Worldbuilding - Doing your Research

Feb 27, 2010

Maybe it’s the genre I write in, but I tend to do a lot of research for my books. With POEL, I’ve scoured the internet, the library, and even sent away for information packets about all sorts of information. The list seems to keep growing: nanotechnology, lunar colonization, Sanskrit, Biosphere 2, confined environment psychology, cryonics…and who knows what’s next.

I’ve found that while I don’t put a lot of the information I learn directly into my story, I still have to have it all in order to form a believable world. My readers may not have to know all the details about how a biosphere works, or the real-life process of being cryogenically frozen, but if I want to make them believe it’s real on my world, I have to know all that. The more I know, the more I’m able to unconsciously communicate the real ideas and knowledge behind my story.

Of course, I might not be an expert on the things I learn, but I make sure I’m at least well-versed. After all, it’s the wonders of science that attracted me to the sci fi genre in the first place, so learning the things I’m portraying in my story is often the first step to creating it. And, being the nerd I am, I love every minute of it.

Unblocking Writer's Block

Feb 25, 2010

We all get it. It goes by different names– we might get “stuck,” or “not know what’s coming next.” The dreaded writer’s block hits us all, whether it be in the middle of a story, or at the very beginning when we’re trying to decide what this thing is going to be about.

As a discovery writer, I find I’m prone to this at least once a week. I’m carrying on just fine, and then WHAM. My character comes into a situation where I don’t know what they’re going to do. Or there’s a conversation that peters out and I don’t know where it’s going next. Or there’s an action scene coming and I can’t figure out how to get there from where I’m at. Or…you get the idea. The one thing I never do when I get stuck is STOP. If I stopped every time I hit a block, I’d never have finished a single story. Here’s a few things I do instead.

1. Get to know my characters better. Often, I get blocked because I don’t know what my characters are going to do next. Usually, your characters are driving a plot. Their actions and decisions determine where things are going. But if I don’t know how my character will react in a situation, how can I know what’s coming? I’ll go in and re-read their sketch. I’ll think of varying directions the plot could go, and see if any of them strike me as “he would never do that” or “that’s exactly how he’d do that!” Sometimes, the answers surprise me, and I find that something I never thought a character would do actually is what he would do– and then I’ve got a whole new plot twist, and a deeper character.

2. Push somebody off a cliff. Okay, not literally. However, my first creative writing teacher in college taught me something that has stuck with me ever since. Don’t know what’s next? Think of the most outlandish, craziest, ridiculous thing that could happen. Push a character off a cliff, or have aliens descend to defeat the dragon, or make the villain passionately kiss the hero instead of killing her. Odds are, it will be so nuts (and maybe have a little too much deus ex machina in it) to use, but I’ve found that this process often leads me to other ideas along the way. They usually tend to be more creative, as well.

3. Work on another project for a few days. If I’m really stuck, I’ll often move on to another project, such as one of my short stories. That way, I’m still writing, and I’m giving my subconscious mind time to work on the problems in my other piece. Sometimes, I’m too close to a story and need to back up a bit. Then, coming back to it, I have an easier time pushing past my block because I’ve taken a rest.

4. Skip the scene. Who says we have to write the story in the order we want it read in? If I don’t know how to get from point A to point B, sometimes I’ll just jump in and start writing point B. I’ll usually mark it so I don’t forget I did that (i.e. putting [add transition scene here] in bold), and after I keep going, I may have enough of the story down to know what happened to get from point A to point B.

I should probably add a fifth, just to round things out, but I’m afraid that’s all I’ve got. Still, if those four things have gotten me through, why worry?

So how do you get through writer’s block? Let’s discuss!

Balancing the Writing Life

Feb 22, 2010

I’ve found that when trying to write with an otherwise full schedule, something always has to go. It would seem that trying to be a good wife, good mother, good employee, and good writer means being a very bad housekeeper.

Take tonight, for example. After getting off work, I attempted to do the dishes while my husband was at class. I strapped the baby in his bouncy seat, and picked up the dish soap.

I then proceeded to drop the soap and spend the next twenty minutes bruising my forehead with a plastic mixing spoon in a vain attempt to get my tired five-month-old to laugh. This gradually degenerated into other, less violent forms of entertainment, featuring wild dancing, dramatic death-faking, and much making-of-loud-noises. Did the dishes get done? I think not.

Will they get done tonight, after baby is in bed and hubby and I have had some time to unwind together? I wouldn’t bet on it. After all, I’m looking forward to writing at least 1,500 words tonight.

The Lovechild of Discovery and Outline Writing Styles

Feb 17, 2010

According to hearsay, Stephen King sits down to write his books with just an idea, and away he goes, writing and rewriting. Orson Scott Card is said to spend months outlining and worldbuilding, then lock himself in an office and write the book in a matter of weeks. I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but it’s an interesting look at the contrasting ways different writers formulate their stories– discovery versus outline.

I, for example, am the lovechild of the two. I have to start each and every piece with a broad plot outline, fairly complete world, and moderately defined characters. Then, I start to write, and everything changes. Okay, not everything, but as I write, I learn things about my world, characters, and stories that I didn’t even know were there.

A few nights ago, I sat drumming my fingers across my keyboard, unsure of where to go next. Then, I began typing, and to my surprise, my character walked out the door to a place I didn’t realize existed in my world to meet another character I had no idea was there. To boot, it was his own father. In the course of one scene, I had discovered intricate nuances of the world’s culture, realized my character had a deep conflict, and found that my plot was suddenly thicker than I had known. It was awesome.

Of course, it makes for a lot of rewriting, but I don’t mind that. My husband laughs at me every time I make a comment like, “Ooh, I just found out that my character has a tumor that’s caused by the radiation emitted by a strange rock on his world, but he won’t tell anyone because it’s a sign that he’s damned by the Gods!” Not that that’s exactly what happened, but you get the idea. Or maybe you don’t. My husband doesn’t– he always wants to know, if the story is in my head, how is it that I didn’t know that already?

That’s the fun of discovery writing– it is in my head, I just have to find it. But for me, at least, I’ve got to have that outline there first, or there’s not as much to discover.

So what’s your preferred style– discovery, outline, lovechild, or something else? What do you find are the pros and cons? Let’s discuss!

Getting it Right

Feb 16, 2010

Every now and again, I have moments of perfection. Even in a first draft.

Every now and again, I manage to combine beautiful writing, strong characterization, and purposeful plot movement in one scene.

Every now and again, I look at that scene and think, wow, I got that one right.

Of course, it’s only every now and again. I guess that’s the point of rewrites. It gives me that many more every now and agains.


Feb 13, 2010

According to my mother, I’ve been writing since I was nine months old, and she has pages of lopsided circles to prove it. She’s probably the only one who counts that as the beginning of my writing career. I don’t think I can credibly claim the title until at least age 8; though the content wasn’t original, at least I was writing in words. My original love was for reading. I loved the power of books to take me to another world. When I realized that as a writer I could be the one to create that world and make it come alive for someone else, I knew I had found my true love.

I primarily write memoir/creative non-fiction and science fiction, both short stories and novel-length works. Please check out my Published Works page to see my published creative non-fiction essays.

Thanks for visiting.

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