I’ve spent too much time recently with my new phone: thinking about it, learning how it works, trying to figure out why it uses so much data, and it has felt like slavery. When I bought the new phone contact, I was offered unlimited this and that and a lifetime’s supply of some TV streaming or other, and all kinds of infinitesimal distractions goes with it. It reminded me of Heinlein’s soma.
Technology is supposed to be liberating and enlightening humans, but I did not feel either of those things. The promise of technology, to give me—us more time to pursue our passions, seems not to have been kept, or maybe we were too busy to notice the promise has been broken. Technology can add hours of tasks to our already busy lives, if we allow it.
Authors who want to let the world know what fantastic things they have to offer inside the covers of their books need to embrace the online world. As an indie-published author, I have to embrace the fact that my book shop is an online shop and that my customers can be anywhere, which is great because that’s a lot of potential customers … BUT…there can be loads of time spent tech-ing and checking, auditing and strategizing, reaching and networking.
Yes, authors need to have a professional online presence, but remember that your goal is to be creative.
A few years ago, while travelling in Europe, I visited a very unusual place in Lithuania called The Hill of Crosses. The story about this place is that, once upon a time a father was desperate to save his sick daughter. He was told to place a cross on the hill and prayer for her. He did this and she recovered and the belief in this place grew. It is an astounding sight, with thousands of crosses left as people prayed, wished and hoped for their lives to be better in some personally significant way. We all have a capacity for faith, whatever form it takes.
Is goal setting a contemporary equivalent to prayer or making three wishes when we want something? We’re no longer wishing to get a swish frock and go to the ball, or wanting to spin straw into gold. But humans are hard-wired for making wishes and waiting for dreams to come true. So why do we struggle to set goals and focus on them to get what we want?
Because the fairy-tale model has the wisher [us] making a statement of what we desire and then stepping back and letting our fairy-god-mother or some odd, magical little bloke do all the organising and heavy lifting for us. The result is that there ends up being a price to pay, like relinquishing first born children or unexpected dashes into the night that cause the loss a shoe and your dignity.
So where did the magical plan go wrong? We [the wisher] gave our power to set goals and work towards fulfilling them to a person who does not have personal stakes in how things would turn out for us in the long-run.
Stating long term and short term goals and developing the goal statements that will give your plan momentum is vital if you are to achieve what you desire.
Goals are the alchemy that allows us to make real change in our lives under our own terms, so be your own fairy-god-mother.
Recent experiences and conversations with creative colleagues have inspired me to get the blog going again to share ideas, challenges and inspirations about living a creative life.
People sometimes choose to question and judge creatives because we tend to think and do things differently, and we place value on different things. Though I don’t usually let these conversations affect me, I recently found myself buying into the rhetoric.
I was justifying my passion by doing a metal audit of my skills, the cost in time and dollars that I invest in my writing and most importantly, I had to figure out how I measure my success as a creative woman.
Many creative people find themselves justifying their passion to create.
The greatest justification for being creative is that you are creating something unique.
All the wonderful creatures on this planet have something to offer. We need to practice seeing what that something is.
It’s excellent to be filled with enthusiasm, to think differently, even be quirky and eccentric.
The world seems to be becoming such a homogeneous place and it’s really, really important that we don’t lose our uniqueness. There are eight or nine billion of us on the planet and it seems like we’re all acting like the same stupid sheep and that’s just not good for humanity. It’s not good for the planet if everyone feels that have to think the same and act the same. If that happens who would tell all the new stories, paint the new pictures, invent and build all the amazing things in the world.
If you are one of these excited, imaginative, thought-filled, risk taking creatives, consider yourself lucky. You will make the world better and different. So go ahead and sparkle.
PS: more thoughts on living a sparkling creative life next month. (It can’t be any sooner, I’m busy being creative.)
Hi to all the brain-snackers who have been following my series of tips and ideas for young writers.
I have decided to take a blog break for a while. No, I’m not just heading off for a beach holiday, I’m making more time for writing so I can concentrate on all the weirdly-juicy stories that are waiting on the shelves in my writing room.
There are 14 brain snacks collected in this blog page so you can revisit them when you choose to. If you have a writing question you want a specific answer to, then drop me an email at email@example.com or through the contact form.
Hi Brain-snackers. Big news, my new book ‘Weird Weirder Weirdest’ is being released this month, so to celebrate I am going to write this month’s blog about my favourite topic, made creatures.
I have always been a fan of story characters that have been made from technology, cobbled together from spare body parts or even conjured out of elements by using magic. Some of the creatures I think of from when I was young are Milton the Monster and Astro Boy (you can find them on YouTube). There is also Frankenstein’s monster and Golem (not the Minecraft ones). I’m older than you (loads older), so I even remember when Dr Who had a robot dog called K9. These characters and creatures, can be good and evil, some being helpful while others get totally out of control.
It seems there are three popular ways to create a made-character; built from technology, pieced together from body parts and made with a magical recipe or formula.
First technology. Dr Who’s robot companion K9 helped him out of dangerous situations by shooting aliens and baddies with the laser in his nose. K9 was built from all kinds of wiz-bang tech and of course he had loyal dog programming so he never got out of control BUT his weakness was that his battery could run down.
Next, magical recipes and formulas. Milton the Monster was made using all kinds of gross ingredients but they got the recipe wrong so instead of being evil he was a sook who loved puppies and flowers and drove his monster family crazy.
Old stories tell of Golem that was said to have been created in the 16th century to defend people in Prague. He was made of clay and had special words placed in his mouth to bring him to life. If the words were taken out he would turn back to mud.
Thirdly, Dr Frankenstein collected lots of body parts and stitched them together, then sent huge bolts of lightning down into his monster’s body to bring it to life. The monster was very strong and could not be controlled.
When you invent your creature or character, you know how they were made so you also know it’s a weakness and how it might be unmade. You can make this weakness part of the story and build suspense. Like when I waited to see if K9’s batteries will go flat when Dr Who needed him most. Or you can have your hero find the baddies magical recipe and then unmake it at the very last moment and save the day. Swords and bullets couldn’t hurt the Golem but if you could get the paper with the word on it out of his mouth he would be a man shaped lump of mud again.
In my new short story collection ‘Weird Weirder Weirdest’, I have a story about a girl who has been created by being sewn together by a magical witch. The witch doesn’t get to finish the magic so Mila needs to find a way to become real before her skin splits open and her insides end up on the outside … no more spoilers, the story is called ‘The Patch-work Girl’.
Have a go at creating your own magical or tech creature:
1. Often it can be fun to draw or model your creature to develop ideas. Will it be good or bad?
2. Think of the way it will be made in the story, it could be built or mixed, stitched or moulded.
3. Think about what its weakness will be and figure out how the characters might find out the secret of the weakness.
4. Think about what this character do in your story?
Character names and a little bit about dialogue.
‘I am Groot.’ I believe Groot is a fabulous example of both naming a character and using dialogue in a clever way to tell us about him, and the bonus is the comedy he brings to that story. Naming characters and inventing the way they speak is one of the most fun things to do as a writer. Choosing (or inventing) the right name can add so much to your story. Just the name can tell the reader a lot about a character and their background. And hearing the way they speak and the types of words they choose to use can impart so much information about them, without the author dumping you with detail.
Now for the names. The first thing to consider applies mostly when naming characters in sci-fi and fantasy stories. Though it is great to have weird and unconventional names to add a unique flavour to your story world, make sure the names are not impossible to say. Your reader needs to be able to read and say the character’s name or they will spend all their time thinking about what the name should sound like and not get fully drawn into the story. Another thing to consider when you are naming your characters is that you need to think about all the characters in the story. Make sure you don’t have all the names starting with the same letter or have then sounding similar or rhyming. This can confuse the reader and again they will think about names and be pulled out of the story. Having said that, I really like one book where that rule was broken. My favourite book (which I first read when I was 12) ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ by Madaliene L’Engle, has three characters named Mrs Which, Mrs Who and Mrs Whatsit. I never got mixed up with these characters and their names did help to show what they were like. Because their names were odd, I expected straightaway that they would do something unexpected and I was absolutely right. Each of these strange characters had an unusual way of speaking that told me more about their skills and limitations but I’ll say no or I’ll spoil the story for you.
Groot’s dialogue is distinctive. You find out everything he’s saying by listening to his tone. This works in a movie and not a story but it’s a good example. More grand examples are Chewbacca, who is a bit like Groot, Yoda, because the way he speaks you just know he’s from somewhere far, far away and Willy Wonka, who has lots fast, twisty and tricky ways to avoid saying the whole truth to his visitors. In the my book, ‘If I Die Before I Wake’, Vreni and Rita have been sleeping and waking for 100 years so they say things in an old-fashioned way and when they start using modern words, they sometimes mess them up and misunderstand modern ideas. I’m working on a mermaid story now and of course when mermaids are underwater they can’t talk, so I’ve had to invent the way they communicate with psychic messages and when they do talk, it sounds awkward and very stilted. The human characters in the same story live at the coast and like to surf (well it’s sort of surfing) so they use loads of old surfer slang that the adults in the story don’t always understand.
You may give your characters a name that shows their secret nature like Edward Remus Lupin from Harry Potter. Maybe their name tells something about how they behave, like Mr and Mrs Twit. Or their name may give a hint to what skill they have, like Mulch Diggums who is a tunneling dwarf from the Artemis Fowl books.
Once your characters are invented and named, you can put words in their mouths so that every time your readers hears from them in the story they learn a little about them and feel curious to learn more. When you start planning a story, keep a character diary so you can record who’s who and what is unique about them. Once you have them on paper, read the story out loud and hear all the distinct voices, this is lots of fun. You might want to get a friend to voice one of the characters for you. These characters may be so cool that you decide to use them again and again, so when you start planning a story, keep a character diary so you have a record of your awesome characters to use in the sequel.
PS: I’m giving away a short story to people who sign up to receive my newsletter, just leave your details in the blue spot.