An Imperialist Writing Policy — How

Now that I’ve explained what an “imperialist writing policy” is, and why it might be useful, here’s how to actually do it.

Compiling Your Curriculum

So you’ve got some reason for enacting an imperialist writing policy—what do you fill it with? What are your imperial holdings? As I said, with Suggest the Empire I initially began with plays I was already aware of—Shakespearean histories. However, Stuff Happens I only learned about by doing some research, looking up contemporary history plays. After finding these materials, I just continued with my life, and kept on the look-out for any books or shows or movies or podcasts that seemed like they could be useful, adding them to my curriculum as I found them.

I’d recommend the same—start with works that you are already aware of, or that you have already been wanting to read. If you have enough, great! If you don’t, it’s time to do some research. This is essentially how I determined what plays to read for Play Time (which was a literal curriculum, since it was an Honors project.) I started by looking at some plays dealing with time which I already wanted to read—We Are Proud to Present …, Strange InterludeTop Girls, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead—then did some research. I pretty quickly found out about J.B. Priestly’s time plays, and stumbled upon a review of a few short Beckett plays staged together because of their similar treatments of time. The internet is an incredible thing.

If this seems overwhelming, start with Wikipedia. Look at the external links on the article, look at the references. Look up what resources your local library has, or, if you’re a college student, check out your university library. Find people who are experts in whatever you need to immerse yourself in, and see what they’ve written. See what they recommend. If you personally know anyone who has some experience with the topic, ask them to give you some recommendations—or, if they’re willing to give you their time, ask them questions about the topic and make note of the answers. Sift through your personal library, see if there are any old books you forgot you even had that might be useful (this is exactly how Top Girls made it onto the list for Play Time.) And if you’re really hitting a wall, just start reading whatever you have found. More likely than not (and especially if its non-fiction) that work will lead you to other works. You’ll start to get a sense of what the foundational texts in the field are, which authors keep coming up again and again, which authors have written stuff very similar to (and therefore very useful for) what you’re planning to write.Read More »

An Imperialist Writing Policy — What and Why

A year and a half ago I returned home for the summer break knowing that, whatever else I worked on for the next few months, by the end of the summer I wanted to have finished the rough draft of Suggest the Empire. At that point I’d already been wanting to write this play for a year or two, though I’d previously put it off because I knew it would be massive, strange, and demanding in multiple ways. How did I know this? Well here’s my short description for the play:

A history play about an invented history, exploring the theatrical nature of nationalism and empire.

So yeah. Massive strange demanding. And I had never read or seen a history play (in the Shakespearean sense of the term) back then at the beginning of summer 2016, so I decided that would be a top priority. I determined to read seven of Shakespeare’s histories—Richard IIIRichard IIHenry IV parts 1 & 2, Henry V, and Julius Caesar—before beginning to write the play. I also added Stuff Happens by David Hare to my reading list, a history play about the lead up to the Iraq War. These were the works that I felt I had to read before beginning work on STE. Obviously I planned to write other stuff in the mean time, but I wouldn’t start Suggest the Empire until I’d finished those eight plays.

As I progressed into the summer I came across more and more works which I thought could in some way inform the writing of STE—youtube channels like Historia Civilis, documentaries like Secrets of Great British Castles, movies like Waterloo, games like Mount and Blade and Reigns—which I’d add to the list. Some of these I’d already been meaning to get around to, others I stumbled upon and decided to look into because of STE, and others I was already engaged with anyway, just by happenstance—the greatest example being The Absolute at Large. Just by luck, that very summer I was recording an audiobook of The Absolute at Large, a satirical novel which is heavily critical of nationalism and fanaticism. I came to think of this body of plays, movies, books, tv shows, and whatever else, as the product of an imperialist writing policy. I was not solely consuming, and working on, Suggest the Empire, though almost everything I consumed and worked on fed back to that play in some way.

SuggesttheEmpire-c-2The result was that, when it finally came time to write Suggest the Empire, it was a breeze. Over the past months I’d become fluent in the language of empire, of nationalism, of history, of historical drama, and I had no trouble plotting out the story or sketching out the world, or, as I actually wrote the thing, sprinkling in realistic military, cultural, or political details. I’m incredibly proud of Suggest the Empire, and you can now buy the play! Ha ha you fool, I tricked you, this is all just an ad, ho-ho I got you!

Just kidding. If you have no interest in reading Suggest the Empire (which you can get on Smashwords or Amazon, or read the first act of free) this post, and the “How” post which will be up next week, should still be useful to any writer (or creator of any kind, I suppose) who wants to design their own imperialist writing policy. This isn’t the Only Way, or the Correct Way, to prepare for a piece of writing, but it is a method that I’ve found useful, which may prove useful for others. Alternately, if you’ve just read, or plan on reading, Suggest the Empire, these two posts should be a good look into my process in preparing for that play. I talk about it some in the afterword, among other things, but here I’ll be breaking down just that specific, preliminary part of creating the play.Read More »

How a World Makes a Story

Whenever I’m writing a secondary world, I always draw a map. Even when I don’t need to—even when the characters aren’t going to be traveling all over that beautiful map I drew. I imagine for some writers they aren’t important. It’s enough to know the distance between certain locations, and the names of the different countries, and that’s it. But I feel like I can’t start without knowing the shape of the world. I often don’t begin to do any world-building before drawing the map.

Part of it is this idea that I don’t know what I’ll need until I get there—I don’t know if I’ll need to know the topography of a certain part of the world until I’m in the middle of the first draft, and a character needs to have an anecdote about it. If I come across that situation, I’d rather be able to pull from an independent document rather than make something up on the spot (though I certainly have done that.)

Last week I talked about my personal process for drawing maps. This week, I’m writing about how all the information that I put into my maps helps me with world-building, characters, and plotting. While everything I’m going to talk about can be accomplished through written world-building, I find that maps do a lot of the same stuff much better and more efficiently than written descriptions. So, here are the four aspects of world-building and plotting for which I rely greatly on maps.Read More »

How I Make a World

I write a lot of secondary worlds, so I draw a lot of maps. Some are fairly simple, some are more detailed. The more detailed ones are for worlds that I’ll have to write in for awhile—novel- or novella-length pieces. In this post, I’ll go through my process for making one of these most detailed maps, because the process for less detailed maps is essentially the same, but with only the specific aspects I need.

This post isn’t meant to be a how-to—it’s just my own system that I’ve developed and modified as I’ve been drawing maps for invented worlds since I was ten. There are a thousand ways to go about map making (one of those thousand being to not make a map at all), and this is just one of them. I’m sharing it because I think it’s interesting, and I haven’t read much from other writers about this part of the creative process. Hopefully it is at least entertaining, and at most it provides some useful tools for fellow writers to improve their world-building.

So, let’s begin.Read More »

No One Thinks of Salt

No one thinks of salt.

Of course, people who live in cities close enough to either pole of the Earth do—they see it on sidewalks and roads and doormats for some period of time every year. They couldn’t not think of it, like they couldn’t not think of shoes. But they don’t really think of it in the way I mean. By “think of,” I mean “think up.” And while this could be applied more broadly, I’m mostly focusing on writers when I say “no one.”

More accurately I should say “no one would think of salt,” but that’s not as snappy. Besides, the idea came to me as “no one thinks of salt!” with an implied “if they have no exposure to it.”

So now that everyone’s confused, I’ll try to start making sense. I’ve lived in Tallahassee, Florida almost my whole life. The city, and the entire county it’s in, has just one snow truck, which practically never gets used. In my whole life living there, it only snowed once—and then it was more sleet than snow. So I definitely didn’t think of salt.

I knew that people salted roads in cities where it snowed, but what I didn’t consider is that sidewalks would be salted too. Now that I live in Iowa City, and I’m experiencing my first northern winter, I’ve realized that this is the case. I’ve also realized that salt gets stuck in the treads of your boots, and ends up all over the floor if you don’t kick them off thoroughly. Had I written a story before I lived here, about a city experiencing a typical, snowy winter, I never would have thought to add the detail of a character having salt caked around their boots. But that kind of inventive, extrapolated detail is what makes good writing, especially in science-fiction and fantasy.

Granted, world-building isn’t everything, and a well-told story with the typical fantasy props (castles, dragons, swords, etc.) can still be fun. But there’s no reason a writer can’t tell a good story and develop a well-realized world. Reading science fiction from the fifties, it always nags at me when nuclear power shows up. Many sci-fi writers used it as some catch-all that could power everything from household appliances to helicopters, rather than fully considering other potential energy sources. As a result, the worlds feel simplistic and flat.

Kim Stanley Robinson on the other hand is an excellent world-builder (though not from the fifties.) In his Mars trilogy, he has the typical tented colonies you might find in any martian story, but he also considers the possibility of cities built into mesas, or under the ice caps, or within lava tubes. His rendition of a colonized Mars feels explorable and deep.

Now back to the salt that no one thinks of. Let’s suppose an Earth that is covered by an enormous ocean, with every human being confined to an equatorial island where it never snows. On this tropical island, fantasy writers might spin tales of an incredible world where ice falls in little droplets from the sky. Science fiction writers might speculate about colonizing the polar ice caps. Would these writers consider the problem of snow obstructing paths, and the need to remove it? Probably. But what would their solutions for this problem be? They’d probably be pretty straightforward, and be more impractical than they’d appear on paper. These writers might imagine snow plows, or heated roads, or awnings that could extend to cover pathways when the snow fell. Maybe these writers would lazily speculate that snow could be channeled through gutters just like rain. Salt, although highly practical, would not be the common representation of a solution in these snow stories. But if some writer were inventive and thoughtful enough to envision salt as a solution, their story would be so much richer than the same-old same-old plows and heated roads.

This is what makes some speculative fiction feel not so speculative. What’s fantastic about another retread of Tolkien’s orcs elves and dwarves? What’s innovative about a domed colony on Mars?

It’s the writers that take the time and consideration to extrapolate, and solve problems from the viewpoint of a character in that world rather than an outsider, that create three-dimensional setting. Beyond speculative fiction, it’s the writers that research, or actually visit the setting of their story and fully observe its complexities, that portray a landscape which feels genuine.

It’s the writers who think of salt that craft worlds a reader can live in even after they’ve stopped reading.