The Real-Life Guide to Writing

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Introduction

The main problem that a lot of people have told me in regards to writing is that they don’t have time to write. My response has always been the same; it’s not a matter of having the time but finding the time.

Even if you gave yourself a two-hour window to write, you’ll find every excuse not to write during that time. Suddenly the laundry needs folding, the dishes need to be washed, the dog needs walking, and so on. By the time you’ve finished with all of that you have maybe fifteen minutes left to write and you spend that time staring at a blank screen. Then the next day you’ll complain, once again, that you don’t have time to write.

Since we’ve been talking about NaNoWriMo coming up in November, I figured we’ll utilize that for this article. This advice can be used anytime of the year.

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The Family

Getting the family on board with the idea of your writing for an entire month is a task in itself alone. Most of the family won’t understand why you want to do this sighting it as a waste of time. There is no clear way you can explain this to non-writers; at least I haven’t found one.

One suggestion would be to encourage members of your family to join you in the frenzy-filled madness of writing for thirty days straight. If they decline, the next step is to help them understand why you need to do this. Let them know how important this is to you and that you want them to respect your space and privacy.

Ask them for moral support, perhaps you can get them to read some of your manuscript and offer some suggestion for where the story is headed. Perhaps they can help you name a character, create a fictitious town, or share a personal anecdote that can happen in your story.

Above all, do not avoid your family altogether. Whether it just be you and your spouse or a household of children, make sure they remember what you look like. Purposefully set aside time to do something with the family; a dinner out, a movie, or a simple walk around the neighborhood. Getting away from the story will help you clear your mind and allow the ideas to keep flowing in your head.

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Meetings and Appointments

We don’t always have control of our time when it comes to doctor visits whether it’s a checkup or a weekly counselor’s session. However, you can try to schedule these appointments as close together as possible and get them out of the way ASAP.

When an appointment is coming up, make sure you write a little extra to pad your word count for that day. Not every appointment eats up a lot time but, if little Johnny is rushed to the hospital from the school with a broken arm, you may find that a few days of writing will disappear while you tend to this emergency.

Naturally I’m not telling to ignore your family or obligations when it comes to these sudden changes, but stay ahead of your word count goal for any eventuality. And if you are a church-goer do not ignore your responsibilities for the purpose of writing. Your congregation might understand but God will not.

 

 

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Meals and “That” Holiday

If you are the cook in the household, you may find it difficult to do the evening meals for the family. Don’t just shove the yellow pages at your family and tell them to, “Figure it out for yourselves.” Pizza, on occasion, is nice but no one wants takeout every night of the week for an entire month!

One of the ideas that someone came up with was cooking several meals in advance and then freezing them so they can be thawed and reheated during the month. This is a great way to make sure your family not only gets enough to eat but is eating healthier than what they’d get through a drive-thru window.

Another idea is to get your spouse to do some of the cooking during this time and an even better idea would be to get the kids to help. Regardless of their age, they can help out Mom or Dad to get things ready for the evening meal. Plus, it’s a way to teach them how to cook without letting them know they are learning. Recipes are readily available all over the internet as are cooking videos that give you tips and hints on how to prepare certain dishes.

Of course the biggest event of November is that holiday called Thanksgiving. It falls on the fourth Thursday every year which is one of the few holidays that you can always keep up with.

One way to prepare for this is to have your story completely written before then. It’s not impossible but for some it may be more challenging; depending on how early or late that Thanksgiving falls. Some years it’s as early as the 22nd and others as late as the 28th. Either way, remind yourself it’s the fourth Thursday of the month.

If you’re hosting the big dinner at your house, prepare as much of the food in advance before the day arrives. There are some grocery stores that sell an entire turkey dinner with all of the trimmings so that all you’d have to do is heat everything up in the microwave or oven. Check your area and see if this option is available. There are also websites that give you a day-by-day preparation list for things to get ready leading up to the dinner.

Another idea is either have it earlier or postpone it until later depending on everyone’s availability that will be a part of your dinner. Nowhere is it written in stone that says you have to celebrate Thanksgiving on the actual day.

If you’ll be visiting someone else’s home for the meal, perhaps you can do some writing on the way over to the location. Whether you are travelling by car, train or airplane; you should be able to snag some extra words prior to the meal. Provided that your hosts understand your writing challenge, you might be able to get in some writing while waiting for the meal to be served. Don’t ignore them especially if you only see them once or twice a year. If you’re spending the weekend there, there’s always time to get some writing in on Friday and Saturday after the meal.

Of course, by the time Thanksgiving arrives, your spouse might say, “You’re still writing?” or “At least take the day off from this”. In the long run you might just give yourself the entire day off. Pad your word count the day before and then resume on that Friday while everyone is out shopping. If you’re finished, help yourself to an extra piece of pie to celebrate.

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Some Time-Saving Tips

As I stated at the beginning of this article; it’s not having the time, but finding the time to write. Here are some ideas to help you get some writing done:

1)  Rise 30 minutes earlier or go to bed 30 minutes later, and utilize that time to write. Even if you’re just putting ideas down on paper (or on the screen), write. It doesn’t have to make sense just write it.

2)  Pre-record all of your favorite shows and then watch them at the end of each week or after you’ve finished the entire project. With technology today, you don’t have to watch an episode the night it is broadcast.

3)  Reduce your e-mail viewing. Either utilize the vacation mode on your account or limit the number of times you read them. Twice a day should be the maximum if you usually do it more often.

4)  Limit your presence on Social Media. For some this is like depriving a person of water or air. If you are a social butterfly, let your peeps know that you won’t be on as often but make sure you check in so they know you’re still alive.

5)  Write during your lunch hour at work. If you can’t take a laptop, using the ol’ pen and paper to scribble your story. You can get a good amount of words finished this way and it will count towards your final total.

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Conclusion

Whatever you do, do not totally neglect your spouse or family during your writing session; be it a week or an entire month. Spend some time with them, eat meals with them, and celebrate each milestone that you cross. Remember my mantra: 5K, every 3 days; if you write 5000 words every three days that will get you to the goal of 50K of the NaNo challenge. Or whatever goal you set yourself for your story.

 

What about you? What are your secrets to dealing with everyday life and writing? Share any hints or tips of what worked and what didn’t. I’m looking forward to hearing your comments.

Happy Adventuring!

Chris

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Fantasy Author writes Mainstream Fiction?

Introduction

        One of the challenges of being a fiction writer is turning a little towards a non-fiction direction and writing a story which I have called contemporary; real people doing real things in the real world. The genre is usually called, “General Fiction” or, as the NaNoWriMo site calls it, “Mainstream Fiction”. So why is it a challenge?

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It Just got Real!

        First, we ask what is “Mainstream” or “General” fiction? They are stories set in the time of today and somewhere on Earth. The characters are just basic people who you can picture living next door or those who you work with side-by-side. The situations are standard enough that you can relate to something that could happen to you and/or your friends.

        Some examples of mainstream fiction would be: The Good Earth, The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Since 2005 I’ve been taking the idea of writing more serious and since 2014 have published 8 works online for purchase. You’ll notice that the bulk of my stories are Fantasy-based, but a couple of my short stories are more mainstream with a Twilight Zone twist.

        So why am I worried about my new project for November? The main reason, as I talked about in my previous article, is that it is personal for me. Writing about things that happen in my life is sometimes hard to do specifically when it involves intense scenes or situations. The other reason is that there is nothing magical about the story. There won’t be any fantasy characters popping by, no twists in the middle, and no visits to a certain group of towers.

        This doesn’t mean that the story will be boring and mundane, just a straightforward tale of real people with real problems that can’t be fixed by waving a wand or casting a spell.

 Accuracy still counts

        When writing Historical Fiction, you know you have to be accurate as far as inventions or using historical figures in your stories. For example, if you are writing about a party that takes place during the American Civil War (1861-1865), you can’t have a telephone ring as they haven’t been invented until 18–. The same with historical figures; you might want to have Joe Louis, the boxer, make an appearance in your story set in Florida but at the time of your story’s setting, Joe might have been in New York.

        The same goes for mainstream fiction. Just because your story is set four years ago (2014), like mine, doesn’t mean you have to ignore “history”. If you’re character is purchasing the latest cell phone, find out which model was available at that time as they update frequently. The one you use today may not have been on the market four days ago. And please, do not say that they know someone who got them a phone that hasn’t been released yet. That shows poor research and laziness.

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Mesa, AZ Sept. 8, 2014

 

       In regards to weather, make sure your sunny day in the desert is actually what took place as we do get a fair amount of rain at certain times of the year. Even if you have a fictional town put in an American State, find out what the weather was doing in that area. Otherwise, you’d have to explain why the majority of the state was receiving a downpour of rain while your little town was dry and sunny.

 Finding Normal in Abnormal

Love of Cassie 

       In my story, “For the Love of Cassie”, I needed something more to the story than what was going one between the couple; Travis and Kylie. Since I made Travis a student of Veterinarian medicine, I had him receive an emergency call from a vet to take a trip down to Tucson to help with an animal hospital there that was dealing with a major crisis. This got my couple separated a good distance to set up for the surprise ending. I don’t know really anything about veterinarians but I’ve been in animal hospitals enough times to get a feel for the place. Sometimes that’s all you really need to keep the storyline going and giving it a real feel.

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  My character Chuck, from the Floor 17 Café, is an average down-to-earth waiter. The extraordinary part about it is where he works and the customers he deals with. But I always keep in mind that there is nothing magical about Chuck and try to fit myself into his shoes and to have him react in similar fashion to how I would.

One Final Suggestion

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       If you can’t deviate that far from your chosen genre, there’s always dream sequences you can writer where anything goes. Or, you can always introduce a character that seems wiser that he lets on, or can see things that others cannot. Just don’t explain them and keep it a mystery. Whatever you do, just don’t go far away from what your writing that you realize you’re back to your standard genre.

Conclusion

        Writing outside your comfort zone can help you further develop characters in ways you never thought before. Take a leap and give it a try!

        If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to comment on it. If you have further suggestions on how to write outside your genre of choice, share those as well.

 

Happy Adventuring!

Chris

Facing your Past in Fictional Writing

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Introduction

Writing can serve as a great therapeutic device when facing a personal problem or crisis. Whether you write in a journal, jot down your feelings in prose, or simply tell your story; you can begin the healing process by letting it out on paper.

This article was inspired by two articles written by Rachel Thompson: 4 Top Tips to overcome your fear of Writing and Top 3 Reasons Censoring your Writing is holding you back (warning: graphic language in the second one.)

The other inspiration to this article is that through a fictional story, I am going to face some of the things that happened to me for this year’s (2018) NaNoWriMo challenge.

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The Next Chapter of my Life

When I was divorced back in 2014, I felt that my life was officially over; that I had nothing left to live for. When you get married you picture all of the things that you want to do that most other American couples do; Buy a home, have children, raise a family, watch them graduate, walk them down the aisle for their wedding, live out your golden years in solitude. When a divorce takes place all of those things are ripped away from you and suddenly you find yourself all alone.

For me depression set in and I didn’t want to do anything. Not that I do much anyways; I’m a social butterfly, but even when it came to writing, preaching sermons, or anything I usually do I stopped doing. Thankfully the depression wasn’t severe enough that required medication (unless you count a slice of carrot cake as meds) but it took me two whole years to come to terms with the fact that I was divorced and it was time I picked myself up and move forward.

I truly believe that it was my faith in God that got me this far and will continue to do so in the future. Yes, I did contemplate suicide as I felt that there was nothing left to live for, but I felt a proverbial tap on the shoulder as if God was saying, “I still need you, let’s get back to work!”

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Picture courtesy of the NaNoWriMo.org website.

The 2018 NaNo Challenge

Here we are four years later and I still struggle a bit with the divorce; it’s something that I wasn’t exactly prepared for but I did have a good support group in members of my local congregation. I recently moved into a trailer park to isolate myself in a way to further deal with the divorce and really pull myself out of the doldrums.

One of the things I knew I wanted to do was take on NaNo this year and really try going the distance for 50K words in 30 Days. I last attempted it a couple years ago with very little motivation and, I believe, quit at only 8 days in.

The other thing I decided to do, amongst the other ideas I had, was to finally face my past by writing scenes in a fictional story which mirrored my own. Several years ago, I wrote two short stories involving this couple who got married in the nonconventional way. In other words, their first child was four before they decided to get married. Yes, I know this is that way people do it nowadays, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

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This year I decided to revisit those characters; redesign them a little, and move their marriage ten years down the road and see what they are up to. This will give me the perfect vehicle to channel my innermost thoughts onto the page and allow me to direct certain situations. Hopefully, by the time I finish I will not only have a completed first draft but also a chance to finally bury that part of my life and prepare for the next.

Conclusion

#writewhatscaresyou even if you do it in the form of fictional writing. Sometimes we can better control our own lives when we work with characters who are experiencing the same problems and then a solution will appear to solve both.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them here and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

 

Happy Adventuring!

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Chris

Graduation: Class of 2018

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Four years ago I wrote an article about graduation and it’s commencement speeches. I even included my own suggestion for such a speech. Since graduation is upon us once again, I thought I’d share the article again. Please enjoy!

Graduation for Dummies

Until next time,

Happy Adventuring!’

Chris

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New Year’s Resolutions

(And other lies we tell ourselves)

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Introduction

The countdown begins, Midnight strikes, “Auld Lang Syne” is sung, and a new year is under way. As tradition goes, people make resolutions for the coming year with the promise of changes to improve their lives. Of course, by the week’s end we’ve already reneged on those promises. So why do we make them?

 

Resolutions

Every year we make the same resolutions: I’m going on a diet, I’m going to travel more, I will be more outgoing, I won’t judge people quickly. And yet, just a few days later, we come to the realization that we were rash in our decisions and immediately fall back into routine. The diet is ruined by that extra piece of pie, traveling is out because of a dwindling bank account, being outgoing means having to be bold towards others, and I wouldn’t judge so quickly but did you see what she was wearing?

Why do we do this to ourselves? Part of the problem is a lack of self-control or discipline of the body. The other part is that sometimes we strive for lofty goals when smaller ones are easier to obtain. There’s nothing wrong with aiming a little lower than usual.

Instead of dieting: how about eating smaller meals, or making more healthy choices of food. Skip seconds or don’t have dessert as often as you used to do.

Instead of travel more in terms of long trips, why not explore the city you live in. Pretend you’re a tourist from another state or country and visit museums and other attractions as if you were seeing it through their eyes.

In regards to being more outgoing try starting your own blog or join a social media site you’re not familiar with. Talk to people at work you normally don’t talk to; like someone from a different department. Maybe take them out to lunch.

In regards to judging too quickly, well…I’m guilty of that myself and I haven’t found an alternative yet. But try not to judge someone by their attire or speech pattern. Who knows? That very person could become important in your life.

New Year, Better You

The old phrase “New Year, New You” is pretty well worn out. Besides if you think about it, you’ve worked hard to being the person you currently are and more often than not, people want to change simply for change’s sake. That is one of the other issues that people deal with as the New Year begins. Articles, commercials, and television programs convince people that they need to change themselves as the year changes. Instead of changing yourself to someone or something new, improve upon what you currently have. Make it a “better” you instead of new. Improve your wardrobe by adding accessories; a scarf, some jewelry, a handbag, or a blazer. Improve your home by adding something different; fake plants, abstract art, knick-knacks, or simply a fresh coat of paint.

What about us Writers?

Ah yes! You noticed that this is not the typical kind of article that I write. Maybe that’s something a writer can resolve to do in the New Year; write something that they don’t normally write: A “How To” article, a travel article for your local paper or a blog, poetry, a short story on a subject you know little about. In other words, slide out of your comfort zone for a bit and try something different. You’ll notice I said, “for a bit”. As writers, we tend to be creatures of habit and prefer the comfort of solitude as compared to a party or gathering.

Here are some suggestions though, to try something new or different: Make an attempt to write somewhere new; if a coffee shop or restaurant won’t work, try the local library or bookshop. Your local mall might have areas for hotspots for the internet. Sit there and “people watch” for a while. New character or characteristics will pop up by viewing real life. Rent a movie or TV show that isn’t your favorite genre and see how the characters interact with one another. Go to one of your favorite hangouts or places to eat and view it as fugitive from the law, a royal dignitary, a homeless person, or a foreigner from another country (or planet).

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Conclusion

Contrary to tradition, change doesn’t have to be big. This year resolve to do something you don’t normally do. It doesn’t have to be an actual change; just get out of your comfort zone for a bit and see things with a fresh pair of eyes.

Do you have any resolutions that you’ve tried in the past? Have they worked or failed miserably? Share them with us in the comments section below.

 

Happy Adventuring!

Chris

 

 

Don’t Neglect the Background Characters

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“Are you ready to rock! Umm…Hello?”

Introduction

You’ve developed your plot, you have your characters ready to go, you’re secondary characters are standing in the wings, and your settings are all created. As you write your story, you feel like something is missing. Or rather, someone is missing. In the movie industry they are known as “extras”.

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“Wait, where are the others?”

When I wrote The Askinar Towers trilogy I neglected background characters in most of the story. Yes, there were also patrons in the Floor 17 Café as I had mentioned them; there were other citizens of the town of Rising Falls and the village of Greenblade Valley. But what I seriously overlooked were the people inside the towers themselves. Four towers are featured with a hundred floors in each, all-glass walkways that connect the towers, and elevators in each tower. Yet when my main characters went from one floor to the next or crossed the walkways, they didn’t pass anyone!

Oftentimes when we are writing our story we focus on our MC (Main Character), the supporting characters, the setting, and the plot itself. We overlook those bit players who round out the story. Even if none of them have names, there should be people present in various scenes. Just because your MC and his companions are driving from Phoenix to Tucson always keep in mind that there are others on the road with him.

 

“He was there, here’s further proof”

In book 1, Nexus of the Worlds, my characters are being chased by someone they refer to as the Robed Figure. Nothing could be seen of this individual; no hands, feet, or face. By the end of book 1 they learn that it he is a shapeshifter who prefers the nonhuman disguise of a raven.

In book 2 my characters find themselves in 1970s Washington D.C. in time for the presidential inauguration. The climax of the scene is on stage when not one but three people who look like President-elect William Franklin. The characters conclude that one of the three was the shapeshifter and to create further proof, I added the following scene…

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As the crowd departed from the steps of the Capitol building, a worried mother was trying to drag her daughter back to the car. “I’m tired of your little games,” she said.

“But, I swear mamma!” cried the little girl. “I saw the president turn into a large black bird and fly away!”

“You’ve been out in the cold too long,” the mother said. “We need to get you indoors.”

 

From this scene, featuring two extras, we see additional proof that one of the three presidents was indeed the shapeshifter. It may not have been necessary, but it added a little humor to an otherwise intense scene.

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“You mentioned them in book 1, where are they?”

In Vol. 2 of “Happy to Serve”, my current WIP (Work In Progress), the Floor 17 Café provides live entertainment sometimes on the weekend. At the very end of book 1, the maître D and new owner, Maurice announced that they were going to feature one 4th year student from the Academy of the Seven Spires each month to entertain and help them improve their skills and get them a gig or two to mention on their resume or letter of introduction.

I wrote the first draft of Vol. 2 last November and shelved the project for several months to attempt other writings. When I started to look over book 1 and then moved on to book 2 I got the motivation to continue the work. It was then that I noticed the omission of those 4th year students. I featured another guy, Vincent Singer, who was a 4th year student and then graduated, but I forgot what Maurice announced.

I created two new characters to fill this idea and even though they have names and bard skills, they are nothing more than background characters because they will be mentioned but not necessarily seen. That is where background characters can play a special role. Not only do you have a performer come in but you’ll have more characters in the scene to watch that performer. Perhaps one of them is an owner of another tavern who wants to book that singer for his own place. Maybe the singer’s mother is there and is upset because she believes her child is wasting her time performing when he should be on the farm helping with the chores. And so on.

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Three Simple Words and other suggestions

One of the easiest ways to get your readers to understand that there are others present in your scene is a simple phrase like, the crowd roared. Three simple words to let the reader know that your characters aren’t the only ones present. Whether they are in a stadium or a theater, this phrase will serve as a simple reminder that extras are present.

In Happy to Serve, the entire book is a series of blog posts from Chuck the Waiter. As entertaining as the characters and the storylines were I always felt something was missing. When I looked at real blogs a great idea hit me. I needed a comments section to have characters make reference to the post. In addition to the standard characters in the Floor 17 Café, I created a series of others who weren’t necessarily patrons but who worked in one of the towers and faithfully followed Chuck’s blog. I had Brenda the librarian who had trouble getting away from her work to visit; Teven, a Money Exchange teller who worked for the Askinar Towers Bank and Money Exchange; and a person known only as KittyKat98. She started out as a fan and by the end of the book she became an obsessive stalker. She will go on to appear in book 2 as the villain.

Some ideas for your own background characters would be: a guy who’s car broke down on the side of the road and is fixing a flat or talking to the tow truck driver, a mother coming out of a grocery store with a full cart and two crying children holding on to her jacket, a funeral procession going through as your MC is waiting at an intersection, a group of construction men taking a short break on the side of freeway.

As stated before, these characters don’t need names, and don’t necessarily need to speak, but their presence lends to the setting and prove that your MC and his companions aren’t the only ones present.

 

 Conclusion

For further ideas and suggestions of background characters, check out the Urban and Rural setting Thesauruses by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman. We’ll look at improving your settings in a future article. What do you do to create background characters? Is there a phrase you use or have read that instantly signifies people? Share with me what you’ve used in the comments section below.

Happy Adventuring!

Chris

 

Your Town’s Main Attraction

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(World Building, part 3)

Introduction

We’ve been discussing World Building over the last couple of articles and if you haven’t had the chance to read them yet check them out now… WB1 and WB2. In this article we continue the discussion of Town Building by zooming in on the town and taking a look and what might bring someone to your town. What is the main attraction or focal point of your town?

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The Fishing Village

Most of your towns; from a small village to a large city, has some sort of trade that it is known for. In a fishing village that trade of course is fishing. Most of the men would head out to sea in the early morning and not return until afternoon, or evening depending on the success of their catch. Fishmongers; traders in various fish and other seafood would have shacks set up along the beach hocking their wares.

As a main attraction, your town could be built in a horseshoe shape with a large lake at its center. Perhaps a large ocean-themed gambling house could be built on stilts in the center of the lake to attract visitors. The only way to get to the casino would be by boat.

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Another idea, and something a little more unique, would be a bait-and-tackle shop. Most citizens would visit the local tavern for news and gossip. In a fishing village, a shop that sells live bait and rents boats would be a better locale. It allows the writer a little more creativity than your typical dull tavern setting.

 

The Inland Village

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A blacksmith might be the main attraction of a village further inland and away from a large body of water. Like the tackle shop, this could be a place where people come to socialize while watching the smith work on the latest project.

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If a village is too small to house a tavern or common room, a boardinghouse might be the main attraction of your village. A large farmhouse with multiple beds for travelers which would include a meal or two. Perhaps if it is on farmland, the owner might get a couple hours of labor out of a visitor in exchange for room and board.

 

Town Attractions

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The larger the town the bigger, and sometimes better, the attraction. A town I created called Manzana Gran (“Big Apple” in Spanish), the main attraction was the Emerald Gardens Coliseum. I created a large gladiator type event called the Colossal Warrior Challenge which came around once a year. There was another event called the Chaotic Mayhem Series which was similar to football teams but with weapons. Other events such as plays and circus-like performances could be there. Plus, I created the fantasy version of concessions to be in the outer ring of the coliseum.

 

The Tourist Trap

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Just like any place in your own hometown area, there is always some little place where people like to go for a quick trip, buy some little knick-knacks and pay too much money for food, gas, and local entertainment. In your world, you can do the same thing. Create a collection of ruins where a mighty civilization once lived and promote it around the countryside as the place to see when in the area. Create a monument to a great battle that took place decades or centuries ago and give tours.

Not all tourist traps necessarily have to be legit either. Some of your local thieves guilds might create said tourist trap as an actual trap! For example, a guided tour in the woods only to be attacked by a band of trolls who rob every tourist and split the loot with the guild. Another could be a scenic boat ride to be overrun by pirates. The list is as endless as your imagination.

 

Conclusion

Remember, as standard as a tavern is for a centerpiece of a town for entertainment, it doesn’t always have to be the main focus. Try something more on the unique side and your readers will thank you for it. Please share any ideas that you might have for a main attraction, I’d love to hear from you.

 

Until next time,

Happy Adventuring!

Chris