NaNoWriMo Prep Pep Talks

Have Courage

A pep talk for first time NaNoWriMo writers

One of the scariest sensations to a human being is that of the unknown. Will I get that job I interviewed for? Will I ever find love? Will they renew my favorite show next season despite low ratings? (We sure hope so!) Not knowing how something will turn out keeps many of us from doing the things we want to do, because somehow to our minds, not doing the thing at all is easier than the notion of trying the thing and “failing” at the thing.

NaNoWriMo is here to shut that argument right up, and remind you that you got this.

This #RoadToWriMo pep talk is here for those of you who have never tried NaNoWriMo. It’s for those who have waited in the wings of the internet during the month of November, watching everyone else try and write their novels, while you go, HA! That’s crazy! Who would attempt such madness?! (All while silently telling yourself you want in on the madness.) I’m here to tell you that you can do it, and the only thing you have to do is decide. You have to take the leap, even if you can’t see where you’ll fall. From my experience with NaNo, the place you land always ends up being way cooler than where you jumped from. Because here is the real point of NaNoWriMo. Lean in close for this one…It’s not about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s about trying.

It’s about flinging every inhibition you have ever had into the wind to try something that quite frankly should be impossible, but isn’t. It’s about telling a story–your story. It’s for those of you who feel adventures whispering inside of you aching to be free. NaNoWriMo is about letting go, taking a risk, and seeing what magic can come of it. Sometimes that means 5,000 words, sometimes it means 20,000, and sometimes it means going the whole 50K. The point is that you tried, and you ended the month with more words than you had when you started.

So many writers tell themselves that they just don’t have what it takes. But take a moment to imagine where we’d be if Jo Rowling hadn’t taken a chance? How boring would our lives be without Angie Thomas or Ray Bradbury? Madeleine L’Engle or John Green? All of these people were individuals who were bigger on the inside, with something to say about the world and the unique way they saw/see it. People just like you. The only thing separating you is that you’ve yet to take the first step. I’m here to tell you take it. Seize the opportunity to tell your story like you’ve never seized anything before. Carpe the heck out of this damn diem. BEGIN. YOUR. BOOK.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo thirteen times, and I’ll be honest in saying it never gets less daunting, and there will always be times when you doubt yourself and think you can’t finish. But the reason I’ve stuck with NaNo, and why so many people do too, is because of the community. When you hit that I can’t do this anymore moment, there are others doing the same thing along side you to remind you that every word counts. There are strangers from every corner of the world fighting the same battle as you. NaNoWriMo takes away the solitary nature of writing, and gives you an environment full of comrades so you never feel alone. It will be one of the most rewarding things you can ever do.

So, potential future WriMo, I hope to see you this November. I hope that no matter your Hogwarts house, you muster up enough Gryffindor courage to take on this challenge. Your friends here at IndiePen Ink, and the many WriMos around the world, will be there for you if that courage ever fails.

See you out there on the road, new WriMos. Let’s boldly go.

Carry on my wayward writers,


 

 

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo Prep

Step Onto the Road to WriMo

 

Early in the fall of my fourteenth year, my sister told me about this little thing called NaNoWriMo. Being a curious and imaginative kid, I was intrigued by the notion of writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. And so as November 2004 rolled around, I found myself with absolutely no qualifications (or skills to be honest), attempting what felt impossible, and somehow, I cranked out my first book. The rest is history, and I’ve since taken up the mantle of being what I like to call a NaNo-Lifer (n. Someone who does NaNoWriMo every year for the next conceivable forever) which is why I’m incredibly excited to announce IndiePen Ink’s upcoming blog series.

IndiePendents, get ready for our first annual Road To WriMo, or as the kids on the twitter say, #RoadToWriMo. We both loved and were inspired by the official NaNoWriMo’s awesome Road Trip to NaNo blog series, which you can check out here. So we thought we at IndiePen would share our own encouragement and inspiration with you as we head towards November.

Over the next two months, we’ll be providing readers with a series of encouraging and informative posts to help get you to and through this year’s National Novel Writing Month. If you’re unfamiliar with what this is, check out their website here and catch up. But essentially, as I mentioned in the paragraphs above, NaNoWriMo as it is affectionately known, is a month long challenge launched in 1999 by Chris Baty and his band of story-loving friends, who got together to ask a big what if―what if you could write a novel in a month? The idea behind NaNo is not to pen a masterpiece in 30 days, but rather to throw caution to the wind, and just write. Too many people have the goal of “wanting to write a book someday.” NaNo makes that “someday” become “this day.” And to make things even better, you’ve got thousands upon thousands of other writers from across the globe, all trying to accomplish the same goal, there to encourage you along.

It’s pretty nifty, which is why I’ve done it that past 14 years in a row. (Okay, so I skipped 2012, but 13 OUT OF 14 IS STILL PRETTY SOLID. Or so I tell myself to sleep at night…)

So what does this have to do with IndiePen Ink? Well, we at IndiePen want you to DO THE THING. We want you to put aside distraction, toss inhibition in the bin, and GET. THAT. STORY. WRITTEN. So to help make that happen, here’s what we’ve got lined up for you for the month of October…

  • A NaNo Pep Talk for Beginners: To encourage those of you who’ve never tried before to do so.
  • Advice for Plotters: Some pro-tips for the meticulous planning writers among you who love color coded plot breakdowns and the like.
  • A NaNo Pep Talk for Returners: Coming back for more victory? Tried, but never completed it? Somewhere in the middle? This one’s for you.
  • Advice for Pantsers: As Chris Baty said in his own book, “No plot? No problem!” Get the creativity flowing and get some ideas that you can write on the fly.
  • A plotting and structure course on our new writing workshop platform, Inkademy!

And as a bonus! This November, yours truly will be shooting a series of Pep Talk videos to help get you through the beginning, middle, and end of the month of November, as I will be down in the trenches writing with you all month.

I could not be more excited to launch this initiative, and I hope that those of you who are fellow NaNo-Lifers will join with us in sharing your own wisdom & encouragement for newcomers, either here in the comments, or on twitter using #RoadToWriMo. And for those of you for whom this is finally your year to try, or who’ve tried before and haven’t succeeded yet, we’re here for you. You can do it. Your story matters, and we’re going to help you get it told.

So ready your pens, brains, and keyboards, people. It’s time for us to make like Bilbo Baggins and blow this popsicle stand.

“You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ―J.R.R. Tolkien

Can’t wait to see where our #RoadToWriMo sweeps us off to, and I’m glad we get to go on the adventure together!

Carry on my wayward writers,


 

 

 

 

 

 

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,

Creative NaNoWriMo Prep Prompts

Ideas Aplenty!

With a Camp NaNoWriMo days away, we’ve decided to help out our fellow (virtual) cabin-dwelling writers that are in a last minute scramble to come up with a story idea. So, we consulted with our favorite creative minds to put together a list of ideas that are free for the taking. #AbandonedIdeas, if you will.

“I’m an idea man, Chuck!”

All week we will be posting abandoned ideas on Twitter, so be sure to follow us @IndiePenInk so you can catch them all. And if you have ideas of your own to abandon, feel free to tweet them at us too.

Below you’ll find a few of our favorites so far. Happy writing!

Craft Writing Styles

The Five Senses, and Beyond—Using Sensory Writing to Heighten your Narrative

Close your eyes.

Quit whining, and do it.

What do you notice about the space you are in?

Is the TV or music on in the background? Is there a breeze coming through the window? Can you still smell the popcorn you accidentally burned in the microwave? Can you feel the lump in the old couch cushion under you, or the numbness of your butt from time sitting on that hard seat? Is there a constant drip in your bathroom, or the ticking of a clock? Is your mouth dry, or is the taste of your now cold coffee still clinging heavily to your tongue?

Were you aware of any of this things prior to this moment?

Now, what’s really going to bake your noodle…are you even awake, or are you dreaming.

Perception in writing is incredibly important to making a scene feel real. When a scene is described with complex sensory detail the readers feel immersed in the narrative, as if they were there alongside the characters, experiencing what they are experiencing. This is the key to writing the type of story that readers get lost in.

And, the key to writing good sensory details is using all five physical senses alongside with what the characters are able to perceive. Sensing something goes far beyond just sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. In a speculative fiction story, the characters may have extra-sensory abilities, which need to be established and recognized in the narrative. But, even without abilities beyond those of mere mortals, human beings are conditioned to perceive many other types of senses beyond the physical. Even the five physical senses become multifaceted when one starts to think about all the things we can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel, and how we experience those things.

The Five Senses, sensationalized.

When I was in middle school, I had a revelation … I’ll give you a moment to get out the crude jokes about self-discovery and puberty…

Are we good now? Fantastic. Let’s move on.

Joking aside, I do remember having one of those Ermahgerd moments in seventh grade science. One of those moments where you realize you’ve always known something, but it wasn’t apparent until someone told you it was there. Seventh grade science was biology, and we were talking about the senses. My teacher was talking about the absolute thresholds, the parameters and limitations of the human senses (fascinating and informative image included below). When talking about smell, he also mentioned something that Febreze has been marketing on for years now, though he didn’t call it this, he talked about going “noseblind” (go here, because Mental Floss)

When he described the idea behind walking out of room you’ve been in for a while, and then re-smelling an older smell when you walk back in, that idea literally blew my mind. It was one of those, I thought I was the only one who noticed that things. I realized what an important part of my childhood that concept was the next time I visited my grandparents house. The moment I stepped into their house, I always smelled a distinct smell- cigarettes and fried food. Long story short, my grandparents were not healthy people, but I digress… it was a powerful smell. It became a sense memory for me. When I smell meat being fried, I am immediately reminded of Grandma standing over a stove with a pork chop frying in the pan with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. And, I remember when I got home from my visits, I would change my clothes, because I realized that even though I had become desensitized to it over the period of time I spent at their house, my clothes reeked of grease and smoke when I stepped into my non-smoking parents home.

When we think about the senses, we usually think about their most basic functions. I look, I see a thing. I listen, I hear a sound. I pick something up, I feel the texture in my hand. But, our senses allow us to perceive so much more than just the literal thing they do.

Vision allows us to perceive variations in light and color, even when our eyes are closed (don’t pretend you didn’t play that game as a kid where you lay down in the grass, close your eyes, and stare at the sun). We can discern depth and perspective, as well as movement.

Hearing allows us to not just notice a sound, but how the sound it made and from where it is coming. Rhythm patterns, pitch, tone, and volume are all things we perceive about a sound without even thinking about it.

Taste is complex, and we can experience five different sensations- sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savoury (some even argue more).

Touch is really thought provoking when you really examine how many things we feel, even when we are not touching something. When you make physical contact with an object, your brain identifies so much more than just “Oh, hey look! A thing!”. When we touch or hold something, we are identifying temperature, texture, moisture, and weight. But, within your own body, you can also feel things. Pain for example is a sensation of touch we experience from the inside. Our nerves are being activated internally. Same with heartbeat, muscle tension, hunger, thirst, and that horrible numb-before-it-becomes-horrible-painful-stinging feeling we get when we sit cross legged and cut off circulation to our feet.

And, smell seems simplistic and obvious… you just smell stuff right? Wrong. Even though the act of smelling doesn’t consist of much more than a simple act, experiencing smell evokes memories and emotions, as evidenced by my story above. In animals, smell is an incredibly important sense, one that could mean the difference between life and death. It’s one of the primary instincts used in mating. And, like our animal friends, we use smell when determining potential mates, even during falling in love. Experiencing a smell is to literally experience a chemical reaction in your brain. It’s directly linked to our ability to taste… (think about that next time you smell a fart!). An odor, either good or bad can alert you to danger, ruin your day, ruin your moment, wake you up, elicit hunger, make you sick, make you sneeze, turn you on. The smell of a mother can soothe a crying baby.

Going Beyond the Five Senses

Once you’ve opened your mind and really thought about what sense is, you will start to notice the other things we perceive, some things real, others invented, that we also experience as human beings.

One feeling that we are often completely unaware of is how often we are aware of things. Awareness and consciousness are things we feel, that we experience. We can clearly discern between being awake and asleep, the feeling of clarity when we understand something, and the muddled sense of confusion when we don’t. We can also imagine things, creating a false sense of awareness of things that aren’t even really there, or convince ourselves we experienced something when we did not, and make a believable memory of that event. This means not only can we perceive reality from non-reality, we can turn the latter into the former with our brains.

Another thing humans feel is emotion, which is a truly amazing feat in the fact we can turn an intangible mental experience into a physical one. We can feel physical pain when we are sad or depressed. Nausea when we are scared or nervous. Cry when we are heartbroken or when we are elated. And, as if that wasn’t magical sounding enough, we can also detect emotions in other people. Human beings are equipped with this incredible feeling called empathy that allows us to interpret the emotional state of others. Or, in some cases, such as Autism (or Republicanism), completely lack the ability, or have it greatly impaired. Even the inability to feel or interpret emotions still has a feeling of emptiness and confusion for those who experience it.

Then, there is the strangest sense of all, which is going to get very meta here, because it helps us perceive a thing that doesn’t exist at all- time. We are able to discern the passage of time to a point, as anyone who has tried to avoid looking at a clock will know. Humans aren’t particularly good at it, which is why those extra seven minutes on the snooze button felt like thirty seconds, and why waiting for the doctor to knock on the door feels like hours when it’s been less than ten minutes. But, how we perceive the passage of that time is relevant to our mood and alertness.

Being able to properly express these experiences when writing characters and scenes is vital to creating a fleshed out story. Readers want to get lost in stories by escaping into them, and without a fully dimensional world, they can’t do that. Since reading is limited to the screen of the imagination, of which some people have a hard time using to envision the world of the story, using sensory details grounds the story in reality and makes it easy to relate to and envision.

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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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. 😉

Craft Creative Research-a-torium Resources

The History of Storytelling: Part III: Modern Storytelling

Part III

For Part I and Part II of this series, click here and here.

Modern Storytelling

Never before in the history of storytelling have so many options been available to the average storyteller. Nor, have so many forms of storytelling even been considered actual storytelling. A story is anything that meets the requirements of having the five basic elements of story: characters, setting, plot, conflict, and theme. No matter the media, if it has all of these elements it qualifies as a story. That means that modern storytelling has a plethora of vessels for relaying a story.

Books

Books are what we classically think of when we think of “stories”. Most of the reading we do outside of work or school comes in the form of novels. Even those who read short stories typically do so by buying an anthology in book form. But, fiction can come in variety of lengths, depending on the intention of the writer. Works shorter than one thousand words can be considered micro-fiction, flash fiction, or simply a short. A short story tends to fall into a range between one-thousand and seven thousand words. A novelette is seven to twenty-thousand words, and a novella is twenty to fifty-thousand words. A story is not typically considered a novel until it makes it past the fifty-thousand word mark, and anything longer than one-hundred thousand words is considered an epic.

Because of the visual aspect used to express the story, graphic novels and comic books are not traditionally considered books. But, like traditional books, they are just as much a story. Graphic based storytelling still uses the same elements as written stories, they just rely on a visual method to express them. Character development is seen through the actions of characters and the emotional reactions on their faces. Conflict and plot are dramatized by the way the boxes are set within the panels. Tone and theme are presented in the stylization.

Audio

Thanks to the internet making digital audio and video files accessible to everyone, a storytelling method from the early days of radio is making a comeback – the audio drama. Audio books have been around for a long time, easing the pain of long commutes and long hours of data entry by allowing busy people to listen to readings of popular books when they have the time. Along with the rise of Satellite Radio in the early 2000s, as internet speeds increased, and switched from relying on phone lines to fiber optic cables, podcasts became the new pirate radio shows. Suddenly, anyone could have a blog and a show, and both exploded during the 2000s. As podcasts became more available, with shows ranging into all areas of human interest, and downloads and listeners increased, storytellers realized that once again, audio was a format that would allow them to share their stories. Shows such as Welcome to Nightvale have made it possible for entire series to exist, serialized much like modern day soap operas, one episode at a time.

This is perhaps the closest thing we have today to the oral tradition that served as the function for the root of storytelling itself- passing information from one generation to the next by sharing a story verbally.

Video

When people first saw Train Pulling Into a Station by the Lumière brothers in a theater in 1896, they thought they were witnessing magic. Ever since, cinema has become one of the biggest and most popular ways that we share stories. Allowing for the chance to actually witness the story in front of you, it adds a whole new dimension to what can be done with the imagination. Filmmakers take stories from pen to paper and paint it fully with the help of production design, sound engineering and musical scores, and the thing that makes us connect with them most—actual people. With films and television shows, characters are no longer imaginary figures in our minds. They become tangible before us, which while sometimes can be disappointing when it comes to adaptations, is largely something that makes people love and connect with films so much. It evolves story “telling” into story “showing”.

As MTV taught us so well, video certainly did kill the radio star, but YouTube isn’t killing podcasting in any way, especially when streaming a podcast takes less data than watching a video. But, YouTube is allowing for a Renaissance of independent film. Filmmakers are creating entirely new content, like Broad City, which went on to get picked up as a half hour scripted comedy by Comedy Central. Others, like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries by the folks of Pemberly Digital, or Hamlet the Dame by Remarkable, Singular, Curious Productions and ParaFable, are making names for themselves by adapting well beloved stories into vlog style web shows. StarKid Productions, famously known for their musicals, such as the Very Potter Musical series, have been able to capitalize on YouTube and help them find an audience by filming their productions and posting them online. The creation of Vine (before it was dropped by Twitter) was the visual version of flash fictiona snippet of a story told visually, usually in the form of a song or a joke.

With cameras on every phone it is now easier than ever to tell a story through film. And, there are more venues to display your visual art every day. Streaming services are a dime a dozen these days, and they are all climbing over each other to produce original content, hoping for the next “it” show.

Gaming

Despite being a huge industry, and a huge art of the modern creative arts community, video games have never really been given the credit they are due. With the inclusion of voice acting and intricately designed cut scenes, some video games have the production value of movies, and have character voiced by celebrities from the A List to those with cult following. The story lines have to be even more complex than the average story because most video games offer the player multiple endings based on choices made at turning points in the game. Games such as the Fable Series and Dishonored build their entire story around the choices, actions, and leveling options the player makes during gameplay. A player may have to play a video game like this several times, changing their choices from the last game, to fully experience the totality of the story options.

One of the best, yet completely underrated forms of storytelling, is roleplaying games. Anyone who has played a tabletop RPG (roleplaying game), classics such as Dungeons and Dragons or Vampire: The Masquerade, will know just how much storytelling, character development, and exposition goes into a game. Game Masters will spend weeks creating a story arc, plotting obstacles to throw in the characters way, forcing their characters to use their traits, skills, resources, and cunning to overcome them. Characters may fight monsters, solve puzzles, or seek treasure, but they can only use the predetermined elements in their character that were designed at the beginning of the game. An RPG is probably the purest form of storytelling, and the closest we have to the original roots of storytellinga group of people gathered around to listen to a tale of adventure.

Virtual Reality

The coolest thing about modern storytelling is that it is evolving before our very eyes, with advanced new technologies like virtual reality. Already being incorporated into gaming systems thanks to the advent of devices like the Oculus Rift, there’s so much as-yet undiscovered potential in this technology to do as others have before it. Only time will tell if this will actually become the next big thing, but it certainly gives hope to those of escapists who’ve always said things like, “I wish I could be in the story I’m reading!”

 

Virtually experiencing the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones like…

 

And So Much More

From street theater to ballet to scrapbooking and back again, there are now so many forms of storytelling that it’s hard to keep count. And that’s a wonderful thing! We here at IndiePen Ink would love to hear what forms of storytelling you enjoy, so please share your favorites in the comments!

Write on young saviors,

Craft Creative Research-a-torium Resources

The History of Storytelling: Part II: Traditional Storytelling

Part II- Traditional Storytelling

For Part I of this articles series, click here.

Stories were not originally intended for entertainment- they were the best method our oldest ancestors had to mass educate the people of the tribe or clan. It was only by making the stories entertaining that the messages stuck. Thanks to the inventiveness of the earliest African griots, our ancestors avoided the dangers of the environment around them, and survived to leave the continent, spreading farther and farther with each changing generation, until eventually they spread across the entire world. And, with each generation, another story keeper memorized, told, and added new tales to the collective consciousness of mankind.

Stories can be  self-fulfilling prophecies. All the evidence you need to understand that idea is to look at the impact something as seemingly whimsical and insignificant as Star Trek: The Original Series. A science fiction television show that barely lasted three seasons ended up having a profound impact on 20th century society. Some viewers were inspired by the imaginary technology of the future and turned it into the real life technology you are probably reading this post on, while others were inspired by the social messages the themes advocated to take a stand in a time of social and cultural strife.

Fables, legends, and myths of the earliest humans eventually became those of the ancients, then the middle ages, the ages of trade, exploration, industry, and now the modern digital age. Much like a game of telephone, over the years parts of the original stories have been changed for cultural reasons or skewed in translation for one language to another (and, yes people, this even includes the bible). As a result, some cultures have different versions of the same story, or the story ends differently based on the lesson that the specific society wanted to emphasize.

Mythology

As mentioned in the first article of this series, the cultures of Mesopotamia are the first credited with the writing down of stories. These tales of mortals and gods were referred to as epics, and within these stories, we find the beginning of one of the most important elements of storytelling that has become a staple of fantasy and science fiction through today- the hero’s journey. This is the tale of an average, and yet remarkable, person who goes on a quest, usually with the help of a mentor and a ragtag group of people, to complete a task for the betterment or himself or his people. There is also a separate heroine’s journey, and just like sexism intended, they are both different based on the gender, and one is considered to to be intrinsically better than the other (which you can read about here and here.)

 

 

Images lovingly stolen with respect from sources that talk about this way better than we do- Joseph Cambell and Mythcreants.com.

 

 

The earliest hero’s journey stories were  written in long form poetry. Examples range from Epic of Gilgamesh, Mahabharata, Beowulf, and the related stories of the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid. The hero in each story is forced to make choices and conquer obstacles, often put in their way by angry gods, on the way to their objective. The mythology and beliefs of the culture played an important role in these epic stories, and that is because mythology was an extremely important aspect of daily life in the ancient world. Before human beings began to understand enough science to explain the mysteries of our world and universe, mythology served to answer the big questions about human existence, nature, and creation. Every time a child asked “Why?” mythology was there with an answer. Prometheus stole fire from the gods to give to man, creating the birth of civilization. Maui caught the sun and hung it in the sky for the mortals to have light. The Great thunderbirds of the Americas were the source of the fierce storms that hit the United States every spring. Before humans had enough technology to understand the science behind the forces of the universe, everything was attributed to magic. 

In these stories men and women often crossed the gods, or were lusted after by gods, or got tricked by gods… and then, cursed by gods. How they hell was the moral of these stories not “DO NOT TRUST THESE BATSHIT GODS”? (Then again, I’m kinda coming from the bias end of the pool here, as I write a story about angry gods and their human playthings.) But again, the point of these stories was to provide an explanation for things human beings had not figured out yet.

Legends

While myths recount the stories of the gods and their human playthings, legends are more specifically written about the heroes themselves. These stories are not full-fledged epics, but they are adventure stories that take a partial truth and exaggerated it to grandiose proportions. The exploits of real-life figures may have been the initial inspiration for these stories, but the figures they were written about were rarely anything like the caricatures they became.

Legendary figures exist in every culture, and every era. As an American, and a history teacher, this was an issue I dealt with constantly. One of the reasons I loathe teaching American History is because I have to wade through the bullshit. The hardest part of teaching US history is the reteaching I have to do. By the time students get to their junior year (age 16-17), which is when US history is traditionally taught in high school, they have been indoctrinated by these legends which are regarded as fact. The worst part is that they have already been through a watered-down version of US history in their 8th grade year (age 13-14) of middle school, and yet many of these bullshit, propaganda stories aren’t questioned or corrected.

Presidents like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, JFK, and Reagan have become larger than life figures. The amount of elevation given to the Founding Fathers (note the lack of recognition to any mothers) is nearly vomit inducing, especially when you actually read about their personal exploits. Alas, every society needs heroic figures, despite how counterproductive they tend to be.

Folk Tales

These are the closest to the original oral traditions of storytelling. Theses stories were passed from generation to generation, shared among the community until they became a part of the culture. Once these cultures integrated writing, they wrote the stories down. In some cases, the folk tales have never been written down, and remain oral histories or stories relayed to the community or to children from the storytellers.

These stories were meant to teach a lesson, and that is why they are often attributed to children. The lessons were meant relate to real life, even if the content of the story was fantastic, to impress upon the people the importance of choice and consequences. These folk tales became the roots for the fairy tales and fables that defined our childhood.

Although, the difference between the original stories and the Disney-fied versions, is that the fairy tales and fables that were inspired by these cultural folk tales were much more gruesome. Karma was quite the bitch in these original stories. Cinderella’s step sisters chopped their own feet to fit into the shoes. Mulan is haunted by PTSD, and kills herself. Mermaids were vicious predators who preyed on sailors, not save them.

The Appeal of Lore

As a history teacher, this is my biggest pet peeve with the way the social studies are taught. When we teach history as memorized facts, and not as stories passed from one generation to the next, the context disappears. When history becomes legend, and the origins are lost, we gain a heroic figure, but we lose the gruesome, violent, or dark truth of its inspiration. This is why despite the cliched anecdote that “those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it” we ironically never learn from history. It isn’t the fact we need to learn and pass on, it is the message and the meaning behind the story in which we find the fact.

Storytelling in the root of culture. It is where the foundation on which a culture is built and from where its traditions stem. Every religion has a holy text filled with parables used to teach the scriptures associated with their teachings. The practice of storytelling was our first form of history. Prior to written language, oral storytelling was the only way to pass on information from one generation to the next. Humans have come to depend on storytelling, not only as a form of entertainment, but as the purest form of passing on knowledge. Without storytelling, we would not have history. We not would have a past to learn from.

Write on young savior,