Harnessing Inspiration in the Digital Age

How do you harness inspiration for your works-in-progress?

Hello, friends!

I wanted to let you know about a thing I made. The thing is the product of one of my favorite “non-writing” writing activities… a fun tool I used to help craft the world of Stormriders! I’m talkin’ about inspiration boards!

Inspiration boards have been used in the design and visual arts fields for ages. They are commonly used in those fields to shape the intended narrative and guide the project. In this increasingly digital world, it is becoming easier for other creators, including writers, to dabble in creating these bulletin boards of imagery that help share their vision and aesthetic for the worlds they build. Read more about creating your own writer inspiration board here. Inspiration boards can be either “analog” (physically tacking items to a bulletin board) or digital. Whatever works for you!

Stormriders inspiration board (preview)

I’ve created digital inspiration boards for nearly every story idea I’ve had; it is an important part of my world-building and outlining process, as I am the most visually-oriented person you will ever meet! So I’ve decided to share my Stormriders inspiration board on Patreon! A link to my Patreon page is here. If you join at the $1 level, you can unlock the full inspiration board (not to mention the added perk of getting full access to ALL of my Patron-exclusive content about all things Stormriders!).

DISCLAIMER: Inspiration boards are generally for a creator’s own personal use and are not widely disseminated for profit. That said, When utilizing images and artwork that aren’t my own and that will be used for Commercial use (i.e. book covers), Best practice is to either purchase rights to images (via for-purchase image databases like Shutterstock/Getty Images/etc.), or find fair-use/royalty-free/Attribution-free photos via sites like Pixabay. Personally, I give credit for Every Photo when using them commercially, even the attribution-free photos. but it is always best practice to read carefully about any restrictions or attribution guidelines for any images you opt to use for your creative endeavors, especially for projects or products that will be distributed to large audiences. Credit your fellow artists!

 

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A Universe in My Head (or: The Intricacies of World-Building)

All the world is a stage, And all the men and women merely players.

~Everyone’s favorite English bard

First, you must build a world.

There are several different camps out there, when it comes to world-building for a novel. And each camp will tell us something different, when we ask the questions we were always going to ask… the questions that pile up as we writers all sit down at our favorite writing desks, and open our notebooks/computers/etc. … when we try like hell to make sense of the places we’ve envisioned, the intricate worlds that thus far live only in our heads but yet are beautiful. Vibrant. Real.

  • Do I need to build a world?
  • How much of a world should I build?
  • Do I build the whole world before writing a word of the story, or do I make it up as I write along?
  • How much of my painstakingly-built-and-now-thoroughly-complex world needs to end up in my story?

To name a few. (There are so many questions!)

Where to start building?

The important thing to understand is that there is no right or wrong way to world-build, but if you gravitate toward the speculative fiction/science fiction/fantasy genres, chances are world-building will be a necessity for you at some point. Whether you design every aspect of the world, down to the smallest detail, before you write a word of the story; or create and pull pieces of the world in as you write along… your characters cannot exist in a vacuum.

I personally fall into the first category of world-builder. For me, creating the world where my characters will be born, grow up, meet each other, fight, go on adventures, suffer loss and find happiness, has to happen before I meet my characters. The world needs to have existed long before my characters’ stories begin, and could feasibly continue to exist long after my characters have departed from it.

Your characters cannot exist in a vacuum.

How much of the world should show up in your story? We are writers, descriptive people by nature, so of course if we had our way the worlds we’ve so painstakingly created would be captured on the page, in every last vibrant detail. But the reality is, not much of the world will actually show up in the story. World-building generally is more for you, the writer, than it is for the reader. Although we spend hours (days, months, years?) developing extensive historical, social and geographical complexities of the worlds we create, the story itself may contain only whispers of the detail we’ve meticulously planned.

We use world-building as metaphorical post-it notes, to highlight a cultural reference or a social norm, to provide a supportive context as for the reason our protagonist has to captain a sailing vessel instead of drive a car to the next town over. Our characters should be living, breathing, imperfect beings; they should screw up and feel losses and care about things (more on this in another post), but their choices and actions need to be grounded in the environment around them. However, it is a balancing act between providing the appropriate amount of context and over-explanation. Too much description and focus on the world, and not on the characters, will slow a story down and ultimately will prove distracting to a reader. You want to give your characters a place to travel, interact, grow and get into trouble, without sacrificing focus on key aspects of the plot or the characters themselves.

There are many, many resources and tools that can assist writers with world-building. I’ve linked a few here that I’ve used and found incredibly helpful:

The Ultimate Guide to World-Building – Writer’s Edit

World-Building for Every Genre: A Checklist – Writers Write

Fantasy World-Building Questions List – pcwrede.com

Additional Advice and Links to World-Building Tools – Fictorians.com

List of 42 World-Building Resources – The Dabbler

30 Days of World-Building Tool – Fantasy World-Builder Guide

Article continues on Patreon.com. To read more about Worldbuilding and the world of Stormriders, subscribe to my Patreon here!

 


This is the second post in a 4-part series about The Big Magical Process of Making Words Happen (According to This Author).

Part 1: Spark

Coming soon:

Part 3: I Sometimes See You When I Look in the Mirror (or: The Complexities of Character)

Part 4: Our Journey Begins Now, But How? (or: To Plot or Not to Plot)

The Power and Authenticity of Fictional Languages

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Research! (Book cover courtesy of author Robert Hendrickson and illustrator/cover designer Cathy Rincon)

Creating a new dialect ain’t easy.

During my worldbuilding endeavors for my serial novel, Stormriders, I discovered that some of the people who lived in the World I Built spoke an interesting hodge-podge creole of Appalachian English and Pirate English vernacular. Interesting, but tricky. I’d never created a dialect before. Luckily, I have been able to research to my heart’s content because The Interwebs. And what I’m finding is fascinating!

I’ve learned that there are dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference materials out there for just about every language that exists or has ever existed on the planet. And many of those are free!

I’ve learned that Appalachian English remains the closest still-spoken dialect on earth to the language of Shakespeare (Hendrickson, 1997).

I’ve learned that Pirate English is a dialect that is actually spoken by more real-life people today that I could have imagined.

I’ve learned that creating a language, even a creole dialect of English language variations, is HARD. But as words fly out of my main character’s mouth and onto the pages of my story, it’s apparent how worthwhile the effort is.

Language brings authenticity to the world you’ve created.

World-building is one of the most enjoyable writing exercises for me. And why wouldn’t it be? Science fiction and fantasy authors the world over have created some of the most vibrant, beautiful worlds I’ve ever pictured inside my head via the words on their pages. And all of those worlds came replete with rich geographical, climatological, political, and cultural details.

I’m no J.R.R. Tolkien. Inventing a brand new language from scratch (as Tolkien did multiple times for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) is daunting in a way I can’t fully voice. Perhaps Tolkien felt similarly as he began wandering through the World He Built. Perhaps not… he was a philologist, after all.

Thankfully, for the purposes of my story and the world I’ve built for Stormriders (which takes place in a post-apocalyptic former North America), I did not have to invent a new language from scratch. But for one group, the Shoalfolk of the Carolina Shoals (a string of low-lying islands and cays that formerly comprised the Appalachian highlands, before catastrophic flooding devastated the low-lying continental United States over millennia), it felt inappropriate to neglect to honor that rich culture that, to this current day, reflects the linguistic cadences and phrasing of Elizabethan English.

In order for readers to believe in your characters, you have to be able to answer questions about every aspect of the world in which your characters were born, grew up, and have embarked upon their journeys. Language is one of those critical aspects (and I would argue, perhaps one of the most important), which can shape a culture and bring authenticity to your characters themselves, as they move through the world you’ve tirelessly imagined.

And it’s a big, big world out there, indeed.

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