Tag Archives: The Write Practice

Capturing an Unhappy Relationship: A Writer’s Roadmap

Relationships are a complicated beast, and if you write romance like me, then you’re wed (pun intended) to the HEA (happily ever after) ending. But the reality is, we have a divorce rate of around 1in 2 marriages; so as much as it’s fun to delve into the romanticised ideal of soulmates wandering hand-in-hand into the sunset, the challenges of relationships can just as equally lead to hearts broken and relationships fractured.

Which is what this week’s article’s about.

Capturing the unwinding of threads of a relationship is complex. Just like the real world, our characters have a history of weaving those threads together in little steps and big steps, usually with the intent that their fabric will be as tight as Egyptian cotton. But people evolve, circumstances change, and sometimes a relationship isn’t strong enough. Usually these ruptures don’t happen quickly; they involve little tears and big tears over days, months and sometimes years.

If you’re looking to capture this heart-breaking (or cathartic) process in your story, either with your main characters or with those memorable secondary characters (your MC’s parents, best-friends or children), then consider these four predictors of relationship breakdown (they are a wonderful way to capture ‘show, don’t tell’ and to create some interesting moments into your story):

  1. Contempt

Far more toxic than frustration, contempt is a virulent mix of anger and disgust which involves seeing your partner as beneath you. Apart from its direct consequences of either belittling or angering a partner, contempt involves one character closing themselves off to their partner’s needs and emotions. If you constantly feel smarter than, better than, or more sensitive than your significant other, you’re not only less likely see his or her opinions as valid, but, more importantly, you’re far less willing to try to put yourself in their shoes to try to see a situation from their perspective.

If one or both of your characters are contemptuous of the other as they interact, you’ve just captured one of the cornerstones of an unhappy relationship. Consider these examples:

  • Jane sends Jo a list of groceries for tonight’s dinner. When Jo gets home, Jane realises that Jo picked up self-raising flour instead of plain flour. Jane becomes frustrated, asking Jo what sort of idiot doesn’t know the difference between the two. She even posts it on Facebook so her sisters can see what she has to live with.
  • Barry is organising his next fishing weekend with his two sons. Daria laughs as they are packing their tackle boxes, pointing out to their sons that she caught the biggest fish last time she went out in their godforsaken tin-can-of-a-boat.
  1. Criticism

Like contempt, criticism involves turning a behaviour (something your partner did) into a statement about his or her personal character (the type of person he or she is). As many of us have experienced or observed, fault-finding and belittling behaviour adds up. Over time, darker feelings of resentment and contempt are likely to brew.

  • Alex has a habit of leaving her cereal bowl—soggy, uneaten weeties and all—on the coffee table every morning. Sam makes sure she makes note of it each day as she collects them, pointing out what a lazy and inconsiderate partner Alex is.
  • After a sleepless night, Jake overheats baby Bobby’s mashed pumpkin. When Bobby spits it out and starts screaming, Sally scoops him up, shouting over the top that when it comes to parenting Jake couldn’t raise a sweat let alone a child.
  1. Defensiveness

Defensiveness involves a sense of protectiveness and guardedness about our thoughts and feelings. A character who is being defensive will often play the victim in tough situations with their partner; at times that may be justified, others not so much.

  • A couple are late to a cousin’s wedding. Ashleigh is the first to say, “It wasn’t my fault!” as they slip into a back pew.
  • Jane is online to her best friend, typing furiously that she never got a chance to tell her husband about the dint in the car door because all he does is watch YouTube. If he gets upset about it, he can’t say she didn’t try to tell him.
  1. Stonewalling

If your character can sense an argument brewing, they feel the tension tightening between their shoulders, notice their voice amping up a few decibels, and their response is to shutdown or walk away, you’ve got a stonewaller. Stonewalling can be just as toxic for a relationship as criticism or contempt because it keeps your characters from addressing their underlying issues. When perspectives don’t get a chance to be explored, then frustration is likely to morph into resentment.

  • Ian and Sarah are arguing about their credit card debt. When Ian asks Sarah exactly how much those shoes cost, she turns and walks away. Picking up her phone, she retreats to the bedroom.
  • During a parent teacher interview, Jacqui suggests that maybe their son isn’t succeeding in math because of the children he’s sitting next to. Her husband, Jed, rolls his eyes at the teacher, shifts his seat forward, and tells the teacher that their son just needs more challenging work as he’s obviously bored. Jed starts enquiring about extension work.

John Gottman, the guru of relationship therapy and founder of the Gottman Institute, has said that these four factors are tell-tale signs that all is not well with a married couple. In fact, when the frequency of these four behaviours are measured within the span of a 15-minute conversation, Gottman and his fellow psychologists can predict which marriages will end in divorce with striking precision.

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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8 Ways To Balance A Writing Career While Making Family A Priority

Note: This is a guest post by Lisa Hall-Wilson, she’s an award-winning freelance journalist and author. She teaches writing classes online and writes historical and speculative fiction. Visit her website at LisaHallWilson.com. You can also find her on Facebook.

I have been a stay-at-home mom off and on for eighteen years. For the last twelve years, I’ve also been a writer.

I went from knowing nothing to having my own freelance business and being a national award-winning freelance journalist and author. One thing I had to learn was how to carve out time for my writing career while keeping my family a priority. You can, too.

I think “balance” isn’t the right concept. I don’t balance my priorities, I set priorities for short seasons.

For me, trying to keep all the balls in the air all the time was exhausting and inevitably I failed at all of it.

By making writing and family a priority for a short season (I’m talking a few hours, days or a week at a time), it all seems to balance out. My kids understand that I have deadlines and wordcounts to make and will hang out later, and sometimes I don’t touch my laptop for four or five days because it’s family time. I never neglect one or the other for very long.

There are different seasons with raising kids, so I’ll try and point out the adjustments I made in each stage.

  1. Make use of empty time

Empty time is all those soccer practices, swim lessons, auditions, rehearsals, and music lessons that you’re stuck waiting around for. I’m not talking about games or meets where you need to pay attention – that’s family time. But, in those multiple hours a week where I’m just waiting it out, I bring a printed manuscript, my laptop, my phone, or a notebook. Whether I’m editing, emailing, writing, reading/studying, or brainstorming, making use of those 20 min to 1 hour time slots is a game changer.

Now my are older and are into different activities so I spend more time in the car waiting and working and make sure my devices are fully charged before I leave. In winter, (I live in Canada, it gets cold in the car) I look for a nearby library or coffee shop. Bring some headphones and music that drowns out the noise of the crowd and get to work!

  1. Make use of play time

When my kids were younger, we lived in an apartment so I had to go with them when they went outside. In these times I brought interruptible work, so what I mean by that is work that I could pick up and set down and still accomplish things. This works even if you have to sit by a window or on the deck while the kids play. I would do a lot of editing or reading/highlighting moreso than writing at these times. I made sure I set aside one play time a day where they had my full attention.

  1. Write while they sleep

Whether we’re talking about toddlers or teenagers, making use of quiet time in the house when you have it is essential. The times of day they sleep will change so you have to be flexible. I am more likely to stay up late than get up early, so I’ve done that lots.

There was a season where I would work from 10PM to 3AM, sleep until 8AM and get up with the kids for school, go to a part-time job, sleep for a few more hours in the afternoon, do the supper/hang out with the family until 10PM or so, and start over. When they were in bed by 7PM, I wrote from 7 – 9PM each night because I had to be alert during the day and then spent time with my husband. It’s important when you’re writing in the outlier hours to take at least two days off a week from that schedule. If I didn’t, I was miserable and so was everyone else.

  1. Set aside time for your work

You need to set aside dedicated time to write. If you have a spouse or partner, work out a mutually-agreed upon arrangement where they will take the kids or help guard the quiet of your workspace for a determined amount of time. I had a couple of hours here and there during the week where everyone was home, but I could shut myself in a room and get work done.

It’s important to take those moments like play time and sports waiting to plan your writing time. Nothing is worse than getting those two hours and then lose a half hour staring at a blank screen. What was it Churchill used to say? If you fail to plan you plan to fail. This is not time to reread everything you wrote the day before and edit, you have other times for that. This is dedicated writing time.

  1. Weekends away

This was a game changer for me. My writer’s group splits the cost of an Air BnB rental, we bring our own food, and write. We don’t eat meals together, plan side trips, any of that. This is not a social time for me, it’s writing time.

I can get 20,000 to 25,000 words down (original stuff – not editing) on a novel between a Friday evening and Sunday noon. But I also make sure I am prepared with an outline, character sketches, etc. to make the best use of that time.

  1. Office Hours

In the seasons where I’ve been home full-time, my office hours are school hours. This is not time to clean, volunteer, lead groups studies, spend time on Facebook. I treat those hours like an outside job as much as I can. I try not to work outside my office hours, but it’s hard if I’m neck deep in a story or facing a deadline – and there will be those seasons.

Summer holidays are hard because I don’t have a door on my writing space and I’m constantly interrupted. But at the end of the day, I’m OK with losing writing time because my kids want to talk with me. They’ll be out of the house soon, so I’m not going to rush that. Always make time for life.

  1. Go on an adventure!

I do my best to take my kids on “an adventure” a few times a month. When they were younger, we’d go for a hike and look for caterpillars. We’d collect leaves and see how many different ones we could find. We walked everywhere. We built snow forts and snow slides or went tobogganing (sledding). Now we go to the mall, a bookstore or movie.

When we get home, all they want to do is play quietly, rest, or read. We had family time, and now they’ll give you writing time usually without complaint. Setting priorities for a short season. This is how it works.

In the summer, I’ll take a whole day and go on an adventure (like the beach), and then they’re OK if I spend a couple of evenings writing. I focus on them entirely for that whole day, and they give me the freedom to focus entirely on my writing for a couple of evenings.

  1. Be kind to yourself

Sometimes life throws you a curveball and you have to step away from the keyboard. Someone gets sick, money is tight and you have to take a part-time job – whatever. Life happens. Resist the urge to feel guilty about this and sneak in time to write when you can. Write every day, even if it’s ten minutes while locked in the bathroom with a notebook. It all counts and keeps your passion for writing alive.

Also, take care of yourself physically and mentally. Go outside – fresh air always helps when I’m stuck on a story. Reliving traumatic events to write authentically requires that I take care of myself mentally and take breaks. Talk it out with a friend or spouse.

Some of these ideas may seem like they’re just a few drops in the bucket when you want to write full-time, but these snatches of time add up cumulatively.

Source: positivewriter.com
By Bryan Hutchinson

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Top 3 Reasons Censoring Your Writing Is Holding You Back

There will be tough love today, and even a bit of cursing. If it’s too much for you, feel free to leave now.

Do you worry what others think about you? Do you sit at your computer screen, paralyzed to type what you desperately want to say for fear of what your mom, husband, brother, friend, or best friend from second grade might say? Truth is, most of our family and friends won’t read our books or give them much thought. We only THINK they will.

Stop censoring yourself!

Maybe you have shared your writing and been burned, relationships severed, friendships or family relationships strained or even ended. It’s terrifying, all those what if’s.

Others people’s problems are other people’s problems. Don’t take that shit personally. #WriteWhatScaresYou

Fuck that shit. As Cheryl Strayed says, you need to write like a motherfucker. What does she mean by that? Does she mean to write with papers everywhere, cartoon balls of trash flying across the room, keys tapping to the beat of Copacabana? (Let’s hope not. We’ll never get that song out of our heads.)

No. She means that you need to own it. Own your shit. Write your shit. Ignore the voices of others, get in your head, your heart, grab your soul and write the shit out of that shit. This resonates with me because that’s how I wrote Broken Places (my latest release) and Broken Pieces. Let’s deconstruct.

Censoring Your Writing 

Why are you censoring yourself? If I came up to you, stood over your shoulder, read your latest paragraph, and told you, “You can’t say that!” what would you say to me? Because if you said that to me, I’d tell you to go the hell. Not only because this is my book, but because who are you to tell me what to write? Isn’t this my book? My work? My story? My name?

This person telling you what to write — does their name go on that book cover? Are they the ones spending countless hours writing and rewriting the work? No. So, fuck em.

I get it, though. People attempt to tell us daily what we should or shouldn’t write about, right? It amazes me, to be honest, that others who don’t know our story, or who think they know our story intimately but can’t possibly because they don’t live in our heads and don’t feel our emotions or live our lives, want to censor us for what we may or may not say. What makes them so scared? That’s the real question, isn’t it?

Scenario #1:

I shared a Brené Brown quote the other day about having courage and vulnerability when sharing your story, and someone replied that when she’d done so, people had chastised her, she’d lost good friends (and even family members) because her truth upset them too much, so she’s done. She’s ‘taking a break from truth.’

This saddens me deeply. I’m not judging her — she’s had enough of that. What saddens me is she’s allowing others to make that decision for her, letting them dictate what is okay or not okay to share, because they are embarrassed she shared her abuse story; now others know and can’t deal, which is another form of censoring her and shaming her for something she didn’t do.

Censoring: The Loop of Shame

When someone abuses us, we often don’t tell because we are ashamed. When (or if) we do tell, we are shamed because it’s embarrassing and shameful to us — what child (in many of these cases, as was the case with me) wants to say that an adult used our body for physical pleasure? It’s sick and twisted, and yet here we are, alone, forced to wrap our young, innocent minds around these confusing acts, with nobody to talk to, nobody to help us understand that we did nothing wrong.

Fast forward to adulthood: we choose to write about it as a form of catharsis, healing, therapy, or simply sharing so others will know they are not alone, only to have our loved ones shame us for sharing, or further chastise us for going public in some way. Shaming a survivor is one of the most selfish acts there is.

We survived the abuse — dealing with your discomfort isn’t our issue. It’s yours. If you can’t get over yourself, oh well. Survivors don’t have to accept that. We have a basic human right to speech. We have a right to tell our story.

Scenario #2

One fellow, T, shared his story in a public Facebook post, and with his permission, I’m sharing his story here with you today. T’s sister immediately chimed in to scold him for ruining the family name, embarrassing her, accusing him of lying, of creating current drama when all that happened in the past, and on and on. I complimented T on his courage and she came after me, warning me to “keep my mouth shut, to stay out of their family business, etc.,” even though this was all on his public wall.

What I love about the survivor community is that we support each other, and we understand that many people don’t understand that we have a right to tell our stories. We don’t do it for pity or attention (more on that in a moment), but as a way to heal and bond with others who have also survived, and to help educate non-survivors what it means to live the lives we do, to deal with all this on the daily.

Real or Imagined Censorship and Risk

Sure, there’s risk involved in opening up those dusty doors of honesty. I’m not immune to the coughs and sputters of family and friends, even strangers who may or may not judge me for my words, or who place blame on me for their behavior. I’ve been called a liar, an opportunist, one person even went so far as to accuse me of ‘prostituting myself for profit and attention,’ and I’m told often to just move on (as if I haven’t).

I find it interesting that people equate sharing my story with victimhood, or ‘being stuck in the past,’ when that’s not the case at all, yet they are determined to tell me that yes, that must be so. It’s sadly comical, the judgments people make about survivors.

Truth is, those are not my issues.

Scenario #3

I wrote a guest post recently as part of my Broken Places blog tour and the host shared it, as hosts kindly do. Someone on Twitter replied that basically I am ‘playing the victim’ by sharing my story, that I’m somehow magically compelling people to “feel sorry for me.” Fortunately, people supported me without me saying a word (I don’t respond to those types of comments). If you know me at all, you know that I am anything but a victim…yet, these comments aren’t uncommon for survivors.

I’m not offended. I’m not religious. If anything, I want to thank this person for reinforcing I’m on the right path to help remove the stigma of childhood sexual abuse (or any abuse survivors) have to face. This person is a light for me — further helping me realize I still have a lot of work to do. In a strange way, I find comfort knowing my advocacy work is not done, and I have many more people to reach with my story, giving voice to others’ stories, and sharing my platform so other survivors can share their stories.

Ignorance needs an audience so sexual abuse survivors have one, too.

By
Source: rachelintheoc.com

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How to Show and not Tell Intelligence

Although the concept of intelligence and what exactly it means for a person to be intelligent are the subject of considerable controversy and debate, it’s widely accepted that intelligence is valued in our society. In fact, if you’re a sapiosexual, you find intelligence as the most sexually attractive feature in a prospective partner. I’m not going into the evolutionary theories for this (including that intelligent men have a higher sperm count and women intuitively understand this and so are drawn to them), so you’ll have to take my word for it. Intelligence is attractive, and a trait we see in many a hero (and villain in fact). In the landscape of writing, this is a trait you can harness to add layers to your character.

Although every psychologist who has endeavoured to define intelligence has come up with their own definition, intelligence is broadly understood as the ability to perceive or infer information, and to retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviours within an environment. The key as a writer is to create a character who presents as intelligent in a plausible manner. Sure, you can slip in their above average IQ scores as they munch over breakfast, or point out they have seven PhD’s, but what if your character is an adolescent? Or what if they live on the planet X where IQ tests aren’t used because the sentient species have acknowledged the limitations of cognitive testing?

What if you want to show, not tell?

Well, you’ve come to the right blog post. I undertook some research, and along with my professional understanding of intelligence (IQ testing is a regular part of my practice in schools), I considered it in terms of character development. If you’re looking to craft an intelligent character, then check out the following traits (quick caveat: they don’t all have to be present for a person to be considered intelligent, but each of these traits are understood as strong indicators of above-average cognitive capacity):

High Verbal Functioning

People with a high IQ have strongly developed verbal skills. Your character is likely to be able to verbalise meaningful concepts and express themselves articulately and maybe even eloquently. This means dialogue, internal and external, is going to be important in representing an intelligent character.

Strong Reasoning Capacity

A person with high intelligence is able to detect underlying concepts and relationships, and use reasoning to identify and apply rules. Abstract thinking is a strength, as is attentiveness to detail. Many detectives in crime novels demonstrate strong reasoning capacity, and every time they solve the murder by linking the dots that seem to live in different postcodes we’re wowed by their intellect.

Good Memory

Intelligent people not only notice this nuanced information in life, but they also maintain this information in conscious awareness. This process, which requires attention and concentration, allows them to manipulate and play with said information in their mind. I’d rather not recollect the amount of times I’ve looked like I’ve lost valuable IQ points because I can’t remember the of age of my firstborn child!

Fast thinking

Smart people are fast thinkers. They can do all of the above, and they do it quickly. They are able to scan information accurately, make decisions, and implement those decision rapidly. These characters will drop one-liners in the blink of an eye, or be the first to recognise that the name of their victim isn’t on the list of missing people following the earthquake that levelled New York.

 

But it’s important to note that high intelligence doesn’t necessarily mean your character is any of the following;

Emotionally Intelligent

Emotional intelligence; the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically, is quite different to cognitive intelligence. Whilst people who do well on standardized tests of intelligence tend to be more successful in the classroom and the workplace, emotional intelligence is correlated with better social relations, better family and intimate relationships, and better psychosocial wellbeing.

Think of Sheldon in Big Bang Theory—with his borderline autistic tendencies, he’s an accomplished physicist, but he’s socially inept and emotionally naïve, which has been mined over 11 series of hilarious interactions. It’s worthwhile to consider whether your character has both of these qualities.

Wise

You’ve probably heard the saying there’s knowing that a tomato is a fruit…and understanding a tomato doesn’t belong in a fruit salad. In the same way, intelligence (knowledge of information and using it adaptively) isn’t necessarily wisdom (the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, and insight). Your character may have acquired the knowledge (impressively and quickly), but wisdom is the proper use of that knowledge. Whilst trawling the internet I found this little nugget: Intelligence is knowing that Frankenstein was the doctor. Wisdom is knowing that Frankenstein was the monster.

Nice

Just because your character is smart, it doesn’t mean they’ll be nice. In fact, intelligent people can be less trusting and less compliant with rules (think of Tony Stark in Ironman; he’s brilliant, but socially irreverent to the point of egocentrism). Intelligence can give rise to suspicion (and if were to extrapolate that, to conspiracy theories), selfishness (you just need to read Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene to know selfishness is smart), and subversiveness (which could be a good thing in your story, but also may make them unlikeable).

Emotionally Stable

Intelligence doesn’t equate with emotional stability, in fact, it’s possible that higher IQ is linked with higher incidents of some mental health diagnoses (including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia). Although the link isn’t clearly understood, it’s probably not important to our story building motivations. What is important, though, is to understand that your character may be in the top two percent of the IQ bell curve, but their physiology and environment (e.g. a traumatic childhood) will also play a factor in their emotional life.

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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CHARACTER MOTIVATION THESAURUS

A compelling goal is one of the cornerstones of strong fiction, but conveying why the character is driven to achieve it is what draws readers in and makes them care. Explore all angles of character arc by digging deep into what is motivating your protagonist, the obstacles that could stand in their way, and how sacrifices may play a role if the character is to succeed.

ACHIEVING SPIRITUAL ENLIGHTENMENT

AVOIDING CERTAIN DEATH

AVOIDING FINANCIAL RUIN

BEATING A DIAGNOSIS OR CONDITION

BECOMING A LEADER OF OTHERS

BEING ACKNOWLEDGED OR APPRECIATED BY FAMILY

BEING THE BEST AT SOMETHING

CARING FOR AN AGING PARENT

CARRYING ON A LEGACY

CATCHING THE BAD GUY OR GIRL

COMING TO GRIPS WITH A MENTAL DISORDER

COPING WITH A LEARNING DISABILITY OR ILLNESS (KIDLIT)

DEALING WITH BULLIES (KIDLIT)

DISCOVERING ONE’S TRUE SELF

DOING THE RIGHT THING (KIDLIT)

EMBRACING A PERSONAL IDENTITY (KIDLIT)

ESCAPING A DANGEROUS LIFE ONE NO LONGER WANTS TO LIVE

ESCAPING A KILLER

ESCAPING CONFINEMENT

ESCAPING DANGER (KIDLIT)

ESCAPING HOMELESSNESS

ESCAPING INVADERS

ESCAPING WIDESPREAD DISASTER

EXPLORING ONE’S BIOLOGICAL ROOTS

FINDING A LIFELONG PARTNER

FINDING FRIENDSHIP OR COMPANIONSHIP

FITTING IN (KIDLIT)

GIVING A CHILD UP

HAVING A CHILD

HELPING A LOVED ONE RECOGNIZE THEY ARE HURTING THEMSELVES AND OTHERS

NAVIGATING A CHANGING FAMILY SITUATION (KIDLIT)

OBTAINING SHELTER FROM THE ELEMENTS

OVERCOMING ABUSE AND LEARNING TO TRUST

OVERCOMING ADDICTION

OVERCOMING A FEAR (KIDLIT)

PROTECTING ONE’S HOME OR PROPERTY

PURSUING JUSTICE FOR ONESELF OR OTHERS

PURSUING MASTERY OF A SKILL OR TALENT

REALIZING A DREAM

RECONCILING WITH AN ESTRANGED FAMILY MEMBER

RESCUING A LOVED ONE FROM A CAPTOR

RESISTING PEER PRESSURE (KIDLIT)

RESTORING ONE’S NAME OR REPUTATION

RIGHTING A DEEP WRONG

STOPPING AN EVENT FROM HAPPENING

SURVIVING THE DEATH OF A LOVED ONE

TRYING SOMETHING NEW (KIDLIT)

TRYING TO SUCCEED WHERE ONE HAS PREVIOUSLY FAILED

WINNING A COMPETITION

Source: onestopforwriters.com

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Miss Having Coworkers? Here’s How to Start a Writing Group

Writing can be a lonely road.

Though working solo has many benefits, everyone has moments when they wish they could stop by a coworker’s desk to ask a question, get feedback on an idea or simply share a crazy client story.

I worked on my own for several years before going in-house as a staff writer for a personal finance website. And, while I missed the freedom of working remotely, I loved the daily banter with my colleagues. Not only was the camaraderie enjoyable, it often sparked my creativity.

So, when I returned to freelancing a year ago, I wanted to bring a bit of that feeling along with me — and I started a writers mastermind group.

What is a mastermind group?

Napoleon Hill, author of The Law of Success and Think and Grow Rich, is largely credited with introducing the word “mastermind” in the 1920s, though the concept has been around far longer than that.

Organized by entrepreneurs across industries, a mastermind is a group of peers who meet regularly to set goals, overcome challenges and use their collective brainpower to accelerate business growth.

Famous mastermind participants include Franklin Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie, Bill Gates — even the Knights of the Round Table!

And they’re still very much in vogue today. As the legendary online entrepreneur Pat Flynn writes: “A mastermind group is mandatory to achieve online success… I would not be where I’m at today if it weren’t for the mastermind groups that I’ve been a part of.”

My mastermind consists of five female freelance writers. We meet once a month over Google Hangouts to share highs and lows, resources and encouragement.

I always look forward to our call, as it’s one of the only times I get to have honest conversations about writing with people who understand what I’m talking about. I also learn so much from my fellow group members, and love the support we provide each other.

5 steps for starting a writers’ mastermind group

Becoming part of a writers mastermind can certainly be a boon for your career — and your mental health.

So, rather than waiting around to be invited to one, why not start one yourself? Here are five steps to follow.

1. Outline your goals and rules

The first thing to figure out is what you want to gain from your mastermind. Collect your thoughts in a Google Doc that you can share with potential members.

For example, here was my mastermind’s main goal: “To grow our writing careers while traveling the world — and without going crazy.”

In the document, I also included secondary goals about accountability, perspective, support and inspiration, as well as the proposed schedule and rules. Some examples: “Show up every month (if you miss three calls, you’ll be asked to leave the group)” and “Listen openly and without judgment.”

Though I’m generally not a stickler for rules, I thought they were important to mention. That way, potential members would take the group seriously, as well as understand the type of environment I hoped to create.

2. Determine your meeting cadence

Most mastermind groups meet once a week or once a month.

My mastermind meets from 3-5 p.m. EST on the first Wednesday of every month. Having a regular time makes it easier for us to fit the meeting into our schedules (and to remember when it’s occurring!).

Determining your meeting cadence will also determine your meeting structure. In many weekly masterminds, for example, each member offers a brief update, then one person is in the “hot seat” with the rest of the meeting focused on their business and goals.

Since my mastermind only meets once a month, we all take turns sharing our highs, lows and goals, then it’s an open floor for any member to discuss challenges they’re facing.

3. Choose your tribe

This is the most important step in creating a writers mastermind: Who are you going to invite?

Here’s some common advice for choosing your mastermind’s members:

  • Invite three to five other people: Any more, and your sessions will go too long; any less, and it’ll be overly detrimental if someone can’t make it.
  • Choose peers: Try to find people in similar stages of their careers. If someone’s significantly further along, it’ll probably feel more like a coaching session for them — rather than an open exchange with peers.

In terms of the type of writing your members do, I’ve found it helpful that all of my mastermind’s members are freelance writers. I purposely also chose people who enjoy traveling, since it’s something we can all bond over.

To find my members, I turned to my personal network: Three were writers I’d met at conferences, and one was a friend of another member.

4. Create a shared space

You’re going to need somewhere to record the ideas generated during your calls and continue the conversation in between.

For my mastermind, I created a private Facebook group where we ask questions and share resources. We also have a few documents where we’ve written out successful pitches (though, to be honest, we don’t use this as much as we should).

If you’re not into Facebook, you could do this via Slack or another platform; choose what works best for you.

5. Get going

Now all that’s left to do is get started! It probably won’t be perfect, but you’ll be able to fix any bumps along the way — with the help of your new mastermind buddies.

Or, as those in the tech world would say, “Ship fast and iterate.”

One year into our writers mastermind, we’re still figuring out how to improve our processes. For example, we recently began assigning one notetaker per meeting, since so many good ideas are shared in the moment (and it’s tough to remember them all).

Bumps aside, starting a writers mastermind group was one of the highlights of my year.

It’s been so helpful to chat with these fellow writers; to know they’re on my side when I’m having a rough day (or month), to know they’re there for my silly questions and to know we’re all helping each other progress in our writing careers.

This may be my first mastermind — but I can tell you with confidence it won’t be my last.

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

By Susan Shain
Source: thewritelife.com

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Is It Unhealthy to be a Workaholic Writer?

If you’re a hard-working writer, are you a workaholic?

And if you are, is that necessarily a bad thing?

With all writers have to manage today, including consistent marketing, maintaining an online presence and oh, yeah, writing and editing, it’s important to step back every once in awhile and say, “Am I overdoing it?”

What is Workaholism and How Does it Apply to Writing?

If you’re under the spell of workaholism, you may feel guilty when you’re not working, and tend to neglect your own well-being because you’re over-focused on work.

Not sure if you qualify? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you feel compelled to write or work on writing-related tasks while on vacation?
  • Do you cancel social plans so you can catch up on writing-related activities (such as blogging, posting to social media, marketing, etc.)?
  • Do you regularly engage in writing work during meals?
  • Do you work on writing stuff even when you’re ill?
  • Do you sacrifice sleep or exercise to get your writing work done?
  • Do you feel compelled to work on writing-related activities even when you’re all caught up?
  • Do you feel like your work-life balance is out of whack?
  • Are you neglecting your hobbies and other enjoyable activities so you can get your writing work done?

We’ve all experienced insane working periods in our writing careers, perhaps around a book launch or when wrapping up edits for a publisher. Sometimes, you have to let other things slide to get the writing done or the book out, but then the question is: Do you slow down after that, or do you continue to work at the same pace?

How Workaholism Can Damage a Writer’s Health

The problem with workaholism is the more you work, the less time you have for other things in your life.

That means you’re likely to skip out on important stuff like your daily exercise routine, preparing healthy and wholesome meals, or taking time out to relieve stress. Overwork is also likely to interfere with your sleep, depriving you of that important 7-8 hours you need each night.

All of us can survive a few weeks under these conditions, but longer than that and you’re putting your health at risk. Lack of exercise, grabbing meals on the run, and regular sleep deprivation all increase risk of overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

In a 2016 study, researchers found that workaholics experienced more sleep problems than non-workaholics, and were also more at risk for cardiovascular disease. A separate review of 25 studies involving over 600,000 people found similar results, with those working longer hours having a higher risk of stroke.

Workaholism has been linked with an increased risk of mental and emotional health problems, too, like burnout and depression.

Don’t We Have to Work Hard to Be Productive?

There’s no doubt that a successful writing career requires hard work, but there is a fine line between putting in the time and overdoing it to the point you’re no longer productive.

A number of studies have actually linked workaholism to decreased productivity, finding that those who work longer hours typically complete fewer projects. The more hours we work, the less effective the brain is, and we’re likely to make more mistakes that we have to fix later. We also make poor decisions (about plot and characterization, perhaps?).

Worse, workaholism can lead to a drop in creativity—definitely not something writers want. Stress itself is a creativity killer, and if you add overwork to it, your ability to create an original and inspiring story declines rapidly.

In a 2008 study, researchers found that compared with working less than 40 hours per week, working more than 55 hours a week was linked with lower scores on a vocabulary test (bad news for those working with language).

Of all things the mind needs for creative thought, it’s space, and when we fill all our time with work (and other activities, like perusing social media), we fail to give it that space, leading to dull thought.

When Workaholism Might be Okay for Writers

Despite a plethora of research on the potential negative effects of workaholism, we also have some recent studies showing that under certain circumstances, workaholism may not be as damaging as we thought.

What circumstances are those? The main ones involve your attitude about the work: Are you enthusiastic about it? Do you enjoy it? Do you love it?

In one recent study, for example, researchers questioned about 750 employees. They found that yes, workaholism was related to high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol (risk factors for heart disease), but only when work “engagement” was low—in other words, when the employees felt they were wasting their time on projects they didn’t care about.

In those participants whose engagement was high, on the other hand, the opposite was true—they were actually less likely to suffer from these sorts of health risks. These were the participants who enjoyed their jobs, got absorbed in what they were doing, and felt like their tasks were worthwhile.

Interestingly, researchers also found that highly engaged employees:

  • had more support at work and at home for the work they were doing,
  • were skilled at time management,
  • and had a high level of intrinsic motivation for their work—they loved doing it regardless of the outside rewards.

Help for Overworked Writers

Looking at the results of these studies, we can conclude a few things that are likely true for writers.

  1. Working hard at what you love is more likely to help you than hurt you.

When you love writing, you’re unlikely to suffer from negative consequences by spending a lot of time on it, as long as you make sure to take care of yourself and don’t neglect the other things that matter in your life. Indeed, if writing is your calling, you’re more likely to suffer from not pursuing it wholeheartedly than you are from working some extra hours on it.

  1. When writers feel overworked, it likely has something to do with projects other than writing.

I think the reason why more and more writers are feeling overworked these days has little to do with the writing itself, and a lot more to do with the marketing responsibilities we’re now faced with. Most writers don’t like marketing and feel uncomfortable and out of their element when trying to do it, which puts this task squarely in the “don’t like” category mentioned above—the one that can lead to negative health outcomes if we pursue it too heavily.

Yet marketing can take a lot of time, particularly if we’re really trying to get some attention on a book or on our careers in general. There’s not only the work itself, but the education that’s involved—we have to learn how to do it, and since it doesn’t come naturally to most of us, that can take longer than we’d like.

Trying to complete all our marketing tasks on top of our writing can lead to overwork, burnout, depression, and all the other negative effects of workaholism. What are the solutions? Every writer has to find his or her own way, but I’ve found the following five tips to be helpful:

  1. Write first: Since writing is the thing that energizes and engages you, it must be your top priority. Sometimes marketing can take over, but if you find yourself getting depressed or exhausted, take a step back. Return to the writing, and let the other stuff go. You can always get back to it later.
  2. Try to make marketing fun: Instead of feeling pressured to market in certain ways, try to find methods you can actually enjoy. Be open to a wider variety of marketing techniques. This will help increase your engagement so you’re less likely to suffer the negative effects of working long hours.
  3. Always put self-care first: Eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep need to come first. Make these things a priority in your life, and you’ll be more likely to stay productive and creative…and healthy!
  4. Take more time off: America is a country that leaves vacation days on the table. Don’t be a part of this statistic. Make sure you take your vacation every year, and schedule at least one writing getaway in addition to help recharge your batteries.
  5. Find the support you need: Writing groups, book clubs, writing friends, and understanding family members give us the support we need to make sure our lives don’t go totally off the rails, balance-wise. Getting out to lunch with friends, taking the weekend for the family, or enjoying some wine and treats with the members of a book club can be like fresh air on an otherwise busy, busy week. Cultivate these relationships and keep them strong!

Read more about workaholism and how it affects writers, and how you can improve productivity and time management, in Colleen’s book, Overwhelmed Writer Rescue. Get your free chapter here!

Colleen M. Story
Source: writersinthestormblog.com

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Word Choice for Character Strength

Elizabeth Essex

My favorite things about any book is always the CHARACTERS—I like Pride & Prejudice more than Northanger Abbey, because I like forthright Lizzie Bennet more than I like silly but well-meaning Catherine Moreland. But I love Persuasion best of all because I LOVE sweet, kind, thoughtful, long-suffering Anne Elliot.

That is why I believe every word in your novel should serve two purposes:

— to move the plot forward,

— and give greater insight into the characters

so our readers have an authentic and immersive experience—that is, a unique experience that they witness through eyes, ears, sensory experiences and emotions of our characters.

We can achieve this by using “power words,” “scene-themed words,” but more especially “character-themed” words.

Power Words give strong images & associations and drive up tension

Scene-themed words give us the vital information to tell us where and when we are in the story and what’s going on.

Character-themed words give us insight into the mind and thoughts of our characters

But the MOST POWERFUL WORD is one that does double or triple duty in combining all three of these concepts together.

In my first drafts, I give myself permission to write lazily—to give an easy, generic  description, or fall back into cliché—just to get the action of the story down on paper. But once I can see the through-line of the plot, then I like to go back and find opportunities to inject as much POWER, SETTING and CHARACTER into my work as possible.

Let’s look at six specific examples from my latest Highland Brides novel, Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Marry.

 Ewan Cameron, 5th Duke of Crieff’s joy was a rare and pleasantly exhilarating thing, like the hot tot of strong Scots whisky he tossed back to celebrate the good news—he was going to be married.

In this passage the character-themed phrase is “hot tot of strong Scots Whisky.” I could have said “he took a strong drink,” or “tossed back a bolt of brandy.” But I chose power words that would also place us strongly in the setting—the highlands of Scotland—and tell us more about the hero’s character—he’s a strong Scotsman through and through.

Note also: I’ve made this phrase punch over its weight by adding rhyme (hot tot) and alliteration (strong Scots) for cadence.

He slitted one eye open to see an auld fellow wearing a weather-beaten face leaning over him, inspecting him like a gralloched deer on a game larder hook.

Our character-themed phrase is Our character-themed phrase is like a gralloched deer on a game larder hook. I could have said (and probably did in my first draft), “like meat on a butcher’s counter,” which was a good, vivid description, but did little to punch up the setting and make the circumstances unique to the hero’s world. You don’t even have to know the Scots colloquial power word “gralloched” (gutted) to get a very visceral, vivid picture that is specific to this hero’s life in the Scottish countryside.

Greer knew she was no conventional beauty—she was too ordinary, too sharp-jawed, too flame-haired to be considered bonnie anywhere but Scotland—but she knew she was loved. Which gave one a different sort of beauty—a beauty that came from confidence in one’s merits instead of solely one’s looks.

In my first draft, I had used the rather ordinary phrase “considered pretty anywhere but Scotland.” But I made the phrase work a little bit harder with the simple use of a setting and character-specific colloquial word, ‘bonnie’ instead. It was a small change, but one that deepened both character and setting.

The lass came over the lip of the ridge like the sunrise—sweeping the glen with light and warmth. Not that he had been watching for her, but the peregrine falcons high on the cliff tops had nothing on him for sharpness of eye.

I could have said ‘the girl’ came over the ridge, but I chose the more colloquial, scene and character-specific word ‘lass.’ And then to describe the way the hero had been watching for her, I visualized his world in the highlands of Scotland, and decided that the sharpest eyes in his world would be peregrine falcons, which are native to the highlands. If this book had been set in the slums of London, I might have said the “cutty-eyed kid men of Covent Garden had nothing on him for sharpness of eye.”

[He was] afraid he would startle her into flight like a deer at the sound of a gunshot.

This character-themed phrase is specific to this hero’s life and surroundings. If this were a contemporary-set thriller, I might convey someone’s startlement differently: “the backfire made her hit the deck faster than a combat medic,” or something that would convey an instantly vivid picture of the character’s world and experiences. And this image from the hero’s background—he has stalked deer in these mountains—gives the strong, power word “gunshot” at the end of the sentence foreshadows that very soon in the book, someone is going to take a shot at this lass. 

 Her heart leapt like a highland dancer.

I could have just said her heart leapt—that would have given me a good visceral reaction. But I wanted to go deeper, and convey that this was a joyous reaction, not a fearful one. So I chose “highland dancer’ to create an uplifting image—all that colorful, pointed elegance—that is specific to the characters and the setting of the novel.

Lesson learned: We use a great many words over the course of a full-length novel—but we want to make them do more heavy hitting, but doubling, and tripling their power by adding scene-themed or setting specific words along with character-themed words that are specific to the hero and heroine’s experiences in their world.

Think about your own work in progress—what unique experiences does your character have that you can use in your story to give your readers an authentic experience? Please use the comments to share an example of before and after from your own work!

If you have questions or comments, I’ll be around to answer them, or you can write me at elizabeth@elizabethessex.com, or find me on Facebook, or Twitter and Instagram as @essexromance.

Wishing you all happy, powerful writing!

Source: writersinthestormblog.com

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How Long Should A Book Be? Word Count Guidelines by Genre.

A constant complaint I hear from agents, editors, writing teachers, and reviewers is that they see too many manuscripts with inappropriate word counts.

If you’re getting a lot of form rejections or simply silence from agents, reviewers and editors, this may be why.

Word count guidelines have been trending down in the last decade. Most editors won’t look at a debut manuscript longer than 100K words—a little longer if it’s fantasy or a non-romance historical. They were not so rigid ten years ago.

Now publishers—and many readers—won’t take a chance on any long book by an unproven author.

While readers will happily plunk down the big bux for an 819-page book by George R. R. Martin, they’ll turn up their noses at a book that long—even if it only costs 99c—if it’s written by Who R. R. You.

I know the “accepted wisdom” in the indie world is that if you self-publish, you can write whatever the heck you want and people will buy it. But that’s no longer the case. The wrong word count for your genre red-flags you as an amateur, and most readers don’t have time for amateurs.

Not when there’s so much professional-level stuff being self-published.

A decade after the beginning of the “Kindle Revolution,” too many readers have been burned by self-published bloated rough drafts. A reader is not likely to pick up a book that screams “I’ve been writing this in my spare time for the last 8 years and I refuse to rewrite and would never let an editor tamper with my genius.”

So don’t be that guy.

Word Count Guidelines By Genre

Word counts are generally agreed to be the count provided by MS Word’s “Word Count” tool. Some extremely old-school agents prefer that you use the formula of 250 words per page (double spaced, 12 pt. font) and calculate it yourself, which seems a silly waste of time, but always check agent websites for guidelines.

For debut authors, following these rules will seriously improve your chances of traditional publication and/or establishing a readership, no matter how you publish.

In other words, get famous first and break the rules later.

If you are a household name, you can publish a compendium of your shopping lists from the past two decades and your publisher will happily promote it and people will buy it.

Unfortunately, that’s not true for the rest of us.

Here is a summary of current word count guidelines. This is a composite taken from a number of publishing industry websites, so nothing is set in stone. Take these as target word counts.  Some publishers will accept longer or shorter books, so always check the website of an agent or publisher before you submit.

Note I say these are for “debut” fiction. Once you have a loyal fan base, you can break the rules with abandon.

Word Count Guidelines for Debut Fiction

Picture Books—text: 500-1000 words (32 pages is ideal.)

Middle Grade fiction—20K to 40K. (Yes, we all know about Harry Potter. And when you’re as famous as J.K. Rowling you can write MG tomes, too.) “Upper Middle Grade” can be a bit longer.

Young Adult fiction—25K to 80K.

Chick Lit—60K-75K.

Cozy Mysteries—55K-70K. (BTW, Agatha Christie’s mysteries sometimes came in at 40K words. I think we may be going back in that direction.)

Fantasy—90K-110K. Definitely down from the epic tomes of yore. Self-publishers can get away with more. Fantasy readers like big books and they cannot lie. 🙂

Historical fiction—80K to 110K+. (You can still wax verbitudinous in this genre.)

Literary fiction—65K to 100K, trending away from the higher numbers. “Spare and elegant” is the mark of literary chic these days.

Standard Mysteries and Crime Fiction—70K to 100K.

Romance—55K-75K. For subgenres of romance, check publishers’ guidelines. Word counts for specific romance lines can be very strict. Some historicals can be longer, although Regencies tend to be short.

Science Fiction—75K—100K. When there’s world-building involved a book generally needs to be longer.

Thrillers—80K to 100K.

Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance—70K to 90K.

Westerns—50K-80K.

Women’s Fiction—70K-100K. The women’s fiction family saga has gone out of fashion recently, but they’re generally on the longer end.

Around 80K seems to be the magic number for most adult fiction. So if your ms. goes way over that, it may be time to put on your editor hat and get ruthless.

Word Count Guidelines for Nonfiction

Nonfiction books have shrunk drastically in the last decade. A study done last spring showed that the average length of a nonfiction bestseller has dropped 42% in the last seven years.

In 2011, the average length of a best-selling non-fiction book was 467 pages, but that dropped to 273 pages in 2017.

Nonfiction books get queried in the form of book proposals, so you don’t submit a complete manuscript (except for memoir, which you query like a novel.) That’s probably why word count guidelines for nonfiction are so hard to find. I’ve also found wildly different word count suggestions between agencies.

So treat these as word count “guestimates.”

Biography—80K-110K. These can be pretty long. Especially if your credentials are good.

Commentary—40K-60K. Not much info out there about word count guidelines for political and other opinion books. If you have appeared on cable TV news, you can probably get away with more verbiage.

Humor—20K-40K. For humorous memoir, follow memoir guidelines, and for funny novels, follow fiction guidelines, but for books like John Hodgman’s The Areas of my Expertise, Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys or the classic 1066 and All That, (only 128 pages and still in print after 80 years) keep it to 40K words or less.

Memoir and Narrative Nonfiction—40K-70K. You’ll probably want to prune a memoir if it goes over 70K. Books in this genre tend to get bloated without heavy editing. Remember you can write many memoirs about different aspects of your life.

Self-Help & How-To—20K-50K. In the age of ebooks, these are getting shorter all the time. My publisher had me cut my book The Author Blog down from 40K.  (And these days some ebook how-to’s are only 3500 words long.)

Travel and Nature—40K-70K A lot of these books blur boundaries with memoir.

What if Your Ms. Doesn’t Fit Word Count Guidelines? 

With both fiction and nonfiction, it’s best to err on the side of brevity these days. To quote Chuck Sambuchino, editor of the Guide to Literary Agents:

“Agents have so many queries that they are looking for reasons to say no. They are looking for mistakes, chinks in the armor, to cut their query stack down by one. And if you adopt the mentality that your book has to be long, then you are giving them ammunition to reject you.”

If your word count goes over the limit:

  • Consider splitting it into two books.
  • Or a trilogy. You’ll triple your income. 🙂
  • Are the extra words in there for world-building? Consider cutting some details and putting them on your blog.
  • Do some ruthless editing. Are you repeating yourself? Can you say something with one word instead of ten?
  • Can you condense some of those conversations with indirect dialogue?

If your word count is under the limit:

  • For literary fiction: Flesh out characters.
  • Thrillers: Weave in another subplot.
  • Crime fiction: Kill off a few more victims.
  • Or…maybe you’ve got a novella.

Novellas are hot.

Yes, old-school Big Five publishers (and Bookbub) still aren’t much interested in novellas, and some agents will reject on low word count alone.

But readers love them! Jane Austen fan fiction authors have been practically minting money with 140-page or less “Pride and Prejudice variation” Regency novellas in the last few years.

And forward-looking agencies like Fuse Literary offer “assisted self-publishing” for their authors to write novellas in between big novel releases. Their Short Fuse Publishing produces digital-first novellas in a number of genres.

For more on the popularity of the novella, check out Paul Alan Fahey’s post for us on the subject. Next June we’ll have a post from actress and bestselling author Mara Purl on the difference between writing a novel and a novella.

What about you, scriveners? Do you have a problem keeping to word count guidelines? Do you tend to write over or under the standard word count? Have you ever turned a long book into two or three?

By Anne R. Allen @annerallen
Source: annerallen.com

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How to Create Convincing Science Fiction Technology

Technology is a vital part of science fiction. Even if your story isn’t about a technological change, differences in technology will define the aesthetic of the setting and the possibilities available to the characters.

So how can you go about imagining convincing science fiction technology?

Why Convincing Technology Matters

Before delving too deeply into this, it’s worth considering why convincing technology matters. After all, other genres get away with making up whatever they like, as happens with fantasy and steampunk. Even some science fiction glosses over the details of technology, apparently treating it as unimportant.

One reason to pay attention to technology is your readers. While there are science fiction readers who don’t care about the details of the science, there are also many who do care. They’re passionate about understanding the underlying principles behind the way a future world works. They have a decent grasp on science and technology, which they will use to critique your work.

You can ignore these readers, but you do so at your peril. They often sit near the heart of fandom and can be among the most vocal advocates or critics of a book. Winning them over will provide you with a valuable support base, and if they don’t like your science then you’ll see it in your reviews,

There are other reasons too, beyond pleasing pedantic readers, reasons that will help you with your writing.

The first is that technology brings the world to life. Think about how much laptops, smartphones, and cars define our modern world. In the same way, the right technology can help to make your imaginary world feel real.

Developing a convincing system of technology can provide great inspiration for your storytelling. The way characters travel can inspire chase scenes. The way they communicate can inspire situations where they become cut off. The way they relate to their technology can shed light on how characters view the world and what inspires them.

Even if the outline of your story is already fully rounded, knowing how the technology works will make it easier for you to tell the story. If you know what makes a spaceship works then you’ll know how it could break down and how the crew might try to fix that. Knowing in advance means that you don’t have to stop the flow of writing to work it out.

How to Create Convincing Technology

The process of creating convincing technology starts with understanding modern technology and science, which means research.

Read up on the state of technology in the area you’re concerned with. What’s out there. How it works. How it’s used. Find out about what’s at the cutting edge, where experts in the field think this technology will go next. Look at how it got to this point, so that you can understand the way it develops over time.

When doing this, it’s important to look at the underlying principles. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s award-winning Children of Time is grounded in the fundamentals of evolution, not just the principle of information being passed on in the genes, but the way that this shapes changes over time. Though the evolution is exaggerated, the changes it creates in an insect population are convincing because they’re detailed and grounded in science. The result is an evolutionary pattern that is fascinatingly different from our world.

For most technology, you’ll need to consider design as well as science. A car’s design is about more than just the way an engine works and what makes an aerodynamic shape. It’s about how many passengers are included, where to seat the driver, where to place controls, how the vehicle provides feedback to the driver on what it’s doing, and a thousnad other factors. The same applies to any piece of technology, from a sword to a smartphone. So think about the design of the technology in your story. What aesthetics have shaped it? What issues of practical use? There are dozens of different ways the same tool could be designed, so look for one that says something about the society it’s used by.

While science fiction technology is mostly grounded in reality, it’s always going to depart from our world in some way – that’s what makes it science fiction rather than science fact. When deciding how to deviate from reality, it’s often good to work from the principle of the one big lie. This is one thing about the science of your setting that you’ve made up, like a form of psychic powers or faster than light travel. Readers will accept one or two big lies better than lots of little ones, as the one big lie and its consequences creat a coherent whole.

Work out the implications of your one big lie, including the different technologies that stem from it. Sell it well enough and your readers will believe.

Technology in Context

The way that technology is used is as important as the technology itself. Understanding how your technology fits into the world is vital to making it convincing.

New technology doesn’t start out as accessible to everyone. The Rocketpunk Manifesto blog has provided a simple, handy model for considering how it spreads and becomes more accessible.

First comes the experimental phase, in which the technology is unusual, unreliable, and only in the hands of a select few – think modern spaceflight. Then comes the government / megacorp stage, when the technology is mature and reliable enough to be replicated but costs so much that only huge organisations such as powerful nations can have it, as is currently the case for submarines. This is followed by a stage in which it’s accessible for commercial purposes and private ownership by the super rich, like owning an airliner. Finally the technology becomes available to private individuals, becoming ubiquitous, as smartphones have done in the past decade.

Understanding where on the spectrum your technology falls will help in understanding how it fits into the world you’ve created, how easy it is to access, and what challenges characters might face in getting hold of it. It’s also a useful way of setting limits on a technology, if making it ubiquitous would spoil your plot.

Once you’ve worked out the maturity level of the technology, think about who has it and why. What do they use it for? Why do they use this technology rather than something else?

Consider the consequences of the technology. For example, railways and the telegraph transformed western society. They made it possible for people, goods, and messages to travel at previously impossible speeds. The world became more connected, news travelled almost instantly, and the difference in power between nations with and without these technologies expanded hugely.

Technology can shape society in all kinds of ways. The need for precious metals for microelectronics has led to pollution and the mistreatment of miners in poor but resource rich countries. Those microelectronics have also allowed the internet, making most of human knowledge availalbe at the touch of a button. This has accelerated the pace of technological change, allowed dispersed social movements, fostered relationship between people on different continents…

You get the idea. The consequences of a technology can transform society on every level, and thinking that through makes your technology more real, as well as adding new story possibilties.

Case Study: Spaceships

Spaceship design, as discussed by Dr Nick Bradbeer in a presentation at Nine Worlds 2017, provides a great example of some of these principles.

Spaceships are currently at the experimental phase of maturity, though recent developments are nudging them into the national / megacorp zone. They’re very hard to make and get hold of, and they’re not entirely reliable.

The principles needed in designing a spaceship are similar to those in designing a ship. You have to take into account the ship’s role, its size, and its layout. The role will define what equipment is needed, such as weapons for a fighting ship or storage for a cargo ship. It will also tell you how many crew are needed. These parts together define its size, as there needs to be space both for specialist equipment and for crew facilities, incluing space for sleeping, eating, and recreation, as well as facilities to deal with waste, to create or make up for gravity, for people to do their jobs, etc. The layout is largely defined by finding the most efficient way to put these pieces together, inlcuding protecting people from the heat of engines and efficiently connecting different systems.

Design-wise, a spaceship can be pretty much any shape you want.  This creates freedom to make something that reflects the setting and culture you’re working with.

The big lie for spaceships is usually a faster-than-light drive. This is needed to connect together different places in an interstellar setting, and is such a common big lie that most readers will just accept it in some form.

So the research for spaceship design is a mixture of ship design and cutting edge space technology, combined with whatever design suits your vision.

Building Better Sci-fi Worlds

Whether you’re writing a vast space opera or a day-after-tomorrow dystopia, convincing technology makes for convincing science fiction. And along the way, it can provide you with the inspiration to make deeper, more interesting stories that engage your audience.

By Andrew Knighton
Source: refiction.com

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