September is the time when we in the US start preparing for the new school year. So each Monday I’ll be posting a piece of reference and a resource I use (have used) for developing my writing.
The podcast “Writing Excuses” is a great place to go for discussions, exercises, prompts and other writing advice from some wonderful published authors. They have episodes spanning several years that touch just about every topic of writing in short bite-sized format.
I’ve mentioned this podcast before on this blog briefly. “Stuff you Missed in History Class” is a wonderful podcast that runs about an hour-long several times a week that covers people, places, events, and things in history. They also provide great suggestions for resource materials on the topic and will provide what is speculation, what is held as the “most likely” truth from historical experts and what is actually documented in the historical record. There are subjects spanning from ancient history to more modern history. You can search all of their episodes (which spans hundreds) on their website. I use this as a jumping off point for any historical fiction projects I’m working on.
So this book has both a place of love and hate in my heart. When I was in the 6th grade I was in an advanced English group who read books that were a grade or two ahead, and this was one of our first books. I loved the story and viewing a part of the real world from the perspective of a dog. Then I changed schools and in 7th grade was assigned the book again, and then I changed schools again in 8th grade, and had to read the book a THIRD time. I liked the book, but by the third year of writing book reports and essays I was ready to chuck my copy into the recycling bin. I haven’t read it since, but I remember it really well. The story of Buck, a mutt of a dog living a life of luxury as a family pet gets thrust into the life of a sled dog during the notorious Yukon Gold Rush. He changes hands of several owners, some good, some bad and we learn about humanity through the eyes of a single dog. I’ve always believed you can really understand the nature of a person by how they treat their pets, and I think this book really started me on that path.
**FOR PARENTS: I would not recommend this book for children younger than about 12 due to some of the violence involved. If you’re a parent be prepared to talk to your child about animal abuse and other related topics as they are very prevalent in the book and can be upsetting for animal lovers.**
“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” – Issac Asimov
We’ve continued to talk about different characters the past few weeks and I think it’s important to bring up culture. There are a lot of things that can define a culture and even what constitutes a sub-culture. When writing in fiction there are a lot of opportunities to create unique cultures to the world you’re writing in, and in some cases the differences might be subtle given the context of the story.
A great example that I’m working through right now is that a project I’m working on takes place in one country. Now in a lot of ways that narrows the scope of my cultural differences. Instead I try to think about the different life experiences that my characters have. Some characters come from rich families, some with religious or political upbringings. Then there are those who come from a poor or middle class and even outsider perspective. All of these considerations affect the culture which the characters were raised within.
In instances where you are writing characters from a more standard definition of culture I encourage you to do your research. What makes these cultures unique and don’t just consider the customs as events that take place, but why they happen. In many cultures traditions are built based on some real life need or expectation. Think of the environment and how that would affect how people live and any religious beliefs that may influence the people. In my limited experience those tend to be your two key factors for cultural development at least at its root base. Then things evolve, take on new meaning as their origins are lost, manipulated, and their environment changes.
If you are writing about an existing culture then again research as much as possible. I often find a friend from the culture that I’m writing about and with a given discussion of disclaimers I ask them to read through it and let me know if what I’ve touched upon is accurate (or “close enough”) and especially if I’ve offended (unless I meant to have a character offend on purpose). The importance is just to try to respect the culture for what it was and represent it in a way that you intend to in your story. Something I hate doing is failing to communicate a perspective I really want to show my readers, especially if it offends them unintentionally.