Paul Welch

On Fantasy, Writing & the Journey to Publication

Tag Archives: wants

Make Your Writing Groggy – How Spirits Can Add Characterization

I am a bit of a geek. I’m not ashamed to admit it, and one of the things I like to “geek out” on is random (some would argue useless) information. There I’ll be, having a perfectly normal conversation…

Friend: “How goes today?”
Me: “Not bad, and you?”
Friend: “Ahh, I’m feeling a tad bit groggy.”

…and my brain suddenly gets hijacked. Where does the expression “groggy” come from? What’s it all about? What does “groggy” really mean?

And I’ll spend the next twenty minutes futzing around online in order to satisfy my curiosity.

Today, I wanted to share a brief history of GROG. Why? Because it’s neat, and neat stuff rocks.

I spent five years working in the liquor industry, so I’ve got a little bit of knowledge when it comes to spirits. I tend to include spirits in my writing, and I find the inclusion of “adult beverages “can inject a lot into a story.

Three characters walk into a bar.

  • Susette orders a light, fruity white wine.
  • Benson orders an 18-year old oak-cask whisky.
  • Charles orders an ounce of over-proof spirits.

When we read this, our brains conjure up an idea of what these characters are like and what sort of personality they might have. We also get a sense of age, socio-economical status, and perhaps even temperament. Immediately, conclusions are drawn. We’re left with an impression.

It’s a great, simple tool to help flesh out a characterization without overloading the reader with “telling” descriptors. And if you want to add comedy to the mix, you simply go against stereotype. You have the big, battle-hardened warrior order something that’s counter-intuitive, like strawberry wine. It’s instant comedy gold. (Well, maybe not gold… but you get the point.)

Now back to my groggy friend.

Grog is a type of spirit, and it tends to appear in fantasy novels – especially pirate fantasy, or any fantasy tale where the characters find themselves a-sailin’ on the seas..

Back in the days of yore, when sailors went to sea, they needed to bring fresh water as it wasn’t practical to distill fresh water from the salty seas. Water was stored in wooden barrels, which would develop both algae and bacteria. Over months at sea, that water would get pretty vile, and so beer or wine was added in an attempt to make it more palatable. But that involves transporting even more barrels of liquid, and after many months aboard a ship, the risk of spoilage would increase. And since sailors were issued a daily ration of beer, the amount of storage space required to transport the casks – water, beer, wine, brandy, etc. – caused a serious cargo problem.

Rum eventually replace beer and wine/brandy as the drink of choice upon the sea, but it was given to the sailor straight – and as a spirit with a high alcohol content, it caused some undesirable behaviors.  Some sailors would hoard their rations and then go on a bender, resulting in illness – “I’m feeling groggy” – and a severe lack of discipline. And likely a song or two sung off key. But that’s beside the point.

The decision was made to dilute the rum with water, as the final mixture had a shorter shelf-life than the rum alone. This solved the undesirable behavior, and thus became the standard practice. And if you’re curious, the ratio of water to rum was generally 4:1.

Seeing as the stored water wasn’t very tasty, a little bit of citrus – lemon or lime juice, typically – was added. So now we’ve got a tasty blend of foul water, rum, with a dash of citrus… and a ship full of satisfied – and lightly buzzed – sailors. As an added bonus: no more scurvy! And so, grog was officially invented and became common practice until the 1970’s.

And for those who care about etymology, “grog” is said to have taken its name from the nickname of “Old Grog” given to British Admiral Vernon because of his sense of style. It seems Old Vernon enjoyed the stylings of a kind of heavy coat of grogram – a coarse, weather-proof fabric. Vernon was stingy and had mandated the dilution of rum rations with water in 1740, and the term “grog” was used in a derisive way.

Personally, I’m not a fan of grog. I’ve tried it, and I find it tastes too much like Pinesol™. Or at least, it tastes what I imagine Pinesol™ to taste like, as I’ve never tried it. Honestly. Stop judging me. (No, seriously: don’t drink Pinesol™.)

Have you ever used spirits in your writing as a characterization aid? Do you notice it in the books you read? What sort of impression does it give? Share your thoughts in the comments below – I’d love to hear your ideas!

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Creative Goals: Using “Life Maps” to Get Your Desires

We’re all familiar with goals. Their origins lie in our basic human needs. “I need shelter” becomes a goal for protection, habitat, and safety. “I need food” turns into a goal for finding sustenance. We get better at achieving these goals, and the goals evolve. We evolve with them, until eventually our wants and desires become the primary motivator for our goals, rather than our needs.

But is the context for our “want goals” as strong as our “need goals”? And is there anything we can do to harness the power of our innate ability to set (and achieve) such goals?

Last night, I read Kristen Lamb’sAre You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer.” In it, she speaks often of the power of positive thought and goal setting, for it directs your thoughts and conscious energy into bringing something into fruition. I view it as literally programming your brain (or spirit/Universe/God) to make your desires happen.

Goals play an important role in my life and career, and I’ve been amazed at how strongly the act of setting goals can change my life and help manifest my desires.

Over a decade ago, I was introduced to the idea of “Life Mapping.” This technique involves identifying the desires in our life – present, short- and long-term future goals – and engaging in an act of “creative meditation” to formalize and direct our thoughts and energy toward achieving it.

In a nut shell, the technique involves four steps:

  1. Identify What You Want. This can be personal, emotional, financial, or professional. Anything is fair game. Dream big, but be certain it’s something you really want. And here’s the kicker: you must be specific. The more specific the goal(s) – the more details and parameters you set – the better.
  2. Get Creative. Sit down with a journal and write your goals down. Create a collage to help visualize the goal. Get as creative as you like: cut out pictures, doodle, use colors and fabrics. Go crazy. You are consciously putting effort and directed energy into your thoughts and literally manifesting them on paper.
  3. Be Positive and Present. Refer to the goal in the present tense, as though you already have it. Express gratitude for having it in your life. For instance: “I have a very favorable book deal with Del Rey for my fantasy manuscript. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted, and I am so grateful that my incredible agent negotiated it for me.” Don’t worry about how it sounds. Let it rip – but be specific.
  4. Create the Life Map For You Alone. The journal is not to be shared. Once you’ve completed your creative meditation and your collage, you’re not supposed to look at it again. Store it away under lock and key. Why? It protects the goal from our destructive “Judge” that’ll look for ways to belittle and undermine it, seeding it with negativity. Create the Life Map and pack it away, literally out of sight and out of mind.

This is an active, creative way to formalize setting goals. It might appeal to some, but not to others – and that’s okay. But you might not enjoy writing your goals on post-it notes, or feel like the 2 seconds you spent jotting down 10 New Year’s Resolutions was somehow insincere, and this might be more up your ally.

By taking 20 minutes to consciously give attention to the manifestation of a goal, you might be surprized at what can happen. And if you wanted, you could consider it a writing prompt to challenge your craft – and simultaneously meet the “write 200 words a day” post-it goal you made last week.

Recently, when I was going through my boxes in my parent’s basement, I came across one of my old Life Maps. A decade ago, I used this technique to plan a couple of things I wanted in my life: to be a full member of the professional actor’s union, and to be recognized for my work with an award.

In 2011, nine years after I sat down to put my wants and desires onto paper through creative meditation, both dreams came to fruition. I became a full member of the union, and I received a Best Actor award for my work in the professional theatre.

And you know what’s interesting? My Life Maps had a specific time-frame… of 10 years.

What are your favorite ways to set goals? Do you have creative method that might interest us? Do you have a personal success story with setting – and meeting – your goals? Please share in the comments below – I’d love to hear them!