Thinking Inside the Box

There is the thought that one must not constrain or limit creativity. That you should let it take you anywhere it wants to go. Just sit down, imagine, and let it flow.think inside the box

Don’t “box it up!” But. I want to present to you a different way to look at it.

See, there are some really good reasons to put rules on your creativity, to “box it up,” if you will. In fact, I am becoming of the opinion that it makes you more creative.

So what exactly am I talking about? Well, as it usually happens to be for me, I am referring to writing, and writers, and story-telling, and such. And how does this Thinking Inside the Box apply? I shall tell you. It’s quite fantastic.

So. Imagine you are sitting down to begin work on a new fantasy or sci-fi story. (take your pick — whichever you like working on better)

And so you start thinking up things. In a fantasy, it’d be creatures, like dragons, and centaurs, fauns, satyrs, elves, dwarves, wizards, and how they all interact with each other, and what they can do, and the limits are really… well. They aren’t there. It’s a different list of things for a sci-fi, but a similar thing, all the same. The limit is your imagination. Which can be so wonderful, yet so very terrible. Unbridled creativity can run away, and become lost in the mess of it all.

What I want to present to you is the thought that setting yourself boundaries, very firm boundaries, for your story and it’s world, magic, science, etc. etc., is a good thing. For multiple reasons.

Allow me to use for an example one of my newest favorite books and author.

I recently finished reading the first two books of the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. (working on reading book three right now).

First off. It is brilliant. The story is epic, and the “magic” is really creative and just like “wow, that is so freaking cool.” And you know one of the things that makes the magic cool? It’s limits. There are incredible limitations to the magic of the Allomancers (aka, Mistings, or Mistborn, depending on what kind of Allomancer you are and your abilities), and I believe those limits are what make it really good.

Within the box that Sanderson built for himself, his creativity runs wild. And it is so awesome. Because now that he has laws, laws of physics, and magic, and what not, he is able to think with those in mind, and come up with these amazing things for his Allomancers to do, that are totally “believable.” Because none of it is random. We know what things they can and can’t do. So when they do something that is super creative, you’re like: “I would have never thought of that, but yeah, they can totally do that. AWESOME.”

Sanderson has three “laws” that he uses to apply to writing, and they are pretty fantastic.

(for more about those laws, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandon_Sanderson#Sanderson.27s_Laws )

In his first “Law,” Sanderson talks about “Hard Magic” and “Soft Magic.”

Hard magic is for those magics and technologies that have very set rules. The author sets up the rules, and then the author follows them. Like Sanderson has done in his own writing repeatedly.

Soft magic is more undefined. It allows for the author to reach in, a god in the little world of their novel, and do almost whatever they wish, or need to, to make the story happen. Deus ex machina becomes frequent, and so cheap, and very unbelievable at times, using Soft Magic as your mode of approach.

I would encourage you to read all three of Sanderson’s Laws. I found them very thought provoking, and whether you like them or not, or want to use them or not, it is good food for thought.

What I am saying is that setting up boundaries doesn’t hamper your ability to be creative, but fuels your creativity.

So, next time you are writing, creating a new world, editing your WIP, whatever it is, if you haven’t already, I would encourage you to get inside the box. Set up rules. It makes writing easier, actually, because you know the rules. You wrote them down in that notebook over there. But you can do some awesome things within those rules, and blow your readers away.

So yeah.

(And the TARDIS is just awesome, and a great example of this)

Consider thinking inside the box. It is bigger on the inside.

Hello, I am back, and also……. Realism 101

HELLO PEOPLES. I am married now, and working my job, and my best friend is there all the time. It is so wonderful, and YEAH. So now time to get back active here on my blog, too! 😀

Cause I KNOW you all missed me posting and what not. 😉

My first few post back are going to be addressing an issue in the story world, character development, and some of the writing I have seen recently.

Realism. REALITY. The Big R. … and yeah. That isn’t Big Red. 😉 Real. Being real.

You need to be real in writing. Deus Ex Machinas can’t be something as common as grass. Your Hero can’t go through battles of epic proportion, and come out shiny and bright without any blood and grime to mar his “hero clothes”. Your Hero can’t have a perfect life. Be happy with every single member of their family, or all their friends, ALL the time. The list here goes on and on and on. Why should you NOT do them? Because they  aren’t REAL. Being realistic adds so much depth to your story, and makes it more believable on many more levels. But we are just starting on the basics here. One reason at a time.

Reason 1? The Theme (and therefore, also the Ideal) of your story. If your story world does not have realistic consequences, realistic struggles, realistic people, then readers, even if they don’t realize they are doing it, will be less inclined to receive whatever message you are trying to tell or teach them.

This might end up being a short list. It might end up being a really long list. And I am not even done with Reason Numero Uno yet, so bear with me, people.

~Daniel

THE BLACK SPOT, or Bad Potatoes That Must Be Vigilantly Guarded Against

During the long journey of creating soup, you have many choices. And we carefully select all our ingredients. But there are, I think, a few things worthy of mention before I wrap all this up.

Sometimes while preparing the ingredients you notice that soft spot. Or black spot. Or smell that is just… off. I’ve watched people ignore those and just toss them in.

NO. PLEASE DON’T.

Sometimes these things aren’t really ‘bad’ though. They are personal preference. But what I’m talking about it something that, while doesn’t bother some people, it greatly bothers and upsets other people.

I won’t list any story titles here, because I don’t really wish to get into an argument. But there are stories out there that are well written, have interesting plots. But they have some element to them that just make them unpleasant, even offensive (for some). Perhaps a setting, or the world and way in which the story is told. Or a combination thereof. Really, there are many ways this can happen. Even elements of the story itself.

Controversy is part, I believe, of making our story soup; picking a subject nobody else wants to touch. But here is the deal — the SUBJECT. The way you approach that subject needs to be in a way that nobody, from either side of the issue, will have debate with. Even if they have a problem with some aspect, don’t give them ammunition with which to shoot down your entire story, because I’m sure you’ve got some really great stuff in your soup, and those critics will taste your soup, and that one little piece of potato will upset them so much, and they will take away a very large audience away from you because of that.

Of course, this also applies to not just you as the chef of the soup, but also as someone tasting other soups. There are certain soups, well, my friends, you just don’t need to try them out. Before you know it, they can have you in love with them, and at that point, your comrades will be in a hard spot, because you love this story, and they, well, they have issue with it.

Do you want to do that?

I simply wish to say that it is perhaps wise to check on all aspects of a scenario before plunging in to it.

Of course, I would agree with you developing your own opinion. But do you need to partake to do so?

I remain vague upon this subject because in my opinion this is one that controversy and arguments amongst ourselves would not be of benefit, and I simply wish to make a point for consideration.

So I hope you will at least ponder all the possible meanings to this piece of potato in the soup.

Some won’t mind. Some will walk away and never try any soup you ever make because of it.

CHICKEN BROTH, or How To Choose The Liquidy-ish Substance That Holds Your Story Soup Together

AH! The kitchen has called! And I finally answered! … Alphonse whacked me with a spoon as I entered, for I have been gone far too long, and he was rather displeased with me.

But I have returned to teach you another lesson in soup!

Alright. So. We have discussed many aspects yet, but there are still a few more to go over. And I consider this one of the most important aspects of making the soup. The others were rather… general. But this… This is what makes your soup happen. The kind of soup it is and will be is decided by this… This is the medium. The glue.

This, my friends. Is the broth.

Tomato based soup has… tomato based broth.

And the national soup of Soup-land, is most definitely chicken noodle soup. At least the Soup-land I know of.

CHICKEN BROTH. Woo-hoo! It’s the awesome of the awesome.

Okay. Before I get carried away with the soupy-ness of it all… hehe… TO THE STORY SOUP!

We have a black cauldron. We have various ingredients. We have gotten through the jelly. And we are still alive.

But this particular part of the story is always there. This is what makes the story happen, guys. This is what literally holds in together. This is why we READ books. Why we watch movies.

This is why we eat the soup.

The characters.

We remember the characters from a book long after we have forgotten the brilliant sub plots and denouements. The characters stick with us.

Strider.

Luke Skywalker.

Bilbo.

Lucy Pevensie

Toothless

Ebenezer Scrooge

Puddleglum

Beren and Luthien (two of my absolute and forever favorites)

Huckleberry Finn

Tom Sawyer

Frodo!

…. and if you have read/seen the Lord of the Rings. You will never forget. Never ever.

Samwise Gamgee. The BEST ally. EVER.

There are so so so so many characters! And I could list hundreds, and you’d be like. Yup. I remember those. Point?

The point is… People relate to people! Whether they are real are not! (And I could do a list of real people who stick with us just as much as those characters do)

Characters are to stories like broth is to soup. It’s what holds the story together. They are the one element of the story that the reader … or soup eater 😉 … is always getting.

I’ve read novels where the author did not go into depth IN the novel about that character… so we never found out much about them. But you could tell the author knew where they had been, and what they had been through. And other characters did too.

There was an unrevealed depth to them, and it was quite effective.

Shallow characters. Well. A weak broth doesn’t give much nourishment, now does it?

Take the time to make a rich broth.

Take the time to have real, deep characters. That people will care about. That people will remember. That people would want to meet.

If you need help with character development, just shoot me an email. I can help with that one. I know a lot of other writers who could help, too. ‘tis what we do. 😉

It’s important that your characters are real though. That they have flaws. Goals. Dreams. That they’re human. (unless, of course, they are elves… or orcs… or ents…)

Those deep characters… Those are the ones who make us laugh… and bring a new aspect to our own mundane lives… and cheer us up… and make us cry. They are the characters we will never forget, because it was that character’s story that changed our lives. It was that character that changed us.

I have said before that stories change lives.

A story is about a character.

People change people.

More so than your story itself… it is the struggle of that individual, or group… Their love, their hate, their failures, and their successes… It’s the glimpse into someone else’s life that changes our own hearts.

So. Again. What kind of soup do you want to make?

What kind of story do you want to tell?

I hope it is a soup that will be nourishing.

I hope it is a story that will change the world.

BOILING BERRIES, or When Your Soup Feels More Like You Are Stirring Jelly… Oh. And Crock Pots.

Sometimes you get this idea. And it has a very serious theme and set of ideals. In fact, it might just be a little overwhelming.

But ah! Ideas! How we love them. And so. We run to the kitchen, we chop up our ingredients, and throw in the spices. Add an extra dash of salt. A little water, perhaps, for good measure, and get down to cooking the soup. Indeed. What a wonderful thing beginning a new soup can be. Such a thrill as you see spices in the cabinet and things in the refrigerator that you never considered for a soup before! Hesitantly at first, perhaps, but then, with anticipation of the finished product, you add things in. You can just tell it is going to work. But then. You have a problem.

You never thought this might happen. But, alas, it has. And you were unprepared. And if it is you’re first time for it to happen. Well. Then perhaps as well, you did not know it could EVER happen either. But it has.

What has occurred? Well. You can’t stir your soup. At least. It doesn’t stir like soup. It’s not coming boil. And you are straining to stir it at all.

Have you ever made jelly? It is an interesting process. Different for each fruit. But one thing that every kind of jelly I have assisted with had in common was that they were all ridiculously hard to stir. Thick. Sticky. And doesn’t want to go around that pan.

But this is a soup! Not a jelly! Why is it doing this?

My dear comrade, consider — This is an idea that you perhaps almost rejected because of the theme and ideals. Things like how human life is sacred. Truth and relativity. There are many controversial topics out there, and sometimes you get an idea that is based off one of them. And no matter which way you might be coming at it, for it, or through it, you fear criticism, and rejection, and therefore, chances are is that you almost reject the idea to begin with.

Knowing that, how can you expect this to be an easily processed, developed, and executed story?

I said you needed to be careful in your selection of pots. And indeed you do. Sometimes you need to through it in the pressure cooker a while. But sometimes… Sometimes this soupy stewish jelly like substance needs to simmer a bit. It needs to be cooked down. And you need to think about it.

Might I recommend a crock pot?

Yes, they always have the commercials on television about the easy fix meals for the crock pot, and that can be true. But have you ever had a roast or any other fixed meat properly prepared from a crock pot?

You put it in there. And oh. Juicy and tender, and BURSTING with magnificent flavor.

My dear friend. Those serious stories need time. They need more than the little while of sitting on the stove. They need to really cook.

When the soup begins to feel like jelly. Throw it into a crock pot.

Sit back. Let it cook. And just smell the aroma. It’ll come. Never worry.

THE CAULDRON, or The Importance Of Carefully Selecting Thine Soup Pot

Before you start cooking, you get everything ready. You get out your ingredients, and check through them all carefully: making sure you are fully prepared for this nutritious endeavor!

Yet, very crucial to all of this is what you cook in. By jove, you wouldn’t fix stew in a pot that had yet to be cleaned from the last batch of chili you had made, would you? Well, I seriously hope you wouldn’t. Cause that would taste weird. All depending on the kind of stew, of course. Not to mention the kind of chili.

So please, enter with me into the storage room. The storage room, you ask? Whyever for? To select our pot! But a storage room? Don’t you just keep them under the stove? Well. I suggested that to Alphonse, but he promptly laughed me to scorn for thinking I could keep all the story cauldrons under a teeny weeny little stove top in a equally teeny weeny cabinet. Yeah. He was right of course. Not enough room. So. Behind the stove is the storage room. And to there we now adjourn from the kitchen.

Here, upon racks, hang row after row of cauldrons and pans. Glittering and shining, dark and well worn. Small and large. Stainless steel and cast iron, side by side. Here rest every possible thing you could ever desire to create a masterful soup, as far as the vessel in which the dish we shall prepare goes.

But why does it matter? Well. How are you planning on telling your story? What methods do you plan on using? What WORLD will you use to convey your tale?

You see, writing isn’t so simple as to sit down and just begin spinning your tale.

And neither can you prepare just some soup in just SOME random pan. For one, size is a key factor. Not to mention, some burn faster than others, and some even give a different taste to the food (cast iron skillets, for instance, come first to mind).

So. Will you choose the Black Cauldron in which to prepare your soup? (made VERY famous by Lloyd Alexander.) Or something different? Perhaps a simple stainless steel pan will suffice. Not small, yet not large. After all, if this is a story that is in the next town over, maybe you don’t need a large pot in which to boil up a whole entire new world.

Then again, maybe you need a pressure cooker in which to compile all the things of this real world into a form that the human mind can accept and understand, and not be horrified by the brutality of truth.

So. Choose carefully what pan you will cook with. Each story TYPE can be told in ANY world. But each STORY only belongs to one, and that, my friends, is why you must consider the pots and pans before you, and look at them with diligence and care.

Now, before someone goes and accuses me of not considering Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, or Choices, by L.E.R. Jenkins, or the Door Within, by W.T. Batson, or any other such novel, in which more than one world is involved. Well. Allow me a moment to shed the uses of the Story Soup analogy, and say straight forward of what I speak. I do not speak of worlds, such as Narnia and Earth, Alleble, and the Lands Beyond, etc. I speak of the STORY WORLD. If you will… the *genre*.

So. Consider — your story — the options. Weigh carefully. And choose with wisdom thine soup pot.

THE BLACK CAULDRON SIMMERS, or What To Do When The Great Pot of Various Ingredients Blow Up In Your Face

Sometimes when Alphonse and I are working on a pot of soup together we have this horrible thing happen to us. The soup blows up. Goes supernova. Indeed, it’s quite tragic. Usually a complete and utter waste of good food. Or was it?

There are times when writing on a story that it’s just not coming. Those carrots refuse to enhance the flavor of the soup!

It’s not that you aren’t inspired. It’s not like it’s that complex. You just can’t write it. And the pot boils over.

What then? What’s going on?

Might I humbly suggest, my friend, that you evaluate yourself. Is this really the kind of soup you need be making?

This is something I have recently done. And I found many of my soups lacking. The recipe for the soup seemed grand enough, but alas, I found that I never could bring myself to put it together. And it’s because that was a soup I never needed to make. A story I wasn’t meant to write.

Don’t force yourself. It’s like eating a food that you abhor. There are times when you are stuck while writing. But really. There are times when you just need to let the story go. You and the inner chef need to sit down together and taste your soup. Carefully. Sparingly. Savor the flavor.

Does it burst into color in your mind? Something that grabs all your mind? Makes you desire to simply eat and eat and eat? If not, consider what this soup is.

There are times when a pot is ignored. It is pushed onto the back burner, and it simmers. The pan blackens on the bottom, and the soup begins to rise. Boils. And bursts over with scalding fury from under the lid. Stories can do this to. And it usually happens with a story that you either one, really care about, but don’t know what to do with, or two, don’t really care about, just keep pouring time and thought into.

So what do we do when the pot blows up in our face?

Evaluate your ingredients — some of them might need to go.

Consider the soup itself — maybe you should make a stew, instead of a creamy potato soup. After all, you would prefer to eat a stew, and don’t care for creamy soup. THEN WHY ARE YOU MAKING CREAMY SOUP?

And last, and many times the hardest thing to consider is this:

Do you even really know how to make this soup? Did you spend enough time preparing the recipe? Or did you see a picture and jump in, commit yourself to something you didn’t even feel led to do, just got caught up in the moment?

The great pot sometimes simmers. Listen for the whistle of the pot.