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Progress Report 16-07-2018

My apologies for the lack of updates over the past month. I have been grappling with the second draft of Divine Interference, which will be the sequel to Divine AssistanceThere was a certain amount of wrangling involved since certain short stories decided to be more troublesome than I would have liked. Oh well. That’s how writing is. Sometimes, everything just works, and then there are those times where you charge into battle with your proverbial lance only to find that you’re tilting not at a windmill but at a tank – a tank with lasers and missiles and all that wonderful stuff.

On the upside, the second draft has now been completed. It weighs in at roughly 77,000 words, which is a roughly 50% increase in length over the first draft. That might seem crazy, but my first draft is almost always a combination of a normal draft and a skeleton draft. As a result, I’ve come to expect substantial increases in length between the first and second drafts.

I’m aiming for a release some time in September, hopefully sooner rather than later.

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Necessary Detail

One of the most difficult things to do as a writer is to decide which details to include in a scene. For the most part, you can’t simply include every single possible detail in each scene. It simply isn’t feasible. Not only would the reader probably get bored but your story would also become obnoxiously long. Instead, you need to focus on necessary details.

But what does ‘necessary’ mean? One way to think about it is to consider the following points:

  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Setting

If something is relevant to the plot, characters, or setting, then including it is probably a good idea.

Let’s start with details related to the plot. Although readers often like to be surprised, they do not usually enjoy being completely directionless. If a detail is relevant to the plot, then it is often best to include it. You don’t have to spoil any surprises by being too obvious about it. You can be subtle. For instance, if you’re writing a mystery novel where the murder weapon is a spoon, you could include a small mention of a spoon on the dining table or in the sink. That’s all. Yet just including that small mention will prevent the reader from feeling as though they’re being blindsided when the truth is revealed.

Details that help build up the characterisation of a character are also good to include. You might think that a two-page-long description of a character’s wardrobe and haircut might be going overboard, but such a description could be perfect for portraying a character who pays an obsessive level of attention to their appearance. What you describe isn’t the only important thing. How you describe it is important. Including the minutiae of a seemingly normal hairstyle only adds to the feeling of obsessiveness.

Another instance in which including plenty of details can help is when it comes to fleshing out the setting for a story. If you’re writing a story set in a very well known place, you can probably avoid going into extreme detail. However, if you’ve invented a brand-new world that is utterly alien and different from the real world, then going into detail about it will increase how immersive it feels to the reader. For example, just saying that there is a world full of volcanoes and deserts is one thing, adding rich descriptions of the plant life, animals, and terrain really makes the setting come to life in a way that a briefer description might not.

When it comes to deciding which details you should include in a scene, it pays to ask yourself ‘what are these details doing?’. If adding more details can add to the plot, the characters, on the setting, then it may very well be worthwhile to include those extra details. However, if you’re simply going into greater detail to pad out of the word count, then you are likely better off adopting a more concise approach.

If you want to read more about my thoughts on writing, education, and other subjects, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find here.

World Building #1 – Logical Consequences

There are many different ways to approach world building, and you will undoubtedly find that some of them work better for you than others. What I’ll be doing in this series of posts is to go through some of the approaches that have worked for me.

The first approach that I’ll be covering is the logical consequences approach. The core of this approach is to start with a premise, usually one related to the setting, and to explore the logical consequences of that premise. In other words, to build your world, you start off by deciding what some of the core elements of that world are. You then expand on those core elements by examining what consequences those core elements would have on your world and its inhabitants

Now, that might sound a bit complicated, but it’s actually not that complex an idea once you’ve had a chance to look at an example. So let’s go over two examples.

Example #1

Premise: You are writing a fantasy story set on a world where freezing temperatures are the norm.

Now, that’s not a lot of detail, but you can add details by looking at some of the logical consequences:

  • Fire magic (or other magic that produces and controls heat) would be extremely valuable and great efforts would be made to cultivate and develop it.
  • Some species would have a natural advantage (e.g., dragons with their innate heat) whilst others would struggle to survive (e.g., tree folk and elves) due to the impact the bitter cold would have on their natural environments.
  • If possible, cities and other settlements would be built in areas sheltered from the cold. For instance, cities might be built deep underground to take advantage of geothermal heat, or they could be built upon leylines of magical power to allow for magic-based heating systems.
  • Travel would be extremely difficult and dangerous with blizzards, avalanches, and just the cold presenting formidable obstacles to travel. Most people would live their whole lives in the same settlement although a caste might develop that specialised in traversing the frozen wilds.

Notice how all four of the points given above could be seen as logical consequences of living in a world where freezing temperatures are the norm. To build your world, all you need to do is to start linking these points together to form a more cohesive narrative while fleshing those points out adds further detail and depth to the world the story is set in.

How about something like this?

The story would focus on a young boy, Arthur, who grows up in the city of Everflame. The city is one of the largest in the world, and it is built inside the crater of a volcano that is kept in check by the powerful magic of the city’s pyromancers. The early parts of the story could offer a more in-depth look at the architectural and magical adaptations required for the city to function, as well as explore the details of pyromancy and the schools where pyromancers are trained.

However, harnessing the power of the volcano is not without disadvantages. Creatures are drawn to its warmth, and although some of these are fairly harmless (e.g., salamanders of varying sizes), others are far more dangerous (e.g., dragons). Thus the city must not only be wary of attacks from other settlements but also of attacks from powerful monsters. At this point, you could delve into the history of past conflicts, describing some of the wars that have taken place for control of the volcano, as well as some of the beasts that have laid siege to the city. This then leads to the next point quite nicely.

After a legendary dragon breaks through the city’s defences and lays waste to Everflame, Arthur and many others are forced to flee into the frozen wastelands around the city. One by one, they perish, either from the cold or from the predators that skulk amongst the ice and snow. More world building could be done here by describing the various dangers and how helpless most people are against them.

Eventually, Arthur is rescued by a Wayfarer, a person who does not live inside a settlement but who instead spends their life travelling from settlement to settlement. This is an ideal place for world building. You could describe the roles played by Wayfarers (e.g., messengers, merchants, etc.) and the various skills they have mastered in order to survive in a place where most people would perish. More details into the Wayfarers could be provided as Arthur spends several years with the Wayfarer, learning from them and mastering their ways.

Eventually, Arthur grows into a young man, and he resolves to return to the ruins of Everflame, so he can defeat the dragon and avenge his people. Of course, he won’t be able to do this alone. He needs to gather help, and this is where you can do even more world building by introducing various other characters.

For example, elves have all but vanished since the cold wiped out their forests. However, Arthur could run into one, and he could learn that the world was not always caught in a seemingly endless winter. There were once spring and summers, and there were once lush forests where the elves lived in far greater numbers. Even this backstory for the elves is a logical consequence of the premise. If the present environment is so hostile to elves, there must have been a more favourable one at some point, or they would have either died out or never existed in the first place.

As you can see, the four points given earlier can function as a skeleton around which to build not only your world but also your story. Linking them together creates the story. Fleshing them out creates the world the story is set in.

Example #2

Premise: You are writing a science fiction story in which faster-than-light travel involves travelling through hyperspace… which just so happens to be a nightmare dimension.

I’ll admit that it’s a little bleak, but let’s see where we can go with it.

  • Travelling through hyperspace without adequate preparations is basically a death sentence.
  • Interstellar travel is far less common and much more dangerous and expensive.
  • There are constant efforts to develop alternate means of faster-than-light travel.

This time, we’ve only got three logical consequences to work with, but you can still build a rich, engaging world and story by fleshing out and linking together these points.

What might such a story and world look like?

You could go with a story detailing humanity’s attempts to colonise space despite the problems posed by hyperspace.

The best place to begin would be with the initial experiments involving hyperspace travel. Since the pilots and crew of the vessel would be totally unprepared, they would all be horribly mangled and killed by what are basically demons that lurk in hyperspace. World building could be done by not only describing the events but also by having the footage and other records recovered from the doomed vessel analysed by other characters. You could even explore humanity’s reasons for wanting to leave Earth (e.g., some kind of apocalypse).

Subsequent attempts would reveal more and more information as different creatures from hyperspace are encountered and means to fight them are finally found. A breakthrough moment would be the very first mission to re-enter regular space with its crew alive after travelling through hyperspace. This would then lead to the next segment of the story, the colonisation of other star systems.

If interstellar travel is so dangerous, then it is only natural that it will be more expensive and less common. As a result, people will spend far more time on the world of their birth, as opposed to zipping around from planet to planet. Logically, if the only way to get through a hyperspace journey alive is to fight your way through it, then the most sensible means of colonisation would involve ships capable of transporting massive numbers of troops and civilians at the same time. This would reduce the number of trips necessary and ensure the survival of the colonists.

The societies of different planets could be explored in some detail since their cultures would be much more varied due to there being less contact between different colonies. This would provide many opportunities for world building as you could explore how each colony deals with the challenges it faces (e.g., some colonies might have to do terraforming, some might have to deal with dangerous wildlife, and still others might have to deal with mutiny and the like). You could also delve into the organisation and culture of the military used to safeguard trips through hyperspace.

Humans are inventive creatures, so the later part of the story could focus on humanity’s attempts to find a way around this problem. There is great scope here for world building as you explore different attempts to circumvent hyperspace. Some might come close to success whilst others could end in total disaster (e.g., by having hyperspace spill into regular space, unleashing hordes of demons into a settlement). The end of the story might have humanity finally succeeding, ushering in a golden age of expansion.

As you can see both the story and the world it is set in can be constructed using the three points given above. Individually, each of the points is fairly simple, a mere logical consequence of the premise, but together they are so much more. They are the foundation upon which the story and the world it is set in are built.

Summary

All stories are based on premises, many of which are related to the setting. By exploring the logical consequences of these premises, you can come up with a number of ideas around which to base your story and the world it is set in. Linking together the points can help you to develop the story. Fleshing out those points can help make the world your story is set in come to life.

For instance, if your world necessitates the development of pyromancy, then don’t stop there. Talk about what pyromancy is and how it is taught. Talk about the roles pyromancers play in society and how they interact with other important factions (e.g., politicians). Take your simple logical consequence and keep asking questions and adding details. What? Why? How? When? Where? These are the questions you need to ask that can turn a dot point into a cornerstone of your world.

World building is a crucial skill, especially in genres like fantasy and science fiction. Finding the right approach to world building can make your life as a writer so much easier and more rewarding. Hopefully, the logical consequences approach works for you. If it doesn’t, then perhaps the next approach I cover will.

If you want to read more about my thoughts on writing, education, and other subjects, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find here.

Progress Report 17-06-2018

I just thought I’d let you guys know what I’m up to. I am currently working on the sequel to Divine Assistance. It currently consists of fourteen stories. So far, I’ve done the first draft, which has a total of roughly 56, 000 words. I expect that number to rise as I move into the second draft.

Words Aren’t All That Matter

When it comes to public speaking, what you say isn’t always as important as how you say it. You could have the most brilliant and insightful speech imaginable, but if your delivery is lacklustre, the odds are good that you’ll be ignored. This doesn’t really sound fair – and it isn’t – but successful public speaking means dealing with this unfortunate reality.

Perhaps the most obvious feature of your speech that people will latch onto is the speed with which you speak. If you speak too quickly, you can come across as either over-excited or extremely nervous, neither of which tends to give the most favourable impression. If you speak too slowly, however, you can be perceived as hesitant or unsure. The key is to find a pace somewhere in the middle, one that conveys thoughtfulness and self-assurance. As you can imagine, striking this balance isn’t easy. It comes down to a combination of experience and feedback. It may not be pleasant asking people to tell you if you’re speaking too quickly or too slowly, but it can definitely help.

Pauses are also an important part of public speaking. A pause not only gives you the ability to emphasise points by allowing them to stand on their own but it also gives your audience time to digest what you’ve said. Simply throwing point after point after point at your audience will mentally exhaust them. Give them a break with a brief period of silence. It doesn’t have to be long. Even a few seconds can be enough. Periods of silence can also be used to emphasise eye contact and to transition between any audiovisual aids you might have.

Posture is also key. You don’t have to have perfect posture. In fact, there are times when slouching may even be aid your cause, but you need to understand that the way you hold yourself impacts the audience. Leaning casually against the lectern or adopting a more relaxed posture can help put the audience at ease. This is especially true in situations where the audience might be expecting (or dreading) a more ham-fisted or authoritarian approach. However, adopting a more upright and stern posture can be helpful if you wish to impress upon people the gravity and importance of the situation. Being able to adjust your posture is another tool you can use to adjust how the audience responds to you.

Variations in tone, rhythm, and pacing are also essential. Listen to a conversation, and you will notice that the tone, rhythm and pacing of the participants vary throughout. A good speech will often feel more like a conversation than a lecture. Even if you are the only one speaking, people will respond to changes in tone, rhythm, and pacing. Do you want people to feel excited? Without going overboard, you can communicate your excitement to them with a slight increase in how quickly you talk or how animatedly you gesture. These needn’t be extravagant. People are extremely good at noticing these things, even if they aren’t always aware of it. Likewise, slowing down, drawing out each syllable, can be used to emphasise the horror or gravity of something. Equally importantly, these variations will stop a speech from feeling monotonous and will help to keep people attentive and engaged.

Gestures are also powerful tools at your disposal. Powerful words accompanied by fitting gestures are far more effective than those words delivered alone. These gestures don’t have to be large and theatrical. Something as simple as a shake of the head or the crossing of your arms can add so much to words. Likewise, simply tapping the lectern with your hand can do the same. There is, of course, a place for theatrical gestures, but keep in mind that few speeches will necessitate such exaggerated gestures, particularly if the venue you are speaking in is reasonably small.

A good speech is far more than the presentation of good words. It is a complete performance. And I choose the word ‘performance’ very deliberately. A good speaker, like a good performer, delivers more than words. How they say those words is every bit as important as what they say.

If you want to read more about my thoughts on writing, education, and other subjects, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find here.

Looking Back To Help You Move Forward

It can be very easy to lose sight of the improvement you make to your writing. This is especially true for incremental improvements. In the same way that someone going through a growth spurt might not realise just how much they’ve grown until after they’ve stopped growing, so too can someone who is constantly improving their writing not realise how much they’ve improved until they’ve had a chance to look back on their previous efforts.

Improving your writing can often seem like a monumental task. Writing isn’t always easy, and there are so many possible areas to improve in. It takes a lot of time and effort, and all too often, it can seem as though no progress is being made. It is thus incredibly important to stay motivated. If you can’t stay motivated, you probably won’t be able to get through the hard slog involved in real improvement.

This is where looking back on your old writing can help. Admittedly, it can be vaguely horrifying. I’ve certainly written things in the past that are less than stellar. However, it can also be wonderfully motivating. Things like the increased smoothness of your writing, the growth of your vocabulary, the honing of your sentence composition, and even the improvement in your character development and dialogue are all changes that tend to occur incrementally. Sometimes, the individual changes are so small that you don’t notice them as they taking place, even if they can add up to truly significant change. But although you may not notice them at the time, I have little doubt that you’ll notice them if you read through something you wrote a while ago.

So take the time every now and then to go through your old writing. It might make you cringe, but it can also serve as a powerful reminder of how far you’ve come… and how much further you can still go if you’re willing to put in the hard work.

If you want to read more about my thoughts on writing, education, and other subjects, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find here.

Happy Mother’s Day

A Happy Mother’s Day to everyone.

And a most Happy Mother’s Day to my mother.

Did you know that the very first short story I ever wrote involved space pirates, grenades, and people being thrown out of airlocks? I was… four or five, I think. My mother, wonderful mother that she was, barely batted an eye at the fact that her young child was writing something that involved space-pirate-related murder. Instead, she was happy that I was writing a story of my own.

Best mother ever.