Friday, July 25, 2008

Inspiration to Overcome Writer's Block - Part 2

The one sentence rule challenged me to consider how to verbally paint a picture without bogging my writing down with descriptive long windedness. Regular practice hones the ability to succinctly paint with the pen. Pumping Your Muse takes you down the road I traveled to make world-building part of what I know. The design of these exercises develops skills beyond your current norm and focuses creative energies in new directions. Following the chapter-by-chapter steps presented in this book makes the task of building a world easier and natural. It migrates from performing an exercise to becoming what you 'know'.

I suggest you buy a paper journal, digital recorder or portable electronic device such as a PDA for this journey. Why? It's not only convenient but also efficient. Consider it a transportable link to your world under construction. Carry it with you; be prepared to capture details when you see them. I transfer information from a paper journal to my computer to keep an electronic record as a resource to be used when I pull the story together.

Use the journal to 'map' development. Mapping doesn't have to be a work of art but a sketch. Gather rough ideas, tentatively plat their placement on your map; charting details from the genesis of your world makes logistical errors less likely.

I started with a pencil sketch using ovals in a flow chart format to mark places as they emerged. It didn't take me long to seek an electronic way to create maps. A good friend of mind and fellow fantasy writer, Joan McNulty-Pulver, recommended PowerPoint while my son-in-law explained that the Adobe Photoshop I currently owned could also be used. These products and others like them offer tools to create maps in layers so changes can be added or removed as needed. I experimented and vacillated between paper and pencil and the electronic format. I liked the old-fashioned approach and easy-to-use eraser at the end of my pencil. I scratched a rough sketch and eventually transferred the details into an Adobe Photoshop file because it's easy to find and make changes. I'm not telling you that this is the best way to keep your maps updated, but rather it's what worked for me.

I have a tendency to be traditionalist. The idea of a paper journal to represent the first efforts of writing my next novel tickled my fancy. I thought of Indiana Jones holding his father's journal and the secrets it held. If you decide to use pencil and paper, organize your journal to make things easy to find. Pencil works best because it is erasable. Placing my world-building map on the inside front cover of this journal saved time in the long run. Instead of flipping through page after page of handwritten notes searching for the right page, I opened the book and added the newest detail. A Flip Side map on the inside of the back cover follows the evolution of an alternate world (you'll learn more about this in chapter 1).

Early chapters in this book break exercises into easy-to-use sections designed to build foundational information regarding a specific world. Exercising these creative muscles pumps the realism you desire into your budding world. Each chapter presents a series of exercises that build on one another. This provides opportunities to improve your skill while creating a bond of logic that connects scenes as you weave details with a thread of continuity.

Writing takes time. Make a plan. The commitment is up to you, but I suggest you build your world no less than four days a week. This schedule allots writing time as well as thinking time. Write your goal at the top of the first page of your journal. Three days a week, five days a week, or seven days a week--make that commitment now.

Discover the World Inside You

World building exercises contained in this book fall into five categories:

Research: Building a world sometimes calls for supplies outside the realm of current knowledge and experience. Research exercises encourage the collection of specific new information necessary to build upon the foundation of current knowledge and experience.

Attention to Detail: Real world details flood our senses on a subconscious level. Good writers furnish these details with three-dimensional realism while moving characters within an imaginary world with an active voice. Attention to Detail exercises hone the writer's skill to furnish detailed information without falling prey to overly descriptive terms, which tend to bog down the flow and lose the reader's attention.

On the other hand, they train the writer to be more observant. Routine sometimes makes us so familiar with our surroundings that we no longer take in the details. We drive to work and wonder how we got there. The Attention to Detail activity teaches the eye to observe and helps the writer see how to use details that mold the reader's impressions without 'telling' them what to think.

On the Flip Side: No matter how bizarre or mundane the story, the writer's thoughts follow a sequence--a thread of logic. On the Flip Side exercises force the writer from that path of logic and make them wander in another direction long enough to explore new concepts.

For this Chapter: Some chapter topics offer more challenges and opportunities to grow world-building skills than others. For this Chapter exercises incorporate these challenges within specific chapters to prod the writer to experience a new level of exploration in their world-building skills.

Reconstitute Your World: Reconstitute Your World takes aspects of 'real world' places and happenings, blends them with fictional ingredients, and transforms them into believable realms and scenarios, complete with flora and fauna. This stage strengthens the writer's ability to apply what they've learned to notice in the everyday world in which they live, learn and grow adding small doses of realism to elements already established in your fictional world.

Mapping and Tracking: Applying these principles teaches plotting and organizational skills from the genesis to the completion of your world, complete with characters and their belongings. Mapping and Tracking develops competence to provide logistical smoothness and a way to track objects for continuity.

Activities in each chapter interact and feed off each other. In some cases you will complete an exercise before moving on to the next, while others may be ongoing as you collect detailed information to add to existing scenes.

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For more on Pumping Your Muse, visit epress-online to read the first chapter for free.

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