Do you have writer’s block? Is it something you struggle with sometimes? Most of the time? All of the time?
It might help to know that you aren’t alone.
At least, that’s what so many blogs, articles, and advice columns out there would have you believe. Right before they try to convince you of the “1 simple trick to overcome writer’s block” that they, and only they, can impart.
I would formally like to call bullsh*t on this trend.
One of the things that writers are supposed to be good at is describing people. Not just how they look or what they say, but their motivations, emotions, and inner workings. A character is flat (a Mary Sue/Stu), potentially unrelatable and unlikable, if the writer can’t bring these untangibles to life on the page.
So how is a writer supposed to become good at such a task? As the many bad books I’ve read over the years can attest to, it certainly is not a skill that all writers possess. (While I wouldn’t say I’m great at it, it is something that is always in the back of my mind as I write)
Well there are countless books full of “tips and tricks”, lists of personality traits, analytical examinations of human behaviour, and rules to follow. I’ve read some of them. Sometimes they’re helpful, other times not so much. What you get from them is going to depend on what book you pick up, and what your own needs are. So what other options are there?
So twice now I’ve written about creating a fictional race/species. The first, on March 21st, was about the very basics. The second, on April 2nd, was about fleshing out the rest of the physical aspects. Today I’m going to talk about the finishing touches.
What exactly does that entail?
Well, what are the social structures? How does the race teach its young? What sort of jobs/occupations/responsibilities are there? How do they decide who gets which job? How do they treat their young, the old, and the infirm? Do they have a system that recognizes status?
All of these questions can apply to every type of race/species you create.
But how do you go about tackling them?
So on March 21st I talked about creating a race/species, and covered all the basic physical stuff. Number of heads, eyes, arms, etc. This is good (obviously), but it’s really only the start. You also need to know things like:
- How does it move?
- What does it eat?
- How does it defend itself?
- How does it mate/attract a mate?
- Where does it live?
These less obvious physical attributes of a creature are just as important as the actual physical appearance. This is what takes it from being a lump of clay, or a puppet, and makes it alive. Of course, you need a little more to make it a fully fleshed out creature, but that’s what the April 14th post is going to be about.
There are numerous different examples of races within fiction. There are the ever popular elves and dwarves, the traditionally villainous orcs and goblins, and the potentially badass dragons and griffins. With a hundred other possible examples that I could give, it’s easy to find pre-defined fantasy races to populate your fictional world. But is that what you want to do?
I’m not asking because I want to dissuade you. It can be huge help to use a pre-established race within your world. Rather than having to explain and justify why this particular set of people are long-lived, live in trees, are in-tune with nature, and elegantly sophisticated, you can just say “elves” and everybody gets it. You can even use less common variants of elves (small, mischievous, and magical) and people are still going to approach your story ready and willing to accept that this race of people look, act, and think a certain way. HUUUUGE time-saver.
This is a brief discussion paper I wrote on parenting styles. It’s only a single page long, but might spark some ideas or discussion for people. Additionally, when writing about how characters interact with children (either their own, or others) -or how child characters interact with the adults around them- it might be helpful to think about the styles of parenting. While nature and nurture are still much debated, it can help to think of characters as a core collection of behaviours, impulses, and tendencies (nature) that have been shaped and modified by their environment (nurture).
Does a character’s actions make sense with the backstory you’ve given them? Would a rebellious princess really lash out and run away with a permissive parent figure that gave in to their every demand? Do the parent figures act consistently? (If a permissive father gives in to every demand the princess makes, it doesn’t make sense for him to turn around and demand she do something)
So tomorrow is Remembrance Day. While it’s supposed to be a day that we remember the sacrifices made by veterans, and specifically the end of WWI, I find it’s also a good day to just remember the past in general. And because it’s November and National Novel Writing Month, I’m going to talk a little bit about creating back stories for our characters. (Plus I’ll have an excerpt from my novel for you at the end of this post)