Posts Tagged ‘template’

2901955081_8d6f4cb45f_zA good magic system or weird technology can really make a fantasy or steampunk setting. To try to do this better in my future writing, I’ve come up with five points to consider when creating such a system:

My Five Point Magic System Template

  1. Theme: What am I trying to do or express with this magic? Am I after something exciting, horrifying, humorous? Do I want to use it to explore love, art, vengeance, greed or some other issue? Whatever I pick, that will become prominent in any story using this system.
  2. Cost: All magic and technology has to have a cost. If it doesn’t then it becomes a limitless resource that lets users do whatever they want. So what’s the cost? Do users become corrupted? Do they have limited magical reserves they use up? Must they spill blood or dig up ghost rock to power their machines?
  3. Limitations: What can this magic do, and what can’t it do? Being clear on this stops it becoming a deus ex machina that resolves every story situation in unsatisfying fashion. Knowing the limits means you can set them up early in your story.
  4. Who can do it? Usually, only a select group of people can access the magic of a setting. So who are these people? Is it everyone who trained at the University of Making Things Go Bang? Is it all ginger people? Do you have to be blessed by the Empress to have magical power?
  5. Rules: Points 2-4 are the most important rules for a magic system, but there will be others. Circumstances in which it does and doesn’t work. Taboos around its use. How it looks when it happens. Knowing the rules gives you limitations to explore, boundaries to encourage creativity, and are what separate a system from just hand waving away your characters’ problems.

How About You?

Can you think of other things I should consider when creating magic and technology systems for fiction? Do you have your own list? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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This scurvy crew are motivated by the longing for booze

These scurvy characters are motivated by the longing for booze

I love templates for the same reason I loved standard operating procedures when I was stuck in an office – they’re a way of making sure you don’t forget important details. Sure, you might need to deviate from them from time to time, but well made structures can help with anything, even the art of writing.

Heck, especially the art of writing.

When I’m writing the flash stories that appear here every Friday, I tend to only use a single plot template. Using a load of different tools for such a short story would be overkill. But when I’m writing a novel or the longer sort of short story, my desire for structure really goes to town, with all sorts of checklists and templates.

Given that a lot of my readers are also writers, I thought it might be useful to share one or two of these. So below is the checklist I use when trying to create a well developed character. I’ve added notes where I felt they’d help. Feel free to use it as you see fit, to let me know if you find it helpful, and to point out anything you think would be worth adding. Like any good process, this is a work in progress, and there’s always room to get better.

Andrew’s Character Template, version 1.2

Name

Concept – what is the core idea for this character? communist inventor? Buddhist adventurer? king of the whales?

Thematic link – how they connect to the theme of my story

Arc – how are they going to change over the course of the story?

Symbol – is there a particular thing that symbolises them within the story? for example, in one novel I’m working on the male lead is connected to blood and the female to fire.

Appearance

Voice – how they talk, especially distinctive words and sentence structures I can use.

Mannerisms

Grounding foibles – a little whimsical interest makes even the most grand of characters more relatable.

Story goal – what are they trying to achieve on the surface?

Deeper drive – what’s the deeper drive, perhaps never explicitly stated, that pushes them on? even ink and paper people deserve a subconscious.

Competence, proactivity and sympathy – which of these are they weaker and stronger in? in what way? a character who lacks all of them is unappealing, one who’s strong in them all becomes too flawlessly good (I stole this idea from a Writing Excuses episode)

Fundamental weakness – the one that runs deepest and causes them the most problems.

Flaws / faults

Response to pain – borrowed from someone I worked with on a ghostwriting project, this can be very telling about the character – when they’re hurt, physically or mentally, do they run, hide, fight back, try not to let it show?

Desire for survival affecting choices – this and the following four are borrowed from choice theory – how do these psychological drivers affect the character’s behaviour? which make the most difference? how do they come into conflict?

Desire for power affecting choices

Desire for freedom affecting choices

Desire for love & belonging affecting choices

Desire for fun & learning affecting choices

Conflicting characteristics – because internal conflict is interesting, and real people aren’t entirely consistent.

Family – who, where, etc.

What do they think makes them unique? – we all think we’re special in some way, and what we think we’re great at isn’t always the reality – another little detail to make the character more real.