Tuesday, April 30, 2013

World Building A to Z: Zeus and Other Gods

This month, I've been sharing details I've noticed in world building and setting from a bunch of different stories. Today is the last day of the World Building A to Z series, but this probably won't be my last post on the topic. Orange-pineapple-coconut smoothies to all of you who've been visiting and commenting here this month! 

Zeus and Other Gods: The most obvious deities in the world of Greek mythology would be Zeus and his gang, the human-like immortals sitting around in their flannel togas and stuffing themselves with ambrosia and Doritos all day long. And yet, these gods and goddesses still get their share of worshipers. 

I associate religion with who, what, and how people worship. When religion is presented in a story, it helps to examine if religion is used to uplift, confine, or both. 

In ANIMAL FARM, religion is used to uplift and confine. The hard-working animals, unknowingly exploited, believe that they will pass through the pearly gates of Sugarcandy Mountain when they die. The promise of a comfortable afterlife gives them something to look forward to and pushes them to work harder. Seeing how hard Boxer, the horse, works makes it all the more depressing when it's implied that he will be slaughtered once his body is too worn down for labor. 

There are fictional characters and real people who don't subscribe to any religion. They might consider themselves atheists or non-believers of a higher power. 

Nonetheless, I strongly believe that everyone worships something. For example, someone might worship the idea of becoming rich and famous, or the pursuit of appearing eternally young, or the dream to be powerful and feared, or the hope of being seen as attractive or desirable, or all of the above.The choices someone makes to elevate themselves to a certain goal reveal what they worship. I apply this statement to atheists, non-atheists, and public followers of a religion. 

Can you think of other examples where religion or implied religion are used in stories? 

Are you religious?

Monday, April 29, 2013

World Building A to Z: Youth

This month, I'm writing about world building and setting. 

Youth: At the beginning of this month, one of my posts touched on how seniors are treated in a world.  Today, I'd like to look at the status of youth. Are young people considered "babies," and therefore denied authority or privileges?  Or are young people empowered in any way that would put them at an equal level with adults?

In Beverly Cleary's RAMONA FOREVER,  Ramona gets denied the privilege of seeing her newborn baby sister at the hospital because she is considered too young to be admitted as a visitor. 

In the movie, Finding Nemo, Nemo's status as a child fish, coupled by his slightly injured fin, causes his strict father to be overprotective of him. Nemo is so frustrated by his father's constant worrying that he yearns to rebel...which he does. 

In ENDER'S GAME, skilled young people can be very empowered. At a time when most kids are learning how to write the alphabet and finger paint, Ender is training to be a military commander. 

It is dangerous to hand over power to any child or adult who is naive and insecure. In the movie, Swing Kids, some of the Hitler Youth believe their membership in this group is evidence of their superiority. Their authority enables cruel and ruthless behavior; for example, a boy gets the Nazis to arrest his own father. 

What are other examples showing the status of youth in stories?

If you were given a chance to return to your childhood with no guarantee that you would get back to where you are now, would you take it?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

World Building A to Z: X Marks the Spot

My theme for my blog this month is world building and setting.

Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

X Marks the Spot: I watched The Goonies over and over again when I was a kid. I saw this movie so many times that as I type this post, I remember the kids stumbling across the treasure map in the attic, Mikey using his inhaler, Mouth speaking Spanish, Chunk screaming when he meets Sloth, and Data messing with his gadgets. I remember the thoughtful Mikey leaving part of the treasure for One Eyed Willie to show respect. I remember the movie launching to an upbeat orchestra score after the Fratellis escape from prison to it ending with Cyndi Lauper belting out "The Goonies R Good Enough" as the credits roll. 

I learn a lot about the world in a quest story by identifying what the adventurers are looking for, and why it is important that they find this. In The Goonies, the kids need to find One Eyed Willie's lost treasure to prevent the foreclosure of their parents' homes. These details offer clues about the kids' socioeconomic backgrounds, their affection for the Goon Docks, and how powerless the families living in the area are when an invader threatens to tear down their homes for a country club.

It's such a neat coincidence that I am writing about The Goonies because I am attending an author talk later today featuring Chris Columbus- writer, director, and producer. Projects Chris worked on have included writing the screenplay for The Goonies and producing/directing several of the Harry Potter movies. Recently, Chris came out with a MG book and he will be speaking at an event hosted by Hicklebee's, an awesome kidlit bookstore based in San Jose.  

Earlier this week, I contacted the bookstore and asked if I could interview Chris Columbus for this blog when I attend his talk. I will find out later today if I can make that happen...fingers crossed!

Off the top of my head, here are a few other examples of stories with quests: THE HOBBIT, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, Rick Riordan's THE LIGHTNING THIEF, John Stephen's THE EMERALD ATLAS,  Grace Lin's WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, Adam Gidwitz's A TALE DARK & GRIMM, and the movies Stand By Me and Kung Fu Panda. Can you add some more names to this list?

What movie from your childhood did you watch over and over again?  

Friday, April 26, 2013

World Building A to Z: Weapons and Wealth

This month, I'm sharing about stuff I've seen in world building and setting.

Weapons: What do people fight with? Weapons and the way people fight, whether it's in a war or on a playground, offer hints about a world. 

In the HARRY POTTER books, the wand is the weapon of choice, much like the good ol' bow and arrow in THE HUNGER GAMES. But in MOCKINGJAY, the featured weapon is Gale's engineered bomb; the bomb creates an initial distraction to attract more targets before the maximum destruction occurs. While Gale might've thought his bomb would hurt only the enemy, he is wrong.

A weapon isn't always a tangible item you can see and touch, like a sword. In many stories about bullying, the aggressor attacks with words. Words can hurt the target directly, they can be used to manipulate, and they can create and pass along false rumors. (On the bright side, words can also heal, comfort, and be used to show assertion. One can use words to tell a bully to back the hell off.) 

A weapon can also be cleverly disguised as something benign. A Trojan horse, for example.

Wealth: What goods are produced? What are sources of wealth? What kind of currency do people use? 

In the world of struggling old money on the TV show, Arrested Development, Michael Bluth visits prison to see his dad, who loudly hints that there is always money in the banana stand. Michael doesn't read between the lines, and he and his son burn down the family banana stand, the secret hiding spot for $250,000 in cash. 

Can you think of other examples of weapons or wealth?

Has someone ever hurt you with words?  Have you ever hurt someone with words?

Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

Thursday, April 25, 2013

World Building A to Z: Values

This month, I'm writing about world building and setting from stuff I've observed in stories. 

Values: Author Nathan Bransford points out the varying value systems that can come from different settings in a thought-provoking blog post, What Makes a Great Setting. 

I want to point out that sometimes the internal struggle of a character might stem from them either trying to adopt OR escape the values of their world.

In Anne Ylvisaker's THE LUCK OF THE BUTTONS, 12-year old Tugs is the only one suspicious of the stranger showing up in her Iowa town in 1929. The townspeople embrace the stranger for his charm and good looks; they easily accept his promise of bringing progress to the area. Unmoved by charisma, Tugs sees through the stranger's facade.  

In Claire Legrand's THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS, the stubborn and critical Victoria is forced into a boarding school where children are forced to give up the characteristics that make them individuals and become conformists instead.   

In Edith Wharton's THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, Newland Archer struggles with his socially acceptable decision to marry a girl with a clean reputation over giving into his own desires to pursue a "scandalized" woman. 

In THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, Andrea learns that in order to fit into her role as the editor's assistant at the fashion magazine, she has to immerse herself in the superficialities of the fashion scene.

In the movie, Schindler's List, Oscar Schindler strives to do the right thing during the Holocaust, a time in which doing the unspeakable and inhumane thing takes on an alarmingly disturbing  tone of normalcy.

In the TV show, Gossip Girl, the young adults of Manhattan's Upper East Side value of the notion of being regarded as relevant enough to be gossiped about, while aware that the gossip obstructs their relationships with others.

Can you share other examples where characters might struggle with the values of their world?

Have you ever been stuck in circumstances where your personal values didn't match the values of the environment you were in? 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

World Building A to Z: Utilities/ World Book Night Recap

This month, I'm sharing my observations on world building and setting from a variety of stories. 

Utilities: Sometimes when I watch action movies where heroes and heroines embark on car chases, jump off buildings, or fight off the bad guys, I might wonder when anyone ever has time to use the bathroom. When I imagine myself as the lead in an action movie, I'd like to at least wash my hands after serving the villain a knuckle sandwich (in self-defense, of course). Let's say my hot male sidekick* and I, the heroine, take down the bad guys after pulling an all-nighter; I'd prefer to brush my teeth first before we lean in for our Hollywood ending kiss. So while there are a lot of good action movies out there, it sometimes bugs me that people can't stop to use the bathroom if they're in one. 

In order for a story to be believable for me, I need to know how citizens of a world can access basic utilities, such as bathroom facilities, water, and heat.

At Hogwarts in the HARRY POTTER books, the bathrooms seem like the the kind of bathrooms you'd get in the Muggle world, although bathroom goers have to watch out for Myrtle, the moaning ghost, while they do their biz in the stalls.

In THE BOOK THIEF, Max uses an empty paint can to take care of his bathroom needs. He cleans himself with buckets of water before he is permitted to take baths in a tub. He could warm himself by a fire only at night.

Can you share other examples of bathrooms, water, and heat from stories?

*My hot male sidekick bears a striking resemblance to my husband.

I want to take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to mention that I was selected as a volunteer for World Book Night this year. For those of you who aren't familiar with World Book Night, this is an annual event where volunteers approach random people out in public and ask if they want a free book. The purpose of this event is to promote reading among those who aren't regular readers.

I picked up my books from my local Barnes & Noble last weekend, and yesterday evening, I gave away 20 books at a plaza near my house. The book I gave away was James Patterson's MIDDLE SCHOOL, THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE. To avoid lugging around a big box of books, I put the books in my baby's empty stroller and pushed the stroller around in the plaza.  (In case you're wondering where my children were, they were nice and comfy at home with my wonderful husband who was watching them while I was out giving away books.) 

"You want a free children's book?" I said to strangers at the plaza. "This book's about a boy who is really struggling to get through middle school."

Most of the people I approached were very cool, even those who didn't have or know a child to give the book to. I did come across a few frosty types, who might've assumed I was trying to sell something under the pretense of offering a free book, but thankfully, those people were in the minority.

Overall, the people I gave the books to were grateful. And it was gratifying to know that I was actively doing something to help promote literacy in my community.  

Any World Book Night volunteers out there? Would you consider participating in World Book Night next year? If so, bookmark this web page. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

World Building A to Z: Travel and Transportation

This month, it's all about world building and setting from different stories.

Travel and Transportation: Back in the Stone Age, one of the first computer games I've ever played was The Oregon Trail. The game takes place in the 1840s and the goal is to successfully lead a covered wagon with travel mates from Missouri to Oregon. What I remember about the game was that I had to ration my meals, hope that my companions didn't get sick and die, and see to it that my horses didn't gallop off a cliff. That sort of thing. My experience playing The Oregon Trail taught me about stuff to pay attention to when I write about travel and transportation in a story:

The Destination: Where do people want or need to travel to, and why?
The Transportation: What vehicle brings the traveler to the destination? 
The Costs and Risks: What is the cost and potential for loss that comes with the trip?

In Brodi Ashton's EVERNEATH, Nikki passes over being an immortal in the Everneath to return to the Surface where she could officially say good-bye to the boyfriend she left behind before she got sucked into the underworld. The black and smoky Shades, serving as transportation, lift Nikki out of the Everneath and drop her off at her neighborhood convenience store. The consequence Nikki faces for returning to her old life is that in six months, she'd be whisked off to the Tunnels, another version of hell.

In Tamara Ireland Stone's TIME BETWEEN US, Bennett travels from 2012 back in time to 1995 in search for someone close to him. His transportation is his time travel ability.  The risk he takes in going back into time is that he'd fall in love with Anna and then lose her when he returns to his own time. 

What are other things to consider when you're writing a story about a world that involves travel? 

Are there any books out there on time travel that you recommend?

Monday, April 22, 2013

World Building A to Z: Scores and Soundtracks

My theme for this month is world building and setting. I've been totally looking forward to  today's post. I love listening to music, especially movie scores, while I write. Here are some scores I like from stories told with distinctive world building and setting. Each song here fills me up in a different way from the other when I hear it.

From Spider-Man: Main Title by Danny Elfman

From The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe: The Battle by Harry Gregson Williams

From Life is Beautiful: Buon Giorno Principessa by Nicola Piovani

From Inception: Time by Hans Zimmer

What are your favorite scores/soundtracks from movies or TV?

Is there a song out there that you'd pick as the main theme or soundtrack for your WIP or for a day in your own life?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

World Building A to Z: Romance and Recreation

This month, I'm sharing my observations on world building and setting in a bunch of different stories. 

Romance: What are the norms of romance and courtship within a world? 

In the Shakespearean world of ROMEO AND JULIET, a boy can call for a girl outside her balcony at night. Depending on the suitor, I'd either find that sort of sweet or really creepy.

In the movie, The Lord of the Rings, Arwen gives away her pendant necklace to Aragorn. There is some debate online about whether Arwen is really giving away her immortality in that scene. Your thoughts, LOTR groupies?

In Amanda Hocking's SWITCHED, Wendy is a Trylle princess who is not allowed to hook up with any boy who could taint her royal bloodline. That means she can't be involved with Rhys, who's human, or Finn, who's a tracker. These rules make life hard for Wendy because Finn is her bodyguard and mentor, and the two are very attracted to each other. Sometimes the romantic interest and raging hormones are totally there, but rules, spoken or unspoken, might keep marked citizens from expressing their feelings for one another. Though sometimes rules get broken...  

Recreation:  What do people do for fun or sport? What do people's interests tell you about their world?

There's quiddich in HARRY POTTER, hunting in THE HUNGER GAMES, and battle simulations in ENDER'S GAME. 

In James Patterson's MIDDLE SCHOOL, THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE, Rafe entertains himself by embarking on a mission to break all the rules at his school. He sets off the campus fire alarm, misbehaves in class, and runs through school half-naked to earn "points." Rafe's mischievous behavior masks a boy who is struggling at school and at home.

What are other examples of romance or recreation in stories?

What is the most romantic thing someone has done for you, or vice versa? 

What do you do for fun when you're not writing or blogging?

Friday, April 19, 2013

World Building A to Z: Quotes

This month, I'm sharing stuff I've seen in a bunch of stories that shed light on world building and setting. 

Quotes: I often see author quotes floating around to motivate and inspire. Today I'm going to spotlight quotes found in stories shared by characters. The following quotes reveal an aspect about the world the character is a part of.

On why it's perfectly okay if no one knows who you are after you get published: “I am your number one fan.” -Annie Wilkes in MISERY by Stephen King

On war and combat: "I've seen so many young men over the years who think they're running at other men. They are not. They're running at me."  -Death in THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak

On the beginning of the end:  “That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary." -Offred in THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood 

On standing up to condescending older siblings:  "I am not a pest." -Ramona to her sister Beezus in RAMONA THE PEST by Beverly Cleary

On recognizing there's such a thing as faking pretty: "I wasn't even one of the unpretty girls who passes as pretty through effort and association." -Lee in PREP by Curtis Sittenfeld

On doing the right thing versus the easy thing:  “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." 

What are your favorite quotes in stories?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

World Building A to Z: Privilege and Marginalization

This month, I'm writing about the stuff I've noticed in world building and setting from a bunch of different stories. 

Privilege and Marginalization:  Just because someone is privileged in an area, it doesn't automatically mean this person marginalizes others. And just because someone comes from less privileged circumstances, it doesn't necessarily mean that their background is what's holding them back. But sometimes those with privilege can marginalize others, and sometimes those who have been marginalized can marginalize others too. I will explore these concepts today.

In Curtis Sittenfield's PREP, the privileged are the adolescent children of wealthy parents attending an elite boarding school. The marginalized are those that these uppity adolescents look down on- other students, blue collar cafeteria wait staff, and even teachers. The slur used among students to judge those they deem inferior to them is "LMC," which stands for lower middle class.

In Judy Blume's BLUBBER, the privileged are the fifth-grade kids who are part of the clique led by mean girl Wendy, and the marginalized is Linda. The kids give Linda the nickname Blubber, and they find ways to torment and humiliate her throughout the story. Interestingly enough, once Linda joins the clique, she doesn't mind seeing someone else being bullied.  

In Gene Luen Yang's AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, the privileged are those regarded by the mainstream eye to be pure-blooded Americans. The marginalized are those who are mocked for physical features considered "foreign," such as Americans with Chinese heritage. 

In Kathryn Stockett's THE HELP, set in the 1960s, the privileged are the white, affluent housewives of Jackson, Mississippi. Some of these housewives mistreat and discriminate against their African American maids by not allowing them to use the bathroom in the homes they work in, for example. 

In her memoir, THE GLASS CASTLE, author Jeannette Walls recalls her childhood as a lonely white girl at an public school in West Virginia where a group of minority girls single her out for verbal and physical bullying. Here, Jeannette is the one being marginalized. 

In Downton Abbey, the privileged are the aristocrats, and the less privileged are the servants. Usually, the servants are treated fairly. But sometimes there are jerks, like the Duke of Crowborough, who feels he doesn't have to apologize to the servants for entering their quarters unannounced because they are just servants. The Duke also cruelly casts aside Thomas the footman, his secret lover. Though we should feel bad for Thomas, take note that Thomas has bullied other servants. Those who have experienced marginalization are fully capable of marginalizing others, even those within their own group. 

Can you think of other examples in stories where privilege and marginalization is demonstrated?

Have you ever been aware of a time when you were experiencing privilege or marginalization?
Photo credit: PBS

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

World Building A to Z: Oddities and Origins

This month, I'm writing about stuff I've seen in world building and setting from different stories.

Oddities: The things that members of a world regard as oddities tell what is considered normal, and what isn't. How members of a world regard something or someone that is considered unusual also tells you something about the world.

Back in junior high, I saw part of the movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy, in a class. I still remember when the glass bottle fell out of from a flying plane, and how tribespeople cherished this bottle and the uses they created for it. Then the people began to feel jealous and upset when they didn't have use of the bottle. The oddity that was, at first, treated as a gift from the gods became a nuisance because the tribespeople began fighting over it. A tribesman throws the bottle into the sky to return it to the gods, but without success. 

In Downton Abbey, the upcoming visit of Cora's American mother, Martha, prompts Violet to think aloud, "When I'm with her, I'm reminded of the virtues of the English."  In the world of old school English aristocrats, a wealthy American woman is considered the oddity. And you see how Martha is regarded as such when she arrives at Downton Abbey. 

Origins: Natalie Whipple writes a blog post titled Building A Place where she mentions the idea of sharing the settlers' origins to describe a place. Natalie writes: 

"It can be interesting to figure out/learn why people settled an area in the first place. Did that desert town spring up because of trade? Or because the people who founded it were persecuted and had to find a place people wouldn't bother them? These reasons can greatly influence the culture of a place and give a sense of believability if it all works together."

In THE LOVELY BONES, Susie herself dies when she is brutally murdered by a neighbor. In her heaven, she meets two other characters- there's Franny, the counselor, once a social worker working in a church that helped women. A man looking for his wife shot her. There's Flora, a little girl who was killed by the man who killed Susie. Susie also meet other females, females who died from male-inflicted violence, whose personal heavens intersect. So the theme of grief and healing was part of the culture of these females' personal heavens.

In Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, the characters are invited to an island. Shortly after they arrive, the inhabitants learn that the common thread tying them all together is that each of them have been directly or indirectly linked to a murder that they'd gotten away with. One by one, the inhabitants are mysteriously killed, and the surviving characters' paranoia and fear come to the surface on this vacation from hell. 

Can you think of other examples of oddities and origins in stories?

What do you consider an oddity in your own world?

Photo credit: PBS

Monday, April 15, 2013

World Building A to Z: News and Propaganda

This month, I'm sharing my observations on world building and setting from a bunch of different stories. 

News and propaganda: First, a disclaimer: I am involved in the local news media; I enjoy learning about others and sharing about stuff happening in my community. I find that media folk in fiction are frequently portrayed as being cutthroat and fake, and they have an I'll-say-anything-to-get-ratings-or-readers kind of mentality. While there could be some media personalities out there who foster these negative stereotypes, I must say that I'm not one of them!

I find that the way news and propaganda are portrayed in a story can shed light on two things about the collective consciousness of a world: 

1. The public opinion on a given topic

2. The mainstream public's fears

A group's collective opinion or fears are not necessarily grounded in thinking that is fair or unbiased. The sentiments people have on a variety of topics are oftentimes shaped by their perception of the world around them.

In Emma Donaghue's ROOM, Ma goes through a horrendous ordeal of being kidnapped and imprisoned by her captor and rapist for years. During this time, she gives birth to a child; the story is told from this five year-old boy's perspective. BOOK SPOILER AHEAD--please scroll over the text for the next group of  lines if you don't mind reading what happens --- Ma is rescued, and she and her child become free. Then, a news reporter peppers Ma with accusatory questions, loudly suggesting between the lines that Ma has not done enough to give a better life to the child she had given birth to during her imprisonment. 

In ROOM, while it appears that those who judge Ma are in the minority, the news reporter's questions represent the sentiments of those in our contemporary world who blame and find fault with females who have been victimized.

A book that spotlights the effect government propaganda has on its people is Markus Zusak's THE BOOK THIEF. This YA novel takes place in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. The book shows how Hitler's propaganda spread by his ability to use words to influence others. With words, he exploited the fears and insecurities one demographic had by scapegoating another demographic. It's frightening to think how it had only taken words, spoken with conviction by a charismatic leader, to enable the horrors suffered by the Jews during World War II. In THE BOOK THIEF, a German family refuses to let the propaganda influence them;  they risk their livelihood to hide a Jewish man in their home. 

Can you think of other examples of news media or government propaganda in stories?

Now that we've seen in our history the horrors that can occur from the blind acceptance of hate-based propaganda, do you think people are more adept at rejecting such propaganda today?  Why or why not?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

World Building A to Z: Magic and Magicians

This month I'm spotlighting things I've seen in world building and setting from different stories. 

I encourage world builders to check out the world building guide on the web site for Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Patricia C. Wrede devotes an entire section to magic and magicians.  I'm sharing a couple of Patricia's points/questions with my examples:              

Patricia asks:  Can anyone become a wizard, or does one need to be born with some special talent or gift? How long does it take to learn magic?
Sometimes magic can be accessed by "anyone." Take Max from Maurice Sendak's WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. This everyday boy making mischief tames the beasts "with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes."

Magic can be learned. Hogwarts, anyone? In the world of HARRY POTTER, those who do not have wizard parents, such as Hermione, can still be capable of learning and practicing magic while squibs, who have magic in their genes, can't access it. 

Sometimes magic simply comes to the one who is in possession of an object. For Mickey Mouse in Fantasia's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," the mouse has access to magical powers when he borrows his master's hat. 

Patricia asks: Are there magical artifacts (rings, swords, etc.)? If so, who makes them and how? 
There's the invisibility cloak in Harry Potter. We also have the coveted ring in J.R.R. Tolkien's THE HOBBIT. In THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, the wardrobe that transports the children to Narnia is a magical artifact.  One of my favorite picture books from childhood is William Steig's SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE. Imagine owning a pebble that could grant all your wishes. Unfortunately, Sylvester makes a wish without thinking and turns himself into a rock. 

Author Jennifer R. Hubbard wrote a post on her blog about the rules of the paranormal world in Things to consider in paranormal novels. Jennifer asks: 
"If you write the kind of paranormal book where characters have special powers, what limits do you place on those powers?"
Jennifer goes on to suggest a few things, including how the magic might only be effective within a certain range, there could be a cost to practicing magic, and  the magic user might have vulnerabilities.

I found Jennifer's points reflected in Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, a story about a boy who is raised by ghosts in a graveyard, Bod could only Fade when he is not being closely watched. While he has access to the magic of the ghosts, Bod's use of the magic makes him stand out, and he is forced to leave his school because of this. Despite Bod's sophistication, his knowledge of magic doesn't help him recognize the man who murdered his family.

What are other things to consider when you bring magic and magicians into your story?

What are your favorite stories about magic?

If you found a magic pebble that could grant wishes, what would you wish for?

Friday, April 12, 2013

World Building A to Z: Language, Lingo, and Legal System

This month, I'm sharing stuff I've seen that reflect on world building and setting. A vanilla cupcake topped with chocolate frosting to Arlee Bird and the folks at Blogging from A to Z 

Language: When it comes to language, I've noticed a lot of references to Latin in stories with world building. In China Mieville's UN LUN DUN, there is a pons absconditus (hidden bridge), the Unbrellissimo (extreme unbrella- yes, I know-it's spelled with an the letter n in the book) and abcity (away from the city).   Having studied Latin back in high school, I can tell you that many words from this ancient language have found its way into a variety of present-day languages. When a writer refers to an ancient language in his work, they might be hinting at how old the civilization of this world is. 

Another thing I've noticed in a lot of stories with solid settings are allusions to Greek mythology. These allusions hint at plot and character motivations . I'm not referring to stories about Greek myth, such as Rick Riordan's THE LIGHTNING THIEF. I'm referring to stories where names and other titles of things from Greek myth are woven into the story:  Planet Pandora in the movie Avatar, Hercule Poirot in the Agatha Christie mysteries, Diana Prince in Wonder Woman, the unseen hand of Aphrodite in the movie Mighty Aphrodite, the teen protagonist in the movie Juno, and the mission in the movie Apollo 13 (disclaimer: I haven't seen this film). There are also tons of references to Greek myth in HARRY POTTER- Professor Minerva McGonagall and Narcissa Malfoy, for example.

Lingo: Knowing the lingo of a world can also come in handy. In THE HANDMAID'S TALE, a Handmaid, Guardian, Eye, Commander, and Aunt don't mean the same things as they might mean in our world. As do a Shade, Forfeit, Feed, Surface, and Tunnels in Brodi Ashton's EVERNEATH. 

Let's take a look at what are considered slurs or derogatory labels in other worlds: a mud-blood in HARRY POTTER, alien in JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE, and a stiff in DIVERGENT, to name a few. And we know these are slurs based on the reactions of those who hear them. Slurs can spotlight groups within a world that have encountered marginalization. (I will do a post on marginalization later, so stay tuned.)

Legal system: A legal system involves law, enforcers of the law, and punishment.

An example of law: In Neal Schusterman's UNWIND, the law allows parents to have their children unwound so that their body parts and organs can "live on" in other bodies. The law also allows parents to "stork" their children by leaving them outside a home.

An example of enforcers of the law: Imagine a world like that of CATCHING FIRE where peace keepers can shoot an innocent person to death for whistling a song. 

An example of punishment: In Nathaniel Hawthorne's THE SCARLET LETTER, Hester Pyrne must wear a scarlet A, a visible emblem of her sin whenever she leaves the house. If I ever become a fashion designer, my label would be called Scarlet A. I called it here first!

What are other examples of references to Greek mythology in stories? How about Latin or lingo? 

Can you think of examples of the legal system in stories?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

World Building A to Z: Kissing and Social Gestures

This month, I'm sharing my observations of world building and setting in stories. 

Kissing: Is kissing a public or private affair? In the movie Avatar, Jake and the Na'vi princess kiss when they are alone. Here, we have an awww....we-might-be-different-but-we-are-really-the-same kind of moment. Still, I'd been hoping she would pull away and say, "Here on Pandora, we bite at each other's noses when we're into someone." 

Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

Social Gestures: What are the social gestures- either in body language or behavior- of a world, and what do they mean? In THE HUNGER GAMES, District 12 folk bring their three inside fingers to their lips and then hold out their hand as a way to show thanks, admiration, and/or to say good-bye. In Alexandre Dumas' THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, Edmond, disguised as the Count, refuses food when he attends a society function at his enemy's house. The Count doesn't publicly call out his enemy for framing him for treason and announce he is plotting revenge- an outburst like this could end up in Page Six. But refusing the food is the Count's quiet way of expressing that he is no friend of the host. 

Should locking lips be the universal gesture for romantic affection in all worlds?

Can you think of other social gestures you've seen in stories?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

World Building A to Z: Jobs

This month, I'm sharing my observations about world building and setting from different stories.

Jobs: The jobs that exist in a world tell you what types of goods, services, or entertainment are sought after. What kind of training or knowledge is required to fill a certain job?  Which jobs come with prestige or stigma? 

Here are a few jobs I have come across in stories:
Surgeon or nurse from Neal Shusterman's UNWIND 
Job requirements: Must be comfortable with disassembling live children to harvest organs, limbs, and other parts. 

Job requirements: Must be female and fertile. A desire to stay alive is useful.

Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher in HARRY POTTER books
Job requirements: Must not be aligned with the Dark Arts. Should demonstrate basic proficiency in practicing what you are teaching. Should expect to remain in this job for only one school year.

Gossip Girl from the TV show Gossip Girl
Job requirements: Must possess a witty online presence. Show savviness with spreading rumors. A love/hate relationship with citizens of the Upper East Side is preferred.

Takeda, the revenge mentor, from the TV show Revenge
Job requirements: Must be proficient in the art of scheming. Must have ability to train clients to be ruthless and physically and mentally resilient. Occasional travel to America to masquerade as a tycoon is required. 

Dream architect from the movie Inception
Job requirements: Must be able to work while you sleep. Can comfortably commit a violent suicide to wake up. Must show a can-do attitude with handling challenging situations, like being stuck in Limbo forever. Should demonstrate problem solving abilities during an assignment to plant an idea in someone's head.

Can you think of other unusual jobs in books, on TV, or in the movies? 

Have you ever had an unusual job?