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Writing Exercise: Generic Worldbuilding

Image acquired from Qwertee.com

Earlier this month I ranted about Generic Worldbuilding. It’s easy to say “fix it,” but how? The how is “writer magic,” and like all “magic” we are talking skill – and skills take practice. Time for a writing exercise!

WRITING EXERCISE: Picture a generic scene (sci-fi, fantasy, or subgenre thereof) with two people/beings traveling from one location to another.

Once you have it in mind, go back and think how to make the world the next level.

For example: Do the vampires and werewolves get along – does the pack mentality work well in cities while the loner vampires get drawn to the rural communities? Does the FTL travel make whales randomly appear above planets with potted plants? Why do the longer-lived species tolerate the new human upstarts? How does the hero’s personality change how they approach their superpower, say a construction worker vs. a computer geek?

Write the scene. You may need to rewrite the scene to push it as far as you can. Adding, remove, change or replace words without changing the basic premise of two people traveling. 

Please post your results below. Remember, don’t read other people’s version until you do your own.

READING EXERCISE: Watch a TV show, attend a play or movie, or read a book. What are the “generic” aspects of the genre presented? How did the storyteller add a layer of worldbuilding?

***

My generic trip has a generic cranky dwarf with a generic snooty magic user and their usual hate of each other.

Typical of traveling with wizards, the car stalled.

“Can’t you pull in that mystic aura of yours a little bit?” I snapped as I pulled my trusty Honda onto the shoulder while other cars sped by on the curving interstate.

He sneered. “We can’t all be dwarves and technologically gifted.”

“We can’t all be assholes, either.” I mutter under my breath, knowing his human ears couldn’t hear me talking into my beard. Why the Masters of the Mine needed this particular mage was below my dig level, but if this keeps up I will double my price next retrieval I get assigned. Very few dwarves tolerate going above ground; I’m one of the cursed few without agoraphobia, so I got sent out of the mines a lot.

Not all humans are bad, mind you. But this one wanted to epitomize everything dwarves hate in magic-users. I grumbled as I opened the door, then hopped down onto the asphalt. I preferred concrete; the stones in the dust solution could still be talked to. Asphalt was as slick and nasty as the wizard I was transporting.

I walked to the front of the hatchback, dragging a hand over the steel body trying to see deeper into the metal parts before opening the hood. I had rebuilt the engine myself on the 1978 Civic; my grumbled turned into a growl when I saw the damage the mage had done on my water-cooled engine after I propped the hood open. He hadn’t attempted to control any of his bleedoff. I’ve transported more than one magic-user and knew I was in for a spark plug change and electrical system review after the short three-hundred-mile trip, but this mess!

I don’t have a temper, not like the Redbeard clan or the Twisted Picks, but I stalked to the passenger side and pulled the skinny-ass twinkle finger out of my vehicle and tossed him onto the narrow grassy berm.

“How dare you!” we yelled in unison. His face flushed as his hand started to twist and words beyond words spewed from the faker’s mouth.

“Don’t.” I growled, pointing up. We had been going through a cutout in the mountains, one of those areas with the signs which say “Watch out for falling rocks.” Humans inflicted a scar on the rocks which begged me for healing. One simple flick of thought would release an avalanche.

The knob bobbed in his hairless throat as he swallowed, lowering his hands.

“That’s better.” I approached my charge. “Now, here is how it is going to work. You are going to sit right there and mediate. Pull all your shit in and tuck it in the little box inside your puny brain I know all your slaggers have. You got an hour because that is how long it’s going to take me to fix what your inconsiderate, STUPID actions have done to the car. Once the car is fixed, you will get in and not.say.another.word. to me. Ever.”

I stared him in the eyes like he was a lightless cave. “Nod if you understand.”

(512 words – first publication 7/25/2017)

Geeking Science: Edible Cutlery

From the Manufacturer’s Website: http://www.bakeys.com

Soon I will be starting my annual trip where I work for a non-profit. Nearly three weeks of camping and in that time I will use a lot of plastic one-shot stuff because of limited ability to clean things safely. My “vacation” will produce a trash/carbon footprint more than three months of my normal life. I hate choosing personal health over planetary health, but a girl’s gotta live – I mean that literally and figuratively. Between lack of refrigeration, lack of running water, and lack of sleep, I have few options.

Bread Bowl from pillsbury.com

But soon I may have a different option for my breakfast spoon and dinner fork while traveling. I have always loved bread bowls, where a small loaf is carved out and filled with fabulous soups or satisfying sauce-covered meatballs. Now a company has developed a spoon which can be eaten when done – made from millet, rice, and wheat plus some spicing. Located in India Bakey’s Edible Cutlery has already made over 1 million spoons since 2011.

I repeat – the company has been in business and making this stuff since 2011. This is not science fiction. This is not even waiting on testing like many of the medical marvels I geek about. THIS.IS.REAL!

Geeking.O.U.T!

Oh, drat. A huge mucking ocean is in the way.

The India-based company is still growing its providers, getting rice farmers to switch to millet, developing its manufacturing base, and all that other stuff which businesses must have and us writers tend to skip in science-fiction. Someone wanting to distribute in America even did Kickstarter after reaching an agreement with the manufacturer; only problem the Kickstarter ended up being 10 times more successful than planned. After over a year the spoons have not shipped from India to America and then distributed to the backers. Fulfillment was promised April 2016; it’s now July 2017. The Kickstarter website shows some minor zings happening between the distributor and the manufacturer.

I hope this gets settled soon, because I really, really want this product. In every flavor.

Author Spotlight: Michael G. Williams

Book Cover from Amazon

Michael G. Williams is a regular at ConCarolinas and, as such, I have had the opportunity to snap up each book of The Withrow Chronicles when it becomes available. Even better, I have talked directly to the author about his own personal challenge for the series. Not only is he following the vampire genre, but for each book within the series he is choosing a different subgenre to keep things fresh. 

Once a reader is in on this particular “secret” the series takes on additional fun, seeing what road Mr. Williams will take us down with Withrow Surrett. In the first book, Perishables, our stay-at-home vampire experiences the Zombie Apocalypse genre and has to decide if saving his Homeowners association is worth the effort. Book two is a Detective Noir entitled “Tooth & Nail” and drags poor Withrow even further out of his safe little world into the hills of Transylvania – county, North Carolina (I laughed really, really long when I realized my adopted state had a Transylvania County). During book two Withrow’s insane cousin Roderick comes into his own. You will rarely meet a more compelling, funny, scary as sh*t character. Actions Roderick takes often has me rereading the Chronicles just to figure out which twisty-turn the boy pulled off. He makes Batman’s Joker look sane and safe.

In Deal with the Devil, the subgenre is Superhero. Mr. Williams doesn’t get all the nuances and tropes of superpower prose like his did with Zombie horror, but he does an admirable job. Since superhero is a favorite genre of mine, my expectations bar is higher. On the other hand, this book’s power comes from changing The Withrow Chronicles from a series of completely independent books with continuing characters to a true series with changes tying together an ongoing, overarching plotline. While each story of the series can be a stand alone, this book is a must-read for series fans. Deal with the Devil refers back to both of the preceding stories so I would recommend reading the first two stories first, though it is not required. While not the best book of the series, Deal with the Devil makes the series.

Book four, Attempted Immortality, is a complete Thriller ride. Still unquestionably a vampire book, the thriller subgenre drives non-stop action from the opening scene to closing. Withrow and Roderick run from one end of a small beach town to the other as it gets blown up and burnt down around their ears. The Thriller subgenre suits Mr. Williams action- and humor-oriented writing style, though he admitted on Facebook some long writing sessions to meet the challenge of keeping momentum going while also forwarding plotline and characterization.

Book five, Nobody Gets Out Alive, is still being written. And he hasn’t said what the genre is yet! According to his plans, this will complete the series.

I admire Mr. Williams for attempting such a complicated task to further his writing skill. In addition, the gentleman is well-spoken at convention panels, friendly when bumped into, and approachable at his table.

Editing Rant: Generic Worldbuilding

Image courtesy of suphakit73 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you have been following my blog, you know I looooove worldbuilding.

Good worldbuilding brings a layer to the game where the characters are more real, the plot more driven, and the story becomes mind-blowing as the reader forgets about their own world and gets involved in yours. Generic worldbuilding creates an opposite affect – the characters are cutouts, the plot phoned in, and the story so “paint-by-numbers” the reader would have been better off buying a choose-your-own-adventure.

The superhero prose genre has some of the best and some of the most generic worldbuilding I have ever seen. Of all sci-fi/fantasy type stories, Superhero prose is one of the easiest for world-building so not doing it is beyond lazy. You don’t need to define where the powers come from – people could one day wake up with the powers; you don’t need to define how they work, they just do. You can play fast and loose with real science, sci-fi science, and fantasy magic. The rules don’t need to make sense. You can have standard powers ranging from “brick” (invulnerable and strong) to speedster to energy. This subgenre, thanks to roleplaying, comes with lots of quick power ideas clearly defined.

The superhero romance I just read did not even try. The superheroes were one family, and they fly and have superstrength, and, with the strength levels, needed to be careful with their romantic interests. Fly and have superstrength; that was it! The extent of the worldbuilding stopped with being careful when hugging their women. No variation between the powers – not even one brother flies better and the other is stronger and the third more invulnerable so they change who responds to what emergency.

I’ve seen generic powers become fun with the superhero learns control by learning how to cook; think fried eggs for strength and whipping up a souffle for speed. The Greatest American Hero TV show (1981-1983) had a flying hero afraid of heights, so  when he first started he topped out his flying at 5 feet above the ground. Take what makes your world unique to the next level!

It’s okay to start your world as “generic” fantasy with elves, orcs, and dwarves or your sci-fi with “typical” faster-than-light travel and laser cannons. Even urban fantasy has the generic setting of vampire, werewolves, and ghosts. But once establish…

make it yours.