Category Archives: The Creative Spark

How to Create a Fantasy World

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Jarrod King

I read Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, after completing my first draft of Pangaea: Unsettled Land. When likening the writing process to archaeology, he wrote, “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.” I completely understood this to be true. When beginning to write a story, you already have an idea. Now, you just need to uncover all of the elements that make it work.

Know Your Idea

Forcing things like magic and ancient lore into your story isn’t going to work if they weren’t at the core of your idea to begin with. If they are, then you can go places. When I began writing Pangaea in 2009, I started with this core storyline: ‘three friends go on a quest to find a rare magical artifact that would make a huge impact on their world’. I also had the idea of a maniacal antagonist who had gone mad after being in a dungeon for so long. If you read the book, then you know right away what has changed and what hasn’t. None of this is groundbreaking stuff, and in fact could very easily be cliché. What makes fantasy unique are the things only you can bring to it.

Focus On The Story

First, I would strongly suggest an outline – not necessarily for plot in the beginning, but for your characters. This website showcasing the snowflake method is a great source. It helped kick-start me towards completion after multiple start-and-stops over the years. It’s a great way to uncover more about your characters and the world around them. Once you know their motives and barriers, things like the ancient mythology of the land, the world/character’s histories, and a timeline will begin to fall into place. That’s because you’ll have the mindset that “A needs to happen in order for B to happen”. Again, this is not about forcing things into place. It’s about naturally discovering what it is about the world that makes your characters behave the way they do. If you can’t prevent the love interest’s death without changing your story a great deal, it’s probably supposed to happen.

Be cautious! Just because you know the timeline and all of the mythology and history, does not mean your reader needs it. They only need what’s absolutely necessary to the development of the character and the furthering of that story. Otherwise, you could make the mistake of info-dumping and bogging down your story with needless details.

Once you have a firm grasp on all of the details, you can decide on whether plot outlining is best or if you want to get straight into writing. In both cases, don’t be rigid. Allow for some unforeseen changes.

Go With The Flow

When you begin writing, you’re going to learn even more about the world you’ve created and the characters. Things are going to change. Initial ideas are going to seem way overblown, and some of the minor ones will need to be brought to the limelight. This sense of discovery is the fun part! I remember wanting to end my novel with a bang by having Pangaea separate from one super-continent into the world as we know it now. This does not happen. My ending is much simpler and has more impact now because I paid attention to the path of the characters. By not remaining inflexible, I brought the far-fetched (and horrid) idea back down to Earth.

Time For Some RER: Revising, Editing, and Rewriting

It’s so important to edit your work. This is a must for writers in general. However, when creating a fantasy world, it’s highly important to look not just at the grammar and story, but at all of the world-building elements. Look at the government, society, technology, and magic. What works? What doesn’t? Here’s an example of my editing:

My book involves a mixture of old and new technologies, so I had a scene where my characters are flying somewhere on a plane. My editor let me know to make my world a bit more distinct by paying attention to the structures and names of certain technology. I changed the structure of planes into a stingray-like airship called a supertrop. Phones are all called comms, cars are called wheelers, etc. These changes helped distinguish my world from the one we live in today and added even more of that fantasy allure.

This also highlights the importance of an editor. Don’t expect to publish anything that’s been self-edited. Leave that version for beta readers. After accepting or refusing suggestions from them, have a professional with a focus on your genre look over your work and let you know what needs to change. This especially helped me understand what fantasy readers expect and to meet those expectations without compromising my own ideas.

Follow these steps and you can soon have readers escape to a world of your own!

Subscribe to my mailing list for a free preview of Pangaea: Unsettled Land now!

Jarrod King fantasy and sci-fi author. His debut novel, “Pangaea: Unsettled Land”is available on Amazon. You can find him at jarrodking.com or Twitter.

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Reading at In The Meantime

The Black Artist Collective hosted Chris Cotton and I at In The Meantime in the Carl Bean House in the historic neighborhood of West Adams. The reading was significant to me because of the location. In the 80’s, when the AIDS epidemic first swept through the country, the Carl Bean House was a hospice were people went to die. Now, the property is owned by AIDS Health Foundation and the old management office space is leased by In The Meantime.

The reading was everything I hoped it would be – magical, emotional, and intimate.

It definitely prepared me for the next tour stops.

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Video: Reiki Bowl Burning Ceremony for Writing Workshop in Malibu Hills

While working at a trade school in Florida, I first discovered reiki. A female student complained that she had a headache. A male student said that he could alleviate her symptoms naturally through reiki. He asked the female student to close her eyes. He rubbed two silver bracelets at his wrists and placed his hands beside her temples (without touching her). Everyone in the classroom sat in silence for about ten minutes. He asked the female student to open her eyes and explain what it felt like he was doing. She said, “waving your hands fast on the side of my head.”

“How do you feel,” he asked her.

“Actually, better,” she said. “My headache is gone.”

It wasn’t until moving to Los Angeles three years later that I would have reiki performed on my self and experienced its cleansing power. Continue reading

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Writing Prompts for Fiction and Poetry

I have compiled writing prompts that I use often to generate new work and/or for writing workshops.

1. Write about an emotion without stating the emotion. Avoid stereotypical responses as well; if your character is sad, convey it in a different way than making them cry, or if they’re happy, show it besides them smiling.

2. Poetry prompt: Write on the page What I really want to say is ….then continue on with your words

3. Think about an object that is of iconic or central importance to your culture. Write that object as a spoken word piece (or fiction).

4. Write about a place you know well or a place that is foreign to you?

5. Sit in total silence for five minutes and observe the things around you. Write a story about the sense of awareness this brings you.

6. Write about an experience that occurred outside of your current state or country that changed you in some way.

7. Think of your favorite movie, book or short story – it may even be one you wrote. Now condense it to a piece of flash fiction. Start with writing only 500 words, then see if you can get it down to 100.

8. Pick up a random object in the room where you are sitting, or rummage around a junk drawer or toy chest and draw out a random object. Now write a story from the point of view of this object. What has it seen? What role did it play?

9. Let your dictionary fall open randomly and point to a word on the page. Use it to inspire a story.

10. Write a story with no dialogue.

11. Develop your own prompt and respond to it. Include your self-created prompt at the top of your paper.

12. Think back to your childhood, to the stories you remember being told. Was there a particular story you wanted to hear over and over? Try and remember that story, and choose one of the characters from it. Take that character and write an entirely different story centered around new obstacles. For example, if you choose Pippi Longstocking, write a story in which she is raising her own family, or has become the captain of her father’s ship after his retirement.

13. Sci-fi prompt: The Earth’s ice caps have melted. All but the tallest mountain ranges lie underwater. The majority of the human race (what remains) has adapted to a sub-marine environment (gills, amphibious living, etc.) Create the shape of the new world and the odd culture clashes that might occur between groups who have found different solutions.

14. What would you do if you were able to communicate with animals?

15. Design some gadget, machine, building, or other creation that might enrich the future. What does it look like? What does it do? How does it function? In what ways might it benefit people?

16. Write a short biography of your mother.

17. Describe the most difficult thing about being your age.

18. Word list prompt: Use all these words in a story (vestibule, strident, sophomoric, panacea, slaphappy, flounder, bedizen)

19. Write a story about a character who has an obsession with their appearance and this character can no longer see their appearance.

20. Hello Kitty is not a cat but a human girl, take a moment to think about how leaving certain details ambiguous could enhance or detract from a character’s impact in a story. Write a story about an ambiguous character.

21. Write from the perspective of a character that is your complete opposite. First, make a list of all the qualities you identify with yourself, and then make a list of qualities on the other end of the spectrum. For example, if you are a woman who lives in the country, write from the point of view of a man who lives in the city. Try to avoid using stereotypes to describe this character’s actions or ideas, and instead try to embody this character—climb inside his or her head and live there a while.

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The Importance of Professional Writing Workshops

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Sign Outside of Beyond Baroque; the Piece I Workshopped

My undergraduate degree was in Psychology. In high school, no one, not my counselor or none of my English teachers, told me that I could actually major in English or creative writing. I wrote constantly throughout middle school and high school. I discovered creative writing programs existed long after I graduated from college and wanted to enter into one. My main reason for entering a creative writing program was to enter the professional writing community. Yes, I had freelanced for various newspapers and magazines, but I did not think of myself as a professional writer.

After enrolling in the creative writing program at Otis College, I learned why professional writing workshops are important. Before the program, I edited my work and would look over drafts countless times before submitting my work to literary journals and magazines. I never understood why I did not hear back from them. After entering the program, I realized my problem (well several of them). Punctuation, lack of moving my writing into a more poetic realm, and my characters did not have a beating heart.

Now that I have completed the Writing Workshop at Otis and have created new material, I have craved sitting in a new writing workshop. I discovered the fiction workshop at Beyond Baroque and took copies of my new short story, “White Justice” there. I was worried my piece would not get read, but it was and the workshop leader echoed all the comments that my workshop leaders at Otis have told me – I have the tendency to over-describe and add unnecessary words. I’m not sure if that will ever leave me, but I know I’m going back to Beyond Baroque.

 

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Movie Review: I’m So Excited directed by Pedro Almodovar

Twenty minutes into Pedro Almodovar’s new comedy, I’m So Excited, moviegoers realize that the work is a mise en abyme, in which the inner frame of the story is an exact replica of the outer frame. In the outer frame, Leon, a Peninsula Airline Operator, discovers that his wife Jessica, also a Peninsula Airline worker, has been hiding her newly discovered pregnancy. Before the discovery, Leon (played by Antonio Banderas) sees his wife (Penelope Cruz) in the face of danger, and his immediate reaction later creates a catastrophic situation abroad the plane, he is prepping for take-off, which is leaving from Spain and heading toward Mexico.

“During the 80s, I made a lot of comedies,” Almodovar said in a sit-down interview. “So this was like returning to my roots. I think I just needed to make something lighter. It’s a light, very light comedy.”

The film is a definite departure from his more recent dramatic and critically acclaimed films, Volver, Bad Education, and Talk to Her.

In the inner frame of the story, the splendid hilarity that takes place onboard Peninsula Flight 2549, is amplified through personal phone conversations to loved ones on the ground. In a comedic twist, everyone on the flight, who has not been drugged into a state of twilight sleep, can hear the conversations. Also the spoken dialogue between major characters is condensed, eliminating unneeded details and creating a fast-moving pace.

The major characters in this comedy include: the senior flight attendant who cannot tell a lie, Joserra (played by Javier Cámara); the happily married pilot leading a double life with another man, Alex Acero (played by Antonio De La Torre); a hated and highly-frequented dominatrix, Norma (played by Cecilia Roth); an aging Don Juan-esque actor, Ricardo (played by Guillermo Toledo); and a virgin and delightfully amusing psychic, Bruna (played by Lola Dueñas). Continue reading

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3 Writing Tips: How to bring your writing above the page

“In order to understand, I destroyed myself.” – Fernando Pessoa

Writing Workshop is where writers can present their work (finished or unfinished), experiment, and receive critical analysis. From my first day of workshop to now, the way I approach writing has changed. The process, working through a scene, heightened, and is more aware of itself. I have encountered challenges and tried to experiment with language, native and foreign. Last week I received 3 great tips from my workshop instructor that I wanted to share. I think that these could help new (and possibly established) writers improve their writing to make it urgent. Click on the video to see the tips.

Also check out these helpful writing bibles:

1.The Art of Writing: Lu Chi’s Wen Fu

2. Writing the Breakout Novel

3. On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft

4. The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Classics)

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