Supplies for Productive Fantasy Writing

Writing isn’t just about typing on a computer or scribbling some sentences on a notebook – it’s a wholesome process, a consuming project, a work of art that needs supplies and careful preparation to achieve its perfection. There are slow writers and there are fast writers – but the one thing that makes a good writer is constant production. I am talking about sticking to a plan and a schedule and having a work station that provides maximum inspiration and efficiency.

  1. Buy a cork board or whiteboard. Having one of these near your writing desk is crucial for productive writing. I keep my writing plan (more about this on a later post) on the top of my board and I fill the rest with important information that regards the book I am working on – a printed world map; a bunch of artwork that portrays my characters and landscapes; quotes and dialogue excerpts; my writing goal for the week, etc.
  2. Carry a good notebook around. I keep a Moleskine with me all the time and whenever I come up with an idea I will quickly write it and pin it to my board later. It’s important to safeguard the random ideas and thoughts regarding your book – these are what I call immediate thinking – these ideas are very different from the ones that you are forcing out whenever you’re brainstorming; they will always be much more creative and intelligent.
  3. Keep a dictionary nearby. If you prefer the old-school 1500 page tome, be my guest. However, in my opinion, google translate works as a charm nowadays and I always keep it open on my desktop whenever I’m typing. It’s fast, mostly accurate and efficient. What more could I want?
  4. Have a printer at hand. If you don’t have a printer at home, simply create a folder in your computer to store all documents that need later printing. However, if you do have a printer at home, make sure it’s close to your writing desk. Fantasy writing, as mentioned in previous blog posts, requires a lot of worldbuilding and the better way to quickly access your work and write some notes and modifications is to actually print them and study them.
  5. This is also a good time to invest in a good binder and some plastic dividers.

I normally use my dividers to separate writing and worldbuilding topics concerning the story I am working on. There are five primary subjects, but you can add as many as you wish.

a)The first divider usually has the basic information on my story – timelines, maps, appendixes and terminology.

b)I use the second divider to gather all information concerning the world my characters live in – this is actually basic information, like climate, language, customs, religious practices, holidays, etc.

c)The third divider is all about History – for each one of my novels (and when I mean novel, I automatically point towards the concept of the world the novel surrounds) I have a rigorous historical background that normally involves the creation of the world I describe and goes through the evolution of mankind and other magical races until we reach the timeline of the story line. This should be as detailed as possible – it’s pure, concise worldbuilding. Even if you don’t show all of it (and you should never, ever, show more than 30% of this historical background throughout your book), it will feed your imagination and offer you a sense of cohesion.

d)My fourth divider is about the story line itself. I try to detail it in the best way possible and I make shorter and lengthier versions, depending on the quantity of detail I would need. I make a single page plan with a rough plot line and then I start developing chapters, adding as much detail as possible.

e)The fifth divider is all about characters –back stories, physical descriptions, portraits, interviews, psychological traits, you name it. It will all be needed whenever you need to give a certain character more or less depth.

6. If you think music inspires you, plug your headphones in your laptop or buy some mini-columns and create a playlist with songs that can act as soundtrack for your story. Basic examples for fantasy writing are the soundtracks of Lord of the Rings, God of War, Final Fantasy saga, the Gladiator movie or the Avatar movie.

~Happy Writing!

The First Steps in Creating your Story

It’s 1 a.m; you are sitting at you desk, dumbfounded by this sudden, incredible idea that just popped up in your head. You pick up a pen and a few sheets of paper but you have no idea where to start – where do all the concepts that you just imagined fit into one cohesive story?

The only way to deal with your unorganized thoughts is to physically organize yourself. If you come up with an idea for a story, find a personal space where you know you can easily reach your supplies, a laptop and even a printer. This is specially important concerning fantasy stories – the amount of worldbuilding you need to do needs much more than a boring narrative – it needs maps, pictures, calendars, appendixes and family trees. Of course you won’t put all of that in your published book (although many writers select some of that preparatory material to help their readers through the reading process) but you need to keep that written and drawn worldbuilding at hand’s reach.

I believe that an idea takes five important baby steps before developing into the promise of a story.  They are:

1- Write what you’ve already gotten – If you suddenly wanted to write a story is because there was something in your mind that lead you to it. Take a first piece of paper and write down the things that popped in your mind and urged you to write. Was it an image? Describe it. Was it a sentence, a word, perhaps a quote? Write it down in the center of the page. If you were inspired by someone, briefly describe that person. Do the same with any symbolic image or thought that triggered the story: describe it, draw it, give it attention as the center of the plot.

2- Brainstorm – Look at that first sheet of paper and analyse what you’ve got there. That first page is the Egg. It’s your everything, your first love. Never forget that page because the development of a novel can easily make you forget what lead you to it in the first place. After analyzing the wonderful premise in your Egg, take a second piece of paper. This is your brainstorm sheet. Write words, sentences, anything and everything that can inspire you. It can be and historical event, anime characters, a videogame battle system, even food. You’ll end up with two kinds of words: a bunch of ordinary words (apple, lighthouse, evening star) and a bunch of processed words, terms that are actually relevant and have a meaning of their own (e.g. “Napoleon”, “The War of the Roses”, “Sephiroth”, “King Arthur”, “The Elves”).

3- Simplify and Complicate: your next task is to pick up a third piece of paper. Look at the words that you’ve brainstormed and think about the ones that are the most meaningful to you and also the ones that, however simple, seem to contribute to your story’s idea the most. Write down those words in a list and leave some space between them. Now, you have to simplify and complicate. The rule is simple: remember those common and ordinary words? Try to complicate their meaning and turn them into something that can be transferred into your plot. Try to do the opposite with the processed words – simplify them in thought and turn them into ordinary things.

An apple is such a common word, but it’s the prop that makes Snow White a relevant story. Actually, the poisoned apple is the symbol of the story in its whole. Do you want a practical example? Think about the word “shoes” – shoes are something that we give for granted, and of course no one would ever write a story about shoes… right? Well, what if there was a distant kingdom where the use of shoes was forbidden? The monarch created that measure to prevent peasants from accessing certain parts of the city where he made his necromantic experiments. However, when a boy was able to make a pair of shoes from two pieces of wood, he could pass through a spike-hole and access a dungeon where he caught the king resurrecting the dead. There you have: a simple story idea created from the word “shoes”.

4- During simplify and complicate, you’ll find out that as you develop those words into plot-relevant concepts, some other words won’t fit into the picture at all. Of course you’ll have to discard those ones and that’s when the anagram comes in.  Take a fourth piece of paper and start making a scheme where everything comes together. Perhaps you should write the name of your world (if you’ve figured it out already) in the center and make a spider anagram for any other terms that you come across. This is important because there are parts of your story that don’t connect at all and you should have a distinct image that shows you what influences other parts and what doesn’t.

Perhaps you have written down the names of two characters but they are supposed to never meet. If so, you have to figure out what concepts are important in their development and which aren’t and if there are any ones in common, you need to have the clear notion that if one is influenced by that concept, the other character will be as well.

E.g: you have two characters, one named Miriam and other named Lucas. Miriam and Lucas don’t know each other but they were both born in the same town, Orville; meanwhile, Lucas lives in City A and Miriam lives in City B. If City B was burned down, Miriam would be sad but Lucas wouldn’t; the same would happen if City A was burned down. However, if Orville was burned down, both Miriam and Lucas would be sad and maybe that event could bring them together – perhaps they went to the ruins of the town to find their lost families and bump into each other on the road.

5- Start your timeline. This is a rough timeline and further through your story’s development, you will need to have a timeline for your plot and a timeline for your world, figuring all the major and minor events that shaped the society you imagined into the way it is today. However, you’re still dealing with the baby steps in your story and what you need to do now is figure out when do those concepts meet and why do they meet the time they do.

When was Miriam born? When was Lucas born? Is their difference of ages relevant to the fact that they never met? When did both decide to leave their hometown, Orville? When was Orville burned down? When did Miriam and Lucas find out about its destruction? Did they decide to visit Orville’s ruins at the same time? If they met in Orville was it because there was some kind of delay on Lucas’s journey (e.g. bandits)? If Lucas was attacked by bandits on the road, when did it happen?

When you have your five pieces of paper together (they can be more than five pieces of paper, since they are organized into the five sections that I mentioned), just staple them together. You have to staple them because you can never, ever lose track of those first and simple ideas. They are the foundation for your story. Sometimes during a novel’s development, a writer thinks that his first ideas were too dull and ends up scraping his first love. When this happens, he will have a very complex and detailed plot and when he tries to re-make those baby steps, they will not fit into the world and the story he has already build. The result? The writer will throw it all in the garbage can. Keep your first love with you. That’s the key to a novel’s success.

~Happy Writing!

The Basics: The Three-Act Structure

The three act structure is a method of structuring and organizing your story that was first mentioned by Aristotle and has been one of the most important and basic techniques that surround fiction writing. Aristotle first came up with the idea that all stories needed a beginning, a middle and an end. Throughout the years, writers and authors all around the world have adapted this concept and transformed it into the three-act structure, a division of your plot that consists on three large pieces of the story, separated by a major or relevant event that, as some believe, should always be a disaster.

Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy, two award-winning and best-selling authors, swear by this rule. In their book, “Writing Fiction for Dummies”, they describe the three-act structure as follows:

Act 1 takes up roughly the first quarter and ends with a major disaster. The first disaster comes at the end of Act 1 and links it to Act 2.

Act 2 takes up the second and third quarters, and each quarter ends with an even worse disaster. The second disaster comes at the midpoint of Act 2 (ending the second quarter) and serves as an antidote to what people often call the sagging middle. The third disaster strikes at the end of Act 2 (ending the third quarter) and links it to Act 3.

Act 3 takes up the last quarter and includes a climax (also called a resolution), which answers the story question — the question of whether your lead character will succeed. The climax typically falls late in the fourth quarter, and everything after it serves to wind down the story.

But why is the three-act structure so important? We can consider the three-act structure a fundamental tenet for both the writer and the reader. For the writer, it is the most helpful way to clarify your ideas, letting you hold the main points of your story and letting you assess the amount of drama and emotion that your plot contains. For the reader, it’s the disassembly of the story in three acts that balances the emotional “bumps” that the story delivers – before each disaster, tension rises, thrilling the readers and leading them to read the story through their own excitement to discover what comes next. After the disaster, there is moment of inactivity, where the characters “evaluate the damage” that the disaster induced; it is also the best moment to introduce the barren and necessary parts of the plot, mostly the ones where you explain a character’s background or probe a character’s feelings.

But how can you quickly delineate your own three-act structure? I will use Randy Ingermanson’s exercise, since it’s the simplest and clearest I could find:

1. Write a first sentence that introduces one or more characters and sets up the conflict.  Name your principal characters and tell any essential information. You may even include key backstory details.

2. Write three sentences, each describing a major disaster in your story.  The three disasters should be from a single character’s point of view, usually the lead character’s.

3. Write a final sentence that explains how you resolve the story.  If you don’t reveal the details of the resolution, you should at least give some clear hints about how the story question will be answered.

4. Rework the sentence containing your first disaster, adding in the decision that sets the story goal.

5. Rework the sentence containing your third disaster, explaining why it forces the final confrontation.

6. Polish the entire paragraph until it flows naturally.

7. Save your one-paragraph summary in a safe place and come back to it periodically and make sure that it actually describes the story you’re writing.

In future posts, I’ll explain the best and fool-proof ways to make any storyline succeed – I’ll go deep into the three-act structure and teach you how to make the best out of the beginning, end and disasters of your plot.

~Happy writing!