World Building in Your Stories

The number of movie adaptations based on graphic novels or animae has been growing.  Heck, take a look at your Netflix lineup! From Ant-Man, to Death Note, Dare Devil, Ghost in a Shell – let’s never speak of that Last Air Bender Shyamalan mess though. Shh.

But all of these adaptions have another thing in common: world building.

When it comes to writing, world building is everything, no matter what genre you’re in. Can the reader picture the universe your characters are in? Are the characters following the rules you created? Is the world distinct and vibrant or vague and just another mesh of other well-loved stories?

World building takes skill. It takes constructing your setting and timeline. It takes constructing a culture. It takes constructing three-dimensional characters and not cardboard cut-outs. Universes can be created, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the DC Animated Universe. It made sense watching Saturday morning cartoons to see the Flash appearing in Metropolis, betting that he was faster than Superman because, well, duh, why not? The rules had been established in that world.

At the end of the day, your story has to pull in your readers to the point where they almost forget their reading a story – to the point where they invest their time to finish your book. And to the point where they take your world into their own hands in the form of some fanfiction.

 

submitted by ChiWriMo participant Sarah Luyengi

Choice Book Recommendations

New books, new year! There are so many début books to keep on your radar this year. From young adult to graphic novels, 2019 is the year that keeps giving. But how can you keep up with all the new authors you ask? Besides simply roaming through your favorite bookstores or asking a librarian at your local library, you can always plug in and head over to Goodreads or Amazon in the comforts of your home. What do the stars say?

-        The Night Olivia Fell by Christina McDonald

The blurb: “In the vein of Big Little Lies and Reconstructing Amelia comes an emotionally charged domestic suspense novel about a mother unraveling the truth behind how her daughter became brain dead. And pregnant.”

If you are a fan of mystery and suspense, this one should be on your radar. Stories that reveal seemingly Perfect People and their Imperfect Lives have been on an upswing ever since titles like Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, and Big Little Lies have turned into smash hits.

-        Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

The blurb: “A literary courtroom drama about a Korean immigrant family and a young, single mother accused of murdering her eight-year-old autistic son.”

Recently, literature focuses more on immigrant families and the immigrant experience in the US. Important stories like this are ways to connect the division between citizens and foreigners. The narrative on behavioral health has also changed, and combing two important subjects makes this book a good “want to read.”

-        Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

The blurb: “Kin Stewart is an everyday family man: working in I.T., trying to keep the spark in his marriage, and struggling to connect with his teenage daughter, Miranda. But his current life is a far cry from his previous career as a time-traveling secret agent from 2142.”

This book gives flash-backs of Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter and that’s a good thing! The plot has Philip Van Dyke themes all over it, coupled with a Interstellar-like familia bond between father and daughter. Don’t miss out on this one.

Find a comfortable couch and your favorite blanket to read some of these debut books. Have any other books on your radar? Don’t forget to share!

 

submitted by ChiWriMo participant Sarah Luyengi

First Quarter Check-In

Did you make a New Years Resolution to write more? How has that been working out for you?

It’s that first millisecond of the New Year – cheers, clapping, and is that a hint of regurgitated vodka? – and the idea of Being a Go-Getter is still fresh. But, once you actually slog your way through January, it’s already somehow February and your writing is almost non-existent.

No fear! In this world of Netflix and 90 second microwaveable dinner, it’s common for your writing goals to be shoved in the back. Here are some ways to nudge it back to the forefront of your attention. They may be easier said than done, but what’s the harm in trying?

-        Create a deadline for yourself! It’s helpful to hold yourself accountable. Making a deadline gives you that extra sense of urgency to finish your work. Make sure that your deadlines are reasonable, though. It can be easy to mark a date on a calendar without really giving yourself enough time. At the end of the day, life happens, and sometimes that can interrupt your writing time. Don’t forget that your deadlines are there to help you get through it.

-        Join a writer community; hearing other writers’ challenges and successes can be just the push you need. Online platforms are perfect for meeting hundreds of other aspiring writers out there, like you, from different walks of life. You can always take it a step further by meeting in-person. Local libraries and independent bookstores typically offer writing events – there’s always something out there!

-        Read something that influences your writing skills and get the creative juices going in your noggin’. Take a glance at the best-sellers section, staff recommendations, or movie-adaptions to find a story that can spur on your own work. You could take it a step further and specifically look for a book in the same genre that you’re writing, too.

Get into the mindset of writing and you may just surprise yourself by starting something new. The year is not over yet.

 

submitted by ChiWriMo participant Sarah Luyengi

The “Secret” To Winning NaNoWriMo

I have an insight.

Just hear me out.

There’s a widespread secret to “winning” NaNoWriMo (in the traditional sense). And it’s actually numerically true. Like, it’s measurable and about as scientific as you can get when you’re talking about something like noveling.

Here is the secret:

Survive Week Two.

Without fail, every single NaNoWriMo, the sharpest drop-off occurs after Week One. People can go strong for 5 to 7 days. That’s easy – it’s practically like a Creation Vacation! WHEE, NOVELING! But then… you realize… oh geez, you have to DO something with what you’ve just created. The characters have to… exist. And live. And breathe. And do something… interesting. Like, a plot or something. Right? NOOOOOOO!

Picture1

But how can they do that when you feel like you’re starting to write complete crap? Your creative resources are starting to flag, right? You’re feeling drained, maybe even a little resentful? Oh geez, ANOTHER night in front of this computer/notebook? I WANT A BREAK. (table flip, lots of screaming)

Here’s the thing: Most people who manage to survive and slog through Week Two end up “winning” NaNoWriMo. THIS IS A FACT, we see it every November. Maybe not with 50k words, but they manage to actually write most of the 30 days of the month, hit an admirable word count, AND they shockingly find they’ve built up so much momentum that they can keep going, even after the deadline of November 30th is over.

This phenomenon has been present since the beginning of NaNoWriMo, if you read the founder’s book, No Plot? No Problem! (by Chris Baty, this book seriously changed my writing life). I personally think there are scientific reasons surrounding this, related to what we know about habit-building and behavioral modification, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.

So, if it helps at all, if it gives you even the teeniest tiniest bit of motivation to hang on and keep going, despite the part of you screaming to just stop and give up, just think of it this way: if you survive week two, you’re probably going to “win” NaNoWriMo – whatever that means to you. And isn’t that kind of pretty awesome?

 

Self-Care During NaNoWriMo

Self-care.

You may have heard the term before. A generic definition for the term is “the practice of activities that are necessary to sustain life and health, normally initiated and carried out by the individual for him- or herself.”

Picture1If we break that down a bit, we can see there are a few day-to-day activities that fall into that category: eating, sleeping, personal hygiene, some minimal level of physical activity. These days, having a steady source of income can also be considered self-care, so you can provide a roof over your own head and other comforts. That said, it’s well understood that a steady source of income comes with its own stressors that can interfere with other parts of your self-care, but that’s a topic for another day.

As novelists and artists, we have additional components to our self-care that may not be obvious at first. We are the custodians of our own creativity, and it is up to us to guard that creativity, the same way we might guard the time we need to sleep and to eat meals. As you might have guessed, doing the basics and checking them off the list may not be enough for us. Did you sleep? Yes? Great. Was it only for five hours last night? ….. Well, how about food. Did you eat? Yes? Good start. Was it nutritious, energizing food, or something greasy you’ll probably regret later?  …..  If these snippets sound like you, you may need to re-examine your self-care habits and adjust them.

At the first sign of heightened stress and activity, self-care often goes out the window. We short-change ourselves on sleep, eat unhealthy convenience foods, don’t exercise, and forget to take quiet time for ourselves.

The articles on adequate sleep, good nutrition, and a proper exercise regimen, all for stress-management, are plentiful. If you haven’t done any basic research in those areas, I invite you to take a quick look.

So, let’s say you manage to master those basics – get enough sleep, have a pantry full of healthy food, and get a little physical activity each day. Even just those simple things can go a long way to boosting your mood and, thus, your creative productivity. But if you’re still struggling, it can be because you need to widen the scope of your self-care, to not just your physical needs, but also your mental needs.

Here are a few things that we, as writers and creators, might need as critical components to creative self-care:

1)    Take a break. Set aside some time just to relax. Try it just for 30 minutes. Watch a TV show that’s non-toxic and makes you laugh. Read a few pages from an inspirational book, even if you’ve read it before. Meditate. Organize something. Whatever you do, make sure it’s soothing to you. For this kind of activity, hopping on social media can be helpful for some people, but if that’s your choice, be sure to steer away from profiles and posts that you know will suck you into stressful, toxic discussions. If you know you can’t do that and will be too tempted, then maybe seek a different activity. The point is to avoid getting riled up and to let your brain just rest for a little while.

Picture22)    Do something you know you’re good at. Whether it’s playing piano or guitar, cleaning the kitchen, gardening, painting or drawing, cooking, or patting your head while rubbing your belly, doing a familiar task that you know you are capable of doing will boost your self-confidence and self-esteem and renew your sense of creativity.

3)    Visit somewhere new. If you are mobile, try going to a new location, perhaps one that you have been meaning to visit but never got around to it. Is there a local museum you’d like to explore? A park or garden that you’ve admired as you’ve driven past? A local shop you spotted but never stopped in? Let yourself explore.

4)    Take care of something that’s been bugging you. A stack of clothing in the bottom of your closet you’ve been meaning to take to Goodwill; the pile of leaves in the backyard that needs to be bagged or composted; dusting; getting an oil change. If you’ve been putting something off that you know you need to do, it can weigh on you in unexpected ways. Check one thing off of your list this week by just gritting your teeth and getting it done.

5)    Journal. When the words won’t flow, sometimes you need to unclog the bottle. Try handwriting a few paragraphs of whatever comes to mind – all of a sudden, you may find things flowing freely. A few ways to start out if the blank page is staring at you judgmentally: “What I really mean to say is….” Or “The reason I don’t want to write is…” Whatever comes out, listen to yourself. Act on it.

Picture3For any activity you do, just remember to limit your duration to avoid overdoing it. A spare half hour to watch some TV should not turn into an 8 hour Netflix binge. Cleaning those clothes out of the bottom of the closet should not turn into an entire afternoon spent re-organizing the whole bedroom. Do what you need to do, enjoy the time you spend doing it, then get back to writing. You’ll be amazed at how refreshed you’ll feel.