Abandoned Buildings

I’ve always found abandoned places fascination, be it London’s Tube stations, Ghost towns, and even fairgrounds. Part of me wants to go and visit them and part of me wants to stay away from them, especially at night.

The latest collection I’ve come across is abandoned buildings in the Eastern Bloc. If you’re ever stuck for a location of a dark-fantasy or horror story, you cannot fail but be inspired by some of these images. Personally, I love the mining machine, it wouldn’t look out of place in a steampunk novel would it?  Also that doctors surgery is the place of nightmares for someone with a good imagination.

Some thoughts about world-building

Working through some old notes for my website, I found an old post here about some world-building tips which I enjoyed reading about. I love reading through these kind of posts as they often re-inspire me to crack on with something that I’ve had on the back-burner for a while, or they reinforce some of my own thoughts and help with my own limited knowledge.

Size (1). For me, one of the things that I tend to struggle with is knowing exactly how much of my world should be mapped. Should I just include the areas that my current novel takes place in, or should I widen my world to fit in the other stories that I want to write in it? Is it worth spending time and effort generating land, history, landmarks, races etc. for some place that only I will visit? Back in the 80’s, I created AD&D adventures and I was always disappointed if the party never visited a particular place, especially if I’d put some extra effort in for that location.

In this particular list, I like the fact that History (2) is mentioned. Albeit I think it doesn’t have to be such an issue, especially as a lot of history can be done via smoke-and-mirrors. You don’t have to give the readers a full breakdown of what has happened in a particular place (and often the readers probably don’t need to know it anyway). But if you can just drop enough hints through dialogue, narration etc. it’s quite easy to inject history into your story without making it too obvious.

Dominant Technology (4) is another good one. I remember hearing (I think) about Brandon Sanderson / Howard Tayler talking about magic and coming up with Tayler’s first law, “If the energy you are getting from your magic is cheaper than letting a donkey do it, your medieval economy just fell apart.” To me, this is a wonderful piece of advice; the medieval world that many of us base our fantasy books in has derived from a history that didn’t have magic, or advanced technologies – and that is why the medieval world grew as it did. If, in your world, you introduce something that affects the fundamental technologies that already exist, then you should either adjust your world to meet that change, or your world becomes unbelievable. Why would medieval man build castles if magicians could melt stone with a fireball?

Transportation (6) is another favourite of mine. More commonly, you’ll read about how writers vastly underestimate how far a horse can travel in a day, or how difficult it is to march in full plate-mail. However, what is interesting here is that there needs to be some thought given to how your maps should reflect these modes of transportation. The reason why we have large cities on the coasts is generally due to shipping, transportation, or food. If we have a technology that makes ships redundant, or a world with no ocean life, then maybe there is no need for people to settle by the sea in your world. If you have magicians that can teleport, do you really need that many roads?

Finally, I think Food (10) is a good idea. Here, the author suggest that in some novels, the characters never seem to eat. Maybe it’s not important to the plot but it is an absolute gold-mine of material that you can visit again and again as part of your world-building research. You can have wars over food and drink, you can set entire regions in place based on what they can grow, or whether it can be traded. Is it rare? Is it worth stealing? Is it poisonous to some people, but not to others? You can set your mind going in all sorts of directions here and, depending on how much detail you want to include, it can be just a passing remark in your story, or it can form the bedrock of your story.

Hobbit 1st Edition goes for £137,000

Guess who can’t afford a 1st Edition of The Hobbit?

I’ve been collecting Tolkien books since I was a young boy.  It was in my darkened bedroom that I become the un-official 10th member of the Fellowship and stuck with them through thick and thin.

I still have that old trilogy box-set that my mum bought me back in 1997 except now it’s one of dozens of versions across different languages, editions and special editions.  I do have a thought at the back of my mind to be buried with that particular set, although I’m now just happy for it to be on my bookshelves.

Unfortunately, I very much doubt I will ever afford the prices of the 1st Editions but there are always dreams, and the Euromillions lottery 🙂

Spreadsheets and Fantasy don’t mix!

It’s been a while since I last posted and it’s mainly due to me having to spend time away from my writing.

Something that I already knew, but has painfully returned to remind me, is that spreadsheets and fantasy do not mix. Sure, I’ve been dealing with magic(?) formulae, cells and keys but not the ones that I enjoy reading about. To top it all off, the service that I operate has been down a few times this past week or so and that has just eaten away all of my time, and energy. There’s nothing like a three hour meeting with managers telling you what to do to drain whatever creativity you have in you.

I’ve taken solace in my reading but I’m getting annoyed that I’m spending so much time in someone else’s world, when I should be getting my hands dirty building my own world – a set of half a dozen Dungeon & Dragons manuals mock me from my bookshelf as they remind me of all the world-building that has been achieved by others. Even reading The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin over the weekend left me bruised – and that’s just about a single maze underground!

The website is still unfinished, my novel doesn’t seem to be moving on and I have magazines I should be reading.  My presence on forums has been lacking, my involvement in WordPress has been almost non-existent.

So, I’m going to have to shirk a few responsibilities this week; work and reading. I have to if I’m going to be committed to my writing. There are things that I need to put right, especially if I’m going to be studying for the MA in Creative Writing in September.

It will have to still be a juggling act but sometimes it’s better to juggle and let a few of the balls drop, than to not pick them up at all.


Beginning Strong Part 2 – James Scott Bell

Many writers are aware of the importance of getting the reader hooked from the first page, even the first line. Yet, Bell still points out some basic points that (I at least) had overlooked.
If we stick to the three act structure, it’s obvious that we begin in Act 1. Here, we’re expecting our work to do the following;

  • Hook the reader
  • Establish a bond between reader and character
  • Present the story world
  • Establish the tone of the novel
  • Give the reader reason to want to turn the page
  • Introduce the opposition

In this post, I’ll cover the final three points above as Bell takes us through and gives us information and advice as to better approach our goals (the first post is here).

Establish the tone of the novel

This is us, as writers, setting the tone for the entire novel early on in the first few pages. By doing this, we’re not only making a promise to the reader as to what our novel is going to be like, but it ensures that the reader will understand what to expect.

One of the most important aspects of tone is that of consistency. As stated previously, setting the tone is providing the reader with the understanding of what the rest of the story will be about. Readers like consistency and being too inconsistent risks you losing the reader. Bell quotes Jack M. Bickham here with some examples of how you can still stall your reader if you’re not careful;

  • Excessive description – Bell already covered this and uses the quote to simply strengthen his own statement.
  • Backward looks – interestingly, this seems to jar against the advice from Bell about using the ‘framing the story’ element for prologues. However, I personally think this is more around the constant use of looking back.
  • No threat – Bickham suggests that “good fiction must start with – and deal with – someone’s response to threat”. Without a threat there is no conflict.

Compel the Reader to move onto the middle

As with the Three Act Structure, your beginning has to ensure that the reader wants to continue onward to the middle (and end) of your book. If you’ve done things right, you should have given them (1) a compelling Lead with (2) whom they bond with and (3) whose world has been disturbed. This should provide enough for your readers to want to step through that first doorway of no return into Act 2.

There is little else in terms of advice from Bell here which comes across as a bit of a cop-out when it has been promoted to a point of interest within the chapter of Beginning Strong. However, I think the fact that Bell has already talked quite a bit earlier in the book about this and the fact that the next chapter is about the middle stages of a novel, he’s simply reserving his advice for later.

Introducing the Opposition

As with the section on moving the reader to the middle of the novel, Bell doesn’t really add anything more to this section other than giving out somewhat obvious advice.

Bell suggests that our readers must know who, or what, the opposition is by the time that our Lead makes the transition from the start to the middle. He even goes on to suggest that the opposition doesn’t necessarily have to be fully established at this point, just that it exists.
There are no examples given here, but I would suggest he’s talking about things like;

  • A serial killer in a crime murder novel – we don’t need to know who he is, or what he looks like for us to know he’s our Lead’s opposition
  • A meteor about to crash into the Earth – again, if our Lead is an astronaut or a pilot of a space-ship trying to protect Earth, then we can understand how the meteor is the opposition without having to fully explain what it is, where it came from etc.
  • A love story where the Lead is vying for affection and yet there is another who has similar feelings for the same girl.

As writers, it is also important that we ensure the opposition is a capable foil for our Lead. In that respect, we must ensure that the opposition is as strong, or preferably, stronger than our Lead. Also, we shouldn’t neglect the fact that our opposition should also be given similar attributes to our Lead, such as sympathy and justifications for his actions. We need to ensure that we don’t fully develop a Lead only to pit him against a cardboard cut-out of an opposition.

Wednesday Website Update #5

With last week being Easter, and me being away from home (and the PC) this week there hasn’t been a lot done on the website recently.

On the plus side, I’ve gotten a lot of the main pages updated with the templates needed to hold the information that I want to present.  I’ve also began to put links and notes in each page to remind me what needs to go in here and where I can find it.

On the negative side, it is slowly dawning on me just exactly how much information that I’m going to be adding to the website over the next few weeks, especially if I’m going to be sticking to my end of April deadline.  A rough guess is a good four hour’s work needed on each page, and I have over 60 pages.  It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out how far off my current deadline I am at the moment.

Much of what I’m putting on the website is going to be around what I learn on my journey to finish my novel to draft format, so I can’t expect everything to be there at first – I just need to make sure there’s enough there to keep things ticking over until the rest of the content appears.

Still, every journey begins with a single step.

Older updates can be found on the website project page here.

Wednesday Website Update #4

Last week I reached the point where it was time to begin adding the content to the website – this week, I’m still working through it.  Similar to this blog, my website will contain descriptive elements from many of the writing books / courses that I find, as well as a catalogue of my journey as I complete the first draft of my novel. 

Well, even though I have quite a backlog of information to use as an update now, I’m beginning to realise that a lot more of this content will have to be trickle-fed to my website on a periodic basis – basically as it’s developed.

With that in mind, I figured that I should at least work toward getting the bare-bone content / description up on each page (of which there are now sixty-six) by the end of this week before I take the plunge and start to beef up the detail.  This should give me the whole month of April to get the site ready for a May 1st release.

In terms of pages, I’ve begun to develop a new section on map-making.  Why?  Well, I’m heavily invested in the Fantasy genre and just felt that this is a topic that should be covered.  Also, I’ve been working on a map for my own world of Monecia in my downtime and thought it may be worthwhile cataloguing the research that I’ve been doing as I bring this world to life, especially as I’ll be covering so many other elements of world-building.

The work that I need to put in over the next few weeks is quite daunting and I know that it’s going to take time away from actually writing the first draft itself.  However, I can’t keep juggling things and never completing any of them so it has to be time to start ticking things off the lists instead of adding to them.

That’s it for this week!

Older updates can be found on the website project page here

Wednesday Website Update #3

This week saw me finally completing the quotes on each page that I wanted.  I had initially thought of putting a particularly relevant quote on each page but acted against it.  It’s the fine tuning at such an early stage that is costing me time.  I’m a believer in the old 80/20 split (it takes 80% of your time to do the last 20% of the work and vice versa) so didn’t feel the need to make things even worse.

As I see it, a quote on writing is sufficient regardless of what page you are on.

Next I tackled the outstanding images for my site which wasn’t as easy as you would expect.

Firstly, I’ve tended to use somewhat abstract images for my pages which means I can find myself searching for upto an hour for that one image. 

Secondly, I’ve read horror stories of people being sued for copyright infringment so am only using free image, or those with CC rights.  It’s certainly safer although the number of images (and variety) completely drops away from the searches once you apply those filters.

I’ve also removed a few pages as I began to struggle to think of what to put on them; and if I’m struggling as the author, then there’s a good chance the reader will struggle also.

So, I’m now down to 62 pages split across the following topics;

  • Me / My writing
  • The craft of writing
  • Worldbuilding

All quotes are in, all images are in, now it’s time to work on the content….

Older updates can be found on the website project page here


A Public Flogging

Sometimes in life, you need to give yourself a kick up the backside. Search long enough on my blog and you’ll find quite a few of these types of posts where I adopt a “Woe is me” pose and wax lyrical about how I’m failing.

Why? Well it’s because I set myself feasible goals, then surround myself with obstacles that prevent me from achieving them. I choose to cross a river, find myself a boat and then proceed to beat holes into it before I set off. I’m also pessimistic by nature; if I’d gotten halfway across the river when the boat began to sink, I’d turn around and head back!

I give these obstacles fancy names as to distance myself from them; writer’s block, procrastination, blank-page syndrome etc. I constantly read “write, write, write..” yet I’m often reading it not doing it.

Take the title of this blog, amuteforamuse. I set it up as a driver to get the first draft of my novel doing it – back in 2013. The title came to me when I convinced myself that my muse just didn’t speak to me at all. The gargoyle from the image on the right-hand side of my blog actually sits on my desk and bears much of the brunt when I’m struggling to write – true to form, he has never spoken a single word.

It’s now 2015 and I’m still working on that first draft. But I’m not just working on that; a website, a world-building project, a sci-fi and fantasy reading list, a writing and publishing reading list are all vying for my attention. This year I’ve even started buying and selling sci-fi and fantasy books on Ebay to supplement my upcoming University fees. Due to this, I often find myself working on the one task that feels least like work, which means A Treasure Found, is getting lost amidst the crowd.

One of the main reasons is that I’ve become afraid of my own story. I can portray the plot, the world, the characters so much better in my head than I can in my writing at the moment. I envisage whole scenes in my dreams and yet they fall apart on the page. Like a child, I tell myself that if I can’t see it, then it can’t hurt me.

My writing will flow, and it will stall; I’m only human. But I need to make a change, I need to patch up that boat and get it back in the water. I don’t want sympathy; this post is called “A Public Flogging” not “Group Hug”. I know everyone has problems in life and they certainly don’t need mine.

I’m going to finish this post with a writing tip from an author who seems to have battled his inner-demons and is willing to tell others how to do it, Chuck Wendig. If you’ve also found yourself looking into that raging river aboard a sinking ship then I whole-heartedly suggest you visit his site. It isn’t for the light-hearted and his words care little for bruised feelings but often the truth is like that.


Worldbuilding Basics #5 – Castles

Okay lad, you can stop running now, I see you’ve got stamina. However, if you want to be a runner for the Castle Guard, then knowing where something is, and what it does, is often just as important as how fast you can get there.”
– Kenderrin Largo, Captain of the Guard, Derrinus Castle.

Moat / Ditch. This is one of the first lines of defence for any castle. As a ditch, the defence is little more than steep sides to prevent defenders ease of access. As a moat, it is often filled with deep water to prevent sappers from tunnelling under the walls or just as a physical boundary. Ever tried swimming in plate armour?

Ramparts. These are steep banks of stone or earth that slow down attackers by forcing them to climb over them, often whilst dodging arrows.

Drawbridge. It is said that the entrance to any castle is its weakest point. In peace time, the drawbridge provides access across the moat for travellers and merchants. In times of war, large iron chains pull the drawbridge back to prevent any enemies from reaching the barbican.

Barbican. This can be seen as an outer defence to a castle, jutting out from the main walls and comprising of a gateway and, possibly, a portcullis. Further to that, barbicans are sometimes connected to the main castle through a road, called the neck, as it forces the enemy into a tightly-packed area.

Gateway. Any castle worth its salt has a strong gateway. If your walls are too thick, expect this area to get a lot of attention. Make sure that you have large timbers held together with iron nails to create formidable doors that can be barred shut from within.

Portcullis. If the strong gateway isn’t enough defence, a castle should install a portcullis as a further means of protection; a spiked barrier that can be lowered to protect the wooden gateway from a battering.

Bailey. In its simplest form, this is the area within the walls of the castle. But it’s much more than that; it’s the life and soul of the castle.  Expect to find everything in here that a castle requires to function; living quarters, livestock, stalls, stables, forges, workbenches, and so on.  Basically, it’s where all the domestic side of the castle lives.

Well. Every castle needs a well, and the best ones are those that are dug deep, and never run dry.  In times of war, a castle can hoard as much food and livestock as it can, but once the well runs dry, or is infected by some kind of enemy action, out-lasting a siege becomes almost impossible.

Chapel. Everyone needs somewhere to pray and, in a castle, this is it. When it’s peaceful, we thank our gods for protection, in times of war, we beg them for it.

Keep. This is the heart of any stone castle. It’s usually the building with the thickest walls and the least windows as it is often the last line of defence for those within the castle grounds. Inside you will find kitchens, halls, and living quarters, similarly to the Bailey but for the commanders and royalty. Sturdy and often self-sufficient, think of it as a castle within a castle.

Arrow Loops. You’ll see plenty of these around the castle; simple slits in the stone wall that are designed to allow archers to fire upon the enemy with little chance of return fire. I say simple, but they are rather ingenious. I hear some castles have different shaped slits to loops to allow different configurations of archers or crossbowmen.

Tower. Rising higher than the castle walls, it’s easy to see why towers are needed in a castle. But did you know that round towers are sturdier than square ones? It’s to do with the way the corners in a square tower can weaken the entire structure if damaged during an attack. Outside of sieges, it’s the place where the guard / barrack usually reside and, with all those stairs, one of the places that castle runners hate.

Bastion. Now some castles will have towers, some will have bastions, and some will have both. A bastion is simply a kink, or angle, in the castle wall which enables a greater level of ranged defense. They often allow more space than a tower which, in turns, allows more defenders.

Curtain Wall. This is simply the outer wall of the castles that surrounds the bailey. It also connects all of the outer towers, the barbican, and the bastions to form a single, stone-built, defensive unit, otherwise called a castle. As a runner for the guard, you can expect to spend most of your time running along here.

Parapet. The parapet runs along the length of the curtain wall. For guards like me, it’s for protection from the enemy. For runners like you, it’s to stop you from falling off the edge! It doesn’t just provide protection from the enemy either, I’ve spent many a cold night tucked up with a flagon of ale behind those parapets whilst the cold, ice wind howls around me.

Crenels. Many castles have additional stonework added to their parapets, called crenels. These are a further line of defence which allow arrows to be fire out, and a solid piece of stone for protection when they get fired back. Did you see that fancy pattern on the top of the castle wall as you approached? The intermittent gaps in the top of the wall? That’s the crenellation of our parapet.