To make a world feel real and functional, you also want to make sure that it’s grounded by rules — an internal rationale, so to speak. This should encompass everything from the workings of your society to, yes, your magic system (if your universe possesses magic). Easier said than done, maybe. How to actually go about it? Chersti Nieveen, a proofreader of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, advises you to read up on the basic and fundamental fields. “Become familiar with the basics of economics, politics, philosophy, and more, and you’ll create a believable world of your own,” she says. Don’t know where to start with your magic system? Brandon Sanderson shares useful theories about magic systems referred to as Sanderson's 3 Laws of Magic, offering a few approaches through which authors can work through their own.
“What makes worldbuilding tick? Specific, sensory detail,” says Michelle Hope, who’s previously worked with George R.R. Martin and Blake Crouch. “So my advice for fantasy authors is, simply: you can be as inventive and magical as you want in your work if the writing is detailed enough to seem authentic.” Take pop culture’s current fantasy darling, Game of Thrones. “Crisp air, hooves clattering on ironwood planks, a warm tongue, women’s perfume, summerwine, soft fur. The writing's full of these concrete details,” points out Hope. “So when the author expands the universe to include fantastical elements, we buy it. Dragons? Sure! Face-swapping assassins? Why not? Frozen zombies? Didn’t see that coming, but the author’s sensory style already established the world as believable, so we’re primed to accept anything thrown at us.” That said, abstract clichés don’t count. No-one’s going to be impressed by your description of a man with piercing gray eyes that are the color of a storm. Instead, use the senses to make the reader feel like they're there. “When a reader can viscerally inhabit your world, they won’t question it when you introduce the fantastical into your story,” says Hope. “They’ll take your word for it.”
“Your concerns about politics, culture, the environment, technology, violence, racism, misogyny — these issues can be explored in inventive, eye-opening ways while writing fantasy,” says Rebecca Faith Heyman, an editor who worked on Elise Kova’s The Alchemists of Loom. “In this way, we want to return to our own existences with new perspectives, new solutions to old problems, or new awareness of what's at stake.” Another way to put it: is anything, in particular, frustrating you in real life? You can explore it through your story, because the world’s your own. And, who knows, you might be speaking for other people out there in the world who read your book and share your perspectives. “Carry On by Rainbow Rowell does this brilliantly,” adds Heyman. “There are undercurrents of identity politics explored there, as well as a depth of characterization that merges meaningfully with the fantastical elements of the text. The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, as well as the brilliant Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, explore racial prejudice, ableism, identity politics, and more.”
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Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech. However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.
“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor
Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out. Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank. One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.
Plot and worldbuilding should see eye-to-eye. “You want to be original, so ask yourself, what sets my world apart?” says Alex Foster, a ghostwriter who’s penned eight bestsellers. Importantly, a rich universe can be a major player in your plot — playing as big of a role as any other character. “In A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin uses the environment as a plot point when describing both summer and winter seasons — as winter brings dark, dead things that can wipe out the entire Realm,” says Foster. “He also adds architecture as a plot point in the form of the Wall, a massive ice edifice separating the North and the South. How fascinating that such a massive piece of plot centers around a single wall. Sounds simple, but you can see its complexity. Stephen King also does an expert job in Under the Dome, when a small town is suddenly cut off from the rest of the world by a giant, transparent dome.”
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The Pomodoro Technique is a great way to stay focussed, maintain a flow state and get things done quicker. It was developed in the 1990s by Francesco Cirillo to divide sections of focussed work and break time into blocks of time. Pomodoro in this case refers to the tomato-shaped timer the Italian used to develop the idea during his university days. The blocked time schedule works as follows—25 minute of focussed work (also called a pomodoro) on the task at hand and then 5 minutes of break time. These blocks are to be timed and adhered to strictly with the premise being that short spurts of focussed work can increase mental clarity and focus. It’s also recommended to break specific steps or tasks down into pomodoros—so you could break your routine into a 25-minute pomodoro for chords, a 25-minute pomodoro for lyric writing and beyond.
Stream of consciousness is especially popular in writing circles. Poets and authors have used the technique to spur on ideas and tap into the subconscious mind. The technique translates fairly well to writing music but there’s a few things to keep in mind when trying it. Sit down, relax and grab your instrument of choice, forget everything you know about music theory and rules or structure, and dial in a great tone and pick some effects you like. Now all you have to do is stare out the window and play whatever comes to mind. Let your mind and your fingers guide you and have a little unstructured self jam. After a while, you might notice some patterns, chords and notes you like. Make note of them and start working out a riff or lick you’d like to try building a song around.
Your neighborhood is full of interesting sounds. Why not go find them, record them and put them into your own context? Just grab your field recorder (the smartphone in your pocket is a great starter) and hit the streets. Think of places around you where you could get an interesting snippet to sample—loud conversations at your local Italian coffee shop, college students wandering home late at night during frosh week, birds in the morning, church bells ringing, rainfall… the list goes on and on. Once you record them, they’re sounds that only you have. So get inspired and find some songwriting inspiration with a carefully considered sound walk.