Saturday, July 28, 2007

Story Starters - Number Two

Here are some additional story ideas for you. I invite you to take these and use them as exercises for your writing practice. Or, if something about them strikes your muse and fires up the inspiration, go ahead and make what changes are necessary to bring your vision to life. These are a collection of ideas that came to me, and that I will not likely be using personally.

If you do take one of these ideas and start your own story, or stories, because of it I would love to know. Please comment and let me know if these story starters are helpful to you. If you happen to take one of these ideas and mold it into a finished product, I will not ask to be credited in any way. These are ideas that anyone can come up with, and I am sharing them freely with you.

  • The protagonist is an avid reader. He/She has been reading all of his/her life. Recently, as extraordinary as is may seem, many of the events from the protagonist’s books are starting to occur in the real world. Now determine what kind of literature your protagonist likes to read: mystery, romance, sci-fi, horror, etc.
  • This situation is similar to the previous one; only in this situation the reader finds himself/herself entering the book world that they are reading about.
  • Your protagonist lives in a large suburb. One day she wakes up to find a large shape or design of some sort painted on the front of her garage. She learns that several seemingly random houses have been marked in the same fashion.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

It's a girl! - Part Two

Like the original "It's a Girl!" post, I've decided to remove the pictures of my family for my peace of mind. See my full comments in the original post. I hope you enjoy the rest of the articles here.

It's a girl!

Greetings, friends. We have wonderful news to share. After a great amount of anticipation our daughter has arrived. Due to a low level of amniotic fluid the doctor decided to move Rihoko's C-Section up from 9 am on Tuesday, July 31 to 10:30 am on Thursday, July 26.

At 10:37 am, Thursday, July 26, Nanami Elizabeth Colwill was born. She weighs 6 lbs. 4 oz. I'm not sure of the length right now. My family and some friends were here, or arrived shortly after Nanami's birth to meet her and insure that Rihoko is doing well.


Yes, I used to have pictures of Nanami, Christopher, Rihoko, and me on this post. As traffic to Kanteker's Craft increases I've decided to remove the pictures of my family for my own peace of mind. You might catch one or two that slipped into a Public status on my Flickr account, but I felt better not keeping them here. Plus, the post served it's purpose of informing my friends and letting my in-laws in Japan, my brother in Ireland, and my wife's "international siblings" in England, Brazil, Sweden, and France see our new daughter.

If you are family or friends of ours please contact me directly. I could then look at adding you to our Flickr contacts as a friend so you can see more pictures of us.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Story Starters - Number One

Here's something new for you. I've decided to put to potential story ideas out there for people to enjoy. If the concept strikes you with inspiration run with it. If you think it would make a great idea, but needs a few details altered, go ahead, make it work for you. These are ideas that don't fit with any of my current projects, and I won't likely use them in the future. And even if they don't lead you to your next novel, they should give you some good writing exercise. Enough rambling, on with the ideas.

  1. You are sitting in the cafeteria at work. As you're eating your lunch you overhear some people at the table behind you having a conversation about an individual who apparently died in a tragic accident. When your name is mentioned a minute later you ask the group of people what they are talking about. One of them hands you a newspaper article recounting the details of the accident and giving your name as that of the deceased victim.
  2. You receive a phone call in the middle of the night from a friend or former colleague whom you haven't spoken to in twelve years.
  3. While working in the basement of your home (or place of business) you notice a brick protruding slightly from the wall. While examining the brick you find it easy to remove from the its place. A dark space is revealed behind the brick wall. You find it impossible to see anything behind the wall so you set out to find a flashlight.
  4. You find yourself sitting in your cubicle at work taking care of things on your computer. Suddenly every phone in the building starts ringing at the same time. (Variations on this include having every land-line start ringing, but none of the cell phones, or vice versa.)
"The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." - Mark Twain

Strategies to Move Your Muse

One of the worst enemies of an aspiring writer is the ability to get himself or herself started writing. I’m not talk about writer’s block. This isn’t a situation where you’re having a lack of ideas. You’re problem is a lack of time and motivation. Or, perhaps you have the motivation, and finding time is the issue. Whatever the case, every aspiring writer, and some of those who are published, can always use some tips on getting themselves organized, prepared, and working on their writing.

This inability to set a structured schedule that allows me to produce my ideas is one of the issues that I have. I’m a married man; I have one son and a daughter whose arrival we are expecting any day now…in fact, I could actually say any hour now. On top of all this I work a full-time job that takes a lot of my time and energy to excel at. (No, I may not have to pour so much energy into a “day job”. But I believe if you want to excel at your writing, you should strive for excellence in all areas of your life.) The opposition I face with my writing is trying to find the time to write and not take away so much sleep that I am ineffective in my various aspirations.

Another problem that writer’s often face is one that can occur for writers even when they are able to find the time to work. This is the dilemma of moving your muse. Again, I’m not talking writer’s block, per say. Sometimes a writer must be in the mood to write. Though not necessary to produce writing taking action to put yourself in the mood for the material you are working on can often improve the quality of your end product.

I have taken the time to compile a number of the suggestions that I have run across. Some of these are from books or magazines I’ve read, some from the internet, some from friends and peers I’ve talked with. I am sharing these with you in hopes that they will help to move your muse. I’ve place these in no particular order, so browse a bit and see if you can’t find something that appeals to you.

  • Set productive goals for yourself. One example is setting a number of words or pages that you expect to accomplish each day. You must then make the time to reach your goal. Or you might decide to work for two hours every day. Once the end of those two hours is reached you power down your computer or put down your pencil until tomorrow. Or you might strive for a chapter each week, putting in the time when and where you can. One thing to remember with goal setting is that you want to be realistic. Don’t try to show off to yourself or others by setting goals that are out of your reach. I’m not trying to hold anyone back, but if you set reasonable, achievable goals for yourself you’ll find that gradually you’ve written that book.
  • Schedule a writing period in your day where writing takes priority of everything, save emergencies.
  • If you must limit your time due to family or a need for sleep try setting an alarm. Place it somewhere in your office where you won’t be watching it all the time, then eliminate other clocks and time pieces that might be distracting. This eliminates counting each minute or second, and keeps you from overworking, losing needed sleep, or creating tension in your family.
  • Accountability. Form a group of friends or peers, in person or on the internet, who can keep after you when your realistic goals aren’t being met. It helps, of course, when this group consists of other writers with similar aspirations, but it’s not a necessity.
  • Keep a word count in sight. This can help keep you motivated and will also let others know how you’re progressing so they can offer support and encouragement.
  • Outlining. This is a technique that works for some, but not for all.
  • Eliminate outside distractions for a period of time in order to devote more time to your writing. This can consist of a week, two weeks, a month, or longer. Items that you might consider eliminating your exposure to include television, radio, internet, email, computer games, or radio.
  • Write in a stimulating environment. This could include your neighborhood coffee shop, a cafĂ©, or even your nearest library branch. Another option would be to decorate your office or writing space with items that put you in the right mindset for writing.
  • Take a walk. Whether you live in the city or out in the country somewhere, walking can be a great stimulant. Not only do you absorb ideas from your environment, but you have quiet time to let that latest idea mull about in your head. For those who don’t enjoy walking, ride a bike or drive your car. I lean away from the car idea, though, because walking and biking are great ways for a writer to get some exercise.
  • Find an outdoor hobby that allows you time to think. This can include the aforementioned walking or bike riding. Other ideas are hiking in the countryside or mountains, swimming, or kayaking. Check out some of these hobbies, or others that I haven’t mentioned. Again, they give you a great opportunity to empty your mind of distractions and just let the ideas simmer for awhile.
  • Pick up a book to read. This can be something that is similar to what you are writing, but does not have to be. It’s entirely possible that the latest suspense novel by one of your favorite authors holds an idea that could turn your fantasy story into something really exciting.
  • If you write for a younger crowd you can garner ideas by telling improvisational stories to your kids. Try coming up with a story idea that they would find interesting and add to that each night. Then, after the kids are asleep, write down as much as you can remember. You never know what the result might be. In fact, this is how Tolkien’s The Hobbit came to be.
  • Find some music that helps put you in the right mood for your current plot progression. I find that instrumental soundtracks to movies are some of the best stimulants. You can pick similar scenes to the one you are working on and play the background music that was used in that scene. Or just put the disc in your CD player and see what images start to take shape.
  • Be prepared for your writing at any time. Do this by carrying a small notepad or digital recorder with you everywhere.
  • Keep a journal.
  • NaNoWrimo. National Novel Writing Month takes place in November and is a great way for aspiring writers to dive into that novel. You will be struggling to boot that word count at the same time as aspiring novelists all over the world. Though I have not participated myself, I have followed the progress of the NaNoWrimo over the last couple of years and I believe it would be a wonderful stimulant for the person who can dedicate a lot of time to their writing during that month. Learn more about it at

There are a lot more helpful hints out there than what I have shared with you here. I encourage you to check out some of the writing books at your local bookstore or library. Also, do some hunting on the internet; check out some of the blogs that other aspiring writers are posting to. Learning from other peoples’ experience can be a great advantage when you want to avoid some of the potential pitfalls out there.

I will leave you with an anger management tip for writers. Save often.

Good luck and good writing.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Tolkien - Chapter Four

Tolkien's Legacy

by Michael I. Colwill

J.R.R. Tolkien is a man who will be remembered whenever people talk about fantasy literature. He alone has given more to the genre today than perhaps any other author that has ever written in the genre. And all of this from the fame that came with the publication of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. This devoted Oxford Professor of Philology and Literature gave birth to a story that is just that, a wonderful story. It was not a work of allegory that was attempting to spread Tolkien’s ideals and opinions among the minds of his readers. These stories were for the pure enjoyment of those who enjoy a good read during the evening after they’ve come home from work.

Because of his success Tolkien bent the road on which the fantasy genre was traveling. He not only gave the genre a formula to follow in his epic journey by a group of friends that have put aside their differences for the good of all, he revitalized it and made it popular once again. According to best-selling author R.A. Salvatore he “took all of the common folklore of western European culture and put them in an enjoyable format. He brought them to the masses, so to speak, and since publishing, books or games, is a business, that popularizing of the genre allowed it to blossom” (Salvatore).

No, it was not just books that were influenced by Tolkien. He also had a great influence on games of all sorts, but his greatest influence was probably on role-playing games. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons has long been one of the most popular of all role-playing games. And just by looking at the format of the adventures that take place one can notice the resemblance to the fantasy quest that occurred in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons a few individuals create characters that they will portray during the adventure which is led by the Dungeon Master, or judge of the rules. These characters can be one of many different humanoid races and can choose from one of many different adventuring careers. It was from Tolkien’s stories that the so called “party of adventurers,” or “adventuring company” came to be. So it is quite possible to end up with a party consisting of the same kind of adventurers that banded together in order to guide Frodo Baggins to the lands of Mordor in order to destroy the Ring of Power in the Cracks of Doom. In all the years that I’ve played the game it remains true that a group of people are bonded together for a time in order to accomplish some task of great importance, just like in The Lord of the Rings.

And it isn’t just Advanced Dungeons and Dragons that came about because of the ingenious story-telling of Tolkien. There is even a “Lord of the Rings” role-playing game that is based in Middle-Earth and takes place around similar characters that were in the novels. There are also several forms of video games and computer games that are based on the epic structure that Tolkien put in his books. At the time that he wrote the books, I’m sure that Tolkien had no idea how far spread his influence would be around the world.

Unfortunately, there are those out there who think that there really isn’t much to the writing of Tolkien. They think that it has nothing to share with its reader that will teach them something useful. And this is why, for quite some time, it was hard to find a copy of The Hobbit in the children’s section of your local libraries. One author who is very prominent in the fields of fantasy and science fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin, made this statement, “I shall never cease to wonder at the critics who find Tolkien a ‘simple’ writer. What marvelously simple minds they must have!” (Le Guin, 107).

Those critics who find Tolkien simple must have not read into the origins of the book. It is a work that was born out of a love for language, not out of an attempt to write an entertaining story. As Tolkien himself put it in the foreword to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings, “I desired to do this for my own satisfaction, and I had little hope that other people would be interested in this work, especially since it was primarily linguistic in inspiration and was begun in order to provide the necessary background of ‘history’ for Elvish tongues” (Tolkien, 5). And so you see, it was the language that gave birth to the story, not the other way around. Sound like the work of a ‘simple’ writer?

Tolkien has been a great influence and inspiration in a lot of places and a lot of areas. However, it is in the area of writing fantasy literature that Tolkien’s influence is most clearly seen. It is not an uncommon thing these days to pick up a contemporary fantasy novel and notice the peculiar similarities to the epic quest of Frodo Baggins and his friends. There are probably no writers of fantasy out there today that have not read anything of Tolkien’s. And in all of those that have you can see the influence of the master.

One of these writers is best-selling author Terry Brooks. Terry Brooks is author of one of the best-selling fantasy novels of all time, The Sword of Shannara, having outsold even Tolkien’s trilogy. His story about the quest of a simple vale man against the great Power of Darkness, the Warlock Lord, is quite similar in format to The Lord of the Rings and Frodo’s own quest against the evil of Sauron. Terry Brooks admits to being influenced by Tolkien, along with every other fantasy writer out there today. “Tolkien’s influence was at least two-fold. He pioneered modern fantasy and he influenced an entire generation of writers in the field” (Brooks).

Unfortunately, not everyone thinks that modern fantasy writers have been influenced in a good way by Tolkien. Though recognizing the talents and accomplishments of Tolkien’s work in the area of fantasy, they do not believe that every writer who comes in contact with him produces good work based on what they have read. Brian Attebery, in his book, The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature, claims that “undigested Tolkien has produced some literary nightmares of the first order” (Attebery, 155). One author that is specifically mentioned by Attebery happens to be Terry Brooks. Trying not to disrespect the author “who may have intended homage to Tolkien,” Attebery claims that Brook’s novels “attempt to evoke wonder without engaging the mind or emotions, and they threaten to reduce Tolkien’s artistic accomplishment to a bare formula” (Attebery, 155).

I have to disagree with Attebery on this point. In his argument he claims that Brooks has copied many of the elements that are found in The Lord of the Rings. He believes that these elements were deeply rooted in Tolkien’s own life and philosophy. With this I cannot argue. I know that Tolkien’s creations were deeply rooted in his life. However, Attebery also claims that:

To attempt to copy Tolkien is necessarily to misread, to mistake the mechanics of his tale for the substance. Roger Sale makes a good case for The Lord of the Rings as a study of “modern heroism,” very much the product of two world wars and the upheavals of English urbanization. Elves and rings and hobbits are part of Tolkien’s way of confronting his life. (Attebery, 155-156).

Even though every writer will be in some way influenced by the events that surround him, Tolkien did not write The Lord of the Rings based on the World Wars and other incidents that affected his life. Humphrey Carpenter quoted Tolkien’s friend, C.S. Lewis, as saying of The Lord of the Rings, “These things were not devised to reflect any particular situation in the real world. It was the other way round; real events began, horribly, to conform to the pattern he had freely invented” (Carpenter, 190).

Terry Brooks gives a little insight into the different things that have influenced him, and into how Tolkien has influenced him:

My writing was mostly influenced by the European adventure story writers of the past century—Stevenson, Scott, Dumas, etc. I started out as a writer thinking to do something along those lines, but not in an historical context. Tolkien gave me the format I was looking for. So I cloaked the traditional adventure story in fantasy trappings (Brooks).

And Brooks does not pull his plot ideas from Tolkien, but rather from events that he reads about in newspaper and other places. “All of my work deals with current issues, if you take a close look. Environment, violence, family disintegration, and so on” (Brooks). Where Tolkien stays away from the real events that go on about him, Brooks draws from these. I do not see how Brooks could possibly be called a bad imitation of Tolkien. He has simply absorbed Tolkien and used his format to give life to his own ideas.

Another fantasy writer that has been influenced by Tolkien is best-selling author R.A. Salvatore. Salvatore has written over 25 novels, all in the fantasy genre. And he, like others, recognizes Tolkien as a true inspiration for him to become involved in more classical reading and eventually his own writing. Salvatore recalls his freshman year of college when his sister gave him the boxed Tolkien series for Christmas:

I remember reading The Hobbit and wondering why I had never realized how enjoyable and fulfilling reading could be. I changed my major to communications so that I could take more literature courses and went on to appreciate the classics—Shakespeare, Chaucer, and James Joyce. Those same classics, brought to me through Tolkien, were my truest inspiration (Salvatore).

Salvatore was introduced to the fantasy world by Tolkien, and has since gone on to bring life to his own worlds and creations. He is another example of a writer who has come in contact with the work of Tolkien, absorbed it, and moved on to his own writing. He gave an appropriate thank-you in his dedication of one of his books, The Woods Out Back, to the master of fantasy. “To the memory of J.R.R. Tolkien and to Fleetwood Mac, for giving me elfs and dragons, witches and angels, and for showing me the way to find them on my own” (Salvatore, The Woods Out Back).

I have one more example to share with you of someone who has been influenced by Tolkien. That amateur writer is me. I have aspirations of one day being published as a writer in the field of fantasy. And Tolkien has been a great inspiration to the work I have done so far. This past summer I read Humphrey Carpenter’s authorized biography of Tolkien and drew information and inspiration from the love and dedication that Tolkien had for his own work. That coupled with the experience of journeying through Middle-earth while reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings has influenced and inspired me to devote myself to the stories that I work on. And like Tolkien’s work, mine has become a labor of love.

One of the many things that I have learned from Tolkien is the need to pay attention to detail. Tolkien wholly devoted himself to the perfection of his work, which contributed to the great quality it possessed as a finished product. He has also reaffirmed something that I learned the hard way, the need for maps while writing stories in a created world. In a January 1971 interview with BBC Radio 4 program ‘Now Read On…’ Tolkien was quoted as saying, “I had maps of course. If you’re going to have a complicated story you must work to a map otherwise you can never make a map of it afterwards” (Interview). I attempted to map out a story that I wrote about a year after it was finished and discovered the difficulty in this.

Like Tolkien, I wish to give people a story that will allow them to dream for a few hours of things that can only be seen by their minds eye. I want them to run with the unicorn, fly with the dragon, and dance with the elf. In his letter to me, R.A. Salvatore told me to “do the master proud” (Salvatore). I can only hope to carry on the legacy started by Tolkien as well as the others have that came before me.


Attebery, Brian. The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980.

Brooks, Terry. Letter to the author. 6 Apr. 1997.

Carpenter, Humphrey. Tolkien: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977.

Le Guin, Ursula K. “Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown.” The Language of the Night. Ed. Susan Wood. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons: 1979.

Salvatore, R.A. Letter to the author. 11 Apr. 1997.

Salvatore, R.A. The Woods Out Back. New York: Ace Books, 1993.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1954.