image: header
Home | About | Contact | Editing Services | Resources | Workshops | Mythic Impact Blog | Sowing Light Seeds

“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Building a Story World

No Language

This is probably not a good choice for an entire novel, but could be adapted for brief scenes, especially if it ties to the plot and theme. The question then is, what other methods of communication would be possible if words or language are not successful or not available? And would it enhance your story’s atmosphere?

In one Star Trek episode Captain Kirk was forced onto a planet surface to fight a beast. He had no idea what was happening and it seemed impossible to communicate with the alien leader he was stranded with. But gradually Kirk realized that the alien spoke in metaphors, and finally they found a way to speak to each other and to survive the attack. It was quite different from the usual episodes and one that forced the viewer to work harder. Yet it became a popular episode. It fit the circumstances of the story.

Law enforcement often communicates with signals. Magicians have built in codes to their assistants. Sign language, lip reading, and body gestures can all be incorporated for communication.

Exercise: Make a list of all the no language possibilities you can think of. One student mentioned the use of flag semaphore, which was a new concept for me.

Share yours.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Recently there was a poster on facebook that basically said, “If you are depressed—you’re living in the past; if you are anxious—you’re living in the future; if you are at peace, you’re living in the present.” It’s interesting that all three are tied to memories and how we may process them.

Hugo’s father, in the movie Hugo, lives in the present. Life is not easy or simple. He is raising his son alone, working two demanding jobs, has virtually no extra time to spare and yet every moment is filled with quality. He is dedicated to his son and his craft and his pleasure in both exude love and peace.

His brother also dedicates himself to the quality of his craft, showing considerable diligence, while at the same time drowning his life in alcohol. There is a clue that at one point these two brothers worked together, but no explanation of the separation. All we see is two, almost opposite, approaches to life after a season of grief.

George Melies has buried his dreams and spent over a decade trying not to remember. Yet when the past begins to crack open into the present, he reacts with anxiety, fear and anger. He fights the possibility of a future that might flood him with despair again.

Hugo teeters between all three as he processes his loss. He clings to hope by spending each day faithful to the legacy of craft given by his father, and uncle. He dreams of a future to push back the emotional pain, but hovers on anxiety as every step closer also brings the threat of more loss. Every day he must make the choice to follow peace in the present.

Journal Prompt:

What past grief or potential future grief is your character facing? Write out a sketch of his personality change for each version: anxious, depressed or at peace. What circumstances fuel that outcome?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Building a Story World

Language Study

Another aspect to consider is the sound of your language. This goes beyond sentence structure of flow and pacing, although it can impact both. What sound do you want as your influence—a soft flowing romantic lilt or a more guttural tone such as Klingon. (And yes, I do know it’s not a real language even though it has its own dictionary J)

Give yourself a few days to wander through a busy city and stop in restaurants to listen to styles of speech. When you hear the accents that attract you, then use their tones and words for your backdrop atmosphere. In my city culture changes from neighborhood to neighborhood. On one street alone within a two-block radius the restaurants include, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Italian, Greek, Hamburger joints, vegan, coffee shops, bakeries (Russian and Polish) and an Irish pub. And I know I’ve forgotten some. Each is owned and provides meals of their cultural specialties. A twenty-minute stop for an appetizer or dessert or drink offers an opportunity to listen to another country. It’s a relaxing way to study a language.

Take notes. Where did a conversation sound harsh or worrisome? What sounded sweet? Did the inflections go up or down?

Exercise: Choose a section of dialogue in your own work and play with different sounds. Take each person’s conversational part and write it up as a poem to see what sound it leans towards. Replace a few words to intensify the effect you want and then put the conversation back together.

Share: Did you notice anything specific when you kept one’s person’s words apart?

When I did this once I realized one character spoke with assurance and the other spoke in monosyllables.

Friday, April 13, 2012


Another powerful metaphor that the clocks portray in the movie Hugo is as a hub or center from which their wheels turn like a bicycle with spokes over and over. The core radiates out into paths or roadmaps of direction. As Hugo gazes out the windows of his tower he sees roads light up in multiple avenues and yet all from the same starting point. His special view is towards the Eiffel Tower, another grand example of technology woven together, still considered a new landmark in 1931 and not fully approved yet by all Parisians.

In an attempt to share his longing for a place to belong, Hugo shows his friend Isabelle this favorite view, high in the clock tower, and explains that he’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. “Machines never come with any extra parts you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for a reason. And that means you have to be here for a reason too.”

As he wrestles to understand the eternal desire for purpose and a reason for being, he looks to what he has already understood through the creativity and workmanship of clock making. As young as he is he takes the tools he knows to search out his answers. The clocks themselves become his roadmap towards a heart direction.

Proverbs 4:23 says,“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life.”

Journal Prompt:

Has your character always had a sense of belonging, or a sense of searching? Suppose Hugo spoke these words to her as a young teenager. How would she have responded then? How would she respond now in the circumstances she is in?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Building a Story World

Verbal Language

For some the opportunity to study languages is pure joy and for others pure frustration. And yet to not be able to communicate at all is an emotional prison.

Word Choices

Not many novelists today have the time, or the desire, to create entire languages as did Tolkien, but if you do—start with a beginning layer and build as you go. Keep a vocabulary list for the words you create. Decide on verb tenses. Are they singular or will they conjugate into past, present and future?

Perhaps an entire vocabulary is not needed, but just a sprinkle of words throughout to give the language a unique flavor. Farscape knew that their warriors would not be real if they said ‘oh darn’ when really furious, but they also wanted their series to attract family viewers, so they invented the swear words.

The Firefly series incorporates real Mandarin Chinese within their Western genre atmosphere creating an entirely new and unique setting.

Some of you may use horses in your novels. Consider the possibility of making up your own distinct vocabulary just for them. Or make a list of all the everyday descriptions of horse care, riding, food, and gear and then choose another language. Put them all in French or Arabic, Spanish or Portuguese.

Another are common to most worlds are the social or government hierarchy. Keep the familiar roles in the one you choose, but substitute a different vocabulary when possible.

Exercise: Choose a scene with one aspect of your world either in transportation, government, social conversation, a family ritual, or music. Make up some words to substitute, either in a ‘new’ language or by incorporating a translation.

Share: Would a visitor be able to understand what is being communicated or be totally bewildered? Which do you want to happen plot wise?

Friday, April 6, 2012


Time as a metaphor can open up as much energy as splitting an atom. The possibilities seem infinite whether we approach it only in chronos time, or in kairos time. Combining both areas together can overwhelm our imagination with the result that we often return to clich├ęs or common metaphors in order to communicate even the most basic characteristics.

Every day we live in both time dimensions. We march to chronos clock schedule. We hold our breath and our souls drink in kairos eternity. When we’re fortunate the two combine and give us a sense of timelessness. We are infused with a sense of purpose. And when our lives start to drift we hold onto those images to keep us on track. Often the very common images themselves are rooted in the ordinary and yet we see something far more.

In the recent movie Hugo this concept of time as metaphor is explored with extensive creativity, unveiling itself in multiple ways. The kairos time shines through the literal clock-ticking center. Keeping the clocks wound daily grounds the young boy Hugo into an everyday rhythm of reality. And living with the clocks keeps him connected to the memory of his father and the dreams of a new future. The clocks are so ingrained in his life that in some ways they become a picture of his heartbeat.

And still everyone will see this image through a different perspective. I came to the movie version without having read the novel. And I have not seen the 3D version. Others who have bring a different interpretation. In addition we all add our own personal ‘time’ attitudes to the mix. And the possibilities continue to explode into more metaphors.

Journal Prompt:

1. Have a conversation with your protagonist and ask how she feels about time. Is it an ogre waiting to devour her day or a beloved friend inviting her to adventure?

2. Make a list of words that reflect her perspective. Look for small opportunities to incorporate them either as description or turn them into new metaphors. Even if time itself is not a central theme in your story the attitude towards it can still be heightened for effect.

Share: How do you see time? J

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Building a Story World

“Three crucial aspects—who the story is about, what you show about the setting, and how everything feels to the reader—must be consistent in mood and reinforce one another. Your viewpoint character, like people in the real world, will interpret the setting through the lens of his current emotions.” Jack M. Bickham


The ability to communicate within their world’s setting will have a strong influence on the emotional safety or danger for our characters. Culture in world building has a vast array of influence in the arts, crafts, food, clothing, holidays, celebrations, mores, and attitudes towards each. As Bickham points out, the specifics for each and the influence they have will be a direct link to character. How does your character approach a new environment—ready for adventure and exploration, or with trepidation and confusion?

Two main areas that produce strong mythic impact for a character to communicate are language and culture. In this next segment we’ll look at some ways these areas can be mined for possibilities.

Communication is built into the fabric of everyday life. A family can spend a day without words and still know what another is feeling, or knows what needs doing because of the rhythms of the household. A glance, a gesture, and body language all speak volumes within a family unit with or without spoken words. Close friends have a private form of communication. And there are separate methods of communication within the workplace—vocabulary, codes, abbreviations that make no sense to outsiders. All of these areas have the potential to build tension and conflict to our characters. First we need to establish what the ‘language’ of the land is, and whether it is understood by your character or completely confusing.

Exercise: Think of a day when you and someone close to you could not (or would not) speak openly to each other. List all the non-verbal actions you remember using to get ‘heard’.

Share: Which incidence was the most difficult to experience? Which was the funniest?

"The Seeker" Rachel Marks | Content Copyright Marcy Weydemuller | Site by Eagle Designs
image: footer