5 Tips for Fluid Writing

Some authors can sit down and write without interruption, a style of writing which is very fluid and steady. I’m not one of them–especially with pen and paper. I find myself getting caught up in this or that idea; trying to find a name, facts, or that thing I read three weeks ago on brain chemistry which has now become relevant to a situation in the story.

Being somewhat easily distracted has caused me to find ways to troubleshoot such instances so that I can write more fluidly in the moment, and I’d like to share them with other writers. Please note that these tips will not address writer’s block, which is a different matter all together.

 

1. Missing Information

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Many times, I most often find myself stopping because I need a piece of information, such as a name, hair color, or a tree that grows well in a given environment. Things that require research. Unless this information will prevent you with moving on with the story, the best thing to do is leave a pair of brackets.

  • I went to []’s house that day.
  • Russ pushed hair out of his eyes, it was [] when not full of dirt.
  • Jax paused at the edge of the forest, under a small [] tree.

Later, go back and fill in that missing information.

 

2. Changes

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Sometimes, I’ll come back to a scene where I’ve decided, since the last session, to change the setting of a scene. Other times, something that happened will have changed. Instead of going back and fixing everything there, leave a note that explains the change that has occurred. Go back and fix the previous passage later. When writing on a computer, do something to make these notes stand out–some kind of brackets, bold text, and colors are helpful.

  • This scene is now in the garden. Update previous passage accordingly.
  • Matt’s group decided to track down the mercenary instead of rest at the inn; drop or move previous passage accordingly and skip to this paragraph instead.

 

This is especially useful if your first draft is usually with pen and paper–you can fix it when typing it up, which is the second draft.

 

3. Lack of Character Understanding

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This is a larger problem, but can be overcome by moving to a different project rather than stopping your writing. Usually, this will come up when you are starting a new project, or have added a new character to your cast. You go to write a scene, and realize you don’t know what the character will do or say at a certain situation. The answer here is to do some exploratory writing.

  • Write about the character, even if you have to start with a personality description or personal history
  • Explore some things in their daily life
  • Add something unexpected that will force them to make decisions, display character, and show you  who they are

There are no rights or wrongs here, and outside of your main story you can play around with situations and see what you like and what the character does. Do not consider this lost or wasted time; it will allow you to go back to your main project and move forward. It is your job as the writer to make sure you know and understand your characters well.

 

4. Be Prepared

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If you know you will be working on a certain scene during a session which may require research, you can choose to do the research beforehand and have your notes at hand. If you’re working with a little used character, pull up their character sheet before you get started. If you have a wiki, you can have that off to the side as well.

  • Have needed information readily available
  • Copy/paste descriptions you may already have on hand, and edit as needed
  • Wiki’s can be very helpful, but don’t get engrossed in updating them until after you’ve finished your writing section.

 

5. Music

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The use of music in writing is more nuanced than you might think. Don’t simply listen to music you like. Try to find specific pieces that fit what you’re working on and will keep your mind there. Be knowledgeable of what’s in  your music library so that you can find what you want when you need it. I personally find that wordless music such as soundtracks and production music work much better than other types–it tends to focus on a feeling or mood and doesn’t have distracting words. Many of my character themes, however, do have words.

  • Pick specific pieces for specific scenes and characters
  • Any important character should have more than 1 theme–people are complex
  • Avoid music that distracts you while writing
  • Create playlists for projects or characters
  • Focus on pieces that create the setting or mood of a scene

Don’t be afraid to try new music, because you never know when a piece will inspire you to write something to go with it.

 

So there are 5 easy tips to help build and keep fluidity in your writing sessions. Do other things work for you? Do you have other questions you want answered about writing? Please leave them in the comments.

 

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Worldbuilding, Part 7: People

In this worldbuiling installment (finally!), we’ll be talking about people, including communities and ruling bodies. If you are writing high fantasy or space-faring science fiction, you’re much more likely to be using various species in your work than those in other genres, but hopefully this can also apply to regular fiction.

 

People

People are naturally the prime recourse for characterization and insight in a story, and you’ll want to spend a fair amount of time making sure you have a solid basis to go on once you’re in the thick of writing. Nothing can set a tone so well as knowing the general attitudes and views of the people or species you’re working with, and the various modes of thought represented. As Lord of the Rings and Star Trek are prime examples of writers using multiple species in their well known works, we’ll be using them throughout this section.

 

Types of people

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Make sure that you spend some time thinking about the various groups of people that would naturally inhabit your environments. Magical lands are very likely to have magical peoples and creatures, while space will likely have aliens. It seems basic, but they can also overlap, and you may want to carefully avoid having a type of species just to have them–they should feel organic and appear in the story where they should appear.

Gathering places like markets, inns, and the space federation’s academy are likely to have many different types of species, craftsmen, or entertainers than someone’s home or the local small town general store. A courtier would be as out of place in a general store as a dirty mine worker in the court. If they show up there, it should be for a purpose. Don’t throw in something interesting that isn’t followed up on.

Also consider what types of people would become helpful that you wouldn’t ordinarily think of. Every city has sanitation workers. Nearly all wealthy or important people have some kind of assistant, secretary, or steward–and they often know more about how things work. Someone monitors the power relay in the maintenance tube running through Deck 5, and the Captain should at least recognize their name. All of these people also know something, may be able to get places the other characters can’t, or be in a position to oversee a certain change.

 

Species personalities

No matter what type of species you’re building, take into consideration two prime factors: why the story needs them, and where they come from. These will do the most to determine how they developed and who they are. Try to find some duality–some of the same characteristics can be used as to why they’re needed for the story, and for something unique about their species. Below, we’ll look at some species by personality, as well as ties between their personality and other aspects of their species.

In Lord of the Rings, the Hobbits fill some very specific needs in the story of the War of the Ring–they are small, resilient, creative, and have impressive aim when throwing stones at enemies.

In Star Trek, there was a need for both a species of wise sages, and a warrior race. These were filled by the Vulcans and Klingons, respectively, and they remain two of most popular non-Earth species to appear on the show.

The Vulcan species personality is one of logic, calmness, and emotional detachment. They strive only for the best in whatever they do. This serves the purpose of making them wise scholars and good guides for Humans as they ventured out into space, and then in the creation of the United Federation of Planets. However, it’s also closely tied to their inability as a species to control their emotions. The meditation and logic which makes them very wise also suppresses strong emotions which would otherwise  take them over and leave them without control over their own actions. Many of their rites and rituals resolve around this idea of control verses  chaos–pon farr and kolinahr, for example. The point at which suppressing ones emotions was possible was also a huge turning point in their history as a species, enabling them to avoid self-extinction and causing one another great pain and suffering.

The Klingon species personality, on the other hand, is one of fierce warriors whose greatest glory is to die in battle. There’s a lot of inter-house fighting, and codes of honor, while strict, aren’t always apparent to other species. They are rough, direct rather than mannerly, and find many things acceptable that we don’t.

Some of this personality shows in their physical appearance, but the need for this type of species on Star Trek also informed much of their history. For example, their homeworld is poor in resources, so aggressively fighting for resources, and then building their empire was seen as a necessity in order to bring in resources. Their greatest hero, Kahless, was a great warrior who unified the species and created the Klingon empire, has been revered into a god-like status.

Klingons are so aggressive that it is hard for them to get along with other species, and invades almost every aspect of their culture. Courtship and sexual interest is oven conveyed with violence. Battle is the highlight of ones’ day, and they teach their children to fight and protect their interests from an early age. Aggressiveness is also applied to family, and one’s House, and Klingons will fiercely defend their house to the last, even if we would consider them in the wrong. This is where  aggression ties in with their codes of honor.

 

Communities

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Demography

Remember that most residential town, cities, and neighborhoods encompass all age groups. Exceptions will be places like schools or academies which are primarily younger people. However, even within most communities, there may be reason for an imbalance. A town which had the plague recently will have a very small population, and the old and young are particularly susceptible to disease. Mining towns may loose a lot of men to the unsanitary conditions and therefore have a lack of old men.

Sometimes environmental conditions may also play a role. Many older people like warmer climes, or such places may also have a high tourist rate. Even small towns may have a lot of tourists if they are in the right setting, or are able to offer things tourists like. Another aspect is trade. A lake or river town will have a high percentage of fishermen, while one near a mine will have a lot of jewelers. A capitol city is likely to have major dignitary councils and heads of trade or other groups, as well as a high percentage of servants.

Think carefully before assigning life goals or dreams to major characters, and consider where they come from. Yes, many people have far-flung hopes at times, but an over-surplus of these does not lend itself to believeability.

Functions

Think about what type of people the community will need. What functions need to be included? Do you need farmers, miners, maybe your Court will need entertainers. Everyone has a place, and in some cases those without a specific role will be cast out. If your character’s home town is a pleasure center or tourist city, you’ll need tour guides, trash collectors, and ticket takers much more than in a farming village.

The roles needed in the community may also have a hand in determining any class distinctions or sizes. A port town may have many merchants but much fewer blue-blooded nobles. The King’s castle, however, will be primarily nobles and an army of servants, with a clearly defined pecking order. This can allow you to play around with roles and whether your character(s) fit into them. Most often, characters have stories because there is a miss-fitting.

In most cases, people have outlooks based on their functions, and the crowd can sway votes, actions, and negate what even a very powerful character is trying to do if they disagree. Their moral focus can drive them, whatever that moral is, and whether it is thought right or wrong by others. A great example of this is that servant classes, while often very low in rank, often have higher moral standards than their masters. It can less acceptable to break code and rank downstairs than upstairs.

Ruling Bodies

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Ruling bodies can be used to effect how people live through the laws the make. They can plunge the world into chaos or lift up a shining light of hope. These things can go incredibly far in how people feel about their world and where they live. And because we’re writing stories, it’s often very helpful to understand especially how bad governments effect people. Your characters may want to move elsewhere, or depose the ruler. They may want to bring peace, or keep an evil man from destroying it. Ruling bodies can also effect what people want and desire, by helping to determine what is acceptable in society.

 

Who are they?

Ruling bodies consist of the people in charge. Most of us know what kind of people are in charge in our stories–it may be dictated by the setting (fantasy kingdom or space federation), or who the bad guy is (an evil tyrant who should be removed). Later on we’ll talk about different government functions, but overall, they will set the tone of the world.

People living in a dictatorship or under tyranny are often afraid to speak and act in certain ways, and often live in various states of fear. While a brave few will challenge the way things are, they are usually made examples of and die painfully. People living under many of the Tudor monarchs, for example, were afraid to say the wrong thing, in case something innocent was construed as treason or heresy.

Henry VIII is known to not only have had a temper, and a serious head wound made him even more unstable for the rest of his life–many noted this change of character in the King for the worse, which often resulted in chaos as if he didn’t like you for a few days, you could end up dead. He plunged England into sudden non-Catholicism, and almost overnight, being a Catholic could also get you killed. When his daughter Mary became queen, suddenly the opposite was true.

Environments such as this can do a lot to the people under such governmental control, and you may be able to use this to your advantage in a story.

Where are they located?

This answer to this question may depend on what form of rule is needed. Some societies have parliaments, and others councils. One of the species I work with has a ruling council made up of the head of each community organization–Water, Schools, Industry, Waste Management, to name a few. Here, it became much more important as to where the council meets and is located–they want to avoid favoritism. While a King can choose to build  his castle where be pleases, even sometimes without sense, some governments must put more thought into it.

A space federation or alliance, likewise, may choose a central location, a planet or space station near the center of the alliance, or a democratic city may put their council building at the city center.

Some questions as to how this relates specifically to people include: who lives around the seat of power? Is it easy to get to–is cooperation needed? Does anyone live there, or is it a place of work only? What kind of facilities does it have–a single large council room? Several smaller courts? Other amenities?

 

Who do they serve?

What is the most important population to the ruling body? This, taking into account species focuses, how they govern. If the king’s most important mission is to have a male heir, you might end up with Henry VIII. If the council rules a city made up of 3 different species, they may try to maximize priorities of harmony and acceptance within their laws and public holidays.

Are there different ruling bodies for different classes or ranks of society? If so, how are they tailored for the people they have authority over?

Another important aspect here is how those in authority view themselves. Are they there to maintain order? To serve others? To keep the rulers in charge? You will want to think about whether and how far they are corrupted, if they are deluded into thinking they can control everything, or perhaps whether they have a biased world view based on the power they have.

 

What do they do?

In Star Trek: Into Darkness, there is a subplot point that the United Federation of Planets is not a military organization. An admiral gives orders that the Enterprise fly into neutral territory and fire on another planet to kill one person in hiding there, and later reveals that he as built a massive battleship. There are several scenes in which other characters register surprise and question some of the orders they’re given–Scotty comments that this clearly seems like a military operation, which Starfleet is not. Because government and military and/or law enforcement often go hand in hand, be very clear in your planning on this aspect of who is in charge.

How do the people in charge go about being in charge? Do they make laws enforced by police state? Do citizens report transgressions? Does the King’s Guard or an army patrol the streets? You’ll want to consider how these things are done.

Your other big thing here is to determine how laws are made. Are petitions brought to a council? Perhaps the Queen declares that only White horses are allowed on Tuesdays, and her council rushes to draw it up. Research suggests that Hitler, for instance, never specifically told his officials to make death furnaces, but made it clear that this was expected. Whatever it is, come up with a system that makes sense for who’s in charge. This may involve in people being afraid of a dictator or royal.

 

Summary

People are one of your greatest resources for shedding light on characters, events, or themes. Their world and how they live will help or hinder your protagonist, and how the world is ruled is often used to create overarching plot. Pay attention to these things, and do use them to show attitudes and opinions surrounding things such as: outcast status; new laws or proclamations; holidays; when a terrible crime has been committed. Remember that such opinions hold more weight when they come from believable sources–people who appear to fit into their world and act in accordance.

Writing Exercise: Tailor

via Daily Prompt: Tailor

The pile of work on his table hadn’t moved in weeks. No one had brought anything new. They knew it wouldn’t get done. He couldn’t. Not with her still in there with him. Her fabrics lay stacked on the shelves; the shirt she’d been mending still lay on her work table. He couldn’t bear to look at it.

Worldbuilding, Part 6: Culture

While normally I agree that building a new apartment complex of strip mall simply because there is land isn’t really a great choice, now, driving by the construction for the new farm equipment store or watching Gold Rush concerns me much more than it did years ago.

There is a road I drive on often on which the land used to belong to a farm, and has since been sitting, full of grasses and a little woodland. It’s been there since I was a child as other things have sprung up around it. It has recently been under development. Driving by the construction grieves me. All those trees uprooted, all those animals and creatures with no home. It’s the same feeling I often have when my husband watches Gold Rush. The bare land speaks volumes to me. This is an extremely Lupa view of land development. It is part of their culture and who they are.

Some writers enjoy moving from one story to the next, while others work with the same characters or group of people over a series or even multiple series. In the series process, we often move from writers who control stories, to writers who discover stories. There is a point that it becomes part of us. We begin not just to understand who our characters are and where they’re coming from, but when we begin to think like them, and see through their eyes.

Culture is the part of a people from which we derive customs, modes of action, and world view–how we think. Ten years ago, construction never bothered me like it does today. I have incorporated this, and many other, Lupa ideologies into myself. Creating the culture from scratch, however, was long, and sometimes difficult. I had to determine the best way to show their character in all kinds of situations–and what was their character exactly?

In this section, we will discuss cultural elements beyond the basics of food, clothing, and shelter. Here is the time to consider social customs such as greetings and rank, how they treat various arts, how they deal with death. Some cultures focus on particular arts (such as singing and dancing in Tibet), while others adore poetry and plays (ancient Greece). Here is where we determine how people handle all kinds of things in life, from work to leisure, and everything in between.

 

Customs

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All societies have customs. If you’re writing in any kind of historical genre, you have the added bonus of people able to research the culture and customs of which you’re writing. This is, of course, still quite a bit of work. If you’re based on an Earth historical period, such as medieval, you can make modifications. Even if you’re starting from scratch, you can start with a basic set based on the people you’re writing about. As the Lupa are very natural and instinctual, I started there. Do make sets of customs for both public and home life.

 

Public Life

Chose things that make sense for your basics. If your people have a great sense of smell or hearing, it may be very rude to not acknowledge someone’s presence when they come into a room or join a group–in most cases there’s no way you wouldn’t know they’re there. So if you have to acknowledge a new presence, start with the basic greeting. Is “hello” enough? Should there a nod or bow? What about gestures? Some people shake hands, grip forearms, or exchange a kiss of greeting. If there are different types, when is each used? Likewise, there are ways to say goodbye.

You’ll want to determine if there is rank, and if so, how do they interact? Are certain topics forbidden in public conversation? (See Victorian society for examples.) Are there certain things everyone knows about and therefore don’t need explaining? Why?

Not only should you have your basic public etiquette down, but you should delve into very specific things, as well. This is the difference between okay and good writing. Know your subject, and do differentiate. If you’re writing a feast, it’s not just enough to have food on the table. Know how many courses there should be, how many dishes are allowed under sumptuary laws, and what’s included in each one.

And always remember, people want to be thought better of in public. There is a reason that traveling outfits are traditionally better than home wear.

Home Life

Home life is where your characters may be most revealed, so you’ll want to make the most of it. Servants always know the intimacies of their masters and mistresses, and family and close friends reveal both the best and worst of themselves. However, there should be common expectations of what acceptable when one has guests, and what friends can expect when visiting.

For instance, who always uses the front door, and who may use whatever entrance they like? Who is free to move about, and who should stay where invited to sit or dine? In ancient Greek culture, a man may have been killed on the spot for entering the women’s quarters of a villa. Intruding on the king or queen’s chambers without an invitation is always a serious offense. Close agemates in Lupa culture have the right of entering through a bedroom window during daylight hours.

Most cultures make large distinctions on what’s appropriate based on the time of day. Some prioritize organization in the home, and others comfort. Made decisions on what’s most important for your people and characters, and again, write in a fully functioning manner for personal homes, whether it’s a one room hut or a residency wing of a large castle.

 

Learning

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One of the prime telling points of a society may be how they approach education. There are many types currently in use in our world, from standard primary, secondary, and university schools, to master to apprentice, to tribal group learning. In science fiction one may find direct download to the brain (the Matrix trilogy) or in fantasy, direct mind to mind.

The lives of both the young and anyone who teaches or mentors significantly depends on how they learn, and the system in use in their community. Alana Treebond lives in the King’s castle to become a knight and is also required to pass general educational school subjects; Wesley Crusher attends Star Fleet Academy in San Francisco for his genius-level education; Balien the blacksmith as apprenticed to the town blackmith to learn his trade.

These all present very different means of learning, and greatly affected the lives of the characters. Most children go somewhere else for school, whether a daily commute or a boarding situation. Alana was put up at the King’s expense as part of his household.

What about people with no formal education system? How do they teach their children? Who does it, and what do they learn?

 

Communication

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A secondary but important feature is how people communicate. A high-tech community who doesn’t use voice or video as their prime communication network is very telling–they may be phobic to other people, as in Azimov’s The Naked Sun. Millennials usually prefer texting, while Baby Boomers may prefer email. Romans may have sent messages tattooed on slaves.

For most of history, the letter was the main communication for those who could read, while the town crier or a minstrel may be the main mode for the illiterate. How information and news is disseminated can lay quite a backdrop. Who knows about current events, and who doesn’t. It may make a marked class distinction.

On the other hand, very high-tech societies which rely on video or holo communication where everyone is networked may make a much more even playing field in your people’s culture. Control of information via technology may also be important.

A species of telepaths, like the Betazoids on Star Trek, have an en entirely different understanding of communication than the average species. They commonly communicate telepathically, and  hold very different trials than other species. The Lupa, for whom some members are gifted in this area, often have trouble understanding why Humans hold trials, and why they take so long–a Speaker can settle guilt in moments and recommend appropriate action.

 

Art and Death

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These are two very telling areas when it comes to culture, as how one deals with both art and death reveal much about one’s mindset and point of view. Some cultures will see art as a waste of time and energy, while in others it is the pinnacle upon which existence rests. A culture where death is seen as a doorway to a different existence may place little importance on death, or make it an important ceremony, depending on other aspects of their culture.

If you’re writing in a world in which there is much class structure or societal rules, consider if there are certain types of art that are prized or despised. Why? What are the most common types of art practiced by non-artists? Are there any very strange things that they consider great arts? If you have an artist as an important character, research how art was done in that time period, in that place. If in another world, determine what kinds of paints or drawing implements are used. Be prepared. A culture without eggs, for instance, will not be using tempera paint.

Regarding death, you will want to know the common modes of celebrating or mouring. What happens when a friend dies? A business acquaintance. A family member? If your have telepathic or mentally bonded characters, how does this change their or the people’s understanding of death and grieving? Death can be particularly harsh for these kinds of people, so is there a universal kind of understanding?

These are two important aspects of background culture which can shed luminous light on your story and characters.

 

Medicine

Herbal Medicine Vs Chemical Medicine The Alternative Healthy Car

How your people handle medicine also has a lot to do with their world view. Throughout history, there have been a lot of thoughts about medicine that while not true were chief ideas that affected the entire field. During medieval times, for instance, your physician kept your humors in balance and preserved your health on a regular basis, whether or not you were ill.

Deeply spiritual people are more likely to use spiritual paths of healing. Science fiction isn’t just about the scientific ways of healing; it can also show much more metaphysical ones. Whatever your people do, make sure it fits with the rest of their culture. Also figure out if there are different modes of medicine used by different people. Lower classes of people often use more resourceful sources of medicine which can be found in their environment, while the wealthy may import unicorn horns.

 

Special Powers

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The other major area of culture we must discuss, as world building is so heavily used in scifi/fantasy, is the inclusion or reaction of culture to special powers. The X-Men universe delves into war between Mutants and non-Mutants. The people of Betazed expect to communicate telepathically and to have others connect with them mentally. Witches and Wizards of the Harry Potter Wizarding world expect to see people doing magic as a matter of course–it is more unusual not to have magic.

Sometimes only certain people have powers, while other in other worlds it is much more common. Especially where it is common, what natural accommodations made? How is this power built into the foundations of society?

Lupa, for instance, have trouble understanding our justice system. Those with astral abilities are expected to help others in various ways, including determining whether someone is guilty. An experienced Speaker knows their pack members well, and can rightly determine this. To them, the time and “what ifs” of a trial are debilitatingly slow and unnecessary. But then, the guilty aren’t punished the same way, either. There are punishments when needed. However, part of the Speaker’s duty is to work with the person psychologically to correct any underlying causes, and likewise alert other pack members as to how they can help.

Take care and think through this aspect of the culture. It is very important. Even with only a percentage of the population (1-3 Lupa in every 30-50 have astral abilities), the cultural reflection can have a large imprint.

Writing Exercise: Hike

Miara climbed out of the wreckage of the transport vehicle, half obscured in smoke. Several hundred yards away, their pilot was coming closer to see if she needed help, while Daniel and Gritha were running from much further away. Once she was down on the sand, she waved to signal she was alright.

I’m okay, she told Daniel. How about you?

I’m fine, Mi-na. What are we going to do?

We’ll have to see, said, setting out toward them. Once they all met, she put down the bags, stuffed with whatever she’d been able to grab.

“Why don’t we see what we have,” Gritha said. “How close were we to the nearest city?” he asked the pilot, shielding his eyes with a hand as he looked back the way they’d come.

“Quite a ways, by foot,” he said. “At least we have the water bag.”

“Too bad we weren’t carrying much food,” Daniel said. “How many snacks are left?”

“Meat jerky and a handful of nuts,” she said.

The pilot, meanwhile, had picked up a small device from what she’d stuffed in the one empty sack they’d had, walking in a circle around them as it gathered information. Without much more talk, Miara and Gritha repacked all the bags with equal weight and food, and Daniel sat, conserving energy.

Finally, the pilot came back to the group. “We’ve definitely much closer to Nirveth, at least. It should take 2–3 days on foot, though if we’ll last that long…”

“You’re native, and we’re Lupa,” Miara said. “We can make it. Do we even know if the mayday got out?”

“I don’t know. The communication line went down so quickly after the explosion I can’t be sure. And this device doesn’t have any communication built in, it’s just for mapping.

“Then between it and our astral mapping, we won’t have to worry about getting lost.”

“Quite true,” Gritha said, handing out the bags. “Hopefully someone will come pick us up.”

Miara and Daniel changed to fur, bags slung over their backs, before starting out in front of the other two. If not, it’ll be quite a hike.

Writing Exercise: Stylish

Aura turned this way and that in the mirror, looking at herself shrewdly. A few fashion magazines lay on her bunk, opened to pages any adult would consider to mature to her. Not that she cared what they thought. Her faded lettings and the tiger shirt she was wearing were what she’d been given–she’d hardly ever been able to pick her own clothes. And now something needed to be done about it. She was seven, not three!

The last lady she had seen donating clothes had literally said to the social worker, “I know they’re not great clothes, my kids won’t wear them, but I know the kids here are just grateful to have something new. Besides, those without don’t have much of a choice.” She may as well have said “beggars can’t be choosers.”

But there were other problems now. She didn’t want another day when the older bullies picked on her, or the old man at the park leered at her, or made comments about the young kids when the adults couldn’t hear. Well, she’d show them a thing or two. But she needed to look older first.

The woman in the magazine was White, and thin, and blonde. She couldn’t be those things, but she could get makeup, and a miniskirt, and whatever kind of top that was, with all the straps. She just had to figure out where, somewhere no one would miss them.

Writing Exercise: Silence

Les wondered if they were even able to talk about what was going on. They barely knew each other. She’d never asked about his problems, despite how obvious they’d been. It was his house, and he could have demanded she tell him everything or be kicked out, but the thought of doing so was so fleeting it barely registered. He glanced at the strange truck across the street with the two men in it, and decided to ignore it, burying is head back in his book.

Later in the afternoon, there was still no sign of her. He went down the hallway to her door, but had no idea how long she’d been in there. It could be she was just quiet, or had been out while he was busy. What if she was hiding? Or dead?–don’t be ridiculous, he told himself. He raised his hand, but couldn’t bring himself to knock.

 

 

Note: A little piece reflecting part of Mally’s story.

 

 

Worldbuilding, Part 5: Shelter

This is the final world building section on necessities: Shelter. Where your characters live and the upkeep they expect are important and tone-setting background information for readers.

 

Homes

While many things about a society’s homes and buildings have to do with protection, materials, and environment, this is also a category where you’ll find yourself making arbitrary decisions about things like building shapes and sometimes materials. However, here I’ll be giving some guideline for thought and issues involved with buildings. There are many Lupa examples, as I can explain why they do particular things.

 

What kind of structures do they use for shelter?

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If you have already done your seasons, weather, and environment, getting started with shelter should not be difficult–they will inform your basics. Choose appropriate shelter for deserts, high mountains, or lush valleys. If caves are readily available, perhaps they live there. Do not choose types of structures that do not make sense for the world or environment.

A modern Western style house will not work on an electricity-free planet unless you come up with substitutes for modern plumbing, lighting, and appliances. Lupa, for instance, can build Western style, houses, but pair it with wooden piping, candles, and an open fire cooking area. Cabins are more common in wooded areas; desert people may live in tents or caves. Some live in the ground like Hobbits.

Do some people in your world live in castles? Space stations or ships? Do they prefer certain types of land? If you’re dealing with different worlds or planets, where and how people live is a good way to make differences. Make sure to do some research, especially if you’re getting into castle or enclosed space vessels of any sort: these are very large and complicated communities and may not function the way you think.

 

How do they build, and who does it?

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Some cultures live entirely in tents or outside in rougher huts or lean-tos. Other have a guild of stone masons or wood workers. Do communities come together to help as the Amish do? What are their methods for building?

Lupa, for instance, have building teams that travel in their sector once or twice a year to make major repairs, additions, and new buildings. Most teams specialize in the types of shelters used in their area, such as wood in the woodlands or stone in cave settings. They rely more on people, strength, and ingenuity to fell trees and transport materials when needed rather than machines, and aren’t afraid to ask residents to help.

When building a residence, they will plan out the plumbing so that the least amount of piping is necessary; the same sets of pipes will deliver water to both the bathroom and kitchen. The same set of pipes will take all waste out to compost. The fire pit will be carefully situated in the kitchen end of the store room to keep air from affecting the fire. The other significant feature in Lupa residences is that any structure higher than one level will have a half-way roof, allowing residents to exit and enter their private rooms directly.

With anything very important to your people, consider how it will be incorporated into their homes. Household gods need somewhere to be honored; people who work in the land need somewhere to clean off so as not to track dirt and grime into the home.

 

How much shelter do they need? Does it vary throughout the year?

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Some elements of residential structures will be determined by the types of shelter needed. People who don’t necessarily use much shelter may only build extremely strong emergency structures. In the Dragonriders of Pern books, the Pernese build primarily out of stone to prevent a substance which can get through other materials from reaching them. While metal also stops it, their low technology level doesn’t lend itself to using metal in that fashion, thus the reliance on stone. The dragons and their riders live in extinct volcanoes in caverns hollowed out of rock, quite a unique setting

Most of the Xcheamo year it temperate, so Lupa spend a great deal of time outside and don’t need much protection from the elements. Winter and summer, however, require a great deal of protection. Windows and doorways generally don’t have any pane at all, just an open space. They use these to get in and out easily, and for the most part use cloth hangings over doorways.

However, they make use of heavy-duty wood “fillers,” significantly secured, during both of the extreme seasons, as well as extreme bad weather. They are designed to be jammed in place when needed. Different hangings are also used in winter and summer, to let in less heat or cold. Wood panels may also be used to stop incursions of insects or animals into the home.

 

How do they decorate? How much customization is there?

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The final element in homes is, of course, decoration. If you’re working with a people group, determine how people with their inclinations may decorate. If it’s particular characters, take clues from all that you know about them. If they love a particular color, it will be reflected in their home. If your native tribe finds great expression in intricate geometrical patterns, it may show up in rugs or pottery. When creating a species, you’ll get into some territory of really trying to “listen” to what they like to surround themselves with in some cases, such as any favored patterns or ideas repeated in their architecture or decor. You may go back and change things as you get deeper into it. This is okay.

Remember that some decor requires meticulous work if there isn’t electricity or a machine to make it. Also remember that there is great difference even among the same people. Melinda may love anything with flowers on it, while Vera will only decorate in solid colors. Practical people will have more simple homes and furnishings than those who have a great love of aesthetics, art, or fashion.

The common threads in determining decoration come from environment and general attitudes. Lupa are nature people, and while they may decorate in all kinds of colors or patterns, they love nature and being surrounded by it. Their products will be made from natural sources. Metal is not so common in their culture, and so you won’t find much metal in their decor or furniture. They feel very at home around nature paintings, wood pieces, real fur blankets, and wide open windows. You’ll never find a lumpy pillow, mattress, or couch in a Lupa home, as they highly value comfort.

Customization may depend very much on the availability of homes, and how many residences are built to order. Historical structures may not be allowed to be changed, as in Philadelphia. Societies with free or easily attainable builders may often make additions or modifications. Many societies will have much more customization in their furniture and decor than their structures.

 

Worldbuilding, Part 4: Clothing

This post will deal with the second necessity, clothing. Both cultural and character clothing are addressed here, and hopefully will be a good guide for anyone trying to build both.

 

Clothing

Cloth

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Every culture has some kind of common cloth used in their clothing, such as cotton, linen, or perhaps microfiber. Choose the base material use for most things, and then extrapolate the most common grades of cloth, from high to low. Cotton can be used in very course or fine fabrics. Do higher classes of society wear different kinds of material, such as silk? What about velvet? If you’re in sci-fi territory, you can use all kinds of constructed or synthetic fabrics. Invent a plant if you have to, but make sure you’re able to talk about clothing, including fabrics.

The Lupa make all of their cloth from the same plant, wissa, which can made into very course fabric for bags or tarps, thick sheets for towels or curtains, and two or three fine versions for clothing. The finest clothes will also have other plant-based substances which help make the threads very fine. They don’t use any other main source material for fabric, but have learned to manipulate wissa to make many types of cloth from it.

 

Construction

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Construction is probably one of the most important elements of clothing for your world–yes, even more than fashion. How we construct our clothes determines fashion and the look of a culture. Japanese clothing is distinctive in the use of robes and tie-and-belt closures rather than buttons or snaps. Elizabethan silhouettes are known for the doublet, panniers, and wigs, while many Native Americans preferred simpler attire adorned with bone, beads, or feathers.

Again, do some research if you have to, and get a sense of your culture’s clothing basics. Lupa often shift between forms, so one of their primary clothing choices is a shift-like garment, with two wide shoulder straps and a long body and can be seen here. They also have basic pants, which are a bit more like capris with a draw string waist, and both t-shirts and tank tops. Most clothing is designed for comfort and ease of movement, and usually anything fitted comes in a wrap style to accommodate body types and sizes. They like practical and multi-functional clothing, as well. Formal dresses are always wrap style. Lupa are people whose clothing is almost always in line with their attitudes.

Fashion

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Fashion is where class distinctions can be made and where characters make their mark with clothing. You can determine who people are, where they come from, how they like their clothes to function, and what’s important to them.

While Lupa don’t have classes, the immortals tend to receive gifts, which sometimes include beautiful fabrics or clothing. Babies are usually kept naked or in shifts due to their extremely active lives. Someone who likes clothing will have many more tailored pieces compared to general use pieces.

Lord of the Rings is a prime example of how clothing can set characters: the difference between Elves, Men, Dwarves, and Hobbits can be easily seen in their attire. Star Trek also uses various costuming to show different cultures and species. Klingons wear a lot of armor on a daily basis, while natives of Risa, a temperate pleasure planet, are usually found in summery, beach-like clothing.

If your setting does has very established classes, you’ll want to look at how fashion becomes more refined as you go up the social ladder. You don’t need to literally have sackcloth or cloth of gold, but whatever your people have should reflect those class statuses. Generally, simple course clothing goes to the bottom, while fine fabrics with impractical styles are at the top. If you’re writing historical fiction, research what was worn at the time carefully, as well.

As for individual characters, yes there are something that are required–archers must have bows and arrows, but also arm guards. A knight will never wears his sword on the right (one mounts a horse from the left), but his sword may show their flair or simple elegance. But try not to stray over into cliche too much unless your character is that emo kid wearing all black and skulls–these kinds of characters specifically want to project certain images. I always recommend building wardrobes (the internet is great for catalogues and dress-up dolls).

Character Examples:3 very different women, and 1 man

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Zaira almost never wears skirts, but grew up traveling on Earth, so there is a lot more Western culture Earth clothing in her wardrobe than most Lupa. She tends toward very simple clothing, solid colors, and dark green. Hoodies help her hide, and she also likes a warm wrap sweater, especially later in life. She prefers silver jewelry, specially if there are stars or moons on it, but usually doesn’t wear such decorations. Part of her becoming a different, happier person included a wardrobe expansion in to clothing that is part of a more settled, open life, such as some skirts or patterns, lighter colors, and less hoodies. She learned to use clothes to hide or blend in.

Eiry is a high-end florist with many business contacts and much of her out-of-the-house wardrobe is suitable for business–casual for working in the flowershop, or an elegant skirt suit in cream with matching heels for business functions. She also has some upscale, pretty dresses to wear to events where the florist is needed on site. Almost all of this clothing is in very light colors or patterns with flowers. At home, however, she tends to wear extremely casual clothes, many of which are shapeless: oversize T-shirts, baggy maxi-dresses, and yoga or lounge pants. Some of these are leftover clothing from a dead friend. She uses clothes to appear appropriately in various settings when out, and at home really doesn’t care.

Miara, on the other hand, loves clothes and having a million things to wear. She has both Lupa and Terran clothes from her many travels, and has many Lupa tailored pieces. Her color choices include everything except solid black or white; it sometimes looks like a rainbow exploded in her room. Some of her favorite Terran styles include off-shoulder tops layered with tank tops, corsets, and fun skirts, while she feels quite elegant in a Lupa-style wrap dress. She also wears a lot of shifts for working out. Whatever she wears, she does with confidence and commitment. She treats clothing as an extension of personality and dresses according to how she feels.

Jax has never lived on Earth, and he has a very xcheamo mode of dress, which is mostly just pants in various colors, with very few patterns, if any. If necessary he’ll also put on a very basic shirt. If he has to wear shoes he’ll go with a boot. He’s rather a minimalist, most of the time.

What do you discern from these characters based on their wardrobes? Hopefully some of their personality and character. Do let me know in the comments :).