Using Terrain Features in Story

Terrain refers to the horizontal and vertical surfaces of the land. It is often spoken of in terms of elevation, slope and the orientation of particular land features. Depending upon certain circumstances, terrain can affect the flow of water, where bodies of water are located and in what quantity. It can even affect weather and climate.

Suitability for human life is determined by terrain. Picture a large swath of desert and a high rocky crag. How difficult would it be for people to sustain life in such terrains? What people wear, eat and how they construct dwellings is determined by terrain.

Your task is to write a story in a challenging terrain. You might have to do some research first to get ideas about how difficult it would be to live there. Your story can be science fiction or contemporary. It can take place in the past or in the future.

The important thing is to choose a terrain that may not be the most hospitable. Don’t rely on exposition to tell the story: have characters interacting with each other as they navigate survival.

Have fun with this one.

Names are Important

            Selecting character names is an art form that requires consideration. Good names help readers keep characters sorted out. For example, let’s say that Anna and Ann have significant roles. The names are almost identical, causing confusion for the writer and reader alike.

            Begin by researching names popular during the time period and location in which your story takes place. Shawnia is a great name for a woman from the south, but not back before the Civil War. Genre is another factor that comes into play. Fantasy novels utilize names that sound a bit exotic and unusual, while romance novels call for names that imply sexuality and attraction.

            Spelling and pronunciation are important as well. A name might look good, but when said aloud, it becomes an awkward tongue twister. Consider nicknames. Robert might be Bobby or Bob or Bubba, meaning that you can’t have all three in the same story.

            Your task is to create a list that includes first, last and nicknames for at least five characters. Examine the names looking for similarities, such as the same number of syllables, the same letters or initials, and if it seems realistic. Go online and research names that were popular during the setting of your story. Did you include them on your list? Look into the meanings of names. For example, Christopher might not be the best name for a villain, or could it? And, choose easy to remember names that are distinguishable from others in your world.

            Choose two of your characters and write a scene in which they interact. Reread, searching for confusion, repetition and similarities. If you find them, consider changing one of the names.

            Have fun with this one.

Awareness of Cultural Appropriation in Story

            Previously authors wrote in characters from other cultures with little thought other than adding diversity to their stories. Stories with men wearing turbans added an element of mystique, as did bringing in traveling gypsies who were thought to “steal” children and dabble with the occult.

            In today’s world we have to be aware that it may not be appropriate to borrow the ideas, symbols and artifacts of individuals outside of our own. Cultural appropriation can be contentious when a writer of a dominant culture includes characters who have been subjected to prejudice in terms of social, political, economic and military status. This is especially true when there has been a history of ethnic or racial conflict.

                What should a writer do? First of all, examine the reasons why you want to include a character from a culture other than her own. If the writer is looking to represent these cultures, perhaps that’s not a valid reason. Instead, decide if in the story, characters will be living in a society that reflects the realities of the world.

            Your task is to write a story that includes a character from outside your own culture. Decide what role this character will play from the perspective if it’s necessary for the story arc. You might want to do some research into how people of that culture eat, dress, speak. Do these factors affect story plot? If not, then rethink why you need this character to do.

            Be sensitive, but enjoy the experience.

            Have fun with this one.

Setting Changes Affect Story

            You’ve outlined your setting including research into what it was like way back when. If lucky, you visited the cities and are familiar with buildings, streets and plants. Your plot takes the character all over that environment, in and out of predicaments determined by geographical elements.

            Have you taken into consideration how time changes the setting? Does it snow in winter, pour in the spring and roast in the summer? Is there only one season because the story is set on a planet, far, far away? If the setting changes/doesn’t change, how does this affect story?

            A time traveler might have to find clothes if they’re dropped into a winter landscape. Perhaps the desert figures significantly in the story as your character rides a camel over dunes. However, what if the story never changes location: it’s always in the same city, the same house, the same neighborhood? Change still has to take place.

            Your task is to write a story in which significant changes in setting occur that affect plot. Begin by listing those elements that would most likely happen based upon where you’ve chosen to set the scene. For example, during the length of the story will seasons change? Will a catastrophic weather event destroy homes, streets, lives?

            Once you’ve chosen the changes that can logically be incorporated into your story, begin writing. Remember to include details so that readers can “see” the changes both in nature and in terms of how the changes affect your character’s thoughts and actions.

            Have fun with this one.

The Practice of Alchemy

            Alchemists attempted to purify, mature and create certain substances that were believed to grant certain powers. Changing lessor metals into more valuable ones, such as the magical transformation of base metals into gold was one of the more popular experiments. They also worked to create elixirs to alleviate illnesses and maladies, find the secret to longevity.

            Because alchemists worked in secrecy and guarded their research, they were often thought to be working magic through the use of mythology and religious beliefs. They recorded findings in cryptic languages that needed a code to decipher. As researchers explore the roots and history of alchemy, they have begun to tie together those ancient beliefs with the foundation of modern day science and theology.

            Your task is to imagine a world in which alchemy plays an important role. Perhaps your protagonist is the alchemist, working hard in a secret location to be the first to discover the elixir for everlasting life. What does she do? Where is her secret place? Who does she share her ideas with and why with only those individuals.

            Maybe your protagonist is the adventurer who is searching for the lost histories of alchemists. Where does she go? Who does she rely on in her search? What happens to her along the way?

            Enrich your story with details that add depth to the world. Use dialogue to reveal interpersonal relationships and narration to move the plot along. Change pace. Slow things down when danger is arising and speed things up when your character is fleeing.

            Have fun with this one.

The Sports Enthusiast

            Do you know someone who is really passionate and excited about sports? Does she watch anything that pops up on television and follow a variety of teams and players? Would you find him out on the court or field or match or bowling alley whenever he has a spare minute?

            True aficionados would watch anything from bull fighting to golf, from the beginning to the day to the end. All day long scores and statistics fill the house. She sits on the couch with eyes glued to the screen for fear of missing the putt, the finish line, the strike. With bowls of food at hand and a cooler next to the chair, she is prepared for the day.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character is a huge fan of sports. Perhaps it’s an all-consuming love that surpasses time with family and friends. Maybe he has set a goal to visit every professional baseball stadium, soccer match or golf course, even those in other countries.

            Think of the adventures, the disasters, the excitement, the relationships to be told. Your character might have a family that shares the love or feels neglected by the overwhelming amount of time spent glued to the television. Drama enfolds in the form of conflict driven by dialogue and action.

            Have fun with this one.

Story Pacing Affects Plot Development

            How fast a story unfolds is controlled by pacing. It is what determines the appeal of a story to its varied audience. For example, some readers want lots of events taking place right at the beginning, and to continue throughout the story. Other readers like the intrigue when obstacles and reactions take place over time. Because pacing affects atmosphere and tone, there are times when a period of concentrated action is needed to provide the conflict and tension that makes a story interesting.

            An adventure novel should revolve around a series of action-packed events while a psychological thriller should be gripping as clues arise as characters react to what’s happening.

            How do you control pacing? The length of a given scene is one way. A long scene will slow down how often something important occurs, while a short scene that includes dialogue and action speeds things up. The period of time that elapses within a scene also impacts pace. If the story is long, the characters will age. This is what differentiates an epic from a short story.

            Your task is to write a story employing a fast pace. Make things happen, keep the characters moving, include tension and conflict. Then rewrite the story slowing down the pace. Use lots of narrative sentences. Allow time to pass, second by second, at a measured pace.

            When finished, reread each version, looking to see which pacing technique works best.

            Have fun with this one.

Sappy Love Story

           Some of us are suckers for a good tear-fest. Even though we know that, at the end, the couple will realize they are deeply in love, our hearts still melt at the closing scene. We’ve followed their trajectory, the ups and downs of their relationship, the friends and family who pull them apart or push them together, and ride the roller coaster of emotions.

            Despite their predictability romance stories are immensely popular. In olden days the characters were heterosexual lily-white uncomplicated people without a criminal past. Today’s readers want people that look, think and feel like them.

            Your task is to write a romance story. When you choose your characters think about what readers are looking for. If you are comfortable with diverse characters, then put them in the lead.

            The characters meet, but is it love at first sight or do complications arise? Readers like the give and take of relationships, so conflict is necessary. Perhaps they share a good moment which is ruined by something stupid said or done.

            Make your story compelling. Draw in your readers with an inciting incident and then hold them spellbound as they wait for that final moment.

            Have fun with this one.

Flora and Fauna in Setting

            The terms flora and fauna refer to the plants and animals of a particular place at a particular time and are dependent upon the specific region, climate and time period. These environments could be grasslands, redwood forest or savannah.

            Native flora refers to those plants that are to the area. They grow without human help or cultivation. Another category is horticultural flora, plants grown for food or consumption. One example is the giant redwood tree found in Northern California and can range in age from 800 to 1500 years old. A variety of birds and animals life there. 

Another type of plant is found in the deserts of Angola,  one with large leaves that wilt during dry times and swell when there are rains.

            Likewise fauna falls into similar categories. Animals live above and under water, in deserts and in rainforests. They can be tiny creatures like protozoans and large like elephants. They exist in artic tundras and in coral reefs. Specific types of birds must have environments conducive to their life. Same is true for all animals, big and small.

            Your task is to define a setting by its flora and fauna. Make two lists, one for each. If necessary, research what would grow/live in the environment that you are considering. After your list is complete, think of a way that the elements influence story. For example, tusk hunters kill elephants in order to make money to survive. Squirrels remove nuts and fruits from trees before humans can harvest them. Deer eat flowers and leaves.

            Write a story in which flora and fauna play an important role.

            Have fun with this one.

Rebellion

            Imagine a scenario where the citizens are upset with the ruling power. They’ve been tortured, imprisoned, forced to work in unsafe conditions and have little to eat. There is no hope for improvement as long as the current leaders are in power.

            Attempts to negotiate have repeatedly failed. Rumor has it that an assassination is in the works, so armed military patrols the streets. It’s a dire situation.

            Many stories have been written using this scenario as a base for sowing discord. Given a chance to write the story, how would yours differ?

            Your task is to develop a scene in which rebellion is looming. Is it coming within the ranks of the aristocracy or from the peasants? Is it in a single city or throughout the empire? Who is leading the rebellion?  Disenfranchised royals? Defecting soldiers?

            What is the desired result and who would step up and be in charge assuming the rebellion is successful? What changes would be enacted, and would those be acceptable to all?

            How many would die and what weapons would be used? Does magic come into play?

            There are many things to consider to make this story stand out.

            Have fun with this one.