Build a Whole New World
One of the most asked questions I get from both readers and fellow writers is about world building. Readers love to hate the world of Monochrome (my dark fantasy), and that truly fills my black heart with pride. But even as a writing instructor, it took time to generate an answer that was better than “Well, it just came to me.” That’s partly true, but it’s mostly a lame answer. So, eager world builders, here’s some actually helpful and honest world creation advice.
Be a Thief, Like Tamora Pierce
I’ve been stuck in the land of Tortall since I was seven. Even as an adult reading Pierce’s books to my children, I’m in awe of how real her world is. I know its corners, its people, its pitfalls. So when I met Pierce at one of her readings my first question as an aspiring writer was: “How did you make Tortall so real?”
And in her cheeky manner she retorted, “I steal a lot.” She laughed it off with everyone else and specified that she spent a lot of her time reading other good world builders and seeing what they did best. But she said it was more than that. It was about stealing from reality. She traveled a lot, experienced places outside of her own sphere, and researched the places she couldn’t travel to. So her world is tangible because it’s not far from our historical or current reality.
That made me think of my favorite world builders: Tolkien, Rowling, Lemony Snicket, George R.R. Martin. They all have that thievery in common. George R.R. Martin’s work is very Middle Ages, gritty old world. Tolkien is all mountains and wild, untamed New Zealand hillsides. Rowling’s Hogwarts is, for all it’s magic, just like middle school and high school was for so many of us, albeit with more ghosts and wand waving. Any young woman who read the Hermione yule ball scene feels me on this one. That’s high school in a nutshell—put tons of effort into looking stunning and have some young dude completely take you for granted. Lemony Snicket takes places we think we know—fishing villages plucked right out of a Dicken’s novel—and makes it his own. We can place ourselves in these worlds because they are linked to a reality we already know, even if in an offhand way.
Make it Moody
Think about the worlds that stick to the back of your mind. They have a feeling, don’t they? Labyrinth has a dark, fantastical, confounding feeling. Orwell’s Oceania feels stark, grey and heavy. It feels like the pounding of militant feet. Tatooine feels isolated, hard and hopeless. If you’re nodding along with me it’s because the writers of these places had a feeling they wanted conveyed in their world. They had emotional qualities tied up in that area and they used that mood to help guide the landscape. I’m assuming all this, of course, having never interviewed these people. But I’m also not.
When I went about creating Monochrome, I knew what I wanted people to feel when they stepped into it: afraid, uncertain, morose, desperate, and mind numbingly gloomy. I wanted to make the emotional state of depression so tangible that readers could walk through it. The authors I love gave me those feelings each time their characters stepped into a new place. When I creep into Borgin & Burkes I feel frightened and unsettled, just like Harry. But only a few blocks away I can hop into Weasleys Wizard Weezes, where hilarity and joy reign. Choose your colors, your landscape, your clothing, your lighting, and your smells based on the mood you want to convey in that place.
Map Your World
My last piece of advice is simple. Map your world out physically, even if you have no hand for artistry. Mapping out my own worlds with rough tree-like things, city-like things and little descriptions, swatches of clothing, and splashes of color, makes it more real to me.
Many of us rely on our tactile and visual senses, so play to those. If you’re handy with a computer, graph it. If you’re an artist, paint, draw or charcoal your world out. For complex worlds where clothing, housing and weaponry all need to be thought up, look up different fabrics, shoes, and textures good for certain climates. Create a collage of what your people would wear, what they’d use to hunt with (if they’d hunt at all), the colors that would be logical for their station/city/rural outpost.
Just close your eyes and settle yourself in a sturdy but comfortable chair in the Shire. Picture its lush foliage, neat gardens, sprinkled hobbit holes, pipes, vegetable fields, and full larders. It is the color of spring grass or cherry wood trimmings, is it not? It is the smell of baked ham, eggs, and apple pie for first breakfast. It is the sound of quiet merriment, the pleasant baa of sheep. Touch the heavy cotton, simply dyed. Tolkien knew his world, truly thought about the comfort of a hobbit, the hard-as-steel home for a dwarf, the graceful greenery of an elf, the heat and fire of an orc. Each place has its own colors, textures, customs, culture and personality.
Martin’s worlds are so tactile that the authors of the Feast of Ice and Fire cookbook were able to show us what the different areas would taste like. When I first took a bite of Bowls of Brown I felt like my mouth had been transported to flea bottom. Martin clearly put a great deal of precision into his mapping out, an awful lot of research and a good deal of description.
World creation is not just a few descriptors neatly placed. Good worlds reach into reality, engage your emotions and become a truly tactile experience. History, and literature can get you started, but only your own full characters and their emotional, physical and spiritual needs can complete your world.
Now, off with you. Go create!
H.M. Jones can't build much with her hands, apart from a chicken coup and bookshelves. She's not sure if this machine she's in is a backhoe or some other piece of equipment. She'll do the research if she ever needs to write about it. Visit her website at www.hmjones.net to get lost in her worlds. She's also on Twitter and Facebook. Peace out.
I wonder if Zuckerberg et. all knew what Facebook would turn into when it was created. I wonder if he knew it would be a landing spot for predators, a privacy wash, a constant mental strain, a CIA, lack of anonimity field day.
I don't know if he knew, as a kid, that's what his social media platform would become. Maybe he thought it would be more like freedom--freedom of speech, freedom of thought, etc. Maybe neither. I know, now, that he knows what it is, has gained enough incredible wealth from it to understand...so much that he doesn't really care what it will be.
I know what it has become for me--a wasteland, a place for mansplainers/racists/dickpicktators to roam free, time away from my kids, time I could have spent writing, time thinking, running, laughing...precious time. Precious and few moments are ticking away, and I don't know how long my say in this world will be. I'm already 33. I have so much I want to do and see, and I don't want to have to worry about whether people know what I'm doing and seeing in this world, what my profile pic will be. I don't want to worry about the vanity of every moment, displaying the mundane as if it were EVERYTHING, then falling down in the abysmal, the drain of knowing it is all fake.
I want to create, not remake myself into a persona made of memes, gifs and snarky sayings. So I hit delete. And Facebook reassured me that it would welcome me back with open arms, told me to send a message to my friends, let them know where I'll land. But they aren't my friends if they don't know my number.
I can't say I'll be forever gone. I'll miss pictures of my nephews and nieces, who I never get to see. I'll miss sharing my kid pics with my family. I have a job that Facebook feeds. So, the hiatus might be short, but it will be heavenly.
Because after delete I found myself signing in, muscle memory, into an account suspended. Not just one, twice or three times, but constantly, though out the day. And I was worried for my brain, a brain I thought was too smart to be programmed in that way. But it's not. I am as susceptible to vanity, anger, ignorance, ego and obsession as any human. Maybe more, as a woman with a mood disorder.
So are my kids. And I don't want them to see me fall into the zombie sleep of Facebook memes, so I let go. I'll miss some of you, but I can find you off line. Don't worry, Zuckerberg, about my leaving. You'll be fine.
Been having a hard time blogging lately. As is often the case, it is because I'm having an easier time writing my fiction, and a harder time with my moods. One form of writing normally falls to the wayside when I'm moody. But, I figured it was time to make sure people know I haven't fallen off the face of the planet.
I've been doing a few things for my health, as a writer. As most of you who write or read or compute all day know, it can be easy to fall into inactivity when you're on a roll. That's certainly been a life struggle for me. I really love outdoors, but it's hard to love to be rained on, and I live in a supremely rainy state/county. It's an acquired taste. However, I think I've found some peace with getting outdoors and being active in between my long periods of inactivity. I've even found peace with the cooling rain upon the sweat of my skin.
As many of you know, I'm bi-polar and unmedicated. I have nothing against medicating mental illnesses; I think it's an awesome idea that saves lives. I just have not found anything that makes my life easier in pill form, yet. This isn't a blog about medicating verses not medicating. This s a blog about fighting the unhealthy urges that my sometimes extreme moods engender, while also meeting my goals.
So, even though no one asked me for it, I would like to share with you the things I've been doing to be less...well, wacky.
1. Not posting as much on my personal Facebook page. I figured out most of what I posted was geared towards receiving some sort of accolade about how I looked, what I wore, what I said, etc. Sure, some of it was also cute pictures of my kids for my mom and dad. But not most of it.
It's a difficult balance between over-posting and not posting at all. I've decided that not everything I'm doing is that interesting, nor does it need someone else's approval, so I don't post about it. I still have to maintain my author pages, which is something I'm continually working on, but mostly people just want to see cute gifs/memes, geek stuff, and notification of new books on that page, so I give the people what they want and move on.
2. Working out. Yes, daily. I've decided that I was getting too heavy when it hurt to walk up a hill I used to jog up. It happens. Winter is cold and I don't want to lose my outer layer. I'm not vain enough to care about make-up, size or hair, but I don't like to think of continuing on a downward spiral and becoming too heavy to function or to maintain good health. I was becoming depressed more often, in pain more often and more irritable. When my moods get that bad (or significantly worse than my 'normal'), it's time to get back to physical activity.
So, I bet myself I'd lose weight (again, not because I think skinny is healthy, but because MY SIZE is unhealthy for me). I am doing healthywager at a slow pace. If I lose the weight, I win money. If I don't, I lose money. I'm not a team competitor, but when I say I'm going to do something, I hold myself to it. I'm already doing well on my goal, but it started slowing down, which leads to number 3.
3. I'm running. I've said before that I can't maintain a run. I'm very tall and heavy even when I'm thin. I don't have a good build for it, and my joints kind of hate it. But I started to read a pretty great marathon training book, by runner Hal Higdon, and I love it. He's the kind of runner I can get behind. He's not holding anyone to dangerous or "elite" runner status and simply wants anyone who wants to run to be able to do it--hopefully without injury.
As an avid reader, it helps to have inspiration that comes from a book. And he is inspiring; not because he's a super athlete (which he is, really), but because he's so approachable. He wants everyone to maintain their own goal, not his. To meet doable standards and to be careful and have fun doing it. I highly recommend Hal's book to any runners, but especially to novice runners wanting to do more.
For anyone interested in the half-marathon novice plan I've been doing (which I love), here it is: Hal Higdon Novice Training Program.
And here's the thing: taking advice from a knowledgeable source has helped me be a better runner, and I feel great when I'm doing it. More importantly, AFTERWARDS, I feel stellar in my head. Too tired to be manic, too rushed to be depressed. It's really been helping me even out. Which is why number 4 is so important, more important than the rest of these things:
4. I MAKE MYSELF DO THINGS I DON'T WANT TO DO. Anyone whose ever been truly depressed knows how hard it is to even shower or get out of bed. I intimately know this. I had a day like that last week. My body and mind rioted. The thought of getting out of bed made me feel physically sick. But I did it. I got out. I packed my gym clothing. I made my kid's lunches. I went to work, low energy and fake smile. And I went running at the allotted time. After my run, I didn't have to fake a smile. I felt good. I made a day that could have been abysmal bearable. I was very proud of myself. I even wrote a chapter I was supposed to write for my new book with Alesha Escobar (The Immortals Book 1, picture below).
The last year has been me forcing myself to do things that are good for me that I don't want to do--getting a job, maintaining a job and a positive attitude no matter what my head tells me to do, forcing myself to be present with my family, cooking when I just want to give up, writing when I set deadlines.
I found out something great about myself: I'm tough as nails. I CAN do most of the things my illness tells me I can't. That's a powerful feeling. I've failed, of course, but, mostly, I've won.
I didn't want to keep up with my blog this week, but I did that, too. And it wasn't for necessarily because I have people lined up to read it. It was because it was on my "to do" list, which I'm rephrasing as my "can do" list, as corny as that shit is.
Blog done. Check.
H.M.'s Coming Soon Releases:
H.M. Jones is a purveyor of whimsy and nonsense. She's comfortable in herself, even in her madness. She writes sci-fi and fantasy for the most part, with dashes of poetry and the reluctant blog. She has a Twitter page. She has a Facebook. She is surrounded by kids, a man who puts up with her, chickens, a dog, and a cat.
She also runs Madame Geek Publications, responsible for the Adela Darken graphic novels, and the forthcoming Al Ravien's Night. Check them out. She doesn't suck at writing.
I wish I was drunk all the time,
that fuzzy dimness sublime.
Alas, a sad non-drunk am I.
Sober and screaming at the sky.
Give me whiskey or beer,
Shit, I’ll take wine, my dear.
Sigh, how desperate am I.
"The 10-Step Depression Relief Workbook: A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Approach"-A review and Discussion
About the Book and Authors:
Sarah Fader is a personal friend of mine, the founder of Stigma Fighters (an important mental health website) and woman who intimately knows depression, anxiety and living life with mental illnesses. It is thanks to her that I got the pleasure of pre-reading this fabulous workbook.
Please visit some of Sarah's Sites:
SIMON A. REGO, PsyD is a board certified cognitive behavioral psychologist with over 20 years of experience. He is the Chief Psychologist, Director of Psychology Training, and Director of the CBT Training Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. He is also an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Simon lives in New York.
A Review by Yours Truly:
As a woman whose entire life has been a series of up and down mood swings, I wish I had this book in my life much earlier. As most of you who've read my work know, I suffer from Bipolar mood swings and Bipolar depression, but I also had severe PPD with my first and second children, resulting in suicidal thoughts and self-harming actions (cutting and alcoholism).
In my deepest times of despair, I was not cognoscente enough to get the help I needed. I searched sites for relief, and got only definitions, which didn't really help. I wrote my first novel, Monochrome, during one of those time periods. Writing about my PPD was a bit of a relief, but it was also a trigger. I didn't know what to do with the feelings and thoughts I was having, and was too embarrassed to reach out. I got the feelings down, and it helped other people feel understood, but I didn't know what to do with them once they were out.
If any of this sounds familiar to you or if you are having trouble feeling "right" and "well," this Relief Workbook might just save your sanity. This book provides important definitions, sure, but it also gives the reader step-by-step activities to engage in to start dealing with the feelings/thoughts that plague depressed people. It gives the reader the tools to take positive steps in re-configuring negative thought cycles and bad habits, giving the person who suffers some power to deal with the depression plaguing them. Not feeling helpless is a huge boost for the depressed person, and this book is an enormous help in that way--it actively engages concrete positive solutions
The even cooler thing (for someone with bad insurance and little money to treat her illness) is that the depressed reader can manage the steps in this book with the help of a great friend or family member or, if they are honest with themselves, by themselves.
I could not put this nuanced guide down, and found the journaling and reflecting to be invaluable in helping me be honest with myself and understanding patterns of feeling, acting and thinking that can be changed for the better. This is a book that can be used throughout life, through the downs that may return, to gain focus and perspective. It's a five star, in my opinion.
I was given the book for review, but immediately pre-ordered my copy after reading it. I want to utilize the assistance the book offers by having it on my lap, with pen in front of me. Well done, Rego and Fader.
The Importance of Self-Help
To those of you out there who are feeling hopeless--I understand your pain and your thoughts. But, please never feel like there is no hope. If you don't try this book, try anything else to get your life back because your life IS important, no matter what your depression tells you. Be a fighter. Fight for the life you have now, and the better life you can have with work. Much love and peace to you all.
If you're suffering from thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.
Would that words could heal such a gash.