Posted in Exercises, Prompts

Exercise: Character Signatures

Graphology is the study of handwriting and the personality traits it reveals about the writer. While it’s a lot of fun to look at your own handwriting, for a writer, it also offers a chance to develop our characters off the page.

As an exercise: Sign your character’s name. Try out different styles and think about how they might write. Would they use thick, bubbly letters, or spikier, slanted letters?

Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Religion

At some point in your worldbuilding, the question probably comes up about religion. The good news is, as you build your world, you have pretty much free reign when it comes to religion. The how, why and what are entirely up to you, whether you want to borrow a template from an existing religion or create one on your own.

A huge part of creating a fictional religion is keeping in mind that there is a purpose behind religion. Most religions started to provide answers.

Explanations. A lot of religions and spiritualities have a way to explain things: why the seasons change, what created the world, why the mountains are formed. The truth behind these explanations is entirely dependent on your world. Perhaps your two warring gods really do create mountains when they fight underground. Perhaps it’s only partially true—they may have fought once and created a pile of stone somewhere.  This is often where your myths and stories are created.

Ethics and Ideals. This isn’t as simple as ‘do good things’. This also encompasses things like what their diet should contain, how marriage is viewed, what happens to those who do wrong. For instance, is someone who chooses to adopt viewed more favorably than someone who chooses only to have their own, biological children? Are certain animals and creatures considered sacred or holy? This also applies to sites that might be considered special.

Rituals and holidays. Many rituals have a basis in meaning somewhere. Wedding veils for instance, can be traced back to Roman and Greek traditions as a means of preventing ill-willed spirits from disrupting the bride’s happiness. The same thing goes for holidays. While history muddles things up, Halloween has its basis in the Celtic Samhain.

Reinforcement. Any belief system can be tested, but the key part is how it gets reinforced. Is there an offered reward after death? Does completing a specific ritual offer you protection or additional abilities?  What happens to those who don’t follow the ideals and requirements of the religion?

Organization. Consider how the clergy would organize themselves. Do they have a ranking hierarchy? Or is it much looser, with certain members being considered holy and passing on the stories and knowledge of their beliefs to the next generation?

Posted in writing

Valuable Feedback

One tool that can make the biggest impact for writing is feedback. You might have written what you think is the world’s greatest novel, but if your readers don’t agree, you’ll be stuck with a manuscript that doesn’t sell. The easiest way to find out what others think is to get feedback—be that through critique partners or beta readers.

Getting that feedback can be difficult however. Writing takes a lot of effort and it can occasionally feel a little daunting to ask for someone to read what you’ve written and tell you what they think. At the same time, knowing what is and isn’t working from an outside perspective is a goldmine.

There are a few things to keep in mind when getting feedback.

It shouldn’t tear you down. Very, very rarely is it aimed as a personal attack. When you hear that something isn’t working, it can sting, and for good reason: you’ve spent a lot of time with this story already. It’s very rarely aimed at you as a person, it’s strictly a comment on what isn’t working for that reader.

It’s not all good stuff. Similarly to the above, your feedback shouldn’t be all compliments and fluff. While it might feel great at first, it’s not likely to give you good, useable information on how you can improve. That isn’t to say a compliment isn’t useful at all. Targeted compliments can often highlight things you’re doing well that you can help to strengthen your weak spots.

Multiple sources are fantastic. I know, getting feedback from one person seems daunting, never mind getting feedback from several.  However, if you have five people and three of them highlight a particular passage as being difficult, you know for sure that you need to address it. If however, only one of the five highlights a passage, you can use your judgement on whether or not you need to follow their suggestions.

It’s only suggestions. At the end of the day, even if you have a full editorial critique, you are the writer. That ultimately means you get to decide if you want to act on a suggestion or not. That’s all feedback is, is giving a suggestion on how things could be improved. Since writing is art and art is subjective, not every suggestion will be one you agree with. You don’t have to follow them all.