Using Basic Needs in Your Writing

Eating. Sleeping. Drinking. Bathroom breaks. When you’re writing an action paced fantasy adventure, these are things you don’t stop to consider. But what if I told you that they are absolutely essential to a story?

Let’s start simple. Every living creature needs energy, to eat and refuel with food and water. I don’t want to see you try and give me a reason why your human characters never eat a thing: they need food to live. Humans can live without food for about three weeks, so you probably want to keep your happy band of fantasy protagonists well fed.

“But Emmy, they don’t have TIME to eat! They need to get to Lord Ringdemort’s castle before the end of the week!” Well, they can stop to eat. Eating doesn’t have to be a stop in the flow of the story. If you want, you can always mention meal breaks in a short summary sentence as you hop from one scene to another. Maybe as they eat, they get attacked by wolves or something, I don’t know, it’s your story. Even Lord of the Rings had the Hobbits complaining about second breakfast! You can come up with a ton of problems and scenarios as your characters munch on rotten apples.

Next one up on the list, sleeping. Your precious little heroes need their strength if they want to free the innocent people of Camelot, right? Out of all the living necessities, sleeping is the easiest to write about. It could lead to late night sentry duty confessions with a friend as the others sleep, or a midnight raid, even an enjoyable dream sequence. Just give your characters a break.

Bathroom breaks have to be the most looked over part of fiction. You don’t want to interrupt the action with a bathroom break. You don’t even need to suggest it. The reader can guess that for themselves. There are a few things you can do with bathrooms, though.

In the fantasy cat series Warriors, many cats escape from watchful eyes using the excuse of the bathroom (or Dirtplace, as they call it) to go enact more plot points. In the series, the bathroom ruse even enacted the important plot point of poisoning a kitten! You can use the bathroom ruse whenever you need a clever escape for your characters.

The last one isn’t as much a necessity as it is something most action characters encounter. And what is this horrid object that lives inside every character?

Fatigue.

Fatigue is something rarely shown in writing. If you unathletic hero is running from a monster, they’re going to feel like the monster is already eating them. Stitches and pains fill their sides. Their throat and lungs burn like fire. Their legs are so weak, barely able to push them across the ground. So what’s all this stuff about them not being tired? Fatigue adds a sense of reality to your story, because I sure can’t run and jump across a cliff without wanting to die, and your characters shouldn’t either.

So when you write, remember basic living needs your characters must follow. There’s plenty of wiggle room to add them in. Yet how do you add them in without interuppting the flow of the story?

That is for another time.

Hamilton The Musical Review

How does a writer, actor, son of a doc and a consultant, dropped in the middle of the Latino neighborhood of Inwood, born of Puerto Rican descent from his pop, grow up and write a man who was nonstop?

Lin-Manuel Miranda first introduced the idea of Hamilton, a musical about the founding father Alexander Hamilton, at the White House in front of President Barack Obama. What he rapped was the beginnings of the show’s opening song, Alexander Hamilton.

The musical takes us through the life of Alexander Hamilton and his mark on America, from meeting the man who would one day kill him (Aaron Burr, Sir) to finally having his fatal duel with his first friend (The World Was Wide Enough). Hamilton was a poor Caribbean immigrant who came to America to make a difference and fight in the American Revolution. He made friends and enemies, people who loved him and hated him, becoming the first Secretary of Treasury.

The first act talks about the American Revolutionary War, where he meets the Schuyler sisters Angelica, Peggy, and his wife Eliza, along with Aaron Burr, George Washington, John Laurens, Hercules Mulligan, and Lafayette. Act 2 focuses on his political career, fighting with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, while raising his son Philip (and six other children but we don’t talk about them).

The musical immediately draws you into the life of this determined young man, who was as human as could be. The musical didn’t sugar coat any details about the man, doing a full song about his torrid affair which he then published in the Reynolds Pamphlet (Say No To This, The Reynolds Pamphlet). 

Every character has good and bad traits, some understandable, some not. Even Jefferson, portrayed as an antagonist to Hamilton’s career, has a relatable moral code he does not compromise. Burr, who tells the audience in the very beginning of the musical that he would kill Hamilton, at first seems like you won’t like him. But as you progress through the story, you find that he was a man as well. You actually care for him, as well as everyone else in the cast. 

The lyrics were expertly crafted together, introducing rap to the musical world. In average musicals, characters who sing at the speed of songs such as Guns and Ships would be considered insane. The speed is the heart of the nonstop soldiers of Act 1. The style of music introduces a new world to musical theater. 

Now, don’t go thinking that this is all gloom or all action. It is about 50/50, shifting between politics and personal struggle. While Act 1 is nonstop, filled with love, determined soldiers, and freedom, Act 2 tears out your heart and smashes it to the ground. Especially the end. (SPOILERS) Philip and Hamilton both die, leaving Eliza to tell their stories. 

Some songs that make up the musical dont hold as much weight, used more for information (Schuyler Defeated, The Adams Administration, I Know Him, etc) while others are turning points of emotion, story, and characters that everyone adores (Satified, Wait For It, The Room Where It Happens, etc).

While sadly the tickets are so expensive you can probably never see the show live, we have the soundtrack to give us the entire story. Plus, Lin-Manuel has said he’s going to work on a live action version of Hamilton. 

Sadly, Hamilton the Movie is for another time.

Magic: Writing The System and Doing it Right

Merry Christmas, everyone! As the holidays are here, I did not post anything last week so I could spend time with my loved ones. But now I am back in the saddle. Since this is the month of holiday magic, I decided to talk about actual magic.

Almost every writer has had to deal with magical systems in their writings. From a fantasy world well beyond Earth, to wizards co-existing with humanity, the magic used in fantasy stories are what puts the stories into their genre. Making the system make sense, however, is another story.

Let’s take one of the most famous fantasy books as an example. Harry Potter. The book contains three different forms of magic:

  • Spells cast by wizards using wands to complete tasks
  • Flora and fauna, naturally infused with magic. Wizards use the plants for potions, and they do not have natural magic abilities like the fauna
  • Natural magics harnessed at times of need, I.e, Lily saving Harry from Voldemort with an ancient spell she didn’t cast

To the untrained eye, these styles of magic seem well organized. The owner of that eye would be mistaken. Rowling presented her fans with three different forms of magic that contradict each other on numerous occasions. Yes, you can use multiple forns of magic (I’ll get to that later) but they must not contradict the other.

When you decide to create a magic system, the first thing you need to figure out is who controls the magic. This may seem like a feeble step, but it’s one of the most important aspects of magic systems. Unless you want everything to have magical abilities, you need to specify who can use magic. It could be a certain race of people, or something no one can control.

After you decide who controls the magic, you need to set the boundaries. Magic should not be a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the most skilled Mage in the land. Know what magic cannot do. Know what it can do, with disastrous consequences. And know what it can do with the simplest of ease. Remember, this is not the limits of your magical character. This is the limit of all magic. In the words of Han Solo, That’s not how the Force works!

Next, for my most favorite part in the whole wide world-

How is magic activated.

I hate this part. I’d rather talk about what magic can do then how it is used. Yet it is critical to how the world operates to know how to use magic. You can’t say it just ‘appeared’. In the words of Wirt from ‘Over the Garden Wall’, No, no, that’s dumb. While you can always try to create some brand new, original way of using magic, you could use these tried and true methods:

  • Dance: Used in the tv shows Avatar, this style is using movements and dance to harness your magic. This style can be used for exotic magical settings, graceful warriors harnessing beauty and passion. Just remember, this style has been associated with the world of Avatar. Make sure to own this style if you decide to use it before Avatar fans come breathing down your neck.
  • Spells: An age old classic, used in Harry Potter, Merlin, Lord of the Rings, and many other tales. Spell casting is the most traditional way of harnessing magic, with the spoken word and a flick of the wand. For a traditional magic wizard story, this may be the style for you. If you choose this, you’ll need go distinguish your magic from other people. Another spell casting book could become lost forever.
  • Internal: I know what I said. You can’t say magic just appears. Yet that is what this style focuses on. This style can be extremely tricky. Not talking about internal magic can make your system seem like a Mary Sue system, where everything is easy. But, if used correctly, internal magic can be a huge payoff. There are a couple different forms of internal magic. One is the magic of flora and fauna. Natural magic imbedded into the DNA of living organisms to give them certain magical skills. These skills are similar to a lion retracting it’s claws. It’s just natural instinct. It’s great for non-human species. The other form is based on mana, the magical energy featured in many fiction works. Your magic controlling people could use their own stores of manna to create effects. This could be used for physical, emotional, and mental injuries due to overuse of mana stores. It could also be a base for other styles, like spells, to hang off of.
  • Potions: This relates to the naturally magical flora and fauna from the last style. If a group were to use these creatures, they could become a group of potion making wizards. You get a cauldron, put the right ingrediants in, and cilia! Magic. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe this form is used in the anime Fullmetal Alchemist. It is closely related to alchemy, expect for its use of organic ingredients.
  • Alchemy: Alchemy is like potion making, expect it used non-organic ingredients, like gold, fire, water, or other elements. This is like potion making, just a different style. No matter which one you do, figure out its usability in daily life.
  • Glyphs: Glyph casting is creating glyphs that have certain magical effects. One glyph might create fire, one might control dogs. It is like spell casting, but with symbols instead of words.
  • Sentient Magic: Inspired by the mighty Force, this is a system where the magic of the world is sentient. Those who use magic are simply liked by magic. If asked, magic will help out. Similar to internal magic. Remember, sometimes, magic may not be willing to help.

Those are just a few examples of harnessing magic.

With that figured out, we move onto integration. Magic will have some affect on your society, so you need to figure out what. How does magic effect the world ecologically? Socially? Politically? Mentally? Emotionally? Physically? How that works is up to you.

If you want fantastic beasts and magic spells in one story, that’s great. There is nothing wrong with that. It can make your world seem that much fuller. When you do, you need to make sure they do not contradict each other. Make them blend together like strawberries and bananas.

Oh boy, that’s a lot of info to dump out. It’s all needed to create an intricate magic system. Remember, the reader only needs to see the tip of the iceberg to know about it. You don’t need to tell the reader everything. They don’t want you to. Use a touch of your own writing magic to satisfy your audience.

What writing magic do you use though? That is for another time. Happy holidays to all, and to all a good night.

Writing Prompt Central: Teleportation

For this week’s prompt, it’s a simple opening line, that can be used in any story you imagine, free of copyright.

I know it’s weird to try and teleport. Humans can’t do that. I was always a weird person, so the thought floated across my mind. Of course, I turned weirder when I succeeded. 

This is a short post, but for a prompt, short posts are always good.

Elf: The Christmas Comedy

In my town, the local middle schools are uniting to create Elf The Musical. With this event coming up, I decided to buy the Elf movie and finally watch the entire thing.

The serious Will Ferrell is transformed into a air headed human raised by elves ever since he snuck into Santa’s bag one Christmas Eve. The beginning of this movie can be extremely painful to watch. In those first minutes, the comedy is crude and Buddy’s go happy behavior takes getting used to. Once the movie gets to the point of Buddy tackling the fake Santa, the comedy begins to pick up and earn it’s high quality status which helps it become a Broadway musical.

Buddy the elf was raised by elves for the thirty years of his life until he finally learns he is human. So he sets out to New York City to find his father, Walter Hobbs. Over the course of the movie, Buddy strains his relationship with his father and meets his adoptive mother Emily and brother Michael, along with the beautiful Jovie. By the end, the group has to get Santa’s sleigh flying and ignites the Christmas Spirit all across New York.

The beginning of the movie dragged me along by my feet, banging my head against plot points that didn’t make much sense. For one thing, how did the baby Buddy escape his crib? He isn’t even a year old. He doesn’t have muscles to push the barrier down. Another plot point that snagged me was how in the world did this man not learn he was human? He didn’t fulfil any of the physical qualities of an elf. You could say that since thirty years old is still a child to elves, Buddy has a child’s mindset. Yet he went through human puberty. This stuff should have affected him!

Beyond those facts, the comedy begins to run beside me as Buddy makes his way to New York and gets involved in some hilarious hijinks. Some jokes were still low quality, for example, Buddy eating candy with spaghetti like a rabid animal. Yet there was actually some very well placed jokes, like starting a dance party in the mail room.

The ending was quite action packed, with gungho Central Park Rangers chasing after Santa’s sleigh. Buddy’s warmth and affection has changed all of New York City for the better.

Even though the happy go lucky Buddy was played by the known serious Will Ferell, he still managed to capture the ideals of Buddy, and the Christmas Spirit with a smile even the Joker would enjoy.

However, the Joker is for another time

Prompt Central #1: Christmas Characters

So I’ve decided to start creating weekly prompt posts every Thursday in order to help people’s creative juices flow. These posts will be exceptionally shorter than normal, as all I will have to say is the prompt of the week.

The first prompt on this blog is about Christmas. To be exact, how your characters act around Christmas. This relates to my most recent post, Why the Little Things Can Truly Shape Your Character. I mentioned Christmas a lot in that post, so I decided to create a Christmas prompt. Now, out of your group of characters, answer these questions.

  • Who decorates the tree?
  • Who hums/softly sings Christmas carols as they walk around?
  • Who screams Christmas carols everywhere they go?
  • Who tells the screamer to stop, they’re embarrassing themselves?
  • Who only wears Christmas sweaters for the entire month?
  • Who celebrates Hanukkah?
  • Who wishes the holidays would be over?
  • Who goes out the shovel the snow?
  • Who goes to play in the snow?
  • Who hates the snow?
  • Who wakes up at midnight on Christmas Day to put presents in the stockings?
  • Who stills believes in Santa?
  • Who ruins the Christmas spirit everywhere they go?
  • Who buys the best presents?
  • Who re-wraps old gifts to give again?
  • Who drives the car for five hours to visit family?
  • Who passes out in the back of the car listening to carols on the radio?
  • Who cooks the big Christmas meal?
  • Who brings Chinese takeout to the meal?

These are just a few Christmas ideas to add to your characters. You can imagine any group of characters doing these activities, from friends to family to even your favorite relationship!

Relationships, however, are for another time.

Why the Little Things Can Truly Shape Your Character

Characters are the turkey of a delicious turkey sandwich from Subway, the thing that every story needs in order to truly be a story. You can’t write a story that has no characters. Even when you write a simple poem describing a beautiful scene, the reader or the narrator could be the character of that poem.

So, when you need to create your characters, you need to do an excellent job. Not just an excellent job. An amazing, fantastic, magical job. However, in many stories all around the world floating in the sewers, the characters are horribly one-dimensional. They behave in a way no one ever would, and are just disgusting to read about. Characters can also have too much which overloads everything and turns a character into a dreaded Mary Sue.

Of course, I’m not here to talk about Mary Sues. I’m here to talk about developing characters. Let me ask you a few questions about your character. Doesn’t matter who. Pluck anyone from your writings and put them in the spotlight. Now, tell me; what is their middle name? How do they sleep? Do they like making lists and organizing or do they like being spontaneous? Do they prefer silly Christmas tree decorations or classic Christmas tree baubles with strings of lights and popcorn hanging all around? Do they even celebrate Christmas? What is their religion? Are they an Atheist? Do they like Apple phones or Samsung phones? Do they have a certain clothing style? Where do their parents come from? How did their parents meet? Do they like milk chocolate or dark chocolate or no chocolate at all?

I’m making you a bit uncomfortable with all these questions, aren’t I? To craft a story, these are the things you need to know about your character. Maybe not the exact things I asked you, but those are the types of questions you should try to answer about your character.

When you add something to your character’s biography, or bio, it bleeds into your writing. Even the fact of how they decorate their Christmas trees could decide if you character is more traditional or more modern. Those facts could be influential in your story. Even though your readers will never learn of this.

If you were reading a thrilling mystery novel, do you really want to the story to be interrupted so that we can learn how someone decorates a tree? If it’s a Christmas story, you could, but not if it’s in the summer! This applies to any little quirk you put into your characters. While the reader doesn’t necessarily want to know all these facts, when you know them, it only helps to shape your character.

Those of you new to writing may be wondering if little details to help your character is needed when the reader will never know. Surely you could just fill in the important spots of those character questionnaires and leave out their favorite cereal. Let me put it this way. You’re writing a horror story. Everyone is scared, shaken, disoriented. full panic mood. Is the character you are creating always scared, shaken and disoriented? Do they put themselves into these situations for fun? Of course not. Make your character into an iceberg. While the reader only sees the top layer, there are hidden layers underneath the water that help the character float.

If you’re having a tough time figuring out little things to add about your characters, put them through a character questionnaire. You can find many of these online. They list multiple different facts about your characters life to help you mold your character into reality, ready to face the villains and challenges you lay ahead.

However, those challenges are for another time.