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

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Build a Story World

Heresy Cont’d

“It is a fantasy because fantasy is the natural, the appropriate, language for the recounting of the spiritual journey and the struggle of good and evil in the soul.” Ursula Le Guin

The struggle for good versus evil also occurs within a story world that embraces a common value system. For example, in the Harry Potter series, the Hogwarts School
educates children of magical ability. However the approach to the use of magic itself, the attitude of both students and faculty, and the choices made, run up and down a moral ladder of values toward the common magical bond. Choices need to be made all the time.

Unfortunately in our own world there is ample research material available for several examples of people who have chosen to cut corners for financial gain and caused injury to innocent victims. When buildings or tunnels collapse, for no apparent reason, one of the first areas of investigation is to discover whether the materials used were the approved version or a lesser quality substitute.

What about stealing from an employer re use of supplies or time or gossip. How could they become arenas for good versus evil?

            Make a list in your own life in the areas of work, or education, or personal situations (or experiences) that have the potential for moral choices.

Choose one from each category for your character. Have her make a decision in either direction for each choice.

Share: Which one has the potential to create the most difficult struggle for your hero?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Build a Story World

Heresy with Psychological Shadows Cont’d

Psychological shadows can be as basic as growing pains to outright terrifying death, even without any external threat. And sometimes overcoming them requires an act of heresy within ourselves, forcing action that instinctively we (our characters) would choose to avoid at any cost.

Also psychologically making the right choice can feel heretical because the character may have to turn away from a long held belief, or value, or relationship, and take steps either towards, or away from, in order to maintain truth.

In the BBC fantasy series Merlin, the young warlock, is hampered by the decrees of King Uther who has outlawed all magic. Yet, his higher call is to keep Prince Arthur safe, so he is continually battling mortal and magical villains while living a lie of his own abilities and his secret use of magic. With every encounter he must struggle with his beliefs and his actions and analyze the risks involved.


Decide how your character physically reacts to a stressful situation. Then put him in a psychologically challenging situation where he experiences these symptoms before he is aware of the situation/dilemma he is in.

What could be the moral consequences of a choice in either direction?

Share: Which moral road will he take?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Construct With Memory

In the film, John Carter, a Colonel who is familiar with Carter’s military prowess arrests him in order to get his assistance fighting the Apache. Carter not only outright refuses to join in the battle but repeatedly escapes. The Colonel is bewildered by the contrast between the description of the heroic man he has before him and the actual man.

This broken-in-spirit John Carter is now antagonist against warfare. Yet, when the situation becomes critical for the Colonel, Carter’s instincts overtake his reluctance and he saves him. He repeats the same scenario once on Mars, actively resisting interference until his heart engages. The memory of who he really is becomes stronger than the person he is attempting to be now.

For this plot arc it is obviously a positive impulse that the instinct enables John Carter to be restored to his real self. However, instinct can react the other way as well when characters, or ourselves, have broken away from old detrimental habits and then they find ourselves in a familiar situation where they revert.

In John Carter’s case though it is the memory of his loss that clouds his instincts and interferes with the memory of what he believes and the actions he is willing to take. In fighting against a return to a negative lifestyle characters can choose the memory of what their life has become now to resist the lapse into old behaviors.

Instinct as memory can become a powerful instrument for both good and evil in characterization and plot development.

Journal Prompt:

1.     Choose a key instinct from your character’s personality and put him in a situation that creates a negative outcome. Then choose another outcome that is positive. How does he emotionally react before and after each occurrence?

2.     List ways either can become plot points for conflict or restoration.

Share: Which instinct did you use and which outcome worked best?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Build a Story World

Heresy with Psychological Shadows

Folktales, fairytales and legends hold a repository of universal shadows. Just as settings can be a link between internal and external ‘soul’ language, so does this literature connect our personal fears and shadows to find our way through darkness. They offer a childhood’s nightlight to all ages. We may not all be afraid of the same things but we connect with the heart pounding, dry mouth sensations when we see them.

It’s most often in the ordinary world that psychological fears can wreak havoc. Just the slightest noise or silence that is out of sync causes us to pause and listen. As pain is a warning that something is wrong physically, so fear warns us of danger. Our intuitive radar activates. 

In the novel, The Blue Sword, immediately after she saw Corlath and his men visit, Harry tumbled back into the insomnia she had first experienced when adjusting to the desert sounds. And even those few weeks had been somewhat mild, “a sort of moral irritability that seems to go with the feeling that I ought to have spent all those hours sleeping. But this last week had been quite as bad—as sleepless—as any she had known. The last two nights she had spent curled up in the window-seat of her bedroom; she had come to the point where she couldn’t even bear to look at her bed.” And that is where Corlath found her when he arrived to kidnap her. Her physical body reacted to the danger before her heart and mind caught up.

Exercise: Choose a few possible physical radar reactions that your character could have in relation to an incident that happened in her childhood, or as a result of the situation she is in now?

Share: How does she react to the physical trigger, especially when she doesn’t know its cause?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Build a Story World

Heresy With Impact Cont’d

As you’re reading, researching and building your novel’s story world, look for all the places where heresy is possible or where heresy once existed. Start small within your character’s personal world and then expand out as it emotionally impacts your main character and the story question. Attach your personal feelings from last week's exercise to your character’s situation. 

For a series, maybe book one could include the seed for a heresy to explode in book five. Or book three will settle once for all a heresy that existed before book one.

Chart out a cause and effect graph for both viewpoints, along with a potential timeline for the consequences. Then, if using it in a series, you will have a better sense of where different “effects” need to be placed.


Take your primary setting for your character and make a list of all the ‘forbiddens’ that could affect that particular site. Go crazy. Make silly ones as well as serious.

What if a cafĂ© refused service if a person did not have a tattoo? What if a prestigious art museum allowed a children’s birthday party (complete with gooey cake) at the foot of a priceless masterpiece?

Share: Which particular incident in your list appalls your character? Which does she think is ridiculous?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Connect With Maps

After watching the movie John Carter, I read some background material on its sources and watched the extras on the DVD, as I was really curious about the world building aspects of the movie.

It seems the original creator of the story sequence, Edgar Rice Burroughs, became interested in the scientific discussion in the early 1900’s that the markings on the planet Mars represented dried up waterways and rivers. His imagination began to explore what the edge of that decline could have looked like. What or who could have lived on Mars before the water disappeared? He drew many maps for the world he named Barsoom based on that scientific premise. Some of them can be seen on Google.

It reminded me that many of our own civilizations began alongside major rivers. Until mankind learned to harness water, he had to live beside it. Even now, those who live near plentiful water supplies do not really understand the value of water to those who do not and their deprivation as a result.

Our own oceans have a circulation system that circles the world. One source refers to it as a conveyor belt. This complex unseen map system circulates heat and nutrients throughout its pathways. All countries would be affected if the system broke down. Air currents and migration paths are other unseen maps ready for exploration. Regardless of your genre, stop and take a look at nature’s maps in your character’s surroundings. What maps were drawn a century before? What might be drawn a century into the future?

Journal Prompt:

Choose one of your novel settings near water. Examine the value of the water to the inhabitants.  Is it for survival, enjoyment, tourism, trade or protection?

Share: What would happen to the nearest population if that particular water source dried up?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Build a Story World

Heresy With Impact

Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma.” Wikipedia
For world building I think this definition can be extended to include any aspect of your world that is its backbone. What is being challenged? What will be the end result—for either victor? Where is the threat coming from?

The dogma includes science, history, customs, morals, politics, economics, geography and finances. It extends from micro changes, as in a character’s perspective, to macro changes, as in the destruction of a civilization. No wonder our worlds can be both exciting and intimidating to build.

And I’m using the term world here as our story world. The movie Phantom of the Opera is told almost completely within the opera house. We have only a few glimpses to the outside ‘real time’ and only where/how it impacts the internal story within the opera house.

Heresy is deeper than the conflict of values within the same beliefs. Almost every major early scientific discovery our world has known came at great cost. The sun is the center of the universe—not the earth. The world is round—not flat, both considered heretical claims of their time with serious consequences.  

           Choose a category that you have been curious about either vocationally or personally. Pick a decade or century and make a list of the issues that became a changing marker in the field.

Share: Which one is the most interesting to you?
"The Seeker" Rachel Marks | Content Copyright Marcy Weydemuller | Site by Eagle Designs
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