Writing

Behold…Some Useful Tips for Worldbuilding in Writing

Image from Pixabay

Do you currently write or want to write speculative fiction stories? Yes to either? Then let’s get rolling.

But before that, if you don’t know what speculative fiction is, it’s science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. For you, horror fans out there, unfortunately, I am not fond of it. Therefore, I don’t know much about creating horror fiction. However, these worldbuilding tips I am about to provide can apply to all speculative fiction genres. So, without further ado, here are some helpful tips for worldbuilding.

1: Be original as much as possible, but also incorporate believability

The second part of that tip is, perhaps, the most important. If you write any genre of fiction, everything should be believable. Of course, you can still have unrealistic elements, like magic, if you’re writing fantasy. But even then, there has to be limits on what things can and can’t do. And your characters should handle the situations the way real people would.

As for originality, it should sound like it comes from you. It’s still okay to use existing elements, like aliens, elves, and so on, depending on your story and intentions. However, a good number of people are tired of certain types of characters, archetypes, and tropes. That is when they’re considered cliches. When I developed the fantastical elements in my books, I actually made up pretty much all the enchanted creatures. The only types I used that were already existing were wizards and a skeleton. Obviously, all the characters are my own creations. But I think you should get the idea at this point.

2: Have limits on unrealistic elements

If you’re writing fantasy, for example, have limits on what wizardry can and cannot do. If you can’t fit them all or even any in a section of your work, then say, at the very least, that there are limits. Otherwise, readers will make their own assumptions about the magic laws in your story, including that there are few to no limits. This actually happened to me with a couple of editors. One thought the only limits in my book’s world were the ones I mentioned. Another thought that there were none at all and obsessed over it during several pages of when I introduced magic laws into my first book, just because the possibilities happened to be relevant. But that is not true at all. I even told that editor that there were lots of limits. They just were not relevant at that point. Then they said that I didn’t need to mention the limits up front, and they thanked me.

It is pretty annoying for readers to make their own assumptions over things not specified, especially since they don’t own the stories. In fact, I think it’s kind of dishonest. I don’t think they should do that at all. Sadly, people do things they shouldn’t do, and very often. But no one’s perfect. So, when you develop your speculative fiction world, remember to state that there are limits.

3: Be creative

As a writer, you should have a creative mindset. Yes, there will be times when you experience writer’s block. But when you don’t, you can use as much as your imagination as possible as long as you consider the above tips. Also, think about your own passions and if you can incorporate them into your work.

For example, I love fantasy, but I also love modern technology and life. So, I combined both elements in my books, where wizards use enchanted technology. Of course, I make it believable and give it limits.

So, there you have it. If you’re a novice or beginner in these genres or writing, give yourself some time. These tips will take years for you to execute well. But you will get there as long as you practice as frequently as possible.

If you’ve been writing great content for years, then you might already know these. But it wouldn’t hurt to expand your horizon.

art

Character Design: What I Learned and Even Discovered Recently

You haven’t seen an art post in a while. That’s because I haven’t been doing a lot of it these days. However, there is something about it that I discovered quite recently. Obviously, it’s about character design. You want to know what it is?

It’s how I was better at it at age 13 than at age 23 in 2017. Okay, you may be looking at me like I have 4 heads. And at the time 3 years ago, when I was 23 and finishing college, I didn’t realize or think of it. But I could portray characters more accurately, based on their personalities, when I was just 13 years old.

Well, they weren’t my own characters. They came from the “Harry Potter” series. At that age, I enjoyed the franchise very much to the point that I did fan art of it. But most of it was silly and the characters did things they would never do. However, that’s a different story.

Aside from the wackiness, I also drew the characters alone, with facial expressions based on their personalities. Below is an example.

I must applaud myself for drawing (movie) Snape pretty well when I was 13. I also liked to use arrows to direct at the characters, which I don’t think is conventional in character design. But I could be wrong for some companies or designers.

Ten years later, in my final semester of college, I took an illustration course. One of the things we had to learn was character design. However, I just drew characters in stock poses. The example below is a replica I did of when we had to design characters for a comedic live-action TV show since I don’t have the original anymore.

It wasn’t this sloppy. I just did it from memory. Plus, I haven’t been doing a lot of art these days. I’m hoping my skills aren’t deteriorating.

Anyway, that above is supposed to be Megan from “Drake and Josh.” I used a simplistic style since I felt it was appropriate for a slapstick comedy. But when we did a class critique, somebody pointed out that I could have given her a more sinister look based on her personality and traits.

If you’ve seen “Drake and Josh,” you know that Megan pulls pranks on her older brothers, but her parents find her innocent. So, a wicked smile would have been more suitable.

Another assignment we had to do was illustrate a story that Disney did not adapt. I picked “Perseus and Medusa.” Just like with the other assignment, I drew the characters in stock poses again. Even though I don’t have it anymore, I illustrated Perseus with a default smile on his face. That was when I learned not to do that anymore.

So, from that point on, I portrayed the characters more accurately based on their traits. Below is an example of another character from the same Greek myth.

For those who don’t know, Polydectes was an evil King in “Perseus and Medusa.” This is why I drew him the way I did.

If you are interested in learning character design, it is important to know as much about them as possible for you to illustrate them for whatever project you work on. Even if it’s only for personal use, these tips could come in handy.

Writing

My Reaction to an Article About Setting Stories Now and What I Think You Can Do About it

Ugh! This pandemic is killing me and us all. I want to get back to full straightforward life ASAP! Okay, I don’t blog about things like this.

However, I did come across an article on BookBaby about “the elephant in the room.” The article talked about setting your story now in 2020, despite the pandemic.

It gave an example from an old story, but twisted on it where a character had to practice social distancing and stay 6 feet apart from others. The post said that there are a lot of complications with setting your story this year. Your characters would have to follow pandemic guidelines, but that could interfere with your plot. The author also said that you shouldn’t have the characters live completely typical lives, such as dining out or partying.

The person advised against setting the stories in the future since no one knows what will happen. I agree with that one. But he or she also said that you shouldn’t set it in the past since it would be unsatisfactory. However, I don’t agree with that one, especially if you only backdate by one or two years. If contemporary settings matter so much, I would still consider 2019 and even 2018 to be pretty contemporary. I think setting your stories then should be totally fine. After all, if your characters need to live normal, typical lives, then setting it one or two years before now should be understandable and even important. That is when setting a story in a certain year plays a crucial part. But I think writers should get to set their stories whenever they want. I wrote another post about that, though.

So, unless your story is centered around Covid-19, or is set in a made-up world (i.e. a make-believe planet in science-fiction or a different magical land or world in fantasy), I think it is best to set it in 2019 or 2018. Or, you could wait until the pandemic is fully over, which should be by next year, or even sooner. This could work if you need to do a lot of research or plan more.

I read the comments on that article, and a lot of people said that books should take you into another world and shouldn’t necessarily be centered around current issues. That probably would work if your story is set in the US and is between January and March.

If your story is set in a made-up world, go ahead and set it now or in the future and keep Covid-19 out of it. Otherwise, set it one or two (or more) years earlier or wait till the sense of pre-pandemic normalcy starts to return.

Writing

Unpopular Writing Opinion: Why I Wish Readers Would Accept Any Time Setting in Stories, Regardless of Publication Date

When I say any time setting, I mean any time setting. I firmly believe that authors should get to set their stories whenever they want and readers should accept and deal with the time setting. I don’t agree with the ridiculous rules that authors should only set their books in contemporary settings or historical settings, but nothing in between.

It all started out when I wanted to update my book, “The Frights of Fiji,” then titled, “From Frights to Flaws,” and I sent it to an editor. Throughout the manuscript, the editor kept complaining about the years mentioned and the fact that the story was set in 2010, even though it was first published in 2013. They seemed to tell me to update the setting to 2018 since many middle grade readers then were babies or really little. I was very offended and told them I highly disliked someone telling me when I could or could not set my stories. Then the editor felt me and said that they supported my idea of setting my story whenever I wished and that they wouldn’t tell writers when they could or couldn’t set their stories. That year-change was merely a suggestion. Yet, they also pointed out how kids today wouldn’t be able to relate to pushing buttons on phones. Um…hello? They’re going to be reading books way more primitive than that. Definitely for school. They’ll read books where candles were used since electricity didn’t exist, horse-drawn wagons were the main means of transportation because there were no cars. They’re even going to read stories where pants didn’t exist and men wore robes and togas, like in ancient times, B.C.E.

Also, must I mention that it was not until the 7th “Harry Potter” book was published that I discovered that the characters were much older than I thought. I had grown up thinking “Harry Potter” was set in the 2000’s thanks to some hints from the movies, which I watched before the books. But when “The Deathly Hallows” was published, I discovered that the events of the series happened in the 90’s, from when before I was born up until I was 4 years old, excluding the epilogue. Yes, it was a shock and disappointment at first. But I eventually got past it and accepted it, especially since the first 3 books were published in the 90’s. And no, it wasn’t because J.K. Rowling was a very big-name author.

Even on a website, someone pointed out why “Harry Potter” was set in the 90’s, and said that it could’ve been set earlier, but no one would relate to it as easily. Once again, kids have to read books like that for school. And I’m sure there’s a reason why English curriculums often require stories set too early for students to relate to. It’s probably to learn the differences. Do you think a lot of school kids now or even 30 years ago could relate to characters, like Tom Sawyer or Romeo Montague? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy it, even if they have to read it. When I was in school, there were very few books set around times we students could relate to. One I remember was “Rabbit Hole”, which I read in 12th grade. There was a scene with a video cassette, which suggested that the story couldn’t be set later than the 90’s or early 2000’s. While it felt a little awkward, it didn’t keep me from enjoying the story. Plus, it was required, so I couldn’t stop. I still liked the story, as it was.

Another time, after I republished “The Frights of Fiji” in 2018, I sent my sequel to be edited, as well. Once again, the editor removed the year I stated in it, 2010, and said it would make the story outdated. Bull poo. I even told them why I stated the year it was set. The editor said that authors can set their books whenever they liked, however, it should only be stated if important, otherwise it’s distracting. Garbage! The first book had already been published and the year, 2010, was already written as its time setting. So, I had to say the year book 2 was set.

When I started a post about this on a writing forum, while a few took my side, others did the opposite. They saw the idea of a book being set in 2010 and published in recent years as a bug and being awkward. When I said that changing the year would mess up dates and events, they saw that as nonsense. They picked it up differently than I intended, though. In book 1, my MC’s 13th birthday plays an important role. It also has to fall on a Saturday, and in 2010, her birthday, April 17th, fell on a Saturday. Had I changed the year, I would have had to either change her birthday, or make it a different day. But between 2013 and 2018, hundreds of people have already read the book’s first edition, so it would have looked bad to change the year setting.

Another person on that forum said that unless a story is centered around a certain historical event, like 9/11, it should not be set post-2000. Bird poo. And some other writers agree. They said that it would be hard to market a book set many years in the past without a reason. One writer said that a book published today that is set in 2006 without a reason looks bad. Another said that authors shouldn’t date their stories. They should be contemporary all the time and that readers should get to fill in the year themselves. Bull poo again.  

Why can’t readers see older settings from this century as a chance to learn more about those years? Seriously, what’s wrong with learning about things like flip phones, DVD rental stores, and other “outdated” ways of life? It really shouldn’t hurt. Readers should see books like that chances to be educational in terms of learning the differences of life then versus now. A book set in 2006 and being published around now should be acceptable in mainstream publishing. There’s nothing wrong with learning anything. Of course, that is as long as it’s not harmful. After all, we do or did have to learn history in school. And that is to learn not just how life was different than, but also the mistakes or bad decisions people made so that we don’t do those ourselves.

To me, fiction is only outdated if it’s offensive, such as the use of racial slurs or the damsel-in-distress trope. Basically, anything that would be insensitive to people today shouldn’t be used in writing. But years? Big deal. Authors should get to date their stories, set it in whatever years they wish, and readers should be more open to that. I wish that’s how it would be.

cooking

When I Made White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake

During quarantine, I missed a lot of my favorite commercial foods. One of those included white chocolate raspberry cheesecake from the Barnes & Noble café. It was super-delicious—both that and the one I made.

There is a lot involved, though. You have to make raspberry preserves, crush Oreos and bake them as a crust, and melt white chocolate as well as prepare the actual cheesecake.

While this particular “error” worked out in the end, I melted white chocolate chips instead of using the special kind the recipe recommended since I did not have it. However, that substitute was technically incorrect, and would have messed up the final creation. Luckily, though, my mom taught me a trick to avoid a bad cheesecake. That was to add milk to the white chocolate, but a little at a time. And guess what? It resulted in a great dessert. I would eat the cheesecake pretty much every day.

Aside from the white chocolate thing, the raspberry preserves, Oreos, and cheesecake were no problems preparing. Like many, I stress-baked when pretty much nothing was open. I’ve baked a lot less these days. However, I did make rainbow cupcakes from scratch recently. But I might save that for another post.

Writing

Unpopular Writing Opinion: Why I Wish Readers Would Accept Characters’ Physical Appearances as Written

As a writer, I have to follow creative writing rules and standards in order to please readers. As much as I’m okay with most of the craft guidelines, there are a few aspects about readers that I wish were different. That is how I wish readers would be more okay with characters’ physical descriptions. Please note that I am not criticizing anyone who believes the opposite of what I do. I respect others’ opinions. But this is how I actually feel.

Just because there are no pictures in novels (excluding graphic novels), that doesn’t mean the writers shouldn’t physically describe their characters. However, most experts say to keep the descriptions to a minimum or only describe what is important and let the readers picture them their ways. In fact, some people have even said that they will rebel against the characters’ description and picture them their own ways. For example, one might picture a blonde character dark-haired, which I think is silly. What if that blonde character is from a bestselling book that becomes a movie and that same character is also blonde in the film? It’s not like you could file a complaint to Hollywood for that.

But I really disagree with the guideline of not describing your characters a lot. I would say that authors should get to describe their characters however they’d like and have as many physical attributes as they want. That being said, they shouldn’t describe everything. That’s because it would be too much to remember and would bog down the narrative. The only time I’d understand readers getting upset over physical descriptions is if the traits were offensive (i.e. never say something like, “Mr. Yang looked at me through his squinted eyes.” That’s a big no-no!).

I have a feeling that readers forget that characters’ physical appearances get presented to them all the time outside novels. They see how characters look in movies, TV shows, live performances, comics, picture books (if they are, have, or work with small children), and graphic novels. If they’re okay with Wonder Woman having dark hair or Timmy Turner having blue eyes, I wish they would feel the same with a novel character being described with red hair, or green eyes, and so on. But even one person said that they still didn’t like being told what the characters look like and said, “We have movies for that.”

Which brings me to my next point: the readers don’t own the content—the writers do. Therefore, I think they deserve the right to describe the characters to their readers. If only the readers would acknowledge that the characters are somebody else’s creations, property, and copyright. Therefore, if only they would accept that another person created the content and gets to have a say in their appearances. If readers really like a certain physical attribute of a person, they should create their own characters with those. You know the old saying, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.”? I wish I could apply that to readers when they find out about a character’s physical appearance.

Writing

You Can Turn Clichés into More Original Ideas

While pretty much everything has been done before, some ideas are too overdone, according to the general public. Some of those include phrases, metaphors, descriptions, and types of creatures or humanoids.

When I researched for my fantasy stories, I came across how so many typical elements, such as dragons, are considered overdone. So, I made up my own magical entities in my writing.

One cliché I used, however, was having wizards in my novels. But there are no old ones with long white beards in long robes. The magicians are also modern and even post-modern at times. They have their own technology far more advanced than the regular kinds in my books.

Another overdone element I’ve included in my series is a skeleton character. In fact, in early drafts, he was more of a stereotypical skeleton where he was pure evil and carried a scythe. But as I learned more about the writing craft and discovered that pure-evil villains don’t often work (they probably can sometimes), I softened the skeleton’s personality. I’ve developed him to be depressed and insecure about his appearance as well as make him desperate to be human. I’ve also made him afraid of dogs. And no, not because he is built with bones.

Those are just some of the changes I’ve incorporated into the clichés. You could do it, too.  

Writing

A New Process Has Come for My Writing: It Involves More Outlining and Fewer Drafts

I wish I had come up with this technique earlier. I don’t know if it’ll work, but I suppose it is worth trying.

Why am I choosing this process, you might ask? It’s because I want to write my novels a little more quickly, but also keep the quality high. Okay, okay, I get what you’re probably thinking. Writing a good book takes time, and sometimes, that can mean several years.

I agree with that. There have even been authors who worked on their novels for at least ten years. But for me, writing my third installment of my fantasy book series for nearly four and a half years, and still not being finished with it, is now tiring. Of course, I will keep at it until it’s the best it can be.

However, for my next installment, the fourth book (no title yet), I don’t want it to lag. So, I’ve decided on a new way of producing the following story and all future books. Here is the plan:

1: Write a super-sloppy and short first draft (I’ve done that already).

2: Write and revise synopses for the WIP until I am satisfied with one and think it’ll work.

3: Write the story using the best synopsis at the moment, but let the writing be sloppy and weak, if necessary, just so the words can get on the page.

4: Strengthen the writing to a good-quality kind, and once it feels right, submit it to an editor.

5: Repeat steps 2 to 4 until the story is completely great and is ready to be published.

If you want to try this process, it’s better if you already know the writing craft rules and have excellent skills at it. And that can (and almost always) take several years.

I started learning the writing craft when I was about eighteen and it took me over seven years to produce great-quality stories with great writing.

Now when I say great, I mean it. Books with just good or decent writing didn’t satisfy me when I published them. They were good, but not excellent. I ended up removing them from the market. The experience was not as satisfying as I’d predicted. It may be different for others, but it wasn’t for me.

Anyway, if you are a writer with great writing abilities, it is probably okay to find a shortcut with getting your story down and ready for publication more quickly.

I’m actually teaching myself to work on two projects at once. In the past, I’d only work on one at a time. But I’m changing my mind about that. I don’t want to keep readers waiting too long for the next installments of my series or any other books I may write. So, I’m working on both my third and fourth installments at the same time.

Writing

Why Names Rarely Have Purposes in My Writing

Many authors choose names for their characters based on their personalities. The names often have meanings for each character based on their behaviors and backstories.

I, however, am not normally like that. I usually choose names for my characters simply by how much they appeal to me. Of course, I take into consideration the characters’ races, religions, ethnicities, and generations when I name them.

While I never name characters based on their personalities, there are a few times my characters’ names had purposes.

For example, in book 1 of my “Magical Missions” series, the main antagonist is Beau Duchamp. I chose Beau so that kids could pronounce his name more easily for a French man.

Another example is Errol, the villain in book 2 of my series. He was inspired by the Grim Reaper. He was also originally named Peril and was eviler in early drafts of the story. However, editors have said that he wasn’t wicked enough to be called “Peril.” So, I changed his name to something that rhymed with his original name.

In my third installment, the main villain has a made-up name: Boo-Champ Corey. The name represents a combination of two other bad guys from my series world.

The final character is a wizard mentor called Mr. Reuber. He was inspired by Hagrid from “Harry Potter”, so his last name sounds similar to Hagrid’s first name, Rubeus. Of course, he isn’t a representation of J.K. Rowling’s creation and he does differ from Hagrid, as well.

However, since book 3 hasn’t been published yet, I don’t know if those characters will make it to the final draft. Hopefully, they will.

Other than these examples, my characters’ names were chosen purely based on what I liked.

Writing

Developing Protagonists and How I Did it

Every writer develops his or her protagonist his or her own way. Some are inspired by real people, which is how I think Lewis Carroll developed the character, Alice, for “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. According to a magazine, His heroine shared the same name with a real girl, also called Alice.

While many of us know that J.K. Rowling came up with the basic idea of “Harry Potter” on a delayed train, she used some of her own life experiences to build Harry.

As for my protagonist, Alyssa McCarthy, the development of her goes back further than anyone could imagine. In fact, the inspiration for the character dates back to when I was in 2nd grade, and it came from a source that nobody would have expected: An early reader book.

That was “Morris Goes to School”. After reading it, I got inspired to do my own version of that story, but with an upright polar bear named Spike. I evolved Spike into a child polar bear who went to school with human children. One of those extras was a girl with long blonde hair, who got her own spinoff in my mind, where she lived in a house in a jungle and had animal friends. The girl could talk to those creatures, too. I envisioned that creation from maybe third grade and all through fourth grade, but abandoned the idea in fifth grade. Like my MC today, her name was also Alyssa.

For the next several years, I lost interest in creative writing since everything I thought of sounded no good after. However, that changed in early eleventh grade.

While in the shower, the same idea of what I daydreamed about in fourth grade of a girl called Alyssa with long blonde hair who had a supernatural ability hit my mind. After that, I brainstormed ideas and wrote a story similar to my childhood imagination. Sadly, no one else liked it.

Fast forward to my freshman year of college and I scrapped the original idea and turned it into something more appealing. It took a while to create another tale of a girl named Alyssa with long blonde tresses, but with better ideas from me.

While she does have a few similarities to me, such as her sense of style and some food tastes, Alyssa, my current protagonist, is also quite different from me. I developed her personality with a combination of some of the Disney princesses. I also got a ton of inspiration from the “Harry Potter” series for Alyssa’s life and the events that happened to her as well as what goes on in the stories. In fact, readers have constantly compared my “Magical Missions” series to the “Harry Potter” franchise since they share a lot of similarities, but not enough to be exact.

That is the true history of how I developed my main character.