Monday, 20 May 2013

Creative Writing Tips: Every Day Lives

Applies to Fantasy, for the most part.

   This is something that never really occurred to me until planning my newest book. I created my world for the purpose of a story, I invented the land, the monarchs, the wealth, the technology, the resources - I created all of it myself, for the purpose of one to three books, depending on the scale of the story.
   But the story would not have happened if not for the plot. If nothing dangerous or out of the ordinary happened, I'd not have much of a story - not an interesting one anyway, so, naturally, I needed to also invent a villain, their motive, their plan and so on, and create a counter to it to prevent them from succeeding, as is usually the way. But, what I often forget is that the world would have continued on whether the villain had come along or not, and not all stories start in the middle of the plot. Some key characters, especially those in a high social position, most likely have plans and worries that would take priority if they didn't have to get involved with the villain.
   This isn't key for every fantasy story - if your main character is a farm boy, then it's unlikely that they'd have much planned in the long run - but if your main character is a princess or a councilman, then they'd probably have quite a social agenda, and that needs to be kept in mind, particularly at the beginning before anything seems amiss to them.
   This can be difficult, especially if your character is in a position you are unfamiliar with, be it existant or not. What you need to do at the very least is use your common sense. If your character is a princess, then who would be around them most of the time? Who would be needed? Guards? Tutors? Hand maidens? What sort of things would they be expected to attend or see to? Do they have an education they have to get in a specific craft? If it's a princess it may be more along the lines of lessons in politics and social etiquette, and if its a military commander, they may have to attend strategy meetings and organise training and such. Your characters need to have a social plan to be disrupted, particularly for characters such as these, or it'll seem as though their lives are empty and they were subconsciously expecting the plotline. Afterall, as I said, if the villain and his plan had not occurred, their lives would have continued as normal. You need to create the idea that they will do so until they get involved with the plot, even if just about none of the plans they made ever happen.

   These are the kinds of things you should think about:
  • Who do they surround themselves with? Colleagues? Subordinates? Servants? Cows? These depend on your character's profession and position, of course. If none of these fit then clear your head, picture your character and their job, and ask yourself who you see around them, or what words tie into their profession.
  • What do they do? Do they have to make reports to their higher-ups? Do they have to attend weekly markets or meetings? Do they have to maintain something like a stable, a farm, a shop and so on?
  • What hobbies do they have? Do they even have time for them? These pass-times don't necessarily have to be anything they're good at, but something they enjoy. I'm not good at singing at all, but I still enjoy to belt the words to a song I like (as long as I think no one can hear me). They could be related to their profession or position, or they could be the complete opposite. A soldier might enjoy to paint; a princess might enjoy fighting. Hobbies could also be secret, either due to shame, embarrassment, danger or a surprise, among many other things.
  • What responsibilities do they have? Do they govern a city? Are they highly regarded by members of their village or even country? Are they perhaps the opposite, and completely hated and outcasts? Do they have their own personal plans, or do their plans revolve around other people, or are relied on by other people? Such as an event can't take place without them.

   Brainstorm. What I find helps is a pen and paper so you can write ALLLL over it and see the whole sheet at once, which isn't as easy on a computer or laptop. It also means you won't lose everything you've mapped out. What I also find helps is to write down every word that seems relevant to what you're trying to plan, even if it doesn't seem important. If I were mapping out a military position, I would have words like "war" and "army" popping up, even though they should go without saying. But, by writing down these obvious words, it can help to remove them from the forefront of your mind and make room for new suggestions, and it can also help you get into the swing of writing down any word that comes to mind. Even if you know you have no intention of using whatever a word might imply, it's best to write it down anyway, and get it out of your head. For example, if I was mapping out wizards but I had no intention of using necromancy at all, I'd still write it down just to remove it from my head, otherwise the word would keep popping up because I would be trying to ignore it.

   Once you've given your characters a social or working agenda, their lives will seem fuller, and they will seem of more value, both to you, and your readers, even if your readers don't know quite as much as you. Most of these events may not come to pass, though some might be fitted into the story and used as an advantage to either the protagonist, or the antagonist, perhaps as a way to stage something or to lure someone out. But these plans are made to be broken, and can help make it easier to start your story off, if your story starts on a normal day that begins like any other. You'll know what your character is looking forward to and what they have on their mind, and what they have to get done that day. And that can make a whole world of difference. Some of the questions you ask yourself may even bring up answers that could completely change the route of the entire story, or grant you a small idea that can be built on to create a plot or suggestion for an entirely new book, if you can take it far enough in the right direction. I have found this twice while planning a book - I worked on it for a day, and already had two alternative books coming out from it just from a note or two.


  1. I always have a hard time filling my characters' lives... I'm always so intent on the main story I'm trying to tell that I forget to give them actual lives. I need to work harder on that.

    1. Yeah, it's something I've struggled with for years, too. I've only just realised it when I was talking to my boyfriend recently.
      It's quite funny, actually - writing these creative writing tips posts has made me a better writer, because I'm realising new things while writing them, and keeping on top of it!

      I hope these are of use to you, too! :D Good luck!


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