Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Workshop: Boost Your Writing Using Second Life (Part3/4)

Milk Wood

Workshop Notes (cont.)
Host: Lizzie Gudkov
Location: Milk Wood
Date: November 5 2015

When you visit a sim looking for ideas for your story or looking for ways to get unstuck, ways to motivate you back to writing, I’d like to suggest two possible approaches.

    3.3. The Macro Approach – Get to know the whole sim

– Take a walk around.
– Don’t worry about taking notes, just enjoy the sim.
– Get the feel for the layout of the pathways, streets, tunnels, mazes.
– Enjoy the buildings, the colors and the general mood of the place.
– Notice the sounds. Sim creators always pay close attention to everything to make sure apparently unimportant details contribute to the general mood of the whole sim – the wind, doors opening and closing, wooden floorboards creaking, a crow in the distance, birds chirping, the water splashing against a pier, etc.
– Get to know the whole sim!
– This approach is good for creating settings in your story.

   3.4. The Micro Approach – Go for detail

– Look for something specific.
– A house, a room inside a house, or even an object or two inside a specific room - I mentioned a house but it could be a ship, a cave or any other space.
– Don’t be afraid to click here and there, to experiment.
– I have stumbled upon a few very unusual ideas by sitting somewhere and ending up hanging upside down! Sim creators often have a great sense of humor and they have fun adding details that the less curious would miss entirely!
– Look for that spark that would reignite your story, that could get you back on track, writing!
– Go for detail!
– This approach is good for creating and adding detail/depth to characters and to the storyline.

During NaNoWriMo, we have to work quickly, overcome problems quickly and get unstuck quickly.

Knowing that you can arrive at a location in Second Life, a sim, a parcel or even a small area within a parcel, and have a diversity of resources that will trigger ideas – basically, solutions – for your writing is, to say the least, reassuring.

    3.5. Going beyond Your Comfort Zone

More experienced writers often advise new writers saying “Write about what you know”. However, once we set our minds to writing something, we, as writers, tend to be extremely stubborn. Sometimes stories push us to go beyond our comfort zone.

Being immersed in a virtual world provides you with ideas. But it also provides you with crucial information, sometimes with information that changes your approach to the story entirely.

An example. A while back, I wanted to write a story where my main character had to survive a snowstorm.

I live in Lisbon, Portugal. We don’t have snowstorms here! Not even during the most dreadful of winters. Yes, I know what a snowstorm is. I’ve read about it. I’ve seen films about snowstorms. I have an idea of what it is to be caught in a snowstorm, ok, a vague idea, I admit! But I have never experienced it.

So, I teleported to a winter sim. I paid close attention to the elements I recognized, the wind, and the whiteness, how everything moved in a sort of an overwhelming way. But there was one thing I hadn’t thought of. I knew about it, but I had completely forgotten about it because being in a snow environment is not part of my life experience – and that was the sound of snow/ice cracking under my feet. This is the kind of detail that makes a story richer. I then understood that my story had to have a lot of sound references to be more believable.

Another example.  Up until recently, I wrote a monthly column for the Virtual Writers website. The column was called “A Story Waiting to Happen”. For this column, I would visit a sim and use the macro and micro approaches I have just told you about. I would then suggest ideas for stories and for characters based on what I saw at that particular sim.

One of the places that impressed me the most was Hestium. When I first visited Hestium, it was a parcel, about a quarter of a sim. Today, Hestium covers a larger area. A few parcels were added in the meantime.

The place has several houses decorated in very different ways, suggesting different characters are living there. This is fascinating for a writer. And it’s especially useful as a resource for our NaNoWriMo backup plan.

If you’d like to try the suggestions I’ve made so far, this is a great place to start. At Hestium, we are encouraged to go inside the houses and check everything (there are no rented houses; there’s only one small area we have no access to, which is the owner’s home).

Having NaNoWriMo in mind, I suggest the following:

– Look around and choose the elements (again, not too many!) you find useful for your story, the elements you think could trigger ideas, the elements that will prompt you back to writing, and use techniques we, as writers, are all very familiar with.
– Brainstorm connections between these elements – the general ambiance of the place, a house, a person/character that could be living at a specific location in the sim, an object or two you come across - and the characters in your story. Choose objects that will add something to your character’s story, experience and disposition.
– Ask questions like - Who? Why? What? How? When? Related to the objects you’ve chosen or the characters you imagine are living there.
– Ask “What if…?” I like this approach a lot and use it often to brainstorm possible conflict and tension
– Look around and make your character say “I wish I could...” How would he complete this sentence?
– Think about your character’s life by taking the whole area that you’re visiting into consideration or the way a house is decorated or even a particular object.
– Think about what kind of connection the character has with the location, the house and the objects inside. Do you think they trigger good recollections or do they remind him of something terrible?
– You can use these techniques as prompts to add elements to a character/scene that already exists in your story or to create a new character or a new situation that would encourage you to go back to writing.

What’s wonderful about Second Life is that it’s always changing. New environments, new ideas and resources are available! That also happens at Hestium.

While I was preparing for today’s meeting with you, I revisited Hestium only to find out that a whole new group of residents, fictional residents, had moved in! That was both intriguing and fascinating.

Allow me a disclaimer here. I’m in no way affiliated with Hestium. I think it’s a great place for us, because it does have writers and stories in mind.
Like Hestium, I’m sure there are many more interesting locations out there in Second Life, depicting all sorts of environments and becoming potential material for all types of stories.
This goes for Milk Wood too, where we are right now. When you have a bit of time, just take a walk around and you’ll see a lot of interesting locations, characters and objects.

What’s really important is that a location provides you with new ideas so you feel that you are ready to go back to writing.


  1. excellent advice and post Lizzie! and I love sound too!