My monster in a bottle

Taking inspiration from one of the scenes in the book project I’m currently working on, I’m preparing a class on “monsters in a bottle.” In truth, the inspiration for this idea goes back to my childhood when I used to see this whimsical advertisement in my comic books for “sea monkeys”:

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As you might guess, the sea monkeys didn’t really look like the illustration . . . they are basically shrimp.

Well, magical creatures in a bottle may be a disappointing exercise in reality, but I’ve decided it’s a great idea for a creative writing class. Since I have a camp upcoming on the theme of “monsters and mythology,” I’m creating a workshop in which my students will assemble their own magical monster bottle. They will put in a few important “raw ingredients” such as a feather or a claw. They will label and tag the bottle and then write a series of instructions to explain how someone would “hatch” the bottle and turn it into a full-grown monster.

Here’s some photos of the sample bottle I put together:

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I’m also hoping that this will inspire them to write a lengthier story. After all, what if someone doesn’t quite follow the instructions correctly? There’s all sorts of story possibilities!

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Brewing a story

I’ve starting writing a new project these days . . . but, truth be told, it’s been cooking for a while. I actually found this photo on my computer from a couple years ago where I was brainstorming this book with one of my creative writing classes.

The idea was that everyone had a “story brew” brainstorming sheet to get started and, in an attempt to model it, I “story brewed” my own idea. Here’s the photo of my workings:

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Some of the ideas have since been discarded . . . and some remain!

By the way, here are some photos of some of the students’ story brews as they were in progress . . .

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The keys to adventure

In order to get my creative writing students “incited”, we’ve spent the last couple of weeks creating our own keys. After all, keys play such an important role in so many stories; they are a great way for a character to either start an adventure, or to help him or her along the way.

The students started with a brainstorming sheet and then designed the key on paper before building it. Many of them also designed tags to go with their keys. In some cases, these tags presented instructions, or a riddle.

Here’s some photos of the activity . . . there is quite the variety of keys!

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It’s not a tiger

Here’s a sketch of a character I’m working on for a new book. Yes, I know. He looks like a tiger. But he’s not!

I actually did this sketch years ago (this character has been percolating in my brain for a long time). Now that I’ve finished the bulk of my work on Kendra Kandlestar, I can turn my attention to this character—and his story. I’ve come to realize that this character has one other important feature that is not shown in this sketch. That will have to be shown in future concept drawings.

 

 

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Inspiration from secret doorways

Here are some photos from my most recent edition of my “secret doorways” workshop.

It has been one of my most popular activities among my creative writing students the last couple of years. I think it’s because students really love working with their hands and getting away from their computers for a while. Personally, I really believe in the concept that busy hands lead to good ideas, and sometimes staring at a computer screen is really just counter-productive in the creative process.

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Continuing my obsession with doors

I post a lot about doors on this blog, and I’m afraid there’s going to be a lot more about them, starting today.

One might think that I would have gotten doors out of my system with Kendra Kandlestar and the Door to Unger, but the truth is that it just spurred me onward, to the point that I’ve decided that my next series (not just my next book) will be all about doors.

The wonderful part about this decision is that it gives me a continued excuse to go travel the world and take a lot of photos of doorways. I’ve shared some of my favorite doors in the past, but I’ve got a lot of new ones to add to my collection, which all came from my recent trip to Europe.

The photos below all come from one door that I found in the castle district of Budapest. It has all of my favorite features; it’s wooden, weathered, and colorful. It’s also a double door, with the larger door being for horses and carriages (or cars, if you prefer) and the smaller door for us bipeds.

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Life on Planet Marce: Losing our Way

Life on Planet MarceI’ve just posted the latest episode of Life on Planet Marce, the podcast my wife and I have started to chronicle  life as a married couple working in the arts. We actually recorded this episode in the car while being lost on the way back from our friend’s house.

While we try to find our way home, we talk about some of our biggest artistic achievements of 2014 and argue over who is the most like Sherlock Holmes. I discuss the inspiration I discovered during our trip to Europe . . . here’s a picture to go with the episode: me in front of a very cool window at the Louvre.

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A new year, a new project

I’m still finishing up work on the final installment in my Kendra Kandlestar series, The Search for Arazeen, but all the heavy lifting is done. That means I can begin in earnest on a whole new project!

This new idea is something that has been percolating in my brain for a long time, almost seven years! I haven’t had the time to devote to it during all this time so, up until now, it has just leaked out here and there in the form of  sketches and notes.

I’m sure I’ll be sharing a lot of this project as it evolves over the months ahead. But for now, I’ll just share a page of doodles . . .

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Introducing Life on Planet Marce

Life on Planet MarceAnyone who has met my lovely wife Marcie knows that she is beautiful, kind, talented . . . and quirky! After a lot of pestering from some of our friends, we decided to start a podcast that will try to capture her personality, as well as our ongoing discussions about the highs and lows of working in the arts. Since Marcie is an actress and voice-over actress, I’m an author and illustrator, and we both do a lot of specialized arts-education, we feel we have a lot to talk about.

We hope that people find our podcast humorous, fun, and a bit informative. Two episodes are currently posted and we’ll be adding more soon.

Please check it out at lifeonplanetmarce.podomatic.com and consider subscribing on iTunes.

Crafting a Kingdom – Part 5: Creating History

kendra_reads_shortI’ve saved the best for last in my blog series on world building. Creating history for your world can really help bring some texture to an imagined world, giving it some foundation, and making it seem more real—just like the societies, cultures, and communities we find in our own world.

You can create history in a number of ways. In fact, it’s directly connected to two other key components of world building that I’ve discussed in earlier posts: culture and iconography.

But you can take it a step further, and have some fun in the process, by writing a myth, legend, folktale, newspaper article—essentially, an “exterior” story. To me, the great part about this type of writing means that you get to run around in your world without the pressure of heeding your novel’s main plot.

Some of this historical writing might purely be for you, the author. It will inform your portrayal of the world in your novel. But, then again, you may also want to include some of this writing in your novel, especially if it connects directly to your plot.

belgariadThere are many ways to do this. Some authors write myths for their world and include them at the beginning of their novels. David Eddings did this in his Belgariad series, as his myth established the central plot problem in his world.

Many of my creative writing stories like this format, in which they start their books with long-winded myths. I generally find myself turning off. Personally, I prefer it when authors weave their myths into the tapestry of their narrative. I’m just not sure how much readers will care about a myth (unless it’s really engaging, like the Belgariad myth) until they understand how it relates or impacts the protagonist. So I prefer that the myths inform my characters (and their journeys) along the way.

We can look at some of the other fantasy masters for inspiration.

beedlethebardIn Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling has written many exterior stories. Some of these she used in a whole other book, The Tales of Beedle the Bard. One of the tales contained in the book, “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” is core to the plot in the original Harry Potter books.

C.S. Lewis did a similar thing with Narnia. Even though The Magician’s Nephew is chronologically the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia, it is actually the book that Lewis wrote sixth. It’s essentially a prequel.

“This is a very important story,” wrote C.S. Lewis about The Magician’s Nephew, “because it shows  how all the comings and goings between our own world and the Land of Narnia first began.” As a child, I adored this book, because it explained how the wardrobe and the lamppost came to be—not to mention all of Narnia.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth is abundant in exterior stories, mostly myths and legends. It’s one of the reasons his world is so compelling. He often incorporates his myths right into the narrative, having characters relate them to each other, as is the case with the myth of the one ring.

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I have to say my favourite example of including myths in a novel can be found in Watership Down by Richard Adams.

Throughout the book, the rabbit characters tell stories of the trickster folk hero, El-ahrairah. The tales serve to inspire the rabbits and give them courage during their journeys—or simply to entertain them, depending on what is happening in that particular scene. By the end of the book, the reader comes to realize that the culture of the rabbits absorbs all heroic characters and remembers them in the form of El-ahrairah; he is a composite of many heroic figures, including Hazel, the hero of Watership Down. It was these myths that made me fall in love with this book as a child.

I’ve tried to follow the lead of some of these great authors in my own writing, preferring to include my myths as part of the overall story. For example, in Kendra Kandlestar and the Door to Unger, we get to read along with Kendra the “The Tale of the  Wizard Greeve.”

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Here’s a photo of my sketchbook, where this myth first took shape.

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In fact, many short stories and tales that are connected to Kendra Kandlestar’s Land of Een begin in my sketchbook. I’ve written dozens of them. Many of them are about how a town in the Land of Een was given a particular name or about how a particular aspect of the Land of Een came to be. The majority of these tales don’t appear in the Kendra Kandlestar books themselves, but I have included many of them on my website, as part of an online “Eencyclopedia.”

I’ve been talking mostly about fantasy writing here, but it’s important to emphasize that you can employ this technique of building history for all sorts of genres. After all, the purpose here is to make the world that your characters walk around in seem real. So if a myth doesn’t fit your particular genre, you could try other devices such as newspaper articles, TV reports, or letters written by long-deceased relatives of the characters.

One of my young creative writing students recently chose to do a newspaper article to connect with his novel. He really was inspired:

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Well, that’s my series on world building. Ultimately, I think it just comes down to making up a set of logic, and then making sure you live by that logic. It can take some time to do this, of course, but I think it’s worth it. It will ultimately make the overall writing process flow more smoothly. And, in the meantime, it’s a whole lot of fun!