Inspirations from an Abandoned World

 

abandoned house in the woods
Abandoned house in the woods – from Abandoned World Facebook

I find inspirations in different places, in fact I got an idea for a new story just by seeing an advertisement for another book – and my story didn’t even relate to the title, or the topic of the book, but a single word triggered an idea and I was scribbling away notes in my little notebook for later.

Quite often I see memes on Facebook that talk about writers finding inspiration all over the place. And I believe that is true with every distracted look I give my friends in café’s; every half heard conversation I pass in the street and every time I watch a movie thinking “I would have done that differently, which means a whole different story, but…could I write that?”

I have recently started following some different groups and pages on Facebook (I’m trying to be more social) and one such following is the Abandoned World Magazine. They post amazing photos of all sorts of abandoned human creations, from castles, churches, buildings, villages, to amusement parks.

I find each photo inspires something:

  • An idea of a story
  • What it could have been before
  • What it could be in my current writing
  • Who would live there
  • Who could have lived there
  • Why it was abandoned

I find each image fascinating. But I’m sure there are images out there just as beautiful or inspiring. Street scapes and architecture could be what you need depending on what you write. Images from space and speculative art – like Deviant Art.

Where do you find inspiration?

Or where could you look if you lost it?

Creating a setting from another culture

Cultural settingAlthough I’m up to my eyeballs with two projects, one of which is well behind, and I’m starting to refine the outlines for the following Iski books, I am thinking about what comes next. I know, I’m crazy. I have two cats to prove it.

And this future project probably won’t even get a draft underway until next year. But I am starting to think about it because the main character is a bit of a pest and she won’t leave me alone.

As well as thinking about her, I’m thinking about her world. In particular, what I can take from other cultures and make them hers. This idea started when I was watching a Chinese TV series set in the late 1700 in the Forbidden City. There was a whole world I didn’t know existed and it captured my attention.

Ok, I kind of knew about it, but not to the extent I discovered watching the series, such as the number of separate homes within the palace; and the fact that a prison was part of it. Or that those protected within the city could walk for miles along walled pathways and roads. The reason it grabbed my attention was that I was looking for somewhere to hide a princess away, so that she was within the palace but only those that needed to, knew where she was.

This is not a Chinese story, and other than the palace and maybe some aspects of the ancient Chinese way of living, I am still planning a medieval style fantasy story (at this point, given that I haven’t started drafting yet).

All of this research into ancient China got me thinking about interesting aspects of other cultures that we don’t usually experience. How could we use that or twist that for our own stories? The first Fiona MacIntosh series that I read had a Turkish feel, with the cities and harams and the way the women lived together. But in the story itself there were other aspects of life that clearly indicated it was a fantasy story, not an historical one.

The way people live (in their setting) is usually tied to culture, beliefs, religion and climate. That is because it is those things that impact on the way they live. Believing that they can have a number of women at their beck and call, means that those women would live together. In the ancient Chinese world the Emperor’s concubines were housed differently. They each had a home of their own and then depending how far they had ascended in the affection of the Emperor determined whether they went to him or he came to them. And as well as these women in his life there was the Empress.

I know this isn’t quite what is usually discussed when writers talk about setting. But it certainly held my interest. What different world sparked and idea in the one you are writing? What would you take from another culture and use differently?

Share your stories.

5 Tips to Make Research Easy

1392922318379I have been researching and drafting my ebook on Taking Action (due out around Easter) over the last week. This is more of a reworking really as I have most of it drafted. Research is a very important part of that of that reworking process.

I seem to have been drafting fiction for so long that it seems like ages since I have seriously researched for any writing project. Knowing where to start with research can be a little overwhelming but research is important for all forms of writing.

 

1 – Start with a plan

It is easy for research to get away from you.

Starting with a research plan will focus the research process and ensure nothing is missed. This plan can change as the drafting occurs or even once you start researching.

Having a plan will ensure the right areas are researched, those areas you need to research, and will prevent you getting lost in the topic.

For example – for my current medieval style fantasy trilogy (a mouthful) I knew I would need to look at the way of life, castle and town layouts, types of services/trades that would have been in the grounds and many more. I also knew that I would need to look more closely at swordplay and warfare/battle strategy. I only did a little research in these areas before I started writing.

I note the areas I need to focus on while I draft to ensure I research appropriately or I could still be sitting in the library reading various books about the many aspects of medieval living, many of which I wouldn’t need.

 

2 – Set research time

Once you have a plan do the research.

Setting limits ensures no time wasted and as you have a plan you know exactly what you are looking for. This will also ensure that you make the time for the research you need to do. Different projects are going to need different amounts of research time.

As I said above, some may be done before you start to write, others as you write, or, as I prefer, between drafts. Do what works best for your writing process.

 

3 – Take notes/references

Make a note of where the information comes from.

This is important for non-fiction as you will need to reference it, or you may want to point your readers to the document.

It is also important for fiction writing as you may want to go back to some part of your research to read more on a topic or see where it came from in the first place. Without detailed notes of where you read something you won’t be able to do that.

Keep your research for one project together in a file or notebook. I tended to scribble bits all over the place and then have to keep track of the pieces. But if you have a notebook for each project (as I do now) then that can act as a writing journal as well as a place to keep track of your research.

 

4 – Reference your research appropriately

Do not copy from another author.

Ensure that direct quotes are accurate and appropriately attributed, as well as concepts and ideas from your reading.

This is important with non-fiction works, such as articles, books and even blogging. If you use someone else’s words you must attribute them to that author.

 

5 – Enjoy the process

If you are not enjoying the reading then your readers won’t either. And if you are not fully focused on what you are reading there is a risk you may misinterpret or misread something.

 

These tips are aimed at both fiction and non-fiction writers. You can’t know about everything you write about and some level of research will be needed. Even if it is for a name and its meaning to ensure you are not misrepresenting a character or the like. I had the recent issue when I read a little of book one to my writing group and the name I had made up for my twin gods turned out to be a Maori word for something else. Even if you think you have made it up it might not be…

Point #2 is the most important one for me, as it is the one I find most difficult. Once I start reading about something I’m enjoying it is very difficult to put the book down and get back to the writing. If I read on I may find other interesting facts that may influence my writing/story but then I might not. Only research what you need to. It will take time but it will be worthwhile.

 

Think about what you need to research for your current work and set a date for the library.

How much research do you need?

IMAG0187In the last blog post I mentioned my need for some research into swordplay, sword fights and swords in general. I thought about approaching the local SCA to ask if someone would show me how to swing one, but when I asked them last year about taking off their armour they got a bit funny with me, so I am resorting to the written word at the moment (while I work on my wording).

I also have a large battle coming up (it is a war after all) and so some siege planning and the like is also required.

These are important aspects of the series but firstly I need to focus on the story.

At what point do we need to research and how much do we need to do?

It is going to depend on what you are writing as to how much research is required. Yet there will always be some needed because there is always a reader that will pick up a mistake.

We have all read something where we thought the author must have researched so much that he wanted to pack everything he learned into the novel. Said novel then reads like creative non-fiction and sometimes not even that creative. I don’t want that. I don’t enjoy reading it and I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy writing it.

The key is not to get lost in the research.

So don’t read everything on a topic. My suggestion is to start writing and then make a list of what areas you need to research as you go.

My research on sword play started with my character needing to learn how to use a sword. I do not need blow by blow included in the story but it needs to be realistic.

For the big battle scenes for the moment I am writing what is happening while they are under attack, not just the bombs falling (so to speak, my medieval fantasy doesn’t have bombs, yet). The details can come later.

I did a little research before I started writing on the general language and life in the period I have set my novel. Some things at the moment really do not fit with the period, but as it is fantasy if I can explain it well it may work.

When I come across areas now that I am writing that needs research I make a note and keep writing. Or when I need a break from writing I do some reading then, particularly if I can’t continue writing without a little research. Or I collect references as I come across a problem area, such as the swordplay where I have purchased some books on swordplay itself, different types of swords and fighting and how to write fight scenes.

The majority of my research will be done during the various editing phases.

Does the idea of research scare you as you write or do you easily get lost in your reference material and forget your story?