Monday, January 30, 2017

The Beauty of Design

Last semester, I got to take an “Intro to Engineering Design” class, in which we covered a whole range of topics regarding design: from initial brainstorming to the final presentation of the design complete with things like manufacturing specifications, measurement tolerances, and 3D models.

I won’t say that it was my favorite class, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. See, until this last year or so, the only type of design I’ve been a part of is purely creative. The designing of a novel doesn’t need a lot of technical elements: an outline is usually the farthest it goes.
In engineering, however, the design starts in the creative areas and then slowly morphs into more technical areas.
I’ve come to appreciate both in a way that I could not have without having experienced first the wholly creative design process, and then the mixed design.

The Importance of Design

Stories aren’t made by mistake. No one “accidentally” writes a story. It takes a conscious effort to sit down and write something. Even if you don’t know for sure what’s going to happen in the story at any given part, you’re fully aware that you’re writing it.

Design is the conscious effort behind creation. It’s laying down conscious decisions about what you’re creating. In writing, that can be anything from “I have this idea…” to “I have these four outlines and seven notebooks full of worldbuilding and character development for this idea…”. In engineering, the design is – often enough – itself the creation.
Design is a process. It’s the development of your idea from start to finish, whether it’s a short story, a novel, a chemical process for the creation of preservatives, or a new design for an internal combustion engine.

Why does design matter?
Without design, do our creations really mean anything? If we create things without conscious effort, what is their worth?
This isn’t supposed to be a philosophy post, so I won’t make it one, but I will say this: without design, our creations have far less meaning and worth. They’re accidents, made unintentionally in the subconscious of our minds.
That, to me, doesn’t speak to what creativity is. Design is one of the integral parts of anything we create.

Fluid Design

You, of course, probably aren’t super interested in the stiff form of an engineering design. It’s probably not overly interesting to read about abstracts and design papers and research papers and 3D rendering and process detailing.

Instead of structured design, conventional artists (those who design the fine arts) tend to follow a more fluid design pattern. They create things, but they’re not in any particular order, with any particular amount of formal thesis writing or problem stating, and they’re often wild and unpredictable.

Which is better?

When it comes to design, you must avoid the comparison trap. Don’t take your design methods and compare them to others. Everyone has a different way of designing things. Even in engineering, where design is much more structured and pre-formatted, each engineer will design things differently in their initial stages. It’s not until they have to present it that they’ll conform it to standards outside of their own.
Let your design form the way you need to form it.
Let it be fluid.

Your Design Process

So… what is your design process?
For me, I have two different design processes: my fluid design and my structured design. The latter is what I use when I’m doing technical art, like engineering design and math and science. The former design process I use when I create fine art, like writing.
My fluid design is probably more structured than many, because I’ve also got that part of my brain that wants to structure it. When I design a writing project, it progresses in almost the exact same order from book to book. I start with a basic plot or character idea, expound upon it and then develop characters. Then comes worldbuilding and plot arcs, followed by a rough outline on my wall and then a detailed outline in a notebook. This process can take me anywhere from three weeks (for instance, Barnslow Died and Asher’s Song) to eighteen months (Agram Awakens, and my newest project I’m about to start).

For you, I’m sure it’s different. You might start in a different place, create less outlines, develop your world more or less, or any number of different things.
You know what?
That’s okay.

Design isn’t about “the best way” to make something. It’s putting real effort into creating something.
Design, in and of itself, is an art. The art of making art. I think that’s beautiful.

What does your art of making art look like?

(Meanwhile, I’m sitting in my college’s library and I just spotted a book titled “Nihilism” and I feel the need to skim this book so I’m going to end here… don’t mind me.)

Friday, January 27, 2017

World Blip - Simple Fauna

Back in December, I talked about flora: plants and why developing them in your world matters. It only makes sense, then, that I also have a blog post that talks about the group that naturally follow when you hear the word flora: fauna.

Now, fauna encompasses a huge range of things. After all, it’s literally animals. When you talk about fauna, you’re talking about all the animals that inhabit a given habitat. That can range from dozens to thousands of species, depending on the habitat. It goes from the tiniest insect (one might give an argument for bacteria as well, but let’s… not, for simplicities sake) to the largest mammal and the largest other creature you create.

What does developing fauna look like? When do our worlds need animals? When don’t they need animals?

The When and the Why

I’m actually going to split this discussion into two posts, the second which will follow next month sometime. In today’s, I’m going to focus on answering the important questions of worldbuilding, and then what I call “simple” fauna development.

Now. I’ve talked about this before (almost two years ago… fancy that), and there are two important questions in worldbuilding: how and why. Before I answer the how, I’d like to answer the why.

Why does developing fauna matter? The shortest answer I can give is this: there are animals all over our fiction. Want to know why developing fauna is important? Pick up a book – any book – and read it. You’ll find animals. These can range from flies buzzing at windows near wardrobes to mockingbirds in the backyard to dogs among redferns to bears on the far side of the mountain to dragons in caves and alien camels on desert planets.

If that wasn’t enough proof, animals are deeply entrenched in the human experience. Look around at your friends and families. Look in their homes, in their backyards. Unless you’re in an apartment complex and you’ve never been elsewhere, you’ll find animals. From fish and turtles in tanks to dogs and cats in backyards and living rooms to horses and cows and pigs in meadows and garden snakes and grasshoppers in the grass.
Animals are everywhere. It only makes sense, then, that animals also appear in our fiction. All good fiction attempts to create a sense of reality, and animals are a great way to do that.
For our historical and contemporary fiction writers out there, this is relatively easy. You examine your time period and setting location, find the appropriate animals, and use those.
Simple enough. It’s that easy.

For the speculative fiction writer, however, it’s a bit harder.

Simple Development for Simple Situations

One of the easiest things to do when you’re worldbuilding a science fiction or fantasy world is to get carried away. It’s extremely easy to spend hours developing one simple aspect of your world, to get it JUST right, and then barely use it in your actual novel. If you ever actually get to writing that novel, because two hours per tiny facet of your world adds up quickly and before you know it, it’s been two years of developing your world, and zero years developing a plot or characters.

So let’s start simple: I’m going to give three basic steps for creating the overarching ideas of what kind of fauna your story needs.

Step One: determine what sorts of animals are important to your characters and plot. Do you need an animal that the main character can have as a pet? A mode of travel? A creature the villain can throw his captives to and watch them be devoured? The needs of your story are always a great place to start.
When you know what your story needs, you get a jumpstart in your worldbuilding. It fuels your creativity and it helps you create things that are relevant. You don’t end up spending an hour developing a creature that lives in a desert two hundred leagues from the setting of your story that’s never brought up or seen or even addressed in a thought or piece of dialogue.

Step Two: consider the habitat you’re populating and examine the habitats in the real world that mirror it. You don’t want to break reality by putting creatures into water that don’t belong there. You don’t want a fish on land or a doggo in the middle of an ocean biosphere. Those tend to not work out well.
This is where a bit of research might be necessary. You might have to take your setting and go off into the real world, to see where parallels can be drawn.  Doing this creates a sense of realism and immersion in your readers. It makes them go “oh, this could be a real world”.
It absorbs us.

Step Three: create unexpected details. When you find your broader set of types of fauna to develop, it’s time to get interesting. I’ll talk in the next one about the more complex side of fauna development, but I wanted to take a brief moment to address this here:
Never describe animals in boring ways. Your readers don’t want dimensions and weight, they want texture and sound and smell. They want details they wouldn’t have thought of by themselves. Sure, you have to give us basic size and color, but those are lesser in the minds of the readers. We want those out of the way (in other words, the sooner you give them, the better so we can focus on the real details) and we want to be able to learn all we can about this new creature.
When you give us a new animal, we become like toddlers: we want to run our chubby fingers along its rigged scales, pull at the tufts of hair on its head, wrinkle our noses at the aroma of flowers that it excretes as a form of camouflage. We want to listen to the burble in its throat when we scratch its belly and stare in awe as its skin changes color to match the grass it’s lying it.
Sensory, unexpected, relevant details are the key to a well of powerful creatures.

How do you actually create a creature?
Well, that’ll come next week.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Going it Alone

I’ve talked a lot about finding your people, about finding people who will support you and give you the strength you need to keep going.

And I’ve also talked about walking away: about shedding influences on your life with are detrimental to you.

What happens when those two things collide? When you find your people (whether they be fellow writers, fellow actors, fellow musicians, fellow mathematicians, whatever), but they’re stoppering up your art? They might not be doing it on purpose, or maybe they are. For whatever reason, you’ve found your people and simultaneously lost your art.

So you decide to walk away.

Now what? You’re alone, and the only way to not be alone is to turn back to something destructive to you.

It seems like you’re stuck, doesn’t it? I’ve been there before. There is, however a simple solution: you keep going. You go alone.

Looking Back, not Going Back

There’s a lot of inspirational quotes out there about “never looking back, only ahead”, and I think they’re foolish. If you never look back on your life, you’ll never learn and you’ll go through life making the same mistakes.
So, when you walk away, when you go it alone, remember to look back. It can get hard, at times, to go through a period of life alone. It’s hard to create art alone, sometimes. So look back: look back and remember why you chose to do this alone.

Never forget: creating art alone is temporary. When we walk alone, we’re not doing it forever. Someday, you’re going to stumble upon someone who is also going it alone, and then you’ll go together. You’ll find new people, new ways to find support and strength.
If you’re currently going it alone, look back, but don’t go back. When you find yourself becoming desperate for those times when you had your own people (stifling or no), choose to look back at the things you learned, and then continue forward. Don’t go back to those times, even as you look on them. Instead, learn to move forward.
Even if it’s by yourself.

Looking for ways to Learn

What’s the point in creating art alone? I mean, if no one else is going to see the art I make, why make it at all? I know a lot of people who have that kind of thought all the time, and I’ve thought about it before as well: why do I write books I won’t ever let anyone else read? Why write what people will never see?

The times we create art alone are the times we learn the most. When it comes to writing, the best way to learn how to write is to simply write. If we don’t have to worry about an audience, we’ll just learn. Going it alone isn’t very fun, sometimes, but it is a great time to learn.
The same going for all other kinds of art: even the art of life. Sometimes, we just need to be alone so we can be free to learn.

Finding Contentment

We’re all in different places in life. Right at this moment, you may be surrounded by supportive people, or you may be flourishing on your own, or you may even be struggling to through off the hampering influence of detrimental relationships and situations.
Whatever your part in life you may feel you have, the hardest part is finding contentment.

For me, I’m currently in this weird transition stage between striving to create art alone, and being surrounded by supportive people with the same strengths and weaknesses and struggles and hopes. It’s strange, at times, to consider how many people I have rooting for me, when just a few years ago I really had no one (beyond my close family, who really had no idea). I consider myself blessed. At the same time, it’s also a challenge because so many people actually care about my art that they want to see it.
It’s a challenge because they’re asking me to be vulnerable (whether they realize it or not). It’s a personal struggle, learning to overcome that hesitancy.
But I’m learning.
I’m learning and I’m growing to be content.

And so do you. Wherever you are, you can become content. Content in being alone, knowing that someday you’ll find someone. Content in walking away, knowing that walking through art alone isn’t always a bad thing. Content in the people you’ve found, knowing that their strengths are greater than their flaws.