Tag Archives: tools

Static versus Round

Every storytelling aspect can be applied to real life, in different ways. Tropes, climax, conflict, heroes and anti-heroes, and, most of all, round (or dynamic) and static characters.

I found this particularly true for the round and static character explanation over the past several months, but it got more into the dynamics and elements of storytelling itself with some fundamental things changing or being different than normal.

Static characters are not typically in the forefront of the story, for example. Every main character I’ve read has had a change of heart or a change of life and has handled it differently in the end than they would have in the beginning. They are round, and called such for the change, the fact that they are always curving and turning when you zoom in on the lines.

I digress, the fact is that there is a shift in view or perspective for those dynamic characters, they learn and in turn their actions change.

Recently, though, I realized that a friend of mine hadn’t changed much or at all, and her perspective, her reactions, her general disposition had all remained the same. When asked a question lately that she’d been asked years ago, her answer was the same.

People who are immovable in many ways are usually the secondary or tertiary characters, or in the background somewhere. They matter less because the main storyline relies on a lot of change, it relies on conflict creating a different view, it’s why you read the story in the first place, to see how something progresses. The definition of progress is ‘movement to a goal or further to a higher stage.’ How do you get there if your sights are in the same place?

Could a story technically still survive with a static character in the front? It becomes more about their struggles and their daily life and how they handle it. Sure, because you’re highlighting the way of life, there’s a message in there somewhere.

Then again, if that’s all you wrote, wouldn’t your writing become very limited?

Someone who is not open to learning or change is stifling the ability to become a better version of themselves. I mean those who outright refuse.

There is a story to be told there, but, as the name suggests, dynamic characters have a lot more possibilities.

I have to admit that I’ve never met someone so stubborn and unwilling to change, someone so against the idea. In 25 years, I’ve met one or two who don’t fully grasp the concept of learning and being shaped by ideas and the world around them. They understand it plenty, but they refuse to let it take hold.

The thought had me wondering about main characters, about stories and novels, and how many of the main characters don’t budge, don’t change or get shaped by the way their world moves. What kind of story does a character like that make for?

In contrast, a lot of my characters tend to be like me in that they thirst for knowledge. Some, like secondary or tertiary characters, aren’t given that much dimension, so they remain static. So there’s a difference there between refusal and not being given the chance.

Usually, how you hear about static characters is by the fact that they aren’t the ones the story’s changing is directed at. They aren’t going through conflict. They simply look on from the sidelines. They are a stationary piece of the puzzle themselves.

Which reminds me of Welcome to Nightvale’s deep quote from the other day: “Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you.

Whether it’s a story you’re writing or your own story, static and dynamic characters are everywhere, and each have a place. Just as it is in what we write, our life has lessons for us, if we choose to see it that way. We are what the story makes us, if we’re willing to accept that.

What kind of character will you be?

-The Novice Wordsmith

Guest Post: Building Up a History

Part one of a short series of posts about the building blocks of writing, deconstructed.

I asked Novice Wordsmith to give me a prompt, with the intention of writing a small story involving said prompt. And that’s a secret lesson; sometimes your inspiration for writing needs a kickstart from somewhere else besides in your own head. It’s not about someone giving you an idea, really, more like striking the match to bring a light to a cluttered room of imagination of your own.
So here’s my assignment: Victorian, Steampunk level,Tea Cartel.
The current monarchy is a tyrant, and has outlawed tea because it poisoned the previous king. Which was his doing. ( Or hers, could be a queen)
How does the tea cartel work, who is in charge, and how long has it been going? Are they the ones who helped poison the last king,and are they in cahoots with the new king/queen?
———————
Softball prompt, really. I love steampunk. If you want to challenge yourself, write in a genre you aren’t good at; if you want to write for enjoyment, write in your comfortable space.  
 
The meta prompt that comes to mind from this is ‘how do you build a history for a fictional universe?’ It’s very easy (almost cheating) to put together a story in someone else’s world. It’s like building a prefab treehouse in someone’s backyard and not having to go chop wood and weave rope on your own.  
 
Working with a genre, however, just sets some of the environment variables. (You can tell that I’m a coder, can’t you….)
 
Steampunk embraces the idea of ‘retro’ tech — big old clunky steam powered, electricity arcing, big brass tubes sorta feel. It’s low tech materials with a higher tech functionality. It’s also considered ‘historical’, because it’s based in our past — usually the Victorian Age of England, where we got a lot of lovely writing, but also the beginnings of big industry and world exploration.
 
Those are my freebies if I want to accept them. But the parameters of the prompt itself — monarchy by tyranny, ascension by assassination? Those are the ‘must fill in’ items, in order to meet the terms of the challenge.
Today’s post is about building up a history for a fictional world. Because characters do not exist in a vaccuum of empty space; we join them, usually, somewhere towards the early middle of their journey, although a few notable exceptions start at a character’s birth. The rest of the world has been going on about them and around them, and stuff happened before they were born, in order to shape the culture, civilization, and legends — facts of the world as taught to them by others, in other words.
There are two ways to witness history — either ‘get it from others’ or ‘be a part of it.’ A protagonist in these sorts of adventures is going to do something noteworthy, sooner or later; an established adventurer has already done something of worth. An established noble is gifted their place in history by the achievements (inherited or not) of their family.
Being a student of history gives your novel a rising arc. The idea of being nobody-becoming-somebody is the walk of the fame and fortune seeker; the idea of being a someone-becoming-historical is often the tale of a prince/princess or other noble using their resources to achieve something outside of the reach of the common man.
So where does your character’s history come from?
In this case, we have the Tea Covenant – people who know that the previous king was poisoned by tea. We know that tea is important to these people, originally the staple drink of the realm, but now banned.
Some immediate thoughts come to mind; what is drunk in court instead?
Answer: Cappucino. And coffee. And now I’m imagining the new Queen as someone who is very jittery, and jumps at shadows. But she’s also high energy, and brilliant in her own right, but she employs an army of engineers to forge a kingdom that plans to go to war with their neighbors. A military industrial complex.
Let’s say that the former tea fields of the country have been razed and turned into factories. So that any tea that is to be had is either grown in secret, by individuals, or imported from overseas, or stored in warehouses as contraband by the chancellor. There’s a black market for tea…
…okay, I like the phrase ‘there’s a black market for green tea’, because it has some lovely layering of color schemes and ideas in there, so that’s going to appear as part of the narrative early on.
The royalty aspect is a large chunk of the prompt, so we ought to have some connection to the current government, either the ones in power, or the ones deposed.
Playing with someone in the deposed family is kinda tropeish, because then their aim is usually ‘get back in power’. Let’s go with someone less in line with the throne, but someone who is in contact with them. So we can get some glimpses of the crown.
These are things to keep in mind when selecting your stable of characters; we’ll come back to that in a later post. Today we’re just sketching out history; so start by listing significant events. So far we have the following:
– Coronation of the new ruler
– Proclamation of the outlawing of the purchasing and drinking of tea
– Funeral of the old ruler (if there is one)
– Stuff the old ruler did that was noteworthy — maybe he/she held The World Tea Fair
– Ascension to the throne by the deceased ruler – we want to know how long they were in power
– If we’re going to war with the nations next door, how successful were we in the past? So there ought to be some sort of armed conflict in the history books. We don’t own a lot of land from or neighbors, so either they’re friendly, or we couldn’t invade and annex them.
– Invading your neighbors because they grow tea sounds like a crusade.
Now that could happen in any world, but we want Steampunk elements, so let’s not forget scientific advances:
– Phlogiston engine invented. This is fun for me because phlogiston (check Wikipedia if you’re curious) was disproven in our world, but it’s got that steampunky feel when you talk about it. “Don’t burn tea. It has a horrible phlogiston quotient, and people have been known to have respiratory issues and dizzy spells from inhaling tea vapors.”
– Transportation milestones. Let’s make this country landlocked, so the advent of a railway system is how people get rapidly from one end of the country to the other. And we’re going to add some mountains to the south where building over the mountains is prohibitive, but on the other side is a tea-growing flood plain…. so I think I know where we’re invading.
– Airships vs. propeller planes — Another steampunk staple; flight. Putting a steam boiler on either type of conveyance is not terribly feasible, so let’s go with -very- limited flight, which means a flight over the mountains and back is a big exploration event. (And now I have an idea for a pilot character, one who claims his father was the one that took the flight, but he’s being discredited for not really making it all the way over the mountain range since he didn’t actually land.)
– Literacy – is history oral, or written? It’d be interesting to have a contraband book of reading your fortune in tea leaves as a prop item, somewhere in the book, and maybe a secondary character tries that out. But as far as history goes, let’s figure out some noteworthy authors / books in the nation’s history.
– Entertainment — what sort of things do people do when they have cash to burn? Is there a musical stage play that’s been running solid for five years (a record), but has to be edited because the main character drinks tea on stage? Or maybe it isn’t edited, and it’s a scandal that it isn’t…
– Food and Drink — Okay, tea is verboten. But what about tea cakes? Have the biscotti salesmen had a sudden increase in their fortunes? How much food is steamed in a steampunk universe, and what does it taste like? What does the common man eat versus the nobility?
The point is that one approach to building a good novel is to build the world around the characters before you write a single word of dialogue. The world is full of undiscovered things -and- discovered things – if you take a look at the present day, and said, ‘what are five inventions that I wouldn’t be able to do without’, or ‘what are three famous historical events that I know a lot about?’ You would answer something concrete pretty quickly. If you then go and ask people you know the same question, you’ll get different answers — some folks slightly different, others vastly different, depending on their age and background.
When you build a world, it’s all about who lives in it, yes, but where, how, and why they do while they’re living there is also just as important.
Sometimes the best beginning of a novel? Is before the beginning of the novel.

Make a Habit of It

I have this website tracked down on my Websites for Wordsmiths page, but I wanted to shine some light on it in a blog post because why not?

One of the oldest ideas to motivate yourself to get something done is incentive. You do a chore, you reward yourself, it’s a good balance that helps you keep going. Some things are harder to follow that idea with, maybe you aren’t able to track it, you lose sight of it, you give up, and it falls off the way side.

If you are the kind of person who needs something to keep your progress and hold you accountable for getting tasks and chores done, work projects, exercise, etc, Habit RPG might be one of the best things you can invest any time in.

Located here, Habit RPG allows you to enter in whatever you need help with keeping track of or staying on top of, in the form of an RPG (hence the name).  You build your avatar, to look however you want it to, and earn XP (experience points) by checking off habits, dailies and to-dos, as well as money! By level 10, you can pick a class, and buy specific equipment for it.

Equipment is in a category of “rewards”, which you can add to for even more incentive. Want to buy that gorgeous dress you saw while shopping? Put it down in the rewards, and set the amount to reach for you to get it.

If you’re game and incentive minded, it’s an incredible tool. Some personalities and people may not take to it as well as others, but if it works for you, milk it for all it’s worth!

Another site I wanted to touch on was Lit Reactor. I’ve posted a few things from there before, but hadn’t really taken the time to search through the website and see the content.

Litreactor.com is dedicated to writers and writing, fit with online classes, workshops, and the ability to put your own work up and read the work of others, as well as achievements and a community of writers to slink into. No doubt that it is a sort of haven, where you can see articles written by all sorts of authors on basic subjects like grammar, or something more complex, like what you put your hero through.

Litreactor also happens to have smashing suggestions and ways to get your work published, where to reach out and who is looking for authors.

Of course, this is only just a skim off the top of what it all contains, it’s bursting with all sorts of possibilities. I’m kind of wondering why I didn’t get into it sooner…

Either way, both websites are incredible tools, and especially writers. On the old topic of resolutions, Habits can be instrumental in helping you achieve what you’ve put yourself up to. LitReactor can too, if your resolution is to get more involved in the writing community, to find ways of improving your writing, and to get a move on with publishing some of your work.

I hope that you will at least give them both a look!

-The Novice Wordsmith

(Optional) Tools of the Trade: Generators and Floor Plans

One of the things I love to do is come up with different designs, interior and exterior, of my character’s homes. To me, it’s a way to express who they are, and what they like. The size of their home, the amount of rooms, and where it is, all matter, more so depending on what kind of novel you’re writing, if you have more involvement in the building or not.

Sometimes, the action takes place everywhere else, so the house becomes a background thought. It gives you something to focus on when you need a distraction, it becomes filler to help you get a sort of refresh.

E-plans was introduced to me months ago, which is a website that allows you to view thousands of floor plans for a wide variety of houses, ranging in square feet and amount of bedrooms from zero to 5+, including as well: styles!

While E-plans is mostly there for people looking to build a house, the website stands to be a fantastic reference point if you need for any of your writing needs. It can give you a better idea of where your character(s) would live, how spacious (or not) it would be, and even (after you hit search) if they could afford it.

On a much larger spectrum, while talking about maps and new worlds, and how the planet in question is made up, I curbed the desire to draw it out and instead was motivated by my friend’s suggestion to find a world generator.

It’s right here, and it’s amazing. If you’re like me and have no idea what you’re doing, you can rely completely on the random button until you find something you like! On the other hand, feel free to put in random numbers and come up with whatever it spits out, or if you know most of what it asks for, then have fun!

Especially great if you’re not an artist. Or if you’re creatively challenged in that direction, for both the floor plans and the map generator. For whatever your need or desire, have fun! 😉

-The Novice Wordsmith