Some Thoughts on Good and Virtue

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote a post, and this is not a beginning of regular posting again. I’ve started my PhD program and between work, family, and study I’m incredibly busy. However, I do need a place to write down some thoughts and simply get things in print (rough ideas and drafts if you will) and this is as good as any.

This evening I was grading a paper on Thomas Aquinas’ connection between virtue and natural law and some questions a student raised got me thinking. The students critique of Aquinas was that he provided no clear way to begin the process of growing in virtue, and that he saw the law–and specifically punishment under the law–as somehow leading to virtue. This is a common critique of both Aquinas and Aristotle. With Aristotle’s work I happen to think that it is a valid critique, but Aquinas provides a meaningful and in depth answer to it. Aquinas’ answer, found spread across Summa Theologica Volume 2 questions 49 (A1), 51 (A2), 52 (A1-3), 61 (A5), and 63 (A2) is complex. He argues that virtue is a habit, and thus a virtue (the origin of which is natural) is increased by consistent practice. As a quick picture, Aquinas’ conception of a vice-virtue relationship can be imagined as a spiral. The center of the spiral is the ‘seed’ or ‘null point’ where one is perfectly between virtue and vice. The bottom end of the spiral is perfect vice and the top end of the spiral is perfect virtue. The spiral itself represents two contrasting habits of action (i.e. courage vs. cowardice) and one moves along the spiral in either direction by performing consistent actions of X kind (courageous actions move one up the spiral while cowardly actions move one down the spiral).

However, Aquinas also sets out four levels of virtue. For our purposes here only the first level matters. The first level of virtue is ‘social virtue’ in which I engage in virtuous actions because they bring desirable consequences in this world. Now, Aquinas here distinguishes between that which is truly desirable and that which merely seems desirable. So, there is an objective good that is truly desirable, and virtuous action leads me to it (or goods/them if you prefer). Thus, the social virtue is effectively egoistic: I do what is virtuous because I realize that it is the best way to achieve what is truly desirable in the world. Punishment can instill this level of virtue in men precisely because avoiding harsh punishment is an actual good in this world. It is truly desirable to stay out of prison, and thus I act in ways that keep me out of prison. However, the brilliant part of this is that Aquinas connects an egoistic good (good for me) with a social good (good for others) with an objective reality (good in actuality). Thus, what is truly good for me is also truly good for others because it actually reflects a real, objective good.

Plato makes the same move in his metaphysics in books 4-7 of Republic. He argues that that which is good for the city is inevitably good for the individual, and this is so because it actually images the form of the good. Interestingly, though, while it shouldn’t surprise us that Aristotle and Aquinas follow Plato in this, Thomas Hobbes and Ayn Rand also make the same move. Hobbes argues that individuals should submit to a government because it maintains a social good that is in everyone’s best interest. For Hobbes, avoiding a state of nature is the ultimate and actual good (i.e. good reality) and he connects this to both a social good and an individual good in founding his social contract theory. However, while Plato et al essentially argue that what is good for me is good for society as well because it is good in reality, Hobbes effectively argues that what is good in reality is good for society because it is good for me. Ayn Rand follows similar in her argument for objective self-interest. Rand argues that we should all do what is in our objective self-interest, but she believes that if everyone actually does what is in their own best interests then it will inevitably be good for society because having a stable society is in everyone’s best interests. Thus, Rand argues that what is actually good for me is also good for society. This line of reasoning is similar to that of Plato et al in some important ways, but is also effectively inverted.

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End of Regular Posting

Well, I know it’s been a while since the last post went up (about two weeks actually). I’ve been meaning to write this post for over a week now and I’ve just been two busy/stressed/not wanting to do it to actually get it done. As many of you have probably guessed, most of us here at the blog have gotten extremely busy over the past year. Paul is busy advertising his new book (see more on that below), Tom is very focused on his own writing, Selanya and I are both starting Ph.D. programs, Alayna and I have a new baby, Sam recently(ish) started a new job, etc.

On top of this, it’s been over a year since I’ve done any serious fiction writing, and I know that some of the others can say the same. Between the stress of busy and changing lives, shifting interests, and new pursuits we are all feeling tapped out. What started off as a fun and engaging way to build and contribute to a community of authors has become a chore that many of us dread, and this means both that we aren’t as focused on what we are actually doing as we should be, and that we aren’t giving all of you good or consistent material. As such, we have made the decision to end regular posting on the blog. I will (for a time at least) keep it open for people to post if they wish, and I may eventually revamp the blog to emphasize my new interests and focus. However, what this means for all of you is that there won’t be regular writing exercises, advice, or stories going up. This blog has been running for five years, and over that time I like to think that we’ve given all of you a lot of good material and advice to work with, but all human things must come to an end.

That being said, back in November of last year I promised Paul that I would write a review of his new book Drowning the Sands of G’Desh, which is intended to be the first of a series of novels. With everything going on I haven’t had the time or energy to do a full review of the book, but I do want to write something for him. So, given what I’ve read (something like half of the novel) and skimmed (somewhat more than that), Paul has a strong world and an interesting story. Now, this is his first novel, and you should expect that. The book doesn’t have the polish that you would expect from a more experienced writer, and there are some things that stick out quite a bit. So, if you’re looking to replace George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series on your reading list, Paul’s book probably isn’t what you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for a new author who has an interesting take on the fantasy genre and are willing to read through some rough edges, then I can suggest picking up his novel (available from Abbott Press here). A further brief review and clarification below:

Story and Plot Development:

Paul’s story is fairly interesting. I’m not going to give you the details of his plot (no spoilers), but you can expect a generally well-thought out story that makes sense and is not difficult to follow.

Characters:

Paul’s characters are interesting, but they suffer from some of the general issues that you might expect in a new writer. Some of his main characters are underdeveloped while others suffer from the ‘super-hero’ complex in that the main difficult the character faces is resentment from others because the character is just so darn good at everything. That being said, even with these issues it’s not difficult to get involved in the characters and they serve as a driving impetus in the novel as a whole.

World Building and Originality:

Paul’s world-building is, I think, one of the strongest points of the novel. First of all, expect unoriginal names. While Paul’s world itself is a strong and well-developed Middle-Eastern Fantasy setting, the names he gives to races, cities, nations, etc tend to be fairly generic. However, the unoriginal names mask a very original setting and world, which I fully appreciate. My suggestion to readers is to just let the names be what they are and enjoy the depth of the setting.

Structure and Pacing:

Paul’s novel follows the story of several main characters and he tends to write each character a chapter at a time. This is not an uncommon technique, but it can be difficult to pace a novel well in this style, and Paul’s novel is no exception. In some chapters the pacing is very strong, but some chapters seem hurried and other chapters seem slow. Again, with the structure that Paul is using this shouldn’t be surprising and I could make the same comment about several of Timothy Zhan’s Star Wars novels. That being said, you will probably have some characters that you like better than others, and you very well may be tempted to just skip ahead to the next chapter that character is in. Don’t.

Style and Form:

Paul’s writing style is somewhat rough, again as you would expect from an author’s first novel, but it is pleasant and easy to read. His form needs work in places and the novel as a whole would benefit from more thorough editing. However, as far as I know Paul did all of the editing on this novel himself, and given that what you see is the work of one editor/author it is quite well done.

Overall Quality:

So, my conclusion for you is this: if you’re looking for a top-end author to replace someone like David Eddings, George R.R. Martin, Steven Erikson, etc on your reading list, then Paul’s novel probably isn’t what you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for a fun, quick, easy to read novel that is interesting despite its rough edges, then I recommend picking up Drowning the Sands of G’Desh.

 

I’m a Father Part 3

So, we’re slowly adjusting to having a baby. My apologies that my week of posts hasn’t been about anything other than my home life, but at the moment that’s what matters most and everything else is revolving around that. I’ve managed to get back to the gym a couple of times, and I’ve gotten some reading done as well. Alayna is fantastic at taking care of Tobin during the nights without waking me up, and that has been a massive blessing for me. So far this week she’s only needed to wake me up a couple of times when something was going on with Tobin in the middle of the night.

He himself is cute as a button and growing. He’s getting used to home life pretty quickly, and we’ve even started taking him out every now and then (for instance, we’re going to church this morning). However, sometimes he’s not a fan of excursions. However, even then he handles them very well. Yesterday we went to lunch with my parents and Tobin lay quietly in his car seat just staring at me with a look that said, ‘I don’t know where I am, and I don’t like it, but I’ll be okay’ until I took him out and cuddled him for a while.

I’m hoping that by Monday I’ll be able to work reading back into my schedule, and then sometime in the next week or two Chinese will work back in. Overall, Tobin’s birth has been a huge blessing, and I’ve actually been surprised at how much it’s drawn Alayna and I closer together both emotionally and spiritually. The most significant difference, I think, has simply been the shift in perspective for both of us concerning what’s important and what’s worth getting upset about.

I’ve found that it’s also pushed my idea of priorities as well. Things that I was very worried and stressed about before Tobin was born (like some papers that were out to journals) just aren’t that important anymore. It’s not that they don’t matter, but I don’t feel like any part of my worth depends on them, and that is a good thing. I’m also recognizing that, while publication is important for my career, there are things that are much more important than my career, and while I knew that before, I’m not sure that I consistently acted like it was true. Hopefully I’ll do better about that in the future.

I’m a Father Part 2

Okay, this is going to be another short post. Alayna, the baby, and I are all home. As you know if you’ve been reading for a while, Alayna and I use pseudonyms on here, and I’m sure that we’ll use one for the baby as well, but we haven’t talked about what that will be yet. So, for know he’s still just ‘the baby.’ He’s cute as can be, and he’s very calm and well-behaved. He likes to walk, and so when he does get fussy generally walking him around will calm him down very quickly. That being said, he rarely gets fussy unless he’s hungry, wet, or very lonely/bored. Honestly, with a Ph.D. program coming up, this has been a huge blessing!

I can’t quite explain how this little guy has affected me except to say that nothing else seems to matter quite as much as it did before he was born. I’m still looking forward to the Ph.D. program, hoping to get published, loving the new computer, struggling with the diet/exercise program and the sleep therapy, etc. None of the important things in my life have changed… but at the same time all of them have changed. The baby has given me a little perspective (which was probably desperately needed) about what is most important. Reading, writing, teaching, publishing, the blog, etc are still important to me. I see value in all of them, and I hope to be used to advance God’s will in the world through all of them, but he matters more (well, not more than God, but more than all of the stuff I just mentioned).

I’ve read about how new parents take one look into their child’s face and ‘know’ that they will do anything for that child. Honestly, I always wondered if this wasn’t exaggerated some, and at the moment I’m sure that it probably is–but when I look into the baby’s face I know that I’ll do anything to help him know the father and grow up to live a life worth living, and even if he doesn’t, I know that I’ll love him and do my best to help him be better anyway. I’m not really sure how else to say it– Alayna says that he already has me wrapped around his little finger, which is probably true.

Posts This Week

Well, as I mentioned last week, I’ve been so busy that I forgot to send out a schedule to the other authors. By the time I finally did most people either 1) didn’t receive it in time, or 2) already had plans that conflicted with writing posts. This is true for this week as well as Tom is up to his neck in other things and can’t get posts written. Given that I’m also up to my neck in reading, baby planning, work, and revising a couple of papers that I’m trying to get published, there won’t be any Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday posts this week. I will be writing posts for next week (hopefully at least), and I hope that after that we will be back on track. I do want to apologize for the lack of posts this week though.

Leviticus 5 and the Question of Volition in Sin

As I said on Tuesday, this week is kind of crazy and so I’m afraid that you’re going to have to put up with posts that simply have to do with what I happen to be thinking about. I hope that they are, in some way, helpful to your writing, but if they are not then I’m sorry.

Many Christians today don’t bother to read the books of the law (other than Genesis and the five 10 chapters of Exodus), which is sad, because there is a lot of great stuff in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Leviticus chapter 5 specifically deals with guilt offerings made for unintentional or even unknown breeches of the law. In other words: “If X happens and you didn’t intend for it to happen, or if you did X and either didn’t realize that it was against the law or didn’t realize that it is what you were doing, then you are still guilty and must confess, repent, and present a guilt offering to the Priesthood.”

Now, volition was considered an important part of wrongdoing by the ancient Greeks, and this has held true for much of the history of Christian thought and of modern lawmaking. In general, if 1) one can present a case that he could not be reasonably expected to know that something was against the law, 2) one can present a case that he could not reasonably predict or have prevented the harmful effects of his actions, or 3) one can present a case (or more likely have one presented for him) that he could not reasonably understand that his actions were unlawful and/or immoral, then he is generally understood to be innocent of the crime of which he stands accused–even if he actually did the act. Some examples can be presented as follows: 1) if the American Congress secretly passed a law banning the sale of firearms, and then started arresting gunsellers based on that law, then the cases would almost inevitably be thrown out of court. The reason for this is that for a law to actually be considered a law in any meaningful sense the Government must promulgate it (or make it known) to the people that it will impact. Now, it is entirely possible that a man could avoid all new sources and commit a crime that he was unaware was a crime, but in this case he is not considered to be reasonably unaware that it was not a crime (for instance, if I don’t see a posted speed limit sign and get a ticket, I am still guilty even though I didn’t know that I was breaking the speed limit). The distinction here is whether the government fulfilled its responsibility to promulgate the law. 2) If a man is driving down the street and a child runs out right in front of his car such that he cannot break or swerve in time to avoid hitting the child then the man is not considered guilty of murder. He clearly had no intention to kill the child, and he could not have reasonably taken any actions to avoid hitting the child. 3) If a man is intellectually disabled to the degree that he actually cannot understand the significant legal distinctions (for instance, an individual who is intellectual incapable of comprehending the concept of death) then he is not considered to have committed murder even if he kills someone because he cannot understand what murder is.

This same conception of volition has been applied to sin throughout most of the history of the Christian church. Thus, we are all imperfect in many ways and may certainly do thing that would be considered sinful if 1) we had an accurate understanding of God’s character, and/or 2) we had an accurate understanding of our own actions. These may be consider ‘unintentional sins’ in Leviticus 5. However, Christian thought has generally absolved Christians of personal guilt for unintentional sins: if I don’t know that I’m sinning then I can’t repent for what I’ve done, and if I have been committing the same sinful action for years before I realize that it is sinful then it is unlikely that I can ever specifically repent or make restitution for every specific instance of that sinful action. Thus, Thomas Aquinas (among others) famously declared that human action is necessarily volitional and that anything that is not human action cannot be considered sin. Thus, if I do not actually make the choice to sin then I am not sinning. In the modern conception of sin this seems to contradict the Levitical law.

However, I believe that the crux of the problem here is that modern Christians tend to think of sin only in terms of ‘crimes against God.’ This is not to argue that sin should not be thought of in these terms, as certainly volitional sins fit this model almost exactly. However, it is to say that sin is more than just willful acts of rebellion against God. This is the distinction between natural sin and personal sin (or natural sin and volitional sin), or the distinction between effects of sin and acts of sin. The death of a child that ran out in the middle of the road or an act of killing performed by a mentally handicapped individual who is incapable of understanding ‘killing’ still result in horrible tragedies, and these may be considered the effects of broken people living in a broken world. In fact, the Levitcal law had provisions for accidental killings that seem to have served the same general function as modern manslaughter laws (which would cover the situation involving the child). Similarly, the guilt offering demanded in Leviticus 5 is not simply the same as the sin and guilt offerings demanded for volitional sins in the Levitical law. Instead, the requirements of Leviticus 5 may be understood as recognizing that men as a whole are broken and that this brokenness often results in sad, or even horribly tragic, circumstances. Further, it recognizes that men should be held responsible for the degree to which their brokenness contributed to the situation, but they should not be held responsible in the same way that an individual who willfully committed the same act would be held. Thus, under modern law a killer who is incapable of understanding his crimes would not be found guilty and sentenced to time in prison, but he likely would be committed to a psychiatric institute for care and treatment. This similarly recognizes that his brokenness contributed to the situation, but not in the same way that a willful act of killing would have.

Thus, a robust concept of the distinction between the effects of being broken people living in a broken world, and our responsibility based on those effects, and willful acts of rebellion against the laws of God is necessary for an appropriate understanding of scripture and for an appropriate understanding of sin, justice, and grace.

Story Challenge of the Week

So, Alayna and I are exhausted at the moment. I’m actually sleeping better (meaning that the therapy is working), but I’m not sleeping very long each night. Alayna is at that point where the baby is dropping (or has dropped… or is about to drop… this is our first time doing this) and absolutely everything is uncomfortable, including sleeping… which means that she doesn’t much. Exhaustion makes everyday tasks, like work, reading, or helping a friend, much more difficult and it especially makes stress more difficult to handle. It makes you crankier, more easily frustrated, and less able to take a joke. It also makes it that much more difficult to do something that you just don’t really feel like doing. I bring this up because it’s your topic today. I want you to write a story about exhaustion in a stress-filled situation. You know the rules. Take your subject and run with it. Write me a story of 1000 words or less and stay on topic. As before, if it’s in any way applicable, you should use this to try to develop your world a little more :).

Your Challenge: Write me a story about exhaustion in a stress filled situation. This could be a story about exhaustion makes stress more difficult to deal with or how it makes your responses to stress less likely to be appropriate. You could focus on the emotional, physical, or intellectual challenges of exhaustion and the impact that they can have on stress responses. In some way though, your story needs to have a strong focus on exhaustion in a stress filled situation.

What’s in a Poem?

“Poems are not made out of ideas. They’re made out of words.”

Magnetic poetry
Image taken from user zaraki.kenpachi on Flickr Creative Commons.

You’ll have to forgive me, because I am a bit uncertain about the original source of this quote. Originally I had thought it was C.S. Lewis, but upon further research I think that either 1) I was misremembering, or 2) I may have read it in a Lewis work some time ago, but even Lewis was quoting someone else and not attributing the quote to himself. (I want to say it was in An Experiment in Criticism, but I couldn’t find it after briefly re-skimming the chapter on Poetry; I’d have to read more thoroughly to do so). In any case, upon a quick internet search this morning, I’ve found a few different sources attributing this quote not to Lewis at all, but to French poet and critic Stéphane Mallarmé.

According to a literary magazine entitled The Paris Review: “Paul Valéry tells the story: The painter Edgar Degas was backhanded-bragging to his friend Stéphane Mallarmé about the poems that he, Degas, had been trying to write. He knew they weren’t great, he said, ‘But I’ve got lots of ideas—too many ideas.’ ‘But my dear Degas,’ the poet replied, ‘poems are not made out of ideas. They’re made of words.'”

Now, after opening with an inspirational-sounding quote, I may surprise you. Because I’m actually not going to take the side of that quote. In the above exchange, I’d put myself in the shoes of Degas, knowing that my poems aren’t always the best or deepest ones in the world, but saying (despite the rebukes of the more deep, artistic poets), “Sure I can write poems. I’ve got a lot of great ideas. That’s what it takes to write a poem, right?”

Yes, obviously, poems contain words, and they shouldn’t be just any words haphazardly thrown together, but words arranged in a specific way based on sound, structure, etc. And I realize that. But for me, a poem still starts with an idea. Every writer is different, of course, and there’s no one correct way to do everything, but for me a poem starts with an idea, a feeling, etc.–and it’s not until later that I can translate that idea into the words which make up a poem.

When I posted one of my poems earlier in the week, I mentioned that some people are talented enough that they can write a beautiful and poignant poem about almost anything–something in nature, a tiny episode out of their day, something they see just walking down the street, etc. Personally, I am not one of those people. In order to make a halfway decent poem (at least, one that I think is halfway decent), in order to really be inspired and care about what I’m writing, I need to base it on something important to me–a feeling, a life experience, something I’ve been going through or thinking about already, etc. It starts with an idea, a strong and powerful and weighty idea that is close to my heart, and I translate it into words later as I go along (sometimes over the course of two or three or more revisions).

I vaguely remember one poem I wrote in a creative writing class in college. It was about nature–something about winter, and the snow melting as spring begins to come along. I may have called it “Waning Winter Wonderland” or something alliterative like that. But I didn’t write it because I was passionate about it and I really felt a deep sense of inspiration to write about the snow; I only wrote it in response to an assignment or writing prompt for class. My professor (who I’m quite certain is a better and more experienced poet than I) seemed to like it, and wrote in a comment that I should “please keep working on this one!” But I don’t think I did. I’m not sure if I even still have the poem anymore or could find it again at this point. While it may have been wise for me to at least take my professor’s advice and continue honing my craft, the poem wasn’t one of my favorite ones, because it wasn’t one that was important to me at the time. It wasn’t born of personal inspiration. It wasn’t about something I was passionate about, and it didn’t really come from my heart.

For me, poems that I write have a very close and personal inspiration. I think that’s why I’ve been told–and I agree with this–that my poems are often like stories. They’re about things that happen or things that people deal with rather than just about things that one might see in nature, for example. Each one contains a story, or at least is born of a story in my mind. When presenting them or reading them aloud to an audience, I may often say something like, “So I wrote this poem at a time when [X] was going on, and that was kind of what made me want to write about it…”

In fact, I do believe that prose and stories are my forte more than poetry is, which is part of why I don’t write poems super often. And when I do, my poems are born of personal experience and personal inspiration. I don’t just sit down and write a poem arbitrarily (unless a college class requires it). I write one every so often when I have a feeling or idea or inspiration that means a lot to me and that I think would be worthy of a poem. Admittedly, it may not seem like the most literary or artistic approach compared to Mallarmé’s lofty philosophy. But it’s what works for me, and as I said, I don’t think there’s any one right formula that works for all authors all the time.

So which way works best for you? If you’ve ever written a poem, do you make them out of words? Or out of ideas? Or out of stories?

Poetry
Image taken from user Signore Aceto on Flickr Creative Commons.

Finish Stories

I was watching The Returned last night. For those who have not seen it, there are spoilers ahead. Though if you haven’t watched it, I’m not sure it’s worth your time. I’m still sorting it out.

Quick premise. In this small town, the dead come back to life, and they try dealing with a world that has moved on without them.

The show sets up a few character arcs. A woman who was nearly murdered finds a boy who she takes care of. The boy is psychotic and was murdered nearly 30 years ago. A dead girl comes back six years after her death and tries to fit in with her friends. A woman killed by a dam breaking is trying to drown the city, to purge it of its evil.

Overall, The Returned wraps up a lot of the stories. The woman with the psycho ghost boy leaves him behind and survives. Most people die when they let him go. The sixteen year old girl is sort of accepted by her peers, though one stabs her. The other one stabs her, but in that way you want to be stabbed.

Then there’s the woman who wants to blow up the dam to drown the city.

Keep in mind, they created plot hooks for season 2. They were in place. A few final episode reveals did an amazing job of setting up season 2.

So the crazy woman, she was actually clinically insane before her death, has all the explosives set. She’s fighting ghosts so she can light the fuse. She gets a match to light, and the match goes out. That’s the last we see of her.

The thing is, this is a plot arc that started a long time ago. Everyone during the final episode is on high alert because the dead are totally poking at the living that the dam is about to blow up. When one man has a vision that the dam is about to break, we cut to credits. What?

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Francis (c) 2005

This is why I don’t read single issues of comic books. It’s why I have trust issues.

Finish your story arcs. GRRM finishes his story arcs. In A Game of Thrones (spoilers), we find out Robert Baratheon has no kids and the twins are bumping uglies. In Clash of Kings, we watch the Stark kingdom fall.

Meanwhile the white walkers are the string that all the plots hang on. They are the long term story that will creep up from time to time until there will be some stunning conclusion. Thinking out loud. What if Westeros is abandoned? What if the white walkers win and Westeros departs to live in Braavos? That would be cool. Sorry, tangent.

Fortunately, if you want a traditional publisher, this is a slight that writers are rarely allowed to get away with, as compared to a series which is trying as dirty as possible to hook you into the next season. Even the worst novel I’ve plausibly ever dove into which had a traditional publisher still had a beginning, middle, and end, while finishing off the story arc it pushed forward.

So why say this? I’m warning you. Don’t get tempted. Finish your story primary story arc while placing bread crumbs for future stories.

Writer Bibles

Whenever I create a world, I start at the beginning with a brief history run down. When did people first arrive, how did they settle, what were the turning events in history, and how did they reach the point they’re at.

From there, I decide my different cultures. What do those cultures hold important? They live at the top of a mountain where one area is temperate but the rest is a near endless blizzard? They pray to Winter and that it will never touch their blessed portion of land.

Their ancestors at the base of the mountain have decent growing periods and a history of brave men who led them to the green pastures? While they still worship Winter because their forefathers did, they more so revere their ancestors for the traits they wish to emulate.

I flesh out the religions, the cities, the heroes, the spirits, the magic. Maybe flesh out is a strong word. I create guidelines.

With G’desh I kept most of this in my head. There’s a tricky thing about a head, though. First, it can be severed. Second, and more pressing to most people, it forgets and twists memories.

Enter the writer bible.

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I have a few journals. These are the ones I could find. Each one holds a world. The history starts the book off, followed by a break down of “modern” cultures relevant to the point in history I plan on writing.

While I still use this as a guideline to help me move forward, and information in the journals change, it gives me something solid to work from. If I have a question about a city or culture, I have a place to look. If I want to know the literary devices I’m using for a certain world (each one is a world, even if the worlds connect, and each world has a mythology which inspires it, and I try to stay true to the source material), I can easily look it up.

There are those who probably think this is only for fantasy and science fiction, but to you I say that’s not true.

For a murder mystery, if you need to keep track of clues, where people are, time lines, and so on. What’s the motivation for the murder? Never forget.

In historical fiction, this is where you keep your reference notes. What were Napoleon’s phobias or who was Elizabeth’s lover in a certain year all at your finger tips without having to do another Google search or, more laborious, looking through a book.

For romance, you can remember how you described the protagonists nipples. I didn’t even realize that was something they super cared about until my friend thrust a romance novel on me. Pun intended.

Writer bibles aren’t always physical. When I’m actually solidifying the ideas from something that will ebb and flow, they end up in Scrivener. Some people use Evernote, or whatever other program they prefer. There are at least a dozen I could name off the top of my head. Some have specific functions, such as time line programs. Others are broad, but a little more difficult to manipulate.

Either way, the writer bible is important for your writing in some form or another. It will minimize inconsistencies, make it easier for you to remember details, and make edits much easier. If you’re doing a series, this is even more vital, as it will let you keep your series straight. Get a journal, get a program, and write it up.