Making Stuff Up

June 6, 2010 at 5:50 am (Setting, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

Even though I write fantasy I kind of avoid just making random things up. I tend to read widely and borrow bits from here and there and put them together in new ways.  There’s a reason for this. When you just make stuff up it tends to sound like it is entirely made up because people don’t have any kind of connection to it or understanding of it. They have no history with the concept and so it becomes a harder idea to sell to the reader in terms of believability (and despite writing fantasy I know that I want my reader to believe the world they are in, even if only for a little bit).

That said, I’m being a little more ambitious with my latest WIP. I’m still basing most of the creatures and things on common mythologies but I’m definitely adding more of my own designs to the mix. Whether this will work or end up an incomprehensible mess of overly descriptive fluff is yet to be determined but I’m really enjoying the process. I’ve drawn on most of my previous knowledge about miscellaneous beasties and thought about my favourite creatures from movies and television and then still considered things I’ve read about in other stories and taken a bit from here, there and everywhere to come up with some really interesting creatures to populate my world.

For interesting read deadly and just plain nasty.

Of course I then have the fantastic problem of trying to figure out what to name these things. I’ve learned not to attach any name to something until I’m sure it is right because names, once used, tend to stick and that can lead to disaster if the name was utterly wrong to begin with. I’ve been describing each new addition to the world to a few friends and been judging by their faces as to whether I’ve totally lost touch or not. And if their faces weren’t letting me know than the strained tones as they say words like ‘interesting’ or ‘that’s different’ certainly would.

I think every writer needs that test audience, particularly if they are venturing into unfamiliar territory. And I’ve carefully selected the order I talk to people in. Fantasy fans first, because that’s who I want to read the stories. But fantasy readers tend to be more accepting of bizarre so if the idea passes that test I check it out on a few people who don’t go for fantasy at all just to see if I can convince them such a creature could exist.

You know, when you are kid you don’t worry about all these things. Of course the cupcakes joined together and formed a massive creature with jelly eyes and a dress made out of sprinkles. You don’t worry whether you can sell that idea to anyone, you just do it.

Oh well.

How often do you make things up and do you run them by a test audience first?



  1. Tooty Nolan said,

    Your mention of cup cakes brings to mind an old pop band. Half man – half biscuit. Now that’s a legendary beastie that we can all get our teeth into!

  2. David Cranmer said,

    I run every story past at least two extra set of eyes.

  3. Elizabeth Spann Craig said,

    I think 85% of what I write is an amalgam of different things I’ve seen and heard and experienced. Makes my story a little more solid. The rest (the dead bodies, for instance!) is all made up.

    My mom is my only first reader right now…then it goes to my agent who reads everything before it goes to my editor.

  4. Jemi Fraser said,

    Love your point about naming things – so very true. Once a name is there, it’s hard to change.

    I have 2 crit buddies who read my stuff – they’re online and awesome 🙂

  5. Lua said,

    I don’t write fantasy, so most of the ‘making up’ I do is about people’s thoughts and emotions… One of my favorite things to do is to get two very different people in the same room for a long period of time and let them communicate… The outcomes are always interesting to find out but there is always the risk of people thinking “no, someone like him would never say or do something like that.” So I ask some of my friends with different perspectives of life, love and human relationships read the stories and see how it goes… 🙂

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I love watching how people relate and interact. There are so many subtleties that come up.

  6. Alex Willging said,

    A lot of my story material is inspired from many existing stories and mythologies that interest me. For example, my current WIP has some Low/Urban Fantasy concepts, along with a bit of Christian demonology. Most of my ideas are just “reimagining” what others have done and has to answer the question, “How is this my story and not someone else’s?”

    My test audience is usually just my family and friends, and even then it’s for the more literary-inclined types.

  7. Carol J. Garvin said,

    My fictitious worlds are based on snippets from my real world, so I don’t have to wonder if that part is believable. Keeping my characters acting and reacting true to their personalities is the challenge for me. I depend on beta readers for feedback. What one doesn’t pick up, another usually does.

    I spend a lot of time on names, for both people and places, because the right ones can add subtle meaning. Sometimes I change them along the way when something better strikes me. What doesn’t usually change is my working title. I can’t start until a title is in place, and it stays in place as part of the story’s theme right to the end. Strangely, I don’t think it will bother me if an agent or editor wants a title changed. By then it will have served its purpose for me.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I’m currently trying to name something and so far all of my suggestions have been laughably bad. So far it is Name-To-Come thing in the draft.

  8. catwoods said,

    This is a great post, Cassandra.

    I have only written one (half-finished) fantasy where I made up a creature. I have no idea if the name works or not. : )

    You bring up a good point about names, however. I always hate reading fantasy books where the names of places or characters feel like a rip off of another language or existing places/people. I like originality, but believability. I imagine this is almost as hard to pull off as creating the creatures and places.

    Good luck as you experiment your way throught this new land~ cat

  9. Blog posts « Serial Distractions said,

    […] writers, our job is to make stuff up.  Cassandra Jade addresses the need to keep it real as you do so.  You have to have that nugget of realism from […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: