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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.

Steps:

  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,

 

Resources

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.

BLOG POSTS TO INSPIRE YOU

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.

WORKSHOPS TO MOTIVATE YOU

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!

RESOURCES TO GUIDE YOU

Research-a-Torium

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.

FUN STUFF TO ENCOURAGE YOU

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.

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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,


 

 

 

 

 

 

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Writing Resolutions 2018

Ideas Aplenty!

Work Smarter, Not Lazier

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,

 

 

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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,


 

 

 

 

 

 

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

A Fantastic World Does Not A Story Make

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Write on young savior,

 

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Craft Creative Research-a-torium Resources

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,

Craft Editorials For the Ladies Pep Talks Real Talk Sass

Wasted Space

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

A rant from Sass:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why in the hell are you writing a story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Write on, young savior,

Editorials Pep Talks Real Talk Sass Writing Styles

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

A Letter from Sass:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

Write on, young savior,

Editorials News Pep Talks Writing Styles

There’s a Good Chance This Is Completely Worthless

A message of caution, from Sass:

As a teacher, I often struggle with the fact that my students take every word I speak as gospel. While the thought of having a horde of minions waiting to be beckoned, preaching whatever I tell them would be wonderfully effective if/when I choose to take over the world, as an educator, it is extremely counter-productive to teaching students the most important, non-subject related skill they need to acquire in school: problem solving. Now, this would be an easy point for me to launch into a scathing critique of our public education system, and how through lacking high standards and pushing testing we have totally lost our ability to teach our students the skills they really need, but I won’t. It’s really, reaaaaally hard not to, but it’s not the point of this blog post.

I use this example only to make the point that as products of this system, we are not always taught how to read information selectively.

As with any information, even that delivered by teachers (who are often, but not always, experts in their field) it should still be analyzed. Writers, like any person working in a craft, should always be willing to learn and improve techniques to develop as writers. Teachers do this through professional development. I attend meetings and conferences multiple times a year that are meant to introduce or to strengthen my knowledge of teaching methodology. But, all teachers are different—we each have a teaching style, based on many variables such as experience, school culture, resources, and student needs. Writers also have a style that is distinct to their particular experience, genre, voice, and process. I have left sessions completely enthused and ready to utilize a brand new method to transform my classroom. I have also walked out of sessions laughing my ass off at some “consultant”, with no prior educational experience, who just got paid thousands of dollars to tell me how to do a job they have never done themselves. Or, even if they have, came out of a perfect, suburban school where all the students have stable homes, speak English, have safe, updated buildings, and are given more resources than they know what to do with. Learning how to be a better teacher is no different than learning how to be a better writer- the advice you take is completely subjective to your needs and experience.

Which is why it is extremely important to keep this thought in mind: Any advice, resource, or lesson given to you by another writer needs to be analyzed for its usefulness to your specific needs.

While the core concepts for writing—character development, setting, and plotting—are universal in writing, the methodologies used in practice are completely dependent upon what and how you write. If you want to be the next Rowling, don’t go to Patterson for advice. If you want to be the next Flynn, don’t go to Sparks. I don’t have anything against any of these writers, but they each have fundamental differences in their genres, writing styles, and process.

That being said, I am also not suggesting that a mystery writer cannot help a science fiction writer write better. What I am saying is before you take every piece of writing advice, really sit down, analyze it, try it out, and see if it even applies. Or, if it can be adapted. Does it even work?

At the end of the day, there might not be a single thing on this website that helps one person become a better writer, yet another person could credit it as the secret to their success. Neither person is wrong. In special education, we use the term Specific Learning Disability to cover a wide range of learning struggles. Two different students can be labeled SLD in reading, but one can have issue with transposing letters while the other has issues in reading comprehension. But, both are considered not to be able to read. Trying to strengthen a student’s reading fluency may help the dyslexic student, but won’t do anything to help the one who doesn’t understand or retain what they are reading. This same idea can be said for two writers struggling with the same problem. If two writers are both struggling to develop static characters into dynamic characters, no one approach will be universal to help both, especially if the stories are different genres or viewpoints.

All the information we post on IPI is intended to be helpful but not all of it will be. Or all of it will be. Or none of it will be. The point is, this is not gospel. This is a collection; an anthology if you will, of what we consider the best advice we have collected from around our writing circles, the internet, and our dangerously high stacked towers of writing books. There is bound to be a better method out there for something we post in IPI, and we encourage writers to seek out information. Never stop seeking knowledge.

As the illustrious, sardonic, and outrageous Oscar Wilde once said, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”

So, when you do find something better, please share it with us. Help us add to the Research-a-Torium or update a post or offer a suggestion on a tutorial. This isn’t just our site, it’s our site—yours, mine, and ours. If advice exists, and it helped, we want to have it collected, organized, and ready to be absorbed. Help us help you and help us help others. But, remember, only take what you need to help yourself.

Write on, young savior,

 

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