Winning World-Building

The other day I watched a YouTuber talk about his love for all things Pokémon—the games, the anime series, and movies. He could probably name all 800+ Pokémon, including the regions in which they can be found, and also the different towns players visit in the games and anime.

Now, that’s a fan! When you create a world, you want it to be appealing enough to attract dedicated fans like this who love visiting over and over.

   

Who wouldn’t want to visit a world with creatures as cute as Torchic (right) or as majestic as Xerneas?

With the subject of world-building, maybe by now you’re thinking of the various planets in the Star Wars series or fantasy places like Westeros (George R. R. Martin), Hogwarts (J. K. Rowling), Pixie Hollow (where the Disney fairies live), Wonderland (Lewis Carroll), Narnia (C. S. Lewis), Oz (L. Frank Baum), Windemere (Charles Yallowitz), or Middle-earth (J. R. R. Tolkien).

I think about Lothlórien or Narnia, and how I’d love to live in either place for the rest of my life. (Mordor is a definite no as a place to retire, however.)

 

Hogwarts would be fun also, now that He Who Must Not Be Named isn’t an issue any more. I also think of Oz, since I’ve been rereading some of the books. Who wouldn’t want a lunch or dinner pail full of food that you can pick ripe off a tree the way Dorothy, the plucky orphan from Kansas, did in Ozma of Oz?

       

Even if I wouldn’t want to make my home in a land (looking at you, Westeros), I still enjoy a visit via a book in the comfort of my own home. I love to learn about the different animals and plants in a land. Like Fizzle in Windemere. To learn more about him, click here.

But the aspects of a world that really resonate with me usually meet a felt need. Sometimes when problems crowd the horizon and I feel helpless, I long to escape to a land of magic where full-course meals grow on trees and adventure is just around the corner. Or sometimes, I crave a place suffused with wonder (look—tiny fairies) and peace when life seems gray or full of battles.

Yet many of the worlds I read about have problems like wars and hunger. In Ozma of Oz, Dorothy wound up lost and hungry. Maybe that’s why that dinner pail tree made such an impression on me. She found it after a struggle.

And how could I forget that the peace in Narnia came after the defeat of enemies like the White Witch?

So, maybe the world-building in each series I mentioned really resonates with me, because a skilled author has shown the compelling efforts his or her characters made to overcome their problems, and thus build a better world.

Now, that’s winning world-building!

What is your favorite fictional world to visit? What do you love about this world?

Dorothy illustration by John R. Neill found at the Project Gutenberg website. Westeros/Essos map from geek.com. Lothlórien image from somewhere on Pinterest. Oz map from fanpop.com. Narnia map from toknwasiamknown.wordpress.com. Torchic from imgarcade.com. Xerneas from pokemon.wikia.com. Star Wars planets image from somewhere on Pinterest. Hogwarts from rmvj.wordpress.com. Disney fairies from fanpop.com. Ozma of Oz book cover photo by L. Marie.

Advertisements

All Together Now!

I was driving by a church one day last week, when I saw a crowd of people, some standing, some sitting on the steps of the church. Thinking they awaited a service or were the members of a wedding party, I continued on my way. But I happened to glance at my phone, which had the Pokémon Go app (developed by Niantic, Inc.) open. That’s when I realized why the people huddled on the church steps: a Pokémon raid was about to happen. They were trying to catch a legendary Pokémon. (For more information on legendary Pokémon, click here.)

The church is a Pokémon gym, a site where Pokémon Go players can battle, and hopefully catch, the legendary Pokémon released in the game after the Pokémon Go fest held in Chicago last month. I parked my car and joined the crowd in front of the church. We exchanged cursory greetings, then got down to the business of beating Lugia (see below), the legendary Pokémon that had taken over the gym. We had to work together—you need a crowd of players to beat legendaries, since legendaries have ridiculously high CP (combat power)—much higher than that of the Pokémon an average Pokémon Go player might have (for example, 2000 to 3000 CP as opposed to the 41,000 CP a legendary might have).

We cheered each other on. The battle took a while, but we were victorious. Once that was accomplished, we each had the opportunity to try to catch Lugia. Once more, we cheered each other on. Some were successful. I was unable to catch him, sadly.

By now, you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you this, especially if you could care less about the game. I can’t help thinking about how few social interactions I have had with total strangers outside of random encounters at the library, on the commuter train platform, or the occasional quick conversation in checkout lines at stores. I can’t think of any other time recently when I worked together with a crowd of strangers to accomplish a goal.

Protests over rights violations or times of fear and sadness have brought people together over the years. In recent years, you’ve undoubtedly read stories of strangers working to rescue others after terrorist attacks or uniting to comfort those who grieve. Some of you have participated in those events. These stories remind us of how much we need each other. They remind us of our humanity—that we’re not just avatars on the internet.

That’s why I chose to write about that experience playing Pokémon with a group of strangers. I left pumped that day, despite my failure to catch the legendary. Though we hadn’t done anything earth shattering, a group of strangers and I had made a connection, even for a brief time.

What social interactions have you had with strangers lately? What did they mean to you?

Lugia from sonicpokemon.wikia.com. Pokémon raid images from gosunoob.com and itechpost.com.

Preexisting or Made Up?

Have you read a book or seen a movie recently where the technology seemed almost laughably dated, though it was probably cutting edge when the book or movie debuted? I can’t help giggling when Cher (Alicia Silverstone), Dionne (Stacey Dash), and others in Clueless (1995) whip out huge mobile phones with pull-out antennas. Or check out The Matrix (1999), where Nokia phones with sliding covers looked sleek next to landline phones but seem dated to our twenty-first century mindsets. At least the phones changed as Matrix sequels debuted.

clueless3

Dionne and Cher in Clueless

matrix-45-cipher-talking-to-trinity

Trinity in The Matrix

I also giggle every time I watch an episode of an animated show like Justice League from the early part of this century and see someone hold up a videotape or a floppy disk. I used to use both back in the day.

Technology and other aspects of life change so quickly. Kids today might not even recognize some of the items some of us used when we were kids. If you have a spare seven minutes, you might watch this video made by The Fine Brothers last year, which features kids reacting to a Nintendo Game Boy from 1989. Their reactions are priceless.

Nothing dates a book or movie faster than the inclusion of game systems and other products, trendy stores, TV shows, or celebrities. What’s hot today may be cold tomorrow. (MySpace anyone?) But if you’re writing a contemporary book, in order to be realistic and appeal to your audience, you have to mention at least some products, stores, TV shows, or celebrities, right? After all, readers need a frame of reference. It’s easier to mention PS4, because we have a mental picture of what that is. (If you don’t, click on PS4 above.) But consider how dated even that console may seem in five years. Probably as dated as some of the phones below.

evolution-phone

As I work on my WIP, I find myself making up most of the products and celebrities named, the exception being well-known people from the past or sports celebrities who set a record or won a coveted award. Making up people and products is easier than trying to guess which celebrities or videogames will still be popular in four or five years. Maybe some games like Pokémon might still be around. Consider how long it’s been around in our time—since 1996. But I don’t want to take a chance that a currently well-known game system will still be popular or a beloved celebrity still in everyone’s good graces and not incarcerated.

There are some existing products I might keep——like Coca-Cola or Rice Krispies®. Those have been around for decades. But I’m having fun inventing my own games, song lyrics, celebrities, TV shows, etc. Making up products gives me much needed world-building practice.

Rice Krispies

What about you? Do you use preexisting items in your stories or do you make up products, trendy stores, or celebrities? Is it safe to assume that certain products will have a longer shelf life, and therefore are safe to mention?

Alicia Silverstone as Cher and Stacey Dash as Dionne photo from tulsa20something.com. Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity photo from photocritiques.blogspot.com. Mobile phone evolution from storify.com. Rice Krispies from Walmart.ca.

Pokémon and Writing: What I Learned

pokemon-logo

I played my first game of Pokémon—the popular RPG—in 1998 or 1999, on a berry Game Boy Color. This version (see box below) was not my last. If you don’t know the game (or any of its versions) and/or wish to get through life without knowing anything about it, feel free to skip ahead to the part of this post where I talk about writing (the bold text below). But I still refer to Pokémon. (Ya win some, ya lose some, huh?) Meanwhile, I’ll continue providing an extremely quick overview of the world of Pokémon.

51-BDJwtpFL

Blue_EN_boxart

Many evolutions of the game (as well as the handheld game console) have come and gone since I first discovered it. If you’ve played any version of it, you know the object: travel to various cities catching, training, and sometimes trading Pokémon—little creatures classified by type (water, fire, poison, electric, rock, normal, fighting, ground, psychic, ice, bug, grass, ghost, dark, steel).

pikachu_68734

Pikachu, an electric Pokémon

You train your Pokémon by having them fight other Pokémon. In this way, they advance in level (1 [though many start at level 3—6] to 100). At certain levels, Pokémon evolve and gain new abilities (like kids in our world; alas, you the proud trainer have nothing to mount on your refrigerator).

In your goal of becoming the best trainer in the game, you learn that certain Pokémon types are more effective against others. Also, you’re often challenged by trainers who trash talk you until you school them by having your Pokémon beat theirs. (Take that! My kid’s better than yours!) You also earn money for these battles. Sweet!

In some versions of Pokémon, you have a rival—a friend from your town—who challenges you to several battles to test your ability as a trainer. Isn’t that what friends are for?

Various villains (Team Rocket; Team Plasma; scientists and grunts working for these organizations) serve as the external threat with their nefarious plots to rule over Pokémon. They say things like, “Mwwhaha! No one can stop me!” or “I’ll take you down and take your Pokémon!” Priceless.

You can’t run when challenged by any of these individuals. Your only option is to fight. Your Pokémon aren’t invincible, however. Sooner of later, they’ll lose a battle. If that happens, you have to get them the help they need.

As you travel, you learn to replace weaker Pokémon with stronger ones in your party or from the wild. (You carry six Pokémon at a time.) For example, let’s say you have Pokémon at level 18 or so and you arrive at an area of the game inhabited by level 31—35 Pokémon. A good strategy would be to replace your lower level Pokémon with those at a higher level—if you can catch them.

At certain points in the game, you will face the challenge of eight gyms and their gym leaders in order to receive badges. These badges are benchmarks in the game to test your strength as a trainer. The ultimate test comes toward the climax of the game when you face the Pokémon League challenge and take on the Elite Four—the best trainers in the land. You can’t get to the Pokémon League without the eight gym badges. Once you take down the Elite Four, the game sometimes provides still another trainer you have to beat—a trainer who also beat them in order to become the champion.

Anyway, I won’t go into all of the aspects of the game, like the challenge to catch every kind of Pokémon, the Pokédex, the moves you can teach your Pokémon, and so on. After all, some versions of the game come with a 400+-page walkthrough guide. Besides, if you made it this far in the post, you’re probably wondering, What on earth does all of this have to do with what she learned about writing? Ah, young padawan, it’s simple:

Catching and training Pokémon—this is the drafting phase of writing. At the beginning of the game, a vision is cast: what you need to do to win this thing. You are the only one who can do it. Anytime you tackle a piece of writing, you catch the vision for what needs to be done, and you continue on the journey until it is done. Whether you’re a plotter who works by outline, or a pantser who develops the story as you go, your draft goes through an evolution—sometimes several.

Of course, the Pokémon represent the characters—the ones you develop until they’re at their highest level. You go along with them on this journey, sharing their victories and defeats. But Pokémon also represent the words you choose to give your story life. The “catch them all” goal of the game is the goal of a discovery draft. In this phase, you’re just trying to get the story written, without worrying so much about how it sounds. You’re discovering the story as you go.

Switching and trading Pokémon—this is the revision process. You switch the order of or delete scenes, evaluate chapters, trade weaker verbs for stronger, or delete dead-weight characters to make your manuscript ready for the big league—submission to an agent or publisher.

Team Plasma and other villains not only represent the conflict necessary in a good story, they also represent your inner editor—always ready to trash talk you and get you to doubt. You can’t avoid this battle. Sooner or later, you have to fight in order to move forward. But the gym leaders represent your beta readers. Their purpose is to help you hone your manuscript. Listening to wise advice, discerning which comments to implement or discard—that’s all part of becoming a stronger wordsmith.

The most important thing I learned while playing Pokémon is to have fun. Same with writing. If it’s not fun, why do it?