Friday, August 18, 2017

World Blip – Education (vol. 2)

Today, I’d like to go back to a type of post I haven’t done in a while: the world blip. Hey, remember these? Where I’d spout off about a part of worldbuilding people probably didn’t care about?

Well, sit back, cause I’m gonna do it again.

Today, I’d like to talk about something that can have a vast impact on the characters in your story. Not just the setting, but the people in it. In fact, your choices regarding this aspect of worldbuilding will hardly affect the setting at all.


Why Education Matters

Can you read?
If you can comprehend that question, then the answer is yes. Obviously.
Here’s a better question: can your characters read?

Ah, and have an interesting twist: if they can, should they be able to? You see, if you’re writing historical fiction or fantasy, the odds of characters being able to read are much lower than if you’re writing sci-fi or contemporary. Schools weren’t widely available in the past, nor might they be in fantasy settings. Or maybe they are.

And that’s why it matters. If your world is built to have few educational systems in place, your characters shouldn’t be able to read. That will directly affect what they can do in their story and how they interact with the world.

Now, education goes far beyond reading. It reaches into math, science, writing, philosophy, religion, and all aspects of life. These things can deeply affect what your characters do, think, and believe. If you look at people today, education is an integral part of their lives. Young people spend most of their days in school, and adults spend their lives working at a job they qualify for based on their education. Education affects the progress of technology and culture.

Characters Interacting with Education

Education is something you can develop very quickly, if you wish. You could also spend days creating complex systems for your world, but the speed is nice for those of us who don’t have days for it.

Answer these questions:
Who is educated?
What sorts of educations do they receive?
What establishments exist?

Answers to the first may include people groups like “nobles” or “nobles and merchants” or “first and second class citizens”, and so forth. The second question is more about the subjects focused on. For instance, most education in a society may be apprenticeship: trade school. Therefore, people may be educated, but not widely knowledgeable. Their experts in their fields and ignorant elsewhere. The last question is very simple: are there universities? High schools? Grade schools? Trade schools?

Once you have decided on these, you’re done. That’s all you need.

The work comes in deciding how your characters fit into this education system and training yourself to write them according to their level of education. First, you have to match them: are they educated? Where? How much? What do they know? What don’t they know?
Then it’s a “simple” task of writing them that way.

I’d like to give you an example before I end: in Agram Awakens and its sequel, my character Deyu is a slave. She has no education. She cannot read or write, and she knows the numbers one, two, three, four, and ten (though she doesn’t understand what ten actually is). She doesn’t know what science is, nor philosophy, and has a hard time understanding how religion works.
She’s also fifteen.
It’s difficult to write her, sometimes, because her education makes her sound like she’s four. In fact, she often acts like she’s four, because she doesn’t know better. No one taught her how to act less like a four year old.
However, it’s also a very interesting character detail that I’ve had several beta readers congratulate me on. They love the details when she refers to things in groups of four, when she gets frustrated at not being able to read a sign, and when she confuses herself with religion and philosophy.

That’s a powerful thing. It makes us empathize with her. Even though most of us can read, we can empathize with ignorance. That’s a powerful tool.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Examining Styles – Plots and Characters

When we think of style, we think of prose, don’t we? We think about how we use certain words, or phrases to form a certain style. It’s in the state of mind, it’s in the description, it’s in the dialogue. Right?
What if… what if style was more than that? What if style encompassed every part of a book, from the words in it to the story it tells?

Today, I’m back to examine more styles. This time, however, I’d like to focus on two areas where style is usually never talked about: Plot and characters.

The Style of Plots

Who knew? Who knew that there could be style in plots? Aren’t plots just… things that happen because of a conflict? Where is the style in that? Sure, maybe the villain is classy and the protagonist has no style, but that isn’t exactly… stylistic choice. That’s just happenstance and the fact that words have various meanings.

The style of a plot is found in its archetype. As I’ll talk about in a minute, the same thing is found in characters. You see, there is always another plot similar to the one you want to write. Always. They’re probably not identical (unless plagiarism is involved, in which case someone needs a talking to about intellectual theft), but they are similar. They fit the same archetype.
Some archetypes include “the heroic quest”, “man who learned better”, and some other phrases I’m sure you’re familiar with. These archetypes are not clichés. They’re styles. The most interesting thing about the style of plots is this: your plot style is constantly changing. While all style choices you make are fluid, plot style is far more versatile and prone to erratic change than any other type of stylistic choice.

You see, plot style is dependent on the story. It’s an amorphous creature that is constantly changing. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s good that your plot style changes. If it didn’t, people would get tired of reading your books. Not because they’re boring, but because they’re all similar. Using various plot styles keeps away the doldrums of identical plots and stories.

So. How do you become aware of your plot style? And how do you use it to make your personal style stronger?
First, boil your plot(s) down to the simplest it (they) can be. One or two sentences. It doesn’t have to encompass all of the story, just the main plot. Ignore the subplots, or do them separately. The main plot. Then, go online somewhere, and find a list of plot archetypes. Match it up. Find yours.

Second, exploit the strengths of your archetype and shore up the weak spots. No plot archetype is perfect, but all of them have strengths. Use the strengths, and borrow from other archetypes to get rid of the weaknesses. Flip some cliché plot elements, stir in some good characters and ta-da!

Your plot style.

Stylish Characters

No, I’m not talking about a villain with class or a protagonist who wears only designer clothing.

I’m talking about the archetypes you use in your writing. I’m sure you’ve noticed that you use similar characters in different stories over time. Sure, each individual is (or should) be different, but their overall type is similar to others you use.
It’s a trend I’ve noticed. Across all of their books, authors like to pull from the same pools of character types over and over.

That’s fine.
That’s… good, actually. It’s writing what you know. It’s using what you can write well to make a good story. Good. Go you. Well done, keep it up.

However, varying what type of character archetypes you use can vary the style you write. Try writing a character type you’ve never written before. I won’t list all the types here, because there are great lists out on the internet, but I encourage you to find a list you like. Use it as you create characters. Don’t make the straight out archetypes (they’re a little cliché done that way), but borrow parts from all of them. Make new archetypes, if you want.
The characters you use influence your style. After all, they’re the ones doing the things your words say, and sometimes they’re even the ones saying the words you write.

That’s power.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Importance of Being Late

I'm a day late in posting.
More than a day.

My bad.

To be completely honest, I've been so busy this last week I didn't even realize it was Saturday.

Today's post is going to be very short, because I need to get ready for work in eight minutes.

Let's talk about being late for a moment.

Inappropriate Lateness

It's considered socially unacceptable to be late. It's seen as lazy, disrespectful, and unkind. Making people wait isn't good. 

Don't be late.

People like to show up to social functions a few minutes early, or at least right on time, so that they're not frowned upon as "late".

Do you know late people in your life? People who consistently run like their inner clock is set five minutes slower than everyone else and no number of clocks and deadlines can change them?

I'm an early person. I like to be early. Sometimes, too early. Whoops. But I know a lot of late people.

And... I think there's something to be learned from them, even if it's impolite to show up late sometimes.

Being Late, Being Whole

Many of the people I know who are consistently late are very laidback. They're the "we'll get there when we get there" and they don't stress about it. That's an interesting idea. I'm usually quite stressed if I feel like I'm going to be late. Late for this, late for that, late for all of the things. It's a mountain of stress that I don't need. 

So what can we learn from being late?
It's okay to let go of stress and be late sometimes. If you apologize, people will forgive. That's a nice fact that's true for most situations except for final exams and job interviews and conference meetings. 
Don't be late for those.

But it's okay to be late. 
It is.
Really, it is.
It's okay to be late for a blog post. It's okay to be late in feeding your cat once in a while. It's okay to be late to the big party, it's okay to be late.

Not always, but sometimes.

I'm not saying we should all be late all of the time, but sometimes... Sometimes maybe we should. Sometimes, it's healthy to be late.