Breaking Hyperbole as Writing Inspiration

breaking hyperbole as writing inspirationBreaking hyperbole as writing inspiration is one of the mainstays of creative writing. Especially genres like fantasy and science fiction. And since this tactic is so common, I’m guessing it’s not going to be a totally unfamiliar idea for most writers. That’s why this article isn’t meant to be a treasure trove of new ideas.

Although that would be cool. 

My goal instead is to make you more conscious of how you’ve used hyperbole as a worldbuilding or inspiration technique. Analyzing the techniques we use helps us be more deliberate in our methods – it lets us consciously choose to use them (or not) based on our goals and what we want to achieve.

How to Break Hyperbole for Writing Inspiration

All You Need Is Hyperbole and a Literal Mind 

Like most figurative language, hyperbole (when used correctly) works because the reader knows not to take it literally. It’s great for making people aware of details (without blatantly pointing them out), adding humor, and writing dialogue for characterization. 

Here’s an example:

Milly: Oh, I used to dance and flirt the night away. But that was a thousand years ago!

When the character says this, we don’t assume that she’s over a thousand years old. Instead, we understand that the situation happened a long time ago and that the character either likes using sayings or exaggerations (or doesn’t want to say specifically how long ago it was).

In short, a hyperbole gives us an impression of the truth without being the actual truth.

But what if the character were speaking literally? What if it actually has been a thousand years since she danced and flirted the night away? It’s possible in fantasy stories, right? Possibly even science fiction.

Well, in that case, there is no exaggeration, which means there is no hyperbole. It’s not even figurative language at that point. Instead, the statement is the literal truth.

So when you take hyperbole literally, it’s not hyperbole anymore.

That’s why I called this activity breaking hyperbole. If hyperbole were the goal, you wouldn’t want to do this. For this exercise, however, hyperbole is a means to an end – not what you were aiming for.

Exaggerate Reality to Create Fantasy

Many of my writing prompts involve using elements of real life in the story (people watching, the library inspired writing prompt, Food as a Writing Prompt, etc.). And, oddly enough, when writing for them, you may have also used this one (What?)

As I said before, breaking hyperbole is a common part of the creative process. In other words, it’s a way of transforming reality into something new for your world or your story. Here’s how it works:

  1. Pick something from real life.
  2. Write a hyperbole about it.
  3. Take the hyperbole literally.
  4. Expand that literal interpretation to create something new.

Lizards could inspire dragons, speed trains could inspire instantaneous travel by train, and a lush garden could inspire a flower world. Or 50 other things. Whatever style or genre you write in can find inspiration by exaggerating reality to form new truths – even romance exaggerates reality for the sake of the story (and we all know to never let the truth get in the way of a good story).

It’s pretty obvious that most writers do this in one way or another. Now that I’ve made you think about it (theoretically), though, you can choose to use it deliberately on days when you’re at a loss for ideas. If nothing else, may it get your creative engine started and lead you in new directions.

Happy writing! Have fun breaking hyperbole – or storming the castle, whatever!

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Ray Bradbury Called You a Sublime Fool

Sorry. I lied. That’s not true. Ray Bradbury actually called you “the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.” Lol. Burn!

Ok. Ok. Technically, he called himself that, too. And me. And anyone who ever wanted to be a writer. Or an artist. Man, what a jerk!

Or, you know, a realist about the writing profession with a sense of humor. Whatever.

A Ray Bradbury Quote:
An Insult, Curse, & Benediction for Writers

Ray Bradbury Quote Sublime FoolIsn’t that an amazing quote?

It has nuanced humor, the cynical pessimism of someone who’s worked in writing and knows how hard it can be, and a generosity of spirit for others with the same dream. Plus, it can be broken down into 2 smaller quotes that provide the top advice for anyone who ever wanted to write:

  • “You must write every single day of your life.”
  • “You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books…”

You’ve heard that before, right? After all, writing and reading are the number one ways to learn and to improve – at least, when it comes to learning to write.

The blessings are kind of awesome, too. They start out feeling like a curse (Why would you wish that on me?), but then they wrap around to end up as a blessing. Almost another kind of advice, a subtler one that leads you to the right conclusion instead of telling you straight out.

  • “I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime.”
  • “I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you.”
  • “May you live with hysteria, and out of it, make fine stories…”
  • “May you be in love every day… and out of that love remake a world.”

When you take them in context with the previous statements, they could practically be re-written as wishing you a long lifetime full of writing and transforming your own experiences into new stories and worlds – a wish written from one “sublime fool” to another, almost like an inside joke said with a warm smile.

Actually… if that’s the fate of a “sublime fool,” I’ll take it. How about you?

The Evolution of Fairytales & Their Purpose

the evolution of fairytales their purpose what are fairytales forSome friends and I were discussing Disney movies, and one person mentioned that there are certain movies that she can’t stand to watch because of how Disney changed the original stories. Which made me think about the evolution of fairytales and how their purpose has changed over time.

Remember the awful things that used to happen in the old fairytales? The things that Disney left out? Why were those even there in the first place?

The Moral of the Story:
What Are Fairytales For?

If you’re like me, you grew up reading fairytales as well as watching them. You might’ve even known how they linked to fairies and superstitions, depending on which culture’s fairytales you were reading. Stories like “Snow White & Rose Red,” “The Little Match Girl,” or “Vasilisa the Beautiful.”

That’s not as common for younger generations. Many of the students in middle school or younger today don’t know any fairytales except the ones in Disney movies. And while I love Disney movies, the lessons taught are very different.

The Original Fairytales & Their Purpose

Looking back at those old fairytales, you see some common themes.

  • Horrible things happen to children who disobey the rules.
  • Good manners, beauty, and hard work are rewarded. Occasionally, brains are rewarded, too, but mostly for peasants (and it’s usually playing a trick on the aristocracy). Love is occasionally the answer, too, but not as often as modern fairytales would have you think.
  • If the main character is saved / saves the day, it’s because of bravery and the help of others (including magical creatures and tools). In fact, it’s often the result of previous behavior (the rewardable kind), which means that the main character doesn’t have to do much at the end to win. It’s got a kind of pre-ordained kind of feel.
  • The wicked are punished. And by wicked, I mean lazy people and people who betrayed their kings or duty.
  • Taboo behaviors by today’s standards are treated as normal and kind of glossed over. Like abandoning your kids in the woods and some horrible mistreatment of women. Read about one of the old versions of “Sleeping Beauty” like “Sun, Moon, and Talia” if you want a clearcut example of how values have changed.

Let me go back to the third one for a minute to say that that’s a big if. The main characters don’t always survive in the old tales. Mainly because the stories were meant to scare children into good behavior. Safe and socially acceptable behavior.

Don’t want your 5 year old wandering off in the woods and getting mauled by a boar? Tell the kid that a child-eating fairy/witch/monster lives in those woods and will steal any child wandering there alone. Want the child to stop lying? Tell him/her about the horrible creature that devours children who lie.

It’s amazing how many behaviors could be prevented by hungry monsters.

Telling lies, laziness, theft, disobedience, poverty – there were stories with morals for all of them. Whatever lesson(s) your child needed taught, there was a story for it. Or you could make one up. Because that’s what fairytales were for.

In the old days, that is.

Today’s Fairytales & Their Purpose

If you’re thinking of plopping your kids in front of a Disney movie to teach them not to do something, I would think again. Today’s versions of the old fairytales are a little different. Although they do have some common themes:

  • A child disobeys his/her parents or authority figures, and everything turns out ok. In fact, sometimes, the child’s disobedience is justified – usually because the parents were wrong (Moana for example).
  • Love, beauty, kindness, rule-breaking, cleverness, and extreme determination are rewarded. You can see how some of these grew out of the old values, which means you have to look closely sometimes to see the difference in emphasis (Is Cinderella rewarded for being obedient or being kind?).
  • The main character is saved / saves the day through bravery, cleverness, and the help of others (including magical creatures and tools).
  • The wicked are punished. Although, now, “wicked” generally means cruel and selfish as opposed to the old definition.
  • Taboo topics (of today) are taken out or glossed over. Either it’s not in there, or it’s added through innuendo for the adults.
  • Happy endings. There. I said it. It’s guaranteed. And, trust me, even the occasional bittersweet ending is happy compared to some of the original ones.

Yep. Everyone gets a happy ending, and you can do anything if you try hard enough or wish hard enough. Those are the new messages being sent. As well as the fact that parents can be wrong and that being kind is important.

Of these, I think the last one is best. The parents-can-be-wrong message is true but may not be the message parents want to send their kids (Disobey me if you think I’m wrong!), and the first two are only true in modern fairytales. In the real world, not necessarily.

So are the messages the main point today? Nope. It’s more the singing, the graphics, and the “feels” – AKA entertainment.

What Caused the Evolution of Fairytales?

Why did that happen? What made the stories change from moral lessons to entertainment? What brought on the happy endings and the value changes?

I think the value changes are easiest to explain – society’s values changed, so the values of the stories changed. Pretty simple.

As far as happy endings and the change to a purer form of entertainment, I’m guessing those had to do with the new medium (movies and animation) and with the time period they began to develop.

Like Restoration England gave Shakespearian plays happy endings in reaction to the hard times they’d just survived, the society surrounding early animation was still recovering from WWI, the Great Depression, and the wildness of Prohibition resistance. The result? The Hay’s Production Code, forbidding immoral language or behavior, and stating that explicit violence could not be shown on screen.

Well, there goes half of the endings of the traditional fairytales.

Of course, there’s more to it. Social values began to emphasize sheltering children from taboo behaviors and situations. So the more society began to see animation as a “children’s genre” in the U.S. (which it in no way is in other countries), the more this kind of white washing happened. Fairytales were censored to protect children from their “adult” content.

Ironic, right?

How could the stories keep their original purpose if the taboo behaviors they’re supposed to discourage can’t be shown or discussed? If they’re not allowed to scare or scar children? It’s simply not possible.

So the old fairytales were made more and more distant from reality, not through their magic, which changed the least, but through ideas like “happily every after” and “love conquers all.”

What Should Fairytales Be For?

What’s the moral to this story? Should we scare our children? Should we keep them entertained as we shelter them from reality? Should we read them old fairytales and discuss the moral issues involved in between watching Disney movies and pointing out the unrealistic expectations? Or should we give up on fairytales altogether?

Is there a right answer? What do you think?

The 5 Worst Excuses for Not Writing

You heard me. The 5 worst excuses for not writing. And if you know my opinion of writer’s block, you may be wondering what qualifies as “worst.” (They’re all bad, right?) Well, let’s just say these are the laziest and most self-defeating that I can think of (right now).

5 Lame Excuses for Not Writing
(You heard me.)

 1. It’s Sunny.

5 worst excuses for not writing it's sunny

Writing called on account of sunshine. Said no one ever.

Really, people, a pretty day is not a reason to avoid writing. It’s not. You are using the sunshine as an excuse for being lazy and playing outside instead of working.

Oh, and if you doubt me, here are some obvious flaws to this “reason” for not working.

  • The sun will still be there after you spend an hour writing. You’re not going to spend the whole day outside even if you do go out to play. Make goofing off outside a reward.
  • Umm… the sun does set at some point. Work at 8 or 9 pm (whenever the sun sets where you are). Play in the sun and then write. Or get up at 6 and write before the sun comes up to tempt you.
  • Or, my personal favorite, take your writing outside. Enjoy the sunshine and write at the same time. [mic drop]

Uh-huh. That’s what I thought. Lame excuse.

2. I’m tired.

5 worst excuses for not writing I'm tired

Nap time!

You will always be tired. 10 times out of 9, you are going to be tired (Shut up, math people.). If you don’t write when you’re tired, you will never write. End of story.

(Which you’ll never get to because you’ll never start the story. Just saying.)

3. I need to edit first.

5 worst excuses for not writing I need to edit firstNo. No, you don’t.

Write. Finish the book. Then, go back and edit. Or set limits on how much editing you are allowed to do in a span of time – otherwise, you’ll never finish the first draft. You’ll just keep re-writing the first few chapters.

2. I don’t know what to write.

5 worst excuses for not writing I don't know what to write idk

*flat stare* Who does? Write anyway. Sure, the first few paragraphs may be crap, but after a little while, you’ll get fired up and get into a groove. You can always scrap or edit parts of it later.

Besides, if you’re writing a novel, you should have some idea of the storyline already – even if you’re not a meticulous plotter. So… start on a scene and see where it goes? Worse case, you’ll find out where it doesn’t need to go. And you’ll learn something about your characters in the process (assuming you’re paying attention).

 1. There’s no point.

5 worst excuses for not writing there's no point impossibleIt’ll never get published. No one will ever read it. I can’t write anything good.
| : Infinite variations of self-deprecating and self-defeating statements : |

*inarticulate scream of rage and frustration*

*cough* Sorry. I’ll try to contain myself, but this one drives me absolutely crazy. Before I get to the rant, however, let me say that it is not directed at anyone struggling with depression or self-esteem issues who seriously believes those statements. To those people, I will say only that I hope you learn to question and challenge those statements and that even when those feelings are overwhelming, I hope you still write.

For those who say this as a whiny prompt for attention and never actually had any real aspirations to write, I would just like to say, *thbbbt*.

First of all, it’s almost always the exact opposite of the truth. You have no chance of getting published? Really? A poorly written fanfic of a poorly written book got published and bought. So… what? Can you not write in sentences? Great! Your work will be the next abstract innovation in stuffy literary circles.

Second of all, don’t say you’ve always want to do something when it’s not true.

Yes, some people have always wanted to write a book. And if you ask those people about that book they’ve always wanted to write, they will tell you all about the plot and the characters – all the ideas they’ve ever had since they first thought of it. If someone shrugs and says, “I don’t know. Something fantasy maybe. Or a thriller,” then, no, they didn’t always want to write a book. They just think wanting to write a book will make them sound more cool or intellectual or whatever.

Cause, yeah, book writing – it’s what all the cool kids are doing.

Sorry, no. People like that get on my nerves because while they’re saying “There’s no point,” because they think it sounds right, by saying it in conversation, they give this excuse more weight. Like thinking that you have no talent or that your story is unpublishable is a legit reason not to write. And hearing it from other people like it’s a real road block makes potential writers more likely not only to use it but also to believe it.

And that would be a shame.

Don’t use any of these “worst” excuses for not writing. In fact, don’t use any excuses for not writing. Write. Make it happen however you can. I believe in you.

A Writing Activity for Music and Poetry

This exercise is great for demonstrating how so much of a song’s power and meaning come from how the music and lyrics work together (I may refer to lyrics as poetry and vice versa). Technically, it’s only a writing activity for music and poetry if you do both parts; however, even the first part alone is worth the doing. Both because of how well it demonstrates the point and because the results can be pretty funny.

The Power of Music and Poetry Combined

The Demonstration

Like any class, this starts out with a demonstration. This particular demonstration can then be used to inspire writing. Here’s how it works.

  1. Pick two songs with very different moods. Preferably songs that you know by heart (lyric and melody). They can have similar topics or not.
  2. Sing the first song’s lyrics to the melody of the second song. You don’t have to do the whole song, but try to make it through a verse and/or chorus at least.
  3. Reverse it. Use the first song’s melody with the second song’s lyrics.
  4. Evaluate the result. If you can stop laughing or shuddering with horror (depending).

It’s not easy to do, is it? When you know a song well, you don’t know the lyrics and melody separately – they go together. The way they fit together is what makes it that song.

Changing the melody or lyrics of the songs can change their moods and meanings completely. Even when the words are exactly the same, so much of what influences their meaning changes. Such as

  • Which words are emphasized (by holding them longer, larger intervals, etc.)
  • The emotion behind the words (Or the one implied by the music anyway – look up the lyrics for “You Are My Sunshine” if you want an example of words and music that don’t really match.)
  • Pauses (You would not believe how much the length and placement of pauses influences meaning!)

Those are really important in songs and in poetry.

A Writing Activity

This writing activity is a little like the poetry writing prompt for free verse – it involves writing the same meaning multiple times before arriving at the final wording. You can be writing a poem or song lyrics (honestly, the only real difference is the intent of the writer).

  1. Choose a topic.
  2. Brainstorm the characteristics of that subject that you want to emphasize. In other words, make a list.
  3. Pick a mood to try first.
  4. Write the poem for that mood. Word choice, meter, rhyme, and imagery are some of your best tools for influencing the mood of the poem.
  5. Set that poem aside.
  6. Pick a different mood. The bigger the difference, the better.
  7. Write a new poem for that mood. Use the same topic and characteristics you used for the other poem, but change the word choice, meter, rhyme scheme, etc. to change the mood.
  8. Compare the two.

That’s it. It’s great practice for learning techniques to create different moods with your poetry and especially for making sure that the mood enhances the meaning. For instance, that you didn’t get caught up in a meter that doesn’t fit what you were trying to write (easy to do). Or started rhyming too much or too little. Maybe you need to defy that rhyme or take away alliteration instead of adding it.

It all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

If you don’t feel like you mastered it immediately (who masters anything immediately?), do it again. And again. And again.

How many times will it take? I don’t know – you tell me.

Very Different Takes on Fairy Folklore

Very Different Takes on Fairy Folklore Red cap

Beware the red cap!

Maybe it’s all the commercials with not-so-bright Christmas elves (sometimes annoyingly so), but lately, I’ve had faeries on the brain. And, being me, that makes me think of how they’re used in books and how different authors have very different takes on fairy folklore.

Have you ever listed all the books you’ve read that used old fairy folklore as inspiration? Well, don’t start unless you have a lot of time on your hands. It’s kind of amazing, actually. So many authors have made the old stories their own, and so many of those  takes have become commonly used that it’s hard to recognize the inspiration anymore (like elves, for instance).

Of course, that’s one of the best parts of using fairy folklore as inspiration for writing. To quote myself (which feels a little weird, TBH – not being a narcissist):

“…there is simply so much fodder that 5 authors could use the same faeries as inspiration and get 5 very different worlds, characters, and stories out of it. Make that 5,000 authors…”

Well, I’m not listing 5,000 (I don’t have that kind of time), but here are 10 very different takes on fairy folklore.

10 versions of fairy folklore

Let’s start with the obvious.

 1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

While faeries as trouble-makers is well documented in the old Celtic and English tales (especially Robin Goodfellow), Shakespeare’s take humanizes the faeries and their court. They have petty squabbles (like the human court), honor human events, have pity on unrequited love, and make mistakes.

They’re not impossibly powerful beings with no souls who thrive on human suffering or are immune to the plights of their human victims (as they’re portrayed in many older works). Of course, they’re still fairly petty and impetuous, but that’s human, too.

2. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Speaking of petty, impetuous faeries, Tinker Bell is perhaps one of the most famous fairies today thanks to the Disney version of Peter Pan. To me, Tinker Bell is a perfect example of the trend to make faeries slightly more capricious than the average human. They feel enough emotion for us to empathize with them, but they’re a bit flighty and easily angered.

Her Disney incarnation may also be the reason the image of fairies as being tiny, winged beings is so popular today.

3. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Speaking of popular images, let’s talk about elves, shall we?

The elves of early fantasy stories, including Tolkien’s, are widely accepted as coming from old Norse folklore. Tolkien made some adjustments to fit his storyline and world, emphasizing the knowledge that would come with longevity (we hope). His elves feel emotion, but they put higher stock in logic than the highly emotional Tink.

The popularity of his stories has made the long-lived, sometimes-too-obscurely knowledgeable elf a role in every “traditional” fantasy novel since. To the point where few could name the origin – or did you already know they came from Norse mythology? (I didn’t…)

4. Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

The fun thing about this Discworld book is that it combines traditional impressions of scary faeries (renamed, like Jenny Greenteeth) with a completely untraditional type of fae called a Nac Mac Feegle (If you haven’t read this, and you like silliness at all in fantasy, I highly recommend it!). The traditional faeries steal people, live forever, are very dangerous, and like illusions (the usual).

The Nac Mac Feegles drink, curse, fight, and get intimidated by books, lawyers, and witchy 9 year olds (srsly, read it).

If you’re familiar with stereotypes of Scottish Highlanders (see Braveheart), then you’ll realize that Pratchett more or less took that stereotype and applied it to the old idea of the brownies. By combining two very different things, he made something new and wildly entertaining.

5. Ile-Rien books by Martha Wells

In the Ile-Rien books like Element of Fire and The Wizard Hunters, Martha Wells combines elements of alchemy, magic, faeries, and technology. She uses many of the traditional fae ideas like the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, redcaps, elf-shot, and glamour, but the uniqueness of her world and the way the fae interact with it refreshes them, as well.

The elf-shot is a specific kind of attack that the fae are impervious to (rather than simply an elf’s arrow). Glamour is an innate magical ability that fae can use but that doesn’t work against other fae – or humans who’ve been given a gift to see through it. Red caps are dangerous but not very bright, and even faerie circles get a new lot on life.

By leaving aspects of the original folklore, Wells gives a feeling of realism and history to the books, but by interweaving them with specific differences, it’s more than enough to hold the reader’s interest and feel different from the traditional stories.

6. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

MacDonald’s interpretation of goblins suits the modern approach to children stories: scary but not too scary. While the original goblins were much more dangerous and impervious to human tricks (if not human gold and jewels), the weaknesses of MacDonald’s goblins make them much more manageable – even comical.

Here’s a hint: if you ever encounter goblins from this book, sing, get into the sun, and stomp on their feet. Not your typical grotesque and murderously greedy goblins, right?

7. Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

So we’ve confirmed that goblins have long been portrayed as grotesque little creatures that are greedy for gold and jewels – but bankers? I’d say that’s an interestingly modern twist on an old character.

Rowling also gives her own take on many other creatures from mythology and folklore. Like centaurs who are ruled by astrology and talk in riddles, a cerberus (A.K.A. Fluffy), and, of course, house elves.

Like Pratchett’s Nac Mac Feegles, the house elf idea traces back to brownies, but again, Rowling gives them some new characteristics. The original brownies would leave a house if mistreated or if the food they were given was called payment for their work. They didn’t take orders, and they only worked at night and unseen. Rowling’s house elves, on the other hand, served a person or family, took orders (to the point of being unable to do certain magic without permission), and could have clothing without being freed.

Those differences not only make them new and interesting characters but also lead to interesting plot conflicts (like freeing Dobby, Winky’s drunkenness, and Hermione’s liberation movement).

8. The Five Hundred Kingdoms series by Mercedes Lackey

The entire Five Hundred Kingdoms series is about new versions of old fairy tales and folklore. In fact, the kingdoms are ruled by a magical power called the Tradition that tries to forces characters into established roles (a creative idea that makes myriad opportunities for conflict). So a seventh son or a young girl with a stepmother and two stepsisters might have to struggle to get out of a predictable pattern.

But what’s that got to do with faeries? Well, other than the typical fairy tale types (like witches, fairy godmothers, etc.), there are brownies who work for the fairy godmother. They do all the domestic magic like their predecessors, but they’re rather vocal and full-fledged characters rather than shadowy beings that only come work at night.

As the characters travel or the book changes, they also encounter faeries from many different cultures such as Russian rusalkas and bannik as well as the more traditional fantasy elves. The overtness of the world’s use of fairy tales is extremely interesting from a writing perspective since it uses the fairytales as stereotypes established by the Tradition and then explores how more realistic characters react to being stuck in those roles. I’ve never read any approach that’s quite like it (although I’m always ready to learn…).

9. Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey

Even though Lackey’s Elemental Masters series uses many of the same types of fae and folklore, the tone and world is vastly different. This series is set in historic England (usually) but the historic aspects are overlaid with a magical world where humans can control specific elements – and the creatures attached to that element.

Here, different beings from folklore are assignment elemental affiliations (like red caps and Robin Goodfellow), but we most often see ones that were always considered more one element than another. Gnomes are from the earth, salamanders are from fire, undines are from water, and Sylphs are from air.

These stories are also loosely based off the framework from old fairytales, but the modern settings, stronger female leads, and addition of elemental magic make them vastly different form the originals.

10. Elves on the Road series by Mercedes Lackey

Last but not least, we have elves racing cars in the U.S. of A. The main fae link is the Seelie and Unseelie Courts and how they have survived and adapted to modern times. Parts of the old stories like sensitivity to cold iron and underhill remain, but they have evolved rather like old traditions evolve in a new setting.

Other areas’ folklore and elemental creatures occasionally pop up here, as well; however, with storylines more like a modern mystery/crime story, there’s a very different flavor than her stories based deliberately off of fairytales.

In other words, it’s by the same author, but the take on fairy folklore is different.

That’s really why I threw in the last 3 – not to push 1 author, but to emphasize how 1 author can use the same inspiration in many different ways (in fact, that author has several other series that could be thrown in, as well.). I easily could’ve done 2 more authors instead – or 20 more authors. Or 200. There are that many variations on faeries (not even counting the spelling!).

Like I said before, folklore is so rich with opportunity that any author could pick up the same old tale and turn it into a different novel. It’s Changeling versus Tinker Bell. Seriously, use life as inspiration, and the opportunities are endless – you just have to look for them.

True Alchemists Do Not Change Lead into Gold Unless They’re Using Old Pencils

true alchemists don't change william h gass quote

I love the fact that the printing press set in the background is made out of lead.

I want to be a true alchemist when I grow up. Not that I’ll ever grow up, but there’s something inspiring about thinking of writing as alchemy (especially if you like FullMetal Alchemist). Not only because of the transformation aspect – although having the scientific knowledge and/or mystical ability to change lead into gold is appealing, especially applied to writing. Thinking that my writing skills can “change the world into words” is pretty heady (true or not).

But that’s still not the main reason I like this analogy. No, the best part of this metaphor (IMHO) is the fact that alchemy was all about exploration. Back in its heyday, true alchemists spent their time trying to accomplish the impossible. If one attempt or combination didn’t work, they tried something else.

In a way, alchemy was mankind’s way of reconciling spiritual beliefs with science. And while we may laugh at alchemists’ efforts to make the philosopher’s stone or change lead into gold, those explorations led to the development of scientific theory and helped direct science as we know it today (strange thought, wot?).

Now, take a moment and think about that idea in terms of the writing analogy.

Isn’t exploration a major part of writing growth? And don’t we have to constantly have to reconcile the rules and logic of writing (science) with the emotion of it (spiritual)? I think so. I think that makes this analogy a very deep and thoughtful description of what gives writing such power and also what makes it so difficult.

We transform things, yes. We try to capture the world in words. But we also play a very delicate balancing act (or sometimes a vicious war) between the art and the science of writing.

We explore. Through trial and error we find new stories and new ways to tell them. We are true alchemists just as William Glass said. We try to accomplish the impossible, and success has all the magic of alchemy.

A City’s Character: More Writing Inspiration from Travel

urban city aerialA while back, I talked about how to make the most of travel delays with the people-watching writing prompt, but even if there are no (or few) people around, you can still find plenty of useful inspiration in your travels by considering a city’s character.

Places are like people. They have a certain look, a certain feel. They have their quirks, their strengths, and their flaws. They can be welcoming, or they can be hostile. Whatever size or density, places have plenty to draw from as a writer.

Here are some aspects you might want to consider when using a place for inspiration:

  • Worldbuilding: style, layout, laws, business, crime, attractions, sounds, weather, wildlife, landscape, etc. Anything that exists in a real place can be used to make your imagined place feel real, to add interest, or even for humor.
  • Mood: Atmosphere is a powerful tool, and one of the best ways to learn to build atmosphere is to experience and observe a specific atmosphere and analyze how it is created. Or simply use imagery as inspiration.
  • Pacing: Different places go at different speeds. This is especially noticeable if you go somewhere that moves at the opposite tempo you’re used to. If you have the time to sit and watch the world go by (preferably with a nice cup of tea), you can see how those speeds ebb and flow throughout the day and even how different people have different speeds within that pacing. You could even pattern your story arc after the ebbs and flows of a town (wouldn’t that be an interesting project?).
  • Food: Cultural differences bring food differences – not only through what people eat but also through how people treat their food. Is it something grabbed on the run? Is it something eaten at the table in a leisurely manner? Is it scarce or plentiful? Even if you already use food for worldbuilding or writing inspiration, seeing new foods or new customs can give you fresh perspectives and ideas.
  • Personification: Or should I say, “reverse personification”? (No, I shouldn’t.) Writers often describe places as people (arrogant old women, young charmers, etc.), but you could just as easily reverse that to build a character inspired by a place. Like the dryad that takes on characteristics of her tree, you could build a character who embodies the spirit of a place.
  • Structural Opportunities: Ok, this might seem a little weird at first glance (there’s probably a better word for it), but bear with me. What I’m talking about is the layout of traffic flow and living spaces, both on a large and small scale. How the city is laid out in relation to the landscape, how streets meet each other, how green space or exterior space is tied in, and even where windows are (or aren’t).
    1. These are all things you might think of with worldbuilding, but they can also be very useful for plotting. Like looking at a building and realizing how easy it would be to walk from one to the other. Or like the fact that only locals know that you have to take the highway exit that says “west” to go east… (true story).

There are more options (always). And if you’ve thought about it at all, you’ve already realized that 1. these “aspects” are all things you can apply to where you live (no travel required) and 2. a lot of them are applying other writing prompts to a different location…

You caught me.

Seriously, though, this prompt isn’t about an idea you can only use when you travel. There’s no such thing! It’s more about remembering to be observant and think about this stuff when you have the opportunity to see things you don’t get to see every day. That’s the point of travel, right? You get to experience a strange mix of familiar and different.

That’s a great mix for writing inspiration – but only if you look.

A Writing Prompt for Logophiles

I like words. No, I love words (I might’ve mentioned that I’m a logophile. Or you might’ve assumed it, you know, with the whole writing thing.). That’s why it makes perfect sense to me to use words (or a word) as inspiration for a story. Because really, why not?

Ok. Here’s the idea. Pick a word. It could be a word you like. It could be a word you hate. It could be a word that makes you queasy (you’d be surprised). Then, start building a story around that word.

Here are a few ideas for how to get started:

  • Make the word the theme of the story. “Loathing,” for example, could easily be a theme for a book (and probably has been).
  • Have the main character epitomize the word. And make it more interesting than “heroic.” Words like “quixotic” or “inept” automatically require more depth.
  • Set in a fantasy word, applying adjectives to the setting could make for fairly creative worldbuilding. I’m picturing fauna based off the word “corrupt” or “sparkly.” Or better yet, both. Now, that’s an interesting world.

You get the idea. And if you want to complicated it, you could pick multiple words and do all of these and any others that you think of.

Do you have to stick with the word-thing the whole way through? That’s totally up to you. The main goal of this writing prompt is more finding inspiration for the art of the unexpected than it is about the challenge of the follow-through (although you could make that part of it if you want).

Anyway, that’s my idea of how to use a word as a writing prompt. Got any you’d like to add?

I’m Not a Spy. I’m a Writer.

Sometimes, I want to turn on my phone’s recorder and secretly document the conversations going on around me. I haven’t (yet), but sometimes, the conversations or characters are so good that it’s really hard to resist. I want to remember this person’s accent, that person’s speech patterns – or just the people in general.

To give you an idea of the conversations that tempt me, here are some examples (yes, these really happened):

1. Two older men (50s plus) arguing about the legalization of marijuana at a bar (1 for, 1 against). The part I remember best went something like this (paraphrased).

            A: That makes sense to me.
            B: Of course it does! It’s your theory!

2. A conversation overheard by a friend of mine on an elevator. It was between an elderly couple:

            Husband: [to his wife] Pete and Repeat were in a boat. Pete fell out, who
            was left? [Silence] Pete and Repeat were in a boat. Pete fell out, who was
            left? [Silence] Pete and Repeat-
            Wife: -If you don’t stop with that crap, I’m going to poke you in the eye.

3. A couple of twenty-some year olds discussing the particulars of iron maiden – the torture device, not the band.

4. A beggar on the street singing to people about politics. He must’ve sung to at least twenty people to vote for a specific person: “If you’re wearing a green sweater, vote for —.” “If you have a roller suitcase, vote for —.”

I won’t say you can’t make this sh*t up, but why bother when it’s happening all around you? People are crazy and amusing and interesting (and horrifying and disgusting). You never know what they’re going to say or do. Or even what types of characters you’re going to meet. If you’re looking for inspiration, that’s where I’d look first.

That’s why I find myself wanting to record snippets of people to better milk them for my writing later. So far, I’ve resisted (since it’s fairly creepy and quite possibly illegal), but I will admit I’ve taken written notes and written down more than my fair share of quotes. With a goldmine like that, can you blame me?

 What about you? Do you have any good ones to share?