#AMWRITING Character Inspiration

currently playing on my laptop: Stay Crunchy by Ronald Jenkees

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A couple weeks back, I frolicked my happy, history nerd self through the hallowed Great Hall at Westminster. While there, I of course allowed my writer brain to wander. I imagined what the characters from my current WIP would do if they were by my side.

The hammer-beam roof is crazy beautiful. Lengths of oak arch across the lofty space and terminate in detailed angel sculptures. The stone walls are marred with age-old cracks and pits. A colonnade of windows invited yellow light to spill over the floor where such legends as William Wallace and Elizabeth I spent some time.

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My MC, Brettifa Agustdottir, immediately wanted to know which ruler ordered the building of the place, how long they reigned, and who ran the place now, and whether or not we could meet him or her.

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Brettifa’s friend/love interest Hrokr, well he went to every plaque and information stand, soaking in the historical detail and humming possible new songs to bring the stories to life.

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Unnar, Brettifa’s big and blonde and buxom pal, tried to climb the wall, aiming for the buttresses, and was hauled out for the attempt. She laughed and shouted out that she’d meet us later at the pub.

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My MC’s quiet friend, Klofinna, stared at the large space and fought tears as her gaze moved the wooden angels. “So much happened here. I wish I’d brought flowers.”

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What would your characters do if they trailed along on one of your summer trips?

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Swords, Daggers, and More

now playing on my iPod: Coward by Hayden Calnin

I recently skipped happily through the vast wonders of the British Museum and the Tower of London. It was a breathtaking day and I’d love to share some of the goodies I saw.  First comes the photo, then the description. Onward!

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Here are a lovely set of swords showing an early version of the leaf-shaped type of weapon. Swords of this time period in Hungary and beyond were usually decorated with geometric patterns. These are specifically from 1200-1050 BC, late Bronze Age, in Hungary.

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This shield was made from a single sheet of bronze and served only as parade armor. It was no good for actual fighting, but made its owner look seriously fantastic when gallivanting about town pre-ceremony. Often things such as this were left in wet places, such as rivers and bogs, as offerings to the spirit world. This one was found in Wales and dates somewhere between 1200 and 900 BC.

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I love this dagger. It had a very special metal hilt—odd for that period. This beautiful weapon, found in the River Thames, is most likely from 1700-1500 BC.

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Ah. The Battersea Shield. I longed to see this baby in person for years. And it is just as lovely as I knew it would be. This was also a ceremonial piece and is a great example of La Tène, or Celtic, art found in France and Britain. The shield formerly had a wooden base behind it to offer further support, but that rotted away, leaving only the metals and the fine red glass. A lucky fellow found this in the Thames and it dates from 350-50 BC.

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The Hallstatt C Swords are among the first iron swords made in Europe. They are delightful scary, don’t you think?

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Here are some more examples of La Tène work. These swords were found in France and also (of course) the River Thames. These swords with their double sharp edges and specific length are made for slashing rather than thrusting.

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This is an unusually small sword (who else has GoT’s needle on the brain here??) with a Viking-period hilt. The blade is decorated with crosses, vertical lines, circles, and a maker’s mark that indicates its quality.

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The Kirkburn Sword is probably the finest Iron Age sword still around. Animal horn, red glass, iron, and bronze decorate its hilt and sheath. From x-rays, experts can tell us the sword’s owners repaired the weapon several times and added many high-value details.

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This Highland targe is a little beaten up, but I think it only makes it more frighteningly wonderful. What battles did it see before Londoners displayed it in the Tower?

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The East India Company gifted this Indian Katar (dagger) to the Crown. It’s set up so you wiggle your hand between the supports and can thrust and slash as desired. Hindu religious scenes beautify the blade. If you squint hard enough, you can see Krishna playing a flute.

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Experts aren’t positive from where this fantastic mace hails. It is either Chinese or Mongolian. Maces like this were as important for indicating rank as they were as weapons. They worked nicely against armor. Better than swords, really. This one boasts a silver overlay and is most likely from the 14th century. 

I hope you enjoyed our trip into the violent past! Next up—helmets. See you then!

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Worldbuilding: Don’t Walk All Over the Possibilities

currently playing on my iPod: This House Is Not For Sale by Ryan Adams

Travel feeds the worldbuilding in my fantasy writing. Walking through foreign markets, clicking pics in cathedrals completed in varying centuries, studying historically significant homes, strolling among cemeteries, and weaving through shops built on ancient bridges teaches me about what us crazy humans find important. 

Oddly, one of those things is the surface on which we walk.

I’m talking about floors. Yes, my friends, floors.

I love me some decorated, textured, symbol-drenched flooring. (This obsessions ranks just slightly lower than my one for doorknobs.)

Check out these from Vatican City.

This black and white mosaic surface boasts a merhorse that pulled a big grin out of this The Scorpio Races fan. Mythology is a recurring theme. It both explains the unexplainable and entertains.

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(Don’t worry if you feel dizzy. I turned my photo for better viewing.)

And this colorful set up shows off braided patterns as well as the phases of the moon. Many would argue the floor, which sits in the very center of Christianity, is a nod to sun and moon worship. I’m not here to make such a claim, but I do find it beautiful and fascinating. To me, it seems the creators fashioned a piece that involved revered symbols from their past and their present into something all could appreciate from an artistic standpoint.

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The next one, in which a bird of prey does what it does best, gives a scene that would have been commonplace to its contemporaries. The hunter and the hunted. It is both lovely and disturbing. Like life. Graceful scrolling and curling lines surround the rabbit, hawk, and tree, as well as the four-pointed early cross symbol. Death gives life and all that.

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The last floor I’ll share is not from Vatican City, but from Paris, in the Sainte-Chapelle. One of the floors in this 13th century gothic masterpiece highlights nature and animals, both of which served as symbols for virtue, strength, and sometimes, various noble families. And yeah, that’s me on the floor, getting down and dirty with my obsession.

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Humans really seem to enjoy traipsing over symbols that reflect what we hold dear. The appreciation of life and its brevity, the forces of nature, God and gods and goddesses, mythology and legend. We enjoy patterns and use color in ways that please the eye.

When you dive into your writing, don’t skip on past what lies beneath your fantasy world’s feet. It may just tell your readers something fascinating about your characters’ values and worldviews. 

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Don’t Miss Out on the World’s Weird: Göreme’s Fairy Houses

currently playing on my iPod (Yes, I still use it. My poor phone gets tired, people.): Afshin’s Theme by Benjamin Wallfisch

Crazy-cool places dot this fair planet of ours. If you’re up for a trip, don’t settle for the same old haunts. Explore history, geography, the boards on TripAdvisor. New ideas for a spectacular vaca abound.

Here’s a wow one I found this morning at travelastounder.

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Göreme’s fairy houses sit in central Turkey in a place where volcanoes had their way with the landscape. No, there aren’t any actual fairies. Save it for your cosplay, folks. BUT the tall, mushroom-looking towers made of tuff—a porous rock formed when a volcano goes bananas—would thrill even the grouchiest of Tinkerbell’s cohorts. 

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Throughout history, the region’s people crafted these relatively-easy-to-carve places into houses, churches, and amazing underground cities. 

It is just the coolest.

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Don’t you agree?

Now, be on your way. Traipse through the vast interwebs searching for your next weird and wonderful holiday spot!

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Refilling Your Creative Tank

now playing on my iPod: Unissasi Laulelet (Chamber Version) by The Dø

I’ve been doing some plotting lately. And character studies. They’re fun. They’re awesome. My favorite plotting comes from Truby’s The Anatomy of a Story. Also, I love my friend CJ Redwine’s workshops for keeping things focused and clear. You can find character stuff that works on Writers Helping Writers.

But today, I’m not going there.

I need a refill of dream, nightmare, beauty, longing, rage, passion, drive, fear, understanding, confusion. If I don’t have a nice, full tank, I can write. But not well. 

So where can we go to get this refueling on?

Here are the three I’m enjoying this weekend.

1. Deviantart. It is a website where artists post amazing things. Mind-blowing things. Things that will keep you up at night. In good ways and bad. There’s one up right now called Oath by wlop…well, I haven’t stopped looking at it since I found it an hour ago.

2. Great Lines. No, I don’t have a specific website for this. It’s just a time when I manually flip through my favorite books, plays, and poems, looking for lines that kick me in the gut or make me laugh out loud or sigh really dramatically. Here are a couple if your Sunday laziness doesn’t allow for flipping or searching.

“‘Aquamarine is a wonderful color, and I won’t be made to feel bad for wearing it,'” Gansey said.” —The Raven Boys by M. Stiefvater

“Come what come may, Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.” —Macbeth by W. Shakespeare

“Even when she did not like Archer, she loved him.” —Fire by K. Cashore

“Tessa heard a light crinkling and realized it was the sound of the silk flowers on her hat being crushed against the side of the carriage as his body pressed hers back.” —Clockwork Prince by C. Clare

“The unflinching blue eyes looked squarely into the Colonel’s, and there was a devil peeping out of them, the devil of recklessness that is born of despair.” —Captain Blood by R. Sabatini

“Maddie flew back following the 70-mile, 2,000-year-old dragon’s back of Hadrian’s Wall, to Carlisle and then south through the Lakeland fells, along Lake Windermere. The soaring mountains rose around her, and the poets’ waters glittered beneath her in the valleys of memory—hosts of golden daffodils, Swallows and Amazons, Peter Rabbit.” —Code Name Verity by E. Wein

3. New music. I’m rocking some pretty trippy tunes at the moment. Pandora/Spotify/manyothersites can give you fresh songs. Resolution by Thievery Corporation just came on here in my kitchen/living room. Nice stuff. It’s perfect for allowing the brain to wander about the less-traveled recesses of memory and idea and connection. I promise. I’ve only had lemonade today. Pinkie swear. But seriously. It’s fun to daydream. No matter your job or goal or position in life, it’s good for the soul.

What are your favorite creativity-boosting activities?

 

 

 

 

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BIG NEWS (Plus something for you!)

currently playing on my iPod: Agora by Bear Hands

On St. Patty’s Day, I accepted Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency’s offer of representation!!!

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I could go on and on about how excited I am about how excited she is and how exciting it all is. Believe you me. I want to. She is already amazing and we have so very much in common and I want to have a sleepover and listen to music and watch movies and braid our hair like we’re Vikings extras,

BUT

until I have a beautiful book ready, you need something just for YOU, my fun-loving, history nerdish, travelholic, adventuresome blog buddies.

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So here it is: a list and mini-description of some ideas I use when indulging in my passion for travel planning!

1. Skulk about the tripadvisor forums. You can search all sorts of things like city names and specific events and where to sit. People post tips on local places to eat all over the world, naming even the owners and what nights are gnocchi nights and so on and delicious so forth.
2. Mimic some of the Rick Steves tours. Even if you don’t go exactly where he does, you can find the cool hotels and B&Bs if you look around his site. It is invaluable for spotting a great place to stay that doesn’t cost more than it needs to. You can also get activity ideas. I checked out a walking night tour of Rome for my trip last summer and it was amazing. I knew if all those Rick Steves people were doing the walk, it would most likely be safe and interesting.
3. Find some local day tour companies. My favorite from travels abroad so far is Rabbie’s in Edinburgh. With local companies (if their website looks strong), you usually get guides from the area, smaller groups, and fantastic personal stories. I went to the Scottish Highlands with Rabbie’s and my guide bought us treats that she grew up enjoying and shared tales about eating leftover oatmeal out of a special drawer in the kitchen (you can’t make this stuff up). She was hilarious. And she looked like Ellen. Which is completely awesome. Just saying.
4. Check out all the things on youtube too. Of course, you’ll want to watch things like Top Ten Sites in London or whathaveyou, but also search for Walk Through (insert neighborhood here) and go down the rabbit hole from there. It can lead to cool experiences most tourists miss.
5. Facebook. Ask friends of friends of whotheheckareyou about their journeys and what they liked/hated. They might have a niece who stayed in Italy for a year and knows the best place for pizza in Florence (true story).

YAY!!! for me and my agent and YAY!!! for you on travel planning brainstorming stuff! Together, we have so many adventures coming right at us!

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Three Things to Know When You’re Naming All the Fantasy Things

currently playing on my iPod: Trustful Hands by The Dø

So you’re writing Fantasy. Woo hoo! Now to have a blast making up crazy-sounding rackety mack à la Tolkein—

STOP.

Slow your dragon, darling.

Great Fantasy isn’t merely going willy-nilly into the imagination fray with an IPA in hand and nothing behind you but the idea that you are the quirkiest lil goof on the Interwebs. Tolkein and all the other kings and queens of the fantastical took time when naming the towns in their worlds, the characters, rivers, seas, ALL OF IT. So take a peek at the sparkling beauts below and make sure you’re doing your Fantasy homework before you kick that leviathan into a gallop.

1. Know the roots language(s) for your world. Get familiar with what meant what before it meant what it does now. Here is an example: Dun means hill in Old English. If you name your lovely fortressed city that sits on a desert plain Castledun, you’ve made a boo boo.

2. Be aware of what readers will see in a name. If all but one of your trolls has a name that begins with R, we will wonder why. If there ends up being no why, we will raise an eyebrow at you. And not in the way you want an eyebrow raised at you.

3. Names also paint pictures with just their shape and sound. A name like Bimmie gives us a different visual than say Llorlongtear. Pay attention to that. (Hey, fun game—tell some kids to draw your characters based only on the names you invented. It is enlightening.)

Okay, I’m finished raining on your elven procession. Just remember: keep it fun, but do your best to make it smart.

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