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storytelling

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What Makes a Fictional World?

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

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

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

Wrong. Well… kinda wrong. Wrongish.

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

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

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

Political & Economic Systems

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

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

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

Shared Cultural Beliefs

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

Science & Technology

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

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

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

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

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

COMING SOON TO AN INTERNET NEAR YOU!

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

Write on young savior,

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A Fantastic World Does Not A Story Make

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Write on young savior,

 

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The History of Storytelling: Part III: Modern Storytelling

Part III

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

Modern Storytelling

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

Books

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

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

Audio

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

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

Video

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

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

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

Gaming

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

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

Virtual Reality

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

 

Virtually experiencing the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones like…

 

And So Much More

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

Write on young saviors,

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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,

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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,

News Savvy Story Slayers

Let’s Slay Some Stories…

An introduction from Elayna

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

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

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

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

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

Always with love,

Elayna Mae Darcy

News Savvy

We’re Going On An Adventure…

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

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

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

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

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

Ready for whatever comes,

The IndiePen Ink Team
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