It will soon be November and for writers throughout the world, that means it NaNoWriMo time again.
But wait… I hear all those new to writing ask, “What is NaNoWriMo?”
Well, NaNoWriMo is the international event where writers decide to throw caution to the wind and attempt to write that first draft of a novel within the span of a month. It’s free to participate. All you have to do is sign up at nanowrimo.org and commit yourself to your writing. To win amazing prizes and discounts to brilliant writers’ sites, you need to write 50000 words.
It’s a great way to personally challenge yourself in a way that doesn’t involve going to the gym, dieting yourself into starvation, or spending a fortune on something that you don’t need, however, I can’t guarantee that you won’t work up a sweat. Basically, if you cheat at NaNoWriMo, you’re only cheating yourself.
So what are we doing here in Christchurch?
Since the earthquakes, the writers within our region have become so spread out, living as far north as Pegasus and as far south as Rolleston and Lincoln. To accommodate the growing size of the Christchurch region, we have two Municipal Leaders for the forthcoming 2015 NaNoWriMo: Judy Mohr and Amy Paulussen. See Judy’s blog for more on the interests and writing background of our two MLs.
Amy and Judy will be working together to ensure that all NaNo participants throughout the greater Christchurch region get the opportunity to meet with other Christchurch NaNo crazies (I mean writers). Write-ins will be planned for throughout Christchurch, starting with the kickoff on Saturday, October 31st at Mexicano’s starting at 10:30pm. On Sunday, Nov 1, our first daytime write-in will be held at the Central Library on Peterborough St at 10am. Once Judy and Amy have a better feel as to where the writers are located throughout the region, more write-ins will be scheduled accordingly.
Kiwi Judy L Mohr writes fantasy and science fiction filled with adventure, dark monsters, humour and romance. She is also a freelance editor, working on projects from writers around the world. Judy is currently the president of the Christchurch Writers’ Guild, but is also a member of SpecFic New Zealand and the Scribophile on-line writing community. Recently, she was appointed one of the NaNoWriMo Municipal Leaders for our region. You can visit her at http://judylmohr.com, or follow her on twitter (@JudyLMohr).
Having dialogue in a story is great. Dialogue allows characters to speak in their own voices and can quicken the story’s pace. To some of you, the following tips will seem obvious, but to others they may be something you need to remind yourself of when you proofread your work:
1) Each new speaker needs to start on a new line. For example:
“Where did you leave it?” John asked.
“In the shed.”
“Did anyone see you?”
2) Use double OR single quotation marks. When writing for yourself, doing one or the other is simply about consistency. Using one type allows you to reserve the other type for internal quotation marks (see below). However, different publishers may prefer you to use a particular type of quotation mark – check what they want before sending anything off.
3) Put all sentence punctuation (commas, periods, question marks, exclamation marks)inside the quotation marks:
“I don’t think so,” Mary whispered.
“What do you mean, ‘you don’t think so’?”
“I couldn’t be sure.”
4) If you are adding a descriptor after the quotation marks, the final punctuation mark can never be a period, semi-colon or colon. This is because what comes after the quotation marks should be considered part of the overall sentence (unless you are starting a new sentence).
A good practice is to read it out loud to yourself. There shouldn’t be a long pause if you are describing what was said; a long pause only comes into play if you have started a new sentence (which is a sentence that, if you isolated it, doesn’t beg you to answer what?):
“What do you mean?!” he repeated.
“There was a man walking his dog, but I don’t know…” She swallowed. “He might have seen me, but-” She cut herself off.
John picked up his keys.
“I’m going to collect it now then,” he said.
Here, ‘he repeated’ and ‘he said’ make you wonder – what did he repeat? He said what? Both are descriptors, not new sentences. In comparison, ‘She swallowed’ and ‘She cut herself off’ make sense by themselves. These are new sentences so require capitalisation and can come after a dash, an ellipsis – or a full stop.
Do you have any pesky questions about dialogue you’d like some advice on? Please post them here as comments – just paste in your sentence and question and we’d be happy to give advice!
We’ve all heard it said that what agents and publishers really want is someone who can write a good story. It’s the story that matters, the story that will make or break a publishing deal. And I’ve no doubt that is true.
But I’m sure we’ve also all heard it said that first impressions count. And, while it might be nice to think that we can just leave all that grammar and punctuation stuff to some future editor, it pays to make as positive an impression as possible to make sure that future editor will one day be secured. For sloppy grammar and punctuation is often a red flag for sloppy writing. And when you’ve only got a short space in which to convince a potential agent or publisher to continue reading your work, why not make the best impression you can?
For those of us raised in a school system that didn’t teach more than the basics of grammar and punctuation, the whole concept of getting good at it seems daunting. Many New Zealand English speakers don’t start to get a feeling for the grammar of their own language (let alone an adequate vocabulary to discuss it) until they start learning another. So most of us simply write as we speak – instinctively. But there are some useful tips we can learn to polish our grammar and punctuation skills. Which is lucky for us – because if we want to catch that agent/publisher’s eye, we want our writing to shine brighter than a rough diamond.
First tip coming up!
I found myself signing up to Camp NaNoWriMo yesterday.
“What is Camp NaNoWriMo?” I hear you ask. I asked the same thing! But really simply, it’s the same as NaNo, but not in November.
There’s a few differences. It uses a different website (though you can log in with your NaNo details). It’s run twice a year, rather than just once. And you get allocated to a “cabin” which has 4 other random campers in which you can chat to and support during the month. That makes it an awesome way to meet new writers and build new friendships (which is totally in line with April’s themed blog posts: Writing and Relationships).
It also seems very easy to change your words goal, so if you just want an awesome environment to get some amount of words down, set yourself a goal and come join in.
There will be weekly meet-ups at The Make Cafe on Sundays from 2-4pm. I’ll make sure the ladies will know which table to point you to if you decide to turn up.
I’ve made a Facebook Group for us. If you’re in Chch or the Guild and participating jump into the group for the month and join us. We (Tammie and I) will probably post random challenges and dares throughout the month just to keep things fun and interesting.
Join us. Write words. Have fun!
This week’s theme is writer’s block, which, to be honest, I think I must be suffering from at the moment. I know that if I was to sit down and try to write, whether on something new or on a WIP, I would find a massive blank in my mind with not a clue on how to proceed. I finished a short story at the end of Jan, and I haven’t written anything (beyond poetical scribblings which I’m not sure count) since then.
Rather than get down about not being able to write, I turn my focus to anything that I can find inspiration on instead. Writing is not the sole outlet of my creativity. Lately I’ve been knitting, crocheting and designing cross stitch patterns.
Keeping myself this busy, and productive, I never have to sit down and face the page and suffer from writer’s block. Writer’s block, then, for me is a sense of knowing that if I tried to write nothing would come, so just don’t go there.
I’ve certainly had times in my life that I’ve really wanted to write but there’s just been nothing there when I’ve tried, and it is rather depressing, but I’ve learned that no matter how long it lasts, and how many things I get up to in the interim, the block does pass and I am inevitably drawn to story ideas and the page. Being away from writing for a time makes me really appreciate being able to write. I love the feel of words flowing easily from the brain to the page, and sometimes go on autopilot and just enjoy for a moment the feeling of the pen in hand moving across the page (I really do get distracted watching the point where the ink hits paper) or the feeling of fingers tapping away on the keyboard (I love my keyboard!)
So for me, these periods of writer’s block are not so much a barrier, they are more an opportunity to look elsewhere, be creative in other ways, and give myself time to forget the pain of trying to get words and ideas just right.
Inevitably the inability to write passes, and the need to write returns. That is what makes me a writer.
When creating your world your focus will probably be on the people your story is about. Even the most extreme sci-fi and fantasy stories have some form of humanoid creature as the dominant characters, or, if they’re not humanoid, they will to acquire human traits; the reason for this is simply because it’s going to be humans reading your story, and your reader needs to be able to relate to your characters. For that reason I’m going to focus on humans, though the same general rules will apply whether you’re writing elves or aliens. (Both mainstream fiction and historical fiction are set in real world locations with real world demographics, so there’s no space for creativity in this area, but even if you write these genres, knowing a bit about world-building might help you understand your people better).
Survival and Growth
Humanity needs some basic things for survival. Oxygen and gravity will likely be provided directly by the planet unless you’re writing sci-fi in which case, experiment, but don’t leave the people floating around because the planet you just created doesn’t have gravity.
Fresh drinking water is essential as is food. These will generally come from the surroundings of your people. How technologically advanced the population is will determine how these resources are acquired. History is the perfect place to find examples of how these can be attained and the effects that this has on settlements.
Hunters and gatherers tend to be nomadic, following herds or visiting known crop sites with the seasons. While a single centre may form, this will only occur if there is surplus food to support those that are not supporting themselves. They may have little in the way of minerals and technology, as ore cannot be mined by a nomadic people. While the need to mine may force people to settle and be supported by others, or people may trade for metals, it’s possible they live without metal, and spend time collecting flint, etc. from known sites when the seasons allow it.
Agriculturalists will settle on fertile land, inevitably near water, and may fell forests for more farmland depending on their location, needs and beliefs. It allows less work for more yield, and people could begin to find other pass-times, such as thinking (philosophy) and experimenting (science).
Nearby rivers provide the best early form of transportation. Villages and towns situated on river banks can trade with each other and eventually grow into towns or even cities as they trade for things that they can’t provide for themselves. As the population grows, more people are able to turn their skills to things that nomads may not have had time for, such as fashion and art.
As time progresses, your people will find other ways to provide drinkable water, such as wells, rain water tanks, condensation collection, or even salt to fresh water treatment plants, allowing towns to exist away from rivers and in less accessible or hospitable locations. However, out of the way towns are likely to remain small, while those that lie on trade routes or better yet at junctions will flourish.
Food will also eventually start being grown or made in the most appropriate areas for it and then traded across the world as it is today, allowing entire regions to specialise in a certain thing and relying on the rest of the world for everything else.
People will naturally go to the easiest places to survive, but it these areas are full or not appropriate for some reason, they may go elsewhere and develop ways to survive. Humans are the most adaptable creatures ever, so if you your setting is a swampy land with nothing but huge trees (the bark/leaves of which happen to be life-sustaining, or are able to be traded for food) then people would likely build tree-houses and swing bridges and live in this environment. If you want to see ways in which people adapt to different environments, then all you have to do is have a look around Earth. From Inuits to tribes in Africa, there are examples of people adapting to life in the extremes.
As the number of settled people grow, two things are likely to happen.
Belief in ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ will develop, and laws will have to be created to protect those that act ‘right’ and punish those that act ‘wrong’. Laws suggest a kind of government body to make the laws and a kind of police force to uphold the law. Even with the laws there will be inner conflict. What kinds of conflict, and how that is resolved will help show what your people value.
Not all laws make sense. Not all punishments make sense. One of the most basic beliefs is ‘an eye for an eye’. You kill, you will be killed. A common one (I think it’s shown in Aladdin), is losing your hand when you steal. It’s a good arena to explore your own attitude to things like capital punishment, or how to handle overflowing prisons.
Laws may be in place that are ignored. Some laws may get followed rigidly. And sometimes laws get used to exact some kind of personal revenge or to frame people (I’m thinking witch-hunts and the Salem Witch Trials in particular here).
Some laws aren’t so much ‘laws’ but more traditions that you have to respect, such as not interrupting your elders, or taking your shoes off inside, and often come from a place of reason.
Spiritual beliefs will also come into being, with people needing something to place hope in, and something to blame for the bad times.
No matter what your personal views on religion are, at some point as your society grows people will start questioning humanity’s place in the world. There are two sides to this: what is real, and what people believe to be real. What is real, and how it interacts with the people, may influence what people believe to be real, but you don’t have to look far to find real life examples that people will believe anything. The point here is, your people’s religious beliefs don’t have to be the truth, but they will believe something. Religion plays an important role in society. The type of ‘gods’ the people will come to believe in will depend on what is important to the people. If agriculture is the centre of their lives, they will come to have gods, or spirits, or energies, that control or influence the seasons or rain or fertility of the land.
People’s beliefs will affect their relationship with the natural world. If there is a great respect for forests, or a particular forest, there won’t be mass clearing of forest to make farmland. If people rely on swampland, or have some spiritual relationship with it, they won’t drain the swamps. Etc. People may avoid settling in a place that’s considered haunted or tapu. Places that are sacred may be settled by some kind of priests, or may be avoided and feared. While it’s easy to create a people who have no respect for anything other than themselves, often the culture will be more interesting if they hold extreme respect for certain things or places. And keep in mind, people’s relationship with the natural world will affect where towns appear.
Sometimes those that rule over religion also rule over the people, so laws are the laws of the ‘gods’.
The more time that passes, so the more people their are, the higher the chance of their being clashes of cultural beliefs. Differences between cultures can vary greatly. It may be that only the gods they believe in are different, or they may completely different races with a different language as well as different beliefs. In sci-fi it would be possible to write so far in the future that all cultures have amalgamated into one, but how long this would take (and if it’s possible) would be debatable. Even if there was only one human culture, there would still be different dialects and beliefs in different regions, and these semi-cultures would be sure to interact and, at times, clash. What conflicts occur, and how they are resolved, will depend on, and affect, the peoples’ perspective on the world and those that exist in it.
Wars are all too common, and even if you are not writing about a war, it’s likely that there would have been wars in the past. In this case, there’s likely to be some kind of town fortifications or army, and even if peace is now achieved there may be some bad blood between cultures.
Language become an issue when there are more than one of them (you can delve into this area when you only have one culture, but it can be tricky to show in the story). If you’re going to start creating a language, have fun, but do some linguistics research first. I think it’s worthy of a blog post of its own so maybe I’ll do that another day. What I do suggest is if you’re going to have more than one language, then read how other authors have handled it. Misinterpretation (and mis-translation) can be fun to write, it can start wars and feuds than go on for hundreds of years, or could just provide some nice awkward moments. One fascinating thing I love about languages is that there will be words in one language that other cultures just doesn’t have an equal for (such as mana). You can try explain it or understand it, but often true understanding can only be found by native speakers.
Generally readers assume things are the same as their own world, and will continue in that belief unless you give them a reason not to, so if they know of a habitat similar to the one in their story they will probably assume the people there live in a similar way. To make your job as a writer easier, you may not want to turn your world on its head. If having something drastically different is relevant to the story, such as coastal towns that don’t fish as all the fish they catch are poisonous, and your story is set in one of these coastal towns, then have fun, but make sure you consider the impact of the change. If coastal towns don’t live off fish, then how do they survive? If the fish were always poisonous why are their coastal towns at all? It would make sense if this were the situation that the coastal towns would not be as well off as the coastal towns in our own world are. There’s always an impact, even if it seems like a small change.
Two things to keep in mind: you don’t have to know everything about your world, and you don’t have to put everything you do know into the story.
- Low energy food, need to browse (eat leaves) or graze (eat grass).
- Often are prey species
- Often live in groups (more eyes to watch for predators)
- In mammals, eyes are located more centrally along the side of the head, allowing them greater peripheral vision.
- Not generally nocturnal.
- High energy food, important in seed dispersal/pollination.
- Birds have a high metabolism and thus need to eat high energy food regularly.
- Arborel (tree living) mammals have their eyes located at the front of their head, allowing them better spatial judgement.
- Birds are diurnal.
- – High energy food, requires effort to obtain, one large meal can sustain a carnivore for several days.
- Some species live in groups – packs/prides – and hunt cooperatively for larger prey.
- In mammals, eyes usually positioned towards front of face, allowing better spatial judgement and thus better control over catching their prey.
- Many diurnal, but some nocturnal.
- High energy but need to eat a lot to sustain the animal.
- Many insectivores also occasionally eat meat or fruit.
- Generally solitary or live in pairs (especially if nocturnal as well).
- Many are nocturnal, but not all. Depends on other factors – like predators and active behaviour of the insect food sources.
- Birds are diurnal (mostly)
- The best generalists, because they can adapt to survive in most situations.
- Highly destructive when introduced into new ecosystems.
- Some are social, others solitary or live in pairs.
- Some are nocturnal, some are diurnal.
- Can be a predator, but can also be prey.
Scavengers: Eat dead things (vultures, blowflies etc)
- Work as nature’s “clean up” crew by eating things already dead – including stuff well past its expiration date.
- A very important part of the ecosystem, even if they are kinda dirty and “gross”.
- Vultures have naked heads so that they can stick their heads into the carcass without getting their feathers matted with blood – this could lead to problems with the “waterproof” qualities of their feathers and lead to them dying. They also do not have very strong talons.
- Some scavenger species are actually very effecient hunters (ie: the spotted hyena). Just as some predators rely on scavenging or stealing their kills from other hunters.
Now, how about making up your own species? Sounds like fun?
It sure is!
Here are some ways you can make your native wildlife distinctively different from those on Earth:
1. Focus on birds, reptiles or invertebrates rather than mammals
Consider a world like ours in which there are no mammals – what habitats are there for the reptiles (or birds) to fill? How might they evolve to better exploit these habitats. It might help to study island ecology – looking at places like New Zealand and Hawaii where native mammals were never prevalent. Consider changes the birds might make to fit in here – losing their ability to fly, growing bigger, living in burrows, behaving more like monkeys… etc. Another thing to consider is that mammals hunt by scent (and many have poor colour vision), whereas birds and lizards both have colour vision – so what role might this play in how the native wildlife looks? New Zealand birds are generally drab in colour – which allows them camouflage and protects them from avian predators. This defence proved ineffective when mammals were introduced, and annihilated them.
2. All vertebates on Earth have four limbs – so why not give yours six?
|Weedy Seadragon/Peacock = Weedy Seacock?|
4. Take Real World animals and alter them to fill different niches
This is particularly fun for Post-Apocalyptic variants of our own world. Okay, assuming the world faces a nuclear holocaust, or climate change or whatever it is that entirely reshapes the face of the world as we know it – what animals will survive?
Probably the hardy generalists and omnivores. The rats, the pigs, the foxes and maybe the cats. Animals such as lemurs, aardvarks and anything with a highly specialised diet or life cycle will be doomed. So, with those animals gone, and the world reverted to its wild self, how might the surviving species change to fill the niches that are left?
Speculative Zoology is fun and challenging. There are several online sites I have found, so here are a couple of links:
Also worth looking into is Douglas Dixon’s “After Man” – published in 1981, so maybe a bit hard to get nowadays. I picked mine up second hand.
And you don’t *need* to have a Post Apocalyptic setting to make this work – sometimes it is just interesting to think – how would a rabbit look were it arboreal? Or could sparrows live underground?
|From Budgerigar to Budgieraptor!|
5. Take real world animals and give them elemental powers
However, they might be mistaken for Pokemon. One thing that puzzled me with Pokemon (in the early days) was – what do they eat? Other pokemon? Later development answered this with a “yes”.
Since dragons are a mythological species with no basis on any particular real animal, authors (and artists) have had a lot of fun developing them in a variety of ways. The typical Western dragon is reptilian, huge and scaly – often with wings – and this seems to have perpetuated throughout many fantasy novels – although sometimes they have three pairs of limbs (four legs, two wings) and other times two (2 wings + 2 legs). Often they also have elemental powers.
My two favourite Western-ish dragons in literature are Patrick Rothfuss’ in “Name of the Wind” and Robin Hobb’s dragon ecology in her “Liveship Traders” series.
In most novels, when a human bonds with a dragon, the two are able to communicate either via telepathy or verbally. This was nicely avoided in the movie of “How to Train your Dragon” which is one of the many things that made that movie original and wonderful.
I personally have several dragon characters, none of which resemble this phenotype:
Rhapsody the Sea Dragon (top)
There are NUMEROUS tropes used in fantasy for designing new species, I have engaged in intensive research at tvtropes to bring you a summary of some of their most relevant ones:
Call a Rabbit a “Smerp”: Which refers to taking standard critters and giving them unusual and original names. This can be especially effective if the Writer wishes to convey an otherworldlyness to their story, or set the culture of the protagonists separate from the typical one. I, for example, generally have used the Malagasy names for the variety of lemur species featuring in my stories, as I feel this adds to the authenticity – as the Malagasy people were there first (likewise, I always list the Maori names on my NZ animal illustrations, when I can find them). It can give the ordinary a somewhat fantastical feel.
Call a “Smerp” a Rabbit: Which refers to having bizarre a variations on the typical – such as giant riding lizards or small wild birds but referring to them as their Earth equivalent – leading to confusion and disorientation on the part of the Reader. If your “cows” are really stocky dragons that eat grass, it might be best to find another name for them. If you do wish to go this route, make it very clear from the start that your cows are not like our cows! This is found in reality too, when early explorers named everything based on what they previously knew – hence the presence of “robins” and “wrens” in New Zealand, despite the fact that they are not closely related to the European birds by the same name.
For more tropes (and before I get off topic) – visit this page here.