Get Back Up Again: Why Staying Physically Healthy Is Important for Creativity

No one likes getting sick. Okay, maybe there are some people, especially if it gets them out of responsibilities – school, work, you name it. But the hardest thing to do after recovering is getting back up and going with the flow again, doing your best to catch up and fulfilling obligations that you’ve neglected because you were physically unable to. It shouldn’t be too hard if you had all the time in the world, or if no one relied on your work output. But the world doesn’t stop for people who get sick, which makes illness rather problematic.

The “real world” aside, getting sick is also problematic when it comes to working on your creative projects. You may already have hit that gold vein, may have found a lot of interesting things to fuel your fiction, and maybe you’re already on a roll. But then comes a rather debilitating illness that forces you away from your laptop, or your tablet, or what have you. Basically, you’re away from your keyboard for a few days, and perhaps during those few days you’re thinking about what you’re going to do when you recover. If you recover. Finally, that fated day comes, and you’re allowed to get back to your normal routine. Except when you sit in front of your laptop, and look at the documents you had to leave hanging for a while, nothing comes. The jolt of inspiration that should have built up over the past few and pretty much unproductive days is not there, and you’re left confused.

It’s a problem that a lot of people experience, but for those who are in touch of their creative side, getting back into the groove can be more difficult. Creative work already involves touching a certain mindset, and one already struggles with that kind of work even without illness. Meanwhile, recovering from an illness just makes it all the more difficult, because the body is still not strong enough to let you pay attention to your creative project. You may have heard of artists engaging in unhealthy habits to get that creative mindset running, but go overboard and you may not be able to get that mindset running, at all.

So what am I getting at? It’s important to stay healthy. Whether it’s your eating habits, or sleeping habits – and both are questionable things, where a lot of famous artists are concerned – make sure that you’re getting the right amount of sleep or the right kinds of food. Junk is easy to eat, sure, but it pays to eat the right food. Among other things, of course. Find time to get away from your keyboard for a few minutes to an hour a day, maybe have some exercise – and exercise will help, because physical activity will help get the mind running. There’s no problem getting back to your creative project after a quarter or a half-hour of work out, compared to getting back to work after you get sick.

Finally, as much as you’re making a habit of writing a lot, make it a habit to follow physical work-out or healthy eating habits. You might be surprised at how these will all work together to help you actually deal with your creative work.

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Myth Madness: Books On Myths and Legends That You Should Experience

Myths and legends make up a good chunk of any nation’s cultural foundation. We’ve got the Norse myths, the Greek myths, Japanese creation myths, Egyptian myths, among many others. Everyone’s familiar with at least some of the members of the Greek pantheon, and certainly you must have, at the very least, heard of Egypt’s Ra. Marvel, in particular, has assimilated Norse deities Loki and Thor in its pop culture hero ensemble, along with heroes like The Hulk. Then, of course, there’s the ever-present, all-powerful, and legendary Disney, whose magical work over the decades include retellings of myths like Hercules. With a more kid-friendly, good-versus-bad, good-triumphs-over-bad approach, of course.

Why all these retellings and borrowings? It’s because myths, as they are, are timeless. There’s a lot of material buried underneath a culture’s myth-and-legend structure, and of course it’s always interesting to find out how a certain culture explains the creation of the world and of other things, through the lens of stories either written or passed down. I’ve been very much interested in myths myself, primarily of the Western sort, and have decided to list down a few pieces of fiction that one who is interested in myths should experience. I’m also going to be toeing a blurry line here. But to lay down a more concrete idea of what I mean by myths and legends, I will be quoting the website “Myths and Legends” for definitions.

A legend is:

a semi-true story, which has been passed on from person-to-person and has important meaning or symbolism for the culture in which it originates. A legend usually includes an element of truth, or is based on historic facts, but with ‘mythical qualities’. Legends usually involve heroic characters or fantastic places and often encompass the spiritual beliefs of the culture in which they originate.

A myth, meanwhile is:

a story based on tradition or legend, which has a deep symbolic meaning. A myth ‘conveys a truth’ to those who tell it and hear it, rather than necessarily recording a true event. Although some myths can be accounts of actual events, they have become transformed by symbolic meaning or shifted in time or place. Myths are often used to explain universal and local beginnings and involve supernatural beings. The great power of the meaning of these stories, to the culture in which they developed, is a major reason why they survive as long as they do – sometimes for thousands of years.

Okay so far? Alright. Here’s my list, and why they should be read/watched/played (whichever is applicable):

  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman. One of Neil Gaiman’s heftier works, certainly, though no less entertaining than his short stories and other novels. It isn’t my favorite of Gaiman’s works (that spot is taken – perhaps permanently – by Neverwhere) but it paints an interesting picture of a battle between the old and the new, beliefs long forgotten and newly-formed faiths, with a smattering of pop culture references here and there. Where does the myth fit into this? The myth seeps in everywhere. Odin, Anubis, Thoth, Anansi – just some of the mythical figures from different cultures all over the world. African, Norse, Egyptian, it’s there. And Gaiman blends it all into an interesting, compelling roadtrip.
  • The Mabinogion. I’m probably blurring a few lines here. The Mabinogion is a collection of Welsh prose tales, with the central tales revolving around a figure known as Pryderi. Welsh – well, Celtic – belief involved putting a lot of premium in the Otherworld and the supernatural, and The Mabinogion demonstrates Welsh interest of the setting through the prose tales. There’s also a lot of interesting stuff going on: dead bodies reanimated after being thrown into a magical cauldron, a man striking a deal with a figure from the Otherworld, and a woman being accused of killing her own son. The Mabinogion also contains early versions of the Arthurian legends, with the stories themselves revolving not around Arthur, but around The Mabinogion’s version of the Knights of the Round Table.
  • Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. Of course, we are all familiar with the legend of King Arthur. Disney made The Sword in the Stone, a movie about young Arthur/Wart. Then there’s also the TV show Merlin. Lord Tennyson wrote the cycle of narrative poems, Idylls of the King, which retells the legend of Arthur. T.H. White wrote The Once and Future King, which is about Arthur (and White’s own beliefs, injected in the narrative). It goes without saying that the Arthurian legend has touched pretty much everything, but it’s interesting to look at one of the most influential foundational works about the legend. Le Morte d’Arthur collected the loose pieces of the Arthurian legend, and tried to make the entire thing into one cohesive narrative. There are a lot of translations, of course, and you’re free to choose which translation/version of Le Morte d’Arthur you’d like to read.
  • Mythology by Edith Hamilton. A no-brainer, of course. Hamilton’s Mythology is one of the most popular pieces on Greek myths – and Norse – to date, with Hamilton having painstakingly collected all the important stories (and there are a lot) and put them in one volume. I like to think of this as the Le Morte d’Arthur of Greek myth, and it’s certainly more recent a collection compared to Malory’s, but it does what Malory did for the Arthurian legend. That is, create a comprehensive, categorized, coherent collection (as coherent as Greek myth can be, that is) on Greek and Norse myth.
  • Celtic Myths and Legends by. T.W. Rolleston. A personal favorite of mine. Published in 1911, Rolleston collects myths and legends from Britain – that is, Wales, Ireland, England – and intersperses these short, condensed narratives with commentary and information on the Celtic culture.

There’s definitely a ton more on myths and legends that you should read. Fairytale and folktale collections should be right up your alley if you’re interested. I’ve deliberately left out the Eastern variety, as I don’t think I’ve read enough of the myths and legends from those places to be able to draw up a mildly interesting list.

I wonder, though. What are your favorite books on myths and legends, and why?

 

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Artificial Nature: On Jungles, Concrete, and the Modern Days in Literature

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to read Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. Written and published just as the twentieth century was settling in, it talks about the titular secret agent, Adolf Verloc, and the landscape of a pre-twentieth century London, where anarchists plan to attack the Greenwich Observatory to make a statement. Needless to say, things go haywire, and people who are not supposed to die, die. Within The Secret Agent, we have a character known only by the title of “assistant commissioner,” who, at some point in the book, treats the book’s London – a London at the cusp of the modern, industrial age – walks around viewing the city environment as a jungle in the classic, leafy woodland sense.

Meanwhile, I’ve had the privilege to procure copies of J.G. Ballard’s works – from the science fiction post-apocalyptic debut The Drowned World, to the (in)famous Crash, and even The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard. I have yet to finish Crash and its companion piece, Concrete Island, but I’m aware of what they are about. Concrete Island, in particular, as a riff on Robinson Crusoe and the classic adventure tale of getting marooned on a desert island.

You’d have to read the books I’ve mentioned yourself, I’d say, but I’d like to point out an idea. Months ago, in my class’s discussion of The Secret Agent, the idea that we’re basically in a loop came up. “Old problems with new solutions,” basically. The general perception is that hundreds, thousands of years ago, humanity was rooted in nature and problems were rooted in nature, and that today we’re technologically advanced, certainly, and much more civilized, and it’s easier to find something to eat because we don’t have to worry about getting speared through by our prey’s tusks. Architecture and man-made things dominate the urban landscape, and “nature” – that is, trees, greens, shrubs – exists in order to fill in the gaps in the concrete. For display.

But how different is the manufactured, concrete landscape from nature, in how we perceive it? These days, we live in “urban jungles,” civilization working on the veneer of advancement on all fronts – technology, society, government – but under the surface, wouldn’t you say man can still be beast, that the geometric, shiny surfaces of office buildings polished to a fault as “natural” now to the working urban human as trees and caves were to the cavemen?

What’s my point? My point is that these are ideas that literature posits. The Secret Agent, Crash, Concrete Island – they’re just some of the pieces that can do this. Challenging the normal, general perception of daily life – especially Ballard’s works, as they’re more appropriate, I suppose, given our time frame, our own age – by making what we know as part of our mornings and evenings as strange, wild, jungle-like and formidable, is one of the things that literature does. It may sound as if I’m shoehorning a point in a patchwork of premises in literary pieces decades old, but I’d say there is truth to this. Literature challenges expectations and destroys perceptions, which makes it succeed, precisely because what we choose not to question will be held up in front of us, maybe punch us in the face.

Meanwhile, yes, you might want to read the books I’ve mentioned, and see for yourself how the modern world is treated, and what themes are tackled. The ideas might fester under your skin, and you might be better off having them there.

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Knowing When to Reject Yourself

A friend once told me about a short story he had been writing. He’d had the piece revised over and over, no doubt had invested a lot of time just writing it, and was incredibly – and reasonably – proud of it. But he brought the piece over to a group of friends who happen to be writers, and they – so he told me – crushed the piece and left it bloody. When he was telling me about it, he looked understandably forlorn and frustrated, but relieved to have a group of honest, critical people, who were willing to tell the truth about his piece. Which was that it wasn’t working for them.

Rejection is a reality, and it will hurt if your piece gets rejected. Different people have different tastes, and constructive criticism comes from people whose views don’t gel perfectly in harmony with yours, and therefore may have different ideas on what ‘good’ writing is. I realize that ‘good’ is hardly a helpful word when it comes to trying to place your work on a spectrum of quality, but different people have different ideas of what ‘good’ is, and what you think is good may not be what good is for others. So you think what you’ve written, worked hard on, and nurtured, is good. Great, even. But then you get friends to read it and they just turn it over and inside out, and you’re left hurting.

The reality is that yes, it’s probably not as good as you think. The thing with getting someone to read your work is that you’re asking – maybe even begging – for criticism, and if someone invests enough time, energy, and critical thought into putting your piece through a workshop, then you should at least be ready to consider what they’re saying. Often, critics – even if they’re just your friends – are ready with a sharp tongue and a careful eye, pointing out the holes and the cracks in a piece you’ve worked so hard on you’ve become blind to them. And you must be ready for the criticism, because – and especially if you consider the important things they say, and not take them personally – it will help you improve. Perhaps you might want to get back to that piece. Perhaps you might want to write a new one. But the bottomline is that getting criticism is important.

Now, if you’re like my friend, whose work, it seems, wasn’t simply just critiqued, but aborted, then that’s another level of difficulty right there. My friend had a hard time accepting it, of course. But it pays to know, accept, and even look at that kind of rejection as a blessing. You might have been doing something that didn’t click, and your friends – hopefully writers, too – just thought you’d be wasting time if you kept on working on it. Then again, maybe it’s a piece that’s not for them. But another thing is that you need to learn to let go of a piece you love if it’s not working as well as you thought it would work.

Criticism, rejection, and letting go of something you’ve written and loved is a part of the writer’s life. Published or not, a writer should be able to recognize where good, constructive criticism comes from. A writer must be able to accept that a piece is already becoming toxic, and that friends would be able to point that out. In the end, this is for self-improvement. And who knows? Maybe the piece that everyone didn’t like might find a different, more accepting audience someday.

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Writing Is A Lifelong Commitment

One of my professors in one of my American Literature classes was talking about Emily Dickinson one day. She lamented the fact that Dickinson – a brilliant writer, a poet, to be precise – had died too young and had been discovered too late. This drove me to do a bit of light research on Dickinson’s life, and to pick up on what I remember from reading about her once: that she was one of the most prolific poets, though her work, it seems, had not seen the light of day until her death. But to be dedicated to poetry, to writing, even without getting renown because of it – at least in life – is something that sounds rather remarkable, doesn’t it? Foreign, almost.

We live in a world where publishing is relatively easy now, because online platforms allow one to just type and click the ‘Publish’ button to get “published.” But no doubt, this’ll be lost in a sea of articles, pieces, and poetry of a nature similar to what one has just published. Meanwhile, it becomes a cause of frustration, with the writer who so desperately wants to get published ending up not getting published in the right way, and then one remembers Dickinson, and one gets confused by how Dickinson did it. That is, being patient with not getting published.

Being frustrated is understandable, and of course it’s safe to say that there are hundreds – no, thousands – of writers out there stuck in a rut, unpublished like many others, constantly dreaming. I don’t think there’s an easy way out of that limbo, and certainly at some point there’s a desire to quit writing because it’s not doing you any good.

Which is weird, because maybe you’ll find yourself eventually picking up a pen and some paper – maybe the exact ones you threw across the room in frustration (not that a piece of paper can go that far, being thrown around) and try to write again. Fueled, perhaps, by your need to write, which – if you’ve started taking up writing as a craft long ago, anyway – probably has been something you’ve been dealing with for a while. And so you write, and get frustrated, and write, and get frustrated again. It goes in circles and gets maddening, but the end result is that you get back up and write, refusing to be knocked down.

I suppose even if you’re not fully aware of it, you’ve already been married to writing. You hear of people married to their jobs (I have a professor who’s pretty much like that). Well, even if writing is not exactly a job for most of us, it’s hard to not get married to it. Writing is an expression of the self. Writing is inadequate when you attempt to pin down thoughts, in forms that you either want or are expected to follow. Everyone writes at some point in their life, and everyone, undoubtedly, at some point feels the incredible frustration of writing, and of a feeling of absolute inarticulacy. But some let go of writing and use it as a tool solely for practical purposes. Some don’t have a passion for writing at all.

But if you do, and you keep feeling frustrated about it, just remind yourself that you’ve found a niche, that you’ve found a way to express yourself – effectively, ineffectively, it doesn’t matter much sometimes – and that you’ve found a lifelong partner in writing. Getting published – if you do get published at all – comes long, long after you’ve developed a passion for the craft. Even if you’re unaware of it, you’re committed to it. It’s as much a part of life as anything, and you have to hang on for the ride.

And then:

A Tumblr user asked Neil Gaiman for some writing advice, and here’s what Neil said.

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Roots: Why Recognizing Your Inspirations Is Important

It’s easy to plunge headfirst into the reckless abandon of engaging in creative exercise, writing your way a thousand words a day through a story that you’re probably making up as you go along. It’s easy, as well, to attempt to convince yourself to continue working on your creative project. All you really have to do is look at the goal you want to reach, and set your sights onto that goal, for you to push yourself. It may or may not be very effective, but it can work.

But it’s funny, because we talk about what we want to do, and what goals we want to reach, and what highs we want to achieve, without talking about our roots. Sure, we started out somewhere, at some point, finding that writing is an activity we’re comfortable with, for example. Or speaking in public. Or drawing. Or making music. A lot of pursuits stem from something, but it’s important to look back. Way, way back. To your roots, to be precise. And by roots, I mean your inspirations. The people who have influenced you, basically, to pursue your passions. And by influence, I mean both positive and negative.

What we should remember is that just about everything we choose and everything we encounter has an impact on our lives, and when it comes to creative pursuits, a lot of things figure into that. I suppose the easiest and most obvious thing to look at is your favorite author, and the author you really don’t like at all. Or texts, actually. Which texts do you like? Writing styles? Genres? Which don’t resonate with you? Your personal reading library will show you the kinds of things you like, and have been reading, and how these texts you own and like or dislike have somehow influenced your own work. I speak in terms of books and authors but this can also be applied to many other things.

It’s also important to think of why these texts resonate with you, or why these texts don’t. It’s simple to look at a book, read it, and say, “okay, I liked it.” And then what? Which parts of it did you like and dislike, and which parts do you think need development? Why did a certain author even become your favorite, in the first place?

Starting out by answering those questions and digging into the roots of your passion is already a pretty light and easy way of being critical – both of your own work, and of others’ works. Blind devotion to a single author is sketchy, especially when you sit down, start writing, and think of the ingredients that make up your favorite work. So what? They have heroes like this, villains like that. So does every other book. It’s like a meal, isn’t it? Something a chef cooks consists of ingredients that one can get from just about anywhere – it’s what the chef does with it that makes it unique, or gives it its own flavor. Which is true about texts, about writing, about creative pursuits, and about inspiration.

The final thing then, is this: know what you like, why you like it, what you can improve about it, and what you can do about it if you’re given the “ingredients.” Knowing the raw material and digging into the roots will help you eventually craft a better – hopefully – creation than you’ve ever imagined.

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Of Epic Proportions: The Problem of Lengthy Fantasy

One of the more attractive umbrellas in literature is speculative fiction, and it’s easy to see why. If literature can be escapist, speculative fiction touches on this the best by actually offering a variety of texts that detach the reader from reality for a couple hundred pages, and immerse him or her in a world that is entirely fictional, with improbably things happening within the world. I’m here to talk about a particular genre in the group, though: fantasy.

Fantasy is, of course, a well-established genre spanning a pretty large spectrum of texts. Fantasy has people like J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit), George R.R. Martin,(A Song of Ice and Fire) and Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time), alongside authors like R.A. Salvatore (The Legend of Drizzt) and Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman (various Dragonlance books). And those are just names that I consider to be under the high/epic fantasy subgenre, because Neil Gaiman is also a fantasy writer, and I’d argue that Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake is also fantasy. What these authors have done with their texts, though, is obvious: create a living, breathing, engaging world, and populate it with characters. Then weave a plot that gets the reader and pulls him or her in. It takes a lot of work – you’re looking at several years’ worth of writing a single series, plus spin-off novels, and it takes effort to get details to mesh together with other details and offer consistency.

And for the most part, this works. If you find yourself looking forward to the next installment of your favorite fantasy series, then you know it works. Even stretched out to more than three books (the trilogy, I think, being a trend in fantasy writing now), if the story engages, it engages. But fantasy, if too epic, if too intricate, if too huge, spawns its own monster. The late Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, I think, is the biggest violator when it comes to creating too huge worlds. Fourteen books – with a single volume averaging around eight-hundred pages – in The Wheel of Time already sounds daunting, and it takes effort on the reader’s part to slog through the middle, because when you get to the middle of the series, something happens. Which is, precisely, nothing.

And I think that’s the problem of too epic fantasy. I am currently reading Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, the first book in the Stormlight Archive, and while I do find it enjoyable and interesting, it’s just too long. The mass-market paperback edition is easily longer than most – if not all of – The Wheel of Time’s paperbacks, and that’s saying something, because Jordan was overly fond of being wordy. Perhaps The Way of Kings’ length owes itself, in part, to the fact that Sanderson had to finish The Wheel of Time on Jordan’s behalf. The Way of Kings does well to build up its characters, their conflicts, and their backstories, but it becomes an exercise of slogging through the introspective chapters and detailed descriptions of what a character is doing (Shallan as she draws, for example, which takes up an entire page and a half – although I might be exaggerating), hoping for the action to pick up.

Perhaps the moral is this: if you can say it in a few words without compromising the quality of writing, do it. Characters are important, definitely. They’re what ties a story together. But if every single detail is given undivided attention, it becomes a drag, no matter how well-written the story is.

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Too Much of Anything: Why It Pays to Organize Ideas

Creative work, when you’re really driven, can be both exciting and frustrating. Exciting because you have a ton of ideas you want to execute, and you think them all brilliant, and they’re all floating in your head. Frustrating, precisely because of the same reasons.

I’m willing to bet you’ve heard the saying “too much of anything can be bad for you,” or variations thereof, the point being that an excess of anything will do more bad then good, and the moral being that you just have to moderate everything. And it is true, only the idea is associated more often with food, work, and spending money, more than anything else. Eating too much is unhealthy, and overthinking is unhealthy. It’s also true when it comes to creative work – getting too many ideas in your head and trying to execute them all at once will lead to you producing nothing of value, or something of little value. It’s easy to say that you can devote part of your time for this one creative project, and then another part of your time for another, putting everything in compartments and juggling things all at once. That’s something you can try doing, but whether or not it will work is something else entirely.

Having too many ideas will overwhelm you at some point, and it’s inevitable. Trying to tie them up and make something coherent out of them will give you a hard time, and maybe at some point you will give up on all your projects. While I’m still sketchy about giving pieces of advice (and these sometimes contradict each other, I’m aware), what you can do, when you feel overwhelmed is this: empty your mind.

Cut off the ideas that aren’t fully developed yet, the ideas that you’re not completely satisfied with. Ideas that sound okay, ideas that you can explain if someone asks you about them, you stick with. Organize your ideas. Brainstorming is a fun thing, and it likely yields a lot of interesting results, but having too many little things flowing will become to much in the long run. Group ideas and concepts together under general headings, and think of how one is related to another, before jumping in to attempt to execute your ideas. It’s a stretch, certainly, and I’m speaking only in broad terms, but I can’t really be very specific about this. The idea, though, is that a lot of ideas will seem indispensable at the start, and these may even be things you’re proud of or are unwilling to part with. But if your head’s streaming with a lot of ideas, a lot of concepts, sit down and ask yourself: are you really up for everything? Are all the things you’re thinking about things you want to execute, things that make sense, things that you can develop? When you try to group and organize your ideas together, you will realize which ones can be discarded and which ones can be kept. It pays to organize, because it will help you produce a tighter output, something less general, something more interesting, something that makes more sense.

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Real Worlds: World-building

Part of what makes a lot of stories compelling is the world in which the characters live and breathe in. World-building isn’t just confined in literature, because a lot of shows, movies, and video games make use of made-up settings for the narrative, and populate these settings with a lot of different people. It sounds like a really tough job, making a world from scratch, especially if you consider all the work you have to put into it. Countries, cultures, industries, government, a magic system (if applicable, of course) and religions are just some of the things one needs to develop in order to create a convincing, living setting. And sure it’s daunting, and it almost feels like you need to iron out every little detail – down to the kinds of animals that live in the forest – just to make sure everything falls into place. And then you have to check and recheck every detail in order to achieve consistency. And that’s not even putting the story into things.

I’m hardly qualified to tell you about world-building and give tips, as I’ve never been published before and I’m convinced that I haven’t managed to make a good enough world that’s not a carbon copy of some other world that’s already made, or a half-baked, pieced-together Frankenstein’s monster of a world. I have, however, tried to build enough worlds to know that I’ve been doing it with a certain pattern in mind, and here are the things I usually do:

  • Make a map. I love books that have maps, and I love the details put into them. Having a map for a setting makes the world all the more enticing, because maps provide a sense of realness. So you could try – if you haven’t already – making a map for your own setting, putting a good amount of time into details: borders between countries, landform locations, important landmarks, cities, towns, villages, waterforms, names of relevant places – you get the drift. I find making maps a pretty fun activity, and – although I don’t guarantee it – it may give you a better sense of physical distances between locations, which may, in turn, help with generating a sense of authenticity.
  • Give names. Names to important places, events, dates, and institutions, that is. A world needs to have culture. You don’t have to name everything from the start, because that’s overwhelming. What you can do is start small – start with a town, or a city. A country. Detail its culture, its hierarchy, its industries, what people eat, wear, do, and joke about. The daily lives, preoccupations, and worries of the population all add another dimension to your world. And then, of course, once you have names, define them. It doesn’t help if you just have a name for an event that happens during, say, the summer season. Why is that event happening? What brought it about? Why do people celebrate it, if it’s a celebration, for example? Those things don’t have to be extremely detailed – just detailed enough for them to become relevant to the world you’re building.
  • Don’t overwhelm yourself. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. It’s tempting to create a world and obsess over every detail, but I’ve found that it’s not very healthy, especially if the world overshadows other equally important things, like the story and the characters. Remember to balance things, and remember to give equal weight to details that have to be pieced together to actually make the story work.

Like I said, I’m hardly qualified to say these things. But this comes from experience, however little. Budding writers jump headlong into creating worlds, only to find themselves stalling and confused in the middle, and I know the feeling. In the end, it still helps to consider the kind of world you’re actually building, and whether or not you like it. Details have to be nice, but easy enough for you to remember. Eventually, and hopefully, your world will come alive.

Professional Opinions:

I’ve given a few “tips” based on experience, but it helps a lot if it comes from the authors and the experts themselves. Here are a few articles on world-building to get you started:

7 Deadly Sins of World-Building / Writing Fantasy: Tools and Techniques (Brent Weeks) / Five Foundations of World Building

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Algebraic!: The Brilliance of Adventure Time

Cartoon shows – or specifically, cartoon shows that target the younger demographic – seem to exist to fulfill one primary purpose: entertaining kids. And certainly, cartoons are entertaining, though some shows get less and less appealing as you age, until you reach the age where new shows all appear shallow and dumb, and the only way to feel like a kid again is to actually revisit shows you watched years ago.

What’s interesting, though, is that the cartoon world has seen a rise in cartoons that aren’t simply entertaining, in the formulaic, Tom and Jerry-style cat-and-mouse kind of way. Cartoons have become more daring, tackling serious topics and even managing to tap into viewers’ deepest fears and wildest dreams. Cartoons have become more radical, without necessarily sacrificing entertainment value. Quite early examples would be The Powerpuff Girls and Spongebob Squarepants, and I do agree that these shows are great and timeless in their own right. I’d like to point to a more recent series, though: Pendleton Ward’s amazing creation, set in the Land of Ooo. I’m talking about – of course – the extremely popular Adventure Time.

With five seasons wrapped up and a sixth season premiering soon, Adventure Time is rife with material that tackles a vast array of issues – from the idea of family being a construct (Finn, Jake, and B-Mo may be seen as the show’s central “family”), to the strange unreality of reality (I’d point to the episode “Puhoy”), to split-personality disorders (the episode “Davey”) – without losing touch of its comedy and charm. It’s funny, because on the surface, Adventure Time looks like it’s permanently high and never rooted in reality, but I learned one thing about the fantastic: fantasy has the potential to drive home points and raise important questions better than if something’s rooted in reality. In the aforementioned “Davey,” for example, we follow Adventure Time’s main hero (and presumably only living human character in Ooo) Finn as he assumes the guise of an everyday guy called “Davey.” It starts out as a disguise, sure, but through the course of the episode, Finn loses his grasp of his own identity and becomes Davey, living out Davey’s “life,” assuming Davey’s mannerisms, and going through Davey’s routines. It’s funny, especially when the people around Finn are directly affected by this change in identity, but even shed with this kind of light, it leaves the viewer thinking.

And thinking is an important thing. A lot of television shows today – and not just cartoons – feed people with the joys of shallow programming, and half-baked “reality” shows that range from filming people with a terrifying, manic obsession with “couponing” to moms who plunge headfirst into shouting matches with other moms while their ballerina kids watch on. Cartoons may easily be dismissed as a kid thing (excepting shows like Family Guy and The Simpsons, which are adult-oriented), but Adventure Time isn’t simply a “kid” thing. The show takes pains to explore the backstories of all important characters (The Ice King and Marceline the Vampire Queen, in particular, have very interesting backstories), making clear their motivations and answering the “whys” and the “hows.” It’s riddled with metaphors and symbols (like Princess Bubblegum and her creation of Lemongrab), rather smart references to classic narratives (the “Frankenstein’s monster”-style “Goliad”), and a hundred other things besides that people can dissect and study. Behind the fun veneer lies a dense, multi-layered “cake,” so to speak. And it’s going to be six seasons deep, soon.

In the end, what Adventure Time does is pretty simple: be a cartoon that everyone – regardless of whether or not you’re a kid – can enjoy. And you know what? Adventure Time does it pretty damn well.

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