Chuck Wendig’s Nanowrimo Challenge

Chuck Wendig challenged readers to post a thousand words from their current Nanowrimo project. This piece is, needless to say, pretty rough, but here it goes:

For Bear Naked readers, this snippet from book four is the packs arrival at the big council of werewolves. It introduces an important side character for this book and the rest of the series.

 

Amanda groaned as she climbed out of the car she’d shared for the last nearly ten hours with the other alpha females, Karen Leidulf and Darlene Sage. They’d been driven by Soldier, one of Arthur’s wolves and it was supposed to have been an honor, being part of the alpha group. Amanda would have much rather ridden with Connor or even better, with her pack.

They’d left early, before the sun had risen. It was now mid afternoon and it would be late afternoon before they could hike to their camp site and set camp. The thought of the long day she’d pass, and the long day yet to come soured Amanda’s mood even more.

Their hike-in point was an abandoned farm in on the edge of Hercule-Glades wilderness area. They were met by a man in torn jeans and a muscle shirt, who waved them behind a decrepit barn. They found several other vehicles already parked there, out of sight of the road. From here they would hike several miles in, to a site that the human authorities knew nothing about.

Robbie had parked the van with the omegas and the younger pack beside them, Arthur pulled in on the far side. Vince, Mitch and the one remaining of Arthur’s wolf, a woman named Sarah, had ridden motorcycles and pulled in on the far side of the van.

Erica rushed to hug Amanda, even they’d only been separated a few hours. Tanner and Robbie were opening the back of the van to start unloading their camp gear. The rest of the three packs were slowly gathering around them, stretching sore muscles, and talking amongst themselves.

Other vehicles were pulling in and there were signs of activity all around them. “Chose a popular time to arrive,” Karen commented.

A man came to greet them. He took a big sniff as he approached. “Leidulf contingent.” He sniffed again, his eyebrow furled. “And?”

“Amanda,” Amanda said, her mood souring more at the reminder of her scent. “Burnson.”

“Bear clan,” he said with a nod. His eyes traveled up and down her body, appraising her with a calculating stare. She met the stare and he looked away. “Thought they’d be bigger,” he muttered to himself.

Tanner scoffed at him. “Ain’t seen her in bear form.”

Valerie moved forward to break off the conflict. She introduced herself and accepted a map of the route into the woods. “How will our campsite be marked?” she asked.

The man just shrugged. “Just set up where you like. Best get a move on, though. Best sites be taken.”

“No organization?” Valerie huffed at the man’s retreating back. The rest were pulling bags from trunks or from the back of the van.

“Gives the early arrivals, their allies, the advantage of picking the best sites,” Tanner opined.

“No,” Arthur said. “It’s typical Fleischer thinking at work. Be a few challenges for choice sites, no doubt. People will choose sites near friendly tribes. By days end the pecking order around camp, and the alliances will be obvious. What is that?” His nose wrinkled as Erica and Jonathan hoisted a mass of canvas out of the back of the van.

“Darren’s pavilion,” Amanda replied. “Always said, if you are camping in the same place more than five days, use the pavilion.”

“And if not?” Valerie asked.

“It’s so much work to set up. Tents are easy. But pavilions are better.”

Arthur made a face, like he was about to disagree. “It reeks of bear clan.”

“Let them know where our loyalties lie,” Connor replied. “And if it makes the Sons of Garm uncomfortable, all the better.”

Amanda had packed a small cart as well. She pulled it out and directed Erica and Jonathan to lay the canvas on top. “The poles strap to the side. We can pile most of the packs on top. Take a couple people to haul it all, but it will be easier than each having to haul a huge backpack.” She gave Arthur a shaded glance as she said it, as if to let him know that he wasn’t the only one with expertise in their group.

Before long they were loaded and ready to go. They consulted their map and started down a trail into the woods.

On the very edge of the farm they encounter a small group of people, mostly Fleischer wolves from the odor, though it was hard to tell for sure. The parking area was awash in many scents as various packs arrived and debarked.

A slender man with long blond hair and deep blue eyes stood uncertainly beside a tree, one hand resting on its trunk. He regarded the semi circle of people surrounding him with a look of bitter resignation.

The man directly in front of him had scruffy dark hair and dark eyes. He had a Canada crutch in one hand and was pointing it at the blond man. “Gonna crawl all the way in, huh?” he demanded.

Amanda’s eyes narrowed and her blood pressure rose. She looked at the blond again. His stance wasn’t uncertain, merely off and he used the tree to hold himself upright.

“If you don’t give me my crutch,” the man said. “I suppose I shall have to.”

The group laughed.

“A crippled werewolf,” the man snorted derisively. “Do you know what we do with cripples in our tribe?”

“Do tell,” the man’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “I’m sure it’s quite fascinating.”

The dark haired man licked his lips and looked around. He apparently hadn’t been prepared to have to actually explain. “Well, we don’t let them be part of our councils, that’s for sure.” He poked at the blond with the crutch.

The blond seized the opportunity to grab for the crutch. “Your a real genius, Marty,” he sneered as the two men fought over the crutch.

Marty yanked, pulling the blond forward onto the ground and retrieving the crutch. “Fuck you, Haltir.”

“Marty,” a woman offered hesitantly. “Maybe you should just give it back or…”

“Or what? He’ll tell on me?”

“Or maybe you could just leave him alone, you know, because it’s the right thing to do,” Amanda growled, striding forward.

Marty roared in laughter. “Yeah, right. Who says, princess? You look like a feisty one. I like that.” He reached for one of her breasts.

She knocked his hand aside and shoved him with all her strength. It sent him several feet through the air and into a ragged heap.

Everyone stepped back in surprise. Connor laughed, coming to Amanda’s side. “She’s a strong one, too, my alpha. Best not to forget that.” He retrieved the crutch and handed it to Haltir. He rose slowly, balanced on the crutch.

“We are heading in now, if you wish to join us,” Amanda said.

Haltir gave her a sharp, guarded look. Humiliated at being saved by a woman? Angry? Or what? “I’m slow but quite capable,” he replied, his voice tight. He turned and started towards the path.

“Haltir,” she said, moving towards the man again. “It’s an unusual name.” The name tickled the back of her mind, but she couldn’t place it.

“It’s old norse,” he replied.

She recognized the word from Uncle Darren. “It means…” the words died in her throat. He turned and met her gaze, his blues eyes piercing. It meant broken.

“I know what it means.” He looked at his aggressors, who were slowly pulling Marty back to his feet, shaken but not seriously hurt. “In my tribe cripples are left to die at birth,” he said. “Father would have, too, but mom forbade it. Said she took one look into my eyes and couldn’t bear the thought.” He looked back at Amanda. “But dad got his revenge in the naming.” He turned and started resolutely towards the path again.

“Your tribe?” Tanner called at his retreating back.

“Garm,” he replied without looking back. A shiver went through Amanda.

Nanowrimo Mistakes I’ve Made

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Nanowrimo is all about writing with abandon, getting the words on the page no matter what. Even if they suck, you can’t edit a blank page. Our local region has it’s own motto, “Yeah crap!”

Given that Nanowrimo is about writing with abandon, it’s also about taking risks and trying new things. In that vein, I regularly make mistakes in my Nanowrimo projects. Here are my top three Nanowrimo mistakes.

1. Trying to do Nanowrimo in college

I know some people manage to do Nanowrimo despite numerous life hurdles. They have jobs, kids, live events and still manage to write.

The thing about doing Nanowrimo while taking college classes is this, college involves a lot of writing anyway. To make matters worse, most schools end the fall semester around the first part of December. That often means the main research project is due sometime in late November.

My first Nanowrimo started off pretty well. But I was taking classes and the combination of novel writing and a couple of large research papers just got to be too much and something had to give. Since I wasn’t being graded on my novel, guess what gave. You live, you learn.

2. Plan a novel, then at the last minute, write something else

I made this mistake the next time around. I had my novel project all planned out and ready to go. Then on the night of the first write in I got to thinking, one of the original mottoes of Nanowrimo was “no plot, no problem.” So I decided to do a true Nanowrimo and scrap the project I had planned. Instead I came up with stuff on the fly.

It was fun, at first. Then I finished the story, around thirty five thousand words in. Ugh. Now what?

I finished that year, believe it or not. The entire last fifteen thousands words were nothing, long ramblings that didn’t really connect to the this story, or anything else. They were eventually all scrapped. Not to mention that the last week and half of that Nanowrimo was not an experience I would ever want to repeat. Some people are pantsers, but I am not one of them.

3. I’ve mastered the Nanowrimo pace. How about a side project?

Ugh. This is this year’s big mistake. I realized a couple years ago that Nanowrimo wasn’t the challenge it once was, in large part because I write at this pace, or nearly so, all year round. I write an hour or two a day, at a pace of around a thousand words an hour. So the 1,666 words a day you need to keep pace on Nanowrimo is about a typical day’s writing for me.

So this year I am writing a novel. I have this other side project I’ve been thinking about and researching. And in my spare time, I’ve started writing. Mistake. Now I am struggling to get my words in on Nanowrimo, not because I’m not writing but because I’m writing something else. Sigh.

 

So there are three big Nanowrimo mistakes I’ve made. I’m not really upset with any of them. You know why? Because a huge part of success lies in making mistakes. Mistakes and failure should be embraced as steps on the road, part of the process. So I will wear my mistakes proudly on my chest.

What about you? What Nanowrimo mistakes have you made? Let me know in the comments.

What's my side project? Well my cookbooks appear to be sprouting tabs. Hmm...

What’s my side project? Well my cookbooks appear to be sprouting tabs. Hmm…

My Five Favorite Scrivener Tricks

I saw a blog over on spunkymisfitgirl.com, 5 Scrivener Tricks You’ll Love. They are some great tricks, too. If you are a scrivener user, they are some great tricks. Scrivener is like that. You think you know everything and someone comes along and shows you a new trick.

Scrivener logo

So with that in mind, here are my five favorite scrivener tricks I’ve learned recently.

1. Custom Icons

The little squares in the binder for scrivenings can get a little boring, plus there’s so many other options, and so many ways that customizing that icon can help you, depending on your writing style.

My current work in progress has a bunch of points of view. I want to see at a glance who’s point of view each scene is from, so I customized the icon accordingly.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 4.23.59 AM

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 4.25.56 AMYou can change the icon by right clicking in the binder and selecting “change Icon” in the pop up. You can kick it up another notch by adding your own icons. At the bottom of “change icon” is manage icons which brings up a submenu. Click on the plus arrow and search your computer for any smallish png file and add it.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 4.27.09 AMScreen Shot 2015-11-11 at 4.27.24 AM

 

I downloaded a large, free, fantasy, icon pack here.

2. Copy between scrivener projects by simply clicking and dragging.

A great way to copy information from one scrivener project to another is to simply click and drag it from one binder to another. Open both projects side by side and drag away. It will create a copy in the target project, but leave the original project the same.

For example, the Bear Naked series now has four books. The characters are mostly the same. So for each new installment I simply drag the entire character folder from one volume into the next.

3. Drag pictures into document notes

Did you know you could drag pictures into the document notes section. Why would you want to? Some I struggle with how to describe a scene. I can use a picture as a prompt. Another Bear Naked example, in book two I was struggling with how to describe a Stavanger Church in one scene. I downloaded a picture and dragged it into the document note, so I could see it while I was writing. It really helped me.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 10.51.14 PM4. Not sure about a scene? Don’t delete it, just drag it outside the manuscript folder.

When you compile the manuscript at the end of your writing project, only things in the manuscript folder get added to the book. You can make that work to your advantage by dragging scenes out of that folder.

If you were unsure about a certain subplot, you could drag those scenes out of the manuscript folder and then compiling the document for beta reader A. Add them back in and compile again for beta reader B. Based on their feedback you can make a final decision.

Perhaps you write romance. Some of the publishers you submit to want super sexy stuff. Others want cleaner versions. No problem. Drag the sex scenes out for a cleaner read, or add them back in for more heat.

Both examples are levels of editing and rewriting that would be a major chore with a traditional word document, but are a snap in Scrivener.

5. Sync with Simplenote

Simplenote is just that, a simple note taking application. It works on ios and android devices. Scrivener has a built in tool for syncing documents with Simplenote.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 10.37.39 PM

The good people at Literature and Latte have been promising a version of Scrivener that works on the ipad. Until they make good, you can use this simple trick to carry some of your writing on your favorite tablet. Under the file menu you find sync–>Simplenote. It’s a pretty straightforward process, but there’s also a great video on the Literature and Latte website to help if you get stuck. The first time you do this, you will need to give Scrivener your Simplenote account information, email and password. Each time you sync a new project you will have to create a project keyword.

This trick allows you to sync a couple scenes to your tablet to take with you wherever. You can write, edit or share those scenes. When you get home you can reverse the process, replacing your old file with the newly edited one as easily.
Those are my current five favorite tricks with Scrivener. Ask me again in a couple months and I might have five more. Scrivener is like that. It’s intuitive and relatively easy to get started with, but the more I learn, the more I am in awe at what it can do.

Creativity’s best fuel is Knowledge

I’ve been hanging out with writers a lot lately. Truthfully, I always hang out with writers as much as I can, but the last month is a lot even for me. First ICON 40. Great time guys! Then Nanowrimo’s kick off events. Also a great time! This weekend the Des Moines Writers Workshop had its first informal retreat. Seven of us stayed in a rented house on Lake Panora, talked about writing and wrote. It was a blast and I’m sure there will be other more official retreats in the future.

As I talk about writing with dozens of writers, patterns emerge. In particular I’ve noticed a huge pattern between wanna be writers (people who say they want to write but don’t actually write), struggling writers and those achieving success. The more concretely a writer can talk about their story, the better the chance they are actually getting words on paper.

By concrete I mean they are able to discuss their own story in a specific and tangible way. The more tangible their discussion, the more words they are writing, almost invariably.

For example when our critique groups first started we had a poet that when asked about her poetry, would start with a long winded personal story about her life, it would often trail off without coming to a point and with a barely whispered apology that she “hadn’t written much lately.” That is not concrete. She has since faded from the writing scene.

Another writer friend would start by talking about his setting, what kind of story he wanted to write, the music and the times that influenced his thinking. Again, it’s not a very concrete discussion. Unlike the poet, he has not faded from the scene. He’s been workshopping his early chapters and came to a class we offered on story planning.

The result is that his discussions of his story have evolved over time. It’s less about the setting (the setting is incredible, by the way, and I can’t wait to see the story completed) to talking about the characters, the events that occur and how they move the story along. Alongside this evolution is another one, he’s gone from talking about the story to writing it.

Another friend is working on a piece of historical fiction with a significant fantasy element, or possible a piece of fantasy with a historical element. We all how that goes. She’s stuck in what writers sometimes call the messy middle, where the main storylines are in motion, you know the ending, and you have no idea how to get there.

We were discussing our progress to the group over wine one night. Her discussion started with “There’s this guy who helps the main character.” As she talked about this guy (not a very concrete description) and we asked her questions, the details emerged. How he helps the protagonist. How he also helps the antagonist. His motivations for doing so. Slowly specific events emerge where these things happen. By the end of the discussion she’s looking for a name. He’s no longer “this guy.” And that’s where the writing magic happens, when you move past the generalities and discover the specifics.

I am by no means exempt from this. I am into the fourth Bear Naked book and I’ve been struggling with the series for some time. Part of it, a fairly big part, is Jay Toumi. I know where that character is going. I know Jay’s struggling with identity, particularly gender. But I didn’t know how that was going to be resolved. Until I started creating specific scenes and details. Now Jay has their own subplot in the upcoming books and some resolutions are looming on the horizon. And I’m fifteen thousand words into the novel. It’s a great feeling.

The TL;DR version (Too Long, Didn’t Read, for those not fluent in internet lingo) is this; if you can’t talk about the story, the settings and characters in a tangible, detailed sort of way, you don’t know your story well enough to write it.

Sometimes it’s the Little Things, and That’s Okay.

When I am trying to stay motivated on a big project, I will start tracking little things. The little things are mile markers on the journey to big things. When writing I look at word counts, scenes written, plot points passed to see how far along I really am. When marketing I celebrate small victories, like a new review, a solitary sale or even pageviews on a blog.

We all know the glib aphorism, don’t sweat the small stuff. But you know what? I want to sweat the small stuff. The small stuff keeps me engaged when the big stuff looks overwhelming. One could almost say, just sweat the small stuff, and let the big stuff take care of itself.

It’s November first and Nanowrimo begins today. I am going to my regions kick off party in another hour or so, and I will begin my novel then. In the meantime I am working on my profile and doing some last minute prep work.

I have a bunch of badges on my profile page. I’ve got all of my participation badges. Yeah, it was so worth the donation to get that final one. Go donate to Nanowrimo right now and you’ll see.

I intend to earn those writing badges, too. Right now I am yearning for the Participation Pep badge. That’s why I am writing this blog. When I am done I will post it on my website and cross post in the forums and get that badge.

Why?

Because that’s how I motivate myself to write. You can, too. Is this your first Nano? Have you failed in the past? Don’t worry, you can do this. Just take one step at a time. Find some small marker, five hundred words written, a thousand words, one scene, whatever works for you. And then do it. Celebrate. Repeat. And repeat.

If your family thinks it’s silly to take a dance break, or have a cookie, every time you write five hundred words, or meet your daily goal, screw them. They don’t get a cookie. You do. Because no matter how silly the goal, or the reward, it works for you and that’s all that matters. So embrace the little things and let the big job take care of itself.

 

p.s. I’ve even made a goofy working cover, just for my nanowrimo page.

Nano2015cover

A peek inside the Corelean

In my sci-fi serial, the Girl in the Tank, the crew of the USS Cambridge find themselves rescued from a nuclear blast by an alien vessel, The Corelean (pronounced core-lee-ahn).

The Corelean is a medical evacuation ship. The Consortium is a space faring race. Simians, races that evolved from the same genetic line as humans, predominate in the Consortium and the Corelean is primarily designed with them in mind, though it can accommodate other races at need.

The Consortium has had the science of space travel down for a long time and most of their ships, stations and outposts have a high safety rating. However, life is never completely safe. Accidents can happen on space stations and natural disasters can befall planetside outposts, particularly in newer colonies. Medical evac ships are designed to provide valuable medical care, supplies and evacuation capabilities in times of emergency. They run with a crew of just over three hundred, a full third of which are trained and certified healers. In a short evacuation they can take on several hundred civilians, and they have facilities to house up to three hundred and some, which the Corelean will need with the Cambridge, which has a crew of just over three hundred.

A medical evac ship looks a bit like an oversized airbus or the US space shuttles, nearly six hundred feet long with stubby wings to navigate atmospheric landings. As part of my research process I’ve used vector art programs like Inkscape to do some floor plans and I might try to do some model mock ups in the future.

The Corelean technically has four levels. Three are accessible to crew, the lower level is engines and equipment, accessible only by technicians and rarely used. A rough floor plan of the two main levels is shown below.

Corelean main level floor plan with marks

The front forward bay has a wide open hatch leading out of the ship and is the primary way on and off the ship when it’s landed. It’s where most of the action occurs in an evacuation situation, civilians can be brought on board, severe injuries treated in special open treatment bays to the right. A low command deck allows the captain and master healer to direct the action and triage newcomers.

Immediately behind the forward bay are rooms designated as medi-bays. They contain medical tanks for the housing of those needing acute treatment for serious injuries. Only a handful of the American crew requires such intensive care and of them, Cheyenne Walker will be in these halls the longest.

Radiation is a fairly constant threat to any space-faring race. Space abounds with radiation. Terraforming planets requires setting up outposts in places not protected by the kind of atmosphere and magnetic belts that shield earth from solar radiation. As a result radiation burns and accidents are one of the more common injuries for spacefarers. The Corelean is equipped with a sizable decontamination room and a number of blue light machines which help to harmlessly absorb radiation from bodies at an accelerated rate.

Crew quarters are on the sides of the ship, midway back. Two long halls on either side of the two main decks house the majority of the crew. The crew quarters are small, just over six feet wide and twenty four feet long from door to window (if you are lucky enough to be on the window side). There are two bunks on either side of the room as you go back. At four crew members to a room, it gets a little crowded at times. The long hall contains twenty rooms to a side, with two lounges forward and aft. The rounded open alcoves at towards the end of the hall is a zero G lift. Climb in and propel yourself up or down. The zero G lifts are more than a fun way to go up or down, in a power emergency they allow technicians to climb between levels. The ship has more conventional elevator-like lifts and in a few places, stairs.

Crewquarters close up, corelean

The upper third level is the flight deck, airlocks and other critical services. Access to the third level is restrict to those with at least Level One space certification and not even all of the Corelean crew can go there.

What is to come for the American crew of the USS Cambridge? If you did the math, the crew quarters can hold about 160 crew on each level or 320 on each side. Their Consortium hosts have all bunked up one side and the Americans are housed on the other side. It’s a tight fit, and they have six weeks of quarantine before their radiation levels will allow them to leave. How will they deal with the stress of radiation sickness, cramped living and a culture vastly different from their own? I guess you will just have to read the serial to find out.

There are no new ideas, but plenty of new takes on old ideas

I’ve been watching season five of Game of Thrones this week, and reading Outlander. I’ve also been working on a book for my own fantasy saga, the Gilded Empire.

I know, roughly, where I am going with the entire series. But it’s a rich world and there’s always more details to fill in. Especially since this series has such a strange structure to it. In ways its Game of the Thrones meets Discworld. What I mean by that is this, it has nothing in common with Discworld in theme, mood or storytelling, but it shares the same structure. There are multiple series within this world, with one large meta story that will eventually drive all the stories together. In mood and themes, it’s close to Game of Thrones, a dark series about geopolitical upheavals, the tenuous relationship between the haves and have nots in a medieval world with a dose of large scale change thrown in.

There was a scene in Game of Thrones (I won’t give any spoilers) that sparked me to think about how I would handle a similar situation. There was another in Outlander. The twin reflections suggested a new storyline for me, one that explains a big chunk of the backstory to the Gilded Empire in one fell swoop. It’s a cool heady thing when it happens like that.

Pessimist say that there are no new ideas under the sun, and perhaps they are right. Every theme, every setting, every character idea has been written somewhere. Writers waiting for inspiration to bring them a truly novel story, wait in vain. No sooner will a writer proudly spill out their truly unique storyline than someone will pipe up with, “that’s just like…” It can be frustrating.

Unless you embrace the nitty gritty bits of story telling. Because every idea might have been written, but not by you. And you will put a uniquely you spin on those idea. You will digest the idea through the lens of your own experience and tell a new tale, one no one has read before. And that’s part of the magic of being a writer.

Sci-fi Music

I write to music most of the time. I’m always looking for good mood music, stuff that gets in the right space for a piece of writing. Sometimes I will create very specific soundtracks for specific books. Often there is a certain general match between genres of music and writing. For example, when I was working on a historical romance I was listening to a lot of folk music and celtic music.

But what about science fiction? Especially the kind of space oriented stuff I’ve been writing, like the Galactic Consortium. Finding music that fits that story can be a bigger challenge.

Then about a year ago I have the opportunity to hear this electronic violinist at a local coffee shop.

Huge shout to the Ritual Cafe for keeping local music alive!

ritualTo say Dixon’s violin is unworldly, is an understatement. The man plays by intuition and energy, often creating songs as he goes along rather than playing from a set list.

I bought one of his CDs that night and I have since downloaded others. It’s phenomenal mood music for writing sci-fi, I have discovered. So I would like to share his gift with my blog readers.

The Inter-stellar Whalesong on the Live at the Hilltop CD is my favorite, by the way.

 

If you enjoy this sample, his website can be found at:

http://www.dixonsviolin.com/

 

 

The Darkest Aspects of Fantasy are the Realistic Aspects

The trend towards dark, gritty fantasies has dominated fantasy writing for the last decade or so. The relatively light-hearted Harry Potter series grew darker and more somber as the books progressed. Game of Thrones came to dominate epic fantasy, filled with violent battles and characters that may be murdered in the blink of an eye. The YA market has seen dystopian novels like the Hunger Games pitting children against each other in a battle of survival.

There is another, less apparent theme that runs through all three of these series. Their brutality is grounded in actual history. Ironic as it is, the darkest aspect of each of these books is actually the most realistic.

Game of Thrones

George R. R. Martin has created many fantasy elements for his epic series, dragons, ice zombies, seasons that last many years, and even the land he describes. But the drawn out civil war that drives the story is inspired by, if not based on, historical events. The English Wars of the Roses contain many elements that Game of Thrones fans will recognize, including at least one battle that puts the series to shame for it’s pure brutality.

This video does a good job of explaining the connections:

Harry Potter

Does Voldemort’s obsession with muggle blood strike you as eerily familiar? It should be. J. K. Rowling based a lot of the Death Eaters rule on Hitler’s Germany. Voldemort’s hatred for muggle blood, especially his shame over his own, mirrors Hitler’s obsession with Jews. Even the way he uses an existing bigotry, building a mythology of Salazar Slytherin around the destruction of muggles, mirrors how the Nazi party played on existing racism and anti-semitism. The world of the later books, where Voldemort holds sway, gives us a haunting glimpse into the lives of resistance fighters in any repressive regime.

The Hunger Games

The idea of forcing provinces to send tributes to compete in a bloody battle royale might sound like the most preposterous fiction, but that’s exactly what ancient Rome did. And that’s where Susan Collins drew much of the inspiration for the Hunger Games. Even the purpose of the Hunger Games matches that of the ancient coliseum. Not only were they displays of wealth and power by the sovereign state, they were vital distractions for the masses.

Other examples

I could continue in this vein for some time without running out of examples. Tolkien denied that the Lord of the Rings, published in 1937, had any historical allegory. But many readers and critics can’t help but see the rising power in the east as being applicable to both Sauron and Nazi Germany. The analogy between the middle earth and the times in which the books were written is remarkable, whether he intended it or not.

Tolkien’s close friend C. S. Lewis, on the other hand, was free in admitting that the Narnia series were written in response to World War Two, and the parallels are significant there as well.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Authors are often influenced by the times in which they live and the experiences of the real world.

I think the bigger question we need to ponder is this, gritty fantasy shows us about ourselves. We create dragons, evil wizards, and mythical weapons, but they true horrors aren’t the things writers manufacture in their minds, but the reality of human nature itself.

A Writer’s Guide to Hands

You have two hands. As a writer, they are valuable assets. Writing, or more specifically, typing, can be hard on them. You should protect them.

I should stop right there and make a disclaimer. I am not a doctor. I can’t diagnose or treat any medical conditions via a blog post. The information I am sharing is just that, information. Please use your own best judgement about how to apply this information.

Repetitive strain injuries are an all too common danger of spending most of your day on a computer typing. Repetitive strain is an umbrella term for a number of medical conditions caused by spending too much time with your hands cramped in an unnatural position. Examples can include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis (tennis elbow) and trigger finger. Common symptoms include, numbness, tingling, weak grip and pain in the hands, arms or elbows.

If you have any of these symptoms regularly, you should see a doctor. RSI can be treated with analgesics, physical therapy, and in extreme cases with surgery.

However I am not going to advise you on treatment if you have RSI, rather I am going to talk about some of the things I do in hopes of avoiding RSI in the first place.

Take a career mindset

If you’ve never experienced RSI or had any of the above symptoms, count yourself lucky, for now. The career mindset means this, if you are going to make a lifelong career out of writing, understand that RSI is a realistic danger. Don’t wait for it to happen, start working now to keep it from happening. Building up good habits at the outset of your writing can save you a lot of pain and lost work down the road.

Pay attention to your body

Are you in tune with how your wrist, fingers and hands feel after a long writing session? Like the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Recognizing when you are in discomfort and taking steps to alleviate before it becomes a chronic problem is key to keeping your hands in writing shape.

In particular, pay attention to which tasks create the most problems. For me it’s surprisingly not typing. Editing and research bother my wrists and fingers far more. Why? I use a MacBook with a trackpad. The keyboard fits my hands and makes typing a breeze. Scrolling and doing touch gestures on the trackpad are the problematic tasks.

Practice good posture

Posture plays a huge roll in RSI. What’s more steps to prevent RSI can also help with other dangers of modern living, like back pain. There are a number of places around my house where I write regularly. Of them my writing space in the attic is the best. I tend to sit more upright and the table (a cheap folding table) happens to be at a good height for me personally. I can type for hours up there with little problem.

Sometimes I sit on the couch and write, or sit propped up in bed. It’s more relaxing in ways, but it’s noticeably harder on my wrists.

There is a whole science of ergonomics but my suggestion is to simply pay attention. Check in with yourself at the end of any writing session. Everyone’s body is unique and the height of a table or the comfort of a particular chair can make a world of difference.

Invest in the right equipment

One of the things I love about my MacBook is the keyboard. It’s a great size for my hands. I love being able to rest my palms on the metal casing while I type. Other keyboards force me to cramp my wrists upward at an odd angle and that hurts my wrists after a time.

Remember what I said about editing and web surfing, though? My next purchase will probably a good wireless mouse. I think that will help.

There isn’t one right answer and again, paying attention to your body is key. Try out new keyboards before buying them, if possible. The longer you can spend on a laptop, typing, the better feel you will have for how it will work. It may depend on the size of your hands and what works for one person might kill your wrist or vice versus. I hate little keyboards. You might love them.

If you write on a desktop computer, keyboards are relatively cheap and there are many choices. investing in a good keyboard and mouse combination can help stave off RSI.

Take Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts, that is. If you aren’t familiar with the common short cuts for the operating system you use, or your go-to writing program, take a few days off and research. It’s time well spent. If there is a common task you use and there isn’t a shortcut, make one.

Here are some resources to get you started.

Shortcuts for Mac

Shortcuts for Windows

Shortcuts for Word

Shortcuts for LibreOffice

Before I learned keyboard shortcuts, I didn’t think there was much to them. Once I learned a few, I got hooked. They can save you a great deal of time on common tasks and really reduce the strain on your wrists. One huge oversight in Word is that there is no shortcut for add comment. I am part of a critique group and being able to enter a new comment through a quick keyboard shortcut, instead of moving my hand to the mouse, is an essential. Luckily it’s easy to make your own. Here is how.

Do yoga for your hands.

One of the fundamental theories of yoga is that when you stretch or stress one part of the body, you need to then counter-stretch it. The same idea applies to RSI. To prevent RSI you should take the occasional break and counter stretch your hands in different directions. There are a number of good videos of exercises and yoga for your hands.

I have a set of “yoga balls” on my writing desk as well. They are just cheap rubber balls of varying give. I run them over my palms, squeeze them and move them around with my fingers to help stretch my hands and loosen my wrists.

Try dictation

If your wrists and fingers are already hurting, and you want to give them a rest without losing writing time, try a dictation program. There are commercial programs like Dragon Naturally Speaking. But you don’t have to spend money. Macs have built in dictation. So do Android smartphones, so in a pinch you can get a free note app and dictate into your phone. You can then email the results to your computer and paste them into whichever writing program you use.

Take plenty of breaks

One final suggestion for RSI is to take breaks regularly. RSI is repetitive after all. One secret to avoiding it is to avoid being repetitive. Write for a half hour and then stop, do some exercises for your hand, or take a walk, do whatever. After a few minutes, get back to work.

 

Your hands are one of the most important assets as a writer. Until the day that we can telepathically send stories into listeners heads, writers will need to be able to write. The means of that writing might change, but for now, we will have to use our hands. If you dream of being a writer someday, do yourself a favor today and start taking care of your hands.