkademy. With all that done in under four months, what could possibly be next?

The answer: So. Much. More!

In June we will beta test our second Inkademy workshop, which will focus on worldbuilding. The format is all online, including lessons, assignments, discussions, and a live chat, taking place over the course of two weeks. If you’re interested in being one of our beta testers (and experiencing this great class before we start charging!), drop us a line at indiepenink@gmail.com.

In July comes the team’s biggest pride and joy: the Research-a-Torium! We’ve been discussing and toiling away at this feature for quite some time now, and we cannot wait to open its doors. The R-a-T (as we’ve come to call it) will be a massively helpful resource to any creator looking for information or inspiration to help them build their world. If you’re new to research, there will be resources that teach you how to do it properly, and you’ll learn exactly how to get the answers you need quickly and without uncertainty. Over time, new content will be continuously added based on questions sent to the Ask-a-Librarian feature by other writers like you.

Also this summer, we will be launching a reformatted version of Drink Ink. Due to reasons beyond our control, we will no longer be able to able to host the show as a live event. So, we are going to experiment with shorter, pre-recorded episodes. The better experiments will be posted for all to see, and the other (more embarrassing hilarious) experiments will be shared exclusively in the IndiePen Den – a facebook group accessible by our patrons and content contributors.  

In the fall we will launch the full, official version of the Inkademy. The workshops will tie-in with several other “NaNo prep month” features coming out in October. We’re lucky to have the magnificent Elayna Mae Darcy on our team, who is a true NaNoWriMo guru and is putting together all sorts of fun content for that month.

Also on the horizon (though the dates for these items are a good deal fuzzier), we are hoping to expand the IndiePen Ink team, to open up the first of our Party Pages – the Women Writer’s Collective, and to announce our very first writing contest, which will help feed a literary magazine that we plan on publishing next year.

Is that…. Is that enough?

We certainly hope so. But if you’d like to see us do even more, let us know by showing your support through Patreon. Or offer to join our team! I hear we’ll be recruiting soon. 😉

News Savvy Story Slayers

Let’s Slay Some Stories…

An introduction from Elayna

It is with greatest joy that I come to you this International Women’s Day, proud to announce that IndiePen Ink’s brand new podcast, Story Slayers, is officially live and out in the world!

The idea for this podcast came from two livestreams I hosted in 2016, talking about women in science fiction and women gamers. Hoping to open the door to more in depth discussion about a broader ranger of topics, I changed gears and realized a podcast would be the best format for the kind of environment I wanted to create and conversations I hoped to have.

The first episode features incredible guest hosts Natsai Todd and Jessica Schlessinger, both friends and creative women I admire more than words can type. Their knowledge of media, their appetite for good stories, and hilarious quips make for an episode better than anything I could have hoped for, and without them to help get this off the ground, I don’t know where I’d be.

During the pilot, we talk everything from iconic creators like Shonda Rhimes, Ava DuVernay, and Emma Watson, to how woke the Powerpuff Girls used to be. We dive right into discussing a number of topics which are sure to return on future episodes, including intersectional feminism, fandom culture, and what it takes to break down stereotypes.

This show is something I’ve longed to see come to fruition for months, and given the state of the world, I feel it couldn’t be more necessary for women to persist in the telling of their stories. May this podcast be one small step for women, and a giant leap for storytellers everywhere.

Always with love,

Elayna Mae Darcy

Editorials News Pep Talks Writing Styles

There’s a Good Chance This Is Completely Worthless

A message of caution, from Sass:

As a teacher, I often struggle with the fact that my students take every word I speak as gospel. While the thought of having a horde of minions waiting to be beckoned, preaching whatever I tell them would be wonderfully effective if/when I choose to take over the world, as an educator, it is extremely counter-productive to teaching students the most important, non-subject related skill they need to acquire in school: problem solving. Now, this would be an easy point for me to launch into a scathing critique of our public education system, and how through lacking high standards and pushing testing we have totally lost our ability to teach our students the skills they really need, but I won’t. It’s really, reaaaaally hard not to, but it’s not the point of this blog post.

I use this example only to make the point that as products of this system, we are not always taught how to read information selectively.

As with any information, even that delivered by teachers (who are often, but not always, experts in their field) it should still be analyzed. Writers, like any person working in a craft, should always be willing to learn and improve techniques to develop as writers. Teachers do this through professional development. I attend meetings and conferences multiple times a year that are meant to introduce or to strengthen my knowledge of teaching methodology. But, all teachers are different—we each have a teaching style, based on many variables such as experience, school culture, resources, and student needs. Writers also have a style that is distinct to their particular experience, genre, voice, and process. I have left sessions completely enthused and ready to utilize a brand new method to transform my classroom. I have also walked out of sessions laughing my ass off at some “consultant”, with no prior educational experience, who just got paid thousands of dollars to tell me how to do a job they have never done themselves. Or, even if they have, came out of a perfect, suburban school where all the students have stable homes, speak English, have safe, updated buildings, and are given more resources than they know what to do with. Learning how to be a better teacher is no different than learning how to be a better writer- the advice you take is completely subjective to your needs and experience.

Which is why it is extremely important to keep this thought in mind: Any advice, resource, or lesson given to you by another writer needs to be analyzed for its usefulness to your specific needs.

While the core concepts for writing—character development, setting, and plotting—are universal in writing, the methodologies used in practice are completely dependent upon what and how you write. If you want to be the next Rowling, don’t go to Patterson for advice. If you want to be the next Flynn, don’t go to Sparks. I don’t have anything against any of these writers, but they each have fundamental differences in their genres, writing styles, and process.

That being said, I am also not suggesting that a mystery writer cannot help a science fiction writer write better. What I am saying is before you take every piece of writing advice, really sit down, analyze it, try it out, and see if it even applies. Or, if it can be adapted. Does it even work?

At the end of the day, there might not be a single thing on this website that helps one person become a better writer, yet another person could credit it as the secret to their success. Neither person is wrong. In special education, we use the term Specific Learning Disability to cover a wide range of learning struggles. Two different students can be labeled SLD in reading, but one can have issue with transposing letters while the other has issues in reading comprehension. But, both are considered not to be able to read. Trying to strengthen a student’s reading fluency may help the dyslexic student, but won’t do anything to help the one who doesn’t understand or retain what they are reading. This same idea can be said for two writers struggling with the same problem. If two writers are both struggling to develop static characters into dynamic characters, no one approach will be universal to help both, especially if the stories are different genres or viewpoints.

All the information we post on IPI is intended to be helpful but not all of it will be. Or all of it will be. Or none of it will be. The point is, this is not gospel. This is a collection; an anthology if you will, of what we consider the best advice we have collected from around our writing circles, the internet, and our dangerously high stacked towers of writing books. There is bound to be a better method out there for something we post in IPI, and we encourage writers to seek out information. Never stop seeking knowledge.

As the illustrious, sardonic, and outrageous Oscar Wilde once said, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”

So, when you do find something better, please share it with us. Help us add to the Research-a-Torium or update a post or offer a suggestion on a tutorial. This isn’t just our site, it’s our site—yours, mine, and ours. If advice exists, and it helped, we want to have it collected, organized, and ready to be absorbed. Help us help you and help us help others. But, remember, only take what you need to help yourself.

Write on, young savior,

 

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Editorials News Pep Talks Resources Sass Writing Styles

Hey Guys! Watch This!

An open letter from Sass:

There is a small assortment of books collecting dust on my bookshelf these days. These books were once some of my most coveted, habitually read, and referenced tomes. I carried them in my bag on trips and methodically marked and annotated passages. Interestingly though, these books are neither classic literature, nor contemporary favorites. In fact, they’re non-fiction. They are my craft books – the first books I began buying and devouring when I finally decided to take the terrifying leap from saying “I write” to “I am a writer.” The books that helped me learn the basics; that built the foundation of my writerly knowledge.

Now, nearly a decade later, as I plot story arcs, develop characters, and invent universes, they sit idle, neglected and forgotten. Why would I need to read these books now? I’m not a novice writer anymore – I get this shit. I’m done with theory. Onto the practicum! Yet, when I sat down to make notes over the tutorials and concepts I wanted to cover on IndiePen Ink, my head emptied as quickly as a broken vacuum seal clears out a cargo bay on an interstellar ship. I realized that I needed to go back to my source, to my humble beginnings, and work backwards, taking my acquired knowledge and using it to create a curriculum of what I would have liked to have learned early on as a writer.

The problem though is that the stuff I wanted -needed- to learn was not the basics. Now, granted, while they are the important foundation on which the skill of writing is built, understanding the elements of story makes you little more proficient than a high school freshman when it comes to writing… I know this because I teach high school English to freshmen. So, instead of reaching for the craft books on the basics, I reached for my intermediate books – the ones on style and expression – and, decided to take a look through two of my trustiest reference books: Better Than Great and The Elements of Expression, both by author, Arthur Plotnik.

And, lo… what I have forgotten/ignored/never learned/breezed past in haste to get to the “good stuff”…Did you know that there are twenty-five types of figurative language? Because I sure as hell didn’t! The weird part is I had it marked, as if I had either read it and forgotten, or never got back to it after thinking “Ooooh! This looks important!”.

This brought me to a realization – I had thought I had read these books, scoured these books for information; devoured them and digested their contents – but in truth, I had done no such thing. There was no doubt I had depended on these books and used them constantly, but for an intended purpose. A purpose from which I am eight years removed and hardly remember, but at the time they gave me information I craved. I read it, absorbed it, and it became habit. Then, I threw it on the shelf and walked away more confident in my ability than before, and thus satisfied I had taken everything I could from that text.

“I wanted a resource – the ultimate resource that could be the place where I could go to get help, specific to my needs as a writer at that time.”

It’s this realization that leads me to believe this is the reason I roped my friends into creating IndiePen Ink. I wanted a resource – the ultimate resource that could be the place where I could go to get help, specific to my needs as a writer at that time. Those needs change over time, and new resources have to be sought.

Middle of the road writers, like myself, have fallen into a chasm of sorts. We still need help while writing, but it doesn’t come from our foundational limitations, it comes from isolation. Writing in a vacuum is horrible. It’s inside the black hole where all your incredible, original ideas stagnate, your characters go flat, and your dialogue becomes trite and stifled. This happens not because you don’t have talent, but because you have no place to keep skills sharp or be held accountable.

In essence, you need a proving ground. A playground, if you will, to mix and mingle, to refuel and get hurt when you slip off the fictional monkey bars. This place needs to be flexible, inviting, tolerant, and empathetic to the needs and diversity of writers, and those writer’s stories. But, the playground also needs an assortment of equipment, and not just one of those plastic jumbo monstrosities with seven slides and towers and glider handle thingy… what hell do they call that thing? It needs separate play areas where we can go and play and learn, and when we conquer that area, we can move to another; make new friends; fall off new toys and get back up again.

Consider IndiePen your playground. Make friends. Try new stuff. Revisit and take comfort in old stuff. Share. Write. Fuck up. Try again. We, as the creators of IndiePen Ink, want you to help us make this playground the first place, and only place, you go when you fall down the writing well and can’t crawl out again. We’ll throw you a rope, and pull you back up to the playground.

“Make friends. Try new stuff. Revisit and take comfort in old stuff. Share. Write. Fuck up. Try again.”

The playground is small right now, but it won’t always be. This isn’t going to be just some corner park they used to fill space in a subdivision. We’ve got big plans for this playground (think Leslie Knope plans). So, come to our playground. Tell us about yourself, your needs, and what toys you want to play on. Tell all your friends to meet you at the sweet, new playground. Until then, we’ll be here waiting. You’ll know us – we’re the cool kids hanging out on top of the monkey bars.

…and I’m the kid writhing on the ground after shouting the famous words, “Hey guys! Watch this!”.

Write on, young savior,

 

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News Savvy

We’re Going On An Adventure…

Authors, imagination travelers, and word weavers — the world needs your story, and we at IndiePen Ink are here to help you tell it.

The mission of IndiePen Ink is to serve as a multiverse of writing resources, providing blog posts, web shows, podcasts, and more, all to help independent writers and creators embrace their passion of one of the world’s most ancient crafts: storytelling.

Founded out of a mutual adoration of books, writing, and pop culture by C. Brennecke, Elayna Mae Darcy, and Rebekka S. Leber (with the help of friend and web wizard Elan Samuel) the site will include such things as thorough and engaging writing prompts, raucously weird yet informative web shows, and even a bi-weekly podcast by and about women in literature and the media. What we are not is a static, cookie-cutter operation with click-baity titles that don’t actually help you become a better writer. Our focus is on building community, helping creators with their unique problems and struggles, and having a damn good time while we’re at it.

We believe that you care about the stories you tell, and we want to be there for you to help you tell them in a way that leaves a positive mark on the world. Think of us as your support system as you endeavor to write your books or other creative works. When you need guidance on the next steps of your quest, consider us your Obi-Wan Kenobi. When you need logical advice or help with research, let us be your Hermione Granger. And when you need encouragement and someone believe in you, we’ll be your Samwise Gamgee.

Starting out on a new adventure, be it launching a website or writing a new book, can at times be a daunting thing. But if we, the creators of IndiePen, have learned anything, it is that sometimes the biggest leaps of faith lead to the most rewarding and magical journeys of all.

Ready for whatever comes,

The IndiePen Ink Team
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