Friday, February 3, 2012

Get Your School and Writing Lives to Stop Bickering

I'm very much a "get-two-birds-with-one-stone" type of girl.  I love combining purposes of things so I feel like I'm not wasting my time.  Thus, I have this post for you.

If I guess correctly, most of us are in this situation right now:


Let me explain.  You are a dashing (or gorgeous) young hero (heroine) on a grand adventure.  Or at least, it would be grand if you didn't have a humongous boulder rolling behind you and gaining speed.  This figurative boulder represents none other than....


As long as you keep running, you're okay, but if you stop along the path to do anything else, like write / edit a novel, you'll be shmeezed by that heartless ball of rock.  Well.  It may seem hopeless, but if you want to accept the glass half full and sort of get the better of School, I have a solution.


Don't look at me like that.

Let's take a look at some individual school subjects and how they can add to your writing experience instead of take away from it.


Oh, my goodness.  History is so valuable to any author's writing because history itself is one long, never-ending true story! It is made up of real people and their real adventures that can spark endless story ideas, as well as teach you army tactics and winning strategies.  For Seaspear, I checked out a book on famous sea battles, so I could understand more about how they worked and what was involved.

If you're writing and you get stuck, you may even want to look into history to see if any other individual was stuck in the same predicament as your fictional character.

Even if you're not writing historical fiction, you may choose to base the world you're creating on a time period in our world.  For instance, I know Shannon Hale modeled Bayern partly on Germany.  I had to research Athens and Sparta for my Nano novel, because I was writing about a futuristic Athens / Sparta world.  The amount of research Scott Westerfeld must have had to do to produce his Leviathan trilogy is truly astounding.  Just think - if he hadn't learned all that about World War I, his books would be decidedly low quality.

If you're writing a realistic fiction, you may still want to reference a historical event, so tackle that history book with a will, okay?

Westerfeld's revised  World War I map


Science teaches us a lot about how our world works.  If you're writing a fantasy where you have to create your own world, you will need to know the fundamentals of your world's sciences.  Does your world have a problem with global cooling? Is there no gravity? What are the ramifications of that? 

In Starclimber, by Kenneth Oppel, Matt goes to space with Kate and some other pals.  But, as expected, something goes wrong and if they hadn't known about gravity and atmosphere, they would have been....toast in space.   



I'm guessing that most of us have complained about not being able to understand our characters.  Well, here's the answer: take Psych. 

Not really, but still - stay alert in class.  You may miss a valuable bit of information that could spark a story idea.  Who knows? You could be inspired to write a short story about how Freud had to flee a gang called the Green Fist right after he made his major breakthrough....

Or you could just decide to add an insane psychologist as a character to your novel, and in that case, you'd need more information on psych theories, wouldn't you?

Psychology teaches us how people work and what motivates them.  And stories are all about people.


Government / Social Studies

Again, like history, this one is priceless.  You're going to need this stuff, especially if you're writing a fantasy or historical fiction.  How does your monarchy work? If your characters are fighting the government, why is it so bad?

Who gets to declare war? Who is really in command of the armies?

One book I know that has a believable, thought-provoking governmental / social system is Fall of a Kingdom by Hilari Bell.  On one side, there are the deghans, who are good fighters but really full of themselves.  On the other is the highly organized, highly skilled Hrum Empire, who is prepared to take over anyone or anything in its path.  Kavi, one of the main characters, hates the deghans because of something one did to him.  When he falls in with the Hrum, however, he finds out that their government condones slavery.  He has to weigh for himself which side is the best, if either.

For realistic fiction, government could still be useful, but social studies are even more so.  If your character breaks a serious law, you have to know what happens in the real world when someone breaks that same law.


There's not much to say about math.  I don't think it's useful storywise, but if your character is struggling with math, you'll want to reference a specific concept.  Like, 

"I just can't get the whole logarithim thing," whined Sasha.

Now, there's a character I can relate to.  Math is also helpful when you have a character who is supposed to be really smart.

"But they're so easy," Dan replied, waving his TI-84 calculator in front of Sasha's face.  "They're so joyously simple! All you have to do is ____."

As you can see, I am not very smart, so I couldn't fill in that last blank about logarithims.  But, if I had studied them in more detail, I would be able to make Dan a more believable character.


That's all I have for now.  If you can think of any other ways to link school to writing life, please comment and let us all know! Make the best of that rolling boulder.

- Ellyn


Mia said...

THANK YOU for writing this, E! This semester is proving to be more inspiring than the last one. Chemistry, I tell ya, has something to do with it...I think I need a mad chemist character in a future novel, probably the same one that features an introverted mathematician.

Now I'll go read a few pages of Fall of a Kingdom before chipping away at philosophy. :)

Miss Sarah said...

I hear you, Ellyn

Stephanie Morrill said...

What a fabulous post, Ellyn! Wish you wrote it back when I was in high school :)

Lily said...

Great post! I love using history in my writing. I don't do it often, but I always have fun researching it.

One way you could use math in a story is if a character had to break a math-based code of some kind.