Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Best Ideas Are Weird Ideas

I have run into ideas for articles just by riding a bus—Amassing Graffiti,’ ‘The Sideview Apocalypse,’ ‘Anarchy on Wheels,’ these three were all dredged up by my experiences on the Lagos highways. And then I've had ideas dropped into my mind while reading a book (not necessarily fiction); Necronomicon vs. Shepherd’s Journal,’ ‘The Map to Atlantis,’ ‘Stephen King’s Inspiration for UTD’ and quite a few were triggered by my childhood throwbacks; My Childhood,’ ‘What Sir Taught Me.’ But there's more and I wouldn't want to beat my head up because of those. The few listed here should give you a sizeable idea of what I'm trying at.

Many authors talk about how some of their famous work was inspired by an ‘odd thing’—events which under different circumstances they'd automatically pass up. (Unless of course, they apply their 6th sense, which through constant practice they've trained to be on red alert.) For Robert Louis Stevenson, (who I'd call RLS from here onward), a telephone conversation on the edge of civilization was all it took to provoke a scene in a novel called 'The Wrecker.' The communication device was still a fairly new invention at the time RLS visited an hotel in Napa Valley. He'd lived in a city and all that time in 1880s he'd never been privileged to use the device until that fateful day.

Well, guess what he did after that? Like any great writer would RLS wrote up a novel and included a scene where a character, Mr. Pinkerton says, ‘May I use your telephone?’ A line that's considered one of the earliest references to the telephone in a novel!

It did occur to me that I've never really read a story that revolved around bathroom functions,” Stephen King on his inspiration for his 800 page tome which he called, ‘Dreamcatcher.’ King was inspired to write the book because as he said, so much of the really terrible news we get in our lives, we get in the bathroom. Don't you consider it silly or wouldn't have waved off the idea as silly if it ever crossed your mind to craft a story based on ‘bathroom functions?’

Now, we ain't concerned about major events, things even a novice would wish could be turned into a book or film. That kind of stuff you'd get everywhere just watch the news. What I'm about on this page is churning out a bestseller or just a great story from a snatch of image in your mind, something whispered in a dark place, 'an overturned bicycle in a quiet neighborhood, a line glimpsed off a cut-out newspaper sailing on the neck of the wind.

Ideas have a sense of humor and sometimes, they love jumping out on you from the most unlikely of places where you least expect to come across them. Like it's said, ‘Ideas are literally everywhere.’ But if you don't train your subconscious and keep it on the lookout you'd keep missing out on the best things life has got to offer.

Keep your pens bleeding!


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Does a Fantasy Setting Need Its Own Language?

Inscription: "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished"
quote from "Wolves of the Calla" by Stephen King
A good fantasy series does not need its own language. There is simply no reason for it to exist unless the author has a penchant for linguistics because any time it would actually appear in the book, it would have to be translated into an actual language, thus mitigating its usefulness as a distinct language. There are a few conceivable exceptions, like a short phrase or message that is presented in a native form, that is left concealed until later events. However, this usage is no different than a closed door or a locked chest in terms of plot devices.

Any fantasy author, by at least throwing in a few words and phrases in a made-up language, can communicate to the reader that multiple nations or multiple culture-groups exist in this world, which helps to make it believable.

Language is deeply tied to culture so when trying to create distinct cultures or subcultures within a fantasy novel it (language) can be a very useful tool. Language and culture are so inextricably linked that creating a language is essentially creating a culture and doing this really helps to flesh out and define a culture and particular characters from that culture.
Basically language is great for an epic, a story in which we see different cultures. GRRM (George R. R. Martin) does this well in A Song of Ice and Fire, because he uses it sparingly.

It becomes less and less practical to have one common language as the geographical and cultural scope of the story increases. Having various languages that work will also show that the author has put extensive thought into how their ethnic groups have developed—trade languages, regional dialects and divergent forms can all hint at how civilizations have progressed given their relationships to each other and to any observable barriers.

If a distinct vocabulary has been established, the reader might also be able to see distinct cultural values given the right opportunities. Do family names come first or second for individuals? Is poetry terse and succinct or long and flowery?
The area of Wheel of Time was somewhere between the size of Europe and USA. Nevertheless, all people spoke the same language with only few unique phrases per country. In Song of Ice and Fire the Seven Kingdoms are the size of South America, but there is only one common language.
In Stephen King's Dark Tower Series. They all speak English, but in Roland's world if you want a quick snack, you don't have a sandwich, but rather a popkin, and when your grandfather was a kid, he didn't walk five miles (uphill both ways) to get to school, he walked three wheels to get there. Frankly, ‘ka-tet’ sounds a lot better than ‘group of destiny-linked brothers-in-arms. However, when you are creating a new race or species, I don't think it's farfetched to come up with a new language.

Hope you learned a thing or two from all the suggestions. By the way, these were all clipped from comments from a post I published a few years back. I thought turning it into an article would make the whole thing an easier read. You can get the full gist here: Should You Create Language for a Broad Fantasy World? Knock yourself out!

Keep your pens bleeding!


Monday, September 22, 2014

7 Ways Social Networking Makes You a More Confident Writer

Social networking involves a lot more than sharing on Facebook or joining conversations on Twitter or even posting photos on Instagram, Pinterest and StumbleUpon. Running a blog on Blogger or Wordpress or any of the other blogging sites is also social networking. And that includes participating in online writing communities like Writing.Com, WritersDigest.Com and GoodReads. Keeping these points in mind I’ll like you to tag along as we explore the limitless resources a writer can avail himself of by indulging this great web tool.

1. Connect with Writers Who Write Similar Genres –
Connect is the realest word in networking right now and social networking sites have made it perfectly easy to connect—you can follow, add to circles, friend, add to a list, receive notifications from folks who share similar interests with you. But the word carries well over social media platforms so much so that its present weight of meaning has made its basic interpretation inadequate. When you are surrounded by folks who share your passion, the vibes come off you in waves and charge up the atmosphere with electric potential.

2. Develop an Authoritative Voice –
Whether we realize it or not, the more we share content with our network, the bolder we become in constructing descriptive titles. If you are a twitter fanatic, you know you’re stuck with 140 characters to express yourself less, if you add links. This goes to boost your writer confidence in a whole lot more ways than you could ever possibly imagine. You learn to believe in the power of your own words and ideas. You also fine-tune your creative ability in crafting sensational titles because you get to judge firsthand how catchy your words are in grabbing people’s attention. This is especially true if the posts are re-shared articles by big time websites.

3. Hook Up with Mature Writers and Publishing Insiders –
Social networking would be a pretty sleazy neighborhood on the cyber sphere if this option was not a given. I signed up on Writing.Com which I found when I googled the word writing, because I wanted to learn more on fiction writing within a community of experienced writers. I’ve had no cause to regret that positive step. Besides, this blog is a reality because of that earnest decision I made five years ago to join the wonderful folks of a community I’ve come to call Facebook for Writers. By engaging your connections, you create a personal niche and find your place as a writer. And you know the feeling that accompanies being accepted by folks you revere; personalities you aspire to be associated with.

4. Boost Your Site Traffic –
By driving traffic to your site or blog, social networking offers you an avenue to express yourself; to be yourself. You find release and discover the true meaning of self-expression as art blends with communication to create personal relevance in a highly competitive marketplace. All at once, you are transmitted from a lonely quiet world into a full-blown broadcaster. SMO keeps your audiences pouring in and puts your site out there where it ought to be. And that sort of changes everything. It gives you faith in what you can achieve as an individual.
5. Maintain Your Online Presence –
Networking is the world at your fingertips. Microblogging—conversations, mentions, comments, shares—are all ways to keep yourself buried in the craft of writing. Your writerly ego gets a boost every time you create something with words and you other people to respond. Social networking is kind of big on stuff like the ones listed above. Never a dull moment as you are constantly served opportunities to present yourself as a writer to the cyberspace and to make your subconscious aware of the fact. In other words, networking helps to groom the fellow on the inside.

6. Site Branding –
All that talk about networking falls through with a shearing sound if people cannot identify you for who you are or what you do. Social networking makes it easy to talk about what you are up to, what you’ve been up to and what you are all about. Your site gets the recognition it requires; it’s a medium to advertise your private little corner and call the world’s attention to your personal space. Back in the day, you would have paid one of the big media channels to do this for you, not anymore. And when your audience acknowledge your site for what it is through personal effort, your writerly ego is enhanced.

7. Market Your Talents –
You can put your books and other products out there where the buyers are. Market your wares like a big advertising firm would and it makes you feel big. If you can open up about your talent, letting the world in on it, spilling your gut out in the open, you can consider calling yourself a writer a piece of cake. I don’t think this last bit needs much rambling but it’s one thing to discuss the big authors on your network and a whole ‘nother talking about you and your books. The latter sort of changes your perspective; changes the way the writer on the inside takes on the world around him.

Yeah, that’s 7 ways to get your ego positively fired up through active, consistent participation in social networking; 7 ways to turn your world around and pointed in the right direction all because you tried. Wouldn’t you rather walk this path?

Keep your pens bleeding!


Monday, September 15, 2014

How to Write a Story and Not Get Shot

Updated: June.18.2015

Nobody ever told you becoming a fiction writer would involve life-threatening situations, right? And you didn’t choose a writing career so you’d end up in jail or worse, in a casket. If like me, you pick your inspiration from your immediate surrounding, there are a few pitfalls you just have to watch out for. I’ve listed about five here applying well-known proverbs but there might be more.

“A Good Name is Sooner Lost than Won”: You probably heard it said, “Give a dog a bad name and hang him and the name remains.” The saying also applies to fiction writing. Folks don’t take kindly to being made the butt of the joke especially, one where the clown gets paid. Use names that cannot be traced to persons, living or dead. Even if your story is not inspired by an event in your immediate vicinity, make it a personal commitment to avoid picking names associated with local, real people around you, for your story. Most of the time, folks won’t mind becoming a part of your story yet the few exceptions would spell the difference between a fruitful career and an embarrassingly short, unhappy one.

What is Sauce for the Goose is Sauce for the Gander”: Have you ever considered writing a story not sex-driven? Your story people do not have to be male or female. They can be genderless, if it furthers your cause, or even bisexual (we used to call that hermaphrodite back in my high school days.) Here’s a story in your hands that’s a best seller in its own rights but you know you’re going to step on toes if you lay it out the way it is. You’re especially worried about how to keep your story faithful to the character without blowing the real life inspiration out of the water. I think you ought to give this a try; trade genders.

Chinua Achebe:
Legendary writer who almost
got shot for doing his job.
“We Can Live Without Our Friends but Not Without Our Neighbors”: Setting is important to story and for a yarn crawling with sensitive topics, setting is probably everything if the story must hold true. This gig is not called fiction for nothing, you know? Relocating the situation of your story and fine-tuning it to blend in with the adapted setting adds a different twist to the entire deal. If it’s trading places your narrative needs to retain its appeal among local audience, change your story setting.

“The Habit Does Not Make the Monk”: Story is king. Forget about all the misconceptions going the rounds about making your work fit into a standard genre. If attempting to mold your tale into a particular fiction category is going to spell trouble for you, ditch the genre and get the story done anyway you can. Going for the obvious might wake the dead, drawing painful and better-forgotten memories to the fore. Believe me, you don’t need the drama. The habit don’t make the monk and the genre don’t make the story. Your readers are bound to see it for what it is, anyway.

“Speak Well of Your Friends and of Your Enemy Nothing”: What gives profiling its appeal is how it injects life into your fictional characters and gives them the feel of real people. And whether the process is accidental or otherwise (the peeved individual would most likely tell you to ‘shove your excuses where the sun never shines’) most of the conceits you feed into your character are things you notice in the people around you. You can do yourself a favor and add a creative twist when drawing up traits of folks who populate your story. Business can get nasty in a hurry if your mother-in-law spots how the toothless old hag living up a tree in your fantasy series shares her peculiarities.

This is a reheated version of an article I wrote way back 2012 called “Entirely Coincidental.” Just in case, you noticed.

Keep your pens bleeding!


Friday, September 12, 2014

100 Idioms I Grew Up With

I was a little skeptical compiling this list of idioms because unlike the previous lists (proverbs and similes which required little or no accompanying  interpretation) idioms barely survive as standalone phrases stripped of explanation. But I hope you understand the burden I shirked to get this list to you and that it does little or no harm to the fun of studying figurative expressions.

That's all folks.
Keep your pens bleeding!