January 25, 2004
As a contributor to the MUDslinger, I am often asked about my work. The questions generally vary in subject from "What were you thinking when you wrote this ****?" to "How do I write an article?" The most frequent question I get seems to be "What is a good thing to write about?" This is a tricky question though, one I feel that needs to be addressed. I canít really tell you what is a good thing to write about. Inspiration and the ability to create is something that is dependent on you. A subject that sends my neurons flashing with inspiration may leave you stumped, and the converse is true as well. What I can do to help you is to give you a guide to apply your imagination. This is the true key to writing - harnessing your imagination to create a person, or even a world, and to give that new creation a life through words.
Throughout almost every piece of ancient Greek literature, you will find at the least a paragraph praising one of the nine muses for their inspiration in writing the work. In my own experience, Homer and Sophocles can have their muses. Waiting for their help only seems to give me a good excuse for writerís block. Rather than sitting on your posterior waiting for ideas to flash through your brain, go out and watch life. Things happen all the time. These can be your inspiration. Think of the moral a scene tells you and work around that. Add to that, and you have a story.
Do you remember your writing classes from middle school? In those classes, you probably learned about the W-H questions - that is, Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. Your teacher was trying to teach you something useful, as these are the key to creating a story. For simplicity, Iím going to break it down into two categories - Who and all the others. To be more simplistic, I will call these key elements the character(s) and the event.
Letís go over character first. The most important element of a good story is the characters involved. If your plot is the greatest ever conceived, it will still fall flat if the characters involved lack any connection with both each other and the theme. It is the character that draws a reader into a story, and through the story, it is the character that the readers care about.
How does one create a character? Simple, really; talk to people, work with people, and be with people. "Peoples is peoples!" to quote one of the greatest movies of all time. To truly be interesting, you have to connect to a character, and the best way to come up with a character thatís easy to relate to is to make them realistic. A character does not necessarily have to be you, or even real, but thereís a certain amount of realism necessary to create a character. You need to give your character a real personality, with flaws, vices, strengths, and beliefs. Everyone has needs and a goal. A character needs to have some struggle, internal or external, to create a point of relation. Which brings me to the next topic...
Once you have a character, or characters, you need an event. By event, I mean that something has to happen. The essence of a good story is struggle, conflict, effort put forth to achieve a goal. Once you have the concept of your character, you need to show us your character, and not by reading us a list of statistics and a biography. To bring your character to life he needs something to bring out those qualities. A goal he must reach will show his motivations, how he goes about it will bring out his personality and morals. An event is not just some every day sort of thing, it must stretch the character. It does not necessarily have to have a life and death event, but rather something that brings upon the character something they are not yet ready to deal with.
Now that you got an idea about what you need in an event, youíll need to know how to find one. Simply go out and live life! Life is not a state of being, in my experience - life is a state of action! Go out and go places, talk to people, do things mundane and do things extraordinary. Anything from a simple trade run to a venture through Bloodstone to an experience as a zombie to singing and dancing through the streets of Trellor and everything in between can give you inspiration. During the most mundane activities one can feel a piece of inspiration that leads into a struggle for the character. For example, the other day I was on a trade run and I passed by a slow moving form who seemed to be having problems, as they were short on mana and could not refresh their horses. That got me thinking - should I have stopped and helped them? Would it have hurt me to travel with them a ways to help speed their trip? No, probably not, and yet I didnít. What does that say about Aivanther? This is not enough to write a story about, but it is the beginning of a story about where Aivanther stands and wrestles with looking out for himself versus helping others. What he does defines his nature. Struggle can be external or internal, and it can be between characters or between you and life.
Here is a quick summary to refresh all our memories on what makes a good story. First, get a character then learn about the character. Bring him to life, give him a personality, give him problems, and give him strengths. Next, show us the character through an event. Make him struggle, give him life through hardship, bring out his personality through his choices and actions. To find this struggle look at life in fair Medievia, see how people live, work, and play. Inspiration is everywhere, it need not be the event, simply something that gets your mind working.
I expect to be reading your work come next time, so get out there, live life, and teach us what it tells.
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