Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Law and Enforcement

No matter what sort of genre you write, if you’re doing any sort of worldbuilding it’s a good idea to take a look at your laws and how they’re enforced. Anarchy isn’t generally a great backdrop—dystopian settings and Armageddon excluded.

There’s two ways you can start this. One is to figure out who polices the population and where their power is derived from. This is especially key to finding out where the flaws in your enforcement system are. It’s unlikely you’ll have a perfect enforcement system. Power after all corrupts, and when you’re dealing with people who are there solely to maintain order, they have a fair amount of power.

The other place you could start is figuring out which laws need the most enforcement. This gives you a bigger look at your society, but also opens up a lot of other questions such as why those laws in particular need enforcement. If thievery is your biggest problem, ask yourself why your civilians find it necessary to steal. Is it possible that the general public lacks resources, making theft a survival tactic? If it’s a lack of resources and power driving their crimes, why hasn’t your enforcement agency stepped in to correct this?

Regardless of where you start, it’s a good idea to have an answer for both. Knowing who does the enforcing and where they need to enforce the most is crucial in building a justice system. This gives you a base for expanding from simple enforcement officers such as police or guards into the larger judicial system of judges, juries and executioners. Ask yourself how trials are conducted. Do your enforcement officers carry the task of both catching and condemning criminals? How is the system balanced between stopping a crime and protecting the innocent?

Lastly, now that you know how your system works and what drives it, ask yourself who would join the ranks of your law enforcement. Are these willing volunteers with good intentions? Are they chosen because they meet certain criteria, and if so, who does the choosing? Are these desperate people hoping for a chance to protect their loved ones from the brutality the system inflicts on the populace? Are these men and women serving because they’re required to do so by some legal stipulation?

What does your world’s law and enforcement system look like? If you feel like sharing, drop a comment below!

Posted in character, Exercises

The Emotion Wheel

Of the three cornerstones of storytelling, characters have to put up with a lot. Not only do they have to respond and react to the movements of plot, but they do so within the constrains of their setting. Their motives are constantly questioned and everyone almost always wants to know what their goal is.

It’s no wonder your characters should and do feel a lot of things. From joy to disgust to rage and even hopelessness, your characters have an entire gamut of possible emotions. As a writer, your job is to help portray those emotions. Body language absolutely should be something you familiarize yourself with, and so should the array of human emotion.

For that, I recommend an emotion wheel.

You might also see this referred to as the wheel of feelings. In essence, it breaks every emotion down into its basic elements—Embarrassment is rooted in hurt, which has roots in anger. Confidence takes a base in pride, which in turn stems from happiness..

Essentially this functions as an extended thesaurus, not only giving you an accurate word for what your character is feeling, but giving you an idea of why they might be feeling that way, and how they might express it. Both disgust and boredom can be conveyed by having a character support their head on one hand, either with a sneer in place (disgust) or a blank expression (bored).

Keep in mind that emotions are fluid and aren’t necessarily bound to follow a logical order. Not only does sadness turn into fear, it can also turn into disgust or even hope. Just as easily, happiness can turn into anger.

As an exercise: Go to any stock photo site such as pixabay or unsplash and search for a base emotion—anger, fear, sadness, happiness, disgust or surprise. Pick out three different images and analyze them. What are some of the similarities in the models’ body languages? What are some differences? What higher-level emotions might each model be feeling? Write down those cues and clues as a reference the next time you have a character feeling a particular emotion.

Posted in writing

Writing as Exploration

One of the most alluring things about reading fiction is the glimpse it gives us into other worlds and possibilities. Although most of us probably won’t get into a swordfight with a tyrant, or travel to another world, we can read about the possibility of doing just that.

Unfortunately for us writers, we still have to come up with some idea of what that possibility might mean. The trifecta of writing includes characters, setting and plot. We might have an idea of one or even two, but what happens when we just don’t have any ideas for that third part? This is where you might find something like flash fiction coming in handy. Take the ideas for plot, setting or character you have, and start asking questions.

Think of things like how an average joe, everyday character might be forced to take part in your main conflict. What’s the first major law someone from another country or world might break, intentionally or unintentionally? What do the basics of life like grocery shopping, housekeeping and even hygiene look like for your everyday people? Jot down at least three or four questions and write a page of a scenario that answers those questions.

This even works for fiction stories that take place in the real world, without the addition of magic or anything else. Start asking questions about who might uncover a secret? What secrets might they uncover, either from their family and friends, at their job, or from a passing stranger. How do they discover these secrets? How do they handle this new information? How does it affect their life?

If you’re really struggling, it might also help to take a scene or a chapter from another story you’ve enjoyed, and rewrite it as if it’s happening to your characters in your setting. Use that other scene as a skeleton structure. Copy the basic elements such as number of characters present, general location (like house or hospital) and major goals or events of the scene.

Even though these exploratory pieces may never make it into the story itself, it still gives you as the writer a good way to immerse yourself in the possibilities of your story. Your readers may only get a glimpse of the story’s possibilities, but the more details you can find, the more enticing the glimpse will be.

Posted in Exercises

Exercise: Crafting Thematic Imagery

Imagery and theme are two of the most powerful tools you have as a writer. Meshing them together isn’t always the easiest however. So for today’s exercise, you have a bit of a challenge:

Start by making a list of images you could associate with your theme. For example if your theme is peace, you might include doves and olive branches on your list.

Once you have your list of images, find ways to work those images in via figurative language. For example:

  • Her voice came out in a whisper soft as dove feathers.
  • The rose became an olive branch for their earlier disagreement.

In this way, not only do you strengthen your imagery, you’re also able to reinforce the theme.

What are some of the images you came up with? How did you work them into your writing?