World-Building 101 Bonus: Setting as a Character

Overlook_timberline

For my previous world-building posts, check out these links:

Inhabitants
History
Rules
Setting

You can thank Stephen King for this post. I recently read “The Shining” and if any of you are at all familiar with the book or movie, you know the Overlook Hotel is a bad place to be. The basic premise of the novel is this: Jack Torrence, his wife Wendy, and son Danny are to take care of the Overlook during the winter months. It’s located so high in Colorado that when it snows there is no way in or out, thus the need for a caretaker. While there, they experience strange and disturbing events related to the hotel.

How does King do it in a way that is believable?

Anyone who has read the novel knows the amount of detail that went into creating the hotel’s sordid past. At multiple points, Jack finds himself pouring over old records as if he can’t read it fast enough. The history of the hotel reveals more about the murders that have occurred there, the many owners it has had, and the failed attempts at running it.

King doesn’t start the novel flaunting all of this at us, though. He’s subtle about the details he brings into play so that when the hotel “comes to life”, so to speak, readers are prepared for it. We accept that the hotel is basically alive and wants to kill the people who are there. Of course, the building itself is not malicious. It’s the “inhabitants” (AKA the ghosts of those murdered there) that are. Because the ghosts are so much a part of the hotel, the building itself seems to come alive, thus becoming a character on its own.

Want to give this technique a try?

Treat your setting as you would one of your main characters. You give them a name, a history, a life before your story. Do the same for your setting. Your’s may not be filled with ghosts out for blood. It might be so rich in history that it comes alive for readers in an entirely different way. The details are what make it. They’re the backbone not only of the world you build, but of the story itself. If you can spend the time and effort in building a believable world for your story, you will be amazed at how real it seems to your readers.

Dreams are Weird

When people tell me they had a weird dream, I just have to shake my head. Mine are always weird. It’s like I eat a bucket of Chinese food right before bed. There is absolutely zero sense to them. I also rarely remember them. I think it’s because my brain files it away in the “Let’s Never Think of This Again” file. And I don’t because I can’t remember.

Sometimes, people have those dreams where they’re falling then they wake up and find they aren’t. I woke up to find that I actually was falling. Straight out of a hotel bed. Thank goodness I caught myself because the floors are made of cement and a thin cloth they claim is carpet.

People sometimes dream about how they don’t have pants on and they’re in public. I’m the one dreaming that I can’t find my pants or am having trouble putting them on like my legs are covered in glue. For some reason, I also can never pack anything in my dreams. This may be because in real life I always feel like I’m forgetting things when I go somewhere. Usually, I do.

There’s that dream of running and your legs not moving fast enough. If I fly in my dream, I kick my legs like I’m swimming. Or if I try to stop my car it won’t, no matter how reliable my brakes are in real life. Sometimes I have super powers, other times I’m aware that I’m dreaming.

The other night, I dreamed I was visiting a friend who doesn’t live at the beach, but who did in the dream. The house was up on wooden risers “in case the ocean gets too close”, or so I was told. I looked down at the risers and saw the ocean right there under the house and I said, “Makes sense.”

No. It doesn’t make sense. Dreams just don’t.

I should keep a dream journal just so I could shake my head at what my own mind comes up with to entertain itself during the long (short, actually) hours I’m asleep.

It’s like, “Brain, I’ve entertained you all day. Relax!”

And my brain says, “Ummm…no.”

If I went to a psychiatrist and told him my dreams, I know what he would tell me.

“Stop eating Chinese food for supper.”

Get Off Your Cell Phone

I love taking Bandit for walks in the park. He always seems to have fun even though I can never move as fast as he wants to. He slows down for his poor momma.

My boy is well behaved. He knows how to act in a park: A.K.A. mind your own business and be a good boy. There has never been an instance of him causing trouble at the park.

I was at the park with Bandit and my dad over the weekend. It was a beautiful day. We had been there a while and we were getting ready to leave after another lap. We were walking by the parking lot. Someone had pulled up and was getting her dog out of the car. Bandit was minding his own business as were we when this tiny, yappy dog comes barreling out of the car without his leash. He runs up just out of Bandit’s reach, barking and yapping and we’re trying to get Bandit away from him because he doesn’t take crap. Except from me.

I’m trying to shoo the dog away when it’s owner strolls up–yep, you guessed it–on her cell phone. She doesn’t seem the least bit alarmed that her dog is trying to take on a dog easily five times its size and that the big one has his sights set on quieting hers. She puts the leash on it and says, “Sorry, guys!” and that’s it. The little dog wasn’t hurt.

We go our way and she goes hers. Like I said, Bandit is truly a well behaved boy. He’s also alpha male, which works great with Dapple who’s such a pushover that a snail could boss her around.

So this is why I say put your cell phones down. Pay attention to your surroundings. It makes going to the park a much more enjoyable activity for everyone involved!

This Girl Totally Got Published

I’m on a roll with short Monday posts! Actually, this one is exciting news, as you can tell from the title. My poem was published in Germ Magazine! It’s an online publication started by New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Niven (All the Bright Places).

My poem is titled Chocoholic, and if you enjoy my Wednesday humor posts, you’ll like this poem. Totally true story about my obsession with chocolate. So please go read and share it! I appreciate any and all support!

Chocoholic by Stephanie Wooten Koreneff

World-Building 101: Inhabitants (Bonus Writing Weekend #7)

NewYork

Terribly sorry that this post didn’t go up yesterday. I literally had no downtime to write it, so here it is one day late:

For the previous world-building posts, click these links:

Setting
Rules
History

After talking about the basis for your story’s world, I’m going to talk about inhabitants. These are the people that live in your world. Depending on your story, you might already know a lot about them.

Stories set in the real world or worlds similar to ours have inhabitants ready-made for your story. All you have to do is watch people around you, study their language, watch how they behave, etc. This is also appropriate to do if your story is set in the real world, but some characters have superpowers or magic. It may be important for them to try to blend in.

Stories set in previous time periods require research, as said before. You’ll want to know how those people talked, how they dressed, how they behaved, how they got around. If your story is about a real witch during the Salem witch trials, you’ll need to research those so your reader (who may already be very knowledgeable about the subject) will be engrossed in your story. Going into a book like that, readers want to know that you did your research. They don’t want to know more than you because they don’t want to see historical errors.

The amount of research needed for historical stories is similar to the amount needed for stories set in different cultures. Unless you’ve lived there, you probably won’t know all the nuances of Japanese culture despite how much Anime you watch.

If you’re creating a world completely from scratch, your inhabitants can be whoever you want them to be. They can have magic or superpowers or be like normal people. But even though you have more free reign, looking at the people around you and studying their behavior will still benefit your book. What is it that make your people happy? Sad? Stressed? And then how to they show these emotions? People are people, regardless of where they live, and readers want see believable emotions.

Bonus: Writing Weekend #7

For the previous writing weekend challenges, check out these links:

Setting
Rules
History

Here are your questions to help you think about the inhabitants of your story:

1. What type of people are they? Mythical? Magical? Real-world? Some combination?

2. What is their main method of transportation? Walking? Driving? Flying?

3. How do they get their food? Do they have to hunt for it? Do they buy it?

4. What do they eat?

5. How do they make a living?

6. What language do they speak?

7. What are their customs like (regarding visiting friends/family, eating, holidays, etc.)?

8. What is their religion, if any?

9. How do they react to their form of government? Are they satisfied? Rebellious? How do they express this?

10. Do the children go to school or are they taught useful tasks by parents/mentors to prepare them for life on their own?

Thanks for following my world-building posts. I hope they have been helpful. Come back next week for a bonus post on world-building!

8 Things You Need to Know Before Starting Cosmetology School

Last week’s post about my brother’s pedicure hit the funny spot, so I’m writing another humor post about cosmetology school. Believe me, there’s plenty of material. So, for you prospective students, take a gander at some wisdom gathered during my time there.

1. It’s not for the faint of heart

I had heard this before I started, but it is so utterly true. The amount of dandruff I’ve seen and gotten stuck under my nails is shocking. Who knew so many people had dandruff?

And then some people are opposed to the idea of washing their hair. It’s like they’re afraid it’ll all melt off if one ounce of shampoo and water comes near it. This was never one type of person. I saw it with so many people.

2. You have to touch feet

If you’re going to school for this, more than likely pedicures will be in your future. Just watch out for those pesky flying toenails. They’re a pain in the eye.

3. You may see half-naked strangers

Again, if your school offers back treatments, you may see your fair share of topless strangers. Thankfully, I got the majority of mine done on family, but the ones that weren’t… Let’s just say it was awkward.

This is like pedicures for me, though. I love to get back massages. Don’t like giving them to strangers.

4. You might have to work at the front desk/dispensary

For many girls and guys at the school I went to, this was the equivalent of a death sentence. You’d either get stuck at a desk for a week or packed like sardines into a tiny room where everyone went to mix their color. Personally, I preferred the dispensary. At least you got to wiggle around a little in your sardine can. The front desk motto was: leave this desk unattended and you die.

5. Break time is a myth

Hungry? Tired? Need to smoke? Tough beans! You don’t get a break unless there is downtime for it. Of course, this is similar to how a salon works, but I never understood why, when you’re working, you can’t schedule in a tiny 15 minute lunch break.

You’d be amazed at how fast you can shove a sandwich down your throat when you have five minutes to eat.

Was that beef or chicken that I just ate?

6. You think you’re hot stuff until you cut yourself

Yeah, they teach you all these cool techniques for cutting hair and snazzy ways to use your shears (and by the way, it’s shears. Not scissors. Heaven forbid you call them scissors). Once you get the hang of the technique (or not), you start doing it faster and it’s all fancy looking like you see on the YouTube videos and then…you guessed it. Blood is spilled on the battlefield. Nothing kills your mojo faster than having to get a bandaid because you’re still a newbie.

7. Learn to pee quick

Similar to having no breaks, your bladder will feel like it has been entered into an endurance marathon. It will yell at you, occupy your attention, and make you see yellow. In short, your bladder becomes your nemesis because it suddenly shrinks to the size of a pea when you’re in the middle of a client’s service.

8. Expect frequent bouts of TMI

You learn a lot of things at cosmetology school and doing hair is less than 10% of it. Clients will sit in your chair and, though normally they only say about five words a day on average, they can’t seem to stop talking. It’s nice in a way because this verbal diarrhea keeps you entertained, but you’ll hear way more than you want to. You’ll learn what the doctor told them at their last visit, how many dogs they have, what they think of Obama, and which church they go to.

And then there are your classmates. They’re the main point of TMI. I can’t tell you how many times I heard all the unwanted info about the wars with their boyfriends or how constipated they were.

Yes, girls talk about poop too. Not like I wanted to know, though.

Team Cardinal vs. Team Reflection

There is a bird at work. It’s a cardinal and he wants to be inside so bad. He keeps flying into the window and I feel sorry for him, but we can’t figure out why he’s doing it. Some theories have gone around that it’s a mom who lost her baby or he’s blind, but he’s been doing it for literally two days straight. I’ll be working and all of a sudden I’ll hear the tap on the window and know it’s him. It’s not a violent crash. He seems okay after he flies away, but I think he’s scrambled his poor birdy brain after two days of this.

This bird reminds me of how when I was a kid, I’d be having lunch and, like clockwork, a cardinal would fly into the window. It would always happen at lunchtime. It continued for a while until it either found a new tree it liked better or something happened to it. That one kept a schedule. This one, not so much.

I turned to Google for my cardinal research quest to find out why this keeps happening. Turns out, he’s guarding his territory. During this time of year, males are more aggressive and if they see another bird of the same or similar breed they’ll attack. Normally, other birds fly away and he wins the battle. Reflections, however, don’t leave. He must be thinking how stubborn that other bird is but the poor thing is persistent. I hope he wins the battle against his reflection!

Yep, I’m Team Cardinal.