X: Xhilerating Xercise Xceeds Xpectations, or, writing while walking, or, xs are stupid don’t look at me

A nice, slow walk on a perfect day is just the best. Something about it always gets my creative juices flowing. I can’t even guess at all the hours I’ve spent muttering to myself on the beautiful forested trails in my hometown, brainstorming and even fully outlining scenes.  It’s a bit embarrassing, but sometimes I’ll even compose dialogues back and forth between characters, sounding out the way it should flow with my own voice. And the beat of my feet keeps me going.

It’s hard to say what it is about walking that makes me start writing entire books in my head. If I’m trying to actually burn calories and exercise, the creativity fades. I’m focused on what I’m doing, and keeping together thoughts is tough. But when I’m taking my time, strolling, enjoying the day… it’s like words just come.

honestly, I feel creative just looking at it.
honestly, I feel creative just looking at it.

When I need inspiration or am suffering a little writer’s block or am trying to put together my scattered ideas for something, it’s always a walk that gets me going. Places like this are my lifeblood. Looking at this photograph makes me want to put on my sneakers and breathe in some fresh, clean air. Being by myself in places like this turns me into the most talented person alive. The ideas come faster than I can catch them and everything just slides into place.

Of course, a lot of it fades once I sit back down. But I can carry little pieces of it with me, and I do. There are so many great scenes in my debut novel that were sketched out and pieced together while I walked a beautiful forest trail. There’s a magic out there, plain and simple.

As a footnote, gosh I hate the letter X. What a useless thing it is! It’s essentially useless in English unless it’s attached to an E! This language is maddening sometimes. It’s a good thing that we’ve stolen all the nice words from every other language out there. You need something to recommend you, English!

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T: Technology and Fantasy, or, the story of the flashbulb camera

Today I’m just going to tell a little story about something that happened to me while I was writing my debut novel, The Deathsniffer’s Assistant, and how it relates to figuring out the level of technology your fantasy novel can have.

I was writing a scene where reporters are trying to get a statement on a major event. Newspapers have been around since long before the Edwardian era, and they’re a major background presence in my books. But I got wondering about illustrations, and decided to do some research about the history of photography.

As it turns out, the earliest use of what we’d consider a camera, with film and flashes of light, was invented in the latter half of the 19th century. But photography’s development was stymied by the methods that had to be used to get the bright flash of light required. The theory of photography has been around since ancient China and Greece. However, it was only with the advent of gunpowder that the ability to create a burst of light bright enough on command became possible. And my society never discovered gunpowder! Suffice to say, I couldn’t just use our history of the camera. I had to trace and conceptualize an alternate history.

As it turns out, that wasn’t very hard. In my world, technology is mostly achieved by spiritbinders, mages who summon elementals from another plane and bind them into objects, creating enchanted power sources for them. One of those elements rules light and darkness. It would have been beyond easy for my spiritbinders to have developed the camera flash a lot earlier than ever happened in our world.

it just screams
it just screams “old school.”

Enter the iconic flashbulb camera. It wasn’t invented until decades after the era I was aiming for, but it fit with aesthetic regardless. Who doesn’t feel a burst of early 20th century nostalgia at the sight of a flashbulb? And moreover: using the flashbulb actually made more sense. If spiritbinders had developed a method of reliably creating a flash earlier than photographers in our world did, their tech would be more advanced than ours in the same era.

And so I just used it! I think the image of all those camera flashing and popping gives the scene it’s used in a lot of life and character, and I actually ended up working elements of its unconventional tech into the plot instead of just using it for set dressing!

The moral of the story is that good fantasy tech should feel organic to the world. Don’t just think about what year you’re going for and check what year X or Y was invented in. Look into how it was invented, and see if and how your society could produce it! Those little touches add a lot of realism.