Craft Creative Plotting

Scene Mapping: Using Dungeon Mastery to Plot Scenes

Growing up with OCD teaches a person to anticipate problems, which teaches them to problem solve at an early age. When most people hear the acronym OCD, they assume it is all about repetition – counting, organizing, and cleaning most famously. In actuality, that is just the typical manifestation of the the actual symptoms of OCD, the “compulsive” part of OCD. These are simply the form of rituals the person dealing with OCD is using to self-soothe their need to anticipate problems. Rituals all come down to the need to control one’s environment. The “obsessive” part of obsessive compulsive disorder is from the cycle of worry that stems from a fear of not being able to anticipate a problem.

A person with OCD may have a fear about their alarm clock not going off and being late for work. But, making sure that the alarm is set properly before they go to bed simply isn’t enough to quell that fear. What if they weren’t paying attention and accidentally set the alarm for PM instead of AM? What if they didn’t really flick the switch over all the way, and it doesn’t go off, or is set to radio, which is too quiet to wake them up? Of course, there is also the completely unavoidable problem of the power going out, which can only be solved with a backup system of generators… but even I’m not that paranoid. So, to anticipate these problems, they may check the alarm again, and again… and again and again and again, at least until they have soothed that worry enough to go to sleep.

The irony of being a writer with OCD is that even though I live my life trying anticipate problems that will trigger my anxiety, which leads to countless ways of trying to foresee how a situation with turn out, I am a particularly rigid and linear writer when plotting scenes.

“Then, I discovered the key to solving this problem simply by doing a quintessential nerd thing – playing DnD.”

When plotting out my seven major points in a story, I have no problem deciding exactly how and where I will introduce conflict and steadily working towards the resolution. The issue comes when I need to work on a smaller scale, linking the individual seven points together, or even smaller, from the beginning of a conflict within a scene to the scene’s resolution. The in-between parts are looser, more flexible, and need to contain more focus on the characters emotions. Plot occurs between the seven major points in the main story arc, but character development, which is the steering wheel for plot, meaning this is how story moves forward.

Keeping readers on their toes is incredibly important. If the story becomes predictable then readers lose interest. If they can predict what the characters are going to do, they get bored because they have already read this story. But, creating seemingly random variations in the outcome of a situation always felt like a dead end. If I knew what needed to happen at the end of a scene it felt impossible to not work towards it, even if I wasn’t convinced it was the best way to move the story forward, but was the only idea I could generate to finish the scene. And, if this was the only idea I could come up with, I found it even harder to work through the actual scene itself. I knew how a scene would start, and I had decided how I thought it needed to end, but how do I get from point A to point B in this scene without writing directly to resolve the scene. How can I work in the all important character development layers in the scene needed to feel like the plot is moving forward, even if we are just reading the internal monologue of a character dealing with the aftermath of an important plot point.

“You want to explore as many options as possible, even ones that may seem counter to your objective, because you never know the connections that will form between the ideas once your imagination takes hold.”

Then, I discovered the key to solving this problem simply by doing a quintessential nerd thing – playing DnD. Recently, I started playing Dungeons and Dragons again after a very long hiatus, creating a new group from my work friends. One of my best friends and fellow teacher, Dylan Power, joined the party as a player, but usually DMs (Dungeon Masters – the equivalent of Game Master for other tabletop RPGs). Recently, we started writing together in order to bounce ideas off each other – he plotting his campaigns while I work on my fiction, and I have discovered that he is an incredible DnD storyline writer. The reason he is a fantastic story line writer is because he has the ability to generate various outcomes of any situation he puts his player in during game play.

During one of our writing sessions, I watched him plot out his story map for the first leg of the campaign, and was stricken with envy. Much like I would have done when plotting a scene, he determined a starting point and an endpoint (conflict and resolution), but what he did in between was completely different than to my normal writing process. From the start point, he would write out a chain of events stemming from not one, but up to four ideas.

“Plot occurs between the seven major points in the main story arc, but character development, which is the steering wheel for plot, is how story moves forward.”

Begging him to teach me his dark form of idea generating magic, lamenting my situation concerning my inherent need to problem solve and plan for all contingencies, I stated how frustrating it was that I couldn’t easily do this same thing when writing scenes. And his response was so stupidly simple, I actually felt like an idiot when he pointed it out:

“Well, I have to account for people. You’re trying to account for things.”

Brick wall, meet face. It was so obvious. I was doing everything wrong… even though, he wasn’t entirely correct. Plot is driven by the actions made by characters who are constantly developing, changing, and evolving. This means that whether I am trying to plot a scene, a story arc, or the arc of a trilogy, none of this can be done without accounting for variables created by character decision making.

Using Role Playing Story Mechanics to Plot:

Try to pick a scene that you have not plotted yet. The less you have plotted the better – it prevents you from thinking too narrowly or linearly. You want to explore as many options as possible, even ones that may seem counter to your objective, because you never know the connections that will form between the ideas once your imagination takes hold. Give yourself permission to jump around and be spontaneous. Right down every possible scenario, even the ones that don’t make sense.


  1. Choose inciting incident and a conflict to be resolved by the end of the scene
  2. Brainstorm as many possible causes and effects from the inciting incident, as well as obstacles created. Think specifically about the characters involved, and how they will react in the situation presented.
  3. Continue to connect the cause and effects of the different levels of the unfolding conflict, finding ways to solve obstacles or to connect to the resolution of the conflict. (Unresolved obstacles can be used as foreshadowing or lead to other scenes.)
  4. Once finished, pick a path from beginning to end. Once chosen, write out the sequence of events you chose in order from beginning to end.
  5. Huzzah! Now do it again with another scene!

Note: Keep in mind that using this process might through your scene completely out of order. If this happens, it is probably for good reason. This process tends to reveal plot holes and weak spots in plotting. Don’t be afraid to add more to the beginning, the end, or even through out the middle. Also, do not be afraid to cut material out that doesn’t fit with the new idea. Hold on it for later, or write an alternative scene and see which fits better in the long run for the scene or the story arc.

Write on young savior,



Start Off Write Round-Up

Congrats, friends. We survived to 2018. That in itself is something worth celebrating. (cue the huzzahs!)

But now that we’re all here, it’s time to sit down, have some thoughts, and figure out how/what/why you want to tackle the projects you’re going to this year. Maybe you have plans to start something entirely new? Finishing up an old manuscript? Taking a break from writing to give your brain a rest? No matter what your goals are for this year, we here at IndiePen Ink want to help you kick off the year by providing a nice little listicle of some great resources for various writerly needs. Hopefully these will give you just the inspiration you need to start your year right.


Time and Timeliness

This wonderful blog post by writer Eketi Edima was something I first encountered as a viral twitter thread. I stopped to read it, enthralled by her writing in general, only to get to the end and find myself teary eyed at the beautiful message she wrapped up in a fun, and deeply personal childhood story. If you’re looking for something to motivate you and remind you that good things take time, don’t miss reading this.

Making a Living as a Self-Published Fiction Author

This longread blog post by the folks at Sterling and Stone is a great read if one of your goals this year is seriously buckling down and turning your passion for writing into a money making career. While it isn’t a path for everyone, it’s what many of us dream to do – get paid to publish our fiction work. Their guide and step by step breakdown is really helpful if you’re interesting in tackling that this year, but aren’t sure where to begin.


Some Assembly Required

Finding yourself stuck on planning out your plot, or like you need some guidance in crafting your narrative? We got you. *fist bump* Inkademy is our very own writing workshop service, and our first one, Some Assembly Required, is available right now through Coursecraft! It’s an affordable price, and once you get it, you can access the materials at your own pace, whenever the writing spirit in you moves you to do so!



Got a burning question you need to ask a librarian? Need to know how to conduct research at your own local library? Just wanna get lost in a hole of researching cool stuff here on the interweb? Then the IPI Research-a-Torium is about to become your new best friend. With new resources and links being added as we grow, this part of our site is entirely devoted to helping you have easy access to difficult to find topics. You can use it to submit a question to our in-house librarian, or just peruse the available information at your leisure!

Write World

Another site that is absolutely brilliant in terms of the infinity of resources it provides, is the tumblr blog Write World. With different categories and tags to help you sift through genre information, to fun inspirational posts that serve as story starters, they have a ton of pages that you can easily navigate. It’s eye-opening and fun, and great for visual thinkers. 11 out of 10 would recommend.


Leave It In 2017

John Green and his brother Hank have been making videos on their wildly popular channel, Vlogbrothers, for over 11 years now, and there’s no shortage of cool things this dynamic duo has managed to create. Last year alone, they launched 2 new conventions, and John at last published his first book in 5 years. This video of his makes some great points, including this one liner I need to take to heart this year…

“Prioritizing your career over your sanity? That’s dumb. Stop doing that.”

Bookstagramers of Color

You’d be surprised to find that one of the best ways to find new book recommendations these days is through a visual social media app like Instagram, but man, is Bookstagram a fun corner of the internet for book lovers. Avid readers share staggeringly beautiful images of both the books in their queues and themselves, and this particular round up features nothing but Bookstagramers of color. These lovely book bloggers are out here reading and recommending some of the best #OwnVoices works out there. As you head into the new year, it’s important to remember how significant representation is, and that as ever, #WeNeedDiverseBooks. The best way to find them and support them is through checking out any one of these brilliant book lovers pages & giving them a follow.

So, recently I finished WANT by Cindy Pon and I loved it so. freaking. much.👏🏽IT WAS SO GOOD Y’ALL!!! IT WAS THE PERFECT BOOK FOR MY SIX OF CROWS, HEIST/POLITICS LOVING HEART AND I CAN’T BELIEVE I HADN’T READ IT BEFORE??? WHAT THE HECK??? I need to thank @readthinkponder for introducing me to this amazing book. I can’t believe there’s so little hype around this book like??? It deserves so much hype??!?!?!!! I gave it 5 stars because it’s an absolutely brilliant diverse novel, and provides fantastic commentary on environmental issues while accurately depicting young adult voices in discourse for our contemporary issues. 👉🏽Have you read WANT by Cindy Pon? If you have, what were your thoughts on it?

A post shared by 🇮🇳 | बौप | 🇨🇦 | She/Her | (@thatreadingwraith) on


Custom Scarves by Litographs (Literary Merch)

Ever wanted to wear your own story as a fashion statement? Need to keep your words physically close to your heart to remind you to keep at your book? Then goodness does Litographs have the thing for you. These wonderful scarves and other amazing merch which is adorned with the text of famous works. BUT! With this link, you can actually get your own scarf custom made featuring a chunk of text that YOU wrote! Pretty awesome, if you ask us.


That’s all for this article and inspiration round up, but feel free to share your own articles or pieces that have inspired you to start off right this year, in the comments below! We hope you have the best 2018, filled with magnificent adventures as you work towards your writing goals!

Carry on my wayward writers,







Related Content:

Writing Resolutions 2018

Ideas Aplenty!

Work Smarter, Not Lazier


Writing Resolutions 2018

Happy New Year, writers of the world! We hope you’ve all had fun celebrating the end of 2017 and are starting the year without too much of a hangover. Even better, we hope you’ve made time to write this weekend and are making time to write today too. If you haven’t, then perhaps a few writing resolutions are in order. We’ll share ours with you, in case you need some inspiration:

Elayna’s Resolutions

  • Publish something for reals: 2017 was pretty amazing, in that I got to publish my first short story in a literary magazine. But now having had a taste of that, I really want to focus on publishing something entirely my own this year. I’ve got a few ideas about in my brain, so we’ll see how it goes, but I’m really hoping to make this happen in the new year.
  • Start properly querying agents. By the time this article is published, I will hopefully have completed the first draft of the second book in a YA trilogy I’ve been working on. I want 2018 to be the year that I take the manuscript of the first book, and really focus my energy on trying to find an agent to get traditionally published.
  • Focus more on writing for fun. Usually, my writing time is entirely devoted to projects I plan to release, whether that on my blog or something I want to publish. My hope in 2018 is to spend some more time writing just fun things for me, to help me not only grow as a writer but also to just have something special and separate from the work I put out into the world.

Christine’s Resolutions

  • Finish something. Anything. Then finish something else. I’ve made the mistake in the recent past of only finishing things whose future was dependent on other people finishing things of their own. This year I’m focusing that finishing energy on things that are dependent on me and only me.
  • Learn the art of saying no, because saying no = more time to spend writing. I’ve been practicing my no’s, but I haven’t really gotten good at it yet. This year I want to figure out how to no like a boss.
  • Practice pitching. I’m one of those that freeze up whenever anyone asks me an unexpected question, and I freeze doubly so when said question is about one of my creative projects or books. No more, I say! No more.

Bekki’s Resolutions

  • Fall back in love with my writing. The passion is gone, but what I have is still fantastic.
  • Stop shaming myself, for basically everything writing related. Own my ability and accept compliments when they are due.
  • Find acceptance in indeterminability of finishing. Stop trying to force it, because the harder I push, the less I accomplish. This is not a race. It will happen when it happens, and it is out of my control.
  • Find a group of dedicated beta-readers who will: A) actually read and B) offer useful feedback. Avoid: C) sharing it with anyone and everyone out of desperation.

Of course, we have some resolutions for the website as a whole to share too. They might not be writing-specific, but you may find that they can apply to your writing goals too.

IPI Resolutions

  • Shift our focus from creating to curating. Last year was all about building the site and starting a backlog of content. This year will be dedicated to establishing a high bar of quality and making sure we’re connecting to you.
  • Launch IndiePen Press. More on that later. 😉
  • Become too legit to quit. That’s right, 2018 is the year that IndiePen Ink becomes an official business. That means paperwork, taxes, and all that fun drudgery. Shit’s about to get real, folks.

So what about you? Do you have any writing resolutions this year?


Related Content:

On the Horizon

Hey Guys! Watch This!

We’re Going on an Adventure…

Editorials Pep Talks Real Talk Sass

When Writers Don’t Write

A Rant from Sass:

It’s 10:26 am on Christmas Eve. My husband is currently working a sixteen hour overtime shift (at triple time – don’t feel bad for us. He signed up for it.), and I have the house all to myself. I don’t have anywhere to be until tomorrow. It’s cold, and the snow that started last night is still accumulating. I have a cozy little fire going in my wood burning stove and a piping hot cup of sweet, black tea steeping as I type. My cats are curled up at my feet. It’s literally a perfect day to write…

…so, why the hell don’t I want to write?

I’m a writer. You kind of have to do writing for that to work. But, meh… I just… whatever.

It’s not writer’s block. It’s not even writer’s embarrassment. I just look at my project, shrug my shoulders, and think Nope.

I have writer’s apathy.

I’m nine months shy of being a decade into my main writing project. I’ve fleshed out all the characters. I’ve outlined the entire story, the conflict, the character arcs, the twists, the turns, the reveals, and the resolution. I’ve written over 50,000 words of the chronological story, and who knows how much out of order.

The story is there. It’s ready to be completed. I love my characters, I’m happy with my style, I’m proud of the theme and message I want to resonate through the story…

…so, why can’t I finish this damn story?

Have I fallen out of love with the idea?  Am I hitting the limits of my own creativity? Or, is it simply the manifestation of something I just can’t accept – maybe I am not really a writer at all. A creator, sure. I made an entire world. That happened, and it can’t be denied. But, am I trying to create my world in the wrong universe?

Am I sabotaging myself because I subconsciously fear I’ve invested ten years in a project that will have absolutely no significance?

The worst part isn’t the not writing. It’s the fact that everybody that reads what I have written loves it. My husband, my writer friends, my best friends, strangers who’ve read it on the few places I have posted it on the internet – I’ve had tons of positive feedback. They are desperate for more. They are begging me to finish. And, when they tell me this, I want to finish. I have hope I can. I believe I can… for about, like, a day. Then it’s straight back to excuses and apathy.

“If platitudes could be burned as creative energy to motivate my ass to complete this story, it would probably be a whole damn series by now.”

Most of the time, my writing dry spells have coincided with depression. On the reverse of that, my best writing periods have coincided with manic periods. But lately, when I sit down to put words on paper – despite knowing what I need to write, and how I want to write it – just feel lethargic. Creatively devoid. Bored, even.

So, why don’t I just walk away, you ask? Many reasons…

  1. I don’t often walk away from things I start – I’m too competitive, even with myself.
  2. I keep talking myself out it.
  3. The desire to have her own fandom is strong with this one.
  4. I know in my heart that someone out there needs this story as bad as I needed it when I started writing it.

“Your words are going to change someone’s life, even if it’s your own.”

My writer friends encourage me, giving me pep talks all the time.

“It’ll take as long as it takes.”

“I know you’re going to finish this story.”

“It’s a fantastic story that needs to be written. You’re going to do it, I promise.”

If platitudes could be burned as creative energy to motivate my ass to complete this story, it would probably be a whole damn series by now.

I wish I had answers. I wish I could peel back my consciousness and poke around inside it with a stick until I figured out why I am motivationally blocked. But, alas, no dice.

I’m just going to have to keep plugging away, working when I can, and trying not to feel like I’m made of excuses when I can’t. Writing is an art, not a science. It’s an act of creation. The pressure of manifesting something literally from nothing is overwhelming sometimes. It’s intimidating, especially when you add on the fact that you are second guessing your every move as you do it. Every writer wants to create something new, undiscovered, and original, because every writer needs to feel those things about themselves.

Writing is an act of affirmation.

As the often contested quote says, “Writing is easy. You just sit down at a typewriter, and bleed.” In other words, a writer pours everything out onto that page that makes them. They spill their essence across the page in a flow of words – their thoughts, their beliefs, their fears, their desires, their strengths, and their limitations. A writer leaves everything they are on the page, and waits for someone to love it. A writer perceives love through the admiration of their work, because if they can lay out their essence on a page, flaws and all, and still find someone who finds beauty, joy, revelation, and kinship in that mess, then they have truly been accepted for who they are.

That is terrifying and alluring, and the secret desire of every writer. They want someone to read them like their book, and say “I love this exactly as it is. Never change a thing.”

Dear merciful universe, I will finish this book. I don’t know how long it will take, or how I will find the momentum, but I will do it for one simple reason: Finishing this book will say more about me than anything I undertake for the rest of my life. It’s become a metaphor for my entire life struggle.

“Am I sabotaging myself because I subconsciously fear I’ve invested ten years in a project that will have absolutely no significance?”

I am not good enough. I will never be accepted. Nobody gets me. What’s the point in trying?

My story is not good enough. It will never be accepted by the mainstream. Nobody will get it. What’s the point in writing it?

Because it already exists. I exist. I think, therefore, I am, right? Saying this story isn’t worth writing is like saying my life is not worth fighting for anymore. It’s creative suicide. As long as people want it, I know it has worth… and, as long as I know I can write it, I too have worth.

I have to find the courage, conviction, and fortitude to keep writing. I have to tell my story as it is, without hesitation. I have to keep writing, living, bleeding out, otherwise… what is the point?

Writing is scary because it is the most honest thing you can do to accept yourself. Don’t give up. Keep fighting, even when it hurts, even when hope seems lost. It’s worth it. You’re worth it. Your words are going to change someone’s life, even if it’s your own.

Write on young savior,



Related Content:

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

Always the Write Time

Wasted Space

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:


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.


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.


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*


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?


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.


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.



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. 😉


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.


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!














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


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.


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.