Tag Archives: writing tips

Claim Your Writing Place by Deanna Rasch

Photo from Deanna Rasch

Facebook reminded me this week of a trip four years ago. I had the rare and wonderful privilege of spending almost two weeks immersed in writing, steeped in the power that place can exert on creativity and identity.

I applied, in the final year of my MFA in Creative Writing program, to a writing residency in Ireland – a place I’d always dreamed of visiting. Except for the briefest of trips across the border into Mexico and Canada, I was a Gen X-er who’d never traveled outside the United States. I had a list in my pocket of places I’d visit and a current passport, should the opportunity (and funds) ever arise.

Likewise, the MFA was a goal I’d held close for, well, decades, if I’m honest. The program ended up opening the door, as well, to this dream of international travel. My gratitude for this has only grown in the past year, through all the isolation and restrictions.

It took almost two days to make that trip from Colorado to our final destination – an inn on the island off the coast of Ireland called Inis Oirr. It was a “planes, trains, and automobiles” kind of trip. Two planes, a bus, a small ferry boat, a horse drawn buggy (for our luggage), and a hike up a steep cobbled road from the docks, to be exact. The trip was like winding back the decades, one mode of transport at a time.

I’m remembering, as I write this, the crowded Galway park, full of locals enjoying the warmth of a relatively rare sunny day. Our cohort assembled to await the ferry, lying about on the greenest of grass (which is not a myth, by the way ; ) I fell asleep for a bit, exhausted from the travelling, feeling somehow safe in the midst of all that activity. Then came the crisp, refreshing wind in our faces as the ferry boat bumped its way over the rough open sea to the island. The thrill of seeing the island rise up out of the water ahead, crowned by a diadem with castle jewels. The fishy smell of the docks as we hopped off the swaying boat. The clop of horses’ hooves on the cobbles. The lilt of a warm greeting from the innkeeper in Gaelic. The savory smell of fresh seafood chowder for dinner, served with stories from fishermen playing pool nearby about the catch of the day.

Feel that sense of place? : )

I could add a few bumps along the way, to be sure. But I find myself recalling mostly sensations, memories that make me smile. Experience again those spacious moments. Walks by the sea. Sunsets so late at night. Lovely language and kind community. The writing the immersion opened in me.

Perhaps it’s in sharp contrast with feeling so confined much of the past year, between lockdowns and perpetual smoke and ash last summer from the fires here in Colorado. The feeling of loss all around – its own sense of place.

Ireland was an embodied experience of what I’d vicariously tasted as a teen, exploring the strange new worlds of science fiction and fantasy. Places that (as a young queer person who wouldn’t find acceptance for years to come) inspired feelings of hope and belonging in a wider world. Settings and societies that expanded my definitions and horizons beyond the messy, violent urban neighborhood I grew up in. Written by authors who knew how to create new potentialities by conveying a strong sense of place.

John Varley, for example, in his classic Gaia Trilogy, transported me to Titan, the being/world whose 12 distinct lands he personified on the page. Each place – and Gaia as a whole – acted as a foil for the astronauts stranded there (and those soon to follow) requiring characters to confront their limitations and biases. Allowing them to discover fuller identities (including sexual identities). To reach unexpected potentials beyond the limited selves they were on arrival. All through sustained interaction with a place far beyond their current experience.

Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series pulled me into world where the dragons, themselves, were inextricably tied to the biology of a world inhabited by a people who were (in the original trilogy) beginning to question their ancestry. Their sense of place. Where individuals were questioning their identities as this evolution began. Where young people could empower themselves, be supported in putting hard situations behind them, and pursue their gifts. Could use them in service of surviving, thriving, and creating in this place. Responding to questions whose answers challenged every assumption they’d held about their connections with each other, the dragons, and Pern.

I’ve found myself rereading these and other authors with this talent in the past year. Reaching, almost obsessively, for that expanded sense of place, as my outer world shrank to the size of my apartment. For that spaciousness I’ve always found on the page. What I’m now enjoying, again, through the pictures of my time in Ireland. Revisiting that lived experience of revising, in a deeper way, my sense of place in the world. Seeing it reflected in my writing.

We can be of service, I believe, as writers, by reaching beyond the experience of place we know. Not by appropriating others’ stories, their unique sense of “place.” Rather, by reading those stories – real and fantastic. Stretching our own lived experiences, where we can. Cleaning out head junk that likes to whisper, “What you’ve known is the only place.”

Think of the impact we can have, dear writers, if we work at conveying, as best we can, insights we glean by taking deep dives into place. Imagining less limiting futures. Creating stories and worlds our readers want to visit – even revisit – that expand their own definitions, as others’ stories have for us. The hope and resilience we can help bring to a “place” that really needs it right now. ❤


D.M. Rasch is an author of LGBTQ+ speculative fiction (and an occasional poet) who lives in the Denver, CO area with 2 sister kittens who are pretty tough in the editing department. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and balances being a working writer with her work as a Creative Coach, Mentor, and Editor (as Deanna M. Rasch) in her business, Itinerant Creative Content & Coaching LLC . Find her publications on the linked Amazon page and look forward to upcoming publications: a YA science fiction novel Freedom’s Cost, as well as the first in a series related to her story At the Movies, recently featured in Other Worlds Ink’s anthology, Fix the World: twelve sci-fi writers save the future.
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No Wasted Ink Writers Links

No Wasted Ink Writers Links


Welcome to another Monday of writer links from No Wasted Ink. This week I found many great articles on the writing process and about life as a writer. I hope you find them as interesting as I did. Enjoy!

Open Dyslexia From Both Press – Dyslexic-Friedly Books For Adults
The Fiction of Peace, the Fantasy of War
Future Worlds Prize for Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers of Colour Taking Entries
Spec-Fic-Fu: How to Make Aliens and Robots Fight Better
A Virtuous Cycle for Marketing Your Books
Pros and Cons of Using Present or Past Tense – What is the Effect on Your Reader?
Staying Connected with Other Writers
Ethics, Integrity & Trust for Writers
Five Tips for Using an Arbitrary Magic System
8 Stages in the Life Cycle of a Writer: From the Aha! Moment to Beyond the Grave.

No Wasted Ink Writers Links

No Wasted Ink Writers Links

After a short hiatus, the top ten writing link posts have returned to No Wasted Ink. This week I attempted to focus on writing tips, but there were too many recent obits to ignor. I wanted to call to attention Phyllis Eisenstein, one of my favorite fantasy authors who passed away recently. I am a graduate of the James Gunn Science Fiction Workshop and had the pleasure to hear Mr. Gunn explain his method of intuitive brainstorming that was one of the best lectures I’ve heard on the subject. RIP to both these fine authors.

Sync Scrivener With Android Devices For Writing On The Go


Before Home Video, Science-Fiction Fans Worked Harder to Keep Fandom Alive


7 Writing Lessons Learned in 2020


In a Writing Slump? Try a Little Exercise!


Navigating the Parallel but Uneven Ecosystems of Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing


Phyllis Eisenstein (1946-2020)


In Memoriam – James Gunn


Introduction to the ATU Tale Types


Revision Search Patterns


On Using Humor in Fiction

World Building by Bill McCormick

World Building
Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

Before we get into the meat of the subject I’m assuming you’ve read Strunk and White and learned grammar and studied Steven King’s On Writing and learned how to craft content. If not those specific tomes then I’ll presuppose you’ve read, and devoured, similar. It all comes down to this, world building isn’t where you start your journey as a writer. You need to have the basics well in place before you throw yourself off this mountain.

When you create the world your characters are going to live in it can be something simple, like Toledo, Ohio, or something amazing like the gas clouds of Orbius Prime. No matter which, you’ll need ground rules to get started.

  1. Let’s say you picked Toledo; you’ll need to mention the Mud Hens, the city’s devotion to sausages, the national museum of the great lakes, lunch at Grumpy’s and so on.
  2.  If you picked the gas clouds of Orbius Prime, then you need to let readers know about how light refracts in the gasses, what does , and does not, work as a means of propulsion, whether or not the beings living there are corporeal, and how communication is achieved. I would assume varying shades of illumination would work best, but you have options.

In other words, it’s not just a name you toss out it’s a place you bring to life. When the reader closes the book they should feel like they were there. Maybe even bought some souvenirs.

I have found that detailing the world I’ll be creating first, and then adding characters works best. I didn’t do that for my first novel and ended up having to go back and do so since there were glaring inconsistencies in locations and tone. I, literally, had a desiccated desert near a lake.

Before you ask, yes, that was a huge pain in the ass.

So, to save yourself the irritation, lay things out in a simple graph.

  1. Where: Name your place and then detail, at least, ten things which make this place unique.
  2. When: Based on a current reader’s perspective, is this something that happened before or after their existence. If it’s current, try and avoid pop culture references. Since they won’t be current when your book comes out they immediately place the story in the reader’s past.
  3. Tech: It’s well known that any tech sufficiently advanced enough would appear to be magic to a less developed society. The same holds true in writing. If you introduce the “multi phased Frombulator” you have to be clear as to what it does, why it exists, and be able to give a rudimentary idea of how it works. You need not get into the physics of the thing, unless you feel it’s required, but you do have to be able to make readers believe it could exist. Contrariwise, if you’re setting is medieval Europe, you can’t give the princess a Buick to make her life easier. The tech you add has to fit the rest of your universe.
  4. Consistency: Despite popular tropes, it is not the hobgoblin of little minds. Foolish consistency is. Now, whether you’re creating a magical fairy kingdom, interplanetary battles featuring alien warlords, or a whimsical a rom/com starring Satan, you need to set out the rules that guide your universe. And those rules need to apply to every character, and in every event. Remember, it’s not the suggestion of physics, those are laws for a reason. If your characters can violate them, you need a believable reason. This is less true in comic books where characters can fly unaided. Yet, even then, the rest of the universe follows basic physics leaving the flying people as outliers.

One easy out from all this, that lazy writers like to use, is to create a universe of gods. Since their characters are all gods they can do whatever they want. Unless you have multiple iterations of Yahweh, that won’t fly. And if you do, where’s the conflict? Even Satan doesn’t directly challenge God. In fact, in many interpretations, he’s fulfilling a function required by God. So, you’re back to needing some rules, and characters to live within them.

Another thing to look out for is accidentally creating multiple generations of morons. A wildly popular series of books, and a related TV show, have characters who, according to numerous plot points, have been at war, and fighting dragons, for eight thousand years. In that time the only weapons they have come up with are variants of a pointy stick. Some large, some small, some metal, some wood, but, at the end of the day, they’re all just pointy sticks. You would think that, given the fact there were constant airborne threats, someone might have given artificial flight a try. All of the needed materials are right there. And the inspiration is literally eating their livestock.

However, there was also an abundance of naked boobs, so that made up for a lot.

World building can be, and is to me, fun. There are lots of guides you can use to help they’re just not marketed as such. Books on mythologies will help you create believable powerful beings. Dungeons and Dragons is a great guide for your magical realm. NASA.gov has tons of free research online that will help you build realistic alien homes. And, if you want to bend some brains, don’t neglect the various conspiracy sites.

Once you have your feet firmly on the ground, let your imagination loose and see what it brings home.


Author Bill McCormackBILL McCORMICK is a critically acclaimed author of several novels, graphic novels, comic book series, and has appeared in numerous anthologies. He began writing professionally in 1986 for the Chicago Rocker Magazine in conjunction with his radio show on Z-95 (ABC-FM) and went on to write for several other magazines and blogs. He currently writes a twisted news & science blog at WorldNewsCenter.org. That provides source material for his weekly appearance on The Big Wakeup Call on WBIG 1280 AM (FOX! Sports). You can find out more about him at BillMcSciFi.com.

Splice by Bill McCormack

Ten Rules of Time Travel by Ian Lehey

So you wish to include time traveling as part of your story? How hard can it be? Have a nutty scientist or brainy professor come up with a credible time machine, or stumble across one if you want to avoid some of the techy mumbo-jumbo, have them jump backwards or forwards to the time requested by the plot, and then, for the perfect Hollywood ending, everyone jumps back to their timeline and enjoys the cool effects of tweaking history.

Problems deriving from time-travel? There’s nothing so terrible about becoming your own father or mother (or both) that can’t be fixed with some counseling and some good parenting. (I think Douglas Adams said that.) It’s just like wiping a page from a history book and writing it again the way you want it to be, right?

Wrong.

The truth is that when it comes to time travel, the territory becomes rather uncertain if not entirely boggled. Here are ten things you should keep in mind when you start playing around with time.

1. If you are about to leap into the past, then it has already happened.

That’s right. The moment you allow your characters to jump back in time, then the alterations they will apply will already have taken place. This results in our first great dilemma: now that history has changed and the problem solved, what will motivate the heroes to jump back? When the solution is so effective that the problem never existed, who will need to think of a solution? One way to solve this is to conceal the fact that the current state of affairs is, in hindsight, a result of that jump, and that another, far worse, scenario would have ensued from not going back. In other words, the travelers’ motivations are not determined by something that will change, but something they have already changed.

2. Your traveler must, in no way, be connected to the facts he or she is trying to change.

As a collateral point to rule number one, any traveler altering events impacting their own timeline will automatically fail. This is because, by altering time, they will inevitably alter their own memory of what happened, and that will ultimately lead to different decisions the next time around.
“Wait what next time?”, you ask. Well that leads us to:

4. It’s a loop. An infinite one.

Get it?

3. It’s a loop. An infinite one.

A successful leap into the past is one that will always have happened. One in which the traveler will, at a certain point, either devise their own way to travel or be thrown back in time by a series of events which must, always, result in the same outcome. Time will not permit an ever-changing number of different outcomes, it will stabilize into a flow where the jump never happens, or where it does, but always follows the same exact script. The effects of this on the characters can be very dark, or also quite funny. Especially for short jumps. Just like this little joke.

5. Time is memory.

In other words, our only sense for the passing of time is our ability to keep a record of past events. As a result, altering time inevitably alters the record. There are only two ways out of this paradox, in my opinion: One way is based on the theory of alternative universes which is so popular nowadays. In this theory, when you travel in time what you really do is jump to a different reality where what you did has changed history, but you come from a universe where nothing was done, so your memory of that history remained the same. This theory has a few flaws, well pointed out by the Rick & Morty series, including meeting infinite yous intent on changing their histories, and infinite other yous content with their lot and suddenly buggered by all the goddamn people turning up at their door.

Another way is to have time change from the old reality to the new rewritten one, but slowly. Slowly enough for the transition itself to be noticed and recorded. This is what I did in my short story “Hero of Stolen Time”. In it, the hero Ratscrap is the only one capable of jumping back two years into the past to stop the beginning of a terrible series of Viking incursions. When he fails to do so, partially because Ratscrap is a self-loathing coward, reality slowly begins to shift to a Viking-ridden village where everyone’s soon-to-be alternative is killed. Knowing this, Ratscrap must jump back to preserve his reality as well as his own miserable life.

6. The Bootstrap Paradox.

This theory was described quite beautifully in a Dr. Who episode and went like this:

Imagine your character is a Beethoven fanatic. He packs his collection of sheet music and jumps back to meet the man himself to discuss all things musical. When he finally sees Ludwig, our hero is horrified to discover the great composer doing nothing but sitting on the sofa and scratching his butt. (I think the Doctor put it more elegantly). Panicking, the time traveler shoves all of Beethoven’s sheet music in the loafing musician’s hands and hurriedly leaps back to the present to discover, to his relief, that the great Ludwig still is the world-renown musical genius.

The paradox is this: who composed the music? Our hero would swear it was Beethoven, but Ludwig would say it was a frantic looking man with a funny German accent who made it and gave it to him. You can’t jump back in time and hand J.K. Rowling a copy of Harry Potter. That’s worse than becoming your own parent.

7. I don’t have time for number 7.

8. Beware the uncanny valley. (Yes, there’s one in time travel too)

People who read sci-fi appreciate the imaginative way authors apply their scientific knowledge. A lack of scientific detail will undermine the credibility of your story. When it comes to time and time travel, science itself becomes rather iffy. To put it in other words, there’s a whole lot of fi in the sci already. Some writers will try to compensate this by adding even more details on exploiting naturally occurring nano-wormholes, strings, membranes and that ever-recurring buzzword, the quantum [insert something here]. The result is that, past a certain threshold, the authors themselves get so garbled as to put off even the most hardened geek. Make it scientzy, but don’t overdo it. Sometimes it’s preferable to simplify too much rather than overexplain it. Ratscrap’s time jumping ability, for instance, came from a simple magic potion.

A magic potion? Jeez, who am I trying to fool here? That’s almost as bad as quantum.

9. Forward jumps are ok. Sometimes.

Making your hero jump forward in time is absolutely doable. Unless you have the nerve to also bring them back. In that case, all of the above rules apply again. Knowledge of future events could potentially lead to attempts aimed at altering that future, but in that case, the original future never existed, so why change it? Headaches anyone? (One of Ratscrap’s side effects of time travel was a massive, sentient headache).

10. Alternatives to time travel.

There are a couple of more approachable alternatives to time travel, to avoid headaches, embarrassing family reunions and all that excessive mucking about with quantum and J.K.Rowling.

One way to travel into the past safely is to “tune in” to a past moment. This can be done by sending back a hidden probe, or waiting for when everyone will have a memory chip installed into their brains and simply playback their experience, or even sync present and past atoms to create a replica via, sigh, quantum entanglement. In all three cases, the past cannot be altered but only experienced as a hologram or virtual reality.
Another alternative to changing the past is even simpler. As stated in rule no. 5, time is memory. Do you really need to send your character back in time to hide the fact that they murdered someone? Wouldn’t it be relatively easier to alter everyone’s memory of the event, so that the murder becomes an accident? In this case, the hero’s memory would remain intact, as well as anyone’s they wish to preserve.

These are just ideas, not to be taken as absolute guidelines. Just make sure your plot holds, maybe catch a glimpse of the future to check how readers will respond and you will have seen – are going to have seen…

Truth be told, the hardest thing about writing time travel are the damn tenses.


Ian Lahey, author, dreamer, and Olympic-level binge-watcher, teaches English Language and Literature in Italy. Apart from writing arguably decent fiction, he also cooks with nearly edible results, tinkers with computer graphics, and does quite a lot of gardening, since he needs to replace all the plants he’s inadvertently killed.
https://ilahey.com