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Adventures Sass Savvy Snark

An IndiePenn Adventure

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

Wed

10:30 – Bekki arrives in Philadelphia

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

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

Bekki:

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

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

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

11ish – Bekki’s first Wawa

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

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

Afternoon – Bekki’s first subway Ride

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

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

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

5ish – Reading Terminal Market

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

Bekki: Chorizo Hawk Vision™

Chorizo Fries from Fox & Sons Fancy Corn Dogs

6ish – Philadelphia Museum of Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thurs

1ish – Happily Ever After

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

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

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

Happily Ever After Dessert Cafe

Afternoon – Photo Shoots

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

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

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

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

Christine: Hm. If only

Elayna: *whispers* But really tho….


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

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

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

Bekki: He also thought he was hilarious.

Later that afternoon – Jules Goldman Books & Antiques

Christine: I loooooved the artwork at this store.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evening – Mini Bar Crawl

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

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

Christine: And like it we did!

Rotten Ralph’s

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

Elayna: Not a trip worth having, honestly.

Mac’s Tavern

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

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

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

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

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

National Mechanics

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

Christine: We were about to leave, when…

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

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

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

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

Fri

1ishChapterhouse Cafe & Gallery

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

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

… Um. What did we get done?

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

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

2ishMagic Gardens

Bekki at Magic Gardens

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

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

Elayna at Magic Gardens

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

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

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

5:30 – Marrakesh!

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

Marrakesh

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

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

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

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

Christine: I’m so glad you liked it.

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

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

Sat

Morning – Work Time @ Christine’s

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

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

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

Afternoon – Work Time @ Elayna’s

Christine: Saturday afternoon was dedicated to pizza and productivity.

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

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

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

Christine: That’s awesome. I love that.

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

Sun

WONDER WOMAN!

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

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

Mon

Farewell Dinner @ Christine’s

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

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

Tues

Afternoon – Mutter Museum

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

6ish – Milkboy

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

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

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

Asscrack of Wednesday Morning – Bon Voyage to Bekki!

Christine: Bekki left and I immediately missed her.

I miss you, Bekki.

Elayna: Me too…..

Bekki: Ditto.

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

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

 

 

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Craft Creative News Research-a-torium Resources Sass Worldbuilding

What Makes a Fictional World?

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

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

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

Wrong. Well… kinda wrong. Wrongish.

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

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

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

Political & Economic Systems

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

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

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

Shared Cultural Beliefs

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

Science & Technology

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

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

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

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

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

COMING SOON TO AN INTERNET NEAR YOU!

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

Write on young savior,

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 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,

Craft Creative Research-a-torium Resources Sass

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

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

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

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

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

Early Storytelling

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

The boss-ness that is the Lascaux cave art.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cuneiform text, probably a receipt for goats.

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

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

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

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

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

Read on young saviors,