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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Build a Story World

Coinage Introduction Cont’d

There is a story in the New Testament, where a widow gave only two pennies and Jesus told those around him that she had given the greatest offering because she had given all she possessed, while the others only gave of their surplus. For what reason in your world would someone give up everything they had, regardless of the consequences?

The world’s setting as backbone comes down to value. What costs mind, body and soul?

“It may be that place can focus the gigantic, voracious eye of genius and bring its gaze to point. Focus then means awareness, discernment, order, clarity, insight—they are like the attributes of love. … Indeed, as soon as the least of us stands still, that is the moment something extraordinary is seen to be going on in the world.” Eudora Welty

A few weeks back you chose an art form close to your protagonist’s heart and looked at ways it could be shared across cultures. Within our own earth’s history lineage we have read or experienced evidence of a regime that sought to destroy all previous evidence of art whether burning books, smashing century old sculptures, banning music or shredding paintings. Look at ways your people’s heart heritage must be driven underground in order to survive. How does that affect the cost of keeping the art from becoming extinct? Or the cost to the regime to contain to banish it?

Exercise: Do one version under the serious circumstances above and one version as a lighthearted comedy of errors.

   Take the art activity from the previous exercise and make a list of all the steps involved from creative draft to public sales. Or choose a new one that is part of your character’s gifts and talents.

   Next make a list of all the materials needed. If this were a barter culture set a ‘value’ to each item, both for buying or selling.

For example, are paintbrushes easily accessible and cheap because children gather material the landscape and make them? Or is it almost impossible to find quality material for the brush portion and therefore make them so exorbitant an artist must keep them under lock and key?

Are gourmet cooks willing to literally ‘kill’ for a specific type of pan?

Share: Which ingredient in your story was the most difficult to find? Why?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Compose Through Metaphor

“Every image in a poem is a portrait of a state of a soul.”  Jane Hirshfield

                     Photo by Bevin Hunter 

And likewise every image has the potential to represent a theme or a metaphor.

Journal Prompt:

    1. What first catches your attention? Your feelings?

    2. Make a list of possible other emotions.

    3. What ‘voice’ fits this image?

    4. Choose one and turn it into a word metaphor.

Share: What metaphor did you choose?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Build a Story World

But I am rich with the wealth of Sight,
The coin of the realm of dreams…”
Don Blanding (A Vagabond’s House)

Coinage Introduction

Coinage is defined (in worldbuilding) both as the legal money of a country and “something valued or used as if it were money in a particular sphere.” It has strong links to culture and to heresy (in a few weeks) as its importance supports, or denies, the personal connection of the people who use it.

What is the main form of currency—potions, trade, or money? If money—is it paper, or metal. What are the levels of currency? What is considered the poorest and of no consideration? What is desired more than anything else? Is barter acceptable or not?

In a desert land, water is the most precious commodity. In outer space often whatever is required to keep the spaceships moving has the highest priority.

However each person also has a definition of a value personal to himself or herself as the quote above suggests.

1. Make a list of the various currencies your story world uses. If in doubt, begin with a simple exchange at a town marketplace. How does each vendor expect payment for goods? Does he charge differently for local or tourist, wealthy or poor?

2. Begin a section in your research record keeping of what types of currencies are used where, especially if you will be developing several locations and or worlds.

Share: What would your hero or heroine never sell regardless of treasure?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Compose Through Metaphor

“Metaphors are the gate-crashers of the spirituality static quo.” Joy Sawyer

Author C.S. Lakin has been posting an interesting mini-sequence discussion re theme at under her category The Heart of the Story. She noticed that the movies she chose for her discussion were huge hits because of their deep underlying themes, which the viewers did not necessarily notice at first glance. Yet because the themes “were so rich and deep” the audience took to them in spite of poor acting. She has inspired me to take on a longer blog sequence on metaphors and examine ways that ordinary images can create impact.

Metaphors are meant to help us see life through a fresh perspective. When they tap into theme and character and setting and atmosphere they have the ability to gate-crash through our pre-conceived clichéd views. Even clichés were at one time a fresh perspective—so innovative in fact that they eventually became overused.

And we don’t need to jettison familiar images. In fact metaphors often work better through familiarity but need to be slightly angled. Sometimes the image must loom large in order to crash through numbed thinking. Other times it only needs to be a soft reflection that catches us up enough to pause and take a deeper look.

Waiting For Midnight, by Merrie Destefano, is a brief collection of short stories and flash fiction that highlights the power of image and metaphor and theme in unexpected ways. By altering the anticipated viewpoint character or the setting we step into the story one side up, but come out the other end as if we were in house of mirrors. 

For example, in her flash fiction piece Breathtaking we immediately identify with the character’s desperate struggle to simply take a breath—to fill out the form—to remain calm instead of anxious in the emergency room—to remember. How many other images of trying to simply breathe pass through our imagination as we struggle along with this person wondering what is really causing his anguish. And then the mirror metaphor shifts.

“No. Not poison. My sweat on the floor, my blood, my skin. It was my own
              designer disease, all brand new and deadly—

              And, unfortunately, highly contagious.”

Journal Prompt:

Take a brief scene from your novel, either in dialogue, or internal monologue, and twist the end into something opposite.

What impact would that have on your character’s situation emotionally, spiritually, or mentally?

Even if you cannot use the shock difference at this moment, is there a way you can introduce the possibility of another outcome?

Share: Did your opposite effect turn into humor or shock?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Build A Story World

Across Space

Consider what materials or fabrics can go through portals or dimensions. Stargate is set up that futuristic weaponry, scientific instruments, and medicine can go through. But what if the portal is organic in some way and only a body can enter with clothes and perhaps one other element such as a gem, a necklace, or a compass. 

These basic choices will grow in importance over time. What are the consequences to change a timeline? All these decisions build up areas of struggle and conflict as the characters attempt to understand and communicate within an environment completely different from any they have known. Begin from the critical purpose for entering the new dimesnsion: to save lives, for discovery, retaliation or conquest.

1. From each of the culture categories choose a person for your heroine to attempt to communicate with. Do one from her choice. Do one from necessity.

                        Repeat with someone trying to cross cultures with your heroine and she is resistant.

Share: Which one has the most interesting possibilities? Why?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Create with Mystery

Questions are hardwired into us from the time we grasp communication. Spend a day with a toddler and the main conversation is surrounded around “Why?” And knowing the answer can still be insufficient. “How” often comes next.

The mystery genre takes the desire to uncover motives ranging from a cozy pleasant afternoon adventure of  “who, when, and where” to complicated psychological puzzles. The mystery writer must plan out every detail to hold the story’s interest. However other genres need the curious just as much. The clues become imbedded in the plot.

Wrong turns, false trails and coincidental characters are the enticement that we follow like breadcrumbs to find the answer.  “What” will happen next?

When we create with mystery regardless of genre, we add an additional layer of depth to our storyline. Even if we know, or think we know, the outcome we’re more than willing to engage in the adventure. We are ready to discover the path that gets us from here to there. And the more tangled the better.

For example, in the movie Penelope, the diligent journalist Lemon follows his clues thoroughly. All his primary facts are right. However since his assumptions are slightly off kilter they not only mislead him but also his co-characters and the audience. In addition the error creates a long thread of subplot points adding to the story tension and resolution. At each junction the lure “why” creates more curiosity. When finally the beginning situation is revealed all the threads unravel into a clear understanding.

Journal Prompt:

It’s not only mysteries that can provide red herrings. Choose a conversation your protagonist has with someone important to her. Now take each line of conversation and choose a way it could be misunderstood.  Do a silly, comedic version and a serious confrontational version.

Choose the one that best fits your theme. Plot out a sequence of decisions that could result from that error in communication. Can you incorporate them as tension points in your novel?

Share: Share a movie or a novel that when the twist came you couldn’t believe you didn’t recognize it. And it fit perfectly into the story.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Build A Story World

Damar, Cont’d

Though their circumstances are completely different, each Damar heroine finds herself influenced by the similar characteristics provided by the setting.  These attributes make it possible for the reader to identify common threads in different attire, and so relate to both stories in either order.

In Aerin’s time, the earlier time frame, at the end of a desperate battle, they rolled out the dragon Maur’s head and it rushed away from them across the battlefield. “And in the next morning, when they awoke, instead of low rolling hills despoiled by war, they found a plain, flat as a table, stretching from the burnt-out fire where the survivors had slept huddled together to the feet of Vasth and Kar and the pass where Aerin had paused and seen what awaited her and gathered herself and her army together.  It was a desert plain.”

When Harry first arrived at the plain, more than a century later, “She raised her eyes to the watching Hills again: surely this great flat plain was not a natural phenomena in this rugged land? And yet what labor could have flattened the Hills so?”

For Aerin’s sake, the yerig (the dog queen) and the folstza (the cat king) came from the wilds with their armies to join her in her journey and in her battle and at the end decided to stay. When Harry first arrived at the camp she noticed: “tall long-legged dogs with long narrow beautiful skulls and round dark eyes, and long silky fur to protect them from the sun….There were cats too.  But these were not the small domestic lap size variety; these were as lean and long-legged as the dogs….Some wore collars, leather with silver or copper fittings, but no leashes, and each went its solitary way, ignoring any other cats, dogs or horses that might cross its path.”
Both sets of animals were perfectly at home in their atmosphere in both novels.

With these and many other touches of names and geography, legend, history and danger, a culture across time holds true.

Exercise: Choose a character from your story's past and one from your future. What does each what your hero to know know?

Share: Do they have a common goal or are they opposed? Why?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Construct With Memory

Have you ever gone down the memory road with the phrase, “If I had only known then what I know now, I would’ve (or wouldn’t have) done or not done this.” Hmmm. Maybe not. We often wish we knew the future when it might help more to remember the past—if not for ourselves then definitely for our main characters.

Our version of past events might give a clue not only to how we perceive situations, but also bring to light personality patterns that otherwise might remain hidden.

For example, in the movie Penelope, the parents are desperate to keep their newborn child out of the public eye. One creative journalist manages to sneak into the house startling Jessica, the mother. She in turn reacts physically causing the journalist to lose his eye. No real blame on the mother who instinctively protects her child. And the scene taps into the whole paparazzi deserve what they get attitude.

Yet decades later when the journalist has the opportunity to get his photos, and receive some payback, he begins to back away out of sympathy for Penelope. In the end he brings information to her family in an effort to help her. His character shows genuine concern. He puts compassion above his job.

However, the first words from Jessica are basically, “It’s your own fault you lost your eye.” No remorse. No apology. Immediately combative again. And she’s the one who refuses to let Penelope know the truth. She puts self-interest above her daughter, even though she believes she’s acting out of love. Jessica is more trapped emotionally by the curse than Penelope. She makes all her choices, decisions and actions based on her narrowed viewpoint.

Journal Prompt:

Put your character in a scene with a family member or co-worker with whom there has been a rift in their relationship due to a previous incident. Each continues to justify their own attitude based on their interpretation of remembered events.

Bring a third person into the conversation that presents another possibility altogether. Are either of them willing to change perspective? Why or why not?


Why do you think we have difficulty acknowledging responsibility for our actions when we are in the wrong? Even for simple oversights.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Build A Story World

“The work begins with a deep breath and a blindly trusting step into the unknown.” Susan Cooper

Cross-culture—time dimension
Across time dimension includes time within the same world history, such as a novel in an historical setting crossing generations on a family plantation.  Or in a city that we see grow from a seaport to a major world hub similar to the history of  New York City or San Francisco.

And time dimension also covers time travel backwards or forwards, such as Back to the Future series. It also includes time across space, such as Farscape or Stargate, and time into a parallel dimension, such as a spiritual dimension, or any other realm that is accessed through a portal of some kind like Dante’s trilogy and the land of faerie. Time may pass by on equal ground, be compressed, or expanded.

Look for key places that can hold common ground across many centuries, and also capabilities than can be inherited. They can carry both the foundation of setting and the echo of atmosphere. It could carry the weight of the pyramids in Egypt, or a coastal town set on a rocky cliff in Ireland, or Greece or alongside a river like the Rhine or the Mississippi.

Damar, Part One
For example, Robin McKinley sets two novels in the fictional land of Damar separated by a considerable time span. They can be read in any order without sacrificing their stories due to the integral setting that overlaps each novel. McKinley has provided a vivid setting that has the potential to expand into more episodes in Damar, either past or present or future, by holding to the setting atmosphere and characteristics which make Damar unique to itself, and influence whatever characters come into its sphere.

Exercise: Choose an important location in your setting and list the details that make it so. Using those details, write up a legend about it that could be found in an historical article or sightseeing brochure.

Share: Which detail can play a major part in the current time plot?

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