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Adventures Sass Savvy Snark

An IndiePenn Adventure

Recently, the founders of IndiePen Ink met up in Philadelphia for business and fun. Mostly fun. This is the tale of our adventure:

Wed

10:30 – Bekki arrives in Philadelphia

Bekki: This was a big trip for me, not just because I was finally going to meet my girls in real life, but also this was the first time I had ever flown on a plane by myself. I was incredibly anxious I was going to have a mix up on my tickets or miss my flight or not be able to find my terminal.

Christine: This was a big trip for me too. The trip to the airport, that is. I had never driven there in the driver’s seat before. It turns out that it’s a pretty easy thing to do.

Bekki:

Christine: After we both survived our respective big trips, we met up at Baggage Claim D. My first impression of Bekki: She’s even shorter than I thought she’d be!

Elayna: I gotta agree… Bekki is smol… but feisty…

Christine: All joking aside, meeting Bekki felt a lot like being reunited with an old friend, which is the best possible outcome when meeting an internet friend for the first time.

11ish – Bekki’s first Wawa

Christine: Like any good Philadelphian, I made sure that Bekki’s first stop was a Wawa. We stocked up on snacks and, of course, hoagies.

Bekki: I wish we had Wawa’s. We have Casey’s in Central Illinois. They serve food and have a lot of good stuff, but they don’t make custom sandwiches and smoothies though. They do have a pretty bitchin’ breakfast pizza though, so I guess that’s something.

Afternoon – Bekki’s first subway Ride

Bekki: No one told me that riding through the tunnels of the Philly train system was going to be like the nightmarish boat ride part of Willy Wonka come to life. There were these flashing lights and mysterious screeches and I was expecting irate Oompa Loompa to charge us at any minute.

Christine: No one told me that this was your first time truly experiencing the splendors of public transportation. Had I known I would’ve made fun of you. A lot.

Bekki: To be fair, where I live, we have none, and I depend on the interstate and highways to get me everywhere. Upside to that is I can get anywhere in twenty minutes, rather than taking two hours to catch three trains to go five miles.

5ish – Reading Terminal Market

Christine: Once above ground, we stopped at Reading Terminal Market to find a quick bite to eat. Like a moth to a flame, Bekki spotted the word chorizo with her patented Chorizo Hawk Vision. I was very impressed.

Bekki: Chorizo Hawk Vision™

Chorizo Fries from Fox & Sons Fancy Corn Dogs

6ish – Philadelphia Museum of Art

Christine: We had our first official in-person meeting of IPI at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was historic, just like the artwork featured at the museum.

Bekki: I will never forget the first time I saw Elayna in real life, and the spastic, energetic way she came charging towards me. It was like a spider monkey taught a excited squid how to run across land. If I had to use a word to describe it, I would have to invent one. … I think flobbled describes it justly.

Christine: I’d say flizzled. Or perhaps even spaflizzled.

Elayna: Spafizzled and flobbled sound about right. While Bekki and Christine frolicked about the city, I was anxiously waiting to get off work so as to go join my beloved Snark and Sass at the museum. The PMoA has to be one of my favorite places in the world, so it felt very fitting that it would be the place where I’d in-person unite with two of my favorite people in the world. The hugs were wonderful, and felt like coming home.

Bekki: This is the point in which we went in search of the Picasso that Elayna apparently poked as a child, which actually turned out to be a Monet.

Christine: Notice how my outfit perfectly matches Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. I was so on point.

Bekki: I, on the other hand, chose to wear a lavender sun dress, which while perfect for the warm weather, apparently had an invisible screen print that only weird, old dudes could see that said “Hit on me! Objectify me! Please! Otherwise, how will I know I’m attractive to you and justify my worth as a woman!?” They must have used a small font, because it was a long sign.

Christine: Old dudes love purple dresses. It is known.

Elayna: I chose to be flowery and summery in my outfit choosing, with my favorite shirt and a pair of brand new shorts which WERE SO COMFY for art museum exploring and basking in the sunset on the Rocky steps outdoors-ing.

Christine: Exploring is exactly the right word. If you’ve never been to the PMoA, you should know that in addition to the standard hangs-on-a-wall art, there’s also an Arms and Armor section and a bevy of asian architecture installations.

Bekki: Lesser known fact about the PMoA  – did you know that Lil’ Sebastian was a time traveler? There’s proof at the museum.

Christine: Related: I made a lot of jokes at the art museum. Good jokes even.

Elayna: SHE HAD THREEEE FRUITS. (This makes no sense to you of course, but that doesn’t make it any less side splittingly hilarious when I remember it.)

Christine: After exploring the museum we just chilled and enjoyed the sunset. It was great. Life is pretty good.

Elayna: Sitting on the steps before parting ways at the end of the night had to be one of the most magical moments of the trip for me. The weather was bliss, the sky and city were beautiful, and being with these two friends, one of whom I’d only just met in person that day, feeling like they’ve been my best friends for years, was amazing. It was like those high school nights you get nostalgic for, when you wished you could have bottled summer to keep the moments of it for forever. We took a bunch of goofy pictures and laughed and leaned on each others shoulders while watching the city fade to night, and I just wish more moments in life were as sweet as this one.

Thurs

1ish – Happily Ever After

Christine: Thursday started with waffles and butterbeer, which is pretty much how every day starts in heaven.

Bekki: My favorite thing about Happily Ever After Dessert Cafe was that there are two specials: Frozen Yogurt Waffles and Spicy Ramen… because, you know, that tracks.

Elayna: I was THRILLED they both loved it because this is in my opinion the best cafe in Philly, especially if you’re a nerd. My waffle was made out of chocolate and rainbows and my butterbeer tasted like fizzy perfection.

Happily Ever After Dessert Cafe

Afternoon – Photo Shoots

Christine: Elayna was our photographer extraordinaire. She took many-a-pics.

Elayna: Photo shoots with friends in the city are so unparalleled in their amount of fun. The running around going, hmm, that place is pretty. You will look pretty in it! *snaps photo* LOOK HOW PRETTY?!?! Love it and wish I could do it every day. These two were so much fun to capture on camera.

Bekki: I really love having my picture taken. It’s kind of a problem. Elayna and Christine were such enablers.

Bekki: Those are some sweet notebook covers. I wonder how a person could support us on Patreon and score one for themselves? If only that was a thing that could happen in this universe…

Christine: Hm. If only

Elayna: *whispers* But really tho….


Christine: I really enjoyed this particular photo shoot location because there was a never ending stream of postal workers that just kept on delivering the mail in the background. Like, how much mail could there possibly be?

Elayna: Oh my goodness the postal people. Every time I was like PERFECT SHOT IS PERFECT, out they’d pop from behind a tree and I’d have to wait for them to cross the street again. But I have to agree, this was an excellent spot for photoshooting.

Christine: We even befriended a painter man while we were waiting on the postal workers to clear out. He thought we were hilarious.

Bekki: He also thought he was hilarious.

Later that afternoon – Jules Goldman Books & Antiques

Christine: I loooooved the artwork at this store.

Featured on left: Untitled by Brian Gormley
Featured on right: (title unknown) by Jay Hoffman

Bekki: The only downside to flying was that I couldn’t take like five of those painting home with me that I really liked… and, you know that they would have all just been like $5. Everything else in the store was apparently.

Christine: YES. It didn’t matter what book you took up to the register, no matter what he would hold it out, tilt his chin, pause, and proclaim, “Five dollars!”

Elayna: For reals. I couldn’t believe that my ancient book I got was only five dollars.

Christine: Elayna – I loved your book buying determination. You knew there was something great on that shelf of old books and you were gonna find it.

Elayna: Thank you. I WAS ON A MISSION. Old books just fill me with life because it’s like, how many people have read these pages and shared in this story. How has it survived and not been lost yet? The book I ended up getting was a copy of 4 Shakespeare plays in one volume, in great condition given that it was, ya know, 116 years old. Yeah, that’s right. I now own a book that’s older than women’s right to vote. #Fun

Evening – Mini Bar Crawl

Christine: And then…it was Mini Bar Crawl time!

Elayna: ROTTEN RALPH’S! My favorite bar in the city. Basically, 75% of this trip was “Elayna is going to drag these two to all her favorite places and THEY WILL LIKE IT DANG IT.”

Christine: And like it we did!

Rotten Ralph’s

Christine: Between Rotten Ralph’s and Mac’s Tavern, we stopped for cheesesteaks at Sonny’s Famous Steaks, because what’s a trip to Philadelphia without cheesesteaks?

Elayna: Not a trip worth having, honestly.

Mac’s Tavern

Christine: If I recall correctly, I was already drunk at this point. A drink and a half, plus a few hours of sun is all it takes, folks!

Bekki: You were. And, I recall you getting irritated at me that I wasn’t drunk yet after my two or three drinks, one of which was a Long Island.

Christine: You’re a gorram tank, Rebecca S. Leber.

Elayna: Yeah, Christine was super giggly and it was hilarious and Bekki was like,  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Christine: Our last stop was National Mechanics, which is my favorite bar.

National Mechanics

Elayna: I can’t say I blame you. That place was MAGICAL. I really loved the vibe and the drinks were YUM.

Christine: We were about to leave, when…

Bekki: (Quizzo guy approaches)- Hey Ladies! Would you guys like to participate in our Parks and Rec Quizzo?

(Me, way over the top than I should be) – Parks and Rec!? HELL YES WE DO!

Elayna: Our team was called ‘The Beautiful Land Mermaids’ and this might be forever what I call these two for as long as we’re friends.

Christine: Just don’t ask us how we did. *cringe*

Fri

1ishChapterhouse Cafe & Gallery

Christine: This cafe had Tofutti Cutie cream cheese, which made my lactose intolerant heart sing.

It was also a great place to get away from the hubbub of life and get some shit done.

… Um. What did we get done?

Bekki: Stuff and junk… and things. Those very, very important things. In actuality, I think this is where we hashed out a bunch of plans for the workshop.

Elayna: I was late to the party on this day, but can attest – Chapterhouse is the cafe for when you want an amaaaazing environment to get. s**t. done.

2ishMagic Gardens

Bekki at Magic Gardens

Elayna: I’ve been a bad Philadelphian and had never gone inside here before this day, but upon being there that day I realized, I wasn’t supposed to have seen it yet. This was a place meant to be experienced for the first time ever with my girls. ^_^

Christine: I’d also been a bad Philadelphian and had never been to the Magic Gardens either. It was really cool that we all got to experience it for the first time as a group. 10/10 would recommend.

Elayna at Magic Gardens

Afternoon – Shopping at various stores, but mainly Garland of Letters

Bekki:  I am jealous that we don’t have a metaphysical store like this in Springfield. We have like two shops that would qualify, but one is also a head shop.

Elayna: Garland of Letters is a seriously great shop that I love visiting. I got me a snazzy piece of opalite and incense that smelled like the name of the place we went for dinner which was…

5:30 – Marrakesh!

Christine: I had been to Marrakesh before, so I’d really like to hear what you guys thought about the experience. What were your first impressions?

Marrakesh

Bekki: I loved everything about this place. The ambiance, the tapestry covered walls, the colors, the lanterns, the couches, the shared plates to be eaten by hand. It felt like stepping into another time and place, and was so happy to experience that with two amazing ladies who inspire me and share my enthusiasm for new things.

Christine: Don’t forget the towel guy! He just saunters right up, arms full of hot towels, and floats the towel into your lap like it’s a magic carpet coming in for a landing. The man is a towel wizard.

Bekki:  He was cool, but he wasn’t as fun as Pita Basket guy. “Take! Take as many as you want! “ … Me: I have seven. Thanks.” “No! You take more!” Throws five more onto everyone’s piles.

Elayna: There’s no words sufficient enough to describe how rad Marrakesh was. I didn’t check my phone the entire time we were in there, because I had no desire to know time was passing. Like Bekki said, it really was like we’d jetted across the world or travelled back through time. The people there were so friendly and the atmosphere was just perfect. And also (know that I say this as someone who is probably the pickiest eater you’ll ever know) ALL THE FOOD WAS AMAZING. My taste buds have never felt so alive and I’ve never had a meal as good as the one I had here.

Christine: I’m so glad you liked it.

Also, fun fact: Marrakesh helped me solidify the concept for the den that’s featured in my story. I’d love to say that it outright inspired it, but alas the idea came first. But it definitely inspired a few of the details.

Bekki: Funny enough, it also helped me coalesce a setting I had been imagining for a scene in Proxy when several of the Primes gather after the rise of Christianity and the fall of their council Alexandria.

Sat

Morning – Work Time @ Christine’s

Bekki: I’m so glad that I stayed with Christine and not in a hotel. Her home felt like my home, and that was important to me. I felt comfortable there. I felt welcome. And, the best part, the one thing I hate about traveling is I never sleep well. It takes me awhile to get used to a new bed, and my excitement about the trip usually keep me up with racing thoughts. This was not the case at her house. In fact, once I hit the mattress in her guest room, I melted in, fell asleep reading a book, and didn’t wake up until *cough* noon, most days. But, to be fair, we stayed up late a lot!

Christine: On this particular day, I woke you guys up with breakfast. #adulting

Elayna: Yeah, Christine’s house is super homey, and slumber parties are my favorite. Her pancakes she made were OFF THE CHAIN.

Afternoon – Work Time @ Elayna’s

Christine: Saturday afternoon was dedicated to pizza and productivity.

Bekki: I still think about that bacon and black olive pizza wistfully.

Christine: I think around this time, or maybe the day before or after, I figured out the new format for Drink Ink. Speaking of, I really need to get on that…

Bekki: Elayna may live in a shoebox, but the skyline from her window is exceptional. We both decided to sit down and run a few sprints as the dark was rising over the city and the lights were coming on. There was also a hint of a thunderstorm on the horizon and lightning was flashing in the distance. Elayna lit a cone of her new incense, Marrakesh, inspired by our restaurant experience. Finally, after weeks of not being able to write anything, I cranked out 500ish words and part of a new scene inspired by the skyline.

Christine: That’s awesome. I love that.

Elayna: Yeah, this was another outrageously treasured part of the trip for me. Like Bekki so beautifully described, the sky was magnificent out my windows and it just made for the perfect environment in which to be create. I hadn’t written in almost two weeks and that night got down just over 1K words. There’s something I really love about sharing a space with someone, stopping to fervently tell stories, and then break to share what you worked on. It’s like, we were both sitting in the same exact environment, but look at these places our imaginations went to.

Sun

WONDER WOMAN!

Bekki: I am really glad that I waited to see WW with Elayna. She was so overcome with power and inspiration from the film, watching her experience the film was such a cool and separate thing from the movie itself, I’m glad I could share that with her. We all have those movies, and having someone there to share that energetic jolt they give you is powerful.

Elayna: Yeah, I have some feelings about Wonder Woman. But I’ll save that for the upcoming Story Slayers episode. 😉

Mon

Farewell Dinner @ Christine’s

Christine: What did I make? I don’t even remember.

Elayna: Tacos! You made tacos and they were yummy but I was full of sads that this was my last night with you two. It was a very chill way to end what was an unbelievably magical weekend.

Tues

Afternoon – Mutter Museum

Christine: As a final sightseeing hurrah, Bekki and I went to the Mutter Museum, which features skulls and cysts and pieces of Einstein’s brain. It was cool as shit.

6ish – Milkboy

Christine: Then came a final round of drinks at Milkboy, this time with fellow upcoming author G. A. Finocchiaro.

We talked so much shop that my poor husband thought we were speaking in a foreign language. Things turned out okay for him though because we followed it up with his favorite pizza at Lorenzo & Sons on South Street.

Bekki: A pizza slice as big as a pizza itself, and that requires a box or two plates to carry it away. Dave and I had a good time feeding the little sparrow. One flew right up to the box, and Dave was so impressed, he gave it a whole chunk of crust for having balls.

Asscrack of Wednesday Morning – Bon Voyage to Bekki!

Christine: Bekki left and I immediately missed her.

I miss you, Bekki.

Elayna: Me too…..

Bekki: Ditto.

And, Philly is a great town. I reminds me of St. Louis – big enough to feel cosmopolitan, but not so big you feel like it overwhelms you. I can see why Elayna uses so much of this city in her writing. I can’t wait to come back.

Have you too gone on an adventure recently? Tell us about it in the comments!

 

 

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Craft Creative News Research-a-torium Resources Sass Worldbuilding

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,

Craft Creative Editorials Inkademy Research-a-torium Sass Setting Worldbuilding

A Fantastic World Does Not A Story Make

We’ve all done it at some point – built a story to fit within the framework of a kick-ass world we’ve created. Writers get so wrapped up in playing God by designing beings, shaping geographic features, creating languages, or constructing epic histories that trace backwards through a dozen generations, that they completely forget what the hell they are supposed to being doing – telling a story. Writing isn’t about building a world, it’s about writing the story that could only happen in the world that has been built.

Crafting a story is a complex process, and building a world to serve as a rich setting is important, especially in speculative fiction. Setting is one of the five elements required in a proper story. Setting helps to understand character personality and development. It can serve as an obstacle creating conflict, or help to move the plot forward. The problem occurs when a writer focuses all their energy on creating the world, and no time focusing on the story that takes place within said world.

Back in January of 2015, on an episode of Fiction School, co-host Tommy Zurhellen discussed one of the biggest mistakes he sees made by his students. In his humorous story about “Scantron 7”, Zurhellen explains that when he asks writing students about their story, they spend several enthusiastic minutes describing their setting, their characters, elaborate government or belief system, the epic conflict that rocked the world a thousand years ago… but when asked the question, “Yeah, but what is your story actually about?” they draw a blank.

At the end of the day, no matter how epic and elaborate the setting or how fleshed out the characters, if there is no story at the core, or worse, no conflict to drive that story forward, then the writer really has nothing but a cool place with cool people.

To avoid falling into this trap, a writer must keep in mind that every addition they make to their world needs to be relevant to the story. That is, anything about the world worth mentioning. As the writer, there is nothing wrong with knowing every corner of the created world. That does not mean that the reader needs to know all those inane details. The more fleshed out the writer makes the world, the more real it will feel, but providing a millenia of history or recounting the entire text of a holy book is simply not necessary for the reader to understand the significance of a religious or historic event on the modern day.

As a writer, you can never know too much about the world within the story, because you never know what information will become useful later on, or my inspire new story lines. But, it is possible for a writer to tell their readers too much about their world. Avoid info dumps, and save that information for supplemental content (like rewards for people who support you on Patreon!) or later stories in the same world. Or, if you feel really bold, incorporate the method used by the author of Nevernight, Jay Kristoff. When the opportunity for history or cultural knowledge to came up in the story, instead of dropping a load of backstory that broke with the narrative, Kristoff simply placed an asterisk in the text, and kept moving on with the story. At the bottom of the page, he included footnotes for each symbol. This strategy worked perfectly, giving the reader the choice to break the narrative to read the footnote, or to keep reading until the end of the page or the chapter, and come back to read the backstory about a god, a cultural practice, or reference to a historical event in the history of the world.

If readers truly love the world a writer crafts, they will come back for more. The trick is leaving enough for the readers to have a reason to return. Giving away too much in the beginning does one of two things- overwhelms the reader, boring them with over-information, or satisfies them to the point there are no questions left for them to answer.

If you’d like some help training your world building muscle, sign up to beta test our Worldbuilding Workshop taking place on June 25th thru July 8th by sending an email to indiepenink@gmail.com with the word “Inkademy” in the subject line.

And, keep an eye out for announcements on the opening of the Research-a-Torium, which we hope to build into the ultimate world building resource!

Write on young savior,

 

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Craft Creative Research-a-torium Resources Sass

The History of Storytelling: Part I: The Invention of Story

As modern humans, convenienced by information available at our fingertips, we take for granted a time when communication and access to knowledge was not instantaneous. The knowledge of history, technology, food and medicinal resources, was once proudly guarded information, determined to be the property of a privileged few.

According to a recent study by Marshall Poe, a professor of the history at the University of Iowa, the history of human communication can be divided into six stages. These stages of development are organized as: oral (speech), manuscript (handwriting), print (presses), audiovisual (recordings, radio, film), internet (hosting, posting), and digital (pdf).

Using these six stages, we can examine each of the unique ways that humans have ever interacted. Each one has become a integral in the way humans pass information along to others, or most importantly, to the next generation. This has always been the most effective way of ensuring survival of future generations. But, while Poe’s categories neatly summarize all stages of communication throughout our history, human beings have been telling stories long before most of his stages came into existence..

“Without a single word, this ancient artist who painted the walls of Lascaux was able to record one of the first stories of the human experience, and with every generation that has passed since, we have never stopped.”

Early Storytelling

The caves of Lascaux, France are one of the most significant archeological finds ever to be uncovered. They are not, however, open to public view. If exposed to the elements, these irreplaceable works of art would be destroyed very quickly. That is why they have been sealed off, made accessible only to the scientists and historians that are allowed to study them. Discovered in 1940, the ceiling and walls of the cave interior are painted with immense portraits of ancient animals that once roamed Europe alongside our ancestors. The incredible thing about these paintings is that they are sophisticated. The artist drew them in such a way that represents movement and dimensions. Many of the animal drawings feature shading  and have been depicted with multiple legs, representing the motion of the animals as they ran, and their three-dimensionality. In addition to the archaeological significance that this find represents by providing evidence for our ancestors’ intelligence, it also represents their need to record and preserve their daily lives. Whether this was just an early attempt at expression, or an early attempt to record history to pass on to later generations, it serves as one of the earliest examples of storytelling.

The boss-ness that is the Lascaux cave art.

Without a single word, this ancient artist who painted the walls of Lascaux was able to record one of the first stories of the human experience, and with every generation that has passed since, we have never stopped. These original stories may not be as complex as we modern humans are used to, with all our fancy story elements, and our literal and figurative language, but they served the most important function of a story. This image was able to explain what a day in the life of an ancient Europeans looked like. This moment in history represents a greater monument in human development, providing evidence of one of the first moments in which humans began to demonstrate critical and analytical skills beyond those needed for survival. This is evidence of the earliest moments of human consciousness.

” The history and beliefs of a culture became legends, the trial and error of generations became lessons, and the technological advancements led to surplus, riches, and war, which were recorded as history.”

Human beings may have been telling stories long before language and writing, but the inception of both led to an explosion of culture. Pre-civilization societies determined record keeping to be one of the most important jobs. This meant that they held their cultural history and knowledge in as high a regard as collecting food. This makes sense, being that the sharing of the collective history of their people was tantamount to survival. By passing on the knowledge of animal migrations, dangerous areas, medical practices, and the crafting of technology, they increased the chances of survival of their children, their people, and their culture as a whole. Storytelling was the ultimate form of self-preservation.

Often, a select few individuals were tasked with the responsibility of learning, memorizing, and retelling the stories of the tribe or clan. This was vital in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, the birthplace of humanity, where geography was known to play a huge role in isolating groups of people within miles of each other (which is why Africa has the most genetic diversity on the face of the planet). According to Reference.com, over three-thousand distinct tribes are known to inhabit Africa, speaking two-thousand known languages. And those are just the ones we know about, since much the inner continent is still very remote, and may still keep hidden people, languages, and stories that we have yet to uncover. That means, that since the birth of vocal communication, just in Africa alone, storytellers, known in these cultures as griots, were memorizing thousands of collective histories in thousands of languages.

A modern day griot recites a story to the children of the village.

Over time, pictures became pictographs. Pictographs became symbols. Symbols began to represent words, and not ideas. Then eventually, sounds and not words.

Indus script that probably tells the sickest, most epic story we’ll never know.

Crossing the Red Sea, much like our ancestors did when they left Africa, through the Arabian Peninsula,  we come to  South-Central Asia, where the birth of writing occurred. The earliest archeological evidence of writing can be found in Uruk on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in modern Iraq, and in Mohenjo-Daro on the Indus River in modern India. Cuneiform, the famous wedge-shaped writing system that is the first known in history, was deciphered by George Smith and Henry Rawlinson. The Indus script on the other hand, remains completely unknown to us since no codex has been discovered that would allow the translation of the symbols into another known language, as was the case with hieroglyphics in Coptic and Greek by using the Rosetta Stone. Once translated, scholars were able to read the earliest literature ever written, the great Mesopotamian works: Atrahasis, The Descent of Inanna, The Myth of Etana, The Enuma Elish, and the famous Epic of Gilgamesh.

Cuneiform text, probably a receipt for goats.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is particularly fascinating as a story, since it is one of the best known examples of a story archetype that is shared by nearly all the great societies and civilizations of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas: an epic flood story in which the gods wash clean the earth to start again. The truly awe-inspiring aspect of the flood story mystery is how these cultures, who have no historical evidence of contact until the last few thousand years, not only share the same base story idea, but also share them with cultures in the Americas, that at the earliest evidence we can find, did not have consistent contact with Europe or Asia until after 1000 CE.

“…since the birth of vocal communication, just in Africa alone, storytellers, known in these cultures as griots, were memorizing thousands of collective histories in thousands of languages.”

While these incredible, larger than life stories discuss the cultural beliefs of the earliest civilizations, other written artifacts from this time serve a purpose more like the paintings of Lascaux. Most of the written documents of this time were not for public circulation. These stories were recorded for posterity, but for most common people of the Mesopotamian region, they would have still be told orally. Literacy has only been commonplace for the last few centuries. But, whether the everyday merchant class of the Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, or Nineveh knew it or not, they were preserving snippets of the story of the everyday life of ancient Mesopotamians through record-keeping. Granted, most of the documents preserved from the first known civilization are basically contracts and receipts … for like…. goats (Seriously, there is an inordinate amount of livestock transactions in Sumeria), but like the cave paintings, they give us a glimpse of the story of ancient life.

The Presentation of the heart of the dead by Horus,Thoth, and Anubis to Isis and Osiris for judgment on entering the afterlife. (FYI, if you were bad, that croc-hippo-cat gets to eat yo’ heart.)

Whether images, symbols, or letters, these written marks began to grace the walls of public spaces, the surface of burial monuments, and scrolls of vellum and paper.  The history and beliefs of a culture became legends, the trial and error of generations became lessons, and the technological advancements led to surplus, riches, and war, which were recorded as history.

Read on young saviors,

Craft Editorials For the Ladies Pep Talks Sass

Wasted Space

When you say you wanna be a writer… but, you just end up writing wish fulfillment.

A rant from Sass:

Scroll through any random writing forum, especially any topic under “writing help” and you will find the following:

“NEED HELP! I really want to write a story, but I need an idea! Thanks!”

“I have an awesome idea (insert extremely long, detailed physical description of a character and nothing else) but now I’m stuck. How can get over writer’s block?”

“I’m writing a story about a werewolf/fairy/vampire love triangle about a teenage good girl who can’t decide between two bad boys (who she can totally change), but I don’t have a plot yet. I need ideas!”

UGH! I swear to this dear, merciful fucking universe, if I see one more post like this in a forum, I am going to Hulk smash the internet. Not my keyboard. Not my monitor. The entire fucking internet. Oh… I’ll do it. Watch me. I’m that upset.

Why? It’s because people that say this don’t really want to write a story – they want to write personalized escapism. It’s like the mature version of those Barbie books your Grandma used to get you for your birthday, where they put your name in the book with a Barbie that looked like you… remember those, child of the Nineties? (Yes… I know we’re getting old. Don’t change the subject.)

For anyone who has ever posted a topic like the ones above in a forum, I’m calling you out. I’m not trying to shame you. I need you to stand up and be counted so that I can ask you a serious question, and I expect an honest answer:

Why in the hell are you writing a story?

Not, what is your story about. Not, what is your main character like? Honestly. Seriously. Think about it for a second, and tell me why you want to write a story.

If the answer is anything less than: “…because I have this thing inside me, consuming me, and if I don’t get it out somehow I am literally going to die.” … well then, you really have no business writing a story. At least not yet.

“You’re so desperate to escape that you’re blinded to the fact that you are escaping to a prison of your own design.”

It took me a really long time to call myself a writer, to have the confidence to back up the statement when I said it. After all, writers produce stories, finished stories to be exact, which is something I have yet to do with original content. (Yeah… I write fan fiction. So what! Wanna fight about it?) So, without having produced a finished original work, how could I have the audacity to call myself a writer?

Easy. I’m a writer simply because I write, and I have been actively doing so since 2009. Actually, I started much earlier than that, having written since my childhood, filling notebooks with silly knock-offs of my favorite stories where a placeholder character of myself was living out a fantasy like one of the ones I wanted to experience.

There is no crime in that. That’s why fan fiction exists in the first place. And, if that is truly what you want, then that is what you need to write. Start with worlds and characters that have already been fleshed out, and play with them until you sate that desire to escape. Then, go back to the real world until it destroys everything good inside you, and return to your fan fiction until you have the will to live again. I get it. Escapism is a powerful thing, especially when you are a young girl. That, I get even more. I’ve been there, done that, and all I got was this crappy t-shirt.

“Write a character worth escaping into, who does all the things we dream about doing, that we as women are told we cannot do or cannot be.”

If you are a woman, young or old, the world is not a place made for you, especially if you are a woman of color or a non-Christian. Society does shame you. It targets you. It whispers stupid shit into your ear about how you’ll never be pretty, or loved, or have worth… unless you buy this awesome deodorant, or wear this mascara, or lose ten pounds. It pits you against other girls. It traps you under a glass ceiling and pays you seventy-seven cents on the dollar compared to the men you see gliding through that glass like water, and tells you that you should just be grateful for the opportunity to even see the glass. Society traps you in pretty pink boxes with prescribed labels from which escape is nigh impossible.

Perhaps that is why I get so irate when I see “I want to write a story but I don’t have an idea and blah and blah and blah…”. You’re so desperate to escape that you’re blinded to the fact that you are escaping to a prison of your own design, another trap set for you, filled with Mary-Sues and pseudo-conflicts designed to create love triangles because that is all a girl needs- to be loved.

If you want escape, I don’t fault you for that. But, if that is all you want, why in the hell would you write a story? Writing is not easy. It’s not just something that manifests once you have the idea. It requires research, planning, revising, and restarting. Writing a story is possibly the most feminine thing you can do- you are literally giving birth. You are like a goddess creating an entire universe from scratch, making something from nothing. That is no simple task. Taking on a project like that requires an intense amount of time and energy. So, again I ask, why do you want to write a story?

If you really want to write a story, you would know it. It would consume you, burning inside you like a Roman candle. You’ll daydream about taking walks along the streets in your world. Your characters will have conversations with you in your head. You’ll be wrenched out of deep sleep at 3:17 in the morning to write down the incredible idea that resolves your entire plot thanks to some weird dream.

When a writer is ready to write a story, their story, they don’t need to beg for inspiration. They already have it. When you find your idea, it will call to you to write it, and once you do, you will be a writer. Until then, practice in the kiddie pool of fan fiction because the deep end of the fiction pool is terrifying when once you take off the water wings.

“If you really want to write a story, you would know it. It would consume you, burning inside you like a Roman candle.”

…And, when that happens, ladies, please, please, break the fucking cycle. Write a character worth escaping into, who does all the things we dream about doing, that we as women are told we cannot do or cannot be. Make her strong, dynamic, complex, and opinionated. Force the plot to bend to her will based on her actions, and not make her a victim of its abuse. For fuck’s sake, be bold, and dare to write a story about a female protagonist who *gasp* doesn’t have a love interest!

We need female voices. We need women writers of every shape, size, creed, color, orientation, and ability, because women out there deserve stories worth escaping into, and we all need different ways to escape. When you’re ready, IndiePen Ink will be here to support you, to coach you, and to help you flesh out that plot instead of inventing it for you.

You have a story inside you, and it is worth being told. Advocate for yourself, for others like you. Take up space. Demand that your story be told.

Write on, young savior,

Editorials Pep Talks Sass Writing Styles

If I Tell You That You Suck, Can You Get Over It?

A Letter from Sass:

At some point in the epic history of fiction writing, writers developed a strange obsession with perfection. The why and how have been lost to history. Perhaps that burned up in the Great Library of Alexandria? Yet, despite not understanding why they have this obsessive compulsion, writers of all levels fall into this trap daily.

I’m not singular in suffering from writer’s block. Every writer I know, regardless of their ability, preferred genre, and levels of experience and success, admits that they sometimes hit a point where they just can’t write. The problem is, as the dry spell continues, they simply don’t move on by planting the garden; learning a new recipe; finally cleaning out the closet. They wallow. They let their brain start to warp their confidence in their abilities. Suddenly, they are a no talent hack, and always have been.

This mindset is toxic. It is also counterproductive, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that takes root in the mind of a writer and prevents them from moving forward, even when inspired.

“At some point in the epic history of fiction writing, writers developed a strange obsession with perfection.”

Let’s get personal for a minute. Currently, I have a Google Doc with 30+ plot points, in chronological order, that I have already planned for in my story, Intrepid. I am not want for ideas — I am want for prose. The idea is fleshed out, and I know exactly what I need to write. I just can’t write it. For weeks, I went through the motions of my usual routine: I sat down to write with my trusty Ink Joy gel pen in a funky color, a thick DIY legal pad made out of my favorite lined paper glued together with cardboard backing, and a full pot of steaming tea, and I put on a Epic Instrumental Music video from YouTube from one of my many subscriptions.

In times past, I would have cranked out 1000-3000 words for whichever scene I had decided I was ready to write. Recently, I have been lucky to settle on a mere hundred words I didn’t want to crumple up and throw across the room.

The worst part is that I had absolutely no reason to be blocked. The depression that tends to hit me two to three times a year was not lingering around, and my anxiety is under control currently. My job, while stressful, is manageable now that I have developed a rhythm. Marriage, immediate family life, and finances are all strong right now. My friends are all doing reasonably well… so what the fuck is my problem? Why can’t I write?

Well, that is because I suck. I’m a great writer, but I am a fucking awful drafter. It feels impossible to just sit down and free write without analyzing my own word choice or flow.

Why did my character do that? Why would I write that? Where did that idea come from? Why can’t I think of a better word!?

“It has taken me a really really loooooong time to accept that sucking is not only okay, but necessary.”

Why? Because, the first draft sucks. The pre-write sucks. The first time words hit paper, they are an unruly mess. And, it has taken me a really really loooooong time to accept that sucking is not only okay, but necessary. At the risk of inspiring a chorus of that’s what she saids, let me repeat that again: Sucking is necessary.

On the days I mindblowingly, ultra suck, I try to keep these quotes in the back of my mind…

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s simply writer’s embarrassment.” –  Andrew W. Marlowe

and

“Do something. You can always correct something, but you can never correct nothing.” – Dale C. Bronner

They’re brilliant. The kind of brilliance that you only register once you read it or someone says it too you. It’s the kind of brilliance that makes you feel like a moron for not realizing the simplistic solution it delivers. It is exactly what every writer needs to be reminded of when they sit down to write. In fact, I think these two quotes should be visible to a writer in every writing space.

So, that being said, I have made graphics of condensed forms of these quotes that writers can print and hang in their writing spaces…

The first step in conquering writer’s block is realizing that the block comes not from a lack of creativity, but a lack of confidence. Not being able to write well is a phobia that is so stifling that it makes writing impossible at all.

In later articles, we will be exploring the reasons people suffer from writer’s block, and offering creative solutions to overcoming your fear, rather than stimulating your creativity. Until then, I leave you with this: If I tell you that you really do suck, can you get over it already? We all suck. Get in line kid — the queue starts with me.

Write on, young savior,

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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