Consistency In Worldbuilding

One of the best things about being a writer is creating a world. You get to create something that no one else has, and as you work on it more, you bring your vision to life. World building is satisfying, but it’s tricky too. You can easily build a world, but how do you make it believable, how do you draw people into it? I tend to find that some worlds suffer quite generally from what I’d call cultural inconsistency. It means what it says on the tin, quite bluntly, the cultures existing in that world don’t add up.

The best example of this is in language and place names. When creating the world map, it’s hard to resist letting lose the floodgates and going with any name you think of. On the flip side if you struggle with names, you can be clawing at your head to come up with one name, let alone a bunch of them to choose from. One of the results is that your map seems to just have a random selection of names on it. Names need to be consistent – for example you wouldn’t have two characters from the same culture with two vastly different names. Does that sound picky? Perhaps a bit, but if we take a look at a map of our own world, you see similarities between the names of places in that country. I’m British, so I’ll see Warwickshire, Yorkshire, and so on. They’ consistent.

When to comes to that fantasy world, you’re ideally looking for the same consistency. Sure, there can be exceptions, as there are in real life, but they aren’t numerous. Some readers will tolerate a lot; especially because fantasy might be the genre that they love anyway, but others won’t. As a writer these days it doesn’t work to make your writing fit into too small a niche. For me, seeing a fantasy world that is consistent implicitly tells me that it is well constructed and thought out. Readers can be picky, and believe me, if you world looks, sounds or feels like it’s some sort of Frankenstein’s monster, readers can lose their suspension of disbelief.

It’s all easily remedied though. Instead of leaping straight into your new world, plan it. Figure out what the fundamentals are for each culture you introduce. Standing back objectively is hard to do when you’re passionate about something, but paying close scrutiny to creating a world that is consistent will pay off the effort you put in. As a final little example, take a look at a map of Middle-Earth. Now, because it’s the cultures are consistent, it feels like a real map someone made for the world, not a map that someone made of a world.


Oh, Nostalgia – Were Games Better in the Past?

Thou art a devious wretch! Don’t worry, the archaisms are deliberate and fitting, I promise.

Whenever it comes to a conversation about games these days, most, if not all tend to deteriorate into general rants about how video games were far superior in the past, suspiciously when they were in their childhood. Being someone born in the 1990’s, the earliest games I played were classics such as Tomb Raider (1996) and Age of Empires (1997). Now, the temptation is to look back at those titles with rose-tinted glasses and hail them are far superior examples of games that the linear, recycled titles of today.  It might be fashionable, but it’s not wholly accurate. A lot has changed, and you can never make an accurate comparison by taking one game from one era and comparing it to one from another. You won’t achieve anything there.

The greatest thing we must understand is time. Perhaps the greatest illustration for the effect of time, and all the technological improvements it brings, is in the differences between Tomb Raider (I) and it’s 2007 remake, Tomb Raider Anniversary.

I don’t remember it was so… blocky.

Here was have the same game, the same plot and even the same environments, but with vast gulfs in graphics and gameplay. You can make some valid points when comparing these titles. The first is archaic, with bigger blocks than Minecraft, but with some horrendously fiendish puzzles. For instance, in the original there was a level that entirely revolved around throwing levers to raise the water lever to a correct height so you can reach the level exit. Only problem is that said switches could only be thrown once, and had to be done so in such a specific sequence that meant you only realised your mistake when it came to get out. At that point it was too late. Oh, and if you hadn’t saved at the beginning of the level? Start at the beginning of the game. Again. Oh yes, I made that mistake.

In Anniversary, the level is merciful. The principle is still the same, but the water can be raised and drained, removing that punishing element. You can grumble that this was making it easier. Perhaps. But as I outlined above, if you got it wrong in the original, the result most likely was that you had to restart the entire game. I mean, who really saves the game at the beginning of every single level? In truth, I remember this instance not because it was a great puzzle, just that it was a horrible part in the game. The latest incarnation of the game brought with it new gameplay mechanics that made Lara behave more like a human and less like a robot. Sure the graphics were better too, but any item you could pick up had to sparkle, just in case you couldn’t see it.

The gorillas are angry! They want the blocks back! They’ll even use one to make their point.

What are we left with then, in this direct comparison? Well, two very different games. I’ve recently been replaying Tomb Raider since I picked it up in the recent Steam Sale, and I have to admit, while I think it’s a brilliant game, that’s just me being nostalgic. The cold, hard fact is it doesn’t stand up to anything today. It might be like Age of Empires and hailed to be the father of strategy gaming (a claim that can be contested), but when it comes down to it, you won’t find these titles on the shelves of retailers. I’m glad for that, because this is 2013, not 1996.

Anyway, please share your thoughts on the games you are especially nostalgic for! Do you think games today are better or worse than those in the past?

Flash Fiction – Revelry

The darkness crept. Every creature slipped underneath tides of slumber. Eventide rolls overhead, pinpricks of light meddling between dark waves. Blackness paints the forest with its dye; the looming branches harbouring greater darkness underneath once green leaves.

Piercing through; inklings of white starlight dot the celestial canvas, but all laud the rise of the luminous orb, shimmering silver shingles between skeletal trunks. The light acquiesces, waxes, softening the dark, mixing their dyes,  but rendering the light brighter and the dark far darker.

My lunar mistress rises high, taking upon her centre stage. The curtain falls, our first act beginning. I gaze up on high, the surround stillness itself; dead of night. Now, away from prying eyes in the night, my revelry takes hold; a transformation into something wild. She bids me dance, and on all fours I oblige. I leer upwards at the silver dots, weaving between darkened trunks, my mind as changed as my body. She beams brighter upon me, imploring me to dance further.

I bring my voice to laud her, words fall away to sing the lunar melody. I beseech her journey across the dark tides, my song fading between my lips as I speed after her on silent feet. As we reach our peak, the frenzy continues, others joining to revel in our moonlit sonata.

But the night of full celebration wanes on the celestial tides, my mistress’s hold over me weakening. The waters recede, my madness lessening. The tendrils of dawn lap away at the final pools of darkness. And, with a withering scene, banishes my mistress.

Update Everyday – How Many Posts are too Many?

I’m aware that it’s been a while since I’ve actually posted something here, and in terms of blogging that would be a cardinal sin. From the various tips I’ve read, the general rule is to post regularly to keep things moving. However, I don’t think it actually does you any good to be continually blogging material every day.

I write when something catches my attention, and some days I have nothing to say. I don’t believe it’s helpful for anyone following me to have to wade through posts that have been published for the pure purpose of keeping to a schedule. The fact is really, a blog is made by its readers, not by the person who reads it. I think it puts off people to continually spam their messages with posts that aren’t of any real interest. We’re all busy enough these days, and we don’t appreciate it when our time is wasted.

I think part of the issue is simply that once you start a blog of any sort, you then try to find things to talk about in order to fill it up. Yes, you need to keep your page up to date, otherwise no one will bother with it – and that’s the motivation behind positing regularly in the first place. When I look at it, I think there’s a good middle ground here, as there is with most problems. Post some things, but don’t go overboard. If I find I suddenly have lots of ideas one day, and then none the next, I just choose one and then save the rest as drafts for other days.

Anyway, schedule to you keep to for blogging? Do you post regularly every day, or once a few days? What works best for you and your readers?

Still Write?

A few days ago, I met up with some old school friends for the first time this summer. It’s quite bizarre meeting people who you haven’t seen in months, and then remembering that you used to see them everyday almost without fail in the receding past. One of the comments that stood out though, was from a friend who is also a writer. He’s more a poet and playwright, and to speak generally we’re almost total opposites of each other. It’s uncanny.

“Do you still write?”

That’s the question that’s prompted this whole post in fact. From one writer to another, I was asked whether I still wrote. I don’t blame him, I never really posted much, or sent anything too him. All he knows is the evasive answers I once gave when pressed about what I write. Anyway, my reaction was to say of course I still wrote, and proceeded to tell him in more detail about the latest series I’m working on.

What struck me at the moment was how apt the question was. To me, I interpreted it not simply as a straight question. When it registered, it provoked me. Of course I still write, though I should actually talk about it a lot more in person. But, it helped me understand why I still write. Writing is something we can all claim to do, whether it’s a short story we wrote ages ago, or something you’ve continuously worked on for the past few years. Being a writer is something that rejects distinctions between past and present. Simply, if you’ve written something, regardless, you are a writer. Yes, I write, and I know why too. Not for some idea of instructing or simply even telling a story. I write because it’s fun.


So You Want To Be A Writer? That’s Mistake #1

If you think of yourself as a writer, you should read this. It’ll challenge assumptions about writing you might hold. For me, it made me think I wasn’t alone in how I thought about writing, and made me feel not guilty in the slightest for neglecting to write short stories to send to lit magazines while I worked on things I wanted to say. That, and generally living for the sake of it!

Thought Catalog

There are two types of writers, Schopenhauer once observed, those who write because they have something they have to say and those who write for the sake of writing.

If you’re young and you think you want to be a writer, chances are you are already in the second camp. And all the advice you’ll get from other people about writing only compounds this terrible impulse.

Write all the time, they’ll tell you. Write for your college newspaper. Get an MFA. Go to writer’s groups. Send query letters to agents.

What do they never say? Go do interesting things.

I was lucky enough to actually get this advice. Combine this with the fact that I was too self-conscious to tell people that I wanted to be a writer, I became one in secret.

I’m not saying I’m great at it or anything, but I am a bestselling author at 26

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Turning My Back on Writing as a Career – Does This Make Me Less of a Writer?

I wonder, does it make me any less of a writer now that I don’t pursue writing as a career? It’s been at the back of my mind. Does it make me a lesser one, because I’m not saying I want to solely make money out of writing? Or do other writers, published or aiming to be, consider it to be giving up?

I used to say I wanted to become a published author, and make a career out of my writing. The first statement is true still, but the latter has been removed. The reasoning isn’t that I’ve become disillusioned in my work. I’m more confident about that than I ever was. I decided against writing as a career for practical reasons.

I never entertained the idea that I’d be able to make a living out of writing. Not out of any pessimistic thought, but just realism. A career in writing for me would be writing books; anything other form of writing, say journalism, isn’t what writing means to me. Of course, if you do that you don’t have much security at all. If you self-publish, you’ve got to be the one promoting your book, demanding that you both sink more money into your book while promising anything but a return, let alone one that is consistent. If you aim down the road of traditional publishing, you’ve first got to be accepted, and then hopefully get a decent advance. It’s just a lump sum, and if you want more money, you’ve either got to sell more than they first calculated for you advance, or write a new book and get that accepted too. Then you’ve got to write more. Lots more.

Talk about having a secure income; you’ve got anything but that. Practical reasons aside and before you start accusing me of selling out, the main issue is my own idea of being a writer. I don’t want to end up having to churn out books in order to sell. It makes a mockery of writing in the first place. What could be more soul-destroying than feeling you are devaluing your writing by having to write so many books out of financial necessity. I must say, I don’t know whether that would cause the quality to suffer. There’s nothing like pressure to spring up some new ideas, but I don’t want to try. I feel like I’d be goading myself, that eventually during it I’d just stop one day, realising I’ve come to hate writing because of it. Where would I go from there?

I think these are the questions you’ve really got to ask yourself about writing. I’m not cutting the career idea because I don’t think I’d make it, or that I’m discouraged by how difficult it is.

I just thought, this isn’t for me. This isn’t how I want to be a writer.

So what does that mean? The plan isn’t one I hate. I’ll get a job. Do something during the day that pays a wage, then I’ll write. You can always find time for the things you enjoy doing. Yet to come back to the question I started with, does this make me less of a writer? Go on, let me know what you think!

The Freedom from Names – Why I Write Under Alias

I’ve never been drawn at all to using my real name on the internet, or as a writer even. It’s not born out of any conscious desire for security, but instead to keep me free from names. What do I mean?

Well, if I don’t use a name it leaves plenty of factors out entirely. Try as we might, we do form an opinion of a person from a name even. It’s just part of how we build a judgement of that person. It’s also a way people can categorise what you do. To be honest, I don’t even want my writing to be associated with my name. It allows my work to stand out on an individual basis and solely on their merit. There can’t possibly be any notion that because I wrote X, Y must also be good too. It leaves no room for presumptions – and doesn’t allow you to build a bibliography of my work up. That, and it also makes my life as a writer easier, as I don’t have to worry about expectations being placed upon me, and it keeps my writing firmly apart from myself. Once I finish writing this, it can’t be put to my name. In short, my writing can’t come at me when I’m not writing.

The best aspect of alias are that it’s impossible to pin down a gender on my writing. You can’t point at my writing and say “this is a woman’s writing” or “this is a man’s writing” because there is no name to give you a hint. Tying anything down to a gender is pointless – because what influence does it really have? I don’t want you to know, because I’m wanting you to read what I’ve written for what it is. Rather than try to break it down as a work of a female or male writer.

As for myself, it gives me freedom to write anything. Do readers place expectations upon author’s based (either fully or in part) by gender? I believe we all do, even subconsciously. Remaining an Alias means that I can write whatever idea enters my head.

As a quick question, do you believe writing under alias are a good or bad thing? Do you think gendered expectations are placed upon writers? Should literature be influenced by the gender of who wrote it? Discuss!


Sitting on a Story – What Frustrates You Most About Writing?

The question is, what is the single most frustrating thing about writing? Is it writer’s block? Motivation? Staying positive? What is the the absolute thing that makes you gnash your teeth or your stomach turn?

For me, it’s sitting on a story. And I hate it.

By default, I’ve always thought myself as a novelist. My very first forays into writing were not short stories or pieces of poetry, but attempts to flesh out entire novels from the start. I just leapt into doing it, and it feels right for me. I’m a sucker for character driven narratives, so when it comes to developing characters I’m straight out there using the longest format that allows me to develop them. In fact, the very first novel I finished (just in terms of writing the first draft) was a first person present narrative that took over 140,000 words to get to the final word. Writing that was tough, it had its issues, but what irritates me most is now having to sit on a completed work, either editing it or just leaving it to gather virtual dust on my computer.

Part of the reason I write is because I enjoy telling people stories. I quite simply like it when people like what I write. Sometimes I have an idea that I’m really buzzing about, but I’ve got to sit on the story for various reasons. I want to hear what people think. It’s what makes writing rewarding for me.

The solution should be simple. Post it online. Publish. Self-publish. I should have no excuse to sit on it. But there’s a number of reasons why I’m not. I’ll be brief, but my head tells me to wait. I want to finish my course and university without having publishing ventures worry me. I also want to wait for all the issues going on within the publishing industry to work out.

So in the mean time, I’m here writing novels that no-one else can read.

Flash Fiction: The Cusp

The flame was brief – an orange streak, naked, guarded by closed hands. In the dark it would take a while to see again. It instead left all the more time to remember the brief sight, a glimpse of a taut jaw, a creased brow . There were eyes in the glimpse, but the light was just lost in them.

Smoke caught in my nose, exhaled every time the cigarette glowed brightly. It used to make me cough, but time has worn me down. We stood there in silence – he smoked to give his hands something to do as the wait drew on. Without light, time was unknown. A minute or ten of them, thirty perhaps? I don’t care – it leaves only the moment.

I press my hand against the pistol in my breast pocket, the weight of it reassuring as my heart thumps against it.

“They’re late.”

I get a grunt of a reply in turn. Obviously they’re late. He doesn’t want me here – he doesn’t want to mind me. He always worked on his own, but everyone said I needed to learn somehow.

You have to learn in the field. It doesn’t do to just be told.

He shoves his hand roughly against my chest. Cigarette? I shake my head – I know he’s doing the same.

“Kid like you should smoke.”

I hold silence. He said it would settle the nerves.

What am I doing here? It’s a thought begrudged. The lecture theatre was stuffy. Dry, with the dulcet warble of academics and everyone walked about with no consideration – bodies were just mounts for brains. Nothing missed – you die and what is there to show for it? Nothing, all is to dust. It all means nothing. It only means a thrill. Doing this, you can get lost in the moment. A wild moment. When everything is falling apart around you it’s fun to throw your arms up.

Here I am, waiting in darkness – not just the night but not in my head too. I don’t know what’s going to happen. This isn’t safe. I love it.

Two beams glare over the hill. My partner hisses – unsubtle of them, but there is no light to see. The truck rumbles to a halt and points its headlights at us.

“Wait here.”

Of course, he knows. What other play is there though? This is wrong. All wrong. The lights should be off. They should be closer. We both know – and can do nothing.

I hear the gunshot before the trigger is pulled. He’s dead, spread over the ground. His light glows for a moment, then the speck dims. No fuss, nothing poetic about that – a little puff of smoke for a last breath.

I run. Run on. Run away from a car? They must be leaving me. Didn’t expect there to be two. He probably garbled to them I was a rookie – useless at that. He might be a crook, but I wouldn’t hold that against him. Sad, I never did know his name. I’ll remember him for the cigarettes then. Someone has to remember him.

I knew better to run back to the car. They’d have taken care of that. I don’t need to return to the others – they’ll know it went up by now. No one works strictly on ceremony. There’s no loose end to tie up here. I’m an end with no weight. I want to throw my arms up as I run, so I do. The still air feels soft between my fingers. It’s easy to run at night too, the air is so cool. I could almost forget it was my life I was running for.

I can feel the bullets whiz through the air next to me. I want to laugh. I try not to. It comes out as a muffled guffaw. I should feel fear. I think I do; there’s some sort of worry churning in my stomach. But the thrill overrides everything else.

I should worry about this. I shouldn’t be enjoying this. But I know I’m alive now, I can feel it in the fine space between the two. I wonder if there’s some revelation to come? I feel on the cusp-

The name doesn’t stand out in the column, it just blends in with all the other characters on the page. Indistinct. Eyes pass over it, but it means nothing. His name is just that of a stranger.

“… died of gunshot wounds, outside St. Louis in the early hours of Saturday morning.”

There were a few comments.

“… bright… promising in studies. Taking a degree at St. Louis University. Tragically killed in the crossfire.”