Sunday, January 29, 2012

Worldbuilding by Drawing on Experience

For days now, I've agonized over how to set the scene for the characters in my latest story. I needed them to be trapped in a no-way-out situation. A place where they would have no choice but to make a stand and fight for their lives.

This necessitated a change in the physical landscape of the story's world. What to do, what to do?!
I had set 'Augi the Brave' in a medium sized town that was a bit isolated but still big enough to warrant a lot of traffic passing through. That meant being on a major highway with a railroad. 

So, there are the entrances/exits from town. I added a few backroads and hunting trails to give them more options but I hadn't really thought about water. The place I live now doesn't have major rivers, streams, swampy areas etc. so it hasn't been in the front of my consciousness.
Snow has been the major obstacle to getting around in the area.

But snow, if one is determined enough, can be gotten through or around by various means.

Rivers, however, are a different animal altogether. They grow with the rainstorm and shrink in a drought. The more rain, the more dangerous even the smallest creek becomes.

The area I grew up in  is completely different than where I live now. It's close to the Gulf of Mexico. There are a lot of rivers and streams, ponds, lakes, and low lying areas that are beautiful, green fields---at least until it rains. When the rainy season starts everyone watches the local rivers with a wary eye.
The land is prone to floods. Normally empty gullies fill with rushing water, bayous flow past fishing docks, tangling trot lines and pushing debris into the quiet places. 
Locals haul in their boats and canoes and store them out of the way. They plan alternate routes around the lowest roads and bridges so as not to get stuck in mud or stranded.

The storms and rain also bring with them the danger of slick roads, downed power lines, wind tossed debris and trees fallen over roads. 
But what is the source of the rain? Normal storms? A hurricane? Will the storm spawn lightning or perhaps tornadoes?

I was reading a book I'd checked from the library, trying to get my mind off of it for a few minutes before diving back into worldbuilding. Something in that story reminded me of a flood incident that happened in my home town several years ago.

My husband and I had move about a hundred miles away, but most of my family still lived in that area so when the shit hit the fan my Mom called to give me the juicy details. The town is nearly surrounded by two different meandering rivers. To get out of town you have to either cross major bridges or drive through very low lying areas.
During the rainy season the lowest bridges and roads are flooded out and impassable. Locals are accustomed to this and adjust their driving habits accordingly. No big deal right?
Until the worst flood in recent memory happens. Then what do they do? Everyone is trapped. Even the highest bridges are covered or so close to the water that they're completely unsafe. Some people are flooded out and have to take shelter with friends or family. Everyone helps a neighbor and shares what little they have until the crisis is over. 
Over the phone my Mom tells me of having to camp out in the house with no electricity, of going to the grocery and finding only empty shelves. I get all the details of having to meet hundreds of other people in the park to pick up government rations that had been flown in by helicopter.
I get the play by play of an elderly neighbor of my Grandparents who refuses to leave her home without her precious family heirlooms. Which happens to all be large furniture. I hear the story of how my relatives rowed to her house in the biggest boats they could find, just so they could load up as many of her favored belongings as possible. 

And now I've got the landscape and weather crisis for my story. 
How do I trap my characters?
In a town surrounded by rising flood waters.
How do I limit their survival supplies?
By having a sudden weather disaster in which everyone and their uncle have raided the stores for supplies.

Now they can't drive out, swim out or row out. They have no choice but to stand and fight.
All this based on a real world event that, while it didn't happen to me directly, was a catalyst in what could have been an even greater disaster that did affect me. 

When building a world you have to stop and think about the physical landscape and the weather and how each affects the other as well as how it impacts the lives of your characters.
Can you use it to build tension?
Can it be used to reflect the emotions of a character?
Is it an obstacle that has to be conquered?
Does it create a ticking clock in the form of a damn breaking, a tornado or fire approaching?

There are many ways to use landscape and weather in your story, so use them to your advantage. 

I'm going back to my story and add a few more zombies. Floating in a flooded river that surrounds the town. Maybe some zombie fish? 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Life Influences Art

As much as I'd like to think that I have not let my past 'create' me, I have to admit that it does influence me.
It's an integral part of my writing that I cannot deny.

When I begin to write a difficult scene and I need an emotion to ground that scene and make it real, I think of an event from my past that brings it to me.
Even so, I often push the past aside and ignore it. I refuse to let it make me into a statistic. I refuse to let my past make me into one of those people who wallows in remembered pain and anger.

Yet, there are still times that it rushes over me full force. It's as if it has taken over, a flashback, a bad 'trip' that suddenly forces adrenalin through my system and I see scenes from past events as if I'm still living that moment.

One of those moments happened to me recently. Sitting here thinking about it again I find my hands shaking and my heart pounding as I type away at the keyboard, channeling it all into words on the page.

My sixteen year old son has not been raised in the same environment that I had to endure. I've done everything in my power to keep it from him, to protect him and give him a better life than I or his father were ever offered.
We went so far as to move our children away from the only place I had ever known as home. I left behind people who still don't understand why I was so desperate to leave.
It's a culture. A way of life that they accept without question.

I didn't want that for my children. Now my son is old enough to go out on his own without my protection and I wonder if I've really prepared him for the world or if my overprotection has made him more vulnerable.
I just have to trust in him. That's a hard thing to do.

I grew up in a culture of violence. He did not.
So when I picked him up from an all ages club a few nights ago I didn't expect his reaction, or mine, to a threat he'd been issued by a grown man. A man who could very well have been dangerous despite the security at the club.

He seemed so blase. As if it wasn't a big deal. He blew it off like it was nothing and didn't seem the least bit concerned.

The innocence of youth. The feeling that you are invincible.
He still has that.
I wonder if I ever had that.

On the drive home he was chatty and happy and said he'd enjoyed himself.
I was seething. My hands shook on the wheel, white knuckled. I didn't see the stop lights or street signs. I was on autopilot.
I was plotting the demise of the man who had threatened my son.
Never, EVER, underestimate the creativity of a mother defending her young.

I'd spent so much of my life 'under fire', defending myself both physically and emotionally that it was easy to slip back into that rage. Too easy.
I had had plenty of time in my youth to plan and plot and work out scenarios in my head.
I was raised as a hunter.
I know how to maim, how to kill, how to butcher a body and how to dispose of it.
Perhaps not a human body, but still.

It was a serious effort to pull myself back from that edge. I wasn't that person. I had made the decision years ago and I would stick by it no matter what.

Later that night I sat down to work on one of my stories. I needed a violent scene, as this was a horror story.
I immediately thought of my reaction to the threat to my child.
That was all it took.

I channeled every bit of it into that scene.
 It was violent, it was bloody, it was heart pounding, crow bar swinging, steel-toed-boot-to-the-head action that left me sweating and panting,with tears on my face, as if I had been the one doing the killing.

I was exhausted and satisfied.
My scene was done.

And there it is. My past and all the emotions that go along with it sit just under the surface, waiting to be called on at any moment.
I try to bury it, pretend it doesn't exist, put on a smile and be happy, crunchy granola, peace loving  mom who doesn't have any secrets worth knowing.

I'm not fooling anyone.
It all shows up in my writing in one way or other. All the violence and anger and pain makes it's way onto every page.
I'm smart enough not to try and tone it down. It's my Zen, may catharsis, my self expression that prevents me from actually doing the things I see in my head.

My writing helps me be a better person.
It keeps me from being a statistic.

So the next time you piss off a writer remember that you just may end up in one of their stories with your head bashed in, hanging by your heels from a tree limb, with your intestines dangling near your ears.

Be thankful the writer was able to express it in writing instead of actually doing it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Life Gets In The Way

I made New Year's Resolutions.
I resolved to keep them.
Unfortunately, life has gotten in the way. It happens to the best of us. Things happen that we couldn't have expected and no matter how much we prepare, these things always catch us unawares.

I've had my husband at home sick since New Year's Day. He called early Sunday to tell me that he would be home hours earlier than expected (he was driving in from upstate). He had a medical emergency and needed me to take him to the ER.
Several tests later he was released from the ER with a prescription for antibiotics and pain meds and an order to bed rest until he healed. A visit to the Dr. for follow up did not give him the clean bill of health he wanted so he has a refill on the meds and another week at home. Blech!

So here I am with three kids homeschooling, a sick-whiny husband and a muse who is ready to explode because she can't get any work done.
I did, however, make a New Year's Resolution to write at least five hundred words a day.

Guess what?
I've been keeping it! I might be struggling to keep up with my other resolutions, but this one is the most important to me. I thought it would be personal growth. Really. But no, the more I knuckle down to keep my resolutions, the more I realize there is no growth without my writing.,
So I do whatever I have to, to keep writing whenever and wherever I can.
I keep the online writing program open at all times.
I write a few words here, a sentence there, it all adds up eventually. At the end of the day, when I crawl into bed, I read over what I've written. I may add some more words or just tweak it a bit.

Or I may muddle through a new blog post. Like this one.

I'm trying to keep my other resolutions, I really am.
But YOU try to get anything done with a sick man in the house! Hehehe...
Especially one who can't sit still and wants to talk all the time. If not to me or the kids, then on the phone.


It takes a lot of dedication to stick to your resolutions and you may find that as the year passes, they start dropping off one by one.
That's okay.
Just don't let go of the ones that are the most important to you.
Hang onto them tightly and don't let go.

At the next new year you'll feel better, more confident, and be thankful that you didn't give up.

Research has shown that it takes about 21 days to form a habit. Keep that resolution for twenty one days and you're well on your way to making it a habit. Once it's a habit, it'll be harder NOT to do it. I'm already starting to get twitchy every time I have to put off writing for an hour or two. Guess that means it's becoming a habit!

Are you keeping your resolutions?

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

I have a lot of resolutions this year. The last two years have been kinda tough across the board. Life, finances, relationship, work.
You name it. But I've made a lot of changes and I've grown a lot.
I'm taking control of this year and making it do my bidding!

I've signed up for a fitness thingy "Get Off Your Broomstick" Witchy fitness challenge in which I have pledged to myself to take 500 steps a day on my mini-stepper for the next three months. I'm #43 on the list.

I signed up for #WIP500 in which I pledge to write at least 500 words a day. Whether it be blogging or working on one of my latest works in progress, I will write on a daily basis. I'm #58 on the list.

I will learn a language. Something I've been trying to do for a while, and failing. I know a lot of phrases in a lot of languages but I don't speak a single language fluently.

I will finish editing "Zombie Fortress". It is the first thing I've actually finished. Big progress for me there, for sure!

I will read daily. I have a large 'To Be Read' pile. Both paper and digital. Fiction and Non-Fiction.

I will finish the first draft of Augi The Brave, the latest zombie apocalypse story.

I will finish my First Degree of Correlian Wicca classes. I've been signed up for a while but haven't really applied myself. Correlian Wicca is a philosophically based belief system of Wicca and seems to be a good fit for me. Time to focus.

The most important resolution of the year? Take care of myself and make time to focus on my own growth. If I'm going to be successful at anything I need to stop whining about things and start doing them. I am the only one who can improve me.
I am the only one who can finish writing my stories, get me in shape and whip my life into shape.

Have a Happy New Year everyone, I hope yours is as good as can possibly be!